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At This Hour

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Threatens to Derail Biden's $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan; New York City Driver Hailed for Saving Passengers in Flooding; CNN Reports, White House May Have to Scale Back Ambitious Vaccine Booster Plan. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired September 03, 2021 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Like I talked to Russel Honore and he said that you guys need to be looking at building to withstand 200 mile-an- hour winds.

ROD WEST, GROUP PRESIDENT OF UTILITY OPERATIONS, ENTERGY: Well, I can lessons learned gives us an opportunity to revisit our standards. And we're not a static industry. We're not a static company. If there is an opportunity for us to create greater resiliency, we're going to do that. But we don't that just as a utility company. We have to do that as a community. Resiliency is a state, a local conversation, along with business and industry.

So we've been part of that conversation for quite some time. It is not new to us, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Rod West, thank you for your time.

WESTL Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: I appreciate it. For more information on how can help the victims of Hurricane Ida, please go to We're constantly updating with options to offer help.

Coming up for us, infrastructure, a major part of the president's agenda now threatened by one Democratic senator.



BOLDUAN: Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, he wants to pump the brakes on President Biden $3.5 trillion budget plan. It is a bombshell yet not entirely surprising coming from this senator. Now saying yesterday he would like to -- like a, quote, strategic pause on the Democratic effort to move forward and pass a major part of the president's agenda. CNN's Melanie Zanona is live on Capitol Hill with more on this. Melanie, it is like the breaking news that everyone could see coming, a little bit. I mean, what is Manchin really saying and doing here?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, you're absolutely right. It is not a huge surprise that Joe Manchin is taking issue with both the price tag and the 'process. But it is a reminder that any single lawmaker can have power and leverage in a 50/50 Senate, and Joe Manchin is really eager to flex his muscles on that front.

Let me just read you a passage from his Wall Street Journal op-ed. He said, quote, while some have suggested this reconciliation legislation must be passed now, I believe that making budgetary decisions under artificial political deadlines never leads to good policy or sound decisions. I have always said if I can't explain it, I can't vote for it, and I can't explain why my Democratic colleagues are rushing to spend $3.5 trillion.

Well, progressives have an answer to that. They say there is a multitude of reasons why there's a sense of urgency, including the devastation we saw just this week caused by climate change, not to mention the political reality that Democrats might lose the House and/or the Senate next year, so it's harder to get stuff done. This might be the last best chance to actually achieve some of the sweeping social and economic changes that they're talking about. But, look, they're moving ahead, they have a lot to reconcile, price tag, policy differences and Democratic leaders have their work cut out for them this month. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Good to see you, Melanie. Thank you so much.

ZANONA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: This is not the end of this, obviously.

Coming up for us, I'm going to talk to a New York City bus driver being called a hero today for her bravery and skill, really, in getting passengers out of waist-high floodwaters. She joins us live, next.



BOLDUAN: There are so many first responders and everyday people who helped others and are still doing that right now during the historic floods in the northeast. This morning, I want to spotlight one of them. New York City bus driver Rosa Almonte is being hailed because of saving the lives of her passengers during the torrential rain and flash flooding in queens.

Look at his video. Almonte drove through waters so deep, you'll see in this video that has been first shared on social media and really spread everywhere, passengers were forced to stand on their seats on the bus. The water was coming in so high.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul honored Almonte yesterday.


GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): You drove passengers through three to four feet of water.

But she didn't pull over and say, I'm out of here, I'm going home. She stood there. She drove. She went through the night.


BOLDUAN: And joining me right now is that very woman, Rosa Almonte. Hi, Rosa, how are you?


BOLDUAN: I'm doing very well. I'm so happy to have a chance to speak with you. I mean, the governor had such kind words for you. And one of the passengers that was on your bus is also singing your praises as well. I don't know if you've had a chance to hear this but I want to play for you what he told CNN yesterday. Listen to this.


JOE ENGLISH, BUS PASSENGER: It just looked like genuinely a river, like rapids coming down the road, and the bus driver an absolute hero. I mean, I think her name is Rosa. And her efforts last night made it so much easier for us all. She managed to plot a path through the floodwaters at a time when sort of other cars were being abandoned.


BOLDUAN: He called you an absolute hero, Rosa. How does that make you feel?

ALMONTE: I feel great. We feel great because all of the time people just make a complaint about us and it is really nice to hear somebody give us thank you for all of the job we're doing every single day for everybody in New York. We move New York. I mean, it is really nice to hear -- you know, it is really nice.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Can you take me back to that bus route on Wednesday night? I mean, how far into your shift were you?

ALMONTE: I was like full (INAUDIBLE), yes.

BOLDUAN: Wow. I mean, then -- so you're in Queens, you've got three people on the bus with you, at least that is what the video seems like. And then can you describe what it was like from your vantage point, like when you pulled up to Queens Boulevard and you saw this happening?

