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The Situation Room
Biden Says, Sweeping New Vaccine Rules Could Cover 100 Million Americans; Justice Department Sues Texas over Unconstitutional Abortion Law; Kim Jong UN Shows Off Dramatic New Weight Loss; L.A. School Board Mandates COVID Vaccines for All Eligible Students. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 09, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. President Biden just announced sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandates and requirements that could affect as many as 100 million Americans. We're breaking down his new strategy and whether it will work as he warns the unvaccinated, our patience is wearing thin.
Also tonight, the U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of Texas, seeking to block its near total ban on abortions. The attorney general of the United States arguing the law is an unprecedented scheme that openly defies the U.S. Constitution.
And police are expected to reinstall fencing around the U.S. Capitol as they share new security information with lawmakers, deep concerns about potential violence, rising right now just nine days before a rally supporting January 6th rioters.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
And let's go to the breaking news. Our White House -- our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us right now. Kaitlan, the president is taking some very aggressive new actions to try to get more Americans vaccinated.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. And he's taking these aggressive actions because one thing that was clear in the room just now as the president was speaking and addressing the nation about the state of the pandemic is that he is frustrated. He says that we are now in a tough stretch here in the U.S. He thinks this is a period that could last for a while. And he says 80 million Americans have, quote, failed to get the coronavirus vaccine, Wolf.
And you could hear that frustration in his voice as he was laying out these next steps that he's taking. Steps that we should note what you are about to hear from the president are ones that he had initially been reluctant to do, to pursue those vaccine mandates for federal employees, to get into the private sector and it involves whether or not those are vaccinated or taking weekly testing.
But the president is frustrated that so many Americans has not gotten a vaccine that has proven to be safe and effective and, of course, is also free, that he now feels that he has to take these measures. And, Wolf, he laid out several steps that he feels he could potentially help the U.S. get out of this slump they are in when it comes to COVID-19.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective and free.
This is not about freedom or personal choice. It's about protecting yourself and those around you, the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love.
My job as president is to protect all Americans. So, tonight I'm announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees that together employ over 80 million workers to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated, or show a negative test at least once a week.
Some of the biggest companies are already requiring this, United Airlines, Disney, Tyson Foods and even Fox News.
The bottom line, we're going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers.
Tonight, I'm using that same authority to expand that to cover those who work in hospitals, home health care facilities or other medical facilities, a total of 17 million health care workers. If you are seeking care at a health facility, you should be able to know that the people treating you are vaccinated, simple, straightforward, period.
Next I will sign an executive order that will now require all executive branch federal employees to be vaccinated, all. And I have signed another executive order that will require federal contractors to do the same. If you want to work with the federal government, do business with us, get vaccinated. If you want to do business with the federal government, vaccinate your workforce.
We have been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.
So, please do the right thing. But just don't take it from me. Listen to the voices of unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds taking their final breath saying, if only I had gotten vaccinated, if only.
It's a tragedy. Please don't let it become yours.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS: Pretty blunt language there from the president, Wolf. As you could see, he was appealing directly to those people who have not yet gotten vaccinated and laying out these steps, which is essentially a mix of executive actions and new federal rules to try to get more people to get vaccinated through their workplaces. That is a big aspect, of course, of the steps that the president is taking here.
Though he did hint there could be more to come in the coming weeks, potentially next month on this. And I think that raises the question of whether or not he takes this a step further because this rule that he's announcing today for these private companies that is going through the Department of Labor, that is something that already was at the place of the federal government. Those federal workers had to either be vaccinated or get regularly tested. Now they are facing a vaccine mandate or risk losing their jobs.
So the question, of course, now is whether or not this rule from the Department of Labor they think can eventually change to just be you have to be vaccinated if you have 100 or more employees at your workplace. But we don't know the answers to that yet, Wolf. Those are going to be questions to come, as well as the implementation of all of this. Because with this Department of Labor rule we should note that if these companies do not comply with this new rule, which we expect them to officially unveil in the coming weeks, they could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines per employee that violates this rule.
