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GOP Race Moves To New Hampshire After Trump Dominates Iowa; Trump Back In Court For Second E. Jean Carroll Defamation Trial; New U.S. Strikes On Iran-Backed Rebel Targets In Yemen; Brutal Arctic Blast Slams Large Swath Of U.S.; Lawmakers Race To Avert Shutdown With Deadline Four Days Away; Gilgo Beach Suspect Charged With Murder Of Fourth Woman. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 16, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Both Spirit and JetBlue told CNN they disagree with that ruling, and JetBlue shares seem to be doing just fine, rising 4.9 percent this afternoon.

One week before the New Hampshire primary, Governor Ron DeSantis will make his case before voters tonight in a CNN town hall. My friend and colleague, Wolf Blitzer, will moderate that affair. That's tonight at 9:00 P.M. Eastern only on CNN and streaming on CNN Max.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, Donald Trump, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, they are all hunting for votes here in New Hampshire just hours after Trump's Iowa landslide, and exactly one week before this state's pivotal Republican primary. We're closing in on a CNN presidential town hall with one of the final three.

Also tonight, former President Trump detours from the campaign trail, returning to court to face his accuser, E. Jean Carroll, again in a second defamation trial.

And after two U.S. strikes against Iran-backed militants, the U.S. Military Central Command confirms a third retaliatory attack on Houthi rebel targets inside Yemen. Stand by for details on the mission and whether more strikes from the U.S. may be coming.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New Hampshire, and you're in The Situation Room.

We're live here in New Hampshire at New England College at the site of CNN's Republican presidential town hall with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He will take questions from voters and from me just three hours from now.

Also DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Donald Trump, they are all converging on this state right now. It's the next crucial battleground after Donald Trump's sweeping victory in the Iowa caucuses. Let's go to CNN's Kristen Holmes. She's in Atkinson, New Hampshire, for us, where Trump has an event later tonight.

Kristen, Trump is expected to speak, I'm told, fairly soon. What's his message after his Iowa blowout?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we're expecting him to say is attacks on Nikki Haley. The thing to keep in mind here is that his team views Nikki Haley as the biggest threat when it comes to New Hampshire. One of the things we've been talking about is Nikki Haley saying that this is a two-person race.

Well, when it comes to the state of New Hampshire, Donald Trump's team does believe it as a two-person race between them and Nikki Haley. And they are taking her on in two ways. One, they are trying to shore up their conservative support. They are doing that by airing ads that hit Haley on immigration. They believe it's a key issue for Republican voters.

Now, they're also targeting moderates, independents, left-leaning independents, who they think might come out for Haley with ads attacking her on Social Security and Medicare. But one thing that is clear, Donald Trump is ready to take Haley on.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So, it's now off to New Hampshire, a great place. We won it last time.

HOLMES (voice over): Tonight, Donald Trump back on the campaign trail in New Hampshire after a commanding performance in the Iowa caucuses, putting the former president one step closer to the Republican nomination and a potential rematch with President Joe Biden.

TRUMP: And I really think this is time now for everybody, our country, to come together. We want to come together.

HOLMES: Before heading to the Granite State, the GOP frontrunner making a detour to a New York courtroom as he balances his political and legal battles.

TRUMP: I go to a lot of courthouses because of Biden, because they're using that for election interference.

HOLMES: As the race moves to New Hampshire, Trump's campaign is paying close attention to Nikki Haley's rise in the polls and sharpening their attacks on Haley's immigration record --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Haley's weakness puts us in grave danger.

HOLMES: -- and her position on reforming social security.

NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We change retirement age to reflect life expectancy.

HOLMES: Despite a third place finish in Iowa, Haley is making the argument the GOP primary is a two-person contest between her and the former president.

HALEY: Now, when we know it's a head to head, you heard me last night say, look, we have a choice. Are we going to do more of the same? Are we going to go forward? And more of the same is not just Donald Trump, it's Joe Biden. Both of them are exactly the same.

