Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Eight Million Under Winter Weather Alerts From Mississippi To Maine; Hostages Safe, Suspect Dead After Stand-Off At A Texas Synagogue; Djokovic Leaves Australia After Losing Immigration Appeal; Supreme Court Blocks Vaccine, Testing Mandate For Large Businesses; House Dems Introduce Bill To Provide Citizens Two At-Home Tests Per Week; Civil Rights Leaders Push For Voting Rights In Honor Of MLK Legacy. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired January 16, 2022 - 14:00   ET




JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Hi, everyone. And thanks for joining me.

I'm Jessica Dean, in this afternoon for Fredericka Whitfield.

We begin with that massive winter storm pounding parts of the southeast right now. 80 million people are now under winter weather alerts from Mississippi all the way up to Maine.

A potentially dangerous mix of snow and freezing rain blanketing major roads. Airlines cancelling more than 2,700 flights. The severe weather also causing significant delays. Power now knocked out for more than 267,000 customers across Georgia, Alabama, Florida and the Carolinas.

This storm expected to shift up the east coast now with some cities like Washington D.C. expecting up to four inches of snow.

Let's go now to CNN meteorologist Tom Sater who is monitoring the movement of this storm. Tom, tell us how things look right now.

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well Jessica, we are in day two of a three-day event. You can see where the winter warnings are in effect now. From areas of the Deep South all the way up towards say Maine -- Mississippi to Maine really.

But yesterday it started as the system dug out areas of the Dakotas -- 8 to 12 inches of snow. Des Moines, Iowa -- 14 inches. Snow all the way down through areas of Arkansas, Memphis was hit good, and then you can start to see the snow still falling in areas of Mississippi.

A big comet(ph)-shaped storm. It's a dynamic storm with so many elements of severity that millions are going to see different things and some could see a variety of these elements.

First of all, the snow. As you look at it trying to make its way in Nashville, it's into a little bit of a rain, sleet, freezing rain mix for a while just south of Nashville and Franklin several inches. It continues to make its way up toward the east and to the northeast.

If you get down toward Atlanta, we've had sleet and freezing rain waiting for that cold air to drop down to change it over to snow and it has done that. It's going to take a few more hours as we see the snow coming from Alabama across Georgia. So accumulations really are creating some travel chaos because the temperatures have been hovering right around freezing in the south and they will drop.

Now, you get into the Carolinas from the Piedmont in towards central Virginia. It's going to be a devastating storm with mainly an ice event that could knock out power to millions. Now, you already mentioned a couple hundred thousand without.

We are in the infancy of the storm as that snow now makes it way up to areas of Virginia. Some of the totals you can see here, you're getting well over 9, 10 inches. I mean look at Gatlinburg. I mean you can expect snow there, but some of these areas are really staggering when you look at the amounts. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Now the ice. It is beginning to really form. You already have a quarter of an inch. We're looking at an inch of ice in some areas of South and North Carolina.

Atlanta, sure, you're going to have your travel problems, they do. Just not used to this. But look at the snow moving up. I-95 Jessica, will be the rain-snow line, mainly rain in the bigger cities to the east, but they're going to get walloped with heavy snowfall. The big concern is that accumulation of ice.

You lose power and you're without power for, you know, days, maybe a week.

DEAN: Right. That ice can be so destructive. And it's not just the winter weather that you just walked us through. We've got some video out of Florida that we can take a look at. A possible tornado that ripped through a golf course in Fort Myers. I mean that's a lot of power there.

What do you know about tornado watches and warnings near that area?

SATER: Well, there is one more tornado warning still in effect. It's mainly on that eastern coastline now. Basically, if you've -- we've got radar here for you as well. In the Fort Myers area, this is a pretty good-sized tornado. And there are several videos running throughout that region and online that you can see the debris and obviously the damage.

The National Weather Service out of Tampa is already on the way with a crew to estimate just the ferocity, how strong these winds were. What they will give this tornado a scale. But the warning now is all the way off into the east coast. So it's southeast Texas -- excuse me, Florida.

