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Experts Question If Biden Pandemic Changes Driven By Science; Biden Battles Multiple Crises Going Into Midterm Year. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 30, 2021 - 12:30   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: In terms of social trends, and what they told us about -- oh, sorry, it's yesterday about the economy, things like the internet lost its hive mind over America's cream cheese shortage, many professionals began to question the utility of high heels and slacks, known derisively as hard pants. I did not know that. It was for there (INAUDIBLE), obviously the QR codes that have become dominant and physical menus everywhere.

But I think the crux of the piece is kind of the shifting -- the fundamental change in the economy that we think we might be seeing post pandemic. You know, look at the jolt stayed over the course of the last couple months, you look at quits, that have come up. Everybody's got their own theory as to why that's actually the case. But talk about what you're seeing in terms of what this post pandemic economy is, and what it's going to be going forward.

JEANNA SMIALEK, FEDERAL RESERVE & ECONOMICS REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. So I think we all know that the economy is weird right now, you know, we can all see that everyday looking around us. But the question is, is the economy weird in a permanent way? You know, is this going to last forever? Or are we going to go back to some sort of, you know, example of the normal that we knew before the pandemic?

And I think, you know, as you mentioned, the job market is a place where there are real questions about that. We are seeing people sort of question the kind of work that they were doing headed into the pandemic. We're seeing this great resignation or big quit as people have labeled it as people sort of give up on the jobs that they had. And many, many older folks retire entirely.

And so it's not entirely clear if those folks, those people are going to come back. And if they don't come back, we could see a situation where the labor market is much tighter than we understood it to be or expected it to be at this point where, you know, wage pressures are pretty significant, and maybe where inflation continues heading up. And so I think all of those things are really interesting trends to watch and are going to make 2020 to one of the, I think, the more fascinating years of our careers, when it comes to being a journalist.

MATTINGLY: No, totally. Matt, we got about 30 seconds left, you are expert on gas. Gas prices obviously have an acute impact on everyday people. It's what they see. We've seen a deceleration in gas prices over the course of the last few weeks down about 10, 11 cents on average since last month. What are you seeing in the weeks and months ahead on this very critical issue?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, Phil, even though gas prices have come down, and that is a relief, they're still high. They're still up by about $1 from a year ago. And there's so much debate over where they go next. Gas Buddy put out this forecast where they're saying, listen, we think that gas prices are going to be flirting with $4 a gallon come Memorial Day weekend, that would be a very big deal. They think prices are going to come down the Energy Department's research arm, they think that prices are going to be much lower next year, that would be a relief.

Phil, we have to watch this very closely because gas prices plays such an outsized role in the psychology of consumers. You know, we see gas prices every day when we drive by. And we've feel those price gains when we fill up our tanks. So it really is very important what happens next on this front.

MATTINGLY: Yes, no, no question about it. And it's something that the federal government and the White House don't really have much control over despite what people may theorize. Matt Egan, Jeanna Smialek, thank you guys so much. I love this story. I can't wait to keep talking about it in 2022.


All right, coming up, just in, the FDA is expected to announce a big decision about boosters for kids ages 12 to 15 the breaking developments coming up next.


MATTINGLY: Some breaking pandemic news just in two CNN. A source confirming CNN that the FDA plans to green light Pfizer booster shots for 12 to 15-year-olds in the coming days. News is first reported by the "New York Times." Now roughly 4 million kids in that age group would be eligible for booster immediately.

But that coming FDA decision is just the latest example of the urgency and shifts that to the Biden administration. COVID response, follow the science has been President Biden's mantra since the campaign. But experts have questions about how some new tweaks to CDC guidance mesh with the medical reality. And there is now a distinct gulf between the President's summer message that the virus was on its heels and now.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So today on the virus hasn't been vanquished. We know this, it no longer controls our lives. It no longer paralyzes our nation. And it's within our power to make sure it never does again.

Look, there is no federal solution. This gets solved to the state level. And ultimately gets down to where the rubber meets the road. And that's where the patient is in need of help, or preventing the need for help.


MATTINGLY: Here to share their reporting and their insights Zolan Kanno-Youngs of the New York Times and POLITICO's Nicholas Wu. And Zolan, I want to start with you. It's been kind of extraordinary to watch the shift, which has been driven by the different variants over the course of the last couple of months. But take a listen to how Anthony Fauci the President's top medical adviser explained the newest CDC guides.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: So you either shut down the society which no one wants to do or you try and get a situation where you can safely get people back particularly to critical jobs without having them be out for a full 10 days, so long as they are without symptoms.


