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Surgeon General: Next Few Weeks Of Omicron Wave "Will Be Tough"; Biden Battles Multiple Crises As He Closes First Year In WH; North Korea Conducts Fourth Presumed Missile Test In A Month. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 12:30   ET



EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Now while Younkin has a Republican majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, the state senate is still narrowly controlled by Democrats, John?

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Which I suspect means we're going to watch this one play out in the courts, big challenge for the governor early on. We'll follow it. It's an important national issue, Eva McKend, grateful for the reporting there.

Up next, back to COVID. And again, your outlook probably depends on where you live and when overcrowded first hit. There are some encouraging signs but brace yourself. We're told by the experts in most of the country, the next several weeks will be tough.



KING: There are some regional glimmers of Omicron progress, but the overall national outlook remains quite grim. The Surgeon General in fact predicting several more weeks before Omicron peaks nationally, that suggests record hospitalization numbers will only climb. Let's take a closer look at the numbers.

Number one, this is the CDC map of high transmission. You can count. You can count with your two hands, the number of counties that are not read meaning just about all of America, just about all of America county by county, high transmission of the Coronavirus right now and it is Omicron driving that. Because of that, hospitalizations, 151,000, more than that nearly 152,000 Americans hospitalized right now, 40 states reporting more people hospitalized this week compared to last week, the other 10 Holding stable, no states trending down at the moment.

Here's the regional breakdown, if you will. Some are a bit optimistic because Omicron hit in the northeast first. And you do see cases starting to trickle down. But in places in the country like the Midwest, where it came later, Omicron still trending up, so the question is, do you view this as half empty, or half full? Let's get some insights now from our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth, listen to Dr. Paul Offit here, he's one of the experts who've been helping us throughout the year. He says brace yourself, but.


DR. PAUL OFFIT, PHYSICIAN, INFECTIOUS DISEASE DIVISION AT CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I really do think within the next say three to four to five weeks, you're going to see a dramatic decline in the incidence of this this illness. And we're going to feel better, at least as we get into spring, summer, and early fall. And then presumably next winter, we'll see somewhat of a surge that presumably less than this surge.


KING: I guess I'd call that the glass half full perspective and that the next few weeks will be tough for most of the country. But he does see some hope.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And from Dr. Offit's mouth to God's ears. That's all I can say is that I certainly hope that he is right. And we are seeing some signs that things are getting better. I want to show you a map of the United States. John, just last week, just last week, when we looked at this map, you and I, it was almost entirely dark red, dark red means the highest increases in transmission sort of the past week versus the previous week.

Now you see a lot of colors, you see yellow, which means it's holding steady, you see green, which means the numbers are actually going down. Now let's take a look specifically at New York. In New York, we are seeing cases going down. If you look at January 9th, it was 85,000 new cases a day. And now it's 52,000 new cases a day. If you look at Colorado, it was about 8,600 new cases a day. Now it's over 16,000. So in other words there they've gone up that just shows what we've been hearing, which is you know, the United States is a very large place. In some places like New York, they're going down, other places like Colorado, they're going up, I think we're going to see this pattern for quite a while, John?

KING: Right. And to that point, again, if you look at the overall numbers right now and you just see this, this here, you don't even need to tell you the numbers, but we're approaching seven 777,000 cases a day. But you just see how high, it's like a skyscraper. Compared to you go back here we were at 15,000 cases, Elizabeth down to 15,000 cases a day, Delta became dominant, we got up to the Delta peak of 170,000. It tells you how powerful Omicron is, we're at about 152,000. These mostly Delta cases still, when Omicron started to become dominant, and then bam, up to here, which is why as you know, in some parts of the country, things are starting to turn but other parts of the country are going to have to wait.

And I just -- when you see these numbers so high, there's a preliminary Israeli study today, where they say at least for the immunocompromised, it might be time for a fourth dose soon. What did you make of that? COHEN: That's right. It's interesting in Israel now for several weeks, they have been giving fourth doses to people who are over age 60 and to people who are immunocompromised. And the question in Israel has been do they do it then for younger people and for people who are not immune compromised? The -- from the basis of this study, this is announced by Shiva Medical Center, it seems like they're not going to do that. Let me explain.

What they said is that fourth doses did increase antibodies, in fact, quite dramatically. They really increased antibodies, but they didn't seem to decrease the chances that you're going to get infected with Omicron. And so for that, the lead researcher Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, said, you know what, maybe it makes sense to stay with what Israel is doing fourth shots for the immune compromised, which is also being done in the U.S.

And in addition, fourth shots for people over age 60. The big question, John, that the Israeli researchers did not, they were not able to answer is does a fourth shot decrease the chances that you're going to get a severe Omicron infection? They said they just don't have enough data to answer that right now.

