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The Situation Room

Cases Hit New All-Time High, Experts Warn Of Tidal Wave In 2022; January 6 Committee Facing Off With Trump At Supreme Court As U.S. Preparing To Mark One Year Since Riot; Biden Vows Federal Aid After Fires Scorch Colorado; Biden Says He Made Clear To Putin There Will Be A "Heavy Price To Pay" If Russia Invades Ukraine. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 31, 2021 - 18:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: We begin this hour with the unprecedented explosion of COVID 19 cases across the nation. Our Tom Foreman is tracking all of it for us on this New Year's Eve. Tom, the numbers are growing larger by the day and by the hour.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are just unbelievable. Texas, the latest big state to say basically it needs help with testing material, with treatment material, with people to operate all of that and, as we expect, many other states to do until the very near future, they're turning to Washington.


FOREMAN (voice over): The federal government is deploying disaster assistance teams and ambulances to New York. The New Year's Eve crowd in Times Square will be held to about a quarter of the usual, masks and proof of vaccination required. All of this as the city is once again an epicenter of the pandemic. And statewide cases are up more than 80 percent since Monday.

MAYOR-ELECT ERIC ADAMS (D-NY): We must learn to live with COVID, adjust and pivot at the right time and we're doing that in New York and I'm extremely optimistic on how the city is going to respond.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Clearly, New York and Washington, D.C. are ahead of the curve but not by much. And so expect it in the next three to four weeks we're going to see everyone really hit with this.

FOREMAN: The risk of New Year's Eve celebrations becoming coast to coast super-spreaders is, for health experts, terrifying.

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, PROFESSOR, INFECTIOUS DISEASE, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: And I'm really worried that we're going to be in a tidal wave of admissions, particularly for kids in the coming weeks.

FOREMAN: Hospitals in many places are already flooded with patients, even as nurses and doctors fall ill, prompting desperate measures. In New Hampshire, yet another federal medical team, the Department of Defense deploying around the country for months, will arrive next week to help with the overload. In Oklahoma, the National Guard is barring unvaccinated members from joining in drills. In New Jersey, Princeton University will delay the return to class by one week. In Alabama, Auburn will require masks whether you're vaccinated or not, even as primary schools struggle to reopen amid hopes that masks, testing and more will keep the virus at bay.

MIGUEL CARDONA, EDUCATION SECRETARY: I think parents have had enough of school closures due to poor policy. So, let's protect our students. Let's protect our staff. Let's keep our communities thriving.

FOREMAN: A glimmer of hope, studies on the omicron variant continue to suggest it may not be as lethal as delta, even as it spreads wildly.

DR. PAUL SAX, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL AND HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: These numbers are very, very striking. But, nonetheless, I am optimistic that most people who get this infection will not become critically ill.


FOREMAN (on camera): And you may still have your own problems with this if you have not traveled to where you want to be after the holidays. We've had thousands and thousands of flights, about 11,000 in a week, canceled around the world because of this virus. Now, The FAA says it may have enough people out sick with this latest wave that they may have to slow things down just to keep up with the demand for air travel out there.

Poppy, we hope that the people who are getting sick are not getting so dreadfully sick right now but the sheer numbers are just crushing systems coast to coast.

HARLOW: Testing our ability to keep functioning.

FOREMAN: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Now, let's go to Texas and a children's hospital that is overwhelmed as admissions keep rising. Our Miguel Marquez is there.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, we visited Texas Children's Hospital. It's the nation's largest pediatric hospital. They are in full alert mode. They are preparing for whatever the omicron variant throws at them. They think they are fully prepared. This is the fourth wave. So, they've had, sadly, a lot of practice at this.

One number I want to give you that puts everything in perspective here, in the last week, the number of hospitalizations at Texas Children has risen fourfold. That is a very worrying number for the staff there because they expect the worst is still ahead.

