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Campaigns Enter Final Stretch With 15 Days Until Election Day; Supreme Court Freezes Order For Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Testimony In Georgia Election Probe; New Warnings Of Triple Threat, Flu, COVID And Respiratory Illness; Incoming British PM Rishi Sunak To Take Office Tomorrow; Police Provide New Timeline Of St. Louis School Shooting. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 24, 2022 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And doctors are warning about a potentially very, very dangerous triple health threat, the flu, COVID and respiratory illness hitting Americans all at once with babies around the country especially vulnerable.

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

An epic battle for control of Congress is heading into the final stretch tonight with only two weeks until Election Day and miles to go for the candidates out there on the campaign trail. Let's get right to one of the hottest battlegrounds, Pennsylvania, where the Senate race could be decisive for Democrats.

CNN's Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is there for us.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (VOICE OVER): On the eve of a critical debate, all eyes are on Pennsylvania In the fight for control of the Senate, as Democratic John FETTERMAN and Republican Mehmet Oz share a stage for the first time.

A new CNN poll shows Fetterman with a narrow edge, 51 to 45 percent, just outside the survey's margin of error, as Oz works to boost his campaign two weeks before Election Day. The race to fill the seat of retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey has played out as a bitter, long distance duel with a sharp focus on Fetterman's recovery from a near deadly stroke in May.

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): It's the elephant in the room, having a stroke.

ZELENY: At a weekend campaign stop, Fetterman explaining how he will use closed captioning during his face-to-face encounter with Oz Tuesday night.

FETTERMAN: The lingering issue is they called it auditory processing, which makes it -- I hear and I understand everything in terms of on words, on paper and understand what I hear, but when we're talking about very specific and having things like this, I need captioning.

ZELENY: Today, Oz unveiling a plan to fight crime, an issue that has been front and center in their contest. With President Biden spending most days off the campaign trail, he made a brief visit today to the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in Washington.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The choice couldn't be clearer. The stakes couldn't be higher.

ZELENY: The economy is top of mind for voters and should be more of a priority for Democratic candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders told CNN's State of Union.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I am worried about the level of voter turnout among younger people and working people who will be voting Democratic. And I think, again, what Democrats have got to do is contrast their economic plan with the Republican.

ZELENY: All this, as more than 7.3 million have already been cast in 39 states across America, including more than 1 million in Florida, more than 830,000 in Georgia, and a half million in Pennsylvania. Tonight, Florida taking its turn in the spotlight --

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Many of you voted yet? How many of you are waiting until Election Day?

ZELENY: -- with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis facing challenger Charlie Crist for their first and only debate, in a race Democrats hope would slow DeSantis' rapid rise through the GOP. And in Arizona, with key races for senate and governor on the line, new fears of rising tensions, officials say two armed individuals dressed in tactical gear spotted at a ballot drop box in Mesa. Separately, the Arizona Secretary of State's Office said it referred to the Justice Department and the state attorney general a report of voter intimidation. GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Kari Lake already taking a page from the Trump playbook, questioning election integrity with no evidence.

GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE KARI LAKE (R-AZ): I'm afraid that it probably is not going to be completely fair.


ZELENY (on camera): So, these races from coast to coast are so tight, Wolf, Arizona in particular, but it is the debate tomorrow night here in Pennsylvania that really could be a game changer. Of course, many debates have been taking place throughout this fall season, but this one is different because of the health concerns of John Fetterman. He'll be answering those questions in closed captioning. Of course, Dr. Mehmet Oz has to be very careful in terms of how he treats his rival as well.

So, it will be the first time that Pennsylvania voters are able to see them in an extended setting here. So, truly, with control of the Senate in the balance, all eyes have been on Pennsylvania, they will be tomorrow night again, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching very closely. Jeff Zeleny, I want you to stand by. We'll get back to you in just a few moments. Right now, I want to dig deeper into CNN's exclusive new polling from the midterm battleground states.

CNN Political Director David Chalian is here with me over at the magic wall in THE SITUATION ROOM. David, thanks very much for joining us.

Let's start with Pennsylvania, a key battleground state right now, the Republican nominee for the Senate, T.V. Dr. Mehmet Oz versus the lieutenant governor, the Democrat, John Fetterman.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Our brand new poll conducted by SSRS shows among likely voters 51 percent for Fetterman, the Democrat lieutenant governor, 45 percent for Mehmet Oz. This is a slight edge just outside the margin of error of the poll for Fetterman.

