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Inside Politics

Biden Restricts Travel from Countries in Southern Africa; Boebert Apologizes After Video of Anti-Muslim Comment; Biden Says Economy is Strong but Acknowledges Inflation Threat; Next Steps in Fight to Contain New Variant; Congress Faces Long End of Year To-Do List. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired November 28, 2021 - 08:00   ET





KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST (voice-over): A dangerous new COVID variant has the world on edge. Can it evade the vaccines?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: That's what we're going to be finding out. The answer is we don't know right now.

COLLINS: Plus, Biden's holiday season balancing act -- convincing Americans that the economy is stronger than they think.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our economy is creating jobs. Things are getting better for American workers.

COLLINS: While acknowledging the pain of inflation.

BIDEN: We know it's tough for families to keep up with the rising cost of gasoline and other essentials.

COLLINS: And toxic workplace. A Republican congresswoman's bigoted attack on a Muslim colleague.

REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): Ilhan Omar, and I said, well, she doesn't have a backpack. We should be fine.

COLLINS: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.


COLLINS: And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Kaitlan Collins, in for Abby Phillip.

U.S. health officials tell CNN it could be weeks before scientists learn whether the new Omicron COVID variant is more transmissible or can evade vaccines. One thing we know for sure today, the virus isn't done with us yet. Germany, the U.K., Israel and Australia are among the countries now confirming cases of the new variant, putting the world on high alert. Israel is even banning all foreigners from entering the country for the next two weeks.

Dr. Fauci says it's not -- if it's not in the U.S. yet, it could be soon.


FAUCI: I would not be surprised if it is. We have not detected it yet. When you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over.


COLLINS: Dr. Fauci also says it's too early to panic given we know very little about the new variant.

But President Biden says his administration is on top of it as he is getting regular updates from top health officials. Starting tomorrow, Biden will restrict travel from several points of Africa, which he hopes will buy more time for scientists to study the variant.


BIDEN: We're going to be cautious. Make sure there's no travel to and from South Africa and six other countries in that region, and except for American citizens who are able to come back. But we don't know a lot about the variant except that it is of great concern. It seems to spread rapidly.


COLLINS: Joining us now with their reporting, and their insights, Hans Nichols of "Axios", CNN's Evan McKend, CNN's Melanie Zanona, and Alex Thompson of "Politico".

Thank you all for joining me this morning.

Hans, this is a decision the White House made pretty quickly. What was their thought process behind moving so fast to stop travel?

HANS NICHOLS, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: There's not much time. If you are going to have a travel ban, you need to move quickly. It's not a travel ban, I should say a pause. Your intro sort of laid it out. You know, this is going to be short-term. We don't know whether it will turn into long-term. And they want to just figure out what they can do next. So they moved remarkably quickly.

I think one thing we should all note about this is that there are all these conversations happening between scientists, health officials, international forums all the time. The fact that they moved this quickly on this variant tells us something. And that is, there's a level of concern inside the West Wing. And they wanted to act quickly.

COLLINS: And do you think their views of the restrictions has changed now that they are in the driver's seat? Because a lot of people, several people, we should say --


COLLINS: -- in the Biden administration had been critical of the travel restrictions previously?

NICHOLS: Yeah, what they will fall back on -- Alex's report on this and everyone at this table, they will fall back on the science, right? And they will continue to say that this is science driven. Now, there are optics on this. There are politics and some cases, there's hypocrisy given what previous people have said about travel bans, right?

They can't wish that away. Their North Star will go back to, here is what medical professionals are doing. That's how they couched this. This was given by professionals that we were briefed on.

COLLINS: Yeah, they said Fauci and the CDC.

But, Alex, I wonder the bigger picture of this, because President Biden from day one has said the success of his presidency will depend how they handle the pandemic. And, obviously, we have these concerns now about the variant and we are learning more. There should be caution around that.

But if you look at his approval ratings, you know, back in June when it came to the presidency's handling of coronavirus, 64 percent, they approved it -- said they approved of it. By November, that dropped to 48 percent.

ALEX THOMPSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: That's right. I was talking to a White House official last night. The phrase they kept using is we're not going to get caught flat footed. That's why you see Fauci to say, this is probably going to get here.

What's left unsaid is what some White House officials will privately concede and what Democrats, especially in statehouses around the country, will tell you was they did get caught flat footed in July, which is right after his high mark on handling COVID-19.


