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Southwest Airlines Meltdown Strands Thousands Of Passengers; Supreme Court Says, Trump-Era Border Restrictions Remain In Effect; January 6th Committee Releases Additional Transcripts Of Witness Interviews; Republican Rep.-Elect George Santos Admits To Lying About Bio; China To Drop Its Quarantine Requirements For Inbound Travelers Starting In January. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 27, 2022 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're tracking the post-holiday chaos in airports as well as the blizzard emergency in Western New York. I'll speak live with the mayor of Buffalo this hour.

Also tonight, Trump-era restrictions at the border are staying in effect for now. The U.S. Supreme Court issuing a ruling just a little while ago and agreeing to hear challenges to ending the policies. Stand by for new reaction to this breaking story.

And we're digging into the new interview transcripts just released by the January 6th select committee. We'll going to tell you what more we're learning from key witnesses, including a claim that Trump's former White House chief of staff burned documents.

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

Tonight, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tells me the Biden administration will hold Southwest Airlines accountable for the meltdown in its operations that has left thousands of flights canceled and thousands of passengers stranded.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is over at Baltimore Washington International Airport hit very hard by the problems over at Southwest. Gabe, what is the situation there right now?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, thousands of travelers are still stranded. The lines to rebook here in Baltimore have been more than three hours long at times today. And the wait to reach customer service has been longer for many of those customers. Some are literally sleeping here at the airport just trying to get home.


COHEN (voice over): The meltdown at Southwest Airlines just gets worse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a total you know what show here. COHEN: Southwest canceling more than 2,500 flights on Tuesday, more than 85 percent of all U.S. cancellations. And they have already canceled nearly the same total for tomorrow. Admitting this could go on for days. Thousands of passengers stranded at airports, still hoping to see family, are struggling to get home.

PAM SHELBY, STRANDED SOUTHWEST CUSTOMER: They said keep checking back, but they said that probably that won't be anything until Saturday.

COHEN: 72-year-old Pam Shelby has been sleeping at Baltimore's Airport since Saturday when her connection got canceled.

SHELBY: And I does off every once in a while. But other than that, I mean, I really haven't gotten any good sleep. I'm scared I'm not going to get out of here.

COHEN: Southwest blames last week's winter storm for the chaos, with flight crews stranded in the wrong cities. But the Southwest Pilots Association says there's more to southwest's problems than ice and snow.

MICHAEL SANTORO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PILOTS ASSOCIATION: The storm that hit last week was the catalyst to this, but what went wrong is that our I.T. infrastructure for our scheduling software is vastly outdated.

COHEN: Southwest executives acknowledge that in a message attained by CNN, saying, quote, matching up those crew members with the aircraft could not be handled by our technology. Our system today cannot do that.

SANTORO: They don't know where they are, they don't know where the airplanes are.

COHEN: Travelers stuck in snaking lines or on hold for hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Phone calls were busy. You can't get hold of anybody. It's awful.

COHEN: Customers also trying to track down their luggage. Pam says she's diabetic and needs the medication in her bags which maybe at a different airport.

SHELBY: I'm scared but I could go into a diabetic shop.

COHEN: Christmas with her family never happened. Now, she's just trying to get home.

SHELBY: I love my family, and I really had my hopes up that I was going to be able to see them. And it hurts.


COHEN (on camera): Now, Southwest say they are offering those affected customers a full refund or a flight credit. But the reality for some customers and travelers, they tell me they've spent hundreds, even thousands of dollars being stuck in cities like Baltimore.

And, Wolf, the ripple effect here is that it's getting harder to book seats with other airlines, even to rent a car, because so many people are just trying to get home.

BLITZER: Yes, truly awful situation indeed. Gabe Cohen over at BWI, Baltimore Washington International Airport.

Let's go to western New York right now and the urgent effort underway in Buffalo, to dig out for more than 50 inches of snow. The death toll from the storm rising now to 31 in the Buffalo area, and that was just announced a short time ago.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is covering the extreme weather emergency.


MARK POLONCARZ, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Please, please, you heard the mayor beg, I'm begging you, stay home.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Erie County officials over it, calling help halt to keep nonessential drivers off the road.

