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President Biden Set To Hold Press Conference; Interview With Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR); Omicron Surge Overwhelming Some Hospitals; Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Imminent?; 5G Rollout Delayed. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2022 - 15:00   ET




STEVIE WONDER, MUSICIAN: Any senator who can not support the protection of voting rights in the United States of America cannot say that they support the Constitution.

The filibuster is not working for democracy. Why won't you?



More backlash against one of the owners of the Golden State Warriors, who said this about Uyghurs on Saturday.


CHAMATH PALIHAPITIYA, MINORITY OWNER, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Nobody cares about what's happening to the Uyghurs, OK?

You bring it up because you really care. And I think that's nice that you care.

QUESTION: What? What do you mean nobody cares?

PALIHAPITIYA: The rest of us don't care. I'm telling you a very hard, ugly truth, OK? Of all the things that I care about, yes, it is below my line.


BLACKWELL: Chamath Palihapitiya later admitted his comments lacked empathy, but now the Warriors organization is distancing itself from the billionaire investor.

They say he does not speak for the group.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And Virgin Galactic released a similar statements, saying he does not reflect the views of that company, though he is on the board there. Uyghurs are a persecuted Muslim minority group in China and their

treatment is one reason that the U.S. is staging a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

BLACKWELL: It's a brand-new hour. We're happy that you're with us. I'm Victor Blackwell.

CAMEROTA: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

The U.S. is trying to deter Russia from invading Ukraine. CNN has learned that the Biden administration is considering new military options to help Ukraine defend itself from a possible Russian invasion.

BLACKWELL: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet face to face with his Russian counterpart later this week in Geneva. But in just a few hours, Blinken will travel to Kiev to meet with the Ukrainian president tomorrow, and then on to Germany to meet with European allies in search of a way to avoid war.

World leaders are on edge amid increased Russian military drills near the Ukrainian border.

CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow.

So, what are the Russians saying about all this?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Russians continue to say that they believe that they're not the ones who are threatening anybody.

And one of the interesting things is also that before Secretary of State Blinken is going to meet the German foreign minister in Berlin later this week, she actually met with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, today.

And the Germans are saying, look, they do see a lot of threatening posture there from the Russians. And the Germans also very key in all this, because, of course, the Nord Stream pipeline, that massive project between Russia and Germany.

And the Germans are saying, look, if there are further military advances by the Russians, that pipeline project could seriously be affected. And, certainly, the international community is feeling as though Russia definitely is threatening Ukraine.

Let's listen into what she had to say.


ANNALENA BAERBOCK, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Over the past few weeks, more than 100,000 Russian troops, equipment and tanks have been deployed in the Ukraine for no reason. It's hard not to see that as a threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PLEITGEN: Now, the Russians continue to say that they have their security concerns.

And they, of course, have put forward demands to the United States, including that Ukraine should never become a member of NATO, which the U.S. has already said is a nonstarter.

The Russian foreign minister, for his part, once again said that he believes that the Russians are the ones who need increased security. Let's listen to what he had to say.


SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We do not threaten anyone, but we hear threats against us. I hope that all this only reflects the emotions that certain forces evoke within the camp of Western countries. We will be guided by concrete steps and deeds.


PLEITGEN: So, as you can see there, the Russians and the U.S. and its allies still very much very far apart on a lot of these points.

I do have to give you an update also on what's going on there in those really key areas. The Russians have actually started moving troops into Belarus. They say they're going to do large-scale exercises in that country. And, of course, one of the things that we all know, the Southern border of Belarus is the northern border of Ukraine, so the Ukrainians feeling increasingly encircled, guys.

CAMEROTA: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you for that report.

OK, now back here to the latest on airplane security. President Biden just thanked Verizon and AT&T for delaying their rollout of 5G technology near some airports.

He said in a statement: "This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled."

The company's announced the delay after airlines expressed concerns that 5G signals would interfere with some important plane radar. And some international airlines announced they will cancel flights starting tomorrow amid the uncertainty of all this rollout.

Emirates said it will suspend flights into nine U.S. airports and that they are working closely with aircraft manufacturers and authorities to resume services as soon as possible. And Air India announced the cancellation of flights into four U.S. airports via Twitter.


Congressman Peter DeFazio joins me now. He's the chair of the House Transportation Committee and called for the delay yesterday to prevent any disruptions.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here.

Whose fault is it that it got to the 11th hour here, where pilots had to express concern, and it's this sort of last-minute cancellation?

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D-OR): Well, it's actually the fault of a guy named Ajit Pai, who was head of the FCC under Trump.

Several years ago, we said to him, myself, the aviation community, don't sell the C-bands close to the radio altimeter frequency. This will jeopardize aviation. He made fun of us, belittled our concerns on Twitter, and he sold it.

