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Inside Politics

Key Metrics: Comparing Texas, California, New York; Governor Abbott: Vaccine Should be "Voluntary, Never Forced"; Texas Governor Bans Vaccine Mandates by any Entity; Raiders Coach Resigns, Says he "Never Meant to Hurt Anyone" Despite Racist, Misogynist and Homophobic Email Exchanges; Pelosi on Biden Agenda: "Difficult Decisions must be Made very Soon". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 12, 2021 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: I really appreciate it. Much more to come on that very clearly. Thank you all so much for being with us though at this hour. I am Kate Bolduan. "Inside Politics" with John King begins right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

NFL Coach Jon Gruden resigns after email show he used homophobic, racist and misogynist language. Gruden lashed out at female NFL officials, a gay player and the President of the United States. The reporter who broke that story joins us.

Plus, Speaker Pelosi tells House Democrats scale back your bold policy goals and accept the leaner Biden agenda. It is about to political reality but it risks a progressive revolt. And full drama Obama, Democrats are worried about the Virginia Governor's race and the former president answers the call to help.

But we begin in Texas today with a political confrontation that has a giant public health impact. A new executive order from Governor Greg Abbott bans any and all businesses in the state from mandating the COVID vaccine.

The Republican Governor says this, "The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective and our best defense against the virus but should remain voluntary and never forced". This is a full about face for Governor Abbott.

Just weeks ago he said government should not tell private business what to do, but important, but he's up for reelection next year. And he's thinking about a national run in 2024. This new order now puts him in sync with the anti-mandate right and it puts him in direct conflict with President Biden. CNN's Ed Lavandera kicks us off today from Dallas, Ed a big move by the Governor?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, and he's once again taking it from both sides here as Democrats accusing him of making a politically motivated decision that is going to cost people their lives here in this state.

And also, he has been taking a great deal of criticism from the extreme right wing of the Republican Party here in Texas who has been railing against vaccine mandates. So the Governor once again kind of stuck in the middle of all of this politically.

And it's clear to a lot of people here in Texas that the political motivations behind this is the suspicion that is driving Governor Greg Abbott in the situation. He is facing two primary opponents who have been railing against vaccine mandates. And that's why many people are saying that what the decisions that we've seen the Governor make over the last few weeks is largely based in the political reality that he finds himself.

Just look at the list of the bands that the Governor here has issued over the last few weeks. Obviously, banning private employers from vaccine mandates, a ban on government vaccine mandates as well as passport requirements and also affecting school districts.

And what is interesting in all of this, John is, if you look at the political fight that the Governor was involved in with school districts across the state over mask mandates as the school year got underway, you saw many school districts that simply ignored the executive orders. There have been lawsuits back and forth. But many organizations chose to ignore, John.

KING: Ed Lavandera, a very important story, we'll continue to track it in Texas. Let's bring in for some public health context here Dr. Leana Wen; she's the Former Baltimore City Health Minister. Dr. Wen, stay with me as I walk through just a couple of numbers here.

Governor Abbott says, you know, we're Texas, we don't mandate things. We'll get to the flip flop in the political conversation later. But if you look at the trends map right now in the country, Texas, one of the states that's trending down most states are you see the states that have increasing the red and orange are more COVID cases.

They're all in the northern half of the country cold weather. But let's look let's go through Texas versus two states that have strict mandates in place California and New York. If you look at Coronavirus cases, we went back here to the end of March when the Delta variant first took root here in the United States.

And you see up here, Texas yes is ahead of California and New York when it comes to cases the Governor might argue not by so much, but Texas is ahead hot more cases than New York and California. Look at hospitalizations, Texas significantly ahead of California and New York.

If you look at it again, this is hospitalizations through the Delta surge, if you will, and in deaths Texas is actually in the middle, New York reporting more deaths that they take. So let's come - let's come back to Dr. Wen at that point there.

If you're the Governor of Texas, is this justifiable? Can you say we're Texas? We're the West, we write it out. We're tough. It's not that much worse than anybody else, or is this in your view, the wrong way to go?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is - this lies in the face of public health guidance and it's really not the right thing to be doing in the middle of a pandemic. At this point, we know what works when it comes to keeping people safe.

We know that people who are vaccinated, for example, are at least five times less likely to be infected with COVID compared to people who are unvaccinated. And so if you are an employee and you're being asked to come back into work, you would feel a lot safer if everybody around you is also known to be vaccinated.

So I truly don't understand why any Governor would be saying we are prohibiting businesses from doing their part to keep their workers and their customers safe. These are businesses that are listening to the requests of their employees saying I don't want to get COVID; I don't want to get Coronavirus and bring them back to my family.


