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Inside Politics

Democrats Try to Force Votes on Government Spending, Debt Ceiling Showdowns; Democrats Locked in Fight Over Biden Agenda; Biden Meets with Australian Prime Minister Morrison; Biden Appeals to Allies, Tries to Turn Corner at U.N.; NYC Schools to Implement More Testing, Less Quarantine Time. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Can Democrats save the Biden agenda? Progressives and moderates are dug in, and they are far apart. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today outlining the all or nothing stakes and urging lawmakers to stop the public squabbling.

Plus Joe Biden tries to convince the world America is back. It's a big global test amid attentions with allies over Afghanistan trade trust, and more. And the two page memo that almost snuffed out the American experiment, new reporting about a conservative lawyer working for Former President Trump and his six point plan to undo the 2020 election.

Up first, though, for us days of consequence here in the Nation's Capitol, the government shutdown looms in nine days, United States collides with its borrowing limit in a month, Democrats are trying to address those big issues, while in the middle of an unruly schoolyard fight over a giant spending plan that is a make or break moment for the Biden agenda.

In that fight, there are some big Democratic family divides over the $3.5 trillion price tag and over the policies all that money pays for. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi telling lawmakers in a closed door meeting this morning, they need to work things out and they need to do it by next week. One of our top lieutenants says that will happen.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): We're going to get this done. We always do. We're a coalition, not a call. And so we embrace the fact that people have different ideas and perspectives. But at the end of the day, we always land at the highest common denominator. And we will do that in this case. And we're going to pass the infrastructure agreement and we're going to pass the bill back better.


KING: Let's get straight up to CNN's Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. Manu is Congressman Jeffries optimism justified?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is very optimistic and is very uncertain right now the Biden agenda hanging by a thread it could all collapse perhaps can all come together quickly. But if it does, they will require significant agreement between the various wings of the Republican - Democratic Party, namely the moderates in the House and the Senate and the progressives in the House.

Now one key thing is that this morning, the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer made clear that on September 27th, next Monday, they do plan to move forward and have a vote on that bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last month. That's $1.2 trillion, for roads for bridges for broadband.

But why that's significant is because the progressive in the House have threatened to take that bill, they said dozens roughly three, maybe even four dozen progressives will vote against that unless that larger Democratic only bill, that economic package to expand the social safety net deal with climate change deal with health care that is passed in both chambers by that point.

They want to pass by next Monday. But John, there is virtually no chance that can actually happen by that next Monday, because actually negotiations are still happening behind the scenes, including with one key voice Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia who wants to pare back the bill, limited scope, particularly in dealing with issues of climate change. This morning, when I caught up with him, he made clear those talks are still ongoing.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I think everyone respects each other working hard, looking at everything, trying to make sense out of a lot of stuff.


RAJU: Now, he also wouldn't say whether they've actually addressed any of those key issues. One of the things he did push back on, John is the issue of climate change key in his state, coal producing state. He's concerned about the direction the Democrats are going, can they get resolution on that? Can they get a resolution on the rest of those matters?

And then separately, they are staring at the prospects of a potential economic catastrophe if there's no agreement to extend the government funding beyond the shutdown deadline of September 30th. Or to raise the national borrowing limit the debt ceiling by mid-October that will allow the government to pay its bills or otherwise they'll risk a debt default.

There is a significant partisan disagreement on those matters as well. So John the next few weeks so critical to the Democratic agenda to averting a potential financial catastrophe can they get through all of it highly uncertain at this moment, John? KING: Highly uncertain even that sounds like an understatement. Manu Raju, appreciate the live reporting up on Capitol Hill keep us posted. Today, a day of consequences amid days of consequences with me here in Washington studio to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Lauren Fox, NPR's Asma Khalid Paul Kane of "The Washington Post" and Tarini Parti of "The Wall Street Journal".

Alright, Lauren Fox, this from Emanuel Cleaver, again, nobody in this town no matter how long you've been here, has done this has tried to put so much into one piece of legislation plus you have the other moving parts around it, right? This is Emanuel Cleaver, from Missouri to "POLITICO" today. If any member of Congress is not concerned that this could fall apart, they need treatment.

Well put, but it's true. Is it not that this is the entire Biden agenda. This is the Democratic Party's broader agenda. Now in two or three pieces of legislation, they're going to have to move roughly together and they are dug in and they are far apart.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and let's just talk about that $3.5 trillion bill. The House Committees have done their work. Yes but there are still remaining issues that are dividing Democrats in the House when it comes to what goes inside of bill?


