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Democrats Leave Texas to Block New Restrictions; Covid-19 Cases Rising Across Most U.S. States; CDC, FDA Look into Risk of Nerve Disorder After J&J Vaccine; French President: Mandatory Vaccinations Possible; At Least 64 Killed in Hospital Fire in Iraq; Reports of Internet Blackouts After Protests Roil Cuba; DEA Confirms One Suspect in Haiti Assassination Ploy was Former Agency Informant. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, Texas Democrats make a break for it, lawmakers fleeing the state en masse to block a Republican backed bill they say restricts voting rights.

The FDA slaps a warning label on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But top Dr. Anthony Fauci says you should get it anyway.

And Cuba crackdown -- the government cuts internet access after the biggest protest in decades.

Good to have you with us. Well voting rights in the U.S. are front and center today with a major address from President Biden and an old fashioned Texas standoff over new election restrictions. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki offered this preview of Mr. Biden speech this afternoon in Pennsylvania.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: To lay out the moral case for why denying the right to vote is a form of suppression and form of silencing and how he will use -- he will redouble his commitment to using every tool at his disposal to continue to fight to protect the fundamental right of Americans to vote against the onslaught of voter suppression laws based on a dangerous and discredited conspiracy theory that culminated in an assault on our Capitol.


CHURCH: Meanwhile Democrats from the Texas state legislature flew to Washington late Monday, they're absence from their home state will deny Republicans a quorum and keep them from voting on new election restrictions. CNN's Dianne Gallagher has more.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are two separate bills that were introduced in the special session. That's HB- 3 and SB-1 and both do contain a whole slew of restrictions to the voting processes and different kinds of criminal penalties added to the voting process specifically for election officials.

Now the decision to break quorum is not an easy one because it does come with a great risk. By law they have to respond, they have to be there at the capital. Meaning that the department of public safety could have been ordered to come and essentially bring them back to the capital. Much of this was kept very secret up until they began leaving.

Here's the key. This is a 30 day special session. They're going to have to wait it out most likely outside of the state until that ends and then the governor can simply call another 30 day special session and another 30 day special session. I asked one of those lawmakers on the plane, Rep. Tray Martinez Fischer how long they're going to wait this out? He told me that they have every ounce of fight in them they're going to put into this, and that it's going to be one session or ten sessions, but in his words, democracy is in jeopardy and we must do whatever we can to save it. They're going to lean heavily on speaking to Democrats here in Washington, D.C.

One of the Democratic lawmakers told me we're in the minority and we are taking great personal risk and doing everything we can to stop voting rights restrictions and stop voting rights from being taken away from citizens. The Democrats in D.C. are in the majority and we want to see them do the same thing that we are trying to do in Texas.


CHURCH: CNN's Dianne Gallagher reporting there. Texas Democrats walked out of the state legislature back in May to prevent the first vote on the Republican proposals. And now they are hoping for help on the federal level.


JASMINE CROCKETT, (D) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: I am hoping and I am praying that with all that we're going through, the fact that over 50 members had to leave their families, leave their children, leave their husbands for democracy. Because we have people that are trying to run the Texas House in a way that is tyrannical. You know, I'm hoping that they see and they say, man, you know, if the Republicans can go through all of this do wrong, let us just take our step to do what is right because we have the majorities here on the federal level.

That is my hope and prayer. And then they can pass their dumb bill and we can do what always happens in Texas, is they always get told this was intentionally discriminatory bill and therefore we are striking portions of this bill. That is what's going to happen. But it will only happen if we have federal oversight like we historically have had.


CHURCH: Governor Greg Abbott calls the Democrats' decision to leave the station harmful to the very Texans who elected them to serve.


Well the U.S. is beginning to lose ground in the fight against COVID- 19. All but four states are seeing an increase in new infections with Tennessee reporting a 668 percent spike. And while the CDC reports nearly half the U.S. is fully vaccinated, less than 40 percent of residents in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are inoculated. One doctor says those who choose not to get vaccinated run the greatest risk of infection.