ALMONTE: Yes. As soon as I got there, it was too late to see. It was like too deep. Like before, it is like a current. I mean, when I started to move the bus, I see all the water. I mean, it was deep and deep. And then there was nothing to do, like, I couldn't go back, I couldn't stay there. I mean, it's the only way you can (INAUDIBLE) I can take in the moment was go over it, I mean, past Queens Boulevard, because it was like so dangerous.


I felt like it is going worse and worse.

BOLDUAN: Were you scared?

ALMONTE: Yes. I'm shaking, yes. I was really, really nervous because I don't know what was going to happen, like the bus is going to break down. I was really, really nervous.

BOLDUAN: Once you got to the other side and to safety, what went through your head? I mean, what was that feeling like?

ALMONTE: I saw my passengers just clapping and they were so thankful, like saying oh, thank you, thank you. And I said all of the water coming from the bus, it was like oh, my God, because I was concentrating on the road and crossing. Yes, I was really, like, oh, I can't let this water then they haven't seen my (INAUDIBLE) was over the seat, anyway, like I said oh, my God, what is this?

BOLDUAN: You were so focused you didn't even realize what's happening all around you. I need that kind of focus on my work. I'll say that, Rosa.

You also -- you not only work but live in Queens. You also live in Queens. How is your home? How is your family after all of this?

ALMONTE: Yes, everybody is okay, my family. Going home was really, really hard because every street was closed and everything. And a lot of cars were stuck in the middle of street. But everybody is okay in my family, thank you.

BOLDUAN: I'm so thankful to hear that. It is a real pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for coming on, for what you did overnight, as well as what you do every day. Thank you so much.

ALMONTE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: She's a good one. That was great.

All right, coming up for us, breaking news in CNN, a major challenge to the White House plan to rollout COVID booster shots, brand-new reporting coming in. That is next.



BOLDUAN: We do have breaking news coming in. CNN has learned that some top federal health officials now want the White House to slow down and scale back its plans to offer coronavirus booster shots starting in just two weeks. This comes at an interesting time because Dr. Anthony Fauci has just come out really strongly making the case for booster shots. Listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: But I must say from my own experience as an immunologist, I would not at all be surprised that the adequate full regimen for vaccination will likely be three doses.


BOLDUAN: So, now, what does this all mean?

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is joining me now with these breaking details. Elizabeth, can you lay out what you are learning?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What CNN is learning from our sources, Kate, is that the administration said a couple of weeks ago, September 20th, that's when we expect to begin boosters. And we all said this is a little weird.

Usually, you don't announce a date that you're going to begin a rollout, sort of a new program, until the FDA and the CDC have weighed in. And many experts felt it was premature, that we should look at the data before we start announcing a new date. And so now, what we're learning is that that discussion has been going on inside the White House too.

Apparently, what seems to be at issue here is that the only company that has applied to use their shot as a booster is Pfizer, and the FDA, their advisers are having a meeting September 17th. Usually, if that group says, yes, gives a thumbs up, the CDC usually does too and then it's a go. But not everyone in the United States got Pfizer. Many people, of course, got Moderna. And some people, a smaller group, also got Johnson & Johnson.

So what seems to be happening now is that some top officials are thinking about, what -- you know, what's going on here? Are we really ready to recommend boosters to anyone who did not get Pfizer? And, again, the FDA advisers will be looking at the Pfizer data on September 17th. Kate?

BOLDUAN: This is really interesting. Thank you so much, Elizabeth.

Joining me right now is Dr. Paul Offit. He's the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital Philadelphia. He also serves on the FDA's vaccine advisory committee. I'm very thankful you're on today, Dr. Offit. What's your reaction to this?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, FDA VACCINE ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Well, what's the goal of this vaccine? The stated goal by Dr. Walensky and others is to prevent serious infection. And all the data to date published by the CDC, presented by the CDC, is it's done exactly that. There's been no evidence of clear erosion of protection against serious disease that's been invoked (ph) by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine in all age groups, in all comorbidities. So, to date, there's not clearly a problem. Now, when the companies present to the FDA committee on September 17th, there may be evidence that there's an erosion, but, for now, we haven't seen any of those data that suggest that, and nor would you expect it. I mean, the immunological mediator of protection against serious disease is something called immunological memory, memory B- cells, memory T-cells, which are long lived and interestingly not boostable (ph). So, it's not clear to me that that would be the reason.

Now, the other reason that they could argue is that what's clearly happened is that there are -- in people who have gotten, say, the two doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, that there is, to some extent, an erosion in neutralizing antibodies, which is associated with a lesser protection against asymptomatic infection or mildly symptomatic infection.

But do we really need to boost antibodies so that we can be protected from asymptomatic infection or mildly symptomatic infection or is the more important focus on those who are unvaccinated and making sure they unvaccinated get vaccinated.

Certainly, states that have higher vaccine rates have much lower rates hospitalization and death. And I'm just talking about states that have like in the 50 percent to 55 percent range as compared those that are in the 40 percent range. So, imagine where we would be if we were at the 85 percent range, 90 percent range with two doses, that we could really get on top of this pandemic. We just need to vaccinate the unvaccinated.

