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Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) is Interviewed about the January 6th Commission; Fauci Talks Booster Shot; Biden Grows Impatient with Netanyahu. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired May 20, 2021 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: So the state of play right now for an independent, bipartisan 9/11-style commission to investigate the deadly Capitol Hill insurrection, at least ten Senate Republicans would have to go against their leadership's wishes to support a bill that the House just passed. At this point, only five GOP senators have said they may be a yes. So the math not quite there yet.

With me now, Democratic Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton of Virginia.

Congresswoman, thank you for taking the time this morning.

REP. JENNIFER WEXTON (D-VA): Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, yesterday, 35 Republican colleagues of yours did buck their leadership to vote for this bipartisan commission, which was negotiated by Democratic and Republican members. But 83 percent of the GOP caucus voted against.

I wonder, what's driving this? The president calls the commission a trap. Is it fear of Trump that led them to these no votes?

WEXTON: Well, it's very disappointing that more Republicans didn't sign onto this wonderful legislation to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6th and really figure out so that it never happens again.

Now what's driving them, I can't say. You know it certainly seems that they're afraid to find the truth because the truth may be inconvenient for them.


I wonder, you know, one of the crucial questions remains what the president did and said on that day. We know that the GOP leader, McCarthy, spoke to him. What did the president say or not say to the Pentagon? Do you believe President Trump has something to hide? WEXTON: Well, I don't know why he wouldn't want to get to the bottom

of what happened and make sure that it never happens again. And the truth will come out one way or another. It's just a matter of whether we're going to do it through this wonderful bipartisan, you know, non- partisan commission that has the imprimatur of great gravitas and the ability to really get to the bottom of it.

We don't want it to be partisan. You know, that was part of the negotiations between the chairman and the ranking member of Homeland Security.


WEXTON: And it is now completely bipartisan, and there should be no problem with getting to the bottom of what happened.


One option, which is being discussed, is Democrats going it alone if they can't get the ten Republican votes in the Senate, much as Republicans did with the Benghazi investigation for years.

Have you reached that point, do you think, that you would do your own investigation and dig as far as -- and long as you want on your own?

WEXTON: No, we haven't. You know, we want this to be bipartisan or non-partisan and we're going to keep fighting to make that happen.


You have been personally working very closely with one of the victims of this. That's the fallen Capitol Hill officer, Howie Liebengood. He took his own life on January 9th, just three days after the insurrection. And his family is urging Congress to act. I'm going to quote briefly from their statement. They said, we believe a thorough, non-partisan investigation into the root causes of and the response to the January 6th riot is essential for our nation and moved forward.


Howie's death was an immediate outgrowth of those events. Every officer who worked that day, as well as their families, should have a better understanding of what happened.

Tell me how the family views that vote yesterday. How disappointed are they?

WEXTON: Well, you know, they want this to be non-partisan and they want it to move forward. So I think that they're pleased that there was bipartisan support for it. I think they would have liked to have seen more support.

But one of the things that we can really see, you know, whether our friends across the aisle truly want to back the blue is on today's security supplemental. You know, that contains a lot of resources for the Capitol Police. I'm very, very pleased that it contains additional supports for their mental health wellness unit and it's going to be renamed in honor of Howie Liebengood. The Howie Liebengood Capitol Police Wellness Center. And it's going to have funding for six new mental health therapists, as well was many other supports that the Capitol Police need moving forward.

SCIUTTO: We've been showing pictures of him on the air as you've been speaking, describing him. He just looks like -- he looks like a lovely guy. It's sorry to see him as one of the victims of this.

WEXTON: He really was. He really was. And he -- he had a long history here in the Senate. His father was the sergeant at arms at the Senate when he was growing up and he and his siblings used to run around and play here in the Rotunda and in the Capitol when they were growing up.

Howie was also a Senate page and he was a 15-year veteran of the Capitol Police. So I hope that our friends across the aisle will want to support the security supplemental and I hope that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate will do the same.

SCIUTTO: Can your Republican colleagues truly back the blue if they're not willing to delve into the causes of January 6th and to working on preventing a repeat?

WEXTON: I don't think that they can. You know, I mean we heard from the Capitol Police yesterday that they support the commission and they want to get to the bottom of what happened. You know, they don't appreciate this being swept under the rug and our colleagues saying things like it was just another day with regular tourists coming to the Capitol because that really disrespects all that the Capitol Police did to protect us that day.

