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Erin Burnett Outfront

Biden: "Total Unanimity" In Call With European Allies On Russia; Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) Discusses About The Deployment Of 8,500 U.S. Troops To Ukraine; Georgia DA Gets Go-Ahead For Special Grand Jury Allowing Her To Gather Evidence About Trump's Election Interference; Top Dems Defend Arizona Censure Of Senator Sinema; Hong Kong Massacres Hamsters COVID Fears, Pet Owners Outraged. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired January 24, 2022 - 19:00   ET


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tomorrow, we'll be back in court resuming testimony on what is expected to be a four-week trial.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A four-week trial. We'll stay in close touch with you, Omar. Thank you very much, Omar Jimenez, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, President Biden says the U.S. and its allies are in 'total unanimity' when it comes to a Russian invasion. This as we're seeing new video tonight from Putin showing Russia beefing up its presence even now as we speak along the Ukraine border.

Plus, a Georgia prosecutor getting the green light to convene a grand jury in her investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn the election, so how concerned should the former president be?

And The Great Escape, people now paying upwards of $22,000 to get their pets including dogs and hamsters out of Hong Kong, why? Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, on the brink. President Biden holding a call with key U.S. allies for roughly 80 minutes tonight, over growing fears Russia is on the verge of invading Ukraine. The President saying everyone is on the same page. The call comes as 8,500 U.S. troops are now on heightened alert to possibly deploy as President Putin shows no sign of backing down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has their presence on the border enlarged or changed in a qualitative way that is escalatory?

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, it's gotten bigger. Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give us details?

KIRBY: They continue to add battalion tactical groups to their western border, to the border with Ukraine and in Belarus as well. The numbers there are increasing. So they have, not only shown no signs of de-escalating, but they are in fact adding more force capability.


BURNETT: They are in fact adding more force capability. This is just how fast the situation on the Ukraine border has deteriorated over the past few days. And I want to show you this new video tonight. Okay.

So what you're looking at here is from Russia's defense minister. You can see Russia loading military vehicles one after the next onto train cars. And then that train, according to Russia, is heading to Belarus where Russia is deploying more forces tonight on the northern border of Ukraine, which is technically Belarus.

And just remember, as you look at this, tank after tank on trains along the long, flat, frozen steps, this is the video Putin wants us all to see. This is what he's putting out there. And there's a lot more, of course, we're not seeing as part of this massive build up.

Already more than 127,000 Russian troops have amassed up and down Ukraine's border over on the Ukraine Russia border. And now when you look at the lines in red, this is where the Russian forces currently surrounds Ukraine, north in Belarus, all the way, of course, in Russia and in Crimea, which Putin took in 2014.

Putin is closing in and the White House wants Americans to get out.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are conveying very clearly now that now is the time to leave and that there are a means to do that.


BURNETT: The situation is tense. And adding to mounting pressure on President Biden after his 80 minute call with European leaders this evening, the President was in a room with reporters. And here he is after a reporter from Fox News tried to ask him a question about inflation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you take questions on inflation then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, it's a great asset. More inflation. What a stupid son of a bitch.


BURNETT: Biden speaking to himself on an open mic at a time when the world is watching his and Putin's every work. I want to go right now to Matthew Chance OUTFRONT live in Kiev, Ukraine.

And Matthew, I know you've been talking to officials there. So what are they telling you about this possible deployment of 8,500 Additional American troops to the region although not, let's be clear, specifically to Ukraine?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, that's the key point, isn't it? I mean, what they've said to me is that, look, we're very happy for the countries of Eastern Europe, the Baltics, other places like that where these troops may end up, because it shows that the United States has their back, it shows that the United States is doubling down potentially on their security.

But what they're concerned about is that Ukraine is going to be abandoned and left as the, in their words, left as the no man's land. And it kind of - it talks to this point that the Ukrainian officials have been going on about for many weeks now as we've been witnessing this dramatic build up of Russian forces just outside the borders of Ukraine, that they want more military aid from United States now. I know that flow of aid has increased dramatically ...


