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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

First U.S. Case of Omicron Variant Discovered in San Francisco; Michigan School Shooting Suspect Charged as Adult with Murder, Terrorism; Blinken Warns Russia of "Severe Consequences" If It Invades Ukraine; Supreme Court Leans Toward Upholding Mississippi's Abortion Law. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 02, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is Thursday, December 2nd. It's 5:00 a.m. in New York. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Christine Romans.


Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. We have report this morning from Washington, Stockholm, Beijing and Oxford, Michigan.

But we begin this morning with the White House. In this delicate balancing act, forced to respond aggressively to a new coronavirus variant that we still know so little about, while at the same time trying to tamp down panic, the first case of the Omicron variant has now been officially confirmed in California. President Biden is expected to speak around 1:30 this afternoon on this new variant, and his winter strategy to fight the virus.

CNN has learned that the administration plans to extend the existing federal mask mandate for airplanes, buses, trains and boats through at least March now, a move many experts believe is appropriate until scientists know more about Omicron.


DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: I think the steps that are being taken, being aggressive until we know more, is the right thing to do. You only have one chance to get ahead of a newly- spreading strain of a disease.


JARRETT: CNN's Kaitlan Collins starts us off with more on the discovery of this new variant in San Francisco and the administration's response.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Laura. This is a moment that scientists in the federal government had been

bracing for, finding this first Omicron variant in the United States. Of course, they found this in California, in San Francisco, an individual who returned from South Africa to San Francisco started feeling mild symptoms.

DR. GRANT COLFAX, SAN FRANCISCO DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH: They did the right thing and got tested and reported their travel history. They had received a full dose of the Moderna vaccine, but no booster. They had mild symptoms and thankfully have now recovered.

CHARLES CHIU, MD, PHD: We ran a very fast molecular test which looks for what we call spike gene drop out. We were able to confirm the detection of Omicron within five hours and we had most of the genome within eight hours.

COLLINS: Of course, they are conducting that aggressive contact tracing for this person, though Dr. Anthony Fauci said so far all of their close contacts had tested negative. And, of course, the broader question is what this means for the United States. The White House, while they are still waiting to get more information about this variant and whether or not the concern over it is justified, says they are encouraging the people who are eligible to get booster shots to get them. That's about 100 million people, judging by White House estimates.

So that is what Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling on. You will see President Biden deliver a speech today saying the same, maybe some new regulations, of course, as they are tightening those testing restrictions for entering the United States, for international travelers.

When it comes to those booster shots, Dr. Anthony Fauci said also do not wait for an Omicron-specific booster shot. If it ever comes to that and you ever need that, don't wait for that. Go ahead and get a regular booster shot now. And, of course, the questions of whether or not there are further restrictions to come, more travel restrictions or the lifting of those travel restrictions remains to be seen.


JARRETT: Kaitlan Collins, thank you for that. It is now time for three questions in three minutes.

Let's bring in Dr. Chris Pernell, a fellow at the American College of Preventative Medicine.

Doctor, so nice to see you.

So, it's here. Omicron is here. This is inevitable. We knew it was going to happen. The first case detected in California, somebody who was fully vaccinated, by the way, returning from South Africa.

Now that it's here, what are we supposed to do with this, especially for people who are fully vaccinated, who have done what they were supposed to do, who have gotten their booster shot? Are we supposed to be changing our holiday plans?

DR. CHRIS T. PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: I think the most important thing for everyone to think about is delta is still the predominant strain in the United States. We actually started December in a worse position than I would have wanted us to. We're above 56,000 hospitalizations. We're above 2,000 deaths, and we're well above 100,000 cases. So that's where our concern should be, first and foremost.

With the emergence of the Omicron variant, what we know is whatever you are already doing at baseline, continue to do that and more. The "and more" is encouraging the vaccinated to get vaccinated, and wearing your mask when you're in public indoor places.

