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At This Hour

NYC Biz Group Says, Companies Blindsided by Private Sector Vax Mandate; Biden and Putin Hold Critical Call Amid Ukraine Tensions; Justice Department Sues Texas, Says Redistricting Maps Discriminate. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 07, 2021 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: You've been critical of this announcement coming from the mayor. You said you were blindsided. So, 24 hours later, have you gotten more clarity? Are you more comfortably with the mandate now?

KATHRYN WYLDE, PRESIDENT AND CEO, PARTNERSHIP FOR NEW YORK CITY: Yes. I think we represent employers who have tried very hard for almost a year to get their employees vaccinated by encouraging them in positive ways. This has been a very tough time for employees and particularly for those who have to be in the workplace to do their job.

So, remote workers can work from anyplace and they don't have to get vaccinated and come back into the office to be able to do their job. But there's a whole group of employees, and they tend to be in lower- wage jobs who have to be present in the retail sector and in many other sectors, the health care sector.

And employers are respectful of those employees. 90 percent of them are vaccinated, and that's from our surveys, but there are still a group of holdouts. And to give them three weeks to get their first shot in the holiday season is a lot to expect. And employers are concerned about that. They were surprised by the mandate. I will say in response to our concerns expressed yesterday in the media, we have communicated with the deputy mayor. We are getting positive feedback in terms of wanting input on their policies. We are still concerned about some aspects of those policies.

BOLDUAN: Do you think there is going to be a negative impact on businesses with this mandate? Because de Blasio was asked about your criticisms just this morning on CNN, and he says that we've talked to business leaders for months about the reality of delta, and he said the feedback they have gotten is that, what businesses tell him, one, when the government acts it makes it easier for businesses to act. Do you see it that way?

WYLDE: The reference there was to the federal government. Yes, we have had those conversations over the past year-and-a-half and suggested when government acts, particularly the federal government, and when government acts in unison, de Blasio's mandate is different from President Biden's mandate. It's different from the state policies. So, he's coming in sow unity between the levels of government. And one message from the public health community is very important to employers. And, yes, it is helpful to them to have a clear government direction.

Unfortunately, this is a mandate without any specifics about enforcement, about compliance. And, bizarrely, it doesn't allow for a testing alternative, which has become standard practice for those individuals who can't or won't get vaccinated, that have to be in the workplace. Most employers are accommodating them by doing regular, even daily testing to make sure that they are well and can be in the workplace. That's not allowed.

And the other piece of this is requiring that children between 5 and 11 years old be vaccinated. This is particularly serious during the holiday season, whether it's for Broadway or retail stores or for our cultural institutions. They have a lot of international tourists that are coming from countries that don't have vaccinations for children under 12 years of age.

So, what happens with them? These institutions that depend on tourism, on international tourists, are getting calls saying, we're canceling our trip, we won't be there. This is going to put another blow to our economy.

So, there are issues here that could have been discussed before the mandate was issued, hopefully resolved in a positive way, and that now we're trying to work with city hall to make sure they're resolved going forward. So, this is not a further setback.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Clarity is clearly needed, from your perspective. Let's see if that actually comes. Kathryn Wylde, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the world awaits details of President Biden's call with Vladimir Putin as Russia amasses troops at Ukraine's border. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee joins me next.



BOLDUAN: At this hour, President Biden remains in the White House situation room meeting virtually with Russian President Vladimir Putin. So far, the two have been walking for more than 90 minutes amid growing concerns, Russia is planning to invade Ukraine.

Joining me now is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. Mr. Chairman, thanks for being here.

Best case, what do you think comes out of this call today between Biden and Putin?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, best case is tensions are calmed and Putin backs down from any intention of invading in Ukraine and at least gives it more time.


And that's what President Biden is trying to do, is to convince Vladimir Putin that the cost of taking this action is greater than he wants to pay. That's why it's so important that we get our allies on board, that we have the sanctions ready to go and in place, and that President Putin realizes that this is not the choice to take. And that's what President Biden is trying to do. It could not be a more important mission.

BOLDUAN: What then is worst case? What would be a failure coming out of this conversation today?

