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The Situation Room
President Biden's Closing Argument For Voters To Vote Democratic; Russia's Dirty Bomb Claims Fueling Escalation Of War In Ukraine; Supreme Court Justice Thomas Blocks Sen. Graham's Testimony In Georgia; Trump Organization Tax Fraud Trial Jury Selection; Cheney: 1/6 CMTE Won't Let Trump Turn Testimony Into Circus; New Questions About 2024 White House Run After Trump Tease; New Warning Of Triple Threat: Flu, COVID, Respiratory Illness; Incoming British P.M. Rishi Sunak To Take Office Tomorrow. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 24, 2022 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Jake Tapper will speak with Charlie Crist. The Democrat once Republican trying to get his old job back from the current Florida governor, Ron DeSantis. You can catch that tonight at 9:00 eastern right on CNN. If you ever miss an episode of "THE LEAD," you can listen wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow me on twitter, @JohnBerman. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, President Biden's new closing argument to voters acknowledging Democrats are running against the tide with Washington -- with election day, I should say, fast approaching. Is his message resonating right now as CNN's exclusive new poll drives home voters' worries about the U.S. economy.
Also tonight, the Trump organization's tax fraud trial is now under way in New York after years of investigation. Jurors being chosen to decide if crimes were committed by the former president's business.
And as the battle for southern Ukraine rages, Russia is now accusing Ukrainian forces of planning to detonate a nuclear-laced dirty bomb. The claim is being vehemently denied by officials in Kyiv and here in Washington.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Our top story tonight, President Biden hammering home his party's closing message just 15 days before the midterm elections. Let's go straight to the White House where CNN's Phil Mattingly is standing by. Phil, as the president makes his push, a new CNN poll shows what voters care about most. Give us the latest.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, President Biden's top advisers are keenly aware of the headwinds that they face, whether they're historical, the president and party, his party in control of Congress and what that usually means for a midterm election, largely wipeouts over the course of the last 60 years, and also headwinds on the economy, in particular inflation that remains stubbornly high.
But the president has shown signs of optimism over the course of the last several days making clear they believe that they're fighting against the tide when it comes to history and that perhaps they have some economic news that may shift that argument their way. It's something he alluded to today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: So far, we're running against the tide and we're beating the tide, but we just have 15 days until one of the most important elections in our lifetime. Democrats are building a better America for everyone, with an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out, where everyone does well. Republicans are doubling down on their mega MAGA trickledown economics that benefits the very wealthy, has failed the country before and will fail it again if they win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Wolf, the president is really zeroed in on the last part of those comments, the idea that this is not a referendum on his administration or on Democrats on the whole, it is a choice between Democrats and Republicans. Biden officials believe they have an argument to make, even on an economy where there's large dissatisfaction in numbers that we've seen over the course of the last several months.
And perhaps most importantly, it is the priority. Take a look at some of the polls that CNN released today across the board, whether you look at Pennsylvania at 44%, Wisconsin at 47%, Michigan at 46 percent, economy and inflation are the top issues among likely voters. Abortion is second. That is one where Democrats feel like they have a clear advantage.
But the reason why you see the president very willing to engage in an economic argument right now and try and battle at least to a draw Republicans on that argument is recognition that for voters that is the most important thing and it's not even close, Wolf.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Phil Mattingly, stand by. We're going to get back to you in just a few moments. But I want to get more on the midterm countdown right now. CNN's chief national affairs analyst, Kasie Hunt, is joining us. She's in Fort Pierce, Florida right now where tonight's Florida gubernatorial debate kicks off in what about two hours. So, Kasie, what are the stakes there?
KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. And the stakes here are incredibly high, not just for 2022, but for 2024. And that's because, of course, we know that Ron DeSantis has been mulling challenging former President Donald Trump potentially in the 2024 Republican nominating contest for president.
