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Biden's Economic Agenda; Olympic COVID Fears; Interview With Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA); COVID Cases Rising. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 19, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: It's a brand new hour. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

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

The closing bell is a little more than an hour away and we are closely watching the Dow. At one point, it was down more than 900 points. Well, and now it is down more than 900 points again. It has been bouncing around, but it has looked bad, certainly in the negative range, all day.

The Delta variant is spooking investors, who worry it could threaten U.S. recovery from the pandemic. One former FDA commissioner calls the Delta variant -- quote -- "the most serious virus most unvaccinated people will face in their lives."

Right now, every state in the U.S. is seeing a rise in coronavirus cases. And for the first time since mid-May, the U.S. is averaging more than 30,000 cases a day.

BLACKWELL: That's a 66 percent jump from last week, 145 percent increase from two weeks ago. Hospitalizations are up 50 percent from two weeks ago.

Deaths, they're on the rise too, averaging about 260 per day, up 13 percent from last week. And the CDC director says close to 100 percent of deaths and hospitalizations are of unvaccinated people, but less than half, only 48.6 percent of the U.S. population, is fully vaccinated.

CAMEROTA: So, the American Academy of Pediatrics just issued a new recommendation.

They're calling on all students over the age of 2 years old to wear masks this coming school year, even if they're vaccinated. That's different than what the CDC recommends.

So let's turn to CNN's Jason Carroll.

Jason, explain why pediatricians are urging now that masks stay in place at school.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Alisyn, that Dr. Fauci may have said it best this morning when he said that basically the AAP was doing this, was issuing these new guidelines, in terms of they're just trying to be as extra safe as possible.

But, obviously, a number of parents are going to be looking at these new guidelines and wondering what they should be doing is. And so that's why I want to say right off the top here you have got to look at your local district. Whatever they're recommending, that's what you're going to have to go with.

I'm going to explain a little bit more about that in just a minute, but first to the new guidelines. Again, this is coming from the AAP, the American Academy of pediatrics, basically saying that it's necessary because much of the student population is not vaccinated.

The reason for that, of course, is those under the age of 12 are not eligible. They said in a statement: "We need to prioritize getting children back into schools, alongside their friends, their teachers, and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely. Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in person learning safe and possible for everyone."

Now, that already falls in step with a number of states that have already said, look, you need to be -- you need to wear a mask in order to come back to school. Those states include places like New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, Virginia, Washington, and New Mexico.

But, guys, it gets tricky when you consider those states that say, look, we say that you cannot say that you need to wear a mask in order to come back to school. Those states include Arizona, Vermont, South Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, and Georgia.

Now, take Georgia, for example. Just got off the phone not too long ago, Alisyn, with a representative from the Atlanta school district. Now, up until this point Atlanta has said you need to wear a mask in order to come to school. We don't care what the governor is saying, what the state is saying. We're the district here. We're saying you need to wear a mask.

Well, I asked him about this new guidance. They said, obviously, they're going to be taking that into account when they make their new guidance for the upcoming school year. Classes start August 5. That new guidance hasn't come out yet. But they are about to release it. It could come as soon as this week.

And they're saying they're going to be looking at the AAP guidance in terms of making their new recommendations. And the reason why I bring this up is because, once again, it's the district that's making the call here. The district is saying, like in the case of Atlanta, we're going to look at what the AAP is saying, we're going to look at in some cases what the CDC is saying, but we're not necessarily going to pay attention to what the governor is saying. So that's why I said at the top you have got to listen to what your

local district is saying. That's where your guideline is going to come from.


BLACKWELL: Yes, and time's running out for some of these districts. Classes start in some places in just a couple of weeks.

Jason Carroll for us.

Jason, thank you so much.

CARROLL: You bet.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to California now and this sweeping indoor mask mandate. It's back in effect in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the nation.

But the L.A. County sheriff says that he will not enforce the mandate. And he told CNN why.


ALEX VILLANUEVA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, SHERIFF: Well, I have a raging problem with homelessness. We're the epicenter of the entire nation's homeless crisis.

