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Erin Burnett Outfront

Biden Clings To Infrastructure Win As He Suffers Major Setbacks; WH: "We're Still Fighting For Every Components" Of Biden's Agenda; CNN's KFILE: McCarthy Says Trump Told "Me Personally That He Does Have Some Responsibility" For January 6 Attack; Djokovic Detention Again After Interview With Australia Officials; Mayors: If Restaurants Don't Get Help, It Will Be "Catastrophic"; 20+ Million People In China Under Lockdown Ahead Of Olympics. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 14, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. You can always tweet the show @CNNSITROOM. THE SITUATION ROOM is also available as a podcast. Look for us wherever you get your podcast.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, Biden's brutal week. The President trying to shift the conversation to infrastructure, but as he marks one year in office, he is facing dangerous challenges on many fronts tonight.

Plus, the founder of the Oath Keepers making his first appearance in court after being charged with seditious conspiracy. The very latest and exactly what happened in that room today.

And the urgent plea tonight to save the restaurant industry that is again being hit hard by the pandemic. Chef and entrepreneur Tom Colicchio is my guest. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, Biden's pivot. The President trying to regain his footing as his agenda is on the rocks, today finally promoting his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill win.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These investments are consequential. We're just getting started. We're building back better than ever before.


BURNETT: It's amazing. Trump couldn't get infrastructure through, Obama couldn't get it through, Biden did. It was a big win and perhaps now he's realizing he should have been pounding the table on that win loudly and a long time ago. Because now he's in the midst of what one famous children's book writer called a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time. All week the White House has watched as the headlines detail the

setback, a misstep, a miscalculation, COVID tests and spread, Biden's domestic agenda, foreign policy crises, crises plural. And it's all coming to a head on what is essentially the one year mark of Biden's term.

His pushed to change Senate rules so he can pass voting rights, dead. His Build Back Better bill at best stalled. His vaccine mandate for big businesses blocked. Consumer prices soaring, COVID hospitalizations surging, COVID tests and treatments in short supply and these are just the issues that Biden is facing in the United States.

Overseas at least two dangerous situations unfolding by the hour. Overnight North Korea firing what the Pentagon believes were two more ballistic missiles. This was Kim Jong-un's third test in the past two weeks. North Korea state media says one test was a hypersonic ballistic missile with a detachable warhead. That would mean a huge advance in North Korean technology if it's true.

But the test this week set off panic and confusion. Officials were unsure if it could hit the United States, so the FAA actually grounded some planes along the West Coast. One U.S. lawmaker briefed on the launch tells CNN that it was 'ugly' and that defense officials 'didn't have a good feel for its capabilities'.

Think about that for a moment. The United States military did not know if a North Korean missile was going to hit the United States. That is a huge problem. And tonight, North Korea upping the ante warning the U.S. of a 'stronger and certain reaction' if Washington imposes more sanctions in response to the recent surge in tests.

And while Washington watches North Korea on the ground in Ukraine, an ominous development today, U.S. intelligence indicating Vladimir Putin has placed Russian operatives trained in urban warfare inside Ukraine. Now the reason this matters, we understand, is that their mission, our Natasha Bertrand reports, is to conduct a false flag operation. So that would mean actually going into Ukraine, carrying out attacks against their own forces, against Russian forces, which would then give Putin a reason to invade and claim he's acting in self-defense.

This disturbing intelligence caps a tough week for Biden. Days of diplomatic talks aimed at getting Putin to back down yielded absolutely no breakthroughs. In fact, it may have emboldened Putin. Ukrainian government is now pointing the finger at the Russian president, after government websites were targeted in a massive cyber attack and that just happened overnight after the talks.

Biden is now being tested, like he has never been tested before and the question tonight is can he deliver on what he says is the reason he got elected?


BIDEN: When I took office, I decided that it was a fairly basic simple proposition and that is I got elected to solve problems. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT live at the White House to begin our coverage tonight. So Kaitlan, how is the White House looking at this week?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Biden himself is acknowledging the disappointment surrounding what he has not been able to tick off his to do list just yet.