... but still not enough to satisfy the needs of the Ukrainian administration here that is, I think, at the root of it very concerned about the threat that Russia poses to its existence.

And they're concerned that that's not ever going to happen. And that's been reiterated and underlined by the fact that United States was the first country out of 129 countries that has embassies inside Ukraine that decided to call for its diplomats or prove its diplomats leaving the country and order for the families of diplomats to leave.

One Ukraine official told me this, he said, look, for decades, the U.S. has been telling us to stand up against the Russians. We'll have your back. We're here for you.

But at this first sign of tensions really ratcheting up, the U.S. was the first to order its diplomats or to give permission for its diplomats to leave. And the symbolism of that for some Ukrainians, for some Ukrainian officials was very potent.

BURNETT: All right. Matthew Chance, thank you very much live from Kiev tonight.

I want to go now to Republican Senator Mike Rounds. He sits on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Obviously, briefed constantly on the situation. And Senator, I really appreciate your time. So let me just start with the latest that we now as many as 8,500 U.S.

troops have been put on alert to deploy, do you support moving those U.S. troops to Eastern Europe right now?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD): It will depend on whether or not NATO requests them. If NATO requests them, then we have an obligation to respond and we should do so appropriately and timely. That's what the President has done in this case. He has notified the different units so that they can tell the families.

And when you're talking about deploying in five days or less, it takes time to do that. So taking the right steps, sending a message also to Mr. Putin, that we are very serious about our NATO obligations and that this will not simply be a bloodless, straightforward program in which everybody looks the other way similar to Crimea.

BURNETT: So you use the word bloodless and I just want to ask you about this, because obviously, as we've pointed out, these troops, if they go, they're going to Eastern Europe, not technically to Ukraine and that President Biden has made it clear, he doesn't want to put American combat troops in Ukraine.

Very clearly he has said that's not on the table. They never were on the table, referring to troops. In that context, do you think Vladimir Putin takes these troop deployments from the U.S. seriously at all?

ROUNDS: Part of what Mr. Putin wants to do is to separate out and make it more difficult for NATO members to stick together. The fact that the President has said that he will support our NATO obligations is critical. And you're correct, none of these folks right now have even been deployed and they're not planned on going to Ukraine. Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

But it is to the other Baltic States and this is where they have real concerns about Russian aggression and has send support to them saying that, look, we've got your back. With regard to Ukraine itself, it would be a lot better if Mr. Putin clearly understands that he will have a cost if he does decide to invade and the best way to get that across is to have sanctions and to have the understanding of the cost to him and to Russia if they do decide to invade, it's a lot easier not to invade than to be forced to pull back out.


ROUNDS: And let's be honest, I think Russian mothers value their children just as much as American mothers do. And I don't think they want to see Mr. Putin get them into a war in which their children could be at risk that are serving in their armed services. So right now sending in defensive equipment, sending in as much as we possibly can, as quickly as we can, getting them trained and getting the folks set up in Ukraine to defend their own sovereignty ...


ROUNDS: ... I think that's the right thing to do. And I think that makes Mr. Putin reassess whether or not it's really worth it to actually invade or not.

BURNETT: And I understand what the scenario you're laying out does not involve U.S. troops. It would involve U.S. weapons and support to Ukrainian troops. But would you support, Senator, U.S. troops fighting Russia ...

ROUNDS: That's correct.

BURNETT: ... in any scenario over Ukraine?

ROUNDS: If we get to the point where we say we will never engage, then we find ourselves in a very bad negotiating position. Deterrence is the key. And if Mr. Putin is deterred by our firm stance with our NATO allies and that'll make him think twice. If he gets to the point where he thinks, all I've got to do is be a bully, all I've got to do is be aggressive and America will always back down, then we will get into a fighting war at some point because he will push it until he does.


What he has to understand is that he will never know the point at which we say enough is enough, but he's got to have that concern. The other part of this is he's got to understand very clearly that while we never want war, the best way to avoid war is to make very certain that your adversaries understand that you do have the equipment, you have the ability, you have the training and if you need to, you will stand up for what is right and you will fight and that makes the bully back down. Sometimes a bully just needs to get a bloody nose.

