‘Special Report’ All-Star Panel on COVID restrictions closing Chicago schools πŸ’₯πŸ‘©πŸ‘©πŸ’₯

This is a rush transcript from “Special Report All-Star Panel,” January 10, 2022. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


BAIER: In this time, do you think that it’s fair to say that the trust and confidence of the public has gone down with the CDC?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Thank you, Bret. This is hard. We have ever-evolving science with an ever-evolving variant. And my job is to provide updated guidance in the context of rapidly rising cases. And that is what we’ve done, and I’m here to explain that to the American people. And I am committed to continuing to do so and to continuing to improve.


BAIER: The CDC Director Rochelle Walensky talking about credibility and some of the messaging that’s been coming from the White House and the CDC on COVID-19. This as a new poll comes out about priorities, which problems would you like the administration to work on 2022? And you see the difference there, the economy is still the same, but COVID-19 has taken a 20 point drop there. Cost of living has increased, and there you see inflation increasing there from year to year.

Let’s bring in our panel, FOX News senior political analyst Brit Hume, Guy Benson, political editor at Townhall.com, host of “The Guy Benson Show” on FOX News Radio, Kimberley Strassel, a member of the editorial board at “The Wall Street Journal,” and Juan Williams, FOX News analyst. Brit, what about the messaging here and what we have seen over recent months?

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What you see, I think, is an administration desperately trying to catch up with this evolving variant, this evolving virus. But instead of seizing on the good news that was coming out of the places like South Africa where it was originally discovered, originally noticed, that it is mild in comparison to Delta, the administration has gotten panicky again. And now we have new restrictions and so on, and we have a nation that is to some extent still panicked. You see that in the reaction to the teachers in Chicago. So the messaging out of the administration, and as you pointed out, Bret, and as your questioning of the evasive Dr. Walensky yesterday made clear, the administration has been all over the place about this stuff.

BAIER: One of the things was the president calling this the pandemic of the unvaccinated. Jen Psaki asked about that today.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I had been triple-vaxxed. I had minor symptoms. There is a huge difference between that and being unvaccinated. You are 17 times more likely to go to the hospital if you are not vaccinated, 20 times more likely to die. And those are significant, serious statistics. So, yes, the impact for people who are unvaccinated is far more dire than those who are vaccinated.



GUY BENSON, POLITICAL EDITOR, TOWNHALL.COM: I think the question posed by our colleague Peter Doocy was a good one. You’ve got people triple-vaxxed with the booster shot and they’re contracting Omicron anyway. Why would the president continue to refer this as a pandemic of the unvaccinated? I think that’s probably an unfair characterization at this point.

But some of the responses there from Psaki were accurate. I just wish that was the way the vaccines were talked about and sold, maybe from the beginning, saying, look, it’s going to keep you out of the hospital. It’s going to prevent you from dying. It’s not going to be bulletproof, but it’s very, very advantageous to your health in terms of severe conditions or severe reactions should you get COVID. That’s all absolutely true, and it’s important.

But it’s, I think, a little bit contradicted by the president insisting on sticking with this outdated talking point about the whole pandemic being basically pinned on the unvaccinated given the fact many, many fully vaccinated and boosted people have gotten Omicron. Fair question, relatively decent answer, in my opinion.

BAIER: Juan, the situation with Chicago teachers now on its fourth day, looks like it’s going to be a fifth day without classes, and we just did a piece tonight about the mental health toll that this COVID pandemic has had on kids specifically. Is there this moment that the president could have a Ronald Reagan air traffic controller kind of moment with Chicago teachers’ unions?

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, unlike the air trafficker controllers, the Chicago teachers are not under the control of the president of the United States. That’s under the city of Chicago and, of course, the Chicago teachers’ union is it’s political ship here. They are the ones that are insisting, despite what we hear from the mayor, Lori Lightfoot, that she wants schools open. So you understand the power of that union. But it’s not similar to President Reagan who had direct power over the air traffic controller union and could fire them and replace them.

Now, I will say that, to me, in this conversation, I’m just alarmed that people don’t deal with the fact that, I think it’s 36 percent or so of the country remains unvaccinated. And when you hear from the doctors about the strain on our healthcare systems, they are saying it’s overwhelming, it’s close to 100 percent of the people who are in the hospitals for COVID are the unvaccinated.

