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Domestic Terrorist Threat; Remembering 9/11; Vaccine Mandates. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: We're beginning today with this major pushback against President Biden and his new COVID mandates.

The new vaccine rules will impact as many as 100 million Americans. We're talking federal workers, federal contractors, health care staff and employees of large companies.

Now, Republican governors and lawmakers call the mandate government overreach and they're vowing to challenge it in the courts. And, today, the president was asked about how he would respond to those lawsuits.



Look, I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities. This is -- this is -- we're playing for real here. This isn't a game.


BLACKWELL: And more than a third of adults in the U.S. are still not fully vaccinated, and it's the unvaccinated in large part who are overwhelming hospitals in some states.

The country is now averaging more than 1, 500 COVID deaths each day. That's up 9 percent from last week.

CNN's Nick Watt has more.


BIDEN: There are elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So said the president, announcing sweeping vaccine mandates, with a testing opt- out, for millions of American workers, and cue some of those elected officials he's talking about.

"Texas is already working to halt this power grab" -- governor of Texas.

"This unconstitutional move is terrifying" -- governor of Mississippi.

"We will fight them to the gates of hell" -- governor of South Carolina.

The majority of American workers support vaccine mandates in their workplace. And here in Los Angeles?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The item passes. Thank you.


WATT: Unanimity on the school board, students 12 and up got to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by New Year's.

JACKIE GOLDBERG, LOS ANGELES SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: Polio was ravaging Los Angeles, as I was growing up, and you know what stopped it? Vaccinating every single student.

MONICA GARCIA, LOS ANGELES SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: This action is not about violating anybody's rights. This action is about doing our job to be able to offer public school that children can come to school and be safe.

WATT: Will it work? Well, up in San Francisco, 90 percent of eligible students aren't vaccinated and zero campus outbreaks since schools opened mid-August. Packed house, masks optional, in Tampa last night for the NFL season opener, outdoors, sure, but listen to this.

In Washington state, an outdoor mask mandate for events 500-plus kicks in Monday. Why?

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): The Watershed Festival at The Gorge led to more than 200 infections from that one event. And it was outdoors.

WATT: Deep in this Delta-driven surge, the country now averaging over one million new cases a week and over 10,000 dead a week.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: We're not going to eradicate SARS-CoV-2. I don't think that's a realistic option. It will become endemic. And, basically, it's going to end the day that we have kind of achieved enough level of population immunity that the virus essentially becomes a nuisance and no longer a threat.


WATT: So the president's vaccine mandates call for workers to be fully vaccinated. So, right now, that means one dose of Johnson & Johnson or two of Moderna and Pfizer.

But, remember, those third Pfizer doses, the booster doses, could be rolling out in about 10 days or so. Then what? Well, today, the CDC director said that they will be asking that question of their advisory committee, and that may be updated -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Nick Watt for us in Los Angeles.

Nick, thank you.

Well, President Biden also signed executive orders that requires all government employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated, and this one has no option of being regularly tested to opt out of that.

CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is with me now.

So, Kaitlan, the White House had to expect that there would be these legal challenges, these challenges from Republicans, but they expect they still will be able to enforce these new mandates, I expect.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the president, you saw that defiant response that he had this morning when he was asked about these Republican threats to defy his new mandates and his new proposals that he laid out yesterday.

And we should note there are two different things happening here, because one is this executive order that the president signed yesterday. That is a vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors who do business with the federal government.


And like you said, there is no longer an option to test out of that. You must be vaccinated if you want to work for the federal government. And they have about 75 days or so to comply with that, since yesterday, when the president signed that executive order.

The other thing here is this rule that is still being crafted by the Department of Labor that is going to require those private companies with 100 or more employees to either vaccinate their entire work force or, of course, have them get tested once a week, at a minimum, according to this new rule.

But this rule hasn't actually been unveiled yet. It is still being drafted at the Department of Labor. It's not entirely clear still when this is actually going to go into effect, but there will be repercussions for those businesses that don't comply with this. And they are incredibly expensive repercussions.

This is what the president's coronavirus adviser, Jeff Zients, told reporters earlier about what that could look like.


JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: If a workplace refuses to follow the standard, the OSHA fines can be quite significant. Enforcement actions includes fines up to $13, 600 per violation.


