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Inside Politics

CNN: Sinema "Vulnerable," Could Face 2024 Primary Challenge; President Biden Speaks At MLK Memorial Celebration. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 21, 2021 - 12:30   ET



DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, BROWN UNIVERSITY: A few weeks ago when we approved the Pfizer boosters. This is the thing, it is those first doses that matter most for community spread, for hospitalizations, and for death. Listen, I'm in one of those high risk groups. I'm a healthcare worker. I have not yet gotten my booster because in my day to day life outside of when I'm in the hospital with an N95 on, I'm do being pretty safe. And if I don't get a booster right away, it's not going to mean that I'm going to end up in the hospital. Now, age 65 plus, get your darn booster, if you're immunosuppressed, because I know that you have discussed on air, John, it is critically important to get that booster because the vaccine may not work as well. But in general, it's not the boosters that are going to make the difference. It's those first doses of vaccine.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And in that context, I just want to show where we are in terms of the case count right now. It is heading down we're down 45 percent, the average daily new infections. We're down 45 percent from just a month ago, below 80,000 which is welcome. You hear overseas and now this is Dr. Walensky, I want you to listen this discussion that, yes, doctors are now seeing, experts are now seeing a new spin off if you will of the Delta variant. Listen.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: The AY4.2 variant has drawn some attention in recent days. AY4.2 is a sub lineage of the Delta variant that has been recently identified in the U.K. And we have on occasion identified this sub lineage here in the United States, but not with recent increased frequency or clustering to date.


KING: Now having -- have we've all lived through this, this is -- this case spike a lot of it is attributed to the Delta variant. The experts so far is saying they see nothing of over concern, if you will, nothing to worry about too much in terms of, you know, it's -- whether it's more nasty or whether it's more transmissible is that what the data tells us.

RANNEY: That is, you know, this isn't yet a variant of concern according to the World Health Organization. It's one of 50 odd new variants that have been identified since the Delta variant to cold. There are some worrisome features. You know, we're seeing case spikes and continued high rate, relatively high rates of hospitalizations in the U.K. that they're attributing largely to this new variant. But for now, time will tell. We're watching it closely. But to put a point on it, John, this is why those vaccines are so important. As long as there are large groups of the population, either at home or abroad who are unvaccinated. We're going to keep seeing more variants. And it's a matter of time until we get one that's worse. It may not be this one, but there will be one in the future. So vaccines are our best way to prevent that.

KING: Amen. Dr. Ranney, as always, thank you very much.

RANNEY: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

Up next for us, power and its risks, Senator Kyrsten Sinema won't go along with some of the Democratic Party's biggest promises. We've got some new CNN reporting to share on a potential challenge back home. And in just a few hours, President Biden will take the stage right there in Baltimore for a CNN Town Hall. It airs tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.



KING: Senator Kyrsten Sinema is experiencing both the perks and the pitfalls of power today. Without her vote, the Biden agenda cannot pass the Senate. So the President has her on speed dial and the White House keeps rewriting its social safety net plan to accommodate the senator's views but, it's a big but, more and more liberals are losing patience with the Arizona Democrat. CNN's Manu Raju and some new reporting puts it this way, Sinema is at the zenith of her influence in Washington. But how she has handled her growing power in the 50-50 Senate has also cost her something else, support from the left in Arizona, with progressives warning she is now at risk of becoming a political pariah and is potentially vulnerable in a 2024 Democratic primary battle. Manu Raju joins us live from Capitol Hill with more. So prominence brings friends but also potential enemies.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. And one of the reasons why you're hearing so many concerns from Democrats on the record from liberals in particular is because of the way she has carried out these talks, she has made her concerns known directly to the White House, the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and that's pretty much it. And things are sort of in a black box for most Democrats. And as they're seeing reports about how they're built, there is a push to expand the social safety net is just getting chipped away by one provision after the other in part because of Sinema's opposition. And there is concern, there's potential warnings from progressive that she could be vulnerable in 2024 primary challenge.

One congressman, Ruben Gallego, has been talked about for some time as a possible primary challenger. I talk to him about the prospect of challenging Sinema in 2024. And he told me, I think the sentiment that I'm hearing out there, voters in Arizona are upset with her, especially Democratic voters. And I asked him, well, are you open to possibly challenging her in 2024? He said for me, all I care about is what happens between now and 2022 pointedly not ruling that out.

Now he's not the only one in the delegation has raised concerns. Raul Grijalva said that she has a quote responsibility to divulge where she stands. Voters need to hear that. And he warned of a quote, reckoning if the bill comes back and not meeting the demands that their party campaigned on. Now some several key issues she has been concerned about, we've reported and you've talked about how corporate taxes, individual income rate taxes. She has said that she is not going to move forward on that.


