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The Situation Room

Biden Announces New Steps As Omicron Takes Over; Biden: Manchin And I Will "Get Something Done" Despite Setback; Senate Dems To Meet Tonight On Stalled Agenda; Unclear If Manchin Is Attending; Jan. 6 CMTE. Says If It Uncovers Information Related To Criminal It Would Refer That To Prosecutors; Trump To Hold News Conference On January 6, Marking One Year After Deadly Capitol Riot; Israel Recommending Fourth Vaccine Dose For People 60 Plus; Queen Cancels Christmas Travel Plans Amid Omicron Surge; China Implements "Zero COVID" Strategy Ahead Of Beijing Olympic Games; Study: State Legislators Prepping "Tidal Wave" Of Voting Restrictions Ahead Of Crucial 2022 Midterms. Aired 5-6pm ET

Aired December 21, 2021 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, President Biden just announced new steps to combat the surge in COVID cases now dominated here in the United States by the Omicron variant. He's warning unvaccinated Americans they have good reason to be worried.

Also tonight, the President insists he and Joe Manchin can still get something done despite the senator's rejection of a spending bill. But many Democrats are furious of Manchin as senators are about to hold a critical meeting tonight on how to move forward.

And the January 6 Select Committee reportedly is considering one of its bonus and potentially most consequential actions yet, a possible criminal referral against former President Trump.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We begin with President Biden's response to the new Omicron crisis hours after the variant became dominant here in the United States. Let's go right to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly.

Phil, the President tried to reassure the vaccinated while warning unvaccinated Americans of life and death consequences.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's a delicate messaging balance, no question about it. But it's one the White House use as critical in this moment, a moment where the Omicron variant is very seriously causing concern, no question about that. However, it also spies the country in a very different moment in terms of the tools that it has and its ability to manage the pandemic. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, President Biden seeking to reassure an exhausted nation as it braces for what may be the largest COVID wave yet.

BIDEN: This is not March of 2020, 200 million people are fully vaccinated. We're prepared. We know more.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But the remarks marked a complex effort to straddle the line between a dire message to the unvaccinated.

BIDEN: The unvaccinated have a significantly higher risk of ending up in a hospital or even dying.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And hopeful resolve for those with the vaccine and booster.

BIDEN: You have a high degree of protection against severe illness.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): As the Omicron variant now makes up a stunning 73 percent of new U.S. COVID cases, Biden urging Americans to get vaccinated and boosted and making a point of thanking former President Donald Trump for doing just that.

BIDEN: May be one of the few things he and I agree on.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): While also lambasting media outlets and personalities that push vaccine conspiracy theories.

BIDEN: You know, these companies and personalities are making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): As the White House rapidly prepares for the possibility of overwhelmed health care workers, mobilizing 1,000 troops to deploy to COVID burden hospitals with emergency response teams already on the way to six states. All as the administration shift to address the growing spike in testing need, launching federal testing sites in hard hit states in purchasing 500 million rapid test to be mailed at no cost to those who request them starting in January.

BIDEN: Beginning these tests to Americans for free. And we'll have websites where you can get them delivered to your home.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And abrupt shift from an administration that just two weeks ago said this,

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not just make them free and give them out TO -- and have them available everywhere?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Should we just send one to every American?


PSAKI: Then what happens if every American has one test? How much does that cost? And then what happens after that?

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But the President rejecting criticism that the administration was unprepared.

(on camera): Is it a failure that you don't have an adequate amount of tests for everyone to be able to get one if they need one right now?

BIDEN: No, it's not because COVID is spreading so rapidly. I don't think anybody anticipated that this was going to be as rapidly spreading as it did.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Even as Americans face long lines for testing throughout parts of the country, Biden urging those vaccinated and boosted to maintain their holiday plans.

