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Today: Senate Begins Debate on Voting Rights Legislation; Schumer to Speak on Voting Rights Shortly; Dems Prepare for Tough Midterms as Biden Agenda Stalls; JHU: At Least 1 in 5 Americans Have Been Infected with COVID; White House Weighing New Options on Ukraine Including Providing More Arms to Raise Stakes for Russian Invasion. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2022 - 12:00   ET




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

Is this the new Cold War? Russia plots its next move as the United States shows solidarity with Ukraine. The Secretary of State heading to Kiev, following members of Congress and the CIA Director, plus a brand new study on COVID and children details the terrible mental health toll of school closures.

And new reporting on Donald Trump's goal of playing Republican midterm kingmaker; this as a group of former aides who saw his presidency up close debate ways to block any Trump come back. We begin though with the looming moment of truth for voting rights, the Senate will be gaveled into session momentarily, and we will hear from the Democratic majority leader.

But a more critical action today will be in private Democrats Caucus tonight. And the current plan is for a vote tomorrow. The current math adds up to a stinging defeat for the president and his party. Let's get straight to our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. Manu a big day for the Democrats but the math isn't changing, is it?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not changing. And the question will be how far do Democrats continue to push this issue and try to set up future votes once this certain to fail vote happens, which will occur tomorrow.

Now the way it'll play out is this in a matter of moments, Chuck Schumer will address the Senate talk about what he views as the way forward and the way forward. Tomorrow a key vote to overcome a Republican led filibuster to pass two sweeping measures to overhaul voting laws both to deal with it on the campaign finance level, but also change electoral laws across the country to ease access to the ballot.

Those have no - that has no chance of passing because it does not have 60 votes, meaning 10 Republicans are not going to side with Democrats, then the question for Chuck Schumer will be how far will he go to change the Senate rules?

He had said that he plans to go forward with that. But the vote is math is simply not there. Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema had been clear for months that they will not go along with this effort. But nevertheless, Schumer has made this a top priority this year and is planning to push this issue, even though some vulnerable Democrats like Mark Kelly, of Arizona have yet to say that they also support this measure.

So after tomorrow, Schumer has some big decisions to be made. And whether they essentially drop this effort and try to move on to other footing, not high profile failures that lead to divisive Democratic debates, but potentially issues that unify them ahead of a difficult midterm election season.

But John all starts in a matter of moments when the majority leader addresses his Senate, which is deeply divided over this issue.

KING: And as we wait for - to keep you're for one question. Normally, if you are facing certain defeat, you would pull the vote. But the Democratic base demands this vote; you raise a key question how many Democrats we know have to but how many Democrats might defect? Is there any chance Chuck Schumer the end says I don't have the votes pull back nor do they have to do this?

RAJU: It seems possible he has not. I asked him last week why go through with this vote that you know it's going to fail? He said that we have to vote. We have to vote. But there has been some belief in the Senate. But perhaps he won't go all the way through that, John.

And what reason why is that Republicans, if they take back the majority, they will point back to that vote to change the Senate filibuster rules as a precedent potentially to go forward filibuster rule changes themselves, at least that's what some people feared that they may do, even though Mitch McConnell has said that he will not change the Senate filibuster rules.

But nevertheless, that is a risk for them if they do go forward and a failed vote, that perhaps Republicans could use that enough as precedent to change the rules themselves, even though their rules will not be changed on this particular vote.

So the question is, does he actually force members to go on record, which is why they're having that caucus meeting tonight, he's going to take the temperature of his caucus, decide which way to go and see if there's any decision to pull back from this push that is certain to fail.

KING: And deepen this conversation necessarily about some of the rules and the processes of the Senate a giant fundamental moment for the Democratic Party. Manu Raju I appreciate you kicking us off. With me now to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Abby Philip, CNN Political Analyst and Co-Author of Political Playbook Rachael Bade, and McClatchy's Francesca Chambers.

Ladies, excuse me if I have to interrupt to get to the Senate floor, and Chuck Schumer. But Abby Philip, let me start with you and among those who want this vote, Chuck Schumer has to make a decision. Do you bring a vote to the floor that will be embarrassing for the President of the United States it will be embarrassing for the Democratic Leader of the Senate?

But a lot of House Democrats, particularly Democrats of color, they want this vote because they want to know listen to Jim Clyburn here. They want to know how many Democrats will defy the president and the party.


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): The president has been pressing this issue. He doesn't have a vote in the Senate. And we've got two Senators on the Democratic side. And I'm not too sure it's only to the two that everybody's focusing on.

