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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S. Will Open Canadian, Mexican Borders To Vaccinated Travelers; Analysis: Vaccine Could've Prevented 90K Deaths This Summer; Cancer Screenings Decline Nationwide As A Result Of Pandemic; 50 Percent Of Americans Approved Of Biden's Job As President; 84 Percent Of Liberals Vs. 67 Percent Moderates Dems Favor Larger Economic Spending Plan; Democratic Candidate: Gridlock Among Dems In Congress Is Frustrating; Republican Candidate: Education Is Top Issue In This Election; Trump Campaign Attorney's Key Role In Plot To Overturn Election; Acting FDA Commissioner Receives Sharp Criticism For Ties To Opioid Crisis; Hulu Drama Depicts Greed & Deception That Fed The Opioid Crisis; Drama Puts The Sackler Family Empire & Purdue Pharma On Trial For Their Crimes; NFL Concealing Details From Investigation That Led To Coach Gruden's Resignation. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 13, 2021 - 17:00   ET



PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Then in early January, those vaccine requirements will apply to essential travel like cross border trade, which has been allowed to continue over the course of the pandemic.

Officials also say that they are waiting for a decision by the CDC on which vaccines will be accepted, though they anticipate that those vaccines authorized and approved by the FDA and WHO will be allowed. But all of this, Jake, is significant development for border communities where families have been separated for months and were businesses have suffered with the loss of travel.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: There are still some travel restrictions in place. Who specifically cannot travel to the U.S. yet?

ALVAREZ: So, we should note that U.S. citizens have been exempt from these land restrictions. But the resounding message from the Biden administration is to come to the United States starting in early November, you have to be fully vaccinated. This is also true for international air passengers.

But Jake, despite these changes, that Trump era border policy that allows the administration to swiftly expel migrants, and which is also based on public health will remain in effect. So, migrants will continue to be removed despite these changes on the border that the administration is announcing today.

TAPPER: All right, Priscilla Alvarez, thanks so much. We're also going to cover this story at both land borders with Paula Newton in Toronto, Canada and Rafael Romo in Mexico City. I want to start with you, Paula, one New York congressman from a border district says this news brings a sigh of relief from northern border communities in the U.S. How is the Canadian government reacting?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know about the same. And I have to tell you, in speaking to a lot of Canadian businesses, and obviously families that were so relieved when the U.S. opened up that land border, pardon me, the Canada opened up that land border to Americans in August. It just didn't quite get things moving, Jake, the way they should have been. So this is a huge dose of relief for so many people, especially family members.

Can you imagine you had a grandkid that was born an hour away from you by car, but instead you had to go into an airport where I am right now and travel who knows where just to be able to go inside the country. That won't happen anymore beginning in November. But again, the relief does extend right from Washington State to Maine, right? It is those U.S. communities, those U.S. businesses that were missing out, even though Canada had opened their border.

And I have to underscore again that Canada's approach has been a bit different. They are saying to everyone, look, be cautious about this. Yes, the land border will be open, but casual trips should still be avoided.

A couple of wrinkles as well to work out, a lot of Canadians, more than one in 10 have what they call a mixed dosing vaccine. So AstraZeneca and then maybe a Pfizer or Moderna, still waiting to see from the CDC as to whether or not they will approve that. And of course, many wrinkles at the border both sides north and south. Rafael Romo has more on that now.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Paula, you just made this point that it applies to Mexico as well. Families with relatives on both sides of the border could not be happier about this.

Closing the border more than 18 months ago meant people belonging even to the same family were separated by the pandemic. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador welcomed the news, saying Mexico will soon have normality at its northern border.

According to officials, the reopening is thanks to a joint effort by Mexico and the United States to improve vaccination levels.

And Mexico's Health Department announced Tuesday that 75 percent of the country's adult population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Now vaccination levels are as high as 95 percent in places like here where I am in the capital, the Mexican government announced last month that more than 3.8 million people who live in 45 cities on six different states along the U.S. border had been vaccinated.

Jake, back to you.

TAPPER: All right, Rafael and Paula, thanks so much. Let's talk more about the story from a medical perspective. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now live.

Sanjay, good to see you.

