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Boebert Doubles Down on Remarks; Powell to Speak on Economy; Ian Bremmer is Interviewed about Omicron and the Economy; Maxwell Prosecution Begins. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 09:30   ET



MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is whether she will suffer any consequences. But Democrats are saying the onus should be on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to punish his own members. And there is a real reluctance by Democrats to have to constantly police the bad behavior of their Republican colleagues. However, so far there are zero signs that Kevin McCarthy plans to act.

Jim. Erica.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we should also note, Ilhan Omar is an American. Muslim-American.

Chris, it's not the first time --


SCIUTTO: A president, during a campaign, former president, attacked a Muslim gold star family.


SCIUTTO: You'll remember that.


SCIUTTO: Very prominently.

And then enacted, in effect, a Muslim travel ban, right, targeting Muslim countries, which became the law of the land. I just wonder, when you see things like this, do we have to reconcile ourselves with this not being an accident, but being almost deliberate?

CILLIZZA: Yes, I mean I --

SCIUTTO: Right, for some, not for all, for some in the party.

CILLIZZA: Yes, I mean I think the -- I think -- I hate to say it, but I think that this sort of accurately reflects Lauren Boebert's view of the world. It is not a nuanced view. It is, well, you're Muslim, and therefore you're a potential terrorist. Obviously, that's not true.

But, you know, when you listen to what she said on Instagram, it's not really sorry. I would guess that someone said you should probably call her and apologize for, you know, what she perceived to be an attack on her religion. But once it goes as south as quickly as that phone call obviously did, and once Lauren Boebert then goes on Instagram to essentially say, I'm going to continue to fight against terrorists, that's not the debate we're having.

The debate is whether you can label someone who just happens to be a Muslim-American a terrorist or not, right, which we should all be able to say, no.

The silence here from Kevin McCarthy, from Steven Scalise, from other members of the Republican leadership, it shouldn't surprise us. This is more of the same. Remember, it was Democrats and a Democratic-led House who sanctioned and censured Paul Gosar. It was Democrats who stripped Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments.

I think Kevin McCarthy, whether he's fine with it personally or not, is another question, but politically and publicly he's not going to be the guy to step out on this because he knows he needs the votes of people like Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene to be speaker if and when Republicans take the majority.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Right. And that's the bottom line, isn't it, Chris? I mean this is all -- not that this is surprising either, but this is all about politics.

CILLIZZA: Yes. One hundred percent, Erica.

Remember, Kevin McCarthy, in 2015, was supposed to be the guy who stepped in as the leader of Republicans when Speaker John Boehner stepped down. He goes into a meeting with his conference. He emerges from that and says, I'm not going to run. Why? Because the House Freedom Caucus turns against him, the most conservative Republicans in the Republican conference. He's not going to let that happen again. He is not going to get sideways with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert and the other members that it Jim Jordan, the members that fit in that House Freedom Caucus. He's not going to let it happen.

Again, it's not leadership. It's the absence of leadership, not stepping up and saying this is wrong because it's wrong, whether it's good for me or not politically. But he's not going to be the guy to do it. We've seen it already happen with these other members of Congress. We're going to see it happen with Boebert too.

SCIUTTO: Well, the interesting, Melanie, is that this sort of battle happening not just between Democrats and Republicans, but within the Republican Party. You had Marjorie Taylor Greene, who Chris mentioned, attacked fellow House Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace for condemning Boebert's comments in an interview actually on CNN. So, you know, enter (INAUDIBLE) warfare there. What's the latest on that?

ZANONA: Right. Well, this is what happens, this is why so many moderates in the Republican Party are scared to speak up because then they incur the wrath of someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has Trump's ear and is still a very powerful figure in the Republican Party. I think what we're seeing more broadly right now is the tensions between the moderates and the modeling of the party really boil over. The moderates, they are the majority makers, they are the ones who are going to be responsible, Republicans hope, for delivering the majority to Republicans next year. But the Marjorie Taylor Greens of the conference say they have a lot of power. They know they have a lot of power when it comes to whether Kevin McCarthy I going to be speaker or not and they're starting to flex those muscles. And so that's the dynamic we're starting to see play out in the Republican conference.

SCIUTTO: Well, if only that flexing did not require speaking ill of fellow lawmakers, fellow Americans, fellow members of your own party.

Melanie Zanona, Chris Cillizza, thanks very much.

Still ahead, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is about to testify before Congress on the potential economic threat from the omicron variant. The impact on everything from Wall Street to gas prices, what's the potential? That's coming up.



SCIUTTO: In the next hour, the Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, and chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, will testify before the Senate. Powell is expected to lay out the potential threats that the omicron virus -- variant poses to the U.S. economy, as well as the U.S. economic recovery. Though, as we've been noting, many questions still remain.

HILL: Yes, and we are, obviously, following the markets which just opened not quite ten minutes ago. The Dow, as you can see, down around 300 points at the moment, reacting to the news surrounding that omicron variant.

CNN business reporter Matt Egan joining us now with more.

