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Children Hospitalized At Record Rates And Hospitals Reaching Capacity In States Across U.S. Due To Omicron Surge; Honoring The Life And legacy Of Former Senator Harry Reid; Russian President Vladimir Putin Speaks With Kazakh President After Violent Clashes Between Government Security Forces And Protestors In Kazakhstan; U.S. Negotiating With Russia To Stop Potential Invasion Of Ukraine; January 6th Select Committee Continues Investigations Into Trump Circle Regarding Possible Knowledge Of Planned Insurrection; Workers Quitting Low Wage Jobs In Record Numbers In U.S. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired January 08, 2022 - 14:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden is already there. What's expected at this service today.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, the service is just getting underway right now. As you said, President Biden, first lady Jill Biden, former President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and many more Democrats here to pay tribute and honor to the lifetime and legacy of former Senator Harry Reid.

This is going to be a service that will be opened up with remarks from one of his 19 grandchildren. All five of his children also expected to speak, as well as a eulogy from former President Barack Obama. So certainly, Harry Reid during his three decades in the Senate, a fiercely partisan Democrat. But here in Las Vegas, here in Nevada, he's remembered simply as someone who brought a lot back to this state.

He also had relationships that crossed party lines. He was a very close friend with Sheldon Adelson, of course, the late casino magnate who was one of the biggest supporters of former President Donald Trump. Of course, Sheldon Adelson passed away about a year ago, but there are people attending the service today who worked alongside Sheldon Adelson because they, too, were friends with Harry Reid.

So he's a bit of a throwback, if you will. His relationships crossed the aisle, and he certainly has a lifetime, a long list of legislative achievements. But President Obama is likely to say in his eulogy, to give credit to Harry Reid for encouraging him to run for president back in 2006.

Of course, I was covering young Senator Obama at the time and remember those conversations. It seemed foolhardy at the time because Hillary Clinton was running, Joe Biden was running, Chris Dodd was running, John Edwards as well, so many Senators. But it was the young Barack Obama from Illinois who Harry Reid saw something in and encouraged him to run for president, and of course the rest, in that sense, is history.

So Fredricka, certainly a poignant memorial service here, words from two American presidents and many other Democratic leaders as they celebrate the life of Harry Reid. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much. We'll check back with you as we continue to watch these live pictures now inside as the memorial is about to get underway.

With me right now also to talk more about the life and times of the late Harry Reid is David Axelrod, as we watch the casket being brought into the sanctuary. David Axelrod is a CNN political commentator and host of "The Axe Files." Also with us, chief CNN political correspondent Dana Bash. Good to see both of you.

As we watch and listen to this very somber moment -- actually, let's take a pause for a moment, Dana, before I ask you a question.

As we see President Biden bowing his head with the casket there draped in the American flag, with the late Majority Leader Harry Reid, Dana Bash with me, David Axelrod, and even Jeff Zeleny is still outside as well.

Dana, let me talk to you about the relationship -- here we're looking at the president who spent decades in the U.S. Senate, and now paying honor and homage to the late majority leader. Talk about their relationship and how they learned from one another with their style of leadership, how President Biden is likely to pay tribute to Harry Reid today.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are both men of the United States Senate, creatures of the Senate. And Harry Reid became Senate majority leader not because he was an amazing speaker, not because he -- these are in his own words, not because he was the best looking or had the best resume.

He told me this explicitly a couple years ago when I was in Las Vegas seeing him. It was because he worked hard, and he learned the ropes and he learned the rules specifically in the Senate like nobody did. And that allowed him to climb the ranks once he got to the Senate because he understood how to get things done by studying extremely hard.


And because of the relationships that he forged, first and foremost within his Democratic caucus, incredible loyalty that he engendered from people, because he said over and over again, that loyalty was a two-way street. That was true for the lawmakers he served with, and even and especially the staff who worked for him.

