Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Southwest As Canceled About 16,000 Flights In A Week; January 6 CMTE Expected To Release More Transcripts; Ex-Aide: Trump Floated "Blanket Pardons" For Staff, Insurrectionists; Rep. Adam Schiff, (D- CA), Is Interviewed About January 6, Donald Trump, Pardon, Jamie Raskin; Death Toll From Blizzard Climbs To 37 In Erie County, New York; U.S. To Require All Air Travelers From China To Show Negative COVID Test Before Flight; Migrants Still Facing Trump-Era Border Restrictions After Supreme Court Keeps Policy In Place For Now; U.N.: More Than 6,800 Civilians Killed In Ukraine Since Russian Invasion; Pope Francis: Ex-Pope Benedict "Very Sick", Asks For Prayers. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired December 28, 2022 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now. The Southwest Airlines crisis is taking a growing toll with thousands of additional flights canceled today. Federal scrutiny is intensifying as stranded customers demand action.

Also tonight, parts of Buffalo, New York remain paralyzed by a once in a lifetime blizzard. The National Guard now going door to door as the death toll keeps rising and the city struggles to dig out.

And as the January 6 select committee is expected to release another batch of transcripts, I'll speak with a key panel member, Congressman Adam Schiff. Stand by for his take on the latest revelations, including a claim that Trump's White House chief of staff burned documents at the White House.

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

Let's get right to the Southwest Airlines meltdown, now in its 7th day and still causing major disruptions across the country. Our correspondents are covering all the angles of the story, from the impact at major airports to the fallout for Southwest and the airline industry. First, let's go to CNN's Nick Valencia. He's over at the Atlanta airport, the busiest airport in the nation.

Nick, how are Southwest passengers being affected there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some passengers flying Southwest still dealing with the drama here seven days later. And looking at the line here at the tick encounter behind me, you would think that this problem would be resolved by the few people in line. But that's just a reflection of how few flights are taking off today from Southwest and the more than 2,500 flights that the airline canceled today.


UNIDENTIFIDE MALE: Nobody alerted us that the flight was canceled. We were at the gate. We had to figure it out on our own.

VALENCIA (voice-over): For Southwest passengers, it's another day of delays and disappointment. A week of cancellations, lost luggage, and poor communication all becoming a bit too much for some.

MILAN TILL, SOUTHWEST PASSENGER: I didn't get to see my best friend in Florida.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Milan Till had a flight scheduled to take off on time, but when she got to the gate, she was turned away, unable to travel alone due to Southwest staffing shortages.

(on camera): Did they give you any reason why?

BRANDON TILL, FATHER OF A SOUTHWEST PASSENGER: They just said that I guess their new policy and they don't know when the restrictions are going to be lifted that unaccompanied minors can't fly right now.

VALENCIA (voice-over): According to FlightAware, Southwest has canceled at least 15,700 flights since December 22, including at least 2,500 scheduled for Wednesday. But while other airlines have recovered, staff and union leaders have slammed Southwest for failing to upgrade systems and critical infrastructure.

LYN MONTGOMERY, PRESIDENT, TWU LOCAL 556: Flight attendants have been stranded that not only have they been stranded, but they've been left to try to contact crew scheduling for hours on end.

TOM NEKOUEI, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CAPTAIN: If you looked at our competitors right here in Denver, United Airlines, for instance, they went through the exact same weather system as we did, and their -- A, they didn't cancel as many flights, and B, their recovery is extremely -- it's very expeditious versus us.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg telling, Wolf, that Southwest would be held to account for the disruption.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I expect the airline to go ahead and directly take care of passengers with reimbursements and whatever else they need to do to compensate these passengers and make them whole. But yes, if they fail to do that, we will use our authorities to make it happen on our side.

VALENCIA (voice-over): On the Hill, Senator Maria Cantwell pledging an investigation by her committee. Southwest CEO Bob Jordan apologized to customers and crew in a video released Tuesday.

BOB JORDAN, CEO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES: Hear that I'm truly sorry.

VALENCIA (voice-over): But admitted normal service would not be resumed until next week.

JORDAN: Our plan for the next few days is to fly a reduced schedule and reposition our people and planes, and we're making headway, and we're optimistic to be back on track before next week.

VALENCIA (voice-over): But for loyal Southwest customers, the message to the CEO was simple.