POLONCARZ: 100 military police are being brought in as well as additional troops from the New York State Police Department are coming in to manage traffic control, because it has become so evident that too many people are ignoring the ban.


MARQUEZ: The death toll continuing to rise. More than 30 dead in Buffalo and the surrounding areas.

CRYSTAL RODRIGUEZ-DABNEY, DEPUTY MAYOR, BUFFALO, NEW YORK: Some are sad stories of carbon monoxide poisoning. Some are in vehicles, and sadly some are outside. We have snow banks and some of our first responders are not hopeful about what we are going to find once those snow banks are cleared.

MARQUEZ: The storm, blowing through. Record snowfalls in an area accustom to snow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the front of our house. We are buried. I can't make it to the front door.

MARQUEZ: As of Tuesday morning, Buffalo's snow total for the season came to exactly 100 inches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what it looks like outside our front door. One, two, three.

MARQUEZ: That's the fastest the city has ever reached 100 inches of snow with records that date back to the 1880s.

MARY MCGORRAY, BUFFALO RESIDENT: I would definitely classify this as the worst storm that I've ever seen in the entire upstate New York.

MARQUEZ: The snowplows running 24 hours a day, but the Buffalo Niagara International Airport remains closed. Too much snow. It might re-open Wednesday.

JULIA HALL, BUFFALO RESIDENT: People were not fully prepared, and it all happened so quickly. And it was about big drifts of snow and gusts.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So two issues for officials here in Erie County and across the water Buffalo area, is figuring out what is under all that snow, abandoned cars, and homes that they even heard from folks in several days and then the weather itself, the temperature is going to up between the 50s by Friday and raining. They expect flooding might be an issue then. Wolf?

BLITZER: Miguel Marquez in Buffalo for us. Miguel, thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with the mayor Buffalo, Byron Brown. Mayor Brown, thank you so much for joining us. As you know, the death toll across the country -- the county, I should say, Erie County, where Buffalo is, has now risen to 31. What were the circumstances, Mayor, of these deaths and when will we learn more about the victims?

MAYOR BYRON BROWN, BUFFALO, NEW YORK: Wolf, I'll say the number is probably higher than that. We know from the Buffalo Police Department working with the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office that there are 28 dead in the city of Buffalo alone, a number of different circumstances.

We have people that got stranded in their vehicles and passed away in their cars. We have people that were walking during blizzard conditions and passed away on the street, passed away in snow banks. And we have people that were found that passed away in their homes in a storm related way.

BLITZER: My heart goes out to their families and their friends. What can you tell us, Mayor, about these arrests that have been going on for looting in Buffalo? Eight people arrested so far I'm told.

BROWN: There have been incidents of looting at stores and different parts of the city of Buffalo during this severe historic snowstorm. The Buffalo Police Department has set up an anti-looting detail. Eight arrests have been made today. We have a lot of video evidence, social media evidence, and we're going to be working to arrest as many of these looters as we possibly can.

The thing to note about the looting, it wasn't people that were desperate for food or medicine. People have been looting all kinds of personal items as well. It is absolutely reprehensible. It is horrible that while residents of our community have died in this storm, that people are out looting. Now, this is a minority of individuals. We have seen in true Buffalo and western New York fashion people helping others in all kinds of incredible ways. Why we are known as the city of good neighbors. But in a few instances, there are a minority of individuals that decided during this dangerous and deadly storm that they were going to loot retail establishments in the city of Buffalo.


Completely up acceptable, and we're going to do everything that we can to find the individuals responsible for this.

BLITZER: Yes, totally disgusting indeed. As you know, Mayor, Erie County enacted a travel ban on Friday morning after many people had already driven to work or gone out for holiday errands. Was it a mistake, with hindsight, knowing what you know right now, was it a mistake, Mayor, not to implement a travel ban sooner?

BROWN: Well, a travel ban was implemented by Erie County at 9:30 on Friday, also implemented by the city of Buffalo at 9:30 on Friday. There was a lot of advanced warning about how severe this storm would be. A lot of talk about the storm starting at 7:00 A.M. on Friday morning.

We believe that people had advanced warning. They had knowledge that this was going to be a very dangerous storm, a life-threatening storm.

