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The Situation Room

White House Says, Biden Direct With Putin On Ukraine, Threat Of Sanctions; 1/6 Committee Threatens Meadows With Contempt After He Stops Cooperating; Gas, Oil Prices Come Down After Weeks Of Increases; China Says U.S. Will "Pay The Price" For Diplomatic Boycott Of Olympics, Calls It A "Pretentious Act"; House To Vote Tonight On Raising Debt Ceiling After McConnell Cuts Deal With Dems On Plan To Avoid Default. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 07, 2021 - 18:00   ET



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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The White House says President Biden was direct with Vladimir Putin as he warned of new economic sanctions and other punishment if Russia invades Ukraine. We're breaking down their video faceoff and whether it's tamping down fear of a bloody massacre.

Also breaking, the January 6th committee is threatening to hold Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress now that the former Trump White House Chief of Staff has stopped cooperating with the panel. We're learning more about the reason for Meadows about to face involving a slew of subpoenas for phone records.

And Americans feeling the pain right now of inflation, they're finally though getting some relief. Oil and gas prices that have been soaring are now going down. But will the trend continue?

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.

We begin with President Biden confronting Vladimir Putin and the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly.

Phil, a critical day for the president of the United States.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. No question about it, Wolf. And White House officials say President Biden was explicit in his warnings that there would be severe consequences for any Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the president was also explicit in laying out an alternative path when defined out by military action by diplomacy.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: The president was crystal clear about where the United States stands on all of these issues.

MATTINGLY (voice over): Tonight, a clear message from the president as fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine grip the world.

SULLIVAN: What President Biden did today was lay out very clearly the consequences if he chooses to move. He also laid out an alternative path.

MATTINGLY: With probably concern from Washington to capitals across Europe, Biden's high stakes call with Russian president Vladimir Putin focused on de-escalation.

SULLIVAN: He's not doing this to saber rattle. He's not doing it to make idle threats. He's doing it to be clear and direct with both the Russians and with our European allies about the best way forward and we think this stands the best chance alongside a pathway to deescalate to avert a potential crisis with respect to an invasion of Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: While making clear, consequences for offensive action would be substantial and far greater than those imposed in a similar moment seven years ago.

SULLIVAN: As President Biden looked President Putin in the eye and told him today that things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now.

MATTINGLY: Biden, seated in THE SITUATION ROOM with a handful of advisers spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for two hours and one minute, with U.S. officials still convinced Putin hasn't made a decision about whether to invade.

SULLIVAN: We still do not believe that President Putin has made a decision.

MATTINGLY: But Putin laid down red lines of his own prior to the video conference.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA PRESIDENT: Creating such threats in Ukraine poses red lines for us, but I hope it doesn't come to that. I hope that common sense and responsibility for both our countries and countries and the world will prevail.

MATTINGLY: Including a clear commitment that NATO would not expand east and commitments that the NATO alliance weapons systems wouldn't be placed in the country. Biden making no concession, an official said, but willing to continue conversations if that de-escalation occurs.

SULLIVAN: Ultimately, we will see in the days ahead through actions, not through words, what course of action Russia chooses to takes.

MATTINGLY: Biden speaking to key European leaders before the call and within hours of it ending. Sources tell CNN Biden administration officials have explored options to evacuate U.S. citizens in the event of a Russian invasion. Something officials stress there isn't need for currently, but underscores the palpable level of concern across the administration.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As you know from our discussions about Ethiopia, for the U.S. government to plan for, I mean, we plan for everything.

MATTINGLY: All as Biden navigates another thorny relationship. With China threatening, quote, grave consequences for the U.S. decision not to send a diplomatic delegation to the Beijing Olympics. Something that is done little to change Biden's view of the move.

PSAKI: I think he is certainly delivering on his values and how he proposed he would be leading in the world.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And Wolf, White House officials say the days ahead will be critical in determining what President Putin actually plans to do. Both presidents have tasked their teams with continuing discussions and follow-ups in those days ahead.


Those discussions will also continue with U.S. allies. The U.S. making clear they will be closely coordinating with those allies as they wait to see Putin's next steps, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tense moment, indeed. All right, Phil Mattingly, reporting for us. Thank you.