BIDEN: You know, you've done the right thing. You can enjoy the holiday season.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And Americans listening with the TSA reporting more than 2 million daily travelers for a fifth consecutive day, underscored the challenge at hand for a White House attempting to assuage the most serious concerns for the vaccinated and boosted while also delivering dark warnings to the 10s of millions who have chosen not to get the shot.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Hospitals are full of people who made that mistake.


MATTINGLY: And Wolf, the President was candid about the fact that those who are vaccinated and boosted will still likely have the potential for actually getting COVID it with this new variant, and he said that would include people in the White House. And he would know he had a close contact with a White House staffer that did test positive for COVID. Now, when the White House realized that the President took a PCR test, he has tested negative.

Because of CDC guidelines, he's still going through his daily schedule. He will be tested again tomorrow. But at this point, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says he's showing no symptoms and still has no positive tests, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Phil, stay with us. I want to bring in also, Andy Slavitt, the former Senior Adviser to the Biden White House COVID Response Team and author of the book "Preventable, The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics and Selfishness Doom the U.S. Coronavirus Response." Also with us, CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Leana Wen. Her book is entitled "Lifeline, A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health." Andy, President Biden is defending the state of the country's COVID testing. But pharmacies all over the country right now are sold out of rapid tests. People are waiting in hours long lines to get tested. Are the new measures he announced today too little too late?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO THE BIDEN WHITE HOUSE COVID RESPONSE TEAM: Well, this is a very good speech from President Biden for three reasons. One is it was very policy rich, is it still reported. It has everything from FEMA to the military, to more personnel, to more sites, to more testing, to free test. Secondly, it was honest, it acknowledged that even if you've been vaccinated, you may get infected, but you're but you're safe. And most importantly, I think it reassured Americans where we stand today is a very different place than we stood in 2020.

That kid should still be going to school if you've been vaccinated and taking precautions, you can still enjoy time with your family. And this is I think, the very honest, focused, but policy rich message that we need to hear. We're going to go through a period of a lot of virus, but it's going to be very, very quick and it's going to put some constraints in some of our resources. And I think that's what I hope to hear from the President today.

BLITZER: Yes, but Andy, as you know, it's going to take a few weeks now to get all these new measures in place. In the meantime, people are having a very hard time getting tested.

SLAVITT: I think there's an absolute holiday rush around tests. And I think in many areas, because we're going to see such a rapid doubling rate of COVID, that we're going to be constrained across almost all of our resources. And we should expect that from personnel to testing sites to boosters, particularly in New York and parts of the -- and other parts of the country. So I think that's why the assistants have new testing sites, new free testing sites in New York and places like that, and personnel for the hospitals and FEMA to build hospitals. It's really the best thing that we could be doing right now. Hopefully, that means that we'll get through this period quickly and we'll be on the backside of Omicron before the end of January with any luck.

BLITZER: Well, we can only hope.

You know, Dr. Wen, the President says no one anticipated the virus spreading as rapidly as Omicron. But that's exactly what experts have been warning about to how is it that we're nearly two years into this pandemic and the Biden administration didn't necessarily prepare fully for this current winter surge?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Right. So I want to agree with Andy on some points, which is that I thought that this speech was very good in explaining where we are and also specifically reassuring the vaccinated that there aren't going to be more restrictions placed on them, that we're not going to have lock downs, because frankly, lock downs are a blunt instrument that should be used only when there is a -- when there's no other choice. But we are having an existential crisis that we're not there yet. But I also think that this speech today was really reactive. It was responding to the crisis that we are already facing as opposed to acknowledging that we could have predicted and did predict. Many of us did predict that we would have a winter surge, even though we didn't know the specifics of Omicron that was going to come our way. And we did anticipate that there were going to be other variants.

And for more than a year, many of us have been calling for a significantly ramped up home testing that is -- that we were nowhere near. And even if we did not have Omicron coming into this holiday season, just with a Delta variant, we would be at this point of having this substantial testing crunch.

And what I'm really concerned about is 500 million tests that President Biden announced sounds like a lot, it's actually very little. We need to have enough tests for every American family to be able to test twice a week if they so choose. Testing should not be the limiting factor here. And I'm very concerned that the Biden ministration has not set that kind of moonshot goal.

