A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, January 16, 2022 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" starts right now.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news.
MATT DESARNO, FBI DALLAS SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: It's very likely the situation would have ended very badly had we not had professional, consistent negotiation with the subject.
RADDATZ: A dramatic hostage rescue overnight at a Texas synagogue, the FBI moving in after a nearly 12-hour standoff, leading to heightened patrols across the country.
We're live on the scene this morning with late-breaking details.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try the second time. We miss this time.
RADDATZ: Amid major political setbacks, from voting rights, to inflation, to the pandemic, one year in, President Biden slips to his lowest approval rating yet, his own party once again blocking his legislative agenda.
SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.
RADDATZ: This morning, we will talk to Biden confidant Congressman Jim Clyburn.
And President Biden's vaccine mandate rejected by the Supreme Court, as the stark reality of Omicron sets in.
DR. JANET WOODCOCK, ACTING FDA COMMISSIONER: Most people are going to get COVID.
RADDATZ: Why weren't we better prepared? Pressing questions this morning for Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and former homeland security adviser Tom Bossert.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."
Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."
We're going to get to all those challenges facing the administration in a moment.
But we begin with breaking news. After a dramatic late-night standoff, authorities in the Dallas/Fort Worth area rescued a rabbi and three other hostages at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, with all hostages safe and the suspect confirmed dead.
A full investigation is now under way into the suspect's motives. President Biden releasing a statement condemning the rise of extremism.
Our Mireya Villarreal is on the scene in Texas with the very latest.
Good morning, Mireya.
MIREYA VILLARREAL, ABC NEWS NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Martha.
As you can see behind me, police have this whole area blocked off. It'll stay like this most of the day, as they continue their investigation.
The good news, this morning, all four hostages are safe and the gunman dead after the standoff at a North Texas synagogue ended in dramatic fashion, the FBI hostage negotiating team stepping in to help, with agents candidly saying last night this could have ended badly if they hadn't started that communication early and continued to talk with the hostage-taker throughout the day.
The situation began Saturday morning at Congregation Beth Israel when the suspect interrupted a scheduled service that was being streamed on Facebook Live. Law enforcement officials telling ABC News the suspect claimed he had explosives in his backpack and was demanding the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who was sentenced to 86 years in federal prison for attempted murder of a U.S. soldier.
FBI agents now, as well as local law enforcement, are trying to figure out the connection between Siddiqui and the hostage-taker. Her attorneys saying last night that there is no connection, she doesn't know him, he is not a relative, also condemning his actions, calling them heinous and wrong -- Martha.
RADDATZ: Thank you, Mireya. I know you will stay on it.
Let's bring in ABC News contributor Brad Garrett, a hostage negotiator for the FBI for 17 years.
Brad, why did the SWAT team make that decision to move in when they did? And walk us through that exclusive extraordinary video shot by our affiliate WFAA as the raid was going down.
BRAD GARRETT, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: So, Martha, at some point, between the hostage negotiators and the hostage rescue team, they decided, this guy's not coming out. We're not going to meet his demands about possibly having somebody released from a prison.
And so they figure out a plan. Where is he in the building? How can we get into the building quickly and either arrest him or kill him?
And my guess is, they figured out where he was in the building through cameras. They make an entry. And what's interesting as you look at the tape of them entering the building, there is a flash. That's a flashbang. And they throw those to distract everybody, because they're very loud and they're very bright.
And so you go in the door immediately when it goes off. And because they probably knew where they were going, they went directly to him and shot him, I presume.
RADDATZ: And, Brad, multiple law enforcement officials have told us that the hostage-taker was demanding that a woman named Aafia Siddiqui being held in prison there in Texas, as Mireya mentioned, he's demanding that she be freed.
She was charged with attempted murder of a U.S. Military member and law enforcement officials in Afghanistan. Tell us about her.
BRAD GARRETT, FORMER FBI AGENT: So she's an interesting person, Martha. She went to MIT in this country, and also to Brandeis and spent a lot of time here, but then went back to Pakistan. And it's sort of a mystery as to what she actually had done. The U.S. Government has stated publicly that when they arrested her, she had documents about mass destruction, about targeting sites like the Statue of Liberty.
Another mystery piece is she -- ultimately, her second husband was a nephew of colleague Sheikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds, obviously, of 9/11. But there’s -- we don't know particulars. I mean, these are easy things for me to say, but I can't fill the blanks in as to exactly what she did and what she did not do in that window between 2003 and 2008.
RADDATZ: And, of course, whether there's any connection at all. And, Brad, so troubling that another Jewish synagogue was targeted.