KING: Hopefully more data comes in the days ahead. Elizabeth Cohen, appreciate the important perspective.


Up next for us, President Biden his one year in office this week and Democrats are in a bit of a panic. Big recent setbacks overshadowing some significant early Biden wins.


KING: President Biden hits one year in office this week in the mood and the Democratic Party rages from nervous to outright panic. Is there a second act ahead is how the great Dan Balz of "The Washington Post" smartly frames this challenge noting for all the talk here in Washington about the filibuster and voting rights. COVID exhaustion is the larger worry, Biden must hope that there will be a great gradual improvement that the voters begin to feel by early this summer, Dan writes in "The Post."


Yet nothing the administration can say will persuade people who are feeling bad that they shouldn't feel bad. As David Axelrod said, quote, you can't Jawbone people into feeling better. David Axelrod joins us right now, the former senior adviser, of course, to President Obama, and one of our great CNN analysts. David, you know, the people inside the Biden White House, you've also been in a White House when you start your second year looking at the cliff like this, do they get it?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that they read, they hear, they know, they know that he's sitting at 42 percent of that 42 percent would be cataclysmic going into the midterms, the question is, how do they react to it. There is an instinct, and I understand it, John, to want to say, hey, we did all these great things, you know, we cut unemployment by 40 percent. We got, you know, at least one shot into 75 percent of Americans. We're not where we were a year ago.

But that's not what people feel, you know, there was an anticipation that we'd be through the virus by now. We're now going through another significant wave. Inflation is at a 40 year high. And people are feeling that in their lives. And so you have to be careful about how you sell your accomplishments. If it doesn't square with people's lived experience. And, you know, we learned that lesson, and they need to pay heed to that.

KING: Right, people are exhausted because of COVID. Again, there are a lot of conversations in Washington about politics, things and about party things. People in the country are exhausted in their experience. Each one of them has a different experience, whether it's back to work, whether it's back to school, whether it's their own issues with the virus, but here in Washington, there's a lot of talk from Democrats. Here's just a little of it.

Bernie Sanders, we need a major course correction. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy leadership set out with a failed strategy. Senator Dick Durbin, who's in the leadership in the Senate, I'm sure voters are frustrated, I am. Tim Ryan from battleground Ohio, Democrats can't get out of their own way. Cheri Bustos from Illinois, we really kind of need a reset at this point. David, you see a lot of frustration there that doesn't even get at the frustration in the African American civil rights community right now, with the President. When you're getting screamed at so much, what's the lesson? What do you need to do to block that out? Do you take that in?

AXELROD: Yes, it's interesting, because the list of names you read have different complaints. He has been buffeted between the base of the party and the moderate wing of the party. He's been buffeted between -- we saw in the last week on voting rights between activists and, you know, to stalwart resistors in the in the Senate. And, you know, the end result of that is it can make you look weak, you don't want to be, you don't want to be buffeted by your own forces.

And yes, I think he has to kind of tune that out. And I think he has to focus very, very heavily on the issues that are driving this thing he got elected because of the economy. And because of COVID, he needs to be seen as being active and effective on those issues to the extent he can and, John, we ought to note, these are metaphors that are beyond the control of any president, we kind of assume that presidents can control everything, they can't.

But they're held accountable for everything. He needs to be seen as working on those issues. And then quietly win what legislative victories. He can instead of setting deadlines that get passed, and goals that can't be achieved.

KING: So let's come at them in two different slices. Number one is the larger issue in the country, the COVID exhaustion. The President did run a campaign, you're absolutely right. Presidents get too much criticism when things go wrong, they get too much credit when things go right. There's always, there's sometimes especially in a pandemic, or with the economy that no president can control. But he did say I'm not Donald Trump, we will put science first. We will fix this. And he did give a speech on July 4th that was incredibly optimistic about where we were with COVID. You know, Joe Biden well.

He has this Irish optimism, if you will, that is often an incredible asset. And his personal story of resilience is remarkable. But sometimes that becomes his enemy, not, no?

AXELROD: I absolutely agree. Because if you set people's expectations higher than you can achieve, then you're setting them up for disappointment. And we've seen that several times. And that was certainly true in that speech in July.

Now, the science was probably helping to inform that speech. And the science didn't anticipate some of the bumps in the road that that we saw in there. And let's be honest, there have been some miscalculations on testing in particular, we're hearing a lot about that now. And there have been communications problems, particularly out of the CDC that go on his account, that where people are just confused about what they're supposed to be doing and that has plagued him as well.

But yes, he is a guy who wants to -- he believes you can overcome any obstacle. Part of his strength in life is that he's overcome tremendous obstacles. But you know, there are times when you need to tamp down that language, because in a political environment, dealing with very difficult issues. It's not always so that you're going to achieve everything that you hope to achieve.


