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Interview With Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL); Should Americans Expect to Get Omicron?; Prices Rising. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 12, 2022 - 14:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: In the meantime, you can always join me on Twitter @AnaCabrera.

The news continues next with Victor Blackwell and Alisyn Camerota.

Have a great afternoon.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to NEWSROOM.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. it is good to be with you.

A key measure of inflation just hit a 39 year high. The U.S. consumer price inflation index rose 7 percent over the past year, and 5 percent from November to December.

CAMEROTA: So, in response, the White House tried to downplay the report.


JARED BERNSTEIN, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: It's really important to get under the hood of these monthly inflation reports. And if you look at the change from November to December, inflation is up half-a-percent.

That's considerably down from October and November, when inflation was up point 0.8 and 0.9 percent respectively. One reason why inflation came down in December, why the rate of inflation was slower in December, is because energy prices actually fell. After growing 6 percent in October and November, they actually fell half-a-percent in December.


CAMEROTA: OK, CNN business reporter Matt Egan joins us now.

So, Matt, give us your take.

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Alisyn, clearly, the cost of living is going up, in some cases pretty dramatically. Consumer prices up by 7 percent from a year ago, the biggest spike in 39 years. Month over month, yes, price gains did decelerate, but they were still up by more than expected. And we have this line chart that shows how headline inflation continues to move in the wrong direction. It's really going straight up. It's the eighth month in a row where we have seen 5 percent or higher inflation.

Now, keep in mind, the Federal Reserve's goal is for 2 percent inflation. We are nowhere near that. So we also need to talk about how some of these specific price gains are really in record-breaking territory. Full-service meals, fast food, men's and powerful, and new cars and trucks, they're all up are the most on record.

And as anyone who's been to the gas station or the grocery store can attest to, food and energy has been a real sore spot. Food prices overall up by more than 6 percent from a year ago, that's the most since 2008. Chicken prices up by more than 10 percent. Fish and seafood, that's up at a 10-year high, gas prices nearly 50 percent higher than a year ago.

Now, we do need to remember that a lot of this is COVID-related. The health crisis caused all of this supply chain turmoil that we have been talking about. And the rapid reopening of the economy caused demand to surge.

But, Alisyn and Victor, that is very little consolation to the families whose paychecks are not going as far as they used to.


And Jared Bernstein got to the correction before I could. I said 5 percent from November to December; 0.5 percent is the accurate number. Just want to make sure that I got on record on that.

But let me ask you about what the president said in December, Matt.He said that he believed inflation was at its peak. We see that it's still growing. Is there anything that the White House could do to fight this?

EGAN: Well, this is a complex problem. And presidents -- no president really has unilateral power to do all that much to inflation in the short term.

Now, I spoke to a senior White House official today about these numbers and about those prior comments from the president. And this official conceded that they don't have a crystal ball to say when inflation is going to peak, but that the administration is doing everything it can to keep prices in check, including by trying to address the health crisis and the supply chain turmoil.

And that makes sense, because we know both of those forces are really central to inflation. And economists I talk to, they are cautiously optimistic that, in the coming months, inflation may indeed peak, maybe later in this winter, maybe this spring.

But the better question might be, where does inflation land once it does peak? Because if price gains continue to be very elevated, well above the Fed's 2 percent target, that is going to be a real problem for the economy. And, remember, as much as we talked about the White House, it's the Fed's job to maintain price stability. and prices are anything but stable.

So, Alisyn and Victor, the question is whether or not the Fed can fight inflation without doing too much that it actually hurts the economic recovery.

BLACKWELL: All right, Matt Egan, thank you.

Two of the nation's top health officials are offering a blunt assessment for the trajectory of the pandemic.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Fauci says Omicron will -- quote -- "find just about everybody."

CNN's Nick Watt has today's coronavirus headlines.


DR. JANET WOODCOCK, ACTING FDA COMMISSIONER: Most people are going to get COVID, all right? And what we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Right now, nearly three-quarters-of-a-million Americans are, on average, catching COVID every day.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Omicron, with this unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody.

WATT: At United, 3,000 staff have COVID right now, the airline forced to trim schedules.