Let's look at what issues are animating Pennsylvania voters, Wolf.


Far and away, it is the economy and inflation. 44 percent of likely voters say that is the most important issue in their vote, then abortion rights, that's 19 percent, then voting and election, that's 12 percent. You see everything goes down. But it is clearly an economy election.

Look how this issue list animates Democrats and Republicans differently in Pennsylvania. Among Republicans, 59 percent say the economy and inflation is number one. Nothing even comes close. The other only thing in double digits is abortion at 11 percent. But look here, among Democrats, abortion rises to the top issue. 30 percent of Democrats call it the most important issue compared to 24 percent on the economy and inflation, 18 percent on voting.

One other question we asked in these polls that I think just is so interesting is what is the biggest factor in your Senate vote? Is it the positions your candidate takes on the issues, control of the Senate, like which party controls the senate, or the candidate's character? The plurality here, 48 percent of likely voters in Pennsylvania say it is issue positions, but 27 percent say they're strategic voters. They're voting. The factor is which party will control the Senate. These voters tend to favor Oz in this race, Wolf.

BLITZER: Really interesting. Let's talk a little bit about Wisconsin right now, because, potentially, that could be key to controlling the Senate as well, and it looks pretty close.

CHALIAN: Like Pennsylvania, it's a currently Republican-held state. In Wisconsin, Ron Johnson is the incumbent Republican running for re- election and this is a race with no clear leader in our poll, totally within the margin error. 50 percent of likely voters in Wisconsin support Ron Johnson. 49 percent support the lieutenant governor, the Democrat, Mandela Barnes. The issue list is going to look familiar to you. Once again, economy and inflation, 47 percent of likely Wisconsin voters call that the top issue. Everything else flows from there. And when you look at the issues and how they animate the parties, it's even more dramatic than we saw in Pennsylvania. 76 percent of Republicans in Wisconsin, likely voter Republicans, say the economy and inflation is number one. That is what is animating the Johnson support right now.

Here on the issue list, nearly four in ten Democrats in Wisconsin say abortion is their number one choice. It is the economy that is very much giving that Ron Johnson that 50 percent factor there. And then we asked that same question. What are you looking for as the driving factor in your Senate vote? 45 percent say issue positions. But here's something interesting. It's a flip in Pennsylvania. 35 percent say character. 20 percent are strategic voters. They say which party is going to control the Senate, is their big factor in their vote, but here, it's actually benefitting the Democrat. These voters are more likely in our poll to support Mandela Barnes than they are Johnson.

BLITZER: It's going to be a nail biter, very, very close elections coming up.

CHALIAN: Indeed.

BLITZER: David Chalian, thank you very, very much. I want to get back to Jeff Zeleny right now. He's in Pennsylvania.

The CNN political commentator, Michael Smerconish, is also there. He's joining us as well. And our National Politics Reporter Eve McKend is in another key battleground state, Georgia, for us.

Michael Smerconish, you're there. You know Pennsylvania. You live in Philadelphia. The Senate candidates there, John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz, will square off in a very highly anticipated debate tomorrow night. Our CNN poll shows Fetterman with a very, very slight lead right now. Do you think this debate will solidify that lead?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that Jeff's report and David Chalian's numbers make great sense to me from what I'm seeing anecdotally. I think there's tremendous curiosity about the debate and about Fetterman's ability to think and to communicate. I don't think concerns about his stroke are the reason that the race has narrowed. I think it's the economy. I also think it's crime.

There's a very creative ad right now on air from Republicans saying John Fetterman is much more radical than Josh Shapiro. And, essentially, Wolf, it's an invitation to say to Pennsylvania voters, go ahead and split your ticket. Shapiro wins for governor but give us Dr. Oz rather than voting for both of the Democratic candidates.

There's a rich tradition in this state of doing exactly that. It's a state Al Gore won at a time when Rick Santorum was being elected to the U.S. Senate. Last year, 2020, Joe Biden wins the state. It was actually a great year for Republicans down ballot. So, I wouldn't be surprised if there's that kind of ticket splitting going on in Pennsylvania. We'll all see what happens tomorrow night. BLITZER: It will be a big night, indeed.

