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Los Angeles Expected To Issue Student Vaccination Mandate; Department Of Labor To Require Businesses With 100-Plus People To Ensure Workers Are Vaccinated Or Tested; Trump Defends Robert E. Lee, Says He Would Have Won Afghan War. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 15:30   ET



JACKIE GOLDBERG, LOS ANGELES SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: 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.

BLACKWELL: Understood, that you express that as love. There will be some parents and families who do not receive that as love and for those who say I will not have my child vaccinated because that is my choice, to those families will they be allowed to go to a virtual schooling? What's the option then?

GOLDBERG: Absolutely. We have an independent study system set up for those right now who want to have their children not in person because they're afraid of COVID. Those are mostly element school aged children. But we have an opportunity for that and we're not going to stop educating the children in L.A. Unified regardless.

What we're going to say is, though, that unless you have an exemption that's allowable under the law, you will not be in in-person classrooms.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask about those exemptions. When you say exemptions, I apologize for jumping in. Are you including religious exemptions or those only medical?

GOLDBERG: Well, it's mostly medical. We will do it on a case-by-case basis even for religious exemptions. But the state of California has outlawed most religious exemptions after a couple of years ago we had an outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland and spread throughout southern California.

And that was because a whole lot of parents had said, well, I just have a belief that I don't believe in vaccinations. So now you actually have to have a religious belief that is constant in your life. We will take them on a case-by-case basis. Our goal is not to eliminate anybody's exemptions that they're entitled to, but to say to everyone else you have until the end of October to be vaccinated. If you're going to be in sports or after-school activities, extracurricular programs, you've got until the end of December, December 19th when we go on winter break for everybody else 12 to 18 years of age to be vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: Understood.

GOLDBERG: We will have mobile vaccine sites on our middle and high school campuses and we have a lot of community partners in the medical field that are also providing vaccination sites.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jackie Goldberg with the L.A. County Unified School District, thank you so much for being with me. We've got to get to some breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: We have some breaking news right now. This is ahead of President Biden's major speech on COVID. We have just learned that the Department of Labor will require all businesses, meaning private businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workers are either vaccinated or face testing once a week.

So, let's go back to chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins with the details. Kaitlan, this is big breaking news, so this isn't just for federal workers, this is for private businesses.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is separate from that executive order that is going to be basically a vaccine mandate for federal workers and contractors. This is going to be an emergency temporary rule that we are expected to get in the coming weeks. But President Biden is going to announce it today from the Department of Labor, saying that all businesses that have 100 or more employees will have to ensure that those employees are vaccinated or they will have to be tested once a week if they are not vaccinated.

That is a significant rule that is going to be coming out of the Labor Department and it is something that the president is going to announce during this speech at 5 p.m. Eastern when they are talking about these steps to get more Americans vaccinated.

And so, this rule that we are expected to get in the coming weeks from the Labor Department, the White House estimates it could affect up to 80 million workers in the United States. That is incredibly significant and the fact this appears to be the way they have decided they can compel private companies to get their employees vaccinated.

We know that is something they have struggled with. We know that they have this belief that the federal government cannot order broad vaccine mandates. But this is something that they can do, they believe, from the Department of Labor.

And so, this is going to be a rule that we will hear from the Labor Secretary Marty Walsh when they actually have finalized it, according to a senior administration official who briefed us earlier they are still crafting this rule.

But those are a lot of businesses that this will be affected by. And so, it does raise questions of, of course, what happens to those businesses if they don't comply with this new rule? Should we expect this to go the way of how the federal government is now, because this new vaccine mandate that the president is announcing today, previously, the standard was either you had to be vaccinated or you had to submit to regular testing.

That is going to be the new standard for private companies that have 100 or more employees. And so asked what the repercussions could be if they don't comply, a senior administration official said the Department of Labor and OSHA will, quote, take enforcement actions which could substantial fines up to nearly $14,000 per violation. So of course, that is significant in and of itself.


