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Pelosi: Still Working on Price Tag, Policies in Biden Agenda Bill; Pelosi, Schumer Tout Deal on "Framework" to Pay for Agenda; Podesta: Dems Need to Acknowledge "Political Reality" Cut Price Tag; Pelosi on Biden Agenda: "This is not about price tag"; Today: CDC Vaccine Advisers Meeting on Boosters. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 23, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, everybody. Welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

We begin with breaking news on the Biden agenda, breaking news on how to pay for the Biden agenda? To be more specific, the top two Democrats in Congress, along with the Biden Treasury Secretary, standing together last hour to announce they have a framework to pay for a massive Democratic spending package that covers issues ranging from Child Care and Community College to climate change and health care policy.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The White House, the House and the Senate, have reached agreement on a framework that will pay for any final negotiated agreement. So the revenue side of this, we have an agreement on. OK. Thank you, the framework and agreement of a framework.


KING: That sounds like a big deal, right? But there are a lot of missing pieces. No specifics yet, for example, on just what tax hike Democrats have agreed to support and even more important, no agreement yet on how much money Democrats need to raise meaning no agreement yet, on the final price tag for that big Democratic plan.

Let's get straight up to our Chief Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, they make this announcement out to be a big deal but a lot of questions.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are a lot of questions, John, and not a lot of clarity. And let's be clear, members have not signed off on this in the rank and file even some of the key Chairman of the Committees are still in the dark about what exactly this means. And what this means when I'm told is in an agreement about some of the options they could do for pay for this massive plan. And this agreement was reached about these options to pay for the plan. Among the Democratic leaders, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, you saw there, as well as the key Chairman of the Committees were in charge of tax writing, Ron Wyden on the Senate side, Richard Neal, on the House side and the administration itself.

But what they don't have is an agreement among the moderate Democrats to provide the votes for this massive expansion of the social safety net. They also don't have an agreement among the progressives. And those discussions will continue about everything about what's in here, the details and the price tag.

Now, later today, moderate Democrats are meeting with White House officials were coming to Capitol Hill to talk about these financing options and whether they can actually get behind this. So it's clear that there was no agreement yet among some of the key members.

Now, John, I tried to press Speaker Pelosi at this press conference about what exactly this agreement means. And she made clear they still don't have an agreement on the price tag.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is not about price tag. This is about what's in the bill. What's in the bill for Children? What's in the bill? It's not about a price tag or anything. It's about values, not dollars.


RAJU: While the price tag is of course, significant here, because what they're talking about initially was $3.5 trillion plan just a significant amount of investment in all aspects of the economy, raising taxes on corporations, and wealthy individuals.

But moderates, like Joe Manchin and others want that price tag, around less than $2 trillion. Progressives want more than $3 trillion. And that means there's a significant amount of debate that still has to be had. And John, this is all tied to that key vote that is happening on Monday over that separate infrastructure package that passed the Senate last month.

Pelosi is not saying explicitly that she will still move forward with that vote on Monday. But that's also significant because those progressive members in her caucus are threatening to vote against that plan, sync that plans if their larger deal is not agreed to. So much work has to be done. And a lot of questions still, John?

KING: More questions. More questions, I think now than before they announced this "Framework". Manu Raju, I appreciate the hustle up on Capitol Hill. We know you'll keep it up with us in studio to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Kasie Hunt, Jeff Mason of Reuters NPR's Claudia Grisales and CNN's Melanie Zanona. I'm going to go back to a question Walter Mondale asked of Gary Hart a very long time ago. Where's the beef? You announced - again they have all these meetings with the president yesterday. All the Democrats come out happy that the president is now taking the point on this. Yes, a lot to be resolved. Somehow the Democrats feel the need to claim momentum today. So they say we have this framework but you - back the curtain what?

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Is it the wizard? I don't know if he's in there or not? No, it's remarkable to me that Schumer went in there we showed how he just walked up to the podium delivers this what's clearly designed to be a headline that indicates that they're making some sort of progress.

And then Nancy Pelosi has to step in there and essentially try and say just trust us. There's some - there, but I'm not going to give you any further details on it. And you can see she was pretty close to flashing some frustration there. But she did manage to rein it in.

I think big picture it really struck me that they were trying to project a message of calm. I mean, they have not had a great couple of days in terms of how the public is looking at what they're doing here?

KING: But they had a better day yesterday. Again, progressives come out after meeting with the president saying it was helpful. Moderates come out after meeting with the president. They say it was helpful. They have this framework announced today, Bernie Sanders. He's the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee which makes him important when it comes to matters of big spending plans.


KING: He's also critically important because he's likely to be the bridge to the House progressives, if they will have a smaller package than 3.5 trillion, I think that seems inevitable. Bernie Sanders says I have no idea what his Leader Chuck Schumer just announced.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, I think we should be very skeptical about what GOP or Democratic leaders are telling us today, because they are under so much pressure right now to show their progressive wing that they are making progress towards this massive economic reconciliation package.

