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Voting Rights Groups Boycotting Biden's Speech Today in Georgia; Unvaccinated Push U.S. Hospitalizations to Pandemic Record; Chicago, Teachers Reach Deal to Reopen Classrooms Wednesday. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 07:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Tuesday, January 11th. And I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

New this morning, voting rights advocates in Georgia are speaking out on their plans to boycott President Biden's speech today in Atlanta, they say, without a concrete plan to pass election reform laws that have, so far, been blocked by Republicans, and also some reticent Democrats. The president shouldn't even bother coming. Here's what the founder of Black Voters Matter told us here on New Day just moments ago.


CLIFF ALBRIGHT, CO-FOUNDER OF BLACK VOTERS MATTER, BOYCOTTING BIDEN SPEECH: He gave a very passionate speech, not only the one that he gave for the commemoration last week of January 6th, but, remember, he gave a very passionate speech back in Philadelphia, back in July. But then, literally, for seven months, we heard nothing else about voting rights from him.

And so now is not the time for another speech. And to be clear, we believe in using the presidency as a bully pulpit. We would have loved that the president use the presidency as a bully pulpit for the past seven, eight months, while we've been fighting for voting rights, even getting arrested outside the White House, begging him to do so. But, at this point, we don't need another speech. We don't need him to come to Georgia and use us as a prop. What we need is work.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Also new this morning, CNN has obtained a portion of what the president will say just hours from now, as Democrats put forth two new voting rights bills that require a weakening of Senate filibuster rules to pass. This is what the president will say, quote, the next few days when these bills come to a vote will mark a turning point in this nation. Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand, the president will say. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote in our democracy against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And so the question is, where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?

Joining us now, Mara Schiavocampo, Journalist and Host of The Run Tell This podcast, and Peniel Joseph, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history.

Mara, I was speaking, again, with the head of Black Voters Matter, who said, we don't need the president to come here and use us as props, that's strong language there, and a boycott from the people you would think that would be supporting the president's moves. So, what's going on here?

MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO, JOURNALIST: Yes, this is a very clear message that they're sending him, but for good reason. I mean, think about this. Today in Georgia, they have fewer voting rights protections than they do on the day that the president was elected. So, what these groups are saying is, we've done our part. We've done the work. Now, don't come down to Georgia for a photo-op. Stay in Washington and come up with a plan. They want specifics. They want to know how he is going to get things done.

He has said that he wants to make changes to the filibuster. Great. How are you going to do that? Is he going to start forcefully calling out Manchin and Sinema, who by many even have been described as moderates, but at this point, I think you can only describe, when it comes to voting rights, as obstructionists for voting rights. Is he going to say that? Is he going to call them out directly?

So, what is he going to do to get this done? That's what they want to know, because they've been in the streets doing the work, and they have been able to mobilize unprecedented voter access. But you can't outorganize legislation that's designed to suppress the vote.

KEILAR: And, , also noticeably absent from this speech today will be Stacey Abrams, who is seen as the reason that Georgia was able to shift the Senate there to Democrats. It seems like if she wanted to be there, she would move heaven and earth to be there, and the White House would move heaven and earth to have her there, and yet, she's not going to be there. How do you read this?

PENIEL JOSEPH, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN: Well, I think this is based on a messaging problem that the Biden administration has had, really since they started. And that messaging problem is connected to January 6th. It's connected to COVID. It's connected to voting suppression. I mean, it's really trying to articulate both what the vision of the Democratic administration is but also what the substance is.


They've passed a pandemic bill. They've done extraordinary, successful legislation, but at the same time, voting rights sort of has been the can that was kicked down the road in the last seven or eight months.

In the president's defense, calling out Senator Manchin or Senator Sinema strategically doesn't make a lot of sense because this is not necessarily a president who is so popular in West Virginia and Arizona, that calling them out would somehow be a political liability for them. So, the days of Lyndon Johnson, I teach at the Johnson school, where he was master of the Senate and he was a president who could convince and sort of wield power to get voting rights legislation and civil rights legislation, we're long past those days.

