Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Soon, Biden to Tout Impact of New Infrastructure Law; Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) Discusses Benefits of Infrastructure Bill, Passing Build Back Better Plan; States Look Past FDA on COVID Boosters for All Adults; U.S. Slams Russian Missile Test Causing Debris, Sending Space Station Crew Scrambling for Cover. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired November 16, 2021 - 13:30   ET




ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: We're just minutes away now from President Biden speaking in New Hampshire where he is going to highlight the upcoming benefits of the bipartisan infrastructure package that he signed into law yesterday.

Alongside dozens of lawmakers from both parties who helped make this a reality.

But Washington, being Washington, everyone now wants to talk about the next piece of unfinished business, the president's Build Back Better plan.

And joining us now is a key player on both of these bills, Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.

Congressman, thanks for being with us.

First of all, you were at that signing yesterday, a major legislative victory for the Biden agenda. How quickly will voters feel the impact of this legislation?

REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Ana, thanks so much for having me.

Yesterday was a huge day for the country. And it was a sign that Democrats and Republicans can come together and get a significant win for Americans and for families.

And I'll tell you, I was back home this past weekend. There were a lot of high fives in the diner because people were excited that, in short order, they would get the roads fixed.

In Jersey, the third-worst roads in New Jersey, the Gateway Tunnel will be built, bridges fixed, clean drinking water for their kids.

This is a recognition that this is a huge win for America. And now we've got to get to work and get the word out there and get those projects going and shovels in the ground and people to work. CABRERA: You didn't answer my question about how quickly that will

happen. Because we're hearing from the White House that that could take years.

GOTTHEIMER: No. A lot of these projects are ready to go fast.

In fact, on Friday, I was at a bridge in Teaneck, New Jersey, that's literally crumbling, dating back to 1931. It's falling apart. We've got to get to work on that right away.

And a lot of projects are ready. In fact, we're with men and women of labor who will get to work on these bridges. There's two million jobs a year.

And I think we've got lots that will happen quickly. Some projects, of course, take longer.

But, you know, when you're dealing with a state of infrastructure in a country as it is, you know, whether you're sitting on Jersey transit waiting for your train or stuck on a road in traffic, people are eager to get things fixed.

CABRERA: Right now, voters aren't satisfied with Democrats who have, you know, the majority in all Houses of Congress as well as the White House, of course.

According to the latest "Washington Post"/ABC News poll voters give Republicans a 10-point advantage over Democrats in the generic House ballot going into the midterm elections.

Ten points, that's quite the gap. What do you read into this poll?

GOTTHEIMER: A lot of these polls move around fast. And I think, now that we're actually getting shovels in the ground and people to work, have taken action.

But people are rightly frustrated it had took longer than it should have to get this bill passed.

I'm part of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Democrats and Republics. We've been working on this bill since April. And we were waiting on action and it finally got done.

And now it's up to us to let people know about it, as the president is doing momentarily. We'll have to do more of that around the country and tell folks what they are doing to make lives better for their families.

That's on us right now. And we've got to do it.

CABRERA: When it comes to taking action, how crucial is it for Democrats to get the Build Back Better legislation passed as well, so people like you have accomplishments to run on?

GOTTHEIMER: We'll get that done. I mean, I've been talking at home about how that's going to deliver

lower taxes for families in my district because we're going to reinstate the state and local tax deduction, or SALT. We're going to help people with childcare and those costs and get prescription drugs down and pre-K. Those are real things.

But we need to tell people what's in these bills once we pass them. And we've got to do that right away.

We'll get that bill done imminently. And we'll have two great things to talk to folks about for the next weeks and months.

And I think that's going to make a real difference in those poll numbers.

CABRERA: Speaker Pelosi says nobody is leaving for Thanksgiving until that larger social spending bill is passed.

And today, House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, laid out this timeline. He says that debate on BBB on Wednesday, the vote Thursday night or Friday.

You and other moderates have been waiting on more data from the Congressional Budget Office.


But you said you have now looked at, at least, some of the data. So would you be ready to vote before the full CBO score is out?

GOTTHEIMER: What we're waiting for is we want more information from the CBO, which we're expecting either late Thursday or some on Friday. We're still going to get final answers from the CBO.

And I'm expecting that data to be in line with what the White House and treasury information they gave us a week ago.

