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State of the GOP; AOC Calls Marjorie Taylor Greene 'Unwell'; Interview With Former Acting CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser; New CDC Mask Guidelines. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 14, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Brand-new hour. It's good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

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

Liberation and confusion, as millions of fully vaccinated Americans try to navigate new CDC recommendations. Masks are no longer needed outside and no longer required inside for most situations for fully vaccinated people.

That leaves it to business owners and civic leaders for what to do.

BLACKWELL: Now, some states, Arizona, Washington, others, they're immediately following the momentum, lifting all or most of their mandates, but some companies, including Target and Home Depot, Los Angeles County, as well the state of Hawaii, they say that, for now, their rules to mask up are staying.

And Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House chamber will also keep masks in place. And dozens of House Republicans are asking her to reverse that. And airlines are also sticking with masks.

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean joins us now.

Pete, the CDC wants the airlines to keep the mask requirements. Is there any pushback from the industry?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, airlines say they will keep enforcing masks on board flights, even if you are fully vaccinated.

It's a key caveat in all of this. The TSA says the transportation-wide masked mandate, federally mandated by the federal government during the Biden administration, will stay in place, planes, trains, buses, boats, also in terminals, until September 13.

Here is the statement from the TSA. It says: "This federal requirement throughout the transportation system seeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to work closely with the CDC to evaluate the need for these directives."

The real question here is how people will react to all of this. The FAA says it's seen 1,300 reports of unruly passengers on commercial flights in the last three months alone.

I spoke to FAA administrator Steve Dickson about this in an exclusive interview. And he says that is a huge uptick.


MUNTEAN: Are you at all concerned with summer travel on the horizon?

STEPHEN DICKSON, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: I am -- I'm always concerned. We always have to be vigilant on safety issues. And a -- the aviation system that we have in the United States is the safest form of travel in human history.

And we need to do everything that we can always to make sure that it stays that way. And, again, that's what this zero tolerance policy is all about to make sure that we get the situation under control.


MUNTEAN: Now, all of this is happening as more people are coming back to flying. The TSA says 1.74 million people pass through security at America's airports on Thursday.

That is a new record of the pandemic. The head of the Association of Flight Attendants, Sara Nelson, tells me there can be no confusion about this new guidance -- Victor, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Pete Muntean, thank you.

BLACKWELL: So, just before showtime today, North Carolina joined the growing list of states that are lifting most or all of the mask mandates.

The governor there says that he's also lifting social distancing rules and capacity limits.

Joining us now, one restaurant tour from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Anthony Knotts owns Seafood Destiny.

Anthony, thanks for being with us.

So, with that news from the governor, are you going to ease your mask requirements and social distancing? What's the plan?


We want to make sure that we err on the side of being smart and being safe. We understand what the governor has said. But have to take everybody in consideration. And so, with that being said, my question has been, how are we going to govern that? Are we going to ask them to show their cards? I have my cart right

here. Are they expecting us to like walk -- when people come through the door, are they expecting us to ask them to show their verification?

But we're just going to continue to do it as we have been doing it because you have the side where the people who are wearing masks, the non-mask-wearer will -- they're not going to complain. But the people who decide that I'm not going to wear a mask, but then the people who think that they should be wearing a mask who's eating on the inside, there can be a problem.


And so we're just going to continue to do it the way it is. And we're going to -- our sign still lets them know that, in spite of what's being said--


KNOTTS: -- we want to require you to wear a mask.

CAMEROTA: So you're going to require people to wear a mask. I mean, and do you think that that will make it complicated for your business? Do you think you will get pushback from customers?

KNOTTS: Well, I mean, the thing about it is, is that, I think, that, at the end of the day, we're going to train our teams to be nonconfrontational.

We're going to have it there. But, then, at the same time, if they decide they don't want to wear it, there's not nothing that we can do as it pertains to that. But we're going to take the safety of our team here and then also the customers and everything and just ask them, you know, if they would, would you please continue to wear your mask?

BLACKWELL: So, it's only been a day since the CDC changed the guidance, but have you experienced any pushback from vaccinated people who don't want to wear a mask?

KNOTTS: Not at all. We have not. We open here on Wednesdays. And we were open up Wednesday, yesterday, when this announcement was made. And we had no problems, none whatsoever.

CAMEROTA: And, Anthony, what about your employees. Do you make your employees be vaccinated and/or wear a mask?

KNOTTS: No, we don't require them to be vaccinated.

We suggest it. But we do require them to wear masks. And so that's big for us, because we want to respect the safety of other people here. And so we do require them to wear a mask, because here's the situation. There are some people who come in who are mask-conscious.

