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Inside Politics

California Ends $54M Contract With Walgreens; 5 Women Sue Texas Saying State's Abortion Ban Puts Health At Risk; Intel Chiefs, Scientists Testify On Wuhan Lab Leak Theory; GOP Hearing Featured Author Praised By White Supremacists; CNN: Biden, Trudeau Under Pressure To Fix Asylum Agreement. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 09, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is telling Walgreens, quote, "we're done." The governor now ending a $54 million contract with the pharmacy chain. Walgreens recently announced it will stop distributing abortion pills in 21 states.

Republican attorneys general in those states had threatened to take legal action. Newsom says his state won't invest in companies that, quote, cave to the extremist agenda of the GOP. Our great reporters back to the table with us. Walgreen says the governor doesn't have his facts straight and they hope to be able to work this out.

But you have a Democratic governor, rising star in the party, California's economy would be like 12th or 13th largest in the world, just the state economy. This is the new frontier of abortion politics.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, part of the problem here is there's such a patchwork of laws and all these states as it pertains to abortion that you see, Walgreens is trying to navigate that really complicated legal landscape. They're trying to avoid lawsuits. They're trying not to break the law. They're facing pressure now from both sides of the aisle. And I think this is just the new reality in the post-real world.

KING: 21 states had threatened legal action about this. And if you look at the map, we have a map we can put back up if we can, they're mostly Republican states. They all have Republican attorneys general. You see that in the middle of the country here.

Now we can show you another map, which is sort of the post-Roe world of abortion access. And you see the purple states, those that were abortion restrictions are either the same as they were or more lenient since Roe. You see, you know, the coastal, the more democratic blue states in the coastal area.

And this is what makes this interesting from a journalism perspective, confusing, from a policy perspective, especially if you're a woman out there trying to search where can or can I not get this medical attention. In Michigan, just yesterday, we'll show you the headline here. Because Michigan now has a Democratic legislature after the midterm elections, they voted to repeal the state's 1931 abortion ban. That happens to the state of Michigan.

Yet at the same time in Florida, the legislature is considering a six- week abortion ban. That is our new world, right?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Yes, that's our new world. And from a business standpoint, abortion pills aren't going to be a huge moneymaker for a company like Walgreens. So I think for them, when they started to receive that political pressure from conservative states, they felt kind of the path of least resistance is just to say, hey, we won't do it, and then they're out of the business, it's not going to really affect their bottom line.

But that's when California comes in, and that would affect their bottom line. As you mentioned, California's business with Walgreens might be equal to all 21 of these states combined, you know, or at least close. And so now, Walgreens does have to make a business decision about whether a -- whether providing abortion pills, is worth the headache, or whether they should stay out of it and then possibly lose a huge contract.

KING: And the President and the Vice President of the United States have both said they're going to be watching this. That if it is legal in a state, then the question sometimes comes up about what about mailing it across state lines if you live in a state where they have a law in place. But this issue is with us from a policy perspective daily, and I suspect will be a big issue in the campaign.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we are definitely seeing President Biden and his administration's post-Roe policies being tested. You know, they have made really clear that they are going to make a federal effort to protect access to abortion medication. I think it's pretty clear that in a world where a California is battling with Walgreens over this issue, clearly, we are not seeing a situation where access to that kind of medication is guaranteed.

You know, it's been interesting to see how the White House has talked about this from the perspective of businesses and the very complicated landscape that they are confronting right now. They've almost expressed sort of sympathy and understanding that they do recognize that they are having issues right now because every law and the rules per state are so different.

So it is a very complicated matter for these businesses to navigate. And what the federal government would like to do is generally offer support to any company that would like to try to legally offer these services.

KING: So one of the big tests, it is the same Supreme Court, the 6-3 conservative majority that wiped out Roe still in place. But as the states now enact their new restrictions and new practices, there will be core challenges. [12:35:07]

The question is, can anyone convince this Supreme Court if it gets that high to reconsider at least some of the particulars, if you will, including there are five women in Texas, who say because of that state's deep, severe restrictions that their health, their health was put at risk during pregnancy. They are suing. Listen to three.


AMANDA ZURAWSKI, TEXAS ABORTION LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: I cannot adequately put into words the trauma and despair that comes with waiting to either lose your own life, your child's life, or both.

ANNA ZARGARIAN, TEXAS ABORTION LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: Texas lawmakers robbed me of the choice to lose my child with dignity and with respect for my body, and well-being and future.

LAUREN MILLER, TEXAS ABORTION LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: If the Texas legislature had gotten their way, it makes it less likely that I and the baby that I'm about to bring in this world would be standing here today.