BOLDUAN: And that is the science. What about the public messaging that -- frankly, I'm confused now. You heard from Dr. Fauci kind of leaning on this data coming out of Israel about suggesting that booster shots mean a tenfold decrease in risk of severe illness, you have the White House rolling out a plan for booster shots that should be starting very soon, and now this recommendation kind of behind the scenes to tell them to pump the brakes.


That's not a good thing to have confusion on in the midst of this pandemic.

OFFIT: Right. I think what Dr. Fauci was referring to is a Mayo Clinic study that showed you went from sort of 85 percent protection against severe disease to 75 percent. But that, to some extent, was an outlier. Most of the other studies have been done, as had been presented by the CDC, are in the sort of low 90 percent range.

But you're right, it's confusing to people. I've had a number of calls and emails from people saying, wait, so I'm not fully protected anymore? I think the message that should come out right now is if you received two doses of mRNA vaccines, you have a very high chance of not having serious infection and that that has lasted up until the present moment, that you should consider yourself protected from serious illness. Now, it may be that down the line that Dr. Fauci will be right, that when the dust settles on this, because we're going to need to have a highly vaccinated community or population in this country for years that this will be a three-dose vaccine for the mRNA vaccines, or a two-dose vaccine for the Johnson & Johnson. But I'm just not so sure we're there yet. We'll see what the data are like when we see them September 17th.

BOLDUAN: This week, two top FDA officials announced their retirement, that they're leaving the agency, and that got a lot of attention from a lot of people. Do you think that is related to this?

OFFIT: Yes. I think that there's enormous frustration that the administration basically just pronounced that we are going to have a vaccine, as a three-dose vaccine for the general public by September 20th without doing it the right way. The right way is define a problem, one. Show that you have a solution to that problem, i.e., that if you give a third dose, that clearly enhance the immunity and protection.

Then, three, it goes to the FDA, which then allows the companies to distribute this as a three-dose vaccine for the general public. And then it goes to the CDC who will decide whether it really is the general public that needs or just a subset of the general public who needs it. That's the way to do it. You can't make an announcement and then say we'll wait to see what the FDA and CDC says. That's just really not the right way to do it.

I think Marian Gruber and Phil Krause, who were veterans at the FDA, and it's a tremendous loss that they've stepped, were just very frustrated by it. This is what we didn't like about the last administration when they would just proclaim things like hydroxychloroquine or convalescent plasma or chlorox chewables or whatever they were doing. I mean, here, obviously, a vaccine is the value, but how best to use it has to be carefully scrutinized and determined, and I feel like they got ahead of the game here.

BOLDUAN: So, what do you think the White House does now, Dr. Offit? What would your advice be, because they made that announcement in a very public way?

OFFIT: I think they need to stand back and let this process play out the way it should play out, which is, are we having a problem with erosion in protection against serious disease. If so, which groups is that a problem in? And if it is a problem and if we give a third dose, does that change that problem? Does that ameliorate that problem? And then go to the FDA and then go to the CDC.

So I think this is just all -- I think it's just a little too premature. I think we're all trying to do the right thing, certainly Dr. Fauci is trying to do the right thing here. I just don't think this was done the right way.

BOLDUAN: This is all -- I mean, this was reported in The New York Times and, obviously, my colleagues -- our colleagues here, very fortunately, have confirmed some of this. And I'm wondering if this needs to be a public discussion now. I mean, we're reporting on it, but if we're talking about transparency, especially with how this has all worked out with the vaccines, it's been politicized, the misinformation is everywhere. I'm curious kind of what you think that next step should be.

OFFIT: I think the public will get a view of this on the September 17th meeting. That is an open meeting, so you can see it. The thing also that I think was miscommunicated here was the notion that if you have a mild infection or you have an asymptomatic infection, that that's a breakthrough. That's not a breakthrough. A breakthrough is if you're hospitalized despite the fact that you're vaccinated. That's a breakthrough. I mean, you would expect actually that you would have mild or asymptomatic infection. That's not a failure.

I was fortunate enough to be part of a team at Children's Hospital Philadelphia that created a vaccine against rotavirus, which is an intestinal disease for babies, that caused about 75,000 to be hospitalized every year, and about 60 to die every year.

Our vaccine was good at protecting against moderate to severe disease but not very good at protecting against asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infection. Nonetheless, we eliminated hospitalizations that are caused by that virus in this country. Most pediatric residents have never seen a case of rotavirus-induced dehydration because they work in hospitals.

So I'm not sure that you need to have that kind of protection. If you're holding the bar for this vaccine at protection against asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infection, I think that's just way too high of a bar. It's unrealistic and I think it sent the wrong message to this country.

BOLDUAN: This is really interesting.


I'm very thankful to have you today, Dr. Offit. Thank you so much.

OFFIT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right. We are at the top of the hour. Thank you so much.