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White House Says, Just-Authorized Pill Dramatically Cuts Hospitalization, Death; COVID Test Shortages, Confusion As Holidays Near; 1/6 Committee Seeks Interview With Trump Ally, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH); Biden On COVID Test Shortages: "I Don't Think It's A Failure." Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 22, 2021 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, the White House is welcoming the FDA's authorization of the first pill to treat COVID- 19, promising a dramatic reduction in hospitalizations and deaths. Here is the question, when will infected Americans be able to get the pill and see the benefits?

Also tonight, the desperate scramble for COVID-19 tests just ahead of the holidays as the omicron variant spreads to all 50 states. We're going to try to clear up the confusion about which test to take and where to get it.

Another breaking story this hour, the January 6th select committee is now setting its sights on Congressman Jim Jordan and his communication with then President Trump the day of the Capitol riot.

We want to welcome our viewer here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with the breaking news on the FDA's authorization of the first pill to treat COVID-19. Let's go straight to our National Correspondent Athena Jones in New York. Athena, top health officials say this could be a game changer specially as the omicron variant rips through the country right now.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf, that is right. A potential game-changer in this new pill that is highly effective against hospitalization and death. The key thing here that was -- that you have to take it within the first five days of having symptoms, so that means a lot more focus on getting tests back -- test and test results back to people.


JONES (voice over): In a season of setbacks, a glimmer of hope.

JEFFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: The Pfizer team has a very promising and now authorized treatment, a pill that dramatically reduces the risk of hospitalizations and death for those at risk.

JONES: The FDA today granting Pfizer's new anti-viral pill Paxlovid, emergency use authorization.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Folks who took Paxlovid early, within three days of symptom on set had a 90 percent reduction in hospitalization or death compared to those that took placebo. So this is very, very, very potent agent.

JONES: One problem, the highly effective treatment has to be administered within the first five days of symptoms making hard to come by tests all the more important. Even as Walgreens and CVS limit the number of tests customers could buy at once in the face of sky high demand.

The news coming as researchers in South Africa who first detected the highly contagious omicron variant say the country has passed the peak of its outbreak. But it is a different story elsewhere. Omicron now dominant in the U.S., just weeks after being identified here is helping drive new COVID-19 case numbers back up to levels last seen three months ago, in the midst of the delta surge.

New infections jumping more than 20 percent over last week. Nearly 70,000 people hospitalized with the virus. New York State breaking its record for highest new daily cases. Almost 29,000, up nearly 24 percent from its previous high set on Monday.

DR. RICHINA BICETTE-MCCAIN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: I'm pretty worried that the surge that we're going to see in the coming weeks is going to be worse than the surge that we saw last winter.

JONES: COVID deaths rising 11 percent over last week as the CDC reports COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2020. And life expectancy dropped by nearly two years. Despite the spike in cases, holiday travelers do not seem deterred with the TSA screening around 2 million or more people a day for the past six days. The CDC director reminding travelers --

DR. ROCHELL WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: How safe your holiday is, is really about how safe you are in the time leading up to the holiday.

JONES: And as Israel gets ready to roll out a fourth dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, for medical workers and the immunocompromised and those over 60, U.S. health official say, they will follow the science.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: 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.

JONES: Meanwhile after the United Kingdom reduced the isolation period for vaccinated people who test negative twice for COVID from ten days to seven, new debate over whether the U.S. should follow suit.

WALENSKY: We're actively examining those data now and doing some modeling analysis to assess that and we anticipate that we'll have some updates soon.


JONES (voice over): And when it comes to that all important testing, New York City is working to ramp up efforts. The city is setting a new record in recent days, 170,000 daily tests surpassing the previous record of 120,000. And Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city will be adding seven additional COVID testing sites bringing the total to about 119.


Five of those, or five additional sites, will be just for handing out at-home tests. That will start tomorrow. Wolf?

BLITZER: Alright, Athena, thank you very much, Athena Jones in New York.

Let's bring in our pandemic experts. Joining us, Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA Vaccines Advisory Committee. He's also the Author of the book You Bet Your Life. Also with us, Dr. Peter Hotez, co-Director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Author of the book Preventing The Next Pandemic.

