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The Situation Room

Trump Lashes Out At Pence, Barr, 1/6 Committee After Damning Hearings; New Evidence Of Two U.S. Fighters In Ukraine Apparently Detained; Biden Acknowledges Americans Are Really, Really Down; FDA Authorizes Vaccines For Children As Young As 6 Months Old; Three Dead In Shooting At Alabama Church. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 17, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's at 9:00 A.M at noon Eastern.

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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you Monday.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, as the January 6th select committee prepares to reveal more damning evidence against Donald Trump. The former president is now lashing out at the panel and at his vice president, Mike Pence, and his attorney general, Bill Barr.

Also tonight, there is new evidence that two U.S. fighters in Ukraine apparently have been detained. We'll have the latest on their fate as well as a third American fighter who is now missing in the war zone.

And President Biden is acknowledging that Americans are, quote, really, really down right now after the strain of the pandemic and as they struggle with inflation and rising interest rates.

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

We begin with the first public response by former President Trump to the damning evidence and testimony presented by the January 6th select committee.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is following all the new developments in the insurrection investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I never called Mike Pence a wimp. I never called him a wimp. Mike Pence had a chance to be great. He had a chance to be, frankly, historic. But just like Bill Barr and the rest of these weak people, Mike, and I say it sadly because I like them, but Mike did not have the courage to act. JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Former President Trump using his platform at a conservative political conference to deny the evidence against him and blast the January 6th committee.

TRUMP: They con people. They're con artists.

SCHNEIDER: Trump's attacks come as the committee is gearing up for several more hearings. CNN has learned Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger will at Tuesday's hearing with his deputy.

TRUMP: All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.

SCHNEIDER: They'll testify about Trump's efforts to pressure them to change the election result.

The committee also wants to talk to Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, about her communications with Trump Attorney John Eastman. Eastman devised the scheme to pressure then- Vice President Mike Pence to block the certification of Biden's 2020 electoral win.

MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The teller is verified, it appears to be regular in form and authentic.

SCHNEIDER: Something Pence ultimately refused to do.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): We have sent Ms. Thomas a letter asking us to come and talk to the committee. We look forward to her coming.

SCHNEIDER: Ginni Thomas issued a short response to the committee via the conservative publication, Daily Caller, saying she can't wait to clear up misconceptions. I look forward talking to them. Eastman denying he ever discussed election litigation that might before the Supreme Court with Ginni Thomas or with Justice Clarence Thomas. Eastman writing, we have never engaged in such discussions, would not engage in such discussion and did not do so in December 2020 or any time else.

While the committee has requested cooperation from outstanding witnesses, it has so far refused to share full transcripts of all of its interviews with the Justice Department, but the committee says it will not be an obstacle to Justice Department prosecutions.

THOMPSON: We are not going to stop what we're doing to share the information that we've gotten so far with the Department of Justice. We have to do our work.

SCHNEIDER: CNN has learned the panel is running into problems securing witnesses for an upcoming hearing about Trump's efforts to pressure the Justice Department to support and promote his false election fraud claims. While Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, the top two officials at DOJ in the final weeks of the Trump administration are expected to appear, the committee is so far striking out with Pat Cipollone. Cipollone is the former White House lawyer credited with talking some sense into Trump by threatening to resign. Sources say Cipollone is not expected to join the hearing in person, despite already talking to the committee privately.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): And Tuesday is the next hearing. It will focus on how Trump and his allies pressured officials in key battleground states, including Georgia, to overturn the election results in Trump's favor.

But there is still no official hearing date set for the testimony on Trump's pressure campaign on the DOJ since, Wolf, it does appear that those witnesses are still being worked out. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll see what happens.


Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN Senior Commentator John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio.

Gloria, how much does it sound like these hearings are already getting under Trump's skin big time?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot. Here is the former president likely who is to run for president again, doing a big 90- minute appearance. And he spent so much of his time going over what the committee did. So, it's clear to me he has been sitting in front of the hearings and watching the hearings.

And, again, he starts denying everything, just as he did with impeachment. For example, he said I never said, wimp. Well, there were two people who testified that is exactly what they heard the president say to Mike Pence on that phone call.

