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Defense Teams For All Three Defendants Rest In Ahmaud Arbery Case; Oklahoma Death Row Inmate Spared At Last Minute After Protests; Two Men Convicted Of Killing Malcolm X Exonerated; CBO Cost Estimates Done, Clearing Way For House Vote On Biden's Spending Bill As Soon As Tonight; Mark Meadows Suggests Trump Should Become House Speaker If GOP Retakes Control In 2022; Awaiting FDA Decision On Authorizing Boosters For All Adults; Senate Candidate J.D. Vance: "I Regret Being Wrong" About Trump. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 17:00   ET




I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. Today, you can follow me on Twitter @pamelabrowncnn or tweet the show @theleadcnn. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now breaking news, the defense just rested its case in the murder trial of three white men charged in the killing of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery. This, after the defendant was fired the fatal shot admitted under cross examination that Arbery never actually threatened him or pull their weapon.

We're also on verdict watch in the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide trial. Jurors now in their third day of deliberations as key video evidence they rewatch is at the center of a defense request for a mistrial.

And the House is closing in on a long awaited vote on President Biden's nearly 2 trillion, trillion dollar social spending bill. The vote could happen as soon as tonight as lawmakers get a new assessment of the price tag and the Senate braces for a showdown.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get straight to two of the most closely wash trials in the United States right now. CNN's Omar Jimenez is covering the Kyle Rittenhouse case. But let's begin with the breaking news. Our National Correspondent Ryan Young is in Brunswick, Georgia,

Ryan, major new developments tonight, update our viewers.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. Major news in this case, Travis McMichael, the man who's at the center of this case, was on the stand again. Their prosecution going piece by piece through his testimony, sort of ripping parts of it apart. One of the things they got him to say is he never says that it was a citizen's arrest, and then the defense rested its case.


TRAVIS MCMICHAEL, DEFENDANT: I just killed a man. I had blood on me still. That was the most traumatic event of my life. I was scared to death.

YOUNG (voice-over): Dramatic testimony today in the trial in the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, it's defendant Travis McMichael was back on the stand facing additional cross examination. McMichael is one of three defendants in the case, including his father Gregory McMichael and William Bryan.

Yesterday, the younger McMichael testified he acted in self-defense when he shot Arbery in February 2020, after a chasing confrontation in a coastal Georgia neighborhood. Today, Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski press McMichael in his actions leading up to the shooting.

LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: How many times have you pulled up on strangers that you don't know next to them with a pickup truck to ask them what they're doing in your neighborhood?

MCMICHAEL: I don't think I'll have in that situation.

YOUNG (voice-over): In his first initial encounter with Arbery,

DUNIKOSKI: Didn't brandish any weapons?

MCMICHAEL: No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: Didn't plot (ph) any guns?

MCMICHAEL: No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: Didn't plot (ph) any knife?

MCMICHAEL: No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: Never reached or anything, did he?


DUNIKOSKI: He just ran?

MCMICHAEL: Yes, he was just running.

YOUNG (voice-over): The prosecution also pointing out inconsistencies between McMichael's statement to police and his testimony in court.

DUNIKOSKI: You'd agree with me when I say that you never, ever told the Glynn County Police Department or in your written statement that you said to Mr. Arbery, the police are coming?

MCMICHAEL: I don't know if I did or not. DUNIKOSKI: Do you remember telling the story just yesterday that that was what you said to your dad, called the cops. There he is. He starts acting funny. He takes off running.

MCMICHAEL: I believe I said, have you called the cops yet?

DUNIKOSKI: So nowhere in here do you indicate to Detective Dobb Haley (ph) that he stopped long enough for you to say the police are on their way and that that's why he took off running? Nowhere in here, nor in your written statement is that indicated.

MCMICHAEL: In those terms, seen it in that verbatim, I did not.

YOUNG (voice-over): The prosecution also pointed out something Travis McMichael's father, Gregory, told police that his son didn't recall on the stand.

DUNIKOSKI: You stopped, you get out, yelled and stop, stop, that's when your father yelled at him, stop or I'll blow your (bleep) head off?

