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The Situation Room
Fauci Says, Virtually No Omicron Protection Without Booster; Sources Say, 1/6 Committee Members Believe Rick Perry Sent Text To Meadows Pushing States To Overturn Legal Votes; Defense Rests In Trial Of Ex-Officer Who Killed Daunte Wright; Viral TikTok Threat Warning Of Violence Not Credible But Schools Remain On High Alert. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 18, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Our coverage continues right next door with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. See you Sunday morning.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, Dr. Anthony Fauci warns Americans they have virtually no protection from the omicron variant unless they get a booster shot. But with so few adults getting an extra dose, one expert now warns a viral blizzard is about to slam the United States.
We're also following breaking news of the January 6th investigation. Committee members now believe the former Trump cabinet official, Rick Perry, was the author of a text pushing Mark Meadows to undermine the election just after the polls closed. Former Secretary Perry denies it. Stand by for our exclusive reporting.
Also tonight, the defense rested in the trial of ex-Police Officer Kim Potter, who took the stand to tell her side of the story about the moment she shot and killed Daunte Wright. Did she help the case or make the prosecution's job easier?
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin our coverage this evening with a growing alarm right now over the omicron variant's rise here in the United States. Let's get straight to CNN's Senior National Correspondent Kyung Lah. Kyung, across much of the country right now, it's beginning to feel a lot like the early days of the pandemic.
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly is, and with omicron spreading so rapidly, there is a new and urgent message from the top of the medical experts, Dr. Fauci saying that if you want real protection against this rapidly spreading variant omicron, you have to get a booster.
LAH (voice over): America's COVID time warp, long testing and vaccination lines in Miami and familiar fears of exposure.
IVONNE JIMENEZ, SON HAS COVID-19: He visited me in my house but I'm so scared, so I decided to make an appointment to get tested just in case.
LAH: In New York City, the positivity rate has doubled in just four days. The city health adviser tweeted we've never seen this before in NYC.
Radio City Music Hall canceled Friday's shows of the Christmas Spectacular, citing breakthrough cases. And pharmacies, store shelves for rapid test sit empty, all echoes of the past, people here waiting more than an hour to be tested as omicron reveals its rapid spread.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is after coming yesterday twice, and then not being able to get tested here.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): This is a whole new animal. And we got to be honest about the fact that it's moving very fast, and we have to move faster.
LAH: The past is prologue, as New York's mayor redoubles restrictions, and considers scaling back the Times Square New Year's eve celebration. A visible return of sports restrictions, hockey in Montreal played to empty stands. The NHL shut down two teams because of the COVID spread and the NFL postpones three games this weekend.
This is all in response to deaths increasing in nearly half of U.S. states, up sharply in seven. That is an increase of 8 percent from just last week.
MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: I think we're really just about to experience a viral blizzard. If you look at what's happened in South Africa, you look what's happened in Europe, I think in the next three to eight weeks, we're going to see million of Americans are going to be infected with this virus.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We are looking at a winter of severe illness and death, if unvaccinated.
LAH: As with previous surges, the unvaccinated are filling hospitals, as weary doctors warn they are exhausted and losing staff.
DR. SHELLEY STANKO, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, SAINT JOSEPH HOSPITAL: The reality is you can't just create humans in order to provide that care appeared, and, you know, staffing is a challenge everywhere.
LAH: What makes this winter different, while omicron may be highly, highly transmissible, vaccinations, especially boosters, can protect you from serious illness. But in a setback, the parents of two to five-year-old, Pfizer said two doses of its vaccine did not produce enough immunity, saying they're now testing three child-sized doses, a delay until the second quarter of next year.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You want to really get the right dose and the right regimen for the children. So, although you don't like it to be a delay, you want to get it right, and that's what they're talking about.
LAH (on camera): And Dr. Fauci says there is also talk within the CDC about redefining what it means to be fully vaccinated, that it won't just be one or two shots, Wolf, that in order to be fully vaccinated, it would mean the booster.