I will say that it was put out a variety of different ways that on Friday people should not be driving. We put messages out that Thursday is the last day that you can drive safely to pick up your groceries, your medications, do last-minute Christmas shopping, and essentials for safety, candles, flashlights, extra blankets. Those messages were put out.

So I don't think the county or the city erred when they imposed the driving ban. We're not going to blame people that were out driving for different reasons. We're not going to blame people certainly that succumbed to the conditions that were out driving or walking.

Our goal, from the beginning of the storm, was life safety, and doing everything that we could to respond to emergency and medical calls to rescue motorists that were stranded in vehicles, and to get power restored, working with that power company's National Grid.

So life safety was our priority from the very beginning of the storm once conditions began to change on Friday at about 7:00 A.M.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to everyone in Buffalo right now. I love Buffalo. All our fellow Buffalonians need help right now. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, thank you very much for joining us.

BROWN: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, revealing new transcripts from the January 6th select committee, including the star witness Cassidy Hutchinson, and the chief that Trump's former White House chief of staff actually burned documents. That's next.



BLITZER: This hour, we have new information to share from the latest transcripts released by the January 6th select committee. CNN Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider, has been going through the enormous amount of documents just released. Jessica, give us some of the top lines from the witness interviews that were just made public.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Hundreds and hundreds of pages, Wolf. And we now actually have all of the transcripts from Cassidy Hutchinson, four appearances behind close door with the committee.

And from those transcripts, we're learning more details particularly how she told the committee that she actually saw Chief of Staff Mark Meadows burning documents in his office fireplace around a dozen times, which she says amounted to about once or twice a week between December 2020 and January 2021. And she says at least twice she saw Meadows burning documents after he had meetings with Republican Congressman Scott Perry, who, in fact, was subpoenaed by the committee but never actually complied.

So in addition to those details, Hutchinson also telling the committee how she says discussions about QAnon conspiracies really permeated the White House after the 2020 election. She said in particular, Mark Meadows brought up the conspiracy theories. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, when she was visiting the White House, made mention of that far right wing political movement with of course outlandish conspiracy theories.

And then Cassidy Hutchinson said that she had this exchange with White House Trade Adviser, Peter Navarro. She said, and at one point, I had sarcastically said, oh, is this from your QAnon friend, Peter, because Peter would talk to me frequently about his QAnon friends. And he said, have you looked into it yet, Cass? I think they point out a lot of good ideas. You really need to read this. Make sure the chief read this.

And then when Hutchinson was asked by Vice Chair Liz Cheney, if Navarro was being sarcastic, Hutchinson said, I did not take it as sarcasm.

Now, of course, Peter Navarro, he has been indicted for refusing to comply with the subpoena from the committee.

And, Wolf, those are just a few of the key details that we're getting from this voluminous testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson. Our team continues to look through all of these transcripts, and many details that are coming out now, including the ones that I've just told you about, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, of course share those explosive details with our viewers, that's coming up. Jessica, thank you very, very much. Let's get some more on what's going on. Joining us now, CNN Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger and Defense Attorney, Shan Wu.

Gloria, first of all, how incredible is it to learn that Cassidy Hutchinson actually saw Mark Meadows, who was then the White House Chief of Staff, go about burning documents?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is remarkable, it is absurd, and it is clearly in violation of the presidential records act, assuming that ever piece of paper in the White House should be archived.

I mean, we don't know -- let me just say, we don't know what these things were that he was throwing in the fireplace, and we had known that he had on occasion thrown something in the fireplace. But unless this was a newspaper clipping or something to that effect, I think he's got a lot of questions he needs to answer.

BLITZER: Certainly he does. What do you think, Shan?


SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Not to mention his violations of the clean air act for doing that. But yes, it raises enormous concerns over how documents are being handled. Particularly now we know that the former president himself was rather cavalier in how he handled national security documents. So absolutely this needs to be looked into, and particularly the timing these discussions that period of time, then burning something right after talking, very suspicious.

BLITZER: You're a former Federal Prosecutor. How do you think of prosecutors over at the Justice Department are viewing all of these new revelations?

WU: I think they should be very concerned and it can certainly go towards the types of questions they may want to put the people if it was a trial or in a grand jury. Because it goes to people state of mind, I mean, why would you be burning documents after you had a meeting.