How important is this change in terms of signaling a new phase of the pandemic?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that's what it does in some ways, Jake. It does sort of signal this new phase we've been dealing with off and on travel restrictions for close to two years. But I think more than anything else, it shows the faith that, you know, they have in the vaccines as you mentioned, and Rafael and Paula mentioned, travelers have to be vaccinated coming into the United States.

You can take a look at the numbers overall in terms of vaccination rates. In Canada, they have the highest of the three countries 74.2 percent, Mexico, closer to 40 percent. We're in the middle there. But as Raphael was talking about, you know, Mexico City, for example, in some places, it's as high as 95 percent vaccination rates over there. But I think this is really about the faith in the vaccines, Jake.

TAPPER: The White House says that these vaccination requirements will help prevent the spread of COVID from other places. But isn't much of the spread in the U.S. community based spread not from abroad?


GUPTA: Yes, I mean that that's been an irony, right, when you're creating travel restrictions from countries that have higher, and sometimes higher vaccinations or lower spread rates, then the country that's, you know, has the restriction in place, it doesn't always make sense.

We could take a look, specifically, we pulled this for you, Jake, to look at what's happening in the United States, Mexico and Canada. So, seven day average per 100,000 people, just to your point, it's among the highest. So, the real issue in terms of overall spread is from within much more so than then from places -- people that are coming from outside the country.

TAPPER: Sanjay, this is new analysis from Kaiser that shows there were more than 90,000 preventable, preventable COVID deaths in the U.S. in the last three months. This means, just clarify for this -- clarify this for us, if you would, this means vaccines could have prevented every single one of those people from dying?

GUPTA: I mean, this is what they sort of project. As you know, it's a little bit hard to say for certain that, you know, with that degree of certainty, but yes, I think the majority of people who contracted COVID that were not vaccinated and died, you have to sort of think about a significant percentage of those could have been prevented.

Take a look. I mean, this is -- these numbers are hard to sort of, you know, digest, Jake, because, you know, we have a vaccine, and it is very protective. But this is what they sort of put together here. And look what happened in September, you know, that's when you have significant amount of these vaccine preventable deaths.

Again, according to these modeling studies, the vaccine is so -- is very effective. But now the situation is because there are so many people who have been dying over the past few months, you get an idea in the United States where -- what the top causes of death are, at least over this time period.

So heart disease, you know, still, the number one killer in the United States, daily death average, around 2,078. That's the top line there. But COVID is next, Jake, at about close to 1,900 death, you know, per day in that particular timeframe. It's tough to say out loud, given the fact that the vaccine is available and could be so protective against severe illness and death.

TAPPER: Doctors nationwide are flagging a potential crisis, the number of cancer screenings, has plummeted since the beginning of the pandemic, along with so many other visits to hospitals, visits to doctors. How concerned are you and your colleagues about patients coming in with late stage cancer and illness, because they just stopped doing screenings as a result of the pandemic?

GUPTA: It's a significant problem, because, you know, when they're not getting screenings, they're not getting these cancers detected at earlier stages, they're obviously much harder to treat.

You can take a look specifically at what they've seen with the different types of screenings. There's been a significant decline overall, I mean, April 2020, compared to the previous five years close to 90 percent decline, cervical cancer screenings 84 percent decline. Some of that was in the in the earliest days of the pandemic.

And I think a message went out subsequent that, look, you know, there are ways to get people into the hospital safely, where they can still get these necessary types of diagnostic or sort of preventative cancer screenings. And I think the message got through, or at least the numbers would improve from 2020 to 2021, but it's a significant concern. I mean, a lot of technology and various ways of interacting with patients has come out of this pandemic, including things like telehealth which may help going forward, but getting screenings, getting tests getting the scans necessary to figure out if someone's at risk or actually developing an early stage cancer is critically important. Hopefully those numbers will improve.

TAPPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, a new poll that should worry President Biden, and the White House will tell you what it is, next.

Plus, actor Michael Keaton will come to talk about his new project featuring a crisis that has destroyed so many lives and continues to. Stay with us.



TAPPER: A brand new CNN poll tops today's politics lead. According to this poll, only 50 percent of Americans approve of how Joe Biden is handling his job as president, that numbers ticked down since last month. Forty nine percent of those poll disapprove of his handling of the job.

When you stack Biden up against his modern day predecessors in this poll, only Trump and Clinton had numbers worse off at this point in their first year as president. So let's get into the why.