This is something we expect the president to go in further detail on when he does speak at 5 o'clock. And we should note that those remarks are going to include several different components of their plan to try to get the Delta variant and the pandemic in and of itself under control.

The other one, of course, is that vaccine mandate for federal workers. And one other aspect of this we should note is they say they are going to double those fines for people who try to not wear a mask when they are on a flight, when they are in an airport. Of course, that has been something big that we've seen play out over the last few weeks. And a senior official said they will be doubling those TSA mask fines as well.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kaitlan, stick with us, we're going to broaden this conversation and bring back chief political analyst Gloria Borger, chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, also with us CNN medical analyst Dr. Wen.

I'm going to go to the doctor first. We've seen that pretty please hasn't worked, the honor system hasn't worked. In large part, the lotteries and the $100 gift cards haven't worked. What do you think now about this now rule that's coming from the White House?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think it's definitely needed. We have to make getting vaccinated the easy choice and remaining unvaccinated the hard choice. So, I think that the Biden administration is doing the right thing when it comes to compelling people to get vaccinated, requiring federal workers to be vaccinated, requiring contractors to be vaccinated and now saying that employees and the companies over 100 people should either be vaccinated or get tested.

I think this is all going in the right direction, but I actually wish the Biden administration would go even further, because planes and trains, for example, are also under their authority. A lot of people want to travel. And I think it would make a big difference to say, if you want to travel, then you need to get vaccinated. That makes travel much safer, but I think it also sets the tone that at this point in the pandemic we have to do everything we can, the federal government has to do everything in its power and it's not currently using all of its authority.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey Toobin, what is the difference between this announcement and a federal vaccine mandate?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's close, but it is not everyone in the United States. I think the technical legal term for what went on today is no more Mr. nice guy. I mean, this is the beginning of getting closer to a national mandate.

There is the question, though, of whether the federal government has the legal authority to do this. I mean OSHA supervises employee safety. Whether that authority extends to requiring vaccines for people in companies bigger than 100 employees, you can be sure this is going to be challenged in court.

I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that this is certainly a shot across the bow by the Justice Department and by the White House, saying, look, we are sick of asking, we are now telling you get vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: Gloria, I expect we're going to hear from and see the governors of Florida, Texas, South Dakota, a spate of Republican Senators come out soon. The president has shied away, stayed away from these broad mandates for private sector, but now is seeing this is something that at least in public health perspective is something he thinks he has to do.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, as you were pointing out earlier, he's gone from the carrot to the sticks, and because they feel they have no other choice. They want to get the economy moving and it won't stay moving if you let the Delta variant spread. And so, what they are doing today is setting a new minimum standard, just a minimum standard.

And they're also giving employers kind of an excuse, a way out, because it's controversial in a lot of organizations and the employer will say the law is the law. I have to obey the law. If the employer decides, as Jeffrey points out, if the employer decides they want to fight the law, they can try and fight the law.

The question that I have is, on the testing for example, you know, that Delta Air Lines is making people who decide not to get vaccinated pay for tests or charging them more on their insurance. Who's going to pay for ones who need the testing? Are the companies supposed to pick up the tab for that? Is the government supposed to pick up the tab for that? Will the employees pick up the tab for that?

What the Biden administration is trying to do is effectively make it untenable, difficult, almost impossible for people to work in larger organizations without endangering the health of the people they work with. I mean, that's a pretty simple thesis. And that's what they're doing because they feel at this point, they have no other choice.

They have jumped through every hoop on this. We've covered it daily. And now it's clear that they're at a point where they need to say we can't force you, but we can make your life really uncomfortable if you decide not to get vaccinated.


Because the economic health of the country and the health of your fellow citizens is at stake.

CAMEROTA: Kaitlan, do we know the answers to some of those things? What will enforcement look like? Who will be in charge of that? And then do we have the infrastructure to have that many people be tested every week since at times during this pandemic it's been tough for people to be tested?

