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Inside Politics

NYC Student Walk Out Over COVID Safety, No Virtual Option; White House Announces Purchase of Additional COVID Treatment Courses; Biden Pushes Senate to Change Filibuster Rules; Rep. Matt Gaetz's Ex- Girlfriend Enters Florida Courthouse, Same Court Where Ground Jury Investigating Congressman Meets; Key Inflation Measure Hits a 39-Year High. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 12, 2022 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Job before you, you knew it taken over the post and you got to get it right. So thank you for coming on chance, I appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: I appreciate it very much. And thank you all so much for being with us this hour. I'm Kate Baldwin. "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Thank you, Kate and hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington, a record number that spells political trouble for President Biden.

Inflation spiking to its highest level in nearly 40 years as everything from gas to your couch to your sweatpants is getting more expensive. Today big pressure is on two Senate Democratic moderates to change their minds about the filibuster and voting rights.

And big questions to from activists about why was President Biden they say a wall until just now. As Mitch McConnell speaks truth about the 2020 election which of course, makes Donald Trump mad. We begin with a Coronavirus and a look at new actions and a new tone from the Biden White House.

COVID hospitalization is up 33 percent over the past week and COVID deaths up about 40 percent. You see the red map there that's cases the Omicron variant driving the current case count now averaging 750,000 new infections a day.

The CDC Director Dr. Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the Omicron search should peak in the next few weeks. But it is those daunting numbers driving a more sober tone from the Biden COVID team.

And they are driving some new actions as well including today's announcement from the White House. The government is buying a half million courses of a COVID treatment from the drug maker AstraZeneca. Dr. Anthony Fauci a short time ago backing up a colleague who says to Americans get ready for this reality. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, PRESIDENT BIDEN'S CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: Sooner or later as we begin to live with it. What she was referring to is that virtually everybody is going to wind up getting exposed and likely get infected. But if you're vaccinated, and if you're boosted, the chances of you're getting sick are very, very low.


KING: Let's get more on the White House message from our Senior Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, look, this is the reality. They're looking at the case counts, they're watching the serves. There's no question about it. If you're a purely preventative posture, a purely just get vaccinated and everything will be fine posture isn't enough anymore.

And I think there's recognition inside the White House. Make no mistake about it vaccinations and boosters are still the primary component that White House officials and public health officials want the country to focus on. But I was struck were multiple times, Jeff Zients, the President's top COVID adviser said the Medical cabinet has never been - medicine cabinet has never been fuller.

And that he was citing those treatment options from AstraZeneca that the administration purchased today between those types of treatment options, monoclonal treatment options as well. There are more.

The administration has more of an ability right now to handle what's happening from a purely medical basis than they ever have before. I think that's the message they want to get out as there is this recognition that even if you're vaccinated, even if you've received a booster breakthrough cases aren't some small thing anymore.

They are absolutely prevalent and happening around the country. But they also make very clear that in the academic studies that they're seeing up to this point, the public health research that they're looking at, everything is showing that Omicron is not nearly as deadly or potentially problematic as Delta was.

And because of that, because of those treatment options that they have, they believe there's a very real opportunity to address this even as the case counts soar. Now, this has been an issue the White House has obviously been grappling with now since around Thanksgiving trying to get out in front of this trying to address this trying to figure out the concerns and that at many points has led to concerns over messaging confusion over messaging as well.

We've obviously seen hold ups and sticking points when it comes to testing. The administration trying to address some of that today as well, announcing a plan to send 10 million tests, 5 million rapid test 5 million PCR tests, as well as surge testing teams in high transmission communities to try and help schools. Obviously schools and parents are critical here. Because underlying all of this right now, John is maybe the deaths aren't as high maybe the hospitalization isn't as high with past variants. But the problems in terms of the system, systemic issues related to how the country can operate with so many people getting sick.

That's what they're trying to address at the moment, a shifting message over the course of several weeks right now trying to make very clear, this can be dealt with the tools there. People just need to pay attention and try and use those tools.

KING: Among the tools that came up a little bit fair amount at the briefing Phil was Masks any new conversation there?

MATTINGLY: The one the one takeaway I think there has not been any guidance changed yet that the CDC Director Rochelle Walensky made clear that is being considered and likely will come out soon. There is not going to be a mandatory use of N95 Mask or K95 Mask.

It's been a lot of discussion over the course of the last several weeks. However, Jeff Zients made clear the administration is having strong consideration right now to making those high quality masks more available. The primary takeaway at this point in time from Walensky was any mask is better than no mask.

They want a well fitting mask, but I think it's been made very clear from everything we've seen K95 and N95 masks are by far better when it comes to a variant. That's this transmissible, John.

