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At This Hour

Sentencing Underway for Ahmaud Arbery Killers; President Biden Addresses Disappointing Jobs Report; Frustrations Grow With CDC Director Over COVID Messaging. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 07, 2022 - 11:30   ET


BERNARDA VILLALONA, FORMER PROSECUTOR: When the bomb clapped back and spoke about the nails, perhaps he would have cleaned it.


I think it was amazing, that statement. And I love that they were able to voice themselves and now asking the judge to confine these men into jail for the rest of their lives since they decided to play judge, jury and executioner on February 23rd of 2020.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Areva, also just as Bernarda was talking about, when Jasmine Arbery came forward and said he had dark skin that glistened in the sunlight like gold and then she said, and these are the features that these men -- that made these men target him, it made me think of what this federal trial on hate crimes charges could be like when it begins next month.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Kate. In the state court, the prosecutors made a calculated decision to downplay the issue of race. We know that there was an issue about the confederate flag license plate that the McMichaels had. And the judge had ruled that that plate could come into evidence but the prosecutors made a tactical decision on not to introduce that into evidence. And we know that there are social media posts of Travis McMichael, where he's used racial slurs and made other derogatory remarks with respect to people of color, all of that evidence will be front and center in the federal hate crime trial because that trial is all about the three defendants in this case targeting Ahmaud Arbery simply because of his race.

And, yes, his sister, I think, bringing up those images and juxtaposing the beauty of blackness versus the curse of blackness, which is what these three defendants saw, they saw a black man and they saw that as a physical threat, which is so often the case in our society, given how pervasive racism is. But she wanted the world to know that her brother's blackness was his superpower, was his beauty. And she wanted to dispel any of those myths that simply because you have dark skin, curly hair, that you are a threat or should be perceived as a threat. And I think that was a really important point, particularly given how the issue of race was played down in this case by the prosecutors.

BOLDUAN: That's really beautifully said, Areva, thank you for that. And, Bernarda, I think just on a human level, what we are seeing here is something I'm sure you have seen in courtrooms so many times, but so many people do not, which is just the painful, long and devastating ripple effects of taking someone's life, and what it does.

VILLALONA: Absolutely. And you've got to think for this family, it has further exacerbated their pain because of what it took, their journey to justice, to get here. It took four different prosecutor's offices in order to get a conviction on an arrest in this case. So they were constantly being turned down for seeking the very justice that everyone is entitled to. They were seeking accountability for the death, the taking of life of a human being, and Wanda Cooper had to deal with that. The family had to deal with that. And that further exacerbates any pain that anyone who has lost someone goes through.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Bernarda, Areva, thank you so much. We are going to continue to watch these developments in the courtroom as the sentencing hearing continues and bring you those updates as they come.

Still ahead for us, there is also new reporting on frustration with the CDC over confusing guidance and messaging missteps. The CDC director holding a briefing this hour and defending her agency today. Details from the White House, next.



BOLDUAN: All right, we're going to head to the White House now. President Biden speaking about the December jobs report. Let's listen in.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: -- you're going to hear a helicopter landing outside the window here. I'm supposed to be in Colorado looking at the damage with the governor, a God awful firestorm that rolled through. And then I'm heading off to do Harry Reid's funeral.

So, this morning, I want to talk about -- I think it's a historic day for our economic recovery. Today's national unemployment rate fell below 4 percent to 3.9 percent, the sharpest one-year drop in unemployment in United States history. The first time the unemployment rate has been under 4 percent and the first year of a presidential term in 50 years, 3.9 percent unemployment rate.

Years faster than experts said we would be able to do it. And we have added 6.4 million new jobs since January of last year, one year. That's one of the most -- that's the most jobs in any calendar year by any president in history.

How? How? How did that happen? Well, the American Rescue Plan got the economy off its back and moving again, back on its feet, getting over 200 million Americans fully vaccinated, got people out of their homes and back to work, even in the face of wave after wave of COVID. We got schools open. We got booster shots. We brought down the poverty rate and went from 20 million people on unemployment rolls a year ago to under 2 million people on unemployment rolls today. America's back to work. And there are more historical accomplishments.

The increase in America's joint in the labor force was the fastest of this year than any year since 1996. And among prime age workers ages 25 to 54, their increase in labor force participation was the biggest in 43 years. Record job creation, record unemployment, declines, record increases in people in the labor force. I would argue the Biden economic plan is working and is getting America back to work, back on its feet.