FOX: You have Democrats in disarray over the prescription drug lowering price provision. That's something that three Democrats voted against in committee. That, of course, is the number of votes that Pelosi cannot lose. She can't lose more than three at this point.

So they haven't really gotten to a place where all the Democrats understand exactly what's going to end going into the bill? And they have not gotten to the place in which all the Democrats are united about what goes in that bill? And that's one piece of this entire agenda.

KING: That's what makes it fascinating. I think what makes it as Manu said so uncertain, and the Democrats are fighting over the what? How much do we spend? And then how do you spread that money? Once you settle on a number how do you spread it among a whole number of programs that Democrats would argue are critical, whether it's elder care, childcare, climate protections, healthcare changes, the list goes on and on and you got to spread the money?

But they're also arguing over how to try to work it out? You just heard Joe Manchin with Manu Raju. Well, we all respect each other while working at it, right? That's one way to do it. The Speaker today in a meeting, speaking out against I believe things like this.

This is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; you have a very small destructive group of members who want to hold the entire country's agenda hostage for an arbitrary date. And this is not it's not representative, the agenda of the caucus. It's not representative, the agenda of the president. So you have some Democrats who are mad at the centrist mad at the moderates, and they're being much more personal and hearing their differences.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: That's right. I think when Joe Biden first came into office, one wouldn't have expected AOC and the president to be so much in line, she is pushing for the president's agenda in that quote.

And I think when you talk to the White House, what they've said is they thought this was going to be a unifying agenda. They always point to broad bipartisan, even polling that shows, you know, people support it broadly. But when you look at the details of it, this is something that an ideologically diverse party, there's so many disagreements from climate change to taxes, it's a huge package.

And if the president pulls this off, he gets, you know, the most of his agenda through in his first year. But if he doesn't, all these things that he campaigned on are at stake.

ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: But you can understand, I was going to say, from the White House's perspective, why this is such a large package and why they're trying to get so many pieces through in one go?

Because, I mean, look, we're already how many months, eight, nine months I guess into it his administration, and you're already beginning to see polling numbers that suggest, you know, Republicans could take control of possibly one chamber or the other?

He doesn't have a lot of time to get through large pieces of his economic agenda. So I mean, from the White House's perspective, the only strategy is really to essentially put together a $3.5 trillion package, shove it all through in one go.

KING: And yet again, Joe Biden served in the Senate for what, 36, 37 years, 8 years as Vice President. He's never done anything like this. Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House, a talented, accomplished legislator. She's never done anything like this.

This is Peter De Fazio one of her deputies in the House to Punchbowl today. He's been in Congress since 1987. I've been here for cliffs and crises and wars, and this is going to be the biggest mash-up we've ever had since I've been here. And I have no idea how it all works out. No idea. That's it.

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. So they've took a lot of pieces that have that don't have total unity. But they've allowed this is 48 percent of our caucus 48 percent of Congress will support this 47. And they tried to build them all together.

But giving somebody something you get infrastructure, roads and bridges, you get stuff on climate change, you get stuff on taxes. But if you start pulling those pieces out, because people just say, well, look, I'm not going to vote for a prescription drug hit because I have a lot of big pharma in my district, all of a sudden, the whole thing collapses, it becomes a - set, in which you just pulled two pieces out and the whole thing goes under. KING: Quick pause, we're going to go up to the United Nations, the President of the United States right now is having a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Australia. Let's listen in.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: --good in person, meaning the United States has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia. Our nations have stood together for a long, long time. And you can - we can rely on one another and that's really reassuring thing. We're grateful that our partnership is accomplished what we've accomplished together over seven years.

We have a big agenda to discuss today, starting with our partnership to advance our vision of a free and open Indo Pacific and this conversation that we're going to continue with Japan, India and India on Friday. And the first in person quad leaders meeting was a historic event. And were I think we're all looking forward to it.

United States and Australia working in lockstep on the challenges that I laid out today in my speech in the United Nations, and in COVID addressing the climate crisis, defending democracy shaping the rules of the road for the 21st century, because I meant what I said we are the reflection points. Things are changing.

We - grasp the change and deal with it or we're going to be left behind all of us. And so I want to thank you against Scott for it's great to see you.