KING: The research they're pretty overwhelming. Phil Mattingly, I appreciate the live reporting out of the White House briefing today. Let's bring in our Senior Medical Correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth - just an interesting moment, if you will, in the sense that you do see in the data, evidence that Omicron is less severe in terms of how sick you get.

But with the case count so high there's still the challenge is on the health care system. I just want to get some numbers out of California, California hospitalizations.


KING: 52,000 people, Omicron cases come in. Only 235 of those patients, if we could put the graphic up on the screen and help people get through it. Only 235 of those patients hospitalized, even though 52,000 cases 235 hospitalized, none of them require a ventilator. So you have significant stress on the hospital system, but it's a different kind of stress.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a different kind of stress. And so let's not forget that out of those 52,000, some of those are health care workers, right. So you just don't have enough staff to take care of people in the hospital, whether they're for COVID, or for anything else.

So the fact that this is a mild illness, and that a relatively small number of people are ending up in the hospital, and an even smaller number ending up on ventilators. It is still a stress on the hospital, you still have people coming into the emergency room, some of them just to get a test, which of course is not great.

But that's the stress on the emergency room, you still have people getting sick, because even a small percentage of a large number can still be a large number. And I think that this may be the most important factor. Your staff is so stressed out.

These are people who are getting sick from Omicron themselves. They probably have family members who may be sick, they are exhausted after two years of dealing with this. And so that's the kind of stress that we are seeing on the healthcare system.

That's why it's so important to get vaccinated. It's you know, we have seen this in hospital system after hospital system. The folks who are filling up the COVID beds are largely unvaccinated. They are doing such a disservice to the people who they want that to be taking care of them. It's hard to even fathom how a human being could do that to another human being, John.

KING: It is. And so when you look at these numbers again, 750,000 new infections a day hospitalizations up, deaths are up, the CDC forecast predicts deaths will stay up over the next couple of weeks. Most of the numbers are quite sad and quite sober.

So we look for any evidence that there could be better days ahead. Dr. Walensky talking about the peak she believes nationally should come in the coming weeks. Are we seeing some evidence that Omicron hit first here in Washington, DC, and in New York.

Look at these numbers from the DC Health Department. Cases down 37.7 percent from the peak just a week ago, and here's what it looks like if you lay out the case chart over the last couple of weeks. You see that giant spike in December. That's Omicron up then it levels off a little bit.

Elizabeth, you do start to see it coming down. Is that a hopeful nugget, if you will, for places that are still in the middle of their own Omicron surge that it lasts a couple of weeks, we've seen this in South Africa, we've seen it the UK. Now we're starting to see it in DC in New York, right. Last a couple of weeks and then hopefully comes down.

COHEN: John, I'm going to borrow a term from the governor of New York. She said there's a glimmer of hope. You'd never want to get too excited, because we've been doing this for two years now. And the COVID has fooled us over and over again. But there is a glimmer of hope.

When you start to see the numbers do what you were just describing in Washington and in New York, you're starting to see a glimmer of that as well. We saw it in South Africa as quickly as it rose up. It also quickly went down. I want to add a note here that well, this is good.

And well those other numbers you were talking about are good news, too, that the hospitalization numbers are relatively low. I think we really need to be thinking about the vulnerable among us, the immune compromised, for example, for whom the vaccine might not have worked. So when you decide what behavior you're going to be doing, think about those people as well.

KING: Amen, every day every day, which is why, you know, we can listen to government guidance. We also use a little common sense a little common courtesy that protects the person next to you who you might not know is a bit vulnerable, Elizabeth Cohen, grateful for the hustle and the good reporting, thanks so much.

Key Senate Democrats meeting this morning those Senate Democrats talking about voting rights. The majority to Chuck Schumer called the discussions " intense", one of the participants, Senator Jon Tester emerged to say things are progressing, but he offered no specifics.

The goal is to get all 50 Senate Democrats behind a plan that because of Republican opposition would have to include not only voting rights legislation, but a plan to change the Senate rules. President Biden backing that rules change in his big Atlanta speech yesterday, framing the choice this way.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: So I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered? At consequential moments in history, they present a choice. Do you want to be the side of the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?


KING: Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama joins us now; she's a lead sponsor of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. She attended the President's speech yesterday. Congressman, we're grateful for your time.

I'm just going to put it right up there for our viewers. I know this is personal to you. You're a daughter of Selma, Alabama. You're a friend of the late John Lewis, you are his partner in pushing this legislation.

Let me start with the Senate they emerged from this meeting today, they've been talking a lot, I know that's frustrating to those of you in the house, the senators tend to talk not vote.