But the record doesn't stop there. Today's report also tells us that record wage gains, especially for workers in some of America's toughest jobs, women and men who work on the frontline jobs, in restaurants, hotels, travel, tourism, desk clerks, line cooks, wait staff, bell men, they all saw their wages at a historic high, a highest in history. Their pay went up almost 16 percent this year, far ahead of inflation, which is still a concern. Overall, wage gains for all workers who were not supervisors went up more in 2021 than any year in four decades.

There has been a lot of press coverage about people quitting their jobs. Well, today's report tells you why.


America's moving up to better jobs, with better pay, with better benefits. That's why they're quitting their jobs. This isn't about workers walking away and refusing to work, it is about workers able to take a step up to provide for themselves and their families.

This is the kind of recovery I promised and hoped for the American people, where the biggest benefits go to the people who work the hardest and are more often left behind, the people who have been ignored before, the people who just want a decent chance to build a decent life for their family, just give them a clear shot. For them, wages are up. Job opportunities are up. Layoffs are down, the lowest levels in decades. And there are more chances than ever to get ahead.

No wonder one leading economic -- excuse me, analyst, described what we have accomplished in 2021 as the strongest first year economic track record of any president in the last 50 years. Today, America is the only leading economy in the world where the economy as a whole is stronger than before the pandemic.

Now, you hear Republicans say today that talking about the strong record shows that I don't understand -- I don't understand. A lot of people are still suffering, they say. Well, they are. Or that I'm not focused on inflation. Malarkey. They want to talk down the recovery because they voted against the legislation that made it happen. They voted against the tax cuts for middle class families. They voted against the funds we needed to reopen our schools, to keep police officers and firefighters on the job, to lower healthcare premiums. They voted against the funds we're now using to buy COVID booster shots and more antiviral pills.

I refuse to let them stand in the way of this recovery and now my focus is on keeping this recovery strong and durable, notwithstanding Republican obstructionism. Because, you know, I know that even as jobs and families' incomes have recovered, families are still feeling the pinch of prices and costs. So, we're taking that on as well. And that's the -- and the way to do that is not to step back from the economic progress we made but to build on it.

I laid out a three-part plan, to address costs families are facing. One, first part of that plan, fixing the supply chain, two, protecting consumers and promoting competition, three, lowering kitchen table costs and including with my Build Back Better Act.

First, the supply chain, a couple of months ago we heard a lot of dire warnings about supply chain problems leading to a crisis around the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We acted. We brought together business and labor to solve the problems. The much predicted crisis didn't occur. The Grinch did not steal Christmas nor any votes.

Look, the number of containers sitting on docks for more than eight days is now down by nearly 40 percent. The number of packages delivered on time was nearly 99 percent. Workers stayed on the job and did the job to bring goods to consumers. We're continuing to work to speed up every step of this process, the ports, the trains, trucking. My bipartisan infrastructure plan included significant investments in each of these areas.

And I want to thank the 19 Republicans in the Senate and the 13 in the House who stepped in to help pass it so we didn't have to face another filibuster and lose a very badly needed plan.

The second area, protecting American consumers. In the last few decades, in too many industries, a handful of giant companies dominate the market. And meat processing, railroads, shipping, too often they use their power to squeeze out smaller competitors, stifle new entrepreneurs and raise the prices, reducing options for consumers and exploiting workers to keep wages unfairly low. We see that in your own life. Just look at your grocery bill and the cost of meat. It is not because of cattle farmers getting rich. Matter of fact, it is the exact opposite. It is because fewer processors can charge grocery stores much more money for their ground beef, for example.


You've heard me say it before, capitalism without competition isn't capitalism. It is exploitation. And I'm determined to end the exploitation. Later this month, I'll be meeting with my competition counsel, which includes key economic leaders from across my administration to keep pushing for more broad action and increase competition across our economy, because healthy competition produces lower prices, higher wages and more dynamic and innovative economies. That makes everybody better off.

Third, I'm working to reduce the largest cost burden of household budgets, costs that don't need to be such a burden. And the biggest weapon in my arsenal is my Build Back Better Act, which will reduce what families have to pay for basic necessities to live a life, raise a family, from prescription drugs to health care to child care, and more help so families can cover the costs of raising their children and caring for their loved ones, their older loved ones.

As we have seen over and over again throughout this pandemic, the people can't find affordable child care, they can't work. Right now there are 2 million extremely qualified who have not been able to return to work because they can't find or can't afford child care.

On health care, we've made quality coverage through the ACA more affordable than ever before, with families saving an average of $2,400 on annual premiums and four out of five consumers finding quality coverage for under $10 a month. And the result when you reduce the cost of health care, more people can afford to get it. Over 4 million people have gained coverage since I became president. You've heard me say it a million times, having health care is also about peace of mind.

