Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

All Eyes on Two Dem Senators With Biden Agenda in the Balance; Debt Limit Showdown Escalates with No Clear Solution; Generals Contradict Biden on Recommendation to Keep Troops. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 29, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's Wednesday, September 29th. It's 5:00 a.m. in New York. Thanks for getting an early start with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We begin in Washington where it is all hands on deck.

JARRETT: All hands on deck and President Biden's agenda touching every single American family hanging in the balance.

ROMANS: And the clock is ticking down with less than 48 hours to resolve multiple disputes. Patience wearing thin among Democrats who want moderate hold-outs Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin to finally reveal their views. Both were at the White House yesterday, Sinema three times.

But hardly anyone knows where either of them stands. Where do they stand? So far, neither is saying much.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): What needs to be done, I keep telling y'all, we're going to work and work in good faith.


JARRETT: So, why did these two senators matter? Why do they always get all the attention?

Well, four big issues have to be solved in the next 48 hours. Hard infrastructure, that's roads and bridges. Human infrastructure, that's expanding the social safety net. Funding so that the government doesn't shutdown and -- and lifting the debt ceiling to avert a government defaults.

ROMANS: But no deals could be cut off in infrastructure without buy- in from Manchin and Sinema, and it's unclear how much to raise the debt ceiling without knowing how much the government is spending. So it all leaves Democrats struggling to find a path forward in all four issues, and American families frankly in limbo. CNN's Daniella Diaz live on Capitol Hill.

And we should really point out, this is about families. This is about child care, health care. This is about funding the government. This is about not having a financial crisis in terms of the debt ceiling.

The president has actually canceled a Chicago trip here because he is working so hard on this agenda.

First on infrastructure, what's the state of play there?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Christine, as you said, these are real issues that are affecting the country. This is why we should all care about this. Look, progressives are really upset about this, which timeline the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set. She originally planned to pass these two infrastructure bills, one, of course, a human infrastructure bill that would expand the nation's social safety net and would be passed using a process that only meets Democratic support, which we call budget reconciliation. And the second being this bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already passed the Senate and has some moderate Republican support.

Now, she has de-linked these two bills and has committed to putting the bipartisan infrastructure bill on the House floor on Thursday, which has really angered progressives because they were hoping these bills would be passed together.

Now, the problem is that we are waiting to see what two moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say about this economic bill, the one to expand the nation's social safety net. They have opposed this $3.5 trillion price tag since the beginning, and have been meeting with White House and President Joe Biden on what price tag they could actually accept.

But the thing is they haven't explained any issues where they are on this, what price tag they support. We kind of understand they want a lower one, maybe $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion, Manchin has said that before. They haven't said what issues they support behind this.

You know, Senator Joe Manchin said he doesn't support from the climate change proposals in these economic bills. So, the problem is progressives are incredibly angry about this, because they want this bill passed first and they are threatening to withhold their Thursday vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill which could really derail the White House's ability to pass both these bills and the Democratic leaders and the Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer want to see these pass, too. They want to see Biden's agenda passed. That's the problem here.

JARRETT: OK. Daniella, that's infrastructure. You laid it out nicely, even though it is a hot mess.

On the debt ceiling, it seems Senate Democrats don't want reconciliation, so they don't need 60 votes. They don't want to use that to raise the debt ceiling. Why not? Why don't they want to go it alone if Republicans aren't willing to do this? DIAZ: Laura, this has been a bipartisan issue in the Congress raising

the debt ceiling since 2011. Republicans -- excuse me. Democrats want Republicans to join in on this. They raised the debt ceiling, Republicans, when President Trump was in office, and so they see this as an issue they need to go at together.

This is how Democratic leaders see this, which is why they don't want to pass this using budget reconciliation that process I just mentioned, that only needs Democratic support. They believe Republicans should get behind this.

But the problem here is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is struggling with trying to figure how they are going to do this, whether they try to pass a clean debt ceiling increase bill.


But take a listen to what he said yesterday during his weekly press conference on the issue.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We want to get this done and get it done quickly without risk. The reconciliation process with debt limit goes back and forth, it ping-pongs between the House and Senate. It's two or three times. It's not just adding on one amendment. This is the solution. We're asking Republicans to support it. Their proposal is risky, we're not doing it.


DIAZ: The problem here is House leaders, Democratic leaders had originally included a debt ceiling suspension with a continuing resolution also known as funding for the government to fund the government through December 3rd. Funding for the government runs out at midnight tomorrow, so that is the problem here, and they included this with that bill.

Republicans blocked it. They said they are not going to get behind any sort of debt ceiling increase. So now Democrats are scrambling to figure out how they can do this. Another solution that they have is probably putting pressure on Republicans as we near that October 18 deadline, which is when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that we, the nation, will default on its debt.