And I have to tell you, you may be able to see a little bit of it behind me, but it really does feel a little bit like it's already a presidential campaign and everything echoes what it felt like when Trump was running for president, from the Make America Florida hats that are bright red that people are wearing, the t-shirts say Keep Florida Free. We drove past the marina on the way in here and there were several boats that were flying DeSantis flags in the style of the Donald Trump flags.
So, of course, he's going to be taking on Charlie Crist in this debate. Crist has been trailing in polls and very, very badly in fundraising. DeSantis' team and its various entities have raised nearly $100 million to Crist's near about $3 million just to give you a sense of the disparity.
But Crist is trying to put a little bit of a dent to the extent that he can in DeSantis' future ambitions. He's been on the campaign trail criticizing DeSantis saying that he just cares about running for president and he doesn't care about being governor of Florida. DeSantis has dismissed questions about his presidential run -- potential presidential run saying instead he's focused on what's ahead of him.
But when you report behind the scenes, and I've been looking into this for quite some time now, you'll learn that DeSantis and his circle are making all of the moves you would expect if you were thinking about a presidential campaign. Part of that is, of course, the money, but also in how he's interacted with these midterm election campaigns.
He has been very careful in states like Iowa and New Hampshire in how he's handled endorsements. Namely, he hasn't made any so that he doesn't make any enemies in some of those critical early states. So, we could see him make a blunder here, Wolf, that could affect him, but otherwise he may be on a glide path here.
BLITZER: We shall see. Kasie Hunt in Florida for us, thank you very much.
I want to bring in our chief political analysts, Gloria Borger and CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Dean, Phil Mattingly is back with us as well from the White House. Gloria, you just heard Phil report that our new CNN poll shows voters say the economy is the most important issue right now. It also shows that over 60 percent of voters in the critical battleground states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin say the economy is actually getting worse. This is not necessarily good news for President Biden and the Democrats, is it?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I would have to agree with you, Wolf. It's not good news, it's actually bad news and they're trying to develop a work-around, as Phil was talking about. But if you combine that with a president whose popularity is at about 42 percent and you look at the polling, which shows that about half of the American public blames the Democrats for the bad economy, then they really have a problem here.
They've been trying to change the subject, as you see. Abortion is now the number two issue, after the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court. But in the end, it's going to come down to how people feel they're doing and they don't feel they're doing well. And I think the real question here, and the president tried to outline this today, is whether they believe the Democrats can take them in the right direction or whether they believe the Republicans are better equipped to do that.
WOLF: Yeah, good question. You know, Phil, with just 15 days to go, President Biden is attempting, as Gloria said, to try to frame the midterm election not necessarily as a referendum on his presidency, but as a choice between Democratic and Republican visions for the future, shall we say. Can he successfully do that?
MATTINGLY: I'm not trying to be glib when I say we probably won't know for about 15 days, well, maybe a couple days after that as well. I think when you talk to White House officials, they're looking at a couple of things right now. One, again, they recognize where the economy stands in the bigger picture and things and how important it is for them to make headway on that issue.
And they've got a couple things they're pointing to that they believe could break their way and at least help some voters break their way in these last 15 days. You have a GDP report coming out later this week that economists, analysts say will come up positive, probably in the 2.9 to 3 percent range. The president can point to that after two straight quarters of negative growth.
And also, gas prices that have now steadily started to decline again, down 10 cents over the course of the last week. There's a very close correlation White House officials have seen over the course of the last several months between declining gas prices and the president and Democratic Party's approval writ-large.
I think the bigger issue though when you talk to White House officials and Democrats kind of around town is they're close. They realize that history does not break towards the party in power in these moments, and yet in those polls, the Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan polls, Democratic candidates are either in the lead or within the margin across the board.
The fact that they are in the fight in all of these critical races, particularly on the Senate, gives them a chance to have things break their way over the course of the next two weeks, Wolf.
WOLF: Good word, a chance. Alright, Jessica, let's talk about Pennsylvania, that's where you are right now. Pennsylvania, the Senate candidates there, John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz, they will square off in a debate tomorrow. Our new CNN poll shows that Democrat John Fetterman has a slight lead, you can see it there 51/45. What does he need to do tomorrow if he wants to stay that -- if he wants that lead to stay?
