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WH and CDC Scientists Frustrated by CDC Messaging; Supreme Court Hears Challenges to Biden's COVID Mandates; Sen. Cruz Apologizes for Calling Insurrection A "Terrorist Attack." Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 07, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: 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 in the U.S. economy. This time the nation must learn and prepare effectively for the future.

This is an ouch for team Biden especially so because it comes from their friends.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, the Biden team really likes to keep their issues within the family. And so, it's not too often that you see this group that comes out in unison, to offer some criticism of what they see as the administration's strategy at this point. I think the Biden administration, the White House at this point is really trying to navigate how to address these issues that are outstanding with the pandemic now, but also try to anticipate what is coming down the pipeline.

We have seen with the Omicron variants. There have been these lags frustrations when it comes to lack of testing. And there's questions about what those tests that rollout is going to look like. So right now, the White House is really trying to balance their plans while also hearing these words from former advisors on how they feel.

KING: And so, the challenge for the President, Seung Min, number one, get your ducks in order get your people either to be loyal to be quiet or to fix their problems. Number two, look around the world. COVID is a global pandemic. A lot of this is out of the President's control, but his political standing rises or falls with how he handles this pandemic. Listen to his take today. And is COVID here to stay?


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: No, I don't think COVID is here to stay that having COVID in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay. But COVID as we're dealing with it now is not here to stay . The new normal doesn't have to be.


KING: The new normal doesn't have to be. That is the President's hope that we come out of this winter. And things are in the spring as we head toward people, not only trying to get back to new normal, but starting to think about how they voted November is different.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, right. And it is a shift in the message from the President who did campaign on literally shutting down the virus. And this is a question that the White House has gotten several times from reporters and in recent days and recent weeks. And this seems to me kind of the one of the first big acknowledgments from President Biden that in some form that the coronavirus is here to say, which is something that public health experts have been saying for some time now that this is something that maybe perhaps, we as a society is going to be something that we have to live with.

So, it was really interesting to see President Biden say those words today and I think that -- but he's also obviously trying to make the case here that these really high case counts, the shortage and testing, the school closures, that's not here to stay and that's his focus and trying to shut that down is his goal.

KING: Panelists will stand by for us. Let's bring it now for some insights and expertise, Dr. Megan Ranney, Associate Dean of Public Health at Brown University. Dr. Ranney, a grateful to see you. You are one of the people as well as Dr. Walensky when she was in the private sector still, who helped me, who has helped me consistently through two years of this pandemic, now more than two years of this pandemic. Now, when you see the criticism that now that Dr. Walensky is in government, that some people criticizing her management style or how she communicates fair or not?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE: My heart goes out to her. Listen, running the CDC is a tremendous challenge. It is an immense bureaucracy. I love the idea of her improving her communication style. It's certainly different as a government official than it is as a private sector individual as a practicing physician. But I don't think it's fair to put all the blame on her. She could communicate perfectly but the reality is when you go to the CDC webpage, this policy makes no sense. One of my friends said it feels like a choose your own adventure game. That's not on Dr. Walensky. That's on the folks --

KING: Let me jump in. Let me jump in there. I get the staff might write that, but she's the CEO, right? So, it is on her. I get that you say it's not at her, you're trying to say it's not her alone, but it is on her, she's the boss.

RANNEY: That's true. It is absolutely at the end of the day the buck stops with her. But it's also about creating, I would say more than media training for her. It's possibly about creating training to run the system better that the different CDC web pages agree. I mean, when this new isolation policy was released, there was one thing in the press release in the media notification and a different thing on the CDC webpage, telling people what the isolation policy was. One side it was only for asymptomatic people, the other side it was for people with resolving symptoms. Those are two very different types of cases. Those types of small inconsistencies need to be resolved before things go public.

And I think that that type of training is perhaps what is needed at the highest levels of the CDC. The other part is Dr. Frieden, the former CDC Director has said is that it really is about not working just on what's the right science, but also what is the right policy to release to the world and testing it before it goes out to the public, time and time again, those of us that are on the front lines that are scientists and public health professionals have been surprised and shocked by the policies that come out of this CDC. It would not be difficult to get us together to road test it, to bring together folks to make sure that they're not missing the boat before these things go out.


KING: So, help me where we are at the current moment and the question, I think, just about every parent around the country is asking, number one, we just want to show you the combined current COVID case count with COVID hospitalizations and COVID deaths. You see that yellow line, that is cases, Omicron crime cases are way up, you see it's a straight line. It's like a rocket ship.

