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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Touts Low 3.9 Percent Unemployment Rate, Wages Up Almost 16 Percent; Biden: My Economic Plan Focuses On Fixes To Supply Chain, Consumer Protection, Build Back Better Act; Schumer Says He'll Push For Election Reform Vote Next Week; CDC Dir. Turns To Media Consultant As Messaging Blunders Mount; CDC Facing Criticism, Mockery Online For Messaging Missteps; NATO Holds "Extraordinary" Meeting Amid Russian Troop Buildup; Russia Sends Troops To Kazakhstan Amid Violent Protests; Kazakhstan's President Orders Forces To "Shoot To Kill" Protesters; Jan. 6 Probe Looking Into Whether Trump's Actions Constitute A Crime; Djokovic's Detention Sheds New Light On Australia's Refugee Crisis; Trailblazing Actor And Activist Sidney Poitier Dies At 94. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 07, 2022 - 17:00   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. economy adding only 199,000 jobs in December, even before Omicron's big surge, making it the weakest jobs report of 2021. But Biden is looking on the bright side, highlighting how unemployment fell to 3.9 percent, the best levels since the pandemic began.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The sharpest one-year dropping unemployment in the United States history.

COLLINS (voice-over): Overall, the U.S. economy now has about 6.4 million more jobs than it did at the start of 2021. But it is still 3.6 million jobs short of pre-pandemic levels.

BIDEN: 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.

COLLINS (voice-over): While acknowledging that inflation is still a persistent problem, Biden highlighted an impressive increase in wages.

BIDEN: Desk clerks, line cooks, waitstaff, bellmen, their pay went up almost 60 percent this year, far ahead of inflation, which is still a concern.

COLLINS (voice-over): Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, acknowledging there's still a lot of work to do.

MARTY WALSH, LABOR SECRETARY: Clearly, we have some work to do in early 2022 here as we move forward here. We have work to do. There's no question about it. COLLINS (voice-over): The President dismissing Republican criticism that he's out of touch with Americans economic pain, even deploying one of his favorite terms.

BIDEN: A lot of people are still suffering they say. Well, they are. Or that I'm not focused on inflation. Malarkey. I want to talk down the recovery because they voted against the legislation that made it happen.

COLLINS (voice-over): The Omicron variant ripping through the United States is also now delaying President Biden's State of the Union.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Speaker, the President of the United States.

COLLINS (voice-over): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi inviting the President to deliver his address on March 1st, making it the first time in nearly 90 years. The historic address wasn't held in January or February.


COLLINS: And, Jake, the one silver lining for President Biden in delaying the State of the Union address is that he has more time to try to get his priorities passed because he has some big pieces of legislation that Democrats would like to get passed. Right now as you noted, his Build Back Better agenda, that expensive climate and economic bill is all but stalled after Senator Manchin said he couldn't support it.

Voting rights legislation is something that Democrats have said is now a top priority for them. But Jake, they'll -- of course, the longer they have, the more time the President has to try to get something else to add in that speech where presidents often tout their agendas.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen from Maryland. He's on the Senate Budget Committee. Senator, thanks for joining us. Today's jobs report fell far below expectations when it came to the monthly job number but Biden tried to focus on the positives today. The unemployment rate is at 3.9 percent, which is very low. It's the first time it's been below 4 percent in a president's first term.

And the most jobs added in any president's first calendar year were added by Biden. 6.4 percent are under his watch anyway. Wages are up almost 16 percent. We still note, though, and I'm sure you hear from your voters, your constituents, inflation is still the highest in decades. Do all of the positives in that jobs report that Biden -- the Biden touted get canceled out if people still cannot afford trips to the grocery store?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: No, Jake. First of all, as you said, and as the President indicated, overall, this has been a very, very positive year record job growth, as you say, and wages have gone up as well. And nominal wages are on the rise. As you say, costs have also increased, but it does look like for lower income Americans wage growth is still exceeding any increase in costs. And this is also why we do want to continue to focus on the Build Back Better agenda.

For example, if you look at the cost people are facing, Child Care remains one of the biggest, you know, burdens on American families. And so, we still want to work to get that over the finish line and reduce those important costs as well as cost of prescription drugs and other prices, high prices people are facing.

