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New Day Saturday

U.S. Daily Case Count Hits Pandemic High, Causing Disruptions; Italy, Greece And France End Year With Record COVID-19 Cases; Countries Race To Curb The Spread Of The Omicron Variant; Israel Approves Fourth Vaccine Dose For The Immunocompromised; Major New Year's Eve Celebrations Around The World; Dems, Republicans Brace For Midterm Campaigns; Three Retired Generals Raise Alarm About Possible 2024 Coup. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired January 01, 2022 - 06:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: 2022, I wasn't sure if we would make it, Amara. But we did. Happy New Year and welcome to the special edition of "NEW DAY WEEKEND."

I'm Boris Sanchez.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Happy New Year. I can't believe we're already here, 2022.

I'm Amara Walker. We do hope your 2022 is off to a great start.

I got to say, the music maybe wanted to be like jazz hands or something.


SANCHEZ: The glitter in the background too. It's sort of (INAUDIBLE).

WALKER: Coming up. We will look ahead at the crucial midterm elections that will determine the balance of power for the second half of President Biden's term. The impact that could have on his agenda, just ahead.

SANCHEZ: And a new year usually comes with New Year's resolutions. We've got some ways to help get your financial house in order in 2022.

WALKER: And we'll introduce you to the rising singer-songwriter, using her own challenges to inspire other young people.

But first, let's get a check of your top stories this morning.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And Happy New Year. I'm Ryan Nobles.

2022 begins with more disruptions and a grim warning, things will likely get worse as the Omicron variant spreads across the United States. The nation broke records twice this week for the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases, which remained at an all-time high of roughly 356,000 new daily infections on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the FAA says staffing shortages caused by COVID-19 infections could lead to even more flight cancellations. More than 11,000 flights have been scrapped since Christmas Eve, including more than 1,000 today and tomorrow. But none of those are the result of FAA issues.

Now with millions prepared to return to work and school, there are concerns the number of new infections will rise even further.

CNN's Polo Sandoval reports.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. is shattering records this week with an average of about 356,000 COVID infections reported every day in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University.

That's world rang in the new year, the latest surge is sweeping across the U.S. pushing cases and hospitalizations to unprecedented levels. Experts warning a turning point could be weeks away.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Given the size of our country, and the diversity of vaccination versus not vaccination, that it likely will be more than a couple of weeks probably by the end of January.

SANDOVAL: Roughly 62 percent of the country's fully vaccinated according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only about 33 percent of fully vaccinated adults have gotten boosters, which experts say are critical in protecting against severe illness from the variants. The Omicron variant, the most contagious strain rapidly spreading across the world.

In the U.S. states are seeing their highest case in hospitalization numbers ever.

New York reported more than 76,500 new cases on Thursday. Governor's office said, breaking its single day record.

Hospitalizations hit about 8,000, an eight percent spike from the day before. Hospitalizations have risen almost 20 percent since Monday.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE AND POLICY: Clearly, New York and Washington DC are ahead of the curve, but not by much. And so, expect in the next three to four weeks we're going to see everyone really hit with this.

SANDOVAL: New Jersey, identified more than 28,000 new COVID-19 cases via PCR testing, Governor Phil Murphy said on Thursday. The number of positive cases likely higher due to at-home testing, he added. Some governor's calling on the National Guard. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, deploying 1,250 National Guard troops he said on the day the state reported its highest hospitalization numbers.

Georgia also deployed 200 troops in the same week that six major health system saw 100 to 200 percent increases in hospitalizations, Governor Brian Kemp said.

And New York, doubling its National Guard deployment to 100 and preparing for 80 guardsmen to undergo emergency medical training next month according to the governor.

With more virus spreading in the country, more than 30 colleges and universities are changing the start of their spring semester and more children are getting sick and being hospitalized than at any other point in the pandemic just as their school will be navigating reopening after the holidays.

