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Inflation Rises 7 Percent to Highest in Nearly 40 Years; Record Surge of COVID Cases, Hospitalizations in U.S.; Biden Calls on Senate to Change Filibuster to Pass Voting Rights. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired January 12, 2022 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are watching the breaking news. Out this morning, inflation is jumping 7 percent to its highest level in nearly 40 years, consumer prices soaring because of the coronavirus pandemic and supply issues and that is wrapped up in it.

CNN's John Harwood is live at the White House with more on this for us. What's not known yet, of course, John, is this the worst of it, but what are you hearing from there today, John?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this report was not unexpected, but it does underscore why this is such a big concern for the American people and for the Biden White House, as you mentioned, highest year-over-year inflation in four decades.

Now, we have just gotten a reaction from President Biden. I want to read it to you here. The president says, today's report, which shows a meaningful reduction in headline inflation over last month, with gas prices and food prices falling, demonstrates we are making progress in slowing the rate of price inflation. At the same time, this report underscores we still have more work to do with price increases still too high and squeezing family budgets. Excuse me.

Inflation is a global challenge (INAUDIBLE) every developed nation is in emergence from the economic slump. America is fortunate. We have one of the fastest growing economies thanks in part to the rescue plan, which enables us to address price increases and maintain strong, sustainable economic growth. That is my goal and I am focused on reaching it every day.


Important to recognize that, as a matter of policy, this is really a problem for the Federal Reserve, which, through the monetary policy, has the greatest influence on inflation. It is true that the rescue plan, which helps spur growth last year, probably did encourage inflation because of the amount of money pumped into the economy. But this is a big political problem for President Biden because the inflation sours Americans' mood on him and on the state of things in the country, but also more specifically because there are some members of Congress, including Joe Manchin, the holdout senator of West Virginia, who are concerned that his Build Back Better agenda will exacerbate inflation. Economists don't think so but he's got to convince Joe Manchin and he hasn't been able to do it yet.

BOLDUAN: It's a great point. John, thank you very much for that.

I want to turn now to the surge in coronavirus pandemic. Hospitalizations continue to hit new records. Close to 146,000 Americans with COVID are in the hospital right now. The U.S. is also now averaging nearly three quarters of a million new cases a day. And now, top health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, are offering a new and blunt assessment.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think in many respects, omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility will ultimately find just about everybody.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now for more on this is Dr. Jonathan Reiner, CNN Medical Analyst, former Medical Adviser to the George W. Bush White House. It's good to see you, Dr. Reiner.

What do you think of about what Dr. Fauci said there, but which is a -- it is a change in tone. It seems a significant shift saying now that everybody is going to -- is going to get it. What do you think it means?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think he is really saying that everyone is going to get omicron. I think what he's really saying is that everyone is going to encounter omicron. And the only question is how prepared, how protected are you when the virus does find you.

And for people who are unvaccinated, this virus will make them sick and can kill them. For people who are vaccinated and boosted, illness, either they won't contract the disease at all or illness will be mild and quite limited. I think that is really what he is saying, is that the virus is everywhere, it will find you, and it is really your decision about how protected you are when the virus does find you.

BOLDUAN: Is it saying this -- and the acting FDA commissioner kind of said that as well yesterday, is it defeatist or realistic? Because I'm wondering how people and if people should be changing their behavior with them giving this kind of assessment now.

REINER: No, I think it is realistic. The virus is everywhere. If the United States is reporting or announcing 750,000 cases a day, the number is probably a multiple of that, because many people are now testing at home. So, it is clear that somewhere probably between 1 to 2 million people are contracting this virus per day.

I will tell you there is some good news. There is certainly evidence now where I live and work in D.C. that the peak has passed and daily cases are now dropping. There is some evidence that that's happening in New York as well. And also maybe some early signs that that's happening in Massachusetts, in Boston.

So, we are starting to understand that this kind of the surge has a very, very sharp rise and then, hopefully, a sharp decline, but it is moving through the United States and it will go all over this country. It is not too late to get vaccinated if you're unvaccinated. If you are unboosted, you should be boosted. We've only boosted about a third of the population in this country, and it will increase your protection, so, realistically to say that everyone is going to encounter this virus but the outcome really depends upon your vaccination status.

BOLDUAN: And glimmers of hope, as the New York governor put it in terms of what they're seeing in terms of cases.