GARRETT: Driving around yesterday, Martha, I went by a synagogue I had done a security assessment of. There were four D.C. Police vehicles around that synagogue. That's going to be the reality, particularly when you have these types of attacks because, unfortunately, it encourages copycats.
RADDATZ: Thanks so much for joining us this morning, Brad.
Let's turn to the challenges now facing President Biden as he prepares to mark one year in office after enduring the toughest week of his presidency. His latest legislative priority stalled after a week of intensive lobbying for voting rights.
He failed to convince moderate Democrats to scrap the Senate filibuster. Overseas, after a week of failed diplomacy, more than 100,000 Russian troops remain massed near Ukraine’s border. The prospect of war there, looms larger. On the economy, inflation jumped at its fastest pace in 40 years as pandemic-battered supply chains struggle to keep up with consumer demand. And on the pandemic, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to Biden’s most ambitious initiative to boost the country's vaccination rate, blocking his vaccine mandate for larger employers. Meanwhile, as Omicron pushes the U.S. toward a record 800,000 new cases every day with over 158,000 hospitalized COVID patients, his latest plan to beat the virus faces widespread criticism over testing shortages and confusing public health guidance.
We'll cover it all and we're joined now by the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Good to see you this morning, Dr. Murthy.
We are seeing these record daily cases. Hospitals are overwhelmed. ICUs are jammed. It has been nearly two months since the Omicron variant was designated a variant of concern, and yet the CDC just upgraded its mask recommendations and the website for Americans to order those rapid tests won't go live until Wednesday. A group of Democratic senators is wondering why this took so long, writing, the “Administration either knew or should have known that testing shortages were occurring across the country over the past several months, and with the full expectation that the virus would likely mutate into a new variant seps to increase testing access should have happened before the current wave hit, not several weeks into the surge.” How would you respond to that, Dr. Murthy?
DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Martha, we are certainly in a tough part of the Omicron wave right now. As you mentioned, case numbers are high, and hospitals are struggling. It's one of the reasons why we have surged so many people from the federal government to support hospital systems and why we've sent millions of pieces of equipment to them.
With regard to testing, the president said very clearly in December that we have made a lot of progress on testing, but we have more to do. And, you know, the investments that were made, the billions of dollars, the use of the DPA, the approval of nine more tests by the FDA, those actually helped us to dramatically increase our testing in 2021, quadrupling, in fact, a supply of testing that last few months of the year. But when Omicron came, it created an extraordinary increase in demand. It's why the U.S., the U.K., and other countries found themselves without as much testing as they needed. But we are pulling out the stops on testing, right now. It’s why in addition to the 50 million tests we sent to community health centers, in addition to the 20,000 locations where people can get free tests --
RADDATZ: But, Dr. Murthy --
MURTHY: -- we’re also opening up a site --
RADDATZ: -- I know what you are doing now but the --
MURTHY: -- 1 billion rapid home tests.
RADDATZ: Dr. Murthy, I know what you are doing now, but the question is --
MURTHY: (Inaudible), Martha?
RADDATZ: -- why wasn't it done sooner? Look, you say, you always hold out hope, but you plan for the worst. It doesn't sound like that happened.
MURTHY: Well, there was planning, Martha, and there was execution on increasing the supply of tests which is why if you compare December to January of 2021, you see there was a dramatic increase, a more than eight-fold increase in testing, in fact, during that time frame.
But the challenge was that omicron created an extraordinary increase in demand, Martha, even beyond the incredible increase in supply that we had procured and secured during 2021. So we have to close that gap and that's exactly what we have been doing. It's what we plan to keep doing.
Martha, this is about testing, but our response is bigger than that as well. It’s also about ensuring that we get more people vaccinated and boosted. It's one of the lessons that omicron, that the vaccines are working to keep people safe, to keep them out of the hospital, to save their lives. We just need to get millions of more people boosted, work on expanding our testing supply.
And there's an untold story here, Martha, about our therapeutics. We have more medications, oral and IV medications, to treat COVID-19 this month in January than we have had in any other month during this pandemic. It's because of early investments, thinking ahead, and making sure that we have robust pipeline for therapeutics.
So, all of that is actually helping us move forward, and it's going to help us end this pandemic. This is a tough time. It’s going to be a tough few weeks, but we will get through it.
RADDATZ: And, Dr. Murthy, you mentioned those therapeutics, antiviral pills. They have had extraordinary results, but only 20 million more were ordered. And there's 35 million unvaccinated people.
MURTHY: So here's what's important, Martha, is to recognize that there are actually multiple therapeutics we have now. So while the 20 million refers to the Paxlovid, the Pfizer medication, there are additional medications. There's the Merck medication, Molnupiravir.
