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Inside Politics

Dems Try After Making no Progress on Biden Agenda; Dems Rally Around Agenda but Still Big Divides over Price Tag; New Optimism Dems Reach an Agenda Deal; Representative Jones: "Obstruction" in Senate by two Democrats; Merck: Experimental Pill Cuts COVID-19 Death Risk by 50 Percent. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 01, 2021 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm Dana Bash, John King is off. New optimism this hour on Capitol Hill at least that's what democratic sources are telling us that's how they're describing an all House Democrats meeting as furious negotiations intensify up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): I feel very good about where we are. And I feel very confident that we're going to be able to deliver both these things. But you're going to have to give us some time because it does take time to put together these kinds of transformational investments.


BASH: Plus a major COVID breakthrough the pharmaceutical company, Merck says a pill could cut your risk of winding up in the ICU or dying from COVID by half. And the virus comes to the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh test positive for COVID-19.

A first try and try again, the White House woke up pretty much in the same position it entered on Thursday, no vote, and no deal yet. But the drama and tension of Thursday, is morphing into cautious optimism today. We're told that the House Speaker asked for and got a show of unity inside a Democratic meeting just this morning.

Nancy Pelosi asked Democrats who support the president's roads and bridges bill to stand up and sources say every single lawmaker inside the room stood. Her point was to remind her caucus that they all want the same thing, even as a $2 trillion divide over the price tag for a dramatic expansion of the social safety net remains an obstacle.

So we begin our coverage with CNN's Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill. Ryan, what else you hearing as things are so intense there?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana, I think you laid it out very well. It seems at this point, after all, the drama that happened yesterday, and a lot of back and forth between the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party today is all about getting the party back on the same page.

And what the House Speaker is attempting to do is remind this caucus that they have a lot more in common than they have in areas of disagreement, and that by and large, when you talk to Democrats, they agree that they want to see both that bipartisan infrastructure package passed and also some form of reconciliation.

So the problem right now is finding areas of common ground on that big reconciliation piece and, that has a lot more to do than just the top line number. Obviously progressives want to spend as much as 3.5 trillion.

We saw Joe Manchin lay down a marker of 1.5. Of course, he laid down that marker with you a couple of weeks ago Dana, but he made it clear yesterday. So right now we are seeing a lot of back and forth about finding middle ground there.

And then specifically within that amount of money, what programs they determined to be the high priority? Dana, they want another vote today. They still have a long way to go. I think we should still be very skeptical that we could see that happened today.

BASH: Ryan, thank you so much for that reporting. And of course, you will let us know if and when you hear anything new and we'll get you right back up. Here in the studio to share their reporting and insights is CNN's Lauren Fox, Zolan Kanno-Youngs of "The New York Times" and Seung Min Kim of "The Washington Post".

Lauren, you just got here from the Capitol. I know you were up there all morning. And getting some sense of what was happening inside that really important House Democratic Caucus meeting. In fact, what I reported on the top of the show about what Nancy Pelosi did is from you, what else are you hearing? And how does today differ from yesterday, if at all?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's kind of a Groundhog's Day, if we're honest. Yesterday, we woke up waiting, is the vote going to happen? Or isn't it going to happen?

That's still the major question. But unfolding behind the scenes, it's clear that the speaker is trying to buy herself a little more time. One source in the room told me it's very clear, she's trying to remind everyone what they're standing for together and try to deflate the situation which obviously tensions are high in the Democratic Caucus right now, there's no way around that.

But the progressives and the moderates still want what they want and no one is coming to the middle at this point. So the only thing she can do is really try to give her a little more time to with the votes to work on that bigger social safety net plan.

I think one thing to keep in mind in all of this is the bipartisan infrastructure bill was finished out of the Senate, and the expectation was it was going to come to the floor in the House. But this bigger bill, they still have so many differences within their caucus, even within the House Democratic Caucus of what that bill should look like? It's not just Manchin and Sinema who has major options and major frustrations with that top line number.


FOX: It's also the fact that Democrats within the Caucus have so many divisions. And I think that coming to a place where they can all move on from that giving them some more time is important.