Here is how the chief pathologist says the omicron variant is spreading.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This omicron variant has now reached a new level in terms of infectivity, in terms of contagiousness. It is now in the category of measles, the most highly transmissible virus or one of the most highly transmissible viruses known to mankind. We've been vaccinating against measles for a long time. We need to go the same thing with SARS-Cov2 and COVID-19.


MARQUEZ (voice over): One more concern on the immediate horizon, schools. Kids going back to schools, that starts here in Texas next Tuesday. It is of a particular concern in states like Texas where the governor has banned mask mandates in public schools. They also believe that they are not at the peak of this current wave, their fourth wave here in Texas. They believe that those cases will continue to rise through mid-January, into February. The hospital says they are ready for whatever the omicron variant can throw at them. Poppy?


HARLOW: Miguel Marquez, thank you very for that reporting.

Joining me now, Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and Associate Dean of Public Health at Brown University. Dr. Ranney, thank you so much for joining us.

As we head into the holiday weekend during this unprecedented spike in COVID cases, what is your message to people who actually maybe making the decision, what am I going to do tonight?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN: If you are planning to go out tonight, please get together with only small groups of people who you know are vaccinated and for whom you've been able to do a rapid antigen test, a think like that BinaxNOW, immediately prior to the get together. Omicron is truly everywhere. And even if you are vaccinated, it may not take you down and have you end up in the hospital but it is still a miserable illness.

And the trouble with omicron is that it is not just about the individual right now. Again, if you are vaccinated and boosted, you are likely to be just fine. But it is also about larger society. And what I am so worried about over the next month or so is that our economy is going to shut down not because of policies from the federal government or from the state governments, but rather because so many of us are ill.

HARLOW: You know, it's -- it's a very, very important balance, right, health, public health balance and a public need and economic balance. And you heard the mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, address this by saying, quote, we must learn to live with COVID. I mean, he is going to be brought into office officially tonight at the ball drop in New York City when a lot of folks are wondering why is New York City even doing that. How do you find that balance between the two? RANNEY: I think it is a really difficult balance to create. We've been struggling with it throughout the pandemic, right? We're constantly trying to weigh the risks of COVID versus the very real benefits of being out and about, seeing each other in person, getting back to work, getting back to school.

Here is the thing. If you are vaccinated and boosted, in general, this variant is not dangerous to you. But right now, in the midst of this surge, with the overwhelm of the health care systems, with the overwhelm of other essential systems, such as the airline industry that you were just describing, we're going to see the same thing happen in food service, in transportation. Right now is not the time to risk getting this even if it is mild.

Outdoor activities, great. Small get-togethers, fine. We don't have to shut down like March 2020. This next month though is going to be very difficult from an economic and social standpoint. And as a health care worker, it is going to be tough on those of us in the hospitals as we face unprecedented absences and increasing hospitalization counts.

HARLOW: Can you speak to that in your hospital right now? I mean, what is happening on that front?

RANNEY: Poppy, I cannot begin to describe how difficult it is in my hospital right now. We have shut down all surgeries except for acute emergencies because we don't have staff. We have turned areas of the hospital that are not normally intensive care units into intensive care units because we don't have enough ICU beds. We have deployed nurses in other parts of the hospital, like our cardiac catheterization lab, into our ICUs because we just need more hands.

We're asking for our governor to call up the National Guard to help with some of our non-skilled tasks, things like transporting stretchers or providing security. We have so short-staffed and so overwhelmed, it's worse than I saw it even last winter.

HARLOW: Wow, amazing to be and tragic to be in that situation now heading into year three of this.

What about children, because we see the numbers, record number of children being hospitalized with COVID? One infectious disease professor warns, in their words, a, quote, tidal wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations, especially in young children may be coming. Do you agree with that prediction?

RANNEY: So, I think it is true for those that are not vaccinated. Those are 5 to 17-year-olds who are eligible for the vaccine and have not yet gotten it because of parental hesitation are at risk of hospitalization, intensive care unit stays and, God forbid, death. The vaccines work but we know that COVID was among the top ten causes of death for children in the United States last year. The same thing is going to happen with omicron.

