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U.S. Hospitalizations Near Record Levels as Cases Surge; 32 People with Life-Threatening Injuries in Massive Bronx Fire; Australian Court Will Hear Novak Djokovic's Visa Appeal; Crisis in Kazakhstan. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired January 09, 2022 - 14:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredericka Whitfield.

The omicron variant, let's talk about that, wreaking havoc on Americans' daily lives. Cases are skyrocketing. Hospitals are overwhelmed. The Department of Health and Human Services says nearly a quarter of U.S. hospitals are now reporting critical staffing shortages, and it comes at a very bad time.

Hospitalizations are fast approaching record levels, now just 4,000 short of the peak seen nearly a year ago.

National Guard medical teams are now deployed in ten states to alleviate the mounting stress put on frontline health workers, and more concerning, the number of children under the age of 5 still unable to get a vaccine, now their positive rate cases are high, the highest level seen in the pandemic in the last two years.

Right now according to the CDC 53 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, and 25 percent of kids 5 to 11 have at least one shot.

We have reporters coast to coast covering the latest COVID headlines. Let's go first to CNN's Natasha Chen in Los Angeles.

Natasha, cases there among children are rising at an alarming rate. What are you hearing from people there?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. The focus really is on how to restart schools safely this week. L.A. Unified, the second largest district in the country starts in-person class on Tuesday.

That's why you see a very long line behind me. I'm at one of their middle schools. They have a lot of testing sites that have been open this past week, especially this weekend because they are requiring a baseline test result, a negative test result from all students and employees in order to show up on Tuesday.

That is part of their strategy along with weekly required testing for everyone, required vaccinations for employees. About 90 percent of their students 12 and older are now fully vaccinated.

So with those strategies this school year, they have not had to shut down any of their thousand-plus school campuses to go virtual at all. They have been in person and this is working for them.

At the same time you're talking about a rise in the number of child hospitalizations. We talked to Dr. Susan Wu from Children's Hospital Los Angeles today about this current spike.

Right now of all the children coming into that hospital, about 45 percent are testing positive for COVID-19. Here's what she's said.

DR. SUSAN WU, PEDIATRIC HOSPITALIST, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL LOS ANGELES: You know, we've had several little waves come through and this has definitely been the fastest. And what's different is we're seeing a lot of babies, a lot of younger kids. And that's been something that we've had to learn from and adjust to.

If someone tests positive in your household, do you isolate for the recommended period of time to prevent transmission? But we're seeing a lot of young kids who you know, it's just not possible to do that, and we're seeing a lot of families where everybody in the family has tested positive.


CHEN: And so I think we all have heard stories of our friends or relatives where someone in their household has to be shut up in their room for several days if they test positive to protect the rest of the family. Well, you can't do that with a baby, and so that becomes very challenging.

In the spirit of getting the family vaccinated to protect the younger children who can't be vaccinated, Dr. Wu told me she did see a 5-year- old come into the hospital on her 5th birthday to get a vaccine. She was very excited to do so because she has a younger sibling who can't get the vaccine, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow. All right. Lots of experiences taking place in households across the country just like that. Thank you so much. Nadia. CNN's -- I'm sorry -- thanks, Natasha.

Now to you, Nadia Romero in Atlanta where kids, schools experience virtual learning for about a week. Now tomorrow is the day that many of them return to in-person learning. So what is the feeling out there about preparedness?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So after that one week of remote learning, many of those kids were encouraged to go get vaccinated if they could, to get tested if they could, giving the teachers that timeline as well.


ROMERO: But starting tomorrow teachers in the Atlanta public school district will be back to mandatory testing, at least twice a week, and students could get tested as well. They are eligible as long as they have parental consent.

But you heard Natasha talking about L.A. Unified School District not having to shut down at all this school year. That is not the case when you look at Chicago or New York.

So let's start with Chicago.

Just yesterday the teachers union came forward and said, you know, we've had three consecutive days to end last week of no classes at all, the entire city, the Chicago school district citywide was shut down so kids have been out of school for all of this time.

And so they said, ok, us teachers, will go back to the classroom and we'll do virtual teaching but the kids need to stay at home to give us some time to figure out what we can do about more resources so that we feel safe and the kids can feel safe.