Dr. Offit, this new Pfizer pill could keep a lot of COVID patients out of the hospital were told. How big of a game-changer do you believe it potentially be?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Well, I think it is important, I think where it may have its best niche is that there are a lot of people in this country who don't want to get vaccinated but they seem to be perfectly willing to take medicines, like hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin, which haven't been shown to work. Here is a product that does work. So, if they can take it within the first five days of illness, I think they -- we can have a significant reduction in hospitalization and that group because that's the group that is most likely getting hospitalized these days, it is the unvaccinated group. So, we'll see how it plays out.

BLITZER: Yes. And, Dr. Hotez, the FDA is authorizing this new pill for high-risk, patients high-risk patients. How much discretion will doctors have to prescribe this pill.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT: I think they'll have a fair bit of discretion. But, Wolf, the big problem right now is we have to have the pill. The problem is the production schedule that I've seen suggests that it's not going to be here in abundance for quite a while, maybe not even in term for the omicron surge. So, I think that's a concern.

And the other is, of course, it's depends on having widespread availability of testing so that is going to be a big issue as well. And as mentioned right before us is the fact that you have to give these antiviral drugs very early, because there is two phases of this illness, when the virus is replicating and then that big host inflammatory response, so you have to give it very early on. BLITZER: In today's White House briefing, Dr. Offit, Dr. Fauci brought up a study from Scotland that reflects the data coming in from South Africa that omicron is less severe than delta. It is too early to say if that will be the case here in the United States, but will you be looking to see if that is true here as well. Obviously, that is important.

OFFIT: No, it's interesting. If you look at the South African data, when you saw, for example, the beta variant come into South Africa, which was then call the South Africa variant, dramatic increase in cases, dramatic increase in hospitalizations, deaths came down. Then the delta variant came into South Africa, dramatic increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, then that settle down. And then omicron came into South Africa, dramatic increase in cases not as dramatically increase of hospitalizations and not really a big increase in deaths at all, which also seems to sort of the New York City experience, you know, where you have the highly vaccinated community, where although you've been vaccinated, say, with two doses of an mRNA-containing vaccine which is not going to be highly effective at preventing mild illness, you see a lot of cases but may not see as many hospitalizations and deaths. We'll see how this plays out.

This is going to be a major surge though in cases. The question is going to be is it also going to be a major surge in hospitalizations and deaths. I fear, again, for the unvaccinated. I was on service you know a couple of weeks ago at our hospital and what we see are people who are unvaccinated, their families are unvaccinated, the siblings are unvaccinated, we need to vaccinate the unvaccinated. That's always has to be our focus.

BLITZER: Yes. I wish they could get vaccinated. South Africa is already seeing a decline Dr. Hotez, in cases after the omicron spike. Do you expect the United States to follow that trend?

HOTEZ: Well, it would be nice. I mean, but when you look at the actual curve, the way it is looking in South Africa or the spike, it is only now just starting to come down. And we've seen that before for instance in the U.K. where it starts to come down and you think, well, we're out of that wave and then it gets stuck about half way down and then it plateaus for periods of weeks or sometimes even months.

So I think we have to be total careful about extrapolating for that slight downward slope in South Africa. And then the other piece to this that I'm looking at, is if you can notice both in South Africa and the U.K., that omicron peak dove tailed right on the delta peak an there is some thought that possibly the reason it appears that omicron is milder is because you're getting a lot of re-infections and so that previous infection is not getting people as sick and requiring hospitalization. But as Paul points out, if you're unvaccinated and no previous infection, you may still be very, as susceptible to severe illness, hospitalization and death to omicron as any of the other variants.

BLITZER: You have to be very really be careful. Dr. Offit, the CDC is now considering shortening the quarantine people who get infected down from ten days, move that they just made in the U.K. That is now seven days in the U.K. is that the right step?

OFFIT: Well it is interesting. I mean there were months actually there was an study down in Singapore looking at people who were vaccinated and had mild illness and compared to people who were unvaccinated but had a mild illness and found that although in the first day or two both shed as much infectious virus that the vaccinated group didn't shed virus, infectious virus for as longer or as at high of a quantity.


Well, it is interesting to repeat with the omicron variant, but I think it is probably a reasonable move.

BLITZER: Dr. Paul Offit, Dr. Peter Hotez, gentlemen, thank you very, very much for joining us.

And we'll have much more on the pandemic coming up later this hour. Just ahead, one of the most vocal Trump loyalists in Congress now a target of the January 6th select committee. Is there any chance Representative Jim Jordan will agree to sit down with the committee for an interview. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There is more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the White House, excuse me the house committee investigating the capital siege seeking to interview another top Trump congressional ally.