Eva McKend, you're in Georgia for us. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker are there in a very, very tight race as well. You attended, I understand, a Walker campaign event earlier today and you're at a Warnock event now. What are Georgia voters telling you, Eva?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, good evening, Wolf, Senator Warnock about to take the stage here in Atlanta. Pardon the noise here at this skating rink. But earlier today, when we were in Dalton with Herschel Walker speaking to some of his supporters, they said that the level of enthusiasm that they had that was evident in their community is actually more than past Republican statewide candidates, that there's a grassroots energy on the ground surrounding Walker.


So, sometimes when we talk about Walker, I think, have this Washington conversation about Walker being a flawed candidate, that doesn't necessarily mirror what is happening among the supporters on the ground.

We also spoke to another one of his supporters who told us in her socially conservative circles that, for a long time, there were many people that were not going to support Walker but that folks are slowly coming around and supporting him more and more in the wake of the recent debate.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, in Florida's race for governor right now, Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist are set to debate, I take it, in under an hour or so from now. What will you be looking for from this matchup?

ZELENY: Wolf, I think no question about this, can Governor Ron DeSantis can be stopped? Can he be slowed in his rise, which most people on both sides, I believe, will be to re-election. But even beyond that, this is the only debate that I can really think of where people are already looking to 2024, to see if he can be muddied up be a little bit. So, he's running for re-election, but he has his eye looking ahead.

But I think that's so interesting, Charlie Crist, he's been in that position before. He was a Republican governor of Florida, of course, a Democratic congressman. So, he has nothing to lose, really, and he is a pretty experienced debater. But the reality is that it likely won't change the trajectory of this race, but could it change the shape of the next race.

But one thing in particular, this was a delay because of the hurricane by a couple of weeks. Governor DeSantis is going into this debate in a very strong position here. But the meanness factor, some of his policies have been viewed by some as mean. So, is that somebody that former Congressman Charlie Crist is going to raise? Can he sort of, you know, push him on any of these issues? But, again, this is one of the rare cases. It's not about the election in 15 days. It might be about one slightly farther down the road, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, we shall see, good point.

Michael Smerconish, you just heard David Chalian report the results of our brand-new CNN poll, where voters in key states say the economy is the top issue on their minds. President Biden addressed the economy issue once again today. But are Democrats, do you believe, doing enough to reassure voters of their economic concerns?

SMERCONISH: No, I don't. I think they're being held accountable rightly or wrongly. You know, it's almost when the stock market rises, whomever is in the White House gets the credit, whether they deserve it or not, and when it tanks, likewise, the reverse is true. For better or worse, I think there's an accountability for how the economy is going. People's perception is that it's going poorly because of a 40-year high in inflation. And I think that's very hard for Democrats to distinguish themselves or get away from.

Final thought is this. What's unique about this campaign, this election in 15 days, both sides have good issues in their arsenal, and you've heard it repeatedly. For the Democrats, it's about abortion. To a lesser extent, it's January 6th. For the Republicans, about the economy, porous borders and it's about crime. The real issue is wherein lies the passion? I've seen all of David Chalian's numbers. I get it. I agree. But which is going to be most passionate to bring people out to vote? That team wins.

BLITZER: We'll find out in about 15 days or so. Michael Smerconish, Eva McKend, Jeff Zeleny, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas temporarily blocks a subpoena for Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in the Georgia election probe. So, what happens next? We'll take a closer look right after this.



BLITZER: Republican Senator and Trump ally Lindsey Graham has been granted a temporary reprieve from having to testify in a grand jury probe of efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas put a temporary hold on a lower court order compelling Graham to appear before the panel.

CNN's Sara Murray is here with me. She's got the latest developments. So, Sara, will Georgia investigators get to actually question Lindsey Graham about all of this?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that is the big question and this is what is on hold right now. You know, what lower courts said is that Lindsey Graham did have to show up before the grand jury and answer some questions. Graham has been arguing that, as a U.S. senator, he should not have to appear before the grand jury. Lower court said, look, you made these calls to Georgia election officials. If, for instance, you were trying to cajole them into something, that's not covered by your legislative activity. The Supreme Court has now intervened. They said you get a stay. Essentially, your appearance is paused, but that doesn't tell us how the court is going to rule. So, prosecutors have until Thursday to weigh in on this and then we'll see what the Supreme Court does.

BLITZER: The criminal trial in New York of the Trump Organization also started today. It's very dramatic what's going on up there. I know you're following that as well.

MURRAY: It is very dramatic. I mean, jury selection got underway. We expect it will continue tomorrow. And for as long as prosecutors have been looking into Donald Trump in New York, this is the closest they've gotten, is bringing these charges against his company.

