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Biden: Omicron Variant "Cause Of Concern," Not "Panic"; Health Officials Urge Vaccinations, Boosters Amid New Threat; Boebert Defiant After Implying Omar Could Be Suicide Bomber; New Wave Of Smash-And- Grab Robberies On Black Friday; Merriam-Webster's Word Of The Year: Vaccine. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired November 29, 2021 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's turn it over to Chris for CUOMO PRIME TIME. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: He is remarkable guy.


CUOMO: I was very lucky to have Tony in my life for long times. Good friend of my parents.

And, it's not unusual for somebody to have something that is really encoded in their mind last, even when they start to deal with dementia or whatever, the variety of malady is, but he is one of the few who has transcended more decades, more generations, and there's so much that people don't know about him. I just hope they find out. He lets them find things out before he's gone.

I mean, even the high school that he put together in Queens, he named it after Frank Sinatra instead of himself, because he said I don't deserve the school--

COOPER: The fought the Battle of the Bulge. He was in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King.


COOPER: I mean, he's got an incredible, incredible background and, and just the music. I mean, it's just - it's incredible. And it's there in his brain, and he knows how to perform it. And to stand - I got to say, I mean, I've had a lot of amazing reporting experiences. But to be privileged enough to be able to stand in their home and watch him do an hour long set at the piano with the music, and his wife watching. It was just among the most incredible moments - really reporting moments I've had.

CUOMO: His wife is great. She's a big reason for as longevity. The kick and cook, by the way, Tony, he can cook, and he's a nice little artist. He's a nice little artist. I interviewed him once with my pop, he got nervous, and he started drawing me.


CUOMO: It wasn't bad. He couldn't draw you. You can't capture all that beauty. But me, he did it right. But he is something special. It's a great story to bring people, Anderson. Really cool. Appreciate you.

All right, I'm Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME. Happy Hanukkah, to my Jewish brothers and sisters. Enjoy night too of the Festival of Lights. And I hope Thanksgiving was a reminder for everybody of the good people and the good things in your life. Lord knows we could use the help, right?

Now, I will take a little bit of a different take than a lot of other media. I don't know that it helped this Thanksgiving holiday to have the media blasting word of this new COVID variant Omicron. Of course, the information is news. But the timing, the tone, the hype goes way beyond that which is justified by the urgency at this point. We don't know that much.

And so, it been presented to you as more questions than answers yet, because the data isn't there. It's not because the information is unsatisfying. The answers are incompetent at this point. It's not what it is. Here's what we know.

South Africa reported seeing cases. Now, the key is this new variant is the fastest growing one there. And that matters, that's newsworthy, no question. But what else? What else did they know? They don't know symptoms. Anecdotally, a clinician said the symptoms that - what they have seen have been mild. Well, why isn't that part of kind of the first blush on what matters here?

Instead, there's too much talk about not knowing if it's resistant, or if the vaccines fully work against it, as if we had proof going both ways on it. We don't even know if this variant is worse for us than Delta. And that variant, by the way, still ripping around America without the fanfare of all the speculation going on with Omicron.

All the feverish concerns prompted a reply from the President of the United States.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.


CUOMO: Why? Here's what he said.


BIDEN: We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientist, and we're learning more every single day. And we'll fight this variant with scientific and, knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: Good. And just a note for the record. Let's hope they keep that same energy, and that it will be aided by the president and his emissaries, letting us know what they know when they know it. Don't continue this pattern of us having to catch that there were things that you knew that you could have told us and didn't. Please, let's do better.

So far, again, little to panic on based on the facts. Are there cases here? Maybe, they don't know. There are cases nearby in Canada, at least 17 other countries. There's no good reason to believe it wouldn't come here. And, again, it could be here, we just don't know. And we have therefore no idea what this variant means for us here. Symptoms, hospitalizations, deaths, those are the metrics that matter most, as you know.

So why don't we just treat it as an unknown until we know? Why can't we adjust this avarice for making it something, for being something that we know it's got to be? Why? Why drive it that way? Because all you're really driving is more misgivings about the quality and nature of the messaging coming to the American people about this virus.


Omicron, the 15th Greek letter, I think it means a little O, whatever. They skipped a couple letters in their labeling of variants for different reasons. But there are at least seven variants of interest or concern, and those words mean things to clinicians. Interest means one thing, concern means something more. But they never got any of this hype. Why? Because they didn't present major threats. OK, fair point. But we don't really know what the threat of this one is. Let's stick with that.

