Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Source Says, Biden's COVID-19 Speech Tomorrow will Include Announcements on Mandates and Testing; Blinken Meets with Afghan Refugees at Ramstein Air Base in Germany; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Democrats Remain Divided on $3.5 Trillion Economic Package. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired September 08, 2021 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

As the death toll from COVID-19 has been going up yet again, President Biden is set to detail his plan on key next steps to get this under control. Today, President Biden will receive a briefing from members of the White House COVID-19 response team. And tomorrow, he's going to lay out a six-pronged strategy, says the White House, to fight the virus, which will include announcements both on mandates but also testing. This as nearly 1,500 Americans are dying every day from COVID. We should note this has been consistent, the vast majority are unvaccinated.

And among children, there's now a record number of not just infections, but also hospitalizations here in the U.S., more than 2,400 right now. We should note, however, it's still less than 2 percent of all pediatric COVID-19 cases that end up in the hospital. Severe disease does remain rare among children.

Let's begin this morning at the White House with CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood. So, John, listen, the Biden administration knows they have to get a handle on this and this is central to, frankly, the president's success. Six points, what's the six-point plan?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's central, Jim, to everything the president wants to accomplish politically, economically and in terms of public health. We don't know a lot of details on this six-point plan. We do know that there, as you indicated, will be testing and vaccine mandate components to it. We know that the administration believes that private sector entities are the key to doing this, that the federal government, which has already announced vaccine mandates for members of the U.S. military and for federal employees and contractors, has limited scope to go beyond that.

I did talk to a senior administration official yesterday who said they will not take one step that some outside observers have urged on them, which is to mandate vaccination for air travel. They think that air travelers already have a pretty high vaccination rate, that there's not a lot of COVID spread on planes because of the masking and ventilation systems, and because it would create huge tie-ups in airports.

However, private sector companies, some of which have already announced vaccine mandates, you could see an urging of mandates for not just employees but also customers at many of the entertainment venues. Of course, we've seen massive college football crowds in the last couple of days. That's one area where steps could be taken.

We do know the administration wants to try to get a clear message out to the American people. A Gallup poll showed that a slight plurality of Americans say they haven't heard a clear plan from President Biden. That's really a proxy for what you mentioned, the rise in cases and deaths because they have been pretty clearly saying that vaccinations are the key out of this pandemic.

The problem is they've run up against the hard resistance of about 25 percent of the American people. The easy targets, the people who wanted the vaccine earlier in the year, they've been vaccinated. It's a matter of getting to those who, for one reason or the other, politically or otherwise, have been reluctant. And we're going to hear from the president tomorrow about what he's going to do to ramp that up, because it's so important to the success of this agenda.

SCIUTTO: No question. And getting to that group has proven so difficult, so difficult. John Harwood, thanks very much.

Well, new data, as we mentioned, show that children now represent more than a quarter of weekly COVID-19 infections nationally. The numbers coming as children are getting back into the swing of the school year.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now. Elizabeth, I'm always conscious we're throwing a lot of numbers at folks all the time here, and it's clear the number of infections among children are going up. We should always caveat that by saying it's a very small percentage end up with severe disease, but tell us what the latest data is showing.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: For sure, Jim. It's a tiny percentage of children who get infected with COVID who then end up getting severe disease, end up in the hospital or, God forbid, end up dying. But hundreds of children have died of COVID since the beginning. And so this isn't just any old virus. I mean, Jim, we're both parents. Our children have had various viruses over the years and we know they'll be okay. This one is a little bit different.

So, let's take a look at what's happened with COVID-19 hospitalizations among children. So, this data found the week of August 26th through September 2nd, there were more than 250,000 new cases among children in the United States.


That's about up to age 18. That's a 23 percent increase in just one week. That's the highest weekly increase ever. And to your point, Jim, people might ask, well, who really cares if kids get COVID, why does it matter? Again, a very small percentage will go on to become severely ill or even die. And, obviously, you don't want that to be your child. We don't want it to be anyone's child. As Dr. Carlos del Rio just told us on your show, you're kind of playing Russian roulette. So we all want to do our best to protect children because here is what can happen.

