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Erin Burnett Outfront

Biden Pushes To Change Senate Rules To Pass Voting Rights Bills; Biden: "The Battle For The Soul Of America Is Not Over"; Chicago Teachers Union Members Voting On Reopening Schools; GOP Senator To Republicans Downplaying Jan 6: "You Can't Erase It;" McCarthy Vows To Remove Dems From Committees If GOP Wins House; Questions Grow Over White House's Failure To Ramp Up Testing Sooner; Australia Investigating Whether Djokovic Lied On Travel Form. Aired 7- 8p ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Book is entitled Chasing History, it's a great book, A Kid in the Newsroom. A really must reading for anybody who wants to be a journalist, but for everybody else as well. Carl Bernstein, thank you very much.


BLITZER: And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Biden's push for his voting rights bill. The President calling out Republicans and throwing his full support behind changing the rules of Washington to protect voting rights. But will today's speech actually push his agenda forward?

Plus, students in Chicago just hours from returning to class after a week long standoff, the agreement completely different from testing guidelines in other major cities, why? The U.S. Surgeon General is my guest.

And one Republican senator not holding back on how she feels about her own colleagues who continue to downplay the deadly insurrection. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Biden's urgent pitch to save his voting bill. Today, President Biden traveled to Georgia using the power of the presidential bully pulpit to make his case in a speech after exhausting every other option at winning over all of his own party.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last year alone, 19 states not proposed but enacted 34 laws attacking voting rights. Their end game, to turn the will of the voters into a mere suggestion. Today, we call on Congress to get done what history will judge, pass the freedom to vote act. Pass it now, which would prevent voter suppression.


BURNETT: Biden, obviously, wants to do something here. He wants this done. And given the Big Lie from Trump, of course, it is crucial that Americans pay attention to what's happening here. The reality of it is, of course, Trump's lie has been turned into a political weapon. It's pushed to replace fair election overseers of both parties make this issue an urgent one for Americans.

But no matter how hard Biden leads into his solution, he's most likely destined to fail. For one, Republicans are unified in their opposition and he needs 10 of them to support it. That's, of course, without a change in the filibuster. And that brings me to number two.

While every Senate Democrat is theoretically on board with the Voting Rights bill, in order for it to pass, Biden needs all Democrats to back a change to Senate rules, specifically that filibuster.


BIDEN: To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.


BURNETT: Well, that just doesn't seem like it's going to happen. Listen to Sen. Joe Manchin today.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): We need some good rule changes to make the police work better, but going to get rid of the filibuster doesn't make it work better.


BURNETT: Okay. Getting rid of the filibuster doesn't make it work better. That's today. And Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's office released a statement weeks ago making her position clear. She is in favor of voting rights legislation she says, but she "continues to support the Senate 60-vote threshold to protect the country from repeated radical reversals in federal policy."

That is why I said theoretically to describe Democratic support of Biden's voting bill. Because when you hear the statement from Sinema, the words from Manchin, it is clear that Biden's push for voting rights was dead well before he left the White House this morning.

And complicating matters even more, multiple high profile voting rights leaders actually skipped Biden's speech. It may be sort of surprising to you, but the biggest name, of course, Stacey Abrams, she has been leading the battle against voter suppression. She cited a scheduling conflict. To state the obvious, obviously, the President did go to her State to speak on her core issue. And other activists were blunt saying they preferred Biden stay in

Washington to start twisting arms and get something done. And if all that's not enough from the people who should be most behind what Biden is trying to do here. On the other side, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell jumped in, threatening to force votes on a dozen Republican bills, including sanctuary cities and vaccine mandates if Democrats eliminate the 60-vote threshold.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If my colleague tries to break the Senate, to silence those millions of Americans, we will make their voices heard in this chamber in ways that are more inconvenient for the majority and this White House than what anybody has seen in living memory.


BURNETT: Okay. McConnell, obviously, making it clear two can play the game. A game in which right now Biden is down, whether it's on voting rights or his massive 1.75 trillion dollar so called Build Back Better bill.