MICHELLE SMITH, SOUTHWEST PASSENGER: Fix it. Fix it. He's got a lot of loyal fans, and he's losing them left and right.


VALENCIA: There really is a lack of confidence among those passengers we spoke today flying Southwest Airlines, with some electing to drive the hundreds of miles to their final destination or risk spending thousands of dollars to try their luck at rebooking. And, Wolf, just a short time ago, we tried calling Southwest customer service only to get disconnected. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nick, thank you very much. Nick Valencia in Atlanta for us. Let's go from Atlanta to Chicago's midway Airport and CNN's Adrienne Broaddus brought us.

Adrienne, the Southwest Airlines meltdown is dragging on now for a week. So what are you seeing and hearing where you are over there in Chicago?


ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, progress here at Chicago Midway, but still a lot of pain for some travelers. Take a look. This is what we are used to seeing here in the baggage claim area. People standing and waiting for their luggage to show up at the different carousels. By contrast, we've seen an overflow of luggage.

But here's where the progress starts. This area has been cleared, and that luggage that was overflowing here has been removed. But as the journey ends for some travelers, other challenges are beginning for some people that we spoke with. One woman said her luggage never showed up here and the medicine she depends on to control her blood pressure and oxygen levels wasn't here. Listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have to rent certain oxygen for the plane. Had the oxygen since the batteries failed. People like me are left here trying to gasp the air. Thank to God that I don't end up in a hospital here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just haven't had this bag in a week. I've been wearing other people's clothes. I want to wear my wardrobe. It's New Year's Eve week, and now I'm going to go out and I'm going to party like it's 2023.


BROADDUS: Different experiences from those travelers. Some left Chicago Midway today celebrating, others, Wolf, left in tears. Back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Adrienne, thank you very much. Adrienne Broaddus over at Midway in Chicago.

Let's discuss all of this and what it means for Southwest Airlines and its customers. We're joined by CNN Business Correspondent Rahel Solomon and CNN Transportation Analyst Mary Schiavo, who is also an attorney who represents families of airline crash victims.

Rahel, how much could this meltdown cost Southwest Airlines?

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, look, I mean, I think there are significant financial implications here, right? I mean, just take a look at the stock today, it finished lower by about 5 percent. That's on top of the loss we saw yesterday of about 6 percent over the last week or so. Southwest shares are off about 12 percent.

So you can see it there in terms of investors, investors clearly not happy. But also in terms of the company, there is significant financial exposure. When you think about, Wolf, all of the flights that have been canceled, about 15,000 since last week. all of those travelers who either cannot or do not want to rebook with Southwest, they just want their money back. You also think about the expense of Southwest paying these people who have to man the phones, employees who have to man the phones, handle the reservation desk to try to provide some relief to all of these passengers around the country.

And then there are also some upgrades in terms of its technology that the company's CEO acknowledged last night. They're essentially going to have to double down. One analyst put it to me this way in terms of the impact to the reimbursements, for example. This comment coming from Robert Mann, he's an aviation consultant. He said, "You're looking at a million customers." Ballpark it, right? "If an average ticket is $250 to $300, that suggests the upper limit is $250 to $300 million in terms of absolute value. The question is how they defray that."

So, financial exposure there up to $300 million. The question is, how many passengers can Southwest convince to hold on to their ticket, use a voucher instead of cashing out? Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Mary, you know the airline industry. What kind of investigation or disciplinary action, for that matter, could Southwest face over these cancellations?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST: Well, there are three major vectors that they could face for investigation and serious repercussions. First and foremost, of course, is the federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation that needs to do more than say, we'll jump in if they don't do what they're supposed to do. They've already failed.

The FAA should be looking at serious safety implications because, after all, an aircraft is a flying computer, as is an airline, as is air traffic control, and Southwest has already said their computers couldn't handle the volume. They didn't know where their airplanes were. They didn't know where their pilots were. It could be a serious safety issue.

And of course, DOT looks at consumer protections. I would expect United States Senate and House of Representatives to get involved because, after all, for years they've been saying, oh, we're going to hold hearings, we will hold them accountable, we will have a passenger bill of rights, we have a meager one, but it merely just gives some fines if you're on the runway too long. But it's time for Congress to consider reregulation.

This is a meltdown that affects the entire nation and can affect the entire world. And finally, I expect that there will be some lawsuits, because in the famous meltdown of 1999 in Detroit, there were many lawsuits and class actions in the airline involved, and that one ended up paying $2,500 per passenger for those involved in that fiasco. So, three major vectors that could be pointing maybe lens, the investigations lens on Southwest. And they should.


