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Newsom Survives Recall; North and South Korea Test Missiles; New Book Sheds Light Around January 6th; FDA to Meet on Booster Shots; Dr. Saju Mathew is Interviewed about Booster Shots. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 09:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Wednesday morning. I'm Erica Hill.


Breaking overnight, California Governor Gavin Newsom fended off a recall in a landslide election. Just wasn't close. The Democratic governor defeated a GOP-led recall that could have removed him from office. It was Newsom's strict coronavirus policies that pushed him into political uncertainty. But when the votes were counted, Democratic voters validated those policies by great margin, voting no to the recall by a nearly 2-1 margin. Newsom emphasized this vote was not just a no to his removal, but a yes to a future without the virus.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): No is not the only thing that was expressed tonight. I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state. We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic.


HILL: Leading up to Tuesday's vote, Republican front runner Larry Elder had hinted he would contest the recall results. But, instead, he did the opposite, acknowledging defeat.




ELDER: Come on. Let's -- let's -- let's be gracious -- let's be gracious in defeat. And, by the way, we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.


HILL: Democrats across the country were watching the race very closely. Of course, it was the first major political contest since the Democrats took control of the White House and Congress just eight months ago and a potential litmus test for the party's pandemic messaging ahead of next year's midterms.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is following all of it for us from California.

So, Stephanie, Newsom didn't end the night with your typical election celebration.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, he didn't. I mean the fact that he was even in this position is noteworthy in and of itself to many, Erica and Jim. And you take a look at how the counties performed. And I'm in Orange County, which traditionally has been a Republican stronghold. That has been changing as the demographics have changed here.

And just taking a look at what needed to happen for the Republicans. They needed the Republicans to turn out in this county. And I can tell you that 49 percent of the registered voters turned out. They have 1.8 million registered voters here, and the numbers in this county broke in Gavin Newsom's favor. That is not what the Republicans needed. They needed more of that Republican turnout to take this tide the other way. That's why you see Newsom walking away with a 2-1 victory in this case.

But take a look at Larry Elder. Larry Elder, of the people who voted here, he had more than 57 percent of the vote if there was someone to replace him. So you heard Larry Elder, what he just had to say. It was also addressed by Governor Newsom about what this means right now for where politics are in the country.

Take a listen.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): We may have defeated Trump, but Trumpism is not dead in this country. The big lie, the January 6th insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country, what's happening in the assault on fundamental rights, constitutionally protected rights of women and girls, it's a remarkable moment in our nation's history.


ELAM: It's also worth noting, here in Orange County, the vast majority of the people voted by mail. We did see a lot of people who were standing in line last night to vote. They wanted to make sure that their votes were actually counted. That's why they said they wanted to do it in person.

But I also spoke to one woman who didn't want to tell me which way she was going to vote, but she said that overall she thought the recall vote was a good thing because this way our elected officials are held accountable and reminded that when they don't do what the people think that they need them to do, they can make their knowledge known about this by the way they vote for them.

Erica and Jim.

SCIUTTO: Stephanie Elam, thanks very much.

Also breaking overnight, rival missile tests on the Korean peninsula. South Korea responded to two ballistic missile tests in the north with one of its own. This just hours later.

HILL: That quick back and forth stoking the fire in what is already an infamously tense region of the world.

Kylie Atwood following this for us from the State Department this morning.

So, Kylie, how is the Biden administration reacting to what we saw?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the State Department this morning, through a spokesperson, is condemning the actions of North Korea. Of course, as you guys said, we had missile launches overnight from both North Korea and South Korea, but the United States condemning those by North Korea, noting that they are against all U.N. Security Council resolutions with regard to North Korea.

We've also heard from Indo-Pacom, that's the Pentagon's arm in the region, saying the those missiles that were launched by North Korea don't pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or U.S. territories, of course, but they are continuing to monitor the situation there.


We should note that what North Korea did isn't equivalent to what South Korea did. South Korea's launches were much more advanced. They came from a submarine. That demonstrates how far advanced their missile program, their nuclear capabilities are over North Korea's, which has been trying to work on their program, of course, for decades now.

Now, this does complicate things, however, for the Biden administration. Things with North Korea hadn't been on the front burner when it comes to the foreign policy challenges of this administration. But what North Korea is doing here does put it front and center.

