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Pfizer Seeks FDA Emergency Authorization of COVID Vaccine for Kids 5-11; Senate Probe Says, U.S. Came Close to Full-Blown Constitutional Crisis; Deal Reached to Extend Debt Ceiling. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired October 07, 2021 - 10:00   ET




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


We begin with breaking news. There's lots of it this morning, and lo and behold, some good news.

Pfizer has applied for FDA emergency use authorization for its COVID- 19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. This means we could be just weeks away from younger kids getting the shot, perhaps even, Erica, before Halloween.

HILL: Boy, would that be some good and welcome news. The White House is calling this a, quote, really important next step in the fight against the pandemic.

Here to discuss, Emergency Physician and CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen. Dr. Wen, always good to see you.

You have a new op-ed in The Washington Post and you lay out the three things you believe need to happen in this country to end the pandemic.

Number one, you say, is shots for younger kids. So, this could be sooner rather than later, which, of course, is good news. In learning of this, do you think this could change at all? Meetings are set for the FDA advisory panel, but could this official request for an EUA, could that change the timeline at all?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I really hope not because the FDA has already said that they're approached authorization for the vaccines for 5 to 11-year-olds with urgency. This is the reason why they already set an advisory committee meeting for October 26th, pending Pfizer submitting their application on time. So, I'm hopeful that submitting it now, today, gives the FDA enough time to review this data, and I think there's a real possibility that we could have the first shots going into arms by the end of October if all goes according to plan.

Now, we have to remember too, it's, in theory, possible that the FDA will come back and say, we need more data, or that maybe only a smaller group of children, perhaps those with higher risk may be initially proved. So, this is not a given. But I do very much trust the FDA in going through a rigorous and very careful regulatory process to ensure safety and effectiveness.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Wen, I'm eager for my children to get this vaccine as I was for myself. I've looked at the data for both efficacy and minimal risk to children. But it is understandable that some parents might be less in a rush to do so for their kids than they would for themselves. So, for folks who are watching at home, tell us what the data has shown us so far on the vaccine for children at this age?

WEN: Right now, all we have is the Pfizer press release on it. We have not seen the data, which I think many of us as scientist, physicians and parents are eager to see. But what they have found so far is, first of all, that the vaccine is safe. So at the dose that they're testing, which is 10 micrograms, less than the dose that's given to adults or 12-year-olds and above, they found that the safety profile is really good, that there are no different types of side effects or new, unexpected side effects that are occurring in this younger age group.

Also, they're finding that there's a very strong antibody response, and antibody response has been found to correlate very well with immune protection. So, all of that is very good news, but, again, we need to see the data.

And to your point, Jim, I actually think that it's okay that there are some parents want to wait and see. We definitely want to wait and see what the data show. Also, there are going to be some parents who are really eager to get their kids vaccinated. So I say let's let those patients who are very eager get the vaccine as soon as it's authorized, and then I think a lot of other parents, once they see what the vaccine can do in terms of returning the kids back to normal, and also allowing parents to live a normal life. Because I think right now there are many parents with younger children, including me and my husband, who are living as if we are unvaccinated because we want to really protect our children.

HILL: Yes, which is so important and so understandable. One of the other things you talk about in this piece is the importance of testing, and this is a place where, as we know, the U.S. has lagged when it comes to accessible testing since the very beginning of this pandemic. The Biden administration, of course, pledging another billion dollars. They're really working on getting a rapid at-home test, making testing more accessible. How much of a difference would that make if there were regular rapid testing that was readily available?


WEN: I think that testing is the single biggest missing component in the U.S. as COVID-19 response right now. I do believe that we need three things in order for us to get us past this pandemic. I don't mean to get rid of the virus but for us to live with the virus. One is vaccines for everyone, including younger children, two, is early treatment, meaning that if somebody is diagnosed early on with COVID and then they can take a pill, that would prevent them from progressing to severe disease. We have a potential pill by Merck that may be able to do this, which is fantastic news.

