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Growing Debate over Local Vaccine Mandates as Delta, Other Variants Spread across U.S.; Western U.S. Wildfires Burn Area Four Times the Size of New York City. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 10:30   ET


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hundreds who have lost their livelihoods with masses damage and millions in lost revenue.


It is a sad day for South Africa. Jim, Poppy?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: David McKenzie right there in the middle of it, thanks so much.

Well, President Biden is now calling on Cuban leaders to listen to their people as food and medicine shortages, energy blackouts and the pandemic drive unprecedented nationwide protests in a country that don't allow this kind of thing.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is in Havana with the latest. Patrick, the former leader, Raul Castro, of course, brother of Fidel, he's now getting involved. What more are we hearing?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN HAVANA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it just goes to the seriousness of the situation and perhaps an attempt to calm some pro-government supporters, that Raul Castro, who is officially retired, was brought back. The state media reported to take place in an emergency meeting about these protests.

Here in Havana, we've not seen widespread protests since Sunday where you did have these really historic images of thousands of people the taking streets, crying liberty, saying that they are just tired of the daily grind of trying to find food and medicines, a situation which the Cuban government blames on United States.

But people here, many people here clearly reached their breaking point. As you said, there are reports of hundreds of people either detained or missing right now. We've seen images of Cuban police rounding people up and CNN journalist as well have seen very forcible arrests. Three people being thrown in the back of cars during some of these protests.

There is an internet blackout in much of Cuba right now, so outside of Havana, it is not clear what is going on. Some reports of some protests have been going on still in the last few days but it does appear for moment the Cuban government has retaken control of the streets and public areas. But, of course, the conditions that have been driving these protests still remain, Jim. No expectation that the economy is going to get better any time soon here.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Patrick Oppmann, live us for us in Cuba, Patrick, we appreciate the reporting very much.

And to Haiti now where CNN has learned several of the men believed to be involved in the assassination of Haiti's president, previously worked as informants for U.S. law enforcement.

Our Matt Rivers is in Port-au-Prince with more. Matt, we're learning at least one of those men actually worked alongside the DEA. And just to be clear, they wouldn't have been DEA employees, they would have been informants who are often flipped to inform DEA officers.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. This is exactly what we're learning. And, really, it is just -- each day that goes by, we're learning more and more incredible detail.

This latest reporting comes from my colleague, Evan Perez, in the U.S., who we reported last night that several of these suspects that have been detained as a result of this assassination here in Haiti have these direct links to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. as informants, including at least one who worked previously as a DEA informant, and that is one that the DEA actually confirmed to CNN in a statement.

And you'll remember that over the last few days during this assassination, someone, and one of these suspects, was outside of the presidential residence saying, DEA operation, stand back, stand back. DEA says they are aware of that fact but emphasized that no one was working or on behalf of the DEA that is somehow involved in this assassination.

We also know that some of these informants may have been working with the FBI. The FBI did not comment on that to CNN. But it seems that every day goes by the links between what happened here in Haiti and the United States just keep growing.

SCIUTTO: So, you now, Matt, have an open dispute as to who is in charge, right? A competing prime minister, who is running Haiti right now?

RIVERS: Well, as of right now, it is the acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph -- excuse me, there are some flies out here -- acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph. However, within just the last few minutes, we're hearing from another prime minister in waiting.

Remember that the prime minister is appointed by the president here in Haiti. Just a few days before he dies, President Jovenel Moise actually appointed another prime minister, Ariel Henry. Now, Henry is asking Joseph to step down at this point, so they're not cooperating, and it really is anybody's guess where it goes from here.

And what happens in Haiti is when there is political arguments, when there is political tension that often spills over into political violence on the streets, we're going to have to see how that plays out over the next few days, Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Well, you and your team, please be careful, Matt. Matt Rivers live in Port-au-Prince, thanks so much.

The Minneapolis Federal Reserve is requiring COVID vaccinations for its staff, as many workplaces now are. Will vaccination mandates become standard for many industries? The president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve will join us, next.



HARLOW: Well, this morning, a growing question for businesses and local leaders across the country, should they mandate COVID vaccinations as delta and other COVID variants are increasingly on the rise, particularly in parts of the country with low vaccination rates. Dr. Fauci tells our colleague, Jake Tapper, he believe that's lives depend on it.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: At the local level, Jake, there should be more mandates. There really should be. We're talking about life and death situation.