There’s also intravenous medications, three of them, in fact, that we have now that we feel confident are effective against COVID-19. And we have thousands of doses of those available -- in fact, millions.
And so, you put all of this together, and that's where you see that we have more supply in January than we have had in any other month. But we're not stopping there. We are continuing to increase month by month our supply, so that we can get those medications to people who are sick, who are at high risk, and ultimately, save their lives.
RADDATZ: You talk about vaccinations and how important they are. They certainly are, and boosters as well.
The Supreme Court blocked the mandate for large businesses -- something you said on this program in November was necessary and appropriate, and that was before the omicron surge.
So, what is plan B?
MURTHY: Well, the news about the workplace requirement being blocked was very disappointing, Martha. It was a setback for public health because what these requirements ultimately are helpful for is not just protecting the community at large, but making our workplaces safer for workers as well as for customers.
So, the good news, though, is that there is nothing that stops workplaces from voluntarily putting these requirements in place. In fact, many have done so already. A third of the Fortune 100 companies have put these in place, and many more outside have.
So, we're strongly encouraging companies to put these requirements in place voluntarily, and in a health care setting, that ruling was upheld. And so, 17 million healthcare workers in settings across the country are still required now to get vaccinated. That will help create a safer environment for health care workers as well as for patients.
RADDATZ: And, Dr. Murthy, I want to talk about transmissibility. Clearly, there are large numbers of breakthrough cases in those who have been vaccinated and boosted, and we know those shots have saved lives in terms of the disease.
But do you know what percentage of positive cases are in those who have been vaccinated and boosted?
MURTHY: Well, it's a good question, Martha. The one important thing to recognize and underscore is something you mentioned which I think is critically important, is that the purpose of vaccines, the most important job of vaccines is to save your life and keep you out of the hospital. And by that measure, these vaccines and boosters are working and working well.
Now, you will hear as many people have already heard about people who have cases that are mild or asymptomatic, people who test positive despite being vaccinated or boosted. But keep in mind, what is often being prevented there is a more severe infection.
As a percentage of people who are vaccinated and boosted increases in a population, you will hear of more breakthrough cases in part because that pool of individual is greater.
RADDATZ: Do you know the percentage -- do you know the percentage of those testing positive who are vaccinated?
MURTHY: I’m sorry, Martha?
RADDATZ: Do you know the percentage of those who are getting the disease who are vaccinated?
MURTHY: So what we've seen from our data, from the United States and from other countries, is that if you are vaccinated and boosted, your level of protection against symptomatic infection is in the -- around the 75 percent to 80 percent range, OK? So, that's not 100 percent. That means there's about 20 percent possibility there in terms of positive cases despite being -- despite being, you know, vaccinated compared to an unvaccinated population. But, keep in mind, that still shows a very strong efficacy overall against preventing symptomatic disease.
So the bottom line is, even through we are hearing about breakthrough infections, Martha, getting vaccinated and boosted reduces not just your chances of dying or ending up in the hospital, but actually of getting infected in the first place. It's why it's so important that people go out there, get that booster shot, if you've been vaccinated. And if you haven't been vaccinated, please, please get vaccinated. It's still not too late.
RADDATZ: We will hope they follow your advice.
Thanks for joining us this morning.
Let's get some analysis from Tom Bossert, who served as White House Homeland Security adviser to two presidents and led the development of our country's pandemic response plan.
It's great to see you this morning, Tom.
You were a leading voice in trying to tell people about the risks of Covid, and what went wrong in the last response.
Here we are again. You heard Dr. Murthy. What's your take on this?
TOM BOSSERT, FORMER TRUMP HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Martha, you know, not only are we here again, but before we talk about all the things that went wrong, I'm struck by how much went right. A lot of people in this country have contributed and played their role, not just public health officials and public health care officials like Dr. Murthy, but average Americans who are all masking and social distancing. And think how much worse it would be if we had let all -- all 1 million deaths, and I think we will approach 1 million deaths here, to take place all in one year or one period of time.
We've spread it over -- over two years, which was part of the original goal. And we've developed a vaccine. And without 9 billion doses of that vaccine delivered, we'd have a lot worse of a problem.
But, frankly I wouldn't be here if things were going well. And I was understanding, but a little disappointed, in what I heard from Dr. Murthy. Essentially in order to maintain trust, he needs to acknowledge some failure here. We've ordered too few testing kits, so our testing capacity has continued to lag behind each wave. It's too little and too late, but noteworthy for the next wave.