Now, every kid that catches omicron is not going to end up in the hospital. But if our kids aren't vaccinated and they're not masked, they're going to have a tough winter. HARLOW: Dr. Megan Ranney thank you very much for joining us and our best to everyone at your hospital dealing with these circumstances.

RANNEY: Thank you. Happy New Year.

HARLOW: Happy New Year. Just ahead, the January 6th committee is preparing for next phase of their probe as we approach the one-year mark since the attack.

Also, Colorado Governor Jared Polis will join me live with an update on the devastating wildfires that have forced thousands of people from their homes.


This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.


HARLOW: Just six days from now, the nation will mark a full year since the Capitol riot and former President Trump is pressing on with the fight to thwart the January 6 investigation. The battle now playing out potentially in the U.S. Supreme Court.

We're joined by Representative Jason Crow, one of the last lawmakers to leave the House chamber when rioters stormed the building.

And, Congressman, before we begin on that, obviously, our condolences from this entire team to your state dealing with these awful, unprecedented wildfires. Your governor, Jared Polis, is joining us shortly. So, I'm very sorry for that.

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Yes, thank you, Poppy. A very tough 24 hours and my heart (INAUDIBLE) go out to the families impacted. And the entire congressional delegation is working hard to make sure that we get the resources they need, so, thank you.

HARLOW: Of course. Let's begin on the topic of the January 6 commission with President Trump's appeal to the Supreme Court to block the committee's access to documents that were relevant and some of them from the day, January 6th.


Do you believe that this is an issue that the court should take up?

CROW: Well, it is unfortunate, Poppy, that it had to get to the courts when you have a former president of the United States who doesn't actually want to respond to lawful subpoenas, wants hide information that the public and the Congress has a right and an obligation to be able to review. It says a lot about the former president. It says a lot about what they have to hide, what they are nervous about the public and Congress seeing.

But, really, what is at stake here is making sure that the legislative branch that Congress is a co-equal branch to the executive branch. That is what our founders envisioned. That's what the Constitution states very clearly. That's really what's at stake with the subpoenas, these document requests. Will Congress be respected in the way that our constitution demands it be? It is unfortunate that that is going to be litigated but it does look like some of that is going to have to go to the courts.

HARLOW: Yes. As we approach this one year mark, I want to revisit this. Let me pull it on the screen. This is a very powerful image of you in the House chamber that day comforting your colleagues. And I wonder when you look at this, do you worry that the longer this investigation goes, and there have been some successful delay tactics by some on the right, that some Americans may grow numb to this?

CROW: Well, that is why we have to continue to tell the story. We're coming up on a year since this happened. It was a terrible day. I think we have to continue to remind folks this was an assault on their, on the people's house, on the United States Capitol. This is an assault on both (ph). This mob, these insurrectionists tried to stop the certification of their votes. Everybody should be upset about that.

And, of course, it was a brutal assault on police officers, over 140 were brutally beaten. Several of them lost their lives and people who would have tried to kill me and other members of Congress had they broken through those doors. It was a terrible thing but we're not going stop telling that story. And certainly next week we're going to have a series of events and a vigil to make sure that we are keeping the memory of what happened alive and honoring those who gave their lives in defense of our democracy that day.

HARLOW: If we could turn to Afghanistan, of course, you've served our nation there. Your colleague, Republican Congressman Peter Meijer, was on CNN with my colleague, Jake Tapper, earlier this week and was asked about the reunification of Afghan children who were evacuated without their parents. And many of them, hundreds of them, have not yet been reunified with their parents. Listen to what he said when asked what more the Biden administration needs to do on this front.


REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): Announce a political will, have President Biden make this a priority. Again, we have been working State Department, with the Department of Homeland Security, throughout the interagency process on not just the evacuations that took place but the ongoing evacuations that need to occur. And they have been a stymying slow force at every turn. And it all flows down from the fact that at the top, in the Oval Office, with the president, there is no sense of urgency, there is no sense of compassion or concern for those that were left behind. And until that changes, we're going to continue to see the delayed, drawn-out and frankly deadly process that we've seen so far.


