Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Voting Rights Groups to Biden, Don't Come to Atlanta Without Clear Plan; Surge Pushes U.S. to New COVID Hospitalization Record; Vast Majority of Those Hospitalized Are Unvaccinated. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 10:00   ET



ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, guys, what a game. This one really started off really slow but Georgia and Alabama both getting hot in the fourth quarter delivering a fourth quarter for the ages. And we had a big moment early on in the fourth, Christian Harris sacking Stetson Bennett, and he fumbled and the ball was kind of barely going out of bounds, and Alabama's Brian Branch casually grabbed. It went to review. The officials called it a fumble and it was the right call. It led to an Alabama touchdown. They took the lead at that point in the fourth, 18-13.

But from there, all Georgia, Bennett making up for that fumble in a big way through a 40-yard touchdown to give Georgia back the lead. And Bennett is such a great story. He walked on to Georgia as a freshman then he left the school to go play at a junior college, came back on scholarship, he threw two touchdowns in the final nine minutes, forever going to be a Bulldog legend. Georgia got a pick sick to wrap things up.

Kirby Smart was just overjoyed as he finally beat his old boss, Nick Saban. Bennett, like Georgia fans all over the country, which is tears of joy, the Bulldogs would win 33-18 to claim their first title since 1980.

And here's some more wild teams back in Athens, Georgia, the fans were celebrating in the streets into the wee hours of the morning. They are going to have a parade there on Saturday. The team heading back to Athens, as we speak right now.

And I'd tell you what, guys, this championship just meant so much to Georgia fans. Of course, they hadn't won one since 1980, but also they couldn't beat Alabama for years. And it had been since 2007, had lost seven in a row. So, to get over that hump, win a title for the first time in 41 years, it was just pure joy for Georgia.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes, congratulations to Georgia there, our condolences to our own Kaitlan Collins. But, Andy Scholes, thank you, as always, for that recap.

And good morning, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Later this hour, President Biden will leave the White House for Georgia where he is expected to give a major speech on voting rights that could have major implications certainly for his agenda, the president planning to turn up the heat on Congress and urge lawmakers to act fast to pass legislation. He has previously supported carving out an exception to Senate filibuster rules specifically to pass voting rights protections. Today, he is expected to spell out exactly what those changes should look like. The question, of course, Bianna, does he have the votes to do it?

GOLODRYGA: A handful of voting groups, meantime, are calling on him to skip the speech today and stay in Washington and instead focus on delivering a concrete plan to counter Republican efforts to make it harder to vote. Currently, 19 states passed 34 laws making it harder to vote in some way last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Experts say lawmakers in four states have already filed another 13 restrictive voting bills for the 2022 legislative session.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us now from Capitol Hill, but let's begin with John Harwood at the White House. John, what exactly are we expected to hear from the president today in Georgia?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. What we're going to hear is the president in the city, where Martin Luther King and John Lewis helped lead the civil rights movement, is going to have the president frame the search for voting rights in the context of two elements of the American story that have been central throughout. One, a democracy in which the people are sovereign, and, two, the long march toward realizing the aspiration from flawed beginnings, that all are created equal in that democracy.

The problem is, in the wake of Donald Trump's defeat and the big lie that Republicans are pushing, the Republican Party has turned away from those ideas. And because of Senate rules, they have the power to stop, through the filibuster, the advance of voting rights legislation that's already passed the House of Representatives. So, what the president is going to do is try to call on the Senate to change those rules so that they can pass it.

Here's an excerpt from the speech. It will say, in the next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning point in this nation. Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield, I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And so the question will be, where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?

Now, we know some voting rights advocates are not attending the speech. They say they want to hear a plan from the president to pass voting rights legislation. Their frustration is understandable but there really is only one plan possible, and that is to get all 50 Senate Democrats to agree to change the rules to allow this come to a vote by sidestepping the filibuster. The problem is that even though the vast majority of Democrats have agreed to do that, there are a couple of holdouts, most notably Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who are not agreeing to do that so far. Now, they have been trying publicly and privately, the White House and Democratic leaders, to move them.


They simply haven't been successful so far. The only way to move this forward is if they can somehow turn that around.

SCIUTTO: Manu, you've been covering this a long time. I mean, the reality on the Hill is the president doesn't have the votes in his own party here. And I wonder is this moving towards a situation where Democrats want the issue rather than the law, or at least that's what they feel realistically they can get?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is really about politics, and the 2022 midterms at the moment, getting legislation to the president's desk is highly, highly unlikely. There's virtually no chance of that happening, unless something dramatically changes over the next few day, and there's virtually no indication that anything will change, I mean, in large part because there is agreement among the Democrats about the actual policy.