TAPPER: Well, the holdups seems to be Senator Joe Manchin who doesn't like the bill as it is currently constructed. Is there a version of the Build Back Better Act that he is willing to sign off on? And if so, why aren't you voting on it right now?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think there is a version. I think the version I -- he would support includes those efforts to reduce the costs of prescription drugs and the provisions to include it to reduce the cost of childcare. So look, discussions are going to be renewed as you mentioned earlier.

Right now, we are focused on passing voting rights legislation to protect the right to vote.


We just passed the one-year anniversary of the awful attacks on our Capitol and our democracy. And those attacks are continuing in state legislatures throughout the country. And so that is also a priority. We're just going to have to work through both of these priorities between now and the end of February.

TAPPER: Well let me talk to you about that election reform bill, because you need 60 votes for that, unless you change the rules of the Senate. And Manchin and Sinema, the senator from Arizona, both Democrats, neither of them are on board on changing the rules of the Senate to pass that bill. There is Republican willingness to look at the electoral reform bill, this has to do with how the electoral votes are counted, which is where Trump ultimately tried to stage his final attempt to steal the election.

Your focus and the other Democrats, you're focused on votes being cast. But the real danger that we experienced as a country was in how votes were counted, not how they were cast, why not join with Republicans and pass and work on Electoral Council reform, where there is bipartisan willingness where something can be done?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Jake, first of all, I'm happy to look at any proposal Republicans or others have on that front. But the reality is that since the last election, and because of the big lie, state legislatures have been putting up more barriers to people voting, and they're also talking about changing the rules on how you count votes to allow partisans in states around the country to overrule the count of the vote that is initially comes in. So, there are different tiers to the system that need to be protected. And what we've seen over the last year, is when the big life failed to overturn the election through violence at the Capitol a year ago yesterday. We've seen that same effort now in slow motion across the country. And so, we're not facing the same --


VAN HOLLEN: -- situation, states (ph) around the country. Those states are now trying to make it harder for people to vote. So I think you need every line of protection to protect the right to vote in America.

TAPPER: Yes. You can only do it though, if you pass anything, though. But let me ask you about something having to do with COVID because we're seeing this struggle nationwide between virtual learning and in- person classes. A teacher in Maryland wrote an op ed in the Baltimore Sun making the case for virtual at least for now.

She wrote, "In-person learning is not synonymous with continuous disruption, free, learning. At this point in time, a temporary return to virtual instruction is the most effective option, one that does not require us to alter or modify our plans on a daily basis to reflect our ever-changing circumstances and our increasingly limited resources."

You know, health experts say there is a way for kids to learn in person, and that's what they need. What do you tell teachers who say they want to go back to virtual learning despite what health officials say, despite what parents want?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Jake, I think all of our references to be able to have gets back in the classroom or in-person learning, I do think that decisions need to be based on a local basis based on the intensity of the current situation, Omicron, whether people are, you know, people are not able to make it to work because they're out sick. But I do think that our overall position needs to be making sure that kids can get back in the classroom, we need people vaccinated.

And now of course, vaccines are more available to younger Americans. And we need -- we do need better testing so that schools can take action if there's an outbreak or wheel spread in a particular school. But I do think the overall situation needs to be, but let's try to get back into the classrooms.

TAPPER: 100 percent we need to improve testing, that's very important for the kids in the schools and the teachers. Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of the great state of Maryland, thanks so much to you. Appreciate it.

Coming up, credibility questions growing as the head of the CDC is facing fire from all sides. Coming up next, we're going to talk to a Former Acting Director of the CDC. Also one of the world's top tennis players is currently stuck inside an Australian hotel, the same hotel houses refugees. CNN is going to talk to one man who's been trapped in that same hotel for years.


TAPPER: In our health lead, CDC is trying to hit the refresh button after a series of cringy confusing guidance amid the surge of the COVID Omicron variant. As CNN's Gabe Cohen reports for us now, the agency's director is under such intense pressure to get it right. She hired a media trainer to help her with her communication skills.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: As we've articulated before, CDC is working on updating --

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky facing renewed criticism from within the White House and her own agency after yet another guidance gaff. A source telling CNN that CDC scientists are increasingly frustrated with Walensky's handling of guidance. And between her circumventing their vetting process for guidelines and the public criticism, moral at the agency is sinking.

WALENSKY: It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate.

