December 20, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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December 20, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
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12/20/2021 | 56m 43s | Video has closed captioning.
December 20, 2021 - PBS NewsHour full episode
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening.
I'm Judy Woodruff.
On the "NewsHour" tonight: COVID on the rise.
Infections spike, and more schools and businesses close, as hospitals brace for a wave of patients from the Omicron variant.
Then: high stakes.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin deals a blow to the White House, saying no to President Biden's main social priorities bill.
What's next for the president's agenda?
And reflecting on a legacy.
Dr. Francis Collins discusses his long career, as he leaves the top job at the National Institutes of Health, especially combating COVID and mapping the human genome.
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, Director, National Institutes of Health: Now, it's written in a language we're still trying to figure out how to read accurately.
So, the work on the human genome will be going on for a long time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight's "PBS NewsHour."
(BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: Crises in public health and public policy dominate the news tonight.
The furious spread of COVID-19's Omicron variant has hospitals straining to keep up, and the near-collapse of the Build Back Better package has the White House and Democrats straining to find a new solution.
First, the Omicron explosion.
The CDC now says it has already become the most common variant in the U.S., accounting for three quarters of new cases.
We begin with this report from Stephanie Sy.
STEPHANIE SY: As airports fill up with holiday travelers, the U.S., along with the rest of the world, finds itself in a precarious position.
The Omicron variant has made its way into at least 89 countries and in the U.S. more than 40 states.
Over the weekend, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned of what scientists are learning about Omicron and its ability to spread.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden: Well, the one thing that's very clear, and there's no doubt about this, is its extraordinary capability of spreading, its transmissibility capability.
It is just raging through the world, really.
STEPHANIE SY: Americans are pressing forward with plans to gather for the holidays, bottling up testing centers.
Lines in New York City have wrapped around streets.
KATIE ROPER, New York Resident: I have been here about an hour-and-a-half.
And it's been very long.
Everyone's just been waiting and waiting.
And it's been really scary with the new variant, very, very scary.
STEPHANIE SY: Experts say vaccination remains the first line of defense against severe cases of COVID, including the new variant.
And, today, Moderna shared preliminary data which shows the booster dose of its vaccine substantially increased antibody levels, meaning protection against Omicron.
Former President Trump revealed last night what he's done to protect himself from COVID.
BILL O'REILLY, Former Host, "The O'Reilly Factor": Both the president and I are vaxxed.
And did you get the booster?
DONALD TRUMP, Former President of the United States: Yes.
BILL O'REILLY: I got it too.
STEPHANIE SY: Speaking directly to vaccine doubters, the former president reminded his followers that the shots were approved under his administration.
DONALD TRUMP: We got a vaccine done in less than nine months.
It was supposed to take from five to 12 years.
STEPHANIE SY: He does not support vaccine mandates.
But more cities are requiring proof of vaccination before entering indoor public spaces.
Boston is the latest to make this move to contain Omicron.
And, in D.C., the mayor reinstated an indoor mask mandate starting tomorrow.
Community spread among the vaccinated in the nation's capital now includes Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.
They both tested positive over the weekend.
Maryland's Governor Larry Hogan said he tested positive today.
All three had been vaccinated and received a booster shot.
Overseas, several countries have imposed new restrictions, in line with the WHO's guidance to government leaders.
TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WHO Director General: An event canceled is better than a life canceled.
It's better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.
None of us want to be here again in 12 months time.
STEPHANIE SY: In the U.K., health officials are still weighing imposing stricter lockdowns.
SAJID JAVID, British Health Minister: I didn't come into the government to restrict freedoms of people, but I think people understand why we are -- presented that action to Parliament.
And we keep the situation under review.
STEPHANIE SY: The most dramatic response in Europe so far is in the Netherlands.
All nonessential stores, bars and restaurants are closed through mid-January.
MARK RUTTE, Prime Minister of the Netherlands (through translator): We must act now to prevent as much of the worst as possible.
STEPHANIE SY: Weekend protests and clashes in Europe over new restrictions show the competing pressures politicians face.
It's a challenge President Biden will publicly address in a speech to Americans tomorrow, outlining his administration's response to the latest COVID crisis.
There are so many questions people have about Omicron and what we're learning.
So, joining me now is Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and an epidemiologist at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine.
Dr. Gounder also cares for patients at Bellevue Hospital Center.
Dr. Gounder, as always, thank you for joining the "NewsHour."
And let us start there with what you're seeing on the front lines.
With cases skyrocketing there in New York City, what are you seeing as far as burdens on hospitals and the health care system?
DR. CELINE GOUNDER, Infectious Disease and Public Health Specialist: We are seeing cases of COVID spiking in New York City.
We're seeing long lines around the block, around blocks, of people lining up to get PCR tests.
Emergency rooms are full.
But I think the other really important message here is that, in terms of our hospitalization rates, we have not seen those spike.
