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Texts Revealed By 1/6 Committee Undercut GOP Whitewashing Of Riot; Pfizer Says COVID Pill Cuts Risk Of Hospitalization, Death By 89 Percent; 100-Plus Missing, 88 Killed In Tornado Outbreak; Biden Marks 9 Years Since Sandy Hook School Shooting, Renews Call For Tougher Gun Laws; In Calls With Biden, Manchin Makes Clear Hurdles Remain On Spending Bill As Christmas Deadline Seems Unlikely. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 14, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Nike said in a statement, quote, this acquisition is another staff that accelerates Nike's digital transformation. Call me crazy, I prefer sneakers. I can actually put on my feet.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, we're standing by for a very significant step in the January 6th investigation. The House of Representatives is nearing a final vote on holding former Trump White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in criminal contempt of Congress this, as newly revealed texts show GOP allies pleaded with Meadows during riot to persuade then-President Trump to speak out and stop the violence, the messages coming from Donald Trump Jr., members of Congress and Fox News hosts who have publicly tried to whitewash the insurrection.

And Pfizer says a final analysis now shows the new COVID pill cuts risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent. Dr. Fauci says the pill could be a lifesaver as he warns the omicron variant will become dominant here in the United States.

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

Let's get straight to the breaking news, the House of Representatives moving toward a historic vote to seek criminal contempt charges against former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is following the debate and joining us from Capitol Hill right now. Ryan, we now know a lot more about Meadows' communications on January 6th as the House is debating his fate right now.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Wolf. And by taking this step of referring Mark Meadows for criminal contempt of Congress, it is likely that the January 6th select committee is putting themselves in a position where they may not learn much more about what Mark Meadows knows about the days and weeks leading up to January 6th.

But as evidenced, by the drips and drabs they've already shared, the documents that Meadows has handed over to the committee tells us a lot about what he knows.


NOBLES (voice over): A dramatic day on Capitol Hill as the House prepares to vote on holding a former White House chief of staff in contempt.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): This isn't about any sort of privilege or immunity. This is about Mr. Meadows refusing to comply with a subpoena to discuss the records he himself turned over. Now he's hiding behind excuses.

You're making excuses as part of a cover.

NOBLES: The January 6th select committee pointing out Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows won't answer questions about text messages showing calls from Republicans pleading to have Donald Trump act to stop the chaos.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): For 187 minutes, President Trump refused to act. Indeed, some of those text messages, Madam Speaker, came from members in the chamber right now, members who understood that a violent assault was underway at the Capitol, members who pleaded with the chief of staff to get the president to take action.

NOBLES: Liz Cheney, one of the two Republicans on the panel said Meadows can help the committee determine if Trump's actions amounted to a dereliction of duty.

CHENEY: Mr. Meadows' testimony will bear on another fundamental question before this committee, and that is whether Donald J. Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly sought to obstruct or impede Congress' official proceeding to count electoral votes.

NOBLES: Meadows refused to sit for a deposition with the committee, but only after submitting 6,000 documents, amounting to 9,000 pages, many that included messages Meadows received as the Capitol was under siege, some coming from Fox News personalities.

Sean Hannity asked, can he make a statement, asking people to leave the Capitol. Brian Kilmeade begged, please get him on T.V. Destroying everything you have accomplished. While Laura Ingraham warned, Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy, this despite Ingraham mischaracterizing the crowd that same day.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Now, there were likely not all Trump supporters and there are some reports that Antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd.

NOBLES: Even Trump's son, Don Jr., told Meadows, he's got to contempt this shit ASAP. Meadows going on right wing to refute the committee's framing of his messages.

MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: They tried to weaponize text message, selectively leaked them put out a narrative that quite frankly that the president didn't act. And I can tell you this is -- the president did act.

NOBLES: The Department of Justice has the final say on whether Meadows will face charges. And his case is not as straightforward as Steve Bannon's who the department moved quickly to indict. But the committee believes they have filed a strong case.