COHEN (voice-over): It comes after the CDC cut the COVID isolation period from 10 days to five, making no mention of a negative test, drawing pushback from health experts and contradiction from the Surgeon General.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: They have certainly received feedback and questions about the role of testing.

COHEN (voice-over): As well as Dr. Anthony Fauci.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I'm saying it's something that absolutely should be considered. And I believe the CDC is going to clarify that.

COHEN (voice-over): They did. Same people can test if they want to. But if they test positive, they should isolate for five more days. The head of the American Medical Association says all of this is not only confusing, but risking further spread of the virus.

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: I think the problem here isn't so much the guidance, it's the lack of effective communication about the guidance.

COHEN (voice-over): Dr. Tom Frieden was CDC director under the Obama administration.

FRIEDEN: And yes, there are some judgment calls, so be frank about them.

COHEN (voice-over): Now CNN has learned Dr. Walensky is in media training. For months, she's been meeting with a consultant to improve communication skills. Today, she held a rare solo news conference.

WALENSKY: This is hard and I am committed and to continue to improve as we learn more about the science and to communicate that with all of you.

COHEN (voice-over): The well-regarded infectious disease expert had no government experience before President Biden appointed her and has often seemed out of step with the White House and Dr. Fauci leading to some abrupt and confusing changes and guidance. In May, she announced vaccinated people could stop wearing masks indoors, drawing quick criticism that it was too soon.

And last February, the White House had to clarify Walensky's comment that teachers did not need to be fully vaccinated for schools to reopen.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Dr. Walensky spoke to this in her personal capacity.

COHEN (voice-over): Now, Walensky is under fire for not following the CDC's own playbook for explaining new guidance. A Biden COVID adviser tells me the CDC has got to do a better job communicating what they're doing and why. And that has to happen quickly.

PSAKI: That's what happens when you lead with the data and the science and not lead with a clear communications plan.


COHEN: And now Dr. Frieden is urging the White House to move their COVID briefings from D.C. to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta to make this less partisan, and to let the subject matter experts control more than public messaging. And I'll also note that the Biden COVID adviser I spoke with told me, this is really a larger coordination problem across the administration between the White House, the CDC, the FDA, and the National Institutes of Health and blame here can solely fall on Dr. Walensky. Jake?

TAPPER: Gabe Cohen, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's talk about this with Dr. Richard Besser, who was the former acting director of the CDC. Let's start with our CNN reporting, Dr. Besser. Dr. Walensky got some media training last fall to help with her personal messaging struggles or challenges. Was that necessary? Is that so extraordinary?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: It's not at all extraordinary. I'm a big believer in media training. The years I spent at CDC, I took advantage of media training whenever it was offered. And then I had the benefit of many years working in media where I had training there as well in terms of communication.

So I see that as a positive sign. You know, this is communicating science and challenging decisions and subtleties of options and situations that are changing. It's not something that is necessarily innate. You definitely can learn ways to approach that, that will help engender trust, will help people follow the guidance that you want them to follow.

TAPPER: A CDC scientist tells CNN that Dr. Walensky issued this recent confusing guidance about isolation, using only the advice of a small circle of top advisers, instead of I guess what some people consider to be a more traditional process of rigorous vetting by CDC experts, outside public health partners and others. Does that raise any red flags for you? Is that -- or is that how it works when you're like in the middle of a crisis like COVID?

BESSER: Well, you know, it's hard for me to comment on that, Jake, without knowing all the details. I would say that I thought it was a very positive sign that Dr. Walensky was doing a briefing from CDC headquarters today.

You know, when I was the acting director of CDC during the swine flu pandemic, I relied on those briefings, direct briefings to reporters for a number of things. One is it helped me get an understanding of what the public was concerned about. Reporters often asked really challenging questions that forced us to challenge our own assumptions.

And it separated out the science that was taking place at CDC, with how that science informed political decisions, policy decisions that sometimes came out of Washington. You know, science needs to inform policy decisions, but it's not always the sole factor that goes into them. And that can be a challenging thing to communicate. Having this separation will be very valuable.

TAPPER: One of the problems with this latest confusing guidance I have to say, on whether individuals who have tested positive should get a COVID test before they leave isolation. Isolation went down from 10 days to five.


I have to say, it's -- that this part isn't necessarily her fault. They were asked, you know, CDC was asked, should somebody take a test? And CDC ultimately said, well, that's up to you. But the truth is, we have a testing shortage. We don't have enough tests in this country.