We've order too few and too little treatments and we don't have yet a global distribution and delivery plan for vaccines. So, there's a lot that we can work on, as he acknowledged. But for right now, Americans that are frustrated and giving up, I think they need to hear that a return to some rigger in our social distancing is necessary because our hospital beds and, more importantly, our hospital ICU beds are filling up and, in some states, are completely full.
RADDATZ: And -- and -- and messaging and public trust is important in this. And the messaging has been confusing.
BOSSERT: The federal government really has two big, primary roles. The first is procuring these vaccines and treatments. And we've made some significant mistakes there, failed to make big bets. The doctor mentioned that we -- we've got another Merck drug that we've ordered. But they ordered that one early in the test trial phase. That's what they should have done with Paxlovid. They waited six months for second and third phase trials and they shouldn't have done that.
And so now the messaging breaks that public trust. Admit that, and I think they'd earn some trust. Then we'd be able to move forward.
If we change our messaging, vacillate on our - on our belief set, lose sight of our common purpose or goal, people pick up on that and they don't trust anymore. So, in fact, I tell people that, in a crisis, which is what this is, clear and consistent messaging, telling people what you know and don't know, and acknowledging mistakes and moving on are the three keys to maintaining trust. And if you break any one of them, you have a harder time with the underlying core response plan and its execution.
RADDATZ: Always great to have your analysis. Thanks so much, Tom Bossert.
BOSSERT: Thank you.
RADDATZ: And, up next, President Biden spent the week rallying Democrats to pass voting rights legislation, and yet the effort appears all but doomed in the Senate. So, what's next for the party? House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn joins us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.: I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend the right to vote, our democracy, against all enemies, foreign, and, yes, domestic.
The question is, will the institution of the United States Senate stand?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: President Biden embracing a much sharper tone this week as he pivoted to voting rights, blaming Congress for inaction after a wave of restrictive voting bills passed in the fall out of the 2020 election.
But his strategy to push it through by this weekend honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. has met major roadblocks after he alienated members of both parties.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Do you want to be the side -- on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?
Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ (voice over): Despite campaign promises to heal the deep political divisions in the country, President Biden went on the attack this week, comparing those opposing his voting rights bill to segregationists and icons of the confederacy.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY, MINORITY LEADER: He invoked the bloody disunion of the Civil War -- the Civil War -- to demonize Americans who disagreed with him. How profoundly, profoundly unpresidential.
RADDATZ: Biden is attempting to undo the sweeping changes that Republican-led state legislatures have made to how Americans vote, fueled largely by former President Trump's baseless claims of election fraud.
Last year alone 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting, with 49 states introducing legislation attempting to change the workings of democracy, like limiting voting options and allowing partisan election roles.
The Freedom to Vote John Lewis Act that already passed in the House would reverse many of those restrictions and standardize election laws across the country.
BIDEN: I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months. I'm tired of being quiet.
RADDATZ: Biden plowed ahead, announcing he's in favor of removing the 60-vote threshold, despite fierce opposition from two key Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: We need changes to make the Senate work better, not get rid of the filibuster.
RADDATZ: And even after meeting with Biden at the White House on Thursday night, neither looked willing to budge ahead of Tuesday's expected vote, setting up what could be another embarrassing setback for the White House.
And joining us now is the president's close ally, House Majority Whip James Clyburn.
Good morning to you, Congressman Clyburn. It looks all but certain that this voting rights bill will not pass on Tuesday. Senators Sinema and Manchin have said no to changing the filibuster rules. Do you have any hope things might change before Tuesday?
REP. JAMES CLYBURN, (D) SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, first of all, thank you very much for having me this morning.
You know, South Carolinians live, by and large, by our state motto, "As I breathe, I hope." Yes, I do have hope.
I know that these two Democrats have decided that it is much more important to them to protect the voting rights of the minority on the Senate floor than to protect the voting rights of minorities in this great country of ours, this great country, the minorities that made it possible for them to be in the position that they're currently in.
So, I hope, but I don't think that we will change their mind. But we will see.
RADDATZ: I guess you can have hope. But even after a meeting at the White House, they didn't seem to change their mind.
President Biden left the door open to trying again if this fails. Where does the fight go from here? There are several proposals out there, overhauling the Electoral Count Act, that 19th century law President Trump tried to exploit to overturn the 2020 election.
Would you support that? Where does this go from here?
CLYBURN: Sure, I support that.
I have been calling for a reform of the Electoral College for most of my adult life. I do believe winner-take-all elections have been misused in this country for too long.
How do you get a person that get 50 percent plus one of the vote in a state gets 100 percent of the Electoral College? I don't like that at all.