Let's go to our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez, his working the story for us. Evan, for the second time this week, the January 6th select committee has asked a Republican lawmaker to come in, sit down with the committee, answer questions, this time key Trump ally Jim Jordan, what are you learning?


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. And Jim Jordan obviously played a major role in the period between the election and January 6th trying to support the president's efforts to overturn the election results and that is the reason why the committee says that they wants to talk to him. They want to talk to him because he has said in interviews that he communicated with the president, according to committee, they know of at least one such communication, perhaps additional.

They also say that they know he was in touch with people inside Trump associates, inside the Willard Hotel war room again on the day of January 6th and the days before. And they also say that they have -- they know that on January 5th he had forwarded a message to Mark Meadows, the former Chief of Staff of the former president, detailing this proposal, detailing a way for Mike Pence, the former Vice President, to essentially overturn results from a number of states, the electors from a number of states. So all of these things, they know that they believe Jim Jordan could be a key witness to the effort they have, they're making to try to uncover what happened on January 6th and days preceding that. Of course, Wolf, we know that this is a tall order. We know that Scott Perry has told the committee that he is not going to comply with this voluntarily interview request. We haven't yet heard exactly what Jim Jordan plan to do.

BLITZER: Earlier, he said in a television interview he has nothing to hide. If he has nothing to hide, maybe he should come forward and answer some questions. All right, Evan Perez, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on the breaking news. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, the deputy whip of the Progressive Caucus.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. So you know Congressman Jordan admitting to speaking with former President Trump on January 6th. He pushed Trump's big lie. So what took the select committee, from your perspective, so long to try to get information from him knowing he's obviously not very likely to cooperate?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Wolf, Chairman Thompson has been very methodical and has been getting the witnesses. My hope is that Representative Jordan, who I serve with on the oversight committee, just comes forward and shares what he knows.

I mean, he has worked with me and others on the oversight committee. I think if he is transparent, if he shares some of the texts that he had with President Trump, if he shares what he knows, then we could move forward. I would you hate to see this come to an actual subpoena.

BLITZER: How aggressively do you think Congressman the select committee should go if Jordan refuses to comply. Would you support a subpoena against him, he's a colleague of yours in the house.

KHANNA: I would support what the chair deems appropriate and if we need to get the information and if he's stonewalling, the chair may see no other approach. But I hope it really doesn't come that. I mean, look, I serve with Representative Jordan, he could be tough, he is certainly verbally very tough, but I hope he will honor Congress and just share the information. Testify, answer the questions and then we could move on. It would be really unfortunate if he stonewalls.

BLITZER: Let me turn to another issue while I have you Congressman, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear today he would be very happy for Joe Biden to become a Republican saying Manchin would be quote, Senator Manchin would be, quote, more comfortable in the GOP. Do you agree with Mitch McConnell on that?

KHANNA: Absolutely not. I know Senator Manchin. Look, everybody is disappointed to Senator Manchin, he's not supporting Build Back Better but Senator Manchin supporting the American rescue plan, Senator Manchin supported the infrastructure. Senator Manchin supported universal preschool, childcare and some climate investment so I look forward to continuing to sit down with him, President Biden and getting him to a yes. He is certainly welcome in the Democratic Party and I believe he will stay in the Democratic Party despite Mitch McConnell's Christmas wish.

BLITZER: The chair of your House Progressive Caucus Pramila Jayapal, a woman you know well, told me the other day here in THE SITUATION ROOM, she doesn't see how Democrats can negotiate with someone whose word they cannot rely on. Do you trust Joe Manchin?

KHANNA: I do take him at his word. Wolf, in Washington, I don't think it is productive to question each other's motives or analyze that. Our job is to get something done. Now, Senator Manchin and I have a philosophical difference, I think Joe Biden can resolve that. He tried with the framework. It didn't quite work. We could try again. But, remember, Barack Obama didn't pass the affordable care act until March of the second year of his first term. So we still have time to get this done.

BLITZER: Senator Manchin left the child tax credit out of his $1.8 trillion counter proposal compromised offer to the White House last week.


Would you believe a bill without that child tax credit included could pass the house?

KHANNA: No, I think it would be very tough. But if Senator Manchin wants to negotiate and I know he has some concern there may be some couples over 200,000 that get some of the child tax credit, then we could negotiate that.

