Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

L.A. Expected to Mandate COVID-19 Vaccine for Students 12 and Older; Taliban Allowing 200, Including Americans, to Leave Kabul; Coronavirus Spikes in Missouri's Ozarks, Where Vaccination Rate Remains Low. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news. Los Angeles could become the largest school district in the nation to require vaccinations for students 12 and older. A vote is planned for today.

In the meantime, President Biden will lay out his administration's revamped approach to ending the pandemic. Joining us now is White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Good morning, Jen. Thank you so much for being with us.


BERMAN: Look, the breaking news out of Los Angeles is big. It directly impacts thousands of children soon and could influence the course for millions of others.

What is the White House view about schools --

PSAKI: Good for them?

BERMAN: Good for them?

PSAKI: Good for them. Absolutely, John. Look, we know what works in schools. We know that getting your kids vaccinated if they're 12 and older works. We know having more adults, teachers, people who are working in schools works.

And for kids who are under 12, the best thing we can do is ensure that every adult around them is vaccinated. And this type of a step is a step toward that. So definitely a positive sign.

BERMAN: Does the White House encourage school districts or states around the country to put in vaccine mandates for 12-year olds and older?

PSAKI: Well, look, every school is going to make their own decision. But certainly putting in place requirements that would increase the number of people who are vaccinated, decrease the number of people who are unvaccinated around kids, is a step forward and something, yes, we've been encouraging.

BERMAN: Will the White House take federal action in order to get more school districts to do this?

PSAKI: Well, it's always up to local school districts to put in place requirements, whatever they are. There's a role that leaders in states can play. There's a role that civic leaders can play and, sure, there's a role the President of the United States can play as well. He's going to speak later today on this.

But putting in place additional requirements, to ensure more people are vaccinated, kids are protected, parents can feel calmer about sending their kids to school, something that's key for mental health, emotional health, that certainly is a part of his speech later this afternoon.

BERMAN: So the speech today, can I ask -- it's a six-point plan or we're told there are six broad areas -- but what's the overall goal here?

PSAKI: Well, the overall goal is to speak directly to the American people about what's next on COVID. And we know that, while there's been a range of issues that we've all been discussing, that are also vitally important -- whether it's Afghanistan or the Build Back Better agenda -- that most people in this country, COVID and addressing COVID, returning to some version of normalcy is their number one, two and three issue.

So he'll talk a little bit about the progress we've made, John, but he'll also talk about what's next. That includes getting more people who are unvaccinated vaccinated. That means reducing hospitalizations. That means putting in place more testing requirements and putting in place more protections in the form of boosters to make sure people have an even greater level of protection.

That's what the president will talk about. And he also will acknowledge the fact that the 175 million people who are vaccinated out there, many of them are frustrated. They want to go back to normal. Of course, they do. And that's going to require moving more unvaccinated people to a vaccinated status. So that's what he'll talk about.

BERMAN: We heard Howard Stern, we just heard Michael Smerconish on this show before Jim Justice in West Virginia, Republican governor. And they're sick of -- sort of, I'm paraphrasing here -- coddling the unvaccinated.

Where is the White House on this?

PSAKI: Yes. They're not alone. And I think that's reflective of millions of Americans across the country.

Now we don't want this to be a vaccinated versus unvaccinated issue. That's not what we're aiming toward or what we're looking to do here. But what we are focused on doing is protecting more people. And you talk -- you started our interview here talking about kids who

are under 12. We know what works. We know, if they're surrounded by adults who are vaccinated, they're going to be better protected.

We know how to protect people who are immunocompromised. We know how we can safely go back to sporting events. We know how we can safely go back to concerts.

And people are sick and tired of waiting. So we know requirements work. So we put in place some mandates over the past couple of months for the components of the federal government. Many big companies have put in place requirements. We have seen them work.

They've also become more popular, in part, probably because vaccinated people want to return to some version of normal.

BERMAN: If I can, I want to run through a couple major overnight developments on different fronts that I want to get the White House position on.

We learned that there is a plane in Kabul, that will be leaving, at some point, carrying as many as 200 people, including some Americans, leaving for Doha.

What can you tell us about this?

PSAKI: Well, I can't get into any specific details for security reasons, John, but what I can tell you is that one of our focuses, the focus of our secretary of state, who has been on the ground the last couple of days, and our diplomats who are in the region, are working overtime, every night, all night, is to get these planes, get this airport operational.


