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Biden's Speech on COVID Response; Dr. Leana Wen is Interviewed about Biden's Plan; L.A. School District to Be First to Mandate Vaccine; Taliban Allows Flight out of Kabul; Taliban Cut Internet; Capitol Police May Reinstall Fence Around Capitol; Justice Department to Sue Texas. Aired 9:00-9:30a ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 09:00   ET




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

Hours from now, President Biden will address the nation at a critical point in the battle against the coronavirus. Dr. Anthony Fauci said this morning the pandemic in this country isn't even modestly under control in his assessment. The president hopes these new strategies will rein it in again.

Biden is expected to lay out a six-part plan to combat the surging delta variant. Sources say he will make a push toward mandating vaccines, including building upon existing requirements for federal workers, as well as pressing private businesses to mandate shots for their employees. Also in the plan, more testing to get a better handle on just how far it has spread.

His speech also expected to highlight vaccinations for children, while making an emotional plea to America that getting the shot helps protect children and keeps them in school.

All this as the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, is poised to become the first school district in the country to mandate COVID vaccinations for students 12 and older.

We have a lot going on this morning. Lot of stories to cover.

Let's begin, though, at the White House,

CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond. He's following all this.

Jeremy, break down what is expected to be in Biden's plan.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, what we're going to hear from the president is unveiling a revamped strategy for combatting the coronavirus pandemic after we've seen two months of cases rising on the backs of this surging delta variant. The president is expected today, according to a source familiar with the plan, to sign an executive order requiring all federal workers to be vaccinated.

That would build and be a significant step beyond what the president had announced back in late July when he said that federal workers need to attest to -- that whether or not they were vaccinated and if they were not vaccinated they had the option to test out of that requirement with regular coronavirus testing. That option is now going away, according to these sources, and it will be a requirement for federal workers, as well as employees of federal contractors, to be vaccinated. That is just one of the six steps -- six pillars that we're going to hear from the president today.

He's also going to be talking about booster shots, not necessarily any news there, but he will be laying out the state of play on those booster shots.

We're also going to see a ramped up testing program across the country. Something that experts say is desperately needed to get a handle on this pandemic.

Now, we also heard from the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, this morning talking about what some of these school districts are doing, and in particular this L.A. school district.

Here's the White House press secretary on that.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know it works in schools. We know that getting your kids vaccinated, if they're 12 and older, works. We know having more adults, teachers, people who are working in schools works. And for kids who are under 12, the best thing we can do is ensure that every adult around them is vaccinated. And that -- this type of step is a step toward that. So definitely a positive sign.


DIAMOND: And so you can hear the White House praising this idea of requiring vaccinations for students in school districts. As for whether the White House or the federal government will actually take steps to mandate that, so far the White House press secretary saying that they're going to leave that to individual school districts.

But it is very clear that you will hear the president's rhetoric encouraging those kinds of steps and also encouraging similar steps from private businesses to get a handle on this pandemic and to get those unvaccinated individuals in the country vaccinated so we can all move past this pandemic.


SCIUTTO: To protect themselves, to protect others.

Jeremy Diamond, at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining me now to discuss all this, CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen, she's a former Baltimore health commissioner, also author of a new book, "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health."

Dr. Wen, great to have you back.

Several pieces of this Biden plan, it strikes me that the biggest ones are trying to expand mandates as best you can really, which is just federal workers and then contractors to the federal government, while encouraging private companies, and also increasing the amount of testing going on in this country.

How impactful do you think those changes are?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think these are important, but I also think that they are half measures at this point. We know that vaccinations are our best and only way out of the pandemic. And I would like to see President Biden go much further and basically say that, look, the delta variant is beating us right now. COVID-19 is beating us.

We have one shot at trying to do the right thing. A lot of Americans have done the right thing. But a lot of people have not. We're only at about 54 percent of the country that's fully vaccinated. And I think at this point we have to go a lot further.

For example, mandating vaccines on planes, on trains, to enter federal buildings. These are things that President Biden can do.