HARLOW: I wonder if you agree with him. CROW: Well, Peter is a friend of mine and he's a fellow member of the Honoring Our Promises Working Group after the decision to end our combat operations. We knew that evacuating our partners, evacuating vulnerable Afghans that fought with us and for us in the last 20 years was going to be a really important task. So, Peter and I have worked on that.

I agree with him on many things. I disagree with him on others. I agree that the process has been slow, that it is complicated and there has been bureaucracy that has bogged down. And I continue to join with him and others, a bipartisan coalition, to push the administration to speed that process, expedite it and to do everything possible to get our partners out.

At the same time, I recognize that this is a complicated issue. There are a lot of people within the administration who are working really hard, who want to do this just as much as we do, and have friends there too, that this is not an abstraction for, that these are people that they knew and worked with for years that are fighting hard to save (INAUDIBLE), just like we are. So, I think there is a lot of will in the administration to get this done. We have to continue to push.

HARLOW: Congressman Jason Crow, thank you very much and wishing you a happy and healthy New Year.

CROW: Happy New Year to you.

HARLOW: Coming up, communities in Colorado devastated after sudden wildfires tear across the state. Governor Jared Polis will join me next. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.



HARLOW: Breaking news, President Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for the state of Colorado after devastating wildfires engulfed parts of the state with hurricane-force winds, destroying more than 500 homes.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis joins us soon, but, first, let me begin with our Natasha Chen, who is on the ground with more.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Winds up to 105 miles an hour fueled catastrophic fires that blasted through two Colorado communities Thursday.

SHERIFF JOE PELLE, BOULDER COUNTY, COLORADO: I would estimate it is going to be at least 500 homes. I would not be surprised if it is a thousand.


CHEN: Now just as 2021 is coming to an end, thousands of people in Superior and Louisville, Colorado, have lost everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're on a group text, do we leave, do we stay, what is everybody doing, everybody is rushing around with their phones taking videos of their home inside just in case.

CHEN: The full scope of the devastation is becoming clear from the air.

MAYOR CLINT FOLSOM, SUPERIOR, COLORADO: We just witnessed incredible devastation around the town and then also witnessed houses just exploding right before our eyes.

CHEN: The fire spread rapidly over more than 6,000 acres. About 35,000 people had just hours and in some cases just minutes to evacuate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was like a tornado.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looked like something I've only ever seen on apocalyptic film.

CHEN: Some neighborhoods were destroyed while others remained untouched.

PELLE: The fire runs in fingers based on topography and winds where there are shrubs and taller grasses, where it entered neighborhoods and took out like an entire block and then left everything around it standing. There is an entire community that is completely wiped out, that is just smoking holes in the ground.

CHEN: One resident looking back at the home she left behind said the winds, quote, physically threw me back as she desperately rounded up her cats, a few possessions and evacuated. She described debris flying everywhere, saying a trash can flew into her car as she drove away.

The cause of the fire is unknown. No one saw it coming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I grew up in Louisiana and I've seen hurricanes, nothing like this.

CHEN: Not shoppers fleeing the local Costco.

HUNT FRYE, EVACUATED COSTCO STORE: I just remember a little boy on the way out said, it is a fire drill to me, and I said, yes, it is.

CHEN: And according to one resident, not even the first responders on scene.

FRYE: The thing that really struck me was the fear in the police officer's face who were trying to kind of get traffic going. They were legitimately scared.


CHEN (on camera): And this snow that we're seeing now is what residents tell me they really wish they could have seen yesterday as they were frantically trying to evacuate, some really emotional stories about trying to decide what to take with them, one family telling me that they had to drive to two and a half hours just for a quarter mile, sometimes over sidewalks and through yards just to escape, Poppy.

HARLOW: Natasha Chen, we really appreciate your reporting on the ground.

