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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Prominent South Carolina Attorney Turns Himself In: Charge with Insurance Fraud, Filing a False Police Report; DC on Alert for Right- Wing Rally Defending Insurrectionists; CDC Predicts Decline in Hospitalizations for First Time Since June; Biden Appeals for Middle Class Support, Tries to Unify Dems in Push to Get Spending Plans Through Congress. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 16:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: A fortress around the Capitol once again.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The fencing is back up, the National Guard is activated, and President Trump is sending support to in insurrectionists. The fears of a January 6 2.0.

Two murders, a hit man and a dead housekeeper. The prominent South Carolina lawyer arrested for arranging his own shooting and appearing in court any minute now.

Plus, President Biden up against his own party when it comes to his agenda.

And Nicki Minaj when it comes to COVID. How the White House is now involved, up ahead.


BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And we start with the national lead. And any minute, we expect the first court appearance for the prom innocent South Carolina lawyer at the center of a series of family tragedies. Alex Murdaugh is now in custody after turning himself in today at the Hampton County jail.

Someone shot and killed his wife and son back in June. But it's not that case that has him behind bars. Murdaugh's attorney admits his client hired a hit man to shoot him in the head so his surviving son could collect $10 million in life insurance. But that murder plot failed and the alleged setup is not even half the story.

CNN's Martin Savidge starts us off from Hampton County, South Carolina.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His life in a scandalous spiral. Prominent South Carolina Attorney Alex Murdoch surrendering to law enforcement to face charges in an alleged murder for hire scheme in which he was the target. A warrant for his arrest detailed the botched murder attempt that was meant to provide his son millions of dollars of life insurance money attorneys say. According to court document, Murdaugh arranged for Curtis Smith, a former client, to shoot and kill him. But the plan failed because the shot wasn't fatal.

Smith has been charged with an assisted suicide, assault and battery, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. So far, he's not entered a plea and has asked for a court-appointed attorney.

And now, another twist. South Carolina law enforcement division announcing the opening of another investigation involving the Murdaughs. The 2018 death of the family's long time housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died in what was described as a trip and fall accident on the Murdoch property.

ERIC BLAND, ATTORNEY FOR MURDAUGH HOUSEKEEPER ESTATE: It was Alex Murdaugh who told the story that she had tripped and fell down the stairs over his dogs. And so, they trusted him.

SAVIDGE: At the time, her death was said to be due to natural causes. But Hampton County coroner Angela Topper told investigators in a letter the decedent's death was not reported to the coroner at the time nor an autopsy performed. On the death certificate, the manner of death was ruled natural, which is inconsistent with injuries sustained in a trip and fall accident. In court filings, the Satterfield family says they reached a partial settlement with Murdaugh for wrongful death but they said they never received the money they say they were due.

Eric Bland is the Satterfield's family attorney.

BLAND: He hand walked in to his best friend and college roommate to bring a lawsuit against himself on behalf of the estate. Now, you know, as a lawyer 33 years, I have never heard that where you encourage somebody and take them to a lawyer who you hand pick and then have that lawyer bring claims against you.

SAVIDGE: This new development in Satterfield's death has Alex Murdaugh struggling with the unsolved death of his wife and son in June, allegations that he stole money from his family's law firm, and his own admission of a decades-long opioid addiction. All of this playing out in a very public downfall.


SAVIDGE (on camera): Pamela, going on right now is a bond hearing inside of the building in what is going to be determined here and not sure if Alex Murdaugh is going to speak or even address the charges of this insurance fraud allegation that's been made against him, but it is quite possible to get bond. Certainly, the attorneys anticipate that and could be out there out on the street again very quickly. It would allow him to return to the drug rehabilitation program he is now under for him opioid addiction. But still, the many threads for investigators to follow and so many things to know, not the least of which is, who killed his Alex Murdaugh's wife and son and why? Pamela?

BROWN: Those are the key questions. Martin Savidge, thank you so much, from rainy Hampton County, South Carolina.

Now, I want to bring in Susan Williams. She's a criminal defense attorney and a former assistant state attorney prosecutor in South Carolina.

Susan, great to have you on.

So Murdaugh turned himself in more than 24 hours after his attorney predicted he would. Why wasn't he arrested once it became clear to authorities he was involved in this life insurance scheme?


