Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Obama Rallies Democrats In New Jersey As Early Voting Gets Underway; Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) Discusses About Barack Obama's Comments About Republican Party; GOP Reps: Biden Bill A "Trojan Horse To Push Radical Policies"; Michigan City Declares State of Emergency Due To Lead Contamination; Twenty-Eight Million Children May Be Eligible For COVID Vaccine Within Weeks. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 23, 2021 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:10]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown of Washington. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. We want to go straight to Newark, New Jersey as a former President Barack Obama just took the stage to stump for the Governor there, Phil Murphy, let's listen.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've known Phil for a long time. He was an early supporter of mine back when people could not pronounce my name. You know, that's my test.

You know, a lot of people started coming on board once, it was all right, that, you know, the guy was named Obama, we could -- but back in the day, you know, having those early folks, that meant a lot.

So Phil, and Tammy, they've been good friends to me and Michelle for a long time. But in addition to him being a good friend, he's an even better citizen. So that's why I asked Phil to serve as America's Ambassador to Germany, because I knew he'd do a great job representing America, and what we stand for the best of our values, and he'd do that with one of our most important allies.

So when he came back, I thought he was going to be tired. I thought he was going to go, you know, back to doing what he had been doing. But then he calls me up, he says, "I'm going to run for Governor." I said, we were having dinner, I think, in the White House when you brought that up. I said, "Okay, let's go."

And so I supported him when he ran for Governor four years ago, because I knew he would make the people in New Jersey proud, and that's exactly what he's done. As Governor, he's worked to build a stronger and a fairer economy. An economy that works for every New Jersey family, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected.

He raised the minimum wage.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: He signed legislation requiring equal pay for equal work. He -- Phil did that. Because -- because the idea -- let me -- let me tell you, I live with Michelle, Malia and Sasha, the idea that they wouldn't get paid the same for doing the work of some knucklehead man would drive them nuts.

Phil expanded access to healthcare, and to pay for these initiatives, he required millionaires to pay their fair share of tax.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: And by the way, not because he has something against success, he was successful. But because he knows that when you're successful, part of the deal is then you give back and help other people become successful.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: Right? That's the American way. He put in place commonsense gun safety regulations --

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: He expanded paid family leave.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: He made sure public schools get the funding they needed. He restored funding for women's healthcare.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: So Phil has been busy. He has been busy. He's done the work. And you know what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What?

OBAMA: What? Here's what -- that track record matters because it tells you he doesn't just talk the talk. It tells you he walks the walk.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: And that record matters because the work we need to do is too important to leave to chance.

Now, look, this pandemic has made the last couple of years incredibly hard for a lot of people, including folks here in New Jersey. Let's face it, it's been tough. I mean, people were cooped up. You had families who lost their jobs. You had people who got laid off or were furloughed, weren't sure if they could pay the rent.

You got schools closing, so now people who have to work don't have a choice, suddenly they're trying to figure out what are they going to do with their kids?

Obviously, most profoundly, you've got people who've lost loved ones or loved ones who went through terrible illness. This has been a difficult time.

But thanks to leaders like Phil Murphy and President Biden, we've been making progress. [CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: That doesn't mean we've got everything solved because this stuff is hard. But we've made progress, things are better because of their leadership, and so now we've got a choice, we can go backwards. We can go back into the misguided policies, the divisiveness, the negligence -- all those things that made this pandemic so much more -- so much worse than it had to be.

[18:05:25]

OBAMA: Or we can build an economy that works for everybody, not just the few.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: We can -- we can build an economy where more children have a shot at a great education, and more workers can get the skills they need for good new jobs and where we work together and listen to each other, and move the country forward.

That's what Phil has done. And now, he is running to keep that momentum going.

So if you elect him, Phil is going to work to make healthcare and housing more affordable. He's going to invest in clean energy. He is going to do what it takes to keep people safe and help New Jersey come out of the pandemic stronger than before.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: And when he says, this is what I'm going to do, you know, he's going to do it.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: Because he wasn't about empty promises this first term. So, hey, you.