And then the industry would not provide data about their deployment until the Wednesday before Christmas. So, since then, we have been scrambling to understand the impact on America's aviation system.

I mean, today, I was talking to the head of United. They canceled their overseas flights today, because, if they had gone to China, they might not have been able to come back and land. So, this temporary delay is critical.

And the fact is, every other country on Earth has regulated the telecoms. They make them point their signals away from flight paths. They make them operate at lower power. They have exclusion zones. Here, it's the Wild West free-for-all, and the industry says, hey, we can put these towers wherever we want, and it's proprietary information where they are.

So we're having trouble working our way through this.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I understand that.

But explain to me why Ajit Pai and the Trump administration would be so cavalier about having a technology that could disrupt the plane system that allows pilots to know what altitude they're flying at. How would that have helped Americans?

DEFAZIO: Well, they just were looking at getting the sale price for the spectrum. And they didn't want to, like, narrow the spectrum and take a few billion dollars less for it.

And then they didn't want to condition the spectrum, because then they thought the bids would be lower. They were just trying to raise a pile of money, about $80 billion, by selling the spectrum indiscriminately.

CAMEROTA: Here's what AT&T said. They're quite frustrated. They don't blame the Trump administration. They blame the FAA.

Here it is: "We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services. And we urge it to do so in a timely matter."

Does the FAA still bear responsibility today? DEFAZIO: Oh, yes, I got to say the FAA has not done a great job with

this. But, then again, they were jammed. They didn't get the data until the Wednesday before Christmas.

Now they're just discovering that certain airplane types are affected even more than we thought. And so there was a prospect of grounding half of the U.S. fleet.

Remember, what AT&T is saying is not accurate. In every other country, these things are directed away, shielded from flight paths. They operate at a much lower power. In Japan, they operated 5 percent of the power that's proposed here. No one has let this go forward at this power with no restrictions looking at aviation.

CAMEROTA: So how are we going to fix this in the near term, if that's even possible, with all these modifications that you're saying have to happen?

DEFAZIO: Well, the industry has agreed for towers proximate to these airports to not turn them on. They will turn on about 90 percent of their system. So don't worry, you will be able to stream high-D video games while you drive your car or walk across the street starting tomorrow in many parts of the country, just not right near airports and not in flight paths.

And then we have got to work through airport by airport what they can do for long-term mitigation, redirecting the signals, operating those towers at a lower power. I don't -- I'm not an engineer. I don't know the solutions. But the FAA needs to have a list. They need to work through it methodically. They need to give the industry some certainty and have a schedule on how we're going to do this.

CAMEROTA: But how long do you think that's going to take?

DEFAZIO: That's a question I'm going to ask the administrator tomorrow. My last conversation with him proved to be incorrect about this problem.

And I'm going to say, how long does it take you to do an airport? Let's just say tomorrow, you want to do Seattle-Tacoma, who today wouldn't have had any flights because of low visibility. How long to analyze each airport? Let's have a schedule. But let's move forward and give predictability to both industries, both to aviation and to the telecoms.

CAMEROTA: I only have 10 seconds left.


Do pilots have point that this threatens their very safety and the safety of the flying public? Will we be able to do this safely?

DEFAZIO: If deployed massively without these protections, you have the probability that, in low visibility, planes would get inaccurate readings and potentially crash. That's not good.

CAMEROTA: I think we can all agree on that.

Congressman Peter DeFazio, thank you very much for being here.

DEFAZIO: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: The transmissibility of the Omicron variant is putting a huge strain on U.S. hospitals.

In Oklahoma City, leaders from four major hospitals tell CNN that they are at a breaking point, with no ICU beds available. They write, in part, this: "Soon, you or a loved one may need us for lifesaving care, whether for a stroke, emergency appendectomy, or trauma from a car accident, and we might not be able to help. We need your help. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear your mask. Socially distance. Stay home if you're sick."

Our next guest is the regional chief medical officer for SSM Health Oklahoma, Dr. Kersey Winfree.

Thank you so much for being with us, Doctor.

There is a line that jumps out from what you all tell us about what's happening there in Oklahoma that I want to read here. "It's like asking wounded soldiers to come out of the hospital and go back to the battlefield before they're even remotely healed."

Give us an idea of what it looks like in your hospitals.

DR. KERSEY WINFREE, SSM HEALTH OKLAHOMA: Well, we are very crowded. Under ordinary circumstances, Victor, we have a inward and outward flow of patients that is pretty much in balance.

Right now, we have the perfect storm of a highly contagious virus that's infecting more and more people every day. We have an unprecedented seven-day average of 10,000 cases. That includes our staff, and that's where the perfect storm comes in, because, without staff, we cannot keep our hospital beds open for the patients that need to be in them.

BLACKWELL: So you say that, soon, maybe you will have to -- you may not be able to help the people who need the emergency appendectomy or because of a stroke or a car accident.