COLLINS: Well, I think that will be what the companies that they're asking the Department of Labor. Because also it's not even just getting the testing done, also checking to make sure that everyone is vaccinated. Ensuring that people are vaccinated. That's a whole other process instead of infrastructure in and of itself.

Because of course that isn't something that we've seen other businesses say is like, yes, we want to require vaccines, but also having the staff to check vaccinations, to make sure that is another entire separate part of their businesses now post-pandemic or still in the pandemic but post since the pandemic has started, part of their life.

And so, I think those are details that are all going to be worked out. I think that's why we're not actually getting this rule today. Because we were told by an administration official, they're still drafting the rule right now and they expect it to be introduced in the coming weeks.

And then also there are questions about the timeline. How long do these employees have to be vaccinated or when does this testing period actually starts? When does this go into effect?

Because we know from the separate executive order that the president is signing, they are going to have 75 days for those federal workers to get vaccinated or of course risk losing their job potentially. Based on what we had heard from the press secretary earlier.

And so these are going to raise some questions, but I do think this is just notable in and of itself. This is not a position that the White House wanted to go, not a direction they had initially wanted to go in when we were talking to officials six or seven months ago.

But they really feel that the Delta variant has forced their hand. And the fact that millions of Americans have not gotten vaccinated yet has really left them with no option. And they think the only way out of this is to get millions more people vaccinated.

And yes, vaccinations have started to tick up with the Delta surge. We've seen that on daily basis that we're looking at, not over this recent weekend. But there are millions and millions of more that need to get vaccinated for it to actually make progress in the country and for things to actually look different than what they do now with the Delta variant. So, I think that's why you're seeing the White House resort to these measures, because they don't feel like they really have many other options to get more people vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Wen, there's one detail here in what we've learned from this official who's confirmed what's coming, it's about boosters. And boosters could be required depending upon what other agencies define as fully vaccinated. So, at what point is a person or a company not in compliance if the administration, if the FDA still has not decided on a booster infrastructure?

WEN: Well, right now you are considered to be fully vaccinated if you have two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson.

I don't see that plan changing any time soon. As in I think initially the FDA and CDC might be coming out this month, hopefully, with some type of booster plan saying that people are going to be allowed to receive a booster in order to increase their immunity even if they're fully vaccinated.

But to then go the extra step of saying, well, you're not going to be considered fully vaccinated until you get that booster dose, it's going to take a long time for us to reach that point. Even Israel, which started its booster strategy well before we did, they haven't even gotten to that point yet.

But I do think that having more clarity about the booster is important. We need to emphasize right now that getting the initial doses is what's really critical for us to stop the spread of COVID-19. But then there are also going to be other people who want to increase their immune protection further. I think allowing them to do that is the right step while still emphasizing that the public health priority is getting those people who have not received any drop of the vaccine to get them inoculated in the first place.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, back to the law, they say here that companies could face thousands of dollars in fines per employee if they do not comply with this. Do we have any precedent for something like this, this kind of nationwide push of the federal government to force private companies to do something like this at penalty of fines?

TOOBIN: Well, there are lots -- federal, I mean OSHA is a national regulatory body, and there are rules that OSHA says that if you operate a mine, if you operate a factory, you have to follow.

I'm not aware of any vaccine requirements. I mean, certainly schools and the military require measles vaccine, polio vaccines, but I am not aware that OSHA has ever imposed a vaccine requirement. That's going to be controversial. And that's going to be subject to legal challenge. But just because there's a challenge doesn't mean it's going to win. And certainly, a lot of employers are going to simply require the vaccine rather than worry about a lawsuit. And that's the point of this regulation.


They don't want fines. They want compliance. And certainly, this will boost compliance. The question is will it boost compliance enough to affect the economy and affect the terrible death rates that we're now living with?

BLACKWELL: Kaitlan --

BORGER: And by the way --

BLACKWELL: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: Sorry and by the way, the Biden administration isn't really leading here. Businesses started doing this, mandating vaccines, private businesses, before the federal government ever really got into the act.