And while he was voicing confidence today that eventually they will be able to get those priorities across the finish line, Erin, it's still really unclear how they plan to do so. Because when it comes to election reform bills, which of course we know, Sen. Sinema essentially said here is a brick wall yesterday when she said she is not going to support an exception when it comes to the filibuster to get those passed.


There's no clear path forward because, yes, Sen. Schumer is saying that they will vote on it next week. It will be a record of who voted to pass it and who did not vote to pass it. But it's not going to go anywhere, if you look at the map and the White House fully recognizes that.

And that's a similar situation that's playing out when it comes to the President's economic and climate bill. That bill that Sen. Manchin said back in December, he could not support as it stands. He confirmed yesterday that they have not had any negotiations ongoing about how to change that to get his vote, to get his support and so that also remains stalled for now. So those are two big priorities of the President's.

Of course, when it comes to COVID-19, the White House did today detailed what's going to happen with these free tests and the distribution that they are planning next week that it's going to happen, but it's still going to be another seven to 12 days before those tests actually go out. So, of course, that's a concern as well, coming on the heels of the Supreme Court, swatting down his biggest effort yet to get more Americans vaccinated, that vaccine mandate.

And so it has been a string of defeats for this White House. And Erin, I think you have to look at the timing here, because we are approaching one year of Biden taking office just next week. He's going to hold a press conference the day before he hits that one year mark and that's also a period of reflection, where presidents talk about their accomplishments, talk about what they want to do in the year ahead. And, of course, the President has a lot of challenges from this week alone that he's going to be asked about.

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

And I want to go now to Gloria Borger, our Chief Political Analyst, along with David Gregory, also Political Analyst. So, David, obviously, this is - I referenced the Alexandra book,

remember the terrible, no good, very bad, horrible, I'm putting them in the wrong order, but that's the situation here. The voting rights push this week, goes all the way to Georgia to give the speech, knowing he doesn't have the votes and now the White House is left trying to say, while he didn't mean to call anybody who was against this exact bill in this exact way, segregationist and racist. That's not, to state the obvious, what they want to spend their time doing. To COVID testing, you've got Democratic senators sending a letter to the White House saying what the heck is going on here.

So this is coming - a lot of this from his own party, Stacey Abrams didn't even show up at the speech in Georgia. I mean, it's all sides of his party.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It's worse than a bad week. I mean, if it were just a bad week, there would be some reason for hope. He's politically weaker than that and I just think there's two big factors that stand out. It's the pandemic. I think he was elected to solve that problem. This is a really hard problem to solve.

Nevertheless, the Biden team told us, they'd get it under control and for lots of reasons, it's not under control and there have been missteps by this administration and communication lapses and people are just frustrated, and they're sick, and they want it to be done. That's a tough thing to deal with when you are president.

The second thing is he doesn't have control over his party and the party can't get stuff done, big stuff done. He said he was going to solve problems. He can't do that, because he can't get Democrats under control. And they feel politically emboldened enough to criticize him, his base, even more moderates in the party. He looks weak when they do that. Donald Trump didn't suffer that problem, because he had a Republican Party under heel.

So those are two things that I think speak to how difficult the position Biden is in.

BURNETT: Yes. And I mean, Gloria, it's as David points out, it's not just this week, but you're one year into office. And he had that major win on the infrastructure bill. And at the time, it was ...


BURNETT: ... and it took a long time, and again, because of problems within his own party. But then it could have been this moment to tout and brag, and where Trump failed, and Obama failed, I have succeeded, but instead it was like immediately into the Build Back Better. It was right into the next thing, it was right into things that thus far have failed.

And in his own party, you have people like Bernie Sanders slamming him and then on the other side, people like Rep. Spanberger. Nobody elected him to be FDR. They just elected him to be normal. It's his own party on both sides. BORGER: Yes. I mean, are you saying he can't win no matter what he

does? Yes. Look, he's getting attacked from his own party. He has Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to the White House for a meeting and they leave without being convinced of anything. We're watching this play out publicly.

He goes to Capitol Hill to make his case and we're watching this play out publicly. He goes to Atlanta to make a speech and as you pointed out, Stacey Abrams doesn't go. So he doesn't look strong. He looks like a president who cannot control a governing majority. Now, David knows this because he's covered presidents.


