Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Senior White House COVID Response Adviser Andy Slavitt; Middle East Cease-Fire. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 21, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: And you can also use the hashtag, which is important, so we can find it when we want to come back and round them up later, the hashtag #TheComeback. And we will be featuring some of you on this show next week.

That does it for me for now. Thank you so much for being with me today. I hope you smiled watching that ceremony, like I did.

The news continues next with Alisyn and Victor.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

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

We begin this hour with the new and fragile cease-fire in the Middle East. And these are some of the clashes today, but, so far, that has not disrupted the pause in strikes between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

But this shows the tension. Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. They say that they were responding to a riot. CNN saw hundreds of people chanting support for Hamas there.

Now, the cease-fire, it's just a few hours old, and after a week-and- a-half of attacks between Israel and Hamas.

CAMEROTA: So, now both sides must deal with the aftermath. Listen to the despair of one Palestinian child.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm always sick. I'm always -- I don't know. I can't do anything to deal with all of this.

What do you expect me to do? Fix it? I'm only 10. I can't even deal with anything in this war. I just want to be a doctor or anything to help my people. But I can't. I'm just a kid. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: CNN's Ben Wedeman is live in Gaza for us.

Ben, I mean, listening to that 10-year-old, I don't know how anybody could ever put it any better of what people are left with in the aftermath. What's next for Gaza?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's next is, they're going to have to rebuild and repair, bury the dead, and sort of get on with their lives.

But the problem is that the reasons for this current round of warfare between Gaza and Israel haven't gone away. Gaza is still under joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade. The people of Gaza, most people you speak to here, certainly the younger ones, have never left this tiny strip of land that is home to two million people, and still very difficult to import goods.

It's still very difficult to make a living. The unemployment rate here is around 50 percent. None of this is going to change. In fact, if anything, things could very well get worse in the aftermath of this war.

So, there's really a sense of relief, definitely. You can hear it in the streets below me. People are out enjoying the warm May weather. It almost looks like a celebration down there, lots of families, young children. But the basic realities here have not changed.

And when -- I referred to this blockade. This blockade was imposed to try to put pressure on Hamas. But, really, the people who have suffered the most from the blockade are ordinary Palestinians. Hamas has not had any trouble developing better and more sort of rockets with further range, able to engage Israel in four separate wars since 2008.

But the quality of life of people here has deteriorated steadily over the years. And there's no indication that it's going to be getting better anytime soon.

BLACKWELL: Ben, let's look across the border. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, obviously has some political challenges he's working through.

What's this -- the last week-and-a-half and now the cease-fire, what do they mean for him?

WEDEMAN: Well, he may be one of the people who benefited from this war.

Keep in mind, Israel has had four inconclusive elections in the last two years. And, in fact, Netanyahu had failed to even put forth a government acceptable to the rest of the Knesset, and, therefore, somebody else was supposed to do it.

But now, because of his conduct of the war, perhaps he may have gained some political capital, which he will be able to cash in, in the horse trading that is Israeli politics. So, if not, Israel will have a fifth election in just over two years.


So, Israel itself is suffering from a form of political paralysis, which this war may or may not actually be able to break -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: We shall see.

Ben Wedeman for us there in Gaza.

Ben, thank you.

Now, the violence where Ben is spilling over into the United States and leading to a series of anti-Semitic attacks. A source says that New York police have just made an arrest in that gang assault, as they call it, of a Jewish man in Times Square.

Now, the Anti-Defamation League reports it has seen an increase of reports of anti-Semitic incidents since the Israeli airstrikes began in Gaza, 193 incidents, to be specific, during that time, up from 131 reports the previous week.

Now, Los Angeles police, they're now investigating if this incident is one of them. Now, this happened Tuesday night outside a restaurant. A witness says a group of pro-Palestinian men were hurling racial epithets, attacked a friend of his.

And a warning: What you're about to see is disturbing.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey.



CAMEROTA: CNN's Brynn Gingras is following these reports of attacks.

So, Brynn, what's happening?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn and Victor, to be clear, there have been a number of incidents that have been reported to the NYPD within the last week-and-a-half or so, when the violence escalated there in the Middle East, but, of course, now really escalating as we see in this gang sort of attack that happened here right in Times Square last night.

What we're learning from police sources is that one person, a 23-year- old, is in custody right now in connection to that assault. But, as you can see from the video, a number of people were involved. So, there are others still out there.