And that's not Dr. Walensky's fault, that's the Biden White House's fault. They promised that they were going to have tests everywhere for everyone whenever we needed them. And we're not there and you yourself have experienced the frustrations of that shortage. Is it possible that part of this is also Walensky taking blame for Biden blunders?

BESSER: Well, I think that if we were in a situation, Jake, where there were -- where there was an unlimited supply of tests, we probably would say, you know, reduced to five days and test coming out to make sure that someone still is in positive. But that's not the situation that we're in. And it's very important that you have tests to determine upfront who truly has COVID.

And so without that, I think that this is the right outcome. The challenge is that when someone says well, OK, but what if I do test, what do I do? And the guidance coming out was, well, then you should probably continue to stay in isolation for another five days. That leads to very mixed messaging.

But I think your point is right. If there was an unlimited supply of tests, what would we do? And I think we would ask people to test to know that they're negative coming out. The critical piece there, though, is that people are most contagious early on. And with each day after that, the likelihood of you transmitting will go down. And so, some people will be able to transmit, but most people after five days will not.

TAPPER: So anyone on social media, especially Twitter knows that the CDC has become the bud of a lot of jokes over the last week. There's a series of memes joking about what the CDC might recommend next. An example might be, you know, we've seen that the CDC says, you can now run with scissors.

Or there's another tweet also resonating with a lot of folks that capture the frustration of the moment, "Stay indoors. But also return in person. Wear a mask. Not that one. The expensive one that you can't find. Take rapid tests, which you also can't find. But if you find them, don't buy them. Rapid test don't work. You need PCR. There are zero appointments in your area."

You worked at the CDC, how jokes like that land inside the building?

BESSER: You know, I think they stand. You know, the current CDC director inherited a situation that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. And that's coming in in the middle of a pandemic. After a period of time where public health was vilified, public health was lifted up as the barrier to the end of the pandemic as, the enemy of our economy.

And so coming into a situation where the nation is polarized, and trying to reassert the importance of following the path of public health, it was an unthinkable challenge to be addressing. And we're seeing how hard that actually is.

I hope coming out of this, as a nation, we're committed to supporting our public health systems, our federal system, our state, our local. As you've seen across the country, you know, hundreds of public health leaders have left because of how they've been viewed and treated within their communities. And that's going to have a long lasting impact on the health of our nation.

TAPPER: Dr. Richard Besser, thank you so much. Good to see you again.

The unusual warning from the Secretary of State about letting Russians into your house ahead of a key diplomatic meeting. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead today, NATO allies using some of the strongest language yet condemning Russia's massive military buildup along its border with Ukraine, following what the alliance called an extraordinary video meeting today involving NATO's top diplomatic official. CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us now live from the U.S. State Department. Kylie, are there any indications that the U.S. and NATO are willing to make concessions to Russia if Putin agrees to deescalate tensions with Ukraine?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that's the million-dollar question here. And publicly, the U.S. and NATO allies are saying no, this is Russia's problem. They are the one who have escalated things along the border with Ukraine. They are the ones who need to pull back. They can't be awarded for the actions that they have taken.

But privately, when you talk to U.S. officials and European officials, they acknowledge that this is a tricky situation. Russia is going to need to be given something so that it can domestically say, hey, here's what we got if they do decide to pull back those troops that are now located along the border with Ukraine.

But the problem is that the United States is trying to act in lockstep with its NATO allies. And they are doing that today. Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke with NATO foreign ministers discussing that they all agree that Russia needs to deescalate things.

But the administration is in a position today where they are pushing back very forcefully on a news report that said that they are preparing plans to potentially draw down some of their force posture in Eastern Europe if Russia does deescalate things with you Ukraine. They are saying that is not a true report.

I want to read to you just exactly what State Department spokesperson tweeted about that this afternoon saying, "It's not accurate that the administration is developing options for pulling back U.S. forces in eastern Europe in preparation for discussions with Russia next week, which we told NBC while they're reporting the story. In fact, we have been clear with Russia publicly and privately that should Russia further invade Ukraine, we would reinforce our NATO partners on the eastern flank, to whom we have sacred obligation as allies."