They had an independence from COVID-19 party on the lawn of the White House over Independence Day weekend, and they were caught flat-footed. And what you're seeing now you have to apply that lens to everything they're doing now.

COLLINS: Yeah, and that speech in the Fourth of July speech was seen as a success speech of where we were.

Just the other day for the Macy's Day parade, the president called in talking about how there's nothing the United States can't overcome. Obviously, this is something that looms over that. So, how does he square the messaging with waiting to find out details but also trying to prepare people for this? EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: This is an area where the

administration always projects a lot of confidence. I think many Americans voted for President Biden because they liked how seriously he has always taken the virus. Some on the right might call it performative, that he would wear a mask. That's something many Americans appreciate.

So, I think that confidence has dipped among the electorate based on those -- that poll you cited. I still think this is an area where they can project a lot of strength. I anticipate that they will do so in the coming weeks.

COLLINS: Health officials inside the White House inside the administration seem to realize their messaging has not always been critical clear. Boosters is the latest example because they waited a while to say that everyone could get a booster. Even though the president was talking about this in September. They just recently authorized it for anyone who wants one can get one. Now that there are concerns about the variant and they are saying go get boosted if you need to.

Do you think that they wish that they had done that sooner?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: I think it's fair to ask whether that was a mistake. Imagine if boosters had been recommended before the holiday season, before the winter months. I think it's fair to ask whether the Biden administration should have instituted a vaccine mandate from the beginning before the July 4th Independence. Imagine where we would be right now if that happened from the beginning.

I think one of the things the administration either underestimated or overlooked was some of the disinformation on the right about the vaccines, which we are still seeing today that's contributing to the fact that we still have a low vaccination rate.

COLLINS: And they now have legal challenges around that mandate.

And of course, a lot of this unprecedented. They are not able to predict what variant is going to cause issues, that delta was going to have the aggressive hold that it did. But how much does this factor into how they are viewing the presidency overall?

Because if you look at approval ratings of presidents in the past, they have had low ones. George Bush had been -- they had gone from being low and they can boost them back up. You saw former President Trump was at 37 percent in November of his first year. By the time of later in his presidency, he boosted that ten points if you look at the numbers in the historical analysis of this.

NICHOLS: You have a band. All presidents have a band, right? What the ceiling and what the floor is. What we saw with president Trump is his ceiling was low, but his floor was pretty high. He never dipped below certain levels.

What we will discover with Biden and we saw a little bit with Virginia and New Jersey was that just how low he could go, right? I mean, that's a question that all of us should ask. We know he can bump it back up.

So, I think the broader question here is, have the bands really shifted for everyone? Or is it just someone like Trump? I think that's something we all need to think about when we report. How much higher can Biden go? There's a certain part of the country that's always going to be opposed to Biden.

And is Biden essentially the trap, the same prison that Donald Trump was in, he was polarizing figure, and that a part of the country is always going to hate him and he has very little margin to improve, or on the up side for him, he can't slip much lower because a lot of Democrats look at the potential consequences and that's return of Donald Trump.

COLLINS: And the White House is hopeful getting the agenda passed will help. They got the infrastructure bill signed. They want to get this passed by Christmas so they can tout it ahead of midterm elections. But are they confident it's going to give them a big boost?

Because you hear from Biden's pollster, John Anzalone, he told "The New York Times" it's November of 2021, not September 2022. If we pass Build Back Better, we have a great message going into the midterms, when the bell rings Labor Day about what we have done for the American people.

MCKEND: Yeah. A year is a lifetime in politics as we all know. And I think -- listen, I think that there are a lot of people that voted for President Biden. I think a few weeks ago, Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger said no one voted for him to be FDR. And Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez yelled, I did, right?

So, they were a lot of Americans that did elect him to deliver on these progressive policy victories. We will see if he is able to do that, how the American electorate responds.

ZANONA: I will just say, though, a lot of the benefits in these bills won't kick in right away. And they also don't address what are some of the top concerns for voters right now, which is inflation. So, yes, if they pass both infrastructure and the economic bill, it will have transformative impact on the middle class.


It will be huge for Biden's legacy. But will it be enough to save the Democratic majority? I think a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill would say they need to do more than that.