When you know - when you can show why there should be concern, come with it. So here is what we need to find out. And they tell us we'll know a lot of these answers in the next couple of weeks. Is it here? Is Omicron more transmissible than other variants? Does it cause more severe illness than the others? And then, of course, how does it do with the vaccine? And is there any particular mitigation method that works better against it, so that we can streamline and reduce what we need to do in response to it?

The one answer again, though, that does justify the attention is that it can't be good that Omicron is now the dominant strain in South Africa less than two weeks after it was first detected there. So unusual growth. Cases have climbed about 10 fold in South Africa, overall, from two weeks ago. So a high transmissibility rate is a possibility, if not a probability. We don't know for certain.

And that's why another aspect of the coverage, everybody's in a rush to bring on all the big pharma guys. The CEO of Pfizer today said, he thinks his company's current vaccine might work against the Omicron variant, but may offer less protection. He doesn't know. He's not certain. And I don't know how that's helpful.

Moderna's Chief Medical Officer says he is concerned with the specific mutations associated with this variant that could allow it to elude current vaccines. But, again, it's a "could," it's an educated guess, they don't know. So until they know, why don't you just say, I don't know. We're looking. And as soon as we get the data, we'll bring it.

Part of it, breathless media, fragile public reacts to the unknown. And there's a sense that these guys should act like they know things, right. Why don't they know? Because they don't, they're not politicians. They're not the business of selling you on a proposition no matter what the facts are.

And as for the president, and others telling us the best protection against Omicron is to get fully vaccinated or get your booster shot. Again, I'm not saying - I got vaccinated, I understand why people want the booster shot. But why say that about Omicron, when you don't know how it interacts with the vaccine.

One argument - because it is better to get the protection that we know then no protection at all, and we still have other strains to fight, specifically Delta. OK, fair point. Another way to look at it is that making that suggestion may be taking the bait of projecting strength without the facts behind it, again, you open yourself up to attacks by those who are desperate to undermine.

Now, what can we do to prepare? The U.S. restricting travel to block flights from certain African countries. Other nations putting travel bans in effect. Is that the right move? Well, it certainly buys time to slow the spread, as scientists work to study the unknowns. But it doesn't come without a cost, right? Especially during the very high travel time of the year.

So let's get a better minds read on this variant, Omicron. Dr. Peter Singer, Special Adviser to the General - Director General at the W.H.O., the World Health Organization joins us now. Thank you, sir. Doc, were you offended by anything I've said before I got to you?

DR. PETER SINGER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF ONTARIO: Chris, well, first of all, thank you. Thank you for having me on your show. I actually think you covered what we know and what we don't know quite well. And I, certainly, wasn't offended by anything. And I think that, that was a pretty good summary of what we know and what we don't know.

CUOMO: And you understand, especially, because the W.H.O. has had to remedy - excuse the pun - several misinformation campaigns along the line here. If you come out and say, Oh, this is the new one, this is the big one, limit the travel, limit this, you better go get your vaccine, and you don't really have the data what happens if the data doesn't meet up with the initial urgency?

Now you could say well people will say better safe than sorry. I don't think that's going to happen in America. What's your concern?


SINGER: I think that we did all this varying of concern, that's because we are concerned, and as you mentioned, the mutations that drives some of the concern. But I actually think your summary was good. I think a prudent approach here is good until we get the answers to the questions you laid out about, does it cause more severe disease, is it more transmissible, does it evade vaccine? And we're working hard to get those answers.

As you say, we should have them in weeks. But in the meantime, there's stuff people can do. And I think a prudent approach here is called for, and that means raising your guard. And what raising your guard means here is, if you're not vaccinated, please get vaccinated because that could save your life.

And vaccines are necessary and also, you need to follow the public health measures that people know so well. Outdoors better than indoors, well ventilated rooms, physical distancing, wear a mask, those are prudent things that people can do to take in their own hands, while these answers are being sorted out.

CUOMO: Yes, the only thing I would say is that you do have to be careful about connecting this variant to the efficacy of the vaccine, because we don't know yet. And while it's likely that the vaccine should have some degree, why set yourself up for pushback?

What does it mean to people coming out of South Africa that it's growing very quickly there, spreading very quickly, but that anecdotally, they don't see people getting very sick? How does something spread very quickly, but not make people very sick?

