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Space Heater Started Fire That Killed 19 Including Nine Children; Interview With Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) About The Deadly Bronx Fire; Los Angeles Schools Require Negative COVID Test For Entry; Trump Brags About Crowd Size At Pre-Riot January 6th Rally; Novak Djokovic Appeals Visa Cancellation In Vaccine Standoff In Australia. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 09, 2022 - 18:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. And we begin this hour with breaking news.

A devastating fire that killed 19 people, including nine children, who were inside a massive apartment building in the Bronx. Right now fire officials say they do know how it started. Fire officials describing the scene in the Bronx as unprecedented with victims in the stairwells on every floor of the building. We're talking 19 stories.

In addition to those killed, more than a dozen others remain hospitalized in life-threatening conditions. Last hour we got an update from the New York City fire commissioner and the mayor of New York. They told reporters that the cause of this fire appears to have been a malfunctioning space heater.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: Our message is clear today. During a tragedy, we are going to be here for each other. There is more to be discovered. The FDNY is doing a thorough investigation. Commissioner Nigro will update us on the latest, but it appears as though this stemmed from a space heater. But the marshals are here. They will give us a thorough investigation to determine exactly what took place and what we can do better not to have this repeated.


ACOSTA: CNN's Polo Sandoval is live in the Bronx for us.

Polo, just heartbreaking to hear from the mayor and other top officials there in New York City talking -- I mean, the year 2022, a space heater. Something as simple as a malfunctioning space heater can cause so much destruction, cause so many deaths. It's a reminder to people out there if you have space heaters in your home, please, please be very, very careful. They can cause tragedies like this. This is why people warned folks to be careful with their space heaters.

Polo, what's the latest?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And investigators has said, Jim, that the building's heat was actually operating. It was working, that the space heater was simply supplementing. But still, it was enough to cause this tragedy. And as we heard not just from the mayor but also the governor of New York who just left the scene a few moments ago, basically saying that tonight is a night of tragedy and the pain, but tomorrow rebuilding.

But that will do little really to comfort so many families including the families of 19 people who've been confirmed dead, nine of them children here. And also many of these -- many of those families who were affected, members of the immigrant community, as we heard from authorities just a short while ago during that press conference many of them traveling here and moving here from places as far as Africa and starting a new life, but instead now facing this tragedy.

And now so much uncertainty. About 120 units in this 19-story building, which now it's safe to assume that you have well over 100 families now with potentially no place to go, especially if they're not allowed into the apartments tonight. That's why city officials are here on the ground, the Red Cross included as well, making sure that they do have accommodations tonight, and those that may perhaps need long-term accommodations, that they are also addressed as well.

Because for so many families tonight their current home might potentially be the middle school right next door which is being used to house and to shelter them and make sure that everybody is OK and warm before they figure out what comes next. But then of course the big question that wasn't answered a few moments ago as to what caused that space heater. The fire largely contained to that one duplex apartment, but that was the smoke that caused so much damage, so much devastation and death.

And that's what leads us to the next question of what can potentially be done to remind people of the risks of potentially leaving the door in the middle of those fires that allowed that smoke to escape and caused so much damage and death here -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Just awful. And what are we learning about the building itself? There were some mention of possible code violations and so on. Whether or not that had anything to do with it, what's the latest on that?

SANDOVAL: It's about a 50-year-old building, according to building records, and when you look at it, it doesn't have any outstanding building violations after a preliminary search that we've done here. And it was a building that, again, it housed about 120 units, about 50 years old, but the question is what potentially could be done in buildings like this to try to keep this from happening again?


Because as we just saw it didn't have any structural violations, but it was a federally funded building, so it certainly leads to the other question of what kind of codes would potentially apply there if it doesn't necessarily fall within New York City fire code.

ACOSTA: All right, Polo Sandoval, thank you very much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres of New York. His district covers most of the South Bronx.

Congressman, so sorry about this in your community. Just terrible, just awful. You were born and bred in the Bronx. What is your reaction to this horrific loss, and what are you learning that you could tell us?

REP. RITCHIE TORRES (D-NY): I'm in a state of shock. The Bronx has been the scene of three catastrophic fires in the last 30 years. This is the deadliest fire since Happy Land in 1990. And I have constituents who have seen the world around them collapse, who have lost their children, their whole families, their homes. It's a level of trauma and tragedy that most of us will never know, and it's going to take a long time not only to provide these families with temporary shelter and to connect them to counseling and mental health services, and enable them to recover from what has been an unspeakable tragedy.