COLLINS: So that's $14,000 almost per in violation, which would be per employee that is not vaccinated. And so, Victor, we're still waiting to see the details of this,

though, when it actually goes into effect. Is it the company that has to pick up the tab for the testing, or is it the unvaccinated employee? Those are all decisions that these companies are going to have to make going forward, including the infrastructure simply to just be able to tell who is vaccinated and who is not.

And how do you carry out that testing on a weekly basis? But, clearly, this is the avenue that the White House feels legally they can pursue to try to encourage these private companies to get their work force vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: Kaitlan, let me go into some of the pushback we have seen from some of these Republican governors.

I want to highlight specifically a tweet from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, in which he said that: "I issued an executive order protecting Texans' right to choose whether they get the COVID vaccine" and added it to the special session agenda, same governor who just signed the controversial heartbeat bill into law.

The preservation here of the right to choose on vaccines, but clearly not on all health decisions.

COLLINS: Yes, I think that was an intentional choice of language by Governor Abbott there when he was talking about this.

And that is the view that you're seeing Republican governors approach this with. The pushback has been from nearly so many Republican governors. It's not just in Texas or in Florida, who, of course, were two of the governors that the president singled out yesterday in his remarks without actually naming them.

He definitely made clear he was talking about Governor DeSantis and Governor Abbott, but you are seeing these threats come from other governors as well who have not been embroiled in the same kind of back-and-forth with the with the administration over that new abortion law, like Texas has in the last several days, but Alabama as well, South Carolina, Nebraska.

Several of these governors are pushing back on this. And so that is going to be a big question here going forward is how they actually -- how they handle this, what is the response, and how do they go back and forth with these Republican governors over whether, ultimately, they're successful in these lawsuits.

But, of course, it's not clear that those lawsuits can actually go into effect until the rule has been unveiled by the Department of Labor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us there at the White House.

Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Lawrence Gostin, let's bring him in, professor at Georgetown university and author of "Global Health Security: A Blueprint for the Future." We also have with us Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University.

Gentlemen, welcome.

And, Professor, let me start with you and these threats to challenge this in the courts. The basic legal authority, outline it for us. The White House obviously believes that they have it. And most legal experts I have heard from believe he has it too.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Yes, I think President Biden is on rock-solid legal ground. As the head, as the chief executive of the entire federal work force, just like any employer, he can require federal workers and contractors to abide by safety standards.

He can also reach deep into the private sector, beyond the federal government, as he's doing, because he's got specific authorization from Congress to do it. The Occupational Health and Safety Act was passed in 1970 specifically to give the president the power through the Department of Labor to set health and safety standards.

And, clearly, getting a vaccine is necessary to protect the health and safety of workers, every bit as much as preventing a workplace injury. And then, finally, he's requiring in health care settings, and he's using Medicaid and Medicare dollars. And states have a choice.



GOSTIN: They can either accept the mandate to ensure that all health care facilities are vaccinated as they should be, or they can not accept those federal dollars.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Reiner, we are hearing these claims of overreach from some opponents of the president.

But there are elements that the president did not use. I want you to listen here to -- this is this chief medical examiner -- medical adviser, I should say, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on what he would have preferred. And then we will talk.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: There are some people who really don't want to get vaccinated, but they don't want to lose their job. You got to give them an off-lane. And the off-lane is, if you get tested frequently enough, and find out you're positive, you won't come to work, and you won't infect other people.

So it really is somewhat of a compromise there.

Myself, I would make it just vaccinate or not. But he was trying to be moderate in what his pronouncement was. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: So that's from Dr. Fauci, you get vaccinated or you don't, no opt-out.

What do you think?



REINER: Look, I liked the whole tenor of the president's speech last night.

But I think he should have gone further. I think there should be no testing opt-out. A test only tells you that you're infected. A vaccine prevents you from getting infected. And that's what we should be doing all around the country, preventing people from getting infected.

I wanted to see the president issue a no-fly order for unvaccinated Americans. I think, if the president had said that, this holiday season, you will not be able to fly if you are not fully vaccinated, you would see a massive increase in vaccination.

Other countries are doing that. Because now we're stressing vaccine mandates around the country, I think the U.S. should have a so-called green pass or a digital way of verifying vaccine status. I wanted to see free testing for everyone. Now, the president's plan does increase funding for testing and making it available to schools and places like that.

But I think all rapid testing in this country should be free. You should be able to go to your local post office, pick up a handful of tests to bring home. I want parents to be able, for instance, to test their kids, if the kid doesn't feel well at home before they send them to school.

