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Frustrated Biden Targets Unvaccinated with New Rules; Biden, Chinese President Xi Speak amid Rising Tension; 20th Anniversary of 9/11 Marks First Time Without Troops in Afghanistan. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 10:00   ET




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

Do the right thing. That is the message from President Biden as he enacts sweeping new coronavirus vaccine mandates. His goal, get more Americans vaccinated to get the pandemic under control. The new mandates are his strongest push yet, all of it just shy, just shy of requiring everyone in the country to get vaccinated.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: There are some people who really don't want to get vaccinated but they don't want to lose their job, you have got to give them an off-lane. And the off-lane is if you get tested frequently enough and find out your positive, you won't come to work and you won't infect other people. So it is really somewhat of a compromise there. Myself, I would just make it vaccinate or not but he was trying to be moderate in what his pronouncement was.


SCIUTTO: So, here is what the rules are now. Federal employees and contractors to the federal government must get a COVID shot as well as health care workers in settings with Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement. That's, of course, federal money. And all private companies with more than 100 workers will have to mandate vaccinations, or as Dr. Fauci was describing there, weekly testing.

The president encouraged governors to require shots for all school teachers and staff as well. Los Angeles, the nation's second largest school district, already requires the vaccine for students 12 and older.


NICK MELVOIN, VICE PRESIDENT, LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION: We've been leading the nation with weekly testing and mask mandates and air filtration upgrades and now this vaccination requirement, so that kids could stay in person and that schools can remain open.


SCIUTTO: This hour, we do expect to hear from the president as he visits a local school here in the nation's capital. We're going to bring you those remarks as they happen.

Let's begin at the White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, President Biden visiting a school this morning. Is this part of his broader COVID messaging?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt about it. I mean, listen, a lot of the steps that the president talked about yesterday involved schools. One of those steps is with regards to teachers who are in federal programs, like the head start program or federally funded schools requiring those teachers to be vaccinated. And so that is part of the focus of the president's visit today.

Now, in terms of the broader steps that we heard the president announce yesterday, these are steps that the president, for a long time while he's been in office, has really resisted. He has wanted to get vaccination rates to increase on a voluntarily basis across the country. But as cases have surged over the summer with the spread of the delta variant and millions of Americans have still resisted getting vaccinated, the president has now changed course.

And what we're seeing is some sweeping vaccine requirements, including this requirement that businesses that employ more than 100 people, their employees must either be vaccinated or tested regularly. He is also requiring now that all federal employees, as well as employees of federal contractors must be vaccinated, no longer having the option to do that regular testing and test out of that vaccine mandate. There was also, as we were just talking about, this requirement for educators in federal programs.

Now, as it a relates to schools, the president also talked about some steps that he had announced previously, which includes a lot of pushback on some of these governors who are resisting these mask mandates and requirements, for example, covering the salary of any teacher or administrator whose pay was withheld by a state imposing a mask mandate. A lot of that aimed at some of the things that Governor DeSantsis is doing down in Florida.

And, listen, throughout the president's remarks yesterday, one thing was very clear, was his frustration with the current situation, the pandemic of the unvaccinated, as he called it, saying that his patience is wearing thin. And what we heard really was the president reflecting the frustrations not only his own but the frustrations of those three quarter of American adults who have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine at this point.

And so, clearly, while this move is polarizing, you're seeing some Republican governors calling this unconstitutional and assault on private businesses. It is very clear that the president is in line at least with a big portion of the country when it comes to vaccines and the need for them to get out of this pandemic, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That patience line seems to be reflecting what you hear from a lot of people as well. Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much.

President Biden is already facing blowback from Republicans over his get tough approach to the COVID surge and those vaccine mandates.

CNN Political Director David Chalian joins us now. David, I wonder, listen, most of the country has at least one shot, right? So, most of the country is on board for vaccines. But I wonder on mandates, politically risky for the president?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's unclear. Because, as you note, 75 percent of adults have at least one shot. And when you look at polling across the board, you see majorities of Americans support mandates.


