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Inside Politics

Frustrations Grow with CDC Director Over COVID Messaging; U.S. Economy Added 199,000 Jobs in December; Biden: We Are Focusing on Fixing Supply Chain, Boosting Competition and Keeping Costs Down for Families; Next Hour: Sentencing Hearing Resumes for 3 Men Convicted of Ahmaud Arbery's Murder; Sources: White House and CDC Scientists Frustrated by CDC Messaging. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 07, 2022 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Thank you for that. I always appreciate your perspectives. Thank you very much. And thank you all very much for being with us this hour. We're continuing to track developments out of Washington, out of Georgia with the sentencing for the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery will bring you all of those updates. "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

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

The CDC Director under fire at a key pandemic moment today Dr. Rochelle Walensky holds her first solo briefing with reporters since the summer that as new CNN reporting details frustrations with Walensky at the White House, and among some CDC scientists.

Plus more COVID economic disruption the first jobs reported the New Year is weak but the unemployment rate saints to a pandemic low. And a judge right now weighing punishment for Ahmaud Arbery's killers, all three could get life in prison without parole.

We begin with a new look at the economy and what it tells us about the strength of the pandemic recovery. This new look also is the first jobs report of the midterm election year. And as such, the headline number is a big disappointment for the Biden White House.

The economy added only 199,000 jobs last month that are well short of expectations. But there are some good numbers here for you and for the president. The unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent that's a pandemic low. And look at this average wages up in a big way up 4.7 percent from last year the president last hour calling the job news, historic.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think its historic day for our economic recovery. And we have added 6.4 million new jobs since January of last year, in one year. That's one of the most that's the most jobs in any calendar year by any president in history. How that happened? Well, the American Rescue Plan got the economy off his back and moving again. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: These December job numbers a snapshot of the economy just before the Omicron surge, which we know is adding more COVID disruption. Let's get some perspective now Mark Zandi, Chief Economist for Moody's Analytics.

Mark, normally when you have a report like this, the jobs numbers no low but the unemployment is good. I would ask you Is the glass half full or half empty? Is the better questioning why the glass is so cloudy?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: The pandemic John - pandemic is scrambling everything including the data in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the government agency that's that puts this data together so having all kinds of problems.

So you know, and you can see it in the revision. So we get a number every month, and then subsequent data come out, we get revisions to the number. And in the past year, all those revisions had been higher. So the initial number we get looks a little soft, and then it gets bigger, and then bigger again, and then bigger again.

And when it's all said and done, we get a lot of jobs. So I think that's what's going to happen with this soft gain we got in December of 199, I think it's going to ultimately end up being higher. So I would focus on the unemployment rate decline of 3.9 percent that's pretty low and headed lower and pretty consistent with a an economy that's strong cut through all the fog.

KING: So is this fair to say that the - if there is a problem in the economy right now, it is not that there aren't jobs out there it is that you can't find workers to fill them. And part of that - part of that is worries about Omicron.

ZANDI: Yes, I think that's, that's fair. I mean, but we're filling in a lot of jobs, I mean, hiring the record clip as well. So, you know, businesses are hiring very, very aggressively. It's just that, you know, there's still a lot of open job positions to fulfill that got created, you know, back when the pandemic you know, undermine the economy more significantly.

So, now a lot of crosscurrents here, but you know, cutting through them all the economy feels pretty good. Job creation is good, you know, quite strong. Now, having said all that, as you point out, this is all before Omicron this data that we're observing today has no connection to Omicron.

Omicron is creating problems for lots of different businesses in when we get the employment data for the month of January a month from now, I think we are going to see a soft number and that number will be soft for a good reason that's because people just can't work because they're sick.

KING: And so if you look across you look at leisure and hospitality up 53,000 jobs, professional services up 43,000 manufacturing 26 construction 22 the leisure and hospitality number in this service based economy is normally higher is that the pandemic there and then add in your take on the wages.

If you're the President of the United States and you're trying to focus on the good numbers for workers out there if you're a worker right now, you're in the driver's seat, right?

ZANDI: Yes, I mean leisure, hospitality, retail healthcare, those were the soft sectors in December and for good reason because they're on the frontlines of the pandemic that's where you know the damage is most significant when wages the pandemic you know, go through.

But you make a good point. Another reason to feel pretty good about the numbers is wage growth is very strong. And it's a pretty much strong across the board, particularly for low wage workers.

