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Americans Face 2 Weeks of Uncertainty on Omicron Threat; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) is Interviewed about Boebert/Omar Spat; Soon: Court to Hear Case of Trump's Push to Keep Documents Secret; South African Doc Shares Experiences with Omicron Variant. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2021 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Tuesday, November 30. I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.


And breaking overnight, the Omicron variant is spreading with lightning speed. It is now on five continents. Japan just detected its first case hours ago, and that means that 19 countries or territories have now diagnosed at least one case of Omicron.

There are no confirmed cases in the U.S. as of now, and with so much still unknown about this new strain, President Biden is urging everyone to remain calm.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we're learning more every single day.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's be clear. There's nothing unexpected about the spread of Omicron around the world, and there's every reason to expect it could already be in the United States. That in and of itself is not a reason to worry that much.

Now, the president says he does not anticipate more travel bans or any new lockdowns. He says both options are off the table. The administration is redoubling its push for vaccinations.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The unvaccinated need to get vaccinated, and those who are eligible to get boosted should get boosted. If you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: The CDC is strengthening its language on vaccines. Instead of telling Americans they may get a booster, the message now is they should get a booster.

KEILAR: And here in just a few hours, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will be testifying about the three major threats that the new variant poses to the U.S. economy.

Joining me now is CNN's Athena Jones. What are we looking for here?


Well, as John mentioned, previous CDC guidance says anyone 18 and older may get a booster. Now they're saying all adults should get one when they're eligible.

And that's because the expectation is that vaccines, and especially the level of antibody response that comes with boosters, will provide at least some protection from Omicron. Though the truth is, it's going to take a few weeks before we know for sure.


JONES (voice-over): The president calling for calm.

BIDEN: This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.

JONES: As Omicron, a new coronavirus variant, first detected in South Africa, begins to spread around the world --

DR. PETER SINGER, SPECIAL ADVISER TO THE DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Omicron is like a wake-up call, as though we needed another wake-up call, to vaccinate the world. But what we've got here is a five-alarm blaze, and the world has not sent out enough fire trucks.

JONES: -- raising new concerns and questions.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN OF BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Good evidence that it is highly contagious. Maybe more contagious than the Delta variant. I am worried that the vaccines will take a hit on their efficacy. And if they do, that's going to make it harder to control this pandemic.

JONES: The Omicron variant has at least 50 mutations, Moderna's chief medical officer told CNN, including some shared with the highly contagious Delta variant that drove a deadly summer surge in the United States.

The new variant has become the most dominant strain in South Africa less than two weeks after it was first detected. The strain now confirmed on five continents and more than a dozen countries, including Canada.

The U.S. joining the European Union and other countries in restricting travel from certain southern African nations, a move health experts say may slow down the variant's spread but won't stop it.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think this is really an illusion of protection. It's like locking a screen door. You feel like you've done something to protect yourself, but you really haven't.

JONES: U.S. Federal health officials are bracing for Omicron to be detected here, with the CDC sequencing coronavirus genomes and working closely with state health officials.

But it won't be clear for a few weeks how transmissible Omicron is, whether it causes more or less severe illness, and whether it can evade the immune protection offered by vaccines.

Vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna stressing they are ready to respond quickly if changes to the vaccines are needed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been preparing for a moment like that for the last few months. And I think we are now really very well prepared to win this battle.

JONES: And until more is known about the new variant, health officials say the best way to protect yourself is for the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, and for those eligible for booster doses to get them.

FAUCI: We have every reason to believe, even though this is an extraordinary, unusual variant because of the number of mutations, there's no reason to believe that it will not happen, that if you get the level of antibody high with the regular booster to the regular vaccine, that you're going to have at least some effect, and hopefully a good effect, on ability to protect against this variant.

Vaccination is going to be the solution to this, whether it's the Delta variant or whether it's the Omicron variant.


JONES: There are also mitigation efforts like mask wearing. Officials here in New York City, where there are no identified cases of Omicron, are now highly recommending everybody wear a mask while indoors in public places, regardless of vaccination status. It's an attempt to get ahead of the spread of this variant when it is discovered here.

BERMAN: Athena Jones, thank you very much for that.

And we should say, just moments from now, we're going to talk to the South African doctor who is currently treating patients infected with the Omicron variant. One of the first doctors to see it firsthand. You're going to hear what she says about the patients' conditions, and you might be surprised.


