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Biden: 20 Million Americans Eligible For Pfizer Booster Today; Biden Defends Stalled Agenda: This Is A Process; Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley Running For Re-Election. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 24, 2021 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The White House endorsed booster shots of course weeks ago as new COVID cases were surging. The CDC director authorized this new plan last night. And in doing so, she overruled an Agency Advisory Board that recommended a more targeted booster plant.

As of today, the new CDC guidelines recommend boosters for adults 65 and older, adults in long term care, any adult with underlying conditions, and workers whose jobs might put them at higher risk of getting COVID.

With me to share his insights and expertise Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Professor of Medicine and Surgery at George Washington University, grateful for your time, it's good to see you again in person. So let's put up again, who gets these boosters, or who at least is eligible for these boosters as of today. Adults 65 and over, long term care facility residents, and adults 18 and over with underlying conditions and high risk workers, it is there were Dr. Walensky overrule the Advisory Committee, essentially saying if you're a healthcare worker, for example, you should be eligible for a booster, I believe you think they got to the right place, but the process here was pretty messy.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE & SURGERY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV.: Yes. And the American public really got to see how messy it is when the sausage is ground. So the first thing to know and to remember is that the CDC Committee is an Advisory Committee the same way the FDA Committee was an Advisory Committee. And the CDC director, Dr. Walensky, is not bound by their recommendation. And I think she made the absolute right decision last night, which was to protect Americans, healthcare workers, America's health care workers, who many of whom, like me, were vaccinated more than nine months ago.

And in many parts of the United States, the virus is surging at a time when antibody protection from these vaccines is waning. And Dr. Walensky made absolutely the right decision to include health care workers in the group of patients who can receive a booster and I think should receive a booster.

KING: So if you look at it, we just put out know the calendar of when Americans got vaccinated, we're talking right now, but not all of these are Pfizer doses, of course, but we're talking about people back in -- who back in, you know, back in January, back in February, back in March, they're now in line to eligible for these boosters. And if you come up to this here, and you see 55 percent of Americans have Pfizer, but they have to make decisions.

The President alluded to this today soon down the road, right, about people who received Moderna or people who received the J&J vaccine. How quickly do you think that because they've now done this with -- and made it official with Pfizer, does the backup process for the other vaccines go faster?

REINER: I think it does, except the data is scanned. And we've relied on Israeli data for the Pfizer booster. And that's because that's the only place in the world really where there was robust data. But the Israelis have only given basically the Pfizer vaccine. So now Moderna has introduced some data to support boosting their vaccine, but their vaccine actually seems to be maybe a little bit more robust in terms of less waning of antibody protection. So it'll be interesting to see what the FDA says about that.

Very importantly, 14 million Americans have received the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine, which unfortunately, seems to work better in double dose. So and that group of Americans really has been sort of orphaned and has been left in the lurch in terms of whether they need to be boosted. And I think they urgently need some answer as to that.

KING: Right, as you can see, that's 8 percent of Americans so far, but again, it's still 8 percent of Americans, and they deserve questions. J&J says it's going to submit that data in the near future. My question here is look there's every reason to have this booster conversation, especially with Delta still out there, with the data that shows efficacy, after six months or so starts to wane a bit. If you can help you should help.

But is this, isn't this the larger conversation? The President today was talking about how we're in this mess in part actually, let's just listen to him first, because so many Americans have still said no, I won't get a vaccine, listen.


BIDEN: Refuses to get vaccinated has cost all of us. We're moving along on COVID-19. And now we have all these people who refuse to get a shot. And now look at the people dying.


KING: People are dying, 2,000 Americans are dying on average every day now. Cases have come down some. Hospitalizations have come down some. So mainly when we're having a conversation a week or two from now deaths, which is always a lagging indicator comes down as well. But to the President's point, only 43 percent of 12 to 15 year olds eligible are vaccinated so far, only 51 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds vaccinated so far, 18 to 24, 51 percent, 25 to 39, 51 -- 55 percent.

Isn't that the more important conversation I'm not taking away for the importance of boosters. But if you if you want to get the pandemic more completely under control, those are the people, right, the unvaccinated.

REINER: Right boosters are the icing on the cake. And end President I think correctly today in his statements stated that number one issue is vaccinating the unvaccinated. And we have a lot of work to do there, particularly with the 23 percent of adults in the United States who have so far chosen not to get vaccinated. Once we vaccinate people who are eligible for vaccination right now, we'll start to see a dramatic decrease in this pandemic in this country.


KING: What would you do back to the previous question? This was messy.