BLITZER: Yes, we'll see how that works out.

Rahel, will Southwest Airlines lose a lot of customers? I know you're speaking with a bunch of experts and analysts. And if so, what could they do to get them back?

SOLOMON: It's a great question, Wolf, because I've been wondering the same. I mean, on the one hand, here you have a company that prides itself on customer service that is synonymous essentially, with customer service in the industry. This is not that.

And yet, when I have spoken to consumers consultants today, they say sometimes we as consumers have short term memories. So, you know, I suppose it depends on how disastrous your experience was. But look, this is certainly not something the company wants to see as it prides itself on customer service.

BLITZER: Good point, Rahel Solomon, Mary Schiavo, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, as the January 6 Select Committee promises to release even more interview transcripts, I'll speak live with a key member of the panel. Congressman Adam Schiff is standing by. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Right now, we're standing by for more transcripts from the House January 6 select committee, which could be released at any time. Shedding more light on the Capitol insurrection. CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is working the story for us. She's with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


Paula, among the new revelations, we're learning that Trump actually considered issuing what were called blanket pardons during the final days of his presidency.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. A former White House adviser testifying that in the days following January 6, the final days of his administration, he was floating this idea of possibly issuing blanket pardons for people who participated in the Capitol attack but the White House Counsel rejected this idea. But this is notable because this is still something the former president is talking about today. He has said publicly that if he is reelected, he would consider offering pardons to some of the approximately 900 people who have been charged in the Capitol attack.

Now, he also floated the idea of possibly offering blanket pardons to all of his White House staffers, though, the White House Counsel also interjected there and said, wait a second, that's not necessary because nobody here has done anything wrong. So it is interesting in these final days of his administration how he personally was weighing his pardon power. But we also learned there were lawmakers, including Representative Matt Gaetz, who according to this witness, said that he sought a pardon through the White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. He was allegedly concerned about an ongoing federal sex trafficking investigation. So, a lot of new details in these transcripts. And we are expecting to get more transcripts over the next few days.

BLITZER: We certainly will be interested in that. And another transcript that has been released, we also learned that Trump supposedly was even considering conceding the election to Biden at one point. Is that right?

REID: Exactly. According to these transcripts, that was the hot gossip around the White House, at least for a short time. This is according to a former press aide, Judd Deere.

Now, I covered the White House during this time. Judd was one of the most accessible and more trusted advisors in the press office and he testified before this committee that he had heard, quote, "gossip" that yes, the former president was in the days following the election, perhaps willing to concede, even potentially thinking of inviting the Bidens to the White House. Now of course, we know, Wolf, that did not happen, but it all speaks to the chaos and the miscommunication in the White House and the time between the election and of course, inauguration day.

BLITZER: Paula Reid, thank you very, very much. Excellent reporting, as usual.

Let's get some more in all of this. A key member of the House Select Committee and the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is joining us, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He's also the author, by the way, of the book "Midnight in Washington, How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could."

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. These transcripts that have now been released reveal that while Trump complained about his Vice President Mike Pence after January 6, he actually pushed for pardons. So what does that suggest to you?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: Well, it suggests that he understood that he may have committed federal crimes, the people around him may have committed federal crimes. And it is really breathtaking. It is, in many senses, like imagining an organized crime figure, given the pardon power and the ability to use it, he believed, to protect anyone who was loyal to him.

The fact that even now he talks about pardoning these people that were engaged in a violent attack on police officers defending the capital is really unthinkable. But it just shows, you know, the extreme nature of, you know, his narcissism, frankly, that he can't contemplate what it must look like to the rest of the country that he would pardon these people. But I think it's plain evidence of a consciousness of guilt on a massive scale.

BLITZER: Good point. You know, the transcripts also recount how former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows actually burned documents leading up to January 6. It's not clear what those documents were, but do you expect the U.S. Justice Department to pursue unanswered questions from your investigation

SCHIFF: Absolutely. I think they have an obligation to do so. And, Wolf, one of the things that really concerns me as the chair of the Intelligence Committee is, according to Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony, there were boxes of documents, classified documents, taken from our committee, from the House Intelligence Committee or from Republican staff and perhaps Devin Nunes carted off to the White House for who knows what purpose. We don't know what happened to those documents. We don't know whether someone home Mark Meadows, we don't know if some ended up in the fireplace. She wasn't able to tell us the answer to those questions. But is very strange that a congressional committee would be, you know -- or one party in that committee would be packaging up classified materials and bringing them in large scale to the White House for some reason.

