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The Situation Room

Inflation Hits 39-Year High, Biden Thinks it's the Peak; Memo Outlines Trump Lawyer Theories on Pence Overturning Election; Supreme Court Says, Texas Abortion Law Stands, But Clinics Can Sue; Bob Dole's Life of Sacrifice, Service Honored at Moving Memorial; Daily U.S. COVID-19 Cases up 50 Percent from Last Month. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 10, 2021 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: This as the January 6th committee issues a slew of new subpoenas, including one for a former Trump aide running for Congress.

And the United States Supreme Court leaves a narrow path to challenge the nation's most restrictive abortion law. But the near total ban of abortions in Texas is in effect tonight.

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

We begin this hour with the inflation crisis here in the United States and the strains it's putting on the U.S. Economy and on the Biden administration. I want to go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president says that the economy is bouncing back, so how does this grim new inflation report released today figure in?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it complicates the picture that they're trying to paint. Because, yes, there are several signs that the economy is recovering. Those are the big, strong indicators that the White House is trying to point to, but they also have to grapple with the fact that people are paying more at the pump, at the grocery store and those inflation concerns that we've seen people say is now some of their number one concerns when it comes to the national outlook, is, of course, a priority that the White House is trying to address.


COLLINS (voice over): With prices at their highest point in nearly 40 years, President Biden is predicting its, quote, the peak of the crisis.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: But inflation is affecting people's lives.

COLLINS: Inflation reached its highest point in November since 1982, when Ronald Reagan was in office and Joe Biden was a senator from Delaware. Tonight, President Biden is pointing to other signs that the economy is recovering.

BIDEN: Every other aspect of the economy is racing ahead. It's doing incredibly well. We've never had this kind of growth in 60 years.

COLLINS: That message complicated after the consumer price index, which measures what you're paying for services and goods, climbed 6.8 percent in November compared to a year ago.

BIDEN: It's a real bump in the road. It does affect families.

COLLINS: Rising costs are also challenging the path ahead for Biden's legislative agenda. The president sounding uncertain when asked if he can get Senator Joe Manchin to vote yes on his expansive economic bill with inflation numbers this high.

BIDEN: I don't know the answer to that. I'm going to be talking to him at the beginning of the week.

COLLINS: Manchin says he's concerned that more federal spending now will make inflation worse, but the president is pushing back.

BIDEN: Economists think that it's going to, in fact, diminish the impact on inflation, because it's reducing costs for ordinary people, reducing costs for ordinary people.

COLLINS: Manchin is also concerned by the cost of the bill overall.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I talked to him this morning. He was stunned.

COLLINS: In a new report requested by Republicans, found that the temporary spending boost in tax cuts are made permanent, it could add trillions to the price tag.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What this fake CBO score was about was extending all of the programs that would expire without paying for them. The president would pay for them. There's no bill that exists on this front.

COLLINS: Inflation also a top concern for voters who are paying more for food, gas, rent and used cars. But some of the biggest drivers of inflation are retreating, as gas prices have dropped and natural gas prices are also down.

PSAKI: This obviously is not captured in the data, since the data was through the course of November.


COLLINS (on camera): Now, Wolf, when I asked the president earlier today, does he view these numbers of this November report as the highest prices that people are going to see, or if Americans should brace for higher prices to come down the road, that's when he says that he does believe that it's at its peak. That's certainly an argument he is going to try to make to Senator Joe Manchin when they speak next week. BLITZER: All right. Kaitlan, thank you, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

I want to bring in our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and CNN Chief Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod.

Gloria, President Biden admits that inflation is now a real problem, his words, real problem, but he also says every other aspect of the U.S. economy is racing ahead. That makes the White House messaging on the economy pretty challenging, doesn't it?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because it's kind of a mixed message. I mean, the president of the United States is right. Every indicator is racing ahead, except for inflation. And the problem with inflation is that it wipes out your wage gains. And so people don't feel this. And Joe Biden considers himself, you know, a president of Main Street.