It's remarkable to see the outpouring of people who worked for him for decades who still consider themselves to be in this unique club because, for the most part, there was this -- again, this loyalty that was a two-way street. And so that is, I'm sure, the kind of thing that we're going to hear from President Biden, and then from former President Obama. David can talk about this, but I can just tell you that of all of his accomplishments, Senator Reid told me explicitly it wasn't the legislative accomplishments that he was most proud of. It was the fact that he encouraged then Senator Obama to run for president.

WHITFIELD: Did he ever give, Dana, you detail on what that conversation was like? We try to use our imagination of how specifically Harry Reid delivered his message to then Senator Obama about running just by looking at the picture of them really in the Oval Office. But did he ever give detail about exactly what he said, how he encouraged him, how he was able to twist his arm, so to speak?

BASH: Well, I'm going to punt that to David, because David was, no doubt, part of those conversations. But generally speaking, it was that he invited the senator to his office, and this was at a time, like Jeff Zeleny just said, where Hillary Clinton was the person everybody thought was going to be the nominee, and other very well- established senators were in the running, and other candidates. And he said you really should consider running. and by all accounts then Senator Obama was taken aback.

The one specific conversation I can relay to you that he told me, Senator Reid told me, was on President Obama's second inaugural calling Senator Reid -- second election, I should say, when he was elected, calling him and saying this is all because of you.

WHITFIELD: That's beautiful.

So David, take us into the room, take us into that conversation with Harry Reid and Barack Obama and how Harry encouraged him.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I remember it very well, Fred. I remember getting a call from Barack Obama. I was in Chicago, and he called me from Washington. And he just said I just had the strangest conversation with Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer. Chuck Schumer was there as well. And he said, I didn't know why they were calling me over there, but they told me that they think I should think about running for president.

And it was almost with bewilderment that he said this. And as we talked it through, he said, listen, these are serious people, and I owe it to myself, to them to take this seriously. And I do think -- it may be that Barack Obama would have gotten there anyway, but there is absolutely no doubt that that conversation in the spring of 2006 was pivotal in terms of prodding him to take the next step and begin to think very seriously about running.

And that relationship was strong throughout. On the final swing of the 2012 campaign, we stopped in Las Vegas, and Senator Reid, who was the Democratic leader, was asking -- asked for a meeting with the president, and he wanted him to do an ad for one of the Democratic candidates.

And he made the ask. And then there was this pause, and then, just out of the blue, Senator Reid, who wasn't given to these kinds of gestures, reached out and hugged President Obama. And then he quickly turned and disappeared into the night, which is sort of how all relations ended with him as well. He was a guy who did his business and moved on. But it was so touching.

And then years later I sat down with him for "The Axe Files." And he said, look, I don't mind telling you, and I don't throw this around lightly, I love Barack Obama, I love that man. And so he had an almost filial pride in President Obama, took great pride in the role that he played and in the things they did together, including the Affordable Care Act, which would not have happened without Harry Reid.

It meant a lot to him because he came from a very poor family. He talked about how they didn't have health care and what the impact of that was. Just the relationship was incredibly strong.

WHITFIELD: Yes, the Affordable Care Act, that was a marquee moment of their professional relationship.


But I wonder, David, if you can elaborate on what was it about the two that would click so well. What do you suppose it is about what Harry Reid saw in Barack Obama and vice-versa as to why they would connect and have, as you just described, a very strong relationship?

AXELROD: You know, I think part of it is Harry Reid was a guy who came from extraordinary poverty. It's almost a Lincolnesque story. He came from this little town of Searchlight, Nevada, and walked tens and tens of miles to get to -- it was just -- it's incredible to think that we're at this moment where presidents and leaders are sitting down to pay tribute to this guy who started with nothing and overcame great odds.

He saw Obama as someone who overcame great odds, including the racial barriers that seemed insuperable at the time when he was coming up in national politics. And he really admired that. And he told me when we sat down, he said, nobody could have done the things that Barack Obama did. He just had great respect for the barriers that Obama overcame and the way that he did it.

And I think they shared -- Harry Reid, I never heard him raise his voice. He kind of came across like Father Mulcahy from M.A.S.H., just very -- but he was a hard, hard, tough politician, the same determination that got him to the Senate and got him to the position of leader. Also, he practiced in politics, and yet he felt politics was there for -- he practiced politics for a reason.

