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Biden to Hurricane Victims Say, I Promise to Have Your Backs; At Least 50 Killed in Catastrophic Northeast Flooding; New Intel on Foreign Terrorists Ahead of 9/11 Anniversary; Biden: Texas Anti- Abortion Law "Un-American". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 03, 2021 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. President Biden is making new promises to hurricane victims in Louisiana as he sees the damage and the hardship firsthand. Tonight, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses still don't have power nearly a full week after the storm.

We're also following the catastrophic flooding in the northeast. The death toll rising to 50, as searchers look for those missing at communities underwater.

And we're also learning that foreign terrorists are now looking to exploit the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks next week. Is that a threat to national security?

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in The Situation Room.

And we begin with President Biden's tour of hurricane damage in Louisiana. Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is covering that breaking story for us. So, Phil, we heard the president speak just a little while ago, promising to support storm survivors and acknowledging their frustrations. What's the latest?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's no question about it. President Biden showing up down in Louisiana making clear he saw the victims. He wanted to personally see the aftermath of that storm and that the federal government support was both expansive and steadfast, also it was going to last far longer than perhaps people who are paying attention to things outside of the gulf coast, the recognition of just how much this community -- these communities will need in the weeks and months ahead.

But he also made clear that this can't just be about now, given the scale of the storms, given the scale of the disasters we've seen repeatedly over the last several years, there needs to be more. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: There is much to be done. We're working around the clock with the governor and elected officials there until we can meet every need you all have.

Folks, Hurricane Ida is another reminder that we need to be prepared for the next hurricane and super storms are going to come and they're going to come more frequently and more ferociously. I have been working closely with the governor and our colleagues in Congress on both parties on my build back better plan that will modernize our roads, our bridges, our water system, sewers and drainage systems and power grids and transmission lines to make sure they're more resilient.


MATTINGLY: Wolf, obviously the president alluding there to his dual- pronged legislative and infrastructure proposal, into a more sweeping economic and social safety net expansion that Congress is currently considering. Inside both of those proposals, billions of dollars for climate related expenses for resiliency, for infrastructure to try and rebuild or build in a more substantive way, some of the very issues that we have seen play out, not just in the gulf coast but particularly in an acute manner in the northeast.

However, when it comes to the actual response right now, the president making clear every agency in the federal government that might have a piece of this is engaged. Whether it is the FCC trying to help with cell phone connections, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy when it comes to gasoline, the FEMA is obviously the lead agency.

Cedric Richmond, former Louisiana congressman, now senior adviser to the president is running point at the White House. When you talk to White House officials, they make very clear, Wolf, the president and his team understand that the scale of destruction brought by such storms like this requires a federal government response as expansive as possible, and that is what the president tried to convey today is what he's bringing to the table, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Phil, thank you very much, Phil Mattingly over to the White House.

Let's go to the flooding disaster in the northeast right now. Our Senior National Correspondent Miguel Marquez is in Passaic, New Jersey for us. Miguel, half of the 50 confirmed storm fatalities are in New Jersey. What's happening there right now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, they are still looking for more, Wolf. You know, the night of that big flood, the water in this park in Passaic was about up to my chest. These car tracks, that's where a car was sitting. There were two people in it. Some people say that they went into the drainage ditch beyond. It is not very clear because it was a very chaotic night. Family is hoping they are still alive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MARQUEZ (voice over): Tonight in Passaic New Jersey, dive crews have suspended the search for two missing people. Officials say a man and woman were in a car near a drainage ditch when they got out or were forced out by the floodwaters. They were then swept away by Ida's deluge.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was seven feet water at that time. The water force was so high and they might be somewhere in the bank of rivers.

MARQUEZ: The drain empties into the Passaic River, which remains above flood stage at this hour. Tonight in Philadelphia, floodwaters haven't fully receded along many streets and parking lots that remain underwater.

COMMISSIONER ADAM THIEL, PHILADELPHIA FIRE DEPARTMENT: At the same time, we're moving into a recovery mode and a cleanup mode. The recovery process for this is going to take months.

MARQUEZ: Damage from a tornado just outside Philadelphia, no one prepared for a tornado here.


MARQUEZ: The twister winds up to 130 miles an hour ripped through Fort Washington, damaging home, businesses and bringing down power lines.