SUSAN WILLIAMS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think the hesitation and the arrest could be that his attorneys were arranging possibly him turning himself in.

BROWN: OK. So let's just look at the larger picture here, Susan. There are now five deadly cases tied to the Murdaugh family. There's the reopened 2015 hit and run case that killed a teen. In 2018, a housekeeper dies in the Murdaugh family home. There's that 2019 voting crash involving Murdaugh's son Paul that killed a young girl. And then this past June Paul is shot and killed with his mother Margaret. And this is all before Alex Murdaugh hired the alleged hit man a few weeks ago.

What do you make of all of these connections?

WILLIAMS: So what I go back and make a small correction. It was actually Steven Smith, the young teen, was in 2015.

What I make of it is a lot of dead bodies that are in some way associated to the Murdaugh family and what's troubling the me is that what I hate about this is these are real deaths, the ones we just mentioned. Alex is playing games, faking his death, blaming them on opioids which is not a defense and these people are friends and family that are still grieving them and these are real deaths, real people.

BROWN: Uh-huh. And just to be clear we did say it correctly, 2015. The first thing noted on there. The attorney representing the estate of the housekeeper who died in 2018 told CNN Alex Murdaugh still has the influence over the prosecutor's office in Hampton County. Let's take a listen to that.


BLAND: He's also a part time solicitor. If he decides to be on the prosecution side he walks into an office, hand picked the select -- his successor Duffie Stone, who was a classmate of mine, a very good attorney. But don't kid yourself, this is a Murdaugh office.


BROWN: Murdaugh's father and grandfather prosecutors in the same office, now handling Alex Murdaugh's case. I mean, given this history, do you expect this case to be moved out of this jurisdiction?

WILLIAMS: Well, we know the attorney general's office is handling this case as opposed to the Hampton County solicitor's office which is like the district attorney's office in other states. So I believe that that portion, who the prosecutor is, has been cleared up. The jurisdiction, that would be something that his attorneys would make a motion to change jurisdiction if they believe that's necessary, but I think having the attorney general handle this rather than the solicitor, the solicitor's bowed out of this, has recused himself after consulting ethics professionals. So I believe that it's heading in the right direction.

BROWN: So you have the attorney insisting that the client did not kill his wife and son. And believes a suspect will be revealed soon. He said this appears to be, quote, personal. Do you see a strategy in saying that in an interview on national TV?

WILLIAMS: I do see a strategy in that. That is it's making them sound like they're in control of the prosecution. He does say it with a caveat. Alex's attorney said it with a caveat saying we not the South Carolina law enforcement division but it is like, hye, we are the ones driving this. I think that that's a point that he wanted to make on national TV when the reality is South Carolina law enforcement division or other investigating agencies are the ones who are investigating.

BROWN: And then explain away the hiring of the hit man because that's a whole another part of this web, right? Murdaugh's attorney blames others for feeding his claims, opioid addiction for the last 20 years. The attorney said in the statement, quote, one of those individuals took advantage of the mental illness and agreed to shoot him in the head.

Do you think Murdaugh's team is trying to blame his drug use to build up some kind of mental health or insanity plea here?

WILLIAMS: I believe that Murdaugh's defense team is doing everything they can to make Alex appear to be a victim. Alex ingested these drugs voluntarily. No one made him do it and they are trying to provide some type of mitigation but it is not a defense. Opioid addiction is a very serious thing but not a defense to criminal offenses. I also noticed that they said the hit man didn't try to stop Alex from shooting him.


The hit man which, by the way, was not a very good shot could not for the life of him, no pun intended, kill Alex Murdaugh. I don't understand how all of these things -- everything seems to be someone else's fault.

BROWN: Yeah. I mean, just bizarre, at the very least.

Susan Williams, thank you for providing your analysis for us.

WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me.

BROWN: And law enforcement is bracing for violence at the U.S. Capitol as former President Donald Trump sends a message of support to insurrectionists.

Plus, one source telling CNN it is crisis after crisis at Homeland Security. At the same time, the department is faced with infighting and top officials heading for the exits. The details just ahead.

Stay with us.


