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Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) Is Interviewed About Manchin's Take On Biden Economic Agenda; CDC "Strongly Recommends" Pregnant Women Get COVID Vaccine; Vaccinated Senator Ted Cruz Backs Unvaccinated NBA Players. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 30, 2021 - 12:30   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The program should be pared back saying that the concerns about inflation are real, and that they shouldn't be spending this much money. But this is the first time we've heard real specificity in terms of hard numbers. You know, we -- he has suggested for some time 1 to 1.5 trillion. Yes, that's probably about enough for me. But this is the first time he did say that it's a ceiling of sorts.

But he didn't go far enough to say I won't support 1.6 trillion. I won't go for 1.7 trillion. But I took away from this, John, though, that he's not willing to go much higher than 1.5 trillion, even if he is, and talking to progressives over the last couple of weeks, it's very clear that they believe that is wholly insufficient, that they cannot agree to anything like that.

And another key point to that he made is that this is going to take a while because he said the tax code is going to take a while to write, the re -- overhaul to discuss all these issues, means testing on some of these social programs that he wants.

That is a very complicated thing to resolve in just a matter of days. So even though the progressives want assurances today before that infrastructure vote, they're not going to get that from Joe Manchin. And what does that mean for the whole agenda this drags on? Huge questions ahead. But Joe Manchin is not there. Can he ever get there, also uncertain at this point, John.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Uncertain seems to be a word being used a lot today. Manu appreciate the hustle live on Capitol Hill, let's bring in for her very important perspective right now, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Senator, thank you for your patience.

As we as we listen to your colleague right there. Was that helpful or hurtful? You served more than a dozen years in the House. So you understand the House dynamic as well. And you know, the Speaker very well, and you know, your colleague, Joe Manchin very well. He was more definitive. He was more clear. But he did it on a day, there's supposed to be a

very important vote in the House in which a lot of progressives have already threatened to boycott the infrastructure bill. And now they heard a number from Joe Manchin, that is going to send them into a spiral, does that help or hurt?

SEN. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-WI): Well, I like to look at the positives. And so he is still negotiating. He's still talking. He's a little too focused on top line numbers rather than programs. And let me say that I believe that progressives and moderates alike are committed to the build back better agenda. And this measure goes hand in hand with the infrastructure bill.

Frankly, if we don't reduce taxes on working people and reduce the cost of childcare, and reduce the cost of job training, we will not have the workforce to make the infrastructure bill successful. And I believe that he will, that he ultimately understands that without supporting working families, lowering costs for working families, lowering taxes for working families, that we need to do that in order to have the workforce necessary to build back better, to do the infrastructure, to do the he referred to USICA a number of times, to increase our competitiveness with China and bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

Every employer I talked to is desperate for workers. And we're just not going to be successful in these other measures, which he strongly supports, unless we also pass the build back better budget.

KING: So my translation of that is that you think it has to go higher than 1.5 trillion. Senator Manchin just laid that out. Are you prepared and is your leader, you're in the Senate Democratic leadership, is Senator Schumer prepared at some point to get Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema in a room and say, you're part of a family, a Democratic family, we have a newly elected Democratic President, we're heading into a very difficult midterm election climate, suck it up, you're going to come up to two or you're going to come up to two too whatever the number is. Do you believe it has to be significantly higher than 1.5 trillion to get House progressive sign off and to get this to the President's desk?

BALDWIN: You know, again, the negotiation around a top line number is really distracting from what it is we have to achieve in this measure?

KING: Forgive me for interrupting, forgive me for interrupting but for two weeks now, the House progressives have been saying we need a top line. We need a top line from Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema so we know what we're negotiating. I agree with you that it's more productive maybe to say what do we want? Stack that up.


KING: And then add it up and say, OK, that's where we are. But that's, as you also know, that's not the way Washington works often it is how much do we have, and then we divvy it up?

BALDWIN: Well, and this bill is paid for which is always forgotten in this discussion about top line numbers. We are making the folks who got such a break under the Trump tax bill the very wealthiest. The billionaires who pay no taxes are going to pay taxes. The very profitable large corporations that don't pay their fair share are going to pay.

And so this will be paid for no matter what the top line is. We want to make sure of that. But again, this do go hand and glove. You cannot have a successful implementation of this very bold infrastructure plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure without the workforce to do it. We can't replace all of our lead laterals, our lead pipes for our drinking water system without more plumbers and pipefitters. And we're not going to be able to achieve that unless we support working families and workers building up their skills.