BLITZER: So -- but you don't know which documents were burned, whether they were classified or not, for example?

SCHIFF: No, I don't. And I also don't know whether they took steps to take classified documents and declassify them somehow or what process was being used because that generally involves the agencies reviewing the materials, deciding what would be the danger if they were declassified. We really don't know what happened to those materials. But we do know, I think, from Cassie Hutchinson, that some of those material may have pertained to the Russia investigation. And it would make a certain kind of grim, dark sense if that was the case, that Nunes and Republican staff were carting up Russia documents that they thought might be useful for Donald Trump.


There's evidence in her testimony about Meadows sending some documents to friendly members of the press, including some that have been involved in unscrupulous activity, conservative media personalities. So, a lot to be concerned about. I hope the Justice Department will get to the bottom of it.

BLITZER: Do you have any concerns, Congressman, about the precedent you're setting by releasing all of these transcripts in full with Republicans about to take control of the House of Representatives?

SCHIFF: No. I would have to be more concerned if weren't releasing the transcripts that Jim Jordan and others would cherry pick, you know, information that was not disclosed and make it public in a misleading way without revealing other material that contradicts whatever point they want to make. So I think the bigger risk is not releasing it. And there's a tradition this with the Russia investigation, we released those transcripts. I had to fight with -- actually, with Pat Cipollone and the Trump White House to be able to release those documents.

They claim some kind of executive right not to release them, but ultimately we prevailed and they were released. And of course, the Ukraine transcripts were also made public. So there's a long tradition of doing it, and I think it was the right call here.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, Congressman, I just want to ask you about your fellow committee member, Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. He announced just a little while ago that he has a, quote, "serious but curable form of cancer" and that he's about to start chemotherapy. What is your message to him during this clearly very difficult time? And how will you and your colleagues support him?

SCHIFF: Well, I actually just sent him a message earlier today to wish him a speedy recovery, to tell him we're all pulling for him and sending him strength and hugs and that we know that he will do fine. He will be just fine. And asked him, frankly, whether there was anything I could do. And he is one of our most beloved members. And if the well wishes and prayers of our members make the difference, and I hope and pray they will, he's going to be just fine.

BLITZER: Yes, well said. We wish him a speedy recovery as well. He's been a frequent guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM over the years.

Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the Buffalo, New York Police Commissioner on rescue efforts still unfolding as the city keeps struggling and struggling to dig out from more than 50 inches of snow.


[17:27:43] BLITZER: Just in to CNN, the death toll from the epic snowstorm that hit the Buffalo, New York area just rose to 37. CNN's Athena Jones is joining us from the streets of Buffalo right now.

Athena, as the death toll climbs, give us an update right now on efforts to dig out from this horrible, horrible blizzard.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, they are making progress here in the city of Buffalo. You can see the sidewalk behind me, the road next to me. When were reporting to you from the same location last night, you couldn't see either. And we've driven around town a bit today and a lot of the roads are cleared, but there are still areas with huge piles of snow, people having to dig out from that, and so this is going to continue.

That is why there's still a driving ban in effect, although fewer and fewer people -- or more and more people, I should say, are not following that driving ban. We've seen quite a lot of traffic today, but they are hard at work getting these roads cleared. We also should mention that the welfare checks that are going on, the National Guard, since this morning has been going door to door in neighborhoods that lost power. Neighborhoods in the city and the suburbs, checking on every single house where they lost power to make sure people are OK, that they don't need to have heat or water and to make sure that they're doing well.

Here is what the Erie County Executive said about those efforts. Take a listen.


MARK POLOCARZ, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: We are fearful that there are individuals who may have perished living alone or two people who were are not doing well in an establishment, especially those that still don't have power. But I think it's important. This is going to happen in the city and the suburbs. So, any place that lost power, the National Guard is going to come down.


JONES: And I should mention, it's not just troops, it's not just the National Guard that are out doing these house -- these sort of house to house checks, emergency services folks are also doing that. They're checking on the homes where people made 911 calls that went unanswered during the height of this terrible blizzard. There were at point 1,100 unanswered calls. They were down to two or 300 earlier today. So, they're making sure those folks are OK.