I'm sure there will also be a lot of ears tuned to Jerome Powell this morning. What are you expecting from him?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, Erica, Jim, Jerome Powell, he's got to acknowledge the obvious, which is that the omicron variant has the potential to really complicate America's economic recovery.


And that's a big reason why we've seen this volatility on Wall Street. Stocks really tumbled on Friday. They bounced back a bit yesterday and we're seeing more selling today with the Dow down around 300 points.

You know, a big three points that Jerome Powell is likely to make in this -- in this appearance before the Senate, one, he's going to talk about the threats to the recovery. One is rising inflation. He's going to acknowledge that prices are elevated and that the new variant raises a lot of uncertainty about when prices can come down. Two, listen, people are worried about the new variant. They may not go back to work. They may opt to stay home. That could slow down job growth. Also, related to that, worsening supply chain crisis is a risk as well.

Now, Powell didn't mention this in his prepared remarks, but another big issue that we have to talk about is, how are consumers going to react because, obviously, people are worried about omicron and they are maybe deciding not to fly, not to stay in hotels, that they decide not to shop at crowded stores, that's going to weigh on the economy as well. We saw that in 2020. We also saw that with the delta variant to a lesser extent over the summer.

But, you know, big picture, Jim and Erica, you know, I just think that there's so many unknowns right now. We -- until we get answers on how severe the new variant is, how vaccines are going to react, no one, not even the Federal Reserve chairman, can accurately predict the impact to the economy.

SCIUTTO: Yes. So many questions.

Matt Egan, thanks very much.

SCIUTTO: So let's discuss bigger picture here. Political scientist Ian Bremmer. He's the president of the Eurasia Group and GZERO Media.

Ian, good to have you back, as always.


SCIUTTO: It seems the global response to the omicron strain has been stronger than what we saw with delta. And I wonder if, in your view, that's a smart approach, an abundance of caution here, because some of that seems to be learning that we didn't move quickly enough with delta to take steps to try to stem it.

BREMMER: Well, I mean, there's a performative aspect to this. Governments want to show that they are doing something in case this represents a worse-case scenario and a third pandemic. And that's why you see all of these, you know, sort of travel restrictions, but you're not seeing sudden imposition of lockdowns and I think that's appropriate. In China, you're maintaining zero Covid policy. No surprise there. They knew they couldn't open up because their vaccines weren't very effective against delta to begin with.

So I'm not sure in terms of real policies that are affecting actual citizens living in these countries that we are seeing a very significant chain so far. What we're seeing is that South Africa and a bunch of other African states aren't able to travel anywhere.


BREMMER: And, by the way, if this vaccine -- we already know that this variant is everywhere. So, I mean, to the extent that it is a worse- case scenario, once you know about the variant, it's kind of too late for those sort of policies. SCIUTTO: Well, one point, I mean relevant there, right, is that we

already know that travel bans don't work that well. Often they're imposed after the -- you know, you're closing the barn door after the horse has already bolted the barn.

What have we learned then? You know, what do you see playing out in the response to omicron that shows that we -- we've learned some lessons from response to previous variants in the pandemic so far?

BREMMER: I mean, Jim, I wish I could say that we learned some lessons. I mean we know that the inequality of vaccine distribution and the inability to distribute on the ground in places where you don't have great infrastructure makes it so much more vulnerable, the world, to new variants. We know that. It's a fact. But we're not doing very much about it.

We know that people need to get boosters. We also know that your immunity to being able to catch and transmit delta variant erodes very quickly over time. But it hasn't led to a meaningful reduction in vaccine hesitancy. And we haven't had any solutions in what to do to make this less political as an issue. In fact, instead, you see demonization of people like Fauci in the United States. It's becoming a very political issue. So I'm not sure that we've learned many lessons here.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's sad.

OK, let's talk about the economy here. And, again, it's early and we're going to hear more from Jerome Powell and Janet Yellen shortly.

So much of the economy, as you know better than me, is about expectations, right? All indicators -- most indicators point to a very robust recovery. And you have issues, certainly supply chain, inflation, et cetera.

What are you hearing about the risk to that recovery from what we know so far from omicron?

BREMMER: Well, look, what we know so far is that the vaccines are going to be -- at least the most effective vaccines like Moderna and Pfizer will be at least somewhat, maybe (INAUDIBLE) less effective. We know that this is much more transmittable.

What we don't know is if it is as lethal, more lethal or less lethal. If it's much more transmissible but much less lethal, this isn't just a concern, this is a wonderful thing.


But we don't know that and we won't know that in at least a week or two. So the fact that there is so much unknown here weighs very heavily on the economy because it creates more consumer uncertainty. More uncertainty about going back to work. More uncertainty about how safe it is to be with all of your colleagues. More uncertainty about how much you're willing to spend or whether you're going to take that vacation that you've been planning on finally after two years. And, of course, that means that existing political leaders are going

to take it on the chin because they're seeing, rightly or wrongly, as responsible for how people are feeling about the economy today. They don't have a lot of confidence right now.

SCIUTTO: No question. And so much of it is about feeling.