And Trump is not a defendant. He's not been implicated in any wrongdoing. But, of course, this is the company that he's poured his blood, sweat and tears into. And if there's a conviction, the company could face $1.6 million in fines.

And there was a potential of a plea deal. Trump rebuffed that. He didn't like the political implications of appearing as if his company was guilty of something. But we're going to watch closely, of course, as this trial unfolds, because we're expecting some testimony from a star witness, Allen Weisselberg, who is the Trump Organization's longtime CFO. He pleaded guilty to accepting this off-the-books compensation and not paying taxes for it. So, you can bet everyone is going to be paying close attention to this trial.

BLITZER: Yes, I know you and I will as well. Thanks very much, Sara Murray, for that report.

Let's get some more on all these developments.


CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig is joining us and CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe is with us.

Elie, does today's move by Justice Thomas tell you anything about whether Senator Graham will ultimately have to face questions in Georgia?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this is a very temporary reprieve for Senator Graham. This is what we call an administrative stay, which essentially means Justice Thomas has just said, the ruling below, which said Graham has to testify, that's on hold while the Supreme Court decides whether or not they'll take the case. As Sara said, that will happen quickly. We should know by the end of this week or early next week. So, it's a temporary reprieve for Lindsey Graham.

The bigger question is will the Supreme Court, in fact, take the case. It does happen sometimes that justices issue an administrative stay like this, but the Supreme Court then says, we're not taking it, the ruling below stands, in which case, Lindsey Graham would have to testify.

BLITZER: Andrew, let's turn to the Trump Organization criminal trial in New York. The former president isn't a defendant, but what's at stake for Trump's reputation and his business for that matter?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, you know, I think, provisionally, Wolf, this is just another way that the temperature is rising on Donald Trump in terms of all of these legal battles, right? So, he's already the subject of multiple criminal investigations in different places, like for his activities around January 6th and, of course, in the case in Georgia. You have the civil lawsuit that's been filed by the attorney general in New York. Now you have also this criminal trial against this corporation.

I think, again, you know, Trump seems to weather these shots to his reputation in a way that no other human being is able to do. So, even if the prosecutors are successful against the Trump corporation here, I'm not sure that that -- although I'm sure the former president will be distressed by that, I'm not sure it will be a hurdle he can't get over.

BLITZER: Elie, let me get your reaction also to remarks from the U.S. attorney general, Merrick Garland, today. He was asked about very disturbing reports of voter intimidation. Watch this.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Justice Department has an obligation to prevent, to guarantee a free and fair vote by everyone who's qualified to vote and will not permit voters to be intimidated.


BLITZER: As you know, this comes after multiple reports of intimidation out there, including people captured on video armed with tactical gear spotted near an Arizona ballot drop, an Arizona ballot drop box. So, what does the Justice Department need to do with now 15 days until Election Day?

HONIG: Well, Wolf, first of all, I give the attorney general, Merrick Garland, real credit for coming out and making this statement. It's so important that he does this, first of all, because it is a federal crime to intimidate voters or even to attempt to intimidate voters. And so the DOJ has to make good on Merrick Garland's word here and follow up and investigate and, if appropriate, charge these cases.

And moreover, Wolf, this is the kind of conduct that has to be called out immediately. It cannot be allowed to fester, it cannot be allowed to become the norm, to spread. And so I really do give the attorney general credit here for coming out and making a prompt and strong statement.

BLITZER: Andrew, how do law enforcement officials help protect voters without inadvertently intimidating voters themselves?

MCCABE: It's very, very challenging, Wolf, you hit on the sensitivity of that. You immediately, instinctively think, well, if you're having people, civilians with no authority, showing up at polling places armed in an obvious effort to intimidate people, then maybe the response should be flooding those polling places with law enforcement, be that state, federal or local law enforcement officers, make sure that doesn't happen.

But the simple presence of those armed law enforcement, folks can have the same sort of discouraging, chilling effect on people who just want to go vote, want to be left alone, want to be able to vote in secret and not be subject to that sort of scrutiny.

