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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

White House Adding Testing Sites, Dispatching Medical Teams; Biden To Speak With Putin Ahead Of January Talks On Ukraine; White House Struggles To Find Immigration Footing In 2021. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 30, 2021 - 05:30   ET




JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Our message to governors around the country is simple. If you need something, say something and we will mobilize to quickly get you the resources you need.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: According to the White House COVID coordinator, the contract to buy those 500 million rapid tests -- it's not done. That pushes back the timeline to get them from early to mid- January. A website to request those tests is expected in the next few weeks.

The good news is the FDA is now granting emergency authorization for two new at-home testing kits as companies like Walgreens and CVS have limited the number you can buy.

It's now time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in Dr. Elizabeth Murray. She's a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Golisano Children's Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Doctor Murray, so nice to have you, as always.

Let's start with something practical this morning. New Year's Eve is tomorrow. People are trying to figure out how to make these risk calculations, as we talk about all the time. There's some pushback against these new CDC isolation guidelines on how long to stay away from people if you actually get COVID.

Dr. Fauci says you can still have small gatherings of vaccinated and boosted people together in a home, suggesting about six people is OK. But then he kind of says 40 people isn't.

So where do you draw the line?

DR. ELIZABETH MURRAY, PEDIATRIC EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN, GOLISANO CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER MEDICAL CENTER: Right -- you're exactly right that it's all about risk mitigation. And I think that whether the guidelines say 10 days or five days, the goal should be preventing disease. You want to avoid getting disease. And so, you know, six people that you regularly are around that are completely vaccinated, that have low-risk careers, have been making good choices -- that's probably going to be fine. But as that number increases your risk increases.

And so, you really need to be looking at your own risk factors, your own health. Are you fully vaccinated and boosted? What is your job? Are you able to work from home?

What does your family structure look like? Do you have children that are too young to be vaccinated in your household or people who are at -- otherwise at risk, and look at all of those things. I think a close, tight bubble right now is really important.

If your community is offering fireworks or something outside, then that's a fun event that you can do safely in a larger group outside and distanced. But Omicron is around and it is everywhere.

So what your family makeup looks like, what your vaccination status looks like, what your work status looks like, and what the people you are going to gather with -- how they've been conducting their lives are all things we need to look at.

JARRETT: It's such a great point that this sort of one-size-fits-all policy may not work for everyone and you have to kind of make these individual decisions.

You mentioned children. You're a pediatric doctor, of course. You speak to parents every day. What are some of the biggest questions that you're hearing in your practice right now?

MURRAY: Hands down, it's when is that vaccine coming for the younger children.


MURRAY: And right now, what do I do to protect the younger children?

And so, the vaccine could not come quickly enough. We know that there's been a little bit of a delay. It looks like they're going to need a three-shot series. And so, we're out a few more months than we hoped -- we originally had hoped in January or February, but it is coming.

So, right now, we need to continue with what we've always done for young children. It's called a cocoon of immunity, meaning we want to keep the people around these young children as protected as possible and making smart choices on the behalf of the children. So, if you have a child that cannot be vaccinated in your house, this is a family that probably is not going to be doing a large gathering for New Year's. Little kids don't need to be staying up for New Year's anyways. But I think that is -- that is the biggest thing.

The second question would be when is the booster coming for the tweens and the younger teens, and we just don't know on that either. But their immune systems seem to be doing quite well with receiving the vaccine and building a robust response. So, again, it's that cocoon of immunity keeping the environment safe around those unprotected children.

JARRETT: Yes, and I'm all about an early bedtime in my household.

You know -- Doctor, I know you're also trained in child abuse medicine. You saw that guilty verdict last night for Ghislaine Maxwell, now convicted officially of grooming teenage girls for Jeffrey Epstein's abuse for decades, really.

You know, you look at a case like that and you see how these survivors have been affected, really for years. They -- we're talking about things that happened years ago to them but even as women now, they are dealing with the aftershock of it.