The only way though that early treatment works is if you also have testing. You can't have somebody waiting for days to get a test result. By then it's too late for that early treatment. Also we know that 50 percent or so of the spread is by asymptomatic individuals. And so in order to stop the chains of transmission, we have to be able to have widespread rapid testing.

Other countries have testing so much that individuals can get it for free whenever they want to, and we really need to have that here. And so I think the Biden administration ramping testing is very important, but we have a long way to go. I would love to see the administration announce a moon shot and put just as much effort into testing as we did into vaccines and say that every American should be able to get a test at least twice a week if they wish, for free.

HILL: Well, hopefully, they're listening to you this morning. Dr. Wen, always good to see you. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: All right. Another big story we're following this morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee has released a stunning new report. It details over how many days and with how many officials former President Trump and a top Justice Department lawyer attempted to do this, to overturn the election.

This morning, Committee Chairman Dick Durbin tells CNN that those efforts were almost successful.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): We were a half step away from a constitutional crisis, a full-blown constitutional crisis.


HILL: Well, all of this comes as several former Trump aides are expected to defy a deadline they face today, to answer subpoenas from the January 6 House committee investigating the insurrection. The group is expected to defy that request for documents tied to their communications on the day of the insurrection. We're going to have more on that in just a moment.

CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez joining us now. First, I mean, let's talk about this new Senate report. What else does it reveal?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Erica, it really gives a window into this extraordinary, really astonishing week-and-a-half at the end of December, early January, when top Justice Department officials at the time were under tremendous pressure from the former president trying to get the Justice Department to weigh in, to try to help his efforts to overturn the election results in key states. Among the things that we learned is that Trump was calling nearly daily to Richard Rosen, the deputy attorney general, acting deputy attorney general at the time, Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general, Richard Donaghue, his deputy, trying to pressure them to say that the Justice Department had found some instances of irregularities in these states, even though the Justice Department had not found that. We know from this report that Mark Meadows, his chief of staff, was calling as well, trying to get DOJ to investigate some of the more outlandish theories.

We also learned about the actions of Jeffrey Clark, who was a lower level official in the department who somehow had gotten in touch with the president and was essentially threatening to stage a coup of his own leaders. He wanted the Justice Department to send letters to Georgia and other saying that they had found signs irregularities, again, all of this in an effort to try to help the president, buy some time and try to get -- sow some doubt, really, before January 6th, when the Congress was certifying that Joe Biden had won.

One of the things we hear obviously today from the Republicans, they produced their report, they point out that Trump, in the end, listened to these officials, that he never actually told them to do anything illegal. What that overlooks, obviously, is how close we came. And if it was not for these people standing up, threatening to resign, for instance, that perhaps January 6th could have turned out a lot differently.

SCIUTTO: Yes, evidence is mounting. Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Let's speak now to CNN Political Director David Chalian, as well as former Federal Prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers.

Jennifer, if I could begin with you, because the ongoing frustration here, right, is you see a laundry list of evidence of the former president's efforts, efforts by his advisers to overturn the election at every level, state legislatures, the Justice Department and beyond. And yet none of the ringleaders have suffered really any legal consequences at this point. You have loads of folks who stormed the Capitol who are in jail or headed to jail, but none of the folks at the top.


Is that going to change? Does evidence like this lead to lead to charges?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to say, Jim. I mean, we know, of course, that the more we know, the worse it gets. So, in a sense, the evidence is building. I think the problem here is the only way for former President Trump or anyone to really be held responsible for this in a criminal sense is for the Department of Justice to prosecute them. And we haven't seen that Merrick Garland has any appetite to do that. I mean, he hasn't stood in the way of Congress' attempt to figure out what happened.