So, first of all, there's so many crises, I can't even list them all right now. The crisis of the day for Biden today is the lagging supply chain. But you two have noted that this is just one poll, a lot of polls are bad for Biden, worse than this one. And do you think there's a single issue or theme that's going on here?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: There's a lot going on. I mean, as you said, the average right now is about 44 percent, 45 percent, approving of Biden, that's the average when you take all the polls together. But what my reporting shows recently, whether it's traveling to Georgia, or talking to strategies who've done focus groups, it's that it all points back to the pandemic, even the supply chain points back to the pandemic, which is that people is still dominating their lives.

Voters I talked to in Georgia said, you know, they'd still like some more help because they're service workers putting themselves at risk, not knowing if someone is vaccinated or not when they come into their stores. And so, this is the issue that people still feel like the country isn't fully out of the pandemic, because it's not, and that's impacting Biden's numbers. And the White House is aware of that. White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged it last week saying, look, we know that we're not fully out of this pandemic at this point, we thought we would be. And so, they're hoping --


TAPPER: Because they told us we would be.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes. And so they're --

TAPPER: So Biden throw away his mask and said, it's independence for masks. Is it a lie?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right, right. And they're betting though that by 2022, when that election comes around, that it'll be a very different picture across the country. And so that's what they're laser focused on. But of course, first comes Virginia.

MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING EDITOR, AXIOS: Yes, we, I mean, we do this regular polling with Ipsos on COVID-19 and American sentiment, and we found this week like a cause and effect link that said, the longer this goes on, and the longer people have to readjust their expectations like, we'll be normal again in six months, we'll be normal again in a year. Every time people have to revise it backwards, it pushes Biden down.

And that it's not just that, yes, people know it will take longer, and yes, they're losing trust in Biden, but it's not like his fault. It's sort of science and, you know, what happens with large populations and a lot of numbers and people don't want to get vaccinated.

BARRON-LOPEZ: In conspiracy theory.

TAPPER: Right.

TALEV: But be that as amazed, the guy at the top, he's the president --


TALEV: -- and people elected him because he said, I'm going to apply common sense and get it done. I'm going to break the logjam. I'm going to get COVID under control, get the economy back on track, like you won't have to worry about what's going on in the White House anymore. And that's just not how things played out.

TAPPER: Yes, no, I mean, basic competence is what he sold and some people say that's not what he's delivered.

Daniella, the CNN poll asked about the massive spending probe on the social safety net program that Biden wants, which addresses everything from climate change, to child care, most Democrats in the poll would rather go big, rather than scale back. But look at the divide within the party, 84 percent of liberal Democrats want to see all these programs, safety net programs, climate change proposals enacted, compared to 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats. Thirteen percent of liberals want fewer proposals for less costs, compared to 26 percent of moderates and conservatives in the party. A handful said don't pass the bill altogether.

First of all, let me start with you, Kristen, you're a pollster, these numbers underscore the struggle in the party to reach a deal.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, HOST, SIRIUSXM'S "THE TRENDLINE": Well, additionally in this poll when Democrats are asked, you know, should -- is Biden -- should he do more to support the progressives versus the moderates in this party? They're pretty split on that question.


ANDERSON: And as a result of this infighting, which I have to say most voters could not tell you what is in these bills.

TAPPER: Right.

ANDERSON: And it's not because they're dumb, it's not because they're lazy, it's because Democrats have done a horrendous job of messaging about them. You wind up with, in this poll, 25 percent of voters saying they think these bills would make their lives better. So no wonder Democrats are infighting. It's not as though there's some real strong political wind forcing them to get things done. I think that's allowing these divisions to fester on Capitol Hill.

TAPPER: And I've heard Democrats blame the media, the news media for not telling us what's in the bill. We repeatedly tell people what's in the bill. But this -- the numbers that Kristen just mentioned are striking. Only 25 percent of Americans say their families would be better off with the both the infrastructure and the economic package bills, 32 percent said they'd be worse off, 43 percent of their families would be about the same. I mean, that's just inaccurate. I mean, if you look at who gets these tax credits, I mean, although we still don't even know what's going to be in the bill.

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, EXECUTIVE V.P. COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Right. Now, those numbers are not great, but I don't think it is like a total doomsday scenario, because the majority of people are saying, you know, we think our lives will be the same. So at least we're not saying that we think our lives will be worse.

