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Ex-Cop Kim Potter Guilty Of Manslaughter In Daunte Wright's Death; Omicron Surge Worsens Amid Holiday Travel Rush; Demand For Test Intensifies As Events Scaled Back. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 23, 2021 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, former Police Officer Kim Potter is found guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright. Our experts will break down the verdict and its significance for the fight to hold police accountable.

Also tonight, the Omicron surge worsens as the holiday travel rush gets into full swing across the United States. The demand for COVID test is intensifying. And New York City just scaled back its New Year's Eve bash.

And former President Trump takes his battle with the January 6 Select Committee to the United States Supreme Court. He's ramping up his efforts to keep his White House record secret by asking the justices to step in.

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: Let's get straight to the breaking news. The guilty verdicts of the trial of former Police Officer Kim Potter.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is in Minneapolis for us tonight.

Adrienne, Potter has now been convicted on two counts of manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, yes. And when that guilty verdict was read, little emotion from the former Brooklyn Center police officer. And after spending 26 years protecting and serving, she now will spend time behind bars.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury on the charge of manslaughter in the first degree find the defendant guilty.

BROADDUS (voice-over): Former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kimberly Potter guilty on both counts of manslaughter tonight in Minnesota.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Find the defendant guilty.

BROADDUS (voice-over): Potter said she meant to shoot her Taser during a traffic stop in April, but fired her gun instead killing 20 year old Daunte Wright almost instantly.



BROADDUS (voice-over): Shortly after the verdict, crowds outside the courthouse chanted Wright's name while the state pushed to reassure Potter's police family.

KEITH ELLISON, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: When a member of your profession is held accountable, it does not diminish you. In fact, it shows, it shows the whole world that those of you who enforce the law are also willing to live by it.

BROADDUS (voice-over): The jury took nearly 27 hours to deliberate whether her actions were criminal, ultimately deciding Potter abuse her position as a police officer.

Over eight days in Minneapolis, jurors heard from a 33 witnesses including tearful testimony from Potter herself.

POTTER: I didn't want to hurt anybody.

BROADDUS (voice-over): The defense aim to prove the 26 year police veteran was protecting her fellow officers during a risky traffic stop. In closing arguments, they faulted Wright for not cooperating.

EARL GRAY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: She says Taser, Taser, Taser and he should have OK, stop, I give up. No. No. Daunte Wright cause his own death unfortunately.

BROADDUS (voice-over): The state asked jurors not to focus on Potter's intention. But on the consequences of her actions.

ERIN ELDRIDGE, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: This was a colossal screw up, a blunder of epic proportions. It was irreversible and it was fatal.

BROADDUS (voice-over): Wright's family reacting to the news outside court.

KATIE BRYANT, DAUNTE WRIGHT'S MOTHER: Every single emotion that you can imagine just running through your body at that moment.


BROADDUS: And Potter was taken into custody and handcuffed by a sheriff's deputy inside of the Hennepin County Courthouse. This all started back in April following that traffic stop. This is the item that was dangling from Daunte Wright's rear view mirror. Well, a car freshener, similar to this one. It's in the shape of a Christmas tree. And this Christmas, Daunte Wright's family will be without him. Wolf.

BLITZER: Adrienne, I want you to stand by.

I also want to bring in Dave Aronberg, the State Attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida and Defense Attorney Shan Wu.

Let's start with you, Dave. Are you surprised Potter was found guilty on both charges?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: I am a bit surprised, Wolf. I thought this is more of a second degree manslaughter case which would mean that prosecutors need to prove that Potter created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance and some causing Daunte Wright's death or serious bodily injury.


And I'm not the only one, I think, who thought that the prosecutors actually charged this as a secondary manslaughter case. And only later in September, did they upgraded to a first degree manslaughter case after urging from Daunte Wright's family.

And according to reports, the jury concluded this was secondary manslaughter two days ago, and then only this morning, they decided that she was guilty of first degree manslaughter. And I think what probably convinced them was the fact that she had extensive training on this Taser as a veteran cop of 26 years. And also she held her gun for six seconds at Daunte Wright. And I think they thought, well, that's beyond the pale, and she should have been convicted of the highest offense.

BLITZER: You know, Shan, the jury was so, what, in their fourth day of deliberations today when they finally handed down this verdict, they had previously asked the judge and it caused some interest out there what they should do if they could not come to a consensus. It seems like this was a rather tough decision for those 12 men and women.