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): The Supreme Court has made very clear that executive privilege is not absolute, and that's exactly what Mr. Meadows is claiming. And the fact that he sent us all these documents shows that he understands that he doesn't enjoy absolute privilege.


NOBLES (on camera): Now, as we pointed out, the committee has slowly been releasing information from all of these communications that they received from Mark Meadows in this document dump. And even tonight on the House floor during this debate, they are revealing new text messages that Meadows either received or sent in the days and weeks leading up to and on January 6th.

For instance, Representative Jamie Raskin just read a text exchange that Meadows received from a lawmaker on November 4th. This was even before Election Day, Wolf, where he suggests a crazy strategy or an aggressive strategy, he describes it as, where certain states, Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, that are Republican- controlled, but don't even accept their election results but instead send an alternate slate of electors to Washington, D.C. and let the Supreme Court hash it out.

Wolf, this, an example of what they're trying to set up here, not only what happened on January 6th but the actions that were taken by Meadows and others connected to the former president, Donald Trump, that led to what happened on January 6th. Wolf?

BLITZER: I'm sure there's a lot more in those documents that were made available as well. Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.

There's a lot to discuss with our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel, Senior Political Analyst David Gergen and Legal Analyst Elliot Williams.

Jamie, let's talk a little bit about Meadows. You know, he once served in the House of Representatives. He was sort of well liked not only by Republicans but Democrats as well. How significant is it now that he's about to be held in -- face these criminal contempt charges?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It's historic. It really is. And this is not where Mark Meadows wanted to be. He started cooperating because he really did not want criminal contempt. He opened the door. He handed over these documents without privilege and I think it is fair to say Donald Trump was not happy.

He did not want anyone in his inner circle testifying, certainly not his former chief of staff. And I think Meadows got scared. He withdrew, he stopped cooperating, and now he finds himself in the situation he did not want to be in and a historic one for a former member of Congress and chief of staff.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Dana, because the committee in their statements, public statements last night and today laying out a lot more details right now. What are you specifically looking for as you watch the remainder of this process unfold?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the things that's going to be interesting to see is how the votes come out when we actually see the votes taking place. We expect most, if not all of the Democrats to vote yes. We obviously expect Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, the two Republicans on the select committee, to vote yes.

But how much bigger will the Republican vote be? Will it be any bigger? Will you have some of the ten Republicans who voted for impeachment aside -- the other eight, I should say, aside from Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney? We don't know the answer to that.

But it has been noteworthy to watch the way -- the passion of all of these members of the committee. They're speaking because they're so outraged, not because -- not in spite of the fact that he is a former member of Congress but because of the fact that he is a former member of Congress.

And he genuinely is somebody who was well liked across the aisle. He did work with Democrats despite being a conservative, despite being the chair of the Freedom Caucus for a while. And they're just really disgusted clearly with the fact that he's not complying with what he understands is a necessity.

GANGEL: He knows better.

BASH: He knows better. And we know he knows better because we know what he said when the shoe was on the other foot, when he was trying to get information from the Obama White House.

BLITZER: He was the ranking member of the Oversight Committee.

BASH: Yes. He knows better.

BLITZER: So, he knows, understand what a congressional subpoena is all about.

David, if the U.S. Justice Department does decide to prosecute Meadows, he'll be the first White House chief of staff to face criminal charges since Watergate. So, what does that say about this unprecedented chapter right now in America's history?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The fact that it's been so long, it's big gaps since Bob Haldeman under the Nixon administration was forced to resign and then eventually went to jail. He was chief of staff to Richard Nixon.


We've had nothing like that since. I think it only underscores just how big and major these developments have become. This is really -- we're in the big league damage here being done by Donald Trump to a lot of the people around him, including Mark Meadows, whom I think is going to pay a fearful price for this.

