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The Situation Room
Experts Double Down, Most Americans Will Be Exposed To Omicron. January 6th Committee Asks Rep. McCarthy (R-CA) To Cooperate Voluntarily; Awaiting New Decision On Tennis Star Djokovic's Ahead Of Australian Open; McConnell: Biden "Profoundly Unpresidential" On Voting Rights; British PM Boris Johnson Faces Calls To Resign After New Admission He Partied During Lockdown. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 12, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a shifting response to the omicron explosion here in the United States. U.S. health officials are doubling down on the message that most Americans will be exposed, this as the pandemic economy takes another hit with inflation soaring to a four-decade high.
Also tonight, a huge development in the January 6th investigation, the select committee is now asking the top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, to cooperate voluntarily and turn over information.
And we're awaiting a possible decision by the Australian government on the fate of the tennis star, Novak Djokovic. Will he be able to stay in the country after he admitted to violating COVID protocols. There is growing pressure for an answer as player matchups for the Australian Open will be drawn just a few hours from now.
We want to welcome our viewers hire in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with the changing tone among U.S. health officials and COVID experts. They're sounding more and more resigned to the idea that almost every American will be exposed to or infected with the omicron variant. CNN's Nick Watt has our report.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Omicron, with its extraordinarily unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody.
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It is finding an infecting nearly three quarters of a million Americans on average every day.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY: We are preparing an update to the information on our mask website to best reflect the options that are available to people and the different levels of protection the different masks provide.
WATT: The update will stress that N-95 are much better than cloth.
Meanwhile, at United, 3,000 thousand staff have COVID right now, the airline forced to trim schedules, more than 800 LAPD staff now in quarantine. Chicago's mayor just tested positive, so did West Virginia's governor. I'm thankful to the lord above that I've been vaccinated, I've been boosted. That being said, I feel extremely unwell at this point.
The omicron surge appears now to be peaking in parts of the northeast.
DR. CHERYL BETTIGOLE, PHILADELPHIA HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Over the past week, COVID-19 cases have remained extremely high but they may be starting to plateau.
GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): We are not at the end but I wanted to say this is to me a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of hope at a time when we desperately need that.
WATT: But plenty pain to come, more COVID patients are in the hospital now than ever before. The average daily death toll is now --
WALENSKY: About 1,600 per day, which is an increase of about 40 percent over the previous week.
WATT: Even the former president is now boosting boosters.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Watch a couple of politicians being interviewed and one of the questions was did you get the booster because they had the vaccine. And they all -- they're answering it like, another was answer is yes but they don't want to say it because they're gutless.
WATT: That is probably more about politics than the pandemic. Trump didn't name the gutless but he's talking about his potential 2024 presidential rival, Florida's governor.
MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS HOST: You have gotten the booster?
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): So, I've done whatever I did, the normal shot and, you know, that, at the end of the day, is people's individual decisions about what they want to do.
WATT (on camera): And, of course, with the omicron surge, a lot of talk of boosters and also of masks. I just mentioned the CDC going to update its guidance to tell us all which masks are best and the White House today said that they are, quote, in the process right now of strongly considering options of how to get better quality masks out there to more Americans. A little whiff of too little too late right. Wolf?
BLITZER: So, so important. All right Nick Watt reporting for us. And Nick thank you very, very much. Let's bring in our pandemic experts right now. Dr. Paul Offit is a member of the FDA Vaccines Advisory Committee, he's author of the very important book, You Bet Your Life. We're also joined by Dr. Ala Stanford, Founder and CEO of the Black Doctors of COVID-19 Consortium. Thanks to both of you for joining us.
Do you -- Dr. Offit, first of all, do you agree with the assessment that the omicron surge appears to be peaking in the northeast right now?
Is relief on the way?
DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: I think so. I mean, if you look for example in the United Kingdom or Denmark, which are usually a couple of weeks ahead of us, it does look like things are going to get better quickly and New York City also thinks you get a sense of peaking and coming down. That was the situation as well in South Africa. So, I do think we're going to get past this quickly.