They're in his authority. And I also think very critically that we need a national proof of vaccination status program because at this point it just does not work to show your CDC card. A lot of businesses are not even asking for it. But if we have a national verification system, we would be able to show it at restaurants, at bars, at event venues. And I think that would be really important to get people to get vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: We just showed on the screen here, might bring it up again, the seven-day average of vaccinations. It had been going up a bit, not quite to the levels it was a few months ago. Going up a bit. That's now tailed off.

On the flip side, though, if you look at the number of hospitalizations and deaths, we are, of course, in the midst of a surge, but it does seem to be peaking. We can put those numbers up on the screen so people can visualize this. Not 100 percent clear, of course, these numbers can change tomorrow, but do you see any hope in that, not particularly in hospitalizations seeming to have reached their peak, or is it just too early?

WEN: I hope you're right that we've reached the peak. But I think if it's anything that we've learned during this pandemic, it's that we cannot project with accuracy. SCIUTTO: Yes.

WEN: And hope, at this point, cannot be our strategy. We're looking at hospitals across the country that are so overwhelmed that people are unable to get care. We have a situation of having more than 1,500 deaths every day, which annually would be half a million deaths. I mean we cannot accept this level of suffering, especially when we know that there is a way out.

And I think what needs to happen now is that the silent majority, those individuals who have actually gotten vaccinated, need to state very clearly that we want out of this pandemic and we need the unvaccinated to come along with us.


The trouble is that that -- that the split, the tale of two countries, right, is still very much present with us, where you have places -- and, listen, it's just a fact, you know, places with Republican governors that are banning mask mandates, also lower rates of vaccination in a lot of those states. Whereas you have say a Los Angeles now where there is a higher vaccination rate and it is the one that is requiring vaccines for kids.

I mean if you have those public health measures happening in places with higher vaccination rates, but the opposite happening in other places, right, more, not less freedom in effect, how do you -- how do you get a handle on this, right? I mean if the tale of two countries continues, then, I mean, the story for the whole country, right, is going to be a continuing surge.

WEN: Right. I mean what happens in one part of the country certainly affects another. Although I do think that what is going on in L.A. is fantastic. I went to school in L.A. My mother was a teacher in L.A. Unified. It's time for us to see the COVID vaccine the same way that we do other vaccines. We required other childhood immunizations for measles, polio, rubella, Hepatitis.


WEN: Why aren't we doing that for the COVID vaccine? So I think that sets the right tone. I hope that many other places will follow the example of L.A. Unified.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching.

Dr. Leana wen, always good to have you on.

WEN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Just as we were speaking there, there is more now on the news out of Los Angeles where the school district, as we noted, set to mandate vaccines for students 12 and older attending in-person classes. The district's board of education will vote later today with that measure expected to pass.

CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam is in Los Angeles this morning.

Stephanie, this would be the most sweeping, really aggressive safety measure instituted by a school district anywhere in the country. I wonder what the reception is like there. I mean do you have some parents pushing back or is this the kind of change that they welcome?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, keep in mind, there's already a smaller school district here in the area that has mandated something similar like this. And so you're seeing this across the L.A. area being ahead of the curve when it comes to making these decisions.

The difference is, is that LAUSD is 600,000 students that go to more than 1,000 schools. So it is massive. And you're talking about a very large undertaking to do this.

And what they're looking to do is basically by the time we get to January and the second semester, they want to have all of their eligible students to be vaccinated. And so they are saying for students who are involved in extracurricular activities, they want them to get their second dose by Halloween. For all the rest of the student body, they want them to get their second dose by December 19th. And then for all those students who are going to turn 12, they would have to get their first shot within that first month after their birthday. And the second shot within eight weeks of that birthday as well.

There will be some exemptions, but for people who want to go to school on campus, and I think almost just about everybody really wants their kids to go to school on campus, this is what they're going to have to do. Other people will have some other ways that they can go about it. But take a listen to one of the board member who was on "NEW DAY" earlier today talking about the hurdle that they still have ahead of them to get these students vaccinated.


TANYA ORTIZ FRANKLIN, MEMBER, LOS ANGELES UNITED SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION: We anticipate at least 150,000 vaccine doses needing to be administered, potentially more depending on the information we're getting from our students and families.


But we have the doses in L.A. County and we have the staff capacity and the time and a week by week plan working with our school staff and our community partners to get this done by the end of first semester.


