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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

COVID Resurgence Again Upends Daily Life As Holidays Approach; January 6 Committee Subpoenas Retired Colonel Who Spread Misinformation; Democrats Fear Agenda Failure Amid Grim 2022 Outlook. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 17, 2021 - 05:30   ET



SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Now, this is the second strike -- a conservative seat being lost to a Lib-Dem candidate.

Look, every single conservative lawmaker right now is looking at their Parliament seat and they're wondering can I hold onto power if I continue to support the prime minister? Can I continue to win elections if I support Prime Minister Boris Johnson? And if the question -- if the answer to that question is no, that's when you could see his party turn against him. And we don't have an election for a few more years but the Conservative Party always has that possibility of calling a no-confidence vote.

What I'm saying here is this could be the beginning of the end of the prime minister, and it's not a good time for weak leadership. We're dealing with a variant -- a very serious variant right now, Laura.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Salma. We know you're staying on top of it all. Thank you.

EARLY START continues right now.

Good Friday morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is Friday, thank goodness. I'm Christine Romans. Thirty minutes past the hour -- time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

COVID whiplash across the country as new infections and hospitalization skyrocket ahead of the holidays. Colleges sending students home. The NBA and NFL canceling games and adding safety protocols. And President Biden warning of a winter of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated. More on all this in a moment.

JARRETT: The former Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop could take the witness stand today. Forty-nine-year-old Kim Potter has claimed that she mistook her gun for a taser.

ROMANS: A search warrant has been issued for Alec Baldwin's cellphone. Investigators are looking for data as well as private messages on social media in connection with his accidental shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the "Rust" film set back in October.

JARRETT: In Delaware, a judge says Dominion Voting Systems' defamation case against Fox News can move forward. The suit alleges Fox personalities and guests spread lies about the 2020 election. This ruling now allows Dominion to gather evidence within the halls of Fox, including potential interviews with network stars and executives.

ROMANS: A source in Haiti's security forces tells CNN the last 12 hostages released by an armed gang have been flown back to the U.S. The gang kidnapped 17 American and Canadian missionaries two months ago outside Port au Prince. An American official says a ransom was paid but not by the U.S. government.

JARRETT: Didn't do so well on the SATs? Well, you still have a shot at Harvard. The Ivy League university is waiving the standardized testing admission requirement for college graduating classes through 2030, extending a policy that they started because of COVID.

ROMANS: Oh, great -- now I can get into Harvard. Maybe not.

JARRETT: There's still time.

ROMANS: There's still time.

All right, COVID fatigue is hitting Americans hard for a second holiday season. A school and businesses are wasting no time implementing new restrictions and new mandates, switching back to remote learning and working as the Omicron variant spreads quickly.


DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: I think we're really just about to experience a viral blizzard if you look at what's happened in South Africa, you look at what's happened in Europe. I think in the next three to eight weeks we're going to see millions of Americans are going to be infected with this virus. And that will be overlayed on top of Delta and we're not yet sure exactly how that's going to work out.


JARRETT: It's time for three questions in three minutes, so let's bring in Dr. Chris Pernell, a public health physician and fellow at the American College of Preventive Medicine.

Doctor, we need your help this morning. We need your calm and measured response here. Because our families clearly have to live and co-exist with COVID this winter and yet, there seems to be all of this confusion and reaction like it's 2020 when the reality on the ground has changed. We are all vaccinated, we are all boosted --

ROMANS: Boosted.

JARRETT: -- and yet, cases are spreading like wildfire with both Omicron and Delta.

Don't we need to find a way to live with this virus that matches the moment?


Yes, we need to find a way to live but that doesn't mean for us to live without vigilance or to live without good public health and pandemic sense.

There's just too much we still don't know about Omicron other than the fact that it spreads very easily and that those who are fully vaccinated, as it has been defined with a complete series of a dose, are still susceptible to infection.

So, what does that mean? Everyone in your household should be vaccinated and boosted if eligible. So that's everyone 16 and above. And continue to wear your mask in public indoor spaces. Continue to test early or test often when there's a risk of exposure.

What am I telling you? Don't forget those bread-and-butter public health tools that got us to this point in 2021. If we don't forsake those, we can mitigate this Omicron surge.

ROMANS: I think it's so important what you're saying -- to be fully vaccinated. That's two doses and a booster. It's three shots to be fully vaccinated. We should start thinking of it like that.

PERNELL: I do. Some public health bodies and agencies aren't there yet. But we know that with Omicron just having two doses of an mRNA vaccine will not quite cut it. The efficacy drops terribly. It can drop to 30 percent against severe disease and restore it to 70 percent once you have three doses.


