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Biden Unveils Tough Measures to Vaccinate most U.S. Workers; Businesses Praise Biden's Vaccination Plan; GOP Officials Lash Out at Biden's Vaccine Measures. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: On Monday as well right back here.


Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now

ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello and happy Friday. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Some 100 million Americans are facing a new reality today. They are being enlisted in President Biden's new war on the COVID pandemic. He's just ordered sweeping vaccine requirements that will affect nearly one in three Americans. The goal, vaccinate the unvaccinated, now being used as a battle cry for some Republicans who already plan to challenge the presidential mandates in court.

Here's the response to these threats just a short time ago.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Have at it. Look, I am so disappointed that particularly some of the Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities. This is -- we're playing for real here. This isn't a game.


CABRERA: Here are the basics. All private companies with more than 100 workers will have to require vaccinations or weekly testing. All federal employees and contractors must get a COVID shot as well as educators and federally-funded programs and health care workers in settings with Medicaid or Medicare reimbursements. And, finally, the president wants entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or testing.

We're covering all the angles, medical, business and legal. Let's begin with Dr. Saju Matthew, a Primary Care Physician and Public Health Specialist. Dr. Matthew, setting aside the politics, would you consider all of this good public health policy?

DR. SAJU MATTHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN: I would. You know, Ana, I'm really excited that President Biden, I think, for the very first time, was very stern. He looked at the Americans in the eyes and said enough is enough.

Ana, frankly, I'm tired of seeing 30 and 40-year-olds die leaving families behind. At what point are we going to convince 80 to 90 million Americans that getting vaccinated is our only choice moving forward? I like the fact that he's mandating vaccines for federal employees. He is if you will, the CEO of hundreds and thousands of people so he can do that.

I'm never crazy about an opt-out. I know we need an off-ramp for people who absolutely refusing to get the vaccine if there's a mandate. But if you're getting tested, we should also mandate masks.

So, overall, Ana, I'm happy. I still think we can go further.

CABRERA: So, when you say we could go further, I think that's the question on many minds is, does this go far enough to make the difference at this point?

MATTHEW: I think it will in some aspects. First of all, mandating vaccines, you will not be able to see those affects right away. It's a two-dose vaccine. It could take five to six weeks before people are fully protected against this contagious delta variant.

But mandating vaccines, I think, is going to convince the fence sitters. When I look at people that are unvaccinated, I'm really broadly dividing them to the anti-vaxers and the fence sitters. I see these patients on a daily basis, Ana, and a lot of them just have misinformation, they're scared. You clarify that misinformation, and they're saying, Dr. Matthew, I'll go ahead and get the vaccine. I trust you. With the anti-vaxxers, I think they're always going to find a reason why they think the COVID vaccine is unsafe.

CABRERA: So many lives have been lost recently. We're losing nearly 1,500 Americans a day right now to COVID. And so in terms of timing, could this have been done earlier or was it smart to wait until one of the vaccines had full FDA approval?

MATTHEW: Ana, it's always easy to go back and criticize the president's plan. I think he tried his best to bribe. We tried offering scholarship money. None of that worked. So I think that mandating the vaccines is the only way to move forward.

Is it a little bit too late? Like I tweeted the other day, it's better to be late than never at all. The question now about people having to wear masks and creating that to be a mandate, I think that is also going to be crucial, Ana, because if employees are getting tested, say, on Monday and Wednesday, and they are not masked and they find out that they're positive on Wednesday, they can infect a lot of people.

So I think we need to fine-tune his plan, but overall, I'm really excited. I would also go as far as the aviation industry. Why aren't we talking about mandating vaccines for the TSA employees, for the ground staff at airports?

[13:05:01] Why are we not talking about a fast pass for passengers who are vaccinated? I think that will also get us to a much larger group of people that are vaccinated.

CABRERA: We know vaccines are the way out of this pandemic. San Francisco school district with approximately 90 percent of eligible children vaccinated has reported zero COVID-19 outbreaks since the start of the school year. Now, compare that to the nearly 19,000 students who have tested positive for COVID since school began in Mississippi, where we know vaccination rates are low. I mean, that -- those examples alone, the contrast there, doesn't this just make the case for how effective vaccines are?