And we should note that this comes just about a week, two weeks ahead of the U.N. Security Council -- excuse me, the U.N. General Assembly in New York. That's when all world leaders are expected to come to New York to discuss matters around the globe. Because of COVID, all the world leaders won't be there, but those conversations are still going to happen. They will happen virtually. By North Korea doing this, it is asserting itself in those conversations, in the days leading up to it, to remind world leaders that North Korea shouldn't be something that's considered in the back burner. This is a very volatile situation right now and it is one of the most

dangerous areas of the world.

HILL: Kylie Atwood, appreciate it. We'll continue to monitor that.

Kylie, thank you.

This morning, Joint Chief Chairman General Mark Milley facing calls to resign following stunning revelations in a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. According to the book "Peril," after former President Trump lost the election, the top U.S. general was so worried that Trump's actions could lead to war with China, he twice called his Chinese counterpart to reassure him there were no plans to attack.

SCIUTTO: In the book, Woodward and Costa write that Milley, deeply shaken by the January 6th insurrection and Trump's support for it, quote, was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.

Joining us now to discuss what was truly an alarming moment in our country's history, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel. She got an early copy of the book. Also with us, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark.

Good to have you both on.

Jamie, we already knew that this was a tense precarious time in the history of the American republic. And here you have the most senior uniformed military official in the country so concerned about Trump's mental state that he felt the need to reach out to China to avoid a war. Tell us your reading of this.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So I think there are two things to keep in mind here, and that is that four days before the election, when the first phone call happens, General Milley, according to Woodward and Costa, is getting intelligence that China is worried that Trump is going to pull or wag the dog. Try to do something to cause chaos to overturn the election.

The second phone call happens after January 6th where Milley again understands that not only is China nervous. Woodward and Costa quote him as saying, quote, half the freaking world is nervous.

So these are not, my understanding is talking to former defense officials and former senior Republicans, this is not an unusual thing to do. He was not only talking to China. He was talking to allies. Everyone was worried about what was going on in the United States, and certainly after January 6th.

HILL: You point out those concerns. We know that, you know, Woodward and Costa also wrote in the book that, you know, whether or not he went too far, right, and they write, he believed his actions were a good faith precautions to insure there was no historic rupture in the international order, no accidental war. But as we know this morning, there are calls for General Milley to resign, from both Senator Marco Rubio and Lieutenant General Alexander Vindman. Here's his take.


LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), FORMER EUROPEAN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: What we can't have is we can't have the senior military officer acting without any oversight, exceeding his authorities, without civilian control.

The guardrail is not an individual. The guardrail is a system. It's an institution. It's multiple officers doing the right thing. In this case, what's clear to me is, frankly, Chairman Milley's tainted by all these things.


HILL: Lieutenant Colonel, pardon me, parting on that one.

So, General Clark, when you look at this, right, his take is very clear, putting all of this into context, I'm curious if you think he went too far or when, you know, when is the right time, when is this check necessary?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, look, the senior military leaders all talk to each other internationally all of the time. There's continuing network of consultation, just as Jamie said.


And I -- totally within the balance of Milley's responsibility to reach out to other military leaders, both those who are our friends, those who are potential adversaries, and check the temperature, tell them what it feels like to him, and keep that relationship going. We want our military to have international relationships. And so in this case, although I certainly respect Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's actions in the impeachment issue, he just doesn't have the experience and knowledge to know how this works.

I think Milley was totally within his responsibilities and, frankly, he would have been derelict if he hadn't done this. So I think he's got a huge support base here among those of us who know how the system work.

SCIUTTO: General Clark, just on the same topic, the thing about that moment is it was not isolated. It was part of a pattern. When I was reporting out my own book a couple years ago on Trump's foreign policy, I was told that during the tensest times with North Korea, but also with Iran, that U.S. diplomats reached out to their counterparts on the other side to calm things down, you know, to say, don't listen to the tweets, in effect. We're not going to war with you, North Korea. We're not going to war with you, Iran.

Given that pattern, right, I mean I guess the question is, does it matter that these were uniformed military as opposed to civilians? Because the famous Defense Secretary Schlesinger moment with Nixon, you know, in the waning days of the Nixon administration saying the same thing, right, any nuclear strike goes through me, those were civilian leaders.

CLARK: Right.

