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L.A. Posed to Mandate COVID Vaccine for Students 12 and Older; Kentucky Hospitals Reaching Critical Point as Patients Flood COVID Units; Trump Defends Robert E. Lee; Biden Demands Ex-Trump Officials Resign from Military Advisory Boards. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, September 9. I am Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman.


And we begin with breaking news in the race to vaccinate the nation. This morning, Los Angeles is poised to become the first major school district in the country to mandate COVID vaccinations for students who are 12 and older who attend in-person classes.

The district's board of education is meeting later today, and one member tells NEW DAY that the measure is expected to pass. Now, this would be the most sweeping and aggressive safety measure instituted anywhere in the country. And it happens to be in the nation's second largest school district.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. This will be a very big deal when it happens. And it does look likely to happen. And we're going to speak to a member of the school board coming up.

Again, this could be a key turning point in terms of vaccine requirements. Children now represent more than one in four new coronavirus cases in the country.

Among all age groups, we should note that hospitalizations are now back up to more than 101,000. We had been watching as the numbers had dropped some, but not anymore.

President Biden is delivering what the White House is calling a major speech on COVID later today. He's expected to lay out a new six-part plan, which will include an emphasis of extending certain vaccine requirements.

So let's start with what could be the most consequential vaccine mandate in the country. What is expected to happen in Los Angeles schools as soon as today. Stephanie Elam this morning from Los Angeles.

Walk us through it, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, what this really means is what we're expecting to hear today is this proposal for this quickly- put-together meeting for the board of education for the LAUSD is to say that all students, 12 and older, all that are eligible, that they need to be vaccinated by a certain point.

So let's look at some of the details here. We are talking about the fact that by October 31 for anyone who's involved in extracurricular programs, so that's basically going to be sports. That they are -- 12 and older, in-person extracurricular programs vaccinated by October 31.

Now, for all students, they're saying they have to begin this by December 19. And then for the younger students, as they reach their 12th birthday, no later than 30 days after, they have to get their first shot, and then no later than eight weeks after that birthday do they have to get their second shots.

There would be some exemptions for some qualified people and approved reasons you would have to have to do that.

Now remember, LAUSD is already one of the strictest school districts, because every single week they're getting tested. All of the employees, all of the students, whether or not you've been vaccinated or not, this is how they're handling it.

The reason, according to "The Los Angeles Times," is that this meeting that was quickly put together, they do believe that they are going to get approval. And just take a listen to a couple of board members to see why they think so.


TANYA ORTIZ FRANKLIN, LAUSD BOARD OF EDUCATION: By the start of spring semester, every student 12 and up who is eligible and doesn't have an exemption will have received the vaccine. Ideally from L.A. Unified will be providing it.

JACKIE GOLDBERG, LAUSD BOARD OF EDUCATION: That's why there isn't measles and mumps and rubella in our schools, because we vaccinate, and we require it. It's a mandate. This is a mandate to save lives.


ELAM: And if you listen to that last point, first of all, you're talking about some 600,000 students that go to more than 1,000 schools here in Los Angeles. And when you look at what she's saying, it's true. To go to public school pretty much everywhere in the state, in the country, you have to have a vaccine passport. That's what we used to call them as kids. Those little fold-up, accordion little piece of paper.

This idea is not new. The idea of having to be vaccinated. What's new is doing it for coronavirus.

But again, just to remind everybody, you had to be vaccinated to go to public school before. That part's not new. Just driving it home.

BERMAN: Yes, you sure did. Stephanie Elam, thank you for this. Look, it's a big deal, because it's Los Angeles, the second biggest

school district in the country. And oftentimes what happens in California, what starts in California spreads around the country. So thank you so much for that report.

KEILAR: Yes. I just had to turn in that vaccine passport, in fact, as I was entering our kids into school.

Joining us now, White House correspondent for McClatchy, Francesca Chambers. And national health policy reporter for "The Washington Post" Yasmeen Abutaleb is with us. Yasmeen is, of course, the author, the co-author of the book, "Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration's Response to the Pandemic that Changed History."

Yasmeen, let's touch first upon this mandate that we're seeing in the L.A. School District. I mean, this is making big news, because a lot of school districts certainly are not going to be doing this.

But it seems like the Biden administration, while you would expect that they would be supportive of this, is kind of relying on individual school districts, counties, cities to do their own thing.

YASMEEN ABUTALEB, NATIONAL HEALTH POLICY REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Absolutely. The Biden administration has been resistant to use the entire power of the federal government or force states to put in place mandate. They want people to do this on their own.

You saw the same thing with businesses. The administration wasn't outright forcing businesses to put in place mandates but was trying to take steps to pave the way for them to do that on their own.

And I think you're going to see the same thing with schools. I think you'll likely see Biden touch on this in his speech today, try to compel governors to put in place these types of statewide mandates, especially for schools. There's a lot of anxiety with schools reopening. Already, you've seen big outbreaks in the south, which of course, are a lot of the schools that aren't taking some of the basic precautions like masking.

But even so, there's a lot of anxiety about what could happen in schools with the Delta variant. The administration has emphasized over and over again vaccination is the No. 1 thing that schools and everyone else can do to protect against spread of the virus for everyone who's eligible.


And L.A. County is one of the biggest districts in the country. So I think they're hoping that this is going to pave the way for other districts that want to do the same.

BERMAN: Yes. Typically, vaccine mandates in schools is not a federal issue. It's usually a state by state. Even when -- local school districts is a little bit unusual. It's usually done by states, which is why I don't think the federal government has gone in and said you have to do this, even as we're seeing the Biden administration probably be more encouraging about it. I am interested to see what Biden says about this specifically today.

In the meantime, Francesca, let me ask you about this six-point plan that the president is going to lay out today, which is going to focus on vaccine requirements, booster shots, keeping schools open, increase testing, require masks, economic recovery, improving patient care.

What do you think the most important thrust of this will be in terms of new stuff from the president?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Well, we could hear more on those booster shots. The administration has set that September 20 timeline for when they expect to see FDA approval for these third booster shots specifically with Pfizer.

So for all Americans, that would be one key thing that we could hear from the White House today.

But they have also suggested that when it comes to the vaccine mandates, they have already mandated those within specific departments. They could expand those, they have suggested, within the federal government. So I'll be looking to hear what kind of expansion on the vaccine mandates.

But when you talk about reopening schools, yes, they also indicated that they will be taking more steps with relation to that or at least putting more pressure on schools in order to say reopened. So we'll be looking for more details on what that means, as well.

KEILAR: And of course, you know, Yasmeen, this is such a critical time for parents. I mean, it seems like most kids are back to school, or you have them here even going this week.

And I just wonder, as parents are going to be watching today to try to assuage some of the confusion and some of the concerns. And the fact that, honestly, schools and school districts are doing things so differently, what can they expect to hear?

ABUTALEB: I think the administration is well aware that there's a lot of anxiety about schools reopening. Not just from parents but from the teachers who work there, from other students. And in talking to the CDC, to other health officials. You know, they've also emphasized that spread doesn't just come from the school but from the community.

So they -- there's a desire to emphasize vaccinations, not just for the students but for everyone: for the parents who could spread it to a student and bring it into the school.

And I think in the speech today the president is expected to talk about, you know, he said increasing vaccinations. And at this point, they've done everything they can to incentivize people to get vaccinated who didn't want to in the first place, and those incentives didn't prove super successful.

But fear seems to be a bigger motivator. You saw more people getting vaccinated as Delta spread. And I think they've also seen that mandates are really increasing vaccinations. So I think the hope is that by forcing school -- or not forcing but by

having school districts put in place these mandates that might compel some parents who were otherwise resistant to also get vaccinated and just sort of prevent those different pockets of spread that could eventually seep into the schools.

BERMAN: You know, Francesca, that gets to a larger issue here, which is how does this White House reach the unvaccinated? Which is made up largely of a group that, frankly, doesn't want to listen to this White House on much of anything?

CHAMBERS: Especially when we've heard the president almost week over week now give these speeches on COVID-19.

But the White House is hoping that, with the aggressiveness of the Delta variant, that by having a speech right now when many Americans are returning from vacation over the summer, kids are going back to school, businesses are going to be allowing their employees back at work, that this is the time in which people will be paying attention to the message. But of course, we'll have to see how much that seeps through.