KING: They're saying some were making progress that talks - test. Do you have any indication that they're actually making progress? Are they just in a room talking, talking, talking?

REP. TERRI SEWELL (D-AL): No, I think that there's every indication that they are indeed having intense discussions. And that what I hoped will emerge is a consensus among the Senate Democrats to actually do that rule change so that we can pass the voting rights bills.

You know, John, nothing is more consequential than the threat to our democracy. It is a threat from within. And frankly, we've seen state legislatures across this country, enact more restrictive laws.

I know that many of those state legislators are beginning to meet this January again, and we're seeing even tougher laws coming out of those state legislatures. Federal oversight is only needed when states go amok.

And I think all of us can agree that, that, you know, stopping someone from giving someone a bottle of water while they're standing in line for voting is really preposterous. I think that the president made a great case yesterday, I was glad that he was emphatic, he was bold, he was, you know, uncompromising in his speech about which side of history people want to be on.

And as you said, this is very personal for me. I not only represent Selma, in Congress, I'm actually grew up in Selma, Alabama, I attend Brown Chapel AMA church.

And frankly, the legacy of this district that I happen to represent is a legacy of Americans, ordinary Americans willing to do extraordinary things for social change. Surely our senators will step up to this moment and do what they need to do in order to pass voting rights legislation.

KING: I want to come back to the senators in a minute, but I want to spend a second on the president. You mentioned the president's speech was emphatic yesterday. The president speech did say pick your side in history, and he laid it out quite starkly there in the sound rehearse.

But a lot of your friends in the civil rights community. I'm going to have you listen to one right here, Derek Johnson, from the NAACP. I'll say, Mr. President, this is a fundamental issue. Where have you been for a year? Listen.


DERRICK JOHNSON, NAACP PRESIDENT: What does presidents consider one of the masters of the Senate he has more experience than any other president other than perhaps Lyndon Johnson, it's not for us to tell him how to get it done as far as to say, you have to get this done. But we should have heard this a year ago, six months ago with this level of energy.


KING: What's your take on that? The White House would say the President has talked about this some, and he's had to deal with COVID. He's had to deal with other issues in the country. But is he late? Is he too late to twist the arms and change the votes?

REP. SEWELL: Well, listen, John, I think that all of us in this, this fight, are very frustrated about what's going on. But the reality is that this moment has met us right now. And we're on the eve, the cusp of the anniversary of Martin Luther King's birthday.

And I think that now is an inflection point and opportunity for our senators to choose the right side of history. I'm proud of this president for coming forward and saying emphatically that he is willing to change the filibuster rules in order to get the Voting Rights pass.

He's not prescribing how that should be done, but that it gets done. And you know what, justice delayed can be justice denied. It's time for us to do it right now. KING: I want you to listen to one of your Democratic colleagues, fellow African American, Cori Bush, one of the younger members of the House.

And the younger members, some of them have less patience, if you will, I'm not blaming them for that. They think let's get to it. Listen to her description. She's talking about the president, but then she gets to those senators you're talking about.


REP. CORI BUSH (D-MO): We should expect more from our president. Absolutely, absolutely, but our president is not the one who's going to vote, we need to turn focus even more focused to those that are standing in the way. And they're standing in the way of, of what's needed from people who look like hey.


KING: So last part, Congresswoman Bush, quite emotional there, people who look like her. I may just ask you bluntly, are you concerned that some of these older white senators don't understand this issue and the urgency as they should?

REP. SEWELL: Listen, I think that all of the civil rights groups, all of the activist groups, voting rights groups, they're mobilizing, they're organizing, they're agitating, you know, change never comes in the halls of Congress without agitation. And so I understand people's frustration, but this moment has come now.

And now is the time for us to pick up the phone and call our senators and make sure that they understand the magnitude of this moment. We want to make sure that we're all on the right side of history. I can't imagine being a senator.

And years from now, when this time is recorded, not being on the right side of history. I would rather be on the side of John Lewis any day of the week than Bull Connor and George Wallace.

KING: Congresswomen, grateful for your time today. Let's keep in touch as we go through over the next several days. We'll see if there could be a breakthrough. Thank you. Coming up for us is some breaking news into an ongoing investigation into Florida Congressman, Matt Gaetz.


[12:15:00] KING: And important breaking news to bring you out of Orlando, Florida this morning. The CNN teen spotting a potential key witness in the ongoing investigation into Congressman Matt Gaetz that witness entering the same courthouse where a grand jury is believed to be meeting. Let's get straight to CNN's Paula Reid for more details. Paula, who's this witness?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is a very significant development in this ongoing investigation. This witness is a woman who was romantically linked to the Congressman previously. And she is a key witness into these allegations that the Congressman may have engaged in sexual contact with an underage girl.

