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Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) Discusses New Vaccine Mandate; Saudi Arabia Building Ballistic Missiles With China's Help; Putin Holds News Conference Amid Rising Tensions Over Ukraine. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired December 23, 2021 - 07:30   ET




SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Doubling down on its zero COVID strategy.

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER (on camera): I'm Anna Stewart in London.

Today is usually one of the busiest days of the year for international travel as much of the world clocks off work and takes to the skies in time for Christmas. And it's still expected to be busy despite travel bans for some countries and new restrictions for others, measures introduced to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.

For those who are still going ahead with travel plans -- well, you can add face masks, vaccine passports, tests, and COVID travel insurance to your holiday checklist this year.

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): I'm Larry Madowo in Nairobi watching the Omicron wave slow down significantly in South Africa. Scientists now believe that South Africa has surpassed the peak of this Omicron wave, largely driven by a significant slowdown in new infections in the epicenter of this wave in Gauteng provinces, which includes the city of Johannesburg.

One expert also telling CNN that this could be because of population immunity. More people have been infected and vaccination numbers have increased.

This is a clue for scientists around the world that the Omicron variant might be less severe, which means fewer people in the hospital and fewer people dead.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And our thanks to our reporters all around the world.

Coronavirus hospitalizations are on the rise in Washington, D.C. as the Omicron variant continues to spread there, and that is one of the reasons the city's mayor just announced a new set of vaccine mandates. So, as of January 15th, anyone 12 and older must show proof of at

least one dose of a vaccine before entering a restaurant, gym, or other indoor establishment. By February 15th, that requirement becomes two doses. And by March first, all eligible students at both public and private schools will be required to be vaccinated. Religious institutions are exempt for now from those mandates.

Joining me now, the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser. Madam Mayor, nice to have you with us this morning.

So, we see these, you know --


HILL: -- these different levers that are prompting action. You've just brought back the indoor mask mandate; now the vaccines. But they don't start until January 15th. Are you concerned about what's going to happen in the next couple of weeks?

BOWSER: We're very focused with all of our residents on getting tested, getting vaccinated, and getting boosted. And also, limiting their activities and being careful about the level of exposure that they have, especially if they have vulnerable family members.

Our vaccine mandates are going to apply to high gatherings -- places where we know transmission of the virus was already a high risk. And with Omicron, it's certainly a high risk. And it also will affect, largely, residents in our community who are getting Omicron who are 24 to 35 years old. So that is a focus of ours.

We want our businesses to be able to ramp up and comply. And we want patrons who haven't been vaccinated to go ahead and get their first shot or get their second shot or get fully boosted.

HILL: So that's why you're giving the sort of two-week window.

In terms of businesses, it's my understanding from some of our colleagues there in D.C. there's some frustration among businesses. Some have been requiring vaccinations or proof of vaccination. But there are also questions about whether there could be an app similar to what we see here in New York City to make it easier for those establishments as they need to police people coming in. Is that being considered?

BOWSER: Well, yes. The businesses will be able to look at a CDC card or they'll be able to look at a number of electronic apps so a person can demonstrate their vaccine status. So it should be --

HILL: But are there plans for a D.C.-specific one?

BOWSER: -- pretty easy -- we won't have a D.C.-specific one because people can use their cards or any electronic app.

HILL: You mentioned, specifically, 25- to 34-year-olds. I know that -- I believe it's cases nearly doubled in that age group. As we're looking at these vaccine mandates that target things like bars, restaurants, indoor spaces, how much is that age group fueling case numbers in Washington, D.C.?

BOWSER: We think it's about a quarter from last week's data. We'll see what this week's data show. And while that's troubling and disruptive to their lives and can be disruptive to any number of our societal institutions we also know that these are healthier individuals, as Omicron is not sending them to the hospital, which is a -- which is a good sign.

HILL: Do you -- you mentioned testing that is going to be key moving forward here. Do you feel that there is adequate testing and adequate access to that testing, as of this morning, in D.C.?

BOWSER: We ordered six million tests yesterday. We have about a quarter-million on hand. Just yesterday, we started giving out the 15- minute antigen test to our residents. We gave out over 20,000 yesterday. We're going to keep doing that all the way up to the holiday.


We also offer test-yourself kits where our residents are going in increasing number to our libraries. They get a swab, they do their test. They drop the test off at the library and get results in three to five days. Actually, it's been less than three days recently. So that is how we're going to test our way through it.

In January, we're also going to open up some permanent D.C. health sites throughout the city where people know that they can go for testing and vaccination.

We know through this experience with Omicron that this -- the need to test is going to be very important for how we keep our schools open and how we keep people at work.

