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Interview With State Rep. James Talarico; President Biden Heads to Capitol Hill to Talk Infrastructure; COVID Cases Rising. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired July 14, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.


Unvaccinated Americans are impeding this country's pandemic progress, driving up not just COVID cases, but hospitalizations. The CDC just issued a new forecast that is showing an increase in hospital patients for the first time since April; 46 states are seeing an increase in infections. That's the -- that's all the states in orange and red.

Look at this map. Los Angeles, the county there, the most populous in the country, is seeing a 500 percent jump in the cases in the past month.

CAMEROTA: And so, as those numbers go up, the rate of vaccination is going down. The daily average is now less than 300,000 people a day getting vaccinated vs. when the daily peak was at one time more than three million.

In June, more than 99 percent of hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. were among the unvaccinated.

The Delta variant, of course, accounts for 58 percent now of all new COVID cases. One health official sees it this way. America is splitting into two nations, the vaccinated and the infected.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to Florida. An infectious disease expert says there has been a 125 percent jump in cases since June.

CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us from Miami.

So, hospital officials are telling you they're seeing more COVID patients who are in their 30s and 40s.


Where we are right now, the Jackson Health System, they said just over the past weekend they saw more than double the COVID-19 patients than they had earlier in the month.

And when you talk to the experts, when I spoke to the infectious disease expert earlier, she was quick to point out that a big issue here, most of them are the unvaccinated individuals and some, very few, vaccine breakthroughs. She said part of the issue is that you have a lot of people, unvaccinated people, who are following CDC guidelines for vaccinated people, going to mass gatherings, going inside with poor ventilation, et cetera.

She was quick to point out that she feels that we, we being the U.S. and Florida, jumped the gun, wanting to believe that the pandemic is over, when, of course, it's not.


DR. AILEEN MARTY, HERBERT WERTHEIM COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: If we don't heed the fact that people need to be more cautious than what they're being right now, we're going to see more deaths, we're going to see more cases, and we're going to see a lot more long COVID, which is what's really, really troubling for the younger population.


SANTIAGO: Right now in Florida, roughly 40 percent -- 47 percent of residents are fully vaccinated.

So I checked in with the governor' office and they tell me that they very much are encouraging vaccination. They believe it is safe and effective and the route to go. But when it comes to any strange in strategy for closures, the governor has already ruled out any sort of potential future lockdown.

CAMEROTA: Leyla, is there some campaign in Florida against Dr. Fauci?

SANTIAGO: Well, if you check the governor's Twitter, he tweeted yesterday some of his PAC's merchandise.

And some of that, we're talking about koozie and shirts, et cetera, have slogans like "Don't Fauci my Florida" or "How can I drink a beer with a mask on?" And that is being retweeted by the governor, as we're seeing the number of cases and those testing positive on the rise.

CAMEROTA: It's hard to know what to say about that, that, you know, it's hard to drink a beer when you're on a ventilator. It's just hard to know about that message that the governor is trying to send.

SANTIAGO: Fair point.

CAMEROTA: Leyla Santiago, thank you very much.

So, today, the White House is launching a new strategy to fight the disinformation and fearmongering about vaccinations from right-wing cable hosts and social media.

BLACKWELL: Yes, some officials worry of alienating Republicans and generating more skepticism of vaccines that health experts say uniformly are safe.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us now. So what's the plan from the White House to combat disinformation?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn and Victor, the White House has simply made the calculation this all of this disinformation simply is growing.

They had been trying to watch it, not trying to fuel it or trying to further alienate people who may have questions about the vaccine, but they have made the decision that they believe that this is actually hurting the vaccination effort in a deep way.


So we are told that we are going to see a variety of steps over the coming days and weeks about the White House directly pushing back on social media platforms, on other public officials who are raising questions about the safety of vaccines.

Now, we heard White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki say earlier in the daily White House briefing that this is something they're actually having the surgeon general come to the White House tomorrow to talk about how dangerous all of this disinformation is.

And this is what Psaki said, why it's necessary.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The pushback against disinformation, information that is literally a matter of life and death, is something that is going to be a continued focus of this administration. We're going to continue to call out disinformation and call out where that information travels.


ZELENY: So, of course, the question is, though, what can, if anything, the White House do about this?

Because many of these things are happening on different channels entirely. People are watching an entirely different set of facts and realities here.

But the White House is going to try to get the president to directly engage in this and others to call out this disinformation. They are not ignoring it any longer, they say. They are going to try and fight it. Of course, we will see what effect that actually has.