So look, look, track record matters. And by the way, Phil is not alone. All across the country, Democrats are working to make sure that those who've done well, the wealthiest Americans, the largest corporations pay their fair share in taxes just like they do in New Jersey, not out of spite, but so we can do things to make childcare more affordable, so we can make real progress on the fight against climate change.

All across the country, you've got Democrats who are trying to make it easier to vote and push back on Republicans who are trying to systematically prevent ordinary citizens from making their voices heard.

Just this past week, Phil, every Democrat in the Senate supported a bill that would protect the right to vote and ban partisan gerrymandering and reduce the influence of dark money in our politics. And every Republican voted against those reform measures. [BOOING]

OBAMA: Which, no, hey, don't boo. Vote. Booing doesn't do nothing. But booing -- booing is like you know, you send out to Twitter blah, blah, blah. No, go out there and go vote. Go vote.

You've got to ask yourself though. Why? Why is it that Republicans don't want people voting? What are they so afraid? Listen, if you've got better ideas, make your case. Tell us your ideas. Tell us why you think what you're proposing will be better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

OBAMA: See there.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: If you've got good ideas you're not afraid of people voting on them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right.

OBAMA: So, I guess you don't want folks voting because --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't have no good ideas.

OBAMA: They don't have no good ideas.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: People flock to you if you've got good ideas. Make your case, but instead they try to rig elections because they know people don't agree with their ideas, and when that doesn't work, they start making up stuff, like the one about how they didn't lose the last election.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: Let me -- let me tell you something. I've been blessed in my political career, but I lost an election. I lost a congressional election back in Chicago. It would have been -- I didn't know I could just like after I got beat, I could just get up and say no, I didn't get beat.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: No, no, no, no. The machines were broken.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: What? No, I -- you know what I did? I said, you know what, let me think about how I can be better so that I can win the next time.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: That's what I did. You know that -- you know, I don't know what loyalties are around here, but like the Yankees they lost in the playoffs. They didn't -- they didn't say, hey, wait a minute, we didn't lose.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: I guess, we've got to go back to work. You better. Democracy is not -- democracy is not supposed to work where if you lose, you just ignore and pretend it didn't happen and our democracy is what makes America great.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: It's what makes us that shining city on a hill. This extraordinary experiment in self-government and protecting that and preserving that that shouldn't be a partisan issue. It didn't used to be.

[18:15:19]

OBAMA: But unfortunately, it's become this -- this -- this partisan issue. I mean, with very few exceptions. And by the way, I applaud those handful of Republicans out there who say, no, you know, we're conservative. We didn't vote for Biden, but we lost. Imagine that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Imagine that.

OBAMA: I mean, you know, that's a pretty low bar to give folks credit for just like speaking the truth. But, right, in this current environment, you've got to give them credit, because they get threatened just by telling the truth.

So Phil and Democrats everywhere are focused on you, and how can we help you? What's Phil's opponent focused on? He wants to go backwards. He wants to go backwards.

That minimum wage increase that Phil signed, he'll stop it. The work Phil did to fund public schools, he wants to take that money away from school districts.

[BOOING]

OBAMA: And especially -- especially in black and brown communities. The progress you made on women's health, or voting rights, or gun safety, he'll roll it back.

Then there's Phil's decision to reinstate the tax on the wealthy. Apparently, it's not enough to go back to the way things were. Phil's opponent wants to give the wealthy and corporations more tax breaks so they can pay even less.

Come on now. Don't be bamboozled. Don't fall for the okie-doke.

When you've got a candidate who spoke at a Stop the Steal rally, you can bet he's not going to be a champion of democracy.

Apparently, Phil's opponent says, well, he didn't know it was a rally to overturn the results of the last election, he didn't know it.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: Really? Come on. When you're standing in front of a sign that says, "Stop the Steal," and there is a guy in the crowd waving a Confederate flag, you know, this isn't a neighborhood barbecue.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: You knows it is not a league of women voters rally. Come on. Come on, man.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: That's what New Jersey needs. You need a governor who's going to be honest with you. You need a governor who knows that there are some things that are more important than getting elected. And that just maybe, American democracy is one of those things.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: You know, there were times where I had to say no or disagree with my own base and my supporters because I thought there were some bigger principles at stake. There were times where as President, I couldn't just do the expedient thing or even the popular thing because there were some things I thought that were important enough I had to do what I thought was right.