ELAM: And their protocols throughout LAUSD are already pretty strict, Jim. I should just point out that every week all students, all employees are getting tested for the coronavirus regardless if they're vaccinated or not. So they're already pretty hard core about this, they're just taking it the next step, as we're expected to hear, as "The L.A. Times" is reporting, that this is likely expected to pass when this meeting happens at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. SCIUTTO: And it's a good point, that the intention there to stop the

spread among children, protect them, but also keep the schools open. I mean that is the end goal from their point of view.

Stephanie Elam, thanks very much.

Breaking news.

This overnight, from Afghanistan, about 200 people, including among them American citizens, have left the country on a charter flight allowed out by the new Taliban government.

Plus, Capitol Police may put fencing back up ahead of a right-wing rally planned for next weekend. Detail on who is coming to Washington and why folks are concerned there.

And former President Trump once again defending, praising confederate generals, claiming that Robert E. Lee, a man who lost the Civil War but also fought against his own country to keep people, slaves, Trump says he would have won in Afghanistan.



SCIUTTO: Major breaking news out of Afghanistan. Good news, perhaps. A U.S. official tells CNN that the Taliban have now agreed to allowed some 200 people, some of them American citizens, to leave the Kabul airport on a charter flight to Doha, Qatar, where many of these flights have been going. Qatar's special envoy in Kabul stressed that the flight is commercial, not an evacuation flight, like those military flights that have been going out until the U.S. left. And it would be the first commercial flight to depart the airport since the Taliban take-over of the country.

It comes as the U.S. has been trying to secure the release of planes from the country for days now. Many of them have been waiting on the runway with lots of passengers ready to go, eager to go.

CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood at the State Department, also CNN's senior international correspondent Sam Kiley in Doha.

Kylie, let's begin with you.

Do you know when the flight is expected to leave? And I suppose, crucially, is this the first of many? Do U.S. officials, do officials at the State Department believe that the Taliban allowing this flight out means they might do the same for others?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, this flight is expected to leave at some pointed today. We'll be watching for confirmation of its departure from the State Department, from the White House.

With regard to your second question, as to if this could be the first of many, it's definitely a step in the right direction. But, of course, this flight, according to a U.S. official familiar with the planning, includes Americans and third-party nationals. As far as we have been told, it doesn't include any Afghans, which is significant.

But I think the fact that this flight is taking off demonstrates that the United States has had some success in the challenging situation that they have faced over the last few days in negotiating with the Taliban to get these flights to take off. It was just yesterday that the secretary of state that that the reason that the flights weren't taking off at another airport in Afghanistan, in Mazar, was because the Taliban were preventing those flights from taking off. So this is clearly a positive movement here. But it remains to be seen as to if there will be future flights.

I think it's significant, however, that the Kabul airport now appears to be in a place where some commercial flights can come in because that demonstrates that other folks could make their own reservations on these commercial flights. Of course, all of that is contingent on the Taliban, who are in control of the country right now. And U.S. special representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been the one who's in charge of negotiating with the Taliban on this front for the Biden administration over the last few days.

SCIUTTO: And it's a good point you make there. It's up to them, right? It's up to the Taliban here. That's the essential weakness.

Sam, so the Taliban cooperating, it appears, on this flight. But in terms of the people of Afghanistan, they are facing their first samples, really, the first taste of Taliban rule, cracking down on protests, internet access. What are you seeing? What are we seeing in the country right now as the Taliban exercises control?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, in the last 24 hours we've seen new edicts coming from the Taliban that says all demonstration or protests, street protests have to be cleared in advance. Even the slogans that people like to carry on placards and such, things need to be cleared in advance or they're be illegal.

They're also saying, though, that they're potentially vulnerable to terrorist attack. And this is something that we are seeing quite a lot of, giving with one hand, taking away with the other. So when it comes to protests, it's not clear whether or not this internet outage that affected large amounts of northern Kabul was a technical hitch or an effort of some kind of news blackout. But it was temporary and it's now back on.

But what the Taliban are also doing is saying that they need to be able to give their own people on the ground more training in how to treat people. That clearly is the case when we've seen a large number now of journalists, particularly Afghan journalists, being detained and beaten, Jim, very badly beaten indeed, they allege with cables and whips inside detention centers where they've been held by Taliban officials.

