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McCarthy: GOP Won't Take Part in 1/6 Committee Unless Pelosi Seats All Our Picks; CDC: Delta Variant Rise Puts Unvaccinated in Greater Danger; Florida Hospital Reports Record Number of Patients with COVID; Parma City, Ohio, School District Will Not Require Masks for Students Regardless of Vaccination Status. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 21, 2021 - 14:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And then Congressman Jim Banks said, "Make no mistake, Nancy Pelosi created this committee to solely malign conservatives and to justify the left's authoritarian agenda."

Now they seem heartbroken that the committee -- they're not going to be able to serve on the committee. So that was interesting to hear that turn-about.

I know you've been getting reaction on Capitol Hill from Democrats to this. What did they tell you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, just on those statements, Alisyn, those two statements of Banks and Jordan actually contributed, I'm told, in a lot of ways to what Pelosi did here.

Because even though they voted to overturn the electoral results from two states, so did the third congressman who was selected, Troy Nehls. He also voted to overturn those election results. And Pelosi would have allowed him to continue to serve.

Pelosi told me earlier that that vote to overturn the electoral results was not the criterion to determine who can serve. Clearly, those statements were a factor.

Now, in talking to Democrats and Republicans, you're seeing the reactions split clearly along party lines. Republicans attacking Pelosi for overreach here and saying she has an iron grip on the House.

And Democrats, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has sparred with the speaker from time to time, made clear she is supportive of Pelosi's move.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I mean, I think it's a completely appropriate thing to do.

I think that McCarthy's decision to seat Jim Jordan was intentional. And he's trying to make a mockery -- like most of his other work, make a mockery of pretty much everything he touches.

I do applaud the speaker for not allowing him to do that and for not allowing Republicans to try to essentially sabotage what should be a bipartisan investigation of integrity into the attack on January 6th.

RAJU: Without Republican appointees on this, isn't that a problem? With no McCarthy appointees on this committee, is that going to be a problem.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, there are Republicans on the committee. You have Liz Cheney, who will be sitting on the committee. Who knows if any other Republicans would step up to sit on the committee?

But whether, you know, the party boss or, rather, whether one Republican is determining all the other Republicans, I don't think it makes much of a difference.

McCarthy clearly has an agenda to politicize the committee. And the speaker --



RAJU: So you're hearing support there. But that shows you the significance of Liz Cheney's decision to agree to take this appointment from Nancy Pelosi.

That is hardly ever done from a minority member to accept a committee position from a majority party. That is not common on Capitol Hill.

But the significance of that, it allows them -- for Democrats to say this is still going to be a bipartisan investigation, even as the Republicans paint this as a partisan witch hunt to go after Donald Trump. Having Cheney there helps them rebut that.

We'll see what they decide to do in the weeks ahead.

The first hearing next week will still proceed despite Kevin McCarthy's decision to pull out.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Margaret, to your point about the shifting focus that we heard from the now-retracted members of this committee, let's listen to Congressman Jim Jordan on what he says is the question that Democrats have to answer.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): There's one fundamental question that I hope the actual -- that the Democrats will actually answer and address, and that is, why wasn't there a proper security presence that day?

Frankly, only the speaker can answer that question. So let's see if the Democrats bring that up.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLACKWELL: So again, that makes the point.

But we know Jim Jordan is someone who could have been called to testify before this committee. So it would have been the minority leader, Kevin McCarthy.

When McCarthy says there's no cooperation, is that throughout testimony about his call, about Jordan's communications with the president?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Victor, we're sort of reading between the lines here. But it seemed pretty clear to me that neither Kevin McCarthy nor Jim Jordan have any intention of taking an active role now in what remains of this committee process.

You heard them both talk about sort of -- pivot with the question but talk about the idea that they don't see this as a good faith investigation.

And also the idea that they could somehow conduct their own parallel minority investigation into the real issues.

So I think what we are looking at now is kind of a two-track situation where Pelosi and the Democrats and Liz Cheney are going to try to go forward with an investigation and leadership on the Democratic side, is going to want to keep the partisanship down to a minimum and try to message to the center of America I think as much as the base.

And where McCarthy and Jordan have an interest. If they can't do it in that hearing room, to do it on a parallel track of a completely different kind of messaging.

This is all taking place against the backdrop of the 2022 midterms and all of the leverage points that we're going to see on that, whether it's the infrastructure vote or the redistricting that's coming down the pike.