And let me now bring in Colorado Governor Jared Polis. Governor, thank you and we are so sorry for what your state is enduring right now. I know you just had a call with the president. What did you say to him and what support did he offer to your state?

GOV. JARED POLIS (D-CO): Well, we appreciate the nation all of the positive thoughts, the prayers that are coming in from all over. There are still some families that don't know if they have a home to return to yet and we still have not yet confirmed any fatalities. Let us hope this is a New Years miracle and that no one dies.

The president kind enough to call this morning right after I landed, I've been up in a helicopter, reconnaissance mission with regard to the damage. We had a good conversation for about 10, 15 minutes. He really offered all of the help that the federal government can provide. They mentioned they'll be -- they signed, have already activated the pre-approval process to get some of the funds moving for debris removal.

This is a very different fire than most and that the fire itself is essentially out. There are still a few smoldered flames but we're covered by a blanket of snow. We are grateful. It came one day too late, but, nevertheless, we're grateful for the snow. And now it is really a matter of surveying the damage.

HARLOW: The mayor of Superior, Colorado, just told me on the show, reiterating what you said, not aware of any fatalities, but that he's still really concerned because of the very limited amount of time some families had to flee their homes. Do you share his concerns that you just may not know yet?

POLIS: Yes. In this kind of situation, you would expect, honestly, dozens of fatalities. These are thousands of people. Many had five minutes to flee. It would be remarkable if there aren't any. I think at this point, we can rule out a large number of fatalities because, usually, you hear about people reporting others missing. There is currently no missing folks we're trying to identify but it doesn't mean that, sadly, there couldn't be a charred body that is later discovered.

But we're holding up hopes at the very least, mass fatalities were successfully avoided with a well done evacuation supported by the local sheriff. Later on in the evening and today, our National Guard units have also provided assistance on road closures and rerouting.

HARLOW: They're just remarkable first responders all around. But let's hope that the fatality number stays at zero, Governor. I do want to turn our viewers' attention to something else making news out of your office, and that is to a case that really has garnered national attention. That is the case of the truck driver, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, whose truck crashed, killed four people in your state. He was sentenced to 110 years, you just, last night, shortened that sentence to ten years.


Valerie Robertson Young is one of the victims of the crash. He actually wrote you a letter asking you not to get involved and she joined me on CNN earlier this week. Here is part of what she told me.


VALERIE ROBERTSON YOUNG, SURVIVED CRASH CAUSED BY TRUCKER: He could have got off the road, he could have taken -- and it wasn't one runoff he passed, it was several that he clearly just got off the road. He did nothing. He chose to hit traffic.


HARLOW: I do wonder who you say that to her and to other victims and their families who believed that you shouldn't have gotten involved, that he deserved a longer sentence.

POLIS: Well he certainly deserves to be punished for the errors he made and that when you make errors on the road, you don't -- it is not out of malicious intent. But, nevertheless, we do punish that. And when you look at how others who have been involved with inadvertent, vehicular homicide, reckless driving, this sentence of ten years is more consistent with that than 110 years, which is frankly more than you get when you go in and deliberately try to murder somebody and succeed.

So, it didn't make any sense. The judge himself said that it didn't make any sense. He was compelled to do that due to mandatory sentencing. What we did in our office as we went through this, we said, let's look at these reckless driving and deaths that occur and how do we, in our state, punish them. And we really saw that ten years was in that range, really towards the highest end of that range. We saw sentences all the way from zero to deferred sentence up to 10, 12, even 15 years.

So we went with one of the higher range. He'll serve his time, pay his debt to society and I hope that he (INAUDIBLE) tries to heal with the families of the people that were affected.

HARLOW: And before you go, Governor, you bring up the mandatory minimum sentencing, which is what the judge said tied their hands in this. I think this really begs the bigger question of what needs to happen to those mandatory minimum laws in your state.

POLIS: Yes. So, hopefully this will lead to renewed interest in reforming those. When you have an outcome like 110 years, it shouldn't fall to a governor to fix that. There should be a way to address that through the system, through the law. I think there is now renewed interest with Republicans and Democrats in our legislature in trying to rationalize those sentences.

