Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Surgeon General Pushes White House Plan to Combat Misinformation as Vaccination Rates Drop, Cases Rise; Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Dismisses Concerns of Bipartisan Collapse; Book Says, Top Generals Feared Trump Would Try a Coup after Election. Aired 1- 1:30p ET.

Aired July 15, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Biden people are knocking on your door asking you to get a shot.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And it's not clear how persuasive the government is going to be given that the government is part of the problem in terms of people --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to ask others to help out, like --

HENDERSON: Yes, doctors.

KING: We've got to end there for today, but we appreciate you. Ana Cabrera picks up right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being with us.

Any moment now, we are expected to hear from the U.S. surgeon general, and this is as the White House is trying to take on misinformation. As it is increasingly clear, if you're not vaccinated, you are the one getting infected. You may be hospitalized. You may even die.

In L.A. County right now, 400 people are in hospitals with COVID, all of them unvaccinated. And at this hour, more than 65 percent of eligible Americans have had at least one dose. We have new insight today on when younger kids could be able to get one.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen kicks us off there. And, Elizabeth, eager parents of kids 12 and under, myself included, want to know when will the shots be ready.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, because children under the age of 12 are not allowed to get a COVID-19 vaccine because it hasn't been approved for them. So the pharmaceutical companies are doing clinical trials with children various sort of different doses for different aged children to make sure that it is safe and effective for them.

So, let's take a look at what we're hearing from Pfizer. They seem to be first out of the gate in this area. Pfizer is telling us that for children ages 5 to 11, that Pfizer might be asking the FDA for emergency use authorization for children in this group in September. Usually, just based on history, it then takes several weeks for the FDA to process that application.

So, I can't imagine even if they apply September 1st, I can't imagine it would it would happen necessarily in the month of September, maybe October or November.

As for younger children, Pfizer says they could have data later in the fall, maybe as late as November for the really little ones.

So, it will be a while. It will not be for the start of school. But there's good reason for that. Children are not just small adults. You have to figure out what dose works best for their younger immune systems. Ana?

CABRERA: And, Elizabeth, Ohio's governor just signed a bill banning public schools and universities for requiring a vaccine with no federal approval. Seven other states have already done the same. So, how much of an impact will this have on the race to vaccinate?

COHEN: You know, right now, it could have a big impact because we want those children to be vaccinated, not just for themselves but because they could spread it to other people. Ana, you're a parent, I'm a parent. Any parent knows children are little disease vectors. We love them but they just are. And so it would be great if they were vaccinated and didn't get their parents, grandparents, more vulnerable people sick.

However, I do have a caveat here, which is that, hopefully, these full authorizations, I should say, full approvals from the FDA are forthcoming. So, if the laws just say you can't require it if it's only an authorization. You need to have full FDA approval, that's a pretty -- we're temporary in that way. That could be just weeks or even just a few short months away.

CABRERA: Okay. Elizabeth Cohen, we know you're going to continue to follow all of it. Thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.

CABRERA: Let's go to Phil Mattingly now at the White House as we await this press conference with the surgeon general talking about the White House fight against misinformation. Phil, what do we know about their plan?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that there's a serious recognition that there is a significant problem. White House officials view right now in terms of misinformation as it applies to the coronavirus vaccine. Obviously, they have seen the rollout by millions, tens of millions of doses. And that has really started to dissipate. And one of the issues they believe is leading to that or is an accelerant of that is misinformation. Today, the surgeon general putting out a 22-page advisory laying out just how stark the issue of misinformation is when it comes to public health.

Now, Ana, this wasn't exactly tied to coronavirus and tied to the vaccine, but administration officials say that is what drove this idea to put this advisory out. You are going to hear from the surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, in just a short while with the White House Press Secretary to detail this a little bit more.

But one of the key issues laid out in this 22-page advisory is this quote right here. Misinformation tends to flourish in environments of significant societal division, animosity and distrust, basically getting at the core of what's driving a lot the political and societal issues in the country, generally, something that has had a significant impact on vaccinations.

