Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Dems Huddle After Pelosi Delays Infrastructure Vote; Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh Tests Positive For COVID; Merck: New COVID Pill Cuts Risk Of Hospitalization, Death In Half. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired October 01, 2021 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here's what we're watching at this hour. Democrats are huddling right now after Nancy Pelosi delays the vote on the infrastructure bill. Is there -- is this going anywhere? Or is this going nowhere fast?

A COVID pill, Merck, announcing its experimental COVID antiviral drug reduces hospitalizations and deaths by half. Why this could be a major advance in the battle against the pandemic.

Mandate challenge, a group of New York City public school teachers asked the Supreme Court to block the city's vaccine mandate going into effect today. The chancellor of New York City Schools joins me ahead.

Thank you for being here. Two major stories we are following and we'll start with this hour. House Democrats are huddling after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to delay a vote on the infrastructure bill. Progressives refusing to support it unless there is major progress on a deal around the much larger spending package.

That is highly unlikely at the moment with Moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin saying that 1.5 trillion is as high as he wants to go. A far cry from the 3.5 trillion progressive Democrats are demanding, yes, all dealing in trillions. Now, is there a way to meet in the middle? More on that in a moment.

We're also following breaking news on the pandemic that I've mentioned. Merck announcing it has the first antiviral pill that can effectively treat coronavirus infections. The company says that its data shows the pill cuts the risk of hospitalization and death in half when given to people early in their infections.

Merck says that is planning to seek emergency use authorization from the FDA for this as soon as possible. What this means for you and your family. We will dig into but let us begin with CNN's Lauren Fox. She's live on Capitol Hill for us again, today with the very latest on where this stands. Lauren, what are you watching at this moment? LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it's a new decade. But I think the message we are hearing from both progressives and moderates is largely the same as it has been over the last several days. We talked to two progressives who are leading the charge on this both Representative Pramila Jayapal, as well as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

And both of them said that right now, they still need a vote in the Senate, not just in agreement on some kind of framework before they would be willing to vote for that bipartisan infrastructure bill, what they need a vote on is that larger social safety net bill that is full of Democratic priorities, including paid family leave, as well as childcare, and an expanded child tax credit. Those are the issues that they say they need more promises from moderates in the Senate like Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin on.

But the problem is, there is still not an agreement on even a framework or a top line number. And that is where the key sticking point is. Now progressives have a lot of leverage over this debate. And they have shown that over the last several days on Capitol Hill, one of the reasons for that is they have large numbers, there are 95 Democrats who identify as progressives, and not all of them in the caucus are sticking with this point that they want to vote in the Senate on the bigger social safety net bill before they would vote for the infrastructure bill.

But Kate, it just goes to show they are trying to dig in here. They're trying to show they have strength, because they feel like they've gotten rolled in past debates. And that's why they're sticking for him this morning. We will see if there's any kind of concession coming out of this Democratic caucus meeting, but going in they will resolute.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that's all coming down to trust yet again. And this still does -- it seems to be on short supply within the various wings of the Democratic Party at this moment. It's good to see you, Lauren, thank you so much.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN political director, David Chalian. So David, besides this wild leap that today is actually still yesterday on Capitol Hill because of how they're trying to keep the session open -- don't worry about it, everybody, it's a Hill joke. Does a failed day, bring about real possibility, does the fact that they had to push the vote yet again, on infrastructure, does it kind of start shaking things loose, do you think?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it seems to have right I mean, because it becomes a reality, right, which is that there wasn't a vote because it can't get done. So how do you move forward, you move forward by starting to shake some things loose. And so Joe Manchin put out that number in a more definitive way than he had before publicly, yesterday.

Then we see the float from the White House and the Democratic leadership to see if they can bring him up a little bit. So it did shake loose, I think the parameters of a debate and a negotiation and where you're going to circle around. But Kate, it is still, you know, clear, I think that inside this Democratic Party, there are just huge philosophical divides about how government should invest and for which Americans should benefit and what exactly should those programs be?


They're not all singing from the same song sheet. So even as they swirl around the top line number, there's going to be a whole another round here about which programs actually end up in a potential compromise should one emerge?

