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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Agenda Hangs in the Balance as Dem Infighting Rages On; Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) is Interviewed About the Infrastructure Vote Tomorrow; Pentagon Leaders Face New Round of Intense Questioning; Taliban Threaten Musicians, Forcing Music Shops. Closer Look at Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema's Journey; Vast Majority of Health Care Workers Comply With Vaccine Mandate; Attorney: Laundrie Bought a New Phone Before Disappearing. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 29, 2021 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All they need is a number. How hard can it be?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Democrats are locked in a multitrillion-dollar staring contest and, quote, nobody wants to blink, just hours before the big vote on infrastructure. Right now, it looks as though progressives will tank. It may all come down to White House meetings with one key senator.

And -- who is that? Well, it's Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema, now at the center of the negotiations and essentially in control of whether Biden's agenda will live or die. We'll take a closer look at the marathon-running, barrier breaking, Green Partier-turned-moderate.

Plus, the harsh new reality under Taliban rule. CNN visited musicians who are shutting down in fear of a pending ban on music. Stay with us.


Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start today with our politics lead and the state of negotiations on Capitol Hill changing seemingly by the minute. The two massive Democratic priorities still hanging in the balance. And today, White House staff is meeting with moderate Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema for the fourth time in the last day. They're trying to figure out exactly what centrists such as she need to support the large spending bill that will expand social safety net programs such as Medicare and child care. Progressives want an agreement with Sinema and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin by tomorrow or they will tank the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Manchin telling CNN's Manu Raju, no way is it going to be ready by then.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She said that they need by tomorrow legislative language agreed to --

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): That won't happen, that won't happen.


TAPPER: This is about much more, of course, than just Democratic Party infighting, including in this bipartisan infrastructure bill which is still scheduled for a vote tomorrow. It's money to upgrade the nation's crumbling roads and bridges, modernize public transit with new buses and trains, expand access to broadband Internet and make it more affordable, repair airports and update water systems to eliminate lead pipes and give communities clean drinking water. All of this is legislation that would affect you.

Our teams are covering every angle from Capitol Hill to the White House.

Let's start with CNN's Kaitlan Collins and the White House's latest calculations on how to get this all done.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A last-minute attempt to salvage President Biden's domestic agenda is now under way.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're obviously at a precarious and important time in these discussions.

COLLINS: Biden canceling a planned trip to Chicago today as his top legislative aides headed for Capitol Hill to meet with a key Democratic holdout, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

Does the president feel the progressives can trust Manchin and Sinema?

PSAKI: I'm not going to speak for what they think they require to get the vote across the finish line.

COLLINS: Senator Sinema and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin have yet to say what price tag they'll get behind when it comes to the massive social policy and climate change package, frustrating their progressive colleagues.

REP. MARK POCAN (D-WI): If someone won't show you their cards you don't know what you're doing. And that's the real problem. We need Manchinema to do their jobs.

COLLINS: Without a firm commitment that moderates are a yes on both plans, progressive Democrats are threatening to vote no on the separate infrastructure bill tomorrow. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on the Senate to have an agreement in place within 24 hours.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We come to a place where we have agreement in legislative language, not just principle, in legislative language. COLLINS: But Senator Manchin is rejecting Pelosi's call and telling

CNN, quote, that won't happen.

MANCHIN: All we need to do is pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, sit down and start negotiating in good faith. That's it.

COLLINS: The division among Democrats has led to a last-ditch effort by the president to save his agenda as he struggles to unite his own party.

PELOSI: We're the Democratic Party. We have our differences of opinion.


COLLINS: Of course, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been at the center of all of this, Jake. She is actually about to be here at the White House for a meeting. We just saw the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer arrive as they are trying to get a grasp on where the negotiations stand and really what tomorrow is going to look like, where the past few days really, Jake, have been -- lawmakers at the White House, White House staff up on Capitol Hill, potentially President Biden making a trip to the Hill tomorrow, all of it, Jake, is so fluid that the White House is openly admitting they cannot predict what tomorrow is going to look like.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss from Capitol Hill, Ryan Nobles.

And, Ryan, there's a lot of skepticism and hostility even between these dueling groups, progressives and moderate centrists.


