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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Set to Unveil Revamped Plan for Ending Pandemic; Kentucky Hospitals Rapidly Approaching "Critical" Level; Manchin Lays Out Demands, Key Senate Chairs Move to Win His Vote. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Thursday, September 9. It is 5:00 a.m. here in New York.

Thanks so much for getting an EARLY START with me. Christine is off. I'm Laura Jarrett. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We begin this morning with vaccine mandates and testing, both at the core of President Biden's revamped approach to ending this pandemic. Sources tell CNN the plan Biden will roll out today is still being finalized but built on six pillars, new vaccine mandates including pushing private businesses to require shots for their employees, booster shots to protect those already vaccinated, keeping schools open, increasing COVID testing and mask requirements, economic recovery and improving care for COVID patients.

Our senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly starts us off this morning.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Laura, as President Biden heads into what his top advisers are calling a major speech on the pandemic, he is really doing it with dual purposes. One on the policy front, no question amidst the delta surge more than 1,000 deaths per day, more than 150,000 cases on average per day, there needs to be policy changes or in this case of the White House policy advancements.

Officials say the president will focus on vaccine mandates, both for the public and private sector, also particularly on kids going back to school, millions of kids going back to the classroom, the president with a focus on safety and testing. All of this underscores recognition inside the White House of the very real problem the delta variant has opposed, pot just politically, not just in poll numbers, but for the country from a public health perspective.

This is how White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki framed things. JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's going to outline the

next phase in the fight against the virus and what that looks like, including measures to work with the public and private sector, building on the steps that we've already announced, steps we've taken the last few months, requiring more vaccinations, boosting important testing measures, and more, making it safer for kids to go to school, all at a time when the American people are listening. Again, this will be six steps that we'll work to implement the months ahead.

MATTINGLY: And while there will certainly be policy, his six-prong policy approach, according to White House officials, the perception here is also important when you talk to officials. There is recognition, it is not just based on the fact the president's poll ratings always significantly above just 50 percent when it came to the pandemic for the course of the months, now dropping 10 and 11 points depending on which polls you are looking at, it is the understanding that there is almost a malaise in the country right now, the lights at the end of the tunnel that so many thought they saw in the early part of the summer has completely disappeared.

And what the president wants to convey is that there is a way out of the pandemic. There are policies to pursue to get them back to that point at the beginning of the summer and that things aren't hopeless. There is obviously vaccine. There's obviously vaccinations ticking up, something that they hope to turbo charge in the weeks ahead. There is a way out of things, and the president wants to make it clear and layout the path to get to that point.

That more than anything else is what the White House wants to convey as people start to head back to school, start to head back to offices, start to try and get back to a real life that seemed to go away over the course of the last few months due to the delta variant -- Laura.


JARRETT: Phil, thank you. Speaking of heading back to school, school officials in Los Angeles are on the verge of a big step here, becoming the first major district in the country to mandate a COVID vaccine for all students 12 and up. Now, it is not yet known how the school board will vote at today's special session, but these board members are said to give the plan a thumbs up.


TANYA ORTIZ FRANKLIN, LAUSD BOARD MEMBER: By the start of spring semester, every student 12 and up who is eligible and doesn't have an exemption will have received the vaccine. Ideally from L.A. Unified will be providing it.

JACKIE GOLDBERG, LAUSD BOARD MEMBER: That is why there isn't measles and mumps and rubella in our schools because we vaccinate and we require it. It's a mandate. This is a mandate to save lives.


JARRETT: The country's second largest school district is already being sued over its COVID protocols which include masks and weekly COVID testing for teachers and students. School officials have also ordered all employees to be vaccinated by the middle of next month.

In Florida a state court judge says schools can require masks as this debate plays out in court. Wednesday's ruling from Judge John Cooper is a blow to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis who signed an executive order in July banning school districts from imposing mask mandates. Thirteen districts went ahead with requiring masks anyway facing sanctions for defying DeSantis. A state appeals court is expected to weigh in on this soon.

And in Kentucky, hospitals are reaching their breaking point. ICU beds are filled with COVID patients, and if the crisis gets any worse, health officials fear medical care may have to be rationed.


CNN's Miguel Marquez takes a closer look for us.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vera Middleton was so sick doctors considered putting her on a ventilator. She refused, opting instead to pray.

VERA MIDDLETON, COVID-19 PATIENT: God has helped me where I am right now and I'll praise him from now on.

MARQUEZ: She is getting everything but the ventilator and improving. The 66-year-old great grandmother from a small town of Olive Hill, Kentucky, says she and her husband talked about getting vaccinated but decided against it.

