Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Sen. Manchin: "I Can't Get There" On Build Back Better Plan; Researchers Warn It's Too Early To Gauge Omicron Threat In South Africa; Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai Denies Making Sexual Assault Claim. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 20, 2021 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Laura Jarrett. It's about 31 minutes past the hour here in New York.

And we turn back now to one of our top stories. Senator Joe Manchin delivering a crushing blow to President Biden's agenda. He went on Fox News and said he couldn't support the president's Build Back Better plan. Universal pre-K, the child tax credit, affordable housing, climate measures, and more, now a no-go.

ROMANS: Biden told aides this week Manchin's support was looking iffy, but White House officials were still taken off-guard Sunday when Manchin made it official.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): The thing that never changed, Bret, was basically the same amount of things that they're trying to accomplish by just changing, if you will, the amount of time that we can depend on them. We should be upfront and pick our priorities. That's the difference. So it hasn't shrunk in the desire. The intent is always there.


ROMANS: It's time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in Rachael Bade, CNN political analyst and co-author of the Politico Playbook. Rachael, I've listened to that clip -- every iteration of that clip a half a dozen times trying to find out is there wiggle room in there when he says I can't support, quote, "this piece of legislation."

You have new reporting in the Playbook this morning that the White House may be looking for a way to work around some of these concerns?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, CO-AUTHOR, POLITICO PLAYBOOK ((Via Webex by Cisco): Yes, we're just about to hit send on that -- the Playbook, this morning.

Yes. Look -- I mean, the White House says they're not done with this. They're going to work hard to try to revive it. And right now there's an idea being kicked about -- an idea that actually goes back a couple of months that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a number of more moderate House Democrats were floating. It's this idea of sort of narrowing the bill, only looking at a couple of provisions but looking at them for longer terms.

And the idea is to sort of alleviate at least one concern Joe Manchin has raised, and that is this notion that he doesn't like these, quote, "sunset provisions" in the bill. I mean, Democrats had tried to sort of decorate this bill like a Christmas tree -- put as many of their priorities in this bill as they can and fund them for only short periods of time to keep their price low. But he says that's a, quote, "gimmick."

And so, what they could ideally do or potentially do is just narrow them down and then extend them for a full decade like he wants. Will he buy it? I don't know but there's certainly talks already underway.

JARRETT: Rachael, progressives in the House -- many of them are furious with Manchin because essentially, they think the president got played, right? They think they were supposed to tie these two bills, infrastructure and Build Back Better, together to avoid the very problem the Democrats find themselves in.

Heading into some tough midterms next year how does the party stay together in a way that actually helps them given how fractured things are right now?

BADE: I mean, I think that that's the big problem right now that they have. I mean, they want to revive this bill but there's a serious trust issue. And it's not just progressives who feel like they voted for this bipartisan infrastructure bill believing that the larger package, Build Back Better, would eventually pass -- it's also moderate House Democrats who, frankly, put their political lives on the line to take a vote on progressive priorities, believing they would get something out of it and have something tangible to sell on the campaign trail.


Joe Manchin, frankly, is angry at the statement the White House put out yesterday suggesting that he lied.

And so, there's just a fundamental trust breakdown and this is going to mean putting this bill back together, possibly in a new year, will be all the more difficult because right now people are very angry and impatience is sort of sky-high.

ROMANS: You know, Sen. Manchin said he just couldn't -- at the end of the day, he just couldn't go back and explain what's in this to people in West Virginia, except 93 percent of West Virginia children received that enhanced child tax credit. So essentially, but not supporting this, taxes will go up for working families in West Virginia, and that is -- that is just, you know, the bottom line here.

There's momentum though here. Biden is dealing with this blow to his legislative agenda and at the same time, he's struggling to get coronavirus under control. Stepping back, what does that mean heading into the midterms? Has he -- has he lost the momentum on the legacy building here and we're focusing right now on COVID?

BADE: I mean, look, this is going to get harder, not easier, not only because he's having to deal with this spike in pandemic -- you know, the new variants spreading and folks getting sick and more people potentially dying. But look, his poll numbers -- they're not -- they're not doing very well at all, and so that makes it hard as well.

And the reality is that Congress needs a deadline to get something done and they were looking at this Christmas deadline to sort of force action. And so, they lost that sort of forcing mechanism.