WATT: Chicago's mayor just tested positive. So did West Virginia's governor.

"I'm thankful to the lord above that I have been vaccinated, I have been boosted. That being said, I feel extremely unwell at this point."

The Omicron surge appears now to be peaking in parts of the Northeast.

CHERYL BETTIGOLE, ACTING COMMISSIONER, PHILADELPHIA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Over the past week, COVID-19 cases have remained extremely high. But they may be starting to plateau.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): We are not at the end, but I want to say that this is, to me, a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of hope at a time when we desperately need that.

WATT: But plenty pain to come. More COVID patients are in the hospital now than ever before. The average daily death toll is now:

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: About 1,600 per day, which is an increase of about 40 percent over the previous week.

WATT: This morning in Chicago, kids are back in school, after the dispute between unions and officials over COVID safety measures, other short-staffed school districts appealing to parents to sign up as substitute teachers.

ERIC WRIGHT, SUPERINTENDENT, HAYS, TEXAS, CONSOLIDATED INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: If we could get 50 to 100 or even more, that's better than what we have right now.

WATT: Now, masks can have the distance aerosols and droplets travel from the mouth of someone speaking or coughing. So says a new study. The CDC expected to update its mask information, making clear that all masks are not created equal. N95s are better than cloth.

FAUCI: We should be wearing the best possible masks that we can get. That's a fact.


WATT: So, will the White House now be shipping better-quality masks around the country? Well, we heard this from the White House coordinator. He says that they are in the process right now of strongly considering options to make more high-quality masks available to all Americans.

It feels like that might be just a little too late -- guys.

CAMEROTA: OK. Nick Watt, thank you very much for that report.

Dr. Rob Davidson is going to join us now. He's an emergency room physician in Michigan. He's also the executive director of the Committee to Protect Health Care.

Dr. Davidson, great to see you.

This is a major paradigm shift, I think, from what we're hearing from public officials. It used to be, avoid getting COVID at all costs, stay indoors if you must. Then the vaccines came. And now it's, most people are going to get COVID, and, if you're vaccinated, you're probably going to be able to avoid hospitalization and death.

DR. ROB DAVIDSON, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Yes, and I think what Dr. Fauci really said is most people will come in contact with COVID.

And the risk of getting infected if you're vaccinated is still about five to seven times lower than if you're unvaccinated. And then, if you do happen to get infected, the risk of hospitalization is another seven times lower. And if you get it and you get hospitalized, the risk of dying is about 15 times lower.

So everything there tells us, if you are vaccinated, those multilayers of protection against severe disease, but even getting infected in the first place, are still there. Public health isn't black and white, unfortunately. So it's degrees of risk. And your risk is way lower if you get the vaccine.

BLACKWELL: But there is still this significant vulnerable portion of our population who is not eligible for a vaccine, those under 5 years old.

I mean, what do you tell parents? How do they receive what they heard from Dr. Fauci and the acting FDA commissioner? They can't mask their 18-month-old. You can't stay away from a toddler. And they can't get the vaccine.


We still know that those kids are very unlikely to get extremely sick. I think it's all about degrees of risk that people are willing to tolerate them. We do this all the time in health care. We have conversations with people when they have certain symptoms. Do we do certain tests that result in possible false positives that could lead to more tests or more concerns?

And we make those shared decisions with patients. I think families have to do that among themselves. I think they need to protect the most vulnerable. But I do think emerging from the extreme lockdowns is the goal for all of us. And getting more people vaccinated who are eligible will protect all of those folks who can't get vaccinated or can't mount immunity.

CAMEROTA: I want to bounce off you something the French president, Emmanuel Macron said.

And I'm quoting him. He said: "I'm happy to piss off the unvaccinated," basically denying their access to restaurants and theaters, et cetera, without vaccination cards.


You have shared with us many times how often you encounter pissed-off unvaccinated people. Do we want more of them? Would that work here in the U.S.?

DAVIDSON: I don't know if I would choose his words.

But I'm, honestly, frankly, tired of people who are against early-on mitigation measures, masking and locking down certain activities, and now who are against vaccines and vaccine mandates, kind of tired of them dominating the headlines of the ones who are angry and the ones who are protesting.