BURNETT: Senator, I want to ask you one other thing before you go. You recently said publicly on national television, a basic fact that the 2020 election was fair, shouldn't be a controversial thing, but, of course, it is. President Trump saw that. You said it was a fair election that he lost. He put a statement out about you. He said, "Is he crazy or just stupid?" And he went on to call you a jerk. You haven't backed down.

The world we live in though is a world where 71 percent of Republicans still believe Trump when he says the election was stolen and find it okay that his response to you saying that is that you're crazy and stupid. What can you do to help change that now among Republicans?

ROUNDS: I think what we want to offer is integrity and honesty. Look, I looked at over 62 different scenarios where there were accusations of misconduct or aberrations within the electoral process. There were some aberrations, but none of them rose to the level of changing a vote in a single state.

If somebody asked me the other side of it and they said, "Do you think there were problems? Do you think that it was stolen?" If I would have said, "Yes," then they would have asked me, "How do you know that?" I wouldn't have been able to give them an example, not one.

And so in this particular case, hey, I'm going to say it just like it is. I truly believe that while there were aberrations and none of them rose to the point where it would have changed the outcome. I think we owe the American public and we most certainly owe our supporters that truth and that integrity.

And so I'll stand by my story, I'll stand by my message and that is just as I said before, I simply have no evidence that any one of those states would have had any different outcome based upon all of the information that we've been able to gather at this point.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Sen. Rounds, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for being with me tonight.

ROUNDS: You bet. Have a good evening.

BURNETT: All right. You too.

And I want to go now to Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, because he was the former Army Commanding General of Europe in the 7th Army.

General, so you have a chance there to hear the senator who's getting briefed on what's happening here. In your knowledge here, having been commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, you established a partnership in Ukraine, you attended training exercises in Ukraine with NATO and non- NATO forces.

So in the context of what you know about the countries involved, their fighting capability, do you agree with the move to put 8,500 U.S. troops on alert for possible deployment to other countries in Eastern Europe?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I do, Erin, and I think that number may increase. We're talking about a reinforcement of our NATO allies if, as Sen. Rounds said, it's requested by the NATO commander. The interesting point is going to be where will they go.

I have some suspicions myself based on some areas that I used to work in and where they might go to inflict the biggest amount of the turns toward Russian troops. But I think it's critically important that we show resolve, the President is doing that not only with his statement about killer sanctions that he will issue against Russia, but also deploying those soldiers.

BURNETT: But let me ask you the same question I just asked the Senator, because I think this is a question Americans fairly have, which is that you can put the troops into support NATO and other places, and you can supply backup weapons and intelligence to Ukraine. But when the President of the United States has point blank said they never were on the table talking about American combat troops in Ukraine and he has said it more than once, what is Putin going to be afraid of?

HERTLING: I truthfully believe he's going to be afraid of the rest of the NATO countries holding firm against his actions. And I also think that there could be a situation where as this - if a conflict develops and if Russia does go in with conventional forces in the Ukraine, this could cause serious repercussions for Mr. Putin and it could certainly cause maneuvering of NATO forces around Ukraine. BURNETT: So General, explain to me people who are frustrated with

NATO and say, "Well, why would we believe that NATO is actually going to go fight for this if the United States won't?" You seem to feel more confident. Tell me why.

HERTLING: I do believe that NATO will fight for it and here's why, NATO is an alliance for the 30 nations that are involved.


Ukraine has been desirous of joining NATO. They have not met the requirements to join just yet, but you can see an indication of why they would want to join, they and several other nations. And it's because of this Russian oppression that is continuous throughout Europe and the attempt by Putin to expand his influence. They understand what a security alliance is all about.