Do you have any idea where you got COVID?

MIDDLETON: Yes. My granddaughter had gotten sick and it just went through one and, you know, everybody seem like at the house.

MARQUEZ: Kentucky seeing its biggest COVID-19 surge yet, cases and hospitalizations spiking sharply to levels never seen before. Deaths, too, on the rise. Hospitals everywhere just trying to keep up.

JOELLE CRAFT, COVID ICU NURSE, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: It is defeating to put another person on the ventilator. It's defeating to watch a health care provider that I care about or myself stand at the bedside when someone dies alone, it is also defeating to watch somebody else get put in a body bag.

MARQUEZ: Morehead St. Claire Regional Medical Center is the biggest facility providing health care to 11 counties in rural northeastern Kentucky.

It can't expand capacity fast enough.

COURTNEY HOLLINGSWORTH, COVID ICU RN, ST. CLAIRE HEALTH CARE: It is like we're at a war with this virus and I think what we have to understand, we're not at a war with each other. Whether your beliefs and those things. It is truly a war with this virus.

MARQUEZ: The National Guard is helping here. A Federal Disaster Medical Assistance team is also on hand and still they need more.

DONALD LLOYD, CEO, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: We right now based upon our number of staff beds, we're running about 130 percent above capacity.

MARQUEZ: A hundred and thirty percent above capacity. And that is ICU beds, regular COVID units, regular patients, emergency department everything across the board.

LLOYD: That's correct.

MARQUEZ: The hospital has created yet another COVID ICU but doesn't have the staff to open it.

So if this opened today, how quickly would these beds be filled?

LLOYD: Within the hour. We could fill it within the hour.

MARQUEZ: St. Claire is trying to keep those with COVID out of the hospital by providing monoclonal antibody treatments at home.

Madison Owens was fully vaccinated and still picked up the virus.

MADISON OWENS, NURSING STUDENT: It spreads like wildfire. Pretty -- it's easy to get. And it doesn't matter who, vaccinated or not, everybody is getting it.

MARQUEZ: A nursing student, the 21-year-old believes she picked it up at a funeral.

OWENS: My great grandmother passed away and we all went to the funeral and we all started coming down.

MARQUEZ: The in-home treatment takes about two hours.

In a perfect world, how many could you do in a day?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We could probably start in the morning and keep going continuously to be honest.

MARQUEZ: Twenty-four hours?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, we have that many orders.

MARQUEZ: To try to keep up with demands, St. Claire plans to turn a tent into its parking lot into a monoclonal treatment unit.

JENNIFER HARDIN, DIRECTOR, HOME HEALTHCARE SERVICES, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: I just worry that we're not going to have the staffing capacity to meet the demand.

MARQUEZ: Hospitals across the Bluegrass State so full with COVID-19 patients, almost the entire system stretched to the limit. DR. CORY YODER, FAMILY MEDICINE, ST. CLAIRE MEDICINE: So I get really

fearful when we need beds for folks who their diabetes is out of control and they need an insulin drip or they have regular community acquired pneumonia, we might not have a bed for them. If you come in with a heart attack and you need an ICU bed, we probably won't have a bed for you.

MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Morehead, Kentucky.


JARRETT: Miguel, thank you for that important story.

Up next for you, new demands from the lawmaker who could make or break President Biden's bold economic agenda.

And later, women in Afghanistan standing up to the Taliban, some of them paying a price for it.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

These days in the Senate, it seems all roads lead to Senator Joe Manchin. The conservative Democrat from West Virginia and his staff have been negotiating for weeks over the party's sprawling $3.5 trillion bill to expand the social safety net.

CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill for us.

Daniella, good morning.

Democrats can't afford to lose a single vote on this bill. There is Manchin, but there is also other Democrats who may not get in line. So where do things stand?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, things stand that Manchin is getting all the attention because he tends to be that senator that always shares his mind. You know, don't forget, "The Wall Street Journal" published an op-ed from him last week where he called publicly for a strategic pause on this $3.5 trillion bill on the time line because of the price tag.

So, look, we learned that Senator Joe Manchin is actually meeting behind the scenes with his Senate colleagues to discuss this sweeping $3.5 trillion bill that Democrats want to pass using a process called budget reconciliation which means they don't need a single Republican to support these bills -- or excuse me, this certain bill. And this bill is designed to expand the social safety net of the country.

Democrats especially progressives wanted to include provisions that would combat climate change, have paid and family medical leave, expand the child tax credit, have universal pre-K, free community college tuition -- these are the kinds of things that Manchin behind the scenes is saying that he doesn't support or wants to pare down the price tag.


