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Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) On House Passage of $3.5 Trillion Budget Resolution; Australia And New Zealand Forced To Rethink Zero- COVID Strategy; Vice President Harris' Trip To Vietnam Delayed By Possible Havana Syndrome Incident. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 25, 2021 - 07:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden's $3.5 trillion economic package clearing a key hurdle after intense negotiations between Democratic leaders in the House and a group of party moderates. They were holding out for a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill first.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill with more on this.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A major step forward for President Biden's economic agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 220, the nays are 212. The resolution is adopted. '

SERFATY (voice-over): The House approving a budget framework that paves the way for the president's $3.5 trillion spending plan.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bottom line is, in my view, we are a step closer to truly investing in the American people, positioning our economy for long-term growth, and building an America that outcompetes the rest of the world. My goal is to build an economy from the bottom up and middle out, not just the top down.

SERFATY (voice-over): This vote's passage allows for the House to draft a budget that can be passed with a simple majority through budget reconciliation, which is expected to include funding for universal preschool, two years of tuition-free community college, paid family leave, support for child and elder care, and money to tackle climate change.

Although the vote was along party lines, intense negotiations within the Democratic Party initially stalled progress. Ten moderate Democrats clashed with leadership, wanting an immediate vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill prior to voting on the budget resolution.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reached an agreement with the moderate group to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill by September 27th. Through a procedural maneuver, Pelosi was able to bolster Biden's domestic agenda by crafting a rule that would allow the advancement of the $3.5 trillion budget framework, the separate $1 trillion infrastructure bill, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Not only are we building the physical infrastructure of America, we are building the human infrastructure of America to enable many more people to participate in the success of our economy.

SERFATY (voice-over): No Republicans supported this budget framework. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy cited the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We should be doing nothing else on this floor until every single American is home.

SERFATY (voice-over): The White House firing back. "The American people know well that the federal government is responsible for many priorities at once. And they never expect their leaders to ignore crucial issues like, in this case, creating jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, and bringing down prices, including the cost of prescription drugs."


SERFATY: And this is actually when the hard part will start up here on Capitol Hill. Democrats will now begin the process of working out and writing what exactly is going to be in that $3.5 trillion package over the next few weeks -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Sunlen Serfaty live for us on the Hill. Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And joining me now is Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer. He was one of the moderate holdouts and, really, the main one negotiating with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

And Congressman, let me just ask -- what can you tell us about what those discussions were like? I mean, how thrilled was the speaker with you during these negotiations?

REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Well, at the end of the day, what was most important is that we worked it out and it was a huge win for the country and our vote.

We're going to, by September 27th, get a standalone vote on that bipartisan infrastructure package that came out of the Senate, with Democrats and Republicans. And that fixes everything from roads and bridges to rail, transit, broadband, invest in water infrastructure. It helps us fight climate change and does everything to actually move our -- help move our country forward.

So the great news yesterday is we're going to get a vote by September 27th. We'll obviously start to begin the work on the president's budget resolution on reconciliation, as we just heard. And so, that's what's up next, but yesterday was a big victory.

And the other thing that's really important is that the speaker said not only is she going to help get that infrastructure bill passed by the end of September but, of course, whatever we bring to the floor on reconciliation will have support of at least 51 senators. So, making sure that we vote on something that in the House and the Senate we can all get behind for the president and for the country.

BERMAN: Just quickly, you didn't answer my question though on how -- what the negotiations or discussions were like. Were they tense?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, of course, they were tense at times. But, you know, we worked it out and we figured out, and then that's what that's all about. You know, what was very --

BERMAN: Let me ask you --

GOTTHEIMER: -- important to us is that we had an actual standalone vote --


GOTTHEIMER: -- and that we didn't tie these things together, and that was really important.

BERMAN: Why pick a fight on that, though? I am curious. Why make a stand on this -- on timing rather than what's in the $3.5 trillion budget bill? Why not use whatever leverage you have there and shave (ph) back up.

GOTTHEIMER: It's a great -- it's a -- yes.

BERMAN: Go ahead.

GOTTHEIMER: Well, it's a great question. I mean, our biggest concern was, frankly, that some of our colleagues wanted to hold the infrastructure bill, which has passed the Senate and is sitting in the House for consideration. They want to hold it up for months and actually use it as some sort of leveraged chip against whatever we negotiate in the next package.

And frankly, there's a lot of things that are so important in there. Like, you heard about climate and, of course, reinstating the state- level tax deduction, and childcare, and making sure we add hearing and dental and vision to Medicare. So many important things. But, of course, the size and scope of that I'm sure will have some debate over and, frankly, we should have debate over that. It's a significant piece of legislation and we'll spend the next months doing that.