And so -- and, believe me, during this pandemic, if they had a problem, they were going to call and let us know. And they will continue to be like that. So, there again, we're going to err on the side of being smart and being safe and go from there. And then we will deal with that.

CAMEROTA: Anthony Knotts, thank you very much. Great to talk to you, and best of luck with all of the new guidance.

KNOTTS: All right, thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Dr. Richard Besser is the former acting director of the CDC and now president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Dr. Besser, thank you so much for being here.

You can hear the confusion. I mean, this is now up to different municipalities, different business owners of what they're going to do, given the CDC guidance. I mean, look, some people met it with joy and some people met it with confusion. So, now what?


So, I met with a lot of joy. And I think that this is really marking a historic change in how we're responding to this pandemic. But, that being said, the response to the pandemic is local, and how this pandemic plays out is local.

So it's very important that people listen to their local officials, and that local officials look at what's taking place in their communities. So I don't expect that everyone's going to jump on board right away. And I also expect that it's going to take some people time to come to grips with this.

We have all been incredibly traumatized during this pandemic. And one of the things that gives us a sense of security is wearing those masks, keeping away from other people. It's going to take a while to undo that and feel comfortable that the science says, for people who are fully vaccinated, that's a safe thing to do.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Besser, we heard from Senator Susan Collins that she no longer feels that the CDC is the gold standard.

Some of the medical professionals we have had on said that they went from one extreme to the other. Do you think that this period, this reversal after just 16 days since the last guidance, has eroded the CDC in any way, the reliability on the organization?

BESSER: You know, I -- Victor, I hope not.

I hope that the transparency yesterday, when Dr. Walensky went through the evidence that led them to finally decide, OK, the time is right to tell people who are fully vaccinated that they can get rid of their masks in most situations, that did a lot for me.

And it was a number of pieces of data. One of the big ones is that we have seen a 30 percent decline in cases in America over the past two weeks. And that steady decline decreases the risk for everybody, whether you're vaccinated or not.

We're also seeing how these vaccines are performing in the real world. So, it's not just saying, how did they do in studies, but a number of real-world studies as these vaccines are used in hundreds of millions of people show that they're really some of the best vaccines we have ever had, with greater than 90 percent protection from serious disease.

And we're at the point where there's enough vaccine in America for everyone 12 and older who wants to be vaccine -- vaccinated. Those pieces and the evidence that people who are fully vaccinated are very unlikely to spread this to other people, that's enough evidence to say, OK, you can put the masks away.


The issue of trust is a really challenging one. And managing trust during a pandemic, where, for the first year, the CDC was basically shut off from speaking to the public, that really crippled the agency's ability to bring the public along.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Besser, we have some questions from viewers.

And here's one that I know Victor and I are wrestling with as well. If -- this comes from Tom: "If fully vaccinated people" -- "I'm one of them," he says -- "are able to go maskless, how would anyone know that I'm fully vaccinated? Should we keep playing it safe and wear them until we get to 70 percent vaccinated population?"

I mean, this is what we're going to be confronted with now. You go out in the world, people aren't wearing a mask. You don't know their vaccination status.

BESSER: Yes, you don't.

But the good thing to know is that, if you are fully vaccinated, you are very safe. And that's the piece there that's really important. And it's going to be really important that the CDC and others continue to track what's happening with variants to make sure that people who are fully vaccinated are protected against variants.

I hope that this provides some more incentive for people who aren't vaccinated, if they needed more, to say, if you're fully vaccinated, you can feel very comfortable doing these activities, because, when you're vaccinated, you're helping protect yourself, you're helping protect those who can't get vaccinated, like young children and those for whom vaccine vaccines may not be very effective, some people with immunodeficiencies.

You can do your part in that way. But, remember, if someone is around you, and they don't have a mask on, and they haven't been vaccinated, you are still very safe.


Control room, I'm skipping to question three to make sure we get it in.

Another one here: "Why not time mask guidance to vaccination rate at the local level?"

BESSER: Well, again, if the -- what I would say is more important is what's happening to cases at the local level.

So, if you're seeing in your community that cases are still really high, or they're not coming down, or your hospital is really tight, then it doesn't make sense to make changes. And here in New Jersey, where I live, the governor says, things are working really well for us right now, things are moving in the right direction, we don't want to make a change.

That may change in a few weeks if the numbers continue to decline and the comfort level goes up with this kind of guidance.

BLACKWELL: But, Dr. Besser, let jump in here, because, if you think that that's the smarter route, should the CDC have done that, tie it to transmission rate?


BESSER: Now, I -- see, the thing is, we're seeing declines in every single state, which is something we haven't seen for a really long time.