PSAKI: In Qatar, the Qataris, the Qatari Airlines, they have been a key partner in this. So what we're working to do is to be able to get flights in and out of the airport, to help people who want to depart depart -- American citizens, legal permanent residents, people who are eligible for different programs we have from the United States, special immigrant visa programs and others.

So this is what we have been working toward, every moment of every day. And it's something we hope will be instrumental moving forward.

BERMAN: "The Wall Street Journal" reports that the Biden administration is going to sue Texas to try to stop their new near- abortion ban from continuing.

What can you tell us about this?

PSAKI: Well, the president, on the day this announcement was made in Texas, the president made pretty clear to the Department of Justice, to the Department of Health and Human Services, that they were to do everything they could to protect a woman's right to health care, a woman's right to choose. So there are steps the Department of Justice announced, the attorney

general announced on Monday, additional steps they've been considering. We'll let them announce any legal actions, of course, from their end. Hope to hear more soon.

But this is certainly consistent with the president's call for urgency and for action to protect women's health care in Texas.

BERMAN: Lawsuit announced today?

PSAKI: We'll see. We'll leave it to the Department of Justice to announce any specific details or plans.

BERMAN: All right. So the White House asked for several members of these military academy advisory boards to resign or they would be removed. Many have refused to resign.

So what happens to them now?

PSAKI: Well, we're confident in our legal abilities here. But I will tell you, John, no one is looking to have a battle here. The President of the United States, just as every president and every administration and cabinet members have the right to appoint people they deem as qualified as aligned with the administration's viewpoint -- you know, priorities to these boards and to any position in the Federal government.

And that's what we're really talking about here. But we're confident in our right to make new decisions about who serves on these boards.

BERMAN: Traditionally, these appointees do serve out their full three-year term, though.

Why is there no distinction between the likes of Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer, political operatives, and Megan Mobbs (ph), who we had on earlier in the show, or even General McMaster, who is receiving an award from West Point later this week, why no distinction?

PSAKI: Well, look, again, this really goes back to what every president's right is, which is to appoint individuals they choose, because they're aligned with their values, because they're aligned with the qualifications that they deem for any of these positions in any of these boards. That's what's taking place here. It's not personal.

I will say that there are some people, of course, on these boards, who have supported or stood by silently while their former boss supported an insurrection. That's not really OK with us, either.

But you're right, there's a span of individuals on these boards. It's really not more complicated than the president, his cabinet and team wanting to be able to appoint a fresh layer of people.

BERMAN: As far as you're concerned, are they effectively off the boards now?

Have they been fired from these boards as of this morning?

PSAKI: Well, they've certainly been -- it's been conveyed to them, as you know yesterday, that they were asked to resign; in terms of their exact status this morning, I don't have an update. But again, we're confident in our legal capacity here.

BERMAN: White House press secretary Jen Psaki, thank you for being with us this morning.

PSAKI: Thank you.

BERMAN: Still ahead, we'll speak live with a school board member in Los Angeles about today's potentially landmark move to require COVID vaccinations for students.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And one part of the country is seeing a fast rise in COVID cases. Yet vaccinations are still well below average. Why many people here are still hesitant.


ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Why do you not want the vaccine?

WAYLAND BLAND, RECOVERING COVID-19 PATIENT: I ain't taking that shit. Ain't taking it. I don't like people trying to push a shot on me or something else because I'm just bull headed a fellow you ever seen.






KEILAR: Coronavirus is crushing a corner of rural America. There, getting the vaccine can still feel like treason. Now Van Buren, the town in Missouri's Ozarks that CNN visited last fall in a report on anti-maskers, is seeing another surge. CNN's Elle Reeve has more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The spike is a little shocking. It's really raging here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is scared. Everybody is coming down with it. It's almost like a plague.

CHERYL WETTON, WIFE OF COVID-19 VICTIM: I have both shots of the vaccine and people just acted like it doesn't help. It bothers me sometimes that people just act like COVID is the big joke.

I always want to say, "Well, why don't you just come right up here to the cemetery and I'll show you my husband's grave and I can show you it's no joke."

REEVE (voice-over): Over the five days we spent in Carter County, Missouri, it felt like COVID was closing in around us. The positivity rate kept climbing and is now 32 percent. Some people we wanted to interview told us they just been exposed or were too sick to talk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a chicken feather, hold that in your hand.

REEVE (voice-over): We first came to Van Buren in October 2020 when COVID was starting to surge in rural America. When we heard that one of the diners we'd interviewed people in had closed for COVID, we wanted to come back and see what had changed.

