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24 States See At Least 10 Percent Uptick in cases over Past week; Texas Republicans Push for State Voting Restrictions; More Victims Identified as Rescue Efforts Shift to Recovery. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 8, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I'm going to watch it, you should too, watching the History of the Sitcom, Sunday night, 9:00 P.M. only right here on CNN.

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

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thank you so much for being with us.

Just minutes from now, President Biden speaks on Afghanistan as nearly all U.S. troops have now been withdrawn after a 20-year war, this as the Taliban continue to take more territory, a lot of questions about how this is really going. We'll bring you his remarks.

But, first, some major COVID development today, 24 states are now seeing cases jump by at least 10 percent as the delta variant spreads and experts now say undervaccinated clusters in the U.S. could become breeding grounds for deadlier variants. This as new research finds vaccines have likely saved them nearly 280,000 American lives so far.

Plus, no spectators allowed, the Olympics banning fans as the Tokyo declares a COVID state of emergency.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us. Elizabeth, we'll talk Olympics in a minute, but, first, what is happening here in the U.S. and these cluster areas of concern, what do we know?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, about half of the U.S. is not fully vaccinated. If those half a country were spread out around the country, that would not be as big of a problem as what we have. If they were spread out, those of us who were vaccinated could kind of protect them, but they're not. They are clustered.

And so the folks at Georgetown University, a team of epidemiologists there who have tracking the vaccine rollout since the beginning, they've identified five significant clusters of counties that are undervaccinated against COVID-19. You can see them there, it's mostly in the southeast, also parts of West Texas and Southern Missouri. This is a problem for them because they will and they are seeing outbreaks, also a problem for us, and I'll get to that in a minute.

Let's look at the sort of the demographics of these clusters. Taken together, it's 15 million people in five clusters, their vaccination rate on average in those clusters is 28 percent, whereas, nationally, it's 48 percent. And it's interesting. There are some cities in these clusters, like Amarillo, Texas, or Montgomery, Alabama, but 92 percent of the counties in these clusters have fewer than 100,000 people, so a relatively small county.

So, obviously, a problem for them, here's why it's a problem for the rest of us. We can't just say, well, that's them. Here's the issue. When you get COVID spreading swiftly person to person to person, the virus has a lot of chance to spread. And as it spread, it gets educated, it learns things, it gets practice and it learns how to make variants that could be resistant to the vaccine.

We've already seen that the delta variant is somewhat -- is a challenge to the vaccine. But, really, the vaccine has come out quite well. The fear is that the next variant will not work out as well. It could be resistant to the vaccine. And it will be because unvaccinated people have given the virus so much practice at becoming adept at resisting our immune systems and the vaccine. Ana?

CABRERA: Well, hopefully, knowledge is power and people who haven't been vaccinated will make the right decision here. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much.

Now, to the Olympics banning spectators at venues in Tokyo, CNN's Selina Wang is there and joins us now with more on this decision. What can you tell us about this and any other changes coming because of the new state of emergency?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Ana. We're just two weeks away from the games and organizers finally announcing that they're not allowing any spectators at Tokyo venues. This is a decision that Japanese public health experts have been pushing for for months. And this is as Tokyo is experiencing another surge in covid-19 cases, reaching the highest level in months with more cases driven by the delta variant and vaccinations here, Ana, still remains low, just 15 percent of the population here fully vaccinated. And this is as the prime minister has just declared yet another state of emergency in Tokyo.

Now, this is not a hard lockdown, but it requires restaurants and bars to close early, bars them from selling alcohol. Now, even though we have those spectators banned here in Tokyo, it's still possible that some spectators will be allowed at venues outside of the Tokyo area, though the majority of venues are here and Tokyo and oversee spectators we have known for months have been banned as well, Ana.

CABRERA: Okay, a new development, a significant development, especially as U.S. athletes get ready to head to the Olympics and those from other countries. We appreciate your reporting. Selina Wang, thank you.

With us now is Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, Board-certified Internal Medicine specialist and viral researcher.


