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CDC Cuts Recommended Isolation and Quarantine Time in Half; CDC Shortens Isolation Period to 5 Days for Asymptomatic Cases; Pediatric Hospitalizations Skyrocket Amid Omicron Surge; Democrats Plot How to Revive Biden Agenda; Axelrod: Dems Should Stop "Complaining About What Wasn't Possible". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2021 - 12:00   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm Phil Mattingly in for John King in Washington. Omicron has scrambled everything. Daily cases climbed to 237,000 more kids landing in hospitals the CDC changes its guidance on asymptomatic infections.

Plus, Democrats running over the same old ground is President Biden's agenda dead and can Joe Manchin be swayed? We asked one Democratic Senator if they breakthrough, BBB is possible. And which party will control Washington depends on what happens in places like Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania? But what happens in South Dakota will tell us a whole lot about what matters to Republicans?

We begin with those staggering COVID numbers; the U.S. is now averaging more than 237,000 new daily cases. And several states are near all-time peak COVID hospitalization levels. Now the stark rise comes is the CDC announced its cutting the recommended isolation period for asymptomatic infected Americans in half instead of staying away from other people for 10 days the CDC now says stay home for just five that's if you're asymptomatic by day five.

Now the agency says the change is driven by data showing most COVID transmission happens one to two days before someone has symptoms and in the two to three days after. I want to get straight to CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. So Elizabeth, this was a major change what kind of precipitated this?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What precipitated it, Phil was that statistic that you just gave where they said, look, if you're - if you're most symptomatic right before and just in two or three days after exposure, why are we keeping people out for 10 days, they started to see we're losing doctors, we're losing nurses, we're losing people who work for example, for airlines, which is why you're seeing so many canceled flights.

So they said, let's take the steps. And I must say when I talked to infectious disease experts who have always been feel very free to criticize the CDC and do so often, they actually were really in support of this. So let's take a look again at what you were just talking about.

So the CDC used to say isolate for 10 days if you have COVID. Now they say if you're asymptomatic, you're - you have COVID, but you're asymptomatic, or you have symptoms, and they're getting better isolate for five days, and then wear a mask around others for five days.

Now, let's say you're exposed someone in your family, for example, has COVID you don't have COVID, but you have been exposed. They used to say to quarantine. Now they're saying if you've been vaccinated and received a booster or if your second shot was within the past six months, no quarantine is necessary, but do wear a mask for 10 days.

The reason for that the CDC says that as long as you've had a booster shot that you are 75 percent protected against Omicron infection. So they're saying if you're 75 percent effective, I'm sorry, 75 percent protected against Omicron you're not sick, you don't have it, you're not showing signs, why should you be quarantined?

So you know this will really come into play as Omicron starts spreading in bigger numbers across the United States. We'll see how this new policy works out Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no question about it. I do have one quick follow up. The CDC just announced the number of new cases caused by Omicron was less than 60 percent last week. I was a little confused when I saw that number compared to what we've seen the last couple of weeks. What do you make of these new numbers?

COHEN: Yes, it's really confusing what's happened here. And I'm going to spell this all out and try to sort of go slowly. So the CDC every week puts out reports all the new cases out there X percent are Delta T percent are Omicron et cetera. They've been doing this throughout the pandemic.

So CDC previously said that the week of December 11th through 18th, they previously said that new cases were 73 percent Omicron, and everyone was like, wow, that got very big very quickly. Now they're saying we're revising that estimate. We think it's actually 23 percent that is obviously a gigantic difference.

And they say the week of December 19th through 25th was 59 percent so Omicron does not seem to be spreading quite as quickly, Delta is still holding its own. How did this happen? It is unclear one thing that we know you know people think Phil that every that we do genetic sequencing for every case we don't.

We have to do estimates, we do a few and then we estimate but it's a bit of a problem that this happened because you start making treatment decisions based on these numbers. And that number appears to have been wildly off Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And that might even be an understatement still evolution in real time. Elizabeth Cohen thanks for explaining it to us slowly. I appreciate it as always. Alright, I want to bring in now Former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. And Dr. Wen before we kind of go through things here. I want you to take a listen to how Dr. Anthony Fauci kind of walked through the new guidelines from this CDC on CNN last night.



DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: So it just makes sense if you keep them out for five days keep them isolated for five days then get them back doing their job doing their work keeping a mask on to protecting themselves from infecting other individuals. So I don't think it's confusing. I think it's a rather crisp recommendation.


