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Joe Manchin Blows Up Build Back Better Bill; Omicron Rising. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 20, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello, and thank you for joining me. I'm Victor Blackwell. Alisyn is off.

We are two years into this pandemic, and we're facing another holiday season weighed down by cancellations and restrictions and for a lot of people confusion. Well, right now, the Delta variant makes up 97 percent of the cases in the U.S., but Dr. Anthony Fauci says the very contagious Omicron variant will become the dominant variant or strain in this country in the coming weeks.

Here's some good news, though, from Moderna, some encouraging preliminary data. It suggests that it's COVID booster is effective against the Omicron various.

CNN's Athena Jones has more on the latest COVID developments.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: It is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America bracing for a tough winter. That's beginning to look a lot like last winter. Already in the midst of a Delta surge, the new Omicron variant accounting for just 3 percent of cases, but spreading fast.

FAUCI: This virus is extraordinary. It has a doubling time of anywhere from two to three days. It's going to take over.

JONES: And with just over 60 percent of the country fully vaccinated the White House warning of a season of severe illness for the unvaccinated, the U.S. now averaging 1,200 deaths a day and 130,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, up 10 percent from a week ago, hospitalizations nationwide up 35 percent over last month.

Intensive care unit beds 80 percent full. Cases rising much faster in parts of the Midwest, the South and the Northeast. Ohio's governor deploying over 1,000 National Guard members to overstretched hospitals there. In Miami, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship docking over the weekend with 48 people testing positive for COVID.

New York setting a record for new cases for the third day in a row on Sunday. New York City, an early epicenter of the pandemic, seeing a spike in cases official say is being driven by Omicron.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We have to move faster. That's why we're focusing even more on vaccination. And we do know that vaccination helps address Omicron.

JONES: The city set that aside this week whether to go forward with its famed New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, testing lines hours long throughout this city, as officials plan to begin distributing half-a-million rapid tests through community groups as early as today.

New COVID infections also upending the worlds of sports, entertainment and education in recent days, forcing "Saturday Night Live" to cancel its live studio audience and the Radio City Rockettes to cancel the rest of the season, this after multiple Broadway shows from "Hamilton" to "Harry Potter" canceled performances due to COVID cases.

The NBA, NHL and NFL also postponing games due to COVID issues, and the NFL now changing its testing protocols, no longer requiring testing of asymptomatic, fully vaccinated players.

COVID striking Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and members of Congress, with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Colorado Congressman Jason Crow all testing positive for the virus.

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH: Right now, you need that third dose. I wish we'd stopped calling it a booster. It's a three-dose vaccine.


JONES: And with doctors reminding us that basic mitigation measures like masking can help stop COVID spread, Washington, D.C.'s mayor is reinstating an indoor air mask order she had only lifted at the end of November.

D.C. is experiencing its highest daily coronavirus case count since the pandemic began. The new order will be in place starting Tuesday, December 28, lasting through the end of January -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Athena Jones for us, thank you so much.

Let's bring in our CNN medical analyst and former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore Dr. Leana Wen.

Dr. Wen, good to see you again.

Let's start here with what we have learned from South Africa on Omicron. Again, the surge we're seeing is Delta, but Omicron is spreading here. We heard this morning from the doctor, who says they're on the back end of their slope. That is a steep mountain, but a very narrow one. What should we glean from what we're seeing in South Africa?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I would love for the U.S. to also have the experience of South Africans, specifically of the Gauteng, province, where Johannesburg is, where this doctor this morning, Dr. Coetzee, was reporting from.

It would be great if we could see a rapid spike followed by a rapid downward trajectory. The problem, though, is we don't know whether the experience from South Africa would apply here. The population in South Africa is a lot younger than here in the U.S. Also, it's expected that a lot more people in South Africa were exposed during earlier waves.

And we have deep pockets within the U.S. of lots of unvaccinated individuals. And so I think it's too soon to say what's going to happen, and the most important thing that can be done now is for us to take additional precautions, including, for those people who are still waiting on that booster shot, what are you waiting for?


Please get that booster now.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the Moderna booster.

The company says -- again, this has not been published, not peer- reviewed. But they say that that booster shot, the Moderna shot, increases significantly antibodies in the fight against Omicron. Is this news we have been waiting for? Is it still too soon to know the effectiveness?

