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At This Hour

Biden to Deliver "Major Speech" on Pandemic Response Today; Los Angeles Expected to Issue Student Vaccination Mandate; First Commercial Flight with Americans Leaves Afghanistan; North Korea Holds First Military Parade Since Biden Became President. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 11:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

Vaccines required. President Biden's big speech today laying out his plan for defeating COVID-19 once and for all. Some cities are taking matter news their own hands.

Getting out. The first flight carrying Americans leaves Afghanistan for the first time since the U.S. withdrawal, as the Taliban tightens they're grip on the country.


And taking tennis by storm. Two teenagers shining bright at the U.S. Open. Tennis legend Venus Williams joins us to talk about that and why she wants more Americans to focus on their mental health.

Thanks for being here, everybody. We begin this hour with President Biden's big announcement. Today, the president will deliver what the White House is calling a major speech on his strategy to tackle the pandemic, including a major announcement that Biden will now require all federal workers to be vaccinated with no testing opt out option. That's one part of what sources tell CNN is the six-point plan that Biden will be laying out.

And here is where the urgency comes from, these numbers, these data, these graphics -- these graphs. The U.S. is averaging 1,500 deaths a day from coronavirus right now. Efforts to get more people vaccinated have hit a wall, again, with daily vaccinations declining in the last week.

And with coronavirus infecting more children than ever before, Los Angeles is on the verge of becoming the first major school district in America to require all eligible students to be vaccinated.

Let's get to all of this first with CNN's John Harwood who is live at the White House this hour.

John, on the president's speech, what more are you learning about it?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, he's going to talk, as you indicated, about three principle objects or areas of focus. But one is by far and away the most important one and that is vaccinations, trying to ramp up that level of vaccination. We still have about a quarter of the country that has resisted getting a first shot of vaccinations we know are the key of getting out of the pandemic.

So you mentioned the federal requirement for federal workers and contractors of the federal government. We'll see whether there are other incentives that he provides to push private employers to do the same thing. He'll talk about booster shots. He'll talk about keeping schools open, that involves masking and testing requirements. He'll talk about keeping the economy going. That's critical. Keep the country open. You get the economy going. And also health care for people who have COVID-19.

Now the reason the president needs to do this is because this pandemic has been driving down his political clout. As the delta variant has surged, his overall approval is down and that is because his COVID approval is down. Recent "Washington Post" and ABC News poll down to 52 percent from 62 percent earlier.

For him to sustain his ability to drive his agenda on infrastructure and everything else, he needs to show the American people that he could get his hands around this pandemic and that's the key to returning to normal life for Americans. It's a key to returning to political health for President Biden.

BOLDUAN: His focus on day one remains his focus today with this very big speech.

John, thank you so much.

And as we mentioned, the second largest school district in the nation is on the cusp of requiring all students 12 and up right now to be vaccinated against coronavirus. This afternoon, the Los Angeles School Board will be voting on just that.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is live in Los Angeles. She's been following all of these details and developments.

Stephanie, this could be a first for COVID vaccines in schools but as you have pointed out, it's far from the first time the school has mandated a vaccine.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this is nothing new. But everybody is paying attention because it is COVID.

Here's what's going to happen. Later on today, there's going to be a meeting put together rather quickly for the board of education for LAUSD to vote on whether or not all eligible students should be required to get the vaccine. It is expected to pass, according to "The Los Angeles Times", and when you listen to the board members talk about it, they're very clear -- just saying we have had other illnesses that we get vaccines for every single year so that our kids could go to public school in our country. So that is nothing different. What they want to do is by the time they get to second semester of

school, which would be January, after the holidays, that all students who want to be in school on campus would be vaccinated. That is the way they're looking at it.

And then for children as they're starting to get older and they hit that 12-year-old threshold, because obviously that is how old you have to be to get the vaccine right now in the country, then after your birthday, you have 30 days to get the first shot and then eight weeks from your birthday to get that second shot.

Now there are some people who will be exempt and opt out but the idea is to make it safe. And keep in mind, Kate, that this school district is doing a lot about having every student and teach employee tested every week regardless of if their vaccinated or not.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, they really flooded the zone on that. That's for sure. We'll see what happens on this today. Thanks so much.

All right. Joining me now for more on this is CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta.


Sanjay, first on the speech that President Biden will be making today. We heard Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary say that setting the tone, is that the focus is remaining on protecting more people.

What do you think Biden say to do that and turn this around at this point?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I do think that the time to exercise the full authority of vaccine mandates, wherever they could be mandated, needs to happen. And he needs to remind people that we're in a situation now as compared to this point last year, things are far worse. 3.5 times more cases, 2.5 times more hospitalizations, nearly two times as many deaths as this last year.

If you were to ask me last year, Kate, and say here is what the numbers are going to look like Labor Day of 2021, I could think that we never got to a vaccine and yet we have a vaccine. And these numbers -- so many of the terrible numbers could be prevented. It is disheartening. And I think he needs to make that point.