BLITZER: They say money talks. Let's see what happens. Kaitlan, I want you to standby. I also want to bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Paul Offit. He's the Director of the Vaccine Education Center of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He's also a key member of the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee.
Sanjay, how far will these few measures announced by President Biden today, including new vaccine mandates, go in actually combating this pandemic?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm not sure because we don't know exactly of the 100 million or so people that may be affected by some of these plans that Kaitlan was outlining, how many of them have already been vaccinated or how many of them are already have some form of immunity. But if you just, say, look at the country as a whole and say about 25 percent of eligible adults are not vaccinated, and that would mean about 25 million of those 100 million may be affected by this. So, you know, that makes a difference.
I think there are two issues though. One is that it won't make a difference right away, I mean, because it takes a while, right? The two-shot vaccine, you got to wait a few weeks in between and takes a while for that immunity to kick in. And we're in a tough spot right now, three and a half times the number of cases this year compared to this point last year, twice as many deaths right now compared to this point last year. So it is a tough spot and these plans won't have that sort of impact. Also it is interesting because I think oftentimes the idea of mandate a vaccine or get tested regularly are sort of comingled sort of as the same thing. But mandating a vaccine or getting tested regularly, they're not the same thing. One is preventing the infection. The other one is diagnosing it after it's already occurred. So a lot of people may just take that off ramp of just getting tested instead of getting vaccinated. And I think that also does not really address the problem as well. It sort of prolongs the pandemic.
BLITZER: And very quickly, Sanjay, do we know of the 80 million Americans who have refused to even get a shot, one vaccine, do we know how many of them have had COVID? Because a lot of them say, I've had COVID, I already have immunity, I don't need to get vaccinated.
GUPTA: Look, Wolf, this is a really important topic. I think a lot of times it's not discussed. First of all, I don't know what percentage of that 80 million has had previous COVID infection, but it could be a significant number when we don't have enough testing of antibodies to sort of know that. And there has been some data that has come out recently suggesting pretty significant benefit with the immunity that you get from a natural infection.
But let me be very clear though and preface by saying no one is suggesting that going out and getting natural immunity is a good strategy because you see what happens. Hospitals are overwhelmed. 1,500 people a day are dying. It is a terrible strategy.
But if your question, Wolf, is, okay, I have already had it. Now what? And there is evidence that it provides good protection, now what? Well, I think the data still sort of coming, and I would be curious to see what Dr. Offit says, but what the data seems to suggest is that perhaps you could treat that infection if it is documented and it's clear that you had a COVID infection, you could treat that as a prime shot and then you still should get at least one shot of the vaccine as your boost. That would give you the best protection.
So, still vaccinated, maybe one shot instead of two. But even those with COVID in the past should still get vaccinated because they would get better protection that way.
BLITZER: Well, let me hear what Dr. Offit has to say. Go ahead, Dr. Offit.
DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: No. That's exactly right. I think -- and there are data in people who have been actually infected who have gotten, say, one dose to the mRNA vaccine to show that you have a clear boost in immunity, arguing that you don't need that second dose.
But I think what President Biden has done is a really important step. I mean, he's put his finger right on what the problem is right now in this country, which is there is a critical percentage of people who are simply saying they don't want to be vaccinated, and that the only way you're going to, I think, get them vaccinated is to compel them with mandates.
And, obviously, there's I think some flaws in the way that this mandates work. I agree with Dr. Gupta that the opt-out could be or the pop-off could be that you could just get tested, which is obviously not the same thing. There is no good reason not to get a vaccine. There is just a lot of bad reasons and people shouldn't use those bad reasons not to get it.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. You know, Kaitlan, the president also addressed the issue of air travelers who refused to wear masks and cause a certain ruckus on planes. Tell our viewers what he said.
