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Debt Ceiling Deal; Pfizer Seeks Vaccine Authorization For Kids 5-11; Constitutional Crisis?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 07, 2021 - 15:00   ET



MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: Because it's like, who else could understand what it's actually like on the inside?



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The all-new CNN original series "DIANA" premieres Sunday at 9:00 p.m. only on CNN.

Thanks for staying with us. We begin this hour with a big step in the long fight against the pandemic. Pfizer has asked the FDA to authorize emergency use of its vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. And there are some good signs that the pandemic may be getting to a better level across the country. New cases and hospitalizations have dropped more than 10 percent from last week, the number of deaths also declining.

Vaccinations are up more than 30 percent compared to last week, President Biden is in Illinois boosting support for vaccine mandates. And today's news from Pfizer and the dip in case numbers, they're sending hopeful signs that the pandemic is slowly coming under control.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: We're going to have hopefully a vaccine available for children. And at some point before the end of the year, we probably will have the orally available drug from Merck, if things go well and that undergoes a favorable review.

And I think those two things are going to be sort of the bookend on the sort of pandemic phase of this virus. And we're going to be entering the more endemic phase, where this becomes an omnipresent risk, but doesn't represent the extreme risk that it represents right now.


BLACKWELL: Elizabeth Cohen is CNN's senior medical correspondent.

Elizabeth, good to see you.

What are we learning about Pfizer's plans for kids? ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, well, first of

all, I got to say this is just so exciting. I mean, when my 15-year- old got her vaccine last spring, it just gave such relief to me and my husband to have her vaccinated.

And now it's -- if this is authorized, which many believe that it will be, it will give such relief to parents of younger children. Let's take a look at the possible timeline, because I know those parents want to know, all right, so they have applied for EUA, when might they get one?

So let's take a look at this. The FDA advisers, these are external advisers to the Food and Drug Administration, are scheduled to meet October 26 to look at Pfizer's application. So take a look at this. For adults, the CDC gave the vaccine the green light two days after that FDA advisers meeting. So, in other words, two days after the FDA advisers met about the adults, the CDC green-lit the vaccine.

Now, will this kids one also happen in two days on sort of October 28- ish? Maybe. We're not sure. But looking at the adults, it sort of gives you a possibility that this really could happen by Halloween, as some have said.

Now let's take a look at the data that we know about Pfizer's vaccine for children ages 5 through 11. So Pfizer has said that they have done a clinical trial of about 2, 200 children that age. They were given one-third the dose that has been given to adults. And they found that the vaccine was safe and generated what they called a robust antibody response.

Now, that's great. But there needs to be more than that. They need to actually show to the FDA that the children in the clinical trial who were vaccinated had lower rates of getting sick with COVID compared to children in the trial who were not vaccinated.

Now, we're assuming that they have that data, or else they wouldn't have applied. And so it's up to the FDA and the advisers to look and see if that data is really there. We expect to see that data prior to the October 26 meeting -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: OK, so let's assume that this is authorized.

What do we know about the rollout, the preparation for this age group? Because I remember, we all remember when there was authorization for adults. There were long lines and long waits and lots of confusion. What do we know?

COHEN: It was so messy when the vaccine was rolled out for adults back in January. I don't think we're going to see that with the children because there's already been a system in place for some 10 months now.

This is about -- there are about 28 million children in this age range, and we already have the vaccines in pharmacies. It's actually relatively easy to get vaccines to pediatricians offices, because those sort of supply routes are already established. But pediatricians are very good at getting vaccines, very good about

administering them, which isn't always the case with doctors for adults. So I think this really will go quite smoothly. One thing to look at, will pharmacies be allowed to vaccinate children? In many states, they're not supposed to. It'll be interesting to see if they change those rules.

BLACKWELL: An important point.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

All right, Dr. Ali Khan is dean at the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Public Health.

Doctor, welcome back.

So, let's talk about this now rollout potentially. Elizabeth laid out the timeline. Should we expect that this will follow that line, considering you have got this gap? As I mentioned earlier, you have got 5-to-11-year-old kids who range in size and weight and structure.