Meanwhile, there is a pop star here at the White House who's doing advertisements with President Obama, Olivia Rodrigo, of course, the 18-year-old pop star. She is going to be filming a video with the president this afternoon, trying to reach some young people to urge them to get the vaccine as well.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jeff Zeleny for us there at the White House, thank you. CAMEROTA: Also in Missouri, there's a dire warning from the St. Louis

county executive who is also a doctor. He says that St. Louis is about to see an onslaught of COVID.


DR. SAM PAGE, ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI, EXECUTIVE: The tidal wave is coming towards our unvaccinated population. This variant is spreading quickly and this variant has the ability to devastate those in its wake.


CAMEROTA: Spring Schmidt is the deputy director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

Ms. Schmidt, great to have you here.

I just want to talk about what's going on in Missouri, because somehow you have become a hot spot again. And you say that you have hit a vaccination wall. So, can you explain how you have gone from not having enough vaccines to go around a couple of months ago to now having a lot of vaccines, more than you can use, but no interest from people?

SPRING SCHMIDT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: So, I would say that the demand, of course, was very high at the beginning of this year.

We at the Health Department here in St. Louis County were delivering up to 20,000 vaccines a week. We were -- really worked hard to develop that capacity. Unfortunately, the demand died off pretty fast.

We have worked to get creative, to get out in the community and meet people where we were, make sure that we were dropping barriers, answering questions, really trying everything to make vaccines as accessible as possible.

So, yes, it does seem like a relatively short period of time from urgently needing additional vaccine to urgently needing people to take us up on opportunities to get one.

CAMEROTA: So, when Dr. Sam Page, who we just played, the county executive there, says that a tidal wave, a COVID tidal wave, is coming your way, can you explain what you think that is going to look like?

SCHMIDT: So, we're already on an upswing, and it's difficult, the numbers, for the size population.

There's a million people in St. Louis County, almost three million people in our total metropolitan area. These types of population numbers, they don't change swiftly, at least not in a downward trend. So we're up 69 percent in our cases from where we were 30 days ago. That's of concern to us.

We have been watching our neighbors. And, certainly, I have been talking to my peers in Southwest Missouri who are currently having more cases per day than I am. So, what we see is, when this hits the population density of our big metro areas, we're expecting that -- to see sizable increases in our unvaccinated populations.

CAMEROTA: So you have come up with this new program called Sleeves Up st. Louis, and in which you're going to enlist the help of barbershops and beauty salons.

So how did you come up with that? Why barbershops, beauty salons? How can they help?

SCHMIDT: So we have been doing community outreach with several members of the community for a while. We have been taking ideas and suggestions about the kinds of people who are available in the community who could be talking to people for a long period of time, hearing what people's fears and concerns might be, talking to them and helping giving some health information that's accurate or let us know if there's some misinformation out there or if there's a barrier taking place that we don't know about.

And barbers and beauty shops have come up before. We have been in other health initiatives in the past, partnering with them on work around heart disease and diabetes and several other things as well. So it was a good natural fit in this case.

And we began this recruitment and immediately began to see a lot of participation from some of our local business owners.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's great. That's good to hear.

Let's talk about what's happening with young people quickly. I want to put up a graph of what's happening by age in St. Louis County. And what you will see is that now it's spiking for 20-through-29-year- olds, the new cases over the past two weeks...



CAMEROTA: ... as well as you see a spike for teenagers there and the 30-something-year-olds.

So are those people getting very sick? Are those younger people being hospitalized?

SCHMIDT: Yes, there is also an increase in hospitalizations currently among that younger audience as well.

So, the overall age over the course of the pandemic of those who have been hospitalized has been trending downwards from what we saw in the beginning, but that is certainly what our hospital partners are reporting to us now, that their ICUs and their ventilators are currently occupied by people who are increasingly younger.

And just because you are of a younger age does not mean you can't still suffer some fairly extreme consequences for a bout of COVID. CAMEROTA: If that doesn't get people and parents' attention, I don't

know what will.

Spring Schmidt from St. Louis for us, thank you very much for the information.

SCHMIDT: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: So, just moments ago, President Biden, he wrapped up a meeting on Capitol Hill.

He was meeting with Senate Democrats as infrastructure talks are now ramping up, making the case for both the bipartisan infrastructure proposal and this larger go-it-alone economic plan focusing on social programs largely.

Overnight, Senate Democrats on the Budget Committee reached a deal for a massive $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan, but there are concerns the price tag could be a little too big for even some moderate Democrats.