ACOSTA: And have you had a chance to talk to any of the people who have been displaced in the building? Do they have the assistance that they need? Is there a number they can call if they're wondering what they should do? How can the city of New York, how can the services in that community be of assistance at this time?

TORRES: Well, if you're a victim of the fire, simply call 311 in New York City. We have a reception center right next to the building. The fire department is on site, the Office of the Emergency Management is on site, the Red Cross is on site. And we're going to see to it that every victim is connected to service.

ACOSTA: And what can you say about space heaters? I mean, my Cuban grandmother, God rest her soul, used a space heater. You know, it is something that elderly people use. And they're just so dangerous they frighten the hell out of me. What can you say about that? How widely used are they in your district? And what can you say about the fact that this malfunctioning space heater may have caused all of this?

TORRES: Look, I'm skeptical about the use of space heaters because it is an extraordinary fire hazard. There is often a chronic lack of heat and hot water and so people rely on space heaters to get heat in addition to the space heaters in this particular building. The door was left open causing the fire to spread widely and rapidly throughout the building, so we have to warn people about the fire hazards that come with the use of space heaters.

We have to impress upon people the need to close the door in the event there is a fire to prevent it from spreading, and we have to ensure that these federally funded developments comply with local fire codes, with the highest standards of fire safety.

The housing stock in the Bronx is quite old. This particular development Twin Parks Northwest dates back to the 1970s, but we have some buildings that are pre-war that were established before a modern fire code. Not every building has a sprinkler system, not every building has a functioning alarm. And not every building has a self- closing door. Many buildings lack what we would consider 21st century standards of fire safety.

ACOSTA: And you suspect that may be the case in this building?

TORRES: I'm going to wait for the fire marshal's report, but my understanding is that there were fire alarms. There was sufficient heat. But there was a malfunctioning space heater and the door was left open, and those appear to be the causes of the fire.

ACOSTA: And one of the things that I find so moving is that these firefighters kept going back in even without oxygen left in their tanks. What can you say about the heroism of the firefighters? I know they don't like to hear that term used, but I know they'll say that they're just doing their jobs, but just unbelievable bravery that we saw in the Bronx today.

TORRES: Look, every Bronxite is indebted to our firefighters. There's a reason we call them New York's bravest, and we're just enormously grateful to every single firefighter who put their lives at risk to save every possible life. It is unspeakably tragic that we lost 19 Bronx residents, including nine children, and people's lives were turned upside down. But the silver lining to this cloud is the heroism of the FDNY.


ACOSTA: And we know that the hospitals were already stressed because of COVID there in New York. Is this situation adding to those strains, or are the hospitals in that community, in your community, coping with this OK?

TORRES: In everything after the strain, I was speaking earlier to the head of the Public Hospital System and he was telling me that there was severe staffing shortages because of Omicron. About a quarter of the work force is out sick as a result of the virus. So, you know, this adds to the strain because we have to mobilize resources across the agencies to respond to a fire that affects 120 units and hundreds of families.

ACOSTA: And what is your message to your community this evening, Congressman, just a final word from you? What's your message on what happened here?

TORRES: I just want to let my community know that your elected officials at every level of government are here to support you in whatever way we can. We're going to need you to recover. We in New York are resourceful and we're resilient and we're in this together.

ACOSTA: All right, Congressman Ritchie Torres, we appreciate. Thanks for your time and our, you know, prayers are with your community this evening. I feel very badly for the losses of those victims. Just so, so sad, those children who lost their lives today.

Thanks for your time, Congressman. TORRES: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Appreciate it. And we'll be right back.



ACOSTA: More than one million people a day could soon test positive for COVID. Every day. That's according to multiple health experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci. Hospitals are already struggling to keep up with the surge. Almost one quarter of hospitals in the U.S. today are reporting a critical staffing shortage. This is causing problem for people who need non-COVID medical care.

Some states including New York have shot down non-urgent surgeries in certain facilities and another problem, keeping kids safe as they head back to school. More than 300,000 Chicago students have been stuck at home since Wednesday. Their education is on hold as city officials pushed teachers to come back to the classrooms.

