Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Biden Faces Multiple Crises as He Tries to Advance His Agenda; White House Booster Rollout May Be Scaled Back Amid Confusion; Preparing America's Cities for More Extreme Weather. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 11:00   ET


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Boris Sanchez, in for Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us.

Here is what we're watching on this holiday edition of AT THIS HOUR:

Crisis after crisis. President Biden's problems piling up while trying to move forward on his domestic agenda.

Plus, climate emergency. Extreme weather events destroying communities and costing lives. How can America's mayors prepare for an undeniable reality?


And booster shot confusion. The White House shifting its plans to push Americans to get another shot as it scrambles to get the pandemic under control.

As the United States celebrates Labor Day, President Biden is trying to put an incredibly challenging summer in the rearview mirror. He's facing multiple crisis as he tries to advance his agenda. There are troubling signs on the pandemic -- new cases, hospitalizations and deaths all multiple times higher than they were at the beginning of the summer.

There is also confusion around the rollout of booster shots which is set to begin just two weeks from today. The U.S. also dealing with catastrophic weather events. Hurricanes and tornados, flash flooding, wildfires, all, of course, made worse by climate change.

The economic recovery was sluggish in August. With far fewer jobs created than expected. And don't forget, enhanced unemployment benefits coming to an end for millions of needy Americans.

All this as the president's approval rating dips to a new low following the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Let's start our coverage with CNN's Arlette Saenz. She's traveling with the president in Wilmington, Delaware. President Biden spending the holiday there.

Arlette, this is a holiday rife with challenges for the White House. Bring us up to speed on how the president plans to tackle all of these issues.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, President Biden will head back to the White House later this evening with that fresh set of challenges piling up on his plate. After that rocky August, the president saw his approval rating fall to its lower point of his presidency. And the White House is aware that there is very little room for error going forward.

Now on Afghanistan, much of the focus right now is trying to get the remaining Americans out of the country. With the White House saying there is about 100 Americans who want to leave who they are in contact with and they are working to get them out.

But back here at home, the COVID-19 pandemic really remains one of the most defining if not the defining issue of Biden's presidency thus far. There is very serious concern about the high transmission rates, also children going back to school and trying to get a curb on these variants that might be rising. The president has said that later this week, he will be outlining more of his strategy to respond to the pandemic as well.

And there is also the issue relating to the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which not only devastated the South but also the Northeast. The president just moments ago approved a disaster declaration for the state of New York. He also did so for New Jersey. He will be heading to both of those states tomorrow to assess firsthand the damage on the ground.

But really the White House is looking to turn the corner after you saw a very rocky and assembly august as they were heading and plowing through with the domestic agenda going forward.

SANCHEZ: A difficult summer for President Biden. No question. We'll see how things move forward in the coming weeks. Arlette Saenz from Wilmington, thank you so much.

As Arlette mentioned, President Biden is heading to the Northeast tomorrow where he's set to survey damage from catastrophic flooding. The remnants of hurricane Ida killing more than 50 people in six states.

Polo Sandoval joins us live in Queens with more.

And, Polo, as the clean-up continues, we're getting an extent of the damage and the death toll climbing slightly.

Walk us through the scenes that President Biden is going to be touring tomorrow.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Boris, we're also getting another visit from elected officials in one of the hardest hit neighborhoods here in Queens, New York. I can tell you that we did see a visit from Mayor de Blasio, along with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as Senator Chuck Schumer visiting this particular site just a few moments ago. And they were met with serious frustrations from residents as they

seek that financial assistance to try to repair and replace what they lost. But also I was talking to one resident a short while ago, a long-term solution.

A woman named Danette Rivera (ph) who lives about 30 or 40 yards from where I'm standing had to be rescued from her basement window when the floodwater swept through the area where I'm standing on Wednesday, living here for 13 years only seeing a similar devastation happen once in the 13 years. But she fears it will happen again.

So as we saw this visit today from elected officials, there was a sense again of frustration and an expectation that not only will residents here that lost a lot will get that help and replacing that. But they will also have an answer in terms of what could be done to prevent this from happening again, Boris.

SANCHEZ: An open question and one that we will discuss coming up with the potential new mayor of New York City.


So stay tuned for that.

Polo Sandoval reporting from Queens, thanks so much.

This morning, amid all of the issues, the White House is trying to clear up confusion about when coronavirus booster shots are going to be available and who should get them. The booster rollout was scheduled to begin two weeks from today but it may be more limited than initially reported.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen joins us now to explain.