BASH: So I'm glad you said that. Let's actually just take a second and take a step back and up and look, again, just our viewers really understand what we're talking about. We're talking about two separate pieces of legislation.

The first, as you said, passed the Senate already in a bipartisan way. It is the roads and bridges bill the 1 trillion and change trillion dollar infrastructure bill, broadband upgrade, EV chargers, in a lot of money for green cars, electric school buses, reconnect communities, a lot of money for the more tangible infrastructure, the traditional infrastructure.

Now to the area where the Democrats again, Republicans are not even part of this conversation where the Democrats are trying to find common ground. And this is what the progressives are now saying is a $3.5 trillion plan.

And here's what we're talking about here. We are talking about paid family medical leave, we're talking about Universal Pre-K, childcare subsidies, paid Community College and expansion of Medicare, that is the so called social safety net expansion that not just progressives have been pushing for, but that is the Biden agenda.

And so getting to yes, on that between what the president and progressives want, and the Senators who hold a lot of power, because of the 50/50, Senate is, is really key. Joe Manchin said yesterday, affirmatively the following about what he wants.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): My top line has been 1.5 because I believe in my heart, that what we can do and what the needs we have right now and what we can afford to do without basically changing our whole society to an entitlement mentality. I'm willing to come from zero to one five.


ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And it's not just the one five, right? He has also looked at individual items and policies within that larger social spending package.

And each of those are some of those are individual points of debate here an example, benefits for childcare, child tax credit. He has said he wants that pointed at some of the more impoverished families as opposed to broadly distributing it to families around the United States.

There are individual items in there as well, along with him wanting to go from 3.5 to 1.5. And when you hear those comments, as well as comments previously from the Senator, as well as Sinema as well, I mean, it's pretty, pretty dubious at this point that that's going to remain at 3.5.

BASH: Yes, and I'm glad you said, I think this has been something that is important for us to talk about, and talk about and talk about and reinforce that it's easy to kind of talk about 3.5, 1.5 is it in the middle of 2.1?

But what makes that - what makes up those numbers? What are the programs? And how are the programs and the new policies written and directed? And that is really where the rub is?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right? Right, because you're basically making fundamental transformational changes to 8, 10, 12, 14 different policy areas that they're trying to cram into this one major legislation I mean, for example, you have paid leave a law, which actually isn't a topic that has gotten discussed very often with the debate over health care taxes and the like.

But that is a completely new entitlement program that we are talking about, and that isn't, or that they are considering it, which doesn't get the coverage that perhaps it deserves. And that's why there's so much struggle.

Everybody, you know, everybody in the Democratic Caucus has some sort of a vested interest a buy in a personal interest into so many of these topics. Many other things as sort of conditions or that partners that Senator Manchin laid out yesterday, talking about for example, if the revenue raisers that we get from increasing the tax rates.

If it goes over 1.5 trillion, which it is expected to do, then push that all into deficit reduction, that's not going to make a lot of progressives or other Democrats happy. We actually asked Bernie Sanders, the Chairman of the Budget Committee yesterday, what would a $1.5 trillion top line mean, to the policies and what Democrats want to do?

And he said it would basically decimate their ambition. So he is making it clear that that's not enough because there's so much on climate, paid leave and childcare that they want to do, right now.

BASH: And that really goes down to the fundamental difference here. I don't even want to say divide like philosophical differences here. And I know you've been talking to moderates, especially Senators Manchin and Sinema, which is that they don't want to have a new forever set of programs.

They don't want to do that even if they can become convinced that it could be paid for in the short term meaning in the next ten years it wouldn't add to the deficit wouldn't increase inflation.

[12:10:00] BASH: They don't want to put paid family leave on the table in a way that can never be taken back. I mean, that's a really big difference in what their goals are?

FOX: I thought Manchin had a very really, you know, really revealing statement the other day. He said to me, think about healthcare, think about what republicans tried to do to health care when they tried to pull Obamacare back when they tried to repeal Obamacare, they failed.

Because these programs once everyone starts to receive them, they're very popular. It's very popular to give people you know, some kind of access to paid family leave or childcare assistance or free community college. And his concern is you become and he said this and entitlement society, we should be a society that rewards work.