Talk to me about what you've seen in your practice.

MURRAY: Yes. So, I mean, certainly, first and foremost, they need to know -- and I hope they know by now that they are not alone. The scope here is huge. We know that one in 10 children will suffer some type of sexual abuse before they are 18. So if you look at a classroom with 20 kids, we know roughly two kids per classroom.

We also know that in cases of child sexual abuse the perpetrator is -- 90 percent of the cases -- someone the child knows, loves, and trusts. So there is a huge population of people out there that are seeing this verdict and reliving and experiencing their own untreated trauma.


And so, my word for everybody is that there are resources out there if you are struggling. If this is bringing up past experiences and you need help, resources are available throughout the nation. There are child advocacy centers throughout the nation that can help.

But again, these women are not alone in what they have experienced. We are just touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to battling and discovering and treating survivors of child sexual abuse.

JARRETT: Very well-put. It's just a shame that it took so long to get any measure of accountability for so many --

MURRAY: Very true.

JARRETT: -- survivors.

Doctor Elizabeth Murray, thank you so much for getting up early with me, as usual. Hope to see you soon. Thank you.

MURRAY: Thank you.

JARRETT: All right.

In just a few hours, President Biden will speak with President Putin at the request of the Russian leader. The phone call comes ahead of high-level talks between the two countries on January 10th. Topping the agenda, Ukraine.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand has the latest.


NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (on camera): That's right, Laura.

So, we're learning that President Putin, of Russia, has actually requested a phone call with President Biden ahead of these talks that the U.S. and Russia are set to engage in about a week from Monday. And that is, of course, to address this growing crisis on the Ukrainian border with Russia's military buildup there that has been taking place over the last several months, in which U.S. intelligence officials are concerned could be a precursor to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine which could, in turn, destabilize all of Eastern Europe.

So, this is a very high-stakes call with Vladimir Putin today that Biden is going to have. It's going to set the tone for these diplomatic talks that are going to be led by the State Department on January 10th.

And the president, according to administration officials, is going to convey to the Russian president that the U.S. expects a de-escalation. That in order to address Russia's own security concerns, which have to do with NATO's expansion eastward and the promise that they want that NATO will not accept Ukraine as a member country ever, then Russia has to be willing to lower the tensions and remove its forces from the border.

Now, the Russians have said that they are prepared to act if the U.S. and NATO cross any of their red lines. And so it does not seem like they are willing to budge at this point and it remains to be seen whether there is going to be any room for compromise on either side here.

But what the Ukrainians now want to see is an effort by the West and by the U.S. to come to their defense and to come to their aid in the event that Russia does launch some kind of an invasion or an attack on that country. They say that they want to be closer to the West. They are expecting the U.S. and their Western allies to help them in the event of such an attack.

And the Biden administration has said repeatedly that they are willing to help Ukraine protect itself and work with allies to impose severe consequences on Russia if they do attack.

So, a lot happening today as Putin and Biden engage in this phone call. We'll have to see whether the Russians engage in good faith and whether there is any window here to deter a potential Russian invasion -- Laura.


JARRETT: Natasha, thank you for that. Joining me now for another three questions in three minutes is CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. John, nice to see you this morning.

Putin requested this call just weeks after speaking with President Biden. What do you make of this urgency to meet from the Russian president?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, happy new year, Laura.

JARRETT: Thanks.

HARWOOD: Look, I think that above all, it is a hint that perhaps the diplomatic path that the administration is hoping to get on may have a chance here. The fact that Vladimir Putin, having heard from President Biden in the previous phone call about the consequences that President Biden and U.S. allies are promising if there is, in fact, another Russian invasion of Ukraine -- he now wants to talk ahead of these diplomatic talks.

Nobody is assuming that there's an imminent deal but the fact that you're going to have a series of conversations next week between the U.S. side, the Russian side, the NATO side, other security organizations in Europe -- the fact that Vladimir Putin wants to talk suggests that there's a possibility that could be a path toward de- escalation that will not involve military conflict.

