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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Now: Biden Meets with Dems as Agenda Hangs in the Balance; Merck Touts New Anti-Viral Pill to Treat COVID-19; Biden Wraps Meeting with Dems, Says "We're Gonna Get This Done"; Outrage After VP Harris Fails to Correct Smear of Israel. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired October 01, 2021 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Can President Biden bring his agenda back from the brink?

THE LEAD starts right now.

The president just arrived at the Capitol hoping to convince Democrats to save his agenda instead of killing it. Does the longtime dealmaker still have it in him?

And -- it could be revolutionary. Merck says it's a pill that can cut the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID in half.

Plus, it's money meant to fight the effects of the deadly pandemic. So, why is the state with one of the worst COVID rates in the country trying to spend your money on prisons?


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

And we start in breaking news in our politics lead. Moments ago, President Joe Biden arriving on Capitol Hill and now meeting with House Democrats hoping to mend the interparty skirmish with nearly his entire agenda on the verge of collapsing. One member of Democratic leadership, Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York, expressed optimism this afternoon that the delayed infrastructure vote will happen today. And he says it will pass.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): The speaker has indicated we're going to vote today. I expect a vote today. I expect that the bill will pass today.


TAPPER: Now, whether or not that happens depends on if progressives in the House Democratic Caucus are happy with the progress made on a separate piece of legislation, the much larger Build Back Better Act, a bill that would expand social safety net programs such as Medicare or child care.

We know a compromise has been floated by the White House and by Democratic leaders. A top line number of $2.1 trillion but there is no indication yet if moderate Democrats, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said he wanted $1.5 trillion, as a top line number, whether he is willing to go that high, and if progressives who have already compromised down to $3.5 trillion are willing to give any more.

So, let's get straight to Capitol Hill and CNN's Ryan Nobles just outside the meeting room.

Ryan, a lot is riding on this meeting.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, there's no doubt about that, Jake. And the president of the United States came here to the basement of the U.S. Capitol to this room behind me just about ten minutes ago. And we heard loud cheers and applause from his fellow Democrats as the president attempts to broker some sort of a deal between the progressive and moderate wings of his party with the goal of advancing his massive domestic agenda.


NOBLES (voice-over): The negotiations over two massive spending bills stalled on Capitol Hill, took a turn today with a key player taking an active role in the talks -- President Joe Biden.

After lawmakers failed to meet Thursday's self-imposed deadline to vote and pass Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, House and Senate leaders have been furiously in search of a path forward that both progressive and moderate Democrats can agree upon.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): We're just going to keep working as hard as we can. We'll see how far we get. I don't believe in arbitrary deadlines.

NOBLES: The talks continue, but the desire of both factions remain worlds apart. Progressives contend they won't vote yes until the Senate passes the much broader $3.5 trillion social safety net package first, a process that would take weeks to become a reality.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): We need a vote. We need to be real. Are we going to deliver universal pre-K to this country or not? Are we going to expand health care to our seniors and include vision and dental or not?

NOBLES: Still the White House is hoping enough progressives would soften their stance if they were given an agreement on a plan that all the key players, like moderate senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin as well as progressive lion Bernie Sanders signed off on. Negotiators offered a compromise of $1.2 trillion to both sides but no one appears ready to bend.

Frustrated moderates are growing annoyed that progressives won't yield. There is more than just a Biden agenda on the line. Funding for surface transportation projects across the country has run out meaning thousands of workers are furloughed until funding is extended.

REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): There are 4,000 lives and families, too, that might be furloughed because of us. Come on. Yes, we'll have to, but I hope we don't get to that point. I hope we actually can pass this bill.

NOBLES: Lawmakers have a backup plan to push through a more targeted funding bill tonight if talks around the much bigger package falls apart. Amidst all this chaos, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has navigated choppy legislative waters like this before. And continues to promise her troops everything will be all right.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're on a path. It'll probably be useful later to have a conversation.


NOBLES (on camera): So the House speaker maintains that they remain on this path but where that path is heading we still aren't quite sure.

It's important to keep in mind this deadline tonight is self-imposed. These negotiations could continue for some time and that may be part of what comes out of this meet with the president.