And that is on the table as far as the definition of fully vaccinated. Wolf?
BLITZER: It certainly is. Kyung Lah reporting for us, thank you.
Let's get analysis right now from the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha. Also joining us, our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, you just heard one expert tell CNN we are about to experience here in the U.S. a viral blizzard. What do you expect the next few weeks will hold? And what can Americans do right now to protect themselves?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a really contagious virus. So you know millions of people are going to be exposed, people who kind of maybe got away with things over the past couple years, even, maybe started to lower their guard, I think omicron is going to be very unforgiving in this regard. It sounds like from looking at the data in South Africa and the U.K.
I think there's a big distinction in terms of what you can do in terms of whether you are vaccinated or not. I mean, we can look, Wolf, you have seen some of these graphs before, but if you look at the patients who are in the hospital with COVID, what you do find is that the vast majority are unvaccinated.
And what this graph shows is really looking at something that may be a positive indicator, the various waves of illness in South Africa, the fourth wave, which is the orange, you do see fewer hospitalizations with this wave as compared to the previous waves. It's not may be an indication that it's a milder illness. But, overall Wolf, vaccination, you know that makes a big difference if your vaccinated, you're in good shape, if you're boosted, even better shape. But unvaccinated, those are the people who with COVID who are primarily in the hospital.
If I can just say as well, because I know, Ashish and I have talk about this before, testing, there's still -- you know, Kyung Lah's piece said it may be hard to find tests in some places, but testing is really important still. Masking, you know, we talked about masks. But if you're going to wear a mask, which you should, make sure it's a good mask, high filtration mask, KN-95 or an N-95 mask. Those things can make a big difference. Finally, I'll just say, even for people who have been vaccinated and boosted, if hospitals become overwhelmed, it's hard for people to get care for non-COVID-related things, and that affects everybody.
BLITZER: And when you wear that mask, make sure it's over your nose as well. Sadly, I've seen too many people wearing a mask but there not covering their nose.
You know, Dr. Jha, we heard Dr. Fauci say people have virtually no protection against omicron without a booster. Should these be a wakeup call right now?
DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, Wolf. First of all, thanks for having me back. It should be a wakeup call. And let's be clear, no protection against infection, I still believe people who have had two shots of Moderna or Pfizer are going to have protection against severe illness.
Not as much as if you're boosted, but we still have protection against serious illness. But no doubt about it, if you've not gotten boosted, your risk of having a breakthrough infection is very, very high with omicron, given how much immune escape it has. So really a wakeup call specially if you're in a high-risk group. You have to get a booster.
BLITZER: You certainly do. And Dr. Jha, only, what, about 57 million Americans so far have gotten a booster dose. Even if eligible Americans get boosted right now, it will take some time for real protection to kick in, right?
JHA: Yes, it's true, but you know as opposed to the first or second dose, where it takes two to three weeks for that benefit to kick in, we see the benefit of a booster actually a little than that, Wolf, maybe five to seven days after the booster, you get a pretty nice rise in your antibody levels, so I think it's certainly not by any - too late. I mean, my gosh, the omicron variant could be with us for a while.
If you can get boosted, get boosted as quickly as you can and you know that within a relatively short period of time, you'll start having some additional protection.
BLITZER: You know it's interesting, Sanjay, Pfizer now says two doses of its coronavirus vaccine did not produce the hoped-for results in children ages 2 to 5, so they're adding a third dose, which may delay authorizations, this is a big setbacks for families with kids that age, isn't it?
GUPTA: Yes. I mean, it's going to delay things for a bit, you know, Wolf, but this is I guess part of how you conduct science. Interestingly, and we can show you the different dosing that they have been trying for younger children than two to five, newborns to two- years-old, that dosing did seem to generate an immune response in these trials. But for two to five, as you mentioned, they're now looking at third doses there. And you can see, as well, for 5 to 11 years old, another dose of the ten micrograms. And 30 micrograms is the dose that adults get, but in 12 to 17-year-olds, you're looking 10 or 30 as a potential.