NATO has the promise of the Article 5, if one nation attack - is attacked, all of them will come together and fight the attacker. When you're talking about numbers, Erin, and 8,500 U.S., 280,000 Ukrainians versus 127,000, Russians, you haven't included the calculations of the rest of NATO against Russia. And that could be very significant if there are things that bring Russia outside the boundaries of Ukraine if they were to go into that country and that's critically important.

Russia will become a pariah. It will become a pariah state if it goes into Ukraine. That's my feeling and that's why NATO is so important that they stand together against all the oppression of other sovereign nations.

BURNETT: All right. Gen. Hertling, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

HERTLING: Thank you.

BURNETT: Next, new legal trouble for Trump tonight, a Georgia prosecutor got the okay tonight for a special grand jury to investigate the former president's election interference.

Plus, Arizona's Democratic Party taking action against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for her refusal to kill the filibuster. Chair of the State's Democratic Party is OUTFRONT.

And what's driving some parents to have a complete change of heart politically?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you would have told me that like two years ago that I would be alienated from the Democratic Party, I wouldn't have believed it. I really, really hated Trump.



[19:20:31] BURNETT: Tonight, the District Attorney in Fulton County, Georgia

entering a new phase of her criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump. She just got the green light to see the special grand jury. That will allow her to issue subpoenas and to gather evidence and testimony about Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election loss in Georgia.

Now, I mentioned the word criminal, it's a crucial word and it is one of two criminal investigations that the former president is facing right now. The other is the Manhattan DA's investigation into the Trump Organization.

OUTFRONT now, Gloria Borger, our Chief Political Analyst and Elie Honig, Senior Legal Analyst and, of course, a former federal prosecutor who wrote the book Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department.

Elie, let me start with you. The DA in Fulton County and again criminal is why this is getting attention, because it is a criminal procedure. She said she expects to decide on whether to bring charges against Trump in the first half of 2022. So it took a while to get to this point, but now it looks like it's going to move relatively quickly. What do you read into that now that she can now see the special grand jury?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Erin, any person who is a subject of a specially convened grand jury has legitimate cause for concern. I mean, this is serious stuff. Now, this is a natural and necessary step forward in the investigation, it does not guarantee any particular outcome. But what's different between today and yesterday is now the DA has subpoena power.

I don't know, I can't - for the life of me - figure out why it took a year for her to do this, but now she has the ability to force people to testify, to force people to turn over evidence. And by the way, we've all gotten used to people sort of casually brushing off congressional subpoenas from the January 6th committee. These are different. These are criminal subpoenas from a grand jury, judges will enforce them and if necessary, law enforcement will enforce them.

BURNETT: So Gloria, it comes as we are learning that the former Attorney General Bill Barr has had talks with the January 6th Committee. And I know you've been speaking to sources about this and his involvement there could be quite important. What are they telling you?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think his involvement could be very important. What I've learned is that these were early, very informal and voluntary conversations that were not about that infamous memo about seizing voting machines that we've been talking about. I am not quite sure what the conversations were about, however.


BORGER: I was just told what they were not about and we're continuing to report that. But I think the Committee really understands how valuable a witness Barr could be, particularly if he would testify publicly and talk about what was actually going on in Donald Trump's head. Because we know that he quit in December, he quit before January 6th, but he can sort of talk about the President's State of mind vis- a-vis the election.

BURNETT: Certainly and obviously his decision finally at that moment to quit in and of itself says a lot about what he thought, right?

BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: I mean, that's, in a sense, sort of definitional. But Elie, he was that - so December 23rd, as Gloria points out, that's when Barr quit. But he was attorney general when, according to Politico, that draft executive order was written that Gloria referred to about seizing would have - directing the Pentagon to seize voting machines and here is what the Chairman of the January 6 Committee, Bennie Thompson, said about that.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): A plan was put forward to potentially seize voting machines in the country. We do know that a potential person was identified to become the Attorney General of the United States, who would communicate with certain states that the election on their situation had been fraudulent and not to produce certified documents.


BURNETT: Obviously, Elie, part of the significance there is that a potential person was identified to become the Attorney General, because Bill Barr wasn't going to go along with this. This is where sort of at the final moment things perhaps changed for Bill Barr. What do you think the Committee is hoping to learn from him specifically?