HOLMES: Haley echoing that message in a new television ad in the Granite State.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The two most disliked politicians in America, Trump and Biden, both are consumed by chaos, negativity and grievances of the past.

HOLMES: On the heels of his second place showing in Iowa, Ron DeSantis hitting the campaign trail in Haley's home state of South Carolina before making his way to New Hampshire.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Haley, look, she was governor here for six years. Can you name major achievements under her tenure? I mean, tell me if there are, because she hasn't been able to do it.

HOLMES: The Florida governor criticizing Haley for refusing to accept an invitation to debate in New Hampshire before next week's primary.

DESANTIS: They basically have her hermetically sealed because, you know, she's got this problem with ballistic podiatry, shooting herself in the foot all the time.

HOLMES: But Haley insisting she's only interested in a debate with Trump.

HALEY: That's who I'm running gets. That's who I want. That's -- at the end of the day, he's the frontrunner. He's the one that I'm seven points away from. He's the one that we're fighting for. There is nobody else I need to debate.


HOLMES (on camera): Now, Donald Trump has given no indication that he wants to debate anyone ahead of a general election, and thus ABC has canceled that debate right ahead of the primary.

BLITZER: Kristen Holmes reporting for us, Kristen, thanks for that update. I appreciate it very, very much.

I want to bring in our guests and break down what's going on here in New Hampshire and in the states that follow. Our political experts are standing by. And, Jamie Gangel, I'll start with you. First of all, what do you make of Kristen's reporting that Trump's campaign right now is trying to blunt Haley's rise in New Hampshire even after his major, very impressive win in Iowa?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they clearly see her as a threat, Wolf. And let's face it, wouldn't we be surprised if Donald Trump didn't do this? This is classic Trump playbook, attack, attack, attack. He wants this to be over as soon as possible. He doesn't want to take any chances, because, let's face it, even though she came in third, Haley did do better in Iowa than was expected, and New Hampshire is not Iowa. So, until he gets everybody else out of the race, this is going to be Donald Trump's strategy. Wolf?

BLITZER: S.E. Cupp, let me bring you into this conversation. On this canceled New Hampshire debate that was supposed to be taking place this week, Haley is insisting it's now a two-person race between her and Trump. But is that true?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let me tell you, I spoke to the Haley campaign yesterday morning in the early hours, well before the caucuses had started, and they said they were already looking past Ron DeSantis.

So, this was the plan regardless of how they came out of Iowa. And because she came out of Iowa so close with Ron DeSantis, that has a tinge of credibility to it, that she can kind of look past him, knowing that New Hampshire and South Carolina are not going to be good for him.

And, yes, I mean, she wants to put Ron DeSantis in the rearview, just like Trump wants to put the both of them in the rearview. And she wants to take on the frontrunner. She's done a lot of work to get here and to be one of the last sort of two people standing.

She wants to make it to the big show.

BLITZER: Yes, she certainly does. Bakari Sellers, Nikki Haley made some stunning comments on Fox earlier today after her controversy over not naming slavery as the cause of the Civil War. I want you to listen to this, listen to this.


HALEY: We're not a racist country, Brian. We've never been a racist country. Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No. But our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect every day that we can.

I know. I faced racism when I was growing up. But I can tell you today is a lot better than it was then.


BLITZER: Her campaign is doubling down, as saying, and I'm quoting now, America has always had racism, but America has never been a racist country. The liberal media always fails to get that distinction. But does any of that even make any sense to you? What's your reaction?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it doesn't make sense to me, Wolf. And the fact is there's no distinction. I think that's what happens with Nikki Haley when she has moments such as these. She becomes somewhat like Icarus and that she flies too close to the sun.

She's not ready for this limelight because she trips and falls over things that are so simple. Is America today better than it was yesterday? Unquestionably. Anybody who's intellectually honest will tell you that we've made a great deal of progress in this country, undoubtedly, because you have to give credit to those people whose shoulders we stand upon.