What are you hearing from lawmakers today?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're right about that, Jake. There seems to be I think safe to say a lack of trust between these two groups. And all day long today, progressives have told us that one of the reasons they do not feel comfortable moving forward on this bipartisan infrastructure bill as soon as tomorrow is because they are afraid if they vote yes and that is signed into law that there will be no motivation for moderates to come to the table and bargain around this much broader $3.5 trillion social safety net package.

Pramila Jayapal, who's the leader of the progressive caucus, told me earlier today that she feels as though moderates have backed out of this original deal that put both of these pieces of legislation on a dual track with the idea that Democrats were going to pass them together.

I just caught up with Senator Joe Manchin a few minutes ago and asked him that specifically. Did you back out of a deal that was originally hatched a couple of weeks ago for both of these pieces of legislation to be passed at the same time? He said he was never a part of that deal. He never saw the deal ahead of time and that deal was made without his knowledge.

Now, that's important, Jake, because it shows that not everyone is singing from the same playbook, so to speak. They're not all on the page as it comes to negotiations. And like Senator Manchin told Manu earlier today, he again reiterated to me that there's no chance that there will be any kind of framework around this reconciliation package in time for that vote tomorrow. It's just not going to happen. So it seems very difficult to come up with a scenario by which you'll have everything in place for that vote to take place tomorrow. But so far, Speaker Pelosi has not postponed the vote -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy of Florida. She's the co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition. That's a group of centrist Democrats.

Congresswoman, good to see you again.

So, Speaker Pelosi just told CNN that tomorrow's vote on infrastructure could be delayed if she does not have the votes to pass it, which seems what -- that seems to be the situation. You have said if that happens, if she pulls the vote, it's a, quote, significant breach in trust among Democrats.

Who would be committing that breach? Speaker Pelosi? The progressives? Who?

REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FL): As you may recall, we had a deal with Speaker Pelosi and she put it in a statement that she'd not only put the infrastructure bill up for a vote but also rally the vote for that. And then every single Democrat in the House voted on a rules package that embodied that agreement.

So, we have the commitment of everybody that we are moving forward tomorrow on a vote on infrastructure and it's so important that we do.

It would be a breach of trust with the American people. They've been waiting a long time for this investment into their roads and bridges, clean water, some climate change provisions as well as broadband.

There's so much good in this bill that it must move forward and must have the full support. And I have no doubt that President Biden and Speaker Pelosi, with all their years working on the Hill in the Senate and in the House that they can get this done when they put their shoulder into this and ensure that the votes are there.

TAPPER: Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but the deal that Speaker Pelosi cut was there would be a vote on infrastructure a few days ago, on Monday. Not only a vote but that it would pass.

So the breach has already happened. I guess the question I have it, how much longer are you willing to wait for this vote to happen on infrastructure? What are the members of the house progressive Congress -- Congressman Pocan yesterday told me he thinks this is going to take a couple of weeks to sort out.

MURPHY: You know, Jake, she committed to bringing the bill up by Monday. And so, she did. She committed to that.

We had to debate the bill as is normal practice in the House but the vote needs to take place not just because of the commitment that she had to have the vote tomorrow but also our surface transportation bill runs out tomorrow. And we really cannot leave the American people without the necessary funding for infrastructure across this country. That would be a dereliction of duty.

TAPPER: Well, the progressives are calculating, as I don't need to tell you, but just to explain to our viewers, that the progressives are calculating that this is their moment of leverage. They can force people, like you and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and others to vote for the $3.5 trillion spending bill and social safety net programs by holding the infrastructure bill as a hostage or as a negotiating tool.

You've said that you think that $3.5 trillion bill is too large. Is there a number you're more comfortable with -- $2 trillion, $1.5 trillion?

MURPHY: Let me first be clear that no member of my party has any leverage over my vote. My vote belongs to my constituents and to moving this country forward. And what sits with my conscience.

And so I have always said from the start that this was an ill-fated attempt to leverage your fellow colleagues.


And no matter what happens with the infrastructure bill, that will not make me make choices that are not good for my constituents. And I have provided plenty of detail to leadership as well as the White House as to what programs I think are best suited for achieving the goals around child care, education and health care.