And that he and his associates may have tried to interfere in the ongoing federal investigation into those alleged crimes. Now, to be clear, this is not the woman who was allegedly just 17 when she had sexual contact allegedly with the congressman and his associates.

This woman was linked to the Congressman as far back as 2017. And investigators are particularly interested in that time period because that's when he allegedly had sexual contact with that underage girl.


REID: No source familiar with the case has previously told CNN that she was expected to go and testify before the grand jury hearing evidence about alleged crimes by the congressman and his associates.

She was seen this morning with her attorney entering the Orlando courthouse where the grand jury has been meeting. Now at this point, we are not naming this woman she has not been accused of any crimes. She is a cooperating witness in an ongoing federal investigation.

But look John, she is a really critical witness for the Justice Department. We know federal investigators are looking at whether he may have had sex with this underage girl, whether he engaged in sex trafficking, and whether he and his associates tried in any way to interfere in that investigation.

Now CNN has previously reported that investigators have evidence that Gaetz and an associate wanted to talk to this woman to the ex girlfriend around October 2020. And that's significant because that's shortly after this federal investigation began, of course at the time under then Attorney General Bill Barr.

So investigators will likely want to know if she has any evidence related to these alleged crimes or if anyone tried to pressure her not to cooperate or not to be truthful in this ongoing investigation. Now her attorney had no comment, of course at this point. We know that of course the Congressman has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

If prosecutors believe that they have enough evidence to charge a crime. That is a decision that would likely have to go all the way to the Attorney General because of course, charging a sitting congressman is a serious matter. Now at this point the Congressman's attorney and his spokesman have not responded to our request for comment on this new reporting. But John, a serious signal that this investigation and the congressman is active and ongoing and a possible key witness just showing up today.

KING: Really appreciate the breaking news reporting, I know you and our team will stay on top of this investigation as it unfolds. Thank you very much. When we come back, a new report puts inflation at a nearly 40 year high, prices are up for food, for cars. Yes, you know this for just about everything.



KING: A big inflation report out today the government detailing something you know quite well prices for just about everything are up in fact soaring 7 percent over the last year. That's a pace of price growth not seen since 1982, 39 years ago. CNN's Matt Egan with us to break down the numbers, Matt, what else is in this report?

MATT EGAN, WRITER: Well, John, the report shows that these inflation numbers continue to go in the wrong direction consumer prices soared by 7 percent December. That's an acceleration from November.

It's the highest 12 month gains since Ronald Reagan was in the White House month over month prices up 0.5 percent. If you're looking for a silver lining that would be it because that is a deceleration it's also more than expected. So what does this mean?

Well simply put, the cost of living is going up at times dramatically. Let me give you some concrete examples. Price of gasoline a year ago 233 a gallon today, 330 that can add up quickly, especially if you have a long commute begin driving prices for new cars a year ago.

41,000 was the average new vehicle sold in December 2020. Today it's $47,000. And anyone who's been to the grocery store knows that food prices are up, chicken prices up more than 10 percent from a year ago biggest spike since 2004.

Fish and seafood at a 10 year high, bacon prices up nearly 19 percent, restaurants, full service meals, those prices are up by 6.6 percent. That is an all time record. Now this historic inflation is largely COVID related, we've had the supply chain bottlenecks and strong demand after the economy reopened.

But that doesn't make it any less painful, especially for low income families and those living on a fixed budget. Now, John, the Federal Reserve is promising to get inflation under control. The question is, how long will that take? And whether or not it can pull off that job without doing any damage to the economy?

KING: Giant questions, giant questions, we'll watch how quickly the Fed decides after looking at this report to step in. Matt Egan, appreciate the live update. For us inflation one piece, one obvious piece of the pandemic's economic pain. The restaurant industry is another the combination of higher prices, fewer customers and other COVID complications are devastating. Some restaurant owners now appealing for more help from the federal government. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich taking a closer look. Vanessa, what are you seeing?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this latest variant has just - on an industry still struggling to come back to life in just the last week dining down 28 percent compared to 2020. That's according to open table.

There was this restaurant, reef, the restaurant act that helped to give restaurants money $20 billion--, there are about 300,000 applications, about third were funded. So that leaves people without money. Now we have the independent restaurant coalition and 30 mayors from around the country calling on Congress to replenish this critical fund.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We knew that it just was one more wave one big variant one bad winter away from disaster for a lot of restaurants. The financial hit to the country is huge when you lose restaurants to the neighborhood, the community.