I do think, however, though, that the Biden administration has missed an opportunity. I mean, that's why he's coming to Atlanta in the last seven months of really telling the American people in simple language why the John Lewis Voting Rights bill is so important, why our democracy is at stake.

And I think the inability to sort of message why the voting rights movement is so -- voting rights bill is so important, it's really allowed not just Sinema and Manchin, but other folks in the Republican Party who have been obstructionists to sort of appear as moderates. Because people will say, this is a partisan voting rights bill. It's actually not a partisan voting rights bill.

It really shows how far to the right the Republican Party has moved. But they've successfully moved so far to the right that the new center is really a reactionary political center, which is why these grassroots groups, like Black Voting Rights Matter have criticized the president coming to Atlanta.

BERMAN: What does this portend for the Biden presidency writ large? He himself has said that he won the nomination and the presidency because of black voters. And if you have the co-founder of Black Voters Matter saying on our air, don't come here and talk to us and use us as props, this could spell a bigger problem.

SCHIAVOCAMPO: Yes. So, voting rights is going to be a very big problem for him, not just for the reasons that you mentioned but also logistically. I mean, these measures that are being passed on a state level are making it harder for people to vote. And, by and large, the people who are affected are Democratic voters. So, this goes beyond him just being able to pass this important part of his legislative agenda. Will Democratic voters actually be able to cast a vote that then is counted in the midterm election?

And if they lose control in the midterms, then that really spells doom for the rest of his legislative agenda, because Republicans have been very clear their goal is 100 percent to stop Biden's legislative agenda. So, what we see happening here now, and I think today's speech, is going to be the beginning of this, is that he is taking this fight directly to the people. Because, let's be clear, his options are very limited. He doesn't have the votes in his own party right now to make changes to the filibuster and he doesn't have the votes overall to overcome the filibuster.

So, what we are expecting to see today is him to come out forcefully, as he did on January 6th, to take this fight directly to the people, to appeal directly to the people, to see if that can generate some momentum or change something, because as things stand right now, there are not a lot of options.

KEILAR: Can he do that, Mara? I mean, do you see value in Biden going and giving this speech in Georgia if Stacey Abrams isn't going to be there and you have these voting rights groups boycotting it?

SCHIAVOCAMPO: Yes. Well, the optics of this right now look terrible, because you mentioned Stacey Abrams. Here, we have the country's most famous and, arguably, one of the most effective voting rights activists who is skipping a speech by the president on voting rights in her home state. So, now, that becomes the dialogue, is why are these groups boycotting this, and should the president even come down and make the speech, or does he need to do what they're asking, which is stay in Washington and work on hammering out a plan. But to be clear, his options are very, very limited.

So, a lot of people are seeing this as a Hail Mary, where he's going to come, he's going to try his best, but there's not a lot that he can do. And is anything that they can pass on a bipartisan level going to be enough to overcome the legislative hurdles that we're seeing state by state all over the country?

BERMAN: And, Professor, it just feels like there are some of his base voters who are growing disenchanted with President Biden.

JOSEPH: No, they are. And I think the move to come to Atlanta is a smart move politically. We need voting rights protection just for our democracy. But, certainly, President Biden would need this legislation to be passed to be in any kind of position to be reelected in 2024. The 2022 midterms seem like they're going to be very inauspicious for the Democrats, and it has to do with gerrymandering and a combination of voter suppression.


One thing historically, we've faced this before as a democracy in the 19th century during reconstruction. The parties were realigned in that historical context. So, the Republican Party was the party of civil rights and the Democratic Party was the party of the racial status quo.

And what we did in that context, we really faltered. We allowed voter suppression to be the law of the land, in violation of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. And we got sort of another 70, 80 years of Jim Crow segregation as a result. So, this is real serious business, not protecting people's right to vote, whether that's African-Americans or any Americans, it really sets us up on a very, very dangerous course.