HONIG: Well, Erin, Bill Barr got out just before January 6th, itself. However, he was there at DOJ and close with the president all throughout the process of the Big Lie really taking hold. He was there at the formation of the Big Lie well before the election.


Bill Barr helped fan those flames. He spread the Big Lie pre-election and then he was there post-election when things really got crazy, when we started to see this executive order. What I think what Rep. Thompson appears to be referring to is the effort to install Jeffrey Clark to use DOJ to support the Big Lie.


HONIG: And eventually Bill Barr had enough and turned. So I think that's where the Committee is going to be aiming. That's where I'd be aiming for sure if I had a chance to ask Bill Barr those questions.

BURNETT: Gloria, one more point here, the Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman spoke out for the first time today about his experience on January 6, when he was the one who directed Mitt Romney away from the rioters in that video that we see there, when you see the Senator start running.

He then, of course, came face-to-face with the mob himself. Everyone has seen this moment now, here he is.


EUGENE GOODMAN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: So when I went down there and - I get confronted. I'm like, oh, they're actually in the building. I didn't, I honestly didn't know that they were that far in the building, so, and then - they lock eyes on me right away and then just like that I was in it. I was backpedaling back to where I had last seen him, and they looked to be coming my way, but I wasn't sure so and by the time I got up the stairs they were there.


BURNETT: Obviously, his story is harrowing and his actions that day heroic. And just I want to contextualize that with Newt Gingrich saying over the weekend that the members of the January 6 Committee are the ones who should be arrested. What do you make of that?

BORGER: ... shouldn't dignify it, because it's so outrageous. This police officer is a hero. Newt Gingrich used to walk the halls of Congress and he would have saved Newt Gingrich's life, if he could have. And what the members on this Committee are trying to do is find out what occurred and try to find ways to make sure that it does not happen again.

If that warrants criminal prosecution, what country are we living in? It's just bizarre.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you both so very much.

And next, Arizona Democrats censuring Sen. Kyrsten Sinema after her filibuster vote and the Chair of that State's Democratic Party is next.

And see why Democrats may be starting to lose some parents because of COVID policies and school.



BURNETT: Tonight, top lawmakers on the left defending the Arizona Democratic Party for censuring Senator Kyrsten Sinema. They did so because of her opposition to Democratic efforts to eliminate the filibuster which would have been required to pass President Biden's voting rights legislation.

Now, Sinema did support the underlying legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D), WASHINGTON: The Arizona Democratic Party is of the people. So if people are going to push because they're furious that their senator, who is a Democrat, I think that that is legitimate.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I think what the Arizona Democrats did was exactly right.

REP. RON KHANNA (D-CA): I think what the Arizona state party is saying is that Kyrsten Sinema no longer reflects our values.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Raquel Teran. She is the chair of the Arizona Democratic Party which just censured Senator Sinema and is also a state senator.

So, Raquel, I really appreciate your time. I know your organization, you know, you thought through this and you felt that Senator Sinema, quote, had a failure to do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy. You heard Congressman Ro Khanna there just say that she, quote, no longer reflects our values.

But I have to ask you, you know, her voting record overall in line with President Biden is 97.5 percent according to 538. Your other Democratic senator is 97.6 percent. Why did she deserve censure?

RAQUEL TERAN (D), ARIZONA DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR, AZ STATE SENATOR: You know, last fall our state committee members passed a resolution to outline the potential action to be taken by the Arizona Democrats regarding Senator Sinema should she choose to protect the filibuster and obstruct voting rights lentil legislation.

So, last week, when Senator Sinema did just that, as a result, the executive board decided to meet and hold a discussion on the potential action. And we are mindful that our job as a Democratic party is, of course, to support our candidates and engage voters across our state, but as we continue to see voter suppression legislation come through our state legislature here in Arizona and all across the state, it is imperative that we take action on voting rights at a federal level.

