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New York Health Care Workers Out of Jobs Over Vaccine Requirement; Interview with Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) about COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates; Ending the Debt Ceiling Crisis, Forever; Ozy Board Hires Investigators to Probe Company's Business Practices. Aired 8:30- 9a ET

Aired September 29, 2021 - 08:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A New York state mandate ordering healthcare workers to get the coronavirus vaccine has gone into effect, and judging by the numbers, it has been wildly successful in getting people vaccinated. Thousands and thousands of healthcare workers vaccinated just before the deadline. But, a number still refuse. And the question many Americans have is why? Healthcare workers? Why?

CNN's Miguel Marquez went looking for answers.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): At some point if push is going to come to shove and they will say you must be vaccinated or you will not have a job.



MARQUEZ (voice-over): Health care workers Donna Schmidt and Stephanie Touchet are refusing the COVID-19 vaccine no matter what.

(On-camera): Do either of you have a job today?

TOUCHET: Currently I am employed.

MARQUEZ: And do you have a job?

SCHMIDT: I do have a job. I'm actually out on medical leave for a surgical procedure I had but --

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Both expect they won't have a job for long. Both don't trust the vaccine and its possible side effects. Both have requested religious exemptions.

(On-camera): What religion are you?

TOUCHET: Catholic.

MARQUEZ: And even though the Pope got vaccinated and says vaccines are fine and we should be getting them, that doesn't work for you?

TOUCHET: I feel he's a hypocrite. My whole life --

MARQUEZ: This is God's messenger on earth. This is the bishop of Rome.

TOUCHET: He is. He was elected to that position. However, he's not abiding by the bible.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Both say they'd gladly test for COVID on a weekly basis instead of getting the vaccine. That's not enough for the state of New York.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK: You need to be assured that the person taking care of you is not going to give COVID to you or your newborn.

MARQUEZ: Donna Schmidt works in a neonatal ICU.

(On-camera): Do you worry about giving something, COVID or anything else even, to a child that is in your care?

SCHMIDT: No. Because we're all required to wear and use PPE, we're trained professionals, we know how to use it properly.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Both believe COVID-19 is real but don't believe the statistics when it comes to reporting COVID deaths and whether the vaccine is effective.

(On-camera): The number of people who are hospitalized and die that are vaccinated is extremely low compared to those who are dying, by the thousands, every week, of COVID-19.

TOUCHET: That's a misconception. And --

MARQUEZ: I've seen them myself. I've talked to them myself. Thousands of people are dying from COVID-19 every week. In this country.

TOUCHET: Here's the thing. There are several hundreds of thousands of people that were put on hospice five months before COVID came. They had brain tumors. They had lung cancer. They had COPD. They had other elements -- illnesses and yet on their actual death certificate they deemed it that it was for COVID.

MARQUEZ: You can't even accept that the vaccines work?

SCHMIDT: No, I'm not convinced that they work yet.

MARQUEZ: You either?

TOUCHET: Me neither. No, sir.

SCHMIDT: No. Because there is so much suppressed science out there, globally.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Both women who got COVID-19 feel betrayed. A year ago, people cheered them. Today they feel their options for a livelihood are being ripped away.

(On-camera): So what's next for you two?

TOUCHET: And that's the number one thing that frustrates me the most is that we were all together, we were all united, and then all of a sudden these mandates come out and then they're fearful of losing their jobs and they're being told, oh, this is safe and you're in the wrong.

SCHMIDT: I believe the fabric of our civilized, free society is truly at a precipice. And when I lay my head down, not only at night, but at the end of my life, if I'm given a moment, I want to know and I want my descendants to know that I did everything that I could and that I fought --

TOUCHET: For what we believe in.

SCHMIDT: -- for what I know to be true and right. And if that costs me everything so be it.

MARQUEZ: So we should thank these women for speaking out. It's not easy to do in this environment.


And beyond their vaccine skepticism or resistance, one thing is very clear, they thought they were going to have a lot more people with them. But the reality is that as this mandate deadline loomed and moved closer, thousands of healthcare workers across the state of New York got vaccinated. The bottom line is if you want to get people vaccinated, put in a mandate.

