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Biden Targets Supply Chain Shortages; Interview With Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich; Shatner in Space. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 13, 2021 - 15:00   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Gene Seroka (ph) and Mario Cordono (ph).

I mis -- I apologize, Mario, that -- and the president of the International Longshoremen's Union, Willie Adams.

Los Angeles and Long Beach are home to two of the largest ports in America. And, together, these ports are among the largest in the world. And the best way to make that point is that 40 percent, 40 percent of shipping containers that we import into this country come through these two ports.

And, today, we have some good news. We're going to help speed up the delivery of goods all across America. After weeks of negotiation and working with my team and with the major union, retailers and freight movers, the ports of Los Angeles -- the Port of Los Angeles announced today that it's going to begin operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This follows the Port of Long Beach's commitment to 24/7 that it announced just weeks ago, 24/7 system, what most of the leading countries in the world already operate on now, except us, until now. This is the first key step toward moving our entire freight, transportation and logistical supply chain nationwide to a 24/7 system.

And here's why it matters. Traditionally, our ports have only been open during the week, Monday through Friday, and they're generally closed down at nights and on weekends. By staying open seven days a week, through the night and on the weekends, the Port of Los Angeles will open -- over 60 extra hours a week will be open.

In total, that will almost double the number of hours that the port is open for business from earlier this year. That means an increase in the hours for workers to be moving cargo off ships on to trucks and rail cars to get to their destination. And more than that, the night hours are critical for increasing the movement of goods, because highways, highways are less crowded in the evening, at night.

In fact, during off-peak hours in Los Angeles, cargo leaves the port at a 25 percent faster pace than during the day shift. So, by increasing the number of late-night hours of operation and opening up for less crowded hours, when the goods can move faster, today's announcement has the potential to be a game-changer.

I say potential, because all of these goods won't move by themselves. For the positive impact to be felt all across the country and by all of you at home, we need major retailers who order the goods and the freight movers who take the goods from the ships, to factories and stores to step up as well.

These private sector companies are the ones that hire the trucks and rail cars and move the goods. On this score, we have some good news to report as well. Today, Walmart, our nation's largest retailer, is committing to go all in on moving its products 24/7 from the ports to their stores nationwide.

Specifically, Walmart is committing as much as a 50 percent increase in the use of off-peak hours over the next several weeks. Additionally, FedEx and UPS, two of our nation's biggest freight movers, are committing today to significantly increase the amount of goods they're moving at night.

FedEx and UPS are the shippers for some of our nation's largest stores, but they also ship for tens of thousands of small businesses all across America. Their commitment to go all in on 24/7 operations means that businesses of all sizes will get their goods on shelves faster and more reliably.

Accordingly, according to one estimate, together, FedEx and UPS alone move up to 40 percent of packages in America, up to 40 percent. And other companies are stepping up as well. They include Target, Home Depot, and Samsung, that have all committed to ramp up their committees and utilize off-peak hours at the ports.

So the commitments being made today are a sign of major progress in moving goods from manufacturers to a store or to your front door. I want to thank my Supply Chain Disruption Task Force, which we set up in June, led by Secretaries Buttigieg, Raimondo and Vilsack and by my director of National Economic Council, Brian Deese.

And I want to thank them for their leadership. And I especially want to thank Joe Porcari. And I think Joe has done a great job, my special envoy specifically on ports, who has been working this issue with all the stakeholders the past several weeks.


I also want to thank the port directors. I want to Gene and Mario again, and the mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Mayor Garcetti and Mayor Garcia, for their leadership.

And I think the private companies that are stepping up, I want to thank them, thank them, but I particularly want to thank labor, Willie Adams of the longshoremen's and warehouses union, who is here today, the Teamsters, the rail unions from the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, and the Association of Machinists, to the American Train Dispatchers Association, to Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, known as SMART. I want to be clear, this is across-the-board commitment to going to

24/7. That is big first step in speeding up the movement of materials and goods through our supply chain. But now we need the rest of the private sector chain to step up as well.

This is not called a supply chain for nothing. This means that terminal operators, railways, trucking companies, shippers, and other retailers as well.

Strengthening our supply chain will continue to be my team's focus. If federal support is needed, I will direct all appropriate action. And if the private sector doesn't step up, we're going to call them out and ask them to act, because our goal is not only to get through this immediate bottleneck, but to address the longstanding weaknesses in our transportation supply chain that this pandemic has exposed, I might add parenthetically one of the reasons why I think it's very important that we get the infrastructure plan passed, my infrastructure plan.