They will see that warning come to an end by 3:00 p.m. So that final line is making its way through Miami right now. Small spin-ups are still possible until this exits the entire portion of the Florida Peninsula.


DEAN: Wow, so many Americans.

SATER: Good news on the way for them, not so much up the east coast. Yes.

DEAN: Yes. So many Americans getting wild weather this week. All right. Thanks so much, Tom Sater. We appreciate it.


DEAN: And we have some breaking news now on the dramatic hostage rescue in Texas. CNN has learned the identity of the suspect. The FBI identifying him just a few moments ago as 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, a British citizen. Akram was killed in a tense nearly 11-hour standoff at a synagogue in town of Colleyville.

Investigators say he entered the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue during Saturday morning's Sabbath services. And then took the rabbi and three others hostage as those services were being livestreamed.

One hostage was released several hours into that standoff. And after hours of negotiations an elite FBI rescue team then breached the synagogue freeing those remaining hostages.

The president today calling the case an act of terror.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spoke this morning with the attorney general to get a rundown. He said there was overwhelming cooperation with the local authorities and the FBI and they did one hell of a job.

This was an act of terror. This was an act of terror.


DEAN: Nick Paton Walsh is live in London for us. We're going to get the very latest first though with Ed Lavandera who is live in Colleyville, Texas. Ed, what more do we know about the suspect and also his motive for taking these hostages last night?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, law enforcement officials have said that the motive, at least the preliminary indication of all of this is that the suspect Malik Faisal Akram, was primarily focused on this jihadist who was -- who was imprisoned here in the north Texas area by the name of Aafia Siddiqui.

And that was the focusing of much of his discussions and the reason for taking the people at this synagogue hostage. But this afternoon law enforcement officials here still working at the scene of the synagogue where all of this unfolded. Nearly an 11-hour hostage situation. And we are also hearing from Pastor Charlie Cytron-Walker who was one of the -- pastor, I'm sorry -- Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker who was one of the four people taken hostage here at the synagogue throughout much of the day.

He posted in a Facebook post this morning saying that he's thankful and filled with appreciation for the vigils and prayers from around the world. And he's thankful to the law enforcement and first responders who saved him.

He says, quote, "I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive."

And remember, this was an incredibly harrowing moment, especially for the hundreds of people who belong to this synagogue who were watching on a livestream. And we can play a little bit of that for you now so you can get a sense of what the members of this synagogue were trying to process here just a little over 24 hours ago when this ordeal first started.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got these four guys with me, yes. So I don't want to hurt them, yes? Ok, are you listening?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want you to cry. Listen. I'm going to release these four guys. (INAUDIBLE)

But then I'm going to go in the yard, yes? And they're going to take me all right? I'm going to die at the end of this, all right?

Are you listening? I'm going to die. Ok. So don't cry over me. Ok. Don't cry, we cannot (INAUDIBLE).


LAVANDERA: And you might have heard there a reference to his sister Siddiqi, that is not his biological sister. So we want to make sure we point out and be clear about that.

But all of that is just a sample of what members of this synagogue were watching on the livestream for the better part of an hour. So you can imagine how harrowing and terrifying it was for the members of this synagogue to watch all of this unfold.

DEAN: There's no doubt about it. Just watching that. And Ed, what else do we know about the negotiations that went down yesterday and then we know this elite FBI team ultimately went in.

LAVANDERA: Yes. Hostage negotiators were working throughout the day. FBI officials said last night that it was constant communication. That there were some periods where the suspect would not engage with them but it was really constant negotiation and the head of the FBI office here in the Dallas area credited those hostage negotiators with prolonging and keeping the conversation going. He says that in large part this came out to the outcome that it did because of those hostage negotiators and essentially that gave time for the hostage rescue team from the FBI, 60 of them that flew in from Virginia. And they were the ones that put an end to this hostage situation. And the FBI officials here in the Dallas area say it was those hostage negotiators that created the opportunity to make that happen.