MCMICHAEL: I don't think so. No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: You don't think so? I mean, you're standing right there. You heard your father say this. Yes?

MCMICHAEL: I don't think I've heard him say that. No, ma'am.

DUNIKOSKI: But you know that's what he told the police he said.

MCMICHAEL: In here, in courts, it's what I heard. Yes, ma'am.

YOUNG (voice-over): Shortly after, there was this exchange between state prosecutor Larissa Ollivierre and a witness which sparked a public admonishment from the judge.

LARISSA OLLIVIERRE, COBB COUNTY ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Do you believe that someone stealing is deserving of death penalty?

KEVIN GOUGH, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR WILLIAM "RODDIE" BRYAN JR.: The question would be the way another argument in this case was characterized as being reprehensible.

JUDGE TIMOTHY WALMSLEY, SUPERIOR COURT, STATE OF GEORGIA: The court does find that the question that was presented was inflammatory and irrelevant.

YOUNG (voice-over): Defendant William Bryan's attorney also bringing up again his concerns related to who is in the public gallery, specifically calling out Reverend Jesse Jackson.


GOUGH: I think he's back here in the dark shirt. Putting that on the record -- YOUNG (voice-over): Gough also noting today his client will not be

taking the stand. Ben Crump, the attorney for Ahmaud Arbery's father believes the younger McMichaels testimony that he acted in self- defense is ridiculous.

BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR AHMAUD ARBERY'S FATHER: They actually killed their son, and yet they're talking about self-defense. It is, I mean just asinine and so time intelligence.

YOUNG (voice-over): All three defendants have pleaded not guilty.


YOUNG: Wolf, what happens in this court is so very important.

Let's take a look at some of the video from today. The march that happened in the city. You got to remember Kevin Gough was saying so many times he was hoping to limit the black pastors who were inside the court. Well, they showed up in number today.

We were probably say -- seeing numbers of more than 100 people showing up, marching through the streets, having a rally definitely asking for justice. They really believe this case is really important of how things move forward. They are watching it. But the pressure was on the city. Everything remaining peaceful, especially with so many people calling for justice in the name of the Lord, Wolf.

BLITZER: All Ryan Young on the scene for us. Thank you very much.

I want to go from Georgia to Kenosha, Wisconsin. In day three, day three of jury deliberations in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. CNN's Omar Jimenez is on the scene for us there.

Omar, the jury has been quiet today. So, what is the latest?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. We are just seeing right now that the jury is being dismissed for the day. Day three of deliberations has come and gone, and we still have no verdict at this point.

They've gone for just about seven hours at this point. You can see them in the courtroom. The judges, basically giving some instructions as he typically does to end the day and setting the time to come back the next day, which for the entire week has been 9:00 a.m. local time here.

And when I mentioned they've gotten seven hours, that means it takes the total to around 22 or 23 hours that the jury has been deliberating here at this point. And again, still no firm word on a verdict. And today as opposed to previous days, no questions that were submitted by the jury. No real notes of any significance at this point.

So, that means either they are confident in what they are seeing so far, or they potentially could be at an impasse. Again, days from when they first received this case.

BLITZER: Yes, day three of jury deliberations out over. We'll see what happens day four tomorrow.

During the day, the judge actually did something unusually barred MSNBC from the courtroom today. Tell us about that. What happened?

JIMENEZ: Yes, Wolf. So, this is basically a man who was stopped by police. Yesterday, a man said he was working with MSNBC about a block behind the jury bus. And background on that is basically the jurors are parking somewhere else and then they're being transported to the courthouse at the beginning and ends of the day.

So police stop this man, he said he was with MSNBC, said he was instructed to follow the jury bus. Police stopped him because they say he ran a red light about a distance of a block away from this bus. And that they suspect that he was trying to get photos of the jurors. So the judge got wind of that, had a hearing today about it and officially barred MSNBC from being in the courthouse for the remainder of this trial. Take a listen to some of what he have to say?


JUDGE BRUCE SCHROEDER, KENOSHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: This is a very serious matter. And I don't know what the ultimate truth of it is. But absolutely, it would go without much thinking as someone who is following as the jury bus. That is a very extremely serious matter and will be referred to the proper authorities for further action.