FAUCI: Quantitatively, you're having so many more people including children who are getting infected and even though hospitalization among children is much, much lower on a percentage basis than hospitalizations for adults particularly elderly individuals. However, when you have such a large volume of infections among children, even with a low level of rate of infection, you're going to still see a lot more children who get hospitalized.

SANDOVAL: On a positive note, studies and reports on the Omicron variant continue to suggest it may not be as lethal as Delta, even as it spreads quickly.

Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


NOBLES: OK. Polo, thank you.

The surge of new COVID-19 infections overshadowed New Year's celebrations across Europe.


CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us now live from London.

Now, Salma, how are European countries responding to this new threat?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Ryan, we have seen unprecedented infection rates across the European region. Omicron breaking its own records day after day, countries like the UK, France, Portugal, Greece, Italy, all seeing the highest number of cases they have ever seen.

But here is the good news. At least, so far, it doesn't appear that the hospitalizations and the death rates that we're seeing as a result of this huge caseload is as high as it was during previous variants. As you heard in that piece there, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that Omicron is milder. Still, it presents a massive challenge.

Just think of these figures. The week before Christmas here in London, 1 in 15 people tested positive for the virus.

The French health minister said he got vertigo looking at the figures, because two people were testing positive in France every single second, Ryan.

And, of course, over New Year's Eve everyone was told be cautious, be careful about celebrations. Many big fireworks displays rather - many big fireworks displays were canceled here in London. The fireworks display that generally happens in Trafalgar Square, that didn't take place. Paris, Berlin, multiple other cities also canceling their plans.

And health officials are putting plans in place for a potential surge of Omicron patients. Here in England, the National Health Service says they are on a war, Ryan. They've set up surge hubs across multiple hospitals. They have surge plus beds, thousands more beds, potentially, that could be made available if these numbers do indeed increase.

But what other governments are also doing on the other side of the coin here is they are trying to live with the virus, because these huge numbers mean that there is a workforce that's calling out sick, tens of thousands of people being forced into isolation every single day. To keep those planes flying, to keep the trains running on time and most importantly, to keep doctors and nurses and hospitals, a lot of governments are looking at shortening that isolation period across Europe.

We've already seen Greece and Spain do that. The UK is considering the same. It's a very strange time heading into the new year, but that is the one positive sign, Ryan, is we are finding more and more ways to try to find that balance between living with the virus and keeping that surge down.

NOBLES: All right. Salma Abdelaziz in London.

Hopefully this is the year that we figure that out.

Salma, thank you so much for that report.

And countries around the world are racing to cut off the spread of the Omicron variant.

CNN is covering the global response.


ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: I'm Elliott Gotkine in Tel Aviv, where Israel is rolling out a fourth shot of the COVID vaccine for people with suppressed immune systems. Health ministry director general Nachman Ash gave the go ahead on Thursday evening but he's still short of approving it the over 60s and health workers, at least for now. In a statement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel will lead the way in administering a fourth vaccine to the Israeli people. Adding that Israel's strategy for overcoming the Omicron variant is clear, the greater the wave, the greater the protection we would need to overcome it.

Now, that wave, Israel's fifth is reaching at greater heights. On Thursday, the country recorded almost 5,000 new cases. That's the most since September. Just a couple of weeks ago, Israel was recording fewer than 1,000 cases per day. The arch on efficient, that's the number of people infected by each COVID sufferer climbed to 1.62 a level not seen since June.




Authorities here say the country may have passed the wave of Omicron- dominated infections. In fact, they are reducing the amount of restrictions in time for the new year, including ending a many months' long curfew.

There's also new research coming out from private hospitals showing that in the early stages of this wave, people were far less sicker, especially around the issues of acute respiratory illness. Again, indicating at least anecdotally that Omicron in this country has been less severe.



IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ivan Watson in Hong Kong, where authorities had a grim warning to residents on New Year's Eve. They said for the first time in nearly three months there have been two cases of local transmission of COVID. Both of the Omicron variant.

And it's being blamed on an air crew member of the Cathay Pacific airline who they accuse of breaking at-home orders and going to dine in a restaurant where the cases appear to have spread.