And that is a very fundamental difference between some of the progressives who believe that people need help that people need a hand up and they are comfortable with this being a fundamental change for the country. The president is comfortable having this be a really big change for the country. Manchin is not.

BASH: Yes, all right, everybody stand by because up next we are going to be looking at the show of force that we are seeing by progressive securing a spot in the driver's seat and eagerly taking the wheel.

You see him there next we are going to talk to Mondaire Jones, one of the members of the Progressive Caucus who says what needs to be done to seal the deal? He's going to tell us more after the break.



BASH: House Democrats are still huddled in a Caucus meeting that's been going on for almost two hours. One of them though stepped out to talk to us New York, Congressman Mondaire Jones, and Deputy Whip of the Progressive Caucus.

Thank you so much for joining me, Congressman. I know you're not going to spill the tea as the kids say about what's going on, specifically? But generally speaking, where do these things stand right now?

REP. MONDAIRE JONES (D-NY): Well again, it's great to be on and to be talking about this president's broadly popular economic agenda, which overwhelmingly House Democrats want to see enacted.

We want of course, both the Build Back Better Act, which contains the vast majority of the president's proposals, and the bipartisan infrastructure bill. And what I think every member of the House Democratic Caucus will tell you are that they too want to see both of those bills passed.

It's just a question of how we get there, especially given some of the obstruction that we are seeing over in the United States Senate from two Democratic Senators in particular, of course, those are Senators Manchin and Sinema. But yesterday we saw tremendous progress, progressives allied even with a few moderates, forced Sinema and Manchin to the table and got them to start talking about what their top line numbers would be and what substantive critiques they may have of the president's broadly popular economic agenda?

BASH: So you call them obstructionists? And what they say is that we're fighting for the ideology that we support, and particularly in the case of West Virginia, Senator Joe Manchin, who comes from one of the reddest states in the union, even though he's a Democrat, says what his largely Republican constituents support.

And so what do you say to them when they say that, especially Joe Manchin says that I don't want to have broad new entitlement programs, put into the government, you know, made into the law that are impossible to take back?

JONES: I think of the fact that West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the union, so to speak. And that when you do the polling, the constituents in Arizona and West Virginia alike, find things like Medicare expansion to include dental vision and hearing, climate action to save the planet from climate catastrophe, and create hundreds of thousands if not millions of good paying jobs in the process.

In a call, of course, childcare making, childcare, high quality and affordable for every family in America is enormously popular, even among Republicans and so it's no answer. It's not actually a genuine statement to say that people in West Virginia and Arizona don't agree with what the president has proposed, because the polling says otherwise.

BASH: Let me go back to something that you said about Senator Manchin just now, putting out there that on the - what we call here in Washington, that top line number. How much this package is going to add up to?

You all are settled on 3.5, that he is now saying 1.5 trillion. But he's been pretty consistent on that. I want you to listen to what he told me almost three weeks ago on September 12th.


BASH (on camera): What's the overall number for a budget though?

MANCHIN: I think you're going to have to look at it and find out what you're able to do through a reasonable responsible way.

BASH (on camera): So that, you know that it's not 3.5?

MANCHIN: It's going to at one, one and a half. We don't know where it's going to be?

BASH (on camera): So you think ballpark one, one and a half. You just say 1.5. It sounds like 1.5. MANCHIN: I'm just saying it basically why look at numbers, if we have a competitive tax code from a non-competitive? It doesn't help the working person that was done in 2017. That's in the one, one and a half range.


BASH: So Congressman, I understand that the challenge here and what's going on is figuring out what the policies are that make up that number? But still, his position hasn't been a mystery; generally speaking, the kind of mystery that progressives have made it out to be has it?

JONES: It actually has been a mystery, Dana because Senator Manchin like Senator Sinema voted for that $3.5 trillion budget resolution that passed in the United States Senate.


JONES: Now of course, there was a document that was circulated yesterday for the first time in which he sort of made a proposal I think, to the Majority Leader, saying this is what he would ideally like to see in the bill.

