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COVID Cases Rising in All 50 States; Report Says, Two Charged with Conspiracy in Plot to Bomb Democratic H.Q. in Sacramento. General Milley Feared Trump Would Strike Iran to Stay in Power. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired July 16, 2021 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Disinformation that is putting lives at risk.

[10:00:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

XAVIER BECERRA, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We need people to step up, including the private sector. If they are in charge, they have responsibility to make sure that their platforms are being used in the right way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: They're talking largely about social media companies there.

This weekend, Los Angeles County, a place that had seen cases drop to low levels, will reinstate its indoor mask mandate regardless of if you've been vaccinated. It's part of an effort to battle this new surge in COVID cases.

Let's begin this hour with Stephanie Elam in L.A. Stephanie, a huge reversal there and something that could have been largely prevented because of the wide availability of vaccines. You have got health officials in L.A. saying all of the COVID patients in their hospitals are unvaccinated?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, really, I want people to think about that. Every single person who is in the hospital, Jim and Poppy, here in L.A. County, has not been vaccinated, and that is exactly the problem here.

Just to compare where we were to where we are now, the test positivity yesterday was 3.7 percent is what the county reported. On June 15th, that is when we saw the state open back up, the test positivity was just half a percent. They were also saying that the delta variant is very much part of the issue here, that it is accounting for about three quarters of sequences in a recent period that they were looking at. So that shows that you that this is more easily transmissible, delta variant is part of the problem. So, here is the numbers. There are about 10 million people in Los Angeles County. Nearly 4 million are not vaccinated yet. They also are saying that residents 16 and older who are allowed and eligible to get vaccinated, they're saying the ones who have had one shot, that is about 69 percent and now that is about 8.3 million of those people who are eligible for that. Those who are fully vaccinated, it is about 61 percent of that subset as well.

Obviously, we know that vaccines are working. The issue here is just getting people to get vaccinated. Having 1,000-plus new cases for each day for the last seven days is obviously a problem. Yesterday, the number was over 1,500 new cases that were reported. So that is up 83 percent over last week. And then if you look at new cases in a month, they're saying that is up 500 percent.

And I was just taking some time, Jim and Poppy, to look at the county map of where there is more vaccinations that have happened. And if you look at that, a lot of it is around more affluent neighborhoods in the county. Those are the people who are vaccinated. And you see it in other counties where you have more diversity, people of color, that is where the vaccination is lagging. It is very clear that if people were to wear masks, first of all, we would actually be able to get control of this. And if people get vaccinated, that is something we really need people to do now.

SCIUTTO: That headline figure of everyone hospitalized, every single patient hospitalized with COVID not vaccinated. It is telling. Stephanie Elam, thanks you very much.

HARLOW: Joining us now is Dr. Jennifer Avegno, Director of the New Orleans Health Department. Good morning, Doctor. Thank you for being with us, and I really wish it were under better terms but we're glad you're here.

DR. JENNIFER AVEGNO, DIRECTOR, NEW ORLEANS HEALTH DEPARTMENT: Thank you, so do I.

HARLOW: So you heard what Stephanie just reported in L.A. You have got every single person in the hospital with COVID is unvaccinated. Last hour, we had the Health and Human Services secretary on talking about how much disinformation largely spread on social media and by some right-wing media and by some lawmakers is contributing to this. What is the situation for you guys there especially given the misinformation?

AVEGNO: Well it was interesting to hear that L.A. County is very similar to where we are in New Orleans. We have very high adult vaccination rates, right close to the 69 percent, over 50 percent of our entire population in the city is fully vaccinated. But the problem is, is that just a few miles away, the numbers are very different. And there are large portions of the rest of our state and our region that are not nearly that vaccinated.

And, unfortunately, delta has taken hold there. And as we know, you can't have borders around a vaccinated and unvaccinated place. So we're not only seeing huge rises in our cases of mostly unvaccinated people but we are starting to see some breakthrough cases as well and that is the really concerning part to us.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Avegno, there is disinformation and there's just flat out misunderstanding, right? You do have people saying, wait a second, if the vaccination protects me, why are vaccinated people getting infected, having breakout cases? Explain to folks how that is possible but also still the stark difference in terms of hospitalization and death from COVID for people who are vaccinated versus unvaccinated.

AVEGNO: Well, as good as our three vaccines are, they are not 100 percent. Nothing ever is. They're 90 to 95 percent effective against severe disease.

[10:05:02]

So we expected some breakthrough cases. But it is absolutely true that in Louisiana, 99 percent of our deaths since January have been to unvaccinated people. The vast majority of our hospitalizations are to unvaccinated people.

The danger is as more unvaccinated people get infected and delta is so contagious, it is really transmitting at a speed that I haven't seen since the very beginning, that is going to then expose more vaccinated people who have done all of the right things, who are taking the right steps. And so you're going to have more breakthrough cases as well.

I think that is part of the reason that L.A. County put the mask mandate in back for everyone because even though the vaccinated folks at are far, far, far lower risk, the risk is not zero.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Do you want to see that? You know, do you want to see that mandate come down from New Orleans?

AVEGNO: Well, you know, nobody wants to go back. But, certainly, I think that is something that we're considering. Because, again, we can't -- we don't want to have another surge. Our hospitals and like hospitals across the country have critical staffing shortages, and so another influx of COVID patients, and we're already starting to see that statewide. Our hospitalizations in the state for COVID have doubled in the last two weeks.

So we're really trying to get ahead of yet another burden on our health care system. So it certainly is something that we're considering.

SCIUTTO: Can you give some advice now to people who are vaccinated regarding masking, because you have L.A. County doing it regardless of your vaccination status? But given that the risk of hospitalization and death is so low for vaccinated people, explain to folks if and why it may still be important for vaccinated people to mask.

AVEGNO: Yes, and I used myself as an example. I have elderly parents in my life who have some health problems. The risk of me as a vaccinated person getting severe COVID is fairly low. And even if I did get it, the risk of me transmitting it is low as well. However, the risk to them, if they got it, is still significant. So, for me, wearing a mask when I am indoors in a public area and I don't know everyone's vaccination status is really easy. It is a minimal thing I can do, same for parents of young children who can't get vaccinated yet.

So I would just really ask everyone to consider your risk, consider the risk of the people that you love. Certainly, if you're not vaccinated there are absolutely no reason to wait. Waiting could kill you. But consider changing your behavior while we are facing this surge, avoiding large gatherings, putting the mask on indoors when you don't know folks are vaccinated and I think that's going to mitigate some of the risks significantly.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Dr. Jennifer Avegno, thank you very much. We're sorry to see the numbers obviously across the state but what you guys are grappling with right now. Thanks for your time.

AVEGNO: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Other story this morning, breaking news out of California, where two men have been charged in connection with a plot to attack the Democratic headquarters in Sacramento following the 2020 election.

HARLOW: So the court documents show these two people planned to bomb targets they associated with Democrats after the election.

Our Whitney Wild has all of the details. It is stunning but very real.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Very real. And it is the exact thing federal officials have been warning could happen in this heightened threat environment.

So here are the details from the Department of Justice just coming out this morning, really minutes ago. These two men now being charged with trying to affect a plot to bomb locations that they associated with Democrats. Here was the scheme. They wanted to start with the Democratic headquarters in Northern California. They wanted to inspire a movement, Jim and Poppy. Their goal was to inspire a movement that would overthrow the government.

They had discussed things like I want to -- here is a quote, I want to blow up a Democrat building bad. That is one quote the Department of Justice putting out today. The other person in this conversation saying, I agree, plan attack. Then in these conversations between these two people now arrested, one of them said after the 20th, meaning January 20th, after Joe Biden's inauguration, we go to war. That is the heightened threat environment we're in right now.

Investigators upon trying to suss out this case found thousands rounds of ammunition, dozens of weapons, I mean, 45 to 50 firearms alone, five pipe bombs. One of these men has already been in custody since January, the other was recently arrested. They will appear in court in coming days. But this is the example, this is the evident federal officials are working with when they put out these warnings to local law enforcement all across the country. These threats exist, these threats are real. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Yes, clearly real and not isolated. Whitney Wild, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Coming up, a new report says that General Mark Milley was worried former President Trump would start a war in his effort to overturn the 2020 election. Plus, the real reason Trump still has such a tight grip on much of the Republican Party.