And Biden has been saying over and over again, as Kaitlan knows very well, you know, business has to do more, business has to do more. And they started and then they kind of stopped short. And I think what the administration is saying today is, you know what, you started it, you got to finish it.

And now we're going to take a stand on this and we're requiring federal workers, over whom we have authority, to get vaccinated. And so, you know, I think the president is looking for a partnership here with business. He doesn't want to get in a fight with business, but if some businesses want to pick a fight, they'll do it. And I don't know whether it would be under OSHA regulations calling for a safe workplace, but it seems to me they've clearly looked at the legal options here.

BLACKWELL: Kaitlan, is that what you see from the White House, this partnership as Gloria describes it that's sought?

COLLINS: Well, I think they hoped that it would set a standard when they took the step up having what is now going to be a new Labor Department rule. That was so far until this executive order that the president is signing today, that was the rule for the federal government. You had to be vaccinated or submit to testing, masking, social distancing and what not. And so of course, now that's going to the rule apply to the general workforce for these companies that have 100 or more employees.

One other thing, Victor and Alisyn, that we should note that it's also going to be announced today is that all workers who are in health care settings that get reimbursement from Medicare or Medicaid services are also going to have to be vaccinated. And this includes hospitals, this included dialysis centers, home health care, any of those businesses that have employees where that as a business gets reimbursed by Medicare or Medicaid, you're going to have CMS which of course runs those two entities -- all of those employees are also going to have to be vaccinated. That's 17 million people, according to the White House estimate.

Of course, we don't know how many of those people are already vaccinated, we're not lining up those numbers but that's the swath that they believe they'll be able to reach with that. And so, you're trying to see them using the levers of the federal government that they do have to encourage these vaccinations. And going back to setting a standard, I think the concern was that enough people were not following the standard. You saw some like Tyson Foods, American Airlines, some of those companies following this. But I think they wanted more to follow this and that's why you're seeing this new rule from the Department of Labor.

TOOBIN: If I can just add about the medical workers that Kaitlan was just talking about. You know, it's shocking to me, but there is enormous noncompliance with vaccines in the medical profession, not necessarily among doctors, but certainly among nurses and other sort of home health care aides. They are not vaccinated in the numbers that you would expect. So, the fact that the federal government is potentially withholding reimbursement to these medical operations is a very important step.

WEN: It's huge.

BLACKWELL: All right we're a little more than an hour out from this speech from the president where he will detail many elements of this new plan.

CAMEROTA: Yes, they weren't kidding, there are going to be some bombshells in there.

BLACKWELL: Yes, to combat the spread of the pandemic. Gloria Borger, Kaitlan Collins, Dr. Leana Wen, Jeffery Toobin, thank you all.

CAMEROTA: OK, meanwhile, former President Trump is heaping praise on a Confederate general, but of course his historical facts need a little fact checking.



CAMEROTA: Former President Trump is weighing in on yesterday's removal of the Robert E. Lee Confederate statue in Virginia. He called the removal an embarrassment and claimed that quote, we are suffering because we don't have the genius of a Robert E. Lee.

Julian Zelizer is a CNN political analyst and historian and professor at Princeton University. Professor, great to see you. President Trump is a super fan of Robert E. Lee. I mean, he really likes Robert E. Lee. But I think that the point is that in this statement he's doing something bigger than that, and that is getting back to his stoking of racial tension.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly right, like he did with Confederate statues throughout. He's trying to stoke that kind of racial politics in the conservative movement, and he's also trying to draw the attention of the media towards these sorts of questions and initially it looks like he succeeded in both. But we're seeing him return to the public stage through the same kinds of arguments that he's used all the way back to his announcement of running the first time and to Charlottesville. BLACKWELL: Yes, let me read a bit of the former president's statement

on the removal of that statue in Richmond. He writes here of the late general. If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan. That disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago.


