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At This Hour

Unprecedented Protests Erupt In China Over COVID Restrictions; Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) Is Interviewed About Congress Returns For Lame Duck Session With Long To-Do List; Zelenskyy Warns Ukrainians To Brace For More Russian Attacks. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 28, 2022 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: AT THIS HOUR, unprecedented protests happening in China against the government's COVID restrictions. Plus, Ukraine's President warning his citizens to brace for more Russian strikes, as the Kremlin is denying reports of another retreat. And there's also another World Cup controversy to talk about. Iran calling for the American team to be expelled ahead of tomorrow's big match. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.

Thank you so much for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. I do want to begin with these extraordinary protests that we're seeing across China. As anger over the country's zero COVID policy really seems to be reaching something of a breaking point, huge crowds taking to the streets in multiple cities against the government's restrictions which have included as we've talked about, for so long, large scale lockdowns, repeated COVID testing requirements, and lengthy quarantine periods.

Some protesters are even calling on the Communist Party and even President Xi to step down because of all of this. Authorities there are responding with force videos are leaking out capturing police pushing, dragging, and beating some protesters. It comes as China again sets another record for new COVID cases. This is a sixth consecutive day for that. Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong covering all of this these rare and widespread protests for us. Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The white sheets of paper that have become a symbol of the protests in mainland China has spread here to Hong Kong, where you can see small groups of demonstrators have gathered for a vigil for what they say are the victims of China's zero COVID policy. Now we've heard these groups separating into groups of 12. And the reason is because in Hong Kong's own COVID regulations, groups of more than 12 gathering are banned right now.

Now this gathering is being closely watched by police, who are urging people to move on, who were trying to create a space for this. Opposition protests, opposition political parties, independent news media have largely been crushed in this city in the last several years. So a gathering like this is very, very rare. And it gives you a sense of how potent the demonstrations are right now in mainland China, and how they seemed to be inspiring reactions in other territories. BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And Ivan is joining us now for more on this. Ivan, it's -- obviously it's a big unknown, but what do you think is going to happen next?

WATSON: It is a big unknown. China has an enormous system of State Security, surveillance, and repression. So we haven't really seen all of that put to use yet. Our colleague, Selena Wang in Beijing has been driving around the Capitol tonight and has seen no signs of the protests that she personally reported on the previous night. But we also see no end to the zero COVID policy in sight, either, which means Chinese citizens will continue to be under immense emotional psychological pressure, not to mention financial pressure, because this is hurting businesses and companies as well.

It's hurting people's pocketbooks. And the trigger for these things, this particular thing, were reports of a deadly fire in the west of the country where people died. And the narrative that has emerged is that people are afraid that the victims were basically locked into their house into the fire by the zero COVID policy where buildings have been locked up. The Beijing government has said you can no longer it's prohibited to block the entrances and exits of apartment buildings as part of the lock downs now. We just have to wait and see where this can go next.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It is extraordinary, though, to even see the little videos that we have coming out still. It's great to see you, Ivan, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Joining me now for more on this is CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. And CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner, it's good to see you both back. It's good to have you here. David, first to you, can you just talk to me about the political context here. I mean Xi just consolidated power once again and now this.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right, Kate. I mean, we really didn't see this coming. We believe that coming out of the Party Congress, President Xi had basically made himself president for life. He even brought about legal changes that got rid of his term limits. So we didn't really see any real threat to his presidency. And I still don't think this is a threat to his presidency. But it is remarkable to have people in Shanghai out on the street, calling on him to resign and for the Communist Party to step down because previously, Kate, the only time we've really seen protests in recent years have been after environmental disasters that, you know, affected a village or a city or perhaps against corruption. This is against a lifestyle issue and a freedom to operate within the country.