He saw it as an instrument to help people. He saw it as an instrument to make the country better and fairer and stronger. And he saw in Barack Obama a kindred spirit. And they really bonded over that. They were serious about politics, they understood, as my old late client Harold Washington, the former mayor of Chicago, used to say, politics ain't beanbag.

They both understood that. But they also understood why they were doing what they were doing, and it wasn't just about whether the red team won or the blue team won. WHITFIELD: And then Jeff Zeleny, hopefully you're still with us. I

know you're outside. If you are still with us, yes?

ZELENY: Yes, yes.

WHITFIELD: OK, great. So I wonder if you could, if you know much about the crafting of this program? Yes, we know President Biden will be speaking, we know President Obama will be delivering the eulogy. But do you know kind of the backstory on how this program was crafted and the messages that might come from those delivering them?

ZELENY: Sure, Fredricka. It's very family focused, as Harry Reid was. He has five children, 19 grandchildren, and above all, the love of his life, his wife of 62 years Landra Reid. She was a partner in every respect, both personally and politically. And to a person, people talk, when you ask about Harry Reid, they also include her in the same sentence. She was a partner in everything that he did.

So the funeral service is going to be very family focused. His granddaughter is going to give one of the readings, and then all five of his children will be speaking briefly. Speaker Pelosi will be speaking briefly, Chuck Schumer, who of course had a long relationship with Senator Reid, he worked as his lieutenant, if you will, for a long time, he'll be speaking briefly.

But it is the eulogy from former President Obama that is going to be the marquee moment here. And we've seen the former president give eulogies before. A memorable one certainly was at the funeral of John Lewis where Mr. Obama came out in strong support of saying it's time to abolish the filibuster.

I'm told that in this eulogy that President Obama is not going to talk specifically about that, although Harry Reid came to the realization that the Senate rules needed to be changed. And he of course changed the rules in 2013 when he was there that of course led to the erosion of many parts of the filibuster for nominees.

But the comments from former President Obama will be concluded with President Biden. I'm told he'll be speaking for 10 minutes or so, really a personal reflection of his lifetime, three decades of service with Harry Reid.

But as Dana and David were talking about the partnership, Harry Reid was so proud of his time with President Obama, and he said this when he was leaving in 2016. He said the records will be written about the eight years of Obama and Reid. He viewed himself as very much part of that partnership, and he was in every respect, from the financial crisis to the Affordable Care Act to many other things.

So certainly, many accomplishments, but I think the service today is much more personal in nature, again celebrating the life and legacy of this late 82-year-old senator, Fredricka.


WHITFIELD: Yes, and that marquee, as you mentioned, it's lovely that he is being celebrated for that and many other moments of his life and his relations with so many who are there.

Thank you so much, Jeff, David, and Dana. We're going to take a short break for now. I really appreciate talking to you. We'll continue to monitor the memorial service there of the late Harry Reid there in Las Vegas.

Meantime, coming up, COVID cases are surging nationwide and pushing hospitals to their breaking point, and it's leading to intense debate over how to keep children safe in school. Plus, days before a critical talk between the U.S. and Russia, we're learning new details about the ground rules the U.S. is laying down as they work to ease critical tensions with Russia. Details straight ahead.



WHITFIELD: This just in to CNN. South Dakota Senator John Thune announcing today he will run for reelection. For more, let's bring in Daniella Diaz on Capitol Hill. And Daniella, what more are we learning about his announcement?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Fred, he made this announcement on Twitter just an hour ago. This is huge news. He is the Senate minority whip, making him the number two Senate Republican and likely the successor for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. He could take over leadership in the Senate for Republicans.

I want to read a little bit about what he said in his tweet when he announced he is running for reelection. He said "South Dakota deserves a strong and effective senator who can deliver the results they expect. I'm uniquely positioned to get that job done, and I look forward to earning the support of all South Dakotans in the 2022 election for U.S. Senate."

