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Surgeon General Calls COVID Misinformation Threat to Public Health; Kevin McCarthy Summoned to Meet With Trump; President Biden Meets With German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 15, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


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

President Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are set to meet any minute in the Oval Office to tackle a host of issues, among the most pressing, Russian cyberattacks, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

This face-to-face will likely be Merkel's final appearance at the White House. It comes three months before she leaves office. Merkel has worked with four U.S. presidents, and this visit to Washington is her 23rd trip.

BLACKWELL: CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson and CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, they are with us now.

Nick, let's start with you.

And inside this meeting, it is being described as a working session. What do we expect to come out of this?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: President Biden would like to win Germany and Angela Merkel more over to his view of dealing with China.

From a German perspective -- and this is a big deal. From a German perspective since 2016, they feel they have done and do more business with China than they do with the United States.

And since President Biden came in and Angela Merkel had such a fractious relationship with President -- with former President Trump, there's been a real sense in Germany that maybe they don't want to follow quite along with what the United States is doing, whether that's Nord Stream II gas pipeline with Russia, but in particular, this big issue of dealing with China.

The Germans want to have a more open economic relationship with China, in fact, not just for them, but for the European Union, than perhaps President Biden would like, because he sees that as leverage over sort of getting China to adjust its trade practices, stop its human rights abuses, all of those important issues that he's put such a high standard in.

And so I think those are going to be key things, obviously, working together on COVID, working together on climate. These are big issues, where they're going to find common ground. They have common ground on how they sort of view the world as democracy being under threat from autocracies.

But that China issue, that's a big one, and the Germans are pretty strong on it.

CAMEROTA: Kaitlan, as we said, Angela Merkel has worked with four U.S. presidents. And now there's this new book. It shines a light on how former President Trump spoke of the German chancellor and their relationship. So what do we know?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, this relationship is a lot different than the one that President Trump had with the German chancellor, of course.

It was a very frosty relationship. You often saw that at times not just in front of the cameras, but often it was reporting behind the scenes of what was being said between the two of them. And at one point, remember at that press conference here at the White House he joked about the allegations that the NSA under the previous administration had spied on her and whatnot.

And so, of course, this is expected to be a different relationship. She knows President Biden well. She obviously was here as German chancellor when he was the vice president to then President Obama. But just because there is this ceremony around what is expected to be her last visit to Washington as a foreign counterpart to a U.S. president does not mean it is without its issues.

And that is going to be something that they have to talk about when they are behind closed doors. But what has also been striking about the way the administration has been preparing reporters for this meeting and this sit-down between the two of them is saying don't expect any deliverable or concrete outcomes when it comes to things like the Nord Stream II pipeline, which we know they disagree on.

We have seen how President Biden and the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, have said that they believe it's a bad idea, but also they waived the sanctions on the Russian company behind it and the German CEO behind it.

And so the questions about what they actually talk about beyond the disagreements and whether those disagreements actually make progress, given there is going to be a new leader in just a few months in Germany, that is really going through the question that remains to be seen.

And, of course, as Nic said, China is another major issue where the two sides do not see face to face, but is not expected to be rectified while they're sitting down today.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaitlan Collins, Nic Robertson, thank you both very much.

So, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been reportedly summoned to former President Trump's residence in Bedminster, New Jersey, this afternoon. McCarthy is reportedly there to discuss next year's midterm elections.

BLACKWELL: Now, this meeting also comes on a day when the former president is reportedly fuming about some explosive revelations from a new book.

It's about the aftermath of the 2020 election. Now, the excerpts, which were obtained by CNN's Jamie Gangel, are from an upcoming book by two "Washington Post" reporters. It's called "I Alone Can Fix It."


Now, among the revelations, we have got this.

CAMEROTA: America's top generals feared that then-President Trump would attempt a coup after the election, and that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, felt he had to be on guard for what might come.

Milley told his deputies -- quote -- "They may try, but 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."