So, I have been calling for that.
But that's the presidential election. What is going to happen this November 2022 to those laws down in Georgia that says it's a crime -- it will be criminal to give somebody a drink of water while they're standing in line to vote?
What's going to happen to those nullification laws that they are putting in place that says that you can overturn this election if you don't like the result?
RADDATZ: Well, what...
CLYBURN: That's got nothing to do with the Electoral College.
And let's stop trying to change the subject here.
RADDATZ: You talk about those voting restrictions in place all across the country.
What does that mean for the midterms? What does it mean for 2024? And how do you, as a Democrat, counter that?
CLYBURN: Well, you counter that by getting these laws passed.
And if you don't get it done this week, I want to see the Senate voting. I want to see where people stand.
You know, this is Martin Luther King Jr.'s weekend. I first met Martin Luther King Jr. back in 1960. And I can remember a song, if you think back, back then, which side are you on?
That song comes to mind today when I look at these senators. Which side are you on?
So let's have the vote, so we can get a definitive answer to that question. And after that vote is taken, then we will collectively make some decisions as the best way to go.
I will tell you this. We are not going to roll over. I -- the president has said that, if you don't do it this week, he's going to find a way to come back the following week or the week after that.
So, we are going to keep pressing this issue. We are not going to roll over.
RADDATZ: You know, I want to go back to President Biden. He got very serious pushback after his speech on Tuesday from all sides.
Senator Dick Durbin said he took it a little too far by comparing current voting restrictions to Jim Crow. Mitch McConnell called Biden profoundly unpresidential for his divisive language.
So, was that fierce tone counterproductive?
CLYBURN: Absolutely not.
I disagree with both those things. I know Dick. I like Dick a whole lot.
But let me tell you something. That's what Jim Crow was all about. We had votes towards Reconstruction, which came to an end, by the way, in 1876. And when it came to Reconstruction -- came to an end, we got Jim Crow laws.
That's exactly what these laws are about. These are Jim Crow 2.0. That is one of the strongest points of the president's speech that I agree with.
So, this whole notion, when you walk around and no one has ever discriminated against you because of your skin color or you have never had to worry about having your vote counted, you can have those kinds of statements.
But you're talking to one who knows a different history in this country. And that's exactly what these laws are, Jim Crow 2.0.
RADDATZ: I want to turn to President Biden's poll numbers.
You're credited with turning the tide for President Biden in 2020, but as he approaches this one year in office, his poll numbers are at an all-time low. A Quinnipiac poll recently showed a 33 percent job approval rating.
How does he turn that around?
CLYBURN: Well, you keep pressing -- keep pressing on.
Now, if Joe Biden had quit after he lost those first two races -- three races, he would not be where he is today. I tell people all the time, “three strikes and you’re out” is a baseball rule. And he -- he should not live by baseball rules.
He didn't live by baseball rules then, he's now the president. He is going to keep pressing. He's going to keep moving forward.
(INAUDIBLE) here, and he would say this morning, we are not going back. We are pressing forward.
Keep pressing, and we'll get to where we need to be.
RADDATZ: Congressman, I want to ask you one final question. This is what Senator Bernie Sanders told "The New York Times" as we head into the midterms.
I think millions of Americans have become very demoralized. They're asking, what do the Democrats stand for? Clearly, the current strategy is failing and we need a major course correction.
Do you disagree with that?
CLYBURN: Well, I don't know what he has referenced to, but I think if we keep pressing forward on the agenda. What do we stand for? We stand for the American Rescue Act. We stand for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, both now laws.
We stand for Build Back Better that we have passed in the House, and it’s time for the senators to do what they need to do to get those bills across the finish line. We stand for fair, free (INAUDIBLE) elections.
And it’s time, and we passed that in the House, Democrats have control in the House. I’m the vote counter in the House. We've passed all these bills.
That’s what the Democrats stand for. Come on, Senate. Step up. Change (ph) (INAUDIBLE) rules and get these bills passed.
Everybody will know what we stand for. Or at least the Senate, and its rules standing in the way.
RADDATZ: OK. Thanks very much for joining us this morning, Congressman.
The roundtable weighs in next.
Plus, a preview of the groundbreaking new series about the movement that changed the course of history.
JAKE SULLIVAN, PRESIDENT BIDEN'S NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The intelligence community does not yet assess that President Putin has made his decision, but they are putting themselves in a position to try to create a circumstance in which they try to put the blame on the Ukrainians when, in fact, it is the Russians that are causing the escalation.
