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Inside Politics

Soon: Biden Outlines New Winter COVID Strategy; Omicron Cases Detected in U.S., Patients have Mild Symptoms; Biden to Outline COVID Winter Strategy, Including New Travel Requirements, Including Vaccine Outreach; Sources: Meadows Pushed Bogus Election Conspiracies to National Security Officials across U.S. Government; Pence: I Did the Right Thing on January 6. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 02, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Omicron and the winter spark another Joe Biden COVID reset. Today, the president outlines a new plan flooding the country with at home tests, getting insurance to pay for them and convincing companies to give you give employees time off so they can get boosted.

Plus, two CNN reporting reveals Mark Meadows repeatedly peddled bogus theories about 2020 election fraud on officials across the government. And Kevin McCarthy's do nothing approach to racism and extremism in the Republican ranks.

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says that makes him a leader of the "Who Klux Klan Caucus". We begin though with today's big White House rollout of its winter Coronavirus plan. The president visits the National Institutes of Health next hour for the big announcement.

We are told he will focus on getting more children vaccinated and seniors boosted at new family clinics plus insurance reimbursement for at home COVID tests and new travel restrictions. The timing is tough winter is coming and the new Omicron Coronavirus variant is here.

Another case identified just this morning. And with the public health challenge comes this political reality more COVID uncertainty and stress we all see is a defining drag now on the president standing. Let's get straight to our CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins, Kaitlan, what will we hear?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're going to see President Biden go to NIH somewhere we should know he hasn't been since he was there three weeks after he was inaugurated, though, months later still dealing with the same issues, of course, the pandemic in a different scenario.

But with this new variant, of course, it's going to be looming over what the president is talking about, which is combating COVID-19 in the winter months and the steps that they were taking to try to contain and contain any kind of surge or potential spread.

And so one of those is that they are - steps that they're taking John is, stricter testing requirements when you get on a plane bound for the United States. Before if you were a vaccinated traveler, you had three days to get a negative test result before you board your flight now, you're only going to have 24 hours within that timeframe of your departure, to get a negative test.

No word on whether or not you're going to have to retest once you get back in the United States, or any kind of quarantine something that had been floated earlier this week. But that is something the president will announce today. In addition to TSA extending their mask mandate, it was set to expire John, next month.

Now it's going to go through at least mid-March 2022. Before they revisit that decision, they are a few other steps that they're taking John. They're going to talk about boosting vaccinations, getting people booster shots, having these family clinics where kids can go and get their first vaccine shots, maybe grandparents can go get their booster shot, try to set up that kind of a situation.

One other note, the thing that we should note is they also want to have private insurance companies pay for those at home rapid tests that people are taking, of course, testing is key to all of this, especially with a new variant.

But there are a few caveats with that, it's likely not going to go into effect until in mid-January, you can't retro actively apply it to the past test that you bought at home before. And of course, those tests have not always been in an abundant supply here in the United States.

So those are things that they'll be dealing with John, but it is part of this overall effort to show they are taking steps as they're trying to learn more about this new variant, of course, that is now in the United States.

KING: Kaitlan Collins, I appreciate you kicking us off from the White House. We'll listen to the president next hour. Now let's bring in to share her expertise and insights Dr. Richina Bicette-McCain, she's Director, Medical Director at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Doctor it is great to see you again, I just as we begin the conversation, just want to put up the transmission map. The counties in the United States, the red means you have high COVID transmission. So as the president outlines this new plan, a much of the country is still dealing with higher substantial COVID transmission.

And we have the second confirmed case of the Omicron variant today, from what you have heard about what's in this plan A, what jumps out at you and do you see anything that's missing?

DR. RICHINA BICETTE-MCCAIN, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, I definitely think that increasing testing, access to testing availability of testing; decreasing the cost of testing is a huge part of the plan although home tests may not be as reliable as the ones that we are giving in the clinics and in the hospitals.

If you test positive on a home test, that's a huge boost for people who know now to quarantine themselves and to isolate themselves and not expose others to diseases. So if we can get insurance companies to pay for that and increase the availability of at home testing, I definitely think that's a great idea. But I do still think that we need to focus on getting Americans vaccinated.

KING: So getting Americans vaccinated, the president will make that pitch again today but to that point, the president of course is a politician. You're a public health professional, but you live and work in one of the states that have been central to the red blue divide, if you want to call it the conservative liberal divide throughout this pandemic.

I just want to bring up some new numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, the president's handling of the Coronavirus among all adults, Democrats overwhelmingly approved Republicans overwhelmingly disapprove independents are more split.

And then if you look will you get vaccinated or not vaccinated among the unvaccinated 79 percent disapprove of the president's handling of Coronavirus. Help me from your perspective when you're in Texas and you encounter somebody who either refuses to get vaccinated is skeptical of vaccines doesn't like the government telling them what to do how do you break through?


