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Los Angeles Expected to Issue Vaccine Mandate For Students; Biden Administration Set to Unveil New COVID Plan; Justice Department to Sue Texas Over Abortion Ban. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Brand-new hour. Thank you for staying with us. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

Any minute, Attorney General Merrick Garland will announce the Justice Department's challenge to the new abortion law in Texas. That law bans abortions as early as six weeks and does not allow exceptions for rape or incest. So, we will bring you the attorney general's comments as soon as he starts.

We're also watching the White House, where, this afternoon, President Biden will unveil his new six-part strategy to try to curb COVID. The plan includes his executive order that requires all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated with no-opt out for regular testing.

So, today, his chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the pandemic is under -- quote -- "not even modestly good control." The U.S. is averaging 150,000 new cases every single day, with the Delta variant preying on the unvaccinated. We have an average of 1, 500 Americans a day dying from the virus.

BLACKWELL: You compare that to the Fourth of July. The case average was about 1, 2000, deaths were at 200 a day. Right now, nearly 100,000 Americans are in hospitals with COVID.

Also, at the same time the president is set to speak, Los Angeles Unified School District will hold its meeting, where it's expected to approve a vaccine mandate for students, the first major school district to do so.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

So, first, what should we expect to hear from the president this afternoon?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is one significant aspect of this feature, Victor and Alisyn.

And that is that millions of federal workers and contractors who do business with the federal government are now facing a vaccine mandate. Previously, the White House had announced that this was going to be in place and that essentially they had the option to get vaccinated or face weekly testing and these stringent measures to -- that related to mask-wearing and social distancing and whatnot.

But now they are saying that option is gone and all federal workers who work for the government are going to have to be vaccinated. And Jen Psaki, the press secretary, said that they are going to have about 75 days of a period to get fully vaccinated, to get those vaccine shots, if they have not chosen to do so yet, or they're going to face the repercussions.

And when she was asked what those are going to look like, this is what she told reporters.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And we expect federal employees will have about 75 days to be fully vaccinated. That gives people more than enough time, in our view, to start and complete their vaccination series.

If a federal worker fails to comply, they will go through the standard H.R. process, which includes counseling and face disciplinary action. Again, there are limited exceptions. But, yes, the expectation is that if you want to work in the federal government or be a contractor, you need to be vaccinated, unless you are eligible for one of the exemptions.


COLLINS: So, obviously, there are a few saying there will be a few exemptions. But for the vast majority, which is -- we believe this number is in the millions of people, they will now have to be vaccinated if they want to keep their jobs in the federal government or keep their contracts with the federal government.

And so this is just another step that the president is taking, building on something that he announced earlier this year. It is notable that they are now going to this, because this is a place where they had resisted going initially when it came to mandating these vaccines.

But two things are fueling, this Delta surge, that, of course, we are seeing rising hospitalizations, rising death rates, numbers we have not seen since vaccines were widespread, also, of course, the full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

And we should note, we do expect President Biden today to talk about booster shots, which we know has caused a lot of confusion, led to a lot of questions and people asking when they will be able to get their booster shot or if it's even necessary. He will speak on that today, Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, a couple of hours from that.

Kaitlan Collins in the White House, thank you so much.

Listen, the challenges are mounting for a president who was elected in large part to get the pandemic under control.

CAMEROTA: So, our team of reporters lays out the state of the crisis from schools to hospitals.



President Biden is expected to speak directly to schools today, with a focus on...


CAMEROTA: OK, we will get back to that in a moment.

We want to go now to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Last week, after the Supreme Court allowed Texas Senate Bill 8 effect, I said that the Justice Department was evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons.

Today, after a careful assessment of the facts and the law, the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas.


Our position is set out in detail in our complaint. Its basis is as follows.

SB-8 bans nearly all abortions in the state after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant, and months before a pregnancy is viable.

It does so even in cases of rape, sexual abuse or incest. And it further prohibits any effort to aid the doctors who provide pre- viability abortions or the women who seek them. The act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent.

Those precedents hold, in the words of Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, that -- quote -- "Regardless of whether exceptions are made for particular circumstances, a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability."

Texas does not dispute that it statute violates Supreme Court precedent. Instead, the statute includes an unprecedented scheme to, in the chief justice's words -- quote -- "insulate the state from responsibility" -- close quote.