If Russia wants to continue on the path of diplomacy, we're ready to continue on it. If Russia wants to move forward with the military escalation, we are ready to respond.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, talking about the latest standoff with Russia.
Let's bring in the roundtable to talk about all this.
ABC News chief White House correspondent Cecilia Vega, congressional correspondent Rachel Scott, our senior foreign correspondent Ian Pannell, and Steve Inskeep, host of NPR'S "Morning Edition" and "Up First."
Welcome to all of you.
And, Ian, I want to start there overseas from your perch in London there. You just heard what Jake Sullivan said, 100,000 Russian troops a still massed on Ukraine's border. They're talking about a false flag, somehow going in and blaming Ukraine.
Where does this stand right now? What does Putin want? And why is this so important to Americans and others?
IAN PANNELL, ABC NEWS SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Martha, I mean, that's the multimillion-dollar question is that, what Putin really wants. I think even experienced Kremlinologists are divided about that.
The risk couldn't be higher. I mean this is already, I think, the biggest crisis in post-Cold War relations. Any further incursion into Ukraine, which some people think could happen, would undoubtedly move NATO forces, including U.S. troops, I think perilously close to conflict.
I think there's a sense amongst diplomats that these talks are one of two things, either a fake (ph) by Putin, in other words, they have no intention of seriously negotiating and some kind of military response is unavoidable, or this is hard ball diplomacy to try to get Americans attention, a seat at the top table, and they are ready for a compromise centered around things like short range missile agreements and military exercises. But what they say they want is categoric guarantees that Ukraine won't join NATO, and the Biden administration has categorically ruled that out.
The Kremlin now waiting a written response. But, Martha, I think this could likely be the week that we really know what Putin is planning.
RADDATZ: And -- and if there is an invasion, which -- which looks likely, and -- and the administration has basically said it could happen any time from now until mid-February, how does the U.S. respond to that? What do the Russians do if we put big sanctions on them?
PANNELL: Yeah, I mean, that is the question. And the Russians have talked about a number of options. I mean, one of the things that we've seen over this last week, and the U.S. administration taking a highly unusual step, I think, in releasing so much declassified intelligence material to try and back up these claims, as you said, of this false flag operation, potentially trying to incite a Ukrainian response that would then trigger a Russian intervention.
I mean, Russia certainly has the troops there, around 100,000. They're massed; they could launch a multi-pronged attack.
What Vladimir Putin has talked about is a military technical response if his concerns aren't met. And everyone is trying to second-guess what that actually means.
To be clear, the Kremlin has consistently ruled out that it actually plans to invade. We've seen this cyberattack in the last day or so, also being blamed on Russia.
But I think there's another concern here. Vladimir Putin last year said, and I quote, "Russia's response will be asymmetrical, fast and tough," if they don't get what they want.
And his chief negotiator -- it didn't get much press attention -- but his chief negotiator at those talks with the U.S. administration now refusing to confirm or rule out deploying military assets to Cuba or Venezuela.
RADDATZ: And, Ian, I want to ask you just one more question from there, overseas, before we turn to the others, the battle against COVID worldwide, we haven't talked about that much. There are estimates that half of Europe could be infected. Give us a -- a brief description of what's going on around the world.
PANNELL: Yeah, I mean, that's true. I mean, Omicron is essentially running rampant, the WHO this last week saying every single country in Europe and Central Asia are now reporting cases -- every single country. And the numbers are just rising exponentially.
I think, as we're seeing in the U.S., it's those areas with low vaccination rates that are being worse affected, and those people who have been triple-vaxxed largely avoiding serious illness and death. That's certainly the case here in the U.K.
But here, I think, is where America and the world are on different paths, the responses and the restrictions. Austria is amongst a number of European countries who are essentially banning those who aren't vaccinated from most public places, no COVID pass, no access; others like China, still trying to pursue this zero COVID strategy, especially as they have the Winter Olympics less than three weeks away.
Here in London, cases are going -- going down, but, Martha, it isn't COVID that people are talking about here. It's Boris Johnson. A bad week for the president, as you've been talking about, but a very bad week for the prime minister, a number of revelations, of drinks-fueled parties at Downing Street when the rest of the country was in strict lockdown, Boris Johnson attending at least one of them.
RADDATZ: Right in the middle of -- right in the middle of COVID.
PANNELL: ... having to he had to apologize to the queen.
RADDATZ: Exactly. And I want to turn to Cecilia on this here at home.
You heard Dr. Murthy. You heard Tom Bossert. The Supreme Court decision was a real blow.
CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This was a huge blow to the administration's efforts to tamp down the spread of this vaccine (sic), Martha. And so what you are seeing now from a strategy perspective is the administration essentially going back to square one. They're back to appealing to private employers and states around the country to do this on their own in the wake of this mandate.