DR. ALI KHAN, FORMER CDC OFFICIAL: So the timeline actually sounds quite reasonable.

FDA has been doing an excellent job of reviewing this data way before it's formally presented to them, so they know what they're going to see. And, as Elizabeth said, FDA and CDC have been working closely together. So we should expect this vaccine some time between Thanksgiving and -- between Halloween and Thanksgiving available to our kids.

Part of this rollout, as Elizabeth said, we have the processes in place, but there will be a pediatric dose. So there will be a dose that's about one-third the size for this age group. And so that's already been calculated that, in this age group, you need a smaller dose than what the 12 and older were using.

BLACKWELL: How do you convince the parents? We know that there are a lot of parents who are saying they're not going to rush out as soon as it's available for their 5-to-11-year-old? Some are just going to reject it altogether.

KHAN: Oh, actually, I -- conversely, there's a lot of parents that have been beating down the doors trying to get this vaccine for their kids, especially if they're in schools where there aren't mask mandates and other efforts to try to protect their children.

So this will provide parents one other tool to protect their 5-to-12- year-olds, given the fact that adults have not been willing to get vaccinated and help protect the community.

BLACKWELL: There is certainly a percentage. We just saw that the numbers from Dr. Sanjay Gupta that there's still a significant amount of parents who are either waiting to see -- you see right here on the screen 32 percent will wait and see; 24 percent say they will definitely not get their child vaccinated, 34 percent right away, which is up from 26 a couple of months ago.

Let's move on here. We have seen declines before. We're now seeing a decline in new cases each day, declines in hospitalizations. Deaths are down as well. Do you expect that this is a sustained decline, or are we just waiting for the next variant to take us back up again?

KHAN: So, actually, it's a combination of the two answers, Victor.

So this is great news. The decline is excellent. However, we need to remember that we still have 10 times the number of cases that we'd like to see, almost 2,000 deaths a day. And the decline isn't uniform across the United States.

So, Alaska, for example, has crisis levels of care, where they have too many -- where they just don't have enough hospital beds for people anymore, and I think four times the number of cases in the rest of the United States.

So, the good news is that the decline is happening. But until we get these 70 million people vaccinated, we will be at risk for another wave.

BLACKWELL: So, Dr. Khan, on the adults who are vaccinated, there's a new study that shows that, generally speaking, women have higher protection against COVID from these Pfizer vaccines, specifically the second shot, than men. Do we know why?

KHAN: No, we don't know why. That study also showed, as expected, that younger people would do better than the elderly people.

That study was a small study, Victor. I think was 4,000 or 5,000 people. I think a better study to point people to is the four million- person study by Pfizer that also came out this week that didn't just look at antibody levels. At this point, we have really good data that looks at protection.

And we know that, if you are vaccinated with Pfizer vaccine, six months out, hospitalization, about 93 percent protection, and it stays really pretty good. Not so good for infection. Goes down from about 88 percent to about 47 percent.

So this vaccine still remains very good to prevent you from getting hospitalized or having a severe complication even six months out. So that's better data than the antibody data.

BLACKWELL: All right, of course, we will be paying a lot attention to the FDA, waiting for authorization of this Pfizer dose for younger kids.

But the leadership at the top of the FDA, the president still has not nominated an FDA commissioner. And we know that the current acting commissioner can only legally serve until I think the date is November 15, barring a nomination. Considering the significance, increased significance of the position at this time, your reaction to this and some urgency, I guess, we should see from the administration?

KHAN: So, this is surprising, eight months into this administration, that we don't have an FDA commissioner.

We're very fortunate in the acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, she's doing an excellent job. But there are critical issues up in front of the FDA. We just talked about a bunch of vaccine issues. But there's all sorts of additional issues around vaping, around new treatments.

And we really do need a permanent director of the FDA who can be a good partner with CDC, NIH and others for public health in America.

BLACKWELL: All right, Dr. Khan, let's see it.



BLACKWELL: Every time, you got one for me.

KHAN: So, the message is the same.

Get vaccinated and mask on.

BLACKWELL: What are those this time?

KHAN: Tigers.

BLACKWELL: Tigers. All right.