Next week when you have Brad Raffensperger there, and we have the audiotape of him asking the former secretary of state of Georgia for 11,000 votes, is he going to say, well, I never said that, it's on tape.


BORGER: So, we'll see how he reacts to that.

BLITZER: He said that he never said that Bill Barr and Mike Pence were wimps, but in the next sentence he says they were weak.

BORGER: They were weak. And two people testified wimp was word he used and then he also used an obscene word to the vice president.

BLITZER: Yes, he did. All right, thanks very so much, Gloria. Don't go too far away.

Jeffrey, is it at all surprising to you that Trump is attacking the select committee and still pushing the very lies that led to the deadly attack up on the Capitol?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: No, it's not surprising. But I think what makes this situation somewhat different from previous Trump controversies is that all of the witnesses he is attacking are Republicans.

I mean, one of the things the committee has clearly done in a very intentional way is to call witnesses who were politically sympathetic to President Trump. So, he can't say Adam Schiff, a Democratic congressman, a frequent foil of his, he can't say that this is just Adam Schiff lying, or saying terrible things about him. This is his attorney general. This is his daughter. These are his people who are presenting the evidence against him, which I think makes his task somewhat harder in trying to discredit them.

BLITZER: Governor Kasich, next week, we will hear from Georgia election officials and former Justice Department officials during the next round of hearings. How effectively is the committee telling the story of January 6th, relying, once again, as Jeffrey pointed out, on a lot of Republican witnesses?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think that's a key point, Wolf. And I would also say that I think what's beginning to happen is that Republicans who had thought, well, the election wasn't fair or whatever, I think there are growing numbers of people across the country who watch this, considering the fact that these are Republicans who are testifying, and I think there are people beginning to say, you know what, I think maybe this election was fair, that, in fact, Joe Biden did win.

And then, secondly, I think, in regard to Donald Trump, I think all of this information, all of this testimony, all of this video, it's weighing him down. It's going to seep into the consciousness of people over time. And, remember, we're only about halfway there. There is a lot more cards to be turned over. And I think in the process, it's weighing him down and having a significant impact on how voters feel about him and about how America feels about him. So, I think they've done a very good job.

TOOBIN: But, Governor, a Republican congressman who voted against Trump in one area got 25 percent of the vote in South Carolina. I mean, that sure suggests a lot of Republican conservatives still standing by Trump.

BORGER: Very conservative --

KASICH: I'm just saying he's being weighed down. You have got to remember, you have to look at the total. Look, he went after the governor of Georgia and got crushed. He went after the secretary of state in Georgia and he got crushed. So, you can't look at it -- you have to look at it race by race and what's happened at each of these races. And some of these districts remain very strongly pro-Trump. I'm just saying there are growing of numbers of Americans who I believe are saying, you know what, that election was fair, honey. It actually happened. And I do think it's taking an evident impact on Trump.

BORGER: I think Trump's base is probably not watching the hearings and probably saying it's more of the same, more of the same, we've had reporters out there at the speech and that's what the audience was saying. So, you have to take that into account too. The Trump base is either saying these are fabrications or not watching at all.

BLITZER: Gloria --

KASICH: But there is more than the Trump base.

BORGER: Absolutely.

KASICH: The Trump is maybe 25 or 30 percent. I said, there are other things that are moving here --

BORGER: I agree.

KASICH: -- and, yes, that's what I think has happened.

BLITZER: At the same time, there are more and more details emerging about Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and her efforts to overturn the presidential election.


Why is the committee now asking for her testimony?

BORGER: Well, I can tell you from my sources on the committee they really didn't want to have Ginni Thomas in. They have a lot of work to do. They have a lot of hearings to get together, and they've known she is a conservative activist. And one source told me, look, that's the Supreme Court's problem. It's not our problem.

But now, the committee revealed that there were emails between the architect of the would-be coup, John Eastman, and Ginni Thomas. Now, there could be much ado about nothing or they could be something. And so she has said, I would like to come in before the committee. And so they are saying you are welcome to come in.

But don't forget, she actually texted Mark Meadows, saying to him on the efforts to overturn the election, save us from the left taking America down. So, there is a history here. And you could argue that it's problematic and inappropriate, but with Eastman's involvement now in these emails, I think the committee felt it goes beyond that and they have no choice.