KING: You had some people in the FDA who didn't want to do the boosters. You had other people who said, do it more aggressively. Obviously, we want transparency. We want debate about big decisions. But at a time, a lot of people out there are looking to the government for clues, and frankly, nervous in the middle of the Delta, what should the Biden administration have done better on the communication part of this?

REINER: I think we need a central voice in this administration that educates the public on the science. And what we've seen is fragmented voices, we've seen fragmented voices coming from FDA officials, we've seen fragmented voices coming from the CDC Advisory Board. I think we need a central voice that the American public can listen to and can rely on for just straight up honest, honest data.

But we're not seeing that, and in a country where 23 percent of adults are vaccine hesitant, this kind of fragmented messaging works against convincing those folks to get vaccinated. So I think we need a more consistent voice. If I work for the administration -- if I work for the President, I would be furious that the President really went out a month ago was put -- was basically made to look bad by promising a booster program that they've had to scale back.

KING: Maybe perhaps they will listen. Appreciate your time and perspective, Dr. Reiner.

Up next for us, Joe Biden is not the first president to say he doesn't look at the polls. Of course he does. And his are in decline. Biden addressing that decline this morning just as Democrats must make giant decisions.



KING: President Biden is shrugging off his sagging poll numbers today saying Americans have every right to be frustrated with COVID. And with the slow pace of action here in Washington, but the President predicts two giant pieces of his agenda will pass soon and he predicts ultimately, the numbers will turn around.


BIDEN: Remember I said it's going to take me a year to deliver everything I'm looking at. That's number one, number two. Take a look at what I inherited when I came into office. This is a process and it's going to be up and down. That's why I don't look at the polls. Not a joke.


KING: A little point of context here. Every president not named Donald Trump says that. Every president not named Donald Trump says they don't read the polls. But of course they are well aware of the numbers and these are Biden's right now, 45 percent of Americans approve and a whopping 51 percent disapprove according to a new CNN average of recent polling, that approval number down seven points from earlier this summer. CNN's Phil Mattingly live at the White House. I get it, Phil, smarter the President shrug it off and laugh and say in the end, we'll be fine. But is that what they feel behind the scenes?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, here's the reality you can dismiss or disregard the polls if you're the White House, the people who don't dismiss or disregard the polls are the members in Congress, they pay very close attention to every single piece of polling that they get on a seemingly daily basis obsessively so.

And that becomes a significant problem for the White House when you can only afford to lose three members of the House, you can only afford to lose zero members of the United States Senate and frontline members in particular are looking at sagging numbers at the moment where there is an all-out war going on between the two poles of the Democratic Party.

Here's the reality of what comes next Democratic leaders in the House have roughly 72 hours to figure out a path forward to move the President's $3.5 trillion economic and climate package, while also keeping on the timeline that they promised moderate members related to the vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. And Speaker Pelosi just told my colleague Manu Raju a short while ago, the vote on that infrastructure bill is happening. There is a markup set for the Budget Committee this weekend.

They announced yesterday a framework about a menu of options to finance whatever the final deal is, a deal that doesn't exist, and doesn't currently have a tough line. Look, everybody's trying for momentum right now. Leaders are really throwing a lot of things out there, trying to make members feel like there is a pathway forward and a reason to stick with this agenda. The reality is, there's no clear answers or clear pathway out of it yet. And that's what they're working on this weekend.

KING: Well, that's a busy weekend ahead, obviously, then, Phil, thanks very much, a live report from the White House. Our panel is back to discuss. And again, this conversation will mean a lot more next September, where Biden's number is at the end of next September heading in October will mean a lot much more. But in the middle of trying to make this deal, Phil, makes an important point. If you're the Democrats, you see the President's poll numbers are down.

On the one hand, you're thinking I need to help him out because we rise or fall with him. On the other hand, you think he's a little weak now? Maybe I have more leverage, right? Maybe I have more leverage because he's a little weak right now and he needs me, Amy Walter writes about this. You know, again, competency running the government was Biden's calling card in the election. And Amy writes a really smart column this week, just for Democrats who worry that Biden's declining, fortunes are dragging them down. Failing to give them a victory will only make things worse for both him and them. A midterm election is a referendum on the President when he flopped. So does his party.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, so we, yes, we are a year or more than a year away from the midterms. But right now is the season where you got to get the W's up on the board if you're Democrats in order to have that momentum. So you're not trying to scramble to do that at the end because it just gets harder. The closer you get to Election Day. It just gets harder to pass anything but big items in particular.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think we saw some of these machinations with the Congressional Black Caucus this week. As you know, many of these members outraged about the images of Haitian migrants at the border, the way the U.S. Border officials treating them, a real desire to go to the border and make a statement. They pulled back and decided not to do that because to do that would have seriously damage Biden and seriously damaging Biden is seriously damaging them.


