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Inside Politics

Biden Agenda Hangs in the Balance; Biden Agenda at Risk of Implosion, "Nobody wants to Blink"; Frustrated Progressives Target Sinema, Manchin; Representative Pocan: Manchin Needs to Say What He's For; 45 Percent Rise in NYC Daily Vaccinations Since Mandates Announced. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 29, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a very busy news day with us.

Joe Biden at the break, the president faces a Thursday deadline to save his ambitious agenda and the mood among Democrats is raw. Two Central Senators are key here and the president is trying to broker a last minute break through.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I have calmness because they have conflict in our House Democrat.


KING: And New York is now a case study on the question of vaccine mandates. New York City's Mayor says the threat get a shot or lose your job is working.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): I would say everybody out there private sector everyone should move to these mandates because they've been so strikingly effective.


KING: Plus, America's top general explains to Congress why he called China after the November election to talk them down and convince them an attack was not coming. We begin the hour though, with a defining test for a struggling president and his anxious party.

The pieces are complicated. The stakes though quite simple, strike a deal in 24 to 36 hours, or watch the ambitious Democratic agenda on childcare, Community College, climate change, health care, infrastructure, and more implode. The president scrapped a planned trip to Chicago to stay here in Washington to keep negotiating with two centrists' senators who say House liberals want the government to spend and do too much. A key ally Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to buy the president some time and some space "Don't be mad at the president be mad at me". That's what she told frustrated liberals this morning.

So we wait as key players get more White House attention. And as the clock now ticks toward a Thursday House vote on what should be a slam dunk an infrastructure plan that has already passed the Senate. It would fix roads and bridges and it would create thousands of jobs. But liberals say they will vote no. And they will tank it if the president fails to get the bigger deal done.

Let's get straight up to our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. Manu, this is a huge day of consequence for the president and his party.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and the question is what happens from here up until tomorrow and we just do not have clear answers as of yet. There is still a major dilemma facing Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as Joe Biden is exactly how to assuage progressives who are threatening to sink that infrastructure bill tomorrow?

If they do not have seen assurances or see the larger bill to expand the social state then moving further along in the legislative process. There are still negotiations that are ongoing, including at this moment negotiations with Kyrsten Sinema that key Democratic Senator meeting with White House officials in our office to try to see a way forward.

Now, what Nancy Pelosi made clear this morning is that she believes there needs to be actual agreement on legislative language bill text of that larger bill signed off on by the president before Thursday. But as you can see here, that is an incredibly high hurdle as key moderates like Joe Manchin pulled out.


PELOSI: So I think that if we come to a place where we have agreement in legislative language, not just principle and legislative language that the president supports, has to meet his standard, because that's what we are supporting, then that I think we will come together.

RAJU (on camera): And as he said that they need by tomorrow legislative language, agreed to that means.


RAJU: So he said that won't happen, getting a deal on legislative language by tomorrow. But that's exactly what the progressives want. They want an agreement on that larger bill, that Manchin will sign off on that Sinema will sign off on and that the White House will sign off on and Pelosi herself told me earlier today that she will not move forward on a larger bill in the House unless there's an agreement with the Senate.

But Manchin also made this very important point to me John, he said, all we need to do is pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill sit down and start negotiating in good faith. But the problem is the progressives want the inverse process. They want that bipartisan bill to be stalled, and then they want to have that other larger bill move forward first.

So John unclear where - how this goes? At the moment that vote is scheduled for tomorrow, but it could always be delayed.

KING: At the moment -- at the moment and what you highlight there a trust deficit within the Democratic family. We will watch us this big day plays out. Manu, appreciate the live kickoff from Capitol Hill. With me in studio now to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt, Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast" and Tia Mitchell of "The Atlanta Journal Constitution".