So, it's a very hard thing to do. I would expect that communication between federal law enforcement and state and local counterparts that communication is of primary importance right now and particularly in areas where you have the sort of self-deployed election forces. BLITZER: Good point. Andrew McCabe, Elie Honig, guys, thank you very


Coming up, we'll go live to Ukraine where CNN is at the scene of a new Russian missile strike. And I'll talk to a key member of Congress who just returned to the United States from Kyiv.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Tonight, Ukraine is asking a nuclear watchdog group to investigate what it calls Russia's false allegations that Kyiv is planning to use a nuclear-laced dirty bomb in the war. This as Moscow launches more missile strikes at Ukraine delivering new blows to the country's vulnerable power grid.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the ground for us right now in Southern Ukraine at the scene of new Russian attacks.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): By now, it has become a familiar routine in Mykolaiv. In the relative calm of daylight hours, residents comb through the wreckage of the night before.

On this day, it's an apartment building on the outskirts of town, two Russian S-300 missiles hit at 1:00 in the morning.


So, this here is where the first strike hit and then you can see the second one just smashed in to the top of that building.

Five people were injured but, miraculously, no one was killed. In one apartment, Andriy (ph) is busy cleaning up. He tells us this is what the Russians do. They shoot not at military objects but where people live, he says. The fact is, anger towards them is rising and it won't go way a, not in a month, not in a year, not even ten years.

In this southern port city, people have become used to hardship. Since April, there has been no fresh water here. The main pumping station was hit in a Russian strike. Now, they gather every day and patiently wait to stock up.

A few blocks down, another line, this one for humanitarian aid.

Will I be able to get something today, this old woman asks. We already had 100 people on the list, the organizer replies.

Mykolaiv is less than 20 miles from the nearest frontlines and just 35 miles from the Russian held city of Kherson. Last week, Russia announced that civilians must leave Kherson, warning of an imminent Ukrainian attack. Ukraine called it propaganda to distract from recent Ukrainian military gains.

It is difficult to get a picture of what's really going on in Kherson but we managed to connect with one resident, who we will call Vitaly (ph), who took these videos. The streets, he says, are empty but there are people in the markets. Most vendors no longer want to take Russian rubles as they prepare for a potential Russian withdrawal.

Do you have a sense of whether Russian forces have left the Russian forces have left the city or not?

Why did you decide to stay? Are you not frightened?

The people who remain in Mykolaiv have made a similar decision. Back at the strike site, the cleanup has already begun as the city braces itself for the next attack.


WARD (on camera): Now, Vitaly (ph) from Kherson, Wolf, told us that he has seen that Russia has already moved most of its civilian administrative infrastructure out of Kherson. So, they've closed the Russian banks. They've moved out the passport office, the pension fund office, some of those emergency services. All of that sort of giving people optimism that potentially Russia could be withdrawing.

But today, we heard of Ukraine's head of military intelligence, he cautioned about being too optimistic about a potential Russian withdrawal, saying this could well be a feint and that actually Russia is moving in different assets preparing that fight. That, of course, Wolf, would have a devastating impact on residents, like Vitaly (ph), who have made the very brave but difficult decision to stay in Kherson, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward on the ground for us in Mykolaiv, in the warzone. Clarissa, stay safe over there, thank you very, very much.

And joining us now, a key member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Jim Himes. He was part of a bipartisan congressional delegation that has just returned from Ukraine. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. How do you interpret these very disturbing accusations by Russia that Ukraine plans to detonate a so-called dirty bomb?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Yes, Wolf, it's a classic. It's right out of the Russian playbook, and before them, the Soviet playbook. It's a classic false flag operation, right? So, you know, it's designed to shift the moral high ground away from the Ukrainians to the Russians. More concerningly, it could be a prelude to them actually undertaking a false flag operation, in which they are trying to show that they were able to predict a dumb or bad action by the Ukrainians. But it is right out of the playbook and it is frankly a sign that, as long as they're losing on the battlefield, they are going to look to shift the conversation in other and potentially more frightening ways.

BLITZER: Are you worried that Russia, God forbid, could detonate a dirty bomb?


HIMES: Well, you know, if you look at the mass graves that are being exhumed everywhere that the Russians were, if you look at the fact that missiles are raining down on civilian targets around Ukraine, you can't do anything other than to jump to the conclusion that the Russians are willing to do just about anything. So, no, of course, I can't discount it.

But, you know, they need to be very, very careful because, you know, the worst day in the eyes of the world, the more they escalate, the more the gloves will come off for the west. Remember, the one thing that is sort of maybe putting a little bit of a pause on some of the more aggressive weapons that the west could be sending to the Ukrainians is a desire not to see this thing escalate out of control. And if the Russians are the ones escalating out of control, this will get uglier, I should say. I was going to say ugly, but uglier for them quickly.