[09:20:05] And that clearly is a considerable overstepping of the mob (ph) for the public protestations of the Taliban spokesmen and others, the human rights in that country will be respected.

But they are trying to mitigate some of their worst behavior. Remember that at least 50 percent of the Taliban are probably illiterate, entirely rural (ph), rural (ph) people who have been programed with a very extreme version of Islam from very early ages in madrasas (ph), I a very, very unused to any kind of protest division, much less seeing -- women's faces even on the streets. So they are dealing with a kind of cultural problem here. But, very clearly, there is now signs of profound oppression being meted out certainly against local journalists in Afghanistan, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Kind of exercising a medieval view of the world. It's just incredible.

Sam Kiley there in Doha, Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thanks very much.

Also new this morning, "The Wall Street Journal" is now reporting the Justice Department could sue the state of Texas as soon as today over the extremely restrictive abortion law there.

But first, we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stock futures mixed as the delta variant continues to make investors cautious. The Dow and S&P are in the red for the months. And the latest report from the U.S. Federal Reserve shows American businesses are dealing with inflation as well as a shortage of goods. The Fed says those additional costs will likely be passed on to consumers in many areas. That means higher prices.



SCIUTTO: This morning CNN has learned that U.S. Capitol Police will soon likely approve reinstalling fencing around the Capitol building. It comes as federal and local law enforcement officials are bracing for potential clashes and unrest ahead of a right-wing rally in Washington next week. The rally to support the insurrectionists charged in the Capitol riot. They fear a repeat of the violence we saw January 6th. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says, however, that this time the Capitol will be prepared.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We intend to have the integrity of the Capitol be intact.

These people are coming back to praise the people who were out to kill -- out to kill members of Congress.


SCIUTTO: CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona joins me now. Melanie, it's just -- it's remarkable how January 6th has become such

a partisan issue in the eight months since then, rights, where you have folks defending, downplaying what we saw there. And now the concern is that you're going to have similarly violent groups and rally goers come again to this.

So what do we know about it? What do we know about steps being taken to prevent it from becoming as bad as January 6th?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, law enforcement officials are growing increasingly concerned about the potential for violence on the September 18th rally. A new, internal Capitol Police memo, reviewed by CNN, warning that there has been a noticeable uptick in violent rhetoric surrounding this event online. There have also been particularly heated discussions centered on Ashli Babbitt, the rioter who was shot and killed as she tried to storm the Capitol. Her attorney was even invited to speak at this rally.

Meanwhile, at least one leader of the Proud Boys has encouraged his followers to attend the rally. There's also been white supremacy images used online in connection with the events. And counter protests are being planned for that day. So the memo concludes that it's not unreasonable to plan for violent altercations and all of this is a cause for concern.

Now, security preparations are already fully underway on Capitol Hill. The Capitol Police have requested that that temporary fencing return around the Capitol. That is something that is likely to be approved, even as it generates some pushback from Republicans. The department has also said it's going to be all hands on deck that day.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are starting to receive security briefings. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited the top four congressional leaders for a briefing in her office with the Capitol Police chief on Monday.

So, look, everyone is taking this very seriously because nobody wants a repeat of January 6th.


SCIUTTO: Right. And on January 6th, Republican and Democratic lawmakers were threatened, were concerned, were calling the president to call off his supporters. The threat -- the threat's bipartisan.

Melanie Zanona, thanks very much.

ZANONA: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Well, this is just in. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the Justice Department is preparing to sue Texas over its restrictive abortion law.

CNN legal analyst Areva Martin joins us now from Los Angeles. We're told that this could have happened -- or at least "The Wall Street Journal" reporting, could happen as soon as today. Areva, great to have you on here.

I'm curious, because the challenge here with this law is that it puts the enforcement powers, as you well know, in the hands of private citizens, offering these bounties in effect, and that leaves opponents of the law without an obvious government official or institution to sue.

So how can the Justice Department get around that issue?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right, Jim. That's the issue here is the Texas legislatures, in enacting this law, made it very difficult to find a pathway into federal court because it does given enforcement of this restrictive abortion law over to everyday citizens.