SINGER: Well, that can certainly happen. Those are two independent things. But, again, Chris, I think, a prudent approach here - I like the way you set up what we know, what we don't know. Let's find the answers on a broad population base, rather than kind of grasping at the initial factoids. This is a bit like the fog of war. We really need to take - consider it - considered approach to get the data.

There's one other thing, though, that I think is really at the heart of this, which is the idea of - Omicron is like a wakeup call, as though we needed another wake up call to vaccinate the world, this issue of vaccine equity. And the point I want to make here is that the safety - that one of the best ways to keep Americans safe is actually to vaccinate the world.

Not only is it an ethical thing to do, and you know, with rates like 60 percent to 70 percent vaccination in the U.S. and 7 percent on the African Continent, you got to wonder whether we really love our neighbor. But the point I want to make here is, that it's the smart thing to do, because it's self-defeating not to do it, because this is the way to make variants, is to let the virus rage.

CUOMO: Who is giving--

SINGER: Viruses mutate, that's how to make variants. And that's what we don't want to do.

CUOMO: A couple things.


CUOMO: Who do we know is getting sick from this variant in South Africa? And when you talk about the mutations, what does that mean, the spike protein? But let's deal with the first one first, which is, who is getting this? Is this a lot of breakthrough cases? Is it the unvaccinated, who's getting it?

SINGER: There's early reports of a few breakthroughs, as you say. But I think the prudent approach for us to do what you said earlier, which is to get all the data and get the full picture.

CUOMO: So we don't know yet.

SINGER: And I think that's fair summary. On the mutations issue. This one has a lot of mutations around 30 in the spike protein area. So there are reasons for concern. But I think prudence, just like we're talking about, is a good way to go.

On the - to go back to the point of vaccine equity, though. I think that this is really something that we need to focus on, because this is the way to - you know, the Greek letter after Omicron is Pi. Pi will be coming if we leave large swaths of the world unvaccinated, the virus rages, it mutates, that's how it create variants. We can prevent that. Why not - you know, we need to shut the barn door before the horse bolts. And the way to do that is to vaccinate the - vaccinate the world.

CUOMO: So do you believe that these travel restrictions are warranted at this point?

SINGER: You know, the travel restrictions issue - the rules of the road there are set by governments themselves, and that's really the call of governments. But W.H.O. asks governments to do two things. One is to make sure they're risk based and to make sure they're time limited.


And I think we need to keep two things in mind here, one is they are not a silver bullet. They can have limited effectiveness. And secondly, they have side effects, perverse incentives. Like, South Africa, this was a case of brilliant cutting edge science by South African scientists, transparency by the South African government. They should be rewarded - the governments of South Africa and Botswana for their transparency. That should be incentivized, not punished.

The scientists that reported this was tweeting today, that because of the travel ban, he can't get the reagents to keep being our eyes and ears.

CUOMO: Right.

SINGER: But that's a perverse incentive.

CUOMO: One last thing, and I appreciate you doing this on an important night here is we're kind of doing a reset after Thanksgiving, in the midst of Hanukkah. The idea of what we should do prudently, get the booster or - assuming you can't do both, because you don't have enough. Or get the vaccine that you can to these other places with the 7 percent to create a base of prophylaxis outside the United States, as you outlined. Assuming you can't do both nearly as well as you could do just one, should that be the focus?

SINGER: Well, let's look at the concrete numbers. W.H.O. has set a target of every country vaccinating 40 percent of their population by the end of this year. To do that, we need just over 500 million doses of vaccine. And here's a place by the way, where we can say thank you to the U.S., which has donated about 275 million doses of the vaccine. And of course, the issue is not just donation, but also countries being able to make this for themselves.

But that is the current issue of urgency, Chris, that's the way to save lives, that's the way to make the citizens of any country safer. You know, what we've got here is a five alarm blaze, and the world has not sent out enough firetrucks.

CUOMO: I'm with you. And look, I get that the United States is leading the way, that's not unusual. But in terms of what matters most, if it's really about getting people vaccinated, and we're doing that at a pretty legit pace relatively, maybe that should be the focus instead of the boosters.

Dr. Peter Singer, I appreciate you. Thank you very much.

SINGER: Thank you, Chris. Great to be with you.

CUOMO: All right. So let's bring in our own resident bigshot who understands these things and also understands messaging very well, Sanjay Gupta. What does he make of what he just heard? What does he make of the unknown and the prudent course. The chief doctor, next.