But the fact is this country does have a history with racism that we have not yet dealt with. The fact of the matter is Nikki Haley knows this. It was a racist individual that walked into a church and killed nine people. It's racism that black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. It's racism that you have these structures of inequity and inequality that are pervasive right here in South Carolina.


And so for Nikki not being able to articulate that, this is when she gets too cute by half and people and independents want to support her, then they begin to question whether or not she's ready for the big time.

CUPP: But, Wolf, can I just say --

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, go ahead.

CUPP: Yes. I mean, I just want to say, first of all, she acknowledged within that clip that racism exists, and she's faced it. Bakari, as you said, she knows about it. It was dabbing (ph) in her backyard. But if voters need their presidential candidate to say that America is a racist country, well, they have no one to vote for, because just a year-and-a-half ago, Joe Biden said the same exact thing. I don't think it's all that controversial to say, of course there is racism. Of course, there are examples of racism. And even systemic racism we all need to address. But maybe America is not on the whole racist country. It's not all that controversial, actually.

SELLERS: It's just more nuanced --

BLITZER: What's controversial, S.E., is when she -- hold on one minute, let me just point out. What was controversial to those of us who followed American history, we know a little bit about American history, when she said we've never been a racist country. That was the controversial line. It jumped out at me. Doesn't she remember all the segregated schools, the movie theaters, the restaurants, all of this, the segregation that existed? That was pretty racist.

CUPP: Of course. And I don't know how much time she has to give a history lesson every time she's asked this question. Joe Biden couldn't do it either. Joe Biden talked about Jim Crow, but also said, this is not a racist country. I think if we're applying these standards, we have to apply them fairly.

BLITZER: Yes. I mean, it's obviously tremendous improvement over the years, but going back when she said, we've never been a racist country, that's clearly a false statement. Guys, everybody stand by, we're going to have a lot more coming up. Thanks for joining us. We're going to continue our special coverage right now.

Just ahead, we'll have more on the 2024 race. Larry Hogan, the former Republican governor of Maryland, now a Nikki Haley supporter, is joining us. He's here. He's standing by for a live interview. We'll do that.

But, first, from the campaign trail to yet another trial, Donald Trump in court today as the jury is selected for his second defamation suit brought by E. Jean Carroll.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: In New York, E. Jean Carroll's second defamation trial against Donald Trump is getting underway, the former president in attendance today for jury selection and opening statements.

CNN's Kara Scannell is joining us from New York right now. She's got details. So, Kara, what happened inside court today?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was the first time E. Jean Carroll and Donald Trump had been in the same room in decades. And Trump was sitting just one table away from E. Jean Carroll, though it didn't appear that they made eye contact at all during the several hours that he was there in court. Trump sat through all of jury selection until a jury of nine men and women were empanelled. And then they went to opening statements.

E. Jean Carroll's attorney, Shawn Crowley, was up first. She had told the jury that, as a result of Trump's statements in 2019, denying Carroll's allegation that he raped her in an apartment store in the mid 90s, saying that she wasn't his type, and also saying that she made up the story to get -- to better the sales of her book that she had just released, she said that those statements scared Carroll, that she received numerous threatening emails and communications from Trump supporters and that her career had suffered.

And she said that Donald Trump must be stopped, and that was important in this case for this jury to find in terms of damage. She said while sitting in the courtroom today, there were 22 posts just today. Think about that when you consider how much money it will take Donald Trump to stop.

Now, Donald Trump's attorney, Alina Habba, gave her opening statement and she told the jury that Carol wanted the attention she had seeking fame, that she welcomed this and she was saying that Donald Trump was just defending himself. She said that of Carroll, her career has prospered. She wants President Trump to pay for the mean tweets.

Now, this case went before a jury last year for statements that Trump had made in 2022. A jury found Trump liable for sexual assault and defamation. The judge overseeing this said that these statements in 2022 were nearly identical to the ones in 2019. So, the issue of defamation is not on the table for the jury. It is just up for them to decide how much in damages, if any, former president should pay E. Jean Carroll. Everyone will be back in court tomorrow.

