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Interview with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD); VP Harris Warns Russia Could See Sanctions if it Invades Ukraine; Dr. Anthony Fauci Interviewed on Former President Trump Promoting COVID-19 Vaccination; Many Flights Canceled at Airports across U.S. Due to Staffing Shortages; Omicron Variant Spreading Rapidly but Currently with Less Severe Disease. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired December 27, 2021 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: I'm glad that the president, the former president Trump, is now talking about why it's important to get vaccinated. I was stunned by the fact that he's doing that, and he's getting booed in some places for doing that, which means that poisoning the well early on about even not being enthusiastic or outright not pushing vaccines and discouraging vaccines now has the lingering effect, and even when you come out and say go get vaccinated, some of the people that have been following his every word and what he does are now pushing back and not listening, which is really tells you the strength of the divisiveness in our society, which I've always said to me is the biggest stumbling block about getting this pandemic under control. It really is no place for divisiveness politically when you have a classical, historical, unprecedented pandemic. It just doesn't make any sense.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Millions of Americans still unvaccinated this morning. Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you, though, for joining us.
FAUCI: Good to be with you, Kaitlan. Thank you for having me.
COLLINS: And NEW DAY continues right now.
JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It's Monday, December 27th. I'm John Avlon with Kaitlan Collins. Berman and Brianna are enjoying a well-deserved week off.
COLLINS: I can't believe they left us in charge all week long.
AVLON: We'll see how it works out. I'm feeling pretty good about it.
This morning, the extraordinarily contagious Omicron is surging across the United States, and Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning those cases are likely to climb much higher. Years into this pandemic, testing a major challenge, now featuring lines around the block at testing sites and shortages of at-home tests at drug stores. Many Americans are wondering if they need to scrap their New Year's plans all together. As Omicron cases are surging health experts are waiting to see if hospitalizations will as well. Right now, they're around 70 percent less than they were during the last peak around September. Millions of Americans who are still unvaccinated though, are at the greatest risk of severe illness and death from the Omicron virus, and it's those cases that could overwhelm the country's already stressed health care systems.
COLLINS: Over the holiday weekend, millions of people around the world are dealing with mass airline cancellations as staff and crew are calling out sick amid the Omicron surge. The disruptions have left thousands of travelers frustrated, understandably. And while some of the groundings were caused by problem like bad weather, maintenance issues, like normal, several airlines acknowledged the impact of the current wave of cases.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Imagine with all our bags, leaving the house, thinking we're going to travel, and then you get here, and it's canceled.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The reason that our flight was canceled was because lack of flight attendants on Delta. So I guess it's sad. It's just really sad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Today more than 2,000 flights have been canceled globally, including about 600 in the United States. So let's get to CNN's Nadia Romero who is live at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta with the latest. And so Nadia, what are you hearing from people this morning over a concern that their flight could be canceled after they show up to the airport there?
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kaitlan, for a lot of people they had restless night checking their phones, checking the websites of their airlines, trying to make sure that they should come out to this flight this morning. If you did show up and your flight was canceled, you could have slept in, right. So people were pretty frustrated about that. A lot of people were expected to go back to work today or tomorrow because many companies gave their employees Friday off, so they're expecting to get back and start their work week.
Last check we had just an update that just came in. About 750 flights now canceled domestically, so across the U.S., after all of these people that were hoping to get back to a sense of normal after the holiday. Many of them frustrated. Some though, who were able to get on those flights said that they were going to do so regardless of that ripple effect of cancellations and delays, and despite this Omicron variant that is spreading rapidly across the U.S. They were going to take that chance to come to the airport and hope that their flight wasn't canceled or delayed just to see the family that they haven't seen since before the pandemic. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMERO: Your nephew is only two years old, so he's only known COVID- 19. What was it like being able to spend time with him in person?
KATY HEATH, HOLIDAY TRAVELER: It was so great. So I was there when he was born, which was right before the pandemic, and then I haven't seen him since.
