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Tornadoes Ravage Six States, Leveling Towns And Killing Dozens; Biden Says He Thinks It's "The Peak" Of Inflation Crisis; January 6th Committee Probing Trump's Movement In Planning Rally; U.S. Hosts Summit On Democracy But Under Threat At Home; How Worried Should We Be About Omicron? Aired 8-9a ET
Aired December 12, 2021 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MANU RAJU, CNN HOST (voice-over): A series of tornadoes grips through the Midwest, levels towns and killing dozens.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was my home until last night.
RAJU: Plus, Americans sour on the economy as prices soar. The White House plays defense.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Prices have gone up because of supply chain concerns. Every other aspect in the economy is racing ahead.
RAJU: And federal vaccine mandates under fire in the courts and in Congress.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Even if you're fully vaccinated, can you still get COVID. So what's the point of the mandates?
RAJU: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.
RAJU: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. I'm Manu Raju, in today for Abby Phillip.
Storms unleashed more than 30 tornadoes late Friday and early Saturday, destroying buildings, and claiming lives across six states. One twister alone maybe responsible for damage around a 250-mile stretch from Arkansas to Kentucky. Officials now fear as many 80 people may have lost their lives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Windows start breaking, dogs flying through the air. I didn't know what to do. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's devastating to see stuff I grew up with,
it's just gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Helped a little lady out from rubble. This is my first thoughts, with everybody else.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't happen in your town until it happens in your town.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm looking for my wife.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: President Biden has spoken with the governors of the states affected by the tornadoes and according to the White House, he's directed federal resources to the locations where there's the greatest need. An emergency declaration has been approved for the commonwealth of Kentucky and President Biden and the Kentucky governor pledged to work together to help those in need.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The federal government is not going to walk away. This is one of those times when we aren't Democrats or Republicans. Sounds like hyperbole but it's real. We'll all Americans. We stand together as United States of America.
GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: I just want everybody to know that you are not alone. Today Kentucky is absolutely united. We're united with our people. We're united to find and rescue as many as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: And it's Mayfield, Kentucky, that may be the hardest-hit area. It's estimated more than 100 people working in a candle factory when the tornado hit. Kentucky's governor says just 40 people have been rescued.
Now, CNN's Nadia Romero joins us from Mayfield.
Nadia, it looks like a warzone there. Tell us what you are seeing.
NADIA ROMERO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Manu, that's a great way to describe it, like someone blew up his town and a bomb went off. They can't believe this is what happened because it happened Friday night, right? So we had to wait until Saturday morning and Sunday morning when the sun would come out to see the devastation that was left behind.
And we are in a downtown area not far from us is the candle factory. You can see the sun just starting to peak out over what used to be a factory that is now flattened. We know that is the area that had the most impact from the storm because more than 100 people were working overtime late at night Friday when that tornado ripped through.
Back here where I am in downtown Mayfield, this could be any block in this town. I want to give you an idea what it used to look like. So, behind me, that used to be the post office on the other side of that pile of debris. Next to that on the corner was an auto body shop. You can still see some pickup trucks there. It used to be a vibrant neighborhood on Eighth and Broadway.
On this corner was another strip of businesses, including where a CPA used to have their office. And then right next to me, this was an auto mall. This was a vibrant part of Mayfield, building that had been here for hundreds of years. So much history lost and, of course, the lives that were lost in this storm. There's still the estimates we could have 70 people, up to 100 or so, who died just in this town alone.
That's why the governor is calling this ground zero and President Biden is sending in so many people to try to help to find those survivors and, I mean, how do you even begin to clean this up, Manu?
RAJU: Absolutely stunning.
Tell us what you're hearing about the rescue operation that is under way right now, whether the officials have hoped they can help some of the people, if there are survivors, who can get them to safety?
ROMERO: Well, over at that candle factory, Manu, they had not pulled out a survival -- survivor since about 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. So we're going on quite a few hours now until another whole day since they last pulled out someone alive.
And when I was over there all day yesterday, kind of when you first showed up to the scene as a journalist, you take a look at the first responders, how are they reacting to the situation? If they look like they have it all under control, that they seem calm and collected, then you know maybe it's going to be all right. It's not so bad.