Dr. Reiner, through all of the time that you and I talk on television and off, you are not afraid to call out any politician or, really, anyone when needed. And I am curious what you think of the latest statement coming from Donald Trump, because what he now says about vaccines and boosters and about people who don't get them. Let me play this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I have taken it. I have had the booster. Many politicians -- I watch a couple of politicians being interviewed. And one of the questions was, did you get the booster, because they had the vaccine. And they are answering it like -- in other words, the answer is, yes, but they don't want to say it, because they are gutless. You have got to say it. Whether you had it or not, say it.

But the fact is that I think the vaccine has saved tens of millions of people throughout the world.


I have had absolutely no side effects. I have had it like other people have had it, nothing special. I have had it.


BOLDUAN: The reality is his motivation here is not necessarily about public health, much more likely it's about undermining a potential political rival in the Florida governor. But what do you think hearing this now coming from Donald Trump?

REINER: Well, I welcome it. I hope he says it every day. But where have you been everyday for the last year? We have been vaccinating people for a year, and almost through that entire time, the former president, who takes credit for the development of the vaccine, has been silent. He was vaccinated in private. He was boosted in private. He tried to speak to his crowd about this and got booed and stopped doing that, and now I welcome it, great. Keep doing it. But it is frustrating to me, because how many tens or hundreds of thousands of his supporters have needlessly died because he has kept quiet about the benefit of this vaccine. I love this unambiguous support for the vaccine. I hope he continues to do it. Do it more.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Dr. Reiner, thank you very much.

Also developing at this hour, the world's number one men's tennis player, Novak Djokovic, is now admitting he did not isolate after testing positive for COVID in mid-December. Djokovic also is addressing the investigation by Australian border officials about whether he submitted false information on his travel declaration form before he entered the country.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live in Melbourne with all of the latest developments and a lot. I mean, every day, more developments happen, Paula, but there needs to be some resolution on this one way or another, as the question is, is he going to be able to play? What are you hearing?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, there does need to be some resolution, and at this point, we don't know when that's going to happen. We know the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, is still thinking about whether he'll step in and personally revoke his visa. There is an expansion of the investigation by the Australian border force. They says they are now looking into the PCR result as well, they're looking into his movements after he tested positive, and we don't know when the results of that will come either.

We do know that Novak Djokovic gave that statement on Wednesday on his social media. He also is saying that he's given a lot more documentation to that investigation, which could slow it down as well. But what he has talked about is really what we've been talking about in the past few days, when he tested positive, when he knew about it and who he may have exposed. And he has admitted now that even though he was tested on December 16th, he says he didn't know that he was positive until after all his public events, where he was maskless on December 17th, but he still, the next day, December 18th, carried out a photo shoot, and a media interview.

Now, he has since pointed out that since he went home after that, he decided it was not the best idea saying, quote, on reflection, this was an error of judgment. He didn't actually tell that team though, that he was positive even after he believed it was an error of judgment. And the travel declaration, he's admitted as well, there was an error on that, pointing out it was not him that did it, it was his the support team, but ticking the box saying that he had not traveled when it was clear he had.

And in less than 12 hours, Kate, we will be having the draw for the men's single tournament, assuming that Novak Djokovic's name is in that.

BOLDUAN: Pauala, thank you so much. We'll continue to follow it.

I want to turn now through to big developments also in the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologizing for attending a garden party during the height of COVID lockdowns, very strict ones in the U.K. in May of 2020. But he also he did stop short of admitting any wrongdoing.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is live in London with more on this in London. Salma, what are you hearing?

SALMA ADBELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Kate, a massive about-face from the prime minister after weeks of allegations of Christmas parties, of outdoor parties, of summer parties, of bring your own booze parties, the prime minister finally admitting he was at one of those events himself. Take a listen to what he said in parliament.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Number ten is a big department with the garden as an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air and stopping the virus. And when I went into that garden just after 6:00 on the 28th of May, 2020 to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.


ABDELAZIZ: As you heard there, Kate, yes, admitting and apologizing, however, not acknowledging any wrongdoing, not admitting to breaking any COVID rules, but still significant in that this is a prime minister who finally feels cornered, who has to respond. And what that means is he is increasingly weak and vulnerable.


That plays out in two ways. Of course, there is a political aspect, and does his party continue to back him? Do his own lawmakers continue to support him or do they on him? And there is the court of public opinion, and in that, Kate, I can tell you he's losing.

BOLDUAN: Salma, thank you so much.

Also developing at this hour, a New York judge has rejected a request of Britain's Prince Andrew to dismiss a sexual lawsuit against him. The judge ruling this morning that Virginia Giuffre's civil suit against the prince can proceed against him.