Police sources tell us that a 29-year-old man, he was wearing a yarmulke -- the police say he's Jewish -- was going to a pro-Israel protest, demonstration here in Times Square, and then was beaten up, pepper-sprayed, assaulted with a number of objects, and was yelled at, the perpetrators saying, "F Jews, F Israel," and that's what made it rise to the level of a hate crime investigation.

So, as I said, it's still being investigated at this point. But, as you guys just pointed out, we're seeing these incidents, not just here in New York City, not just in L.A., but the ADL says really in many American cities, reporting that they have seen the number of anti- Semitic attacks double just within the last week.

As far as the incident here in New York City, we're being told that now the state, the government -- sorry -- the governor, Andrew Cuomo, is asking the state police Hate Crimes Task Force to also help with this investigation, hopefully bring those others who are possibly involved with that particular incident last night to justice.

CAMEROTA: Brynn, just amazing, the ripple effect of what happens somewhere on the globe, the Middle East, and then spreads out elsewhere.


CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for bringing all that to our attention.

Let's bring in CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash. She joins us. She also co-anchors "STATE OF THE UNION."

Dana, great to see you.

This has been a big foreign policy week for the president, not all of his own choosing. So let's just start with Israel. We understand that President Biden says he spoke with Netanyahu six times over the past few days. Do we know what hand, if any, he had in brokering this cease-fire?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it sounds like he had a much heavier hand than he let show in public.

It was very difficult for the press around him to get questions to him about that. So many times, presidents, especially when things are so tense and so deadly in the Middle East, like to get out there and make clear that they are using the bully pulpit, that they are using what has become a traditional U.S. role of peace broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

He didn't lean as far into that as we have seen in recent times. And I think it's because he is one of the people in the White House who has the most experience on the world stage than we have seen in decades and decades, Alisyn.

I mean, I remember covering him, speaking of decades, a couple of decades ago in the United States Senate, when he was Foreign Relations chairman, never mind the eight years, Alisyn, Victor, that he had as vice president.

So, he is experienced. It's not to say that it was him. We -- we're going to learn a lot more as the days and weeks unfold. But he felt that he had a relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu that was clearly much warmer than his former boss, President Obama, even though it wasn't anywhere nearly as tight as President Trump.


BLACKWELL: Speaking of those -- those eight years, one thing that is a difference this time that they did not see that time was the breadth of criticism of Israel and people in his own party who were asking him to be more full-throated in calling for that cease-fire.

How did he respond to that?

BASH: It's so fascinating, because you're exactly right.

I mean, for as long as I can remember covering politics, Israel has been the one issue on foreign policy and domestic policy that has truly been bipartisan, support for Israel kind of full stop. And the more progressive voices are prominent and feel emboldened, those who are, from their perspective -- well, they are -- they're just more critical of Israel and its actions -- the more the party is -- the Democratic Party is clearly split.

I was really interested in -- I'm pulling it up now -- in what President Biden said to David Brooks in the column today. He was talking generally speaking, but I think it applies to Israel.

He said: "Progressives don't like me because I'm not prepared to take what I would say is a socialist agenda."

I mean, wow. Those are -- those are some words that I think are going to have a lot of staying power for this president and his party.

CAMEROTA: I agree. I mean, he just went there in that interview with David Brooks, where he used some of that language that could be seen as provocative.

And that leads us to the Korean Peninsula. So he's meeting with the president of South Korea and had that Medal of Honor event at the White House today. I have to assume his take on North Korea and Kim Jong-un will be quite different than his predecessor's. There won't be love letters, and they won't fall in love with each other, as President Trump had said he felt about the dictator.

So what is the approach going to be?

BASH: It's all about China.

Everything, which is what was interesting about the last nine, 10 days, with the Middle East -- of course, every president has to deal with the Middle East. But this is a president who has been very, very crystal clear that what he wants to do is focus on China, focus on China as a national security problem, focus on China as an economic powerhouse that the United States has to do better in competing with, or else the United States is going to fall very, very far behind.

North Korea is completely tied up in that. And you're exactly right. I don't expect President Biden to be going to the DMZ, like we saw President Trump do in an unbelievable, unprecedented way.

But this is a president who, of course, and his aides, understand that they don't want to -- they don't want North Korea to advance its nuclear program. But they also know that its biggest and most important ally is China. And this is a contentious relationship right now.