Back to you.


BERMAN: All right, our thanks to Miguel for that story.

Joining me now is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mayor, thank you so much for being with us. I want to pick up on that last point Miguel made, these two healthcare workers in that piece, they're in the minority now. You have some numbers for us about how the healthcare mandate is going here in New York City.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: Our public health system, biggest in the country, 92 percent are now vaccinated. And New York City as a whole, 82 percent of all adults have gotten at least one dose. I'll tell you why, John. Because mandates work. They help keep people safe. And we put mandates in place about two months ago, for public employees, for indoor dining and a variety of things and since then we have seen a 45 percent increase in vaccinations. 1.3 million more doses because we have mandates and now we are getting out of the COVID era in this system.

BERMAN: So 92 percent now. Last week what was it among healthcare workers in the city?

DE BLASIO: It was down several percentage points for sure, close to 85.

BERMAN: It was 85. So you have thousands of people getting vaccinated in the last week.

DE BLASIO: We had -- just Friday and Saturday we had 7,000 more teachers and school employees.

BERMAN: OK. Talk about teachers. Because by this, what, Friday, if you are a teacher or in the education department and you're not vaccinated, you don't have a job.

DE BLASIO: Well, you're put on unpaid leave. And if you don't come back in a reasonable time, you're not going to have a job. But, look, the message to people is this. We've got to keep each other safe. We've got to put the COVID era behind us. The mandates have worked.

John, I would say everybody out there, private sector, everyone should move to these mandates because they have been so strikingly effective. In the end, when it comes down to you have to choose, are you going to be able to keep that job, keep that paycheck, do the right thing, get vaccinated, the vast majority of people choose to get vaccinated.

BERMAN: And how many teachers or how many education workers have been vaccinated in just the last week?

DE BLASIO: We had 7,000 between Friday and Saturday alone. In the last 24 hours, I think there's been another 3,000. It just keeps happening because people see this deadline is coming. And, John, I think to some extent this is just a human reality. We all respond to deadlines. We all respond to rules. We gave people months and months and months the voluntary way. We really did.

Every incentive in the possible -- we could imagine we provided. But now it's time for mandates because we have got to end the COVID era. We really have to put this behind us. We can't keep living this way. And the mandates are causing the vast majority of people to do the right thing and just get vaccinated.

BERMAN: What are you going to do about the teachers who don't comply, when they don't show up? How are you going to handle that shortage?

DE BLASIO: We have a lot of substitute teachers, a lot of young people in particular who want to go into the teaching profession, who are ready, willing and able, who are vaccinated, who are going to take those roles immediately.

Now, look, I want to say to any teacher, if at first they don't get vaccinated and then they think better of it, they're ready to do the right thing, of course we're going to welcome them back. But the bottom line is if you refuse and continue to refuse, then we can't have you with our kids. We've got to protect our kids.

On Monday, we're going to have a school system of a million kids where every adult in the building is going to be vaccinated. At least one dose. It's going to create an entirely safe environment. Our parents love the fact that they know their kids will be safe.

BERMAN: You're not going to require the kids to be vaccinated, though.

DE BLASIO: No, because we still have a ways to go in convincing parents on that and the parents make the decisions for the kids. I'm not going to exclude a kid from the value of being in the classroom after a year and a half. So many kids really, really lost so much in terms of health, in terms of education, not being in that classroom.

But I'll tell you something, when you get every adult in the building vaccinated, you're going to see the COVID levels stay very, very low because the problem has always been they're doing --

BERMAN: They're doing it in L.A. They're requiring kids to be vaccinated in L.A.

DE BLASIO: God bless them. But we want to make sure every child gets into that classroom. I want to emphasize this. Think about a child who for a year hasn't seen the inside of a classroom. Think about what that's done to them socially, health wise, educationally. We need our kids to come back and stay back.

If a parent says I'm not going to get my kid vaccinated, I don't want to penalize the kid. I want that kid to get their education and get that chance to keep moving forward.

BERMAN: So Kyrie Irving who plays guard for the Brooklyn Nets.