And so when he went to speak about this today, he said, I know, you know, I know it hurts. And he called it a real bump in the road, because he wants Americans to believe, as he does, that things will start leveling out pretty quickly. But it's a very, very tough sell when 70 percent of the people in the country believe that the economy is not doing very well.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. You know, David, though, the White House obviously, understandably, clearly frustrated about the disconnect when it comes to the bright spots in the economy, but that won't -- that frustration won't necessarily change the fact that Americans are struggling right now.


So, what would you advise if you were inside the White House? In your earlier life, you were in the White House.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was, Wolf. And when I was in the White House in my earlier life, it was in a previous economic crisis. And one of the things that we learned very quickly was you can't persuade people what they don't believe. We get back good jobs reports and we would want to go out and we would want to tout those jobs reports, but people weren't feeling it in their lives. And when we went out and we spoke to these good numbers and told people how good things were, they -- it had the reverse effect. They felt that we were out of touch. And we quickly learned to be muted in our language and not to claim too much.

Here you have a situation where the president said today, you know, we -- this has peaked. It's going to be passed us. Well, there was a Wall Street Journal poll earlier this week, the president's pollster was one of the pollsters involved in that poll, and 52 percent of Americans said that they thought that it would be worse a year from now. So, he is saying things that people don't believe.

Now, obviously, if this situation straightens out, as he predicts, if in the next few months the supply chain smooth out, inflation recedes and people have a better feeling about this, then, you know, this could have a material change for him in terms of his election prospects, or the midterm election prospects.

But right now, right now, I would advise them to link up to people's reality and speak to the fact that inflation is a factor in people's lives and we're going to throw everything we can at it to try and stop it and spend less time trying to claim credit for the rest of it, because you're not going to get credit until this problem is resolved.

You're absolutely right on that, as well. You know, Gloria, the president says things will improve more rapidly than he thinks, his words. But he only has so much power to actually counteract the impact this global pandemic is having, doesn't he?

BORGER: Well, yes. I mean, it's one of the reasons we're in this hole in the first place, obviously. And along came the delta variant. And now you've got new variant, which seems to be less difficult for us to deal with, at least at this point. But I think that that hangs over the country, like a soggy tent. And people are unsure and uncertain about what variant is going to come down the road.

They know we've got inflation now. He promises they're going to get it down. But you've got Republicans say, no, no, no, if you pass the Build Back Better Act, it's going to make inflation worse. It's going to add trillions to the deficit. So, you have the political argument going on and the public is sort of scratching its head saying, well, who am I to believe?

And also, by the way, I don't feel very good in my own house, when I go to the pump. This is the holiday season, people are traveling, they're going to feel this in every day, as they go to buy presents, they go to travel, you know, it's a bad time to be having this political discussion.

BLITZER: Yes. Political pollsters always say, the key question that has to be answered, if somebody is seeking re-election, is the country moving in the right direction or the wrong direction. A lot of people think that the country is moving at least economically now in the wrong direction.

David, President Biden seems to be trying to lower expectations when it comes to the social spending bill that's still on the table in the U.S. Senate. It passed the House, saying he doesn't know if he can persuade the moderate Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, to vote in favor of it. What did you make of his tone today?

AXELROD: Well, it's a definite shift. He's been pretty confident throughout that he could bring Manchin across. One thing that seems increasingly likely is that maybe it won't get done by Christmas, as Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said he hoped it would. And so, this could -- this could spill over into January. And, yes, these inflation numbers are not going to -- are not going to help.

So, I think he's reducing expectations for this, but this is something else that has hampered him. He's trying to do something very, very difficult. It's a big bill. It's a historic bill. But it's coming amid all of these other factors. And the fact that he's having trouble with his own tribe on this contributes to a sense that things are a little bit rough right now.

BLITZER: They certainly are.

Al right, guys, thank you very much, David Axelrod, Gloria Borger, I appreciate it.

Just ahead, CNN obtains memos from a Trump campaign attorney outlining theories on overturning the 2020 presidential election. We have details when we come back.



BLITZER: Tonight, the U.S. military is keeping a very close watch on Russian troops amassed near Ukraine, more than 120,000 Russian troops near Ukraine right now. The threat of an invasion still very real despite President Biden's warning to Vladimir Putin three days ago.

We're joined by a very close ally of the president, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, he's a key member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for joining us.