And so, it's not for me to identify a top line. It's for me to tell -- communicate what I am supportive of and then for us all to negotiate and reconcile with other House members, as well as with the Senate and come together on what programs we're going to spend on and how we're going to raise those dollars to pay for them. And that will result in a top line.

TAPPER: So, okay. So you're not going to give me a number, and I understand your answer.

But let me ask you if you think it's too big which is something you have communicated. There too much in there. What would you take out, theoretically?

Because what I hear from progressives is Sinema, Manchin, Murphy, Gottheimer, just tell us -- give us a counteroffer. What's the counteroffer? So, what would you take out?

MURPHY: To be clear, I have provided a counteroffer. And it's not taking out anything.

I think we can still achieve our goals toward child care and education and climate change, which I think is critically important. The question is how.

So I have put forward a laundry list of the climate provisions that I am fully supportive and, oh, by the way, I have also been a huge proponent of the fact that we shouldn't have to pay for the climate provisions because CBO doesn't accurately accommodate the cost of inaction. And I think that that enables us to do a lot of game- changing climate change investments.

Moreover, I think that if you look even at the leadership level, there's not agreement on necessarily how we make the health care changes, even the speaker, the White House and Senate leadership has differences on whether we should shore up the ACA or expand Medicare.

And so these are all decisions that we need to make, but I don't think it's really helpful to negotiate these in the media. What I'd like to see is that we all sit down as adults in the room and talk about the various programs and how best to move forward to achieve these goals in critically important areas for American families.

TAPPER: What do you say to an American watching all of this and thinks to him or herself, you know, we gave Democrats the White House, the House, the Senate, and this is a mess. Nobody is willing to budge. Nobody is willing to compromise. I don't know that Democrats can govern.

What's your response to them?

MURPHY: I think that it's critically important that we demonstrate to the American people that we can govern tomorrow by passing the infrastructure bill and delivering a key component of President Biden's agenda that will have immediate impact. And I think the path to doing that is seeing leadership lean in and ensure that the votes are there.

And also our allies who have a lot at stake also need to be involved -- labor. Labor represents members whose jobs will be created in the passage of this infrastructure bill. And the American people will see new jobs. They will see roads fixed. They will get clean water.

All of those things will demonstrate to the American people that Democrats can govern.

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy of Florida, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

MURPHY: Great to see you.

TAPPER: Just in, the Laundrie family attorney tells CNN that Brian Laundrie bought a new phone right before he vanished. That's ahead.

Plus, just 15 percent of one vulnerable group is vaccinated, only 15 percent. What's -- who is this group? The new warning from the CDC today.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today, round two of the tense questions directed towards three top leaders at the Pentagon. Today, members of the House Armed Services committee got their chance to zero in on the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.


REP. TRENT KELLY (R-MS): Did the strike on August 28th or 29th, the one that killed ten innocents, did it require presidential approval?

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-AL): I'm thinking about the chain of command. Somebody is making decisions about troop levels. And my understanding is it was not the DOD.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Are members of the Haqqani network still a potential target for the United States military?


TAPPER: As CNN's Alex Marquardt reports for us now, several lawmakers also zeroed in on General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his conversations with journalists.


ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A blunt assessment from the nation's top general opening the second day of congressional hearings on the end of the war in Afghanistan.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOIN CHIEFS OF STAFF: It was a tactical operational and logistical success evacuating 124,000 people. The war was a strategic failure.

MARQUARDT: General Mark Milley making clear that after former President Donald Trump lost the election, he ordered an accelerated withdrawal of all U.S. troops before President Joe Biden took office having already agreed with the Taliban to fully withdraw.

MILLEY: On 11 November, I received an unclassified signed order directing the United States military to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by 15 January, 2021. After further discussion regarding the risks associated with such a withdrawal, the order was rescinded.

MARQUARDT: Republican lawmakers went after the apparent contradiction between the generals wanting 2,500 U.S. troops to stay and President Biden telling ABC News he didn't get that advice.

ROGERS: In January of this year, were you of the opinion in your professional military judgment that we should have maintained 2,500 troops, U.S. troops?