BLITZER: She told the Daily Caller she's ready to cooperate. Go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Well, it's just --

BORGER: They won't do anything.

TOOBIN: Ginni Thomas is perfectly entitled to be a political activist. She has the same First Amendment rights, as everyone else. However, she is texting and emailing with these senior White House officials at a time when a case about texts and emails is before her husband at the Supreme Court. The issue is his behavior, Justice Thomas' behavior, not Ginni Thomas' behavior. Why she doesn't --

BORGER: And the court won't do anything about it.

TOOBIN: But the public should know that one of the nine Supreme Court justices appears to be acting in cases in which his wife is an active participant and that is not the way the system is supposed to work.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeffrey, a new study the Supreme Court for years, has there ever been a case where the spouse of a Supreme Court justice has been called to testify before Congress?

TOOBIN: One word, no.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what I thought. All right, guys, thank you very, very much, Jeffrey Toobin, Gloria Borger, John Kasich.

Just ahead, are the revelations from the January 6th hearing even worse than what happened in the Watergate scandal? I'll ask the star witness in that explosive hearing a half a century ago, former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean. He is standing by live.



BLITZER: The January 6th hearings are putting the spotlight on the threat to democracy a half a century after the nation was rocked by Watergate, the infamous break-in at DNC headquarters here in Washington that led to the unraveling of the scandal, and it happened 50 years ago today.

Joining us now, the former Nixon White House counsel and CNN Contributor John Dean. John, thanks so much for joining us.

Watching these current hearings nearly 50 years after your own testimony helped bring down President Nixon, do you fear what is going on now, what has happened is actually worse than Watergate?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Multiple times worse, Wolf. Nobody died at Watergate. You didn't have an insurrection at Watergate. You didn't have the same kind of direct threat to democracy unfolding in these hearings. This is much more serious.

BLITZER: Yes. We're showing our viewers some pictures of you testifying before Congress in 1973, a much younger John Dean. But you've aged nicely over the years, I must say.

What goes through your mind, John, watching these current Trump White House officials testify? Have you seen yet a John Dean moment, as I like to call it, in these hearings at least so far?

DEAN: I really haven't. And the person who could do the country a lot of good, give us some restored faith in the legal profession is Pat Cipollone, who -- the report is he is unwilling to testify publicly in these hearings. Maybe he is doing some informal cooperation with the committee but he really needs to step forward.

We know from Jared's testimony that the threat to resignation was really treated as nothing but whining by the counsel's office. He needs to come forward now and stop aiding and abetting this threat to democracy.

BLITZER: Do you think he will?

DEAN: I have no idea. I certainly think he should.

BLITZER: In your view, is Trump more dangerous than Richard Nixon was, or is it about today's Republican Party, what's going on?

DEAN: I think both the Republican Party is more dangerous and Donald Trump is a very different character than Richard Nixon. I think Richard Nixon showed that he actually had a conscience. He had the ability to experience shame. I don't think Donald Trump can do either, or show either. So, that makes this president, the former president a very dangerous man. And he is supported by a Republican Party that's decided it's okay to be openly authoritarian and forget that authoritarianism doesn't work well with democracy.

BLITZER: Reflecting on your role, historic role, defending American democracy 50 years ago, what would you say to the witnesses -- what else would you say to the witnesses who are still refusing to cooperate with this January 6th investigation? How will they be judged in the history books?

DEAN: Well, if they don't come forward, it is a threat to our democracy. Our democracy is in trouble right now.


It's fragile, much more fragile that people seem to realize. And their testimony is needed. We need the full picture of what happened. We need to explain the depth of the criminal activity that actually went on behind closed doors. And we're just being able to pull out the surface knowledge of it. So, if we want to live in a democracy, we've got to act like democratic people.

BLITZER: And learn the lessons of what happened to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Again, John Dean, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we'll have the latest on the fate of three American fighters feared captured by the Russians in Ukraine as new video of two of them surfaces. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight, we're getting new information about two of the three Americans missing in Ukraine, escalating concerns that they've been captured by the Russians.