MATTHEW DESARNO, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, DALLAS FBI: Today's result, which was four safe hostages and the situation resolved, was really -- was really the result of a long day of hard work by nearly 200 law enforcement officers from across this region.

The FBI's hostage rescue team, I consider one of the crown jewels of our organization. Their mission is to conduct deliberate hostage rescues when necessary. In this case we had a necessity for that and they were successful. Very proud of them.


LAVANDERA: And Jessica, you know, the focus today for many people here in this community, the four hostages. We know that the rabbi of this synagogue is at home this afternoon with his family.

DEAN: Yes. No place he'd rather be, no doubt about that.

All right. Ed, thanks so much.

Let's go now to Nick Paton Walsh who's live for us in London. Nick, this suspect in this case was a British citizen. What else do we know about that?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At this stage, limited amount, and certainly authorities here will be cooperating as best as they can with the FBI who fairly early on pointed out they had reached out to London-based officials to try and get some assistance on this.

And the questions they will, of course, be asking is was this individual known to the security services in the U.K.? Could he have any travel or communications that might link him to areas in the world, possibly linked to terror groups?

I have to say, and you may possibly agree, listening to him in that recording there, he's not always coherent. Doesn't sound like the most well-sophisticated or well-thought through plans here although, of course, nonetheless any least terrifying on those who were held hostage there.

And I'm sure authorities here will be talking to family members, if possible and trying to get as much detail as they can about the motive which President Joe Biden said it was already too early for people to begin to suggest why this had occurred.

But the U.K.'s foreign secretary, it's equivalent to the secretary of state, Liz Truss, said that this was an act terrorism, anti-Semitism that they condemned here. So a lot of work clearly has been happening, will be happening here in the United Kingdom to learn more about a man I understand most commonly known as Faisal Akram.

Quite how he came to be in the United States, if anything about his history here might suggest links to terror groups, I have to say my hunch here is more predominantly we maybe look at an individual with some mental health issues here possibly.

But also to talking to his family, for his and their possible, if there were any cases where they brushed with law enforcement in the past and trying to build a picture here as to exactly what kind of individual we're talking about. Whether this was the man -- a man who was perhaps prepared by others to launch this attack or as does seem more of the case here acting on his own possibly with mental health issues involved as well.

Still though, too early, say people I speak to here and of course, stateside President Biden for a motive really to be defined but the U.K. foreign secretary calling this as an act of anti-Semitism and condemning it as an act of terror.

DEAN: Yes. We'll see. More information to unfold. All right. Nick Paton Walsh, Ed Lavandera in Texas for us. Thanks to you both.

And still ahead this afternoon, tennis star Novak Djokovic will not be defending his title at the Australian Open. He's left the country after losing a last-ditch appeal to avoid deportation. How he's responding. That's just ahead.

Plus, top U.S. Health officials warning not to expect the omicron variant to peak in the coming days as the nation continues to be gripped by a surge in cases and hospitalizations. How the Biden administration is responding. That's ahead.



DEAN: Novak Djokovic is no longer in Australia. The world's number one tennis player left the country today after a federal court upheld the cancellation of his visa. And that means he will not be defending his title at the Australian Open which kicks off on Monday.

The country's immigration minister said the court made the right call adding, quote, "Australia's strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic. Policies are also fundamental to safeguarding Australia's social cohesion."

Djokovic's visa was revoked twice, once over an invalid vaccine exemption and then again over concerns he could stir up anti-vaccine sentiment.

Let's bring in Don Riddell. He is host of CNN's World Sport. What has been the reaction from Djokovic and his supporters so far, Don?

DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT HOST: Well, there's been a lot of reaction. Of course, he has an enormous profile within this sport and also just the global sports industry.

He's got lot of fans in tennis. He's a national hero in Serbia. Whether he likes it or not, he's also become a poster boy for the anti-vaccine movement.