RATHFON: I mean, the landscape of our community is completely different.

MARQUEZ: Power poles strewn across streets, huge trees uprooted in neighborhood and even roads and overpasses left in disarray.

Today, four million people in the northeast remain under a flood advisory due to swelling waters. At one apartment complex in Philadelphia, the National Guard rescued almost a dozen people and their pets, one of several in the area.

JAKE BLANK, RESIDENT: We really appreciate it. You know, we were waiting for quite some time, and you don't really expect these types of things to happen when, you know, you are in a big building like this.

MARQUEZ: Today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy getting a firsthand look of the devastation in his state. That's where at least six people remain missing and more than two dozen reported deaths.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): It is quite clear our state and our nation does not have the infrastructure to meet this moment and to meet the future as it relates to these storms.

MARQUEZ: In Mullica Hill, families are trying to recover after a tornado ripped through their homes.

PAULA MENZONI, RESIDENT: Our house is gone. I said what, do you mean? He said the tornado.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were all muddled. Everything was falling on our backs, and luckily our house has a walkout basement or we would have never gotten out.

MARQUEZ: New York also the worst flash flooding in the region. At least 16 people died across the state with nearly a dozen victims in Queens alone.

AMRITA BHAGWANDI, FLOOD VICTIM: There was only sadness, and it's just overwhelming.

MARQUEZ: At least eight of the victims in New York City died in basements.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): Those who lost a loved one, someone swept away in a car, people trapped in their basements, not able to escape, those are the images that haunt me in the aftermath of this storm.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So the search for the two young people who disappeared here has been called off for tonight because the tide is coming. It's too difficult for searchers to continue that search. But I will tell you here in Passaic, everywhere you look, the cars along the way, apartments being emptied out, this entire area, not only here but across the northeast, recovering, trying to figure out where to go next. It is amazing how powerful, and how widespread the storm was. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Miguel, thank you very much, Miguel Marquez in Passaic, New Jersey.

Let's stay in Passaic right now, get some more on the flood emergency in the northeast. We're joined by the mayor of Passaic, New Jersey Hector Lora. Mayor, thank you once again for joining us.

When we spoke last night, you told me about the heroic efforts of your first responders who were still searching floodwaters looking for missing residents. Do you have any updates, Mayor, on those two people specifically missing?

MAYOR HECTOR LORA, PASSAIC, NEW JERSEY: Wolf, the efforts continue to try to find these individuals. Our community as a whole is so hopeful, optimistic, almost hoping against all hope that we can find them alive, maybe another municipality. We've been calling all the hospitals. But all indication points to the fact that they may have gone through that cover, through the drain. So we searched the entire drain.

The firefighters, we had addition assistants from Clifton Parish, the state of New Jersey, the National Guard out here assisting through helicopters using sonar over the river. We have not located them as of yet. These two young individuals who were actually our prom king and queen this year at our Prom in the Park because of COVID, they are still missing. I have been with the family throughout the day. We have reached out to individuals in the area to see if they have seen anything.

We have a number of individuals that are displaced because of the storm. We had a loss of life in the city, Wolf. A father who could not be rescued but watched his wife and his son get rescued from a vehicle by these heroic individuals, these firefighters who, with sometimes disregard for their own safety, went into conditions to save others.

Our police and our paramedics are remarkable. We had over 200 rescues just that night alone. But, unfortunately, with missing individuals, and you've heard we have six in the state, it is such a challenge because there is no moving forward.


It is almost like grief in limbo. You don't know what's going on. You don't know whether you're grieving a loss or you are still concerned whether missing individuals can be found, even though everything can say they won't, you still you hope for the best. And as a community, Wolf, we're banding together and our hearts go out for all those who lost loved ones throughout the state, in fact, in all of our states and all of our areas, it was devastating.

BLITZER: Totally devastating. And I know you have a lot of needs still. We're going to be with you. We're going to continue to report what's going on in Passaic. Thank you so much, Mayor, for joining us.

LORA: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And good luck to you and your entire community.