MATTINGLY: So Dr. Win, I think one of the questions that the CDC was citing research in science and data, but behind the decision here, but I think there's been some question right now, is this because of the scale the spread a decision, a decision about keeping businesses open? Is it a medical decision? Is it a political decision? Is it all of them combined? Where are we on this?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well Phil, I'm relieved that the CDC came out with this guidance, because we are facing the imminent collapse of so many functions in our society, we already are about to surpass the peak of COVID cases last winter.

And by the way, we are vastly over or under accounting rather, because people are unable to get tests. And also rapid tests are not being reported to public health authorities. We could very well get to the point of having a million new COVID infections every day.

When we're at that kind of level you can't keep people out for 10 days in isolation, because we're not going to have police officers, we're not going to firefighters, we're not going to have food service workers, and we're just not going to have a functioning society.

And so I'm relieved that the CDC came to this decision. It is based on the science as well, although I will say ideally, what we really want is to have a test to in order to exit isolation to make sure that you're no longer infectious. But as we know, there aren't enough tests.

And so I think this is the best of both worlds, if you will; that it is really a practical decision based on science, but ultimately driven by practicalities, because that's what public health is about. It's about meeting the realities on the ground. It's not about aiming for perfect; it's recognizing that we are in an imperfect and pretty dire situation. And this is the reason why we have to shorten that isolation period.

MATTINGLY: But you hit on a really good point when I was reading through the new guidance yesterday, I kept waiting for the sentence that said, once you test negative or test negative twice with an antigen test, you know, the NBA shorten their isolation period, but had the condition that players can return as soon as six days after testing positive if testing shows they're no longer infectious. Is a dearth of tests why the CDC didn't issue a similar prerequisite here?

DR. WEN: I believe so. And I wish that they just came out and said it in the same way that back last March, when the CDC was not recommending masks, and was giving all kinds of other reasons for why masks were not recommended.

I wish that they had come out then and said the real reason is that we don't have enough masks for healthcare workers. And therefore we should be saving these high quality masks for healthcare workers. Not that masks aren't needed, but that we don't have enough masks.

I think this is the same thing here too. Tests actually are needed in order to exit isolation. But if we don't even have enough tests right now to test symptomatic people, then we need to - we cannot possibly issue guidance for all of America to exit isolation that way.

So practical reasons and I wish they were forthcoming about the practical aspects of why they're making this decision, which I still believe is the right one.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's a big question mark for me, though. I think that's probably the likely answer as you said. Last one, before I let you go, we've been watching cases pediatric cases of COVID I think skyrocket to some degree, at least in places like New York City, they're anecdotal.

But we've seen them jump. There's no question about that. Pediatric hospitalizations in New York City increased fivefold in less than a month and other hospital Children's Hospital in Chicago quadrupled in a week, close to half of all COVID tests at Children's National Hospital in D.C. are coming back positive.

You're a mom; I'm a dad with two unvaccinated kids out of three. What are you saying to parents in terms of advice, as we all look to school, restarting here in about a week in terms of how to manage this moment in time?

DR.WEN: Yes, it's a dangerous time for our children. The spike in infections that we're seeing in children is not unexpected, because we're seeing this spike in adults. And we know that people who are vaccinated and boosted are very well protected against severe illness, but are young children, many of whom are still unvaccinated are not protected, because they're not vaccinated.

And so I would say for children ages five and above, get your vaccine or to the parents of these kids to get these children the vaccine that will protect them. For children younger than five, the best that we can do is to surround them with people who are vaccinated and boosted.

I would still say send your children to school. But ideally, again, the schools should be implementing these protective measures that we know are effective. We know that masking in schools; especially with a high quality masks are very protective. We know that testing can help to keep kids in school safely. So those are the types of measures that we should be implementing. Keep your kids in school surround them with people who are vaccinated and reduce risk in other ways don't also have indoor play day. Focus on keeping our kids in school learning.


MATTINGLY: Yes. There are roadmaps and there were clearly funding to have schools prepared for this moment even if we didn't want this moment to come. Dr. Wen, I appreciate it as always. Coming up next, we asked one Democratic Senator, what happens now with the Biden agenda?


MATTINGLY: The backbone of President Biden's domestic agenda is either stalled or dead depending on whom you ask? And it's a question of perspective today for Democrats as they close out 2021. Some see the president's report card is incomplete others questioning whether or not maybe it's a failure despite some major legislative victories.