Jake, this is a tricky situation, of course, because privately, we do hear from folks in the administration that Russia is going to need to get something but they're forcefully saying today that they're not going to be amending U.S. force posture in Europe, because of what Russia is doing. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Kylie Atwood, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's get the reaction from Russia right now. CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Moscow for us. And Nic, is the Kremlin saying anything about the strong condemnations from NATO allies about Russia's military buildup?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Jake, it's Christmas Day here and there's been nothing official from the government at all what they have said very recently, as they're not going to allow the talks to drag on. And there was a little bit of trolling from the foreign ministry, basically saying that NATO has abrogated on its agreement, you know, two decades ago not to expand NATO eastwards into former Eastern Europe. You know, that's something we've heard them before. But there's nothing from the Kremlin here, that advances or responds directly to what the strong language that came from that meeting today.

TAPPER: Ukraine isn't the only former Soviet Republic, in which Vladimir Putin is meddling. He's also flexing his muscles by sending troops into the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan after protests there turned violent. What's that about?

ROBERTSON: Yes, the President of Kazakhstan said he needed the support that he couldn't essentially crush the demonstrations with the forces that he had. So he called on an old regional alliances, sort of former Soviet partners. Russia is the biggest one, and immediately got a response. Russia has got about 70 military aircraft that are ferrying in troops and equipment, paratroopers the first thing on the ground.

They'll going to secure government buildings in Kazakhstan. They're also allowed to do some crowd control, breakup crowds, the rules of engagement. If they're attacked by an armed gang, they're allowed to shoot back at an armed gang.

But it's got everyone wondering, has Russia gone in with the intention, the stated intention what they say, a limited deployment, or is President Putin looking at this situation as an opportunity to kind of extend some of his influence and control and reach into some of those former Soviet states that his vowed opinion is should really be part of the bigger Russia today.

TAPPER: And Nic, tell me about the President of Kazakhstan issuing this "kill without warning" order to his security forces.

ROBERTSON: Yes, that was chilling Tokayev. The President announcing, you know, without blanching, when he made the statement on national TV in Kazakhstan. He admitted said quite clearly, he issued an order to shoot and kill protesters without warning on the streets.

We talked today with somebody who lives in Almaty, the biggest city in Kazakhstan. He reported heavy, heavy gunfire overnight, seeing bodies on the streets today, people who had been very clearly shot. The government says that 26 what they described as armed terrorists. And again, they haven't provided evidence that these are armed terrorists whom they say are trained outside the country.

26 they say were killed. They say 18 were wounded. The numbers just don't stack up. I think there's a lot more to discover about the number -- of a number of killed and injured there. Among the protesters they say that there were 26 police law enforcement officers who were killed, who were -- 18 who were killed, and 400 -- more than 4 -- more than 700 police officers who were injured.

Those numbers don't balance. They just don't add up at the moment, Jake.

TAPPER: Nic Robertson in Moscow, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Be sure to tune in this Sunday to CNN State of the Union. I'm going to be talking with the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken ahead of the crucial U.S. meeting with Russia next week. Have also talked to the New York City Mayor Eric Adams, joining us after his first week in office. Plus, Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson to 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern this Sunday.

Coming up, the surprising response to January 6 from Republican voters, some even saying that Don Jr. and Sean Hannity sounded more like Democrats in the text messages they sent to Donald Trump's chief of staff to stop the attacks. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, former President Trump seems increasingly to be in the crosshairs of the January 6 House Committee. Listen to what Co-Chair Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney told me last night.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY), VICE CHAIR, JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: January 6 itself was aligned you just can't cross. The committee is looking at that, looking at whether what he did constitutes that kind of a crime. But certainly it's dereliction of duty.


TAPPER: CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us now. And Ryan, we're getting a better idea of the shape of the investigations 2022 focus.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. And from the beginning, that committee has not ruled out finding criminal charges against either the former President Donald Trump or people that are closely associated with him for their role in what happened here on January 6. But your interview with Liz Cheney last night crystallized the direction that they're heading. And it really seems to be focused on the conduct of Trump on the days leading up to and on January 6th itself.


And what Cheney told you is that they're looking very closely at the former president's action, or what she called inaction around the time that rioters were breaking in to the Capitol. And what she suggested is that perhaps a Trump not calling them off and telling them to leave could actually be a crime because it prevented the certification of those election results. Now, it's not exactly clear where they're going to find the law to back up those charges. And if they need more evidence to prove it.