So, you know, it's -- this -- you want to find these sort of data out during the trials so you get a good idea not only the safety, which is the critical point but also the effectiveness.
BLITZER: You know Dr. Jha, as we head into this holiday week, while bracing for the omicron surge, as we all are, is it time to re- evaluate the way we're living right now? Should we, once again, reconsider indoor dining, traveling, gathering with loved ones?
What's your recommendation to the folks who are watching right now?
JHA: You know, Wolf. My recommendations and what I plan to do over the next week, ten days is really pretty straightforward. I'm avoiding large indoor gatherings, not going to Christmas parties. I actually love them but I just feel like probably that's not probably not a good thing with large number of people indoors, eating, drinking.
But getting together with family and friends over Christmas I think is very different, much safer, especially since you know everybody's vaccination status. You can add a layer of testing. Just to make sure that they get rapid test, especially if there are high risk people in the room.
There are ways of gathering very safely now that we can do. So I don't think you need to cancel all plans, but maybe avoid those sort of highest-risk situations.
BLITZER: Yes. Good advice as usual. Dr. Ashish Jha thank you. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks to you as well.
An Important note to our viewers right now, tune in this Sunday night at 8:00 P.M. Eastern for the latest installment of Sanjay's CNN Special Report, Weed 6, Marijuana and Autism.
Just ahead, exclusive new CNN reporting on the January 6th investigation, members of the select committee probing the insurrection now believe they know the identity of the person who sent Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows a text, urging states to overturn legal votes on election night.
BLITZER: Breaking news, an exclusive CNN report on the January 6th investigation, committee members now believe they know the identity of the person who sent former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows a text message about undermining the election, just hours after the polls actually closed.
CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel has working her sources for us. So, Jamie, what are you learning? JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, along with our colleague, Jake Tapper, we have learned from three sources that members of the January 6th committee believe that former Energy Secretary and Governor of Texas Rick Perry sent the following text to then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on November 4th.
This was the day after the election, as you point out, but most important, before all the votes were counted and the election called.
Here's the text, quote, here's an aggressive strategy. Why can't the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other R- Republican-controlled state houses declare this is B.S. where conflicts and election not called that night, and just send their own electors to vote and have it go to the SCOTUS, Supreme Court?
Wolf, the spokesman for Rick Perry says the former governor denies sending the text, but when asked how it came from Perry's phone, the spokesman had no explanation. For the record, Jake and I also confirmed with multiple people who know Perry, who have his phone number, that it is, in fact, his phone number.
That said, let's talk a little bit about the significance of the text. Just imagine, it's right after Election Day, vote are still being counted, here comes this text to Mark Meadows. This is a strategy to overturn the election, don't wait until the votes are counted, ignore the voters. Big picture, Wolf, this speaks to the fact that Trump loyalists, they thought he was going to lose, and they already had a plan in place to try to steal the election.
BLITZER: Yes. It's interesting. And talk a little bit about a former Secretary Perry and his relationship with Trump. They weren't necessarily all with his close allies, were they?
GANGEL: Not at all. One think is true, is when he was secretary of energy, he kept a pretty low profile. He got out after two years. But I would like to read you what he said in 2015 about Trump, quote, he offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism, a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued. Let no one be mistaken, Donald Trump's candidacy is a cancer on conservatism.
BLITZER: He did not mince any words at all.
GANGEL: No. He did not.
BLITZER: All right, and then he became energy secretary.
BLITZER: All right, Jamie, thank you very, very much.
Let's continue the conversation right now with Jonathan Karl, the chief Washington correspondent for ABC News and the Author of the New York Times best seller, Betrayal, The Final Act of the Trump Show. That's the book cover right there. Jon, thanks very much for coming in. What's your reaction to that reporting that we just heard?
