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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Senate to Open Debate on All-But-Doomed Voting Rights Bill; Bipartisan U.S. Senate Delegation Meets with Ukraine President; Israel Study Finds 4th Dose May Not Protect Against Omicron. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 18, 2022 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Tuesday, January 18th. It's 5:00 a.m. here in New York.

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

Good morning, Christine.


I'm Christine Romans. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We begin in Washington. Senate Democrats set to open debate on voting rights legislation today, an effort doomed before it even begins.

Two Democrats, West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, they have firmly repeatedly rejected calls to change the Senate's 60-vote threshold, at least for this voting right's legislation, with Republican putting up a solid wall of resistance, all 50 Democratic votes would be required to alter the filibuster rules.

JARRETT: So, if Manchin and Sinema hold fast, the result would be the status quo when it comes to voting rights in this country, and yet another defeat for President Biden. So what comes next on this?

For that, let's bring in CNN political analyst Margaret Talev, managing editor at "Axios".

Margaret, good morning.

What do you make of Democrats' decision to move forward with this vote, move forward with this plan, even though as Christine pointed out, it's dead on arrival by all accounts? MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, good morning, Laura.

I think that's right. Look, they're going through with these votes count in part because they made this commitment to civil right leaders. It was central to Biden's promise of governance, and this is what the Democratic Party wants to do. There are efforts and very successful efforts all over the country right now in Republican-led states to actually restrict voting, make it harder to vote than it was in 2020.

But in part this is because they need to fulfill a promise and it's not going to get any easier. In part, this is because they want to be able to campaign on this issue and say they've done everything they can, and in part because they have to exhaust all of these big picture efforts at reform before they can try to move to any smaller attempts at fixes where they potentially might have a better chance.

JARRETT: It does seem like part of this is just an exercise in trying?

TALEV: Right.

JARRETT: In showing people that you tried and even if it fails, show them that you made that effort.

TALEV: I think that's right, but there are some alternatives that they can consider, right? I mean, one, there -- Biden himself has always talked about a return to the talking filibuster, can you make people actually debate even if you keep it at a 60-vote threshold and there is potential talk about a bipartisan effort to clarify some of the processes around the electoral vote count and the vice president's role.

But none of these address the larger picture issues, which is protecting, you know, access to early voting, protecting access to mail-in voting, allowing people to give other people water in line, making election day a holiday -- a whole range of efforts to standardize. None of those efforts touch that.

ROMANS: Margaret, a handful of moderate Republicans have indicated they're open to some election legislation proposals, just not the bills as they stand here. Do you expect to see anyone from the GOP actually following through here? What could moderate Republicans get behind?

TALEV: Christine, what they have signaled is they also want to clarify that, again, the vice president's role is to -- is mostly ceremonial. It's just to reflect what the Electoral College did. Of course, there are Republicans, especially in the Senate who are overtly willing to say they don't want to ever see a repeat of the efforts that former President Trump tried to mount ever before January 6 itself.

The question is when they get to the debate about that, right, if Democrats and Republicans actually say, okay, we're going to reform the electoral count, is it going to fall apart anyway because they disagree over amendment? So, I think there is some bipartisan type of reform. The question is, what will get across the finish line and will it protect Americans' right to vote in the next up coming (AUDIO GAP)?

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: That's the question.

Margaret Talev, CNN political analyst -- thanks so much, Margaret. Appreciate it.

On the foreign policy side, in Ukraine, a strong show of support as a group of U.S. senators met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and his top officials in Kyiv on Monday with the threat of a potential Russian invasion looming. The bipartisan group of seven senators, four Democrats and three Republicans, were there to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the country.

CNN's Matthew Chance joins us live in Kyiv.

Matthew, what is Ukraine expecting from these senators? What do they want to see?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, I've spoken Ukrainian officials about exactly that, and what they're saying is that they want these senators and they expect these senators to go back to Washington with what they call strong recommendations, to increase the military aid to Ukraine as well, in order, in their words, to deter Russian aggression, amount of sanction on Russia if it was to invade and to increase the military aid to Ukraine as well, in order, their word, to deter Russian aggression. They say, Ukrainian officials that this, that this congressional delegation is bipartisan group of senators that came to Ukraine is a strong show of cross-party support from the United States to this country in its hour of need.