BOLDUAN: And Dr. Reiner, I mean, we're seeing another consecutive day of China setting a record for new COVID cases. Why are they seeing the spike right now?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, they're seeing the spike because the Chinese first of all vaccinated their population with a relatively ineffective vaccine. They used an old technology inactivated whole virus vaccines, they had thought about perhaps purchasing the modern mRNA vaccines that much of the Western world has used and which has been basically the predominant vaccine in the United States. But for probably political reasons, they decided not to do that.

So the Chinese population were vaccinated with a drug that was only about 50 percent, effective two and a half years ago. And they boosted the population with those vaccines as well. But the virus has mutated, and their vaccines are no longer effective. And what they're really trying to do now with this zero, ill-fated zero COVID policy, basically, is stuffed the toothpaste back into the tube. But the virus is all over China, and this policy cannot succeed.

KOTB: And, David, why is China so dead set on keeping with the zero COVID policy? I mean, and what do they do about these protests in the face of it?

SANGER: It's pretty fascinating that they are stuck with it. We saw other countries in the region have not quite as the same draconian approach on pretty severe ones, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, they've now all begun to open up, allowed people to come in, got rid of their quarantine periods, and then come to the conclusion that these strategies are less likely to work. And of course, some of those countries did use the Western vaccines that Jonathan was describing.

The question of what to do now with it is very difficult, because Xi is not going to want to show any weakness. I suspect you'll see a big crackdown. You already heard in that report that the protesters weren't around on Sunday night the way they had been on Saturday night. But it's a big country. And this is the kind of thing that's really hard to put down over a long period of time. And I think he's going to have difficulty doing that. I suspect that sooner or later, probably sooner, they're going to have to lift some of their zero tolerance COVID policies.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And Dr. Reiner, I mean you called it the ill-fated zero COVID policy. I want to play for you what the -- how the White House COVID coordinator, Ashish Jha, describe that policy, listen to this.


DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: I think it's going to be very, very difficult for China to be able to contain this through their zero COVID strategy, I would recommend that they pursue the strategy of making sure everybody gets vaccinated, particularly the elderly. That I think is the path out of this virus. Lockdowns and zero COVID is going to be very difficult to sustain.


BOLDUAN: I assume you agree, but what do they do with it? What's your perspective on this?

REINER: I agree with Dr. Jha. And I think what the Chinese now need to do is to protect our most vulnerable population, which right now is largely unprotected. Only about half of Chinese over the age of 60 have gotten a booster. And again with a relatively ineffective booster, only about 20 percent of Chinese over the age of 80 have been boosted and these are the populations that will die or get seriously ill from infection with the variants that are currently circulating.

So what the Chinese should do is they should start a mass program to vaccinate their population with mRNA vaccines. The Chinese have a vaccine that was nearing release. The Chinese also should embrace the Western vaccine mRNA technology, import them in large quantities and start going after their most vulnerable populations. That will enable them to loosen their zero COVID restrictions while protecting the people most likely to die.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Dr. Reiner, it's great to see you. David, thank you so much. I really appreciate it guys.

A programming note for all of you, Dr. Anthony Fauci, he will be joining Jake Tapper this afternoon On The Lead beginning at 4:00 p.m. today on CNN.

Let's also turn to this though, Ukraine's president is now warning residents to prepare for a new round of Russian airstrikes. The expected barrage comes as power is being restored to much of the country following the barrage of strikes last week that plunged huge areas into darkness. Sam Kiley is live in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine where there is renewed focus there. Sam, Ukraine's energy system mostly backup but can it last?


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The capacity of the Ukrainians to rebuild after what they say is the Seventh Wave of cruise missile and drone strikes directed at the energy sector is remarkable. They are now down to about two. Well, they've lost about 27 percent of the capacity, they say in cities like Kyiv, the local population is being asked to reduce its consumption by 60 percent so that the essential services can continue to run. And this is following about two weeks ago or 10 days ago, so the last wave of Russian attacks.