So, you do the crime, you do the time and we've consistently across the system and you don't see one person getting a much worse sentence for the same crime that somebody gets a slap on the hand for. It is just not right to the victims of the crimes to see one perpetrator get a slap on the hand and another serve a longer sentence. We need uniformity and we need reasonable punishment.

HARLOW: Well, Governor Jared Polis, I appreciate you taking the questions being here tonight and, again, all of our thoughts are with your state this evening.

POLIS: Thank you for the good thoughts.

HARLOW: Of course. Just ahead, reflecting on the life of the legendary actress, Betty White, who showed the world the power of comedy with compassion.



HARLOW: We do have breaking news tonight on the passing an entertainment legend. Betty White has died at age 99 just weeks before her 100th birthday. She gave us so many smiles. What a life.

Our Stephanie Elam has a look back at her remarkable career.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Betty White's cheerful Hollywood career began in her teens and, by her 20s, she was a fixture on television with her own daily talk show. Ahead of the times, White cofounded her own production company in 1952. She worked on a variety of television and film projects over the years before turning a 1973 guest appearance on The Mary Tyler Moore Show into a permanent role. White was a scene-stealer as the man hungry Sue Ann Nivens.

BETTY WHITE, ACTRESS: I think a man should be virile, macho and just wreaking with masculinity.

ELAM: Her second signature role was on the beloved series, The Golden Girls, as the comical Rose Nylund.

WHITE: And they attacked chickens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You care about chickens, Rose. She didn't call me chicken. She called me peacock.

WHITE: You look more like a chicken when you're angry. Your neck seems to --

With the Golden Girls, I got to play with those silly ladies every week. So that -- and I loved Rose Nylund. She was positive and she was -- she wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer but she wasn't dumb. She was just terminally naive.

ELAM: Off screen, White married three times. She called her third husband T.V. Host Allen Ludden the love of her life. They were together almost 20 years before Ludden died of stomach cancer in 1981.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you never re-married?

WHITE: No. When you have the best, who needs the rest?

ELAM: A devoted pet-lover, White was a longtime advocate for animal welfare. She called television her hobby and animals her work. Yet her hobby kept her busy. White's talents as an actress and comedian were in demand well into her senior years. Following a grassroots Facebook campaign in 2010, White became the oldest person ever to host Saturday Night Live at the age of 88.

WHITE: You know what is an accomplishment, staying awake on the toilet.

ELAM: The show earned huge ratings and White her 7th Emmy award. Later that year, White took on another role on T.V. Land's Hot in Cleveland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought that you weren't coming.

WHITE: Well, I ran out of vodka and I thought I would come over here and freshen up my drunk.


ELAM: In her 90s, White was at popular as ever with several ongoing film and television projects.

WHITE: How lucky can a 90-year-old girl be? I have no idea. And I'm still working. That has been such a thrill.

ELAM: Love of her warm smile, wit and off color humor, White didn't miss a beat when asked if there were any Hollywood projects she would still like to do.

WHITE: I usually answer that question with Robert Redford. No, I think I've been lucky enough to do just about -- so much that if I start complaining about anything under the sun, throw me out of the business.


HARLOW: What a life. That was our Stephanie Elam reporting. Stephanie, thank you very much for that.

Let's get more on the life of Betty White with Wendy Malick, her co- star on Hot in Cleveland. Wendy, thank you very much for being with us.

WENDIE MALICK, CO-STAR, HOT IN CLEVELAND (voice over): Oh, you're welcome.

HARLOW: So, what is your favorite memory of her?

MALICK (voice over): It is still hard to say. She really was -- I believe you meet people for a reason and they come into your life. And when I met Betty, I was on the verge of my 60th birthday when we first did Hot in Cleveland. She was on the verge of her 90s. And without her, I don't think I would have made that leap into my last act with nearly as much grace and humor. She just was the ideal role model for so many of us. And I got to spend every day with her. And she really was everything you would imagine her to be. She just had the biggest heart and was so generous, so kind, so funny and we shared an enormous love for animals, which bonded us in a whole other area.