And the other thing we have to keep in mind, Jake, is that this committee doesn't have the ability to charge anyone with a crime. If they find evidence of a crime, they then have to refer that to the Department of Justice, which would decide whether or not they would prosecute. They still have a long way to go with their investigation. They certainly could uncover more, but it's clear that they're asking a lot of questions about what was going on in the Oval Office and in the West Wing, and they are talking to more and more people that are familiar with those events, and the days leading up to and on January 6th. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles, thanks so much.

In the days after January 6th, Republican lawmakers promised to take action, pledge to hold Trump accountable. And now a vast majority of those very same individuals are silent or worse, stonewalling the investigation, whitewashing the attack on Congress, on democracy. So why don't Republican voters make of this?

When asked to briefly describe January 6th a year later using just a word or so, members of a Republican focus group use these words, "way overblown," "scary," "misrepresented," "out of proportion."

Republican strategist and pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson led that focus group discussion on behalf of the New York Times and she joins us now. Kristen, six of the Republicans who talked who voted for Trump in 2020, two did not, was there an obvious divide between them?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: Not particularly. I mean, we had an interesting array of views in the group. Not everyone agreed on everything. But I think it was broadly representative of probably the median, I would say 70 to 80 percent of the Republican Party.

We didn't have anyone who was firmly Never Trump. We also didn't have anybody who was full, you know, way down a rabbit hole. You know, I think what you saw in this focus group was a pretty big representation or pretty good representation of what most Republican voters are thinking about January 6th.

TAPPER: And one of the participants told you that January 6th, in his view, was quote, overblown. When you ask them to expand the man whose name is Bernie (ph) -- Barney (ph) said, "Nobody listened to the warning saying there's people coming. So it's not a Pearl Harbor, it's not a 911. It's January 6, 2021, and it's just another day. Every day, if you live in Washington, you turn on the news, you hear January 6 100 times a day. And if you go out to Oklahoma, you don't hear it. So it's where you are and what you hear."

Was that the prevailing view? Did people agree or disagree?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: It seemed as though that was a sentiment that a lot of folks in the room, you know, would have nodded along with. We started off the focus groups by asking people, you know, name big days that happened over the last year. You know, we just had New Year's Eve. What were some big events that happened in 2021.

And then the democratic focus group, January 6th immediately came up. But in the Republican group, January 6th was not named. It wasn't until I prompted, what about January 6th, what words come to mind when you think about that day that it was even on the radar for many of these respondents? TAPPER: So it's interesting because so many Republican leaders right, you know, during that day, and in the days afterward, were absolutely horrified, although now many of them are singing a different tune. But, in fact, on that day, we now know that there were text messages sent by individuals who are Donald Trump supporters, allies, staffers, family members, to Mark Meadows, the White House Chief of Staff, you know, begging him to come before the cameras to call off the mob.

You read some of those texts. You read text by Donald Trump Jr., Fox Host, Laura Ingraham, asking Meadows to tell then President Trump do something. And two women in your focus group responded this way. Gayle said, "That's very surprising to me because they're saying what you would almost think -- what you would think almost a Democrat would say or a liberal would say."

And Lorna told you, "Kind of shocking to me. You'd think they'd back the president." I mean, that's just astounding. What's the significance of that to you?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Well, I think it's also important to note, I mean, Gayle, as one of our respondents, she was not someone who thought that January 6th was a good thing. She talked about feeling sort of upset, astonished when she saw what was happening on TV. So in some ways, I would imagine that on that day, she might have been feeling some of those same things that those hosts or that Donald Trump Jr. were texting to the president. Hey, this is bad. You should step in and do something.


But throughout the group, you know, later on, we asked a question about many of these Republican or conservative luminaries who have initially came out and said, what happened on January 6th is terrible. They've sort of changed their tune a little bit afterwards.

Jake, I'd assume that you think that their initial outrage was probably pretty genuine and that their change afterwards is what's been more inauthentic. But for these voters, they thought the other way around. They actually thought that those who came out and sort of initially said this was horrible, this was terrible. Trump should not have instigated this or what have you, they said that to them felt inauthentic, that that felt like Republican people trying to cover themselves and look for jobs and things in a post-Trump world.

They didn't view that as an authentic. They -- or pardon me, they didn't view the sort of change of tune as inauthentic. They viewed the initial condemnation of Trump as a safe phasing, phase saving sort of measure.