But these bills -- when you pull apart the components of the bill, and you're right, this is -- the challenge that Democrats face is talking about all the great things that are in here, all these things are popular and supportive. And look, I just don't buy that Democrats are super divided on this issue. The majority of elected officials in Congress support the majority of Joe Biden's agenda. We have a few holdouts that are causing, you know, this logjam that we're having right now, but I don't think we're like at a case where Democrats are completely in disarray over this bill. We know they have to get something done.

TAPPER: Yes. Terry McAuliffe, who's the gubernatorial candidate, the Democrat in Virginia, he is very frustrated, because he would like to be out there campaigning on, look at what Democrats are doing for you, look at this infrastructure bill, look at these other programs that are coming your way, and he's not able to do that. And he, you know, Biden might be at 40 something percent, would you say 45?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Forty four, 45.

TAPPER: Forty five. That's nationwide.

In some of these battleground states, his approvals in the 30s. It's lower than that. And he's being -- he thinks he's being dragged down, McAuliffe.

TALEV: Don't forget 2020 election, Joe Biden won with like a 10 percentage point lead over the former president. It was like something like --

TAPPER: In Virginia.

TALEV: Yes. What did I say? In Virginia.

TAPPER: Yes. TALEV: Not since World War II, you know, had a Democrat had that kind of a win. And now as McAuliffe himself has said, Biden's underwater is pushing McAuliffe down.

But yes, I mean, look, that's what's going on. If there's new polling out, it looks like McAuliffe has a slight lead, but it's not it's not even within the margin of error. And it completely depends on turnout, and he has no idea who's going to turn out.

You see Barack Obama now heading to prison, will going to head to Virginia to try to turnout voters, younger voters, voters of color. But without turnout, if McAuliffe can't get Democrats excited to vote and if Glenn Youngkin can get Independents and Republicans to turn out for him, Terry McAuliffe is in a lot of trouble.


TAPPER: What do you think? Do you think that McAuliffe, it's still -- just because he's a Democrat, it's still his to lose?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yes, it is his to lose. I mean, the advantage goes to McAuliffe. And we were talking about this before that how seismic it would be if he were to lose this. I mean, that's why McAuliffe is trying to make this --

TAPPER: He was governor once before.


TAPPER: We should point, out in the same state.


And that's why McAuliffe is trying to make this about Trump and referendum still on him even though he's not on the ballot because he knows it in the past that has done well for Democrats when they've been running against Trump and the conspiracy theories that Trump has pushed.

COVID is very much a big part of what's happening in Virginia as well. So, add on Biden's poor approval ratings, add on the fact that people are still really bothered by being in the middle of the pandemic, and McAuliffe is facing this uphill battle. So, whether or not Democrats shows a movement by October 31 could definitely boost him.

TAPPER: And Glenn Youngkin, the Republican, has definitely not tried to portray himself as a Trumpy Republican, although he's certainly trying to unify the party behind him. He says that the number one issue in Virginia is education. He's been pushing issues about having to do with like parental rights, having to do with mask mandates, or how school should be teaching issues like racism.

Take a listen to Glenn Youngkin just today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GLENN YOUNGKING (R), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Tell us what material is being used in the classroom or in the library, just tell us so that we can choose what we want in our kid's life or not. Because guess what, parents have a fundamental right to be engaged in their kids' education.


TAPPER: Is that an issue that plays and can get voters to the polls?

ANDERSON: It's a voter that can -- it's an issue that can get the types of voters Republicans desperately need to win back to at least listen. If they're really concerned about something that's going on in their child's school, whether it's about the curriculum, whether it's concerns about masks mandates, whether its concerns about schools have been closed for so long, it's an issue that I think in his view, he thinks will win over the types of voters Republicans have struggled with.

And remember, for these gubernatorial elections, the issue set is just different than if you're running for Senate. You know, earlier you mentioned, well, Terry McAuliffe can't point to what's going on Capitol Hill and say Democrats would give you an infrastructure bill. But governor's races are often a very different animal, that's why you have Republican governors in Massachusetts, Vermont, a whole bunch of states that would never vote for a Republican at the presidential level.

TAPPER: Right.