And as it stands tonight, Biden's Hail Mary on voting rights could be a lost cause. Jeff Zeleny was traveling with the President tonight. He's OUTFRONT live in Atlanta. And Jeff, we're talking about that there were activists who said stay in Washington, talked to Manchin, do the arm twisting there, don't come here to give the speech. But he did it anyway. He went all-in knowing that he didn't have the support of those key senators. What's the reasoning?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORREPONDENT: The reasoning, Erin, is that President Biden wants to make this a part of history. He wants to really make the case to the American people, that this is not just simply a one off political maneuver in Washington. This, at least in his words, is something that is steeped into the historical context of this country. That is why he went to what really is considered sacred ground here in Atlanta, here in Georgia, really the center of the civil rights movement in John Lewis' old district to make the case why there needs to be reformed.

Yes, there was some dissent here, but there was dissent throughout the entire civil rights movement, no question. Many people think he's not done enough. Not done enough fast enough. But simply the reality is the math hasn't changed. So even though Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and perhaps others were the audience, the audience was also the Democratic Party who wants to see their president fighting more for them.

Now, will this change anything at all? It is an open question, perhaps not. But there could still be some smaller voting rights pieces of legislation enacted. There could be some accommodations made. But this is something that we're going to see a vote in the coming days here, leading into the Martin Luther King holiday next Monday that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there is going to be a vote.

So this is something that President Biden wanted to make the stakes. He said, "I'm tired of being quiet." So we'll see if anything happens here. But staying in Washington would not have had as much of an impact here, giving a speech like this. Traveling to Georgia, of course, one of 19 states, it certainly is real here. That is why he came here. So he knew the odds were long, but he's still making his case. Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Jeff, thank you very much.

And I want to go now to Ben Jealous former President and CEO of the NAACP, he was at Biden's speech today in Atlanta, and our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, of course.

So Ben, Sen. Manchin, obviously, has been clear for time and time again, he's not changing his stance on the filibuster. Sen. Sinema not on board either. So it doesn't seem that there's a chance that Biden makes headway on voting rights as it stands right now. So the current President of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson, issued a statement tonight saying, "While President Biden delivered a stirring speech today, it's time for the administration to match their words with actions and that's the criticism coming from the NAACP. Do you think it's merited? Has Biden tried to do enough here?

BEN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY AND FOUNDATION: Derrick and I were there today together along with Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Marc Morial and many leaders from Georgia. And we stand united with all of the voting rights leaders in Georgia about the need for the words today to lead to actions. We're clear on that.

And what I hear from Manchin in those comments, I think it's different maybe than what you heard. He said that he's open to rules changes. Manchin is a very sophisticated speaker. You got to remember, he was for - sorry, he was against was now called the freedom to vote act before he helped author this current version and then now he's for it. He's somebody who has already moved on the arc and I believe he will move further.

Today wouldn't have happened without hundreds of thousands of activists demanding that the President do it. It wouldn't have happened without hundreds of going to jail outside the White House, including Martin Luther King III who was there today, who reminded all of us privately many times that his father had to make President Johnson actually find the energy to pass the Voting Rights Act in the first place after President Johnson has told his father that there was no way to get it done.

So our history in the civil rights movement, quite frankly, is making a way out of no way again and again and we've seen that happen in the arc of this issue in the country. And today actually look like the beginning of a winning push. This is what it looks like when a President intends to win.

BURNETT: All right. So let me ask you about that, Gloria. So Biden is going as nuclear as he can, Ben's like, look, he's doing it under pressure from activists, but he did it. And it sounds like he's sort of giving up by talking to the senators directly and he's going to throw this Hail Mary pass at a public speech, influences them, puts the pressure on them more than private conversations have. Here's what he said.


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


BURNETT: Okay. Gloria, do you share Ben's optimism?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Nobody ever called Joe Biden quiet.

BURNETT: Yes. Do you think you'll get this done though? I mean ...

BORGER: I think it looks bleak, honestly.


I just feel that right now it's a bit quixotic. He knows that it's an uphill battle. And I think he's facing an awful lot of pressure from people on the base of the party who supported him. And who said to him, look, why did you waste so much energy on Build Back Better and you lost that. You got the infrastructure, you got the RESCUE plan, you lost Build Back Better, you should have been doing voting rights.

