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Inside Politics

Biden Implements Vaccine Mandates to Blunt COVID Surge; More Than 150K Cases Each Day, as Biden Pushes New Mandates; The Law & Vaccine Mandates; Biden calls out Republicans for "Bullying" Schools; Biden Dares GOP to Sue Over Vaccine Mandate: "Have at it". Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for your time on this busy news day.

COVID frustration pushes the president to make giant COVID changes, including a new vaccine mandate that impacts 100 million Americans now comes a big legal fight over just what the government can do and cannot do.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your message to Republicans who are calling your vaccine requirements an overreach, who are threatening to challenge it in court?



KING: Plus Gavin Newsom uses the COVID crisis to frame a recall campaign question. Do you want California to look like Florida or like Texas? And 20 years after 9/11 to look back at the day that changed the world. We'll talk to a reporter who was in that Florida classroom when President Bush was told America is under attack.

And then aboard Air Force One as officials debated whether it was safe for the president to return to Washington? But we begin the hour with a very frustrated president and a big policy shift he calls necessary to reset the country's COVID trajectory.

President Biden this morning visited a local school here in Washington. He says his new vaccine mandate will help keep those children in the classroom. And he said Republicans who disagree with him are putting American school children at risk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: I am so disappointed that particularly some Republican Governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier with the health of their communities. This is - this is we're playing for real here. This isn't a game.


KING: You heard at the top president, also daring Republicans - and take this mandate fight to court. Let's get straight to the White House now and CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Kaitlan, a big challenge for the president the school visit today trying to emphasize the points he made yesterday.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And one of the things that he said today, John was that he believes that scientists are on his side here with these six new measures that he laid out yesterday, because of essentially, they've come to this agreement, this concern that unless they get more Americans vaccinated, there is no way out of this pandemic.

And we've seen how those vaccinations have stalled with half the country essentially vaccinated, half non vaccinated. And so that is something that they are trying to change with these six new steps. And of course, some of the biggest ones is that new Labor Department rule that is still being drafted right now and has not actually formally been unveiled.

But that is a rule, John, that would require companies that have 100 or more employees to either have those employees fully vaccinated, or they have to test negative at least once a week. Of course, there could be thousands of dollars in fines per employee for any of those violations.

And the second measure that the president also unveiled yesterday is a vaccine mandate for federal employees. That is something that is a step further than where he had been before that where he had said he had wanted you to be vaccinated or take a test now does you just have to be vaccinated to work and the federal government.

Of course, several other steps as well, John, including requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated if they work for an institution that gets reimbursed by Medicare or by Medicaid. Those are three things that touch on millions of people in the United States.

So certainly significant, of course, now the president and the White House are going to be gearing up for the legal challenges that these Republican Governors are facing. And John, we should note just what a change of heart this is even for the president where he had initially not been in favor of vaccine mandates.

Now, they believe that they are necessary in some cases. So we'll see how it goes once the Labor Department formally unveiled this ruling?

KING: Kaitlan Collins live at the White House I appreciate you're teeing us up. And let's look at that very point Kaitlan is making what are the numbers that drove the president to this big change when it comes to mandate policy? If you look right here, here's the COVID case rate 150,000 new infections a day is what we're averaging right now 150,000 new infections a day.

It was down to 11,000 new infections a day just in June, just in June, a couple of months ago, we were way down here. Back in May, when the mask mandate started to be lifted it was 35,000 cases this of course, the horrors of last winter, but 150,000 current cases new infections today is the average now that's why the president says we need to push people to get vaccinated.

Now look, that's the goal get more people vaccinated. If you look back here, February, March, that's when vaccines became widely available. Those who are most eager rushed out 25 million in February, nearly 50 million in March nearly 15 million in April as well that it starts to taper off in this last month with Delta spreading with more and more people saying please get a vaccine that has gone up some to 14 million.

The president now hoping with those mandates, you push this up more that more of the unvaccinated Americans say have no choice anymore. I have to get a shot in the arm. At that point let's bring it to share her insights and expertise Dr. Megan Ranney Professor of Emergency Medicine at Brown University Dr. Ranney grateful for your time today.

The president essentially saying I have no choice. I don't like mandates but we are now going to mandate for 100 million Americans. You want got to work? You got to get a shot in the arm. Is that going to change these numbers? Is that necessary at this moment?


DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINES, BROWN UNIVERSITY: So this is the leadership that we need from the Biden/Harris Administration right now we need to do something to get more vaccines in arms. We are seeing the Delta variants spread without stop among primarily unvaccinated people; the mandates will serve as a nudge for many of them.