They did so much around vaccines, we're able to ramp up testing as well, but it takes political will. And I would like to hear that from President Biden going forward.

BLITZER: You want to respond to that, either of that?


SLAVITT: Well, sure. Look I think Dr. Wen is right. She and others have been saying for a long time we need to be prepared, you know, from all these situations.

I think the difference between a Delta wave now and an Omicron wave now is just the intensity that we're going to see all at one moment. And that's going to mean in certain places like New York, California, if it comes here quickly, and other places like that, there's just going to be an overpowering results.

Now, the President has done a number of things, it didn't just start now. And the summary invested $3 billion to help scale up rapid tests, there were no rapid tests as of the summer in spring now. There's eight approved -- FDA approved rapid tests. There's 10s of 1000s of testing sites, free testing sites, and he's opening up another several 1000 more.

So, look, I think we do -- he did acknowledge that we have some places where we're going to have shortcomings, and we just have to acknowledge that that's the case. But ramping more quickly than this, I think, you know, even from where we were, is a big challenge.


SLAVITT: We need things don't ramp infinitely.

BLITZER: Well, Phil, let me ask you, does the President, the White House staff, for that matter, fully understand the level of frustration about lack of testing capacity that's clearly out there right now?

MATTINGLY: I think they definitely have a sense of it. And I think that's why you heard the President, he was actually quite candid about the fact that for all that they've done on the testing front, according to the White House and White House officials, they need to do better. They can do better. And I think that was a candid assessment of the reality right now where White House officials know that due to manufacturing constraints, due to regulatory constraints and hurdles, things have not gone in a similar direction as perhaps other countries have over the course of the last year or so. And there -- that needs to be recognized, that needs to be addressed.

And I think that's why you've seen there's been a progression since the President rolled out his winter plan, which had a new policy for those to be able to get reimbursed if you have insurance for take home rapid test to now moving to this proposal where you can go to a website and have a test sent to you. That is a kind of an agility to some degree of recognizing that this is a growing issue inside the country and growing frustration. And an attempt to address that, will it work? I think it's an open question, but it is definitely an effort to address it, Wolf.

BLITZER: So frustrating to see those long lines. People waiting for hours outside in New York City, for example, simply to get a test.

All right guys, thank you very much. We're going to stay on top of this story obviously.

Also coming up, President Biden says he and Senator Joe Manchin are going to, quote, "get something done" on his social spending plan despite the public turmoil surrounding the negotiation. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: President Biden expressing some optimism for his almost $2 trillion spending plan after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin single handedly stopped it in its tracks by suddenly announcing he would not vote for it.

Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is working the story for us. There are developments unfolding, what's the latest, Manu, up on Capitol Hill?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats in the Senate plan to have a meeting tonight, a virtual meeting, to discuss their path forward. Even though it's unclear at this moment whether Joe Manchin, in fact, will participate on that call. And it's also unclear what exactly that path forward is.

Number of Democrats want to find some sort of consensus on a pared back bill, particularly Democrats in the House who actually voted to approve that bill in last month, and now we're left with nothing to show for it. But there are concerns among progressives that they can't get behind something that they don't know if Joe Manchin will support and there is an ongoing back and forth that had persisted between the President's staff and Joe Manchin himself. Manchin, I am told, was concerned, was furious at the White House for calling him out in a statement from last Thursday, essentially blaming him for the delay in the negotiations when he thought there was an agreement between him and the President to continue talking next year. But Joe Biden today answering questions about Joe Manchin indicated that he doesn't hold a grudge and he still believes a deal can come together.


BIDEN: Maybe I'm not Irish because I don't hold a grudge. But I want to get things done. I still think there's a possibility of getting Build Back Better done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Senator Manchin break his commitment to you?

BIDEN: Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done.


