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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Launches Passionate Voting Rights Push in Atlanta; Djokovic Admits to Not Immediately Isolating After Positive Test; Senators Grill Officials About CDC Guidance, Masks, Testing; NATO Ambassadors Meet with Russian Officials Over Ukraine Crisis. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2022 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Wednesday, January 12th. It's 5:00 a.m. here in New York.

Thanks so much for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.


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

We begin this morning with President Biden launching a major public push to shore up voting rights. Speaking from the cradle of the civil rights movement in Atlanta Tuesday, the president urged Congress to pass two federal voting rights bills that have stalled because of Republican opposition.

JARRETT: Some voting advocates have felt frustrated frankly for months, saying that the president hasn't made this a priority as Republican lawmakers across the country have spent the last year passing those laws aimed at making it harder to vote. The president said yesterday he's had enough.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I'm tired of being quiet.

The vice president and I have supported voting rights bills since day one of this administration. But each and every time, Senate Republicans have blocked the way. Even Strom Thurmond came to support voting rights.

But Republicans today can't and won't. Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America's right to vote, not one. Not one.


ROMANS: After a year in office, Mr. Biden now seems ready to use his bully pulpit. But the reality is right now, he doesn't have the votes on Capitol Hill to change Senate rules. And if he fails on this, he could lose more than just the voting rights issue.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny starts us off this morning on the road with the president in Atlanta.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, President Biden and Vice President Harris traveling to Atlanta to make the strongest case for voting rights reform, particularly those two bills in the Senate. President Biden, of course, a long time member of the U.S. Senate and a respecter of its traditions, called unequivocally to change the filibuster as it relates to this voting reform legislation.

He talked about last month when the Senate decided to make a change to raise the nation's debt ceiling, showing the flexibility of the Senate. President Biden talked in historical terms and explained voting rights as the issue of our time.

BIDEN: To protect our democracy, I support changing the Senate rules whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.

ZELENY: Now, of course, it remains an open question if the audience for the speech, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were listening or if it will change any views. But we do know votes are expected in the coming days. Senate majority Chuck Schumer has said they could start at any time leading into the birthday celebrations for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now, of course, this raises the stakes because the president is staking his administration and his credibility and his capital in some respects on getting voting reform accomplished. It remains an open question if that is possible -- Laura and Christine.


JARRETT: Jeff, thank you for that.

This morning, tennis star Novak Djokovic is apologizing for the first time, admitting he did not isolate immediately after testing positive for COVID last month before he arrived in Melbourne. This as the time line of his behavior comes into sharp focus with Australian officials still weighing what to let him stay in the country for the grand slam next week.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us live in Melbourne this morning.

Paula, before, it wasn't exactly clear when he knew he had COVID. He obviously took a positive rapid test or negative rapid test, positive PCR test eventually. Layout for us what is he saying now, what is the time line?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Laura, there are a few new elements to update you on and Djokovic is admitting to a couple of errors. So, the timeline is this. On December 14, he said he attended a

basketball game in Serbia's capital Belgrade. He said that many people tested positive after that. So, in the 16th, he took a PCR test. Now, he said he have no symptoms and also on the 17th, took a rapid antigen test. He had a number of public events where he was filmed and also photographed maskless.

He then says it was after that that he understood that he was positive for COVID-19 from that PCR test. But then the next day, on December 18th, he admits he did go to a media interview and a photo shoot. Now, he does say that on reflection, this was an error of judgment.

Now, also in addition to that, he admitted there was an error on his Australia travel declaration form. He said he didn't fill it out. It was his agents that had -- his team that had filled it out.

But under the box where it says, will you or have you traveled for the 14 days before arrival in Australia, the box was ticked no, and, in fact, we know he was in both Spain and Serbia. That he says was, quote, human error and certainly not deliberate.

On top of all this, we know the Australia border force is investigating many different things, but they just now said according to a source familiar with the investigation, they are expanding that investigation to look at possible inconsistencies in documents related to the PCR results and also movements in the days after testing positive.

Now, we are reaching out to the Serbian authorities who would have been in charge of the PCR test to get some clarification. But it just shows that the twists are not over in this saga, and that it is still not guaranteed that Djokovic will be playing in the Australian open next week. We're still waiting as well for the immigration minister to decide whether he weighs in and cancels his visa himself, but presumably he will wait until the Australia border force investigation is over -- Laura.

JARRETT: Yeah, I think he said he didn't want to disappoint the reporter, but I think I can safely say on behalf of all the member of the media, we'd rather you not show up for an interview with COVID.

