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Protests in Cuba; Texas Democrats Leave State to Block Voting Restrictions; Republicans' Anti-Vaccine Stance; Delta Variant Threat. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 12, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Well, we can hope that.

I just think money, money, money. It's always about the bottom line so often down here on Earth.


CABRERA: Leroy Chiao, great to have you. Thank you so much for being with us.


CABRERA: And thank you for joining me.

See you back here at 1:00 tomorrow. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter at @AnaCabrera.

Alisyn and Victor are next.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us on NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

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

We're starting with the Delta variant. It is spreading quickly. There's an alarming increase in new COVID cases. It's a sign of just how much of the country is heading in the wrong direction. Now, the U.S. is averaging more than 19,000 new cases over the last seven days.

That's a 47 percent increase from the week before. And a CNN medical analyst says a third of those cases are coming from five hot spots, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and Nevada.

CAMEROTA: The people most at risk obviously are the unvaccinated. According to the CDC, unvaccinated Americans made up more than 99 percent of U.S. COVID deaths in June.

So, later today, drugmaker Pfizer will brief government officials on why they think it's time for a vaccine booster shots. Now, last week, Pfizer said it was already seeing waning immunity in people who received its vaccine more than six months ago. But the FDA and the CDC disagree. They say there's no evidence that boosters are needed yet.

BLACKWELL: Now, CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here with more now.

Elizabeth, this big debate now about whether we will need boosters and when we will need them, let's start with the Pfizer perspective.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The Pfizer perspective is that they say that they see immunity waning to two shots of their vaccine for some of the folks who've been vaccinated, that after about six months they see it wane.

Now, I think in the meeting that Pfizer is going to have with Anthony Fauci and Rochelle Walensky and others this evening, they will have two things to explain. One, why do they think that? There's lots of evidence showing that it's -- the immunity is not waning.

Why do they think this? They have not pointed to any good hard data yet. The other thing they will have to explain, Pfizer kind of isn't reading the room. One-third of Americans do not want to get vaccinated, . They have not gotten vaccinated, and the public health system is trying to convince them to get vaccinated.

The way to do that is not to tell them get vaccinated, oh, and it's going to wane really quickly, by the way. That's not the way to do it. That is the exact opposite of the messaging that American public health officials are trying to do right now. And Pfizer has really kind of hurt the effort.

And so let's take a look at what the CDC and the FDA says you should do, because I think everyone wants a bottom line here. And this is it. This is CDC and FDA coming together, which hardly ever happens, saying: "Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time. Americans who've been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time."

Two caveats there. Might we need one later? Sure. It's possible. Another thing is that people who are immune-compromised -- and you would know if you are. You're an organ transplant recipient, for example. You might benefit from a third shot. You should talk to your doctor. But that is a very small number of people in the United States.

CAMEROTA: So, Elizabeth, tell us about this new survey that the Census Bureau did that compares unvaccinated rates and Americans with their household incomes.

COHEN: Right.

I think there's been a lot of effort to figure out, all right, one out of three Americans has chosen not to get vaccinated. What do we know about them, so that we can try public health messaging that will get through to them?

And so the U.S. Census Bureau decided to look at vaccine data and sort of compare it with household income data. And this is what they found. It's quite interesting. So the median U.S. household income, according to census data, is almost $66,000 a year.

But if you look at unvaccinated people, more than half of them have household income that is way less, only $50,000. That lets us know that lower-income people are sort of -- have more of a tendency to say no to this vaccine.

Now, this is also interesting. If you look at people making under $50,000 who don't want to get vaccinated, 23 percent of them say they will at some point, definitely or probably get a vaccine. It's the richer folks, those making over $150,000, if they're not vaccinated, only 13 percent of them definitely or probably will get a vaccine.

So there actually seems to be more kind of bendability here for the folks who are at a lower income. And the reasons they don't want to get vaccinated, we have heard it before, they're afraid that there's some horrible side effect that doesn't actually exist, and sometimes they also just don't trust the government -- Victor, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.

Let's stay there with the vaccinations and go to Arkansas. It has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. And it may come as no surprise that the state is seeing another surge of new COVID cases and hospitalizations.


CNN's Polo Sandoval joins us now from Little Rock, Arkansas.

So, let's start here with why the state is lagging so far behind in vaccinations.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, only about a month ago, this state was doing pretty well. The governor had actually said that they were winning the battle in terms of trying to contain the virus and to increase those vaccination numbers.

But then, just in the last few weeks, a couple of factors have really kicked in. One of them, of course, is that Delta variant that makes up a many of the cases here in Arkansas, but also vaccination numbers that seem to have stalled at about 35 percent. So far, only about a third of Arkansas' population is vaccinated.

