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CNN Poll: Biden's Job Approval Rating Sits at 49 Percent; CNN Poll: Majority Concerned about Economy, Think Government Isn't Doing Enough to Solve High Inflation; CNN Poll: About 8 in 10 Americans say Rising Cost of Food is Major Problem; DOJ Receives Contempt Referral Against Mark Meadows; Omicron Becomes London's Dominant COVID Strain. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing another busy news day with us new CNN polling releasing right now details profound economic anxiety.

The numbers include a giant year end warning for Democrats, two thirds of Americans, two thirds of you have doubts about President Biden's leadership. Plus, next move Mark Meadows is held in contempt of Congress. Will the Justice Department now pursue criminal charges against the Former Trump Chief of Staff?

And the coming Omicron explosion the new COVID variant accounts for just 3 percent of U.S. cases. But last week, it was 0.4 percent games postponed, a campus shutdown as overall cases climb and the holidays collide with COVID exhaustion.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY: We're watching a war right now between the Delta variant and the Omicron variant as to who's going to be become the king of the viral hill.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR & DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: A lot of times in science, we'll look at doubling times how quickly is the virus doubling in terms of its proportion? And you know, Delta it was doubling every couple of weeks. This seems to be doubling every few days. So I think that's - it's pretty clearly more transmissible.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So there's a lot of moving parts to this very, very fast moving epidemic here in the United States. And I think we have to take it very seriously.

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: We're going to try to curtail the spread of Omicron very seriously. And at the same time, we're trying to educate people that we're going to have to live with COVID. There will be further variants down the road and we may have to adjust what it is that we're doing along the way.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KING: And we begin with our brand new CNN poll. The numbers are bleak beyond bleak for the president and for his party, as we count now - now count the days the midterm election year and the mid-term fight to control Congress.

Economic pain and anxiety of behind the country sour mood, and that coast to coast COVID frustration you just heard is the driving force of this sobering very sobering year-end report card. Let's take a look at the numbers.

Number one, the president's approval rating is the North Star of midterm election politics. Our new poll finds the president at 49 percent approval of 51 percent disapproval relatively evenly divided country in our poll, but our poll has a number slightly better when you average out the last five or six polls, which is the smart thing to do never invest in just one poll.

You see the president's approval rating at the end of the year average is at 45 percent, 51 disapprove only Donald Trump was lower than that at this point of his presidency. We know what happened to the Republicans in the first midterm of the Trump Presidency?

This is the challenge for Democrats. Can you change that number over the course of the next few months? Let's look at why? Why is the president's approval down near historic low well, on COVID he is still above water if you will. 54 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of COVID 45 percent disapprove but look at all these other issues.

54 percent disapprove a majority disapprove in the economy. A big majority nearly 60 percent disapprove on immigration majority disapprove on is Joe Biden doing what Joe Biden promised to do help the middle class 54 percent say they disapprove international policy Foreign Affairs also the president underwater.

Let's walk more closely through this. This is a signature number here. Listen to these numbers for remember Joe Biden ran. I get it. I'm not Donald Trump. I can fix it your life will get better. Only three in 10 Americans only 30 percent say Biden's policies have improved the economy. 45 percent say they have worse in things. And 25 percent say no effects. So add this up.

70 percent of Americans say things are either the same or worse when it comes to the economy in Joe Biden's presidency that is alarming for the Democrats and it translates again this way. Remember, he said I get it. I have all this experience. I am ready to lead well, 66 percent of Americans two thirds that means a fair amount of Democrats have either reservations or doubts about President Biden's leadership. Again, a warning sign heading into the midterms so why is this happening? 80 percent of you 80 percent say food costs are a problem in the economy. 79 percent say supply chain 65 percent say COVID you see it on gas costs housing costs government spending, but this is what is critical about this poll.

This is not just people think this look at our numbers. People feel this. That's why the president is down. This is personal 70 percent, nearly 69 percent of Americans say they've been unable to find something they want to purchase supply chain issues. 57 percent say they face delays in receiving something they want to purchase.

Again, back to the supply chain 54 percent of you say you've either bought fewer groceries or changed what you buy at the store because of inflation at the grocery store. And it's a smaller number. But still 43 percent of Americans say they've cut back significantly on driving because gas costs are up. The president understands these numbers. He understands your frustration, he says I get it.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Every other aspect of the economy is racing ahead. It's doing incredibly well. We've never had this kind of growth in 60 years, but inflation is affecting people's lives prices have gone up because of supply chain concerns.


BIDEN: It's a real bump in the road it does affect families. When you walk in the grocery store and you're paying more for whatever you're purchasing, it matters. It matters to people.