And to give you a little bit of context, at the height of the pandemic back in the spring of 2020 at Bellevue Hospital, where I work, we had over 600 patients with COVID at the peak at any one time.
Today at Bellevue Hospital, we have 30 patients with COVID in the hospital.
So that's a dramatic difference.
And that's really because so many New Yorkers have gotten vaccinated.
It's one of the most vaccinated places in the country.
Over 70 percent of people in New York City have gotten fully vaccinated.
And so, while we're seeing a lot of cases, those cases are not translating into hospitalizations and deaths, as they are in other parts of the country.
STEPHANIE SY: Is part of that because preliminary data shows that Omicron may not be as severe as the Delta and other variants?
DR. CELINE GOUNDER: It's not clear that that's really what's driving this.
Data out of the U.K. suggests that Omicron may be just as virulent as prior variants.
And, remember, many of the COVID cases we're seeing are still related to Delta.
And yet we're not seeing these spikes in hospitalizations, overwhelmed hospitals in terms of hospitalizations, people requiring ventilation, needing to be in the ICU.
We're not seeing that here, and that's really because people are, by and large, vaccinated.
STEPHANIE SY: And so, again, the message is, get vaccinated, get boosted, and that is what will keep you safe.
Now, when it comes to testing, I just got back from New York City myself, and I was hearing about people waiting for hours in line for testing.
Rapid tests are no longer coming back rapidly because of the spike in demand.
Why is it so hard at this juncture to efficiently and effectively test mass numbers of people?
DR. CELINE GOUNDER: One of the challenges, Stephanie, has been waxing and waning demand for testing over the course of the pandemic.
Unfortunately, much of this demand has spiked around maybe a surge in cases or around the holidays, but has not been incorporated as a routine behavior for people that they get tested, say, once a week or just before they hang out with friends at a bar on the weekend.
And that's really what it would take to have a reliable demand that manufacturers can plan for, that they can set up supply chains for.
And one of the other challenges is really just having enough of the raw materials to make tests.
So those are some of the bottlenecks we're dealing with.
STEPHANIE SY: What do you think the Biden administration should be doing to address that a bottleneck?
How crucial is testing, given what we know about Omicron's transmissibility?
DR. CELINE GOUNDER: Testing is really important, because, while the vaccines are highly effective, they're keeping people out of the hospital, they're preventing death, people are having infections, despite being fully vaccinated and even boosted.
And so, in order to prevent further transmission, we really do need to layer other interventions.
And that includes testing, testing so that you know if you are infectious, contagious to others and need to stay home.
And so some of the things the Biden administration could be doing on that front is really trying to help ease some of these supply chain raw materials issues.
That might include invoking the Defense Production Act, as they did to make sure we had enough raw materials for manufacturing of the vaccines.
Some of the other things they could do is also make use of other types of testing technologies in certain settings, so, for example, pooled saliva PCR testing in workplaces and schools, so that you free up those individual rapid tests for use in other places.
STEPHANIE SY: Given what we know right now about the Omicron variant, how should people alter their behavior heading into the holidays?
DR. CELINE GOUNDER: In addition to getting fully vaccinated and boosted, think about this in terms of winter layers, wear a mask, socialize outdoors as much as is possible.
Optimize your indoor ventilation and air filtration by opening doors and windows and placing HEPA air filtration units around the home.
And use rapid testing to identify who might be contagious and who should not be joining in the family and friends in celebrating that day.
STEPHANIE SY: And do we know how reliable those at-home rapid tests are at detecting Omicron?
Does that concern you at all?
DR. CELINE GOUNDER: There have been reports of people with symptoms testing positive on a PCR And testing negative on a rapid antigen test, particularly in the first few days of being symptomatic.
The FDA is looking into this.
Emory University has been assisting with testing in their lab, and we hope to have some answers on that soon.
STEPHANIE SY: It's what we have for now.
Dr. Celine Gounder with NYU's Grossman School of Medicine, thank you so much, and happy holidays.
DR. CELINE GOUNDER: Happy holidays.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to our other lead story tonight, the political fallout from the near-collapse of negotiations over the Build Back Better legislative package, a keystone of President Biden's domestic agenda.
Republicans have opposed the legislation.
And Democrats are looking at the road ahead, now that one of their own seems to be a firm no on the current package.
Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): If I can't go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can't vote for it.
LISA DESJARDINS: The words dropped like boulders.
On "FOX News Sunday," Senator Joe Manchin suddenly threw President Biden's Build Back Better agenda into new turmoil.
The West Virginia Democrat said the White House and others weren't doing enough to reduce or, in his mind, be honest about the ultimate cost of the bill.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: We should be up front and pick our priorities.
That's the difference.
and what we need to do is get our financial house in order, but be able to pay for what we do and do what we pay for.
LISA DESJARDINS: During a radio interview today, Manchin also blamed White House staffers for the negotiations' collapse.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: But you know me, always willing to work and listen and try.
I just got to the wit's end.
And they know the real reason what happened.
They won't tell you.