BOLDUAN: Yes, that's exactly I think, where the focus needs to be now, because we did hear from Democrats earlier this week. They wanted to hear from Joe Manchin, what did he -- what do you want? I heard, you know, Dick Durbin, even saying, I want a number from him, a price tag was among these questions. Joe Manchin has now announced that.

But a price tag is what you're getting to is part of this negotiation. But it is only part because what, the number matters, because it tells you how much you can include for how many years and who -- what gets in, what gets out, and how much. But the details are real. And that is what you're getting out with this philosophical divide. Because depending on how big or little, I mean, they're all big, the total number is some of the programs that will not be included or expanded, those could be like real hard, hard full stop game changing for some progressive members.

CHALIAN: Exactly which way, which is why I think there are more twists and turns here, even if there is movement and progress towards some kind of agreement, we are still going to have these twists and turns to put some specifics on what you're describing. Let's say that whatever number they come to, there's some sort of sense that well, then they can't fund fully the expansion of Medicare to cover vision and dental and hearing aids, or they can't cover free community college for all but only for some.

Well, those just -- those two programs are Bernie Sanders wish list items. He's somebody who's got a pretty powerful voice inside the Democratic Party on the progressive wing of it. So would that fly with him, and then all of a sudden, are we in a different place. So I do think the specifics of the programs will matter. But there is no doubt that the delay of this vote, the being on the precipice of failure has clearly helped move the process a bit forward.

BOLDUAN: I also heard all week, House Democrats and specifically House Democrats saying that they want to hear more from President Biden. They want to hear how he wants to see this play out, meaning they don't feel that they have gotten a real grasp or a real sense of that from the White House or the President himself yet. Do you understand what's going on there? I mean, this is like the entirety of his economic agenda.

CHALIAN: Yes, I would just say, I think there's a really clear reason why we haven't heard him draw red lines yet, because the White House doesn't believe that that's actually the best path strategically for them to get to a deal. And so I think that they have very much deliberately prevented Biden, I'm not saying he wanted to, and they prevented him, but then there's been a decision for the President not to come out and say, OK, guys, this is going to be the number we have to agree on. This is where the programs that are going to be in, going to be out.

That's part of some of the conversations behind the scenes, no doubt. But I think what you hear from a lot of Democrats on the Hill is that that would be helpful if he came out and said that. The White House clearly doesn't think that would be helpful. And I think part of that is somebody who spent 36 years in the Senate, who understands that legislators are not always eager just to take orders from a sitting President in that other coequal branch.

BOLDUAN: Yes. We've got some live pictures. This is one of those days on Capitol Hill where there's a lot of waiting around for folks to come out of the room to give some sense of where this is headed. Because I'm -- I actually have a kind of a fundamental question of whose court the ball is in right now, because progressives are saying still this morning, that they are not on board with moving ahead until there's a vote in the Senate.

I mean, this is so far from folks with how big this bill is. That's like, that's -- it's like, we're I'm -- we're all going to be like in shorts and T shirts. But again, by the time this thing's ready. I mean, being only a little bit kidding. But so where -- I don't know if it's even maybe not even clear to folks on the Hill.

CHALIAN: Yes. And, Kate, let's just add to the complexity of that big social spending bill, we're talking about which programs are in there. The whole, how you pay for it, the tax side of it, the revenue side of it is clearly something that Manchin and Sinema I'm not even sure they're aligned on what they want that to look like.

BOLDUAN: That's a good point.

CHALIAN: And it's going to be a debate as well going forward. So it is -- you are right, so far away, it seems from an actual vote. But I am also not sure that we have a hard number on precisely how many progressives in the House would keep that demand of a vote. If they get a real framework and an agreement, you can see potentially a lot of those progressives that have been standing together right now breaking off and Nancy Pelosi saying, hey, I got you here. This is what the Senate is going to agree to.


It's going to look like something like this. Now vote for the infrastructure deal. And I would imagine that that could be pretty persuasive to some of them, perhaps a sufficient amount, we don't know.