BAIER: Kimberley, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the FDA, somebody we listen to as a respected source. Here is what he says about why this virus is spreading.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: This is an epidemic that is not being instigated, spread, if you will, by people who get diagnosed, isolate for five days, and go back into public circulation on day six while a certain percentage of them will still be infectious. They are not driving the pandemic.

What’s driving the pandemic right now is the fact that we’re probably only diagnosing somewhere between one in five and one in 10 actual infections. And there’s a lot of people walking around with mild illness or asymptomatic infection who don’t know it who are spreading it.


BAIER: Thoughts?

KIMBERLEY STRASSEL, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Yes, I think that raises this important question about whether or not we need to take a new look at the testing overall and what value there is any more of doing all of this testing, in particular, to allow people to go into venues, et cetera, when it’s not really catching all the people who are out there. It is driving a lot of panic, as Brit mentioned, when you look at those numbers.

The numbers that really should matter are those about how many people are actually going to the hospital with this and ending up on ventilators, and questions like you were asking the CDC director. And weirdly, that’s the information we’re not getting. Most of the data we’re getting is a bunch of noise. And you have some European countries now thinking of stepping back from this, because if we are going to have to live with this as the new normal, this testing situation can’t continue the way it is.

BAIER: Brit, quickly, now we have this mandate that health insurance companies going to pick up the free home testing and you get eight per person, 32 for a family of four. The problem is right now you can’t get them. They are saying they’re coming. But we are going from trying to get tests and analyzing the effectiveness of tests, to everybody gets a test.

HUME: Look, not only you cannot get the test. Even if you do get the test, they tell you on one day whether you have it. The next day you might have it. So you do, what, eight tests, eight days maybe? Then what? Are we going to test ourselves every day in perpetuity about this spreading mild, relatively mild variant? That doesn’t seem like a reasonable path.

BAIER: All right, many more panels about this.

Up next, crucial security talks between the U.S. and Russia.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: He went into the Crimea. He went into Syria. He went into Libya. He has conducted cyberattacks against the United States. And he hasn’t paid much of a price. That’s why it’s particularly important that the United States and our allies stand strong, make clear that we are going to be unified in opposition to anything that Russia tries to do against the Ukraine.


BAIER: Former defense secretary, former CIA director Leon Panetta on “Your World” with Neil Cavuto today, talking about Vladimir Putin who he said senses weakness in the U.S. “The Wall Street Journal” writing this, “Globalization was supposed to prevent war. Russia made be showing the opposite. Vladimir Putin may be betting the west isn’t willing to pay the economic price to prevent a Russian move on Ukraine in an increasingly interconnected world.” Back with the panel. Guy, why do you think people at home should care?

BENSON: Well, because there could be a war, right? And when there is a war involving a country like Russia and an ally like Ukraine, the U.S. is going to be involved in some capacity. Likely not our troops, but our resources, and, perhaps, other aspects, perhaps covert, for example.

Look, to me, Bret, there are two threshold questions here. Number one, has Putin already decided that he is going to invade Ukraine? Because, if he has already decided yes, he is going to do it, all these talks in the flurry of negotiations, it’s window dressing.

The second question is, if he has not made that decision for sure yet, is there a combination of sticks and carrots from the west that would persuade him not to take that action? And I think a key to that would be his conviction that the west is actually serious about really tough unified action if he decides to go that direction. I’m not sure he is convinced of that, which is really part of the threat here.

BAIER: Juan, Republicans, especially national security minded Republicans, are concerned about the possible carrots here. Former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeting out, “For all the noise Democrats made about Trump favoring Russia, how do they justify Biden giving sanction relief to Russia’s pipeline? Democrats would be completely hypocritical to support him. Pay attention. We will be taking names.” Thoughts?

WILLIAMS: I think when you look at — she is talking about the pipeline, the Nord Stream pipeline. It would send natural gas from Russia to Germany, and clearly Germany had a strong interest in allowing that to go forward. It hasn’t started pumping yet, but that was a German concern. Of course, Germany is our ally.