So he's grown so much. I'm sad I missed as much as I did and hopefully won't have to ever again.
JENNIFER SMITH, HOLIDAY TRAVELER: This is my in-laws, first time I've seen them in about two years. So yes, it's been a while. And I saw my mom over Thanksgiving first time in two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMERO: And Kaitlan, we spoke with a grandmother who said she had never seen her grandson in person, so she was flying from Atlanta to Baltimore, and she said that moment when she was going to wrap her arms around her grandson for the first time was going to be worth just flying during the variant and with all of the other inconveniences of holiday travel. Kaitlan?
COLLINS: I think that's what is so frustrating, is this felt like the time we're finally going to see family members you haven't seen, especially a grandmother not seeing her grandson, I just can't even imagine that feeling. Nadia Romero, thank you for checking in with us this morning.
AVLON: That's right.
And amid the Omicron surge, at-home coronavirus tests have been in high demand and short supply. And in-person test sites are overwhelmed with long lines. Dr. Anthony Fauci telling NEW DAY moments ago that the testing situation should get better in the U.S. in the coming weeks.
CNN's Elizabeth Cohen joining us now to explain that and more. Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, the government has purchased tests so that people hopefully in every American home there will be plenty of tests so that you can get tested. You're not sure, you want to know if you have coronavirus, you can get yourself tested. It is going to be a while until that happens. Dr. Fauci has talked about flooding American households with tests. I don't think we're anywhere near the flooding, but hopefully we are getting to that point, and here's why.
Let's take a look at the increase in cases over the past month. About a month ago, we were having about 75,000 cases per day. Now we're having more than 200,000 cases per day. Now we should thank our lucky stars that Omicron seems to be producing pretty mild disease. If you look at hospitalizations, they've gone up, but you can see that line is much less dramatic than the line that we just saw for cases.
Here's the worst line, here's the line that is keeping people up at night. Look at vaccinations. They've gone down over the past month. About a month ago it was 425,000 a day, and now it's less than 100, it's gone down to about 170,000 a day. So that is a dramatic decrease. We just heard Dr. Fauci talking about how the people who are going to end up in the hospital with Omicron to a large extent, it is the unvaccinated. Vaccination doesn't work perfectly against Omicron, but it helps a lot. People who are not vaccinated and people who are not getting boosters when they should be getting boosters, really, they are taking great, great risks. John?
AVLON: Given the surge we're dealing with, the fact that you just pointed out that vaccinations are going down, that is stark and sobering and stupefying. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much.
COLLINS: And joining us now is CNN contributor, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. He's an epidemiologist and former Detroit City Health Director. Doctor, you heard our interview just now with Dr. Fauci. We were talking about whether or not the United States is going to see what scientists in South Africa say that they are seeing.
DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: I certainly hope so. What this looks like, if you use analogy of a fire for this particular wave in a pandemic, is that it doesn't burn quite as hot, but it moves really fast, and once it has burned through the kindling the fire kind of stops. And so the assumption here is that it just moves so efficiently through the population that if you're not vaccinated and boosted, that it's going to come to you, and that because it is less severe, you may not even know it.
That being said, given the proportion of people who are liable to be infected, given the proportion of people in our country who are not vaccinated, there's still a real risk of overwhelming our health care system. And so in some respect it just takes us back to that beginning of the pandemic back in the bad old days of March, 2020, when we were talking about flattening the curve. And we need to preserve our health care system and make sure that it doesn't overwhelm it. Hence the worry.
AVLON: And one of the downstream effects of the difficulty in getting home tests right now is the return of a parlor game that has been epidemic in my house, which is, is it a cold, or is it COVID? So what guidance can you give people who are asking themselves that when they can't get their hands on a test right away?
EL-SAYED: There are a couple things that I hope folks will think about. A, think a little bit about your exposure risk. If you may have been exposed to somebody with COVID-19 it increases the probability that it's COVID-19. But to be sure, we all know that the symptoms kind of look and feel the same way. You have the runny nose and the sore throat and the cough and the headache.