KEILAR: Yes. We will have to see if all of this works. Francesca, Yasmeen, thank you so much to both of you.

And coming up in our next hour, we'll be speaking with White House press secretary Jen Psaki ahead of the president's speech.

BERMAN: Hospitals in Kentucky nearing a breaking point. The governor tells CNN that doctors may soon have to begin choosing who gets treated and who does not.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): Well, at the moment we are still able to move patients from one hospital to another. But we are right at or quickly approaching that point.

But we've had more people test positive than ever before. We have more people in the hospital because of COVID than ever before. We are at record numbers, or near record numbers we set just days ago with people in the ICU or on a ventilator.


BERMAN: Miguel Marquez got access to a coronavirus ICU at a hospital in Hazard, Kentucky, that is overwhelmed with patients.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vera Middleton was so sick doctors considered putting her on a ventilator. She refused, opting instead to pray.

VERA MIDDLETON, COVID PATIENT: God has brought me to where I am right now. And I'll praise him from now on. MARQUEZ: She's getting everything but the ventilator and improving.

The 66-year-old great-grandmother from the small town of Olive Hill, Kentucky, says she and her husband talked about getting vaccinated but decided against it.


(on camera): Do you have any idea where you got COVID?

MIDDLETON: Yes. My granddaughter had gotten sick, and it just went through one and, you know, everybody, seemed like, at our house.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Kentucky seeing its biggest COVID-19 surge yet. Cases and hospitalizations spiking sharply to levels never seen before. Deaths, too, on the rise. Hospitals everywhere just trying to keep up.

JOELIE CRAFT, COVID ICU NURSE, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: It's defeating to put another person on the ventilator. It's defeating to watch a healthcare provider that I care about, or myself, stand at the bedside when someone dies alone. It's also defeating to watch somebody else get put a body bag.

MARQUEZ: Morehead's St. Claire Regional Medical Center is the biggest facility providing healthcare to 11 counties in rural northeastern Kentucky. It can't expand capacity fast enough.

COURTNEY HOLLINGSWORTH, COVID ICU NURSE, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: It's like we're at a war with this virus. And I think what we have to understand is we're not at a war with each other. Whether, you know, your beliefs and those things. It's -- it's truly a war with this virus.

MARQUEZ: The National Guard is helping here. A federal disaster medical assistance team is also on hand, and still they need more.

DONALD LLOYD, CEO, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: We right now, based upon our number of staff beds, we're running about 130 percent above capacity.

MARQUEZ (on camera): A hundred and thirty percent above capacity? That -- and that's ICU beds? Regular COVID units? Regular patients? Emergency department, everything across the board?

LLOYD: That's correct.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The hospital has created yet another COVID ICU but doesn't have the staff to open it.

(on camera): So if this opened today, how quickly would these beds be filled?

LLOYD: Within the hour. We could fill it within the hour.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): St. Claire is trying to keep those with COVID out of the hospital by providing monoclonal antibody treatments at home. LEAH STINSON, CLINICAL MANAGER, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE HOME HEALTH: All

right. You're running.


MARQUEZ: Madison Owens was fully vaccinated and still picked up the virus.

OWENS: It spreads like wild fire. Pretty -- it's easy to get. And it doesn't matter, who, vaccinated or not. Everybody's getting it.

MARQUEZ: A nursing student, the 21-year-old believes she picked it up at a funeral.

OWENS: My great-grandmother passed away, and we all went to the funeral. And then one by one, we all started going down.

MARQUEZ: The in-home treatment takes about two hours.

(on camera): In a perfect world, how many could you do in a day?

STINSON: We could probably start in the morning and keep going continuously, to be honest.

MARQUEZ: Twenty-four hours?

STINSON: Yes, we have that many orders.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): To try and keep up with demand, St. Claire plans to turn a tent in its parking lot into a monoclonal antibody treatment unit.

JENNIFER HARDIN, DIRECTOR, HOME HEALTHCARE SERVICES, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: I just worry that we're not going to have the staffing capacity to meet the demand.

MARQUEZ: Hospitals across the Bluegrass State so full with COVID-19 patients almost the entire system stretched to the limit.