And the reason why is because they're still having this bipartisan infrastructure vote next week. And progressives have said; we will not vote for it unless we see the reconciliation bill passed. That's not going to happen next week.

And so what leaders are trying to do is make some sort of progress, they hope there can be a framework that they can come up with some general agreements, that's enough to convince progressives. But look, it remains to be seen if that charity is going to work, because they have so much they still need to resolve.

And even if moderates can come up with something that they're willing to put forward, it might not be enough to convince moderates. In fact, it could spook them and say, look, they're only willing to support 1.5 or 2 trillion; we're not going to vote for this bipartisan infrastructure bill.

KING: So we'll wait and we'll see if we get more details. We'll see if there's more to this than just an announcement. It's important to say, you know, our key committee chairs have an agreement that when they get a final number, they'll figure it out. That's important.

But the main thing is get a final number and then decide how is that money divvied up? Democrats want to do so many things with this pot of money, again, free Pre-K, free community college, healthcare changes, climate changes, child tax credits, childcare credits, and the like.

So the progressives came out of the meeting with the White House saying it was nice to meet with the president. They also come out saying we want 3.5. 3.5, we were told we already compromised from six to 3.5. This is the Chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): This very small group of people are not representative of, you know, really moderate Democrats in the toughest district. So that's why I like to say, you know, I don't think you can say that the moderates are against this. That's not what's going on here.


KING: But, Jeff, from a White House perspective, the president has not said this is my final number. But he did ask the moderates yesterday, to give him a number.


KING: He wants a number from the moderates. Does that not? Is that not essentially the president saying it's not going to be 3.5 trillion? Because it was going to be 3.5 he would be leaning on the moderates to support it. Instead, he's saying, you need to make your compromise you need to make it now?

MASON: Absolutely. I think there's a recognition at the White House and on the Hill that that 3.5 is not going to be the end game. The question is what is it and Speaker Pelosi says this is about priorities, and it's about policy and having specific things in the bill. And that's what matters.

But all of those priorities have to have a price tag attached to them. And when you take one out, you're going to subtract some money from that overall bill. And that's what they haven't clarified. And honestly the White House hasn't clarified it either.

I mean, they haven't specifically said, this is our red line on a specific policy or on a specific number. They just want to see what happens with a negotiation.

KING: And the progressives want these two trains on parallel tracks, which is the vote Monday on the already passed the Senate, the bipartisan infrastructure plan, and they want this, whether it's 3.5, whether it's 2.8, whether it's 2, they want the reconciliation package on the same track?

The reconciliation package will not be ready by Monday. That is crystal clear to everybody. And the moderates say the Speaker promised them a vote. Is there a middle ground here? Is there a way out? Is the only way for the president to call these moderates and say sorry, we need to delay the vote a day or two a week?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, NPR: It seems like that is where things are headed. We noticed today Pelosi was softening her stance on whether Monday is the vote for this bipartisan infrastructure package?

And we heard from progressives who left the meeting yesterday saying you know, that's September 27 date, that was an arbitrary date, you know, we can move that. So they're trying to move the goalposts. But whether everybody comes along whether this wrecks their plans with both bills remains to be seen?

KING: I went way back at the beginning, quoting Walter Mondale. Let me come back closer to the modern days and only go back 25 years. John Podesta, you know, he worked in the Bill Clinton White House also was around in the Obama days as well. He says this to Democrats in a memo.

The historical trend makes it clear the Democrats will face severe headwinds next November, but nothing will guarantee a political reckoning faster than if the Democrats failed to pass anything. That was the president's main goal yesterday, get that across to the most liberal and the most moderate Democrats that in the end, you have to come together or we all sink success failure or TBD?

HUNT: Exactly. The reality for Democrats -- they've been saying this all summer is that the only thing that we can't do is nothing, right? The details hardly matter in many cases. So the challenge I think for progressives here is this is the shot that they have. They've got from now until probably December before we're hitting midterm election season and they likely lose the House. That's it.

So they clearly are trying to exercise their leverage and hold you know, hold out these threats around the bipartisan bill. But the reality is at some point, they're going to have to make a decision about whether they're really prepared to do nothing?


HUNT: And I think history shows us Democrats have not necessarily taken that tack they unlike frankly, the Kamikaze folks in the Republican Party, who the Tea Party, were willing to do some of these things. I don't think that you're going to see that.

But again, it's still really hard to see how we get there. And, you know, to what Jeff was saying, congressional leaders really counting on the president to say what he wants, be firm about it and apply some pressure. And it's not clear that he's really doing that. KING: Not clear yet anyway. We shall see it's very complicated in the end and some big days ahead. And to that point, up next President Biden has dealmaker, a Congresswoman who believes is essential. The president take charge here she has her take on the White House meeting said whether she's ready to answer the president's big question.