He hasn't asserted executive privilege, for example, to bar former administration officials from testifying, but nor has he at least that we know publicly started any investigation at all into those people for what they did in trying to overturn the results of the election, which are potential criminal offenses. So it remains to be seen. There's still more to learn. I just don't know that Merrick Garland is going to do it, at least without significant pressure coming upon him to do that.

HILL: And, David, that seems to be the sense because there was concern about just how political any action would look. I just wonder sort of what's the chatter in Washington this morning about this, because I think Jennifer lays it out so well. That's the conundrum that we're seeing, and also that things get so close and yet here we are.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. I mean, it's hard to turn away from all of this evidence, even though the Republicans in their report that Evan was just referencing at the end of his report to you, guys, tries do so. The fact that it didn't happen doesn't dismiss the real attempt to overturn a free and fair election by the sitting president of the United States.

And I think that this is not -- it's important, I think, as we look at this. This is not just a piece of history. This is still a live issue, right? Donald Trump is still out there selling the lie that this attempted coup is based on. He is endorsing candidates in local races and state races who will have control of the election machinery. There are allies of the former president who are trying to change the laws in states around how elections will be conducted. So, are we sure the next time around that it will be a failed coup or might be successful in the effort?

SCIUTTO: Jennifer, as we look at this, of course, the former president may very well run again, he may have a chance to win in the next election, which of the various investigations going on right now -- you've got the House select committee, you've got the investigation in Georgia at the state level, do you expect to deliver charges, if any?

RODGERS: Yes, that's a tough question. I mean, certainly, the investigation in Fulton County, in Georgia, is the one that currently seems most likely to lead to charges against former president, criminal charges, because at least they are directly looking at criminal charges against him. We all have, of course, the Manhattan D.A.'s case against currently the Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg, they could add to those charges, even potentially charge the president there.

But it's really hard to say. The standards of proof in criminal law are very, very high. You really have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt to proceed. And so it's just -- it's hard to say. And I think there's still a lot of what we don't know. Obviously, prosecutors don't usually release their evidence until an investigation is concluded and charges are filed, there may be more charges. But on the evidence, we know now, as we've said before, he goes right up to the edge, even in that Georgia call, without explicitly saying, please commit this crime for me. So, we'll have to see. HILL: Well, to that point, too, right, and this is what Republicans pointed out, as Evan said in their report, that he never told anyone to do anything illegal. David, this is really a pattern of behavior that the president had long before he held office. This is how he does business.

CHALIAN: Without a doubt, Erica. This was completely in line with his character. There is no doubt about that. But I understand from the legal perspective of whether or not he crossed the line. But just think about in the Senate Judiciary, this January 3rd meeting that was described. And when your own officials at DOJ and your own White House counsel and deputy are basically calling this a murder/suicide pact, if you go through with this, all of these folks are going to quit and leave, to think that the president in that moment is not discussing something that's completely against the grain of our Constitution would defy reality.

Now, I do this there is this notion, you're talking about whether Merrick Garland brings charges or not, there is this conversation about how do you avoid being completely backwards-looking and doing something that's going to consume all the oxygen and still allow the Biden administration to move forward?


I don't think we have a clear answer from that from Biden's DOJ yet.


HILL: Well, We will watching to see certainly more fallout to come. Just how far it goes, that remains to be seen. David Chalian, Jennifer Rodgers, always good to see you both. Thank you.

Up next, a federal judge blocks the new anti-abortion law in Texas for now. So, how long could that ban last?

SCIUTTO: Also, did Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blink on the debt ceiling? We're going to be live on Capitol Hill, as there may be an end to insight to his standoff with Democrats, at least for now. I wouldn't count McConnell out.



SCIUTTO: Breaking news, it keeps on coming this morning. A deal has just been reached on Capitol Hill crucially to extend the debt ceiling. Erica, it's what we've been waiting for.