It does not rely on the state's executive branch to enforce the law, as is the norm in Texas and everywhere else. Rather, the statute deputizes all private citizens, without any showing of personal connection or injury, to serve as bounty hunters, authorized to recover at least $10,000 per claim from individuals who facilitate a woman's exercise of her constitutional rights.

The obvious and expressly acknowledged intention of this statutory scheme is to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights by thwarting judicial review for as long as possible.

Thus far, the law has had its intended effect. Because the statute makes it too risky for an abortion clinic to stay open, abortion providers have ceased providing services. This leaves women in Texas unable to exercise their constitutional rights and unable to obtain judicial review at the very moment they need it.

This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans, whatever their politics or party, should fear. If it prevails, it may become a model for action in other areas by other states and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents, nor need one think long or hard to realize the damage that would be done to our society if states were allowed to implement laws that empower any private individual to infringe on another's constitutionally protected rights in this way.

The United States has the authority and the responsibility to ensure that no state can deprive individuals of their constitutional rights through a legislative scheme specifically designed to prevent the vindication of those rights.

The United States also brings this suit to assert other federal interests that SB-8 unconstitutionally impairs. Among other things, SB-8 conflicts with federal law by prohibiting federal agencies from exercising their authorities and carrying out their responsibilities under federal laws relating to abortion services.

It also subjects federal employees and non-governmental partners who implement those laws to civil liability and penalties. Among the federal agencies and programs whose operations the statute unconstitutionally restricts are the Labor Department's Job Corps program, the Defense Department's TRICARE health program, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Bureau of Prisons, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Office of Personnel Management.

The complaint therefore seeks a declaratory judgment that SB-8 is invalid under the Supremacy Clause and the 14th Amendment, is preempted by federal law, and violates the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity.

The United States also seeks a permanent and preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of the statute against the state of Texas, including against the state's officers, employees and agents and private parties it has effectively deputized who would bring suit under SB-8.


The Department of Justice has a duty to defend the Constitution of the United States and to uphold the rule of law. Today, we fulfill that duty by filing the lawsuit I have just described. Now, before I take some questions, I want to say a few words to the

American people on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

That day is seared into all of our memories. Nothing we can do or say can replace the loss so many endured that day. Nothing can change the profound way the events of September 11 altered us individually and collectively as a nation.

And let there be no doubt the threat from terrorists, from foreign terrorists, like those involved in the September 11 attack is one we must constantly guard against. But what we can do and what we have done is learn from the past to better anticipate and prepare for the next threat and to seek to disrupt it.

As we mark this anniversary, we rededicate ourselves at the Justice Department to doing all we can to protect the American people from terrorism in all its forms, whether originating from abroad or at home, and in doing so in a manner that is consistent with our values and the rule of law.

With that, I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Attorney General Garland, is there a provision in the Texas law that you personally find especially concerning?

GARLAND: I think I have described all the provisions that I find especially concerning. And this -- and the complaint does that in even more detail, so I wouldn't pick any one.

QUESTION: There's been several GOP lawmakers who said that they will follow Texas' lead.

And I was wondering if you expect DOJ to be involved in similar actions against other states? Like, would it be a leap to say that this is -- this could be one of several similar actions?

GARLAND: Well, as I said in my remarks, the risk here, the greater risk here, and the additional and further risk here is that other states will follow similar models with respect not only to this constitutional right, but,, against any constitutional right and in any other state.

So, if another state uses the same kind of provisions to deprive its citizens of their constitutional rights, and, in particular, to deprive their citizens of the ability to seek immediate review, we will bring the same kind of lawsuit.

QUESTION: So, there had been some pressure, it seems, from Democratic lawmakers on the Hill and anti-abortion groups and even, some could argue, from the White House on the Department of Justice to do something about this Texas law.

Did you feel any of that pressure? Is that any -- and did that play any role in this? GARLAND: The Department of Justice does not file lawsuits based on

pressure. We carefully evaluated the law and the facts. And this complaint expresses our view about the law and the facts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, thanks, everybody.

GARLAND: Thank you all.

CAMEROTA: OK, we have been listening there to the attorney general, Merrick Garland, lay out the legal logic of bringing a lawsuit against Texas, which they have decided to do today.