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think that's right. And I think we should expect that it was a tough decision. This was a difficult case. You have somebody expressing what seems to be remorse and shock at what happened. But this jury was working very steadily at the case.

And I agree with Dave, I also had thought it was likely there'd be the second degree conviction. However, I think it was significant, that they're asking to examine the weapon at issue. And I think that that whole time that she had the weapons, her training, that that jury getting a handle that weapon, the Taser may have made a difference as well.

BLITZER: You know, Dave, Potter took the stand at her own defense and all of us saw either live or on tape when she broke down several times as she recounted what happened during that fatal traffic stop. What impact do you think her testimony, her emotion had on the jury?

ARONBERG: Well, the defense counsel rolled the dice and put her on the stand, because they thought they could appeal to the jurors' hearts, whereas the prosecution was appealing to the heads that, look, the elements of the crime had been met here. She broke down on the stand and that could have led to sympathy because that's consistent with the way she acted after she shot Daunte Wright. She was very upset. She said, I'm going to jail.

Mind you, she didn't try to help Daunte Wright and that could have come back to haunt her. Another way her testimony could haunted her is just that she was so upset that the dream may have thought she should not be a police officer. She's not the kind of person who should be handling a gun. And so, in the end, it could have come back to hurt her that she testified. And now, she's facing up to 15 years in prison.

BLITZER: Potentially 15 years for the first degree and another 10, maybe, for the second degree. Although given the fact she has no criminal record, it could be reduced.

Adrienne, you're there in Minnesota, you've been covering the trial, and you've been doing an excellent job for us the whole time. What's the reaction you're getting out from community members as news of this verdict sinks in?

BROADDUS: As soon as the verdict was read, there was a loud applause outside of the courtroom. Members of the community are speaking right now in Brooklyn Center at City Hall. This is the same group of people who pushed for the firing of Kim Potter as soon as they learned she had shot and killed Daunte Wright. People are relieved.

But there is also a sense of sadness. They want this to come to an end. I spoke with one activists after the verdict was read and he said this is a measure of accountability.

And words matter. People in this community as well as the Wright family are choosing and using their words carefully. They're not saying justice, they're talking about accountability. And they feel this officer who had 26 years of experience, who was qualified or certified to use that Taser, back in 2019 was held accountable today. And they all go back to this, Wolf, a car freshener.

BLITZER: Yes, that's why that traffic stop occurred in the first place.

Shan, as you know, the defense lawyers asked that she be released on bail awaiting sentencing. The prosecution said they want her behind bars. The judge said, yes. She's got to be behind bars right now. Were you surprised by that?

WU: No, I wasn't, Wolf. Not surprised either by the request not to have her held pending sentencing, nor surprised by the judge refusing that, oh, once you're convicted beyond the reasonable doubt the table's turned, it's different. And for a person who has been convicted of taking another person's life, it would be normal for them to be detained. But understandable that defense counsel would ask for that.

I think the lesson here for society at large is hopefully we're beginning to see the justice system treating police officers just like everybody else. They should be given just as much fairness as everyone else, but nothing special in terms of giving them extra luxuries, extra benefits of the doubt once they've been convicted.


BLITZER: And she was convicted in two charges. Today, we'll see in February how long she has to serve in jail. In the meantime, she is in jail right now.

Shan Wu, Dave Aronberg. Adrienne Broaddus, guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, there's more news here in the Situation Room. COVID cases are surging here in the United States as well as holiday travel. Now the Omicron variant is complicating it all. That's next.


BLITZER: Tonight, the new coronavirus Omicron variant is not only causing a dramatic rise in COVID cases across the United States, it's also seriously complicating holiday plans for so many Americans as holiday travel is reaching pre pandemic levels here in the U.S. CNN's Nick Valencia has the latest for us.

Nick, the U.S. and the world for that matter are facing a second COVID Christmas and New Year. What's the latest?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a second COVID Christmas. And in many ways, life has scaled back to times reminiscent of the start of the pandemic.

And with the Christmas holiday just around the corner, testing sites like the one where we're at are being inundated with lines stretching for hours.



