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Chicago Cancels Classes For 4th Day Amid COVID Safety Protocol Clash; U.S. Dep. Secy. Of State Says She Does Not Know Yet If Talks With Russia Will Prompt Moscow To De-Escalate; NOAA: Weather Disasters Cost U.S. $750 Billion Over Past 5 Years; Convicted Murderer, Robert Durst, Dies At CA Prison Hospital. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 10, 2022 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: It is day four of no school for more than 330,000 children in Chicago, the nation's third-largest school district.

The city officials continue to battle with the teachers union over COVID safety protocols.

Halle Quezada is a third-grade teachers in the Chicago public school district. She's a member of the teachers union. She's also the mother of a student in the system.

Halle, thank you so much for being with me this afternoon.

I want to start here with the feelings of a parent, of a student there, like yourself, in the Chicago public school system.

Listen to this.


MICHELLE EGAN, CHICAGO PARENT: We saw over the holiday break, we saw our teachers going on vacations and visiting families, and they absolutely should be doing that.

But to return to school three days later and say that they don't feel comfortable being in the classroom when the public health community said it is safe.

And the rates within the community of kids is lower than what they face when they go to the grocery store or when they get their nails done or when they're out in just the general community living their lives.

You know, we have to move on. We have to live our lives with this pandemic. And so we really want the teachers to get back to work.


CAMEROTA: What is your response to that?

HALLE QUEZADA, THIRD-GRADE TEACHER & MEMBER, CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION: We Yes, ultimately, I would say we are in a spike. There was a lot of holiday travel. A lot of teachers were quarantining, like myself.

But we need to respond to that, to that spike that we're seeing in COVID.

You know, 20 percent of the COVID cases in schools since the start of the pandemic showed up in school buildings that Monday and Tuesday that teachers did go back.

And the real heart of the instability here is that I think everybody knew, at some point, we would have a COVID variant that was more contagious.

And the city of Chicago failed to have a plan that we could switch to when we got to that point.

What is most enraging to me as a parent and a teacher is knowing that the Chicago teachers union has been pushing to have a plan for this exact scenario since August.

To hear that our governor has been trying to support Mayor Lori Lightfoot behind the scenes for weeks with the very demands that teachers are asking, which isn't a lot.

We want increased access to tests and vaccines and masks for our students.

We are in unchartered territory. We are in a spike.

We're not asking for remote learning forever. We're asking for remote learning until the cases get under control.


BLACKWELL: Let me say there. There are other school districts that are chartering this territory, New York schools are open, and they take it school by school approach to this.

You told one of my producers that the idea that you could do anything school by school without district-wide planning to invest more in schools with least resources is inhumane.

What do you mean by that?

QUEZADA: It is. Here in Chicago, our resources are so stratified. We have systemic investment in specific communities.

And there are communities that are carrying the brunt of the economic impact of COVID, the brunt of the health impacts of COVID, schools that are just dealing with mass grief.

And there also are schools that we see are least vaccinated and have the fewest percentages of kids signing up for tests. And that is not because they're families don't care. Those are policy

errors. That is a lack of organization and care on the part of planning.

BLACKWELL: So let me ask you this. The World Health Organization tells us that the most likely transmission in schools is from adult to adult. It is from teachers to teachers, staff member to staff member.

And 95 percent of the teachers in Chicago public schools are vaccinated.

They also tell us that, quote, "Opening schools generally does not significantly increase community transmission."

So with those two factors from the World Health Organization, again, why can't teachers in Chicago do what teachers in Baltimore, in Philly, in New York are doing?

QUEZADA: Yes. And I'll say the teachers of other major school districts are saying the same things that we are. We see the data that is not collected to start with.


And, second, it is -- gosh, it is hard to quantify. So I'm a teacher who is vaccinated and had a break-through case of COVID and my vaccinated husband was hospitalized. And while he survived, it's just wildly traumatic to my family.

And having lived that and asking me to subject my students and their families who are even more vulnerable, it feels wrong, especially when there are very basic, again, basic steps that we're asking the district for.