As you know, the Pentagon says they've seen an increase, a dramatic increase in Russian forces along the Ukrainian border ever since President Biden's phone conversation with Vladimir Putin earlier in the week. Is the threat of sanctions really going to be enough to get Putin to back down?


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, Wolf, President Biden had a very forceful and very clear conversation with Vladimir Putin and is mobilizing our closest allies to deliver the toughest sanctions threat that is possible. I agree with the president that Ukraine is a nation of great concern and that we need to stand strong to defend their sovereignty and integrity and independence, but I think that sanctions is the most appropriate tool in this setting. And I think that the president made it clear to Vladimir Putin that the sanctions that were imposed after his assault on Crimea and the eastern end of Ukraine will be dwarfed by the sanctions that he will face if he takes action to invade Ukraine now.

BLITZER: Well, you're right, because President Biden did warn Putin of sanctions, in Biden's words, like none he's ever seen, if Russia were to invade. But how much can Biden really punish Russia economically without also inflicting significant pain on the global economy, including the U.S. economy, for example, increasing domestic gas prices?

COONS: Well, that's one of the challenges, is that the United States and Russia do have interconnected economies, particularly in energy. And we might have to exempt some of the energy ways in which our economies are connected from very tough sanctions. But we've got tools that allow us to target individuals, some of the folks who are the closest supporters of Putin and to sanction Putin individually, and we've got other means, national means, that could make this extremely uncomfortable.

Frankly, I also think that the Russian people are tired of impact of COVID on their country and they are not looking forward to a long and bloody conflict with Ukraine. The United States in recent years has provided more and more lethal, defensive assistance to Ukraine. This administration has further stepped that up. And I am optimistic that we can still turn Putin aside from deciding on an invasion to the next couple of weeks.

BLITZER: How does President Biden, Senator, reassure Ukrainian President Zelensky when President Biden has already flatly stated publicly that the United States has no obligation to defend Ukraine militarily?

COONS: Well, one of the core issues here in this dispute with Putin, he wants the United States and NATO to roll back a commitment made in 2008 under president bush to open the door to possible NATO membership. And President Biden, in a direct conversation with Zelensky of Ukraine, said, we will not make a decision about you without you.

And the easiest way to resolve this standoff with Vladimir Putin, we just simply roll back that commitment, that would be inappropriate. And Biden is standing alongside Ukraine in saying, we are going to consult with you and work with you and ensure your independence and your integrity.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, Senator, I'm anxious to get your reaction to this reporting from Axios' Barak Ravid in Tel Aviv, we interviewed him in the last hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, that former President Trump said -- basically said, eff Netanyahu, after the former Israeli prime minister congratulated President Biden for his election win. What do you make of that?

COONS: Well, that's really striking. Wolf, I was recently in Israel to meet with the new prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz. The U.S.-Israeli relationship remains very strong, very close. It's striking that that quote is a reminder that former President Trump really viewed relationships with foreign leaders in a very personal term. He really looked at it as a matter of loyalty.

And the fact that former Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted something very complimentary about President Trump, thanking him for his leadership and his friendship, within moments after tweeting a congratulatory note about President Biden's election, and he gets this response, this vulgar, dismissive, disrespectful response from former President Trump, is a sad reminder that sometimes Trump wasn't putting first and foremost the best interests of the nation but his own personal sense of loyalty or disloyalty.

President Biden is focused on what's in the best interests of our nation and in an enduring and close relationship with Israel, regardless of who is leading, who is the prime minister of the moment is in, I think, our country's best interests.

BLITZER: All right. Senator, thanks, as usual, for joining us, Senator Chris Coons, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

COONS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I appreciate it.

Coming up, jam-packed day for the investigation into the deadly insurrection, including new memos which may reveal key insights into Trump's plan to try to overturn the presidential election. New information coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, CNN has learned about multiple memos from one of Trump's campaign lawyers in the weeks leading up to the insurrection, revealing a key part of the Trump team's legal strategy to try to overturn the results of the presidential election.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is joining us from Capitol Hill right now. So, what do these memos, Ryan, outline?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, these memos came from Jenna Ellis, who was one of the lawyers working with Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, to peddle many of the false information and lies that the Trump campaign was sending out in the days after the 2020 election.