For example, he is already meeting with Senate colleagues about paring down the climate provisions in this bill, and he is also meeting with his colleagues on provisions for free community college and universal pre-K, which are things that the progressives and the Biden administration want to include in this bill. He's also been in consistent talks with Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden because of financing this proposal. You know, Wyden and other Democrats want to increase corporate tax hikes, something that Manchin behind the scenes is sharing that he doesn't want to happen.

So, look, Manchin also shared that he wants to pare down the price tag to $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion. This is a significant less price tag than what even progressives wanted which they originally wanted $6 trillion for this. So, a lot of behind the scenes, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer really needs to navigate this relationship with Manchin and even a couple other Democrats that want to pare down the price tag of this too, because he needs Manchin's vote.

And, of course, Manchin opposing this price tag could complicate things in the House where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised progressives a vote on the budget reconciliation bill before the bipartisan infrastructure bill. So a lot to navigate here in the Democratic Party, and we'll keep an eye on it -- Laura.

JARRETT: Lots to navigate, and we know you're staying on top of all of it, as usual. Daniella, thank you. Appreciate it.

Still ahead for you, Robert F. Kennedy's widow speaking out about the possible release of her husband's assassin.

And why the Biden White House is giving Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and some other Trump loyalists the boot.



JARRETT: The widow of Robert F. Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, now speaking out against the release of her husband's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan. The California Parole Board found last month that Sirhan, who has been behind bars for 53 years no longer poses a threat to society but this decision is not yet final and his fate is now in the hands of California's governor.

CNN's Tom Foreman has more.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He should not have the opportunity to terrorize again, those words in a written statement from 93-year-old Ethel Kennedy who scrolled in her own hand at the bottom, he should not be paroled.

Who is she talking about? Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated her husband senator Robert Kennedy more than a half century ago.

SIRHAN SIRHAN, CONVICTED MURDERER OF ROBERT F. KENNEDY: Obviously, I was there, but I don't remember the exact moment. I don't remember pulling my gun out of my body or whatever it was located. And I don't remember aiming it at any human being. I don't remember any of that.

FOREMAN: The Palestinian-born gunman who has said he remembers almost nothing of the attack has been denied release more than a dozen times. But now, the two person California parole board wants help out from behind bars creating a firestorm.

SEN. ROBERT F. KENNEDY (D-NY): My thanks to all of you.

FOREMAN: In 1968, Kennedy had just won California in his quest to become the Democratic nominee for president. He was celebrating at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when he passed through the kitchen and shots rang out.

REPORTER: His condition I don't know, his wife Ethel is women him.

FOREMAN: Kennedy was mortally wounded, the gun man grabbed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His name appears to be Sirhan, S-I-R-H-A-N, Sirhan.

FOREMAN: Sirhan was convicted and sentenced to die.

SIRHAN: The reality of this whole thing hit me when I was on death row.

REPORTER: How many months later was that?

SIRHAN: Maybe a year or two years.

FOREMAN: In the 1970s, his sentence was commuted to life behind bars. And six of the Kennedy children issued a statement in late august saying that he should stay there. Noting this wasn't just a personal tragedy. Sirhan Sirhan committed a crime against our nation and its people.

Yet, two of Kennedy's surviving sons support parole, including Robert Kennedy Jr. who has previously questioned Sirhan's guilt, saying he believes his father would also favor release because of Sirhan's impressive record of rehabilitation.

Governor Newsom will have the final word. He won't say how he is leaning but --

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Only photograph that you will see in my office is a picture of Bobby Kennedy and my father just days before Bobby Kennedy was murdered.

FOREMAN: No word on when that decision may come, but this is a tricky spot for the governor. Not only is he facing a recall election but he has presented himself as a criminal justice reformer who has commuted other sentences. And there is this -- Sirhan Sirhan has been behind bars since Gavin Newsom was a toddler.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


JARRETT: Tom, thank you for that story.

Coming up, newly released FBI video of the suspect who authorities say planted pipe bombs before the U.S. Capitol riots.

And the California recall candidate egged on the campaign trail.



JARRETT: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett. It's about 25 minutes past the hour here in New York.

And later today, President Biden is set to unveil a revamped approach to ending this pandemic. We're told his six-pronged approach will focus on vaccine and mask mandates to slow the spread of the delta variant among the unvaccinated and on boosters to prevent breakthrough infections among those who have already had their shots.

CNN's Nick Watt has more.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Misinformation, fearmongering swirl around breakthrough infections, the vaccinated who still catch COVID.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: The science shows the vaccine will not necessarily protect you. It's not protecting many people.