Let's look at hospitalization data for the same time period, the week August 26 through September 2nd, 858 new hospitalizations for children, and that's just in 24 states. The American Academy of Pediatrics data didn't look at the other states. That's a 12 percent increase in one week. That's obviously not good. So we all need to get vaccinated to protect children under 12 who can't be vaccinated.

And another thing that's so important here, Jim, your child may be fine with COVID, but they could go on then to affect their grandparents or some other vulnerable adult. Jim?

SCIUTTO: All right. Another question that's been out there for some time, is vaccination among pregnant women. Really, without a lot of data, there were fears out there. But there is new data from Israel showing how effective they are in pregnant women. Just quickly, what have we learned?

COHEN: Right. So, let's take at this data. It's from Clalit. This the largest HMO, if you will, in Israel. They looked at about 22,000 pregnant Israeli women. Half were vaccinated and half were not. When they followed them, they found 235 unvaccinated women became infected with COVID-19 and 131 vaccinated women became infected with COVID-19. That's a huge difference. That's really significant. What this shows is the vaccine does work in pregnant women. Other studies have looked at that it is safe for pregnant women. Also, it turned out that there were neutralizing antibodies in the core blood after the baby was born and in the breast milk, so it can also confer protection to the baby. Jim?

SCIUTTO: There you, follow the data. Sometimes it can be comforting. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

COHEN: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now to dig a bit deeper, Dr. Edith Bracho- Sanchez, she's a Primary Care Pediatrician, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Doctor, thanks so much for joining us this morning.


SCIUTTO: Help parents understand. You make a great point, that the data right now does not show that the delta variant is significantly more dangerous for children and that severe outcomes still remain very rare. But, of course, you look at the numbers and they are going up. So, how do you recommend parents digest that information? BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Yes. So, first of all, I mean, I think Elizabeth did a phenomenal job, as always, walking us through the numbers, it is concerning. What's happening is concerning no matter how you look at it, no matter whether you take into account delta and some of these nuances. What we are seeing right now is extremely concerning no matter how you slice it.

What I would say is that, as of today, right now, we don't know whether or not delta is more severe in children. We may learn in the future that it is. We don't know that right now. What we're seeing might be a combination of we relaxed restrictions and this virus is really going for the people who are not vaccinated. And among those people are children who don't qualify for the vaccines and children and teens who qualify but are choosing not to get it. Of course, their parents have a lot to do with this. So, it might be a combination of factors right now, but so much to learn still, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Understood. CDC data does show that while hospitalizations are up among people, it's not near the increase that you see among the vulnerable. And there's a new Yale study now that shows that vaccinated people who get coronavirus anyway and suffer severe symptoms, this being vaccinated people, they tend to be older, 80 years older on average. Should that inform our understanding of who is most at risk right now as delta spreads?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: I think so. But I think we also need to have perspective and realize that the people who are hospitalized, the people suffering severe outcomes are the unvaccinated. Within that group, of course, we're going to find differences as to who has a predisposing condition, who is elderly, who is more vulnerable.

But when you look at teens, just healthy teens, and this is data that came out from the CDC last Friday, teens who were not vaccinated were ten times more likely to be hospitalized if they ended up contracting COVID-19. So, yes, the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the people who have the most predisposing conditions, but at the same time, even in healthy people, if they choose not to get vaccinated, the chances of ending up in the emergency room and the hospital are higher.


SCIUTTO: It's so much higher. I mean, it's so consistent. By the way, what's a big group of unvaccinated people are under 12, right, because they can't be. And that's why, of course, things like mask, it doesn't seem like a lot to ask.

I do want to ask for your read of what may be good news, and Sanjay Gupta was talking about this before we came on the air, that you do see in the graphs of new infections, new hospitalizations and new deaths, that after surging for the last several weeks, that they seem to be topping off. And I know that these numbers can change over the course of a week or two, but do you see some sign of potential hope in that?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: I do. I'm not ready to be totally hopeful yet. We haven't seen this decline just yet. And I have to tell you, I feel personally as a mom-to-be -- I'm nine months pregnant, you can't tell on camera.