CNN Pentagon Respondent Barbara Starr is joining us right now. Barbara, I know you're getting more information. What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in recent hours, two videos have emerged on Russian social media channels, separate videos, each of them showing one of these men. Now, the two men you see there on the left-hand side.

I want to be clear right off the top, CNN has chosen not to show the video. The men are speaking. They don't appear to be harmed in any way. They don't appear to have been mistreated, but they are being held. And so they are speaking under duress, and we will not show that video.

We do have the picture from earlier where they appeared with their hands behind their back and appeared to be held by someone they had been fighting in Eastern Ukraine near Kharkiv. Not clear if they are directly in control of Russians or Russian-backed fighters.

On the left in that vehicle photo, you see Alexander Drueke, former U.S. Army. On the right, you see Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, former U.S. Marine. Their families have not heard from them in several days now and concern is rising, of course, about their fate.

Now, a third man, a third American who is a Marine Corps veteran, having served 20 years, Grady Kurpasi, you see him there in happier circumstances, he also has been missing in Ukraine since April when his family last heard from him.

A good deal of concern, President Biden again today urging Americans not to travel to Ukraine, well-understood that there are many former military people who want to lend a hand, who have skills to offer, but the administration very much urging them not to go to Ukraine. It is simply too dangerous. Wolf?

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very, very much.

Let's go to the war zone in Ukraine right now. CNN's Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman is on the frontlines with Ukrainians, hunkered down in an eastern city that is under fire right now.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A portent of things to come on the road to Lysychans'k, a city that has been on the line of fire for months.

A school basement serves as shelter for dozens of residents. Tetyana shows us where they sleep. The only light provided by our camera. Everyone is outside now, she says, because it's too dark and hard to breathe down here.

Outside, they wait as soup cooks over a fire. There's no gas, no power, no water, Maria tells me, we have nothing. Most are old, tired, terrified, and beyond despair. I'm alone, says 82-year-old Masha. My legs are tired. I can't go anywhere.

Lydumila is leaving. We thought it would calm down, but it only gets worse and worse, she says. I can't take these sounds anymore. Natalya is leaving too. The windows in my house are the windows in my house are broken, she says. There is a huge crater by my house. It's the end of the world.

The sunny weather belies what has become a post-apocalyptic existence. Residents line up for unfiltered water so they can wash and flush toilets.

Almost four months of war with no end in sight, frustration flares. Where's our mayor, where's our governor asks Mykola. They should have come here at least once.

Just across the river, savage street fighting rages in Severodonetsk. Lysychan'sk isn't near the front, it is the front.

At 3:00 in the afternoon, Russian aircraft hit this building. This building was serving as a shelter for people. Three were killed. And it really goes to show there is nowhere in Lysychan'k that is safe.

Ludmila (ph) was in that building, her husband injured in the strike. Yesterday, he was crushed under the rubble, she says. She can do nothing but weep. She waits for a ride to see him in hospital.



WEDEMAN (on camera): Wolf, today, we got a glimpse into Vladimir Putin's alternate universe. In a speech in St. Petersburg, he claimed without a hint of irony that Russia was forced into this war, that it's merely exercising its right to self-defense. And despite the setback suffered by Russian forces, he vowed that the aims of the special operation, that's the war in Ukraine to the rest of us, will be achieved. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Kramatorsk for us. Stay safe over there, Ben. Thank you for all your excellent, excellent, very courageous reporting. We are grateful.

Let's discuss what's going on with the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor. Ambassador Taylor, thanks so much for joining us.

First of all, how concerning is it to hear a video now circulating on pro-Russian channels appearing to show two Americans who are missing in action in Ukraine? WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: It is troubling, Wolf. You can't count on good treatment. It's not clear if these are Russians or if these are the separatists that are under the Russian control. In either case, they are doing bad things. We know what they've done in previous court cases, sentencing to death. There is no indication that that's the case yet, but you have to worry. It's troubling.

BLITZER: The Kremlin is denying any knowledge of the whereabouts of these three Americans, two former Marines, one former army soldier. How likely is it that the U.S. can secure the release of these American fighters?

TAYLOR: We will do everything we can, I'm sure. I'm sure both in Moscow and in other places around the world, we'll be moving to see if we can find out where they are and then determine how we can get them out. That's going to be important.