ROMANS: Excuse me. In a town hall with Dr. Fauci, he said you can travel, be with your family, small group if you're vaccinated, that's fine. He also said we need to be bullish about flooding our health systems with COVID tests. Do you agree with that?

PERNELL: Yes, I do, Christine. We're projected to do a little over a million tests a day. The amount of tests that a country should do, no one has a specific number, but it's not based on your population size. It's actually based on the level of the epidemic or outbreak in your particular country.

So given the burden of coronavirus prevalence that we have, we should be doing even more tests. I want to applaud that improvement, but there is further for us to go. And further genomic sequencing of coronavirus variants.

JARRETT: It feels like from the very beginning of this we never quite got the testing right and it's still trying to play catch up.

Doctor, the president is going to announce his COVID winter strategy, if you will, today. Lots of ideas circulating. Many focused on travel, some about new testing requirements.

What do you want to see the most?

PERNELL: I'm been saying this. I wish this was definitely going to happen today, but I don't think it will. We need a requirement, a mandate for anyone traveling by air to be vaccinated. Whenever we do travel bans, those are reactive measures. If we really want to be proactive, we should require vaccination for air travel and long distance, train and/or bus travel.

We need to have a more aggressive testing strategy, testing closer to departure if you're international travel, and a repeat test soon after arrival. That is regardless whether you're an American citizen or not.

ROMANS: Dr. Chris Pernell, thank you so much.

JARRETT: Thanks so much, Doctor.

ROMANS: And thank you for all of your work on public health. Just this week I got an email from my school district you were giving a tutorial on vaccinations for 5 to 11 year olds, facts about that. So, thank you for the work you're doing with schools.

PERNELL: Excellent, excellent.

ROMANS: Thank you.

PERNELL: This is heart work for me, Christine. It's hard work. So thanks.

ROMANS: Thank you.

JARRETT: Thank you, Doctor.

All right. To Michigan now and the 15-year-old suspect accused of that shooting rampage that killed four high school students this week. Ethan Crumbley is now being charged as an adult with terrorism and first degree murder. The prosecutor on the case also not ruling out charges against Crumbley's parents.


KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR: With the right of owning a gun comes responsibility. And the responsibility of a gun owner is to securely store that weapon and to keep it out of the hands of somebody who could kill people. And in this case that does not seem to have happened.


ROMANS: Among the victims now, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana who died just hours before her first high school basketball game. Seventeen- year-old senior Madisyn Baldwin. She had already been accepted to several colleges. 17-year-old Justin Shilling, the co-captain of the bowling team. And 16-year-old Tate Myre, a star athlete at Oxford High School.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He used to have like this cool smile. You knew he was doing something funny. You just look at him, and now I won't be able to see that again. I won't be able to share the New Year's with him.


ROMANS: CNN's Alexandra Field has the latest on the investigation from Oxford, Michigan.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, good morning.

The 15-year-old school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult with a slew of charges, assault weapons related charges, four counts of first degree murder and terrorism.

The Oakland County prosecutor describing the reason for the terrorism charge this way.

MCDONALD: What about all the children who ran screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home right now who can't eat and can't sleep and can't imagine a world they could ever set foot back in that school? Those are victims, too, is and so are their families and the community. The charge of terrorism reflects that.

FIELD: The Oakland County sheriff's office is saying no law enforcement agencies were made aware of any threats made by the suspect prior to the attack. But they are now combing through a mountain of digital evidence. They are looking at social media posts and they are looking at the suspect's own writings.

They say they have recovered a notebook in which he talks about shooting up the school. They say they have also recovered two videos shot on the suspect's cell phone the day before the attack in which he talks about shooting and killing other students. We are also learning that the suspect showed what was called concerning behavior on the morning of the attack and the day before the attack, so much so that his parents were called in for a school meeting on that morning.

At this point, officials are not describing what that concerning behavior entailed. They are not giving any further details of the meeting either. But the 15-year-old who has been charged as an adult has now been moved from a juvenile facility to the Oakland County jail -- Christine, Laura.