And I think, going there to Atlanta today was the White House's way of saying we hear you and we understand what we have to do. And Joe Biden going out and saying the Senate doesn't work. And I'm all for changing the filibuster for this issue is a big deal to Joe Biden, whether it's going to be enough remains to be seen. But you see that Republicans are not lining up. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and other Democrats, by the way, are not lining up to change the filibuster.

So I would have to say that it doesn't look great to do this right now.

BURNETT: So Ben, let me ask you from the other side. So we talked about the issue within the party, okay, and I know you disagree a bit there. But let me ask about the issue of the absences, even among the activists who are so ardently behind this. You'd think that would have been at least uniform, but it was not.

Cliff Albright, Co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund told CNN we don't need another speech, what we need is a plan. That's when I refer to blunt language and his speech was in Georgia. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, the most prominent voting rights advocate, perhaps in the Democratic Party was not there and she cited scheduling difficulties.

Ben, I mean, the President traveled to her state for this big event, scheduling difficulties, do you wish she'd attended? JEALOUS: The stakes could not be higher in Georgia and having run for

governor at my home state last time around when Stacey was on the ballot, she needs to do what she needs to do to win. She has an uphill battle against an incumbent. She has an uphill battle against an incumbent who's a chief vote suppresser in the country and is cheating every way he can. So I'll never fault my old friend Stacey Abrams from choosing what she needs to do on a given day.

With Cliff (inaudible) we literally went to (inaudible) cellblock in DC together, got arrested outside of White House pushing Biden to come out with a plan and make the commitments that he made today. We met before, we talked after, we're on the battlefield together. With Voting Rights Act, there's no split between us.

Whether you show up for a President's speech or not is really up to you. What really matters to the people is that we're all in this together, pushing us (inaudible) to get this done.

BURNETT: And yet, Gloria, Stacey Abrams, I don't know exactly what her scheduling conflict was, she's crucial to this issue. She's central to this issue. Her presence would have made a big splash and she wasn't there.

BORGER: Yes. Can I say one thing? When the President of the United States comes to your state and wants to talk about voting rights, even if you're angry, even if you think that they should have gotten to it sooner and we know all the arguments and understand them and she's so eloquent on voting rights, how do you not go? And how does it not make the Democratic Party look divided on an issue that is so basic to the Democratic Party and to what was so important in Joe Biden's political campaign?

So I think that saying you have a conflict is really not a good enough reason.

BURNETT: All right. I appreciate ...

BORGER: And maybe not the real reason.

BURNETT: Right. Right. Well, we shall see but I thank both of you very much, I appreciate you.

And next, the breaking news, we are learning the CDC is preparing to update its mask guidance. Wow. How far are they going to go and which way? The U.S. Surgeon General is next.

Plus, the Chairman of the January 6 Select Committee reveals they want to speak to Trump's longtime friend and former attorney general - former attorney, I'm sorry, Rudy Giuliani, but could he be forced to cooperate?

And a new twist surrounding Novak Djokovic, immigration officials now investigating whether the tennis star lied on travel documents for flying to Australia.


BURNETT: Tonight, Chicago students getting ready to return to the classroom tomorrow after a week long standoff between the city and the teachers union. Members of the teachers union now voting on a tentative agreement which includes weekly testing of 10 percent of its students.

The guidance though across the country is, well, literally all over the map, in L.A. a hundred percent of students were required to show negative tests before returning to school. In New York, the Mayor says he doesn't want universal testing. If your child does test positive, he or she must isolate for 10 days which is double the CDC guidance right now for vaccinated.

The Biden administration reiterating today that keeping schools open is a top priority. But it is clear right now that each district is really navigating this on their own.

OUTFRONT now, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. And I really appreciate your time, Doctor, as always. So when you take a step back here, do you feel like the federal government needs to take charge and make it much clearer what schools need to be doing right now so we don't have this checkerboard of every single place is different?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Erin, school is a really important issue right now and I say this as a dad also. You and I both have small kids and I'm grateful that our kids are actually in school.