It's also important to keep in mind that some of the key players involved in these negotiations aren't even here in Washington. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is back in her home state. Her staff saying she had a medical procedure to take care of but that she's in touch with the White House.

Jake, without all the key players even in town, it's hard to imagine that a big breakthrough is in the offing but that's exactly what President Biden is in search of in this room behind me.

TAPPER: All right. CNN's Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, right outside the room where it happens.

Let's discuss.

And, Jamal, let me start with you. I'm trying to imagine what's going on there. Biden's heart is with the moderates. He wants the infrastructure bill to come up and he's looking at the progressives who want a deal on the Build Back Better Act. It's not going to be enough, I don't think, for him to say I give you my word as a Biden, this bill will happen.

I don't think that's going to be enough for Tlaib and Jayapal and Pressley and the other progressives.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL ANALYST: Biden is the guest of honor at this particular dinner party but the person hosting the party is Nancy Pelosi. And Nancy Pelosi may not be so much in tune with the moderates as she is with the progressives. I mean, what I'm being told by people who have worked for her in the past is this is where her heart is and this is the moment where Nancy Pelosi kicks into high gear. She loves this part of the negotiating process. This is what she lives for.

So, just don't count her out and her heart might be more with the progressives than the moderates.

TAPPER: I don't think she loves having to put off a bill vote two times in a week.

SIMMONS: Negotiation, though, let's do it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You have to wonder the timing of this session because you don't send the president up to the Hill to be embarrassed. You have to wonder what they know that we don't know in their vote counting.

TAPPER: You think that they --

BORGER: This is -


BORGER: Oh, look what he did. This is an existential moment for this administration, for this agenda.

TAPPER: For the Democratic Party.

BORGER: For the Democratic Party, all wrapped into one. So you don't send a president up to talk to a caucus to embarrass himself. And unless they are taking a huge risk that I can't imagine. So they must be close to something.

TAPPER: Something.

Jackie, Congresswoman Jayapal, she told reporters this morning that she wished that Biden had gotten involved sooner.

KUCINICH: I don't know, it's hard to say. You've heard several house Democrats say that particularly because we're at a point in the numbers game that every House Democrat counts and that is -- when it comes to rank and file, that's not normal. Usually there's some padding, some wiggle room. That's not the case right now.

But I just don't know that that would have helped in this particular situation. But he has been talking to Jayapal. She told our reporter Sam Brodie that after she was on Rachel Maddow basically drawing a line, Biden called her and said you're doing a great job. I can't wait to talk to you some more.

So, that's Biden charm offensive for sure but he hasn't been totally absent, but I think for some members, he could have done more.

TAPPER: MK, I can't recall a time that the progressive caucus flexed their muscles this much. They basically got the House infrastructure -- the bipartisan infrastructure bill was supposed to be on its way to the president's desk in a way.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Last night could not have been Nancy Pelosi's favorite time. She was supposed to have it in her bag. And the reason it's not in the bag and I appreciate the likes of Sinema and Manchin acknowledging this is because the numbers are truly bonkers. We are talking about -- even the low-scale version would be $3 trillion-ish if you did the 1.5 plus the 1.5-ish. And there are $2 trillion between the progressives' progress and Manchin and Sinema's position.

TAPPER: Right.

HAM: They did the hard part. They got it through the Senate with 67 votes. They're part of this. The squad over here is nah, nah. And they say to hell with your bipartisan infrastructure which I'm kind of surprised they've hung on this long but $2 trillion is a large gap to close.

KUCINICH: It's the only leverage they have, right? They only have leverage if that bill is not passed yet.

HAM: But I also predicted earlier they weren't going to say no to something with that sweet, sweet trillion behind it.

SIMMONS: Let's talk about where we are a week ago, which is that we did not have a number. This was an artificial deadline Nancy Pelosi put in place with the moderates, and, in the of the last few days, she now has a number on the table. They're actually now in the middle of figuring out what this thing is. So, it could be possible the momentum of the last couple of days is what will take them into the final deal.

TAPPER: Not entirely an artificial deadline because you just heard congressman dean Phillips there of Minnesota say that -- he called it BIF which stands for bipartisan infrastructure.


