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Infrastructure Negotiations; Interview With Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler; Companies Defy Texas Vaccine Mandate Ban; Brooklyn Nets Bench Kyrie Irving Over Vaccination Status. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 12, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

We begin with showdowns over vaccine mandates, the Brooklyn Nets benching their star player Kyrie Irving. He will not be playing or practicing because he will not disclose his vaccine status. He says he wants to -- quote -- "keep that stuff private."

And in Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott issuing a new sweeping state law that bans vaccine mandates.

BLACKWELL: So this order applies to all companies doing business in that state, including private employers. This is another act of resistance to public health measures.

And just a few minutes ago, two major companies said that they will not comply with the governor's order.

CNN's Nick Watt has the latest for us -- Nick.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, there are a bunch of big names based down in Texas, AT&T, Oracle, Dell, ExxonMobil, and we have been wondering all morning, will they comply?

Well, we just heard from American Airlines and Southwest. They say they will not comply with the governor. They will continue following the federal law, which says that they have got to mandate vaccines for their employees.

Now, Governor Abbott had already said that government entities in Texas were not allowed to mandate vaccines. Today, he just went a step further, a big step.


WATT (voice-over): In Texas governor Greg Abbott just doubled down. Now no one, not even private companies, can mandate COVID-19 vaccines for staff or customers. Vaccines, he says, must always be voluntary for Texans, New York City mandates vaccines for pro athletes. So the Brooklyn Nets

just announced Kyrie Irving won't be playing. He could have played away games, but, says the GM: "We will not permit any member of our team to participate with part-time availability."

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: We don't like to be telling people what they need to do with regard to vaccines, but we know that mandates work. We have seen that they are working. They're working in schools, universities and colleges.

WATT: In Wisconsin, a mom whose son caught COVID is suing the school district, which will not mandate masks. She claims they're throwing students into a COVID-19 snake pit.

GINA KILDAHL, PARENT: I am just hoping that they will start masking and take some responsibility to keep our kids safe at school.

WATT: And at a school board meeting in Virginia.

NICOLE SPERRY, MOTHER OF COVID-19 VICTIM: I was sitting next to my healthy daughter's deathbed. She died five days after showing symptoms.

WATT: Her daughter Teresa was 10 years old.

SPERRY: COVID is not over, no matter what people who have been standing up here have said.

WATT: The average daily COVID-19 case count hasn't been this low since early August, the Delta tide on the ebb, but:

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: I think we still need to be careful through the winter. This is a winter pathogen. It'll continue to circulate.

WATT: Colder weather for at least a few more months.

DR. RICHINA BICETTE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: The numbers are going down, but they're still abysmal. While we're going in the right direction, we're still not where we need to be in order to curb this pandemic.


WATT: Now, word around the campfire down in Texas is that Governor Abbott also might be playing a little of politics with this ban on vaccine mandates. He's facing a couple of primary challengers from even further right.

So that might be why he's doing this. One of those challengers, Allen West, just posted over the weekend: "As governor of Texas, I will vehemently crush anyone forcing vaccine mandates in the Lone Star State" -- guys.

CAMEROTA: Nick, thank you very much. OK, now let's talk about that move by the Brooklyn Nets to bench their

star player Kyrie Irving. Irving has not shared his vaccination status and therefore was already barred by local New York City guidelines from playing any home games.

CNN sports anchor Coy Wire joins us now.

So, Coy, tell us how the Nets came to this decision.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Hi, Alisyn and Victor.

Look, the season is just one week away and there are two cities where players who are not vaccinated would not be permitted to play in their home venues, New York and San Francisco. This affects three teams, as the mandate doesn't apply to players on visiting teams, the Golden State Warriors, the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets.

Now, all players on the Knicks are already fully vaccinated. And now, after just last week, the Warriors are as well. Andrew Wiggins decided to get the shot, though he said he felt pressured to do so.

On Friday, a New York City Hall official told CNN that Kyrie Irving would be allowed to practice at the team's facility, as it was a private facility, but he would not be eligible to play in the Nets' home games at Barclays Center, due to the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.


Head coach Steve Nashville saying that they were in a wait-and-see mode. Well, clearly, they have decided, Alisyn and Victor, not to wait any longer, with the regular season starting so soon

Earlier today, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks made clear on their thoughts and their decision to bench Kyrie Irving. Here he is.