Just ahead, we're getting new intelligence right now on foreign terrorists who -- and how they may, I repeat, may try to use the Afghanistan withdrawal against the United States as we near the 20th anniversary of 9/11. We have new information. Stay with us here in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news coming into The Situation Room right now. We're learning about new U.S. intelligence on foreign terrorists.

Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is joining me right now. Evan, the 9/11 -- the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is coming up. What are you learning from your sources?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Homeland Security Department and the FBI had put out this bulletin to law enforcement around the country in anticipation of the anniversary of 9/11. And according to them, they're monitoring media that are associated with both Al Qaeda and ISIS using the 20th anniversary of 9/11, as well as the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan, to essentially try to reuse this to raise recruits, to try to draw recruits to their movements. This is something that obviously raises a concern with law enforcement. They know that there are people here in this country perhaps who may be concealing some of this stuff who might want to carry out some kind of terror attack because of this kind of inspiration. Again, this is something we have seen in the past. You never know when someone is sitting at home watching this kind of stuff will act out.

And so that's why these bulletins go out from the Homeland Security Department, from the FBI. Our Geneva Sands obtained a copy of this bulletin that describes some of those concerns by law enforcement.

BLITZER: And we're told these terror groups are potentially going to be trying to seize on the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

PEREZ: Right. One of the things that this bulletin mentions is there is this Al Qaeda video, the video that they put out essentially celebrating what happened on January 6th and raising it essentially as an example of the -- of something that what they referred to as the fourth airplane couldn't accomplish on, you know, on 9/11. Of course, that's a reference, it appears, to the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

And so that gives you a sense of how closely they're watching events in the United States and what they see as perhaps a way to inspire their own followers to try to follow through on some of those things.

BLITZER: Yes, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 a week from tomorrow. Of course, we will have special coverage all day on that. Thanks very much for that report.

PEREZ: Thanks Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our National Security Analyst Carrie Cordero and Peter Bergen to discuss. Peter, by the way, is the Author of the new book entitled, The Rise and Fall of Osama Bin Laden, a very timely, very important book.

Peter, how exactly would foreign terrorist, whether Al Qaeda, ISIS, other groups, try to exploit the upcoming anniversary of 9/11, and for that matter, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think we're going to see heavy exploitation of both of those. I mean, in the minds of the mind of the jihadis, they have had three great victories, forcing the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, 9/11 and now forcing another super power out of Afghanistan. Believe me, they're going to celebrate as much as they can.

We have already seen pictures of the Taliban using U.S. armored vehicles and waiving their white flags, very reminiscent of ISIS in the summer of 2014, which rolled into Iraqi cities on U.S. military vehicles waiving their black flags. And we're going to see, I think, a lot more of that in the coming days. It is something that they will want to celebrate. BLITZER: I'm sure they will. You know, Carrie, I know you worked at the Justice Department as a counter terrorism lawyer during and after 9/11. How do intelligence agencies try to get ahead of these specific threats?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, in the years after September 11th attacks, there certainly was a heightened threat environment. And the anniversary oftentimes did lead to this exploitation and messaging efforts by the groups to try to take advantage of those anniversaries. And the 20th is obviously very significant.

The big difference today that was not in place in that era is that our federal government and the partnerships with state and locals to address counterterrorism matters is far more robust. So, in terms of the report that Evan referenced, according to CNN's reporting, was issued by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center. Two of those organizations didn't even exist in CTC and DHS at 9/11. And FBI at the time was very under resourced in its counterterrorism mission.

So the U.S. government effort, the information sharing is far more robust today than it was then.

BLITZER: That's good to hear. Peter, as you heard, Al Qaeda is seizing on the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, and we have just learned, this is important, the U.S. Capitol Police will now brief lawmakers on a rally that's scheduled for September 18th, a rally sympathetic to the January 6th rioters.


How are officials balancing foreign and domestic threats?

BERGEN: Well, right now, they regard both as highly problematic, according to the FBI. And I want to pick up on something that Carrie said, which is some of the good news. I mean, on 9/11, I think there were 32 joint terrorism task forces. Now, there are more than 100. So it's not simply that we have National Counterterrorism Center, TSA, DHS, a bunch of new alphabet kind of agencies.