He just said there's a chance that if infrastructure doesn't pass, 4,200 employees of the Department of Transportation who don't get the funding to come in are going to have to be furloughed. So, I mean, if that were to happen and then, all of a sudden, you have local news teams and CNN and others profiling these people who don't have paychecks coming in because the Democrats can't get their act together and pass legislation that is assured passage in the Senate. That's not going to be good.

BORGER: And they know how foolish that would look and could pass a little stop-gap and fix that for a moment. I mean, I don't think it has escaped anyone that this looks completely irrational that they'd vote against a bill that they like that the public has a 70 percent approval for, which is the infrastructure bill. And that they wouldn't take less on the larger package because they never had anything that big before.


BORGER: And it was interesting to hear Bernie Sanders the other day rail against this. But he's never had anything this big before either. And he's the chairman of the committee and I'm wondering whether -- how many ways there are to skin the cat on that difference that you talk about.

HAM: One of the problems is rhetorically, progressives have made the $1.5 trillion if that's all that passes at first, a losing prospect for them.

BORGER: Right.


TAPPER: The Build Back Better Act.

SIMMONS: A loser today. We'll see where they are next year running TV ads.

TAPPER: I was told it was 3,700, not 4,200 Department of Transportation employees.

MK, I want to get your perspective on this. Last night, moderate Democrats in New Jersey, Josh Gottheimer, who has been really one of the ones pushing we need a vote on infrastructure as soon as possible. He said he was 100 percent -- I'm sorry, 1,000 percent sure there would be a vote last night. Obviously, that did not happen.

And progressive Congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted: in Congress, we don't make predictions like this until we know we have the votes. Some of us get this. Others bluff and fall on their face. Hopefully, @joshgottheimer and the other 4 percent of Democrats will not obstruct and get this done for the people.

I mean, that is a flex. That is the flex. The progressives are like, we know what's going on here and you don't, moderates.

HAM: And 1,000 percent is Washington math perfection (ph). More than exists in 100.

But, look, rhetorically, progressives have not backed off at all today or yesterday really and then Sinema leaves town which seems to send a message that this faction over here, part of it, is not backing down either. So, I do not know how that comes together tonight.

KUCINICH: But the 4 percent kind of being -- dismissing them like that, you're not in the majority without that 4 percent. And there's a reason they are pushing back on some of these numbers because they don't think they can run on go back home and run on this. There's disagreement whether if they don't pass Build Back Better, whether the highway funding will be enough to run on. That's a 2022 conversation.


SIMMONS: I'm sorry, Jackie.


SIMMONS: There's one other piece here which is that the Congressional Black Caucus right now is looking at this. And they're not thinking about Joe Manchin. They're thinking about Raphael Warnock. Raphael Warnock needs this bill to run on in Georgia.

I saw a poll yesterday from Terrance Woodbury, HIT Strategies, that 70-something percent of African-American voters would prefer the BBB bill, the Build Back Better bill, over the infrastructure bill, right? So there is a dissonance here between what's happening in West Virginia with the coal miners and what's happening in Georgia with black citizens inside of Atlanta.

TAPPER: I want to touch on something Jackie said because it's significant. Nancy Pelosi used to refer to them as the majority makers which were the moderate Democrats from swing districts that made her the House speaker, like Jason Altmire from Pennsylvania. Joe Manchin does not get replaced by a more liberal Democrat, right?


TAPPER: Who knows about Arizona. I find it hard to imagine that the same happens with Sinema, but especially with Joe Manchin. If Joe Manchin, conservative Democrat, moderate Democrat were not there, then the Democrats would not be in control of the Senate. None of this debate would be happening.

BORGER: That's right, that's right. But they still hate him.

SIMMONS: Raphael Warnock, too. If Raphael Warnock is not there in two years, they don't get the majority.

HAM: There's a fundamental question over whether the $3.5 trillion is existential which way? As you're pointing out in Georgia, it may work out well for you. In West Virginia and other places, not so much.

KUCINICH: Which is why the erosion of trust is problematic inside the Democratic Caucus.

TAPPER: It's pretty grim. Thanks, one and all. Appreciate it. Have a wonderful weekend.

Coming up -- one massive state is planning to require all eligible students, all, to get the COVID vaccine to come to the classroom. Plus one governor now trying to use badly needed COVID relief funds for, well, another purpose. We'll explain, next.



