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Johnson & Johnson Asks FDA To Authorize Booster Shots; Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) Is Interviewed About Debt Limit; Soon: Biden Arrives In Michigan To Pitch Economic Agenda. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 05, 2021 - 12:30   ET



DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: But you're right, it is a lot of change during this time of a pandemic. The lack of an FDA Commissioner now, nine months into the Biden administration, I think is something that a lot of people just do not understand. The FDA is one of the most important agencies in the pandemic response.

I mean, think about what's on the FDA's docket right now, boosters, vaccines for younger kids, treatments, tests even are approved by the FDA. And so we really need to understand the FDA as a public health agency, because its job is to protect the health and wellbeing of the American people. And I think this long, has time for President Biden to nominate a permanent director there.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Well, maybe this news will give them the kick to do both. Dr. Wen, let me bring you in on the point you just mentioned, you mentioned boosters part of the conversation right now. Johnson & Johnson about 15 million people have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I believe you are one of them.

Johnson & Johnson today has asked the FDA to authorize a booster for its coronavirus vaccine. It's one dose of J&J. But now the company says its research does show that a booster dose given two months after the first shot increases protection against moderate to severe COVID up to 94 percent.

Again, 8 percent of the Americans who've been vaccinated about 15 million people have the J&J vaccine, A, for specifically this vaccine and B, the broader booster conversation you talked about how significant is this news that they've asked for permission?

WEN: I would be really surprised actually if the FDA does not authorize a booster for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And it may turn out that J&J is actually best as a two-dose vaccine not as a one dose as it was initially designed for.

I also hope that when the FDA reviews the data, which they will at their meeting on October 14th and 15th, that they will really look seriously at mix and match data. Because there are a lot of people who got the one dose of Johnson & Johnson, who may not want to get a second dose of the J&J, especially younger women, because we know that there is an association of a rare but very serious blood clotting disorder in this younger women age group of which I'm apart.

And so they are in other countries, for example, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is similar to Johnson & Johnson, they are mix and match studies done of AstraZeneca and Pfizer, they found that that's safe and effective. So I also hope that the FDA will consider having Johnson & Johnson not only be able to receive the second dose of J&J, but also to get a second dose that the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine instead.

KING: And we'll watch that meeting and say, coming up with just 10 days from now. Help me out. Help me out with where we are. If you look, the numbers are getting better. And I'm always very reluctant to say we're heading to a better place because we've gone through this before as you see the slopes.

But right now, the seven-day average of new COVID infections is down 36 percent since last month. You see a month ago 164,000 on average new infections a day. Monday, that was down to 105. So a definitely drop there, you see, you just follow your eyes. It's coming down.

Hospitalizations, Dr. Wen, also down 29 percent since last month, last month, it was 99,000 Americans in the hospital. Today, it's a little over 70,000. When you look at the numbers, they're getting better. Is this a lasting slope down? Or do you believe there could be something in the way?

WEN: Well, as a country, we're definitely doing a lot better. But I think people should really look at what's going on in their communities. Alaska, for example, they're still implementing crisis standards of care, hospitals are overwhelmed there. There are other parts of the country, including in my area here in Maryland, where the number of infections are actually ticking up.

And so we really need to look at where we are specifically in our communities. We also cannot rest right now. I mean, we're still at over 100,000 new daily cases, that's really high, we cannot afford to plateau anywhere near this rate, especially coming into the winter when a lot more people are going to be spending time indoors. And what we could also have the confluence of the flu, RSV, paraflu, and a lot of other viruses as well.

So I think it's too soon for us to let down our guard. And instead, we should really focus on increasing vaccinations, and very importantly, also increasing testing, which is a major challenge. I don't understand why the Biden administration is not putting as much effort in wrapping up testing as they have for vaccines. That is the critical missing component of our COVID response thus far.

KING: We'll keep an eye on that question as well in this hope. Let's just hope, the slope continues, Dr. Wen as always, grateful for your time and your insights.


When we come back, President Biden says Republicans are playing Russian roulette with the economy in the big standoff now over raising the debt ceiling. Next, we'll ask a Republican senator why the GOP has no qualms forcing Democrats to go it alone.


KING: The Treasury Department says the government will hit its debt ceiling in 13 days and even the risk of U.S. default is of giant concern to global financial markets. The Biden White House is pushing Congress to act and to act quickly. The President says the decision by Republicans to refuse to help, to refuse to vote yes, could bring an economic catastrophe.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The meteor is headed to crash into our economy. Democrats are willing to do all the work stopping it. Republicans just have to let us do our job. Just get out of the way. If you don't want to help save the country, get out of the way. So you don't destroy it. They need to stop playing Russian roulette with the U.S. economy.