HARLOW: Here is a clip for our viewers of the two of you together in Hot in Cleveland. Let's watch.


WHITE: (INAUDIBLE) fix everything except quitting alcohol.

MALICK: So, how far in are you?

WHITE: Oh, eight hours, maybe 20, my watch might be upside down.


HARLOW: What was it like working with her on that show?

MALICK: Right? I mean, you get Betty to break, it was a really good day, an extra good day. She was the best audience as well as being hilariously funny herself. And when you were doing that little piece on her before I came on, she really did have a crush on Robert Redford, like an enormous one, but she never met. And I was at a fundraiser for Return to Freedom Rescue Group and Bob was there. And I told him about Betty and I said, listen, she has such a crush on you, she didn't want to meet you, she'd be too freaked out.

So, we called her and I had him on the phone and she didn't believe it was him, and I think she ended up hanging up on us and later just rued the fact that she didn't get a chance to talk to him through phone. But she was like a little girl and she could blush like in a moment's notice. But, truly, the love of her life has been Allen. She was just wild about him. And every time she talked about him, her eyes would sparkle and it was only 20 years and she wished she had more but she wasn't someone to ever dwell on the things that made her sad. She always found something new to pour herself into, mostly animal-related or work, which she loved and that was a passion.

HARLOW: What a life. What a love she had. And now we know she hung up on Robert Redford. So, there is that.


HARLOW: Thank you for sharing these memories. We're sorry for your loss but we are all so glad that she was in this world. MALICK: We are so lucky to have her and what a great laugh (ph). And may we all live so fully and for so long and in such an amazing way. She will not be forgotten, that is for sure.

HARLOW: She will not. Thank you very much, Wendie. Happy New Year.

MALICK: Bye-bye.

HARLOW: Coming up, President Biden again warns Vladimir Putin of consequences if Russia makes a move on Ukraine.



HARLOW: President Biden is revealing new details tonight about his latest phone call with Vladimir Putin and the warning that he gave him about Ukraine.

Our White House Jeremy Diamond is in Delaware where the president is with more.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We made it clear that he cannot -- emphasize cannot -- move on Ukraine.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden closing out 2021 with a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BIDEN: If he makes any more moves and goes into Ukraine, we will have severe sanctions. We will increase our presence in Europe with our NATO allies. And it will have to be a heavy price to pay for it.

DIAMOND: Biden laying out that heavy price during a 50-minute phone call yesterday, urging Putin to deescalate ahead of U.S./Russia security talks scheduled for January 10th.

BIDEN: I made it clear that they only could work if, in fact, they deescalate it, not escalate.

I always expect if you negotiate, you make progress. But we'll see.


DIAMOND (on camera): And, Poppy, President Biden is now set to speak with the Ukrainian president on Sunday.

That conversation is set to show that Russia that the U.S. and Ukraine will coordinate ahead of the January 10th negotiations between the U.S. and Russia. This follows the principle the White House has laid out about nothing about them without them making clear to Russia that they will remain in close touch with the Ukrainians -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Jeremy Diamond, we appreciate the reporting, thank you very much.

Let's get more perspective from CNN national politics reporter Eva McKend and CNN senior political analyst, Kirsten Powers.

Thank you for being with us.

Eva, let me get to you first on a legislative perspective. How is this your ending for President Biden? Obviously the signature build back better bill is passed, we have no even if big chunks will pass.


How big of a deal is that, not only for the president but his party heading into the New Year?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Poppy, it is certainly disappointing, this protracted battle that we've seen over the last several months has been bruising for Democrats, for President Biden. But it would be a mistake to say that the president is ending this year without any legislative policy victories.

Earlier this year, Democrats all alone passed the American rescue plan and frankly that bill had a lot of policy provisions that Democrats have been championing for years. They were able to get that across the finish line with pandemic relief.

