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Omicron Surging; President Biden Set to Deliver Address on Voting Rights. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 13:00   ET



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Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. It is great to be back with you today. Thank you so much for being with us.

You see President Biden live right now just arriving in Atlanta. And he's there to push voting rights today in a state he won. Yet he's getting a chilly reception from some allies. Here's what we know.

In today's speech, the president will forcefully call on the Senate to reform the filibuster to get federal voter protections through. And various Democrats and major civil rights leaders will be there for this speech. But a number of Georgia voting rights groups are boycotting, saying the time for talk is over.

We will speak to one of those leaders in just a moment. Also notably absent today, Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia Stacey Abrams, whose name has almost become synonymous with voting rights. But the president says no need to read into it.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spoke to Stacey this morning. Have a great relationship. We got our scheduling mixed up.

I'm going to be -- I talked with her at length this morning. We're all on the same page and everything is fine.


CABRERA: Let's go to CNN chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, there in Atlanta.

Jeff, is everything -- quote -- "fine"?


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, that is very much an open question.

Certainly, it's not fine with the local Georgia Democratic activists who simply want action from President Biden and Vice President Harris. So they said that they should be delivering on their plans for voting rights, not simply delivering one more speech.

But the reality is, there are not the votes for this in the U.S. Senate. There simply is not the support. So that is what President Biden is doing here this afternoon in Atlanta to make the case once again for national voting rights reform. Why? Because 19 states across the country, including here in Georgia, have passed laws making it harder for people to vote over the past year.

So the president wants to draw attention to that. And he's going to deliver a forceful call to eliminate the Senate filibuster, at least on voting reform. This is something that he has never been fully supportive of, never has fully embraced. He's going to urge the Senate to do so.

And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says that these votes could happen as soon as tomorrow or in the coming days. Of course, one challenge to all this is Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who simply is not movable on this filibuster, because he said it's not supported by enough Republicans as well.

He had this to say this morning:


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): The filibuster is what makes the Senate hopefully work when it's supposed to work. We need some good rules changes, and we can do that together.

But you change the rules with two-thirds of people that are present. So, it's Democrats and Republicans changing the rules to make the place work better. Getting rid of the filibuster does not make it work better.


ZELENY: So you can hear there Senator Manchin simply says he would be open to this if Republicans joined him in this effort. That is not going to happen.

But that does not mean that President Biden is not going to try and use the powers of persuasion, the powers of the bully pulpit to make this case and build support for this. And there might have to be some type of a compromise for a lesser voting rights bill. But it's why President Biden is coming here to the seat of the late Congressman John Lewis, of course, an icon of the civil rights movement, to make the case for the John Lewis Voting Act. But, Ana, it's certainly a big challenge for this White House, but one

the president is leaning into Jeff -- Ana.

CABRERA: Jeff Zeleny, thank you for that preview.

And we're joined now by one of the leaders skipping the president's speech today, the Reverend James Woodall. He's public policy associate at the Southern Center for Human Rights. He's also the former president of the Georgia NAACP.

And, Reverend, I really appreciate you joining us.

Wondering, what is your goal today? Why skip today's speech?

REV. JAMES WOODALL, SOUTHERN CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Well, today, Ana, is really centered around us pushing the White House and ultimately Congress to pass voting rights legislation.

We saw this kind of moment back in the 1960s, in which Lyndon B. Johnson would say something along the lines of, we have to continue on a course so that we may fulfill the destiny that history has set up for us. And so then Lyndon Johnson knew that the most immediate task was to be here -- or to be there on Capitol Hill.

And so our message is clear. The president, the White House, all of the senators, they need to be in the Congress talking about how to get this legislation passed, because, ultimately, it's the people of Georgia, it's the people of this great country that will suffer if democracy goes in peril.


CABRERA: So, what could the president be doing differently then?

What other actions do you think you should be taking? Because, obviously, a president can only do so much. Congress has to make the laws. And we just heard from Joe Manchin he's not willing to make changes right now to the process that would allow these laws to go into effect under a simple majority.

WOODALL: Well, one, we need the president to call out Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema directly, and demand that they protect the right to vote, demand that they protect the democracy that we all know all too well that is at stake, demand that they restore the Senate.