But I would say the most prominent reaction has been from the Serbian government who were pretty scathing. They accused the Australians of harassing him over a period of 11 days. They accused them of orchestrating a witch hunt and described it as an unprecedented media lynching.

Djokovic has a lot of friends on the tour amongst the other players. Some of them have been supportive. They have all been asked about it. Some feel that he brought this entire situation upon himself.

And I would say I think all are just glad that this circus is now over because it has been enormously disruptive to the tennis and the Australian Open which starts in a few hours time.

DEAN: Right, especially when athletes want to be focused and ready to play their best.

What do you think this means for Djokovic going forward? Will he have to potentially skip other tournaments, do you think, because of his vaccination status?

RIDDELL: Well, he might. I just counted it up. He's actually won titles in 16 different countries so Djokovic and all top tennis players, they are on the road around the world all the time.

It's so hard to know because the fight globally against the pandemic is such a fast moving and ever-changing landscape but he might find it very, very difficult to get into other countries. He's going back home to Europe now.


RIDDELL: Typically, the next trip he would make would be to the United States where non-residents need to be vaccinated in order to get into the country. So is he going to have difficulties there?

The next major tournament is the French Open. Recently the French President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to make life very difficult for non-vaccinated people.

So it might ultimately behoove him to become vaccinated which is what some of the other players have been saying. If he had just been vaccinated in the first place, none of this would have happened.

Of course, Djokovic clearly has been very resistant to that. He said a few years ago that he is not a big fan of surgeries or medication. But he did a few years ago get a very big and important elbow surgery done because he knew he needed it to prolong his career.

He might now recognize that he's in a similar position with the vaccine. And I can't imagine he's going to want to go through what he's just experienced ever again.

DEAN: Yes. It's very interesting.

And quickly, before we let you go. I know you talked about some of the other players being glad this has kind of been resolved and it's not a distraction anymore. But do you think losing the number one player that's ranked number one takes any shine off the tournament or do they proceed kind of as normally now?

RIDDELL: Well, after what they have all just been through, I think they will be glad that the tournament is happening and he's out of the way, quite honestly. Because it really was quite a stain on the whole thing.

Obviously they wanted him there. He's won the Australian Open nine times. He's the most successful player. He's the world number one. If he played and won he would have made history by getting the 21 Grand Slam Singles title.

So his absence is a huge setback. There's no Roger Federer, there's no Williams sisters this year so this particular tournament is suffering from a dearth of big names. But I think after everything they have been through they will just be glad that they can play tennis and some new stars will inevitably emerge.

DEAN: They always do.

All right. Don Riddell for us, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

And still ahead: snow, crippling ice and strong winds. We've got the latest on a massive winter storm that's hitting the eastern United States.



DEAN: Now back to our coverage as a massive winter storm pummels the U.S. from Mississippi all the way to Maine. And right now more than 80 million people are under winter weather alerts. That means hundreds of thousands have been left without power in the southeast. The storm expected to make a mess going into the MLK holiday.

We have reporters on the ground in some of the hardest hit states so far. So let's start first with CNN's Nadia Romero in Buford, Georgia. Nadia, what are you seeing?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, we definitely know that the storm has picked up since we started our day at about 5:00 this morning.

We definitely saw rain and sleet, now we're seeing actual snow flurries. I mean some accumulation finally happening here in Georgia. We are under a winter storm warning through the midnight hours.

And we've been hovering right at around the freezing mark, so a little bit higher, a little bit lower depending on where you are in north Georgia.

The concern though is that this isn't the kind of snow that you see in those Hollywood movies, right. This is wet. This is heavy. And as we get to those evening hours they're expecting everything to ice over. This turning into ice, making its way into a skating rink on some of our highways.

So that's why Georgia Department of Transportation says they were out brining the roads starting on Friday and they're going to change that over to different gravel or salt or whatever they need to depending on where they are seeing an accumulation and where they are seeing some of the danger.