And I'm not going to because I... (CROSSTALK) HOPPY KERCHEVAL, Radio Talk Show Host: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN: No.
HOPPY KERCHEVAL: Wait.
You said you there is -- they know the real reason, they're not going to tell us, you're not going to tell us.
What do you mean?
What's the real -- so there's... SEN. JOE MANCHIN: Well, the bottom line is, there was -- they're, basically -- and his staff.
I understand staff.
It's not the president.
It's the staff.
And they drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable.
And they know what it is.
And that's it.
LISA DESJARDINS: This as the White House swung with its own sharp charges about Manchin.
In a statement yesterday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Manchin's comments a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position and a breach of commitments to the president and the senator's colleagues.
This was Psaki today: JEN PSAKI, White House Press Secretary: I can't speak for Senator Manchin on what has upset him.
I will let him speak to that himself with more specifics if he chooses to.
And he may or may not choose to.
And that's his prerogative.
LISA DESJARDINS: The latest Build Back Better plan was on a historic scale, affecting millions:, providing universal pre-K, lowering child care costs, expanding health care, including a dramatic cut in the price of insulin, and combating climate change, with large-scale tax incentives and new regulations on methane gas.
With all of that on the ropes, much Democratic reaction has been furious.
New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to MSNBC.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): The idea that Joe Manchin says he can't explain this back home to his people is a farce.
LISA DESJARDINS: Other statements flurried.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders wrote that Manchin should explain to West Virginians how his move might harm them.
Moderate Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger called Manchin's actions unacceptable.
Advocacy groups, like the National Domestic Workers Alliance, lamented.
They called Manchin's decision a breach of commitment.
But, in San Francisco today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was more restrained and focused, insisting Manchin will sign onto something.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I have confidence that Senator Manchin cares about our country, and that, at some point very soon, we can take up the legislation.
I'm not deterred at all.
LISA DESJARDINS: Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will put a revised bill to a vote in the Senate early in the new year.
He promised senators that the chamber will keep voting on it until we get something done.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Lisa joins me now, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.
And a note: Because of fast-changing information about COVID and the Omicron variant, we are asking guests and our own correspondents to join us remotely.
So, hello to both of you.
And, Lisa, I'm going to start with you.
Two big questions.
How did this happen and what does it mean?
LISA DESJARDINS: Well, there was a breakdown in talks, clearly, between the White House and Senator Manchin over the last couple of weeks.
I believe some of that has to deal -- do with some personalities involved, as Senator Manchin eluded to.
But there are bigger issues here.
From Senator Manchin and those close to him, they stress that this was just an issue of the package being too large and fiscally irresponsible, in their view.
We can report -- Yamiche and I have both confirmed to sources -- that sometime in the past couple of weeks, Senator Manchin said he was open and even could agree to a deal that was smaller that did not contain the child tax credit in it, but did contain things like universal pre-K, expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and some money to combat climate change.
But, clearly, that was not enough for Democrats at that time.
And here's where we are.
What does it mean?
We will have to see what it ultimately means.
But, at this moment, it is a huge blow to Democrats' hopes, and it is something that many millions of Americans could be affected by.
I want to talk about those stakeholders really quickly.
For example, let's talk about that child tax credit, which is expiring right now.
The expanded version of it is expiring.
That affects some 61 million children in this country.
Then we talk about health care costs and drug prices in particular.
In this bill was that idea of keeping insulin costs down to $35 per month.
That's about eight million Americans who use insulin on a regular basis.
Then, of course, you talk about climate.
That is a global issue.
That is something that everyone either is or will deal with in the near future, if nothing changes.
Now, then you think about what's going on in West Virginia today.
There are of course, many stakeholders there.
Democrats say, why isn't Joe Manchin thinking of his constituents, the 25,000 children, for example, that would get pre-K or early education in this deal?
Talking to them, there is anger among some progressives and Democrats in West Virginia at Joe Manchin, some of his closest allies, but there's others who say, listen, we just don't trust government.
We think this deal was too big.
And whatever the details were about how it affects my family, I just -- we just think it was too big, and that's where Joe Manchin ended up.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Yamiche, what is the White House view of all this?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, Judy, the White House and President Biden have felt really blindsided by Senator Joe Manchin coming out and saying that he was not going to support the Build Back Better Act.
The president personally signed off on a statement that was released by the White House press secretary.
He does that in for a lot of statements.
But this one was really a rare statement because it was lengthy and it was biting, and it really did go after Senator Manchin.
He said that he was someone who was going to have to explain to his constituents why they did not get some of the benefits that they badly need.
Also, I want to put up this statement.
They essentially said that Senator Manchin promised to continue conversations in the days ahead.
And then they said -- quote -- "If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an effort - - an effort to end that effort," I should say.
"They represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position and a breach of his commitment to the president and the senators' colleagues in the House and Senate."
We just don't see language like that coming from the White House, because they have been so careful in trying to negotiate with Senator Manchin.