SEAN MARKS, BROOKLYN NETS GENERAL MANAGER: Kyrie has made it clear he has a choice in this matter. And it's ultimately going to be up to him, what he decides. We respect the fact that he has a choice and he can make his own -- and right to choose, as, again, right now, what's best for the organization is the path that we're taking

And I don't want to speak for Kyrie. At the right time, I'm sure he will address his feelings and what the path may be for him.


BLACKWELL: Besides saying he wants to keep this stuff private, is Kyrie saying anything about vaccines in general, or if there's a potential that he will disclose his vaccine status?

WIRE: Well, it's interesting.

Just last month, Victor, Irving, as you mentioned, refused to reveal his vaccination status. He also, though, at the media day, he said that he was looking forward to playing in front of fans again, though he does say he's going to keep his vaccination status private. Look, the Nets are odds-on favorite to win the title.

And Kyrie Irving is a bona fide star. He's scheduled to make $34 million this year. And, initially, it didn't appear that money was an issue though not playing in away games, he would be docked his salary, about $360,000 per game. That would total about $17 million for the year. It didn't appear to be an issue at the time.

What could motivate him to play other than that? Perhaps it would be winning in another title. He won a title with LeBron James during his playing days with the -- in Cleveland. And so here he is again on one of the favorites to win.

General manager for the Nets Sean Marks also saying earlier that: "It's imperative that we continue to build chemistry as a team and remain true to our long-established values of togetherness and sacrifice."

Kyrie Irving was not falling in line with that plan. So the team made their move. Now the move is up to Irving.

BLACKWELL: All right, Coy Wire for us, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Well, I feel like $17 million would be an inducement. But that's me.

Meanwhile, let's get more on the Texas Governor Greg Abbott's ban on vaccine mandates.

Let's bring in Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin.

Mayor, thanks so much for being here.

So, as we know, Governor Abbott has now they should this order banning vaccine mandates even for private businesses throughout Texas. How much confusion is this causing, since it's in direct contradiction to President Biden's plan?

STEVE ADLER (D), MAYOR OF AUSTIN, TEXAS: It is causing, Alisyn, a lot of confusion. And it also seems to be inconsistent not only with the federal orders coming from the president, but this is Texas. I mean, this is a pro-business state.

And for us to be telling businesses in their own businesses what they can or can't do in order to be able to protect their employees and their customers just doesn't seem to be keeping with the freedoms and liberties that we talk about here in Texas.

I think it has everyone confused at this point. And I hope this ultimately gets challenged.

CAMEROTA: I mean, to your point, there are big, huge businesses in Texas that had already planned vaccine mandates even before I think President Biden issued his executive order. I mean, here are the ones that we know of right now. Southwest

Airlines just put out their statement saying that they will require full vaccination by December 8 or face possible termination for employees. AT&T already required most management employees to be vaccinated by this week, this current week. Hewlett-Packard, all team members, contractors and visitors must be fully vaccinated to enter the work sites.

And then American Airlines, their statement was: "All along, as we have been going through this, we have been considering mandates and may have done so on our own. But we wanted to do everything we could first to encourage everyone to do so."

So, I mean, it sounds -- I'm not sure what happens next, because it sounds like these are private businesses that want mandates.

ADLER: And we should be celebrating that and encouraging that, because we know that it works.

Austin has been trying to toe the line as best we can to protect our community. The mortality rate in Austin is half of the state average. If the state had the same mortality rate that we have in Austin, Texas, we would have 30,000 Texans that were still alive.

The world is being turned upside down here. And now this is yet another step too far. A business ought to be able to decide. At the very least, it ought to be able to decide for its own employees and for its customers.


These are proven measures that protect people. The people that are in our ICUs right now, the people in our community and in our state that are dying of this variant are people that are not vaccinated. We require vaccinations for children as they enter into elementary school.

This makes no sense. It is confusing. And it's inconsistent with so many things.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, as you point out, it is also inconsistent with what Republicans say they believe, which is that private businesses should decide what's best for their customers.

So what do you think Governor Abbott is doing here?

ADLER: Best as I can tell, this is all about the upcoming elections, not only the race for governor in this state, where there seems to be a race in the Republican Party toward who can be the most strident and, frankly, I believe outrageous, probably the presidential election two years after that, because it's not being driven by this science and the data.

