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At This Hour

Thousands Of Flights Canceled Due To Winter Storm; China Drops Plans To Sell Tickets To Olympics Due To COVID; King Family Leads March To Demand Action On Voting Rights. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Here's what we're watching at this hour, winter blast tens of thousands without power as a major winter storm slams the East Coast and escalating tensions.

A top Republican lawmaker says he believes the U.S. is now in a new Cold War with Russia. How will the Biden administration prevent an invasion of Ukraine?

And Olympic change, China overnight announcing that it will not sell tickets to spectators for the upcoming Beijing Olympics due to COVID concerns.

Welcome to a special holiday edition of at this hour on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I'm glad you're here we begin this hour with a powerful winter storm stretching nearly 1,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. Millions are waking up to freezing rain, heavy snowfall, ferocious winds, even tornado damage.

More than 215,000 homes and businesses across 11 states are without power. Road conditions are treacherous. Officials are pleading with people in hard hit areas to stay home. Thousands of flights have been canceled creating real mess for air travelers. We have every angle covered. Let's begin with my colleague, Polo Sandoval. He joins us this morning in Pittsburgh. Polo, you were with us last night it was snowing and now the aftermath.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And to that point to Poppy when you and I last spoke here on area scraping the snow, portion of the event was just getting started here in Pittsburgh. And now that we're joining you again, it seems that we're sort of bringing that chapter to a close and outcomes of course the next big challenge, which is to get all as much snow as they can off these highways, off the side streets again, because the concern with the forecast is calling for an overnight low of about one degree later this week.

The concern is much of this sort of slush the remains on the road could refreeze, create problems for a lot of folks, obviously this week now. It's not just here in Pittsburgh, but really the entire region is experiencing also power outages. For example, just take a look at the latest numbers that we have right now. South Carolina just under 30,000 power outages in neighboring North

Carolina about 27,000 here in Pennsylvania about 16,000, and keep in mind these numbers tend to go up and down obviously, as crews try to get out there to try to make those repairs.

But still, the one good thing obviously here is that it is a holiday so we are seeing not a whole lot of traffic compared to what you could perhaps see on a normal Monday. But nonetheless, you do see people out there driving out about walking around and running into some issues with the stuff. Poppy?

HARLOW: Thank you so much, Polo. Let's go to Pete Muntean now live at Reagan National Airport outside of Washington. So Pete, I mean, a few weeks ago it was all these flights canceled because of, you know, labor shortages because of Omicron. And now they've got the weather tangling things up.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: And the good upshot of that, Poppy, is that this is something that the airlines can forecast although this travel chaos is not over just yet. Just look at the latest numbers from FlightAware, 1,460 flights canceled just so far today. More than 3,000 flights cancelled yesterday.

That is the highest number of flight cancellations we have seen since January 3rd. You know the storm has at one of the East Coast hit a lot of major hubs, places that typically don't get a lot of snow. At Charlotte, for example, about 90 percent of all flight departures were canceled yesterday, we just hit a third of all flights departing out of Charlotte canceled today.

But the good news here though American, Delta, Southwest, United have all issued travel waivers so those impacted by the storm can change their flights free of charge. Though not much of a silver lining and that this is the end of a holiday weekend.

A lot of people coming back home, even though the numbers are still pretty low for air travel right now when you compare it to the holiday week, the holiday week around Christmas, about 1.3 million people traveling right now. So numbers a bit lower this time of year. Don't we saw on December, Poppy?

HARLOW: All right, thank you, Pete, very much. Let's go to CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray with the latest forecasts. So what's in store?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Poppy, this is going to continue to make its way to the north and east. We still have winter storm warnings, winter weather advisories stretching across the Appalachians and up to northern sections of New England. So here's the live radar. And you can see that I-95 corridor has pretty much been the dividing line between rain and snow. The snow has really been an interior sections and all the rain along the coast but even areas getting rain.

It is a miserable rain temperatures in the low 40s, 40 mile an hour winds and just a downpour, so that's starting to wrap up. We could get a quick shot of snow or frozen precipitation on the backside of the system. But it's really not going to accumulate too much in the big cities. Most of the higher accumulation amounts are going to be well inland.

