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Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Says He Doesn't Support January 6 Commission Inquiry; Rift Grows Among Democrats over Israel-Hamas Violence; Now, White House COVID Team Gives First Update since CDC Issued New Guidance. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2021 - 10:00   ET

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


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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

We begin this hour with breaking news. Four months after the Capitol insurrection was threatened, democracy, Democrats and Republicans, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he opposes a bill that would create a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the January 6th attack.

SCIUTTO: A domestic terrorist attack. This comes as the full House votes tomorrow on that legislation, which may still pass. Votes still have got to be counted.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is live. Tell us, one, what is actually driving McCarthy opposing support for this. Other Republicans have stated their support.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, his stated reason is that he believes that this investigation should be a broader investigation, that should not just look at what happened on January 6th, but should include other matters as well, such as protests and the racial injustice protests that happened last summer, Black Lives Matter protests, Antifa. This has been what he has discussed for some time and he is sticking to it.

What a lot of people on Capitol Hill believe this is an effort to try to either ultimately derail this proposal come -- when it comes time to come to the Senate were to vote on this, but also to paint this in a partisan lens because this proposal -- this report, when it comes out, assuming that this commission becomes law, will come out by December 31st right around the time, as the two sides are gearing up to campaign for the midterm elections, in which Kevin McCarthy, of course, will be trying to regain the House majority for Republicans and become the speaker of the House.

Now, there are also questions about whether McCarthy himself will be compelled to testify before this commission, this because he has had conversations with Donald Trump on the day of the January 6th riot. And those were testy conversations that we had reported at the time. So what was Donald Trump's state of mind and will McCarthy have to give that information before these commissioners assuming this bill becomes law. So the question no you is what will happen.

THIS comes forward on Wednesday. The vote will happen tomorrow, expected to pass the House. Then it will ultimately go to the Senate where ten Republican senators would have to break ranks, join 50 Democrats in order to make this into law.

Now, McCarthy behind the scenes just explained to his conference why he is opposing this bill. In a statement, and he'd would closely to his statement that he put earlier this morning. And it said, given the political misdirection that have marred this process, given the new duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort and given the speaker's short sided scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation.

So, again, this will not impact the final vote in the House where the Democrats are the majority. Some Republicans will vote for it, including the Republican who cut the deal on McCarthy's behalf, John Katko, who is defending this proposal. It will still pass the House. Can it get passed in the Senate? And what will the impact be when the investigation actually starts and will McCarthy be called to testify? Guys?

HARLOW: Right. Manu, thank you very much.

Dana Bash, our Chief Political Correspondent and co-Anchor of State of the Union, is with us. Dana, what do you make of McCarthy saying no to this? And also, I just wonder if, you know, Bennie Thompson saying over the weekend that, yes, you know, former President Trump should testify has anything to do with it.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, my source in the Republican conference told me -- who supports this commission, told me this morning that the source said that belief is, yes, that the Bennie Thompson comment could have a negative impact on the notion of this being a more bipartisan vote to create this bipartisan commission. And the reason is, you know, it's poking the bear. And that is the bear being, of course, Donald Trump.

Now, that does not excuse the notion of voting against something that is modeled directly on the 9/11 commission, which was heralded by people on the far-left and the far-right for doing its job to find out what happened that led to the United States being attacked.

[10:05:12]

It's the same idea the creation of this commission. What happened in the country? What happened at the Capitol? What happened more broadly in Washington that led to this unprecedented attack on the United States Capitol? And what Manu said is really, really important. The House has enough votes to pass this. The question now is what happens in the U.S. Senate? 50 Democrats, they will need 60 votes. That means ten Republicans. Manu and our colleagues on the hill have been doing reporting at the House -- sorry, the Senate Republican leadership is split on this.

What we hear from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, today will be very telling as to whether or not this commission is DOA in the United States Senate because of what McCarthy is saying, because he certainly has sway with Republicans who see him as somebody who is speaking for the former president.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's a domestic terror attack and yet that hesitation.

Dana, Poppy mentioned the possibility of Trump testifying. Kevin McCarthy spoke to Trump that day. We know that. Is he hesitant to testify under oath as to what he said and what the president said?

