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CDC Says, All Adults Should Get Boosted Six Months After Full Vaccination; Senate Democrats Race to Pass Biden's Agenda Before Christmas. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: That includes Japan, which reported its first case overnight.

So far, there are no known cases in the U.S., President Biden says while there is cause for some concern, we should not panic. And the administration does not anticipate any more travel bans or crucially new lockdowns here in this country. The White House is planning to release more extensive guidance on Thursday.

ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM: And to be clear right now, there is still a lot we don't know about the omicron variant. Look, that's because, as we know, this virus is evolving, scientists stressing this is a good time to be patient. Those answers will come. It could take a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, officials and health experts stress, as Jim said, one of the most important thing you can do right now, get vaccinated, or if you have those shots, get your booster.

There's a lot of focus this morning on the markets, not just because of the variant but because moments from now, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are set to testify about the threats the new variant could pose to the U.S. economy. So, we're going to bring you any important updates from that testimony as it happens.

SCIUTTO: Let's begin at the White House. CNN Correspondent John Harwood is there. So, John, interesting message, balanced message from Biden yesterday. We're concerned, let's not panic, no plans for lockdowns, and critically get your booster shot. What is the White House plan, the administration's plan going forward?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you and Erica both indicated, the critical factor to keep in mind right now is what we don't know, but also the market turbulence that Erica alluded to just now is an indication of how interrelated all these issues are. That is to say the more uncertainty there is about the omicron variant, the more uncertainty about the persistence of the pandemic and the severity of the pandemic, the more uncertain the economic recovery is going to be, the tempering of inflation is going to be. All of the knock-on effects of this pandemic are -- have a big question mark over them now because of this omicron variant. So, what the president is saying is let's look at what we know. What we know is that vaccination and boosters is the most important intervention that we can take. In addition to that, there is masking, even if you're vaccinated, to try to prevent the occurrence of breakthrough infections and the spread of those who are not yet vaccinated. That is a critical element.

He's got to try to break through that vaccine resistance. Remember, we've got 70 percent of the American people who have gotten at least one shot, but we have not reached anywhere close to 70 percent of Americans fully vaccinated. So, that has got to be the overwhelming goal at the same time the pharmaceutical companies are exploring whether or not they need to alter their vaccine regimen in order to respond to omicron.

Again, that's one of the question marks, exactly how severe is illness if you get it, how much more transmissible is it going to be, is it going to overtake the delta variant as the principal source of the pandemic in the United States, as it has in South Africa? We don't know the answer to that yet, but the administration is trying to project to the American people, we see this, we're on it, prepare them for the steps that may have to be taken. And even the statements that the president made about no more lockdowns, there's a question mark over that too, because if this turns out to be as severe as some people fear, we don't know exactly what's going to be required to respond to it.

HILL: Yes, which is why it's interesting to know, the president was clear, for now, which, of course, would make it a lot easier if things needed to change by getting those words in there as a caveat.

John Harwood, appreciate it, thank you.

Well, at least 70 countries and territories have now imposed some travel restrictions on a handful of African nations because of that omicron variant. Officials in South Africa doubling down on criticism of those bans while also stressing the importance of vaccine equity.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: CNN's David McKenzie joins us from Johannesburg. And, David, this exposes an issue here, right, that the vaccination rates in developed nations, wealthier nations, much higher than, for instance, in South Africa, and that seems to be a factor here. So, what's the response been locally both to omicron but also to these bans?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, Erica, there's a real sense of disappoint. I would say that's a very mild way of putting it, from the scientists and the leadership here in South Africa and throughout much of the African continent for what they perceive as punitive measures of these bans, which, despite the anger and the complaints, keep on expanding to more and more countries and territories so that this region is effectively blocked off from large parts of the world. And scientists I've been speaking to say, well, while it might seem logical to shut down your borders to try and buy some time, as President Biden put it, the time has already run out, most likely, they say because this variant, even though it was announced quickly, is already probably much more widespread than the testing suggests.

I also want to just mention, I just got back from a couple of key labs in this part of the country, one who is credited with actually discovering this variant.