They always say they have a larger mandate than they really have when they first get into office. That's really common. Biden did the same thing and he has tiny margins, tiny margins. So what the White House folks are telling me is, look, everyone forgets, we did the American Rescue Plan right away, and then we got infrastructure, and now we're moving on to something else and the economy is coming back. Look at the jobs' numbers, et cetera.

But that isn't good enough when people are concerned about inflation and what's going on with their jobs and COVID. COVID has moved down the list as the number one priority. The number one priority is the economy. But this isn't to say that people aren't still worried about COVID and Biden promised a return to normalcy and they haven't seen it.

BURNETT: No, it's certainly not normal and in what way, 40-year high and prices surging, rent surging.

So, David, okay, so now we talked about what's going on in the Democratic Party and obviously you have near uniform opposition in the Republican Party, although there were opportunities to have certain specific things, maybe with someone like a Murkowski or Romney on various things that he has not yet seized.

But in the polls, David, the new Quinnipiac poll this week has Biden at a 33 percent approval and here's what's even worse, that's the overall, 25 percent among independents. Right now self-identified as the lion's share in this country. Our colleague, Chris Cillizza, today pointed out that the White House Deputy Chief of Staff put out a memo today, pushing back on the Quinnipiac poll saying it was an outlier and pointing to a poll of polls that puts Biden's approval at 43 percent, which is still not at all good. And by the way, they say like every other Quinnipiac poll and outliers. I mean, how many times something an outlier, I don't know.

But these are not the numbers they want to see and it's not just because Republicans don't like him.

GREGORY: Right. Well, let's start with where we begin, which is that his own party is disappointed. His base is disappointed, so if they're not as active, that's bad. If moderates in the party think he can't get something done, that's bad. That's just soft support with your own party.

Now you jump to independents, who are independents? In my experience, a lot of times they're basically lapsed Republicans. So they're people who probably voted for Trump, but then couldn't stand what Trump was doing and probably we saw the suburban voters, et cetera. Okay.

We know this Biden character, moderate guy, he's going to bring us a little back to normal. Now they're looking and saying, I can't abide by this Biden and the woke left, it's too much for me, maybe I'll give Trump another look. I mean, I'm getting ahead of us, obviously.

But it's that mindset, that softening of support and even if it's not in a one versus one situation, it's a general sense of malaise. It's what Jimmy Carter had to face in high inflationary times when he was in office. And it is a sense that we're just - we're off on the wrong heading in the country and government's not really up for it.

I'm a big believer in this idea that people kind of look up and say, does government know what it's doing? And when you look at whether it's COVID, you look at the Afghanistan withdrawal, there's lots of reasons people are looking up and say I just don't think it's working for me.

BURNETT: And Gloria, with all of this conversation that we're having thus far has been domestic. But you've got what's going on with Kim Jong-un, you've got the broader point that I raised, which is much bigger than Joe Biden about what the military does or doesn't even know about the capabilities of foes. And you have Vladimir Putin empowered and emboldened and testing. So they see the President Biden that we're talking about and they're pushing?

BORGER: Yes. Look, I think when Joe Biden was elected, he really ran a lot on his foreign policy credentials. And as you point out, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, while the public wanted to get out of Afghanistan, what they witnessed was humiliating and awful and deadly and they didn't like it.

And if you go back and you look at the President's poll numbers from that moment, you can see that that was sort of a moment when people were judging competency. And then they started to tank because they didn't like those pictures that they saw. So it's not about Afghanistan itself.

You have a president saying to our allies, we're back, we're here, we are what we were and they are skeptical because they see what's going on with the question of democracy in this country. And Joe Biden saying we have to show that democracy is back and then you see what's going on with the January 6 Committee, the insurrection, Republicans opposing it and they're scratching their heads saying, well, is America back or what is America anymore, and I think that's a huge question that looms over everything.

BURNETT: Yes, the existential one everywhere.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BURNETT: Thank you both so very much.



BURNETT: And next, as we talk about democracy, the leader of the Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy making his first appearance in federal court today, so we saw him in details next.

Plus breaking news on the hearing just ending for Novak Djokovic after Australia's Immigration Minister revoked his visa. We're going to go to Australia for the latest tonight.