DR. BICETTE-MCCAIN: You know John I'm not sure if it's my job anymore to break through. Early in the pandemic, I did take it as a personal responsibility to attempt to try and convince people that vaccines were the proper way to go. I've taken a step back from that.

And now all I am trying to do is present the facts and present the data. There's an age old adage that those who do not hear must feel. If you don't want to hear and listen to some of the greatest minds in medicine and science, you are going to have to learn for yourself what is right for you.

The data shows that vaccines are safe, and they do prevent you from getting severe illness and from dying from COVID. I don't know what else to say about it.

KING: That's an excellent point to make. I just want to get and show up here now. One of the things the president will continue to encourage today is those who already are fully vaccinated to go out and get boosted. And we've seen just shy of a quarter of the Americans who are eligible for boosters have already lined up to do them.

I want you to answer this question in the context of the new Omicron variant. The second case confirmed today, one in California, one in Minnesota, both patients so far, say very mild to moderate symptoms. When do you think we will have a better sense of that, how worried we need to be about the new variant?

DR. BICETTE-MCCAIN: Well, I think any new variant that appears should be a cause of worry, because it shows us that COVID transmission and the caseload is still high enough that the - that the viruses are mutating and creating these new variants. So yes, it is a cause for concern.

However, there are more studies that need to be done. We need to see if our vaccines are effective against this new variant if the mutations are making it more transmissible or more deadly?

KING: Dr. Bicette-McCain grateful as always, for your important insights appreciate your time, especially on this day. We'll hear from the president next hour. With me in studio to discuss further and to share their reporting and their insights Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times", CNN's Melanie Zanona and NPR's Audie Cornish.

So the president makes the case in an hour, you know, we're 18 months into COVID. It's a public health message, but the politics is I was just discussing with the doctor, let's just you put it up here again. Biden's handling of the Coronavirus, 83 percent of Democrats approved 88 percent of Republicans disapprove independent split. Can he breakthrough, I guess as part of the question, so those who so far just won't listen?

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST, NPR "ALL THINGS CONSIDERED": It was interesting listening to the doctor just now, who sounded this is not any knock on her a little bit burned out from trying to take on the responsibility of getting people to understand some pretty basic messaging.

At the same time, I think some of the first lessons for crisis communications, you know, in terms of being first being right being credible, the administration, this one and the past had a difficult time doing that, just look at the messaging on masks.

So now you've got to do the same exact thing for boosters walk this line of saying, look, this is something you need to do. And when we have more science will tell you what else you need to do, in the meantime, do X. That's not so easy to put on a bumper sticker. And it'll be interesting to see what the president has to say.

KING: I think that's a great point. And in the context of this as well, we can show you more from this Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, you support federal workplace vaccine mandates. 86 percent of Democrats say sure, yes, I get it that works. 79 percent of Republicans say no, we oppose that independent split pretty evenly.

Melanie, this is coming up again now. It appears they have a deal to keep the government open. But there are still a handful of Republicans who want to object or maybe block it maybe has a short shutdown, because they want to vote to deny funding for what the president wants. The courts have slowed this anyway. But they want it they want to have a vaccine mandate debate.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, this opposition to the vaccine mandates has become a prominent rallying cry in the Republican Party. And ironically, it also comes as Republicans are increasingly blaming Biden and attacking Biden for his failure to get the country back to completely normal and to get the virus under control.

And yet at the same time, they're working actively to undermine his efforts and his pandemic response efforts. It's not just on the vaccine mandates. And it's not just in Congress, either. I mean, there are red states, who have offered financial incentives to employees who refuse to take the vaccine mandate and lose their jobs because of it.

And then you're also seeing the disinformation on the right, which is continuing to run rampant in the GOP. Ronny Jackson, the Former Trump Doctor tweeted over the weekend, falsely that the new variant is made up to help Democrats.

KING: And there's the policy and the public health part. And you know, Kaitlan, and Dr. Bicette-McCain went through some of the details of it there. It's also a psychology challenge, Jonathan, for the president in the sense that people are exhausted, people are tired.

People are tired, whether you're trying to break through millions of these vaccines have been given to people they are safe and effective. Look, look at the data or just you know, you're still your kids in school, you're still worried about that work. Americans are tired.

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, know that. There's a fatigue factor that I think transcend the partisan divisions that I think does create a kind of feeling of malaise right now, especially when you add the sort of inconveniences that have come with the pandemic, IE the supply chain.

But if you look at those polling numbers that you put up there, what you realize is that this issue has become so thoroughly polarized. The two parties are less parties now that they are warring tribes and sex in this country.


MARTIN: They just have two different versions of reality I think what's problematic for the president is when you look past the two parties, and you look at the independents, you know, he is not near where he was at the start of the year with independents. And I think that's because of what you were saying only.