But, say, Fox News, the fact that Fox News appears to be just an arm of Donald Trump, an arm of the Trump White House, that when you got a question about where to go and White House in you're at the news bureau, you don't talk to your newsman. You go to the White House to get instructions.

I think it speaks volumes about how far off track the Trump team got. And, frankly, it's going to cast more clouds over the prospect of him running for president in '24.

BLITZER: You know, Elliot, how much of a legal uphill battle potentially will there be if the Justice Department goes ahead and prosecutes Meadows?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. It's a great question, Wolf, because, look, this is not the same case of Steve Bannon who violated the subpoena from day one, never showed up and so on. Mark Meadows did at least try to comply for a little bit, turned documents over and so on.

If you look at how the committee approached this, both in their hearing last night, in their comments today and in their written report, what they've done is lay out the places where he has no claim for executive privilege. So, that's number one, text messages with other people. Number two, a trip down to Georgia. Number three, communications with Georgia state officials.

All of these things are areas in which no White House staffer would have had executive privilege. So, what they did was essentially create a roadmap for the Justice Department saying, in effect, look, this guy might be White House chief of staff and might have had communications with the president that are protected, but we're not worried about these communications. These are the problematic areas in which he violated the law. So, it's not really uphill to prosecute him.

BLITZER: You know, it's really interesting, we're told, by the way, the debate on this issue on the House floor has now formally ended. They're going to go on to some other business, then they'll come back and have a roll call and they'll vote. And we'll see what happens. We'll have a live coverage obviously of all of that.

But last night and today, the text releases, the messages that Meadows either got are said very dramatic. I'm told though that this is only just the beginning. Wait until all of us see, all of us see a lot more.

BASH: Right. I mean, just starting with the responses, if there were responses from Mark Meadows back to them, what was he saying? Because we have to always remember the context when you're talking about messages. This was obviously very dramatic and that was the ultimate crisis, but more broadly and, generally, when you're talking about communications to and from Donald Trump because he doesn't text, because he doesn't email, people who are used to trying to get in touch with him do so to the people around him.

This was the way that they communicated. So, the fact that he was getting these SOS texts from journalists, from reporters, from -- I mean, from members, from reporters who were in the building was remarkable. But the question is what was going on behind the scenes?

And the fact that you have the former the former vice president's national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, who was in the room with the then-president when this is happening testifying today, it's an indicator of what you just said, Wolf, that we're focused on Meadows, which is understandable, because they have released so many texts but there so much we don't know what they are learning every day.

BLITZER: All right. There's a lot about to unfold on the House floor. Everybody stand by. We're going to have a lot more, the breaking news continues as we await the formal House vote on holding former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress.

Plus, new questions right now about just how effective the Pfizer vaccine is against the new coronavirus omicron variant. Stand by.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news that we're following. The full House of Representatives is about to vote on holding the former Trump White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in criminal contempt of Congress.

Let's discuss with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a key member of the intelligence committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

You're about to take this historic vote to hold Meadows in criminal contempt. Why do you believe, Congressman, this is the right step knowing Meadows has actually already handed over more than 6,000 pages of documents, and committee members, select committee members say those documents are very significant?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Yes, Wolf. So I'm glad you ask, because I think the answer is getting lost in the January 6th argument. I'm hearing lots of people saying, oh well, you know January 6th, it was -- look, it wasn't a fundamental threat to our democracy. They'll never happen again. It was a bunch of people who were surprised by what actually happened. Look, that may or may not be true. It maybe, you know, the folks that I got to meet on January 6th I don't think are fundamentally the threat to our democracy today. The threat to our democracy today is things that Mark Meadows knows a lot about. It's the people inside the government, people like Jeff Clark, a senior person at the Department of Justice, people like John Eastman, a previously respected lawyer. These were people who were inside the establishment producing arguments, producing legal rationales for what was essentially a coup d'etat, right? Mark Meadows knows about that PowerPoint. There are apparently members of Congress who said we're so sorry that yesterday didn't succeed.

