Return to Transcripts main page


New CDC Mask Guidelines; Gaetz Associate Enters Plea Agreement; Interview With Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS). Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 14, 2021 - 14:00   ET


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He described that this encounter lasted for about 10 minutes, that there were very dramatic moments in which he was trying to have that tiger focus on him, so that he could control the situation, and that the tiger backed him up.


That's when Cuevas, he said, finally came out of the house, approached the tiger, grabbed it by -- by the collar, kissed the tiger, Ana, and then took him back inside the house -- Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Oh my goodness. And nobody knows where it is at the moment.

Rosa Flores, thank you for that update.

And thank you all for joining me. Follow me on Twitter @AnaCabrera.

I hope you have a great weekend. NEWSROOM continues with Alisyn and Victor.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Welcome to NEWSROOM, everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

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

Today, a rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. House Democrats and Republicans have reached a deal on an independent commission to investigate the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol.

CAMEROTA: For months, lawmakers had been at a stalemate, in part because of the disturbing denials by some Republicans of what actually happened that day.

And, even now, the top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, is saying not so fast. He has not signed off on this deal yet.

CNN congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles is on Capitol Hill.

So, Ryan, what happens next?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the short answer is, Alisyn, they can pass this bill with or without Kevin McCarthy's support. But having him on board would make the process a whole lot easier and make it a lot more bipartisan.

And that is the goal of this independent commission, is to draw a set of conclusions about what happened on January 6 that is agreed upon by both Republicans and Democrats.

Now, this bill has been agreed to by the negotiators on The House Homeland Security Committee, both Republican and Democrat. It will likely be brought to the floor as early as next week. And Democrats probably have enough votes for it to pass.

The question is how many Republicans will get on board, especially when you take into account that there is a significant collection of hard-right Republicans, many members of the Freedom Caucus, that continue to attempt to rewrite exactly what happened here on January 6.

In fact, just a few minutes ago, on the floor of the House of Representatives, Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas was downplaying the violence and chaos. He said that there were many things that have happened worse than a few people without arms breaking in to a building, suggesting that it really wasn't all that bad.

So, this is important. And this commission is designed to draw some serious conclusions. The one big thing that they agreed on that was a big stumbling block to all of this was the scope of the investigation.

Right now, the plan is for it to only be focused on the events of January 6 and not broaden out to look at political extremism beyond what happened on January 6. That's been a big problem for Republicans. They want it to include a lot more. They want to have this done by the end of 2021.

It will be a panel of 10 members, five Republicans, five Democrats. They will have equal subpoena power. These were major concessions by Democrats to make the makeup of the committee be fully bipartisan. The question once again is, how many Republican votes will they get once it makes it to the House floor and then to the Senate? -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Ryan Nobles for us there on Capitol Hill.

We will watch that closely. Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: So, this week, we have witnessed a shameless campaign by some prominent Republican lawmakers to whitewash that attack on the Capitol.

They are trying to claim with a straight face that the mob of Trump supporters maybe were not Trump supporters and that these people who attacked police officers were just -- quote -- "peaceful patriots" who could have actually been mistaken for tourists.

BLACKWELL: Listen, you have seen the video. You know the truth. Their attempt to rewrite history just cannot be reconciled with the facts.

And the officers who were there protecting those lawmakers are calling them out.


MICHAEL FANONE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: I'm not a politician. I'm not an elected official. I don't expect anybody to give two (EXPLETIVE DELETED) about my opinions.

But I will say this. You know, those are lies. And peddling that bullshit is an assault on every officer that fought to defend the Capitol. It's disgraceful.

HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: They were there with a purpose to hurt people, and they had bad intentions. And for -- it just hurts, like, to believe that people can think that it was a normal day, it was a tour.

And it's -- it's hurtful.


CAMEROTA: Our next guest is the Democrat who was tapped by his party to get this deal done on this commission, on this independent commission.

Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi joins us now. He's also the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here.

So, the news, the big news this morning is that you and Congressman John Katko reached an agreement for this commission, but that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has not signed off on it yet.

What happens if he doesn't sign off on this?


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, I think he will.

We have negotiated in good faith since January 6 to get to where we are now. He might not have seen the final document, but, to my knowledge, there's nothing in this commission bill that hadn't been vetted by Democrats and Republicans alike.

CAMEROTA: But, Congressman, let me ask you about how it's going to work, because, as I understand it, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer will get to choose five of the commissioners, and Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell will get to choose five of the commissioners.