DR. CORY YODER, FAMILY MEDICINE, ST. CLAIRE HEALTHCARE: So I get really fearful when we need beds for folks who their diabetes is out of control and they need an insulin drip or, you know, they have regular community-acquired pneumonia. We might not have a bed for them. If you come in and have a heart attack and you need an ICU bed, we probably won't have a bed for you.

MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Morehead, Kentucky.


BERMAN: You know, our thanks to Miguel for that. And Miguel has really done this state by state 18-month tour through the United States as COVID has moved through once, twice, in some cases three times.

You see him back now in a Kentucky hospital, which is -- or hospitals, which are reaching their breaking points as, you know, it's tragic. And here's the thing: when we're talking about hospital capacity, this is unvaccinated people who are filling these beds in these hospitals and putting the strain on.

KEILAR: Yes. And what's -- it was interesting hearing medical professionals talk about the conditions they're so worried about, right? These are the choices that they're having to make. No one wants to be on -- on the other side of that choice. Right? You don't want to be on the other side of a coin flip when you could just get vaccinated.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to come back to this in just a little bit.

In the meantime, President Biden moving to remove former President Trump's allies from military advisory boards, but they're not going away quietly. We're going to have the latest on that ongoing standoff next.

KEILAR: Plus, the former president launching a bizarre and historically very questionable defense of a Confederate general.

And America's top security official giving a new warning about another right-wing rally at the Capitol.



BERMAN: New this morning, former President Trump denouncing the removal of the towering statue of Confederate Robert E. Lee in Richmond yesterday, which stood as the biggest Confederate statue in the nation.

In addition to referring to the Confederate general as a, quote, "unifying force," he also said, "If we only had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. What an embarrassment we are suffering, because we don't have the genius of a Robert E. Lee."

Joining us now is CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George w. Bush, Scott Jennings.

Scott, I have a lot of feelings about this. But before I get into any of that, let me just ask you, when you read the statement from the former president, which by the way, included a lot more than just that about -- about the good generalship of Robert E. Lee but conveniently left out the fact that he chose to fight against the United States and for the Confederacy and in the defense of slavery, aside from that, what did you make of the statement?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it -- there were a lot of -- lot of things going on in here.

The first part about the statue piece, I mean, this is an ongoing debate. We've had some panels on this show about statue removals. I have no use for these Confederate statutes myself. Some people think it's representative of our history. There's a lot of polling out there that indicates Trump's position on the statute part is actually not an invalid political position.


And so that debate rages. I don't like the Confederate statues. I tend to prefer statues of American heroes, people like George Washington.

I think where the statue people went off the rails is when they started removing statues of non-Confederates. But you know, that's a topic for another day.

The rest of the statement was -- I mean, the idea of a time-traveling Robert E. Lee going to Afghanistan is enough for a book. I -- like a -- like a sort of historical, you know, sci-fi thriller of some kind.

I -- what I think Donald Trump is doing -- I mean, we know he's not an historical scholar. This is a guy who's not steeped in military history. And you know, he's as likely to know as much about this as he is to know about General Burt Reynolds' great success at the battle of "Cannonball Run" or whatever.

I mean, he -- he is trying to reflect, I think, what he thinks people want to hear. And this is sort of, you know, how he's had his political rise, trying to be a mirror to constituencies that he thinks want to hear certain things. I mean, it's abhorrent to us, and it's stupid sounding, but at the same time, you know, delivered him the presidency once.

So I was picking up different things in this statement and -- and was shocked by it but not surprised, I guess.

KEILAR: Yes. It's -- He's sort of seeing a fissure or maybe a chasm -- I don't know how you'd put it -- over this issue and he's trying to, like, cleave it open, right? He's trying to drive a wedge even further in there.

And I wonder what you think the effect is, Scott. Because, you know, this is something that we see so many Republicans follow suit on.

JENNINGS: Well, he's -- he's conflating several things that have nothing to do with each other.

The idea of the statue removal and Robert E. Lee and the Confederate statues, and then -- and then inserting that into our sort of debate over our Afghanistan withdrawal. And these things have nothing to do with each other.