HILL: It certainly is. For all those details, let's get straight to CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. So, Manu, what's in this deal?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, an immediate crisis averted for now, but the long-term issue still going to be an issue come later this fall. What they've agreed to, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who made remarks on the floor, is to extend the debt ceiling into early December. Remember, if they had not reached a deal by October 18th, the country risked the first ever default on its national debt, nearly $29 trillion in debt, could have dramatic and drastic ramifications across the U.S. economy and the global economy.

But what Chuck Schumer just said is that he and Mitch McConnell who have been negotiating all through last night up until this morning, they have reached an agreement to at least extend that into early December. So, what does that mean? That means, essentially, that after the Senate votes, which he hopes will happen as soon as today, the House then will take it up. The House now is on recess, so they may have to come back next week early. We'll see if they do that to vote on this, send it Joe Biden's desk and sign it into law.

But then at that point, they'll have to figure out how to deal with this in the long-term. And the disputes are still there. Republicans and Democrats have a disagreement about the process for raising the debt ceiling in the long-term. And they'll have to resolve that. Otherwise we could be right back where we were over the last couple of weeks with the two sides squabbling in a staring contest, staring at a potential default. But at the moment, a sigh of relief on Capitol Hill, and there at least is not going to be a crisis right now. We'll see if there will be a crisis in just a couple of months. Guys?

SCIUTTO: Manu, so the question, of course, is, is that extension long enough, and I know this is somewhat unanswerable, but based on the conversations you're having, is it long enough then to give Democrats the space they need to reach agreement on infrastructure and their budget?

RAJU: That's what the Democrats hope when they were coming yesterday talking about Mitch McConnell's offer. They said that this would give them some opportunity to get their larger package done, how to deal with this expansion, the social safety net, this infrastructure bill, both of which they're trying to get done within the next month. And if they were dealing with an economic calamity at the time, if they would not be able to raise the debt ceiling this month, then they would distract from that larger effort to fulfill Joe Biden's agenda.

But there's still a lot of complications. It's still uncertain they can get a deal by the end of the month. There are lots of divisions within the Democratic caucus. There are also questions about how they would actually go about moving to increase the debt ceiling and go through a budget process that would require them to specify the level to which they would extend the debt ceiling. Democrats don't want to do that, say they voted to increase the debt ceiling to, say, $35 trillion. They would rather just suspend it for a couple of years, but Republicans don't want to give them the votes to do that.

So, those are the questions that they're going to have sort through. But this is what Capitol Hill does often, guys, they kick the can down the road and that's clearly what they're doing here.

HILL: It certainly is. That is one thing they seem to do very well. Manu, I appreciate the new reporting, the breaking news. Thank you. Joining me now, Nadeam Elshami, former Chief of Staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Rohit Kumar, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

You know, just before the break, we didn't know we had a deal, so here we are. It changes the conversation a little bit. But in the grand scheme of things, in many ways, and we're still in the same place, as Manu just laid out, as we were. So we're pushing this now, right, to early December. The reality is this could also line up again with issues of government funding. So, Nadeam, how important is it that this gets sorted in time?

NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: It's absolutely critically important. And, you know, unfortunately Leader McConnell has been on all sides of this issue. He's been on the side of we cannot play chicken with the debt ceiling. He's been on the side of I'm going to use all my power in order to extract something from Democrats, and then this latest attempt just to be on the side of you've got to use the reconciliation.

Look, this is not a game. They are attempting to use a political ad here. They're trying to create a political ad against Democrats while playing with the economy of the United States. And I think that Leader McConnell realized that, and I think the threat of changing the filibuster, with the comments from President Biden, I think that was kind of a wake-up call for the Republicans as well. And what we're hearing is that some Republican senators were becoming a bit queasy about this. This fight should not be.


Democrats in the past have supported suspension of the debt ceiling for Republican presidents, under Republican control of Congress, but now it seems like Republicans really enjoy this to try to extract something. At least this crisis was averted. Let's see happens two months from now.