I have crimes of violence, homicides up almost 60 percent. I have out- of-control illegal marijuana, grows in the high desert in illegal dispensaries in the basin. Those three things represent existential threats. And I have -- at the same time, I'm being defunded by the board of supervisors.

So what few resources I have available are going to be devoted to those three existential threats. On the medical side, well, the Department of Public Health, they can enforce it all they want, but we're not going to be called to stretch ourselves even further than we already are. We have to have some common sense here.


BLACKWELL: Here to discuss is Congressman Raul Ruiz of California. He's a former emergency room doctor and has been teaming up with public health officials to set up mobile vaccine clinics in his district.

Congressman, thanks for being with us.

First, do you support this return of the mask mandate, even for vaccinated people, in L.A. County?

REP. RAUL RUIZ (D-CA): In L.A. County specifically, I do think it's a responsible move, because there's been a lot of unvaccinated folks that haven't been wearing their masks. And in order to make sure that they, as well as vaccinated, wear their

masks, then I do think that it's important right now, especially since their cases are starting to rapidly rise.

BLACKWELL: So if that's the rationale for supporting this, then there cannot be separate guidance for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, can there, on any level, if we're going to use the unvaccinated as the guide for the rules that we create?

Is that science-based?

RUIZ: Well, right now, it is science-based, but it's difficult to determine who's vaccinated, who's not vaccinated in everyday life.

And so it's in a trust, scout's honor method that we're asking individuals who are not vaccinated to wear a mask and those that are vaccinated, according to CDC, do not need to wear a mask.

However, when you're starting to see a rapid surge or a massive public health threat, and you want to simplify things in order to help individuals and stores to best protect the spread of the virus, this Delta virus, then this is an appropriate approach to incrementally increase your precautions once again.

BLACKWELL: So we're seeing on the map that states, every state, we're seeing an increase in cases. Should there be then a reconsideration of the CDC's guidance for indoor masking if the honor system isn't working anywhere?

RUIZ: We're starting to see a rapid surge in hospitalizations and deaths due to the Delta virus. And I do think that the CDC will start to reconsider their guidelines.

Right now, it's still in the early stages of its rise. And in California, every county according to their data, can make their determination as to whether or not they're going to go back to indoor mask-wearing or not.

And so right now, it's a little too early to make those assessments for the entire nation. But I'm sure the CDC is going to keep a close eye. And if we do see these -- the deaths and hospitalizations, then I do think that they will reconsider.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's move to another topic here.

A federal judge in Texas has decided or at least ruled that DACA, Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, is unconstitutional and has blocked any new applicants, has said that it's unconstitutional, it's illegal because it was created by executive order and not by Congress.

What's this mean for those 700,000 who are here, the DACA recipients, as they're now in limbo again?

RUIZ: Well, those that have received DACA provisions will maintain their DACA protections right now. This court order was to halt any new applications from happening.

However, the administration is going to challenge that decision. And so it'll play its way up to the highest level of our nation's court system.


RUIZ: What's important right now is that we passed the Dream and Promise Act with the bipartisan push out of the House.

And the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, of which I'm the chair, is really working with the Senate to make sure that they have a voice or an opportunity to vote on that bill in the Senate. And, if not, then we're going to move to include dreamers and a pathway to citizenship in the budget reconciliation process, which then would leave it up to the parliamentarian to decide whether it's going to stay in that or not.


BLACKWELL: You got any confidence that it is permissible?

We know, of course, reconciliation has to be germane to the budget, that immigration reform belongs in a budget bill?

RUIZ: Well, we're looking at specific provisions within immigration reform that are specifically related to the budget.

So, for example, if we have a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers, other essential workers, dreamers, TPS holders, and include as much immigration reform, then we could increase the GDP by $1.4 trillion over a decade, increase new jobs by hundreds of thousands, and increase American salaries.

So, that's improving our economy, increasing our revenue, decreasing families' reliance on social services. So, that -- I do believe that we have a very strong case to show that, indeed, this is a budget economic provision for the betterment of all families in the U.S.

BLACKWELL: All right.

RUIZ: And, Victor, before we leave, I just want to say, going back to the COVID-19, it is so important that the way we're going to minimize this surge or prevent another surge of this Delta virus is for everybody to get vaccinated.


All right, Congressman Ruiz, thanks so much.

RUIZ: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Victor, this just in: Katie Lou Samuelson, a member of the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, will not be able to compete in the Tokyo Games, after testing positive for COVID.

She posted on Instagram -- quote -- "I am especially heartbroken, as I am fully vaccinated and took every precaution."

This is just the latest setback for Team USA, which also just announced its first COVID case in Tokyo. Alternate U.S. gymnast Kara Eaker has tested positive for COVID. Her father tells CNN affiliate KMBC that she is in isolation.

A second alternate gymnast who reportedly had close contact with her is also isolating.


MARK EAKER, FATHER OF KARA EAKER: We were talking with her last night. She's had multiple COVID tests come back positive.

She has no symptoms. She's been vaccinated. And because of the tests coming back positive, they went ahead and isolated her by herself in her hotel room, and she's under quarantine.


CAMEROTA: This news comes just a day after tennis star Coco Gauff tested positive here in the U.S., forcing her to withdraw from the Games.

Let's turn now to Rennae Stubbs, a four-time Olympian.

So, Rennae, thank you very much for being here.

You just said that's so sad. That's so sad.

I mean, is all of this stuff, all of the COVID setbacks, is this eclipsing the achievements and excitement of the athletes in this year's Games?


I hope that -- you get so many of these athletes, particularly the athletes that this is the biggest thing in the world for them, the Olympic Games. I come, obviously, from the tennis aspect, but also I know how important it is for tennis players to play in the Olympics as well.

So when you think about gymnasts and swimmers and the fact that they have already had to push back their training a year, and hang on to see if they can even get on teams, and then to have something like this happen, particularly to those athletes where this is so important to them, is so -- it's terrible. It's so sad, and I feel so terrible for them in general.

But it's a tough call. I mean, Tokyo has put a lot of money into this. Japan has put a lot of money into the Olympics. There's a ton of expectations for the athletes to be there. But now they have taken away the fans. And that's going to be really hard for the athletes as well.

CAMEROTA: I mean, can -- if you were competing this year, given this set of circumstances, would you feel safe?

STUBBS: Yes, well, listen, I mean, I have been vaccinated. And I know everybody that I know is going, particularly in the tennis, is all vaccinated.

But we have already heard how people that are vaccinated are still getting COVID. So I think that everyone's going to try and mitigate all the problems that they could have. And in the tennis world, for example, like Coco Gauff, she has been in a bubble, essentially, for the last about five weeks leading up to Wimbledon.

And the bubble is to protect the players from COVID outside of the bubble. So now that she went outside of the bubble after Wimbledon, she's obviously contracted it after leaving the bubble, and that's what's sad about the fact that now she can't go and represent of the United States.


I mean, you have called it, I think, heartbreaking that all of this time, all of the effort, and then, through no fault of their own -- I mean, as you know, people are not always disclosing whether they were vaccinated.


CAMEROTA: But even those who are vaccinated are now having this experience.


I mean, obviously, for Coco, I believe that she was not vaccinated. And one of the reasons she was not vaccinated is because she couldn't get vaccinated because she was traveling week to week in Europe. So she couldn't actually get the vaccinations, let's say, in Florida, where she lived, and then go back to that same place.


As we know, it's a three-week or a four-week, depending on which vaccination you get. So, for Coco, she expressed that in her own story, Instagram story, how she wanted to get vaccinated, but it was really difficult for her to do it.

So I think this is just an ongoing issue that every athlete, every person has to really be careful of, and clearly for these athletes going into this now bubble in Tokyo, and I have seen some of the videos already, and I know the isolation chambers that they're going to have to go in if they do get COVID or they get tested positive, and it's -- it's not going to be a fun time for them.