But I've been talking to some Senators, and I'm not too sure that we don't have some others who had had these two.



KING: It's such an interesting moment and again the rawness of this debates those House Democrats like a Leader Clyburn there, they want to know how many who are you?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not just the House Democrats, but also activists who spent the weekend pressing this issue. They want to see a roll call of who is going to vote against these voting rights bills in the Senate.

And Congressman Clyburn is absolutely right. It's not just Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, it's others, and you heard Manu Raju, talking about Mark Kelly, some of these other members who are in potentially tough races, Senate races coming up who don't want to go there.

Others who maybe they are more institutionalist than they is perceived to be and is not quite ready to get rid of the filibuster in order to do this. The activist wing of the Democratic Party progressives in the House, they want to put these members on the spot to force them to say to their base, we are not willing to get rid of the filibuster over voting rights.

And that is going to be - its part of this litmus test that's developing. But I think it's also something that could be potentially very damaging to Democrats, as they go into their own primaries and go into a midterm cycle in which they are already behind the eight ball.

KING: Right. And we just showed faces, there are about 30 voting rights demonstrators sitting on the sets of steps of the Capitol there if you notice from the faces of most of them young. And that's one of the interesting moments here, most young faces here. And you also have establishment civil rights leaders, including the namesake of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Martin Luther King III saying yesterday, we want this vote, we want it recorded, because we want the names and he says history will remember the names listen.


MARTIN LUTHER KING III, GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS LEADER: History will be watching what happens tomorrow, black and brown Americans will be watching what happens tomorrow. In 50 years, students will read about what happens tomorrow, and know whether our leaders have the integrity to do the right thing.


KING: It is if again, Francesca fascinating moment in the sense that a lot of those same civil rights leaders are mad President Biden waited so long to make this his number one priority to talk about this so consistently. But we're about to mark one year in office for President Biden, and this would be a defining defeat. But again, a lot of these groups say have it have the vote, we want accountability.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: And the activists I'm hearing from John are frustrated with President Biden, they feel that he's doing too little he waited too long, in order to articulate his position on a filibuster carve out on this issue.

But Democrats feel like from a messaging standpoint, the best thing they can do for themselves here is to get caught trying John to at least have this vote to say that they did everything that they could possibly do to try and get the votes for this, even if and likely this vote does fail tomorrow.

Because at this point, they're asking what's the plan to get senators Manchin and Sinema on board? There's a plan for a debate. But what's the plan to actually get them and potentially others as you were talking about for before on board for this vote.

KING: And Rachael, this voting rights decision is just one of many strategic decisions calculations Democrats need to make including Leader Schumer, at this key juncture in the Biden Presidency. You're about to hit the one year mark, we're now almost three weeks into the beginning of the midterm election year.

There are some Democrats because the big Biden social safety net plan, he calls it build back better by Senate rules it's called reconciliation, but it has climate, it has health care, it has home health care, it has a slew of Democratic priorities, a number of the more moderate members.

This is from "The Washington Post" this morning, swing district Democrats in need of midterm reboot, push leadership; they want to break it up. They want to take the pieces and bring the most popular pieces to the floor separately. So voting rights is the test of the moment. But this is another big decision. Do the Democrats break up what they say is a critical big plan into small pieces?

RACHAEL BADE, POLITICO PLAYBOOK CO-AUTHOR: Yes, look, I think a lot of these frontline workers who are concerned about losing their seats next fall, they're talking about cutting their losses and just sort of moving on, there is a fear that if Democrats keep sort of having these big votes and sort of generating all these headlines only to fail,.

It's only going to highlight, you know what they didn't get done when it comes to their re-election. And so that's why you're hearing moderates push the leadership right now to go for one off bills, they want to vote on them in the House.

The problem with that is that could create some complications in terms of actually getting something passed in the Senate that would likely mean that these votes would be subject to a 60 vote threshold, which means they need some Republican buy in in the Senate.

And let's be honest, things are not looking great right now in terms of getting anything bipartisan done in the upper chamber. And so look, Democrats have to decide are they going to sort of focus on messaging right now and trying to blame Republicans for not getting things done moving toward the single bill strategy, or are they going to try to continue to work Manchin and get something passed using this fast tracking tool of reconciliation, even if it's smaller than what they originally wanted to do?

KING: It is challenging. That's a moment for the party. Again, we're watching the Senate floor we'll keep an eye on Leader Schumer tell us he gives us any update any changes on the strategy on voting rights and more. When we come back though, next for us just released study highlights the sad pandemic impact on children and their mental health.



