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Biden Extends On Student Loan Payments Through May 1; Biden Launches New COVID Test Sites To Ease Growing Demand; Boeing, Airbus Warn 5G Poses Serious Safety Concerns On Planes. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 22, 2021 - 12:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: We have more breaking news into CNN. The Biden administration just announced that it is extending the pause on student loan repayments. This as Omicron is surging across the United States and leading many to question that this pause was set to lapse in February. Let's get over to the White House. CNN's Phil Mattingly standing by. What are we learning from this announcement, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, this is a shift. It's one that we've kind of picked up on over the course of the last few days as the administration has faced extensive pressure from outside advocates, but most importantly, for Democratic lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, to extend this loan repayment forbearance to some extent. Obviously, this was put into place during the pandemic. It was extended twice by the Biden administration.

But the last extension it was made pretty clear. February 1st was going to be the deadline. There weren't going to be further extensions. But a couple of different things are factoring in here. Obviously, the country is grappling right now with a new surge in pandemic cases due to the Omicron variant.

And then you had as well these Democrats on Capitol Hill. And it wasn't just one or two, it was a significant number of Democrats in both the Senate and the House who were telling the White House, there needed to be another extension. So there will be another extension for 90 days through the start of May.

And the President, Kate, in a statement said given these considerations, he's talking about the current economic considerations and Omicron. Today, my administration is extending the pause on the federal student loan repayments for an additional 90 days as we manage the ongoing pandemic and further strengthen our economic recovery. And also makes the point, Department of Education will continue to work with borrowers.


But Kate, this is a very big deal. I think there's a lot of concern on Capitol Hill from Democrats about this going back into place. It is now being extended. And right now, I think it marks a shift to the administration recognizing both the reality on the policy side of things, but also the political reality here. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, interesting. Phil, thanks for that. Really appreciate it.

So another move being made by the Biden administration launching federal COVID testing sites across the country to try and meet the demand brought on by the Omicron variant. One of the first pop up testing centers will be coming to New York City. And that help can't come soon enough as it is evident from -- as is evident from the lines that you can see there reaching down the block at some places at many testing sites ahead of the holidays.

Joining me right now for more on this is New York City Councilman Mark Levine, soon to be Manhattan Borough President. Thanks for being here councilman. It's good to have you back on. Is it clear, we know --


BOLDUAN: -- to first federal sites coming, testing site. But is it clear to you yet what kind of help the totality of it that New York City is going to be getting from the federal government here?

LEVINE: Not yet. But I'll tell you, we need help. We're seeing 12,000 cases a day. This is overwhelming our systems here. And we need places like the Javits Center to reopen as FEMA hubs, where they can do testing, where they can provide vaccination and boosters, where they can connect people to care once they have tested positive, give them referrals for monoclonal antibodies, and so much more.

We need a hub like this in all five boroughs. We are seeing a level of spread here that we have not seen ever on this pandemic. It feels like every few minutes I hear about a friend who test positive. This is moving so fast. It's so contagious. And we need to head it off now.

BOLDUAN: Just for everyone to know the Javits Center is the massive Convention Center in New York City, it was very successful COVID vaccines site open like 24 hours a day, at one point has since been able to be shut down because vaccines are so available. That would be an interesting place, Mark, to make that now a testing site.

LEVINE: Yes, because as you've reported lines are two, three, four hours at testing sites around the city. We've also got a huge delay and the return of lab results, three to four days now. You could have lab processing setup there at Javits and other hubs.

Also, once people test positive, it's getting difficult to access care because family doctors are overwhelmed. And we need to have people getting referred into monoclonal antibody treatments and other remedies. Once they do test positive. All of that could happen at a federal hub, run by FEMA. We need this to happen now.

New York City really is the canary in the cold line. We're seeing an Omicron wave that while New York City may be the epicenter today is almost certainly going to spread nationally.

BOLDUAN: You know, the city is so very clearly getting hit hard in this moment. And we know that President Biden is facing questions about if they should have been more prepared, if they were unprepared for this round. Was New York City unprepared for this winter surge?

LEVINE: Well, I think that we have been slow to recognize that vaccination is not enough. When you're dealing with a very like Omicron, which has such a high number of breakthrough cases, we really have to do much more to push remedies like masking, testing, social distancing. It's not enough just to say get vaccinated and go on with your life as normal, not when you're up against Omicron.