Elizabeth, what is the latest from the White House on booster shots?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Boris, what the White House is saying now is, look, we always said that booster shots would be given once the plan had FDA and CDC approval.

Let's take a listen to what President Biden said on August 18th when he first started, with he first started talking about this booster roll out.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the CDC's committee of outside experts will be ready to start these booster -- this booster program through the week of September 20.


COHEN: So, you'll notice the president Biden named a date. I think perhaps the Biden administration has learned that that is often not a great idea, because things change and then people get confused. So I'm going to give you the bottom line here. The bottom line is that

anyone who is fully vaccinated, will at some point be offered a booster. That is what is looking very, very likely. Will you be offered it the week of September 20th? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends if you got Pfizer, if you got Moderna or if you got Johnson & Johnson, it depends how far back -- how long ago was your original vaccination.

But boosters are in our future for the coming weeks and in some people the coming months. So let's look at some of the particulars. Dr. Fauci outlined some of this this weekend. So Dr. Fauci said that Pfizer looks like they're ready to go for the week of September 20th. That means if you're original shot was with Pfizer, then you may be able to get a booster starting that week. If you fall in the right age range and et cetera.

Moderna may be behind that by a week or two. Again, not really a huge deal. You may have to wait a little bit longer if you got Moderna. But a week or two is not such a big deal. Also Dr. Fauci mentioned that there could have data in a couple of weeks on mixing and matching vaccines and that means that it is possible that you might have gotten Moderna first and now you'll get Pfizer or possibly vice versa -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Appreciate you clearing that up us for us. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for your reporting.

To put this long list of challenge news context, we're joined by CNN White House correspondent John Harwood.

Good morning, John. Great to see you as always.

President Biden is juggling a lot right now from COVID to natural disasters, the economy, Afghanistan. You're standard domestic political strife. From your discussions with sources in the White House, what's the mindset behind those doors right now?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Boris, this is the crushing part of being president of the United States, when you're being hit from all sides by momentous events, some of which you could control, some of which you can't control. So you've got the hurricane, of course the exit from Afghanistan, following the collapse of the Afghan government and security forces, you've got the resurgence of the pandemic and difficulties on the legislative front.

I think the mindset of the White House is to keep your head down and keep plowing away, and the number one priority above all of the other priorities is getting control of the pandemic. The reason for that is that that is the ticket for America to get back to some semblance of normal life. It is the ticket to getting a full economic recovery instead of those disappointing job numbers we got last week.

And the challenge for the administration certainly boosters is one of the elements of it. But the more important challenge right now, Boris, is to get those first shots in arms for the 25 percent of the American people who have resisted so far. Broadening the vaccination base within the United States is the key to developing herd immunity and the key to getting on top of the most significant of the problems of the president faces.

SANCHEZ: And there is good news on that front. I think the seven day average of new vaccine doses is close to 1 million a day which is tremendous news. But it is striking that one of the biggest steps that the White House has taken towards achieving a major legislative goal and passing a huge infrastructure bill through the Senate, wound up being over shadowed by the chaotic exit from Afghanistan and I wonder if all of the hurdles hurt his domestic agenda moving forward if they slow down momentum.

What do you think?

HARWOOD: There is no question about it. And we heard that from Joe Manchin who has been one of the key votes and he's expressed skepticism at various points over the last couple of months about the size of the spending that President Biden is in favor of.


And when he called the other day for a pause on this big bill, he mentioned concerns about inflation, but he also mentioned uncertainty surrounding Afghanistan.

So there are a couple of ways. One is the actual events in Afghanistan. And the second is the erosion of the president's political standing. When you're approval rating goes down as has happened to the president, we saw from "Washington Post"/ABC poll in the last couple of days that he's down having been consistently above 50 percent almost the entire year. He's now down to 44 percent among all Americans, 39 percent among independents.

That makes a president weaker. It makes it harder for to you put pressure on Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, but there is no alternative to keep trying and try to hold the Democratic Party together. They've had good success at key moments so far in Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and president Biden holding Democrats together as fractious as they might be and that is the challenge right now.

SANCHEZ: You raise a lot of good points. There is in fighting in the Democratic Party. We haven't even mentioned the opposition that he's facing from Republicans, a vast majority of whom remain loyal to his predecessor who will not acknowledge that he won the election fairly.