But right now, what we’ve heard initially from the talks that took place earlier today, Bret, is fairly optimistic that Russia, nothing concrete, but that Russia is not being as brutish and aggressive in saying that they have the right to protect their borders and that they have a right to interfere in the affairs of these eastern European states. In fact, it sounds like they are talking about stepping back.

And again, why are they talking about stepping back from invading Ukraine? I think it’s because of the power of sanctions that would exclude them from the international banking community, that would punish them in terms of what goes on on the Internet, and just limit their ability. They don’t have much ability to have economic growth outside of selling oil. So, for right now, I think there is reason to hope, to be hopeful.

BAIER: Brit, you don’t think Vladimir Putin baked that in before all of this happened?

HUME: Well, what I would say about that, Bret, is that it’s pretty clear from everything we have heard what Putin wants here, most of all. He wants Ukraine not in NATO. Ukraine is not in NATO now. And what I think he did hear, by massing the troops near the Ukraine border, because the circumstances on the ground always have a profound effect on any negotiations such as the ones that are going on here, the facts on the ground matter. Well, he created this new fact. His troops on the border, posing an obvious threat to Ukraine.

In the meantime, he has got a new fact in Kazakhstan where he has got troops already in there, and I don’t think that’s a new fact he wanted to have to deal with. So he has now got a couple of, as Leon Panetta was pointing out, he has got a couple issues on his plate now which maybe more than he wished to handle at this time.

And make no mistake about it, the sanctions that Juan pointed to about the banking system and so on, those are very real and potential sanctions, while short of military action, that really would hurt Russia without harming us or our allies very much. So he’s vulnerable if the west is willing to be together and act. The question then arises, would the U.S. act alone if it didn’t? That’s a good question.

BAIER: Kimberley?

STRASSEL: I think from Vladimir Putin’s perspective, he went and he figures one of two things. He either he uses this threat to invade Ukraine as leverage to get some sort of concessions from the United States, or he says that he doesn’t get those concessions and then he uses it as a pretext to invade. And he is betting that the Biden administration, which has a lot of leftovers from the Obama years, remember in 2014, Barack Obama put out a threat, don’t go into Crimea. Putin did it anyway, and there was no real ramifications. So he is assuming he has a free hand here.

Which is why there can’t really be any carrots. If the Biden administration wants to pass this test, it has got to really crack down. It’s got to pressure Germany to suspend that pipeline. It’s got to do the full array of sanctions, and it’s got to speed up military assistance not just to Ukraine but to other former satellite nations of the Soviet Union who don’t want to fall under Russia’s orbit.

BAIER: Guy, we covered this story of Kazakhstan, what’s happening there, Russian troops in there, and there has been violence there. We’re one of the only places covering that story. It’s one of these former Soviet republics where forceful action could mean a change in government there.

BENSON: And I think Brit made an important point in his answer. This is probably an unwelcome development for Putin, and it could, underline “could,” change his calculus moving forward about whether increased aggression or even an invasion in Ukraine is something that’s in his interest right now. Is there too much on his plate? Could this incentivize him to really take an extra hard second look at the aforementioned sticks and carrots from the west?

BAIER: All right, panel, thank you. When we come back, tomorrow’s headlines.


BAIER: Finally tonight, a look at tomorrow’s headlines with the panel. Juan, first to you.

WILLIAMS: President Biden goes down Georgia to push voting rights reform, Bret. Meanwhile, in Washington, Mitch McConnell continues to push for Electoral College act reform, and I think you are going to see those two have to come to some convergence.


STRASSEL: Senator Joe Manchin is still, still, still opposed to killing the filibuster, even though the president is down there in Georgia, and even though Chuck Schumer promise a vote on that bill.


BENSON: The Saban death star prevails again. Bama wins the national championship tonight. I hope I’m wrong on behalf of Joey Jones, M.K., and the Hickeys, I sag go Dogs.

BAIER: Come on, Dogs. All right, Brit?

HUME: Biden administration officials tell Ukrainians worried about a Russia invasion to get vaccinated. Told that vaccinations won’t keep you from getting invaded, they say they’re not surprised if it won’t keep you from getting Omicron either.


BAIER: Can always count on you for a headline. Brit, thank you. Panel, thanks.

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‘Special Report’ All-Star Panel on COVID restrictions closing Chicago schools

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