TAPPER: Topping our health lead, Governor Gavin Newsom of California announced today that the most populous state will become the first to require a COVID vaccine for eligible K through 12 students if they want to attend school in person. This as the drug company Merck announces a new antiviral medicine to treat COVID.

As CNN's Jason Carroll reports for us now, public health officials say the Merck treatment is not actually the best way to battle the virus.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It could be a game changer in the battle against COVID-19. The pharmaceutical company Merck says it has developed a pill that interim results from one trial show cuts the risk of hospitalization and death in half if you get infected. If authorized by the FDA, it would become the first antiviral pill to treat COVID-19.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: The way it would work is if you start having symptoms and you have -- and you're identified as having COVID, then you could take the pill and it will reduce your risk of hospitalization and potentially death. But it's reduced. This is nothing nearly as powerful as getting a vaccine.


CARROLL: Merck says it will seek emergency use authorization as soon as possible. The development was welcome news at today's White House COVID-19 briefing where medical experts cautioned the pill would not be a stand-in for getting vaccinated.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: If approved, the right way to think about this is, this is a potential additional tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID. I think it's really important to remember that vaccination as we've talked about today remains far and away our best tool against COVID-19.

CARROLL: The battle over vaccine mandates is about to shift to California, which just become the first state in the country that will require all eligible public and private school students to be vaccinated to attend in-person.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: I want to get this behind us. Get this economy moving. Make sure our kids never have to worry about getting a call saying they can't go to school the next day because one of the kids or a staff member tested positive.

CARROLL: The new rule will be phased in by grades, once the FDA grants full approval for kids 12 and older. On the other side of the country, another deadline looms over vaccine mandates for teachers in New York City. The public schools' employees have until 5:00 today to have at least one shot or risk being forced on unpaid leave come Monday. This after a group of employees filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to put a stop to the mayor's vaccine mandate.

New York's mayor says 90 percent of the city's department of education employees have gotten at least one dose. This teacher says she is ready to be fired rather than get vaccinated.

ASIA LEVYSTONE, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: I'm going to be terminated. It's going to be my last thing.

CARROLL: But the chancellor says they have enough substitute teachers to cover for the unvaccinated. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (on camera): And, Jake, the FDA also announced its advisory committee is going to be meeting to discuss booster data that is surrounding the Moderna and the J&J vaccine. Those meetings are expected to take place October 14th and October 15th. To date the FDA has only approved booster shots with the Pfizer vaccine and that's only for certain adults -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jason Carroll in New York, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Joining us now, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's author of the new book that comes out next week, "World War C: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One." Can't wait to talk to you about that book next week.

But until then, let us talk about today's news. Can you explain in layman's terms how exactly this new possible pill from Merck, how it fights COVID?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, sure. Let me preface by saying that bacteria and viruses are different. Viruses need to replicate within a human cell whereas bacteria don't which is why antibiotics are easier to develop for bacteria than antivirals. We don't hear much about antivirals.

The way this works as the virus is replicating, it's using different building blocks to make new viruses. What this drug does essentially acts like one of those building blocks like a Trojan horse or wolf in sheep's clothing, Jake. And then the virus starts to build with this abnormal building block and it messes up the replication process. So the virus can't replicate that much anymore. That's basically what it does.

Now, two things to keep in mind. Base on what I just told you, you'd understand why you need to give this drug early. You want to stop replication early. If it replicates a lot, then the virus is already out there quite a bit in the body.

The second thing is this virus, SARS -- you know, this COVID virus is tricky. It has a proofreading mechanism which is like a very sophisticated thing and can usually figure out when something is awry. This particular drug seems to bypass that proofreading mechanism as well, which is what seems to make it so effective.

TAPPER: If the FDA were to authorize this new drug from Merck, it could change outcomes for a lot of people. But the White House today, they are begging people, don't rely on this. You still need to get the vaccine. Take a listen.


ZIENTS: It can prevent you from getting COVID in the first place. And we want to prevent infections, not just wait to treat them once they happen. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The White House seems to be concerned that the news of this pill to treat COVID might dissuade people from getting the vaccine to prevent it in the first place.

GUPTA: Yeah, I think that that's a legitimate concern and we see that with flu as well. Even pre-pandemic, only about half the country would get a flu shot every year. Tamiflu is not nearly as effective as what we're talking about here. People would often rely on that sort of thing.