Now, they're calling for more severe quarantine restrictions on air crew. So, Cathay Pacific is suspending for at least a week long-haul cargo flights, saying that this is going to cause severe disruptions to the supply chain. Meanwhile, the government is now urging the population to get a third vaccine booster shot.


NOBLES: And thanks to our CNN teams around the world.

[06:10:00] Back here in the United States. Colorado Governor Jared Polis is calling it a new year's miracle that no deaths have been reported, after fast-moving wildfires engulfed parts of the state. Winds of up to 105 miles an hour fueled the fires which have destroyed more than 500 homes in Boulder County, Colorado and forced some 35,000 people to flee. The wildfire began Thursday morning and spread rapidly across thousands of acres and the area is still too dangerous for residents to return.

President Biden is out with a New Year's message for the American people. During a pre-recorded video on ABC, the commander in chief and first lady struck an optimistic tone heading into 2022.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No matter how tough the challenge, how high the obstacles, we always overcome. This virus has been tough.

As we enter the new year, I'm more optimistic about America's future than I've ever been.

You know, at our best, we've taken every crisis we face and turned it into an opportunity to be a stronger and a better nation.


NOBLES: Biden and the first lady also paid tribute to medical workers on the frontlines of the COVID fight.

Major New Year's plan -- major New Year's Eve plans were scaled back around the world due to the spread of the Omicron variant, but many cities still found ways to celebrate.

That, of course, Times Square in New York City. Only about 15,000 masked and fully vaccinated people gathered in person for the Times Square Ball Drop.

Over in London, Big Ben's clock chimed at the stroke of midnight, kicking off a spectacular New Year's Eve celebration in the UK.

At another major show of fireworks in Dubai at the Burj Khalifa skyscraper to bring in the new year.

Still ahead, now that the 2022 - now that 2022 is here, the midterms are just around the corner.

Next, why Biden's struggle to push through his agenda could cause problems for Democrats.



SANCHEZ: So just months from now, voters across the United States are going to determine who will call the shots in Washington for the next two years, emboldened by President Biden's lagging poll numbers, Republicans seem all but certain to pick up new seats and potentially take the House and Senate.

Well, Democrats may have to find new ways to show voters they will keep their promises after self-imposed deadlines to pass key portions of President Biden's agenda came and went last year.

With us this morning to discuss, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. and GOP strategist, Alice Stewart.

Ladies, thank you both so much for joining us and sharing part of your New Year's Day with us.

Happy 2022. Let's get right to it. 34 states are holding Senate elections this year. Here are 10 states that CNN is watching as the most likely to flip right now. Four of them currently held by Democrats, six by Republicans.

Alice, to you first, which of these races are you focusing on as pick- up opportunities? What is it going to take to flip them?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's going to take really galvanizing the Republican Party together and really capitalizing on the division and the low morale in the Democratic Party, which is in full swing.

I happen to look at Georgia, my home state, because it was a pivotal race earlier in 2021, and I'm looking at Georgia to see the Raphael Warnock race get flipped back to Republican hands and whoever it may be, potentially, Herschel Walker. But I see Georgia as a big pick-up opportunity.

And certainly, other states across the country can galvanize and focus on what we see as a low morale problem with the Democrats. And also, the low accomplishment in terms of the Democratic policy agenda, accomplishments. And so, those are key places and ways we can look at turning over the Senate from Democrat to Republican.

SANCHEZ: And Maria, where on the map are you looking?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, Boris, Feliz ano nuevo a todos.

And you know you started out this segment by talking about resolutions, and Democrats are going to make it their New Year's resolution to not lose any seats in the House and to increase our margins in the Senate.

And look, there's no question that it's going to be a tough year because history dictates that, right? Normally the president that is in power, his party or her party loses seats in the midterm elections.