For example, we're going to make it so nobody will pay more than $35 a month for insulin. Imagine you're a parent and 1 of the 200,000 children in this country with type 1 diabetes. Insulin can cost on average $650 a month but cannot cost as much as a thousand dollars a month, even though a vial of that insulin costs about ten bucks to manufacture. We can do all this and we do it without increasing inflation, without increasing the deficit. Nobody making more than $400,000 a year, less than $400,000 a year, will pay a penny more in federal taxes. So, we're going to keep working on these fronts.

Some of them have components that are immediate, like unsticking the supply chain. Some will show their benefits over time, like investments in infrastructure. But all will help America's families and it is urgent we get moving on all of it without delay, because at this moment, as a country, we face an important choice, do we take the steps to create an economy with strong sustainable growth, higher wages and more opportunity for all Americans, or do we settle for an economy that wasn't working for our middle class, even before the pandemic began, an economy that delivered sluggish growth, stagnant wages, limited opportunities.

I'm not an economist, but I've been doing this a long time, but here's the way to look at it. Car prices are too high right now. There are two solutions. Increase supply of cars by making more of them or you reduce demand for cars by making Americans poorer. That's the choice.

Believe it or not, there is a lot of people in the second camp. You hear them complain that wages are rising too fast among very middle class and working class people, who have endured decades of a stalled income. Their view of the economy says the only solution to our current future challenges is to make the working families that are the backbone in our country poorer and keep them in the same state they're in.

It's a pessimistic vision and I reject it. I reject the idea that we should somehow punish people because they finally have a little more breathing room. America doesn't need to settle for less. We need an economy that has the capacity to generate more growth, more jobs and more opportunities for all Americans. That's why we're going to keep doing everything we can to, one, unstick the bottlenecks that are keeping goods from getting to consumers. Two, build better infrastructure so that we can get parts and goods to factory floors quicker and cheaper.


Three, bring more of that production back here to the United States to make our supply chain more secure. Let's make America, let's make what we're selling in America made in America so we're not at risk of foreign supply chains and shipping delays, and in doing so, get more Americans working in jobs with rising wages.

And I want to be clear. I'm confident the Federal Reserve will act to achieve their dual goals of full employment and stable prices and make sure that the price increases do not become entrenched over the long- term with the independence that they need. But the best way that I as president and the Congress as a legislature can tackle high prices is by building a more productive economy with greater capacity to deliver for the American people.

A growing economy where people have more opportunities, more small businesses opening, and I might add parenthetically there's a 30 percent increase in the application for new small businesses, and goods get to market faster. The economy where we don't just grow the economic pie to make sure people who bake the pie get a fair slice of it as well.

For too long the public has thrown around terms like pro-growth and supply side economics, to drive an economic agenda that didn't deliver enough growth and supplied more wealth to those who already were very well off. From day one, my economic agenda has been different. It's been about taking a fundamentally new approach to our economy, one that sees the prosperity of working families as a solution, not the problem.

There's never been a time I can think of when the middle class and working class have done and the wealthy haven't done very well. Working families need to get a fighting chance. And, by the way, the stock market, the last guy's measure of everything, is about 20 percent higher than it was when my predecessor was there. It has hit record after record after record on my watch while making things more equitable for working class people.

At the same time we've created jobs, reduced unemployment, raised wages. As I've always said, when working people do well, everybody benefits. I'm determined to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out because when we do, we get more growth, higher wages, more jobs and over time lower prices.

But don't take my word for it. Just look at the results, historical results, results for working Americans. Economists call this increased productive capacity of our economy. I call it building back better. That's what we're going to keep doing, we're going to keep building.

I thank you all very much, and I'll get a chance to talk to you all on Tuesday when I am down in Georgia talking about voting rights, but thank you.

REPORTER: Mr. President, should Americans prepare to live with COVID forever, sir? Mr. President, should Americans prepare to live with COVID forever? Mr. President, should Americans prepare to live with COVID forever? Mr. President, should Americans prepare to live --

REPORTER: Should Americans be prepared to think that COVID is here to say?

BIDEN: No, I don't think COVID is here to stay. But having COVID in the environment and the world is probably here to stay. But COVID, as we're dealing with it now, is not here to stay. The new normal doesn't have to be. We have so many more tools that we're developing and continuing to develop that can contain COVID and other strains of COVID. So I don't believe this is that -- if you take a look, we're very different today than we were a year ago, even though we still have problems. But 90 percent of the schools are open now. It was 98. It's down to 90 that's open because we spent the time and the money in the recovery act to provide for the ability of schools to remain open.