MATTHEW: The one thing that I share all the time with my patients who are fence sitters or who question the validity or safety of the vaccine is I mention the numbers that you just said. And I go as far as to say if you look at every hospital in America, over 95 to 97 percent of people that are dying are in the unvaccinated.

And which country really in any part of the world would accept the fact that one in four cases now of the new COVID cases are children? Over 200,000 kids have been diagnosed with COVID in the last month. Here in my hospital in Atlanta, there is a six to seven-hour wait time for children coming in to a very large children's hospital.

So, teachers must get vaccinated. Parents must get vaccinated. It's the best way we can protect our kids, especially 12 and younger who cannot get a vaccine at this time.

CABRERA: Dr. Saju Matthew, good to have you here. Thank you for being with us.

Already a growing number of companies require vaccines for employees, corporate icons like Disney, Walmart and Google. And the Biden administration is beefing up aid to small businesses, quadrupling loan limits and allowing longer times to repay.

Our next guest says the greater economic benefits of vaccine requirements are undeniable for all Americans. Justin Wolfers is a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Thanks for being here.

You say this vaccine requirement is, quote, the cheapest and most powerful economic stimulus ever enacted. Explain.

JUSTIN WOLFERS, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: Well, the cheapest part is easy, which it doesn't cost very much, and it's not just that the mandate is just the president requiring it but the vaccine itself is incredibly cheap. And then in terms of the economic stimulus you get from it, this is a 20 or 30 a jab.

At the moment, lots of people are staying home. We've seen the delta variant cause the economic recovery to slow. Workers don't want to work if they don't feel safe. Shoppers don't want to shop if they don't feel safe. Well, if we make workplaces in the stores safe, you don't have to take those risks anymore and that's going to send people flocking back to the market.

CABRERA: What's the alternative? What do you see happening to the economy without these requirements?

WOLFERS: Ongoing bumbling. Look, I've been saying for quite some time, the virus is the economy, and we've seen it dramatically over recent months as the rise of delta has once again caused a fairly dramatic slowdown in the rate of the recovery. So, if we want to get back to business and get back to that pre-2020 economy, the fastest way there is to get there without the virus. It's the virus that slowed us down. Getting rid of the virus gets us back.

CABRERA: It's impossible to separate business and politics these days. Republicans are calling this move tyrannical. Some employees we know have already threatened legal action. For some of the companies on the smaller end of the 100-plus employees that are those businesses, the ones with fewer workers, could they suffer in some way from these requirements, do you think?

WOLFERS: I think they're going to benefit. A different way of posing all of this that might help breakthrough with some of those small businesses. You can think about a vaccination as like a tax cut. That's because the virus is like a tax. Every time you go to the market, you pay a tax in the form of taking a risk with your health and we know that it's costing people their health and some their lives. That tax is what keeps people away from stores.

If we can get rid of the COVID tax, which is to say get rid of the virus and the extra risk and hassle of getting back to business, that will be an incredibly important -- just like an incredibly important tax cut. But it also comes without any cost to the government coffers. In fact, it may even boost the government coffers. But when we're all back at work, we're earning, we're spending money, and that's going to boost tax revenue.

CABRERA: And the estimates on COVID hospitalizations are all over the place. But on the low end, the average is $20,000. We're now seeing a daily average of about 100,000 people in U.S. hospitals, again, per day. So, whether that person is insured or not, it's a price we all pay, right?


WOLFERS: That's the point, which is the cost of COVID are just absolutely enormous. It is the cost of losing loved ones. It's the cost of hospitalizations, as you say, it's incredibly high. It's the cost of yet another economic downturn or a slowed recovery. All of that is infinitesimal. It's tiny compared to the $20 that the government pays Pfizer for the jab and then the ten minutes it takes you or I or your viewers to drop by the local drugstore and get that jab.

CABRERA: Justin Wolfers, it's great to have you here. Thanks for making the case.