And the reason, Wolf, and what I see as the real ongoing threat here is the fact that we still have a former president of the United States promoting these lies to the extent that 60 percent, 60 percent of Republicans believe that the current president is illegitimate.


Mark Meadows is the guy who knows about that stuff, and we need to know all the ins and outs of what is still an ongoing threat to our democracy.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting that Meadows has now stopped cooperating with the select committee, but certainly hasn't been shy on his appearances on Fox and other conservative news networks. Watch this.


MEADOWS: What we found is each and every time there was an overreach on the part of the committee.

I can assure you there's nothing criminal about my actions. It's all about wanting clarity under the law.

Compelling the White House chief of staff to come before Congress is not a good road to go down. It would have a chilling effect on serving any president.

Let's be clear about this, Sean. This is not about me holding me in contempt. This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again.


BLITZER: So, Congressman, why is it that Meadows apparently has all the time in the world to go on Trump-friendly T.V. promoting his book but he can't be bothered to testify, answer questions before Congress?

HIMES: Well, Wolf, the question answers the question, right? Look, it's completely bogus at every level. Mark Meadows is out there talking in the media, he's out there writing a book, he came to the Congress with all kinds of information that is already being played for the public.

And let's remember, Wolf, that the executive privilege is not asserted by the chief of staff. It is asserted by the president of the United States. And the president of the United States has said, and he's the one who gets to decide, that he's not exerting executive privileges.

And, of course, the courts have already ruled that an ex-president doesn't have executive privilege. And, consequently, look, you don't need to be a lawyer to dismiss completely out of hand Mark Meadows' argument for executive privilege, and that's why he'll be held in criminal contempt of Congress this evening.

BLITZER: And if that happens, we'll see what the Justice Department decides to do. That will be the next step. Congressman Jim Himes, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, coming up, we also have details of the new pill that potentially could cut COVID hospitalizations and deaths by almost 90 percent.



BLITZER: Tonight as the United States nears a total of some 800,000 deaths from COVID here in the United States, those are confirmed deaths, health officials are more convinced than ever that the omicron variant will dominate the next phase of coronavirus. CNN's Alexandra Field has our pandemic report.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It is going to be dominant in the United States given its doubling time.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Dr. Fauci now confident the omicron variant will become dominant. Today a rapid surge in cases forcing Cornell University to shut down their campus with a significant number showing signs of the omicron variant.

A new study out of South Africa shows the Pfizer vaccine is only about 33 percent effective against infection with the omicron variant, but infections do appear less severe.

FAUCI: The vaccines that we use, the regular two-dose mRNA don't do very well against infection itself, but with hospitalization, particularly if you get the boost, it's pretty good.

FIELD: A year to the day after the U.S. saw some of the first shots in arms, Pfizer announcing another leap forward in the fight against COVID.

ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: With this pill, we expect that instead of ten people going to hospital, only one will go, and actually no one is dying.

FIELD: It's still pending authorization, but Pfizer says their antiviral pill could be available in the U.S. later this month and that it appears to be effective in treating omicron infections which account for just 3 percent of cases sequenced in the U.S. today according to the CDC and more immediately treating delta which is still ravaging parts of the country.

DR. CHRIS T. PERNELL, FELLOW, AMERICAN COLLEGE OF PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE: It's still delta that's snuffing out lives with more than 1,000 deaths daily. I mean, a more than a 100,000 cases. That's where we've got to put the brunt of the focus on how to get unvaccinated folks vaccinated and how to get those who are vaccinated boosted.

FIELD: Nearly a quarter of eligible Americans still haven't gotten a shot. New COVID cases are up nearly 50 percent from a month ago. Hospitalizations are up more than 40 percent in the same time.