BROWN: In our politics lead, fencing around the Capitol building is back up and local airports are bulking up security, all ahead of a right wing protest planned for this Saturday.


The event is called Justice for J6, organized by a former Donald Trump campaign staffer, in support of the insurrectionists charged in the deadly January 6 Capitol riot. Now, as CNN's Ryan Nobles reports, the Department of Homeland Security is warning local officials there might be violence the day before the rally.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a sign of the times, workers quickly erecting a massive temporary fence around the United States Capitol, turning what was once the most accessible and public landmark in Washington into an impenetrable fortress, all for a rally this Saturday that organizers concede might not even draw 1,000 people.

MATT BRAYNARD, JUSTICE FOR J6 RALLY ORGANIZER: The official number we put down is 700.

NOBLES: The intense security posture is the by-product of the very event these protesters are coming to Washington for. The January 6 insurrectionist, something security officials did not see coming and were unprepared to handle. They promised Capitol Hill leadership that this time, things will be different.

CHIEF TOM MANGER, UNITED STATES CAPITOL POLICE: We just briefed them about the demonstration scheduled for September 18, just the intelligence information that we're aware of and about our operational plan, about what we plan to do.

NOBLES: The Capitol Police are not taking any chances, in part because this group is coming to call for the release of hundreds of people charged with the role on that deadly day. The TSA is ramping up security at airports, the National Guard and local D.C. police have been asked to be on stand by. There are worries some protesters may be armed and could be inspired

by GOP lawmakers like Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz and Andrew Clyde, who despite being among those under attack on January 6 now empathize with the rioters.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): This overthrows the government fetish that exists. I don't understand it except there's a lot of bored people out there that probably never served in a day in their life in the military and a get to play dress up.

NOBLES: Not one sitting Republican member of Congress is scheduled to attend. A few GOP candidates challenging Republicans who voted to impeach Trump will be there, and one congressman, Ralph Norman, will speak at an event hundreds of miles away in in his home state of South Carolina.

Still, that is not enough for some in Congress who believe both Republicans and Democrats should be speaking with a common voice and denouncing those that seek to excuse the conduct of those that participated in the January 6 riot.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): I think the Capitol will be protected but I find any elected official that doesn't call out and denounce these protesters tomorrow I think does a great disservice to our country.


NOBLES (on camera): And one person not expected to play a role on Saturday is the former President Donald Trump. He will not be in attendance and offered support for those arrested for the role in the January 6 insurrection saying they're being subject to what he called a two tiered justice system and he also said, quote, that our hearts and minds are with the people persecuted, so unfairly relating to the January 6 protest concerning the rigged presidential election.

Once again, Pam, the former president peddling this big lie about the election results. That's part of why law enforcement are so concerned about what could happen here. This is just stoking the tensions on what is already a day that has them concerned -- Pam.

BROWN: Right, absolutely is. Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.

And let's discuss with Jonathan Wackrow, CNN law enforcement analyst and former secret service agent.

Jonathan, nice to see you. So, DHS today is warning about violence the day before the rally. How

concerned are you that this could get out of control?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, listen. Any time that DHS puts out a warning like any law enforcement entity, you have to action off of it, right? So, what they're looking at right now is current intelligence also known as first phase reporting. This is a quick turnaround of time sensitive intelligence reporting and supports the security mitigation that we're seeing going into place right now around the Capitol. So these threats right now should not be taken lightly whatsoever.

Even though the event organizers called for peaceful nonviolent event and DHS and law enforcement actually hasn't specifically called out if any direct threats have been presented or seen, we still have to take this event very seriously from a security standpoint, and you'll put law enforcement in all of their mitigation in place in advance because we saw what the consequences were when we are not prepared on January 6th.

BROWN: Right. So, now, clearly, law enforcement doesn't want to make that same request. Capitol police make requests to the Department of Defense for assistance from the D.C. National Guard, and CNN has learned that D.C. Police will be fully activated.


Could the fact that there's so much law enforcement attending to this event create its own set of issues?

WACKROW: Well, listen, there's a couple dynamics here. What we're at risk of is what I refer to as the protection paradox and the risk to undertake a significant amount of effort to build up a security structure. We deploy the resources, we incur significant amount of expense and then nothing happens, but that's okay, and here's why. We have to take the measures because we know that we have an unmitigated threat out there. It may not manifest itself on Saturday. But we have to have this show of force.