And so as the system wraps up by this evening, it'll leave us with anywhere from say two to four additional inches of rainfall and then you can see those higher elevations could get up to about six additional inches of snowfall, I should say.

And we're also going to see very cold temperatures, high temperatures today only in the upper 30s back in the Midwest temperatures not even making it to freezing. Poppy?

HARLOW: OK, thank you, Jennifer. Appreciate that very much. We're also following this breaking news. China just announced tickets for the Winter Olympics by the way, just a few weeks away, will not be sold to the general public. This is of course due to COVID concerns.

The announcement comes less than three weeks before the games are set to begin and right as Beijing detected its first case of the Omicron variant. Our Selina Wang is live in Tokyo with the breaking details, a huge developments, Selina, overnight.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, so residents in China cannot buy tickets and international fans are banned. So when you turn on your T.V. and watch the Winter Olympics, that people you see in the stands, were specifically invited by authorities to attend. We don't know how many people will get that invite, but organizers say they'll have to follow COVID rules before during and after the games.

These games are going to be incredibly restrictive far more than even the Tokyo Summer Olympics. I'll be traveling in in two weeks time. But already I have to log in my daily health stats into an Olympic app. Once when I entered this massive Olympic bubble, we'll be PCR tested every day and me along with other thousands of participants will be kept entirely separate from the population the entire time.

Anyone attending the games unvaccinated, they'll have to quarantine for 21 days upon arrival. And Poppy get this for the local Chinese staff and volunteers, after the games they have to quarantine for 21 days before going back to their homes to see their families in China. And this decision comes after Beijing detected its first case of Omicron.

And in China, even one case is one to many. We're seeing several cities across China back in wartime mode with snap lockdowns, mass testing, contact tracing and quarantine, all of that in response to sometimes just one or a handful of cases.

Now that strategy has been effective in China so far, but there are concerns that won't be as effective with the Omicron variant given one, how transmissible it is and two, reports that it is not Chinese vaccines are not as effective against this variant. Poppy?

HARLOW: That is incredibly concerning. Thank you, Selina, for the reporting very much.

Developing right now, Israel just announced the results of a new study on the effectiveness of a fourth vaccine dose against the Omicron variant. It finds a fourth dose leads to higher levels of COVID antibodies. Israel began giving a fourth dose to its most vulnerable population late last month. Now it's available to everyone over 60 in the country.

Joining me now to discuss, Dr. Chris Pernell, she's a physician and a fellow at the American College of Preventative Medicine. Doctor, thanks very much. Let's get right to this breaking news. This study out of Israel a lot that we still need to learn about it but, what's your reaction to those findings? And what are your questions about a possible fourth dose?

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Happy Monday in MLK Day, Poppy. I think the most important thing for us to learn from that study is whether that increase in antibody levels and concentrations actually contributes to a significant or critical reduction in hospitalizations and or deaths. Remember, the purpose of the vaccine and of additional doses is always around preventing and curtailing severe disease. So while it's encouraging to hear that news, we still don't have a concrete understanding of the utility of the fourth dose.

HARLOW: Every expert has made clear that the best defense against Omicron is getting a first booster dose. But yet only 38 percent of eligible Americans are fully boosted. Do you believe it's time for the Biden administration to clearly and loudly say, if you're -- that you're not fully vaccinated if you're not boosted, and for businesses to respond accordingly and require boosters, for example, dining inside?

PERNELL: Yes, Poppy, that time actually has passed. The Biden administration actually missed being proactive around this definition, we should have changed this at least approximately a month ago to clearly indicate and communicate to the American public, if you want to be protected against Omicron. You need to be boosted. I personally when counseling people in community or when talking to people, I tell them look, you don't have as much of a fighting chance against severe disease with Omicron unless you are boosted.

So yes, we fell flat on that in our public health response, not changing that definition. This is a problem that has unfortunately hampered the administration and the CDC, having less than effective communication, but something we need to write the ship on now. And as far as traveling, that time to has come and gone to allow people to travel without a vaccine -- vaccination being required. And I would only hope that in businesses in four years would follow the data and follow the science and do what's in the best interest of most people that are in their employment.