So that tells you sort of the level of anger that the White House was feeling yesterday.
Now, the White House press secretary did come out today.
She was a little bit more subdued.
She said multiple times that Senator Manchin and the president are -- quote -- "longtime friends" and that they're going to continue to have shared values and going to continue to talk.
The other thing to note, though, is that this is really coming at a time when the White House was already facing pressure about who has the power really in Washington.
I want to play for folks this exchange between the vice president, Kamala Harris, and a host from Comedy Central who specifically asked her who was president, President Joe Biden or Senator Manchin?
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD, Radio Talk Show Host: So, who's the real president of this country?
Is it Joe Manchin or Joe Biden, Madam Vice President?
KAMALA HARRIS, Vice President of the United States: Come on, Charlamagne.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: I really -- I can't tell sometimes.
KAMALA HARRIS: No, no, no, no, no, no.
No, no, no, no.
It's Joe Biden.
And don't start talking like a Republican about asking whether or not he's president.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Do you think Joe Manchin is a problem?
KAMALA HARRIS: And it's Joe Biden.
And it's Joe Biden.
And it's Joe Biden.
And I'm vice president.
And my name is Kamala Harris.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: So, you see there really the vice president getting very, very testy and very defensive of President Biden.
But it really gets to the bottom line, which is that only a couple of, I would say months ago, President Biden said during a CNN town hall, when you're a president, but you have a 50/50 Senate, every senator is president.
So it really just sums up that the president is in a tough spot here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, given all this, Lisa, for Democrats, what now?
LISA DESJARDINS: Well, there's a lot of hopefulness today that there wasn't there yesterday.
Let me go through really quickly what's going to happen now.
As we recorded, Senator Schumer has a plan.
He's going to build -- bring Build Back Better before the full Senate.
It is expected to fail as it stands right now.
But he plans to do that very early next year.
He says he will keep trying, keep bringing up votes until there is something that can pass the United States Senate.
Now, here's the issue for Democrats, Judy, my reporting, talking to many Democrats across the spectrum.
Here's the issue.
Here's what they have to think about now in crafting this new bill, one, the size of the new bill, two, how to pay for it, which is another issue that affects another senator, Kyrsten Sinema.
And then, of course, there are varying priorities here.
Some of them prioritize climate, some the child tax credit.
Other Democrats, it's early education.
Some Democrats, it's health care, still more, immigration.
So they have to make those decisions.
One congressman, Democrat Mark DeSaulnier of California, told me today, "This is bigger than all of us."
So they're trying to take a deep breath right now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally to Yamiche.
I did see reporting the president and Joe Manchin did have a phone call yesterday afternoon.
But what does this mean for the president's agenda going forward for 2022?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, Judy, the deep side that I'm sure folks heard when Lisa was asked what's next is the same deep sigh that the White House is doing, because they're -- frankly, they're really challenged about how to move forward.
President Biden, the White House press secretary said today multiple times, he's going to try his hardest to continue doing the Build Back Better negotiations.
They're saying over and over again that this is not a dead bill.
But it's very, very hard to see how this comes through.
There's also, of course, the fact that this is coming at a tough time for the president, because we're experiencing COVID spikes, and people really are looking for relief.
So, when you look at the child tax credit, when you look at the idea of universal pre-K, all of these things are what Americans in some ways will really need as this COVID spike happens.
And then, of course, there's all the things that are unresolved that Democrats, especially African American Democrats, who make up the base of the Democratic Party -- they want to see voting rights reform.
They want to see policing reform.
None of that has come through.
So the president's absolutely in a tough spot.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Very, very full plate.
Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you both.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day's other news: A Minneapolis jury began deliberating manslaughter charges against Kim Potter.
The former suburban Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop last April.
Prosecutors today played down Potter's claim that she meant to grab her Taser, not her gun.
The defense said that Wright was to blame for trying to drive off.
They summed up in closing arguments.
ERIN ELDRIDGE, Assistant Minnesota Assistant Attorney General: She didn't have to intend to harm anyone.
She didn't have to intend to kill Daunte Wright.
But that's what she did.
She consciously took a chance of causing death or grave bodily harm by pulling a weapon and firing it without giving it a second thought.
EARL GRAY, Attorney For Kim Potter: Her acts were all legal.
Everything she did was legal.
And then he tries to break away.
And, consciously, she thought she was doing the right thing.
Daunte Wright caused his own death, unfortunately, but that -- those are the cold, hard facts, the evidence.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The killing of Daunte Wright sparked protests and added to a national outcry over racial justice.
The case of Ghislaine Maxwell has also gone to a jury tonight in New York.
She's accused of recruiting teenage girls for sexual abuse by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Today, federal prosecutors closed by branding Maxwell a dangerous predator.
The defense argued that she has been made a scapegoat.
We will take a closer look later in the program.
The Pentagon today has clarified its rules on extremism in the military.
As before, the guidance bars troops from actively engaging in extremist activities, but it goes into more detail.