But when we arrived yesterday and throughout the day as the hours went on without pulling out somebody as a survivor, we saw those firefighters who were just -- they were distraught, they were emotional. You don't always see that as first responders because they've seen everything but nothing like this, nothing like the tornado that ripped through Mayfield and several other states.
And then the whole neighborhood, the towns -- the town of Mayfield and neighborhoods inside all look like this. I mean, this could be any corner on any block in Mayfield. We just happen to be here at the moment.
So we have the National Guard in town and they're knocking on doors and they're listening, trying to see if they can hear someone crying out for help because if they were able to make it to their basement or their cellar, how would they get out with all of this debris, the metal, wood, brick, trees, signs, power lines on top? How can they get out? How can you hear their voices? They're using every bit of technology they have and can to find survivors. That's what they're doing today, two days after the storms rolled through Friday night. One of the deadliest things though about this storm, Manu, the storm
itself but now the aftermath, these are power lines that are down. Everywhere you go in this town, you see these power lines that are down. We have no electricity, no hot water, which means no heat, no heat in the middle of December.
If you did survive your storm and you're stuck inside your house, there's a concern people can get frostbite, that they could have hypothermia. You also have the concern of gas.
That was a big problem at the candle factory, the gas lines and people could die from that too, carbon monoxide poisoning. So many dangers after the storm has rolled through -- Manu.
RAJU: So many, just absolutely, absolutely tragic.
Nadia Romero, thank you for your live reporting on the ground.
And we now go further north to Edwardsville, Illinois, an Amazon warehouse was destroyed by the storms and at least two people killed when the building collapsed.
CNN's Boris Sanchez is there.
Boris, what's the latest where you are?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN NEW DAY WEEKEND ANCHOR: Manu, that death toll ticking up, six people believed to have died in the Amazon warehouse behind me. What is complicating matter is that officials don't actually know how many workers were in the building at the time that the EF-3 tornado bore through. It is unbelievable. This warehouse, very large, walls about 30 feet high, 11-inch thick concrete and a section of it like a scalpel has just been torn out by this tornado.
These walls following inward, the roof collapsing. Unknown how many workers were in the building at the time. However, officials tell us roughly some 40 workers were able to get out. They don't have an estimate of who's still unaccounted for, however the search-and-rescue effort has transformed into a search-and-recovery effort. They do not believe there's anyone still alive underneath that pile of rubble.
Despite that, the Governor J.B. Pritzker vowing that Amazon will keep its promises and help this community rebuild after this and will help the workers that were here, obviously, in a very busy holiday season, trying to get packages out, trying to get home to their families in the middle of utter devastation -- Manu.
RAJU: Boris Sanchez with that really sad, tragic report. We'll monitor the recovery efforts. Thank you for the reporting on the ground from Edwardsville, Illinois.
Joining us now with their reporting and their insight: Rachael Bade from "Politico", Joshua Jamerson of "The Wall Street Journal", CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Margaret Talev of "Axios".
Every president has to deal with crises, with disasters. It happens from time to time. Every president has to deal with it, some will deal with it differently than others.
How do we expect Joe Biden to deal with this?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, this is something that the Biden administration jumped in very quickly yesterday. The president is at his weekend home in Wilmington, Delaware, but he spoke to the nation, and more importantly, he spoke to the governors, three times with Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.
So, look this is the test of any administration, getting the money there, getting help there. The FEMA director and the secretary of Department of Homeland Security are traveling to Kentucky this afternoon. But, look, we will see how they handle it. I thought it was striking, though, the president said this is not the time for Democrats or Republicans. That he even has to say that at this point, underscores that this is happening in red America mostly but it is a test of this country for sure.
RAJU: How do you see it, Margaret?
MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a tragedy in and of itself. You can't help contrast it with sort of the national tornado we've all been going over the last two years with COVID. I think when there's a national tragedy, it's much easier to bridge the partisan divide. Everybody needs to pitch in to help.
You need money, resources, you need emergency workers, you need doctors, you need for politicians to band together. I just think that stands in such stark contrast to the long-term health crisis that we're all going through but I think in this case, you're going to see Biden and officials from both sides of the aisle in Congress at the state level throw in together and try to do everything they can for these people have been devastated.
RAJU: Yeah, so much more to discuss and also about Biden has to deal with this and issues and agenda in Congress and that's what we're going to discuss next.
Voters say their top economic concern is inflation. But could that doom President Biden's agenda?