There is no right for anyone to be able to put other people's health at risk. And that's what's happening with folks that are unvaccinated. The stresses that we're having in our hospitals and our ICUs, thankfully, the numbers are coming down, but we're real concerned about flu coming back in November and December, and taking a lot of spaces at our hospitals as they -- as flu has done in prior years.

This impacts the health care availability for everyone in our community, vaccinated or not. And no one has a right to be able to put the community at danger like this.

CAMEROTA: Mayor Steve Adler, thank you for your time.

ADLER: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: President Biden's agenda is at stake, and Speaker Pelosi warns it is time for Democrats to make some tough decisions. We're live on Capitol Hill next.



BLACKWELL: Well, now to a stark warning from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the future of President Biden's agenda.

She sent a letter to her caucus urging lawmakers to hurry up and pass both the Build Back Better act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

CAMEROTA: And, today, she made it clear that changes are coming to that massive spending bill, which will bring tough choices.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): These decisions have to be made. There's been a lot of discussion, and we are a Democratic Party. We are not a rubber stamp or a lockstep party. We have our discussions. And I'm very proud of the values that all the members have brought to the table, the knowledge of the issues that they're advancing that they bring, and the realization that, even at 3.5, you have to make decisions.

So, again, we have to make a tighter decisions.


CAMEROTA: CNN congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles joins us live.

So what about those tough choices? What are they going to chop out of some of these bills?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that's the big question right now, Alisyn and Victor.

Democrats right now are wrestling between a path forward here. And they have got really two options to try and shrink the size of this package that you recall at one point was as big as $3.5 trillion. They can either try and pack all of these issues and programs and policies that they had hoped to put into the package and do it in a smaller or less long of a time frame, or they could actually cut and pull some things out of the package.

And that seems to be what the ongoing internal deliberations are between House progressives and House moderates, and then, of course, those two key senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have balked at the hefty price tag that this bill contains.

And this is also part of the messaging strategy, of course, for the Biden White House, because there is concern that there's been too much focus on the price tag, and not enough of a focus on what it actually delivers.

And if you get to the point that you have to start actually cutting things from a package that was never passed to begin with, that also could lead to difficult optics. So this is what they're wrestling with right now. Keep in mind, neither side has agreed to a full top-line number as to how much they are willing to spend or where the revenue would come to pay for that package.

So this is still a very difficult and cumbersome negotiation. And in terms of a timeline, Victor and Alisyn, there really isn't one. These talks could extend past Halloween. It's even possible they could go all the way into Thanksgiving. This is really being looked at now is more of a long-term process, not a short-term process, because Democrats want to get it right -- Alisyn and Victor.

CAMEROTA: Ryan Nobles, thank you.

So, Democrats are doing President Biden no favors with their intraparty drama. But, beyond that, let's look at the slew of crises the president is facing right now.


CAMEROTA: Among them, rising gas prices and inflation, a supply chain backlog ahead of the holiday shopping season, sluggish job growth, staffing shortages, turmoil in Afghanistan, and a pandemic that he, of course, was elected with people hoping that he would end, and then there's been the politicization of the vaccine, mask mandates, all that stuff.

BLACKWELL: The graphic can only be so big.

CNN political director David Chalian is here.

David, welcome to you.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki admitted that they thought this would be done with several of these problems, that they would have some of them off the list.


Just talk about the significance of the list growing and growing and the need for this president to get a political win.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. This is the toughness of the job. And as President Biden always says,

he understands that whole theory of the buck stopping there. Now, some of the things on that list are within his control. Some of the things on that list are not within his control.

I don't think the public makes any differentiation necessarily between the two.

And so this is what it is to be president and have all this land on your plate. The White House approach to this is sort of that, once -- they believe that once Congress -- and they do think they will do this -- gets those big giant agenda items through, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan, this larger, maybe hovering around a $2 trillion social spending plan, once that gets passed, and into the economy, that spending gets into the -- out into the country, that they think these troubles will start taking care of themselves, especially with what we see is the receding of the Delta variant, which is issue number one above all others.

CAMEROTA: Well, of course, there's a trickle-down effect to all of these problems to the statewide offices.