So, the defensive capabilities of the United States are in much better shape. That doesn't prevent, as you know, lone actors getting excited by this propaganda. We saw that with ISIS propaganda. You don't have to travel to Syria or Iraq for training. You just simply, you know, get inspired and carry out an attack in the name of ISIS. So, unfortunately, I think we're going to be seeing some of those types of things in the coming years because the victory in Afghanistan for these groups is the most significant thing since 9/11.

BLITZER: Yes, they're going to be really playing up that. Carrie, when it comes to the January 6th, the subject of January 6th, the riot that occurred here on Washington up on Capitol Hill, we have also just learned that a high-profile guilty plea from the so-called QAnon shaman. Do you expect we will now see even more guilty pleas from fellow rioters? There's been about 600 federal charges. So far, there have been about 50 guilty pleas, we're told.

CORDERO: Well, there have been hundreds of charges, and these guilty pleas will be based on the individual circumstances. Each individual, some of the individuals were involved in more aggressive type activity. Others were charged with lesser crimes.

And so their willingness to plead guilty is going really depend on their individual circumstances and how they think that they are going to be treated by the judge that they are before. And certainly, though, going back to your prior point with Peter, the current environment is so different than 20 years ago because we have this heightened domestic terrorism threat as well.

And, so, January 6th was a significant event in terms of a small number of people threatening the actual process of our constitutional democracy functioning. And as grave as 9/11 was, it didn't necessarily pose that constitutional threat, excuse me, that January 6th did.

BLITZER: And, clearly, Capitol Police are already gearing up. They're building up security out of an abundance of caution, looking ahead to some of these moments.

All right guys. Thank you very, very much.

There is more breaking news just ahead on President Biden's visit to Louisiana as we're learning new details about the deaths of some hurricane evacuees.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news out of Louisiana, President Biden getting a firsthand look at hurricane damage and promising residents of hard-hit communities that he has their backs.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's on the scene for us in Louisiana. Brian, as the president has been there visiting, there is also an investigation being launched into four hurricane related deaths. I know you are working this. What can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. We have new information now. The Attorney General of Louisiana, Jeff Landry, has just announced he's launching a full investigation into what happened here, where four patients from nursing homes died after they were evacuated to this warehouse to ride out Hurricane Ida.

You can see behind me wheelchairs and hospital curtains that were hastily discarded when hundreds of patients were taken out of here only yesterday. We have been speaking with local officials and other and we have new information tonight on how this tragedy unfolded.


TODD (voice over): Wheelchairs and hospital curtains scatter the site of this remote warehouse where four nursing home residents died. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a nightmare. It's a nightmare.

TODD: Local leaders now looking for answers for what went wrong.

ROBBY MILLER, PRESIDENT TANGIPAHOA PARISH, LOUISIANA: That nursing homeowner should be held accountable. As far as an investigation, we understand there is one.

TODD: The warehouse at Independence, Louisiana, served as a temporary evacuation facility for more than 800 patients from seven area nursing homes. The conditions inside were appalling.

MILLER: Crowding, mattresses on floors instead of beds, porta-potties instead of bathrooms and probably not enough of them. It is just things that none of us would want our family members to go through.

TODD: And according to one patient who was inside, insects were crawling all over the mattresses. The Independence Police chief says the facility was prepared for a certain number of residents, but the number nearly tripled quickly.

CHIEF FRANK EDWARDS III, INDEPENDENCE, LOUISIANA, POLICE: Well, I believe that the corporate management planned for 350. For whatever reason, they sent in 850. And where they failed was in not proactively seeking to move those patients to appropriate facilities.

TODD: Renato de Rosas' (ph) 84-year-old mother made it out, but she suffered for several days with a 103 degree fever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could tell she was upset but at least I knew he was alive. And if we would have known it would have been a place like this, I would have took her with me.

TODD: With no power, generators required to provide patients oxygen failed, and the heat was oppressive. The state says the health department tried to intervene Tuesday when they heard about the deteriorating conditions.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D-LA): (INAUDIBLE) inspectors visited the site, and I will tell you, were expelled from the property and prevented from conducting a full assessment.


TODD: CNN obtained property records showing Bob Dean owns all seven of the nursing homes, plus the warehouse. Dean has a history of poor disaster management. A local investigation from found he made a similar plan to evacuate residents to a warehouse during Hurricane George in 1998.