HILL: Crisis averted for now. Rohit, when you look at what happened, specifically what happened in the last 12 to 15 hours, essentially, what do you think it was for Leader McConnell, based on your experience working with him, was it all of a sudden he's concerned about default, or is this really about the filibuster?

ROHIT KUMAR, FORMER DPEUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: No. So, I think, look, for a long time, this has been tried to be portrayed as a conversation about will we or won't we default. There was never a question that we were going to increase the debt limit and that it was going to be done in the next eight or ten days.

I think what you saw happen over the course of the last 24 hours reflects maybe a little a bit of a misunderstanding of what Senate Republicans were asking for, what was motivating Senator McConnell. Ultimately, what he was looking for was for Democrats to carry the freight of getting this debt limit increase across the finish line, which is typically how it is done when one party controls the House, Senate and the White House, they are the ones that provide the votes. And he wanted to be clear that it would be done by increasing by a number, not by sort of hiding the amount of the increase by extending to a date certain but actually voting for a hard dollar increase. And both of those will be a part of this short-term exercise.

The use of the reference to budget reconciliation was always, just frankly, a means to an end. Budget reconciliation is, by its nature, a partisan exercise. And in reconciliation, you can only vote to change numbers. You can't vote to change dates.

Now, it's not the additional procedural hurdles that perhaps were of some interest, but that was always as a part of like -- look, Senate Republicans are not in favor of the build back better program, the $3.5 trillion, and so maybe there was some instinct to try to slow that down. But that process has slowed down and it certainly wasn't going to get resolved next week. And so whether you do debt limit today or do debt limit next week, that wasn't really going to get in the way of the broader fight.

HILL: The reality is this is for both sides turning into a lot of politics, a lot of Americans at home frustrated as what is being used as political messaging. The can is being kicked down the road. We'll see happens there.

The beauty of breaking news is we get that information in. The hard part is we lose a little time for our segments. So, that's all we have today. We will have you both back. Nadeam Elshami, Rohit Kumar, thank you. This issue obviously not going away. Jim?

SCIUTTO: All right. Another big story we've been following in the last several hours, news from Texas. Women may once again be able to get an abortion in Texas, this after a federal judge temporarily blocked the state's restrictive abortion law. That law prohibits abortions after a fetal heart beat is detected, this around six weeks. No exceptions, we should note, for rape or incest. It also empowers private citizens to sue anyone who helps facilitate an abortion.

CNN's Ariane de Vogue joins me now. So, Ariane, this motion is temporary. For how long, right, does it last?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right. It is temporary, but this also means it's likely to be headed back to the Supreme Court, right? It's been months since many women in Texas couldn't get this procedure. Most women don't know they're pregnant at six weeks. And so they tried to block a month ago. They went to the Supreme Court, these clinics, and they failed. Then the Department of Justice brought the full weight of the federal government, brought this lawsuit. And last night, this judge ruled in their favor. He said that the law likely violates Roe v. Wade, and he really went after Texas here for the way they tried to avoid judicial review.

And then he had interestingly strong words for the courts that will hear this next, right, the appeals courts, the fifth circuit and the Supreme Court. Here is what he said. He said, from the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution, that other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide. This court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.

So, it is going to be appealed now to the fifth circuit court of appeals. They could very well reverse this judge.

SCIUTTO: Okay. So, among the interesting things about the way this law was written, one is the idea that private citizens can sue, which is a way to shield it from protections in the court. But the other is this kind of retroactive. So if a clinic were to open today, begin doing this under protection of this order, what might happen to them later?

DE VOGUE: Well, there's a provision in the law that says if a court comes in and enjoins it, blocks it, like we saw last night, and a doctor goes ahead and does one of these abortions that were covered under a the law and then another court comes in and lifts the injunction, that doctor could be liable. So you can see, we know that before they got this injunction, some of the clinics said, yes, we're going to go forward, but they're moving very carefully, right, because there's a lot at risk of these doctors.