RAJU: So, even so, there's an effort by the Democratic leaders in the Senate to try to advance this big bill, the $1.75 trillion bill, put it on the floor, put everybody on the record, but that will get a no vote from Joe Manchin to proceed. And Wolf, it will even take a few weeks to get that large bill together, finished drafting and finish going through the parliamentarian process and get it to a vote that would fail.

So then, where does it go from there? It is highly uncertain at the moment, which is leading to a lot of finger pointing and uncertainty and concern that Democrats may head into a very difficult election year without delivering the big ticket item on their agenda while they have other things appointed that they accomplish. This is what they put their eggs and all their eggs in the basket in the last several months. And if it doesn't happen here, they're concerned that could end up with eggs on their face, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Manu, thank you very much. Manu Raju with the latest from the Hill.

Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, CNN Contributor Evan Osnos. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker. Also the author of the book, "Wildland, The Making of America's fury." Also with us, our Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, President Biden says, and you just heard him once again, Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done. But what does that look like after Manchin effectively torpedoed months of work?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to say what it's going to look like as Manu was saying, but the truth is that Joe Biden doesn't hold grudges, and he is going to try and work with Manchin. And if you go back and look at what's happened over the last few days, Manchin did put a package in front of Joe Biden that was $1.8 trillion. What it did not include was the child care tax credit, which is, of course, so important to so many Democrats, but it did include universal pre-K, expansion of Obamacare, lots of money for climate change provisions. So, there is a way where they can get together.

But as Manu was saying, is it going to be a big package which progressives wanted? Absolutely not. So would they vote for it? We don't know what the answer to that is.


So the question is, would they rather go into the 2022 election with half a loaf or no loaf at all?

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point.

You know, Evan, you've spent some time interviewing Senator Manchin, reporting on the reaction he's getting in West Virginia, his home state. So how do they move forward after this fallout, if at all?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, exactly as Gloria was saying, these two are now looking at where they might be able to find something in common. There were some pieces in that bill that Joe Manchin put forward that proposal, universal pre-K, for instance, significant money towards climate, in fact. But the big sticking point is the child tax credit, and he's getting some pressure at home in West Virginia.

It's kind of interesting. I've been hearing from Democrats over the last couple days, who say, look, this thing has helped 300,000 kids in this state. And their estimates are that they're about 50 percent of those kids who could slip into poverty if those payments dry up. So yes, there's pressure on Joe Biden right now to make some headway.

But the pressure on Joe Manchin is real, and it's not going to go away. So that's a piece of this, too. And as you heard today from Joe Biden, he's not holding a grudge. Neither one of them can afford to hold a grudge. They have to figure out a way to actually put some points on the board.

BLITZER: You know, the Senate Democrats are, Gloria, we've been reporting this, they're about to hold this key caucus meeting later tonight around 8:00 p.m. Eastern to discuss the next steps. So what will it say if Senator Manchin attends or what will it say if he's a no show tonight?

BORGER: Well, you know, we can't predict what he's going to do. Maybe his Zoom will go down and it won't work. But he -- everyone, no one knows where he stands on this. I think Kyrsten Sinema is a person maybe they'd like to hear from.

And if he is on the call, and he can tell them how he sees the way forward working with the President, I think that would be usually helpful. But it's not as if he's kept his position so secret here and it's not as if he hasn't put a proposal out there on the table. He has done that. So they kind of know where he is. I mean, there were all kinds of rumors flying earlier in the week. Oh, maybe he's not going to be a Democrat anymore. He's a Democrat.

BLITZER: Yes, he is a Democrat.

And you know, President Biden had hoped to pass this transformative legislation. Does he need to rethink his legislative strategy heading into the New Year?

OSNOS: He certainly does. He has no choice.

I mean, look, he is now entering into an election year in which people are going to be holding Democrats responsible for what they promised to do in the last election, which was to get things done. You know, the, the watchword of the moment is really now about achievement, achieving some things. Not about aspiring or the greatest ambition possible, but getting some things done, can take a lot of different shapes, could be some executive actions, could be breaking up legislation, but that that gets harder. They're going to get back try to figure out a way to get something through reconciliation. And that's why you hear nobody yet willing to take this from up.