With us now to discuss all this, we have CNN senior political correspondent Abby Phillip and CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa.

So, Abby, it's very interesting, now that we know the revelations in this book. And, once again, we find out how close -- how much closer it was to chaos that we even knew, though many people suspected. And so now the fact that Kevin McCarthy, Republican leader, is heading to meet with Donald Trump today, doesn't it stand to reason that they might be discussing the select committee and everything that happened on January 6?


I mean, McCarthy's office is saying that this is about the midterm elections, which is what he probably wants it to be about. All along, his idea is that he wants Trump to be on board with getting Republicans to take back the House, so that he can be speaker of the House.

But at the same time, the meeting is happening this week because Trump is trying to make a point about who's in charge here, who's really the boss and who's really setting the agenda. And the fact that McCarthy is coming to him to once again kiss the ring is no accident. The fact that it's coming at a time when we're learning all of these

developments about what was going on behind the scenes around January 6 is no accident. This president is incredibly focused on perpetuating the same lies that led to the insurrection and advancing those lies, even, expanding them, even after leaving office.

And the point of this meeting is to ensure that McCarthy is on board with that project. And it has -- all has to do with that January 6 commission that he has to decide what he's going to do with it. Is he going to appoint members, or is he going to -- in a good faith way, or is he going to appoint people who are there basically to muck up and gum up the works?

BLACKWELL: So let's talk about some of the revelations from the book "I Alone Can Fix It, ' in which we learn that, at the height of the insurrection during -- on January 6, we heard from General Milley.

He said that: "This is a Reichstag moment, " he told aides, "the gospel of the fuhrer." Of course, the fuhrer, a Hitler reference.

We now have a response, reaction, a bit meandering, from the former president, in which he says in part: "I never threatened or spoke about to anyone a coup of our government. So ridiculous. Sorry to inform you, but an election is my form of coup. And if I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley, " the president there talking about doing a coup.

To you, from a national security perspective, Asha, that the president says here, if I were to do a coup, it wouldn't be with Milley, but what we learned as we look ahead to this select committee?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't even know how to respond to the former president's statement.

But I think we now know why there has been such resistance to forming this commission, because there were people in the highest levels of authority who were worried about this happening.

And what this tells us, Victor, is that this was not a spur-of-the- moment kind of thing that just happened off the cuff on January 6. And it wasn't also just a bunch of kooky militia people planning stuff and happened to come to the Capitol.

Behind the scenes, a lot of things are starting to make sense. The senior members of the Department of Justice had threatened to resign leading up to January 6. We now know that there were senior members of the military who were threatening to resign, the director of the CIA, all of these people who, as General Milley noted, would have needed to have been on board in order for this to succeed.

So I think what we now know is, there are a lot of people who are going to have to come and answer questions about what was happening behind the scenes leading up to January 6.

And the time to speak has long passed, but the commission hearings will definitely be the time that they need to tell the public what they know.

CAMEROTA: And one of the things, Abby, that this book, I think, highlights is how precious few people there were standing between President Trump and his desire and ambition to stay in office at any cost.


I mean, this is dictator stuff that is coming out here. And so, in this new book, one of the people who allegedly was trying to do something about -- this was just posted in "The Washington Post." This is new. This is a new excerpt and this is what Ivanka Trump was doing.

I will commence a long reading. And I may need Victor's help here for part of this.

BLACKWELL: I'm here.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

"Some of those around the president encouraged his fantasy of Pence, the hero, stepping in to overturn the election. Ivanka Trump did not agree and was upset about what Rudy Giuliani and others had been advising her father. At one point that morning, she said: 'This is not right. It's not right.'"

BLACKWELL: "Trump called Pence, who was spending the morning at his Naval Observatory residence, before heading to the Capitol. Pence again explained the legal limits on his authority as vice president and said he planned to perform his ceremonial duty as prescribed by the Constitution, but Trump showed him no mercy. 'You don't have the courage to make a hard decision, ' he told Pence."

