'Special Report' All-Star Panel on Biden's response to spike in COVID cases

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIANA HAMBRIGHT-HALL, SCHOOL COUNSELOR, CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Something has got to give. We are scared to start on January 3rd without a testing and protection we need in place.

ERIC ADAMS (D), MAYOR-ELECT OF NEW YORK CITY: My children are going to be in school, I am keeping my schools open, and we’re going to make sure that they are going to be in a safe place. That includes doubling the amount of testing that we’re looking at.

CARDONA: We were supporting our educators by providing a safe learning environment. We’re providing vaccination for our students as young as five so that the whole school community is safe. And we’re providing surveillance testing to make sure that if someone is sick, that they stay home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER (on camera): School districts around the country dealing with winter weather but also dealing with COVID, and teachers unions specifically in Chicago at you — as you saw on that sound bite, whether the teachers are going to go back into the classrooms.

Let’s start there with our panel. Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume. Guy Benson, political editor at townhall.com, hosted the “GUY BENSON SHOW” on Fox News Radio. Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and syndicated radio host, Hugh Hewitt.

Brit, what about this and this back and forth with teachers’ unions and what the administration is saying on getting schools open?

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS CHANNEL SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (on camera): I don’t think the teachers unions are going to have much public support this time around, not sure how much they had the last time around when they were trying to keep from reopening schools. Those that are — those that are being kept close, or those that the unions are urging be kept close.

And it poses something of a danger for the administration, which seems now to have awakened to the fact that this is politically bad news. And you saw that in Miguel Cardona’s remarks over the weekend that they want to keep schools open, good for them for saying that.

But the whole — the whole atmosphere in the sense that this whole pandemic has been handled badly by the past president, and now by this president, I think hangs over this administration, and will continue to.

BAIER: And Susan, that’s powerful, politically, this COVID issue.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Oh, yes, absolutely. If you want to look at the reasons why President Biden has seen his approval rating go down, now, at 40 percent or so in national polls, COVID is the number one reason.

It’s the issue in which he had gotten the highest ratings earlier in his presidency. That’s no longer the case, his approval rating on handling COVID has gone dipped below 50 percent. It’s the issue is I think, as Brit said, it’s the issue that was most responsible for President Biden winning the White House, it is the issue on which his presidency is going to be judged. And this Omicron variant and all the problems that it has raised in education and in travel and everything else. This is a big test for this White House.

BAIER: Hugh, we talked last week, and really the week before about the mixed messages on a number of fronts. The CDC, about testing. Now, the guidance may be that if the isolation is only five days instead of 10, that you get a test afterwards.

But the problem is you can’t get a test. And that’s complicating people’s process of dealing with COVID.

HUGH HEWITT, SYNDICATED RADIO HOST: You know, Bret, the two words that describe CDC are erratic and incoherent. And I am particularly concerned about mothers and fathers of children at school looking for guidance on when to send their child into a school. If they’ve had COVID when to get them a booster shot?

In fact, if you go — any one of you, attempt to find guidance on when should a child under the age of 12 get a booster shot if they’ve had COVID, you won’t find it because the CDC is incoherent. Their advice is erratic. And I think their crash of credibility is pulling down the presidents.

If schools close, it’s going to be a disaster politically for President Biden. But worse, made disaster for these kids who need to be in school.

BAIER: Guy?

GUY BENSON, FOX NEWS CHANNEL CONTRIBUTOR (on camera): And if the requirement is to go back to school, as Hugh says, you have to get a test because, of course, kids need to be in school. We’ve known this for the entire pandemic. The world has known this for the entire pandemic. It is mind-blowing that there are closed schools right now anywhere in this country.

But some are saying to come back, you’ve got to get a test. And it’s really hard to get a test in much of the country, especially in large cities, blue areas, it’s like trying to find gold, at your local CVS, or Walgreens.

This is a catastrophic failure of the Biden administration, and our public health bureaucracy. We are now in our third calendar year of this pandemic. And at this stage, we still have a shortage on testing available, reliable, and cheap testing. It’s almost unfathomable. But here we are from the administration that got elected a president promising to shut down the virus, and a key tool not available readily.

BAIER: I went to CBS I could not find at-home tests. You wanted to get them for family coming in town before the holidays. They said they left the shelves in about one hour in most CBSs.

Brit, what they did have were cloth masks. However, we may not want those. Take a listen. Take a listen.