BLITZER: I'm curious, Kara, how will this trial unfold in the coming days? Could we hear, for example, directly from E. Jean Carroll or potentially from Trump himself?

SCANNELL: Yes. E. Jean Carroll is set to testify in this case tomorrow. Her lawyers also intend to call an expert on reputation and damages that they will have testify as well.

Now, Trump's attorneys say that he wants to testify and take the stand. Of course, Donald Trump's decision on that is always fluid in the civil fraud trial. He said he was going to take the stand a second time and he never did. So, it remains to be seen if he will testify. But the judge has already outlined what Trump could testify about, saying it must be related to the damages. He cannot deny raping Carol. He cannot deny knowing her. So if he does take the stand, it will be limited in what he can say. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Kara, thank you very much, Kara Scannell reporting for us.

I want to get some more from our legal and our political experts who are watching all of this unfold right now. Elie Honig, let me start with you. What do today's opening arguments tell you about the possible damages Trump could face?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think Donald Trump's defense argument here is remarkably risky, potentially even reckless, and it could backfire quite badly here. Let's remember, what this jury is deciding is not whether Donald Trump sexually assaulted and defamed E. Jean Carroll. The prior jury already found that. All this one is deciding is how much money Donald Trump has to pay now.

This is a jury of nine ordinary New Yorkers.


And, essentially, what Donald Trump's team is arguing here is that by defaming her, as the prior jury found, he's essentially done her a favor. Not only did he not harm her, Trump's team argues, but he actually helped her reputation, her economics. And I think that's a very risky argument to make, would not surprise me at all to see this jury reject that.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger, Trump chose to be there today, interesting, but he didn't speak outside the courtroom, as he has done on several other occasions when he was tending legal trials against him. So, why did he feel it was still important to be there? And how much did he actually benefit from this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's really hard to know. He probably didn't speak because he's being accused of defamation and what he would say would probably be more defamation. He has decided to attend these cases whether or not he speaks because it's part of his campaign. And we've been talking about this a lot, the courthouse campaign. And I think he shows up because it's part of his shtick about being a victim and how the judicial system is being used against him with all kinds of false charges. And so I think this is just one more thing.

He says he wants to testify. He always says he wants to testify. We'll see if that actually happens. But this has become an important part of their political theory of the case in terms of winning the presidency or at least winning the primaries.

BLITZER: Yes, he thinks it's a big deal. Elie, you've appeared before this judge many times. Trump, as we've been noting, he's expected, we don't know for sure, but he's expected to testify. But is he going to get away with theatrics in front of this judge whom you know?

HONIG: Absolutely not, Wolf. This is the wrong judge for theatrics for spectacle. This is Judge Lewis Kaplan in the federal courthouse in Manhattan. Of all the judges in that courthouse, Judge Kaplan may exercise the tightest control over his courtroom. He is deeply experienced. He is no nonsense. Nobody gets away with any circus-like behavior. I've been there. Take my word for it. This man controls his courtroom.

Also, as we said before, the judge has set very narrow parameters on what Donald Trump can and cannot say. Donald Trump cannot get up there and deny that he sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll, cannot deny that he defamed her. All he can do is make arguments about how much she's been damaged. And that doesn't leave him with much, if anything, of substance to say.

So, I know the expectation the reporting is he may testify or he's expected to testify. I'm a little bit skeptical about that. Let's see what happens when push comes to shove on Monday.

BLITZER: We shall see. Gloria, knowing Trump is facing damages for sexual abuse and defamation, does that hurt him in a general election?

BORGER: Well, you know, we know it hasn't hurt him in the primaries so far, and we see that in the polling that most Republicans believe these cases are rigged against him.

I think the general election is a different story. I think when you're facing so many felony counts and if you are convicted, the polls show that that will make a difference to many voters, a conviction. So, we have to see. So far, this has worked to his advantage. But, again, this is a selective audience, which is a Republican primary audience.