KING: To get some perspective now, Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana joins me, Senator, grateful for your time today. You came to Washington because you're a businessman back in Indiana. You said this town doesn't make sense. I'll give some credit off the top. You say both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for getting us into this mess.


When you hear the President say just get out of the way. That would mean in Washington, 10 Republicans tomorrow, voting with the Democrats on the procedural motion to get to the bill, you wouldn't have to vote to raise the debt limit. You just have to vote yes on the procedural bill, why will 10 Republicans do that and let this pass without an economic catastrophe or even the risk of one.

SEN. MIKE BRAUN (R-IN): So you are right. It's been an equal opportunity endeavor of how we got here. January of '19, we were 18 trillion in debt. And we're now 28.4. And I think the key difference here, even though there have been both parties over decades, that have taken this biggest business in the world, and kind of run it close to being in the ditch.

Here, I think the difference is it was not a mandate election. It was tied in the Senate. It was a very close on the presidential side. House has got a three vote margin. So they've teed up legislation, in my opinion, that's piling on to a broken system. And I'll give them credit. I call them political entrepreneurs, and they kind of go for broke. This is their business and growth business of the federal government.

But I think if we keep doing this without holding the line at some point, even though we've had an epiphany, I guess, to say that now is where we draw the line in the sand. I'm going to be one that wants practical solutions cut to the chase. And part of that would be, let's talk about reforms.

We want to do regular order, run things through budgets, again, haven't done one of those in 20 years, put a bail in place like no budget, no pay, that got 53 votes here last week, that would be a difference. And I would say then, let's move quickly to where we get through this. If there are true reforms associated with it.

KING: But that's not, Senator, forgive me for interrupting. But that's not going to happen right now.

BRAUN: It's not.

KING: Even your Leader Mitch McConnell has said, you know, he wants to raise the debt ceiling. He does not want to default. As a guy who ran a business, you understand the damage to your brand, the damage to the institution, if you go into default. This is Thelma & Louise about to go over the cliff.

So Republicans won't give 10 votes, even though I know you're only here for one of them. Three times the debt ceiling was raised during the Trump presidency on a bipartisan basis. It was raised during the Obama presidency on a bipartisan basis, during the Bush presidency on a bipartisan basis. Why does this have to be at this moment? Republicans saying we're washing our hands of this?

BRAUN: A lot of those cases had to do, we have divided government then and you had to do it that way. I don't know that that's been the case in every instance. But it's been mostly the case. Here, John, I think it's a fact that we've gotten here together.

But what they're proposing, what they want our fingerprints on is an agenda that then not get one vote in the rescue bill, it's already there, 1.9 trillion and there's been not one Republican vote for the reconciliation part. Infrastructure is a valid concern. But I think if we do, do it, and make it easy, we lose the opportunity.

And then it's more of kind of going along, get along, and we're another trillion dollars in debt. And this time, I think it's smart that we make it, I don't think there'll be a Republican vote for it. And I think they can do it on their own through reconciliation.

KING: But again, you're in a business, what if half your employees, the Senate is evenly divided 50-50, what if half your employees showed up and said, I'm so mad about what happened last week, and the week before and the year before that I'm not going to work today. No, I refuse because I'm mad at the past things that have happened, the company tanks, so the government should tank because there's a Democratic President now and Republicans are mad at the way things are playing?

BRAUN: The government is not going to tank. I think that's an overt romanization of what would happen. And John, this is going to have to happen sooner or later, through an elongated process, which we've had no appetite to do in the time I've been here and in probably the decade before I got here. So sooner or later, you can't run the biggest business in the world, borrowing 23 cents on the dollar every year, taking those structural deficits up to about 1.5 trillion.

And yes, it's shameful that we've gotten here contributing to it. I just think this is a place where you hold the line, and they can do it on their own. The difference here is they've got all the levers to get it done. They just want us to be part of it, which endorses that 6.5 trillion that we add on top of the 4.5 trillion we do annually, even though it's spread out over time. It's just going for broke in no time when we ought to say enough is enough. Let's try to fix the place.

KING: Now, I wish we had bipartisan conversations about the fix this place. At this moment, I think history would say that keeping the government on track maybe won't be as bad as I portrayed but that's what some people worry about. Senator, I'm grateful for your time. We'll watch how this plays out over the next few days. Appreciate it, sir.


BRAUN: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

Up next, President Biden's agenda is stalled here in Washington. So what is he doing? He's off to Michigan to make his case.


KING: President Biden right now on his way to Michigan hoping to make a point to squabbling Democrats get things done in Washington is the way to win tough midterm election races. Democrats are still fighting over a price tag and a policy list for a big spending plan. In meetings yesterday and today with House members, the President urged lawmakers to come together on a package in the ballpark of $2 trillion.