Like adequate masking for our students and that is recommended for the vaccines and the rest.

BLACKWELL: Halle Quezada, thank you so much for your time.

QUEZADA: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Well now to this. High-stakes talks between the U.S. and Russia lasted seven hours today. So have they de- escalated the tensions at the border with Ukraine? Our reporters were just briefed by both sides. They'll bring us the takeaways, next.



CAMEROTA: U.S. and Russian officials met for seven hours today to discuss the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the talks were, quote, "frank and forthright." But she said it is not clear if the Russians are ready to de-escalate.

BLACKWELL: CNN senior national security correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is following the talks from Geneva.

So what else do we know about this meeting?


Well, after more than seven and a half hours of discussions here in Geneva, it is clear that neither side emerged completely victorious. Neither got the major things that they wanted.

But at the same time, the talks didn't fail. It is not like the Russians walked away and it looks like a military incursion is imminent. The discussions will continue.

But the Russians came into these talks with a series of demands that the U.S. had already ruled out, including the demand that Ukraine never join NATO.

That is something that the U.S. said they will never agree to or something they would discuss without NATO and Ukraine in the room.

At the same time, the U.S. did not get any real indication that Russia plans to de-escalate in Ukraine and withdraw troops.

Listen to what the Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said when asked about the assurance from the Russians today that they don't plan to invade Ukraine?


WENDY SHERMAN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE (voice-over): I don't think you'd be surprised to hear that Russia, indeed, said to us, as they said publicly, they do not intend to invade, these are just maneuvers and exercises.

And they can prove that, in fact, they have no intention by de- escalating and returning troops to barracks.


MARQUARDT: So essentially, where we stand now, Alisyn and Victor, is where the Biden administration had predicted we might be at the end of the one day of discussions and that is with no major breakthrough.

So rather than focusing on the things that -- the demands the Russians were making that the U.S. would not agree to, the U.S. wanted to focus on issues that they could come to an understanding about eventually.

And that is what kind of missiles would be placed in Ukraine, or no missiles at all. What kind of missiles would be placed in the rest of Europe? What exercises, by both NATO and Russia, would look like.

The U.S. has said clearly that if they are to give any sort of concessions or make any moves on those fronts, they want reciprocal moves by the Russians.

It's important to note, this is just the first day of meetings in a whole-weeks-worth of diplomatic meetings that will expand over the week to include NATO and other countries later on this week -- Alisyn and Victor?

BLACKWELL: Alex Marquardt, for us in Geneva. Thank you very much, Alex.

Let's bring in CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's a White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

David, good to see you again.

As Alex referenced there, Secretary Blinken said that he didn't expect any big break-throughs and the threshold was low. What are the big takeaways?


The first is that the two countries are still talking past each other. The United States wants to slow down the threat to Ukraine and get those troops moved off the border.

The Russians see those troops as their leverage for a much broader agenda, which is to try to assure that Ukraine but also other nations do not join NATO.

That their long-standing argument that the United States needed to withdraw troops and arms and even nuclear arms from newer NATO states, former Soviet states, that that has to be abided by as well.

So we've got the United States trying to buy some time by talking about reinstituting some older agreements, about missiles, about exercises, while the Russian are saying the big concerns aren't being addressed.

CAMEROTA: So, David, are there -- it sounds like, as Alex just pointed out and you, that Russians have a list of unrealistic demands, at least from the U.S. perspective.

So are there things that the Biden administration could offer that would satisfy Putin?


SANGER: There are things that they could offer them, Alisyn. I'm not sure whether it will satisfy Putin.

You heard Deputy Secretary Sherman talk about two of them.

One of them is reviving the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement, which President Trump abandoned but the Russians had violated. And another was working out an agreement about where and when you

would deploy troops on exercises, making sure they're far from borders.

But these are more tactical things. And what the Russians are really looking to do, I get the sense, is roll back the clock to at least 1997, maybe to 1990.

So they have a spear of influence that is as broad or as close to as broad as what they have before the Soviet Union collapse. And I'm not sure the United States could help them with that.