So, I mean, Biden has a lot on his plate right now. And there was a lot of thinking that they could potentially do this by the end of the year. Now they're going to be pivoting to campaign mode in an election season, and that sort of sends people back into their corners and again, makes this all the more difficult.

JARRETT: All right, Rachael. Thank you for being here to sort of break it all down for us on a Monday morning. It's a lot.

ROMANS: A big newsy Monday morning. We'll look for your Playbook when you hit send. Thank you. Nice to see you.

All right, the theaters needed a hero and Spider-Man swung in just in time.


Clip from "Spider-Man: No Way Home."


ROMANS: "Spider-Man: No Way Home" shattering pandemic box office records, opening with an estimated $253 million over the weekend. It was welcome news for theaters with COVID cases rising and streaming becoming the way millions of Americans watch movies from home. "No Way Home" had the third-highest opening weekend in box office history. Only 2019's "Avengers: End Game" and 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War" opened to larger numbers.

But "Spider-Man" won be enough to save Hollywood from a difficult year. The industry is expected to bring in about $4 billion this year, way down from more than $11 billion in 2019.

All right, Monday morning -- let's look at markets around the world where you're seeing some big moves.

Look at Asia. It closed down two percent in Tokyo and almost two percent in Hong Kong. Shanghai down one person, and Europe has opened sharply lower here. On Wall Street, stock index futures also leaning down here. At this point, you're looking at maybe a 400-point decline at the open if this holds.

It was a rough week for investors. Worries about Omicron variant increasing ahead of the holidays. The Dow and the S&P both fell more than one percent for the week. The Nasdaq down nearly three percent. Stocks still up sharply for the year. Perspective here: the S&P 500 up 23 percent, the Nasdaq up nearly 18 percent.

This week, investors will get reports on November home sales. In October, home sales rose for a second month in a row. The median price for existing homes -- look at that -- up 13 percent from more than a year ago. It has been a red-hot housing market.

And mortgage rates are still historically low but they'll most likely rise next year. That could cool down the red-hot housing market.

It is a short week for investors. Markets close Friday ahead of Christmas.

YouTube TV restoring access to Disney content after a contract dispute led to a brief service interruption this weekend. Disney and Google reached a deal Sunday following months of negotiations to distribute Disney-owned channels on YouTube TV. So, users can again watch ESPN, FX, and National Geographics, as well as Disney recordings that were in the library. YouTube says customers who lost Disney stations will receive a one-time discount of $15.00.

We'll be right back.



ROMANS: As the U.S. braces for the spread of the Omicron variant it's worth looking back to South Africa where the variant was first detected.

CNN's David McKenzie live in Johannesburg for us this morning. And David, how do things look there a month in?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, it's still difficult to really tease out how we need to approach this, but there is some evidence here in South Africa and a building amount of evidence that this wave isn't as bad as previous waves.

If you look at the amount of cases, it's surging in this country. Positivity rates over 30 percent. However, the hospitals are not full. In fact, they're pretty empty in many cases.

Doctors have been telling me for days now there are fewer patients on ventilators, fewer patients on high-flow oxygen, and that matches up with the statistics. There is a sense here from the scientists that Omicron isn't as bad.

Now, there could be a few reasons for this. One is that there is a very high amount of people in this country, particularly around the city (ph), that have already had COVID, so that provides some level of protection against severe disease. Also, around 40 percent of the population has had at least one dose of the vaccine. Again, that should help prevent people from going to hospitals.

But there is also this open question. Is Omicron, itself, just a less severe, less virulent virus variant than previous variants? We just don't know at this stage -- Christine.


ROMANS: All right, David McKenzie in Johannesburg. Thanks for that, David -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right.

Back here in the U.S., there is new CNN reporting this morning on what a Republican majority in the Senate would do if there was a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. History could repeat itself.

CNN's Isaac Dovere is live in Washington for us. Isaac, it feels like shades of 2016 again with Merrick Garland and, sort of, the McConnell rule of doing business.