Also ahead, backlash on Capitol Hill over Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's ambitious infrastructure timeline. Senator Mazie Hirono is here.

SCIUTTO: Then later, the death toll is rising from severe flash flooding in Europe as wildfires rage here in the U.S., as the impact of climate change is seen around the world in very real terms, we talk about the major difference between two key climate change proposals. What could we do about all of this?

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[10:15:00]

HARLOW: There is new reporting from The New Yorker this morning that the Joints Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley, feared President Trump might set in motion a crisis or even a full blown war as a result of his moves to try to stay in power.

SCIUTTO: Yes. This is an account from inside of the Trump administration at the senior levels. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs had to argue against a missile strike against Iran, at one point saying, quote, if you do this, you're going to have an f'ing war.

The New Yorker is reporting that Milley believed Trump wanted to manufacture a crisis so that he could step in and, in his view, rescue the nation, possibly overturn the election he lost.

HARLOW: And ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, the House GOP plan to win back power appears to be increasingly centered around former President Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with Trump yesterday at his Bedminster golf club.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Melanie Zanona joining us now. Listen, it is Trump's party, right? I mean, the senior leadership is with him. If you break with him, you get kicked out of leadership. We saw that with Liz Cheney or challenged in primaries. They're convinced this is going to help them win back the House, it seems.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, you're absolutely right. House Republicans view Donald Trump as their ticket back to power both in terms of fundraising and also with turnout. That was the political calculation that Kevin McCarthy made in the weeks after January 6. And that is why we've seen GOP leaders flock to Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago to try to stay in his good graces and try to seek his support and to essentially try to rehabilitate his image.

We have also seen Republicans use Donald Trump to fundraise. I sort of through a ton of fundraising pitches and email after email invoked Trump's name or image. I saw one email that actually fundraised off of Trump's birthday with a fake birthday card. And, look, it is working. Trump has proven to be a fundraising goldmine for the GOP.

Just take a look at some of the numbers. NRCC raised $45 million in the second quarter of this year. That is record for them in an off- year. And Kevin McCarthy brought in $16 million during that same period, for a total of $43 million this year.

But, look, there is a risk, no doubt, of tying the party so closely to Trump. Remember, the battle for the House is really going to play out in these suburban swing districts where moderates fled the party and, of course, the GOP did lose the House, the Senate and White House on Trump's watch.

But at the end of the day, most House Republicans feel like there is far more political upside to keeping Trump front and center in the request to win back the majority. Jim, Poppy?

HARLOW: Melanie Zanona, thank you. Those fundraising, as you went through, clearly very telling. We appreciate it this morning. Jim?

SCIUTTO: I'm joined by Senator Mazie Hirono. She's a Democrat from Hawaii, serves on both the Armed Service and Judiciary Committee. Senator, thank you so much for taking the time this morning.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Certainly. Good morning.

SCIUTTO: First, I want to begin with this account of the final days of the Trump presidency here, and keep in mind, as I keep reminding viewers, this comes from senior advisers to the former president, not from outsiders. How is it possible that it took a small handful of generals, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to thwart a president's worst impulses about starting a war? I mean, how is that possible in 21st century America?

HIRONO: It is possible because President Trump surrounded himself otherwise with sycophants, and that is what he did. We have to totally support him. And thank goodness that we have generals, like General Milley who wanted to uphold the Constitution and what he swore to uphold. So, yes, this is what was going on in the White House. That is what was going on in Trump's fervent brain to hang on to power in however way he could.

SCIUTTO: Did you share those concerns, those fears at the time? Were members of Congress, members of the Senate, Democrat or Republican, were you speaking at the time or getting warnings, for instance, from a General Milley about what was going on?

HIRONO: I was speaking out asking for -- calling for Trump to resign in 2017, not to long after his inauguration, because he, at that point, showed his cruelty, his instability, his total inability to pay attention to what was necessary and it just went downhill from that point, if that is possible.

I don't recall the generals coming forward. There is a chain of command, et cetera.

[10:20:00]

But I'm grateful to know that behind the scenes and, too bad, it is behind the scenes that all of these other things were going on and not coming to the fore.

SCIUTTO: We have what happened six or seven months ago before President Trump left office, former President Trump. And now we have what is happening since. He still owns the Republican Party. The big lie is still alive and well. GOP lawmakers are passing voting restrictions in multiple states with great success.

I wonder, is President Biden, in your view, right to be focusing on the continuing hope for a bipartisan infrastructure deal when many of your Democratic colleagues fear that these changes will suppress Democratic Party votes for years to come? I mean, is infrastructure the right focus right now for this president?

HIRONO: The right focus is to get things done for the American people and that is a fact. So, starting yesterday, you had under the rescue plan, which not a single Republican voted for, we have some of the families of 40 million children in our country getting checks or deposit of $300 a month for each child., That is real money. That is a difference for the families. And that it's why the Democrats with a sense of urgency want to do more.

And as far as I'm concerned, if the infrastructure bill doesn't go through because the Republicans who worked on it slip (ph) off, which is possible, but I hope not, I hope they will stay in the course and continue to support the bill that they worked so hard on. But if that doesn't happen, then we should put everything into the reconciliation process so that we can get things done for the American people.

Now, at the same time, yes, agree --

SCIUTTO: Okay, to be clear -- on that point, forgive me, you're saying that if Republicans blow through this next Wednesday vote, which the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has now set, are you saying, all right, time is up, let's do infrastructure and everything else through reconciliation?

HIRONO: That is me talking. I'm not saying that we should get rid of -- yes, I would be prepared to do that. Now, whether the rest of the caucus would be preparing to do that, that is another question.

I know that the caucus is very prepared to get things done. And so, at some point, I think that we are going to need to face a question of filibuster reform, so that the kind of voter suppression that is going on by the hundreds of bills across the country, forcing Texas Democrats to leave the state, how crazy is that? But if we don't get the -- if we don't address the voting issue, we need to reform filibuster. That is something needed to do for quite some time now.

SCIUTTO: Joe Manchin, as you know, is key to that, because he's expressed opposition to filibuster reform. He did meet with some of these Texas Democrats yesterday and said that he would support a modified or somewhat watered down Voting Rights Act to protect the vote nationally. Do you believe him? Do you believe there is a path forward there and would you get any Republican votes for that? Because without him --

HIRONO: To get that kind -- I don't think the Republicans are under Mitch McConnell's leadership are going to do anything to stop the states from passing voter suppression laws. So we're going to need to do that just with Democrats. And at that point, I hope that Joe Manchin will be prepared to make that change.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, there are concerns now about signs potentially of an overheating economy, inflation is up following trillions of dollars spent in COVID relief both in the last administration and the start of the Biden administration. Now you have got about a trillion dollars infrastructure plan and Democrats have passed this $3.5 trillion human infrastructure plan.

I just wonder, do you have concerns that this will overheat the economy, that it is spending too much right now?

HIRONO: My concern is that we're not doing enough for the families who are still struggling through this pandemic. And so the economic disparity is there and so people can talk about inflation, which, by the way, would not be a factor regarding the human infrastructure bill because that will be paid for through the reconciliation process.

So, while the Republicans are screaming about inflation, all of that, they could give a rip about it when they pass the $1.5 trillion in tax breaks for the rich that was totally unpaid for.

SCIUTTO: Well, I guess I'm talking about the effect on the economy today. I'm not claiming that Republicans are principled on the question of expanding the deficit. I'm just saying if you're seeing inflation now and you dump a few more trillion dollars in the economy, decent change you see inflation and overheating.

HIRONO: As I said, the human infrastructure bill, that reconciliation budget bill is going to be paid for. So that $3.5 trillion cannot be the factor in any inflationary tendencies.

SCIUTTO: Well on the deficit perhaps, but in terms juice to the economy, but I get your point.

[10:25:01]

Senator Mazie Hirono, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.

SCIUTTO: Aloha right back. I love that greeting. The Taliban advancing in Afghanistan at, quote, a source tells me, an accelerating pace. Why this surge could be disastrous in particular for women and girls in that country. We're going to have the new reporting next.

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[10:30:00]

SCIUTTO: Just catastrophic flooding in Western Europe has killed now.