But it's also important to reemphasize that it's no place for Americans in that part of the world at this point. There is the instinct. Barbara mentioned that the instinct of people who want to help to go there, and people have combat experience, I understand exactly what that instinct is. But that's not helping. It does not help if they are captured.

BLITZER: As you know, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, today railed against the United States and the west in a major speech. He claimed Russia was, quote, forced into this conflict. What does that say to you about his appetite to continue this war?

TAYLOR: So, he has been saying some strange things over the past week. He also compared himself earlier, as you recall, to Peter the Great. Peter the Great when he invaded Sweden and took back some part of that country. He said it was base Slavs have lived there. This has got to be worrying to a lot of East European Slavs who think that if President Putin can go after Slavs, then they could be vulnerable.

So, this just demonstrates his attitude, Wolf, towards sovereign nations. He doesn't respect sovereignty of any of the neighbors.

BLITZER: So, so disturbing. Former Ambassador Bill Taylor, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, President Biden's candid response to the mood of the nation, feeling the pain of inflation, rising interest rates and stock market losses. Stand by. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: President Biden is speaking out at the close of a week that escalated Americans' fears of recession with interest rates rising and stock markets reeling. Our White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz is with the president in Delaware right now. Arlette, the president is bluntly acknowledging the pain so many Americans are feel right now.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUES CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. President Biden acknowledged the weariness that Americans are feeling about the state of the country at this moment. In an interview with the Associated Press, the president was very blunt and said that people are feeling very really, really down at this moment. He credited this a lot to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

But, of course, there is also so much economic anxiety that Americans are feeling as they are seeing inflation rising at the fastest pace since in the past 40 years. One of those areas that has really been impacted ready gas prices. Americans are feeling the pain at the pump, as just this week, gas prices hit $5 a gallon average nationally. And that is just something that is really sticking with Americans at this moment. Of course, there are also higher prices when it comes to food.

The president has insisted he is trying to do everything he can to try to drive down inflation while also acknowledging the pain Americans are feeling at this moment.

BLITZER: He also addressed people's fears right now about a possible recession. Tell our viewers what he said.

SAENZ: Yes. So, what economists -- some economists predicting that recession might be looming, President Biden really kind of pushed back on that, saying that he does not believe a recession is inevitable. And in that interview with the Associated Press, he once again argued that he believes that the U.S. is in a strong position to push back and fight against inflation.

You've heard the administration repeatedly point to wage gains as well as those unemployment numbers falling. But the president is trying to show that there is some optimism that he at least has when it comes to trying to avoid a recession.

Now, president also bristled in that interview to those who suggest that it is his fault that inflation is running so hot at this moment. You also heard him earlier today at a virtual event with more than 20 leaders of foreign countries.

He also talked about inflation in a global term, pointing once again to Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine as being one of the factors that is driving up prices.


But the president at least was trying to suggest to Americans it's not necessarily 100 percent guarantee that a recession will happen, even as some economists are predicting that at a moment.

BLITZER: A lot of concern about a possible recession. Arlette Saenz in Delaware with the president, thank you very much. Americans seeking home loans are already feeling the sting of the fed's new interest rate hike. Brian Todd is working this part of the story for us.

Brian, you've been asking experts to share tips for home buyers in this new climate. What are you hearing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have, Wolf. And these experts admit that this is getting much more difficult. This is a complicated process, becoming more difficult as interest rates rise. Tonight, we have new insights on how to navigate the ever changing mortgage markets.



TODD (voice over): Dana Burns got some sticker shock recently when shopping for a new house in the Phoenix area.

BURNS: $500,000, I don't think so. I know not.

TODD: Dana certainly not alone in navigating higher home prices and steeper mortgages. At the end of 2021, 30-year fixed rate mortgages in the U.S. had interest rates of only about 3 percent. Now, the rate is approaching about 6 percent. And with the Fed's interest rate hikes just announced, getting a mortgage could cost some home buyers hundreds of thousands dollars more.

BILL KOWALCZUK, REAL ESTATE BROKER, COLDWELL BANKER WARBURG: For an average home buyer, it could cost upwards of six figures, more than $100,000 over the course of a 30-year loan today versus if they had purchased perhaps six to seven months ago.