BASH: Well, he hasn't said that publicly. But I'm sure he is hesitant to do that. Liz Cheney has said that she believes that in this commission, assuming if it does actually happen, McCarthy should testify. Fred Upton, one of the ten Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump, told me on Sunday that he believes that McCarthy would likely be subpoenaed and others would as well.

Because it is such unlike the 9/11 commission where you are talking, as you well know, Jim, as somebody who understands national security and covered that, these commission members who are not elected members of congress. That would still be the case if this commission goes through, that these members and their staff talk to people largely in the national security realm.

This is -- members of the commission and the staff talking to members of Congress because they were part of it. They were the victims and some are being accused of stoking it. So it is a very different dynamic, which is why you're seeing this opposition particularly, again, from Republicans, like Kevin McCarthy, who we don't know for a fact if he's heard from President Trump, but we do know that they're in touch and we do know that based on every piece of evidence, so far he is looking to protect the wishes of the former president. And he does not want this to go through.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: It's different dynamic, yes, Dana, and a very different Congress now but it's the same goal, and that is to get nonpartisan fact-based answers for the members that were threatened that day and for the American people. I mean the 9/11 report became a bestseller, right? You buy it at the airport. American people had a deep interest in having answers there and they deserve answers here.

BASH: That's exactly right, which is why when you hear Kevin McCarthy in his statement, and Manu and I have heard from sources in the Republican meeting this morning, him argue that, well, it's really about, you know, staff selection is not really the way that he would put it together, or more importantly, he wants it to be more broad. He wants it to be an investigation of Black Lives Matter and Antifa.

Liz Cheney has been very, very clear about this. This is one of the main areas where she split from him and other Republican leaders, is that that's not relevant to this question, that maybe there are -- there's a time and place to look into, you know, protests, but this is not it. This is and should be very narrow. And that is the way this bipartisan agreement was drafted, that it's very specific to that attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Why did it happen? How did it happen?

And so it's bringing in the other things like, you know, more protests that have happened from the left. You know, red herring comes to mind.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And, by the way, part of the second big lie, right, the claims you're seeing on January 6th wasn't really all that bad and maybe they were, you know, Antifa members, et cetera. I mean, I was thinking the 9/11 commission did not also investigate the Oklahoma City bombing, right? They didn't investigate the 9/11 bombing because a certain group --

BASH: That's a great point. That's a really, really good analogy.

SCIUTTO: -- attacked, it doesn't mean Oklahoma City wasn't a serious thing.

Dana, always good to have you on. Thank you so much.

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HARLOW: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: Nice to see you guys.

HARLOW: Also this morning, as a number of Democrats in Congress are turning up pressure on the Biden administration to speak out more firmly specifically to Israel about the deadly violence in Gaza and in Israel. President Biden voiced support for ceasefire with the phone call he just had with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

SCIUTTO: But we should note this. The president has not publicly called for a ceasefire.

CNN's John Harwood joins us now from the White House, Lauren Fox from Capitol Hill as well.

First, John, the president is leaving for Michigan today to tout his ongoing economic agenda but he'll be asked about this and he says that he is working quiet but intensive diplomacy to bring this to an end.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There is no question that this is -- this story continues to dominate the news today, and it's going to overshadow his visit to see an electric vehicle plant in Michigan, of course, a key swing state that helped deliver him the election. But Michigan is also home to a very large Arab-American population. He's going to face protesters there who are impatient with his refusal to press Israel more aggressively to implement a ceasefire.

As you mentioned, Jim, he has indicated support for ceasefire if the parties pursue one, as Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, said yesterday, but he is not calling on Israel to implement one. Faces pressure from younger Democrats on the Hill, questions about an arm sale to Israel that is in process of being improved.

But President Biden, who has been working in foreign policy for a decade and has a somewhat more traditional view than some of those Democratic members, clearly feels that -- and has asserted several times that Israel has the right to defend itself. He does not regard this as so far over the line that he needs to confront Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over this.