I think the political risk, if there is one here, for the president is that by doing so, he enlivens the Republican base. He energizes the Republican base. I see the president there now at a school in Washington, Jim.


CHALIAN: And I think that is what Jeremy was referring to when he referenced Governor Abbott's tweet of Texas, that Biden's vaccine mandate is an assault on businesses. This is the kind of rhetoric that will unify Republicans.

So I think that may be the political risk here, but I think far out weighing the political risk is the need to actually get the virus behind us and that is why you saw Joe Biden do what he did yesterday.

SCIUTTO: I mean, the assault on private business argument is a little bit rich given that you have Republican governors that prevented private businesses from putting in, for instance, mask mandates. But, anyway, that is another story.

Let's talk about this new CNN poll out this morning. It shows his top line number, Biden, 52 percent approval, 48 percent disapproval. Over the course of the poll it is interesting that approval number came down, withdrawal from Afghanistan, rise of COVID again. I mean, do you see any evidence here though of his drop in approval bottoming out?

CHALIAN: I mean, as you noted, over the course of the poll, we did see that. But I think what is important here, that 52 percent approval rating, good. That 48 percent disapproval rating has been on the rise. And when you look across parties, obviously overwhelmingly Democrats are with him, independents, he's at 46 percent approval. That is down five points among independents, a critical component of the electorate. That was part of his successful coalition to get elected president and, of course, only 9 percent of Republicans, Jim.

I also think if you look at his handling of coronavirus, which is far and away issue number one for Americans, you see he's got majority approval, 56 percent approve of the way he's handling the coronavirus, 45 percent disapprove. But look at that approval number over time. And you see that is significantly down for Joe Biden, down ten points from earlier this year when he was at 60 percent in March and 66 percent approval on COVID in April. He's down ten points now. I think that is precisely why you saw him give that speech last night.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, it is all going to be in results, right, because those things have followed the direction of the pandemic. So, we'll see where it goes from here.

One final note in this poll is just, overall, national worry about COVID, 70 percent worried right now, that is even up from 2020, right, pre-vaccines and so on. I wonder what you attribute that to.

CHALIAN: Yes. Take a look at that. Last year around this time, it was 60 percent who very or somewhat worried about the pandemic in their community. Right now, it is seven it ten Americans are worried. We see this rising concern on the coronavirus, rising concern on the economy, even rising concern on crime. I think it is clear what the president's challenges are in the months ahead.

SCIUTTO: No question. David Chalian, thanks for breaking it down. And as David was mentioning, these are live pictures of the president visiting a school here in Washington, D.C. We're going to be bringing you his comments, which he's expected to make from that school, as soon as they begin. And we'll keep monitoring.

Well, this morning, we're learning new details about President Biden's call overnight with the president of China, Xi Jinping. According to Chinese state media, Xi told Biden that America's policy towards China has caused, quote, serious difficulties for the relations between the two countries.

CNN National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood joins me now from the State Department. I mean, listen, the decline in U.S./China relations over the last several years have been very real and marked. And Xi Jinping is no wilting flower. He is a tough leader willing to say it. I mean, how significant is this conversation and do we expect them to be meeting face-to-face?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think, Jim, the backdrop, the tension that currently exists, as you said, over the last few years, but particularly over the last few months, is one of the reasons that they have this discussion. It was a discussion only the second phone call that President Biden has had with President Xi since he came into office. It lasted for about 90 minutes.

A senior administration official said that cyber issues were discussed, economic issues were discussed, though they said there wasn't any specific ask on trade issues when it come to ask from President Xi. Generally speaking, the backdrop here, these tensions, I just want to point out how much is really at odds between the two countries. You have got these ransomware attacks, right, you have Iran, you have North Korea, you have COVID-19 origins, you have Chinese aggressions in the South China Sea, so all of that exists. But the White House said they tried to do in this phone call was have a broad, wide-ranging conversation, more of a strategic conversation between these two leaders. One thing that they pointed out is that a senior administration official said the Biden administration hasn't been, quote, satisfied with the working level discussions between the two countries in recent months. Of course, getting President Biden on the phone with President Xi is one thing to try and see if they can get the relationship to a steady state, which the Biden administration says that they are seeking to seek this competitive nature but make sure, in the words of the senior administration officials, that it does veer into conflict.