We're not simply asking for there to be a blow-up of the filibuster. That's not what we're asking for at all. We're simply asking to restore the integrity of the Senate, restore the integrity of our democracy, because we know that the filibuster itself hasn't even always been into -- as a part of that institution.

And so we're asking for the integrity of our democracy to be supported and reinforced, because the attacks against that very democracy has not only heightened and increased, but have become more aggressive in tactic. CABRERA: And I hear what you're saying, but I'm a little confused as

to why you aren't publicly showing your support for this president today. Aren't you on the same team? It seems like Republicans are almost unified against making these laws happen, while the president is in this fight with you and wants what you want, and has even in our preview with Jeff Zeleny said, today, he plans to call on the Senate to do exactly what you are suggesting.

WOODALL: Well, we have -- it's been over a year since Senate Bill 202 has been passed and signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp.

It's been nearly 14 years since the Shelby v. Holder decision, and the federal government has not had a response. And so, though the president over the course of his administration has signaled support for those legislative items, there has been no action.

And so we cannot go back to our communities and say, well, the president likes the idea, but there's no action, there's no legislation. When they show up to vote, they know that there's a governor, there is a Georgia General Assembly, there are local boards of election that are taking actions and taking extra steps to ensure that only certain people are able to vote.

We have just seen the -- just last week that the governor signed the new maps after the census was passed or done, and signed into law gerrymandered maps. And that has impact over the next 10 years. And so no more speeches will have that kind of impact, because we have actual law on the local and the state levels that's combating our right to vote.

CABRERA: Quickly, if you will, what's your biggest fear if this federal legislation isn't passed?

WOODALL: If this legislation is not passed, then America will cease to exist as we know it.

Democracy absent America -- or America absent democracy is not America at all. And so we need our president to stand and lead in this moment. Though this moment as dark at times, we are able to stand the test of times because we're able to withstand the challenges that democracy ultimately experiences.

But if we do not get this legislation, we will continue to see attacks against democracy. We will continue to see the kinds of attacks that we saw on January 6, 2021, and we will ultimately see the demise of this country altogether.


Reverend James Woodall, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

WOODALL: Thank you.

CABRERA: At the federal level, new election laws may be stuck in the Senate right now. But at the state level, it is a much different story.

Last year, 19 states passed laws with new voter restrictions. This is according to the liberal-leaning Brennan Center For Justice. And many of those laws were pushed by state Republicans who say this is about election integrity.

But the facts suggest otherwise.

Michael Waldman is the president of the Brennan Center, and joins us now with his research on this issue. He's also the author of "The Fight to Vote."

Michael, thank you for being with us.

Many people hear things like voter I.D. or election security, and they think that's reasonable. So what is the real effect of some of these restrictions we hear about that have been passed into law? And can you just give us some examples?

MICHAEL WALDMAN, PRESIDENT, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: Well, elections should be secure. Elections are secure.

These laws, unfortunately, target and have a disproportionate impact on voters of color across the country. They're very mischievously crafted. You have, for example, one example in Georgia. The law there shut down mobile voting. Well, that's only used in one place very successfully, in Atlanta.

There's the rather notorious provision saying you can't provide food or water to people waiting on line to vote. We all know and it's empirically shown that it's voters of color who have to wait longer on line.


There are little things like that add up. Some of these laws are worse than others. Unfortunately, they're uncannily targeted to have the same impact.

CABRERA: We just heard from Reverend Woodall there saying, less talk, more action. Do you think the Biden administration is doing everything it can at this point to combat these voter restrictions that are happening in states?

WALDMAN: Well, you certainly heard the passion and the concern felt by so many people across the country.

There is simply no substitute for Congress acting. There is no substitute for the president leading. Today's speech is pretty important. The speech the other day was pretty important. It's also really important that, behind closed doors, not just using the bully pulpit, but using his power of persuasion with other Democrats.

It's a rather significant, really a great political clash. States are rushing forward, driven by the big lie, not just to make it harder to vote, but to change who counts the votes. And Congress has the power to act legally and constitutionally. The question is, does it have the political will?

And the president has a lot to do with that. And I think it's very good that he's giving the speech. And it's important that he be at it.

CABRERA: How would these bills counter what's happening at the state level?

WALDMAN: Well, they would set national standards to make sure that everybody has a fair chance to vote earlier, vote by mail. It would ban partisan gerrymandering.