AUDREY WENDIT, ER NURSE: My beloved Uncle John, yes. He was -- he died yesterday and he was a really great person. Our last conversation we had, one of the last ones, we were playing cards, and I was telling him that what I'm seeing in my ER right now is so horrible and tragic, and to believe me and to get the vaccine --

FIELD: He never did. Michigan's hospitalizations are at their highest since the pandemic started. Health care workers in Minnesota are pleading with the public to get vaccinated. In a newspaper ad saying we're heartbroken, we're overwhelmed.


FIELD (on camera): And Wolf, professional sports teams are also feeling the effect of the latest spike in cases, that's even with near total vaccination among players in some of the leagues. Even so the NBA and NHL forced to postponed some of their games as a result of infections. The NFL announcing it will require booster shots for some of its staff. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Alexandra, thanks very much. Alexandra Field in New York City for us.

Joining us, the former CDC director, Dr. Tom Frieden.


Dr. Frieden, thanks so much for joining us. As you heard, Dr. Fauci is now saying that the omicron variant will become the dominant variant here in the United States. So is that good news, omicron versus delta, or bad news just given how severe we now know delta has been and continues to be?

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: It's bad news. Any time you have a new pathogen, and this is a new variant, it's really infectious. It's remarkably infectious.

If you look at delta, delta was way more infectious than the other strains, and omicron is way more infectious than delta. Now, there is some hope that maybe it causes less severe disease. We don't know that yet. What we do know is that it's better at getting around our immunity than delta was. The studies are just beginning to come out now. There's a lot we don't understand yet. How protective is a prior infection. How protective are two doses of vaccine? But one thing is clear, that the most important message that omicron is sending to us is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.

If you haven't gotten vaccinated yet, your first dose, start the series right away. Because that's who is filling up the hospitals, intensive care units and sadly the morgues.

Secondly, if you haven't gotten your booster yet, get your booster. It's really clear the boosters do a lot of good to protect against omicron. And third, we need to vaccinate the world because that will reduce the risk of even more dangerous variants emerging.

BLITZER: Yes. I've been really worried throughout this past year and a half with these mutations and new variants emerging which are more dangerous than earlier variants. A new study, by the way, Dr. Frieden, out of South Africa shows the Pfizer vaccine is only about 33 percent effective against the omicron variant. But Pfizer says protection does increase dramatically after the third dose, the booster dose is given. Is this further proof that boosters are absolutely essential?

FRIEDEN: Well, first off, the South Africa study also showed that just two doses of the Pfizer vaccine was about 70 percent effective against severe illness. So we're still seeing the vaccines hold up at what's most important, which is to protect you from getting severely ill or dying.

However, many people in South Africa probably had two doses of Pfizer plus infection by a prior variant, and that may have strengthened their immune response.

That's why it's so important that everyone get a booster now. And we also have to think beyond just vaccination. Masks are really important. None of us want to get into lockdowns, closures, restrictions of that nature.

And in order to prevent that from being necessary, I think masks are a relatively small price to pay. I know we're all sick of them. We all wish we could stop wearing masks. In outdoors, you can. In indoors, in certain environments it's important that we mask up again when COVID is spreading. Because that's going to blunt the number of cases. That's going to prevent our intensive care units from being overwhelmed, and it's going to prevent a lot of cases of long COVID and infections and death.

BLITZER: Very good advice as usual from Dr. Tom Frieden. Get vaccinated and get that booster if you're eligible right now to get it. Thanks so much, Dr. Frieden, for joining us.

FRIEDEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to get an update on the tornado devastation in Kentucky. Tonight, there are growing questions about the conditions at a candle factory that collapsed. Much more on this when we come back.



BLITZER: Tonight, more than 100 people are still missing following the deadly weekend tornado outbreak that killed at least 88 people. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us from Mayfield, Kentucky, one of several totally devastated towns in the state. Brian, so what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short time ago, one of the leaders of the excavation team told us it's going to take likely one to two months to clear all of this rubble from the streets of downtown Mayfield. That's even before any rebuilding can begin.

