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tv   Jose Diaz- Balart Reports  MSNBC  January 11, 2022 7:00am-8:00am PST

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infectious disease specialist at boston university. and in a moment, nbc news correspondent ellison barber will be with us from new york. leigh ann, let me start with you. this will be the first time doctors fauci and walensky will be in front of this committee since omicron swept the country. what are lawmakers looking to hear today. >> it sure will be, jose. and this is a regularly scheduled hearing. they do appear before the committee, periodically. but this is, as you mentioned, the first time since omicron. so the committee is going to have a lot of questions. we expect dr. fauci to talk about the state of omicron, about the state of vaccines and their protection or lack thereof, in some cases, against it. and we also expect, especially questions to dr. walensky, as there's been a lot of confusion about cdc guidelines, about isolation and testing and they are also going to get questions
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about testing as well. the fact that there's such a demand to test with these cases rising, and the administration is just now getting a plan underway to get tests in the hands of americans. and also, jose, you can expect fireworks between dr. fauci and senator rand paul. it happens every single hearing. and i expect it to happen again today. >> and dr. bhadelia, what are you looking to hear today from these federal health experts? >> yeah, jose. three specific things. one is, how do you manage this surge? i mean, this is a crisis. this is nowhere near what being endemic with a disease looks like. so in this crisis phase of omicron, how do we extend our resources, right? how do we sort of survive? and i know the administration has worked now on getting this rapid test ramped up. i think there's talk of sending good-quality masks to homes and tests to homes, rather, as well as greater investment in monoclonal antibodies, that
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works against omicron, but the other things that i would love to hear is, you know, what is the end goal of the u.s. covid response, once we're out of this surge. what is our -- you know, what we build into the resilience of making sure when the future variants come, that we will not be as affected. but, of course, jose, what we're likely to see is all of this political drama. the important measures we're willing to hear about, the political drama outpaces all of those important conversations that regular americans would like to hear about. >> dr. bhadelia, how important is testing for this omicron wave and whatever may be coming down the pike? >> i think, jose, it's always important, because testing in the current wave still allows people to know their status and change their behavior. at the current rate of cases, the cases themselves have started to decouple from hospitalizations, but given the massive amounts of cases that are still leading, still a large
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number of hospitalizations. cases and identification of cases remains important and testing is linked to that. and we have tools. if you get tested, you have access to medical treatments. that's why it's equally important that people continue to get tested. >> and between the testing shortages, the confusing guidance from the cdc, is there a plan to get the federal covid response back on track? >> a lot of public health experts, former public health policy makers are saying now that there needs to be an urgent messaging reset to address some of this confusion that is going on out there. and just the general feeling that the message coming from the white house and the president isn't matching what people are seeing in their everyday lives. when they are seeing schools close, despite the president saying that they should be open. when they're seeing leaders, national figures wearing n-95 masks, yet the cdc is still saying that a cloth mask or a surgical mask is okay. and of course, this broader testing issue, where officials
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are telling people to go get a test before leaving isolation or encouraging testing for schools when people just can't find a test or they're having to wait days for results. so there's a lot of concern among people who advise the biden transition, among former obama administration officials, these are allies of the president in this administration, but concern that the confusion and the messaging, the conflicting signals that are being sent are really hurting not only the president's credibility, but the cdc's credibility and that could make it even more difficult to fight this pandemic longer term. >> ellison, hospitals across the country are facing a surge in cases. talk to us about what new york's governor is doing to ease the strain on hospitals. >> reporter: hey, jose. a number of states have said -- or at least a number of hospitals in various states have said they're going to pause at least for a little while, non-elective surgeries.