JARRETT: John, I also want to talk to you about COVID this morning. Omicron is forcing the Biden administration to essentially shift their pandemic strategy. It feels like the goal early on was to go all-in on vaccination, and you can understand why, but they really did it over testing. And now, it's becoming less of how do we beat COVID and more of how do we live with it, it seems.

What do you think January looks like for this administration that seems to be constantly struggling with the messaging on this virus?

HARWOOD: Well, it's struggling with the messaging because it's struggling with the virus, as the entire world is struggling with the virus.

Look, this is a shifting situation. We now are learning -- or the science is suggesting that we have a variant of this virus that simply can't be stopped by the mitigation efforts that we know how to do or the American society is willing to do -- or any society is willing to do.


And so, that means the administration has to adapt to the currents of the pandemic and try to ride those toward a situation where if, in fact, we have an incredibly transmissible variant that does not make people who are vaccinated terribly sick, then the society adjusts to that and tries to ramp up the vaccinations to protect more people.

You've also got a coronavirus pill that's coming online later in the year that will protect against death from coronavirus.

So, the administration, as Americans, are trying to figure out how we live with this rather than eradicate it because it's pretty clear that the virus is not going to be eradicated here or anywhere in the world. And if that's the case, then you've got to figure out how can we turn the situation into something that is like a seasonal flu or even a common cold. You can't wipe it out but you can cope with it and not have to shut down society, and that's clearly something that the American public has no tolerance for right now and the Biden administration's not suggesting that.

JARRETT: No. It's clear that they're not even interested in doing that because they know the pushback would be fierce.

The other story that dominated --


JARRETT: -- this year, other than COVID, was really the threat to our democracy on January sixth.

Listen to what Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger told CNN's Jake Tapper last night.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Do your constituents still ask you about January sixth and the insurrection?

REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): It depends on the environment, the place, the topic that's coming up, and where I'm visiting. Certainly, I think in the early days in the aftermath when it was all over the news it was a topic that was raised very frequently.

Certainly, with the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, the Delta variant, the Omicron variant, the challenges the people are facing with kids returning to school in the fall, and challenges across the board that Americans continue to face, most of my conversations really do impact and focus on the issues that impact the economy, the pocketbook, the table -- kitchen table issues for my constituents.

But it is an issue that I hear about across the board and particularly, with veterans. Particularly, with those who have served and particularly, with those who know what it is to raise their hand in obligation, swearing an oath to a Constitution. Those who understand the danger that we faced on that day and the danger that continues to exist for our democracy as long as there are elected members of Congress and a former president who denied that danger.


JARRETT: I find that answer fascinating because you would think that the right to vote, and democracy, and a peaceful transition of power should be kitchen table issues. But it seems that there's a connection -- a missing link between what happened on January sixth and what could happen again in 2022. And 2022 we know is critical for Democrats if they have any shred of holding on to their seats that they want to.

How do they navigate the January sixth investigation; the economic priorities the Biden administration has, like Build Back Better; and still focus on the midterms?

HARWOOD: Well, it's challenging, Laura, because the political winds have shifted such that Republicans who -- which is the party from which this anti-democratic impulse is coming -- they won't need any extra help. They don't need an insurrection, as things stand now, to win in 2022.

And so, that sort of takes off the front burner some of the approximate threat that people felt on January sixth. Obviously, that was a unique event that happened at a particular moment after Donald Trump had lost the election. Republicans may win without any extra help this year.

So, one of the challenges for Democrats and that January 6 Committee is to try to lay out what the committee has learned in a way that the American people can understand it and relate to it.

They've got a boost from Liz Cheney, the courageous Republican, and Adam Kinzinger, another courageous Republican who stood up against all of the forces within their party to say wait a minute -- what happened is wrong. We need to protect the right to vote.