Meanwhile tonight, there is still an ongoing urgent search looking for the missing.


TODD (voice over): As the tornado cleanup gears up, clearing roads and moving debris in Kentucky and neighboring states, still talk of finding survivors.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): We still definitely are in rescue and recovery. We have people missing. I still expect we will find at least some more bodies. There's just so much destruction.

TODD: The youngest victim, this two-month-old girl, Oakland coon of Dawson Springs at the devastated candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, authorities now believe all workers are accounted for with eight dead, but there are new allegations tonight that at least one supervisor at the factory told employees that if they left for their own safety, they would be fired.

ELIJAH JOHNSON, CANDLE FACTORY SURVIVOR, MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY: I thought, man, are you going to refuse to let us leave even if the weather is this bad and the tornado is not here yet. He said, if you want to decide to leave, if you want to leave, you go leave, but you're going to be terminated. You're going to be fired.

TODD: Did they say, no, we're going to threaten to terminate you if you leave because we think that this is a safety risk and we have to make sure you stay here --

JOHNSON: No, sir, it was none of that.

TODD: It wasn't that. What you're saying is they wanted the production, they wanted the work done.


TODD: But a company spokesman tells CNN they have spoken to supervisors and nothing of the kind was said to employees. And indeed, some employees did leave. And another worker who survived despite being buried by debris tells CNN he felt free to leave. JIM DOUGLAS, CANDLE FACTORY SURVIVOR, MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY: You could basically sign out so they know you're gone and leave at any time. So, me personally, I never heard anything like that.


TODD: Another workplace safety investigation now open by the U.S. Labor Department in Edwardsville, Illinois, where six were killed in an Amazon warehouse. One survivor says workers were warned and sought shelter inside.

CRAIG YOST, AMAZON WAREHOUSE SURVIVOR, EDWARDSVILLE, ILLINOIS: The wall fell on me. I was concentrating on one thing and that was breathing because I was being crushed by the wall.

TODD: In the areas hardest hit by what may be the longest tornado track ever in the U.S., survivors continue to return to their destroyed homes.

LATONYA WEBB, TORNADO SURVIRO, BOWLING GREEN, KENTUCKY: I found a lady laying here. We found her husband down the street. Two little boys, he's and their mother, they didn't make it.

TODD: Frank Withrow says the storm approached like a freight train.

FRANK WITHROW JR. TORNADO SURVIVOR, BOWLING GREEN, KENTUCKY: Looking up and the roof was absolutely coming off. It was unbelievable. I have never seen nothing like that before.

TODD: His wife took shelter in the tub.

VICKI BOARDS-WITHROW, TORNADO SURVIVOR, BOWLING GREEN, KENTUCKY: I'm just started crashing in, I felt the vibration. It was scary. Really scary.


TODD (on camera): And as we mentioned, state officials say at least 100 people remain missing tonight. And we have some other very tragic news tonight. A relative tells CNN six members of a single family were killed when a tornado hit their home in Bowling Green on Friday night. Stephen and Rachel Smith died along with three of their children ages 4 to 16 and Rachel's mother, the couple's 13-year-old daughter is listed as missing, Wolf.

BLITZER: So sad, those pictures -- those families that may that rest in peace. May their memories be a blessing.

Brian Todd, thank you very much.

If you want to help tornado victims and I hope you do, go to to learn ways you can impact your world. It is so important.

Coming up, we'll take a closer look at the rise in gun violence here in the United States exactly nine years after one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.



BLITZER: Today marks 9 years since 20 children and 6 adults we are killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. President Biden marked the day by renewing his call for tougher gun laws.

The Sandy Hook anniversary comes amid a very disturbing rise in homicides in cities across the United States this year.

CNN national correspondent Ryan Young takes us behind the record numbers.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across the country, police departments, cities, towns, and communities are dealing with an alarming increase in the number of homicides.

