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The Situation Room

Biden Unveils Omicron Crisis Response, Warns Against Panic; Michael Flynn Sues January 6 Committee And Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) To Block Subpoena; Senate Democrats To Meet On Agenda After Blow From Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); Putin Blames West For Tensions Amid Fears Of Russian Invasion Of Ukraine; Jury In Trial Of Ex-Officer Kim Potter Asks Judge What Happens If It Can't Reach A Consensus. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 21, 2021 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And frustrated Senate Democrats are preparing to meet in a few hours about the future of the president's spending plan as many feel stabbed in the back by their colleague, Joe Manchin. President Biden now claiming he can still work with Manchin amid evidence of distrust and blame.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First this hour, the breaking news on the president's newest pandemic action plan targeting the rapid rise of the omicron variant.

Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, the president planned a speech even before omicron was revealed to be the dominant variant here in the United States about 24 hours ago.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, even though the president acknowledged he was surprised by just how rapidly it became the dominant variant, White House officials have known for several days, if not weeks, that they needed to enhance their response to this new variant, and that is exactly what the president laid out in detail, in policy whether it was boosters, whether it was testing, or whether it was ramping up on the hospital side of things, that the administration is ready to do more and this is a very different moment for the country.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I know you're tired.

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: But the remarks marked a complex effort to straddle the line between a dire message to the unvaccinated. BIDEN: If you are unvaccinated, you are at high risk getting severely ill from COVID-19, getting hospitalized and even dying.

MATTINGLY: And hopeful results for those with the vaccine and booster.

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

MATTINGLY: 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: Maybe one of the few things you and I agree on.

MATTINGLY: While also lambasting media outlets and personalities that push vaccine conspiracy theories.

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

MATTINGLY: As the White House rapidly prepares for the possibility of overwhelmed health care workers, mobilizing 1,000 troops to deploy a COVID burdened hospitals with emergency response teams already on the way to six states. All as the administration shifts to address the growing spike in testing need, launching federal testing sites in hard-hit states and purchasing 500 million rammed tests to be mailed at no costs to those who request them starting in January.

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

MATTINGLY: An abrupt shift from an administration that just two weeks ago said this.

REPORTER: Why not just make them free and give them out and have them available everywhere?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Should we 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: But the president rejecting criticism that the administration was unprepared.

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: 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 have done the right thing. You can enjoy the holiday season.

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

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Hospitals are full of people who made that mistake and so are graveyards full of people that have made that mistake.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, the president White House officials have been clear for weeks, there will be no shutdown us, there will be no lockdowns. But the president played special attention to the issues of schools in his remarks tonight, a nod to the fact that among the most exhausted people in the country are parents at this point in time. The president making clear, they have the conditions, they have the response to keep the schools opened. In fact, the president said, we must keep K through 12 schools opened, Wolf.


BLITZER: Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all this and more with the United States surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy, thank you so much for joining us, a lot of important questions.

As you know, the president says testing isn't a failure, his words. How can he say that when so many Americans right now simply can't get their hands on a rapid test, they're standing in long lines outside, we see it in New York City and elsewhere, just to get tested?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Wolf, certainly, we need to do more on testing. And there is many series of investments over the last year to actually enhance testing availability. When we started the year, they actually had zero rapid tests that were approved for home use. We have eight now, into the summer, in fact, the president made an investment of $3 billion and has been using the Defense Production Act to ramp up production. That's actually quadrupled the supply in December.

But what has happened is that we have seen, with the tremendous spread of omicron, a big surge and demand in testing, now we've got to keep up. That's why actually just after Thanksgiving, the president announced 50 million tests would be distribute around the county and sent to people on top of the free test in pharmacies. But, clearly, we need to do more. Which is why today he announced, in addition to the 500 million tests they'll be sent to people in January, that starting right now, that we would be setting up testing centers around the county, federal mask testing sites where people can come and get a free test.

BLITZER: The president's 500 million rapid tests, though, as you correctly point out, won't be available until next month. Then it will take even more time to get them mailed and put them in the hands of Americans. What are people supposed to do, Dr. Murthy, in the meantime? People need these rapid tests. They need them now.