BLITZER: As I mentioned, you were just on this bipartisan visit to Ukraine with your congressional colleagues, but I don't know if you know this, but 30 of your liberal Democratic House colleagues have just sent a letter, and here's a copy of it, a letter to President Biden urging him to redouble diplomatic efforts and, quote, engage in direct talks with Russia. What's your reaction to that?

HIMES: Well, it's always good to talk, Wolf, even in the worst of situations. But in my lifetime, I'm not sure that we've seen an example of an international conflict which is as black and white as this one, as good versus evil. You sort of had to be around in the 1930s to see anything quite like this.

So, I'm all in favor of discussions and negotiations, but here's the underlying principle. When a war criminal like Vladimir Putin does something out of the 1930s and invades a peaceful neighboring country, negotiations end with him paying reparations, rebuilding Ukraine and standing trial in front of The Hague. So, again, I'm all in favor of anything that can stop the bloodshed, but make no mistake that we are not compromising with pure evil. BLITZER: Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for joining us and welcome back.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the danger from a surging respiratory illness among children may soon get even worse as doctors are now warning that a triple health threat is emerging.



BLITZER: Right now, we're following the very dangerous surge in respiratory illness among young children. Doctors now fear the health risk could worsen in the days and weeks ahead as the outbreak coincides with new cases of the flu and COVID.

CNN's Rosa Flores takes us inside a children's hospital in Houston where too many kids are sick and suffering tonight.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Little Adrian was health when all of a sudden --

STEPHEN BALKA, FATHER OF CHILD WITH RSV: He was struggling to breathe. He was struggling to cough at the same time.

FLORES: Then his dad, Stephen Balka, noticed pauses in his breathing that lasted for seven seconds.

BALKA: It got bad quick.

FLORES: Balka remembers fearing the worst as he rushed to hospital.

BALKA: There is no way to describe it. I mean, it was a terrifying situation. It was heartbreaking.

FLORES: At seven weeks old, little Adrian was admitted into the pediatric intensive care unit and diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, a common respiratory disease that is spreading at unusually high levels and could be severe in babies and young children, according to the CDC.

Dr. Melanie Kitagawa says more than 40 children are hospitalized at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, including more than ten in pediatric ICU.

DR. MELANIE KITAGAWA, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL PEDIATRIC ICU: It is awful. It is terrible to have any family go through this.

FLORES: How do you think that he got RSV?

BALKA: His sister is in school. She started having this cough. FLORES: Balka says his four-year-old daughter, Trinity, got RSV, and days later, little Adrian did too. Some pediatricians believe that the spread of RSV gained speed as children returned to school and brought the virus home.

BALKA: Hey, look, I'm here, cover his little feet up.

FLORES: Little Adrian has been on a ventilator for a week. His sister has fully recovered.

What would you tell parents who are watching this story?

BALKA: Don't wait. Do not wait. If you feel as if something is wrong with your child, you know your child better than anyone does. Get your child help immediately.


FLORES (on camera): According to HHS, three out of four pediatric hospital beds in the United States are in use right now. Wolf?

BLITZER: Rosa Flores, thank you very, very much. Let's discuss this with Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Dr. Hotez, thanks for joining us.

As hospitals, like yours, for example, are filling up right now with children, even very young children with severe cases of RSV, just how concerned are you about what's now being called the triple threat of respiratory illnesses, RSV, COVID, and the flu, all circulating at once?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT: Yes. I mean, before the pandemic, Wolf, before the COVID-19 pandemic, we would see surges of both RSV and influenza, but, typically, it would be late in December into January, February. So, the game changer is the fact that it's occurring so early, number one. Number two, the fact that the level of severity likely because, as was pointed out in the story, kids haven't been as much in contact over the last few months as they are now, so, it's all surging at once.


And third, we have COVID-19 to worry about. So, we have all three respiratory viruses and it's not unusual to have an individual like an infant to have both, either COVID and influenza, or COVID and RSV.

So, it's -- we're all getting slammed with these three viruses, this triple endemic or pandemic.


The CDC, Centers for Disease Control, says that during one week in mid-October, RSV cases were higher than at any week in the past two years. Is this an unfortunate outcome of coronavirus, the pandemic, isolation that we know about or is there anything that can be done now to slow the spread of RSV?