From Portland --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody has their head on a swivel.

YOUNG: To Birmingham.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go right over the street.

YOUNG: Now, to Austin.

JOSEPH CHACON, AUSTIN INTERIM POLICE CHIEF: And this certainly is not the right reason, not something we're setting this type of a record that we want to be in the news for.

YOUNG: Where the fast-growing city has shattered its yearly record for homicides, making 2021 the city's deadliest year on record.

A CNN analysis of more than 40 of the most populous cities in the U.S. shows nine that have already set homicide records before year's end. Indianapolis has surpassed their 2020 total of 215. Philadelphia, with 529 homicides to date. Albuquerque, New Mexico, with 107.

And Austin, Texas --

What it's like to see the numbers of homicides that you guys are experiencing right now?

CHACON: You know, it's just really disappointing quite honestly.

YOUNG: Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon says there is no one reason for these record-high numbers but he has noticed a disturbing trend.

CHACON: We have seen really a spike in gun violence. So, just a proliferation of illegally owned weapons on the street. YOUNG: Nationwide, more homicides are being committed using guns than

ever. Shootings have increased nearly in all major U.S. cities that track that data. There have been 80 homicides in Austin so far this year according to the police department.

Double last year's total and the city's homicide rate has ticked up to 8.5 percent, putting it on par with numbers not seen consistently since the '80s.

YOUNG: Austin PD is working to turn the tide using its real-time crime center and new Office of Violence Prevention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As these guys were fighting, we can watch exactly what is going on.

YOUNG: Other cities are also looking into violence reduction strategies to combat violent crime.

MAYOR BRANDON SCOTT (D), BALTIMORE: We have a problem that is much deeper than Baltimore City.

YOUNG: In Baltimore, the mayor there says they have taken 2,000 guns off the streets this year, but says the homicide rate is something many mayors around the country are dealing with.

SCOTT: We still have the historical things that are happening, the drugs, the gangs, the money. But so many more people are dying over small interpersonal disputes.

YOUNG: As the country grapples with the historic increase in the homicide rate and a re-imagining of police departments, back in Austin, they are looking for solutions as fast as they can.

CHACON: We need to get ahead of that problem and as a community, as a city, that is what he we're doing.


YOUNG: Yeah, Wolf, we can't stress this enough. Every police chief I've talked to from coast to coast keeps talking about the number of guns that their offices are starting to face out there on the streets. It's something has to be done to curb all this violence, and get those illegal weapons out of the hands of criminals -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There's something needs to be done.

Ryan Young, on the scene for us, as usual -- Ryan, thank you very much.

Let's get some more. Joining us now, our new CNN law enforcement analyst, Art Acevedo, the former police chief of Austin, Houston, and Miami.

Chief Acevedo, welcome to CNN. Thanks so much for joining us.

Let's talk a little bit about what's going on. You know today, 9 years since Sandy Hook, we just witnessed yet another deadly school shooting here in the U.S. What is it going to take to stop gun violence from plaguing our kids and our schools?

ART ACEVEDO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's going to take a comprehensive approach, all hands on deck approach. It's going to take political courage. It's going to take Congress. It's going to take the president. It's going to take legislatures and governors to stop putting their political futures ahead of good policy.

It's too easy to get guns. There are no consequences, little consequences for gun violence in those communities and quite honestly, in the last couple of years, what we've seen across the country is a court system and judges and prosecutors, not holding folks accountable and putting them behind bars, when they commit gun violence.

And I think it's a perfect storm. The American people need to start speaking out, if we're going to stop this flow of blood on streets.

BLITZER: Yeah, something got to be done, and it's got to be done quickly. It's a high priority.

You just heard our correspondent, Ryan Young, report a CNN analyst that found 9 out of the 40 most populous cities here in the U.S. have already set annual homicide records in years not yet over. What's causing this spike?