MURTHY: Yes, Wolf. And I certainly feel for people who are not able to find tests as easily as they want to. I know how important this is. And I know how much everyone wants to keep themselves and their families safe.

So, I do want people to know though that the 50 million tests that the president spoke about a few weeks ago are actually on their way out, to community centers, the healthcare centers, all around the country to food banks, so that people can come and get them free.

But we are also setting up those federal testing sites right now, we're not waiting until January, so people can come and get tested free, the way they were able to do, in fact, earlier in the pandemic.

BLITZER: Dr. Fauci, as you know, says officials are also now considering shortening the quarantine period for people infected with COVID. If someone gets COVID and tests negative again before that full ten-day quarantine, can they cut short that quarantine? What do you think?

MURTHY: Well, that's exactly the question we are looking at, Wolf. And what we want to make sure about is that it would be safe to reduce either the quarantine or the isolation period or both. Keep in mind the quarantine period is what you go through after you have been exposed to somebody who had COVID. The isolation period is what you go through if you have COVID. But both involve limiting your contact with other people.

But what we just need to make sure about, Wolf, is that we have enough confidence that you wouldn't put other people at risk if we shortened that quarantine or isolation period. But that's exactly the work, an analysis that's taking place right now, if it's safe to shorten that, we will. And that will actually be another step towards helping to protect our workplaces, especially our healthcare workforce.

BLITZER: Yes. It's under consideration. As you know, Israel just today announced that it is recommending a fourth vaccine dose for people over 60-years-old and for medical workers. Do you think that eventually will be necessary here in the United States as well?

MURTHY: Let's say it's an important question, Wolf. We don't know yet, because we have to look at our data to see whether or not people's protection continues to hold in the months ahead. Right now, we feel confident that if you have a booster that you have a high level of protection against overall infection, particularly against hospitalization and death, the most severe outcomes of COVID. That is true of omicron as well.

And that's really an important point I want to make to people. There was a question a few weeks ago, when omicron first arrived, whether our vaccines would work. And we've realize even though omicron can evade some of our vaccine protection that if you get boosted, we restore a lot of that infection.

So, if you're not vaccinated, it is more urgent than ever to get vaccinated. If you are vaccinated, please get boosted. And we will follow the data to understand whether or not over time additional doses are required. It's certainly not a full gone conclusion at this point.

BLITZER: Yes. The Israelis, they were ahead of the curve on the third vaccine. We'll see if they're ahead of the fourth vaccine that maybe coming up here in the U.S. as well.

As you also know, Dr. Murthy, President Biden is reassuring Americans, and he did so, today, very dramatically that they can go ahead and celebrate the holidays if they are vaccinated. So, what if family members are unvaccinated?


What should they do?

MURTHY: Well, Wolf, we certainly want everyone to enjoy the holidays the best they can. I tell you, I will be getting together with family over the holidays. We have taken certain precautions. We made sure everyone is vaccinated and boosted. We're going to be testing family members who come in. We're going to be making sure when we gather, it's in places that are well ventilated.

So there are steps so that we take to make our family gatherings safer. But if you are gathering with people who are not vaccinated, it is a higher risk circumstance, and especially given how transmissible omicron is. There is a much higher likelihood that person may get infected and may spread it to others.

One last point I want to make here, Wolf, because it has come up before, is that if you were previously infected with COVID-19 but you were not vaccinated, you should not assume that you have protection against omicron. That's not enough to be able to come to a family gathering and say this is just as good as being vaccinated because we have now seen in South Africa and other countries prior infection is not as good as protecting you against getting infected.

So, please get vaccinated, get boosted. If you're getting to other people who are not vaccinated, you really should make sure you are wearing that mask in indoor spaces, make sure you are taking other precautions, like improving ventilation and the space where you are gathering.

BLITZER: That is such an important advice, indeed. Dr. Murthy, thank you so much for joining us. I always appreciate it very much.

MURTHY: Thank you so much, Wolf, good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, COVID collides with sports. I'll ask NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom how he thinks teams should tackle the crisis from the inside.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news we are following tonight. The former Trump national security adviser, Michael Flynn, suing the House January 6th select committee and the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to try to block a subpoena for his phone records.