So, the stakes are simply too high. We do see that our democracy is at risk. So although our party of course is really a true coalition and there is room for disagreement on policies on this issue, it was -- we're consistent, we have been vocal over the last year and we had asked the senator to please take action and not let any obstruction on voting rights.

BURNETT: Right. So I understand. So that particular piece of legislation meant more to you than obviously her overall voting record, so that point is clear. But let me ask you, Raquel, at least five of the GOP senators who voted to remove Trump from office over the deadly insurrection, right, they stood up and went against their party. They did that on principle. They were censured by state or county GOP parties as well as seven of the House Republicans who voted to impeach him. And those -- those votes, those censures were met with a lot of

criticism, accusations that they were putting party over principle. Are you doing exactly the same thing now?

TERAN: Well, we see those senators to my understanding are censured for not the same reasons as we are censuring Senator Sinema. For us this is not a divisive issue. This is not Democrat or Republican, this is about the health of our democracy.

So I do want to recognize that, yes, Senator Sinema was instrumental on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the American rescue plan, but like I said, on this issue, voting rights, we needed -- we really needed to take a stand. And we cannot -- if we have a filibuster, we cannot get this important agenda passed, the Biden/Harris agenda passed, so that was our position.

And our base worked really hard in ensuring that she would get elected. Arizona is a battleground state. And we have worked hard not only in her election, in Senator Kelly's elections, but over the last two decades to get Arizona to the place where we are competitive. And so, that's why we took this position.

BURNETT: So I know you were proud and you celebrated when she won her Senate race in 2018. As you know now, Senator Bernie Sanders said he would be open to supporting a primary challenger if she does choose to run for re-election in 2024. Is there any scenario where you would support her if she is the Senate nominee?

TERAN: Look, we are going to look at her record. I know that the next leadership in 2023 will come around and there will be either -- I don't know if I'm running or there will be a new chair, but whoever is in that position will need to take a look at the whole record.

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

TERAN: Thank you for having us, yes.

BURNETT: And next, some cautious COVID policies may be starting to turn some Democratic parents red.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden, we're at odds with the people we used to agree with.


BURNETT: And Hong Kong's incredible COVID crackdown, leading some to spend thousands and thousands of dollars just to get their pets out on private jets.


[19:40:41] BURNETT: In tonight's inside look, seven school boards in Virginia are suing to block Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin's executive order which bans mask mandates. The order, which allows parents to sends their kids to school without a mask, went into effect today after Youngkin signed it on his first day in office. This is a school COVID policies have become a hot button political issue across the nation with frustrated parents being alienated by the Democratic Party.

Evan McMorris-Santoro is OUTFRONT.


ANGIE SCHMIDT, WRITER: Yeah, good. All right. What about this?

You can look at my voting records. I'm a registered Democrat.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some people think this Cleveland woman is brewing the strongest tea in American politics right now.

SCHMIDT: If you would have told me two years ago that I would be alienated from the Democratic Party, I wouldn't have believed it. I really, really hated Trump, what was going on in the Trump administration. But I just don't think people realize what a big deal closing school for a year was.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Some political strategists are starting to think it was a very big deal. To them, Angie Schmidt represents frustrated suburban moms whose vote is now up for grabs because, they say, Democrats were too cautious about public schools and the pandemic.

SCHMIDT: I have a friend that I talk to about this a lot. All of a sudden, we're at odds with the people we used to agree with.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Angie is a progressive, but these days she thinks Democrats have put politics ahead of kids when it comes to pandemic schooling. Her take on the science can sometimes be very different from the public health consensus.

Vaccine mandates, are you good with that in the school?

SCHMIDT: I think they should mandate them for the teachers and the staff but not the students.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: And mask mandates, what do you think about those?