And in these memos, one that she sent to the former president, Donald Trump, another to Jay Sekulow, who was also on that Trump legal team, suggested that former Vice President Mike Pence could just ignore the federal law that requires him to take receipt of the electors from the different states, open them up and hand them over to Congress to be certified. Ellis, in one memo, suggested that Pence didn't even have to open the envelopes, and if he didn't, then they would have to go back to the states and start the process all over.

Now, Ellis in a series of tweets today, defended her role in all of this, saying that she never specifically was calling for the overturning of the election results, that she was just, instead, offering up legal theories to a client. She also attacked Politico, which first reported the news of the memos for violating attorney/client privilege.

Meanwhile, Jay Sekulow also responding to CNN saying that he too never advocated for Vice President Mike Pence to do anything other than his constitutional authority, but he also defended Ellis, saying that he had every right as an attorney to the president to offer up different legal options that he may have had at that time. BLITZER: A select committee, as you know, also issued a new round of subpoenas today. Who do they target?

NOBLES: Yes. So, this round of subpoenas today, Wolf, not necessarily too many household names, but their role in what took place in the days leading up to January 6th are very important. Among them, Robert Bobby Pedde Jr., Max Miller, who is, of course, running for Congress right now, in Ohio, Brian Jack, Brian Lewis, Ed Martin and Kimberly Fletcher.

And Peede and Max Miller are of particular interest to the community because this is the first time the committee has talked about a direct link between the rally organizers, people that planned rallies on January 4th, 5th, and 6th, that took place here in Washington, that drew people to Washington, many of those that participated in those rallies ended up storming the Capitol on that day.

And both Miller and Peede joined Katrina Pierson, who is also under subpoena, in a meeting with the former president in the executive dining room at the White House, where they discussed plans for the rallies.

Now, we don't know exactly what took place in the conversation surrounding that, but this is one of the first times that we're hearing about the president in a room with rally organizers, discussing plans for that day. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Ryan nobles reporting for us from Capitol Hill, thank you, Ryan, very, very much.

Let's discuss what's going on. Andrew McCabe is joining us. He's a former FBI Deputy Director. He's a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, the author of the book entitled, The Threat: How The FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. Andrew, thanks for joining us.

These memos outline paths for the former vice president, Mike Pence, to try to overturn the election during the count of electoral votes. That's, of course, exactly the process rioters targeted on January 6th. What does that say about the level -- potential level of coordination between the Trump orbit, shall we say, and the insurrectionists?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think that's the point with not just these memos but also the subpoenas that you just referred to. You see with these inquiries, the committee is really focusing very closely on not just people who were involved in setting up the rallies, but that entire effort before January 6th, by people like apparently Jenna Ellis and Attorney Eastman and Mark Meadows and others, the multiple streams of effort that were focused on preventing the certification of the election.

So, you can see the committee is very focused on really laying out the details of how many different ways the Trump administration and the people around the administration were trying to prevent or prohibit or overturn the certification of the election. BLITZER: These newest subpoenas, as you know, don't necessarily target people who are household names around the country, but some of these witnesses actually met with then-President Trump at the White House just, what, two days or so before the deadly Capitol attack. If you could attend those depositions, Andrew, what would you ask them?

MCCABE: Well, Wolf, these are not just rally organizers but these are rally organizers who are coordinating directly with the president. So, this is your chance to tie the president to the efforts of these rally organizers and to shed some light on whether or not the idea that violence would erupt was discussed by these folks, or was planned on, as a part of that day's events by both the rally organizers and the president. So, those are the questions that I would ask.

The understanding these participants and these conversations had about the possibility of violence, whether they talked about violence, whether they talked about what the crowd should do, whether they would march to the Capitol, what would they do when they got there, what was the expectation by both these organizers and the president about what would happen when this fired up, you know, crowd hit the grounds of the Capitol?


BLITZER: While I have you, Andrew, I want to get your thoughts on a very serious security breach at the U.S. Capitol. Not only did a Capitol staffer bring a gun into the building, the Longworth House Office Building, but the Capitol police didn't initially catch the gun and put out a security alert for a person with the wrong description. It's pretty concerning, isn't it?