DR. CHRISTOPHER MORRISON, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN, COX MEDICAL GROUP: All of the sick patients we are seeing right now that need hospitalization, almost all -- there's a handful that have been vaccinated, but other than that every sick patient we've had has been unvaccinated. And 99 percent of the COVID deaths in the last week were unvaccinated. Most of the patients that I see are regretful that they didn't get vaccinated.

And you know, I'm not there to wag a finger at them at that point. When people are that sick, you know, if you haven't been around someone who is extremely sick with COVID and they're struggling to breathe, it's one of the most miserable feelings I think that you can imagine someone having. And so, when people are that sick, you know, they wish they had done anything they could to avoid being that sick.

You know, unfortunately once people get COVID and if they're going to get sick with it, there is not a whole lot we can do to treat it once you have it. I mean we have some, you know, some antibiotics that are going to help you little bit, you know, but once people are critically ill with COVID it's you know oxygen support and trying to help them out.

So the patients I run into are past that point where the vaccine could have helped them and they are very regretful. And you know, even if they are not critical in the ICU we're at the point we're having to transport patients 5 to 6 hours away from their families to get care because we're beyond our capacity to care for them.


CHURCH: Meantime, vaccine maker Pfizer met with U.S. officials to discuss vaccine boosters for Americans who are fully vaccinated. The company says booster shots may be needed after six months to a year of vaccination. It released a statement saying the meeting was productive but for now, it doesn't look like the U.S. government is signing on for boosters. Dr. Anthony Fauci says nothing has changed and the U.S. needs more data before recommending a new round of shots.

We're also following new concerns surrounding Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. U.S. health officials are investigating whether the vaccine might raise the risk of a rare neurological complication known as Guillain-Barre syndrome. About 100 people out of more than 12 million developed the disorder after receiving the J&J shot according to published reports. Dr. Anthony Fauci says that the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the potential risks.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We're always going to find some adverse event associated with vaccination. When you vaccinate tens and tens and tens of millions of people, you will find an unusual or a rare event. You've always got to make a decision, does the benefit of the vaccine outweigh the very, very unusual risk of an adverse event. And thus far with these vaccines it's always been decided that the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risk of an adverse event.


CHURCH: And Monday the FDA updated the label on the vaccine to warn of the possible increased risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome. CNN has reached out to Johnson & Johnson for comment.

Well European countries are wrestling with whether to ease or tighten COVID restrictions as the delta variant sweeps across the region. Experts warn that the highly contagious variant will represent 90 percent of all COVID infections in the EU by the end of next month. All those areas of orange and dark red show where cases increased last week when compared to the week before.

The Netherlands soaring infection rate has the Prime Minister apologizing for reopening too soon and reimposing restrictions on night life and large events.

Meanwhile the French president says he's trusting people to get vaccinated but won't rule out making it mandatory. Our Melissa Bell is live in Paris. Melissa, talk to us about what it will take in France for the French president to actually move there to that territory of making this mandatory.

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Well Rosemary, what we've been seeing here in France and this has been something that's been repeated in other European a countries, is that race between on one hand the attempt to get as much of the population vaccinated as governments can, and on the other that delta variant -- which as you said a moment ago -- is threatening the reopening of Europe in some cases, leading to fresh restrictions in others.


And so, Emmanuel Macron first of all announcing a fairly controversial measure since it's been debated here for some weeks, the idea that health care workers will now have to be vaccinated, mandatory vaccinations for them and those who work in nursing homes and with the elderly and fragile. That will come into effect.

And then there was a series of incentives for the general population to get itself vaccinated. The idea that getting the COVID pass, which is the pass that shows that either you've been vaccinated or a PRC negative is going to apply -- not for just getting on a plane if you want to go to other European countries, but to restaurants and bars, theaters, anything that you might do for enjoyment essentially and that might involve crowds, you're going to need that for.

And Rosemary, crucially that PCR tests you'll have to pay for from this autumn. And that has helped really focus the mind. What we saw last night was that this application in France that allows you to book medical appointments was overrun by people seeking to get them after Emmanuel Macron spoke, with nearly a million appointments made last night. It was a record, Rosemary.