Banned activities range from advocating terrorism to posting extremist views online.
The rules also spell out the process that commanders must use to punish someone.
Chile has a new president-elect, and he's vowing to remake the country with progressive policies.
Leftist Gabriel Boric won Sunday's run-off against a far-right lawmaker.
That touched off celebrations in the capital, Santiago.
Boric vowed to create an inclusive government to fight poverty and inequality.
GABRIEL BORIC, Chilean President-Elect (through translator): Chileans, I receive this mandate with humility and a tremendous sense of responsibility.
I will be a president who cares for democracy and does not risk it, listens more than what he speaks, seeks unity, and attends to the needs of the people daily.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The new president takes over next March.
The U.S., Britain and other countries today condemned Sunday's election in Hong Kong as an erosion of democracy.
Pro-Beijing candidates swept legislative races after others were kept off the ballot.
Voter turnout was just 30 percent, the lowest since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.
In the Philippines, the death toll has reached at least 375 after the strongest storm there this year.
Typhoon Rai blasted the Southern Philippines before blowing into the South China Sea on Friday.
Winds of 120 miles an hour, ripped off roofs and knocked out power across several provinces.
Some survivors were left without food or water.
Back in this country, the Biden administration is moving to fight climate change with a big jump in mileage standards for cars and trucks.
A final rule issued today sets an industry-wide target of 40 miles a gallon by 2026.
That reverses a Trump era rollback of an earlier rule.
The U.S. House investigation into the January 6 insurrection is expanding.
The committee is seeking an interview with GOP Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.
He is the first sitting congress member to be publicly sought out for questioning.
Drugmaker Biogen said today it's cutting the price of its new Alzheimer's treatment in half to around $28,000 a year.
Aduhelm is the first drug to slow the progress of the brain disorder, instead of just managing symptoms.
but it has run into slow sales and a backlash over its high cost.
And on Wall Street, stocks joined a worldwide market slump over worries about the pandemic and inflation.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 433 points to close at 34932.
The Nasdaq fell 188 points.
The S&P 500 slipped 52.
And the White House has a new puppy in residence.
He's named Commander.
President Biden shared a photo on his Twitter account today.
The dog appears to be a German shepherd and was a gift to the president from his family.
Still to come on the "NewsHour": Tamara Keith and Amy Walter break down the latest political news; closing arguments in the trial of Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell; Dr. Francis Collins discusses his long career as he steps away from leading the National Institutes of Health; plus much more.
A stalled agenda in Congress and a surge in COVID cases, just two issues the White House is coping with in these final weeks of the year.
It's a good time to turn to Politics Monday, with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and Tamara Keith of NPR, both of us -- both you joining us from your homes.
So good to see you.
you are not here.
But, Amy, let's start with you.
Build Back Better, the president dealt a blow, as we said tonight, by Senator Joe Manchin's decision, but how big a blow is it?
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Well, Judy, as Lisa and Yamiche pointed out, we don't know really where this goes from here, but it is pretty clear that for Democrats who had hoped that this year was going to end not just with passing his legislation, but that they would start 2022 selling it, that, instead of focusing on just all of the back-and-forth over process, as we have done now, it seems, week after week, talking about negotiations and how Democrats can agree, it was all about Democratic infighting, not a lot about what was actually in the legislation.
Democrats I talked to were hoping, all right, 2022 comes around, we're going to spend all of it talking about the things that we have done.
Instead, it looks as if they're going to start the new year in kind of a similar position.
We're going to be talking about process.
We're going to be talking about divisions within the Democratic Party.
That is not helpful for Democrats who are up in 2022, who need an energized Democratic base.
And it certainly isn't going to help President Biden, who is trying to show that he is able to give voters something for them to turn out and support Democrats in the midterm elections.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tam, how do you see this?
How serious a setback is it for the president?
TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Well, the White House, as Yamiche reported, is still sort of pushing ahead, though it's not clear where it goes.
In an interview that's going to air tonight that we just got information about, Vice President Harris told CBS that they're just not going to give up, they can't give up.
But, as Amy said, it does mean that they're starting 2022 without that victory for '22.
The wild thing to think about is, if they hadn't tried for this big ambitious Build Back Better bill, and they had just taken the wins they had, if they -- if President Biden and Congress, Democrats in Congress, had just passed the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure plan, that would have been a lot to campaign on.
But now, because they haven't been able to get Build Back Better over the finish line, that's what's getting all of the attention, much to their chagrin.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Amy, is there a way to get any significant part of Build Back Better done now?
AMY WALTER: Well, it does seem as if there are discussions going on right now about a bill that would maybe trim out some of the things that were problematic for Manchin or a bill that was much more focused on the one or two issues he was concerned about.
I have also heard progressive lawmakers suggesting that the president himself just issue executive orders on some of these issues, so that they can be done immediately.
But Tam is exactly right.
I mean, the thing is that the Democrats have a story to tell.
Every party has a story to tell when they have been in power.