KING: And every time you have one of these conversations Democrats out there and I understand that completely they beat me, you know, they get mad at the person leading the conversation saying you're not mentioning the fact that Republicans will give Joe Biden nothing. Republicans had said no, if Joe Biden tried to pass a bill that said Tuesday comes after Monday, Republicans would say no, I can see the point. They would. But Joe Biden has known that or should have known that since day one, right?

AXELROD: Yes, but I think he had some confidence that his relationships and his legislative know how built up over half a century would, would somehow overcome that. And on the infrastructure bill, it did, and he passed a bill that either Trump or Obama would have loved to have had to their credit. But on some of these other things, it just hasn't worked. And there is a political calculation.

Republicans, there are many Republicans who don't want this President to succeed, because they -- that would, you know, that would make it more difficult for them to do what they want to do in November. And, you know, Mitch McConnell has been very overt about that. And certainly, the House Republicans are in full out war mode. So you know, he is confronted a very difficult environment. And, you know, the only thing worse, John, than having a 50-50 Senate is having a 49- 51 Senate against you. But a 50-50 Senate is no picnic, as he's learned. There's not a lot of maneuverability the House is almost as divided. This is a really difficult environment in which to operate.

And, you know, I think he's actually accomplished a fair amount under those circumstances. But these meta forces are driving this, people do not feel good. And when people don't feel good, they take it out on the President, this has to change by the summer, or it's going to be a very tough fall.

KING: Right. So let me ask you, in closing, sometimes when this happens, the staff gets insular. They say, we're right, they sort of rally, you know, circle the wagons, if you will, sometimes you reach out you say, OK, we need some help. What are they doing?

AXELROD: You know, I don't I'm sure they are reaching out. I mean, I can't say that I've had these conversations particularly. But --

KING: Does that strike you as odd, you are part of two successful presidential campaigns, and you work in a White House, if they're going to reach out to somebody smart when you behind the list?

AXELROD: Look, I think that there is an impulse to say, hey, we're going to do this our way. I think it would be a mistake not to reach out at this point, because this is a terribly difficult environment. And I know what it's like to be in the White House. It's very hard to see the whole landscape from inside there. You're looking at the country through a periscope. So it would be -- it'd be valuable to reach out and I hope that they do not, not necessarily to me, but to many others.

KING: Appreciate the humility there. Especially appreciate the perspective. David Axelrod, hope to join you in Scottsdale for a cub spring training game in the weeks ahead.

AXELROD: Looking forward to that, yes.

KING: First you have to solve the baseball lockout. That's the next conversation. David, thank you so much.


KING: Coming up for us, North Korea conducts a fourth missile test this month. What does Kim Jong-un want?



KING: Topping our Political Radar today, another provocative North Korean missile test and it's the fourth in a month. According to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, two projectiles were fired today off the east coast of the Korean peninsula. North Korea has also claimed to have successfully tested two hypersonic missiles on January 5th and January 11th.

Let's get some perspective now with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us. Barbara, what's going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Why is Kim Jong-un doing this, John? Well, one of the theories you hear out there is he may be annoying, if you will that he's not getting enough world attention. Right now, it's all going to Vladimir Putin. So he's showing off some of his advanced capability. But that advanced capability is of serious concern, because the kind of missiles if they are successful, that he's developing tough to track even tougher to shoot down if it came to that.

We also know that Kim is publicly promising to improve his military program is upset about some sanctions that the U.S. has levied. Politics and diplomacy aside, Kim has been quiet for months now he's not with his missiles. And he apparently by all accounts, has used that quiet time to improve his capability and he's now trying to show it off to the world. John?

KING: Giant challenge. Barbara Starr, appreciate the live update for us.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley has tested positive for COVID-19. Spokesperson for the general says he's experiencing very minor symptom, General Milley is vaccinated and has received a booster shot. Just most recently had contact with President Biden last Wednesday, but tested negative several times prior to and after that contact with the President.

A bipartisan group of senators in Ukraine this week, seven senators will meet with President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials today. The visit comes as Congressman Michael McCaul not mincing words at all about the current state of U.S.-Russia relations. Congressman McCaul thinks the United States right now engaged in what he calls a new Cold War with Russia.

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee telling CNN State of the Union yesterday he believes quote, Putin smells weakness here that because of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the pressure continuing amounts on the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to think about resigning. The P.M. allegedly held numerous parties in Downing Street. All the country U.K. was under COVID lockdown. One of the parties was reportedly held the night before Prince Philip's funeral. A new poll shows 63 percent U.K. voters think the Prime Minister to resign.


Thanks for your time on Inside Politics today. Don't forget you can also listen to our podcast, download Inside Politics wherever you get your podcasts. Hope to see you back here tomorrow. Have a good Martin Luther King holiday. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.