Let's get the Kremlin's take on President Biden's warnings to President Putin. Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is on the ground in Ukraine for us. Matthew, so what is the Kremlin saying just a day after Ukraine's defense minister told you there would be what he called a bloody massacre if Russia invaded?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. That was the view of the Ukrainian defense minister warning Moscow that if they did take the decision to enter Ukraine, there would be consequences because it's a battle hardened army here that has been facing off against the Russian threat for as many as eight years now.

In terms of what the -- how the conversation went from the Kremlin point of view, the Kremlin readout very much emphasized not so much the threat of sanctions. It referred to the threat of sanctions that if Russia were to escalate, a threat made by President Biden, but it said look, we shouldn't be putting the blame for this on Russia's shoulders. This is about NATO wanting to, in the words of the readout, trying conquer Ukrainian territory, and it was an opportunity for President Putin to restate what we've just heard, his concerns, his red lines, what Russia wants essentially, and that is a legal agreement, legal agreements to prevent NATO, the western military alliance, from expanding further east eastwards, and to prevent NATO from deploying its missiles system and other weapon system in Ukrainian territory, turning Ukraine, even if it doesn't join NATO, into some kind of forward-operating base for the western alliance.

Now, the big challenge of President Biden was how to allay those Russian fears while not sort of selling out Ukraine. Ukraine, remember, wants to join the NATO alliance and wants to cooperate even closer with those western allies. And so that's a difficult balance which at the moment, it seems, that President Biden may have taken a step towards achieving.

BLITZER: All right, Matthew, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto along with National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood.

Jim, the White House says President Biden was crystal clear with Putin today, but they've also acknowledged the U.S. is somewhat limited to prevent a Russian invasion. Haven't they?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Part of the message today seemed to be this, that the U.S. is willing to go further than it did after Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine, which still holds today. It still occupies and controls both Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine. And that includes two pieces. One, raising the stakes markedly on economic sanctions to go after targets the U.S. hasn't before. For instance, access to the Russian -- to the world bond markets for Russian energy producers. That would have an immediate economic impact, but also go after the billions of dollars hold up overseas of Putin's inner circle, steps the U.S. was not willing to take before to really inflict pain.

The other piece is to move more U.S. military assets into Eastern Europe, NATO partners in Eastern Europe, not Ukraine, an outcome that Russia doesn't want. Of course, the test is the U.S. is willing to raise the cost. The unknowable is are those costs high enough for Russia. And I think you saw Sullivan and others say we just don't know if Russia is going to make this decision, but they understand that's as far as they can go.

They're not going to go to war here. They're not going to put U.S. forces on the ground, the U.S. aircraft, et cetera, so, ultimately, it is -- the question is are those costs high enough to deter? They don't know yet.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Kylie, as Jim just noted, President Biden told President Putin the situation has changed since Russia invaded Crimea, warning that, in Biden's words, things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now. So, Kylie, what could that entail potentially? KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Wolf, there's a number of things that the Biden administration is considering right now could potentially do. Go after President Putin's inner circle, go after Russian oligarchs, cutting them off from American credit cards, cutting them off from the American banking system, potentially going after Russian banks and Russian sovereign debt.

There's a lot that the U.S. can do economically because of just how integral the United States is to the global financial system here. And we should note that when President Biden was vice president in 2014 when Crimea was annexed by Russia, he was privately one of those who was behind the scenes advocating for then the Obama administration to take tougher action, to do things like providing lethal aid support to the Ukrainians.


So, there is some context here for what President Biden has advocated for in the past and there are some very, very intense things the Biden administration is considering right now.

BLITZER: They certainly are. You know, Matthew, is President Putin emboldened though knowing that direct U.S. military action is almost certainly off the table?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, frankly, I don't think direct U.S. military action was ever on the table. So, that route would be a surprise at the end of this video conference call. But I think the suggestion that this was a test of to what extent United States and its allies will stand behind Ukraine. It's been to potentially in the future join the NATO military alliance, or at least to provide military support in the interim before potentially in the future reaches that point is absolutely correct.