The city of Chicago's Mayor Lori Lightfoot said no, it's in-person learning only. And that's the same sentiment we're hearing in New York City as well with their teachers and lawmakers urging for remote learning, at least for a period of time so they can get testing and vaccinations.

But the mayor of New York City, Eric Adams much like the mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot only want in-person learning. And they are not changing their mind. They haven't been swayed. Listen to both of them talk about why.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: Science dictates one thing. The safest place for children is in a school building. And what we want to do is not get in the way of preventing children from coming into that building.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: Fundamentally what we cannot do is abandon the science. We know that the safest place for kids to be is in-person learning in schools. And we've spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make our schools safe. They are safe.

We've got the data that demonstrate that. We've got to get the teachers' union to get real and get serious about getting back into in-person learning.


ROMERO: Let's talk about that science that you heard both of the mayors talking about in Chicago and New York. Across the country we're seeing pediatric hospitalizations for kids who are 5 and younger, so that age group not eligible for vaccinations up about 48 percent when you compare December 4 through January 1st.

So just that -- about a month period, the largest increase in pediatric hospitalizations we've seen, Fred, throughout the course of this pandemic, and tomorrow is yet another day when a lot of kids around the country will not be back in school because the school districts and the cities are still fighting on what to do, what they think is best.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you so much, Natasha Chen and Nadia Romero, appreciate that.

All right. Let's discuss this further. With us now, Dr. Julie Morita. She is a former member of the Biden-Harris transition team and the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Good to see you. I wonder where you are. Are you in agreement with the mayors of New York and Chicago who say they are following the science and the safest place is in-person schooling for kids? Do you agree with that?

DR. JULIE MORITA, EVP, THE ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON FOUNDATION: Hi, Fred. Thanks so much for having me today.

So I think it's really -- you referenced earlier today and what's happening in the L.A. School districts and what we can see is THAT when the appropriate systems are in place, children can be in a school setting and teachers can be in a school setting safely.

So having required vaccinations, making sure there's good ventilation, making sure that children are wearing a mask, that there's appropriate test capacity so we that can actually identify children and teachers who are sick.

When those systems are in place, children and teachers can be safely in the school environment. But those systems have to be in place. And it's critical for us to use the resources that the federal government made available to the school systems so they can really get these kids back in school.

We know they learn better. They are better from the social and emotional perspective as well so it's really important that we get our kids back to school as soon as we can.

WHITFIELD: So here we are now more than two years into this pandemic, and we're still dealing with surging cases, hospitalizations, questions about, you know, what to do, how to behave, what should our expectations be.

In your view is this going to be our new normal, that it will always in some capacity exist, meaning some strain of COVID, and we have to exercise mitigation but then we've got to just embrace it, deal with it?

DR. MORITA: Yes, so Fred, there's a short-term response that needs to be happening right now as we're seeing these incredibly high numbers of cases, incredibly high numbers of hospitalizations happening. And that's the short-term gain which means we really have to focus on preventing the transmission as much as we can, really minimizing exposures, ensuring that everybody gets vaccinated and ensuring everybody is wearing appropriate masks, social distancing as best as we can. All these kinds of things that are really critically important right now. We do need to start thinking about the long game as well which is whether or not this virus is going to be around for a while and what kinds of things we can put in place in terms of more robust and continuous vaccination programs.


DR. MORITA: These kinds of things need to be happening on an ongoing basis so we can think about how it is that we return to a more normal life when we have coronavirus that's circulating?

WHITFIELD: Well, you heard the president earlier in the week who said it may not always be like this right now, but essentially his view is we have to co-exist with some form of COVID. What would be your advice to the president if you were indeed still advising him?

DR. MORITA: In terms of managing this -- the current focus, really needs to be on what we're seeing with this omicron surge. We need to make sure that people are getting vaccinated. We need to make sure people are testing and people are isolating and quarantining when appropriate that's critical right now.

And we need to be ramping up our hospital systems so that we can actually provide the care to people who are getting sick and being hospitalized.

In terms of longer term game, I think we need to think about what kinds of testing procedures need to be made available routinely. Monitoring the kinds of strains and variants that are emerging so we can identify how virulent they are, how transmissible they are.

The other thing we need to be thinking about is how we're supporting vaccination in other countries. Because as long as there are other countries that have poor immunization coverage levels we will continue to have these emergence of other variants. And we'll be at risk for this on going transmission of disease that we're seeing.