He goes on to say, except for Gettysburg, Lee would have won the war. Many things here. First, let's start with except for Gettysburg and --

CAMEROTA: Details.

BLACKWELL: And the former president saying --

CAMEROTA: Minor details.

BLACKWELL: We would have won that war.

ZELIZER: Yes, I mean there's two flaws. One is assessing Lee that way and making this claim about how the Civil War would have unfolded. And the second is Lee wasn't on the side of the Union, and so here he is invoking him about what he would do for the nation where the history is just the opposite. So, we don't even know if Lee would be fighting on the side of the United States, and I think that's why this historical argument is so contorted. And obviously it's a political appeal, not a historical argument.

CAMEROTA: Also. I'm not quite sure that he wrote that statement. It wasn't some of his usual kind of monosyllabic language in that statement. There were some words that I'm not familiar with President Trump normally using, but in any event, it's certainly his thoughts, whoever is writing it.

I also want to ask you, professor, about this. President Trump apparently reached out to and called some of the family members of the fallen soldiers in Afghanistan, some of whom made it clear that they were not happy with President Biden's reception, and if President Trump comforted them, obviously that's wonderful. But it's interesting since we know that in the past, he has been critical of Gold Star families and he has called fallen soldiers, I'm thinking of the time in 2018 when he went -- he was supposed to go to the cemetery outside of Paris and he called the soldiers who were lost in that cemetery losers and sufferers according to former officials who were there. So, it's a different tone from him.

ZELIZER: And of course, remember his comments about Senator McCain which started a lot of this kind of conversation. And these comments are a bit of a different tone, but they are coming in the context of his potentially announcing that he will run again. And from what we're reading using Afghanistan as a key political issue to go after the Biden administration. Though there's a fault line between what he said in the past and this, but it's also an incredibly politicized way to use this kind of consoling.

BLACKWELL: Yes, this reporting coming from "The Washington Post." Is it typical for a former president to make these calls that we're used to sitting presidents make to these families?

ZELIZER: I'm sure there have been calls to people who have been through tragedy, but this is a president -- a former president who might run again and a former president who is in the midst of shaping a political argument, and I think we have to see the conversation in this light.

CAMEROTA: I want to also talk about what former President Trump, how he's going to spend on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. He's going to be calling a boxing match. That is not -- doesn't feel particularly patriotic. It doesn't feel particularly sensitive. What are we to make of that?

ZELIZER: Oh, it's more of the same. I don't think his supporters will care that he's doing this. This is the lesson that we've learned before. Their loyalty is very strong, but it's not what we would expect of a former president. This was a national tragedy unlike almost any other that we have suffered through, and so we would want our elected officials and former leaders to use that day not to cover a sporting event but to be part of the remembrance of the tragedy and think about what lessons we can learn for the future. So, I think he'll have a lot of criticism for this decision.

BLACKWELL: Yes. It's being billed as no-holds barred commentary with Don Trump Jr. at the Holyfield-Belfort fight at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. That's what the former president will be doing on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Julian Zelizer, thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, now --

ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: -- thanks for being here.

OK, now to the topic of the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee. Construction crews are searching for a time capsule that's believed to be hidden inside the base of that statue. So, listen to this. Historians think the capsule was stashed in there back in 1887 and what is in there, Victor?

BLACKWELL: So, a newspaper article from "The Times" says it contains mostly memorabilia, including a U.S. silver dollar and a picture of President Lincoln lying in his coffin.

CAMEROTA: What does that mean? An illustrated picture? A -- I mean what do we think that is?

BLACKWELL: Maybe a sketch.

CAMEROTA: A sketch?

BLACKWELL: And so, the plan now is to replace that time capsule with a new one with artifacts from, of course, current times, including an expired vial of the Pfizer vaccine and images from the Black Lives Matter movement, of course, which makes sense because that movement in large part is why that statue is coming down.

CAMEROTA: Time capsules are so cool. You have to think about what you would put in there right now of what captures this moment.

BLACKWELL: I got it.

"THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.