DR. WEN: The best way for me to keep safe, yes is to be vaccine to myself, but also to be surrounded by other people who are vaccinated. And so I really hope that the Governor of Texas and other Governors do the right thing. And even if they don't do the right thing, at least don't stand in the way of businesses who are trying to protect their workers.

KING: You just made a key point there about the back and forth the conflict between the Governors; in this case is maybe businesses that want to mandate. We've seen this conflict between this Governor and Mayors and other local officials who want to differently.

So I was playing devil's advocate, they're saying can the Governor make the case? That's not so bad, you say no at the public health standpoint. If you look at it from this way, as well, it's even more telling.

When you look at this COVID cases across Texas, cumulatively, you do not want to be red, the darker you are the worst. If you actually look Harris County, for example, Houston, where Austin is here, Travis County here up in Dallas, it's not quite the same.

But in the places that have defied the Governor, the case count is actually lower a places that have said, let's wear a mask, let's have some restrictions. If you look, the cumulative cases tend to be lower than in the more conservative areas where they accept the Governor's let's write it out, we're Texans approach.

DR. WEN: These are the same trends that we're seeing across the country. For example, the CDC published a study that found that school districts that have mask mandates in place are three and a half times less likely to have outbreaks compared to school districts that do not have mask mandates.

We have seen this throughout the country that mask requirements indoors really helped to keep cases down. And also that vaccination, the higher your vaccination rates, the less likely you are going to have outbreaks throughout the community either.

And so at this point, again, it's so clear that this is a public health issue. This should not be a political issue. This really is about saving lives and looking at the number of cases and saying, how can we save the lives of people who live in our area? How can we prevent the further spread of this disease? I hope that's what our elected leaders are considering at the end of the day.

KING: I know that is your hope. Obviously, we have another example of a Governor deciding not to listen to the public health experts. We'll watch how it plays out. And Dr. Wen, thank you so much. Now let's get the political aspects of this with me in studio to share their expertise and their reporting, NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report. USA Today's Courtney Subramanian and Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times".

Let me just start with wasn't the conservative position, didn't it used to be decision should be made at the local level. Parents should make decisions about schools and then the school committee businesses should decide what their workers do not with government. What has happened in Texas?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, now the conservative position is that you should tell the companies not to do what you don't want them to do when your governor who's up for reelection, and your --

KING: You should mandate what they can't mandate.

RASCOE: What they can't mandate. It's really hard to follow because it's not ideological. It is this idea that there are - that there is a base that is very upset about mandates. They don't want vaccines.

And you have a Governor who is worried about reelection who is saying, I have to get out here and look like I'm ready for a fight. And I'm sure he wants to fight the federal government on this that will be in his favor.

KING: So how much is a - Beto O'Rourke tweeting out this last night 68,000 Texans have died from COVID on Abbott's watch. More will die as he prevents employers from protecting customers and employees.

Abbott is killing the people of Texas. You know, Dr. Wen was making a point. I appreciate her point. But we've learned over the last year plus, forget about it, politics and COVID are now in full collision all across America.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: No, I mean, this is the big story of our time that unlike past national tragedies, which has sort of created a, you know, a rallying effect in the country, this heavy opposite effect is exacerbated or pulled apart, the country's red and blue divisions made them even worse.

And that has sort of added to the tragedy itself. But we now have a public health, tragedy and a civic tragedy in this country. And you see it getting worse still every day.

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, COOK POLITICAL REPORT WITH AMY WALTER: Right and it's within the state of Texas, right? So there's going to be a very different response to this in Dallas on the suburbs of Dallas than there will be in rural parts of Texas.

And the calculation is, at least for now, the blue parts of Dallas are not big enough to overcome the red parts of the rest of the state. At some there are other states, Virginia being an example where the blue parts have gotten bigger and the red parts are shrinking.

So this is the fight that we're going to see not just on COVID but on every one of these cultural issues. Are you fighting for red America or you're fighting for blue America, even within your own --

MARTIN: In a primary or general too right? Because Abbott's whole focus --

WALTER: Exactly.

MARTIN: --as you mentioned, Ayesha is, he's got a primary first. He's got to survive that to get to the general and so that is topic A, for him.

KING: Right. And so the Houston Chronicle points that out. Abbott is up for reelection next year is facing his first serious primary challenges in his political career who have made Abbott's response to COVID-19, one of their biggest issues.

So you have the Governor tacking I'm going to call it right, I don't know that right left applies to this case, but tacking toward that tacking to where the base of the party is. There's also this if you look at his recent history, he is trying to position himself the Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis trying to do the same thing is on the anti-Biden, right?