I'd pay attention to a couple things, though. Even though with Omicron it's less likely that you're going to lose your sense of smell or your sense of taste, those are really specific for COVID-19. [08:10:00]
And the second that seems to be a bit more common with Omicron given the data is a headache. And so if you've been in a situation where you may have been exposed, it's worth looking back and asking, actually asking the people that you are with, was there a positive test there. And once you start feeling those symptoms, even if it is a cold or flu, given the goal of flattening the curve, it's worth isolating yourself and getting a couple of tests.
The other important point here is that don't test immediately after you might have been exposed. But once you are getting symptoms, you want to test one day and then test again the next day just to be sure as you're isolating. But it is a frustrating situation to be in, considering that it is the holiday season and we're liable to deal with the cold and the flu in this time of year anyway.
COLLINS: It is deeply frustrating. LeBron James posted that meme, it's all the spidermen pointing at one another asking which one is it? I think it's a big concern that really everyone obviously has asked themselves at some point over the last several years now that we're dealing with this.
I do wonder what your opinion is on what Dr. Fauci just told us, that they are considering shortening that isolation period not just for health care workers like we know the CDC has done, but potentially for other people given we talked about flights being canceled, maybe flight attendants and airline workers need to also see a shortened isolation period, or maybe everybody who is vaccinated could see a shortened isolation period?
EL-SAYED: Yes, Kaitlan, it is really an important point, and the main consideration that the CDC had in its perspective as they made that decision was about preserving our health care system, again, flattening the curve, because we know that since the pandemic started over the last two years, it has been harrowing circumstances for our health care workers, brave heroes who have been on the front lines, and there has been some burnout.
And so we're at about 75 percent in terms of overall personnel capacity. And the longer you are keeping people isolated post exposure or post infection, the less likely they're going to be out there on the front lines taking care of people in the midst of a surge. That was the focus.
Dr. Fauci, when you asked that question, he focused on other really important, essential workers. And so the real question here is going to be the tradeoff between the potential risk that someone may still transmit the virus after seven days versus after five days, and their need to be out there doing the work the functioning of society.
But I will say, there is also a really important labor perspective here, which is that we want to make sure that people are safe and healthy and that they get the time they need to rest and recuperate after an infection. And so that's going to be another angle here. What's the pushback going to be from workers' unions and others who are really focused on making sure that we're not just putting sick people back on the front lines because we need them doing their jobs, but that they really are healthy and not passing on the virus.
AVLON: A lot of different factors in those risk-reward calculations, you want to put responsibility first. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, thank you so much as always.
EL-SAYED: Thank you.
AVLON: Coming up, the Senate strategy that could give new life to President Biden's Build Back Better plan.
COLLINS: Plus, Vice President Kamala Harris with a warning to Russia's Vladimir Putin. Will he listen?
And Olivia Rodrigo breaking through in 2021, we will look back on the year's biggest culture moments.
AVLON: As the fate of President Biden's Build Back Better Bill looks dead in the Senate, one Democratic senator is seemingly open to the possibility of splitting the bill into smaller, more manageable pieces of legislation. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Are Democrats open to scaling it back even more or passing various pieces as standalones? Maybe attracting Senator Manchin or even some G.O.P. on some of these issues?
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): Well, that's a strategy decision that's being negotiated. We are open to a way to reach the finish line. We want to make it as comprehensive as possible because the needs are just there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland joins us now. Senator, I understand that you're being open to getting something passed. But do you really think that splitting the bills into separate entities increases its chance of success given the fact you'll need Republican support to get that done?
CARDIN: Well, right now, we don't have any Republican support. We have to recognize that we have to do this with Democratic votes alone.
I think our best strategy is to find a common spot where all Democrats can agree and move that legislation. That's what we're trying to do now. That's what the negotiations are about between the President and Joe Manchin and the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader in the Senate.