You know, what is now a rift and putting it into a rupture beyond reconciliation. That is not what they want to do. Find a way back is the goal.

BLITZER: All right, Evan Osnos, Gloria Borger, guys, thank you very much.

Up next, the Select House Committee investigating the January 6 capitol riot is considering sending criminal referrals for the U.S. Justice Department. Could this include the former president, the former President Trump? Stay with us here in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: We're following some new and significant developments tonight in the House investigation into the January 6 Capitol insurrection. Let's go to our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. He's working the story for us.

Evan, the Select Committee now says if it uncovers information related to criminal conduct it would refer that to prosecutors. Give us the latest. How would this work?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. And I think what you have is that some members of this committee are pushing the idea that at the end of this, they are hoping and they certainly believe from what they've seen so far that they're going to get to the point where they can make referrals, criminal referrals to the Justice Department. However, we're also hearing from folks on the committee who say, well, they're still at the evidence gathering phase of this. And that the idea of referrals, perhaps is a little premature, that eventually they couldn't get there but they're still a long ways away from that.

And we have a committee aide who gave us a comment on this and they said, quote, "The Select Committee is gathering facts and asking questions about the violence of January 6 and its causes so we can make legislative recommendations and help ensure nothing like that day happens again. This select committee is not conducting a law enforcement investigation, so if we uncover information that we believe could be related to criminal conduct, we will make whatever referrals are appropriate."

Wolf, we've heard in the last -- certainly last few weeks a steady drumbeat from some members of the committee. Certainly we heard from Liz Cheney, one of the key members of the committee, who has talked about perhaps former President Trump being -- committing a crime of obstructing the work of Congress on January 6, which was, of course, certifying the election.


We've also heard from other members who think that at the end of this they need to show some accountability for the former president and his associates, Wolf.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Evan, as we approach our January 6, it sounds like former President Trump is planning to mark the day in Mar-a-Lago. Tell us about that.

PEREZ: Yes, he says -- essentially, what we're going to have is a little bit of counter programming. He know -- he knows that people in Congress are going to be marking that day with perhaps some events, Wolf, and so he's planning to have some kind of media event down down in Mar-a-Lago. Again, a bit of counter programming from the former president.

BLITZER: All right, Evan Perez, reporting. Evan, thank you very much.

Let's discuss this and more with Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. He's a key member of the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. He's a veteran of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all your service.

I want to get to what we just heard from Evan in a moment. But first, I know you just tested positive for a breakthrough case of COVID. You have been vaccinated, you have been boosted. First of all, how are you doing?

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO), FORMER IMPEACHMENT MANAGER: Hi, Wolf, thanks for having me. I'm doing pretty well. Actually, I feel like I have a cold, which actually just illustrates to me how fortunate I am that I did get vaccinated and boosted because had I not, I would probably be in pretty bad shape, and obviously don't want to burden our otherwise already overburdened healthcare system.

So I'm doing fine. I'm in my isolation room at home, my spare bedroom. I'm going to be spending a lot of quality time this week. BLITZER: You'll be spending a lot of time in that room. And sadly, just before Christmas and the holiday season. So good luck to you. But the most important thing is you're doing fine.

Let's get to this investigation into January 6th. As you heard, the committee is now weighing whether there's enough evidence to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, even for former President Trump. Do you see grounds for a potential criminal referral?

CROW: I do see grounds, Wolf. There were a lot of crimes that were committed on January 6. We have police officers who died, over 140 who are brutally beaten, our nation's capital, the pantheon of our democracy was sacked and assaulted that day.

So a lot of criminal activity, certainly, and a lot of it was coordinated. We know this was not an accident, there's a lot of coordination in advance of that day. So there needs to be truth and there needs to be accountability. And importantly, in the United States, justice is blind.