Let's dig into this issue of approval ratings. We actually have the poll that you mentioned, the ABC/"Washington Post" poll, 44 percent. There is a new NPR, PBS "NewsHour" poll that puts it at 43 percent.

His predecessor was obsessed with approval rating. How much attention should Joe Biden give this? You mentioned that it affects his impact, his influence, but is it something that he should be thinking about when he's in Wilmington and getting ready to tour the devastations following a storm in the Northeast?

HARWOOD: No because there is nothing the president could do about it. We have a polarized country. And we've seen approval over the last number of years across presidents of different parties be very, very steady only moving microscopically in response to very large events. President Trump for example never reached 50 percent. But his -- even when we had the pandemic and the economy shut down last year, his approval rating didn't go -- it wasn't high to begin with but it didn't go down very much.

And so if you have a situation where it is pretty much frozen, the best you can do is perform your job, try to get better results, say on the pandemic, try to get the legislation through if you're seen by the American public as winning as advancing priorities they care about. That is going to help your approval rating. But independently, you can't do a whole lot to move that needle.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, and you could imagine that Republicans, especially House Leader Kevin McCarthy are looking at numbers and hoping they last through into the midterm elections. A challenging time for President Biden. We'll see how he does moving forward.

John Harwood, thanks so much for walking us through that from the White House.

HARWOOD: You bet.

SANCHEZ: Coming up, President Biden heading to the Northeast to see the destruction from historic flooding. I'll speak with a Democratic nominee from New York city mayor, Eric Adams, about Biden's visit and the threat of extreme weather next.



SANCHEZ: President Biden is traveling to New Jersey and New York tomorrow, to visit communities devastated by historic rain and flooding. Remember, at least 50 people were killed in the Northeast from the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

With us now to discuss the recovery is Eric Adams. He's the Brooklyn borough president and the Democratic nominee for New York City Mayor.

Thank you so much for joining us sir, we appreciate your time.


SANCHEZ: The plan is for President Biden to visit Queens tomorrow. Are you going to be meeting with President Biden and what do you want him to see on his visit?

ADAMS: No, I'm not part of that delegation. I'm the Brooklyn borough president. My counterpart, I'm sure, Donovan Richards, will be joining.

So -- but it is all one city. And I think just as significant as it was many years ago, when President Carter visits the South Bronx, it just really highlights an area and an issue that is facing our country and I'm hoping that he sees how climate change is impacting in the inner cities. Remember, this was not a large wave or tide increase. This came from the sky. And we need to change our conversation on how we deal with the climate change and in the inner cities and across our country.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, it is important to point out -- this wasn't actually a hurricane by the time it got to the Northeast. This is the remnants of something that had gone through the Gulf Coast and had sort of weakened as it moved across land.

I do want so ask you about something published in "The New York Daily News". This was last Wednesday before Ida hit New York. They posted an editorial with this headline: The storm next time, after Katrina and New Orleans protected itself, the same can't be said for New York after Sandy.

And in this editorial, they argued, quote: Nearly nine years after Superstorm Sandy put many of us underwater, there's been far too little progress for protecting the city from the ravages of Mother Nature when the frequency and intensity of major weather events may be increasing and sea levels are unquestionably rising.

Ida sadly proved them right. I'm curious, what needs to change in your mind to prepare New York City for the next storm?


And can you guarantee that it will get done on time?

ADAMS: No, you can't. And what's going to prepare us is honesty.

Let's be clear: we screwed up our planet and this is the byproduct of that screw-up. And we have to be honest about how we move our countries and cities in the right direction.

It is not going to be done by the next storm. We're not going to build out our entire sewer systems, we're not going to do what Copenhagen did overnight, we need to be honest. If 300 years or 100 years ago, we were receiving storms of this magnitude, we would have built differently.

Now, we're here and now it is time to visit all of these countries across the globe that made the adjustments. We must do the same, something that we can do within a short period of time, like building retaining pools inside our parks now.

And then we have long-term plans. As we build out sewer system, we can't build it out based on the previous rainfalls. We have to build it up based on monsoons. And if we're not honest about this conversation, we're going to lose more lives and we're going to see a greater level of property damage in our city.

SANCHEZ: I want to ask you, sir, about something that I think needs to be addressed immediately. In New York City, 13 people died as a result of the storm, and the majority were trapped in basement apartments that flooded. And you alluded to this a moment ago. Research indicates that climate change is going to disproportionately affect people of color and the poor. And there are a lot of folks in New York City that are living in places that are not up to code.