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GOTTLIEB: This is an airborne illness. We now understand that. And a cloth mask is not going to protect you from a virus that spreads through airborne transmission. It could protect better through droplet transmission, something like the flu, but not something like this coronavirus.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: A surgical mask is better or a type of N95 mask is obviously the best. You have to weigh your own risk and benefit for that. But I think the era of cloth masks with Omicron is probably over. They don’t really provide almost any protection according to the newest data.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: And Brit, I think we’re on our third iteration of masks and definitions, and where we are?

HUME: Well, I think, we’re at a stage where people are so saturated with this guidance, which has been as Hugh’s pointing out so confused and conflicting that I think at some point society simply moves on, and people will read in the papers and they’ll hear about people who are sick and so on, but life has to go on.

And I think that, you know, these school systems, and these — and these other institutions, which are going back to a remote learning or closing down or whatever, are on a path that is headed for — continues to head this administration, which is going to be deemed responsible for handling this virus, which it swore it could do, judge it very harsh (PH).

I think what happened, Bret, is that the president made a bunch of promises that he’s caught with now. And I think he thought, you know, they would — that events themselves would make those promises come true.

You know, he said, you know, we’re going to shut down the virus. Well, you know, we had vaccines in place, we’re moving forward with better treatment, I’m sure he thought that as time went on, the virus would fade and he get credit for that.

You may recall, you know, in the beginning, he set a goal for virus — for vaccinations, which had already been achieved on the day he took office. There was another example of him setting a standard, which he thought events would help him meet. But the virus has turned out to be unpredictable and continues to spread. And his promises look terrible now.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: You know, Susan, was that moment when he’s talking to governors and saying there is no federal solution to COVID- 19, was that a big moment?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Yes. And acknowledgement of reality that the federal government cannot do it alone. Now, he wasn’t saying the federal government wouldn’t play a big role. But he was acknowledging that the state played a big role.

And one big role from the states, trying to convince people to get vaccinated. Maybe the biggest thing, the single problem that we faced in this — in this pandemic, is the refusal of so many Americans to get the shot.

BAIER: Last thing, Hugh, you know, we had this Joe Rogan podcast with this Dr. Malone, one of the early founders of mRNA vaccines, and it was very controversial in that — it talks about a lot of things and criticized a lot of the CDC and the federal government. However, Twitter banned it, YouTube pulled it and now, it’s one of the most watched or listened to podcasts.

HUGH HEWITT, SYNDICATED RADIO HOST, SALEM NETWORK: The every attempt to censor anything will always rebound with attention on that which is being censored.

And it’s unfortunate that CDC is so incoherent because when it is incoherent and erratic, it opens the door for misinformation.

The key message I think I take away as what Guy said, schools have to be open — schools have to be open and governors who have the authority here have to have their PATCO moments when Reagan fired the air traffic controllers with school unions that attempt to close these schools because it’s unacceptable on second order consequences for these kids to not be in school.

BAIER: All right, panel, stand by, we’ll see you a little bit later in the show. Thank you.

Up next, growing anxiety over the Russian troop buildup along its border with Ukraine as the U.S. prepares to sit down for negotiations over concerns of a Russian invasion.

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REP. MIKE TURNER, (R-OH): This is a real threat to NATO and the United States. And the fact that Russia could be using tanks to change the map of the world against a democracy I think should be troubling to all of allies.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R-IL): It would require enormous sanctions on Russia to deter what appears to be a very likely invasion of Ukraine again.

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I’m not going to negotiate here in public, but we made it clear that he cannot, emphasize cannot, move on Ukraine. Thank you.

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BAIER: President Biden speaking with Ukrainian President Zelensky over the weekend. Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, put out this statement saying that “President Biden made it clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.”

We’re back with the panel Brit, Guy, Susan, and Hugh. Hugh, increasingly, intelligence officials are saying it appears that Putin seems set on this no matter what President Biden has said on the phone call or what he says publicly.

HUGH HEWITT, SYNDICATED RADIO HOST: I think he is set on this, Bret. And it’s not irrational. He rolled President Obama, Putin did, in 2014, so he thinks he can roll Joe Biden. There has to be strong action now, like disintermediation of the Russian autocrats, foreign assets. We need more of what Finland did today. Finland stood up and said Russia is not going to decide if we join NATO or not. We need to reject the appeasement, the negotiation, and begin the sanctions now.