If somebody is not willing to do that, if they're willing to say anything or do anything to get elected, then they do not deserve to hold the highest office in New Jersey.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: By the way, if that's not enough, New Jersey, here's the real kicker. Here's the real kicker.

Back in the 90s when he was a local council member, apparently Phil's opponent supported an effort to ban swearing. Now, I'm not from Jersey.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: But I know that's a bad idea.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: And we didn't have any cameras around. I'll tell you just how bad an idea that is because there are times where you just need to express yourself. New Jersey, we've -- come on.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: That's not -- that's not serious. And these are serious times and we need serious people. We have too much to get done to be going backwards. Here we are trying to recover from a global pandemic that has killed more than 700,000 Americans, put millions in harm's way. We don't have time to waste on phony culture wars or fake outrage that the right-wing media peddling just to juice up your ratings.

[18:15:25]

OBAMA: We should be building on the progress we've made, not tearing it down. That's not what this election is all about. That's why -- that's not what you need, Jersey.

So instead of forcing schools to cut back, we should be doing more to support the people who are educating our kids.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: Instead of asking middle class families to bear even more of a burden, we should be asking those who've been fortunate enough in this economy to be doing better than ever to pay their fair share of taxes.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: Instead of spreading misinformation or disinformation about the last election, we should be trying to strengthen our democracy, encouraging people to vote. We are at a turning point right now, both here in America and around the world. There is a mood out there, we see it. There's a politics of meanness, and division, and conflict, of tribalism, and cynicism.

And, you know, we could go down that path, but I'll tell you, that is the path to ruin. The good news is, there's another path. One where we pull together, one where we solve big problems together. One where we rebuild our society in a way that gives more and more people a better life. That's the choice we face. A choice that I believe will define not just the next few years, but the next few decades. It'll determine what happens with our kids and our and grandkids.

You know, and when I look out at these crowds, you know, some of these young people were two, five, maybe just born when I was elected, maybe weren't born.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: I was at a rally in Virginia. This guy raised his hand while I said that, he said, "I was a few months old."

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: I said, well, okay. Good for you. But when I see young people, you know, I see my own -- my own daughters. I just saw Phil's kids backstage. They were tiny when I first met them. Now, they are all grown. They've got whiskers.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: The boys do. You know, and I'm sure Phil thinks the same way I do. You know, it makes you think about what kind of world are we passing on to them? The thing about being a parent is that there are two cliches that are absolutely true. One is man, they grow up fast. And the other cliche that is absolutely true is you will do anything for them. You will do anything to make their lives better. You will sacrifice anything for them.

You'll jump into -- you'll jump in front of a freight train, you will wrestle a bear for your kids. So right now, we're helping to determine what kind of democracy are they going to inherit? What kind of planet are they going to inherit? What kind of economy are they going to inherit? What are we leaving for them? That's our choice.

And I'm here today, because I believe New Jersey, you will make the right choice.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: I believe America will ultimately make the right choice. I believe, you're going to show the rest of the country in the world, we are not going to indulge our worst instincts. We're not going to go back to the chaos that did so much damage. We're not going to fall for distractions or --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okie-doke.

OBAMA: Okie-doke.

[LAUGHTER]

OBAMA: We're going to move forward with people like Phil leading the way, but in order for that to happen, we need your help. We need you to vote. And listen, I know people are tired of politics right now. You know, look, I'll be honest with you. I don't watch the cable shows. You know, it is like, no.

When we're at home, usually like I'll be reading something and Michelle and she's watching TV. She is watching HGTV or Food Channel. She doesn't want to see that fussing.

So, I understand why people are tired of halting. It just seems ugly and the same nasty all the time. And some folks are just tired, period. I understand that, too.

[18:20:10]

OBAMA: I understand why people are frustrated. We thought the pandemic was just about done, then delta comes, throws us for a loop. People feel cooped up, not sure what's safe, all these arguments going on.