I think those of us who are doing the right things, those of us who are just trying to keep our hospitals afloat during these mass waves of COVID, we need to start getting a little bit pissed off. And I think, if it makes life a bit uncomfortable for them, where they maybe can't fly domestically, maybe they can't go to restaurants, maybe, like a lot of cities have done, they can't go to shows, can't participate in aspects of society that they may want to participate in, hopefully, that will drive people to get vaccinated, so that they can join the rest of us in living our lives.

BLACKWELL: Well, in Quebec, they're adding a new unvaccinated tax and they're requiring people to be vaccinated to buy cannabis and alcohol. So maybe that would work for some people.

Dr. Rob Davidson, thank you.

DAVIDSON: Thank you, guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, a short time ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a scathing rebuke of President Biden's voting rights speech yesterday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): He compared -- listen to this -- a bipartisan majority of senators to literal traitors. How profoundly unpresidential.


BLACKWELL: McConnell also said he did not recognize the man behind the podium.

We will speak to Senator Tammy Duckworth about that next.

CAMEROTA: And some North Carolina voters are trying to block Congressman Madison Cawthorn from running for reelection because of his role on January 6.

We will explain their plan.



CAMEROTA: Yet another case of airline passengers behaving badly.

This time, an unruly passenger breached the cockpit of a flight during boarding. The American Airlines flight was scheduled to fly from Honduras to Miami. And a man pushed into the cockpit while the plane was at the gate and actually damaged the plane. He then tried to jump out a window.

CNN's Pete Muntean has more for us.

Pete, American Airlines had to get another plane. What happened here?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It's so interesting, Victor and Alisyn, that this happened in Honduras, this flight on its way to Miami.

And you can see in the video of American Airlines Flight 488 just before it departed this man who American says during the boarding process lunged through the jetway and then in through the open cockpit door, and then poked his head out of the window of the flight deck. That window is actually able to open by the flight crew. Now, they use that in case of emergencies or if they need to ventilate the cockpit.

It's a pretty long drop down from the flight deck window to the ground, about 15 or 20 feet. Pilots would typically get down to the ground in an emergency using a rope. Thankfully, this guy who tried to get out of the plane did not ultimately jump and was ultimately apprehended.

American Airlines tells me that some of its flight crew was involved in trying to get this man detained. We know that this man was arrested. So interesting, though, that this is happening at a time when there have been 5,981 unruly passenger incidents reported by flight crews to the FAA in 2021, so far just a few in 2022.

And the FAA underscores the rate of these incidents has gone down a little bit, but very significant, maybe one of the most egregious acts of unruly passengers we have seen since the start of this trend really began rearing its head around January 6 last year.

CAMEROTA: I mean, honestly, the things that flight crews have to deal with now.

But, Pete, tell us about this medevac helicopter that crashed yesterday outside of Philadelphia. What happened?

MUNTEAN: Well, it's real people on board, the pilot, the medical crew, and a 2-month-old baby girl.

And they all survived as this helicopter crashed down just in front of a church in Drexel Hill, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, in Upper Darby. Police are simply calling this a miracle. In fact, people on the road there, a pretty cramped urban area, grabbed the baby from the flight crew to keep her away from the wreckage.

This video initially showed the moments just after the crash, where the helicopter was smoking. There was fuel leaking out of it. Bystanders initially rushed into help, which is a very good thing, something we don't see very often in these incidents.

But if there was a mechanical issue here, a helicopter can be really difficult to control under those circumstances. A pilot has to tamp down their startle factor and try and get this helicopter under control relatively quickly. We don't know if that is the case just yet.

The weather was pretty good. The NTSB is now on the scene. We will learn more at a press conference later on this afternoon. But exactly what brought this helicopter down, operated by a company called Air Methods, this helicopter was going from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in Central Pennsylvania, all the way to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

But this incident happened only a few miles short of that hospital.

BLACKWELL: No fatalities on board or on the ground. That's remarkable.

Pete Muntean for us, thank you, Pete.


BLACKWELL: Two sitting members of Congress may hold key information for the January 6 investigation. The committee is now trying to figure out how to get them to talk.