I mean, I want to show you what the trial has shown so far, according to the company. We've only heard from the company so far so the FDA has to give this a very thorough review. But basically when you do all the math here and realize the people who got the pill, the five days of pills, two days -- two pills a day, that it was basically 7 percent of people who received the medication were hospitalized versus about 14 percent who didn't receive the medication that either were hospitalized or died.


So 50 percent is -- that's where they get the 50 percent number. But in terms of the overall efficacy, the vast majority of people who get COVID still aren't going to the hospital. This trial is about 14 percent of people who went to the hospital or died. This cut that in half.

So it's significant, but without a doubt, it's so much better to, obviously, prevent the disease from happening in the first place. And, Jake, again, as you and I have talked about from very early days, it's not just about life and death. There's a lot about this virus we still don't understand including the long-hauling symptoms. It's still perplexing some of what we're learning about this.

TAPPER: And, Sanjay, one detail jumped out at me from the Merck press release. The company consulted with the FDA, as well as with the independent committee that looks at the data and Merck has decided they'll stop recruiting new patients into its study, quote, due to these positive results, unquote.

Did they stop their study early? How unusual is that?

GUPTA: It's unusual, but it's not unheard of. You typically have studies stopped because it's pretty clear the thing is not working. It's just futile to keep going with the study where it's clear there's no real positive outcomes.

So this is a real show of faith that these independent board comes in and say, look, this looks so good. We shouldn't continue with the study anymore. We should put this through the FDA process.

It's still got to go through quite a bit of processing, including a rigorous safety sort of evaluation. Those are going to be some important questions that come up. But it was a very positive sign, Jake.

TAPPER: This currently only one antiviral drug that proved to treat COVID as of right now in the United States, Remdesivir. How is this new one from Merck different?

GUPTA: I think one of the biggest things is remdesivir is an IV, whereas this is oral. Taking two pills a day for five days you can do this at home. Do this in many places around the world.

When it comes to some of the medications like remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies, they aren't available in many places around the world because they require you to get the infusion. So I think access is one of the biggest differences here.

If you look at the data on remdesivir as well, it's not -- didn't look as promising as what we're seeing here. Remdesivir, it wasn't clear it prevented death. It may have prevented severe illness and likely hospitalization but didn't prevent people from dying.

TAPPER: Dr. Gupta's new book is "World War C: Lessons from the COVID- 19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One." It comes out Tuesday. We'll talk to him about it then.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank so much. Good to see you. Have a great weekend.

GUPTA: You too, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: Clean up. The vice president's office trying to contain the outrage over a smear of Israel that the vice president did not correct. Now detractors say it's more proof she might not be ready for the number one job.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now. The White House is confirming that President Biden's meeting with Democratic lawmakers just ended. He arrived right before 4:00 p.m. to try to smooth tensions between the two sides of the party. Moderates and progressives and figure out how to bridge the chasm about the total cost of his agenda and what should pass and when. We'll bring more information about that to you when we have it.

In our politics lead, until then, frantic damage control by Vice President Kamala Harris' office that points to possibly deeper and more troubling problems for the Democratic Party. On one level, Harris upset supporters of Israel by failing to correct a student who falsely accused the country of genocide in a question to the vice president. Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League argued that allowing smears of this kind to stand is dangerous and can incite violence against Jewish people all over the world. The other and perhaps larger issue for the Democratic Party as CNN's

Sunlen Serfaty reports is what this incident might say about Harris' political acumen given the expectations she will, once again, run for president.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Kamala Harris is in damage control mode after this exchange with a university student earlier this week.

STUDENT: There were funds allocated to continue backing Israel which hurts my heart because it's an ethnic genocide and the displacement of people. And I think that the people have spoken very often in what they do need and I feel like there's a lack of listening, and I just feel like I need to bring this up because it affects my life and people I really care about lives.

SERFATY: Harris responding in part --

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: I'm glad you did. And again, this is about the fact that your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth cannot be suppressed. And it must be heard. The point that you are making about policies that relate to Middle East policy, foreign policy, we still have healthy debates in our country about what is the right path, and nobody's voice should be suppressed on that.