JIMENEZ: Now, NBC confirmed this was a freelancer for them and that they regret the situation. But they also wrote as part of their statement that they released that, "While the traffic violation took place near the jury van, the freelancer never contacted or intended to contact the jurors during deliberations and never photographed or intended to photograph them," as well.

Police also said there was never a breach of security or any photos that were actually taken. I should also mention there is a court order in place that no member of the media can contact any jurors until after this trial is finished. Of course, the same jurors, who as we understand, have just wrapped for the day, day three or three days total of deliberations and still, Wolf, no verdict.

BLITZER: No verdict yet. Omar, thank you very much. Omar Jimenez on the scene for us.

Let's get some more in all of this. Joining us now, Defense Attorney and former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu and the State Attorney for Palm Beach County in Florida, Dave Aronberg. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


Dave, so, I want to get to the Rittenhouse trial in just a moment or so. But let's, first of all, talk about what's going on in Georgia right now in the Ahmaud Arbery trial over there. Did the prosecution effectively dismantle what the defendant was saying over the past couple of days?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: She sure did, Wolf. The main thrust of the defense argument is that it's a citizen's arrest. But she pointed out that this defendant never told police about a citizen's arrest.

And then there were other inconsistencies. The defendants never saw Arbery with a weapon, they never saw him steal anything. So, this case is going really well for the prosecution.

What this prosecution was able to do was to leave in the air the prospect that this defendant was chasing Ahmaud Arbery ambushed him because he saw a black guy jogging through their neighborhood. She didn't have to say it, but that's the impression that jury I think was left with, which is the brilliance of her cross examination.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Shan?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, I think she's doing a much better job by contrast than the Rittenhouse prosecutors are. She was making her points.

I mean, the real problem for this defendant is, he wants to keep sounding like a police officer saying he was trying to deescalate, deescalate. He's the reason why there's anything escalating.

He had multiple opportunities to leave. He didn't have to keep going after him. He was not a police officer. So I think she's making a point.

BLITZER: You heard the judge admonished the prosecutor for asking that question. And specifically, do you believe that someone's stealing is deserving of the death penalty? The judge said that was inflammatory and irrelevant, was it?

ARONBERG: It was inflammatory. And they didn't need to go there, Wolf. Things are going so well for the prosecution. They got a lot of this evidence already out on the cross examination to Facebook messages.

So this prosecutor didn't have to inflame the jury. And now she'll get admonished, because that's what the defense lawyers wanted because they didn't get a mistrial. But be careful what you ask for, because you cannot unbreak an egg with a hammer. You are now calling attention to this controversial comment, and that leaves an impression with the jury.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about what happened in the Rittenhouse trial, Shan. I want to get your sense, asked by reporters how he's feeling today. One of Rittenhouse's lawyer said, and I'm quoting him now, "Worse than I was yesterday." So, what does that suggest to you?

WU: As a former prosecutor, it suggests that the longer the jury is out, generally, I like that as a prosecutor. It means they're working the case, they're looking at the evidence. As a defense counsel, I'd be hoping for sort of a quick result, meaning they're slayed that there's just nothing here. So the longer they're out, generally speaking, it makes the defense a little bit more nervous.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, these are the jury instructions, and I printed them out. I've read them. I've gone through them, 36 pages. And just now, just a few moments ago, the jury asked the judge if they could take this document home with them, and it's pretty complicated, and review it at home, and the judge said yes. What do you say?

ARONBERG: Well, if you saw how the judge described the jury instructions at the end of the trial, it was so confusing, you can see why they wanted to take this home with them. And I agree with Shan, the longer this goes the better it is for the prosecution. Because if this was a quick verdict, then they would have just found self- defense, game over.

But now, obviously, they found flaws in the self-defense argument. Maybe the provocation argument has gotten through. And now they have other things to consider, like the lesser included offenses. Because if they can come up with a compromise verdict, I think that's a victory for the prosecution.

BLITZER: Because I've gone through this document a few times, you need a lot agree, really, to appreciate and understand. Shan, have you read this, the 36 pages of the instructions that the judge gave the jury?