Even about, like wearing masks or getting vaccinated. The science says it's the right thing to do. You do it, because you're not just protecting yourself, but people you love, people who are vulnerable.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: You know, I don't -- I don't know how folks just decide everything has got to suddenly be political, but I understand why people want to know when this is all going to end. I know why sometimes folks just get tired. And maybe they say, you know, I'm not going to bother voting this time. But here's the thing, we can't afford to be tired. I remember in 2016,

folks said, you know, I'm not inspired. You know, Obama was okay, but we didn't get everything I wanted. So I'm just going to sit the next day. And you know, you all know how that turned out. That's what happens when you're not paying attention. That's what happens when you become complacent, or you let your frustration lead to inaction.

We cannot afford to be tired because of the young people here and the ones who are coming. I know it's hard. Phil doesn't claim he's going to solve every problem in New Jersey right away. I didn't solve every problem when I was President, but the fact is, that as hard as it is, we can still make it better.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: It's hard to undo the legacy of discrimination that goes back centuries, but we can make it better.

It's hard to deal with special interests who want to keep the status quo, when you're trying to make the economy more fair, and just, but you can make it better.

It's hard in a big country where people disagree to get everybody moving in the same direction, but we can do better than we're doing. We really can. We can make it better.

And when you've got the right person in the job, we might not get every single person employed, but we can get more people more jobs.

We may not get every child the best education in the world right here in Newark, we can give a lot more kids a better education here in Newark.

I didn't get every American healthcare, but boy, we've got a whole lot more people in America healthcare.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: It makes a difference when we decide to make things better. When you've got somebody in your corner who has shown you that they will work for you, who has a track record of accomplishment. You've got to go out there and work for them, not because everything is going to suddenly be perfect, but because it's going to be better, and you're preventing others from making it worse.

When you've got somebody like Phil who is responsible and serious, he is worth fighting for. So you've got to get out there, show the Senate you're willing to knock on doors for Phil, to make calls for Phil, to tell your friends and neighbors what's at stake.

We don't have time to be tired. What's required is sustained effort. As bats come out, and I know it is starting to drizzle little bits, I'm going to wrap this up.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] OBAMA: I remember -- you know, since, I had to kind of warm back up, I

hadn't been on the campaign trail for a while. So, I was doing some reminiscing, I remember my first presidential election and on election night I spoke in Grant Park about a woman, 106-years-old who had voted for me. A woman named Miss Anne Nixon-Cooper, 106. Right?

So that means that she was born in 1902, and I tried to imagine everything that she had gone through in her life. A black woman born in the shadow of slavery, deep in the midst of Jim Crow. A woman born at a time when women didn't have the right to vote or participate in public life in meaningful ways.

Born in a time where there really weren't cars on the road or planes in the sky. They certainly didn't have the internet. And yet, she described how the minute she had a chance to vote, she was going to be there. Each time she got a chance to vote, she didn't miss one including up to the time where she had the chance to vote for the first African-American nominee of a major party to have the chance to become President of the United States.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

[18:25:13]

OBAMA: She had witnessed all that, and I thought to myself, if Miss Cooper is not tired, then I can't be tired. If John Lewis wasn't tired, getting beat by folks on horseback trying to cross the bridge, we can't be tired.

If folks who had to fight for union rights across the country weren't tired, we can be tired.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: If suffragettes were tired of being treated like second class -- they were tired of that, but they weren't tired of changing it, we can't be tired.

You can't be tired. Go out there. Fight, work. You are going to decide this election in the direction of New Jersey and this country for generations to come. Do not sit this one out. Make sure you vote for Democrats up and down the ballot, including State Legislatures where a lot of important work gets done.

If you do, if you're not tired, if you work, if you vote up and down the ballot, if you get your friends and neighbors to vote. If you do all that, we will elect Phil Murphy again.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

OBAMA: We will elect Sheila Oliver again. We'll build up on majorities in the State Legislature.

We will keep New Jersey, moving on the path to a better future.

Thank you, New Jersey. Give Phil Murphy four more years. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Come on.