But even that document was very week. And what he said was he couldn't be guaranteed to vote for something that's larger than 1.5, even though he had - even though he did vote for $3.5 trillion budget resolution.

So there is tremendous room to negotiate between the numbers 1.5 and 3.5 and we want to hear from him. Do you want to cut quality, affordable childcare? Do you want to stop Medicare from being expanded to benefit our seniors?

Do you want to stop us from saving the planet from climate catastrophe and ensuring a livable future? Tell us more specifically, what you don't want to see in this final bill? And we'll negotiate and we'll negotiate in good faith.

And then we will pass both of this president's bills. But I want to be very clear, this president's the bulk of his proposals are in the larger human infrastructure reconciliation build back better bill, and we must pass that legislation. That's what the president ran on and that's what Americans elected us to deliver.

BASH: As I'm listening to you, you're new to Congress, you're a freshman member. But I'm just thinking about the fact that these kinds of issues are fringe not that long ago. But now you have the numbers, and you clearly have leverage, and you progressives are not afraid to use it. Is that something that is talked about internally? And how far are you willing to go here?

JONES: They were only fringe in the Beltway Echo Chamber. For a long time, Americans have felt that everyone in the richest nation in the history of the world deserves to have quality, life-saving health care in this country. People think that and have thought for a very long time that childcare should be affordable. And that if we can spend trillions of dollars on a Pentagon budget, then we can at least also spend that same amount of money or even a fraction of it to ensure that people in this country can live in dignity. And so this is something that obviously as has gotten more attention recently because of new additions to Congress.

But we're talking about now, a lot of folks who have been here for a long time, including many moderates, who do not identify as part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who are saying we must tie these two bills together if we are - if we are going to retain leverage to pass this president's broadly popular agenda.

This is a vision by the way in approach that was stated by the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader in the White House before just 10, Renegade Democrats artificially imposed a deadline. There was nothing significant about September 27th or September 30th. We were on track to pass both of these bills.

BASH: Renegade Democrats that's pretty tough talk for your fellow party members.

JONES: Hey they're my friends. But when you behave like a renegade words, have meetings and I think it applies in this context.

BASH: Real quick, what is your sense of what's going to happen today?

JONES: I am optimistic that we will continue to make progress as we made yesterday, in getting to a point where we pass both infrastructure bills. That is something that I know the Speaker wants to do.

That is something I know that leadership wants to do, including leadership over in the United States Senate. And at the top of the food chain over the White House, the President of the United States himself.

I don't want to speculate too much further, because there's a lot that still needs to be negotiated. But thankfully, due to the work of progressives yesterday, we have gotten Manchin and Sinema finally, to the negotiating table. And that is a huge victory for the American people.

BASH: Well, Congressman, I'm sure you're eager to go back to your district tell the folks that De Vinci's Pizza that you delivered something for them I'm saying that because I grew up down the street over the border in New Jersey, but you know that. Thank you so much for joining me, keep us posted.

JONES: We'll do, take care.

BASH: And ahead a pill to treat COVID, the pharmaceutical giant Merck releasing promising new details on the first pill to treat the deadly virus.


BASH: It could be a huge step forward for treating people with COVID. A new experimental pill cuts the risk of hospitalization and death from Coronavirus in half at least that's what the company who makes it says. Drug Maker Merck says the data from a preliminary study was so overwhelmingly positive. It was stopped to try to get emergency use authorization. The Biden Administration says it's welcoming news.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The news of the efficacy of this particular antiviral is obviously very good news.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COODINATOR: If approved, I think the right way to think about this is - this is a potential additional tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID.


BASH: Joining me now is Jeanne Marrazzo, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Thank you so much doctor for joining me.

So if this is approved, it would be the first pill to treat COVID as I mentioned. But right now, the only treatment options available are antibody treatments. Can you explain to our viewers how the drug in this pill form would be different?

JEANNE MARRAZZO, PROFESSOR OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA BIRMINGHAM: Right. Thanks, Dana. This is really exciting for a few reasons. When you think about it, we don't have a lot of options for pills, the treat viral illnesses. Probably the one that people are most familiar with is Tamiflu, which treats influenza.