We're live on Capitol Hill with the latest next.

CAMEROTA: And here's a look at some other events that we're watching today.



CAMEROTA: A short time ago, Republican leader Mitch McConnell blasted President Biden for his speech yesterday, calling it a rant.

President Biden had stressed the need to pass major legislation on voting rights to combat the onslaught of laws in Republican-controlled states that try to restrict some voting measures.


MCCONNELL: But, yesterday, he poured a giant can of gasoline on the fire.

Twelve months ago, the president said every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war.

But, yesterday, he said anyone who opposes smashing the Senate, smashing the Senate, and letting Democrats rewrite election law is a domestic enemy and -- listen to this -- a traitor like Jefferson Davis.


CAMEROTA: President Biden is scheduled to have lunch with Senate Democrats tomorrow to discuss the way forward on voting rights.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator from Illinois Tammy Duckworth.

Senator, thanks so much.

I know you didn't get to hear all of Senator McConnell's speech. I will try to paraphrase some of it. One of his biggest points, Senator McConnell's, was that if President Biden thinks that democracy is on death's door, as Senator McConnell characterized it, then why did it take him nine months to get around to making it the top of his agenda?

Is that fair?


Again, Mitch McConnell is doing everything that he can to continue to help Republicans across this country try to change voting right laws to restrict people's abilities to vote. And, frankly, Mitch McConnell himself, on the night of January 6, condemned former President Trump and condemned what happened, the attack, the insurrection.

And yet we have watched over the past nine months, as Republicans have slowly moved back, run back to Donald Trump, and continued to support the big line. So we're at a point now that I didn't think was going to happen on the evening of January 6, when we were all together back on the floor of the Senate talking about how the insurrection was not how democracy was supposed to proceed.

I thought we were united. And now we're at a point where Republicans are trying to whitewash what happened on that day. So, I think it is very much very important that President Biden step up and say, listen, it's time to protect people's rights to vote.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Senator Mitch McConnell doesn't see it that way. He doesn't think that this is a dire situation. He also made the point that President Biden was in Georgia, where, according to Senator McConnell, voting rights are more progressive than they are in some other states, including Delaware and New York.

He said, Georgia has more days of early voting than Delaware and New York. Georgia has no-excuse absentee voting, which Delaware and New York lack. If Georgia presents a Jim Crow emergency, then so do a whole number of Democrat-run states.

Do you have a response to that?

DUCKWORTH: Well, these voting rights restrictions are happening all across the country, including in Georgia.

By the way, Georgia also now has made it polls can only be open from 9:00 to 5:00 if you want to go vote. And if you're a service member like me, or you work a job where you're on the clock from 9:00 to 5:00 and you want to go early-vote, you can't go early-vote, because the polls are shut from 9:00 to 5:00.


DUCKWORTH: By the way, in 2020, it was a Republican secretary of state who sent out ballots, mail-in absentee ballots to every registered voter in Georgia, something that military members rely on.

And yet the new laws in Georgia now make it illegal, illegal to send out absentee ballots to all of their registered voters.


DUCKWORTH: So, you see real efforts to restrict voting rights.

And, frankly, I spent 23 years in the Army defending democracy. I'm going to defend the rights of Americans to vote.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about what happens next, because have you given up on getting any Republicans, even the Republicans who have denounced former President Trump's election lies, the Republicans who in 2006 did vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act?

And we have a picture that we can put up. I mean, there were all of these senators who are still sitting senators who back then believed in the tenets of these voting rights, but today don't, I mean, Senator Susan Collins, Tim Scott, Rob Portman, who in 2000, I think, '15 went with John Lewis to Selma to talk about voting rights, have you given up on getting any of them to come on board with this?

DUCKWORTH: To come on board publicly with a vote, yes, I have given up on it, because they have told me privately that voting rights is a red line for Mitch McConnell, that they cannot cross that line, and that even if they want to support the voting rights legislation that we're developing, the only input that they want to have is behind the scenes.

And, in fact, we have taken a lot of my Republican colleagues' concerns. Many of them want, for example, a voter I.D., voter I.D. cards.