And I think we shouldn't invoke the Defense Production Act to produce N95 masks for the public, and, again, make those free and freely available. So I think the president's speech was probably a bit overdue. I liked the tenor of it. But I'd like it to go further.

BLACKWELL: So, then why not go that far?

I mean, the president has, I'm sure, a staff of medical advisers, in addition to Dr. Fauci, who have offered these. Is it simply political? And is it time to put that politics aside, Dr. Reiner?

REINER: I think he's left a bullet or two in the gun.

I think he -- I think he has one or two more things he can do to further convince those who are resistant now. Mind you, 75 percent of adults have chosen to get vaccinated. And this pandemic is being propagated by the minority 25 percent.

And all the cajoling and the reasoning in the world isn't going to make a giant dent in that.


REINER: But by really putting people's jobs at risk and their travel freedom at risk, more people will get vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Dr. Reiner, you make a good point there, is that this is not one-half of the country vs. the other half of the country.

REINER: Right.

BLACKWELL: This is a small minority that is holding out on these vaccines.

And, Professor, let me come to you. One more thing that stood out to me in this pushback we're seeing from Republicans, again in Texas, this from the spokeswoman for Texas Governor Greg Abbott: "The federal government needs to stop trying to run private businesses. Texans and Americans alike have learned and mastered the safe practices to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID and do not need the government to tell them how to do so."

This from the same office that has been banning mandates for these businesses and school districts. If you believe that these businesses can navigate this themselves and does not need government interference, then why is the statehouse doing it?

GOSTIN: Yes, I tweeted about that. It's pure hypocrisy that Governor -- what Governor Abbott said.

He says businesses should make the -- have the freedom to make their own decisions. And yet there are a lot of Texas businesses that actually want to require masking and vaccination, and the governor is not letting them do it. So you literally -- you can't have it both ways.

I just wanted to comment on some of the things that Jonathan said.


GOSTIN: I have also done quite a supporter of all of those things.

But just two things to bear in mind. First, what Joe Biden has is audacious, transformational and unprecedented in its sheer scope. And so I think we just need to give a little credit here for doing a -- doing a really hard political lift.


The other thing that's important is just our tone. We -- I'm absolutely in favor of requiring vaccines and masking, including on airlines. And I was one of the first ones that called for it a long, long time ago, actually, in a "Washington Post," op-ed.

But we don't want to sound like we're scolding and lecturing and being punitive. We just have to -- a lot of people are good people. They're not being vaccinated. They're good people. And we want to nudge them toward vaccination.

And I do think that if our goal is to vaccinate everyone, then the norm should be, you get a jab if you want to go to work, if you want to learn, if you want to go to recreate or a theater, or if you get on an airplane.

BLACKWELL: Well, Professor, it appears that the administration believes that the time for nudging and cajoling and here's $100 gift card, here's a lottery ticket, that time is over.

REINER: Yes, that's...

BLACKWELL: They're being more forceful now.

But we're going to have a conversation about the tone of the remarks from the president a little later in the hour.

Professor Lawrence Gostin and Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you both.

GOSTIN: Thank you.

REINER: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, 20 years since the horrific attacks, the nation pauses to reflect on September 11, while also facing new warnings about the threat of terrorism right here in the U.S.



BLACKWELL: Tomorrow marks 20 years since the attacks of 9/11.

President Biden will visit the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 went down to honor the nearly 3,000 Americans who were killed on September 11.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is in New York just outside the memorial there.

Shimon, talk us through some of the ceremonies that we will see tomorrow.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so like you said, the president will be here, former presidents, many, many dignitaries, former officials from New York City, first responders, and, of course and most importantly perhaps, the families, the families who lost so many loved ones 20 years ago.

And, in many ways, certainly, if you were here 20 years ago, as I was, you don't forget that day. And you're still reminded, and it's really difficult to even think that it's been 20 years. And so, for the families, it's going to be a very somber, sad day to think, despite the fact that this has been 20 years, they will never forget. And they will never forget how they felt that day.

So we're going to have a reading of the names. A lot of first responders will be here. Last year, because of the pandemic, many of the family members were not able to gather here. So this year is going to be even more special, because so many of them are going to be together. And there's going to be events here throughout the day

We're going to hear from former officials. And even today, Victor, being out here, I was just downstairs by the reflection pools seeing the families already gathered and police officers who are no longer police officers, retired police officers, retired firefighters, all gathering and family members all gathering downstairs.