CUOMO: So what do you think? Omicron is now a name that you know? Should you? Is it time to be worried about this? Is it what should be front and center for us? Is it so threatening that we all needed to think about this over Thanksgiving? Did we get information to back up that level of concern?

The CDC certainly thinks so. Stepped up its guidance today, urging all vaccinated adults to get a booster shot. Now, interestingly, the head of the W.H.O. says the best way to keep - not the head, the guy would just head on from the W.H.O. says, hey, look, the best thing is to get the rest of the world vaccinated. That the booster shouldn't be the priority. It's getting people that fundamental basis of prophylaxis.

So is that what we should be doing? The United States has been very generous. The man from the W.H.O. actually called that out. Dr. Singer saying thanks to U.S. for 275 some odd million doses. But should we be doing that instead of the booster? Let's bring in Chief Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

I hope Thanksgiving was good. You know, I am thankful for you as a friend and a colleague. Appreciate you. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Brother.

CUOMO: Brother always. So am I putting too much water on this fire?

GUPTA: No, I mean, look, you got to remember that when we talk about these variants that are that are coming out, there have been thousands of variants. There have been a few that we've heard of Alpha, Beta, Delta, Omicron that have risen to these variants of concern level. There's others that are variants of interest that really never amount anything.

So there's enough signals here, Chris, that the scientific community is worried. They've seen it become the dominant strain in South Africa quickly, that speaks to its contagiousness. They still got to learn more about that. It's in 15 plus countries now around the world, despite the fact that the first specimen that identified this was collected just, three weeks ago. So this is all unfolding real time. We're seeing the scientific process unfold.

But I think it's these mutations and these are just, again, these signals. There's one called E484K - you don't need to remember the name, but that's one that can sometimes cloak itself from antibodies, so maybe making it less susceptible to the vaccines. There's another one that that can potentially make it more transmissible. When you add them all together, is it going to lead to something that's really problematic? They don't know.

But this is kind of like we're going around a blind curve, we've got some bad signals there, pumping the brakes a little bit, I think that's how they're approaching this right now.

CUOMO: I guess here's my concern doc, and I wouldn't be surprised if you share it. People are so skeptical. They are looking to find a hole in any suggestion that is a function of some type of political agenda being thrown at them. Why play into that here by saying could be, could be, could be, instead of just saying hey, we're watching this one. We need a couple of weeks to figure out this, this, this and this. And then not saying anything until you know the answers.


GUPTA: I think part of the issue when it comes to something like this in public health is, by the time you react, after you've collected all that information, you're reacting late. You've got to be proactive in terms of how you react here. And it doesn't mean, you know, massive actions, you know, shut downs and things like that.

I think it's, again, you're going around a blind curve here, you don't know what lies on the other side, so you're pumping the brakes, as opposed to continuing the same speed or even accelerating. Some of the things, Chris, you know, in terms of the vaccines, the boosters, we don't know about the crossover effect impact that will have on Omicron. But I think most scientists say it's going to have some.

So if you then boost on top of it, you get a bigger cushion effect, which is why I think now the boosters are being recommended for all adults. Because even if those antibodies aren't as effective Omicron, as they have been a Delta and Alpha and Beta, the more antibodies, hopefully, the more protection. Can't say for sure. Nothing is 100 percent certain. But I think that's the sort of thinking here.

But also things like masks, you know, I mean, the non-pharmaceutical interventions like masks, like some physical distancing, again, not shutting down, those can go a long way, regardless of the variant. So I think we're probably going to be hearing about some more of that in the days and weeks to come.

CUOMO: Look, we know that works. Look at what the flu was like last year. There was almost none of it.

GUPTA: Right.

CUOMO: I didn't even - I don't even know that I heard from anybody who said they had the flu, because we were doing all these other things. And just to point out, Sanjay says we are not without data to cause concern. Hospitalizations in one province in South Africa show a threefold jump in the last three weeks, that may well be corresponding to this, so that should be put into the mix too of why we care about it.

I'm with you, Sanjay, I just want to make sure that we give ourselves the best chance to be straight with people and not create problems, before we get a chance to explain what the real problem is.

GUPTA: Yes. Don't panic, but have a plan. And talk about the fact when you're certain of things and also be very, very honest, when you're not certain. And I think that's happening here.

CUOMO: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Dr. Gupta, as always, you are a plus. Appreciate you.

