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Millions Under Watches, Warnings as Elsa Begins Battering South Florida. CDC Says, New Cases Almost Three Times Higher in States with Low Vaccinated Rates; Officials Say, Capitol Police Need Radical Restructure amid August Threat of Pro-Trump Violence. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 6, 2021 - 13:00   ET


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Thanks for spending time with us today on Inside Politics. I hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and thanks so much for being with us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Right now, millions in Florida are under watches and warnings as Tropical Storm Elsa batters the state. Near hurricane force winds are now being recorded. And search and rescue teams in Surfside are up against Elsa's outer bands and a huge pile of rubble that remains even though 5 million pounds of debris have been removed. And the death toll is climbing.

We're also following a growing number of COVID cases here in the U.S., the delta variant surging in states with the lower vaccination rates. And a new report out of Israel suggests one of the vaccines may not be as protective against it. We're on top of those headlines.

But, first, Elsa bearing down on Ft. Myers, Florida, and Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is there for us. Derek, how dangerous is this storm?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Ana. I think people taking this for granted, because it's so early in the season, maybe just getting caught off guard. That makes it dangerous, not only the threats of tornadoes and water spouts but the storm surge potential just the sheer geography of the Florida Peninsula and this long duration event because the storm is basically going to be moving parallel to the coastline for the next 12 to 18 hours. So that will maximize the potential threats and impacts for that location.

You know we've got a strengthening storm out there. I've been analyzing a lot of the radar and satellite imagery lately, the water temperatures are very warm, like bath water here in the Gulf of Mexico. And it is just providing that fuel necessary for the storm to develop.

We're starting to notice a closed circulation on the radar indicating to meteorologists that perhaps this storm is overcoming sheer and it is getting the act together as well. In fact, the hurricane hunters are flying into the center of the storm right now to determine just how strong it will be. We'll get a 2:00 P.M. update from them.

But as you mentioned in the intro, we have already seen near hurricane force gusts in Key West, 70 miles per hour. There's storm surge and localized flooding being reported there. But the worst is yet to come along the west coast as hurricane watches are hoisted from St. Petersburg all the way to the Big Ben (ph) with tropical storm and storm surge warnings here, where I'm located in Ft. Myers. Ana?

CABRERA: Okay. Derek Van Dam, we will check back with you. Stay safe. Thank you for your reporting.

Let's get to Rosa Flores now in Surfside with the latest on search efforts there. Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, emotions are raw here. I've talked to both a searcher who became emotional and also family members who are hoping to find their missing loved ones. But I can tell you that this is still a search and rescue effort, 13 days in. The fire chief, though, warning that they have not found signs of life even though a new quadrant of this grid opened up after the partial building that was still standing was demolished over the weekend.

I can tell you that according to the fire chief, they are using every single resource they have very aggressively, the large equipment, the men and women are working 12-hour shifts, so taking breaks only to check their pulse and oxygen levels. They also have teams here from out of state. The Israeli team is still here sifting through the rubble. And they say they're looking for voids. They are still looking for voids and still looking for survivors. Here's what the fire chief had to say. Take a listen.


CHIEF ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DADE FIRE: We're definitely searching. I mean, we're not seeing anything positive. That continues in that sense, the key things we're looking for all throughout in regards to void space, livable spaces. We're not coming across that. So we're actively searching as aggressive as we can to see if we can assist with the families and locate the individuals.


FLORES: I talked to one man who traveled from Uruguay and he says he says that his hope his fading away. He says that he doesn't have hope at this point, points to the sky and says, that's where his sister is, and now, he's asking her to pray for him and his family.

CABRERA: The pain of just not even knowing has got to be really unbearable to have 113 people still unaccounted for, 32 now confirmed dead. Rosa Flores in Surfside, Florida, thank you.

Now to the pandemic and new concerns about less vaccinated areas threatening the nation's recovery. Next hour, President Biden is set to speak from the White House about the federal coronavirus response.

Take a look at this map.


It really shows reality, a tale of two Americas, vaccination rates varying from state to state and even from county to county, the lower the rate, the higher the risk of another surge.