Dr. Ali Khan with the biggest mask in cable television, thank you very much for being with us every time. All right, thank you.

Speaking of masks, this just in. Florida's Board of Education has just voted to sanction eight school districts over their mask mandates with no opt-outs. The board was meeting to consider how to penalize districts that defied Governor Ron DeSantis.

CNN's Nick Valencia was tuned in for the vote.

Nick, what have you learned?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just like Dr. Khan, we know that masks work, Victor.

We know that masks work in helping prevent or actually reduce your chances of getting coronavirus. But this was still a topic of discussion at today's board meeting. The Department of Education there in Florida voting unanimously to sanction eight different school districts throughout the state that currently have a mask mandate.

They were found to be not in compliance of an emergency rule from the Department of Health there in Florida that prevented school districts from adopting universal masking protocols, as well as reduce -- or requiring students who had been exposed to COVID-19. To stay home.

The commissioner there, Richard Corcoran, suggested docking of pay of school board members in those districts. It was also recommended that state funding be withheld from these school districts to offset any federal grants that they may have received that were perceived as encouraging these mask mandates.

Take a listen to the commissioner of the Department of Education lay out his reasoning and his recommendations, as well as reaction from the superintendent -- superintendent, I should say, from Alachua County.


RICHARD CORCORAN, FLORIDA COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION: I recommend that the state board find that the district is out of compliance with the Department of Health emergency rule 64DER21-15, order compliance within 48 hours, and withhold state funds in an amount equal to any federal project state grant funds or successor grants awarded to the electoral school district for its noncompliance with Department of Health emergency 64DER21-15, in addition to withholding state funds in an amount to one-twelfth of the school board members' annual salary.

CARLEE SIMON, SUPERINTENDENT, ALACHUA, COUNTY, FLORIDA, PUBLIC SCHOOLS: We believe that we are in compliance and we have been following the expectations of the mask mandate.


VALENCIA: Superintendents were offered a chance to rebuttal. One superintendent who spoke equated the meeting to political theater in favor of Governor Ron DeSantis.

We should mention that six of those districts that were sanctioned have currently filed a joint lawsuit challenging the Department of Health's emergency ruling on those mask mandates.

And it was tense, at times, I should say, Victor. The parents of some of those students in the district were offered a chance to talk. Most of them voiced their disapproval with the mask mandate, with just only a few saying they were happy that the schools were requiring masks -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Nick, let's talk about what we heard this morning from the state's agriculture commissioner, Nikki Fried, accusing the Florida governor of working to block the release of COVID data.

What did she say?

Yes, some pretty pointed remarks there from Nikki Fried, who we should also mention is running for governor as a Democrat. She said that, point blank, Ron DeSantis is lying to you about masks. Just take a listen what she had to say this morning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI FRIED (D), FLORIDA COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE: Even with this (AUDIO GAP) it is so black and white, such indisputable evidence now that the masks were working and are working to decrease the number of cases and the direct impact of the lowering of cases means less kids are getting sick, less teachers and faculty and staff are dying, less cases that their parents have potentially exposed you and having to stay home.

But, unfortunately, they don't care about the facts and the data and the evidence.


VALENCIA: And we did reach out to the governor's office.

They returned our request for comment in an e-mail, saying that Commissioner Fried is again -- quote -- "pandering to conspiracy theorists who believe without evidence that Florida is hiding its COVID-19 data" -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Nick Valencia on it for us. Thank you, Nick.

VALENCIA: You bet. It's good to see you.

BLACKWELL: There is a damning new report that reveals how former President Trump and a top lawyer there in the Justice Department tried to overturn the 2020 election.

Also, the deadline is just hours away for some of Trump's closest aides to respond to subpoenas from the January 6 committee. We will talk about that.

And police officers caught talking about hunting protesters after George Floyd's death. The just-released body camera footage is ahead.



BLACKWELL: Well, time is running out for some of former President Trump's allies.

By the end of this day, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, Steve Bannon and former Defense Department official Kash Patel are supposed to comply with subpoenas from the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, also provide specific documents and records.