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this hospital i'm standing in front of is one of 40 that has been ordered by the governor of this state to stop at least for two weeks non-essential elective surgeries, because at least 90% of their beds are full. when we're talking about beds and capacities at hospitals, we're talking not just about physical space, we are talking about the hospital having the staff available and the patients to get the care that they need. the big issue with these 4 hospitals, it's staffing. and a few factors are at play here. we have some health care workers who are out right now because they have tested positive for covid-19. they also have seen a lot of health care workers retire or quit since the pandemic began. and speaking of hospitals, the majority of people who have left of late, they have not left because of vaccine mandates or because they didn't want to get
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vaccinated. the majority of them have left because they are burnt out. they are overwhemd from the demands, the stress of their jobs, and they couldn't do it anymore. so that left. there was already a nursing shortage prior to the pandemic and the pandemic has exacerbated it. and the surge they're seeing right now with omicron patients, that's adding to all of it, as well. >> it's really been an all-encompassing staffing shortages on many fronts, the support staff, all the way from the house kooepg, food services, things like that. feeds that we really didn't anticipate at all with this pandemic. you anticipate the disease and people getting sick, but this second wave shows us that there are many unanticipated things that have happened that have resulted in us needing to halt truly elective surgeries. >> reporter: earlier in the pandemic, we saw hospitals take
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these actions, because they didn't have enough resources. they didn't have enough ppe. that's not the issue now. it is primarily staff. and we're seeing kind of two groups of covid patients at hospitals. you have people who are here, solely because of covid-19. the majority of those patients unvaccinated. and then you also have patients coming in for other health issues, and then testing positive. but that group also impacts staffing issues, as well. because they have to be isolated and when they're isolated, there are different protocols, things that factor in with how many staff can be in that room and timing that all adds to this burden of just not having enough people to get to everyone. jose? >> ellison, thank you. dr. bhadelia, i want to talk about what you were speaking about a little while ago. as hospitals deal with the surge. the white house now says insurance companies will be required to cover eight at-home covid tests per person, each month, starting this saturday. that's for the people lucky enough to have health insurance. how effective is this?
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>> well, i think it's one step to try to make the tests more available to people, but you have to be able to sort of get through and navigate that system. i just think that making them more available rather than having to go through the urld h of health insurance may help folks that are not as, for example, digitally literally. if you're someone who has asked for a gym exemption in the past from health insurance, you know that some of them don't require intricate processes and fax machines. and to make people go through those hurdles to potentially get reimbursed is going to be a barrier. the other issue that i have, potentially, with that is that people may not have the money up-front. these tests in some places are still very expensive. and while there's a shortage, there's a spike in prices. so we have to think about equity when it means being able to afford that up front and being able to access for insurance. that may not be a luxury for a lot of people. >> if they're physically not available, it doesn't matter if,
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you know, the insurance company is going to pay for it or not. if you just can't find them, that's a moot point. >> that's exactly right. and i think that, you know, that investment needed to happen -- i think that we, probably in november, as we saw this spike, in october, november, there should have been already a federal response in increasing this rapid test availability. at this point, having recognized the importance, there's going to be a lag. these tests are not available, and that's unfortunate, because it's falling -- and that lag and lack of availability is falling in the middle of a surge of prices, when testing would be most helpful. >> doctor, pfizer ceo says that two doses of the vaccine are not enough to protect against omicron, adding that a vaccine that targets omicron will be ready in march. what would you say to people confused about whether they should be getting a booster, wait for march? can you get the booster today? and then in march, get the
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fourth shot? >> i think the answer for me, absolutely, jose, for people who have asked me, is get your booster today. today, living through this surge, that booster offers absolutely -- absolutely offers a lot more protection against infection, but actually boosts in people who are vulnerable with medical conditions, those over 65, really helps decrease risk of hospitalizations from waning immunity, as well. if you have two doses, you have some protection. omicron super boosted that in the middle of this surge. i would get that. and the question of a are variant-specific vaccine, i think we still have to see a -- see the data to see if that's necessary. yes, i think it might be a good idea down the road, but you should not wait for the next couple of months, really are increasing the chances of most people encountering this virus, because there is so much transmission in the community. and this is when you want to be boosted.
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>> leigh ann, before we wrap it up, walk us through the other big headlines happening on capitol hill today. >> reporter: it is a big day on capitol hill. of course, the president is heading to georgia to give his voting rights speech. democrats will be watching that intensely. there's a couple of other big hearings on capitol hill today as well, including the confirmation hearing of jerome powell to serve a second term. and that is something that is very controversial, especially, it's going to get a lot of questions about inflation and the federal reserve's policies, dealing with inflation and the labor force, as well. and then, finally, there is a hearing about domestic terrorism one year after january 6th, top officials of the fbi and department of justice are coming to testify. and as the head of the judiciary committee is holding that hearing, senator richard durbin told me in a statement that he not only wants to ask them what they're doing about far-right extremism, but he wants to hear from republicans acknowledge that far-right extremism is a problem. jose?