It's not the only assurance that the Ukrainians have been getting over the course of the past day or so, really since negotiations last week between the U.S. and Russia broke down over that core demand by Moscow for NATO expansion to stop and for Ukraine never to be allowed to join the Western military alliance. NATO has just announced that it will deepen its technological relationship Ukraine, give it more capabilities to address cyberattacks of the kind that Ukraine suffered from a suspected Russian source just a few days ago. And then Britain has announced as well that it has taken the decision to supply Ukraine with anti-tank weaponry.

So, we're getting this kind of, like, general kind of grouping around behind Ukraine in this very tense, very difficult situation that the country is experiencing, Laura.

JARRETT: Matthew Chance live in Kyiv for us this morning -- thank you, Matthew.

ROMANS: OK. Inflation watch. Orange juice futures prices surging. Florida's orange crop is the smallest since World War II. USDA reports some 44.5 million boxes of oranges to be collected from Florida this season. That's down more than 3 percent from December's estimates, down 16 percent from a year earlier.

The problem, something called citrus greening. It causes fruits to grow smaller than usual, and prematurely drop from the trees. Also on the inflation front, the Target chief executive, Brian Cornell, predicts that Americans will drive less and make fewer trips to store this year because of rising gas prices and inflation. Consumer prices rose 7 percent last year, the fastest 12-month pace since 1982. AAA shows gas prices rising this month. Cornell, the Target boss, says this will likely prompt shoppers to eat at home, instead of restaurants, and look for cheaper generic brands.

JARRETT: Christine, I wonder if that means though that more people are doing shopping online, which then leads to more problems with truck drivers, which then leads to more problems?

ROMANS: It's so interesting how in inflation is work through the consumer experience. I will point to people that this is not inflation like the late '70s and 1980s. People do have more choices, right? Remember back in the '80s, you had like one grocery store. You know, there is a lot more that consumers can do to try to change their behavior because of inflation. I think that's what Cornell is saying.

JARRETT: Yeah, try to work around a shortage in cream cheese.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: All right. Also this morning, a stark warning from the FBI and homeland security. Faith-based communities will likely remain targets for violence. This warning just days after that hostage situation at the Beth Israel synagogue in Texas.

We're also learning more this morning about those desperate final hours of the standoff as the hostages dashed out a side door when the gunman turned to pour himself a soda.


JEFF COHEN, VICE PRESIDENT, CONGREGATION BETH ISRAEL: Up until that point, we were willing to wait for law enforcement to do their thing. At that the point, we knew we had to get out. At one point, he even said that, I'm going to put a bullet in each you, get down on your knees, at which point I glared at him and raise up in my seat and I glared at him and I mouthed, no.

RABBI CHARLIE CYTRON-WALKER, CONGREGATION BETH ISRAEL, COLLEYVILLE, TEXAS: When I saw an opportunity where he wasn't in a good position, I made sure that the two gentlemen who were still with me, that they were ready to go. The exit wasn't too far away. I told them to go. I threw a chair at the gunman, and I headed for the door, and all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.

COHEN: I want to make it clear two things. We were not released. We were not rescued. Okay? We escaped, and we escaped because we kept presence of mind, because we made plans, because we strategically moved people.


JARRETT: Just imagine. Imagine that bravery.

Local law enforcement is being urged to reevaluate security for large gatherings at religious events.

ROMANS: That they had security training I think was so amazing.


JARRETT: They all credit it.

ROMANS: When I was listening to them yesterday, I just thought, isn't it something that in the United States of America, places of worship and schools, we teach people how to react in case of something like this? And it's a shame that we have to but thank goodness, thank goodness, they have that training.

JARRETT: The places that should be the most safe, targets.

ROMANS: Right, right.

All right. Coming up, a TV host details his battle with COVID, a battle he says he almost lost.

JARRETT: Plus, more trouble for Britain's Boris Johnson. His former top aide telling all.

ROMANS: And the asteroid making a close encounter with earth just hours from now.


JARRETT: Welcome back.

New data out of Israel suggests that a fourth shot of the COVID vaccine is highly effective at boosting antibodies.


But even that may still not be enough to prevent infections caused by the omicron variant.

So let's bring in Dr. Ali Raja to discuss all this. He's executive vice chair of the department of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General. He's also a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Doctor, good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning.

JARRETT: What is this new information about a fourth shot now tell you about the potential course of this pandemic? Are we essentially just going to have to get shots every five or six months?

DR. ALI RAJA, EXECUTIVE VICE CHAIR, DEPARTMENT OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: We may. This data is really new and preliminary. It's out of Israel. They looked at the Pfizer vaccine, gave a fourth shot, and then antibody levels in about 150 patients.

And they found that the antibody levels were higher after the third dose, but not to a level that would prevent a spread of omicron.

Here's the thing -- I think a lot of us were waiting for these data to see whether or not it would mean that we had different masking or quarantining or testing guidelines, but that isn't the case. We still need to be doing all that even if we were to get a fourth dose.

JARRETT: Well, part of the thing that is frustrating for people is that Israel seems so far out ahead on some of this data with the shots always just one step ahead of us and then we end up following in their path just, you know, a short time later. It seems like I wish we could stay on top of it at the same time.

Christine, I didn't mean to cut you off.

ROMANS: No, no, I want to ask. Practical advice here, the timing of this omicron surge comes just after a bunch of teenagers basically were starting to get their shots and then they're in line for boosters. So many of these kids, I mean, through the high schools, the middle schools, omicron is, so you got these kids who recently had the virus, who had been vaccinated.

When should they get their boosters? You got all these kids who are asking questions, do I get my booster now? Do I have to wait a few months if they recover from COVID? What do you think?

RAJA: They're going to have to wait a few months. You know, there's some good data on this that shows initially we said six months to the booster --

ROMANS: Right.

RAJA: -- but data came out that about five months is where we see the antibody levels declining for the Pfizer doses. So, we have good data on this. Right now, about five months is how long you have to wait --

ROMANS: All right.

RAJA: -- again, to make sure that the entire population's levels get back up to where they should be.


JARRETT: Doctor, the CEO of Moderna says they are working on a booster that would combine the vaccines for COVID, flu and RSV, a thing that little kids, you know, parents of little kids worry about a lot, a respiratory virus. But it's not going to be ready until the fall of next year.

Do you think it could be an effective long term tool to fight COVID, combining all of them in that way? RAJA: I do, and the fact is like u you said that right now COVID, the

flu, RSV, they are three of the most common respiratory viruses that's end up hospitalizing both kids and adults. And the fact is that we've got a lot of people who are just hesitant to get shots. They believe in them but special kids and teenagers, they don't want to get multiple shots, even adults have a hard time taking time off work and going to the doctor.

So, we've got these mechanisms through pediatricians and primary care providers to get regular immunizations and I think that's exactly what a shot like this could do if it was a combination.

ROMANS: Yeah. All right. 2023 they say.

All right. Dr. Ali Raja, Harvard Medical School professor, thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

JARRETT: Thanks, Doctor.

RAJA: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. ESPN host Steve Smith back on his show after several weeks away. He says his COVID infection nearly killed him. Smith says the virus attacked his liver, gave him pneumonia in both lungs. He says as a fully vaccinated non-smoker, he was not expecting to be hit so hard.


STEPHEN A. SMITH, ESPN HOST, "FIRST TAKE": You're assuming that you don't have a fever, might have a cough, going to have that massive headache but you'll get over it. And in a lot of cases that was the case.

In my case, it was totally different. I had 103-degree fever every night. Woke up with chills in a pool of sweat. Headaches were massive. Coughing profusely.

And it got to a point that right before New Year's Eve, I was in the hospital New Year's Eve into New Year's Day. That's how I brought in the New Year and they told me, had I not been vaccinated, I wouldn't be here.



Smith says he's still not 100 percent but he's on the road to recovery and he urged his viewers to wear masks, to protect others.

JARRETT: It just goes to show you, you never know whether you're going to be the one, you know? Obviously, the vast majority of people who are fully vaccinated and boosted ended up just fine. But you just can't be too careful.

ROMANS: And we wish him well, and I thank him for telling the story, too.


ROMANS: Really important that we just tell these stories.

Thank you so much, Stephen A. Smith.

JARRETT: All right. Coming up, after a brutal week, President Biden gearing up for a big news conference to mark his first year in office. More on the high stakes ahead.

And the rams will gear up for Tampa after a big playoff win last night.



ROMANS: All right. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford gets his first career playoff victory in a Monday night wildcard game.

JARRETT: Andy Scholes has it all covered on this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.


Super wildcard weekend is now in the books and Rams-Cardinals last night kind of keeping with the theme of blowouts in this opening round. Los Angeles completely dominating this game from the start.

First quarter, Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr. put the Rams on the board. The Cardinals offense meanwhile couldn't do anything against the Rams' defense.

Second quarter, Kyler Murray throws the interception in his own end zone. The three-yard pick six, the shortest pick six in playoff history.


The previous record was five yards. Arizona had just 40 yards of offense in the first half. Rams win in a rout, 34-11. Stafford gets his first ever playoff win. So, the Rams now going to head to Tampa on Sunday to play Tom Brady and the Bucs.

And here is a look at this weekend's schedule. Chiefs also will host the Bills on Sunday. Titans and Bengals get the divisional round start on Sunday afternoon. That game is to be followed by Packers hosting the Niners.

All right. Novak Djokovic is now back in his native Serbia after losing his legal challenge to stay in Australia. Now, there is a big question about whether he'll be able to compete in the next grand slam event, the French Open in May. The first parliament approved a bill requiring proof of vaccination to enter most public places, including sporting venues. That means Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, could lose the chance to defend his title in Paris. France's sports ministry telling CNN there will be no exceptions for professional athletes.

All right. To the NBA, the Brooklyn nets in Cleveland without superstar Kevin Durant, who is expected to be out for several weeks with a knee injury. The Nets certainly needed Durant down the stretch on this one. They were held to just two points during the final 3:43 of the game. Cleveland would win 114-107.

After the game, Kyrie Irving who could only play in road game because he's not vaccinated said Durant being out won't change his mind about getting the shot.


KYRIE IRVING, BROOKLYN NETS GUARD: It's not going to sway one thing in this NBA life that somehow -- you know, somehow it's brought to my attention of what's going on in the real world. It's not happening for me. I respect everyone else's decision. I'm not going to ever try to convince anyone. I'm standing rooted in what I believe in.


SCHOLES: MLK day always a special day in the NBA. Teams across the league honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. yesterday. Players wearing special T-shirts with words of his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech on the front and honor King on the back.

"Inside the NBA" host Ernie Johnson leading a roundtable discussion on race and equality in our sister channel TNT and Charles Barkley share his opinion on the lack of black coaches in sports.


CHARLES BARKLEY, BASKETBALL HALL OF FAMER: Give us a chance to suck. That's all I say. And I'm not one of those guys. I don't yell and scream.

We need black coaches to get an opportunity. If they suck, fire them. But you can't keep having these retread white coaches who go from one organization to the next and they get another opportunity. These young black coaches deserve an opportunity to get a head coaching job.


SCHOLES: The lack of black coaches in the NFL front and center right now is Mike Tomlin is the only black head coach in the entire league right now. We'll wait and see. You know, this is a window where more coaches get hired right now in the NFL. We'll see if any more black coaches get an opportunity.

JARRETT: Leave it to Chuck to always speak frankly.

SCHOLES: Get real, yeah.

ROMANS: I know, love him.

All right. Nice to see you, Andy. Thank you.

JARRETT: Thanks, Andy.

All right. Next, the Biden White House hopes a COVID recovery could lead to a political comeback.

ROMANS: And what a strange time to take a selfie.