And as for Hutchinson in particular, this whole contrast between what she was forthcoming with after she changed lawyers is also very revealing, because it shows how much pressure she was put under by the Trump attorneys, because her testimony later was more forthcoming.

BORGER: And by the way, he was also burning documents, she says, at least twice after a meeting with Congressman Scott Perry. Now, remember, Scott Perry was subpoenaed to testify before the January 6th committee and did not comply.

BLITZER: Yes, it's really interesting, these new documents, these transcripts show. Gloria, how much these officials at the White House were influenced by these far-right conspiracies.

BORGER: You mean like QAnon?


BORGER: I mean, I never thought I would say QAnon and inside the White House in the same sentence, but Cassidy Hutchinson recalls having conversations with the former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, with Peter Navarro, who was one of the former president's top economic advisers.

I mean, these are people with outlandish conspiracy theories, and they were being talked about and trafficked in the White House. And she talks about even the president being told by Marjorie Taylor Greene at a Georgia rally, she said, a lot of my constituents are QAnon, and they'll all be there talking about January 6th.

BLITZER: Yes. What do you think, Shan?

WU: Well, it's really quite alarming. I mean, you could charitably describe that as being propaganda. But the idea that it's being pushed by an adviser like Navarro, saying take a look at this, these are good ideas, it really raises questions about the type of judgment, the type of discretion they exercised.

BLITZER: It certainly does. Shan Wu, Gloria Borger, guys thank you both very much.

Coming up, were go live to yet another airport, very hard hit by Southwest Airlines cancellations. And we'll talk to the President of the Southwest Pilots Association about the problems and how. Let's hope they can fix things.



BLITZER: Right now, we're tracking the airport chaos across the nation, largely due to major cancellations by Southwest Airlines. And that includes Chicago's Midway Airport, where CNN's Adrienne Broaddus, is joining us now, live. Adrian, how bad is the backlog of flights where you are over there?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is one of the hubs for Southwest Airlines. And Southwest is nearly responsible for almost all of the canceled flights today. This is an illustration of what we have seen. People have been here throughout the day, searching for their bags. However, if Chicago Midway was not their final destination, Southwest crews are not pulling bags for people who had a destination of somewhere else. And that has been frustrating for passengers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will definitely be going on a bag checking hiatus of this. I will be re-mastering the art of only carrying on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are being told by Southwest agents that they don't have enough people to pull up our bags from Midway, but they somehow have enough people to get those same bags on a plane. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROADDUS: So a lot of questions from passengers. They are thankful they will be refunded for their trips that were canceled, but still not happy. And you're looking now at this cart full of more luggage, which will be added to the sea of luggage here near carousel six. Those bags just came in. We saw some people who flew in pick up their bags. But still, more bags left behind. We even spoke with people earlier today, Wolf, who said they knew their bags were back here but they had to leave them. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, and that's awful. Adrienne Broaddus, thank you very much.

Also tonight, the Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, has some very tough words about what's going on with Southwest Airlines. Listen to some of my conversation with Pete Buttigieg in the last hour.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Meltdown is the right word. This is an unacceptable situation. You look at the number of passengers who are stranded. You look at how hard it is even to get somebody on the phone to address it.

From what I can tell, Southwest, is unable to locate even where their own crews are. Let alone their own passengers, let alone baggage. The CEO pledged to me that they will not only meet but they will exceed the customer service standards and commitments that they have made to us in the past. And that we're in a position to enforce.


I also talked with union leadership from the pilots and from the flight attendants. They made clear that they have been raising the alarm about these issues in their systems for some time, and that this really has to do with decisions and choices in terms of the investments that this airline has made or has failed to make over the years that seem to be catching up to them now.

What's really concerning here is while all the other parts of the aviation system have been moving towards recovery and getting better each day, it's actually been moving the opposite direction with this airline. Obviously we'll follow through and we will use our authority to issue fines if that's what it takes to get something done.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the President of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, Casey Murray. Casey, thank you so much for joining us. We should note that we also reached out to Southwest for an interview, but the Airline declined.