SCIUTTO: Does it make a difference that these were uniformed as opposed to civilian?

CLARK: Well, it makes -- actually, the military leaders aboard probably carry more weight than the civilian leaders. So to call China probably, General Milley had more weight given the way the Chinese see the United States than say had Secretary Pompeo called.

But in the U.S., yes, the military is always responsive to civilian oversight and control, but that doesn't -- you know, secretary -- General Milley, he's the -- he's the chief military, he's the leader of all the militaries responsible, not only to the president to provide military advice and the secretary of defense, but also to the Congress.


CLARK: So he was totally within his rights. And so was, of course, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in that conversation that's reported in the book. Milley is doing the things he should be doing as an officer appointed in that position.

So I think it is -- what's unusual about it, of course, is to have a commander in chief who's so out of control. I thought as I read the excerpt from the book, honestly, that Milley was being generous with his assessment of President Trump as being someone who was mentally unstable.

I thought it was more a pattern of someone who is simply very determined to have his way, doesn't have any respect for constitutional safeguards. And I -- when Milley, who's a very thoughtful guy and a man who's well read in history, sees these events up close, of course he relates them to other historical circumstances that have led to disasters for democracies.

HILL: You talk about, General Clark, the picture that you see of Donald Trump as someone who has no respect for the Constitution, as we know, who just wants to get his way. I think that is further exemplified in this -- in this accounting of a meeting in the Oval Office on January 5th between him and Vice President Pence, Jamie, where the -- where the pressure continues, right, from former President Trump to have Mike Pence do his dirty work on January 6th, which he resists.

One part of that, that really stood out to me, he says, no, no, no, Trump shouted, according to the authors, you don't understand, Mike, you can do this. I don't want to be your friend anymore if you don't do this.

GANGEL: So this is a remarkable scene, Erica. We knew that this meeting happened, but Woodward and Costa have the details of the conversation. And just to give you the setting, the two men are in the Oval Office, and they can hear the MAGA, the Trump supporters out on the street, on Pennsylvania Avenue, laughing, shouting support.

And Trump repeatedly pressures Pence to do something that is unconstitutional. It is just a fascinating dynamic between the two of them that then Woodward and Costa report continues the next day where he calls again -- we've known about the call -- but in the call the next morning he says to Pence, you're going to wimp out. I picked the wrong man. If you don't do this, I picked the wrong man four years ago.

HILL: One of many remarkable moments.

Jamie Gangel, General Wesley Clark, appreciate you both joining us this morning. Thank you.

CLARK: Thank you.

HILL: Still ahead, new research suggests some people may have a preexisting immunity to COVID-19. How could that be? We'll explain.


SCIUTTO: Plus, the Justice Department is asking a federal judge to block Texas' restrictive abortion law. Details on the legal argument, whether it can stand there.

And later, another plot twist in a series of crimes involving a prominent South Carolina family. Now, Alex Murdaugh admits he organized a failed hit on himself just months after his wife and son were murdered. Hear why he says he did it.


HILL: New overnight, a stunning statistic. One in 500 Americans has died of COVID-19. In total now, the pandemic has killed 663,000 people in this country.

SCIUTTO: It's a great way to put it in perspective. One in 500.


That means all of us likely to know someone perhaps. But, we also know this, the best way to prevent more deaths is vaccines. In just two days, a key panel of FDA advisers will meet to consider authorizing COVID-19 booster shots. What we already know is those that are vaccinated -- or unvaccinated, rather, are 11 times more likely to die from COVID from those -- than those who are vaccinated.

CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now with more.

So, Elizabeth, you have this debate here, right, about the necessity of boosters -- and it's interesting because there's some new data out that says it's particularly the older or folks with co-morbidities that see waning immunity. But I wonder where you see this -- where you say this debate will come down. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, I think that

really it's anyone's call right now. Talking to folks who are members of this FDA vaccine advisory committee, they really don't know what's going to happen.

They say that this has gotten pretty messy actually. It's become contentious, this booster shot program. And even there's some bitterness with President Biden saying essentially, let's start a booster program, and scientists saying, hold on a minute, don't talk out of turn, Mr. President, we need to hear about the science first.

So, let's look at what the science says. So, on Friday these advisers will be presented with studies from the U.S. and Qatar that show that two shots do successfully protect against severe COVID-19. In other words, that data says two shots really are working quite well.