But to hold up the infrastructure package that was bipartisan made no sense to us. We've got to get those shovels in the ground and people to work, and that's what we're really fighting for. And we -- you know, you're talking about two million jobs a year for the next 10 years. To hold that up and to hold it hostage -- what some of my colleagues wanted to do -- just didn't make any sense to some of us and we fought for it and got a date certain and kept those two pieces of legislation separate.

BERMAN: Well, Cori Bush and others still say that they won't support this unless it's voted on together.

GOTTHEIMER: Well, it's coming to the floor by September 27th and I'm sure everyone will get there. And with Nancy Pelosi fighting hard for it, which she came out yesterday and said, to make sure we get the votes.

And we'll get -- we'll get Republican votes, too. It's strong bipartisan, just like in the Senate. There were 19 Senate Republicans and every one of the Democratic senators. I know we'll get there and -- so I'm confident about that.

BERMAN: So lightning round here just on -- I'm trying to figure out what you would support in the $3.5 trillion bill.

Universal pre-K, yes or no? You support that?

GOTTHEIMER: Obviously, I believe deeply in universal pre-K. But just so you know, there is no bill written yet, so --

BERMAN: I understand. I understand.

GOTTHEIMER: -- if you ask me these questions of other priorities -- yes, of course.

BERMAN: But I was trying to ask -- so you don't have an issue with some of the things in the -- universal pre-K, two years community college. Is that something you support?


GOTTHEIMER: All those things are -- all those things are important. What's going to matter is the size. What's going to matter is revenue. What's going to matter in how they're -- how they're raising revenue. There's some concerns I have there.

So in the end, it's going to be the details --

BERMAN: Corporate taxes. Will you support -- will you support --

GOTTHEIMER: It's going to be the details.

BERMAN: Would you support raising corporate taxes?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, I'd love to negotiate right here. I'd love to negotiate with you right here --

BERMAN: I'm just trying to figure out -- I'm just trying to figure out --

GOTTHEIMER: -- but we're going to save that for the next few weeks.

BERMAN: OK, but -- so you're not committed to -- GOTTHEIMER: What I'm going to -- no -- but what I'm going to -- what I'm -- what I'm going to measure on, frankly, is the impact on my district and make sure that taxes don't go up for the people I represent after they gutted SALT a few years ago. What's so important is, actually, we give people tax relief in northern New Jersey and make things more affordable for families, and help folks.

And so that's how I'm going to look at the legislation as soon as it's written.

BERMAN: Three point five trillion dollars -- that number, in and of itself -- is that something you could support?

GOTTHEIMER: I've said that I think that's aggressive. But again, when we look at all the details that's when we'll come back and we'll talk about that.

BERMAN: I would like to ask you a question about two of your colleagues, Democrat Seth Moulton and Republican Peter Meyer, who made this unannounced trip to Afghanistan to assess the situation on the ground, they say. It's been harshly criticized by some people within the administration who said it diverted resources and whatnot.

How appropriate do you think that trip was?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, I just read about that. Both of them are good friends of mine so I've got to learn more, and I think getting facts is always important. The speaker has now put out -- and the administration put out notification that we shouldn't take those trips.

So listen, I think it's real -- I've got to talk to them. I'm really curious to learn what they saw on the ground. It's a huge issue that we've got to deal with in helping get American personnel out and, of course, making sure that our Afghani partners are out. That's critically important. So the more facts the better and I'm curious to talk to both of them.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Josh Gottheimer. Thanks for coming on this morning. I hope you come on again. I'd like to talk to you a lot more as these negotiations continue towards these important bills.

GOTTHEIMER: I'd love that. Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Up next, the new reality for countries pursuing a zero-COVID strategy.

KEILAR: And later, a Philadelphia family stuck in Afghanistan. We will talk to the father of the family who is working to get them out.



KEILAR: Australia and New Zealand have been advocates of the zero- COVID policy since the beginning of the pandemic and until recently, that strategy had been largely successful in those countries. But the Delta variant is so infectious that some of the country's leaders believe it will be impossible to get down to zero cases again.

CNN's Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong with more on this.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Australia and New Zealand, two countries that stamped out each and every COVID-19 outbreak over the first year and a half of the pandemic, now in partial or complete lockdown as they struggle with a new surge of infections.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, I don't think my kids will go back to school this year.

WATSON (voice-over): The outbreaks prompting Australia's prime minister to suggest moving on from a zero-case approach to COVID.

SCOTT MORRISON, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: This cannot go on forever. This is not a sustainable way to live in this country.

WATSON (voice-over): Stay-at-home orders in the major cities -- Sydney, Melbourne, and the capital, Canberra -- extended.