But this is the important part mandates alone are not enough. You also have to surround it with messaging with those addressing the other barriers that keep people from getting vaccinated things like child care, transportation, sick time, and we need to address the misinformation that is poisoning so many people's minds and keeping them from stepping up and getting a shot.

And the last thing, John, is to remember that these mandates, right, they're saying 75 days until people are going to be mandated to be vaccinated. Once they get there both shots in arms, it's still another week or two until they're fully protected. We also need measures in place today, because today is when we are seeing the Delta surge across the country.

KING: What else that and I want to show these numbers I asked you what else do you think is most important from what the president said? And I'm putting up here; these are the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates in the country right now. Nine of them carried by Donald Trump, Georgia just barely carried bike Joe Biden. So is Trump America, if you will, largely that the president saying please listen to me, even though he didn't vote for me and get a vaccine.

But remember where the red is here? Remember where the red is here? And then you look at where the ICUs are overcrowded? Large overlap where people are not vaccinated ICU under strain. Dr. Ranney what else did you see anything else in the president's plan that gives you any hope that things at least in the short term will get better?

DR. RANNEY: So the other thing in the plan that I thought was really transformational was the emphasis on rapid testing. And the statement that they're going to activate the Defense Production Act in order to speed the creation of rapid tests and to get them to the Americans at cost.

We messed up last year by not using the DPA for personal protective equipment. The Biden Administration is leading here by using the DPA to get rapid test in hands so we can catch outbreaks before they spread, while we wait to get vaccines in arms masks schools standard, all great but that that rapid testing was the other really big thing out of that plan.

KING: Dr. Ranney, grateful for your time and for your insights on this important day. This is the map that tells you the public health challenge the president is addressing last night, changing his own opinions to try to adjust the public health crisis.

But we also have some other new numbers that show us how this shift comes amid evidence the pandemic is taking a big toll on the president's approval rating and on the country's psyche. You might say this is the president's approval rating, you might say look, not that much of a change 51 percent back in March 53 percent in April 52 percent now.

But look at his disapproval? Disapproval now at 48 percent up seven points for March that's important for any president, especially as you head into your first midterm year. Then you look at the toll the pandemic directly is taking on the president?

Back in March six in 10 Americans approved of how he's hitting the pandemic that jumped to 66 percent in April saying Mr. President, two thirds of us think you're doing a good job on COVID. Now that is down 10 points from April to 56. And again, it's the disapproval 44 percent now disapprove up 10 points for March up 13 points from just April.

And then there's just the overall mood of the country. Everybody is exhausted in the COVID pandemic. Back in March 39 percent 4 in 10 Americans say things are going fairly well. 60 percent say things are still pretty or very badly.

Look at the jump here? 7 in 10 Americans 69 percent now say things are going pretty poorly. That is a political toll on a president in the middle of a public health crisis, which is why yesterday he said I want to do more. But this is not really my problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals are overrunning emergency rooms in intensive care units. My message to unvaccinated Americans is this. What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? Even patient but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has caused all of this?


KING: With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Dana Bash Olivier Knox of "The Washington Post" CNN's Manu Raju and Margaret Talev of "AXIOS". You see right there very plainly, transparently the president's frustration, his own exhaustion to a degree with we've been at this we've made vaccines available.

And yet up goes the case count and a decent chunk of America is not listening. Is that the gateway to getting the help when he knows he knows a lot of the people he needs to get a shot didn't vote for him don't necessarily like him?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's trying to find every avenue he can both rhetorically and more importantly now with regard to the law, what he thinks he can do. I mean, early on in the Biden Administration, they determined that they don't think that they are on solid legal ground to have an overall federal mandate for vaccines.


BASH: They just don't. So they're trying to find avenues to do it. That is a different question than this is called "Inside Politics" right than the political question which is whether or not fairly or not this is going to open up the president and more importantly, all the Democrats who are on the ballot in 2022 to the accusation that this is Big Brother that this is government that this is that government run amok?

All of those things, which, by the way, don't necessarily jive with what these Republicans are actually saying, which is most of them are saying please get a vaccine. Most of them are saying please do what you need to do. But that doesn't mean that they're not going to in a very crass way use this as a political weapon against Democrats.

KING: Everybody sit tight, we're going to continue this conversation. I got to sneak in a break. Up next for us though these policy changes as Dana just noted; they trigger a giant political reaction and promises of big legal fights.