I do disagree however with the notion that all of us should be resigned to getting omicron. I mean, the term that virologists used to describe circulating viruses is wild type viruses, meaning out of control. Vaccinate, mask and do everything you can to avoid this virus. Remember, when you are talking about more than a thousand people dying every day, they're dying from this virus. So, do everything you can to avoid it.
BLITZER: And let me bring Dr. Stanford into the conversation. As you know, Dr. Stanford, Dr. Fauci reiterated today that the omicron variant is so transmissible, nearly everyone will be exposed. The word, exposed, at some point, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be infected but they'll be exposed to this virus. Does that mean we need to rethink our overall COVID strategy?
DR. ALA STANFORD, FOUNDER AND CEO, BLACK DOCTORS COVID-19 CONSORTIUM: I think still, number one, is get vaccinated. And after that, get a booster. And then encourage everyone you know who is not protected to do one and two. Certainly, wearing masks still helps. Staying away from indoor gatherings and really focusing on our vulnerable populations.
Our kids in Philadelphia, between 8 and 24 percent, depending on your race and ethnic background, are all that are vaccinated, which are leaving about 90 percent or 70 percent of our kids are unvaccinated. We have to get to them because they are vulnerable and they're filling up our hospitals at higher rates now.
BLITZER: Yes, I checked with the Johns Hopkins University, right now, the U.S. is averaging about 750,000 daily COVID cases, almost 750,000. Dr. Offit, we're still waiting on the CDC to update its masking guidance, potentially recommending what are called N-95 or KN-95 masks for better protection. Take a look at what one study found about mask leakage. Take a look at this. You can see the numbers, N-95, 1-10 percent. Surgical mask, 50 percent, cloth mask 75 percent on mask leakage. Are Americans walking around with cloth masks essentially unprotected from this omicron variant, which is so highly transmissible?
OFFIT: Yes. Cloth masks are better than nothing but not much better than nothing. If you could get an N-95 mask, KN-95 mask, that's certainly a value, and otherwise, the surgical mask, the three-ply surgical masks do offer protection. But, again, be careful, try to social distance. Please be vaccinated and we will get through this. We really only have to go through this for about another four to six weeks and then I think we're look in our rearview mirror of at omicron but just hang in there for a few weeks, we can get there.
BLITZER: And just be careful out there and clearly wear a mask.
Dr. Stanford, the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, says new search shows a 91 percent reduction in mortality from this omicron variant and that many reason COVID deaths could still be due to the delta variant. Are you optimistic that the lower omicron mortality rate will keep deaths lower despite this dramatic surge in cases?
STANFORD: Perhaps. But by the time you do that analysis, someone has already gotten seriously infected, hospitalized or died. I mean, that information also came out that you're ten times more likely to contract COVID if you're unvaccinated, you're 17 percent or 17 times more likely to be hospitalized unvaccinated and 20 times more likely to die if you're unvaccinated.
So, I agree with Dr. Offit, better days are coming, but still, the message is get vaccinated, get to our most vulnerable populations that are more susceptible and let's protect folks from alpha, delta, omicron and all of it so we can get to the other side of this.
BLITZER: And, God forbid, if there is a future variant mutation out there, let's protect everyone from those down the road as well. Dr. Ala Stanford, thanks for all your doing. Dr. Paul Offit, as usual, thanks to you as well.
And there is more breaking news we're following just ahead. Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the January 6th select committee now asking the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, to cooperate voluntarily with the investigation.
Plus, we're awaiting a final decision from the Australian government on Novak Djokovic after the tennis star admitted he violated COVID protocols.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the house investigation into the January 6th insurrection, the select committee now asking the minority leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, to provide information voluntarily including details about former President Trump's state of mind during the Capitol siege. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working the story for us. Evan, what is the committee most interested in learning from McCarthy?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the committee believes that McCarthy has a lot of information, especially about the former president's state of mind in those key days around January 6th. One of the things that the committee says in their letter to McCarthy is that they have text messages from multiple witnesses who discuss some concerns inside the White House about the former president's state of mind during that period and they say it appears that you had one or more conversations with the president during this period.