COVID fatigue contributing to violent protests that erupted in Melbourne last weekend.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison now promoting a plan to ease restrictions once 70 to 80 percent of adults get vaccinated. But vaccination rates in both Australia and New Zealand are still low with only about a quarter of Australians and a fifth of New Zealanders fully vaccinated.

This summer's outbreaks popped the short-lived travel bubble between both countries in late July. Their borders now largely shut to the outside world.

And New Zealand's leader wants to maintain her government's zero-case COVID strategy for as long as she can.

JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: For now, absolutely, elimination is the strategy. We need more certainty. We don't want to take any risks with Delta. If the world has taught us anything, it is to be cautious with this variant of COVID-19.

WATSON (voice-over): In just two months, Australia went from one confirmed case of COVID to over 16,000, fueled by the more contagious Delta variant.

WATSON (on camera): Do you believe that a zero-cases strategy is still viable for Australia?

MARY-LOUISE MCLAWS, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Sadly, not anymore. I think it's too late. But we may go to some type of mitigation while desperately trying to increase our vaccine rollout. WATSON (voice-over): Some weary Australians say this island nation may need to accept the reality of the virus.

SUSAN, SYDNEY RESIDENT: At some point, we're going to have to open up. I don't think we're ever going to be 100 percent confident and safe.

WATSON (voice-over): Two countries grateful to have been spared the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Delta now threatening to take away their hard-won success.


WATSON: Now, the vaccination rates in Australia, for example -- they have picked up in recent days, so that's a good sign. And the country, though, has paid a very steep price for its relatively low number of deaths due to COVID. Under 1,000 people have died since this has begun.

Tens of thousands of Australians who have been trapped overseas, unable to come back because of the high cost of two weeks of mandatory hotel quarantine if they come back, which they have to pay out of their pocket. And then, the second-largest city, Melbourne, has had more than 200 days of cumulative lockdown since this pandemic began -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, that is a lot.

Ivan Watson, thank you so much, live for us from Hong Kong.

And up next, the chilling reason why Vice President Harris' trip to Vietnam was delayed for hours.

BERMAN: And the race to evacuate from Afghanistan. We have brand-new information about the number of people getting out now.



KEILAR: Vice President Kamala Harris, just moments ago, in Vietnam thanking U.S. Embassy staff there in Hanoi after a report of a possible anomalous health incident. That is the term the Biden administration typically uses to refer to Havana syndrome attacks. That incident at the embassy delaying the vice president's arrival by more than three hours from Singapore.

So, could this case be linked to a string of incidents all around the world that have sickened hundreds of U.S. officials over the past few years?

Let's talk about this now with Marc Polymeropoulos. He is a former CIA senior Intel service officer. He is also the author of "Clarity in Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the CIA."

Marc, you have personal experience with this. You were in Russia for meetings as a CIA senior Intel officer just a few years ago and you experienced these symptoms -- incredible dizziness. You were later diagnosed with occipital neuralgia.

So we're talking about people suffering long-term consequences of these attacks. What do make of this coming so close to the vice president's trip?

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS, FORMER CIA SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICER, AUTHOR, "CLARITY IN CRISIS: LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM THE CIA": Sure. So, first of all, thanks for -- thanks for having me. I was actually diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury -- even more serious.

But this is a really, really interesting development and something that I think the protective details of our senior administration officials are going to take very seriously. It is not a coincidence that this occurred -- or reportedly occurred right before the vice president's trip.

I think it's a sign from our adversaries that our senior officials also are not immune. And overall, it's just going to -- it must cause us to redouble and triple our efforts to find out who is doing this. Because not only are USG officials serving overseas now at risk, I think this is a message that our senior administration officials who travel also are at risk.

KEILAR: Yes. We don't know exactly who is doing this. We don't know exactly what it is. And it's increasingly frustrating for people who are considering this kind of service.

We've heard of -- in 2019, there was a U.S. official who was pulling through an intersection when they started experiencing similar symptoms to what you did, and they had their 2-year-old son in the backseat who started crying.

So you're at this situation where you have people who want to serve and they're considering that the risk for them and their family might be too high. How much is this affecting the diplomatic corps and U.S. officials?

POLYMEROPOULOS: Look -- well, I think it's caused a sense of palpable fear. I mean, we have to stop this because it is affecting people's abilities and desires to serve.

There's a couple of points to make here. I served in Afghanistan and Iraq. I knew the risks. But going to ordinary assignments, you would call it -- you know, to European countries, Asian countries where you're taking your families, that's a whole new ballgame.

And so I think that ultimately, there's going to be and is an all- hands-on-deck effort. I know the new CIA director -- or current CIA Dir. Bill Burns has made this -- absolutely a hallmark of his term is to try to find out what is happening. He's brought in a new team. There's new people, there's new resources.