KING: Let's try to get some details and perspective now on that big announcement at least they framed that as a big announcement last hour from the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer.

Joining our conversation, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene she's the Chair of the new Democratic Coalition. She also was in the meetings yesterday between moderates and President Biden. Congresswoman, grateful for your time today, do you have an understanding of what leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi were talking about when they said they have a framework on how to pay for whatever the ultimate package is? Do you know what they're talking about?

REP. SUZAN DELBENE (D-WA): Well, I don't have details specifically on the framework. I think what they're talking about is this overall effort that we also discussed with the president to bring folks together to talk about priorities and how we move forward?

And so as we continue to pull those details together, that's important. And I think the outline of how to do that is something that they've been discussing, and is part of what they were talking about this morning.

KING: You are in the meetings, a series of meetings the president had yesterday. Do I have this right, that you believe it is absolutely critical that President Biden play quarterback here, because of the broad differences? I know, there's broad agreement in the party over the topics to be addressed in the spending bill, but there's broad disagreement of just how to get there? Is it essential that he take the lead?

DELBENE: I think it's important that the president take the lead. And I think he played an important role yesterday, bringing everyone together. We all sink or swim together, it's important that we pass legislation that's really transformative for our country, both in infrastructure bill and the bill back better reconciliation bill, those two are so critical.

And we do have a sense of urgency, because the sooner we can get those done, the sooner we get resources to the American people, and really help put together the build back vendor agenda. So we all have a sense of urgency about it, we need to come together and do that.

And I think it's really about the substance of the bill. There's been a lot of talk about a number, but really, what investments are we going to make? What is the return that families get on that that's so critical?

KING: But let me jump in at that point, Congressman, because there is a lot of talk about the number and I get everybody's reluctance to hit a number because if you're the progressive, you wanted more than 3.5 trillion. If you're a centrist like yourself, you might think that price tag is too high. You want something small.

But you say the president is central to this, the president said in the meeting with moderates yesterday, the centrists yesterday he believes the next move should be that your group should give a number? Should push the compromise by saying OK, 3.5 is too big. We propose X.

If you want the president to be in charge, he had a big ask of you. Why won't you answer the question? What should it be?

DELBENE: Well, actually, I did answer the question of the president and I said that what's important to us as new Dems is what the investments we're making are? People will definitely support higher numbers as we make sure those investments really make a huge difference for them communities.

And so the substance the child tax credit our priorities as new Dems, making sure we continue the child tax credit. So it's getting resources out to families, a middle class tax cut, making sure that people have health care, we continue to the premium subsidies for the ACA that we get, we address Medicaid expansion and states that didn't expand. These are critical priorities, climate.

KING: So I'm going to --

DELBENE: So those investments and the return on those investments, they're all drive. So I think the numbers been a distraction. We want to make big, bold, transformative investments. But I think the way that you could have people on board for that number is you tell them what you're going to do and why that spending is going to have such an important impact?

KING: I get and respect your point. But now I'm going to come at you I'm going to play devil's advocate. Assume I'm a progressive I take the list you just laid out there and I come back with OK, I listen to Congresswoman DelBene, I took all those issues, I put together my plan, it adds up to 5.6 trillion, it goes even above 3.5 trillion.

They were at six or more a couple of months ago, they've come to 3.5. If you don't give them a number, how do you negotiate? I understand the priorities. But if you don't have a top line number, it's hard to say how much goes to climate? How much goes to the tax credits? How much goes to childcare? How much goes to Pre-K and Community College?

Because they want more than you do they want to spend more than you do, there's no dispute about that. Don't you need a number to negotiate?

DELBENE: Well, we actually put together legislation and I serve on the Ways and Means Committee, we passed legislation out of committee. So we've had a lot of conversations, bringing two people together to draft the bills that have come out of committees across the house.

So that's been a driving factor and actually has been a place where folks have come together. But another key tenant is that we have to do focus and do a few things well. What the American people are going to feel is that we have programs that make a difference in their lives.

So this shouldn't be about peanut butter in resources across many programs with lots of cliffs or things that have expiration date soon, but making strong investments and things like the child tax credit, they're going to make a long term difference in durable policy, on climate on child tax credit on health care.

Those are areas that I think are important. That's what's going to make a difference for families and I think that stability without people worrying about what Congress is going to do next. That stability actually is what they want to see.


DELBENE: They want to see governance work. I have a purple district. People want to governance work.

KING: To your point about your purple district. Let me close with this. Everyone's in a better mood today. And I tried - I failed to get a number out of you. OK. I tried. We'll see how that one plays out. Everyone is in a better mood today.