So, we'll see where this goes. Paula, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Disrupted and terrifying moments at the gate, this man in Honduras was arrested after breaking into the cockpit of an American airlines jet, damaging the flight controls and then trying to jump out the window. All this while the plane was boarding passengers for a flight to Miami Tuesday. No word so far on a moment.

But, wow, quick thinking from that flight crew.

JARRETT: How does that happen. You can't even get that close to the cockpit these days. So scary. Glad everyone is okay there.

Well, still ahead for you, a blunt warning from the acting head of the FDA suggesting that omicron surge won't end any time soon. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)





JARRETT: To COVID now, as the nation's top public health officials try to defend the federal government's response to the pandemic, at the same time, public health experts are calling for a fresh strategy. Testifying before a Senate committee Tuesday, officials were grilled on the same day that the U.S. hit record hospitalizations. Acting head of the FDA, Janet Woodcock, said the priority now is making sure that hospitals can still function, adding this stark assessment.


WOODCOCK: I think it's hard to process what's actually happening right now, which is most people are going to get COVID.


JARRETT: Another major topic, masking, with omicron's high transmissibility, officials say it's time to upgrade your mask, a point Dr. Anthony Fauci echoed on CNN last night.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I recommend that you get the highest quality mask that you can tolerate and that's available to you. Right now, it doesn't seem to be any shortage of the masks that sometime ago were not available. If you can tolerate an N95, do it. So, we should be wearing the best possible masks that we can get. That's a fact.


ROMANS: CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports for us this morning.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Laura, at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, senators grilling U.S. health officials on several topics.

One, why was the isolation guidance so complicated from the CDC, and also about home tests. So, to look at the isolation guidance, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky doubling down, saying the science said it was the right thing to do. That if you're feeling better or you're asymptomatic after having COVID, you should be able to leave the house after five days as long as you faithfully wear a mask. She said especially important for essential workers so they can get back to work.

Let's take a listen.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: We saw the growing surge of omicron and took swift science-based action to address the very real possibility of staffing shortages in hospitals and in other essential areas of the work force, including schools, pharmacies, public safety, public labs, grocery stores, and other sites, where shortages could have and have proven to have dire public health consequences.

COHEN: Also news of the hearing from the Biden administration about home tests, you'll remember that last month the Biden administration said there would be 500 million tests shipped out. They said the first of the 500 million home tests would be shipped out this month, and the rest will be shipped over the next 60 days. The hearing was held against this backdrop. On Tuesday, a record set for the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

Now, it's important to put that in context. Omicron is very, very transmissible, and many people are going to the hospital not because they're sick with COVID, but for other reasons, and routine screening finds that they have COVID. So they're not really there because of COVID. They're there just because, for some other reason, and they happen to also have COVID.

But even so, COVID-19 is putting a strain on hospitals and it's because of the unvaccinated. That red line, that's unvaccinated people with COVID-19 in the hospital. That green line, it's people who are fully vaccinated with COVID-19 in the hospital.


That difference is so clear. And when you look at individual hospital systems, at the University of Maryland, for example, less than 5 percent of the COVID patients there are fully vaccinated and boosted.

At Beaumont Health in Michigan, less than 8 percent of the patients are fully vaccinated and boosted. At riverside health in Virginia, less than 10 percent are fully vaccinated and boosted.

So, once again, it is the unvaccinated driving the pandemic. They are putting themselves at risk, the people around them at risk and putting doctors and nurses at risk. They are getting COVID because they're unvaccinated, then they expect doctors and nurses to take care of them, and they're putting those doctors and nurses at risk of getting COVID -- Christine, Laura.


JARRETT: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for that.

Just in to CNN, more COVID tests are on the way to keep classrooms open. The Biden administration is planning to provide 10 million additional tests per month to schools. But, really, far more are still needed. There are 53 million students in K through 12 public schools. According to the CDC, most of them should be tested at least weekly.

In Chicago, 340,000 public school students returned to class today after a standoff with the teachers union over safety protocols kept the nation's third largest school system shutdown for a week.

Meanwhile, Chicago's Mayor Lori Lightfoot also now in isolation after testing positive for COVID herself.

ROMANS: Across the country school districts facing teacher shortages asking parents and alum to fill in as substitutes. Cincinnati public schools dispatched more than 60 staffers from the central office Monday. Still, the district was being forced to switch to remote learning.

Students at one elementary school in Clayton, Missouri, were stunned to have a Major League Baseball star, the Cardinals Harrison Bader show up as their P.E. teacher.


HARRISON BADER, CENTERFIELDER, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: It's always so much fun engaging kids at that age and seeing how their mind works and everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't a hesitation to hop right in and get in there and mix it with the kids.