WEN: I think it is the news that we're waiting for, because we're seeing this consistently for Pfizer as well, that we know it looks like two doses of the vaccine still protect you against severe disease.

But the protection against symptomatic disease declines a lot. But that's restored with a third dose. I hope that we will continue to see these results as well, but, again, more information weighing in favor of getting a booster at this point.

BLACKWELL: All right, as we're seeing the trajectory of numbers here, this is a time when we try to get people answers to their specific questions.

So I have asked people on Twitter and Instagram to send me their questions @VictorBlackwell.

And let's go through a few of them.

I'm going to start with Michael, who says: "How long does it take for the full effect of a Moderna booster to go through?"

Let's start with there, that question.

WEN: Yes, what we have said is, if you are considered to be fully vaccinated, this is prior to the booster, that it's two weeks after your second shot. And it looks like for the booster dose that that would be similar as well. So you do get a protective effect even after a few days. But, ideally,

you're considered to be fully boosted, if you will, two weeks after that booster dose.

BLACKWELL: All right, there's a second question from Michael here: "What do you recommend for gatherings with infants, who cannot yet be vaccinated?"

I know you have two young children who are under 5.

WEN: That's right.

And so I would say to use additional precautions, because we're dealing with something that's so contagious at this point. The whole idea of herd immunity is that you're surrounding the person who cannot be vaccinated with others who are fully vaccinated. So, ideally, everybody around you, everybody around the infant is fully vaccinated and boosted.

Also, I would take additional precautions because this is an infant that we're talking about with very little immune protection. And so I would have everybody who is going to be visiting the infant be tested right before the visit, in addition to being fully vaccinated.

If there are unvaccinated people there, if you're not able to get rapid tests, I would not see the infant indoors, I would try to visit outdoors only. And if you have to be indoors for some reason, everybody should be wearing a high-quality respirator, N95 or KN95 mask, around this infant.

BLACKWELL: OK, next question here from Marcus.

I know Marcus. Hey, Marcus.

"With more people getting at-home COVID tests, how soon after exposure can a person test positive with the at-home test?" Good question.

WEN: Yes, it is a very good question.

So the at-home tests are not perfect. No test, frankly, is. But we should not let perfect be the enemy of the good, in that what the at- home test does is it shows whether you are infectious, you are carrying enough virus, so that you're able to infect other people at that very specific point in time.

So there's no point in getting a test three days ago and saying, well, I had a negative test three days ago. No, you really should be getting a test right before you're seeing somebody or getting together with friends.

As to when you would want to get that test after exposure, usually you get a positive result three days after exposure. So if you just got exposed to somebody who has COVID, don't get tested right now. Wait three days. And in that period of time, quarantine yourself or if you're fully vaccinated at least make sure that you're wearing a mask, especially in public places and around vulnerable people. BLACKWELL: Mayor de Blasio says that the city has yet -- not yet made

a decision if it will cancel the Times Square event for crowds to show up.

Right now, you have to be vaccinated, show proof of vaccination if they hold it. But for people who are considering going there to the peach drop in Atlanta or any of these similar events across the country, what would your advice to them be, go, not go, or if you're vaccinated, you're fine? What do you think?

WEN: Well, I do not think that Mayor Blasio should be canceling the New York City event because it requires proof of vaccination and it's outdoors.

We should be keeping the events that are safe and also the events that have fun for people too. We can't be canceling everything, especially if we're going to be living with COVID for the foreseeable future.

I would say that if you choose to go, make sure that you're vaccinated and boosted, make sure that you're wearing a mask, even though it's outdoors, if there are lots of people packed around you, wearing a three-ply surgical mask. Don't wear a cloth mask.

Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There's no place for them in light of Omicron. And so wear a high-quality mask, at least a three-ply surgical mask. And if you're going to be visiting elderly relatives or immunocompromised people after, wait three days, get tested, and then see those vulnerable.


BLACKWELL: Yes, don't cancel everything fun. That's the headline I got there from you, Dr. Wen.

Thanks so much for being with us.

WEN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, to that point, the spike in cases is happening just as a lot of people are getting together for these holiday events.

And some new polling shows that people are just tired of mitigation measures. And this is bipartisan; 64 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Democrats tell Monmouth University that they're worn out by the changes to daily life.

