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Vaccination Rate Dropping; Liz Cheney Set to Lose Leadership Position?; Republicans Passing Voter Restriction Laws. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 6, 2021 - 15:00   ET



DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: And so there really is no scientific basis behind this.

And I think it's an important question for us to ask and for us to address, because so many people have this question, but it's also for us to state the fact that there's no physiological reason as to why this would be the case. And, actually, it's been proven otherwise, based on the number of women who have gotten pregnant after getting the vaccine.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, Dr. Leana Wen, thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And good afternoon, everyone. This is NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

Right now, a Republican campaign to restrict voting access is gaining some momentum across the country. In Texas, state lawmakers there, they're getting ready to debate a measure that will make it harder for voters to cast a ballot. A vote is expected a few hours from now.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just signed his own bill into law that includes new I.D. requirements and stronger restrictions on mail-in voting.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in Austin, Texas.

So, Dianne, walk us through what this means for voters in Texas today.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, Victor, I think it's important to begin by noting that the state of Texas already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country, especially when it comes to voting absentee or by mail.

And so any additional restrictions will make things that much harder for some people in this state to vote. Now, we're talking about dozens of different bills here. But what many people are paying attention to are these election overhaul bills, one of which we are expecting to be debated on the House floor at the capitol behind me sometime this afternoon and likely late into the night. Now, we're talking about a whole host of changes. But the focus here

is on some of the powers that it gives the state and also those partisan poll watchers. Activists worry that this is going to amount to basically voter intimidation legalized in the state of Texas.

It also adds different criminal penalties for voters and election officials throughout the process. For example, if an election official sends an unsolicited mail-in ballot application, that would be a felony. It also requires anybody who is assisting a voter to disclose the reason that voter might need assistance, say, disclose what their disability may be.

Again, there is a whole host of other changes included within these bills. Now, look, there were protesters here this morning. They are waiting there in the gallery for this to come up for debate today. Business leaders in the state of Texas and around the country, unlike in Georgia, where they waited until after the bill had already been signed into law, are making their voices heard now.

There was a letter that was endorsed by 50 different corporations and organizations, including some big names, like American Airlines, Microsoft, HP, Patagonia. And they have said, look, we basically don't want any kind of legislation that could make it harder for eligible voters to cast their ballot.

So, Victor, Alisyn, they didn't speak specifically to these two overhaul bills. But this is some of the stronger outspokenness that we have heard from businesses in the community. And I spoke with Representative Joaquin Castro earlier this morning. He told me that, in seeing those businesses speak out, that they think that perhaps there could be some last-minute softening at least on the legislation before it continues down the process to most likely go to the governor's desk here.

Now, of course, in -- like we have seen in other states, Republicans here say the reason why they think they need this is for ballot security. But they have not really provided any sort of evidence for fraud that they are trying to prevent.

BLACKWELL: And that vote just a few hours away.

Dianne Gallagher for us there -- Dianne, thanks so much.

So, House Republicans could vote as soon as next week on whether Congresswoman Liz Cheney will lose her leadership position. Now, sources tell CNN that allies of former President Trump are looking for possible challenges to her reelection in Wyoming. And Cheney is reiterating her firm belief that this is about more than her leadership position, that the GOP cannot be the party of Trump.

This is in a new op-ed for "The Washington Post."

CAMEROTA: Yes, and I just want to take a minute to read this op-ed, because I think that her words are so important right now.

So here's what Liz Cheney writes. She says: "While embracing or ignoring Trump's statements might seem

attractive to some for fund-raising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country. Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of January 6, and now suggests that our elections and our legal and constitutional system cannot be trusted to do the will of the people.

"This is immensely harmful, especially as we now compete on the world stage against communist China and its claims that democracy is a failed system. We Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality. History is watching. Our children are watching."


CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger joins us.

It's really a remarkable op-ed that she wrote there.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. It was kind of stunning to read it, because what she did was say, OK, I know you're going to throw me out of the leadership. That's a done deal. But I refuse to change my mind and to pay homage to Donald Trump, who I think is destroying conservatism.