Meanwhile pediatric hospitalizations are breaking records and today Children's Hospital Los Angeles reports that roughly one-quarter of children hospitalized with COVID are admitted to the pediatric ICU units. That is just very, very scary news. Some even need to be intubated.

Let's go to CNN's Natasha Chen in Los Angeles County.

Natasha, that's some scary information coming out of L.A. right now. The school district out there is the second largest in the country. How are things going there compared to some of these other problems that we're seeing around the country?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the school district, L.A. Unified, is going through a serious process here to make sure they can stop the spread. Behind me is a long line of people trying to get tested before Tuesday. This is a required baseline test, and we just spoke with the president of the L.A. Unified Board, Kelly Gomez, who told me that because of this testing that's been required of students and employees this past week, they've caught 50,000 positive cases.

She says that's 50,000 students and employees who are now prevented from coming into the building Tuesday. So that along with their required weekly testing for students and employees is really working for them, along with required vaccination for all their employees, along with the fact that students 12 and up, about 90 percent of them, are fully vaccinated now. Universal masking indoors and out.

I talked to one 10th grader about this process, about all of these policies, and how he's feeling about it, especially during this Omicron surge when many of his friends are testing positive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VICTOR NAVARRO, 10TH GRADER AT ARLETA HIGH SCHOOL: My group chat, they're all testing positive for some reason. I think it's the new virus or something like that that's going around?

CHEN: The new variant?

NAVARRO: Yes. Yes. Like all my group tested positive. We always get tested in school, so I don't know. And then we always have this daily pass that we have to enter school with, and if it doesn't come out, that means you tested positive and you can't get in school. Honestly, it's just extra safety, so, yes, it's not that much big of a deal.


CHEN: He says not a big deal because they've been doing this since August. They are used to this. And whatever has been going on so far has been working for L.A. Unified, because they tell me more than a thousand schools in their district, not a single one had to go virtual since the beginning of this academic year -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Natasha Chen, thank you very much for that.

And this just in, some breaking news. We have just learned that New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio -- Cortez, I should say, has COVID. In a statement her office said she is experiencing symptoms and recovering at home. The congresswoman is fully vaccinated and also received her booster back in the fall.

That news just coming in the last several minutes that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her office is saying that she has contracted COVID-19.

And coming up, former first lady Michelle Obama has an urgent message for Americans before this year's midterms.



ACOSTA: Shocking but not surprising. We got used to hearing those words during the Trump years, but a year out from the insurrection this comment from the former president about his crowd size before the riot and insurrection, well, was just beyond sick.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They never showed helicopter pictures of that incredible crowd because it was the largest crowd I've ever spoken to before. I've never had a crowd -- I've never seen a crowd that big.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was, it was massive.

TRUMP: It was. The real number I won't say because it will be a headline. Oh, he exaggerated the number. The real number was over that sacred number. OK?


TRUMP: You know what that number was, right?


TRUMP: And I don't even talk about that, and they don't talk about it. I don't go -- but I tell you, the crowd itself was the biggest crowd -- and I've spoken before the biggest crowds. The biggest crowd I've ever spoken by far.



ACOSTA: And joining me now, CNN senior political analyst John Avlon and CNN political commentator and host of PBS Firing Line, Margaret Hoover.

John, you know, I've said this before on this show. I think his brain is broke. There's just no other explanation for -- when he says these sorts of things. You know, I think maybe he just has like sort of this Pavlovian, you know, way of -- you know, he has to talk about crowd sizes in the most inappropriate situations. I just -- I don't understand why he would even -- you know. It's just sick.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, sure, you do. I mean, it's because it's all about Trump and his ego, which is simultaneously massive and fragile, so he wants to measure it. It's all about size for him so he's got to get some kind of, you know, interrogator who sort of fluffs him up and urges him on. And it's total, it's nonsense, but it speaks to his priorities. It's not civics, it's not democracy, it's not America. It's not even his supporters. It's just his own pathetic, fragile, massive ego.