WHITFIELD: Dr. Julie Morita, really appreciate your time. Thank you so much. Continue to be well.

DR. MORITA: Thank. You, too.

WHITFIELD: All right. And now this breaking news.

At least 32 people have been taken to the hospital with life- threatening injuries following a fire in a 19-story apartment building in the Bronx, New York. Approximately 200 fire fighters are on the scene fighting the blaze right now.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is there for us. Polo, bring us the latest.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, at this point authorities have put out the fire. And this community is bracing for what may be some of the worst news. And that is the number of people who have been hurt or worse.

That's because according to authorities now dozens of people were injured. More than half of them sustaining life-threatening injuries.

If I step out of the shot you can really see the latest. So this is basically a 19-floor high rise apartment building. According to authorities it was about 11:00 this morning when the report came of a fire that had broken out at one of the apartments.

However, that quickly spread and affected two floors here, the fire itself. But here's the thing. The smoke, it spread throughout the entire building and that was a huge factor here and that's why, as you're about to hear from the fire commissioner, we have the amount of people who have been injured, out of 54 reported injured, 32 sustained life-threatening injuries and much of that (INAUDIBLE) was smoke inhalation.

This is how the fire commissioner described what happened and just putting into context what took place just a couple of hours ago.


DANIEL A. NIGRO, NEW YORK CITY FIRE COMMISSIONER: This smoke extended the entire height of the building. Completely unusual. Members found victims on every floor in stairwells. They were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest.

The door to that apartment was left open causing the fire to spread and the smoke to spread which is always a problem for us. And as we see here by the broken windows throughout the building this fire took its toll on our city.


SANDOVAL: And I have to tell you, Fred, when you walk around the community, you see displaced families everywhere. They have no idea what could be next for them. But again the number here just tell the story.

Yes, the fire itself affecting at least two floors but the smoke basically sweeping through the entire building, and that's why they found victims as authorities describe them on every floor that have to be treated now. So the big question is, of course, what caused that fire.

But it does not look good when you hear from fire officials that are still at the scene and still trying to assess damage. And these families all over the place trying to find out what will happen next to them.

WHITFIELD: Horrible situation, terribly sad. Thank you so much. Polo Sandoval. Keep us posted there in the Bronx.

All right. Still to come, in just hours, we could learn whether tennis star Novak Djokovic will be allowed to stay in Australia. He's being detained there amid a fight over his visa and vaccination status.

Plus, high-stakes talks begin tomorrow between the U.S. and Russia. The Biden administration is warning they will impose severe penalties if Russia invades Ukraine.



WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

In just a few hours from now an Australian court will hold a hearing to decide if tennis star Novak Djokovic can remain in the country to compete in the Australian Open.

Djokovic is appealing the cancellation of his visa after his COVID medical exemption was denied at the border when he arrived for the tournament.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Melbourne, Australia for us right now.

So Paula, this is stirring up a huge controversy, not just in Australia but really around the world, so where do things stand right now?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredericka, we're less than four hours until that hearing starts. Novak Djokovic has had some epic battles here in Melbourne. He's won the Australian Open nine times on the court, but clearly off the court this is very different.

Now he has spent four nights in this detention facility behind me. Certainly not the accommodation he is used to when he comes to play in the Australian Open.

By the end of today he could find out if he is going to be deported or if he can try and defend his title. This is how we got to where we are today.



HANCOCKS (voice over): Novak Djokovic's quest to win his 10th Australian open title may no longer lie in his hands or even in the power of his racket. Instead the men's world tennis number one waits for an Australian court to decide whether he can participate.

Djokovic is trying to enter the country to contest the title without having had a COVID-19 vaccination. He thought he had an excuse not to be when federal officers stopped him at Melbourne Airport Wednesday night.

Hours later they ordered him deported. In court Monday his lawyers will try to stop that. But no one, Australia says, can come in without a vaccination or a water-tight exemption.

BARNABY JOYCE, AUSTRALIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: The minister for health was absolutely black and white clear to Mr. Djokovic about what his responsibilities and the expectations were. HANCOCKS: Djokovic has never felt responsibility to be vaccinated.

Instead, he's long kept his status a secret and pushed back on the idea of vaccine mandates.