He was mulling over this decision for a few weeks. It wasn't clear whether he was going to actually announce that he would run for reelection. He's currently in his third term. He's 61 years old, which makes him a little younger than some of the other senators that he serves with. But it does seem now, of course he announced that he's running for re-election.

And I do want to note that he has been at odds before with former president Donald Trump, namely over his decision to support the election results, the 2020 election results, and called President Joe Biden -- then president-elect Joe Biden former president Donald Trump's successor, which has, of course, angered and ruined his relationship with President Donald Trump. But it does seem now that he's going to run for reelection, Fred.

WHITFIELD: So that must mean that it didn't upset his constituents that he feels confident enough to try and make another go for it.

DIAZ: That's exactly right. And he was pushed by his own colleagues in the Senate. They were hoping that he would run for reelection considering the fact that he's in leadership and they have such a good relationship with him.

And remember, Fred, that the goal here with Senate Republicans is that they want to take over majority in the Senate and, of course, House Republicans in the House in the 2022 midterms, so they were really hoping that he would run again. And now that he has announced he's running, all eyes turn to Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

He is the last Senate Republican who has not yet decided if he's running in 2022 for the midterms for reelection in the Senate. But he has said that he's still deciding whether he will run, and Republicans are hopeful that he will run for reelection. Fred?

WHITFIELD: Daniella Diaz, thank you so much on Capitol Hill. Appreciate that.

Big questions for schools as the U.S. struggles with a new surge of coronavirus. Several school districts are now weighing a return to virtual learning. Debate heating up on the best ways to keep students and teachers safe. It comes as hospitals are nearing levels not seen in almost a year. The U.S. closing in on the record 142,000 patients seen at the peak of the pandemic.

Even more concerning, children are already being hospitalized at record rates. CNN's Polo Sandoval and Nadia Romero are watching all the developments. Polo, to you first, we're hearing that dozens of hospitals in New York are now stopping nonessential surgeries.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you have schools, obviously we'll a little bit more about right now, but also hospitals and health care, it seems that that is really dominating the conversation. And now New York state the latest to announce that they are asking, at least ordering about 40 health care facilities in the state of New York, to temporarily suspend some of those nonessential surgeries.

Let me be clear on that. Basically, what they're doing is hopefully making some room, some bed space at least to ensure that they do have enough capacity to be able to take in additional patients. Now, when it comes to what we know about this list, there are about 40 facilities that are mainly, according to the health department in the northern and central regions of New York, they determined this impact list based on patient occupancy.

If they have at least 90 percent of beds occupied, then they are to implement these kinds of policies here. And what it does, it really does speak to that broader issue of what we've seen at health care facilities really throughout the country of some of those facilities that are at or perhaps approaching implementing that crisis standard of care, including the University of Kansas Health Care System. This is what one official with that health care system had to say about where they stand right now and where they fear they may go if these numbers continue to rise in terms of hospitalizations.


DR. STEVEN STITES, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS HEALTH SYSTEM: Go from normal operations to contingency. And contingency planning means I'm going to have to put patients in unusual situations. I have to cancel surgeries. But at some point, you say, we're too overwhelmed to do any of our normal daily work.

We can't meet all of our patients' demands, and at that point we have to turn on a switch that says we've got to triage to the people we can help the most. And that means we have to let some people die who we might have been able to help.


SANDOVAL: Really quickly, in terms of what we're seeing here in New York City and those hospitals that have been asked to temporarily put off these nonessential surgeries, this does not include any patients that would be considered clinically high risk should their procedures be put off. So that's important to note, Fred.


WHITFIELD: All right, thank you, Polo.

Nadia, to you. You're in Atlanta where students are expected to return to class in school Monday after a week of virtual learning. So how are people feeling?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, people here are talking a lot about what it means to come back for in-person learning, and for the school district, Atlanta public schools, they're requiring mandatory testing for their teachers and voluntary testing for students if they have parental consent. That's how they're hoping to keep track of COVID-19 and to limit the spread, by making sure that people are getting tested in the school district.

