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Interview With Former Senior White House COVID Response Adviser Andy Slavitt; Biden Administration Set to Unveil New COVID Plan; Justice Department to Sue Texas Over Abortion Ban. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Attorney General Merrick Garland will announce the Justice Department's challenge to Texas' new abortion law.

This is, as you know, a highly controversy law. It bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That's as early as six weeks, before many women know that they're pregnant. It does not allow exceptions for rape or incest.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: But instead of using criminal penalties, the law turns private citizens into abortion police, allowing anyone to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion, even someone giving her a ride to the doctor's office.

CNN's Paula Reid is at the Justice Department.

So, Paula, tell us, what do we think the attorney general will announce this afternoon?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're expecting some more details in just a few minutes, when the attorney general holds his press conference.

And, Alisyn, it'll be really interesting to see exactly how he's going to take on this law, because it was specifically designed to deflect legal challenges. And we're really looking specifically at, who are they focused on? Who is the defendant in whatever action they are going to take?

Because, historically, when you want to challenge an overly restrictive abortion law, you would traditionally go after the government, the people who would be enforcing punishments for anyone who violated that restrictive law.

But, here, this law has specifically been designed that it's not the government that imposes the punishment. Pretty much every citizen is deputized to potentially bring an action. And that's why it's been so difficult to successfully bring challenges against this law, because, even if you succeed in getting permanent or temporary relief against one person, you have all these other people who can potentially sue these providers, which is why, right now, providers say they're not performing abortions after six weeks. Now, the attorney general he's under enormous pressure from fellow

Democrats to do something to stop this law. But, so far, the ideas he's put forth, it's really been more bark than bite. He specifically said that they were standing by ready to prevent any violence or any threats of violence against women trying to get abortions.

But that is not the issue here. So it will be really interesting to see. We're expecting something novel. They haven't really put forth too many ideas that appear that they will be successful. So it will be very interesting to see exactly how they're going to take on this challenge.

BLACKWELL: All right, Paula Reid, we will be watching it. Thank you.

And, of course, we will bring it to you live as soon as that happens there at the Justice Department.

Also this afternoon, President Biden is expected to announce a new hard line on COVID vaccines. He will sign an executive order that requires all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, and there's no alternative, no option of regular testing.

Now, this is one part of his plan to curb the pandemic. He will share details in this speech a few hours from now. His chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said today the pandemic is under not even modestly good control. The U.S. is averaging 151,000 new cases every single day.

CAMEROTA: OK, and compare that number to June 22. That's when the case average was just about 11,000.

The surge is driven by the Delta variant that is preying on the unvaccinated. The death toll is up to 1, 500 Americans a day killed by the virus. Nearly 100,000 Americans are in the hospital right now with COVID.

CNN's Nick Watt joins us now from Los Angeles.

And, Nick, the school board there is making a major move. So they're going to mandate that all students be vaccinated?


Now, listen, there is already a vaccine mandate for staff here in L.A., which is the second biggest district in the country, more than half-a-million kids, more than 1, 200 schools. This would extend that mandate to students.

Now, the board is going to meet in about three hours from now. There is one item on the agenda, but I imagine there will be plenty of public comment.


WATT (voice-over): Today, the Los Angeles School Board will, we're told, mandate COVID-19 vaccination for practically all students 12 and up.

TANYA ORTIZ FRANKLIN, BOARD MEMBER, LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT: Cases are on the rise and children are at risk from the Delta variant in ways we didn't see last semester. And our responsibility to children and our communities is their safety and well-being.

WATT: Under 12s, of course, not eligible, so masks? Well, watch what happened at a school board meeting in Tennessee Tuesday.

GRADY KNOX, STUDENT: My grandmother, who is a former teacher at the Rutherford County School System, died of COVID because someone wasn't wearing a mask.

This is a very -- this is a very...

WATT: Smirking, jeering.

KNOX: This is a very...


KNOX: I just hope that they see that they given me this chance now to speak in front of the entire nation and tell about how I believe masks are something that is really essential for schools to stay open.

WATT: President Joe Biden will at 5:00 p.m. lay out his essentials for the next phase of pandemic response.

Is there a benchmark for success? Well, Dr. Anthony Fauci has long touted a daily case count goal.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: I would say less than 10,000, and maybe even considerably less than that.

WATT: On average, more than 150,000 new cases are being reported in the United States every day.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: The Delta variant is beating us right now. COVID-19 is beating us.

WATT: Vaccination rates, average daily first doses now dipping, conspiracy-fueled hesitancy still an issue.

And, in West Virginia, record numbers are now in the ICU.

GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R-WV): For God's sakes of living, how difficult is this to understand?

