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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Dems Scramble to Avert Government Shutdown and Lift Debt Ceiling; White House Pressing to Pass Infrastructure & Safety Net Bills Together; Lawmakers Set to Grill Top Military Leaders About Afghanistan. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 28, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Tuesday, September 28th. It's 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thanks so much forget being an early start with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.


Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We begin, though, in Washington where Democrats are scrambling to keep the government open and running after Senate Republicans blocked that bill to fund the government and stave off default. With less than 72 hours on the clock, the Senate is in a political standoff that could lead to a crisis if no deal is reached. Even the GOP senator said they desperately need flood relief attached to that bill voted no.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): If it had any chance of passing, I would have voted yes because I need to bring relief to my state. On the other hand, he was pretty cynical, Senator Schumer, to attach relief for disaster victims to something that he knew wasn't going to pass. Leveraging their pain, leveraging their pain for something they can do quite easily.


JARRETT: The ramifications of a government shutdown here would reach far and wide, from the CDC to the FDA. Remember, we're still in the middle of a pandemic. The Pentagon, Homeland Security, national parks, housing, even the Smithsonian Museums all facing major shutdowns.

ROMANS: Yeah, Democrats have option to move past Republican obstruction, separating the two parts would allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, but it would take time and the clock is ticking.

There is no one better than Ryan Nobles to explain all this. He starts our coverage from Capitol Hill this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Laura and Christine, this is a significant move by the January 6 Select Committee, and it shows where their investigation is headed. They are requesting both private depositions and records from four Trump loyalists. This is a group of men who had the ear of the former president, Donald Trump, and were part of his White House staff and were also people that played a key role in the rally leading up to the insurrection that took place on January 6th.

Dan Scavino, former deputy chief of staff. Of course, Mark Meadows was the White House chief of staff at that time. Steve Bannon, who once served as a counselor to the former president during the early parts of his administration, and was one of the group of people that was rallying people to the White House on January 6th.

And then Kash Patel, who is the former chief of staff to the then acting secretary of defense and was working at the Pentagon on January 6th.

And, you know, when you read these letters that they have sent to these four men, you get a clear idea of exactly why the committee has asked them to come forward --


JARRET: Okay, we have a little bit of technical difficulties there. Our thanks to Ryan Nobles.

The other looming deadline on Capitol Hill, pushing President Biden's economic agenda across the finish line. There is nothing going on this week, there is a lot.

A source of the Democratic caucus meeting says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is holding firm on a planned Thursday vote on the roads and bridges infrastructure bill. The source said she no longer plans to wait on that broader social safety net spending package because some Democratic senators want $3.5 trillion price tag to come down.

Here she is right after that caucus meeting.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Our members are so idealistic, strategic, and interested in getting this over. It was a beautiful meeting. I'm so proud of them.

REPORTER: Everybody on board for a Thursday vote then?

PELOSI: I'm sorry?

REPORTER: Thursday vote still on track?



JARRETT: Right. Still on track.

CNN's Jasmine Wright live in Washington for us.

Jasmine, good morning.

What is the state of play at the White House, optimism?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, listen, Laura, President Biden's make or break week still continues. But White House officials pressing what President Biden doing what he does best, which is engaging with members, negotiating, trying to get something done. So, I guess you could say a little bit of optimism.

But listen, things are really in flux. There are a lot of moving parts, so bear with me. President Biden yesterday, he spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader Chuck Schumer before that meeting that Pelosi had with her caucus members. When Pelosi doubled down on that Thursday vote for the infrastructure bill despite telling them there was still no top-line number for expanding that social safety net package through reconciliation, potentially setting up the vote to fail as progressives had been really hard and fast saying they won't vote for the infrastructure bill without that safety net vote.

So, we will see what happens there.


And now, she also told members that president Biden was negotiating with senators about what that top line number should be for that social safety net package. But officials have contended to CNN privately there is a lot between here and now before trying to do some type of agreement on Thursday so everyone can go along.

Still, President Biden yesterday when he was getting his booster shot at the White House, he projected that optimism that you just spoke of. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know me. I'm a born optimist. I think things are going to go well. I think we're going to get it done.