We are working towards getting Build Back Better agenda accomplished by 50 Democratic votes. We would love to have Republican support. But today, we haven't seen any real movement by Republicans to help us.
AVLON: So that sounds like reconciliation is still your first and best strategy to getting this done. So to ask the obvious, $1.6 trillion question, where do you think that common ground could exist given the brushback pitch that seemed pretty definitive sent by Joe Manchin just over a week ago?
CARDIN: Well, there's a lot of very important issues in the Build Back Better agenda, where the affordability of American families, whether we're dealing with the affordability of childcare, or education, or our tax system, there's a lot of things in here that bring all Democrats together and that's what we're looking to see.
We're also committed as all Democrats to make sure this is fully paid for, so that it will be fiscally responsible. These are some common ground that we can build upon. So I am optimistic that we'll find a path forward, and we'll be able to move legislation.
AVLON: Well, I appreciate your optimism. Given Senator Manchin's comments about his concerns about the bill's impact on inflation. For example, how do you answer that?
CARDIN: We answer very simply by paying for it and really paying for this bill. We know that the wealthy -- those who that have a high income need to pay their fair share, and Senator Manchin agrees with that. So I think we can find a common way forward to make sure this bill is truly paid for and will not have any impact on inflation.
In fact, it will help our economy if we make it easier for families to afford childcare and education and afford the basic necessities that will make it easier for our economy to recover and we'll put brakes on inflation.
AVLON: Congresswoman Jayapal, leader of the Progressive Caucus in the House published an op-ed over the weekend in which she suggested that President Biden might be able to move forward certain elements of the bill by executive action. Are you aware of that being a conversation that's ongoing between the White House and the Senate?
CARDIN: I think the Biden administration has been pretty aggressive in using the powers that has to move forward an agenda for this country. They've certainly done that on the climate agenda, they've done it on several other areas.
The challenge is that a lot of this depends upon policy decisions by Congress. And if we want permanency in these policies, Congress needs to act. So I hope the President will be aggressive, but I also believe Congress needs to act.
This is an issue that is critically important to America and to our future. We need to get legislation passed in Congress.
AVLON: Speaking of things Congress needs to act on. You've been vocal in saying that you would prefer that the filibuster be reformed in some fundamental way to pass voting rights legislation, whether it be the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or Senator Manchin's compromise bill. Do you think that there is any room for bringing Senator Sinema and
Manchin on board for some kind of reform of the filibuster, mending it, not ending and, bringing back saying a talking filibuster? Are those conversations that are ongoing that you think have a chance of working?
CARDIN: Well, John, first of all, many of us are very frustrated by what's happening in the Senate on both sides of the aisle. We want the Senate to return to its traditional role of debating issues and voting on amendments and voting on legislation.
CARDIN: The voting rights is a prime example of a bill that should be on the floor of the Senate and debated and voted on. So what we're trying to do is reform the Senate rules to how it used that by giving members opportunities to offer amendments, having up or down votes. That's what the minority is complaining about that they don't get a chance to offer amendments.
The majority should be able to bring its issues to the floor of the Senate and have them voted on.
So we hope that we can reform the Senate rules so that it performs its traditional role as a body that debates issues, that takes its time, but at the end of the day, can reach a decision.
AVLON: Well, that sounds like some possible outline of allowing the minority to offer amendments and bring it back to talking filibuster as perhaps the outline of some common ground.
Let me ask you one final question in the realm of defending democracy. The January 6 Commission is busy doing its work, but it is very clear that there was an effort to overturn the will of the people using Congress and some of the vague language in the Electoral Count Act.
Are you in the Senate having active conversations about moving forward legislation, ideally, bipartisan legislation to reform and refine the Electoral Account Act so such an attempt could not be attempted again?
CARDIN: Well, I think that is something that's absolutely being looked on. But our first responsibility right now is to protect the rights of Americans to cast their votes and have their votes counted accurately and that is what our major concern is what is happening in State Legislatures around the nation.