And hospitals shut, reports of food shortages. Tonight we're going to take you inside Beijing, where China is waging a brutal war against COVID Just weeks before the Winter Olympics begin.



BURNETT: New tonight, the founder of the Oath Keepers pleading not guilty to charges of seditious conspiracy. Stewart Rhodes facing a judge for the first time after being charged yesterday by the Justice Department over the deadly capital insurrection. He'll be held behind bars until next Thursday and the same judge will decide if he is granted bail.

OUTFRONT now Evan Perez, our Senior Justice Correspondent and Donald Ayer who was the Deputy Attorney General under President George H. W. Bush. I appreciate both of you.

So Evan, let me just start with you with the reporting today. Rhodes' lawyer say that he should be released. They say he's not a danger to the public. Obviously, the charges he is facing, the evidence in the indictment suggests that he was behind an imminent threat of violence, that he organized one, that he amassed weapons for one and then when it failed said that there should be more. So where does this go?


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, exactly. And I think one of the things they're also probably going to argue at his detention hearing, Erin, is that look he was interviewed by the FBI in some months ago. I believe it's early summer last year and he sat down with the FBI probably not the best idea. His lawyers would probably argue, but he did and he stuck around, obviously, and was there in time for the raid that the FBI carried out yesterday.

But if you look at this indictment, what the prosecutors are building a case around is they're focusing it on the idea of violence, not only the violence that occurred on January 6th, but violence that was threatened thereafter, including him buying $17,000 worth of guns and ammunition, and other equipment, which they said he - according to prosecutors, they talked about going to the mountains and starting, I guess, Civil War 2.0 if the usurper took office on January 20th. BURNETT: And Donald, this is a rare charge, speaking of civil war. It

comes from the Civil War, that is when seditious conspiracy charge dates from originally. And the last time it was filed was against members of a Michigan militia, that was in 2010.

Now, they were eventually acquitted. But it was a militia, sort of a domestic terror-type situation similar to this in that narrow regard. Does that concern you, their acquittal?

DONALD AYER, FMR. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE H. W. BUSH: No. I mean, I think that January 6 is an event - by the way, thank you for having me. January 6th is an event like no other in our lifetimes. This is a very serious statute intended probably as much as anything to prevent things from happening that most people would think probably never would happen.

And then we have January 6th, come along and one of the most impressive thing, frankly, about this indictment is the array of facts and the detail with which the story is laid out. If you put these facts, which go on as indicated for 48 pages, if you put them alongside the allegations, the elements and the ways you can violate this statute, it appears that the facts, if proven, would support a violation in at least three different categories of ways the statute can be violated.

It's a very significant indictment. Among other things, it's very significant as indicative of where the Justice Department is and where the Attorney General is in terms of moving forward with what he committed to in his speech last week.

BURNETT: And we should note these charges, all of them, I mean, it's many, many years in prison, if convicted. I mean, this is not a few ...

AYER: Twenty years.

BURNETT: ... yes. So Evan, Rhodes has a history of statements pushing the big lie in the run up to January 6th and he said them publicly, here he is.


STEWART RHODES, FOUNDER, OATH KEEPERS: I think about half of this country will recognize Biden as legitimate. Everything that comes out of his mouth will be considered and does not have any force or effect.

We have men already stationed outside D.C. as a nuclear option in case the attempt to remove the president illegally, we will step in and stop it.

Use the insurrection act to drop the hammer on them. He needs to know from you that you are with him that he does not do it now, while he is Commander in Chief, we're going to have to do it ourselves later in a much more desperate, much more bloody war.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: I mean any said it, and he said it and he said it again.

PEREZ: Right. I mean, if someone tells you - the old adage, if someone tells you what they're planning to do, sometimes you should believe them and I think that's what prosecutors are arguing here. Look, one of the things that I think you can read from this indictment is they kept it very, very tight and very focused and that's an indication of this Attorney General who had some qualms about this charge when prosecutors were trying to do this some nine months ago, and he made them go back and do more work to try to make sure before they took this extraordinary step that they had some of these facts.

And I think, the things that you just played are going to be some of what prosecutors are going to argue as this case goes forward. And not only it's him as a leader of this group, because he was there and according to prosecutors was telling them where to stage before they entered the building.