ANDERSON: The issue set is different. And I think if Glenn Youngkin is able to pull this off, it may not provide a ton of lessons for folks running for a federal office. But it may give a lot of other blue state Republicans an interesting model to look at for how to put together --

TAPPER: And this isn't -- remember Ed Gillespie when he ran against Terry McAuliffe, he was closing with ads having to do with like Latino gangs, MS-13.


TAPPER: This isn't that, you know what I mean?

LEGER: It isn't, but it's a new version of that.


LEGER: It's a new version of the culture wars, and Glenn Youngkin is making a calculated guess that this is going to be enough to push them over. But the electorate has changed. And I would argue that the issues that most Virginians care about are, how are you going to protect me from COVID? And how are you going to get the state economy moving? Not, you know, what they're teaching on critical race theory, which they're not teaching in school.

TAPPER: They're not teaching that. Right.

LEGER: They're not teaching that in schools. Let's be very clear.

TALEV: But that's if they turn out to vote, right? And that's --

LEGER: Right.

TALEV: -- trick (ph), Virginia has been trending Democratic for years. It's a swing state that's been leading blue for forever, but it's only blue if you turn out to vote.

TAPPER: Right.

TALEV: And that's the problem that Terry McAuliffe has put his finger on the polls (ph).

LEGER: And it's only been blue for a few years, right?

TAPPER: Yes, like six minutes.

LEGER: It's still little --


ANDERSON: You can turn people out as well, by having a message that says the other side is very scary. And I think another problem McAuliffe has had is he can't decide if Glenn Youngkin or Trump or Mitt Romney. Notice that some of his messaging over the last few weeks has been Glenn Youngkin and Taylor Swift's masters and his role in terms of running a very powerful investment firm.


ANDERSON: And so I don't think they've got a good way of trying to define their opponent, which is let Youngkin stay really strong in the polls.

TAPPER: Thanks to everyone. Great to have you.

You may not know her name, but she's been instrumental in Trump's push to overturn the election. So we're going to show you this attorney behind the scenes. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you in our politics lead. The special House committee investigating the January 6 interaction just subpoenaed a Trump Justice Department official who helped push the big lie inside the Justice Department. His name is Jeffrey Clark. He's become a major figure in the emerging narrative about the behind the scenes push to investigate fake election fraud to discredit the election.

He has until October 29, that's 16 days from now, to testify and provide the committee with the requested documents.

Another big lie soldier, Cleta Mitchell, is not as well known, but she was thrust into the spotlight in the new Senate report about the days leading up to the January 6 insurrection.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty take a closer look now at the season to conservative lawyer and liar.


CLETA MITCHELL, LAWYER: The system that we witnessed in 2020 was not right.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She is not a household name.

MITCHELL: They don't want us talking on social media about election fraud.

SERFATY (voice-over): But lawyer Cleta Mitchell is emerging as a key player in former President Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I want to thank you if you are a hell of a lawyer and tough. And that's what we need.

SERFATY (voice-over): Named multiple times in the newly released Senate Judiciary report for her role in the pressure campaign on the Department of Justice to investigate unfounded claims of election fraud.

On December 30, the report says she e-mailed then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. "This is the petition filed in Georgia State Court and the press release issued about it," she writes. "I presume the DOJ would want all the exhibits." Meadows forwarded her e-mail to acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen asking, "Can you have your team look into these allegations of wrongdoing? Only the alleged fraudulent activity."

Mitchell first made national headlines earlier this year.

CLETA MITCHELL, FORMER OKLAHOMA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: And our estimate is that there are roughly 18,000 ballots. We don't know that. If you know that --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was 18,000 ballots but they use each one three times.

SERFATY (voice-over): When her voice was heard assisting Trump on the now infamous leaked January 2nd phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes.

SERFATY (voice-over): Her involvement with Trump came as a surprise to many, including her law firm and ultimately led to her swift departure.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

SERFATY (voice-over): Mitchell was first pulled in 24 hours after Election Day, as she recounts in a little notice podcast viewed by CNN.

MITCHELL: And I got a call from Mark Meadows. I flew to Atlanta, and I -- and thus began my involvement with the post-election.

SERFATY (voice-over): Three days later on the day that Joe Biden's victory was projected, she was on national TV arguing otherwise.

MITCHELL: Just because CNN says -- or even Fox News says -- that's somebody's president, doesn't make them president.