But look, we are focused on talking about economic growth. We are focused on talking about all of the accomplishments - all of the accomplishments that are under President Biden and Democrats' belts. You have 6 million jobs that were created, 200 million Americans have been vaccinated. You had economic growth that was huge. Labor participation is up. Wages are up. People are worried, there's no question, about the Omicron variant now, and President Biden had a great speech last week where he laid out a big, bold plan to make sure that we are able to crush this virus.

And so, I think that there are a lot of opportunities for Senate pick- ups, as well as not just keeping the House, but increasing the House. And I know a lot of people are going to roll their eyes at that.

But look, there are you know eight more months where Democrats can make sure to talk about all of these great accomplishments, including the American relief plan, including the infrastructure bill, and while we did not Build Back Better, at least in 2021, we are still focused on making it happen in 2022 because Americans' economies are at stake. The child tax credit has to pass. We have to pass universal health care, universal kindergarten for all of our kids, elderly care.

And so, we're hoping that Joe Manchin will come to the table, and who knows, maybe a senator as well. Lisa Murkowski, I'm looking at you, who understand that they have to govern, and they have to meet the needs of the American people and they are in need right now and Democrats are going to continue to fight for them.

SANCHEZ: And there is a perception problem though, Maria. And I want to stay with you because a recent CNN poll found that three-quarters of Americans are worried about the state of the economy. Only 3 in 10 voters -- 3 in 10 said that President Biden's policies have improved economic conditions in the country. The White House had been holding out for Biden's social spending bill, you mentioned Joe Manchin effectively sinking it a couple of weeks ago.

How do Democrats turn that perception around among voters? You mentioned a list of accomplishments from the White House. It doesn't seem like it's sinking in.

CARDONA: You're right, we have to do a much better job of bragging. We have to make sure that Americans understand what we have accomplished, what we have accomplished for them.


And what we will continue to fight for. Build Back Better is not dead. Build Back Better is going to continue to be a focus of the Democrats, of President Biden, I hope Joe Manchin as well. And look, maybe it's not going to look like what it looked like at the end of 2021, but there are definitely pieces in there that we can do together that will be important to make sure that the American people continue to look at their own economies and that they see opportunities not just to survive, but to succeed and to thrive. And there are so many proposals in there, Boris. As you know, they're immensely popular with the American people.

And so, Democrats do need to continue to talk about the accomplishments that I listed. The infrastructure bill is going to inject millions into the economy. The American relief plan that we passed earlier in 2021 that put shots in arms, that put money in the pockets of the American families that were desperate for help, that helped jobs -- not just jobs, but helped small businesses survive the pandemic, all in the face of a Republican Party who refused to join Democrats to do anything to help the American people while they were happy once these laws were passed to join in ribbon-cutting ceremonies and taking credit for something that they absolutely did not do. So, we will absolutely continue to brag about all of these accomplishments, that is something we need to do a much better job of.

STEWART: Boris, if I can - I'll just - if I may just -


STEWART: Clearly Maria's New Year's resolution is to look at politics in an optimistic lens. And I - that's why I love her.

CARDONA: Always.

STEWART: But to fact check a few of her the list of accomplishments, one of the cornerstones of Joe Biden's campaign was to unify the country. He's having trouble with unity within his own party as the progressives are really steamrolling through his own agenda.

The Build Back Better plan has failed. I see it DOA. It's not moving forward. We have a terrible humanitarian crisis at the border. Inflation is a big problem. It's not transitory, it's long term.

He said he would get a handle on COVID. COVID is worse over the past year than when he took office, as well as the abysmal withdraw from Afghanistan. We're seeing rising gas prices, rising price of food and the economy is in peril.

And those are the kind of issues that are concerning to the American people. Boris, you mentioned that is a key focus for the American people.

Also, an important part of that recent CNN poll is when people look at Joe Biden's accomplishments or how he has handled the economy, 55 percent of American people disapprove of the way Joe Biden has handled the economy and that is a key issue for them.

So, that bodes not well for Biden and the Democrats moving forward. There's also a terrible morale problem within the Democratic Party. They are certainly concerned about their lack of accomplishments and the fear of losing, but also a key factor is they are concerned about how redistricting will impact their districts moving forward. So, I think, as they say, Democrats, you have a real problem in the midterm elections.