Doctor, good to see you. First your reaction to this Tokyo news, no Olympic spectators in Tokyo, is this the right move?

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, BOARD-CERTIFIED INTERNAL MEDICINE SPECIALIST AND VIRAL RESEARCHER: I think it's absolutely the right move. It's something that I would have wanted for them to announce prior to this. Tokyo is in a huge surge right now with only 15 percent of its people vaccinated. Can you imagine if athletes start getting COVID with this delta variant? It will spread even worse throughout the world. So, I think it's absolutely the correct move.

CABRERA: We've already seen a few athletes test positive. The Stanley Cup Finals was held last night. NBA Finals are happening right now. Are crowds in the U.S. still safe at these types of events?

RODRIGUEZ: You know, what I have my hesitation, to be quite honest, and I'm a big hockey fan, and congratulations to Tampa Bay. But I think that all large venues should actually be asking people for proof of vaccination. This is just a hotbed waiting to explode. As much as I love sports, I think it is a potentially very dangerous situation.

CABRERA: We were talking to Elizabeth Cohen about these clusters and the breeding grounds that are happening in the cluster areas with the delta variant. They're putting, obviously, people of those communities at risk, especially the unvaccinated. But are they putting entire U.S. at risk?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes. The answer is very simple, yes. And this is something that I and other people have been saying. Just because you get COVID and you survive it, that doesn't mean that everything is okay. You have become a replication machine for the virus.

The virus is always going to make mistakes. That's what a mutation is. One mutation that is stronger than the rest will eventually become the predominant variant and it will spread. So if you are unvaccinated, yes, you can think, I'm going to survive this, not a problem. You are the problem.

If you're not the solution, if you're not getting vaccinated, you are, without a doubt, going to create variant. And one of those is going to be stronger. And it is all about survival of the fittest and that virus will overtake all the others and it will be more resistant than the prior virus.

CABRERA: So, could this lead to the mutation of an even deadlier variant?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I think that that is exactly what would happen. Listen, a weaker mutation is not going to survive. The alpha mutation, which is a U.K. mutation, was 50 percent stronger than the original virus. The delta mutation, the India mutation was 60 percent than the alpha mutation. Therefore, the delta mutation is 110 percent, twice as strong, twice as, you know, spreadable and twice as deadly. So, yes, a stronger mutation will surface and it will become predominant unless we get vaccinated.

CABRERA: Yes, absolutely. We just learned of a breakthrough case in the Denver area. In fact, it was two cases involving a fully vaccinated couple who both tested positive for COVID, they believe they got it from a music festival held in a town where the delta variant is spreading rapidly on the other side of the state, Mesa County.

Now, there has been some debate about whether it's time to start testing vaccinated people just to get a better sense even of how effective vaccines are against the delta variant, because there could be asymptomatic cases out there. What do you think?

RODRIGUEZ: I think that if a patient of mine who has been vaccinated comes in and has complaints of a cold or a flu, I would definitely test them to see if they still have or if they have gotten the variant or any other variant, the delta variant or any other.

I'm hoping that Pfizer and Moderna, who are ongoingly looking at the people that originally vaccines are able soon to give us data and saying, guess what, people that were vaccinated are still getting it to much a smaller percent. And the good news is that if you're vaccinated, you're not going to get seriously ill.

So, answer to your question, yes, if someone how has been vaccinated has symptoms, I personally would check them. That is not what the CDC recommends, but I think it's important to know so that you don't spread it to other people.

CABRERA: Absolutely. Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, it's always good to have you here. I really appreciate your expertise. Thank you.

To Capitol Hill and new details on Democrats' strategy when it comes to carrying out a broad investigation into the January 6 insurrection. Sources tell CNN they are working on a plan to keep this House select committee from turning into a spectacle, and they actually wanted to focus less on Donald Trump.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins us on the Hill now. Lauren, what more are you learning?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the key here that Democrats are really looking for is they don't want this to be an impeachment again of former President Donald Trump.


Remember, they did that. That's not to say that they are not going to look at how individuals who came to the Capitol on January 6 were motivated to be here.