BROWN: You've been listening to former President Barack Obama speaking in New Jersey. His second stop on the campaign trail today trying to energize Democratic voters ahead of two crucial Governor's races and elections.

Up next, new concerns about safety conditions on the New Mexico film set where actor, Alec Baldwin accidentally killed a crew member. What staffers allege was really happening behind the scenes.

Plus, I'll ask Republican Congressman Peter Meijer about the big lie permeating through his party and what made him break ranks over Steve Bannon's silence.

And then later tonight in the Gabby Petito case, investigators turn to Brian Laundrie's parents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Making a statement that we haven't seen him is not reporting someone missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:31:54]

BROWN: Major developments this week in the investigation into the Capitol insurrection. Nine Republicans only sided with Democrats voting to hold former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and criminal contempt of Congress refer that for defying a subpoena to cooperate with the Select Committee focused on January 6.

Now, one of those Republicans, Peter Meijer of Michigan, he joins us now. Congressman, thank you so much for your time tonight.

REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): Thank you, Pamela.

BROWN: I want to get to that contempt vote in just a moment. But first, I do want to get your reaction to what President Obama said this afternoon about your party. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you got good ideas, people will flock to your ideas, but that's not what they try to do. Instead you're trying to rig elections. Because the truth is people disagree with your ideas and when that doesn't work, you start fabricating lies and conspiracy theories about the last election, the one you didn't win. That's not how democracy is supposed to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Those were some strong words from the former President about your party. What do you think, is he right?

MEIJER: Well, I will say the former president was in New Jersey, because the polls are showing their gubernatorial candidates slipping so close that President Obama himself had to get out there. He wants to talk about ideas, the Democratic Party is recycling ones from the '30s and the '60s, so I don't exactly think he's not being hypocritical in that fashion. I've obviously been a strong critic of my own party and we need to make sure that we're being honest with the voters.

But frankly, it's just really hard to see how the Democratic Party is stepping to actually offer a compelling alternative and you're seeing that in the polls. Now, again, I want to reiterate, we need to be honest with the voters. Joe Biden won the last election. We need to make sure we're doing everything we can to be a party of ideas. But frankly if we're going down, the Democrats are following us.

BROWN: Earlier this week, you voted to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for defying the Committee's subpoena to cooperate. Only eight other Republicans agreed with you on this. Have you taken any flack from other Republicans? Are you disappointed that so few voted in that way?

MEIJER: Certainly not disappointed. I think to be honest with you, my goal is to be able to have a consistent standard that can be applied across the administration. I think all too often, and this is very much a bipartisan affliction, folks will excuse the actions that are taken under one president. When the next president does the exact same thing, they will be outraged and then howling left, right and center.

Again, I'm a freshman here. This is my first term in Congress and I plan to be able to consistently apply a standard no matter who is in office. And when it came to this vote, we have to enforce the power of inquiry that Congress has. The way that we can enforce that, the way that we can enforce those subpoenas is by holding those who outrightly flaunt Congressional inquiry to be held in contempt and that's how I voted.

BROWN: So if Steve Bannon doesn't pay a price for defying Congress and other Trump allies now follow suit, what will this mean for Congress and the power that it really has?

[18:35:06]

Do you worry that the legislative branch power is diminishing?

MEIJER: I think our legislative branch power has been diminishing incrementally for decades and far too much of that has been ceding power to the executive. Now, what's unique about this case is that President Biden has said that he will waive executive privilege, which was what Steve Bannon was trying to claim, though his grounds for that were incredibly weak.

But traditionally, when Congress has tried to hold someone in contempt, no matter the administration, if it is an executive official, they will not impanel the grand jury that is required for the executive branch to do or - via the judiciary.

So I think it's, again, all the more reason why Congress needs to reassert its article one powers. I've led legislation to do that around war powers and authorizations, the use of military force and this is just another area where the American people deserve a branch of government that offers a substantive check on the other.

BROWN: But are you concerned, given what you said that you believe that it has lost its power incrementally over the last several years? Are you concerned what that might mean for democracy if that trend continues?