CARDONA: You know, if I -

SANCHEZ: And we, unfortunately, have to leave the conversation there. I had so many more questions, but sometimes chatting with you, you both go back and forth. I love it. Thank you so much for the time. Maria Cardona, Alice Stewart, Happy 2022. Look forward to seeing you both soon once all this Omicron stuff is behind us.

STEWART: You too. Thanks, Boris.

CARDONA: Feliz ano, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Thank you so much. Same to you.

WALKER: All right. We've got a check of your top stories just ahead.

Plus, if one of your 2022 goals is to get your finances in order, yes, I've got my hand up. We've got a few tips to help. That's next.



SANCHEZ: We're less than one week away from the one-year anniversary of the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and while the insurrectionists failed in their attempt to stop the Democratic process, there are concerns that next time could be different.

WALKER: A group of retired generals says they are concerned we could once again see political violence following the 2024 election, and the perpetrators could be members of America's military.

CNN's Pamela Brown sat down with one of them.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Three retired military generals have authored an op-ed in the "Washington Post" saying they are growing more and more worried about the potential for political violence in the military.

One part really stands out. Quote, "As we approach the first anniversary of the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we -- all of us former senior military officials -- are increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election, and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk. In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time."

I'm joined now by one of the authors of that op-ed, retired Army Brigadier General Steven Anderson.

General, thank you for joining us tonight.

This is a big step for you and your colleagues to speak out like this. What motivated you all to write this column now?

BRIG. GEN. STEVEN M. ANDERSON (RET), U.S. ARMY: Well, thank you, Pamela, for having us on. Yes, it's very difficult for me to talk like this, I mean, I was raised 31 years in the Army to be apolitical and not take sides. And I've never been active politically. But the events of the last couple of years in particular the 6th of January has changed my mind considerably. We can no longer afford to be apolitical.

I mean, I was a conservative Republican my entire political life, I voted as such, but I never was active until 2016 when things changed, and Trump got hold of the Republican Party. And now it's -- it's completely lost itself. It's lost its way. And it's overwhelmed with cowards.

But, you know, 43 years ago I took an oath to the country that I would support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. And my co-authors and I and VoteVets Organization we work with closely are -- we're tremendously concerned about the threat internally, the threat domestically, within the military in particular.

And so, we needed to start taking actions now to prevent for the eventuality in 2024 that Trump will try to do the same things he did in 2020 in which he got incredibly close.


We're just trying to write an article that highlights our view that democracy at risk. We love our country and we need to take actions now to mitigate that risk.

BROWN: Why are you so concerned about what's going on within the military in particular?

ANDERSON: Well, if you look at the extremism that has gone on within the military, you look at those that were active in the actual assault on the Capitol, over 10 percent had a military background.

We all saw the pictures of the guys with the zip ties and the helmets and marching in formations into that throng.

You know, there's a threat within. We've got people that haven't been educated. They haven't been found out and they've grown in power, through perhaps inaction on the parts of some of our key leaders.

And we need to do what we can do now to identify those people, get them out of our ranks and train the rest of the force on Civics 101, about how our country is supposed to work, how elections work. Stop listening to the pillow guy and start learning about our country and how it's actually supposed to run.

BROWN: Really quickly, just walk us through your concern about this partisan divide and how it could impact the chain of command and why that is so concerning to you in terms of preventing another coup attempt, potentially in 2024.

ANDERSON: Well, the big problem here is allegiance to the Constitution versus allegiance to a leader; in this case a cult-like figure like Trump. There's a lot of people in uniform that are confused about that. They think the president is something like a king and it's not. You

know, we swore an oath to the Constitution. That's how our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines need to act.

We're concerned there's so much activity within the military that shows that people are ignorant of what our Constitution is really all about and they have responded to people like Trump. And when he tells them to jump, they're probably willing to do that.