SCIUTTO: Fantastic, great news.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: And I was vaccinated very early in my pregnancy. But also as a pediatrician, having seen what I have seen, I feel protection from COVID-19 was the least that children needed, and moms who are bringing new children into this world needed, right? And we're sort of failing right now.

So, I am hopeful. I really, really do hope that we turn this around and we start to see the numbers coming down, but we are failing in so many ways, in so, so many ways. We needed to do so much more and we haven't done it. COVID-19 protection was just the beginning of what children needed from us after the past year-and-a-half that we have had.

SCIUTTO: Just basic stuff. And if you do it for no other reason, do it for protect kids, right? Well, Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, congratulations. It's great to have you on.


SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, day one of the Taliban's new government in Afghanistan and four former Guantanamo detainees have leadership positions.

Plus, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Afghan refugees in germany. What he says about the Americans who are still stranded in that country.

Senator Joe Manchin is throwing up another roadblock to President Biden's spending plans. Should the president be so confident that Manchin will come around in the end?



SCIUTTO: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to speak to the media in the next hour in Germany. This morning, he met Afghan refugees at Ramstein Air Base there where some 11,000 of them are waiting to be transported to the U.S. and other countries. There is still, however, in Afghanistan U.S. citizens stuck there.

CNN's Kylie Atwood joins me now from the State Department. Kylie, do we know a number of American citizens still stranded there, and beyond them, right, this whole other category of special immigrant visa applicants that Afghans who worked for the U.S.?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, the general understanding is that there are less than 100 Americans still in Afghanistan. But, Jim, the problem here has been the confusion and the tension that has risen over actually getting these Americans and these Afghans, as you noted, out of the country, right, the United States doesn't have any troops in the country, doesn't have diplomats in the country anymore. So, it's these private efforts, these chartered aircraft that are trying to get the folks out of the country.

But there's been a lot of tension on this front, particularly between the Biden administration officials, lawmakers on the Hill and those who are involved in these private efforts. And over the weekend, Congressman Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that it was his understanding that there was a hostage-like situation, with the Taliban not allowing these flights to leave the country. He said they were the ones essentially controlling this.

But then Secretary of State Tony Blinken said it was his understanding that there wasn't any hostage-like situation. He described the Taliban working to get some Americans over land to get out of the country over the weekend. And listen to what he said about continued efforts with the Taliban to get these flights in the air.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have been assured again that all American citizens and Afghan citizens with valid travel documents will be allowed to leave.

We are not aware of anyone being held on an aircraft or any hostage- like situation in Mazar-i-Sharif.


ATWOOD: Now, the secretary also said, however, that the state department is having some trouble verifying the manifests of the people on these flights. Now, that prompted Senator Blumenthal to push back, saying they have provided the manifest to the State Department. His office has been very involved in this effort. So, it appears overnight the State Department said the secretary wasn't trying to cast doubt on those manifests. That issue may be resolved. But we are still in a place where we don't know when or where these flights are going to take off. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, it becomes a question of whether this is about semantics there, right, if they can't leave and it's up to the Taliban, whether you call them hostages or not, that might be the reality. Kylie Atwood, thanks for following this. We know there's still a lot of work to do.

Well, it's official day one for the new government in Afghanistan. The Taliban named a new prime minister. It's formed an interim governing body, including four Taliban militants released from Guantanamo Bay in 2014 in an exchange for an imprisoned, detained American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl was held captive by the Taliban for nearly five years.

CNN's Nic Robertson joins me from Islamabad, Pakistan, just across the border.


Nic, I mean, this is the thing, the Taliban, they took hostages, right? They carried out terror attacks. They're now being described by U.S. officials as partners, in effect, on some of these things. What does this say about the future of Afghanistan?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It says it's going to be a rocky ride. The message that Afghans are getting out of this that it's not an inclusive government, that the Taliban promises, not one that includes women. That means it's going to be tough to get the international financing, which is going to be tough to get the economy going. The country is already short of food.