COLLINS: Yes. This has been a big question. And we should note, one thing he did not say today when he left the room after giving the speech is whether or not ever considering requiring a vaccine or a negative test result to take a domestic flight is an option that's on the table. We know that's something that some people have called for. But he did talk about that requirement to wear a mask when you are on the plane.
And these remarkable videos that we have seen throughout this pandemic of people fighting flight attendants over this mandate and the president was saying they were doubling those mask fines for people who disobey that TSA rule. But he also, Wolf, had some anger about these videos that so many people have seen. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Today, tonight, I'm announcing that the Transportation Safety Administration, the TSA, will double the fines on travelers who refuse to mask. If you break the rules, be prepared to pay. And by the way, show some respect. The anger you see on television toward flight attendants and others doing their job is wrong. It's ugly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: I think that's a sentiment that a lot of people share, Wolf. And we should note those fines are going from a range of $250 to $1,500 to $500 to $3,000.
BLITZER: Yes, a lot of money.
You know Doctor Offit, did the president clear up the confusion that's clearly still out there, the confusion that vaccinated Americans have about when and if they should actually seek this third booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine?
OFFIT: Well, I think that hopefully will be cleared up when the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee meets on September 17th and we review the data that has sparked that recommendation. And then the CDC will then take it from there to see whether or not they want to make that recommendation.
Frankly, I think it would -- I'd love to see modeling from the CDC to look at to what extent you significantly decrease the contagiousness index of this virus, you know, the spread ability of this virus by giving someone like me who has received two doses a third dose as compared to just doing what we need to do, which is I think what President Biden just said, which is vaccinate the unvaccinated.
Because I just worry if you are trying to take 170 million Americans who have already been vaccinated and now you want to give them the third dose is that really where you want to spend your time and money right now as compared to what he's doing, which is let's get the unvaccinated vaccinated, because that's going to make the difference.
BLITZER: You know, Sanjay, still about 160,000 Americans every day are coming down with COVID. At the end of June, it was about 11,000 or 12,000 a day. This pandemic, thanks to this delta variant, has really exploded.
GUPTA: Yes. I mean, I think it's the delta variant, which is far more contagious, and it is the fact that you still get such a large percentage of the country unvaccinated. I mean, it's really something, Wolf, to think about. You know, again, these numbers at this point this year compared to last year, if you would have told me last year here is where we're going to be a year from now, I would have thought, oh, I guess we never got to the point where we have authorized the vaccine. That's the only way you could explain why the numbers would be that high rate now.
I think it's just a real problem and such a preventable problem, which makes it that much more tragic. Hopefully, as you know everyone has said, I hope these measures make an impact ultimately. It won't be right away, but I hope they make an impact ultimately.
BLITZER: I certainly do as well. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, how effective was the president's speech? Will it translate to more shots in arms among people who don't trust the vaccine? The breaking news continues right here in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, a political gamble for President Biden announcing sweeping, sweeping new measures to boost the sagging U.S. COVID vaccination rate. Speaking at the White House just a little while ago, the president made clear his frustration with Americans who are refusing to get the shot saying, and I'm quoting him now, our patience is wearing thin.
Let's get some more, and joining us, our Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod and our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.
Gloria, was this more stick, less carrot for President Biden today? How effective was it, politically speaking?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Let's say there wasn't a lot of carrot there, Wolf. And it went from stick to tree trunk. You know, he threw everything about it. He's frustrated. And you could see when he said our patience is wearing thin. A lot of folks who are against any kind of mandates are going to be offended by that, and they know it over at the White House, but this was a dramatic speech given by a president who believes it is his duty to protect the American people.
And so he has been criticized, and I think rightly so, for being unclear about what he was going to do because of the delta variant and what needs to be done in business, and you have heard him say business needs to do more, and now he's saying business has to do more.