CAMEROTA: Ivanka Trump, standing next to Kellogg near a grandfather clock in the back of the room, had a hard time listening to her father badger the vice president to do something she knew was not possible. After hanging up with Pence, Trump went back into the dining room to check on the crowd on TV, and Ivanka Trump followed her father and tried to convince him to see the situation rationally, but she was unpersuasive. Trump had given Pence instructions and was hell-bent on getting him to follow through."

BLACKWELL: "As soon as she saw on the television in her second floor office that the rioters were inside the Capitol, Ivanka Trump said to her aides: 'I'm going down to my dad. This has to stop.' She spent several hours walking back and forth to the Oval trying to persuade the president to be stronger in telling his supporters that he stood with law enforcement and ordering them to disperse."

CAMEROTA: "Just when Ivanka Trump thought she had made headway and returned upstairs, Meadows would call her to say that the president still needed more persuading. 'I need you to come back down here, ' Meadows would tell her. 'We have got to get this under control.' He would clear the room of other aides and say: 'I want only Ivanka, myself and the president in here.' "This cycle repeated itself several times that afternoon, as another presidential adviser said: 'Ivanka was described to me like a stable pony. When the race horse gets too agitated, you bring the stable pony in to calm him down.'"

Abby, I want your take on this, because to the uninitiated here, it sounds like reputational rehabilitation is under way by whoever the source of this is.

PHILLIP: Yes, and I would really be careful not to overinterpret this as either Mark Meadows or Ivanka Trump in any way doing what was necessary to stop all of this from transpiring, to stop the big lie from taking hold, to stop former President Trump from doing the things that he did on that day.

If I'm not mistaken, Ivanka Trump on the day of the riot sent out a tweet calling the rioters patriots. And she had to delete that tweet that day, because obviously these were people who were breaking into the Capitol at the time.

Meanwhile, Mark Meadows, in the days leading up to the January 6 riot and even afterwards, was part of an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the election.

These are people who are just as complicit as Trump was in everything that happened on and before and after January 6. But it does show you a dynamic that we have witnessed it with this White House for the four years that I covered this president and in other instances. The people around him know better. They don't say anything publicly, but, privately, maybe they tried to rein him in.

And they are often not successful. That does not make them heroes of the story, unfortunately, but it is something to note, that there are people around him who know better and don't do the right thing.

BLACKWELL: Asha, to you.

There's also revelation here about the vice president as he was there at the Capitol and saw that these insurrectionists were getting into the building. I'm going to read here from the book.

"'Get troops here, get them here now, ' the vice president ordered. 'We have got to get the Congress to do its business. 'Yes, sir, ' Miller said. It was the sternest Miller or the other Pentagon officials listening had ever heard Pence. 'Get the Capitol cleared, ' he told Miller. 'You have got to get down here. You have got to get the place cleared. We have got to do what we have to do.' 'Yes, sir.' Miller answered."

I mean, you think the president was sitting in the White House, according to the book, watching this all on television. You have got the vice president here, who both because of the image -- he doesn't want to be seen escaping the Capitol -- wants the Congress to do the job, and he's the one who's now ordering troops.

RANGAPPA: Yes, this is another aspect of the day that we need clarified.

Like Abby, I am hesitant to cast people as heroes of the day, when they basically did nothing in the entire lead-up to this. Vice President Mike Pence at least was willing to follow the Constitution that day. And, apparently, that was his crime.


But I think we do need to know who it was that gave the order finally for the National Guard to come in, because it seems that there's conflicting reporting, and that it was not coming from President Trump.

And I think we have some problematic issues that arise if it was Vice President Pence who gave that order, because that's not the chain of command. That means that there was an overriding of the normal procedure, which -- the outcome was good, but it further emphasizes the danger we were in that day, when the person who was charged with protecting the country and upholding the Constitution was unwilling to do that and actually willing to see people, his own vice president, come to harm.