HILL: In terms of these mandates, too, ideally, the goal there would be to increase vaccination numbers, obviously, within the city. As we look at the milestones there, it starts off with one shot. Two are required by mid-February.

Do you envision adding a booster requirement?

BOWSER: We, for our D.C. government employees -- we employ 37,000 people, from teachers to firefighters, police officers, regulators -- you name it. We have already strengthened our mandate requirement for them to include a booster and we will -- we're working with our labor partners on the deadlines to get that accomplished. And I expect that we'll be having that discussion nationally as -- if a fully-vaccinated includes a third shot.

HILL: So if that changes, then you would perhaps change the mandate for entering businesses, right -- the mandates that we're talking about that go into effect in the new year?

BOWSER: Our approach has always been to dial-up our interventions as the virus dictates, and that's how we've kept our city safe and that's how we're approaching this winter surge as well. HILL: Do you anticipate extending the mask mandate?

BOWSER: We have a mask mandate that runs through January 31st and at that time we will evaluate the need for it.

HILL: How much discussion is there -- as you're looking at the planning, this variant spreads so quickly. I mean, the growth that we've seen in just three weeks in this country is really remarkable. D.C. and New York certainly getting hit hard by Omicron.

How much is that influencing future planning for the city if there is another variant that spreads this quickly?

BOWSER: Well, I think that our team -- our homeland security team and our D.C. health team have done an amazing job making sure that the city is prepared to deal with this virus. I'm very proud of the work that we have done collectively with our community to crush the initial waves, and that is our approach to this one as well.

We see testing as our way through, along with increased vaccination. And we have challenged ourselves to make sure that our critical institutions remain open, even in the face of this virus, and that starts with schools.

HILL: You know, it's been interesting to see people pivoting on a dime when it comes to holiday plans. I'm curious -- have you changed any of your holiday plans based on this science and based on the new requirements that you're putting in place for the city?

BOWSER: Well, I've changed them because I'm the mayor and my city is experiencing an emergency so I'm going to be here. I also have a 3- year-old daughter who is unvaccinated. I'd hoped to be able to take her to the beach but we're going to have to postpone that. And it's just very important that we keep our vulnerable folks safe.

HILL: Mayor Muriel Bowser, appreciate you joining us this morning. Happy holidays. Thank you.

BOWSER: Thank you.

HILL: A congresswoman carjacked in broad daylight. New details about this ordeal. That's next.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And an NFL legend now helping score homes for single parents.



HILL: Five suspects are in custody this morning in connection with the carjacking of Pennsylvania Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon. Police say she was carjacked at gunpoint in Philadelphia. Now, the car was later recovered in Delaware. Scanlon's office says she was not physically harmed.

No information yet about the suspects or any potential charges.

BERMAN: So, recent polling is showing that President Biden is struggling to instill confidence in the American public on some key issues. One of the most noticeable areas of concern is the economy.

Joining us now, CNN senior data reporter Harry Enten. When we're talking about Joe Biden and the economy, and the polling on it, just how bad is it?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Terrible, terrible. Look historically. Look, we can look at the net approval ratings on the economy since 1977 at this point in a presidency, and that's the approval minus disapproval on the economy.

Look at Joe Biden in 2021 -- minus 15 points. He's well underwater. That is even lower than Jimmy Carter was in a CBS News-New York Times poll at the beginning of January 1978 when he was at minus-eight points.

You can see that Biden's even worse than Trump and Obama were, and they were in the negative territories at minus-four points.

When it comes to the economy there is pretty much nothing good that can be said about Joe Biden's numbers when it comes to the American public.

BERMAN: You brought up the Carter comparison there. What more do you have on that?

ENTEN: Yes. You know, look, here's the deal. Why were both of them so down in the trenches? And what you can see is if you ask folks about inflation -- is inflation a serious problem or concern -- 84 percent of Americans say yes, it is, right now. Back in December of 1977, under Jimmy Carter, it was 79 percent.


Inflation is something that can sink a presidency because it's something that is felt by everybody. It was something that sunk Jimmy Carter. And at this particular point, although Joe Biden obviously has time to make it up, it's one of the big things that's keeping him, right now, in the gutter.

BERMAN: You know, it is worth noting, by the way, that the inflation of right now was still nothing compared --


BERMAN: -- to the inflation of the 70s and 80s. The idea that Biden is doing even worse than Carter when it isn't anywhere near like it was.

But just how bad are Biden's numbers on inflation, specifically?

ENTEN: Yes. If you look at it and you essentially ask folks do you approve of the job of Joe Biden's handling of inflation, look at this. Twenty-eight percent -- 28 percent of Americans say that they approve of the job.