That doesn't mean that they're not going to look at the former president's role. They have key questions that need to be answered. And they are making it very clear. Stephanie Murphy on our air just a couple of hours ago made it very clear that there are some members of Congress who may be called to testify.

But they are trying to strike a very delicate balance to ensure that anyone they have come before their committee, it doesn't devolve into a political firework game that you saw during like the Benghazi select committee. That is one of their key fears.

Whether they can do that is another question entirely. This is going to depend in some part on who McCarthy appoints to this committee. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi making it clear she is trying to make it as bipartisan as possible.

That's why many members and sources we talk to yesterday made it clear to us that, look, that's why she appointed Cheney to this committee. She wanted to make it clear from the outset that she wants this to be as bipartisan as possible. Because, look, everyone who was out here on January 6 was affected by what occurred that day. And in order to ensure that there isn't another security incident up here at the Capitol, which, of course, is an ongoing concern, they need to get to the bottom of what occurred.

So, Democrats hopeful that maybe some Republicans will be willing to look at this with a serious and critical eye. They don't this to devolve into a spectacle. But, again, it's still way too soon to know whether or not they'll be able to be successful in that goal. Ana?

CABRERA: And you will stay on it. I know you're always working it up there. Lauren Fox, thank you.

We're also keeping a close eye on this. Michael Avenatti, the once high-profile lawyer for adult film star, Stormy Daniels, is being sentenced right now. It comes more than a year after he was convicted of attempting to extort Nike out of millions of dollars in a separate case. And he could face up to eight years in prison.

Separately, Avenatti faces two other trials, one for allegedly defrauding clients and a second trial for allegedly cheating Stormy Daniels out of $300,000.

Well, the battle over voting rights in Texas is back in the national spotlight today. Right now, a high-stakes special legislative session is underway just hours after state Republicans unveiled a new bill. What's in it? And how are Texas Democrats reacting? We talk to one.

Plus, a manmade mass casualty event, scientists say the deadly extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest could have happened without climate change. The stunning details just ahead.

And we are just weeks away from the new school year, if can you believe it, and the Chicago's teachers union has a new demand, vaccinate 80 percent of eligible students before October 1st. But what if parents aren't on board with that? We'll talk to the union, ahead.


[13:15:00] CABRERA: Welcome back. We are just a couple of hours into round two of the bare-knuckled legislative fight over voting rights in Texas, legislation spurred by President Trump's big lie that the 2020 election was stolen through widespread fraud. It wasn't.

Texas House Republicans have already come out with their new proposal, which includes among many other things, banning drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, which proved popular in the state's largest county during the last election.

Now, it was just five weeks ago Texas House Democrats blocked voting restrictions like these and others by walking off the floor in the waning hours of the regular session, and they argue that the legislation would suppress votes especially among people of color.

State Representative Ron Reynolds was among those Democrats to walk out, derailing the Republicans' push for more restrictive voting laws, and he joins us now. Representative Reynolds, thanks for being with us. What's at stake here?

STATE REP. RON REYNOLDS (D-TX): Ana, our democracy is at stake. Many of my forefathers whose shoulders I stand on literally died for the precious fundamental right to vote. Former Congressman John Lewis and others made good and necessary trouble so that we could break Jim Crow laws that was once barriers that created disenfranchisement for blacks and browns in this country. And it wasn't until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed by former Texan and President Lyndon B. Johnson that ended poll taxes and literacy tests.

And here we are in 2021 re-litigating the precious fundamental right to vote. We call this Jim Crow 2.0. This is voter suppression reimagined and we cannot stand for it and we will fight and do everything we can to make sure that Republicans don't continue to perpetuate the big lie, as you stated in your opening monologue by former President Donald Trump that there was massive voter fraud. There was not.

CABRERA: That's right, there was not. There was nothing that could have changed the results in this election, nothing legitimate, and a lot of that has been explored. A lot of the allegations have been investigated.