And then finally, he does not want the Israel-Palestinian conflict elevated in terms of his own agenda. He's tried to stay very focused on boning the pandemic and economic recovery. And even within the realm of foreign policy, he's been focused on China and Russia, reset with Russia, confronting China economically as well as militarily. And so he is not giving those younger Democratic members what they want. And the question is how much more pressure does he get and does it generate a reaction from him? It has not yet.

HARLOW: So, Lauren, then the question to you is what might generate a reaction from him? And there are Democrats, even ones who we might not expect in the caucus calling for delay in a more than $700 million arms sale from the U.S. to Israel that is imminent.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right. In the House you have Representative Gregory Meeks arguing that the White House should pause for a moment on this arms sale. And we should note that these arms deals come before Congress all of the time. They're actually pretty routine. But in the moment, obviously, this one is coming under the microscope because of the events happening and transpiring right now in the Middle East.

You also, of course, have Democrats speaking out and arguing that now is time for a ceasefire. Obviously, that is further than where the Biden administration has been. And it's notable. I was talking to members yesterday, has the Democratic Party really started to shift on Israel? And Chris Murphy, a top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, told me it's not so much that Democrats are shifting, it's that Republicans have shifted and that Israel has really shifted in the past several years under the tutelage, of course, of Benjamin Netanyahu.

And I think that that has been one of the concerns that you've heard from Democrats up here that they feel like they have to go further because they feel like the dynamics of the political discussion have really started to shift in the last decade or so. So I think that's why you're seeing some of the pressure up here on Capitol Hill because Democrats feel like they need to push the Biden administration a little further than where they currently are standing.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, like we always say, it's a crisis you expect and the crisis you get. So often, presidencies run into this sort of thing. John Harwood, Lauren Fox, thanks so much.

The White House coronavirus task force briefing set to begin at any minute, this as the CDC relaxes masks and social distancing rules for fully vaccinated Americans. We're going to monitor.

HARLOW: And with the easing of the guidelines, what does it mean for the state of the U.S. economy and employment? We'll discuss ahead, an exclusive interview with Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.

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HARLOW: This morning, the White House coronavirus response team is holding its first briefing since the CDC said fully vaccinated Americans can, for the most part, ditch their masks. This comes as leaders and businesses across country are rushing to try to navigate the new guidance with strategies that very considerably state to state.

SCIUTTO: We're also seeing remarkably encouraging new data this morning. I mean, don't forget the good news. 15 states reported zero COVID-19 related deaths on Monday. That's remarkable. Just remember how recently the human death toll was so clear, so sad every day.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

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So, Elizabeth, on this new mask guidance, I mean, it seems that some businesses, they're just going to follow the CDC's recommendations, others are not. I mean, there is an honor system element to this. What is happening?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting, Jim, because I think a lot of people think the CDC is kind of like the police. If they say something, you have to do it. That is not the case. And people within the CDC will be the first to tell you that this is not the case. They make recommendations. They make guidelines. They do not make policy. What they say is, look, here's what the science is telling us.

But the U.S. is a very large place and different areas are going to be seeing different vaccination rates, different case rates and different localities, different businesses might choose to do things differently.

Let's take a listen to what Dr. Anthony Fauci had to say about this.

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DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Under those circumstances, it's perfectly reasonable and understandable through the owner of the establishment to say, you know, we're going to keep the mask mandate up. And that's what we're seeing. And I think that's causing the confusion because some are maintaining a mask mandate and others are not.

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COHEN: So what Dr. Fauci is trying to say that, look, I mean, he's not the saying this but I'll say it. If it's a business where people are sort of cheek to jowl right next to each other, you might make a different decision than if you're a business where your employees are sort of spread apart.

And now, let's talk about what local governments, state, county, city governments might do. These are the consideration that's they might think about when deciding whether or not to lift local -- to lift mask mandates. What is my local COVID-19 case rate? How much COVID-19 do I have around me? That varies area to area. What is my vaccination rate? How many people are vaccinated in my area? Also, that varies from area to area. That will have an effect on the decision that that state or local or county government decides to make.