But that kind of formula is something that a lot of other teachers across the country would like to see. Let's talk about New York, for instance, where Polo just was. If you look at the city of New York right now, there is this big battle happening between the city's mayor and about 30 or so lawmakers who wrote a statement, teachers unions, and even some who took to the streets to protest what they call is a lack of resources and a lack of accountability from the city to put all of those kids and those teachers back in the classroom.

They are urging the city to allow them to go back to remote learning. They say that will give them time to have testing and vaccinations so that they can limit the spread there in the city. But the mayor is adamant, he only wants in-person learning. Take a listen.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS, (D) NEW YORK CITY: Strand after strand, we can't continue to stop our children from developing socially and academically, and the support that they need. So we have to learn how to live with COVID and live with COVID in a safe way. And that's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to allow the hysteria to prevent the future of children receiving a quality education and the development that all sociologists are stating that they need.


ROMERO: And that sentiment you're hearing from New York's mayor is really similar to what we're hearing from Mayor Lori Lightfoot in Chicago. She only wants in-person learning as well. And right now, at this hour, there's supposed to be a meeting between the city of Chicago and the Chicago teachers' union to try to figure out the best way to move forward. Right now they're at a standstill, Fred.

WHITFIELD: No easy answers, that's definitely what all of that underscores. Nadia Romero, Polo Sandoval, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, new details about the negotiations between the U.S. and Russia as White House officials work to ease critical tensions with the Kremlin.



WHITFIELD: Russia's President Vladimir Putin, held another phone call with his Kazakh counterpart, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who said the situation in Kazakhstan was stabilizing, but hotbeds of terrorist attacks persist. Dozens of people have reportedly been killed after the Kazakh president ordered security forces to kill without warning to crush the violent protest. The situation started with protests over rising fuel costs, and then turned into anger over government corruption, poverty, and unemployment.

CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is back with us tracking the developments. So what is the latest?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, the latest on the ground, it's difficult to assess with any high degree of accuracy, because we're not permitted to get into Kazakhstan right now, and the Internet there has been sporadic.

I spoke to one of our contacts there on the ground earlier today, and that contact told me that the situation is much calmer, at least in the city of Almaty, which is the main city where the majority of violence of the past has really been unfolding, some horrifically violent scenes with clashes between protesters and the security forces.

All that, though, appears now to have subsided somewhat. There's been a degree of control restored, and it's a bit calmer on the streets of that main city. People are going out trying to get their groceries. Or there are unconfirmed reports of incidents of gunfire in various areas around the country. So the protests haven't completely finished.

But that relative calm has come at a high price. There are dozens of people, as you mentioned, that have been killed, including not just protesters, but members of the security forces that were killed by the mob as well. At least, or nearly 4,000 people have been arrested by the Kazakh security forces. And also we've seen, at the invitation of the Kazakh government,

foreign forces, particularly Russian troops, paratroopers, that have been deployed into key installations around Kazakhstan, particularly aren't Almaty, to help bring security and to lower the tension in the region. The big question, of course, is what exactly is the role of those Russian security forces, and when will they leave?

WHITFIELD: All right, all important questions. Matthew Chance, thank you so much.

Ahead of critical meetings between U.S. diplomats and the Kremlin this week, CNN is learning the U.S. is setting some clear ground rules. No agreements on big security issues such as Ukrainian missile deployments will be done without total reciprocity from Russia, according to a U.S. official. We're also learning that U.S. troop numbers or force posture in Europe is not on that table.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand joining me now. Natasha, what more can you tell us about what the U.S. is signaling?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Fred, so a senior administration official telling reporters earlier today that there are a number of areas where U.S. and Russian concerns do overlap and could offer some kind of opening for negotiations this coming week.


Those include missile deployments in Europe and Ukraine. That is something the senior administration official said that the U.S. would be willing to discuss drawing back and perhaps negotiating with the Russians on. They also include military exercises by the U.S. and NATO troops that Russia has expressed concern about because of how close some of those exercises have been to Russia's borders.