So let's bring in chief political analyst Gloria Borger, Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic, and chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, I will start with you, because I know you have been listening along. What did you hear? And what did you think of the logic?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I thought it was a very convincing explanation of what's wrong with the law. It was less convincing as a legal case.

I think this is going to be a very difficult lawsuit for the administration to win...


TOOBIN: ... starting with the question of standing. How was the Justice -- you can't just file a lawsuit because you don't like a law. The issue of do you have the injury in fact -- how has the federal government been injured?

You notice that Attorney General Garland mentioned several federal agencies that he said were affected. I think the defendants in this case are going to say, the injury, if there is any injury to those federal agencies, is too small and insignificant to merit the filing of a lawsuit.

That's going to be a big challenge in this case. But the fact that the federal government is in this case is a big deal. And the Justice Department is doing what it can.


The question is whether the courts will agree. And I think that's very much an open question.

BLACKWELL: And, Joan, I mean, it's important that we remind people how we got here by the decision not to act on behalf of the Supreme Court, and then the makeup of the court if this lawsuit then reaches them again, the likelihood that the DOJ will be successful.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think that this was a pretty muscular sounding lawsuit.

Jeff is right that they went after provisions that could affect the federal agencies. But, also, the overriding complaint here is that the Supremacy Clause, which gives the federal Constitution precedence over anything that happens in Texas, is the main basis for this.

And Merrick Garland -- who I just have to mention Merrick Garland in another life would have been sitting on the Supreme Court if he hadn't been blocked from appointment some five years ago. But it seemed like he was bringing together a couple different grounds here that could fly with this Supreme Court.

You're exactly right. With this new makeup, 6-3 conservative dominance over the three liberals, it will be an uphill battle at the Supreme Court, and probably even in the lower federal courts. Remember, this was filed in the Western District of Texas, and it goes up through the Fifth Circuit. That's a very conservative appeals court to face for the Biden administration.

But I think, at this point, the main message from Merrick Garland was, you tried to evade the law, you tried to set up a scheme that, in essence, would just subvert the federal Constitution and a woman's right that's been established for nearly a half-century, and the law will follow you even though you try to get around it.

So I think your question is exactly right about how it will fare. But I think they're trying to bring a couple different grounds here. And maybe one of them will succeed in the end. And in the interim, maybe they can get a temporary -- an injunction to block the law from being enforced by the private citizens who might bring these cases.

CAMEROTA: Gloria, you heard one of the reporters there bring up the question of if the Justice Department was succumbing to any political pressure, because we do know that there has been pressure on the White House...


CAMEROTA: ... and pressure from Democrats, do something. Don't let this happen in Texas.

So, the Justice -- I mean, Merrick Garland said, no, of course not. But that political pressure exists.

BORGER: Well, of course, there is political pressure.

Look, I would argue that, in many ways, this gives the Democrats an issue that they can rally around, because if you listen to Merrick Garland describe this law as starkly as he did, he said this relies on private citizens, and he talked about them serving as bounty hunters, getting $10,000 reward for turning in a neighbor who was helping somebody to get an abortion or knew about somebody getting an abortion.

People hear that, and the Democrats are trying to say, just listen to what this law does. And that is exactly what Merrick Garland was saying today. And, sure, there's pressure from Democrats saying, like, we have to use this, yes, it's an OK political issue, it's a good political issue for us, it will galvanize our base, et cetera, et cetera, but it is also an affront to the Constitution more importantly.

And I think that is why Garland kept saying, over and over and over again, we don't appoint vigilantes to take the law into their own hands, whether it be about this issue or any other issue. And so what he tried to do today, I think effectively, was distill it for the American people to hear.


TOOBIN: The big change is that this was an affront to the Constitution if you believe that Roe v. Wade is still good law.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: And the problem the federal government faces here is that five Supreme Court justices last week let this law go into effect, even though it so clearly conflicts with Roe v. Wade...

BORGER: Temporarily.

TOOBIN: ... and all the decisions since then.

That's the problem that abortion rights supporters face in the federal courts today. And this is a lawsuit in the federal court.

BORGER: Right.

BLACKWELL: So, Jeffrey, we had a doctor on in the last hour who said that, on a typical day, he offered services to 20 to 30 women. However, after this law was implemented, that number went to six who came in for services. He had to turn away three.