The panel is back with us to discuss. He is not only going to a battleground congressional district, he's going to one of the premier battleground. I just going to show you, Donald Trump carried this district. Elissa Slotkin is the Democratic House member and you look she got 50.9.

So 51 percent of the vote, she narrowly wins. Trump narrowly wins. Trump also won, you know, Trump won this district twice, 2016 and 2020. Mitt Romney carried it in 2012. Elissa Slotkin is able to get elected. This is the point where you have a Democrat in a battleground district who wants to pass a bill and the President is going to say that's the way we keep her in office, right?

ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Yes, I mean, I think also by him going there, though, it's also to prove broadly, I think, to the American public that elements of his agenda are broadly popular with the public, which, you know, polling shows us. You talk about whatever it is expanding Medicare, you know, expanding childcare, these are broadly popular issues. And I think by going to a centrist Democrats district, it proves the point that there is buy in from the public to make those votes.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: And so much of the conversation up into this point has been focused on the messy legislative sausage making that's been really frustrating Democrats, they're trying to shift the narrative, talk about what's in the package, but they have to do more than just sell it, they actually have to pass it, and you have to pass it in time so Americans can start feeling those benefits.

So they can actually vote in the midterms on what they're feeling. I think Democrats are learning their lessons from Obamacare, which wasn't popular for, frankly, years after it was passed. And obviously, we know what happened in 2010 midterms. And so Democrats are working under a sense --

KING: And so to that point, the White House put out a memo that combines both what they hope is in a final agenda plan if they pass it and in the infrastructure bill, and they say, hey, just for you here in Michigan, you know, $7.3 billion to repair highways that would be in the infrastructure bill, $1 billion for public transportation.

If you pass the bigger spending plan, you reduce childcare costs, you get free universal pre-K, the frustration at the White House has been, there's a debate has been about is it 3.5 trillion, is it 2 trillion, not about is it Community College, is it helped with childcare costs, is it helps on the climate.

However, just today, just today Pramila Jayapal, the chairwoman of the House progressives because they're still negotiating this, the president says let's figure out somewhere around 2 trillion. She says no, it has to be at least 2.5 trillion. So the money fight continues.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The money fight continues. And, yes, my colleagues and I just reported that Congresswoman Jayapal kind of countered with a 2.5 trillion to 2.9 trillion counteroffer when President Biden gave that lower figure to House Progressives on that virtual meeting yesterday, and why the number of matters is it helps, it kind of narrows what you can actually spend that money on, obviously, you can do a lot more with three, five than you can do it with one, five.

But you're certainly right about the frustrations that the White House has had about their kind of broader message behind this domestic agenda package not breaking through. And today's trip to Michigan is really a chance to reset that. A White House official just told me that his broader message today is going to be really framing that this point is a choice between competition and complacency. And that this is really needed for economic opportunities. You're going to be hearing that a lot from the President today.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: And we also can't ignore the climate change component that a lot of times doesn't get talked about as much either in the oil spill in California, the hurricanes, the wildfires. I think there are so many parts of the nation that are impacted by climate change. And, again, Democrats know that what they want to do is pretty

popular, even the climate change measures are becoming more popular. But Republicans know that it's popular, which is why they continue to try to bog down the legislative process because the more they can muddy up the waters install things, then that takes away the bandwidth for Democrats to kind of push and pass popular policies.

KING: We will see if the President on the road with his big picture message can force some progress in the back and forth over what's in it, the what's in it is important, but first you got to figure out how much are we going to spend and then you figure out how to divvy it up as we go. Appreciate everybody coming in.


So when we come back, the second day of the new Supreme Court term and yet again, Clarence Thomas, unusually chatty.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today for the second day in a row Justice Clarence Thomas asked the first question during oral arguments at the Supreme Court today. The new involvement of the usually quiet justice comes at a very significant time. On the docket this fall several monumental cases including abortion and gun rights.

Justice Stephen Breyer says the return to in-person arguments at the court is in his view, a big improvement over doing business virtually throwing a wide-ranging interview with CNN's Joan Biskupic. The senior liberal was also heckled by protesters who want the 83-year-old to retire. His response --


JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What do you say to people who argue that you should retire as soon as possible while the Democrats have the Senate Majority? That's the basic issue that those protesters --

JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: Well, that's their point of view. I've said pretty much what I have to say.


KING: Andrew Yang says he's called breaking up with the Democratic Party. The former presidential in New York City mayoral candidate wrote on his blog that he's changing his voter registration, has changed it to Independent. He says he's been a registered Democrat for more than 25 years. He called the breakup a strangely emotional experience but says he thinks he can have a greater impact now.


Appreciate your time today in Inside Politics. Hope See you back this time tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up right now. Have a good day.