SMITH: Well, I think, in that case, it's pretty straight forward. I mean, worst case is if the invasion happens. Best case is if it doesn't. And that's where we're at is we've seen the buildup, we've seen the rhetoric, we've seen a lot of the pretexts that Russia had been putting them out, getting them to back down, you know, is the best case. Worst case is if it goes the other way. And what's somewhere in between is that we continue to live in some ambiguity going forward as to exactly what Russia is going to do. The best case is makes it clear this crisis has passed. I don't think we're going to get there, but if we can ramp the tensions down, that would be an enormous positive step.

BOLDUAN: How do you do that? How do you thread that needle, of course, is a big question today. Do you think the threat of U.S. military intervention should remain on the table if the threat of Russian military action in Ukraine remains?

SMITH: Well, I don't think the threat of U.S. military invasion -- or, sorry, action is really on the table. You know, we've not said that we're going to send a couple hundred thousand troops to Ukraine to fight Russia over there. That is not our position. Our position is that there will be severe economic sanctions and there will be military support to Ukraine in terms of, you know, training and equipment. You know, but we're not threatening that we're going to show up in Eastern Europe.

BOLDUAN: And why do you think that would be counterproductive to have that on there?

SMITH: Well, that's what I was getting to, is how do you thread that needle that you just talked about? I had a conversation with Secretary Austin about this over the weekend, and there is a final line between deterrence and provocation. Look, Russia's basic position on this is that, you know, Ukraine certainly but much of Eastern Europe is within their sphere of influence and that the degree to which that part of the world cozies up to the west, you know, Russia views that as a threat.

Now, I think they're wrong about that. Our position is and should be those countries have a right to ally with who they want to ally with, but that's what's pushing Putin to say he wants to maintain his sphere of influence. So, to the extent that we provoke him and say we're going to put a whole bunch of troops in Ukraine, that just feeds into that fear and it could potentially give him the sense of, well, I've got to do it now. That's why we're not doing that.

We are saying that the cost is going to be too high. We're not coming in. We're not taking over Eastern Europe. We're not taking over Ukraine. We just want them to be free. We want them to make the choices they want to make. And we need to put the economic pressure and the partnership pressure, basically a united front, against Russia to discourage them from taking that military action.

It's a matter of letting those countries make their own choices, not of the U.S., you know, coming in and controlling them. We don't want to do that. Putin is the one who wants to control them. We want them to have the freedom of choice to do what they want to do.

BOLDUAN: CNN has new reporting this morning, Mr. Chairman, that the Pentagon is drawing up and discussing possible evacuation plans for U.S. citizens from Ukraine in the event that the situation there deteriorates. Do you know how far along those discussions are? Should that reflect for everyone how serious the threat of invasion is right now?

SMITH: Well, yes. I mean, it would be irresponsible at this point to not have that plan. I mean, that doesn't mean we think it's a fait accompli and it's going to happen, but it certainly means that we need to be prepared if it does. So, yes, I mean, amongst many factors, that's one that really reflects the incredible seriousness of this situation.

BOLDUAN: The CIA director, William Burns, he spoke at a Wall Street Journal council event, and he said that he didn't know if Putin had made up his mind to use force but that he did think that the security forces in place, they could act in a pretty sweeping way if they wanted to. Do you think -- that's from the CIA director, of course, which is important to hear from him. Do you think Putin has decided what he wants to do and is going do?

SMITH: I don't. I mean, I don't know, obviously. But I think at this point, he's putting all of his options on the table and I would completely agree with the CIA director. I think that's basically where we're at, as Putin has put the options in play. He obviously hasn't ruled it out. But, no, I don't think Putin has made the decision yet, that this is going to happen, which is why it is so crucial that we influence that decision to get him not to do it.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Chairman, thanks for your time. I always appreciate it.

SMITH: Thank you. I appreciate the chance.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it. And they're still in that meeting, in that call as we speak right now.


The Justice Department is suing the state of Texas over maps. Attorney General Merrick Garland accusing the state's redistricting effort as discriminating against black and Latino voters. We're going to discuss this next.


