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At This Hour

Congress Has Less than 37 Hours to Avert Shutdown; Biden Cancels Trip to Lead Negotiations with Congress; Interview with Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) on Unclear Demands by Manchin, Sinema; Hundreds of United Airlines Workers Face Firing over Vaccination; New York City Public Health System 92 Percent Vaccinated; General McKenzie Recommended Keeping 2,500 Troops in Afghanistan. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 29, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

Here's what we're watching At This Hour. The shutdown; pressure mounting on Congress to strike a deal.

Get the shot or else. More businesses and local governments are mandating vaccines.

In the hot seat, top brass at the Pentagon grilled by lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Afghanistan.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here. We begin with a race against the clock on Capitol Hill. Congress loves a deadline or maybe a better way to put it is Congress needs a deadline to get things done.

And they are now hard up against one, once again, on more than one front. The way sources are putting it to CNN today, nobody wants to blink. Congress has less than 37 hours, if you're counting now, to fund the government to avert a shutdown, which would have a cascading negative effect on not only the federal government and millions of government workers but also every American, by the way of delayed Social Security checks and much, much more.

We've been through this before and it could be happening again. Not only that, there are deep divisions in the Democratic Party over Biden's agenda, that threaten to torpedo that very agenda, including the bipartisan infrastructure bill which the House is set to vote on tomorrow and the much larger spending plan that would transform the nation's safety social net. Right now we don't know where that stands.

One more thing, the potential of default on America's debt is still hanging out there, which many smart minds say would be a catastrophe for the U.S. economy. CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill with the very latest.

Where are we right now, Lauren? LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When it comes to the government shutdown in just over 30 hours, it looks like the Senate is making progress. They have an agreement among leadership. They are currently trying to get a sense from their members whether or not they'll be able to move this through quickly in the U.S. Senate.

We expect the House will go ahead and pass that bill as well. That's just one piece of this agenda that you laid out.

The bigger problem is that promised vote tomorrow in the House of Representatives on that bipartisan infrastructure package -- remember, this was the vote that was supposed to be Monday. Then it got pushed to Thursday. Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is saying what her progressives need, this is the group that's been arguing, they'll vote against that bipartisan infrastructure package.

What that group needs is legislative text, exactly what is going to be in the bigger safety social net package before being willing to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. That is significant.

Obviously with just a couple hours to go until tomorrow afternoon, it's very unlikely you're going to have legislative text that the Senate can agree on, that moderates like Manchin and Sinema can agree on, in such a short period of time.

This is something that the White House have been working on for weeks now. You saw yesterday Kyrsten Sinema going to the White House three times yesterday. They're continuing to try to work those members. But they're not there yet.

This idea that legislative text would be ready to go on the bigger social safety net bill, when they don't have a topline number, that's going to be a heavy lift. Here is what Speaker Nancy Pelosi told our colleague, Manu Raju, a few minutes ago.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I think if we come to a place where we have agreement in legislative language, not just principle, in legislative language, that the president supports, has to meet his standard, because that's what we're supporting, then I think we'll come together.


FOX: And what happens if they don't have that legislative language, Kate?

Does she go ahead and say that this vote has to be postponed once again?

That's what we're waiting to see right now. That would be a significant development and it could be frustrating to some moderates, who feel like they've been promised this vote, they want this vote, they're ready to go. The votes just may not be there, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We will continue to need you, Lauren, on this one. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

In a sign of just how uncertain the outcome all of this is right now, as Lauren laid out, President Biden canceled a planned trip to Chicago today in order to lead crucial negotiations with Democrats still throughout the day, including, as Lauren was talking about, more talks with Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, who now holds a very critical role in this.

CNN's John Harwood is live at the White House with more on this.

John, what are you hearing right now?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Let's state one thing at the outset, the White House has a clear political reason to project optimism and confidence.


HARWOOD: As the sound bite indicated, they're trying to keep it together in the House, avoid an open rebellion, possibly get a vote tomorrow.