And one more thing about the death that -- this death toll that is climbing, there are several unidentified bodies. So, authorities say if you're missing a loved one, please call the police. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Athena, we are also learning more and more about some of the victims.

[17:30:00] Tell us about one you have followed.

JONES: Right. This is 22-year-old Annelle Taylor. This is a tragic story. She had moved to Buffalo from North Carolina some time ago. And during the blizzard on Friday, she was heading home from her job at a senior center -- senior citizen center. She was just, as we understand it, six minutes by car away from her home when she got stranded.

She couldn't didn't go any further. She sent several videos to her sisters in North Carolina over a group chat. She called 911, told them she was going to wait until the emergency folks arrived. And that when she ran out of gas, maybe she'd get out of the car and walk. Eventually, 911 was never able to get to her, and by the morning, it was discovered that she had died.

So just a tragic, tragic story of someone who, you know, she wasn't out and about. She was trying to get home from work and not realizing quite how dangerous it was in these just white out conditions.

One of the videos she sent to her sister, she said, you know, if I get out of this car now, the snow will be to my stomach. So just one of many tragic stories and one of several people found in vehicles. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. So many heartbreaking stories like this coming out right now.

Athena, thank you very, very much.

BLITZER: Let's discuss what's going on with the Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia. Commissioner, thank you so much for joining us. I know you're very busy right now. With the death toll rising today to 37, what can you tell us about the coordination on this recovery effort with U.S. National Guard troops also clearly involved right now?

COMMISSIONER JOSEPH GRAMAGLIA, BUFFALO POLICE: Yes, we've had a multifaceted approach to this. And when the snow finally stopped, the Buffalo Police Department organized search and rescue and recovery teams. They're a multijurisdictional. We've got, obviously, the Buffalo police with our dive team and our SWAT teams.

We've got the New York State Police that are also spearheading this. The Rochester Police Department has sent people, a whole bunch of New York State agencies, parks, corrections, the list goes on and on. ATF we've had a lot of people that have their own personal snowmobiles and skid steers and other type of heavy equipment that brought them in.

The National Guard has also been very instrumental in assisting. So we are out in various parts of the city. We've worked through the backlog of the check the welfare calls. We work through the backlog of the initial calls where dead bodies were reported. So we have made significant progress in working through all those pending calls.

BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging to hear that. The Erie County Executive, as you know, Mark Poloncarz, he criticized the city of Buffalo's what he described as slow efforts to dig out, calling it, and I'm quoting him now, embarrassing. Is Buffalo falling short, Commissioner, in its recovery operations?

GRAMAGLIA: I would have to say that you -- if you look at the work that has been done here, you know, you look at this historic snowfall, this was an absolute blizzard. You had to be in the middle of it to see exactly what it was. And then you have to take into account the geography that's around us, the very tight, narrow streets, the amount of cars that are parked on the streets, the cars that were abandoned.

And I also will say that the Department of Public Works, they spent the first several days not being able to get to the streets, but working with our search, rescue and recovery teams to be able to get us through the snow, to get their way down the streets so that we can save lives and unfortunately, recover those that passed away.

So, you know, we put life saving measures ahead of clearing the streets. I think everybody in the city and all the partners that came in have been working very, very hard to get through this.

BLITZER: The Buffalo Police Commissioner, Joseph Gramaglia, thank you so much for all you're doing and thanks so much for joining us.

And we're going to get more on all of this when I speak with the mayor of Buffalo in the next hour. Standby for that.

Just ahead, new requirements right now for travelers coming to the United States from China. What they'll need to show in order to enter this country?



BLITZER: There is no fallout tonight from China's sudden easing of its zero-COVID policy following mass protests. Now the Biden administration will require all travelers from China to show a negative test result before flying to the United States.

CNN's Selina Wang is working the story for us. She's joining us live from Beijing right now. Selina, what are you picking up there?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, before we got this initial announcement from the U.S. in response to the potential travel restrictions, China responded by basically defending its COVID policy and accusing some western media for hyping up its COVID policy change.

This is what else the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. He said, quote, "China has always believed that the measures taken by countries to prevent the epidemic should be scientific and moderate and should not affect normal people to people exchanges."

