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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

COVID Cases Back at Record Levels; Longtime Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid Dies at 82; Legendary NFL Coach and Broadcaster John Madden Dead at 85. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Back at the peak. Two variants converging for a major setback in the fight against COVID.

PAULA REID, CNN ANCHOR: And remembering two American icons. The country is mourning the loss of long time Senator Harry Reid and football coach and broadcaster John Madden.

JARRETT: Such a loss this morning.

It is Wednesday, December 29th, 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thanks so much for getting an early start with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.

Hi, Paula.


I'm Paula Reid, in for Christine Romans.

Good to be with you here, Laura.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Two variants are reminding us why this virus isn't going away any time soon. The U.S. shattering its record for average daily cases more than doubling in two weeks, thanks to a combination of both delta and omicron. The CDC even adjusting its data now, showing delta still accounts for about 40 percent of these cases. Important to note here, hospitalizations are not spiking as fast, but experts still have concerns about the weeks ahead.


ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER BIDEN WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: There is no question that January will be filled with a lot of short-term challenges -- hospital beds, staffing shortages of tests, shortages of almost everything. It's tough to handle this many indications at once. I think we have a good thing in these tests, but there won't be enough in many places to get us through the most trying time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) REID: Now, the FDA says at-home coronavirus tests may be less sensitive to picking up the omicron variant. That could send more people out for PCR tests, extending already very long lines.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci still says do not pass up the rapid tests.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The tests are still worthwhile. Don't let anybody think that the FDA was saying the tests are no longer good. They're saying they're less sensitive now. They never were 100 percent sensitive. Some of the tests have a diminution further of the sensitivity, but they still say the tests are useful and should be used.


REID: Abbott, the company that makes the popular BinaxNOW at-home test tells CNN that it has not seen a change in the test performance.

JARRETT: So we are seeing this explosion of cases right now. There is another figure that's troubling. The number of children sick in the hospital with COVID is nearing its September peak. And there is about a 50 percent increase week over week.


DR. STANLEY SPINNER, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S PEDIATRICS & TEXAS CHILDREN'S URGEN CARE: Yes, the incidence of children being hospitalized is much lower than adults, but as a parent with a child in the hospital for any reason, it is such a traumatic event that even though they may be hospitalized, and thank goodness come home, just being in the hospital is absolutely just terrifying. So it's so important to try to minimize that risk by protecting them.


JARRETT: And by protecting them, he means getting kids that are 5 and older vaccinated. Much of the recent surge here is being driven by unvaccinated children, or children who spent holidays with relatives who have not had their shots. One medical expert said not getting your eligible kids vaccinated amounts to parental malpractice.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a game of Russian roulette in many ways. Although it is not five empty chambers, maybe it's 100,000 empty chambers, but it's nonetheless that game. And it's not a game you want to play. The job of a parent is to put their children in the safest position possible. That's what these vaccines do.

Hang in there a few weeks. Vaccinate, mask, we're going to get there.

(END VIDEO CLIP) REID: The nation's biggest public school system, New York City, plans to reopen as scheduled on January 3rd despite a city wide surge in cases. Schools will have at-home testing kits for classrooms, when a student has tested positive and kids will take two tests per day over seven days. City leaders though and health experts have different views on that plan.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK: Schools need to be open. Everyone talks about the needs of our kids. Their health needs, physical health, mental health, nutrition needs, social needs, academic needs -- schools need to be open.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: I wouldn't do it now in terms of what they're proposing. You've got a screaming level of transmission in the Northeast, in New York City and Washington, D.C., trying to open schools at this point. It's hard to imagine how things will go well.


JARRETT: Meantime, around 17 percent of the NYPD's uniformed work force called out sick Tuesday, a noticeable uptick as COVID spreads.

And the "Nutcracker," the latest COVID casualty, the New York City ballet has canceled the remaining shows of this beloved holiday performance.


REID: And the nation has lost a fighter. Harry Reid, the former amateur boxer turned long-time Democratic Senate leader, has died at the age of 82, losing a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Reid spent three decades in Congress. He and Biden served together 20 years.