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>> leigh ann caldwell, ellison barber, shannon pettypiece, dr. nahid bhadelia, thank you so much for being with me this hour. appreciate it. >> well, we've been talking about this. president biden heads to atlanta where he's expected to announce his support for a change in senate rules in hopes of getting more moderates behind the effort to pass voting rights legislation. joining me now, nbc's kara lee and jake sherman. thank you both for being with me. carol, local voting rights groups are planning to skip the president's speech, because they say they want concrete action and not empty gestures. how is the white house pushing back on this? >> reporter: look, jose, they hope that this speech is part of the beginning of pushing back on that and saying -- the president is going to say that this is a turning point for the country and the white house is saying, this is just the beginning of a big push for the president to try to get this done. as part of that, he's going to throw his weight behind changing senate rules, the filibuster
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rules, to allow for passage of voting rights legislation. now, the president has said that he supports a carveout in that rule for voting rights legislation in the past, but now, he's going to put his time and his political capital into trying to change the minds of democratic senators to get that done. and really, this is an intra-party fight that he's now decided he's going to insert himself in to try to get something over the finish line. the risk for the president here is that he's already had to table his build back better plan, because he can't get all democrats onboard. and there's no room for error equally when it comes to voting rights. so whether or not he can get that done, he either winds up with a success or winds up with a second defeat on a major legislative priority. >> jake, there is the reality of possible political eroding power, right? i mean, after today, will congress be anywhere close to the tangible action that these
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voting rights activists want to see? >> no, the voting rights effort is a show. it's not going anywhere. joe manchin just said today, this morning, for the 100th or 200th time, we've lost count, that he's not going to change the senate rules without republican buy-in, period. he just keeps saying that over and over again. it's unclear to me why people won't believe him. leave aside the propriety or the substance of whether this legislation is needed for a second. joe manchin and kyrsten sinema have said, time and time again, they're not going to change the rules to allow for this thing to pass without republican buy-in. sinema -- by the way, yesterday, jon tester has said he's not interested in a carve out. he's a little skeptical of a carveout for voting rights. there is no chance that this democratic voting rights bill is going to pass, given what we know right now. now, could things change? sure, it could become 80 degrees from 20 degrees in washington today. we don't think that's going to
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happen, but could happen. number two, there's another effort that's going on, a bipartisan effort, on a very different and slimmed down and less-ambitious voting rights package that manchin is involved with. so once this process plays out and it's clear to most people now, but once it's clear to everybody else, that this voting rights effort is not going to work, they might switch over to that bipartisan package. we'll have to see, which is very, very tailored. it deals with how congress certiies elections and other things we reported this morning in punch bowl news a.m. and that could be, if the white house embraces it, that could be a victory. but carol is absolutely right. the base wants him to have this fight. it's a fight he's going to lose almost certainly, because otherwise he's sitting on his hands. biden is going to atlanta to make this fight that he's eventually going to lose. >> carol, you do have to have a cost/benefit analysis if you're the president or any politician
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to see how much it costs to do something that in the end may not be victorious. will this trip change anything? >> reporter: this trip is designed to try to appease some of the base that's been putting pressure on him. voting rights activists are pressuring him to do something and so. there's no real resolution that's going to come from the president giving a speech today. what the president and the white house hope is that then prevents some momentum behind his push for this and that he can then try to change some minds in the senate, but as jake just laid out, this is a really heavy lift and the white house is setting expectations kind of for this, with the white house press secretary saying yesterday that the president expects a bill on his desk, so he's making this
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very calculated risk and the hope is that there's a political reward at least from the base at the end of this. >> so, jake, is it that what happens in january from the white house's perspective, hopefully, will have a positive momentum impact by november, but is that good math? >> i don't know. i'm not entirely sure. i mean, i guess if this is an exercise to gin up your base, then maybe it helps around the edges. but, basically, what the white house has decided here, and i understand their strategy. they want their base to be energized. they've gotten a lot of criticism for not pushing voting rights strong enough. what they're hoping is that their base sees a fight, which is what they want. but on the other hand, when you say you expect a bill on your desk, i'm not sure for people who are just watching and scrolling on twitter or however people consume news these days, you might think this is going to happen. and the reason this isn't
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happen, yes, republicans are against it, but democrats are against it, too, and joe manchin and kyrsten sinema will shoulder a lot of the blame, when in reality, the white house understands the reality on capitol hill that this isn't going to pass, but they have to show a fight. it's an unenviable situation for the white house to be honest with you to have to get into and lean into a fight that it knows it has absolutely no chance of winning in any time in the near future. >> jake sherman and carol lee, thank you for being with me this morning. fascinating conversation. appreciate it. still ahead, what came out of seven hours of security talks between the u.s. and russia? not much. but we'll see what happens. plus, we're keeping our eye on the white house where in just a little while, president biden will be leaving for georgia to deliver that call to action on voting rights. we're also watching capitol hill, where dr. anthony fauci is about to testify in front of a senate committee about the omicron response. you're watching "jose diaz-balart reports." omicron response you're watching "jose diaz-balart reports.