KING: Senator Baldwin, grateful for your time today, we'll circle back in the middle of what is clearly going to take a while to sort out and how today impacts that we will see that as well. Another complication very much appreciate your time and your patience as we listen to this.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

KING: Thank you. Thank you.

Let's bring it back to the room for a minute. Number one, she's a member of the leadership and she's very smart senator. So she was punting essentially, I don't mean -- I don't mean that as a criticism, essentially, she's not going to give a number, because she knows the big gap right now.

But again, my question is, are we getting closer? Or are we getting farther apart in the sense that, you know, the Democrats are having this messy public debate, which is great if you're a political reporter, I'm not sure it's great if you're the Democrats trying to instill confidence in the American people that you have a governing plan.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I just watched that Manchin press conference with my mouth agape, it seemed like he was pouring gasoline on the fire, not trying to get anyone closer to anything by this afternoon. And I guess you can simultaneously pour gas on the fire and still be speaking as transparently as you can and be acting in good faith. I don't -- actually, I don't know why everyone is so surprised about the 1.5 trillion.

Axios reported like, I think about three weeks ago that Manchin's top line was 1.5. Now, did everyone assume that was probably a negotiating cluster that maybe he could go a little higher that maybe there's something he wanted for West Virginia? Sure. But as the days went by, he kept saying stuff like, we can't do this until November or December one shouldn't rely on the other. I'm not going to give them what they want. And now he's just saying the same thing. He's been saying for a month.

KING: Now he's dropping it publicly, though. He's going through this sequence, right? You know, you have your staff talk to reporters, just how kind of the process works in Washington. Now he's going publicly on a very important day. And he also said something that I'm betting is going to infuriate progressives, which was take it to the campaign trail.


KING: Go campaign on this, get more liberals elected, and then come back and say we should spend all this money. Well, again, I understand that New York City, San Francisco are very different than West Virginia. But those progressives are going to say, we just did that.

ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: But they are angry in some of this. I mean, I look at, your right, West Virginia, demographically a really different state, though, than Arizona. I mean, there are already progressives riled up with Sinema. And they'll say, look, there's another Democratic senator from Arizona who is not been holding up this legislation.

You know, you hear from Democratic Progressive activists on the regular that that is already part of their strategy. I think one thing, though, that to me is still maybe the biggest unknown in the room is where does President Biden fall on all of this, right?

We've gotten some indication, I think, Ron Klain, his chief of staff a couple weeks ago, did a roundtable where he was asked to think about the 1.9 number. He didn't seem to outright reject it, which people kind of read the tea leaves and said, is that an OK number with this White House because 3.5 trillion as of now is also where the President and his team has publicly did.

KING: and I think you make a key point about the President. There's a criticism in town and it all depends on how it ends up if Biden gets a big deal any criticism now will be so what, right, I've told you so. But there's a criticism in the town right now that he's negotiating like a senator which he was for a long time, like he's on a Committee, trying to get a deal in Committee, not like a President that I'm the leader of the party, here's how it's going to go.

But we'll see. We'll see how it goes. That is one of the big questions if he's watching today. He's how messy it is publicly. Maybe he'll decide to get everybody in there. Everybody sit tight.


Is there light at the end of the tunnel? The CDC predicts we will soon see fewer cases of COVID and over deaths across the country. Plus an urgent warning today for pregnant women, please get vaccinated.


KING: A significant COVID news today, another major vaccine mandate takes effect. California healthcare workers must be fully vaccinated by today or risk losing their jobs. Top health care systems in the state do say most employees are already in compliance. Also today, new urgency from the CDC an appeal for pregnant women to

get vaccinated, on that point, I want to bring in our guest here Dr. David Kimberlin and he's the co-director of Pediatric Infectious Disease Division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Kimberlin, thank you for your time.

I want to walk through this progression from the CDC. The CDC originally at the beginning of COVID said pregnant women can get a vaccine. Then in August, the guidance changed and they said the CDC recommended pregnant women get a vaccine. Today, because of rising case counts and rising hospitalizations, the CDC says it strongly recommends the vaccine for pregnant women.

And if you look at some of the statistics here, 65 percent of eligible Americans the entire American population are fully vaccinated, only 31 percent of pregnant women are vaccinated. Why the new guidance from the CDC and why do you think it's important?

DR. DAVID KIMBERLIN, CO-DIRECTOR OF PEDIATRIC INFECTIOUS DISEASES DIVISION, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think it really is a variation on the same thing. From the very beginning, it's been recognized that pregnant women are an especial risk for death themselves for having premature babies, and all the consequences that that prematurity causes for having stillbirth and so forth.