MILLER: I would hope that his license for nursing homes is revoked, the outcome that he doesn't get to do this again.

TODD: The governor committed to a full investigation, a promise relatives will not let them forget. SABRINA COX, AUNT IN NURSING HOME: Why didn't you contact anybody for help? Let somebody know what was going on. Contact one person. But people shouldn't be treated like that. You should be held accountable.


TODD (on camera): We reached out several times to Bob Dean, the owner of the nursing homes and this warehouse facility, seeking comment and any explanation for what happened here. He did not respond to us, but he did tell CNN-affiliate, VUA, quote, we did really good with taking care of people. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd reporting for us, pretty sad story indeed, thank you very much.

Let's get some more from Louisiana. The state's lieutenant governor, Billy Nungesser, is joining us on the phone once again. Lieutenant Governor, thanks so much for joining us. Let me get your reaction to the deaths of those nursing home residents who were crowded into that warehouse and ugly deteriorating conditions as the storm swept through. How is this allowed to happen?

LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R-LA) (voice over): It's unbelievable that that can happen in this day and age, especially when Louisiana has been through this evacuating, getting people out safely so many times. We have actually 15 hospitals, 23 nursing facilities, 47 assisted living facilities successfully. And to have something like this happen and these people be treated and lose lives is unacceptable. And it just gives a black eye to a bunch of medical workers for the greater good to a great job of taking care of our elderly, and this shouldn't happen.

BLITZER: And I'm glad your Attorney General Jeff Landry is launching a full investigation. That is so important. Lieutenant Governor, I understand you spent today surveying storm damage in Southeast Louisiana. Tell us what you saw.

NUNGESSER: Yes. The south and the Plaquemines Parish is still under water. There are a lot of stranded cattle, a lot of dead animals. And the marsh perhaps is six to eight-foot piled up against the Mississippi river levee and still six to eight foot of water on that road. They have cut the levee to allow that water to flow out. It should be several days, but the south end of the parish is completing cutoff. They are rocking the top on the Mississippi river right now. So they will have an emergency way other than airboats to get those people in and out that are still in South Plaquemines.

BLITZER: We're hearing from some desperate Louisiana residents, Lieutenant Governor. They are asking where is FEMA. Are you satisfied with the federal response to this disaster so far?

NUNGESSER: We're never satisfied when people are out of air- conditioning, fuel and are suffering. But FEMA was on the ground quickly here. I have been flying with the governor every day with FEMA. The top FEMA people are here. They're getting pods (ph) out with water with MRIs (ph) and fuels are starting to get to those gas stations and 25,000 linesmen (ph) for 40 states is here to help get power back on.

And I believe September 8th now is the date when a lot of the metropolitan area, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, will have most of their power on. And, of course, places like Grand Isle, Lafitte, South Plaquemines are going to be a real challenge and a longer term of getting power back on.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Good luck, Lieutenant Governor. Thanks so much for joining us.

NUNGESSER: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, new confusion right now over COVID-19 booster shots here in the United States. There may be a delay for some Americans hoping to get their third dose as soon as this month.



BLITZER: The Biden administration plans to roll out COVID booster vaccines in just a few weeks, but now CNN is learning the Pfizer shot may be the only one available, at least at first.

Our National Correspondent Athena Jones is joining us right now. Athena, there is some confusion tonight over the booster program. What's going on?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. There is. And along with that confusion over when regulators could approve the White House's vaccine booster program come concern that back and forth over when and whether boosters will be needed could contribute to the perception that federal vaccine policy is in disarray. So, public health experts express support for treading lightly and allowing regulators the time they need to evaluate the data.


JONES (voice over): Tonight, as Moderna announces it has finished submitting data in support of COVID-19 booster doses, confusion and possible scaling back of the White House's COVID-19 booster plan for September, less than a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci said --

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I would not at all be surprised that the adequate full regimen for vaccination will likely be three doses.

JONES: As the delta variant drives new COVID cases in the U.S. to nearly 170,000 a day on average and federal health officials urge the unvaccinated to stay home over the holiday weekend, new data shows a third so-called booster dose of the COVID mRNA vaccine provides more protection against the virus.