But also, if they don't have the legislative language, show enough progress that allows them to delay the vote in order to try to reach a larger deal.

Having said all that, I'm hearing from senior administration officials, confidence today or optimism they're making headway with both Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

As you mentioned, she was there three times yesterday, once today, Sinema was. Manchin has also been to the White House. A senior administration official said we don't have repeated visits at the House unless we think we have a shot at getting this done. In fact, it's more than a shot but it's not done yet.

So that's the state of play at the moment. If they can get some sort of understanding and accommodation from Manchin and Sinema, who have been very reluctant so far to state to their colleagues, to the press, what their bottom line is, we'll see whether or not President Biden has had more success sussing that out in a way that would allow the Democrats to stay together and move together, first on the infrastructure bill and then on the reconciliation bill. Very difficult to do but not impossible.

BOLDUAN: Which is the perpetual state I think we live in, difficult to do, not impossible. We'll see. Good to see you, John. Thank you very much.

Joining me for more on this Democratic congressman Pete Aguilar, the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Thank you for being here.

Do you believe the threat from the progressive caucus, that half of them will vote against the infrastructure bill if there isn't agreement, legislative text, on the larger bill to move that bill as well?

Do you believe that threat?

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): I believe that there are members who have reservations about the vote tomorrow. I take them at their word.

But what I would also say is the Democratic caucus is united behind this agenda. We might have slight disagreements over the timing of these bills coming to the floor and how to get there. But we're united behind delivering this priority for the president.


BOLDUAN: But it's not slight anymore --

AGUILAR: -- this is what he campaigned on and this is what we want to deliver.

BOLDUAN: But, Congressman, it's not slight anymore. Yes, you should project confidence and optimism. We've heard that from the Speaker, that you will get it done.

But right now it's unclear how you get to that place. Progressives are very clear that they're threatening to vote against, if the vote comes on the infrastructure bill, if they don't see legislative text.

What do you do if you don't have legislative text on the larger spending bill by tomorrow?

AGUILAR: We're 24 hours away from that. There's plenty of time to continue to have discussions with our colleagues.

As you just reported, it's senators, it's the White House all engaged. It's all hands on deck and people are having those conversations. If they weren't talking, I would have concerns. They are talking.

So we'll continue to make progress and we'll continue to want to deliver for the American public. That's our responsibility. That's our charge. That's what the president has asked us to do.

Sometimes the legislative process is a little clunky. We know that. But we've got a little time. We've got a baseball game in between now and then tomorrow as well that we'll work on in a bipartisan way. But at the end of the day, I know we're all committed to get this agenda done for the American public.

BOLDUAN: I do not think the bipartisanship that you will see at the congressional baseball game will extend into legislation. I'm just going to say that. I'm just going to throw that out there, like you will be throwing out the first pitch.

Is that what I heard?

AGUILAR: That's not a hot take. I think that's also fair, that sometimes the bipartisanship is limited to the field. I'm going to be playing with my colleagues. It's a rich tradition. I look forward to participating.

But you're right. We've got a lot of work to do here to deliver for the public. That's what we're really here to do.


BOLDUAN: So let's get back to the business at hand, talking about the meetings at the White House, the president is meeting multiple times with specifically Democratic senator Manchin and Sinema.

They're clearly critical here in this conversation as you describe it. I want to play for you what Congressman Ro Khanna, a progressive member, is saying about that dynamic.


REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: This is not progressives versus moderates. This is the entire Democratic Party and Joe Biden versus Kyrsten Sinema.

I have no idea what she wants. I don't think her colleagues know what she wants. I don't think the president knows what she wants. I don't think House moderates know what she wants.


BOLDUAN: Congressman, do you know what they want, what their number is?

AGUILAR: I can't speak to the Senate politics. It's a strange place over there. It takes three or four legislative days just to turn the lights on sometimes.