MCCABE: It's quite concerning, Wolf. And, you know, we don't know all the details. The Capitol police will do an investigation and hopefully we'll see some transparency with the results of that. But it certainly looks like some mistakes were made in this very standard security posture.

And, you know, at the end of the day, the Capitol police cannot sustain another security problem, right? They know they are in the crosshairs of a lot of very, very concerning activity, a lot of concerning extremist activity, from the riot, from the individual who tried to crash through the gates, from the other individual we had who drove a vehicle that he said was loaded with explosives on to the Capitol. So, they really have to get it right every single time, and this seems, at first blush, like an instance in which they did not. So, we really need to know much more about what happened.

BLITZER: We've got to learn from this blunder to make sure that it doesn't happen again with potentially disastrous consequences.

MCCABE: That's right.

BLITZER: Andrew McCabe, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

Just ahead, the United States Supreme Court allows the nation's most restrictive abortion law to remain in effect, but says providers can sue in federal court. So, how complicated is this ruling and could it impact other states?



BLITZER: The White House says President Biden is very concerned about the United States Supreme Court's new decision allowing the nation's most restrictive abortion law to remain in effect in Texas.

Our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider has more on the ruling and how it leaves the door open potentially for the law to be challenged.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the threat to abortion in Texas remains. Supreme Court justices leaving in place a controversial Texas law that bans most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected around six weeks. Anti-abortion advocates are celebrating.

JOHN SEAGO, LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR, TEXAS RIGHT TO LIFE: The court has allowed the Texas law to stay in effect for 101 days now, and we're very confident that is going to stay in effect.

SCHNEIDER: While the Supreme Court did not step in to block the allow, it did rule in favor of abortion providers, saying that they can sue some state officials, sending the case back to the lower courts. Chief Justice John Roberts writing with the court's liberals, saying, given the ongoing chilling effect of the state law, the district court should resolve this litigation and enter appropriate relief without delay.

But the ruling still dealing abortion clinics a blow, while a lower court looks into the issue, private individuals won't be stopped from suing any person involved in performing an abortion after six weeks, with payouts under the law amounting to $10,000 per case if the plaintiff wins. Clinics across Texas have shut down because of that threat of litigation.

LINDSAY LANGHOLZ, DIRECTOR OF POLICY AND PROGRAM, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION SOCIETY: It is going to be hugely problematic, as we go forward, that these cases continue to be brought and they continue to have a chilling effect on people's access to abortion care.

SCHNEIDER: The law has now been in effect 100 days since September 1st. In that time, abortion clinics in surrounding states have reported being overwhelmed at the number of Texas women coming in for procedures and low-income women without the means to travel have been left with few options.

Liberal-leaning Justice Sonia Sotomayor slammed the Supreme Court's decision, saying the court should have put an end to this madness months ago. My disagreement with the court runs far deeper than a quibble over how many defendants these petitioners may sue. The dispute is over whether states may nullify federal constitutional rights by employing schemes, like the one at hand. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (on camera): And abortion rights advocates now say that they will vow to keep fighting, even though they've only be left with what they call a shred of a case. So, Wolf, the abortion providers will go back to the district court in Texas. They'll try to get a ruling in their favor. But even if they do, this will not stop private citizens from anywhere in the country from suing under this law. And that is exactly what has prompted the closure of these abortion clinics, this threat of litigation.

So, the fight continues in federal court, also in state courts, but all the while, Wolf, this law does remain in effect, effectively banning abortion in Texas.

BLITZER: We'll see how long that happens. All right, thanks very much, Jessica Schneider, with that report.

Let's get some analysis. CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero is joining us right now.

So, Carrie, what does this decision mean potentially for Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion, what, some 50 years ago?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so this particular decision, the difficulty with this decision that the court issued today is that it's about process, it's not about the substance, it's not about the constitutionality and the legality in Roe v. Wade and Casey, which was the case that came after that, that reaffirmed the decision in Roe. So, this particular case has to do with whether or not these providers can continue to challenge this Texas law.

And so what the Supreme Court said is that they can challenge to a limited degree. But the problem is that there is no injunction against the law while their challenge is taking place. So, the practical effect is that the Texas law is already undermining the law of the land, which was already Roe and Casey.