Now court filings reveal Djokovic has never had the shot but his lawyers will argue he received a worthy medical exemption from two separate panels on grounds he had COVID-19 as recently as December 16th. The Australian government says such a loophole does not exist.

So Djokovic waits it out in the Melbourne hotel turned immigration detention facility, also home to refugees caught up in the Australian immigration system for years.

Outside, his supporters and anti-vax protesters demand his release and the Australian government says Djokovic can leave the country at any time.

By arriving unvaccinated Djokovic always knew he was wading into Australia's own pandemic politics. Few in Australia hold much sympathy for him with COVID infections at an all-time high and hospitals overflowing.

But in a private message to staff and leaked to media tournament organizer Craig Tiley says he's confident the grand slam will be a success.

CRAIG TILEY, TENNIS AUSTRALIA HEAD: There's a lot of finger-pointing going on and a lot of blaming going on but I can show you our team has done an unbelievable job and have done everything they possibly could according to all instructions.

HANCOCKS: Djokovic has repeatedly requested to be moved from the park hotel detention facility to somewhere with a court where he could practice in case he does beat the deportation and can go for a record 21st grand slam, but his sporting legacy is now at the mercy of his public reputation.

Photos posted to social media show him maskless and surrounded by people at three events December on the same day and one day after his vaccination exemption request says he tested positive for COVID-19. It is unclear if Djokovic was aware of his test results before appearing at any of these events.

CNN has reached out to his team for comment. What we do know looking back at these photos of Djokovic with young tennis players is that he was unvaccinated.


HANCOCKS: Now we do know Djokovic did have some concessions made for him. He was allowed gluten-free food to be taken into the facility for him. He's got exercise equipment in there as well and we also know that the home affairs minister had tried to adjourn these proceedings, tried to delay things until Wednesday but the court denied that and said it will be heard today, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Keep us posted. Paula Hancocks there in Australia, thank you so much.

All right. Still to come high stakes diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Russia begin tomorrow in Geneva so what does Putin want. And how is the U.S. prepared to respond?

Live to Moscow next.



WHITFIELD: Unrest continues to sweep across Kazakhstan as the death toll there mounts. This week at least 164 people have been killed and more than 5,000 detained during a violent upheaval in the central Asian country. The death toll is a significant increase from Friday's count of 44.

The situation started with protests over rising fuel costs and turned deadly when the Kazakh president ordered security forces to kill without warning, to crush the protests.

CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is tracking the developments from Moscow. What is the latest, Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredericka, the latest we have from the ground in the main city of Almaty where the worst of that violence unfolded over the course of the past six or seven days or so is that there's been a calm restored to the city.

Part of that is because of the sort of relatively or the very heavy- hand approach of the authorities you heard there, you reported there those figures that came just today from the Kazakh health ministry. 164 people were killed in the protests, most of them protesters, of course, but there are also a number of the security forced killed by rampaging mobs.

And we now know that there are more than 5,000 people who have been arrested across the country mainly in Almaty though but across the country, by the Kazakh security forces.

As they say, you know, intel on the ground is still very sketchy. We've not got you know, great access to Kazakhstan at the moment but there's a relative calm that descended over certainly to Almaty and other parts of the country as well.

And that's partly because a very powerful force from Russia and surrounding allied states in the former Soviet Union has now been fully deployed, according to its commander inside Kazakhstan, particularly focusing on Almaty, that main city where it's been positioned to secure key civilian and security installations according to its commander who was speaking on Russian television earlier today.


CHANCE: The big question is how long will those Russian troops stay in Kazakhstan. It's supposed to be a temporary mission but, you know, as Secretary of State Blinken said I think just yesterday, you know, when the Russians enter your house it's not --



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Stay in Kazakhstan. It's supposed to be a temporary mission, but, you know, as Secretary of State Blinken said I think just yesterday, you know, when the Russians enter your house it's not clear when they're going to leave.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWSROOM HOST: All right. Pretty vivid picture there. Matthew Chance, thank you so much. So the tense situation in Kazakhstan comes as the U.S. is entering a series of high-stakes meetings with Russia this week, and tomorrow U.S. officials will meet with Russian counterparts in Geneva in an attempt to deescalate the crisis over Ukraine.

Right now, Russia appears poised to invade with nearly 100,000 troops stationed on the border of Ukraine. The U.S. is warning of steep sanctions and massive consequences if Russia moves forward to invade.