What's unknown is if three doses is a complete series, Christine, or will it be four? But I do want to caution the American public that this is how public health figures out what is the right measure, the right size of that measure in order to keep the most people safe.

ROMANS: I think that's important because you hear from some people -- you know, some people will say oh, the public health guidance is always changing. It's changing because the conditions on the ground are changing.



ROMANS: We have to be flexible. That doesn't -- that's not a reason to understate the importance of public health. It shows you what's really happening.

JARRETT: But the truth is people are exhausted -- ROMANS: Yes, yes.

JARRETT: -- and so they're sort of throwing up their hands. But at the same time, we have Omicron, Delta, and now this flu strain that apparently, we didn't even get vaccinated against or, at least, so it looks like.

I wonder, Doctor, how do you think we should be dealing with this when it comes to schools? You see more and more going remote again like it's 2020. Is that the right response when so many kids are still unvaccinated and we're all going to get together for the holidays?

PERNELL: You know, I do think it's the right response because so many kids are unvaccinated and because kids also live in households where they may have an adult that's unvaccinated. Remember that children can get infected. Children can experience severe disease even if that is not the majority of cases. But children also can spread it.

So as soon as we see cases rising in schools, we should look in our tool chest and say what's the appropriate public health tool for what we're seeing on the ground right now, and then apply that tool. Remember, it's multilayered mitigation strategies that's going to help us beat back this pandemic.

ROMANS: All right. So, what I'm personally doing in my family -- vaccinating, boosting, mask-wearing, testing. Is that going to get me through the holidays if I continue to just keep it real like that?

PERNELL: It will, and require that of others around your family.

ROMANS: All right.

PERNELL: That's the exponential effect that we need.

ROMANS: Dr. Chris Pernell, public health physician. As always, thank you, and have a wonderful day.

JARRETT: Thank you, Dr. Pernell.

PERNELL: Have a great day.

ROMANS: You, too.

All right, pray away the virus. A new lawsuit claims conservative radio host Dave Ramsey discourages employees from working from home during the pandemic. A former video editor for Ramsey Solutions, Brad Amos, says he was fired in July 2020 after requesting to work from home. The suit accuses Ramsey of telling workers they were weak and should pray away the virus instead.

In a statement to CNN, the company denies those claims, saying Amos was fired for poor performance and insulting his boss.

JARRETT: A retired Army colonel is the latest target of the January 6 Committee. Now, his name might not ring a bell for most people but a Republican on the committee pointed out you don't have to have a high- profile name to play a critical role in the days before the Capitol attack.

CNN's Whitney Wild has more on this story.


WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Good morning, Christine and Laura.

The House select committee investigating the insurrection has issued its newest subpoena against a man named Phil Waldron. He's a retired colonel who spread misinformation about election fraud and circulated a PowerPoint document detailing ways to undermine the 2020 presidential election outcome.

This 38-page document was initially circulated by Waldron to Trump allies and to even lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Waldron previously told "The New York Times" he did not directly send this document to then- White House chief of staff Mark Meadows but did say it was possible that someone on his team passed it along.

Separately, Waldron told "The Washington Post" that he spoke with Meadows maybe eight to 10 times and visited the White House on multiple occasions after the 2020 election.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): We've interviewed over 300 people and I know things like Meadows contempt and Bannon contempt get a lot of attention, as they should. But there's a lot of people that are giving us a lot of information and this can be a key piece to that.

But there was this kind of fever pitch to not accept the fact that a legitimate election had happened. And that's why the committee is so important. It's not just about the day of January sixth -- that's an important point -- but it's about what is the rot that led up to that.

WILD (on camera): In addition to his sharing of the PowerPoint, the committee also wants to ask Waldron about reports that he participated in meetings at Willard hotel in early January 2021.

This news comes as a long list of witnesses have appeared in front of the committee this week. And today, Roger Stone is scheduled to appear. CNN has learned he intends to plead the fifth -- Christine, Laura.


JARRETT: Whitney thank you for that.

Now to this disturbing wave of online threats that's got schools across the country stepping up security today and leaving parents unnerved. It's a challenge that originated on TikTok and spread to other social media sites daring students to send threats of school shootings and bombings today.

Now, authorities haven't identified any specific or credible threats. But schools aren't taking any chances, closing early or beefing up security in districts nationwide, including New York, California, Michigan, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and others.


One cybersecurity expert says TikTok needs to do more.


AHMED BANAFA, CYBER SECURITY EXPERT, SAN JOSE STATE UNIVERSITY: You know, instead of waiting for another 24 hours before flagging that account -- this account -- you're seeing something which is threatening somebody else. This should have the highest priority for them.


ROMANS: Look, it's literally disrupting education right now. TikTok says it's working with police but, quote, "has not found any evidence of threats originating or spreading via TikTok."