JARRETT: And the president calling the Nevada Democrat a giant of history, saying in a statement overnight, quote: If Harry said he would do something, he did it. If he gave you his word, you could bank on it. That's how he got things done for the good of the country for decades.

CNN's Dana Bash has more on the life and the legacy of a scrappy lawmaker from a bygone era.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): He led Democrats in the Senate for a decade but Harry Reid called one of his proudest accomplishments the impact he had on presidential history, encouraging Barack Obama to run.

FMR. SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): I did call him into my office and tell him he should take a look at it. He was stunned because I was the first one who had suggested that to him. When he was re-elected, that was one of the most moving phone calls I've ever received because he said you're the reason I'm here.

BASH: He spearheaded epic legislative battles like Obamacare with the scrappy style he learned during his impoverish childhood. Reid was born, shaped, and scarred in Searchlight, Nevada, essentially a truck stop outside Las Vegas. He grew up in a shack with no running water where this trailer now sits. He took us there in 2006.

His mother did laundry for the local brothels, his dad always looking for work as a miner. Both drank heavily. During that 2006 visit to Searchlight, he casually pointed out where his father took his own life at 58 years old.

REID: This house right here, that last room is a bedroom. That's where he killed himself.

BASH: He fought his way out of poverty as a boxer. As a politician, he was never afraid to punch below the belt. He even took on the mob as a young politician in Las Vegas.

A wide variety of adjectives have been written about you.


REID: Some good, some bad.

BASH: They describe you -- some good, some bad. Let me just read a few. Scrappy, tough, blunt, canny behind the scenes, mastermind, ruthless. Are all those fair?

REID: Well, if that's what people think, that's what they think. They're entitled to their opinion.

BASH: As Senate Democratic leader, Reid was a polarizing figure. Republicans argued a lot of congressional gridlocks stem from his hard ball tactics.

REID: Seeing the turning of the tide --

BASH: But he reveled in playing the political bad guy calling then President George W. Bush a loser and a liar well before politicians used those l words.

REID: I don't really care. I don't want to be somebody I'm not.

BASH: During the Trump presidency however, Reid changed his tune about Bush.

REID: In hindsight, I wish every day for a George Bush again. I think that he and I had our differences but no one ever questioned his patriotism. There's no question in my mind that George Bush would be Babe Ruth in this league that he's in with Donald Trump. Donald Trump wouldn't make the team.

BASH: In 2012, he used the Senate floor to accuse Mitt Romney of not paying his taxes, even though he had no evidence.

REID: He's refused to release his tax returns as we know. Let him prove he has paid taxes because he hasn't.

No, I don't regret that at all.

BASH: Some people have even called it McCarthyite.

REID: Well, they can call it whatever they want. Romney didn't win, did he?

BASH: Years later, Reid did ask to meet with Romney to make amends.

REID: Shook hands, put stop behind us.

BASH: Why was it so important for you to tie up that loose end?

REID: I tried to do that with everybody.

BASH: Reid also inspired fierce loyalty from many of his long-time aides as well as fellow senators. Not all out of fear but affection. He often told colleagues he loved them, even in public.

REID: I love you, John Kerry.

BASH: He had a story book romance with wife Landra, his high school sweetheart. The two converted to Mormonism together when they married.

REID: She had a pair of Levi's and I said, ma'am, you just look so good.

BASH: That's amazing.

REID: That is true.

BASH: In January 2015, Reid, a workout addict, who ran numerous marathons, had a brutal exercise accident that left him severely bruised and blind in one eye. It cemented his decision to retire. A few years later he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The effects of chemo made it hard for him to walk. We went to see him in Las Vegas.

REID: That's one of my keepsakes from Donald Trump.

BASH: Never any complaints.

REID: I'm doing fine. I'm busy. I work quite hard.

BASH: Reid was an unlikely political leader in today's media age, soft spoken and gaffe-prone but he played the inside game like no one could.


