'Special Report' on Omicron

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report with Bret Baier" on December 21, 2021. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BAIER: So they were preparing for it or not preparing for it. Not sure. But the testing issue is a big issue. So are therapeutics, the antiviral pills, which the FDA has said this week to make an announcement on. We'll see.

Let's bring in our panel, Katie Pavlich, news editor at Townhall.com, Ben Domenech, publisher of "The Federalist," and Amy Walter, publisher and editor in chief of the "Cook Political Report."

Katie, your thoughts on the CDC director and what you heard from the president today?

KATIE PAVLICH, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Bret, it seems like the Biden administration is getting eaten alive by bureaucracy. And if you look at the way that they came into office. They decided to make a political point by denying and rejecting every single policy position that the Trump administration took, including Operation Warp Speed and the way that they handled the pandemic.

Here we are 12 months later, after President Joe Biden said that the testing shortage was a travesty, and you have a backup in testing, you have a shortage of treatments for the virus if you are to get it, even if you are vaccinated, and people can't get the booster shot on time like the administration has been telling people to do for weeks now.

The messaging again from the CDC director is very unclear when it comes to whether they were prepared for this. The timeline shows they knew about this variant six weeks ago, and yet only today the president comes out to talk about how they are going to ramp up testing. This administration was given Operation Warp Speed and a playbook on how to handle a year of a pandemic on a silver platter, but they decided to make it political and therefore rejected it. And that's not just bad politics, it's bad policy. And now they are seeing the ramifications of that without having their own plan to have this private-federal partnership to getting tests out to people. And sending people tests in the mail is just another bureaucratic way of doing this.

BAIER: Amy, clearly, Joe Biden won in large parted because he said he was going to get the coronavirus under control. He wasn't Donald Trump, and he was going to do it differently. For the political threats that this administration faces, whether it was Afghanistan or crime or the border or the economy and inflation, really how he handles coronavirus is the biggest, isn't it?

AMY WALTER, NATIONAL EDITOR, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Well, how he handles coronavirus is the biggest because it also impacts what the economy does and how people view his handling of the economy. The interesting thing when you look at the polling right now is it is true opinions about Joe Biden's handling of coronavirus have dropped, and dropped pretty significantly since the beginning of the year. But they are still above water. They are still in the 50-plus percent approval rating range. That certainly is a lot better than, say, where President Trump was at the end of his tenure on this issue.

Where he is really deeply under water now is the economy. And of course, it's almost impossible to separate the two of these. And the more that people feel panicked or anxious about the coronavirus, the less likely they are to go out, to spend money, to do the things that we know spur the economy.

I think what's also really important was the issue of the schools. The president made it really clear today that schools should not be closing. But that goes back to the point about testing. And this becomes to me the biggest challenges. It's not simply can you get a test either by at a free place or get one in the mail. It's how can you get consistent testing for students for schools so that they don't have to shut down or have students learn remotely if someone, whether a staff member or a student, becomes infected with the virus.

BAIER: Right. Ben, that's the question. I played that soundbite with Joe Biden in December of 2020 saying it's a travesty we don't have the testing necessary 10 months later, and now fast forward to today, he said nobody saw Omicron coming, even though the CDC director said they were prepared.

BEN DOMENECH, PUBLISHER, "THE FEDERALIST": I realize that the bureaucrats are going to spin this and maintain that they were prepared, but I think a lot of questions should be asked as was even being asked today in this impromptu press conference the president said that he wasn't supposed to be doing, about why testing wasn't ramped up earlier.

There has been a clamor for inexpensive, widely available, ideally at home testing that people can do in order to know whether they have the possibility of infecting others around them. That is something that absolutely should have been ramped up from the beginning. I think it's a failure now of both administrations that did didn't happen earlier.

Look, I actually like some of what the president had to say today, particularly when he said that we shouldn't panic about this. I hear a lot of panic on cable news, but I didn't hear it from the president today. And when he said what, as Amy cited, about schools needing to remain open. That's going to create, I think, some tension with those who are in the panicky community on his left flank.

But I do think that the significant failure that I think happened once again with these remarks is treating those who are unvaccinated for whatever reason that they are, as if they are part of some outgroup, that they are the others, that they ought to be blamed for the situation that we're in today, even though we see every day the news about one person after another who is fully vaccinated, even those who have boosters, who are nonetheless being diagnosed as actually testing positive for this new widespread variant, which I think we can be very grateful for as it seems to be not as deadly as others.

Those are all things that I think the president has an opportunity to unite the country on. To this point he hasn't been able to do that, and I think it would really take a significant change in direction in the new year for him to be able to accomplish that feat.

BAIER: I think it's also interesting, Katie, how data is hard to come by, it seems, that our own data in the U.S., through the CDC is hard to come by. We are relying on Israel and other studies, but yet findings the data about natural immunity, finding the data about other things is coming according to the director.

PAVLICH: Your question, Bret, about natural immunity, and your question about breaking down the data in terms of who is at most risk for the new variant in terms of the elderly, possibly, or what kind of preconditions or underlying conditions people may have so people can assess their own risk about how serious they need to be -- seriously they need to be concerned about this exact variant.

And the CDC director didn't really have any answers for that. And the bottom line is there are studies from Israel, there are studies from the U.K. about natural immunity. We have documentation data from South Africa saying that this variant is mild for vaccinated, unvaccinated. And yet, here in the United States, you have the CDC director and others getting caught up in this idea that if it didn't come from their own lab and their bureaucratic process, that they're not using it as scientific data to move forward as a country living with the virus.

BAIER: Clearly they are pushing the vaccine and the booster, and they have the data that says that it's much less severe or you don't get it if you have all three of those. And that was the messaging from the president and the CDC director.

Panel, thanks a lot. Merry Christmas, happy holidays.

When we come back, Tuesday tweets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: It's time for Tuesday Tweets. For is Mallen2010. "How many Americans are still stuck in Afghanistan?" Mallen, we don't really know. The administration says less than a couple dozen. But remember they said there were 100 there. And then they pulled out about 900 over recent weeks, so we don't know. But we are stay staying on that story.

Next from Tyler, "How long does it take you to write a book?" The first history book I did, three years. Not it's about a year-and-a-half. I have a great team. And I have some news about that soon.

Scott says, "Hi Bret. I love the show. I'd love to know the most challenging part about being a news anchor?" Staying up to date with everything, obviously. But our biggest challenge, and I have an amazing team that works on SPECIAL REPORT, the biggest challenge that we have is fitting it all in.

And last but not least, HawkeyeDoc99 asked "Any New Year's resolutions you'd like to share with us." I'm going to take the feedback off and try to drop some lbs finally. Election years usually do it for me.

Tomorrow on SPECIAL REPORT, why people are leaving California in droves.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That's it for the SPECIAL REPORT, fair, balanced, and still unafraid. A guy who is always thin, in shape, always with it, "FOX NEWS PRIMETIME" host Brian Kilmeade this week starts right now. Brian?

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2021 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2021 VIQ Media Transcription, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of VIQ Media Transcription, Inc. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.