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New York Changes Mask Policy; Rockets Resume from Gaza; McCarthy Doesn't Support Commission. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2021 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And find things that are different and have the courage to speak about them.

The book is called "The Premonition: A Pandemic Story." Couldn't recommend it enough.

Thank you so much.

MICHAEL LEWIS, AUTHOR, "THE PREMONITION: A PANDEMIC STORY": Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: There's a lot going on this morning, including the breaking news about Kevin McCarthy.

CNN's coverage continues right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

As cases drop across the country, so, too, are mask requirements. Right now weekly COVID deaths are the lowest they have been in 14 months. That's great news. But much confusion remains about how states plan to enforce mask wearing for unvaccinated Americans. Remember, it's vaccinated Americans who should be able to take their masks off.

Next hour we're going to hear from the White House COVID response team for the first time since the CDC issued its new mask guidance. This as more cities and companies announce changes to their policies with some doing away entirely with mask requirements.

HARLOW: Both CVS and Target said Monday they will no longer fully require -- will no longer require fully vaccinated shoppers to wear masks unless mandated by local leaders, but some states and local leaders are not moving as quickly. New Jersey eliminated its mask requirement outdoors but kept it in place for indoor public spaces. California also plans to keep its mask mandate for indoor activities in place for a month.

So far, about 37 percent of the country is now fully vaccinated.

Let's begin with our colleague, Alexandra Field, in Times Square.

So New York drops the mask requirement tomorrow. A highly anticipated day for one of the places hardest hit by the pandemic early on.

What does it mean?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it really is this major step forward, an absolute turning point, truly some symbolism. But when you look around Times Square right now you're seeing most people are wearing masks today as they're supposed to be, some are not. Plenty of people who we spoke to said not a lot will change for them personally tomorrow.

Let me take you through the new regulations first. What the state is doing is it's moving into the CDC's recommendations by saying that if you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask anymore. There are exceptions like if you're riding public transportation or in a school. Of course, if you are not vaccinated and under the age 12 as well, you do still have to wear your mask.

The city is taking other steps to ease COVID-related restrictions. They've already done away with outdoor dining curfews. Indoor dining curfews will come later this month. Tomorrow they will further ease some of the capacity restrictions that are still being implemented in the city and the state. But, really, the most visible sign of that step forward is the unmasking for many people.

We did talk to people out here in Times Square this morning to see about whether the new guidelines will really have an impact. Some people who are already walking around without a mask say they have felt safe for some time because they've been vaccinated.

They feel that the new guidelines will help to ease the stigma of being unmasked. But, Poppy and Jim, I also spoke to others who are continuing to wear their mask today. They'll do the same tomorrow and they say that while they trust the CDC, they just think it is even safer to keep their masks on.

Poppy. Jim.

SCIUTTO: All right. And you can understand that choice for many people.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Alexandra Field, thanks so much.

Joining us now, Lawrence Gostin. He's professor of Global Health Law at Georgetown.

Mr. Gostin, great to have you on this morning.

You have been blistering in your criticism of the new CDC guidelines. Tell us why you think they're a mistake. LAWRENCE GOSTIN, UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN: Well, you know, I

mean, I've -- first of all, CDC is the envy of the world. It's -- you know, I've worked with CDC for 30 years.

In my judgment, this may be one of their most serious errors that the CDC has made because they're a public health agency. They're not an agency of individual responsibility. And it was entirely foreseeable that the norm of masking and distancing that we've struggled so hard to install in the United States for over a year, including the president of the United States himself, and in just literally one fell swoop, it eviscerated that norm.

You just literally do not know if the person standing next to you in a crowd is vaccinated or unvaccinated. And so I think it was foreseeable, completely, that states, businesses, shops, would be removing their mask mandate and that nobody is going to wear a mask, or at least few people will be wearing masks. But we need masks as an additional layer of protection indoors.

HARLOW: Why do you think the CDC did it?

GOSTIN: Well, I think the CDC's inclination was that we need to give a reward for people who are vaccinated. That we need to signal to the public really how safe and effective these vaccines are.

[09:05:06]

And they are extraordinarily safe and effective. Currently, I am not overly concerned about the safety of the, I'm going to say, 37-plus percent of the population that is fully vaccinated. My worry is for the 60 percent who are not or for people who are immunosuppressed. So, for example, are under cancer therapy and even if they're vaccinated can't mount an immune response and, of course, children are not vaccinated. So we need to protect everybody. CDC is a public health agency. Its duty is to protect us all.

SCIUTTO: Understood. And I get that.