KING: Your personal politics perhaps shape your take on the new Biden COVID strategy? There is a lot to consider and to debate. One thing, though, is clear. This is the giant change. President Elect Biden said vaccine; masks mandates not necessary.


BIDEN: I don't think it should be mandatory, I wouldn't demand to be mandatory. But I would do everything in my power. It's like I don't think masks have to be made mandatory nationwide.


KING: We're back with our panel. Look, we should all be open to changing our mind if the circumstances change. But this is a big change by this president. And to Dana's point, it comes just the collision of the calendar as we head into the midterm cycle.

OLIVIER KNOX, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: It does. But as the graph you put up earlier shows there's a reason for it, right, which is the Delta variant and the way that has changed. It has added, it's in cases soaring, it is filled hospitals, and it's swelling, the death toll.

And all of those things are factors during this decision. Now, again, as Dana pointed out, we are on "Inside Politics". And one of the numbers I think is really important here is Gallup polling that recently said that only 48 percent of respondents of Americans thought that Biden had a clear plan for addressing COVID.

And I've said on the show before, we've talked about Afghanistan, but COVID in the economy are much bigger dangers for a president who ran for office on a promise to smother the virus and revive the economy.

KING: And because it's so relevant to your every second of your everyday life.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I mean, that was one of the relevant things to CNN pull out this morning, it did show a significant drop of his handling of the pandemic. He's still in positive territory, but clearly on the downswing, particularly among independent voters.

And Republicans see this clearly as well. That's what the rhetoric has been incredibly sharp coming from the top Republicans calling the vaccine mandate on America. And that's what Kevin McCarthy said.

But one interesting thing, though, John, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republican leader has not yet weighed in on this, he himself has been a vocal proponent of getting vaccines mandate. So different category, he hasn't weighed in, but most of the Republican Party has.

MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING EDITOR, AXIOS: You know Biden got elected for two reasons. And one was to take care of COVID and make it go away. So we go with our lives. And the second reason was to de-politicize things to make things less of a lightning rod and just more like regular America again.

And that kind of irony of this situation is that in order to get COVID under control, he has to throw this lightning rod into the mix. This is an incredibly, it's not that the move is political. But the repercussions of the move are highly political, it is highly polarizing, already out of the gate, the threads of litigation, the blowback from the governors.

But I think the president and his team calculated that they cannot get this virus under control in the U.S. without these kinds of mandates. This is not I think, not something that he wanted to do. Many big businesses are with him. Many of the small businesses that are against this also have less than 100 employees and won't be impacted.

So the repercussions politically are huge. But I think they are calculating that the public health repercussions will have a positive impact will start moving these numbers in a better direction.

KING: And to the point about, you know, the president who tried said, I'm going to try at least to turn down the volume on polarization. No president is going to - this is a 20 year challenge or a 30 year challenge to make it go away. But he said he charted out the value.

Now he's almost naming names. He didn't quite name names in his speech last night, but he took after Republican Governors again today saying they're getting in the way of protecting America's school children. This is the president here. He doesn't say the words Ron DeSantis, he didn't need to.


BIDEN: Let me be blunt. My plan also takes on elected officials in states that are undermining you and these life-saving actions. Right now local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic, while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools.


KING: It's an interesting challenge in the sense that on policy, he's right. He's right. You have Governor DeSantis and Florida Governor Abbott in Texas other Republican Governors who are saying don't wear masks. Don't please don't wear masks in schools or don't mandate masks in schools. Anyways, parents should make these decisions.

Yet he's the president and he likes to himself say I'm the president. I like Harry Truman, the buck stops here. It's you have you can - he's trying to take responsibility changes plan, but also blame others.

BASH: Well, and let's be fair, he has a lot of leeway to blame others. They're inviting the blame because they're doing things that there was nothing that he said that was fact checked wrong. It was fact check false in that statement.

The challenge that he has is, as Margaret so eloquently pointed out, doing what he feels and science says is right for Americans, but that he knows that his political opponents understand his - political hope is a political win for them because they can use it against him and they are using it against them despite the fact that they agree with him in their heart of hearts on the science and the public health aspect of this.


KING: Let's listen, before you jump in I just want to listen to a little bit more of what you teed up there that you have, you have several different variations of the Republican opposition coming out. Here's a sampling.


GOV. DOUG DUCEY (R-AZ): What the Biden Administration is doing is government overreach, pure and simple.

MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: To have the President of the United States say that, that he's been patient, but his patience is wearing thin. That's not the American people expect to be spoken to.

GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): My legal team is already working. And we will defend and protect our people from this unlawful mandate.


KING: We're going to talk a minute with somebody who's law degree, so we'll leave the legal challenges for that. But yes, these are a lot of these Republican Governors are going to sue and we'll see how that plays out?

We have a Republican Governor say this is overreach of another Republican Governor, we get the lawyers. OK. You know, and the president's going to make the case in a pandemic. I wouldn't like to do this in a pandemic sometimes the government has used extraordinary powers. But you teed up earlier, the thing I wanted to talk about.

There are a number of Republicans calling this un-American. Number one, George Washington, I guess he's un-American; he had vaccine mandates back in the days. Number two, a lot of the Republicans who are saying that, uh, continue to defend the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6th, so forgive me, that takes away in my book takes away your license to say anything anyone else does is un- American.

RAJU: Yes. And look, that they see the president's numbers slipping in this area, which is why they're pushing on this. And look, I think it was also interesting to see why it's clearly this is why Joe Biden is sharpened his own political rhetoric, too, because they have been coming after him aggressively, increasingly aggressively throughout as the pandemic has gotten worse, because they know this is what the battle of 2022 is going to be all about.

So what you're seeing Joe Biden do is shifted trying to back on then put the focus back on then their efforts, will that work on 2022? That's another question.

TALEV: I think when he's talking about poll numbers, it's just undeniably true that if the COVID numbers get worse and more people get sick and more people die, Republicans will blame Joe Biden for that too. And those are going to get blamed politically their way. I think he's made the decision that he's going to try to save as many lives as possible and take the political hit and see where it lands? The problem for Democrats is that he may save himself and hurt them in the process. All of these midterm races are on the line now and his decisions could have political ramifications for Democrats in swing states and marginal districts.

KING: I think that's an important point. Look the public health safety, fewer cases, fewer hospitalizations, fewer deaths is what should come first. Question is how fast can you bring that about and how quickly if the numbers look very different in six months, eight months? President and the Democrats will be in better shape if they stay where they are now. They got some trouble.

I appreciate everybody coming in. And coming up for us more in this conversation, the legal part of it Republican Governors vowing to fight President Biden's new pandemic measures in court what's legal, what's not, we're going to break it down next?



KING: Republican Governors today vow legal challenges to block President Biden's new vaccine requirements. South Dakota's Kristi Noem for example, calls it unconstitutional. South Carolina's Henry McMaster vows to fight them, "To the gates of hell". Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi says Americans "Still believe in freedom from tyrants".

With me to share his insights and expertise are Elliot Williams, Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General and our Senior Legal Analyst. The Republican Governor say unconstitutional the president says essentially bring it on have at it, who's got the better legal argument?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And the president's got the better legal argument here for two reasons. Split this up into two different things. One, the announcement of seeking to have federal workers vaccinated think of the president as the CEO of a 2 million person Corporation, and he can set their workplace standard.

So OK, get them out of the - that's lame duck, right? Less of a slam dunk but maybe a three pointer with no one covering is this question of requiring businesses. OSHA which is - which regulates businesses can regulate just about anything.

So you know a construction worker on a ladder is regulated by the government. It's the same legal sphere that would cover that. And it's very hard to attack that if it's about making people safer in the workplace. And the argument that the president will make is that COVID is a workplace hazard and protecting people against it --

KING: A lot of people go to court knowing they're probably going to lose.


KING: They try states things to just stall and delay. Is there can you get a stay here? Can you delay this getting away?

WILLIAMS: Right. You always can. The simple fact is one of the factors that goes into whether a party gets a stay is are you likely to win on the merits of the case? And because this is relatively clear, again, the federal government has broad authority to regulate workplace you know; I used the ladder example, as broad authority right like that. You're just not likely to win it.

KING: But you made a point as we're having a conversation before we came on air. Those were adults, workers in the workplace you think the president has pretty broad powers we'll see on the non-federal employees. But you made a point. The nation's second largest school district yesterday said mandates for vaccines in schools that are a little bit more murky, right?

WILLIAMS: It is a little bit murkier for one subset of students in schools and that's 12 to 15 year olds, because the Pfizer vaccine has not been fully approved for kids ages 12 to 15. It's only for folks 16 and up. Parents of 12 to 15 year old could make an argument that well; you're requiring my child to take a vaccine that isn't fully approved.

What the L.A. School District will say and probably when is that look? If you don't want to take the vaccine.