WRIGHT: So, President Biden also said that, you know, he hoped it would happen this week, but it could potentially happen next week, leading on and on. But the stakes are high for the president and the White House really contends that. He is not being a wall flower. That is something White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday.

Instead, he is engaging with members. Today, his schedule is clear, potentially as the White House is planning for more folks, more lawmakers to come. Really, as lawmakers are not exactly set on what's happening. Some say that negotiations are going better than others, but President Biden is really plugged in, trying to get something to happen, trying to keep his agenda afloat -- Laura, Christine.

JARRETT: Jasmine, thank you so much for your reporting as always.

WRIGHT: All right, weighing in on the critical week in Washington, former President Barack Obama called the Biden agenda essential for families.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Anybody who pretends that it's a hardship for billionaires to pay a little bit more in taxes so that single mom gets child care support, or so that we can make sure that our communities aren't inundated by wildfires and floods and that we're doing something about climate change for the next generation, that's an argument that is unsustainable.


ROMANS: He said he counts himself among those wealthy people who can pay more to fund this agenda.

So, what's at stake? Crucial funding for families when it comes to child care. Day care subsidies for middle class families, up to nearly $15,000 a year. Two free years of pre-K, two free years of community college, 12 weeks of paid leave to taka care of a sick family member, critical support for families at a time when the economy is facing labor shortage. Some women, remember, dropped out of the labor market during the pandemic because of all these health and child care and education challenges at home.

So this timing really interesting here as you've got people talking about the child care crunch, getting women back into the work force, trying to get the economy back into a post-pandemic reality. These are supports for families.

JARRETT: You can't get the economy back on track if the health care piece is missing.

ROMANS: Exactly.

JARRETT: We depend on reliable health care.

ROMANS: Health care and child care. That's right.

JARRETT: OK. Still ahead, professional sports pave the way for recovery from COVID. Remember the NBA bubble? Some of the league's players, though, are now spreading anti-vax messages just ahead of the new season.



JARRETT: This morning, we have more evidence of what's driving Americans to get vaccinated. The Kaiser Family Foundation just released a new report that shows among those vaccinated since June 1st, the biggest reasons here, the delta variant, the growing burden on hospitals or knowing someone who became seriously ill. Also playing a role here, mandates either needing a shot for an activity you want to go to like a concert or restaurant, or employee mandates.

ROMANS: But those mandates are not working for everyone. New York is prepared to deploy the National Guard to plug shortages among health care workers as the state's vaccine mandate goes into effect. We should point out the vast majority of health care workers in New York state have gotten the shot.

In Massachusetts, the state police troopers union says dozens are resigning, and educators goes into effect Friday at the end of the day.

JARRETT: Several NBA players refusing to get vaccinated before the new season starts. They could be forced to skip home games due to local coronavirus regulations.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just going to keep fighting for what I believe and whether it's one thing or another, get the vaccine, should I not get a vaccination, who knows. I'm just going to, you know, keep fighting for what I believe and what I believe is right, you know. What's right to one person isn't right to the other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people have bad reactions to the vaccine. Nobody likes to talk about that. And what happens if one of our players gets the vaccine and they can't play after that? Or they have complications after that? Because there are cases like that.



ROMANS: There are zero cases.

JARRETT: There are very, very, very few reactions that are so-called bad. They are exceedingly rare.

But NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been outspoken on this, calling for NBA players to get their shots.


KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, NBA LEGEND: I think they should be disciplined. I don't think that they are behaving like good teammates or good citizens. This is the world we're involved in. And masks and vaccines, they are the weapons that we use to fight this war. And when you're not going to be cooperative with that, you are working against the effort to make everybody safe and, you know, we can't have that.


ROMANS: Yeah, it's public health. It's public health.


Everyone doing their job for the greater public good.

He also tells rolling stone that people who remain silent on the vaccine are not the kind of role models that are needed. Vaccination rates have slowed. First doses hit their lowest point during the campaign.

President Biden received his booster shot at the White House, just days after they were authorized.

JARRETT: Vaccination, meantime, for children 5 to 11 could be just weeks away now. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports almost 207,000 new cases among children over the past week. It's down 10 percent from the week before, but young people are not immune to this virus. A student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington spent three weeks in the hospital with a severe sinus infection from COVID. It then spread to his brain, and the damage irreversible. His mother is pleading for young people to get vaccinated.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just such a devastating shock. It will leave such a hole in our heart forever that can never be filled. If it can even save one person who is on the fence or if a parent can use it to say, look how shattered this whole family is.