Just to play devil's advocate for a moment, a couple of weeks ago when the CDC revised its guidance to give a little bit more freedom, right, to the fully vaccinated, the criticism at the time was, it's not enough of a reward, right? You've got to incentivize people more and say here's what awaits you, you know, if you're vaccinated.

I just -- I wonder if there's a damned if you do, damned if you don't aspect to this and then also a practical issue in that, if you travel the country, as I and others begin to do, there are whole parts of this country that they -- they dumped masks long ago.

GOSTIN: Yes, they have. And absolutely right. You know, yes, of course, CDC is under enormous pressure. But I think it was unwise for them to move from complete caution and over caution to abandoning all caution. I think it was really important for CDC to take a strong middle ground.

SCIUTTO: Understood. HARLOW: Lawrence Gostin, it's great to have you. Your perspective's

really important in this debate. Thanks a lot.

GOSTIN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says this morning the U.S. is engaged in, in, quote, quiet but intensive diplomacy in efforts to de-escalate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. This comes as internal pressure to end the violence is growing.

SCIUTTO: President Biden, for the first time in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, used his strongest language yet expressing his support for a cease-fire by both parties.

Joining us now is CNN's Nic Robertson. He remains in Israel near the Gaza border, as well as Jeremy Diamond, who's at the White House.

But, Nic, let's begin with you.

It was a quiet night when it comes to rockets being fired towards Israel, but you're saying that's changing now.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: That has changed. Behind me you can see the fire burning at this sort of agricultural complex on the outskirts of a small village that's very close to the border with Gaza, right down in the southern end of Israel.

This is the scene of now the most deadly attack by Hamas or one of the other groups in Gaza. A mortar and rocket attack on this location here. Two people were killed and seven were injured just over an hour or so ago when rockets or mortars rained in here.

As we were driving to get here, twice we had to get out of the car. Once in the town of Ashdod (ph), where a rocket hit the -- hit an apartment building. We got out of the car because the sirens went off. The intercept system, the Iron Dome, went up. In Ashkelon, the same when we were traveling down the road to get here. So, really, it was quiet from rockets overnight but today it's anything but.

And the firefighters are in here right now trying to douse these flames and dampen the situation here. But I think the situation across the whole country is far from dampened. I've just been hearing Israeli jets flying in the sky over here towards Gaza. And we know in the West Bank today, Palestinian officials have called for a day-long national strike and there have been protests and violent confrontation on the streets of the West Bank and also appear to be in east Jerusalem as well.

So, you know, that period of calm last night that this morning gave way to what seems to have been sort of a temporary truce to allow some humanitarian aid to get into Gaza, that fell away when a mortar round hit an Israeli soldier, injuring him slightly at the border crossing and since then the border's been reclosed and rockets are coming.

HARLOW: Jeremy, to you at the White House and how the Biden administration is dealing with this very much behind the scenes. I mean that's clearly what Blinken was saying. That's what Psaki said yesterday. And the intense pressure from a number of congressional, more progressive Democrats on the Biden administration to do more here.

As we understand it, President Biden has still stopped short of demanding a cease-fire in his conversations with Netanyahu, is that right?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. And yesterday, according to this White House readout, the president expressed his support for a cease-fire. But then shortly after that, a senior administration official told us to be very clear that the president was not calling for a cease-fire.

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And there is a difference between those two things. Between saying, hey, look, we would like to see a cease-fire and we would encourage it if indeed it could happen, versus the president of the United States very publicly saying there needs to be a cease-fire. Israel and Hamas need to come to the table and agree to a cessation of violence in that conflict.

And that is because President Biden, so far, has been willing to give Israel some space to conduct the operations that they believe they need to conduct in the Gaza Strip. President Biden reiterating once again his support for Israel's right to defend itself in that call with Prime Minister Netanyahu, which was the third call between the two leaders in the last week.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, as did Tony Blinken, talking about this quiet and intensive diplomacy that they believe is more constructive to actually bringing an end to this conflict than these kinds of more public calls.

But there's no question that the pressure is growing on President Biden within his own ranks here among the Democrats on Capitol Hill. And the latest focus of that is this $735 million arms deal that was approved before this conflict began to Israel and now Democrats are trying to use that, Democrats on Capitol Hill, as leverage to try and get the Biden administration to put more pressure on Israel to stop the violence.

HARLOW: We'll see -- we'll see what that results in.

Jeremy, at the White House, thank you.

Nic Robertson, on the ground there near the Gaza border, we appreciate it very much.