WU: Yes, jury instructions are notoriously difficult for the jury to manage. And really the judge should have given them the written ones right away.

Now, I would disagree. He should not let them take them home. Generally stuff needs to remain in the courtroom. But he should have just given it to them right from the start. Just like you should let them see that video as much as they want, rather than making them troops into the courtroom just to watch critical pieces of evidence.

BLITZER: What do you think of the whole MSNBC issue that came up? The judge now barring MSNBC from participating and observing based on what happened with this freelancer.

ARONBERG: Well, this freelancer shouldn't have done it, and he should be punished for it. But you know, this judge has a bit of a track record, Wolf, he's very thin skin. And he has been complaining about the press throughout the trial.

He said the press coverage of this case is frightening. So now, I think it's overkill. I think he was looking for an excuse to stick it to the media. I don't think they should bar a network for doing something that a freelancer did. I think there needs to be more investigation and punishment for the person who did it, not the entire network.

BLITZER: What do you think, Shan?

WU: I agree on that point. I mean, I think this judge, honestly, like so many judges, has been able to work in the shadows for a long time. He's king of his fiefdom. But it's different in the glare of national scrutiny. He doesn't like it. He wants to get rid of the media.

Absolutely it's an overreach. I mean, maybe that person might be prosecuted investigated, but it's a red light violation at the moment. What are you doing banning an entire network? That's freedom of the press.


BLITZER: All right guys, thank you very, very much. We'll see what happens tomorrow, day four continues in these jury deliberations.

Coming up, a dramatic last minute reprieve for a convicted killer just hours away from execution. I was pleased for clemency succeeded. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Eleventh hour reprieve today for a man convicted of murder and it's drawing worldwide attention. Oklahoma's governor granting Julius Jones clemency and commuting his death sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Our Senior National Correspondent Ed Lavandera is joining us right now.

Ed, the governor made this decision just a few hours before Jones was going to be executed. Give us the latest.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well he was just about four hours away from that scheduled execution earlier today.

We were told by Julius Jones' attorney that they were actually sitting in a room near the execution chamber when they received the news that the governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, had reduced his sentence from the death penalty to life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, this is different from what the Oklahoma Parole Board had recommended that Julius Jones sentence be reduced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

But despite that, Julius Jones attorneys saying they are grateful for the governor's important step in restoring faith in the criminal justice system. That by ensuring that Oklahoma did not execute an innocent man and they hope that the governor has prevented and irreparable mistake.

Now, however, the victim Paul Howell, his family says they still believe there is overwhelming evidence supporting Julius Jones conviction. They say that this entire experience, watching millions of people sign a petition urging for the governor of Oklahoma to spare Julius Jones life that this is traumatize them, once again, they say that the governor -- they believe that the governor had a difficult decision, but that they take comfort in the fact that the governor's decision affirmed the guilt of Julius Jones.

This whole case has been marred in recent years by allegations that there was a racial bias in the jury, that the trial wasn't conducted properly, and that there was evidence that the jury didn't get to hear. So all of that leading to this decision today by the governor.

BLITZER: Can Jones's attorneys and still fight for the possibility of parole?

LAVANDERA: Well, the governor's order today says that essentially Julius Jones can have -- not benefit from any more clemency. However, Julius Jones' mother has been saying that she would like to see her son get a new trial. We understand that attorneys for Julius Jones are now trying to figure out what this next steps might be.

Julius Jones' supporters and attorneys and family all insist he remains innocent, that he did not kill Paul Howell. So they say they will continue to work to try to get him reprieve and try to essentially get him a new trial. But it's still very much up in the air right now as they try to figure out what the next steps are going to be.

BLITZER: All right, Ed Lavandera on the scene for us reporting what's going on. Thank you very much.

Let's dig deeper right now with CNN Political Commentator Van Jones event.