In some ways, he already has I guess said this, reminding people that they're 17 times to be hospitalized if their unvaccinated, the financial, it could cost tens of thousands of dollars to get admitted to the hospital to care for you. But ultimately I think the idea of using whatever authority they have to mandate vaccines, to really bolster up masking in places where it is become so divisive and testing as well.

BOLDUAN: And I guess there are two things. The message and the action and maybe it is the actions and the requirements that speak louder than words because when it comes to a presidential address, like we're going to have from the president is, there is always a question in our divided world which is are the people who need to hear this message, are they going to hear it?

GUPTA: No, I think you're absolutely right and I think mostly they wouldn't. It is become -- I've covered these sorts of issues for a long time and this is as divisive as I've ever seen it. Vaccine hesitancy has existed pre-pandemic, but this is as divisive as I've seen it. So, I think that's where the authority to do whatever you can possibly do to help curb the pandemic through a vaccine which we know really works so well I think is critically important.

Airline travel has come up. And some say, look, there hasn't been a lot of COVID on airplanes, which is good, so why don't you mandate vaccines there? On the other hand, people want to fly. If there is vaccine requirements for flights, that is where you make a dent in the overall vaccine sort of numbers in this country, and that would make a big difference overall in the trajectory of the pandemic.

Stephanie was mentioning mandates for schools, that is not new. You have kids, I have kids, our kids got vaccinated to go to certain schools and that's just part of life. But again, because of the divisiveness, politically, people see this as a whole new affront and it doesn't need to be.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, absolutely.

Also joining us now is CNN's Dana Bash.

It's good to see you, Dana.

As we were talking, Sanjay mentioned that the numbers that we're looking at are disheartening and Biden has a big job ahead of him and making a big announcement. But as he took office, Biden marked 400,000 COVID deaths. We remember that somber sale that they held honoring those deaths.

Since then, 250,000 more people have died. I mean this is a mark on his presidency, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. And as you're telling me and telling our viewers those grim realities and those grim statistics, I'm thinking about a conversation I had with a senior Biden adviser asking -- it was Anita Dunn on her way out and I asked, what crisis could she tell me that she had to deal with other than COVID.

And without a missing a beat, she said, there is no crisis that we -- domestically, that we as the Biden administration has to deal with other than COVID because COVID is everything. COVID completely has its tentacles into every single thing that they as the administration want and need to do because it makes it impossible for society, for businesses, for the economy, for education, I could keep going on and on to move forward.

And it is a very, very tough thing. It is probably the ultimate challenge he'll have in his big speech today and beyond because he is going to have to try to penetrate and reach people who don't want to listen to him and by over the past six, I guess nine months, simply haven't. Not just him, but Sanjay Gupta, they're local doctor, you name it when it comes to getting vaccinated.

BOLDUAN: You know, and, Sanjay, Dr. Fauci in a new interview with "Axios", he -- I took it as essentially reiterated a bar that he had set earlier in the pandemic.


When it comes to the question of what is the end goal, what is the goal of how we take on the pandemic, is this zero infections? Is it control of the pandemic?

Because Fauci said in this interview that what it takes to get the virus under control is that the country needs to be below 10,000 infections a day. The country is currently seeing more than 150,000 infections a day, which is nowhere near it. I mean, how far away are we from this goal?

GUPTA: I mean, last time we were below 10,000 cases per day was March of 2020. Just to give you an idea. At the very beginning of the pandemic. And that we got close in June of this year. But never have gotten below 10,000.

So, it's going -- it is obviously very different than where we are now. We may see a rapid deceleration of cases, Kate, because they've seen that in other countries with the delta variant because so many people become infected. You do develop some component of natural immunity. You may have a significant decline.

But I think the larger point is your question. What is the end game? It's not going to be zero COVID. People say it's endemic. It's here to stay.

So, in some ways, it sort of -- it creates this kin of uncomfortable conversation which what are we willing to tolerate as a society. I mean, flu, you know, kills up to 60,000 people in a year and most people don't think that much about it. Only half of the country gets a flu shot every year.

What are we willing to tolerate? Obviously, it's not this. Hospitals are overwhelmed, 650,000 people have died and it's not zero COVID the other side either. So what is it? I think that's going to be a really important conversation. Because defining the end game, and what successful end game means I think is critical.

BOLDUAN: And it starts with the president. That has started but again continues with the president on what he says today. It's good to see you both. Thank you very much.

Coming up for us, breaking news out of Afghanistan. A flight with Americans on board has just left the country. The first since the U.S. withdrawal. Details and a live report next.


[11:16:54] BOLDUAN: Breaking news. A charter plane filled with about 200 people including Americans has just left Afghanistan. It is the first commercial flight to leave the country since the Taliban took over and the U.S. withdraw the final troops.

CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley joins me live with more on this.

Sam, what do we know about who is on board and what it all took to get them off the ground?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're waiting for it to land in the next hour or two in Doha. It is a Qatari airlines flight after a very intense period of negotiations with the Taliban, there have been combined, Kate, with efforts being made by Qatar and other allies notably Turkey to get the airport repaired to the extent to which it could handle a significant number of flights. There were four aid flights that went into the country today, a number of them coming from other Gulf nations.