One of the things that we've learned, Erin, is just how important it is for our kids to be in school, not just for their learning and development, but also for their mental health and well being. What the federal government has done is several things. One layout clear measures, layers of precaution, if you will, that schools can and should be taking to make schools safer for educators and kids.

The government has also provided billions of dollars in funding to make those layers of precaution or reality and include testing, masking, improved ventilation and other such measures. If we put these in place, then we can do well by our kids.

My concern is that in many places, schools aren't implementing necessarily all of these measures.


I recognize there are going to be some circumstances where if many educators are out sick of the test positive, they may have to take temporary emergency measures, but we should be doing everything we can to get our kids back to school as soon as possible.

BURNETT: So let me ask you about that because you talk about educators being out. And specifically, when we're talking about vaccinated educators or vaccinated asymptomatic educators, it raises questions. And when I talk about putting out new ideas, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, as you know, came out with this whole new set of guidance.

And on their list, Doctor, they say that we should keep schools open even in times of significant community transmission. They recommend, and this is what I am curious what you think about, they recommend discontinuing required weekly testing of asymptomatic students, teachers and staff and allowing COVID-exposed but asymptomatic staff and students to continue attending school in person.

That is very different than what is happening in a lot of places. But it would be a pretty significant change if implemented. Do you agree with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia?

MURTHY: Well, I understand - I believe I understand what they're trying to do, which is they're trying to evolve with their recommendations as the pandemic is evolving as needs change on the ground. Where I agree with them is that we can keep our children in school safely, even if there is community transmission.

The reason I know this is because it's what happened in the fall when we had community transmission with Delta. When we saw schools that were putting the layers of precaution in place, they were able to keep kids learning and keep them there safely. I think as we go through this pandemic, we will need to keep reevaluating things like isolation and guidance and make sure that if there's new data that we reflect that in our guidelines accordingly.

Right now, the current guidelines that we are suggesting are that you can actually keep kids in school even if they're exposed using a test to stay program and a protocol that the CDC recently issued some guidance on. It's a way, again, to keep our kids learning.

If kids are positive, though, if they test positive for the virus, that is a circumstance where they should be isolated from other children because they can pass on the virus to those kids.

BURNETT: So let me ask you about some of the data here in New York that we're looking at and this is just cases among the vaccinated and unvaccinated. They're rising in both cases. Obviously, significantly more for the unvaccinated exponentially so, but rising in both groups.

Now let me just flip it over to hospitalizations. This is, of course, something you're well aware of doctor you see a much wider gap. The case is surging for unvaccinated, I'm sorry, hospitalizations, much, much less so in terms of the slope of the line for the vaccinated.

And a lot of people as you know, Doctor, are sort of done waiting for the unvaccinated to change their minds. They're seeing the impact that this is having across the country to essential services to schools. So I wanted to ask you this, Quebec today in Canada announced that unvaccinated residents are going to have to pay hefty fines to help the overburdened public health care system.

There's reports that IKEA significantly cutting sick pay for unvaccinated workers in the U.K. so that they aren't essentially being paid to isolate for a longer period of time because they're unvaccinated and somehow benefiting from their lack of vaccination. Do you support any sort of penalties of those types for unvaccinated Americans?

MURTHY: Well, Erin, first, I understand people's frustration out there. This is a pandemic that we've been dealing with for two years. And in moments like this, when we're facing a national crisis, everyone needs to step up and do their part to help us get through that. And getting vaccinated is one way that you can only protect yourself, but protect the people around you, protect our healthcare workers who are struggling right now under the burden of Omicron. But while I do believe that, it's important for everyone to step up.

My training as a physician, I was always taught that if people need help, medical care in particular, regardless of their past decisions and their background, it's our duty to be there to offer them that care. And so putting up barriers to people getting care and being able to access care is something I generally would not support. Because I do think that, again, we all make mistakes in life. We all make decisions others wouldn't make.

But when people get sick, we got to find a way to be there to take care of them. Because at the end of the day, we're all members of the same community even if we make different decisions.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Doctor, I appreciate your time and thank you very much.