Now, this 22-page advisory lays out a series of recommendations to counter misinformation, both for individuals, for families, for researchers, for government officials, and also, and I think this is important, for technology companies.

This will be the interesting element when the surgeon general speaks to the press in a few moments here in terms of what their roles should be here. There's no question. And it's highlighted in this advisory, the accelerants. Social media platforms have played in terms of the role of starting to distribute or disperse this misinformation over the course of the last several months and even further back than that.


And right now, you see the administration making the effort to try and counter that. Will it have any effect? It's really an open question right now. But this underscores just how urgent an issue the White House feels this is as they continue to try to counter the delta variant and vaccination rates that have been dropping across the country, Ana.

CABRERA: Phil Mattingly, thank you for that reporting.

Let's bring in Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease expert and professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

And, professor, we could end up having to interrupt to go to this press conference any moment, but you heard Phil outline the plan for the White House and how they are looking at misinformation. I'm curious to whether you think this is the main obstacle in preventing more people from getting vaccinated.

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: Well, Ana, it's certainly one obstacle. There is an abundance of misinformation out there. And anything we can do to set the record straight to get good, solid science-based information out there is very, very important.

But information is not enough. We also have to make people feel comfortable and reassured about getting the vaccine. Information goes to your brain. This reassurance goes to your heart. So we're going to have to do that also.

And friends, local people of importance in your community advocating for vaccines to make you more comfortable and secure in going out and getting the vaccine. So it's a two-punch approach, really, that we need.

CABRERA: And yet, in your state of Tennessee, you have public health officials at the top who are stopping the flow of information. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky had a response to Tennessee stopping vaccine outreach for children. I have to hit pause on that to go to the White House press conference. We'll come back. Stay with us.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: -- we've come a long way in our fight against COVID-19. And we have come a long way thanks to the efforts of many, many people across communities in the United States.

Right now, we are seeing COVID deaths markedly down from their peak in January. We have 160 million people who have been fully vaccinated and hundreds of thousands of people each day are choosing to get vaccinated. That is all good news.

But we are not out of the woods yet. Millions of Americans are still not protected against COVID-19 and we are seeing more infections among those who are unvaccinated.

And that's why I want to talk to you today about one of the biggest obstacles that's preventing us from ending this pandemic. Today, I issued a surgeon general's advisory on the dangers of health misinformation.

Surgeon general advisories are reserved for urgent public health threats. And while those threats have often been related to what we eat, drink and smoke, today, we live in a world where misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation's health.

Health misinformation is false, inaccurate or misleading information about health according to the best evidence at the time. And while it often appears innocuous on social media apps and retail sites or search engines, the truth is that misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones.

During the COVID-19 pandemic health misinformation has led people to resist wearing masks in high-risk settings. It's led them turn down proven treatments and to choose not to get vaccinated. This has led to avoidable illnesses and death. Simply, put health information has cost us lives.

Now, health misinformation didn't start with COVID-19. What's different now though is the speed and scale at which health misinformation is spreading. Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users. They've allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation, what we call disinformation, to have extraordinary reach. They've designed product features, such as like buttons, that reward us for sharing emotionally-charged content, not accurate content. And their algorithms tend to give us more of what we click on, pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation.

Now, we need an all of society approach to fight misinformation, and that's why this advisory that I issued today has recommendations for everyone. First, we include recommendations for individuals and families. We ask people to raise the bar for sharing health information by checking sources before they share, to ensure that information is backed by credible, scientific sources. As we say in the advisory, if you're not sure, don't share.

Second, we're asking health organizations to proactively address misinformation with their patients. Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics is announcing an educational campaign to help parents navigate online health information.


I'm encouraged to see this commitment and, again, this is just the beginning.

Third, we're asking educational institutions to help improve health information literacy. We're asking researchers and foundations as well the help us learn more about how health information spreads and how to stop it.