Let's look at what we're learning from the data and Harry Enten is with us now. Harry, why the disparity here? Why are some Americans just not getting vaccinated?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Here is why. Earlier on, it was a question of access. It's no longer a question of access. Take a look at this Kaiser Family Foundation poll that came out last month. Look at this. Among those who have not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, why? Only 10 percent said they were afraid to miss work, don't know where to get it, too far away. The vast majority, 89 percent said other reasons, such as the vaccine is too new or I don't trust the government, basically these conspiracy theories.

And you know, when you look at and compare now who has gotten vaccinated, look at the rates and compare it to early on in the pandemic, I think this is also rather key. Look at this. Now, 67 percent of adults have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. Just 2 percent, though, want it as soon as possible but haven't been able to get it.

That's significantly different from where we were, say, five, six months ago back in late February, when 37 percent of Americans, or 37 percent of adults wanted to vaccine but couldn't get it. Those days are gone. It's not a question about access. It's about convincing folks who haven't gotten the vaccine to actually follow the health guidance and get one.

CABRERA: We know one part of the problems here is misinformation that is out there. So let's be very clear, these vaccines are proven safe, they are proven effective. In fact, you have data that shows just how well the vaccine is working and how age factors into this.

ENTEN: Yes, that's exactly right. Look, older folks are most susceptible to dying from the coronavirus, right? But take a look here. In December of 2020, those aged 65 and older made up 83 percent of the COVID-19 deaths. Now jump ahead to June of 2021. They make up just 65 percent. Again, it's disproportionate but not anywhere near the same proportion as we were earlier on.

Now, the question is, Ana, what happened between December and June that now all of a sudden older Americans make up a lower share of the COVID-19 deaths? Here's what happened. The vaccine campaign happened. Look at this. Among those who are fully vaccinated, 79 percent of those age 69-plus

have been fully vaccinated, just 54 percent of those age 18 to 64, and you see it in the results. Those age 65 and older, more of them are vaccinated and their share of the COVID-19 deaths have dropped. I'm not sure there's a clearer piece of evidence, Ana, that these COVID-19 vaccines save lives.

CABRERA: No doubt about it. Dr. Fauci just said over the weekend that 99.2 percent of the deaths happening -- that happened in June were among unvaccinated people. That speaks volumes.

Harry Enten, you break it down like nobody else. You are so good with the numbers. Thank you. It's good to see you.

ENTEN: Thank you. Nice to see you.

CABRERA: For more on this, let's bring in former CDC acting Director Dr. Richard Besser. And thank you, Doctor, for being with us, as always.

This vaccine, it has been widely available in America for months now, yet we are seeing this surge in cases in some places. We're seeing super-spreader events, some hot zones. Are you surprised?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: You know, I'm not surprised, Ana. The data we just saw shows how incredibly effective the vaccines are. But given that there are a lot of people who aren't vaccinated, in particular younger people, we're going to continue to see spread, especially since the delta strain, which is now on the increase in the United States, spread so much easier.

I do want to push back on one thing. There still are people who are challenged. There are a lot of people with disabilities to who are homebound and some communities haven't done as much as they could to bring vaccines to those individuals. We need to do more in that regard.

CABRERA: Yes. Every person counts, obviously, and so any way you can make it more convenient for folks might be beneficial in boosting the vaccination numbers, I imagine.

COVID infection rates, we know, are almost three times higher in the states with low vaccination rates. And I just want to give our viewers an idea of where those states are. Here are the top five states with the lowest vaccination rates right now. You see Mississippi, the worst, with 29.9 percent of residents fully vaccinated, so not even a third of that population. We also know a lot of states with the higher marks still have counties that are lagging.

As we await President Biden to speak about the response next hour, what do you see as the next step for the federal government in this fight?

BESSER: You know, Ana, I think something that could move this forward in a big way is when FDA makes a ruling and finally approves these vaccines. Right now, they're being given under something called emergency use authorization. And the standards for emergency use are different than they are for full licensure. Two of the companies have brought their vaccines forward for FDA approval.


And some people, I think, who are on the fence, who want to make sure that the FDA has done their due diligence, may come off that fence when these vaccines are approved. And at this point, FDA has given no indication how long they're going to take to make that determination.

CABRERA: We know that oftentimes it takes up to ten months. We know the vaccine companies, both Pfizer and Moderna, that have already applied have asked for sort of an expedited process and that could maybe be six months. So we're waiting anxiously for when that happens.