As far as the general election is concerned, I think it also depends on how Joe Biden uses it against Donald Trump. Does he talk about it more certainly than Nikki Haley or DeSantis ever did? And I would guarantee you that Biden will.

BLITZER: I suspect you're absolutely right. Guys, thank you very, very much, important conversation indeed. Coming up, more from New Hampshire, as the Republican presidential campaign moves on after Donald Trump's crushing win in Iowa. We'll get reaction from voters and from a key Nikki Haley supporter, the former Maryland Republican governor, Larry Hogan.



BLITZER: We're back with more of our special coverage from New Hampshire right now, as the race for the Republican presidential nomination enters a critical new stage. Our live town hall with Ron DeSantis begins in less than three hours.

But, first, let's get an update right now from CNN's Omar Jimenez. He's on the ground in Manchester, New Hampshire for us. Omar, we just found out that the three Republican candidates won't be facing off in a debate later this week. Update our viewers.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. So, this was actually part of a crucial bottom line that Nikki Haley painted earlier today saying that she is not going to appear on a debate stage unless that debate stage includes former President Trump. Well, the deadline that was put out passed today. Haley didn't sign up. Former President Trump, unsurprisingly, did not sign up, as he has not participated in any debates at this point. And Ron DeSantis, of course, would not participate unless there were others on the stage with him.

So, now that debate process seems to have collapsed and it is an indication politically of where Nikki Haley, at the very least believes she is. She believes that this is now a two-person race despite finishing third in Iowa. Moving forward, she believes it's a two-person race, discounting DeSantis. And she believes that she should be debating the person that against, which she sees as only Trump.


BLITZER: And, Omar, I know you had a chance to speak to some undecided New Hampshire voters today. What did they say about the impact of Iowa's results on the New Hampshire primary?

JIMENEZ: Look, some of them were surprised at how dominant Trump's performance was in Iowa, taking 98 out of 99 counties. That said, they don't think it's going to influence their decision here.

Now, Trump could still very well take the state. He's led in polls despite how close Nikki Haley has been in some of them. But take a listen to what they told us today about how they're processing things moving forward.


JIMENEZ: Did Trump's win in Iowa surprise you in any way? Does it motivate you in any way?


JIMENEZ: Why did it surprise you?

CAULFIELD: Just because I just -- you know, with all these, you know, allegations and all that, I mean, it's -- I don't know. It's (INAUDIBLE).

KEVIN CLARK, NEW HAMPSHIRE UNDECIDED VOTER: I was a little surprised the results to see the level of popularity given he hadn't attended any of the events or been involved in any of the debates, et cetera. So, would I like to see a little more participation from him?

GARY HOULE, NEW HAMPSHIRE UNDECIDED VOTER: I ruled him out in the primary, but he were to win the nomination, then he'd be ruled back in because --

JIMENEZ: You've got him over Biden?

HOULE: Oh, yes, absolutely.


JIMENEZ: Now, others weren't surprised, but are excited about the opportunity to do something about it. And remember, Wolf, here in New Hampshire, the voting population is much different than Iowa, much more moderates here in New Hampshire, and that's a dynamic Nikki Haley at the very least is hoping to take advantage.

BLITZER: Yes, she certainly is. Omar Jimenez in Manchester, New Hampshire, for us, Omar, thank you very much.

Joining us now, the former Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan. He's endorsed Nikki Haley for president. Governor, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, Haley is declaring this already to be a two-person race between her and Trump. But you know she finished third in Iowa, two points behind DeSantis and 30 points behind Trump. So how is this a two-person race?

FMR. GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): Well, well, I don't think anyone was really that surprised. I certainly wasn't surprised about the results. Everybody expected Donald Trump to have a big win in Iowa. But, you know, before, it's really not representative of what's going to happen in New Hampshire at all. Before Iowa, the polls were showing Nikki Haley down single digits in second place, Ron DeSantis down in single digits, rather than down single digits, and a poll came out today that shows the race tied in New Hampshire at 40 for Trump, 40 for Haley and 4 percent for Ron DeSantis.