Today, the Rockefeller Foundation is announcing a $13.5 million commitment to counter health misinformation. The Digital Public Library of America is announcing they will convene a set of librarians, scholars, journalists and civic leaders to confront health misinformation together.

Fourth, we are saying we expect more from our technology companies. We're asking them to operate with greater transparency and accountability. We're asking them to monitor misinformation more closely. We're asking them to consistently take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms.

Fifth, we're also asking news organizations to proactively address the public's questions without inadvertently giving a platform to health misinformation that can affect audiences.

And sixth, and we know the government can play an important role too, by investing in research, by bringing individuals and organizations together to address misinformation and by supporting groups that are working on this issue.

On a personal note, it's painful for me to know that nearly every death we are seeing now from COVID-19 could have been prevented. I say that as someone who has lost ten family members to COVID-19 and who wishes each and every day that they had had the opportunity to get vaccinated. I say that also as a concerned father of two young children who aren't yet eligible for the vaccine. But I know that our kids are depending on all of us to get vaccinated to shield them from the virus.

Every week I talk to doctors and nurses across our country who are burning out as they care for more and more patients with COVID-19 who never got vaccinated, all too often because they were misled by misinformation.

We must confront misinformation as a nation. Every one of us has the power and the responsibility to make a difference in this fight. Lives are depending on it.

You can read the full advisory at, and I hope that you will see it, as I do, as a starting point from which we can build a healthier information environment, safeguard our nation against future threats and ultimately empower people to lead healthier lives.

Thanks so much for your time, and I'll turn it to Jen.

REPORTER: I wanted to ask you whether you see any evidence at all of the misinformation or disinformation that you're seeing comes from any nefarious sources. Are you seeing sort of structures behind the scene that point to who or what might be behind? Are we seeing Russian disinformation in the class? Are you are you seeing kind of hybrid (ph) warfare? Are you seeing any indication that there could be nation states behind this disinformation?

MURTHY: Well, thank you for that question. The misinformation that we're seeing comes from multiple sources. Yes, there is disinformation That is coming from bad actors, but what is also important to point out is that much of the misinformation that is circulating online is often coming from individuals who don't have bad intentions but are unintentionally sharing information that they think might be helpful.

And that's why in the advisory, we make it very clear that among the things we're asking individuals to do is to pause before they share, to check sources. And if they're not sure if the source is credible, do not share. One of the things we have said, again, is that when it comes to misinformation, not sharing is caring unlike what many of our moms taught us earlier in life.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thank you very much. Surgeon General, is misinformation the number one reason why people are not getting vaccinated?

MURTHY: Well, Kaitlan, it's one of several reasons why people are not getting vaccinated, but it's a very important one. Because what we know from polls, Kaitlan, is that two-thirds of people who are not vaccinated either believe common myths about the COVID-19 vaccine or think some of those myths might be true, myths like you can get COVID from the vaccine, which is absolutely not true.

So we know that it's not the only driver that's leading people not to be vaccinated, but it is an important one. COLLINS: Do you personally believe that public figures and public companies that are helping spread misinformation about the vaccine should be held accountable?

MURTHY: Well, I think in a moment like this when we see misinformation literally costing us our loved ones, costing us lives, all of us have to ask how we can be more accountable and responsible for the information that we share. And those of us who may have larger platforms, I think, bear a greater responsibility to think about that.

But the bottom line is all of us have an important role here to play. And technology companies have a particularly important role.


We know that the dramatic increase and the speed and scale of spread of misinformation has, in part, been enabled by these platforms.

So, that's why in this advisory today, we are asking them to step up. We know they had taken some steps to address misinformation but much more has to be done. And we can't wait longer for them to take aggressive action, because it's costing people their lives.

REPORTER: So, the reality is a lot of the health misinformation you were citing came from this lectern last year. I mean, what do you think the best approach is to counter or deal with misinformation that comes from public positions, people in position of authority?