RAJU: For the first time in decades, rising prices are a top economic concern for American families. It's easy to see why, inflation. In November, it rose in the fastest rate in more than four decades according to a new report out Friday. Cash, food, furniture, clothes, necessities of life getting more expensive.
But the White House would rather you focused on this, gas prices have begun inching down and the supply chain crunch is easing, the administration says. Unemployment is falling, stocks rising and analysts at JPMorgan are expecting a full economic recovery next year. Now, Josh, I want to get your sense on the White House's argument
here. The inflation report was backward looking. They say everything is getting better. Can they make that case?
In a poll out today, ABC/Ipsos poll says 59 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden's handling on inflation itself. So how are they able to message they can do this effectively given the concerns out there?
JOSHUA JAMERSON, WALL STREET JOURNAL NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: There's an economic argument and political argument. Economically there's an argument to be made that we're going through inflation in large part because there is a robust recovery in the economy happening and supply chain imbalances people are seeing.
But something I saw in "The Wall Street Journal" poll I thought was interesting, Republicans had 26 percentage point advantages, do you think Republicans or Democrats can better handle inflation? But Democrats had a five-point advantage on which party of Congress do you think will be better looking out for the middle class over the next term?
So I think that helps explain why Democrats are trying to link it to solving the agenda crisis and build back better can help inflation.
RAJU: But can Build Back Better get done with the inflation report from last time?
ZELENY: I mean, that's the big question, the reality is no. This has not moved Joe Manchin at all but probably in the opposite direction here.
I mean, the challenge for the president and the Biden administration is, A, finally, they are acknowledging inflation, which for months they really weren't. They were saying that's transitory and that's out the window. But the president I was struck on Friday when he said we're at the peak of the crisis.
If that's true in heading into 2022, reason for optimism for the White House. If it's not true we're going to see this somewhat played again and again.
But, look, it is still a psychological economic moment here. People are spending more than ever before. Wages largely are up.
I do think we have to say gas prices and natural gas, for example, going way down. So, there are bright signs but they simply can't get over the inflationary hump. I was out with the president last week in Kansas City and he's talking up the economy but at the same time he has to acknowledge the hurt people are feeling. It's a tricky balancing act.
RAJU: It really is. And you mentioned Joe Manchin, of course, he is key to all of this, this massive bill, roughly $200 million sitting in the Senate. They're still trying to draft the bill, they're not done drafting legislation. They don't have Joe Manchin on board. I asked him last week about the White House's argument about -- that
this bill would control inflation and this is even before last week's report came out on those inflation numbers. Here's what Manchin said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I've heard that. I don't know how you control an inflation when there's the first year spending will be quite large and that's an awful lot more federal dollars going into a time when we have uncertainty and inflation now.
I haven't figured out how spending a lot more on the front end is curbing that money on the back end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, Biden says he's going to talk to Joe Manchin this week. The Democratic leaders want to get this bill done before Christmas, which seems highly unlikely at this point.
But do you think that anything Joe Biden can do can get Joe Manchin to vote yes?
RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, it's going to be a real test of the president's sort of sway with Manchin and his sort of rapport he's felt with him over the past year. I mean, clearly, Manchin was sending positive signals when they reached the framework but he said all along he wants to look at inflation.
There was a CBO Congressional Budget Office score he was waiting for on Friday to see what he said was the true cost of the bill, if a lot of these provisions didn't sunset after a couple years. Currently, Democrats only want to have these programs for a couple of years, which keeps the costs down. But Joe Manchin said these would be extended. So, if they're extended, how much they're going to cost?
Well, the cost went from $2 trillion to $5 trillion. So, what does this do for Joe Manchin's vote? I can't imagine it helps things.
And, you know, they have the Kentucky disaster now, COVID right now. They've got one week until they're supposed to leave for Christmas. They don't have a deal on paid family leave. They still don't have a deal on state and local tax deduction and then they have all of the issues with inflation and CBO score.
So, they've got a lot of work to do.
RAJU: Look how the public views this as well. This is a Monmouth poll from last week. Whether or not Americans approve of the Build Back Better plan, overwhelmingly they do, 61 percent do. Yes, they do. No, 35 percent no.