THOMPSON: To our point, if COVID is still raging next September with whatever variant we're on and they pass Build Back Better, it's not going to matter because the key issue for every single American is COVID-19, which is why you're increasingly seeing a lot of Democratic governors who are up on 2022 issuing their own COVID guidance at times at odds with the Biden administration because they just realize they need to take matters into their own hands. NICHOLS: They are the real barometer here, right? I mean, no

disrespect to John Anzalone, who's a qualified and capable pollster, but he said the opposite. He said, Build Back Better won't really matter. The only thing that really matters is COVID. I mean, "The Times" would have printed the quote. It would have been a great quote and also would have been accurate, right?

To say otherwise would have been sort of criminal malpractice. The barometers here are the governors and the vulnerable Democrats. You mentioned Abigail Spanberger. Listen to what they have to say because they're worried about getting re-elected and where they stand in 2022.

COLLINS: And that seems to be exactly what Nate Cohn says in "The New York Times", because he's saying voters often punish a president for pushing unpopular policies. They really seemed to reward a president for enacting legislation. They say, instead, voters seemed to reward presidents for presiding over peace and prosperity, in a word, normalcy.

HANS: Yeah. And actually, to Alex's broader point, everyone's point here, right?


HANS: The White House wouldn't disagree with that, right?

THOMPSON: Yeah. And honestly, there's like there's sort of mission creep with Build Back Better. Like if they don't get it passed --

HANS: It's about inflation, Alex. Check yourself. Check yourself.

THOMPSON: If they don't get it passed, then it's a huge failure for Joe Biden. If they pass it, it might not help. It might end up with a backlash. So, he's sort of in trouble either way.

COLLINS: Well, that's a challenge for the White House. We'll see how they deal with this and the new developments on the variant in the week ahead.

Coming up on INSIDE POLITICS, we'll talk to Dr. Ashish Jha on how worried we should be about this new variant.

But, first, hateful rhetoric from another Republican in Congress and how GOP leaders are responding.



COLLINS: Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert's anti-Muslim comment about her Democratic colleague is just the latest example of partisan tensions turning hateful.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): I look to my left, there she is. Ilhan Omar. I said, well, she doesn't have a backpack, we should be fine.



COLLINS: Boebert later issued somewhat of an apology to, quote, anyone in the Muslim community she may have offended.

But Congresswoman Ilhan Omar says the apology is not enough and is now calling for Democratic and Republican leaders to address her anti- Muslim bigotry. Top Democrats say Republicans must address this priority with the congresswoman and to finally take real action to confront racism.

Melanie, this apology that she issued seemed like about half of an apology.

ZANONA: Yeah. It's more than what Paul Gosar did, which was double down after he deleted his video depicting violence against Democrats. Kevin McCarthy did put out a statement and said I talked to Lauren Boebert. She apologized. I'm encouraging her to meet with Ilhan Omar. What he did not do was say this rhetoric has no place in our party and I'm going to punish her or, you know, she's going to suffer any consequences.

And that's because Kevin McCarthy is walking a very thin tightrope. He needs these Trump allies to be speaker. Her, Marjorie Taylor Greene, some of these really vocal French members. At the same time, though, they need to win the majority first, and sometimes that requires supporting your moderates who either voted to impeach or voted for the bipartisan structure bill.

So, anytime McCarthy is seen as catering to one wing, it risks upsetting the other.

COLLINS: OK. But you cover Capitol Hill, is there any real chance that Lauren Boebert and Ilhan Omar actually sit down together?

ZANONA: That's a great question. I wouldn't totally put it past them. But at the same time, it doesn't seem like Ilhan Omar is in a mood to hear from Lauren Boebert. I don't know if there's an appetite among Democratic leaders to censure Boebert. There's not a lot of time in the calendar. They just censured Paul Gosar. That didn't obviously have quite an effect that they wanted. And I think there is a question if I think there is a question if these Democratic-led efforts to punish members are actually working. It would be more effective if GOP leaders were going doling out the punishment.

COLLINS: Well, and that doesn't seem like something that will make Ilhan Omar very happy, because she wants Democratic leaders to respond too. She says that they need to take appropriate action. And so, if they don't censure her, do you that she will be satisfied?

NICHOLS: No, right? She's going to escalate. She's clear that she's going to escalate and McCarthy and to some extent Hoyer, who met with McCarthy, they don't want to escalate. Nothing to see here, let's move along.