But the reality is you've had 27 states join in this appeal to fight to challenge this measure in court. So they're not going to go there on their own.
Some experts are saying that the administration might try to take -- could potentially try to take a more narrow approach and go at this again, targeting companies where perhaps employees are particularly vulnerable, frontline, public-facing jobs or companies with poor ventilation systems.
You're certainly seeing the administration really try to put the president out there to talk about COVID. We've seen him do a number of public briefings, if you will, talking about COVID in the last couple of weeks. Certainly, they're leaning heavily into this, now a billion free at-home tests that they're going to send around.
But as you were saying, those tests are coming well after Omicron, frankly. Medical experts say this is going to be a huge disservice, this ruling, to the effort to get this vaccine (sic) under control. But make no mistake, Martha, this was -- this was a major blow to the administration's attempt to deal with COVID.
RADDATZ: And, Rachel, as you heard me read that statement from the Democratic senator, they're getting angry, too.
SCOTT: You're exactly right. And this is not exactly what the White House wants to hear from members of their own party.
You had a group of five Democratic senators who sent a letter to the White House asking why more was not done sooner when it came -- when it comes to getting testing out to Americans, asking what the administration was doing back in November when we were learning about a new variant that could possibly come into the United States. Fifty other Democratic lawmakers sending another letter to the White House essentially asking them to, sort of, ramp up and take additional steps.
I've certainly talked to many on Capitol Hill who feel like the administration was caught flat-footed on this, and they're asking them to mitigate those failures going forward.
RADDATZ: And, Steve, we talked about messaging, but that's important here.
Can the CDC really regain the public's trust after all this confusion?
STEVE INSKEEP, NPR "MORNING EDITION" AND "UP FIRST" HOST: This is an enormous challenge.
And it gets it one of the things that had been a strength of the Biden administration. They had cast themselves as competent. They were a lot of people who'd been in government before.
But I think that Tom Bossert, who you had on earlier, was quite insightful, in that you need to be very clear and direct in your communications and also find the right way to acknowledge errors.
This is a case where there don't seem to be enough tests in the country or the world. And people are frustrated on a front-line basis. People can see that in their own lives. And that's something the administration knows they need to get their hands around.
RADDATZ: And, Cecilia, I want to turn to voting rights, which, of course, we have been talking about this morning.
You were down in Georgia with the president when he gave that fiery speech. You heard Congressman Clyburn saying it was just fine. But it really did seem counterproductive?
VEGA: Yes, I mean, you could say he managed to offend almost all sides on -- many sides on this one.
Look, this was the president's attempt, the White House attempt to really fire up the base in the wake of that fiery speech that he gave a week earlier on the anniversary of January 6. The White House said they wanted to send the president to Atlanta. They were sending a very clear message to send him to the heart of the civil rights movement to really play upon what's at stake from a historical perspective.
Martha, I got to tell you, I was talking with voting rights organizers down there. I was shocked at how -- not just how livid they are at the White House over voting rights and how they feel like this is all coming too little, too late on this one, but how they're not afraid to say it publicly.
They are blasting this administration, to the point that, as you said, so many of them, very prominent voting rights advocates, skipped out on this event altogether, basically a boycott. You saw Stacey Abrams not go. She said she had a scheduling conflict.
One person that I was speaking to down there in Atlanta didn't mince any words. They said the feeling is very much that this White House prioritized bridges and infrastructure over protecting the right to vote for black and brown Americans, who they very much feel votes are at risk.
Look, the White House is sounding exceptionally defeated when you talk to people privately right now and even publicly. I mean, the president didn't mince words on Capitol Hill last week. He really looked like he took one when he went into that meeting and came out. He was so deflated talking to the press.
They say they're going to try again. You heard Congressman Clyburn there, Martha. They don't really have a path forward at this point. They don't have those votes.
RADDATZ: And, Rachel, I want you to jump in on that.
It was no surprise that Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin didn't -- don't want the filibuster.
SCOTT: No surprise.
But what was particularly, I think, surprising for a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill was the timing of the speech that Senator Sinema gave. Less than an hour before the president of the United States comes to Capitol Hill to try and wrangle his party together, she took to the Senate floor and reiterated her stance, saying that she will not support changing the Senate rules, even if that means passing voting rights legislation that she actually does support.
They are dug in on this one. There is just no way around it. And so what we will see is the Senate take up debate on voting rights legislation. But for the fifth time in the last year, it is expected to fail once again, Martha.