Our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is working this story for us. What are you finding out, Jessica?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This lawsuit just filed, and it's actually the eighth court filing that is challenging the power of the January 6th committee. We have already seen legal challenges in recent weeks from people who worked at the White House, like former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. We even saw one from one of the organizers of the Stop the Steal rally, Ali Alexander.

But this lawsuit from Michael Flynn suing to block the subpoena for his phone records, just filed, unclear how this will play out in court, but this news is coming as members of the committee are acknowledging that their probe could ultimately produce evidence of possible criminal activity by the former president, by his allies. And if it does, they say that they would likely make referrals to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

But, that said, sources are cautioning our folks on the Hill, Zach Cohen and Andy Greyer, that it is still a long way off and they are still very much right now in the fact finding stage. But, of course, we saw the vice chair of the committee, Liz Cheney, reference a criminal statute when she referred to Trump's behavior on January 6th, she referenced dereliction of duty, obstruction of Congress and several other members have come on air saying criminal referrals are not off the table.

But that doesn't mean that DOJ would necessarily move forward with an indictment or prosecution if there was this referral, Wolf. And it could really pit the political considerations from the committee against the prosecutorial duties of the DOJ. And so far, we've seen this DOJ led by Merrick Garland not wanting to wade into politics. So, we'll have to see how this progress here. Wolf.

BLITZER: We shall see. All right, Jessica, thank you very much. Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us, CNN's Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, he's the author of the book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors, the Investigation of Donald Trump. Also with us, CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams.

Jeffrey, Michael Flynn is now joining the club of Trump allies suing the select committee. How much do these legal battles trip up the overall investigation?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think their major advantage is the possibility of delay, because delay is the ally of all the people who are under investigation, because they alll know that this investigation cannot go on too much longer because this committee has to wrap it up pretty much by the beginning -- by the middle of next year.

You know, as for the substance, I don't think there they are very -- he's very like will I to stop. You know, getting telephone records is a routine matter for Congress when it comes to issuing subpoenas. So, I don't think there is really any grounds for him to succeed in this lawsuit, but he might persuade a judge to hold hearings and delay, forcing him to produce and then have appeals that will last even longer.

BLITZER: You know, Elliot, as you heard, the committee is weighing a criminal referral for the former president Trump. Based on what you've seen so far, do you think they have the evidence for a referral of this nature?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Now, again, all of the referral is, Wolf, and people should know how referrals work, it's just a recommendation to the Justice Department that they should take a look at the case. It doesn't, itself, carry any criminal consequence of the individual. It's just like you or I could write a letter to the Justice Department saying that we believe that a crime has been committed.

Right now, it doesn't look like they have specific evidence of a crime where the president intended to violate the law. Now, again, the president is certainly involved in a lot of wrongdoing. Just reaching that standard -- it's the probable cause standard under the law, probable cause that an individual has engaged in a crime. I just don't think they're there yet. But, again, it's merely a recommendation to the Justice Department.

So, they may, at some point, decide that they think enough smells fishy, it's worth reaching out to the Justice Department, if they can. And, look, it's not just President Trump. I think we are all fixating on one individual. But there are a lot of people who have potential criminal exposure and they could all be subject of referrals.

BLITZER: Well, Jeffrey, at that point, do you think a criminal referral would be an effective strategy here for accountability?

[18:20:03] Because we know the attorney general, Merrick Garland, has been reluctant, at least so far, to pursue what are seen as politically- charged cases.

TOOBIN: You know, to be honest, I don't think the referral will make much difference one way or another, because this is going to be a decision made by the Department of Justice. You know, we have already seen when you have the full House of Representatives recommending a prosecution of Steve Bannon, the Justice Department took quite a bit of time to evaluate it on its own even though that was a fairly straightforward case. Anything that comes up here is going to be a Department of Justice decision.