We have lady justice that holds the scales, and she is wearing a blindfold. And what that means is it doesn't matter who you are, doesn't matter your title, doesn't matter your position in life. Everybody is accountable to the law in the United States of America. And it's not just that you're still accountable, the higher up you go -- the higher up you go it's more important than you be held accountable.

So it doesn't matter whether you're the former president, a member of Congress or anybody else. If you committed a crime, you have to be held accountable for it.

BLITZER: Yes, they say no one is above the law. What goes through your mind, Congressman, when you see a colleague, Republican Congressman Perry, serves alongside you in the House, rebuke the Select Committee, refused to cooperate and simply answer questions?

CROW: Yes, should we be surprised? You know, there's a reason why these folks don't want to answer questions, because they probably have something to hide. Number one, it just shows a disdain for rule of law. You can't claim to be in support of rule of law and democracy.

If you scoff at it, if you turn your back on basic rule of law, and the checks and balances of our system, that the legislative branch is a co-equal branch to the executive and that falls -- that fails if we don't enforce our subpoenas. So that's number one.

Number two is it really does raise questions of why don't you want to talk? What do you have to hide? And as we're learning more and more, some folks have an awful lot to hide. But we're not going to stop. We're going to be dogged. We're going to be vigilant. We're going to find the information, and we're going to hold people accountable. And we're going to let the American people know what happened.

BLITZER: Would you support a subpoena for his testimony? CROW: I would. Yes, I would support a subpoena for anyone's testimony that's relevant to the investigation. We shouldn't determine whether or not somebody is going to be subpoenaed by what their title or their positioning is, again, this goes to the issue of justice being blind. We have to find the truth.

And we will seek that truth and search for it wherever it is, and with whoever it lies regardless of their position or their title. So if someone refuses to come forth, and voluntarily participate in a lawful process that's designed to uphold their democracy, then we will subpoena them. And if they fail to comply with the subpoena, then we will refer them for criminal contempt charges to the DOJ.

BLITZER: The former President Trump will hold what's being described as a news conference or a speech or something, some media event on January 6th down in Florida, Mar a Lago, the anniversary of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. He used that announcement to push his big lie once again that the U.S. presidential election was rigged.

You, of course, survived that assault. We all remember the video where you, were what you were doing. What's your message to the former president just ahead of this anniversary?


CROW: Well we know who you are, right? We know what you stand for. We know that you're only out for yourself and you have no regard for American democracy. But the American people know better. We know better, and we will win.

We won't stop fighting for democracy. We won't fighting -- stop fighting for rule of law. We're not going to back down. We won't be intimidated. We're going to keep going. And you will lose.

BLITZER: Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado, thanks so much for joining us. I'm glad you're feeling better and hopefully you'll get through this COVID in your isolation the next few days and get back to your family. Thanks so much for joining us.

CROW: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, there's breaking news in the global fight against Omicron. Israel now recommending everyone 60 and older be given a fourth, a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine.



BLITZER: We have breaking news tonight, President Biden announcing new efforts to combat the rapid spread of the coronavirus Omicron variant across the United States. There's also breaking pandemic news coming out of Israel, which has just updated its vaccine recommendations. Elliott Gotkine is in Jerusalem for us with the details.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Israel's panel of coronavirus experts has this evening recommended a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine for over 60s and medical workers making it to the Prime Minister's Office says the first country in the world to do so. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that this was wonderful news saying, do not waste time, go get vaccinated. And this is just one of the measures that Israel is taking to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

As of 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the U.S., Canada and eight more countries were added to the red no fly list. They are now no-go areas for Israelis. And as they get special permission, it is extending the use of the so-called green pass, the people to prove that they've been vaccinated or have recovered. They are recommending that to private sector workers work from home.

And as of Sunday, public sector workers at least half of them will be working from home as well. In doing so, Israel hopes to slow the spread of the fifth COVID wave in the country, knows that it can't stop cases from spiking, but it's doing everything that it can to try to slow that spread. Wolf?