We do see, unlike Delta hospitalizations, and deaths by the numbers, I know those are huge numbers still, and they are hurting hospitals. And obviously every one of those deaths hurts an American family and American community. But there is a big disconnect now between cases and deaths, unlike the previous waves of the COVID virus. And as this debate continues, you have Chicago Teachers still refusing to go back to school. Dr. Walensky, listen here, says trust me, it is safe.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I want to remind people that we had a Delta surge in the fall, and we were able to successfully keep our schools safely open, our children in schools safely open. And we did that even before we have vaccine for our children. So right now, among the things that are really important to do to keep our schools safely open, is to get our children five to 11 vaccinated, to get our teens 12 to 17 vaccinated and then to use all of those prevention strategies that we have talked about.


KING: On that issue, she's speaking quite clearly and quite firmly, is she right?

RANNEY: She is. If you're vaccinated, boosted, have good masks and ventilation in the schools, it is safe to be back. But if every teacher and staff member is sick, you still can't open school safely. And that's the debate and the struggle that we're in right now.

Listen, John, I'm sending my own kids back to public school here in Rhode Island. Our schools have been safely open since September of 2020. But I recognize that there are some school systems across the country that have not put those safety precautions in place. And there are some families who have immunocompromised members or little kids that are unvaccinated that may want a distance learning option.

KING: I started my career in the great ocean state, so I always like when you give me an update. Dr. Ranney, always appreciate the local news update from Rhode Island. I appreciate it very much. Thank you for your insights as always.

Up next for us, the Supreme Court hearing challenges today to a critical piece of the Biden administrations plan to combat COVID-19, a live update, next.



KING: It's a critical day at the Supreme Court, justices today hearing arguments over two Biden administration's coronavirus mandates. The first, a vaccine or test mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees, that affects some 80 million American workers. The second, another vaccine mandate, this time for health care workers at facilities that receive federal funding. CNN Justice Corresponds Jessica Schneider was tracking the arguments. Jess, what are we learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is really a high stakes case with an urgent deadline. And that's because the Biden administration is trying to implement these two vaccine mandates for those two separate sets of workers you mentioned this month. But the challenges are saying that these fed, two federal agencies, OSHA and Health and Human Services, they say they just don't have the power to implement any mandate of this magnitude. So that's really the key focus of these ongoing arguments. We're about two hours and 45 minutes in at this point. The question is what power do federal agencies have in this situation?

Now, the three liberal justices they have been expressing near outrage that it could even be argued that federal agencies wouldn't have the power to act in the midst of this global public health crisis. The conservative leaning justices, though, are looking at these mandates with a lot more skepticism. They're saying that the states might have the power to enact a vaccine mandate, but agencies can only act when Congress has given them that explicit power. Here's Chief Justice John Roberts talking about maybe OSHA's limited power in particular.


CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: That's one of your main objections that this is not a workplace issue. It's out in the world issue, is that right?


ROBERTS: Well, how focused on the workplace does something have to be before you will say that OSHA can regulate it? I think, for example of an assembly line, you know, workers sitting next to each other for a significant length of time, working together in close, close contact, that presents a different kind of risk than is typical in the outside world. So could OSHA say that, for businesses with assembly lines, the workers must be vaccinated?

KELLER: No, not vaccinated.


SCHNEIDER: So, these are ongoing arguments all morning long, the justices will actually have to act fairly quickly here. This OSHA mandate is set to go into effect Monday. That's the mandate that requires employers with 100 or more employees to mandate a vaccine or testing. The vaccine portion of that mandate, though, goes into effect in February.

So, John, the recap here, the challengers want the justices to stop the mandate, so it can continue being challenged in the lower courts. And then of course, there's that other mandate looming, that one requires health care workers to be vaccinated. That's set to take effect at the end of January unless the Supreme Court stops it.

Interestingly here, lawyers for these challengers, these businesses say a lot is at stake. They represent the business interests here and they're saying that businesses will actually lose a lot of workers if the mandates take effect and that these businesses need to make plans now, if it will go into effect again urging the Supreme Court justices to act quickly here, John.


KING: Critical to hear what the justices say when they're done listening. Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.

Let's get some perspective now, again, back with us, former federal Prosecutor Shan Wu. Shan, what is your take on this? Is this a giant test of how this conservative court views executive power? Or is it more a question of what came up there from Jessica Schneider, that did Congress give these agencies specific authority? Is it the weeds or is it a big deal?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It looks like the weeds but it's a big deal, John. It's really a test of this new young group of conservative justices, Amy Coney Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, these are young justices at the height of their intellectual power. They are itching to get in issues like this. They're chomping at the bit. And that bit is John Roberts. So, you can even hear in that tiny excerpt his approach to this, measured trying to figure out where that balance might be. And that's what potential is going to be.