And assuming that's the case, I see no reason why we can't move forward and get this done. We can start cutting taxes for families back in my district.

So, you know, I think we're going to go home into Thanksgiving with another big win for the country on top of that bipartisan infrastructure win.

And it's going to be a good week for the American people and I know for families into my district.

CABRERA: Do you expect a vote by the end of day Friday?

GOTTHEIMER: Assuming we get the information from the CBO. We said the week of the 15th. And if we get that information Friday and it's in line with our expectations, I don't see any reason why we can't move forward.

CABRERA: Congressman Josh Gottheimer, we'll definitely be watching. I really appreciate your time today. Thank you.

GOTTHEIMER: Thank you, Ana. Take care.

CABRERA: You, too.

Cities like New York aren't waiting for the FDA and are giving boosters to any adults who want them. Are federal regulators moving too slowly as cases start to rise again?



CABRERA: The FDA's top vaccine official tells CNN reviewing Pfizer's request to authorize COVID-19 booster shots for all adults is now their highest priority right now.

This, as the virus keeps circulating and U.S. cases are up 24 percent from last week.

The other stunning number here is only 36 percent of Americans, 65 and older, have gotten boosters.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner joins us now. He's a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University.

Dr. Reiner, good to see you today.

You've been a big supporter of boosters from early on.


CABRERA: How critical is swift action by the FDA on boosters for all adults? And what is your concern if more Americans aren't boosted soon?

REINER: Well, I think what we now know is, if you've received an mRNA vaccine and you've only had two shots and you're more than six months fraught your second shot, you are no longer fully vaccinated.

I think that's what the American people need to understand, that these are three-dose vaccines. And our understanding what have constitutes full vaccination now requires a third shot after six months.

The FDA --


CABRERA: But why isn't the FDA there yet?

REINER: I think they will be. They were really short-sighted to limit the boosters to folks over the age of 65 or those with a high-risk medical condition or potential occupational exposure.

There's really robust data that shows that the efficacy of these vaccines to prevent both symptomatic infection and also severe disease, hospitalization and deaths declines through all the age groups.

The efficacy for a severe infection or death for the Pfizer vaccine is probably somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent, not nearly as high as it was when -- after the people are initially vaccinated where it's well over 90 percent.

So in order to decrease infections and, even more importantly, decrease severe illness and death, we need to boost everyone in this country over the age of 18 if they were vaccinated more than six months ago.

FDA and CDC will finally get to this point. But the more time they take, the more people get infected.

CABRERA: We are seeing local jurisdictions, some states get ahead of the FDA now and are just opening it up to all adults.

However, of those people who are already eligible, there doesn't seem to be a huge demand.

Adults ages 65 and older, for example, are America's most fully vaccinated group. And 86 percent are considered fully vaccinated with two doses.

And yet, only 36 percent of that group have gotten this critical third dose, the booster. How do you explain that?

REINER: Because boosters were sort of rolled out as saying people over the age of 635 were eligible.

What the public really hasn't been told is, again, these are three- dose advantages owns, and if you over the age of 65 -- and I think over the age of 18 -- but if you're over the age of 65, you must get a booster. It is urgent for you to get a booster.

The public I think was told that, look, we're mostly boosting people to prevent symptomatic infection. But the efficacy against severe disease or hospitalization and death remains robust. It's not that robust.

What we do know and what's really reassuring is the third dose does restore that terrific protection against both infection, hospitalization and also death to over 59 percent efficacy.

And the public needs to be told, to be fully vaccinated, you need a third shot. As simply as that.

CABRERA: Here we are at the holidays, right? Thanksgiving just about a week away.


[13:45:01] CABRERA: And Dr. Fauci has said fully vaccinated families are safe to gather. Do you agree with that, especially if you're saying, you know, people aren't fully vaxxed without a booster dose?

REINER: I think that, again, it depends on when your last shot was.

But I would encourage folks who are planning to get together for Thanksgiving or for Christmas to get boosted now. There's plenty of vaccines in the communities. Go ahead and get your booster right now.

CABRERA: Dr. Reiner, it's good to have you here as always. Thanks so much.

REINER: My pleasure.

CABRERA: Imagine being on a mission in space and, out of nowhere, thousands of pieces of space junk come flying toward you. Coming up, the terrifying scramble for astronauts and why Russia is being blamed.