But there was this messaging about the COVID being over, we can move past this Liberation Day is here turns out not so much. I think that has really stung the president.

CORNISH: In fact, there are some key states where you're seeing very serious hospitalization rates, whether it be Michigan, Western Pennsylvania, I mean, these are also key political battlegrounds, as well, it'll be interesting to see where the sort of rubber meets the road further down next year?

In terms of people's lived experience of the disease, which unfortunately is very private? You are alone in a hospital no one sees what's going on. And as this touch touches more people, I think maybe there could be some shift in how people think about it.

KING: That's a fascinating point to make. We're heading into the winter now hopefully not as bad as last winter. But we've all learned this disease charge the course we don't. We don't. Stay with us next for us some brand new CNN reporting Mark Meadows, the Trump Chief of Staff played middleman between Trump World conspiracy theorists and the rest of the United States government. We'll fill you in on the details next.



KING: New reporting this hour on Mark Meadows, the Former Trump Chief of Staff and is bigger than before known role in pushing BS election theories inside the government. Sources including Former Trump administration officials and others with direct knowledge are telling CNN Meadows function essentially as a conduit between Trump allies peddling election conspiracies and the rest of the United States government.

We should also note Meadows is now cooperating at least in part with the January 6 Select Committee. Let's get straight to CNN Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid. Paula take us inside this reporting.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well John, this new reporting reveals how Meadows reached out to some of the country's top national security officials in an effort to connect them with Trump allies who were pushing unfounded claims of foreign election interference and voter fraud.

Now Sources tell CNN that Meadows did this because he wanted to please the former president who was hyper focused on injecting these baseless theories into official government channels. Now Meadows attempts to pressure officials, for example, at the Justice Department those have been well documented.

Well, we have learned that Meadows also reached out to officials at the FBI, Pentagon National Security Council and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence about various election fraud claims. At one point with what he said was potential evidence of a massive conspiracy by China to hack the U.S. election using thermostats to change the results in voting machines.

KING: Is it safe to assume - I assume that the January 6 Investigative Committee wants to know all about this?

REID: Absolutely. Next week, Meadows is expected to appear for a deposition with the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack. And what will be a significant interest to the committee John, is that even after election security officials validated the election results.

Meadows continued to show a willingness to undermine confidence in the election, passing along election fraud information from outside advisors like Mike Flynn and Sidney Powell, saying that he was doing it at Trump's behest.

Now Meadow's attorney did not respond to CNN's requests for comment on this story. You can read all of the reporting from our colleagues, Zach Cohen, Sarah Mari and me on

KING: Paula Reid grateful for sharing that reporting with us. Let's bring the conversation in the room and Former Federal Prosecutor Elliot Williams joins the conversation. So in the context of this Mark Meadows has cut a deal to cooperate with some caveats with the committee.

When you hear information like this, he's going to claim that he has some privilege and he was the White House Chief of Staff, so or some of the other outsiders have zero claim of privilege, he has probably some grounds to negotiate over certain documents. But when details like this become public how it does affect his case of how much he's going to have to share?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure, a lot of them - number one there when he's talking to other officials in government and not the White House, any claim for executive privilege is going to fall apart where he kind of might what his lawyers will come in saying is that look, we were at least asking about foreign interference in elections, China.

And that's something that a White House Chief of Staff ought to be able to do now. That's what his lawyers will say, right?

KING: Even if the source is Rudy Giuliani?

WILLIAMS: Right now, but that's why you have an investigation and you put him under oath and ask him questions about the legitimacy where you have that information, where you got it, what you did with it, and so on. But any argument that he's got these privileges just simply falls apart based on this information received.

KING: And so it just gives us also more insight into the scope of what the committee is trying to do? We focus on the interaction, we're almost a year anniversary of it soon on that day, that dreadful day, but they're going back for essentially from Election Day through the insurrection, including listen to Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State of Georgia who of course, then President Trump tried to get to help him cheat. Raffensperger said no, he says he's been sharing too.


BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: They want to ask really a lot of questions about the election of November 2020 and then every event that happened thereafter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there any discussion about Former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and what his role may have been in trying to instigate some of these conversations with you and other Georgia officials?

RAFFENSPERGER: No, they just refer to a couple texts I received from him. And obviously, I did have a call that was initiated by Mark Meadows calling my Deputy Secretary of State.


KING: You learn about the breadth and the scope of the investigation. But you also learned if they believe the president's chief of staff is central to all of this, then the president was central to all of this.

ZANONA: Absolutely. And what this reporting from our colleagues really sheds light on is why this Select Committee worked so hard to secure Mark Meadows cooperation, they didn't just immediately go down the criminal contempt route because once you do that you're kind of giving up on actually securing your testimony.

And so he is cooperating at this moment he's turned over some documents he's agreed to appear for a deposition.