KING: Fascinating. Shan, I appreciate your perspective. And again, we will bring it soon as the justices tell us what they decide. We'll bring it to you, our viewers. When we come back next, you don't want to miss this. It's kind of ridiculous, kind of fascinating. Senator Ted Cruz groveling on Fox after calling January 6, what it was a terrorist attack. Tucker Carlson, not impressed with the senator.


[12:51:10] KING: Ted Cruz this week committing what, I guess is a cardinal sin in today's Republican Party. He offended Tucker Carlson. On Wednesday, the Republican senator from Texas called the insurrection, "a violent, terrorist attack" or to take issue with that, right? Yet, that provoked a constant monologue attacking the senators word choice. So, a night later Senator Cruz appeared on Carlson's Fox show to ask for forgiveness.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX HOST: You call this a terror attack when by no definition was it a terror attack? That's a lie. You told that lie on purpose. And I'm wondering why you did?

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: Well, Tucker, thank you for having me on when you --

CARLSON: Of course.

CRUZ: -- aired your episode last night. I sent you a text shortly thereafter and said, listen, I'd like to go on because the way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy, and it was frankly dumb. And --

CARLSON: I don't buy that. Whoa, whoa, whoa I don't buy that. Look, I've known you a long time since before you went to the Senate, your Supreme Court contender. You take words as seriously as any man who's ever served in the Senate. And every word you repeated that phrase, I do not believe that you use that accidentally, and just dump.

CRUZ: So, Tucker, as a result of my sloppy phrasing, it's caused a lot of people to misunderstand what I meant.


KING: Yeah, panelists back with us. I wish in honor of the old Tucker, I had a bow tie that I could just spin right now, just spin like a wheel and see how it goes.

Tia Mitchell, I want to start with you. Ted Cruz called it a terrorist attack. We've all seen the pictures over and over again, you lived that moment, it is quite fair to call it a terrorist attack. But not if you make Tucker mad, I guess.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yeah, I think it tells us a lot about the Republican Party and how the elected officials are so eager to stay in the good graces of the Maga base that he went on Fox News and allowed himself to be called a liar for telling the truth.

KING: Seung Min, you know, Ted Cruz has had to explain himself before I guess I don't want to go through the history of it. But just why?

KIM: Well, I mean, Tucker was right about one thing. Ted Cruz is someone. And I've covered in for, you know, almost a decade now that he is someone who was extremely careful with his words and very precise, so when he called it a terrorist attack, he meant it. So, the fact that he kind of had to be pulled into apologizing for his words, and he also pretty gave a pretty vigorous apology on his Twitter feed as well just shows you how much Republican leaders these days are being really pulled by these elements of their base. And it was just, it was quite a remarkable interview and apology that he had to give because these elements of the party that don't believe the horrors of January 6, were so offended by Ted Cruz, frankly, being very honest about what that date was.

KING: Right, very honest what that day was. And Arlette, if he'd has -- if he still has national ambitions, he's going to have to get more than just Republican votes. I think most Americans who watch the insurrection maybe they don't choose terrorist attack, but they choose pretty tough words. They choose pretty tough horrendous words about what it was, and the fact that he just wants to grovel.

SAENZ: Yeah, I mean, right now he's making the political calculation that he has to adhere to the grip that President Trump and those proponents of the big lie have on the Republican Party. And I don't think that this is the last instance like what we saw Ted Cruz do. I don't think this is the last time we're going to see a Republican do like something like this heading into 2024.

KING: Well, I guess they get that opportunity for it there. They make a mistake. They get yelled at by the gods of the Maga base. And then they get to grovel and apologize. I guess that's how it's going to play out. We live in interesting -- we live in interesting times. Before we go, let's reflect on a last icon, a legendary actor, director, longtime activist, Sidney Poitier has died.


SIDNEY POITIER, LEGENDARY ACTOR: We believe in the essential dignity of every human being.



KING: Mr. Poitier became the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor that was back in 1964 for his role in the movie, Lilies of the Field.

Poitier was also a human rights trailblazer at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and you see it right there, the legendary actor awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2009. Sidney Poitier was 94 years old.

The special programming notice, we continue to look into what's happening in the aftermath of January 6, join Fareed Zakaria as he investigates the fight to save American democracy as this Sunday 9 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Thanks for your time on Inside Politics today. Don't forget, you can also listen to our podcast, you can download Inside Politics wherever you get your podcasts. Have a fantastic weekend. Erica Hill picks up our coverage after a quick break.