Now we are in that he three-day weekend, holiday weekend for many people so we're expecting to not see as many people having to get out of the roads to go to work or to school.

But when you look around this area this snow is something that we really haven't seen for a little while here. It was probably 2018 the last time we had actual measurable snow in the Atlanta area and it has caused some issues.

Earlier today we saw about 105,000 people in Georgia without power and some of that in Gwyneth County and other parts of the northern part of Georgia because of the winds that really started to pick up, knocking down some of those tree branches, on power lines, causing power outages. That number though is down to about 50,000 or so people in Georgia that are without power.

But we're seeing the reverse as the storm heads towards the Carolinas with their outages going up. Here in Georgia though, still the concern, the overnight hours as the snow turns to ice. Black ice being a big danger here as well, Jessica.

DEAN: All right. Nadia, thank you.

And we're talking about ice and how destructive that can be. Let's go now to CNN's Dianne Gallagher who's in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Dianne, I know the Carolinas also looking at some ice accumulation. What's the latest there?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right Jessica. This is actually the first real break I've had in a while from the ice pelting me in the face. It looks like snow here and there were the little snow flurries in Charlotte but for the most part, it's ice.

It's crunchy. You go through and it's ice underneath there and in some areas a quarter to a half-inch of ice on these roads. That is the concern. There have already been more than 200 traffic accidents dealing with this storm across the state. And look, the state said that because of staffing shortages they are not going to have the type of manpower they need. It may take longer for them to clear the roads. The advice right now is for people just not to drive.

And look, that was what we were seeing to begin with, but in the past hour or so as these roads are starting to get a little bit slushy while people are driving. We're seeing more and more vehicles on the road as the weather continues throughout the day.

DEAN: All right. Dianne, thanks so much. Be careful, you guys. That ice is serious stuff.

Diane Gallagher and Nadia Romero for us. Both, thank you so much.


DEAN: Still ahead. Free at-home COVID testing kits -- are they an answer to stem the spread of the virus? We're going to talk about that next.

And in a new CNN Original Series Reframe, discover the life and legacy of the true Marilyn Monroe. It premieres tonight here on CNN. Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marilyn Monroe knew that she was more than just a pretty fixed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She wanted to control of her own destiny.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's frustrating that people can't think about her in terms of her intellect.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marilyn challenges what it means to have agency as a woman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To see a woman that is so in charge of her sexuality as extremely empowering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This woman is so comfortable in her skin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was rolling the dice with her career in very real terms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marilyn would have been the biggest influencer of all time, creating her own production company, getting films made.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Marilyn Monroe is a mirror for, people's ideas about women's sexuality and women's power.

MARILYN MONROE: It's hard to know where to start. If you don't start with the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reframed: Marilyn Monroe tonight at 9:00 on CNN. (END VIDEO CLIP)



DEAN: The Surgeon General is warning today the U.S. should not expect a national peak in the Omicron variant in the coming days and that the next few weeks will be tough telling our Jake Tapper the Biden administration needs to focus on testing.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: As the President said, we certainly have more we need to do on testing. And that message is very clear from him to the public, to his team that we need to pull every lever possible. It's why you've seen so many additional spigots opened, if you will, when it comes to testing and why that supply will continue to increase in the months ahead.


DEAN: Dr. Anand Swaminathan is an Emergency Medicine Physician, and he's joining me now. Dr. Swaminathan, great to see you. Thanks for being here. I first want to get your assessment of this administration's strategy. And its response to the pandemic, have they been prioritizing things appropriately?

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: I think they were working from a place where they had a lot of things that needed to be done. I think we still need a little bit more expediency. I think, a couple of months ago, we could have been working to ramp up testing, especially at home testing. So, we're a bit behind. I'm hoping that we catch up, it's good to see that we're going to have some movement in the next couple of days on getting home tests to people.

But I'm still a little bit worried about how that home testing is rolling out. The reliance on a website, which we know is going to be overwhelmed within the first couple of hours that it launches, if not within minutes. And the fact that we still have 33 million American adults who don't have health insurance, who won't be able to file for reimbursement, they can't afford these tests.