Of course, McCarthy has discussed that he had multiple phone calls with the former president in various television interviews. So these are things that the committee believes he can shed light on if he sat down with them voluntarily. Of course, he's the third Republican to be asked for voluntary cooperation, Wolf. And Manu Raju asked the minority leader about the possibility of testifying just a few months ago. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANU RAJU, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Would you be willing to testify about your conversation with Donald Trump on January 6th if you were asked by an outside commission --
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Sure. Next question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: So there you have it. He said he was willing at that point. We don't know what his answer is going to be this time, Wolf. And look, if he refuses to testify, it's not clear that this committee is willing to take the additional step of perhaps issuing a subpoena. It's not clear, they don't believe yet, whether they can do that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. He says sure, next question. That was pretty specific. Evan Perez, thank you very much for that.
Let's discuss with a key member of the select committee, Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar of California. Congressman, thanks as usual for joining us. So McCarthy may have said last year he'd be willing to talk, but since then he appears to have tried in various ways to trip up your committee almost every step of the way. In what universe would he actually cooperate voluntarily?
REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Well, we'll hold him to his word. Just like your reporting mentioned, when Manu Raju asked him whether he would talk to an outside committee, he answered sure. So we're going to hold him to that. And I would expect anyone who takes the same oath to the constitution that I took in order to serve here would be willing to talk about January 6th and would be willing to talk about what happened that day.
But this is someone who clearly has information. He talked to the White House and to the president leading up to January 6th on their efforts to overturn the election results. He talked with the president by public reporting on January 6th. And he was concerned about the safety of the Capitol after January 6th. All of those are key bits of information that we feel are important.
BLITZER: And McCarthy clearly had critical conversations with then- President Trump during the January 6th attack and in the aftermath. So why is this request only coming now, Congressman, months into your investigation?
AGUILAR: Well, this is part of the investigative steps that we're taking. We've had over 300 conversations, nearing 400 conversations so far with individuals as we develop that information, as we hear from witnesses we have other questions.
And so this is part of that process, part of that timeline. It's our hope that our colleagues would be willing to come and speak before us if they are as committed to the constitution as they say they are and the rule of law then this should be a pretty easy answer for them.
BLITZER: What is the strategy, though, to get the information from your fellow members of Congress? We're talking about McCarthy, Congressman Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, all three members, Republicans in the house. Is anything short of a subpoena going to cut it?
AGUILAR: Well, the question that Manu Raju asked him, was it about a subpoena, it was whether he'd be willing to talk. And he said sure. So, you know, it's our hope that he comes forward. But as Chairman Thompson mentioned, we are researching and evaluating next steps. And if there are next steps we'll announce them.
But in the meantime we hope that everyone who feels as strongly as we do about protecting this temple of democracy that's the U.S. Capitol would come forward and share. And clearly the minority leader has had contact with the White House and with the former president. All of that would be helpful in our investigation.
BLITZER: CNN has learned that Kayleigh McEnany, the former White House Press Secretary during the Trump White House, spoke with your committee today. She was then -- she was with then-President Trump back on January 6th. How forthcoming was she? Did she answer questions about Trump's behavior that day?
AGUILAR: Well, I can't talk about any of the individual depositions and conversations that we've had, although I've sat through a number of them. What I can tell you is that we're asking very clear, very concise questions to these witnesses and to these individuals who were around the president's orbit on January 6th. What was his state of mind? Why didn't he take action to prevent this violent attack? What was he doing during those 187 minutes at the White House? Those are all important questions that the American public and that the public here in Washington, D.C. deserve answers to.
BLITZER: Can you just tell us if she was fully cooperative?
AGUILAR: I can't tell you if any witness was fully cooperative, but what I can tell you is the substance of what we are hearing has been positive.
And just because you hear a few individuals who don't want to talk to the committee, there are dozens and hundreds of others who have. So we continue to make solid progress in our investigation. We look forward to the next steps. But we're still in that investigative stage and talking to many individuals.
BLITZER: Congressman Pete Aguilar, thank you so much for joining us.
AGUILAR: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, with the tournament draw for the Australian open just a few hours away, we're standing by for a possible decision on the fate of the tennis star Novak Djokovic. We're going to have an update from Melbourne right after the break.
BLITZER: We're awaiting word tonight on whether the world's top men's tennis player will be able to stay in Australia and defend his title.