My point and many of the progressives' point is in Christmas season, how are you going to take away $300 per kid for working families who need that to help buy food, buy toys. It just seems cruel to do that. And their $300 a month expires January 1st, extending that in my view is one of the most important things we can do. It is one of the most important things that we could do at this time of the year in the holiday spirit.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Congressman Ro Khanna, appreciate it very much. Thank you so much for joining us.

KHANNA: Thanks, Wolf. Happy holiday to your family and to your viewers.

BLITZER: And to you as well.

Coming up, what you need to know, right now, this is very important, before you go out and buy a rapid COVID-19 test to take home just ahead of the holidays.



BLITZER: We're getting more breaking news right now. A staffer who was in close contact with Vice President Kamala Harris has now tested positive for COVID-19. The vice president is being monitored we're told as she continues to get regular COVID tests. She tested negative by the way early this morning.

All of this comes as many Americans are scrambling to get a COVID-19 test. And they often are facing some very real problems simply trying to get the tests.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's outside here in Washington, D.C. Brian, you have a lot of good information about COVID tests to share with our viewers what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, people wanting to get tested are up against two big obstacles tonight. Confusion over which test to get and a shortage of at-home-test to buy at pharmacy stores like this CVS here. This is not ideal as the omicron variant really takes hold.


TODD (voice over): From California to D.C., the lines of people waiting to get free COVID tests, many of them unable to buy test kits in stores are now extending around city blocks. And to say patience is wearing thin is putting it mildly.

NEISHA BLANDIN, IN LINE FOR COVID-19 TEST IN WASHINGTON D.C.: Very frustrating. I've been looking for a test for about all week actually for a few days now. All of the CVS merely are out. They don't expect to get any until Friday.

TODD: The demand for test kits is so high, that CVS, Walmart, Amazon and Walgreens are limiting the number of at-home COVID test kits customers could buy. But many couldn't find them at all.

TAYLOR GERY, LOOKING FOR AT-HOME COVID-19 TEST IN LAKE FORES, CALIFORNIA: We search around on CVS and Walgreens and all, like everything is full because of the holidays.

TODD: Compounding the problem, at this point many people are confused over what kind of COVID test to get.

MAEGAN WOOD, IN LINE FOR COVID-19 TEST IN WASHINGTON, D.C.: So it is kind of confusing on what is actually correct and what I need to get to be able to go home for Christmas and see my family and all that stuff.

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: So there are three big categories of tests and within each of those categories there are of course a bunch of different manufacturers, a bunch of different ways that you could do the tests. It is all awfully complicated for the average American to figure out.

TODD: Over the counter at-home tests from these manufacturers are now authorized by the FDA. Experts say they all work well.

DR. MICHAEL MINA, CHIEF SCIENCE OFFICER, EMED: In general, for the purposes that most people are using tests today, which is to ask am I risk to others around me, the rapid tests you could pick up on the shelf tend to perform very, very well for that use.

TODD: There are three basic categories of tests. There are laboratory PCR tests, PCR, standing for Polymerase Chain Reaction. Expert say, those are the most accurate, more expensive tests done if labs which amplify the virus's genetic material that may be in your system.

Experts say the PCR test is what you want if you want to figure out whether to go back to the office or travel. There are also rapid antigen tests which people could conduct at home which are cheaper and could return results in as little as 15 minutes.

RANNEY: The antigen test, that rapid at-home test is the right thing to do if you want a rapid time sensitive assessment of whether or not you are infectious right before you go into a gathering.

TODD: And there are antibody tests which could indicate if I have some protection from a previous COVID-19 infection or vaccine. One expert says, no matter what kind of test you want to take, because of the test kit shortage, it is important to make your test count. If you have just one test available --

MINA: If you feel symptoms, come on, don't use the test right away. Assume you are positive and isolate and quarantine. Use the test on day two or day three.


TODD (on camera): And another key piece of advice we're getting from experts as many of us are now going to more holiday gatherings, they say if you have a test at home and you're going to or hosting a gathering, take the test as close in time to the gathering as you can.

Not one or two days before the gathering, not a few hours before the gathering, but maybe 20 to 30 minutes before, so you could get the most accurate gauge of what to do. The experts we spoke to say we're all going to have to ride this out for maybe one or two more months before the test kits are more widely available to all of us, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd, excellent, excellent information.


Thank you very much.