DE BLASIO: Brilliantly. Brilliantly.

BERMAN: Yes. But not at home this season if he doesn't get vaccinated, correct?

DE BLASIO: Look, I'm a fan. I'm a fan of the Nets. I've lived in Brooklyn. I'm a fan of Kyrie. I would just appeal to him, get vaccinated. Support -- your fans want to see you, we all want you back, your teammates want you back. Look, there are teams now that are 100 percent vaccinated. That's a great example to everyone else.


BERMAN: But no wiggle room for you?

DE BLASIO: We have a rule that has to be applied whether you're famous, whether you're not famous, you know, whether you're everyday working man or woman, get vaccinated because that's what makes us all safe.

BERMAN: And even if he misses the whole season, not a single home game in Brooklyn.

DE BLASIO: Again, I think a lot of people, the mandate, whether or not he happens to be someone who has a high salary, obviously, but the mandate has an effect on people. When they seeing something is real and it's serious, this is what everyone is doing. Listen to these numbers, 92 percent of healthcare workers, everyone said it was going to be this horrible situation.

Well, how many times have you seen 92 percent of people agree on anything else, right? So in the end, I think whether it's a player, a healthcare worker, a teacher, for the vast majority that mandate is going to say to them it's time.

BERMAN: Is he letting fans down?

DE BLASIO: It's not time to say that yet. We have weeks and weeks before the season begins. I think his fans are going to say to him, come on, join us, help us, let's keep everyone safe, keep your own family safe, keep your teammates safe, keep your community safe.

BERMAN: Mayor Bill de Blasio, nice to see you. Thanks for being here.

DE BLASIO: Good to see you, John.

BERMAN: Another year, another threatened government shutdown, plus the risk of an historic government default. What can be done to solve these self-inflicted crises for good? "Reality Check" is next.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And a media scandal catching the attention now of the FBI. Brian Stelter peels back the curtain on Ozy.



BERMAN: The United States of America will default on its debts if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling and Republicans just voted to let it happen, to let that default happen. It is economically almost unthinkable, so how is it even possible that it got this far?

John Avlon with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: In 1972, when Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate, the band Parliament Funkadelic released the album "America Eats Its Young," which contained a track called "if you don't like the effects, don't produce the cause."

It remains good advice, and it comes to mind as America barrels towards yet another self-inflicted crisis courtesy of the debt ceiling. An apocalyptic Groundhog Day, in the words of Vox writer Dylan Matthews. Because now the USA is just two days away from a government shutdown with potential default three weeks away. No other major industrialized nation does this to itself and it's particularly reckless for a country that serves as the main reserve currency for the rest of the world.

But there are a few edgy solutions to effectively end the debt ceiling if Congress can't reason together. But first, let's get some perspective. Now Republicans are refusing to help Democrats raise the debt ceiling citing their control of Congress. But they're also filibustering the Democrats' efforts which means nothing can be done without 10 Republican votes in the Senate. Self-serving circular logic? You betcha.

And this isn't even a stand for fiscal responsibility. In fact, it's the opposite. Because the debt ceiling needs to be raised to pay for spending that's already been passed by Congress, mostly by Republicans during the Trump administration.

And then there's this. The debt limit has been raised 43 times since 1980, 12 times under Democratic presidents and 31 times under Republican presidents. Just to hammer home that point, there have been 12 times when a Democrat controlled Senate raised the debt limit for a Republican president. But just three times when a Republican controlled Senate raised the debt limit for a Democrat.

So what can be done to stop this insanity? Glad you asked. Let's start with the cause. The debt ceiling needs to be repealed. That's the conclusion that former senior policy advisers to Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama came to in a 2017 "Wall Street Journal" op-ed stating that the statutory debt limit has outlived its usefulness as a mechanism for restraining the size of the national debt.

Now this is easier said than done, but Democrats in Congress could unilaterally raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation, to an absurdly high amount, say, $100 trillion, which would effectively end this perennial threat. And that's not the only card that can be played. While the Constitution is clear that Congress controls taxing and spending, if they refuse to raise the debt to pay for their previous spending, the president could decide that conflicting decisions require him to raise the debt ceiling.