So, to answer your other question, the government officials here, at least at the state level, are certainly trying to explore all options here. They are recognizing just recently that incentives like the lotto tickets, like free fishing and hunting license, only got them so far.

So the Republican governor here is essentially going back to the basics and rolling out the series of town halls, these so-called COVID conversations that he plans to participate in, in the coming days. So I want to hear directly from Governor Asa Hutchinson when it comes

to what he wants to do in terms of trying to reassure the public that these vaccinations are safe, especially to some of his fellow Republicans.


GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): There shouldn't be a partisan divide, first of all, but clearly a conservative is more hesitant about government authority. That's just the nature of it.

And so I think, in Southern states and some rural states, you have that more conservative approach, skepticism about government, and we just have to answer it just like we have all through history, that you overcome skepticism and mistrust by truth.


SANDOVAL: And so the question, Alisyn, how does he break that truth through this wall of get skepticism, which is definitely not easy?

Well, the answer, obviously, those town halls, also by rolling out a public service announcement, the Department of Health here actually sharing the story of some former skeptics and posting that online for other folks to consume.

And then, at the end of the day, the statistics. I want to share one that we actually learned while we here over the weekend shows that one of the hospital systems here, 95 percent of their severe COVID cases are those who are not vaccinated.

So, ultimately, what you have here is the governors going out and telling -- not necessarily telling people to get vaccinated, but telling them this is why they should get vaccinated. And when you consider that statistic, Alisyn, well, that is clearly the answer.

CAMEROTA: Still, I mean, Governor Hutchinson has his work cut out for him.

Polo Sandoval, thank you very much for that reporting.

So, this weekend, the conservatives held their big political conference in Dallas, and they proudly flew their anti-vaccine flag, so much so, they almost sounded pro-COVID.


ALEX BERENSON, CONSERVATIVE AUTHOR: Because clearly, they were hoping, the government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated.

And it isn't happening, right?


BERENSON: There's a -- younger people... REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): We're here to tell government, we don't want your benefits, we don't want your welfare. Don't come knocking on my door with your Fauci ouchy. You leave us the hell alone.

REP. MADISON CAWTHORN (R-NC): Now they're starting to talk about going door to door to be able to take vaccines to the people.

To think about the mechanisms they would have to build to be able to actually execute that massive of a thing, and then think about what those mechanisms could be used for. They could then go door to door and take your guns. They could then go door to door to take your Bible.

GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): We have got Republican governors across this country pretending they didn't shut down their states, that they didn't close their beaches, that they didn't mandate masks, that they didn't issue shelter in places.

Now, I'm not picking fights with Republican governors. All I'm saying is that we need leaders with grit.


BLACKWELL: All right, joining us is now CNN political commentator Scott Jennings. He's also a former special assistant to President George W. Bush. Also with us, CNN national political reporter Maeve Reston.

Maeve, let me start with you.

I can't imagine this is good for the party. You have got sitting governors, members of Congress now sounding, as Alisyn said, as if they're pro-COVID. Don't come to my door with your Fauci ouchy. This is the party?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, we heard just a lot of that all weekend when I was at CPAC in Texas, this message over and over again that government has somehow moved into the role of Big Brother, and making that sound threatening to people, as opposed to pushing a message that more people should get vaccinated.

And it was really striking over and over again. And what we saw there at the end is Governor Kristi Noem, who obviously is a potential 2024 contender, trying to find her lane in the potential field of candidates by talking up how hands-off her approach was to COVID in South Dakota, mocking mask mandates and saying that other Republican governors, her Republican colleagues, were going to have to answer for the mandates that they put in place to keep people from dying, which was just a really stunning message to me, but certainly one that she felt was going to resonate with that audience there.


And when she came into the room, she got a standing ovation. And her message was very well received across the board. So, I mean, I think that's where the core activists of the party are right now. BLACKWELL: Yes.


Scott, I want to just play that mind-blowing -- another mind-blowing moment -- we touched on it a minute ago -- from CPAC. So not only is the message stunning, as Maeve said. The response was mind-blowing. Here are people cheering for low vaccination rates?


BERENSON: Because clearly, they were hoping, the government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated.

And it isn't happening, right?


BERENSON: There's a -- younger people...


CAMEROTA: Scott, Scott, they are literally cheering for their own extinction. Yay, we can get gravely ill.

What is that?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there's a conflation of two issues here.

One, the idea that we're being suckered into take a taking a vaccine, I mean, that's an asinine comment. I mean, the vaccine is available, and anyone who wants it can get it. I chose to be vaccinated myself, and I think people should do that.