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's important here, Wolf, a couple of dynamics to keep in mind. Number one, this Senate race is hotly contested and it matters very much to both parties because it could very likely determine who controls the U.S. Senate. So, both parties have very keen interests in how this all plays out, so many millions of dollars spent here in ads. And we're going to see them come together for the first and only debate that we're going to see between these two men.
And adding more to the dynamic nature of this race, you have John Fetterman who is recovering from a stroke, who has been very open about the fact he's still struggling with auditory processing issues and uses that closed captioning to read what someone is saying to him while he's listening to it in order to respond to them.
And then you have Mehmet Oz who spent years on television in people's homes, really honing his skills as an on-air talent. So, somebody that's very used to being in front of the camera, very used to talking to people. And so, we do know that Fetterman will be using the closed captioning tomorrow, which that will kind of impact the pacing of this debate, how it goes back and forth.
Again, the Oz campaign really wanting more debates in this. Fetterman really sticking with just the one. It will be 60 minutes. And what is interesting too, and somewhat ironic, Wolf, is that both candidates are seeking to paint the other as the most extreme. They want voters to see Fetterman as the most extreme or Oz as the most extreme.
And we do know that Fetterman has really been focusing on how to, you know, get through this with the closed captioning. We saw him over the weekend kind of practicing with a smaller event with Amy Klobuchar outside the Philly suburbs. So, we'll see how this all plays out tomorrow night, Wolf.
WOLF: We shall see. Guys, thank you very much.
Coming up, Russia accuses Ukraine of plotting to detonate a so-called dirty bomb. Our live report from the war zone, that's next.
WOLF: Now to an update on Russia's invasion. Tonight, Kremlin officials are raising the specter of Ukraine deploying a radioactive dirty bomb. The Ukrainians deny that accusation as their forces race to reclaim territory before winter sets in. CNN's senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, has our report from the war zone.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As Ukrainian forces continue to make gains in the south of the country, Moscow accelerating the evacuation of people from the area around Kherson. Ferries bringing tens of thousands across the Dnipro River, the Russians say to safety, Ukraine says these are essentially deportations.
VERA AND TATYANA, KHERSON RESIDENTS (through translation): My mother needs medical treatment, she is ill. And of course, we're afraid for our lives. We live not far from the Antonovsky Bridge. I think everything will be fine. Kherson will hold out. PLEITGEN (voice-over): Local officials believe this could be the
beginning of a full Russian retreat from this area.
SERHII KHLAN, KHERSON REGIONAL COUNCIL MEMBER (through translation): The occupiers and collaborators are leaving the west part of the region in quite a dramatic way. This happens along with the total looting of Kherson City and the region west of the river.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): But Ukraine's military intelligence say they believe Russia is actually building up its forces here for a massive stand rather than readying for a withdrawal. But as Vladimir Putin's troops lose ground, officials in Moscow are making troubling accusations.
In a call with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu alleging without any evidence that Ukraine is planning to detonate a nuclear-laced improvised device, a so-called dirty bomb. A Russian general adding to the claims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IGOR KIRILLOV, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY (through translation): The provocation is aimed at accusing Russia of using weapons of mass destruction at the Ukrainian theatre of operations that would launch a powerful anti-Russian campaign in order to undermine the confidence in Moscow.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Kyiv sharply rejects the allegations, even asking the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its civilian nuclear sites. The IAEA already has staff in the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant trying to prevent an atomic disaster there. Ukraine's president hurling the allegations back at Moscow.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translation): Never again will Russia be able to dictate anything to anyone. It no longer has the potential to dictate. The world sees that. Russian potential is being wasted now on this madness on a war against our state and the entire free world.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Russians continued to hit Ukraine with long-distance missiles and drones this weekend in Mykolaiv and elsewhere.