You know workers that work in leisure and hospitality in retail other parts of the healthcare educational services that's where we've seen the biggest wage gains.


ZANDI: And of course that's key because you know, inflation also John is accelerated. And so those workers need those big pay increases to compensate them for the fact that they're paying a lot more for everything they're buying from gasoline to groceries.

KING: Mark Zandi, grateful as always, for your help sorting through this. I appreciate it, sir.

ZANDI: Sure thanks.

KING: Let's bring in some reporters to share their reporting and their insights today. CNN's Arlette Saenz is with us Seung Min Kim of "The Washington Post" as well, and Tia Mitchell of "The Atlanta- Constitution". Seung Min, I want to start with you.

So you're Joe Biden, you focus on the good numbers, which is over the course of the last year 6.4 million, but this is also the first jobs report of the midterm election year, the 199,000 new jobs added was below what economists expected. And so the president was asked the question, the president was asked the question, well, Republicans going to say this this week. Here's his response.


BIDEN: Now, I hear Republicans say today that my talking about the strong record shows that I don't understand. I don't understand a lot of people are still suffering. They say, well, they are or that I'm not focused on inflation malarkey. I want to talk down the recovery because they voted against the legislation that made it happen. They voted against the tax cuts for middle class families. They voted against the funds, we needed to reopen our schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Welcome to the midterm election year, right? Seung Min?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Oh, oh, I sorry, for a second. Well, I think what you're seeing what President Biden is doing this morning is taking a much more aggressive tone against Republicans on his economic record that you've seen in the past.

And I think that he, you know, obviously he speaks on the job numbers every month tries to highlight the good well the economy and how people especially how people feel about the economy is still very much it is still very much a negative.

But at the same time, he's trying to really create that contrasting record at the start of a midterm year obviously pointing to the $1.9 trillion Coronavirus rescue plan that Democrats passed last year pointing out that no Republicans voted in favor of it, obviously using quite the Biden ism earlier this morning when he said accusations that Republican - accusations that he's not focusing on inflation is "Malarkey".

So I think this is kind of a stepped up rhetoric and that you're going to see from the president later on, and or, you know, coming in this year, particularly because while he can go out and highlight the good numbers of the account, or the good parts of the economy and the numbers that are coming out, you know, those struggle for Democrats in the Biden Administration is that people do not feel you know, voters do not feel the economy and the health of the economy on a macro scale.

They really do feel it in their - in their day to day personal lives. And the more the case that the president can make, that things are improving on an individual level can only help Democrats in the midterm this year.

KING: So Arlette take us inside the White House calculations about this. This is what Joe Biden said when he was running for president, he's blue collar Joe. He's the kid from Scranton. And this is supposed to be his wheelhouse how to relate to blue collar workers who are Seung Min do worried about some things.

On the one hand, you see some headlines from opinion writers and they're right. They have numbers to back this up. Paul Krugman, don't tell anyone but 2021 was pretty amazing. There was so - there are a lot to celebrate in the economy. Dana Milbank in "The Washington Post" this is the worst economy we never had.

And yet, if you look at polling and you ask people, what are the major problems? You know the cost of everyday items 8 in 10 Americans say that supply chain disruption, housing costs, gas prices, that's inflation plus your COVID disruption?

How do they try to get people in this midterm election year to focus on the good numbers and then trust the president to help them through the bad? ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly the challenge that President Biden and this White House are facing as they are trying to highlight that overall growth in the economy of these - this record low unemployment, a rise in wages, while also trying to ease the income, the economic anxiety that so many Americans are feeling as they head out to the grocery store as they're filling up the gas pump.

You heard the president in those remarks, a talk about their attempts and efforts to try to shore up the supply chain, also the steps that they are taking to try to combat inflation. You know, earlier this week, they unveiled some proposals when it comes to reducing meat prices.

You've seen the president take steps when it comes to trying to lower the price of gas. Of course, all of these steps that they're taking are actually very modest, having a very modest impact at this point. But going forward for this White House, they have to balance that dynamic of touting a strong recovery that they are hoping to see while also balancing those concerns of everyday Americans.

KING: Conversation will continue in a moment of break, though next for this big story. The trial judge right now weighing whether to sentence the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery to life without parole, we'll go live to the courthouse in Georgia next.