ACOSTA: Yes. And Margaret, it's been a year since he lost his Twitter account, and all of our, you know, mental health is the better for it. It is unbelievable how much the big lie exists, though, in the minds of his supporters even without the Twitter account. Listen to what Donie O'Sullivan found.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The January 6th attack was not the Republicans nor Trump. It was the Democrats were behind it all. They're the ones that caused it all.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you really believe that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know it. And there is no way that a Republican would act that way, and there is no way that Trump had anything to do with what happened on January 6th.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the whole reporting of it is a giant hoax.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are a very peaceful people, so it was a total setup to me. It was the FBI had set it up. I don't believe that they were Trump supporters that did that.


ACOSTA: I guess there are all these propaganda outlets, Margaret, and this conservative media ecosystem which has picked where Trump's Twitter account left off, and without a Twitter account from Donald Trump, all of these other outlets can just continue to peddle these lies and so on, and that's responsible for this. What is your sense of it?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Jim, I think you're right. I think each of the conservative media ecosystem has created these deep, dark siloes where people have been able to hear the big lie, have the big lie reinforced, and they've been able to in some ways really self-radicalize. Right? They really believe a lie and they go darker and darker and deeper and deeper down those rabbit holes.

I mean, the merciful part for all of us is that because there is no Twitter account, it's not driving the headlines anymore. Right? You and I aren't having to wake up and report on it. But we're choosing to report it, thanks to Donie's great reporting, your covering of it, this lie persists and it persists in some ways in a stronger and more robust way in very specific siloes of our political life.

AVLON: Yes. And Jim --


AVLON: I just want to add to that. It highlights how much we're not having a debate about politics anymore at the outer reaches. This isn't a debate about policy or different approaches to solving the same problem. This is about reality. This is evidence of a cult that people have bought into because they need to save face. But it's important we don't mix this with the political debate. It's not. There are not two sides to these arguments about reality.

HOOVER: I think you would say, though, John, that this is the fringe. Right? This is the outer reaches have --

AVLON: The base and the fringe have blurred and probably there's no distinction.

HOOVER: But the outer reaches have always been fringe. I mean, you have the Birch Society in the '40s and the '50s.

AVLON: Worse than ever before.

HOOVER: You have them calling Eisenhower a community.

ACOSTA: I'm glad you're having this discussion because, Margaret, I do want to ask you, why is it then that we only saw two Republicans standing in the House to mark the anniversary of January 6th? That is almost the entire Republican Party that just didn't show up. And would they have been, you know, called out on the carpet by Tucker Carlson and that's why they couldn't do it? What's the explanation? HOOVER: Or by Donald Trump. I mean, look, I posed the same question to

Adam Kinzinger this week, and his response is quite right, I think. It's that Donald Trump still owns and has solidified and continues to hold all of the political power in the Republican Party.

And with two years cycles being reelected in the House of Representatives, if individuals want to stay in the House of Representatives, and they're unwilling to stand for their principles and sacrifice their seats, like potentially Liz Cheney will and Adam Kinzinger has, then they don't have a choice. I mean, they do have a choice, but they're choosing not to. And that's the price of the lack of political courage.


ACOSTA: Yes. It's sad and pathetic. And John, I mean, this, I guess, you know, segues to what President Biden is going to be talking about in this big voting rights speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, and ahead of that, the former first lady Michelle Obama took out an ad in the "New York Times" entitled "Fight for Our Votes." She laid out a series of goals including recruiting and training at least 100 volunteers and registering more than a million new voters.

She added that John Lewis said democracy is not a state, it's an act. It does sound as though Democrats are kind of ramping up this message to carry into the midterm cycle that protecting democracy is maybe the most important issue of this campaign.

AVLON: We should all be single-issue voters when it comes to democracy. And there is I think an obligation to build a broader movement to defend democracy that includes righteous Republicans, independents, and Democrats. I think the problem that Democrats have as they try to ramp this up and Chuck Schumer saying he's going to try to make another push to get voting reforms through by Martin Luther King's birthday, is that they still have to convince Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, two of their own, to support reforming the filibuster.

This is amended, not ended. And I think it's important to really remind folks that in particular on that threshold, the idea that this is -- the status quo is the way it's always been is wrong, it's a lie. They should return it to what was reality for a long time for most of its time which was a talking filibuster. That said, what Michelle Obama is saying is you can't just wait for the Senate.

You need to apply political pressure but there are things that can be done locally in the states, and they need to be done, and I think that makes good sense.