KING: With me in studio on this day to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times", CNN's Lauren Fox, and our CNN Political Director, David Chalian.

Let me start with you. The key point, I think, if you look through this poll is number one. The last point I show that this is personal people feel this. This is not a debate in Washington between Democrats and Republicans say that people turned off.

This is pain in their everyday life disruption in their everyday life. But there's also especially as we head into a midterm election year and intensity question, how do people feel things look at this, among those who approve of the president's 16 percent say they approve strongly of Joe Biden's job performance 34 percent more than twice as many say they disapprove strongly.

If you're thinking about a midterm election year, you're thinking about intensity, who wants to vote who's coming out, that's a warning sign for the Democrats.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: And obviously, John partisanship drives that right 33 percent of Democrats, only a third of Democrats approve strongly 75 percent of Republicans disapprove strongly. So you see the intensity gap there, when only a third of your home team says I'm strongly for you, you've got an intensity gap that has real world outcomes in getting people to actually vote in an election year.

KING: And so let's look at this over time. If you want to look at how the president was back in March and April, to where he is today. I'll walk you through this and follow it home from left to right. The green line here is the economy.

Do you disapprove of the president's handling of the economy? You watch that green line? The disapproval of the president's handling of the economy is up 10 points since March, that purple line is COVID. Do you approve of the president's handling of COVID? You see even that is down still the majority. But even that is down six points since March.

And this is a question that's nothing to do with Biden, we asked in the poll. Do you think economic conditions in the country are good right now? That's the gold line. And again, look from March to now. That is down 17 points.

So if you're trying to frame into the election, the president's approval, Jonathan Martin, those are troubling numbers.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: They are and this was always the risk with nominating Joe Biden was that he was seen as the best possible pick to beat Donald Trump. He wasn't seen as the most inspirational transformational leader in the field. He was the safe bet.

Because the number one goal for Democrats and a lot of folks who weren't Democrats last year was how do we get Trump out of office. And Biden was seen as the easiest way to do that. I have a vivid memory of just over a year ago, talking to people outside the White House the day the Saturday that the race was called for Joe Biden.

And what sticks out in my mind from that day was they were excited that Trump was gone. I'd asked about aren't you excited about Joe Biden being president? And they will be polite, but there was nobody among Democratic partisan to kind of folks who were at the White House celebrating who were thrilled for Joe Biden, they were thrilled that Trump was gone.

And that is now coming home to roost, because with Trump out of the picture, at least most of the way, it's about Biden, and people aren't thrilled about what they have. They're happy about who left.

KING: But there's also no matter how you look at the numbers, there's COVID fatigue throughout. But no matter what number you're looking at, there's just COVID exhaustion, and what people - how people feel personally about this?

Now 11 months is a long time, that's a cliche, we're going to sound like a broken record. 11 months is a long time the election is not to 11 months now, we have no idea what COVID would look like? We have no idea what the economy look like? But when you have seven in 10, Americans say them unable to find something, when you have 54 percent of Americans saying they either buying fewer groceries or changing the way they buy groceries, it's a problem.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, and listen; the White House is trying to figure out how to message around this? Joe Biden seen as somebody who's empathetic because of his personal life, but they haven't really mastered how to feel the pain of Americans?

You heard him, for instance, say there that this is just a bump in the road, what's going on with the economy? Doesn't feel like a bump in the road to most Americans. When you go to the grocery store, and you have to change your patterns, we have to change your driving patterns because of the price of gas, which many Americans hadn't really thought about for years and years, because it was such a stable and good number.

Now Americans have to re think all of their habits, and they don't necessarily connect that the real problem is still COVID. All of these, you know, economic problems, obviously connected to this pandemic.

KING: And Joe Biden's not on the ballot next year. But Democratic members of Congress Democratic Candidates for Congress, are Democratic candidates for Governor are in the president's approval rating what people think about the president and the economy, drive midterm election politics?

Doug Sosnik, a very smart Democratic Strategist, worked in the Clinton White House, wrote a memo that was released today. It's not about our new poll, but it's about other recent polls that are similar in the sense that he talks about this.

This is the best political environment for the Republican since 2010. The country has voted for change in seven out of the last eight elections. In fact, during the last four presidents' time in office, his party has lost control about the House and the Senate.

He goes on to note that Joe Biden's numbers are the only person in among modern presidents below where Joe Biden is right now was Donald Trump?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And perhaps a way to change the tide is to accomplish something on Capitol Hill. They passed that big bipartisan infrastructure bill but they quickly pivoted to when they were going to do this bigger social safety net bill?