BROWN: All right, that is just chilling, bone chilling, as you say in the op-ed. Brigadier General Steven Anderson, thank you.

ANDERSON: Thank you.


SANCHEZ: Stop listening to the pillow guy. Always good advice.

Still ahead, the up and coming singer-songwriter using her voice to help those struggling with depression and anxiety. We'll hear from her next.





WALKER (voice-over): Welcome back, everyone, to this special edition of NEW DAY WEEKEND. I'm Amara Walker.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Happy New Year, Amara.

I'm Boris Sanchez. The new year usually comes with new resolutions and, for some, that may mean getting a handle on your finances.

We've got tips to help you get your financial house in order this year.

And we will introduce you to the up and coming singer-songwriter using her voice and platform to help other young people dealing with adversity.

First, let's get a check of your top story.


NOBLES: Hi, thank you, Amara and Boris. I'm Ryan Nobles now in Washington.

President Biden is expected to speak with Ukrainian President Zelensky tomorrow, just days after urging Russian President Putin to ease the ongoing military crisis at Ukraine's border. During a call with Putin on Friday, Biden said that he made clear that

there will be, quote, "a heavy price to pay" if Russia invades Ukraine. Let's go now to CNN's Nic Robertson for more on this.

Nic, what's the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think we're beginning to hear President Biden and European allies and partners, who have said there would be a heavy economic price to pay for Russian continued tensions along the border with Ukraine and the potential invasion of Ukraine, that this will be economic.

But I think the message that's coming across now -- and it's certainly one that is being heard at the Kremlin -- is not only is it economic, there will be a military price to pay.

I think some analysts had looked at the situation earlier in December and said, neither United States nor its NATO partners were willing to send troops into Ukraine to support the Ukrainians. And that was something that President Putin would see as a weakness.

But what we heard from President Biden yesterday, reaffirming very clearly that if Russia invades Ukraine, then NATO, including the United States, obviously, would increase their presence in Europe, which is the complete opposite of what Putin is trying to achieve.

Putin wants to see NATO reduce its presence on the eastern borders of Europe, it wants commitments from NATO that it won't allow Ukraine to join and that it won't base troops and military equipment inside Ukraine.

So I think the narrative is beginning to sharpen and focus. But the question for President Putin now is, if he continues on his track, it's going to have that negative impact of drawing in more NATO troops closer to his border. And that's the thing he feels most sensitive about. Where the negotiations go at the moment is wide open -- Ryan.

NOBLES: OK, Nic Robertson live in Moscow. Thank you for that report.

Back here at home, 2022 is getting off to a chilly start. Some states are getting hit hard with heavy snow and freezing temperatures.



NOBLES: Imagine starting the new year off with $483 million. I could go for that. That's how much is up for grabs in tonight's Powerball drawing. One lucky winner walked away with nearly $700 million back in October. Since then, there's been 37 drawings but no one has bought a winning ticket.


NOBLES: Betty White is being remembered today as a talented comedian and entertainer, who, despite great success, remained humble. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETTY WHITE, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN: I've been lucky enough to do just about so much that I -- If I start complaining about anything under the sun, throw me out of the business.

NOBLES (voice-over): White died yesterday, just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday. Tributes are pouring in from around the world, including this one from her former costar, Ryan Reynolds.

"The world looks different now. She managed to grow very old and somehow not old enough."


NOBLES: For decades, singer-songwriters Carole King and James Taylor have left a remarkable impact on the music industry. Don't miss a CNN concert film. Watch "Call Out My Name," tomorrow night at 9:00 pm right here on CNN.

And I'll see you back here at the top of the hour. For now, let's send it back to Boris and Amara.


WALKER: With the start of a new year brings new resolutions and a chance to refocus. For some of us, that might mean paying closer attention to our finances, especially now as prices on nearly everything continue to go up.

Joining us is Julian Kheel, a senior editor at CNN Underscored, a team that is always testing out the best products and services to help you save money.