All right now, and why do we got to be extra careful? It's not just about accuracy, it's about the atmosphere. We are in the midst of a real virus of poisoned politics. There was a call today between two members of Congress at odds after one of them equated the other two terrorists, because she's Muslim. And that call went bad fast.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): She continued to press and I continued to press back and then representative Omar hung up on me.


CUOMO: Well, you're calling her a terrorist, you know what I'm saying? People have different levels of appetite for bigotry. There's a lot more to the controversy, though. And you're going to hear Representative Omar's side of that conversation with Republican Rep. Boebert. Next.


[21:30:00] CUOMO: Republican Representative Lauren Boebert refusing to publicly apologize directly to Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar for the anti-Muslim remarks she made about her. The two spoke today after that video surfaced of Boebert implying Omar could be a suicide bomber. The call didn't go well. Omar hung up on Boebert, who says, she quote "refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments and instead double down on her rhetoric."

Boebert followed up the call with this defiant video.


BOEBERT: rejecting an apology and hanging up on someone is part of canceled culture 101 and a pillar of the Democrat Party. Make no mistake, I will continue to fearlessly put America first, never sympathizing with terrorists. Unfortunately, Ilhan can't say the same thing.


CUOMO: Are you sorry or not? And what are you sorry for? I don't know, doesn't make much sense to me what's going on here in terms of trying to make it better? Let's discuss with Scott Jennings. What's your read?

SCOTT JENNINGS: Well, I'm not surprised about the way the call turned out. I mean, to be honest, I was surprised over the weekend when Boebert issued an initial apologetic public statement. I thought that meant - and I think I was right about this. At the time, I thought it meant Kevin McCarthy had encouraged her to do that - the Republican leader privately.

She then walked it back a little bit, which again, I was surprised. I didn't think the suggestion that these two would talk would yield any kind of positive result. I mean, look, I mean, my read on this is, these are two of the five worst members of Congress. And the idea that they were going to have some conversation and emerge with some political enlightenment, I mean, that's a low percentage chance. Aspirational - low percentage shot, and I'm not surprised at all the way it turned out.

CUOMO: Is there any line of decency that your party has to hold anymore? Is it OK to say that she's part of a jihad squad and that an elevator guy came running over. That we don't even know if that happened. Omar says it didn't. And - because he was afraid that she might be a terrorist. Saying, well, she have a backpack on, I guess we're OK. Those are OK things to say?

JENNINGS: No, absolutely not. The comments are absolutely reprehensible. And they come from someone who believes that's part of her job, as being a Congressman, to say outrageous, stupid, reprehensible things. So it's not OK.

It's also by the way, not OK for Omar to say some of the things she has said. What you have here are two people who have both said crazy things, and they've both been roundly condemned by the other side, and by people in their own party. And so what is so crazy about this situation to me is, you've got two people here, who I don't actually think, understand what the job of Congressman is. They're both in it for the wrong reasons. And that incentivizes saying stupid thing.

So is there a line that was crossed? Absolutely. Is it a terrible thing to have done? 100 percent. Do I think there are people in both of these conferences that are constant headaches for their leadership? You bet. And they both happened to be involved in this and that's why I think this phone call turned out the way it did.


CUOMO: There's no question Omar has gotten herself in trouble. But there is a consistent drumbeat in your party of people playing to this kind of ugliness. And the reason I say, I don't know if there's a line - you know, I hear you, you say there is a line, hope you're right. But nobody ever says anything about it in the party, none of the leadership, they're just quiet in these cases.

And the best you'll get out of any of them is, well, I don't like when anybody says stuff like this Republican or Democrat. Like it's got to be equal. How is that going to make anything better? Why would Boebert not keep doing this, Scott?

JENNINGS: Well, A - look, I think I think that when you're in the position of leadership of a party you have to decide what is the best way for me to try to engage - as low percentage of a game as this is, what is the best way for me to try to engage in some kind of behavior modification?

Again, I think McCarthy is in a tough spot, because there's a bunch of people in his conference, Boebert included. This is like part of their shtick, this is part of their existence. And I actually think they occasionally do things like this, hoping that the leadership will publicly come down on them, because then it enhances the overall effect of the craziness that they were perpetrating in the first place.

So what McCarthy did here was to try to work behind the scenes on, I think, a behavior modification strategy, and it initially caused some positive result. Boebert walked it back--

CUOMO: Do you know that he did anything behind the scenes?