And then of course the bipartisan infrastructure package, that addresses roads and bridges and broadband.

So a huge, I think a learning effort for this administration in its first year. Remember, President Biden only in the presidency a year, they will have to take into 2022 in order to get I think 85 percent, 85 percent of their domestic agenda that is in the build back better bill finished with. But still, they are able to end this year with some pretty significant accomplishment.

HARLOW: Kirsten, we start the New Year with record-breaking COVID cases. It is hard to believe that we are, but it is where we are, and renewed legitimate frustration over lack of available tests.

What do you think the administration needs to do to reassure the public, both from a public health perspective and a political perspective, we've got this, we have a handle on this?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, they can't get it in a time machine and go back and have the tests that they should have had. Which I think was extremely frustrating to a lot of Americans and with the vice president saying they basically were surprised by this happening.

And so, I think moving forward they can't afford to have this happen again. And it shouldn't be a surprise that new variants appear and that we should probably anticipate that another one will appear and be prepared for it, and if one doesn't appear and we have tests and we don't need them, that would be wonderful. So I think that they really, they really can't have this happen again because I say the two biggest things that Americans are looking to the president for right now are how is the economy going, and how is he handled the pandemic.

HARLOW: What is so interesting, to Kirsten's point is that they're so connected. I mean politically he can't shut down the economy and he has to be able to help people in every way possible to help keep the economy going, which is so reliant on availability of testing.

MCKEND: Yeah. And I think that this issue of testing, it seems to have caught the administration by surprise.


MCKEND: They were very critical, President Biden when he was running for the presidency, very critical of the former administration on where they were with testing. Now that they are on the driver's seat, I wonder if he has different thoughts about how difficult it is to get these tests out to the American people.

But, you know, one of the reasons that President Biden was elected is because he didn't, unlike the former president, he didn't poke fun at masks or suggest that it was a sign of weakness when you wear them. He has always taken this seriously.

So I think that the administration hoping that in the New Year that we turn the curve, but no, absolutely, we can't return to widespread lockdowns, that would be grossly unpopular.

HARLOW: Kirsten, final thought on this administration as they turn a page heading into the New Year?

POWERS: Well, I do think when they come back that the biggest thing for the president is going to be trying to figure out a way to get Build Back Better, to put some life into that, whether it is in the form that it was in when Joe Manchin shot it down or in a way that they break it up into smaller pieces but then they have to get Republican support or is there possibly a deal that can be reached with Joe Manchin, which it seems like was put on the table.

So I think that will be probably the number one thing that he's focused on in addition to the economy and inflation and the pandemic.

HARLOW: No slow start to the New Year, that is for sure. Kirsten Powers, thank you and, Kirsten, congrats on your book, by the way, and Eva McKend.

POWERS: Thank you.

HARLOW: I can't wait to read it. Thanks very much.

We have more news ahead, New York City famous New Year's Eve party carries on with a scaled back representation as COVID cases surge nationwide.



HARLOW: We are just over five hours away from the ball drop in New York City, officially marking a brand-new year.

Joining us live from where it is all going to happen, Times Square CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas.

And, Melas, you look amazing. Let me just say that.


Well, this is my first time in Times Square for New Year's Eve and I am here in front of people from all over the world who are so excited to be here tonight.

We have so many cool celebrities joining us tonight. We have Katy Perry on our CNN show. Kris Jenner, the matriarch of the Kardashian and Jenner family is going to be calling in. We have David Arquette. We have Patti LaBelle, Patti LuPone. We have so many awesome performances from Earth, Wind and Fire.

Honestly, it is going to be an awesome night. I'll still trying to come up with any New Year's resolution, but I think I have a few. And I've also never had a New York City hot dog before, and I'm thinking tonight is the night.

HARLOW: Oh, my gosh, girlfriend, get on that. Chloe Melas, have a great time on that.

And thanks to everyone for joining me. Note to our viewers stay to CNN for coverage live from Times Square. It begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.