We have to understand that law enforcement since January 6 is no longer assessing the likelihood that any group that these types of groups will engage in acts of violence. We know that they will. We saw it. There's video of it.

So, we have to be prepared for that and if we're over-prepared and nothing happens, that is okay. We have to send a signal we are going to stand by our law enforcement, our intelligence and protect these critical assets no matter what.

BROWN: All right. Jonathan Wackrow, thank you so much.

WACKROW: Thank you.

BROWN: And while the President Trump -- former President Trump, I should say, backs the insurrectionists Republican leadership has yet to condemn the upcoming rally. We're going to talk about that and politics, next.



BROWN: Welcome back.

Topping our politics lead, anxiety is growing on Capitol Hill today as former President Trump endorses Saturday's right wing rally in support of the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol on January 6. Let's discuss all of this with our panel.

And, Ramesh, I'm going to start with you, Ramesh Ponnuru. I think it's no surprise, right, that former President Trump is coming out with a statement to again put out the big lie, but you have no sitting member of Congress to be attending the rally as of now. And in the statement, you have the former president saying, our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6 protest concerning the rigged presidential election. Obviously, again, the election wasn't rigged.

But will his nod of approval change attendance do you think?

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I think most Republican congressmen want to steer clear of this. You know, obviously, there are different camps among the Republicans how they feel about President Trump but a pretty large contingent of them understand that this sort of thing is not helpful to them as a party, but don't want to take him on. So, just their basic attitude towards Trump is wishing he'd go away, not wanting to do anything themselves to do -- to make that happen. That's the way they're treating this rally.

BROWN: Which could be part of the reason why you don't have anyone in Republican leadership condemning this rally yet. But how much of a political liability is it for the GOP, Chris?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: So, there's a scene in "The Simpsons" where Homer Simpson goes back to college. I'll get there. He goes back to college and has an exam he didn't study for and the plan is to hide under the pile of coats and it will work out.

That's basically the Republican leadership. Like we're going to pretend, to Ramesh's point, we're going to pretend nothing's happening. Saturday, I haven't heard. Not fully briefed on that. I don't.

I mean, so, you know, that's what they're doing here. And the reason is exactly what Ramesh said, because, of course, they think this is a bad idea. They know -- they have seen the people that spoke at the January 6, Stop the Steal rally, Mo Brooks of the world, and how they have come under fire for that.

At the same time, they are deathly afraid of Donald Trump. They just are. They don't want a -- I was going to say a tweet. That doesn't exist anymore from him. A statement from his -- basically the same thing -- a statement from his leadership PAC that says, fill in the blank member of Congress is a terrible RINO for not backing this, right?

So, it's keep your head as low as possible, hide under the couch, hope no one notices and hope Sunday comes and we're talking about something else, which isn't leadership, by the way.

(CROSSTALK) BROWN: -- more important to press them on this and what they actually think about it. Where are the Mitch McConnells of the world right now? What do they think?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is striking and also not striking at all, how quiet these Republican officials who do have a voice in the party have been about the event coming up on Saturday.

But at the same time, I'm reminded why we have touched on this point earlier and why they are behaving this way and not condemning this rally, not forcefully condemning the insurrection. And it's because of Donald Trump's continuing influence on the party.

And there was a striking revelation from my colleagues at "The Washington Post", Bob Woodward and Bob Costa, their book that's coming out soon. There's one anecdote in there that said, then President Trump got so angry at Kevin McCarthy when McCarthy at the immediate aftermath of the January 6 insurrection said Donald Trump did bear some responsibility for what happened at the Capitol and that just set off the former president.

You have seen McCarthy make furious amends since because they believe that he is one of the ways that they're going to win back the majority and they can't afford to make them angry. But they're kind of competing with these political imperatives, but also not quite -- you know, also have kind of a moral imperative to condemn what is going on in their own party.


BROWN: The moral imperative, where -- where is the moral imperative? That is the question.

You do have, I should note, Republicans like Adam Kinzinger who have been very outspoken against, for example, the January 6 rioters. He is, of course, one of two Republicans on the January 6 select committee.