And still to come, we do have breaking news just in. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he will not support legislation to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection at the Capitol. Why? That's next. And Arizona Republican officials now fighting back against the big lie, blasting the, quote, insane lies in the state's so-called audit, again, of the 2020 election. The Maricopa County supervisor is with us.

SCIUTTO: And a surge in people illegally crossing the southern border. Migrants and smugglers now using new military-style tactics to avoid being captured. I'm going to take you to the skies over Arizona to show you how border patrol agents are tracking them down.

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SCIUTTO: The biggest challenges is in terms of policing, patrolling this part of the border, is that the migrants coming here, they don't want to be caught. They're not giving themselves up.

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[09:16:50]

SCIUTTO: The breaking news just in to CNN, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he does not, will not support the bill to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

HARLOW: So this comes one day before the House is set to vote.

Our Lauren Fox joins us now with more.

How is McCarthy explaining this?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is significant. And I want to set the scene a little bit for what has transpired over the last couple of days.

On Friday, you had a deal announced by John Katko, the top Republican in the Homeland Committee, and Benny Thompson, the top Democrat, saying that they had struck a deal to create this January 6th commission. And Katko has been telling his colleagues that there is some wiggle room about what exactly is going to be investigated. Of course the emphasis will be on January 6th but that there were some opportunities potentially to explore other areas outside of January 6th and leading up to January 6th.

But, today, you have the top Republican saying he actually doesn't support that deal. And I want to read to you why he says he doesn't agree with it. He says, quote, given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort and given the speaker's shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation.

Now, there have also been questions in recent days about whether or not McCarthy himself would be asked to testify. Of course, we are a long ways from who exactly would be subpoenaed, who would have to testify. This commission would be made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, of course, evenly dividing the commission. And, of course, there would be a question of whether or not they could actually agree to call someone like McCarthy.

But, of course, there are questions, and you've heard from former Republican leadership, Liz Cheney, the number three or former number three Republican in House leadership, that she thinks that Kevin McCarthy should actually have to testify as part of this commission. So a lot of moving pieces here.

The House is expected to vote on this commission tomorrow. Then we expect that the Senate would have to take a look at whether or not they could support it. We expect Senate Democrats would get behind it but you would need 10 Republican senators to actually get this through the Senate.

So a lot of moving pieces here and, of course, questions about what McCarthy's opposition to this will mean ultimately for the future of this bill in the Senate.

SCIUTTO: Four months after that building was attacked by domestic terrorists, no agreement. At least no support from the Republican leader there.

Lauren Fox, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss this is Mike Rogers. He's former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and CNN national security commentator.

Mike, always good to have you on.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Listen, like I said, this is just four months after a domestic terror attack on the Capitol, on -- of police officers, threatening members of Congress themselves, regardless of party. The Republican leader will not support a bipartisan commission.

What's your reaction?

ROGERS: Well, I'm not -- I think the real question is what -- is it going to be whipped tomorrow by the leadership, meaning, you know, the leader can come out and say, hey, I'm not for it, but the members can vote their conscience. That's -- that's one thing. Having leadership say we're -- you know, this is not our position, they're going to whip against it, that's a whole nother thing.

[09:20:07]

So I'm sure. I'm going to wait to judge until I see what happens there.

And, listen, I looked at this as kind of an important step in the legislative process, which doesn't happen in D.C. very much anymore, two wildly different opinions. Remember, this started out as a Democrat speaker partisan commission to investigate it. That's how it started. And so you can see where Republicans were very, very skeptical.

Representative Katko, to his -- and Benny Thompson, who I've worked with before when I was in Congress, who is willing to sit down and be reasonable, came to an agreement on a bipartisan commission. I thought that was a huge step forward.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROGERS: We'll see what happens. I know there's lots of mistrust in Washington, D.C. right now between the Democrats and the Republicans.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROGERS: But that was a ray of hope. I'd look at this as a positive thing. This is the hand wringing phase of any really tough vote coming up.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROGERS: And I think maybe cooler heads will prevail at the end of the day.

SCIUTTO: It may. To your point, I mean that was a demand, even representation, and that is in this, five Democrats, five Republicans, you know, on this commission.

But you know the background here. You know the tie to the second big lie here, right? I mean even in McCarthy's statement he's talking about, we need to investigate interrelated forms of political violence. That's another way of saying, this commission also has to be about Antifa stuff and so on. It has nothing to do with January 6th here.

And, by the way, as you heard last week, Republican members of Congress are calling this a tourist event, right, denying that they were Trump supporters. I mean basically pushing the lie about what happened that day.

What does that say to you that the Republican leader there referencing that as he -- as he opposes this?