However, it is worth noting within the past couple weeks, two federal judges in Washington have said that the effort to interfere with the Electoral College is potentially a criminal obstruction of justice and that could expand the circle of criminality beyond the people inside the Capitol, the people who organized and supported it. But that's going to be a decision for the Justice Department to make. And they are not, I don't think, going to pay a lot of attention to what Congress does or does not recommend.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, Elliot Williams, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, the COVID surge is disrupting sports across the country. I'll get an inside perspective from an NBA player, who is calling on the league to pause, to pause the season.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news on measures just announced by President Biden aimed at easing the surge of the newly dominant omicron variant. A rapid rise in COVID cases here in the United States is causing major disruptions in professional and college sports.

Our Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, more and more games are now being canceled as so many athletes are simply testing positive.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many athletes are testing positive, Wolf. Many more are going into their league's COVID protocols as a precaution and missing games as a result. Tonight, the sports leagues are heading into crucial portions of their seasons just trying to keep their schedules games alive.


TODD (voice over): Tonight, the world's most popular sports leagues are flailing, struggling to figure out when they can hold contests and if their schedules can even survive the winter and the omicron outbreak. BARRY SVRLUGA, SPORTS COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It is moving fast. It's moving fast in the world and moving fast in sports. And while there is a bit of a playbook now for how the leagues have dealt with it, different than in March 2020, omicron is proving to move through these locker rooms and these teams at a much higher rate of speed.

TODD: The National Hockey League has just paused its entire schedule for a few days until just after Christmas after COVID outbreaks affected several teams. But after Christmas, one NHL reporter says, it's anyone's guess.

ELLIOTTE FRIEDMAN, NHL REPORTER, SPORTSNET: There is no guarantee they are going to be able to play or resume their full schedule next week. So I think what they're doing is just calling a brief timeout, giving the players the time, and the staff the time that they normally get. And we'll see where we are on boxing day.

TODD: The NHL had already started to play some games in Canada with no fans in the stands, like the Canadiens and Flyers did last week at Montreal's Belle Center.

At least three NFL games over the past week had to be postponed after dozens of players tested positive, and many players had to be placed on COVID protocols a precaution. The NFL has also adopted a controversial new testing policy. Previously, the league required weekly testing of its players. But now, the NFL is only testing unvaccinated players, coaches and staff, and vaccinated ones only if they show symptoms of COVID.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: I think today with omicron, I would test everybody on a regular basis. If I had the capabilities, I would test everybody literally three times a week.

TODD: Sports analysts say the NFL is determined for the show to go on and keep as many players as it can available games. One problem with that, they say, could be the mentality of the average NFL player.

SVRLUGA: Football players are known for toughing things out, they tough through sprained ankles or pulled muscles. Are they going to voluntarily come forward to their team doctors and say, look, I'm vaxxed, I'm boosted, but I am feeling some symptoms, I'm not sure that's 100 percent the case.

TODD: While the NBA has also postponed some games --

ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: No plans right now to pause the season. We have, of course, looked at all the options, but, frankly, we're having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now.

TODD: But one medical expert says it could reach a point where omicron may not give these leagues much of a choice.

DEL RIO: What we need to do is try to limit transmission as much as possible. And I think it may be necessary to do what you are talking about, holding -- canceling event, such as sports events and other things like that.


TODD (on camera): This just in, The Washington Post and The New York Times reporting that the National Hockey League has decided its players will not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. That's just about a month-and-a-half away. The Times and Post reporting the decision is expected to be announced in the coming days, possibly as early as tomorrow, Wolf. That takes away a lot of star power from the Olympics, but right now, the NHL is just trying to keep its season alive.


BLITZER: Yes, the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. They start in early February. We'll see what happens. Brian, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this, the NBA player, Enes Kanter Freedom, is joining us right now, plays for the Boston Celtics.

Enes, as you just heard, the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, says there are no plans right now to pause the season and that he's having trouble coming up with any logic that would back such a decision. How do you respond?

ENES KANTER FREEDOM, NBA PLAYER, BOSTON CELTICS: First of all, thanks for having me. I mean, if you look at the numbers, over 120 players answered COVID protocols this season and over 100 of them only this month. And this increase is very, very scary and we shall consider all options to reduce this. And I really hope the NBA makes the right decision.

But I just want to say that you know, obviously, you know, it is a lot of money involved, but it is not more important than player's safety. So, I hope that Adam Silver and the rest of the league and also the Players Association makes the right decision for players and their families.