And what she did in that op-ed was, she kind of made the case for conservatism vs. cultism, vs. the cult of Donald Trump, and that she is not going to give up on that.

BLACKWELL: I want you to listen to close Trump ally Jim Jordan today and why he says that Liz Cheney needs to go.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): You can't have a Republican Conference chair reciting Democrat talking points. You can't have a Republican Conference chair taking a position that 90 percent of the party disagrees with. And you can't have a Republican Party chair consistently speaking out against the individual who 74 million Americans voted for.


BLACKWELL: Democratic talking points.

Liz Cheney is one of the most conservative members of the conference.


BLACKWELL: And also this talking point happens to be the truth, Gloria.

BORGER: Well, it does happen to be the truth. And it's kind of ludicrous, because -- that they -- in replacing Liz Cheney, they're probably going to go from -- for another woman, Stefanik, who is less conservative than Liz Cheney. It's ridiculous. It's ludicrous. She is not repeating Democratic talking points. She's telling the

truth about what happened in the last election. And House Republicans insist on paying fealty to a man who lost the presidency, who lost the House, who lost the Senate, who continues to trash them at every opportunity.

He trashes McConnell. He trashes the former vice president. He did trash McCarthy, until McCarthy went back to Mar-a-Lago and made up with Donald Trump and kissed the ring. But they continue to pay homage to him because that is all they have right now.

And they say -- this is also remarkable. They say that Liz Cheney is the one getting them off-message because -- I mean, that she's getting them off-message. Actually, they're getting themselves off message by making a big deal and throwing her out of the conference, instead of saying, we welcome all different kinds of opinions.

CAMEROTA: I mean, of course, conservative credentials don't matter to them right now...


CAMEROTA: ... because the legislation doesn't matter. How much legislation has Jim Jordan sponsored and been behind and won and has gotten -- and gotten through? I mean, that's not who they are right now.

The litmus test, Gloria, as I think you have pointed out, is whether or not they're willing to lie with a straight face and pretend that Donald Trump somehow won the election in 2020. She said in her -- Elise Stefanik said in her radio -- in a radio interview today that she's willing to work with the president.

She didn't mention that the president that needs to be worked with is Joe Biden. She was talking about Donald Trump, the failed president. And, I mean, in terms of working with the president, Mitch McConnell is saying that he's going to -- he said this was Barack. Obama, as we all remember -- basically block him at every turn.

BORGER: No, they're -- look, they don't have a platform. It's anti- Biden. And there are some Republicans in the Senate who are really trying to sort of get to some deal on infrastructure, et cetera.

But the only thing that unites the Republican Party in the House right now is taking off after Joe Biden and purging someone who dares to question Donald Trump's theory of the rigged election, which we know is a complete lie.

So, what this tells us right now is that the Republican Party, being completely bankrupt, is letting Donald Trump pull the strings here. So he is going to help determine or determine who gets to run against Liz Cheney. He's probably going to campaign for that person. He is trying to pick the candidates to run in Senate races.

BLACKWELL: Yes. BORGER: This is what he wants to do. We don't know if he's going to run for president again. But he does want to be the puppet master here. And they're just saying, sure, that's great. Why don't you go do that?

BLACKWELL: But let's extrapolate from that, Gloria. He wants Liz Cheney out, obviously, but there are others.

So, Leader McCarthy is going to be on the other side of some House races than the president, because he wants to replace the people who voted for impeachment. I mean, in a year from now, the same dog that's about to bite Liz Cheney could certainly start barking at Leader McCarthy.


BORGER: Sure, absolutely.

And we're going to have to see how McCarthy handles that. Right now, he is bowing down to Donald Trump. And when you talk to Republicans, they say, well, it's not what Liz Cheney believes; it's really about the fact that she is embarrassing McCarthy by disagreeing with him, which I find kind of laughable.

But he's going to end up at some point saying, I want to protect these people. We need them to secure our majority.

But you know what happened in Georgia last time. I mean, Donald Trump's not going to pay attention to that, because the truth is, he doesn't really care who controls either chamber. He just cares about perpetrating his lie. That is what matters to him.