VALENCIA (voice-over): Tonight, as Omicron surges, Americans are scrambling for COVID tests ahead of the Christmas holiday. The U.S. is struggling to contain one of the largest spikes in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. But the TSA says the concerns have not slowed holiday travel, which on Wednesday was higher than pre pandemic levels. Twenty million people are anticipated to fly between now and January 3.

MARITA MCKEE, GETTING COVID-19 TEST: I'm also traveling today I'm home. And so, I wanted to get tested before I went home.

VALENCIA (voice-over): In the latest scientific advancement against the virus, this week, the FDA authorized two antiviral pills to treat COVID-19. Paxlovid made by Pfizer and Molnupiravir by Merck are intended for high risk individuals and must be taken within the first few days of symptoms. The Biden administration has purchased 10 million courses of the Pfizer treatments with the first 250,000 being rolled out in January.

DR. NGOZI EZIKE, DIRECTOR, ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: We know that this is another game changer after -- a number one game changer which are the vaccines.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Just four weeks since Omicron was identified in the U.S., the variant has now been detected in all 50 States, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

DR. RICHINA BICETTE-MCCAIN, ASSOCIATE MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Omicron spreads so quickly amongst the community that even though there is a chance that the disease may be milder, the case logs potentially could be so high that that would still put a strain on our hospital system.

VALENCIA (voice-over): The U.S. is now averaging over 164,000 new COVID 19 cases each day, up 36 percent from one week ago. ICU beds are about 78 percent full and more than one in five of coronavirus patients.

DR. HASSAN KHOULI, CHAIR., CRITICAL CARE MEDICINE AT CLEVELAND CLINIC: We are overwhelmed, our ICUs, our hospitals are overwhelmed and our emergency rooms are really being overcrowded because of the recent surge.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Early studies from the U.K. and South Africa all show Omicron is less likely to cause severe disease with a reduced risk of being hospitalized when compared to the Delta variant. But health officials caution, more data is needed to see if similar results emerge in the United States.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: It's dangerous business to be able to rely on what you perceive as a lower degree of severity.

VALENCIA (voice-over): And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced plans for a scaled back New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, with less revelers all being required to wear a mask.


VALENCIA: Also in New York, some Broadway shows are again closing their doors hoping to help stop the spread of the Omicron variant. Meanwhile, some universities going back to what we saw at the start of the pandemic, most notably Harvard, which will start their spring 2022 semester online.

And here in Atlanta, they've reinstated an indoor mask mandate, Wolf. So much being done across the country to stop this wave, this latest wave of COVID-19. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nick, thanks very much. Nick Valencia reporting. Let's get some more in all of this. Dr. Paul Burton is joining us. He's the Chief Medical Officer for the drug maker Moderna.

Doctor, thank you so much for joining us.

For people who are fully vaccinated and boosted with Moderna shots, is it clear exactly how much protection they now have from this new Omicron variant?

DR. PAUL BURTON, MODERNA CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Yes, it is, Wolf. We've definitely seen this week. We've produced some lab data showing that either the 50 microgram booster shot of Moderna or the 100 microgram of booster shot really provides good neutralization. We've seen some Denmark data as well come in this week that, well, there is waning of effectiveness getting a booster shot will increase that. So I think we can be confident, Wolf. Getting a booster shot will provide protection throughout the holiday season and throughout these winter months.

BLITZER: How quickly does protection begin to wane though, Doctor, following a Moderna booster dose?

BURTON: So, Wolf, I think we're still looking at those data, probably from about three months on against Omicron. After the second dose of the primary vaccination, you'll begin to get some waning.

Now, people are getting boosted. And I think, Wolf, we're going to have to wait for a couple of months yet until we can see how those data develop and mature to understand when will that additional booster dose, if needed, have to be given.

BLITZER: We know that people do fare better, and correct me if I'm wrong, against Omicron if they've gotten a booster dose. We all know that, we've heard it multiple times. But your company now says a full 100 microgram booster dose of Moderna shot offers more protection than the current booster size, a dose of 50 micrograms Are you pursuing emergency use authorization right now for full size booster doses?


BURTON: So, Wolf, the 50 microgram dose is highly effective. It certainly works against Delta. We see good evidence now that it works against Omicron.

The 100 micrograms shot actually is authorized here and around the world for people with immunocompromised, so that would be cancer, maybe organ transplant. We presented the data this week.