ROMANS: Four fatalities now.

All right. Breaking overnight, Major League Baseball announcing a player lockout. Its first wok stoppage since the '94 player strike. The collective bargaining agreement between the MLB and players expired at 11:59 last night.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said despite the league's best efforts to make a deal, the player's association calls the shutdown a dramatic measure to pressure players into relinquishing rights and benefits. The lockout stops all business, including the recent flurry of free agency deals. More details on the "Bleacher Report" later this hour.

JARRETT: Coming up next, the secretary of state confronting tensions with Russia, a face-to-face meeting getting underway right now.

ROMANS: And why it could be a rare goldilocks moment for U.S. companies and American workers.


JARRETT: A critical meeting about to get underway this morning between Secretary of State Tony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Blinken has already warned Russia there will be severe consequence if it invades Ukraine.

Meanwhile Vladimir Putin is suggesting NATO and Ukraine pose a growing security threat to Russia.

Let's go live to Stockholm and bring in CNN's Alex Marquardt.

Alex, good morning.


That's right, this meeting between the Russian and American foreign ministers due to get underway any moment now. It could hardly come at a more tense time between Russia and the West with those tens of thousands of Russian troops that are amassed all along the border with Ukraine. Secretary Blinken did meet with his Ukrainian counterpart earlier today. The Ukrainian foreign minister calling on the U.S. and its partners to put together what he called a deterrence package that would make President Putin of Russia think twice about using military action.

Laura, that really is the word of the day, deterrence. The U.S. and NATO spent the last two days coming together and getting on the same page when it comes to how best to deter Russia from carrying out any sort of military action. Secretary Blinken saying on Wednesday that it would be high-impact economic sanctions that have not been used against Russia before.

Now, he didn't offer any sort of detail what those sanctions would look like. And when I asked him to what extent he would detail them for Foreign Minister Lavrov in the meeting today he would only say the U.S. would do so at an appropriate time.

But they really are hoping that the threat of these sanctions will deter Russia from carrying out military action.

Blinken did say that it is unclear whether Russia has made the decision or not to invade Ukraine. But what is clear is they have built up the capacity to do so and in short order.

What NATO is seeing right now is similar to what was seen back in 2014 when Russia did invade Ukraine and as you remember, did annex Crimea, not just the buildup of forces, now on multiple Ukrainian borders, but also meddling internally with Ukraine, with things like disinformation campaign. Blinken saying over the past 24 hours, there has been a tenfold spike on social media pushing anti-Ukrainian propaganda, pushing Ukraine as the aggressor in all of this.

But Blinken making clear there is still time to de-escalate and use what he called a diplomatic off-ramp -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right. We'll see where this goes.

Alex, thank you so much for being there for us.

ROMANS: All right. Almost two full years into the COVID economy and America's top business leaders are -- drum roll, please -- bullish, really bullish on the U.S. economy. In fact, a survey of executives from the prominent business roundtable found CEO's outlook the strongest in the 20-year history of that survey. Of course, the Omicron factor could change that. But if history is a guide, large companies have managed well, very well through every twist and turn of the pandemic, even with tangled supply chains, worker shortages, health weary customers.

The COVID economy has been a remarkably profitable environment for the big public companies. Profits for S&P 500 companies soared 38 percent in the year-ending in June. And according to Bloomberg, in the past two quarters, companies outside the finance industry posted their biggest profit margins in 70 years.

It's why stocks have doubled since the March 2020 crash. The S&P 500 is up 20 percent this year, even after you can see there that November wobble. If that business roundtable -- in that business round table survey, nearly half of CEOs surveyed said worker pay is the greatest cost pressure they face right now. Profits and profit margins would suggest companies are paying people more and they are still making money.

It's a rare goldilocks moment, just right for the American worker who has more choices, different priorities and now higher pay, and just right for companies managing wealth through an unprecedented COVID economy. Caveats here, of course. Inflation eats into those worker gains.