BOLDUAN: The Justice Department is taking the state of Texas to court again, this time over the state's new congressional district maps that the DOJ says intentionally discriminate against black and Latino voters.


Now, Attorney General Merrick Garland says the new map does not recognize the population growth among voters of color in the state, which is part of the reason that the state has earned two new congressional districts.

Joining me now for more on this is Republican Election Attorney Ben Ginsberg. He directed Republican redistricting efforts nationwide following the 1990 census. He also was George W. Bush's Chief Counsel in the 2000 election standoff to. To say, sum up, he knows a thing or two about congressional maps, how to redraw them and how to fight them in court.

Ben, Texas, 95 percent of the state's growth in the last decade is in black and Latino and Asian populations. There was enough there to gain two new congressional seats, yet not a single new district is with the majority of black or Hispanic voters. What do you think of the DOJ's lawsuit here?

BEN GINSBERG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, of all the suits around the country, this is the one where a discriminatory purpose in effect from drawing a map is most likely to come into play. As you -- as you mentioned, the white and Latino population in Texas is now even. The growth is largely Latino. Latinos are unlikely to be able to vote for candidates of their choice, which is legal standard, and, in fact, the largest populations in the state around Dallas and Houston have been split up. So, that will be the -- the basis of the case, and it -- it's a case that -- that has some merit.

BOLDUAN: Well, there's much more to come on that, but this also gets to kind of a bigger problem and fear that I wanted to also ask you about, as written in The Atlantic by Barton Gellman. Like, essentially, January 6th, the real attempt to steal -- to steal an election, the January 6th was just practice. Let me play for you what he said on New Day this morning.


BARTON GELLMAN, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: The traditional way of trying to cheat in an election is suppressing the votes of people you don't like, and the Republicans are doing that with 34 changes of law in 19 states, but now they are also changing the rule of who counts the vote. If you're in charge of who counts the vote, then anything is possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: I mean, I was thinking, Ben, you formed a legal defense network for election officials who are threatened because you're so concerned about kind of the what's next is possible. How worried are you about what is setting up to happen next after January 6th, after what we saw in the 2020 election?

GINSBERG: Well, I mean, pretty worried. Certainly, there's more reason to worry than we've had at any other point in the country's history, and that's because there are multiple things going on at once. The laws in the states are both designed to take the power of counting votes away from election administrators, the professionals and giving it to the pall. That can create a vote that basically overturns what the people said when they cast their ballots.

There's another set of laws, which is why we formed the legal defense network, that are designed to try and criminalized the activities of elections officials just for doing their jobs, and that's combined with threats and intimidation to those same election officials, and that has a really deleterious and harmful effect on the ability of a system to tabulate votes fairly so that all the all the people actually have faith in the results.

What Bart Gellman is talking about is another aspect of it as well. That goes to things like the way Congress would judge the Electoral College votes in a state. So, you combine all of those different facets together with the electoral attempts to instill partisan election officials in office, and you've got a -- you've got a mix that you have to be really careful about.

BOLDUAN: Well, getting to something you laid out recently in the few seconds we have left, that you think can be done to kind of remove at least some of the threat to democracy is fix -- fix the final end around with the electoral count on January 6, fix the Electoral Count Act of 1886 then. What is that going to do in short?

GINSBERG: Well, this gets into a little legal nerd talk, Kate, but the answer is that there's a disputed election, a dispute sets of electors from the different states and that comes to Congress. The procedures from there are a muddle. People on the left and the right agree that the law is antiquated and unclear.


And so it just makes sense from any party, from both parties' perspective, to fix the law so the rules are clear.

Republicans use the Electoral Count Act offensively, as we saw on January 6th, but the dynamics are going to be different the next time aren't, right? A Democrat, Kamala Harris is the vice president, Trump is no longer the president, you don't know who is going to be controlling Congress in January of 2025. It is an uncertain situation for both parties and a completely ambiguous law that will just be a devil's workshop if it ever comes into the necessary tool to decide who won.

BOLDUAN: And a lot more to discuss on that one. I really appreciate your time today. Thanks, Ben.

GINSBERG: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next, Inside Politics with John King after a break.