And I think the biggest number in this table that sort of gives it away is just 54 percent of Democrats approve of the job he's doing on inflation. In this era of polarization it's not surprising to see that only six percent of Republicans approve, but the fact that only 54 percent of Democrats approve -- look, they are looking at the numbers. They are feeling in their pockets.

Yes, historically, if you look at the actual economic measures, perhaps it shouldn't be comparable to Carter. But when it comes to actually how folks are feeling, it clearly is.

BERMAN: Fifty-four percent among Democrats. That's a problem for the Biden administration.

ENTEN: Just a little -- but just a little bit of a problem.

BERMAN: It's a problem. And what the Biden White House and the president are trying to do is say hey, you pass Build Back Better and that actually helps battle inflation. Are people buying that?

ENTEN: No, they're not buying it. And this is the problem, which is you basically ask folks would Build Back Better help fight or lower inflation? Just 35 percent of Americans are optimistic that it will. Fifty-one percent are pessimistic.

And I think this is the real disconnect going on right now in the Biden White House, which is essentially, that they are offering plans that they think will help the American public, and the American public is looking at those plans and they don't believe that they will. They think that Joe Biden's eye is not on the ball. And this has sort of been a consistent problem during his presidency, at least in the last few months, where he's offering solutions and the folks are just not buying that they are actual solutions.

BERMAN: All right, Harry. On a lighter note, I'm wearing my holiday tie --


BERMAN: -- which I think is fun. However, I'm a little stressed out because I don't think my holiday tie matches my everyday jacket that I'm wearing right now.

So, my question to you is when you look at the polling about the Christmas holiday in general, do people head into the holidays saying it's more stressful or more fun?

ENTEN: First off, I'll note that one way that you can ensure if your tie and jacket are not matching is to not wear a tie, such as myself. That's one easy way to get around the problem.

Look, slightly more Americans think that the holiday season is more fun than stressful -- at 52 percent to more stressful at 43 percent. I, myself, am not sure. You know, I kind of feel like it can be fun at times. Shopping for folks makes it more stressful. Making sure that family

get-togethers are happy-go-lucky affairs and not ones in which people quarrel. That's more stressful.

But the truth is I like Hannukah Harry and I like Santa, and I do like the occasional gift -- the diet A&W cream soda. A can of that would be very, very nice -- and that can make it more fun. I'm not saying you should log onto right now, John, and buy me that diet A&W cream soda, but I'm saying that perhaps you should -- you know, maybe.

BERMAN: For instance, if one showed up in your office on your desk you wouldn't refuse it? That's what you're saying.

ENTEN: I would not refuse it. It's a very quick way to my heart. It's very hard to get in New York City -- at least in Manhattan -- a 12- pack of diet A&W cream soda. But if you got it for me, John, maybe I'll even come on for you -- come on at 6:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m. Whenever you want me I'd be in your pocket.

BERMAN: The important thing here Harry is that you can be bought. Harry Enten --

ENTEN: Yes, I can be.

BERMAN: -- CNN senior data reporter, happy holidays. Thanks so much.

ENTEN: Thanks, my friend -- you, too.

HILL: You'll have to scour the suburbs for that for Harry.

NFL legend Warrick Dunn has made it his business to help single parents turn their houses into homes. His story is this week's "Impact Your World."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just show me that.

WARRICK DUNN, FORMER NFL RUNNING BACK, FOUNDER, WARRICK DUNN CHARITIES: Everyone deserves a home. Home is where the heart is. I just remember sitting in a locker room because Dungy -- just listening to him just talk to all of the rookies about you guys want to get involved and give back, and those things.

And it just came up my mom. She's working off-duty and guys ambushed her and they just opened fire on a police car. My mom lost her life. She was never able to realize her dream of homeownership. I just say the way that she just cared about people and how she wanted her community to be better.

Homes for the Holidays is where we go and we assist a single-parent family who has become a first-time homeowner. We give them a $5,000 down payment and we fully furnish their homes with food, furniture, linens, T.V.s, computers, all the way down to the toothbrush.

First, we was just focused on really just helping families get into homes. The more I really learned, we wanted to get on the business of giving people potential to break their cycle of poverty. And with that is financial literacy, health and wellness, education attainment, and workforce development and entrepreneurship.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It set the foundation for me. Up until that point survival was my thinking process.

DUNN: The goal is I hope we can go out of business. And when I say that it's no one else needs housing.


BERMAN: He works so hard at this and it's so wonderful to see.

So, how are supply chain issues affecting the Christmas shopping rush right now? Maybe not how you think. Maybe not as much as people once predicted. The Commerce secretary will join us coming up.