ANTONY BLINKEN, Secretary of State: There are two paths before us. There is a path of dialogue and diplomacy to try to resolve some of these differences and avoid a confrontation. The other path is confrontation and massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression on Ukraine.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Senior National Security Correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is in Geneva for us where the U.S. and Russian talks are set to get underway very soon. Also joining us is Susan Glasser, CNN Global Security Analyst. Good to see both of you. Alex, you first. Russia, you know, taking a very hard stance - hard line stance coming into these talks. How is that impacting the U.S. approach to finding some sort of common ground?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the U.S. says that they're coming in with a sense of realism, and I got to say, Fredricka, that the tone that you're hearing from both sides is not one that sounds terribly productive.

We heard Secretary Blinken on CNN earlier today saying that he does not expect a breakthrough this week. The head of the Russian delegation earlier today saying that he's been disappointed with the signals that are coming out of D.C. ahead of these talks, and that's essentially because both sides are starting very far apart. We know what the Russian position is, and it's essentially a nonstarter for the U.S., and that is not allowing Ukraine to ever join NATO and for NATO to withdraw all of its military assets from Eastern European countries that are near Russia. That U.S. says that that's never going to happen.

What the U.S. hopes will happen tomorrow in this meeting that is just between the U.S. and Russia is that they can talk about bilateral issues and come to some - start some sort of understanding on a number of issues, primarily the question of missiles, missiles in Ukraine. Russia has said that they don't want what they call offensive missiles in Ukraine, missiles in the rest of Europe, and then the scale and scope of exercises.

But Secretary Blinken says that whatever the U.S. does needs to be reciprocated on some level by Russia, but Fredricka, the big question is to what extent are the Russians entering these talks in good faith? Are they here to actually make some progress or are they going to carry out these talks throughout the course of the week and then just turn around and say those talks failed. Diplomacy failed. Now we're going to turn to the military option and invade Ukraine.

And remember, Fredricka, the talks tomorrow between the U.S. and Russia are just the first of three different tracks, then on Wednesday it gets enlargened, if you will, expanded to NATO. It'll be NATO- Russia talks, and then on Thursday talks with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. So it's these three main channels essentially, you know, to at the end of the day to try to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine, right?

WHITFIELD: And then, Susan, you know, I recall asking you, you know, last week what does Putin want by intimidating Ukraine, and you said it's hard to know, you know, what's in the Russian leader's head. So you want to take a stab at what he may want out of these talks especially as he continues to build up, not back down from the Ukrainian border?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well I think that's why there's so much skepticism that you're hearing from the American side, frankly, is because it's not clear that what Putin wants is something that is in the possibility of the United States or anyone is the western alliance to give.

Putin seems to be intent upon revising the entire sort of post Cold War security architecture in Europe, and obviously that's a nonstarter. He seems to want to roll back NATO presence in countries that fell as part of the Soviets' fear during the Cold War. Obviously that's up to those individual countries in NATO. It's not within the U.S. to do that.

The other thing that's very notable is that Ukraine is not at the table in these talks between the United States and Russia that will happen tomorrow. You know, this is really a situation where Russia has essentially taken its neighbor hostage, pointing the - not just a gun but 100,000 guns at Ukraine and then saying and we're not even going to include you in the conversation about what to do about this situation. It's really - it's almost a blackmail situation and, of course, that raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions for U.S. negotiators.


Remember, our policy is not to negotiate with terrorists. Well this is, you know, in fact an act of state terrorism to threaten your neighbors in this way and to demand a sweeping revision. You know, Russia has signed a series of agreements guaranteeing Ukraine's security, but to the question of what does Vladimir Putin want, Vladimir Putin doesn't recognize the legitimacy anymore of Ukraine as an independent state, which is something that, by the way, Russia legally agreed to abide by in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

WHITFIELD: Susan, I wonder do you think the White House thinks it just simply wouldn't be advantageous to have Ukraine at the table during these talks this week simply because the White House had - at the present had a separate conversation with Ukraine just a matter of weeks ago if not days ago?

GLASSER: Well I think the bottom line is that Vladimir Putin is seeking to divide the United States from its allies both in Ukraine and in Europe, and it's a nonstarter for Putin and the Kremlin to treat with Ukraine on an equal level. That's a lot of what, you know, Putin's entire career as president has been about is essentially reasserting Russia's superpower status and its - his need constantly to be seated at the table alone with the United States.