EDWARD ISAAC-DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Well, that's right, Laura. Look, Manu Raju and I spent some time last week talking to senators, including a number of prominent Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee. And they said in pretty clear terms that if there is a Republican majority and a vacancy opens on the Supreme Court, they're ready to do again what happened with Merrick Garland. They said they would not confirm a nominee if the party of majority in the Senate doesn't match what's in the White House.

That is, of course, a big concern for Democrats as they go into not only the midterms but even the year ahead. They've got a number of members who are aging, some who have been in poor health and are in states with Republican governors who could appoint their replacements.

JARRETT: So it's part of why you sort of hear this quiet underbelly from some progressives about Justice Breyer potentially retiring. Justices are notoriously tightlipped about retirement. Some are more recently willing to speak out. Justice Breyer has been doing a lot more media appearances than in the past.

Has he shown any interest in stepping down, though? I haven't seen any.

ISAAC-DOVERE: Well look, he's 83 years old. There was a lot of speculation he was going to step down this past June. He may be planning for the year ahead -- in the year ahead. However, as you say, he's done some interviews. He's kind of brushed off the question.

And, in fact, what I have seen from my reporting that -- in the White House among Senate Democrats there is a fear of talking too much about pushing him for -- to --

JARRETT: Yes. ISAAC-DOVERE: -- retire because the idea is that he may choose not to retire just to show that he's not being political about it. So they don't want it to backfire. And that is the situation that they are stuck in right now.

JARRETT: Yes. I remember the same thing with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and sort of the quiet pressure to get her to step down, which didn't work during the Obama administration either.

All right, Isaac. Thank you so much -- appreciate it.

ISAAC-DOVERE: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 47 minutes past the hour.

A staff member at a Washington, D.C. public school is under investigation after allegedly having third-grade students reenact incidents from the Holocaust. The unidentified instructor at Watkins Elementary School was placed on leave.

"The Washington Post" reports these children were assigned specific roles, including one as Adolph Hitler, and directed to dig mass graves and simulate shooting victims. According to one parent, the instructor made an anti-Semitic remark and asked students not to tell anyone about this reenactment.

JARRETT: That is unbelievably disturbing.

All right, now to this. Another twist in the case of tennis star Peng Shuai. She now denies making that sexual assault allegation against a retired Communist Party leader in a new interview.

CNN's Will Ripley is live in Hong Kong with more on this story. Will, there are so many questions here, including why now after so many weeks where everyone was wondering if she was OK -- if she is even allowed to communicate. Is this even her own words? What's happening?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN Well, we need to keep in mind that this Weibo post where she accused a former top Chinese Communist Party official -- a retired official, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault -- that was on November second. We are now approaching the end of December. There have been many weeks for Peng Shuai to be coached -- to be prepared for the possibility of this happening.

This reporter for a Singaporean news outlet which, incidentally, is the only foreign newspaper in Chinese that you can actually buy in the Mainland -- so it's not necessarily official state media but it's certainly considered if you look at their coverage, and we've been scouring their coverage history. It's very pro-Beijing.

So this reporter approach Peng Shuai at a cross-country ski tournament in Shanghai and was rolling -- you know, there was video of this and it looks kind of like one of those interviews where you just walked up and said hey, can I talk to you and she said yes.

And she gave the talking points that have been repeated very consistently by Chinese state media reporters that have been tweeting feverishly about Peng Shuai even though inside China authorities have not acknowledged her allegations. Any discussion of Peng Shuai's allegations are censored.

This particular newspaper, you can actually access it without a VPN inside China, so people in the Mainland could theoretically read this article but it's not being shared on Chinese social media by this newspaper. And a lot of the Peng Shuai-related topics continue to be censored.

But she did tell this reporter that she is free to travel. That she's always been free, she says. She was at her home in Beijing when she had those video calls with the International Olympic Committee that have been widely criticized as basically helping to bolster the Chinese government's narrative that everything is just fine. She did say that she's grateful to the IOC. She was very happy to have video calls with them.


We actually have some of the quotes from her interview that have been translated. I'll read this full-screen for you. It says -- this is from Peng Shuai to this newspaper -- this Singaporean newspaper.

"I have never spoken or written about anyone sexually assaulting me. It's my personal privacy. There possibly has been a lot of misunderstanding. Therefore, there should be no such distorted interpretation here."