So, I absolutely do believe that, you know, Iowa does a good job of kind of thinning the herd, and that's exactly what they did. I think New Hampshire is going to be a real battle between Haley and Trump.

BLITZER: Yes, you make a fair point. Haley may be within striking distance of Trump by here in New Hampshire but she's far behind, according to the polls, in her home state of South Carolina right now, which is next, after New Hampshire. So, how is this not just a one- person race against Trump?

HOGAN: Well, I think with all due respect to the other candidates, I think it's sort of the end of the road for them. I mean, look, she's still in second place in South Carolina. And I think if she comes out with a good showing, or a first place, or a very close second place in New Hampshire, then that gives her the momentum, the excitement, the attention that carries her back to her home state of South Carolina, where I think maybe she can see some improvement and maybe change the dynamic.

BLITZER: Haley's appeal has mostly been with what we call more moderate voters, but Trump's base, the majority, clearly the majority of the Republican primary contest right now, is very conservative and evangelical. So, how does Haley overcome that?

HOGAN: Well, certainly, that was the case in Iowa. I'm not sure that's the case in New Hampshire or the whole rest of the country. And, look, it's obviously Trump's race to lose and everybody just assumes he's the nominee. I'm just not ready to give up quite yet. I think about half of the Republican voters do not want to vote for Donald Trump. So, half of them really do and half don't. They just had a lot of candidates to choose from and up until yesterday, they started to weed out a little bit over the past couple of weeks, but there were about 11 candidates.

And now, really, there's only one that can possibly beat Donald Trump and that's Nikki Haley. And there are about 50 percent of the people that don't want Trump. They better get, that's their choice, really. I mean, instead of splitting up the vote, like they did in 2016, it's time to unite behind the one that actually has a chance to take them on.

BLITZER: Governor, I want you to get your reaction to some stunning that Nikki Haley made on Fox earlier today after her controversy over not saying slavery was the cause of the Civil War.


Listen to this. I'll play the clip again.


HALEY: We're not a racist country, Brian. We've never been a racist country. Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No. But our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect every day that we can.

I know I faced racism when I was growing up. But I can tell you today is a lot better than it was then.


BLITZER: Her campaign doubled down saying America always had racism, but has never been a racist country. So, how do you explain Haley's comments?

HOGAN: Well, I actually agree with Haley's comments. I mean, I think we certainly had some terrible problems with racism in our country, particularly in the past, but I don't believe we are, by definition, a racist country. And I don't think, you know, you can't say that America is a racist country. I agree with her position. So, I think you're making a big deal out of nothing. I think Joe Biden has said the exact same thing.

Look, we've had some terrible problems. I think it was a before choice of words when she didn't talk about slavery. But this is not the same thing. This is -- I agree with her that America is not a racist country.

BLITZER: It may not be a racist country today, but do you believe it was never a racist country even when there was segregation in schools, in theaters, in restaurants and so much was going on?

HOGAN: Wolf, there were terrible problems with racism and there certainly was a lot of -- there were a lot of racists in the country that doesn't make the -- you know, I think you can label a country as racist just because of you know we had some terrible things in our past and a lot of people that -- you know, we've we I think we've made a lot of progress but I don't think you could ever label the country as a racist country.

BLITZER: No, we've certainly made a lot of progress in not necessarily a racist country today, but, historically, it was a racist country. I think you agree, right?

HOGAN: I wouldn't label it that way. Certainly, we had terrible racism in America and we're in much better shape than we used to be.

BLITZER: All right. Governor, I'm going to leave it on that point. Governor Larry Hogan, thank you so much for joining us.

