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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Interviewed on Thousands of Immigrants Setting Up Camp in U.S. While Awaiting Processing; Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) Interviewed on Congressional Democrats Struggle to Pass Infrastructure and Reconciliation Bills and Republican Refusal to Help Raise Debt Ceiling; European Court Says Russia Responsible for Assassination of Defector Alexander Litvinenko. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2021 - 08:00   ET


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It is heartbreaking to see these individuals. It is a human tragedy. And we are addressing it as best we can under the laws that we are employing now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: This is really -- this is something we haven't seen before, this camp inside of the United States, with thousands of people. What is the reticence to call something that is so clearly a crisis a crisis?

MAYORKAS: I call it a heartbreaking situation, a tremendous challenge. We are addressing it with a plan. We are executing on that plan. I by no means diminish humane issue that it presents, but I want to be clear that we do have a plan to address it, respecting the needs of the individuals, and we are executing on that plan.

KEILAR: All right, secretary, so much going --

MAYORKAS: I am very -- if I may, I am very focused on mission.

KEILAR: Mission, and this issue, though, of semantics. It seems like that is something -- go on.

MAYORKAS: I'm not focused on the words that people employ. I'm focused on the needs of the migrants, the execution of our responsibilities, and addressing the situation under the bridge in Del Rio. That is what I am focused on.

KEILAR: All right, Secretary Mayorkas, DHS, thank you so much for being with us.

MAYORKAS: Thank you so much.

KEILAR: And NEW DAY continues right now.

Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am Brianna Keilar with John Berman. It is Tuesday, September 21st, the morning, John, of the night of the 21st of September, to quote Earth, Wind & Fire that we recently had on the show. Such a fun day.

BERMAN: Did Earth, Wind & Fire play on your birthday some 29 years ago?

KEILAR: I mean, not for me, but I like to adopt the song.

BERMAN: Happy birthday. Happy birthday.

KEILAR: It's pretty fun. Thank you. Thank you very much.

So President Biden, big day for him, he's set to address the U.N. General Assembly here in just a couple of hours for the first time as president of the United States. And his speech is expected to hit on topics from China to the climate crisis to the global pandemic. And he's going to try to drive home the point to other world leaders that he's as far from his predecessor as possible.

BERMAN: So it comes as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns the U.S. is headed to economic catastrophe. The country is on the verge of default unless, unless Congress raises the debt limit. House Democrats are expected to vote today -- the entire House of Representatives is going to vote today on a bill that would essentially dare Republicans to vote against raising the debt limit. But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is playing hardball, saying they won't help Democrats do it.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He, of course is a longtime friend and close ally of President Biden. Senator Coons, what makes you believe that Republicans are going to budge on this, on the debt limit?

SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D-DE): Well, John, first, let's be clear about what this is about. Most other advanced economies don't do this where their government agrees to spend money, and then a year or two or three later has to raise their debt limit to pay for it. What we are doing by suspending the debt ceiling or raising the debt limit is paying for things that have already been done, mostly under the previous administration, spending that was approved by Congress on a bipartisan basis and signed into law by President Trump. So when some of my colleagues say they won't vote for it because they won't vote for something that helps facilitate the Democrats' agenda, that's just not true.

It also goes against the last 80 times that on a bipartisan basis we have agreed that the United States should pay the bills that we approve here in Congress. So I think if we begin allowing the precedent that we will only raise the debt ceiling by the party that is in power, that makes even harder the reality that with a filibuster here in the Senate we won't get a single Republican vote, which means we won't raise the debt ceiling, which means we won't increase spending on anything.

I'll remind you, John, we are still in the middle a pandemic. Last year the Congress came together, and in an important bill early last year, unanimously passed a multitrillion dollar pandemic relief bill.


And at the end of last year, on a strong bipartisan basis, passed another COVID relief bill. That's why we aren't in a deep recession. We should pay those bills. This is something that's a bipartisan interest and that we as Democrats when President Trump was in the White House did relatively easily three times.

BERMAN: You talk about precedent, though. Mind you, and I know you don't need any reminding, Mitch McConnell held a Supreme Court seat vacant for a year.

COONS: I know. I'm well aware.

BERMAN: So what makes you think he'll budge this time? You can find it upsetting and unfair, but it doesn't mean it's not going to happen.

COONS: John, the consequences for average Americans would be dramatic and swift. We would get downgraded. We would be not able as a country to borrow money on the markets at the same rates, and it would immediately impact how much your viewers are paying in interest rates on everything from credit cards to home mortgages. All of us who are serving here in Congress know that this would be reckless and irresponsible.