And I think there will be some sighs of relief being breathed in Ukrainian capital tonight when they have heard that. They've seen that White House readout. They've heard what the Kremlin had to say as well. They've listened to Jake Sullivan describing the sort of details of what happened in that conference call, relief to hear that no concessions on that point apparently were made from the United States' side, because that's the big concern here. Will the United States continue to be a strategic backer of Ukraine?

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Jim, the president's National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, says they still don't think Putin has actually made a final decision on whether to invade. How does the U.S. try to figure out if this is a bluff or if Putin will actually follow through with what the Ukrainians are warning could be a bloody massacre?

SCIUTTO: The U.S. just doesn't know, right? And part of that is that they don't have as good intelligence inside the Kremlin as they have had at times in this past. What they do know is that Russia has all the pieces in place to launch a significant invasion if Putin gives the order. This is not just regular forces. It is layers of forces, special forces units in there, intelligence units from Russian military intelligence, plus, I'm told, a political plan, a political front to this as well involving the KGB, that would involve destabilization within Ukraine, the possibility of even assassinating Ukrainian officials and leaders, so all those pieces in place with Russia having great capabilities that frankly outgun Ukrainian capabilities.

So they know they have the ability to do this. They don't know if Putin will give the order, but they have to prepare for that possibility because, you know, if they don't, they don't want to have the same experience they did in 2014, right, which is to be ultimately surprised by how far Russia would go.

BLITZER: Russians are still there in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine as well, as you point out Jim. All right, Jim Sciutto, Kylie Atwood, Matthew Chance, guys, thank you very much.

The breaking news continues next here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The House January 6 select committee subpoenas phone records of former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and more than a hundred other top Trump officials. We're taking a closer look at what it could mean for the investigation.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following tonight. The house select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is now threatening the move ahead on contempt charges for the former Trump White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, who has stopped cooperating ahead of a scheduled deposition tomorrow. CNN has learned that Meadows is among more than 100 people whose phone records have been subpoenaed by the committee.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is working the story for us. Ryan, is the committee essentially issuing an ultimatum right now?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly what they're doing, Wolf. And it comes after an about face for Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, who is very close with the former president, Donald Trump, who had signaled last week that he was prepared to cooperate with the committee, handing over record and sitting for in-person deposition.

That was before this morning when he sent the committee a letter saying that he's not prepared to take that step any longer. And now the committee is responding. And they're saying, quote, tomorrow's deposition, which was scheduled at Mr. Meadows' request, will go forward as planned. If indeed Mr. Meadows refuses to appear, the select committee will be left with no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution.

And so this is the committee making it clear that there are no longer negotiating with Mark Meadows, that they feel as though they've offered him a number of concessions to bring him to the table to hand over the information that they're looking for and Meadows clearly feels uncomfortable with that level of information that they're looking for, in particular, Wolf, he expressed concern about the fact that the committee has issued a subpoena for his phone records and the phone records of many other people. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ryan, CNN has also been reporting about those phone record subpoenas. What more can you tell us?

NOBLES: Well, Wolf, this goes back to the story that we broke over the summer, that the committee had preserve or asked a number of telecom and social media companies to preserve the records of hundreds and hundreds of people that they believe could play a role in the investigation of what happened on January 6. And now we know that they have now gone to some of these telecommunication companies and asked for those records to be handed over.

Now, these aren't the content of the messages, the phone calls themselves or the text messages, but instead, time, location and the length of the calls and texts that took place from some of these individuals. It could help the committee paint a picture of who was talking to who and when and if that played some role in the planning of what happened on January 6.


Now, at this point, the records, we're told, matched very close to the request that they've already made from many people publicly that they've subpoenaed for information and also for in-person depositions. What they have yet to do is ask for the phone records of members of Congress.

Now, we know that they have preserved or asked for the preservation of some of those records. They have not yet formally subpoenaed those records, but I asked the chairman, Bennie Thompson, if that is still an option on the table and, Wolf, he told me, absolutely. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Ryan. Thank you. Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill.