SCHMIDT: So, I think at minimum there should be like a timeline for when they get rid of them, right? Like why is my son who's already had -- who's double vaccinated and already had corona masking 40 hours a week? That's another thing I think Democrats have been way too dogmatic about that.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: You're involved mom in a swing state who was a Democrat and now what are you? SCHMIDT: Probably I'm still a Democrat, but I think I'm a lot closer

to the independent category. Like whereas before I would not have even considered voting for a Republican. Now I'm just looking for these magic words. Who's the politician that's going to say school is important. We're keeping schools open.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Moms in the suburbs helped get President Biden elected. Now some people in Washington are wondering if they may help the Republicans in the fall.

REPORTER: Could school reopenings or closures become a potent midterm issue for Republicans to win back the suburb?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for coming.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Back in Ohio, these moms are popping the cork on a plan for Democrats to go back on offense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been hoping and wanting the White House to pay a lot of attention to those conversations that are happening at the bus stop.

VIVEK MURTHY, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: But even more important than speaking to you as a doctor, I want to just talk to you as a parent.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Last week, the Biden administration hosted the first-ever White House COVID-19 parent checkup.

Katie Paris came up with the name. She runs Red Wine and Blue, a group that tries to get suburban moms to vote Democratic.

KATIE PARIS, FOUNDER, RED WINE AND BLUE: The White House reached out in the midst of all of these and we want to prioritize listening to parents. I just watched so many moms suffer through that. I think the pandemic identified we need help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All moms need help, regardless of if you vote or don't. We all have been in the trenches with this.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: You all are particularly plugged into this in a way that I think a lot of folks are not. Should Dems be worried?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They should worry if they duck. They should be out there proudly, I want paid leave. I want universal child care. Say it proudly. Say it loudly. Don't duck. And then if they don't do that, they should be scared.

PARIS: And saying that we want to keep our schools open. We're going to make sure that parents and teachers have all the support they need to do it safely and not avoid the conversation, because it feels like a political landmine.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: This is the first ever one of these White House calls today, right?



MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Is it too little too late or is there still time?

PARIS: I would hope that this is just the beginning of these conversations. I don't think most parents are thinking about how many days or months are there until the next election? They just want to be heard irks.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): Erin, one of the interesting things I learned is that moms everywhere feel pretty much abandoned by the political process. They are on the front lines of this pandemic. We've seen it with their workforce numbers dropping, people pickup child care.

And the moms that want them to win, they're annoyed Democrats haven't passed paid family leave or that expanded child tax credit that they were trying to do. So for Democrats, they have time. But what I found out in the suburbs, they have a lot of enthusiasm that's waning for them right now -- Erin.

BURNETT: It's fascinating seeing those groups. Evan, thank you very much.

And next, why some in Hong Kong are spending thousands on private planes because of COVID and China's draconian policies for their pets.


OLGA RADLYNSKA, DIRECTOR, TOPSTARS AIR: People love their fur babies. So we are here to help them.


BURNETT: Plus, a military coup. The military seizing control in Burkina Faso. We'll hear from a source on the ground.



BURNETT: Tonight, authorities in Hong Kong killing more than 2,500 hamsters and other small animals. They're doing it because they're worried that the animals are spreading COVID, at this point in the pandemic. It's leaving pet owners fearful, resorting to desperate measures, unbelievable measures to save their animals.

Ivan Watson is OUTFRONT in Hong Kong. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pets on private jets. This may sound like a ridiculous luxury, but charter flights for pets are a booming COVID pandemic business in Hong Kong, an international financial hub that is increasingly cut itself off from the outside world while trying to keep COVID cases here at zero.

OLGA RADLYNSKA, DIRECTOR, TOPSTARS AIR: We have been overwhelmed with the amount of requests to fly pets out of Hong Kong.

WATSON: Why do you think the demand is going up?

RADLYNSKA: Because a lot of people are leaving and a lot of people need to move their pets.

WATSON: Charter jet operators said due to government travel restrictions and temporary bans on dozens of airlines, there are almost no commercial flights available to transport pets.

The most reliable alternative? Private planes costing around $22,000 for a person and their dog to fly direct from Hong Kong to New York.

RADLYNSKA: People love their fur babies. So, we are here to help them.