Ian Bremmer, thanks so much.

BREMMER: Good to see you, Jim.

HILL: Just ahead, the man who flew Jeffrey Epstein's private plane takes the stand. What he saw happening between the deceased criminal sex offender and his companion Ghislaine Maxwell.



SCIUTTO: The former pilot of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein expected to take the stand again today in the sex trafficking trial against Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's long-time companion.

SCIUTTO: In opening statements on Monday, prosecutors said that Maxwell helped Epstein create a, quote, pyramid scheme of abuse by facilitating sexual encounters between the billionaire investor and underage girls. Her defense says she's being used as a scapegoat.

CNN's Kara Scannell, she's been following the trial for us.

Kara, what else did we learn in court so far?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Jim, yesterday in the opening statements, Maxwell's lawyer laid out her defense really for the first time saying that, you know, Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein, that she's a convenient stand-in and a scapegoat for him, even saying that since Adam -- the times of Adam and Eve women have been blamed for the bad acts of men.

They also underscored that one key element of their defense is going to be to try to undermine the credibility of the four accusers who are expected to testify in this case, saying that they may have faulty memories, that their memories have been contaminated by the passage of time, by media reports, by other alleged victims. Also saying that they have been manipulated by plaintiffs' lawyers who were looking for a quick payday and also focusing in on money, saying that all of the four accusers who are expected to testify received big payouts from a compensation fund set up after Jeffrey Epstein's death, saying that these people were given even extra money for being a government witness and cooperator. Some of these women had been paid as much as $1.5 million to $5 million.

Yesterday, though, the prosecutors called their first witness in the case. That is the pilot, a man who had -- flew Epstein around for 20 years. The pilot gave a sense of the relationship between Epstein and Maxwell saying that they behaved like a couple on the plane. He also told the jury how they used a fleet of private jets almost as a commuter bus that they were shuttling between Epstein's home in Palm Beach, his mansion in New York.

Now, he's back on the stand this morning. Prosecutors are expected to introduce some flight logs into the evidence. Those records, they say, will show that Maxwell was on some of these flights along with those alleged victims.

Jim. Erica.

HILL: Lots to come in this trial. That is for sure.

Kara Scannell, appreciate it. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: And still ahead this hour, one of the sports greatest golfers says he will never play golf full-time again. Tiger Woods breaking his silence after that frightening car accident.



SCIUTTO: For the first time since his February car crash in Los Angeles, pro golfer Tiger Woods is breaking his silence about his health and his future, whether he'll play again.

HILL: He does say his days of being a full-time golfer are over as he continues to recover from traumatic leg injuries.

CNN's Andy Scholes joining us this morning.

So, Tiger addressing the media for the first time since that accident, moments ago. What more did he have to say?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, guys, you know, Tiger, he was in good spirits. He said, though, it's been a very long, hard recovery. A recovery that he's only halfway through. And he said the hardest part, you know, was not even being able to get out of bed for three months. You know, Tiger said he spent his whole life outside and he was so happy when he could finally -- was well enough to get outdoors. And Tiger admitted, you know, after five back surgeries, five knee surgeries, and now this leg injury, he's never going to be the same, but he says he's at peace with that.


TIGER WOODS, 15-TIME MAJOR CHAMPION: I don't foresee this leg ever being what it used to be, hence I'll never have the back what it used to be, and the clock is ticking. I'm getting older. I'm not getting any younger. So, all that combined means that a full schedule and a full practice schedule and the recovery that it would take to do that, no, I don't have any desire to do that. But to ramp up for a few events a year, as I alluded to yesterday, like Mr. Hogan did, he did a pretty good job of it. And there's no reason why I can't -- I can't do that.


SCHOLES: And Tiger was asked what he remembered about the day of the crash and he said it's all been answered in the police report and he did not elaborate.

Physically, Tiger, though, he looks great. He even joked that having to use crutches to get around his gigantic house made his triceps look jacked. And Tiger says he's played full holes of golf already, but he can't hit off a pro tees yet. One of the reasons why, he's not close to playing in a competitive tournament.

But, guys, you know, there was, you know, many moments throughout this whole course that we thought we might never see Tiger play again. That's not the case. He says he's not going to be a full member of the PGA tour. He's going to pick and choose his tournaments. And that's very encouraging for golf fans. It looks like, from Tiger said, we are, once again, going to see him competing competitively at some point.

SCIUTTO: Yes. He looked pretty good in that video right there. I would take that swing, to be clear.

Andy Scholes --

HILL: Listen, I'm happy I learned a new trick for my triceps. I'm just going to get some crutches. Thanks, Tiger, for that one.


Thank you, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

HILL: Good Tuesday morning. Top of the hour here, almost. I'm Erica Hill.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

So much we don't know yet about the omicron variant, but the CDC says the best we can do now is that every adult who is currently eligible should get a booster shot. This comes as at least 19 countries and territories have now confirmed cases of this new variant, omicron.


That includes Japan, which reported its first case overnight. So far there are no known cases here in the U.S.

President Biden says