Has that happened yet where you have had to turn people to other facilities, other hospitals because yours are all full?

WINFREE: We started looking at other facilities quite a while back.

Unfortunately, they're dealing with the same circumstances that we are with regards to the gridlock of patients within our systems that we can't seem to move either direction.

So, with all that being said, we're doing the best we can to identify the medically necessary and time-sensitive cases that need to be done, and getting those done with whatever means that we have. We're a very collaborative community. So we do have some patients that are moving back and forth.

But, again, that's very limited, because we're all dealing with the same gridlock.


And we know it's not just the flood of patients who are coming in. It's that the resources, the human resources are being depleted, because many of your doctors, nurses, support staff are at home isolating, because they have COVID.

WINFREE: Correct.

We came into this with very limited staffing just because of the prior Delta variant surge. We never completely recovered from that and got back on balance with our staffing before the Omicron, the very highly contagious Omicron came in and began to affect our staff.

We all have an unprecedented number of staff that are out because of infections. And we're doing the best we can to keep those staff positions filled or replaced. But it's taking people and extending them sometimes beyond their means with regards to how many patients that they can take care of as it relates to nursing.

BLACKWELL: Give me a little more on that. When you say extending how many they can take care of, is it a nurse would typically take one or two and now they're taking three or four? Fill that out.

WINFREE: Yes, exactly right.

That would be a typical ratio, nurse-patient ratio within an intensive care unit. On a general care unit, we'd have a larger ratio. But we have really had to extend some of those numbers beyond really what we would consider a reasonable patient assignment for a single nurse.

BLACKWELL: We have said, because this is what the numbers have shown, that this is really a story about the unvaccinated who are filling the hospitals because of COVID.

And we know there are people who are there for other reasons and test positive for COVID because they're there for some other reason. But can you tell us the percentage, rough numbers, of the people who were in your hospitals because of COVID, how many of them are unvaccinated, what percentage?

WINFREE: So I would say that 80 to 90 percent of the people that we have to hospitalize with COVID-related complications have not been vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: All right, again, just drives home the whole -- the line that you give us.

They need your help there in Oklahoma. Get vaccinated, get boosted, wear your mask, socially distance, all the things we have known have worked the entire pandemic.


Dr. Kersey Winfree, thank you.

WINFREE: Thank you Victor.

CAMEROTA: Well, President Biden has not given many press conferences in the past year, but he's about to as he deals with the COVID surge, voting rights in jeopardy and multiple foreign crises.

How he will frame it all -- next.


CAMEROTA: Tomorrow, President Biden will mark his one year in office with a news conference amid some major headwinds like high inflation and the Supreme Court rejecting his vaccine mandate.

BLACKWELL: Also the likely failure of voting rights legislation and the unprecedented spread of COVID.


CNN White House correspondent Phil Mattingly, senior White House correspondent -- let me not forget that -- Phil is with us.

Phil, how's the president preparing for tomorrow?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, I think the president knows that he's going to be confronting a country of people that are both restive and exhausted, with a set of issues that are as complex as they are intractable in terms of no easy fixes.

And I want to start there. And I think this is where the president is going to focus, on the issues that are on his plate right now, first and foremost, the pandemic, obviously, as you guys noted, the stalled legislative agenda, which will be shown very clearly at the same day when it's very likely the Senate votes down his voting rights bill.

You also have inflation, which is at a 39-year high, and a series of foreign policy potential crises that are kind of looming over the horizon right now. And I think the frustration you hear from White House officials is, particularly on the domestic side, underneath all of those issues are areas where they feel like they have had success in their first year.

In the pandemic, the vaccination efforts have been historic, unparalleled, if you look over the course of the last century, in terms of what the government was able to do. Legislative successes, a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan infrastructure proposal. Haven't gotten everything done, but they feel like those are things that they have gotten done.

And, on the economy, certainly major job growth, economic growth, and wage growth that has been overshadowed, to some degree, by the inflation that we have seen. I think you're just going to see the president trying to walk a line there, something White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki laid out earlier today.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's been a lot of progress made. We need to build on that. The work is not done. The job is not done. And we are certainly not conveying it is.

So our objective and I think what you will hear the president talk about tomorrow is how to build on the foundation we laid in the first year.


MATTINGLY: The way one official put it to me earlier today, guys, was, this is not going to be a reset. It's going to be a refocus, a refocus on the critical issues that have always been there since the president walked into office, very clearly remain there as he enters his second year, and are critical to just about everything.

One thing White House officials almost all agree with, there's a singular issue driving the president's pulls down, his approval down, kind of the country's move down. And that is the pandemic. That has always been number one for the president. That will remain number one in the weeks and months ahead. That is something you will certainly hear the president say tomorrow, guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you,

Abby Phillip is CNN senior political correspondent and anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY." John Harwood is CNN White House correspondent.