HARLOW: Joining me now is Neel Kashkari, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. He made the call to require all 1,100 of his employees to be fully vaccinated when they return to the office next month, with exceptions only for medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs. Neel, good morning, thanks for coming in.

I read the headline a few days ago. Actually, when I was in Minnesota, and I said to the team, let's book him because I want to hear more about this. Because I think it is interesting, you're the first to do this as all of the Federal Reserve presidents. Why did you make this call?

NEEL KASHKARI, PRESIDENT, MINNEAPOLIS FEDERAL RESERVE: Well, we looked at how we're going to run our bank and we need to be able to bring all of our employees back into our facilities in the fall and we need to maintain safety. There is no way to bring 1,100 people back into our facilities and maintain social distancing. So we need people to be vaccinated in order to be safe.

I'm really proud of the fact that as of last week, 82 percent of our staff had voluntary gone and gotten vaccinated, which is great progress. But that still means 18 percent are potentially vulnerable to the delta variant. And so the mandate just made sense for our institution. HARLOW: When I was reading your memo that you wrote to your employees explaining this decision, where you said, look, some of you will be happy with this and some of you are not going to be so happy. You said it is a condition of continuing employment, meaning they can't even stay and work from home if they don't want to get vaccinated. They will lose their job if they don't, is that right?

KASHKARI: That is correct, except for those two -- two exceptions that you mentioned.

HARLOW: Right. Did you wrestle with that and has there been employee pushback?

KASHKARI: We did wrestle it with for a long time. But once we got up to the 80 percent mark, then the overwhelming feedback we were hearing from our staff was that, hey, we don't want to come back if our colleagues are not vaccinated. And so we realize when so many of our staff have voluntarily been vaccinated, we thought it was an employee relations win to go the extra mile and require it for everybody.

And in the last week, we announced it one week ago, we've moved from 82 percent fully vaccinated to 87 percent fully vaccinated just in one week. And so I think, overall, the vast majority of our staff are going to get vaccinated. I think at the end of the day, very few are going to choose to leave, if they choose to leave we'll respect their decision to do that. We think this is the best way to keep everybody safe and do our part for one another so that we can focus on our core work of serving the public.

HARLOW: It makes me think, Neel, as someone would worked in two White Houses before, the data is showing you in a week that the mandate is working but the Biden administration, as you know, is stopping short of pushing further federal mandates for vaccinations. And I wonder if you think that is a mistake, if it would be beneficial to the American public for them to get more behind mandated vaccinations.

KASHKARI: Well, I think, I heard Dr. Fauci's comments a moment ago. I mean, I do think that many of these decisions are probably best left at state levels and local levels and individual institutions. This made sense for our institution and the reason I went public with it is I wanted to let people know what are the factors we looked at as we reached this conclusion. But I think each institution will need to judge for themselves what makes sense for their own employee base.

HARLOW: All right, fair enough. Let's turn to the economy, if we can. Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary, said at this gathering of finance ministers of the group of 20, that she's really concerned about the economic impacts, let alone the health impact of the delta variant. Here she was.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: We are very concerned about the delta variant and other variants that could emerge and threaten recovery. We are a connected global economy.


HARLOW: How -- I mean, every word that Janet Yellen speaks people listen to and they listen to your words very closely as well, Neel, so what is the economic threat of the delta variant?

KASHKARI: Well, I couldn't agree more with Secretary Yellen. If you look around the world, countries that have had a pretty high vaccination rate are still seeing outbreaks largely among those who have not vaccinated. And then if that forces them to retrench a little bit from their reopening, that ends up being a drag on the global economy. And you're seeing some of these the headlines out of Europe as we speak right now.

And so it is a concern. I do think Secretary Yellen is right, we need to do everything we can to help the world get vaccinated for their sake but also for our own sake because it is an inner connected world. And, by the way, if new variants emerge abroad that are even more potent than the delta variant, that could end up coming back to America and that should be concerning to us too.

HARLOW: That is a great point as well because this virus learns and it gets just even more foolproof.

So we just got about an hour ago the highest jump in inflation both on a month-over-month basis and a year-over-year basis that we've seen in 13 years. And I know you have been consistently in this camp of, do not freak out about inflation, it will get better in fall when people go back to work.


But the highest in 13 years is a lot. I mean, you already saw it pressuring markets this morning. Do you maintain that position?

KASHKARI: I do maintain that position. We know that as the economy goes through this first rapid shutdown, you saw prices drop precipitously and then a rapid reopening. There are a lot of adjustments that are going to take time to work through.