HARLOW: So now we're looking at new case numbers in the United States around 800,000 a day, hospitalizations at the highest they have ever been. OK remember that, because so many more people are infected. You have so many more people in the hospital. Is this indicating to you that we're at the peak of this surge? And if it is, is there anything that tells you there's not just another variant around the corner?


PERNELL: Let's go with the second half of that question first. As long as we are in a pandemic stage of this unprecedented public health crisis, and as long as we are failing at global vaccine equity, the possibility that new variants will emerge variants that are more contagious than Omicron, variants that lead to more severe disease are always likely. So we can never afford to lessen our vigilance or lessen our determination to have a multi layered mitigation strategy.

And I would only hope that we would say what do we need to do to really turn a successful corner because with the level of deaths that we're still experiencing and the level of hospitalizations that we're experiencing is causing that unprecedented surge, but the country is experiencing that a little bit unevenly while we in the Northeast may have peaked last week or several days ago. There are others in the U.S. yet to hit the top of their peak of this current surge.

HARLOW: Very important point. Doctor, thank you so much. And again, important to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day, thank you.

PERNELL: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, coming up, the battle to protect voting rights gets a renewed push on this MLK Jr. Holiday. Vice President Harris set to speak shortly to honor the civil rights heroes, next.



HARLOW: Right now on this Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, his family is leading a march in Washington to urge President Biden in the Senate to enact Federal voting rights legislation. Our Suzanne Malveaux is live this morning with us in Washington. Suzanne, you did that great piece over the weekend speaking with his family at his childhood home and now today is really a day of action for them in the nation's Capitol.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, you're absolutely right, because one of the main focuses and what really the key message of Martin Luther King III in speaking with him and his family in Atlanta is that this day must be recognized for his father's legacy, and linked to voting rights that it was integral to his mission when it comes to the Civil Rights passage of '64 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That is why they're here in Washington, they cross the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Southeast Washington to make the point that the President and Congress had put all of their might behind that and were able to get something done for the bridges. They want something done here for voting rights legislation.

And so just moments away, we will see the King family here along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to continue to try to push that political pressure on getting voting rights passed, there will be a debate that will take place and likely a vote in the Senate this week. And as you had mentioned, it was in Atlanta that I had an opportunity to talk to the King family about the meaning of this day.


ANDREA WATERS KING, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: They all heirs to what they -- what he stood and fought and died for. And I think that we are -- what we are simply saying is that this is a time, this is a day of action.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: He'd be greatly disappointed, and say that America must and will do better. He would never have accepted what we're going through at this point.


MALVEAUX: And King is very much aware that it is likely that the voting rights legislation that will be debated and voted on will fail this week along with that effort to get the Senate rules changed to get it passage some sort of exception to the Senate rules to get that accomplished. But King nevertheless telling me, Poppy, that this is something that they will find a way to do. They will continue to fight for because it is a continuation of his father's mission and his legacy. And that is the message that they want to take away and to impart on people today. Poppy?

HARLOW: And Suzanne, to that point that from all accounts it is expected this legislation when taken up in the Senate on Tuesday will fail. What is the Biden administration plan to keep pushing forward?

MALVEAUX: Well, the messaging is critical and key. And one of the things the King, the King family is asking for is that it is a top priority that it is something that they continue to discuss. As you know, Poppy, over the weekend, there was some news made we saw Senate -- Senator Mitt Romney in an open invitation to the President saying come to me let's discuss some alternatives to the civil rights legislation that is very likely to fail.

Are there other different ways avenues that perhaps the administration and the Senate can find some common ground less ambitious, however, in their legislation, to at least push forward and address some of the concerns of those voting rights, voting rights restrictions that we are seeing in place around the country?

HARLOW: Suzanne, thank you very much for being there this morning. We appreciate it and your reporting with the King family as well. Well, this morning the nation is mourning of passing, the passing of an American hero Brigadier General Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen died on Sunday he was 102 years old. McGee bravely fought for the U.S. in three different wars, World War II Korea and Vietnam, flying in over 400 combat missions during his 30 year military career.