HOTEZ: Well, it may be that kids were social distancing and before they were wearing masks and now they're not. And so, there's just a sudden uptick and surge in the amount of exposure. I think that has a lot to do with it.

So I think the most important thing to think about right now is recognize those who are at greatest risk, at least in the pediatric age groups. And those are premature infants. Those who are in were previously in neonatal ICUs, that might have underlying respiratory illness was called bronchopulmonary dysplasia, those with underlying heart disease and those with neuromuscular disorder. They're at the greatest risks.

But really any child could get severe RSV. So, here for -- for my perspective, Wolf, here's the most important thing as a parent to do. You want to establish a good working relationship with your pediatrician, whether or not your child is sick. You don't want to be in the middle of the night and realize that you're concerned about your child and have no way to reach your pediatrician because the problem is in too many parts of the country right now, pediatric emergency rooms are getting overwhelmed.

So if you simply bring your child to the emergency room, it compounds the problem. So, the message is have a low threshold for having contact with your pediatrician and have that relationship ready to go.

BLITZER: Yeah, very important information. Dr. Peter Hotez, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, we're getting details on Britain's newly selected prime minister. CNN's Richard Quest is standing by. He'll tell us more. That's next.



BLITZER: Rishi Sunak will begin his historic tenure as Britain's new prime minister tomorrow. The country's conservative party selected Sunak to replace Liz Truss who resigned after just six weeks on the job. His emergence as leader comes at a time of both political and economic chaos in Britain.

And joining us now, CNN's Richard Quest.

Richard, thanks so much for joining us.

First of all, what can you tell us about Britain's history-making new leader?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: A number of first, Wolf. First of all, he is the youngest prime minister that we've had for some 200 years. He is the first British Asian prime minister that we've had in the United Kingdom. And he's also the wealthiest that we've had at least in living memory. His wife is the daughter of the founder of Infosys, the Indian

software company. Between them, there is said to be worth the best part of 700 million, 800 million pounds, which is nearly $1 billion and change. So, a lot of firsts for a prime minister who is sort of known, he has been the finance minister, the chancellor.

But he's only been a politician for the last seven years. So, this is very fast elevation into a crucial job at a vital time.

BLITZER: Amid, Richard, all the market turmoil and the cost of living crisis going on right now in the U.K., is Sunak seen as a steady hand when it comes to the economy ?

QUEST: Yes. Rishi Sunak is absolutely a safe pair of hands. He is the quintessential safe pair in a sense. Former chancellor who had come through numerous budgets, he put forward a policy under plan that was absolutely designed for market credibility. And it is the total opposite of the sort of financial fiasco that we had with Liz Truss.

So I do expect markets will be hugely relieved. There is one caveat to all of that. The financial position in Britain is worse than it was before. So not only does he have to dig the hole, he also has to dig it a little bit deeper before he starts to fill it in.

BLITZER: Well, it's encouraging that he clearly, according to you, knows what he is doing.

Richard Quest, thank you for joining us.

QUEST: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up next, we are just getting into THE SITUATION ROOM right now new details of another horrific school shooting here in the United States. This time in St. Louis.

Standby. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: This just in. Police have named the gunman in today's fatal shooting at a high school in St. Louis where three people were killed, including the shooter.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is live from the scene for us right now.

Adrienne, what are you learning from police?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the last 30 minutes, investigators say that 19-year-old who shot and killed two people graduated from this high school last year. The victims range from age 15 to 61, among the deceased, a 16-year- old female student and a 61- year-old woman. Investigators also saying when members of law enforcement showed up, here they ran toward the sound of gunfire.


LT. COL. MICHAEL SACK, ST. LOUIS METRO POLICE COMMISSIONER: This could have been much worse. The individual had almost a dozen 30 round high-capacity magazines on him. So that is a whole lot of victims there. But because of the quick response, that suspect did not have the opportunity to turn this into -- it's certainly tragic for the families, and it's tragic for the community. But it could have been a whole lot worse.


BROADDUS: It could have been a whole lot worse, that for members of law enforcement.

Meanwhile tonight everyone wondering how did this 19-year- old enter the building. Investigators wouldn't tell us when we asked repeatedly, saying, they do not want this to happen at the school again, or at another school around the country, saying they are working to harden the safety at the school.

Meanwhile, investigators also said mental illness likely played a role -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Adrienne Broaddus in St. Louis for us, Adrienne, thank you very much. And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.