MEIJER: No, I don't plan to let it continue and I think there's a number of folks in Congress, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, you do not want to defer to the executive. That may be politically expedient when the executive is of your party, but you also know that that may be temporary and you want to ensure that privilege.

So I think we will start to see that come back, I hope we do, and I think we have to. Again, our government functions best when we have that system of checks and balances as intended by our founders.

BROWN: So I want to turn to another big topic on Capitol Hill, the President's social safety net and climate bill. You sign on to a House Republican letter that argues that bail is a Trojan horse to push radical policy. So let's dig into some of the specific items to get a better sense from you of Build Back Better.

Let's start with first one is allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and bring down costs for Americans. Could you support that?

MEIJER: Again, when you say let's look at the constituent parts of it, it's hard to know what's in and out because it changes on a daily (inaudible) ...

BROWN: Right, it is changing, it's very fluid.

MEIJER: But I will say I'm open to looking at number of proposals on an individualized basis. The challenge here and by definition, this is throwing things at a wall, seeing what, frankly, will stick and be acceptable by Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema or by a handful of house moderates.

We have been involved in no part of these discussions. I have not had any attempted outreach by the administration or by Democratic leadership in the House. I'm happy to go through some constituent parts, but frankly these are all negotiations in details that have been entirely negotiated in secret and all that I've seen are the same talking points that you have.

BROWN: Well, President Biden was on CNN, as you may have seen, for a town hall and he did say on one, he was very clear that the federal paid Family and Medical Leave program is now at four weeks. What do you think about that?

MEIJER: I think that those type of plans are far better executed at the state level where there is a need to have a consistent application across the country, such as with the PUMP Act that I voted on and supported on Friday. That makes sense for standardization across the workforce, but I'm incredibly worried when we have broad application spread.

Again, not being able to tailor it at the state level to the needs of that state, not being able to have the states be that test bed to see what functions best, is two weeks too little, is four weeks too little, should it be six, should it be eight, being able to have that alternative and that comparison and also know what the impacts of that policy will be before it is rolled out across all 50 states.

I think we are continuing to seek solutions in Washington, D.C. that should be sought in state capitals and that is just leading to more centralization, less responsive policies and frankly poorer outcomes.

BROWN: I want to ask you before we let you go, because I know we're going to be discussing more topics at the other side of the break. You are on the conservative climate caucus. What ideas would you have, would you want to include in the spending bill on that front? What could you actually get behind that is climate related?

MEIJER: I would love to see far more of an investment in high voltage, long distance direct current transmission. I would love to see some changes to the NEPA policies so that we can make sure that we are building the infrastructure we need. I'd frankly love to see some of the tariffs such as on solar panels rolled off so that we are not paying more to transition to a low carbon or no carbon future.

The administration has been positive in promoting nuclear energy, but there are far more things that we need to be adopting and realizing that natural gas will be one of those bridge components. We need to be permitting that instead of banning it as the President has done with the abolishment of the Keystone XL pipeline.

BROWN: All right. Congressman Peter Meijer, a lot more to discuss, stay with us.

Up next, we're going to get into the new numbers on how many Americans are still in Afghanistan, the new water crisis in Michigan, plus the state of the Republican Party all after a quick break.

[18:40:07]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:44:34]

BROWN: Much more than we knew. Sources telling CNN that the State Department is acknowledging to Congressional staff that they are in touch with 363 U.S. citizens still in Afghanistan, 176 of them want to leave. At the time of the U.S. exit at the end of August, the public estimate was roughly 100 Americans in the country.

Republican Congressman Peter Meijer is back with me now. Congressman, you served in Afghanistan, you visited during the evacuation efforts. [18:45:02]

The administration has stressed that these estimates are fluid, but are you surprised by that updated number?

MEIJER: I was surprised when they were saying it was less than a hundred repeatedly for the past couple of weeks. I think this number that they admitted was much more in line with what a lot of the civilian outside groups have been tracking this and with those of us inside of Congress who've been following this issue closely it's much more in line with our expectations.

BROWN: What do you think happened here, then?