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22 past the hour. american and russian diplomats are preparing for another round of meetings tomorrow to try and ease tensions along the border between russia and ukraine. now, yesterday, both sides met for nearly seven hours in geneva without any major breakthroughs. both countries have low expectations for this week's meetings in europe. a major point of contention is russia's demand that ukraine never be allowed to join nato, which the u.s. says is a non-starter. the talks come as tens of thousands of russian troops are now positioned along the border with ukraine, raising fears of a potential invasion. russia denies it is planning to send troops into ukraine, but ukraine is doing everything they can with troops preparing for the possibility of a russian invasion. nbc news chief foreign correspondent, richard engel is in ukraine. richard? >> today we heard from the ukrainians, who have been
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largely silent throughout all of this. we've seen the united states negotiating with russia, nato stating its position. but the ukrainian president zelensky has come out and said he wants peace. he wants a total piece deal and he's pursuing his own track of negotiations with georgia, france, russia, and obviously, ukraine. and he wants to find a permanent closure to the war, the ongoing war that has been lasting nearly eight years in eastern ukraine. and that war, a war within the war, so to speak, has been largely overshadowed by this current crisis. right now, the world is focused on the 100,000 troops that russia has poised along ukraine's borders. but there is also also a pro-russian separatist enclave in eastern ukraine and fighting between ukrainian soldiers and pro-russian separatists have been going on for nearly eight years and about 14,000 people have been killed in that
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conflict. and that conflict within a conflict has the risk of triggering a wider war. when russia talks about ukraine's provocations, it is talking about that. when the ukrainian government says that russia is trying to provoke it into a war, it is talking about eastern ukraine. that is where many of those trenches that become so high-profile in recent weeks are dug, in order to keep the pro-spraitists from expanding deeper into ukrainian territory. the ukrainians are now saying, they want peace, they want a deal, they want to solve this problem inside ukraine, before it becomes a much-much bigger problem and creates some sort of pre-text for russia to invade this country and potentially topple the government and take territory. >> richard engel, thank you so very much. with me now to talk about this is peter baker.