As you heard, Casey, the Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, told me that the Southwest CEO is pledging to exceed its previous commitments. How much faith do you put in the company to fix these issues that union leaders have raised for years?

CASEY MURRAY, PRESIDENT, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PILOTS ASSOCIATION: I don't have much faith at all. We have heard empty words, empty promises for many years. And what our customers are feeling today is the results of those empty promises.

BLITZER: Secretary Buttigieg, it's interesting, he isn't ruling out -- he made it clear in our interview, he isn't ruling out fines for Southwest. Is that what will -- is that what it will take for Southwest Airlines to get its act together?

MURRAY: Well, it's definitely going to push, you know, the needle forward to some degree. We have to see positive, firm commitment from Southwest Airlines leadership. This has been a leadership failure from top to bottom sense this began. This has gone on many times over the past couple of years, and we have tried to help, we tried to offer solutions, and they have given us the hand. And here we are today. When is Southwest going to recover?

BLITZER: Clearly, customers all over the country, they're suffering right now. As you know, and pilots, flight attendants, other employees, they are also facing very, very difficult conditions. Do you fear this meltdown will lead to long-term consequences for Southwest, lost customers and employees who would rather work elsewhere?

MURRAY: Well, at the end of the day, it is our customers that all of the frontline employees are there trying to serve. All of our frontline employees are going above and beyond, but when we can't get a hold of dispatch, when we can't get a hold of scheduling, when we can't get a hold of our leaders, we can't offer solutions. Our pilots who are out there are trying their best. They're standing in front of their passengers. But unfortunately, they don't have any answers.

BLITZER: So what changes do you believe, Casey, that Southwest needs to implement now to make it sure that this doesn't happen again during the next storm?

MURRAY: Well, this is ultimately a function of 1990s processes, 1990s technology. We actually picketed, because we're in contract negotiations on Wall Street just two weeks ago while Southwest was in there committing to our shareholders $400 million of dividends. So, they have the money. They have the means. They just don't have the will or the leadership to actually make effective change.

BLITZER: Yes. It's hard to believe this is happening in our country right now. Casey Murray, thank you very much. Good luck to you and good luck to all the pilots over there.

MURRAY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the U.S. Supreme Court is ordering Trump era border restrictions to remain in place as authorities over at the southern border deal with a surge of migrants. Up next, we'll get a live report from the border. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: Moments ago, President Biden, responded directly to the U.S. Supreme Court's order keeping the Trump era border restrictions known as Title 42 in place.

CNN's Senior White House Correspondent, M.J. Lee, is joining us right now from the White House. So, M.J., what exactly is the president saying? M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we have

just gotten the first reaction from President Biden to the Supreme Court saying that Title 42 will remain in place for now. He briefly spoke with reporters as he was leaving the White House to go on vacation. Let me just play the brief remarks that he just gave.


REPORTER: President, what is your reaction to Title 42?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The court is not going to be decide until (INAUDIBLE) apparently, and in the meantime, we have to improve it. But I think that those are (INAUDIBLE).



LEE: Now, Wolf, of course, when he says, I think it's overdue, he is referring to the fact that the administration has been saying for a while that they believe Title 42 should be allowed to expire.

Now, in the meantime, the White House has also said it will continue to make preparations for Title 42 to eventually expire, and that it would like to see Congress, again, pass comprehensive immigration reform. But I think it's just really difficult to overstate what a challenging and complicated problem this has been for the administration.

You know, first of all, it has been in limbo really since last week when the Supreme Court decided to put a temporary freeze in place.


Now it knows that it is probably going to be a number of months as it listens to legal arguments and Title 42 will, for the time being, remain in place.

But as we have seen, you know, these images coming in from the U.S. border over the last few weeks, there has been already a surged of migrants and asylum seekers coming to the U.S. border and we've seen how resources have been stretched. How border personnel have really been stretch, so thin as they have dealt with this influx.

And so, this is an issue that the administration has known for a while is going to be a very challenging transition, so as much as the administration has been saying for a while that they support Title 42 going away, nobody at the White House is say thing is not a complicated problem.