So, how he's going to approach it -- back when I was covering the Bush White House, it was the six-party talks. There were different approaches. And I don't think we really know how he's going to handle it, especially given the importance of China in his platform.

CAMEROTA: It will be very interesting.

Dana Bash, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

BASH: Good to see you guys. Happy Friday.

CAMEROTA: You too.

BLACKWELL: Likewise.

CAMEROTA: You too.

Up next: The White House senior adviser on COVID just revealed that his teenage son is one of the tens of thousands of coronavirus long- haulers. So, we're going to talk to Andy Slavitt about his story and what this summer will look like for all young people.

BLACKWELL: Plus: more serious fallout from the insurrection. More than 70 Capitol Police officers have left the force.

We will talk about the impact on safety with Congressman Eric Swalwell.



CAMEROTA: Here's a novel idea to get more people vaccinated, tie it to their love lives.

The White House is partnering with a popular dating app, announcing they will offer users access to premium content for those who've received their shots. The effort is part of President Biden's goal of getting 70 percent of U.S. adults at least one vaccine shot by July 4.

And 12-to-15-year olds now account for nearly a quarter of new COVID vaccinations in the past week. That's according to the CDC.

Here to talk about dating apps and the plan for summer camps, as well as so much more, is Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID response.

Andy, great to see you.

Before I get into -- and I do want to go through all of the guidance that will be coming up and we have heard so far, but I just want to touch on your personal story for a second, because you shared that your teenage son has been struggling for the past six months, since testing positive for COVID, that he's one of these so called long- haulers.

And I'm sorry to hear that. Will you just tell us what your family has been going through?


Yes, look, I think, for a lot of young people, as we have started to vaccinate more young people, a lot of them think and a lot of parents think that it's not -- it's not that harmful and they don't feel that much of a threat. And, therefore, while they don't oppose getting vaccinated\, it's not much of a priority.

And I think, when you're young, you don't really realize that this -- this can be quite harmful. You know, I think my son has been surprised at how long it's taken for these symptoms to go away, and that they -- that they're still here.


And, as parents, of course, you don't like to see that. You want to make sure that -- you would like to be able to know the future and explain it to your kids. And when you don't know, it's a problem.

So, I would just encourage all the parents and all kids out there that the smartest thing to do is get vaccinated. You don't want to get COVID-19, if you can avoid it.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, just in terms of his symptoms, you shared that he has shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms. He's only 19. I think that the impression is that it won't happen like that to teenagers.

And do you know his prognosis? Do you know how long this will last?

SLAVITT: We don't know.

I mean, we're not very worried. And I would tell you that he would not like all this attention. I think he understands that there's a lot of people that have had much greater challenges. And I think he feels like he's going to be fine. And we do too.

But the uncertainty is one of the challenges, of course, is, because this is such a new thing, if you could tell your son, hey, it'll be over in a month with some confidence, you would feel better as a parent, and the one thing you just can't do, is because we just don't know how long it's going to last. CAMEROTA: OK, so you're balancing all of this. You're balancing that

on one side, that there are -- I mean, I think that Francis Collins said, something like 10 to 15 percent of young people who are long- haulers, and then trying to come up with the guidance for how to deal with kids and teenagers this summer.

When will we be getting new guidance on summer camps?

SLAVITT: Well, I know the CDC is working on those things now.

I think the great news is that the million -- 1.2 million kids that have gotten vaccinated already this week are on their way to having a carefree summer. And that's great. So, I encourage everybody to get their kids vaccinated. You won't need to think about it.

We already have guidance, which says, if you have been vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask, you don't need to worry about social distancing. That does apply to whatever age you are. So, that's the easiest and best advice I could give anybody.

CAMEROTA: Right, but, I mean, a lot of kids are under 12 who are going to summer camps. And most of summer camp is outdoors.

So why still wear masks?

SLAVITT: Yes, I think that the CDC is going to update that guidance.

It's a very good point, Alisyn, on the under 12 folks, because, as of yet, the vaccine is not yet available just to them. I do think and I do hope it will be in the next few months, not in time for summer. But, in the meantime, the CDC is going to make sure that we have, I believe, commonsense guidelines available for kids, given their update last week that they put out on -- on masks.

CAMEROTA: No, I know. And they said they'd be working diligently and soon.

Do you know when we can expect it? Next week?