(On camera): The Russians are continuing their air campaign against the public infrastructure of this country hitting civilian areas like right here, killing and wounding scores of people. But the air campaign is also taking a massive toll on the energy infrastructure of this country, leaving hundreds of thousands without power.
(Voice-over): The Ukrainians say Russia's air strikes won't stop their advance. Kyiv's army looking to retake as much of their territory as possible before winter sets in.
(On camera): And, Wolf, Russia's air campaign possibly also continuing tonight. We had air raid sirens here just a couple of minutes ago that were very loud here in the center of Dnipro. Meanwhile, the NATO secretary general also coming out and rejecting those allegations made by Russia about that dirty bomb, certainly in line with what the U.S. is saying and some of the U.S.'s key allies as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: Alright, stay safe over there. Fred Pleitgen reporting for us, thank you.
Let's discuss Russia's war in Ukraine with CNN military analyst, retired General Wesley Clark. We're also joined by CNN contributor on Russian affairs, Jill Dougherty. General Clark, first on Russia's accusation that Ukraine is preparing to use a so-called dirty bomb containing radioactive material. Is that a warning Russia could in fact take that dangerous step?
WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's exactly what it is and it's an effort to distract and bring criticism and to just put chaos into the public dialogue about Ukraine. We don't know all the reasons why Russia would say this, but it's certainly a way of covering their own preparations, possibly to use a nuclear weapon, possibly in the Kherson area, possibly by saying that they struck first to prevent Ukraine from doing this. We just don't know. But what we do know is it's not true. It is propaganda. It's information war.
BLITZER: Yeah. Just how dangerous, Jill, is this brinksmanship that's going on?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it's very dangerous, Wolf. You know, we've gone through kind of the litany of what could happen with nuclear weapons. And President Putin basically saying I have all the weapons at my disposal and I will use them to defend Russia.
Of course, that means strategic as well as tactical nuclear weapons. And now we're down into the dirty bomb area. In other words, they've kind of gone the, you know, covered the waterfront on this. But I think what is important is Russia and even the Soviet Union before that has used this technique. It's really the false flag technique where you accuse the other guy of doing what you, yourself, are planning to do.
Now, we don't know, as we just heard from the general, everything behind this. But I think, you know, constantly talking about nuclear weapons and weapons -- a weapon, that dirty bomb can really sow a lot of chaos and really affect the civilian population. That is very dangerous.
BLITZER: Certainly is. General Clark, what do you make of the dramatic developments on the battlefield right now in the southern Kherson region?
CLARK: So, it looks like the Russians are trying to pull people out, okay. They want those people, they want to take the children, they want to make them to repopulate parts of Russia, perhaps. They want to take them away from Ukraine because part of this is a population war.
They also said they want to create a fortress in Kherson. Fine, they're going to bring a few more troops in, they're going to try to fight for the city, maybe. Maybe what they want to do is suck the Ukrainian forces in there in a premature offensive, put them in a vulnerable position and then concentrate fire power or maybe even nuclear weapons against them.
But clearly, it's shaping up to be a major confrontation of forces that's probably going to change the nature of this sort of very cautious, very careful intelligence, reconnaissance-led attack that Ukraine has been waging thus far. The Russians want to change into something else.
BLITZER: Very strong analysis. And General Wesley Clark, thank you very much. Jill Dougherty, thanks to you as well.
Up next, a U.S. Supreme Court justice gives Republican senator and Trump ally Lindsey Graham a reprieve from testifying in the Georgia probe into the former president's attempts to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election. We'll discuss with Maggie Haberman. She's standing by live.
Plus, jury selection begins in the Trump organization's tax fraud trial. We'll have all the latest developments. That's coming up as well.
BLITZER: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has put a temporary freeze on a lower court order requiring Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to testify in an Atlanta area grand jury probe of efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. CNN's senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is joining us right now.