KING: They have some hope that Trump disappears. And if you look recently Texas Governor Abbott issues order, you know, banning COVID vaccinations DOJ - Fifth Circuit, the Texas Abortion Law has been in the highlights there. Abbott promises, the border patrol agents, you know, not be punished by Biden. This is part of his political ammo now is Joe Biden says yes, so I say no.

COURTNEY SUBRAMANIAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Yes, every step of the way. I mean, Governor Abbott has been against Joe Biden in every step of the way with every COVID restriction. This is something that sets up you know, possibly a legal challenge that he you know, as I use to say, can take into next year's midterm and re-election.

KING: Right, well watch this, the courts and the court of public opinion as well. Up next for us a high profile coach resigns the NFL culture now under a very harsh spotlight. Jon Gruden's emails include racist, sexist and homophobic rants, yet he says he never intended to hurt anyone. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KING: One of the NFL's highest profile coaches is unemployed today resigning last night after it was revealed he sent racist, homophobic and misogynist emails. "The New York Times" detailed the messages the Raiders Coach Jon Gruden sent over a seven year period made sexist comments about a female referee criticized the team for drafting a gay player.

A post supporting those who kneel for racial injustice even shared naked photos of NFL cheerleaders. He sent these messages to an NFL executive back when Gruden was working as an ESPN Analyst. Late last night Gruden resigned, saying he does not want to be a distraction. And you see it highlighted there remarkably; he says he didn't mean to hurt anyone.

Ken Belson joins us now he's one of "The New York Times" reporters who broke this story last night Ken, thank you for your time and thank you for the fabulous reporting. Let's start with Jon Gruden and what this says about him. The Rams should not - have to draft a gay player. I'm not going to use the term he used its offensive.

Eric Reid, the player who started the kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice should be fired. The league should not try to reduce concussions and take safety steps topless photos. Equal Opportunity Neanderthal is the way I described it when I read your story last night, what was at play here?

KEN BELSON, NFL WRITER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, he wasn't working for the NFL, but he was a two time NFL coach. And of course now he's a coach or was a coach a third time. So you know, in a lot of ways he is indicative of the kind of elite circles of the NFL where coaches and front office executives cycle through the network and broadcast partners of the NFL and kind of keep getting new jobs in the same circles.

So kind of old boys' network and the people on those email chains were part of it some of them were sponsors as well NFL sponsors. So it's a kind of clubby world you don't often get to peel back the curtain and see but here you got the unvarnished view of how comfortable people feel when nobody - they think nobody's watching.

KING: And that's a critical point. This is Ryan Russell an NFL Veteran; he came out as bisexual in 2019 after he stopped playing football. This is his take to your point about the broader culture.


RYAN RUSSELL, NFL VETERAN, CAME OUT AS BISEXUAL IN 2019: Jon Gruden wasn't sending those emails to himself. There were other people that knew about it. There are other people who involved across the league and this went unchecked for years. So no resigning to be is not accountability. It's not it's not enough.


KING: So what now? Gruden has lost his job, but these were emails sent to a Washington Redskins executive and others. This was part I uncovered only because of the investigation into the toxic culture in the now Washington football team organization.

Will the NFL take this seriously and decide we need to bring in outside voices maybe and look at the entire league or will they hope Gruden resigned in a couple of weeks we hope this goes away and the clubby offensive culture persists?

BELSON: Well, it's pretty deep rooted and the league has tried in various cases, for example, addressing domestic violence and sexual abuse to fight at least the perception that they are not doing enough or maybe nothing.

And this is a big struggle for the league not just now but dating back to Ray Rice and the Former Baltimore Ravens running back the bullying scandal the year before that. This is a perennial problem for the league that it is seen as a kind of toxic bro culture that is sort of out of step with where America is headed these days.

And it's something they're going to continue to have to fight and the fact that it was going on in sort of some of the highest circles of the league is disturbing.

KING: And so we're - I guess where would the outside pressure have to come from or is it necessary do you believe where you have a league structure where Roger Goodell is one of the people that Jon Gruden went after in these emails?

So you would think that he's waking up today saying maybe I want to do something about this, but then you have the billionaire owners who like to protect their money and don't want to blow up the culture too much because there could be you know dimes and dollars at stake there. How do they work that out as we look forward to what steps come next?

BELSON: Well, dimes and dollars are very important to the owners and the owners know that 30 to 40 percent of the fans in the NFL are women. Moms have a very critical role in allowing sons to play football which is part of the future health of the NFL.

And so they have a - they have something they have to address if they want to continue persuading women to follow up game and make it more if you will fan friendly or palatable. So yes Roger Goodell is going to have to redouble his efforts. How far he gets with it?