BOLDUAN: That's a great point. Look, all of this back and forth is mind numbing for everyone. But I will say it is so important when you think about how many aspects of our lives, your life, everyone's lives, from infrastructure to the social safety net, these decisions we'll reach into, including the tax provisions as well. That's why it's so important. It's good to see David, thank you. CHALIAN: You too, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a COVID pill that could cut the risk of hospitalizations and death in half. How much of a game changer could this be in the fight against the pandemic? The breaking new details, next.



BOLDUAN: We are following some breaking news. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has tested positive for coronavirus. Kavanaugh was scheduled to appear at an investiture ceremony this morning for Justice Amy Coney Barrett. And as you well know the new Supreme Court term is just about to begin. Let's get over to CNN's Ariane de Vogue. She's live outside the Supreme Court with the breaking details. Ariane, what are you learning?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right, well, he was fully vaccinated. So this looks like it was a breakthrough case. We believe this is the first time a sitting justice has tested positive for COVID. And the Supreme Court released just a brief statement. I'll read it. They said, on Thursday, per the courts regular testing protocol, Justice Kavanaugh had a routine COVID test ahead of Justice Barrett's investiture on Friday.

On Thursday, evening, Justice Kavanaugh was informed that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He has no symptoms and has been fully vaccinated since January. But like you said, they were all here today for the ceremonial swearing in of Justice Barrett, of course Kavanaugh ended up not coming. She of course, has been hearing arguments for over a year. But everything has been delayed because of COVID.

And the Supreme Court is actually starting the new term on Monday, and they're going to be for the first time in the majestic chamber. Of course, they haven't been there for a year because of COVID. She actually got to sit in her chair today.

But for these arguments, the Supreme Court had gone through a lot of protocols because of COVID. For instance, there's a reduced audience in the chamber, and lawyers had to test before they came. If they test positive, they're able to call in. So we're not sure what Kavanaugh will do. Maybe he'll call in, of course, he doesn't have to participate in oral arguments.

But the justices did meet privately together on Monday in their conference room, then he tested negative. And even Kavanaugh, he felt well enough this week. He ran in a race. But the justices are being very careful because keep in mind someone like Justice Stephen Breyer, he's 83 years old, so they're taking a lot of precautions.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. That was quite the photo of Justice Kavanaugh in that race. I'm glad to hear though that he is feeling well but this is the world that we live in now and a lot of questions on what we all do with these breakthrough cases. Thank you for the reporting, Ariane, really appreciate it.

We do have more breaking news on the pandemic we want to get to. Pharmaceutical giant, Merck, announcing this morning, it has produced an antiviral pill to treat coronavirus infections. Merck says its clinical trial has shown that the drug cuts the risk of hospitalization and death in half when given the high risk people early in their infections. Merck has now actually stopped its trial and plans to seek emergency use authorization from the FDA as soon as possible because they say of the positive outcomes that they're seeing it would be the first antiviral pill for COVID.

There is also big breaking news on vaccines. The CDC is now reporting that more than 77 percent of adults in the United States have gotten at least one COVID shot. A lot of good news potentially here to discuss with CNN medical analyst, former Baltimore Health Commissioner, it's good to see you Dr. Leana Wen. It's good to see you again Wen, Dr. Wen. I want to get your reaction to this news from Merck. What could be the first antiviral pill for COVID, why would this be important?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes. So this is really big news, Kate. And the reason is that there is one class of therapeutic that's been missing this entire time in the fight against COVID. That's really crucial. And that's the class of medications needed to prevent somebody who is already diagnosed with COVID from progressing to severe illness.

We already have monoclonal antibodies that do this and actually are pretty effective. The problem though, is that they require an infusion or injections. That's really burdensome for the individual, that's burdensome on the healthcare system. It would be a total game changer if somebody when they're diagnosed with mild COVID early on in their treatment, are able to take a pill at home, that relieves the burden on the healthcare system, that also really helps the individual and so Merck is saying so far in their press release, that it looks like their pill of this antiviral reduces the likelihood of hospitalization or death by 50 percent.

So you multiply that across the population of people, and that could really be a game changer. I want to emphasize, though, that this is not a replacement for vaccination. You still really want to get vaccinated to prevent from getting COVID in the first place. But we know that there are breakthrough infections and for people who get breakthrough infections, having the ability to take a pill that then prevents them from getting severely ill. That's really crucial.

