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COVID Cases Rise; Selection for House Select Committee; Airports Expecting Busy Days; Gas Prices Surge This Holiday Weekend; Branson Beats Bezos to Space. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired July 2, 2021 - 09:30   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: If you look at the country as a whole, as you mentioned, cases up a bit now about 10 percent over the last couple of weeks. But if you go back to January, down 95 percent since then. So is this more of a blip on the radar or is this the beginning of something that's, you know, more concerning?

And then as you -- as you rightly asked, do we see the corresponding increase in hospitalizations and deaths? We don't know yet. The vaccines are really protective. So, you know, I think we may -- if we see a slight increase, that wouldn't be surprising. But do we see a corresponding increase like we saw before. Hopefully not.

Let me show you something important, Jim. This has to do with looking at the country as a whole. In Florida, for example, if you look at areas -- counties where you have lots of unvaccinated people, that is where you are seeing more of the delta variant start to spread. That's the red line. The black line is where you have a higher vaccination rate. So bottom line, if you are unvaccinated, living among primarily unvaccinated, that's the biggest concern. No surprise. If you're vaccinated among vaccinated, that's the best scenario.


GUPTA: It's that middle ground, I think, that that -- what we're really talking about. A thousand counties right now, Jim, have vaccination rates lower than 30 percent.

SCIUTTO: Yes, goodness. The vaccines work. There's so much data.

All right, so we have a holiday weekend. Many people are traveling. If you've been in an airport recently or been on the roads, you see it. Tell us what advice you would offer to people watching right now who plan to meet family and friends this weekend. How should they approach it?

GUPTA: Well, the way that I think you need to approach this, first of all, remember that if you're vaccinated, that's a really -- it's a really good thing. I mean there's so much data now as -- as, again, as you mentioned, about just how effective these vaccines are.

Jim, when you give something to hundreds of millions, billions of people around the planet, it ends up being one of the most studied therapeutics out there. So we know, for example, real world data, that the vaccines are really protective against the alpha variant, which was the U.K., and the delta variant. I keep repeating that because I hope people heed this, that they are safe and they are really effective.

But in terms of this weekend and just going forward, the way I would think about it is almost think about it like the weather in a sense. You want to like look at the conditions around you. What are the factors to consider? Are you vaccinated? But also, what is the vaccination rate in your community? And what is the transmission rate in your community? Almost like you're looking at the weather.

So let me show you a map of what the weather looks like right now in the country with regard to viral transmission. So, for example, where you are in New York, you've got, you know, lots of blue in those areas, lower transmission rates. And you have higher vaccination rates, 54 percent roughly fully vaccinated.

Where I am, in Georgia, it's closer to 36 percent vaccination rates and moderate, some places even higher viral transmission. So, for me, if I'm outside, I'm really not that worried. But if I'm going inside into an area where it's a big public area where there's a lot of people around that I don't know their vaccination status, I carry a mask with me and I might put it on.

I'm pretty protected because I'm vaccinated. I'm at low risk of a breakthrough infection. But, Jim, at some point it's just math, right? As you are surrounded by more and more of the virus, even though my risk is low, it goes up a little bit. So that's the precautionary sort of principle.

I don't think vaccinated people really need to wear masks for the most part, but check the weather outside just like I showed you.

SCIUTTO: It's a great way to illustrate and it's amazing how much that map overlaps with the political map of this country given the politics of this.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

GUPTA: You got it. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is facing blowback from members of his own party who do not want to serve on the House panel investigating the January 6th attack. What Republicans other than Liz Cheney, might the minority leader appoint?



SCIUTTO: The next step is to seek and find the truth. Those were the words from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she announced her appointments to the select committee that will investigate the January 6th violent attack on the Capitol.

I'm joined now by CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Dean and Rachael Bade, she's co-author of the "Politico Playbook."

So, Jessica, McCarthy gets to appoint five or suggest five appointments, right, because Pelosi does have veto power over them. Do we know who he's thinking of and do we know if Republicans actually want to get tapped for this job?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, so that's the big question, right, what House Republicans want to get tapped for this job? Our reporting indicates there's not much interest at all from a host of Republicans across the spectrum at this point. Only Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene have openly jockeyed for this position.

And we also know that the House minority leader is still mulling over whether he's going to appoint anyone at all and, if so, who that might be. As you mention, Jim, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, does get veto power over his five appointments. So that remains to be seen.

He said yesterday when he's ready to make an announcement, he will. But privately we know that he has told House GOP members that if they accept a Pelosi offer to serve on the committee, that he will strip them of their committee assignments. That's exactly what Congresswoman Liz Cheney did yesterday when she accepted Nancy Pelosi's offer to serve on that House committee, on the House Select Committee.

But Cheney's telling reporters, Jim, that it is her oath to the Constitution that she is following here, that she has not been told she'll be stripped of any committee assignments.

So as it stands now, we wait on hear from Leader McCarthy on who that might be.