BURNETT: Yes. I mean, yes, it is pretty incredible when you read the 48 pages. I mean, it reads like a Hollywood script, except for it's reality, it happened.

PEREZ: Right.

BURNETT: So Donald, you wrote an op-ed saying that any January 6th investigation should include Donald Trump himself, that it must focus there. Obviously, Trump has never taken responsibility in any for what happened.


But according to an interview that our K-FILE found from six days after the insurrection, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says that Trump did. He did take some blame privately.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I say he has responsibility. He told me personally that he does have some responsibility. I think a lot of people do.


BURNETT: And Don, you still see the problem, of course, though, that McCarthy will not speak to the January 5 Committee, says he said everything he has to say. How big of an issue is that, a block?

AYER: Well, I want to go back to a few steps from where you've taken us here. I want to go back to this indictment, which is a very significant development. And a very significant answer to a number of people. I was one of three who wrote, as you indicated, a column in The New York Times, basically, making clear that it's really important that this investigation needs to be considering everybody all the way up to the top, certainly not just President Trump, but everybody who was up in the leadership as well as the people who are at lower levels. And this indictment is really, I think, very clear evidence that the

Attorney General is doing exactly what he said he was going to do when he spoke last week or said that he was doing, and that is working his way up from the evidence that they have and working toward gathering evidence on the leadership that's involved.

So here you have a very serious case brought against about a dozen people, including the leader of the Oath Keepers and evidence that's really thorough and detailed and specific in the form of lots, and lots and lots of individual communications and documents and things like that.

And what seems to be the case is they are definitely following through and working their way up. McCarthy making statements about what Trump said is a sideshow. McCarthy is a sideshow. McCarthy is a remarkable example of a human being who can face one way and then turn around a few days later and face exactly the opposite way.

And so far, in the framework of our current Republican Party, he's been able, apparently, to get away with that. But he's a joke. He is a joke and a sideshow. What matters is the development of the evidence that's there, whatever it is, and we're not in a position to know right now. We're not in a position to know.

The Justice Department is investigating this. We're in a position to know they're doing the best they can which is quite good with the resources they have and our job is to wait and be patient and be respectful that they are on the job and they are pursuing this.

BURNETT: Well, certainly what they indicate from these 48 pages is they were doing a lot that no one was fully aware of, so as you point out, they do seem to be on that on that path. Thank you both so much, I appreciate it.

AYER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BURNETT: And next breaking news, will Novak Djokovic be deported? A hearing just wrapping up in Australia after the top immigration official there revoked Djokovic's visa again.

And a shocking number, 86 percent of independent restaurants that didn't get government funds are now at risk of closing. What can be done to help? Top Chef Tom Colicchio is my quest.



BURNETT: Tonight, a court hearing just ending in the case of Novak Djokovic, who is back in detention in Australia as I speak, waiting to find out if he is going to be deported ahead of the Australian Open. The country's immigration minister revoked his visa, saying Djokovic entered country without a valid exemption from the vaccine mandate.

Paula Hancocks is OUTFRONT here to begin our coverage on the ground in Melbourne. And, Paula, the big question is whether all of this will be settled in

time for Djokovic to play because he's scheduled to play on Monday. So, what did the court decide today?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, certainly what the lawyers for Djokovic are hoping. They have already pointed out in the Friday night hearing time is of the essence. So this hearing that we had this morning was really a procedural hearing, setting the scene for the more detailed arguments to be heard from 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning. So, tomorrow.

Both sides have to submit filings. The judge, also, said that he is deciding if it is just him that hears this case or if there will be three federal judges. Clearly, showing he understands the gravity of getting this right.

So, Djokovic today is in detention. He is able to meet with his lawyers, to -- to set out a plan. But he will be escorted by two Australian border force officials at all time. And then, Saturday night -- tonight -- he will be in detention, once gain. We don't know if it will be the same facility as he was in last week.

So, what we understand at this point is from the immigration minister's statement and also the hearing last night. It appears that the argument to deport him this time is because that it is in the public interest. Saying that -- that there's concerns he could excite anti-vax sentiment within the community, something which Djokovic's lawyers, unsurprisingly, have her rejected but a very different premise to this hearing than what we saw just a week ago.