WOLFERS: My pleasure. CABRERA: Let's continue this conversation with CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson. And I want to start with the most obvious question, Joey. Is President Biden on firm legal ground with these mandates or requirements?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Ana, good afternoon to you. I believe he is. And I don't even believe it's a close question and here's why. It's important when we have the discussion to note, of course, America is full of freedoms and individual liberties, absolutely. That's amongst the many things that makes us great. But we also in having this discussion have to know and remember, right, when we talk about rights and liberties and constitutional issues, that there are always balances to be done.

We could talk about the First Amendment. And we know, Ana, that there's a strong First Amendment rights, say what you want wherever you want, but not so fast. You can't yell fire in a theater, right? You can't defame someone such that you state factual falsehoods that impair their reputation. We know about the Second Amendment, I could go down the line, right to bear arms, but states can prescribe reasonable rules to control and regulate guns.

And so, here, we have the question of a pandemic, right, which has really made so many people suffer, costs so many lives and done so much damage, right, to the way -- our way of life. And so I think the Supreme Court has long since recognized the police powers not only of states but also the federal government.

And just briefly on that issue, since 1905, right, 120 some-odd years ago, you had a case called Jacobson and the issue was, hey listen, can we really mandate a state, could it mandate vaccinations? Yes, it can. And then you've had that in 1922, another case, the King case, yes, it can, and along those lines.

Last issue, and that is, yes, we're not talking about states here, police powers, we're talking about the federal government. But if you want to have that argument and if anyone wants to argue about that, well, look at the Public Health Service Act. And it gives broad powers, right, to the CDC, Centers for Disease Control, broad powers to our Health and Human Services to prevent these diseases.

And so, yes, people may be unhappy about it, he could maybe argue about how you can execute the policy better and you could do A and B and C, we can have that argument. But with respect to a legal argument, I do believe that he's firmly within legal realm. And, again, I'll end where I began, I don't think it's a close constitutional question.

CABRERA: There is going to be though a state versus federal clash of sorts, because we have seen previously some Republican governors already ban businesses in their states from mandating these vaccines. Some have said they're going to fight this federal mandate in court. In fact, here is South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): In South Dakota, we're going to be free and we're going to make sure that we don't overstep our authority. So, we will take action. My legal team is already working.


CABRERA: Her legal team is already working. How messy could this get?

JACKSON: So, it could get messy. And so, to be clear, obviously, states have their own legislatures. They have their own governors. They're allowed to enact legislation, which is beneficial to their people. Again, in keeping with the analogies I posed, some states have the death penalty, others don't. Some states have firm gun control laws and regulation, others don't.

But I think here, when we're talking about a disease that ravaged the United States and around the world, that the federal has a role to intervene. And intervening, I think it's recognized that the Centers for Disease Control and our Human Services can come down on the issue of preventing, right? This is about science. We could have a political debate another time. Wear a mask, don't wear a mask, right? Take the vaccine, don't take the vaccine. I think the science is clear. And if the science is clear, I think the law also has to embrace the science.

And I believe based upon that, you know, Biden's mandate, like it, don't like it, I think the law pretty much supports the notion that the number one priority of any government, federal, state and local, is to protect its population. And I think argue with him all day and night, but I think that's what this measure is designed before. And I think the courts have embraced the issue of, yes, executives can protect the public and I think the federal government has a large role to play and I think it can even supersede states in that regard.

CABRERA: Of course, on one side, you have people who are saying this goes way too far. On the other side, you have some people saying, this doesn't go far enough. Why aren't they mandating or requiring people who get on airplanes to be vaccinated? Are there greater legal hurdles to do that?

JACKSON: So, Ana, I think there's going to be a broader imperative, and we're seeing that already, right? We're seeing the debate with respect to individual businesses and individual businesses, some mandating, some not, some having a hybrid, some allowing up to date certain for their employees to get vaccinated, et cetera, right?


So we're seeing all types of issues as it relates to voluntary compliance. But when voluntary compliance is not working, and when you have spiking, and when you have people who are dying, then there needs action to be taken.