It is also significant that the White House readout said that there were issues of divergence and issues where they agreed that were discussed and that both of the leaders agreed to straightforwardly discuss both of those topics of issue given that there has been such frustration with the working level discussions, maybe there is some forward movement there. But it remains yet to be seen just how this relationship will evolve.

Of course, President Biden has really focused on this relationship as something that could be the most important in terms of foreign policy for his presidency. He has not yet met face-to-face with President Xi, that could come, but there were no details announced out of this phone call. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Among senior military officials, there is genuine concern about the possibility of military conflict with China in the coming years and they speak about it publicly. Kyle Atwood, thanks very much.

Still to come, 20 years since the September 11th terror attacks. It is almost hard to believe. But now, no U.S. boots on the ground in Afghanistan for the first time since then. Is the U.S. safer today? We're going to be joined by the former homeland security secretary, next.

Plus, we speak with one ICU physician inundated with unvaccinated patients in Tennessee, yet one more frontline in the battle against disinformation.

And later, one of Rudy Giuliani's former associates head back to court. Could he be preparing to cooperate with federal authorities?



SCIUTTO: Tomorrow, when the nation observes the 20 years since 9/11, it will be the first time we've done so without any troops on the ground in Afghanistan. And now with the country back amazingly under Taliban control, questions remain on whether it will once again become a haven for terror groups.

This morning Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the U.S. still has options and capabilities to prevent that.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We no longer have troops in Afghanistan but we have other resources to learn information on the ground and we certainly use those resources to the best of our abilities. We are quite creative and quite capable of learning information from coast to coast and all over the world.


SCIUTTO: Joining me now is Michael Chertoff. He was former secretary of homeland security, of course, a position created after 9/11 to prevent another attack on the homeland. Secretary, thanks for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: First, I'd like your response to hearing from Secretary Mayorkas, yes, it is true, U.S. maintains capabilities but even the CIA director have testified that without boots on the ground and other presence there, we have less intel gathering, you have got to do things from further away to respond to threats. So, it is a loss, isn't it?

CHERTOFF: Well, I think it is a loss, but I think we should also remember that we built a series of capabilities, including particularly electronic capabilities in the last 20 years, which give us some real visibility into what is going on. Now, there will have to be some adjusting, but I suspect that in relatively short order, we'll at least be able to get to a level of correction and intelligence that gives us what we need to make sure we can stop threats.

SCIUTTO: Will Afghanistan again become a haven for terrorist groups? Listen, they're already there. Al Qaeda folks were fighting alongside the Taliban as they took over the country, ISIS-K developing thousands of extremists flooding into the country. But, crucially, from your standpoint, will it become a base once again for plotting attacks on the U.S. abroad?

CHERTOFF: So I think there are two factors at play in here. One is that the Taliban have to make a decision whether they want to embrace terrorist groups and having the risk of having retaliation or being cut off by other members of international community. But beyond that, the terrorist groups are not all in uniform. ISIS-K is actually fighting with the Taliban. And the Taliban may be a little surprised to discover that they've got an extremism problem that they have to deal with to protect themselves.

So, I think we have to see how it plays out in terms of how these various groups and factions wind up either aligning or becoming antagonistic to each other.

SCIUTTO: In terms of capabilities, do any of those groups, including what remains of Al Qaeda there, have the capability to plot and carry out attacks on the U.S. homeland? CHERTOFF: Well, they certainly have the ability to plot. We have built a significant number of defenses and barriers to international terrorists coming into the U.S. to carry out terrorist attacks when certainly attacks at large scale.

So, over the last couple of decades, what the terrorists have done is they moved to a virtual model where they use the internet to radicalize people in the U.S. or in other countries and try to inspire them to carry out attacks. Those tend to be smaller scale. But I certainly would expect that that is going to continue, in addition to the other emerging terrorist groups including domestic terrorist groups.