And so, we'll see to what extent both sides or party leaders can control their members. Again, we don't know if Pelosi wants to escalate. We don't know if Pelosi wants to make a thing out of this. We don't know whether or not what the rest of the progressives on the House side will do.

But it's clear that McCarthy wants to say nothing to see. Let's move on.

THOMPSON: But the thing is like, even if they don't censure her now, it's likely we could be in this situation two months from now because the incentives are aligned for her to keep saying incendiary things. It's actually made her a national star in zero time. Even this morning, I looked up on Facebook one of the top trending arts articles right now is a Newsmax article about MTG and her bill about Kyle Rittenhouse, which is not going anywhere, but it's making her a star.

So, we're going to see this happened over and over again, and the incentives are for more MTG.

MCKEND: They're the shock jocks, right, of the House Republican caucus.


MCKEND: I will say this, something struck me about this episode, and I call it an episode because it is part of a series in Congress, is that Republicans often like to say that they are proud of the way that they are reaching out to communities of color. There are many Republicans in this country who don't know they're Republicans yet. They like to say that about communities of color.

What is inspiring about this message, right? What is inclusive about Congresswoman Boebert's repeated comments?


She had said jihad squad, and has used that term to describe Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and others for weeks. There is nothing inclusive about that message and it really calls into question how serious this effort is among Republicans to really engage people of color.


NICHOLS: If we spend the week talking about this, which we could, does that help or hurt Biden? Does that help or hurt the idea of getting Build Back Better across the line in the Senate? I don't -- I mean, I throw that out to the table. I don't know the answer.

COLLINS: I mean, Republicans seemed to prefer to focus on issues like this than -- and talk about, push things like this, broaden that --

NICHOLS: Cultural wars. COLLINS: Ilhan Omar also, we should note, says that this did not even

happen. She says that Lauren Boebert is essentially making this up and this interaction that she claimed happened in the elevator did not actually even happen. But it does speaks to the level that the Republican and Democratic lawmakers treat each other and how they're responding in the halls of their workplace and making comments that would likely get you fired anywhere else.

But, Chip Roy, a Republican in Texas said, quote, people here have got to get thicker skin about representing the people and doing their job and not making anything personal on the floor of the House.

ZANONA: You know, that's Chip Roy. He's a conservative in Texas. I heard from a moderate Republican yesterday who said this is unacceptable. Marjorie Taylor Greene cannot be the face of our party. It's going to hurt us in swing districts. It's going to undermine our chances of winning back the majority and said Kevin McCarthy needs to stop taking his moderates for granted.

Yes, they're catering to some of these fringe members because they're the most vocal. They're willing to go on the record, complain about McCarthy. You know, coincidence, McCarthy and Marjorie Taylor Greene had a phone call on Friday after she complained about his leadership.

COLLINS: Well, let's remind people what she said about Kevin McCarthy because when you say, you know, they're going on the record criticizing him, openly saying maybe I won't openly support him if Republicans take control of the House. This is what Marjorie Taylor Greene said about McCarthy.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Kevin McCarthy has a problem in our conference. He doesn't have the full support to be speaker. There are many of us unhappy about the failure to hold Republicans accountable while conservatives like me, Paul Gosar and many others just constantly take the abuse by Democrats. I've demanded it. I want Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney kicked out of the GOP conference.


COLLINS: So, she's giving a list of demands to McCarthy to secure her vote for speaker. And she later said, they talked. She likes what he has planned ahead.

Do you know what did that conversation looked like?

MCKEND: I'm not sure, but he's doing all he can to placate them. I think the interesting question, though, is if he wins the battle, right, but loses the war, right? He might -- this might help him engaging this group of Republicans if Republicans take back the House in 2022 to become speaker. What does it say about the legacy of the Republican Party, right? If they're concerned about, you know, beyond just next year or the year after, but decades from now, this is who they've become. COLLINS: Right, because he's kind of to a degree -- "The New York

Times" reported saying he's kind of bringing the fringe, what used to be considered the fringe into the mainstream of the Republican Party. So, even if he does become House speaker, this is still going to be something he has to deal with as House speaker potentially.

THOMPSON: Absolutely. We're going to face a situation where they're going to have to get votes on something that Biden will have to sign. Do you think some of these people, some of these members will ever vote for something that Biden will sign? This is if you have a Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

And I'm sure Melanie can speak also the fact that once we have that situation, are you going to see the reverse which is you'll have a lot of pressure to censure Democrats and take them off their committees.