Van, so Julius Jones has been spared execution. But what do you make of the governor's condition that Jones will never be able to pursue commutation, pardon or parole?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, I just want to echo the mother and the attorneys were grateful. This is an innocent man. The killer has confessed that, you know, he did it, that this is not the guy that did it. You had multiple opportunities -- there's a reason that the board in that state said let him go. So, that this governor was able to be persuaded to at least keep him alive long enough to continue to fight.

That story that hasn't been told is how did we get this victory today? People came together in a way that you're very rarely see. You had a left wing activist, you had conservatives, you had celebrities, you had so many people coming forward, because this case is a glaring example of what's wrong with our criminal justice system.

When Matt Schlapp from the ACU, from American Conservative Union, stands up and says this guy cannot be killed. This is one of the most strong conservatives in the country. Dan Loeb (ph) stood up, one of the strong conservatives in the country, saying this would be a gross miscarriage of justice.

He's standing beside when he does that, people like Shaun King a left winger, Kim Kardashian West, Cece Jones-Davis, you had literally left, right, black, white, brown, all coming together across the country saying this cannot happen. And so, that should give people hope.

When you say the country is so broken and we're so divided, the court system is so broken, and yet in a situation like this, people came together and got something done. Now, he lives on, which means we can fight on. This man is not going to die in prison. It is so obvious he's innocent, that the entire country came together to save his life today, we will fight on.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting you say that because we also got very powerful dramatic news today that a judge has actually dismissed the convictions of two men for killing -- for the killing of Malcolm X. They each serve 20 years in prison, one is now 83 years old, the other has already passed away. How incredible from your perspective is it to see this exoneration?

JONES: Well, look, I mean, it's extraordinary. Again, you had the media and you had documentarians come forward, put forward a new documentary, reexamining all this stuff.

And listen, when people look at the facts and the cool light of day, often it turns out that our court system is not perfect, it does make mistakes, often they have a racial bias and things can be done to correct stuff. But when you kill someone, when you take someone's life when you implement the death penalty, you cannot go back and fix that.


But I think I would love everybody who's watching this, take a notice that our court system is so broken, that in 1965, you had someone killed Malcolm X, and it's taken 50 years to figure out you got the wrong person 50 years ago. That's why you don't want to impose the death penalty.

That's why I think the governor's did needs to be applauded. I wish he let him out. But at least he didn't do something that you cannot take back 50 years later, 50 minutes later. When you kill somebody, they're gone forever. He lives on, we're going to fight on, he will come home.

BLITZER: All right, Van, thank you very much. Van Jones helping us appreciate what's going on.

Now coming up, how allegiance for Donald Trump is deepening divides within the GOP as the former president's chief of staff suggests Trump could become Speaker of the House. Stay with us here in the Situation Room.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The breaking news, the Congressional Budget Office has finished, finished its analysis of each section of President Biden's long awaited Build Back Better bill clearing a major obstacle just ahead of the House vote which could happen, by the way, as soon as tonight. Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, update our viewers, what are you learning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, Democratic leaders are pressing to have the vote on President Biden's $2 trillion economic and climate package in a matter of hours. It's not locked in yet, they still need to ensure the votes are actually in place. But all of the elements they needed to reach that point are now out.

You mentioned, all 13 titles of the President's Build Back Better Act have been -- the budget estimates have been released by the Congressional Budget Office, that was critical for a small group of moderate Democrats who made clear they were not ready to vote for the proposal until they had those CBO estimates. They now have them.

And for the most part, based on what I've been reading through over the course of the last several days related to those estimates, they line up with the White House estimates that were provided to Democratic members. That was the critical piece of this, not a final CBO score necessarily, but that those estimates lined up with what White House officials circulated to House Democrats a couple of weeks ago.

Now, here's the process going forward that is already kicked into gear. The House Rules Committee scheduled to meet at 5:30, right about now, actually, to start the process of the final version of this bill. Once they are completed, there will be a one-hour debate on that rule. Then there will be about 20 minutes of debate that has already been ongoing about the overall bill in the course of the next couple of hours.

And then as the Speaker laid out in the letter to House Democrats that was just sent at the close of the debate, all that remains is to take up the vote so we can pass this legislation and achieve President Biden's vision to Build Back Better. Now, they -- boat is not officially locked in yet, there are still a number of things that could take place over the course of the next several hours. But it is very clear, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and certainly White House officials think it's possible to get this done tonight, are pressing to get this done tonight and believe all of the elements are in place to get this done tonight.