SERFATY: Israeli publications jumped on Harris for not pushing back against the student's characterization of Israel's actions towards Palestinians as ethnic genocide.


And sources tell CNN calls came into the White House from several leading Jewish organizations expressing their concern. The vice president's office is now scrambling to minimize the fallout, putting out a statement today saying the vice president strongly disagrees with the student's characterization of Israel, that it was the student who voiced a personal opinion during a political science class, emphasizing the vice president has been unwavering in her commitment to Israel.

Harris' senior staff is working the phones calling several leading pro-Israel organizations to make clear that Harris' silence did not equate agreement with the student's claim of ethnic genocide.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO & NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: There's nothing wrong with criticizing policies of the state of Israel. But it's deeply problematic when you demonize or delegitimize the country because we've seen how that kind of slander is used and can spark anti-Semitic incidents here at home.

SERFATY: This dust-up is just one in a series for the vice president in her nine months on the job. In June, her first foreign trip overshadowed by her blunt delivery of this message to Guatemalan migrants.

HARRIS: I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States/Mexico border -- do not come. Do not come.

SERFATY: That answer upsetting many, including members of her own party, in calling into question her diplomatic chops.

Just days later, Harris causing headlines again by dismissing the criticism that she has never been to the border.

HARRIS: We've been to the border.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: You haven't been to the border.

HARRIS: And I haven't been to Europe. I mean, I don't understand the point that you're making.


HARRIS (on camera): There have also been reports about dysfunction and infighting in Harris' office. She's recently brought on two more communications aides to help manage all of this. And back on this most recent dust up, many of the groups we spoke to today who were concerned about her response to that student, they say they are satisfied by the White House's outreach today -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

We have some breaking news for you now. The meeting between President Biden and house Democrats on Capitol Hill has ended. And moments ago, we heard directly from President Biden. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Thousands of different questions and they're all legit. I'm telling you, we're going to get this done.


REPORTER: When? When?

BIDEN: It doesn't matter when. It doesn't matter whether it's in six minutes, six days or six weeks. We're going to get it done.

REPORTER: Why has it been so challenge --


TAPPER: Very interesting. CNN's Ryan Nobles is live for us on Capitol Hill, right outside the meeting room.

And, Ryan, you heard the president there saying, it's going to happen. We're going to get it done. It doesn't matter if it's in 6 minutes, 6 days or 6 weeks. We'll get it done. What are you learning about what President Biden said inside that

closed door meeting?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, I think what the president said about the timing of all of this happening is so important and it's echoed by what we're hearing from lawmakers that are exiting the room. The president making it clear to the -- these Democratic members of Congress that he wants to see both pieces of legislation passed. The bipartisan infrastructure bill and that much bigger social safety net package and he wants to see them passed at the same time.

So that means it's not going to happen today. The House speaker has not officially pulled this legislation from the floor or officially said there isn't going to be a vote today but from what the lawmakers are telling us as they exit this room, the president made it clear that he does not need that bipartisan bill passed this week as what was originally the plan after moderates pushed for that a couple of weeks ago.

So, that is very significant, Jake. You know, part of why that was frantic is because of the self-imposed deadline. Originally, it was Monday and then it was pushed to Thursday. And now, here we are into Friday with no vote being taken and that's mainly because the votes weren't there to make it happen. Progressives were insistent that they wanted more of a guarantee about that much broader reconciliation piece before they voted on the bipartisan bill.

So, it seems as though the president came here with a clear understanding of the reality of this situation knowing that he didn't have progressives willing to take that vote without the reconciliation piece but also from what the lawmakers are telling us as they exit, his own personal desire.

It seems very clear that President Biden will not be satisfied with just the infrastructure package. He wants that much broader social safety net. He made that clear to them in the room here today -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right. Interesting. Ryan Nobles.

Let's talk about this. And I think one thing we can say is that this is a victory for the Progressive Caucus which was saying -- has been saying you can't pass infrastructure without passing the larger social safety net bill. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, one of the most powerful speakers we've ever seen in this country, said, I'm going to put infrastructure on the floor of the House on Monday. That was a commitment made to moderates. That did not happen.

She said I'm going to put it on on the floor Thursday. There are not the votes for that.