And I think what we want to do now is work with governments, work with health systems, let them decide as the pandemic continues to go ahead. You know, do they want to have a higher dose of the Moderna vaccine? Or can we continue to provide protection with 50? So, I think we still need to wait and see.

BLITZER: Your company says it's Omicron specific booster could start clinical trials early next year. How soon could that shot get into people's arms?

BURTON: Yes. So, Dr. Hoge, our President talks about that as well earlier this year. We're looking to begin those trials in early 2022. Would take a couple of months, you know, to do the trials, Wolf, to get some blood to see if we make antibodies. We're confident we will, but we need to confirm. So I would think, Wolf, it's a second quarter scale up.

BLITZER: As you know, both Israel and Germany are now taking steps to offer fourth doses of coronavirus vaccines to certain segments of the population, people 60 and older, healthcare workers, other with immune problems. Dr. Fauci says in his word, premature to be discussing fourth doses right now, he's not ruling it out down the road. But where do you -- where does Moderna stand on a possible fourth dose?

BURTON: Yes. So, Wolf, look, I think we'll have to continue to see how the list (ph) Omicron phase of this pandemic continues. It could well be that we will need additional boosters, and that they'll need to be, you know, either at six months or even more frequently. I think we just have to wait and see.

I think as well, Wolf, that's why an Omicron specific booster could provide so much value because it will be so much more effective against this. But we need to keep in mind that Delta is still there very strongly. You know, Omicron is here right now, but on a very strong background of Delta.

BLITZER: I hope you get that new treatment, you get it soon. Can you give us an update on the potential timeline for the Moderna vaccine for people under, under the age of 18?

BURTON: Yes. So, Wolf, we have authorization for 12 to 18 year olds in Europe and many other countries around the world. We're continuing to work with the FDA here in the U.S. on that. And we're doing our studies in younger kids. We've filed in the five to 12 year olds in Europe as well. Again, we'll be doing that here.

Particular group, Wolf, that we need to look at, other -- early the very little kids, the zero to five year olds. We have a phase three study ongoing there. We're testing 25 micrograms of our vaccine in those little kids, but it's particularly important with Omicron given the data we've seen this week from South Africa there.

BLITZER: Well, Dr. Paul Burton, thank you so much for what you and your colleagues are doing in these vaccines. And the boosters, of course, are so, so critical saving, saving so many lives here in the U.S. and around the world. Thanks so much for joining us. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

BURTON: Thank you. You too. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Up next, former President Trump appeals to the United States Supreme Court, escalating his fight to keep his White House records secret.



BLITZER: We have breaking news in the investigation into the January 6 insurrection. The House Select Committee has just asked the U.S. Supreme Court to expedite its review of former President Trump's request for the justices to block the release of White House documents. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working the story for us.

So Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this just came in a few minutes ago from the House. They're asking the Supreme Court to speed up consideration of this important issue as whether these 700 pages or so that the National Archives is planning to turn over to the committee can be turned over. As you know, the former president has filed a request to delay that and for the Supreme Court to consider whether his claim of executive privilege basically supersedes the decision from President Biden who has said that those documents should be turned over.

We're talking about, Wolf, 700 pages that includes drafts of speeches, handwritten notes from his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, as well as a draft of a proclamation honoring two police officers who were -- who died following the interaction. These are documents that the committee says will really put a -- shine a light on what was going on inside the West Wing, inside the White House, as the former president was trying to block a certification of the election and overturn the election results. And they say it's key for the Supreme Court to take this up as soon as possible. They're asking for the Supreme Court to look at -- to consider this at their conference on January 14, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Evan, Trump's legal team has had at least some success so far on blocking documents from being hand over -- handed over to the committee, right?

PEREZ: Right. And they waited until the final day, the last day before the archives would have turned over these records to make that filing with the Supreme Court, which automatically, Wolf, extends this stay.

And so, look, you can see from what they've been doing that they've been trying to run out the clock. They have an interest that the former president does, in trying to delay this decision from being made, because in case it doesn't go his way, these documents could end up in the hands of this committee, and could be part of this investigation. The committee says, we'll shine a light on what happened in those key days.

BLITZER: Evan Perez reporting for us. Evan, thank you very much. Let's get some more in all of this. Let's bring in our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. He's the author of the book, "True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump."