MURTHY: Thanks so much, Erin. Take care and be well.

BURNETT: All right. You too.

And next, a striking admission from the head of the FDA today.




BURNETT: Plus, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he plans to remove a number of Democrats including Adam Schiff from their committees if Republicans retake the House. Congressman Schiff responds, next.




BURNETT: New tonight, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski slamming fellow GOP lawmakers who a year later are still trying to downplay the deadly insurrection of January 6th.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): When you have rioters storming through the Capitol, desecrating the property, chanting hang Mike Pence, when you have the violence that we saw, I mean, you can't undo that. You can't erase it. You can't say that didn't happen or if it did happen, it wasn't really intended and so therefore it wasn't that bad.


BURNETT: Sen. Murkowski continuing in that interview to praise the work of the January 6 Select Committee saying that it is showing how concerted team Trump's efforts were to use the Big Lie to overturn the election.

OUTFRONT now Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who is a member of the Select Committee and also the Chair of the House Intel Committee. So, Congressman, I appreciate your time tonight.

Obviously, Murkowski coming to the defense of your committee and your work, you hear her mentioned Mike Pence, obviously, as core here.


And I know your committee wants to talk him. "The New York Times" is reporting, though, that he is now more reluctant to cooperate voluntarily because he apparently believes your committee is too partisan, and that the committee is oversold how much his associates are cooperating.

What do you say to the former vice president?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, you know, I think we are being very respectful of the former vice president and we very much want him to come in. And I suspect that he'll make the decision on what he thinks is best for Mike Pence. And regardless of what he thinks act what the committee may say about people cooperating or not cooperating.

Look, he is a very material witness. He was the target of all these efforts to essentially get him to ignore his constitutional duty, and to overturn the election. No one, I think, could speak to that as personally as he can, and we hope he'll do -- do, you know, his duty and come and testify if he is asked.

But that's all we can hope and -- and I wouldn't put too much stock in -- in some explanations that may be leaked from some of his team.

BURNETT: So, chairman of your committee, Bennie Thompson, told us today that you will also seek information from Rudy Giuliani. Obviously, Trump's former lawyer and for months, he was trying to overturn the election.

An attorney for Giuliani, though, says that any information Giuliani has could be covered by attorney-client privilege. And -- and obviously, at one point, you know, he was the president's attorney. He was working on this.

Obviously, in your capacity as an attorney, do you think he has a point on that? SCHIFF: It really depends on, you know, what he is being asked and

whether he was acting as an attorney in his capacity as a counsel in terms of the -- the facts that we are seeking to clarify.

So, you know, very much the same with Sean Hannity. We are not seeking Sean Hannity's role as a commentator, as a Fox News pundit. But rather, his information as a material witness.

And similarly with Rudy Giuliani, anything that he was a witness to that was not in his capacity of representing the president, then there wouldn't be any -- shouldn't be any obstacle to his testifying.

BURNETT: This comes as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is talking about you and he is making a threat about what he is going to do if the GOP has control of the House in November. Here he is.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The Democrats have created a new thing where they are picking and choosing who can be on committee. Never in the history have you had the majority tell the minority who can be on committee. But this new standard, which these Democrats have voted for.

You look at Adam Schiff. He should not be serving on Intel when he has openly, knowingly now used a fake dossier, lied to the American public in the process, and, doesn't -- doesn't have any ill will.


BURNETT: Of course, you have acknowledged key parts of the dossier turned out to be untrue but the broad strokes on Russian efforts to help Trump win the election were accurate.

But what do you say to -- to McCarthy? I mean, if he is going to kick you off the Intel Committee, what will you do?

SCHIFF: Look. I think the reality is McCarthy is a very weak leader. And as a result, he is already being led around by the most extreme elements of his conference -- the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and others that are calling for retribution because of their removal.

The departure from precedent here was McCarthy's failure to hold his own members accountable which, traditionally, Democratic leaders and Republican leaders have policed their own. But McCarthy's been too weak to do that, and so it required Democrats to take action when Paul Gosar was glorifying the killing of one of his colleagues. And similarly, when Marjorie Taylor Greene was spouting her conspiratorial QAnon and anti-Semitic stuff.