Now, according to President Zelenskyy, Kate, there could be another wave of these attacks targeting the critical national infrastructure, in particular, the electric circuitry and capacity to generate electricity around the country. And one of the problems that the Ukraine will face over the next few months is not only the deepening war -- the deepening winter, a very, very severe cold that will require even greater stress on the electrical grid. But also supplies of stuff to fix the system are extremely difficult to get.

The Ukrainian government companies and private companies are saying that they're searching the entire world for spare parts and finding them difficult to find now, Kate,

BOLDUAN: That's interesting. And yet another issue that Ukrainians are going to be up against. Sam, thank you for being there, really appreciate it. Let's turn to Georgia right now, where voters are already headed back to the polls. What the big turnout of the weekend means for the Senate runoff race there, that's next.



BOLDUAN: It's a little bit of deja vu for voters in Georgia right now heading back to the polls as early voting is underway in that Senate runoff and they're already seeing some pretty big numbers. So let's get to Eva McKend, who's live there for us. Eva, what do you seeing?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Kate, good morning to you. As you can see here, this line at this polling location in Atlanta, wrapped around the library well down the block. And it's just quite remarkable because this is the first day that every county by law is required to offer early voting and we have just seen a lot of energy and enthusiasm on the ground. Despite the fact that a lot has been asked of Georgians that they have been asked to come out and vote at time and time again.

Now in terms of Saturday voting, more than 70,000 Georgians came out on the Saturday. This is something that Democrats Senator Warnock fought hard for and they not only won that battle, in terms of what will actually winning it because it happened, right? I spoke to college students voting for Senator Warnock who told me had it not been for the Saturday that wouldn't have been able to vote, but also in terms of elevating the issue of voting rights, which is a really animating issue for Democratic voters. Take a listen.


SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): We filed a lawsuit so you can vote on Saturday. They filed a petition asking for emergency relief. What you want to ask yourself is, what do they want relief from? You want relief from people voting?


MCKEND: Now Herschel Walker did not campaign this weekend. But he has a very busy schedule this week. We will see him in coming in Dalton, Georgia, as well as many other places outside of the Atlanta region. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It's good to have you there, Eva, thank you so much.

Now back in Washington, Congress is back at it this week with a long to do list for the next session and before the new majority in the House begins. Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill for us. Manu, there's a list of what lawmakers would like to get done. But what is the likelihood of that?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a lot to do in very little time. And it's important for viewers to remember that if Congress is not finished as pieces of legislation by the end of this Congress, they have to start a new in the next Congress when the makeup will be different. Republicans will control the House. Democrats will narrowly control the Senate and very little is expected to get done, which is why the next few weeks are critical as Congress has left itself little time to do just that.

They were awful to all of October while campaigning. They've only been in session one week in November. They're returning this week, as they head towards Christmas. Now on the list in the Senate, they plan to pass a bill to protect same sex marriage. That is expected to pass the Senate later this week. But other measures are still imperative, including funding the federal government, there's a deadline by mid- December to do just that, as well as changes to the so called Electoral Count Act to make it harder to overturn the elections in response to what Donald Trump tried to do on January 6th.

And there's an annual defense policy bill that they try to get done every single year that they will certainly try to do at the end of this year. And there are some other big questions as well. Do they raise the national debt limit something that could be a problem in the new Congress next year? Major questions that they face all comes as Democrats themselves will meet this week to slip their new leadership team Hakeem Jeffries expected to become the new Democratic leader in the new Congress next year after Nancy Pelosi announced she will step aside from that top job. That will happen later this week as the Democrats in the House prepare for life in the minority. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It's good to have you there, Manu. It is amazing, the list of things that would like to be done in these final days of this Congress. It's good to see Manu, thank you so much.

Joining me now, for more on this is Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer from New Jersey. He is the co-chair of the bipartisan house problem solvers caucus. It's good to have you here Congressman. There's a lot to be done and a lot Democrats want to get done in this session. But I also want to focus on the next. After the lame duck, you have a new Congress and a new majority, a new Republican majority, 221 vote majority for Republicans right now, which is a historically small margin. And everyone hears that and sees just absolute gridlock ahead of us. Is that what you see?


REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Well, partly it's going to be up to the Republicans if they want to work across the aisle like we did this past Congress. And in the problem solvers caucus, the 58 of us got a lot done with a four seat majority with the Democratic side this Congress. Next Congress will be the Republicans with a four seat majority. You think about what we did this Congress together on infrastructure on chips building, domestically, building chips and manufacturing in the United States supporting our veterans with the PACT Act. We just passed a bipartisan piece of legislation at the House to support law enforcement and fund the police. So we've done a ton together, the question will really be if they want to do the same thing and I'm hoping they will. BOLDUAN: And with that, there's a lot of talk about how this slim majority gives new and unique power to the Conservative Freedom Caucus on the Republican side. But I was thinking about it, do you think this kind of new breakdown in the new majority also gives you in the problem solvers caucus unique power as well?

GOTTHEIMER: I think we might be having a technical -- we might have a technical issue with the Congressman. I've stunned him into silence, I'm joking. We're going to take a break we're going to try to get this reconnected. We'll come back right after this.



BOLDUAN: Let's turn now to Ukraine which is on edge this morning, forced to prepare for more airstrikes from Russian forces. Much of Ukraine has seen power restored after recent bombardments, but it is clearly going to be a long and challenging winter ahead. Joining me now for more on this is Igor Zhovkva. He's President Zelenskyy's chief diplomatic adviser. Thank you so much for being here. President Zelenskyy is warning the Ukrainian people that more Russian airstrikes are coming. What can you share about where that warning comes from? What information is behind that warning?

IGOR ZHOVKVA, DEPUTY HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Well, this is the intelligence information we are receiving from our partners. And this is what our intelligence is receiving. Unfortunately, practically every week starts in Ukraine with his severe bombardments airstrikes on the electricity system of Ukraine. So unfortunately, we can expect the same things going on. This week, luckily, Monday today was quiet in Ukraine generally quiet and Ukraine because it's never quiet in Ukraine. But right you are my person is warning the citizens of Ukraine. Please be prepared. Please have enough supplies. So please have the alternative sources of energy. Please let us together survive this difficult winter.

BOLDUAN: I've seen reports that the mayor of Kyiv actually said in a new interview with Ukrainian media that power outages would likely continue until the spring. In Nevada of course is months away is that what people in the capital should be prepared for?

ZHOVKVA: Is that what people in all Ukraine should be prepared for including capital because what Russia is doing when imagined to repair the system after each and every strike. Like for the time being we're talking to you the electricity, there is water supply in Kyiv. But imagine if the next days they will hit another severe blast of the missiles, again, those which were repaired, and we are running out of spare parts of electricity, we are running out of transformers or whatever. So if it will be hit again, we would need to repair and back and back. And those damages, they are much more difficult each and every time. So yes, unfortunately, this scenario talking about is quite realistic.

BOLDUAN: On the shortage of spare parts, my colleague in Ukraine was reporting on that as well. That could be the next issue, not just the brutal and severe cold that Ukrainians need to deal with. But there but not -- but running out of supplies of the stuff to fix the system, the electrical system, if you will, is another problem. How dire is the shortage of supplies to fix the system?

ZHOVKVA: It's really serious. It's really critical. That's why my President is talking about, you know, energy rounds time. We have this military rounds time when countries are supplying the weapons for Ukraine. Now we'll probably need within the near is weeks and months to have the constant supply of high voltage transformers present, for instance, because they are immediately hit. We need generators. We need generators in order to generate the power in the absence. Last week, we had several hours of total blackout in Ukraine.

Again right now we've managed to restore but still minus 20 deficit of the electricity in the system. So we need this and when he did and it's already coming from the countries of the European Union and we're thankful for this. But we need more in order to survive this winter.