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Will Republicans Oust Liz Cheney From Leadership Position?; Biden's New Vaccine Goal. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 4, 2021 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:25]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

We have got a lot happening over the next hour. Up first, in a few minutes, the president is expected to set a new, ambitious goal for coronavirus vaccinations. Right now, the U.S. is approaching a quarter billion doses administered; 56 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The president is now aiming for 70 percent by July 4.

CAMEROTA: But how will he do that with the number of vaccinations slowing down?

CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us.

So, Phil, do we know how President Biden plans to get this done?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, Alisyn, the administration knows, obviously, there has been a drop-off in the day-to-day vaccination rate over the course of the last couple of weeks.

And it acknowledges a couple things, one, that there's -- the country in general is awash in vaccine supply and the people who wanted to get the vaccine or had easy access to the vaccine has -- have, to the most part to this point, done so. And that means the administration needs to put in more work to reach those who haven't been able to, maybe are from underserved communities.

And that will be a key component of what the president outlines today. Now, obviously, the top line here is extremely important, an ambitious goal of 70 percent of U.S. adults having at least one dose by July 4. Remember, July 4 is the date he laid out in that March prime-time address, the date that the administration has long been pushing towards for some sense of normalcy. And administration officials say, if they hit that 70 percent mark, the way the country operates will be transformed when it comes to the restrictions that would come off, how day-to-day life would be able to move forward if they hit that mark.

They also want 160 million adults to be fully vaccinated. That would be about 60 percent of the adult population. How they're planning to help push this through, obviously, continue to press vaccines out, another 29 million vaccines being delivered to states this week, but also by trying to reach those communities that may not have the access.

The president is going to direct all federal pharmacy partners with the government to have walk-up or walk-in appointments. He's going to press for more pop-up vaccination centers, more mobile vaccination units, trying to get out into areas, particularly rural areas, other underserved communities that may have more difficulty having access to those vaccinations.

You're also going to see significant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, being pushed out to states and localities, in terms of education efforts, outreach efforts as well, really kind of multipronged approach, trying to get at this idea that it's not necessarily hesitancy with the vaccine. It's maybe people who need to learn more about it or maybe people who need to have better or quicker or easier access to it.

All of these will go in line with what the president's going to announce today. And one other key component, the president is going to make clear that, once the FDA approves of an emergency use authorization for vaccine availability to those the ages of 12 to 15, something that is expected as soon as next week, the administration is going to go full-bore to make sure parents have the information they need, but also they push out the vaccines into that population.

That population, in total, about another 5 percent of the U.S. population, certainly something the administration wants to see if they can get vaccines out to as quickly as possible once it is allowed by the FDA. Again, that is expected next week.

All of this kind of encompassing and all-of-administration effort that recognizes perhaps vaccinations are starting to slow a little bit. Still, millions are going out per day. But they need to continue to ramp up to try and reach the goals that they have laid out over the course of the last several months, guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: All right, we are waiting for President Biden to speak about the pandemic. He's expected to announce those new numbers and the objectives.

Let's go now to Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He's a CNN medical analyst.

Dr. Reiner, this new number, to reach 70 percent of adults in the U.S. with at least one shot, right now, at 56.6 percent, eight weeks, they have got to do this. Do you think it's possible or probable?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I do.

Look, first of all, we're going to see approval for 12-to-15-year-olds very soon. That's 6 percent of the population. There are 20 million adolescents in that age group. And, you know, over the next several weeks, I think people are going to start to understand the true benefits of the vaccine.

There are a lot of people who haven't yet gotten their vaccination because they're waiting to see how other people did. And I think we will start to see the gaps fill in.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Reiner, you know what I think would be a game-changer is if we continue to see more young people getting sick.

REINER: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I mean, right now, more young people are being hospitalized. That's something that we weren't seeing a year ago, OK?

[14:05:05]

And so here are the numbers. I mean, obviously, the age, 5 years old to 17, 5 to 17, 2 percent of the people hospitalized are in that age range, OK, obviously, a very low percentage. But it's still growing every week.

I mean, obviously, we got to a point where we somehow became comfortable with older adults being hospitalized and dying in this country. If kids were getting sicker, that would change everything.

REINER: Well, many more young people are getting sick with the virus, in part because the virus has changed a little bit.

The virus is more transmissible. And we have vaccinated really well the age group over 65. You know, over 80 percent of people in that demographic have had at least one shot, and very few people under the age of 20 have.