So without question, I don't know who wins in this other than the progressives showing they really have power here. JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Which is different. We

haven't seen this before where they've actually held their ground. Now the question is, what number is their floor because they said when it comes to the Build Back Better bill, how -- they -- Manchin has made it clear he doesn't want to go over $1.5 trillion. They've said that's too low.

So now we're in negotiating phase. What's it going to take? That's what we're going to be trying to suss out over the next six days, six weeks, six --


TAPPER: We still don't know -- I have to say -- we still don't know where Kyrsten Sinema, the senator from Arizona, who's the other holdout in the U.S. Senate on this. Manchin has said, I don't think he said I will not go above 1.5, but he said 1.5 is where I'd like to be. He's let some wiggle room.

We still don't know what Sinema thinks about all of this other than we hear that she really objects to the corporate tax increases in this bill.

BORGER: Right. I mean, she's talked a lot about taxes. She's not in Washington right now. And, you know, I think what we heard from the president there was his understanding that this is a governing moment for him and for the Democrats and, if you don't get something done, we're all in a heap of trouble.

And, you know, it seems to me there was a little bit of -- I wouldn't say anger, but I would say consternation saying it doesn't matter when we do this. Enough of this phony deadline. We just have to get it done, and we're going to get it done, and I think the message is pretty clear. You guys -- we have to figure this out because failure is not an option.

TAPPER: So, Jamal, one of the things to explain to people. If it's not ready y didn't they bring it to the floor? They brought it to the floor to force people to vote for it. Urgency in Washington, D.C., makes people make a decision. Makes people make a move.

So it's not really quite true with all due respect to President Biden, whether it happens in six hours, six days or six weeks. It doesn't matter. It does matter. Six weeks, maybe nothing will happen.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It does matter. Here's the reason it matters. I think it matters because we all remember the Obamacare experience where both sides kept arguing. It looked like a mess.

Even though they did a really big important thing that changed people's lives, people didn't feel that way about it for a long time. It had a lot of stink on it. So, the thing you don't want this process end up the same way where people feel like even though they're getting a lot of good things out of it, it has a lot of stink on it, and they don't want it. Think about this from the progressive side for a second. They're not

getting policing reform. We don't have any movement really on voting rights. They got to get something out of the deal. I think that's probably digging their heels in here and not letting go.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is no deadline now which means this will stretch to God knows when. There is $2 trillion of work to do in between, and there is going to be a stink on it, as there should because we should talk about what is in $3 trillion worth of stuff.

BORGER: Well, but that's what Joe Biden will be doing next week. He's going to be going out on the trail, which some criticized Barack Obama for not doing, and trying to sell what is in this package to the American public.

So I don't know if he's going to be talking about $2 trillion or $3 trillion but he's taking it on the road which you might argue he should have done before, but I think they realized that they have a sales job to do with the American public.


To MK's point, do you not think if the focus, let's say, by President Biden and Vice President Harris and others, is not, let's talk about free day care. Let's talk about senior care. Let's talk about expanding Medicare. Let's talk about all the climate change provisions, et cetera, that that will be more positive for their message than this whole $3.5 million versus $1.5 million?

HAM: I think it was a mistake to say $3.5 million is the sell, but that was the sell for progressives because big means good. Well, big doesn't mean good to everybody. You have to explain what is good. A lot of people think big means bad and you'll rile up those people, as they continue to hear about it.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all again.

Coming up -- more of the breaking news from Capitol Hill.

But, first, what is the state of Alabama using your money for instead of spending it to help fight the effects of the pandemic? We'll tell you next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We've got some breaking news for you now. Just moments ago, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, just signed legislation into law that would allow the state to use federal COVID relief funds to build new prisons. This is money that the federal government sent to states to help them plug budget shortfalls caused by the pandemic, but in Alabama, one of the hardest hits states with almost 15,000 reported coronavirus deaths, as CNN's Dianne Gallagher reports, the governor's idea is being met with a bit of criticism. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The state of Alabama planning to use millions in COVID relief funds to build new prisons.

GOV. KAY IVEY (R), ALABAMA: We've got an Alabama problem and we're going to get an Alabama solution.