BLITZER: You have actually called for this pause in the NBA season. What are you hearing, Enes, from fellow players? Do they agree with you?

FREEDOM: I mean, obviously, they're scared because they are -- they have you know kids at home. They have parents at home. They have so many people at home and they want to keep them safe. And they -- all of them believe that obviously safety should come first, but, obviously, that's the NBA's decision.

I mean, if you look at the numbers, 90 percent of the new cases in the NBA are omicron virus. So, I feel we should do anything we can to just, you know, help the people around us, because, you know, it's important.

BLITZER: As you well know, at the start of the pandemic, the NBA bubble really set the goal standard in terms of player safety. So, what happened? Have the priorities changed?

FREEDOM: I mean, I hope actually many players around the league, and we were talking about another bubble, but many players were saying it was mentally very challenging. And I don't think that we want to do another bubble.

Obviously, I believe that omicron virus is going to spread even more and all the leagues, not just the NBA, it's not going to have another choice. But they are just waiting to see what's going to happen after Christmas. And, obviously, Christmas Day is really big for NBA, and they make a lot of money that day. But like I said again, is safety more important than money, NBA?

BLITZER: As a professional athlete, I'm anxious to get your reaction, Enes, to the approach by the NFL to simply do less testing amid a new and clearly more contagious variant. What's your reaction?

FREEDOM: I mean, I don't agree with NFL's decision at all. I believe we should test every athlete and rather if you are vaccinated or not because you still can carry the virus and pass it to others, you know, and better to be, you know, safe than so sorry.

So, I believe if you look at NBA, we are going to test it twice a day, you know, be every the practice in the morning and after the game at night. So it is important to test everyone because we have so many people at home and, you know, they're innocent and we need to keep them safe to people around us.

BLITZER: What's your message, Enes, to some of these high profile athletes, like Kyrie Irving, Aaron Rodgers, for example, who still haven't gotten vaccinated?

FREEDOM: I mean, obviously, in America, we have freedom to whatever you want. But I think in this case, you definitely need to think about others. You know, because especially you are a role model. You know, and there are so many kids out there who are idolizing you, watching your footsteps. So, obviously, you have a freedom to weigh whatever you want but I feel we should consider to try to save other people's lives.

So, this is what I believe. I understand you have a freedom to do whatever you want, what I feel vaccines save lives. That's it.

BLITZER: Almost all of the NBA players, I think 97 percent or so, are vaccinated, maybe 60 percent are boosted at the same time. Are you comfortable being on the court with players who are not vaccinated or for that matter not boosted?

FREEDOM: That's the question we are talking about in the locker room. Are we really feeling comfortable to go against a guy we know who is not vaccinated, you know? So that's the NBA going to think about. Well, I think all you have to do is just, you know, think about others. It is very important to, you know, go out there and say, listen, I'm not just doing this for myself, I'm doing this for the people around me, for my teammates, people in the locker rooms, fans, everybody, people in my house. So, I feel like whoever is not vaccinated, it's not too late. Go out there and save other people's lives.


BLITZER: Get vaccinated and get boosted.

Enes Kanter Freedom, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck to you.

FREEDOM: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Democrats are clearly struggling to strategize a path forward after President Biden's agenda took a major hit this week. I'll ask the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus what he predicts for his party in the months, just ahead, leading up to the midterms.


BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is still holding out hope that he can get his spending plan through the Senate despite fellow Democrat Joe Manchin's bombshell rejection of the bill.


Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Jessica Dean. Jessica, Senate Democrats, they are getting ready to meet in, what, about an hour or so from now to discuss the path forward. What are you hearing?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We're expecting them to meet later this evening. And at this moment, it still remains unclear Senator Joe Manchin will be joining this special call, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other leadership talk about how to move forward on Build Back Better.

And this, of course, is all coming as we look at kind of the landscape of where Democrats are right now, really scrambling to try to find a way forward for this major piece of President Biden's agenda. House Democrats, some vulnerable House Democrats, forced to take a vote on this, and now they are kind of at risk of not having anything to show for it. And that's certainly concerning to them. There is questions about could they perhaps parcel out various parts of this bill, perhaps the child tax credit or pre-K, various climate provisions, something like that, and move forward that way. But it still remains very unknown how this will proceed forward.