Evan, Georgia investigators clearly want to question Graham about phone calls he made to state election officials. So, is there still a chance that this process we'll actually hear from him?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is still possible. There's still a chance that the Fulton County grand jury will hear from Senator Graham. What Justice Thomas has done, he has jurisdiction over this circuit, over this court that had ruled that there is very limited -- there are very limited protections for the former -- for the senator to prevent questions from the Georgia grand jury with regard to some of his communications with Georgia lawmakers over the 2020 elections.
If you remember, he was trying to figure out how to get these number of votes to the former president. Trump said that he had to win Georgia. So, what we expect now, Wolf, is that the grand jury, the district attorney is going to answer the Supreme Court by Thursday and then we'll see whether there's a ruling from there that could open the way for Fani Willis, the district attorney, to ask those questions. If you remember, the -- Senator Graham has said that, you know, the
constitution speech or debate clause prevents him from being questioned about any of his activities in that period. The appeals court has said, well, there are certain communications that you can answer questions about, and we'll see whether the Supreme Court takes this up and opens the way for these questions to be asked.
BLITZER: That investigation going on in Georgia. Let's go to New York right now because jury selection, as you know, began today in the Trump Organization criminal tax fraud trial that's just beginning. What's the latest?
PEREZ: After all the years, Wolf, this case represents the closest that really prosecutors have gotten to the former president's company, you know, Trump Organization. He, obviously, is not implicated in any of the wrongdoing that is on trial here, but we know that we're expecting, you know, the star witness to be Allen Weisselberg, who is a former CFO of their organization.
He has pleaded guilty to not paying taxes on some of his compensation from the Trump organization. And we'll see whether what we hear on the stand and what see from prosecutors gets close enough to the former president that there is some kind of a political damage that may come from it.
This is one of the reasons why certainly our Kara Scannell have been covering this story. She's reported that this is one reason why it appears that Trump has not accepted an offer to do a plea deal with Alvin Bragg, the district attorney there in Manhattan. There was an opportunity to do a plea agreement, they decided they wanted to go to trial. And so, the jury selection began today and we'll see how long this goes.
BLITZER: Trial is going on right now. Thanks very much, Evan, for that.
Let's get some more in all of this. Joining us now, CNN Political Analyst, Maggie Haberman. She's the senior political reporter for "The New York Times." And her new book is entitled, "Confidence Man," there's the cover, "The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America."
Maggie, thanks for joining us. You've reported extensively on the ups and downs of Trump's business in New York, including in your new book, "Confidence Man," how much do you think it pains Trump to see this trial get underway today?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anything involving Trump's business as painful for him, Wolf, if it involves a courtroom or a prosecutor of any kind. Now, obviously, he did not get charged personally, as you discussed, and that is foremost in his mind, the thing he's hoping to avoid, but this tarnishes the company further at a time when the company is not expanding at best it is in stasis. And Allen Weisselberg is going to be the star witness for the prosecution. There are a few people who have been around Donald Trump and with such knowledge of how that business works as Allen Weisselberg. So even if this doesn't personally touch on Trump, criminally, this is not going to be a series of good news days for him.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. And on top of this, the former president, as we all know, is now facing the subpoena from the January 6 select committee, something that committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney spoke about on Sunday. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY), VICE CHAIR, JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: So the committee treats this matter with great seriousness, and we are going to proceed in terms of the questioning of the former president under oath. It may take multiple days. And it will be done with a level of rigor and discipline and seriousness that it deserves.
He's not going to turn this into a circus. This isn't going to be, you know, his first debate against Joe Biden and the circus and the food fight that that became, this is far too serious set of issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So Maggie, you've covered Trump for a long time. Is that Trump's entire M.O. to try to turn things into a circus, as she says, will not happen?
HABERMAN: There's no question that his entire M.O. is to try to dominate whatever situation he's in, especially if cameras are on him, Wolf. Now, he has told people that he would like to testify live, you know, that's the condition he would be OK with. There were some other conditions as well.