Julian, happy new year. Great to have you. There are plenty of simple things people can do to get their financial house in order.

And a big one, of course, is paying down as much debt as you can, right?

JULIAN KHEEL, SENIOR EDITOR, CNN UNDERSCORED: Absolutely. Most people hate talking about debt. It's one of the least favorite financial topics.

But if you're looking to spend more money on the things you want or just want to get your finances more under control, paying down at least a portion of that debt in 2022 is vital, especially if it's credit card debt, because the interest rates on those credit cards are so high.

If you're only making the minimum payment each month, you're paying most of it toward interest and not really paying down the debt itself.

Now there's a solution to this that seems counterintuitive. Believe it or not, one thing you can do is go out and get another credit card -- no, not to go spend on a spending spree and buy more but rather you're going to look for a credit card that has an introductory balance transfer offer.

These are cards that come with the ability to transfer an existing balance from another credit card and get zero percent interest, anywhere from 12 to 21 months from the date you first opened the account.

Once you've got your interest rates down to zero, when you're making that monthly payment, all of it is going to your principal and none to your interest. If you want to pay down debt, we have a list of our favorite balance transfer credit cards at CNN. And that's a great place to start.

WALKER: That is a great idea: transfer the balance to get your interest rate to zero. Some of these interest rates are shockingly high. We'll move on.

A lot of this has to do with budgeting. You've got to prioritize what to pay down first.

KHEEL: Yes, if debt is everyone's least favorite topic, budgeting might be number two. If you are nervous about budgeting, one thing you can do is take a look at the popular apps that are available out there.

We test these apps every year. Consistently, Pocket Guard is one of our favorite. It's cheap, easy to use and there's a free version to get started.


KHEEL: If you're still nervous about budgeting, another option is to create a spending plan. This is similar to a budget, except you're putting aside money for just the things you absolutely need that you have to pay for and then you can do whatever you want with the rest.

For instance, when you get your monthly paycheck, if you created three spending plan buckets, the first one would be to pay yourself back. You always want to pay yourself first if you can. You're going to put the first bucket of money toward a retirement fund, a college fund, even a vacation fund. Pay yourself first.

Then the second bucket is the essentials, the things that you must pay each month -- rent, utilities, car payments. These are the things you can't do without.

Whatever is left for the third bucket, that's your fun money. That you can do whatever you want with. Again, not totally different than a budget but a lot of people find it easier to use a spending plan. So that's one way you might get started in 2022 on the right foot.

WALKER: You have such great advice. I wish I had known you many years ago.

So doing all of these things could have an impact on your credit score, right? KHEEL: It could. And credit scores are something that scare a lot of people because they're complicated and people don't really understand how they work.

But a great credit score or a good one can open the door to better car loans, better credit cards, even to buying a house with a mortgage down the line.

The bad news is, there's really only one way to improve your credit score permanently and that's to pay your bills on time, each month, consistently. But if you're looking for a little bit of a jumpstart, one product we like is called Experian Boost. This is created by Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S.

And what it does is adds the on-time payments for items that wouldn't normally appear on your credit report to your credit score, such as utility payments, cell phone payments, even your Netflix payments.

By adding those on-time payments, it increases your credit score without you really having to do anything. Now not all lenders use Experian Boost but it is a good way to get a jumpstart.

WALKER: Wow, that's very good advice.

Yes, who would ever be delinquent on their Netflix payments, right?

You've got one more tip, specifically for homeowners.

KHEEL: If you haven't refinanced in the last two years and you're feeling left out, believe it or not, it's not too late. Interest rates are not at historical lows that they were in 2020 but they are still relatively low.

If your mortgage is more than a few years old, there's a good chance you can find a lower interest rate through a refinance than you currently are paying on your mortgage. Also, because home values have gone up to drastically in the last year, you may be able to take cash out of your home because the value is higher than it was.

Now there's lots of ways to start a refinance. You can go directly to a lender; you can approach a broker. One way we like to do it at CNN Underscored is with an online marketplace, where you can get multiple offers at the same time.