So, you know, it -- I think the precedent has been broken here, it's been broken by McCarthy. It doesn't surprise me, though, that he is being led, already, by these extreme elements and -- and it's one of the reasons why he could never be allowed to become speaker.

More importantly, though, if I can say, Erin -- BURNETT: Yeah.

SCHIFF: -- then whatever he might do, vis-a-vis Democrats and committee assignments is the fact that he will do whatever Donald Trump wants him to do and if Donald Trump wants him to overturn the next election because Trump loses again, McCarthy will do it and that is a real and present threat to our democracy.

BURNETT: Before we go, Chairman, I need to ask you one more question. And this is something you are behind, which is a push for the Biden administration to expand access to rapid COVID testing. And you know, they -- they have said announced plans to purchase 500 million tests. Obviously, we can all do the math and everyone can see how many they have to use and it's not even in the ballpark.


Why do you think the administration is so behind on this?

SCHIFF: Look, I think they are trying, as we all are, to keep pace with this virus that turns out to be far more transmissible than -- than the previous variants. And I -- you know, applaud the steps they are taking just today after we sent that letter, they have announced steps to set up a phone line, which was one of the things we were concerned about. The people that don't have online access, we want them to be able to get test kits.

We also want to make it easy to get reimbursed by insurers and we have taken very quick action on that now to make sure that insurers can designate preferred pharmacy providers where you can go pick them up for free. So, they are being very responsive to our letter, and I do think, though, we are going to have to dramatically escalate the production of these test kits to meet the demand.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much, Chairman Schiff, as always.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

BURNETT: Next, one year after taking office, President Biden struggling to deliver on this major promise --


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anyone who wants a test should be able to get one, period.


BURNETT: And an in-depth look at why testing is still such a problem in country. You will see the full report, next.

Plus, new details act when tennis star Novak Djokovic tested positive for COVID. Was it just before he is seen here out and about un-masked?


BURNETT: Tonight, the head of the FDA voicing concerns about keeping essential services open. As the U.S. reports day after day of record- breaking COVID cases.


DR. JANET WOODCOCK, FDA ACTING COMMISSIONER: I think it's hard to process what's actually happening right now, which is most people are going to get COVID.


BURNETT: This comes as the Biden administration faces growing questions act about why it has taken so long to ramp up testing in response to the surge.

Jeremy Diamond is OUTFRONT with tonight's inside look.


BIDEN: Believe me, it is frustrating to me. But we're making improvements.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One year after taking office, President Biden facing a stubborn problem he vowed to solve -- long lines and empty shelves, exposing a testing system failing, once again, to match demand. And Biden's own rhetoric.

BIDEN: Anyone who wants a test should be able to get one, period.

DIAMOND: Biden came into office with a plan to expand testing, pouring billions of dollars to boost manufacturing and ramp up testing in schools and underserved communities. But his top priority was vaccines, which kept most people out of the hospital and even slashed the chances of getting and spreading the virus. And then, came omicron.

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, VICE PROVOST GLOBAL INTIATIVES, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: The vaccines were really doing their job to decrease the number of cases. So there wasn't demand. But then, because of the variants, we have had this increase in cases and, therefore, increase in demand.

DIAMOND: Biden has acknowledged coming up short on testing, but resists calling it a failure.

BIDEN: I don't think it's a failure. I think it's a -- you could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago.

DIAMOND: But many public-health experts have been sounding the alarm for months.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Everybody saw it coming. We knew we needed more tests. I think the administration dropped the ball on this.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are still way behind on testing.

EMANUEL: Frankly, I think a big problem is, right from the start, we didn't have a strategic plan about how testing was going to fit in with our response.

DIAMOND: And in October, anticipating a winter surge, a group of experts including Dr. Michael Mina made an urgent plea to White House officials.

DR. MICHAEL MINA, CHIEF SCIENCE OFFICER, EMED: We tried everything I could to advise our government on the need for these tools.