That is of course Democrats, scramble for new way to finance that package. But I've also learned through the reporting here, John, is that she has privately raised concerns about tuition free community college. That is one reason why a chief reason why Joe Biden informed progressive this week that that issue will be dropped from the package. Because of the concerns she raised. She has also been concerned about a major provision to have allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, she along with some other moderates have been concerned about that. That is likely not to make the final package as well.

So there are a whole range of issues, the price tag from some of the provisions that have angered folks, but also the way she's handled it not to mention for opposition to changing the Senate filibuster rules. We've heard time and again, Democrats calling for her Joe Manchin to change those, she has resisted that saying she's not going to change the institution here, John. So a lot of concerns for her from the left, she's got power, but she could also have political problems.

KING: It sure sounds that way. Manu Raju, appreciate the great new reporting. Let's bring it back into the room to discuss with the panel. I mean, listen to what he just said, essentially, government negotiates cost of prescription drugs, a giant piece of the party platform, reversing the Trump tax cuts, a giant piece of the party platform. And you have this senator who says, no.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, I mean, when it's all said and done, what's going to be left. And I think it's really important to center the voices of the people in her state, who are just, I would say beyond disappointed, just deflated. And Senator Sinema, I think, if she continues to oppose so many of President Biden's domestic policy agenda, she has to be out front and really explained for this, not only to the Democratic Caucus, but to her constituents.

KING: And she, you know, look, that's the old John McCain seat. She views herself like McCain as somebody who's a maverick, who does not follow the party, you know, not lockstep in the party label. But she is. Manu just noted, a potential primary challenge, that's a big deal. We have "New York Times" reported this first, CNN is now, massive five military veterans who are part of an advisory panel for her resigned. And they say this, you have become one of the principal obstacles to progress, answering to big donors rather than your own people. We shouldn't have to buy representation from you, and your failure to stand by your people and see their urgent needs is alarming. You can be a maverick, you can be different, you can be steadfast and stubborn, if you want to win the next election, you at some point need to be watching your base.

DANA BASH, CNN CO-ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: And that is one of the biggest criticisms of Kyrsten Sinema, beyond the fact that she's secretive, that she's hard to pin down, and so forth. It's that the criticism that you're hearing loud and clear from progressives, you're alluding to this, is that she's bought and paid for by her big donors. And that's why she doesn't want to change the way that regular Americans pay for their prescription drugs. That's why she doesn't want to change the fact that corporations don't pay high enough taxes from the point of view of many Democrats.

And what is even more galling from the perspective of this, progressives is that she used to be one of them. She started out in political life in the statehouse on the local level, as very, very progressive. If you put that in contrast with somebody like Joe Manchin, who's always represented a conservative state now it's very, very conservative. But he's always been in that point of view. He's always said on the campaign trail for decades, even when he was governor, I don't want the government to work for you. I want the government to be your partner. And that's not the consistent Kyrsten Sinema for people in Arizona.

KING: And so if you're a politician, you always think of your last election, we could just put up that she just barely won, 50 percent to 48 percent over Martha McSally, who's a Republican candidate. So if your Senator Sinema, you say, hey, look, my state's really close. A lot of people say the demographics of Arizona are changing. Mark Kelly won one last year. They -- I mean she says you should be more confident about your base.

What's striking, though, is that the language. Listen to this. This is Ritchie Torres, one of the progressives in the House. There's a sense in which we no longer live in a democracy, we live under the tyranny of Kyrsten Sinema. The perception of erraticism is brought on by a lack of communication and clarity for where she stands. That's a member of her own party, her own family, tyranny.

OLIVIER KNOX, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. It's a lot. You know, you brought up, you brought up McCain, and I think McCain actually is a pretty good, pretty instructive example here, because maybe you remember John McCain from right, voting against unraveling Obamacare. But people on this table are also familiar with John McCain on the campaign trail when he was facing challenges from the right.

You can go find it now online, the build the dang fence ad, John McCain would tack sharply rightward in his primaries. He was not recognizable as the John McCain inside the Beltway when he did so. So I think it's -- I think this is interesting because the big question now is, yes, she's vulnerable to a primary challenge. What is she going to sound like on the trail? I don't think it's going to be a lot of I stopped Medicare from lowering drug prices and I kept corporate tax rates low. I don't think that's going to be the message.

BASH: And that's the thing, she doesn't sound like anything right now. She's not only not talking to --

KNOX: The recurring criticism.

KING: Right.


BASH: -- local media. She's not talking to anybody publicly. So it's hard to -- she's inscrutable --

KING: While we're still in the trying to make a deal chapter if there is a deal we'll see what the next chapter is. If there isn't a deal, she's going to take a lot of heat from her own party. Appreciate that everyone, stay with me.

Right now, you can see the pictures, Vice President Harris speaking. This is the 10th anniversary celebration at the MLK Memorial. Later tonight, she hits the trail in Virginia, where the governor's race is tighter than tight.