Oxford High School, in Michigan, has not opened since a 15-year-old killed four classmates there more than two weeks ago.

According to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, schools have been subjected to nine active and 235 non-active shooter incidents this year.

JARRETT: And you got one of these notices from your school.

ROMANS: I got one of these notices from my school saying that the school is taking it seriously. They're working with the police department. You know, talk to your kids about what they're seeing. If they're seeing these threats on TikTok or social media.

JARRETT: And don't just retweet anything.

ROMANS: This is -- this is the worst of social media when you can disrupt education.

And remember, earlier this fall there were social media challenges -- TikTok challenges to destroy stuff in schools. To --


ROMANS: -- you know, destroy the bathrooms and to break things and to vandalize, and kids did it. It's just -- it's the worst of social media right there all wrapped up.

We'll be right back.

JARRETT: Just don't do it.

ROMANS: Right. Talk to your kid. Read the social media posts.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: Well, President Biden's Build Back Better plan will have to wait for 2022. But reality check -- the midterms will not make it easier to get anything done.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill with more. Daniella, Senate Democrats met yesterday and frustration is clearly showing. Sort through this mess for us.

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Laura, the frustration is clear and we heard it repeatedly yesterday from rank-and-file Democrats in the Senate who were upset that they -- despite having the priority in the Senate, they are unable to get President Joe Biden's priorities for the end of the year across the finish line.

On one hand, of course, you have the Build Back Better act, which was the biggest priority by Christmas, which is what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wanted for it to be passed by Christmas. It's already passed the House. And because of one senator, Sen. Joe Manchin -- he was -- he has not offered any assurances for this legislation. And as a result, they will not pass this before the new year.

And then, on the other hand, you also had this last-ditch effort by rank-and-file Democrats to try to do something on voting rights in this country -- trying to overhaul the nation's voter rights legislation -- voting right laws. And as a result, because of Sen. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who did not support a filibuster carveout for this legislation, they were unable to do anything on that either.

And I haven't even mentioned immigration reform. In the Build Back Better act there were some immigration provisions that were included that would provide undocumented immigrants work permits. But in the end, the Senate parliamentarian, who decides what's included in legislation that's passed using budget reconciliation, which means it only needs 50 votes in the Senate -- she ruled against including this because of the budgetary effects, which means Democrats are back to square one on immigration reform, which was another priority for the Biden administration.

Take a listen to what Senate Democrats told us yesterday about how frustrated they were that despite having the majority they were unable to get these things across the finish line.


REPORTER: What is your general feeling about where things stand? Are you frustrated?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Frustrated and disappointed.

REPORTER: At this point, is it time to start thinking about maybe breaking up BBB into more digestible pieces? Is this bill --

DURBIN: I don't know if that's the answer or not. Apparently, Manchin's approach to his has changed a lot. I don't know where he is today or where he'll be tomorrow.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): You have one person or two people to stop everything, and that is why people in our country should know that a 50-50 Senate sucks.


DIAZ: The bottom line here is, Laura and Christine -- is that Democrats are aware that the midterms are next year -- the 2022 midterms -- and the House is poised -- the Democrats are poised to lose the majority in the House -- and possibly, Republicans could flip the Senate as well. And so, this is really their last effort -- their last chance they have to pass these bills through Congress with the majority, and even with having the majority they're still unable to do that -- Laura, Christine.

JARRETT: All right, Daniella, great reporting. Thank you.

All right, now to this. "SEX AND THE CITY" star Chris Noth now facing two accusations of sexual assault. "The Hollywood Reporter" reports that these alleged incidents took place back in 2004 and 2015. Two women say seeing Noth reprising his role as Mr. Big in the new HBO Max series "AND JUST LIKE THAT" motivated them to come forward.

ROMANS: Noth says, quote, "The accusations are categorically false. No always means no. That is a line I did not cross."

Meantime, Peloton has now pulled its ad with the actor that went viral earlier this week.

JARRETT: Five people were killed in Wednesday's rare stormfront that caused widespread damage from New Mexico to Wisconsin. In Michigan and Wisconsin, there are still about 200,000 people without power.

ROMANS: In Iowa, one homeowner found a tree limb crashed through her roof.


RAMONA DILLINGER, HOUSE DAMAGED: The loudest kind of wind burst you could hear, and then this big huge loud thud.

JOHN DOMINI, LOST POWER: I looked outside and there were all these lights and big trucks. And I realized that tree had split into and fallen across my power lines.


ROMANS: This is just five days after a series of tornadoes tore across Kentucky and five other states, killing at least 88 people.