That, you know, is where the politicians of both parties draw these election lines in a way that entrench themselves or cut off the voices of communities, and especially, again, of communities of color.

And it would stop a lot of the attacks on election officials that we see in this, again, effort to undermine American democracy, this big lie that is really sweeping across the country. So it would do these things in significant ways. It would all -- the other bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would restore the full strength of the Voting Rights Act, which is probably the most successful civil rights law of all time.

It was significantly weakened by the Supreme Court. That law passed by Congress would restore it to its strength. Taken together, these are vital laws, I think, and they would stop this voter suppression, and they would bring American democracy forward in a very, very positive and modern way.

CABRERA: Michael Waldman, I appreciate your expertise in all this. Thank you for sharing your research with us, helping us understand the importance here and what's on the line.

WALDMAN: Thank you.

CABRERA: Tensions exploded moments ago in a COVID hearing on Capitol Hill, with Dr. Anthony Fauci blasting Senator Rand Paul, even accusing the senator of putting his life in danger. We have that exchange just ahead.

Plus, a federal judge casting serious doubt over Trump's claim of absolute immunity from civil lawsuits. And a key ruling could come any minute now.

And an explosive new accusation against the world's top tennis player. Novak Djokovic, just as it looked like he was finally clear to play in the Australian Open.



CABRERA: The nation's top health officials are facing a grilling on Capitol Hill, and, today, fresh fireworks between Senator Rand Paul and Dr. Anthony Fauci.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): So, your desire to take down people...

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: You're absolutely correct as usual. Senator, you are incorrect, almost everything you say.

PAUL: No. Well, no, you deny, you deny, but the e-mails tell the truth of this.


You keep coming back to personal attacks on me that have absolutely no relevance to reality.

PAUL: Do you think anybody has had more influence over our response to this than you have?

FAUCI: Let me finish.


PAUL: Do you think it's a great success? Do you think it's a great success, what's happened so far?

FAUCI: What happens when he gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue is that, all of a sudden, that kindles the crazies out there, and I have life -- threats upon my life, harassment of my family, and my children with obscene phone calls, because people are lying about me.

Now, I guess you could say, well, that's the way it goes, I can take the hit. Well, it makes a difference, because, as some of you may know, just about three or four weeks ago, on December 21, a person was arrested who was on their way from Sacramento to Washington, D.C., at a speed stop in Iowa.

And they asked -- the police to ask him where he was going, and he was going to Washington, D.C., to kill Dr. Fauci. And they found in his car an AR-15 and multiple magazines of ammunition, because he thinks that maybe I'm killing people.

So, I ask myself, why would Senator want to do this? So, go to Rand Paul Web site, and you see fire Dr. Fauci with a little box that says, contribute here. You can do $5, $10, $20, $100.

So, you are making a catastrophic epidemic for your political gain.


CABRERA: That exchange as Omicron helps push COVID-19 hospitalizations to an all-time pandemic high, nearly 146,000 Americans in hospitals with COVID right now, double where we were two weeks ago, but some context here.

[13:20:09] These are not all hospitalizations because of COVID. Some are people who may have gone to the hospital for other reasons, but then tested positive once they were there.

Some more context, and this is key here. Those being treated solely for COVID reasons are nearly all unvaccinated.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now.

Elizabeth, it's not all fireworks at this hearing today. There has also been some helpful news. What else are we learning?


So there was lots of questions about testing and lots of questions about the isolation guidance, CDC's Dr. Rochelle Walensky doubling down, saying it was the right thing to do to tell people that, if they were asymptomatic or feeling better, that they could leave isolation after five days as long as they wore masks, because essential workers needed to get back to work.

Let's take a listen.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: ... saw the growing surge of Omicron and took swift science-based action to address the very real possibility of staffing shortages in hospitals and in other essential areas of the work force, including schools, pharmacies, public safety, public labs, grocery stores, and other sites, where shortages could have and have proven to have dire public health consequences.


COHEN: So the Biden administration also has promised more home tests. And they gave some details at this hearing. They said the first of 500 million tests will be shipped out this month, and the rest will be shipped over the next 60 days -- Ana.

CABRERA: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for that update.

With us now is Dr. Megan Ranney, the professor of emergency medicine and associate dean of public health at Brown University.