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean first of all, the first thing I thought of was what Perry had said what he got out of the presidential election and called Trump a cancer on conservatism. It's just another example of those who tried to stopped Trump, who came so completely entranced with him, and he's willing to talk about breaking the law, effectively to keep him as president.
And, by the way, Wolf, all this talk about state legislator, it wasn't just Perry. I mean, this was the strategy. This was Trump's strategy. And the idea is because the Constitution says that state legislatures shall determine the manner and way that states would select electors, it doesn't say that state legislator send the electoral votes themselves. The manner in which electoral votes are chosen has already been set by state legislators all across the country -- elections, elections. The people decide.
BLITZER: I know. His spokesman denies that it was Perry who actually wrote this text, but officials at the special committee, they believe it was, in fact, Perry.
KARL: I mean, if it's his phone.
BLITZER: Is clearly runs against albeit principles of democracy, doesn't it?
KARL: Yes. I mean, this -- and, again, this was a multipronged approach. They knew that the Trump lawyers knew that they had these states -- they were contesting the elections that had Republican- controlled legislature. So, the idea, think about it, Wolf, that these legislatures would overturn the will of millions of voters in their states.
Now, it's important to point out that none of those state legislatures went along with it. None of it went along with it. And Trump put pressure on each and every one of them to try to get them to do this, and none would do it.
BLITZER: And to his credit, then-Vice President Mike Pence did not go along with it either. He deserves a lot of credit for that.
We're getting some breaking news. I just want to alert our viewers right now, the Justice Department, they have just released emails and texts between top Department of Justice officials from January 2021. This was at the height of former President Trump's push to oust then- Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and replace him in order to overturn the presidential election.
Let me read this text from a top deputy to Rosen's chief of staff. She wrote, and I'm quoting now, Team Rosen, justice is our client. If the DAJ, the deputy attorney general, gets fired for not publicly a falsehood, I walk. He responded, I agree, hands down, I'll be gone too. Clearly, these top Justice Department officials were adamant about standing up for the rule of law and democracy.
KARL: Yes. And, in fact, and I outline this in detail in Betrayal. When Trump was going through the scheme of talking about replacing the acting attorney general with Jeffrey Clark, the head of the Environmental Division, who was going to do exactly, by the way, what the Perry email was talking about, the Perry text was talking about, this idea of getting the state legislatures, forcing them -- Georgia in particular -- to send in Trump electors instead of Biden electors.
The entire senior leadership of the Justice Department, basically every senior official below the rank of acting attorney general had created a pact, they would all resign en masse if Trump go forward with this, and that prevented what could have been a real catastrophe in early January.
BLITZER: All these texts that we're getting right now, all this new information that's coming out, and I've been told my sources it's only the tip of the iceberg, it underscores how extensive this coup attempt was.
KARL: This was, by any means necessary, disrupt the transition of power. There were many efforts -- I mean that there was this effort to try to get the state legislatures to go along with it, there was the pressure on Mike Pence to singlehandedly do it on January 6th. This was an effort that was not limited to one or two people, or one or two strategies. This was a multipronged effort, all means necessary.
BLITZER: We have been reporting today that Roger Stone pleaded the fifth today when we went before the select committee. How much is Trump influencing all the stonewalling that is going on? We know a lot of people, including Trump allies aren't cooperating with the special select committee, but, clearly, Roger Stone is not.
KARL: Yes. And I'll tell you what, Wolf. We have seen some very high- profile stonewalling, Steve Bannon, of course, Mark Meadow, of course, Jeffrey Clark. Roger stone. And it gets a lot of attentions, Stone was out there doing his -- you know, the double peace signs.
But what you don't see is this committee has interviewed some 300 people, many of whom we don't know, you don't know, I don't know, not even Jamie Gangel knows, all the work that they have been doing. They have been talking to people very close to Trump people, who worked on the campaign, people that worked with the legal team, people that worked at the White House. They are cooperating. They are turning over documents. There's a lot more in this committee than what we have seen so far.