So that is the problem here and Democratic leaders are scrambling to figure out how they're going to handle this. I should mention it does look like we are going to pass -- Congress is going to pass a bill to fund the government, so that is what the Senate is working on right now. A clean bill with no debt ceiling increase included in it and it looks like that could happen as soon as today.

JARRETT: Part of the challenge here is all of these seem to have been coupled. Now they want to de-couple them in order to get something done. And that seems to be one of the sticking points.

ROMANS: I think political assessment hot mess is still the best political assessment I've heard.

JARRETT: It works with everything in Washington.

ROMANS: Yes, thank you.

JARRETT: Daniela, thank you.

ROMANS: You heard Daniela say that October 18 date. Treasury Janet Yellen sounding the alarm when the U.S. government will run out of money by October 18th unless Congress raises the debt ceiling. She told Congress it is a self-made crisis that risks a financial one.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: This would be a manufactured crisis we had imposed on this country, which has been going through a very difficult period is on the road to recovery. And it would be a self- inflected wound of enormous proportions.


ROMANS: JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon told "Reuters" how a possible default would affect markets, contracts and America's stolen credit rating. Dimon does expect Congress to lift the debt ceiling but said this. Quote: We should one day have a bipartisan bill and get rid of debt ceiling. It's all about politics.

The Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo sharply criticized the gridlock over the debt limit.


GINA RAIMONDO, COMMERCE SECRETARY: I'm not shocked because I've been in elected politics for ten years. But it's in excusable.


ROMANS: Inexcusable, but it happens again. She added, raising the debt limit should be a no-brainer.

JARRETT: It's just striking how Janet Yellen makes it clear. This is self-inflicted. It didn't have to be this way. It's all about politics. It's not about the economy.

ROMANS: Not about the economy. It risks hurting -- serious damage.


All right. The push to transform the U.S. economy played a big role in that gubernatorial debate in Virginia last night. The Democratic nominee, former Governor Terry McAuliffe, a top Biden ally, by the way, conceding he thinks the price tag on the president's safety net package needs to come down.





But here's my message to Congress. I am really sick and tired of all of them. They have to stop their little chitty chat up there and it's time for them to pass it. Let's get this infrastructure bill --


JARRETT: The purple state of Virginia is considered a bellwether for the country in this off-year election. Republican Glenn Youngkin tried to keep former President Trump at arms length last night, trying to have it both ways on COVID vaccinations, both in favor of the shots but against mandates.

ROMANS: All right. President Biden said military advisers never said keeping the troop presence in Afghanistan. That is now contradicted in public by the advisers themselves.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

Top military leaders will testify again today on the end of the war in Afghanistan. They were grilled by Senators yesterday on that chaotic withdrawal and the quick collapse of Afghan forces.

The generals walking a fine line, trying not to blame President Biden, but also saying the withdrawal that began under President Trump demoralized Afghan forces and ensured the country's fall to the Taliban.

Top Pentagon brass did, however, contradict Mr. Biden on one critical strategic point. We get more on all of this from CNN's Alex Marquardt.



The U.S. military's most senior leadership in charge of the war in Afghanistan faced tough questions from a Senate committee. His Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, and Central Command's General Frank McKenzie told senators the collapse of the Afghan army and the Afghan government in 11 days was a surprise. Intelligence reports, they said, indicated that was likely in the coming months, but not to happen that fast.

The hearing highlighted that the top generals thought that at least 2,500 U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan, putting them at odds with President Biden. GEN. FRANK MCKENZIE, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I won't share my personal

recommendation to the president, but I will give you my honest opinion, and my honest opinion and view shaped my recommendation. I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.

SEN. JIM INHOFE (R-OK): General Milley, I assume you agree with that in terms of 2,500?


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Your top military advisers warned against withdrawing in this timeline. Thy wanted you to keep about 2,500 troops.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, they didn't. It was split. That wasn't true.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your military advisers didn't tell you, no, we should just keep 2,500 troops.


It's been a stable situation the last five years. We can do that. We can continue to do that?

BIDEN: No, no one said that to me that I can recall.

MARQUARDT: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that there were a range of viewpoints presented to Biden and that keeping 2,500 troops would have meant sending more reinforcements.

Now with the Taliban ruling Afghanistan, General Milley was blunt about ISIS and al Qaeda's ability to use the country to grow and target the U.S., saying that those conditions could come about in just one to three years -- Laura, Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Alex, thanks for that.

General Milley rejected Republican calls that he resign after President Biden chose to not to take his advice of keeping troops in Afghanistan.


MILLEY: My job is to provide advice. My secretary's job is to provide legal advice or best military advice to the president. And that's my legal requirement. That's what the law is.

The president doesn't have to agree with that advice. He doesn't have to make those decisions just because we're generals. And it would be an incredible act of political defiance for a commissioned officer to just resign because my advice is not taken. This country doesn't want generals figuring out what orders we are

going to accept and do or not. That's not our job. The principle of civilian control of the military is absolute, is critical to this republic.