Some sharp legal minds say that's backed by Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which states the validity of the public debt of the United States authorized by law shall not be questioned. Now alternately, the Treasury secretary could be given the power to raise the debt ceiling with Congress able to override that increase.

And there are other more arcane suggestions, like issuing new securities dedicated to paying our creditors or, get this, the surreal idea of the Treasury secretary issuing a trillion-dollar platinum coin produced by the U.S. Mint and deposited in the Federal Reserve. Yes, it's an absurd budget gimmick, but it is legal, thanks to a bizarre loophole and it would get us past this crisis.

Look, desperate times call for desperate measures and something needs to be done to stop Congress from tricycling towards this fiscal cliff yet again. And if Republicans won't help, President Biden and congressional Democrats are compelled to do something to stop this self-inflicted crisis, not just for now, but for the years ahead. Mindful of what Parliament Funkadelic wisely told us, "If you don't like the effects, don't produce the cause."

And that's your "Reality Check."


[08:53:42] BERMAN: Ozy Media bills itself as a modern media company producing video, audio and digital content for the next generation, but the company is under intense scrutiny after a "New York Times" investigation by Ben Smith raised serious questions about its business practices and its success.

Joining us now to explain what's going on, CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter.

There are two issues here, exactly what Ozy got caught doing, and the bigger picture of what's going on with some of these multimedia internet type sites? But what did Ben catch or report happened with Ozy specifically?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Right. Specifically with Ozy there are now criminal concerns, legal liability possibly, and now a board investigation. Lawyers coming in, all because of this "New York Times" report that Ozy was trying to raise money from Goldman Sachs, trying to get millions of dollars from bankers, hop on a phone call to do due diligence trying to impress the bankers. And an executive from Ozy impersonated an executive from YouTube, pretended to do a YouTube executive there to talk about how impressive Ozy was.

That is the kind of thing that sets off legal red flags. And according to the "New York Times," the FBI made some phone calls looking into this. We don't know if there's an active FBI probe, but we do now know the board that oversees this digital company, media company, has come in, has brought in lawyers to investigate, and they put that executive who was impersonating a YouTube boss on leave for the time being.


Now Ozy says this person was in the middle of a mental health crisis, but that one moment, an attempt to raise money in a fraudulent way, that's part of a bigger story of possible fraud here. These digital media startups, Ozy just one of them, that seems to inflate its traffic numbers, pretends to be a lot more popular than it is, in order to gain attention and gain lots of millions off fundraising. This is a problem more broadly in the digital media world and it's been exposed here in the case of Ozy.

KEILAR: I mean, in their case, how were they able to fake it for so long and why can't other companies like this just do the same thing?

STELTER: I think unfortunately there is a sucker born every minute and there is a person out there with too much money willing to spend it on all these kinds of startups, born every minute. And this is not just true in digital media. It's true in Silicon Valley as well. You know, some of these high-flying startups, they get lots of attention, get lots of positive press, they're kind of like a mirage, they're kind of like a facade, hoping to fake it until they really make it.

And to some extent, you know, that's what entrepreneurs have been doing for the whole of human history. But we see it exposed now in really vivid ways in the case like Ozy. If you look at Ozy's Instagram account, has more than half a million followers, but many of those followers don't seem to be real accounts. I mean, it's an account getting almost no engagement, no likes, no comments.

When you see that kind of behavior on YouTube, on Twitter, on Instagram, what it tells you is there are ways to fake it that can at some point actually defraud investors, actually trick investors, and look, certain point where there are lots of -- there are lots of investment firms, bankers, hedge funds, venture capital firms willing to put money behind these startups, but only to a certain point and that point for Ozy, they've reached that breaking point where now questions are being raised and some of these investors are wondering what have they done?

KEILAR: All right, Brian, it's a fascinating story, and we appreciate you joining us for it.

STELTER: Thanks.

KEILAR: Next, CNN's coverage continues of these intense talks on Capitol Hill and also at the White House today as the U.S. heads towards a government shutdown and potentially a catastrophic default. Stand by for that.