McCarthy wants to become speaker. I don't think Donald Trump really cares about that too much.

CAMEROTA: Gloria Borger, thank you very much for the analysis.

BORGER: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: And we were just discussing this.

I want you to listen to Congresswoman Elise Stefanik today talking to Steve Bannon for his podcast.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): We want to be able to fix and strengthen our election security and election integrity going into future elections.

That should be something, whether you're Republican, Democrat or independent, everyone should agree with, having faith in our election system.


CAMEROTA: Yes, we do all agree with having faith in our election system.

But, of course, it's ironic that message is coming from someone who has spread misinformation actively about what happened in 2020.

CNN reporter Daniel Dale now with us with a fact-check.

So, tell us, overall, where did Stefanik stand on this election, Daniel?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: In short, she lied about it and she tried to get it overturned. We will get to the lies in a second, I think.

But she is one of more than 100 Republicans who signed on to a legal brief asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the result. And then even after the riot, the mob violence at the Capitol, she voted against certifying some of Joe Biden's electoral votes from Pennsylvania.

So, again, lied and tried to get the whole thing overturned.

BLACKWELL: Let's go through some of what she said. Here's what she had to say in a video statement. This is January 4.


STEFANIK: Tens of millions of Americans are rightly concerned that the 2020 election featured unprecedented voting irregularities, unconstitutional overreach by unelected state officials and judges ignoring state election laws, and a fundamental lack of ballot integrity and ballot security.


BLACKWELL: The truth?

DALE: This is nonsense. There was no fundamental lack of ballot integrity, ballot security. There were no unprecedented voting...


BLACKWELL: Oh, hate the freeze in the middle of a fact-check.



BLACKWELL: All right, Daniel, we will try to get back to you. Thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: OK, next: There's new research about just how effective the COVID vaccines are and how many Republicans may be warming up to the idea of getting one.

BLACKWELL: Plus, we will hear from a pediatrician who says the CDC's guidance for summer camp is totally irrational.


CAMEROTA: Listen to this.

Global coronavirus deaths may actually be more than double the three million officially recorded. This is according to a new analysis from the Institute for Health Metrics. And that's the team that's often cited by the White House.

They estimate that COVID has killed more than six million people, but it's underreported because of overtaxed health systems and a lack of testing in many nations.

BLACKWELL: Now, here in the U.S., things are looking up, some good news here across the country.

CNN's Alexandra Field is tracking the latest figures.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All signs pointing to a turning point in America's COVID crisis.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We are not out of the woods yet, but we could be very close.

FIELD: It's been seven months since we have seen numbers this low for COVID-related hospitalizations and new infections, the average number of new daily cases falling more than 80 percent since the peak in January, from an average of 251,000 daily to 46,000 now.

A CDC study projects sharper declines by July.

WEN: But we really have to keep up the rate of vaccinations.

FIELD: Experts say variants are still the wild card.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: And now the 617 in India, it's like -- it's a wily opponent.

FIELD: A promising study out of Qatar does show strong protection from Pfizer against the variants first detected in South Africa and Britain, while a first-of-its-kind nationwide study in Israel shows two doses of the Pfizer vaccine provided more than 96 percent protection against infection in the real world, 98 percent protection from hospitalization and death.

President Biden now supporting a proposal to make vaccines more widely available to the world by easing patent rules.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: To me, this was a values statement. It was a statement that put people over patents.

FIELD: In the U.S. the pace of vaccinations now falling farther, down 30 percent in the past two weeks, but a new Kaiser Family Foundation study does show a modest gain in willingness to get a vaccine among Republicans, up 9 percent over the past month, that as we see more new signs of the return of our old lives.


Broadway tickets on sale today for shows set to resume in September, New Jersey lifting restrictions on travel for indoor youth sports teams, and Chicago announcing a summer concert series for the fully vaccinated.


FIELD: And also here in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio expecting a big return of tourism to the city this summer. To that end, he has announced his intention to offer Johnson & Johnson vaccines at major tourist sites across the city, like the Brooklyn Bridge the High Line, even Times Square.

