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Former Biden Advisers: Chang COVID Strategy to Face New Normal; Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments on Vaccine and Testing Mandates; Judge Dismisses Groping Charge Against Former Governor Cuomo; Actor, Activist Sidney Poitier Dead at Age 94; Ted Cruz Begs Fox's Tucker Carlson for Forgiveness After Calling January 6 Capitol Riot a Terrorist Attack. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 07, 2022 - 15:30   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Today the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on President Biden's COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandates. The court appears to be open to mandates for health care workers, but some justices seem more skeptical of the president's vaccine requirements for workers at large companies. And today, the president spoke about the pandemic. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't think COVID is here to stay. But having COVID in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay. But COVID as we're dealing with it now is not here to stay. The new normal doesn't have to be. We have so many more tools we're developing.


BLACKWELL: Andy Slavitt is a former senior adviser to the Biden administration COVID response. Andy, good to have you back. First, if you could expound on what we heard there from the president, that he says that COVID is going to be in the world, it's just not here to stay as it is. Where is this transition happening? And that sets me up for the next question. Let's start there.

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION COVID RESPONSE: Well, I think it's about science and the development of the tools that we have. You know, COVID may be around but when we have great intelligence capabilities, tests that are readily available, boosters, NFP viral, it won't feel like the threat it is today. We'll still have to watch for when COVID happens and when it's more dangerous than not, but I think what the president is saying is the day will come whether we will have the ability to out match what comes at us.

BLACKWELL: Well, let me bring in the six former administration advisers or officials who say that the administration needs to start doing the work to hasten that day, to transition from the pandemic to the endemic. They published these pieces just yesterday. Let's start with this from Zeke Emanuel. It's really potent and concise. Where he says, without a strategic

plan for the new normal with the endemic COVID-19, more people will unnecessarily experience morbidity, and mortality, health inequities will widen, trillions will be lost from the economy.

They say in part that, you know, the tests that you talk about, they're not linked to the right data, that the test results, they're not linked to the outcomes overall. There aren't enough of them. They're too expensive. You say what?

SLAVITT: Well, I think first of all, I think those are not former administration officials. I think those are all people who worked on the transition. All smart people. All with good public profiles, and all make, you know, very smart points.


And I think, you know, we should be looking at all kinds of criticism and input as we figure out how we move our way forward. I read some of those pieces and there's good points in them.

But, you know, I think fundamentally, a lot of the criticism that we do receive or do hear about come across the economy, comes down to, why didn't we anticipate this better. Why didn't we know that Delta was coming? Why did we know that Omicron was coming?

And we are sitting here with the day when we have an estimated millions of people a day getting diagnosed is very hard to imagine having anywhere near the capacity. Either of tests or doctors and nurses to require in every city in America to be able to keep up with that. It's just an extraordinary tsunami.

So, look, I think criticism is always welcome. There's some good thoughts in those pieces, but, you know, I think people are just generally frustrated that this is a pandemic we have not been able to predict and get our hands around.

BLACKWELL: But some of the criticism is not focused on being able to predict Delta and Omicron. It's the availability of N95, KN95 masks and vouchers for those or actually connecting the test results to the sociodemographic information as we heard from some of the critics. Where they say that it's not connected to vaccination status or clinical outcomes. That's important irrespective of Omicron or Delta, is it not?

SLAVITT: Yes, I think these are good ideas, and you know they are the kinds of ideas that if we implement them will help us. They don't help us manage a wave. They will help us manage a steady state much better. And I think that the nature -- and I talked to some of the people who put those pieces together -- I think the nature of what they're suggesting is we need a plan to come out of COVID just as we needed one to manage through the pandemic. And those ideas, making sure we have surveillance, making sure that if people get a positive test, it gets recorded in the right place so we can get them the therapeutic.

All of those are the right kinds of ideas to lay out this next stage, and that's how I looked at the work that Dr. Emanuel put out and some of the others.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the oral arguments before the Supreme Court today about the president's vaccine and testing mandates. You're facing a pretty skeptical conservative majority. Chief Justice Roberts is sometimes hard to read. But let's listen to what we heard from -- let's start with the chief justice today.


CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT: You're saying that Congress acted, don't complain that Congress hasn't done anything, and that -- you know, that was 50 years ago, that you're saying Congress acted. I don't think it had COVID in mind. That was almost closer to the Spanish flu than it is to today's problem.

Now, I understand the idea that agencies are more expert than Congress, and I understand the idea that they can move more quickly than Congress, but this is something that the federal government has never done before, right. Mandated vaccine coverage.


BLACKWELL: Now, Andy, if the court rejects the administration's position, it says that this is something for Congress, this is something for states, how do you then get the tens of millions of holdouts who are eligible to get vaccinated?

SLAVITT: Well, it's ironic that the Justices are sitting in a building where you're required to be vaccinated and tested and masked to be in the building and they don't -- they're not willing to support OSHA, it's very simply trying to say as the 1970 statute allows them to say, that if you go into a workplace that you should be entitled to the same protection as the Chief Justice and other justices are.

So, I really home that despite the tough questioning, they do win through that. There's no question on the other side that the CMS has the ability, that Medicare has the ability to say hospital workers have to be vaccinated to take care of Medicare patients. Myself and a Republican counterpart of mine who also ran Medicare and Medicaid, put out something in the "Washington Post" that said exactly that.

So, I'm hopeful that these cases are going to turn out the right away. And when we're dealing with the pandemic at the stage and size that it is, it's almost unbelievable that there are states that are willing to question our ability to keep the public safe when our hospitals are overflowing. So, this has to be dealt with. This has to be -- we can't take the power away from people who are trying to protect us.

BLACKWELL: All right. Andy Slavitt, good to see you again. Thank you.

SLAVITT: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was in court today virtually. His first public appearance since stepping down. A judge dismissed the criminal charge the former governor was facing. We'll talk more about why ahead. [15:40:00]


BLACKWELL: Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just appeared at a virtual court hearing in Albany today where a city court judge just dismissed a forcible touching complaint against Cuomo for allegedly groping a former aide.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is following this story. So, Brynn, here's what I don't understand. If the prosecutor earlier said that there would be no prosecution of this case, why was there a hearing today?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, just maybe a formality. We were actually surprised that even the former governor would have to appear for that hearing. It was all virtual, lasted ten minutes, Victor, and the former Governor, Andrew Cuomo was only on camera for even like two seconds just to acknowledge that he was there.

But that's exactly what happened at this hearing was the judge essentially just dropped this single misdemeanor forcible touching charge. Which we expected to happen. Because earlier this week, the Albany County district attorney had filed a statement saying that he did not believe he was going to be able to meet the burden of proof needed to really win this case if it ever went to a trial in court. Saying though that the accuser in this, Brittany Commisso, a former aide to the former Governor Andrew Cuomo was credible and cooperative.

So, right after that hearing, I can tell you that Andrew Cuomo's personal attorney came on to a different news conference and essentially touted that this was a win for the governor. Now, I wouldn't go that far. Because listen, he has had some success when it comes to the cases so far. This was the only charge to actually go to that point, a charge. Other district attorneys in other counties who were looking into allegations, they have decided to not move forward. But there are still two federal probes that are still going on, one for the nursing home, you know, scandal, basically, and one for the sexual harassment allegations.


And in response to the charge being dropped, her attorney -- Commisso -- said in part this, the only thing she has any power over is her resolution to continue to speak the truth and seek justice in appropriate civil action which she will do in due course. So, of course, we will probably see this continue in the civil court instead now -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: We will watch it there. Brynn Gingras, thank you.


BLACKWELL: Well, sad news today, arguably, Hollywood's first leading man, black leading man, legendary actor, director and longtime activist, Sidney Poitier has died at the age of 94. He became the first black male and Bahamian actor to win the Academy Award for best actor for his role in 1963, the movie, "Lilies of the Field."


SIDNEY POITIER, ACTOR: Well, it's English lesson time, I build a chapel.

NUNS: I build a chapel.

POITIER: You build a chapel.

NUNS: You build a chapel.

POITIER: Oh, we build a chapel.

NUNS: We build the chapel.

NUN: He build the chapel.



BLACKWELL: Well, beyond his movie roles, Portier was a human rights trail blazer in the civil rights movement, and in 2009, President Barak Obama awarded Portier the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. We'll be right back.