They saw the anomalies in their PCR tests, so anyone who's gone for a COVID test knows that kind of test. We've all had to do it, particularly when we travel, and they noticed there was a drop-off in that test that suggested that there was a variant or at least a type of the virus that was more similar in some ways to the alpha variant, which developed in the U.K. and was noticed there.

And after a few weeks of this and noticing that positive cases were rising, they quickly alerted the national authorities that then sequenced this and put the information out. So, it was that combination of kind of on the ground detective work and the national scientists sequencing this that put the word out to everyone.

And I even hesitate to say this, but another top scientist I just spoke to said they are also noticing that many of these cases are mild cases of the virus. And it might be too early to hope for a best-case scenario and we certainly have to wait a few weeks. But I thought I should put that out there because it is a fascinating development if that turns out to be true. But several weeks are needed to see the clinical impact on the ground here as cases rise fast. Jim, Erica?

HILL: David McKenzie, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

Joining us now to discuss, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent. Sanjay, could we pick up actually just where David left off because he was talking about these, what we're seeing, fairly mild infection, a doctor who has treated even vaccinated individuals himself in South Africa with the variant had this to say about how they were presenting earlier when she spoke with John Berman. Take a listen.


DR. ANGELIQUE COETZEE, CHAIRWOMAN, SOUTH AFRICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATOIN: The majority of what we are presenting to primary health care practitioners are extremely mild cases, so it's light to moderate. And so these patients means they don't need to be hospitalized for now.


HILL: So that sounds like good news, but when do we have a real sense of how the vaccines stand up against this variant?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it can still take a couple of weeks to sort of answer that question, how well the vaccines work. I mean, there's two things that are happening simultaneously. One is they're doing laboratory studies where they're taking the blood of people who have been vaccinated and putting it in a test tube with the virus and basically seeing how well that blood neutralizes the virus. That gives you some idea of how well the vaccines work. But also then looking at real-world data in place where is this omicron variant is spreading, what's happening there. Are hospitalization rates going up?

Let me just show you quickly. I was doing a deeper dive into some of the health ministry data out of South Africa, and if you look Gauteng Province specifically over the last three weeks, this is where Johannesburg is located, you do see an uptick in hospitalizations.

Now, they're starting from a low number, you know, 135 three weeks ago, but more than tripling now, you know, just to a week ago. Is that due to this variant? We don't know. It's sort of their late springtime over there, so this is probably not flu. The weather is getting warmer. Typically, hospitalizations go down. That's the sort of data they're going to be looking at.

One thing I will say is that in South Africa right now, delta was not a dominant strain right now, sort of the quiet time before this omicron started to spread. So, it wasn't out competing delta, so the speak. That's different than here in the United States and many places in Europe where delta is clearly still dominant. So, I don't know that we can say that because it became dominant in South Africa, the same thing will happen in other places around the world.

SCIUTTO: So, in terms of timeframe, we've heard different estimates of how long it will be before we know how effective existing vaccines are against omicron. You've heard Dr. Fauci say one or two weeks, we heard, I believe, the Moderna CEO speak as long as six weeks. Is there any data to date that gives you an indication of the answer to that and, if not, how long before you expect to have enough data to begin to make a judgment?

GUPTA: I think it's just tough. You know, I mean, when you look at these specific variants, even in the past, they created, for example, a delta-specific vaccine in the past, didn't end up needing it because the existing vaccines work. They did the same with the previous variant, beta, didn't end up needing it because the existing vaccines work. So, I think both things are happening simultaneously. They're doing these laboratory studies, they're looking at real world data, they're already starting to work on omicron-specific shots, but it's probably at least a couple weeks.

I think when I talk to a lot of these vaccine makers just on background, what they say is that there's a huge cushion effect usually with these vaccines. That cushion effect is likely to be reduced as a result of omicron and all the mutations they see.


But they still think that the vaccines are going to be effective, maybe just a slight erosion of that effectiveness. SCIUTTO: Interesting.

HILL: Yes, that they still work. That's the important thing. And as we know, we keep hearing get your booster if you haven't already.