And so CDC makes national guidance, and then states and locals have to interpret that. What they're saying is, from the evidence, it is safe to get rid of masks, but listen to your locals and listen to your business owners, because businesses can have their own policy.

And they may do that to help protect their workers if they're not requiring vaccines for their workers--


BESSER: -- and a level of comfort for customers coming in.

So, a lot of moving pieces here.

BLACKWELL: A lot of moving pieces. And we remember that the CDC issued transmission rate-based advice or guidance during the last administration, and people skipped over it to reopen. So it's kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't on some of these elements.


And one other piece of this is that, when you look at vaccine coverage around the country, it's not even. Black and Latino Americans have much more challenges in terms of vaccine access.


BESSER: And we have to -- we have to increase that, so that everyone has the opportunity to be vaccinated and protected. BLACKWELL: Absolutely.

Dr. Richard Besser, thanks so much for your time, sir.

BESSER: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

CAMEROTA: OK, it's official. Elise Stefanik is now part of the House Republican leadership team. She's calling for party unity, but makes it clear that only one man matters to the party, former President Donald Trump.

BLACKWELL: Plus, we are live in Israel, where tensions are escalating, with some of the worst fighting between Israel and Hamas seen in more than seven years.

Details on the possible Israeli ground operation being planned.



CAMEROTA: Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now giving her assessment of Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): This is a woman that is deeply unwell and clearly needs some help.

I -- I -- and her kind of fixation has lasted for several years now. It's -- at this point, I think the depth of that unwellness has raised concerns for other members as well. And so I think that this is an assessment that needs to be made by the proper professionals.


CAMEROTA: I don't know if you could hear all of that, but she said she's deeply unwell.

Marjorie Taylor Greene reportedly shouted down Ocasio-Cortez earlier this week in the halls of the Capitol. And this aggressive behavior dates back to early 2019, when then Marjorie Taylor Greene, not yet in Congress, recorded her trip to Capitol Hill.


This video has since been unearthed by CNN's KFILE team.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): All right, we're going to go see -- we're going to visit Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, crazy eyes, crazy eyes, nutty Cortez.

OK, hang with us, guys. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I'm an American citizen. I pay your salary for the taxes that you collect for me through the IRS, because I'm a taxpaying citizen of the United States. So you need to stop being a baby and stop locking your door and come out and face the American systems that you serve.

If you want to be a big girl, you need to get rid of your diaper and come out and be able to talk to the American citizens, instead of us having to use a flap, a little flap. Sad.


BLACKWELL: That's through the mail slot.

CAMEROTA: Stop being a baby?


CAMEROTA: I mean, to yell -- talking through the mail slot and calling somebody childish, sophomoric names?

BLACKWELL: You know what? I'm always surprised -- I guess I shouldn't be -- that she wanted to share that video, that she wanted people to see her shouting at a member of Congress or speaking to her through a mail slot, because I guess that gave her some type of bona fides?

She's done this with David Hogg as well.

CAMEROTA: Oh, it also gave her money.

BLACKWELL: Yes, a lot.

CAMEROTA: She has raised $3 million in the first quarter of 2021 because she posts this stuff. And there are people who like it.

And I'm glad you brought up the David Hogg thing, because we can't forget this is her modus operandi. She chased a teenage Parkland school shooting survivor down the street, screaming at him about her zeal for open carry laws or concealed carry laws, I can't remember, but guns, basically.

Let me just remind people.


GREENE: Look, I'm an American citizen. I'm a gun owner. I have a concealed carry permit. I carry a gun with -- for protection for myself, and you are using your lobby and the money behind it and the kids to try to take away my Second Amendment rights.

You don't have anything to say for yourself? You can't defend your stance?

How did you get over 30 appointments with senators? How'd you do that? How did you get major press coverage?


CAMEROTA: I mean, I talked to David Hogg after this, Victor.

And he said that it took like every ounce of his sort of Zen mindfulness and not to turn around, because she baits people. I mean, she baits people using their -- trigger words about guns and everything to try to get them into an altercation.

BLACKWELL: And, apparently, she's doing the same thing now with her colleagues in the House, that they're having to center themselves as they're being shouted at by Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Now, earlier today, House members selected New York Congresswoman and the embracer of the big Elise Stefanik to replace Representative Liz Cheney in her House GOP leadership spot.

Stefanik used her first news conference this morning to convince the country that her party is unified.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): So I'm very excited for this opportunity. We are unified, working as one team. This is about being unified. We are unified. And I look to the voters across America. Republican voters are unified in their support and their desire to work with President Trump. And we are unified as Republicans.

We are working as one team. We are going to win the majority in 2022 as one team. We are unified in working with President Trump. My job, representing all Republican members, the vast majority, we look forward to working with President Trump.


