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Novak Djokovic Admits Breaking COVID Protocols; Boris Johnson Under Fire; Will Almost Everyone Get Omicron?; McConnell Defends Republican Voting Laws. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 12, 2022 - 15:00   ET



DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: So, once again, Alisyn and Victor, the full comments show Walensky did not say what a bunch of people on the right are claiming.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And, Daniel, I mean, has ABC loudly and fully corrected the record now?


What they did was, they released the full footage, as I said, on Monday. And at the end of the full footage, they put in a text note saying that the Friday footage on TV had been edited, they said, for time reasons. But when I asked them for comment, they didn't provide any.

They just said, take a look at the note.

CAMEROTA: Daniel Dale, thank you very much for explaining all of this.

DALE: Thank you.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Top of a brand-new hour. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

CAMEROTA: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

Senate majority leader -- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just slammed President Biden's speech, pushing for a change to the Senate's filibuster rules. Now, yesterday, President Biden called on lawmakers to pass major voting and election legislation.

BLACKWELL: McConnell responded with a scathing speech of his own.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Yesterday, he shouted that, if you disagree with him, you're George Wallace.

George Wallace? If you don't pass the laws he wants, you're Bull Connor.

He compared -- listen to this -- a bipartisan majority of senators to traitors.

How profoundly, profoundly unpresidential.

Look, I have known, liked and personally respected Joe Biden for many years. I did not recognize the man at the podium yesterday.


BLACKWELL: CNN's chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins us now.

So, Manu, McConnell described the speech as a rant, called it incoherent, focused as much or more on the rhetoric from President Biden as he did on the legislative push.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, underscoring just how partisan this debate has become on Capitol Hill and the fact that Republicans are going to be uniformly opposed to one of the pieces of legislation, the so-called Freedom to Vote Act.

That's a Democratic bill, would impose a whole suite of electoral reforms across the country. There's a separate bill called the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that would overturn a 2013 Supreme Court ruling gutting a key aspect of that 1965 landmark law. Now, that bill only has one Republican supporter, Lisa Murkowski.

But they need 10 Republicans in order to break a filibuster in the Senate, which is why the Democrats right now are trying to convince two of their senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, to change the filibuster rules in order to advance legislation by just 51 votes in order to get this onto Joe Biden's desk.

But Manchin and Sinema continue to resist. Now, what got McConnell particularly upset was the comment from Biden yesterday when he said, do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Or do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?

And McConnell fired back.


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.


RAJU: Now, Sinema has not commented yet on Joe Biden's speech.

Manchin told me today multiple times -- he called it a good speech, but didn't indicate he has changed his views in any ways. Now, privately, I'm told discussions have been -- quote -- "intense" with Sinema and Manchin, and they have indicated little willingness to go as far as the Democrats want.

But, nevertheless, Joe Biden is coming to Capitol Hill tomorrow, plans to lobby Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema to change their minds. No indication that's going to happen, but they're pushing forward for that key vote later this week, or potentially as late as Monday -- guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, Manu Raju, thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, now, here to discuss, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's also the senior editor for "The Atlantic." And CNN political commentator Alyssa Farah Griffin, who served as White House communications director in the Trump administration.

Welcome to you both.

Ron, let me start with you. A response to the president's speech is not a surprise. However, this style of speech, this response from McConnell, who served with Biden for a very long time, is this speech he had to give or does this appear to be personal?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, for McConnell, it's always tactical. I mean, there's always a reason to do it. And he wants to frame this as a partisan fight to discourage Manchin and Sinema from taking the steps that they need -- that Democrats need to pass this agenda.


But, I mean, the entire framework that McConnell sets up is kind of ludicrous. I mean, what we are seeing is Republicans in state after state are passing these restrictive voting laws on an entirely party- line basis, over the unified opposition of virtually every Democratic state legislator who voting on the, with unified support from every Republican.

And then Republicans in the Congress are providing air support to this kind of ground offensive by locking arms against any efforts to restore federal voting rights oversight, including restoring the Voting Rights Act, which every Senate Republican voted for the last time it was reauthorized.

And now McConnell is turning around and saying this is a partisan move by the Democrats to respond which what is unfolding as a entirely partisan power grab by Republicans in the states.