Sanjay, I also want to ask you about this antiviral pill from Merck. We know FDA advisers are meeting I believe right now. They talk about emergency use authorization. There's been a lot of hope put into that pill. It's not a replacement for vaccines but what do you anticipate will happen? Why is there so much focus on that pill?

GUPTA: Well, this would be -- if it does get authorized, it would be the first antiviral pill. There are other medications to treat COVID to try and keep people from getting in the hospital, but I think we can show you some of the data here. Basically, they look to people who have been diagnosed but were not sick enough to go to the hospital and tried to figure out how much benefit does this offer.

So, you can see the numbers there on the screen. People should pay attention to this. So, people who receive a placebo had close to a 10 percent chance of going to a hospital, those who received a pill about a 6.8 percent to 7 percent chance of going to the hospital, so reduce the risk by 30 percent. It's not a homerun, but, again, it could potentially be the first antiviral if this does get authorized.

If you compare this to something like monoclonal antibodies, that's something else designed to keep people from going to the hospital, the risk reductions are closer 70 percent, so it's much more effective. Now, that's an infusion, it's far more expensive, there's all those things with the monoclonal antibodies. But just gives you an idea of the context here. It's not a homerun but potentially could be helpful.

SCIUTTO: So many developments happening simultaneously. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, so good to have you on to help us work our way through it.

GUPTA: yes, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, with the omicron variant raising new questions, Anderson Cooper and Dr. Gupta come together with Dr. Anthony Fauci for an all-new CNN global town hall, Coronavirus, Facts and Fears, tomorrow night, 8:00 P.M. Eastern. A lot of chances to answer a lot of your questions.

HILL: Yes, absolutely.

Still to come this hour, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hoping to begin debate on President Biden's Build Back Better bill by the second week of December. One key Democrat, though, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, says, I hope you're sitting down for this, he's still undecided.

Plus, former President Trump's lawyers back in court today in another attempt to keep his communications from January 6th a secret.

SCIUTTO: Jury selection beginnings this hour in the case against a former Minnesota Police officer accused of fatally shooting 20-year- old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop turned arrest.



SCIUTTO: On Capitol Hill this morning, Democrats racing to pass their legislative agenda before Christmas. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he wants debate on President Biden's Build Back Better bill by the second week of December, this according to two Democratic sources.

HILL: He will need unity though among all 50 in his caucus for that bill to move forward.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill. And, Manu, I feel a bit like a broken record, but one Democrat says he is still undecided.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This had been the situation that we have seen for much of this past year, that all Senate Democrats are simply not on board largely because of one holdout, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He is someone who still has concerns with the bill that passed the House earlier this month. He wants changes to the bill, ranging from the expansion of Medicare that's proposed in this, removing the paid leave provisions that are part of the House bill, among other issues he wants out of the bill, paring it back.

And he made clear to me yesterday that he is not ready to move forward on debating this bill. Remember, to get to that first procedural vote, which Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, wants to happen in the week of December 13th, all 50 Senate Democrats need to vote yes to begin debate. Yesterday, when I asked him if he was willing to vote yes on that first vote, he said he's still wasn't there.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I'm really concerned about the high gas prices. I've been trying to talk to a lot of different people with knowledge about that and the inflation is going on and, you know, what's the forecast for that. A lot of people are hurting. I heard an awful lot over the Thanksgiving break that, you know, prices were high and people were very much upset about that, and they're concerned about our inflation only get worse.

RAJU: Are you going to vote yes to proceed with the bill?

MANCHIN: Well, we have to see what we have.


RAJU: So, there's an expectation that Kyrsten Sinema, the other moderate Democrat, will ultimately get behind this bill. She has voiced potential support privately, she has said things publicly that have been positive to the Democrats, so there's a belief that she'll get on board. But where will Manchin come down? And if they ultimately do get Manchin behind this bill, it will be changed significantly from what the House passed, so that means they would to send it back to the House, get this out and please progressives who are still already concerned about the number of compromises they had to make to pare back what they have wanted at $3.5 trillion to pass the House with roughly $2 trillion.

So, will this all get wrapped up before Christmas, as the Democrat leaders want, still a major question, an uphill lift here in the Senate. Guys?