SCIUTTO: You were the second, I believe, secretary of homeland security, as I noted earlier, a position created directly in response to 9/11, to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. Tell us as you look 20 years later, and particularly as the U.S. now leaves Afghanistan, all those years, all that money, all that time, that effort, those lives, those injures, was it worth it?

CHERTOFF: Well, bottom line is this, there was no other 9/11. What we did to protect this country at DHS and other places prevented another large scale international terrorist attack in the U.S. In fact, in August of 2006, it was a very serious plot in Britain by global jihadis to blow up 12 airliners on the way to the U.S. we stopped that.

So, whenever you're successful, there is always a counterfactual question, well, did we need do it? Maybe we won't have been lucky otherwise. But who would want to take the chance of losing another 3,000 people? So I think what we did work and I think we have to continue.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that is why we still can't carry bottles on planes, right, because of that plot in 2006. Michael Chertoff, thank you so much for your service to this country and we wish you the best as you mark the anniversary tomorrow.

CHERTOFF: Thank you, Jim, and God bless everybody. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

Coming up next, Tennessee is now seeing record-breaking hospitalizations, the worst of the pandemic. The frustration of one doctor and the reality inside his ICU ward, next.



SCIUTTO: President Biden announced new measures to combat the pandemic as the number of infections remains high. The seven-day average of new daily cases in the U.S. is more than 153,000. Only 53 percent of the country, 53.4, is fully vaccinated today. Although about three quarters of adults have taken at least one shot.

Joining me now to discuss all of this, Dr. Todd rice, he's Critical Care Physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Doctor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, first, on the broader question here, these mandates announced by the president, particularly for any company that has 100 employees or more, that is a lot, many tens of millions of people there. Do you believe the mandates are necessary and will they work?

RICE: Yes. I'm not a great person about public policy but what I do know is that the key to getting out of this is to get people vaccinated and get people protected. And I think we have to do something to try and increase our vaccination numbers and anything that we can do, I think, is beneficial. So the whole key is getting people vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure you have had interactions with patients who have refused the vaccine and I wonder how you communicate with them, doctor to patient. How do you win that argument? How do you convince them?

RICE: Yes, you're exactly right. In fact, 90 percent of our patients in the hospital are unvaccinated. And they have a range of reasons as to why they didn't want to take the vaccine. And trying to understand their reasons and then give them data and walk them through how the vaccine is safe and how it is beneficial for them and how it is really in their best interest to get vaccinated is sort of the tact that I've taken to try and get people vaccinated.

But you kind of have to listen to them to understand because people have a little bit of different reasons as to why they're not getting vaccinated and then you can try to address that reason head on once you know what it is.

SCIUTTO: Understood. And I know it has got to be tough sometime. We had a doctor on last hour that said the only thing that works for him is when they see someone in their family or someone they know get sick or perhaps themselves, which is not at the point that you want them to discover this. Tell us about the ICUs where you are and how the latest surge is overwhelming resources there.

RICE: Yes. We had our previous biggest surge in kind of the winter of November, December, January and we now have surpassed that and are at more capacity than we were there two weeks. We stopped doing elective operations and procedures. And it's not really about bed capacity. It is about having a person at the bedside that can take care of the patient, nurses, respiratory therapists and we've had to reallocate those folks from the operating rooms and procedure rooms in order to come to the bedside and the hospitalized and the ICU patients and take care of them. And it is created a huge strain on the system. So people who are vaccinated and don't have COVID are getting surgeries or elective procedures postponed because we can't do all of this at once and we've having to reallocate resources. SCIUTTO: Are you having trouble finding the nurses and other health care professionals you need as a result in?

RICE: Absolutely. Before COVID, there was a nursing shortage, especially in Middle Tennessee. So we were already kind of in a bind. And then with COVID, there are more patients and you need more nurses and just the mental exhaustion and burnout of doing this for 18 months has resulted a number of our even experienced nurses leaving the nursing profession.


And that creates additional shortages and troubles.