KING: A just released review of the pandemics mental health toll on children and teenagers find school closures drove increased stress and increased anxiety. The researchers combed through 36 studies spanning 11 countries, the finding stress that any discussion about closing schools should factor in the clear negative mental health toll.

Let's get more from our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth it's an important compilation I guess you'd call it of several big studies.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. It studies from 11 different countries including the U.S. John. [12:15:00]

COHEN: And what they did is they tracked studies that were published or that looked at data from February to July of 2020. And so in other words, the time when lockdowns were happening when schools were closing down, let's take a look at what they found.

What they found is that there was an increase, there were increased rates of children showing symptoms of anxiety, depression, trauma, and interestingly, child abuse reports from schools went down. Now, at first glance, you might think that's good, but that's actually bad.

I mean, schools are, and you know, relied upon to give reports of when children are abused. But of course, since they were shut down for much of this, they weren't making those reports. And so you shudder to think of the situations that might have been happening that weren't getting reported.

Now, this study was published in a medical journal against these backdrop things the Omicron variant is going crazy as we know. It now accounts for 99 percent of all of the samples that were tested in the U.S. They don't test every single sample that comes, you know, from someone who has COVID, but of the ones that they tested 99 percent Omicron John.

KING: Just a remarkable number, Elizabeth Cohen thanks so much. Let's get some perspective and insight from Dr. Leana Wen the Former City of Baltimore Health Commissioner. Dr. Wen, you've been talking about this, from the very beginning that if you can, it makes much more sense to keep your children in a school as long as the school is safe.

We mentioned this is 36 studies from 11 different countries among those who have looked at this as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which had across the country; we've witnessed dramatic increases in emergency department visits for all mental health emergencies, including suspected suicide attempts.

Where this compilation as I call it gives us a greater sense, though, of this just this devastating as a parent, I say it you're a parent and a scientist toll this has taken on our children.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We have failed our children. Throughout this entire pandemic, we have not prioritized our kids and now we're seeing the effect. We're seeing the mental health impact, as you mentioned, but we're also seeing the impact on nutrition and physical activity.

These studies are also showing that school lockdowns have an impact on increasing childhood obesity, which also has implications for diabetes and heart disease for these kids growing up later on in life as well. So I think at this point, we really have to take school closures off the table as a policy response; schools need to be the last to close the first to open.

And as long as we have bars and restaurants and other venues open, we should not be discussing at all school closures because of the other impacts on children.

KING: And yet we're at this strange moment. Now I don't know the right term to use. Is it irony? Is it sad or whatever. But you mentioned you should try to keep schools open. I think most school districts most have come around to that.

But we have 1800 plus school districts close today as we speak some just for a day or two of remote learning. Some are blaming this on the bad weather in the northeast, but some of them are saying look, with the Omicron cases spiking like this.

Look, this is where we were when Omicron became dominant more than 15 million cases just since December just since that moment; they're saying we can't follow it. We can't fully staff we have teachers sick, we have janitors sick, we have to have some remote learning, right?

DR. WEN: I understand the issues of shortages among workers. But we also need to start considering teachers and staff as essential workers who need to be in school. And so I think we just have to have different policies to account for this.

Look at the Delta surge in the middle of the Delta surge; we were able to keep schools open. Delta is more virulent than Omicron and also at that point, we didn't have pediatric vaccinations, we now are able to vaccinate children five and older we also know that wearing masks protect the wearer, even if other people around you are not wearing masks. There really shouldn't be a good reason for schools to be closed at this point.

KING: And you mentioned that we now have pediatric vaccinations. I just want to bring this up right here. About 60 percent of those 16 to 17 year olds are vaccinated eligible, a little more than half of those 12 to 15. What do you think explains the lagging? It's only 18 percent a little more than that of children aged five through 11, who are eligible, but had been vaccinated. Why is that number still below 20 percent?

DR. WEN: I think it's because there's been this fallacy that somehow children don't get very ill from COVID-19, which we know is just not true. Yes, it is true that compared to adults, kids tend to not get as ill. But we've seen that tens of thousands of kids have been hospitalized hundreds of children have died.

And as a parent, I know that if I have the opportunity to take the low, something that's low risk in my children to something that's virtually zero risk, I would do that in a heartbeat. And so I hope that other parents who have made the decision to vaccinate themselves will also vaccinate their children, because this is what will allow their entire family to go back to pre-pandemic normal.

KING: And if you look at the numbers, as our team does all the time. I just want to bring this up. If you look, this is just at the John Hopkins data that we use. And we know that COVID cases are under reported, but based on the reporting, we have one in five Americans, one in five Americans had been infected with COVID-19. What do you think the actual number is if that's the baseline from what we know? Even the Johns Hopkins officials say they suspect it's well higher than that.