Why in the world do we have to come up with these crazy ideas, and they're crazy ideas, that the vaccine has got something in it and it's tracing people wherever they go? And the same very people that are saying that are carrying their cell phones around. I mean, come on. Come on. WATT: Tonight, just hours after the president speaks, the NFL season

kicks off in Tampa, packed stands, masks encouraged, but not required.


WATT: So, Los Angeles is the second biggest school district in the country. New York City is the biggest.

And, today, the mayor there, he enacted a vaccine mandate for all workers in city-run child care and after-school programs. Also, next week in New York, they will be offering vaccinations at 700 schools -- back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Nick Watt, thank you very much for all that.

So let's get some more specifics on President Biden's speech, which is set for 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.

CNN chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins us now from the White House.

So, Jeff, what can we expect?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We can expect the president to talk about these executive orders that he is signing to require all federal workers, a work force of about four million people or so, to get the vaccination.

Up until now, it had been recommended, but with the option of opting out of that if you get frequent testing. No longer. This is going to be a required vaccination.

And what is happening here, of course, the White House is trying to urge private businesses and local governments to follow suit. There's also going to be a series of other announcements the president is making, including businesses who do business with the government, as well as keeping schools safe.

But we just asked a few moments ago White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki what the president's mind-set is as he's giving yet another COVID speech, after so many of them have not moved the ball.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This speech isn't just words. He's announcing -- and I would argue that the bully pulpit for any president can be quite powerful.

But what the president is announcing is a series of bold and ambitious steps to address COVID, to save more lives, to protect more people. And that's what the American people can expect to hear from him today. What he will also acknowledge -- and I don't know if you were touching on this or attempting to touch on this -- is the frustration that tens of millions of Americans are feeling across the country.

We have heard governors, we have heard leaders voice that. We have heard many Americans in the streets that you all have interviewed voice that expression of frustration, people who are vaccinated who are frustrated that they can't go back to normal, that they're fearful about sending their kids to school when there aren't necessary requirements.


ZELENY: So, one thing that Psaki said this speech is not, she said it's not an attempt to lift the president's poll numbers.

Of course, his approval ratings for how he has handled COVID have gone down over the summer months. But the reality is, they have gone down. The administration knows that they must sort of get a handle on all of this. So the president once again will be delivering a mandate, something he said he would never do, but simply they hope businesses follow suit here. And they hope people simply listen -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Jeff Zeleny, thank you for the preview.

Joining us now is Andy Slavitt. He is the former White House senior adviser for COVID response. He also served as acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.

Andy, great to see you.


CAMEROTA: I know you have been busy, particularly in this last hour, on something of a Twitter tear. I have been following along in your flurry of tweets.

It seems like you really want to get the message out about what's happening with COVID right now.

Here's one. Just -- I will just read one of the tweets that you put out. You say: "But, here, the secret must finally come out. In a global pandemic, we do occasionally have to inconvenience ourselves and make adjustments to protect against it. I know, I know, I'm sorry, but it just F'ing is what it is."

What has gotten you into a lather?

SLAVITT: Well, I'm going to I'm going to leave the heart of the speech today to the president.

But I think, as he takes big, bold action, a couple of things I think are important to keep in mind. One is that people want to be out of this pandemic and people are willing to do small things, make small adjustments, if it can save lives and move the pandemic beyond us.


I think that's what the president is going to ask. And I think he's going to ask a lot. But my hope is that, while we will certainly get rhetorical backlash

from predictable circles, people who are anti-vaccine and so forth, we remember that the facts are that 5.5 billion people across the globe have been given this vaccine. It's safe. It reduces hospitalizations by 29-fold. And it's free.

So, given that, and given that people have the choice to be vaccinated or that vaccinated, we have to decide, are we going to protect our kids and make some small sacrifices and make some changes, or are we going to let things go on as they are? And that's what I was trying to say today.

CAMEROTA: Well, that leads us to vaccine requirements.

So, as you just heard from our reporter Nick Watt in Los Angeles, it's the first major public school district to require vaccinations for students. Will we see more of that?

SLAVITT: Undoubtedly.

Right now, one in five Americans is reporting that they have a vaccine requirement at work. That's a substantial increase, and I think some of it due to the FDA giving final approval to the vaccine. And I believe, after the president's speech today, which I'm not going to reveal the details, I think you're going to see that move dramatically in all spheres of society, from schools, to businesses, to venues, to health care settings.

All of those are places where we should expect that, if we show up there, that we know whether or not the people are vaccinated, and that if people are going to choose to be there, that they either get vaccinated or can show that they're not infectious.