It is critically important that Congress take up the legislation that would protect voting rights. That's the issue that we need to get on the floor of the Senate and act upon. But we don't want to see a repeat ever again of January 6.
So, I think we do need to look at the fact that when Congress is counting the electoral votes, it's a perfunctory function that's really a one in which we can't override the will of the people.
AVLON: That should be commonsense in our democracy. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, thank you very much for joining us on
CARDIN: Good to be with you. Thank you.
AVLON: Up next, the new threat from Russia's Vladimir Putin if NATO rejects his ultimatum.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And why a tough sentence handed down to a truck driver for a deadly crash could be reduced.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAMALA HARRIS (D), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are very clear that that Russia should not invade the sovereignty of Ukraine, that we must stand up and we are standing up for its territorial integrity. We are working with our allies in that regard and we've been very clear that we are prepared to issue sanctions like you've not seen before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Vice President Harris with a warning to Russia over a potential invasion of Ukraine. This, as the world marks the 30th anniversary of the Soviet Union's collapse, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continuing though to glorify that era.
Let's discuss with CNN global affairs analyst, Susan Glasser.
Susan, great to see you.
Susan, one of the mysteries of this shift inside Russia is that millions of Russians were killed under the communist regime, especially under Stalin, and yet, Putin said the collapse of the Soviet Empire was a great tragedy.
And now, he has been bumping up this Soviet nostalgia. What does he hope to gain from reviving some of the ghosts of the old Soviet Union?
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: You know, this is really I think a central thing to understand about Vladimir Putin's two decade leadership of Russia is that Soviet nostalgia, as you called it, John, is at the core of his appeal as a politician, a sense of grievance.
You know, he was actually all about making Russia great again long before Donald Trump was talking about making America great again, by looking backwards.
It was back in 2005, in fact that Vladimir Putin said, the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest not just a great tragedy, but the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Never mind World War II, never mind the gulag, never mind World War I.
He has continued that just this week, in fact, he called it a historical tragedy, and it is all about essentially trying to revise and to get rid of the international order that was constructed on the collapse of the Soviet Union.
AVLON: Well, and that certainly is the danger, and I understand we're joined now by Anna Applebaum from "The Atlantic" herself, an esteemed author of books on many things, Soviet and defense of the democracy related. Anne, what do you make of this Soviet nostalgia articulated by Vladimir Putin? What does it say about his ambitions on the Ukraine? And do you think the Biden administration's push back has been strong enough to deter him to date?
ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": So to be very clear, and to echo Susan, it's extremely dangerous, the language that he uses, and he has been using it for some time. Because, of course, there's no logical reason why Russia should invade Ukraine.
Ukraine does not threaten Russia, NATO does not threaten Russia, NATO is a defensive alliance. Everybody who works in the Russian military knows that. And so Putin is using this language of the past of threat of the Cold War as an excuse to prepare his people perhaps for an invasion, or perhaps for another set of games around that.
And for him, this is a justification. It explains -- both of that explains why he should still be President. He is somebody who is, you know, famously corrupt. Most of the population now notice that. His popularity has been declining rapidly. Living standards in his country have been going down.
So why should he -- by what right, by what legitimacy does he remain in power? And his argument is that because I'm the one who's going to put the Soviet Union back together again, and that's why it's dangerous.
The Biden administration has done one very good thing, which is that they began raising the alarm about this problem or the potential for a Russian invasion of Ukraine several weeks ago and they have alarmed European allies. They have people aware of what's going on. They have people in Ukraine aware.
They seem to have a lot of intelligence about what's going on and that is really important.
Of course, what we have not done, and this is not the Biden administration's fault, but it goes back eight years now, certainly to the Trump administration, which played all kinds of games with as you will remember with Ukrainian military aid, we have not made an enormous effort to militarize Ukraine, to support Ukraine in such a way that it would make even the idea of invasion impossible or unthinkable.