You can already feel what tomorrow will be like. It's sad. It's solemn, at times very quiet. So there's going to be a lot of events. Certainly, the city is going to feel it. And, really, the country is going to feel it, as the president, you said, will start to travel across the country, visiting Pennsylvania and then also at the Pentagon.

So it's going to be a really solemn day here tomorrow, a lot planned to remember many of the people we lost 20 years ago.


And I think you make an important point there, that the most important, the families who will be there remembering the loved ones they last 20 years ago.

Shimon Prokupecz for us, thank you so much.

Now, this will be the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with no U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with the country back now under Taliban control. There are the obvious questions about whether it will again become a haven for terror groups.

But according to the U.S. homeland security secretary, Mayorkas, America's greatest threat is right here in the U.S.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: The greatest terrorism-related threat to the homeland is the threat of domestic terrorism, individuals who are prone to violence by reason of an ideology of hate or false narratives that we see spread on social media or other online platforms.


BLACKWELL: CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger joins me now.

David, good to have you back.

Let me start here with -- I want to take a broader picture of the national security and terror landscape. But I want to start with al Qaeda. We know that al Qaeda is still there in Afghanistan, diminished, but not gone.

What is the consensus, is there one, on the ability to resurge quickly or to attack here in the U.S.?


And just listening to your last report, I was 20 years ago today getting on Air Force One with President Bush on the way down to Florida, where, of course, he was during the attacks.


And the intelligence reports he got that morning didn't indicate anything imminent, although there had been years and years of warnings about bin Laden and al Qaeda.

And, today, we're sort of in the same situation. We know that al Qaeda is a diminished force, that they're spread out. I think they might be able to strike the United States at some point in the future, not right away, and perhaps certainly not, we would hope, with the force they were able to 20 years ago.

But that attack may not come from Afghanistan. And I think that was a key part of the president's thinking that just because the last one came from Afghanistan doesn't mean that's the center of the foreign terror we need to worry about. And then, of course, as you heard from Secretary Mayorkas, there's the whole domestic question, which is a different kind of threat.


Before we come domestically, a lot of people for the first time heard ISIS-K as we watched the withdrawal from Afghanistan over the last couple of weeks. Their capabilities, what do we know about as they are growing, ISIS in the Khorasan?

SANGER: Well, they're certainly a threat inside Afghanistan. And they certainly had a great regional effect a few years ago.

Whether they would have much of an ability to reach beyond their borders to us seems, again, more doubtful. A lot happened in those 20 years, and we have built up a lot more protections and a lot more resilience. That doesn't mean you couldn't get hit by another terror attack.

But, remember, in the days after the 9/11 attack (AUDIO GAP) we all thought a second wave was coming. And the astounding thing is, we have been 20 years without another major attack. I don't know that we will be able to hold on to that record. But that's a pretty significant accomplishment that I think nobody would have bet on 20 years ago.


And the entire Department of Homeland Security with close to, what, a quarter-million employees now, created in the wake of 9/11, a large part of what they focus on, as we heard from the secretary, domestic, some of it racially motivated, far right-wing as well. There's also the cybersecurity, the ransomware that technology has afforded some nefarious actors.

Has the government, has the infrastructure caught up to deal with those new threats?

SANGER: I don't think it has.

I mean, clearly, we are not on top of the cyber problem. Ransomware has gone wild this year. It doesn't get the kind of publicity that an attack that cost lives, like the (AUDIO GAP) 9/11 did.

But the fact of the matter is that the cyberattackers, who have a much greater ability to get inside U.S. infrastructure now than they did 20 years ago, are a vastly bigger threat than they were. And we have not yet figured out how to go protect against that.

And I think one of the biggest risks, as we celebrate this very solemn moment and 20-year anniversary, is that we're thinking about the last terror attacks and the type that we faced, rather than the next one. And the paradox of this is, you always ramp up after it becomes evident how vulnerable you are.

And I'm not we're ramped up for the right kind of attacks.

BLACKWELL: Important alert.

David Sanger, always good to have you. Thank you.

David mentioned there that, on this day, he was headed down to Florida with the president. Well, we revisit the Florida classroom where President George Bush got word of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, and I speak exclusively with the students, now in their late 20s, and their teacher in that classroom.

It's The "Front Row to History: The 9/11 Classroom" tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern.

And then join Jake Tapper, Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and musical guests for a special tribute to the families of September 11. "Shine a Light" begins tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern.