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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Chicago Teachers Union Agrees to Return to Classroom; Biden Heads to Atlanta to Make Case for Voting Rights Laws; Australian Border Force Probing If Djokovic Lied on Entry Form. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is Tuesday, January 11th, 5:00 a.m. exactly here in New York. Thanks for getting an early start with us. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Christine. I'm Laura Jarrett.

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

We begin this morning in Chicago with big news. Teachers returning to the classroom today. Finally, the teachers union reached a deal with the city after that four-day standoff over COVID safety measures. This means students will be back in-person tomorrow after days of frustration for parents, including some who themselves work as teachers.


HALLE QUEZADA, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER AND MOM: I think the union is not listening to science, right. So, the union, the CTU is not the CDC. They don't get to decide what the thresholds are. You know, we have, we have the CDC and the department -- the Chicago Department of Public Health. They are both saying it is safe for students to go back to school. In fact, it is arguably the safest place for students to be.


JARRETT: CNN's Omar Jimenez has more from Chicago on what sealed the deal.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The standoff between Chicago public schools and the Chicago teachers union is over. Teachers will be back in class Tuesday, and students will be back in class Wednesday. The core of this dispute, of course, was the Chicago teachers union didn't feel the school district had provided adequate resources to come back in-person safely.

Some of the major sticking points over the course of this dispute, one was the timing for returning in-person, given the recent surge in COVID we've seen in the community. But also about metrics on when to take the district virtual versus what the city wanted to do, make those decisions on a school by school basis.

Take a listen to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on some of what she saw got them across the finish line.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: We reached an agreement on the metrics for, at a school-base level for when we needed to convert a classroom or a school to go remote. Not surprisingly, the component parts of that depend upon staff and/or student absences. As CEO Martinez said, we test in every school every week now, but we've added some layers to enhance the testing.

JIMENEZ: Now, on those school-based metrics, the chief of staff for the school union said during designated high transmission, it will take 40 percent of the student body to have a COVID-related absence for a school to move virtual, and 50 percent during other periods of the pandemic.

Testing was also a major part of this dispute between these two sides, specifically increasing the capacity for it. This past Saturday, Governor J.B. Pritzker here announced his office secured 350,000 additional rapid tests for Chicago public schools. His office confirmed late Monday that all 350,000 of those were delivered, which may have made an impact on this.

But details about what ended up being the final deal are still being kept under wraps as Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she doesn't want to release that document until the Chicago union's rank-and-file members vote on this.

But in the meantime, the important part, that students will be back in class tomorrow and teachers will be back in class today -- Laura, Christine.


ROMANS: Gosh, having kids out of school so disruptive for families and employers, for companies, for kids. It's -- what a mess. Hopefully they get that resolved for good now.

Meantime, an urgent plea for the message in Atlanta today, 19 states passed laws making it harder to vote. Everything from scrapping drive- thru polling places to empowering partisan poll watchers. It's all building pressure on the White House to do something.

Jasmine Wright joins us from Washington this morning with more.

Jasmine, some voting rights groups, they want less talk and more action. They plan to boycott the president's speech today. Tell us about that.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Christine. It's all reflective of just the immense amount of pressure that the president and his administration is under, not only to just deliver voting rights legislation, but also today to articulate a clear plan of how he sees the country getting to that goal, the Congress of passing that legislation.

So, officials tell me, my colleagues, that his speech today, in part, an answer to that criticism that his administration has not prioritized voting rights legislation. So, today as you said, he will make an urgent case for why voting rights should be passed right now from Congress. Remember, they have a deadline of January 17th to make some movement over in the chamber.


But also, he will detail exactly what changes he wants to see in the filibuster. Remember, that's that rule that requires 60 votes to pass major legislation. What changes he would like to see in order to get this voting rights legislation passed.

Now, yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, she offered a more fulsome preview. Take a listen here.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president will forcefully advocate for the bedrock of American rights, the right to vote in a free, secure election. That is not tainted by bipartisan. He made clear in the former district of the late Congressman John Lewis that the only way to do that is for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.


WRIGHT: So there was a summary from Psaki. Two things, quite a few many, aren't clear. First is whether or not President Biden's speech and his actions today will actually bring over Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. We know they are currently opposed to any filibuster change rules.

And then, of course, it's unclear whether or not President Biden's actions today, depending on how far he goes, actually kind of quells that criticism and satisfies advocates.

Yesterday, when organizations in Atlanta announced this kind of boycott they're going on, they said things like President Biden should stay in D.C. They don't need him in Georgia. They need him in D.C.

He should go to the Senate, really, and try to work that vote. What they need in Georgia is voting rights and action. I spoke to Latosha Brown who is co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a part of that coalition of groups, and she said, what I want to see from the president is a commitment, a plan going forward, not just speeches.

The time for speeches is over. So, of course, Christine, here, the president has kind of a tall hill to climb, a lot of pressure to get over when he heads to Atlanta today.

ROMANS: Sure does. All right, Jasmine Wright, thank you so much for that.


JARRETT: Just in to CNN, Australian border officials are investigating whether tennis star Novak Djokovic lied on a form before arriving in the country. Pictures of the tennis star appear to contradict what he said on the way in.

Phil Black is live for us in Melbourne.

Phil, top immigration officials are still deciding whether he can even stay in the country to try to defend his title. And now this?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the question here, Laura is go to tribal declaration. It is something all arrivals here have to fill, assess a COVID risk, it looks at their vaccination status, where they've been. Giving false information is a crime, a maximum penalty of a 12-month sentence.

We've seen the travel declaration because it was submitted as part of the documents in the court hearing yesterday, and there is at least one potential discrepancy. There is a question where you are asked, have you been anywhere else in the last 14 days? Djokovic's answer is no, but social media posts suggest that he has been or he was both in Spain and Serbia in that 14-day period leading up to his arrival here in Australia.

Now, its significance is difficult to determine at this point, but it is an indication that the investigations that are taking place behind the scenes while Australia's immigration minister said he is still considering deploying his own personal powers to cancel Djokovic's visa once more. He's been considering this for 24 hours. They say they will follow the process for as long as it takes.

They are not rushing this. What this means for Djokovic personally is that he is free here in Melbourne for the moment, free to prepare and practice for the next week's Australian Open, but he can have no peace of mind. He cannot know for certain that he is or that he will be allowed to walk out onto center court when the Australian Open does begin next week.

He will also still face questions about his positive COVID-19 test on December 16th. We learned that from the court documents. It is the basis of that test to write he sought an exemption to enter this country.

But again, discrepancies potentially because social media posts show him on the days after that attending appointments and events publicly, even being photographed with large groups of children. These questions will pursue him because the potential options here, well, neither of them are good. Either there is another discrepancy in his time line, or he has been pretty careless in showing safety towards others.

These are issues, as I say, that will continue to follow him as could his potential answers in the days and weeks ahead, Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Phil, thank you for your reporting on this.

ROMANS: All right, nine minutes past the hour. A federal judge says words are hard to walk back.


But the case to hold Donald Trump liable for January 6, an uphill climb, next.


ROMANS: We are now entering the third year of COVID, and hospitals all over the U.S. are being pushed to the brink by the unvaccinated. More than 141,000 people now in the hospital with COVID, that's about 900 shy of the pandemic record set a year ago. Up to 75 percent of people in the hospital with COVID are unvaccinated. Those who are boosted are only a sliver of hospitalizations.

JARRETT: The crush of COVID hospitalizations across the country at the same time health care workers are out. The University of Kansas health care system reports 850 employees out right now because of COVID.



DR. STEVEN STITES, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS HEALTH SYSTEM: Because so many folks, so many staff are sick with omicron, they can't come in to take care of patients. So it's a double whammy.


ROMANS: Well, one economist says about 5 million people will be isolated, and 5 million workers will be isolating because of COVID and because of COVID requirements. When you think of that, 5 million people. That's 2 percent of the American work force out, calling it the great sick out, not because people want to be out, they have to be out, just so disruptive.

Meantime, the Red Cross says the blood supply is at a dangerously low level. COVID cases, weather, turnout, staffing shortages all causing serious problems. The Red Cross says there is less than a one-day supply of certain blood types. People who have been vaccinated can donate blood as long as they have no symptoms when donating.

JARRETT: Now, on the testing front, a major development here. Health insurers are going to have to pay for your at-home COVID test starting Saturday. People with private insurance can buy these tests online or at stores and then get reimbursed by submitting a claim with no co- pays or deductibles. The Biden administration struck this deal with insurers to cover up to eight tests per person each month. Still, the pressing issue right now, access to these tests. Many people struggling to buy at-home tests, while labs are backed up with results.

ROMANS: More complicated forms could make it a very messy tax season for the IRS. Yes, tax season around the corner and this is going to be a doozy. What it means for your return. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


JARRETT: Welcome back. Will Donald Trump have to pay up for his role in inspiring the attack on the U.S. Capitol?

That's the tricky legal question a federal judge in Washington, D.C. is considering right now. Facing a series of civil suits from police officers and members of Congress, Trump's lawyers say it doesn't matter what he said on January 6. He can't be held liable for the violence of his supporters that day.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz joins me live in Washington.

Katelyn, good morning.

The judge pointed out that the president told the crowd to march to the Capitol, but then took hours to tell people to stop the violence, and even that was begrudgingly at best. His point essentially being, that it was a mistake to stay at the ellipse to go to the Capitol, then he sure had an odd way of showing it.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yeah, Laura, this was a five-hour hearing yesterday and there were lots of topics covered. But one of the issues that Judge Amit Mehta of the D.C. district court really was grappling with was this possibility that lawsuits could hold Donald Trump accountable for inspiring people to go to the capitol and riot.

And what Mehta was looking at he was specifically talking quite a lot and pressing Trump's lawyers hard on this question whether Trump engaged in some sort of conspiracy during the rally and afterwards when he told people, let's go to the Capitol, and then he didn't say anything for two hours, didn't call them off. Even when people like his son who is also sued in this lawsuit was texting the White House saying he needs to stand up. Trump wasn't doing anything.

So, this is what Mehta said, this was important, he was asking the question, what do I do about the fact the president didn't denounce the conduct immediately and sent a tweet that arguably exacerbated things? Isn't that from a plausibility standpoint the president plausibly agreed with the conduct of the people inside the Capitol that day?

So, Mehta is asking this question because Trump and all these other people that were sued, Rudy Giuliani, his son, the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, are all arguing the case should get tossed out and shouldn't go on in the court, and Mehta needs to test whether that's legally viable.

Now, they are making all kinds of claims saying this can't be a conspiracy. Also that Trump should be totally protected because he was president at the time. That that means he has some sort of absolute immunity regarding everything that he says whether there can -- whenever there can be lawsuits that come up. All of these people are also arguing they have First Amendment protections.

And, you know, Mehta was really tough on Trump's lawyers on the conspiracy question. But he didn't show his hand where he stood otherwise and we didn't get a ruling out of him yesterday. But this really is a set of important cases. This is a really an important standpoint because Mehta has to decide whether the cases can go on and people could hold potentially Trump accountable for the insurrection using lawsuits.

JARRETT: Yeah, this idea of the inaction being the legal hook. Super interesting, and also something, of course, that the January 6 committee has zeroed in on as well.

Kaitlan, thank you. We know you're going to be following it all.

ROMANS: All right, a warning from the IRS, folks. This tax season is going to be messy. It's a super complicated tax filing year with the COVID relief, those enhanced tax child credits.

At the same time, staff shortages at the IRS are creating a nightmare scenario. We're told the backlog of unprocessed cases is several times worse than in several years. Processing centers for paper tax returns are also hampered by COVID cases among staffers. I told you about this great sickout, some 5 million people by one estimate, are isolating, can't work with 2 percent of the work force. That means IRS workers.

What does it mean for you? File early. The IRS will accept your tax returns starting January 24th. Be prepared. Your refund might be delayed. If you file using paper forms, that might create more delays.

This year's deadline is April 18th for most filers.


But this one is going to be real tricky. All the COVID aid, there is so much in there to tease out.

JARRETT: So, if you file early, can you get your refund earlier, too, or do you still have to wait?

ROMANS: Well, it depends on whether they can process it to be honest.


ROMANS: That's why I'm saying file early. If you want to get it in a timely fashion, I would say, get all your ducks in a row now and be ready to go as soon as you can.

JARRETT: It's hard for procrastinators.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: All right. A programming note for you. You know her face, but do you know her whole story? A new CNN original series "Reframed Marilyn Monroe" premiers Sunday night at 9:00.


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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 29 minutes, almost 30 minutes past the hour.

Time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.