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North Korea Launches More Ballistic Missiles; Terror in Texas; Winter Storm Pummels East Coast; Novak Djokovic Deported From Australia; China Making Changes to Olympic Attendance. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thanks for your time on INSIDE POLITICS today.

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Hope to see you back here tomorrow. Have a good Martin Luther King holiday.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera. Thank you for joining us.

Our top story, COVID sparking new changes to the Winter Olympics. Just weeks before the 2022 Games, China says it will no longer sell tickets to the public, and instead Chinese authorities will choose who can attend.

Now, this big announcement comes as Beijing reports its first case of the highly transmissible Omicron variant in the city. In the next few weeks, close to 3,000 athletes from all around the world will gather under some of the strictest COVID countermeasures many of them have ever seen, as the world confronts a second Olympic Games amid a pandemic.

CNN's Selina Wang is live in Tokyo with more now.

So, how many spectators will there be and how will the government be choosing them?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, it's hard to believe we're only 17 days away from the start of the Games, but we still don't know how many spectators are allowed or how they're going to be chosen. All we know from organizers is that anyone allowed to attend is going

to have to follow strict COVID rules before, during and after the Games. And international spectators have already been banned. But what this latest change reflects is just the growing restrictions in what is already an extraordinarily restricted Olympic Games, even more strict than what I experienced at the Tokyo Summer Games.

I will be traveling into Beijing in a couple of weeks. But, already, I have had to download an Olympic health tracking app, put in my daily temperature every day. Once when I enter Beijing, I will be part of this massive bubble that organizers are calling this closed loop system, which means I am restricted to designated Olympic venues, hotels, and even have special transportation to go between these venues.

And anyone who arrives at these Games unvaccinated is going to have to quarantine for 21 days. And get this, Ana. For the local staff and volunteers in China at the Games, they have to quarantine for 21 days before exiting this closed loop system and going back to their families.

Now, Beijing right now is on extremely high alert after detecting its first Omicron case. This is a country where even one COVID-19 case is one too many. And we're seeing several cities across China back in wartime mode, using these snap lockdowns, mass testing, contact tracing,extensive quarantines.

Now, this zero COVID approach has worked so far, since we have seen China's COVID cases dramatically lower than other parts of the world. But the big concern is, is it going to hold up given, one, how transmissible the Omicron variant, and, two, studies showing that China's homegrown vaccines may not be as effective against the Omicron variant?

But either way, we are going to see these Winter Olympic Games push China's zero COVID strategy to the limit -- Ana.

CABRERA: Selina Wang, I appreciate your reporting.

Let's talk more about the drama now involving Novak Djokovic. The number one men's tennis player in the world is back home in Serbia. And the Australian Open is under way without him. And now his participation in the French Open is in question as well.

Scott McLean is live in Belgrade, Serbia, for us.

Scott, fill us in.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ana, yes, there was a huge swarm of not only press, but also fans who showed up at the airport here in Belgrade to try to catch any kind of glimpse at -- of Novak Djokovic.

Now, we were waiting for him at the VIP exit to the airport. But, of course, Novak Djokovic isn't a VIP. He is well beyond that in this country. He is a national hero. And that is why perhaps his treatment in Australia has earned near universal condemnation here.

The Serbian Olympic Committee called it a huge injustice. The prime minister called it scandalous. The president called it a witch-hunt and a lot more than that. Now, Djokovic isn't planning to speak to the press anytime soon. But there's a lot of people who would love to know what's going on in his mind right now, especially on vaccination, because his decision that will likely determine whether or not he can play in the next Grand Slam ,the French Open.

And he's the defending champion there. That's because the French sports minister told CNN just today that there will be no exceptions to the French vaccine pass law, which requires people to show proof of vaccination to get into restaurants, cafes, theaters, and sporting venues as well.

And that applies not just to the spectators, but also to the athletes. You might remember French President Emmanuel Macron had previously said that he wants to piss off the unvaccinated.

Well, I found out today he's also managed to piss off some vaccinated people in Serbia, who want to see their homegrown star play, vaccinated or not. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that means he can go to any Grand Slam without a vaccine. I think that's terrible. That's a horror, a horror that's happening to our world.