Jeffrey in court filings, the former president's legal team are use this and I'll put it up on the screen. The limited interest the committee may have it immediately obtaining the requested records pales in comparison to President Trump's interest in securing judicial review before he suffers irreparable harm. What do you think the court will make of that argument?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, President Trump has filed some frivolous lawsuits since he left office. This is not a frivolous lawsuit. This is a case he could definitely win in this Supreme Court. Now, the four judges who have all ruled on this case so far, they're all democratic appointees. And now he's heading to a court with six Republican appointees. And, you know, even Chief Justice John Roberts, who has not been a route -- not been ruling in in Donald Trump's favor in many recent cases, he is someone who believes in strong executive power. And it is unquestioned that the documents at issue here relate to the core functions of the presidency.

The key question here is, is Congress's interest enough to overcome the traditional deference given to executive branch material, especially when here the current president, Joe Biden, thinks that the material should be turned over. There's not a lot of law in this area. The Supreme Court is writing not on a blank slate, but a somewhat blank slate, and six conservative justices could easily rule in Trump's favor in this case.

BLITZER: As you know, Jeffrey, the House is asking the Supreme Court to expedite its review of this case, how quickly do expect the court might take this up?

TOOBIN: I do think they're going to act quickly. You know, they have recognized in recent weeks that there are a lot of controversies that can't wait until, you know, the traditional June and of the Supreme Court term. They ruled very quickly on the Texas abortion case.

I expect they will -- I think they actually will agree to hear this case, I don't pretend to know how it'll come out. But I do think they'll agree to hear it. And then they'll probably put it down for argument within a month.

So this case could get resolved in the spring. But still the spring may not be soon enough to get the committee the information it needs because they are running out of clock as well. And it's understandable why they're asking the Supreme Court to act as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: As you know, the January 6 Select Committee is now seeking to interview a Republican Congressman Jim Jordan. Let's listen to how he responded to that news. Listen to this.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I mean, we just got the letter today, Brian, we're going to review the letter. But I got to be honest with you, I got real concerns about any committee that will take a document and alter it and present it to the American people completely mislead the American people like they did last week. And it turns out, it looks like it wasn't just one document they did this with others, other text messages as well. So I got real concerns with that.


BLITZER: So what do you say to that?

TOOBIN: Well, his close ally and friend, Congressman Perry from Pennsylvania, also was asked in a very similar way to testify before the committee and he refused denouncing the committee as a witch hunt, it certainly looks like Congressman Jordan is heading in the same direction.

The question now is whether the committee will move to a subpoena. It's very unusual, perhaps unprecedented for a House committee to subpoena fellow House members, that certainly would raise a lot of complex legal issues likely wind up in the courts. So I think the question of whether Congressman Jordan testifies as a practical matter is up to Congressman Jordan because the courts will tie it up for months.

BLITZER: They certainly will. All right, Jeffrey Toobin, as usual, thank you very much. Just ahead. We visit one of many hospitals here in the United States currently overwhelmed with COVID patients as the Omicron surge worsens.



BLITZER: It's a scene playing out in hospitals across the United States right now. Doctors, nurses and other staff they are reaching a breaking point as their wards fill with COVID-19 patients while the country rides out yet another wave of the pandemic. CNN's senior national correspondent Sara Sidner is in Santa Fe New Mexico for us.


Sara, you saw firsthand how exhausted the staff is at one hospital there. Share with our viewers what you saw and heard.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, there's incredible Christmas spirit as there always is here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But inside of the COVID unit, they feel like here we go again. Their unit is overflowing again with Coronavirus patients, the ICU beyond capacity. And this is after the vaccines are available.


SIDNER (voice-over): In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the annual holiday light display dazzles the eye and lists the spirit. But these are the lights grabbing all the attention just down the road. This is a COVID ICU suddenly, as busy as it ever was.

SCOTTY SILVA, RESPIRATORY CARE DIRECTOR, CHRISTUS ST. VINCENT MDICAL CENTER: It is clinically psychologically impossible to keep doing this day in and day out, especially for the past year or two. Even the strongest respiratory therapists that I have, have broken down at times.

SIDNER: The staff is resilient, but despondent some days and plain old exhausted most suffering and death greet them every day.

SILVA: They come to me and they say I do need a break, helped me.

SIDNER (on camera): You know, when you talk about things like pulling them out and people breaking down? It sounds like a war zone. That's the same language that soldiers sometimes use?