CABRERA: A missile fired into space, blowing a satellite to bits, sending thousands of shards of dangerous debris toward the International Space Station.

Up there, it forced astronauts to shelter in place. Down here, it is sparking an international incident.

The United States is slamming Russia for creating this incredibly dangerous situation, saying Moscow's anti-satellite missile was, quote, 'reckless and dangerous."

Colonel Ron Garan is a retired NASA astronaut. He's the author of "Floating in Darkness, A Journey of Evolution." And he joins us from Boulder, Colorado.

Colonel, this sounds like something out of a movie, but you have been through a similar experience on the space station.

So what goes through your mind, take us there, as a random shard of metal or whatever the debris is, is threatening to rip through your fragile space pod?

COL. RON GARAN, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT & AUTHOR: Yes, back in 2011, I was on board the International Space Station with another American, a Japanese astronaut and three Russian cosmonauts and a piece of space junk came really close to the space station.

And normally, we track all of these things and we can move the orbit of the space station away from anything that is coming towards us.

But for whatever reason, we didn't have enough warning. So all we had the time do is close every hatch on the space station. Three of us got into one Soyuz space station, closed the hatch, the

other three got into another Soyuz spacecraft and closed the hatch, and just waited and hoped it didn't hit.

And it ended up passing about 30 meters from us at a speed that, had it hit the space station, it would have obliterated the space station.

CABRERA: Oh, my gosh.

So is it the speed that makes it so risky or are these like really, really big pieces of space junk?

GARAN: In this particular case, it was a big piece of space junk. But that and the speed, it would have been really bad.

CABRERA: How much space junk is up there? How big of a problem is this?

GARAN: It is a huge problem. It's a huge problem even if we don't blow up satellites.

There's a tipping point out there somewhere, where, you know, we've been putting up stuff into orbit the last 60-plus years.

Things break off. You know, not everything goes as planned. Things get decommissioned. And there's so much space junk up there that there's an issue.

And we can get to a tipping point where, if we start to have a lot of collisions, those collisions can take off exponentially.

And we can get to the point where we can imprison ourselves onto earth and lose all our space-based assets.

So it is a big challenge. And we're making it worse by blowing things up.

CABRERA: We're told this latest incident created more than 1,500 pieces of trackable debris.

And now the U.S. is slamming Russia for all of this. Take a listen to State Department spokesman, Ned Price.


NED PRICE, SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: This test will significantly increase the risk to astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station and other human space flight activities.

Russia's dangerous and irresponsible behavior jeopardizes the long- term sustainability of outer space and clearly demonstrates that Russia's claims of opposing the weaponization of space are disingenuous and hypocritical.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: You say that the situation could have been even worse if astronauts and cosmonauts were not living together on this space station. How so?

GARAN: Yes, well, imagine if this doesn't occur, and it wasn't the International Space Station, and there weren't Russian cosmonauts and U.S. astronauts living and working together.

What the space station provides us is a jump-off plan, a foundation for dialogue. It is a shining light of international cooperation, even in the midst of something like this.

And if you look back at the height of the Cold War, missions like the Soyuz mission prove that, even in the darkest times, we can still keep a dialogue open, we can still keep cooperation, the possibility of cooperation, open.

CABRERA: So do you see Russia as just being completely reckless or just understanding how dangerous this is? Why would they do that?

GARAN: I think -- I think anybody who shoots down a satellite is acting recklessly, with short sightedness and stupidity. Because you can't shoot down a satellite. They don't come down.



GARAN: Some of them might come down. But most of it is going to be a debris field that, in these situations, nobody wins and everybody loses.

It is -- I think that we should treat weapons that shoot down -- or attempt to shoot down satellites and blowup satellites as weapons of mass destruction because they are.

We are rapidly, through our own ignorance, destroying our ability to utilize space for the benefit of all of humanity.

CABRERA: Colonel Ron Garan, so great to have you as our guest today. Thank you very much for joining us.

GARAN: My pleasure, Ana.

CABRERA: That does it for me. I'll see you at 1:00 Eastern tomorrow afternoon. And a reminder, you can join me on Twitter, @AnaCabrera.

Alisyn and Victor pick up the coverage from here?