CAMEROTA: Alyssa, mean, Senator Mitch McConnell voted for it in 2006. Last time, the same tenets of this that would be reauthorized again. And what about the people who are seen -- the Republicans who are seen

as more rational, in that they never supported Trump's election lies, the Mitt Romneys, the Susan Collinses. And I talked about how Tim Scott and Rob Portman had gone with John Lewis to Selma in 2015 to support some of the tenets of this very voting rights reauthorization.

What's happened?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So I think there's two kind of really important things to look at here from the Republican perspective, one being that there hasn't been a single concession made to what Republicans want on this issue.

So we all know I have been very outspoken about the big lie and the fact that a large portion of our country still believes the election is stolen. However, one of the best ways to deal with that would be to concede to Republicans that we need voter I.D. laws.

I think you would have some of those moderate-minded Republicans, the Lisa Murkowskis, Susan Collins go along with this legislation if we could get voter I.D.


CAMEROTA: That's interesting that you say that.

And I'm sorry to interrupt you, Alyssa, but we just had Senator Tammy Duckworth on, who said that, behind the scenes, they have been doing this work and have been talking to Republicans about what they could live with, and that they have woven in some of the concessions on voter I.D.

FARAH GRIFFIN: I think it's going to need to go a bit further. But that's -- I mean, that's productive.

I will say this, though, too. I think one of the most damaging things we could do, while our institutions have come under attack by the previous administration, would be to eliminate the filibuster, especially on something consequential like this.

If this actually makes some concessions to Republicans, it should be able to squeak through the Senate. We shouldn't have to eliminate the filibuster to do that, because keep in mind, even in the Trump presidency, when we had the House and when we had the Senate, Mitch McConnell kept it in place to make sure that you needed more than a simple majority on most significant pieces of legislation.

And at a time when we are so polarized, we are so divided, and we have got sort of this populist movement overriding our country, I think it's an incredibly dangerous time to eliminate the filibuster.

BLACKWELL: All right, speaking about the big lie, Ron, let me come to you on this.

There are some top Republicans who are backing Senator Mike Rounds, who over the weekend, I believe it was, said that there was not enough fraud, he said, that would overturn the election, no widespread fraud.

Former President Trump slammed him through one of his statements. We have got the names up on the screen, Cramer, Thune Moore Capito, Romney, and McConnell.

Is this indicative of potentially a loosening of the grip on some members of the Senate from the former president, or are these members who are safely in their seats for a couple more years, and they could take whatever flak comes?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, Victor, I think we're talking about a pretty low bar, right? We're saying the sun rose in the east and set in the west, right...


BROWNSTEIN: ... if you're basically saying the election was fair.

I think more relevant is the operational actions of the party at all levels, whether we're talking about Republicans in the Senate killing an independent commission to investigate January 6, or Republicans -- 19 states where, again, on a complete party-line basis, they are operationalizing the big lie by passing restrictive voting laws that are rooted in it.

And in terms of the filibuster, let's not forget, we are dealing with a kind of asymmetric warfare, where the things that Republicans care most about while they have held the majority, cutting taxes and appointing judges and justices, they already can do by a majority vote, and, in fact, changed the rules to ensure they could do that on Supreme Court nominees, changed the filibuster for their top priority.

So the idea that they are somehow kind of holding back and Democrats are the one trying to precipitate some sort of crisis or change in the Senate, I mean, it's already ongoing. And the voting laws are going to be changed -- are being changed on a partisan basis now. They are being defended on a partisan basis in the Congress.


And the issue is whether Democrats in the Senate, particularly Manchin and Sinema, are going to give a veto to Republicans in the Senate over whether Washington responds to what Republicans in the states are doing.

And real quick, as we have talked about before, that's exactly what the Lincoln era Republicans did not do. They did not give a veto to the Democrats in Congress at the time over whether to pass the 14th and 15th Amendments after the Civil War. They did it on a party-line basis because it was the only way to safeguard civil rights for the former slaves, the freed slaves in the South.


CAMEROTA: Alyssa, we only have a few seconds left. Sorry. Just wanted to get your thoughts, your final thoughts on that. FARAH GRIFFIN: Yes, real quick on that, Ron, well said.

But I would say this. The biggest threat to our country right now is our political polarization and lack of trust in the democratic process. If this is done unilaterally by one party, the roughly 30 to 40 percent of the GOP that does not believe the election wasn't stolen is never going to trust the process.

So I hear the point you're saying, but I actually think having Republican buy-in is more important than ever, because public trust is so low, and we need to bring those people back into the fold for the sake of our future.