Now, Wolf, the irony here is that since the start of the pandemic, China has had some of the strictest border controls in the world. But now that the country is finally opening up, cases are surging, while other countries are getting nervous. In addition to the U.S., Japan, Italy's Lombardy region, Taiwan and India have put in place COVID testing requirements. In fact, in Japan and Taiwan, if the traveler from China tests positive upon arrival, they've got a quarantine for several days.


Now, amid this is concern about the lack of data coming from China. China has stopped reporting daily COVID cases on a national level. It severely narrowed its definition of COVID deaths, only reporting a handful of COVID deaths for the entire month. Beijing says everything is under control, but hospitals are overflowing with elderly patients. Crematoriums across the country are overwhelmed. Fever and cold medicine are scarce. Wolf?

BLITZER: Selina Wang joining us from Beijing, thank you for that report.

In Texas, chaos at the border worsening tonight as thousands of migrants remain in legal limbo. It comes after a U.S. Supreme Court order leaving Title 42 in place, while legal challenges continue to play out. CNN's Rosa Flores is in El Paso with the latest.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four-year-old Ajeden (ph) and his dad, Angelo Sanchez, are in line at this El Paso Catholic church that turns into a migrant shelter, hoping for a warm place for the night. Sanchez says he left his native Columbia because his son was hungry.

(on-camera): He says that his soul breaks when his son asks them for food, and he can't give him any food.

(voice-over): The windburn on Ajeden's (ph) face, a sign he endured the recent frigid conditions out in the elements without a jacket.

(on-camera): So he describes that this is what his son was wearing throughout the journey.

(voice-over): Sanchez and his son are part of the growing number of migrants who, despite the threat of Title 42, which allows border agents to swiftly expel some migrants to Mexico are flocking to the southern border, turning themselves into authorities. And some are allowed to stay in the United States pending their immigration cases.

Tuesday's Supreme Court order keeps Title 42 in place while the legal challenges play out in court. It's deemed a win for the Republican led states who want to keep the Trump-era pandemic public health rule. But even President Joe Biden says its end is overdue.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The court is not going to decide until June apparently and, in the meantime, we have to enforce it. But I think it's overdue.

FLORES (voice-over): While Sanchez waits, one of the church volunteers allows women with children to enter.

(on-camera): Why did you decide to come to the United States now?

(voice-over): Like many migrants we've talked to, he says he thought the border was open.

(on-camera): He says that he learned about it on Facebook.


FLORES (voice-over): The Texas National Guard has erected miles of fencing in the El Paso area to change that perspective.

RINGLE: This sends a clear message, do it the right way or don't come in.

FLORES (voice-over): The long lines of migrants that were here two weeks ago, all gone. As the temperature dips nearly 10 degrees and no word yet if dad and son will gain entry into the shelter, Ajeden (ph) points to the windburn on his face and says it hurts.

Inside the shelter, the priest that runs it says two weeks ago, 50 migrants needed shelter. Now he has to turn people away. Many of them sleep on the street.

REV. RAFAEL GARCIA, SACRED HEART PARISH, EL PASO: We try to do what we can. We're a church. We've got limited resources.

FLORES (voice-over): Then a sign of hope. There's room for men with children and Sanchez is next. A prayer answer.

(on-camera): He says that faith moves mountains.

(voice-over): For a father who says he just wants to work to provide for his son.


FLORES: I just got off the phone with El Paso's city deputy manager, and he says that migrants like the single dad that you saw in this story, they're not his biggest worry. He says that his biggest worry right now are the increasing number of migrants who got tired of waiting in Mexico for Title 42 to lift and are starting to cross the border illegally.

Wolf, he says that's his biggest worry because those individuals feel desperate, they can't leave this area, and their desperation is only growing. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Rosa, thank you very much. Rosa Flores reporting for us.

Meanwhile tonight, Russia is now escalating its attacks on civilian targets in eastern Ukraine, including, unimaginably, a maternity hospital. CNN's Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman is in Kyiv for us tonight.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fighting grinds on in Ukraine along a largely unchanged front line. Russia's failures on the battlefield have pushed the Kremlin toward escalating strikes on civilian infrastructure. The latest target, maternity hospital in Kherson.

This is where we put women and children, says head Obstetrician Inna Filofeeva. When the bombs fell, women fled to the basement with their newborn babies. We helped those who just gave birth, she says. They're the type of women who will go where they have to go with their children. Everyone was here and worked together very quickly.