SCIUTTO: We should note that the stripping of committee assignments is exactly the same penalty that Republicans had for former Representative Steve King for publicly defending white supremacy. I mean it's remarkable equivalency.

Jessica Dean, thanks very much.


Rachael Bade, with "Politico," is with us now.

I wonder, Rachael, big picture, who's winning the politics of this, right, because it's become entirely political. There was a bipartisan plan negotiated by Republicans and Democrats. Kevin McCarthy decided to lobby against that and it -- and it failed. So now -- now he doesn't have equal representation, by the way, does not have a time limit on this, right, because the bipartisan plan had a -- had a -- sort of a sell by date by the end of this year. This could go on longer. Who's winning the politics? RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I think Republicans

know that this is tough for them. That's why they didn't want this bipartisan commission in the first place. They were trying to pivot away from January 6th and talk about Biden. Any time they're talking about January 6th and Trump and his, you know, false claims of the election being stolen, they know they're losing. They need to be talking about Biden to flip the House. And so, in that regard, this is not an issue that they want to be discussing.

Just to go back to your question just a few minutes ago about what will McCarthy do. You know, it's interesting, if you go back to the first impeachment, there was a real strategy that McCarthy sort of, you know, pushed forward with.

And I won't be surprised if we see him do it again this time. He knows that on this issue it's tough for Republicans. And the only way they can potentially convince independent voters to their side on this is to try to make Democrats look partisan and make themselves look like the reasonable ones.

And what he did last time around with the previous impeachment was he specifically kept moderate Republicans on the panel because he thought, you know, moderate Republicans, centrist Republicans, have sort of a credibility with, you know, voters in the middle and he wanted them on the committee that was investigating the Ukraine matter, even though a lot of conservatives wanted to take them off and put someone like Matt Gaetz on that committee.

So it will be interesting to watch because right now we have people like Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene who want these appointments. But if he puts them on this committee, then he's not doing himself any favors in terms of trying to undercut the findings. So I wouldn't be surprised if we see McCarthy do what he did last time and try to pick some people who are loyal to him, but also have a little bit of credibility with people in middle America.

SCIUTTO: Well, and the key, right, is that if he were to pick a Gaetz or a Marjorie Taylor Greene, Nancy Pelosi has veto power, right? I mean so who do -- what Republicans does Nancy Pelosi want to see on this committee or what kind of Republican?

BADE: It's a really good and interesting point. I will say the veto power thing, you -- I -- again, I wouldn't be surprised. Perhaps McCarthy wants her to use that, so maybe he does try to appoint someone she would veto first and then go for these more moderate members that he can control, or at least try to control, because, you know, what that's going to do is if Pelosi ends up vetoing a number of Republicans that he picks to this committee, then Republicans are going to have a winning point right out of the gate.

I mean, if you think about this, you know, with the previous select committees we've seen, even with Benghazi when they were investigating, you know, the Obama administration, you never saw Republican leadership veto Democratic members. And so I think that's going to be very controversial if Pelosi ends up doing that, even though she said she was considering it. SCIUTTO: Right. Well, appears to all be about political point scoring

rather than the investigation.

BADE: Always.

SCIUTTO: Rachael Bade, thanks very much.

BADE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, we are already seeing major lines, record numbers at airports across the country as we head into the holiday weekend. It is busy out there. We're going to have much more on what it all looks like, next.



SCIUTTO: Well, the 4th of July holiday is already looking to be one of the busiest days for U.S. airports in 16 months, back before the pandemic. Yesterday, more than 2.1 million travelers passed through airport security, just shy of the pandemic-era record. And TSA says today should bring even bigger crowds.

CNN's Pete Muntean, he is live at Reagan National -- Reagan -- Washington National Airport this morning.

You know, listen, I was flying last weekend, Pete. It's a zoo, right? And we're expecting it to be even busier this weekend?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It's so true, Jim. And, you know, the TSA is saying that places like Nashville and Myrtle Beach are already seeing numbers higher than back on the same day in 2019 pre-pandemic. We will see if today sets a nationwide pandemic era air travel record.

You know, it's likely the numbers will only go up from there. United Airlines anticipates Monday will be its busiest day in 16 months. But with so many people coming back to air travel, this whole experience is not without its snags.


MUNTEAN (voice over): Long lines and high stress are back at airports across the country with passengers packing into fewer planes, staffed by fewer workers.

Southwest Airlines is now offering flight attendants double pay to work extra July 4th trips, telling them in a company memo, if you are healthy and it is safe to do so, please help.

It is the latest move by airlines to avoid a ripple effect of delays and cancellations as they struggle to keep up with pent-up demand for travel.

SCOTT KIRBY, CEO, UNITED AIRLINES: Leisure demand is more than 100 percent recovered. It indicates the huge desire for people to get back to living life.