ZANONA: There will be, yes.

THOMPSON: Exactly.

COLLINS: Exactly. They made clear that they will retaliate if they do regain the majority. Of course, that's a year away. We'll have to wait to see how that plays out.

Up next, we'll talk about the Biden economy and whether he can convince Americans that it's stronger than they think it is.



COLLINS: Fears around the new Omicron variant sparked a global stock selloff on Friday. But while the markets were falling, Americans were shopping. Early estimates are that this could be a record breaking holiday sales season, and yet voters say they are laser focused on headlines like these, about every-day life getting more expensive, which, of course, is causing a dilemma for President Biden.


BIDEN: Wages are rising, disposable income is up. More people are starting small businesses than ever before. And our economy has created a record 5.6 million jobs since I became president on January 20th. Moms and dads are worried, asked will there be enough food we can afford to buy for the holidays. Will we be able to get Christmas presents to the kids on time? And if so, will they cost me an arm and a leg?


COLLINS: Jim Tankersley of the "New York Times" joins our conversation.

Jim, you heard the president there essentially laying it out, saying, yes, here are the concerns that voters have. But look at all these positive signs in the economy as a reason they should feel hopeful about it.

JIM TANKERSLEY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Yeah, I think what the White House is sort of struggling with right now, is that people expected the economy to get better. This wasn't a normal recession. This was a let's turn the economy off to get through the virus and then turn it back on again recession.

And people expected the jobs market to rebound. Their incomes would go back up. They weren't expecting this big spike in prices, particularly the prices that you can see, every day, food, gasoline. That's really dampening consumer sentiment and I think hurting the president in the polls.

COLLINS: And so, obviously, there's a new jobs coming out pretty soon. The November jobs report. What are you expecting? Because we know some economists say they think it should show about half a million jobs created?


TANKERSLEY: Yes. I mean the general consensus is this could be a very strong report. We know now that the reports from over the summer were stronger than we initially saw --


TANKERSLEY: -- when they came out. The White House is obviously hoping that they will see another big bounce back. And that's actually very important to this inflation story.

The idea inside the White House is, people are going to start going back to work over the next couple of months who have been sitting out on the sidelines for a long time. And if they do, that will help hold down price increases in all sorts of places.

COLLINS: Yes. That was one thing they were hoping would happen in September. Now they're hoping it will happen now. I think Obama's -- former commerce director summed it up pretty well. He said, "Here is where the problem lies, the voter is always right. I have never seen a politician succeed in convincing voters that the economy is improving. And I have seen many pay a price for trying."

But it's a dilemma for the White House because they want to talk about all of these positive signs. They have to deal with the reality of what people are feeling.

HANS NICHOLS, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Look, I face a similar dilemma. I actually on with something Dan Pfeiffer said and I take that back. I love Dan, right. Great comms director. Did his job very well.

Look, on all these questions, they bedevil all presidents. How do you talk up the economy and how do you talk accurately and appropriately to American people who may be struggling? They have to be careful about going too far on the stock market. They have to go be careful about going too far on the jobs situation. So this is not unique to Biden but he faces it in a more acute way because we really haven't had the inflation conversation for in -- and Tankersley is a better economic reporter than I am. But like for what 40 years that we've been talking about this.

TANKERSLEY: Yes. We haven't had -- we haven't had this level of concern since the late 70s although this is really not the late 70s or at least the 80s inflation but for voters this is a big worry. It reminds me more of like the gas prices conversation we had under Obama and George W. Bush when people just got really, really upset because gas prices were going up so fast.

COLLINS: And gas prices is a big issue for them. You saw, they know that this is a problem. And President Biden tried to at least modestly affect the prices this week by releasing this 50 million barrels of oil from the strategic reserves. But is that doing much to actually change prices because we know they did it ahead of Thanksgiving travel but of course, there's more travel to come and they believe you'll start to see those effects of that in December.

TANKERSLEY: Yes, it will take a little while. Certainly didn't do it right away as that oil was up on the day of the announcement.

But what happened was omicron came along. Now oil is down. And so, you know, so much of this is global market event outside the president's control. No president controls gasoline prices.

COLLINS: Right. and you were just in Ohio. You talked to voters. And this is a big concern for them. They are paying more at the pump. They are paying more at the grocery store. You see a poll that says the most important concern for the economy is inflation and gas prices right now.