Somehow no one was hurt. But the attack spreads fear among the few remain. I was thinking about that baby that was lying there, says Olena Yatsyk, another obstetrician. About our women, about the children we are welcoming to this world. It's all scary. We are giving birth here and someone is taking it away. For what?

Whether from mortars, tanks, rockets or artillery, Kherson has felt the full force of Russian shelling in recent days. The southern Ukrainian city was liberated in November from occupying forces still eager to make their presence felt.

In Kyiv, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu met Ukrainian counterpart Alexander Reznikov. The pair laid a wreath at the capital's wall of remembrance. According to the U.N., as of December 26, 6,884 Ukrainian civilians have been killed since the war began, plus nearly 11,000 injured. And the U.N. says the actual number of dead is probably much, much higher.


WEDEMAN: And the concern, Wolf, is that as New Year's approaches, the Russians may redouble their effort to target Ukraine's infrastructure to end the year with more destruction. Wolf?

BLITZER: Horrible, horrible, horrible. Thank you very much, Ben Wedeman. Stay safe over there in Kyiv.

Coming up, former Pope Benedict, who made a historic decision to step down, is now in failing health. We'll have the latest on his condition and the call for prayers at the Vatican.



BLITZER: At the Vatican tonight, Pope Francis is offering prayers and concern about his predecessor, Pope Benedict. The 95-year-old ex- pontiff's health is said to be worsening nearly a decade after his historic decision to retire. CNN Vatican Correspondent Delia Gallagher has more from Rome.


DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prayers for a Pope in failing health. In his globally broadcast general audience, Pope Francis called on the faithful to pray for his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, as his health deteriorates.

POPE FRANCIS (through translation): I want to ask you all for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict, who sustains the Church in his silence. He is very sick. We ask the Lord to console and sustain him in this witness of love for the Church to the very end.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The Vatican says the 95-year-old's health has deteriorated due to the advancement of his age and that he's being continually monitored by his doctors. Once the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI has been living alongside his successor, Pope Francis, at the Vatican. After making the almost unprecedented decision to resign from his role as Pope in 2013.

Announcing that decision, Benedict said his choice to step down was made due to his lack of strength of body and mind.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: The decision I have made after much prayer is the fruit of a serene trust in God's will, the deep love of Christ Church. I will continue to accompany the Church with my prayers and ask each of you to pray for me and for the new Pope.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): With that resignation, Pope Benedict became the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years, but retained his title and continued to dress in the papal white and make occasional public appearances.

Born Joseph Alois Ratzinger in Germany and a childhood spent under the shadow of Hitler's Nazi regime, Pope Benedict XIV has sometimes been a divisive figure, unflatteringly referred to as God's rottweiler in his conservative defense of the faith.

He was Cardinal and Pope during the years when the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandals came to light, and he spearheaded the Vatican's efforts towards a zero-tolerance policy. However, after his retirement, he suffered a reputational blow when the Church commissioned report found he knew and failed to act against a pedophile priest while he was archbishop in Munich 40 years ago. Benedict denied the allegations.

Even after his resignation, he continues to be a towering figure in the Catholic Church. And as his health declines, there'll be many sending him their thoughts and prayers.


GALLAGHER: And Wolf, the Vatican has told us that Pope Francis visited Pope Benedict after his general audience this morning, but there has been no further updates on his health. And, you know, it's such an unusual situation, Wolf, to have the Pope and the Vatican speaking publicly about the health of the Pope Emeritus.

It suggests that it is serious. We're standing by for any updates, and we will bring those to you when we have them. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Delia, thank you very much. Delia Gallagher reporting from Rome.

Coming up, Southwest Airlines here in the United States cancels thousands more flights today as the crisis for the carrier and the nightmare for its passengers worsens. But first, Dionne Warwick has brought us countless hits over the decades while breaking racial barriers and shining a light on very important social issues. The new CNN film, "Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over" tells the intimate stories behind her rise to stardom.



DIONNE WARWICK, SINGER: I became very, very vocal and very public with the A's (ph) issue based on the fact that we're losing so many. Something that'll be done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dionne was definitely a hero of mine and a hero to a lot of people. She was really the first person in the music business to actually speak up about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The royalties for, "That's What Friends Are For" changed the trajectory of the epidemic in America.

WARWICK: I did what I could do, and that's the way I moved to this very day.


BLITZER: I love Dionne Warwick. Don't miss the new CNN film "Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over" premiering New Year's Day at 09:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.