And as we've seen, the Delta variant numbers increase, the urgency with which we need to get that word out to pregnant women so that they can get this safe and effective vaccine has really been where the focus has been. So it's not a change in message so much as a change in urgency, and I think it really follows the number with this delta surge.


KING: I think the follow the numbers part is the critical point. I want to look at where we are right now is the question I'm constantly asking over the last 15, 16 months is where are we and which direction good or bad or in the middle. Two weeks ago, we were averaging 152,000 cases, on Wednesday 114,243 new infections, as you can see the seven day average down 25 percent from two weeks ago.

So you're certainly grateful I would assume Dr. Kimberlin that we're trending down. But we're still above 100, around 100, 110,000 new infections a day, at a time in the calendar when it's starting to get colder in much of the country. What is the key to sustaining that progress, keeping it heading down?

KIMBERLIN: Well, is to get vaccinated. So if you're not vaccinated yet, if you're 12 and over and have not gotten the vaccine, please get vaccinated. And if you're in a location of the country, which is the majority of my region of the country right now, where there is high transmission or substantial transmission of the virus, you got to wear a mask indoors, you've got to, you know, whether vaccinated or not, that's what you have to do.

And you need to try to separate or distance yourself to the extent possible. It's the same things, John, that we've been knowing about now for so many months over the course of this pandemic. We just can't let our guard down right now. We need to double down. The numbers are moving in the right direction. But we are not clear of this wave yet.

KING: Right. And that's another key point in the sense that people hear, oh, the case count is going down. Maybe they think I'm good. I don't need to get my vaccine. If you look at, you mentioned the best way out of this is to get more people vaccinated.

The seven-day average of initiating vaccines, meaning people getting their first shot is down 37 percent from early September, and frankly, it wasn't that great then. We're down 214,000 Americans on Wednesday initiating vaccination. Dr. Kimberlin, how do you break through especially as you noted, certain regions of the country like yours, the problem is even worse.

KIMBERLIN: Well, you know the analogy that I've been trying to communicate recently is like of a massive flood. So you know, if you think about the helicopter views of Louisiana or Mississippi during a massive flood, and you just see barely the rooftops of the houses, people getting plucked off by helicopters, going to safety, that's where we were, you know, two weeks ago, three weeks ago.

Now the floodwaters are going down. They're no longer rising. But we are now just beginning to see the windows of the first storey houses, the water is still filling the house, we have a long way to go. And I think that as long as we can continue to emphasize not just the numbers, the trends are important. But actually where we are and what strain that puts on our health systems.

If we can keep people focused on that and not get burned out, recognize that we're going in the right direction, let's not let up now let's double it down and keep it going. Then we can get to the other side, at least of this surge, then we've got to deal with getting ready for the next surge because each time we've gotten to the end of one, at least our history so far with this pandemic is that another one is coming.

KING: Right. I appreciate that context. Let me give another way to look at it in the sense that finally, finally the count of COVID deaths is starting to go down a little bit. But still 19,157 of our fellow Americans died yesterday from COVID. A week ago, it was 2,035.

The CDC now finally predicting, projecting because the case count is down and because hospitalizations are down, this tends to lag when it comes to death that finally that's going to come down. But that's still nearly 2,000 of our fellow Americans dying yesterday, many of these deaths are preventable because of the availability of vaccines.

And if you look at the trends right here, right now, you know, nine states reporting fewer deaths this week than last week, 25 states essentially holding steady. But you see, it's mostly in the northern half of the country, the states in orange and red, they're still reporting higher new deaths in this week, again, as they start to head into the colder months of the year. If you need a motive as motivation to say how do I keep that case count going down, I certainly believe this would be it, right?

KIMBERLIN: I think it is. And I think as well that the visual graphic of all the flags on the Washington mall, by the Washington Monument, that is the National Mall. I think that is really, really powerful. And so just Google that image and think that every single one of those white flags is one of our colleagues in the United States.

KING: Amen to that, Dr. David Kimberlin, grateful for your time and insight, Sir, appreciate it very much.

KIMBERLIN: Thank you, John.


KING: Up next for us. Ted Cruz makes another foray into basketball, this time defending NBA players who refuse to get the COVID vaccine.


KING: Ted Cruz is mixing basketball and politics again and getting mocked for doing so again. Back in 2016, in basketball crazy Indiana of all places, Cruz called the basketball rim, the ring. Yes, yes, he called the rim, the ring. This time, it is a much more serious issue.

The Texas Senator yesterday tweeting support for NBA players who refuse to get the COVID vaccine. You see them right here, I stand with Kyrie Irving. I stand with Andrew Wiggins. I stand with Bradley Beal. I stand with Jonathan Isaac. Then adding the hashtag your body your choice.