KING: Next hour the sentencing hearing for the three men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery will resume. All three men face life in prison possibly without parole for chasing down and shooting Arbery while he was jogging.

Now a judge will decide if he's listening right now to the arguments should they get a chance for parole. Dianne Gallagher is outside the courtroom for us in Brunswick, Georgia. Dianne, what's the latest?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes John, we're on a lunch break right now. So once we return to this hearing, we will hear from the other attorneys for additional defendants in this case.


GALLAGHER: Now the question here is not what the sentence will necessarily be? It carries a life without parole - it carries a life sentence. The question is for the judge to determine whether or not these three defendants should have the opportunity to seek parole after serving 30 years?

Now, we heard from the state, they talked about this being a case of vigilantism and saying that these are not necessarily charges that would, they believe, require someone to have that opportunity at parole. But what really struck us today, John was listening to the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old man who was just going for a jog in a neighborhood and ended up being chased by a truck of these men, and then shot and killed it close range. And they described the feelings the father and sister of Ahmaud Arbery, and his mother, Wanda Cooper- Jones. This is what she had to say.


WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: They chose to target my son, because they didn't want him in their community. They chose to treat him differently than other people who frequently visited their community. And when they couldn't sufficiently scare him, or intimidate him, they killed him.


GALLAGHER: Now, we are not sure at this point, if we will hear from the defendants themselves, they will have the opportunity if they choose to speak to the judge and attempt to sort of plead their case here when it comes to the sentencing.

You know, John, this is not necessarily the end for the Arbery family right now. They talked about how this was the day that they had been anticipating because they felt like it was a day of justice potentially for them.

But look, the attorneys for these three defendants have already said that they do plan to appeal and just next month, the federal trial for the hate crime charges against all three of these men will begin here in Brunswick and I'm not sure you may be able to hear behind me or see behind me.

There are people who have like shown up and they're showing their support to the family here. The attorney for Travis McMichael said today to the judge that they were hoping that they would have some story of redemption here for the McMichael and also for the Arbery family.

At that point, Ahmaud Arbery's father kind of looked at his attorney, give him a look. And that's what we're dealing with at this point. We do expect it to be finished sometime today, John.

KING: Dianne Gallagher, grateful you're on the scene for so this important day. We know the court hearing again, we'll resume at the top. Dianne thanks you! Let's get some perspective now Former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu. Shan you were with us many times during the actual trial as we listen to the testimony of the judge has to make a decision or the circumstances here of this killing so extraordinary in his view that these men should be denied chance to parole.

You hear from Ahmaud Arbery's father and his mother today incredibly powerful statements. How much if at all? Does that impact the judge? I don't say that to be disrespectful of the family. Just the judge has a legal checklist he goes through or he is opening minded to the victim impact? SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The judge is opening minded to the victim impact. I'm not entirely sure it's possible they may have seen a written one in advance of the sentencing. You know, those are very emotional statements, and they're very important statements for victims to have a chance to be heard.

I don't think what happened is alive in court before the judge will make that big of a difference today. I think this judge will have already considered what factors to weigh. He will expect the victim impact statements to be full of grief full of loss. So I suspect he's already got a pretty good idea of what percentage it would be.

KING: Judge Glenda Hatchett also joins us she's Founder of the Hatchett Firm and Host of "The Verdict". Judge good to see you! From your perspective here is this a cut and dried decision for the judge based on the testimony of the trial? Or do these defendants have a chance to say we know we're going to get 30 years please don't make it without parole?

JUDGE GLENDA HATCHETT, FOUNDER, THE HATCHETT FIRM: Yes, I would be very surprised John to see him go further is for the no parole piece. I think that particularly with Travis, we're talking about a situation where I think the judge will absolutely impose that sentence with no possibility of parole.

And the truth is with his dad with Greg, even if he were to do that, we're talking about a man who is 66 years old. And a mandatory sentence of 30 years in effect really is a life sentence. With Roddie it's a little bit different. And I will think if it's anybody who may get that it might be him in this situation.

KING: Judge Hatchett and Shan Wu I appreciate it very much again, the hearing sentencing hearing resumes at the top of the hour. CNN will bring you the highlights and obviously keep track of that news throughout the day. Up next for us, an added pandemic challenge for the CDC Director brand new CNN reporting details White House and internal CDC frustration over Dr. Rochelle Walensky's management and her messaging.