FOX: And that's in limbo in the Senate, and likely lawmakers are going to go home before Christmas without having passed it. That's a problem because lawmakers could potentially change or help their fortunes. But it's not clear that they're in a position right now to do so. KING: And I just made a Trump comparison. There's an Obama comparison that's interesting, too, in the sense that remember, Donald Trump lost the House in his first midterm, Barack Obama lost the House in his first midterm he lost the Senate in the second midterm.

We asked in our poll, David Chalian, our conditions worsened? 45 percent say that now 28 percent said that about Barack Obama, so people feel worse about the Biden Presidency. Have conditions improved Barack Obama, six points better than Joe Biden is there now? So even in these polarized times, where some people say, well, that's just the way people are going to go after their corner. This is bad.

CHALIAN: And remember how high unemployment was when that was quite - asked about Barack Obama. And the battle over Obamacare was not yet a popular program at all right? And there was real concern about the impact on the economy.

And yet still, nearly half of Americans today, say Biden is making it worse, not even close to how Americans were responding to Obama back then. So that, to me suggests this may be even a tougher mountain to climb. I know there aren't as many competitive seats.

I'm not suggesting Democrats are going to lose 63 seats next year. But I do think the political terrain is as every bit as tough as it was for Democrats back.

KING: These numbers are bad again, its 11 months is a long time. But if we get to the spring and they're starting to harden some that's where it gets very difficult and again, COVID driving the economic anxiety, which is driving the disapproval with the president right now.

Up next, we'll follow the conversation Omicron is stirring old COVID challenges, but just moments ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci says our current vaccines will work - will work he says, against the fast spreading new variant.



KING: Mark Meadows has a lot more to worry about today. CNN's Gabby Oar reports Donald Trump is not happy with his Former Chief of Staff. And Gabby's told he feels blindsided Mr. Trump does because of unflattering things in the new Meadows book and unflattering things in the Meadows text exchanges released by the January 6 Committee in recent days.

And then there is this bigger worry, the Biden Justice Department's must now decide whether to charge Meadows with contempt of Congress? The House voted to hold meadows in contempt last night and sent a criminal referral to the DOJ.

Our Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero joins our conversation. Let's start there. The referral on Steve Bannon went over, it was processed he was charged he now faces trial. Mark Meadows was the Chief of Staff. This is a very different calculation. How is it different? Because he was a government official, and he would have while in office had some privileges.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the biggest difference is that he actually has produced some documents. So that's from my perspective, that's the biggest difference between him and the Bannon case.

Bannon just said I'm not cooperating and that's the end of it. Meadows did produce thousands of pages of documents. The difference is that the statute the referral statute says that it also includes is someone who refuses to answer any question.

And so the big difference for him is that he is refusing now to be interviewed in any way whether he would need to take the Fifth Amendment on certain questions or not that he has that right. But he's just completely refusing to answer any question.

KING: And the committee in revealing over the course of several days what Carrie makes a key point he was cooperating at first turned over reams of documents, including reams of text messages then he pulled back, the committee is making a deliberate effort to lay out A, how central he was? And B, first it was about on January 6, all the incoming on January 6, from including the president's son saying get the president to do something about this.

But now yesterday, Lauren Fox, we saw a Georgia government official to Meadows during the infamous call with the Secretary of State need to end this call. I don't think this will be productive, much longer.

Meadows to a member of Congress he thinks meaning the president thinks the legislators have the power. But the VP has the power too, an unknown lawmaker to Meadows, please check your signal meaning please check an app where you know, maybe it's not a government record. Maybe there's another conversation.

So the question here is we know some of these messages because Meadows cherry picked and said you can have these. What didn't he share?

FOX: Well, also encrypted messaging is another question mark for the committee, right? They want to know potentially what kind of communications he was having offline that they may not have access to ever? So those are concerns of the committee.

But look, this is a two track process of this committee. They are not only trying to understand what happened in the Capitol on January 6? What was happening in the president's mind and within his inner circle on that day? But what happened leading up to it and what role did Meadows have and what role did other members of Congress have?

Because remember, some of those text messages make clear that there were members of Congress who were texting with Meadows, and it's going to become a clear question mark of whether or not and when the Select Committee unveils who those lawmakers are, some of them are sitting members of Congress. KING: Which is important because the Chairman says he'll decide what in the next week or so when to release those names. Because you're getting now through what we know - what we know. And there's a lot we still don't know, a more complete picture of what happened from essentially the day after the election up to January 6 and Mark Meadows central role in it?

But also we can never be forgotten Donald Trump's central role in harassing state officials trying to get them to overturn the results working with members of Congress saying, OK, on certification day, what you can do to gum up the works by objecting.

The president Mark Meadows saying his own text thinking Mike Pence should jump in front of the train so the pieces of the conspiracy the coup plot becoming clearer?