BERMAN: So are Democrats willing to -- there is a way you can do this alone, you can do this through reconciliation with just Democratic votes. Will you do it alone if you have to?

COONS: I don't think so. We're going to have a debate about that in my caucus today. But I think that sets a terrible precedent, one that we didn't follow when we were in the minority and the Republicans controlled the House and the Senate. Even though they passed a tax bill that didn't get a single Democratic vote and that we did not think would pay for itself, we still voted to raise the debt ceiling. We think they should do the same thing this time.

Frankly, this threatens to step on what is the most important message our president is bringing to the United Nations today, which is that the United States can again be a global leader in pulling the world together to confront three crises that are going on at the same time -- a global public health crisis in the pandemic, a migration crisis all over the world, and climate change which is really helping driving to contribute to both.

I expect we're going to get a clear and strong and forceful and welcome speech from President Biden later this morning. I'll remind you the United Nations in the United States and New York is one of the only places in the world where leaders of all backgrounds gather, and where we have a chance to put our best foot forward. Next year will be President Biden's 50th year as a national elected official. He knows the stage. He knows the setting and he'll deliver a strong and welcome message.

BERMAN: You say President Biden will show he can bring the world together. Is that the message the world has received over the last few months? The messy withdraw from Afghanistan was divisive among many U.S. allies. Certainly, the submarine deal with Australia has been divisive. You can argue whether or not France is sour grapes or should be, but it certainly has been divisive. They pulled their ambassador for the first time in history. So is that pulling the world together?

COONS: Well, John, I am friends with the French ambassador to the United States, and it certainly was a striking gesture for him to be recalled for consultation to Paris. And I'll remind you, the French just accomplished a major counterterrorism objective in killing French troops killed in West Africa, the leader of ISIS West Africa, a security mission we have been supporting for years. They are one of our longest and closest allies. And, yes, the way that the critical new submarine deal between the United States, U.K., and Australia was announced produced some grave upset in Paris, and we're going to have to work to make sure that we weave back together our partnership, our alliance that's based on values and interests.

But President Biden has been making a fundamental pivot from 20 years where the United States was principally connected to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and where all of our allies from NATO and other regions in the world were engaged in that war with us, to now a period where we're engaging in diplomacy, where we're moving toward the world conference that is going to happen in Glasgow now in just six weeks to focus on the urgent crisis of climate change and to be the world leader in vaccines.

There was great news just this week that the latest evidence shows that an American invented and developed vaccine is safe for children from five to 11. We have to make more progress in fighting this pandemic, and making that progress is the sort of leadership President Biden will show.

BERMAN: I want to bounce around a little bit. We talked about the debt ceiling, we talked about the United Nations. I do want to talk about this separate issue, which is the spending plan and the infrastructure deal where there is infighting among Democrats. There just is at this point, with Joe Manchin saying that he doesn't support, as it stands right now, the $3.5 trillion spending plan, and then you have some progressive Democrats, particularly in the House, who say, OK, you're in the going to not going to vote on that right now, we're not going to vote on infrastructure.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says, quote, "You have a very small, destructive group of members who want to hold the entire country's agenda hostage for an arbitrary date, and it's not representative of the agenda of the caucus. It's not representative of the agenda of the president." And she basically says, we're not voting for infrastructure if we don't do this overall budget thing. So how does this get solved?

COONS: Well, John, first, we have a very tight margin in the Senate. It is 50-50. And there is a very small margin in the House. So this has always been a high degree of difficulty high dive that we were attempting to pass both a robust bipartisan infrastructure bill, which has already come out of the Senate and is waiting for action on the House, and to conclude a bold and ambitious objective, a big plan that will reduce the cost for working Americans, reduce the cost of healthcare, reduce the cost of day care, make higher education more affordable and accessible, provide for paid family leave. I'm less concerned about exactly what that top line number ends up being. And I'll remind you, it is over 10 years.

BERMAN: I understand.

COONS: So if it's $350 billion a year or $320 billion a year, we should take the win and get the infrastructure bill to the president's desk and get a reconciliation bill done and passed to the president's desk. I suspect this deal will be declared dead several times before it ultimately passes, just as happened with the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

But this is the core of President Biden's agenda. And we have majorities in the House and the Senate. And, John, in the end, the things that are in that bill all Democrats support, making life easier and more affordable for working Americans, to give them a platform on which to build. It will get done.

BERMAN: Does it get done this month, as is promised?