So long as they have, all of the Democrats are on board or at least only lose no more than three, Wolf. That is the plan. If this gets through, the House, tonight or tomorrow morning, whenever it happens, it would be a significant step forward on the most complicated and largest piece of President Biden's $3 trillion domestic agenda. However, as you know, well, Wolf, there is still a significant battle ahead in the United States Senate.

Centrist Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have not signed on to this proposal yet, neither the House version or the President's $1.75 trillion framework, which differs in a couple of places. They will need to reconcile that in the days and weeks ahead. But House passage of this bill would be an enormous step forward for the President's $2 trillion dollar economic and climate package, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Certainly would. Phil Mattingly, over at the White House, thank you very much.

Former President Trump, by the way, still hasn't made an announcement on his potential 2024 presidential run, but his grip on the Republican Party clearly remains stronger than ever. Listen to Trump's former White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows.


MARK MEADOWS, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I would love to see the gavel go from Nancy Pelosi, to Donald Trump as -- you talk about melting down. People would go crazy. As you know, you don't have to be an elected member of Congress to be the speaker. Wouldn't you see -- she would go from tearing up a speech. They have to give the gavel to Donald Trump. Oh, she would go crazy.


BLITZER: All right, let's discuss with our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and CNN Senior Political Commentator, and the former Republican Governor of Ohio, John Kasich. Governor, what goes through your mind hearing Meadows suggested former President Trump should be the speaker of the Republicans become the majority after the midterm elections in the House? You were once a member of the House.

JOHN KASICH (R), FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: I think he hit the nail on the head when he said meltdown. I mean, this is just so crazy as I watch everything happening down there, which is a fact that the Republicans did not condemn Gosar for his cartoon favoring the execution of AOC. And I'm trying to figure out, Wolf, as I like to do streaming sometimes with my wife, is this -- can you -- could you say what's happening in Washington? Is it sci-fi? Is it fantasy? Or maybe it's a horror film.

I -- you pick the category, you know, but it's just nuts. It just goes on and on in the House of Representatives.


And to some degree, when we see the Senate beginning to back candidates who, Donald Trump, was for, he's -- it looks like he's still running so much of the Republican Party as to whether that remains to be -- whether that remains in terms of the pinnacle of his power yet to be seen. I hope we wake up.

BLITZER: Yes, as I often say, you can't make this kind of stuff up. And I've been covering Washington for a long time. Is this a sign, Gloria, that former President Trump is holding a bit of a grudge right now against the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, who clearly has his eyes on becoming the House speaker, although, Mark Meadows clearly doesn't want McCarthy to be the next speaker?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and who do you think Mark Meadows is channeling, Wolf? He's channeling Donald Trump. I mean, this is, you know, this is not an idea that Mark Meadows just hatched on his own. If Donald Trump says, oh, maybe I could become speaker because you don't have to be an elected member of the House to become speakers, then I don't have to run a campaign. I could just go in there and I could become speaker of the House. It's ridiculous.

And, you know, we know that Donald Trump holds a grudge pretty well, and that he has held one against McCarthy ever since McCarthy went on the floor on January 13th, after the insurrection, and said, the President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack, period. The president -- the former president's never forgotten that. And so McCarthy then had to go to Mar-a-Lago, kiss the ring, try and make up, but the President's never forgotten this.

And so, McCarthy could do somersaults trying to become Speaker of the House, you know, take care of the Gosars, and the Marjorie Taylor Greenes. And the ultimate irony would be that Trump would then have a jihad against him and say, you know what, I don't think you should be Speaker of the House. Let's go for someone else. Marjorie Taylor Greene has already said that.

BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty amazing, I must say.

BORGER: Yes. You know, Governor, McCarthy also has now brushed off the depiction of violence by Republican Congressman Paul Gosar. Just a day after Gosar was censured by the House of Representatives, McCarthy is now saying he'll reinstate both Gosar and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene to committees if Republicans were to win back the House next year. Is he essentially going to reward some of the most dangerous fringe members of his caucus?