MEIJER: I want to cut just a hair of slack, the State Department has been doing a very strong job of working with some of our gulf partners to evacuate folks who can get to Kabul we do know about. That having been said, I think there's no excuse to have been continually underplaying a lot of these numbers, but it is a fluid situation. There's a large organizational problem.

At the end of the day, the State Department is not an entity that reacts well in emergencies at a very high bound, bureaucratic organization and this is frankly one of the first real emergencies it has had to adapt to on the fly. And all the more reason why we need to make sure that our government functions nimbly so that we do not have outcomes like this.

BROWN: I just want to hone in on word you said underplaying, do you believe they knew that it was likely more and actually underplayed it or can you see how it's such so chaotic and that more Americans in Afghanistan came forward, which increased the numbers?

MEIJER: I say underplayed because when they were offering lower assessments, there was continual pushback. I get from Congress from some of the outside organizations that have been helping like allied airlift, digital Dunkirk and the other groups that have been helping organize manifests the folks who are still on the ground.

But I will say my criticism is far more strong when it comes to their lack of any sense of planning, we focus on the American citizens and that should is the priority, our permanent residents, folks who have visas, but then the larger group of Afghan allies who are still there, we have been begging for a plan for weeks, for over two months we've been begging for them to tell us what are you going to do to get these folks out and we have yet to see any indication that there is a plan afoot or that there is something ready to be rolled out while some of these folks are being hunted down by the Taliban.

BROWN: Before I turn to the water crisis in Michigan, I want to ask the administration is looking to veterans to bring some of these refugees to their city and essentially be a support system to them as they restart their lives. Is this the best way to go about resettling these newly arrived Afghans in your view?

MEIJER: Well, I think there will certainly be one component of it. Just on Friday, we had Team Rubicon, which is a fantastic veteran disaster-based response organization that does a lot of great work. They've been helping with the resettlement efforts to military veterans, especially those who served in Afghanistan.

But really all veterans, there's a strong sense of wanting to do right by our allies and I think that is a very logical support network. It will not be the entirety, but I think it can make up a very strong and important component.

BROWN: Turning to Michigan now, there is a state of emergency in Benton Harbor due to water contaminated by lead pipes. Then, if that isn't enough, a break in a pipe stopped all water service in the city this week. Why does this keep happening in Michigan, particularly in poor communities of color?

MEIJER: So obviously, Flint is what many folks think of. Flint was under the emergency manager because their city had essentially collapsed. They had no strong functioning government and the state had to step in and there was an error in shifting water sources that change the pH balance and then led to lead leaching from those pipes.

Benton Harbor seems to have been in much longer degradation of just poor control of the water from the municipality. Frankly, when you see cities that have had mismanagement over decades, this is what occurs. This is what happens when you do not have continual maintenance and management. This is what happens when you do not have strong and frankly, responsible leadership at the municipal level that is thinking and planning in the long term and it's tragedy that ...

BROWN: But in your view, does this speak to the need for the infrastructure bill to pass right now? I mean, doesn't this speak to this larger need, not just in Michigan, but across the country with everything that we just discussed there?

MEIJER: And there is funding within that infrastructure bill, though federal funding had been allocated. There have been a grant that Congressman Fred Upton, who represents that region had gotten that municipality and were in the process of replacing some of those pipes.

Though, again, if the federal government does not act swiftly, federal programs should and are intended to operate in the long-term. And even at the state level following Flint, there have been a dedicated and concerted effort to put in a policy of replacing lead service lines, but that does not happen overnight.

That is a decade long process within Benton Harbor, that's been expedited so they're anticipating all those lead service lines be replaced within 18 months.

[18:50:00]

But I think the longer concern is that if the expectation at a municipal level or at the state level is that they do not have to engage in the regular maintenance and the preventative maintenance to be making those long-term investments and figuring out how to structure and pay for them. If that is not happening at the municipal or the state level, then we

are finding ourselves to more of these incidents in the future, where they're just expecting the federal government to step in and that is not a sustainable solution.

And again, it continues to happen in lower income communities which, again, is a shame and it's a tragedy. But we need to be ensuring that there is competent government at those municipal levels so that this does not occur.