Now, let's take a look at businesses. We see that many major businesses, places, people, you know, we all go to every day have decided to lift the mandates. But there is a big if, if local law allows them to. That's a big if. The White House briefing is coming up later this morning. And two things that I think we should be looking for, it's been about five days since the CDC announced that vaccinated people could essentially take their masks off any time. Has that had an effect on vaccination rate? Are more people getting vaccinated? Has it had an effect of cases with more masks off? Are we seeing cases go up? I don't think we are. Poppy? Jim?

HARLOW: Elizabeth, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Well, we're joined now by Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, she's a primary care pediatrician at Colombia University. Doctor, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

DR. EDITH BRACHO-SANCHEZ, PRIMARY CARE PEDIATRICIAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Great to be with you guys.

SCIUTTO: So prior to this decision, we already had a patchwork in this country, right? Because some states and localities had mandates, some did not. And let's be frank. Some areas of the country just had different standards, right, for how many people wanted to wear masks and why they didn't want to wear them.

Now though, this is kind of, you know, while some mandates still stay in place, say, when you're flying an airplane but this is kind of giving everybody a choice here, right? I wonder from a health perspective, do you think that was smart?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: So, Jim, I really do agree with the CDC that the data is sound. If you are vaccinated, the risk that you will catch COVID-19 and that you may pass it on to others is really, really low.

Now, the tricky part comes what that patchwork that you're referring to, right? And specifically for me, as a pediatrician, what are parents supposed to do here? How can they know for sure that everyone else who is unmasking, right, who's saying, great, take that mask off, is truly vaccinated.

So the data is sound. I understand why they made this decision. But on the ground and for parents, specifically whose kids haven't gotten a chance to be vaccinated, this is really, really tricky, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: So, I mean, this is like what I was thinking yesterday out and about with my three-year-old in New York is he at greater risk now as a little kid because more people aren't going to be wearing masks and it's the honor system, you have to trust if they're vaccinated. You're a pediatrician. Does this CDC decision, if people aren't fully honest and if they're not fully vaccinated and they don't wear their mask, does that actually put our kids at more risk or no because kids were not getting this very often to start with?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: So, yes, Poppy, the answer is absolutely. If people are not vaccinated and they are taking their masks off, this absolutely puts kids at greater risk. We have learned so much about COVID-19 in children in the past year. And one of the things that we have learned is that this is most of the time minor illness but it can be really serious. We've seen over 300 children die from COVID-19. So this is not something that we can take lightly.

And to any adult out there who is listening, take your shot. I mean, do this. Get your vaccine if you care about your own health and if you care about the health of children in your community.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, Dr. Bracho-Sanchez.

[10:25:00]

Because going back even a couple of months ago, we had some epidemiologists and doctors on the air saying, you know what -- and that was with far fewer people in the country vaccinated, but that the combination of people vaccinated and people who were exposed to this, and we don't know that because they haven't tested positive, that we're a lot closer to herd immunity than we realize, you know, with that combination.

And I just wonder if you agree with that and that's why we're seeing such a dramatic drop in new infections, deaths, hospitalizations.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: So we can hope, Jim, that that is the case, right, that enough people got the actual illness and have antibodies. We're not sure for how long, right? Remember, if you got a natural infection, if you were out there, you got COVID-19 and you develop antibodies, we're not sure how long those antibodies are going to last. And that's why we're saying, go ahead and get vaccinated anyway.

But, yes, the combination of those people who have antibodies from having had the infection and the people who are now getting vaccinated probably gets us to a pretty good place. But what is good and what's truly herd immunity, it's so hard to know, which is why we just can't rely on these like wishful thinking, right? And I don't think people should be make decisions based on those wishful numbers. I think people should make the decision that's make sense for them and take ownership of this decision and vaccinate themselves to protect themselves and their communities and their families.

SCIUTTO: I mean, I'm old fashioned in a sense that it's about protecting yourself but it's also doing your part, right, and it's safe. But, heck, you know, I just wish more people were willing to. Dr. Bracho-Sanchez, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, Rudy Giuliani claims that calling for a trial by combat, as he did, on January 6th did not encourage violence because he never meant for his words to be taken literally. Is that a solid legal defense? We'll ask, next.

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