And that supply chain system is almost entirely in the hands of private business. The world has changed. Prior to the crisis, we cheered the focus on lean, efficient supply chains, leaving no buffer or margin for error when it comes to certain parts arriving just in time as needed to make a final product.

And under our administration, Barack and ours, we -- that is what we -- just in time was the focus. We didn't have a pandemic and other things at the time. We need to take a longer view, though, and invest in building greater resilience to withstand the kinds of shocks we have seen over and over, year in and year out, whether it's the pandemic, extreme weather, climate change, cyberattacks or other disruptions.

In fact, research tells us that a company can expect to lose over 40 percent of one year's earnings every 10 years due to supply chain disruptions. A longer-term view means we invest in systems that have more time built in and our ability to produce, innovate and partner with our allies.

It also means companies throughout the supply chain, like maritime, air freight and trucking companies, reduce their carbon emissions and help to meet our climate change goals. It also means creating and supporting good-paying jobs, so folks want to stay in these jobs so they can build the skills and careers and to make a decent living.

It means more opportunities to join a union, especially for truckers. These steps are critical. They allow companies to pivot quickly when a disruption hits because they have invested in their workers, their workers' skills, and training up front to be able to adapt.

We need to invest in making more of our products right here in the United States. Never again should our country and our economy be unable to make critical products we need because we don't have access to materials to make that product.

Never again should we have to rely too heavily on one company or one country or one person in the world, particularly when countries don't share our values when it comes to labor and environmental standards.

I have said before we're in the competition for the 21st century. We are America. We still have the most productive workers and the most innovative minds in the world. But the rest of the world is closing in, and we risk losing our edge if we don't step up.

In order to be globally competitive, we need to improve our capacity to make things here in America, while also moving finished products across the country and around the world. We need to think big and bold. That's why I'm pushing for a once-in-a-generation investment in our infrastructure and our people with my infrastructure bill and my Build Back Better Act.

These bills would transform our ports. There's millions -- billions of dollars for ports, highways, rail systems that sorely need upgrading, and would bring products faster and more efficiently from the factories to the store to your house.


Let me be clear. We're proposing to make the biggest investment in ports in our history. The bill would also make investments in our supply chains and manufacturing and strengthening our ability to make more goods from the beginning to end right here in America.

The bottom line, we have seen the cost of inaction in the pandemic, in the delays and the congestion that affect every American. But it's fully within our capacity to act to make sure it never happens again. It's going to take a little time, and that we have unlocked the full might and dynamism of our economy and our people.

That's what we're going to do. God bless you all, and may God bless the longshoremen, rail workers, truckers, and all the workers who are keeping our economy going. May God protect our troops.

Thank you all so very much.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, President Biden announcing some changes that will be coming to ports in California, now operating 24/7 to try to alleviate this bottleneck. Matt Egan told us a few minutes ago upwards of 70 full cargo ships to try these bring the goods in.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: He also said that Walmart will be doing more. So will FedEx and UPS. They will be moving more goods day and night. And FedEx and UPS are the biggest merchandise movers. So he thinks that that will begin to make a dent, and we will all start to feel it.

BLACKWELL: All right, joining us now, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for being with us.

First, your reaction. The impact, you believe -- I should also say you're the author of "The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It," book club there.

But the significance of what the president just announced, and how quickly we will see some alleviation from this change.

ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Well, it's a very important step, but it's just one step, because there supply bottlenecks all over this country. It's not just international.

And so the administration really does need to try to do everything possible to alleviate those bottlenecks. How long is it going to take? Very good question. I think, probably, if the administration acts very, very quickly, it could be a month, a month-and-a-half. That is still in kind of political time, in political time span, that's not very much time. In economic time, that's pretty quickly.

But, nevertheless, the economy is clearly feeling the effects of these supply shocks in terms of inflation. Now, again, this is not inflation in terms of permanent inflation. This is inflation in terms of having limited supply at the same time that we have great pent-up demand coming out of the worst of the coronavirus, the worst of the pandemic.

And supply and demand simply are out of sync.

BLACKWELL: So you sent me in two different directions here. I'm going to try to hit both of them.

When you say that if these changes are impacted, that there could be some alleviation within a month. Now, that would be of the bottleneck of getting those cargo ships into port and getting the containers off. But how long do we expect that this elevated inflation -- the Consumer Price Index, we have seen above 5 percent now.

How long do you expect that will stretch into 2022?