BROWN: And, of course, the Democrats who are in favor of this infrastructure bill would say they need the help of the federal government to do this. Congressman Peter Meijer, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your perspective on these important issues going on right now. We appreciate it.

MEIJER: Thank you, Pam.

BROWN: Well, the FDA now says the (inaudible) the risks when it comes to vaccinating kids as young as five with the Pfizer shot, but parents likely have a lot of questions about it. I know I certainly do so to answer them, Andy Slavitt, President Biden's former Senior Advisor for the COVID-19 response, I want to get that title right, joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:51]

BROWN: Within just a couple of weeks, 28 million children could become eligible to get a COVID shot if the FDA authorizes the vaccines for kids five to 11 years old. I want to bring in President Biden's former Senior Advisor for the COVID-19 response, Andy Slavitt. He is the author of Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response.

Nice to see you, Andy. So the FDA says getting kids vaccinated outweighs the risks. What do you say to parents worried about their kids getting the shot?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER BIDEN WH ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: Well, it's an important decision and the first thing I'd say is go talk to your pediatrician if you have questions, but we know that 6 million kids have had COVID, over a million in the last six weeks. They can get it. They can spread it. There have been thousands and thousands and 10s of thousands of kids hospitalized. So I think it's great news for families but, of course, talk to your pediatrician if you've got questions.

BROWN: Do you think the Biden administration as you look back and reflect on where we are today, where we were, how much further we have to go, do you think it underestimated how many people would be vaccine hesitant?

SLAVITT: I think it's been a little bit disappointing to be frank that we've had such a large number of people, not who had questions about the vaccine, that's to be expected, not who had a few concerns, they wanted their questions answered. But a hardcore group of, say, 20 percent of the public who really just doesn't seem to trust science very much anymore, doesn't trust experts and is very tough to move on these issues.

I think these issues have been - that's been going on for a couple of decades and it's an issue we're going to have to deal with as a country, because it really does tend to affect all of us.

BROWN: And you point out it's been going on for a couple of decades, but do you think the administration underestimated just how hard it would be to get people vaccinated in the U.S.?

SLAVITT: I will say this, if we not had Delta, if we had had alpha, we would be done by now. We would have vaccinated more than enough people, because you don't really need everybody. Unfortunately, Delta came and Delta is much less forgiving and requires many more people to get vaccinated.

So a combination of Delta coming and people refusing to get vaccinated, I think is what caused us to see a large increase in case count over the summer.

BROWN: We're hearing more and more that COVID is here to stay, Delta came and even though we're seeing the numbers go down, it appears that the virus isn't going away. At what point can the U.S. just ditch some of these precautions, knowing that we'll likely always have to deal with COVID?

SLAVITT: I don't think we're there quite yet. I'd love to see us get through the holidays, get into January, not see a significant pickup, see people see their families over the holidays but be careful and take tests. And if we're sitting here in the beginning of 2022 and things look pretty good, then I think that'll be great news.

The other piece, I think, we all have to watch for is what happens outside the U.S. That's where the India variant, the Delta variant began and we need to very quickly vaccinate the globe. If we are getting into next year and we have vaccinated 70 percent of the globe in the first part of the year, I think we'll take a deep breath and life will get closer to normal.

BROWN: Well, you mentioned the holidays, a top government adviser in the U.K. is worried about a Christmas lockdown if cases don't stop spiking. The U.S. has mirrored rising and falling cases in the U.K., are you worried about a winter spike?

SLAVITT: Well, there's this little thing in the U.K. now that people referred to as Delta-plus, which is really a kind of a mutation of the Delta variant. And it appears to be causing some amount of growth and some amount of concern in the U.K. So we need to watch that carefully and I think with this virus we've always had to be more vigilant than we've wanted to be.

But if we can keep that at bay and we can just take basic precautions around family, again, take a rapid test, wear masks indoors, then I think we can get through the holidays just fine, but that's really up to the public.

[19:00:00]

BROWN: All right. Andy Slavitt thanks for joining us. As always, we appreciate hearing your perspective on all of this.

SLAVITT: Thank you, Pam.