The Democrats are on the same page over this Freedom to Vote Act, a bill that would impose a whole suite of reforms across the electoral processes here, as well as a separate bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that would overturn the 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, they are all in support of that. But what they're not in support is the process of enacting it. Under the current process, it requires 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to overcome a filibuster attempt. That means ten Republicans would have to break ranks. Virtually, all Republicans are opposed to that first bill, the larger bill, all but one are opposed to the John Lewis voting rights bill, there are not ten Republicans.

So, the other alternative, change the Senate filibuster rules to allow the bill to be advanced on a simple majority, 50 votes, Democratic votes, Kamala Harris as the vice president the breaking the tie. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema just are steadfastly opposed to changing the rules along straight lines, a process in the Capitol known as the nuclear option, because of concern that future majorities could use the same process to run roughshod over the rights of the minority.

And despite weeks and weeks of negotiation, talks and efforts to try to get Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on board, neither of them are indicating they're willing to move. Sinema reiterated that to our colleague last week. And last night, guys, Manchin, again, told me that using the nuclear option is not in the cards for him. So, getting a bill to the president's desk highly unlikely at the moment. Guys?

GOLODRYGA: Highly unlikely and highly unusual for the president to be getting pushback, right, from Democrats as well, and voting rights champions who are saying this is not where he should be right now. He should be back in Washington getting some sort of legislation passed. John Harwood and Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Well, this morning, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. hit an all- time record. Nearly 146,000 Americans, most of them are unvaccinated, are now hospitalized with coronavirus.

SCIUTTO: In Harris County, Texas, the spike so bad, they have now increased the coronavirus threat level to its highest level there.

CNN Correspondent Rosa Flores is at a mega testing site in Houston. Rosa, the Houston Health Department says it administered more than 45,000 COVID-19 tests in the first week of January, that's eight times the amount in the same period in November. So, a lot more people are testing, certainly finding a lot more infections. The big question is, how are the hospitals handling this?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a big question, and there's a big concern, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo calling it a tsunami of cases, so much so she increased the COVID-19 threat level to red, which is the highest.

Now, Officials here take a look at several factors, including the hospitalization rate. According to Hidalgo, the 14-day average COVID- 19 ICU population is at 18.1 percent here in Harris County. The goal is 5 percent. They also look at the positivity rate, according to Harris County Government, it's at 36.5 percent. That's why Hidalgo is asking people to pay attention. She says, this is the third time that she has had to raise the threat level to code red. Take a listen.


JUDGE LINA HIDALGO, COUNTY JUDGE FOR HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: Just yesterday, we crossed the threshold where over 18 percent of our ICU hospital beds are right now being taken up by COVID patients. And so that was the threshold to say, okay, red alert, this is the toughest level, because it means that we're not having enough beds for everybody else.


FLORES: Now, the positivity rate here in Houston, where I am, is even higher, it's at 38 percent, according to the Houston Health Department. And, Jim and Bianna, I'm at a mega testing site. That's the activity that you see behind me. There are five of these in the city of Houston, and the Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, is urging people to please use these sites to get tested. Again, and the overall recommendation is to get vaccinated. And if your children qualify, get them vaccinated as well.

GOLODRYGA: And the positivity is alarmingly high in Houston right now. Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now, Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, she's Chief Clinical Officer at Providence Health System in Seattle. Doctor, great to have you back, as always.


DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER, PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM: Thanks so much. SCIUTTO: So, some of the data remains clear, right, vaccinations, particularly booster and vaccination, keeps people -- the vast majority of people out of the hospital, also makes it harder -- not impossible but harder to spread the infection. I suppose the question is what the guidance is for folks who test positive, because the data also shows less -- it causes less severe disease, not just those who are vaccinated but also omicron itself. Are we clear now what folks should do? Do you think the authorities, health authorities have gotten the balance right, five days of isolation? Is this the right approach?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: I do think that if you test positive, the goal is to keep that germ to yourself, not to spread it to other people. And so if you have the capacity to stay home and not spread the germ for a full ten days, that's fantastic. If, however, you are a health care worker, for example, because right now, crisis in our hospital is less about burden of the omicron variant, on patients, and it's more that it is keeping our staff out of the hospital. So, if you're an sense, healthcare worker and you're asymptomatic, have zero symptoms from COVID, you just happen to test positive on screening, then the KN-95 or an N-95 mask and going about your business and keeping -- washing your hands, doing all of those hygiene things can actually help us keep our economy going. So, it really is a --