So -- and that's the opportunity for the virus. So, this is why we need to immediately vaccinate kids 12 through 15. We really need to get basically every parent on board with this. And then, hopefully, by the fall, we will be vaccinating kids from 6 months to 12 years of age, and we just put the rest of this fire out.

BLACKWELL: So, this new goal, Dr. Reiner, that we're going to hear from the president happens at about the same time that New York, Florida, other states are lifting restrictions.

Potentially, we're going to see transmission rates start to dip because people are returning to outdoors activities. For people who are reluctant or hesitant about getting the vaccine, if they see these numbers, what, for them, in their mind, should be the urgency to get that first shot?

REINER: This is what I would remind people who are reluctant to get their first shot.

Right now, we're still averaging about 680 deaths per day in the United States. Every single one of those deaths is an unvaccinated person. Almost without exception, every one of the deaths now in this country is somebody who has not been vaccinated.

What more incentive can I give you?

CAMEROTA: Dr. Reiner, I know that you have been outspoken about thinking that perhaps the CDC guidelines are a little too cautious.

Currently, the CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people, in terms of how they can behave outdoors, let me read it to you. You can gather or conduct activities outdoors without wearing a mask, except in certain crowded settings and venues.

What do you wish the guidance was that they were giving?

REINER: I wish the guidance would tell vaccinated people that they're immune, because that is the truth.

So, the CDC updated the most recent statistics on the first 95 million fully vaccinated Americans. And out of that cohort, 95 million people, there have been 9,000 symptomatic infections. That's 0.009 percent.

So, said another way, if you're vaccinated, you are 99.991 percent protected from getting sick with this virus. We also have data that shows that you're just about as well protected against asymptomatic infection.

So, I want vaccinated people to know that, yes, you can walk around without a mask because you are not going to get sick and you are not going to get somebody else sick. The problem is that the CDC has to give guidance that doesn't negatively impact people who haven't been vaccinated.

And I think they're worried that if you tell vaccinated people, you don't need to wear a mask, that no one will wear a mask. But the truth is, if you're vaccinated, you really don't need to wear a mask in public.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Reiner, we know from a senior White House official that what we're expecting the president to say in a little more than 20 minutes now is that there will be bolstering in response in rural communities, including sending vaccines directly to rural health clinics.

We have seen the polls. We know the numbers. Is the problem that they don't have access to the vaccines or that they don't want it? I mean, if that's what the focus will be, is this the right strategy, and we will hear more, to get to that 70 percent?

REINER: It's different in different settings.

But what I will say is, the most effective place to start putting vaccines would be in doctor's offices, actually in the doctor's office, so when you come for your visit, and your doc or your practitioner asks you why you haven't been vaccinated, and they educate you, you can get a jab right then and there.

My colleague Leana Wen has been talking about this a lot. Getting vaccines to really primary care settings will go a long way, because people trust their doctors. They trust their providers.

[14:10:07]

And when you have them in the office, that's the time to give them the shot.

And then we need to be creative. We need to get into churches and community centers, and we really need to talk to people and vaccinate them on the spot. That's the way we can basically get to the people who are reluctant. The people who are deniers, nothing we can do will get to them.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Jonathan Reiner, always great to get your advice and expertise. Thank you very much.

REINER: Thanks for having me.

BLACKWELL: So, there's a warning that's been issued about the future of Liz Cheney's leadership post.

A senior House Republican tells CNN that she's gone; it's just a matter of how and when.

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[14:15:11]

BLACKWELL: Well, now to the growing movement to remove Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney from the party's leadership in the House, all because, essentially, she's willing to call a thing a thing, that the claim of a stolen election is a lie.

A senior House Republican member tells CNN that Liz is gone, just a question of how and when. Now, Cheney says she cannot accept the poison, her word, that the 2020 election was stolen and that President Trump's actions leading up to the Capitol insurrection cannot be forgiven, they cannot be forgotten.

CAMEROTA: But her continued stance against Trump is angering Trump supporters and GOP leadership.

Sources tell CNN that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is furious, and he could call another vote to try to remove her from Republican leadership as soon as next week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): There's no concern about how she voted on impeachment. That decision has been made. I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message.

We all need to be working as one. It's more concerned about the job, ability to do, and what's our best step forward that we could all work together, instead of attacking one another.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, what are you hearing about this possible vote to remove her?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems almost certain that that's where this conference is headed right now, because she is seeing her support cratering on all sides of the Republican Conference.