And, you know, what we're doing now is we talked about, you know, how we're dealing with -- with testing. Well, you know, we have been doing now -- we've had 300 million tests per month so far, and that's 11 million tests a day. In addition to that, we're in the process of ordering 500,000 new tests and so we are going to be able to control this. The new normal is not going to be what it is now. It's going to be better. Thank you very much.


BOLDUAN: All right. You've been listening in to President Biden speaking there, taking a final question on COVID but spending the bulk of the time, of course, speaking about the jobs report out this morning, highlighting the positive elements of the jobs report and speaking about his view on the overall economic recovery as we round out the year in this pandemic, and taking the opportunity to hit at Republicans he called of their obstructionism of standing in the way of his domestic and economic agenda. It seemed like he was kind of sharpening his rhetoric in taking on Republicans in that regard. We'll see what that looks like going forward.

So,we've got the president. He's now heading out, but I also want to focus in on the president and the pandemic and COVID, as the president was taking questions on that as well. Because developing right now, we know that CDC Director Dr. Walensky just wrapped up a briefing with reporters. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen was listening into that and she's joining us now for more on this because the CDC, Elizabeth, has been facing renewed and growing criticism over kind of messaging missteps and mismanagement and confusion over some of their guidance. What did the CDC director say?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. So, this was brought up at this briefing, which was held for reporters. And before I get to that, I want to say how sort of monumental this briefing was. The CDC hasn't had its own briefing in about six months. That's extraordinary during other crises, like, let's say, Zika or H1N1 flu, they used to have them regularly, sometimes several times a week. So, for them to be having a briefing is a big deal. And so reporters asked, you know, hey, this has really been a criticism and, in fact, CNN has reporting that says that messaging and communication at the CDC needs improvement, and that there's criticism from the White House and others on this, and Dr. Walensky, the head of the CDC, she says, I am committed to doing better, and she says, I hear that you want more briefings like this, and she said that she looks forward to doing them. So, it will be interesting to see, as we move forward, will the CDC be more independent, have its own briefings and not just being a part of the White House.

BOLDUAN: Elizabeth, thank you so much for that.

For more on this, just kind of a general state of play with the pandemic and what we're hearing from the CDC, let me bring in CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

What do you think we're hearing from the CDC director today, Dr. Wen, but also this new reporting and just the criticism that the CDC is facing for essentially confusing people with their guidance updates, and as the AMA put it, risking further spread of the virus because of that confusion?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: There is a real crisis of trust with the CDC right now, and that doesn't just affect trust in the CDC, it also affects trust in public health because normal people, everyday people, are not distinguishing between what's going on with the CDC versus what they are hearing from local and state health departments. And when the guidance from the CDC doesn't make sense, local and state health departments are having to come up with their own guidance, which sometimes looks like it's contradicting the CDC, and that makes it look like all of public health that we don't know what we're doing.

And so I really hope that the CDC fixes the way that they are doing things, that they have more transparency, but also when they release guidelines, consider doing them in draft form first and then get stakeholder input, and then come out with a final guidelines. I think that kind of process, change in process, would make a huge difference in how everyday people and also public health officials are able to explain the guidance coming forward. BOLDUAN: How do you unring the bell though, if you will, with the --

this latest round of confusion is rooted in the isolation, guidance that they updated in terms of time for isolation and what to do as you're leaving isolation, from ten days to five days, no suggestion on testing and then they offer guidance on if you want to test, this is how you interpret it. How do you unring this confusion though at this point, because even the clarifications that I heard from the CDC director today didn't necessarily hit it?

WEN: Right. The clarification, in a way makes, it more muddled because people are left wondering what is the real reason why these guidelines have come forward? Is it because we don't have enough testing and you're saying that's the reason you're not recommending testing or because tests don't work? But in the future if we get more tests, are going to now recommend testing? And then nobody is going to believe in testing and not following isolation procedures. I think a hard reset is necessary at this point for the CDC to come out and say, we made major messaging errors around boosters, around masking and now around isolation. Let's reset and talk about how the science is evolving and so our guidance is evolving, but let's explain transparently our thinking along the way and explain when is something based on science and when is something based on reality.

Taking into account, reality isn't a bad thing. Understanding that we don't have enough tests is fine, but just at least explain the rationale and be honest with the American people.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Dr. Wen, thank you for that.


I always appreciate your perspective. Thank you so very much.

And thank you all very much for being with us this hour. We're continuing to track developments out of Washington, out of Georgia.