SCIUTTO: But that's for -- but, as you know, the guidance extends for reducing it to five days, extends far beyond health care workers, right? And I wonder, because folks have -- a whole host of folks have decisions to make, whether to keep their kids out of school and for how long, whether to go to work or not, and for how long.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: It is unclear at this point. And what the CDC has done is giving us leeway to use judgment, and that's where we are at the moment. You know, the good news is the very contagious variant we have circulating right now that is ripping through communities and having those incredibly high case numbers is a less severe variant. So, for people that are vaccinated, and boosted, the fact is that when and if you get omicron, it feels more like a cold than it does like a severe infection that is likely to put you in the ICU. If you are unvaccinated, it is much more likely to be a severe infection.

And so knowing that you are carrying a germ, and that that germ in some people can be very severe, is a tough one to do. Like, are you going to go out of the house knowing that you might pass on something on to somebody else that has the potential to kill them?

GOLODRYGA: If we could go back to the hospitalization rate, which is at an alarmingly high level right now, I want to ask you about what you touched on earlier, and that is staff shortages, because HHS is reporting that a quarter of U.S. hospitals are experiencing critical staff shortages. And Dr. Scott Gottlieb addressed this earlier this morning and said that it is less about the patients and the lack of hospital beds than it is more about the lack of hospital staff. Is that what you're seeing? And given how quickly this spreads and how quickly then it may peak, could we be over this in the next week or two? COMPTON-PHILLIPS: I would love to say that we'll be over this in the next week or two. I do think that we'll see a rapid peak. Will that peak be in a week? Will that peak be in two weeks? I'm not sure. I can tell you that it is decimating our hospitals right now, that our staffs, our care givers in the hospitals, the nurse, the doctors, the respiratory therapists, the cleaning crews, are all getting hit hard and fast by the omicron variant.

Our people at our facilities are vaccinated, so the infection them is likely to be less severe. But they still have to not come to work. That means everybody at work is working so much harder. And we've gone back to doing things like canceling surgeries for people who need it. Nobody chooses the surgery unless they're really -- they really need, it right? And so I was in the hospital, the other day, and they're calling cancer patients, canceling cancer surgeries. We don't have staff to perform it. So, it's really -- this is a staffing crisis at the moment, more than the COVID crisis.

SCIUTTO: No question. And you have the other issue of folks coming in for other issues and conditions who test positive as well. And then have to be given all of the same kind of protection, separation from the rest of the population, et cetera. Boy, it's a lot to throw at hospitals. Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, thanks so much for helping us understand.


SCIUTTO: Still ahead, efforts to de-escalate the situation at the Ukrainian border continue into round two. How NATO leaders are trying to combat Russian pessimism.

GOLODRYGA: Plus, a 57-year-old man in need of a heart transplant was out of options until an experimental opportunity came his way. Well, now, he is the first person ever to have a genetically modified pig heart beating inside his body. More on this story coming up next.



GOLODRYGA: President Biden will be leaving soon for Atlanta to make that major speech, pushing for voting rights legislation. He expected to say, now is the time to choose democracy over autocracy. But not everyone agrees the speech is the right way to get action on the Senate floor.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's remarkable. It's a big moment for the president but a lot of these voting rights groups, Democrat, all of them, they are not showing up.

We're joined by Gloria Browne-Marshall, a Constitutional Professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of a book on voting rights, also CNN Senior Political Analyst Ryan Lizza, Chief Washington Correspondent and Playbook co-Author at Politico.

[10:20:05] Great to have both of you.

Ryan, I want to ask about the hard facts of this, right, where this is going, because he doesn't have the votes. And, by the way, it's not just Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema as well, but there are other Democrats, Mark Kelly, a handful of others that are still weighing what to do in terms of whether they would support a carve-out here. Has this become a symbolic fight rather than a legislative one given that math?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that it has. I mean, this is a two-week pressure campaign, running up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Monday, to do everything they can, with -- in the Senate, with Schumer, pushing this issue, and with the president out, sort of peaking with this big speech he's going to make in Atlanta, and activists around the country, to try and convince the remaining holdouts in the Democratic caucus that if and when Republicans filibuster these two bills, then they need to change the rules of the Senate to pass them.