As CNN's Phil Black reports from Melbourne, Novak Djokovic is now confronting the COVID controversy that's dogging him.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Some apologies are swift, fulsome, heartfelt. Novak Djokovic chose a different path, opening with, I want to address the continuing misinformation about my activities.
The world number one tennis player's extraordinary statement tries to explain how and why he tested positive for COVID-19 and then hung out with lots of people over the following days. This is the Djokovic timeline.
December 14th he attends a basketball game in Belgrade. December 16th, hearing about infections at the game, he undergoes a rapid antigen test. It's negative. He feels good but cautious. So he sits for a PCR test anyway. December 17, another negative result from a rapid test before attending this children's tennis event.
Later that day, Djokovic says, he receives the PCR result. It's positive. December 18, Djokovic cancels all appointments except an interview with French Sports Publication L'Equipe. Because, he says, I didn't want to let the journalist down, but did ensure I socially distanced and wore a mask except when my photograph was being taken. The journalist Djokovic was so concerned about says he was never told about the positive test, nor was the photographer. Djokovic now admits he made a mistake. While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection this was an error of judgment, and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment.
BEN ROTHENBERG, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: For not alerting this reporter, not telling him hey, by the way, I'm positive for COVID, do you still want to do this, we should probably cancel. The guy was uninformed about this and Djokovic knew. And keeping that secret from him I think is pretty irresponsible.
BLACK: Then a second sort of apology from Djokovic. Admitting there was inaccurate information in the travel declaration form submitted to Australian authorities. That's a potential crime here. Asked if he's been to any other countries in the previous 14 days, his answer is no.
Social media pictures show he'd been in Serbia and Spain. This was submitted by my support team on my behalf. My agent sincerely apologizes for the administrative mistake. This was a human error and certainly not deliberate.
While Djokovic trains, desperately trying to focus on winning, the ball is now in the Australian government's court as it considers canceling his visa once again.
BLACK (on camera): We are told the Australian government investigation is taking all of those factors into account, the circumstances, the documentation surrounding the positive test, Djokovic's behavior in the days following.
There is no formal deadline for this government decision. But Wolf, the clock is ticking. The Australian open is set in just a few hours to announce its formal draw for the competition. Djokovic is the number one seed.
The government doesn't have to take into account its impact on a major sporting event like this. But the longer it waits, then the greater the chance you're going to see an escalation in the consequences, the fallout, the circus-like atmosphere that continues to surround this whole saga. Wolf.
BLITZER: This is clearly a huge, huge decision they're about to make. Could be very, very soon. Phil Black reporting from Melbourne, thank you very much.
Let's get some more. Joining us now, our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and former Professional Tennis Player and ESPN Commentator Patrick McEnroe.
Patrick, just how unusual is this situation? We're now just hours away from the Australian open draw and the Australian government has yet to make a final decision about Djokovic's fate. PATRICK MCENROE, FORMER PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: Well, as we've been discussing the last couple of nights, Wolf, the plot just continues to thicken with this story. Just when you think you've got some sort of answer to where this is going something else comes up.
And, Djokovic again, misplayed his hand with his Instagram post, with this public statement, totally off base what he did there, by saying he's going to talk about misinformation -- what misinformation? This is all completely factual, what's happened, and what's being reported around the world. So, Novak has at least started to attempt to answer some of these questions but the answers are not what anybody, particularly those in the tennis world, Wolf, want to hear at the moment.
BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right. You know, Sanjay, Djokovic now admits it was in his words an error of judgment to take part in a photo shoot in an interview last month after he actually tested positive, PCR -- a formal test, not just a fast test for the coronavirus.
How much risk did he posed to others in the days immediately after he tested positive?
DR.SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It might be considerable, Wolf. It's a little hard to understand just all the facts here and the timing of things. But from Phil's report it sounds like he had some concern, had an antigen test on the 16th and 17th that were negative, but then the PCR test came back on the 17th evening I guess and that was positive.
But let me show you a chart, just to give you an idea based on some data of contagiousness after someone is diagnosed with COVID. What you find is that you're typically most contagious I should say right around the time of diagnosis, probably even in the couple days before typically is sort of the biggest period of contagiousness.