ACOSTA: And Margaret, Ron Johnson, Republican senator from Wisconsin, announced he's going to run for reelection. Does that put in jeopardy that Senate seat? Because, you know, one of the things that we've talked about is, oh, it looks like the Republicans are going to take back control of the Congress. Larry Sabato was on earlier in this show saying, OK, maybe in the House, but the Senate is not necessarily a done deal. And Ron Johnson, there is just a lowlight reel of just craziness from

him over and over on COVID, on all of these issues. Are the Republicans potentially putting that seat in jeopardy, do you think?

HOOVER: I think from Mitch McConnell's perspective, they are keeping it in play. They hold the seat now so they're defending it. It's an incumbent seat.

ACOSTA: Right.

HOOVER: The seat was -- you know, Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes, so it was, you know, a near tie statistically. And it's a year that is purportedly going to be about Joe Biden and about the Democratic rule of Washington where Republicans historically are going to have a leg up. So my bet is if I were in Mitch McConnell's head, Mitch thinks it's a better play to keep Ron Johnson defending that seat than to run somebody new and have it be an open seat. That's way more expensive.

AVLON: Counterpoint? 36 percent approval rate. That's what Ron Johnson's got in Wisconsin according to the latest Marquette poll. That's a problem.

ACOSTA: Yes. That's not a lot of cheese, as they might say in Wisconsin.

AVLON: As they might say. Yes.

ACOSTA: That as they might, or they might not say. All right, John and Margaret, great to see you. Thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

AVLON: Take care, man. Be well.

HOOVER: Thanks, Jim. Take care.

ACOSTA: Take care.

Coming up, a hearing underway right now for tennis star Novak Djokovic amid a vaccine standoff with Australia. Will he get to compete in one of the biggest tournaments of the year or will he be deported?

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: Right now the world's number one ranked men's tennis player, Novak Djokovic, is waiting for Australian court to rule on whether he'll be allowed to play in the upcoming Australian Open or whether he will be deported because he's not vaccinated against COVID.

Djokovic's lawyers say he flew to Australia last week because he received a medical exemption to compete but since his arrival, he's been confined to a hotel that houses refugees and asylum seekers while officials sort out what happens next.

CNN's Phil Black joins me live with more.

Phil, this hearing just got underway but the uproar has been going on for days with strong support and strong condemnation, honestly, for Djokovic. What do you think is going to happen at the end of all of this? I suppose it's a question of who has to follow the rules.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, it's a key question and also a question of what are the rules, specifically. Djokovic is in this hotel still behind us. He is there today hoping desperately that he's going to get a swift positive result that will allow him to leave the hotel quickly, begin his preparations for the tournament and then play in the Australian Open when it's due to start in about a week's time. But will he get that today? That is unclear.

We know that his lawyers are going to argue in court, in a virtual online court today that the process of cancelling his visa last week was, they believe, mishandled at various stages, that there were many poor judgments, that he was treated unfairly. But crucial to their argument will be their belief, their argument that he has the right to be here exempted from vaccine requirements for the same reason that he was granted an exemption to play in the Australian Open by its panel of medical experts.

And that's because they say the advisory panel to the government on vaccine issues says there are grounds for a temporary exemption from vaccine -- from being fully vaccinated when someone has experienced a recent COVID infection, specifically within the last six months.


And we know from the court documents that have been filed Djokovic tested positive for COVID back on December 16th, and it was after that that he sought the exemption to come here and play.

Now the Australian government disagrees with all that, all that technicality very strongly and it's going to fight it as hard as it possibly can. Whatever the outcome here today, Djokovic is going to face more questions when he gets out because his own social media shows that on the day that he says he tested positive and in the days following that, he was out and about, at events, without wearing a mask, without showing any obvious caution. So the question there is when did he find out that he had tested positive on December 16?

And also a tennis question that needs to be answered. Up until the point that he did test positive on December 16th, what was his plan for coming here to play in the Australia Open? Did he have any hope or desire to actually do so given that he was pretty aware of what the strict vaccination rules are. So some questions that we hope will be answered today. Crucially, will he be allowed out soon? Will he be allowed to play or will he be deported pretty swiftly? That will be revealed to some degree in the coming hours -- Jim.

ACOSTA: OK, Phil Black, thanks very much for that.

And with me now is former professional tennis star and ESPN tennis commentator Patrick McEnroe.