But Monday, your group, the centrist have been promised to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan. You would say it's critical for you to go home to that purple district and say, look; we are getting things done in Washington. The progressives say, no, we will vote against it unless we know that reconciliation package the bigger package is done. Must that vote happen on Monday?

And would you agree to wait if the President of the United States called you and said, Congresswoman, I need you to go to your colleagues, we need a few more days, or we need another week.

DELBENE: I think the critical number is 218. We have to pass a bill. The infrastructure bill is supported by members of the new Dem Coalition. But we - if we put a bill on the floor, we have to have 218 votes. That's the important criteria.

KING: And if you don't have those on Monday, you're OK with waiting.

DELBENE: We have to make sure we get a bill passed.

KING: Congresswoman I appreciate your time. We have some interesting days ahead. I appreciate the back and forth. We'll continue the conversation. Thank you very much.

DELBENE: Thank you.

KING: Coming up for us, the CDC is meeting right now to hash out details on just who gets a booster shot and when?



KING: Today, the COVID numbers look a little better. And today a CDC group is meeting right now to sort out exactly who gets COVID vaccine booster shots and when? Let's bring into our conversation Dr. Carlos Del Rio he's the Executive Associate Dean of the Emory University School of Medicine at the Grady Health System.

Dr. Del Rio thank you for your time! Just showing our viewers right now we expect the first wave of booster shots authorization for COVID booster shots will go to people over the age of 65 and people at high risk of severe disease and people with high risk jobs.

People like healthcare workers, people maybe who work in mass transit that are around people all the time. Is this the right call to do this in incremental fashion? Or do you believe they should authorize boosters for everybody right out of the box?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY HEALTH SYSTEM: Well, I think John it is going to depend a lot of what the ACIP does today. Because even though they may say people that were 65, and those with high risk conditions, it really matters how we define high risk conditions?

If you define high risk condition as for example, a BMI, body mass index, obesity, a BMI over 30, that's right off the bat, that's 42 percent of all Americans. If you say well, it's going to be a BMI over 25, and then you all of a sudden got 72 percent of all Americans included.

So the issue is how do they define high risk? And where do they set the value for the BMI that considers you as high risk?

KING: And we'll watch that as it comes out. That's an important point. I appreciate the perspective. Help me I look at these numbers every day. And I get afraid forgive me; we're given the history to get optimistic. If you look at the new COVID infections right now, the seven day average is down more than 20,000 cases since last week.

A week ago, we're at 150,000, almost 151,000 new infections yesterday 130,795. And you can see from up above 170 now we're down into the 130s. If you look at hospitalizations, it's still horrific, that so many Americans are hospitalized. But you see the number on Wednesday; it was 88,553, down from 103 plus on September 1st.

And if you look at this trend map, Dr. Del Rio, I don't use this map as much anymore. But today, it looks pretty good, right? You have 26 states trending down. Green means fewer new COVID infections now compared to a week ago, 26 states trending down 18 holding steady only six states reporting more new infections this week than last week. Is it safe to say that we are moving to a better place? Or might this be temporary?

DR. DEL RIO: John, I'm optimistic like you. I think there are combinations of things; this Delta wave has been highly infectious. A lot of people that were not infected are now infected. So they have now been exposed and have developed immunity to the virus.

And then you have people being vaccinated. So I think the combination of those two things makes me hopeful that even further ways will not be as severe. But I'd have to tell you that it's going to depend on what part of the country and again, what percentage of your population is immune, that is going to make a difference?

KING: Well, that regional point you just made is very important. Because if you look at in terms of this map, the - map I showed you a moment ago was encouraging. This one's more discouraging. This is Intensive Care Unit beds occupied by adult COVID patients and you did not want to be read on this map.

Your State of Georgia 51 percent more than half of ICU beds with COVID patients. In Texas it's just shy of that 46 percent, 42 percent in Kentucky 62 percent out in Idaho. So you mentioned the regional aspect of this pandemic, especially in states we see this where the vaccination rates are lower hospitalizations in cases are higher, including the strain on ICUs, right?

DR. DEL RIO: Oh, absolutely. And I think I want to emphasize this, that we're seeing a lot of still fairly young people, you know, under the age of 50, being very, very sick in the hospital and in the ICU. And the amount of people in the ICU that we're seeing in this wave is quite frankly, really high is something that is very astonishing how quickly people have gotten sick and ended up in the ICU.

KING: It is awesome of my word, not a medical term that if people who are - if people who already vaccinated need a booster shot that those booster shots might soon be available to them. But what about new vaccinations, people who have not received a vaccination yet because that's a seven day average of that as the lowest it's been two months.

You mentioned, Dr. Del Rio, how critical is if you want to really beat Delta, you want that case count to keep dropping down. It means that people who have not yet been vaccinated need to get vaccinated.

Well, yesterday, only 312,000 excuse me, Americans --