Joining me now Democratic Senator from Maryland Chris Van Hollen; Senator thanks so much for taking the time on a holiday week. As you noted during the break we're going to have a heck of a January ahead of us which I'm hoping you can walk through to some degree.


MATTINGLY: And look, I think one of the questions right now we're all trying to figure out what happens next. And I think from a technical standpoint, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, both in a letter to you guys also at a private conference call said that there will absolutely be votes on the Build Back Better Plan.

Do you think it makes sense to have a vote, even if you know, you don't have 50 votes and a show vote to lay out where everybody is like Senator Bernie Sanders has asked for?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): So Phil, it's great to be with you. And let's remember that over this year, we also passed the American rescue plan to address the pandemic and the economic fallout and, of course, a major bipartisan infrastructure modernization plan.

I do think that we should move forward to vote on the legislation that will cut prescription drugs that will cut the cost of child care that will address the climate crisis and expand opportunities for the American people with things like universal Pre-K and job training programs.

Because that'll show us where we are, you know, my view Phil is that we've just got to vote now. And I am confident that at the end of the day, we're going to get big pieces of this initiative through.

MATTINGLY: When you think about what those big pieces will look like, have we reached a moment right now, where Senator Manchin essentially just needs to put on the table what he's for? And however, that meshes with the initial $1.75 trillion plan that ends up being the outcome here? Is that kind of how you're envisioning this working?

HOLLEN: Well, I do think at the end of the day, we're going to have to make some hard choices. But if you look at what Senator Manchin has said he's for. They include some very big pieces of this agenda; they include providing universal childcare they provide for cuts in the cost of prescription drugs.

This is something many of us have been working on for a long time, more affordable childcare, and also major parts of the agenda on clean energy and climate change. So there are lots of big pieces of this that Senator Manchin has expressed support for.

So I do think, Phil that we will find a way in the end, obviously, you know, we are not going to get everything people want, but you cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good. And this is a good example.

MATTINGLY: Does that mean you'd support something that didn't include an extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit?

HOLLEN: Well, this is the one provision that remains very much, you know, under debate. I think it's really essential that we extend that as you know, it's expiring now, that's a major tax cut for families with kids, and it's going to go away in mid-January.

If we don't rush to extend it, it may go away anyway. And I do think we need to reinstate that, as part of this legislation, so we're going to be working with Senator Manchin to see if we can resolve that base.

I should also mention, Phil, you know, the other big part of the agenda in January is the effort to protect the right to vote and protect our democracy.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and I actually, I want to ask you about that, because it's one of those things. There's a bit of a spirit kind of in your final days of the year when the Senate was in session, you know, a lot of closed door meetings trying to find the pathway forward.

Again, you either need 10 Republicans or you need to change the filibuster, whether a carve out or some type of tweak there, you're missing. You don't have the votes for either of those two things right now. Yet, both the White House and Democrats kept saying there's progress is progress. We think we're moving forward. What does that mean because nothing has changed in terms of the actual vote counting and if that doesn't change, then there is no progress in terms of an actual bottom line?

HOLLEN: Well, January will be make or break when it comes to protecting voting rights. And we are looking at different ways to reform the filibuster. You know, people say the Senate is the world's greatest deliberative body, that's just not true anymore.

We want to go back to a time where the minority party has to take to the floor of the Senate and explain why they're opposed to something. But at the end of that debate, and it can be a matter of weeks, not days, it can be weeks and weeks. At the end of the debate, you should not allow the minority to be able to block the will of the American people, especially when it comes to something like protecting voting rights. So we do need to make those changes so we can pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

And Phil, this is going to be one of the big questions. I mean, January comes down to two big issues, one protecting our democracy. Second, the legislation that will, you know, help relieve the financial squeeze so many American families are feeling on prescription drugs, child care and other costs.

MATTINGLY: Can I just ask you that Senator on voting rights? Look, you have 50 votes for that legislation. Senator Manchin was one of the Co- Authors of kind of - kind of revised version of that you do not have 50 votes for even a carve out or a change in the filibuster Senator Manchin said before you guys left town it would have to be bipartisan for rules change.


MATTINGLY: How do you square that in the next three or four weeks?

HOLLEN: Well, I'm not sure that Senator Manchin said that he would only support a change if it was bipartisan. He said that that's his preference that would be the preference for everybody. He's also indicated that he recognized that that the right to vote is under attack around the country.