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he is also co-author of "kremlin rising:vladimir putin's russia and the end of revolution." peter, thanks for being with me. you wrote a fascinating piece this weekend about how talkses between the u.s. and russia are playing a role in this crisis. tell us more about what's at the center of this. >> yeah, a lot of the russian narrative over the last 30 years has been that the united states and the west basically betrayed russia by expanding nato all the way up to russia's doorstep. and that ukraine is, of course, the latest member, potential member in the russian view -- and they want to say, okay, enough is enough, we're done with this, you guys broke a promise. now, it's kind of a canard, obviously, on the part of the kremlin, creating this justification for action, based on something that was happening 30 years ago. 30 years ago, secretary of state jim baker was trying to negotiate with the soviets in the latter days of the soviet union to reunify germany, east germany, west germany were coming together after the fall
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of the berlin wall. and there was discussion about limits on where nato would go. and they were talking about mainly the eastern part of georgia. the idea whether nato troops would be allowed in the eastern territory of a re-unified germany. and the what the russians have done since then is, you said, well, not one inch eastward, during those conversations. and therefore, that meant, you have foresworn the idea of nato expansion for the rest of time. now, that's not actually what happened. the final treaty unifying germany did not bar nato from expanding. it did say there was some limits on the territory of eastern germany in terms of foreign troops, but the russians have gone ahead and said, basically, there was some sort of an agreement back then that's been broken and it justifies what they're doing today, 30 years later. >> i guess it's that selective memory that you use. i mean, this isn't pots dam, right, this isn't yalta, but you can choose to pick moments from those meetings to bring it to 2022. peter, what options does the
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biden administration have or even europe have to try and deal with this crisis? >> well, the options are somewhat limited in the sense that president biden has already ruled out the use of american military force to defend ukraine, because ukraine is not a member of nato. therefore, not under the article 5 collective security guarantee that nato brings. americans aren't eager for a new war. so what are the other options then? economic sanctions? the biggest one would be cutting off russia from the swift international financial system, meaning they couldn't do international transactions the way that they have been able to do for decades. that's a big deal, and a trigger that president obama and president trump were not willing to pull when they were dealing with russia. there are other economic sanctions that in theory could have some effect. the other problem, of course, is it's likely that we would end up having to send troops, nato would end up sending troops to poland and the baltic republic, because they would feel that they are nato members and they would feel very nervous about russian aggression. that's one of those things, when
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you see an escalating situation east that could lead to an un-intended consequence. also, arming ukrainians even more than we already are. we've sent hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons, but there's obviously demands for even more. and that could escalate things as well, and that's a choice that the biden administration would have to confront. >> so take us to the mind of putin. what's his cost/benefit analysis on this, on the crisis. and even cost/benefit analysis on an actual invasion? >> right. well, that's the big mystery here. because putin is a pretty savvy, you know, analyst of western intentions. he has already factored in everything that biden and the west are willing to do. he knows what their options are, as well as they do. and he's decided he's willing to pay a price up to a certain point to get whatever it is he wants. now, is he willing to launch a full-scale invasion? you know, i think that there's a lot of reason to believe that that would be a bad idea for russia. put aside whether the west would retaliate in a way that was
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meaningful. you might be able to overtake ukraine. it's a smaller country, obviously. russia has a pretty large military. but we've seen in the past when russia went into chechnya, when it went into afghanistan, how a partisan war against an occupier can, you know, drain russia of life and treasure. and i don't think that they're eager necessarily to fight that kind of a gorilla war against ukraine. ukrainians are studying what's happening in afghanistan and iraq against the americans and they have to be able to win a conventional war, but they wouldn't sit there and simply accept a russian full-scale invasion lying down. there are other military options that russia could take short of a full-scale invasion, like trying to carve off more of eastern ukraine, which richard engel is reporting from. trying to bargain more with something more than the threat of force for some sort of concessions in the east. but right now, the mystery is what is vladimir putin's end game here? and nobody knows what that is. >> and there's also, like, i
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guess, the kazakhstan model. you could send in allied forces to deal with terrorist threats from within. >> yeah. in kazakhstan, of course, you have the government there invite the russians in or at least accept the russians coming in. but you're right, what you see with kazakhstan is a willingness by russia to use force in what it considers to be its space, you know, president putin just yesterday referred to kazakhstan and others as our states. in other words, we're not going to accept foreign interference, he said, in our states. so kazakhstan, even though it's no longer part of the soviet union, in his mind, is part of our neighborhood and that he and the russians get to decide what happens in that space without foreign interference. >> right. i guess the czech government invited the soviets in 1968, the hungarians did in 1956, right? those invitations are one way. they don't often come out of the capitols of those countries.