It seems they are defiant, at least so far. Also today, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a sweeping report detailing how the former president and a top lawyer in the Justice Department tried to overturn the 2020 election.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and former U.S. attorney Harry Litman are here to discuss.

Welcome to both of you.

It is remarkable. Nine times, Dana, the former president asked the Justice Department to intervene trying to overturn the 2020 election. There's also the report that Senator Grassley, the Republicans released as a rebuttal.


And the juxtaposition between the two is remarkable.

Let me read you a line from the GOP report in which it says: "Based on the available evidence and witness testimony, President Trump's actions were consistent with his responsibilities as president to faithfully execute the law and oversee the executive branch."

I don't know how you get to that conclusion, based on what we learned from the committee's report.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm so glad that you brought that up.

All I kept thinking when I clicked on the Republican rebuttal was, why is there a Republican rebuttal? This, of anything that Congress would, should or could do in a bipartisan way, this is one of them. This is the thing that they should do in a bipartisan way.

And that is figure out why and what happened in the days leading up to the January 6 attack on them, where Republicans and Democrats were in equal amount -- amounts of danger, where the democracy that they are elected to uphold, the Constitution that they're elected to uphold, was in danger.

And so why on earth is there a Republican rebuttal? Well, I will answer my own question. And you both know the answer to that question. And that is because the former president has a firm grasp, a tight hold, I would even say, on his party, and even Chuck Grassley. He says he's running for reelection in Iowa.

The former president is relatively popular, pretty popular in Iowa, even today, and especially among Republicans Grassley needs to win again.

BLACKWELL: I want to come back to Iowa because this context is not just understanding 2020. It's about looking ahead to 2024.

But, Harry, let me come to you. There's this moment on January 3 in the Oval Office in which one of the witnesses described then White House counsel Pat Cipollone, calling it murder-suicide pact, where, if you ask us to do this, we will resign en masse and it will hurt you too.

Your reaction to what you have learned from this report?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, that's the one encouraging aspect to the whole thing, Cipollone, other people and the entire run of White -- of DOJ folks.

Remember Jeffrey Clark, the rascal here, he's not first in the department. He's not second, he's not third, he's not fourth. He's an acting fifth. And everybody above him would have resigned. That's an indication, of just how outrageous the request was.

And it would have made the Saturday Night Massacre and the resignations in Watergate look like a small matter. So, that is what caused the president to back down, what Grassley is saying, take the advice of his counselors. It would have been a scandal that he could not have ridden out.

And, fortunately, these folks from the department were ready to put him to that kind of test, where he would act so lawlessly.

BLACKWELL: Yes, it's interesting that this GOP report, which I'm fascinated by after what we learned from the committee.

They say that Trump did not use the Justice Department to overturn the election. But he tried to many, many times. They also say that he listened to his advisers and listened to their recommendations.

Well, he listened to some of the advisers, who he put into place because they would do his bidding. The others had to threaten to resign in order for him to comply, Dana.

And I want to go back to your context about Iowa, because we learned from the latest Iowa "Des Moines Register" poll that President Trump is not only popular. His favorable numbers are not only high. They're the highest point ever for the presumptive front-runner for the nomination.

BASH: Yes. I mean, that right there, those numbers on the screen tell you everything you need to know about why there is even a little bit of a dispute about having this -- the importance of historical record coming from the United States Senate on the words that you had on the screen, Victor, which is that this was a constitutional crisis that was happening that was far deeper, far more severe than we knew at the time.

This was, this meeting that you're talking about with Harry about Cipollone, January 3, three days before the insurrection. And why -- and it is very clear that was a potential coup that was derailed by the people who were around him. And the beginning of your question was, well, he went to the people who were telling him what he wanted to hear.


BASH: That's vintage Donald Trump. We know that from so many events throughout his presidency. But it was on steroids at the end, when this was about his own viability and the L-word, him being called and confronting the idea that he was a loser, that he lost the 2020 election.

[15:25:02] BLACKWELL: We also know that based on how many people he hired from television, that he just liked what they said.

BASH: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: So he brought them on so they could say it in the White House.

Harry, last time you were on with us, we were talking about the potential avenues for the attorney general if these four who've been subpoenaed did not comply.