He does know that there is a constituency out there that romanticizes Robert E. Lee, that romanticizes the Confederacy. You know, if only we'd had more troops, if only -- we could have the utopia of the Confederacy. I mean, he knows there's a constituency for that out there.

And he knows that people are mad at Biden over Afghanistan. So you take two things that are unrelated and you stick them into the same -- into the same deal.

Humbly, as a political strategy, I would just offer this ain't it. You know, Joe Biden is really struggling right now. His approval ratings are down. I personally think he's having a disastrous presidency, and it's -- it's on the downward swing.

But sort of saying if only we had more Robert E. Lee, it would save us from Joe Biden is not the way to put another Republican in the White House.

BERMAN: Look, can I also just say how do we know Robert E. Lee, which side he would have been fighting on? Honestly, like you know, he didn't fight for the United States in the Civil War. So as a matter of historical fact there.

Scott, in terms of the Biden presidency right now, the president and the White House has asked a number of Trump appointees who sat on military advisory boards to the military academies to step down or they would be removed. We have the faces up there.

They include political figures like Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and David Urban, but also former generals like H.R. McMaster and Jack Keane. As of last night, I think, they were removed from these boards if they did not resign. What do you think of this?

JENNINGS: Yes. I thought it was petty, frankly, by Joe Biden to do this. You know, these boards of visitors for these military academies are pretty plum political appointments that presidents often hand out to people who didn't quite make it to the rank of ambassador.

I did personnel for George W. Bush, and folks who didn't become ambassadors or cabinet secretaries oftentimes would find their way onto these boards as visitors.

So these are really good appointments, often go to a president's biggest political supporters. It's not unusual for a president to put people like this on here. Some of these folks are highly qualified to be on it. And they have terms, and then when those terms go out, the next president puts their people on. You know, they're not part of setting policy for the federal government.

I thought it was extremely petty. And frankly, I think what Joe Biden has guaranteed is that when the next Republican comes in, whenever that is, '24 or the next time, whenever, that whatever Democratic appointments were made on the way out, they're going to get wiped away.

And I just -- I think this is sort of a stupid, you know, tit-for-tat that we're going to get in here about trying to wipe away the previous president's appointments on boards like this.

Certainly, political appointments that manage the federal government, different story. That's not what these are, so I thought it was a really petty, frankly, move by the Biden White House.

KEILAR: Can I ask you, Scott, should he have maybe distinguished between some of these appointments? I mean, you look at, for instance, retired Colonel McGregor, who is a fan of replacement theory, has you know, railed against women in the military in certain roles. One of the -- Heidi Stirrup pressured DOJ officials to give the Trump White House information about election fraud. I mean, there's different categories of people here.


Should the Biden administration have been maybe just more selective about who they were looking at? I mean, do you think those people really belong on a board of visitors? These are folks that I would posit any other Republican wouldn't have appointed.

JENNINGS: Yes. Look, I didn't come prepared to debate the merits of each individual appointee to these things. I'm just telling you it is not normal for a new president to wipe away the appointments of these boards of visitors and other similar kinds of boards and commissions.

It is normal to replace political appointees in the operations of the federal government. Totally normal. Happens all the time. It does violate our norms for Biden to do what he did here.

And would I have chosen all these people? Probably not. But I wasn't the president. And these people are appointed at the pleasure of the president and at the time.

And so I would just offer that this -- this sort of -- this is pettiness that is going to perpetuate now because of what Biden has done.

Biden sort of ran as the guy who was going to restore our norms and say, look, I'm going -- I'm going to try to get it back to the way we've done. We'll have some comity in Washington. We'll have some bipartisanship. You know, we're not going to be at each other's throat all the time. This does not -- this action does not match any -- any of that rhetoric.

And so I -- I think -- I think Democrats are going to regret -- regret this move. It was of -- it was of no consequence but something that they'll likely regret in the future.

BERMAN: Scott Jennings, thanks for joining us this morning.

JENNINGS: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN Coming up, the FBI releasing new video of the suspect who planted pipe bombs ahead of the Capitol riot.

KEILAR: Plus, our next guest says that the U.S. is not prepared for how dangerous the next two years could be politically. And he explains why ahead.