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>> that's right. exactly. and you're not going to see that from kiev and the government and president zelensky, that doesn't mean there won't be some kind of justification or pretext the russians come up with rationalize sending in some troops in some form or another. >> peter, thank you so very much. appreciate your time. >> still ahead, high-profile voting rights groups are skipping president biden's voting rights speech in georgia. we'll ask one voting rights activist why she is not attending. and of course, we're continuing to keep an eye on capitol hill with dr. anthony fauci, who is testifying in front of a senate committee about omicron and the response to it. we'll bring you their comments shortly. you're watching "jose diaz-balart reports." shortly. you're watching "jose you're watching "jose diaz-balart reports.aused by a heart valve problem. so if there's a better treatment than warfarin i'll go after that. eliquis. eliquis reduces stroke risk better than warfarin
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say they want more from the president than just a visit. their statement reads in part, quote, such an empty gesture without concrete action, without signs of real, tangible work is unacceptable. joining me now from atlanta is nbc's blayne alexander. blayne, good morning. what's the latest out of georgia? >> reporter: good morning, jose. certainly, there is no shortage of reasons that president biden would choose this as a fitting backdrop for this voting rights push. of course, atlanta is the cradle of the voting rights movement, one of the two bills is named for congressman john lewis, the longtime congressman from this area. but you have to focus in on the significance that georgia played both in 2020 when it comes to flipping the state blue, to help put president biden in office, but more specifically, this is the state that sent two democratic senators to washington and gave the president's party a majority in the u.s. senate. now, on the eve of that runoff election, president biden said at the time that essentially
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sending those senators to washington would be key, would be crucial in getting his agenda through. we saw organizers, we saw people on the ground putting out manpower, knocking on doors, putting out falls, trying to flip the state. and now they say that they want a return on that investment. i've spoken with a couple of top organizers here in the state, and essentially they say that the concern is twofold. one, you're looking ahead to the midterms. there are going to be some very highly contested races on the ballot here in georgia. this is going to be the first statewide election, of course, since the republican-led legislature here in atlanta passed that sweeping voting bill that many democrats are calling tantamount to voter suppression. so this is going to be the first time that there is a statewide election since that became law. the other thing that one organizer told me is that they're going to have a really difficult time drumming up that enthusiasm. they say, if they don't have something to show for it. if they can't point to agenda items like voting rights to say, hey, you know what, this is what
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your vote earned you from 2020. now, come back out and do it again. jose? >> blayne, i celebrate having you back. it's so nice to see you. >> thank you, my friend. thank you. >> joining me now is ceo of the new georgia project, one of the organizations behind that statement to the president and vice president. it's a pleasure to see you. how are you feeling about the president's visit to atlanta today? >> i'm excited about the president's visit to atlanta today. it is a recognition about how important the fight for our voting is in this moment. and i think it's also a recognition of how critical ordinary citizens, georgia voters, activists and organizers have been to making the biden/harris administration our reality and how critical we are going to be in passing anything, any of the priorities on the
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biden/harris agenda. >> your statement says you'll work on passing a plan that passes both halls of congress. do you believe that's possible? >> absolutely. and that's why we're calling for it. and not only is it possible, it's absolutely necessary. what path forward do we have on passing anything, build back better, the sort of expansion of the definition of infrastructure, like, we don't have any a chance on self-governing, on choosing elected officials who will co-govern with the people and who will actually get things done, if we cannot ensure that the will of the people is reflected in the results of our elections. and if the republican party is allowed to run away with elections by passing anne-voting bills, that make it more difficult for them to hold on to power, despite the fact that fewer and fewer americans are buying what they're selling. >> so how do you see that getting done in washington?
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>> i mean, where else could it get done? i think that there are a number of pathways, but here's the other thing. i'm not a united states senator, i'm not the president of the united states. what i am is an organizer. what i do is organize people and we organize resources to fight for the things that georgia family cares about. and what we're doing today is we're working to sustain the demand for immediate action on passing federal voting rights protections. so what we want to hear from the president are what are the paths to getting an actual bill on his desk. he has said that he wants a bill on his desk, between him and our vice president. they have nearly five decades of service in the united states senate. these bills have passed in the house. and so the senate feels like the last hurdle that needs to be cleared. and so what we're looking for is to hear from the leader of the democratic party, the leader of our country, what needs to happen in order to make sure that there's a bill on his desk