What can you do right now to prevent that from ever happening again?

ADAMS: Number one, put in the early warning system. That's to deal with the immediate. Because whatever we do around this conversation, we must have prevention, long-term plans and intervention. What could we do right now?

Right now, let's have an early warning system, a combination of cell phone notifications and we may have to reintroduce the sirens that we see here as children -- it is almost like back to the future -- to let people know that this is a real threat, and then maybe door-to-door, utilizing our police department, our other emergency responders to let people become aware of that.

Then long-term, let's get the units up to code. Let's get the support that's needed. This has been a conversation for quite sometime because in New York, we're also dealing with a housing crisis where we have to have house New Yorkers, you may have over 100,000 people that are in these apartments and we need to be conscience of this housing crisis we're dealing with.

So you don't want to solve one crisis to create another crisis and I believe we could do them both together.

SANCHEZ: And it seems like both of what you're telling New Yorkers is to get used to this because there's problems like this that are going to become far more common before they're ultimately resolved with huge changes to infrastructure. You've said to New Yorkers before that they're going to have to learn to live with water.

What would that look like when New York's infrastructure was built for a different era?

ADAMS: Yes, and that's well-said, because far too often, we look at the storm and some would immediately, let's build out sewer system. Yes, we do, but you're not doing that in a year. You're talking about a 20, 30-year plan, hundreds of billion dollars to dig up the streets to do so.

So, now is the time to think differently and really bring together some of the great thinkers in this area and see what we could do immediately, middle term and long-term. Because this is the new norm for us and we're aware of that. We thought building sea walls would keep the high tides out, but Mother Nature told us clearly that it is more than just what is coming from the sea, it's also what's coming from the sky.

And so, it's basically telling us, you better adjust, you better be honest about how we mess up our environment and now we have to ensure that we learn to live with this climate change and not think that we can keep them out.

SANCHEZ: Yeah and I think it's important, what you noted before, that this is a national and global problem. So the issues are not restricted to just New York City. Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams, thank you so much for the


ADAMS: Take care.

SANCHEZ: We also want to focus on the gulf coast and the recovery there, Louisiana specifically where Ida first slammed ashore eight days ago as a powerful category four hurricane. People are still in desperate need of basic essentials like food, water, power, gas and shelter. And it comes as state officials are investigating the deaths of several nursing home evacuees.

CNN's Nadia Romero is live in Laplace, Louisiana, with more.

Nadia, that's an area that was hit hard by Hurricane Ida. How are folks dealing with now being in shortage of so many necessary items eight days after the storm?


NADIA ROMERO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, it is basic necessities that people here are going without. They haven't had power for eight days now. And that means that everything in their refrigerator has spoiled now. They have roof damage, trees in the middle of their homes and they lost everything in the floodwaters.

So we're standing at the Louisiana Cajun navy massive supply giveaway. And we learned that there was a mother that came through that they have a toddler and a newborn baby that is coming home today from the hospital. So something that you might not think about is the need for diapers, diapers are so important for so many families, but what if it washed away in the floodwaters.

And everyone here needs cleaning supplies, because the mold is growing. We're under another heat advisory. And this is perfect temperatures for mold. But it is exactly what you don't want to see inside of your home.

We spoke with a volunteer who told us about meeting so many people in need. She said the need is endless and there is this point that she's reached where her heart is breaking. Listen.


REBECCA OWENS, CAJUN NAVY VOLUNTEER: It's bad. I mean, I've seen bad stuff. But you're heart just drops when you go out here and you understand that nothing is left in some of these places. There are times when they're tearing up, I'm tearing up and it is okay because we give hugs and we shake hands sometimes, whatever we could do, you know, around COVID and we try to do as much of that as we can but sometimes you just have to be human, sometimes you just have to be human.


ROMERO: You just need to be human. And there are seven people who died from a nursing home evacuation site that was a warehouse in Independence, Louisiana. The state has opened an investigation. It is ongoing. Seven nursing homes shut down because of their involvement in that. And that is just another one of these tragic story lines we keep hearing about. Eight days now since hurricane Ida made her way through. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, just heartbreaking to watch the images and hearing those stories. Governor John Bel Edwards vowing that someone will be held accountable for what happens there.

Nadia Romero from Louisiana, thank you so much.

Coming up, confusion over booster shots. Will they be ready by the September 20th rollout date the White House announced? The latest on what you need to know after a quick break. Stay with us.