However, any plan to offer vaccines to out-of-towners will have to be signed off on by the state -- Victor, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Wow, Alex, Broadway tickets on sale today, that is truly a sign, among all of the others that you outlined.

FIELD: It's a big day.

CAMEROTA: Alex Field, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: So, my next guest calls the new CDC guidelines for summer camps draconian. And they call for everyone in the facility, at the camp to wear masks whenever they're not eating, drinking or swimming.

That's a lot of the day.

And joining me now, pediatrician Dimitri Christakis. He's the director of the Center for Child Health Behavior and Developmental -- and Development, rather, at Seattle's Children's Hospital and editor of "JAMA Pediatrics," a medical journal.

Dr. Christakis, thanks for being with us.


BLACKWELL: So, Dr. Fauci calls the CDC's guidance a bit strict. You call it ridiculous. Why?

CHRISTAKIS: Well, it's really disappointing that this year's guidelines so closely resemble last year's.

It's as if we have learned nothing about COVID in 15 months, but, in fact, we learned a lot. We have learned that serious disease in children is incredibly infrequent. We have learned that outdoor transmission, particularly in warm weather, is rare. And, most importantly, we have discovered inexpensive, rapid tests that can be used.

And we have developed a highly effective vaccine -- vaccines, in fact. Why is this knowledge not informing these recommendations? Why are we not bringing all that we know to try and help children have a normal summer experience?

Here's what I would suggest.


CHRISTAKIS: I would suggest that we make vaccines mandatory for all staff and all children over 12, as the -- as Pfizer and Moderna are likely to be approved in the next week. And we require them, right?

It's not unusual for camps to require vaccinations. We already do it for all the other vaccines that are available. And then we can let the over-12-year-old children have essentially a totally normal camp experience, no masks, no social distancing.

For the younger children, I would propose that they be allowed to be mask-free when they're outdoors playing...


CHRISTAKIS: ... and tested a couple of times a week, if that's feasible.

And then sleepover camps, why don't we recreate NBA mini-bubbles all over this country and have children of all ages test in and then test once they're in one more time, and then let them go at it, and let this summer be the summer they didn't have last year? It will be so important in terms of helping to normalize their lives and allowing them to heal.

BLACKWELL: Yes, because we don't talk enough about the psychological impacts on the pandemic for children. And this would be something that they certainly would need.

Let me read to you -- we have talked about masks. Let's talk about distancing in this guidance, that campers and staff should stay together in cohorts or pods to minimize disclosure, but see if you can keep track of this.

They have to keep a physical distance at least three feet between all campers within a cohort, six feet between campers outside the cohort, six feet while eating and drinking -- that includes, though, people within the cohort -- six feet between campers and staff, six feet between staff.

And that's regardless of staff vaccination. I'm 7, right?


BLACKWELL: I'm 7 years old. I'm trying to keep who's three feet, who's six feet? If I -- or 17-year-old volunteer. When they're that strict, when there are that many guidelines, what is potentially the outcome here?

Do they just say, we can't do this and they don't follow any of them? CHRISTAKIS: Right.

I think that's really the problem, is that, when the guidelines are not practical, and they're not actionable, one of two things happen. Either they're summarily ignored, or many camps, as many schools did, decide, we can't do this, so we're not going to open at all.

And that's not helpful guidance. What would be helpful guidance would be practical, actionable strategies that reflect what could -- what could be done in the real world, whether it's a camp or a school. I sort of wish that there were teacher representatives in this -- on the CDC task force or camp counselors, or even regular parents who could inform the about what could be done.



So, is it -- is your expectation that these will be changed, that we will see looser guidelines come out soon?

CHRISTAKIS: I certainly hope so.

I mean, I think Dr. Fauci sort of alluded to it. Obviously, it's not his decision. But I think I think we will. I certainly hope we will. I hope they will go back and realize that maybe they didn't spend enough time reviewing all that we know and all that we have learned.


Dr. Christakis, thank you so much for being with us.

CHRISTAKIS: My pleasure.

BLACKWELL: All right, next, some new concerns about the election audit that's happening in a county in Arizona -- why the Justice Department says this could be against federal law.