BLACKWELL: Alyssa Farah Griffin, Ron Brownstein, thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, two of the nation's top health officials are making a stunning assessment in the Omicron variant.

The acting head of the FDA and Dr. Anthony Fauci say, at this point, likely, everyone will contract it.


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.

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

Unfortunately, those who are still unvaccinated are going to get the brunt of the severe aspect of this.


BLACKWELL: Now, that degree of transmissibility is especially evident in Florida, where COVID cases are surging.

Now, CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us live from Miami.

Now, the governor gave his state of the state address yesterday. What did he say about COVID?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I certainly wouldn't call it a central part of his speech, Victor, not much said there.

And let me paint the picture of what we're seeing on the ground here. I spoke to one doctor from Florida Atlantic University, and she said, now is not the time to throw in the towel or call this pandemic over by any means.

And she mentioned what you just did, Victor. She said, community transmission is still a big factor, especially when you have children who still aren't eligible to be vaccinated, and also the strain that it can have on an already stressed health system here in Florida.

I talked to one health system that told me, yes, bed capacity may be a big concern in the near future, but right now the biggest challenge and frustration, staffing shortages. They have staff that are just either burned out or maybe even getting sick themselves.

And yet, again, this was not really something that was touched on a lot in the governor's address. Instead, he was really focused on criticizing the federal government and its response to this crisis.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We have protected the right of our citizens to earn a living, provided our businesses with the ability to prosper, fought back against unconstitutional federal mandates, and ensured our kids have the opportunity to thrive.

Florida has become the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.


SANTIAGO: And I spoke to an epidemiologist this week who said if you want to get away from all the restrictions from the pandemic, you got to get people testing for prevention and vaccinated in order to move forward.

I am at a testing site right now, one of the largest in South Florida, and we should mention that the governor did have a bit of an update when it comes to testing. We reported last week that the administration acknowledged they let about a million COVID-19 rapid tests expire late last month, as demand was surging for the testing.

The governor updating the press today, saying that they have extended the expiration date for those tests, and they will now be distributing them.

BLACKWELL: All right, Leyla Santiago for us in Miami.

Thank you, Leyla.

CAMEROTA: Now to this.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologizes for attending a party during the height of COVID lockdowns. And with mounting calls for him to step down, was the apology enough to save his job?

And tennis star Novak Djokovic now admits he did not immediately isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 last month. Australian officials are now looking into inconsistencies in his health documents.


[15:19:06] CAMEROTA: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is apologizing for attending a party in May 2020, when England was under strict government lockdown.

Hold that thought. This is President Biden arriving to see Senator -- the late Senator Harry Reid lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda.


BLACKWELL: The president there just a few moments to pay his respects to the former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He eulogized him at his funeral in Nevada over the weekend.

Now, Reid is lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, a congressional honor that's only been granted to about three dozen Americans in our nation's history. And over the weekend, the president said of former majority leader that he was a fighter for the America that we all love.

CAMEROTA: And he had served, of course, in the Senate for 30 years, including eight years as Senate majority leader. And he died on December 28 at the age of 82.

OK, back to the other news, which is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is apologizing for attending this party in May of 2020, when England was under strict government lockdown.

BLACKWELL: Now, e-mails surfaced yesterday that one of his leading officials invited staff to the socially distanced event in May 2020 in the back garden of 10 Downing Street.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us now.

So, what's the prime minister saying?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn and Victor, for weeks now, the prime minister has been plagued with allegations that parties, multiple parties took place across multiple months, across multiple lockdowns, Christmas parties, garden parties, bring-your-own-beer parties, all apparently taking place in the building right here behind me, 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's own office and residence, right in the middle of a pandemic.

So far, his strategy has been denial, denial, denial, but, today, a big about-face in Parliament, finally an apology.

Take a listen.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all inside or outside.

And, to them and to this house, I offer my heartfelt apologies.


ABDELAZIZ: So, the prime minister is saying sorry, sort of, kind of. He's not admitting to any rules being broken.

He's not throwing his hands up and saying, we broke COVID restrictions. He says all of that needs to be determined by an independent investigation. For now, he's apologizing for hurting public confidence, so, yes, an about-face here, but definitely not the apology that his critics wants it.