KEILAR: Yes, really looking forward to that.

Now, a phone call between Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert and Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar did not do much to defuse tensions, if at all, between the two after Boebert's Islamophobic remarks about Omar surfaced last week, where she insinuated that Omar was a suicide bomber.

Here's how Boebert describes the phone call.


REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): I never want anything I say to offend someone's religion. So I told her that. She kept asking for a public apology. So I told Ilhan Omar that she should make a public apology to the American people for her anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric.


KEILAR: So Omar reportedly hung up on Boebert, and then she issued the following statement. She said, "Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies, Representative Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments. She instead doubled down on her rhetoric, and I decided to end the unproductive call. I believe in engaging with those we disagree with respectfully, but not when that disagreement is rooted in outright bigotry and hate."

Let's discuss this now with Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan.

You know, I just -- It's sad, I think, to watch this back and forth. I wonder what your reaction is to it.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): You know, I'm really -- well, good morning. I'm really concerned about what we're watching and witnessing happening in this country. What you just described is in the halls of Congress, which is the heart of democracy. But we have scenes like that playing out across the country.

This country is being divided by fear and hatred and violence. And we need to all take a deep breath. We can disagree with each other. We can do it respectfully. But we need to respect each and every individual, person, for whoever they are, wherever they came from, whatever their religion is.

And I just would like everybody in this country to take a deep, collective breath, and start to think about the hateful things we are beginning to accept as OK.

KEILAR: What do you worry that that kind of thing will spawn?

DINGELL: Well, you know, I'm going to talk a little about what I've witnessed. You know, a year ago, when men were at the Capitol with assault weapons, not wearing gloves or masks, handing out candy, blocking emergency rooms, I defended my governor.

Tucker Carlson did rant on me, and men showed up outside of my House with assault weapons. I've had other incidences. I think most -- or many congressional

offices -- I don't know if it's most -- but I have young staff who really are -- want to help, care about the world. They do a -- help a lot of people every single day. They're also answering phones with hate, and it's the spewing of things that, in my -- when I was young, I would have -- I probably -- I don't know what would have happened. We were just taught that you don't act this way in so many different ways. My young people are scared.

And I see it across the Hill. My colleague, Fred Upton, who got eviscerated for voting for the infrastructure bill, for bringing money home to his district for roads and bridges and Internet, and getting lead out of pipe. His staff was really rattled. He didn't care about the threats he got, but he was worried about his family and his staff.

This has to stop. It is simply not OK.

KEILAR: Do you worry that Congress will actually lose talent, that they will lose talented people because of these concerns?

DINGELL: I'm very much worried about it. I talk to people who are, like, why would I -- first of all, they wonder why they, themselves, would want to do it, but they care about their families. They love their families. They care about people in their community. They don't want to put people that they love or care for at risk. And we can't let that happen.

We need people of all kinds of backgrounds. That's what the House of Representatives is. It's a representative body of this country, who want to serve. Public service is good, and it's only as good as the people that are willing to run and fight and be part of -- fight for our freedom, to protect our democracy, protect our Constitution, but do it in a civil, respectful, dignified way.

KEILAR: What does leadership do, though, when, say, you know, disciplining Lauren Boebert here, censuring here, it actually just seems to give Lauren Boebert, or the Lauren Boeberts and the Paul Gosars of Congress exactly what they want and, honestly, politically, what they need?

DINGELL: You know, I'm trying to figure it out. I, by the way, represent the largest population of Arab-Americans in the country. I've been dealing with this bigotry and hatred and threats since I got elected and, quite frankly, before I was elected, because of other things. And this community really hurts. It really -- they're Americans.


I mean, here's something I want to remind people of. One of the worst incidents of terrorism in this country was in Oklahoma by young, white men who were members of the Michigan militia. We cannot look at somebody and judge them or have built-in ideas or think about what they are. We need to respect everybody, and I mean everybody.

And I think we've got to find a way that -- I really am focused on this collective deep breath. Because the tit-for-tat, tit-for-tat, it is, you know -- I was reading Gandhi last night. I was upset about some things. And, you know, an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. We've got to start to figure out how we're going to tone down, collectively, this anger, this vitriolic-ness in this country.