And so my advice to folks is not that they locked themselves in their homes, but they use caution now, use other tools beyond vaccination to protect themselves and their families. I don't think we've been fast enough to shift as a city or country into that multi front effort to protect ourselves from this wave.

BOLDUAN: One glimmer of good, I don't know, good news, I guess, at least at this moment, is that hospital capacity seems to be holding up and doing well. There hasn't been a massive spike in hospitalizations. We heard that from one of the major CEOs of one of the major health systems in New York saying that they are there, right now they're fine.

They have capacity for patients, which is good news. But also look it this is not the most important thing in the world. Everyone's health and safety is but it is a very big deal coming up with the Times Square ball drop celebration on New Year's Eve.

And I know that the mayor says that he's going to be making a decision by Christmas, about what to do about that massive celebration. What do you think, Councilman? Where are you on this right now?

LEVINE: I don't think it's wise to have hundreds of thousands of people potentially more than a million gathering. Yes, it's outside for the event itself. But you have pre parties and after parties and all the socializing that happens around Time Square.

I don't think this is a safe time to do it, as sad as that is because I know we desperately want opportunity to celebrate but just on the hospitalizations, Kate, thank goodness we're not seeing the levels that we've seen in previous surges but the numbers are ticking up and healthcare workers are exhausted and depleted.

We're understaffed in our hospitals, the monoclonal antibodies that we've been using don't work on this new variant. There is a new formulation that does, which we don't have yet and supply here in New York. And really, hospitals have stopped using the monoclonals now. So we can't take our eye off the hospitals either. Ultimately, protecting them is one of the biggest reasons why we need to be cautious now.


BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Thank you, Councilman, for coming on. Thank you very much.

LEVINE: Thank you, Kate. BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Boeing and Airbus are both asking the Biden administration right now to delay the rollout of the much anticipated 5G cell service. We're going to share why, next.


BOLDUAN: New today, concern is growing louder among the world's largest airline manufacturers over 5G cell service. The fear is 5G interfering with air safety. Both Boeing and Airbus are asking the Biden administration to delay the now imminent rollout of 5G. CNN's Pete Muntean has the latest.



PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the newest issue that could impact your safety in the sky. Airlines are warning that radio waves from soon to be turned on high speed phone service could interfere with key instruments that pilots use to land.

In this simulator of a regional airliner, I saw how automatic warnings could stop and flight displays give confusing, mismatched readings.

(on camera): What would you do? Would you just go around and that would --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And figure it out.

MUNTEAN: Cause a big bottleneck.

(voice-over): In a new letter, the CEOs of Boeing and Airbus America are telling the Biden administration that interference from 5G cell transmitters near airports could adversely affect the ability of aircraft to safely operate. On Capitol Hill last week, airline executives called it their number one issue.

(on camera): How concerned should passengers be? How scared should they be about this?

SCOTT KIRBY, UNITED AIRLINES CEO: Well, the passengers will be safe, but it will be really damaging to customers. I mean, 100,000 customers a day impacted by this.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Providers such as AT&T and Verizon plan to turn on 5G in just weeks on January 5th, with the promise of speeding up cell data in 46 markets. But major airlines say the signals could slow down hundreds of thousands of flights. A new analysis from industry group Airlines for America says 345,000 flights could be delayed or diverted each year, affecting 32 million passengers.


MUNTEAN (voice-over): The 5G interference impacts radar altimeters, critical instruments that pilots use to tell their actual height above the ground and make landings in low visibility.

ROJAS: And if you have a 5G signal will increase the noise level on the altimeter.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Eduardo Rojas leads the radio spectrum lab at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

ROJAS: It's one of the most critical systems in aircraft and helicopters, especially because it helps to land. So it is a concern, it's a big concern.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Airline executives say now it is on the federal government to ban 5G transmitters from nearby airports or delay its rollout so your next flight isn't.

KIRBY: This is not an issue created by airlines or airline customers and it cannot be solved on the backs of airlines and airline customers.


MUNTEAN: The top lobby for the wireless industry says there's no valid scientific reason to delay 5G. It insists it is possible for airlines and 5G to coexist since dozens of other countries have done this without issue, Kate.

You know, just minutes ago, wireless and airline groups released a rare joint statement and they now say they're working together to share data to identify specific areas of concern for aviation but the clock is ticking here, Kate, January 5th, only two weeks from today.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I think I speak for everyone who flies. I just want them to figure it out no matter what it takes. Also, though, Pete, TSA just announced something interesting, new steps that they're taking against unruly passengers targeting their pre check status. Now, what are you hearing about this?