JARRETT: Well, it could take weeks for one of the largest human resources companies to recover from a crippling cyberattack. Kronos has a long list of notable customers, including the City of Cleveland, New York's MTA, Tesla, and hospitals across the country. Now, some employers find themselves having to make contingency plans to pay workers, such as shifting to paper checks.


ROMANS: All right, let's look at markets around the world to close out this week. Asian shares have closed, Friday, lower. Europe has opened mixed here, although Paris and Frankfurt are following Asia's lead. On Wall Street, stock index futures down just a little bit, although you can see the declines are really focused in tech here.

U.S. stocks fell Thursday. The biggest selloff was in tech with the Nasdaq losing 2 1/2 percent. That erased Wednesday's rally after the Federal Reserve said it was pivoting to fight inflation. The Fed plans to wrap up its stimulus faster than expected and likely will raise interest rates several times next year.

And at least for now, the big growth -- big tech sector -- investors are thinking that could be -- slow the growth there.

In economic data, Thursday's weekly jobless claims came in slightly higher than expected but remain near a 52-year low.

JARRETT: A thriller last night between the Chiefs and the Chargers, but the NFL and other leagues head into a very uncertain weekend because of COVID and Omicron.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Coy.


As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, the sports world also being hit hard with outbreaks. The Los Angeles Rams tell CNN that 25 players are on the team's reserve COVID-19 list. That's more than a third of the team's roster.

In response, the NFL and Players Association have agreed to update the league's health and safety rules. In a memo obtained by CNN, all 32 teams are being placed in restrictive protocols effective immediately. That means mask requirements and social distancing at team facilities, no team meals, and restrictions on in-person meetings through Monday night's game. Vaccinated players will continue to test weekly; unvaccinated players daily.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield is one of 20 Browns on the reserve COVID-19 list. And he's taken to social media to criticize the NFL and its latest changes to the protocol, tweeting, quote, "Actually caring about player safety would mean delaying the game with this continuing at the rate it is. But to say you won't test vaccinated players if they don't have symptoms, then to pull this randomly. Doesn't make any sense to me."

The NBA and the players union have reportedly agreed to implement new health measures during the upcoming holiday season.

According to ESPN, there will be daily testing from December 26th through January eighth. But if players are two weeks removed from receiving a booster shot, they will not have to be tested every day. Coaches, players, and staff members will also have to wear masks on the sidelines, inside team facilities, and during travel.

CNN has reached out to both the NBA and the Players Association.

Last night's Flyers-Canadiens game in Montreal playing in an empty arena because of the rise in COVID cases. Quebec public health officials asked the team to close Bell Centre to fans to help slow the spread of the virus.

And Duke having to scramble to find a new opponent after their game originally scheduled for tomorrow was canceled due to COVID issues with the Cleveland State basketball team. The number-two Blue Devils will now play Loyola Maryland.

All right, let's go to "THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL" action. First place in the AFC West was on the line for the Chiefs and Chargers.

Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce came to play, catching the game- tying seven-yard touchdown from Patrick Mahomes with a minute-16 left in the fourth, sending the game to overtime. Get jiggy with it, big man. Then, in O.T., he catches the game-winning touchdown.

Mahomes throws for a season-high 410 yards. Kelce goes for 191 yards, including the 34-yard game-ender. K.C. is back, rolling 34-28 to their seventh-straight win.

And Michigan State honoring one of the heroes from last month's school shooting in Oxford on National Signing Day. The football team making Tate Myre an honorary member of their 2022 recruiting class week. The 16-year-old was killed while reportedly running toward the gunman, trying to save his classmates' lives.

Tate was a lifelong Spartans fan, a standout for his high school team, and dreamed of playing for Michigan State. Now, Christine and Laura, he'll forever be a Spartan.

JARRETT: That is just heartbreaking.

WIRE: Christine says all the time the power of sports, right, Laura? And this is --


WIRE: -- this is incredible stuff that they're doing. I hope it lifts the spirits just a bit of the family and those hurting.

ROMANS: And we're thinking of those families this holiday season.


ROMANS: Way to go, Spartans. Thanks, Coy.

JARRETT: Thanks, Coy.

WIRE: Yes.

ROMANS: All right, 54 minutes past the hour. A real-life daredevil becoming the first person to fly in and out of

an active volcano only in a wingsuit. Sebastian Alvarez wanted to show off his country's beauty and decided to incorporate one of Chile's most active and dangerous volcanos, aptly named the Devil's House, into his jump. Alvarez describes the stunt as by far the most extreme of his career.

That whole thing is like 10 of my top fears all wrapped up in that. Volcanoes, fear of heights, fear of that -- all of it.

JARRETT: I don't see why he had to go so close to get such great pictures. It's impressive enough as is.


ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend, everybody, and a great rest of your day. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Friday, December 17th. I'm John Berman with chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.