Patrick, thanks so much for being with us. Wow, what a situation in Australia. I mean, you know, they've got Djokovic in what they're calling a hotel, but it sounds like jail. What do you think is going on down under? What do you think the outcome of this hearing is going to be?

PATRICK MCENROE. FORMER PROFESSIONAL TENNIS STAR: Well, Phil laid it out very nicely for all of us, Jim. There is no doubt that Novak Djokovic is in a situation that he did not expect himself to be in when he left Serbia, on his way to Australia, when he thought he had gotten the appropriate visa and the exemption to be able to get into the country and play the tournament. But the federal government had different ideas.

There's been a lot of miscommunication, Jim. We're used to this a bit, aren't we, in our country with miscommunication, different rules, goalposts moving when it comes to what exactly are the rules and regulations as relates to COVID. That is exactly what's happened here since Djokovic released an Instagram post saying that he received an exemption, that he was on his way to Australia.

This created a political firestorm in Australia. The prime minister then got involved. I believe he saw a chance to make political points because any time there's an election in Australia border security becomes a huge issue. In fact in many times the number one issue.

And that's where the federal government stepped and said, you may have gotten a visa to be able to get into the country from Tennis Australia that worked with the state of Victoria where the tournament is played in Melbourne, but we can override any visa once you come to the airport and come into the country. Border patrol has the right to do that, and that apparently is exactly what they did.

ACOSTA: And we've seen protests of Djokovic's supporters both in Australia and in his home nation of Serbia. His father spoke to supporters in Belgrade today saying, are we animals? This is what he said. "Are we animals?

What are we? We are people just like they are. What is the difference? What is it that he did to deserve such treatment from their politicians, from their prime minister. Their fight between the federal and local governments and the tennis association. We are not interested in that at all."

You know, what do you make of the fact that he's become such a lightning rod in all of this? I suppose, you know, Patrick, you and I both know, you know, watching sports here in the United States, people like Kyrie Irving, Aaron Rodgers, some of these high-profile athletes who have dug in their heels on this COVID issue, Novak Djokovic knew that this was going to be controversial, I would assume, going to Australia being unvaccinated.

MCENROE: There is no doubt he knew it. And as Phil pointed out in his report, it took him a long time to get that positive test. There may be some question about the validity, at least in the officials down under in Australia, about the validity about that COVID test. I'll be interested to see if that becomes a point of discussion during this appeal that is now ongoing.

But look, of course, Novak Djokovic, Kyrie Irving, Aaron Rodgers, they have the right to say they don't want to take the vaccine, but they don't necessarily have the right then to do what all of us -- we've all had to make decisions, Jim, in our own lives about our kids in school, getting vaccinated to be able to go to your job, to be able to be a teacher.

ACOSTA: Right.

MCENROE: All these things are issues for everybody around the world, and certainly Djokovic knew that this was -- he was playing with fire. But I do believe that he's being used as a political pawn and the treatment that he's received since he arrived in Australia has been pretty rough, and I think the tide is turning at least publicly a bit in his favor.


The Australians started out being angry at Djokovic, now I think they're more angry at the miscommunication and lack of clarity from their own government.

ACOSTA: Yes, I guess you raised a good point, Patrick, because I'm a little puzzled as to why they didn't just let him cool his heels at a regular hotel, not something that is, you know, it sounds very detention facility like. That is odd.

MCENROE: Well, I think they wanted to make an example of him. I think that's just the bottom line. I mean, from the time that he stepped on the plane to when he arrived in Australia, this, as I said, became just a maelstrom of political -- just wildfire going on in the country. It started out as I said that people were upset at Djokovic. How could you let this privileged athlete come into our country when we've made all these sacrifices, we're 90 plus percent vaccinated in the country?

We've had lockdowns for over 260 days in Melbourne. We've done everything that you've asked us to as citizens of the country, and now you're going to let this player in? But since we've seen the way he's been treated I think that's starting to turn and they're a little bit more upset, maybe a lot more upset, about their own government and the political backstabbing and unaccountability that's going on.