And -- and really one of the best-case scenarios for Djokovic's lawyers at this point is they could get a bridging visa, meaning he could work, i.e. play, while the court is ongoing -- Erin.

BURNETT: As they delay.

All right. Thank you very much, Paula.

So let us go now to Christopher Clarey, "New York Times" tennis correspondent in Melbourne covering the Australian Open, one of the leading experts on the sport. I know you have covered more than 100 grand slam tournaments, more than a dozen Olympic Games and you know Novak Djokovic very well. You have been covering since he was 17 years old.

So let me get straight to it. Christopher, the judge has a new hearing coming tomorrow. His team is going to argue that Djokovic should be allowed to stay. What are the chances that Djokovic plays on Monday?


CHRISTOPHER CLAREY, NEW YORK TIMES TENNIS CORRESPONDENT: Look, Erin, I think the situation is changing because the grounds for the -- for the obstruction for his visa have changed now. We are talking about him being a risk to the community because of his sort of declared anti-vax views. I think they are trying to raise vaccination and booster rates in Australia. So they are kind of using him as a poster child of this and they are concerned, the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, he would be detrimental to that effort. That's going to be the argument.

Personally, what I am reading here, I am not a legal expert but I have the sense the burden of proof is still pretty high for Novak Djokovic and his good lawyers. I think the chances are -- are low but they are not nonexistent. So I think there is a chance we will see him. And I have covered over 100 grand slams as you said, never seen one like this one, Erin.

BURNETT: I mean, it is incredible and it is obviously, looming large over the rest of the players and the tournament. By the way, I believe all but -- all of them have -- are vaccinated, right, because that was the rule.

Djokovic would be there for his tenth Australian Open title. You have been talking to so many of these players. What do they think?

CLAREY: We talked to one of the leading Australian players about 10, 15 minutes ago in this media day here and Alex was I think very, very frank and honest he felt like I think there was some resentment for the distraction this is causing. These are athletes who are in peak- performance condition, ready to play one of the most important tournaments of their lives and all anybody is talking about is Novak Djokovic and vaccine and Novak Djokovic and his situation.

So, it's a big distraction for these players trying to focus on their own careers and also I feel there is a sense from the player community, people I have talked to that Novak is somebody who has made a different choice than the vast majority of players. As you said, almost the top 100 players are vaccinated now, partly because of the rules here in Australia. And I think they -- there's resentment that Novak took a different route.

BURNETT: And you have, as I mentioned, been covering him since he was 17 years old. Nearly half of his life, right? So, you have been watching him. Tonight, a Serbian health official tells CNN Djokovic -- that they had positive PCR tests results on December 16. They have them time-stamped, they have them, time-stamped on the test certificate.

They said those would have been e-mailed to him that day. That -- that he has a valid document. That he got late in the evening in his inbox. Djokovic said he did not get it. And he didn't see it until late the next day after.

This is really important because it moves the timeline again, because he had this positive PCR he says he didn't open it until, right, in between he appeared publicly with a group of kids, no mask.

So, you look at this. You could see a lot of people have a lot of, you know -- there is a lot of frustration and resentment. But you have known him for half his life and he is a complicated person, you say. What do you make of all of this? CLAREY: Just to that point quickly, Erin, I would say no matter

whether or not he saw it on the 17th or 16th, he still appeared in front of a French journalist on the 18th. He should have been in isolation and he was not.

But as far as Novak, he is a -- a complex Shakespearian character in many ways. He's a guy who's got a lot of different sides to him. He is somebody -- I call him a seeker. He is always trying to optimize, tinker with his career, with his methods.

He is somebody who has done some very generous and magnanimous things. And somebody who also has done some very self-interested and, frankly, very unwise things. I mean, he is his own worst enemy in many cases. I think this is another example of that. And he has for a guy who speaks so many languages, he has some serious communication issues as well.

BURNETT: Well, thank you so much, Christopher. I really appreciate your time, your insight, and just watching this with fascination of where you are. Thanks so much.

CLAREY: My pleasure.

BURNETT: So next, restaurants now at risk of closing shop because the pandemic, again. Chef Tom Colicchio is my guest and he has a message for Washington.