However, there is Israeli data that suggests that two shots are not so great at protecting against severe COVID-19. And the Israelis also have data that show that a booster shot, a third shot, does help protect against severe COVID-19.

And there is a whole other layer here, and that has to do with infections. I bet, Jim, Erica, you two both probably know people who were double vaccinated, but still got COVID. I know that I know people like that. But they didn't get very sick.

And there's one camp that says, who cares about those people. Doesn't matter. Not who cares, but it doesn't really matter. They got a little bit sick. They're fine. They didn't end up in the hospital. Another camp says, wait a minute, infections can portend hospitalizations. You get a lot of infections, you will later get a lot of hospitalizations.

So, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, talked about this yesterday.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CDC: To see that there was some waning with our vaccine effectiveness, just with regard to infections. People weren't getting that particularly sick yet but just with regard to infections. And that foreshadowed we may be seeing this soon with regard to hospitalizations and severe disease.


COHEN: So on Friday, expect to see a lot of debate among these FDA vaccine advisers about the best approach, should the U.S. have a booster program or not.

Jim. Erica.

HILL: All right, Elizabeth, thank you.

And I do think -- we just are learning a little bit more about what we're supposed to hear from Pfizer on Friday. Is that right? COHEN: That's right. We are hearing a little bit more. We know that

Pfizer will probably present data that's going to say, look, we gave a bunch of people third shots and their antibodies went up. And they're going to say that's a good thing. Their antibodies went down months after the second shot, and then we gave a third shot and their antibodies went up. Other people would say, antibodies aren't everything. There are other parts of the immune system Pfizer didn't look at.

HILL: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, appreciate it, as always. Thank you.

Joining me now to talk through it all, Dr. Saju Mathew, public health specialist and primary care physician.

Doctor, good to see you, as always.

Look, they're -- we're getting all of this different information. Elizabeth walked us through a couple of the different studies that we saw, you know, information from the U.S., from Qatar, from Israel. Are you concerned at all, heading into the meeting on Friday, that all of this information may perhaps keep people from getting the booster even if and when it is recommended for the general population?


Listen, I just think that we need to let the FDA, you know, drive this whole discussion. You know, part of the problem was that the White House, I think, jumped the gun by making this grand statement that starting September 20th, Americans will start receiving booster shots.

As Elizabeth just mentioned, Erica, there are a lot of behind the scenes players when it comes to the immune system. It's not just the antibodies. We know that antibodies wane over time. But we also know that you have these t-cells and these b-cells that actually help the bone marrow produce more antibodies and help us with protection.

I don't think the question is, you know, if we're going to get a booster shot. The question is going to be when. So, to be frank, I'm actually excited that the scientists can sit down, look at all these studies, and make a decision as to when majority America will need that third shot.


HILL: So as we wait for that, you just mentioned t-cells. There's a study from Swedish researchers that came out yesterday, and half of the people that they looked at had pre-existing immunity to the coronavirus, but they had never contracted it. And this had to do, as I understand it, with their t-cells.

So my question on that is, any sense of how many people may have that preexisting immunity, and how effective is that versus being fully vaccinated?

MATHEW: Yes, so I think that is also going to be a really big question that scientists need to look at.

I've been excited about this whole t-cells and b-cells, you know, six, seven months ago, even before the vaccine rollout. And the reason for that is, like you just mentioned, there are people who have not been exposed to COVID-19 that actually show immunity. And I see this all the time at work. The husband who is exposed to COVID-19 goes to the ICU, the wife doesn't fall sick. It's almost like Russian roulette with COVID-19. Who actually is going to fall sick or who is going to just have a breakthrough infection after you're fully vaccinated?

But this is something we absolutely need to look at. And that's also why, Erica, there's this debate by a good number of the FDA scientists saying, listen, guys, slow down, this vaccine is doing its job. It's preventing people from falling really sick and dying.

HILL: Dr. Saju Mathew, always appreciate your insight. Thank you.

MATHEW: Yes. Thanks, Erica.

SCIUTTO: Please listen to the doctors, folks.

Still ahead, the Justice Department made its boldest move yet, asking a federal judge to block the Texas abortion ban, but does it make a difference? Will it protect Roe v. Wade or is it really up to the Supreme Court? We're going to discuss more, next.