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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Chicago Closes Schools After Union Votes for Remote Learning; Texts Show Fox's Hannity Tried to Get Trump to Change 1/6 Plans; Security Ramping Up Ahead of January 6 Anniversary. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 05, 2022 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Wednesday, January 5th. It's 5:00 a.m. in New York. Thanks so much for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.


I'm Christine Romans. Hello, everybody, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We begin this morning with breaking news overnight in Chicago where the third largest public school system in the country has followed through on its promise to cancel all classes today after the teachers union voted to refuse to show up for work in-person. Teachers said they were concerned about a lack of safety measures. They wanted to go online.

But now with no remote learning, hundreds of thousands of children are caught in the middle just hours after President Biden said this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We provided the states with 130 billion, with a billion, billion dollars to specifically keep our students safe and schools open. Funding for ventilation, ventilation systems in the schools, social distancing in classrooms, even larger classrooms, on buses -- everything from bus drivers to buses. So I encourage the states and cool districts to use the funding, but you still have to protect your children and keep the schools open.


JARRETT: Chicago had actually resumed in-person classes on Monday, but school officials insist it is safe for in-person learning in class. But the standoff could last for weeks.

CNN's Omar Jimenez starts us off from Chicago.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This vote from the Chicago teachers union triggers a cancellation of class, which is what the school district warned would happen if this vote went through. In total, 73 percent of the rank and file members of the Chicago teachers union voted in favor of this. In response, the school district called this an unfortunate decision and said they now worry about the well- being of these students. They also said teachers will not be compensated for this.

Now, part of what the Chicago teachers union has been so concerned with is they don't believe the current measures in place make it safe enough for students and staff to be in-person, especially amid record COVID-19 case numbers among students, staff members, and the city of Chicago over recent weeks.

The school district, however, has maintained that class, in-person, is safe, saying that there is no evidence of widespread transmission.

And the school CEO Pedro Martinez arguing this current tactic of negotiation isn't practical.

PEDRO MARTINEZ, CEO, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS: I have been very, very clear that it is not practical to have a district-wide decision when there is such a variance across our city on how COVID is affecting us.

LORI LIGHTFOOT, MAYOR OF CHICAGO: It feels like Groundhog Day. The city leadership is compelling its membership to make a decision that will harm hundreds of thousands of Chicago families who rely upon CPS for their daily needs, for their education, for their nutrition, for their safety. That's real harm.

JIMENEZ: Now, part of what the district has proposed includes school- level metrics on when to move to remote learning. For example, when 50 percent of the student population has to either isolate or quarantine.

Moving forward, the teachers union has indicated that this push to refuse in-person instruction isn't just for today, but goes until at least January 18th, or until both sides can reach an agreement on what safe in-person learning looks like -- Laura, Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Omar in Chicago.

So, all this leaves parents, their employers, and of course children in a really tough spot. Child mental health experts say uncertainty at school creates stress that is a cause for concern.


KERI RODRIGUES, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL PARENTS UNION: They are feeling increased anxiety around just how to be and communicate with people and build friendships, and being able to feel comfortable in their environment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My 12-year-old, they're more like elementary school kids. Their world was turned upside down. As adults, we are able to bounce back quicker usually, faster. But for them, you know, it's going to take a little more time. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: This unpredictable school situation also leaves parents in limbo yet again.


KERI RODRIGUES, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL PARENTS UNION: The lack of understanding that we now have children and families in the crossfire of this gigantic mess that has kind of laid in our laps because we have had a failure to plan for this moment, knowing that we were going to have a winter break, knowing that we were going to have a COVID spike.


I mean, all of this is really being left on the shoulders of American families who are trying to hold up the American economy at the same time.


ROMANS: So, only adding to the school problem, finding enough drivers to get schools there, the situation so desperate the Biden administration now allowing states to temporarily waive some testing requirements for school bus drivers. Get this. The part of the test that asks drivers to identify under the hood engine components, that can now be waived until the end of March. It seems like a pretty good move. In August, many school districts offered cash bonuses for drivers as well.

JARRETT: And more issues on the COVID testing front, the popular BinaxNOW rapid test, well, they're getting more expensive. Walmart and Kroger are raising prices on those test kits after an agreement with the White House to sell them at cost expired last month. Health experts say these tests need to be inexpensive to encourage people to actually use them regularly.

President Biden says the new rule requirement private insurance companies to reimburse people for rapid tests will go into effect next week. Officials say you will have to file a claim to be reimbursed, though.

ROMANS: All right. I do not see January 6 happening the way he's being told. Why was Sean Hannity texting that concern to Mark Meadows days before the insurrection? The January 6 Committee wants to know.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

What happens when the advice and concern of a right-wing talk show host moonlighting as a White House adviser is ignored? That's the question the January 6 committee wants an answer to as it now seeks voluntary cooperation from Fox anchor Sean Hannity. Lawmakers want the conservative media star to do something he's actually never done on air, explain his profound concern about Donald Trump's strategy and conduct before, during and after the attack on the Capitol.

Already in hand, dozens of text messages Hannity exchanged with former chief of staff Mark Meadows.

ROMANS: Now, the committee claims these texts indicate Hannity had, quote, advance knowledge of planning for January by Trump and his legal team. Among the texts, two standout the day before the riot. January 5th, exactly a year ago, quote, I'm very worried about the next 48 hours. And another warning of mass resignations, quote, Pence pressure, White House counsel will leave.

CNN's Ryan Nobles reports for us from Capitol Hill.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Laura, Christine, there are a number of people that the committee wants to hear from, and that includes Sean Hannity, the Fox News personality, and the former Vice President Mike Pence.

Let's deal with Hannity first. They've sent him a formal letter asking that he voluntarily appear before the committee because they want to ask him more about his interactions with the White House, the former chief of staff Mark Meadows, members of Congress and the president him several. They put in their letter to Hannity, examples of some of the text messages he sent to Meadows, Jim Jordan, members of Congress and others, where he talks about his concerns about the pressure campaign being put on the former Vice President Mike Pence to prevent the certification of the election results.

Now, it's not clear how Hannity is going to respond to that. His lawyer, Jay Sekulow saying they have first amendment concerns about this request. But the committee is hoping Hannity complies.

Now, Hannity is one thing. Now, separately, I had a conversation with Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the committee. And I asked him how interested he is in talking to the former Vice President Mike Pence. And this is what Thompson said.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): The vice president could not leave the Capitol of the United States because of the riot. He was sequestered in an area in the Capitol. So his life was in danger. I would hope that he would do the right thing and come forward and voluntarily talk to the committee.

NOBLES: So, that's interesting. Thompson would like pence just to come forward on his own accord and answer questions from the committee. At this point, they haven't formally asked him to come and speak to the committee, either on a voluntary basis or through a subpoena. But it's clear that Bennie Thompson and others on the committee are very interested in pence's role regarding this, not just the pressure campaign that was put on him in the days leading up to January 6, but even what happened on January 6 itself, how he was ushered out of the Senate chamber and was given a level of protection that made people very concerned given the threats there were against him.

I reached out to pence's office, former spokesperson for the vice president, they have no comment at this time. It shows the committee casting a wide net into their investigation of what happened January 6 -- Laura and Christine.


JARRETT: Ryan Nobles, thank you for all of that reporting.

Hannity, of course, had plenty of time to offer any context at all for these text messages on his show last night. He opted not to mention January 6.

It's time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in former federal prosecutor, Michael Zeldin. He's also the host of the podcast "That Said with Michael Zeldin".

Michael, good morning to you.


JARRETT: Part of the story that strikes me here, all of the hand wringing, all of the concern from Hannity behind the scenes. Of course, none of that was happening in public, but behind the scenes he's texting things before the insurrection, like, quote, we, we, the royal we, can't lose the entire White House counsel's office.


He's also saying, I'm very worried about the next 48 hours. His lawyer, Jay Sekulow, is now flirting some sort of First Amendment defense here. But what's clear is he wasn't acting as a journalist. He's acting as an unpaid adviser.

Can the committee get his testimony?

ZELDIN: They should be able to. The information they want is factual, not who is your source, how did you learn this story, the sort of types of things that reporter's protections are important for. Here is, what did you say, what did you learn, what did you see? And I think that sort of stuff should come forward without any First Amendment concerns by Jay.

ROMANS: Michael, the January 6 Committee has also asked to speak directly with former Vice President Mike Pence. He was, he was the focal point of Trump's effort to overturn the election. He was in the center of all of it in so many different ways.

Some of his aides are already talking. How important is Pence?

ZELDIN: Well, I think he is very important. As you said, Marc Short and Keith Kellogg, key advisers to Pence, are already speaking with the committee. But Pence was at the heart of the pressure campaign. He was the one

who Eastman and all those legal strategists were trying to get to de- certify or not certify the election. So what pressure he faced, what strategic efforts they made against him would be very important.

JARRETT: Michael, can you just play this out for a second? If he tells the committee, yes, the president, former President Trump pressured me to try to overturn the election, to not certify the votes, to go against my constitutional duties. What then? What if he actually said that to the committee?

ZELDIN: Well, they will understand what the president's intention was. We have inferences that's what he was doing, but pence can say, this is what the president of the United States told me. This is what his plan was.

And this relates back to the Sean Hannity 48 hours in advance worry, which was what was going on here? Was this just the pressure campaign to de-certify? Was this related to Bannon, and his strap-in or stand by, if you want a revolution, be in Washington? All that stuff relates to what was going on there, who knew what, who was coordinated with whom, and whether that rises to the level of criminal bad behavior.

ROMANS: Michael, we learned the committee now has its hands on financial records from a former Trump spokesman who tried to keep those documents secret. What are they hoping to learn here by following the money?

ZELDIN: Well, one of the things that they have been focused on, one of their work streams is who funded this "Stop the Steal" rally. Were those people involved in funding any of the transportation of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers to the Capitol? Was there money spent for equipment or anything of that sort related to the insurrection?

They want to know at a very granular level what was going on here? Where was the money coming from? What was it going to be used for? How was it used? And who was involved in that whole effort? So it's an important work stream in this whole unraveling of what went on on January 6.

JARRETT: Yeah. Figuring out who funded this seems key to me on something that we actually don't know, so much of this has been well- reported by many of our colleagues. But that piece of it seems critical.


JARRETT: All right. Michael -- former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Thank you.

And a January 6 programming note, folks. Join Jake and Anderson for an unprecedented gathering inside the Capitol with police, lawmakers and leaders. Live from the Capitol "January 6: One Year Later". That's tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ROMANS: Welcome back. The red-hot job market of 2021 is now the red- hot job market of 2022. A record 4 1/2 millions quit their jobs in November. The Labor Department's overall quick rate now 3 percent. That -- it ties with September, that was the highest in two decades records had been kept.

These are voluntarily departures, mostly low-wage sectors of hospitality, a staggering 6.1 percent in November there. Also in retail, people leaving their jobs. And important to note, these people aren't leaving the labor force. They're not quitting, not working. For the most part they're quitting for better jobs in different higher- paying industries.

It shows real dynamism in the American job market, and workers here have the upper hand. For the first time in a generation, you can see it in the rising wages companies are paying to attract and retain workers.

You would call this the quit rate. It's really the job hopper rate. There is a real job hopping happening. When you look at wage numbers, you can see people leaving their jobs for another job, they're getting 5 percent pay raises for leaving.

So that's a really interesting, interesting development here in this post-COVID economy.

JARRETT: Yeah and they have the upper hand to make that type of jump.

All right. These are the questions on all of our minds right now. Should you get tested if you want to leave your home, after you test positive for COVID? What if you just come in close contact with someone who had COVID?

The CDC updates its guidance on what to do about all this. So we're going to break down the new advice, next.



ROMANS: All right. Good Wednesday morning. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I can confirm that it's Wednesday, Christine.

I'm Laura Jarrett. It's almost 29 minutes past the hour here in New York and it's time for the top stories to keep our eye on today.

Public --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LIGHTFOOT: -- for their nutrition, for their safety, that's real harm and we can't overlook that.


JARRETT: Public school classes in Chicago, the nation's third largest district, canceled today after the teachers union refused to teach in- person. Chicago public schools described the vote as, quote, an unfortunate decision.

ROMANS: New text messages reveal what Fox News host Sean Hannity relayed serious concerns to the former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows just a day before the insurrection. The committee wants to speak with Hannity suggesting he had knowledge about Trump's plans before, during and after the attack on the Capitol.

JARRETT: Law enforcement is stepping up protection ahead of the January 6 anniversary of the insurrection. DHS says there is no credible threat --