Let's discuss with a key member of the House January 6 select committee Democratic Congressman, Pete Aguilar of California. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

You know your committee has now subpoenaed the phone records of more than a hundred people. You won't get the content of these calls. So what exactly will you be able to learn from the information you will get, the web of these calls and texts, for example?

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Well, I think that's important to note is that what we're talking about here are the dates and times of the calls and the other number at the other end of that line. That's what the committee is seeking. This follows up on the preservation orders that we put out in August. As the investigation has proceeded, we have looked at and have requested that cell data from the telecom companies for the individuals related to the activities of our committee. And so we will continue to search for the truth. We will continue with our investigation. There are no delays here and we continue to proceed ahead.

BLITZER: I know you're also considering holding Meadows in contempt for stopping his cooperation, but given Meadows has handed over documents and is offering to answer written questions, do you really have the grounds for contempt?

AGUILAR: Well, we're going to move forward with the deposition tomorrow at 10:00 A.M. And if Mr. Meadows doesn't show, then we will carry forward.

But it's important to note that we have already received thousands of documents from him back when he wanted to sit before us. He transmitted documents and text messages that have been important to our work. And so we will evaluate whether after he shows up or doesn't show up, what the next steps are, but, clearly, as the chairman and Vice Chair Cheney indicated, we're prepared to hold him in contempt, if he doesn't show.

BLITZER: Meadows' lawyer is accusing your committee of blindsiding him with that subpoena for phone records and for not respecting his claim of executive privilege. How do you respond, Congressman, to that?

AGUILAR: Well, we were prepared to have that conversation with Mr. Meadows and we did not take any subject off the table when we were having those preliminary discussions and if he would have exerted privilege, which we have not conceded, that would have been a further conversation point.

It's important to note I think for everyone that we're talking about a lot of subjects that Mr. Meadows wrote a book about. These are things that he turned over text messages and information on, as well as wrote a book on it, but he didn't want to sit before our committee to answer questions on it.

So, I think that's incredibly troubling and, unfortunately, that could lead to further action that the committee has to take.

BLITZER: Steve Bannon's contempt trial is now set for July, July of next year. Doesn't that alone -- that timeline alone reveal the limits of your committee's power? A lot of these witnesses, they're clearly anxious to try to run out the clock.

AGUILAR: Well, I think it shows that there are outliers in the investigation here. There are individuals who are following everything that the former president wants and may not cooperate. But for everyone of those individuals, there's dozens more who are cooperating and working with us and speaking to us, over 270 witness interviews that we've taken today.

So, we continue to make progress here and we're not going to let any single day deter us from the focus of protecting democracy and shining a light on what happened January 6th. BLITZER: Congressman Pete Aguilar, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

AGUILAR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, details of a just released study on the omicron variant and whether it evades protection from a leading COVID-19 vaccine.

And after weeks of rising prices, why are oil and natural gas costs now going down?



BLITZER: Tonight, new information is coming in about the omicron variant and its potential threat to all of us who are vaccinated.

We're joined by CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, the author of the new and important book, Lifelines, A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health.

Dr. Wen, this new study says that early stage -- it's an early stage study out of South Africa -- shows the omicron coronavirus variant partly evades the protection offered by the Pfizer vaccine. So, what should we take away from this new study?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I think we first have to state that this is a very small study. It involves 12 participants. It's also a laboratory study, so not real world data and also it's a pre-print, not yet peer-reviewed. So, very early, we're going to get a lot more information soon.

But there's good news, bad news here. The bad news is that it looks like omicron, that there's some degree of immune escape, that individuals who are vaccinated, the antibodies that they are producing are less effective against omicron compared to previous variants.


The good news though is that for those people who are infected and then vaccinated, they actually have a very good antibody response. And so in the study, they didn't look at boosters but it suggests that maybe with boosters that if you are boosted too, that you will have a good response to omicron, although, again, very early and we need to wait for real life studies to help us to understand this too.

BLITZER: You know, you heard Dr. Fauci. He says evidence at least so far suggests the omicron variant has increased ineffectivity but not what he calls a very severe profile of disease. Should Americans be encouraged by that?