MILLEY: Yeah, my assessment that I read in the opening statement, remained consistent. And --

ROGERS: Did that professional military opinion change over the course of the next few months?

MILLEY: Not until the presidential decision and I rendered my opinions, and I know it was a fulsome debate on all of that.


And once decisions are made, then I'm expected to execute a lawful order.

MARQUARDT: Milley was again attacked by Republicans for calls that he made to his Chinese counterpart in October and January. In which, according to the new book "Peril", he told the Chinese that the U.S. would not attack China. That, Milley said, was based on intelligence showing Chinese nervousness.

MILLEY: I said, hell, General Li, I'll probably give you a call, but we're not going to attack you. Trust me. We're not going to attack you. These are two great powers and I'm doing my best to transmit the president's intent, President Trump's intent.

MARQUARDT: After repeated GOP calls for Milley to resign, Congresswoman Liz Cheney apologized to the general for her Republican colleagues.

CHENEY: For any American to question your loyalty to our nation, to question your understanding of our Constitution, your loyalty to our Constitution, your recognition and understanding of the civilian chain of command is despicable.

MARQUARDT: Democrats highlighted the Doha deal that Trump made with the Taliban to be out by May of this year, a deal that saw some 5,000 Taliban prisoners released.

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Those prisoners, many of those prisoners went back to fill the ranks of the Taliban. So they got a lot stronger. They continued their attacks.

MARQUARDT: Now with the Taliban in control, Milley said ISIS, al Qaeda and others have gotten a boost.

MILLEY: The analogy I've used with many others is it likely will put a shot of adrenaline into their arm.


MARQUARDT: General Milley was asked when he knew the war was lost. He wouldn't use that word but knew five or six years ago that there was no military solution. He said it was unwinnable and stalemated. The answer he said was a negotiated agreement with the Taliban. Of course, there was a deal between the Taliban and the Trump administration. Milley said the Taliban stood by the condition to not attack U.S. troops but haven't honored any of the other conditions -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thanks.

And this takes us to the world lead. The harsh new reality in Taliban- controlled Afghanistan.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is live for us in Kabul.

And, Clarissa, General Milley stood by his prediction that al Qaeda and/or ISIS could reconstitute themselves in Afghanistan within the next 6 to 36 months. Give us a reality check.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have to say that was pretty sobering to hear, Jake, because most analysts have put the sort of timeline somewhere closer to about five years.

Listen, we know al Qaeda is present on the ground. We know ISIS-K has a presence on the ground. We were able to meet with a senior ISIS-K commander here in Kabul at a hotel just days before the Taliban took power. So we know they have a presence. When we interviewed that commander, he did not show any interest at the moment in transnational attacks.

But, of course, the real concern is that can change very quickly, particularly once the Taliban is not the primary enemy anymore. They might start looking outward, and the concern, of course, as well, is with the over the horizon capabilities. It makes it much more difficult to track their activities. As we saw with that drone strike which so tragically killed an entire Afghan family, showing the limitations of the intelligence that you are sometimes able to get using over the horizon technologies.

TAPPER: Yeah, and the U.S. was even in Afghanistan at that point during that drone strike.

Clarissa, you're getting a better sense today of what life is like under Taliban control. A few weeks after the takeover. It's not good for many people who are just trying to live and for people trying to bring joy to people's lives.

WARD: I think there's so many facets of daily life that are changing and so many people waiting to see what worse could come. One of them that we've been looking at is musicians. It's a huge part, music, of Afghan cultural life. And the Taliban hasn't officially banned music yet, but certainly we have been hearing all sorts of reports of musicians being intimidated, threatened. One famous folk singer even being killed.


WARD: This neighborhood used to be full of musicians and music stores selling instruments. Now you can see almost all of the shops here have been shut down.

This is you singing?

(voice-over): Down the street we meet this musician who has been forced to sell street goods since the Taliban took over.

The entire area is full of musicians, he says. But since the Taliban came, they stopped the music and our work has ended.

As we're talking, a red car pulls up. So it looks like the Taliban have arrived here.

Does it make you nervous to see them coming up and down the street like this?


Of course I am afraid, he says. When we see them normally, we go into our houses.

The Taliban haven't officially banned music but the musicians tell us the fighters regularly threaten them not to play their instruments.