It sort of goes down after that. So, if in fact he had interactions with people on day one or day two, again depending on the exact timeline, you can see, Wolf, I mean 75 percent of people are still contagious at that point. Now, I don't -- again, the rapid antigen test, that's typically a pretty good test to answer the specific question, not are you carrying virus but are you contagious or not.
It doesn't sound like he actually did that test on the day that he interacted with people. So it's very likely he was still contagious, Wolf, at that point.
BLITZER: Yes, that was clearly reckless. You know, Patrick, did anything about Djokovic's latest statement surprise you? Are you surprised he's publicly addressing this saga in the first place?
MCENROE: Well, I thought he needed to do that, Wolf. But I think he needs to do it in a press conference and people need to hear him and see him speaking. So, again, it was his initial Instagram post when he got on the plane to Australia that set off this political firestorm in Australia. Now you've got this one.
And as I was telling you last night, Wolf, it seemed like public opinion was starting to lean a little bit in his direction in Australia. But now my sources in Australia tell me after this post was released, after this statement came forward from Djokovic, that has totally turned. The Australian public, they would describe this statement as a shocker and they want him out of the country. That's what it sounds like. But they've got to make the draw in the next couple hours. So of course whether he's in it or not is a huge factor.
BLITZER: Yes, soon as the Australian government makes that announcement we'll of course bring it to our viewers. Patrick McEnroe, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Guys, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, historically high inflation is causing enormous headaches for American consumers right now. We're going to take a closer look at what's getting more expensive and why. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Here in the United States a new inflation report is driving home the pain so many American consumers are feeling right now. Prices soaring a whopping 7 percent just last month from the year before.
Our Brian Todd is working this story for us. Brian, Americans haven't seen a jump in prices like this since 1982.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. They haven't seen an overall jump in prices like this over a one-year period in almost 40 years. From grocery stores like this one to your neighborhood gas station, just about every American is feeling the pinch tonight.
TODD (voice over): At this grocery store here in D.C., customers getting crushed at the cash register.
ROBERT GOODE, GROCERY STORE CUSTOMER IN D.C.: Eggs, milk, mainly the basic things that you normally get, even paper products. They've gone up.
MAKENNA SIEVERTSON, GROCERY STORE CUSTOMER IN D.C.: They have a preset vegetables that I used to make those for dinner, just put them in the oven. I noticed they've gone up maybe a dollar or two. Just a single, double serving. So, it is noticeable.
TODD: Noticeable to seemingly every American consumer tonight. Today the Labor Department reported consumer prices were up 7 percent in December from a year earlier, the biggest one-year spike in prices in almost 40 years.
MICHELLE SINGLETARY, AUTHOR WHAT DO WITH YOUR MONEY WHEN CRISIS HITS: You go to the grocery store and you reach for something and you go my goodness, this is much more than I used to pay for.
MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: The typical American family is spending about $250 a month more to buy the same amount of things that they were buying a year ago.
TODD: At the grocery store chicken prices have gone up 10.4 percent in the past year, the biggest increase in more than 17 years. Fish and other seafood up 8.4 percent, the largest spike in over a decade.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: $34 for one bag of groceries.
TODD: And at the pumps Americans paid a staggering amount by December. Nearly 50 percent more for gas than they had a year earlier.
DAVID ROMERO, GAS STATION CUSTOMER IN L.A.: It will be one price one day and then tomorrow it's like up 30 cents.
TODD: And for those in the market for a new car or truck the biggest ever one-year spike in prices. 11.8 percent higher. The reasons for the inflation spikes, analysts say, trace back to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
ZANDI: Really scrambled global supply chains, particularly in Asia, Southeast Asia. Factories shut down, ports shut down created shortages of all kinds of things from vehicles to lumber to clothing. And that caused prices to rise. And of course the pandemic has made people sick and made a lot of other people fearful of going to work because they might get sick. And that leads to labor shortages.
TODD: And analysts say millions of American families already struggling to make ends meet due to the pandemic may have to make some serious sacrifices.
SINGLETARY: It really will mean that some people might actually have to skip a meal. Maybe they can't feed their children the way they want to. They will perhaps not be able to cover their rent, or all of their rent.