Now, this is the key question, how big a priority should Build Back Better be? Of those who support the plan, the top priority say 45 percent, 44 percent say it's important but not the top priority. And that's really sort of a dilemma for Democrats. They're trying to message this is something you need right now but not all Americans, even supporters of this, necessarily agree.
TALEV: They're trying to message this as a way out of the economic strains of the pandemic crisis. But the reason Americans are saying it shouldn't be the top priority is because they're like, hey, we have an economic crisis and health pandemic. And so, this chicken/egg part of their messaging is difficult.
I think Biden has a couple challenges too. One is that when it comes to inflation in the supply chain, what he's trying to tell people is this really is not long term -- I mean maybe there's some long term, but the panic you feel right now is not long term.
But that's what I said about the pandemic. Here we are quite a bit of months later after everyone got their vaccinations. So I think psychologically, the public is having trouble when any politician from any party says trust me, if you do this, this will happen.
TALEV: And then, on top of that, when it comes to the Build Back Better plan, I don't think any of us is hearing it's a matter of is it dead or alive. It's a matter of when can it pass and how much of it can pass? That is really impacted by the collective pressure of all of these.
ZELENY: And Christmas seems virtually impossible, as you know better than anyone.
RAJU: Exactly. Keep talking about Christmas, so much needs to be done. Drafting the bill, getting Joe Manchin on board. And the political impact, if the bill does pass, implement it before the midterms, all key concerns for Democrats.
And up next for us, the latest on the January 6th Committee's investigation.
RAJU: The committee investigating the Capitol insurrection is zeroing in on a key question, what did then President Trump and his top aides know and when did they know it? The panel has subpoenaed six additional witnesses on Friday, including at least two who met with Trump to discuss the rally on January 4th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): What role did they play in this? What understanding did they have about who would be participating and presence of white nationalist groups and propensity for violence? Was this the last-stretch strategy now that the litigation had failed?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, the committee has already heard testimony from more than 300 witnesses. But some former top officials refuse to testify. Mark Meadows is one of them. The ex-Trump chief of staff turned over thousands of documents but then stopped cooperating, the same week his book out.
Now, he's suing the committee which plans to vote tomorrow to hold them in contempt of Congress.
Now, listen to what -- how Mark Meadows explain why he's defying the January 6th committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK MEADOWS, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We came to the conclusion they're still going to try to question those personal private conversations that I had with the president of the United States and other senior officials in the west wing, and quite frankly, their scope is way too broad --
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: The court is going to have to determine that.
MEADOWS: So, we're going to challenge it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: He might get indicted. There could be a criminal contempt referral that goes to the Justice Department that ultimately will decide to indict him. But even if that goes through the process, he may never actually testify. How big of a blow do you think this is to the committee? He has turned over these documents. We don't know what are in the documents he turned over to the committee, but him not giving his first account of what happened here, what impact does that have?
BADE: Well, look, he was a central witness. He was with the president as the January 6th siege on the Capitol was ongoing. He know who was talking to him and he would be explosive testimony to the committee for this committee. The issue is -- and I think a lot of us who watched these investigations on the hill for a while, we never thought he was going to cooperate fully. This was about sort of showing the court, just doing enough to say, look, I tried to comply without being unreasonable, therefore, I'm not going to work with them.
But in terms of actually getting his testimony, you know, Steve Bannon, who was just held in contempt by congress for not cooperating with the subpoena, his trial is now set for summer.
And you know, the January 6th Committee is operating on a timeline right now. The reality is that Republicans are probably going to flip the house and once that happens forget every Trump investigation, forget about learning about January 6th.
And so, you know, if they hold him in contempt this week, it's likely going to take a long time, you know. It could possibly be into early next fall before he actually gets, you know, his trial is actually under way. And so that doesn't really help the committee when they're trying to wrap things up before elections.
RAJU: Yes. December 31, 2022 may be the last day this investigation happens. We will see if it is wrapped up before then.
But we keep learning more and more things that are happening and the effort to overturn the election by Trump, his legal team, people involved -- close to the former president. We learned about two legal memos that were authored last week by one of the former president's legal advisers, Jenna Ellis, who said that Mike Pence had the authority to refuse to count presidential electors from states that delivered the Biden the White House. There were two memos that were sent around the time.
How significant do you think this is to that investigation?
TALEV: I think so much of what is beginning to come out now are things that we already knew or at least could peek behind the curtain and see back in January, right? We were all covering -- not even January -- from November until January, you could see so many of these efforts playing out in public or pretty much in public.