CAMEROTA: As we understand it, President Biden is signing an executive order today to ask all federal workers -- well, mandate that all federal workers must be vaccinated without being able to test out.

How important do you think these vaccine mandates are for finally bringing the COVID cases down? Are these the key?

SLAVITT: Well, look, we have, again, 5.5 billion people across the globe have been vaccinated.

More -- we have more data on this vaccine than any vaccine in history. They're incredibly effective. And we have -- so we now have the ability to say to people, look, if you want to be in this location, if you want to be in this venue, if you want to work at this employer, we expect you to keep other people safe.

And that is a change. But it's an important change. And we -- the data we have seen shows that about 25 million Americans have said that, if it is required for them to get vaccinated in order to show up to work or to go to a venue that they want to go to, that they would get vaccinated; 25 million people is a large portion of the population. And I think many more would likely follow that as well.

So I do think it's a good step.

CAMEROTA: OK, but then there is the swathe of the country who is represented by this gentleman that our Elle Reeve spoke to in the Ozarks, and this is how he feels about the vaccination.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do not want the vaccine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain't taking. That's it. I ain't taking it.

WAYLAND BLAND, COVID-19 SURVIVOR: I don't like people trying to push a shot on me or something else, because I'm just a bullheaded a fellow you ever seen.


CAMEROTA: He says he doesn't like anybody trying to push a shot on him or anything else.

What do you do about the people that that man represents?

SLAVITT: Well, of course he's entitled not to give himself a vaccine. But that also doesn't mean that he's entitled to be around your children or my children or my -- someone I'm related to that has cancer.

So you have some rights, but you don't get all rights. Remember, in society, that we should listen to all people's concerns, we should listen to his concerns, we should listen to everybody's concerns. That doesn't mean we should allow for what I would call a heckler's veto, where a person gets to decide without any data or facts on their side that they don't like something and, therefore, none of us comply.

So, we have -- we have to listen, we have to be respectful, but we also can't allow people without reason to keep us from keeping people safe.

CAMEROTA: Comedian Jimmy Kimmel last night made an interesting point in his monologue that's gotten a lot of attention today.

So let me play that for you.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Dr. Fauci said that if hospitals get any more overcrowded, they're going to have to make some very tough choices about who gets an ICU bed.

I -- that choice doesn't seem so tough to me. Vaccinated person having a heart attack, yes, come right on in, we will take care of you.

Unvaccinated guy who gobbled horse goo, rest in peace, Wheezy.


KIMMEL: You're -- that's...



CAMEROTA: Andy, I know he's making a joke, but what do you think about that, the idea that the unvaccinated at this point are making a personal choice, and so why our hospital -- precious hospital and ICU resources going to them over other gravely ill people in some cases?

SLAVITT: Well, look, I'm someone who believes that health care is a right in this country, and that you can make bad decisions, you can smoke cigarettes, you can choose not to get vaccinated, you can do all sorts of things, but someone's version of what is good or bad, even if we all might disagree with those decisions, shouldn't get in the way of someone getting access to health care in this country.


Too often, it does. And, look, I know what Jimmy Kimmel was doing. It was provocative. It was funny. I don't think he means it. I mean, I know what he's been through with his own health situations. I think he's -- but I do think he's making a point, which is to say, hey, everybody, let's pull together.

The seriousness of his point is, let's all try to be on the same team here, and then everybody can get taken care of.

CAMEROTA: Last, Andy, look, President Biden has spoken about COVID a lot. He has emphasized the need for vaccinations a lot.

What's different today?

SLAVITT: Well, I'm not going to steal his thunder, but I think you're going to see a lot different today, quite frankly.

I think he has kept options on the table all along. He's investigated them. He's looked at them. And I think today, even beyond what your reporting has been today around federal employees, I think you're going to hear some steps today that are going to be even more assertive and more aggressive. And I will leave those to the president to lay out for the country.

CAMEROTA: Andy Slavitt, thank you for being here.

SLAVITT: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, in about 15 minutes, we're expecting to hear a major announcement from the Justice Department that challenges this new abortion law in Texas.

We're going to bring that to you live, of course.

CAMEROTA: And we will speak to an abortion provider based in Texas who is fighting this new law, and he is making his case to the vice president today. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLACKWELL: Any moment now, we're expecting Attorney General Merrick Garland to announce plans for the DOJ to try to block the most restrictive abortion law in the country.

The DOJ is challenging Texas over its new controversial SB-8 law that bans any woman from getting an abortion after approximately six weeks.

Now, abortion rights activists have been pressuring the Biden administration to do something after the Supreme Court let the law go into effect.

Joining us now is Dr. Bhavik Kumar from Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Texas. He's a plaintiff in the federal suit to overturn the law. And he's at the White House today to meet with Vice President Harris.