So I think it wasn't up to Biden so much as it was up to Vladimir Putin who refused to even engage in talks unless Ukraine wasn't away from them (ph).

WHITFIELD: Alex, Secretary Blinken says, you know, the U.S. will respond with massive consequences to Russian aggression in Ukraine. President Biden has ruled out U.S. unilateral troops on the ground, so is the U.S. confident that sanctions will be enough to convince, you know, Russia to back down or at a minimum intimidate Russia?

MARQUARDT: Yes, they're certainly banking on it, Fred. It wouldn't just be sanctions. It would also be - there would be a military component as well. You would see U.S. and NATO military assets flowing into Ukraine. Many countries, including Ukraine, say that those assets should be in place.

Now you would also see a build up of U.S. and NATO troops in NATO countries in the east, but then really the main force behind the threat right now both from the U.S. and Europe is what the U.S. has been calling, you know, unprecedented, massive sanctions, economic sanctions, the likes of which Russia has never faced before, sanctions that are much stronger than the ones that were put in place after they invaded Crimea in 2014 that would affect their financial sectors, their technology sectors, the military, and you know, some of the biggest banks.

The administration has been briefing reporters on what those sanctions may look like but in very broad strokes, and the point that they're trying to make is that these would be significant sanctions that would - that would cripple different parts of Russia, and they really are hoping that that threat will be enough to deter President Putin from carrying out any sort of military incursion.

WHITFIELD: And then, Susan, remember we still don't know what was exactly said during that meeting with former President Trump and Putin in Helsinki years ago. Contrast that to what we should expect in terms of a readout between Biden and Putin this week?

GLASSER: Well look, I mean, first of all it's not a one-on-one a summit meeting. That's still a possibility again. Biden and Putin have spoken twice by telephone as the crisis has escalated with Ukraine. The talks this week will begin with Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department diplomat, meeting her Russian counterparts in Geneva. She's an experience diplomat, but it keeps it below the level of the leaders for right now, and that's probably a good thing.

But, you know, again, this is their - there are echoes that are very uncomfortable in history to the idea of superpowers negotiating the fate of smaller countries in Europe. You know, remember the - that's what the lead up to World War II was all about. And it's really unclear, again, whether there is anything that Russia is preparing to do in reality in these negotiations except to walk away and say military action is inevitable because our unreasonable demands were not met. And so, I think that's the great fear heading into this week.

WHITFIELD: All right. Susan Glasser, Alex Marquardt, thank you so much. And this quick programming note. Join Fareed Zakaria as he investigates THE FIGHT TO SAVE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY. This new special begins tonight at 9 p.m. We're back in a moment.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. At least 34 people have been rescued while ice fishing when a large chunk of ice broke away from the shore in Green Bay, Wisconsin, trapping them. The Brown County Sheriff's Office says it happened Saturday. Investigators believe a barge had gone through the bay shortly before and may have destabilized the ice there. See the images right there? Pretty extraordinary.

This floating chunk of ice was about a mile from shore, and authorities say the ice remained mostly stable, and they were able, luckily, to rescue everyone stranded in less than two hours.

All right, sleet, snow and freezing rain pounding parts of the northeast today. Right now 13 million people are under winter weather advisories from Pennsylvania to Maine. The National Weather Service is warning of extremely dangerous travel conditions and power outages.


And out west a state of emergency following rainfall of up to six inches in some areas. Take a look at this drone footage from Lewis County, Washington where severe floods forced the National Guard to step in.

CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater joining us right now. Tom, very severe and very dangerous conditions there. Is the worst behind us? Is there more on the way?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I think - I think, Fredricka, for the most part the worst is over, but we still have winter weather and those effects in the northeast, and we've got severe weather in the southeast.

But if you look at the weather map a significant temperature change, a flip flop if you will. You know, we had the cold out western U.S., western Canada. They're going to be warming up this week as the coldest air of the season now moves across the Great Lakes into New England. Get ready for subfreezing high temperatures.

Where that cold air is moving in the winter weather alerts, the advisories. But good news, early this morning over 30 million Americans now, as you mentioned, Fredricka, down to 13, so we've dropped that by over half. And it does look pretty promising. Even though there's still areas of pink here, that's the freezing drizzle. We're not seeing it as widespread or heavy as we did last night and for the first part of the morning.