So the Taliban are here again driving past us. You can imagine how intimidating that is for people in this neighborhood just to have them with their weapons driving up and down the street all the time.

As we start to leave, a man invites us into his house. He says he hasn't taken his tabla out of its case since the Taliban took over.

I imagine that music is part of your heart. It must hurt not to have -- not to be able to play anymore.

If we can't play, then we feel depressed, and our hearts cannot breathe, he tells us. Nothing is left. The music has ended.

He says he doesn't know how long they can continue to live like this. He starts to tap it lightly. His reflexes take over. And for a brief moment, he is free.

It's beautiful, thank you.


WARD (on camera): And we see, Jake, all these -- what I would call really small but profound acts of resistance, whether it's that man just tapping his tabla for a moment, a woman wearing a brightly colored headscarf on the street.

And the question is, how long will this be tolerated? How long will people be able to engage in small acts of resistance because there is a deep-seeded fear here that as the Taliban becomes more entrenched, as it starts to deal with the economic crisis here trying to get more funding in, that it will go on to start to really impose its draconian interpretation of Sharia law with all the sadness and loss that would entail -- Jake.

TAPPER: Clarissa Ward in Kabul, thank you so much. Keep safe.

She's at the center of the negotiations over President Biden's agenda getting four meetings with the president and his staff in just the last day or so. So, who exactly is Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, she's the Democratic senator at the center of negotiations right now, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who has gotten not one, not two but four meetings with President Biden and White House staff in just the last day.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty takes a look at the woman who entered as an anti- war Green Party activist became the moderate thorn in Nancy Pelosi's side.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Arizona freshman Senator Kyrsten Sinema emerging as the key player, holding the fate of the president's agenda in her hands, meeting with the president and his team four times in the last 24 hours.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They had a constructive meeting, agreed that we're at a pivotal moment. Need to continue to work to finalize the path forward.

SERFATY: With time running short, the pressure is mounting for her to reveal exactly what she is willing to accept.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Literally one senator, one senator, Kyrsten Sinema, is holding up the will of the entire Democratic Party. The president keeps begging her. Tell us what you want.

SERFATY: But so far, she's kept that very close to her vest.

REPORTER: What do you say to progressives frustrated that they don't know where you are?

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): I'm in the Senate.

SERFATY: A pattern that Sinema has relied on on Capitol Hill, choosing to operate largely behind the scenes over public posturing, as she navigates her outsized power as one of the two key moderate Democrats in the Senate.

But it wasn't always this way.

SINEMA: It is merely a distraction.

SERFATY: Sinema first started out far left of center as a Green Party activist, even penning a letter to "The Arizona Republic" in 2002 criticizing capitalism.

Her political past in Arizona as a Ralph Nader supporter and a post- 9/11 anti-war protest organizer drew attacks years later when she ran for Senate.

AD ANNOUNCER: Kyrsten Sinema was protesting us in a pink tutu.

SERFATY: An Arizona state legislator, she fought for LGBTQ rights and against Arizona's controversial immigration law.

SINEMA: They passed an unconstitutional immigration bill that does nothing to solve our state's problems.

SERFATY: Her politics began to shift as she sought higher office.

After winning her first congressional campaign in 2012, she joined the Blue Dog coalition, a group of centrist House Democrats.

SINEMA: The American public doesn't care much about Republican or Democrat. They just want solutions.

SERFATY: And with her ascent to the Senate she attempted to take over the late Senator John McCain's mantel of maverick.

SINEMA: It was Senator McCain's example lighting the way and with the trust of the people of Arizona shaping my service, I recommit to ignoring political games.

SERFATY: Her maiden speech on the Senate floor foreshadowing how far she has come from her leftist roots -- opposing abolishing the filibuster and voting against raising the minimum wage, bucking her party in the model of McCain.


Sinema came from humble beginnings. She grew up in Arizona poor. Her family at one point living in an abandoned gas station.

SINEMA: Thanks to friends and family, my parents' church and sometimes the government, I made it through.

SERFATY: She was raised Mormon, but after graduating from Brigham Young University, she left the church.

REPORTER: Do you believe in God?