KEILAR: I wish more people were reading Gandhi, Congresswoman. I do want to ask you, because your office in Dearborn was broken into; it was vandalized yesterday. Do you know what's behind this?

DINGELL: I don't. The -- when the police called me, I met them over there at the office. None of my technology was taken. They had taken some paddles, patriotic paddles that had been given to me, and taking it and damaged memorabilia of my husband. So police said it was obviously personal.

I'm not going to say that it didn't bother me, but I have removed all the important memorabilia, things that have sentimental or historical value to me, from the office, and I'm going right back out today and doing my job.

KEILAR: I'm really sorry for that, Congresswoman. That must have been very upsetting, to lose some memorabilia related to your late husband. I really appreciate you being with us this morning.

DINGELL: Thank you. Remember, everybody, just try a little kindness.

KEILAR: I'm going to take a breath. I'll tell you that, Congresswoman. Sounds like a good idea.

DINGELL: Thank you. Thanks.

KEILAR: The Omicron variant now a major political test for President Biden as he steers the country out of another health crisis.

BERMAN: Plus, I'm going to speak live with a South African doctor who is currently treating patients affected with Omicron. Hear what she's seeing, and it may surprise you.

Also, a new book details how Trump turned the White House into a money machine for himself and his family. So much so, the author says, he put national security at risk.



BERMAN: In just a few hours, a federal appeals court will hear arguments on whether to block the release of key documents that could pertain to the January 6th insurrection. Former President Trump is trying to keep them secret, citing executive privilege, but the House January 6th Committee says they need them, and they want them.

Joining me now, CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, federal former and state prosecutor.

Elie, explain to me where exactly we are in this case and what these documents are.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: John, you know, it's such a big case, because you have the constitutional dimension, but also, we have the specific documents that are at issue here.

These are key documents for the January 6th Committee's investigation. These are documents created by and about Donald Trump and his inner, inner circle on January 6th.

We're talking about 770-plus pages of documents, internal workings, handwritten notes, internal memos, call logs, draft speeches, and the daily diary.

Now, here's where we are in the courts. Our federal courts have three levels. We've already been to the U.S. District Court, the trial court. Now, here's how that came out. A judge, Judge Tanya Chutkan down in Washington, D.C., three weeks ago, she rejected Donald Trump's executive privilege argument. She said the committee gets those documents.

Memorably, the judge wrote, "Presidents are not kings, and, plaintiff" -- Donald Trump -- "is not president." That brings us to where we are today.

BERMAN: What arguments do you expect to hear today, Elie?

HONIG: Yes. So again, back to our structure. We've already been here. Now, we are here in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C.

Now, this is going to be a three-judge panel. And it's interesting to note, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, now she's a Biden nominee to the court, one of his first nominees, also reportedly on his very short list if he does get a Supreme Court nominee. And importantly, two years ago when she was a district court judge, she rejected a similar privilege claim in the Don McGahn case.

The two other judges, Judge Millett and Judge Wilkins, are Obama nominees. You can't tell everything about a judge based on what president appointed them, but it does give you a piece of information.

We're going to hear three arguments today, John. First, does the committee have a legitimate legislative purpose? Trump argues, no, they're just basically fishing. The committee, Congress says, Yes, we do. We're considering various pieces of legislation. And by the way, we're Congress. We know what we're considering.

Second question, can a former president invoke executive privilege? There is or was some notion out there that perhaps they could. The district court rejected that. The problem is, how can a former president override what the current president wants to do?

Joe Biden has said, "I'm not invoking executive privilege here."

And the third issue is even if, somehow, Donald Trump, as former president, can evoke executive privilege, would it apply here? The court's going to do the balancing test. It's meant to protect policy discussions and not to protect against disclosure of wrongdoing.

BERMAN: Can we go back to your food pyramid here?

HONIG: Of course.

BERMAN: You know, the vegetables. The U.S. Supreme Court.

HONIG: USDA approved.

BERMAN: At the top of the food pyramid. What are the chances that this gets to the Supreme Court?

HONIG: Yes, so whoever loses today's argument -- we should know in a couple weeks -- is going to try to get it up to the top of the pyramid, the U.S. Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court does not have to take any cases. They actually only take a very small fraction of the cases from the court of appeals. We're talking low single digits here.

Now, will the Supreme Court take it? You need four of the nine justices to say, "We'll take that case," in order for the Supreme Court to grant certiorari, meaning to take the case, in the Latin.