Let's talk about the delta variant. The Israeli government has just reported there's a decline in Pfizer vaccine efficacy there, especially as the delta variant spreads, and still, they report 93 percent efficacy against severe illness and hospitalizations but it drops to 64 percent efficacy against all infection, including asymptomatic cases, now, 64 compared to 95 percent back in May.

Given this news, do you see -- do you think we'll have more breakthrough cases? And what kind of impact could that have even if people are asymptomatic?

BESSER: Yes. You know, I think the jury is out as to whether we're going to need booster vaccinations for any of these products. But one of the things I think is really important to remember is that the primary reason we vaccinate is to prevent serious infection and deaths. And these vaccines remain very effective against the delta variant for serious infections and deaths.

The question about asymptomatic transmission and transmission to others does become important when there are a lot of people who still aren't vaccinated. Thankfully, the elderly, older people in America are vaccinated at a much higher rate. So, even with the increased number of cases, which I think we're going to see in some places, hopefully, we won't see the same impact in terms of hospitalizations and deaths that we saw last summer when there was a surge. It should look very different from that.

CABRERA: Okay, fingers crossed. Dr. Richard Besser, you just bring a presence that is calming and comforting during these uncertain times. Thank you for being here for us.

BESSER: Thanks so much, Ana.

CABRERA: Still vulnerable. Six months later some U.S. Capitol Police officers are sounding the alarm, saying the department is not ready to stop another insurrection.

Plus, he risked his life to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and now he's facing deportation to where the Taliban are taking over, and he wants revenge. And it's massive, it's luxurious and now it is sinking and leaning fast. Residents of San Francisco's Millennium Tower speak to CNN about a very expensive and nerve-wrecking problem.



CABRERA: At this hour, exactly six months ago, the first barriers had just been breached at the U.S. Capitol, at this hour. It was a point of no return on what became one of the ugliest days for America's democracy.

Fast forward to now, and concerns are growing about fresh pro-Trump violence amid major red flags on Capitol security. The Capitol Police Department has made changes but dozens of current and former officials say it is not enough. And one lawmaker is calling for a, quote, radical restructure.

CNN's Katie Bo Williams is joining us. Katie, what are the specific concerns?

KATIE BO WILLIAMS, CNN REPORTER: Yes. So, security officials have spoken to us say they have seen a rise in recent weeks and months in threats made online toward both the Capitol and members of Congress. And we've certainly seen just in the last few weeks an explicit warning from the DHS and the FBI, warning about potential violence in August related to a conspiracy theory that Trump is going to regain office at that point.

Now, Capitol Police have made a number of changes since January 6th, all sort of directed at ensuring that the department is operating as a more intelligence driven organization, and particularly in the wake of the concerns or the criticism that they sort of -- the senior leaders sort of failed to foresee the January 6th attack even as it was being planned in public online in the lead-up to the riot.

Now, what does that meant in practice? That's meant increased intelligence alerts being pushed out to line officers, that's meant more briefings for senior leaders and decision-makers and, of course, increased protection for members of Congress when they're not in Washington.

CABRERA: So, what challenges do senior leaders who are responding to these threats face?

WILLIAMS: Yes. So, one of the key challenges for senior leaders who have to kind of react to these sort of increased threats is how do you tell what is noise, what is people just sort of blowing off steam on the internet and saying really ugly and awful things and what is people actually planning violence?

So, one senior security official that I spoke to pointed out that, look, they have to be careful to not to assume that just because there's been a rise in the number of threats made online, that that is commensurate to a rise in the actual threat. But from line officers, of course, even though senior leaders believe the chance of them being caught by surprise by a January 6th-style attack is fairly remote, for line officers, this feels like senior leaders not taking the threat seriously enough and it feels like they haven't done enough to prevent another January 6th-style attack. So the results of that has been in part, low morale on the Capitol Police force to the point where they've had 75 officers leave just since January 6th.

CABRERA: Wow. Katie Bo Williams, thank you.

And there's news on a high profile court case related to the insurrection and fiery speeches leading up to it.