This is on the president now. He is negotiating personally as a staff going up today to see Senator Sinema again. She was at the White House I think three times yesterday. So the options are simply get a deal today. Watch your agenda implode tomorrow or somehow convince everybody to take a timeout. But the progressive say they made a promise.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: And the reality is John, they don't have endless amounts of time, especially considering that they have to deal with funding the government and then there's the issue of the debt ceiling which Mitch McConnell is really using to try and put the screws to Democrats.

So I think the big question here is what does Kyrsten Sinema want? There is growing from illustration, I think with what many progressives perceived to be her refusal to say what she wants and to leave them in this position.


HUNT: The other thing that I will say on the progressive side, it seems very unrealistic to me. Usually in these scenarios writing legislative language happens literally minutes before a final bill is passed. So that seems like a bit of a stretch as a possibility.

KING: Well, that's a fascinating point you make because what's watch if that definition changes over the next 24 hours? It was - it was they needed a reconciliation bill, the legislation written everybody could read it, and then it was maybe a framework. Now people are saying maybe a deal.

So let's watch that could be the wiggle room there. But you mentioned Senator Sinema three times at the White House yesterday, again, Biden aides are going up to Capitol Hill coming to her turf to negotiate more with her today. And what I was told is they're going through what do you want the bill? And then add it up? How much does it cost you comfortable with that? No then, what are we going to cut? They're going back and forth.

You mentioned the distrust. Manu just mentioned the distrust. This is Ro Khanna a key member of the progressive saying why is one Senator, why is one Senator getting a hold up everything?


REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): This not progressives versus moderates. This is the entire Democratic Party and Joe Biden versus Kyrsten Sinema; I have no idea what you want. I don't think our colleagues know what she wants. I don't think the president knows what she wants. I don't think House moderates know what she wants.

We've said, let's get in a room. Let's negotiate. Let's come up with a deal. And I just don't understand it.


KING: Well, it's Washington dysfunction. No one's ever done anything this big. But in the case of Senator Sinema, she has a pretty clear plan. She thinks she can get a better deal negotiating directly with the president to the White House than if she gets in a room with all of the House progressives, because then your horse trading, you give me this, I'll give you that. And you ultimately just compromise the more people in the room, the more compromises she thinks she gets a better deal this way.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yes, it seems like it's clear that what Senator Sinema wants that we can see is control. You know, we don't necessarily know what policy we want. But I think it's pretty clear that she wants control. She wants to be on the front line. She wants to be a key player.

And she wants to be able to say to your point, I'm the one who went to the White House and got something done in what I got done is what got passed. But again, I think the question is what is she putting in the bill? What is she taking out? And she's not really being transparent about that thus far.

KING: The transparency part is key in the sense that White House officials say behind the scenes, they're making progress with her. They say they are. We will see if they get there. They're sending the staff up again today. So that would at least give the evidence that they think it's worth continuing the conversations.

You heard Ro Khanna, one of the progressive saying we have no clue. It's hard to negotiate when you don't know what the other side is asking for. This is Josh Gottheimer, who's one of the more centrist the problem solvers, they call them in House saying don't worry, don't worry everything is OK.


REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Everyone is working around the clock, including Senator Sinema. I'm getting it done. And she was at the White House yesterday. Obviously, I wasn't in that meeting. And all I know is that great progress was made. And we're going to keep working today.


KING: I mean, again, if the president can negotiate this doing it this way, that's an amazing achievement for him. Everyone else in the party or at least most everyone else in the party is pretty raw, because they think they're operating blind.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Because they are operating blind. I mean, but you know, you, Congressman Gottheimer there, they were also made a promise, right, which is a vote on this infrastructure bill on Thursday.

You know, as Manu said it can always be moved back. But yes, there isn't a lot of trust. And there's you have to assume that progressives are going to fall in line once they do settle on not only what Senator Sinema's number is, but what is still remains, what kind of deal she's made.

Are there going to be red lines with the Bernie Sanders set that have been taken out? We just don't know the answer to that. But one thing are progressives that have made it clear, they do not want to lose their leverage. And they think if they vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, that leverage is gone.