HENDERSON: That's right. And listen, this was a coup plot that even began before January 6; before Election Day it was in Donald Trump's a messaging about re-election if he lost it was certainly going to be rigged. He kept saying over and over and over priming of the pump.


HENDERSON: I think this committee which would seem to kind of run aground because people weren't cooperating. He clearly has troves of data from Mark Meadows. And I think they have done a masterful job over this last week.

You saw Liz Cheney, in some ways, be the face of this committee reading those text messages in prime time for all Americans to see if nothing had broken through before about this coup plot January 6, then certainly it's starting to break through now with these text messages from Fox personalities to Mark Meadows in this central role in sort of absence of Donald Trump on that day. Is this was all unfolding on TV? He seemed to be - just watching here on TV.

KING: And here's what I'll call it delicious political wrinkle to all of this Jonathan Martin. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader has a lot at stake in next year's midterm election season, there's a lot of steak and trying to manage is often difficult, always difficult relationship with Donald Trump says no, he's not among those who called Mark Meadows as the insurrection was unfolding. But he says he's interested in the work of this committee.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I was not, but I do think we're all watching as you are, what is unfolding on the House side. And it will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.


MARTIN: Very dry the dead pan air from the rocky--

KING: But that's the idea keep going. MARTIN: He wants to see Trump lose altitude every day. And I think anything that sort of takes the air out of the Trump World he's thrilled about why because Trump is not only hammering him every day as the old crow, which to me evokes kind of a bourbon.

But he's also screwing around in these primaries and trying to, you know, for example, unseat Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, he's trying to push through Mo Brooks in Alabama folks that, you know, even McConnell does not want to see come to the Senate.

So I think McConnell is sort of happy to see Trump take a hit from this politically. He's not going to do too much more, though, because he wants to keep the focus on Biden, but now, he's not going to spare any sympathy at all, for Donald Trump.

I think the challenge here for the committee and for Cheney is, you know, this obviously gets the attention of a lot of folks who follow politics very closely and it's extraordinary what was going on January 6? How much does it break through with the average American? I think that is still to be determined.

KING: To be determined as we go forward. When we come back NBA games postponed, campuses now going back for online learning. The White House team, the White House COVID team just gave its talks on the new Omicron variant.



KING: We've had NBA games postponed four campuses now say they will go to online learning for the rest of the semester. Omicron is making a statement but this is important. Just moments ago, the Nation's Top Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said that at least at this point, now we do not need a new vaccine as long as you get boosted.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Our booster vaccine regimens work against Omicron at this point there is no need for a very specific booster.


KING: Dr. Richina Bicette-McCain is here to share her expertise. She's Medical Director at the Baylor College of Medicine and an Emergency Room Physician. Doctor grateful for your time today I just want to bring up first just to show Omicron right?

Delta is driving the case right now. So everyone says why are we so obsessed about all Omicron? Well, that was 0.4 percent of cases in the United States a week ago. Now it's 3 percent of cases in the United States. What worries people are let's using the London experience?

Just on Sunday, it was 33. Then by Monday, it was 44 percent. And then on Wednesday, it was 50 percent. This variant is rapidly producing doubling and tripling. When you just heard Dr. Fauci there are you convinced that's the case that if everyone just keeps getting boosted, we'll be safe? Are we going to need a new vaccine?

DR. BICETTE-MCCAIN, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, the problem with that John is everyone isn't eligible for a booster. You do have to wait at least six months from when you're fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two months from when you're fully vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to even be eligible for a booster.

So that's one part of the issue. The other part of the issue that we're not looking at is although the vaccines and the boosters may protect against disease, they do that at a less efficacious rate, than the prior variants and so when we have a high caseload, even though less people are becoming ill when the numbers start to spike that still causes a strain on the hospital system.

KING: And that's a key point. I just want to bring up some of the headlines from just recent days. Three leagues - three of our sports leagues have had to postpone games because of COVID. The NBA says we'll follow the science. Cornell - voice Cornell, one of four college campuses now saying they're going to at least partially shift things online.

Omicron is only 3 percent of the cases but it is all Omicron driving this even as we still have to deal with Delta, how do you do that juggles?

DR. BICETTE-MCCAIN: It's hard to juggle. We don't know exactly what we're dealing with? Keep in mind that Omicron was just discovered a little under three weeks ago, and we're already seeing it in over 77 countries in 36 states within a month of being discovered. So there's still a lot about Omicron that we just don't know.

KING: And if you come through right now, if you just look at cases in the United States right now, we're just around 120,000 cases 190,888 back in November 14th. That was 80,000. So the seven day average of cases is up 50 percent since last month and most of this is Delta. Are you worried that as Omicron starts to double as we have seen in South Africa--