SIDNER: Is that something it feels like?

SILVA: Yes. To the point of it being almost unbearable. See that, these are very good people. Good respiratory therapists, good clinicians who want to do the best possible job. And they just can't. They can do it.

SIDNER (voice-over): There was a moment of light and hope.

DOMINICK ARMIJO, CLINICAL NURSE MANAGER: We thought the cases were going down.

SIDNER: Clinical nurse manager Dominick Armijo was filled with hope and the vaccines were approved. He was one of the first in New Mexico to get the shot.

ARMIJO: It was just that light at the end of the tunnel. And then all of a sudden it was like, wham bam, here we are again.

SIDNER: He couldn't have possibly accounted for the number of people who would refuse the vaccine.

ANGELA BYRES, COVID ICU PATIENT: I in the beginning was an anti- Vaxxer. Oh, and because of my immune system, but not anymore.

SIDNER (on camera): What was it that sort of kept you from going to get vaccinated?

BYRES: I do not have a very good immune system.

SIDNER: A lot of times, the doctors are tight if your immune system is compromised don't get vaccinated. What were your concerns?

BYRES: My heart issues. I know there was a lot of clotting in the first few. And I did have an example of not a good reaction to a friend who did get vaccinated.

SIDNER (voice-over): Byres never got the vaccine. Instead, she got a bad case of COVID and was unable to breathe. Do you regret it now?

BYRES: Do I regret it? Yes and no. I wish I'd gone vaccinated sooner I wouldn't be here. That's the regret.

SIDNER (on camera): I've talked to a lot of doctors and nurses. And I've heard a lot of people say, I don't want to retire. I don't want to leave. But I don't know if I can do it. Where are you on that?

ARMIJO: I'm probably at that end of that spectrum as well. It's trying. But I just -- this is my family. And this is my community where the city of holy faith. Just in a lot.

SIDNER (voice-over): The unending pandemic surges have taken a toll.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have lost 110 nurses this year.

SIDNER: That's 25 percent of the hospitals, nurses.

LILLIAN MONTOYA, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CHRISTUS ST. VINCENT MEDICAL CENTER: It's across the board. I mean, most definitely nursing respiratory, but it's also food nutrition, and custodial support and techs and medical office assistance and registration. It is across the board.

SIDNER: The remaining staff are fighting back death alongside their patients. There is no respite, not even for Christmas.


SIDNER: And they've been seeing over this time about a couple of patients a day who just don't make it. And there's another statistic that really is troublesome and this is across the country. About 25 percent of those who end up on ventilators are the only ones that survive.

We're talking about one in four people who end up on ventilators and the staff there says we just don't want to see this anymore. They have a request to the public as they have requested for a very long time. Please get vaccinated, save yourself and help them. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask when necessary. It would save your life. Sara, thank you very much. Excellent report indeed. Very moving. Sara Sidner in Santa Fe.


Coming up, the challenges for President Biden as he nears one year in office including questions about whether he's been proactive enough in fighting dependent.


BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden insists he hasn't given up on passing nearly $2 trillion spending bill. That's the centerpiece of his agenda right now. He's trying to send an optimistic message as he closes a very challenging year for his administration and for the nation.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, the President is facing headwinds on multiple fronts as he approaches the one year mark of his presidency. Is there a sense over there at the White House? A sense of urgency? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think there's a sense that there's urgency that there's more work to be done. And there's no question about that. If you would talk to White House officials 11 months ago, they would have hoped and I think to some degree assume that they would be past the pandemic by this point. They thought that in June as well.

And it certainly hasn't been the case. And because of the surge in Omicron, because even with the vast success kind of historically unprecedented success of their vaccine distribution effort. They're now short on tests. It's become a very real problem that's contributed to the dissonance from an administration, Wolf, that you've seen pass two major pieces of legislation have one of the better economic recoveries coming out of an economic crisis in a very long time.


And yet their primary piece of domestic legislation is held up and wavering at this point in time. And because of inflation, the economy is very much in question right now, too.

Now, officials believe they can address these issues in the coming months. But the reality is, so long as COVID is still a very central part of life, they have problems on the public health side, they have problems on the economic side, and so long as Joe Manchin is the senator from West Virginia, they have problems on the legislative side as well, Wolf, clearly a lot of work to be done. Though, White House officials feel like they accomplished quite a bit in their first year.