It's not just the state legislatures are putting up barriers to people's access to the ballot box. In some cases, they're even saying that political operatives can then overturn the count of an election. And I know all of us, including Senator Manchin are very worried about what that means for our democracy.

And they're going to be limited options for how to deal with that. And I hope our caucus will come together and do the right thing is protect the right to vote.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no shortage of major things in the weeks ahead after a year where you guys did some major things still, big agenda items left. Senator Chris Van Hollen thanks as always, sir, for your time.

HOLLEN: Great to be with you. Thanks, Phil.

MATTINGLY: All right and in here now with us to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Melanie Zanona, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times" and McClatchy's Francesca Chambers. And Mel, I want to start with you on Build Back Better.

You know, I think there's been a lot of question, is there value to taking a test vote that you know, is going to fail, particularly when you have some members of the caucus that maybe doesn't want to - don't want to take a vote that they know isn't going to pass?

But I think the bigger question right now is alright, what's the path forward here policy wise? How do they mesh this? And I know you talked to everyone so tell me exactly how this is going to happen?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Democrats are right now debating whether or not they try to break up the package into smaller bite sized chunks and try to do standalone bills, with the idea being that potentially you could win over Joe Manchin because he's so uncomfortable with the idea of a large scale package.

But the problem with that Phil, as you know, reconciliation, they can only use that process once that will enable them to use only 51 votes to pass legislation in the Senate. They need Republican buy in and it keeps coming back to the math in the Senate, and they just don't have Republican support for a lot of these priorities that they're going to address.

I think on the test vote scenario, it's kind of interesting, because usually, that's a strategy that the party would use to force the other party to go on the right. You force your own party to walk the plank. So I think there is a question about whether that is a wise strategy.

But you're just seeing that Democrats are feeling the heat, they're under pressure to show progress, the clock is ticking, and they're scrambling to find a path. And that's also why you're hearing them start to call on Biden to use executive action to address some of these priorities. But Biden's just really limited in what he can do with this time.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Francesca, we've got about a minute. I want to get to both you and - more, but I'm voting rights right now. Does the White House really feel like they have a pathway here?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Well, President Biden, in his recent interview, said that he didn't think it would come down to meeting carve out. But if it's not a carve out that it's unclear what the pathway forward would be, as Senator Van Hollen just said.

They see, Democrats see January as a critical month for this. So they're really running out of time in the next few weeks to determine how they would move forward on voting rights, which is seen by Democrats as a critical issue heading into the 2022 elections to make progress on.

MATTINGLY: And Jim one of the biggest questions that - David Axelrod had something in "The New York Times" talking about how they can actually sell some of these proposals. But if you're fighting over the agenda in the month of January, perhaps into February, you're not selling anything right now, how big of a problem is it that you still have major agenda items you're trying to find a path forward on as you enters a midterm election year?

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the start of 22 is going to look a lot like the end of 21. Phil, it's going to be a lot of wrangling a lot of sausage making and inside baseball to mix metaphors. With a handful of Democrats, namely, the senior Senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, I think that's what we're going to be talking about. I talked to a White House aide a few days ago, Phil, and the start of 22 is going to be - trying to get whatever deal that Manchin will offer. I - you know, Senator Van Hollen was very diplomatic there about the child tax credit, they're going to bring to the Senate floor, whatever Manchin is willing to vote yes on.

And that they know that that's the bottom line. And after that's done, they're going to turn to whatever they can get done on voting rights. And yes, that is going to require some kind of a carve out from the filibuster again, if they can get that from Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema that is 2022 that that is the first half of the year and perhaps the entire year legislatively.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it feels like everybody knows the outcome. It's a matter of how to get there and if they can get there?

MARTIN: And if they can get there at all. And I think there's optimism that Manchin will do something perhaps not what they want to do, but he'll do something on Build Back Better. I think there's less optimism on voting though, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, plenty for us to watch in January. Alright guys, we'll swing back in a minute. Hospitals right now brace for a continuing surge in COVID cases fueled by Omicron. We'll talk to a physician on the front lines coming up next.



MATTINGLY: New Coronavirus cases in Massachusetts hit a record high this weekend for the first time ever more than 7000 cases on average are now being reported daily. Hospitalizations in the state are also ticking up but most importantly below where they were a year ago before most folks got vaccinated.

Joining us now from Boston Dr. Ali Raja he's the Executive Vice Chairman of the Emergency Medicine Department at Massachusetts General Hospital.