And how will this play out? Well, there's two things to look at here, first the political implications. Can Boris Johnson survive this? Can he continue to hold the support of his own party? We're already seeing cracks in the system, with members of Parliament calling on the prime minister to resign.

And, of course, the worst-case scenario for Johnson, his nightmare scenario, is the possibility of a no-confidence vote, is the possibility that his party might turn against him. Now, that's not imminent, by any stretch of the imagination. But that's the fear there.

And then there's the court of public opinion. And, there, I can tell you he's losing, the latest polling showing the favorability of the prime minister showed that he had the lowest rating since the start of his time in office. Nearly 56 percent of these people -- of people in this country said they saw the prime minister in an unfavorable way.

And that was before this latest controversy with the leaked e-mail. You are looking at a prime minister who now feels cornered, feels he must respond to these allegations that have circulated around him for weeks. But is this apology too little, too late, Alisyn and Victor?

BLACKWELL: A critical time for the prime minister.

Salma Abdelaziz for us there, thank you so much.

Tennis star Novak Djokovic is now admitting that he broke COVID-19 protocols and knowingly did an in person interview with two French journalists after learning he tested positive for COVID-19.

Djokovic calls it an error of judgment.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, Australian border officials are investigating possible inconsistencies in his entry documents, as well as his movements after he tested positive.

Tennis analyst Rennae Stubbs is in Melbourne with the latest.

So, Rennae, what has Djokovic in saying about all this new information that's coming out?

RENNAE STUBBS, ESPN TENNIS ANALYST: Well, I think, if I was his adviser, I would be advising him not to say anything publicly at all. I mean, I think his first original Instagram message to the world

really about getting a medical exemption in Australia was kind of what really put him on the -- not in a good situation, because that was alerting everyone that he was coming with the medical exemption.

And then, of course, he puts this next tweet and Instagram message out about trying to explain his movements on the days that he was supposedly COVID-positive. So I think it's best for him to probably stay as low as possible.


BLACKWELL: You know, the entire narrative now about the Australian Open is about Novak Djokovic, not the other players and those who are involved.


BLACKWELL: So, I wonder how this is being received in the pro tennis community.

STUBBS: Well, to be honest with you, I think everyone's kind of sick and tired of it, to be frank, obviously the talk of the town.

But also, at the same time, these players are really gearing up for a major title next week. So they're all practicing. They're all very much into the swing of things. But I think they would really appreciate this being over and done with.

And I think Craig Tiley from Tennis Australia and the Australian Open in general would like it to be -- at least the decision to be made by the government by now. Let's make a decision, let him play or get him out of here.

CAMEROTA: And when are they going to make that decision? And if this were just a regular person, would they have been deported by now?

STUBBS: Well, your guess is as good as mine.

And, yes, I would say that there's absolutely no question he would have been gone by now. There's been a couple of tennis players or staff of tennis players that have been deported out of the country immediately after they were found to sort of not put the correct things down on their statements.

And Novak is really in a similar situation. The difference is he has the money to pay the lawyers to fight the fight for him.

BLACKWELL: On this human error explanation, you have been at the top of this game, so you know the staff and how closely they keep tabs on where you are.

Is it plausible that someone could have just simply made a mistake and checked the wrong box saying that you had not traveled in the last 14 days? STUBBS: Well, if I had someone working for me that messed that up, I

don't know if they'd be still working for me at this point, because that has really caused a massive issue for him now coming into Australia.

And as all of us know, when we travel internationally, when we fill out those boxes, we better make sure that we have dotted every I and crossed every T. And it seems that hasn't been done. And I can't imagine that his management group didn't know that he went to Spain prior to going to Australia and how important that was to put down correctly in the paperwork, knowing the scrutiny that he would be under.

So it's getting fishier and fishier by the day when it comes to Novak. I mean, his story's changed. The sentiment here in Australia has changed. They were against him. They were a little bit for him after he won the court battle. But now, I think, with this ambiguities -- ambiguity in his story, then I think the Australian public will definitely not be on his side now coming into the Australian Open.


Rennae Stubbs, always great to see you. Thank you.

STUBBS: You're welcome.

BLACKWELL: President Biden now to the -- Capitol Hill tomorrow to meet with Senate Democrats, as he calls on Congress to act on voting rights -- their next move ahead.

CAMEROTA: And you may have noticed something in your grocery store, empty shelves. Omicron and winter storms piling on the supply chain issues and labor shortages.

When will supplies come back? That's ahead.