Memos, efforts, coordination, public appearances, television appearances, meetings. And so I think, look, what the committee is doing is trying to put together a specific of a text and paper trail and kind of timeline as possible.
But we already know that President Trump -- former president Trump, was getting advice from lawyers and advisers who were telling him that there are avenues to challenge this, that they could try things legislatively. They could try things through secretary of states' offices. They could you know, use legal mechanisms or try to use the laws that already existed to try to challenge this.
So I think we may continue to see more of this.
RAJU: And even though we're learning all of this, Trump is still, of course, the dominant figure in Republican primary politics.
TALEV: Absolutely. We've seen this play out in the Georgia governor's race. David Perdue, the former senator who lost in January, is now challenging Brian Kemp. And he's making the claim that Kemp is the reason why he lost his senate race because Kemp certified the election and the way he handled that, which, of course, there was no evidence that there was widespread fraud that could have changed Biden's victory or the Republican losses there.
But Donald Trump was asked about the value of his endorsement and this is what he said --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spent a lot of time talking to people about endorsement. They all want the endorsement of Trump. You remember for years you heard the expression, an endorsement isn't worth the paper it's written on. And then this whole thing came along and it's a very -- it's a very important -- it's a very important treasure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: A very important treasure. I mean David Perdue obviously sees it that way. People see that perhaps that David Perdue lost his race because Donald Trump was saying the election was rigged and stolen in that surprise turnout in the January runoff. And here's David Perdue now saying the opposite.
ZELENY: A golden treasure. Look, I mean you do want Donald Trump's endorsement in a Republican primary without question.
I think you know of all the outrageous things that have been adding up and piling up, sometimes it's hard to keep track of, that David Perdue, what he said about, you know, the election fraud and all the claims about the House and he basically blamed the loss on Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp, the governor handed over the power to Stacey Abrams. None of that was true.
So the reality is, he has a tough competitive race in Georgia. We will see if Brian Kemp stays and runs but President Trump remains -- former president Trump remains at the center of the vortex of the Republican primaries. So everyone wants his endorsement.
He's absolutely right what he said Hugh Hewitt today. It is a treasure that everyone covets.
TALEV: And has endorsed so far in more than 80 races, dozens more expected to come before the real crux of the GOP primary season. He's playing strategically in races all over the country at the states as well as the federal level.
RAJU: Yes. We'll see how it plays out, see what impact he has on the general election as well. And Democrats, of course, want to run against Donald Trump. We will see how that works.
And up next, the U.S. hosts a summit to promote democracy even as it's -- even as it's in danger here at home.
RAJU: This is a week of foreign policy milestones for the Biden administration, including the first-ever global democracy summit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American democracy is an ongoing struggle to live up to our highest ideals and to heal our division. Democracy doesn't happen by accident. We have to renew it with each generation and this is an urgent matter on all of our parts.
(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now GOP Senator Josh Hawley sees it different.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): I mean this is a guy who doesn't really like America and he's telling the rest of the world, I'm so sorry for America and that the way it is. You know, we should be different.
Meanwhile, he's letting China walk all over him. He's letting an actual authoritarian dictator call the shots. I thought it was embarrassing and sad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: What does the White House think it actually got from the summit? Critics will say that he -- look what happened to Afghanistan, he pulled out of Afghanistan. There's an autocratic regime -- Islamist regime there. There is -- he also had Duterte and Bolsonaro at the global democracy summit. But what did the White House actually gain from this?
ZELENY: Look, I think they gained the -- or what they were trying to gain is just I think once again reasserting the U.S.' role on the world stage, which has been greatly diminished over the last several years. But look, there are many, many, many questions as we were just talking about with the insurrection about the state of the democracy here.
ZELENY: So I think it is just to remind the world that look, the U.S. is still here, is still in a position of power. But that's also kind of a sad commentary --
ZELENY: -- that it even has to be done.
RAJU: I mean you'd mentioned the U.S. back sliding -- that's what a lot of these outside groups that evaluate democracy around the country have been saying.
This is what the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said in 2021 in this report. "The United States, the bastion of global democracy fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale."
Is that fair, Josh?