SERFATY: You know, I'm not a member of any faith community. And I think that faith is a deeply personal issue that individuals should deal with in their private lives.

SERFATY: At 19 years old, she was briefly married, divorced within a few years.

SINEMA: Can we get a spouse? Just kidding. Just kidding.

SERFATY: She broke barriers coming to Congress as the first out bisexual member but it's never part of her identity that she's dwelled on. Even telling reporters when asked back in 2005, duh, I'm bisexual.

At 45 years old, she is a marathoner and triathlete. Her unique and edgy style from this eff off ring to her colorful rings to dangerous creature shirt she wore to preside over the Senate floor.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): You're breaking the Internet.


SERFATY: All emphasizing her nonconformist core in both style and substance.

SINEMA: Arizonans, regardless of political party, are first and foremost independent thinkers, and we just believe what we believe unabashedly, unafraid. We do what we think is right even if we have to stand alone.


SERFATY (on camera): And it's still a mystery where Sinema stands on the massive spending bill which is causing some patience among some of her fellow Democrats to wear very thin, Jake, especially as they barrel toward these deadlines.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Good to see you again.

Hundreds of health care workers now suspended or fired after refusing the COVID vaccine. What that might mean for overwhelmed hospitals and patients. That's next.



TAPPER: In our health lead, vaccine mandates for health care workers seem to be working. The vast majority who faced a Monday deadline chose to get the jab rather than lose their job. A North Carolina hospital system fired 175 employees who refused the vaccine but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the 35,000 who followed the mandate.

In New York City's public health care system, 40,000 of the 43,000 workers met the requirement. Two health care workers in that state who refused to get the shot explained to CNN why.



REPORTER: You can't even accept that the vaccines work?

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


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, because there's so much suppressed science out there globally.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's resident expert Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, I don't know what those nurses are talking about, but how big of a problem is this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a big problem, Jake, because these are people who are taking care of sick patients. I mean, that's one of the big concerns is that even if you are somebody who doesn't get sick, you can potentially spread this to somebody who is vulnerable in a hospital.

The vaccines work. That's the thing. People think health care workers, they should know this, and they should.

Take a look at what they are dealing with in their own state in New York. New York is one of the few states that keeps specific records looking at hospitalizations among vaccinated and unvaccinated. Jake, it's not even close. So that's what they are dealing with, in addition to potentially worsening the problem you see on the screen. They could potentially be vectors to sick patients which is why it's so important for health care workers to get the vaccine.

TAPPER: One Upstate New York long-term health facility had to put 100 out of its 474 employees on administrative leave and now vaccinated workers have to pick up extra shifts. Are you worried about the effect of all of this? A lack of care for those older adults, for example?

GUPTA: Yeah, I mean, this idea that the pandemic largely of the unvaccinated affects everyone in our society, I think, is we're seeing that over and over. We're seeing hospital goes on diversion, elective operations getting canceled. All of these sorts of things.

But long-term care facilities, as I was saying with hospitals, are homes to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Thirty- five percent to 40 percent of the initial deaths of COVID in this country were in those long-term care facilities. Right now, according to some new studies, only about 65 percent of the staff is vaccinated in these long-term care facilities. That's across the country.

I don't know how you can justify potentially being a vector in a place like that where so many vulnerable patients are residing. It has to be addressed.

TAPPER: Let's talk about some urgent news today. The CDC issued what they call an urgent recommendation for pregnant women and those who just gave birth telling them, get vaccinated immediately. For example, only 15.6 percent of black women who are pregnant are vaccinated currently.

What would you tell mothers who are worried about taking any medicine, much less this vaccine, while pregnant?

GUPTA: Yeah, you know, as people know, pregnant women are oftentimes reluctant to take any kind of medicine, even simple ibuprofen, things like that. One thing to realize is the initial trials around this did not include pregnant women and I think that sent a message to a lot of people, this wasn't studied. What I would say is now there's plenty of data showing how effective the vaccine is in pregnant women, and that pregnant women can be more vulnerable to this disease.


There's been trials here in the United States, trials all over the world, and now increasing evidence if you get vaccinated while pregnant during the back half of pregnancy, you could potentially convey some of those antibodies, those proteins to the baby after the baby is born. The baby would have some protection as well. No other way to protect a baby. No vaccine available for baby.