Mainly it's rainfall in the bigger cities. The advisories do not include Washington, near Baltimore, Philadelphia or New York City, even Boston, but this is really good news. We were expecting widespread travel problems, but notice green on state routes and the interstates. That doesn't mean go out and check it out. There's still going to be some slick spots and with this cold air moving in a lot of black ice tomorrow to start off the work week.

Lake effect snows will be in full force. Ashtabula County, Lake Eerie, you know, around the Buffalo area and Cleveland, but the rain moves offshore, and that's good news. Look at the highs, though. You're dropping Monday into Tuesday, down at 12 degrees in Boston, about 18 in New York City, but here's where we have the severe weather. We've had a couple of tornadoes yesterday around the Houston area and then in toward areas of Louisiana.

In red is a tornado watch. Now this is in effect until 6 p.m. Central Time, and it does include areas like Meridian and Hattiesburg, over towards Selma just to the west of Montgomery, and already a few of these smaller storms have tried to generate some wind gusts and hail, and we cannot knock out the possibility of maybe an isolated tornado. They will be small in size, short spin ups, but again, same cold front with the winter weather up to the northeast and maybe two to four inches isolated. Not that widespread, but temperatures will be cooler here as well. And again, that map I showed you to begin with gets much better out west, especially for the flooding rains in the Pacific Northwest. All-in-all, not that bad, Fredricka. Looking up (ph).

WHITFIELD: All right. OK. All right, all right. We'll take your word for it. (LAUGHTER)

WHITFIELD: Tom, thank you so much.


WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, President Biden will travel to the state that his aides have referred to as ground zero for voter suppression efforts. We'll get a preview of his trip to Georgia.



WHITFIELD: All right. This week President Biden will head to Georgia to make a major push on voting rights legislation. Biden is expected to endorse a change in the Senate filibuster rules in his speech on Tuesday with Vice President Kamala Harris. That so-called carve out would allow a bill overhauling voting laws to pass by a simple majority. Democrats are launching a full court effort to pressure Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to support the change.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let's get the bill passed. There's nothing more important for us to do than protect our Constitution and our democracy. What the Republicans are doing across the country is really a legislative continuation of what they did on January 6, which is to undermine our democracy, to undermine the integrity of our elections, to undermine the voting power which is the essence of a democracy. So we have to do that bill.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House for us. So Arlette, what more do we know about the president's approach to his speech and his visit to Georgia?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred, President Biden is hoping to build some momentum around Democrats' voting rights push when he and Vice President Kamala Harris travel to Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday to deliver speeches on that topic. The White House says they chose Georgia for these speeches because it not only served as the cornerstone of the civil rights movement, but it also is one of those states where Republicans have led efforts to enact voting restrictions.

Now there are multiple bills that Senate Democrats are trying to get across the finish line up on Capitol Hill, but they really face an uphill battle. Republicans have not signed onboard with any of those proposals, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that if Republicans will not get on board he is prepared to hold a vote to change the Senate filibuster rules. That would be a historic vote to change the rules to only require a simple majority in order to pass voting rights legislation. Now President Biden has signaled he is open to that carve out of the

filibuster, but it would require that all Democrats be on board, and right now there are some major hold outs, two of them being Senator Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. You have heard Democratic lawmakers like Senator Jim - or Congressman Jim Clyburn really turning up the heat on Manchin, saying that he should vote for this bill, insisting this is now the time to act in changing those Senate filibuster rules.

Now President Biden has faced a lot of pressure from activists to really step out and ramp up his messaging when it comes to voting rights legislation.


But there is a group of civil rights activists in Georgia who have said that the president shouldn't travel down there unless he actually has a plan to enact these pieces of legislation, but of course, that all is facing a very steep climb up on Capitol Hill as there are not enough Republicans on board. It remains unclear if Democrats can really get the votes needed to change those filibuster rules. Fred -

WHITFIELD: All right. And the votes right from Manchin and Sinema pretty important to do so. All right, Arlette Saenz, thank you so much. All right, we're continuing to follow our breaking news out of The Bronx. More than two dozen people are in the hospital with life threatening conditions after a fire broke out in a duplex apartment. We'll get the latest after the break.