JOSHUA JAMERSON, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": I mean I think when American presidents talk about our democracy, it's almost always more aspirational than based on our reality. And I think this is kind of an extension of that. When presidents took on the world stage and there were questions about how we went into war in Iraq or there are questions about our drone policies. I do think, you know, as we talked about in the last block, there's a little bit of a difference now with President Trump and Republicans re-upping concerns about our elections.
But to me, those kind of fit though with the trend of American presidents kind of having to talk up American exceptionalism and almost convince other people.
BADE: Yes. I mean the timing right now is just -- I mean it's ironic. I mean you have specifically China in pushing back on the summit saying, look. Look at what happened in the United States January 6th, people storming the Capitol.
You had China and Russia doing a joint op-ed and Hungary saying, you have half of Americans who don't believe the results of the 2020 election. So what kind of democracy do you have? And why are you able to say that yours is better than other people's? So I mean it really opens us up, the United States up to serious criticism right now. I mean you just have to remark on the irony of Josh Hawley, that clip you just played criticizing Biden for the summit when he was the one who sort of led the charge to object to the Electoral College in Congress.
TALEV: But democracy not under assault because of Joe Biden. It's under assault despite Joe Biden's messaging and efforts. But every democracy, every western democracy, every democracy in the world right now is under assault.
And there are major forces pushing that -- income inequality, disinformation, ways to abuse social media, and the fact that people have frustrations and don't know who to blame.
And it is harder to pivot fast in democracies than it is with autocracies. There are all of these factors. We know all of them.
Biden's view, this administration's view is you have to talk about them, you have to hold your allies close and you have to try to message the benefits of democracy.
The challenge is reaching those internal domestic audiences, including the one in the U.S., that already don't think of it that way and it's very hard to --
RAJU: And this all comes as other foreign policy concerns emerge, what's happening in Russia, in Ukraine, the tensions that are happening there. Last week, we featured that phone call between Biden and Vladimir Putin. Biden warned there would be very strict sanctions against Russia if -- even stricter than 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. He said that they're going to be tougher this time.
Now Vladimir Putin just told Russian state media TV that he would, quote, really like to meet for talks with Joe Biden. Is that going to happen, Jeff? And do you think that the White House may preemptively sanction Russia rather than wait for anything to happen during the (INAUDIBLE)?
ZELENY: It's very unlikely that there would be another face-to-face meeting, I think, unless there is some action from Russia to sort of step back from the brink of Ukraine.
Absolutely, I cannot imagine another summit if, you know, there's not some action for Vladimir Putin. And never mind the cyberattacks and other matters that were actually the subject of discussion at their first meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. This is a whole new issue.
So the White House's tough (ph) at the call this week or last week which is two hours was constructive, talking about those sanctions. But the ball now is in Putin's court. And if he keeps moving on Ukraine, no, there's not going to be a face-to-face meeting but there will be tough economic sanctions that we (INAUDIBLE) the president's threat.
RAJU: Yes. And the pressure is going to be on the president to move quickly on those sanctions. What will he do? We'll see.
Up next, it's been two weeks since the world learned of the omicron variant. What do we know and how worried should we be?
RAJU: Some good news on vaccines. More than 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, nearly 61 percent of the total population but far fewer, just a quarter, have gotten a booster. Now, that's a problem because while we still have a lot to learn about the omicron variant, experts say we already know you're far safer from it with the extra shot than without it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: If you haven't yet got that booster and you are six months away from Pfizer or Moderna or two months away from J&J, don't wait. This is the moment.
Christmas is coming. The geese are getting fat. Don't wait for your booster. Go and get that. it's time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner joins us for this part of the conversation. Dr. Reiner, all of these studies show us that boosters were the best way to deter this new variant. But we're learning it's contagious, perhaps more contagious but less severe.
Just tell us more broadly about your level of concern about this new variant.
DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So this is what we know and actually there's probably more that we don't know than we do know.
So we know that this variant has probably dozens of mutations. Some of these mutations look like they make this variant significantly more transmissible. Some of the early data suggests that the virus' doubling time is only about three to four days, which is much more rapid than delta. So we think it's more transmissible.
DR. REINER: We have now early data from Pfizer suggesting that their vaccine in three-dose format, so two doses plus the booster, will effectively neutralize this so that needs to be verified in more in the clinical arena.