So, we really need to do more in terms of getting tests to people, habits so that you can pick up tests at the post office, at the grocery store, at your corner store. Basically, anywhere that you go where people are, you should be able to pick up a couple of tests, maybe send them home with kids from school so that every home can be stocked with these tests. They can test when they have symptoms. I've been isolate when necessary.

DEAN: Right and really meeting people where they are, is what it sounds like you're -- what you're saying there.

Let's talk about hospitals. How do you think they're faring right now? We know it's not good. Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General, who we just heard from telling us that the next few weeks will be tough. The past few weeks, I know have been incredibly hard. But what are you seeing?

SWAMINATHAN: The hospitals are stretched as thin as they've ever been. People talk about how -- well, every year we get a flu surge. And we've had large flu surges in the past where hospitals are stretched there. I've never seen anything like this. I've never been in a situation where emergency surgeries are cancelled, or I'm sorry, non- emergency surgeries are cancelled or delayed, that we're sending home people that need surgical procedures that require admission, but they're OK enough that they should be OK at home that we have to do that.

We're so stretched, thin on staff seeing National Guard rolling in. I've never been in a time where we have had all of those things going on, except in this last period as Omicron is served. So, hospitals are stretched as thin as they can possibly be, wait times are long, people are not getting the care that they got a month ago or six months ago, and definitely not the same care that they were getting two years ago.

That's a huge concern, a huge worry. And I think that we are losing our health care system inch by inch. And people are a little bit unaware. They're unaware of this until they actually have to go to the hospital and see what's going on there.

DEAN: Right. Because it seems to be like out of sight, out of mind, right? If you don't have to go to the E.R., if you're lucky enough that you don't have a medical emergency, you're probably not seeing, and you don't work in the healthcare industry. You're not seeing this day to day, and you all continue to flash the lights and ring the bell saying, this cannot go on this way.

SWAMINATHAN: It's really tough situation. You're exactly right. It is a little bit of out of sight, out of mind. I've been talking to our paramedics, and they tell me there are so many hospitals that are going on diversion, but they can't receive patients that they've had to go to multiple hospitals to find one where they can actually bring the patient to be taken care of. That's an unbearable situation and one that really is not great for patients because patients are staying in ambulances and that means those ambulances are not backed out getting more patients who need help.


DEAN: All right, right, right. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Thursday to block the President's vaccine and testing requirements aimed at large businesses, leaves the next step in businesses hands. What do you think about that ruling? What is your message to executives, to big businesses out there?

SWAMINATHAN: This is a huge hit to public health initiatives. And this is not the way that these things should be decided. Public health initiatives should not be left up to this kind of a decision, we have really stripped away, or this decision has stripped away OSHA's power in trying to help with this pandemic and protect workers. And what this does, like you said, is leave it in the hands of

businesses, it makes it very difficult for individual businesses to make these decisions. They're not public health experts. And it makes it very difficult for the public to make decisions of where's it safe for me to go, which businesses have vaccine mandates, which ones don't have vaccine mandates. This is not the way that public help should be done.

And what this is going to result in is more surges. It's going to allow this virus to continue to persist, where we had a real opportunity to say, if you're working for a business, you have to get vaccinated, just like you have to get vaccinated if you're working in a hospital. Those are the right things to do. We need expanded mandates in order to get more of the population vaccinated to stem this pandemic.

DEAN: All right, Dr. Anand Swaminathan, thanks so much for your insight, your expertise, we sure do appreciate it.


DEAN: Earlier this week, House Democrats introduced legislation to make at home COVID test widely available to Americans. And with me now is one of the Democrats behind that legislation, Representative Don Beyer of Virginia.

Congressman, it's great to see you. Thanks for making time today. We heard from President Biden that testing efforts are ramping up regardless of insurance status. Tell us what will the free at-home test for All Act provide to Americans?