ACEVEDO: You know, if you look at it, part of it is COVID. People are shooting each other over silly reasons.

A big part of it is politics. And on the right, it's, you know, conservatives that do not want to pass any type of gun policies, gun safety policies. And on the left, to the extreme left, are those that are letting violent criminals that are shooting people, going one door with a history of violence, convictions of violence, go off the other door, and letting them out on low bombs.

So, on both sides, they need to come to the middle. On gun policy, and on violent criminals. Or else, we're not going to see get better anytime soon.

BLITZER: Yeah, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. Both sides getting together anytime soon.

Does it make it more difficult, Chief, for police departments to tackle these issues. At a time where cities are we imagining what police forces look like?

ACEVEDO: Well, look, if you look at Austin, Texas, where I was the police chief for almost 10 years, we had over 20 homicides, pushing 25 homicides, we've lost sleep and look at whether experiencing. That city council would use their budget by nearly $150 million. And now we see what the consequences are.

So, again, it's a time in our nation's history where we have got to get out our corners, come towards the middle, and let common sense, and let good policy carry the day, and not extremes on either side of the aisle, which is what we are seeing on these issues, and that's why we're seeing some failures across the nation.

BLITZER: Chief Acevedo, thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for joining us here at CNN, as our new law enforcement analyst. Appreciate it very much.

ACEVEDO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have more news just ahead, has we await the House vote on holding Mark Meadows, the former Trump White House chief of staff in criminal contempt of Congress.

And, is Senator Joe Manchin any closer to backing the Biden spending bill, after talking with the president, yet again today? We're getting new details. Stand by.



BLITZER: We're getting new information right now of President Biden's struggle to persuade Senator Joe Manchin to support his nearly $2 trillion spending plan.

Let's go to our chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's joining us from the White House right now.

What are you learning, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are 11 days before Christmas, and that was supposed to be the deadline to pass President Biden's Build Back Better. That sweeping package of programs, you know, covering the environment and social programs as well.

But there is clearly not a sense of movement here. One of the reasons is, Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia. Our Manu Raju caught up with Senator Manchin, just a while ago on Capitol Hill, offering this key insight into what the status is.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): In general, they still want to talk.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What do you mean you wouldn't say that when the president's not moving closer towards you?

MANCHIN: No, no, I don't think I'm asking anybody to move. I want people to understand where I -- where I am. And I think that's where we are getting more of an understanding.

RAJU: Which is where? Where are you?


SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): Hey, you enjoy this. Are you enjoying this?

MANCHIN: Hold on. I want to know how you would answer something like that. I mean --

RAJU: Are you anywhere to the point where you could vote yes on proceeding --

MANCHIN: I got to get to check my pastor here. I can't get --

WARNOCK: You should check with the pastor.

MANCHIN: I can't get in negotiations like this right now.

WARNOCK: Did you hear that? He says he's checking with the pastor. That means -- that means we're getting ready to pass voting rights.


MANCHIN: I knew our pastor was wise.


ZELENY: So, that is a key window into really what the dynamic on Capitol Hill is. That, of course, as Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia who is facing a tough re-election battle next year and his re-election is going to be contingent upon if the administration was able to get their programs passed.

So, many Democrats believe now is the time for Senator Manchin to come along. But he has said simply he believes inflation and other matters in the economy simply is not the right time for this bill. He is looking for a smaller bill, fewer programs.

So, Wolf, very much, an open question here and, in fact, time is essentially running out to get this bill passed before the Christmas deadline. Of course, that's a self-imposed deadline. They can also always do it next year, but there definitely is a sense that time is waning here as we head into the middle of this week before Christmas if this bill will get passed.

But clearly, Senator Joe Manchin, a key sticking point. He talked again with President Biden on the phone, the second day in a row, but not much movement here, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Time, at least this year, are running out.

ZELENY: Right.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much for that report.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.