REID: I didn't make it in life because my athletic prowess, I didn't make it because of my good looks, I didn't make it because I'm a genius. I made it because I worked hard.

One of the things that I hope that people look back at me and say if Harry Reid could make it, I can.


REID: Former President Barack Obama also had a close relationship with Reid. Obama now sharing a letter he wrote to the former Senate leader before his death. It reads, I wouldn't have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support, and I wouldn't have got most of what I got done without your skill and determination.

JARRETT: What an amazing life. Next, we have reaction from a reporter who covered Harry Reid for years.

Plus, the death of another American icon this morning, remembering NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden.


REID: Tributes pouring in this morning for Harry Reid, the long-time Democratic Senate leader has died at 82 after a battle with cancer. Even across the political aisle, he's being remembered fondly. Former Speaker Boehner writes: We disagreed on many things, sometimes famously. But we were always honest with each other. In the years after we left public service, that honesty became a bond.

JARRETT: Isaac Dovere covered Reid for years and interviewed him several times. He joins us now.

Isaac, so nice to see you this morning.


REID: What can you tell us about having covered him for so long?

DOVERE: One of the things that stands out about Harry Reid is how much behind the scenes he was similar to what he was in front of the scenes, which was quiet, self-effacing, many things. He as the piece from Dana Bash was just saying was never really concerned with being anyone other than who he was.

I remember talking to him about a speech that he gave after Trump was elected in which he said he's a bully. He's encouraging the KKK. All sorts of things like that.

And last summer when I was talking to him about it, he said to me, it would be hard to challenge the veracity of what I was saying. Time has proven me correct. That was -- in a very quiet way. But he's also a guy who would say "I love you" to his colleagues in public. When he would get off the phone, he wouldn't say good-bye. He would sort of hang up once he was done with the conversation.

REID: Well, he always played such a crucial role in so many pieces of legislation, the Affordable Healthcare Act, financial regulation after the great recession.

What do you think based on your years of covering him, your reporting, what do you think is his biggest legacy? DOVERE: In many ways, it's the Obama presidency itself, encouraging

Obama to run, but then being a crucial partner there through, not just getting the legislation passed at the beginning of the presidency, but being there after the house slit in 2010 to the Republicans. There were four more years the Senate was in Democratic control, and being a real obstacle for Republicans to get almost anything through, until you had Senate control flip in 2014.

And that's why you see Barack Obama remembering him so warmly. There is this feeling very much in Barack Obama's mind that his presidency has a lot to do with Harry Reid and also Nancy Pelosi.

JARRETT: Isaac, it feels like we lost so many of the great leaders in Washington over the last couple years. I think about people like John Lewis, and Harry Reid is the one who started out with modest means, working nights as a Capitol police officer to help pay the bills. We talked about his amateur boxing days.

What can today's lawmakers learn from a man like Harry Reid?

DOVERE: He was a guy who was always connected to where he came from, even when he was riding around in a motorcade in Washington, D.C. and living a much different life. He had his office when he was done in the Senate in the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, that was never -- he was not like a guy who would hang out at a casino floor in a real way, even though he was a former gaming commissioner in Nevada.

He is a guy who was very different from what you see now in Washington in a lot of ways, worked his way through law school at night as a Capitol police officer. It's just a very different approach to being in politics that left him with a sense of toughness that you see also in a lot of memorials for him, whether that's from Eric Holder or Steven Van Zandt who didn't care about backing off from where he wanted to be on political or legislative positions.

JARRETT: Yeah, it's rare to see so many different statements across the political spectrum, essentially all saying the same thing.

All right, Isaac, thank you so much. Great to have you up this morning.

DOVERE: Thank you.

REID: And a football icon is also being remembered this morning. John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach turned legendary broadcaster, died unexpectedly at the age of 85.

Coy Wire joins us now from the CNN Center.