TODD (on camera): Is there any relief on the horizon for Americans? Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics believes there is, once we get to the other side of the omicron variant. He says that within three to six months, he believes gas and other energy prices will stabilize and start to come down.
Right after that, he believes that food prices will stabilize and then start to come down. By this time next year, he says, once that computer chip shortage is eased a bit, then the prices of new cars and trucks will come down as well. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, we shall see. Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very much. I want to get some more right now on this inflation report, what to expect in the months ahead. I know CNN's Matt Egan is joining us right now. And I know, Matt, you've been looking into this. What are the experts telling you?
MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Wolf, the trillion-dollar question is when will there be some relief on the inflation front. And no one can really say it for sure. I don't know that we should believe anyone who tries to forecast precisely when inflation's going to peak because very few people thought inflation would be this hot for this long.
And as you can see on that chart, after many years of very calm inflation we've seen prices skyrocket during COVID. And that is not a coincidence. They're almost going straight up. This is the eighth month in a row where inflation is topping 5 percent or higher. Remember, the Fed's goal is for 2 percent. We're nowhere near that.
There were some glimmers of hope in today's report. Month over month prices did decelerate. Energy prices dropped for the first time since April of 2021. Eventually that might not last for very long because we've seen oil prices come up to a two-month high. Prices at the pump have stopped going down.
Now, I spoke to a senior White House official who told me they don't have a crystal ball to know when prices are going to peak, but they said the administration is doing everything it can to try to keep prices in check, including by trying to get the COVID situation under control and trying to unclog supply chains.
But you know, I did talk to some economists, who do think that maybe in the coming months inflation could peak, maybe later this winter, maybe this spring. But the better question might be where do prices land once they do peak. Because if we see inflation cool off but remain uncomfortably high, that's still going to be a big problem. And it could force the Fed to hit the brakes on the economy so aggressively that it threatens the recovery. Wolf?
BLITZER: And the people who are suffering the most from this inflation, people on fixed incomes, lower income Americans, they have real, real problems. They're suffering right now. Matt Egan, thank you very much for that assessment.
Coming up, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell unleashes a truly scathing critique of President Biden calling his speech on voting rights incoherent and profoundly unpresidential.
BLITZER: Tonight, the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell hammering President Biden's speech on voting rights. He's suggesting the president of the United States engaged in partisan demagoguery that was, quote, profoundly unpresidential."
Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The president's rant, rant yesterday was incoherent, incorrect, and beneath his office. Twelve months ago this president said disagreement must not lead to disunion. Ah, but yesterday he invoked the bloody disunion of the civil war, the civil war, to demonize Americans who disagree with him.
Twelve months ago, the president said every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war. But yesterday, he said anyone who opposes smashing the Senate, smashing the Senate and letting Democrats rewrite election law is a domestic enemy, and listen to this, a traitor like Jefferson Davis.
One week ago, President Biden gave a January 6th lecture about not stoking political violence, one week ago. Yesterday, with the world's largest megaphone, he invoked the literal civil war and said we're on the doorstep of autocracy? Talk about domestic enemies? Rhetoric unbecoming of a president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's get some more on all of this, with Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut.
Senator, thanks for joining us. What's your reaction to that scathing speech from the Republican leader in the Senate?
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, first, it's important to note that Joe Biden didn't say the things that Mitch McConnell said. He didn't call every senator that opposes his policies traitors.
But I just don't understand where Mitch McConnell was on January 6th of last year. I mean, let's be clear. It wasn't a coincidence that you had people storming the Capitol on that day. They were there because Donald Trump wanted to delay the certification of the Electoral College so he could twist arms in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Georgia to try to get Joe Biden's vote thrown out and to get himself installed as the unelected president of the United States.
That's what happened. That's how close we came to our democracy blowing up to the person who's president of the United States being the person who lost the vote definitively.
And so, when Joe Biden's talking about us being sort of on the edge of losing our democracy, it's because he watched what happened on January 6th. He knows how close Donald Trump came to installing himself as president for four years, having lost the election. And he doesn't want that to happen again.
And so, the lack of urgency from my Republican colleagues, their loyalty to Donald Trump at all costs, their refusal to put the Republican democracy ahead of their loyalty to party I think does deserve a spirited speech like the one that President Biden gave the country today.