Let's turn right now to holiday travel. One of the big reasons so many people are actually trying to get out there to get COVID tests right now. Our Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean is joining us from Reagan National Airport that's outside of Washington D.C.

Pete, COVID is not stopping people from traveling for the holidays, is it?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf. And you know these numbers are really close to what we saw back in 2019 before the pandemic. You know just yesterday, the TSA screened 1.98 million people at airports across the country. That number 99 percent of the same day back in 2019 just shy by only about 2300 people.

You know, this really kicks off this huge holiday rush, 20 million people according to the TSA starting tomorrow and going until January 3rd. The TSA said tomorrow will be one of the busiest days for air travel. But AAA reminds us that the vast majority of people will drive. 100 million people traveling 50 miles or more, it projects, that number off only about 7 percent from what we saw back in 2019.

Dr. Fauci says it is safe to travel. So long as you are fully vaccinated and boosted and airlines underscore that flying is safe and you're chances of getting COVID on an airplane are relatively low because of the heavily filtered air on board and the federal transportation mask mandate now still in place until March 18th, 2022 and the TSA and the FAA just announced a new partnership, that if you defy that rule you could lose your TSA pre-check for good. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That would not be good if you want to avoid waiting in long, long lines. All right, Pete Muntean over at Reagan National. Thank you very much.

Just ahead, we're on verdict watch right now as the jury in the manslaughter slaughter of former Police Kim Potter deliberates for a third day.



BLITZER: Right now, we're following day three of jury deliberations in the trial of former Police Officer Kim Potter charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is in Minneapolis for us right now. Adrienne, how long has the jury been deliberating?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 23 hours and today silence. No questions on the record at least from members of the jury. So far on the record they've asked three questions, including that telling question we heard from them yesterday. Members of jury wanted to know what steps they should take and how long they should continue to deliberate if a consensus couldn't be met. The judge instructed them to continue deliberating and here is more of what she said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You should decide -- situation.

KIM POTTER, FORMER POLICE OFFICER: I've never had a hostage situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. The crisis negotiation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that involved --

JUDGE REGINA CHU, HENNEPIN COUNTY DISTRICT COURT: You should decide the case for yourself but only after you have discussed the case with your fellow jurors and have carefully considered their views. You should not hesitate to reexamine your views and change your opinion if you become convinced they are erroneous. But you should not surrender your honest opinion simply because other jurors disagree or merely to reach a verdict.


BROADDUS: And if this jury doesn't reach a verdict by tomorrow night, the judge has indicated at least during jury selection she said she would not keep this jury from their families leading into the holiday. She said she would suspend deliberations Friday through the 26th and resume on the 27th. So they've been stopping around 6:00 P.M. every day, Wolf. That is 20 more minutes here in Minneapolis. We will see what happens. Wolf.

BLITZER: 6:00 P.M. central time. All right, we'll stay in very close touch. Adrienne Broaddus, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this. Our Legal Analyst Joey Jackson is joining us. So, Joey, the jurors only started deliberating on Monday. So what does it say that there is still no verdict and they're already asking for guidance if they can't reach a consensus?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes you know, Wolf, two things to keep in mind. The first thing is a process issue. And that is remember what we have. We have a situation where you need 12 jurors to reach a unanimous conclusion as to what they believe the verdict should be.

That is pretty remarkable considering three or four people getting together would have various opinions, et cetera. When you get a group of people in a room and there is diversity, perspectives and opinions, et cetera, you may have in fact a lot of discord. So that is not unusual.

And if you look at this jury, we know the jury to be primarily white. We know this there are two Asians on the jury, six men and six women and we also know that like any other jury they're trying to get it right.

The second issue is that it is not unusual ever in any situation to have a jury come back before a judge and to say, you know what, your honor, we're having a hard time, we can't reach consensus, you could guide us and the judge to instruct them that, listen, you know there is no jury that can be better than you. This is our process. Go back and try to get it right.

And so I say all of that, Wolf, to say that, you know this is part of the system of justice, could they be hung, potentially. But could they reach a consensus? Maybe so. They've been working very hard. They've been working all day without a note. And so it tells me nothing other than their trying to get it right, do their civic duty and render conclusion that is just and fair.


We'll see what they do within the next 20 minutes.

BLITZER: You follow this trial very closely from the beginning. What do you think, Joey, they're hung up on now based on these questions?