Democrats have been trying in vain to rally every one of their 50 members behind legislation that would get the right to vote protected to a greater degree than it is now. That would require -- passing that bill would require Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to find a way around the filibuster. Democrats haven't given up that attempt.

But there are challenges, both in terms of the legislative front and also in terms of laying out what they learn about January six. Where the money came from. How exactly it was organized. How deeply President Trump was involved.

The committee is going to try to lay some of that out during this year in a way that reminds the American people the stakes here and the fact that our 245-year experiment in democracy does face a serious danger.


JARRETT: Yes, and I think the public hearings, to the extent that they do those in an effective storytelling narrative fashion, will help people see the threat as well, as you laid out, John.


JARRETT: Thank you so much. Happy new year, my friend -- appreciate it.

HARWOOD: You bet.

JARRETT: We'll be right back.

HARWOOD: Same to you.


JARRETT: It's been a challenging year for the Biden administration when it comes to immigration policy. Despite lofty goals, the White House has struggled to find its footing as the year ends.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez joins me live from Washington, D.C. this morning. Priscilla, we've seen stalled policy changes, lawsuits, party infighting. You've covered it all. Is there a course correction of sorts coming next year, you think?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Well, there were a lot of expectations this year that just didn't come through. We're nearing the first year of the Biden administration and there are still two controversial Trump-era border policies that remain in effect, and that has fueled disappointment among immigration advocates and disillusionment within the administration among officials.

So, what are those policies? First, there is the public health order that allows border authorities to turn away migrants who are encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border, largely barring them from seeking asylum there.


Then there's also the Remain in Mexico policy. That is a policy that essentially forces non-Mexican migrants to stay in Mexico until their U.S. immigration court date. Now, the Biden administration had tried to terminate that early on but a federal judge in Texas blocked them from doing so in August. And just this month, we saw the administration start to implement that all over again.

And all of that has really fueled frustration among advocates who say it's time to do exactly that -- course correct.

Now, the administration, despite these setbacks which have stemmed largely from lawsuits, the public health order, they say, is still in effect because of the variants. Now, the setbacks have happened but they also say we've made inroads on immigration enforcement. We are reviewing legal immigration and lawful pathways for people to come to the United States. And also, set up a task force to reunite families who were separated under the Trump administration.

But they are still a long way away to where they want to be and where they -- and where advocates expected them to be at this point in the administration.

Now, I asked a White House spokesperson about this and they said in a statement that they are committed to restoring, quote, "the order, fairness, and humanity to the immigration system." But clearly, a long way to go, Laura.

JARRETT: So, speaking of advocates, you know, so many of them are frankly, disillusioned, as you're laying out here. In your reporting and in talking to folks heading into the midterms,

what are you hearing? And what do you think the political impact might be of what has happened this year?

ALVAREZ: Well, the number one thing that advocates are looking for is immigration reform. That's something that we've talked about this year. The Democratic lawmakers had tried to put immigration provisions in the Build Back Better bill, but that has been rejected multiple times by the Senate Parliamentarian.

Now, they say that they are committed to seeing that through, but the question is will it happen? Is there a place they can get to pass this reconciliation so they don't have to have those Republican votes? And advocates say they need to see that reform. Republicans are probably going to seize on this issue, too, with the growing number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, Laura.

JARRETT: Priscilla, great to talk to you this morning -- thanks.

So, Kyrie Irving returns to the Brooklyn Nets' practice even though he's still unvaccinated.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. All right, Coy, how's that going to work?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's very carefully, Laura.

With New York City mandating the players be vaccinated to play at Barclay Center, the team decided that they were not going to allow Irving to be with the team just for away games. But two weeks ago when the Nets' roster was ravaged by COVID, they did a 180 and agreed to his return as a part-time player.

Irving went on the COVID list the next day, but he's cleared protocols now and he's back on the court with teammates yesterday. Kyrie says he didn't think that his decision to not get vaccinated would cost him so much time away from his team, but he is happy now to be back.