So, look, our courts are open for business. We have a judicial system that's imperfect, to be clear, but also very effective. So, lawsuits will be had. Challenges will be made. But at the end of the day, I think the court has to err in balancing equities. Courts always balance equities. That's what the legal process is all about, your individual rights against the rights of others to remain safe, free and healthy. And I think once you do that, at the end of the day, despite all the court challenges, I think we're going to have a vaccinated public that's going to be safer as a result.

CABRERA: I'm wishing you good health and safety on this Friday. Joey Jackson, thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Predictable but still pouring in. The backlash growing from conservative media figures and Republican officials, and that include governors literally begging people to get vaccinated. More on that ahead.

Plus, this all comes as more Americans grow more nervous about the pandemic and the economy. And according to new CNN polling, it's not helping the president's approval rating.



CABRERA: The president lays out his COVID plan and Republicans lay in. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called it flat-out un- American, GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, an authoritarian power grab, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, warning outrageous overreaching mandates will no doubt be challenged in the courts. Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise called it an abuse of power.

Joining us now, the former Republican Congresswoman from Virginia Barbara Comstock and CNN Chief Media Correspondent and Anchor of Reliable Sources Brian Stelter. Good to see both of you today.

Congresswoman, you're a Republican, but I know you don't agree with some of these comments. How do you see it? Do you support the action the president took?

FMR. REP. BARBARA COMSTOCK (R-VA): I do. And even some of these actions I wish maybe they had been taken earlier like with health care workers in particular. Because I think you should be able to go to a hospital and know that everyone there caring for you or your loved ones has been vaccinated. So I think that is a good thing that's been done. It's tied to the Medicare and Medicaid dollars. So I think that will easily be legal.

I think a lot of Republicans are -- haven't been looking at the case law, and there is case law 7-2 that upheld vaccine mandates. And so when you -- with federal workers and all of those things now, I think they may legally have a little bit more difficulty with the private sector. But I think what the president has done will encourage more companies to do what a lot of the tech companies have done, what Disney has done, ABC, what most of the T.V. stations have done, including Fox, is to mandate vaccines or testing.

And, of course, the vaccines are free. So, if you're a company wanting to save money, going for a free vaccine instead of weekly testing is going to make a lot more sense and it will lower your health costs. So, this will save lives and it's going to save health care dollars. So, I would encourage Republicans to maybe be more like the Governor Jim Justice in West Virginia, where it's a big Trump state, but he's being very active on vaccines, same with Governor Hogan in Maryland.

And I do think this is unfortunately pandering to a loud base instead of really focusing on protecting their own constituents. Because what Joe Biden is doing now, President Biden, is the voters he saves may be their very own voters because we know that more Republicans are unvaccinated than vaccinated. So it stands to reason they are the ones more threatened to be in the hospital.

And another thing I would add is if you have all these people in the hospital with COVID problems, that's a problem for people who might have car accidents or heart attacks or health issues that put them in the hospital. And then they're going to get exposed to these people.

So, I think it is a good action and it is a popular action with the voters, particularly in swing states. So I think it's a mistake for Republicans not to focus on this important public health priority.

CABRERA: It seems like they're more focused on pushing back against it given some of the GOP leaders who are blasting President Biden's measures. It wasn't that long ago that they were begging people to get vaccinated. Here's the Alabama Governor Kay Ivey back in July.


GOV. KAY IVEY (R-AL): Folks supposed to have common sense, but it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.


CABRERA: And now she's calling Biden's requirements overreach. You also have Senator Ron Johnson who, last October, cautioned against undermining the COVID vaccine, saying, it will cause people's deaths, the vaccine. And now he's spreading anti-vaccine misinformation. Why? How do you explain this complete 180?

COMSTOCK: Well, it doesn't make sense and it is not good public health policy. And I understand people's concerns about not having the government control your life. I am a conservative. But in the public health arena, starting with George Washington, who mandated vaccines for his troops, we've always had mandates on vaccines. Our kids have to get vaccinated to go to school. Certain countries we travel to, we have to get more vaccines.