BLITZER: Elliott Gotkine, thank you. Elliott in Israel.

The U.K., meanwhile, is several weeks ahead and its Omicron surge prompting even Queen Elizabeth to change her holiday plans. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has the latest from London.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Wolf, many people across this country are simply canceling their Christmas plans. The Omicron variant has driven record breaking case numbers in recent days here. Even the Queen canceling her annual Christmas retreat. She generally goes to the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk but this year Palace sources say the Queen will stay behind Windsor Castle out of an abundance of caution.

Many families are doing the same, simply choosing to self-isolate during the holiday period because of this huge surge of cases driven by the Omicron variant. The Prime Minister is also under pressure to announce tougher restrictions. But after an emergency Cabinet meeting on Monday, he came out and said there would be no tougher rules for now but that the government would review the data hour by hour. He also reserve the right to announce tougher rules if and when necessary. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Salma, thank you very much. Salma Abdelaziz in London for us.

On the continent, meanwhile, the spread of Omicron is prompting new restrictions in multiple countries. CNN's Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman has the very latest.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, across Europe, public holiday events are being canceled and lockdown measures coming back into effect. The latest to announce such measures is Germany where beginning the 28th of December private gatherings will be limited to 10 people and that's for those who have been vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID. And if you're not part of one of those two groups, forget about going to a restaurant in Germany. Also in Germany, spectators will not be allowed to attend sporting events and concerts. And in Portugal, starting the day after Christmas, working from home will be mandatory. Schools, clubs and bars will also close. And finally in Rome, beginning this Thursday, masks in public will be the rule. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Ben, thank you. Ben Wedeman reporting.

The rise of the Omicron variant is fueling concern about the safety of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. CNN's Will Ripley is working that part of the story for us.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are now just weeks away from the opening ceremonies of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. And China is facing a big challenge. They have a zero-COVID strategy. If they have a few dozen local cases, they shut down a city and impose travel restrictions on millions of people.

They're not allowing people inside China to move around ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday in many cases if they come from areas with COVID because they do not want an outbreak at the Olympics. But they have athletes coming in from countries that do not have this zero- COVID approach, countries like the U.S. where there were thousands of new cases every day.

So how are they hoping to keep Omicron and COVID from breaking out at the Olympics? Well, they're doing the way for the most part with commercial flights. Bringing in athletes on charter flights hoping that combined with extensive rigorous testing every single day. And a hermetically sealed Olympic bubble will stop the Olympics from becoming a super spreader event in Beijing. Wolf?


BLITZER: All right, Will Ripley reporting for us. Thank you, Will.

Coming up, more on the breaking COVID news with the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy. He's standing by live. We have lots of questions for him.

Plus, day two of jury deliberations in the manslaughter trial of former Police Officer Kim Potter. The jury just moments ago sending a question to the judge.


BLITZER: Breaking news in the trial of former Police Officer Kimberly Potter. The jury has just sent two new questions to the judge on its second day of deliberations. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is in Minneapolis for us tonight. So Adrienne, what is the jury asking?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jury are -- Wolf, the first question members of the jury want to know if the jury can't reach a consensus, what is the guidance around what steps we should take and how long they should continue to deliberate, is essentially what those jurors wanted to know.


Judge Chu responded by reading the jury instructions and she said in part, "You should discuss the case with one another and deliberate with a view toward reaching an agreement. The second question focused on Exhibit 199. Exhibit 199 (INAUDIBLE) the same gun she used to shoot and kill Daunte Wright.

The jury wanted to know, can these zip ties be removed from Exhibit 199 so it can be held out of the evidence box? The answer was yes. And Judge Chu responded with some directions as to how those zip ties would be removed. There was a deputy that's going to remove the zip ties.

And she also told members of the jury, if they're concerned about COVID, as they touch and feel this gun, there are gloves available to them. So two questions coming from the jury in the last 45 minutes. The first question, members of the jury wanting to know if they cannot come to a consensus. What steps should they take? What is the guidance when it comes to moving forward?