But Kevin McCarthy, of course, is a vital part of the chronology of what happened that day on January 6, because he had that pivotal conversation with President Trump about trying to call off the mob.

So, how can he be an impartial, unbiased person in choosing some of the commissioners?

THOMPSON: Well, we hope -- first of all, no member of Congress can serve on the commission.

I hope he will pick some of the most astute individuals we have in the country to serve and allow them to do their work. I hope Democrats will do the same. We owe this to the country.

CAMEROTA: But do you trust Kevin McCarthy to do that?

THOMPSON: Well, he's the leader, and a real leader will step up in time of adversity.

January 6 was a difficult time for a lot of us. I personally was in the Capitol. The Capitol Police was under siege. They deserve a commission report to look at it and fix this problem.

The public, who comes to this -- used to come to the Capitol because it was the citadel of democracy, they can't come now. So, we have to fix this.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, I heard you say that some people are already throwing their hat in the ring to be on this commission. Who?

THOMPSON: Well, I don't want to give up any names, but, trust me, we won't be short of people willing to serve.

Clearly, once the word was released today, my phone has not stopped ringing, other members likewise. But I think public servants want to give their time and talent to this commission, and if now we approve it, and they step -- and we step back and allow those independent individuals to do their work and bring back a product on December 31.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Well, I want to ask you about that timeline, because, as you know, the 9/11 Commission took almost two years.

How will you get this done in seven months?

THOMPSON: Well, we will properly staff it. We will make sure they have all the resources they need to do their job.

And we will let them work. We have subpoena power if, for whatever reason, we can't get access to information. So, that will not be a challenge for us. We owe this to the men and women who put their lives on the line.

This is National Police Week. I think it's fitting and proper that we introduce this legislation today, while our police persons all over the country are being recognized. So, we need to do the same thing here in Washington. So I'm excited about it.

It's been a tough slog to get us to this point. We gave a lot. But it's bipartisan. We put an equal number of Democratic members, as well as Republican recommendation.


THOMPSON: So, we tried to take the politics out of it, because the public deserves nothing less than an accurate product that we can all live with.

CAMEROTA: Yes, and some answers. I totally hear you.

Congressman, while I have you about homeland security, I also want to ask you about the attack on the Colonial Pipeline.

Two sources tell CNN that Colonial did pay the ransom. The Russian criminal enterprise asked for $5 million. Should Colonial have paid a ransom?

THOMPSON: Well, that's a business decision for Colonial.

Coincidentally, I have a call with the secretary of energy after this interview. That's one of the questions that I will ask her. I'm not sure I will get an answer.

But we're challenged. This vulnerability with our pipeline security is real. We have, from the homeland security perspective, the cybersecurity aspect of it. TSA is tasked with that responsibility.


And so we will look at how do we fix it, so we can minimize potential breaches in the future.

CAMEROTA: But what's your position? I mean, do you think that, by paying a ransom, more attacks like this could happen, that it's an incentive?

THOMPSON: Well, it's an attractive incentive, if that's the case.

I err on the side of having a defense mechanism that prevents it. But people have to make business decisions. I would hope that they are not put in those positions in the future.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, I don't know that we have any evidence that these kinds of things are going to stop.

Do you think that Congress should pass a law, say, making ransom -- paying ransoms illegal to try to discourage it?

THOMPSON: Well, no.

I think Congress needs to work with the private sector on making our security systems, our cyber-systems as robust as possible. And I think, going forward, you will see that. But it's coordinated, cooperated -- cooperation required between the public and the private sector to get this done.

Government will have to step in and mandate some requirements of the private sector in order for us to get to what we consider an acceptable security standard.

Right now, that security standard is voluntary. And I'm not certain the voluntary standard is going to get us the security regimen that we need. CAMEROTA: Congressman Bennie Thompson, we really appreciate your

time. Thanks so much for answering all of this.

THOMPSON: Thank you.


BLACKWELL: All right, breaking news now.

This is about a close confidant of Congressman Matt Gaetz. We are learning that Joel Greenberg has struck a deal with federal prosecutors in connection with the sex crime investigation.

Let's bring it now CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid with the latest filing.

You have it. And what have you learned?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I do. I have it right here. It is actually 80 pages.

This is a plea agreement for one of Congressman Matt Gaetz's close associates, Joel Greenberg. Now, he has been in jail, facing 33 federal counts. And, as we reported yesterday, he has entered into a cooperation deal with the federal government.