And then the final piece is whether or not the variant produces more severe illness and early reports suggest maybe not, although I say that with a bit of a caveat in that many of the early infections in South Africa occurred in younger people. So that's a group that you would expect less severe infections.
But at least the early data, in fact CDC's initial report of the first 43 cases in the United States, only one of those cases required hospitalization. So there's really no evidence right now that the variant produces more severe infection but it certainly appears to be more transmissible and we'll have to see in the United States, where 99 percent of infections currently are delta, whether this can outcompete delta and become the predominant variant.
RAJU: And look at this map across the country. Hospitalizations are rising in addition to cases. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases shows 131,000 new cases just yesterday alone.
And then when we talk about hospitalizations, of course, that is the lagging indicator here, it is increasing in December. Yesterday it's 67,000 cases.
What does this tell you? Is this all because of delta? Is this primarily because of delta and why are cases rising then?
DR. REINER: It's all because of delta in the United States and it's all because we've only fully vaccinated in this country a little over 60 percent of the population. And in fact, almost 18 percent of adults are unvaccinated. So that's 50 million people.
And delta is a very promiscuous virus. And if you are unvaccinated with delta and it looks like certainly with omicron you are going to get infected. So this virus is going to tear through parts of the country where there are still many unvaccinated people. And about a week after people get infected that's when you start to see the severity of illness that generates hospitalizations and people are going to continue to die. Currently we're averaging about 1,200 deaths a day.
In about -- sometime in the next two days we're going to pass a terrible milestone in this country when the 800,000th person in this country dies of this virus.
This virus has killed more people in this country than any single war have. The civil war killed 655,000 Americans. We're about to pass 800,000 but I don't see a war footing? Where is the war footing? Where is the sense of urgency in this country?
RAJU: And look, all that comes is that it sets a major fight about exactly how to deal with all of this and including whether to impose new vaccine mandates. That of course, has been a huge battle in the courts.
The president's vaccine mandates have been struck down by judges across the country. Look at what happened on Capitol Hill last week when 52 senators including two Democrats voted to block the business mandates on the vaccines going forward.
Listen to how Republicans are messaging this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Trust me, there's no bigger proponent of vaccination than I am but here's the thing. The United States America is a free country.
SENATOR ROGER MARSHALL (R-KS): There will be an economic shutdown. There will be brownouts.
SENATOR SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R-WV): It's killing the American spirit of being able to make decisions about yourself.
SENATOR TED CRUZ (R-TX): The vaccine mandate is illegal. It's unconstitutional. And it's a grotesque abuse of power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: How big of an issue is this going to be in the midterms?
BADE: A big issue, I would say. I mean it's interesting, you can see the politicization of the vaccine mandates really taking off on the Hill right now particularly with those quoted Republicans sensing an opportunity to sort of drum up their base.
And you know, I've heard anecdotally from Republicans that they've received more calls of people complaining about vaccine mandates than they did during both impeachments which tells them that this is something they want to talk about whether or not it's responsible.
And for Democrats, you know, I've talked to front line Democrats who are up in the House who's facing difficult re-elections who don't want their leaders talking about this anymore. Like they don't want to talk about it.
And so, you know, we saw initial poll numbers saying people support mandates. There's a clear prediction in both parties right now that this is going to go the opposite way.
RAJU: Dr. Reiner, do these vaccine mandates actually work?
DR. REINER: They do work. We've seen it work on the corporate level. 99 percent of the people who work for United Airlines opted to get vaccinated.
We've seen it work in the city level, New York City has -- you can't do anything in New York City without being vaccinated. You can't go to a restaurant. You can't go to a movie. You can't go to a theater. And a huge part of the New York City population is now vaccinated.
And there's one more thing the Biden administration can do. The Biden administration should mandate vaccines for air travel in the United States.
DR. REINER: Vaccines are broadly popular in this country. 83 percent of adults have been vaccinated. I can't think of another public policy measure in this country where you have 83 percent agreement.
So 17 percent of the United States essentially is blocking this notion of a broad vaccine mandate. But unless we get more people vaccinated, this virus is not going to go away.
RAJU: Right. That's the pressure on the Biden administration, take more stringent action. But if they do, what will the courts do? What will the response be on Capitol Hill.
Thank you, guys, for joining me this morning.
And that's it for us on INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. Join us back here every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern and the weekday show as well at noon.
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