KYRIE IRVING, GUARD, BROOKLYN NETS: I knew the consequences. I wasn't prepared for them by no stretch of imagination coming into the season. I had my thought process on being able to be a full teammate and -- a full-time teammate and just go out and have fun and provide a sense of a great brand of basketball out there. But unfortunately, it didn't happen like that. Things happen for a reason and now we're here, and I'm just grateful for that.


WIRE: He's going to kind of ease back. Seven of the Nets' next nine games are at home. But starting in January, Laura, Brooklyn has a run where 18 of their 25 games are on the road and Kyrie would be available.

All right. Meanwhile, fans attending Milwaukee Bucks home games must now wear masks. Fiserv Forum making masks mandatory for all of their events starting with the Harlem Globetrotters game tomorrow. The Bucks host the Pelicans on Saturday.

Let's go to college football now. Legendary Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops back, filling in at the Alamo Bowl as the Sooners' previous coach, Lincoln Riley, took a job at USC. And, Laura, it allowed for this moment to happen. That is the coach's son, Drake Stoops, catching just his second touchdown pass of the season. The number-16 Sooners end up pulling away from the 14 Ducks.

And that father-son moment there was outstanding, as was the Gatorade bath, as Oklahoma blasts Oregon 47-32. Stoops' first win since the 2017 Sugar Bowl. He's soaking it all in now with his son there before their new head coach, Brent Venables, takes over here next season.


BOB STOOPS, OKLAHOMA INTERIM HEAD COACH: You get addicted to the -- to the anxiety and the excitement of playing and not knowing what's going to happen -- you know, coming out on the field and getting ready for it. And I missed it. I missed that energy. And then -- you know, and then once you're in it, you're fighting your way through it and that was fun.

DRAKE STOOPS, OKLAHOMA WIDE RECEIVER: It was great. Obviously, I liked catching touchdown passes, so that was nice. But, no -- yes, it was awesome. It's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and getting to play one game under my dad -- just one game out of my career -- is definitely something I'll remember forever, and I'm sure he'll cherish it as well.



WIRE: Finally, one of the wildest touchdowns ever in the Cheez-It Bowl. Yes, the Cheez-It Bowl -- remember that. Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy's pass turns into a game of hot potato. Clemson's Mario Goodrich ends up with it and takes it 18 yards to the defensive touchdown.

And Purdy's pass is tipped. He then jumps up to swat it to the ground. They're taught to do that. But it didn't go to the ground, Laura. Clemson ends up winning 20-13.

At the end of this one, coach Dabo Swinney will get doused with Cheez- Its, not Gatorade. He's led the Tigers to their 11th straight season with at least 10 wins.

And if you think that celebration was strange, the North Carolina- South Carolina -- they play in the Duke's Mayo Bowl later today. So you can imagine what that celebration is like.

JARRETT: A little bit messy, maybe.

WIRE: Yes. JARRETT: I think I would rather take Cheez-Its over Gatorade -- I don't know about you, Coy.

WIRE: Yes, I'll take it. Yes, I like it.

JARRETT: We'll take a win -- that's right.

All right, Coy, thank you -- appreciate it.

WIRE: Thanks.

JARRETT: Avoid anything green. That's the secret to a long life, according to actress Betty White.


BETTY WHITE, ACTRESS: Take some wheatgrass, soy paste, and carob. Toss in the garbage and cook yourself a big ass piece of pork.


JARRETT: That's about 10 years ago -- 10 years ago. But her advice is pretty much the same as she nears her 100th birthday.

The actress tells "People" magazine she now lives a quieter life doing crossword puzzles and playing card games. She says the key to her happiness is to always find the positive in life. She says she got that trait from her mom. Betty White turns 100 on January 17th.

Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Laura Jarrett. I hope to see you back here tomorrow. "NEW DAY" is next.