Now Cruz hasn't always been so quick to stand with NBA players. He was harshly critical for example of NBA players who supported NFL athletes who were taking a knee, still take a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality or other causes. To all the athletes who have made millions of Americans freedom, stop insulting our flag, our nation, our heroes. Here's a peaceful protest, never buy another shoe, shirt, or jersey, of rich spoiled athletes who dishonor our flag.


The panel is back with me. That criticism of the NFL athletes but Cruz also retreating NBA athletes who quote tweeting, subtweeting, NBA athletes who voiced support for the NFL athletes. There are conservatives like Senator Cruz, who say government mandates for vaccines are wrong. It's a position that you can make in today's politics. But to jump out at a time, vaccination is critical public health experts are saying back these athletes. Number one, it's a play for, shall we say publicity opportunism. Number two, it's what?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a play for opportunity and for the base of the Republican Party. Right now there's this big debate that we were talking about earlier about the infrastructure bill, about $3.5 trillion spending. And the energy of the party is really on the social issues on things like vaccines, on things like voting rights. And you know, Senator Cruz wants to be part of the mix. You think that

maybe he would not want to be involved in any talk about basketball after 2016. But he saw this as an opportunity to go back in and prove his bona fides to the Trump base and say, you know, I am not in support of, you know, these vaccine mandates and all of this government control.

And it seems like he's just looking for opportunities to inject himself in ahead of 2024 to show that he's still the conservative that voters may have thought he was, you know, several years ago, and now he's trying to claim that title.

KING: And the key point is in the sense of the Republican base, right, especially the Trump part of the Republican base, which is a big part of the Republican base, because national surveys which show you that the mandates have support. Mandates for health care workers, mandates for teachers gets a little more even when you say mandates for private employees, it's a little bit more of a divide. But he's decided this is a play for the Republican total 2024 or whatever play for the Republican base.

TALEV: There is a component of this base that absolutely believes that no one should be able to tell you what to do. And there's two ways to look at the mandate. Should the government force people to put a needle in their arms? That's one question. Can employers and team owners and large venues and places that have liability concerns, say if you want to come here and do this, that's a different story.

KING: Let's pause for one second. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a key progressive speaking up on Capitol Hill. Let's listen.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA), CHAIRWOMAN, PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS: Democrats in the House and the Senate, we have said clearly and we reiterated this again to the Speaker, and we're in the same place that we will not be able to vote for the reconciliation -- for the infrastructure bill until the reconciliation bill has passed.

So we're in the same place. And we had a great conversation with the Speaker. She has been a real champion for children and families. She understands why this is so important to provide childcare, to provide paid leave, to provide housing, to take on the climate change, to protect immigrants. These are all things that she has been absolutely steadfast on.

And we've been clear that we are ready to vote for both bills and deliver the entirety of the President's --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congresswoman, so you say your position --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congresswoman, Senator Manchin also said if progressives want a bigger number, they should elect more liberals?

JAYAPAL: Well, you know, people say all kinds of things. I can't tell the senator what to say, obviously. But all I can say is we've said that we're going to stay here all weekend if we need to, to see if we can get to a deal. But if we can't, then, you know, then we'll have to continue to work on it until we do it --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congresswoman, what do you think about the status of today's vote, what did the Speaker tell you about that, did she had plans to delay the vote. She's maintaining that the boat could take place today still, what did she tell you?

JAYAPAL: Well, listen, there's always a chance, as I said to you yesterday, or I said, maybe I said it to Garrett yesterday, all kinds of things, yes. You look so alike, all kinds of things could happen very quickly. But we have called for the reconciliation bill to be passed first, and then we'll happily vote for the infrastructure bill.

And I want to make a point to all of you that I have made before, which is that there are many of our members, our Progressive Caucus members who and actually some members who are not in the Progressive Caucus, who absolutely believe that the infrastructure bill as it is crafted today, by the way, crafted only by Senators was with no input from the House, we passed our own infrastructure bill.

But there are many of our members who believe that just on the merits of that bill alone, they would not vote for it, because it actually has negative effects on climate, negative effects on climate. So what we've been able to do is get every one of our members to agree to vote for that infrastructure bill as long as we pass the reconciliation bill.

That means we understand that we're not -- we don't always get to vote on things that we like 100 percent and the other folks, the 4 percent that are blocking the President's agenda, the Democratic agenda that we ran on, should also recognized --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congresswoman, can you give us a sense of the numbers on this? It's still half your caucus is committed to voting against the infrastructure bill if it comes up for a vote today.