Here's President Biden earlier today.


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

REPORTER: Did Senator Manchin break his commitment to you?

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


DEAN: So, President Biden remaining somewhat optimistic there. Wolf, we also know that Senator Schumer plans to bring this to a floor vote when they return from their holiday recess. He wants Senator Manchin to have to vote no on the floor and in public.

But, again, path forward on this remains quite unclear at this moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jessica, thank you, Jessica Dean reporting.

Let's discuss with the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

As you heard, President Biden says he and Senator Manchin can get something done. If that's actually the case, things wouldn't be where they are right now, would they?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, President Biden is a very successful legislative leader to-date. He began his tenure getting the American rescue plan over the finish line. That was incredibly important. It helped to save our economy, stand up our public health infrastructure, which will continue to need to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Then he led the effort to pass the bipartisan infrastructure agreement, bringing Democrats and Republicans together. We're going to create millions of good paying jobs, fix our crumbling bridges, roads, tunnels, airports, our mass transit system. And now we've got to get the Build Back Better act over the finish line.

But given that track record of success in less than a year, my confidence is still with President Biden.

BLITZER: As you know, Senator Manchin made this $1.8 trillion counteroffer to the White House last week. His proposal did not include the child tax credit but it did include universal pre-K, an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, some climate provisions, hundreds of billions of dollars to deal with climate. Why not accept that offer and then pass the child tax credit through some other means, in other words, take what you can get right now, it's so important?

JEFFRIES: Well, ultimately, we are going to have to find common ground with all 50 senators, and Senator Manchin's counterproposal does include some important aspects of the Build Back Better act, as you mentioned, strengthening the Affordable Care Act, expanding child care so that it becomes affordable for every day Americans all across the country, making sure we have universal access to pre-K for three and four-year-olds all throughout America. These are all incredibly important things, including dealing with some of the climate provisions.

But the child tax credit has been so important for working families, middle class families and low income families in providing them with some additional money in their pocket each and every month so they can pay for groceries, food, housing, child care, medicine and other expenses that every day American families experience. And so I think we've got to find a way to come together on the child tax credit as part of the Build Back Better Act.

BLITZER: Yesterday, I interviewed here in THE SITUATION ROOM Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Progressive Caucus. She told me last night that Democrats can't trust Senator Manchin's word. First of all, do you agree with her on that?

And the other proposal I've been thinking about, tell me what you think about this, accept his $1.8 trillion plan, she says do the rest, do whatever you can with executive orders? Why not do the child tax credit through executive order and get the $1.8 trillion Manchin proposal into law?


JEFFRIES: It's not clear to me that the child tax credit extension can be done by executive order but it is something that I would encourage the administration to explore if Joe Manchin refuses to go along with extending it, which I can't imagine why he would do that given it benefits so many of his constituents in West Virginia.

But I do think that whether one trusts Joe Manchin or not, I do trust Joe Biden. And no president perhaps since Lyndon Johnson knows the Senate as well as Joe Biden does given his experience there and his effectiveness in dealing with the Senate, even as vice president. And the issues that the Build Back Better Act will address are so critical, creating millions of good paying jobs, cutting taxes for working and middle class families, lowering child care costs, healthcare costs, energy costs, housing costs on behalf of every day Americans that we've got to find a way to get the 50 votes necessary in the Senate and we cannot give up.

BLITZER: Well, I know you're not going to give up. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, merry Christmas, happy New Year. We will continue this conversation down the road.

JEFFRIES: Happy holidays, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, Russia's President Vladimir Putin is blaming the United States for escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Ahead, how the U.S. is responding amid fears of a Russia invasion of Ukraine.



BLITZER: Tonight, Russian President Vladimir Putin is blaming the United States and the West for growing tensions over Russia's aggression toward Ukraine.

Melissa Bell is in Moscow for us. Oren Liebermann is over at the Pentagon covering the story.