It seems like that nobody wants to take responsibility and-or blame for how this has played out. This is going to be a very interesting next few hours as we see (INAUDIBLE). And I want to read one more thing for you, Jim, because I got it on my phone and it's from the brief that the federal government put up on their site. And it says, and I'm quoting, "There is no such thing as an assurance of entry by a non-citizen into Australia. Reflects the power and responsibility of the Commonwealth to determine who is entitled to enter. Fundamental attributes to Australian sovereignty." That's a portion of their 13-page document. The document from Novak

Djokovic and his legal team, 35 pages. So I think in the next few hours, we're going to go through all of this tooth and nail. Very, very interesting.

ACOSTA: But also what about the players' perspective on this? Because if you're one of the other, you know, tennis players in the Australian Open, and you have Djokovic going in there, he's not vaccinated, and he says he got a medical exemption, OK. But one has to assume there may have been folks in his entourage, who have similar, you know, feelings about vaccines and so on.

I mean, as -- if I were in that tournament as a player, I would be uncomfortable being around him, I suppose. You might be uncomfortable. There might be players who might be uncomfortable. What is the, I guess the argument to be made out of fairness for the other players in the tournament?

MCENROE: Well, to be fair and to be truthful in this situation, Jim, the players have all been dealing with, for almost two years, it's been a year and a half, back on tour for the players so there are bubble situations for players that are unvaccinated. You know, early on in the pandemic, when the players came to the U.S. Open, there was no vaccine so it was strict bubble requirements, as it was in Australia last year.

But I think none other than Rafael Nadal, one of Djokovic's great rivals in tennis for many, many years. They're both tied with Roger Federer with 20 major titles, Djokovic trying to get his 21st. He's a favorite if he plays to win the Australian Open. He summed it upper perfectly. He said, listen, Novak is his own person. He's allowed to make his own decision about the vaccine, but he knew that this situation was coming down the road.

He knew the rules and regulations of coming to a country like Australia which has very strict border policies and rules, and my prediction, Jim, and I don't think I'm going out on a limb here, is that this is going to continue in other countries, big European countries. We've already seen some changes in their rules there as it relates to COVID protocols.

And this is going to be something that Novak and all of tennis is going to have to deal with, I think, until we get this pandemic totally under control.

ACOSTA: Yes. And there are other big tournaments coming up, and it's just another reminder you have to abide by the rules both on and off the court.

Patrick McEnroe, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

MCENROE: Thanks for having me, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Take care.

And coming up, their motto was stop the steal, even though they were the ones trying to do the stealing.

CNN's Fareed Zakaria with an incredible discussion looking at the attacks on voting and the fight now to save American democracy.



ACOSTA: An Uber driver is being praised for going above and beyond during a stressful situation. DaVante Williams was one of the many drivers stuck for hours on Interstate-95 in Virginia after that severe winter storm, except Williams had a teenager in his car, an Uber passenger in his car who's a teenager. Williams had picked up the teen in Washington, D.C. after her train was cancelled, her train ride was canceled, and was taking her home to Virginia.

After hours stuck in this traffic, we all remember these images, Williams asked the teen's parents for permission to take her back to D.C. and book her a hotel room with his own money. The teen made it home safely the next day. Williams was reimbursed and Uber is calling him a hero.

Got to give him five stars, four stars for that one? No question about it.

The intense Republican loyalty to Trump may actually be destroying the system the founding fathers set up to protect democracy. CNN's Fareed Zakaria dives deep into what's at stake in a very important CNN Special Report, "THE FIGHT TO SAVE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY," airs tonight at 9:00. Here's a preview.



ROBERT KAGAN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT ADVISOR: The checks and balances they set up were really checks and balances between and among the different branches. They didn't anticipate that people in Congress, for instance, would be more loyal to the Republican Party than to the interest, the institutional interest of Congress.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": This is very important. What you're saying is that party, partisanship has become so great that basically it's broken the checks and balances system.

KAGAN: I would say that there was, let's say, a flaw or a trap door in the system that the founders didn't anticipate, that they didn't prepare for. I really do think it took a unique kind of individual with particular personal qualities to really exploit this gap or this weakness in our constitutional protections.


ACOSTA: Make sure to tune in, "THE FIGHT TO SAVE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY" airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern. Democracy is going to be an important topic of course on that show and this show every weekend. That's the news. Reporting from Washington, I'm Jim Acosta. I'll see

you back here next Saturday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Phil Mattingly takes over the CNN NEWSROOM live after a quick. Good night, everybody.