But if you see what happened in the last several days in Hanoi, it is absolutely paramount we find out what's going on. KEILAR: You did mention you served in Afghanistan. You have a long history. You actually started your career on the Afghan desk and then you served as a base chief --



KEILAR: -- in eastern Afghanistan, so I know that you're watching the developments there with considerable attention.

What do you make of this moment that we're in right now?

POLYMEROPOULOS: What a -- what a fantastic question because I think for a lot of us this is personal. In the CIA or perhaps if you're in the special operations committee, we worked, but we lived with our Afghan indigenous partners. So I spent a year in Afghanistan -- just a couple of us -- with hundreds of our Afghanistan indigenous units, so I think about the faces that -- I remember their faces.

I cannot imagine what it will be like to that last C-17 crew of the U.S. Air Force taking off and looking down at the ground and seeing our Afghan allies left behind.

This is personal for me. I've been very outspoken on this. I think that until every Afghan ally -- and whether that's someone who assisted the military or the State Department or AID -- until everyone's out and their families, we can't rest. It's a moral obligation that we had.

And so I think for a lot of us this is really personal and it's something that we're going to keep on speaking out until everyone comes home. So I think that this date of August 31st that the administration seems to be holding to is really problematic for a lot of us.

KEILAR: And Americans, too. I mean, do you see -- our reporter on the ground thinks it's inevitable that Americans are left behind. What do you think?

POLYMEROPOULOS: Well, that's right. And so, I don't even think we know how many Americans are left. And so, at the end of the day, we have an obligation, of course, to American citizens and to our Afghan allies. And so, this is -- this is a tenuous -- a really messy situation.

You know, it's -- I think one of the things that is a bit distressing is some of the talk that comes out of press conferences and other statements from the administration has not matched with the reality on the ground. We know American citizens can't get to the airport. We certainly know our Afghan allies cannot as well.

So we have to really redouble and triple our efforts. And this -- one week from now is going to be a pretty grim scene. And so, all I can say is keep pleading with the administration to consider pushing back August 31st because we just have a moral obligation to those that served us -- served with us and helped us in a very long and difficult 20-year war.

But as Americans, this is what we do. We uphold our commitments and our obligations and that's why this has been such a really difficult situation for a lot of us who served there.

KEILAR: Yes. I know that it has been for you and so many others, Marc.

Thank you so much for joining us today.


BERMAN: So, the right-wing media universe and various Republican legislators are lining up to condemn the acceptance of Afghan refugees.

John Avlon with a reality check.


JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (on camera): There have been a lot of comparisons between the fall of Kabul and the fall of Saigon at the end of what was then America's longest war. In both cases, there is chaos amid collapse and desperate acts of heroism in the face of a humanitarian crisis.

We've seen some 40,000 people evacuated from Kabul in the last two days, but many more are still stranded outside the airport gates.

After Vietnam, there were some 130,000 refugees who resettled in the United States. And those immigrants and their descendants are now calling on America to remember its commitment today.

The good news is that there does seem to be broad agreement about helping Afghans who aided our military efforts. Eighty-one percent of all Americans, 90 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Republicans support this goal, according to a CBS-YouGov poll.

And even in our deeply divided Congress, an overwhelming 407 House members voted in July to expand the visas for Afghans who helped the U.S. Only 16 voted against but most of them were hardcore Trump supporters.

So it was not surprising to see the ex-president demonize these Afghan allies in a statement yesterday, saying "How many thousands of terrorists have been airlifted out of Afghanistan and into neighborhoods around the world? How many terrorists will Joe Biden bring to America?"

This echoes anti-immigrant rhetoric being directed at our Afghan allies on right-wing talk T.V.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT": If history is any guide, and it's always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country in the coming months, probably in your neighborhood. And over the next decade that number may swell to the millions. So first, we invade and then we're invaded.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST, "THE INGRAHAM ANGLE": Is it really our responsibility to welcome thousands of potentially unvetted refugees from Afghanistan?

AVLON (on camera): And, of course, this kind of craven talk is catching on with some conservative politicos trying to win their primaries.

That's why Republicans would do well to remember the legacy of Robert Ray right about now. Ray was the Republican governor of Iowa from 1969 to 1983. But he's best remembered as a humanitarian who responded to the call of refugees in the wake of the Vietnam War, ultimately resettling roughly 10,000 in his rural Midwest state.

It wasn't popular at the time. A 1975 Gallop poll showed that only 36 percent of Americans supported refugee resettlement. Fifty-four percent opposed it.

Many people wanted to turn the page from Vietnam. Others didn't like the idea of groups of non-Western immigrants resettling in America's heartland.

But Robert Ray thought it was the right thing to do. Quote, "I didn't think we could --