And Biden is going to Atlanta to remind us of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who, of course, his vision of the beloved community is completely connected to voting rights, and the late John Lewis, who was bloodied and battered in Selma on March 7th, 1965, marching for the right to vote. So, I think it is important that the president does that. He can do both things. He can try to strategically pass this legislation and come to Atlanta. I don't think Atlanta is just a photo-op, because Ebenezer Baptist Church means so much to the community. Senator Raphael Warnock is going to be there, who resides over Martin Luther King Jr.'s former pulpit. So, I do think in that sense, it is more than a photo-op.

BERMAN: Professor Joseph, Mara Schiavocampo, thank you both so much for being with us this morning.

JOSEPH: Thank you.


KEILAR: And this morning, the U.S. poised to break a record in the coronavirus pandemic, an ominous milestone but one that requires important context. COVID is pushing many hospitals to the brink, but really, more specifically, the unvaccinated are the ones pushing hospitals to the brink. This morning, more than 141,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID. This is just shy of the all-time high that happened this time last year, in January of 2021. That record is likely going to be broken today. And this includes people who are going to the hospital because of COVID and those who show up for other things, a car crash, broken arm, but also turn out to have COVID.

Also, crucially, the large majority of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated. This is overwhelming. Or they're only partially vaccinated. Just take a look at this chart from New York City. Look at this gap, this big gap in the rate of hospitalization among the unvaccinated. That is the top line, the one you don't want to be, and the vaccinated, the bottom line.

Let's bring in CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent and the author of Keeping Sharp, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, the choice could not be more stark when you look at this graph.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. And when you look at those hospitalizations, just to give you some context, you know, as you mentioned, we're about to potentially get to that peak again. That was almost exactly a year ago. That was January 14th of 2021. So, you know, we're likely to surpass that within the next few days.

I can tell you that those numbers, in addition to critical staffing shortages, which is a real problem, I mean, a lot of hospital systems simply do not have the staff because people are out with COVID themselves, diagnosed, forcing isolate and quarantine themselves. That's a problem.

But also, if you take the data that you just showed about unvaccinated versus vaccinated to a more national scale, show you the CDC data, you really get an idea of the story here. You get the red line, is the unvaccinated, the green is the vaccinated, which has stayed pretty stable. It is not that nobody who is vaccinated ends up needing to be hospitalized with COVID, but as you said, the distinction could not be more clear. And that's really held up, even become more magnified over the past several months.

KEILAR: So, over the weekend, Sanjay, the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, was asked, how many people are in the hospital for COVID versus with COVID? It's an important distinction. And here's what she said.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: In some hospitals that we've talked to, up to 40 percent of the patients who are coming in with COVID are coming in not because they're sick with COVID but because they're coming in with something else and have had COVID or the omicron variant detected.


KEILAR: Okay. So, do we have a clear picture who exactly is being admitted for COVID?

GUPTA: We have a clearer picture, but, you know, this is data that's not been really that forthright. The data that, think I, Dr. Walensky is talking about is from New York State, and I'll show you that, this idea of incidental COVID. You go into the hospital for something else, and then you get diagnosed with COVID inside the hospital. We don't know how significant that is all over the country, but we do know in New York State, there's a significant breakdown, as you mentioned, about 43 percent, roughly, across the state coming in with COVID, they get diagnosed with COVID in the hospital.


Now, the American Hospital Association, they've been asked about this several times, and they say they generally have not been breaking down this data, in part, because, in some cases, it is very clean, someone comes in with a broken leg, totally unrelated to COVID, they get diagnosed with COVID in the hospital, that's clearly somebody who is coming in with COVID, not for COVID. But if someone comes in with cardiac difficulties, for example, or blood clotting difficulties, was that due to the fact that they had COVID, or was that an incidental finding? Sometimes it is a little bit harder to separate out. Add on to that that there's still not enough testing in the general community, so people may be coming in, and the first time they're getting tested is in the hospital.