ROGERS: Well, again, there are -- there were certainly violence over the summer and I think we all ought to look at that as a self- reflection in the sense that what caused it, but that's not related necessarily to this directly.

SCIUTTO: To January 6th, yes.

ROGERS: To the Capitol event. And I agree with that.

But they're -- you know, we should look at all of the occurrences over the last year. What caused this kind of breakdown in America where people thought that violence was an answer to anything, right? SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROGERS: I mean this is the one country where violence never has to happen in political debate because you have that First Amendment protection and to peacefully assemble and present your views.

SCIUTTO: I get that.

ROGERS: And so I get that point. And, again, remember, this started as a partisan effort, so I understand where Republicans might be a little bit cautious, but they ought to get in and negotiate a little bit on what it looks like.

I would like a narrow scope investigation candidly. I'd like to know what happened and what went wrong. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. And the fact that people thought it was OK to try to disrupt a -- the Electoral College, I want to know what went into that?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROGERS: Was there outside influence? There's a lot that could be learned that would be really healthy for the country, but -- and -- but it needs to be narrow on both sides.

SCIUTTO: Right. I mean --

ROGERS: If this is an effort to say, you know, Trump was bad and we're going to form a commission to tell you Trump was bad, I don't think we need to spend the money to do that. People can come to their own conclusions.

SCIUTTO: I get that. But forgive me, Mike, the -- law enforcement, FBI, you used to work for them, they identify white supremacy, the kinds of domestic terrorists involved in that insurrection as the primary terror threat to this country, right? The FBI doesn't say, you know, that it's an equivalent threat, for instance, the other kinds of violence, which was real, that you saw in a place like Portland. They say this is the primary threat, more so than international terrorism.

You were in Congress at a time when there was bipartisan agreement to investigate 9/11. People didn't say, well, let's talk about all this other stuff. They said, this was a big, deadly attack. Let's look at it. I mean you get that point? Why can't Republicans in particular say publicly by voting for this, this is a problem, we have to, you know, zero in on it? I mean you get that point. I mean this is what law enforcement says is the primary threat.

ROGERS: No, I think, Jim, can I say one thing? This is where I worry about because white supremacy is a problem that the FBI has identified. And I worked civil rights violations back when I was an agent to that end. And there are criminal investigations into white supremacy groups today. That's different. What happened at the Capitol, there may have been that problem, but we don't know for sure. Let's have the investigation to find it out. If we go into these things with predisposed, political conclusions, we

will not -- we will do a huge disservice to the United States of America and what we hope is unity at some point around what is a really great nation, allowing really great things to happen to all kinds of people in the country. So I worry about these predetermined, political conclusions going into these things.

So, again, I --

SCIUTTO: I don't know it's a --

ROGERS: This (INAUDIBLE) --

SCIUTTO: I mean, Mike, forgive me, 400 people have been charged. Four hundred people have been charged with crimes, right? I mean that's not a political conclusion. I mean it's -- they've already been charged, right?

ROGERS: No, no, no, but -- but we can't have a commission that's doing an investigation -- look at the 9/11 Commission went in to say what happened? What went wrong? They didn't blame anybody.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

[09:25:01]

ROGERS: They didn't say it was George Bush's fault or Bill Clinton's fault. They said, we have to go into this finding out what went wrong --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROGERS: And what were the underlying conditions and what can we do better.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROGERS: That -- if we do that on this commission, I think it would be invaluable to the United States and all citizens.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROGERS: But if we go in trying to have these -- and this is what the fight in Congress is going to be in the next few days. I want my predetermined political conclusion to be able to be asked in these committees. Well, if we're doing that, we're not doing a service to what needs to happen, which is an honest and fair investigation.

SCIUTTO: True. OK.

ROGERS: Who knows what we're going to find. Many people believe they know. But do we know?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROGERS: And my argument is, we ought to know. It helps everybody. Even if it's bad for Republicans at the end of the day.

SCIUTTO: OK, we've got to -- fair enough. It's a fair point. We'll see what happens.

Mike Rogers, always good to have you on.

ROGERS: Thanks.

HARLOW: That was a great interview.

All right, well, Republican officials in Arizona now pointing fingers at one another. You do have some Republican officials there blasting this so-called partisan audit again of the 2020 election. One Republican leader in the state calls out the big lie and joins us ahead.

SCIUTTO: And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stock futures pointing higher this morning after closing down yesterday, spending the entire day in the red. Markets have been up and down recently over concerns in particular about inflation, mixed economic data from China and some domestic manufacturing data weighing on markets yesterday.

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