By the end of this spring, many thought COVID was over, but in the past few weeks it's raged through town. The vaccination rate is very low with only 27 percent fully vaccinated.

DR. CHRISTOPHER COCHRAN, OZARKS HEALTHCARE: The overwhelming majority of our patients that are admitted to the hospital with clinically severe COVID are unvaccinated. I didn't realize how unvaccinated we were. I guess that's my fault.


COCHRAN: I didn't continue to push as hard as I should have to get people vaccinated, because I thought everybody was because the virus and disease was abating, but I was wrong. It came back like a brush fire.

REEVE: Are you vaccinated?

JIM RODEBUSH, HUSBAND OF COVID-19 VICTIM: No, but it will be. I was skeptical of it until I watched all this happen.

REEVE (voice-over): Jim's wife Ruth fought cancer for 12 years but COVID killed her in eight days. He says the doctor told her not to take the vaccine because of her chemo.

When did your wife die?

RODEBUSH: July the 20th. I talked to her up until Sunday when she died and she said this is bad. She said you all need the shot. I think she's right.

REEVE: Last time we came here, the debate was over masks and it had gotten very political.

BLAND: We sit in the coffee shop and watch people walk in the door. We look at masks and we all look at each other and we go, Democrat.

REEVE: Later that fall, there was a COVID surge in the area but the health center says this wave is much worse. In Van Buren, after just two days of school this August, about 20 kids tested positive. Five days later, almost a quarter of students were under quarantine. The preschool had to close for two weeks.

People in town were gossiping who had it and where they got it and they'd all seen our last story.

RODEBUSH: Last story you did, I kind of thought it was all bull myself.

REEVE: Tell me more and tell me why.

RODEBUSH: That's the way people are here. I think people here try to take care of each other. They don't know what to talk about and talk about COVID. They need to walk through the COVID ward. That will change your mind.

REEVE: Jim admits some people are pretty set in their views.

RODEBUSH: A good friend of mine, he hasn't had the shot but everywhere he goes, if he goes anyplace, he wears a mask and he's probably one of the best guys I know, but you're not going to change anything about him. Maybe you ought to interview him.

REEVE: Would he talk to us?

RODEBUSH: Yes, but you probably wouldn't like what he would tell you.

REEVE: That's OK, that's OK.

RODEBUSH: Let me get my phone.

BLAND: Hello?

RODEBUSH: Hey, I'm surrounded. I need you to come down here. I'm serious.

BLAND: What are you surrounded by?

RODEBUSH: A bunch of women.

BLAND: OK. I'll be right there.

RODEBUSH: All right. Hey, they're going to interview you.

BLAND: Oh, no, they ain't.

RODEBUSH: Yes, yes, come on.

BLAND: Can I sit down there by you?

REEVE: Why do you not want the vaccine?

BLAND: I ain't taking that shit. Ain't taking it. I don't like people trying to push a shot on me or something else because I'm just bull headed a fellow you ever seen.

REEVE: Last fall, COVID put Wayland in the hospital for seven days.

BLAND: I was on everything they had. Steroids, full drip, plasma from people that had COVID, drugs that they give my President Trump and they finally burned it out of me. REEVE: What's the difference between the vaccine and the drugs you took like Regeneron?

BLAND: Well, I would have took anything. I wouldn't have mattered what it was.

REEVE: But why would you trust Regeneron and not the vaccine?

BLAND: Am I going to have to --


RODEBUSH: I don't know.

BLAND: Well, the one thing is they shafted my president. They would have had the vaccine, already had it already had it, but they wouldn't give it to him because they know damn good well he'd be reelected. They got nothing nobody could do.

So they had to swindle around and scale around and keep it from him just as soon as the election was over and he got it. Me and friends, I ain't taking your medicine, not from -- I'll take what they give him but I'm not taking yours.

REEVE: He took the vaccine, though.

BLAND: He might have. I don't know that.

RODEBUSH: I think they give him the Regeneron.

REEVE: They did give him that but he did take the vaccine.

BLAND: Later on probably, yes. I'm not saying he didn't. I don't know that. That's what pissed me off and I'm not taking it because I'm that bull headed.

REEVE: There is no evidence for Wayland's theory, but he wasn't alone in his skepticism.

Have you thought about getting your vaccine?


REEVE: Oh, really, how come?

CHITWOOD: Because I don't want to get sick.

REEVE: You think the vaccine would make you more sick?