BLACKWELL: That's what you call a talking point when you say it so many times.

Listen, what we're seeing from House Republicans right now is really not what we saw from the Republican Party just a few years ago. So how did it get from the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump and the big lie?

Well, CNN's Fareed Zakaria is diving into that in his latest CNN special report, "A Radical Rebellion: The Transformation of the GOP."



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST (voice-over): Let me give you some snapshots of the Republican electorate today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to stop watching the media and start getting the facts.

CROWD: Four more years! ZAKARIA: In a CNN poll conducted after January 6, 70 percent of Republicans said they did not believe that Joe Biden won the election legitimately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's too much evidence of fraud.

CROWD: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!

ZAKARIA: Over 40 percent believe Bill Gates is planning to use the COVID-19 vaccine as a pretext to implant microchips in people's brains in order to track them.

And roughly one in four Republicans agree with a key tenet of the QAnon conspiracy, that a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our media and politics.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe Biden is the biggest pedophile on the face of the planet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not a conspiracy. It's fact.

CROWD: Fight for America!

ZAKARIA: It becomes impossible to deny the Republican Party today has been infected by a series of crazy conspiracy theories.



BLACKWELL: And Fareed Zakaria joins us now.

Fareed, listen, it could be easy for people at home to think that those are just the extremes. But the latest polling shows that 70 percent of polled Republicans believe that the election was stolen from former President Trump. So, they are unified around some -- some elements.

ZAKARIA: I think that it's -- that statistic, it's the one I mentioned. Forty percent believe that Bill Gates is trying to control them by implanting microchips in their brain.

I think something like a third of Republicans still believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not the United States. And the question you have to ask is, why -- why this angle? Why this kind of apocalyptic view that the world is collapsing, going away, American civilization is on the brink?

And part of what I try to describe in this documentary is the origins, the roots of this, because that goes back very deep. Republican leaders have been playing games with their followers for a long time. And they have planted the seeds of this kind of conspiracy theory, distrust of authority, distrust of other Republicans who are viewed as moderates. And when you create that much -- that fertile a ground, and then you

throw in a man like Donald Trump, the first Republican leader truly to be entirely unconcerned with whether what he says is fact or fiction, truth or lie, it turns out it sticks. It sticks big time.

CAMEROTA: And, Fareed, then there's the media. And I don't mean the news media. I mean the media. There are obviously some networks that try to pass themselves off as news, but they are not. I mean, they have strayed from that.

And, in fact, they peddle this propaganda. And last night, on FOX TV, Liz Cheney called them out. So, let me play that for you.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): FOX News especially, especially FOX News, has a particular obligation to make sure people know the election wasn't stolen.

Every single one of us, everyone watching this show, everybody who works at FOX, everybody who is elected to office, all of us have to love our country more.


CAMEROTA: But, of course, that's not what FOX has told their viewers for large chunks of the evening.

What have you found out about the impact that's had?

ZAKARIA: Well, there's no question that this disaggregation of media has allowed people to kind of choose their news, rather than listen to broadly fact-based or more objective reporting.

And, yes, FOX is essentially a propaganda arm. And it's not even a propaganda arm of the Republican Party. That's not the way to think about it. It is a propaganda arm of the most extreme wing of the Republican Party. It is the television version of Twitter for the Republican Party, the most extreme, the most passionate, the most energized.

But, again, the most important thing here is that these people believe that it is more important to fight than to be right. It is more important to hate the enemy than love the truth. That's the part where it has gotten unhinged.

I think we should understand, look, it's OK to be partisan. It's OK to be polemical, if you have ideas you believe in. But they cannot come at the cost of facts. They cannot come at the cost of truth, and they cannot come at the cost of democracy.

That's what Liz Cheney represents, because, remember, Liz Cheney is much more conservative than Elise Stefanik. She has an ACU rating -- the way these ratings work is out of 100. She has a 78 out of 100. Elise Stefanik has, I think, a 40, one of the lowest ratings. She's basically a liberal, except that she has pledged fealty to Trump

and to the big lie. And it turns out that, in the modern Republican Party, what matters is not your adherence to an ideology. What matters is your clannish loyalty to the tribe and to the tribal leader, whose name is Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: Well, Fareed, we can't wait to see your special. It looks really fascinating. Thanks so much for joining us.

And make sure you tune in to Fareed's special report, "A Radical Rebellion: The Transformation of the GOP," Sunday night -- night, 8:00 p.m., right here on CNN.

OK, a close confidant of Congressman Matt Gaetz has just struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors. What does this mean for Matt Gaetz?