BIDEN: I look forward to work with you and all your team and the floor is yours.

SCOTT MORRISON, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for your warm welcome and to the entire delegation. I think it's very important. We're meeting here in New York. This month, we mark the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Alliance.

There have been 14 Australian Prime Ministers since Sir Robert Menzies and 14 U.S. Presidents that have stewarded this great partnership. The one time the ANZUS Alliance was invite was when the towers came down here in New York, and were attacked. And that invoked the ANZUS Alliance for the first and only time.

And so to both mark that event; remember all of those who are lost on that day. We reflect on, frankly, more than 100 years of our partnership, where we have stood together through the most difficult of times, and the most prosperous of times.

And the United States and Australia have always shared a partnership that is about a world that border that favors freedom. And that's why we've always stood together. And in pursuing that freedom, of course, goes to our security interests. But more than that, it goes to global prosperity, it goes to global freedom, the freedom of our seas, the freedom of our region. It goes to addressing the great global challenges of climate change, a new energy economy, and a very, very challenging future, but one that our partnership, I have no doubt will be able to address. But it's not just about our partnership, because our partnership reaches out to so many others, whether it be our friends and in the ASEAN Nations, or a Europe or elsewhere, where we share so many like-minded interests.

And so the issues we discussed in our partnership today really do reach out to so many others in terms of how we dress the global challenges? So, Mr. President, I want to thank you for your leadership and your focus on the Indo Pacific region. There's no doubt you get it.

BIDEN: And I think the last point you made is important that goes well beyond just our partnership. Our partnership is in line with all the other democracies in the world. I haven't got a lot of work to do. So thank you all very much.


KING: Alright, we're listening to the President of the United States with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reporters at the end trying to sneak in a question apologies, the cameras get a little shaky when they're being ushered sometimes nudged out of the room, right there CNN's Jeff Zeleny standing by for us. He's tracking the president as he visits New York.

Jeff, the president talking with a friend there talking about unity, talking about an alliance, but just the fact that he's with the Prime Minister of Australia. On the one hand, that's a friendship. On the other hand, it reminds us a good relation with one friend causing testy relations with others.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, it absolutely does. And I cannot recall a time where a bilateral meeting with the U.S. President and the Australian Prime Minister actually had so much attention on it, not because of what we saw just there but because of what happened last week.

The surprise announcement that the Australia and the U.S. and the UK have formed this new alliance, and it's - it undercuts France so this is something that is lingering here at the United Nations in New York, that relationship between the U.S. and its oldest ally, France.

Emmanuel Macron, the French President, not in New York not sending a representative here. And the President - President Biden is still awaiting a phone call with President Macron because he believes that, you know, essentially they were not treated very well by the Biden Administration, but that will work itself out most European allies believe.

But the meetings that President Biden is having today the one you just are seeing right now happening behind closed doors now with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is going to be followed this evening when President Biden returns back to the White House to have a one on one meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. So clearly, not exactly the allies necessarily that we thought that - that we would be focusing on but John the bigger picture from this speeches, President Biden clearly trying to reassert a new order on the world stage, turning the page from the Trump Administration, which has been doing steadily for the last eight months, saying America is back.

Well, now, of course, he has to prove the rhetoric behind that. So clearly, one of the top headlines of this speech was, you know, bringing a note to the end of the war in Afghanistan 20 years after. So this the first time the U.S. President has addressed the UN in 20 years and there is not a war going on just as - John that is not the headline though of the speech.

That is something already we are largely looking beyond. It's the fight against COVID-19. It's the global shift going on.


ZELENY: But that President Biden also made clear not mentioning China one time by name, but he did say he's not seeking a Cold War. He's looking for competition. Yes, but not conflict of courses speech will be bookended later today, when Chinese President Xi Jinping is speaking here at the UN, via video John.

KING: Reminder, Jeff Zeleny live in New York I appreciate it. A reminder, the president has some complicated global challenges at a time he has some very complicated domestic challenges as well. We bring the conversation back into the room.

So it's his first address the United Nations General Assembly, Joe Biden wants to tell the world I'm not Donald Trump. I'm not unpredictable. I'm not erratic; I'm your partner America is back.

And yet there are these dust ups and the president in some ways, is reminding the people who are mad at him of the dust dumps by having a public meeting with the Prime Minister of Australia, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the UK will be at the White House later, another public meeting, when the French are mad over this deal if you didn't follow the deal, the United States with the UK negotiating to get Australian nuclear powered submarines.