And I think we are going in the future to live with COVID. I think that's his choice, and no one should be forced to be vaccinated. I myself am vaccinated, but I don't think no one should be forced to be.


MCLEAN: Now, Australia has framed Novak Djokovic as this kind of anti-vaxxer.

But, for context, that is certainly not how he is seen here. Right from the man on the street right up until -- to the Serbian president, most people here will tell you the vaccination is a personal choice. And that's perhaps why Novak Djokovic has said precious little on the topic.

So have most of his sponsors, with one notable exception, Lacoste. It tells CNN that it wants to talk to their star ASAP, Ana.

CABRERA: OK. Scott McLean, thank you for that update.

And joining us now is Christine Brennan, CNN sports analyst and sports columnist for "USA Today."

Christine, the French open is later this spring. There is still time for Djokovic to get vaccinated. What do you think he will do? CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: I think he better get

vaccinated, Ana, or he's going to miss a lot of tennis tournaments.

What a thing this is, an athlete at the top of his game in the prime of his career choosing to not get a shot or two shots or three shots, rather than play in the tournament that he loves the most, that will contribute to his legacy, will be a part of his history, in addition to making a lot of money at those tournaments, and, of course, sponsors.

Lacoste is not happy, or at least wants to talk to him, because, of course, they pay to have him playing. It is extraordinary that Djokovic -- we presume he's vaccinated for polio and other things like this. We all -- these athletes, as you well know, take shots for painkillers, whatever, if they're hurt.

And that he would make this decision and take this stand, wow, what a thing it is. Never thought I'd see it in my career. But, yes, I mean, if he wants to play in the French open and one would presume Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, he needs to get vaccinated. And let's see where he decides to draw the line on his career, his livelihood, everything about his image.

CABRERA: Now, you talk about his legacy, his brand.

He does have his supporters in all of this, the Serbian government calling his deportation from Australia a scandalous decision. And it is unclear what his sponsors are going to do. As you mentioned, as Scott pointed out, Lacoste saying it's going to review what happened in Australia.

I wonder, whose side do you think the broader sports world, specifically the tennis community, is on? Does Djokovic emerge from this a martyr or a villain?

BRENNAN: I'm going to pick villain. We certainly know Australia's gone through so much, so just the fact he wanted to saunter on into Australia, where Melbourne had had a 260-day lockdown, I mean, just the arrogance and the cluelessness of this athlete to just think he could just get his way.

Most of the 10 top tennis players in the world, men's and women's, as we know, Ana, are vaccinated, so we know where they stand on the vaccine. And I think everyone was just sick and tired of the distraction, not to say the Australian officials did not make some mistakes or did not elongate this. It was chaos all the way around.

But, at the end of the day, if you're vaccinated, I think you will look at someone who's not vaccinated, and he was -- who's creating chaos in an event that you love, the Australian Open, and you're wondering what's going on.

Another point about the Serbians, of course they're on his side. But Madison Avenue is not in Serbia. And Madison Avenue is -- and, of course, sponsors are what pay Djokovic's bills, $30 million in endorsements last year. So that's where -- what he has to care about, more the rest of the world, not Serbia.

CABRERA: And as you, Djokovic be sort of held out as this maybe a litmus test or an example of sorts in terms of the bigger battle at our hands right now, what kind of pivotal moment is this in this time of sports and COVID?

BRENNAN: Yes, well, of course, Beijing. I'm planning to go. And we will see. Selina was talking about that. We will see what's going to happen.

Clearly, China is -- this is a real bad turn of events for the Chinese. They wanted to have fans in the stands. And now they will have government officials or maybe they will computer-generate fans.

But they want to distinguish themselves from the Tokyo Games six months ago, and now they're going to be much more like those Tokyo Games than then the Chinese officials wanted to be.

And we will be watching Aaron Rodgers play this weekend. He's unvaccinated and really the face of the unvaccinated for the National Football League, which is a shame and obviously continues to be a disgrace for him and for the league that someone of this magnitude would be -- would lie and mislead, and yet still have State Farm and others on his side.