JENNINGS: --rethought it, issued a tweet which is more than I ever thought he would get. So I think he's like always in this impossible box of trying to figure out what is the right thing to do here, knowing that there's virtually nothing you can do to stop people from doing this, because that's what they went there to do in the first place as reprehensible as it might be.

CUOMO: How do you know that McCarthy was working behind the scenes to get them to call and get her to apologize?

JENNINGS: I talked to people in his orbit about it. I know that he - I know that that initial walk back by Boebert over the weekend - I mean, she almost immediately walked it back. I don't think she woke up the next day and thought better of it on her own. Do you? I mean, that was clearly somebody leaning on her saying, hey, you've gone way too far here. But they didn't do it publicly, they did it privately.

Now, the suggestion that she call Omar, again, aspirational, but probably destined for failure, which it did. But the idea - I mean, look what happened to Gosar the other day, he didn't apologize. He didn't apologize. And so the idea that Boebert did get to some kind of an apology over the weekend told me that the leadership team was trying to figure out a better way to modify these things than they have been able to do in the past.

CUOMO: You mean McCarthy says he talked to her. So you take him at his word, it's just - again, he took a little slit there in my book, when he had that phone conversation with the president about January 6th, then afterwards seemed to forget it and say that it was all OK, and that he hadn't done anything wrong. So, I got to be careful about how I allow him to be portrayed in terms of how he's exercising his influence.

I guess, the concern is that, the moderates are going to have to make the change on both sides of the equation here. And I don't see - I don't see this on the Left either, by the way. I don't see them stepping up. I've said on this show, where's Chuck Schumer? Why is everybody talking about Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema? Isn't this his job to deliver for the president or tell the president he can't? So I'm not unilateral on this.

But if they don't stand up, Scott, and this stuff is done so to (inaudible) behind the scenes, if - you're not going to change any of this?

JENNINGS: Well, A, I think you may be over ascribing the power that any of these, in either party, congressional leaders have to tie the tongues of these members of Congress who say the things that none of us like. And I do think you just hit on something that is vitally important.

Neither Boebert nor Omar represent, in my opinion, the vast majority of the people who reside in either of their parties. So you have people who exist on the outer bands of our political ideologies. And yet today, and over the weekend, they are at the center of our conversation about our political--


CUOMO: Well, they get magnified--

JENNINGS: --right here saying neither of these people represent me, yet they're taking up all of our attention. Neither of them represent most people, and neither of them are all that influential, and neither of them are all that effective member of Congress. Yet--


JENNINGS: --they are allowed to define our political discourse and it's bad.

CUOMO: I agree. Not with the effectiveness stuff that's you're placed to assess it, not mine. But the - I just feel like one of the reasons - I don't feel it, I know it. One of the reasons they get attention is because they don't get the significant pushback.

Yes, the media likes the provocative. Yes, it's clickbait. Yes, people will say, oh, I'm not a fringer, but they'll listen to him. But when the moderates don't stand up and create a bulwark, a backstop, then it only emboldens them.


But, look, I appreciate you saying it's got - I got to be honest, give yourself more credit. I don't have a lot of Republicans like you dying to come on and say that she's got to shut her mouth and goes, oh, it was wrong. I don't see it, especially if they are actively in office. So I appreciate you being straight with the audience, and I wish you well.

JENNINGS: Well, look - look, here's what my advice to any Republican member who goes to Congress and has to deal with this is, if you feel compelled to speak out, do it, it's not going to cost you a darn thing to say what everybody's thinking, which is, this is crazy, it is not germane to problem solving in American Public Affairs right now. And if you feel compelled to say it, absolutely do it. It's not going to cost you anything.

There's a better way to have civil political discourse in America. And there's a better way to debate the other side than what this example is and you shouldn't feel sheepish at all about saying it. That's my advice.

CUOMO: And look, just so you can get guys like Cruz and Rubio on your side with this, just pretend it was a Democrat who said it now what would you say? And just apply the same rule, and I think that you wind up in a better place with your election hopes going forward. Scott Jennings, be well, appreciate you.

All right, so we got to stay on this new crime spree. And I think that we are getting too affected by the videos, right? Because it's so unsettling to see over a holiday weekend gangs of looters. OK. It just speaks to a just a complete breakdown of law enforcement.

Smash-and-grab robberies are not abating, it's all over the country. And there's no question that the videos were absolutely eye candy (ph). You got to watch them. It's really wrong. Like how does this happen? Where are the cops? Why are these people doing it? How are there's so many of them?