BAIER: Susan, your thoughts on where this is playing and what Putin is trying to accomplish?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “USA TODAY”: Well, Putin is trying to establish a new cold war, it seems like, where Russia has a sphere of influence around it in Ukraine and elsewhere, with warnings to NATO to stay away. This is a distressing thing.

And we are not going to respond with U.S. forces if Russia goes ahead and invades Ukraine. And our problem is that in 2014, and in the past, the use of sanctions alone has just not been enough to deter Russian aggression. So a very difficult situation and one that we are watching unfold probably in the next few weeks. While the ground is cold and hard, that’s when we would expect the Russian invasion to begin, so we may know very soon what Vladimir Putin’s intentions really are.

BAIER: Yes, Brit, “The Atlantic” writes this about it, “The U.S. is naive about Russia. Ukraine can’t afford to be. Putin is right about one thing — a free, prosperous democratic neighbor is a threat to his autocratic regime.”

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that’s a correct assessment of how Putin looks at Ukraine. But let’s think about this for a second. If Putin invades Ukraine, Ukraine will fight. Now, Russia will in the end, if it sees it through, will be able to conquer Ukraine, but it will be bloody and costly. And it won’t be — it won’t necessarily be the kind of walkover that people are forecasting. It will be ugly.

And it may be that Putin can get most of what he wants without doing that, which is what I think he would probably prefer. After all, the United States is rebuffed to the demand that we declare that we will not have Ukraine join NATO. But that doesn’t mean we are going to do it. And that’s where I think the Biden administration has a choice to make. Ukraine is not in NATO and perhaps would like to be. And we can say we won’t declare that we won’t oppose it or won’t block it. But that doesn’t mean we are going to promote it. And if he can keep Ukraine out of NATO without firing a shot, he may decide that the cost of a war would be too high.

BAIER: Yes, here is our friend and colleague Morgan Ortagus. Take a listen.

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MORGAN ORTAGUS, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: You obviously can’t rely on some sort of magic bullet to stop Putin from invading Ukraine. I think that the central problem with the thesis of the Biden administration is if we suddenly flow aid, that will be what provokes Russia. They had no problem criticizing Trump for not sending lethal aid, yet these are the same people that didn’t provide it before Putin invaded Crimea in the Obama administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Obviously, Morgan was a State Department spokesperson. Guy?

GUY BENSON, POLITICAL EDITOR, TOWNHALL.: Yes. And I think we have now heard that there are these series of meetings being set up, and most Americans would say that’s sensible. Let’s try to engage in diplomacy for de-escalation. But the risk there is do you offer meaningful concessions to the Putin where he then has a pattern of behavior, it’s reinforced. He saber rattles, he amasses troops at the border, and then he gets things he wants. That would repeat itself if he decides to go that route.

I think on the invasion side, and if it’s true that he is dead set on that, then I think it’s going to be a very bloody and ugly situation, as Brit mentioned, if there’s a chance to deter it, though, Putin has to truly believe that when the west, particularly the United States, says there will be crippling sanctions, it will be extremely painful, it will not look anything like the response to Crimea or Georgia before that, he has to believe that. He has to think that that’s legitimate. I’m not sure if he does believe that, which is why the world has to speak very, very clearly, the western world.

BAIER: Yes, 10 seconds, Hugh. Do you think that Russia has buffeted itself for whatever sanctions are coming?

HEWITT: Yes, they have. Brit was right. The first war was 13,000 casualties. I think Putin is ready to absorb a lot of losses. We just have to be ready to back up Ukraine in inflicting those losses.

BAIER: OK, panel, stand by, if you would. When we come back, tomorrow’s headlines.

(MERCIAL BREAK)

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

HEWITT: For the first time in eight years New York City’s mayor has said something that isn’t insane. The new mayor, Eric Adams, says the schools will stay open. From his lips to school boards’ ears.

BAIER: All right, Susan?

PAGE: Capitol in chaos — it snowed. Every year it’s like a revelation to Washington that it just might snow during the winter.

BAIER: I can’t handle it. Guy?

BENSON: Relatedly, local FOX News contributor Googles tree removal services as the snowstorm has wreaked havoc in the backyard. Is there perhaps a SPECIAL REPORT chainsaw, Bret, that I could borrow?

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: Maybe so. Brit, bring it home here.

HUME: Chicago’s teachers’ union announces it will support in person learning after all, as long as all students and teachers wear gasmasks.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: All right, panel, thank you.

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