But there's a major caveat here, of course, which is that anything that the U.S. is willing to offer, the Russians also have to offer at much the same level. There has to be complete reciprocity between the U.S. and Russian moves here.

And the U.S. is saying that they are not particularly optimistic about what the talks are going to yield next week, but they're instead being realistic. And they are not going to telegraph in advance what exactly they're willing to impose on Russia in terms of penalties when it comes to a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, which have been building up for the last several months.

But they do say that they are willing to impose very severe costs if that does happen, things like sanctioning Russia's biggest financial institutions, tightening export controls, everything that they were prepared to do in 2014, and even further than that when Russia first invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

So they're willing to take dramatic steps here. They are signaling to the Russians ahead of time that there are areas where they can coordinate, but they are also prepared to take significant action along with their allies, the U.S. allies, if Russia does not deescalate.

WHITFIELD: Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much.

An evacuation order has been issued in Washington state. Officials are warning of imminent flooding and possible landslides from a record level of rain and snow moving in. We'll tell you where the severe weather is heading next.



WHITFIELD: One year after the deadly Capitol riot, the January 6th Select Committee is seeking more information to better understand what happened that day. They're even now considering asking former vice president Mike Pence to voluntarily appear before the panel. CNN's Jessica Schneider walks us through where things stand.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After a day of remembrance on Capitol Hill, the January 6th Select Committee is back to work, and they say learning more about individuals conspiring to overturn the 2020 election results.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Individuals, including people in the inner circle of the Trump White House?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no question about it.

SCHNEIDER: Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney saying they are not ruling out the possibility of concluding the former president and his associates committed a crime.

REP. LIZ CHENEY, (R-WY): For a president to, through either his action or his inaction, for example, attempt to impede or obstruct the counting of electoral votes, which is an official proceeding of Congress, the committee is looking at that.

SCHNEIDER: Some Republicans have spoken out against Trump. Alaska's Senator Lisa Murkowski calling the rioters a mob incited by our former president. But others are folding under pressure after Senator Ted Cruz said this on Wednesday.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R-TX): It is an anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the capitol.

SCHNEIDER: He later apologized on FOX after host Tucker Carlson called it a lie.

CRUZ: The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy, and it was, frankly, dumb.

SCHNEIDER: A year later we are still learning new information about what happened that day. Then vice president-elect and Senator Kamala Harris had been at the capitol that morning. KAMALA HARRIS, (D) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had left,

but my thoughts immediately turned not only to my colleagues, but to my staff, who had been forced to seek refuge in our office, converting filing cabinets into barricades.

SCHNEIDER: But she declined to comment on revelations that she was evacuated from the Democratic National Committee headquarters later that afternoon, seven minutes after a pipe bomb was discovered nearby.

While the FBI continues to search for the suspect captured on video planting two pipe bombs the night before the attack, rioters continue to face their day in court and outspoken federal judges. Anthony Williams, who has pleaded not guilty, said in a Facebook message that storming the Capitol was the proudest day of his life.

He had asked the court for permission to travel to Jamaica, but Chief Judge Beryl Howell rejected the request, writing "This court will not commemorate the one-year anniversary of the attack on the Capitol by granting defendant's request for nonessential foreign travel when he is awaiting judgment for his actions on that day."

And the court cases are only set to intensify now that we're into 2022. Starting next month, we'll see the start of the first trials involving January 6th defendants, and the committee will also see its work ramping up. We're still waiting to see if Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is indicted for contempt of Congress, and public hearings could be planned in the coming months.


WHITFIELD: All right, thank you so much.

And now let's take a look at these live pictures from Las Vegas, Nevada, where the memorial for the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is under way. Reid's five children are sharing stories of their family, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, along with presidents Obama and Biden also on the schedule to speak. And then this live performance right now, Brandon Flowers of the band The Killers, one of Harry Reid's favorite musicians.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there something out there for me? Be still, close your eyes. Soon enough you'll be on your own, steady and straight. And if they drag you through the mud, it doesn't change what's in your blood. Don't break character. You've got a lot of heart.