And the whole goal is to tell your story over and over again, convince voters that sending them back to Washington is a good idea because I have been able to do XYZ.
They haven't done any of that.
Instead, it's really been all about trying to sell this piece of legislation.
And, quite frankly, I don't think it's particularly helpful for Senate Democrats, especially those Senate Democrats in marginal states, states that are purple, to have to go and campaign in 2022 to have to spend the next couple of weeks here still fighting, but also voting for a bill that's not going to pass.
That is not a really helpful exercise.
And, again, it's only going to help -- for Democrats who were worried about 2022, this gives Republicans some very good talking points to say that the Senate couldn't pass legislation because even Democrats thought it went too far.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Tam, you were citing Vice President Harris saying, we're going to keep fighting for this.
What does that look like then?
TAMARA KEITH: Conversations continuing.
And really what it looks like is, for now, at least, the administration trying not to openly feud with Joe Manchin.
Over the weekend, Press Secretary Jen Psaki put out got a pretty sharp statement.
Since then, they have really tried to cool the temperature, including Vice President Harris trying to cool the temperature.
And the other thing is, they have a lot of other things to worry about, primarily the Omicron variant, which is now the dominant variant in the U.S. and spreading like crazy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, exactly.
And this comes -- Amy, I want to show for our audience our new poll we have done with Marist, the president's approval rating at 41 percent, disapproval 55 percent.
This -- now, this poll was in the field a week ago, but it comes at a time with the Build Back Better news and, as Tam just said, this terrible news that we're hearing about the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
It doesn't seem to be as serious, but a lot of people are getting sick.
How does the president work his way through this?
AMY WALTER: Look, I think part of the challenge that the president has had -- through these last few weeks here, we have talked a lot about it's been all about process, negotiating within his own party.
At the same time, this is a president who, on his inaugural day, said his goal was to bring unity to the country, a lot of folks not feeling that the country is very unified on a whole host of issues, including how to handle COVID and vaccines.
And for his Democratic base, those who had said they really saw in Joe Biden someone who's going to be able to push over the finish line many of the ideals that he campaigned on in 2020, those haven't been accomplished.
So put that on top of rising COVID rates, which, again, the president said on the campaign trail, in his first days in office said, is my number one priority, the fact that those have -- continue to plague the country.
COVID specifically, is a real, real challenge.
And voters, of course, they take it out on the person who's in charge.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Tam, if you're in the White House right now, thinking about how you get through this and into the new year, what are you thinking?
(LAUGHTER) TAMARA KEITH: Well, luckily, I don't work at the White House.
But they are trying to frame the way the American public thinks about this wave that is going to hit with Omicron.
You heard Press Secretary Jen Psaki talk about it today.
You're going to hear President Biden talk about it tomorrow.
The goal is to prevent severe illness and death.
At the beginning of the administration, President Biden was talking about ending the pandemic.
That's not what he's talking about anymore.
They are preparing the public for a lot of people to get this virus, for vaccinated people even to get COVID, and preparing the public for that reality, that ending the pandemic isn't necessarily the goal anymore.
And that puts a giant wet blanket on the president's approval, because that uncertainty, that fear that not knowing if they're going to be shut down, so they insist there won't be, but not knowing whether they're going to be enough staff who are COVID-negative to staff a school when you return from Christmas break, these are all things that are weighing on the American public and weighing on the president's approval.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Unwelcome news in just about any direction you can think of.
Tamara Keith, Amy Walter, we thank you both.
TAMARA KEITH: You're welcome.
AMY WALTER: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, the jury began deliberations today in the federal sex trafficking and conspiracy trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend of the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
John Yang brings us up to date on the trial.
JOHN YANG: Judy, Maxwell faces six counts that allege she facilitated Epstein's abuse and trafficking of underage teens.
Epstein died in federal jail in 2019, before he himself could stand trial.
This case involves four of the dozens of girls Epstein was accused of trafficking and abusing more.
Moira Penza is a former assistant U.S. attorney who led the prosecution that resulted in the 2019 sex trafficking conviction of NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere.
She's now a partner at the firm Wilkinson Stekloff.
Moira, thanks so thanks so much for being with us.
This trial gave the four survivors who are involved in this case the opportunity that was taken away from them when Epstein died.
You have worked -- that is to have a day in court.
Now, you worked on similar cases, high-profile cases.
What does it mean for these survivors, these women to be able to go into court and tell their story?
MOIRA PENZA, Partner, Wilkinson Stekloff: You know, John, I think it is really important that people get to see victims of sexual violence have the ability to seek justice through our criminal justice system.
It is very different than some of the other means of speaking out that we have seen in the past with the hashtag MeToo movement.
We have seen a lot on social media.
And there are benefits to that.
But there is something about seeing individuals brought to justice within the criminal justice system, where they are able to actually say to the people who did victimize them, actually be able to testify, withstand cross-examination that brings a lot of credibility to their testimony and, when done properly, hopefully will be a way of really preventing this sort of sexual abuse in the future and deterring the type of behavior in a very meaningful way.