For women who are hoping that this law will be overturned or blocked, what's the timing potentially for them to see some impact?

TOOBIN: Well, this is what's so interesting procedurally about the situation.

Many people thought that, in the normal course of business, if a state passes a law that is clearly in conflict with Supreme Court precedent, as this one was...



TOOBIN: ... you would get a stay while it is litigated.

What makes the Supreme Court's decision last week so significant is that they did not agree to a stay. They said, no, the law can go into effect. That suggests to me that it's going to be difficult to get a stay, even with this very important lawsuit filed by the Justice Department.

Again, what makes this law and the reaction to it so significant is that this is the first time since 1973 that abortion is effectively illegal in a major -- in any part of the United States. And the Supreme Court said, that's OK.

That's what's so chilling about this case. And, frankly, I don't know that the Justice Department's lawsuit changes anything. We will see as it starts to move through the system. But the status quo today is that abortion is effectively illegal in Texas.

CAMEROTA: And, Joan, I mean, we have touched on this, but they did it through this tricky maneuver. I mean, you heard the attorney general repeatedly call it a statutory scheme, not even really a law, a statutory scheme.

And so what does that mean?


BISKUPIC: That's right.

I mean, well, first of all, he was he was rightly picking up on language of certainly no liberal, Chief Justice John Roberts, who dissented from that order that allowed the law to take effect. And Attorney General Garland used much of the chief's language there referring to how unprecedented this was, and to reinforce the idea that this was designed to evade federal law, the U.S. Constitution, and that has got to mean something.

If you just step back and say we're just going to think about procedural lanes here, we're going to think about who is rightly sued, who's not rightly sued, Texas was essentially gaming the system.

And Chief Justice Roberts didn't say that out loud, but that's effectively what he said. And that's effectively what Merrick Garland is saying here. You can't set up a scheme -- and he used the word scheme rightly -- that says that this cannot be challenged, when it is so patently against 50 years of precedent.

And the other thing I would say about Roe, Roe is supposed to still be the law. And what even the majority that refuse to block this law said, well, we're not saying anything about abortion, we're not saying anything about whether this law is actually constitutional or not constitutional.

And maybe some lower court judges can hang their hats on that, saying, well, the court, despite allowing this to take effect, was emphatic in saying that it's not declaring its constitutionality yet. But the truth is that, for nearly 50 years, America has had this right. And how could it evaporate essentially overnight, about 10 days ago, when it did, and not have someone be able to do something about it or have not someone, not just Attorney General Merrick Garland, but the nation's federal courts?

So, to your question, Alisyn, yes, everyone's calling it a scheme, because that's what it was.


TOOBIN: But it worked. BORGER: But, right, it worked.

But think about 59 percent of the American public believes that abortion should be legal; 35 percent of Republicans believe abortion should be legal. The question that I have is, women voters, listening to what Merrick Garland said today, suburban women that Republicans have had a lot of problems with, what are they going to think?

What are they going to think when they hear about this plan, this scheme, as Garland put it, that can now go into effect, with vigilantes out there getting monetary rewards for talking about other people's private business?

CAMEROTA: All right, Gloria Borger, Joan Biskupic, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much for helping us analyze the breaking news that we just had.

BLACKWELL: All right, in a first for the nation, one of America's largest school districts, Los Angeles, is expected to vote on a vaccine mandate for eligible students.

We will talk to a school board member next.



BLACKWELL: Well, now to that consequential vote later today in the nation's second largest school district.

The Los Angeles County School Board is expected to decide if students 12 years or older should be required to get vaccinated against COVID- 19.

Let's bring in now Jackie Goldberg. She's an L.A. County School Board member.

Thanks for being with us.

First, let's start with why. I mean, vaccines for students are not new in L.A. or across the country, but why take this step?

JACKIE GOLDBERG, LOS ANGELES SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: Well, we have seen now, since August, a 10-times higher hospitalization rate among unvaccinated adolescents ages 12 to 17 in the country.

We have seen a surge of children being hospitalized and the beginning of seeing some deaths of children from COVID. And we believe that it is time for us in L.A. Unified School District to tell our students that we love you and we care enough about you to require you to be vaccinated, just the same way we require you to be vaccinated against polio and measles and mumps and other diseases...


GOLDBERG: ... that could cause harm and death.