WHITFIELD: The U.S. closed out 2021 with strong job growth, but 2021 also saw a record number of low wage workers quitting jobs. Most of them were looking for higher pay and better benefits. CNN Vanessa Yurkevich takes a look at what some are calling the great resignation.


IFEOMA EZIMAKO, QUIT HER JOB: People say it's a resignation. To me it's not a resignation. It's a revolution. We're finally realizing our worth.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: A record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November, mainly from low- wage positions. For months workers have been resigning in mass. And 23-year-old Ifeoma Ezimako, who quit her job this summer, says it's a labor market revolution.

EZIMAKO: I've done it since I was 15. I love the customer service hospitality industry. I love putting a smile on people's faces. But it got to a point where I felt I was giving a little bit too much of myself.

YURKEVICH: As a barback in Washington, D.C. she is guaranteed a $5.05 tipped minimum wage. But with fewer customers coming in, that meant fewer tips with more responsibility.

EZIMAKO: Every day I had to enforce certain things where I'm like, this is not in my job description. And now I'm being paid less.

YURKEVICH: More than one million people quit their leisure and hospitality jobs in November, with hundreds of thousands more quitting low-wage retail and health care jobs. There are still 10.6 million unfilled positions.

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: People feel empowered. And they should because the job market is really, really tight. They have opportunity, if they're not happy with what they're doing, they're going to take another one. So I think quit rates are going to be high for a long time to come.

YURKEVICH: And as Omicron sweeps the country, this silence is what restaurant owners are facing. Michael Dorf, CEO of City Winery, says he is doing everything to keep the staff he has left, even with less business.

MICHAEL DORF, FOUNDER AND CEO, CITY WINERY: I don't want to afford to lose a single person. And we're still hiring, as ironic as that is.

YURKEVICH: He normally operates with 1,200 employees across his 12 restaurant and music venues.

DORF: We're only up to about 950 around the country.

YURKEVICH: Have you seen people quitting at a higher rate than usual?

DORF: Yes, for sure. We've seen people quit on the spot.

YURKEVICH: He says he has risen wages to above $15 an hour and into the 20s for kitchen staff. His labor costs rose to 36 percent of his operating budget, but it still may not be enough. Do you feel like you are going to find people are leaving and


DORF: Yes, I think the hospitality industry is going to be especially challenged because there is a lot of other good, high paying jobs.

YURKEVICH: And that's what Ezimako is looking for. Until then she has moved back in with her parents and is back to school getting her sociology degree while doing gig work part time. Her hope is her old industry will transform enough to lure her back.

EZIMAKO: If they were to offer us a one fair wage, $15 plus tips on top, I'd go back. I love illuminating somebody's day. But at the same time, I have a little bit more self-worth now.

YURKEVICH: Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN, New York.


WHITFIELD: And a chef in Phoenix, Arizona, cooks indigenous foods to heal herself after difficult pregnancies. And now she's helping others in today's "The Human Factor."


MARIA PARRA CANO, CHEF, SANA SANA FOODS: I'm a classically trained cook. I learned very quickly that French cuisine is not my people's food. Creams and sugars and certain fats that really affected my body in a negative way. I became diabetic myself with my first pregnancy. I went back to my mother's traditional foods, indigenous foods from Central Mexico, like corn, beans, squash, chilis, cactus.

Going completely plant-based after the birth of my daughter, I really wanted to help others try to heal their bodies through food. We started our business. And "sana sana" in Spanish meaning "to heal." Also, we are focusing on helping the community learn about different ancestral foods through cooking demos, classes. It's really hard sometimes for people to have a well-balanced or healthy lifestyle when they don't have access to their traditional food or seeds to be able to grow it.


We have Tepary beans grown here locally, cacti. Not only is it high in fiber, but it also helps level blood sugars and reduce inflammation.

We have our indigenous food pantry. Since March of 2020 we've been able to support 15,000 families. A group of us went to Mexico City, there met with elders, and then really given the cultural, the spiritual permission to say keep doing the work.


WHITFIELD: All right, that is fascinating.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. CNN NEWSROOM continues with Jim Acosta after this.