GALLAGHER: That solution, a roughly $1.3 billion package laid out in a series of bills to build two new prisons while closing or renovating the existing ones. The majority is paid for in bonds and through the state general fund but up to $400 million, more than 30 percent of the total cost would come from the money issued to Alabama under the American rescue plan. It's a move Republicans say is legal under the broad federal guidelines.

STEVE CLOUSE (R), ALABAMA STATE REP.: Not only to prohibitions are now cannot spend these funds on a tax cut or -- and you can't use the funds to prop up your pension program.

GALLAGHER: But opponents say, just because it might be legal doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

KIRK HATCHER (D), ALABAMA STATE SEN.: We haven't done our due diligence in terms of responding to the COVID crisis. It is in my view, morally reprehensible for us to even consider using those funds.

GALLAGHER: Alabama is among the states that get more federal funding than they provide in federal taxes. The state currently has the fourth highest COVID death rate in the nation and is in the top ten when it comes to the COVID case rate per 100,000 people.

KATIE HILL, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER ACTION FUND: Our nursing homes need this money. Our rural hospitals, especially, need this money and because our rural hospitals are failing our urban hospitals need this money.

HATCHER: We had meetings just yesterday regarding people who still need rent assistance on a massive level. Those funds were earmarked for things like that.

GALLAGHER: The governor's urgency to address the prison problem stemming in part from a lawsuit filed by the Trump Department of Justice last year that alleged conditions and the violence in Alabama's prisons violate the U.S. Constitution.

This week, New York Congressman Jerry Nadler asked the U.S. Treasury Department to block Alabama from using federal COVID funds to build prisons, writing, quote, the American rescue plan is an historic effort to provide urgent assistance in a time of great suffering. It should not be used to worsen our national problem of over- incarceration.

Governor Ivey shot back accusing Nadler of overstepping and insisted the funds can be used for, quote, lost revenue.

IVEY: Nothing about this is going to be easy.


GALLAGHER (on camera): Now that this is law in the state of Alabama, the question remains on whether the federal government will step in to prevent them from using those COVID relief funds. Republicans have been asked if they have a backup plan just in case. They've responded, Jake, that they don't think they're going to need one.

TAPPER: All right. Dianne Gallagher in Montgomery, Alabama, thanks so much.

President Biden just met with Democrats on Capitol Hill. Has he managed to bridge the chasm between moderates and progressives? We'll talk to one of those Democrats next. Stay with us.



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

This hour, we may soon have a breakthrough in the battle against COVID-19 with one drug company promising a pill that can reduce the risk of death in half.

Plus -- an exclusive interview. CNN puts a dictator on the hot seat on allegations of numerous human rights violations.

But leading this hour, our breaking news, President Biden just moments ago wrapped up his meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill with nearly his entire agenda at stake and saying this to the cameras on his way back to the White House.


BIDEN: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You asked me a thousand different questions. They're all legit. I'm telling you, we're going to get this done.

REPORTER: When? When?

BIDEN: It doesn't matter when. It doesn't matter whether it's in six minutes, six days or six weeks. We're going to get it done.


TAPPER: In a few minutes, I'm going to talk to a member of the congressional progressive caucus to find out if President Biden was able to move the needle at all inside that room behind closed doors.

But, first, let's bring in Jeremy Diamond at the White House for us and CNN's Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, you are hearing that President Biden actually laid out a range for a top-line number for the big Build Back Better bill to expand social safety net spending?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. Coming out of this meeting we're talking to members and trying to understand exactly what happened in that room. Representative Cuellar told us that the president laid out the fact that $3.5 trillion for the social safety net plan is what a lot of Democrats would prefer. But he did say that this may have to be somewhere in the range of $2 trillion, which is a much smaller number, of course, than that $3.5 trillion.

And that's always because of those two members over in the Senate, both Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, moderates who made it clear they're not comfortable going as high as $3.5 trillion. So obviously that was a very significant moment to some members who were listening closely.

And, you know, Cuellar told us he viewed it as the president trying to make clear to progressives, I'm on your side. I'm fighting with you but we have limitations given the diversity of perspective in our caucus. So, that was one of the messages.

Another member I spoke to, Representative Quigley told me this was an olive branch conversation. This was not the president demanding anything from anyone. This was the president reminding everyone that they are on the same team after a week in which the moderates and the progressives have been deeply divided, deeply entrenched in their positions and no one has been willing to budge.