CAMEROTA: What is that? What is it like? What are those isolation chambers? I mean, I can't imagine. You're in a foreign country, you think that this is the biggest moment of your life and then having to be in quarantine and isolation.


CAMEROTA: Just peel back the curtain. What does that look like for them?

STUBBS: It's not fun. And you heard the gymnast saying that she was bored and she just wanted to come home.

And I had to do a 14-day stint when I went back to Australia to do the -- in a hotel room, which was already difficult enough. But you're in your home state or a city or country and you feel like, OK, I'm going to get out of here and it's going to be so much better for me.

But the fact that you're in a foreign country, and you're isolated away from your athletes and your friends and your family, it's difficult, but this is the sacrifices that these athletes are taking just to go and perform at these Olympic Games.

And that's how much it means to them. I mean, you have to think that they're so used to performing in front of crowds, and now they don't even have crowds. They're having to still do this. But they put four years into actually turning up and being there.

And I just feel for them all. And I hope everybody stays safe over there.

CAMEROTA: Should you have gone ahead with these Games, given their vaccination rates?

STUBBS: I mean, you can sort of have an argument both ways, can't you?

But, as I said, they have put so much money into these Games, and to not have them now and, obviously, for the sponsors and clearly television rights, we all know how much those are to pay for. So there's a lot on the line. I think it's -- I think it depends where you come from how you look at it.

I'm sure the Japanese people are probably pretty upset that it's happening. But you have to think of those athletes that have spent four years of their life.

CAMEROTA: What do you think?

STUBBS: I'm glad they're going ahead for the athletes, because, as I said, as a former Olympian, also as a former athlete, boy, I would feel really terrible if I put in all that work, and then all of a sudden they just pulled the plug at the last minute.

It would be very difficult to deal with.

CAMEROTA: Rennae Stubbs, great to see you.

STUBBS: Hey, it's great to be here.

CAMEROTA: Thank you so much for coming in. I really appreciate your perspective. STUBBS: Thanks. Thanks.

BLACKWELL: A bipartisan group of lawmakers will meet again tonight trying to finalize an infrastructure deal and find consensus on how to pay for it.

CAMEROTA: And hundreds of thousands of acres are being scorched, as firefighters struggle to contain the wildfires in the Western United States.

We have a live report for you from the scene.



CAMEROTA: It's been nearly a month since that bipartisan group of senators walked out of the White House and proclaimed they had a deal on infrastructure at long last. So where is it? And what's in it?

Well, this Wednesday, Senator -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants them to vote on it, even though the outcome is uncertain. Here is President Biden earlier today.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should be united in one thing, passage of the bipartisan infrastructure framework, which we shook hands on, we shook hands on.


BLACKWELL: Yes, they shook hands on it. But they still have not reached an agreement on how to pay for it.

CNN political analyst Margaret Talev is managing editor at Axios.

Margaret, this deadline now of Wednesday, when they don't know how they're going to pay for, still questions about what will be in each of these bills, the infrastructure bill, the reconciliation bill--

CAMEROTA: Details.

BLACKWELL: Yes, $3.5 trillion, we will figure it out.

Is that realistic at all?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they shook hands. But their fingers were crossed. So it didn't count.

Victor, Alisyn, hi.

Yes, so, like, look, what's Chuck Schumer doing? He's trying to force everyone's hand, because he's staring down a couple of deadlines. One is the August recess. Looks like it's going to be a shorter recess than all of August, but they're still going to take a break to go home and do fund-raising, all that stuff.

And, realistically, like, it's a midterm year. If any infrastructure deal is going to get passed, it needs to start moving through the process. So Schumer is trying to force both Republicans' hands in that bipartisan deal and the sort of left flank of his own party on this bigger $3.5 trillion kind of softer, broader infrastructure package that they can do without bipartisan support.