KASICH: It looks like it's all politics, and pay back, Wolf. And you begin to wonder if he's doing this because he's really fearful that he won't be speaker. I don't think the Speaker, if they win the majority, which it looks like they might unless the people keep following off this, they may say, wait a minute, I don't want any of that. As I said the other day, I mean, it's so crazy down there. But I'm not sure that McCarthy's got this job.

When I talked to folks in Washington who are pretty knowledgeable, they're not sure that he's going to get the job, even if they win the majority. I don't know, but that's sort of a lot of speculation. So I think what he's trying to do in two -- he doesn't want to go after Gosar and then he said, well, we might punish the 13 Republicans who voted for an infrastructure bill, and we might punish them later. It's all really unbelievable.

Now there's only one thing I want to note. With 13 Republicans voting for that infrastructure bill, I happen to think, Wolf, that if Joe Biden had worked that Republican caucus hard, I think he could have gotten 20 votes. And he wouldn't have had to listen just to the progressives, he could have probably got this done sooner. It's pretty amazing that 13 of them actually did it on their own, and now they want to punish them, which is an abomination to try to punish those people who were serving this country, following their conscience and their constituents.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Gloria, you got an excellent new column that you posted on And among other things, you write this, let me read it. "From Mar-a-Lago, Trump is happily playing kingmaker, and it's working. New Republican candidates are afraid to challenge him. Republican incumbents cower, too. And it's only getting worse."

That was on You wrote that column. Let's talk a little bit about that. Just elaborate a bit.

BORGER: Well, look, the former president is a house of cards here because these are primaries, these are competitive primaries. A lot of these folks are in. You know this, Governor, state of Ohio, you see it in your own state.


BORGER: And he's picking who he wants. And the way he's vetting people, is by asking one question, how much do they love me? Did they support me on impeachment? Are they coming out there and saying the election is rigged? I mean, that's his standard. It's not about policy, it's about Donald Trump. And because these people are running in competitive primaries, they believe that his endorsement really matters, and they're right about that.

BLITZER: Yes. Gloria Borger and John Kasich, as usual guys, thank you very, very much. Excellent column --

KASICH: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- Gloria. Thank you for writing it.

BORGER: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: Just ahead, the rate of hospitalizations for COVID-19 is rising here in the United States among fully vaccinated Americans. Standby.


BLITZER: We're standing by for a major decision from the FDA on expanding COVID vaccine boosters to all American adults, adults 18 and over. This, as Dr. Anthony Fauci warns new data indicates an uptick in hospitalization among people who are fully vaccinated but have not yet received a booster.

Let's discuss this and more with the former Acting CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser. Dr. Besser, thanks for joining us. How concerned are you by these climbing hospitalization rates among the fully vaccinated?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: Well, you know, Wolf, it is concerning but I always want to say upfront that the biggest risk in terms of hospitalization and death remains among those people who haven't been vaccinated at all. They're what's driving the high rates of hospitalization and the continued 1,000 deaths each day from COVID.


But the numbers are concerning in terms of the risk to people who are fully vaccinated. And I would encourage everyone who's in one of the groups that is already approved to get a booster, to get your questions answered and think about going to get your booster. I got my booster about a week ago, because I still see children in clinic, and so the risk of exposure is there.

But as we're seeing across the country, we're seeing an uptick in hospitalizations, was first seen among those people who are over 65, starting to see it in some of the younger groups those over 50. And it's concerning, especially as we're coming into the winter where people are spending more time indoors, people are gathering for family events. So it is something to think about.

BLITZER: It certainly is. This comes just two months after officials authorized boosters for a much smaller group of older and higher risk people. Was it a mistake for the FDA and the CDC, for that matter, to initially restrict access to boosters because it looks they're about to approve boosters for everyone 80 and over?

BESSER: No, I don't think it was a mistake at all. But I think what it says is that, as new information comes in, as the situation changes, the recommendations and the guidance is going to change and it should. When the CDC and FDA looked at this before, what they were seeing was really an increase in hospitalization and deaths among the groups for whom they did approve those boosters. What they're starting to see now is a slight uptick in cases in individuals who are younger.