Will they do it? On the one hand, the Supreme Court does not like to get involved in sticky, political messes. This certainly is that.

On the other hand, this is a classic constitutional showdown. Legislative branch versus executive branch. It's sort of what the Supreme Court is there for. If they do not take the case, then whatever today's court of appeals rules, that's final.

If they do take the case, of course, they're the Supreme Court, they are final.

BERMAN: Separately from this, we also have some new charges yesterday regarding the January 6th insurrection.

HONIG: Yes. Really interesting allegations here. A couple things jumped out to me, John. There's three defendants charged here. They were part of a group that they called Patriots 45 MAGA Gang. That's not a reference to your favorite football team, John. That's a reference to 45, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States.

Look at the planning. Look at what they were talking about leading into January 6th. This is one of the quote from these defendants, talking to each other: "We need to violently remove traitors. And if they are in key positions, rapidly replace them with able-bodied patriots."

And then the indictment alleges that right at 2 p.m. on January 6th, as they were storming the Capitol, this group texted to each other, "The battle has begun." I found that really chilling. I think it's an interesting indictment.

It shows you what they were doing and why they were doing it.

BERMAN: Elie Honig, thank you very much. I have a feeling we'll be talking about this again very soon after we hear these arguments.

HONIG: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: So how does the Omicron variant affect patients? We're going to speak with a South African doctor who is treating them literally right now.

Plus --

KEILAR: Tiger Woods opening up after his car crash.


TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: I think something that is realistic is playing the tour one day. Never full time ever again. It's an unfortunate reality, but it's my reality.


KEILAR: What he's now admitting about his recovery and possible return to golf.



BERMAN: This morning, at least 19 countries and territories now have confirmed Omicron cases.

There's still a lot we don't know about the variant, but scientists are racing to determine its severity, how easily it spreads, and whether it evades current vaccines.

Joining me now is a doctor at the epicenter of Omicron in South Africa. She was one of the first to treat patients with the variant. Dr. Angelique Coetzee, she is chair of the South African Medical Association.

Doctor, thank you so much for being with us. I know you were just treating other patients, so we appreciate you taking the time to speak to us. And we have very important questions for you.

Namely, talk to us about the severity of the cases you are seeing. How sick are the patients you're seeing who do have this new variant?

DR. ANGELIQUE COETZEE, CHAIR, SOUTH AFRICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Good -- good evening or good afternoon. But South Africa time, it's now afternoon.

So, yes, it's a very good question. So you need -- or the public needs to understand what we currently are seeing. It's very early days, and it's now, more or less, I call it a -- third team (ph), which since we have made the diagnosis of these variant -- new variant that's going around.

So if you look at the severity, and especially in the beginning of any pandemic wave, it's normally not that severe. It's normally the younger people that gets infected. And then from there on, it will spread and go further. So, hopefully, we can keep the clinical picture as it is.

If we say patients are not -- they are moderately ill; they're not severely ill. I'm also a part of a group of about eight doctors, and only two -- some of my colleagues, only two patients that were admitted in the last 24 hours. I'm not sure about those by their symptoms.

But the majority of what we are presenting to primary healthcare practitioners are extremely mild cases, sort of mild to moderate.

And so these patients isn't -- they don't need to be hospitalized for now. And we -- and we tried to get the message out there to the world to say, listen, we're not saying this is not going to be a disease going forward that's going to cause severe disease. It will cause severe disease.

But if we can get this -- if this disease can pose to more than the majority of people mild symptoms, easily treated at home, no need for admission, that's a first prize.

But for us to tell this to the world, we need to tell you what the symptoms are so that the people can understand. If I feel a bit fatigued for a day or two, something -- not the fatigue that you're used to. This is a different type of fatigue. With a bit of a scratchy throat, and a bit of a body ache and pain, and you know, with a -- with a headache. We call it normally malaise, so I don't feel generally well. Go and see your doctor.

And then we need to tell the doctors, you're not going to see a very sick patient sitting in front of you. Test the patient.

So if you can test and trace, and we can get the patients to understand that it's mild symptoms for now, but go and see a healthcare facility. Go and -- go and get yourself checked out.

If you can get that message out to the world, it means that we would most probably, going forward, have less severe cases, less people going too late to the doctors.