A year ago, we couldn't get toilet paper. Now, toilet paper is everywhere in the grocery store. Lumber prices went to skyrocketing levels are coming back down. They're still high but they've come down quite a bit. And so some of this we know is going to work its way out as the economy reopens and businesses adjust.

But we need to pay attention. Pay attention to what is happening to workers, paying attention to what is happening to wages, not just the short-term moves but over the long-term. Our eyes are open, we're on the case. But right now, most of the evidence that I see suggested this will be transitory and short-lived.

HARLOW: We hope you're right. We hope the White House is right and everyone now knows that word transitory very well after all of this talk about inflation. Neel Kashkari, thank you for coming on the show. It is good to have you.

KASHKARI: Thank you for having me.


SCIUTTO: Important conversation right now. Well, also, record- breaking, dangerously high temperatures as well as raging wildfires out west. Is there any relief in sight or is this a new normal with climate change?



SCIUTTO: As extreme heat and drought just bake the Western United States, the National Interagency Fire Center says that so far this year, wildfires across 12 states have burned more than 850,000 acres. That's an area four times the size of New York City.

HARLOW: Unbelievable. As researchers say, unless something is done soon, more people will suffer and die as climate change-driven heat continues to accelerate.

Let's go to Bill Weir who is our Chief Climate Correspondent. And you've been sounding the alarm for so many years, so we shouldn't be surprised. But this is playing out in front of our eyes and it is life or death now.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It really is and it is happening, I think, a lot faster than even sort of the most alarmist, if you want to even use that word, if it is even applicable anymore. Because if nothing is alarming, it is this, it's what you're seeing right now.

Last year, for perspective, 4.2 million acres burned in California. That was a record, by far. That is like 6,500 square miles. So far this year, three times as much land has burned in the same rate.

So it is all hands on deck to try to control this, especially where there is population obviously. This is the result of three sort of things. It is years, generations of fire suppression. The indigenous folks used to work with fire. We stopped doing that when the pioneers showed up. So, as a result, there is all this fuel that's made more of a fuel by climate change, by those rising temperatures, and then, of course, urban sprawl, as we develop into the spaces now.

And in the Klamath bootleg fire there, one commander said, this behavior is among the most extreme you can find and our veteran firefighters are seeing conditions they've never seen before. They're having to change tactics as to whether or not they fight fires uphill or downhill because these are so intense. They're creating their own weather systems, touching off lightning, fire lightning, which then starts more blazes.

And last year, we saw, there is a mutual aid setup in California. Cal Fire is, you put out your town -- you help me put out my town, I'll help you put out yours, when so much land is burning at the same time. It is really creating a mind shift in letting those far out fires burn out, which is healthy for those ecosystems, but we have to protect life and communities and harden in a way and think about fire in a new way in this new world.

SCIUTTO: Do we have to think too about countering climate change in a new way? This is going so much faster than, as you've said, even some of the more alarmist predictions were, that any efforts now are to limit damage rather than prevent damage. I mean, is that the right way to look at it?

WEIR: Absolutely. So, science tell us that for every one degree we warm the planet, the extremes, the highs that we're seeing now go up by two degrees. So the pain that is behind these what seem like binomial (ph) numbers, it is just going to get exponentially worse. And depending on what we do right now, unfortunately, we're paying for the sins of 30 years ago and what we're seeing now. This is a slow motion thing. But it is never too late to try to stop and mitigate this the best we can. No longer just for your grandkids, it is for yourself in this near term.

SCIUTTO: Goodness, the urgency. Well, Bill, it is go to have you on. No one really has the kind of scope, right, of vision here for this and, listen, folks, we're going to continue to bring it to you as it happens. Bill Weir, thanks very much.

WEIR: You bet.

HARLOW: Thank you, Bill.

All right, moments from now, the Texas state house is expected to reconvene for the special session but the business at hand will have to wait. Instead of showing up for a special session, at least 50 Texas House Democrats flew yesterday to Washington, D.C.

SCIUTTO: They left Texas yesterday, dramatic effort to block new voting restrictions being pushed by Republicans. Now, the state house will not have the number of lawmakers it needs to proceed.

CNN is also just learning that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other senators are expected to meet with the Texas Democrats today.


Remember, they say they're taking action that national Democrats have yet to take. We will continue following the latest developments regarding this extraordinary move throughout the day.

HARLOW: And we'll see you right back here tomorrow morning. Thanks to all of you, as always, for joining us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts right after a short break.