BLITZER: The -- gave the country yesterday. Biden spoke yesterday. And McConnell spoke today.
McConnell also says that President Biden, quote, poured a giant can of gasoline on the fire of partisan politics with his speech yesterday. How exactly does comparing at least some Republicans to George Wallace or Jefferson Davis advance the push for voting rights?
MURPHY: Well, listen, we have to sort of tell the truth. I mean, that is our first obligation. And I just don't think you can sugarcoat what's going on right now, in states like Georgia and Texas. There are laws being passed to try to stop Democrats and people of color from voting.
I mean, there is just no way around it when you look at, you know, the decision to cancel voting on weekends when many African-Americans vote after church, to dramatically reduce or eliminate the number of polling places or drop-off locations for ballots in Democratic neighborhoods, in neighborhoods where there is lots of Black and Hispanic voters. I mean, I think you just have to say what is going on here, and that may offend Republicans, but I'm sorry. It's the truth.
And we have a long history in this country of standing up to efforts to try to -- to depress the vote amongst people of color.
BLITZER: So, you think some of these Republicans are like Jefferson Davis or George Wallace?
MURPHY: Listen, I -- I think what's happening today is very similar to the efforts that were used to try to stop black people from voting in the 1960s. The tactics are different, but there are a lot of similarities. So, I -- I just think you can't -- you can't sugarcoat what's -- what's happening in these places.
And listen. I mean, Joe Biden is somebody who, you know, can tell the truth and still work to try to bring people together. But I'm sorry, we're just not going to shield Republicans from the reality of what's happening in this country.
BLITZER: Yeah, there's -- it's a dramatic situation that's unfolding.
Senator Chris Murphy, let's continue this conversation down the road. Thanks so much for joining us.
BLITZER: All right. We have much more news just ahead, including a live report from London on the scandal that could bring down the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who now admits he attended a party while the rest of the U.K. was locked down in the early days of the pandemic.
[18:56:46] BLITZER: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now facing calls for his resignation, after admitting he attended what is being described as a boozy backyard party at Downing Street during a COVID lockdown.
CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is in London and reports his apology may not be enough to contain the fallout.
KEIR STARMER, BRITISH LABOUR PARTY LEADER: Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?
SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): The famously unflappable Boris Johnson, the great political survivor, has finally flinched.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was hosting a boozy party in Downing Street.
ABDELAZIZ: After an outpouring of condemnation for what critics alleged was a bring-your-own-bottle party at his official residence 10 Downing Street in May while the country was under strict COVID rules.
The prime minister says he saw it as a work event but finally made an apology of sorts.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Even if it could be set technically to fall within the guidance, there will be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way. People who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside, and to them and to this House, I offer my heartfelt apologies.
ABDELAZIZ: Without actually admitting to wrongdoing and citing a pending investigation, his apology stoking even more anger.
STARMER: After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road. His defense -- his defense that he didn't realize he was at a party.
ABDELAZIZ: It's the first time the prime minister has even admitted to attending one of the multiple gatherings held by his staff while the country was essentially in a lockdown, even though he was pictured at one such event seated alongside a bottle of wine and a cheese board.
JOHNSON: With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside.
ABDELAZIZ: To add salt to the wound, the event was held on a day with glorious weather, inviting to a public eager to get out but it came with another warning to stay vigilant.
OLIVER DOWDEN, BRITISH CONSERVATIVE MP: You can spend time outdoors and exercise as often as you like and you can meet one person outside your household.
ABDELAZIZ: Restrictions that were abided by at the highest levels at various points. The queen herself one of thousands of Britons forced to mourn the death of a loved one alone. It's a potentially lethal blow to Johnson and a scandal that's made casualties of top advisers and staff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm truly sorry.
ABDELAZIZ: Now he's losing the support of his own party with calls for his resignation.
ABDELAZIZ (on camera): Wolf, this is now a prime minister trying to defend the indefensible, trying to hold onto the support of his own party, backed into a corner. More vulnerable than ever, before and it shows. His approval rating is now the lowest it's ever been since he took office. I doubt the prime minister just behind me here at 10 Downing Street will sleep easy tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I think you're right. Salma Abdelaziz in London for us, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.