So, let's go now to Manu Raju.

Manu, did you hear anything about this meeting? And what are you looking at as we look at those senators we always focus on to get this through the Senate?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a real delicate dance for the Democratic leaders and Joe Biden to perform in order to get this through.

Two tracks, one, a bipartisan track, a more focused bill on traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges and the like, spending roughly $600 billion in new money. But that still has to be negotiated. The details are still not done. And it's still uncertain if there'll be 60 votes in the us Senate to get that approved.

And then, on the second approach, that larger Democratic-only approach, $3.5 trillion, dealing with social programs, expanding the social safety net, expanding Medicare, other programs as well that are central to Joe Biden's domestic agenda, such as the child tax credit, making that permanent, raising taxes on corporations.

Now, that proposal needs to get all 50 Democrats to support it, because they're moving through a separate process that cannot be filibustered in the United States Senate. And that's what Joe Biden just now behind closed doors try to tell his members, tried to tell his Democratic colleagues, say, stay united, stay focused on this and get behind both approaches.

Emerging from this launch, he declined to answer reporters' questions. But he said he had one message to his colleagues.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no comments, just say I'm grateful to be home, grateful to be back with all my colleagues.

And I think we're going to get a lot done.


RAJU: So, now the question will be can they get this done? They have to actually draft the legislation.

That is the big question here. They have the top line number. Will all the moderate Democrats get behind it? Some of them like Senators Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, they have suggested they're open to the idea, telling me today that they could potentially get behind the bill this big, but they also want to know exactly what's in there, how it's paid for, all the key things here that will be dealt with over the next several weeks.

Some of the big votes are expected to happen before the August recess. And then at that point, we can see whether or not Joe Biden's agenda will actually come to fruition, but still negotiations happening behind the scenes tonight and into tomorrow to see if that bipartisan deal can actually come together.

So Joe Biden making the sales pitch here, but still an open question about whether it can get through both chambers and eventually he can sign this in the months ahead -- guys.

BLACKWELL: Yes, looking forward to hearing those details.

Manu Raju for us on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

So, a FOX TV host was challenged on live television to say that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. We will show you what happened after that confrontation and talk to the Texas lawmaker who made the challenge.

CAMEROTA: Plus, the Biden administration is launching a new plan to relocate Afghans who helped the U.S., but who were left behind. What's being done to keep them safe?



BLACKWELL: Texas Democrats who left their state met with Senators Klobuchar, Warnock and Merkley today.

More than 50 Democrats traveled to D.C. to try to stop Texas Republicans from passing a new restrictive voting law back home. Now, the Democrats are facing threats of arrest upon their return. The NAACP is offering to pay their bail if necessary.

Now, one representative went on FOX TV last night and took on one of the hosts on the lie that is fueling the spate of these so-called election integrity bills.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STATE REP. JAMES TALARICO (D-TX): Do you remember a second ago when I talked about the big lie?

This is exactly what I'm talking about. And the reason that so many folks...


TALARICO: ... country is because folks like you get on television every night and repeat the lie over and over again.


PETE HEGSETH, FOX NEWS: We're not talking about that.

You just went on national television said you don't want voter I.D., revealing exactly what Democrats -- and it's so condescending to say that people can't get identification.

Have you found someone in your district that can't get identification?


TALARICO: You have made a lot of money personally and you have enriched a lot of corporations with advertising by getting on here and spewing lies and conspiracy theories to folks who trust you.


TALARICO: And so what I'm asking you to do is tell your voters right now that Donald Trump lost the election in 2020.


Can you admit that?


HEGSETH: Can you resolve that lie that is the Democrats are now for voter I.D.?


HEGSETH: It's not your show, sir.

But at least you resolved the idea that are not for voter I.D.


TALARICO: Did Donald Trump lose the election in 2020? Can you answer the question? Did Donald Trump lose the election in 2020?

HEGSETH: I think I'm answering questions. I'm not -- I don't really feel any obligation to answer anything from you.

TALARICO: Is this an uncomfortable -- an uncomfortable... (CROSSTALK)


BLACKWELL: Looked uncomfortable.

Texas state Representative James Talarico is with us now.

Representative, thanks for being with us.

Let's start here. That was the right point, right? But did you get anywhere with that host? Did you get anywhere with that audience? Because that's the one you need to focus on, right?

TALARICO: Yes, I don't know if I made any progress with the host.