So the idea is to really encourage people to go out and get vaccinated as Europe hits this wall of vaccine hesitancy that we've been thinking about, warning about for so many months now. Europe is famously worried about its vaccines and that is what European governments are coming up against. And that warning perhaps one of the most important headlines from last night's speech from French television, the idea that if people don't voluntarily go and get themselves vaccinated in sufficient numbers over the coming weeks and months, well France might consider making vaccines mandatory for all -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, we'll see if that is incentive to get out there and get the shot. Melissa Bell joining us live from Paris, many thanks.

England is sticking to its plan to fully reopen next week even though the dominant delta variant is leading to tens of thousands of new infections each day. British authorities are betting the country successful vaccine rollout will keep the death toll and hospitalizations under control. Nearly two-thirds of the public are fully vaccinated, but the British Prime Minister says that the nation can't simply revert to life as it was before COVID.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution. And I cannot say this partly or emphatically enough. This pandemic is not over. This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and your family.


CHURCH: Rescue crews are searching for survives of a deadly hospital fire in Iraq. It's believed that the fire started after oxygen tanks exploded in an ICU treating COVID patients in the southeastern city of Nasiriya. The fire is now out, but at least 64 people were killed and 50 critically injured. Iraq's president blames the tragedy on corruption and mismanagement. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh joins me now from Istanbul with more on this. So Jomana, what's the latest, what more are you learning about this tragedy?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Rosemary, what we understand from local officials is that this fire broke out at Al-Hussein hospital in Nasiriya, the city south of Baghdad, late last night. At a time when the hospital was packed with COVID-19 patients and family members as Iraq is going through its worst wave of the pandemic so far.

As you mentioned, the least 64 people have been confirmed kill, more than 50 others injured. The number of those killed could rise officials are warning because many of those injured are in critical condition.

Now the Prime Minister has ordered an investigation into the fire, but local health officials are saying it started as a result of an oxygen tank exploding, the interior ministry saying the fire broke out at the isolation unit at that hospital. On the hospital grounds 20 caravans they say that are made of an extremely flammable material caught fire and it spread to the rest of the hospital.

Now the Prime Minister has suspended the local health official, the director of the hospital, a civil defense official, pending this investigation. He's dispatching a high level government delegation to Nasiriya. But Iraqis, Rosemary, have heard this all before. This is pretty much an identical incident to what we saw happen in Baghdad less than three months ago at Al-Khatib Hospital where more than 80 people were killed in that fire.

People are waking up to this news. They are in shock. They are angry. They are simply fed up. We saw that anger spill into the streets outside the hospital late last night, hundreds of people gathered calling for a revolution. You know, the situation in Iraq, the poor living conditions, the lack of basic services, the endemic corruption and mismanagement has driven Iraqis out to the streets before.


And you heard even the Iraqi president now blaming this on corruption and mismanagement. So we'll have to wait and see if this will trigger anymore of these protests because people, Rosemary, are angry. Yet another tragedy and it is again the Iraqi people who are paying the price.

CHURCH: Jomana Karadsheh joining us with the very latest there, many thanks.

Well thousands took to the streets in Cuba demanding change over the weekend. Just ahead, how the governments in Havana and Washington are blaming each other for the unrest.

Plus, surprising new details about some of the suspects involved in Haiti's presidential assassination.


CHURCH: Internet blackouts are being reported in Cuba after the island saw rare protests over the weekend. Monitoring site Netblocks says social media is being restricted and network data shows Internet disruptions. According to an exiled Cuban rights group, at least 100 protestors, activists and independent journalists have been detained. CNN's Patrick Oppmann has more now from Havana.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) [04:20:00]

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The protests that swept across Cuba, the largest in decades, stunned the communist run government and, quickly turned violent. Demonstrators pelted patrol cars with stones and police forcibly arrested scores of people.

Repression, this woman told CNN, all that we have here is repression.

Counter protesters organized by the government tried to shut them down.