RADDATZ: And, Steve, I want to turn to Republicans, specifically one Donald Trump.
You had quite an extraordinary interview with the former president this week, where he basically walked away and hung up on your interview. He is not going away, a big rally last night in Arizona, of course, not talking about vaccines, but talking about what -- the stolen election, which wasn't stolen.
INSKEEP: Yes, I want to be really clear about this.
President Biden, in some criticisms of the former president on January 6, said -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- that Trump was trying to soothe his ego by denying the reality that he lost.
I think it's more than that. I think it's bigger than that. It is a large organized political strategy that keeps the former president relevant, keeps him talking about the possibility of running again in 2024, which he hinted at a rally last night, and also positions Republicans to deny the results of future elections, should they lose them.
And it's odd because Republicans seem really well-positioned to do well this fall, in 2022, and yet some Republican figures, including the former president, in our interview are already talking about the possibility that Democrats will -- quote -- "steal the election again," as Democrats did not do in 2020.
RADDATZ: And, Rachel, I just want you to have the last word here. We have about 30 seconds.
How nervous are Democrats about the midterms?
SCOTT: Extremely nervous about the midterm elections.
When they're looking at the agenda right now, they're seeing voting rights legislation stalled, Build Back Better, the president's domestic agenda. Police reform did not make its way through.
They are extremely concerned about the upcoming midterm elections and about what message they're sending to voters in these following months in which their party is essentially at a standstill at this moment, in terms of key Democratic priorities.
RADDATZ: Thanks to all of you. We have a lot to talk about for the rest of the year.
Coming, how one woman's fierce quest for justice shape the course of the civil rights movement. Her remarkable story, next.
RADDATZ: All month long, ABC has been sharing the remarkable story of Mamie Till-Mobley whose actions after his son Emmett Till was brutally murdered in 1955 sparked the civil rights movement and inspired heroes like Rosa Parks to stand up boldly for their rights decades later.
The family's quest for justice continues. Here's a sneak preview of the final episode airing this week.
MAMIE TILL-MOBLEY, MOTHER OF EMMETT TILL: In as much as my son had to die, I don't want his death to be a vain thing. If it can further the cause of freedom, then I will say that he died a hero.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, AUTHOR, LONG TIME COMING: Emmett Till's death was chilling, but it also inspired many black people, including Rosa Parks a few months later when she sat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and said, Emmett Till was on my mind.
REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER & PRESIDEDNT OF RAINBOW PUSH COALITION: The emotional transformation came out of Emmett Till's lynching, to really have Thurgood Marshall, we have Rosa Parks, Dr. King, the mass action.
MUHAMMAD, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, RACE AND PUBLIC POLICY AT HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL: Across the period of the civil rights era, Emmett Till was a rallying cry. His murder remained a case of injustice and people didn't want to wait around to be next Emmett Till, and so they did something about it.
MAMIE TILL-MOBLEY'S MEMOIR, "DEATH OF INNOCENCE": I had come to see that Emmett had died for a reason. I had come to realize that we had to work together to turn the sacrifice of Emmett's life into some positive gain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She took her grieving into activism after the trial when she started going on the speaking circuit.
TIMOTHY B. TYSON, AUTHOR, "THE BLOOK OF EMMETT TILL": She was willing to go anywhere, at any time, and speak to anybody, any crowd, any church, any union hall, to tell the story of her son's lynching.
MAMIE TILL-MOBLEY, EMMETT TILL'S MOTHER: And my greatest respects to you people that have come out here to see what we're talking about, and see what we're doing, and what we're trying to do.
OLLIE GORDON, COUSIN OF EMMETT TILL: It was very dangerous because black activism at that time and a woman too, speaking out, going to the southern states or what have you, you never knew when someone was going to try to bring bodily harm to you, or was going to try to steal you in the night and you never would be seen again. So that was grave danger.
MOBLEY: I want you all to stand by me because it's going to be a fight. And if you will stand by me, I will stand by you, because I am not afraid.
ANGIE THOMAS, AUTHOR, "THE HATE U GIVE": And the thing was, she was a mother. She was not an activist. She was a mother. She was a mourning mother, and she decided that enough was enough.
MAMIE TILL-MOBLEY'S MEMOIR, "DEATH OF INNOCENCE": There was just too much sorrow for one person to endure, too much pain for one person to absorb, too much anger for one person to express. So the crowds helped me get through it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: A remarkable story of courage. The final installment of "Let the World See" airs this Thursday right here on ABC. And catch the other episodes streaming now on Hulu.
We'll be right back.
RADDATZ: That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us.
Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT," and have a good day, and a meaningful holiday.