KING: I -- the personal stories are heart wrenching and deeply emotional. The question is, can they convince federal courts in the post-Roe world again, where the highest court in the land has said, this is up to the states, can they convince them that some of the particulars that the states are enacting go too far?

ZANONA: Yes, I mean, that's the big question. I think it's going to be really difficult, especially in some of these red states, including in Texas. But these emotional stories, I think, is what helps with the public pressure and the outside pressure. We're going to hear more and more of these things.

Remember, it's only -- not even been a year since Roe was overturned. And so, we are only now starting to see the ramifications of that decision.

LEE: And we did see what a big political issue this was during the midterms --

ZANONA: Right.

LEE: -- even more than anyone could have imagined. There was no question that it's going to be a huge issue, obviously, heading into 2024 as well.

KING: Right. One of the reasons that -- the Michigan legislature had the votes to do what it did just this week.

Up next for us, the COVID origins debate. Those who suspected a lab leak early on say they were unfairly labeled fringe and that they were ignored. Top government intelligence officials on Capitol Hill again today telling Congress there's no definitive answer, because China won't cooperate.



KING: Top of mind on Capitol Hill, again today, the coronavirus lab leak theory. Just moments ago, the Intelligence Chief Avril Haines -- you see her there -- vowing to share a confidential report with House lawmakers. She will do that in private. That low confidence assessment from the Energy Department concluded the COVID-19 likely originated in a Wuhan China lab.

Haines explaining earlier why the intelligence community does not have a decisive definitive answer.


AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: What there isn't a consensus on is whether or not it's a lab leak essentially as Director Wray indicated, or natural exposure to an infected animal. China has not fully cooperated. And we do think that's a key critical gap that would help us to understand what exactly happened.


KING: Let's get some insights from the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Beth Sanner, and the former Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. Beth, let me begin with you. You were part of this and your role is the deputy DNI in the Trump administration at the beginning of COVID.

And we all would love this answer but you think the focus on this question, was it a lab leak? Was it human to -- animal to human transmission? Do you think maybe it's not the right question to be asking, at least not first?

BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I kind of feel like we know enough already to get with the program of figuring out how do we prevent another pandemic. We know enough right now to say it could absolutely have come from a lab leak. It absolutely could have come from human transmission.

Now what are we going to do about it? And I -- you know, I'm just a forward-looking person. That's where my focus is. And I don't like this politicization that I feel really underpins a lot of this conversation.

KING: Well, Doctor, when you have written the same thing in the sense that, you know, there -- it could have come from animal to human transmission, could well have come from a lab leak, and you believe it's necessary to spend all of our time or at least most of our time planning for the next one, not over debating the last one.

But some scientists who early on say they suspected the lab leak and they wanted to look further into that. They say they were essentially bullied. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMIE METZL, SENIOR FELLOW, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: There was just, as I said, ferociously strong headwinds. There was this manufactured consensus.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER TRUMP CDC DIRECTOR: They wanted a single narrative and that I obviously had a different point of view. This was an apiary decision, that there's one point of view that we're going to put out there and anyone who doesn't agree with it is going to be sidelined.


KING: Now, Dr. Redfield specifically pointedly blamed -- the leading blame, he said belongs to his former Trump administration colleague, Dr. Fauci -- Dr. Anthony Fauci. Mr. Metzl went out of his way to say, let's not just blame Tony Fauci. But he did believe that there was a push essentially to say, if you were saying lab leak, especially in the early months, that you were pushed to the fringe, do you think that's a fair criticism?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think it's really important for us to distinguish between manmade and lab leak. In the beginning, the people who are labeled fringe were the ones who are talking about a bio weapon. They were talking about scientists who were directly manipulating viruses to make them more pathogenic, and then releasing it as a way to cause a lot of people to die on purpose.

There is no intelligence from -- and no findings from the scientific communities that would support that kind of manmade pathogen. And I think that's why I that was being labeled as being a fringe theory.


But on the other hands, lab leak, meaning a lab accident was always on the table. There have been a number of lab accidents in the past, including involving smallpox and anthrax and pandemic influenza, including some that happened in our own country in the U.S., that didn't result in massive outbreaks, but it could have.

And so I think we really need to be clear about manmade versus lab leak, and then just say them at this moment, agreeing with what Beth was just saying that there are circumstantial evidence for both of these hypotheses. And, therefore, if we know that both are possible, that we should be doing everything to prevent both from occurring in the future.

KING: As we're trying to answer these questions, whether it's in the rearview mirror, where did COVID come from, or looking forward, how do we prepare for the next pandemic or the next big public health challenge. I think you'd both agree it's important to have credible people at the table when we're asking those questions.