Coy, Madden was not just a football icon, but a cultural one as well. There is a whole generation of people who know him largely from his video game.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: No doubt, Paula. There is no one like John Madden, his boisterous style. He brought the game to life no matter if you were a hard core football aficionado or a fan, so many generations of fans got to enjoy him.

Not many under 40 may remember, he was a Hall of Fame coach leading the Raiders to a Super Bowl title in 1977. He never had a losing season in the ten-year career, winning three of every four games he coached.

And young fans today as you mentioned, Paula, may have only seen him in broadcast games in his famous madden video game series, not even on television. His post-coaching star truly started to soar when he stepped into the TV booth. His catch phrases and love of the telestrator caught on with fans from game one and he would go on to work on all four major networks in his 34 broadcasting career, calling 11 Super Bowls and earning 16 Sports Emmys.

He began lending his voice to the Madden video game in 1998. Millions around the world still play it to this day. Madden was inducted into the pro-Football Hall of Fame in 2006.


JOHN MADDEN, LEGENDARY NFL COACH: I have never worked a day in my life. I went from player to coach to a broadcaster, and I am the luckiest guy in the world. Some of us think maybe we will be immortal, that we'll live forever. But when you really think about it, we're not going to be.


But I say this, and this is overwhelming and mind-blowing that through this bust with these guys in that hall, we will be forever.


WIRE: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell paid tribute to Madden saying, quote, nobody loved football more than coach. He was football. He was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others. There will never be another John Madden. We will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.

You know, Paula, when I made it to the NFL, one of the first things I wanted to do was see if I made the Madden game. That's what so many people do. He said it was like -- he had a degree in teaching, his love for football meshed with that so well. He was loved by so many and relatable to so many.

REID: That's how you know you've made it when you made it into the Madden football game.

Well, thank you so much for that report on an incredible American life.

JARRETT: Well, the clock is ticking for the house select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, but the Biden White House is now pushing back on some of the panel's requests.

We'll tell you why. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JARRETT: Welcome back.

The January 6 committee is pumping the brakes on some of its requests for documents from the Trump White House. Thanks to pushback from the Biden White House, lawmakers have agreed to delay or drop their demands for hundreds of pages of records found unrelated to this probe, or that at least raise national security concerns.

So what's the upshot for the panel's work going forward?

CNN's Whitney Wild is in Washington with more on this story.



WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Paula, Laura, the House Select Committee investigating January 6th has pared back its requests for some documents from the Trump White House after the Biden administration pushed back. The Biden administration made a few argument for holding back some of these documents.

Some of them are just not relevant to the investigation. But in other cases, the committee is deferring the request because some of these documents are highly sensitive and they originated outside of the White House in executive branch agencies. These are the kind of developments that show the committee is still working at warp speed to collect and analyze as much information as possible, and possibly for an interim report sometime over the summer. And there is another possibility that we will see a full report sometime in the fall.

The committee is certainly entering a new phase of more public work with plans for public hearings sometime in 2022. Meanwhile, a conservative judge in D.C. appointed by former President Trump has said a conspiracy case against members of the proud boys can move forward. This is significant because in a 43-page ruling, the judge said that the alleged crimes could not be considered protected First Amendment speech, Laura and Paula.


JARRETT: Whitney, thank you for that.

So, Paula, you covered the legal fallout from these riots, a lot of these cases. The ruling Whitney mentioned seems to give prosecutors more momentum as they sort of prepare for the trials that are to come.

REID: Exactly. It really does give them some momentum heading into these trials because here, another judge has green lit their use of this obstruction charge. This is the cornerstone of a lot of the prosecutions that they're bringing, some of the most serious cases in this entire portfolio, carries a maximum of 20 years.

So the fact that the judge is giving this the green light as they head into these trials which begin in February, this is a big win for the Justice Department. As you said, it really does give them some momentum heading into these high stakes trials.

JARRETT: All right, something to watch for sure.

All right. A little programming note for your weekend plans: friends, collaborators, legends, Carole King and James Taylor in an unforgettable concert film. "Just Call Out My Name", Sunday at 9:00 p.m., only on CNN.