JACKSON: You know, I really think that it is a jury nullification case. What does that mean in English? You have a situation where jurors have the authority in the event that they can connect with someone, they can resonate with someone. They can understand, they could sympathized with someone, really to forgive and excuse that, right?

And so in this particular situation you have two narratives. On the one hand we know as we're looking at Miss Potter there, she essentially admitted to all of the elements of case. She said she was sorry, she said it was a mistake. She said she didn't mean to harm or hurt anyone. All of those things would amount with an officer of 26 years, Wolf, to recklessness or carelessness of a criminal variety.

So the prosecution is saying, hey, hold her to that standard. It doesn't matter whether someone is nice. It doesn't matter you would like someone. It matters whether they violated the law. Look at her training. On the other hand you have the defense arguing that you know what, a mistake is not a crime. She was contrite. She's a good person and let her go.

And so what I think the struggle is, is that you have some jurors who were saying look, she knew better, this was reckless or at the least negligence and you have other jurors saying, you know what, I just don't know. I think that she was a really was -- really upset about what happened. She really was contrite about what happened. Let's give her a pass.

I think you're having that dynamic. Last point for that is this, the defense had an expert psychologist who indicated that you could make a mistake, even if you are seasoned, even if you are experienced and I think the jury could be relying upon that to further excuse her conduct. And I think that is what the factions is batting about. Accountability or not accountability, do we give her a pass, that is the argument if the jury room.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right, our Legal Analyst Joey Jackson, thank you very much.

There is more breaking news next. President Biden just speaking out about the latest effort to fight the surge of the omicron coronavirus variant here in the United States.



BLITZER: Just moments ago, President Biden spoke about the omicron variant crisis, and his new push to send 500 million rapid test kits to Americans across the country.

Listen to his remarks in an ABC News interview with David Muir just a little while ago.


DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Go to the pharmacy, we hear this over and over again, empty shelves, no test kits. Is that a failure?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNIOTED STATES: I don't think it is a nature. I think you could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago, I've ordered half a billion of the pills, 500 million pills. Excuse me, 500 million test kits that are going to be available to be sent to every home in America if anybody wants them.

But the answer is yeah, I wish I had thought about ordering half a billion pills two months ago before COVID hit here.

MUIR: But we're nearly two years into the pandemic and you're a year into the presidency, empty shelves and no test kits in some places three days before Christmas when it is so important. Is that good enough?

BIDEN: No, nothing has been good enough.


BLITZER: Let's discuss with our chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny, joins us from the White House, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN senior commentator John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio. So, Jeff, you covered the president, what do you think?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, repeatedly throughout this interview with David Muir which was recorded this afternoon, President Biden is confused and was confusing the half a billion tests that they've ordered with the half a billion pills. Pills were in the news today with the Pfizer approval of the anti-viral. So he corrected himself. But that was one thing that stuck out to me.

But then, simply, this administration and the president leading the charge here really not accepting any responsibility at all for this lack of testing. We've seen these images across the country, long lines, you know, just the inability to get tests. And yes, omicron came on very quickly here. But it has been almost a month since Thanksgiving where they knew this was coming so he wishes he could have acted faster than -- explains why he didn't.

But the question also is the at-home test for January, there was no sense from administration those will be sent out early in January as the president suggested in this interview.

BLITZER: Yeah. And, Gloria, what do you make of what we heard?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, agree with Jeff. I think there was a little confusion there on the part of the president, although he did end up correcting himself at one point. But it is not as if testing is a new issue. Testing is not a new

issue. Testing is something that doctors in this country had been talking about since the beginning of COVID. And we have always known that we've had a lousy testing process in this country. And that people need to be able to self test at home and so heading into the holidays, particularly knowing that omicron happened around another holiday, Thanksgiving, that there aren't more tests available is kind of appalling. And there are a lot of folks who say that there are regulatory issues surrounding it.

So break through the red tape and make sure that these tests are available. And at this point, I think it is a little late. And it is very worrisome given the fact that omicron spreads so dramatically.

BLITZER: You know, Governor Kasich, the president keeps saying that no one could have seen these new variants coming. But experts have predicted these types of mutations would in fact develop?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I really impressed by what Gloria just had to say about the lack of preparation and we all know that. They should have been ahead of the curve. But there is one other thing that troubles me, Wolf, you know, kind of the confusion that we heard out of him. It is really important for our country and for those people who are in the Biden administration that may hear this, Joe Biden needs to be stronger.