BLITZER: Jon Karl, thank you very much, not only for joining us here in The Situation Room but for writing Betrayal, The Final Act of the Trump Show. Excellent, excellent book, we're glad you wrote it. Thanks very much for doing that.
KARL: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, Jon Karl, helping us understand what's going on. There is more breaking news were following, closing arguments begin Monday in the trial of Kim Potter, after the sobbing of former police officer takes the stand in her own defense. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: There's breaking news in the trial of former Police Officer Kim Potter, charged in the shooting death of Daunte Wright. Closing arguments are now scheduled for Monday after a testimony concluded today, with a sobbing Potter taking the assistant in her own defense.
CNN Security Correspondent Josh Campbell has details.
KIM POTTER, DEFENDANT: I remember yelling, taser, taser, taser, and nothing happened, and then he told me I shot him.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Former Officer Kim Potter testifying for the first time, explaining the moment she shot and killed Daunte Wright last April. Potter described her fellow officer struggling with Wright during the traffic stop.
POTTER: He had a look of fear in his face. It's nothing I had seen before. We were struggling, were trying to keep him from driving away. It just went chaotic.
CAMPBELL: Wright, who officers learned had an outstanding warrant for a weapon's violation, was initially pulled over for minor offenses, pointed out by a rookie officer.
POTTER: We discussed a little bit of suspicious activity. He noticed a pine tree or air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror and the tags were expired.
CAMPBELL: Potter revealing they wouldn't have pulled him Wright over at all if she had not been training an officer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And why not?
POTTER: An air freshener to be -- just an equipment violation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did stop the vehicle, right?
POTTER: Yes. Part of field training is that my probationer would make numerous contacts with the public throughout the day.
CAMPBELL: That contact would turn fatal when she pulled her gun instead of her taser. The prosecutor asked Potter about training on confusing her taser and her gun.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were trained on it, right ? POTTER: Yes, but it was a while back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you're trained in March of this year on that taser, correct?
CAMPBELL: The state pointing out --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You never saw a weapon on Mr. Wright, did you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You never saw a gun?
CAMPBELL: Adding she did not try to save Wright or check on other officers in the aftermath.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You didn't make sure any officers knew what you had just done, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You didn't run down the street and try to save Daunte Wright's life, did you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were focused on what you had done, because you had just killed somebody?
POTTER: I'm sorry it happened. I'm sorry.
CAMPBELL: Prosecutors continues to push.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You knew that deadly force was unreasonable and unwarranted in those circumstance?
POTTER: I don't want to hurt anybody.
CAMPBELL (on camera): Now, Wolf, jurors heard from all of the witnesses who will be testifying in this trial. Closing arguments are set to begin on Monday, which, of course, will be the last time for the prosecution defense to lay out their cases respectively.
Prosecutors have said all along that a senior officer like Potter should have known the difference between her firearm and her taser. Potter, of course, has pleaded not guilty. Her lawyers have said this entire episode has been a tragic mistake.
The jurors will be sequestered beginning Monday, Wolf, and then they will begin their deliberations. BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Josh Campbell reporting for us, thank you.
Let's get some more on this. Joining us now is CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson and CNN Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates. She's got a brand- new book that's about to be released entitled Just Pursuit, A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness. Laura we're going to talk a lot more about this book in the weeks ahead.
But what did you think? Did Potter's testimony today help or hurt her case?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It was extremely compelling to humanize her for the jurors, to have her be more than a robot, to demonstrate that this was something consistent frankly with what the prosecution and defense have already said, in terms of her attempt to pull one weapon and not the other. She obviously is very remorseful.
The distinction, though, however, is for the prosecution, there's no need to prove intent for the charges they filed against Kim Potter. One is based on unreasonable risks, and creating them, and recklessness and negligence, the other unreasonableness and actually ignoring the grave risk to bodily harm. And so there's no requirement they actually demonstrated intent. So, the jurors could conceivably find that the prosecution has met their burden of proof, finding every single elements even still believing that she is remorseful, sympathetic and did not intent to kill Daunte Wright.