WEN: Again, very early because there are two counteracting forces. On the one hand, omicron appears to be a lot more infectious, a lot more contagious. And so if a lot more people get sick, then the proportion of people who are getting severely ill also increases too. But on the other hand, we're also hearing from, again, anecdotal early evidence in South Africa that people who are getting sick from omicron are not getting as ill. For example, they need oxygen less. They are discharged from the hospital faster. I hope that that trend keeps up.

BLITZER: A new Axios/Ipsos poll, Dr. Wen, finds most Americans aren't willing to make big changes in their behavior to minimize the risk from this omicron variant. Does that worry you? Should Americans be changing their habits now?

WEN: It does not worry me and I don't think that Americans should change their habits because of omicron because of all the things we don't yet know. But I do think that Americans should be cautious because of delta. 99.9 percent of all the cases we have from COVID are the delta variant. And we're seeing a large number of cases probably reflecting what happened over Thanksgiving.

So, I'm not saying that people should stop going to restaurant or stop gathering with their love ones but rather used common sense measure. For example, mask up, wear high quality mask when you're in crowded, indoor settings. Get rapid tests. And if you're going to see vulnerable relatives, make sure that you're testing in advance. Make these common sense decisions now that will protect you from delta and, if necessary, from omicron as well.

BLITZER: Yes, the delta variant obviously the major threat, the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths here in the United States in recent days has actually been going up.

Dr. Leana Wen, thank you very much, as usual, for joining us.

Let's turn to another issue of great concern for so many Americans right now. We're talking about gas prices. After going up for many weeks, fuel costs are now actually going down.

CNN Business Reporter Matt Egan is joining us right now. So, Matt, what's behind the potential good news at the pump and will it continue?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, high energy costs have been at the heart of this historic period of inflation that Americans are dealing with. So, that's why it's a big deal that energy prices are starting to cool off.

Let's start with prices at the pump. The national average is at $3.35 a gallon. That is still high but it's moving in the right direction. It's actually a seven-week low.

Now, this trend began after rumors swirled on Wall Street that the White House was planning to release barrels from the emergency oil stockpile. Now, by the time that that break the glass moment actually happened, oil prices were down by 10 percent from their highs. And that has translated to lower prices at the pump which move with the lag to oil.

Now the White House is taking some credit here. A person familiar with the White House's thinking told me that lower prices at the pump are good news and that they are due in part -- at least in part due to the president's actions.

But the other big factor here is COVID because omicron fears really sent oil prices crashing after Thanksgiving. They have rebounded in recent days and so that calls into question how long this relief at the pump is going to last.

We also have to talk about what's happening in natural gas, because we've seen an even more dramatic decline in prices there, down 40 percent in just the last two months. That is very good news because natural gas is the most popular way to heat homes in America and this plunge is largely due to the fact that temperatures across the United States have been warmer than usual. And so that has translated to less demand.

Of course, natural gas is still subject to the whims of Mother Nature and if we see temperatures drop very low and stay low, we could see prices move back higher. But for now, Wolf, it does feel like inflation weary Americans finally have something to smile about.

BLITZER: Let's hope. All right, Matt Egan, thank you very much.

Just ahead, very disturbing new details of just how sick former President Trump really was when he contracted COVID-19 and how he got secret approval for a treatment that wasn't yet authorized.



BLITZER: Former President Trump was much more seriously ill with COVID-19 than doctors were letting on to the public at the time, that according to the former Trump White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, who writes in a new book that Trump's blood oxygen levels were dangerously low and that Trump got secret FDA approval for a monoclonal antibody treatment, which was unauthorized at the time. Meadows also says Trump was so weak he couldn't even carry his briefcase as he left for the hospital.

Let's dig deeper with CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and CNN Senior Commentator, the former Ohio governor, John Kasich.

Gloria, Trump is clearly still the de facto leader right now of the Republican Party, the frontrunner potentially for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. How dangerous would it be to downplay these lies as simply things that happened in the past?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, of course, it's dangerous and I think anybody who follows Donald Trump knows that he lies and understands that anyone who worked for him had to lie for him on occasion.