BADER: In the game they played, they had more success than I did. So, I had more success playing in front of St. Louis fans. So --


JARRETT: That is the largest school district in Clark County, with 300,000 students postponing two scheduled days of class because of the COVID surge there.

And New Orleans with Mardi Gras coming up in just a few weeks, well, that city has reinstated its indoor mask mandate starting at 6:00 local time this morning.

ROMANS: You know, Laura, really at every turn, COVID is disrupting American life. And the fast spreading omicron variant has millions of Americans calling in sick or isolating. And that's leaving businesses scrambling. Right now, more than 5 million people are estimated to be isolating at home. That's Capital Economics forecast there. That's 2 percent of the American work force.

That puts even more strain on the labor market already dealing with worker shortages. Look at the airline industry cancelling thousands of flights with workers calling in sick. The latest, United reducing its schedule temporarily, trying to handle the fact there are some 3,000 workers out sick. It is being called the big sick-out across the country here.

Honestly, managing family life in the pandemic has been a challenge with school closures and testing and quarantines. There are still 1.2 million women missing from the work force.

They're managing kids, managing elderly family members instead of staying in an unfulfilling job or low-paying job. 1.2 million women out of the workforce, around every corner, daily life still altered, nearing the third year of the pandemic.

You might have noticed that grocery store shelves are once again empty, disrupted, right? Winter storms on top of staffing and supply issues. And gas prices are starting to tick up again, folks. The national average rising a few cents this year to 3.30 per gallon. That is well above 2.31 this time last year. That's because the economy is trying to reopen, but there are all of these disruptions.

Even your tax return will be disrupted. It will be messy again this year. The IRS is opening the tax season two weeks early, warning of a backlog. There are staffing shortages. That could all delay your tax returns this year.

Just around every corner, Laura, another example we're heading into year three of disruptions to our daily life.

JARRETT: Yeah, the sick-out, though, stark there in every industry.


JARRETT: Well, in Quebec, Canada, people there will soon have to pay a significant fine for being unvaccinated. This money will be used to help the province's overburden public health care system. The premier in Quebec says the fine is a question of fairness for those who have been vaccinated. Last week,

Quebec announced residents will have to be vaccinated to buy alcohol or cannabis, a move that quadrupled the vaccination rate.

ROMANS: Of course, it quadrupled the vaccination rate.

JARRETT: All you have to do is take away the fun things.

ROMANS: That is what I call incentive.

All right. Ambassadors from NATO trying to calm a tense situation along the Russian Ukraine border. We're going live to Brussels next.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

Happening right now, ambassadors from all NATO nations are meeting with Kremlin officials at Belgium. They are trying to diffuse the security crisis at Russia's boarder with Ukraine where 100,000 Russian troops remain on alert.

Alex Marquardt is live for us in Brussels covering this meeting.

Hi, Alex.


Well, this meeting which is absolutely critical to try to prevent an invasion of Ukraine is actually only a few hours long. And, of course, there are some major issues to discuss. It has to be said that before this meeting even started, NATO had already rejected the main Russian ask, and that was a demand that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO.


I did speak with the U.S. ambassador to NATO yesterday who said that they are not seeing any sign of Russian de-escalation. In fact, they expect that more Russian troops will be sent to the borders of Ukraine. And I asked her about that demand from Russia that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO.

Take a listen to what she said.


JULIANNE SMITH, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: No one has the right to kick the door shut. And any decision about enlargement will continue to rest between the NATO alliance and the country in question. We are all committed to a dialogue with the Russians tomorrow to hear from them what they want to talk about with NATO allies. We're intent on doing this with our allies by our side.


MARQUARDT: So, if neither side is really getting what they want right now, what progress actually can be made?

Well, there are a number of areas where both sides feel that more discussion is needed. That is, specifically on the questions of arms control and nuclear weapons, missile placement, as well as transparency over military exercises. And NATO is hoping that the convention of progress on those fronts about their massive restrictions, trade support for Ukraine militarily and Eastern European countries, that that will get Ukraine -- Russia to not invade Ukraine.

The best possible scenario for the U.S. and for NATO out of all this is more discussions. But what we don't know is how much patience the Russians have. The Kremlin said yesterday that they have no reason for optimism yet, and, of course, the major X factor is what Putin is thinking in all of this -- Christine.

ROMANS: Of course it is. All right, Alex Marquardt for us in Brussels. Thanks, Alex.


JARRETT: You know her face but do you know her whole story? The new CNN original story "Reframed: Marilyn Monroe", premieres Sunday night at 9:00.