They were involved in hand-to-hand combat for hours. Many of them are still -- are still out, you know, with injuries. Broken back, gouged out eyes, you know, broken bones, injuries that have lasted for months. So we need to show them the respect and thank you -- and thanks for their -- for their sacrifices and all that they've done for us.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's what the video showed and captured, violent attack on those officers.

Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

WEXTON: Thank you.


All right, well, Dr. Anthony Fauci tells CNN, in his words, it's, quote, highly likely Americans will need coronavirus vaccine boosters within about a year. More on why, next.


[09:42:18] SCIUTTO: So, would you like some good news? There is more good news in the fight against COVID. Listen for it. The U.S. is seeing some of the lowest numbers of new infections and deaths in nearly a year. But over the past 14 days, the number of vaccine doses administered is down more than 16 percent. This as only about 38 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.

HARLOW: That's concerning some experts who now say a booster shot will likely be necessary.

Listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: When the level of protection starts to dwindle down, as happens over time, or when we start seeing more breakthrough infections, you're going to see boosters. There's a major increase in the level of antibodies following a booster.


HARLOW: OK, Dr. Colleen Kraft is with us, associate chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital.

Good morning, Dr. Kraft.

So that's what Fauci says. An authoritative source, obviously, on all this stuff. It's been really echoed by the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, saying that's what they're seeing evidence of.

Dr. Leana Wen, who we have on next hour, is really warning against, you know, calls for a booster at this point. Can you explain how we know as a public? Is it that people would start getting sick who have already been vaccinated like a year from now or six months ago or is it that these trials have extended out and in a few months we'll know what those trials say?

DR. COLLEEN KRAFT, ASSOCIATE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, EMORY UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Yes, Poppy, I think it's probably a combination of both. I think we'll know more about the longevity of the immunity to the current vaccines over time as more people have testing farther away from their actual vaccine.

And then I think a lot of what's going to happen this summer is going to predict really where we are as a country. So what our percent vaccine rate is going to be, even among children. And then also, you know, sort of the social norms. I think the longer that this lasts, the longer that we're perpetuating cases in transmission, the more likely we will need a booster.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Kraft, we had Dr. Paul Offit on earlier this week, who makes the point, a hopeful one, which I don't mind emphasizing, that, yes, 38 percent of the country fully vaccinated. The number of folks who are partially vaccinated, closer to 50 percent, I think 60 percent for adults. But when you add that to the figure of people who were exposed and

have some immunity and were not vaccinated, that you're -- that we're closer as a country to herd immunity than some of those numbers show. Perhaps 50 percent, 60 percent. And I just wonder if you -- if you subscribe to that view as well.

KRAFT: Well, I think that what's happening around us is sort of going to be what's going to tell us whether herd immunity is achieved or not.


I think we don't really know what herd immunity is for this novel coronavirus. We have lots of predictions based on other viruses, other infections that we know but we -- we don't for sure know. And so I think just watching the numbers go down, you know, is that because it's getting warmer and people are outside and they're transmitting it less or is it really due to the fact that we've sort of achieved this level of natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity that's actually going to really prevent transmission?

HARLOW: I want to talk about schools and masks because you've got Utah and Texas now banning mask mandates in schools. It's mandated in my kids' school. I'm sure Jim's kids' school. It's going to be next year as well for ours.

But you've got this fight, which is odd, over it now when the American Academy of Pediatrics just came out this week and said children should continue wearing masks in public spaces as they have throughout the pandemic, particularly when social distancing isn't possible.

So I guess I just wonder what you make of the fact that you're going to now have a fight in our schools about this.

KRAFT: Yes, I think the word that you used --

HARLOW: For little kids.

KRAFT: Right. I think the word that you used as odd is how I feel about this. I'm not really sure what the -- what the motivation is, what we're learning from this. I think -- I think we've proven the fact that if we wear a mask, we're going to just prevent that transmission. My -- if I wear it and I'm ill, I'm going to prevent the transmission to you.

And so when we've talked about easing up on masking guidelines for vaccinated people, that makes sense to me, right? So we think that the risk of transmission from a vaccinated person who doesn't have symptoms is negligible.