And according to this plea agreement, he will now plead guilty to six federal charges, including sex trafficking of a minor. Now, also as part of this agreement, as CNN first reported yesterday, he is expected to cooperate with the Justice Department in any of its ongoing investigations.

Now, we have looked through about 53 of the 80 pages of this. There so far is no mention -- and we did not expect to see a mention -- of Congressman Gaetz. Of course, Congressman Gaetz has not been charged with a crime and he has denied any wrongdoing.

But we know that he is under investigation for possibly violating federal sex trafficking, prostitution, and public corruption laws. And they are also investigating whether he too had sex with a minor.

Now, as part of this investigation, Greenberg could be asked to share any information he has about the congressman's activities. And CNN has previously learned from our sources that, for the past year, Greenberg has shared information with investigators, including information about how he and the congressman exchanged sex for money and gifts with women.

So, this is not great news for Congressman Gaetz that his close confidant has entered into this plea agreement. But we could learn more when Mr. Greenberg is expected to appear in a federal courtroom in Orlando on Monday.

BLACKWELL: Faced 33 federal accounts, pleading guilty to six of those.

Paula Reid with the very latest.

Paula, thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: So, vaccinated Americans may be ready to get back to normal, but, of course, it's not as simple as just not wearing our masks anymore. Our doctors will answer your questions about the new CDC guidance next.

BLACKWELL: Plus, new video of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene taunting Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Capitol Hill.

CNN's KFILE has the video.



BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about the big change over the last 24 hours that we're all getting used to, where scenes like this may soon be considered old-school, now that the CDC is recommending that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outside or inside, for the most part, at all.

But with this liberation comes a bit of confusion. Businesses and civic leaders, they're not sure whether to end mask mandates when there is no way to immediately tell if someone is vaccinated or not.

CAMEROTA: I know you and I have had our own experiences already with this...


CAMEROTA: ... that we will get into later in the program.

So, companies, including Target, Home Depot, as well as Los Angeles County and the state of Hawaii, say, for now, their rules to mask up will stay in place.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House chamber will also keep masks in place. But dozens of Republicans are asking her to reverse that. Then there's Kansas City and states like Minnesota and Nevada. They're lifting their mask mandates.

So, with all the different mandates, how are people around the country navigating the new guidance?

For that, we turn to CNN senior national correspondent Miguel Marquez. He is live for us in Times Square.

What are you hearing from people there about their feelings about masks now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, they are navigating it pretty well here in Times Square. It's a beautiful day in New York. So, it's a really good day to lift the mask mandate.


So, we were here earlier in the day, and about, say, 80 percent of the people had masks on outside. Now it's about 50 percent. The temperature is up, though. And masks aren't quite as comfortable when the temperature goes up.

But there was a lot of concern. Look, the country has been through hell people. Personally have been through a lot of stress over the last year. We talked to a few people about sort of what they feel about the mask mandate.




MOSS: So, I had a personal loss there.

Early on, I was very concerned. I don't think I understood the risk and all of the measures that should be taken. So, I just kind of took every precaution, whether it was logical or not.

I think I have a higher confidence now.

GINA DIFRISCO, NEW YORK RESIDENT: It definitely says that we're finally getting, I don't want to say back to normal, because there's nothing normal about any of this, but we're getting better when it comes to what the situation is.

ANITA MANNING, NEW YORK RESIDENT: I still have mine because I still want to be respectful of others, but, like, we're out in the open, and not in close quarters. So, I'm maskless. But the moment I walk in somewhere, I'm going to put on a face covering.


MARQUEZ: So the other thing about Times Square right now is, it is packed. This is more people that we have seen here in a long time. It is a beautiful day, but people are starting to come out more.

And what -- everybody I speak to, the consensus seems to be like, yes, we're going to creep into this, but September is when we expect to feel like normal again -- back to you guys.

BLACKWELL: OK, looking forward to September for a lot of people.

Miguel Marquez, thanks so much.

So, let's bring in the experts now, epidemiologist Dr. Celine Gounder, CNN medical analyst, host of the "Epidemic" podcast. Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the Tropical School of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, he also wrote the book "Preventing the Next Pandemic."

So, welcome to you both. Dr. Hotez, we went through the list of businesses and governments that are still choosing and keep mask mandates in place. You think that's a good idea?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, I think a lot of the businesses were caught off-guard. And so I think they're still trying to scramble to reset policies and have some internal discussions.

But I think, as the country comes closer to full vaccination over the summer, given that -- all of the information that we have now learned, I think you will start to see those businesses start to relax things.