KING: And that's the point Congresswoman Jayapal made in this tweet yesterday. It's not the infrastructure bill, and maybe the build back better package down the road. That wasn't the deal. Progressives won't back down. We're fighting for the people's fight, and we're going to deliver the entire build back better agenda.

They simply don't trust that if they vote for the infrastructure bill, that Sinema and Manchin and others won't just walk away and say forget about it. We're not going to spend that money. We don't want to do all the things. We don't want the government to do all the things you want the government to do. They think if they don't get this now they don't get it at all right?

HUNT: Because the reality is look what is happening? These two Senators Manchin and Sinema, they're at the White House, they're saying, OK, there's a place we can get where we will vote for this. They need every single vote in the Senate.

And as you point out, if in fact, this infrastructure bill is off the table, OK, maybe they say you know what, never mind, never mind don't want to do it at all. The challenge here is that if they hold out long enough, then Democrats are potentially left with absolutely nothing at all to show for it.

And I think you know, by the day that the president seems to be facing new challenges, whether it's polling numbers that are coming out of places like the Iowa poll from last week. It really stuck out to me where his approval rating had really dropped. The economy is showing some signs of shakiness that has a lot of some of the moderate Democrats that I talked to in Congress really concerned especially heading into the midterm elections.


HUNT: So it's not as though the environment is making this easier every day that goes by it's going to get harder.

KING: There's no question and the president slumping poll numbers over the summer because COVID is up because of the use of the Afghanistan withdrawal hurt his approval rating, his numbers are down anyway. You mentioned polling; this is a gauge I've used for years to look at public opinion out there.

It's not polling. It's the Michigan - University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey. In April, it was 88.3. Americans were fairly pretty good about the direction early in the Biden Administration, they thought COVID was getting better, they thought the economy was getting better. You look at this number now 70.3 from April to August.

That's -- A, that's a big drop on number two, that number, if it's below - if it's below at the desk for the incumbent party needs to worry if it gets below 70. It was 68 in 2010, the Democratic first midterm of the Obama Presidency, he lost 63 seats.

So if you're the Democrats, you're looking at these numbers. This is not just your policy future. This is your political future.

MITCHELL: And I think that's why progressives say we need to do this social service and climate change package because there's so much in it that they think people will like if it happens, and that's what we're hearing from progressives that they can't win in the midterms without this larger $3.5 trillion dollar package. And they're dug in on that. Of course, you have some moderates who are - who say otherwise.

KING: It's a fascinating moment. And to your point about progressives, they vow they will not blink and they will tank if necessary a jobs creating infrastructure plan if they don't get a deal on the bigger spending package. Well, a leading voice in their caucus joins us next you see him right there to answer centrist complaints that the progressives are holding investments and jobs hostage.



KING: More now on the consequential 24 to 36 hours just ahead of us here in Washington and specifically, the progressive view of this moment. House liberals say a deal's a deal and the Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised a bigger Democratic legislative package would be ready at the same time she called a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure deal.

President Biden is negotiating with key Senators, but there is no chance that a detailed legislative deal can be made by tomorrow. And there's little evidence even at this hour that even framework of such an agreement could be made in time. So will progressives then follow through and vote no on the infrastructure plan tomorrow? Joining me now a member of the Progressive Caucus, its Former Chair, and the Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Congressman grateful for your time today!

If there is no deal, and the infrastructure vote comes up tomorrow and you don't have that bigger deal? Will you vote no. And how many of your colleagues will vote no knowing that you're tanking a plan that would fix roads and bridges and create thousands of jobs?

REP. MARK POCAN (D-WI): First John, thanks for having me. I don't think that's going to happen because I don't think Speaker Pelosi is going to put a bill on the floor that's going to go down. We've always said that we support the president's agenda, that agenda is the Build Back Better Act as well as the infrastructure bill.