HILL: Yes, certainly is. Manu Raju, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Meantime, two lawmakers at polar opposites of the political spectrum taking their feud public. Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar and GOP Congresswoman Lauren Boebert did end up speaking by phone on Monday after some horrific Islamophobic comments that Boebert made about Omar surface.


SCIUTTO: So, in that call, Omar asked for a public apology. Boebert refused, instead saying that Omar should apologize to the American people for what she said were anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police statements. The call did little to calm those tensions. Omar said she hung up on Boebert.

CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash has been covering this. And, Dana, it's like the adult equivalent of a schoolyard, I know you are but what am I. I mean, it was not a -- it didn't seem to be an adult apology at all, right? Was there any intention here or are the players here just happy with letting this kind of stuff bubble up in public?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't -- I think that Congresswoman Boebert seems to be happy with it bubbling up in public. She is the one who, to go back to your schoolyard, she started it. I mean, she did. But this is about this particular incident, but it's about so much more. You and I were talking about this before coming on, because this is an extreme version of the anger and the ridiculousness that the rhetoric here in Washington and around the country has gotten to.

But there are so many examples of this that are really troubling, from Debbie Dingell in Michigan getting her district broken into and vandalized to -- that's a Democrat to Republican, Fred Upton and other Republicans having death threats on their voice mails. It has reached a level that is incredibly scary, and there is nobody in the leadership on the Republican side right now trying in a real earnest way to bring the temperature down, and that is what is so troubling.

SCIUTTO: Yes, death threats, I believe, for their votes for bipartisan packages, right?

HILL: Right, and that lack of effort too. It's not only troubling just on a moral front, I guess you could say, or just on a human level, but the other part that is so frustrating and maddening is, really, it all comes down to politics, Dana. This is about I'm not going to say anything, right, because we want to retake the House, we'll use whatever means necessary, and it seems that for Kevin McCarthy, it's about not saying anything publicly because he wants to do everything he can to ideally become speaker.

BASH: That's exactly right. I mean, it's really as simple as that. Now, he has made public through a spokesperson at least over the weekend and late Friday night that he was trying to organize this call. Well, we know now that the call happened and it went horribly. Not only did it not help, it made things worse.

And so the question is whether or not there is any more effort behind the scenes to try to calm it down, because you said it perfectly, Erica. The reality is that Kevin McCarthy wants to be speaker. At the very least, he wants to remain Republican leader depending on what happens in 2022. And he doesn't want to anger or alienate some of the people who will vote to make him that way, even though they are doing outlandish things that most people in the Republican Party, to be fair, think is absolutely beyond the pale.

I mean, whether you're talking to Republican members of Congress or Republican governors, as I have, they all say this has got to stop, but it's another thing when you have a political goal in being Kevin McCarthy, and that is to try to placate this. And there are some people and there are some actions that are not placatable, if that's a word.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just showing basic respect to another human being and their faith.

So, the Boebert-omar divide is between, of course, a Democrat and Republican, but you have it within the Republican Party because you had Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace criticize Boebert's comments, so Marjorie Taylor Greene takes a shot at her.

BASH: Yes. I mean, that's a thing, is that this isn't -- this -- Congresswoman Omar and Congresswoman Boebert are in opposite parties, but this isn't about party. This is about decency. This is about morality. This is about what is wrong and right in setting the tone and the tenor for what should be appropriate discourse. And that is gone.

That is completely gone within the realm of politics right now, and it is because there is -- not only is there no shame in saying these outrageous things, like effectively calling your fellow member of Congress a terrorist, they are applauded for it in their very small silos of the world. And so they are encouraged to keep going.

And there's no other example than the one you showed, which is that even fellow Republicans, new Republicans, like Nancy Mace of South Carolina, she's not exactly a liberal, just the opposite, she's saying this is wrong.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, as you say, it's about respect. And your point is a smart one, that this is not accidental for some to seek political advantage in this, forgetting in the process they're all Americans.

Dana Bash, thanks very much.

BASH: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Ahead, three judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals asking former President Donald Trump's lawyers this morning why he should control his White House records when President Biden says they should be released. The latest from court and when, if at all, those documents will be released, could be released, that's coming up.