She does have some support, but it feels, talking to a number of Republicans who backed her the last time there was a challenge to her post, a lot of them are signaling that they do not plan to support her now.

Now, we are also hearing movement of potential replacements against her. One, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who has been a very loyal Trump supporter, defended him during the impeachment trial, impeachment efforts, is making moves to potentially run herself. We are hearing that she is talking, calling members to see about a potential bid.

But, first, there needs to actually be a vote to oust Liz Cheney. We are hearing that Cheney, according to multiple sources, that she is not going to step aside, so that means there actually will have to be a secret ballot election to oust her. And Kevin McCarthy has the power to do just that, hold that vote next week.

Now, when he was asked down in Georgia, as he was touring earlier today, whether or not he would hold a vote next week, he dodged the question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Will you call for a vote to seek the removal of Liz Cheney from her leadership position?

MCCARTHY: The conference decides on that. We're here to talk about small business, and we're talking about solutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: But in talking to a number of Republicans, the expectation is that there could essentially be a vote next week, someone could make a motion, and Kevin McCarthy could call it up.

And, as you mentioned, one House Republican, a very senior member, told me earlier today: "Liz is gone. It's just a question of how and when." And that is what is being echoed up and down the line. So she's in a very precarious position. It seems that she is willing to go down. Her -- go down with a fight here, because her office put out a statement pushing back against the big lie that Donald Trump won the election and said that Republicans need to call that out -- guys.

BLACKWELL: Manu Raju for us there on Capitol Hill.

Manu, thanks so much.

I want to pick up right where you left off with CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, also with us, Peter Wehner. He has worked in the White House for three Republican administrations, including as a senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

Gloria, to you first and your new reporting. And it aligns with what we heard from Manu, that Representative Cheney is not going down without a fight.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, she's going to continue to fight this, and I think that's the problem for Republicans.

For her, this is a matter of -- it's existential. It's a matter of preserving democracy. It's a matter of history. It's a matter of saying the Republican Party cannot move on until we get this past behind us and we confront it directly.

For the rest of the Republican Party and the caucus, and I have talked to a bunch of Republicans, it's about gaining power. What they want to do is say, OK, that was then. She's really angering us now because she keeps talking about it. We want to start talking about Joe Biden and his policies that we disagree with, and she keeps bringing up this inconvenient truth that we don't really want to talk about anymore.

So, what are we going to do? We're going to kick her out of the leadership.

CAMEROTA: Peter, your piece for "The Atlantic" is called: "The GOP Is a Grave Threat to American Democracy."

And just how did we get here? How is it possible that so many Republicans in Congress have aligned themselves with someone who lost the election by seven million votes? Why do they still think that he is their winning ticket, and they're willing to make all of these sacrifices, including going along with this bloody insurrection, for Donald Trump?

[14:20:13]

PETER WEHNER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, it's a great question. I mean, it's -- they're squandering any remaining moral and intellectual and political capital, really, that they had.

Why are they going along with it? I think, fundamentally, Alisyn, it's because the base of the party has been radicalized and Trumpified. And we have seen time and time again that anybody that speaks out against Donald Trump, speaks out against his lies -- and these are really insidious lies -- that they have a target on their back, figuratively, and they're taken out.

And somebody like Kevin McCarthy is a particularly pathetic figure, because he's so weak. He knows better. He knows that the election wasn't rigged. He knows the election wasn't stolen. But he wants to win, and he knows the only way that he can win is to keep his base ginned up and energized.

And I think that Republicans threw their hat over the Trump wall and they decided, look, we're not going to win back suburban voters, women voters, so we have got to keep our base, our angry, grievance-filled base, jacked up all the time.

But one other thing I want to say is, the reason that they're enraged at Liz Cheney is because she is their -- a voice of conscience, and they hate it. She is calling them out. She's speaking truth to a party that is in the grips of an insidious lie and conspiracy theories.

And the Republican Party, I'm sorry to say, as someone who's been a lifelong Republican, is a diseased party, and it's a dangerous party, and it's getting worse, not better.

BLACKWELL: Gloria, Peter talked about Leader McCarthy and what he described as his weakness.

Let's just remind everyone that this is the Kevin McCarthy who wouldn't pull Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committees, but is now willing to, according to the reporting, in a few days, lead this removal of Liz Cheney for simply telling the truth.

BORGER: Right. And you're not -- you know, you're not hearing them talk a lot about Matt Gaetz and his issues.