You know, I think that she is making pretty clear that what the terms he would like to set are not things that committee are necessarily going to agree to. And it's not clear that his lawyers are fine with him doing that. You know, he has, over time over a very long period of time, during the presidency, and prior to the presidency, he had a desire to try to talk his way out of any investigation. And I think that his lawyers, you know, even those who are more permissive with him are aware that that could be problematic.
BLITZER: As you know, Trump can follow the Mark Meadows route, and actually provide just enough cooperation to avoid consequences or the Steve Bannon route, but he only needs to run out the clock on the committee. So what do you expect?
HABERMAN: I expect that you are going to see him run out the clock on the committee, Wolf. I do not expect that he is going to go eagerly in when, you know, the -- all signs are that the House Republicans are going to take control of the House back and then the white expectation is that in a few months this committee will disappear because of that.
BLITZER: Over the weekend, the former president again, tease yet another presidential run. What's the latest you're hearing on his thoughts about a 2024 presidential run as he faces these mounting legal troubles right now as well?
HABERMAN: Look, I think that he very much believes that the prospect of a campaign and possibly the presidency afford him some armor against these investigations. I think that factors into his decision. I also think that these are distraction -- politics is a distraction from everything else he is dealing with. So I widely -- you know, so it is widely anticipated by people around him that he will announce a candidacy soon after the midterms.
BLITZER: Maggie Haberman joining us. Maggie, thanks very much. And congratulations, your new book "Confidence Man: is number one, number one on the "New York Times" bestsellers list. Appreciate it very much.
Just ahead --
HABERMAN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: -- a viral triple threat is looming as the United States heads towards winter. What you need to know right now about a potential surge of COVID, flu and RSV. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Red winter now on the horizon here in the United States, health experts are warning of a viral triple threat out there, COVID, the flu and RSV. Brian Todd is following the story for us from Children's National Hospital here in Washington, D.C.
Brian, the next several months could be very, very tough on American hospitals. What are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They could, Wolf. Officials here at Children's National Hospital tell us that flu cases have been on the rise since early this month, RSV cases have been climbing since September, that's much earlier than normal and facilities like this are preparing for it to get worse.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
TODD (voice-over): A baby with trouble breathing, it's why this mom in Columbus, Ohio took her two month old to the hospital.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He just declined super rapidly.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, doctors across the country are warning of a triple threat, the big three of viruses. One doctor calls them --
DR. FRANK ESPER, INFECTIOUS SPECIALIST, CLEVELAND CLINIC CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Certainly we know all about COVID, we certainly know about influenza, but RSV, again, is known by every pediatrician because it fills up our hospitals every year.
[17:40:00] TODD (voice-over): RSV or respiratory syncytial virus, a common respiratory illness that is occasionally severe in babies and young children. Experts say RSV and the flu are both hitting earlier this year than they normally do.
DR. AMY EDWARDS, PEIATRIC INFECTION CONTROL, UH RAINBOW CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: If you look in the southern United States, we're already starting to see flu cases take a really big high jump. And so we're really a little bit concerned about this overlapping of all these different viruses because usually RSV comes a little bit later and then flu comes very nicely after they take their turn.
TODD (voice-over): The number of RSV cases in the US detected by PCR tests in the second week of October was higher than any other week in the past two years, according to the CDC. And across the country, about three quarters of pediatric hospital beds are currently in use a larger share than at any time over the past two years. Three states have more than 90 percent of those beds in use right now, Maine, Rhode Island and Delaware.
At this high school in Stafford County, Virginia, nearly half the student body was out at one point last week with flu like symptoms. And after falling for months, COVID cases have recently flattened out in the U.S.
DR. SARAH COMBS, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN, CHILDREN'S NATIONAL HOSPITAL: I'll be honest, I think we're in for a tough several months. We're seeing high numbers of children who are getting sick, who are actually needing support to breath and we've seen earlier than expected seasons.