And that blows up a deal Australia had with the French for diesel powered submarines. And it's not just France that is mad. This is Ursula Von Der Leyen the European Commission President, one of our neighbors states, one of our member states, excuse me, and has been treated in a way that is not acceptable. So we want to know what happened and why therefore?

First of all, you clarify that before you keep going with business as usual. So essentially, the European Union saying, sure, we want to work with you post Afghanistan, we want to work with you on COVID. We want to work with you on climate, but you have a credibility problem, Mr. Biden.

KHALID: Yes. And I think if you listen to what the president had to say today at the UN, to me, there were kind of two main points he was trying to address. One is this idea that the United States is back that multilateralism is back. And if you know, compare what President Trump said a year ago, I was doing a quick comparison analysis.

And essentially, you know, the president today did not mention China once fighting. President Trump has never been shy to point out China, in particular, President - Former President Trump spoke about the idea of peace through strength of military power.

President Biden today was very clear to say that military power should be a last resort, not a first resort. And well, he never mentioned China by name. I think it was very clear when he was talking about democracy and authoritarianism, this iron hand the need to focus on human rights, what country he was speaking about?

Look, I think, you know, allies being upset, they're going to be upset, in part because they had, you know, higher expectations for President Biden than they ever had for Former President Trump. There is a sense that they can be more emboldened to speak about their gripes and complaints than they could in the last four years.

And that's what you hear from the White House, that there is this idea that they're trying to smooth over relationships, but also that many of these relationships were not really cultivated in the last four years.

KING: And the question is, are they right? Meaning it's the White House, right when they say, six months from now, if the global COVID vaccine rollout is accelerated? The United States will get credit; these dust ups will be forgotten. Six months from now, if what happens in Afghanistan is not great, but not horrible Joe Biden standing there saying I'm the first American President to come to the United Nations in 20 years.

The United States is not at war. They hope that these dust ups are in the moment and that in the rearview mirror in a few months, he's in better standing is that the hope?

PARTI: I think they're clearly looking ahead. And part of the way - part of the way they're doing that is by prioritizing the Indo Pacific. We saw that in his speech. We saw that now that he's meeting having this bilateral with the Australian Prime Minister with the Quad meeting that he's having later this week. They're looking ahead and trying to counter China and building relations with the Indo Pacific as a way to do that.

And yes, they still care about their relationships with the EU, but it's really, in the Indo Pacific that they've been focused on. Several members of the administration have been traveling to Asia. I was with the Vice President last month when she went to Singapore and Vietnam.

They're constantly putting this message out that they're not trying to, you know, they don't - they're not seeking conflict, but they are going to be competing with China. And part of that is by building these alliances. KING: A lot of fascinating questions coming to a head domestically, internationally all at once. That's why he said he wanted the job, which you'll see next few weeks is going to be more than interesting.

Up next for us, a very grim milestone Coronavirus pandemic; the COVID death toll in the United States now surpasses the 1918 flu pandemic. Plus, Johnson & Johnson says a second dose of its vaccine puts it on protection par with the other vaccine for Moderna and Pfizer.



KING: Today we mark another numbing simply numbing COVID milestone. Coronavirus has now killed more than 670 - 676,000 Americans that surpasses the estimated death toll from the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century, the 1918 flu.

It surpasses it by more than 1000 again 676,000 Americans that's more than the entire population of Vermont. You see a memorial there on the National Mall with those flags there. Let's take a closer look at the numbers. And again this is the cumulative death total of COVID.

It is numbing. It is sad. It's even somewhat infuriating. When you think about from here, essentially on vaccines were widely available January, February and March when you see all these numbers in May, June, July, August and September. That's where you can get infuriated by them in the sense that many of those deaths were unnecessary.

That was the cumulative. Look, this is where we are today. Monday 2302 of our fellow Americans died from COVID. Now the seven day moving average of death you see it perhaps trickling down a little bit a little bit. Is there some hope that finally this number is coming down?

Possibly when you look at the daily case count; September 1st we were 166,000 cases a day new cases Monday it was 139,000. We've lived through this the last 15 plus months. Deaths are a lagging indicator. By that I mean cases come down hospitalizations come down then hopefully, deaths come down in a week or two after that.

At that point let's bring into our conversation Dr. Leana Wen, the Former Baltimore Health Commissioner. Dr. Wen, I want to just come back to this the total death number.