And Terry McAuliffe, who is again running for governor in Virginia, talked about how this is affecting other states. So listen to him from Sunday.


FMR. GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE (D-VA): We have got frustration with Washington. Why haven't we passed this Infrastructure bill? It passed the U.S. Senate with 69 votes two months ago. I have been very straight on television. We're tired of the chitty chat up in Washington. Get in a room and get this figured out.


CAMEROTA: And, by the way, he's a Democrat too.

CHALIAN: Yes, he sure is.

When Ryan was talking to you guys, and saying there's no definitive timeline on this stuff now, and this is more of a long-term thing, as he was saying that, I was like envisioning Terry McAuliffe's head exploding, because there is a short timeline for Terry McAuliffe.

In Virginia, where he's running for his old job to be governor again, people are voting right now. I mean, we will tally the votes three weeks from today. That's Election Day. But the voting is happening right now. And that's why you see McAuliffe sort of pleading with Washington Democrats to sort of, please get something done, especially that infrastructure bill you have sitting on your desks from the Senate, which was passed in a bipartisan fashion, so that I can turn around and sell what you're doing to people who are going to vote right now.

So the idea that the timeline gets extended, that hurts somebody like Terry McAuliffe or potentially Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey, who is running for reelection, those folks that are on the ballot as we speak.

BLACKWELL: Yes, he can't wait for Halloween or the end of the year for this to get done.

David, what do you see is the significance of Speaker Pelosi Monday night sending out this dear colleagues letter saying that, overwhelmingly, what she's hearing is to do fewer things well, and then, today, telling our Manu Raju that, well, hopefully we can keep all of the marquee programs and just cut the time.

CHALIAN: Yes, she seemed to be sort of giving everybody in her caucus a little bit of something of what they want to hear.

But I think that letter couldn't have been more clear. When she uses that word, sort of the overwhelming sense of my caucus, that is to try to explain to some others who may be making the argument, a different argument that they're not with the majority of the party.

But you are right to note, Victor, she definitely walked that back a little bit today. She was not saying here are the few things that are the priorities, and we should do well.

But I would just note, every single time Speaker Pelosi talks about the Build Back Better agenda, and she did so in the letter as well that you're referencing, she says for the children.

And I urge everyone to take a look at Ron Brownstein's column on our Web site today, because there is this divide inside the party about how much to invest of this Build Back Better plan into the front end of life, universal pre-K, child care, the extension of the child care tax credit, vs. investing in the dignity of the later stages in life, expanding Medicare to include vision and dental and hearing aids, the way we hear Bernie Sanders talk all the time.

And at the end of the day, the package, $2 trillion, there will be enough money there to invest in both, of course, but the battle inside the party is where to lean in. And you always hear Speaker Pelosi say for the children. So I think when she says, let's do a few things well, you can imagine she may end up prioritizing those things.

CAMEROTA: David, before we let you go, I just have to play for you an only in New Jersey political ad. This is the state Democrats who have a political ad against the Republican running for governor. Enjoy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know who this guy is?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's Jack Ciattarelli, the GOP candidate for governor.

He once led an effort to ban swearing.






UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aww, that's kind of nice.








CAMEROTA: I have never been more proud.

CHALIAN: Yes, Alisyn, you're a Jersey girl. I'm a Jersey boy.

So this is an ad that sort of speaks our language in many ways. Listen, this ad is doing -- designed to do exactly what we're doing right now. It's to get media attention, to get people talking, to go viral enough people share it.

This is not the television ad campaign that Phil Murphy is spending millions of dollars on to put into people's living rooms as the message he's trying to win a second term on. But the New Jersey Democratic Committee understood they had an opening here to get an attention-grabbing kind of moment, and they have certainly got that with this digital ad.

BLACKWELL: I love that you love it, right?


BLACKWELL: The bird song of Newark.

CAMEROTA: Right. Victor was asking, what is this? I said it's our state motto.



BLACKWELL: David Chalian, thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, David.


BLACKWELL: So, NFL Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has resigned after e-mails revealed his racist and homophobic and misogynist comments. We will speak to a "New York Times" reporter who broke the story.

CAMEROTA: And any minute, a Wyoming coroner is set to release Gabby Petito's autopsy results, as questions surrounding her death still remain unanswered.

So, of course, we will bring you that live.