Let's listen to what he had to say.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): This overthrows the government fetish that exists. I don't understand it except there's a lot of bored people out there that probably never served a day in their life in the military and get to go play dress-up.


BROWN: So, Ashley Allison, what do you think? Do you think there is an overthrow the government fetish as Adam Kinzinger argues there?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. There's a disconnect with reality. We know Joe Biden won the election, and these folks are showing up because on January 6th there was a group of people who wanted to overthrow our government and did not believe what voters decided to do. They're coming back on Saturday to make the point a second time.

This is not the first time a rally has a reunion, so to speak. It happened in Charlottesville, neo-Nazis march in the street, and came back to unite the right.

The thing that's so disgusting to me is that Republicans who will not condemn the attendees or the rallies are the same ones blasting the Biden administration about Afghanistan.

And when I look at the people who come on Saturday, I draw very close parallels to the Taliban. They are people who don't have respect for democracy. They are people who don't have respect for diverging ideas. And that is what people on January 6th did for, and that is what people who will come on Saturday.

And if you're a Republican and Democrat and you won't condemn, shame on you and people should take them on in the primary.

And Donald Trump, they should not be afraid of Donald Trump. I know it's hard to say, but we have to have leadership in this Republican Party and stand up or we are going to be in a cycle of this.

BROWN: I just want to point out, that's a very extreme example to equate them to the Taliban, obviously, a very oppressive, violent regime.

But go ahead.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: If you care about the Republican Party -- and I want to defer a little to Ramesh on this -- but if you care about the Republican Party, you should want to people to come out and say this isn't us. This ain't it. That's the problem.

If the core of the Republican Party going forward -- and I mean the base of the Republican Party -- is founded on an idea that the 2020 election was stolen, that's -- we're not talking about smaller government, less taxes, you know, what trade should look like, what immigration should look like. I mean, if that's the -- if the basis of the party is a lie, right, going forward, that's the thing that unites them, that core is fundamentally hollow.

So you can be afraid of Donald Trump, but in the long run, there's no "there" there at the center of the party.

BROWN: You can say there's no "there" there, but look at the poll. I want to get your reaction to. A new CNN poll found 70 percent of Republicans believe Biden did not win the 2020 election. You have seen that number creep up from January to now, and a constant there is Donald Trump pushing that lie.

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, it's the combination of Trump pushing it and other people not pushing back against it. Then it becomes -- it's not a literal belief, but it's a signifier of tribal loyalty. This is how I tell the pollster and through the pollster, everybody, I'm with the Republicans, I'm not with Democrats. I'm not with Joe Biden. I don't think it's just fear that is keeping the Republicans silent. I

think there's also a judgment in the case of, let's say, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. His view is that Trump thrives on conflict. You're giving him oxygen when you attack him. You need to ignore him.

And, obviously, it doesn't seem to matter in terms of making Trump happy. Trump will denounce McConnell, even though McConnell won't say his name. But that's the strategic view that McConnell has.

KIM: I want to underscore, as someone who loves the capital, spend so much of my time there. I mean, there's so many staffers, reporters, capitol police officers who are still very much dealing with the trauma of what happened on January 6th, and so for us to kind of have to go through this exercise again and preparing for this rally, and the officers have been so wonderful in making sure that they are on guard on Saturday. It's just a very heartbreaking scene. Seeing the fencing go back up in the capitol --


BROWN: Very important point. I'm very glad you mentioned that, Seung Min. You think about the families of those who died by suicide or died from the insurrection, it's just -- it's just awful.

All right. Thank you guys so much.

A looming meeting could decide whether you'll get a booster shot or not. I'm going to talk to Dr. Sanjay Gupta up next.



BROWN: And we are back with our health lead. And finally, some good news when it comes to controlling the coronavirus pandemic. A CDC forecast now predicts new daily hospitalizations will decline between today and October 11th. It is the first time the CDC has forecasted such a decrease since the end of June, and we welcome that.

Joining me now to discuss is CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Great to see you as always, Sanjay.


BROWN: What do you make of the CDC forecast? Has the U.S. finally gotten a handle on the delta variant? What does it mean?