Giuffre claims that Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell forced her into having sex with Prince Andrew when she was just 17 years old, and that the prince knew she was underage at the time. Prince Andrew's legal team had argued that Giuffre's settlement with Epstein shielded him from her lawsuit and Buckingham Palace has no comment on the judge's ruling.

Still much more ahead for us, President Biden putting in all on the line for voting rights now, but still facing headwinds in his own party. I'm going to speak with Democratic Senator Tina Smith, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: President Biden is challenging senators to, in his words, stand against voter suppression, asking them to eliminate the filibuster in order to pass two bills without needing the Republican support and aimed at strengthening access to voting nationwide. Listen to the president.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide, to defend our election, to defend our democracy.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now for more on this is Democratic Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota. Senator, thank you for being here.

You support ending the filibuster. We've talked about this in the past. The fact of the matter is your colleagues Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin, they do not agree. So, despite the president's impassioned speech yesterday, what is the path here?


SEN. TINA SMITH (D-MN): Well, hi, Kate. It's great to be with you. I do support ending the filibuster. I think though it's important for people to understand that these Senate rules, these old arcane Senate rules, which have changed many, many times over the history of Senate, can be tweaked in all sorts of different ways. And that is what we are working really hard right now to figure out. My colleagues like Angus King and Jon Tester, others who have not supported changing the filibuster, are now on board trying to find a path forward with Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema and that's a good thing.

There are a lot of ways that we can restore the filibuster to what it used to be. When I came to the Senate, I had this vision that it was like Mr. Smith goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart on the floor of the Senate, arguing for what he believed in, and that doesn't happen anymore. Maybe it should happen again. Maybe that is the way that we should restore the filibuster so that it isn't just used as an instrument to block all legislation. Those are the kinds of ideas that we have to find a solution to between now and Monday, Dr. King's birthday, when we're going to be voting on the Senate floor.

BOLDUAN: Look, those are ideas. Those ideas are out there of how to reform, or another option is just completely blow up the filibuster. But the fact of the matter remains that if Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema are not on board, you're not doing it. And Schumer says that there are constant -- the way he put it today to CNN, is there are constant discussions happening right now with everyone in the Democratic caucus and Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema about this. Have you spoken specifically to them?

SMITH: I have. I have spoken to them, and I'm going to continue those conversations. And I think the way Senator Schumer put it is exactly right. Like this isn't some sort of an abstract thing that we just sort of gather once a week to talk about, there is constant back and forth.

BOLDUAN: Obviously, you're not going to disclose private conversations, but what's your message, what's your pitch to Manchin here?

SMITH: Well, my pitch is, first, that there is no freedom that is more precious, no power that is more precious to Americans and their power to exercise their voices through their votes. And we are looking at an unprecedented attack on that power, and we cannot use old Senate rules as an excuse for not taking action. This is a vote that we're going to remember all of our lives, I'm sure. That's the argument on the policy of it.

But the other argument is that these Senate rules are not written in cement. They change from time to time. In fact, Senator Byrd, who is Senator Manchin's mentor, also said that the Senate rules change as circumstances warrant.

So, the question is then figuring out, okay, how do they change in order for us to get support amongst 50 of us to move this legislation forward? And I'm hopeful that we're going to be able to figure it out. I mean, we have to figure it out.

BOLDUAN: You are hopeful. The reality of it, and you know it, the fear is that it opens the floodgates, then, to what comes next. So, that stands to be seen.

But before you go, I do want to ask you about the hearing that you were a part of yesterday with top public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci. Senator Rand Paul went after Fauci again in a personal way that he has at every hearing. And also so did Senator Roger Marshall. I'm going to play this.


SEN. ROGER MARSHALL (R-KS): You see things before members of Congress would see them so that there is an air of appearance that maybe some shenanigans are going on. I assume that's not the case. I assume --

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Senator, what are you talking about? My financial disclosures are public knowledge and have been so. You are getting amazingly wrong information.

MARSHALL: So, I cannot find them. Our office cannot find them. Where would they be if they're public knowledge? Where?

FAUCI: It is totally accessible to you if you want it.

MARSHALL: For the public, is it accessible to the public?

FAUCI: To the public. You are totally incorrect.

MARSHALL: Well, we look forward to reviewing it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Marshall, Dr. Fauci has answered you that it's public information and he's happy to give it to you if you would ask.

FAUCI: What a moron. Jesus Christ.