If you just did the infrastructure bill, that's 9 percent of what the president wanted to get done. You're missing out on a lot of big concepts. So we're going to get these bills done. I'm confident of that. But we do need a couple folks on the Senate side Manchin and Sinema, I think and now what we refer to it as to make a decision about what they're actually for.

Once they tell us what they're for. We can finish negotiations, but whether the votes tomorrow or next week or the following week, I don't think that really matters. What matters at the end of the day is we really have a good product that mirrors what the president wants to get done to get the American people the benefits they need. That's the real goal.

KING: That's the goal. But you have - forgive me a little trust deficit within the Democratic family at the moment. I want to read your -- Manchin and Sinema whatever the different ways to say it. Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema, are the two Centrist Democrats, the president is trying to cut this deal with.

This is Senator Manchin last night, man, holding one hostage over the other is not fair and not right. It's not good for the country; everyone is not going to get what they want. Senator Manchin says pass the infrastructure bill, show the American people Washington can work, let the president sign something that creates lots of jobs. And then we'll go into a room and negotiate.

You don't trust him to you. Do you? You don't trust him that you'll get the second piece if you pass the first one solo?

POCAN: Yes, in fact, it's just the opposite of what he's saying. When one person is holding the rest of us hostage, right? And he needs to say what he's for. And once he does, we can finalize the details on this bill. But you know we really kind of need that cooperatively.

Maybe if there were a few less cameras over on the Senate side that have more time to actually get the work done, that they needed to do and I think that's what we need to get done. But I am confident no one wants to go back to Arizona or West Virginia and tell your constituents that they don't have a tax cut for 40 million Americans in place for years to come because they couldn't tell you what they were for.

No one wants to say that they killed childcare, affordable childcare in their districts, because they couldn't come put together a deal. We're going to get this done. When it happens is to me all procedure. If you watch the Packer game last week, if unless you were in the final 37 seconds of the game, when the game flipped, you would have thought the Packers were losing. They got it done. We're going to get it done.

KING: I'm a Patriots fan. So I'm in therapy when it comes to football. So let's - again, let's get at the trust thing. I know you're not going to give me a top line number. But do you understand you won by 39 points in your district last year, the cycle before that you ran unopposed.

Donald Trump got 69 percent of the vote in Joe Manchin's West Virginia. Joe Biden did win Kyrsten Sinema's Arizona, but by just 10,000 votes. You do understand or do you not they do not want to do anything as big or as expensive as you want to do?

POCAN: So the top line number doesn't matter. It's the values that are in there. And then you're going to figure out what it costs which is again, why we need them to tell us what they're for. But I would argue that the way that we win seats and that we hold seats is by delivering something for the American people and if we don't that's when there's a problem.

So, you know, I think childcare, the tax break for 40 million American families paying less for prescription drugs, creating 2 million jobs, many of which tackle climate change.


POCAN: And all in a bill that's paid for is very, very popular in everyone's district across the country. The problem is the real fight in Washington is Big Pharma, and the special interests against the build back better agenda. They don't want to pay their fair share, and they're trying to block it. And we're fighting them. So at the end of the day, we will get this done once maybe they get out of a few people's ears.

KING: And so there's no way right, just lay it out. There's no way if the president called you tonight and said, Congressman, I need this. You just look at my poll numbers. You know, they're down. The party needs this. We need to pass this bill tomorrow. And I promise you, I will ride these guys. I will not let them walk away. Not good enough for you.

POCAN: We have the president's back. I want his full agenda. We've already compromised from 6 trillion to 3.5 trillion to give him just 9 percent. I know he wouldn't be happy. We're going to get it done because it's important. So I'm going to back the president the best way to back the president is to make sure both bills finished the goal line at the same time.

KING: OK, I'm going to take that as a no quickly let me work this in. I'm going to take that as a no that you wouldn't vote tomorrow unless you have a framework. If the president called you and said I cut the best deal possible with Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin, I need you to vote for it. Do you trust him? Will you take his word?