BLACKWELL: Senator Ted Cruz is apologizing for calling a thing a thing. Here's the story. Wednesday, he called January 6th a violent terrorist attack. But his comments drew a lot of criticism from the far-right so he went on Tucker Carlson's show last night and asked for forgiveness.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy, and it was frankly dumb. And --

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: I don't buy that. Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don't buy that. Look, I've known you a long time since before you went to the Senate.

CRUZ: I wasn't saying that the thousands of peaceful protesters supporting Donald Trump are somehow terrorists. I wasn't saying the millions of patriots across the country supporting President Trump are terrorists. And that's what a lot of people have misunderstood that comment.

CARLSON: Well, wait a second. But even -- wait, hold on, what you just said doesn't make sense.

CRUZ: I was talking about people who commit violence against cops and you and I both agree, if you commit violence against cops, you should go to jail.

CARLSON: Yes, but you're not a terrorist. You know, you're not. You're a guy who assaulted a cop. OK, so that there's a legal difference, as you well know.

CRUZ: I've used that word for people that violently assault cops. I use that word all in 2020 for the Antifa and BLM terrorists that assaulted cops and firebombed police cars. But I agree. It was a mistake to use the word yesterday.



BLACKWELL: I mean it's uncomfortable to even watch. Let's bring in CNN chief media correspondent, host of Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter. Brian, he -- that went on for seven minutes where he tried to get forgiveness from Tucker Carlson for calling a thing a thing.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST OF RELIABLE SOURCES: Right. Cruz folded like a paper airplane. I think what it shows is the Republican messaging about being tough on crime, which is something that's gone back decades that Cruz was trying to lean into has come up against this denial of the January 6th crime.

So, you have Tucker Carlson trying to take a position that what we saw with our own eyes didn't really happen. Or not that many police officers were injured, even though some of the officers that were attacked that day still can't get back to work because the injuries were so severe.

But Carlson's in such profound denial about that, Victor, that he has to put on this performance, and Cruz, absolutely begged for forgiveness.

About a year ago, media reporters like yours truly start started to say Tucker Carlson is the new Donald Trump. And I've never seen a bit of proof that's better than this. This is the ultimate example of Tucker Carlson's power. He essentially now runs the GOP media and as we think about the midterms in 2024, there's going to be a Tucker Carlson primary. And you just saw what it's going to be like. It's going to be this kind of obsession with sticking to the party orthodoxy and denying the reality of the riot.

BLACKWELL: You know, what was remarkable, the detail, was that Senator Cruz asked to come on to apologize. That he wanted to come on the Tucker's show to say, I'm so sorry that I called terrorists, terrorists.

STELTER: Exactly. And that speaks to the level of denialism within the GOP. When you cross this apparent line of talking about the terror of that day.

By the way, you know, we know hundreds of people inside the Capitol experienced terror. Whether you label people terrorists, that is complicated, absolutely. But it was an act of terror that was forced upon these Capitol Hill staffers, lawmakers, et cetera.

But you know this is really about the level of denialism that we're seeing. Fox News, Newsmax, other right-wing outlets tried to cover yesterday as little as possible. They did the bare minimum to cover the anniversary. And then Carlson in primetime absolutely punishes Cruz for stepping out of line on this issue. It is unfortunately a statement about where the party is when it comes to this attack.

BLACKWELL: All right, Brian Stelter, good to see you.

STELTER: You too.

BLACKWELL: CNN political analyst Natasha Alford is here. She is VP of digital content at TheGrio. Also, with us CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Scott, of course, I'm starting with you. What did you see in that exchange between Senator Cruz and Tucker Carlson, and what does that say about your party?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what I saw was someone who should understand that you don't have to say yes to all television appearances. I mean this was the worst seven minutes of an idea that I have seen.

And I understand, like you think you have gotten on the wrong side of your base so you go on TV to try to fix it. But in this particular case if you watch the whole thing, Tucker Carlson wasn't letting him get away with it.

So, the people that he angered are not going to be any happier with him today and the people who think what he was trying to clean up that the whole thing was ridiculous are going to think he's even more ridiculous. So, what did you actually achieve?

Final issue, this is someone who has run for president and clearly wants to run for president again. Did anybody see a president in this media clip?