If you want to start on that process -- and I recommend that you do if you haven't already -- check us out at for a list of our favorite online lending marketplaces.

WALKER: Who needs a financial adviser when you have Julian Kheel at CNN Underscored?

What a pleasure to talk to you. Happy new year. Let's all start with a clean slate, if we can. Thank you so much, Julian.

KHEEL: Sounds great. Happy new year to you.





SANCHEZ: A 19-year-old rising singer-songwriter, Grace Gaustad, has thousands of followers on Instagram and millions of music streams online. But before the fame, Grace struggled with depression and anxiety after being bullied by classmates in high school.

WALKER: So for her debut album, she has released a short film, recreating both the traumatic experiences of her past and the healing journey that got her through it all. Listen.


WALKER: Christi Paul sat down with her to talk about the project.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Singer Grace Gaustad is with us now.

Grace, it's so good to see you. Congratulations on your debut album here, "BLKBX: Wht r u Hding?" I know this is happening on World Mental Health Day.

What made you want to share your own experience with mental health?

GRACE GAUSTAD, SINGER-SONGWRITER: What made me want to share my own experience with mental health is really, you know, I think it's so hard to be a teenager in today's society.

And I think that as much as I can do to help the next generation have an easier time than I did, you know, that's really what I want to use my voice and platform for. I knew that I didn't just want to put out an album; I wanted to put out a project that I feel could actually make a difference in the world.

PAUL: So it takes a lot of strength. I mean, it takes a lot of gumption to be as vulnerable as you're allowing yourself to be publicly. Help us understand what you went through.

GAUSTAD: I went through a lot of bullying in school about a lot of different things and I explore all of these topics in "BLKBX: Wht r u Hding?" I went through body dysmorphia, anxiety, depression, a learning disability, sort of coming to terms with my sexuality, a lot of things that I feel a lot of kids go through today.

And, you know, bullying, unfortunately, is very prevalent in today's sort of school system and society. And it can really affect, you know, people long-term. It certainly affected me.

But I'm really grateful for the experiences I did have, because it allowed me to create a project like "BLKBX" and sort of turn something that was rather painful into something beautiful.

PAUL: What have you heard from people about this?

Because I know that when somebody, particularly if you're younger, a teenager or early 20s, you see somebody going through something that you're going through now or that you have been through, it is so strengthening. You must be getting some sort of feedback from people.


GAUSTAD: The feedback has probably been the most rewarding part of the entire project. I get countless messages on a day-to-day basis about teens sharing their own coming-out story or people sharing how they were able to overcome their fear of therapy.

And it's amazing to see the music really doing something good. It's been an incredible way for me to connect with fans on a much deeper and more personal level. It's just amazing. I'm fascinated by human beings and our entire existence. So it's great to see the project have a positive impact.

PAUL: It's so nice to hear you talk about therapy, because it can have a negative connotation to it. I love therapy, personally. I've been there, I've done it.

Is that part of your hope, is to make sure that people figure out a way to get the help they need?

Oftentimes it has to come from somebody else. And it's a professional.

GAUSTAD: Absolutely. I think therapy is a really important part of anybody's healing journey. But you know, I totally understand that therapy is not always available to everyone.

So part of my mission with the, I paired up with a professional therapist, who walks through 12 of the topics discuss in BLKBX -- anxiety, depression, sexuality, et cetera. On the website, she provides sort of free guidance for teens, adults, anyone who is really searching for it.

And it's really easy to access and that's something that I wish I had when I was younger. So I wanted to make sure that was something I included in this project, for anyone who may be struggling.

PAUL: I love how strong you are and how brave you are and how talented you are. Thank you for everything you're doing. We wish you the very best.

GAUSTAD: Thank you so much. I'm happy to be here today.

PAUL: We are happy to have you. Take good care of yourself. We're cheering you on.

GAUSTAD: All right, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WALKER: We've got a look at your top stories when we come back. Plus, we're counting down the top 10 political stories of 2021.