Not wages and unemployment. Not labor shortages. Housing cost. It is 48 percent say inflation and gas prices are their biggest concern. So is that what you were hearing from people in Ohio?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. And specifically, I was covering the Ohio Republican senate primary. And when you speak to Republicans who show up at these candidate forums there, they are still angry about the shutdowns that happened earlier last year.

You know, why was my small business closed? I'm still economically trying to recover from that. And Republicans have recognized that sore spot, recognized that grievance and are speaking directly to it.

So I would say that, yes, both the current inflation worries but also the months and months of being in a pandemic and all that resulted from it.

COLLINS: And (INAUDIBLE) Republicans have certainly tried to take advantage of this. They are on air all the time talking about this, blaming Biden for inflation, when things like higher gas prices are really largely out of his control to a degree. And so is this -- do they recognize that privately and they just use this in their public criticisms of Biden? MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. I don't think that

they care whether Biden has this under his control or not because the voters are feeling this, right. So they are trying to take advantage of the inflation, rising gas prices, rising consumer costs.

They view this as the ultimate wedge issue. And they really feel like this is going to help deliver them the majority. And they tend to really use the holidays as a way to sort of bring home these concerns for voters.

They talk about, you know, the Thanksgiving meal is going to cost more. You're not going to be able to travel home for the same cost. Presents may not arrive. Even though, again, like the supply chain crisis, largely out of Biden's is control.

Inflation -- he has very limited tools to deal with these. Even the pandemic to some extent, there's a lot out of his control as well.

COLLINS: Limited tools but Jim, you wrote that they overestimated how quickly people would go back to spending and restaurants and shopping and out. They thought that was going to happen. You wrote this week, that they "overestimated how quickly they would start spending money in restaurants and theme parks. And they underestimated how many people wanted to order new cars and couches.

TANKERSLEY: Yes, over the last half century, America has been spending more money on services like restaurants and travel and less on goods. And the pandemic flipped that.


TANKERSLEY: And the White House assumed when they put together this $1.9 trillion economic aid bill that if anything, there was going to be this rush to consume services again as the economy opened up.

But that didn't happen. It hasn't bounced back. People are still ordering a lot of goods. And is trying to basically shove a bunch of money through a very small funnel, which is goods purchases. And what we have seen is, the price of things you buy -- furniture and

electronics is up like 13 percent, whereas services is 3 percent.

So that's their -- sort of the nut of their problem. They missed the fact that that Was not going to rebound, that we were still going to have this big glut of goods spending as opposed to historical trends.

COLLINS: So how are they recalibrating?

TANKERSLEY: Well they -- first off, they can't undo the stimulus. And they don't want to. They think it's a really big win for them to have put this much aid into the economy.

But what they can do is work on supply chains. and so that's what they have been focused on -- ports, they've been focused on trying to, you know, move more trucking.

There's just every lever they could possibly pull to get more goods to market, they are trying to.

COLLINS: Right. And of course, they are also dealing with not just that but also the variants that pop up. Republican pushback against the vaccine mandates they are trying to enact to help get more people in the United States vaccinated. A lot of issues for them to deal with on that. They're not going away any time soon.

Up next though we're going to talk about how the world is on high alert about this alarming new COVID variant that's emerging and very little is still known about it. We will ask Dr. Ashish Jha how the U.S. should respond, next.



COLLINS: Scientists are racing to learn more about a new COVID variant and say it's too soon to tell if omicron can evade vaccines. Although it's already setting off alarm bells around the world.

The president of Moderna said yesterday what's most scary about this virus is it managed to put all of its greatest hits into one variant. And then has added maybe ten mutations that we don't even know what to think of yet.


DR. ANTONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It seems to have really spread rather rapidly in South Africa. Even though the numbers are relatively small, its ability to infect people who have recovered from infection and even people who have been vaccinated make us say, this is something you have to pay really close to attention to and be prepared for something that's serious.


COLLINS: Several countries have banned travel from the eight countries at the southern tip of Africa. And the U.S. Restrictions go into affect tomorrow. But as Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday, omicron could very well already be here.

Joining us now from Massachusetts is Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. So, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

We just want to start with a word of caution because very little, of course, is known about this variant. But can you kind of lay out what scientists do know and whether or not you agree that it's probably already here?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Good morning, Kaitlan. Thanks for having me here.