SERFATY (voice-over): And she became involved with helping fund the partisan Arizona audit of the 2020 election.

MITCHELL: He was certified as the winner in Florida by the proper procedures established...

SERFATY (voice-over): For years, Mitchell has been well known in conservative circles, operating behind the scenes as one of the right- wing's most prominent lawyers focusing on voter fraud.

MITCHELL: Welcome to the vast right-wing conspiracies annual gathering.

SERFATY (voice-over): With links to the most conservative forces and causes within the Republican Party. Steve Bannon, the National Rifle Association, Senator DeMint, and a decade ago, Donald Trump, representing him in 2011 against accusations that his exploratory committee violated federal election laws.

TRUMP: Beyond an attorney, a great attorney, OK?

SERFATY (voice-over): Mitchell first started in politics as a Democrat in the Oklahoma State Legislature in the 1970s and '80s. In the '90s, she became an independent, then Republican. She is still in regular contact with Trump, vowing the fight that started in 2020 will continue.

MITCHELL: We're going to take those election offices back and we need you to help us.


SERFATY: And right now, Mitchell is behind new efforts pushing for tighter state voting laws. And she's also been advising some Republican state lawmakers. And Jake, she would not speak with CNN for this story.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

We're in the middle of a pandemic, but a top health agency in the U.S. is still missing a permanent leader and the leading contender for the job is under fire for her possible role in the opioid crisis. That's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, time is running out to name a new permanent chief for one of America's top public health agencies. Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock can only legally serve another 33 days in the role unless someone is officially nominated by President Biden and while some lawmakers and health experts want her to stay on in that role. CNN's Kristen Holmes reports others are quite worried about her role in the opioid crisis.


DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think it's long past time for President Biden to nominate a permanent director there.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pressure mounting on the White House as one of the nation's leading health agencies continues to work without a permanent head amid a global pandemic.

WEN: Think about what's on the FDA's docket right now. Boosters, vaccines for younger kids, treatments. Tests even are approved by the FDA.

HOLMES (voice-over): Dr. Janet Woodcock currently serves as the acting leader of the Food and Drug Administration, but has not been nominated to permanently fill the role despite support from some of the country's leading health officials.

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: She's an experienced hand, I think, that's exactly what you wanted.

HOLMES (voice-over): Once considered a top contender to lead the agency, sources say, Woodcock is no longer in the running due to pushback even from some Democrats over her role in the opioid epidemic.

ANDREW KOLODNY, MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF OPIOID POLICY RESEARCH, HELLER SCHOOL OF BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY: Dr. Woodcock presided over the division that approves new drugs and regulates the way in which they're promoted. Not only did the FDA fail to properly enforce the law. When OxyContin was introduced, it actually made it easier for drug companies to get opioids onto the market. And as all of these decisions were being made, the person in charge of this division of FDA was Dr. Janet Woodcock.

HOLMES (voice-over): Among her biggest critics, Democratic senators from states hit hard by the opioid epidemic, including Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, making the likelihood of her confirmation in a narrowly divided senate nearly impossible. GOTTLIEB: It's a real misfortune that some senators are blocking her nomination. The administration, the country would be very well served if she was in that role permanently. She is not responsible for the outcome that this nation had with respect to opioids any more so than a lot of other people who are in positions over that time period.

HOLMES (voice-over): But opioid crisis experts disagree.

KOLODNY: No, that's absolutely incorrect. So, had the FDA enforced existing federal law, we might not have an opioid crisis today. Those laws require drug companies to produce adequate and well-controlled studies, that the benefits will outweigh the risks. That law was not enforced under Dr. Woodcock.


HOLMES (voice-over): Some health experts say that the agency can still function well without a permanent head.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, BIDEN CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: People should not look upon the FDA is in trouble. They're a very strong organization.

HOLMES (voice-over): The clock is ticking for Biden to nominate someone for the role. Woodcock can only legally serve as acting head thru November 15th, unless a permanent commissioner is nominated. But the White House has given no indication of a timeline.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll be talking about that in a little bit.


HOLMES: And we actually just heard from Janet Woodcock herself in an interview who said despite being an acting head, she knows what she's doing. She has the experience and she knows what needs to be done, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.