The other issue that we're facing is that even though young people who are fully vaccinated, have very low rates of hospitalization, very low rates of death. I mean, it is still a problem in people's lives if they get mild to moderate COVID. So it's another reason to get vaccinated.

BLITZER: Certainly is, very important. All right, Dr. Besser, as usual, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, an outspoken critic of Donald Trump is changing his tune about the former President as he campaigns to win a GOP seat in the U.S. Senate. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: A U.S. Senate candidate desperately wants to get back in former President Trump's good graces after slamming him big time back in 2016. Now, Republicans wonder if J.D. Vance has what it takes to convince Ohio voters. CNN's Eva McKend has this report.


EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voice-over): In Ohio, an outspoken Trump critic now embracing the former president.

J.D. VANCE (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm a Never Trump guy. I never liked him.

MCKEND (voice-over): J.D. Vance, who made waves as the author of the best-selling book, "Hillbilly Elegy", running for the GOP nomination in Ohio's key Senate race, in the process having to atone for his past criticism of former President Donald Trump.

VANCE: I've been very open about the fact that I did say those critical things, and I regret them and I regret being wrong about the guy ...

MCKEND (voice-over): Vance deleting old tweets attacking Trump, including this one from 2016 when he wrote, "Trump makes people I care about afraid. I find him reprehensible." The author's one AD (ph) on Trump opening him up to questions from Republicans about his loyalty to the former president, who won Ohio in 2016 and 2020.

SHANNON BURNS, PRESIDENT, STRONGSVILLE GOP: I think everyone should be suspicious.

MCKEND (voice-over): Shannon Burns leads a Republican group in Strongsville, outside of Cleveland, where the candidates will face off in a forum tonight.

BURNS: He was clearly a self-proclaimed Never-Trumper.

MCKEND (voice-over): Vance, who declined CNN's request for an interview, going all in on the culture wars.

VANCE: Think about what this says.

MCKEND (voice-over): Posting a plea on Twitter in support of Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager standing trial in the killing of two people in Wisconsin during racial unrest last summer.

VANCE: If we don't defend this young boy who defended his community when no one else was doing it, it may very well be your baby boy that they come for --

MCKEND (voice-over): And saying this in a recent interview with the far-right media outlet, Breitbart News.

VANCE: It turns out the voters want us to fight the culture wars.

MCKEND (voice-over): Vance also facing questions overblowing a deadline to disclose his personal finances. His campaign responding, "We are working on this report and are just waiting for a few additional pieces of information from third parties." And noting they will file the report, "Well within the 30-day grace period provided for in the rules."

Vance, who has financial backing from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, is just one of several candidates in the race vying for the Trump vote. There's also former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who has made the big lie that the election was stolen from Trump in 2020, a major part of his campaign.

JOSH MANDEL (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: I believe the election was stolen from Donald J. Trump.

MCKEND (voice-over): And former Ohio GOP Chair, Jane Timken.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Really incredible person and friend of mine, Jane Timken.

MCKEND (voice-over): Who is also embracing Trump, but trying as well to appeal to voters who didn't support him in 2020.

JANE TIMKEN (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: I am the candidate that can build a winning coalition of the Trump supporters and the education parents and bring back those suburban voters.

MCKEND (voice-over): And taking a subtle dig at her primary opponents.

TIMKEN: You can't win a race in Ohio on Twitter.



MCKEND: Now a forum about to get underway here in Strongsville, that is a suburb of Cleveland. You know I was in Virginia just a few weeks ago and the strategy that we saw by the winning candidate there, Republican Glenn Youngkin, now Governor-elect of Virginia, could not be any more different than the strategy employed by these candidates in Ohio. A full embrace of Trump, a much different playbook, much different dynamics here in the Buckeye State. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very interesting. All right, Eva, thank you very much. Eva McKend in Ohio for us.

There's more breaking news straight ahead. A critical milestone of the trial of three white men charged in the killing of the black jogger, Ahmaud Arbery.