REP. DON BEYER (D-VA): Well, the President's moved in the right direction, recently announcing 500 million free tests for Americans. But that's only about one and a half tests per person. What our legislation does, it says two free tests per person per week. Now, that the good news is when you do that kind of volume, the cost per test is going to plummet dramatically.

But if we go back to two years ago, you had people like Nobel Prize Winning Economist Paul Romer saying, if you could test everybody in real time in their homes, then right away, the spread of the virus would drop dramatically. We've discovered in the last couple of days or last couple of weeks, when tests are available, you can do them in your home. And, you know, especially with Omicron, which often doesn't have many symptoms, that people that are sick and stay home and keep other people from getting sick, it'd be a great way to stop the spread.

DEAN: Right. And I hear what you're saying that we've known for a while that testing is incredibly important. So, I'm just wondering why this act -- why you all are just now putting this together nearly two years into the pandemic. Why do you think it took so long, both for the administration to prioritize testing, but also for an act like this to get put together?

BEYER: I think Jessica, some of it is just trying to figure out what the urgency was the moment in the Biden ministration, spent much of this year focused on vaccines. They just rolled out as the president was being inaugurated. And we have something like 76 percent of Americans who have had at least one shot.

What we're running into the remainder are very vaccine hesitant. They're resisting, and it'd be great to make more progress without the Supreme Court decision that may not be happening. So now we have to really switch strategies and make testing the next best step to stop the spread.

DEAN: And Vice President Kamala Harris has defended the administration's approach to how its handling the virus, we can take a listen to her recent answer on this.


KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time for us to do what we have been doing in that time is every day. Every day, it is time for us to agree that there are things and tools that are available to us to slow this thing down.


DEAN: And Congressman, you know that answer got a lot of criticism for kind of just being generic and not really answering the question directly. Do you think it's a fair criticism to question the Biden ministration strategy? Do you think they should be changing the way they're doing things? Or do you think they continue to push ahead with the strategy they have?

BEYER: Well, I think they continue to push ahead, but the strategy continues to evolve. If we go back to January a year ago, the great need was to get vaccines, shots and as many arms as possible. We've seen that anyone vaccinated is much less likely to go to the hospital, almost very unlikely to die from this. And yet we have more than 1000 deaths a day for the people that are unvaccinated. So, if we could get to 100%, we'd have very different place.

DEAN: Right.

BEYER: But we're not. So, the policy has to evolve, and the test is the next big step.

DEAN: And quickly before I let you go on your legislation with the testing, do you have Republican buy in on this? Do you have any support on this? Do you think, obviously, if you guys pass it in the House and it's got to go to the Senate, have you been reaching out to any of your Republican colleagues?


BEYER: We have. And it's this is especially helpful for our Republican colleagues who are either vaccine resistant or defend the people that are vaccine resisting. So, we say, OK, if you're not getting the vaccine, these tests two per week, we'll give you a chance to be safe and keep yourself from spreading it to others. So, it's a really helpful thing, a bipartisan thing.

DEAN: All right, Congressman Don Beyer we'll keep an eye on that. Thanks so much for joining us this afternoon.

BEYER: Thank you, Jessica.

DEAN: Well, Democrats are still trying to do the seemingly impossible which is get this voting rights legislation passed the finish line. Is there any hope?



DEAN: Despite opposition from two key Democratic senators today, a top House Democrat says he remains hopeful his party can still find a way to pass voting rights legislation.


REP. JAMES CLYBURN, (D) SOUTH CAROLINA: They may be on life support, but, you know, John Lewis and others did not give up after the '64 Civil Rights Act. That's why he got the '65 Voting Rights Act. So, I'm going to tell everybody, we are giving up, people to fight and we plan to win, because the people of goodwill are going to break their silence and help us win this battle.