JARRETT: Another issue for kids -- that's just heartbreaking. Another issue for kids, schools are scrambling to feed them with healthier options as they struggle with shortages of cafeteria staples, delayed shipments and fewer workers due to supply chain issues.

One thing about the misinformation -- going back to that player saying, you know, nobody talks about all of the vaccine reactions. Nobody talks about the 650,000 people -- people are dying. There has been mass death and for some reason, the misinformation people are very confident in misinformation.

JARRETT: What's so bizarre about it, we get vaccinated for disease and to prevent illness all the time. Think of all the vaccinations those players have received since their childhood.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: That may not have had even the same level of scrutiny as this vaccination. It's just amazing to me. As you said, the social good and the social cost is enormous.

ROMANS: Just another pandemic is misinformation. Nobody talks about the x, yeah, because it's not news, it's not happening.

JARRETT: All right. For the first time since the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, top defense officials now face questions from Congress. But it's not just the Afghanistan withdrawal they're going to be answering for.



ROMANS: Top military leaders expected to face tough questions on Afghanistan today from Senate lawmakers. It's their first appearance before Congress since the full withdrawal of U.S. troops. Joint Chiefs Chairman, General Mark Milley, will draw much of the attention, not just for the chaotic ending to America's longest war, but also for his attempts to prevent former President Donald Trump from starting a war to stay in office.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon for us with more.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, the hearing promises to be a highly scrutinized at times contentious hearing, as lawmakers grilled the top two officials at the Pentagon, as well as the commander of U.S. Central Command about the Afghanistan withdrawal. What went right, and crucially, what went wrong.

Not only the terror attack at the airport at Kabul that led to the death of 13 service members, but also the drone strike in the last days of the withdrawal that led to the death of ten Afghan civilians including seven children. Republican lawmakers have asked in advance for a number of articles from the Pentagon, including intelligence assessments before that strike that killed 13 U.S. service members, planning what went into the withdrawal and what the Pentagon was ready for and much more. As far as we know, that has not been turned over to Republican lawmakers ahead of the hearing.

It is Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that will be the biggest name at the hearing, but he isn't likely to face much of that scrutiny. Republican lawmakers have made it clear they'll go after chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, not only for Afghanistan strike that killed civilians which Milley called a righteous strike before finding out it was a mistaken target, but conversations having nothing to do with Afghanistan -- the conversation between Milley and his Chinese counterpart and the conversation with his Russian counterpart about the possible or the idea of U.S./Russian cooperation in Central Asia when it comes to counterterrorism on al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Republicans made it clear they very much intend to go after Milley for that.

General Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, also likely to face scrutiny after he came out and was the one who said, look, that strike that killed ten civilians, that was a mistake in target. They'll go after him for the ability to maintain intelligence and see what's happening in Afghanistan now that there is no longer a U.S. presence there and the U.S. has to rely on over the horizon abilities to strike Afghanistan and to carry out the mission there.

In terms of the hearings, it's not only Tuesday's hearings, then it's Wednesday with the House Armed Services Committee which is likely to be even more contentious -- Christina and Laura.


JARRETT: Oren, thank you for that. A lot to watch on Capitol Hill for sure.

A little programming note for you here. You think you know her whole story, but her life was more complicated than the world knew. The new CNN original series Diana premiers Sunday, October 10th, at 9:00 p.m. on CNN.



ROMANS: Good morning, everyone. It's Tuesday. This is early start. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. It's 29 past the hour.

It's time for our top story to keep our eye on today.

Senate Republicans are blocking the package to fund the government and lift the federal debt ceiling. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promises further action this week to prevent a government shutdown. Democrats scrambling to bridge an intraparty divide to reach a deal on a broad economic package. More on all of this in a moment.

ROMANS: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley, will testify before lawmakers. It will be the first time top military brass appeared before Congress since the chaotic full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

JARRETT: A Florida woman is missing and the man police wanted to talk to about the case has been found dead, apparent suicide.