Dr. Ranney, I want to go back to that exchange we played with Dr. Fauci and Senator Rand Paul. They have battled before. But hearing Dr. Fauci there describing the threats he's receiving, his family has received, there was almost a sense of desperation in his voice today. He was not going to let Senator Rand Paul get away with spreading misinformation.

What's your reaction to what we heard?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Honestly, I'm glad that Dr. Fauci stood up, not just for himself, but for public health professionals across the United States. State and county health officials, like Dr. Fauci, have been being

targeted in unprecedented manners with verbal threats, threats against their kids and violent threats throughout this pandemic, to the degree that the very people who are trying to protect the health of our society are being forced out of their jobs out of fear for their own and their family's lives.

We can have reasoned debate about the science. But what we cannot tolerate, as a civil society, are these frank lies and calls to violence, which have been permeating the discussion around COVID. I myself have been subjected to these, as has almost every other figure who has spoken out publicly or tried to lead some part of COVID response.

It distracts from the core issues, and it stops us from making progress on the things that we need to care most about, which are controlling COVID and getting our lives closer to normal.

CABRERA: And, meantime, you're in the trenches right now, as U.S. hospitalizations of people with COVID hit this new pandemic record.

I know staffing issues were already a strain. You say your hospital is currently at 90 to 95 percent capacity. So ,how bad is it on the inside? Tell us about what you're experiencing and what you're hearing from your colleagues.

RANNEY: I cannot overemphasize how bad the situation is in emergency departments, hospitals, intensive care units across the country.

Now, let me be clear that this is not just because of the current COVID surge, but it's really the icing on the cake or the straw that has broken the camel's back. We went into the surge with existing staffing shortages. So many people have left the health care profession because they're burnt out. There's been this horrific surge after surge. People have had enough.

On top of that, now we have got another surge. We have all the folks that are coming in for other medical problems that they have been putting off care for. And we have our own colleagues who are getting sick, now, not as sick as we were two years ago. It's certainly a better place. We're not in mortal danger taking care of COVID patients, but it's worsening the existing staffing problems.

And our wait times in emergency departments are through the roof. The care of patients is not at the standard that we would normally want. My own state has put crisis standards in place, has said that hospitals and emergency departments across the state are operating in crisis conditions because our staffing conditions are so bad.

We're doing everything we can to take care of patients, but the reality, Ana, is, if you show up in an emergency department right now with a broken bone or appendicitis or even chest pain, you are going to be waiting hours and hours, not because we don't want to care for you, but because there's simply no space.

[13:25:05] CABRERA: Yes, that's awful. It sounds so demoralizing to be in your shoes.

There's also a blood shortage right now. In fact, for the first time ever, the Red Cross is declaring a blood supply crisis, the Red Cross saying -- quote -- "Blood donations are needed now to avert the need to postpone potential lifesaving treatments."

So what are we talking about here? What's the impact of this blood shortage?

RANNEY: So, imagine that your loved one gets in a car crash and comes into my emergency department. What this means is that I may not have the blood available to give them to save their life.

Imagine that you have a loved one who needs cardiac surgery. That may have to be delayed. If it's not already being delayed because of staffing shortages, it may have to be delayed simply because there are not the blood supplies available to keep them safe during that surgery.

It is -- I know that folks are scared to go out and donate right now because of COVID. But those donation centers are safe. It is so needed for people to donate blood, platelets, plasma, the rest of the kind of whatever it is that you are able to give.

I will say also that we should be lifting some of the regulations that are in place that prevent some people, particularly gay men or people that spent time in the U.K. Those bans on donations should be lifted, especially at this moment.

CABRERA: And just to be clear, is it safe for people who've had a COVID infection recently to give blood?

RANNEY: It is. It is absolutely safe for you to give blood. If you have -- given monoclonal antibodies, we recommend that you wait. Check with your local blood donation center on the exact regulations, but it is absolutely safe once you're fully recovered to go and give blood.

CABRERA: Thank you so much, Dr. Ranney, as always, for all you do and for your time and expertise today. We appreciate you.

RANNEY: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Up next: a top DOJ official warning on Capitol Hill that the threat of domestic terrorism is only rising one year after the January 6 attack.

What U.S. intelligence says -- next.