Dr. Kumar, thanks for being with us.

I want to talk about your meeting with the vice president in a moment. But, first, as we have said, there have been so many calling for this administration, the DOJ to do something. We will hear the announcement in a moment.

But your reaction that there is now an effort federally to try to block the implementation of this law?

DR. BHAVIK KUMAR, PLANNED PARENTHOOD GULF COAST: I'm very pleased with the actions that the federal government is taking.

Unfortunately, right now in Texas, abortion access is very fragile. And with the Senate Bill 8 being the law of the land right now in Texas, my patients are not getting the care that they need. And so I'm very hopeful that the actions that the Biden/Harris administration is taking will be able to help my patients get the care that they need.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Kumar, it sounds like your life changed overnight, your job changed overnight.

On September 1, when this law went into effect, what happened that next morning in your clinic or that next day? How many women came in looking for help? And what did you tell them?

KUMAR: Yes, what we know is, when you ban abortion, it doesn't mean that people stop needing access, and that people won't go to more lengths to get the care that they need.

So, on August 31, when I was seeing patients, I was able to use my training and expertise and take care of patients. And, overnight, on September 1, I was no longer able to do my job. I wasn't able to provide medical care for my patients. They were still there. The need was still there. But, unfortunately, the government had stopped me from providing the care that my patients needed. BLACKWELL: Yes, I have read that you said that there were 20 to 30

abortions per day before SB-8. Where did that number go after the implementation?

KUMAR: Yes, typically, that's how many patients I might see on a typical day.

Of course, the day before this law went into effect, we saw as many patients as we could, which was close to 60. And then, once this law was in effect on Wednesday, September 1, I was only able to see six patients, and three of those patients qualified for an abortion under this law, so a drastic change in the number of people I'm able to help in the state of Texas.

And everyone else, we have to refer out of state, unfortunately.

CAMEROTA: Doctor, there are so many draconian elements of this law, but one of them is that victims of rape and incest have to carry the rapist's baby to term now.

And so, when Governor Greg Abbott of your state was asked about this, he basically thinks that the solution is that he thinks he will be able to eliminate rape from the state. Here's what he said.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Let's make something very clear. Rape is a crime. And Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.

So, goal number one in the state of Texas is to eliminate rape, so that no woman, no person will be a victim of rape.


CAMEROTA: Dr. Kumar, what do you want him to know about the reality?

KUMAR: I think that statement is really out of touch with reality.

I would encourage the governor to talk to survivors of rape and incest, so that he has an idea of what people actually experience after they have been raped. We see people that have experienced and survived raping incest, and we take care of them. The amount of time that they have to access abortion is extremely small and virtually impossible for anyone to access, let alone somebody who's experienced rape.

We also know that only a quarter of rape reports are actually prosecuted. So there's a lot of rape that's being not reported, that's going underground. There's also marital rape. So, his response is simply insufficient and it's not going to help anybody. His goals are also unattainable.

[14:25:04] BLACKWELL: And, Doctor, I want to go back to something you said your first answer, is that what you know is that women who cannot get the services at your facility go on to other places potentially for abortions.

Is that something -- I imagine it is -- that is the paramount concern, is that these abortions will still happen, but they will threaten the lives of these women because of the ways in which they are conducted?

KUMAR: Yes, absolutely.

Like I said earlier, banning abortion does not change the need for abortion. So one of the options that we're offering people is that you can still go out of state to get the care that you need. Many people are able to do that. But we also know that some people just can't do that.

And we had a similar experience last spring, when the governor issued an executive order. And for some people, especially low-income folks, folks with kids and having to negotiate child care and all the logistics of going out of state to get the care that they need, while we're still in a global pandemic, is just simply insurmountable.

So some people will go out of state, but we know some people will stay pregnant and be forced to carry that pregnancy to term and parent children that they know that they can't have and are not in the right place in their life to parent and raise. And that's a serious concern of mine as a physician.

CAMEROTA: And, last, Dr. Kumar, I know you're at the White House to meet with Vice President Harris. What are you going to tell her today?

KUMAR: I really want to share what I have been experiencing on the ground, what I'm hearing from patients, and that we do everything we can to protect access to abortion.

Abortion access will always be needed. And we need everything on the table, so that my patients can get the care that they need.

BLACKWELL: All right, Bhavik Kumar, thank you so much for your time.

KUMAR: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: And, again, we are just a couple of minutes out from the Justice Department making this announcement that challenges the new abortion law in Texas.

We will bring that to you live.

CAMEROTA: And the Taliban has allowed another flight to leave Afghanistan with Americans on board. We are live on the ground in Kabul with the latest for you next.