MUNTEAN: Well, you know, flight attendant union say this is just the start stripping somebody of their pre check status forever if they act out on board, a commercial airliner. It's a partnership between the TSA and the FAA.

But unions really want this to go further. They want a federal ban list of unruly passengers. You know, the issue is someone could get banned from one airline and then fly on a different airline 5,779 incidents reported by flight crews to the FAA just this year, Kate, it's a huge problem.

BOLDUAN: And what do you tell me last night 4,000 of them are over mask related issue.

MUNTEAN: Yes, 70 percent are about masks. It's kind of wild.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Pete. It's good to see you.

Coming up for us, in some ways, China has never been richer or stronger and its leader spent the past year consolidating his own power. Why that has some China watchers raising alarms now.



BOLDUAN: New this morning, the World Bank is downgrading its forecasts for China's economic growth next year. However, China is gaining strength in large part due to Chinese President Xi Jinping who's ending his year as one of the most powerful leaders in the world. CNN's David Culver has a closer look.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Walking the streets of China's capital, it's not hard to see who's in charge. There are pictures of President Xi Jinping all over, this poster addressing the firefighting community. At the center of life here is the Chinese Communist Party, but at the center of the party, is this man Xi Jinping.


CULVER (voice-over): 2021 saw major steps to further consolidate power. In an early November meeting of China's ruling elites, the 400 or so top party officials passed an almost unprecedented resolution highlighting the role of its current leader and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the nation's triumphant rise on the global stage.

PROF. VICTOR SHIH, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO: He wants to really highlight his own contribution to the development of the party that also will seal his legitimate rule over China in the foreseeable future, then, of course, no one would challenge his power within the party.

CULVER (on camera): Inside national museums like this one, President Xi Jinping has an elevated themselves to be on par with past Paramount leaders like Deng Xiaoping, and even the most famous, Mao Zedong.

(voice-over): China's already become the second largest economy in the world on track to surpass the U.S. It has successfully lifted millions of its people out of poverty.

(on camera): Walking in the morning rush hour here in the Chinese capital. It feels a rush of energy, a lot of activity. And times it feels like everyone in this country is on this constant drive for more ambition, more success. It's only amplified by a population of more than 1.4 billion people.

(voice-over): And incredible buying power bolstered by new technologies, making it quicker and easier to spend money, not to mention, track people.

(on camera): Just to get into some of these stores and restaurants you have to first take your temperature shows that you're OK. And then you get a scan your health code. It then says we're good to go. One thing that is incredibly convenient about China is, you really don't even do carry your wallet places everything is on your phone, including that payment and I.D. (voice-over): 2021 marked 100 years since the party's founding in Shanghai, it's a triumphant rise that the leadership proudly displays at so called a Communist Party pilgrimage sites, historically revered spots that downplay or ignore failures and controversies from the tumultuous Cultural Revolution to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Instead, they focus on a century of successes. And China is now making other countries including the U.S. increasingly uneasy with its rapid military expansions.

(on camera): With all the power that President Xi has amassed coupled with an increased military might let me believe that one of his ultimate goals is to reunify with Taiwan. He has not even ruled out taking the island by force, if necessary.

(voice-over): China has been putting military pressure on the self- ruling democracy. Xi, stressing in a recent virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, that on Taiwan, the U.S. is playing with fire. Biden trying to calm the rapidly rising tensions.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended, just simple, straightforward competition.

CULVER (voice-over): That's easier said than done. A deep rooted geopolitical battle is lingering into the New Year, citing widespread allegations of human rights abuses against China's Uyghur population.

MAMUTJAN ABDUREHIM, UYGHUR FATHER: What kind of country does this to people, to innocent people?

CULVER (voice-over): The U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

CULVER (voice-over): With allies following, calls were boycotting the games fueled in part by the case of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, the three-time Olympian briefly disappeared in November after she accused a top Communist Party official of forcing her into sex.

The Women's Tennis Association suspended tournaments in China calling for Peng to be able to speak freely and openly. But for now, it won't help the Winter Games. These, the first Olympics to be held under President Xi. 2022 setting the stage for Xi to rule for an unprecedented third term, it's likely beyond.

David Culver, CNN, Shanghai.


BOLDUAN: A fascinating look, David, thank you very much for that. And thank you all so much for joining us for the past two hours. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you for watching. CNN NEWSROOM with Ana Cabrera continues after this.