I mean, there was a gallows out there to hang him. So, again, I think this just raises many more questions that need to be answered fully, including by the vice president.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and we're, what, about a week-and-a-half out from the start of this select committee, the first meeting.

Abby Phillip, Asha Rangappa.

We will, of course, have more from the book, some bombshell revelations here. Thanks so much for being with us.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: German Chancellor Angela Merkel just arrived in the White House.

She will soon meet with President Biden in the Oval Office. We will keep you updated with the latest there.

CAMEROTA: Also ahead: The U.S. surgeon general just issued an unprecedented warning that misinformation about the COVID vaccine is a serious threat to public health and that myths around vaccines are the reasons that some Americans are not getting their shot.

We will tell you what he said.



CAMEROTA: The U.S. surgeon general just did something interesting. He emphasized how much words matter in the fight against coronavirus. Dr. Vivek Murthy announced just a short time ago that misinformation and disinformation are directly to blame for the slowdown in COVID vaccinations. And he urged tech companies and individuals to do more.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Misinformation has led people to resist wearing masks in high-risk settings. It's led them to turn down proven treatments and to choose not to get vaccinated.

What's different now, though, is the speed and scale at which health misinformation is spreading. 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.


CAMEROTA: Unvaccinated Americans are causing a major upswing in COVID cases and hospitalizations. All but three states are seeing more cases in the past week than the week before, with 35 states undergoing a rise of 50 percent or more.

BLACKWELL: And Louisiana is among the top five states reporting the most cases Wednesday.

It's listed near the bottom, though, the bottom five, when it comes to vaccinations. Just 36 percent of Louisiana is fully vaccinated.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in New Orleans for us.

Miguel, we know the numbers there. How's that impacting hospitals?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's -- look, you're not seeing those massive numbers yet.

They are in a new surge here, their fourth surge here in Louisiana, say health officials. But you're not seeing those massive numbers of people being admitted yet, because those that are most of concern, even though the numbers are low, the vaccination numbers are low here, most of those people that have those comorbidities have been vaccinated.

It is those young people, it is people who are completely resistant that are not getting vaccinated. So hospitals are seeing younger people coming in. They are seeing them come in sicker. And because they're young and able to fight, hospitals say they stay longer now. They're staying now two and three weeks.

The problem is not so much the bed space in hospitals, but staffing. That's what they are going to -- that's what they're increasingly concerned with now. One top state health officials says that the Delta variant is responsible for most of the infections here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: How fast is the virus growing in the community here?

DR. JOSEPH KANTER, LOUISIANA STATE HEALTH OFFICER: Well, right now, we have had the highest number of new cases, almost 2,000 new cases today, than we have had going back almost three or four months.

Delta variant up until last week was doubling in prevalence every two weeks.


MARQUEZ: So doubling in prevalence every two weeks. That was a while back. They expect that it is growing even faster right now. They say that if you are vaccinated and you know somebody who is not vaccinated, don't mock them, don't tease them. The best way to do it is just to keep at them, give them good information and keep trying to get them vaccinated.

There are some persuadables out there -- back to you guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Miguel Marquez for us there in New Orleans.

Miguel, thanks so much.

Let's bring in now Michael Osterholm. He is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. He's also the author of "Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs."

Michael, thanks for coming back.

Let me start here with we are seeing these hot spots across the country. You look at the map, red and orange across it. Extrapolate for us. And I want you to start with this exchange with the CDC director. Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Listen to this and then we will talk.


QUESTION: Chicago, they have reinstated travel restrictions for unvaccinated travelers. If this trend that we're seeing right now keeps up, do you anticipate more cities and states doing the same as Chicago as doing?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I think that may be the case, but I think now is our moment to really double down on our vaccination efforts and our other prevention interventions.



BLACKWELL: So, what do you think about that, that we're headed toward more travel restrictions? And what about lockdown for some of these communities? DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA CENTER FOR

INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH: Well, a couple of things.