CHITWOOD: Probably. It made my mom sick.

REEVE: OK. You mean when she got the --

CHITWOOD: Well, she got the vaccine in February.

REEVE: And she got sick on Monday with COVID -- maybe COVID? CHITWOOD: Yes.

REEVE: Is she going to get tested?

CHITWOOD: Probably not. She's staying home and I'm bringing her groceries and doing whatever I can away from her.


CHITWOOD: One of her friends tested positive and she had been with him so more than likely.

BRANDON HELVEY, CARTER COUNTY RESIDENT: I'm behind right now because I was down for about a week and a half being sick and I don't care. I got it. I told everybody, hey, I had COVID.


HELVEY: If you don't want to get around me, don't get around me. I do have it.

REEVE: So, did you have the vaccine?


REEVE: Why not?

HELVEY: There is not enough research on it. I'm not totally against the shot. If I have to take it and it will help me in the future and not hurt me, yes, I may take it.

REEVE: Are you vaccinated?


REEVE: And why not?

WILDER: I just haven't got vaccinated.


WILDER: Had a lot of people around me had it. I just haven't, never got vaccinated. Around here, we're pretty country folk and it's hard to get people to do something they don't understand completely or they don't feel the need to.

REEVE: But are you in that category?

WILDER: Well, I guess. I don't really get deep with you. I believe if the good Lord wants me right now, it doesn't matter if I take a vaccine or I don't. I know -- I know a lot of people say, well, he gave you common sense and you ought to go get the shot, but let's just, you know, just the way I look at things.

COCHRAN: I don't want to ever give anybody an excuse for doing something like not getting vaccinated, but the reasons do harken to someone who has, you know, been told they're a dumb hillbilly all their life by the rest of the country. That is not an excuse but part of the reason.

I don't know that we're oppressed or disenfranchised, I don't know if we deserve to feel that way here, but we're a flyover state. In a social situation where peer pressure is so hard, we've had a lot of trouble to try to get people vaccinated. To break out of that peer group is very hard for people.

REEVE: Has anyone wanted to get vaccinated in secret?

COCHRAN: Well, yes. Absolutely.

REEVE: Tell me what they say?

COCHRAN: When they're in my office and say I don't want to get vaccinated and this is why. It usually at the very best a specious reason or a fallacious reason, we have set up things where we can sneak one in your arm wherever you need to do it because that's our goal.

REEVE: It's hard but not impossible. The health center said more people in Van Buren got the vaccine after two local kids in their 20s were hospitalized with COVID earlier this summer.

Last year, we talked to Brian who was pretty cavalier about COVID.

BRIAN KEATHLEY, CARTER COUNTY RESIDENT: I guess if I get it and it kills me, it's slow-walking inside singing for the family.

REEVE: What would you put on your tombstone?

KEATHLEY: Didn't wear a mask.

REEVE: It took some convincing but he agreed to talk to us again and tell us what happened since.

KEATHLEY: No one feels like they can trust the government. It not my fault nobody is wearing their mask. It's not my fault nobody is taking the vaccine. It's the government's fault.

REEVE: Did you get your vaccine?


REEVE: Please, Brian. Did you get the vaccine?

KEATHLEY: Doesn't matter whether I got the vaccine or not. Coronavirus doesn't care who you are.

REEVE: I know.

KEATHLEY: Whether you think you're a big tough guy or whether you're anything, I doesn't matter. If you get it, it can kill you.

I don't want my wife to have to wonder, when they put you in a medical induced coma and stick a tube down your throat, is he going to come back out of that?

That's why I got a vaccine.

REEVE: Elle Reeve, CNN, Van Buren, Missouri.


KEILAR: That is really -- I mean, we've talked a lot about it, Berman, how fear is motivating people, right, that they're afraid. They see these stories. They're afraid.

I mean, someone like that has seen a story. He's seen a wife on television, talking about her spouse or a husband talking about their spouse and knowing that, perhaps, if they had just gotten vaccinated, maybe hearing that warning on the death bed, you know.

BERMAN: That's what jumped out at me also from that piece. There's a lot in there. But when Elle was saying that there was an increase in vaccinations when two young people ended up hospitalized and severely ill from COVID, that's what motivated people to get vaccinated.

By the way, there aren't many people vaccinated there, it's, what, 27 percent. But it did increase the rate there. So that's what serves as a motivator: fear, pain, not anything that's being said at the leadership level.