JOHN YANG: The prosecution spent a little less time than had been anticipated.
They called fewer witnesses than they -- than had been expected.
Tell us what the prosecution case was.
And, also, talk to us about that, what -- an apparent decision to streamline a case.
MOIRA PENZA: As a trial attorney, it is really important to streamline your case.
And that is something that takes a lot of discipline.
It is really important to make sure as the prosecutor that you are sticking to the actual charges against Maxwell and where she was most directly involved.
And so I really think that was a conscience decision on behalf of the prosecution to really highlight those areas where Maxwell had the most involvement with these victims.
So, we saw that they're -- that they really had their theme of Maxwell as this enabler in chief, this partner in crime, who was really recruiting and grooming these young girls for Epstein.
And we see that they really were consistent throughout their examination in maintaining that theme and really presenting Maxwell at the top of this sex abuse pyramid, as they described it.
JOHN YANG: And what about the defense?
They were trying to push that she was the scapegoat since Epstein was no longer available.
What else did the defense argue?
MOIRA PENZA: The primary defense is really that this isn't about Maxwell, that Maxwell was separated from a lot of these crimes, that she may have essentially had a bad boyfriend, but that she didn't necessarily know what was going on behind closed doors.
And that is why we see that the prosecution really focused on, where was Maxwell, the times when she was actually in the room, when she was actually a participant, when she is actually getting payments toward the end of Jeffrey Epstein's life to really connect those dots.
So we definitely saw the defense trying to separate her from that.
We also saw what had to come had become quite common in these sexual abuse of attacking the victim.
And we saw that throughout the cross-examinations.
And what we have seen time and time again is that that often backfires, and that juries often react very negatively to that sort of cross-examination.
So, here, we did see that there were various attacks of varying kinds.
So, whether there was an incentive, a financial incentive, that is how many of the victims were cross-examined.
But then we also saw cross-examination about issues of memory.
Was there some sort of conspiracy to -- once Epstein was dead, to implicate Maxwell instead?
JOHN YANG: And Maxwell did not take the stand in her own defense, which she is not required to do.
And the judge instructs the jury not to read anything into that.
But we have had a couple of high-profile cases recently where high-profile defendants have taken the stand.
Is that, do you think -- even though they are told not to think about it, does that have any effect on a juror?
MOIRA PENZA: I do believe that jurors follow the instructions as given to them.
Do I think, as human beings, there can always be a subconscious effect?
But I do think the Maxwell case is very different than some of the most recent high-profile cases we have seen, where defendants made the unusual decision to take the stand, because, far more often than not, it is what we see with Maxwell, where the defendant does not take the stand and exercises their right not to incriminate themselves, right?
Once you take the stand, then you have essentially waived that right, and you can be cross-examined about everything that has already been presented during the trial, as well as additional bad acts that could go to your credibility.
We're not talking about a fraud-based -- a securities-fraud-based crime like we have in the Holmes trial.
We're not talking about Kyle Rittenhouse, where you essentially need to take the stand in order to show self-defense.
This is a case where Maxwell has already testified under oath previously.
She would have to contend with the testimony that she had given before.
And so I don't think it was -- I thought that she likely would not take the stand and that this was much more consistent with what we typically would see her being advised by her attorneys to do.
JOHN YANG: Former federal prosecutor Moira Penza, thank you very much.
MOIRA PENZA: Thank you very much for having me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now let's return to the challenges of COVID and the perspective of the director of the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Francis Collins is retiring from that position after more than a decade.
And he is warning that, if the country doesn't take all the necessary measures, we could face a million cases a day in the U.S. this winter.
Before he became NIH director, he was known for his work on genetics.
He helped discover the gene that causes cystic fibrosis, and then he led the government's efforts to map the finished sequence of the human genome, the instructions in our DNA.
As NIH director, he led efforts to grow its budget to $50 billion annually.
I sat down with him recently at the NIH.
Dr. Francis Collins, thank you very much for talking with us.
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, Director, National Institutes of Health: Glad to be with you right here at NIH.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Dr. Collins, here we are in the middle of the worst pandemic this country has faced in a century, and you have announced you are retiring as the head of this essential medical public health institution, NIH.
Does that compute?
(LAUGHTER) DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Well, it better because it's happening.
I think it does, Judy.
There will never be a perfect time to say it's time to step down.
I have been NIH director now for more than 12 years, serving three presidents.
That's never happened before.
NIH directors are appointed by the president, and they generally leave when the president does.
So, I have outlasted my shelf life by about a factor of two.
And I decided back a few months ago that, if I wasn't going to stick it out for the indefinite future, I need to give a chance for President Biden to identify a new director and nominate that person.
And let me reassure you, as far as COVID, the science that NIH has done in the last two years has been astounding, but the people leading that effort, they're not going anywhere.
And the team is just rock-solid, dedicated, committed, smart.