KING: its brand new CNN reporting today reveals growing frustration within the White House and within the CDC with the CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Current and Former Senior Biden Administration officials plus the CDC scientists shared complaints with CNN about how the CDC is making some decisions and complaints about how CDC guidance is then communicated?


KING: These sources site Walensky's updated isolation guidance this week as a clear example of what they see as CDC messaging fumbles. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is with us. She's part of the team reporting the story. Kaitlan, tell us more.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, John, you know, Dr. Walensky came into this job a year ago vowing to restore trust into the agency, the CDC had been weakened, essentially by the Trump Administration, these accusations of politics driving the science there when Donald Trump was in office as president, and that is something she wanted to fix.

And now, as we are approaching that one year mark, you see Americans questioning the CDC and its guidance on this ongoing pandemic now more than ever, especially with those changes that were announced in recent days when it comes to what to do if you've tested positive and you're isolating at home now that we have this surge in cases due to the Omicron variant.

And so we've learned from sources that starting last fall understanding the fact that the CDC had had a series of messaging problems fumbling the messaging on several big decisions, Director Walensky started taking media training, hoping to improve her communication skills.

So when she steps out in the public eye as she did earlier today, in the first independent CDC media briefing since last summer, she can better communicate the changes to the CDC guidance and the improvements, the updates that they make.

But they are still plagued John by questions about what's going on. And this is not just coming from critics outside the administration or from health experts outside the administration. Sometimes it's coming from her own peers inside the White House, because you've seen officials raise questions about why that latest guidance on when you can leave isolation after you've tested positive didn't include a recommendation to take a rapid test.

That is something that other health officials in the Administration thought should have been included. And it's something that CDC Director Walensky has defended, and the day since and today on the call on this briefing with reporters, she did say that she wants to restore communication and make it better at the CDC.

Of course, whether or not that happens, or if it's too late for people to restore their trust in the CDC is a big question because even the CDC scientists have said the process of putting that guidance together at times John doesn't really go outside of a small circle of Walensky's advisors.

And so then by the time it's out, and people are raising questions about certain ways, it was announced a certain ways it was implemented, it's too late to have that process where other people could have waited and said, maybe this sounds more reasonable. Or maybe this is a better way to explain the science to people.

And so it's just been a massive issue within the CDC for months now when it comes to messaging. It was last year on masking it was when the Delta wave hit over the summer. And now it still is unfortunately, in 2022.

KING: Kaitlan Collins appreciate the live update. I urge everybody to go read the full It's fascinating and detailed reporting. Our reporters are back with us. Tia Mitchell to you on the one hand, this is very hard and we should give everybody involved in the pandemic response some grace you have Delta that you have Omicron it's fast changing.

On the other hand, Team Biden did run an election campaign in which they said all this infighting, all this finger pointing during Team Trump, that's why you need us. We can come in and do this. Dr. Walensky saying today, this is hard. And I'm committed to continue to improve as we learn about the science and communicate that with all of you, what's your take on this big story.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: So there are two things I think about with this story. Number one, we have to remember, as you know that these are public health experts and scientists, they're not communicators, and they're definitely not politicians.

So I think just sometimes naturally, they're going to be a little bit less unpolished and perhaps not as aware of some of the public relations issues that could come with the statements they make. But the other thing I think about as the CDC is based in Atlanta, so when you're living in a place where mask mandates are never in place, people are not masking, people are trying to get back to work, demanding schools remain open.

I felt like her message was trying to speak to those people and say, here's how the safest way to let you get to where you want to go. And that didn't really go over well with people in communities that are naturally more cautious.

So it shows how the CDC is trying to please everyone, but we have to remember that, you know, with so many things in America, people are not coming at it from the same perspective. And this is the White House again, is faced with an issue where you can't please everyone all the time. So it's like no matter what you do, there's going to be criticism.

KING: And Arlette this is a story essentially a family story within the Biden Administration dissatisfaction with a very senior very important of Biden Administration official. And on the same day, CNN breaks this reporting from the outside a handful of people who are involved in helping Team Biden during the transition are also criticizing the administration's COVID response.

Some of these experts believe they're too focused on today, if you will, and they don't have a big strategic plan for where we're heading. I'm going to read just a bit of it from some of the experts without a strategic plan for the new normal with endemic COVID-19 more people in the U.S. will unnecessarily experience morbidity and mortality, health inequities will widen and trillions will be lost from the U.S. economy.