But a lot of folks in our state watch FOX News, including my own family members. And it's really important in this discussion about voter suppression that we make it clear that we're not just fighting for Democratic votes. We are fighting for every type of voter, Democrats, independents and Republicans.

And when things like the big lie start to seep into our politics and start to inform our policy-making, it harms all of us, anybody in all parties.

And that's why I decided to go on FOX News and tell the truth about the big lie and about the motivation behind this voter suppression bill in Texas.


So let's talk about the big lie and the voter restriction bills across the country. The president gave a passionate speech yesterday at the National Constitution Center. We now have reaction from the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. I want your reaction to what he says, his assessment of the president's speech. Listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): This is our new president who promised to lower the temperature, bring America back together and rebuild a civil society, where we can dialogue as fellow citizens.

That's the person who's now yelling that mainstream state laws are more dangerous than two World Wars, more dangerous than poll tests and Bull Connor and actual Jim Crow segregation and somehow analogous to the Civil War?


BLACKWELL: What's your thoughts on how he's framing the president's speech and these laws that are being passed?

TALARICO: You know, Mitch McConnell is the leader who denied President Barack Obama his rightful Supreme Court nominee. He's the same majority leader who enabled the most dangerous president

in our lifetime, and is the one who allowed and encouraged the kind of toxic politics that led to the insurrection at our national Capitol.

So Mitch McConnell has given up all moral authority to speak about our democracy.

But I do want to talk about the president's address. I am so grateful for his words about these dangerous voter suppression bills like the ones we're trying to defeat in states like Texas. But we need a lot more than beautiful words if we're going to defeat these types of pieces of legislation.

We need the president to act. We need leaders in Congress to act. And we needed them to act yesterday. In Texas, we are living on borrowed time. We are running out of options to ensure our constitutional rights are protected, to ensure that our constituents are able to exercise their God-given rights at the ballot box.

And so that's why we have decided to come to D.C., to beg, to plead, to implore our leaders in Congress to act.

BLACKWELL: So let's talk about those leaders in Congress, specifically Senator Joe Manchin.

I know some of you, I don't know if you will be part of a meeting, will meet with Senator Manchin. He is one of two senators who have publicly said they oppose filibuster reform even for voting legislation.

He told our Manu Raju that he will meet with your group, but that you're not going to change his mind. So if that's his stance before the meeting, what's your strategy when you all actually sit down with him?

TALARICO: You know, I think it's less about the words we use in the meeting and more about our example.

My colleagues and I have given up our time with our families. We have left behind loved ones who are sick and who need our help.

One of my colleagues canceled her wedding in order to break quorum and kill this voter suppression bill. So we have made a sacrifice. But that sacrifice is nothing compared to the sacrifices that brave Americans have made throughout history to protect the sacred right to vote.

And by showing Senator Manchin that little Texas Democrats, a minority of a minority -- we haven't won statewide office since 1994. We don't hold a majority in our House. We don't hold a majority in our Senate and we don't hold the governor's mansion.

And yet we as Texas Democrats used every tool in our toolbox to break quorum and kill this voter suppression bill and to stand up for democracy. If we can do that in Texas, then national Democrats can for sure do it in our nation's capital. (CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: Mr. Representative, let me jump in here, because I think that the senator, from what we have heard, listen, he's met with advocates, he's met with his colleagues, he's met with the activists.


He has not been moved. You are using your example. He's already seen that you have come to D.C. He is not moved. So, if you're not using words and the example doesn't work, do you think that you will be or that anyone will be able to convince those senators who have publicly -- and there may be some who aren't public about it -- who are not willing to reform filibuster for voting rights?

Because the story is touching. I don't know that it's moving Senator Manchin.

TALARICO: I disagree.

I have tremendous faith and hope that we can still save this democracy of ours. I haven't given up on the idea of American democracy. And I sure hope Senator Manchin hasn't either.

The attention this week on this issue is completely different than it was last week. I wouldn't have been on your show last week if we hadn't broken quorum.

The entire national media is talking about voting rights. They're talking about the future of our democracy. So things have changed just in the last 48 hours. And I have confidence that things will continue to progress over this week and into the coming weeks.

BLACKWELL: Well, I hope that after your meeting with Senator Manchin you will come back and tell us how it went.

Texas state Representative James Talarico, thank you so much for your time.

TALARICO: Thank you for having me.


CAMEROTA: OK, meanwhile former President George W. Bush is breaking with his longstanding personal practice of not commenting on other presidents' policies.

What he's now criticizing about President Biden.