First of all, we have to establish that we are literally sitting on the edge of what could be a major crisis. Let me just point out we're following by about three weeks what's been happening in England. Today, they reported almost 49,000 cases.

Had that same number occurred here for our population size, that would be 200,000 cases today. I don't think people understand what the potential is ahead of us. Where this Delta variant has taken off, it has really taken off, and it's seeming to do that around the country here now.

As far as lockdowns, I think that, as a society, we won't go there again, which is what really concerns me about the, what can we do? It is really about getting vaccines into people. That's probably the primary thing.

And I agree 100 percent with the surgeon general. The misinformation, disinformation campaigns have made getting those people vaccinated.

One last note. The number that we all should be focused on, 100 million U.S. residents have not been vaccinated or protected from previous infection, 100 million. That's what this virus has to burn through right now.

BLACKWELL: You brought up the surgeon general today talking about the urgent threat of misinformation and disinformation about the virus and the vaccines.

What do they need to do? They put out some headers today of major initiatives, but, specifically, where should they go?

OSTERHOLM: This is really a person-by-person issue.

If you're a pregnant woman, you are absolutely concerned about your unborn child. We have to make sure that we have every physician, every practitioner of any kind with the correct information about how effective and safe these vaccines are.

We have got to get the vaccines licensed as soon as possible, so that the public who have been reluctant to get vaccinated for that reason, thinking there's still an experiment, no longer have that excuse. And we just have to acknowledge that there's a group of vaccine-hostile people out there that are not really hesitant. They're way beyond that.

They will do anything they can to keep people from getting vaccinated. And we just have to basically get the message there. Just remember, this is not in the end an ideologic issue. This is all about biology. This is -- the virus will find you if you are not vaccinated or protected from previous infection.

And what we're trying to do is keep everyone in this country from getting infected. BLACKWELL: But it's also not new. Right?

You were on the Coronavirus Task Force during the transition. And so was the now surgeon general. We're seven months into this administration. What was the conversation heading into the White House about the disinformation and try to -- how to combat it?

OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, we recognized right from the start that there were two types of issues we'd have to deal with. One was basically the last mile, getting vaccine manufactured and getting into the communities that needed in the amount of vaccine that would be required.

The second one, though, is the last inch, getting that needle into someone's arm. And it was recognized very early on that this would be challenged. We're living in unprecedented public health times, where, if you look at what's happened, state legislatures that are, with their governors, prohibiting public health from doing their jobs, firing competent public health people for telling the truth about these vaccines, I have never seen that in my 46 years in public health.

So it's deeper than just the classic kind of vaccine hesitancy that we have seen in the past with child immunizations. This is really a national campaign and, in fact, it's occurring internationally, to basically provide misinformation for political purposes.

And remember, in the end, the one thing that matters is, do you get infected, do you get seriously ill and do you die?


OSTERHOLM: And, in the end, we can tell you that will happen if you don't get vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: We're about a week out from the opening ceremonies for the Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo reported its second consecutive day of more than 1,000 new cases, a trend that's been continuing for weeks now. We know that not everyone who's traveling to the city will be vaccinated. How do you prevent this from being one of those super-spreader events?

OSTERHOLM: Well, as you may be aware, I actually wrote a piece with some of my colleagues in "The New England Journal of Medicine" over two months ago laying out the challenges for holding the Olympics in Japan, knowing that this very moment of where the Delta variant would be taking off in Japan, knowing that worldwide this was occurring, and people would be coming with the virus, as well as the fact that volunteers who were working at the Olympics would be interfacing with these athletes.

We have tried to work with the Olympic Committee, with the government of Japan to help them improve their ability to try to prevent transmission. But I think this is going to be a challenge. I hope that we can get through the Olympics without a major event, but

I think, at this point, the whole world is witnessing this rapid emergence of Delta. And I think it's going to be a real challenge.

BLACKWELL: All right, Michael Osterholm, always good to have your insight.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.