KEILAR: Yes, I think they're seeing people who they identify with, right, telling them that they should get a vaccine. People who are in a situation, a horrible situation, that no one wants to be in, which is losing a loved one. And they see themselves in that.

And they know that it could happen. And with seeing the younger people, as you mentioned, I think especially you talk about it may be happening to your kids. And that's -- you know, all bets are off.

BERMAN: And just one last thing in terms of being politicized there.


BERMAN: That man who admitted to Elle that the reason he was not getting the vaccine is that it wasn't approved before the election. He was bitter that it wasn't approved before the election, when it might have helped Donald Trump get re-elected.

It didn't matter to him that Trump actually got the vaccine. I guess he didn't believe that Trump actually got the vaccine. But to hear that, that's not a medical decision, that's a political decision. So that's case in point that the vaccine has been politicized.

KEILAR: Yes, and I also would say, I wonder in a case like that if Donald Trump -- we've wondered, if Donald Trump had come out and been supportive of the vaccine, would it have made a difference for people who support him?

Perhaps in the case like that it would have. But, instead, he got the vaccine in January and we didn't find out about it later. He did not champion this vaccine that was ushered through during his administration.

And now there will be this question, could he have saved lives if he did?

BERMAN: Really great report from Elle Reeve.

So almost everyone knows where they were almost 20 years ago to the day on September 11th. But it's what the country and the major figures have been through since then that really no one could have seen coming. John Avlon with a reality check.


JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's been 20 years; roughly a third of Americans were either children or not yet born during the attacks of 9/11. But trust me when I say that our nation was briefly united in shock and grief and resolve.

And as hard as it might be to believe, we even transcended partisan politics for a time, which is why looking back it's kind of surreal to see where we've ended up now.

I mean, who would have believed that the Taliban, who gave shelter to bin Laden, would be back in control of Afghanistan after a 20-year war that cost America an estimated $2 trillion and nearly 2,500 U.S. soldiers' lives?

Who would have believed that Rudy Giuliani, a man known as America's mayor, would find his reputation in tatters?

After the attacks he was compared to Churchill, lauded as a tower of strength across partisan lines. And I was proud to work for him in City Hall; 20 years later, he's under investigation by the U.S. attorney's office that he once led.

His words and actions played a role in the first dual impeachment of a president in American history, culminating in a call for trial by combat before an attack on our Capitol.

And who would have believed that Donald Trump, the man who bragged on 9/11 that his building was now the tallest in the New York skyline, would have elected president as a Republican after attacking the freedom agenda of the Biden administration, banning immigration from several majority Muslim nations while negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban that excluded our allied Afghan government.

Or that that deal would be followed through by the next president, Joe Biden. He'd been a senator almost 30 years when he did a September 20th, 2001 town hall with CNN's "CROSSFIRE," co-hosted by a young Tucker Carlson.

The one-time bow tie aficionado is now a conservative populist FOX News host, who opposes foreign wars. But back then he was already floating the false idea that Iraq had something to do with the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Israeli intelligence, a group that knows a lot about terrorism, obviously, apparently believes that Iraq had a role in this. That's a view that's gaining currency in Washington.

A, do you think that that's true, Iraq had a role and, B, does that make Iraq the enemy?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, big nations can't bluff. We can't miss on this. We cannot go out and cause the coalition that this administration has painstakingly put together, including the Arab world, including the Islamic world, including our erstwhile former enemies and/or possible adversaries in the future.

We can't go out there and make a mistake or, in a sense, declare war on every country that has, in any way, harbored terrorists in the past.


AVLON: Of course, the invasion of Iraq is where things really started to go off the rails. America overreached; our moral authority was compromised and we took our eye off what should have been a singular focus: stopping radical Islamist terrorists, trying instead to remake the Middle East.

Instead, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is still in Guantanamo Bay and getting a new pretrial hearing this week. Should have been tried in a U.S. court, preferably in New York, a long time ago.

And to add insult to injury, this Saturday, while Presidents Bush and Obama and Biden mark the anniversary at 9/11 memorials across the nation, ex-president Trump will be providing color commentary for a fight between aging heavyweights in Florida. So much for "never forget."

But none of these tragic and ironic twists should distract us from remembering what happened that day. We cannot give in to 9/11 amnesia because, that day, our nation met the worst of humanity with the best of humanity.

The firefighters and police officers and passengers on Flight 93 set an enduring example of what courage in a democracy looks like. They ran toward danger, to help other people, people they didn't know.