And as much as this is a humanitarian issue, it has also been a very serious political challenge for this White House and for Democrats as well. And I'll tell you, it's been clear that the criticism and some of the concerns that have been pouring in at these images from the border, they have come from Republicans, and fellow Democrats, as well.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. M.J. Lee at the White House, thank you very much.

The U.S. Supreme Court's order keeping Title 42 in place, will have major implications for the unfolding migrant crisis over on the southern border of the United States, where tens of thousands have gathered in hopes the Trump era pandemic policy would be lifted. And as CNN's Rosa Flores reports, many on both sides of the border say they're confused and concerned about this ruling.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): One-year-old Brenda has no shoes. Her tiny feet, bear on the cold pavement of an El Paso parking lot.

Are you going to sleep outside again? What are you going to do?

Her parents, Anthony Blanco and Glenda Matos (ph), say they wrapped this rosary around her ankle for protection when they left Venezuela four months ago, and say it has saved her life multiple times in the Darien Gap, a dangerous jungle between South and Central America.

He says that the most dangerous part of the journey was through the Darien Gap. He and his daughter almost lost their lives three times, and they say that they saw adults who died. They saw children who died.

Brenda's most recent brush of death, they say, crossing the Rio Grande into El Paso. She says that she thought her daughter was going to die overnight, because it was so cold. They had just crossed the river. They were wet, desperate.

Matos (ph) says she started knocking on doors asking for help.

She says that she prayed to God that she hugged her daughter as tight as she could, and tried to warm her with her own body heat as much as she could to try to save her daughter's life.

The Blanco family is part of the growing number of migrants who are crossing into the U.S. during this latest surge, this as the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump-era pandemic public health rule known as Title 42 remains in place, while the legal challenges play out.

Migrants like them line the streets of El Paso near a catholic church that turns into a shelter overnight. Many here have no money for transportation and some have no family in the United States.

He says that they don't know anyone.

The Texas National Guard erected over two miles of fencing along the U.S side of the Rio Grande in El Paso in the past week. The barrier is not deterring up to 1,600 migrants border patrol has encounters every day, a federal law enforcement source says.

Migrants, like Selena Varela, a Venezuelan mother of two has decided to wait in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where she says shelters are at capacity, which means sleeping on the street.

Officials there say they don't know how many migrants are waiting in their city for Title 42 to end. Advocates and officials in the three northern Mexican cities of Tijuana, Reynosa and Matamoros estimate nearly 22,000 migrants are waiting in shelters, on the streets and in camps.

As for the Blancos, they credit the rosary with a tiny image of our Lady of Guadeloupe for saving them during their journey.


FLORES (on camera): Now, Brenda's parents and other migrants that you see around me, say that they are confused by the Supreme Court ruling. They don't understand how it's going to impact them.

And, Wolf, I'm also in contact with advocates and officials on the Mexican side of the border. And leaders there say they are fearing delivering the news to migrants there who have been waiting for months for Title 42 to end. Wolf?

BLITZER: Rosa Flores in El Paso, Texas for us, thank you for that report.

Coming up, embattled Congressman-elect, George Santos, admits to lying about key parts of his back ground and resume, that's next.



BLITZER: Tonight, embattled Republican Congressman-elect George Santos is insisting he's not a fraud after admitting to repeatedly lying about his background and resume out there on the campaign trail, and is defiantly announcing he will take his place in Congress next month.

CNN's Eva McKend reports on how Santos is trying to minimize and defend the extent of his fabrications.



REP.-ELECT GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Did I embellish my resume? Yes, I did.

MCKEND: And an apology.

SANTOS: And I'm sorry. And it shouldn't be done.

MCKEND: After a week of controversy, Congressman-elect George Santos fessing up to lying on the campaign trail about parts of his resume, as he seeks to minimize and defend the extent of his tall tales on everything from his education and work history, to his philanthropic pursuits and Jewish heritage.

SANTOS: I apologize, if anybody feels hurt or betrayed. I will gain everybody's trust back by just delivering results for them and making sure they do not forget why they voted for me in the first place, which was to get stuff done.


MCKEND: Santos has boasted of working for investment backs, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. He now admits he did not.

The congressman-elect claimed he received degrees from both NYU and Baruch College. He now says he did not.

But he maintains he's not a criminal, and still intends to serve in Congress.