BLITZER: She was very, very emotional, Joey, as we all saw, we watched that her saying she never wanted to hurt anybody. But as Laura just said, these charges aren't about her intent, are they?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, there not at all. And, Laura, congratulations on the book, and, certainly, as we're talking about justice and prosecutions, it's relevant here. The bottom line, Wolf, is as follows.
I think what the defense was going for is what we call the jury nullification. What does that mean? It means that we know that your client is guilty and she committed the acts that she is really accused of, but we really feel badly for her. We understand under the circumstances how it could have happened, and as a result, we're going to try to give you a passed, right?
That what jurors can do. They are empowered to do that and we saw before she testified, Wolf, a forensic psychologist testify as to how this can happen.
Now, that's an option put on the table, that the defense put on the table. Very risky proposition, and here's why. What she did, the defendant in this case, Kim Potter, has admitted to all of the essential elements of the charge. How? She had to admit that she was negligent. She had to admit she didn't mean to kill him. She had to admit she was sorry. She had to admit she made a mistake. What does all that equal? It equals recklessness or at the very least, negligence, right? Last point and that's this, the defense has been arguing all along, Wolf, that, you know what, she could have under the law used deadly force. But guess what? Their own client indicated she didn't think it was necessary to use deadly force under those circumstances. So, she really undermined herself in a critical way. I think it back fired in a critical way. But if they get to the point where jury nullification, we feel bad for her, she has a family, she's relatable, she didn't mean to do it, she's contrite, they have that option, I just don't know from a legal perspective whether they can do that because the evidence is damning and compelling, and she didn't do herself any favors today.
BLITZER: You know, Laura, Potter explained she was distraught. She doesn't remember everything, from immediately after the shooting. But did you hear contradictions in her testimony?
COATES: Well, the idea here of not remembering that she made statements like I'm going to go to prison, the idea of not having the memory immediately of what took place, but in that moment, whether it's captured by actual body camera footage, what's captured is her actually recognizing in the exact moment what she had done wrong.
And, of course, understand she's likely in some form of shock, but, remember, this is a police officer. Police officers, as was pointed by the prosecution, they're trained to deal with very stressful conditions and circumstances.
The fact that she herself was part of conflict resolutions teams and high escalation types of teams, this is all about the idea of what we expect of our police officers, why we give them the benefit of the doubt for the split-second decision they made, the benefit of the doubt about trying to view through their own lens what they should do for uses of force, and so all of this goes really against her, in the sense of she's acting and portraying a layman, but has the qualities of a police officer, and that's why she's been prosecuted for this case.
BLITZER: Yes. She was a police officer for 26 years. Laura Coates, thank you. Joey Jackson, thanks to you as well.
Just ahead, the White House comes to grips with major disappointment right now on some of the President Biden's biggest legislative priorities. Will his administration finally be able to push through his agenda after the New Year?
BLITZER: Disappointment and frustration are sinking into the White House tonight as the Biden administration comes to grips with the likelihood that many of the president's major agenda items won't pass Congress anytime soon. Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is standing by for us. Phil, give us a sense of how frustrated the White House is right now.
MATTINGLY: You know, Wolf, I think White House officials were cognizant of the fact that getting that $1.75 trillion economic and climate package done before the Christmas break and the U.S. Senate was going to be a heavy lift.
Where there's frustration both here and on Capitol Hill is just how far apart they seem to be right know, with Senator Joe Manchin the key hold out from West Virginia who has raised a series of significant issues particularly as it pertains to the expanded child credit.
Now the implementation of that tax credit the expanded version, that was considered one of the most significant policy victories of the Biden administration so far of this year, the extension to one year was always in the proposal, it was always in the framework, and yet Manchin's issues with it, have become more real, more palpable in recent days.