And that's what we're seeing now with Meadows' book about COVID and how they kept this from the American public, how they kept, you know, the first COVID test that was positive from the American public, how he may, in fact, have shown up at that debate with COVID, and as Meadows himself says, we will never know the answer to that.

So it is stunning, but as we always say now, not surprising, given that it's Donald Trump.

BLITZER: And you see that video from October 2nd of 2020 when the then-president was actually walking to Marine One for the flight to the Walter Reed National Military Hospital and Meadows was carrying the briefcase as they were walking on the lawn of the White House over there.

You know, Governor Kasich, how dangerous is it for your Republican Party to be led by a person right now who would willingly put national security at risk to protect his own pride?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, think about this, Wolf. Being as sick as he was, you know, he was sick in the White House according to this book and then he had to go to Walter Reed because they said you have to go there because you're that ill.

Think if Donald Trump had come back and said I'm a tough guy. You know what though? Don't fool around with this virus. You've got to get vaccinated. You've got to watch out. You have to be careful. It didn't knock me out because I'm tough, but it is a very, very tough fight and I won because I win everything.

And if he had said that, we look even today at the politics surrounding the vaccinations and had he come out and just been clear with everybody and honest with everybody, you wonder how many people would have escaped this, how many more people would have survived. I mean these are a lot of profound questions beyond the fact that at some point in time it didn't appear as though he was capable of running the country. It's all sad and pathetic.

BLITZER: It certainly is. You know, Gloria, as you mentioned, this is not just a story about the former president, but about all those around him, including Mark Meadows, who were willing to put honesty aside to aid a liar, right?

BORGER: Yes. Look, I mean, that's the way the White House operated. I mean, you know, add to what Governor Kasich is saying, if Donald Trump had come back and said wear a mask. You saw on that picture you just show on how he ripped off his mask when he got back to the White House and there were people there standing behind him, presumably standing next to him, who he put in danger.

If he had come back and said, you know, get vaccinated eventually and wear a mask at that point, you know, if he had worn masks, if he had modeled that kind of behavior, he would have saved so many lives in this country. Instead, they played this game and didn't tell the American public how sick he was. And if the public had known how sick he was, they might have been a little bit more afraid of COVID.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria and Governor Kasich, guys, thank you very, very much.

There's a lot more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, President Biden juggling international challenges right now with both China and Russia.

Tonight, Beijing is lashing out and Biden is warning Moscow against invading Ukraine.



BLITZER: Tonight, China slamming the U.S. diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, calling the decision now, I'm quoting, a pretentious act and warning that Washington will, quote, pay the price.

Let's get some more from Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS".

Fareed, when China says the U.S. will face grave consequences for this diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games which start in early February, what could that mean?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Well, it's a bit of a puzzle because they didn't announce anything. They also, somebody there in the translation department needs to -- needs to be upgraded because I don't quite know what they mean by it was a pretentious act. I think they might -- you know, there's something -- there's some translation between with what the Chinese intends to signify and pretentious does signify. That is not working here.

But I think that they would have announced something if they had something. My sense is that they've decided that they will you know, lash out verbally. But there aren't any clear consequences. By the way, this is not as dramatic as it could have been. There's no full boycott. The athletes are allowed to go.

Did you know there were some who may or may not have gone? So, you know, all it means is that the handful of American official who is normally go to the Olympics won't go in this case.

BLITZER: You've just done a really excellent CNN documentary, Fareed, on the Chinese President Xi Jinping. And you've also spent many years analyzing Russia's Vladimir Putin. How do you think they're taking measure of President Biden right now as he juggles these international challenges which are so strict and severe?

ZAKARIA: Well, it's a great question, wolf, and you're right to pair them. These are the two great powers that are kinds of outside the American orbit of allies and partners and at least neutral states, right?

These are the two great powers. One rising, China. The other, declining, Russia, both aggressive for their own reasons. And so, Biden has a difficult task at hand to -- to deter and work with them. I think for the most part, he is actually handling them reasonably

well. With Putin, he is trying to be tough without being provocative, without being bellicose. Drawing lines, you know, explaining clearly what kind of consequences there would be, were there to be an actual invasion of Ukraine, but not overpromising, right? There are 175,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's border. And it's a long way away from the United States.