Well, there's one who has not been served that we know, Dan Scavino. What are the options here for people who potentially are evading service at least?

LITMAN: There are three, but, Victor, they're all kinds of tough roads.

I'm sure that the Senate already has decided what they want to do. And they're indicating they want to take the route of making a criminal referral to the Department of Justice, because this will be a plain criminal contempt if they just openly defy it.

The problem is, the DOJ policy and even an OLC opinion says, we won't exercise contempt power, we won't take any referral if it's for a former or current executive branch official. You can see why they're thinking of the long run, but the short-term consequences are terrible.

Quick point is, Bannon may not qualify there. So maybe we will see them go. Other two options, inherent power of the Senate. People are talking about it. Hasn't been used in 100 years and would still land them in court, or civil contempt, which is what they have tried in the Trump years.That makes them run right to court also, and gives the 18- month to two-year delay that succeeded in foiling the efforts to get at the truth during the impeachments.

BLACKWELL: Yes, 18 months to two years. You know, there's the midterm coming up. And, historically and from recent polls, Republicans have a good chance of taking the House, would be the end for this committee.

BASH: Which is why they're dragging their feet.


BASH: You just nailed it, Victor.


All right, Dana Bash, Harry Litman, thanks so much.

LITMAN: Thanks.

Thanks, Dana.

BLACKWELL: So let's go to Capitol Hill.

Republican lawmakers are struggling to convince 10 of their own members to support this short-term increase of the debt ceiling.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us now.

So, what's happening?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the problem is for the Republicans right now.

They have spent weeks and months saying it is all up to the Democrats to raise the national debt ceiling. Of course, that led to the standoff. That led to the potential first debt default in American history that could occur as soon as October 18, that deadline.

But after yesterday, when Mitch McConnell made a proposal that there would be a short-term debt limit increase that would go from now up until December 3, essentially kicking the can down the road and the Democrats agreed with that, now they actually have to vote to make that happen.

In order to vote to make it happen, you need 60 votes in the United States Senate because any one Republican, any one senator can force a 60-vote threshold by objecting. And there are multiple Republicans who are objecting. So that means they need 60 votes to advance this short- term debt ceiling hike.

It's a 50/50 Senate; 10 Republican senators need to break ranks and join with Democrats. But behind the scenes, Republican leaders are having a hard time finding out who those 10 Republicans are. Many of them simply don't want to cast this vote, after saying they would not support a debt ceiling hike, this to the tune of $480 billion to say that the government debt limit would increase by that much, essentially taking it through early December.

So, at the moment, leadership is trying to convince their members to vote for that first procedural vote and then ultimately vote against final passage. The final passage vote is a simple majority, 51 senators. Democrats can do on their own, but that first vote so key, which is why this is held up, which is why we don't exactly know when this is going to happen, or how this is going to happen.

But as one Republican leader, John Thune, just told reporters moments ago, he compared this to a -- quote -- "birthing process." He said it is very difficult. Republicans hate the debt ceiling, but we will get there -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Manu, this is remarkable, because we often talk about over in the House how Speaker Pelosi knows how to count votes. Mitch McConnell knows how to count votes too.

One would have imagined that he would have known who those 10 votes were before he made this offer.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and there's an expectation that ultimately he will get there. But a lot of Republicans I talked to coming out of a closed-door lunch just moments ago just were not there.

They were undecided. They didn't know what to do. They want to see if other Republicans will cast this politically toxic vote themselves before they commit.

But, ultimately, the belief is, when they get to the floor and they actually have the vote, the Republicans will vote yes, but just uncertain as to who will do that. McConnell -- every Republican, every senator on both sides, they know they have to raise the debt ceiling, but very few of them actually want to cast the vote to do that, which is why we are in the situation that we're in, where we're running up to this deadline to raise this debt ceiling, a potential default.

Everyone knows it's going to happen, but how it's going to happen still a question at this point.

BLACKWELL: All right, Manu Raju for us there on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's go to the live pictures now of President Biden just outside of Chicago. In a few minutes, he's expected to deliver some formal remarks about the importance of vaccine mandates.