This American hero was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. And the statement Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin thanked me for his sacrifice legacy and character. He is survived by his three children, 10 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, and one great, great grandchild. May Charles McGee's memory be a blessing.


We'll be right back.


HARLOW: Developing at this hour, a stark warning from the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee Congressman Mike McCaul tells CNN he believes the U.S. is in a new Cold War with Russia.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think we are in a new Cold War with Russia?

REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I do. I do because I think Putin again smells weakness here. He knows if he's ever going to invade Ukraine, now's the time. I hope he doesn't make that miscalculation. But the fact is, if he does invade Ukraine, what is the United States, what is our Commander in Chief prepared to do to stop it?


HARLOW: It comes amid growing concerns that Russia may try to invade Ukraine or Matthew chances live in Ukraine's capital Kiev with more. Matthew, what can you tell us tonight?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that those tensions, Poppy, really, really acute because there are still tens of thousands of Russian troops that have gathered near the Ukrainian border to the east of this country, you know, potentially poised to come in, in another invasion. All it takes is an order from the Kremlin and one man of course, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, that order we believe has not been given yet.

And in fact, Vladimir Putin has been, you know, noticeably tight lipped on what his next steps are going to be. But remember, we're just a few days after intensive negotiations that lasted about a week have come to an end between U.S. and Russian officials, between Russia and NATO, the Western military alliance, and others with no resolution, those talks ended in deadlock. Russia wants concrete guarantees that NATO will not expand towards its borders any further.

And it wants to make sure that Ukraine never ever becomes part of the Western military alliance guarantees the United States simply not prepared to give. So the question now is what will be Russia's next steps and invasion is definitely an option. So it's more diplomacy, although we've seen no indication that that's happening yet.

There's another possibility that Putin could ratchet up the military pressure in this region, possibly deploying more weaponry, more troops, even missiles to areas where they're not currently located. But again, a very, very tense moment in this region, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much for the reporting.

And joining me now is John Herbst. He's former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador, thank you for your time this morning.


HARLOW: Do you agree with Ranking Member McCaul, do you believe the U.S. is now in a Cold War with Russia?

HERBST: I think Russia has been conducting a Cold War against us for almost a decade. And I think only over the last few years, we realized what's going on.

HARLOW: This weekend, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan pushed back against the idea that the U.S. should essentially do anything more now, additional sanctions et cetera, right? And this followed the news from Microsoft that there was this huge destructive malware in dozens of government and private computers in the network in Ukraine. Ukrainian say, look, Russia has fingerprints on it.

I say this because I wonder if you think waiting for Vladimir Putin to literally send troops across the border into Ukraine is the right call for the U.S. to do more or is it time for the U.S. right now to respond more forcefully?

HERBST: Look, compared to the very weak us diplomacy in the past vis- a-vis, the Kremlin aggression, this administration has done a creditable job. But it could be a better job. We should be sending weapon the additional weapons we say we'll send to Africa, Russia enrage should be sent now, it should have been sent yesterday. We're also talking about boosting NATO's force posture in the East after Russia invades Ukraine too late. Do it now. These are two things we should be doing now.

And I think the administration can be faulted for wanting to build quote unquote, predictable and stable relations with Moscow. They should be focused on stopping Kremlin aggression right now. That's what leads to measures which are not quite as good as they could be.

HARLOW: Ranking Member McCaul also pointed to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaos that ensued as a reason why he believes Putin and others look what North Korea is doing right now are engaging in this provocation. Listen.


MCCAUL: You and I talked about Afghanistan over the summer, last summer. I think people are foreign adversaries like Putin, President Xi in China, the Ayatollah and Kim Jong-un, all view that as a moment of weakness, so we are not projecting strength is Reagan talked but rather projecting weakness, which historically, going back to Hitler, and Chamberlain always invites aggression? And I think you're going to see a lot more of it.


HARLOW: Do you agree with him?

HERBST: I think he has a point. Look, the actual withdrawal from Afghanistan was a disaster which the Biden administration could have avoided, but the decision to withdraw was probably necessary, and is also true, even if they avoided the disaster of the way the withdrawal took place, the Russians and the Chinese would be saying well the fact that we withdrew from Afghanistan at all is a sign of weakness.