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that he can sign. >> and tell me a little bit more about the needs of the people of georgia. you're talking about -- and i'm so grateful to you that you mentioned is what we're doing is on the ground. what are the needs of the people of georgia that you see so underrepresented, so unlistened to. i know it's not a correct word. >> the needs are great, right? so i will say this. we're still in the middle of a pandemic. the 12 hospitals in rural georgia that have closed or are about to close because of our state legislature's failure to expand medicaid. and part of that is because the laws in georgia make it so that they now are able to invalidate the results of an election, that they don't agree with, right? so the -- when we think about the 2020 presidential election, and the outcomes of that and how it shocked the country, how it
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shocked the world. and then there were nearly 50 lawsuits filed by the trump campaign to overturn the results of those elections. that they did not have the legal framework that was necessary in order for them to steal and run away with the elections, which is why we have a president biden. that is no longer the case. that in the aftermath of the 2020 elections, the first thing that the republicans did when they got to the georgia state legislature was to pass votes, which includes 50 different provisions that make it more difficult for georgians to vote, right? we're talking about, you know, the minimum wage in georgia is $5.15 an hour. and we can't get a hearing, because republicans refuse, refuse to take this issue seriously. you can't raise a family on $5.15 an hour. you can't take care of yourself on $5.15 an hour. there are things -- student loan forgiveness, right? so there's an extension, student
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loans are -- payments are supposed to resume soon. there are things that georgians want for themselves, for their families, and for their communities. and the right to vote is preservative of all of the other rights that we have. and it's necessary for all of the things that we're fighting for. >> thank you for being with me. i so appreciate your time. >> thank you. thank you so much for having me, jose. >> thanks. still ahead, kids in the nation's second largest school district going back to school today, despite the highest-ever covid rates among staff and students. ten times what it was before the break. we're live there, next. and we're watching capitol hill, where dr. anthony fauci and cdc director rochelle walensky are testifying in front of a senate committee about the omicron response. we're going to bring you there shortly. you're watching "jose diaz-balart reports." you there shortly. you're watching "jose az-balart reports.
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hearing where health officials, including doctors fauci and walensky are testifying about the federal response to omicron. >> -- to those who have had the disease, who have disease. >> okay. well, let me just say, nearly two years ago when this committee first started having congressional hearings on covid-19, the very first thing i asked was, where are the tests? and we've made progress since then, and we are now producing 300 million rapid at-home tests each month, along with ramping up our lab-based testing. but i am disappointed, as i said, by the testing challenges that we're facing. tests are hard to find. they are costly. people are unable to find the at-home tests in pharmacies, online, they're waiting in long lines and often after that, waiting days for results. so it's, you know, ineffective at the end of the day. so miss o'connell, i want to ask you, what are you doing to address the frustrations and challenges we are hearing about
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covid testing? >> chair murray, thank you so much for this important question. testing remains a critical priority for this administration. when we saw the unprecedented cases of omicron sweep into south africa and europe, we immediately reached out to of o south africa and europe, we immediately reached out to our manufacturers to understand any supply constraints they had and to evaluate their surge capacity. we have also met daily with them to make sure they have what they need from their suppliers and have used the defense production act authorities 12 times throughout this pandemic in support of testing needs, most recently in the last few weeks for two tests. we were able to unlock manufacturing and supply capacity. we continue to invest in rapid over the counter tests which are in high demand.
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in the fall we invested $3 billion to increase manufacturing and commit to those manufacturing lines for 13 months. as a result, we went from 46 million over the counter tests available in october to the 300 million that you just mentioned that are available now. but that's not enough. we're continuing to bring tests to the american people. as a result, the president has announced and we are in the process of procuring the 500 million tests which every american household will be able to order and have shipped to their house. we have completed four contracts, have secured 50 million tests and are in the process of securing the additional tests over the next several days. thes postal service had agreed to do the distribution. we anticipate the first test going out at the end of this
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month with the remaining tests going out over the next 60 days. >> i am hearing from so many schools that are having trouble staying open, they want to stay open. part of it is they have staff that are sick, but a big part of it is they don't have access to safety measures like masks and testing supplies. what do i tell them about where they go to get that? >> schools having enough testing supplies to stay open is a critical priority for us. we've invested $10 billion of the american rescue plan given to states to support and stand up testing programs. we've also invested $650 million in a program called operation expanded testing, which set up regional hubs of labs schools could contract with to run their testing programs.