He needs to be clearer in all the things that he cares about. We know he has passion on this issue with the virus. But be clear about what you want to do. What else do you have passion on?

Because, Wolf, I'm -- I'm sad to say this -- I have people saying is he really know what he is doing? And it would be really important for the country, for him to be able to be clear and direct and passionate about the -- the few things that he really cares about. He needs to get back up, and he needs to be stronger.

And by the way, the praise he gave to Trump yesterday and Trump's response -- that is somewhat of a Christmas miracle. But that's a good thing to see happen.

But we need Joe Biden to show that he's got it together, and he knows what he is doing. It will give confidence to people in many, many other ways.

BLITZER: You know, Jeff, as people are waiting in long lines simply to get a test, they can't go to a drugstore and find these home-rapid tests. Do officials at the White House -- you cover the White House -- do they realize that so many people see this as a failure on the part of the Biden administration?

ZELENY: Look, I think they do. They realize they see these lines, they see these images across the country. But a bigger challenge is here they are hoping that this will be a rapid surge. They saw some positive news, which they believe is positive news, out of South Africa that this sort of burned out fairly quickly. So, they are hoping that is the case here.

But, Wolf, what they are doing if that is not the case, those at-home tests they've ordered -- the president said right there, everyone who wants a test will get one. That simply is not true. Every health expert says you will need so many more tests that than that. So, even half a billion sounds like a lot. It's an open question, if even those can be produced. But there will be a lot more needed.

So, testing remains -- as we end this year here, you know, at the second year of a pandemic, testing remains the central issue. Yes, it's complicated no doubt but that remains the big frustration here. Vaccinations and boosters, obviously, are much more important actually than testing but testing remains a vexing part of this challenge for this administration.

BLITZER: Because the COVID experts, all the briefers from the White House, from the CDC, the -- they all say, Gloria, you got to go get tested even if you are fully vaccinated and you are boosted and all that. Before you go to a Christmas party or New Year's, get yourself tested.

People want to go out there. They want to see their grandma. They want to go out and get tested but they can't find a test, so what are they supposed to do?

BORGER: Well, and that's a key question, wolf. I think it's frustrating for the American public, who finally may be beginning to see that, yes, testing is the key to stopping the pandemic in its tracks or, you know, when you have these variants come along, you just keep testing. You make it a part of your life. You make it a part of your week. You do it a few times a week and if you have access to those tests and they are cheap or they are free, you will do it. And if the government is telling you to do it and you are willing and you want to go be able to see your family or your children or grandchildren and you want to do it but you can't find a test, who do you get angry at? You get angry at the government who is telling you to do it but you can't figure out how because the tests aren't available.

BLITZER: In the interview, you know, governor, with David Muir on ABC News, David also asked the president about whether he was thinking about running for re-election in 2024. Listen to this clip.


MUIR: You said you would absolutely serve eight years if elected. Do you plan to run for re-election?

BIDEN: Yes. But look, I am a great respecter of fate. Fate has intervened in my life many, many times. If I am in the health I'm in now, if I'm in good health, then in fact I would run again.

MUIR: And if that means a rematch against Donald Trump?

BIDEN: You're trying to tempt me now. Sure. Why would I not run against Donald Trump if he's the nominee? That would increase the prospect of running.


BLITZER: All right, Governor, what did you think?

KASICH: I can't believe in that interview about all these things that are happening, he is asking about what is going to happen three years from now. So I am not impressed with David's question. Look I mean, who knows what is going to happen? But I want to repeat what I said and, that is, the -- you know, he's got to be stronger than he is appearing.

And in regard to his praising Donald Trump yesterday, having Trump say go out and get a vaccine, we need people to get vaccinated. We need 'em to go get the booster and there is also understand good news about these Pfizer pills that could keep you out of the hospital. I haven't done all the work on that but that is good news, too.

So while we get all the bad stuff, all the negative things, there's some things we can -- I hope brighten our day a bit -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Yeah, I thought it was interesting the president spoke about fate, instead of simply saying yes I will run again, he also spoke about fate and his health and all of that. All right, guys, thank you very, very much. We will continue our coverage right after a quick break.


BLITZER: We have just learned that the U.S. Supreme Court has said January 7th, January 7th as the date it will hear oral arguments to challenge the various challenges to the Biden vaccine mandate. We will, of course, watch that very closely.

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 tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

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