COONS: I don't know it will get done this week, but it will get done.

BERMAN: This month?

COONS: I'm hopeful. But it is going to take a lot of work. And you just cited really the two ends of our caucus, AOC and Joe Manchin. There is a lot of room in between, and there's a lot of Democrats working to pull them together and to get us to an agenda that we can all support.

BERMAN: Chris Coons, we appreciate you being with us this morning. Thank you so much, Senator.

COONS: Thanks, John.

KEILAR: So you're saying not this month, maybe not this month, right Berman. Maybe that's what we're hearing there.

We do have some breaking news. A European court says that Russia was responsible for the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, the ex-KGB agent who was a defector became a vocal critic of the Kremlin and died after being poisoned in London with a rare radioactive substance. CNN's Matthew Chance is live for us in Moscow with more. Matthew, what are we learning?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, remind you that Alexander Litvinenko was a former FSB, federal security service, operative who fled to Britain and was helping the British security services there when in 2006 he met some former colleagues from Russia. He had a cup of tea with them in the lobby of a hotel, and he became sick very shortly afterwards. And it was identified the substance that poisoned him as being this very rare radioactive substance called polonium-210. It originates in specific kinds of nuclear reactors, particularly ones in Russia.

And the British at the time pointed the finger of blame at the prime suspects, against these two former colleagues of his, former intelligence agents themselves who had traveled to Britain. There was a radioactive trail plotting their journey. Other people in Britain and London were contaminated as well with this polonium-210 because it left that kind of a trail.

In 2016, there was a public inquiry in Britain that identified the Russian security services as being responsible, and this latest ruling in the European Court of Human Rights basically backs that up, saying it has beyond a reasonable doubt that the Russian security services were involved in this. And so it's another reminder, I think, looking back on this incident, which I covered back in London and in Moscow 15 or 16 years ago, it's a reminder this was an early sign perhaps of the kind of brutal authoritarian regime Russia was to become under President Vladimir Putin. Since then, just off the top of my head, there has been a main opposition figure gunned down outside the Kremlin, Boris Nemtsov in 2015. The Skripals, also former intelligence operative killed -- sorry, poisoned with Novichok in the English city of Salisbury in 2018.

Of course, just last year, Alexei Navalny, one of the leading critics of the Kremlin in his country, was poisoned with Novichok while he was on a fact-finding mission in Siberia. So this finding once again reminds us and underlines the fact that the Russian state will stop at very little, it seems, to silence its critics.

I have to say as a quick caveat, the Russians deny any responsibility for this, and they say that the British investigation and the European one as well was politically motivated.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, the denials, but they're so hard to believe. The gall, the shame, no shame, I should say in some of the actions we have seen taken.

Matthew, thank you so much for that report, Matthew Chance in Moscow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, Justin Trudeau will remain prime minister of Canada after beating conservative Aaron O'Toole in yesterday's snap election. Trudeau's liberal party will form the next government, but really not a lot changed here. Trudeau gambled that he could call a snap election and win an outright majority for his party in parliament.

That did not happen. They do not have an outright majority. So will have to form a coalition. So little bit disappointing for Trudeau and his allies there. But, you know it shows how their system works quite different than that here in the United States.

Up next, two men now suing a doctor who admits he broke the new abortion ban in Texas.

KEILAR: Plus, we're going to talk to one of the doctors now conducting a major trial of COVID vaccines for children.

And why CNN's Anderson Cooper is exploring a part of his life he used to downplay in public.


BERMAN: A San Antonio doctor who wrote a "Washington Post" op-ed admitting to violating Texas' ban on abortions is now facing at least two lawsuits brought under the new law. But the two men including a former lawyer who filed the lawsuit say that they're trying to test the legality of the state's near total ban on the procedure.


CNN's Laura Jarrett joins us now.

What exactly does that mean, that people filling the lawsuits are unusual?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN CO-ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Unusual is to put it mildly. These are not the usual suspects that you might think you would see in this case, at least on paper. These two men are opposed to this Texas law, the one that bans most abortions. But they're capitalizing on the strange part of the law that said basically anyone off the street can sue.

So who do you have here? A guy named Oscar Stilly, a former tax attorney in Arkansas, not Texas.

BERMAN: You don't have to be from Texas.

JARRETT: You don't have to be from Texas. He's on home confinement for alleged tax crimes. He said he brought the suit because he wants the judge to rule on the constitutionality of it. OK, fair enough.