To our viewers, be sure to stay with CNN for our live Republican presidential town hall, that's coming up in a few hours, with Ron DeSantis, I'll moderate the discussion as voters here in New Hampshire ask the governor their questions. It all begins 9:00 P.M. Eastern only here on CNN.

And just ahead, we're following other, other very important breaking news we're following, including stories involving the U.S. military launching yet a third round of strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen. This war is clearly escalating. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're back live here in New Hampshire, just ahead of our town hall with presidential candidate Ron DeSantis later tonight. But we're also following other important news developing right now, including U.S. military forces launching more strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen. CNN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann is joining us right now. He's tracking all of these developments. Oren, first of all, what can you tell us?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the third time in the past several days that we've seen the U.S. conduct strikes in Yemen targeting the Iranian proxy, the Houthis, this time much smaller than the initial round of strikes we saw on Thursday night, D.C. time here. U.S. Central Command says they went after Houthi anti- ship ballistic missiles that were preparing to be launched and that posed an imminent threat to international shipping lanes.

But the U.S. hasn't destroyed all of the Houthi's military capability. In fact, several hours after these strikes destroyed the anti-ship ballistic missiles, the Houthis launched another missile, damaging a Maltese-flagged bulk carrier. It was minor damaged and the ship continued on its way. But that shows you the threat the Houthis still posed.

And it's also worth noting that on Monday, another Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile struck a U.S. owned and operated vessel for what appears to be the first time over the course of the past several months, that also suffered light damage and was able to continue on its way. But, again, this is the threat that Houthis posed to one of the world's most critical international waterways. In fact, the U.S. Transportation Department warning U.S.-flagged as well as U.S.-owned vessels to avoid the Red Sea at this time because of that threat.

BLITZER: This conflict clearly escalating right now. Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thank you very much for that update. We're watching it closely.

Coming up, President Biden summoning congressional leaders to the White House for a last-minute meeting. We'll have a live report on the wrangling that's going on right now to try to desperately avoid a U.S. government shutdown just ahead of Friday's deadline.



BLITZER: A brutal arctic blast is bringing record low temperatures across a large swath of the United States, leaving tens of millions of people under winter weather alerts right now.

Our meteorologist Elisa Raffa is joining us from the CNN weather center right now.

Elisa, how dangerous are these conditions right now? And what else is actually in store?

ELISA RAFFA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I mean, we're talking about temperatures so cold, you can get frostbite in minutes. Then on top of this, we're talking about feet of snow off the Great Lakes for some cities like Buffalo. All of the blues here are showing where that arctic air is plunging

south. It's 1 degree right now in Chicago. You've got temperatures at or below freezing, making it all the way down to New Orleans and Houston. A huge area with temperatures below freezing.

We actually broke snow droughts today finally. D.C., Baltimore, Philly, New York, all got an inch of snow and they haven't seen that in two years, over 700 days. You can see that swath of the snow that came through told. It's exiting New England as we go through the next couple of hours, but you can see the lake effect snow machine pumping near Buffalo as we have lake effect snow warnings in effect for one to 3 feet of snow through the next couple of days. Those warnings last until Thursday as the snow continue to pile on.

What's happening is we have lakes that don't have ice cover so the water is relatively warmer than that arctic air that's coming in over it. That's going to pump that lake effect snow machine and like I mentioned, we're looking at 1 to 3 feet of snow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah. Elisa Raffa, reporting for us, Elisa, thank you very, very much for that update.

I want to get an update now on the looming government shutdown which potentially could hit Washington in under four days if U.S. lawmakers don't pass a short-term extension.


This as President Biden now invites congressional leaders to the White House for talks on funding for Ukraine, Israel, and the border.

Our chief congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us right now. He's got details.

Manu, does this meeting at the White House mean the two sides are any closer or actually farther apart from a deal?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, right now, Congress is scrambling to end a mess of its own making. That a potential government shutdown by the end of the day on Friday.