WATSON: The pressure on some pet owners mounted this month when Hong Kong authorities made a startling announcement. The city's top official blamed an outbreak of the delta variant on hamsters.

This isn't a joke. The Hong Kong government claims that hamsters imported from the Netherlands gave COVID to a pet shop work at this store. They have since ordered the closure of every pet shop in the city that sold small animals. They've also called and killed more than 2,500 hamsters, white rats, rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs.

The authorities also told residents who have bought hamsters on or after December 22nd to hand them over to be euthanized, prompting scenes like this, where animal rights activists tried to intercept pet hamsters before their handover to officials.

VANESSA BARRS, DIRECTOR OF VETERINARY AFFAIRS, CITY UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: Pet owners should not be worried about catching COVID from their animals.

WATSON: Researcher and veterinarian Vanessa Barr says the Hong Kong government overreacted.

BARRS: We know so far in the pandemic, there have been over 350 million cases of COVID reported in humans and the first 350 million cases that have been reported, there have been no confirmed cases of transmission of COVID from people's pets back to humans.

WATSON: After months with almost no infections, the walls of Hong Kong's COVID fortress seem to be crumbling. In just 48 hours, more than 4,800 people tested positive for COVID at this Hong Kong housing estate. And this outbreak isn't being linked to hamsters. But animal rights activists and some pet owners are still spooked.

KIM MCCOY, FOUNDER, HONG KONG ANIMAL LAW & PROTECTION ORGANIZATION: The concern really is, if it starts with hamsters, where does it go next? Will we see companion animals such as cats and dogs be roped into this? That's a really real fear that people have.

WATSON: Olga Radlynska says she's gotten a surge of inquiries from pet owners looking for seats on private planes in just the last week.

What is the alternative? If you're a pet owner and you want to leave?

RADLYNSKA: Give your pet up for adoption. A lot of people try to find new homes for their fur babies. It's devastating.


BURNETT: Ivan, this is an incredible report. As you said, Ivan, it's deadly serious. They actually are having, you know, government officials come and take your hamster, if you bought it after a certain day on the handoff. I mean, as you say, you think you're making it up. It's real life.

But it's sort of, you know, in the context of what you have seen there, Ivan, the Democratic democracy protests, right, getting shut down. Hong Kong's uncompromising zero COVID policy. You know, that may have lost a lot of hearts and minds.

Has it been successful in saving lives?

WATSON: Arguably it has. I mean, in more than two years, Hong Kong only lost 213 people to COVID in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The question is, is what is the cost of this? I mean, if I test positive for COVID, I get taken away to a government hospital and I don't have any control over when I'm released.


And anybody who has talked to me, close contact, they get taken away to a government quarantine camp with not great conditions where they get stuck indefinitely.

Right now, the schools are closed here. Soccer fields are boarded off because of the new cases. The cost on the economy is substantial.

You've cut the city off from the outside world. Outsiders aren't allowed in. International transport is that sector of the industry is shriveling. And the government seems convinced it can keep going, even though omicron is clearly loose in the population here.

And there isn't much incentive to come forward, if you get sick now. You kind of get treated like a leper. You get taken away almost like, you know, you get put into government restricted isolation. Nobody likes that.

BURNETT: It's incredible. It's truly incredible. Thank you so much for that report.

I think age lot of people saw that and hamsters and kind of moved on. But, like, it is just the doorway to something deeper and darker.

All right. Well, next borders closed and a curfew is in effect after a coup. We'll tell you where.


BURNETT: New tonight, a curfew in effect, borders have been closed after a coup in Burkina Faso. That's what I'm being told by someone who was there tonight, in Ouagadougou. The Constitution and the parliament have been dissolved. The leader of the military munity says the president is in a safe place and tells CNN soldiers are fed up with the government's indifference as soldiers were killed by Islamic jihadists.

Burkina has been wracked with violence linked to the Islamic State and al Qaeda, killing thousands and displacing 1.5 million, according to the U.N. Civilians took to the streets, honking car horns, cheering in support of the military, as one dictatorship replaces another.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.