So I try not to play the Senate whisperer. But I can tell you I think what my colleague from California is saying is true. Democrats are united behind this agenda. We're a diverse coalition. We don't all have one feeling.


AGUILAR: Sometimes the other side of the aisle falls in line. We're concerned about the details. And if our colleagues have concerns about some of those details, there's places for them to air it.

And I know that's what some of those senators are looking to do, just as our legislative committees, who have marked up these bills, have done. They've aired their concerns. Not every Democrat cast a vote within committee. Some of them had some concerns and that's the way the legislative process is working. But we're united behind this agenda.

BOLDUAN: But I've heard multiple times and from Speaker Pelosi this morning, that the price tag is zero because it's all going to be paid for.

I have to say there's no way that that actually sells. I've got to tell you, because the final price tag does matter.

If not having nothing to do with revenue, having everything to do with that price tag ultimately determines what you can put -- what you include in the bill, how much, what you have to pull out of the bill. And that's exactly what you're talking about, these details.


BOLDUAN: So the price tag does matter.

AGUILAR: Absolutely the price tag matters and we're talking about those top line numbers. But I think what the Speaker is echoing, is, unlike the Republican tax scam passed by Donald Trump and our colleagues that blew a $2 trillion hole in the budget, that wasn't paid for, that they said would, we plan to pay for this by making sure that the wealthy and billionaires and corporations pay their fair share.

So that's what we've committed to do. Now if the number isn't 3.5 and if it's lower, we will have the requisite payfors to keep that down and to fulfill the president's promise, not to put taxes on those who make less than $400,000. That's our commitment.

So this will be paid for. People can talk about the top line number but this will be paid for and Americans will not feel this. They will benefit from the pre-K, they'll benefit from the community college investments, benefit from the child care and the tax credits for working families.

All of those are going to be felt in my community and around the country.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you for your time.

AGUILAR: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, United Airlines is beginning the process of firing hundreds of employees who refuse to get a COVID shot. But the company's vaccine requirement is showing huge success. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me next.





BOLDUAN: Now to encouraging news on the pandemic. United Airlines' CEO just announcing more than 97 percent of its 67,000-person workforce has complied with its vaccine requirement that has been in place.

The airline, though, now plans to terminate the hundreds of others, who have failed to get the shot per their policy. CEO Scott Kirby's advice to other companies now contemplating vaccine mandates is to just do it.


SCOTT KIRBY, CEO, UNITED AIRLINES: I'm really proud and gratified that the United team, excluding the people that applied for religious or medical accommodations, over 99 percent got vaccinated.

It proves that vaccine mandates do work and you can get a huge percentage of your workforce vaccinated. I feel bad for the 593 people, the less than 1 percent that are going to leave but we're focused on doing the right thing for United Airlines.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now for more on this is CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, what do you think the United example shows?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it shows these are tough times but mandates do work. You kind of hope that, with all the tough pandemic news that we've had over the past couple years, that more people would have been willing to just take the vaccine, now that 6 billion shots have been given around the world roughly.

We have a pretty good idea of just how safe and effective, beyond the clinical trials. We have lots of real-world data. But it's not new, this type of vaccine hesitancy. Even among health care workers, Kate, which I think always surprises people, let me show you from the 2019- 2020 flu shots among health care workers.

What they found was, overall, 81 percent of people did get their flu shots. We're talking about health care workers. But if you break it down in terms of places that mandated it versus not mandated it, in areas where it was mandated, 95 percent got the shot and close to 70 percent where it was not mandated. So they work. It's tough but those numbers speak for themselves.

BOLDUAN: Let's focus in on health care. I think you point to it because a lot of people are surprised by it. It looks like the mandate, if you look just in New York state, it looks like the mandates have driven thousands of people holding out to get the shot in the health care industry.

Throughout the state, where the statewide mandate just set in, I think it's 92 percent of hospital workers have at least one shot. At big hospital systems like Mt. Sinai and New York Presbyterian in New York City, less than 1 percent are not vaccinated.