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we are working with states to match additional manufacturing capacity with states that need it. not only that, we are in the process of looking at our contracts to see if we have nip additional capacity and will commit to sending that capacity to the school programs. >> senator burr. >> let me cut to the chase. dr. fauci, you said the cdc as going to update guidance to include antigen testing. dr. walensky and the cdc came out with guidance that didn't include it. was that part of the communications plan to start with and they diverted, or was that something you just chose to inject? >> thank you for that question, senator burr. in decisions about the real gray zone, which dr. walensky described about after the five days where you have a
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considerable diminution in the likelihood of being transmitting, we had been in discussions about the role of what antigen testing would be. as a matter of fact, when dr. walensky came out with the final guidelines, they include that if you have a test available, you may take a test. at the end of the day we were quite in concordance with our views. >> i think the chair and i share this. we found it very confusing. i think the american people find it confusing. i don't say it lightly when i say not too many people in america are listening to what comes out of washington, whether it's congress or the administration as it relates to covid. the president makes an announcement of 500 million at home tests. is this the first time that you thought about purchasing at home tests, or have you tried to before and it was rejected?
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>> this is the first time the administration has committed to purchasing tests to send to the american households. >> is that asper or d.o.d.? because of all the notifications of contracts signed, i've seen them from d.o.d. i haven't seen them from hhs. >> we have a relationship with d.o.d. for assisted acquisitions. so asper will request that d.o.d. put out a solicitation or manage a contract on our behalf. they're able to do it extraordinarily quickly. we've had an m.o.u. in place with d.o.d. for this work that will run through june 2023. we've used this relationship to purchase vaccines and therapeutics and we're now using it for testing. >> you mentioned 50 million doses having been contracted.
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i can identify 27 million out of two companies. media and atlantic trading. neither one of them are manufacturers of test. i believe the third one, revival, is not a manufacturer of tests. media actually came to fame for the importation of vodka. like a lot of other companies, they got in the ppe business in 2020 with some nominal fema contracts. why should we have any confidence in these contracts if, in fact, we're dealing with companies that don't manufacture anything? and can you assure me that the tests that are coming in are not coming from china? >> thank you, ranking member burr. these tests, what we initially did to be able to access tests for the initial shipments that will go towards the end of
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january, we worked with warehouses to see where additional tests were stored and assessed that additional capacity and are bringing that capacity to bear for these initial tests that are going out, which is why you're seeing contracts with warehouses and not with test manufacturers. >> so they've got 50 million tests in warehouses in the united states and all we did was access that inventory? >> that is my understanding. >> well, will you confirm your understanding? this is a very, very important piece when you've got companies that don't manufacture tests and all of a sudden we're giving them $190 million contract for about 14 million home tests and their expertise is importation of vodka. i'd encourage you to look through the list of people that we're signing up with. are you aware some of the larger test manufacturers in 2021 shut
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down lines because of the lack of purchases for at home tests? >> one of the things we did in the fall was the $3 billion investment that we made was to turn lines on and commit to those lines for 13 months so they wouldn't be turned off again. >> dr. woodcock, last question. of the 15 tests that you've currently approved for over the counter, how many detect omicron? >> we're still working on that, but we believe all of them detect omicron. we believe they are somewhat less sensitive than the previous variants. >> of the 50 million test that is the asper has contracted for, how many of those tests detect omicron? >> i don't know which tests there are. we can get back to you on that. >> you haven't consulted with what we're purchasing on the 500 million, they haven't consulted
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to see whether the tests they're buying actually detect omicron? >> i believe they have. i simply don't have that list. >> okay. thank you, chair. >> senator keen. >> dr. fauci, can you provide a general breakdown of what percentage of hospitalized individuals are vaccinated versus unvaccinated and what percentage of covid deaths are among vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals? >> thank you for that question, senator kane. one of the ways to answer that question would be to look at people in the hospital and take a look at the you are vaccinated versus unvaccinated. if you look at vaccinated versus unvaccinated, there's about a ten times greater chance that you'd be infected if you were unvaccinated, about a 17 times greater chance that you'd be hospitalized if you were unvaccinated and about a 20 times likelihood that you would
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be dead if you were unvaccinated. so when you look at every parameter, ten times, 17 times, 20 times, infection, hospitalization, death. >> ms. o'connell, i want to ask you a question about additional vaccine development. the current vaccines against covid, as was indicated by dr. fauci's answer, have been very successful in reducing deaths, severity of illnesses and hospital admissions. however, they've had more limited success in transmitting after breakthrough cases and the vaccines are not as durable as vaccines in other areas so we need booster shots to continue to protect against the virus. is the administration supporting the development of additional vaccines that might be able to address the gaps in the current vaccines'

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