So this the storyline continues, whether it's overseas or whether it's in the NFL.

CABRERA: Christine Brennan, it's always good to hear your perspective and analysis. Thanks so much for joining us.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Ana.

And, today, the nation honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But some activists say that legacy is in jeopardy unless Congress passes new voting rights laws.


Earlier today, members of the King family led a march across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington. Their message to President Biden and Congress? You delivered for bridges. Now deliver for voting rights.

In a speech just a short time ago, Vice President Kamala Harris vowed the fight is not over.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we must not be complacent or complicit. We must not give up and we must not give in. To truly honor the legacy of the man we celebrate today, we must continue to fight for the freedom to vote, for freedom for all.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: The Senate is expected to take up the voting legislation tomorrow, but it's unlikely to go anywhere, as Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema still oppose changing the filibuster rules, a move necessary to get this legislation passed.

Dr. King's son says history will judge what happens tomorrow.


MARTIN LUTHER KING III, PRESIDENT & CEO, REALIZING THE DREAM: Organizing works. Protesting works. And we cannot let up now.

So no matter what happens tomorrow, we must keep the pressure on and say no, more empty words. Don't tell us what you believe in. Show us with your votes. History will be watching what happens tomorrow. Black and brown Americans will be watching what happens tomorrow.

In 50 years, students will read about what happens tomorrow and know whether our leaders had the integrity to do the right thing.


CABRERA: King says his father would be disappointed that the fight for voting rights is still ongoing.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are still without power right now after a massive winter storm wreaks havoc on the East Coast, and the severe weather is not over.

Plus, the FBI reveals new details about the suspect who terrorized a Texas synagogue for hours.

And North Korea just launched more ballistic missiles. Why now?



CABRERA: More than 40 million people are under weather alerts, as a powerful winter storm moves up the East Coast.

It has meant chaos for air travel, more than 1,500 flights canceled just today. The storm plowed across the South, with freezing rain, heavy snow and winds, gusty winds. More than 200,000 customers are still without power. In North Carolina, crews have been trying to clear the roads after high winds toppled trees there.

The storm also turned deadly when a tractor trailer slid off the highway, killing two people. In South Carolina, where this kind of weather is rare, the National Guard was called out to help motorists stranded in the snow.

This same storm system also spawned multiple tornadoes in Florida. This one was caught on video near a golf course in Fort Myers. Several homes were destroyed. Power was knocked out across parts of the state. Let's turn now to the hostage standoff at a synagogue in Texas that

went on for 11 hours. The FBI now says it is investigating this as a terrorism incident. The suspect has been identified as a British citizen who arrived in the U.S. about five weeks ago.

Natasha Chen is in Colleyville, Texas where this took place.

Natasha, what are we learning about this investigation now?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, the FBI is coordinating with its counterparts in the U.K. and Israel.

And as part of that investigation, two teenagers a word detained in the U.K. on Sunday night for questioning. Authorities have said there isn't any wider threat right now. But, as you mentioned, the FBI did call this a terrorism-related incident, where the Jewish community was specifically targeted.

And, unfortunately, that threat is something this congregation must have foreseen was possible, because they had gone through crisis training before. The rabbi says that proved crucial when he was able to ultimately throw a chair toward the suspect to help them safely escape.


CHEN (voice-over): The FBI has identified 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram as the man who held four people hostage at a Texas synagogue on Saturday.

The nearly 11-hour standoff ended after an FBI hostage team shot and killed Akram. All four hostages are safe and unharmed. The situation began during the synagogue's livestream of its Saturday morning sabbath.

In the feed, you can hear Akram speaking. It's unclear whom he is speaking to, but Akram can be heard saying he plans to die.

MALIK FAISAL AKRAM, SUSPECT: I have got these four guys with me, yeah? So, I don't want to hurt them, yeah? OK, are you listening? I don't want you to cry.

Listen, I'm going to release these four guys. But then I'm going to go in the yard, yes? And they're going to take me, all right? Are you listening? I am going to die, OK? So, don't cry over me.

CHEN: In a statement to CNN, one of the hostages, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, said: "In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening."