So I think he came out and said, okay, here are my six steps. Will everyone listen to him? Will people who are the 25 percent who are committed to not taking the vaccine change their minds? Probably not, maybe some. But as a presidential statement, I think he came out and said, look, this is a problem. We want to get the economy going. On July 4th, the president said, we have gained the upper hand. And now, because of the delta variant, he's coming out and saying, we need to do more. And if you won't do it on your own, I have a certain authority as president, and I'm going to use it.
BLITZER: Yes, you're right. You know, David, the president also is calling out the unvaccinated and pandemic politics, as he calls it. But could this potentially backfire and leave the unvaccinated to dig in even more?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know well it might, Wolf. But what was the alternative really? You know you describe this as a political gamble. But I think the gamble would have been not to do this. As Gloria mentioned, the president basically said we're on the right track on July 4th. And it's not just delta that put us on the wrong track, it is the stubborn resistance of some group of Americans to get vaccinated.
And, you know, I think he had to -- he had two objectives here. One is to get control of the virus. The other is to get control of the story and to make clear that he has -- that he is taking strong steps here and that had to include some requirements. What was interesting was in the entire speech, the one word you didn't hear was, mandate. He talked about requirements. And, of course, we have all kinds of requirements that we have to meet as people in our society. And he mentioned -- he talked about these as requirements, but they are mandates. They will be resisted.
He interestingly stood behind the educators who were going to enforce -- who are trying to enforce mask mandates against unvaccinated children in schools and are now facing retribution from governors who see a political advantage in standing up with the anti-mask movement. And, basically, the president said, we've got your back. You are not going to lose your paycheck. We're going to stand behind you. So that was interesting as well.
But I think he had to do what he did today. He needed to make clear that he has his arms around this and that he is doing everything that he possibly can to bring this virus to heel. BORGER: You know and he knows and they know in the White House that his poll numbers are going down on the question of how he has handled the virus. And I think part of the reason he gave this speech today is to say, look, here is what we have done for you. Here is how far we have come. We've got over 175 million vaccinated, and on and on. We have made a lot of progress. But you're going to need to do more.
And then he -- you know, you could see his frustration and his anger in a way when he asked, what more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? You know, you see that people are dying. And it's the unvaccinated people who are dying.
So it was a president pleading with the American public to do more, but also saying, look, as a leader, this is what I can do and this is what I can do in an executive order, and I intend to do it to save us and to save our economy and to save Americans' lives.
AXELROD: Yes, I do think, Wolf, that the anger that he expressed, the frustration that Gloria describes is reflective of many people in this country who have been vaccinated and who feel like they have done everything right. So I think he was speaking to a majority of Americans here, even if the wasn't reaching everyone.
BLITZER: And most of the people who are in hospitals right now with COVID are unvaccinated, almost all of them. And certainly and sadly those who die, about 1,400, 1,500 a day, are unvaccinated. Let's not forget that as well, very sad indeed.
All right guys thank you very much.
The breaking news continues. The Justice Department now suing Texas over its restrictive new abortion law. We'll take a closer look at how it all play out when we come back.
BLITZER: There is more breaking news we're following right now. The U.S. attorney general, Merrick Garland, announcing that the U.S. Justice Department is suing Texas over its new law effectively banning abortion after six weeks. Garland calling the law, and I'm quoting him now, clearly unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedent.
Our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is working the story for us. Paula, the attorney general called the Texas law an unprecedented scheme. He used the word, scheme. How is the Justice Department challenging it?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Attorney General has been under enormous pressure from Democrats and abortion rights advocates to do something to stop this law. And here, he took that first step. The Justice Department has sued the state of Texas, arguing this law is unconstitutional and that the Justice Department, they say, has a responsibility to vindicate the rights of women and these clinics.
But, Wolf, this law was designed specifically to deflect legal challenges. And we see some of those challenges present themselves here. For example, they're suing the state of Texas, but the state has previously pointed out in other litigation that it's not responsible for enforcing this law. Instead, this law deputizes any citizen of Texas to take action against anyone who aids or abets someone trying to obtain an abortion after six weeks.