In addition to that, just from a personal standpoint, my dad didn't get a choice to resign at Iwo Jima, and those kids there at Abbey Gate, they don't get a choice to resign. And I'm not going to turn my back on them. I'm not going to resign -- they can't resign so I'm not going to resign. There's no way.


ROMANS: Milley also addressed recent revelations he called his Chinese counterpart before the 2020 election, after January 6th to assure China President Trump would not launch a surprise attack. Milley said such calls are routine. It's part of keeping conversation lines open so you don't have mistakes or misunderstandings. He was trying to de-escalate, and that the secretaries of state and defense and the White House chief of staff all knew about those calls.

JARRETT: A scary scene in Spain. Lava from a volcano in the Canary Islands is flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. It's triggering the release of toxic gas now. Residents of the La Palma Island are being warned now to shelter-in-place. The volcano has been spewing lava for ten consecutive days, destroying nearly 600 homes and banana plantations, and forcing thousands to evacuate.

ROMANS: Interesting to see the lava go all the way to the sea. The picture is something.


ROMANS: All right. A ban on mask mandates in schools thrown out of court yet again. We'll tell you where.



ROMANS: Some good news in the fight against COVID. Coronavirus cases are finally coming down consistently. They are now at their lowest in almost two months.

But heading into the colder months, the former FDA commissioner says a winter with the virus and flu, that's going to require some adjustments to daily life.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: The twin threats of this pathogen and the flu circulating every winter as coronaviruses settle into a more seasonal pattern is going to be too much for society to bear. We're going to probably de-densify offices in the wintertime to try to reduce the risk, probably move conferences that might be held in the wintertime, to the fall and spring. I think we're going to do things differently. We're going to have to

do things differently. We've been too complacent about the spread of respiratory disease the in the wintertime. With the twin threat of flu and coronavirus circulating, we won't be able to be that complacency any more.


JARRETT: On Tuesday, Pfizer submitted a vaccine data on children ages 5 to 11 to the FDA, a formal submission for emergency use is expected in the weeks, hopefully.

And a federal judge temporarily blocked South Carolina's ban on requiring masks in schools, the ruling discriminates against students with disabilities. It's the latest example of courts siding with schools on this following Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

ROMANS: But in Iowa, money, a lot of money is at stake for one school district. Families in the Ankeny School District angry over a new mask mandate. They are threatening to pull their kids out of school to un- enroll just before a student head count used for funding is taken on Friday.


JEFF FAHRMANN, ANKERY SCHOOL DISTRICT PARENT: I have personally confirmed 66 students that will be un-enrolled through a personal survey. We un-enrolled our kids last year due to high (INAUDIBLE) instruction decision and plan to do this again if you mandate masks without reasonable exemptions.


ROMANS: Medical staff are bearing the brunt of the unvaccinated being rushed to the hospital. There have been reports of assaults even at several facilities. It's so bad that in one hospital in Missouri, it's giving its staff panic buttons to protect them from patients.


ASHLEY BLAVIN, NURSE, BRANSON MEDICAL CENTER: Working in the emergency department a lot of times, our patients are becoming increasingly violent lately. What's nice, we have the chance to press our button and then security knows exactly where we are. And if we end up having to chase a patient down, they know where our last location is.

They have to sit in here because everywhere is full. We have no placement to put anybody, and that's just frustrating on the patients, it's frustrating on us. I think that's increasing a lot of violence towards everyone.


ROMANS: Panic buttons for health care providers. Some health care workers refuse to be vaccinated themselves. In New York, hundreds of holdout have been suspended. Mandates do seem to work. As of Monday evening, 92 percent of hospital staff, 92 percent of nursing home staff, 89 percent of adult care facility staff have had at least one vaccine.

JARRETT: In North Carolina, Novant Health fired 175 employees who refused their vaccinations.

And United Airlines, one of the first major companies to mandate the vaccines for its employees now says 96 percent of its employees met Monday's midnight deadline.


ROMANS: You can see these mandates work. When you look at education, there will be some disruptions. I know in New York, they're bracing for some disruptions in schools as well. But the vast majority of people have had at least one shot. The vaccines work. You are now clearly in the minority if you are bucking public health trends here.

All right. Twenty-five minutes past the hour. A plea from the family of Gabby Petito as the FBI takes the lead in the search for her missing fiance, Brian Laundrie.


RICHARD STAFFORD, ATTORNEY FOR GABBY PETITO'S FAMILY: The laundries did not help us find Gabby. They sure is not going to help us find Brian. For Brian, we're asking you to turn yourself in to the FBI or newest law enforcement agency.


ROMANS: Brian Laundrie was last seen September 14. County officials in Florida confirmed to CNN the Laundrie family stayed at a campground about 75 miles from their home in early September, after Brian Laundrie returned to Florida without Gabby Petito.

JARRETT: Still ahead for you, LeBron James finally confirming he has been vaccinated, but he's still not endorsing it for everyone else. Hear why, next.