Now, you guys were able to stop round one of this. This time, though, the Republicans have come out with a new plan and they've dropped some of the more controversial elements in their last proposals, like the provision that would limit early Sunday voting and one that would give courts more power to overturn election results. So, does that signal to you Republicans may be more willing to negotiate?

REYNOLDS: Not necessarily. The only reason why they dropped is because we killed that bill. If we had not done that, that bill would have been law right now, banning Souls to the Polls and making it easier for them to throw out a legitimate election.

[13:20:04] So, they got caught with their hands down. They said that it was a clerical mistake, that they didn't mean it to put it in the bill, but that is another big lie. It's disingenuous and they're trying to save face.

So this is a solution in search of a problem. Our elections were secure. The problem that we have is a voter participation problem, not a problem with massive voter fraud. Our own secretary of state said it. And, you know, most recently, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, lost his law license because of his frivolous claim. His former attorney general, Barr, said that it was basically all hogwash. So there is no voter fraud.

So, what are we doing other than disenfranchising people? Again, our voters are secure. What we should be doing is moving to modernize and use technology, like online voter registration, same-day registration, those are the things that we need to do, making voting more accessible.

And we need Congress to pass HR-1, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. That is the only way that we're going to save our country from these attempts by Republicans all over this country to disenfranchise communities of color and the disabled.

CABRERA: You call this a solution in search of a problem, but we know Texas has some obvious problems that aren't being addressed. This issue of voting rights is just 1 of 11 agenda items for your special session. That was convened by Governor Abbott, which also includes bail reform, border security, social media censorship, critical race theory --

REYNOLDS: And don't forget critical race theory.

CABRERA: Yes. And I just mentioned that and we have it on our screen many of the other agenda items. But if you take a closer look here, notably absent is anything to address the state's vulnerable power grid, which, as you know, left millions without power and led to people dying during that cold snap in February.

REYNOLDS: You're right, Ana. This is misplaced priorities. This is nothing but partisan red meat to appease a base for the next primary, our governor's potential presidential ambitions. But this is not -- this is putting politics over people. We need to put people over politics.

We should be focused on fixing the grid where you stated hundreds of Texans died, millions were left without power, and we have not fixed our grid. Another thing, we continue to lead the nation in the number of uninsured. We need Medicaid expansion in Texas. We're 1 of 12 states that doesn't have Medicaid expansions. We're losing billions of dollars.

We need to look at the impact of climate change and what that means for this region of our state and our country. And so there are many misplaced priorities, paid sick leave, I could go on, equal pay for equal work, increasing the minimum wage, criminal justice reforms, the rest of the George Floyd bill that we didn't pass, a former Texan.

So, there are certain things that we need to be addressing but all I see is partisan red meat to appease the far-right of the Republican base, not ordinary Texans and kitchen table issues that impact most of us. That is misplaced priorities and that's failed leadership.

CABRERA: Texas House Member Ron Reynolds, thanks so much for spending time with us.

REYNOLDS: Thank you.

CABRERA: A painful and emotional shift in Surfside as the mission pivots to recovery, the death toll rising again. We're there live.

And moments from now, President Biden speaks on Afghanistan, as U.S. troops withdraw and the Taliban march toward a takeover. A lot of questions about this, how it's really going and what the impact will be on the Afghan people, the army and translators. We're on it.



CABRERA: Gary Cohen, 58 years old, he is the latest victim to be identified from the Champlain Towers collapse as search efforts take the painful turn from rescue to recovery.

Jonathan Epstein lost both his parents, David, 58 and Bonnie, 56. Jonathan says his parents touched so many lives in so many beautiful ways.

And two young sisters, just 11 and 4 years old, they were found together, now being buried together, Lucia and Emma Guara sharing one casket. Their parents also among the now 60 people confirmed to have died.

And there is anguish among search crews who have spent two weeks now working tirelessly in the rubble searching for any survivors. They continue to sift through debris with as many as 80 people still missing and now presumed dead.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live on the scene for us again in Surfside. And, Rosa, what are officials telling you about where this recovery stands right now?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Ana, they're very clear that even though the terms change, the work doesn't change.