MATTINGLY: So what's so interesting about this, we've seen some particularly in the labor side push back that this wasn't necessarily entirely science based, but it's the balance right of the reality of a virus spreading like this, with the science combined and how do you make Something workable. Tell me, what do you hearing from your White House sources about how these last couple weeks have played out?


KANNO-YOUNGS: Well look it's an attempt to achieve this balance from the White House right now, right? As you said, Phil, this is now another variant that at this point is threatening to undermine, really a central principle of the Biden presidency, which is trying to get this pandemic under control.

For the White House right now, you are seeing an attempt to have a more aggressive strategy, now focusing on the disbursement of testing, while also we've saw the other day just a couple of days ago that now a shorter duration for quarantine. But of course, this comes amid concerns from some public health experts as well.

While the Biden administration is hoping that this aggressive strategy will achieve that balance of trying to contain the pandemic while also not disrupting people's lives too much, you remember all those alerts we got during the holidays of flight cancellations, concerns from officials, as well about a potential shortage of hospital workers while they're trying to achieve that balance.

There are concerns that without an adequate level of testing, that this strategy could not achieve everything that they want to, right? And really you go back to this past year, the administration at first, the President came in campaigning on a being different than the previous administration in having available testing and a consistent availability of testing. As we went into the summer, you saw some of those drive thru testing sites start to close down as the administration focused almost exclusively on the availability of vaccines. Now, with another variant rising once again, and concerns around an inconsistent level of testing, you're seeing the administration just the other day announce a potential purchase of a half billion tests.

But now the question is, when will those become available? And when will Americans be able to have a consistent level of available tests so that the administration can make good on this balancing act that you just described.

MATTINGLY: You know, Nicholas, one of the most fascinating things to me, having been covering Congress where you are now last year testing was such a huge component of all of the different COVID Relief proposals they put together, Republican and Democrat, a lot of criticism of former President Trump over testing. What are you hearing from lawmakers right now that the U.S. has entered this moment without the adequate amount of testing need?

NICHOLAS WU, POLITICO CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, there's been huge concern, Phil, among lawmakers about the lack of testing. I mean, we saw, you know, Senator Blumenthal Democrat from Connecticut, the other day, call on the President to ramp up testing even more and invoke the Defense Production Act. We've seen talk amongst some Democratic lawmakers of wanting another COVID relief package. And in the event that more funding, it ends up being necessary to produce more tests to respond to this latest surge.

I mean, it's even, you know, the reality of this has come home to Congress, even though they're out of session now. I mean, you know, if you go to the test side of the Capitol lines are as long as they've ever been. There have been weights, and you've had quite a few lawmakers test positive too in the past few weeks even the number of three House Democrat, Jim Clyburn announced the positive test.

And most of these have been among Democrats, but Republicans have been curiously silent about the number of positive tests, among lawmakers there. And so, you know, this will certainly be a concern for lawmakers heading into next year.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's just, it's fascinating that we're back here again, both on the policy side, the political side, but the public health side as well. All right, guys, hang with me. We'll get back to you in a few.


President Biden's first year in office may have started better than its ending. A closer look at what went well, and what did coming up next.


MATTINGLY: President Biden will in his first year in office with his approval rating underwater. It hasn't been north of 50 percent since July, according to Gallup and now hovers in the low 40s. So what's the blame for those languishing numbers? We to get some historical context from CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali, and Tim, thanks so much for your time.

I find this to be so fascinating because there's major legislative achievements. There's a robust economic recovery. And yet when you look back over history, including the last three presidents, I'll pull them up right now, only former President Trump had a lower approval rating at the end of his first year. Why?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, first of all, let's keep in mind the challenges that this President faces because they are unprecedented for this moment in a first term. He came into office, as President Biden came into office with the pandemic, that's one crisis.

He was coming in on the heels of a manufactured political crisis by his predecessor the Stop the Steal movement, which led to the insurrection on January 6th. And the country had been through a traumatic series of grassroots, important grassroots demonstrations, showing the anger and impatience with the structural racism that remains in the country.

So those are three major shocks to the system, all of which this new president had to handle. He comes in projecting calm, projecting maturity, and his natural optimism. The problem is that we still face the pandemic, and the morphing of the pandemic has undermined some of the optimism that he understandably wanted to -- wanted to share with us.

I mean, our best presidents, our most successful presidents have been the optimists, Ronald Reagan, very optimistic, Franklin Roosevelt beaming with optimism about our future. And that's why Joe Biden's legacy will be determined next year or the year after. If we move through this pandemic as is inevitable, he being our leader, that's the way it works in this country.