MURTHY: Well, what I would say is that when it comes to determining what is accurate in terms of health information, science has to guide us. And the good news is that we have credible science individuals in our country. We have doctors and nurses in communities. We have public health departments and the CDC. We have medical schools, nursing schools and health care institutions.

These should be our sources of credibility when it comes to evaluating whether information is true or not. I think one of the greatest roles that public leaders can play is to point to scientists and to credible sources and have them speak directly to the public.

I'll note for you that that's one thing that this administration has done, is work hard to put science, scientists and health care professionals in front of cameras to have to speak directly to the public. That's what we have to do more of.

The problem right now is that the voices of these credible health professionals are getting drowned out. And that's one of the reasons we are asking technology companies to help lift up the voices of credible health authorities. It's also why they have to do more to reduce the misinformation that's out there so that the true voices of experts can shine through.

REPORTER: Thank you so much for taking my questions. So, are there specific elected leaders that you believe are part of the problem with pushing this misinformation? And we had an ABC News/Washington Post poll that showed that 93 percent of Democrats say they are vaccinated or will be but only 49 percent of Republicans say the same. So, how do you breakthrough to the people may be trusting some of these elected leaders that are pushing maybe some of these misinformation more than they actually trust members of your own administration?

MURTHY: Well, thanks, Rachel (ph). I think about this as I think about doctoring and as I think about my approach to patients, which is I recognize that each patient that I was blessed to care for is an individual regardless of what their political affiliation or their past may be. They're an individual, and my goal was to understand their needs and desires were, what their values were and then to help them improve their health.

We have to take a similar approach here when it comes to reaching people with information about COVID-19 and the vaccine. You have got to recognize that sometimes the most trusted voices are not the ones that have the most followers on social media or the ones that have the most name recognition. Sometimes the most trusted sources are a mother or a father or a faith leader or a local doctor or a nurse. And that's why to reach people with accurate information, what we have to do is partner with those local trusted voices.

That's why in this advisory, one of the things that we point out, an important role for government, is to support local organizations, including health care professionals so that they can get out there and speak directly to people and share that information. These public health efforts move at the speed of trust. And we have to recognize where trust is, where those relationships are, invest in them, support them, so that people can ultimately get the information they need to improve their health.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you.

I think he has to go, unfortunately.

MURTHY: Thank you so much, Jen. Thanks, everyone.

PSAKI: Okay. I think we're getting ready to start the briefing.

CABRERA: Okay. That was the surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, addressing misinformation, saying misinformation has cost lives during this pandemic. And he talked about how tech companies and social media organizations are partially to blame and he is calling on individuals to take part in stopping spread of misinformation, saying if you're unsure, don't share.

He also talked about the plan to bring in doctor's offices, educational institutions as well as even the Rockefeller Foundation investing in a campaign to combat misinformation and to raise awareness of the right information, the truth, the facts.

So, let's bring back Dr. William Schaffner just to weigh in on what we just heard. Do you think this plan goes far enough? SCHAFFNER: Well, it certainly is a wonderful start. He's acting as the conductor of an orchestra. He wants everybody out there to participate and to play the music of really good, solid scientific information. That's so important.

And individual doctors and other health care providers are so important in this. You know, the Latin root of the word doctor is docere, to teach. Doctors are teachers. And this is a major opportunity for every doctor, every nurse, every pharmacist out there to be a teacher, to reach out and give good information to people so that they can make the best decisions about receiving the vaccine, which is, of course, to receive the vaccine.


CABRERA: Well, Dr. Schaffner, you have been such a great source of information for us for the past year-and-a-half-plus, especially since we started this battle against the pandemic here in the U.S. Thank you for being there for us. Thank you for your time again today.

I wish we had more time to talk about more important COVID questions, but we just took up a lot of that time in that press conference. We'll have you back soon. Thanks.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

CABRERA: Former President Trump didn't just lose his election, he lost Congress. He fought like hell to undermine U.S. democracy. So why would the top House Republican seek his advice on the upcoming midterms?