Some chanting that they are Fidel Castro. But Fidel Castro died in 2016 and his brother Raul retired in April.

Now, the job of managing Cuba's worst crisis in a generation falls to their handpicked successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, who called the protesters criminals.

They stoned the police force, damaged cars, he said, a behavior that's completely vulgar, completely indecent.

Tensions have been building for months in Cuba over increased sanctions first imposed by the Trump administration. The pandemic has further wounded an already ailing economy. Cubans wait for hours in crowded lines each day to buy what little there is, as the number of COVID-19 cases surge.

OPPMANN: Cuba's food crisis appears to be getting worse and worse as the pandemic goes on longer and longer. The people here said they don't want to waiting hours in these lines, but they feel that the choice they have is to run the risk of getting infected or going hungry.

OPPMANN (voice-over): The Biden administration warned the Cuban government not to crackdown on the protesters.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We call on the government, the government of Cuba to refrain from violence and their attempts to silence the voice of the people of Cuba.

OPPMANN (voice-over): But after a day of angry clashes, that warning may have already fallen on deaf ears.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


CHURCH: And as Patrick just mentioned, the protests caught the post- Castro government by surprise and some U.S. politicians believe the unrest could be an opportunity for real change in Cuba.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): It's an incredible historic I think set of protests. It's beyond Havana. Which of course is very urban. Is the breath and scope of different parts of the island that are in protest. And this is the frustration of years of a regime whose policies ultimately do not allow the Cuban people to realize their hopes and dreams and aspirations and have a better life.

And COVID has only gone ahead as in our own country we saw the inequities that was created -- that were shown by COVID to exist. And in Cuba, the failure of the regime to deal with COVID has only, you know, shown the greater consequences that the Cuban people are facing at large. And so it is a historic moment, a time for the United States and others in the world to give echo to the pride of the Cuban people and to create an opportunity for them to realize change in their own country.


CHURCH: And we should note that Senator Bob Menendez is Cuban American and the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In Haiti, police say the man accused of orchestrating the assassination of the country's president, had plans of becoming president himself. Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a Haitian man who had reportedly been living in Florida was arrested Sunday. According to police, he arrived in Haiti last month to organize a group of 28 mercenaries who carried out the attack. Now we are learning that several of those suspects have ties to U.S. law enforcement. CNN's Evan Perez explains.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR U.S. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: At least one of the men arrested by Haitian authorities in the assassination of the country's president previously worked as an informant for U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. President Jovenel Moise was killed Wednesday in an operation that Haitian authorities say involved at least 28 people. Many of them Colombian mercenaries hired through a Florida based security company.

In response to questions from CNN, the DEA said, quote, at times one of the suspects in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise was a confidential source to the DEA. Following the assassination the suspect reached out to contacts at the DEA. A DEA official assigned to Haiti urged the suspect to surrender to local authorities and along with the U.S. State Department official provided information to the Haitian government that assisted in the surrender and arrest of the suspect and one other individual.


The DEA says that it is aware that some assassins yelled, quote, DEA, at the time of their attack. The DEA says that none the attackers were operating on its behalf. Others also had U.S. ties including working as informants for the FBI, according to sources. The FBI says that it doesn't comment on informants except to say that it uses, quote, lawful sources to collect intelligence as part of its investigation. It's not clear that the man who worked as U.S. law enforcement informants wittingly participated in the assassination plot or were aware of the mission.

Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, nearly three weeks since the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, crews are getting closer to where the building's failures likely began.

Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You take running water for granted. I'll never take it for granted again.


CHURCH: Some Californians have been without running water as a severe drought has dried up family wells. How they are coping, that's next.


CHURCH: The death toll in the Surfside, Florida condo collapse has risen to 94 people. All but 11 of those victims have been identified. Crews have been working around the clock for nearly three weeks now combing the rubble for victims and searching for clues about what caused the building to come down. CNN's Leyla Santiago has the latest.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well we know search teams have been able to get down into the garage area. And that's important because several engineers have told CNN that according to what they have seen on the video of the collapse, it appears that the failures began in the structure's foundation.