TAPPER: It's just the upside down, it's just incredible. You also asked the group how January 6th would be written down in history 100 years from now. You did find a diversity of opinion here.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: That's right. You know, some of them said, look, this is not going to be viewed as a positive day in history. For some of them, they still didn't think it would be thought of as that big of a deal. But some said, look, this is what happens when people get very frustrated, when people believe that an election was stolen. And that outrage turns into action.

And so, you know, there weren't a unanimous in saying that they thought January 6th was no big deal. And very few even suggested it was a positive thing. But rather they thought an unfortunate day but just one of many.

TAPPER: Kristen Soltis Anderson, fascinating as always. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: The world's number one tennis player is stuck down under. CNN is going to talk to a refugee who has been stuck in the same hotel for years. He paved the way for so many other actors. We're going to take a look at the legacy of Hollywood legends Sidney Poitier. Stay with us.




TAPPER: Topping our sports lead today, the world's number one tennis superstar Novak Djokovic is trapped in a canceled visa purgatory in Australia. As CNN's Paula Hancock's reports, Djokovic is being held in a Melbourne hotel that doubles as a detention facility for refugees and asylum seekers.


PAULA HANCOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fans of Novak Djokovic voice support outside his detention center in Melbourne.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not a criminal. He's a tennis hero.

HANCOCK (voice-over): A far cry from his usual welcome. The world's number one tennis star is here until at least Monday, when a court will decide if he can defend his title at the Australian Open or be deported. Australia requires people to be fully vaccinated for COVID- 19 to enter the country or have a medical exemption.

Something Djokovic's lawyers claim he has border officials and the Prime Minister disagree.

SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Rules are rules. And there are no special cases.

HANCOCK (voice-over): Back home in Serbia, Djokovic's parents hailed him as a national hero being held captive.

KAREN ANDREWS, AUSTRALIAN HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER: Mr. Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia. He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so. HANCOCK (voice-over): Fellow tennis stars are weighing in. Australia's Nick Kyrgios who has opposed unvaccinated players coming to his country tweeted, "I got vaccinated because of others and for my mum's health but how we are handling Novak's situation is bad, really bad.

America's John Isner tweeted, what Novak is going through right now is not right. There's no justification for the treatment he's receiving. Two more individuals who've fallen foul of visa restrictions. One has already left the country, according to Australia Border Force.

Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic is the second held in the same detention center as Djokovic. Her visa also canceled but not before she had played in a warm up tournament according to the Czech Foreign Ministry, adding she is leaving Australia. Djokovic will leave Park Hotel detention in a few days. But dozens of asylum seekers and refugees inside this building do not know when they can leave.

Mehdi try to enter Australia by boat when he was 15, part of a persecuted religious minority from Iran. Today he turns 24.

MEHDI, DETAINED FOR OVER 8 YEARS: We are suffering, we are exhausted. We are tired. We've been in detention for more than eight years.

HANCOCK (voice-over): Mehdi says he's also been held in an offshore detention center. Australia's harsh asylum seeker rules leave some waiting indefinitely to have their cases heard and have been criticized by the UN.

MEHDI: I did not receive no proper education or proper health care or basic human rights. I'm traumatized, got insomnia, diagnosed with PTSD. Suffered, suffered.

HANCOCK (voice-over): While Mehdi welcomes the fresh attention his famous neighbor has brought, he knows it will likely lead with him, changing little in his uncertain future.


HANCOCK: The Herald Sun newspaper, Jake, has published a letter which CNN is unable to independently confirm. But saying that Tennis Australia told those players that they were able to have a prior infection up to six months and still enter Australia, something official say is simply not true. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Paula Hancocks, thank you so much.

We have some sad news in our pop culture lead. Legendary actor, director and activist Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94. In 1964, Poitier became the first Black performer to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film "Lilies of the Field."


Many of his best known films including "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," explored racial tensions as the country was beginning to grapple with those social changes in the 1960s. And Poitier fought for civil rights. And to diversify Hollywood, Poitier always said he felt enormous responsibility to play complex roles. Ones that transcended racial stereotypes. A giant and a hero. May his memory be a blessing.

Coming up, Wolf Blitzer will talk to Ahmaud Arbery's mother after her son's killers were sentenced to life in prison without parole. That's next in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I will see you on Sunday morning.