ZANONA: It's still fragile it could all fall apart he could show up and not answer in a way that is satisfying to the committee. But it shows you how central they view his role in all of this. And he's a major key player in investigation.

MARTIN: I just find Meadows to be a fascinating character, and you're on the Hill every day. And you know what he was like in the House and his House colleagues have some strong views on him. But for somebody who's trying to sort of keep his relationship with President Trump viable, he has now agreed to cooperate with the 1/6 commission with which President Trump has declared kind of a dead letter.

And also has come up with his book, the headline from which is President Trump tested positive for COVID. Now, he said yes, subsequently negative. But those are a funny way of showing your devotion to President Trump --

ZANONA: What else was really striking about the reporting, that he actually didn't necessarily believe the lies that he was pushing that he was working to overturn the election that he was just doing it to please drop, and it shows the lengths to which he was willing to go to it he is the president.

KING: He is Chief of Staff at the White House he is supposed to put his country first even if its president, I know he's loyal to the president, but to her point he's cooperating for now, someone who's not cooperating for now, it could be a contempt citation over the weekend.

They're trying to give the Jeffrey Clark a couple more days to see if they can reach some accommodation there. But this goes back to from New York Times reporting about Mr. Clark, who was number three, I believe, at the Justice Department, and he was supporting President Trump's laws.

And this he met with Mr. Trump over the weekend that informed Mr. Rosen, who was the acting Attorney General on Sunday that the president intended to replace him with Mr. Clark, who could then try to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College results.

He said Mr. Rosen could stay on as his deputy attorney general leaving Mr. Rosen speechless. I sometimes, and I just did laugh at these details when you go through them because it's so ludicrous except, except this was essentially a coup attempt in the United States government.

CORNISH: I would think of it more like low tide reveals a lot of things. And I think that even if there aren't, what you want to do is create consequence. And it may not be the consequence people expected. But the idea is to make people feel pressure to reveal how they behaved in a moment of pressure.

And when it mattered to the Republic, show what that means. And at least have it out there because fool me once, you know, shame on me, but there's going to be another election, there's going to be a lot and has been a lot of rhetoric to undermine the results of any election going forward.

This way, I think the public the media is more prepared, what to look for, who to look to what kind of emotions?

KING: That is a critical point, though, because it continues. It continues to this day. There a lot of people want to say just forget January 6, just let it go was a bad day. Can we just forget about it? No, because there are still people out there changing election laws trying to put the poll watchers and stuff in place. Clark's case, did not cooperate the committee does he have one?

WILLIAMS: No, he doesn't have much of a case. It gets a little bit complicated because he's going to plead the Fifth Amendment, which makes it a little bit tougher to charge him. It becomes in - it was a little bit masterful on the part of the committee though to schedule a vote, not have it, bring him in and make him answer, plead the Fifth Amendment to every single question.

Because number one, if he does it every single time, it makes him look completely disingenuous. Like he didn't want to be there in the first place, if the only does it selectively sometimes, and it seems like well, wait a second, there are some things that you believe that you're criminally liable for. So he doesn't have a great case, but they still have a citation that he can bring.

KING: Watch that one play out. And as we do, you've heard parts of this before, but listen closely, again, Mike Pence, still trying to find a path to a future in Republican politics trying to explain that day.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: On January 6, I said that I believe there were irregularities about which I was concerned. And I wanted them to have a fair hearing before the Congress. I know in my heart of hearts that on that day, we did our duty under the constitution. I don't know if President Trump and I will ever see eye to eye on that day. Or that many of our most ardent supporters will agree with my decision that day. But I know I did the right thing.


KING: He did in the end do the right thing. But he tries to still skirt there. I knew there were some irregularities. He's trying to find a way to keep them from disliking him more? I don't know at the Trump base --

CORNISH: --constituency for irregularities and concern. Like he even says his own ardent supporters don't agree with that. I just don't know looking at the electorate who is excited for that kind of talk.

MARTIN: What was the old - line retain his viability in the system? I think Pence is trying to retain his viability and their elegant primary system by you know, trying to stay true to his legacy and his frankly, obituaries going to be that he actually did the right thing, but at the same time - I am but at the same time, keep the embers burning for 24 because who knows what the future holds, right? I think that's basically his plan.

KING: If the kids don't know what you're talking about, go back and find the video of that amazing.

MARTIN: A young John King --

KING: A young John King - younger John King. I didn't say younger --

MARTIN: How much gray hair?

KING: Younger John King was there Bill Clinton yes he was still relevant. He put it right out there.


KING: Up next for us, House Democrats pushing the GOP Leader to hold one of his own members accountable for racist rhetoric as the temperature sadly continue to rise on Capitol Hill.


KING: Progressive Democrats are trying to turn up some heat on the Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy asking him to remove Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert from committees after she made racist and anti-Muslim comments about a Democratic House colleague.