So, Wednesday is the magic day, sort of, but what happens if Wednesday comes and goes and they don't have it? I don't know. To be determined. No matter what, nothing is going to happen on Wednesday. Like, it's not like the accomplishment of infrastructure or the end of the road for infrastructure is going to happen on Wednesday.

But what we will see on Wednesday is the contours That this takes. Can there really be any bipartisan deal or is that just a fiction? And do they have to rely on sort of jamming through a partisan-only bill through the budget reconciliation process?

CAMEROTA: Well, if it's just a fiction, they are going through a lot of exercises in futility. Tonight, they're having a bipartisan Zoom call, we understand, about it.

Is that because Chuck Schumer is lighting a fire under them? Are they kind of kicking it into gear?

TALEV: Look, there are actually a lot of Republicans who see the merits in a bipartisan infrastructure deal.


There are two political realities. And, like, let's set aside the fact that, ultimately, at some point, more money is going to have to be spent on American infrastructure. You have buildings collapsing, bridges collapsing, and kind of economic reckonings with China, et cetera.

But, politically, infrastructure is very popular. It's popular in Republican districts, as well as Democratic districts and swing districts. The size matters. The definition of infrastructure matters.

But that core idea of what you think of when you think of roads or bridges or even Internet access in rural areas, as well as cities, like, those are popular. The other political reality is that voters are really afraid of inflation and debt.

So they want the spending, but they're uncomfortable about spending to get the spending.

CAMEROTA: Spending.

TALEV: And -- right.

And so therein lies the political conundrum.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about what's happening in Georgia right now. The Senate Rules Committee is holding the first field hearing in 20 years. And the chair of that committee, Senator Klobuchar, said this about what they're talking about there, voting rights.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Election infrastructure could actually be in the Democratic package. And that's part of the solution.

What you can do with infrastructure, which is not in the bipartisan package, and I'm glad they're continuing to negotiate and make progress, what you can do is put election infrastructure in there. You could tie it to certain things as incentives for states to do same-day registration, to do the mail-in balloting.


CAMEROTA: So, Senator Klobuchar is talking about adding voting to this $3.5 trillion bill.

I just had a congressman on who talked about adding immigration reform to the bill. I mean, is any of this really going to happen and you hold on to the Republican votes for the bipartisan bill?

TALEV: Right.

So there's like the traditional definition of infrastructure, and then there's soft infrastructure. And then there's, in Washington, what they call loading it up like a Christmas tree. And so I think that's the fault line. That's probably the danger fault line for Democrats is, do you just throw everything under the sun into this package and make the parliamentarian tell you what you can't put in there on a 51- vote majority?

The answer to that is yes. That may very well be where this is going. But this is something that Biden and Chuck Schumer and, to some extent, Bernie Sanders, who's the head of the Budget Committee and is kind of in this unique position of being able to speak to progressives, folks who want more spending, but also sees himself now as part of leadership, dare I say, part of the establishment, would like to be able to protect what's now a $3.5 trillion Democratic bill.

If this turns into a runaway train, you lose Manchin, Sinema, other moderate Democrats. You have to be able to hold together a Democratic coalition if you're going to do a Democratic-only bill.

So these are conversations that are going to happen. The voting rights thing is real. It's a real burning desire by Democrats. And if they can't end the filibuster, which they don't have the votes to end right now, they are trying to figure out if they can use their bare majority power to tuck it in through some sort of a 51-vote vehicle.

But can that vehicle be infrastructure? Someone's going to have to decide.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Senator Manchin has said that he's not willing to adjust or reform the filibuster to vote for voting rights. Is he willing to vote just with the reconciliation bill to do it? We will find out. He, of course, will tell us.

Margaret Talev, thanks so much.

And be sure to watch as President Joe Biden joins Don Lemon for an exclusive CNN presidential town hall live Wednesday night at 8:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

CAMEROTA: Extreme climate conditions across the globe. A California wildfire is burning tens of thousands of acres. So far, it is zero percent contained.

BLACKWELL: And in Western Europe, receding waters are revealing the devastation caused by historic flooding. We're live on the front lines of the fires and the floods next.