BLACKWELL: This meeting comes at an interesting point between two speeches from the president about the preservation of democracy, of course, on the anniversary of the insurrection from one element talking about the former president.

But then tomorrow, he's going to be in Atlanta to try to promote some movement on protection of voting rights. The president trying to promote democracies in eastern Europe but still having to have that fight here at home?

SANGER: That's right, Victor.

And I think that part of the challenge for President Biden throughout this year is that he's the first president who is making the case for freeing democracies around the world and removing threats from them at a moment when it is under such threat as home.

And this makes the argument hard to make.

The Chinese and the Russians have all done a good job, I think, of turning the January 6th events, turning the divisiveness in the United States to their advantage.

And the Russians have done everything they could to widen the differences.

The Chinese government has done a good job of broadcasting images of January 6th back to their own people and saying, do you really want a democracy that looks like this?

This is the moment where what happened at home collides with our influence abroad.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting.

Thank you for the insight. David Sanger, great to see you.

SANGER: Great to see you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Last year, was the fifth-hottest on record. And a new warning on greenhouse gases that could set back the president's climate agenda.

BLACKWELL: And it was a rescue on ice. See the moment emergency crews saved dozens of fishermen who were stranding on a floating chunk of ice.



CAMEROTA: Emergency crews in Wisconsin rescued at least 34 people from a floating chunk of ice that broke away from the shore in Green Bay and traveled about three-quarters of a mile before everyone was brought to safety.

Amazingly, nobody was hurt, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Now, it took a few trips, because airboats from the Brown County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Coast Guard were able to only rescue eight people at a time.

They think a barge traveling through the bay is responsible for that ice breakage.

CAMEROTA: Just incredible video there.

Meanwhile, severe weather events are taking a very costly toll on the U.S.

A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says weather disasters have cost the U.S. $750 billion over just the last five years.

BLACKWELL: And the country endured 20 weather and climate disasters in 2021 alone. Each cost at least $1 billion in damage.

We're talking the record-shattering heat wave that triggered wildfires across the west, the devastating out-of-season tornado outbreak near the end of last year.

Let's bring in now CNN chief climate correspondent, Bill Weir.

The report was just released, Bill. What are you learning about it?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, $20 billion disasters in a single year. That's only happened twice. And those two years were 2020 and 2021.

And we knew it was going to be bad. We didn't know it was going to be this bad. There was another 20. Not as many as last year's 22, the record there.

But this year cost $50 billion more. As you mentioned, from Ida to the deep freeze to the December tornadoes to the epic megadrought, all of that.

And as long as we're throwing around numbers with nine zeros on them, we should mention that stuck in Congress is the Build Back Better climate plan, which is a modest $550 billion over 10 years.

And that one has been chipped away so much that it's pretty much all carrots and no sticks for big utility companies, for energy companies.

Which is why the other reports today are so alarming. As you say, not only are we in the top-five hottest years ever, the seven hottest summers ever.

The nonpartisan Rhodium Group put out a report that, last year, the United States' share of planet-cooking pollution emissions went up by 6 percent.

And this, of course, after Joe Biden promised to cut it by half in just the end of this decade.

The proof is right there. All of these three reports are all tied together.


BLACKWELL: Going in the wrong direction.

Bill Weir, good to see you. Thank you so much.

WEIR: You bet.

BLACKWELL: Breaking news into CNN. Convicted murderer, Robert Durst, has died. We've got more on that, ahead.


BLACKWELL: Breaking news. Convicted murderer and real estate heir, Robert Durst, has died. He was 78 years old.

He was serving a life sentence in a California state prison for the fatal killing of his best friend in 2000, Susan Berman.

CNN's Jean Casarez is here with more.

Jean, do we know yet the cause of death here?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was not well. And he died in the custody of the Department of Corrections in California, where, just as you said, he'd been convicted of capital murder early last fall.


But during his capitol murder trial in Los Angeles, which actually began in 2020, was continued because of COVID, took up again in '21, you could tell he was very ill.