I think Liz Cheney's in their face. And in talking to one Republican this morning, he said to me, she really shouldn't have embarrassed McCarthy that way. She shouldn't challenge him publicly that way.

And I'm thinking to myself, wait a minute. This is a grown woman who is in leadership. and if she is embarrassing McCarthy because he's on both sides of the issue about what Trump did and didn't do, that's just too bad. These are smart people who have been elected to public office, presumably.

The people that I think are kind of the worst are the ones who actually agree with Liz Cheney privately and say, she's right, this was a free and fair election, but there are lots of those people who will now vote against her because they think they need to get her out, so they can potentially win back the House, and they don't want her to stand in the way of their message.

CAMEROTA: Do you agree with that, Peter? Because you said Kevin McCarthy knows better. He knows that Joe Biden won the election.

Does he? I mean, at this point, the polling suggests that 70 percent of Republicans think that there was vast voter fraud and that Biden didn't win legitimately.

I mean, it's hard to know what Republicans believe anymore, because, you know, they're being fed all of this disinformation in -- on some of their favorite channels.

WEHNER: Yes, look, I think it's an important disaggregation.

I think, for a lot of the base of the party, I think they have bought into this. They have been told these lies by Trump, and they have been amplified by the political class and political leadership. And so, if you talk to a lot of Republicans, base supporters, particularly Trump supporters, and you gave them sodium pentathol, they would say, yes, it was actually rigged and stolen.

Kevin McCarthy is not in that camp. Excuse me. Neither is Chris Christie. Neither is Marco Rubio. Neither is almost all the rest of them, but they're doing it for cynical reasons, because they believe this is the best path to power.

They may be right. I mean, McCarthy may win and become speaker of the House in 2022 by following this path. But he's being unpatriotic in it. He's doing damage to the country. He's doing damage to truth. He's engaged in an assault on reality.

And this stuff matters. And the fact that he knows it matters and still has chosen his own ambition and the ambition of his party's over the country is a disgraceful thing, and it's getting worse with every passing week.

BLACKWELL: Peter, there's a tweet from Senator Mitt Romney defending Cheney.

He tweets this: "Every person of conscience drives -- draws a line beyond which they will not go. Liz Cheney refuses to lie. As one of my Republican Senate colleagues said to me following my impeachment vote, 'I wouldn't want to be a member of a group that punished someone for following their conscience.'"

[14:25:05]

I mean, we saw what happened to Mitt Romney at the state event there in Utah, the convention in Utah, a couple days ago. He was booed. And he said to the people, "Aren't you embarrassed?"

Apparently not. Your reaction to what we're hearing from Mitt Romney?

WEHNER: Well, it's not surprising.

Mitt Romney has been another profile in courage. There are not many in the Republican Party. Adam Kinzinger is one. Romney is another. Liz is a third. There are a few others. And I'm glad that they're speaking out, because it's important to be faithful to what you know to be true.

But look, this caucus, this truth caucus could fit in a phone booth these days for the Republican Party. And, oddly, it is almost as if Donald Trump in the last year or so, we might look back and say that he was a restraining force on the madness in the Republican Party and that, once he left, those poisons that had been unleashed just spread further and further.

So, this is a party -- as I said, it's a diseased party and it's a dangerous party. And I am thankful for Liz Cheney and for Mitt Romney for speaking out. I wish more would join them. But the Republican Party, having essentially accepted Donald Trump's corruptions for the last five years, became complicit if those in those corruptions and he became them.

There was all this talk during the Trump presidency that there would be restraining forces on Trump and that he would become more like them. In fact, it was the other way around. They have become like him, and it's a very, very sad thing to see.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: And can I just add -- can I just add, one of the interesting things in talking to Republicans -- and this is how they rationalize throwing Cheney out.

I spoke to one who said to me, she can believe whatever she wants to believe. That was then. This is now, as if there is some wall that comes down between January 6 and where we are now.

And what is now is gaining back power. What is now is staying on message about Joe Biden, and she can believe whatever she wants to believe. We're not going to punish her for that. Her sin is that she is not talking about what we want her to talk about. And, therefore, she cannot be a leader of the Republican Party, which, as Pete points out, wants to sweep January 6 under the rug.

CAMEROTA: It's a little soon for sweeping January under the rug.

BORGER: Very soon.

CAMEROTA: I mean, that's how Liz Cheney feels.

Gloria, Peter, thank you both very much.

OK, so, Attorney General Merrick Garland is on Capitol Hill to defend the DOJ's budget.

What he says keeps him up at night -- that's next.

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