If you're president, you get the good and the bad. As our president, he will get the -- he will get the credit for the recovery that will ensue. But it hasn't happened yet. And in fact, we're all impatient. Our mood is sour. And he at the moment is the target for all of that.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's a great point. And you hear that from White House officials when they're looking at polling. And so people are just upset, tired, exhausted, and they take it out to some degree on the president. Now look, Presidents Reagan and Clinton both ended their second year at a lower point than where Biden is now. And they went on to crush their reelection campaigns.

There's a theory of the case that, you know, you find a way to pass Build Back Better in the first quarter of next year, inflation decelerates, you handle the pandemic, and the President ends up in 2022 in a very good place, Not totally sure that theory comes true. But is that kind of how you see things if Biden is to turn it around? That's the way it happens. NAFTALI: Oh, yes. And by the way, Biden is the one who remembers all of this. Joe Biden knows that the great communicator Ronald Reagan in 1983 had lower public approval ratings than Joe Biden does. Ronald Reagan's were in the 30s. And he crushes Walter Mondale and his reelection bid. How was that? What happened? The economy turned around. The recession ended, inflation came down, interest rates came down.

Well, right now we have high inflation but we don't have stagnation. We don't have the same kind of economic trouble that we had in the 70s that brought down the Carter administration, where our economy is actually growing. It will grow about 5.5 percent this year. Wages are growing faster than inflation. And unemployment is going down. So our economy is poised to recover very nicely.

And so Biden should be the recipient of all of the credit and praise that will come when he sees the bounce, the bounce that kept Reagan in the White House and the bounce, by the way, that kept Clinton in the White House.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Look, you talk to administration officials, the building blocks are there. It just need to get it over the -- one year does not an administration make. Tim Naftali thanks so much for your perspective.

NAFTALI: Thank you, Phil. Happy New Year.

MATTINGLY: You too my friend.

All right, I want to bring our panel back on that issue specifically. And Nicholas, I want to start with you. The President's agenda that has been a driver of a lot of the consternation because of the infighting despite major legislative victories, how do you see Build Back Better playing out in the next four or five weeks?

WU: Well, the Senate will get back soon, and that'll really be telling us the where things could go. I mean, Senator Joe Manchin, a Key Senate moderate has made clear that, you know, he's a no one the current iteration of Build Back Better, but it seems that the door has been cracked open a little bit to negotiating things further, perhaps some kind of build back better that, you know, as some Democrats have proposed, we'll do fewer things for longer rather than having, you know, childcare for the last only a few years, you know, you could have programs that will last a decade.

However, that means that some things will have to go by the wayside. So, you know, over the coming few months or weeks, we can expect to see some of the potentially painful negotiating and haggling among Democrats as they try to pare down, build back better, just something that can appease Joe Manchin and other centrist in the House and Senate.

MATTINGLY: Yes, that haggling has been a nightmare for the last 12 months. Zolan, I want to close with you on this idea that you hear from White House officials of people are just too exhausted right now, right? Like nothing's resonating with them message wise, how do they turn that around in the next couple of months?

KANNO-YOUNGS: That's going to be the real test. You know, going in the next couple of weeks. You've even seen for one step of how you turn it around, you've seen the President, Phil, you and I are in the room even start to acknowledge it more in some of his addresses, not just talking about what his social spending package and the benefits that it would that it would bring for Americans, but also acknowledging their frustrations, acknowledging inflation and higher prices for certain things when you go to the store, acknowledging some of the exhaustion that they may have from a pandemic, as well, that's now you know, going on for more than a year and a half at this point.

So he -- they are just starting to acknowledge it. The challenge here in the weeks ahead, is going to be describing a package that many Americans are associating with legislative gridlock, and trying to highlight the benefits and the solutions to some of the sources for those frustrations, the jobs that it can create, as well as the sweeping proposals against climate change, combating climate change that it could bring, and the importance of those.

But it'll be interesting to see just how -- what the strategy is force on this, how often especially with COVID and the rise of this new variant. How often administration officials are going to go out and get into the country who they dispatch as well to sell those plans while they continue to negotiate this package. And if I could just have one point as well when it comes to speaking to some of the frustrations and stagnation --


MATTINGLY: We're running in our break. We're running in our break. Zolan, I'm going to text you about this. We're going to keep talking about it. I appreciate it guys. Always appreciate it.

A quick programming note, the boys are back. Join Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen for CNN New Year's Eve live. The party starts at 8:00 Eastern right here on CNN. Thanks so much for joining INSIDE POLITICS. My guy Ryan Nobles picks up our coverage right after the break.