Coming up next, actor Michael Keaton will join me to talk about his new project that shines a spotlight on this horrific opioid crisis that we were just talking about. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our buried lead, that's what we call stories we feel are not getting enough attention, take a look at these headlines. Accidental opioid overdose is out of control in South Carolina. Opioid overdose epidemic is rapidly spreading across the bay area. Cleveland County sees four overdose deaths in two days.

Each one of those headlines is just from the last few days. And just today, the CDC said drug overdoses hit a new 12-month high, but the opioids to blame for most of those deaths. A new drama on Hulu called "Dopesick" that premieres today, gets into what and who are driving this epidemic. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So just to be clear, you're blaming numerous deaths in your town on just one medication?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And are you the individual that prescribed this medication?



TAPPER: And the two executive producers of "Dopesick" join me now. Danny Strong along with Michael Keaton, who also, of course, as you saw, stars as Dr. Sam Finnix in the series. Thanks to both of you. It's really one of the most powerful pieces of television I've seen and I don't even know how long. It's really an important and compelling.

You play Dr. Finnix, he's a composite, he's not an actual individual. And he's not a bad guy.

MICHAEL KEATON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER & ACTOR, "DOPESICK": No, he's not. He' a great guy actually. Yes.



TAPPER: But he's part of what happened.

KEATON: He's a composite of doctors there and that makes this what "Dopesick." And a person created to -- and by the way, a lot of people carry this story that --


KEATON: -- you'll see but, you know, you needed this doctor to kind of take you on through much of the journey. So, yes, he's really a composite. His intention is so simple, you know, by just becoming a doctor, you know, how doped he was. And that's part of the whole thing to, how -- you know, just the name change and pain medication, how you market a pain medication. And this is a guy who's in the business and he first can't believe that there's no addictive qualities to OxyContin or to this particular medication.


KEATON: And he learns out he's naive about this as as anyone.

TAPPER: But, I mean, the people know the basics of the new story because we've been covering it but the Sacklers, obviously, they run Purdue pharmaceutical, they own Purdue pharmaceutical, and they're out there pushing it. They're out there telling their pharmaceutical reps to tell doctors like Dr. Finnix, it's only 1 percent get addicted, which is obviously a lot.

KEATON: Less than 1 percent.

TAPPER: Less than 1 percent get addicted.


TAPPER: But what's also an interesting decision and choice by you and the creators of the series, is that you get into the mind of Richard Sackler. He's not -- even though he's empirically a bad guy, in this drama and in real life -- he's three-dimensional. How did you get into his head?

DANNY STRONG, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "DOPESICK": Well, it was really challenging, especially because so many of the people I interviewed that worked at Purdue Pharma, they had such disdain for him. So even the people that knew him spoke about him in such negative terms. So much has been written about him as so negative. So I was really trying to crack this code of, I just want to know what makes him tick. You know, what is motivating him. It's got to be more than greed because he was wealthy before they even came up with OxyContin.

So I went to this sort of drastic idea which was that I did a therapy session in which I role played that I was Richard Sackler in the therapy session, and I used all the information that I was able to gather about Richard Sackler. And it was funny, the therapist is a wife of a famous screenwriter, so she's used to doing this sort of thing with her husbands. And it was within about 20 minutes of me answering her questions.

I just really started to at least get a sense of the mindset of someone who does so much work, whose family, whose cousins share the money with him, but they don't do any of the work, who has this iconic uncle, that perhaps he has a complex about that he wants to, in some ways, maybe even more successful than, and yet the goal ultimately was that we wanted all of the characters in the show to, in some way, reflect pain. What is pain? It's not just -- the show isn't just about this criminal company, Purdue Pharma, although a lot of it is about this company --

TAPPER: Right.

STRONG: -- Purdue Pharma.


STRONG: And we really wanted to show their crimes in many ways. I wanted the show to be a trial that Purdue Pharma has not gotten.

TAPPER: Right.


STRONG: So we prosecute them through the course of the series by showing their unbelievably egregious crimes but at the same time, I wanted to be able to humanize Richard Sackler to show, OK, so what ultimately -- what is going on with him?

TAPPER: And Michael, you are somebody who thinks a lot about what's going on in the country. The CDC reports that drug overdose led mostly by opioid deaths were higher than ever last year, even during the pandemic, that almost more than peak car crashes and gun violence, that's combined, according to The New York Times. Beyond the malfeasance and the people who actually were in physical pain --


TAPPER: -- what do you think is going on?