The Democrats were challenging one of the witnesses House Republicans abroad in yesterday. His name is Nicholas Wade, he has been a journalist and a researcher for some time. He wrote a book that a lot of white supremacist said was a great book. Listen to the criticism yesterday and his response.


REP. RAUL RUIZ (D), RANKING MEMBER, COVID-19 SUBCOMMITTEE: Mr. Wade, are you aware of David Duke's praise of your views on his website?

NICHOLAS WADE, WITNESS, HOUSE HEARING ON COVID-19: When my book first came out, Mr. Ruiz, I think the extreme right-wing thought would help that cause.

REP. KWEISI MFUME (D), COVID-19 SUBCOMMITTEE: I ended up being the president of the NAACP so that nationally I could work against this sort of thing. It is repulsive.

WADE: I didn't have anything in common with the views of white supremacists. Justification --

MFUME: They love you, though.

WADE: Are not very good argument that David Duke likes my book. He maybe likes many things. That doesn't mean to say that we're right --


KING: The book was about 10 years ago, trouble inheritance, it was called. A lot of scientists, geneticists, anthropologists dismissed the sort of the biology of race theory that Mr. Wade advanced. Dr. Wen, is his -- are his views credible? Should he be the person the Congress, Democrats or Republicans are asking about public health issues?

WEN: Right. Well, he certainly has a lot of problematic views. But the other issue too, is that there are scientists whose work he cited who specifically have protested, saying that he misinterpreted their research, that he used their conclusions out of context.

And I think the real issue here is that there are so many other credible neurologists and scientists who can present the evidence as is. I mean, you shouldn't be starting with a conclusion and then cherry picking your data to support that conclusion, in this case in favor of the lab leak. I mean, that's a perversion of the scientific process. And we really need people who are able to present both sides and all the evidence in order to find out the origin.

KING: And Beth, lastly, again, Director Haines says she will in a classified setting share the Energy Department report, which the Energy Department says with low level of confidence that it believes it was a lab leak. Are you comfortable with that? Do you think members of Congress should be seeing that intelligence?

SANNER: Yes, absolutely, I do. I think that we should give all finished intelligence that is the analysis from wherever in the intelligence community it comes from and share that. I want to make sure that they have the context and the ability to sort through it, make sense of it because maybe coming from the lab, it might be more technical than some of the other reports. But, yes, I think that we have to be transparent about dissent and differences of views, and then sort through those.

KING: Beth Sanner, Dr. Wen, really appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Up next for us, tensions over a surge in border crossings, and think again, this time, look north.



KING: We'll take a look now at increasing immigration tensions at the border but not the border you are probably thinking of. Some brand new CNN reporting details mounting pressure for President Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fix a U.S.-Canada asylum agreement, that because of skyrocketing crossings from the states into Canada.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is here breaking the story for us, explain.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a great example of a challenge that President Biden has on the southern border now spilling into his relationship with his northern partner. So what's at issue here? Is that decade's old asylum agreement known as the Safe Third Country Agreement, it was signed in 2002 and it applies to people who go to a port of entry and could have sought protection in the U.S.

That means Canada can turn them back to the U.S. to get that asylum claim. But it doesn't apply it unofficial crossings. And what Canada is currently seeing is hundreds of migrants crossing into Roxham Road, that's an unofficial crossing between the United States and Canada. And what they want to do is close that loophole so that this agreement can apply to those people as well.

These are conversations that have been ongoing for years, but there's added urgency now. And a Canadian official tells me that they are in the final stages of those renegotiations. But, of course, President Biden and Trudeau have shared a strong bond. They talk about it frequently. But this is an added wrinkle ahead of President Biden's trip there later this month.

KING: And if you look at these numbers, 367 detentions this January, 24 detentions. January a year ago, you have two politicians here, two leaders who are generally pro-refugee, say be kinder, be more welcoming, but?

ALVAREZ: But they're having to take a tougher stance. They are both dealing with political pressures at home. We're seeing this with Prime Minister Trudeau, we're seeing it here domestically with President Biden. What does that mean? That they're going to have to take restrictive measures to try to quell some of those concerns.

[12:55:02] And that is where we're seeing Prime Minister Trudeau putting pressure on this administration as well to renegotiate and try to close off all of the crossings that they're seeing at that northern part of the border.

KING: Just in seconds, good friends think they can work this out or problems.

ALVAREZ: Officials and sources I've talked to, say, yes, they can work it out. It's probably not going to damage their relationship but time will tell.

KING: Difficult issue as always, that's why you're here so frequently.

Appreciate your time tonight in INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you back here tomorrow. Kristin Fisher picks up our coverage. Very busy news day after this break.