And in his press conference, the attorney general talked about why that makes it difficult to bring legal challenges. That is also exactly why he needs to bring this lawsuit.
Let's take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The statute includes an unprecedented scheme to, in the chief justice's words, quote, insulate the state from responsibility, close quote. It does not rely on the state's executive branch to enforce the law as is the norm in Texas and everywhere else. Rather, the statute deputizes all private citizens without any showing of personal connection or injury to serve as bounty hunters, authorized to recover at least $10,000 per claim from individuals who facilitate a women's exercise of her constitutional rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: It is not clear right now if bringing a lawsuit against a state, which can't technically enforce the law or people who may try to enforce it in the future, if that's going to be successful in bringing the kind of relief that providers would need to start once again providing abortions after six weeks. So, you see, the attorney general, Wolf, is trying to make this about something bigger, about constitutional issues and trying to stop states from passing similar laws that are just designed to get around the courts.
But they've going to have a long road ahead. They will first go before a federal judge in Texas. Then, likely, they could go to the conservative fifth circuit. And then if the case continues, it will, of course, go back before the Supreme Court where a majority of justices have already declined to stop this law from going into effect. And while they have not ruled on whether this is constitutional, it is unclear if they will take this opportunity to decide that question.
BLITZER: We shall see soon enough. Paula Reid, stay with us. I want to bring in our Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates as well.
Laura, does the federal government have standing here, standing, legal standing, and do you think the Justice Department will be successful in this challenge? LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: They're making a very persuasive case here. And I'll tell you why. This is such an obvious end run for the reasons that Paula articulated around the judicial process.
I mean, imagine a legislature that's unchecked now because there is no oversight, no opportunity to have judicial review and as justice -- as Merrick Garland articulated earlier today, the idea that somebody does not have recourse in the court at the moments they actually need it.
But what's interesting about the choice of the basis of bringing this lawsuit is someone thing that we have been saying over the last week now, the idea that even an Uber driver could be swept under this dragnet. Well, that ambiguous definition of aiding and abetting seems to be what actually lead the DOJ to draw this conclusion.
Essentially, the dragnet is so wide now that federal employees of agencies, like the Defense Department or issues of Medicare and Medicaid services, refugee programs, the Labor Department, the idea of all these different things, job core he named are presumably under that same dragnet, that federal employees could be under civil liability because they're carrying out their own directives.
And he talked about the idea of the supremacy clause essentially here, which says that there is a hierarchy and Constitution and federal law is up there, but also about the idea of the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity, a fancy way of saying you don't get to intrude on our rights and the federal government to carry out our responsibilities.
So in this way, that same tactic of having a very vague, very broad definition to aid and abet is exactly what invited the Justice Department to bring this suit. Because if Uber drivers and Lyft drivers and receptionists and rape counselors and attorneys who are trying to assist all could fall with under the civil liability, then how about federal employees as well? It is a very creative argument and it brings them back in front of the courts, where they should be.
BLITZER: The legal is only just beginning. All right, guys, thank you very much.
Just ahead, we're going to have new details on a major security threat right here in Washington, D.C., amid plans to reinstall perimeter fencing at the U.S. Capitol just ahead of a right-wing rally in defense of the insurrectionists.
BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning new details about plans to reinstall perimeter fencing at the U.S. Capitol amid deep security concerns sparked by an upcoming right-wing rally. CNN's Melanie Zanona is joining us right now with more.
Melanie, security officials are not taking this rally next week lightly at all. They're deeply concerned.
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. And it is easy to see why law enforcement officials are taking this threat so seriously. An internal Capitol Police memo reviewed by CNN shows that there has been an uptick in violent rhetoric surrounding this upcoming rally. There have been particularly heated discussions centered on Ashli Babbitt, the rioter who was shot and killed as she tried to storm the Capitol. And her attorney has even been invited to speak at the rally.