MUNTEAN: Data from Flight Aware shows, in June, Southwest Airlines delayed or cancelled the most flights of any U.S. carrier, followed by American Airlines. To stem off even more cancellations, American is preemptively trimming 1 percent of flights from its schedule through mid-July, citing bad weather and staffing shortages. Consumer advocates say airlines should have been prepared for this travel surge, especially after receiving more than $50 billion in aid from the federal government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to have a national discussion about how the airlines are using taxpayer dollars and yet they're still not serving us and they're still inconveniencing us.


MUNTEAN: Passengers are taking out their frustrations onboard flights and facing thousands in federal fines. The FAA now says it has received more than 3,000 reports of unruly passengers since the start of this year. More than 2,000 over the federal transportation mask mandate.

Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants says flight crews are facing a harsh, new reality.

SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: Now the public is coming back and getting out and treating flight attendants as punching bags. And they're doing that verbally and physically.


MUNTEAN: To deal with this unruly passenger issue, the FAA just released a new video of kids telling those acting out on planes to act more like adults.


SCIUTTO: Sometimes they should. Sometimes we should learn from the kids.

Pete Muntean, thanks very much.

From skies to the roads, millions are expected to drive somewhere this holiday weekend. According to AAA, drivers will see the highest gas prices in seven years.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is live in Chicago.

Adrienne, you're near a gas station right now. What are you seeing? What are drivers telling you?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you, Jim. We're seeing folks who fill up at this station in Chicago are going to pay a little bit higher than the national average to fill up here. Get ready for it. It's going to cost you about $4 a gallon. These are prices we haven't seen, as you mentioned, in seven years. It's a record this holiday. And not only this holiday, the travel for this holiday also beats the record we saw in 2019, that is according to AAA.

AAA has some estimates that I want to share with you. For example, this holiday, AAA says about 91 percent of holiday travel will be by car and they're also estimating more than 43 million people will drive to their destination. So if you're planning to hit the roadway, pack some patience because you won't be alone.

But, hey, people are ready to have fun. We've been inside living in the life of the pandemic, people are trying to get out, reconnect and see their friends and family. But filling up on fun for some will be a pricey predicament. And because so many people are on the roadways, some folks are already here in Chicago, they've reached their destination, they don't want to deal with all of the traffic that's expected today and tomorrow, so they left early. Smart thinkers.


SCIUTTO: Yes, that is the smart way to go about it.

Adrienne Broaddus, in Chicago, thanks very much.

A quick programming note for the weekend. Be sure to join my colleagues Don Lemon, Dana Bash, Victor Blackwell and Ana Cabrera for a star-studded evening of music and fireworks celebrating Independence Day. The fun begins on July 4th, 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, only on CNN.

Well, a billionaire space race. Richard Branson announcing his plans to beat fellow billionaire and rival Jeff Bezos to space. Branson's company, Virgin Galactic, revealed Thursday that he will attempt to fly in Virgin's rocket powered plane on July 11th. Notably that's nine days before Bezos' planned July 20th launch. I'm sure that's not an accident.

CNN innovation and space correspondent Rachel Crane joins me now.

Is this a little personal one-upmanship here?

RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, from the outside, you know, it could look that way. But I spoke to Branson just, you know, moments ago and he maintains that this is not a race. That Bezos' plans did not impact his decision to join the flight manifest for this upcoming test launch.

But, you know, it is news here because originally Branson was not intended to be on this next test flight. He was going to be on the following test flight. So this is news here that Branson will be beating Jeff Bezos to space in just ten days from now.

I had an opportunity to speak with Branson, asking him about the competitive nature between the two. Listen to what he had to say, Jim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GALACTIC: I would love Jeff to come and see our flight off whenever it takes place. And I would love to go and watch him go on his flight. And I think both of us will wish each other well. And it really doesn't matter whether one of us goes a few days before the other.


CRANE: And, Jim, Branson went on to tell me that the addition to this flight was the result of a successful test flight that the company had just six weeks ago, that it went off without a hitch. Also the FAA gave them an updated license to fly space participants. And their engineers had given them the all-clear for him to get on board.

So he's maintaining that this is not in an effort to beat Bezos to space, Jim.


SCIUTTO: Rachel, how about the businesses themselves. When do we expect both of them to be up and running? Do we have a date yet so that folks out there, well, if they have a lot of money, can buy tickets on these things?

CRANE: Well, enough money is key here --


CRANE: Because a ticket on Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' New Shepherd spacecraft, it just went for $28 million. And a seat on Virgin Galactic, over 600 of them have been sold. They went for about $200,000 to $250,000. And that's a cost that the company has said will likely go up actually from that price tag. So these trips to space are pretty pricey.


CRANE: But Virgin Galactic and Branson saying that those commercial operations will begin early of next year, Jim. So they're still in the test flight phase. But Branson will be on this next flight.

SCIUTTO: Yes, pricey indeed, but amazing to think private space travel coming.

Rachel Crane, thanks so much.

Well, all U.S. troops have now left Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, marking a major milestone in the withdraw from America's longest war. We're going to take you live to Kabul as only CNN can.