KING: We go through these stats every day some of them just make you stop. I'm not wrong, am I in the sense that when you look at from the middle late January, at least February or March on when vaccines are widely available, and you see the cumulative rise, you just have to ask yourself why?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: That's right. And that is the big difference between now and 1918 because at that time, with the flu pandemic, there was no vaccine. And yet somehow, even with a vaccine, we're continuing to have escalating numbers.

I mean, you mentioned that we just passed the count compared to the flu pandemic, well; we're still seeing more than 2000 deaths a day. And yes, most of the deaths, sadly, are among the unvaccinated. But we have to remember that some of the deaths are also among the vaccinated, and that's because there is such a high level of infection that's spilling over to affect the vaccinated as well.

KING: Right and so I want to come back again, if you're looking at the here and now. The case count does seem to have plateaued and maybe even you're starting to drop a little bit. You have to watch it, see if its trends, if it continues over the week, but that are at least the beginning of a downward slope.

And with it, the hospitalizations have also come down. If it's September 1st, there were 104,000 Americans hospitalized with COVID. Monday it was 93,000 still a high number, but you see a slow trend line down there. Dr. Wen the question is how do you keep those trends going?

And one of the challenges to keep it going when more people are going back to the office and everybody is back in school. I want you to listen to the New York City Mayor different jurisdictions are handling this differently. But the New York City Mayor says we're going to have a new testing plan so that we can keep our schools open listen.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): Starting on the 27th first of all, we will now go to weekly testing. We'll be testing in elementary, middle and high school, each school every week. When there is a positive test in a classroom, the unvaccinated students in their classroom will not have to quarantine if they are masked and three feet distance.


KING: Walk through two points and tell me if you think the Mayor has it right. Number one, weekly testing number two, if you are more than three feet apart, there's a positive test the Mayor saying that not everybody has to quarantine like we were going through the last school year. Does that make sense?

DR. WEN: The first one definitely makes sense. The second one, we need a bit more information. So the first one about the importance of weekly testing that's what the CDC has said that this is what L.A. Unified the second largest district in the school district of the country is doing.

We definitely know that regular testing, just like indoor masking, just like vaccination it's an important layer of protection. And I wish that all schools were doing this. When it comes to testing as a replacement for quarantine there are some data that this is a strategy that could be effective.

I think this is a weighing the risks and benefits, there is this substantial benefit to making sure that kids stay in person in school. And I do think it's worth it, especially in areas that have regular testing to also say, hey, let's try to do testing for everyone, maybe even daily if you're exposed, but let's keep you in school in the meantime.

And I think that could also be an incentive for schools to require masks, because this only works if the kids were exposed wear masks.

KING: Well, obviously, as the school year starts to extend now we will get more and more data on that and we'll come back to it. I want to ask you to some more vaccine news today this news from Johnson & Johnson saying that it has done tests where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was the one dose.

It has done test the company says where if you get a second dose, you can call it a booster shot. You can call it a second dose that its efficacy comes right up with Pfizer and Moderna. If you look at the vaccines in the United States so far J&J is the purple, only 8 percent of Americans who are fully vaccinated are fully vaccinated with the J&J vaccine 55 percent with Pfizer 37 percent with Moderna.

Do you think it is why should the government approve a second J&J dose as a booster, second dose, whatever you want to call it, should someone who received the J&J vaccine be waiting for that to get another shot?

DR. WEN: Well, I am in this group as one of the 14 million people who got the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I was a volunteer in that particular clinical trial. I don't think it's surprising that a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will increase antibody levels, it will increase protection.

I think it's good. We're finding that boosters do increase protection. But I also think that when the FDA looks at the application, and to be clear, we have not seen the data we've only heard the Johnson & Johnson press release.

But when the FDA looks at those data, maybe they should be - if the data are strong, they should approve that second dose. But also we really need mix and match studies that are currently being done by the NIH.

These are individuals who got the J&J vaccine and then got a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna. In particular, younger women, we know that there is an association that's very rare, but that association exists between getting the J&J vaccine and having this very rare but very serious blood clotting disorder for those individuals and I'm one of them a woman under the age of 50.

I think they should be getting the option at least of having a booster dose that's not the Johnson & Johnson. If they got the one dose of J&J, a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna may actually be safer for them.

KING: But you say should get the options but they should be waiting for --