Meanwhile, members of the Proud Boy have been encouraging their followers to attend. There has also been white supremacy images used in connection with this event online. And so all of this is cause for concern according to this memo, and it is not unreasonable to plan for violent altercations.
Now, security preparations are fully underway on Capitol Hill. The Capitol Police have formally requested that the temporary fencing return around the Capitol, that is likely to be approved even as it generates pushback from Republicans. And the department, it's going to be all hands-on-deck that day.
Meanwhile, security briefings are also underway on the Hill. Speaker Pelosi has invited the top four congressional leaders to attend a briefing in her office on Monday. And CNN has also learned that rank and file Capitol Police officers will get an update from their leadership tomorrow morning.
So, there is a very clear effort here among law enforcement officials to be more upfront about the types of potential threats facing Capitol Hill and everyone is taking this very seriously because nobody wants a repeat of January 6th. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. Everyone is really nervous, I can assure you. I have heard the same thing. Melanie, thank you very, very much.
Let's bring in our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe. He's the author of the book, The Threat, How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.
Andrew, is it the right call to install this pretty ugly fencing around the U.S. Capitol just ahead of this rally?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It is absolutely the right call, Wolf. And I can tell you that having been in that position at the end of my career leading the FBI, having had to make those sort of security arrangement assessments and recommendations, were I still at work, I would be asking for the same sort of measures that it seems Capitol Police are asking for.
Look, we all know that the Capitol Police got caught offhanded on January 6th. They weren't prepared for the size of the rally. They certainly weren't prepared for the ferocity of the violence that they experienced. They are not going to get caught short twice. And I would take the exact same approach if I were them.
BLITZER: As you know, rank and file Capitol Police officers will get a special briefing on all of this tomorrow morning. How important is that type of preparation for these officers? They faced, as you correctly point out, incredible violence back on January 6th.
MCCABE: Wolf, one of the key failures that led to the situation on January 6th was a failure of adequate intelligence sharing and preparation to those officers, right? We have seen that Capitol Police is now dedicated to rebuilding and making their intelligence infrastructure and dissemination among their own folks more robust. It appears that they are doing exactly that.
I'm sure they have a long way to go, but they're not waiting. They are making sure that their rank and file, their men and women who are going to be out there in harm's way understand the threat that they might face and I would hope have the proper equipment and training to defend themselves and the Capitol.
BLITZER: What else can law enforcement do now, Andrew, as possible deterrents to discourage anyone thinking of coming to this rally?
MCCABE: I would expect, Wolf, that the FBI is taking some fairly provocative steps with the domestic violent extremists that are already under investigation. They're trying to determine whether those folks are planning on traveling to the Capitol. They maybe, you know, knocking on doors and interviewing people, trying to get a sense of what their plans might be around the rally.
And in the event that they find some of their more concerning subjects are thinking about coming, they might have a very frank conversation with them in which they strongly suggest they should not attend. Of course, it is ultimately their decision as to whether they will come and exercise their First Amendment rights. So I'm sure that they are looking at those folks that they are most concerned about.
And keep in mind, Wolf, all of these criminal cases that have resulted from the January 6th insurrection have generated in addition to evidence to be used in those cases, they're also generating intelligence about people, about networks, about people who are likeminded and may be communicating and planning things like this. So I would expect that the FBI and DHS and all their partners are in a much better situation today than they were in January.
BLITZER: Just ahead of the September 11th 20th anniversary this Saturday, the NYPD's intelligence chief says the current threat level is, quote, exponentially complicated by the events in Afghanistan. How worrisome is this?
MCCABE: Well, I think, you know, for all the attention that we have been paying to domestic violent extremists over the last few months and the last few years, all of which was worthy and appropriate, it is important to remember that the threats we face from foreign terrorists have not gone away. So I think what you have is NYPD reacting very defensively to make sure they are not going to be caught short on this very important anniversary of September 11th. BLITZER: Security is going to be intense. All right, Andrew McCabe, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, Kim Jong-un shows off his dramatic weight loss at a military parade. Is the North Korean regime using his appearance as propaganda? Stand by.