So, he did not commit the United States to the military defense of Ukraine because I think that would have been a -- a step too far. It would have been, in its own way, provocative. And it's not even clear it's credible. Are we going to go to war over Ukraine?

With China, it's a much more complicated game because this is -- the United States is going to have to live with China for the foreseeable future, and we're trying to find some measure or some mixture of competition and deterrence, and yet, cooperation. Remember, we are -- we -- we trade massively with China. China is our largest trading partner. We are actually trading more with China than we were six months ago.

That -- that's, you know, just because of the nature of the international economy. When you stop going to the -- when Americans stop going to the gym and they buy Pelotons, instead. Well, guess where the pelotons are made? They're made in China.

So, there's more trade, more exports from China to the U.S. and yet, you have these geopolitical and human rights concerns. So, it's a complicated balance. And -- but I think, at the end of the day, Biden is handling it pretty well.

BLITZER: The president -- President Biden -- sees himself as you well know, Fareed, in a fight for democracy over authoritarianism. Just how high are the stakes for President Biden right now in dealing with this?

ZAKARIA: I think the stakes in Ukraine are very high because they're clearly -- Vladimir Putin is pushing and trying to get a sense of how much he can intimidate Ukraine, how much he can intimidate the West. That game has to be played very carefully because a miscalculation here or miscalculation there and you could end up with an outright invasion of Ukraine. Then, NATO has to decide what to do.

I think it doesn't get higher stakes than that. With China, it's a longer game. And the United States has to find a way to be credible with China but also to recognize, as I say, we are going to have to live with them. This is a second largest economy in the world.

And I don't think that -- I, myself, wish that Biden didn't keep talking about democracies versus autocracies because it makes it sound as though we're -- we're defensive, we're losing. And I think one should have a certain -- a greater degree of confidence about this. Maybe, it's because I'm an immigrant.

I don't think anybody is looking at China and saying we want to embrace the Chinese dictatorship as a model of the future. America still is the place that I think people in the world look to for a model.

BLITZER: I totally agree. Fareed Zakaria, thank you very, very much.

Up next, lawmakers reach a last-minute deal on a plan to keep the United States from going over a fiscal cliff. We're going live to Capitol Hill where a House vote, a critically important house vote, is scheduled soon.



BLITZER: The U.S. House of Representatives is planning to vote tonight on a plan to raise the debt ceiling after the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, cut a deal with Democrats to avoid a federal default.

Our congressional correspondent, Jessica Dean, is joining us with details.

Jessica, walk us through this new deal and tonight's vote.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. So what we are going to see tonight, wolf, is that the House is going to vote on this proposed legislation. It's a one-time deal, one-time process.

And what it's going to do is pave the way for Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own. So, the house will be voting on this proposed legislation that would allow them to do that. That legislation then goes to the Senate. They will need to get the 60 votes to get that legislation in place.

Once that happens, it will pave the way for Democrats to do that in the Senate on their own with just their votes. Of course, they have 50 votes. Then, Vice President Kamala Harris would break the tie.

And what this does is it specifies that they have to outline a number, somewhere upwards of $30 trillion, that they will be raising this debt limit. And today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back on any idea that he had abandoned his original position on this, that Republicans would not be helping Democrats.

Take a listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The red line is intact. The red line is that you have a simple majority, party-line vote on the debt ceiling. That's exactly where we will end up. There are a lot of different voices but the facts are not in dispute. This will lead to a simple majority up-or-down vote on raising the debt ceiling.


DEAN: And you can kind of already hear the campaign videos that Republicans will want to cut against Democrats. But, Wolf, it's important to remember the money that they are going to be spending, that they are raising the debt ceiling to pay for, this credit card bill essentially is for spending that has already been done. This is what came in the past.

So, anything like the Build Back Better about that might get passed moving forward, Wolf, that would be new spending. This is all old spending.

BLITZER: Yeah, they got to do that really critically important.

Jessica Dean, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.