And goldilocks, well, she's wearing a mask. Omicron and delta are racing through millions of unvaccinated people. That is obviously not good for public health, public policy and market certainty.

Look, it's impossible to predict what happens next. But where are we right now? The Fed chief suspects the economy will grow 5 percent this year. That's the most robust expansion since the Reagan administration.

JARRETT: It seems like this is one of those times where the perception and the reality have not quite matched up.

ROMANS: It's because we're exhausted from COVID and it's because we're paying more for gas still. Those are the two things that eat away at some of the other realities.

JARRETT: The 401(k) to the extent you have one looks okay.

ROMANS: Stocks are reflecting that corporate profitability.


All right, still ahead, does Roe v. Wade stand a chance before this Supreme Court? Hear the justices in their own words next.

ROMANS: And Alex Baldwin in his own words about the deadly shooting on the set of his movie.


[05:24:19] ROMANS: Welcome back.

A second Trump ally could be held in contempt of Congress soon. The January 6 committee is giving former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark one last chance to appear for a deposition this Saturday. House committee is interested in Clark because he was part of the former president's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. He walked out of his last deposition and has also refused to hand over documents.

Now, his attorney has told the committee he may invoke his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent.

JARRETT: A momentous case at the U.S. Supreme Court leaving advocates for reproductive freedom bracing for the worst now. The justices heard roughly 90 minutes of oral arguments Wednesday on a Mississippi law that tries to ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.


Pointed questions from some justices now fueling speculation that the court may be on the brink of overturning Roe v. Wade, upending 50 years of constitutional law.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.


JUSTICE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT: The reason this issue is hard is that you can't accommodate both interests. You have to pick. That's the fundamental problem.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the Supreme Court six conservatives, their questioning during two hours of arguments on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban signaling they're inclined to uphold the law.

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT: But if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?

SCHNEIDER: The Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to be pushing for compromise. Let Mississippi enact its law that bans most abortions 15 weeks with limited exceptions, but stops short of completely striking down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1972 case that established women have a constitutional right to get an abortion. The chief justice emphasizing the importance of precedence.

ROBERTS: If we look at it from today's perspective, it's going to be a long list of cases that we're going to say were wrongly decided.

SCHNEIDER: But the court's other conservatives repeatedly questioned why Roe should be upheld when the Constitution says nothing about abortion.

KAVANAUGH: The Constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice on the question of abortion. SCHNEIDER: It is a case that could remake the legal landscape

surrounding abortion in the United States. The arguments drew hundreds of protesters on both sides of the emotional debate to the steps of the Supreme Court. The stakes high as a dozen states have trigger laws on the books that would immediately ban abortions if the court overturns Roe.

JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT: Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?

SCHNEIDER: The three liberal justices railed against the possibility that conservatives could rule against Roe, saying it would call the court's legitimacy into question.

JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: To overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason, to reexamine a watershed decision would subvert the court's legitimacy beyond any serious question.

SCHNEIDER: All sides seem to be bracing for seismic change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Almost 50 years of the slaughter of innocent babies is too much. We're done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am just full of angst that we could take this huge step backwards.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): The justices questioning points that the strong possibility that abortion rights will be rolled back by this court, and the impact could be immediate. If the court limits their ruling and simply allows Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban to take effect, other states could write similar laws. But if the court overturns Roe v. Wade completely, abortion rights advocates estimate that half of the nation's states would then quickly act to completely ban abortions.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: Jessica, thank you for that.

The Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles hit by a ransomware attack, compromising the personal information of about 400,000 patients. Planned Parenthood says there is no evidence so far it was a targeted attack on Planned Parenthood or that any patients' information was used for fraud. The group says it is notifying patients whose information was stolen.

JARRETT: Just ahead, a shake up on the vice president's team. We will tell you who is leaving soon.

ROMANS: And Alec Baldwin tearfully telling his side of the movie set shooting story.