REICH: That could stretch into four or five, possibly even six months, I doubt more than six months.

But let's keep this in perspective. These elevated prices are to be expected when you're coming out of a national crisis. We saw it after the two World Wars. We certainly -- we don't have good records from the last pandemic of 1918. But it was predictable that after any kind of national emergency, prolonged emergency, you have got pent-up demand and supply shocks all over the system.


The other direction, that comment of bringing them in, sends me is that once they get into port, there's a shortage of dock workers. There's also a shortage of truck drivers. And I know from reading your opinion piece in "The Guardian" this morning is that you don't think that there is a labor shortage and that what we're seeing is a necessary pain.

Explain why.

REICH: well, this is a larger theme and a very important issue. That is, American workers now, if you look at the numbers who are

quitting their jobs or have not gone back to work. American workers know they have right now a great deal of bargaining leverage they have not had in years, because, at the same time you have got this big pent-up demand for goods and services, workers say to themselves, well, we don't necessarily have to return to work right away.


We have socked away a little bit of money. It's not these federal unemployment payments, because those payments have stopped in -- on Labor Day. But a lot of workers now feel that they will have a little bit of luxury to wait and see, reevaluate. They don't have to return to the same lousy jobs they had before.

And you have this all over the country. In fact, to some extent, it is related to more strike activity in the organized union sector of the economy.

BLACKWELL: Now, you tweeted this: "Ending the expanded unemployment benefits, didn't get people back to work, but living wages, paid leave, child care, good health care, and the right to join a union would."

Some of that would be handled by the social safety net bill that the president talked about, and we will talk about that in a moment. But on the issue of wages, what do you tell the owner of medium-sized business, fewer than 100 employees, though, that is facing the higher cost of shipping, the higher cost of raw materials, the higher cost of fuel?

And here's Robert Reich say that there should be now added cost of wages, increase those as well. At some point, they look at their margins and say that the incentive to continue to operate this business becomes less attractive. To them, you say what?

REICH: Well, the reality is that most of the cost factors that you mentioned, that is, raw materials, and shipping and everything else, those are temporary. Those will be over in six months, hopefully before six months.


BLACKWELL: If they can make it six months, Mr. Secretary. If they can make it six months.

REICH: Well, yes, well, look, we have been through a terrible pandemic. I mean, a lot of small businesses have suffered.

But individuals make up this economy. Workers make up this economy. Workers do need a raise, if they possibly can get a raise. The typical worker in this country, if you adjust for inflation, has not had a raise in 40 years. So it is appropriate that there be more higher wages paid, and that's good for the economy overall, that's good for the economy, because more money in people's pockets means they can turn around and buy more things. BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about this pair of bills on Capitol Hill.

The president just pitched them again during his remarks. Alisyn spoke with the Pramila Jayapal at the top of the last hour, and really much of what Congresswoman Jayapal said, she said weeks ago. Do you see any progress here?

And why should Democrats believe that leadership is going to pass these, that they're going to get both of these done, when there is this impasse that they have been sitting at for weeks now?

REICH: Well, the biggest impasse, let's be very clear about this, has to do with two senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

They are the ones who are holding this up. The vast majority of Democrats in the House and in the Senate are fully behind these two pieces of legislation, the infrastructure and the social infrastructure bill.

So the real question is, what kind of negotiations are going on behind the scenes between the White House on the one hand and Manchin and Sinema on the other hand? I don't know, obviously.

But this is not Democrats in disarray. This is Democrats facing two people, two senators that are basically saying no.

BLACKWELL: But we have been at this point. They have been at this point for weeks now, if not months.

What is the progress that should make Democrats confident that the party leadership, that their representatives are going to pass this legislation?

REICH: Well, here's what makes me confident.

I think that there is already good reason to believe Joe Manchin has put a number on the table he will go along with. I think that Kyrsten Sinema will probably go along as well. And so the question is...


BLACKWELL: Based on what? What do you know about Kyrsten Sinema that the rest of us don't?

REICH: Well, I certainly don't have any inside knowledge.

But let me tell you this. I think, based upon my knowledge of politics, going back 50 years, that you have got so much at stake here, not only for the Democratic Party, but for the United States, that you ultimately and for Joe Biden and his legacy, you're going to have a compromise at the end of the day.

The question is, is the end of the day going to be next week or a month? It should be before the end of the year, because we're going to be in the gravitational pull of the midterm elections. I don't know what it's going to take Kyrsten Sinema to come around. But I can tell you this, that there's going to be more and more pressure on her, not just from Washington politicians, but from people in Arizona.