FAUCI: There is no doubt from the dramatic data from the Israeli study that the boosts that are being now done there and contemplated here support very strongly the rationale for such an approach. [18:40:03]

JONES: In making the case for boosters, Fauci explaining, Israeli data shows they reduce the risk of infection by 11-fold and of severe illness by tenfold in more than a million people over 60. Another study showed the risk of infection fell up to 68 percent 7 to 13 days after a third dose and by as much as 84 percent after 14 to 20 days. President Joe Biden announced in late August --

BIDEN: This booster program is going to start here on September the 20th, pending approval of the FDA and the CDC committee with outside experts.

JONES: But federal health officials warned the White House this week they may not have strong enough data on the Moderna vaccine by then to recommend its boosters. The booster planned for Pfizer's BioNTech vaccine recipients remains on track for September 20th.

DR. PAUL OFFIT, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: You can't make an announcement and then say we'll wait to say what the FDA and CDC says. That's just really not the right way to do it.

JONES: The acting FDA commissioner explaining why the booster announcement was made before all the data came in.

DR. JANET WOODCOCK, FDA ACTING COMMISSIONER: When it happens, we don't want to have a couple more months where we have to get ready and make a plan and then execute against the plan.

JONES: Meanwhile, health officials stressing vaccines are key to keeping people out of the hospital.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Communities with high vaccination coverage are seeing lower pediatric cases and hospitalizations.

JONES: New CDC data showing the hospitalization rate among unvaccinated children 12 to 17 years old was nearly ten times higher than among fully vaccinated adolescents from late June to mid-August. And data shows that in August, the rate of hospitalization for children was nearly four times higher in states with the lowest overall vaccination rates.


JONES (on camera): One big question here is whether confusion over boosters will hurt the overall vaccination efforts here in the U.S. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Athena, thank you very much. Good question.

Now, let's discuss this with Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Jha, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, Moderna just submitted the last of their data for approval of this third dose to the FDA. What's the likelihood Pfizer and Moderna both get included in the White House's booster plan rollout?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, Wolf. Thanks for having me back. I think the likelihood is very high. All of the evidence so far is leaning towards boosters being helpful, particularly for high risk individuals. And that's true if you have the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna vaccine. So I do expect that to happen over the next four to six weeks. Let's see how the data plays out.

BLITZER: Right now, as you know, Dr. Jha, guidance recommends getting a booster after eight months. But is it safe to get a third shot sooner than that? As you know, in Israel, they get that booster shot after five months.

JHA: Yes. So we don't know. We don't have very good data on this. What I am recommending to people is don't go out and get it too early. There actually is a real immunologic benefit of waiting between the second and third shot. So if you got your second shot recently, there is no logic and no reason, really, no benefit of getting that third shot too early. Let's wait for FDA and CDC guidance and make decisions based on that.

BLITZER: As you also know, Dr. Jha, this coronavirus pandemic here in the United States is getting more and more dire every day. Right now, we're up to nearly 1,500 deaths, 1,500 deaths a day. Only a couple months ago, it was 200 deaths. It's more than tripled what the daily death toll was just a month ago. What kind of situation do we have on our hands right now?

JHA: This is really both tragic and all so preventable, right, Wolf. Almost all of these people were getting hospitalized, almost all of them were dying or dying of a preventable illness. They're largely unvaccinated. And I'm worried that those numbers, those horrible numbers are going to climb even higher. So we'll have to see where things go. But what people need to do is be careful at this moment and get vaccinated if you are not vaccinated right now.

BLITZER: With schools opening around the country, college students returning to campuses, including your campus at Brown University, are you bracing for more bad news, especially in those states where there are no mask mandates in public schools or on campuses?

JHA: Yes. I think -- look, I think schools that are being responsible having vaccine mandates for people who can get vaccinated, masking up indoors, doing testing and working on ventilation. I think they're going to be able to largely open up okay. But places that are flouting the rules that the virus has set, not our rules but the virus' rules, they really are, I think, risking large outbreaks and I'm very worried about what is going to happen.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm worried as well. Dr. Jha, as usual, thank you very much for joining us. We're always grateful to you.

Coming up, President Biden is calling the near total abortion ban in Texas un-American. Can his Justice Department do something about it?


We'll discuss when we come back.


BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is ramping up his criticism of the new Texas law banning most abortions, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed it to take effect. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The most pernicious thing about the Texas law, it sort of creates a vigilante system where people get rewards to go out to anyway, and it just seems -- I know this sounds ridiculous, almost un-American.


BLITZER: Let's discuss with CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers and our senior political analyst Kirsten Powers.


Jennifer, the president says he's looking into whether the Department of Justice has a role to play here. What do you think?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's kind of on two tracks, Wolf. I mean, one is there a way for the federal government to make sure the women in Texas can continue to access safe abortions. So, that's one side of things and I know DOJ is looking at that as is the Department of Health and Human Services.

But on a separate track, they are looking into whether there is anything DOJ can do about this notion of the law that is so unique in this way average citizens are enforcing this ban on abortions. Is there a way that it is illegal to find of take the enforcement of the hands of the government and put it in the hands of citizens? And I really don't know the answer to that.

I mean, one issue is it's not enforcement in a criminal sense. It's civil enforcement. They're allowed to sue. And there are areas in which that is allowed to happen in other areas, but it hasn't done ever been in this area of abortion. So, what he's saying is all hands on deck. DOJ is going to look into this and see in what ways can this be stopped to save the women of Texas from this constitutional calamity and see if they come up with anything. It seems like an uphill battle to me.

BLITZER: Because as you point out, President Biden and others seem particularly bothered by this vigilante aspect of this law.

Do you think that portion of the law could inspire additional challenges?

RODGERS: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, we know the extremist anti abortion movement is violent for decades now and the notion that this is just empowering them to go forward and try to seek out people who are trying to get access to abortion rights and to stop them, I mean, the law says to stop them by suing them but we all know that isn't the tack that extremists have taken in the past. So, I do think it's extremely troubling. I think it will be subject to many legal challenges in the years to come.

BLITZER: Kirsten, do you think this new law in Texas could potentially from a political standpoint backfire and be a motivator out there for Democrats?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very possible that will happen because it is so wildly out of the mainstream even for people who oppose abortion rights and even in Texas because it doesn't allow even an exception for rape or incest, which is something the overwhelmingly majority of people in Texas oppose. They want there to be an exception. It's out of the mainstream in that sense and out of the main stream in terms of what Americans believe.

Again, including Americans that believe there should be some restriction on abortion but this goes way too far and in the fact overturns Roe v. Wade, something that Americans overwhelmingly do not want to happen, they support Roe v. Wade, even people that want to see limitations on abortion rights. So I think that this is so radical in terms of the effect of this of even before you get into the vigilante aspect of it, which is also alarming and most people can see that, that you are deputizing people to start turning on neighbors but giving them a financial incentive.

And so, this is something that is deeply troubling and I am sure that if this had come before the Supreme Court or I feel pretty sure if this had come before the Supreme Court and involved deputizing Americans to rat out people who had illegal guns if certain guns were banned, I doubt very much the conservative justice would see this as something hands are tied and there is nothing they can do.

BLITZER: That's good point, too.

Jennifer, some scholars said the way to make abortion legal here in the United States is do it through the U.S. Congress. Can you explain the thinking behind that?

RODGERS: Well, certainly. I mean, the right to an abortion to have control over your own body is rooted in the Constitution. It's a privacy right rooted in the Fifth Amendment and so the federal constitution guarantees women that right. And so for that reason, Congress could legislate abortion to be legal nationwide and always could. The problem is the political problem that's never been palatable to enough of the members of Congress to do it. Legally, it certainly could.

BLITZER: Do you think there is an appetite Kirsten in Congress to take this issue on?

POWERS: Well, there's definitely an appetite, there's just not the numbers, and I think that that's a problem. There is no question among Democrats that's something they absolutely would like to do. They just don't have the numbers to pull it off.

At this point, all Democrats have is the ballot box and to use this for, you know, for the elections to show how extreme Republicans are going to be and again, extreme in a way that is outside the bounds of even when a lot of their own voters believe. And this is also supposed to be the party that says we don't like judicial activism and we think that the laws should made by Congress.


And here you have, again, Roe v. Wade essentially being overturned in Texas.

BLITZER: Yeah. All right, guys, thank you very, very much. We'll have more news just after this.


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