BOLDUAN: Yes, this is a treatment. This isn't a preventative, obviously not preventative, this doesn't prevent you from getting an infection. This still needs to be vetted and authorized by the FDA of course. But if it would be, what do you think you'll be telling patients if this is authorized? Who is this best for? Who is -- I mean, there's a lot still to be known. I understand that.


WEN: Right. There's a lot that we don't know, including, is this going to be helpful for people with breakthrough infections? Or is this most helpful for people who are unvaccinated and then are getting ill, something else I would want to look at is can this be used as a prophylaxis as in, if somebody is exposed to let's say, a family member who has COVID? Can they then be taking this pill to prevent them from getting it because they are a close contact? Those are the things that we still would be studying.

But ideally, this would be both used as a prophylaxis, which again, we don't know that it could be. But at least if it could be used as a treatment to prevent the progression to severe illness, it would be a major tool that, by the way, needs to also be coupled with a lot of testing, because you need to be catching people early on in the course of their illness to give this medication.

BOLDUAN: And real quick on this encouraging news on the vaccination front, nearly 200 million American adults have now gotten at least one shot. That's 77.3 percent of adults in the United States. Let's assume -- you have to assume that most of them will get the second shot. What does this indicate to you?

WEN: I think it shows that the efforts as of late, especially with vaccine requirements are really working. It shows up some people need an additional push to get the vaccine. I think we need to do a lot more of that because we know that we not only have the Delta variant to worry about but also potential future variants, we really want to prevent from having another horrible wave as we did with Delta.

So the sooner that we can get people vaccinated by the way also the vaccination rates among 12 to 15 year olds is pretty low. And so we really need to increase the total rate or total number of people vaccinated as much as possible.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Dr. Wen. It's good to see you.

Coming up for us, a dollar is a dollar, right? Maybe not. The retail chain Dollar Tree just announced a major change. It is raising prices in spite of its name. We'll explain, next.



BOLDUAN: The cost of so many everyday items continues to rise as inflation and skyrocketing freight costs are having real and extensive ripple effects. One example, Dollar Tree which sells nearly everything for $1 says it no longer makes economic sense to stick to a $1 price point because of all this. CNN's Matt Egan is joining me now for more. Matt, the supply chain problems they are not going away. They are not short lived as some had, I guess hoped. What are you seeing?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Kate, you know, we don't spend that much time thinking about how the stuff we buy gets on the store shelves or arrives at our front door. But there is this intricate supply chain that really moves goods from point A to point B around the world. And that supply chain is under unprecedented stress right now. There are shortages of worker, shortages of truck drivers, there's price spikes on raw materials, and there's this epic port congestion.

And so those are some of the reasons why Dollar Tree is raising prices. It's selling more stuff for more than $1. It's even testing out some items for 3 and $5. It's citing rising costs, including freight costs, and it's testing out these higher prices at 3 -- up to 3,000 locations around the country. Now, this of course is not just Dollar Tree.

In the last few days alone, we've heard warnings from Nike, Best Buy, I'm sorry, a Bed Bath and Beyond, Sherwin-Williams, Costco is also bringing back purchase limits on toilet paper and paper towels. Except this time it's not because of panic buying, it's because of supply chain turmoil. And all of this is creating sticker shock for everyday Americans. You know there's been double digit price increases in terms of percentages on everything from bacon and televisions, to jewelry.

There was a new report from the government out just this morning showing that we haven't seen inflation this hot since January of 1991. Kate, I think if you put all this together it means that for this holiday shopping season, Americans should expect slower service, higher prices, and fewer options.

BOLDUAN: I mean, bah humbug seriously, Matt. I mean, you mentioned port congestion. We're seeing really how bad freight challenges are getting with these images of shipping containers just waiting to get into the Port of Los Angeles. We're showing some images of it right now to everyone what is going on there.

EGAN: A port congestion is one of the most significant issues facing the global supply chain right now. There are more than 70 container ships stacked up outside of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach just waiting to get unloaded. Not only are there delays in shipping, but it's getting more expensive to ship stuff.