And the number of people who are willing to social distance today vs. a year ago dropped by more than 30 percent.

Let's bring in Brian Stelter on this point.

Brian, I was out in Harlem on Saturday, and less than a block from one another, there was a storefront COVID testing location, a mobile COVID testing location, maybe 40 people in each line. But we also know they were long lines to see the new "Spider-Man" movie this weekend too.


And that is our new reality. There's long lines, people crowding into movie theaters, at the same time there are long lines for testing. I mean, this is the kind of confusing moment we're in with COVID, where different people are taking different choices, taking different steps.

And I think I certainly have sometimes fallen victim to this, maybe you have too, Victor, where you feel like everyone taking more precautions in you is being overly careful, and then everyone taking fewer precautions is reckless and ignorant.

And I think we have got to let each other have some slack in this moment, because different people are making different choices about their risk, based on who they're seeing, whether they're seeing elderly loved ones this Christmas, whether they already been tested, whether they have just gotten sick and recovered.

We all need to give each other some grace and have some humility in this moment, because different people are going to make different risk assessments at this point. I'm kind of assuming everyone's going to get COVID at this point. I want everyone who gets COVID to be boosted, so they have a good chance of just having a bad -- a couple bad days in bed and then getting over it.

But aren't you seeing the same thing, where people are making very different risk choices? Because we now know what COVID is. It's no longer a mystery, like it was in March of 2020. And that's why the movie theaters have reopened and people are able to get on with life while taking some precautions.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the degree of risk that I may be willing to take as a single man who lives alone certainly should not match up to yours, as someone who has two young children and a wife at home and those who have elderly parents as well. We do have to give each other some grace.

STELTER: Yes, I think that's what it really is about this point, because we can see what's going to happen in the next few weeks.

There is going to be a tremendous amount of case growth. It is clear in New York City. It's clear in other major cities. Some of what we saw in the South is now trending upward. We're going to see this in many states in the next few weeks.

And we have got to understand people are going to make different choices. And we have got to give each other, I think, the room to do that. I love what Dr. Wen said about New Year's. You can't cancel everything. Do what is going to be able to be safer.

And that's going to be the new normal that we have been wondering about for a while. I also think it's going to become less about case counts and much more about hospitalizations.


STELTER: If it is the case that right now -- I have got 10 or 12 friends who have COVID right now. That feels like -- that feels like New York City right now. The positive cases are everywhere. And that's true in other major cities as well.

So, in that environment, in this dynamic, it's going to be different than it was a year ago with COVID-19.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the Washington team reporting that the White House may be shifting toward counting severe cases, not just new daily cases.

STELTER: Exactly. Yes.

BLACKWELL: We will see what we hear from the president as he makes this speech about Omicron tomorrow;.

Brian Stelter, good to see you.

STELTER: You too, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Senator Joe Manchin, he's blaming White House staffers for their handling of the Build Back Better negotiations after he delivered a potentially fatal blow to the Democrats' spending bill.

The White House is now responding. We will have that for you.

Also, in Minneapolis, the jury is now deliberating in the trial of Kim Potter. She's the former police officer who says she mistook her gun for her Taser and killed Daunte Wright. We will talk about what lawyers on both sides of the case are doing to close this case. We have got the highlights of closing arguments.



BLACKWELL: Democrats are now trying to find a path forward today, after Senator Joe Manchin announced that he would vote no on the Build Back Better Act.

Manchin's decision essentially kills the president's cornerstone social safety net bill. The White House blasted Manchin for his announcement. Today, he defended his decision. He says that he's been telling fellow Democrats exactly where he stood all along.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I was at 1.5 from the beginning. I gave Schumer exactly the philosophical beliefs and the amount of money that I thought we could raise in it to pay for everything.

So they have had that from day one on July -- in July 2020 of this year. He's had that. And he never shared it with anybody. Now they're saying, well, I never told anybody.

I says, my goodness, everyone's known. I have spoken so many times on television and telling people where I am. I have a problem.


BLACKWELL: CNN's Phil Mattingly is at the White House.