But it is the first flight out. We know there are 200 ex-patriots, foreign passport holders, among them some Americans, not large numbers, we don't believe, and other peoples heading toward Canada ultimately, and the United Kingdom. So that is the state of play in terms of this aircraft in and of itself. But symbolically, it is a very important step in terms of Qatari break through in diplomacy with the Taliban trying to reassure them if they take part in the world, they may get rewarded for it, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Sam, thank you so much for that.

Also developing this morning. North Korea holding its first military parade since Joe Biden became president. These parades are a show of kind of the hermit country's military force. But it looked very different this time around as you could see. Soldiers seen in full orange hazmat suits. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appearing markedly thinner than previous appearances.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul, South Korea, with more on this.

Paula, this is a rare glimpse into the country since North Korea sealed it off even further when the pandemic set in.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kate, and it is the same parade that we've seen since that point but it is a very different parade. Last January when they had an overnight parade, we saw a submarine launched ballistic missile in development being unveiled. In October of last year we saw what could be the largest ballistic missile in the world unveiled.

But this time there was nothing to do miss I'll capability. It was very unusual. It seems as though it was more geared toward the domestic audience rather than the international audience. So what we saw was the public security forces is the way that state run media called it. As you mentioned, you said there were people, a unit in hazmat suits in gas masks. We believe that is the unit that the front line in trying to deal with COVID 19. And this is been a key factor for North Korea, for the world clearly.


But the fact is they shut their borders from January 2020 and haven't allowed anybody in since, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Paula, thank you so much for that.

Coming up for us, a new report this morning, the Justice Department plans to sue Texas over its new abortion ban. Where this fight is headed, next.



BOLDUAN: And developing this morning, a Justice Department official tells CNN's Evan Perez, the agency is preparing now to sue Texas over its controversial new law banning most abortions in the state. A formal announcement could come as early as today, clearly many more details to be learned about that.

But this comes just as abortion rights activists are really putting on the pressure on President Biden to do more. And take action after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law to take effect.

Joining me now is Cecile Richards, a former president of Planned Parenthood and the currently a co-chair of American Bridge 21st Century Democratic PAC.

Cecile, thank you for being here. I appreciate it.

Just reaction -- I mean, there is a lot of details we don't know about the basis of which the justice department would file a lawsuit against the state of Texas. But what is your reaction to hear that DOJ is preparing to do that?

CECILE RICHARDS, FORMER PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: It is really good news, Kate, that the administration and the Department of Justice is taking action against this unconstitutional and cruel law that has gone into effect. As you know, last week more than 7 million women have child bearing age lost their rights literally overnight. This is been something that the Republican legislature and Republican Governor Greg Abbott have been trying to do for some, many year years and with the inaction of the Supreme Court, they've been successful.

So welcome this news. It is a long road, though. And of course, millions of women today absent any action have lost their right and are having to leave the state to access their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion.

BOLDUAN: There is an interesting piece in "USA Today" highlighting that women and advocates speaking out against the law and for reproductive rights and saying in part they want to hear more from President Biden. Here is one quote that stuck out to me. Marcela Howell, she's the

president of in our own voice, a national black women's reproductive agenda. She said this extra circumstances call for extra action and it is final for him, Biden, to demonstrate that in a much bigger way. Do agree?

RICHARDS: Well, I fully respect Marcela and everyone working on this. This is really a devastating development, the fact that for the first time since the roe v. Wade vision almost 50 years ago, a state has literally ended this right. I -- everything we hear from this administration is important. I do think it is important to remember, though, the reason why this law was passed was because of the Republican legislature and the Republican Party, this is been their agenda for many, many years and I think that a lot of folks thought that it could never happen.

But now that women in the state of Texas have lost this right to make their own decisions about pregnancy, there is fear across the country that of course this could be coming to another state, and already states like Florida and Ohio have pledged to try to do the same kind of thing. It is really to longer a question of whether or not Roe will be over turned because in the state of Texas effectively a right that folks have had for nearly 50 years just no longer exists.

BOLDUAN: You know, yesterday I played a comment by the Texas governor and his response of being asked why the law doesn't allow for an exception of rape or incest. I want to play that for you.


REPORTER: Why force a rape or incest victim to carry pregnancy to term?

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: It doesn't require that at all, because obviously it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion. So for one, it doesn't provide that. That said, however, let's make something very clear: rape is a crime. And Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas.


BOLDUAN: Yesterday, Cecile, I made it clear what I think about that. What do you think of his response?

RICHARDS: I mean, it's so horrifying that someone as the governor of Texas and is so ignorant about women's health and is himself making decisions about pregnancy that he clearly knows nothing about.

But putting that aside, Kate, I looked at numbers and I think this is been repeated across the country, in the last couple of years only a quarter of rapes or accusations of rape have actually led to an arrest. So if the governor wants to actually take this seriously, there's a lot more he could do in that regard and it does nothing to help the women who are the survivors of rape.