TODD: What's the first thing a perspective home buyer should do right now as interest rates climb?

MICHELLE SINGLETARY, PERSONAL FINANCE COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: The first thing you ought to do is sit down and look at all your debts. Because before you go look at the house, before you fall in love with that house, look to make sure you can handle that payment.

And here's something else that I'm going to tell you that a lot of people don't tell you. Don't go by what the bank says that you can afford, because they're going to look at your gross income. They're going to look at all your debts and they're going to look at your gross income. But guess what? You don't take your gross income home.

TODD: Most financial experts advise put as much money down for your home as you can. One key component home buyers have to navigate, whether to get a fixed rate mortgage of 15 to 30 years with an interest rate that never changes, or a so-called ARM, an adjustable rate mortgage with interest rates that go up and down depending on the markets and when the government raises or lowers rates.

KOWALCZUK: If you think that you'll be there for less than five years, an adjustable rate mortgage would definitely be the way to go, because it's a lower monthly payment. If you think you're going to be staying longer than five years, a 15-year, or a 30-year mortgage would be great. It just depends on what monthly payment you're able to carry.

TODD: With mortgage interest rates climbing, is now even a good time to buy? Our experts are torn.

SINGLETARY: Renting does not mean that you are a financial failure. Renting in an environment where we might have a recession will allow you to pick up and move maybe where the jobs are.

KOWALCZUK: If you are able to make a downtown and qualify for a mortgage, it will cost you less to own that home than it would be to rent the same property.


TODD (on camera): Now, what's a common mistake people make when taking on a new mortgage, buying a new home? One expert we spoke to says many people simply buy too much house, overestimating the affordability of their mortgage, not factoring in the maintenance costs of the house. Wolf, there is a lot of things to take into consideration when you're taking on that mortgage (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Brian, thank you very, very much, Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, how soon will children here in the United States under age five actually be able to get a COVID vaccine now that the FDA has given the green light? I'll ask the White House COVID response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, when we come back.



BLITZER: The youngest Americans are now another big step closer to getting COVID-19 vaccinations. The FDA today expanded its emergency use authorization to children as young as six months old.

And joining me now, Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

Dr. Jha, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, President Biden says parents could get their kids under 5 and as young as 6 months old vaccinated, he says as early as next week, pending the CDC signoff.

How momentous will that be more than two years into this COVID-19 pandemic?

DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Wolf, first of all, thanks for having me back in THE SITUATION ROOM. I think this is an incredibly important moment. I mean, obviously, for the parents of kids under 5, it's a moment they have been waiting for. But for all of us, this is the last group of Americans who have not yet been eligible, and they will be again, assuming CDC signs off, every American will have the ability to get protected from these vaccines. And that's going to be a momentous occasion indeed.

BLITZER: The Moderna vaccine, as you well know, Dr. Jha, for these youngest kids, is two doses. The Pfizer is three doses. What sort of guidance can parents expect on how to choose which vaccine is the right one for their child, and how to time these doses with other childhood vaccines?

JHA: Yeah, it's a great question. You know, the FDA basically, they're experts, voted 21-0, as you know. And the FDA came out and said both vaccines clearly meet the FDA bar for being vaccines that where the benefits far outweigh the risks.

In terms of which specific guidance of what vaccine to use, under what context, we're going see some of that kind of guidance coming out of the CDC tomorrow.


So, the CDC experts will weigh in. Dr. Walensky will weigh in. I think we'll have a lot more information on strategy parents might use once the CDC is done with their process.

BLITZER: I have a lot of friends who have kids or grand kids who are very, very young and they're asking those questions. What if a baby or child, Dr. Jha, under 5 recently had COVID. How long should parents wait after that infection to then go ahead and get the vaccine?

JHA: Yeah, it's a very good question and I think we're going to get more formal guidance on this from the CDC. What we have recommended, because we've seen that immunity from infection does not last as long as it did earlier in the pandemic. Once that people are recovered, including kids, to go ahead and get them vaccinated right away. I think we're going to see more specific guidance on this from CDC hopefully very soon.

BLITZER: What's your message, Dr. Jha, to parents who may still be reluctant about this vaccine for kids under 5?