A few things. First we know is that it spread very, very quickly in South Africa. The reason we know that about South Africa is because South Africa does a great job of surveillance. It may be spreading fast elsewhere. We just don't know. That makes us think that it's going to be a very contagious variant.

The second is we see all of these mutations in the spike protein in areas that are vaccines and are immune system target. And that makes I think a lot of us concerned about immune-innovations. We don't think that our vaccines are going to be rendered useless, but at the same time, we don't know how much of a hit the vaccines are going to take.

COLLINS: Yes. So that's the big question. Does it cause more severe disease? And are the vaccines still pretty effective against it?

And so, in a "New York Times" op-ed today, you kind of laid out what you think the Biden administration should be doing to respond to this as we learn more with is when health researchers figure out how dangerous it is, ramp up surveillance to track it here in the U.S. Talk to vaccine manufacturers about omicron-specific vaccines. And get more people in Africa vaccinated.

What are those -- the chances of those actually -- the administration being able to do all four of those and to them quickly?

DR. JHA: Yes, absolutely. I think the administration is aware that those are the things they need to focus on. And they need to put all of their resources and energy towards those things.

They are not in contradiction with each other. They actually all help each other. We have got to identify this variant when it arrives in the U.S. if it isn't already here. We do need to start thinking about building a specific vaccine, not necessarily because we will need it. I don't know if we will need it. But we shouldn't wait until all the facts are in.

And then of course, the urgency to vaccinate Africa, that has been a huge issue for months. And it has only gotten that much more acute.

COLLINS: Yes. The White House is pointing out when they were talking about their travel restrictions how many vaccines they have sent to Africa. I do wonder, how long is it going to take to figure out how severe a disease this variant causes and if the vaccines are pretty effective against it.

DR. JHA: so on the issue of whether the vaccines will work against it, I think we will have some preliminary evidence within a week. those lab studies are being done right now. The lab settings are not perfect but they do give us a pretty good insight. We will have that I think within a week.

On the issue of severity, we'd have to wait a couple of weeks so people are going to hear a lot about oh, the disease is mild, the disease is severe. We really just don't know. Those are anecdotes.

We have got to sort this out. That's probably going to be a bit more like a couple of weeks before we really have a good handle on that.

COLLINS: And you saw how quickly the administration is moving to respond to this. even as they are waiting on the details to come in, they have already made the decision to ban travel from several of these countries starting tomorrow.

Are these restrictions helpful in stopping variants? Or what is the purpose of them?

DR.JHA: Yes. So let's be very clear about what we know and don't know about travel bans. On travel bans, they do slow the spread a little. I think the travel bans are going to maybe slow the spread into the U.S. By a week or two.

They also send a very clear signal to countries that if you are open and transparent, as South Africa has been, you're going to have a travel ban against you.

So, excuse me, so really will have to weigh both of those things against each other. I'm not sure it's going to be that effective. It may send a very negative signal. We have to be very careful about travel bans.


COLLINS: It does seem to be sending a negative signal because you saw yesterday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was talking about this. He made clear to say that the scientists in South Africa had been very diligent about this. They quickly identified it. They quickly notified the global community about this.

But they are not happy about these travel restrictions. A statement from the foreign ministry said, "A combination of South Africa's capacity to test in its ramped up vaccination program, backed by a world-class scientific community should give our global partners the comfort that we are doing as well as they are in managing the pandemic. Excellent science should be applauded and not punished."

They don't -- they seem to think they are being punished.

DR. JHA: Yes. Look, lots of countries have identified variants in the past or even the virus and haven't been open in sharing. South Africa has been extraordinary.

I'm not even at all clear that this variant started in South Africa. It probably didn't. They identified it. They shared the information with the world. And now they feel like they're being punished.

And I totally understand that. That's why we have to be very thoughtful about travel bans. They feel like an easy thing to do. They don't work all that well. They have a real cost to them.

COLLINS: Yes, you say they buy us some time. That's how the White House is defending it, saying they need -- even if it's a week, a week is pretty valuable to them.

I do wonder if you are sitting at home right now and you are watching this interview, drinking your cup of coffee and you are fully vaccinated, what is your advice to those people about what they should be doing as we are waiting for the facts to come in about this variant?