There is optimism that ultimately Congress will avert a government shutdown because of a deal that was reached by Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, and then Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, for a short-term extension of government funding until early March. This after Congress time and again has continued to kick the can down the road. Instead of passing annual funding bills, or expected to approve at the beginning continually improving short-term increase after short-term increase and pushing it now down into March.

This has caused significant blowback in the ranks. Remember, in the House, Kevin McCarthy, the then House speaker, was pushed out after he agreed to move forward with a short-term funding increase with the support of Democrats that did not have spending cuts. Ultimately, then Mike Johnson came, took the reins. He vowed to move forward and not pass any more short-term spending bills. What did he ultimately do? Move forward with a short-term spending

bill because of the fact that a shutdown was looming. That has caused concern on the right. Others demanding even deeper spending cuts than what Johnson was able to secure in this go around. But at the moment, Wolf, there is an expectation that on Thursday, senators will approve the short-term increase, short term extension, then the House will move on Friday, narrowly averting a government shutdown for now, but they'll be right back at it on Friday, as other huge issues loom like funding for Ukraine, dealing with a border crisis, funding for Israel all moving on a separate track and all issues that have not been resolved will be discussed at the White House tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, and funding for Ukraine as well. Manu Raju, you're going to be a busy guy. Thank you very, very much for that update.

Coming up, a suspected serial killer is charged with the murder of a fourth woman. We're going to tell you how evidence from a belt -- from a belt buckle links him to this case.



BLITZER: A suspected serial killer is charged with the murder of a fourth woman whose remains were discovered on Long Island's Gilgo Beach more than a decade ago.

CNN's Jean Casarez is following the story for us.

Jean, the indictment today -- it revealed how a single strand of hair was apparently a key part of the new charges.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, that's exactly right.

And forensics is so important in our jurisprudence, and as they prosecute trials today. And what it is was, her remains were bound by three different belts and there was a belt buckle on one of the belts and there was a hair. But early on, we learned that hair was damaged. They could not find a profile on the hair.

So we learned today they had to do more sophisticated testing on that hair and what they found was that it was a female's hair. Well, they were able to get the DNA of Asa Ellerup, who was the wife of Rex Heuermann and it was consistent with that of Asa Ellerup. But what it does is, it creates a connection to the defendant himself. And by the way, Asa Ellerup was out of town with the kids when Maureen Brainard- Barnes was murdered, which is our fourth victim, now charged, and also the other three.

Today when court was finished, the district attorney spoke outside. This is a very important moment he believes. Take a listen.


RAYMOND TIERNEY, SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: This indictment marks a change in the investigation. The grand jury investigation of the so-called Gilgo Four is over. It has been concluded and we will proceed with those cases in court and again, we look forward to proving the allegations.


CASAREZ: Now what doesn't happen all the time, but Maureen's family, they were in court today, her sister and her daughter. They spoke after court.


MELISSA CANN, SISTER OF MAUREEN BRAINARD BARNES: Losing Maureen has became a wound that never truly heals. It remains a part of me.


CASAREZ: One other piece of actually forensic evidence also we learned today. Maureen had a cell phone and Rex Heuermann had according to legal documents, burner phones, which he corresponded with young women with. And there was in 2007, 16 interactions on the burner phone with the cell phone of Maureen. Finally, in July of 2007, everything stopped but a few days later, someone had that cell phone. It wasn't her family. And they started checking her own voice mail to see what voice mails they had. They say also that places Heuermann because it was done in Long Island, exactly where he lived.

BLITZER: So, Jean, what is the suspect's attorney saying about these new charges?

CASAREZ: Well, the defense pleaded not guilty in court today and they also spoke after court. They think that a lot of this evidence is flimsy. The forensic testing wasn't done correctly. They believe that the burner phone, the cell phone, it's only pinging from a tower and that doesn't mean it's those actual phones. The district attorney says there's documentation otherwise.

BLITZER: Jean Casarez reporting for us, thank you very much for that update.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Important note: I'll be back later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, for our CNN town hall with Republican presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis, live here in New Hampshire.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.