Still that means hundreds of people within just those systems will be facing termination. Miguel Marquez, our colleague, he spoke to two of these health care workers, who are not vaccinated, who are expecting to lose their jobs in New York.

[11:20:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can't even accept that the vaccines work?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I'm not convinced that they work yet.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because there's so much suppressed science out there globally.


BOLDUAN: It is hard for people to understand that people who work in health care don't trust science.

How do you square that?

GUPTA: I think there's nothing you can completely disentangle from politics. That's the issue.

I think if you were just basing taking the vaccine on the merits of the science, the clinical trial data alone -- and again all this real world data, showing just how effective it is, out of all the COVID patients in hospitals, tens of thousands, 95 percent of theme are unvaccinated.

For most people, that makes the case for how effective these vaccines are and the safety data speaks for itself. But you can't disentangle anything from politics. I see this as well.

I've talked to nurses and other health care providers, who are really great at their jobs and want to stay in those jobs but are willing to sacrifice that because they simply don't want to be mandated to get this vaccine.

They won't even say -- some of the people I talked to don't even say it doesn't work, it's not safe, they just don't want to have it mandated for them. So there's all these different reasons. In some ways, health care workers reflect society in terms of vaccine hesitancy. It does surprise people. But I think it's pretty accurate.

BOLDUAN: I also want to ask you about a new poll out with regard to coming vaccinations in younger children. A new poll showing parents of kids ages 5 to 11 years old, they're pretty evenly split on whether they're going to take their kids for shots if and when -- which is expected -- when they get this emergency use authorization for kids in the younger category.

What do you think of that, 44 percent likely to get their kids a shot; 42 percent unlikely?

How concerned are you about those numbers? GUPTA: Well, one thing I will say, following these numbers all along, the polling before the vaccines were authorized initially, after they were authorized for certain demographics, all that, people are always much more cautious up until the authorization. So that part of it, I think the numbers will trend in a more sort of accepting trend in terms of people willing to get the shots.

What's very interesting, it's true that young children are far less likely to become sick, far less likely to become infected. We know that.

But we also have been measuring things in terms of lives and deaths. We know people even with minimal symptoms can often have those symptoms last a long time. I think that's something parents need to remember. There's a lot about this virus we're learning.

But also in terms of the safety data. Now these younger populations have the benefit of having a vaccine that's been out there for so long and seeing the impact on literally billions of people around the planet.

So about 90 percent of the population we're talking about, that falls in the 5 to 11 age group. If only half get them, that's 4.5 percent more, which isn't the type of difference we need if we're going to take control of this pandemic.

BOLDUAN: It's a big portion of my household. I will say that.


BOLDUAN: So it is personally important. Great to see you, Sanjay.

Coming up, the nation's top military leaders facing more tough questions about America's withdrawal from Afghanistan. This is a live look to Capitol Hill right now in this House hearing. A live report on what's been said, what's been asked, what lessons were learned from Capitol Hill -- next.





BOLDUAN: At this hour, top military officials are facing a second day of hearings on the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Pentagon leaders, as you see live from Capitol Hill now, appearing to contradict in their testimony President Biden's public statements on their recommendations for how best to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. CNN's Jessica Dean is live on the Hill for us, tracking all of this.

Tough questions, candid answers yesterday. What are you hearing today?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing more of those tough questions today, Kate. We're earning more as this hearing now on the House side continues this morning.

You mentioned there have already been questions about exactly how that decision was made, about whether or not to keep 2,500 troops there in Afghanistan or ultimately not to or to really draw down that number.

We heard from top military officials again today on that subject. They said the decision was made after consulting with the top echelons of the government. Listen to more now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General McKenzie, did you receive advice from General Miller in the end of '20 and early '21 related to troop levels in Afghanistan?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was that advice?

MCKENZIE: The advice, his view and my view were essentially the same view.