He credited the security training his congregation had taken part in, in getting them through the traumatic event.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO AND NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: This is the first time that anyone at ADL can recall a hostage-taking at a synagogue. But, unfortunately, Jewish sites have been targeted again and again and again by extremists over the years.


CHEN: According to officials, Akram entered the United States legally in December.

He was vetted and cleared prior to his arrival at JFK Airport in New York five weeks ago. Federal authorities do not believe that this was part of a greater plot, but they are questioning how Akram was able to travel to Texas.

According to law enforcement, British intelligence officials tell their U.S. counterparts a preliminary search showed no derogatory information on Akram. Once Akram arrived in Dallas, he spent several nights at a local homeless shelter. The Union Gospel Mission Dallas CEO Bruce Butler told CNN in a phone call that: "We were a way station for him. He had a plan. He was very quiet. He was in and out."

Now the FBI is conducting a global investigation to try to determine a motive.

MATT DESARNO, FBI DALLAS SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: I'm not ready to add any more about the demands, except they were specifically focused one issue.

CHEN: According to two law enforcement sources, one possible motive was the desire to free Aafia Siddiqui. Siddiqui is serving an 86-year sentence in federal prison in Texas for the attempted murder and armed attack of U.S. service members.


CHEN: You can see right behind us now that police investigators are still actively working the scene. They have been since this happened Saturday.

There's somebody on the roof right now. Yesterday, all day, our colleagues saw them loading items into a truck, likely processing evidence. So it is still quite the activity behind us as they work on this case, figure out how and why this happened.

In the meantime, the congregation tonight is holding a special service at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time at a different location. It will also be livestreamed on. The post about that special service said: "We are strong. We are resilient. The time to heal our community has begun."

It's an attempt, they say, to put this terrible event behind them and be thankful for the safe resolution -- Ana.

CABRERA: That sure sounds like a strong community. Thank goodness those hostages made it out.

Thank you, Natasha Chen in Colleyville, Texas.

North Korea launches more ballistic missiles today, their fourth test just this month. What does the reclusive Kim Jong-un want? That's next.



CABRERA: This morning, North Korea fired off yet another pair of missiles. It's North Korea's fourth missile launch just this month, and this time believed to be two short-range ballistic missiles that hit the water off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.

Now, a short time ago, the U.S. State Department condemned the actions and urged the Kim Jong-un regime to engage in a dialogue.

Joining us now columnist and author Gordon Chang. His latest book is "The Great U.S.-China Tech War."

Gordon, North Korea claims they're just modernizing their defense capabilities. But what do you think is really behind this string of launches, the sheer quantity just this month alone? Why now?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "THE GREAT U.S.-CHINA TECH WAR": Well, first of all, North Korean technicians always need to test to validate their designs.

But as for why now, we never know for sure, but there are two things that come to mind. First of all, the Biden administration's weak sanctions imposed on Wednesday continue lax sanctions enforcement from the Trump administration. And so I think Kim Jong-un thought he wasn't going to get punished for this.

But, also, March 9 is the South Korean election for the president. And one of those candidates is very pro-North Korea. So I'm sure that Kim Jong-un thought that these tests would actually help that candidate.

CABRERA: There was that suspected hypersonic missile test last week. And, at that time, the FAA actually issued a ground stop of planes and very briefly paused departures at some West Coast airports just out of an abundance of caution. Didn't last long.

But it does make me wonder, does North Korea have increased capability to make it a bigger threat to the U.S. right now?

CHANG: Well, they are testing hypersonic glide vehicles, and those pose a great threat to the United States, because they can drop out of orbit and incinerate an American city with very little warning.

The question that the Biden administration needs to ask, which the Trump administration should have asked, which is, where did North Korea get this technology? Because the least likely explanation is they developed it on their own. The most likely explanation is they got it from China or Russia, maybe both.

CABRERA: You talk about how the Biden administration and the Trump administration have both failed in some ways, in your eyes. But I wonder as well, does North Korea show that it sees the Biden administration in a different light than the Trump administration? Is it treating this administration differently?

CHANG: Probably not, in terms of broad general policy.

Kim Jong-un wants sanctions relief.