And so it's confusing to me that -- why -- why the masks are coming off in the school. My school also mandates masks for people that are not vaccinated, teachers or children. And so it is just -- it's a little confusing. I'm not sure if it's, you know, trying to get to the point where we want normalcy. Is it for the children? It's unclear for me sort of the rationale behind that decision. SCIUTTO: You could make an argument it's flat-out negligent, can't

you, because kids are not vaccinated yet.

HARLOW: That's right.

SCIUTTO: I mean we only just got authorization for 12 to 15-year-olds. You know, forget folks under 12. I mean it's nuts.

KRAFT: I find it very confusing. I completely agree, Jim. I'm not really sure. You know, in our -- in my own school system, our small school, we allowed vaccinated teachers to take off their masks in the last week because of the CDC guidance.


KRAFT: However, all children who are -- none of them are vaccinated, are all wearing masks and it's -- it's already easing that tension of everyone wearing masks. And so I'm not sure why we can't sort of still have this dichotomy of masks and unmasked until we're all vaccinated to just prevent transmission.


KRAFT: So it is very confusing. I would love to have like the one- liner or really the sort of support of why that is happening, why that -- why that mandate was lifted and then why we're charging people or businesses a thousand dollars, you know, if you -- if you have a mask mandate.


It's politics trumping science, frankly. I mean it -- the point of taking masks off, the justification is because you're vaccinated. I mean that's what the CDC says. And now it's -- it's crazy. But, you know, apparently folks not willing to protect their kids, right?

Dr. Colleen Kraft.

HARLOW: If you were wondering how Jim felt about it, now you know. And I stand with him on that.

SCIUTTO: It's nuts. Nuts.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, thanks very much.

KRAFT: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Growing calls from the White House and the world for an end to the Israeli/Palestinian -- the latest fighting between the two amid word that President Biden is growing increasingly impatient with the Israeli prime minister.


[09:53:09] HARLOW: This morning, CNN has learned President Biden is growing increasingly impatient with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It follows the most blunt phone call yet between the two men on Wednesday, according to an administration official. Biden set a deadline for the violence to ease, made it very clear, we're hearing, that he expects a cease fire soon.

SCIUTTO: On the ground, Hamas has resumed its rocket fire from Gaza into Israel -- you see some of it there -- after eight hours of relative calm overnight. That was the longest lull since this latest conflict began.

Nic Robertson is live near the Gaza border.

And, Nic, we just learned that Israel's cabinet will meet in a few hours. Do we know the subject of that meeting? Could that be tied to discussions of a cease fire?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC REPORTER: That seems to be very likely. It's the security cabinet that's meeting. Security forces still in play here. The artillery behind me has been firing their helicopters overhead. The fighter jets have been firing overhead. Hamas, today, firing rockets into Israel, hitting three different s towns, damaging properties there. So this -- you know, there is talk of a cease fire.

But the actual action and conflict is still going on, is still underway. We've seen rocket intercepts overhead here. So, yes, this seems very certain this security cabinet meeting will be about the cease fire and the state of military play.

HARLOW: So the United States is, it appears, Nic, again rejecting a resolution through the U.N. Security Council, previously it was from China, now this one from France, to really call for a cease fire publicly and for more access to humanitarian aid in Gaza.

Can you explain the implications of that on the ground and why the U.S. is not on board again with this?

ROBERTSON: Prime Minister Netanyahu's position has been very clear, that he values the support from the United States.


He values the position of the United States and other European countries, that they support Israel's right to defense. And he still feels that there are more targets to hit. They've been hitting their Hamas tunnel networks, their rocket launchers, the weapons stores, the Hamas commanders, even in the last 24 hours.

So the reason that it seems potentially the prime minister is still continuing here with those strikes is that does appear to be popular support for that position, that there's a real sense that for Israel to have security, Hamas' threat must be further reduced.

There does seem to be popular support for that despite the international pressure and despite the political tension that may create between the United States and the rest of the world. (INAUDIBLE) in the United States. Perhaps a rift between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Biden. It's those domestic interests, political interests here on the ground, military interests that are going to take precedence.

HARLOW: Nic Robertson in Israel near the Gaza border, thank you so much.

Well, ahead for us, coming up, a rift in the Republican Party after several Senate Republicans signaled they will not vote for the bipartisan commission investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Are they worried a commission could politically damage the party?