DEAN: And while Senate Republicans will continue to block any progress on voting rights legislation today, Republican Senator Mitt Romney said there could be a path forward on a particular issue, the Election Count Act.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The group, about 12 Senators, Republicans and Democrats, that are working on the Electoral Count Act, we'll continue to work together. Sadly, this election reform bill that the president has been pushing, I never got a call on that from the White House.

There was no negotiation, bringing in Republicans and Democrats together to try and come up with something that would meet bipartisan interests. Sure, we can work together on almost every issue where there's common ground.


DEAN: Now, this all comes as the nation prepares to Mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow and civil rights leaders are vowing to keep pressuring Congress to pass new voting rights protections as a way to honor King's legacy. Suzanne Malveaux has more details.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): January 15, 2022, the day Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned '93 years old, his eldest son, Martin Luther King III reflects on how his father would feel today.

(On camera): Do you think he would have been surprised, discouraged that we are now more than 60 years out from his fight for voting rights that there is still a fight to be had?

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: He never gave in and gave out. But disappointment? Yes, he'd be greatly disappointed and say that America must and will do better. He would never have accepted what we're going through at this point.

MALVEAUX: King had hoped bringing President Biden to Georgia, the epicenter of the voting rights battle would have put enough pressure on the few Democratic senators holding up voting rights legislation to relent.

JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: Pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

MALVEAUX: Following Biden's fiery address.

BIDEN: Pass it now.

MALVEAUX: I sat down on the front porch of the home where Martin Luther King Jr. was born with his son Martin III, his wife, Andrea and Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, King shared the private conversation he had with the President earlier that day.

(On Camera): What did you tell him?

KING III: We talked about literally the full faith of the White House. We saw you do that with infrastructure. We want you to see you do that for the right to vote.

BIDEN: I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I'm tired to be quiet.

MALVEAUX: Do any of you share that sentiment, tired of the President being quiet? I mean, he said he was tired of being quiet?

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Yes. We're tired of him being quiet, as he's tired of being quiet. And it's time to elevate this battle, elevate this fight to what it is. And that is a fight for the future of this nation.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): 80-year-old civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson, who marched with King for civil and voting rights more than a half century ago, also attended Biden's speech. He believes the ongoing battle for the ballot is worth it.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: We have an obligation to fight back. Just save the country is really, really the right to vote.

MALVEAUX: Why are you so optimistic?

JACKSON: My back against the wall. There's a fusion and hopelessness, Republic hope. I hope alive.

MALVEAUX: King was encouraged by Biden's call to lower the Senate 60 vote threshold to get national voting rights legislation passed, but at the same time realistic about its chances of getting the necessary approval.

KING III: I can't say even today my own self, I'm confident that it will pass. But the fact of the matter is, if you continue down the pathway, that it feels like we've gone down, you're definitely doomed.

MALVEAUX: Two days later, back in Washington King's fears were realized, the Voting Rights bill effectively died after Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona announced she would not support changing the Senate filibuster rules. King said history would remember Sinema unkindly and her home state could pay.


KING III: You may remember that Arizona was one of the last states to pass.


KING III: King Holiday Bill. And one of the things that happened was the Super Bowl was removed.

MALVEAUX: Saturday, the King family will mark King's birthday in Arizona to keep up the pressure on voting rights. And on Monday, the MLK Day holiday. Their fight is in the nation's Capitol where they're asking Americans across the country to honor King by promoting voting rights and registration

ANDREA WATERS KING, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: All heirs to what they what he stood and fought and died for. And I think that we are -- what we are simply saying is that this is a time, this is a day of action.


MALVEAUX: There will be plenty of action here on Capitol Hill in Washington votes scheduled for the voting rights legislation as well as for the Senate rule changes. The King family will join House Speaker Nancy Pelosi here in Washington as well to keep up the pressure on lawmakers to make this their top priority. They'll start their march at the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, sending a message saying, look you fought for these bridges now fight for voting rights, get it done. Jessica.

DEAN: All right, Suzanne Malveaux for us on Capitol Hill. Thanks so much. We have much more in our NEWSROOM ahead.