BLITZER: Right now, we're following news out of North Korea where the military there is diverting from its usual playbook, while Kim Jong-un is showing off his recent very dramatic weight loss.
Brian Todd is joining us with details right now.
Brian, it looks like the Kim regime is using his appearance potentially for propaganda.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (AUDIO GAP) has clearly lost considerable weight. Previously there were questions about Kim Jong- un's health and the regime is eager to show off his new look.
TODD (voice-over): A midnight parade in Pyongyang, an event commemorating the 73rd anniversary of North Korea's founding. And at the stroke of midnight Thursday, a surprise appearance, the country's 37-year-old dictator Kim Jong-un in a tailored light-colored suit looking remarkably slimmer than he was a few months ago.
JEAN LEE, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: He has clearly lost so much weight. He was looking svelte, trim. We're not used to that. In some ways, we saw that as the biggest risk to the North Korean leadership was his health.
So, it's interesting now the regime has used his weight loss in its propaganda.
TODD: Other footage shows the Supreme Leader and top aides at an outdoor table, appearing to enjoy some kind of bright green drinks with the swirly straw. The western style suit, the overall air of confidence, analysts say, could be an effort by Kim to channel his late grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, who remains a wildly popular figure there.
LEE: His grandfather was something the norm Koreans have respect and affection for. I see during times of hardship and trouble, he really works to evoke the memory of his grandfather.
TODD: The parade features the rows of soldiers in cadence, paratroopers descending in the night sky, aircraft firing flares. But with a notable feature missing. This time, no missiles on display, no references to North Korea's nuclear capability. Instead, there were fire trucks, dogs, horses, horses, and a large formation of marchers in orange hazmat suits -- what North Korean media described as the emergency disease prevention unit.
PATRICK CRONIN, THE HUDSON INSTITUTE: The focus is to demonstrate Kim's unsurpassed handling of the pandemic and hazmat suits and dogs and fire trucks and horses apparently are better for manipulating the narrative of successful pandemic management than missiles.
TODD: North Korea claims it had no cases of COVID-19 in the entire country, something analysts say is unlikely. And Kim can't sidestep their status of a rogue regime. The International Olympic Committee has just decided to ban North Korea from participating in next year's Winter Olympics in Beijing, at least under the country's official name, because of North Korea's decision not to send any athletes to this year's Summer Games in Tokyo.
CRONIN: Missing the Olympics, not once but twice in the space of a year, is a terrible missed opportunity for North Korea. I think because they have been in this emergency lockdown state with the pandemic, they will have to pay the price of being relegated to a non- player, a non-actor.
TODD (on camera): Analysts say despite this pageantry we just saw, despite Kim Jong-un's appearance, North Korea is probably worse off internally than much of the world realizes. They point out that during the pandemic, North Korea's border with China has been closed off -- food, revenue, other resources have not been getting in. And North Koreans are likely in desperate straits even when they usually are, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting indeed.
Brian Todd, thank you very much.
All right. There's more breaking pandemic news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The nation's second largest school district voting just moments ago to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all eligible students.
Let's go to our national correspondent Nick Watt in Los Angeles for us.
Nick, so what happened?
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, all eligible, as you say, 12 years and up. And, Wolf, the reason this is a big deal, as you mentioned, L.A. Unified is a massive school district, more than half a million kids, 1,200 schools. So, the question is, will other districts follow the lead of Los Angeles?
Now, there is some nuance in this, but the basic deal here is that all kids are going to have had their first shot just before Thanksgiving and second shot by just before Christmas. If a kid turns 12 during the school year, they're going to have two months to get both doses.
Now, the evidence that the board members cited in favor of taking this decision, they say that pediatric hospitalization rates have gone up fivefold between in June and August. They say hospitalization rate in 12 to 17-year-olds is ten times for the unvaccinated as opposed to the vaccinated.