I don't know it's, you know, football is a traditional culture and it a big league with many teams and many coaches and many players. He can't he can't fix everything.


BELSON: He can start with the NFL itself as an organization and then pressure the teams to follow suit. After that, it's a very complicated and complex problem. KING: It is. But when you have such graphic detailed reporting like you have today, at least sounds the alarm. We'll see what happens from it? Ken Belson I'm grateful for your time today and again, grateful for the great reporting of you and your colleagues. Thank you so much.

BELSON: Thank you.

KING: Up next, a new warning from Speaker Pelosi about the future of President Biden's agenda.



KING: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledging today the Democrats needs to make some very tough decisions and to make them pretty quickly. And she acknowledged on the House side, Democrats will not get the 3.5 trillion big Biden spending packages that they wanted.

She says Democrats have to make tough choices. That means what about free Pre-K, free community college? A climate package, eldercare childcare, something has to give. So what should it be reporters tried, but --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You would be the first to go to get the price of the package?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): You must be kidding. That's in negotiation. That's not something that I would be announcing here. And I don't even know what that would be known what would be the first go, but would be probably in timing, that the timing would be reduced, in many cases to make the call slower.


KING: It is an interesting challenge. He is not going to negotiate in public, but she is sending clear messages to party progressives in the House sorry, trim your sales.

WALTER: Right. Let's just be really clear. We're not changing Manchin's mind, you're not changing Sinema's mind, you can try to harass them, you can, you know, try to find any way possible to move them on a whole bunch of issues. It's not happening. So here we go. We get to a number, we get to these priorities, or we get nothing.

KING: And so then you have to pick. Do you do a big climate plan and throw Pre-K out? Do you do a smaller climate plan, try to fudge it all in? She won't speak publicly, she won't negotiate in publicly, but she's pretty clear in her letters to her colleagues, her language, if you crack the code.

This is what she said in a letter last night to their colleagues, "Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving for members is to do fewer things well, so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace". It goes on.

It's the overwhelmingly part, the liberals in her caucus to progressives in our caucus who wanted 6 trillion or more, they're louder. They're on Twitter. They're on television a lot. She's trying to say, overwhelmingly, you're outnumbered.

SUBRAMANIAN: You're outnumbered. And you have to remember that Democrats on the frontlines have to run on these - on these policies next year, right? And so part of the calculus with this administration has been, you know, finding policies that are dinner table politics, tangible wins that they can take and that people can relate to.

And that's a lesson from the Obama years. And if they - if they focus on fewer things that are more enduring and more lasting, that's something that they can take into next year.

KING: I hope, hope --

MARTIN: There are two things happening now, I think in the House with Democrats. One is you have an overt, very aggressive, in some ways, polarizing effort by a group of about 10 Democrats to force - to force the bipartisan bill to come up. That's gotten the attention, what's not gotten the attention but what has happened below the surface, hence, the overwhelmingly in the speaker's comments.

There is you've got democrats who are facing tougher elections next year, places like I don't know, the Moines Iowa - near places like Richmond, Virginia, or suburban Philadelphia, where you have Democrats in the first or second term who are not as loud as vocal, but are being very emphatic with the speaker behind the scenes.

We need victories. We need to access. We need to bargain and get both these bills done and soon.

KING: And she keeps complimenting the president, one of the challenges is will the president get more involved in trying to figure this out? So it's not done so publicly and so messy? "POLITICO" has great language stage describing the problem; Democrats have a Goldilocks problem with President Joe Biden social spending plan.

Too big, some moderates worry it would cost him their seats too small. Progressives, fret debase will stay home, but almost everybody concedes that if they fail to pass anything, there's no path, right? So that's the issue. You got to get this done. And the question is at what point does the president try to get everybody in a room and say, let's do it?

RASCOE: Well, that's part of what Biden has done in his time in the Senate? He has not been - he's not super ideological, right? Like he's willing to make compromises, he's from that old school. Let's compromise and let's get something done.

The problem is that the sausage making is very messy, but you've got to come out with a sausage at the end or not, right? Like you need some sausage that I know you talked about the sausage to serve, and they have to fix. And look, even if it's not $3.5 trillion, if its $1.5 trillion I know this is a new day, but a trillion dollars is a lot of money.

KING: Senators negotiate by talking till everybody's just exhausted. The president might have to do it a different - they might have to be a different approach from a president we'll see. Coming up for us, Obama hitting the trail foot, Terry McAuliffe, how worried is Virginia Democrats? They could lose what has been lately, a reliably blue state.