I think you have two polls to look at, not polls, but like whatever, two opposite things to look at. One is what happened in California with recall where you see turnout matters of Democrats turnout, it helps Biden. The other is Virginia where you see Terry McAuliffe in more trouble than he expected to be heading into this bellwether off your race. For Biden, the trick is how to get Democrats on message and Pelosi is going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat in the next three days.

KING: And the flip side of that is this is Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader. Republicans in the Senate had a big support for the bipartisan infrastructure plan. McCarthy says we're going to whip against it. We want Republicans to vote. No, a lot of the debt was accumulated during the Trump presidency. Republicans say raise the debt limit. No.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: It only harmed the nation even more. I'm voting no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about your members? Do you encourage them to vote no, too? MCCARTHY: Yes, I do. Democrats control the White House, the Senate, and the House. They want to raise $5 trillion and spend in the next month. You have a maxed out credit card and they want to get a new limit to go max out another one.


KING: It is cynical. It is contrary to their prior positions. But they believe saying no, keeps those Biden numbers down.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Absolutely nothing but pure politics but they are staying together. And so right now, Democrats have to do the same. The White House has to engage every single Democrat just in the last hour here on CNN Congresswoman Dingell spoke about this. It's not only members of the Progressive Caucus and the blue dog Democrats the in order for the administration to be successful, they have to engage every Democrat, make them feel as though they are all important in order for them to all win together.

KING: It's the ship metaphor. But we'll come back to that.

Ahead us, Chuck Grassley, after months of speculation makes a very big announcement this morning and just moments before the Vice President was set to appear on "The View" today, two of the host tested positive for breakthrough COVID infections.



KING: Republican Chuck Grassley wants six more years. The 88-year-old senator made it official early today he is running for reelection next year. The announcement came in a Twitter video, a 4:00 a.m. alarm to wake up for a morning jog. Something Senator Grassley says he does six days a week.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Hey there. I'm running for reelection is the right thing to do for Iowa.


KING: I hope he doesn't jog in that suit. This would be his eighth term. He's been here since Jimmy Carter was president.

KUCINICH: It's ultimately up to the voters of Iowa, right? I mean, other ones, keep sending him back. There's a lot of power and incumbency. That is clear. But if you're Republican keeping your fingers crossed, you got to, you're going to be waiting for a little bit.

MCKEND: I mean, I'm looking at what Senator Leahy now does of Vermont, Vermont has never sent a woman to Congress. It just makes it really hard for the next generation when these guys hold on forever. KUCINICH: But it makes it easy for the parties, right?

KING: Right, right.

TALEV: He's look, he's trying to improve, maximize Republicans chances to take back control of the Senate.



TALEV: That's what this is about. Entirely unclear whether he would intend to serve out, you know, six years or not. But this just enhances the debate already going on in this country. Look at who controls the majority and the minority in the House, in the Senate, in the White House, and in Iowa.

MCKEND: Yes. National Republicans thrill, Senator McConnell thrilled.


KING: Senator Grassley wants to be Chairman Grassley again. It's a race we will we will watch.


Up next for us, just moments before Vice President Harris on set to appear on "The View" two have the host tested positive for breakthrough COVID infections.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today, thousands of migrants who were living under that Del Rio International Bridge in Texas, have now been relocated to processing centers, CNN's team on the scene capturing images under the bridge of the final two buses departing Customs and Border Protection processing centers.

This morning just moments before Vice President Kamala Harris was set to join "The View" on set in New York, host Sunny Hostin and guest host Ana Navarro, both tested positive for coronavirus breakthrough cases.


JOY BEHAR, HOST, "THE VIEW": What happened is that Sunny and Ana both apparently tested positive for COVID. No matter how hard we try, these things happen. We probably have a breakthrough case and there'll be OK I'm sure because they both vaccinated.


KING: The two left the set and the Vice President then joined the program remotely. White House official telling CNN Vice President Harris did not interact with Hostin or Navarro before the program. The top health official in New York State is resigning. Dr. Howard Zucker oversaw the COVID response under Governor Andrew Cuomo. In his resignation letter, Zucker defended his decisions, including forcing nursing homes to take back residents treated for coronavirus in hospitals. The new New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she had planned to build a new team anyway but she was getting pressure from the legislature to speed things up.

This quick programming note, a court ordered conservatorship has controlled her life for years. Now, see how she and her fans are fighting back. Watch the CNN special report Toxic: Britney Spears' Battle for Freedom. That's Sunday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.


Thanks for joining Inside Politics today and throughout the week. Have a fantastic weekend. And hope to see you Monday. Ana Cabrera picks up right now.