A judge says Congressman Eric Swalwell's lawsuit against his Republican colleague, Mo Brooks, will proceed. But the court denied Swalwell's bid for the easy win that he had hoped for based on Brooks' refusal to even acknowledge this lawsuit.

It all concerns this speech Brooks gave right before the attack.


REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.


CABRERA: We're joined now by CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig. His new book is out today, it is called, Hatchet Man, How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department. And I can't wait to talk to you about your book in just a moment.

But, first, let's talk about this case against Congressman Brooks. How do you read this recent ruling and where could this be headed?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Ana. So, the legal concept here is what we call default. And think of it like a forfeit in sports. So, if you've ever taken your kids to a soccer game and the other team doesn't show up for some reason, it happens, your team wins by forfeit. Now, in this case, Eric Swalwell made a motion for default. He said, Judge, brooks hasn't responded to my lawsuit, I should win by default. Then though, on Friday, Brooks finally did respond.

So, all the judge has said just now is that, well, Brooks has responded. So, this is not a default. This is not a forfeit. And now the case will move forward on the merits.

CABRERA: As we just heard, there are worries about more Capitol threats. In your experience as a prosecutor, I wonder, do you think the punishment for some rioters thus far will be a deterrent for future violence? HONIG: So it ought to be. Punishments really do matter. Punishments really do impact people. We're all human. We all react to incentives and disincentives. And one of the legal, proper purposes of sentencing is what we call deterrents. Judges have a job to make sure that they are deterring, basically scaring that defendant and others who may be considering committing crimes in the future.

So, prosecutors need to be really careful but aggressive in the way they charge these cases and judges need to understand that a lot of people are watching what's happening in the sentencings and they need to imposing serious, significant sentences.

CABRERA: Yes. The message that you get from the outcome of some of these cases, obviously, is something we're watching. We didn't see rioters get taken into custody during the Capitol attack. Just from a deterrent standpoint, does that matter?

HONIG: I think it does. I think that sent a bad message. And I think now prosecutors have to sort of clean up that mess. They have to bring the highest applicable charges, I believe, up to and including sedition, which they've not charge that yet. But I think the Justice Department has an obligation to take those charges very seriously.

CABRERA: Now, the Capitol riot was set in motion by President Trump's election, the big lie. And for months, his attorney general, Bill Barr gave that lie legitimacy. But now we know, behind the scenes, Barr thought it was all, quote, B.S. This is what your book is about. You wrote the book on Barr. How much responsibility does he bear?

HONIG: He has absolutely real responsibility for the big lie and for January 6th. The story of Donald Trump's enablers needs to be told here. Bill Barr was one of the most powerful and I think most dangerous of those enablers. He's on a bit of a revisionist history tour right now, trying to remind everybody that very late in the game, he stood up and said there's no evidence of election fraud.

What he's neglecting to mention, and I discuss it in depth in my book, is that, for months leading up to the election, he was one of the leading cheerleaders, really, about election fraud, and he did it from his seat as attorney general, which, to me, was remarkably dangerous and really helped spread this.

And, Ana, I just want to say one other quick thing. This is my first book. And I owe thanks to you and to your viewers an our viewers, because I heard from so many of them over the last two years who were worried, concerned about the abuses they were seeing coming from the Justice Department. That really helped inspire me to write this book. And a lot of their views, we communicated sometimes directly with our viewers, made their way into this book. So I do owe thanks to all of them and to you.

CABRERA: Well, and you are such a wonderful communicator. I know your book is masterful, because it's in your voice. Elie Honig, i want to put the book up again so our viewers can see the cover and can go online now and buy it. Thank you so much. It's Elie's book, Hatchet Man, out today. Good luck and congrats. HONIG: Thanks, Ana. Thank you.

CABRERA: Well, America's exit from Afghanistan was so abrupt, half- eaten snacks like Oreos were left behind and military trucks at the Bagram Air Base. But can Afghan forces take on this sudden responsibility as the Taliban surges?

And he put his life in danger to help the U.S. military and now this former interpreter is fighting to stay in America. In his case, it may hinge on a piece of bread he gave to the Taliban when he was just nine years old.



CABRERA: U.S. Central Command says the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Afghanistan is more than 90 percent complete.


It follows an abrupt departure from Bagram Air Base last week.