SLAVITT: No. I will call them on when we're done with this interview, though, because I know that I saw Dr. Walensky this morning. And I know that she's feeling a lot of pressure to get that out right.

They have thousands of pages. They want to make sure they get it right, but they will get it out soon.

CAMEROTA: OK, as soon as you call her, if you could call me, that would be great.


CAMEROTA: OK, fantastic.

SLAVITT: It's a deal.

CAMEROTA: That's a deal. What about masks in schools, Andy? What about that? What's the guidance for the end of this year and next year?

SLAVITT: Well, through the rest of this year, because kids aren't yet vaccinated or fully vaccinated, the recommendation is still to wear masks.

I think most of the speculation that I have seen suggests that that will not need to be the case next year. That's obviously going to depend on age and everything. But that will -- that will be coming out shortly.

But for the -- but, as far as the summer goes, 12 to 15 get vaccinated. And, in fact, if you're over 12 to 15, get vaccinated, if you haven't.

CAMEROTA: Booster shots.

Dr. Fauci seemed to suggest this week that boosters could be necessary for people about eight months after they got their first vaccinations. And that, for some people, for the people first out of the gate, would be this summer. Should we expect booster shots?

SLAVITT: Well, here's the thing I want -- here's the message I would like to deliver, is that we're going to be prepared for any and every scenario.

So, there is no science yet on whether or not there needs to be booster shots. Yes, the vaccine manufacturers have been talking about it. Yes, when Dr. Fauci is asked about it, he is -- has speculated that it's certainly a possibility. And we are planning for it.

We will make sure that, if that's the case, if that's what the science says, we will have enough vaccines, we will have enough vaccinators, we will have enough vaccine locations for whatever the CDC and the FDA recommend.

But it's too early to know yet.

CAMEROTA: But does the science seem to suggest that protection wears off after about eight months?

SLAVITT: It looks like it wanes, but I don't think we know how long.

And I also think it'd be different by age group. So, I think there's going to be some nuances to this, that I think people are a little ahead of the curve, ahead of the data. It's just not possible to know some things yet, given that we have only had the vaccines in people for some limited periods of time.

CAMEROTA: Dating apps. How many people do you think you can incentivize to get vaccinated with this new program?

SLAVITT: Well, I have it on good authority that young people do not spend all their time thinking about vaccinations. So, given that -- given that crack knowledge that we now have, we are

trying to talk to people about things that matter to them when they matter to them.


So, I think it's been announced today dating apps are going to basically allow you to make sure you can filter to see people who have -- by their vaccination status. You can indicate your vaccination status. And you get some magical features in your app, which I don't know about, because I have been married for 25 years.

But, apparently, there are 50 million people that are on these apps. And I think it's an important part of people's lives. I mean, people -- in all seriousness, people do miss their social lives.

One thing interesting we saw is, there's a piece of data which says that, if you have been vaccinated, you're 14 percent more likely to get a match, which tells me that we finally found the universal serum for attractiveness, which is getting vaccinated.


CAMEROTA: Vaccination.

First of all, I look forward to hearing what that magical content is that you will get access to.

And, Andy, just tell me, what was happening around the conference room table when you all were pitching, hey, let's do dating apps? Who came up with that?

SLAVITT: Fortunately, we have people around the White House that are younger than myself who actually know what people do.

We have people from around the country. And we have companies, great companies, that are stepping up to do things. And we made a little bit light of it this morning, because I was reading it in my press conference. And it was a little bit of fun there.

But I think it's actually pretty amazing to see. And I think we will see over the next few weeks there are other things, other companies and other types of industries that are doing very creative things really to reach people with the lives that they're living.

I mean, part of the message is, get back to life, get back to the things you like to do, get back to socializing, get back to interacting with people by getting vaccinated. And so this is a perfect kind of example.

CAMEROTA: Andy Slavitt, thank you very much for your time. And our best to your family.

SLAVITT: Of course. Thank you.


BLACKWELL: Dating apps, that's a -- that's a novel way to get people.


CAMEROTA: That got your attention.

BLACKWELL: Yes, it certainly did.


BLACKWELL: It certainly did.

CAMEROTA: Got your attention.

BLACKWELL: All right, so moving on.

Senate votes on the January 6 commission could soon come, as soon as this next week. And the GOP is threatening a filibuster fight. So, how do Democrats plan to respond?

I will ask Congressman Eric Swalwell.