So when you have a public health threat that is hurting our economy -- I mean, let's look at -- this is -- when you have people in the hospital, this is driving up the debt, this is hurting people going back to work. I like the fact that your previous guest was talking about how this is really a tax on the economy.

[13:25:04] So let's get everyone vaccinated. It allows people to stay in school, to get back to work, and that will help our economy. And that is something that, as a Republican, I want to see kids back in school, I want to see our public health improve and I want to see our economy improve.

CABRERA: Isn't that something all Americans --

COMSTOCK: I want all Republicans to get vaccines. Yes, I'd like to stay alive.

CABRERA: All Americans can agree on those goals you laid out.

Let me get Brian involved here, because I sometimes wonder why, Brian, whether it's the chicken or the egg when you hear what viewers, who are often Republicans listening to right-wing media, what they're hearing. How do you think politics is playing a role in how these vaccine requirements are being spun in right-wing media?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I think in a moment like this, it's helpful to think of Fox and right-wing websites as the anti-Biden media. So, whatever Biden is doing, they have to come up with a way to be anti. They have to be contrarian. They have to be opposed in some way. So if Biden says it is sunny outside, they have to say it is cloudy or come up with some other way to claim the sun is not shining.

And that's what we've seen on Fox in the last 24 hours. The banners are vicious toward Biden, calling him an authoritarian, saying he's declaring war on millions of people, give me a break, saying the administration's intent on making life miserable for people who don't want the vaccine. Most of these television hosts, most of the commentators have been vaccinated for months, and yet they are pandering to a base of their audience that wants to hear anti-Biden commentary no matter what and is hearing lots of vaccine rejection rhetoric all across social media.

So, I think we're seeing a vicious cycle, Ana, between Fox and right- wing T.V. and social media. You hear skepticism on social media, then you hear it reinforced on Fox. And the result is a divide that's only growing wider. I just took my wife to get her booster shot. She's at her third shot because she's immunocomprmised. We're at CVS. It's easy as ever. And yet we're talking about a minority in the country that's refusing to get the first shot. It feels to me like the country is splitting even further into two pieces every single day as a result of this ridiculous vaccine fight that shouldn't be a fight at all, Ana.

CABRERA: If the social media does exemplify that divide, as you mentioned. It lit up after the president's speech, several hash tags, including, I will not comply and vaccine mandate. They were trending in the top ten on Twitter.

Brian, I just was curious what your observations were in that regard and the impact you think social media has on the resistance of some Americans to get vaccinated. STELTER: Yes. It's a vocal, vocal minority. But this is a very, very -- I don't want to say very small minority. This is not a majority- prevailing view. Most Americans want to be safe, want to be protected, want to get the boosters when they can. Most Americans are on the right side of this basic public health issue. But, unfortunately, these platforms amplify the fringes. These platforms amplify the loudest, sometimes least reality-based voices, and that distorts the entire debate.

CABRERA: Brian Stelter and former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock it's -- one last word to you, Congresswoman, really quick.

COMSTOCK: Yes. I was going to say, politically, it makes no sense either. Because as Brian has pointed out, even though there's not loud minority of people who are in the Republican Party who oppose this, the public at large supports the vaccines and getting vaccinated. So, politically, particularly in swing states, in swing districts that Republicans want to win, they should embrace the right public health message, do what Governor Justice is doing, what Governor Hogan is doing. These are people both in very red states, in a pretty blue state, Republicans who are governing, focusing on the public health.

And I would mention it's very distressing to hear the women talk about not being vaccinated when we're hearing stories about, for example, in Mississippi where several pregnant women were dying and then leaving their babies who were born prematurely without a mom. Let's get back to the sensible public health here and do what's right. I mean, I think that's a pro-life thing as Republicans, you know, who are, by and large, pro-life. The vaccines are pro-life.

CABRERA: All right. On that happy note, former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock and Brian Stelter, thanks to both.

Up next, they are the ones flying commercial planes every day. And while 9/11 changed the way we looked at and approached airport security, pilots tell us it's still not enough.