Organized flash mobs are the answer. There's organized crime going on here. Are these treated like organized crime? No, no, they are not addressed like RICO on the federal level. Should they be? Are we missing the real opportunity to fix. Instead of saying get the paddy wagon and chase all those guys all over the place? Maybe there's a better solution? And I say that as a rhetorical question, because there is.

I want to bring in a top exec from the National Retail Federation. Why? They've been looking at where this problem lives. And it's not just watching people run on the streets. Next.



CUOMO: The crowds storming through a store could have been a bunch of thieves, rather than Black Friday shoppers this weekend, depending on where you were. We keep seeing these groups smash and grabs. Group is the key word. Groups that hit a couple of Best Buy stores in Minnesota. Same for a Home Depot near Los Angeles.

This isn't run of the mill larceny or even grand larceny. The FBI figures for traditional theft are lower than they've been in decades. So, obviously, they're not catching this as a phenomenon. Crimes we're talking about are planned and organized. That doesn't get enough attention, because the video is so enticing.

When you look at the city's targeted most you see they're spread all over the country. Local politicians, regardless of the letter R or D are making a show about getting tough on these crimes. But how? When Biden met with CEOs today in the retail sector, nobody mentioned this. Without federal help - I know policing is local, I know. But if this is organized crime, that is a federal province. And it's a numbers game at the local level. And law enforcement is struggling to keep up.

Even the CHP, California Highway Patrol, which has had a task force to stop this for three years, they don't have good numbers. Fewer than half as many arrests as investigations. So is there a better way? Stephanie Martz is the Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel with the National Retail Federation. It's good to have you.

Thanks. It's good to be here.

CUOMO: You say, look at the video, sure, but don't let it be a distraction from the real problem. You say it's the organized nature. And the only way to get at it is to look at where these things are fenced or sold. What do you see there?

STEPHANIE MARTZ, CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER AND GENERAL COUNSEL, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: Well, we see a variety of tactics there, Chris. We see the good old fashioned traditional tactic of tables down at St. Mark's Place. Things spread out at a local park just a few blocks away. I know that our members have seen that in San Francisco, they've seen it in other cities as well.

But, of course, there's the internet. In the last 10 to 12 years, that's definitely been the factor that has really changed the way things are sold, and frankly made it easier for people who want to develop and participate in these organized retail rings to sell their goods, whether it's on a marketplace or through their own websites. A ring that was recently busted in California had developed its own freestanding website to sell the stolen goods. CUOMO: Do you believe that social media could be a lot more helpful in terms of identifying these places if they are setting up shop on their platforms?

MARTZ: I think probably, and I think that's where the federal response really could come in strong here between the technical assistance and the resources that are available on the federal level. And of course, the shock and awe that's involved when a U.S. attorney or the local FBI special agent stands up and says this is now a federal issue, we're paying attention to it.

Those are all of the things that can really help with the information sharing that we need to in turn identify websites and sellers on the web that are really helping to make it very worthwhile to engage in this kind of criminal activity.


CUOMO: Any sense - last question - that this is at its peak? Or do you guys believe we're just starting to see this ramp up as we head into the holidays?

MARTZ: I don't think it's just starting to ramp up. I think that this is something that is opportunistic. We have seen it increase over the last year or so. Like you said at the beginning of the segment, it really is these videos that look like Gotham in a Batman movie that are that are attracting people's attention.

We're super focused on keeping our employees, and our customers safe. So, I think we're going to have more and more solutions, more and more tools on the table. And I don't think that this is going to continue to be a trend. We've got lots of things that we can do working with law enforcement to make sure that it doesn't get any worse than what we've seen already.

CUOMO: Well, let's see if some of these subtle suggestions of adding it to the RICO laws, or the racketeering laws, the Federal organized crime statutes get any traction. We'll be on it. Stephanie Martz. Thank you very much. We'll be right back.

MARTZ: Thank you.



CUOMO: You know what the 2021 word of the year is? Well, depending on your feelings, it's a word that exemplifies the hope or the problems of a generation. Hand a big brother himself. Merriam-Webster made "vaccine" the Word of the Year for 2021. They say the word saw a 601 percent increase the number of times it was looked up. And yes, the intersection between the political and the medical was part of why it was chosen.

Context. Pandemic was the word last year. And the folks at the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary went with "Vax" as their word of the year. What do you think? Let us know on social media. We'll be right back with the handoff.