So, what Peng Shuai was essentially saying is that her initial Weibo post where she described in very emotional and vivid detail sexual assault, she's now saying she didn't mean to say that she was sexually assaulted.

Now, the Women's Tennis Association, which has said that they're prepared to pull their billion-dollar business out of China -- they say they're still not convinced that she's able to speak freely. They say they're still calling for a full, fair, and transparent investigation without censorship. And even this interview -- this foreign interview -- the first one that Peng Shuai has done doesn't cut it in the eyes of the WTA.

JARRETT: Yes, the timing here is just so odd, as you say, after just weeks of so much concern and worry about her well-being. Now it just -- there's more to come on this, for sure. Will, thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

Back here, the surge in COVID cases is wreaking havoc with all of the major sports leagues. Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


Yes, from basketball to football to hockey, the growing outbreak is sidelining a lot of players and forcing games to be postponed. The NHL has shut down seven teams in the past week due to the rising number of positive cases. Those teams will pause all activities through December 26th. The NHL also suspending all cross-border travel until after Christmas. That caused 12 games between U.S. and Canada teams to be postponed. So far, 35 games have been called off since last Monday.

The NBA, meanwhile, announcing yesterday the postponement of five games after multiple players and staff members tested positive for the virus. Three of the games were to be played yesterday. Tonight's Magic-Raptors game and tomorrow's game between the Nets and Wizards also postponed.

Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trey Young, just a few of the many players right now that are in the league's health and safety protocols.

The NFL's answer, meanwhile, to the latest outbreak is to test for COVID less. The league sending a memo to teams over the weekend saying the vaccinated players, coaches, and staff will only be tested if they are symptomatic. The NFL says they're going to be monitoring symptoms more closely and will randomly test vaccinated individuals. Previously, vaccinated individuals were tested once a week.

Now, because of postponements, we are getting two NFL games tonight and another two games tomorrow night to wrap up week 15.

All right, the Saints didn't have head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines last night against the Buccaneers due to a positive test, but New Orleans did have their defense. Tom Brady really struggling in this one. He was sacked four times and turned the ball over twice. Brady was shut out for the first time in 15 years. He had gone 255 straight starts without being shut out.

Now, the Saints win a touchdown-less game in that one, 9-0.

The Packers and the Ravens, meanwhile, playing a thriller. Aaron Rodgers throwing three touchdown passes, tying Brett Favre for the most in team history.

But Green Bay nearly let a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead slip away. Baltimore would go for two for the lead in the last minute, but Tyler Huntley's pass here is going to be incomplete. It was the second time in three weeks now the Ravens have lost trying to go for two and the win.

Packers clinch the NFC North with a one-point win and become the first team to lock up a spot in the playoffs.

All right -- and finally, Tiger Woods making a remarkable return to golf this weekend, 10 months after nearly losing his leg in a car accident. Tiger and his son Charlie blazing their way to a second- place at the PNC Championship in Orlando. At one point yesterday, they birdied 11 consecutive holes.

And afterwards, Tiger said he was thrilled to be back on the course. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIGER WOODS, 15-TIME MAJOR CHAMPION: The competitive juices aren't -- they're never going to go away. This is my environment. This is what I've done my entire life. I'm just so thankful to be able to have this opportunity to do it again.

To push as hard as we have the last seven months with taking no days off and just working our butts off here each and every day, and to have this opportunity to be able to play with my son and to have these memories for us -- both of us for a lifetime is worth all the pain.


SCHOLES: Yes, and when we see Tiger again, guys, it's still unknown. He says he's a long ways away from playing in a big-time tournament.

But I was there watching him. I'll tell you what, he looked great when he was swinging that club. And this certainly was a great start to that comeback.

ROMANS: Well, let's talk about his cute kid. I mean, he's a good little golf player, too, isn't he?

SCHOLES: Charlie -- so impressive, guys. I mean, how many eyes were on him in this tournament and he was hitting shot after shot, you know.

And there was one point on Saturday that was hilarious. Tiger missed the green from the fairway and Charlie kind of went oh, come on, dad. And then Charlie hit the green and made a birdie putt. It was pretty awesome.


ROMANS: Nice -- all right.

JARRETT: So composed. I love it.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes -- nice to see you, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

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

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm John Berman. Brianna is off. Erica Hill with me this morning.