GUPTA: Yeah, I mean, it's encouraging, for sure. I mean, we've seen cases go down already, you know, to come extent, and we know that a few weeks behind that, the hospitalizations typically go down, and then after that, deaths.

[16:40:08] So even though hospitalizations, we can show you, they're really high still. I mean, that's the thing. We're coming down from a very high peak of a hundred thousand or so hospitalizations. But, if they continue to go down, that would be critically important. We are still averaging about 150,000 cases per day as well. So that's one of the concerns.

Now, I do want to say, we talk about these numbers sort of the for the country as a whole, but if you split it up and look at what's been happening in different regions in the country, you do see a more complete picture, where I am in the south, for example, that's the bright orange line at the top, red line. It's been much higher than the Midwest, the West, but the Northeast.

There's been some concern as the weather gets cooler and drier in the Northeast, a place that has been less hit by this, they may have surges still to come, Dr. Gottlieb talked about that, but nothing like what we've seen in the last few months.

BROWN: Yeah, that is the question about further surges, the fact that if the unvaccinated don't start getting a shot, could this forecast be wrong and hospitalizations keep surging?

GUPTA: Yeah, I think that is the fundamental question, and I would say -- I would add to that, how much immunity do we have in the country? So, from immunizations but also from natural immunity. No one is saying going out and getting infected is a strategy, but there are a lot of people who have been infected.

Take a look at the U.K. what happened. You know, sort of similar. There are a few weeks ahead of us. You saw that sort of near the right side of the screen, and then it came down very quickly after that, but then started to go back up.

You know, luckily hospitalizations have still been low, so cases going up but hospitalizations haven't been going up proportionately. You still have a lot of cases there. You know, they had Freedom Day, July 11, there was Euro Sport, all these chances for the virus to spread even more, and I think we're seeing the consequences of that.

I think the big question, Pamela, as you asked initially, is what is the impact on hospitals. If you see cases go up but you're not seeing corresponding hospitalizations, that obviously is a better sign.

BROWN: I just want to go back to the natural immunity question, because I still talk to people who say they were infected with COVID, they haven't gotten the vaccine even though it's recommended that they get the vaccine, but how long does that natural immunity last where we can factor it in to sort of a herd immunity, like you were just pointing out? I mean, even if you have to get vaccinated again, does it still go towards herd immunity?

GUPTA: Yeah. I mean, you know, if you can -- if you can make sure that your immunity is durable, meaning lasting a long time, that would go towards the broader protection, the herd immunity for the country or the society. It's a really challenging question, in part because of the fact that we have not been testing that much in the country. Like, if I were to ask a simple question -- how many people in the country, how many people in the United States have had COVID? We cannot answer that question.

If I were to ask, how many people have antibodies? What percent of the country have antibodies? You could guess. You could model that, but I don't think we would have a clear cut answer. So how protected with people who had COVID, for example, at the beginning of the year? How protected are they now?

I don't think people know the answer, because the testing hasn't been there to verify. They still have antibodies, still have levels of protection. I think that's part of the reason you say get vaccinated, because at least that's something that's been studied. And I think what a lot of docs tell me is if you have had COVID, it's worth getting one shot of the vaccine, so you got the COVID as your prime and a shot of the vaccine would sort of be your boost.

BROWN: Right, because you don't know when the antibodies will wane. You can't bank on previous infection.

All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

BROWN: Well, infighting in the Biden administration is apparently leading to frustration and holding up decisions, all amid multiple crises. That's next.



BROWN: In our politics lead, President Biden this afternoon tried again to get middle class voters and congressional Democrats behind his multitrillion dollar spending plans.

But as Jeff Zeleny reports, he has to overcome everything from squabbling moderates and progressives to a rapper spreading vaccine misinformation to millions of her fans.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden making an aggressive push for his economic agenda.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's not squander this moment.

ZELENY: Pressuring Democrats to resolve their differences to pass a $3.5 trillion plan of the administration's top priorities. From addressing climate change to expanding the nation's social safety net, with free preschool, community college, and more.

BIDEN: I believe we're at an inflection point in this country. One of those moments where the decisions we're about to make could literally change the trajectory of our nation for years and possibly decades to come.

ZELENY: Some moderate Democrats are resisting the cost and scope of the proposal, which the president suggests paying for by raising taxes on the wealthiest of Americans.