TODD (voice-over): RSV and the flu have similar symptoms experts say, runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, fever, so it's not always easy to tell which illness your child has. And it can be challenging to know if you should bring them to a hospital.
COMBS: Maybe they have a sniffle, a cough congestion, but they're doing OK in the home, or is your child really struggling or working to breathe such that they need to come see us in the hospital and in the emergency department.
TODD (voice-over): What about infants and newborns who can't tell their parents how they feel? What should those parents look for?
EDWARDS: Babies should not be refusing their bottle and that's often one of the first signs we see that RSV is getting out of control in these infants as they start to refuse their bottle, you start to have trouble waking them up.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: The doctors we spoke to have this advice for the parents of young children on preventive measures against the flu, COVID and RSV. Wash your hands often, everyone should cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, wear masks if you have symptoms. And even though there are no vaccines for RSV, there are vaccines for the flu and COVID. You can get those for children as young as six months old, and now is an important time to get those, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. Brian Todd over at Children's National Hospital for us. Thank you very much.
Let's get some more analysis right now from the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Paul Offit is joining us.
Dr. Offit, thanks for joining us. Many experts, yourself included, I think, say this unprecedented RSV surge here in the United States is the result of an immunity gap created by the corona virus pandemic. What can we do about this now as hospital beds across the country are filling up?
DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Well, I think that probably is the reason, I mean, something happened in 2020, this never happened before, which is that we -- in order to deal with SARS-CoV-2 virus when it came into the country, given that we had no population immunity, no monoclonal antibodies, no antivirals, no vaccines, we did everything we could to restrict human contact. So we closed schools, close businesses, restricted travel. And we did something that has never happened before, we basically eliminated winter respiratory viruses. You didn't see influenza, you didn't see RSV, you didn't see the human coronavirus, you didn't see para influenza virus, and that created sort of an immunity gap in the sense that there wasn't any boosting of immunity against those viruses. And I think now, you may be seeing the result of that for all of those, those sort of winter respiratory viruses.
But as Brian said, and I think it's a really important point, we do have two vaccines to prevent COVID and to prevent the influenza for anybody over six months of age, so at least parents aren't completely unarmed.
BLITZER: Yes, get the COVID boosters and get the flu shot as well. How concerned are you, Dr. Offit, that this RSV surge that we're seeing could become even more dangerous in the coming weeks when we expect flu and COVID cases may actually surge as well creating what is being called a triple threat?
OFFIT: Right, at least that because there are other viruses also, parainfluenza, human, coronaviruses, adenovirus, etc., so it's not just those three viruses. We'll see. There are generally sort of better and worse RSVs, so this might have been just the natural fluctuation of RSV anyway.
But I think parents should be reassured by the fact that these are common infections and they should sort of make sure that they can do two things. One is make sure their child is well hydrated, and make sure that if the child is having trouble breathing that they really see a doctor. But for the most part, these are self-limited diseases and are generally benign, but I think that for some children, obviously, it can be quite severe and parents -- it's the parents job to make sure that the child doesn't cross that line, especially regarding having difficulty breathing. BLITZER: Yes, really important. All right, Dr. Offit, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up, the U.K. is about to get its third Prime Minister this year. But this one will make history with his appointment. We'll go live to London, that's next.
BLITZER: The U.K. is about to make history amid political and economic turmoil. CNN's Max Foster is live in London for us tonight.
Max, the country is expected to have a new Prime Minister tomorrow. Tell us more.
MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so many firsts here, he is the youngest prime minister more than 200 years, the first person of color, the first Hindu as well. One Hindu leader here in the U.K. describing this as their Barack Obama moment.
I have to say, though, with all of these first there isn't that much excitement that you'd expect simply because this is our third prime minister in two months and people are disengaged and fed up with news, with politics in many ways at this time. So, Rishi Sunak, will now have his chance to convince the nation that he is the right choice this time when he addresses the nation tomorrow morning in Westminster after being appointed prime minister by King Charles III.