So you could be getting a vaccine that protects you and your baby as well.

TAPPER: Be sure to check out Sanjay's new book. It's called "World War C: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One." It hits shelves coming up just next week, October 5th.

Sanjay, thanks for joining us.

We have just learned that right before he went missing, Brian Laundrie purchased a new phone. Those details next.



TAPPER: There's some breaking news for you on our national lead now. The attorney for the Laundrie family telling CNN moments ago that Gabby Petito's fiance Brian Laundrie bought a new cell phone on September 14th. That's the same day that was the last day that his family claims he was seen.

CNN's Randi Kaye is outside the Laundrie family home.

Randi, what do we know about the whereabouts of this phone?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we know that Brian Laundrie returned home to his family home September 1st from Wyoming in Gabby Petito's van without Gabby Petito. He was reported missing on September 17th. But just a few days before that, the 14th, is when his family says they saw him last.

So now we know on that same day, apparently, the attorney for the family confirming to CNN that Brian Laundrie did purchase a new phone at the AT&T store, one of the AT&T stores here in town in North Port, Florida, not far from the family home, on the 14th. The family attorney is also telling CNN that that is the same phone that Brian Laundrie left at home because we understand that he left his wallet and home at phone when he disappeared. That that is the same phone he left behind and the same phone that the FBI now has in its hands.

So the question is, why on that day did he go to an AT&T store and buy a new phone and then leave it behind, Jake?

TAPPER: And, Randi, you are also learning more about a camping trip the Laundries took.

KAYE: Right. As I said, he returned home on the 1st and the family attorney, Steve Bertolino, is confirming to CNN that the family went on a camping trip to Ft. De Soto Park, which is about an hour north of the family home here in Florida. And that was on the 6th and 7th of September. He says they all went camping together and they all left the campground together. He did not make it clear whether or not they all returned home together.

Now the records at the park show that Brian Laundrie's mother registered for a waterfront site at the campground for September 6th to 8th. So why did they go camping? What do we know about that camping trip? What was discussed at that camping trip? Did his parents ask him and what was his response to the fact that Gabby Petito who was living here with the Laundrie family didn't return home from Wyoming with their son Brian Laundrie.

We do know also from the Pinellas County sheriff's office that they are not conducting an investigation at De Soto Park but the questions continue about why the family went camping at a time when gabby Petito was still missing because nobody had heard from her. There were some texts between her and her parents around August 25th and that was really the last time they had real contact with Gabby Petito, Jake.

TAPPER: Randi Kaye, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

In our money lead today, the U.S. Postal Service is getting slower on purpose. It's part of a ten-year plan unveiled by embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. The post office is implementing new cost-saving measures including longer first class mail delivery times and cuts to post office hours which could start as soon as Friday. The United States Postal Service assures most first class mail will be unaffected but expect delays for packages traveling long distances.

Right now, a hearing over Britney Spears conservatorship is under way. Coming up, I'm going to talk to a documentary filmmaker who dug into the pop star's life.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, it may be North Korea's most dangerous weapon, the rogue regime now testing a hypersonic missile that experts worry could be nearly impossible to shoot down.

Plus, a CNN investigation finding hundreds of police officers convicted of serious felonies nonetheless raking in millions, including taxpayer dollars, even while behind bars.

And leading this hour, top military leaders today back on Capitol Hill. This time answering tough questions from members of the House Armed Services Committee about the deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan and the future of terrorism now that the U.S. is no longer in Afghanistan.

Aside from the exit, lawmakers had even more questions for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, about conversations he had with journalists.

CNN's Oren Liebermann starts us off this hour from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The top U.S. general defending himself for a second day about calls with his Chinese counterpart at the end of the Trump administration. Those calls revealed in Bob Woodward's new book "Peril."

GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I'm not going to tip off any enemy to what the United States is going to do in an actual plan. I'd never tip off any enemy to any kind of surprise thing that we were going to do. That's a different context than that conversation.

LIEBERMANN: General Mark Milley insisting that administration officials knew about the calls before and after. Milley says the purpose of the calls was stability between two nuclear powers.