Plus, Winter Olympics exactly three weeks away and China is cracking down in an epic way on COVID cases. Tonight, we are going to take you inside the capital city.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A fortress with many restrictions to get in and out.




BURNETT: Tonight, another warning sign for the U.S. economy. Retail sales dropped almost 2 percent in December, usually, obviously, they rise in December for the holidays. And it possibly shows American shoppers having real difficulty with record inflation and, of course, some of the impact of omicron as well.

This as more than two dozen mayors across the United States are asking Congress to save the restaurant industry. They write in a letter, quote, restaurants and bars are months beyond struggling. They are dying in plain sight. They have 22 months of debt from missed rent, supplier and utility payments, and they're putting off repairs that needed to be addressed months ago.

The cold weather has ended outdoor dining and now the omicron variant is reinvigorating fears in guests who are afraid to eat indoors. OUTFRONT now, chef Tom Colicchio. He is the co-founder of the

Independent Restaurant Coalition and founder of crafted hospitality in New York.

Tom, obviously, you and I have talked during this pandemic. I'm sorry to be talking to you under these circumstances. How dire is the situation right now?

TOM COLICCHIO, CO-FOUNDER, INDEPENDENT RESTAURANT COALITION: Well, Erin, first, thanks for having me on and thanks for, you know, continued reporting on this issue.

It's -- it's getting really bad out there. I mean, December, it starts to get better. November, December, those are our best months for our industry. And -- and we saw a light at the end of the tunnel. And clearly, with omicron, it just put -- put an end to that. And we're -- we're really slow and really desperate.

And, you know, I think the bigger problem that we have is that, you know, federal government did a great job of getting the restaurant revitalization fund out there. And Senator Schumer did an amazing job, along with Senators Wicker and -- and Senator Sinema to -- to really sort of address the issues with restaurants. But the money that was allotted to us -- we all knew was going to fall really short. And so, for the 300,000 restaurants that applied, only about one-third or 100,000 of those restaurants actually got the grant money.

And so, that's created the haves and have-nots. And the restaurateurs have received that money are set. And -- and they are going to get through this. The restaurants that did not -- they are struggling.

And so, we had a report of independent restaurants -- we actually interviewed 1,500 restaurateurs -- and the data shows restaurants that didn't reach funding, they are on the verge of closing.


They are digging into making personal loans to keep their restaurants afloat. They are actually hiring will he people. And they're accumulating personal debt. And so -- so yeah, we are at a crisis moment right now.

BURNETT: So, you know, there -- there is that issue and then there is also the difficulty of getting workers, right? And we have seen that during the delta variant and now. You know, I know your survey says 91 percent of restaurants are having problems with hiring, more Americans quitting their jobs than ever before.

Look, it is incredibly razor thin industry, even when things are going well, right? And now, you have workers that -- that want more. Will there be permanent changes and compensation for restaurant workers and can the industry even do that given the way it's structured?

COLICCHIO: You know, I think the industry can. I mean, you know, New York -- in New York City, the wages are -- are higher, well-above minimum wage even for tipped employees and we're okay. I mean, as long as we can raise prices and I think we are able to right now -- clearly restaurants like mine that are higher priced have more elasticity in pricing than sort of the mom and pops.


COLICCHIO: But we are also realizing we can get along with fewer people, but right now, there is not an issue because we are laying people off, again, because no one is coming into our restaurants. People are afraid, they are scared.

So many people are sick. So many employees are sick. And so, we're -- you know, no matter where we turn, we're running into some major problems whether it's getting employees -- now that we have employees, employees are getting sick. Restaurants are slowing down, we need help.

We're -- we're going to see is -- we're back to where we are in the early stages of the pandemic where we are starting to look at -- at restaurants that are -- are just going to start dying out in pretty large numbers if we don't get help soon.

BURNETT: And one final question for you in terms of testing. Are you able to test your workers? Obviously, you can't necessarily test your customers.

COLICCHIO: Well, we -- we -- we could ask for proof of vaccine. But we -- we -- so, when omicron first hit and me being a bit of a news junkie, saw it coming, we ordered a punch of tests. Combination of PCRs that we mail in, and rapid tests the Binax rapid tests, so we have them available for staff.