I certainly didn't. I mean can you imagine a possible commander in chief sitting in the Oval Office on bended knee, groveling, begging for forgiveness about using a word that, by the way, is a legitimate description of something that happened that we all witnessed on television. So, all around, terrible, dumb, crappy clip and not a great day for Cruz-world in my opinion.

BLACKWELL: Natasha, I started with Scott because he's a Republican. The question was what does it tell us about his party? The answer he gave me was specifically about Ted Cruz. And I understand that, but what do you see that this says about the Republican Party?

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I also think of Ted Cruz when I watch this clip and I feel that he -- this is what happens when you try to be two different people in two different arenas, right. And I think it reveals that Ted Cruz knows the truth. He knows the truth that terrorists stormed the Capitol that day but he's not allowed to speak the truth in these conservative circles, and that is the reflection of what is happening in the Republican Party and in this right-wing media space.

The truth is not allowed only an alternative truth is allowed. And it's essentially a pulpit. If you do not bow down and kiss the ring, you know, in terms of Trump world, you are excommunicated.

And so, Tucker Carlson, he embodies white grievance politics. You know, he's talked about conspiracy theories, compared, you know, masks to child abuse. He's so extreme and yet something as simple as a fact, stating that terrorism is terrorism, that's too much for him to handle.

BLACKWELL: Scott, it's the day after the one-year mark of the insurrection. And during the moment of silence, the official proceedings there on the House floor, there were only two Republicans, Congresswoman Liz Cheney and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. You disappointed that there weren't more Republicans there or do you think that it was smart to stay away?

JENNINGS: No, I wasn't disappointed. I didn't think much about it, first of all, a huge chunk of Senate Republicans were in Georgia at the funeral of Senator Johnny Isakson their colleague who had passed away. And most of the House Republicans because the House was not in session, were back home in their districts.

So no, I wasn't terribly disappointed. Look, by the way, I wasn't, Victor, dodging your question on the other issue. My point was to say to try to go on television and to think that your future position in a party is based on trying to define a singular word to describe an event. I mean it does tell us something about how people are viewing this.

And I think incorrectly. Because there's going to be a reckoning on January the 6th-type issues. It's not going to manifest itself in the midterms but in the 2024 race, the Republican Party is going to be asking for the responsibility of governing this country and having the most awesome power in the land again. The commander in chief. The most awesome political power in the world, really, in the free world.

And if we're not willing to call it like we saw it and Ted Cruz previously did. And now he's trying redefine it. It does tell you something about the people who seek to lead this party. But I think they are making a bad bet. And it's not going to be a winning bet in 2024.

BLACKWELL: Natasha, I spoke with the head of DNC, Jaime Harrison, last hour. And we talked about this pending vote, the vote that's coming up for -- on the filibuster potentially to make some progress on voting rights. And I read in Politico today that the president's allies are employing a lot of people to try to convince Senator Manchin. One of them Oprah Winfrey. Now if Oprah couldn't convince Senator Manchin, I don't know who can -- I'm joking there. But do you see that there really is any progress? He's heard from every advocacy group, colleague, former president and he's not budging.

ALFORD: Listen, I know Oprah is a king and queenmaker, OK. We know that she had a huge influence in terms of endorsing Barack Obama.


ALFORD: And even introducing him to people who didn't know who he was until she spoke his name. But I think Joe Manchin is answering to a power even higher than Oprah. Right? We're talking about corporate lobbyists. We're talking about somebody who -- Joe Manchin has made very clear where he stands.

And I'm just confused as to why we sort of keep coming back to this question of will he change. He has given the impression that he was open to negotiating on Build Back Better and completely went back to his original stance. He's been clear that he does not want to change rules unless it is done on a bipartisan basis.

So, if someone has shown you who they are, why do you keep hoping that somehow, they will change? That's the part that's sort of frustrating to me. I understand that voting rights are very popular, but what is your game plan when Joe Manchin says, look, I said what I said.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Scott, last one here. We've got 15 seconds. Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State lost 90 pounds. Of course, he's running for president, right?

JENNINGS: Oh, it seems like it and good for him by the way. Because having done some of that in my life, it's not easy to do. By the way, Joe Manchin answers to the people of West Virginia. And he's a lot more popular than Joe Biden is.

BLACKWELL: Listen, I've done the same thing. 90 pounds ain't easy.

"THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now. Thank you both.