So the idea -- to me to promote the idea that we have been suckered into it, I think, is crazy. The other idea that was discussed this weekend was about the idea that the government would force you to do it or go door to door, which I think is a separate issue.

And Republicans are naturally sort of resistant to the idea that government would mandate you do anything, even take a vaccine. So, to me, it's two separate items. I think the government mandate on taking it as one. But the idea that Americans are suckered into something, I mean, I would just remind my fellow Republicans it was Donald Trump and his administration that pioneered Operation Warp Speed that led to the development of the vaccine as quickly as they did.

So it's not like this is some sort of deep state or Democratic coup here to get a vaccine to the market. People needed it, they wanted it, and we have it, and now anybody who wants it can get it. And again, as I said, my personal choice is to get it. And I think Republicans should get it.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And just to point out to people who are watching or listening, there

is no government mandate to get it. So, while we hear from a congressman who says, if they come to your door for the information about the vaccine, they could come for your guns, they could come for your Bibles, that is just out of hand, I mean, just ridiculous to hear that from him.

Let me go to a broader question here. And I want to stick with you, Scott. Is this weekend good for your party anymore? I mean, I watched. I went back in -- it tells you what my weekend was -- watched some old Reagan speeches from CPAC about 30 years ago, and you could tell what the party was about, legislatively and politically.

Now you have got a former president lying. Got the Proud Boys with congressmen standing up and saying what we heard. Is this good for Republicans?

JENNINGS: I'm not sure it has a material impact on the future of the party from an electoral perspective.

I mean, I think it's a place where prospective presidential candidates roll out messages, test messages. Obviously, what the activists in that room want to hear is different than what you would run probably in a general election campaign in 2024. So I don't know that it has a material impact on our ability to win back the White House.

I do think this. If we're going to run a campaign in 2024 based on the idea that the vaccine, we were suckered into it, which, by the way, was I think Donald Trump's biggest triumph, development of the vaccine, or if we're going to run a 2024 campaign based on relitigating the 2020 election, which was also discussed, we are highly unlikely to win back sort of those former suburban Republican leaners that went towards Biden in the last election.

I think we have a great chance to win the next two cycles. But we have to get back the entire coalition. And some of what I heard this weekend wouldn't be germane to meeting that obligation or goal.


CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead quickly.

RESTON: Yes, I was just going to say, not only the election integrity message was what dominated the entire weekend, like panel after panel after panel.

And so, to Scott's point, if the Republican Party is trying to shape and craft an agenda going forward, the entire discussion right now is really about litigating the 2020 election. And President Trump capped that off with his speech at the end of the day.

But, also, the many people that I have talked to there and also Republican voters in Iowa, they are not looking to move on from President Trump at this point. There was very little interest in those other prospective Republican candidates that Scott was talking about at this gathering. [14:15:07]

And person after person would just tell you that they want to see Trump run again. And so I just don't think that he's going anywhere as much, as Democrats would like him to, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: And, Maeve, also, I just want to hit this note of how he described, how former President Trump described what he saw on January 6, with the attack on the Capitol and the lawmakers and the police there.

What he describes -- he uses the term love. What he describes as love shows, I think, a deeply twisted perspective on love. Here he is.



You had over a million people there. They were there for one reason, the rigged election. They felt the election was rigged. That's why they were there. And they were peaceful people. These were great people.


CAMEROTA: And just to remind people, let's show what President Trump more than once referred to as love. Here's his view of a loving crowd, Maeve.


And his alternative reality that he has presented to this audience is one that a lot of Republicans have just accepted at this point. And that was the other thing that was really clear throughout CPAC this weekend.

So, all of history is being rewritten now. And it doesn't feel as though there are a lot of people standing up in the party saying, wait a second, that's not what happened, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Maeve Reston, Scott Jennings, thank you both for the perspective. Great to talk to you.

RESTON: Thank you.

JENNINGS: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, so let's go to Texas now, where Texas Democrats have a plan to protest Republicans' proposed voting restrictions.

This time, they are leaving the state. Find out where they're headed.

CAMEROTA: And something not seen in decades, thousands of Cubans taking to the streets in protest. We're live in Havana next.



BLACKWELL: There is breaking news out of Texas. State House Democrats are planning to leave the state today.

CAMEROTA: These Democratic lawmakers are trying to stop a controversial voting law, while Texas Republicans are trying to push through new restrictions in this special legislative session that was called by the governor.

CNN's Jessica Dean is on Capitol Hill with the details.