DR. JHA: I would say, do nothing different than you would have done a week ago. I don't think that this is fundamentally a situation where things have changed. We don't know enough about this variant. Obviously we're going to sort it out. But I wouldn't change my behavior in any meaningful way in the days and weeks ahead until we have a lot more information.

And then once we have better information, obviously, we're going to have to update our guidance.

COLLINS: And we'll be waiting to see what that new guidance looks like. And you said about a week before we get that preliminary information. We'll be waiting to see that.

Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you so much for joining us this morning on this very important news.

DR. JHA: Thank you.

COLLINS: Up next, we're going to talk about whether or not Congress can avert a government shutdown by Friday.



COLLINS: As members of Congress return to Washington, they face a daunting number of December deadlines. They must fund the government, lift the debt ceiling, approve defense spending and on top of that Democrats are hoping to pass their economic plan by Christmas.

But it's not clear if Democrats have the votes to check everything off their to do list. So Melanie, this is going to be a huge week on Capitol Hill. How are they approaching this and are you at all confident, based on your reporting, that they will be able to get all of this done?

ZANONA: Well, I don't think there will be a government shutdown. They will have to do a short-term funding bill at the very last minute. But our sources are telling us they will get I done.

There was some debate about whether they were going to do a very short-term bill or a little bit of a longer term bill if they were, you know, the bigger deal was within reach. It's not. They're probably going to kick it into the New Year.

I think the bigger challenge facing them right now is what are they going to do about the debt ceiling. That is something that they have been at a crossroads over -- whether they should use reconciliation, the Democratic only route or whether they should try to get Republicans on board.

Now, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell did meet over this but there are no signs of a breakthrough just yet and we're being told December 15th is around the date where they have to figure this out. COLLINS: And Eva, what are you hearing about their game plan as they

come back into Washington?

MCKEND: Well, I think the good news is that they have been in this position before, right. We are perennially in crisis in December, year after year and somehow they come out of it.

So I would imagine we might be in for some long nights ahead but my understanding is that no one has an appetite for government shutdown. And we are not going to see that again this year.

COLLINS: And how does President Biden navigate this? Because he was really involved in a lot of the negotiations that we've seen playing out on Capitol Hill over the last several weeks. Is he still going to be that involved or are they going to kind of let Democrats figure it out?

ALEX THOMPSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: I think you're still going to see him very involved. You know, he's taken a senatorial look at this which is a lot of meetings, endless sort of meetings with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

I expect those to continue as he tries to get the Build Back Better Bill done. But you know, when you're betting on Congress, always bet the over. I bet you almost all these things are going to end up going into next year.

COLLINS: And they're hoping to wrap all this up by December. Of course, Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema are at the middle of this. You wrote recently that Senator Manchin is focused on the cost of this Build Back Better Bill. This economic bill that Schumer says he wants to get passed by the end of the year. so what is his mindset looking like in this?

NICHOLS: Wait and see, right. I mean you know, none of us should try to predict what Joe Manchin is going to do and where he's going to end up on any given day, right.

But I think one thing that's been clear about this, he's always been warning about inflation. And he's always wanted to go slowly. So at a certain point we should just listen to what Joe Manchin says, and he says he's worried about inflation, the numbers that have come out, you know, 6.2 percent year over year, we'll have more inflation readings throughout the month.

He wants to wait and see how this is all going to sort its way through.

COLLINS: Is the White House, do they get that when it comes to Manchin?

NICHOLS: Oh yes. They know they have a Manchin -- I don't know that a Manchin problem or a Manchin challenge. We can sort of debate on the right noun. But like they know that Joe Manchin is going to exact his price. They know that Kyrsten Sinema is going to be difficult. I mean look, Sinema is always going to worry about taxes. Manchin has always been worried about the spend side, right.


NICHOLS: The challenge for the White House has always been a Sinema solution isn't necessarily a Manchin solution, right. They think they have Sinema sort of solved but they still have to figure out how to get Manchin there.

And Manchin when you read that statement, he made last week on the release of the strategic petroleum oil reserve, it was so clear he was so frustrated about so many other things, and that's just a warning sign.

COLLINS: And he's been back at home in West Virginia. He says he often hears a lot of complaints from some of his constituents when he's there.

So I suspect we might see a few Manchin and Sinema sightings at the White House this week.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Join us back here every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. and the weekday show as well at noon eastern.

Up next is "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. And today Dana's guests include NIH director Francis Collins and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning with us.