Melissa, let me start with you. How much pressure is Putin actually putting on the West right now?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, beyond those troops, those tens of thousands of troops now amassed along the Ukrainian border, Wolf, there is the rhetoric, the demands that have been ratcheted up these last few days. Again today and this time from the very mouth of Vladimir Putin, he was speaking in televised meeting of the Defense Ministry and very clearly explained that whilst he was looking for dialogue and wanted to avoid bloodshed, Russia would not hesitate to resort what he described as military technical action, should what he regards as provocations from the West continue.

Have a listen to the tone he struck today.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): But why? Why did NATO have to expand? Why withdrawal from the ABM treaties? What is happening now, the tension that is building up in Europe, is their fault.


BELL: The ABM treaty, anti-ballistic missile treaties, those were treaties that were signed between Moscow and Washington back in the 1970s, Wolf, left by the United States in 2002, and that goes to the genuine fears about what an east ward expansion could mean. He's spoke to directly in that meeting, the placing of missiles that would be, for instance, on Ukrainian soil just a few minutes from Moscow, some that would clearly be unacceptable to Russia.

So, ratcheting up of that language, very close looking at what an eastward expansion of NATO would mean, fears what would happen on Ukrainian soil. Now, some hope, however, despite all that fiery rhetoric we have heard, that there could be some hope of dialogue. We got confirmation from America's top diplomat to Europe. Dialogue conversation that could start as soon as January.

BLITZER: We shall see. Oren, how is the U.S. in the meantime responding to Putin's latest demands?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The Biden administration has made it clear that Russia can't make demands or compel or determine the foreign policy of another country, whether that be Ukraine or somebody else. It's not up to Russia. It's not up to Putin whether Ukraine joins NATO. That's up to Ukraine, as a sovereign county of its own, and Russia can't make those decisions for another country. That's been clear from President Joe Biden, as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken who said the idea one country can force or compel somebody else's foreign policy or create a sphere of influence and force it should be relegated to the, quote, dust bins of history.

So, the U.S. dismissing out hand these Russian demands they have put forward and said, look, this here needs to happen. But that doesn't mean the U.S. is simply dismissing dialogue. As Melissa just pointed out, there is an opportunity here for a back and forth and a discussion perhaps as early as January that might create an off ramp to avoid an escalation of hostilities on what is a very tense Russia- Ukraine border.

BLITZER: Extremely tense right now. Oren Liebermann, Melissa Bell, thanks to both of you.

We have more news just ahead, including jurors deliberating in the trial of former police officer Kim Potter. They asked the court what to do if they can't reach a consensus.



BLITZER: There is more breaking news tonight. The jury deliberating the fate of former police Officer Kimberly Potter sending two new questions to the judge on its second day of deliberations.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is covering the case for us.

So, Omar, what is the jury asking?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it seems right now that the jury may be struggling to come to a consensus. At least we got that indication from one of the two questions they recently asked the judge today. The first one said simply, if we can't reach a consensus, what is the guidance on how long we should go and what steps should be taken? And the judge referred them back to juror instructions, which part of it said that they should try to deliberate toward an agreement, but without violating anyone's individual judgments and that no one should surrender an honest opinion just to get to a verdict.

Now, unless a verdict comes in the next few minutes or so, they are close to ending for the day as the judge has indicated she would let them go until 7:00 Eastern Time every day. I should note they have been going about 14 hours in total now, which is four hours more than it took a jury to convict Derek Chauvin back in April of this year.

Now, the second question they had to ask had to do simply with removing the zip ties on Kim Potter's gun so that they could hold it outside of the evidence box and that's likely so they can feel the difference between the Taser that Kim Potter claimed she wanted to use when she shot and killed Daunte Wright and her actual weapon. Though prosecutors have noted that, because the gun has been rendered safe and is not loaded, the weight is not what it would have been back in April of this year, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, it's interesting. One question the jury cannot reach consensus, what is the guidance around how long and what steps we should take -- raises the possibility, we don't know of a possibility of a hung jury. We will see what happens, they are continuing to deliberate. The judge basically said keep going at it and see what you can do.

All right. Omar, thanks very much for your reporting. And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in

THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

That's it.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.