JHA: Yeah, my message is very clear. Like look at the evidence. Look at the data and talk to the doctor who takes care of your child. Talk to the pediatrician. Talk to the family physician.

The data here is really clear, Wolf, that kids clearly benefit from these vaccines. They're exceedingly safe. They prevent kids from getting seriously ill. If I had a kid under 5, they'd be getting vaccinated. I have kids over 5, they've been all vaccinated.

But what I recommend to parents is talk to the person you trust with your child's health and get their advice as well.

BLITZER: Good advice. The Florida governor, Governor Ron DeSantis, as you probably know by

now, is defending his state's decision not to pre order these vaccines for kids under 5. He says, I'm quoting now, it's not appropriate, he says, for state programs to be giving vaccines to young kids.

Are you worried about what that means potentially for the health of children in Florida?

JHA: Yeah, Wolf. This is really all very preventable. We've had pre ordering for tests -- for vaccines now for several weeks. With FDA's authorization, these vaccines are now getting shipped out across the country. They're going to pediatrician's offices and children's hospitals in every state in the country except Florida.

So this is going to cause an unnecessary delay for parents who have chosen to get their kids vaccinated. I wish that the governor and the Department of Health have made a different choice. I wish they had given the parents of Florida a choice to get vaccinated next week. It is going to get delayed.

We're going to do everything we can to get those to Florida as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: Yeah. Good point. Dr. Ashish Jha, as usual, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing here. We are deeply, deeply grateful.

JHA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, three people are dead after a shooting at an Alabama church. CNN is now on the scene with new details. Stand by.



BLITZER: Now to the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. a key Republican senator says negotiators are close to agreeing on the text of new gun legislation with hopes of getting a bill to the floor next week. This comes after yet another deadly shooting in this country, this time at an Alabama church.

CNN national correspondent Nadia Romero is on the scene.


DISPATCH: We are getting reports of a possible active shooter.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three people are dead after a shooting Thursday night at a church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham.

DISPATCH: Active shooter incident with injuries. Scene is not secure. At least three patients.

ROMERO: Police say St. Stephen's Episcopal church was hosting a potluck dinner when the suspect, 70-year-old Robert Smith, who was attending the event, opened fire.

CAPT. SHANE WARE, VESTAVIA HILLS POLICE: At some point, he produced a handgun and began shooting, striking three victims.

DISPATCH: Best estimate we have for patients is going to be in the parish hall. The shooter has been held down at this time, but the scene is not secure.

ROMERO: Investigators say after opening fire, the suspect was held down by another person at the event.

DISPATCH: We can't get radio reception. Multiple people down. Subject in custody.

ROMERO: Police identifying the victims as 84-year-old Walter Rainey who died on the scene, and 75-year-old Sarah Yeager who died at the hospital. The third victim, an 84-year-old Jane Pounds (ph) died at the hospital Friday.

The ordeal leaving the community in disbelief.

HUDSON BROWN, LIVES NEARBY: You see it in places you have never been to. People you don't know. And then now you're thinking, that could have been one of my friends down there.

ROMERO: Former U.S. Senator Doug Jones has lived in the neighborhood for nearly three decades.

DOUG JONES (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR, ALABAMA: I think it just goes to show that no community is immune from this kind of gun violence that we see playing out across the country. No one is immune.

ROMERO: So far, investigators have not released a motive but say the suspect who is in custody acted alone. Police praising the bravery of the person who held down the suspect until they arrive.

WARE: The person that subdued the suspect in my opinion is a hero.

ROMERO: Earlier today, parishioners packed a prayer vigil at St. Luke's Episcopal Church about six miles away.

BISHOP GLENDA CURRY, EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF ALABAMA: I think the church has a lot to mourn.


ROMERO (on camera): Wolf, the mayor of Vestavia Hill says he believes this was a senseless act of violence. He says chaplains are providing grief counseling to families and first responders. The bishop here says that church services will resume as normal this weekend and she doesn't want anyone to fear coming back to church -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. One correction we have to make tonight. Earlier, we intended to show you a photo of Gabe Sterling, Georgia's chief operating officer in the office of the secretary of state. Instead, we mistakenly showed you a picture of retired Judge Michael Luttig. We apologize.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.