DR. WEN: Right. I also think that it's much higher than that and that's because we are under accounting. A lot of people may have had sniffles and then just didn't get - didn't get tested because they don't have access to testing.

Also, many people are taking rapid tests. And most of these rapid tests are not been included in the county or statewide totals. And so I would estimate that we're under counting by a factor of five to 10. And as a result, I agree with what many people have been saying, which is that we are all going to come in contact with Omicron unless we take extraordinary measures.

And that's the reason why we all want to be vaccinated and boosted for when we come in contact with it so that we are as well protected against severe illness as possible.

KING: Dr. Wen as always, thank you so much. Up next for us, some breaks news on Russia. We're learning new details about Biden Administration considerations of what to do next that as the Secretary of State Tony Blinken speaks to his Russian counterpart and analysis a trip tomorrow to Ukraine.



KING: Some important breaking news just into CNN. The Biden White House now weighing new options in Ukraine to try to dissuade the Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading. CNN's Jim Sciutto, part of the reporting team on this Jim, what are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I've been working as well with Natasha Bertrand Katie --. What we're learning is that the White House the Biden Administration now considering additional military support to Ukraine with really two intentions here one to raise the cost for Russian President Vladimir Putin should he chooses to invade Ukraine?

Make it costlier for Russian military forces, but two is well to prepare for the possibility of supporting the Ukrainian military for a long, sustained Russian military operation? What is involved? What kind of metal up military options are we talking about?

We're talking about things like further ammunition further anti-tank weapons, known as Javelin missiles, they are armor piercing missiles. Other options include mortars and anti-aircraft missile systems, which we should note would likely come not from the U.S., but from NATO allies.

Now, President Biden as you know, John has said that sending us combat troops to Ukraine is off the table. However, U.S. special forces already rotate in and out of the country to provide training and assistance to Ukrainian forces and a senior administration official said it is possible that other agencies could provide additional support in that category, additional special operations forces. Perhaps additional intelligence back forces for that role of supporting the Ukrainian military.

KING: And, Jim, this important reporting comes at a testing time, if you will, for diplomacy, Secretary Blinken, about to head to Kiev and to Germany to consult with allies, then we'll meet with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.

So far, the talking hasn't gotten any anywhere. Do we expect anything? Or is this just stay at the table?

SCIUTTO: I've spoken to a lot of people inside the administration and the expectations are frankly low. And part of the reason you have these additional military support options being discussed and planned right now, John is because last week's attempted diplomacy did not provide by all accounts, any real breakthroughs.

Doesn't mean the administration has given up on its diplomatic track. And that's why there is some importance to seeing Lavrov and Blinken speaking today. But I would say this as well, that the administration is going into this clear eyed, they have not seen yet any evidence of Russian pullback here.

And they've noted some alarm with just how far out the Russian positions are, right? Because Russia is asking for return, really to a Soviet sphere of influence in Europe and demanding things that the U.S. frankly and NATO's, frankly, is not willing to do, like promising that Ukraine will never be in NATO.

So given those demands, given the lack of diplomatic progress right now, it's good that they're talking. But they're preparing for the worst. They're preparing for greater Russian military intervention.

KING: And at a highly tense moment like this. Jim, everybody's watching the Russians will watch what you just reported. The United States watching everything the Russians do, including this account "The New York Times" that the Russians have been drawing down staff, mostly family members, but significantly drawing down staff at its embassies within Ukraine. Could be a bluff for could be a sign get the women and children out?

SCIUTTO: With Russia, you always have the possibility of a feint as opposed to something that is genuine action because - propaganda is always part of its shadow war. Its hybrid warfare tactics, but it's a significant move. So the U.S. is taking it seriously.

I should also note this, John, my colleague, Barbara Starr, reporting this hour that the U.S. has noticed an increase deployment of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border in recent days as well that not a positive sign.

KING: Yes. Not a positive sign at all. At a very, very tense moment in world affairs, Jim Sciutto and your colleagues appreciate the breaking news reporting very much. And some more breaking news, this one here on the home front AT&T is "Voluntarily delaying some of its 5G rollouts that amid sweeping pushback from the aviation industry".

In a statement AT&T says "We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done. We are launching our advanced 5G services elsewhere, as planned". Let's get some more from CNN's Pete Muntean Pete?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well John, you know, this 5G network was to be rolled out tomorrow so this changes coming at the 11th hour.