BIDEN: We're going to continue in an economy where the overwhelming share of benefits go to the corporations and the wealthy, or are we going take this moment right now to set this country on a new path?


ZELENY: The Biden budget calls for increasing the rate on the top 1 percent of earners, from 37 percent to 39.6 percent. Under the plan, the top corporate rate would raise to 25 percent from 21 percent.

The White House is lock in the a battle of misinformation on COVID-19, this time with rapper Nicki Minaj who has more than 100 million followers on Twitter and Instagram.

The singer of "Starships" and other hits has raised unfounded doubts about the safety of vaccinations.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We offered a call with Nicki Minaj and one of our doctors to answer questions she had about the safety and effectiveness to the vaccine.

ZELENY: Administration officials told CNN they did not offer Minaj a White House visit, like she claimed on Twitter, but sought downplay any controversy with the star.

PSAKI: We don't see this as a point of tension or disagreement. Our hope is that anyone who has a big platform is going to project accurate information.


ZELENY (on camera): So, the White House clearly concern about the big mega phone from stars like Nicki Minaj. But for the president's point, he took his aim today at Republican governors who are threatening to impose fines on local officials who impose vaccine mandates. The president, Pamela, called that the worst kind of politics.

BROWN: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for that.

And turning to our politics lead, also -- infighting in the Biden administration surrounding how to deal with two huge crises, the border surge and massive influx of the Afghan refugees, which sources tell CNN is leading to frustration among top officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

Joining us is CNN's Priscilla Alvarez.

So, tell us, what is behind this beef within the Biden administration, Priscilla?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This boils down to too many cooks in the kitchen. There's disagreement between factions of the administration. There's moderates and progressives on the issue of immigration and managing the U.S./Mexico border and that leaves little room sometimes for solutions and decisions. Now, a DHS spokesperson told me they encourage candid and fulsome debate and we pride ourselves in inviting and considering different points of view.

But sources tell me it's paralysis and exhaustion as they work through the many challenges that have on their plate.

BROWN: But you also have amid all this big ruling today by a federal judge stopping a Trump era policy that the Biden administration extended.

ALVAREZ: This is significant. This is a policy that allowed authorities on the U.S./Mexico boarder to turn back migrants who they encounter. This is related to the coronavirus pandemic. It was actually put in place in March of last year.

Now, what this judge said is that migrant families can no longer be subjected to this. Now, the administration than including families in this by allowing them into the United States, but still significant as they face increasing number of migrant at the border. In august, there were over 208,000 migrants encountered. That is slightly down from July when it was 213,000, but still, over 200,000, and that's significant. Some of the migrants are repeat crossers, but as we're seeing at the border, this is still pressing for the administration.

BROWN: Yeah, and with those numbers, you have Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott shutting down six points of entry along the southern border. Can he do that?

ALVAREZ: We've asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection if they asked for assistance, if this is something that the governor could do. We have not yet received a response, but the point of entry is not where these migrants are coming through. They're coming between the points of entry. They're crossing illegally.

So, it doesn't solve the problem to do that. That's where the CBP says they're increasing manpower and were with DHS and local agencies to try to get a handle on the situation.

BROWN: All right. Priscilla Alvarez, thanks for bringing us the latest there at DHS.

Meantime, the first space crew entirely made up of tourists now orbiting Earth. We've got an update on their mission up next.



CROWD: Five, four, three, two, one!


(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: In our out of this world lead, we just got word from SpaceX that the very first all tourist, no astronaut crew orbiting earth as we speak is doing well. They are, quote, healthy, happy and resting comfortably.

Before getting some shut eye, they rocked around earth five and a half times. That lucky crew of four includes a physician's assistant, a billionaire, a community college teacher, and a Lockheed Martin employee.

And here's a look at where they are now, traveling over the Atlantic. A lofty 575 kilometers or 360 miles above the planet. That's higher than the Hubble telescope and the International Space Station.

And check out their stellar view from the top of their ship dubbed the Dragon, which they get to soak in another two days before splashing back down to Earth. Pretty incredible.

I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

You can follow me on Twitter @PamelaBrownCNN or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN.

And our coverage on CNN continues right now.