And tens of millions of families just got a boost in their bank accounts. The first payments of the expanded child tax credit have been sent. We talked to the White House adviser overseeing this whole implementation.



CABRERA: The top Democrat in the Senate just brushed off concerns about rushing an infrastructure bill to a vote. CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju joins us from Capitol Hill.

What did the Senate majority leader just say about next Wednesday's vote?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he made it very clear that he is moving ahead, and we are at a critical time for Joe Biden's agenda here. Over the next week, we get to determine whether or not they could have -- they could be on a chance of passage. Roughly $4 trillion of Joe Biden's domestic agenda, both on infrastructure and a larger package on the social safety net, to expand the social safety net here in this country.

The bipartisan plan is moving along a separate track. There are negotiations that are still ongoing. But Chuck Schumer made clear he is moving ahead with a vote on Wednesday, even though Republicans are concerned that the deal is just simply not there. They say they need more time and they're warning that they could vote against proceeding to that proposal if a deal is not finalized by then.

Asked about those concerns earlier, Schumer brushed those aside and said the Senate will vote.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I've talked to some of our Democratic members of the bipartisan group. They're making very good progress. There is no reason why we can't start voting next Wednesday, and that's what we're going to do.


RAJU: But this is why this is so significant, Ana, is that this package, about $1.2 trillion over eight years needs 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to advance. That means 50 Democrats, if they all united, ten Republicans to move ahead.

But members of the group of negotiators, Republican members, told me that they will vote against proceeding if this deal is not finalized by Wednesday. They say it's taking an enormous amount of time to figure out how this will be paid for. The structure of the language, they said, is a very, very complex negotiation. They are warning that Schumer's move could essentially scuttle that effort.

And, separately, Schumer said he wants all 50 Democrats to agree on this top line $3.5 trillion proposal that would move straight along party lines in the Senate. Uncertain if they can get there, but he's pushing hard to get this done in a matter of days, meaning that Joe Biden's agenda all hinging over the next several days in the U.S. Senate.

CABRERA: You better get your coffee ready, Manu. It sounds like it's going to be a busy next week. Thank you so much.

RAJU: Thank you.

CABRERA: Getting marching orders? Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy is meeting today with former President Trump, as the minority leader prepares to appoint GOP members to the select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection, the very insurrection Donald Trump helped incite.

Now, this meeting also comes as we learn more about the former president's final days in office. In a new book called, I Alone Can Fix It, Trump's rhetoric and his behavior so stunning, the nation's top generals worried that the U.S. was literally on the brink of a coup attempt. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, is quoted as saying, they may try, but we're not going to -- they're not going to f'ing succeed. You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We're the guys with the guns. Moments ago, former President Trump denied the claims, saying, quote, I never threatened or spoke about to anyone a coup of our government, so ridiculous. If I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.

This is who McCarthy is meeting with and who Republicans still answer to.

I want to talk to Timothy Snyder all about this. He is a professor of history at Yale University. He is also the author of many books, including, On Tyranny, 20 Lessons from the 20th Century.

Tim, you and I have spoken a lot about this issue as someone who has written a book on tyranny. Given these new revelations, how close to the brink was America's democracy?

TIMOTHY SNYDER, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY: It was very close. I mean, as we had every reason to believe throughout 2020, Mr. Trump is not someone who cares about the outcome of votes. He's not someone who cares about the rule of law. He announced to us throughout 2020 basically what he was going to do.

I mean, in a way I think the odd thing is that we didn't take him seriously enough. It's reassuring to see that important people inside the administration did take him seriously, because, of course, a coup is something that can only be carried out if you have support from key people.

The thing we have to remember is that he tried. It just didn't work out. And the fact that he's tried means that there's a precedent that has been set and someone else can try again.

CABRERA: This book also claims General Milley drew parallels between Trump's rhetoric and Adolf Hitler's, reportedly telling aides, quote, this is a Reichstag moment, the gospel of the fuhrer.


Now, we got some clarification today that Milley wasn't necessarily calling Trump a Nazi.