DIAMOND: In a presentation obtained by CNN, the experts predicted the U.S. would need about 732 million rapid at home tests per month by March 2022. Even after factoring in expected production increases, the experts warned the U.S. would fall short by about a quarter of a billion tests.

White House officials say they didn't disagree with the goals but by October, it was mission impossible. There were only a handful of authorized at-home tests, and plummeting demand during the summer cause several test makers to downscale production.

Republicans have seized on the failure, with two senators calling out a, quote, fundamental lack of strategy and failure to anticipate future testing needs.

In his first network interview, the White House's new testing coordinator responding.

DR. TOM INGLESBY, SENIOR ADVISOR FOR TESTING, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM: This administration's been pursuing a strategy to expand testing since its earliest days and will continue to do that.

DIAMOND: The White House did take steps to boost production in the late summer and fall, purchasing $3 billion in rapid tests and spending another $1 billion to secure key supplies for PCR testing.

And with the new fast track to FDA authorization, there are now nine at-home antigen tests on the market. The results? At-home testing capacity is up, from 46 million tests produced in October, to 300 million per month today. And the White House projects a supply of at least 350 to 400 million tests next month, according to a memo obtained by CNN.

INGLESBY: We are not going to stop there. Those numbers will keep going up in the months ahead.


DIAMOND (on camera): And, Erin, the White House is also finalizing plans for those 500 million rapid at-home tests they plan to send to every American who requests one. The first of those tests are expected to go out later-this month. The rest of them will go out in the next 60 days but experts are saying that while this is a good sign in the right direction, it's still going to take months to get testing where it needs to be in this country -- Erin.

BURNETT: Months, of course, is, you know, kind of makes -- defeats the whole point.

All right. Thank you very much, Jeremy. Appreciate it.

I want to go now to Joseph Allen. He has been at the forefront of so much of this guidance since the start of the pandemic. His group at Harvard wrote one of the first plans to re-open schools safely that was adopted by several major cities.

So, Professor Allen, I appreciate your time. I always have since the beginning as we ever been talking about -- about schools. You tweeted something today that I saw early this morning caught my attention. And you tweeted about an exchange you had with your son.

So, your tweet says quote, eight degrees in Boston. No outdoor activities at school.


My 9-year-old, quote, so no math breaks today? That's worse than freezing.

Then, you continue. Don't tell me two years of masking doesn't impact kids. The risk is low, vaccines available for all adults and kids, anyone who wants can mask. It's time.

You're talking about the experience your kid had in a suburban Boston school this morning. You don't say this lightly. Tell me more. Why is it time for the masks to come off?

JOSEPH ALLEN, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yeah, it's great to be back with you and I don't take it lightly and I think there was a culmination, little frustration on my part but I have been writing about this through the fall and backing it up by hard data and the hard data I am referring to here is on the risk to kids that has been consistent since day one. Their risk is low.

New data out of New York state during the peak of the omicron surge shows that child hospitalization rates are on the order of 1 in 100,000 if you are unvaccinated. If you are vaccinated, a child's risk is on the order of two to three per million. These are low rates. On top of that, adults, all teachers and staff, had had ten months or more to get vaccinated and take the precaution they need to.

We are coming up on two years of disrupted school, kids in masks, to think there is no harm there or no loss in socialization, no impact, I think is incorrect. We have been prioritizing adults at the expense of kids and it's time to start having these serious conversations.

When is enough? And I think it's right now. We -- the -- the risk to kids is low and adults have had time to protect themselves with the vaccine.

BURNETT: Two to three per million for vaccinated. And as, just to make it clear, every K-12 child is eligible for vaccination. So, look, masks have become such a third rail topic in this country in so many ways.

What's the reaction been to that tweet?

ALLEN: Yeah, I think it's been mixed. I have to say it's been extreme on both sides. I hate to both-sides this, but the truth is the truth.

On the far-far right, this is a hoax, masks never work. That is nonsense. Masks do work, but masks -- the context of masks is just important.