We will be OK here at NIH.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I wanted to ask you about that.
I mean, what -- if you had to pin down the main contribution NIH has made during this COVID pandemic?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: The most visible one, the vaccines, development of those mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, based on 25 years of really hard-won basic science advances that nobody was really paying much attention, to get that approved by the FDA.
We were smack in the middle of that.
That would never have happened without all the NIH efforts.
I worked with industry building an unprecedented partnership that brought 20 companies, all of the NIH institutes, the FDA and the CDC around the same table, designing master protocols, figuring out how to prioritize which things ought to be tested first.
And ultimately out of that came monoclonal antibodies that do work therapeutically.
And then diagnostics.
The fact that there are diagnostic tests on the pharmacy shelves, we had a lot to do with that.
The fact that today there will be about two million tests that are run, we had a lot to do with that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And is there something you would wish you could have emerged from NIH?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: You know, maybe we underinvested in research on human behavior.
I never imagined a year ago, when those vaccines were just proving to be fantastically safe and effective, that we would still have 60 million people who had not taken advantage of them because of misinformation and disinformation that somehow dominated all of the ways in which people were getting their answers.
And a lot of those answers were, in fact, false.
And we have lost so much as a result of that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Your specialty going back many years is genetics, a physician researcher.
You started working in that area decades ago.
You have done, what, groundbreaking work, work that led to cracking the human genome.
What has that meant to you?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: It was an amazing adventure that I did with 2,400 other scientists in six countries, because that's what it took to read out that first copy of the human genome, those three billion letters of our own instruction book.
It had this sense of significance, of history, that we are crossing a bridge into a territory where we know our own instruction book.
For all of history, we haven't known that.
Now, it's written in a language we're still trying to figure out how to read accurately, so the work on the human genome will be going on for a long time.
But we had it.
And it was public.
It was on the Internet.
We made sure of that too.
It's our shared inheritance.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned how far we have come, that it's going to go on for years.
There was a lot of talk in the beginning, a lot of promise, I think, that it would lead to breakthroughs right away in a number of illnesses, diseases.
That's taken longer than originally thought, hasn't it?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Than some would have thought.
You know, there's something called the first law of technology, that when there is a breakthrough discovery, and it really is something significant, people will always overestimate its short-term consequences and underestimate its long-term consequences.
I think the Genome Project is a perfect example.
There were some statements -- I hope I didn't make them -- saying, OK, when you go to your doctor next week, it's all going to be different.
But look at where we are now and where we may be 20 or 30 years from now.
By the way, you go to any research lab, like mine across the way here, we couldn't do anything without the genome and its technologies.
I mean, everybody who's working in human medicine is basing a lot of what they're doing on that as an anchor.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You are known, Dr. Collins, to pay a lot of attention to moral and ethical considerations around the genome questions, genetic research.
You have been critical of the way the gene editing technology has been used unethically before, this technique CRISPR, not necessarily that, per se, but as some scientist outside the United States have used it.
But do you worry that we may get too far down that path at some point soon?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: I worry.
I think we already saw one example, where a Chinese scientist, despite the pretty general international agreement that gene editing should not be used for human embryos, did so anyway.
I don't think that's happened since because of the strong outcry.
This is such a paradox, though, Judy, because gene editing applied in other places, not to embryos, but to people with sickle cell disease to fix what's causing their disease by editing their bone marrow, is like one of the most exciting, most amazing developments in the last five years, one that I'm wildly enthusiastic about, and have put a lot of NIH resources into it.
But that's very different.
That doesn't get into the hereditary DNA that's going to get passed to the next generation.
If you're doing hereditary DNA on humans, you have crossed a line into territory that I don't think we are smart enough to go into and that has consequences, both in terms of safety, but also in terms of theology and philosophy about, are we going to reinvent who we are?
I don't think we're ready to do that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Your faith.
You have been very open about your Christian faith.
How has it changed your work, do you think?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: I think I'm really fortunate to be somebody who has both a scientific approach to understanding how nature works and a spiritual approach to understanding things that science doesn't help me much with, like, why am I here, what is the nature of morality?
For me as a scientist, though, it takes on additional consequences when a new discovery happens, because I see God as the author of all that we have been given.
That means that the laboratory is also potentially a cathedral, because what we're doing is to learn how to be even more amazed at what we have been given as human beings surrounded by a beautiful world.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Dr. Francis Collins, thank you very much for talking with us.
We appreciate it.
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Thanks, Judy.
And may I say, it has been an absolute privilege to serve the National Institutes of Health for these 12-plus years.
I love the NIH.
I have loved my job.
I love what medical research has been able to do and will continue to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
Online right now: Michigan teachers already burned out by the pandemic say they are now frustrated by threats of gun violence that have continued since last month's deadly shooting at Oxford High.
You can read more at PBS.org/NewsHour.
And that's the "NewsHour" for tonight.
I'm Judy Woodruff.
For all of us at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, please do stay safe, and we'll see you soon.