POCAN: I do trust the president but we don't even have it at that point. That's the problem. The president needs them to say what they're for. And then I trust he will do a good job negotiating. But if someone won't show you their cards, you don't know what you're doing. And that's the real problem. We need Manchin and Sinema to do their jobs.

KING: Right. We will see how this goes in the days ahead? Congressman grateful for your time today and let's stay in touch because it's going to be interesting. 72 might be 100 hours ahead. I keep saying 24 to 36. Maybe they figure out a way to --

POCAN: It could be a week or two.

KING: They may stretch that out.

POCAN: Doesn't matter. What matters at the end of the day what's in the final product?

KING: Thanks again Congressman I appreciate it very much.

POCAN: Thank you.

KING: Up next for us, New York's Mayor says the numbers don't lie and the vaccine mandates are working.



KING: YouTube announced today it is cracking down on vaccine misinformation. This as the New York City Mayor rolled out new numbers he says definitively proved city and state vaccine mandates are working.


BLASIO: We got to keep each other safe. We got to put the COVID era behind us. The mandates have worked. John, I would say everybody out there private sector everyone should move to these mandates because they've been so strikingly effective.


KING: Let's put what the Mayor says to the test looking at the numbers. First, this is the national vaccination rate and Americans are initiating getting their first shot. And you can see that numbers going down. It's sluggish just 213,951 Americans yesterday initiating their first vaccine. That's something not good enough if you're trying to get vaccination rates up.

But if you look at New York State and New York City, these are statewide numbers. Of course New York State and New York City have the more aggressive mandates for teachers, public health workers and more. You look the seven day average of COVID vaccinations.

The green line is New York, it's up here. This is the national number. It's going the down direction so Mayor de Blasio would make the case the mandates are working. More people are getting vaccinated. The question is if you vaccinate more people, what is the impact on the bigger COVID crisis?

And again, New York State and New York City officials would make the case look, this is our case line down here such as vaccines, there's more masking in the like then this is New York and this is West Virginia. But look at the difference.

New York, a flat line even going down a little bit West Virginia bouncing around way up here cases much higher in a place that does not have a lot of mandates, and does not have a lot of masking. At this point let's bring into the conversation Dr. Jay Varkey. He's an Associate Professor of Medicine at Emory University.

Dr. Varkey is the Mayor right? Do you see in the data proof that mandates A, get more people vaccinated but then B, more importantly, I would argue keep case counts down which then in effect over time keeps hospitalizations and ultimately deaths now?

DR. JAY VARKEY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Yes, absolutely John mandates work. They're highly effective. In fact, I'll give you a historical example. You know, measles is three times more contagious than the Delta variant.

But there's a reason why thousands of children right now are not in quarantine because of measles outbreaks in schools. It's because every state red or blue mandates the MMR vaccine to enter school. You know, requiring vaccines is actually part of American history. George Washington actually mandated smallpox vaccination for American troops and that actually helped end the Revolutionary War.

So I do agree that mandates are effective. In fact, actually, at my hospital, we're mandating vaccination for all of our staff by this Friday. And this is what we needed to actually get our staff from 70 percent to nearly 100 percent.

But John and this is a key point. If you look at our doctors, nearly 100 percent of us, Republican, Democrat, Independent, White, Black, Asian, Latino, nearly 100 percent of us were vaccinated fully vaccinated months ago, because as doctors we trust the vaccine, we trusted for ourselves we trusted for our families who trusted for our patients.

So I think if despite all good faith effort, if we can build that same trust in all, then mandates are actually a good means to actually get us there and get us back to some semblance of normal.

KING: When you say back to some semblance of normal that's what let's follow up on that point is essentially the where are we question? If you look at new cases, new COVID infections, and the seven day average is the lowest since early August. So you see August here. We were going up this fall hill starting to come down 115,782 on Tuesday.