On the far-far left, it's kids in N95s forever and ignoring these -- these fundamental risk factors, low-risk for kids. I think that is a mistake as well. The middle ground here is actually the conversation that's happening offline with a lot of other scientists saying, look. We can do better going forward.

Here is the reality of masking though. You have the tools to keep yourself well-protected. If your child is vaccinated and teenagers can be boosted now, like my teenager is. And you still want to wear a mask, an N95 mask, by all means, you should. And at that point, your protection is well less -- you are better than 1 in a million odds of a hospitalization at that point.

And it does not matter -- this is a key point -- it does not matter what is happening around you. In other words, if someone's un-masked but you have all of those protections in place, it is not going to matter that that other person is un-masked. That, we've lost track of this one-way masking is actually powerful and protective. "The Atlantic" wrote about it just two days ago. I have been writing about it through the fall in "New York Times" and "Washington Post." That's key and I think it's going to be part of the new 2022 playbook, too many people holding on to the 2020 playbook in my opinion.

BURNETT: All right. Well, I really appreciate your time and for explaining it. Professor, thanks.

ALLEN: Thanks so much, Erin.

BURNETT: And next, CNN learning tennis star Novak Djokovic is now the focus of an investigation into whether he lied on travel documents to enter Australia.

Plus, what the Fed chairman calls a severe threat to getting Americans back to work.



BURNETT: New tonight. Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic now being investigated for possibly lying on his travel form to get into Australia for the Australian Open. He said he hadn't traveled anywhere for 14 days before arriving in the country -- in the country from Spain. But he -- well, makes it look like he was in Serbia on December 25th.

This as the immigration minister says he is still considering cancelling Djokovic's visa, which would block him from playing.

Phil Black is OUTFRONT in Melbourne live tonight.

So, Phil, what else do we know about this investigation?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Erin, this declaration form is something every incoming passenger has to fill in. It declares vaccination status, where you have been, essentially assesses COVID risk.

Making a false declaration, including false information, is a crime with a possible 12-month sentence. Now, on his form, which we have seen because it was submitted as -- as a court document in the recent hearing -- he -- when asked if he has been anywhere else in the 14 days prior to coming to Australia, the answer is no.

But, as you ever said, social media posts suggest otherwise. That he was seen both in Serbia and in Spain in the days leading up to his arrival in Australia.

Now, Djokovic admits he didn't fill in that form, himself. It was done by someone at Tennis Australia. But the implication there is that that person either made a mistake, or correctly filled in information that was supplied by Djokovic and his team that was their version, that was the information they wanted to see in the form.

So, there are questions to be asked here and, yes, confirmation that border officials are investigating this.

Add this to the list of discrepancies that has recently been identified in Novak Djokovic's timeline, in his version of events. And -- and the other big one, crucially, is about that positive COVID test on December the 16th, through which he has sought an exemption to the play in the Australian Open, to enter the country. He says that's the basis that he should be here on.

And yet, if that is true, then why was he, as social media photos show, out and about at a series of public events and appointments on the 16th, on the 17th, on the 18th? Even being photographed with a big group of children the day after that positive test.

He says and has said in his legal documents that he was tested and diagnosed on the 16th. So, it suggests, on the surface, only two possible explanations there. One, a really big discrepancy, factual mistake in his version of events. Or he has shown very little concern for the public health of other people in those days -- Erin.


BURNETT: Right, which is pretty stunning. All right. Thank you very much, Phil Black, with the very latest on

that story.

Next, the chairman of the Federal Reserve detailing what he calls a major threat to the American job market.


BURNETT: And finally tonight, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledging the massive inflation threat to America.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHARIMAN: In a way, high inflation is -- is a -- is a severe threat to the achievement of maximum employment and to achieving a long expansion that could give us that. If we have to raise interest rates more over time, we will.


BURNETT: American inflation is sort of the highest level in four decades, eating away pay increases. Powell telling lawmakers today that the Fed is prepared to raise interest rates to fix the problem, which, of course, would bring its own pain, right, to Americans in the form of higher mortgage rates, credit card rates, and -- and, you name it.

Economists right now expect up to four rate hikes in 2022. Be a dramatic change.

Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.