BLITZER: All right, Phil, thank you very much. Phil Mattingly at the White House. Let's get some more on this. Joining us, CNN Senior commentator, the former Ohio Governor John Kasich, also with us, CNN Senior political analyst Kirsten powers. She's author of the book "Saving Grace." She's also a USA Today columnist.

Governor Kasich, the President, as you know, facings to strong headwinds as the year comes to an end currently won the Coronavirus pandemic, as well as issues getting his agenda through Congress, which poses the bigger threat purely, purely from a political perspective?

JOHN KASICH (R) FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: Well, Wolf, I think, you know, obviously, the virus, the pandemic is a big issue with everybody. But I think people also know that he can't control that. He can do things, you know, for example, they should have had the tests kits, why don't they didn't order them. Governments waste so much money in the world, why didn't spend some money. So they had a couple extra leftover, I don't think it would have been a big deal at all. And so they look unprepared.

But, you know, Wolf, in reflecting on his first year and where he is today, I believe that when Georgia, the Georgia Senate elections went to the Democrats, that was a real problem for Joe Biden, because Biden runs is really a moderate, a centrist. He's somebody that, you know, allegedly, and I've always believed that can pull Republicans work through an agenda that's moderate. But when the Senate went to the Democrats, and they controlled the House, all of a sudden his agenda, in some ways, in my opinion, got hijacked to the left. And that's not where the public is.

So in order to get back and have strength, deal with this crisis, deal with the virus, be strong, be clear. And secondly, remember what one of his advisors, Mike Donilon said to him, appeal to the independent voters, appeal to people in the middle. If he does that, then he can regain his footing,

BLITZER: You know, Kirsten, I want to turn to the former president, who has now several times over the course of the last few days spoken out publicly about the pandemic. I want you to listen to what Donald Trump is saying right now. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: The ones that get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don't take that vaccine, but it's still their choice. And if you take the vaccine, you're protected. Look, the results of the vaccine have are good. And if you do get it, it's a very minor form. People aren't dying when they take the vaccine.


BLITZER: This is very important. He should have been saying this for months and months and months, a lot of people probably would be alive right now if he had publicly done a PSA -- done some sort of public statements making exactly that point. What do you make of this?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, of course, it would have been much better if he would have done it sooner. But it's still good that he's doing it now. And this is the second time he's done this. You know, he did this in an event with Bill O'Reilly, were Bill O'Reilly was also saying that he had been vaccinated. And Donald Trump pushed back at the audience when there was some booing.

And he, you know, the fact that he is pushing backing against people like Candace Owens, who is a major supporter of his, you know, shows that he is, at least at this point, willing to do the right thing, and state the obvious and the truth which is that the misinformation that's being spread about the COVID vaccine is not true. And you will be much better off if you get the vaccine and much less likely to end up very sick or possibly dead.

BLITZER: You should have been saying this for a long time. I give him credit for saying it now, governor, and he could have been taking a lot of credit because during Operation Warp Speed that came up with the vaccines, that was during his administration.

KASICH: Yes, I would I would label it -- I agree completely with what Kirsten just said. I would label it though better late than never.

BLITZER: I agree.

KASICH: As the old saying goes, Wolf. Yes. Look, I mean, he developed those vaccines, he spent the money. You got to give him credit for that. BLITZER: Right.

KASICH: And to his credit, Biden did. Biden did give him credit for the development of that. And it's making a huge difference. Now we got to keep doing the research and development. We got to keep funding these drugs. This business of these new pills that keep you out of the hospital. That's a great Christmas present for people. Go get vaccinated folks. Look out for your family.

BLITZER: I hope he keeps on saying it. It will save lives certainly among his own supporters.


John Kasich, Kirsten Powers, Merry Christmas. Happy New Year to both of you.

KASICH: Merry Christmas, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you so much for joining us.

KASICH: Merry Christmas, Kirsten.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

KASICH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you. Coming up, the Omicron COVID surge worsens as holiday travel reaches pre pandemic levels. We're going to talk about the alarmingly rapid spread of the new variant with our medical experts. That's next.


BLITZER: Happening Now, holiday travel here in the United States goes into overdrive despite Omicron cases hitting new high. Americans weighing the risks as big events are scaled back or scrapped and finding a COVID test kits more challenging by the hour.