The second guy, Felipe Gomez. He's an Illinois resident, not from Texas, who describes himself as pro-choice, again, unusual, bringing this suit, says this law cannot stand as long as Roe is good law.

OK. Do they have a point or is this just a publicity stunt as the anti-choice advocates allege it is?

Remember, the law says anyone can sue. Doesn't say you have to be a resident of Texas, but usually to get into court you have to have some standing. You have to have some stake in the game.

Here, I'm not so sure what they're go to be able to say their injury was if they say they're not opposed to abortion and that they think the doctor actually did the right thing. clearly trying to get into court. It is just not so clear to me they're going to be successful.

BERMAN: They want to start the wheels turning to ultimately have the courts decide whether or not this Texas law stands under constitutionality under Roe. Whether that will work, we'll see.

To an extent, depending how long it takes, it may not matter, though, because a Supreme Court has agreed to take up what is really a direct challenge to Roe in Mississippi. JARRETT: Right. If the case out of Mississippi actually overturns

Roe, it will completely reshape the landscape of the law as we know it since 1973, right? The case in Mississippi is actually very different from Texas because as you say it is a direct challenge to roe. It doesn't try to use all the business with civil enforcement. It says after 15 weeks, no abortions, no exception for rape, no exception for incest, no abortions what so ever, except for the health of the mother, right?

So, the Justice Department has now said, wait a minute, we have decades of precedent here, Supreme Court. The problem is this is a different Supreme Court as we have pointed out many times. If the court decides to overturn Roe, this will be the lasting legacy of the Trump administration and Senator Mitch McConnell. This was the reshaping of the courts that their side had wanted all along now.

Now, it is not clear the court will go along with it. They may decide to punt, they may decide we don't need to rule on it -- the direct constitutionality of Roe, but that's what they want. They're asking for it in plain terms, not hiding for it. They say we want Roe overturned.

BERMAN: The court accepted this case and that in and of itself tells you something and the court agreed to up end Roe in Texas for now, and that may indicate --

JARRETT: By not ruling --

BERMAN: By not ruling. It is up ended. Roe doesn't exist in Texas for now, thanks to the Supreme Court. We'll see what happens in December.

Laura Jarrett, great to see you. Thank you very much.

Trials are under way right now to see how the Pfizer COVID vaccine works on younger children. We'll talk to a leading doctor from that trial, next.

KEILAR: And new evidence in the Gabby Petito investigation including odd text messages that her mother says made her concerned that something was wrong.




DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: I would imagine we're talking in a matter of weeks, possibly by the end of the month, beginning of next month because I know the FDA really wants to do it correctly, but they want to do it quickly.


BERMAN: That's Dr. Anthony Fauci talking about Pfizer's COVID vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Pfizer says it plans to submit to the FDA for emergency use authorization soon.

Joining me now is Dr. Robert Frenck. He's director of vaccine research -- the Vaccine Research Center at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital Medical Center. He is the principle investigator for the Pfizer clinical trials there.

Also with us is Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Dr. Frenck, thank you so much for being with us and thank you for the work you're doing. The fact that the dosage for kids 5 to 11, it is a third of the size that adults get, how did you come upon that dosage?

DR. ROBERT FRENCK JR., DIRECTOR, VACCINE RESEARCH CENTER, CINCINNATI CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL MEDICAL CENTER: Well, actually what we did is the same thing we did when we started with the adult study is that we tested doses and so we tested 10, 20 and 30 micrograms and found the 10 micrograms gave as good of an immune response as the 30 micrograms and had fewer side effects. So that's why we chose that dose.

BERMAN: That's interesting. So you came upon that through trials and settled on that. You said fewer side effects. What is the overall situation with side effects and the 5 to 11-year-olds you studied?

FRENCK: So, what we're seeing is the side effects are the exact same thing you see in adults, the most common is pain at the injection site, maybe some headache, fatigue. Nothing different than we saw in the adults. If you decrease the frequency of how commonly they occur, that's what we would like to do.

BERMAN: Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Dr. Frenck, good to see you. You published a paper basically looking at the dosing also in adults and I think if I read your paper correctly, you said that for adults up to age 65 or at least 55, ten micrograms worked well for them also in terms of getting antibodies. So I'm curious why three times the dose then in adults?

FRENCK: Well, I think what it is, Dr. Gupta, would be that during a pandemic we wanted to get a vaccine out quickly. We knew that the -- we needed the 30 micrograms for the 65 and above to get the best immune response and we also knew that the 30 micrograms was well tolerated in the younger adults. So we just used that one dose for everybody.