Now, the public comment section was also a microcosm of what elected officials are facing across this country. We had people saying that the board is taking away parents' rights to do what they want to do with their kids. You know, some people were saying, can we sue if our kids suffer side effects? Some people saying, we don't want our children to be experimented on.
They said, you can't experiment on animals anymore. You are not going to experiment on our kids.
There was some just basic ignorance. People saying that the vaccine is experimental. It's not. Saying it hasn't been approved. It has.
And they were saying to the board, listen, when you are parents, you can make decisions for your own kids but don't make those decisions for ours. And in rebuttal to that, the medical director of the district said, I am a parent as well. She summed it up pretty well. She said, listen, kids learn best inside classrooms and vaccines work -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Was there fiery debate among the board members, Nick?
WATT: Absolutely not. It was pretty unanimous. They were speaking with one voice. There was just one abstention. A board member who has some shares, I believe, in Pfizer.
But, you know, one board member s said, listen, I'm old enough to remember polio. A kid in my third grade class Billy lost his arm to polio. I want vaccines because vaccines stop that. Another board member said, listen, we want to keep kids in school. And another board member said, you know what? I come down on the side of medical science, not political science -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick Watt in Los Angeles for us, very important news indeed. Thank you very much.
Coming up, the countdown to the California recall election. We're going to go to one county where the governor is facing an uphill battle to keep his job.
BLITZER: With just five days to go until the California recall election, the Governor Gavin Newsom is facing an uphill battle in one of the bluest state's reddest counties.
CNN's Lisa Kafanov has details. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In one of the country's bluest states, Kern County stands out as a rare bastion of red. It may be less than two hours north of Hollywood by car, but the city of Bakersfield is on the other side of the spectrum politically.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newsom out, Elder in.
KAFANOV: It's where you will find America's last Woolworth luncheonette counter, serving burgers, shakes and nostalgia.
DENNIS JEFFERS, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: California was once a nice place. Governor Newsom says a lot of things but he does bad things.
KAFANOV: When it comes to Governor Gavin Newsom, some of the diners have had their fill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's not a change, my wife and I, we're out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're leaving the state.
KAFANOV: Many Republicans think their voices aren't heard.
JEFFERS: No. I don't think so.
BARBARA BEST, REGISTERED REPUBLICAN: No. Not really.
KAFANOV: To some degree, they're right.
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, California.
KAFANOV: In 2018, just 41 percent of current county voters went for Newsom.
NEWSOM: The best is yet to come.
KAFANOV: But he won the state by a landslide.
Now Republicans are hoping to flip the governor's office. An uphill battle in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one.
BEST: Sometimes, I wonder if it's worth voting because, you know, my voice may not be heard. Both of us often feel like, is it really going to matter in California? It's always going to be Democrats.
KAFANOV: At the Kern County GOP headquarters, they are trying to change that with phone calls, ballot drop-offs and yard signs.
CATHY ABERNATHY, KERN COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: The outcome is anyone's guess. This is an odd time of year to have an election, September 14. We have had people pouring in here for the last two weeks. KAFANOV: Kern County GOP member, Cathy Abernathy, says Republican
voters are energized. She's hoping for a boost from independents and some Democrats.
ABERNATHY: These extremes produce a switch in parties. I don't believe all the Democrats in California are of the same philosophy as the Democrats in that state capital building.
KAFANOV: With just a few days left to convince California to change track, Larry Elder is banking on Bakersfield.
KAFANOV (on camera): And, Wolf, this was Larry Elders' third visit to Bakersfield which shows how much he is counting on Republican support there.
And here's another interesting thing: nearly every Republican voter we spoke to expressed some sense of skepticism about this vote. They are worried about fraud. Many telling us they will wait until September 14th, Election Day, to hand deliver their ballots in person -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Lucy, thanks very much.
And to our viewers, thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.