Welcome to you both.

Abby, let me start with you.

The president likely has a good 12-month story that he's going to tell about the Rescue Plan and the infrastructure bill and the effort on COVID. But the last week to two show some difficulties. What's the pivot? What's the accelerant that he's going to potentially push to for the next year in his presidency?


I think a lot of people are looking to the White House to find out, what is the strategy moving forward? We all kind of know where things stand right now. We know that this president is basically a low point in his presidency, but also a low point when he's compared to other presidents at around this time in office.

However, there's still almost a year left of this year. And it's a critically important political year. There needs to be, I think, for a lot of Democrats who are looking on a plan for how to deliver for the voters who put Joe Biden into office, how to deliver on priorities, whether it's on voting rights or immigration, on other things, and it might need to be smaller.

So will he say, yes, I know I'm not going to get the big fish, but I'm willing to take a portion of something else if it means moving the ball forward? I think we don't really know what -- how he's going to approach that yet.

CAMEROTA: John, what are your thoughts? Do they -- does the White House have a sense of why President Biden's poll numbers are suffering so much?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I think they have got a very good sense of it, Alisyn.

It began last summer, when the Delta variant made the pandemic resurge just after it had appeared that vaccinations were really tamping it down and the president was celebrating that. So that was one thing.

The Afghanistan pullout, which was so chaotic and looked terrible to the American public, that was another thing, and then inflation, which, as Phil discussed in his report, is overshadowing all of the good economic news that they're talking about.

The question now is whether you can get an upward trajectory later this year from a couple of things. One, economists expect that inflation is going to moderate this year, reasonably measured at 7 percent. They're looking at 3 or 4 percent this year, so that would be in the right direction.

And, secondly, the possibility that the pandemic will move from the emergency phase, which we have all been dealing with for a couple years, to the endemic phase, where people are living with it. Omicron, if it's borne out that those are milder infections, and people are getting a lot of them, so it's conferring a lot of immunity on people, that has the potential for turning this battleship of the pandemic in a favorable direction.


No guarantee of that at all. But that's the scenario for Biden to try to come back, as well as trying to revive that Build Back Better plan, not in the form that it was killed by Joe Manchin, but they think they have got a reasonable shot at some form of passing that bill, even if they can't get voting rights, which, of course, is going to go down this week.

BLACKWELL: Nine months, 10 months out from an election here, Abby, are we seeing any dissatisfied progressives or even moderates start to pull away a bit from the president, considering the legislative narrative and those polling numbers?

PHILLIP: Well, I mean, two data points.

You have got two very powerful, it seems, moderates in the Senate who are not going out of their way to make their president look good. They have done some things in the last week, whether it was Kyrsten Sinema going to the Senate floor just before Joe Biden showed up on -- in the Senate to essentially embarrass him.

So that's one data point on the moderates. I think there's a sense there that Joe Biden doesn't have any political sway over them. And when it comes to liberals, there is a dissatisfaction here. Many of these progressives held their nose and voted for Joe Biden, even though they did not believe that he was progressive enough.

And now they want to see receipts. They want to see results. And there has been less progress on some of the things that they really care about. How the White House manages that dissatisfaction is going to be the most important question of this year. Midterms are for the base. It's when you have got to get your people out.

And if they can't find a way to energize those folks and tell them that there's more coming down the road, they're going to have a real problem in this election cycle.

CAMEROTA: And, John, that leads us to former President Trump and his plans.

I think that for a while we thought he was definitely going to run, but it sounds like he's waiting and watching also. What's his trigger?

HARWOOD: Well, first of all, that's the answer to the question you were just discussing with Abby about the Democratic base, as well as the Republican base.

Donald Trump galvanizes the Republican base, but he's also a useful foil for Democrats. So they're going to look to elevate him, just as Trump's looking to elevate himself. This moment right now is a very good moment for Trump comparatively, because Biden is low.

But we're going to have to see, A, the effect on the midterm elections and, B, where Biden is next spring.

Gabby Orr in her very fine piece today describes advisers saying, well, if Biden still in the low 40s next spring, then Trump will be in. If he's if he's up in the high 40s, then Trump will stay out.

Well, presidents tend to rise after their midterm election. So, it is an uncertain picture from a year from now, when Trump's going to make the decision. But, right now, he still got a grip on the party and he's enjoying it.

CAMEROTA: All right, thank you so much. Great to talk to both of you.

And be sure to join us for coverage of President Biden's press conference tomorrow. And, of course, Abby Phillip and John Harvard will continue to provide analysis.

Thanks, guys.

OK, there's a state of emergency in Tonga. Parts of the country are still completely cut off from communications after an underground volcano eruption. So, we have new images ahead.

BLACKWELL: And from the price of gas to the price of orange juice, inflation is not the only reason you are paying more.