BLITZER: Yes, you're right. Isn't that scathing descent that we just heard in Jessica's report from Justice Sotomayor, she warns that the court is effectively inviting other states to use the Texas model, which she says, and I'm quoting her now, betrays our constitutional system of government.


Explain what she means by that, what precedent potentially this could set?

CORDERO: Sure. Well, so, again, the law of the land, and this is what Justice Sotomayor is getting after, is Roe and is Casey, which reaffirmed it 20 years later, that abortion is legal in this country and cannot be outlawed before viability. That's the law. That's what the Supreme Court precedent currently holds. But the Texas law found a way to get around that, by enabling these private actions. And so what could happen, because this has allowed to progress, is that if other states adopt similar laws as Texas has, which have the practical effect of limiting women's right to abortion, then this trend of undermining the current constitutional law could spread throughout other parts of the country.

BLITZER: So, Carrie, where do things go from here, because the court is also going to rule on a very separate Mississippi law that bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks?

CORDERO: Right. And so in that case, the Dobbs case, which the Supreme Court recently heard oral argument on and will decide this year, that case does get to the substance and is the one that we are all watching to see if this more conservative court changes the law in some way, either overrules Roe and Casey, or changes the analysis in a way that allows states to have greater say over regulating women's right to an abortion.

BLITZER: Carrie Cordero, thanks very much for that analysis. I appreciate it.

CORDERO: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, COVID-19 cases are surging right now here in the United States. How overwhelmed are hospitals that are trying to prepare for another winter wave?



BLITZER: Today's America political and military leaders came together to honor the late Senator Bob Dole's life of sacrifice and service. President Biden joined current and former officials from both parties at Dole's funeral service here in Washington at the Washington National Cathedral.

We saw former President Bill Clinton, who defeated Dole, by the way, in the 1996 race for the White House, side by side with the likes of former Vice President Pence, Dick Cheney, Quayle, and so many others. It was a moment of unity that Bob Dole certainly would have relished.

President Biden and Dole's daughter, Robin, were among those who delivered eulogies.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We serve together for 25 years. We disagreed, but we were never disagreeable with one another. Not one time that I can think of. I found Bob to be a man of principle, pragmatism, and enormous integrity. He came into the arena with certain guiding principles that began with devotion to country, to fair play, to decency, to dignity, to honor, to literally attempting to find the common good.

ROBIN DOLE, BOB DOLE'S DAUGHTER: I will miss him so much. I think I will still talk to him every night. I love you, dad, and I promise, you will never walk alone.


BLITZER: After that service, the Dole family led by his beloved widow, Elizabeth, went to the World War II Memorial here in Washington, the memorial that Bob Dole had championed. There, the actor, Tom Hanks, spoke of Dole's legacy as a wounded war hero, who fought to make sure that his World War II comrades were never forgotten.


TOM HANKS, ACTOR: But it was Bob Dole who willed this memorial into place. He pushed the idea, he corralled the votes, he made the phone calls, he enlisted allies, all of us, in the cause, and he raised the money. He did all but mix the concrete himself.

Bob Dole came to this plaza often to remember, to talk with veterans like himself and to their posterity by greeting them with a shake of his left hand. The memory and conscience of the man himself will always be here, right here, for as long as there is in America.


BLITZER: The ceremony ended with Elizabeth and Robin Dole laying a wreath at the World War II memorial, a final poignant tribute to a true American hero patriot.

I want to bring in the former defense secretary, the former U.S. senator, William Cohen, who was at Bob Dole's memorial service earlier today.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

You were there at the national cathedral. How emotional was it to be there today saying good-bye to one of the greatest of the great generation?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, ironically, Wolf, and thanks for sharing this moment with me. I know you knew Bob Dole for many, many years and covered him.


Ironically, it was not a service of sadness. It was one of celebration.

And I must say that there was joy, there was sadness, there was humor. There were some wise cracking that was done, all of which, captured Bob Dole.

And Lee Greenwood's song at the very end, I think, said it all. I'm proud to be an American. Everyone in that cathedral felt proud to be an American because of what Bob Dole represented -- his character, his decency, his civility, and his thoughtfulness. He, on multiple occasions, invited me to meet head of state, President

Yeltsin, President Nixon after the vote on impeachment even, and certainly, he was kind to offer his office up to my wife, Janet, to spend some time alone with President Nelson Mandela.