So what is the plan from here? You're hearing some optimistic notes from Speaker Pelosi, some other Democrats in leadership. Where do they go?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think the best encapsulation that I have gotten in the last 24 hours was from a Democratic senator I was speaking to a short while ago, Victor, who said, take a breath.

That is where Democrats need to go from what's transpired over the course of the last 24 hours. When you listen to what leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a letter to his colleagues this morning, one thing is clear. Nobody's giving up, whether it's the White House or Democratic leaders.

The big question now is, particularly given the fireworks and the scathing comments going back and forth over the course of the last day, whether or not they can actually get things back on track.


When you talk to Democrats both here at the White House and on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue in the Capitol, they believe there is still not only going to be an effort but also a potential pathway with Senator Joe Manchin. There were areas that Senator Manchin was supportive of.

They might need to change the length of the areas. They might need to change what's actually in the bill, perhaps the duration of them. But there were potential areas of agreement there. There's no question about that. I think the real question right now is, is Senator Manchin done completely? And if they want to try and figure out a way to a deal here, do they need to restart everything altogether, or can negotiations continue after everybody breathes a little bit and perhaps enjoy some holidays?

That's the open question right now. It'll be very interesting to see what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says when she starts her briefing in about 10 minutes, particularly given it will be the first thing we have heard from the White House since that scathing 700-word statement yesterday.


And I wonder how much that statement, if there is something to be salvaged, hurt that effort that could start at the beginning of the year,

Phil Mattingly at the White House for us, thanks so much. Let's bring in Margaret Talev, CNN political analyst and managing

editor for Axios, and Ron Brownstein, a CNN senior political analyst and a senior editor for "The Atlantic."

Welcome to you both.

I want to play more of this radio interview that Senator Manchin did today in which he talks about some of the strategy that progressives and potentially the White House here too took to try to get him to come on board.Listen.


MANCHIN: They just never realized it, because they figured surely to God we can move one person. Surely, we can badger and beat one person up. Surely, we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough they will just say, OK, I will vote for anything and just quit.

Well, guess what? I'm from West Virginia. I'm not from where they're from, and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they will be submissive, period.


BLACKWELL: Margaret, the strategy that we saw from progressives was, of course, to try to pressure Manchin. He says, I have been at the same place since March.

And as I mentioned with Phil there, how does this statement from Jen Psaki play if that's the Manchin they have got to negotiate with?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, Victor, it's really complicating messaging, isn't it?

I mean, Senator Manchin obviously is right. He's not running for president. He doesn't hold a nationwide political office. He's a senator in the state that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. So when progressives come after him, and he pushes back, that actually helps him among his actual constituents where he will have to stand for reelection.

I do think the White House's calculation, though, is that they needed to push back with the same sort of aggressiveness or force that they felt that his message had been delivered. And that's for two reasons. Number one, the White House is feeling, most Democrats feeling you don't accidentally stumble into FOX News to make a Sunday interview that blows everything up a few days before Christmas.

That's a deliberate -- that is a deliberate process. And the other that, of course, Biden has to consider his audience, and his audience is not just the national electorate, but his base. His base was demanding an aggressive response in kind to Manchin's move.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Ron, when you consider what we heard from Senator Manchin there, we

know that Leader Schumer says there's going to be a vote on Build Back Better. And this is what we heard from Senator Sanders that he wants to see happen with and I guess to or for Senator Manchin. Let's play it.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): If he doesn't have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no, in front of the whole world.


BLACKWELL: OK, I mean, I don't know why that should be like some consequence or that progressives think that Manchin would be embarrassed by this vote.

He's been in the same place and he has said the same thing for months now.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I don't think a public vote really is the lever.

But with all due respect to the senator, his statement that you played was absurd. It was ridiculous. I mean, the idea that the only thing that Democrats have done is try to bully him on this is ludicrous. I mean, they basically allowed him to rewrite the bill, in terms of its size, in terms of its energy provisions. They have gone double, triple backflips to try to find a formula that would be acceptable to him, in the knowledge that he is one person with the party.

And that is a part of what makes this so remarkable, Victor. I mean, I think, if you did a census at this point of every elected Democrat, from mayor, to governor, to House member, to senator, to the guy who ran and got 81 million votes for president, they would all be in favor of passing something along the lines of what the House did.