And so, what we did was we were able to make sure that the -- the -- the -- the pandemic wasn't moving through our restaurant. But clearly, a lot of our employees came in, tested positive, and they were sent home.

So, we were able to. But I'm -- again, the data shows us that restaurants can't get and we are knowing this now, you can't buy rapid tests anymore. There is a backlog on those tests. And so, it's becoming more and more difficult to get tests.

BURNETT: Right. Well, Tom, thank you very much. Hope people hear you loudly and clearly.

COLICCHIO: Thank you, Erin. Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, a story you will see only OUTFRONT. We are going to take you inside Beijing tonight. Officials are taking extreme measures to control COVID just weeks before the Olympics. Wait till you see what is happening there.

And 50 million tonight people tonight in the path of what could be a crippling-winter storm this weekend.



BURNETT: Tonight, Winter Olympics are exactly three weeks away and China is on zero-tolerance COVID. Millions in the country, being put under strict lockdowns, even if, you know, just like a case pops up.

The drastic measures are actually having deadly consequences. David Culver is OUTFRONT.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cities across China are back in wartime mode, scrambling to identify and isolate cases of COVID-19. Recent outbreaks have some 20 million people under strict lockdowns, confined to their homes. Officials are conducting multiple rounds of mass testing, and shuttling tens of thousands of residents to centralized quarantine. State media showing these makeshift encampments built within days.

It is eerily reminiscent to the start of the COVID crisis. But now, authorities know what they are looking for. And they are tracking those of us living here through our cell phones to go into most places, you have to scan and they can flag us should we come into contact with a confirmed case.

China is proud of its zero-COVID approach. That is, one case is one too many. And the months that followed the initial outbreak in Wuhan, it seemed to work -- though, brutal at times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This strategy has indeed been effective until very recently.

CULVER: This latest surge is most concerning, and perhaps embarrassing given its timing. We are three weeks from the start of the Winter Olympics. Beijing hoped this -- the second pandemic Olympics -- would be a chance to showcase its success over COVID.

The games are, in part, why the capital city is so heavily protected, a fortress with many restrictions to get in and out. At one point, the biggest concern was cases brought in by arrived athletes, Olympic personnel, and media from around the world. It's for that reason, they have created a closed-off system, which will include the area that we are in right now. No physical contact between those coming in and those of us already here in Beijing.

But the virus is now spreading outside the Olympic bubble. And images like these are surfacing on Chinese social media, people packing in to get tested in nearby Tianjin. Some quarantined residents complaining about food shortages.

Two hospitals in Xian were ordered shut for three months by municipal health authorities after hospital employees were accused of putting COVID protocols above basic healthcare, in one case, refusing to admit a man who later died of a heart attack.

[19:55:05] In another, a woman eight months pregnant initially turned away because she did not have a valid COVID test. She later suffered a miscarriage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Asking ordinary Chinese, asking about the necessity of that zero COVID strategy. I think the public support to that strategy remains very strong.

CULVER: State media showing a far more orderly public response to the strict containment measures. Most here trusting the policies.

In the three weeks until the start of the winter games, China might still prove effective in containing the virus, returning to a COVID- free country -- at least officially. But for how long?


CULVER (on camera): And, Erin, the latest outbreak happening in China's financial hub, Shanghai. Health officials blaming it on a Chinese traveler, returning from the U.S., who they say infected at least four others, despite having done 14 days of centralized quarantine and testing negative multiple times.

These rising numbers of so-called imported cases that's really behind the possibility that all commercial flights from the U.S. to China are likely to stop by this time next week. It is unprecedented, Erin.

BURNETT: That is incredible. All stunning. Those images of the people at the testing and the stories from the hospitals is unbelievable. Thank you so much for the fantastic report.

And next, everyone from Georgia to Maine tonight bracing for a dangerous-winter storm that could leave millions stranded and without power.


BURNETT: More than 50 million people are in the path of hazardous winter weather this weekend. A major storm will move from the Midwest, then the Southeast, and up the East Coast. Snow and ice warnings in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.

Iowa, as it moves east, is already getting clobbered with white-out conditions. A sign of what's to come for New York, they say. Where the wind-chill may be in the negative teens. Snow is forecast for Sunday and Monday.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Anderson starts now.