So, Jessica, we remember the Democrats walked out last time to try to stop this -- these voting restrictions. Now what?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, now it appears, Alisyn and Victor, they're trying to do this again.

And at this point, we don't know if their objectives here are to delay this and just try to make sure it never goes through or are they trying to get changes to what they find objectionable in these proposed laws? We're going to hopefully find out more about that.

But what we do know is that these House Democrats from the state of Texas are leaving the state of Texas, coming here to Washington, D.C., as they attempt to block a quorum and not allow a vote on these voting -- what they believe are bills that are going to make voting much harder in Texas.

This really places Texas at the heart of this debate. Remember, all through the last several months, we have seen various states enacting laws that are making voting harder in their states. And, of course, here on Capitol Hill, Democrats have been unable to do anything with S.1., their bill, their voting rights legislation, zero Republican support for that here in the U.S. Senate.

So it will be interesting to see the Texas Democrats come here to Washington, D.C. Some of the things that they are objecting to that are in some of these new bills are things that make early voting more difficult.

One thing they really were against was a provision that would not allow early voting until 1:00 p.m. on Sundays. That's when Souls to the Polls, when black churches will go vote en masse sometimes and take a lot of their congregation members to the polls.

So it's things like that they're upset about and trying to take a stand on. Of course, as you guys mentioned, Republicans there in Texas really want to see this move forward, the governor calling this about election integrity and calling them back for a special session in part to deal with this.

So the question becomes, Alisyn and Victor, how long can this go on? And, again, what exactly -- how does this play out once they get here to D.C.? We shall see. CAMEROTA: Yes, and what they hope to accomplish in D.C.

DEAN: Right.

CAMEROTA: But we know you will be covering it for us.

Jessica Dean, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Jessica.

So, a few minutes ago, the White House said it is too early to determine if the U.S. policy toward Cuba will change in light of its protests.

They say, though, that the U.S. is looking into how to help the Cuban people directly. Thousands of people marched in the streets on Sunday in a rare demonstration of protests across the country.

CAMEROTA: They say they are fed up with the lack of freedom and the lack of food and medicine and other basic supplies, as COVID-19 cases explode in that country.

Cuba's president blames the protests and the economic hardship on the U.S. government and the sanctions still in place from the Trump era.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is in Havana.

So, Patrick, describe what you're seeing today.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very difficult to get a picture today, unlike yesterday, where social media was just ablaze with images not only here in Havana, but in small towns far across this island of people taking to the streets and protesting in a way that Cubans never had before.

It's beyond rare. It really is unprecedented in the history of the revolution. And, today, because there is an Internet blackout, it appears as the government's done before, that the Internet has been taken down in large parts of this island. So we're having trouble connecting.


And Cubans, we are hearing, the ones that we were able to get through to, they're having a lot of trouble posting images online. So we don't know if, as the government says, things are peaceful today, or if there are people trying to protest, as they did yesterday.

But for months now, there has been a sense of increasing tension, because of the pandemic, because of sanctions, because of frustrations with their own government. And many of us have wondered, how long can people put up with hours every day without electricity, with going to the store waiting in line for the better part of a morning into late afternoon, to find out that everything has been sold in government-run supermarkets, and just life seemingly getting worse and worse? And the government today, while the president came out and spoke directly to people on television here, there was no sense or no plan of how things will get better. This island remains very much cut off during the pandemic. And people have made it very clear that they are frustrated.

And for the first time in many people's lives, they are not afraid to go out and speak about it and protest and make their frustration heard.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Patrick, you told us a bit about how COVID has affected the economy there and the people.

Do we know about the sanctions that were placed during the Trump administration, not lifted yet during the Biden administration, why they're still in place?

OPPMANN: They're the toughest sanctions in decades, really. And I think the hardest one for many people is the remittances of billions of dollars. Billions, with a B, of dollars that float in every year from the U.S., from South Florida, have been cut off. It's just impossible now, to get hard currency, which is what people need to survive on.

The black market, it's all U.S. dollars or euros. And if people can't receive that money from their families, they can't eat. And the Biden administration has said that they are studying if they should lift any of these sanctions. Some people speculate that they simply don't want to anger the Cuban American community in Florida that certainly did not vote as the Biden administration hoped to -- hoped they would the last election.

But as of today, the Biden policy is exactly the same as the Trump policy. There have been no changes to these very punishing sanctions, that not only hurt the government, but hurt Cuban people.

CAMEROTA: Patrick Oppmann, thank you for explaining all of that for us from Havana.

BLACKWELL: All right, so, right now, President Biden is holding a meeting to deal with the surge of gun violence and crime across this country. We will have details of his proposals and plans.

That's coming up next.