Be interesting to hear what he has to say beyond the economy as well. We know he has a strong credibility as a finance ministry -- minister, but what about other policy areas such as foreign policy? Will he be as hawkish as his predecessors on the war in Ukraine, for example? Also, we do know that he does have his own special relationship with the United States, having studied an MBA at Stanford University. That's also where he met his wife, who is the daughter of an Indian billionaire.
They are an incredibly rich couple, richer than other members of parliament, richer even than the king. So they're also going to have to convince the British people that they can relate to people's circumstances right now during a cost of living crisis, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting. All right, Max Foster in London for us, thank you.
Let's get some more of these truly historic developments unfolding. Joining us now our Chief International Anchor, Christiane Amanpour.
Christiane, Rishi Sunak is making history in a lot of ways, as we just heard, but in other ways he fits right into -- it fits in with Britain's elite, doesn't he? How is he being received based on everything you're seeing and hearing? CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL HOST: Well, look, you're absolutely right. And as to what Max said, you know, he comes from a very wealthy family, he's got private school education, he went to a brilliant university in the United States, and he's had a fairly charmed political life so far. Yes, he lost out last time but he's come back, you know, as sort of the savior of the nation, that's how his people are, you know, putting it forth right now.
As one said, you know, what we need is a dullness dividend. As Max said, you know, not many people are sort of, you know, over excited about what's just happened, they just kind of maybe relieved that there's somebody in office who's got something of a record, who's viewed as somebody with a steady pair of hands, and maybe that's just what we need at the moment. So a little dullness, while he -- and let's see who he chooses in cabinet, and it's going to be very important, actually tries to get on with the job of stabilizing the economy and helping people out here who have been suffering exorbitantly because of these, you know, shenanigans that have gone on at the top of politics that affects people in their pocketbook.
BLITZER: So bottom line, Christiane, what are the biggest challenges now facing the incoming prime minister?
AMANPOUR: Well, in the words of the current chancellor, who is the finance minister, Treasury Secretary Jeremy Hunt, he has basically said the following, eye watering difficult choices are going to have to be made. And that is essentially code or not code for slashing public spending, because they have seen what their predecessors did, which is to create this sort of untested, untried, untrue, financial disruption and it really did just disrupt. And so there's a huge hole in the budget, and they're going to have to somehow fill it.
And they are very keen on doing that. And it's going to cost a lot of money. And we're going to see where they put the priorities. And whether they can still actually try to meet people's basic needs, especially as we go into the winter, you've just been talking about all these, you know, COVID and all the respiratory diseases in the United States, here, people are also going to be facing the same thing, but a much higher cost of living and a much more difficult situation with trying to pay for ordinary goods and services and stay warm this winter.
BLITZER: Christiane, when will we get a sense of his approach? And one of the top issues clearly for the United States and the U.K., for that matter, Putin's war in Ukraine?
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, Max was right. You know, we'll see how he stacks up, you know, against the predecessors. But I think that is the British policy. The British policy is to support the defenders in Ukraine and to be a stand up member of NATO. They're already sending, you know, quite a lot of hardware, a lot of training. And they have really stepped up, this is the one area of success in the British government ever since the war in Ukraine started.
It's unlikely that that will, you know, sort of diminish. But I think that there may be less of a military budget than the current defense minister once. And you know, that he's going to have to ask all departments to save a bit. And I think perhaps that'll go to the military budget as well, but I don't think they'll skimp on helping Ukraine.
BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Christiane Amanpour in London for us, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, CNN's exclusive new polling from midterm battleground states with just two weeks to go before the elections. We'll take a closer look at the tightest races, the highest stakes races and have all the latest developments. That's next.
BLITZER: Happening now, new snapshots of very close and truly critical races that could decide the battle to control the United States Senate. We're breaking down CNN's exclusive new polling from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin with just 15 days to go before Election Day.
Also this hour US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sides with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham freezing in order for him to testify before a special grand jury, at least for now. We're following the decision and what it means for the investigation of efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.