Now, Wolf, look, when you talk to White House officials, they make clear they're going to spent the next couple weeks working diligently on this. The president is expected to be deeply involved as well. There is every expectation they will eventually get things over the finish line, when it comes to really the corner stone of the domestic legislative agenda.
However there is a lot of work that remains and I think the bigger question right now, is not necessarily if, but when and how. Those two very critical components still need to be figured out. And we heard from the president this morning given a commencement address where he was bringing up another serious issue for Democrats and that's voting rights.
There's a very real and renewed effort in the U.S. Senate among Democrats to try and find a pathway forward on voting rights, something the president has always made clear is central to his agenda. As Republican legislator on the state level across the country, imposed new restriction or proposed new restriction.
However there issues there, also, on Senator Joe Manchin, also Senator Kyrsten Sinema, when it's a 50/50 Senate, they would need to change the rules the filibuster to advance anything, and Manchin and Sinema have made clear they're not on board so no clear pathway yet on that issue, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right we'll watch and see what happens. Phil Mattingly, at the White House thank you.
Up next, a vague threat of school violence goes viral, sparking concern across the U.S.
[18:47:41] BLITZER: Tonight, the U.S. Homeland Security Department says that a vague threat of nationwide school violence that went viral on TikTok is not credible. Still, parents, students and school officials across the United States were alarmed.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.
Some schools, Brian, were taking this threat very seriously.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some school districts shut down outright as a result of this. We have new information tonight on the traffic on TikTok that caused this panic and what the real threat could be.
TODD (voice-over): In Altadena, California, parents and students on edge over social media traffic on school violence.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: It felt scary. So, I told my mom I didn't want to come.
AMANDA MARCISSE, PARENT: It feels like an evolution of a current problem. It feels like a virus that's evolving and growing. So, I grew up through Columbine and all that. So, this feels like it's getting worse and worse and worse.
TODD: A trend on the social media platform TikTok first seen said has gone viral, warning of potential violence at schools across the country. None of it has seemed viable. TikTok says it has not found any original, specific threats of violence that may have prompted the warnings.
The Department of Homeland Security also says it has no evidence to suggest the claims are credibility. Still, school districts shut schools down today as a result. Other districts were on high alert, with extra police officers sent to guard schools. All of it adding to the stress of teachers and administrators.
PATRICIA HOPKINS, SUPERINTENDENT, MAINE SCHOOOL ADMINSTRATIVE DISTRICT 11: Given the state we are in right now, there's heightened anxiety or concern, we have made sure that our crisis teams are meeting, and that we are prepared should the worst happen.
TODD: This photo is from a teacher in Maine, who told us the school wanted to make sure these restraints were there if needed. One school psychologist says actual school shootings sometimes tend to spawn traffic like this on social media.
SCOTT WOITASZEWSKI, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY PROGRAM, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN: We do know that there appears to be an contagion effect in some cases when an act of violence such as the Michigan school shooting a few weeks ago. When something like that happens, there tends tore more threats that follow that.
TODD: This afternoon, TikTok said it had began removing the warnings from its platform, calling it all misinformation.
Former Police Chief Charles Ramsey says this doesn't put more stress on schools, but police departments as well.
CHARLES RAMSEY, FORMER POLICE CHIEF: This is a holiday season, shopping season. You already have police officers assigned to many of the shopping locations and so forth. So, this is just not a time to stretch resources further.
TODD: But what also worries, Ramsey, as well as officials at TikTok, and a law enforcement source who spoke to CNN, is that this social media narrative, even without any credible threat, might inspire a lone wolf to carry out a real attack.
RAMSEY: We have a lot of people that are influenced by what they see online. They're, you know, mentally unbalanced and there's no telling what they might do.
TODD: While some school districts shut down, some of those which remained open took unique precautions. One large school district near Houston, telling students that parents who was enforcing a one-day policy to make students leave their backpacks at home. All of this, Wolf, just adding stress of parents who already have so much to worry about to protect their kids during the pandemic and they got this.