Her own constituents are going to say, we want this, we want that, we want this. We want paid leave. We want free community college. We want child care. These are things that are going to benefit her constituents.



And let me assure you that every politician in America knows that at the bottom line is their own constituents.

BLACKWELL: Mr. Secretary, we saw this pressure on Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema when it came to the filibuster on voting rights and police reform and so many other elements and they didn't move off of those.

But I have got one more for you on another topic. We learned today from New York, that the vaccine mandates lead to a 3 percent health care work force reduction because of the requirements. Sounds like a small percentage, 3 percent, represents many, many positions in that sector specifically.

And, of course, we know the mandates are aimed at a greater good to protect the public health. But do you have a degree of concern that the vaccine mandates are going to exacerbate this labor shortage problem?

REICH: Well, they might conceivably exacerbate a labor shortage problem.

But that has to be weighed against the public health, as you just pointed out. And I don't think there is any question that unless and until we get this entire pandemic behind us, the economy is not going to be healed. We're not going to have the jobs we had before. And so some sort of 3 percent or small effect in the short-term unemployment is tiny compared to what's at stake over the longer term.

BLACKWELL: All right, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, thank you, sir.

REICH: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: OK, now to the outer space.

BLACKWELL: Oh, let's do that.

CAMEROTA: Captain Kirk made history today, becoming the oldest person ever to launch into space. William Shatner speaks with CNN next.



CAMEROTA: William Shatner, AKA, Captain Kirk, has just completed his space mission as part of the second civilian launch for Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

The 90-year-old along, with the New Shepard crew, successfully left the Earth's atmosphere earlier this morning. The journey took nearly 11 minutes.

BLACKWELL: At its peak, the Blue Origin space capsule traveled nearly 350,000 feet above the ground level there, reaching speeds of more than 2,000 miles per hour, and the crew experienced weightlessness for a full three minutes.

CNN's Kristin Fisher spoke with Shatner and the rest of the Blue Origin crew a few minutes ago.

So, what did they tell you about this experience?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, when William Shatner first got out of that capsule on the desert floor earlier today, he made what I thought was one of the most compelling cases for space tourism that I have ever heard.

I mean, in this era of quite a bit of backlash against these billionaires spending a lot of their fortunes on getting people into space, people accused them of taking these joyrides into space. I thought William Shatner explained why space tourism was so important.

But when I asked him about it, he did not like my characterization of space tourism. And when I said, why -- he said, why -- that the world needs to see it. People need to see it. And so when I asked him why we need to see it, here's what he said.


WILLIAM SHATNER, ACTOR: Everybody in the world needs to have the philosophical understanding of what we're doing to Earth and the -- and you hear this so often, the necessity of cleaning our Earth and stopping right now the apocalypse that's coming our way.

But until you're up there, and you see the blackness, the starkness, the ugliness, from our point of view -- of course, space is filled with mystery and all that, and cosmos. People who study the universe will shudder at what I'm saying.

But in that moment is blackness and death. In this moment down here, as we looked down, was life and nurturing. That's what everybody needs to know.


FISHER: So, William Shatner making it very clear today that he believes he saw death, kind of a preview of it, that stark line between the blueness of Earth and the darkness of space.

I also talked to Audrey Powers, who is an executive here at Blue Origin. She has been critical in developing this rocket. She described today, a chance to finally ride the rocket that she has been so instrumental in help building, she described it as the thrill of her lifetime.

And then I had a question for the two paying customers on board this mission, Glen and Chris. And, you know, nobody has said how much they actually paid for this trip to space. I knew they probably weren't going to like the question, but I had to ask it anyway. They wouldn't say, but they did say that, if they had the chance, they would do it again, and that whatever they paid, it was absolutely worth it -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kristin Fisher.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting.

BLACKWELL: Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: OK, joining us now is Adam Frank. He's an astrophysics professor at Rochester University.

Professor, thanks so much for being here.

I know that you think that what happened today was bigger than just space tourism for billionaires. So, what is it that we saw?

ADAM FRANK, ROCHESTER UNIVERSITY: Well, first, I just have to say, like, go, Kirk. That was a beautiful explanation of the importance of getting people into space so they can see really what's at stake.

You know, what I think is really interesting about this is that it's really a testimony to the human imagination. And what I mean by that is sort of the power -- the power of science fiction and the stories it tells us about a hopeful human future, because who is William Shatner? He's just an actor.