And Joe Manchin is basically saying at this point that my view as part of this big collective should outweigh everybody else, especially when he is in a state -- I mean, you talked about the question of whether the progressives can pressure him.

I mean, West Virginia is a state that ranks 44th in child poverty. It ranks 45th in extreme child poverty. It ranks 49th in the share of white kids who are in poverty. And the projections are that this bill would have cut child already in the state in half.


So, I mean, there is that pressure within the state too, that reality. It's 50 percent above the national average in diabetes, big winner in the provision of limiting insulin costs that are in the bill.

So he is making a very conscious choice to make a statement, as he has done before, of identifying himself as the rock in the road blocking liberal Democratic priorities. But the losers on that are not just progressives in San Francisco and New York. It's a lot of low-income families in West Virginia.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Margaret.


BLACKWELL: Go ahead. Go ahead.

TALEV: Well, I was going to say I think, if you take Manchin at his word, and many people won't at this point, but if you take Manchin at his word, he's saying he's not opposed to a lot of these programs, although he does -- has taken issue with some, including the child tax credit, and the way that that would be structured.

But what he's saying is that he doesn't want the funding for two or three years, and that he wants to have a better understanding of who's able to take advantage of it, so that middle- class or wealthier people aren't taking advantage of programs that really should be just dedicated to poor people like his constituents.

So there's some nuance there in his messaging, but, right now, no one's negotiating the details, because, right now, this is all sort of roadkill.

BLACKWELL: Ron, let me come back to you with this.

Immediately after we heard from Manchin that he is a no on this, Goldman Sachs downgraded its GDP outlook for the first quarter, that it would go from they believe 3 percent growth to 2 percent growth, downgraded second and third quarter as well.

Politically, I mean, aside from the no that Manchin is, the economic blow that that would be for this party and for the White House in an election year.

BROWNSTEIN: The economic blow and the political blow are both enormous, right?

I mean, if you're talking about the signature economic agenda item of a new president, they have often gone through turbulent waters, as you know, Victor and Margaret knows. I mean, there are a lot of near-death experiences on these big bills. But in the end, Reagan passed his tax cut, Clinton passed his budget, Bush passed his tax cut, Obama passed his stimulus plan, Trump passed his tax cut.

In the end, usually, a president gets their core economic plan through in the first year. And if Manchin sort of single-handedly is willing to sink this, he will do so I think in the full knowledge that he will greatly increase both the economic and political risk for Democrats in 2022.

And don't forget, if he runs for reelection, it will be in a presidential year, so, unless he is thinking about changing parties, which doesn't seem to be a real plausible option, given his opposition to the Trump tax cuts and his support for convicting Trump in the past, he is going to be on the ballot as part of a referendum on this administration.

So he is making a very calculated choice here with enormous risk for the country, for his constituents and for his party.


Margaret, for the White House, this blow on the agenda, the legislative agenda coincides with the timing of this new surge. Delta is surging. Omicron is spreading. The president was inarguably elected in large part to get the country on better footing in this fight against the pandemic.

And there is a correlation between the numbers and the trends of those cases and hospitalizations and deaths and his approval numbers.

TALEV: It's 100 percent true for President Biden and in a shorter term for the Democratic Party.

The question is, what are you running for reelection on? What are you running on? His hope was to be able to say, we got COVID under control, we got the economy back on track. Omicron is putting a wrench in those plans for President Biden.

It's very complicated to argue, well, thank goodness I helped make the vaccine available to everybody. It would be so much worse if you didn't have the vaccine. That's a difficult argument to viscerally make to the public.

And so with the supply chain problems, the inflation problems, if you're the president, the buck stops with you. These are intractable problems. They're very difficult to turn around. But that is his lot in life. And so he would like to be able to say, both the infrastructure bill which has already passed and some of these BBB provisions, he would very much like to be able to run on those.

The longer the delays, the more out of reach that will be for him.

BLACKWELL: All right, we will see what the path is forward on Omicron and the pandemic, tomorrow, the president giving an important address on that.

Margaret Talev, Ron Brownstein, good to see you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, the jury in the Kim Potter manslaughter trial is deliberating right now, after several hours of closing arguments from attorneys.

The prosecution calls the shooting death of Daunte Wright a colossal screw-up. We will tell you how the defense responded.

But, first, here's a look at some other events we're watching today.