Nevertheless, I think this data is really important. It is really important to give a clearer picture of just how significant the hospitalization rates are for COVID specifically. It doesn't do anything about the fact that hospitals are still overloaded. There are still staffing shortages, all those problems. I can tell you in our hospital, we're about a 600-bed hospital, at our peak last year, 162 patients in the hospital for or with COVID. Now, it is closer to 258. If they get diagnosed with COVID in the hospital, they still need to go into infection protocol, personal protective equipment, all of that still needs to be utilized, so it's a huge drain on the system overall. BERMAN: So, Sanjay, the CDC, The Washington Post is reporting this morning, is considering changing its recommendations on masks, saying to wear the N-95 or KN-95 if you can instead of cloth masks. Why? And maybe another question is, why, finally, are they going to change this?

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, look, this one surprises me. I mean, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was maybe a reason not to widely recommend those masks, these high-filtration masks. But they've been in good supply for some time now, KN-95 or N-95 masks. We talked about this on your program for a long time now, saying, why not just recommend those masks, especially given the contagiousness of this virus and the new variants. In fact, I asked Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci about this quite some time ago at a town hall, maybe close to a year ago. Listen to what they said.


GUPTA: Why not just recommend it, especially with these more transmissible variants?

WALENSKY: Yes, it is a really good question and one we get a lot. I have spent a reasonable amount of time in an N-95 mask. They're hard to tolerate all day, every day. And, in fact, when you really think about how well people will wear them, I worry that if we suggest or require that people wear N-95s, they won't we them all the time. They're very hard to breathe in when you wear them properly. They're hard to tolerate when you wear them for long periods of time.


GUPTA: You know, that surprised me, again, a little bit. I mean, a lot of people have been wearing these masks now over the past year. Yes, they are a mask, so you do have to be conscious of that, but they're not that uncomfortable, I don't think. Most people have been wearing them pretty comfortably. They provide a lot more protection. We can show the protection of cloth masks versus surgical masks versus KN-95. And it's really not even close.

I still always go back to something Abraar Karan told me, which is that if everyone wore one of these high filtration mask in public for four weeks, we could essentially bring an end to the pandemic. So, I'm glad they're finally talking about it. I don't know why it's taken so long, but it is really necessary.

BERMAN: Sanjay, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Breaking overnight, a deal between the city of Chicago and the teachers union, parents waking up to the news, finally, and way too late, that teachers will be back in the classrooms today, students set to return tomorrow. This ends a standoff over COVID that lasted four days.

Let's get right to Chicago and bring in Adrienne Broaddus. Again, kids aren't going to today, but if everything goes well, tomorrow.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. So, not four days of missed school, John, five. And Sanjay was just talking about those high-quality masks. Let's get right to this agreement. That's one thing teachers of the union here in Chicago wanted. They wanted to make sure students were able to wear KN-95 masks.

So, what we know about this agreement, the city has agreed to provide KN-95 masks to students and staff. It also has agreed to add some enhanced layers to weekly COVID testing. And now, there will be a threshold. There are metrics in place that will trigger individual schools to switch to remote learning if COVID cases, the transmission is high, based on CDC guidelines.

However, the president of the union said this is not a homerun. He said the deal is not perfect, and it doesn't have everything members of the union wanted, but it does have those added layers of protection.


Rank and file members will vote on this final agreement later this week, an agreement that will take them through the end of the school year, provided nothing changes. John?

BERMAN: What parents want is their kids back in school. Adrienne Broaddus, thank you very much.

KEILAR: Officials say the horrific, high-rise Bronx apartment fire that killed 17 people, including eight kids, began with a malfunctioning space heater. Most of the deaths were actually due to smoke inhalation because the burning apartment's doors was not closed as residents were flees.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is with us now on this. Shimon, can you tell us the latest?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, the latest is from the investigation standpoint. They believe now that that apartment door, as we've been reporting, was left open, perhaps some kind of malfunction because it should have shut closed. But fire officials yesterday said there was also another door on the 15th floor that led to the stairwell that was empty. And that sort of created this chimney-like effect, that allowed the smoke to rise, essentially through every floor of the building.