I mean, we are getting to the point where, by later in the summer, we could be -- the country could look very much like it does pre- pandemic. And it's based on the fact that now anyone who wants to get vaccinated can get a vaccine, the transmission rates are going way down.

And I think the other piece that's really important is the data coming out of real-life situations like Israel, showing that anyone who does get breakthrough asymptomatic infection, which is very uncommon, has dramatically reduced virus load.

So it really is -- and virus shedding. So this really is interrupting transmission, which is just such good news and so exciting.

CAMEROTA: And we're seeing that here, Dr. Gounder, in terms of those breakthrough infections, with the Yankees, members of the Yankees, and Bill Maher, who has just announced that he's tested positive.

But they're asymptomatic. And, I mean, it's almost like, if we were testing everybody, maybe more people would be testing positive. But we wanted to avoid sickness and hospitalization, of course.

But all of that said, were you surprised yesterday by the CDC announcement that they didn't include some benchmarks, for instance, you can take off your mask if your positivity rate in your community is lower than blank?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: This is precisely what concerns me about these guidelines, Alisyn.

I think this is a blanket guideline for the entire country. And the fact is, some parts of the country have very low levels of transmission in the community. Some have very high levels of transmission. Some are doing really well in rolling out vaccination. Others are not.

And then you look at, by race and ethnicity, 40 percent of white Americans have been vaccinated. Only 27 percent of black Americans and 29 percent of Latinx Americans have been vaccinated. And these are the very groups that were hit so hard in terms of hospitalizations and deaths during the pandemic.

So it really concerns me. I can't help but wonder, would the CDC have lifted its recommendations on mask-wearing if the entire country were at lower levels of vaccination rates as they are among black and Latinx communities?


Dr. Hotez, we're going to get to some viewer questions in just a moment.

But, first, the majority of the questions I received were about children. And we know that severe symptoms, deaths among children with COVID, COVID-19, exceedingly rare.

But what does this mean, if anything, particular for parents when they take their kids into a restaurant, into a public space?

HOTEZ: Well, in any kind of indoor setting, like a restaurant, there could still be some virus transmission.

And so until we really bring that way down, parents may want to opt not to bring kids indoors into restaurants because they're not vaccinated.


And that's going to be the differentiator, whether or not you're vaccinated. The other question I'm getting asked a lot is, well, if both parents are vaccinated, let's say they get asymptomatic infection. Could they transmit it to their kids? And the answer is yes, but it's looking less and less likely, because you are seeing this dramatic reduction in virus shedding.

So, the -- we don't have all the I's dotted and T's crossed, but it's looking like, if the parents are vaccinated, the likelihood of transmitting virus to the kids is going to be quite low. But you still have that high level of virus transmission in big public settings indoors.

CAMEROTA: OK, Dr. Gounder, here comes a question from Marlenzie.

"Does this mean we won't have to wear a mask to events that say masks are required?"

GOUNDER: No, because private businesses, for example, the venue of a sporting event, they have the right, as a private business, to have other rules.

So, for example, a business can require you to wear a shirt and shoes and pants when you walk in off the beach into, say, a restaurant. You're required to do some of those things. And so there will continue to be some of these requirements. And I anticipate the health care setting, educational settings, schools, and certain travel settings, in particular, airlines, for example, will have their own standards because they want to keep their clients, their employees safe.

And there are different risks in different settings.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I learned that the hard way yesterday. We will get into that later.


BLACKWELL: But let me come to you, Dr. Hotez, with another viewer question.

This is from Anthony. He asks: "I'm a kidney dialysis patient. I'm fully vaccinated. Should immunocompromised people, even vaxed, still follow the -- quote -- 'old guidelines'?"

HOTEZ: Yes, we did not get a lot of clarity on immunocompromised individuals.

And I think, until then, you may want to still continue to wear masks when you're going into -- certainly in indoor settings. And we will get more information about that soon. But I think that's a very wise question.

And the conservative answer is, right now, until we get a little more clarity about debilitated individuals or immunocompromised patients or those with serious chronic conditions, you may want to continue to wear masks indoors in those different settings.

BLACKWELL: Yes, there is no requirement that you take the mask off.

If it makes you feel safe, you should continue to wear it.

HOTEZ: That's right. That's right.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Peter Hotez, Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you both.

HOTEZ: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: So, more confrontations on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress, they're having these heated exchanges, and some say they're concerned about their safety.

We have got new accusations coming up.