So, the prospect for Afghanistan doesn't look very good. Four members, as you say, were in Guantanamo Bay. They were released to a political office in Qatar. Ultimately, that political office negotiates with the United States, and they get back in power. That's sort of been the trajectory. They are going to have a very strict interpretation of Islamic law. That's what they have a track record for doing.

But I think to the point, the interior minister, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has a $10 million FBI bounty on his head, that this man is the interlocutor on counterterrorism potentially in the future. This is the message that's being sent to the United States, that one of the people who's primarily responsible for taking U.S. hostages and holding them over many years inside Afghanistan is now the interior minister, that's a very dark message to send to the international community.

Women have been on the streets in Kabul today protesting, protesting because they want that representation in the government. It's small numbers. Yesterday, Taliban used gunfire to disperse the crowds. And today, we had a message released by the former Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, apologizing to Afghans for leaving, he said he had to for his safety. But he wanted to clear out one thing, he said, and that was that he didn't run away with millions and millions of dollars and bank notes. That's something a rumor he said he wanted to put to rest. The reality is he left the country and the Taliban took over immediately. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes. We showed pictures, Nic, as you were talking there about -- of some of those women protesting there, sand just for our viewers, cannot understate the risk that they take when they do that. This is genuine courage there. Of course, the worry is what they accomplish, what's next for the country. Nic Robertson, always good to have you talking through these things.

As a reminder, our colleague, Jake Tapper, he will host a CNN special report this weekend about exactly what went wrong in Afghanistan. America's Longest War premieres Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific.



SCIUTTO: All right. Just moments ago, what does House Speaker Nancy Pelosi think about the Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, and Joe Manchin, his thoughts? Have a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): That we will have a great bill that honors the values of the president and his vision, the Biden vision for a better future, to build back better for women. And we will have our negotiations. This is sort of a compressed challenge because people need help right away, and we will get the job done.

So I'm not -- I don't know what the number will be. We are marking at 3.5. We're not going above that.


SCIUTTO: Is that a signal of flexibility? Senator Joe Manchin has signaled to his colleagues he's only willing to support $1 to $1.5 trillion, about a third of that original proposal. Still, President Biden is optimistic when he was asked about getting Manchin eventually on board. Have a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Joe, at the end, has always been there. He has always been with me. I think we can work something out, and I look forward to speaking with him.


SCIUTTO: All right. Joining me now to handicap it all, Brittany Shepherd, White House Correspondent for Yahoo News, and Jackie Kucinich, Washington Bureau Chief for The Daily Beast. Good to have you both on.

So, Jackie, is this just a negotiation? I mean, listen, when money is getting spent in Washington, you always got this push and pull. Do you think there will be a meeting of the minds between Pelosi and Manchin, of course, the progressives, et cetera?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's going to be a meeting of the minds between Manchin and the White House, that's for sure, because -- and there's a meeting of the minds that we're all very used to. When he published the op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, I think a lot of us looked at it and said, okay, there he is, we're getting back into negotiations.

But, listen, there's going to be a lot of friction between the House and the Senate on this, between Nancy Pelosi, particularly her progressives, and the Joe Manchins of the world who don't want to spend all that money, him and Kyrsten Sinema, we should add, have both said they're not going to go as high as Nancy Pelosi wants to. So that's going to be the rub.

And neither place has any votes to spare. So, yes, it's going to be negotiation time, but they're extremely far apart. So where we land in the middle, we'll be talking about it the next couple weeks, that's for sure. SCIUTTO: We will. Okay. So, before then, you have a vote scheduled, Brittany Shepherd, for the bipartisan infrastructure deal. There's a whole two-track plan. These two things are kind of wetted at the hip here. Does this threaten that plan, or can they get that through and then negotiate on the other stuff later?


BRITTANY SHEPHERD, : Well, Jim, it definitely could threaten. There's another deadline that's looming, and that's just next week, September 15th.