And as you pointed out, Jim, we've got some pretty big news this week that it's not just Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin who have been the focus of this for months, some other Democratic senators are stepping forward and saying, we're not so sure either.

So, you know, not to deflate the balloon here with what's going on, but I think Democrats and activists need to start thinking of what's plan B? Out of the ashes of what is likely to fail, what can they do on voting rights and electoral reform, because it is obviously an important issue.

GOLODRYGA: And so, Gloria, what is your response to what a plan B might look like? Because, as you know, a lot of attention has been focused on Stacey Abrams not being there at the speech today. Obviously, she's at the heart of voting rights reform. And she said that she had other plans, and many voting rights groups are saying that he, the president, should rather be in Washington than giving this speech right now and really trying to make more of an effort in terms of legislation. Is that going to overshadow whatever he is hoping to accomplish in Atlanta today?

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: I don't think it will overshadow it so much as those who are in the know will see that there are certain people who are absent, like Stacey Abrams. I think that what it says to plan B is that the economic pressures that were placed on certain corporations, for example, could be part of plan B, that it could be that we need to look at how President Biden was able to put other initiatives through and get them through using what he knew in the Senate, his elbow grease, and that wasn't just about speeches.

Too often, speeches are given to placate the masses, and the hard work and the inside scoop is being done, you know, to make things actually move forward, behind the scenes. And so there are many people who are activists saying, you know, we don't want speeches right now, even though that sounds good and for the general public, it looks like, why aren't these activists backing him, he is giving this great speech. It's like he's been in the Senate all this time. He knows how this works. And if he wanted to get something done, as he has his original campaign promises, then he knows that he needs to be in Washington greasing those wheels and not just giving speeches to people that sound good.

SCIUTTO: Ryan, so you have this other idea, just to look ahead a little bit, and that is of electoral count reform. In the shortest, simplest terms, this would mean changing the role of the vice president, as we saw last January 6th, being able, theoretically, right, to reject the electors coming in from certain states. By the way, this unusually has Republican senators interested as well. Not clear we got enough, but does that idea have genuine legs going forward if and when this effort fails?

LIZZA: It's a great question. Almost every Democrat who supports that, and most of the members, for instance, of the January 6th committee have said that they support that, that it's an important change, that the law really is outdated, it's ripe for abuse by a bad actor, as we saw in 2020, and, you know, next time someone tries to abuse it, they could be can successful. It's sitting there waiting for a bad actor to use it to engineer a coup. Not to put too fine of a point on it but that's the problem with that law.

Most Democrats will tell you, it is absolutely insufficient in terms of the much, much more sweeping changes that they want. But maybe out of the ashes of this current debate, the ECA reform could get some Democrats and Republicans interested in a bipartisan proposal that looked more at election subversion and not voting suppression.


Voting suppression is the sticking point. Republicans are not going to change their minds on voting suppression. They don't believe that these laws being passed are suppressing votes. And whether that's true or not, there's no breakthrough likely there. But you do have some Republicans who do fear election subversion, and that's the starting point for a bipartisan proposal that begins with reform that you could have after this current debate. Do I think it's likely? I don't know, but that's the best shot.

GOLODRYGA: Right. But, Gloria, which is why the primary focus here for many is the filibuster, and doing away with it, and it would at any other time be a big moment to hear from the president say that he supports even a carve-out.

I'm curious, given that it is not just Joe Manchin, perhaps it's a handful now of other senators that are on the fence of that, does that weaken the president's stance if, in fact, he doesn't have his entire party backing him on that issue?

BROWNE-MARSHALL: Well, his entire party has been outspoken in their support of the president's initiatives, generally, but there's always been groups that were not backing him all together. So, this is not new. I mean, we just need to know very quickly, the filibuster was created to stop civil rights, and stop the progress of people of color in this country. And for those people who are believing that this is not voter suppression, it is indeed the use of voter suppression to make sure that those votes are not all counted. So, I'm concerned across the board not just about the filibuster but about continued state action to suppress the votes of many people of color.

SCIUTTO: And, by the way, the filibuster is already gone for Supreme Court justices as well. Gloria Browne-Marshall, Ryan Lizza, thanks so much to both of you.

LIZZA: Thanks, guys.


SCIUTTO: Still ahead this hour, right now on Capitol Hill, lawmakers confront the ongoing threat to national and Capitol security ahead of the coming midterm elections. The latest warnings, next.