I mean, how much more can parents take?
BLITZER: Yeah, it's a really awful, awful situation. Ryan, thank you for that report.
Coming up, we are following other important news, including this. It's a first for any U.S. city, a Muslim mayor and an entire city council. We are going to go to that Michigan town to find out.
BLITZER: A Michigan City is poised to become the first known U.S. city with a Muslim mayor and an entirely Muslim city council.
CNN's national correspondent Nick Watt has the story.
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michigan's little Warsaw, spitting distance from downtown Detroit, a tight packed two square miles. The polish pope visited once. He still casts a shadow, as do names of the past, city hall is on Lech Walesa Drive. Every single mayor was Polish American. Every one, until now.
AMER GHALIB, MAYOR-ELECT OF HAMTRAMCK, MICHIGAN: My name is Amer Ghalib. I'm the mayor-elect of Hamtramck City. I came to the United States about 22 years ago.
WATT: From Yemen.
Hamtramck, locals say, is now majority Muslim. This little city was dying, decaying. New immigrants, largely from Bangladesh and Yemen, are bringing it back. And what could be more American than diving into local government?
GHALIB: Tonight is a real example that the American dream is alive and well in the land of opportunity.
WATT: January 2nd, Hamtramck will apparently become the first city in America with a Muslim mayor and an entirely Muslim city council.
AMANDA JACZKOWSKI, ELECTED TO HAMTRAMCK CITY COUNCIL: People are like what do you think about this being a first? And I'm like firsts are great and now we have to prove it doesn't matter.
WATT: She is a Polish American convert to Islam.
GHALIB: We are Muslims. We are proud of our briefs and values. But we are not going to try to impose them on others.
JACZKOWSKI: We are not going to be saying, like, oh, all the women have to cover their hair. They are not going to happen. It's really as simple as that.
WATT: The message? Kielbasa and pierogies can coexist with Yemeni food.
JACZKOWSKI: A lot of the people from the suburbs often have is that there is the call to prayer.
You see it more from the people who have moved out of Hamtramck than the people who have stayed.
WATT: Theresa was born here, says she'll die here.
THERESA SMITH, HAMTRAMCK RESIDENT: I mean, everybody might have a complaint of something or other. We're human.
WATT: There are potential issues. At Ghalib's victory speech, there were no Yemeni American women in the crowd.
GHALIB: My campaign team had six -- six girls working in it. Six females. The results was announced late at night around, you know, 10:00, 11:00 p.m. and part of our culture that females don't go out at night mostly. There is still some segregation and -- and some events even when they attend.
JACZKOWSKI: One of the things that people need to understand is that the Yemeni women here, like, don't need saving. I message a bunch of friends like did you want to be there? And they're like, no, we don't want to be there.
WATT: Also, concern at opposition from Muslim politicians to the gay pride flag flying outside city hall.
GHALIB: I am not with or against. I am with everybody's right to practice whatever they want, but we shouldn't get it -- we shouldn't make it a government issue.
WATT: Largely, because he doesn't want to have to vote on it. The reality, says the mayor elect, come out in favor of flying the city at city hall and now you will not win election in Hamtramck.
Worth noting the Pentagon also doesn't allow the flag to fly at U.S. military bases.
GHALIB: It shouldn't be discussed because it will be a divisive issue. It will increase the division in the community.
WATT: And the mayor elect's pledge? Separation of mosque and state.
GHALIB: We are part of a bigger country, the United States of America, and we are -- you know, we have to be -- abide by the United States Constitution.
WATT: Listen, immigrant neighborhoods are always changing. Old faces move out, melt into the pot. New faces move in.
SMITH: They came into this city. They are fixing up the homes beautifully. When somebody says something against them, I get angry because all of our parents came from someplace at one time.
WATT: Nick Watt, CNN, Hamtramck, Michigan.
BLITZER: Very nice -- very nice report, indeed. Nick, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.