HILL: But first, secret satellite pictures of ballistic missiles being built by one of America's allies with the help of one of this country's rivals.


BERMAN: This morning, a CNN exclusive. Saudi Arabia building its own ballistic missiles with China's help. That is what we are hearing from U.S. intelligence agencies. And the news could have ripple effects across the Middle East and into the White House.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand has this new reporting for us. Natasha, what have you learned?


NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, John. So, U.S. intelligence sources are telling my colleague Zach Cohen that Saudi Arabia is now producing its own ballistic missiles with the help of China and is actively manufacturing these missiles in at least one location in Saudi Arabia. That's according to satellite images provided to CNN.

Now, this is an escalation from what CNN had previously reported in 2019, which is that Saudi Arabia was buying ballistic missiles from China and was kind getting these largescale transfers of ballistic missiles directly from Beijing. This now indicates that they are actively producing their own missiles. They are still getting this technology from China. They are building it at a site that China actually helped them build as well.

And this could have significant ripple effects across the Middle East. It could spark an arms race, for example. It could dramatically impact the Biden administration's ability to get Iran, which is Saudi Arabia's bitter rival, to curb its ballistic missiles program. Knowing that Saudi Arabia is now producing its own missiles, is Iran going to be willing to pull back its own program?

So, big questions here for the Biden administration as it tries to balance and calibrate its approach to getting Saudi Arabia to perhaps pull back the production of its missiles, as well as Iran to get -- you know, to feel comfortable not producing its own missiles as its rival produces them with the help of China.

So the administration now is trying to figure out how to respond to this.

BERMAN: So, what are they doing? What are they thinking about how to respond?

BERTRAND: So, they're weighing sanctions on the entities that are involved in producing these ballistic missiles and transferring this technology to Saudi Arabia. But many in Congress don't feel that the administration is going to act strongly enough, particularly because the relationship with Saudi Arabia is so delicate.

The relationship with China, of course, very delicate at this moment as well because the administration is trying to reengage with Beijing on issues like trade and climate and, of course, the pandemic. So they are going to have to act very delicately here as they try to pull back this program.

But they are emphasizing as well that this all began under the Trump administration. The Trump administration, of course, very unwilling to criticize Saudi Arabia -- to try to get it to act in accordance with international norms. And they are saying now, the country and the world is kind of reaping the consequences of that.

BERMAN: Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much for that reporting.

BERTRAND: Thank you.

HILL: Russian President Vladimir Putin holding his annual end-of-year news conference amid rising tensions over military buildup near Ukraine which, of course, has stoked fears of a possible invasion. Putin denies any plans to attack but is also demanding the U.S. and NATO immediately provide Russia with security guarantees.

CNN's Melissa Bell is live in Moscow with more on what we're hearing in that address. Melissa, good morning.

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Erica, there's been so much interest -- so many questions these last few weeks as that military buildup has taken place around Ukraine about what Vladimir Putin's intentions were. Well, the point of this press conference, which tends to last for hours, is that you get a direct insight into exactly that -- his fears, his impression.

He said that Ukraine may be preparing another war on the Donbas region, justifying his intervention -- the annexation, first of all, of Crimea back in 2014 -- also, the Russian intervention in the east of the country at the time -- and saying that his fear was that as the West threatened sanctions, it could be an all-out war that is being prepared.

He also spoke, Erica, to those talks that are due to take place in January that may, he said, now be mediated by Italy, between the United States, NATO, and Russia over Ukraine, warning that his intention with regard to an invasion or not of Ukraine -- and he was asked directly that question -- was not -- would not be a function of how those negotiations went but more whether or not he secured from the West those security guarantees -- namely, that NATO would not seek any further expansion eastward.

And I think one of the most interesting things that we heard from him was that deep distrust, speaking of the lies that NATO had told, saying that back in the 1990s, Russia had received assurances that it would not move a single inch eastward. Since then, he said, five eastward expansions with weapons systems now placed in countries like Romania and Poland.

This clearly speaks to his fear about Ukraine going forward, and that's what we're going to have to look at when it comes to those talks -- whether or not he manages to get those guarantees. And again, the U.S.' top Europe diplomat spoke to this only a couple of days ago, saying that some of Russia's demands -- and notably, that one that NATO should commit to no eastward expansion -- were clearly nonstarters.

So, it gives us an idea -- the idea that the talks will happen and are important. But also, that they're going to be extremely difficult when it comes to finding any kind of understanding. Vladimir Putin adding how would America feel -- how would the United States feel were missiles to be placed, say, in Canada or Mexico, Erica.

HILL: Melissa Bell with the latest for us from Moscow this morning. Melissa, thank you.

NEW DAY continues right now.