KING: We'll take you live now, the Vice President of the United States speaking. This is a 10th anniversary celebration at the MLK Memorial. Let's listen.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After all, we remember Dr. King was only 39 years old when he died. And yet they knew their power. They knew that there is real power when your cause is just. And they used then that power to push Democrats and Republicans to pass that landmark bill.

So today, as a nation, we must summon our own power. As leaders, we must leverage our own power. And we all have a role to play. And the President and I are clear on ours. We are and must be unwavering in this fight. And we must use our voice to call out any effort to obstruct justice and to call the justice everywhere. Remember, and Dr. King knew this, America is not defined by her perfection. America is defined by our commitment to perfecting.

And in our nation, that will forever be the work forward. As Dr. King did, we must keep believing a better future is possible. And as Dr. King did, we must keep pushing toward that future. So as I have the great honor of introducing our President, let me end today by recognizing the impact that this memorial has had.

For 10 years, think about it, for a decade, visitors from all over the world have come to this very place. The words that are etched in these walls, now etched in their hearts and on their smartphones, the history that is told here because of this place is now part of their own.

And I know that when they leave here, they do so determined to do their part, to build a better future, so on behalf of our nation, on behalf of our world, thank you all for making this memorial possible. And now it is my great and distinct honor to introduce a phenomenal leader who was here when this memorial was first unveiled a leader who I know because I see it every day, draws so much inspiration and reminds so many of the work in the words of Dr. King, our President of the United States, Joe Biden.


Thank you, Kamala. Thank you all so very much. Mr. President, Harry, thank you for your stewardship. You know, here in the heart of the capital of the United States of America, the tensions and the heat of the nation are vividly on display.

Dr. King stands determined and brave looking out the Promised Land across the Tidal Basin stands another giant of our history. Thomas Jefferson whose words declared the very idea of America that we're all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, we all deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives.

To state the obvious, nobody is knows better than this one. We've never lived up to that idea. But we've never walked away from it fully. We've never walked away. In his sermon to the march in Washington, Dr. King, call on all America to live up to the full meaning and promise of our Declaration of Independence.


And so they stand here in perpetuity in timely and timeless conversation and inspires us and challenge us, reminds us how far we've come, where we need to go and how far, how much longer the journey is. And it's a conversation and shapes our days that we must carry forward.

Madam Vice President, Madam Speaker, Chair of the Black Caucus, Beatty, Congressional Black Caucus members, the Moral Foundation, leaders of faith and community, distinguished guests, from here, we see the ongoing push and pull between progress and struggle over the self-evident truths of our democracy. And in our nation, we now face an inflection point and the battle literally for the soul of America.

And it's up to us together to choose who we want to be and what we want to be. I know, I know the progress does not come fast enough. It never has. And the process of government is frustrating, and sometimes dispiriting. But I also know what's possible. If we keep the pressure up, if we never give up, if we keep the faith, we're at an inflection point. I know I've maybe overused that phrase, but it is an inflection point in American history, and delivering on economic justice.

For was the dignity of work, and Dr. King was in Memphis on that fateful day in April, helping sanitation workers, not only for better pay and safer conditions, but to be granted more dignity as human beings. And our time, it's about recognizing that for much too long, we've allowed a narrowed and crammed view of the promise of America a view that America is a zero sum game, particularly of the recent past. If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. And maybe worst of all, if I can hold you down, I lift myself up, instead of what it should be. And it's just self-evident.

If you do well, we all do well. That's keeping the promise of America. I've never seen a time when working folks did well that the wealthy didn't do very well. Look, it's the core of our administration's economic vision. And it's a fundamental paradigm shift for this nation. For the first time in a couple generations, we're going to be investing in working families, putting them first and helping them get ahead rather than the wealthy and the biggest and most powerful people out there. We're investing in black families with rescue checks and tax cuts that reduce black poverty by 34 percent, black child poverty by more than 50 percent.

This year, and we're aggressively the leadership of some of the people I'm looking at right now, combating housing discrimination to create a generation of wealth. How did every other person making the middle class from a working class circumstance, just like my dad did, build equity in a House, granted of what small, granted of what much, but it was enough to build a little equity.

We'll use the federal government purchasing power to unlock billions of dollars in new opportunities, a minority owned small businesses and access to government contracts. Is there any doubt that providing more people with just a little more breathing room to take care of their families, generate a little bit of wealth that they can pass on to their children and create jobs in their communities would uplift the entire country, all the country, everyone.

And as the economy recovers, we are determined and focused on rebuilding it over the long run. No one should have to hold her breath as they cross a rundown bridge to determine whether it's safe enough or a dangerous intersection in their hometown, a nation. Every American, every child should be able to turn on a faucet and drink water that's not contaminated by lead or anything else.


As a nation, everyone should have access to affordable high speed internet. Gone the days when you have to pull up to a McDonald's and sit in the parking lot with your child to do their homework when there's virtual learning going on.