BOLDUAN: Dr. Fauci off mic calling someone a moron. You would assume he was talking about senator he was just speaking with. His financial disclosures are public. But there are legitimate, tough questions to ask Dr. Dr. Fauci, Senator. Why do you think they're getting personal instead?

SMITH: Well, I think they're getting personal because we can see that there are Republicans that are using this as a way of raising money and building their own platform on social media. I mean, this is really outrageous.

We have elected people not only in the Senate but around the country, Republicans, targeting Dr. Fauci, disseminating fake information, bad information about him, generating this level of hatred against him from their supporters, and then they come before the Senate committee and say, oh, people really don't like you, Dr. Fauci, when they're the ones that are generating all of this hatred.


It's completely irresponsible.

And I don't blame Dr. Fauci for getting frustrated. I mean, here we are in the midst of a significant surge of COVID caused by the omicron virus. We have important policy issues that we ought to be coming together and trying to resolve, and this is what we end up doing, wasting our time on things like this. It's just really outrageous.

BOLDUAN: Senator, thank you for coming on.

SMITH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: I want to turn now to this. Officials in New York City have now identified all 17 victims of Sunday's apartment fire. Eight children were among the victims, a two-year-old, two five-year-olds, a six-year-old, an 11-year-old and three 12-year-olds. Unbelievable. The medical examiner's office says all 17 victims died of smoke inhalation.

Joining me now for more on this is David Banks. He's the new chancellor of New York City Public Schools. Thank you for being here, Chancellor.

You visited four schools that lost students in this fire, four schools. You spoke to their teachers. What have you learned about these children and what do you say today about this tragedy and the impact now on the community? DAVID BANKS, NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR: Well, Kate, thank you so much for having me today. It's just truly heartbreaking. Mayor Eric Adams and I both went to visit the schools where all of these young people who passed away, where they went to school. It's one thing to talk about it and there is a name that you see in a report but when you go to the school and you look in the eyes of the teachers who taught them and to see all of those educators heartbroken, in tears, in a state of shock, it was a lot to deal with, but they were so appreciative that we were there.

I'll remember one teacher in particular who read a letter from one of the students who died who just said, you know, I appreciate you so much for being a great teacher, and when I get older, I want to grow up and just be a kind person. And everybody in the room was just in tears. It was -- to realize that that's a life that we lost and it was so personal. We're all still grieving.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, that's -- well, that's gut-wrenching to hear those sweet words from a child whose life was cut so unbelievably too short.

And you're also dealing with so much now in your administrative capacity of a tumultuous return to school after the winter break with this omicron surge. Just a reminder to everyone, I mean, New York City Public Schools is the largest public school district in the country, and you and the mayor have been determined to return to full in-person learning.

The positivity rate, we were just looking, among students was about 13 percent. I think now it's now about 10 percent. How is it going? Is that a success right now when you know so many other school districts are not returning to full-time yet?

BANKS: It is absolutely a success. The mayor and I have only been in office a little over a week, and what a week it's been. But the top priority was ensuring that our schools are safe and that they're open. And I think that we are absolutely meeting that mark.

I visited schools in every borough across New York City, and I will tell you the parents overwhelmingly have said, thank God that you have kept these schools open. Continue to do that. We certainly heard from lots of parents who are still concerned and would like --

BOLDUAN: Well, I mean, you heard too from students, right? I mean, you have about 200 students walk out of some high schools yesterday demanding remote learning because they way they've said it is they don't feel safe, they want a hybrid option. They don't feel safe, they say still. What do you say to them?

BANKS: First of all, I'm going to be meeting with many of those student leaders. We saw them walk out. I certainly appreciate any time students raise their voices to be heard, and those young people are saying, we want to be heard, and we're going to meet with them, we're going to listen to them, we're going to consider everything that they are feeling, because I understand and I empathize with where they are. But I think we also are very focused making sure that we keep our schools open.

Our schools are sanctuaries, Kate. They're not just buildings that you just open and close. They are relationships with young people and their teachers and all the adults who are in that building. And we saw, during the height of this COVID-19, when we had so many schools that were closed and we were teaching virtually, the amount of loss, the significant loss that so many of our children have suffered from. And so it has been our goal to do everything we can to keep it open and to keep them safe, but we're absolutely going to be talking to these young people and trying to figure out the best ways to meet where everybody is.

BOLDUAN: Well, you have a huge job before you.


You knew it taking over the post, and you got to get it right. So, thank you for coming on, Chancellor. I appreciate it.

BANKS: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: All right. I appreciate it very much.

And thank you all so much for being with us this hour. I'm Kate Baldwin. "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.