All of that was a sign to Bob that many people never really had chance to see. They saw the politician. They saw the Republican leader. But it's interesting today, the word Republican wasn't mentioned, the word "Patriot" was and that's who Bob Dole was. He reached across the aisle.

There was Tom Daschle there. And Senator Mitchell could have been there but I talk to Senator Mitchell often about what Bob Dole meant to him.

But to see the diversity of the former presidents and vice presidents, to see the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and to see and feel what this man suffered and not only what he gave in war time but what he gave in public service.

Everyone there felt good about being an American. They felt good about talking about being together, to be united at a time when our country, unfortunately, is -- is more divided than united.

So, it was a memorial service that I think ranks with the very best and I had had a chance to see many of my -- my old colleagues and just relish with the moments we had.

Sheila Burke, his chief of staff whom I have known all of these years and read a beautiful poem called "dash" I believe but it was also poignant, and his daughter Robin talking more about Bob's dogs, that he loved his animals.

So, he was a leader. I keep thinking of the song where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation is calling for our lonely hearts are calling for you. And I think the spirit of Joe DiMaggio, of Bob Dole, was there today and it was uplifting, it was positive, and we all felt grateful that we were alive and had lived long enough to know him.

BLITZER: He often said to me, yes, he is conservative. Yes, he is a Republican. But he is an American, first. What's your message, Mr. Secretary, to today's politicians about the lessons they should take from Bob Dole's legacy?

COHEN: Well, the lesson is that nothing gets done unless we are willing to compromise, to build a consensus, to say that we can't have 100 percent of what we want but to reach across the aisle.

Tom Daschle was there as a Democratic leader. The -- President Biden -- Vice President Harris there as well. President Clinton. These were Democrats, who reached across the aisle with him to preserve social security, to support the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, child nutrition, et cetera. So, all of those were important and that's why he was so important.

BLITZER: William Cohen, thanks so much for joining us on this very moving, emotional day.

We will take a quick break. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Tonight, we are getting new indicators of a holiday-season surge in COVID-19 infections.

CNN's Athena Jones has our pandemic report.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. COVID-19 cases on the rise again, now averaging nearly 120,000 new infections a day, up more than 50 percent over a month ago. Case numbers increasing in 26 states. Hospitals strained in hard-hit Michigan, Ohio, and Arizona.

Indiana now becoming the latest state to call on the National Guard to help overwhelmed hospital workers.

DR. PAUL CALKINS, INDIANA UNIVERSITY HEALTH, ASSOCIATE INTERIM CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Hospital beds and monitors don't feel that -- I mean, we are tired. Our people are incredibly tired.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: The surge is definitely upon us.

JONES: And in New Hampshire, the governor warning --

SUNUNU: It's going to be a rough winter. There is no doubt about it. I don't think these numbers are going to really finish peaking until early January.

JONES: The nationwide surge driven almost entirely by the highly contagious delta variant.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We need to be on a wartime footing because we are at war with an enemy that's killing 1,200 Americans a day and I just don't see it.

JONES: Doctors say most of those hospitalized are unvaccinated but as the U.S. prepares to mark one year since the first shots went into arms, the pace of COVID vaccinations is up almost 40 percent over a month ago, with nearly 460,000 people getting their first shot each day. And some 2 million total doses administered a day, about half of them, booster shots.

Early studies suggest boosters increase protection against the new omicron variant. Dr. Anthony Fauci telling CNN the National Institutes of Health will likely have data early-next week from lab tests on vaccine effectiveness. With the CDC today confirming cases among those infected by Omicron in the U.S. have been mild and among those already vaccinated, that mirrors what is being seen in South Africa where the variant was, initially, identified.

SALIM ABDOOL KARIM, AFRICAN TASK FORCE FOR CORONAVIRUS: The cases tend, on the whole, to be milder with fewer requiring oxygenation. So, it's, you know, interesting it's emerging. It's confirming what we know and certainly no red flags at this stage.

JONES: Athena Jones, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.