KEATON: The pandemic accelerated a lot of stuff and if you really think logically, you start to piece it together and you think about it, you go, it only makes sense that certain behavioural things are going to come out of people. There was so many times I agreed something being the script. I need to go to Barry Levinson, or Danny, and I'd say, you know, the same place, but this is like, you know, this is like -- this is too, you know, evil and good. It's on their head, they'd go, I think so. Listen to this.

And that give me statistics like that, or they actually said that, or this is what Purdue Pharma.


KEATON: And then you just kind of can't believe the obviousness of it, you know, so in a way that's not at all shocking to me at this point. These statistics are insane.

TAPPER: That's shocking. And Danny, under a bankruptcy settlement just last month, this is what you were alluding to about -- I'm not getting there -- a trial to the Sackler --


TAPPER: -- Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, they're going to pay out $4 billion to opioid victims and addiction programs. Prosecutors still could pursue criminal charges. I mean, they still could do that. But under the bankruptcy deal, the Sackler family gets immunity against future civil lawsuits. That's maddening to a lot of people and in another example of just how the wealthy get to do whatever they want.

KEATON: I think that's being challenged those and it's --

STRONG: There's -- you know, some people are trying to appeal it.


STRONG: There's a sense that it's probably going to go through. And at the end of the day, one thing that I've discovered in studying the story for as long as I've been working on it, is that the Sacklers always win. They always get away with it. And someone asked me, how does that happen? And it's just -- it's a one word answer, money.

You know, they're able to use their money to buy influence, to peddle influence at the highest levels of the U.S. government. And in many ways, the story, it's the story of the revolving door as much as it is a story of dishonest criminal pharma company. It's a story of the swamp --


STRONG: -- and of the flaws in our systems that allow the ultra- wealthy to get away with a crime so egregious, is misbranding a deadly -- a dangerous narcotic as non-addictive, it's practically non- addictive. So this is, I think, one of the ultimate examples of a swamp story.

TAPPER: Yes. And, Michael, lastly, this isn't the first project you've done on this theme. I remember "Clean and Sober."


TAPPER: And also dealing with dependency issues. And you have a foundation in your nephew's name.

KEATON: Yes. My sister Pam formed the foundation and I want to make sure I get it right, so I read it to you. It's called the Michael Douglas Scichilone Foundation, and it goes toward addiction issues, and it goes toward this other wonderful -- it's from just outside of Pittsburgh. And so I can read it right if you don't mind --


KEATON: -- me doing this. It's in Matilda Theiss' early childhood behavioural health facility, which is in Hill District of Pittsburgh, and this year, some of the proceeds go toward that. She's done a great stuff. There's so many people out there, you know, helping out because it's so unbelievably prevalent.

TAPPER: Yes, and that's rough that you lost your nephew.

KEATON: Yes, rough, rough.

TAPPER: And we'll put the foundation's at where -- it's on the -- it's on our screen right now.

KEATON: Yes, thanks for doing that.

TAPPER: And I'll tweet it out.


TAPPER: It's really an honor. Good to see you again. Good to see you again. The project is powerful. I hope it pisses people off, and it makes -- and it forces change.

KEATON: Yes. STRONG: You mentioned that they still could be criminally investigated and I do hope that happens. I hope the Justice Department opens a criminal investigation. I hope there could be a congressional criminal investigation into their actions. And I personally don't understand why there's not.

TAPPER: The new series is called "Dopesick." It's on Hulu. Michael Keaton, Danny Strong, thanks to both of you. Always good to see both of you.

KEATON: Thank you.

STRONG: Great to see you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, why Jon Gruden's misogynistic and homophobic e-mails may be the only ones of the 650,000 the NFL review that we will ever see. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our sports lead today, that's -- that the NFL today telling CNN it will not release any more details from the investigation that led to the sudden resignation of one of its most famous coaches. That investigation which ended over the summer, centered around the Washington football team's workplace culture, including accusations of sexual harassment and worse. Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden resigned Monday after the New York Times reported on misogynistic and homophobic e-mails he sent to a Washington executive. Washington Football Team employees, including several cheerleaders want the details released after the NFL found the team's environment was, quote, highly unprofessional especially towards women.

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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." See you tomorrow.