Now, some of the residents have been back in the building. They started coming back yesterday. Officials allowing them back in to retrieve their belongings and medicine and other things that they may need, most of them staying in hotels that the city is providing.

The other thing, Brianna, that has been frustrating for many of the people whose family members were inside this building, they're all from Gambia. And one of the things is that they're having a hard time finding out who is missing, who died. Still, many of the families not getting word from the city on whether their loved ones perished, sadly, in this fire. So, that's been a source of frustration for many of the people in the community. Yesterday, I spent some time of a man with a brother -- the man of a brother who is missing. He still had not have heard from city officials whether or not his brother had died in the fire.

So, there's been a lot of frustration. Yes, the city is doing a lot to try and help these people, but yet, they're still seeking many answers, still many remain missing. And, of course, there are several still remaining in the hospital, fighting for their lives, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, with very serious injuries. Shimon, thank you for that.

Just ahead, an amazing medical wonder, how surgeons used a pig to help save a heart patient's life, and what this means for others with heart problems.

BERMAN: They're putting pig hearts in people.

KEILAR: It's amazing.

BERMAN: They're putting pig hearts in people. Nothing else matters this morning.

Plus, the new warning from the IRS and its impact on your refund.

First, new details on Bob Saget's sudden death with tearful new tributes overnight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never imagined that 4 1/2 years later, we'd be talking about --




BERMAN: New details this morning surrounding the death of actor and comedian Bob Saget, detectives finding no sign of foul play or drug use, while a cause of death has yet to be determined, this as emotional tributes from friends and family continue to pour in.

CNN's Martin Savidge live in Atlanta with the very latest. Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Yes, the autopsy has been done on Bob Saget, but it could be weeks before we get the final results and know exactly how he died. Meanwhile, the initial incident report, the first police report has come out, and there is a lot of information there that could help people understand.


SAVIDGE (voice over): new details in the death of beloved T.V. dad and Comedian Bob Saget, who was found dead at the Ritz Carlson in Orlando on Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Patient in 962, going to be for a male patient. Security officer found the guest not breathing, no pulse.

SAVIDGE: Incident report released by the Orange County Sheriff's Office revealed Saget was due to check out of his room Sunday. When his family was unable to reach him, they contacted hotel security, who found the body and called deputies.

The responding officer said he found Mr. Saget was in a supine position on his bed, his left arm was across his chest while his right arm was resting on the bed. No signs of trauma were seen. The officer also stated he, quote, checked the immediate area for signs of foul play. It should be noted, none were found.

The medical examiner confirmed the deputy's assessment set in, quote, there is no evidence of drug use or foul play. The cause and manner of death are pending, saying it may take 10 to 12 weeks to complete.

The incident report also revealed that Saget last used his room key card at 2:17 A.M. Sunday and was officially declared dead at 4:18 that afternoon. Saget's wife, Kelly Rizzo, learned of his death from hotel management, reports stated.

BOB SAGET, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN: I'm Danny Tanner, D.J.'s dad.

SAVIDGE: Saget may have been known as America's favorite single dad of the late '80s and early '90s, Danny Tanner, raising three daughters on the show, Full House.

SAGET: I got sunshine on a cloudy day.

SAVIDGE: The show was rebooted as Fuller House in 2016 on Netflix, starring many of the same actors. The cast reacting to his death, John Stamos posted their joint statement on his instagram with a photo that reads, in part, he was a brother to us guys, a father to us girls and a friend to all of us. Bob, we love you dearly.

Other celebrities are also reacting to his death. Fellow Comedian and Actor John Arnold is remembering his edgy, R-rated sense of humor, which he'd just shown off during a stand-up show in Jacksonville, Florida, hours before his death.

TOM ARNOLD, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN: He had just done a two-hour set and he was so happy because that's the place he'd liked to be.


He was a great comic. And Bob Saget is a guy that started on Full House, as a lot of people remember it --