The judge read those jury instructions and told them to continue to deliberate until they reach an agreement. It has been 13 hours. Members of this jury has been deliberating. And I spoke with attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Wright family. He described those 13 hours in one word, "agonizing." Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Adrienne, we'll stay in very close touch with you. Thank you very much.

The crucial midterm elections here in the United States are less than a year away. And according to a new study, Republican lawmakers in some states are working rapidly to make it harder for millions of Americans to vote. CNN's Political Correspondent Sara Murray has more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Protect the vote!

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Protect the vote!

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After successfully passing restrictive new voting laws and states like Georgia and Texas --

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): Ensuring the integrity of the ballot box isn't partisan.

MURRAY (voice-over): GOP lawmakers across the country are readying another round of bills for 2022 that could make it tougher to cast a ballot. A new report from the left leaning Brennan Center for Justice shows GOP lawmakers are already preparing bills to allow more partisan reviews of election results, limit vote by mail and establish new voter ID requirements.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Stop the steal!

MURRAY (voice-over): Many in the GOP followed former President Donald Trump's lead as he peddled baseless claims of fraud about the 2020 election.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In other words, the election was a fraud. And we must pass a complete overhaul of our entire election system to ensure it's free, fair, honest, and able to be fully and quickly audited.

MURRAY (voice-over): Clinging to those debunked allegations to justify new voting restrictions and post-election ballot reviews. As of early December, lawmakers in 19 states passed 34 restrictive bills in 2021, according to Brennan's analysis. Brennan Center President Michael Waldman says that's a sharp uptick from recent years, driven by Trump's rhetoric.

MICHAEL WALDMAN, PRESIDENT, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: The big lie has driven states across the country to enact new laws to make it harder for people to vote. Some are worse than others, but they are invariably targeted at black and brown and Asian voters. It's the biggest attempt to rollback voting rights since the Jim Crow era.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fighting for our voting rights.

MURRAY (voice-over): Senate Democrats are insisting they're stalled national voting rights legislation is top of the agenda in the New Year. But state Republican lawmakers are already chugging ahead with voting restrictions.

WALDMAN: If Congress doesn't act it gives a green light to the states to restrict the vote to sabotage their own elections, and to turn them over to the hands of partisans.

MURRAY (voice-over): State legislators in Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Arizona filing at least 13 bills for 2022 making it tougher to vote. In Arizona, home of the infamous partisan review that still showed Trump lost --

KAREN FANN (R), ARIZONA STATE SENATE: We have a lot of people that have serious questions about election integrity, not just in Arizona, but in the entire nation.

MURRAY (voice-over): Legislators are now eyeing stricter voter identification requirements. And the GOP's audit fever also appears likely to carry into 2022.

TRUMP: They want the forensic audits. They don't want the bullshit audits.

MURRAY (voice-over): Pre-filed bills in Florida and Tennessee would set off partisan reviews of the 2020 election results. And in Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina pre-filed bills are laying out guidelines for conducting future partisan reviews.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MURRAY: Now, Wolf, all this lawmaking is not just happening in a vacuum. It's happening at the same time that we were seeing Republicans who questioned the result of 2020 running for governor, running for attorney general, running for secretary of state. And it's causing democracy advocates, a lot of anxiety about what could happen in 2022 and 2024.

BLITZER: Sara Murray reporting. Excellent report. Thank you very much.

There's breaking news coming up. President Biden announces a new action plan to combat the COVID surge and includes a massive roll out of at home testing kits and renewed -- a renewed push for vaccinations.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. President Biden response to the Omicron variant crisis unveiling new action and warning against panic, while reminding unvaccinated Americans the danger they face is urgent and very real. I'll talk live with the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Also, former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is now suing the January 6 Select Committee and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to block a subpoena for his phone records. This, as we're getting new information about a potential criminal referral by the panel against former President Trump.