SANTOS: I'm not resigning. I have to leave Congress, it's going to be by a pink slip by the voters November of 2024.

MCKEND: And then there are the questions surrounding his alleged Jewish heritage.

SANTOS: We're no stranger to persecution. My grandfather fleeing Ukraine in the 1920s to Belgium, then fleeing Belgium to Brazil in 1940.

MCKEND: Those claims were contradicted by family trees compiled by genealogy websites, records on Jewish refugees and interviews with multiple genealogists. Santos now saying he never claimed to be Jewish.

SANTOS: I always joke, I'm Catholic, but I'm also Jew-ish, as in "ish." And I made that joke because growing up, I grew up fully aware that my grandparents were Jewish.

MCKEND: But CNN learning that Santos described himself as a proud American Jew in a document he shared with prominent Jewish groups. Santos now drawing the ire of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who says they were deceived. Santos will no longer be welcome at RJC events.

SANTOS: I'm not a fraud. I'm not a cartoon character. I'm not some mythical creature that was invented. I'm no Russian puppet.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MCKEND (on camera): No word yet from Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. But at least two Republican congressmen-elect who also represent Long Island have voiced concern, with one calling for a house ethics committee investigation and potentially a law enforcement probe. Santos still has his defenders including Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah. Why am I not surprised about that?

All right. Thank you very much, Eva McKend reporting.

Just ahead, international travel restrictions in China are about to be lifted for the first time since the start of the pandemic. We'll get a report from Beijing. That's next.



BLITZER: Tonight, China is planning to drop quarantine requirements for all international travelers beginning in January. It's the latest sign the country is moving toward re-opening its borders to the rest of the world.

CNN's Selina Wang reports on all the changes to China's COVID policy.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The world's harsh quarantine is no more, as COVID sweeps through China, the country is scrapping quarantine for inbound travelers from January 8, and promising to gradually restore outbound tourism.

Since the start of the pandemic, China has severely limited who can go in and out of the country, drastically cutting the number of flights and cutting arrivals into government facilities.

I went through multiple quarantines in China this year, lasting as long as 21 days. There is no choice where you go or what room you get. Once the doors close, you can only open them for COVID tests and food pickups.

Workers sprayed disinfectant in the hallways every few hours. Food delivery is not allowed. But breakfast, lunch and dinner are part of quarantine fees. All of that is soon going away. It a huge relief for Chinese nationals living overseas like this woman in New York City.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really want to go back to my home immediately. Right now I'm emotional. I'm almost in tears right now.

WANG: When is the last time you went home to China?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four years before. I lost several of my family members during the pandemic. I lost my beloved golden retriever. I feel like I missed everything.

WANG: How is your family doing in China?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Almost everyone got COVID. And they are suffering. My grandpa give me a video call, I cry so badly. At that moment, I don't know if I will get a chance to see him. He just got COVID and I hope he will be okay.

WANG: On Chinese social media, people have been sharing everything they've lost during three years of border controls, while they were stuck out of their home country. One writes: I received the bad news of my father's unexpected death while I was in a quarantine hotel but I couldn't go back to see him for the last time.

Another writes: because of the pandemic, I didn't even know that my grandma passed away and I heard it from my mother a month later.

This new change finally ends China's ban on non-essential travel for Chinese citizens. I feel like the pandemic is finally over, the travel plans I made three years ago may finally become a reality she says.

It's exciting news for potential travelers but at home, the country is struggling to grapple with the explosion in COVID cases.

DR. HOWARD BERNSTEIN, BEIJING UNITED FAMILY HOSPITAL: The hospital is just overwhelmed from top to bottom. There was no preparation. Like nobody knew. There was no stockpiling of medications.

WANG: This viral video of the southern city of Guangzhou shows a man kneeling on the ground at a fever clinic, breaking down and begging the nurse to let him see the doctor after waiting for hours.

Fever and cold medicine are nearly impossible to get at drugstores across the country. Antivirals are also extremely hard to get but in a major move, Beijing has announced it's going to start distributing Paxlovid to the community health centers in the coming days.

So, there's chaos and confusion. But with zero COVID in the past, finally, there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Selina Wang, CNN, Beijing.


BLITZER: Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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