So I truly believe there are many people in both parties who would like Congress, if not an independent commission, to do a proper accounting for historical purposes of what happened and how to prevent something like this.

But I think it's going to be and has always been true that it will be pretty difficult to do it in this venue.

CAMEROTA: We want to bring in CNN political reporter, Ryan Nobles. He was in the room while this was happening.

Ryan, it is so fascinating to hear the Republicans who have now fastened on what they think the two burning questions of the entire January 6th event are, which is what did Nancy Pelosi -- why didn't she stop it? Why didn't she beef up security at the capitol? And how are we going to stop it in the future? Nancy Pelosi is not the head of Homeland Security, number one. I just

so hear them going back to the same playbook as Benghazi, which was, why didn't Hillary Clinton stop that violent mob?

And now it's why didn't Nancy Pelosi stop this violent mob?

By the way, as you know, we already have some answers to this. Ask the head of the Capitol Police. Ask the sergeant-at-arms. Ask the National Guard. We've already litigated some of what went wrong there.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and what I thought was most striking about what Kevin McCarthy had to say today is you almost saw him line out how many times he moved the goal post in terms of his desire for that independent bipartisan commission.

I was struck sitting there on the front row, him complaining about the fact that this committee was going to be too heavily weighted with Democrats versus Republicans.

And that Nancy Pelosi had the full authority to pick who was on this committee, when he and his party outright rejected an independent commission that would not have been made up of members of Congress.

Where both Republicans and Democrats would have been able to pick an equal number of participants to that panel.

They would have had equal subpoena power. The whole process would have been done by the end of the year.

You know, when we covered this in the very beginning, when these early conversations were taking place, he initially complained that the panel wasn't balanced. Then he initially complained there wasn't going to be subpoena power.

Every single time Pelosi caved on those. She literally caved on those points.

Then he brought up this issue of scope. Claiming that the House speaker wasn't going to allow there to be kind of a broader range of discussion as it relates to political violence.

Because he and his Republican allies wanted to include the Good Friday killing of a Capitol Police officer who was run down by someone trying to break through a barricade outside the capitol.

And also expand it into some of the protests that we saw around police violence over the summer.

It's interesting that McCarthy was so concerned about scope when the real issue you see Democrats trying to drill down as it relates to this investigation into what happened on January 6th.

It's the role the former president played and his enablers in the Congress played to rile up their supporters on the day of January 6th that would compel them to storm the capitol and try to interrupt the process of confirming the election. When he's asked about that, when he's pressed about it, McCarthy

always pushes off and doesn't want to specifically address that.

You can understand why any objective observer would have concerns about three members of this panel appointed by Kevin McCarthy being among that group that objected to the results, even after the insurrection had taken place.

So when I pressed him on that specifically, you had an opportunity for a completely bipartisan panel and you turned it down and now you're complaining that this one is too partisan, you know, his answer was, going back to this issue about scope, which was not one of his original complaints when the negotiations began.

BLACKWELL: Yes, another crucial day in an effort to get answers about an insurrection and people who tried to stop the certification of the election of a president.

Ryan Nobles, Manu Raju, Margaret Talev, hopefully, we can get closer to getting those answers. Thank you all so much.


All right, turn now to the pandemic. A new warning today about COVID in the U.S. With more than 91 million people living in counties with high infection rates, some top health officials say that it's time to put those masks back on.


BLACKWELL: The United States is seeing a rapid resurgence of coronavirus. The CDC says about 28 percent of the U.S. population lives in counties considered to have high COVID-19 transmission rates.

Just to underscore how fast this new variant is spreading, that's 18 million more people in one of those communities since yesterday.

CAMEROTA: The former surgeon general says the CDC now needs to revisit its mask guidelines immediately.

CNN's Athena Jones has more.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With COVID-19 cases surging in 47 states, driven in large part by the more contagious Delta variant, nearly 30 percent of the country now lives in a county with high COVID transmission, according to the CDC.

That's 91 million people, 18 million more than the CDC reported earlier this week.

The U.S. seeing a startling 55 percent increase in cases over the last week. Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida and Nevada leading the nation in new coronavirus infections per capita. DR. JOSE ROMERO, ARKANSAS SECRETARY OF HEALTH: This virus is highly

transmissible. And we're seeing outbreaks in sites we didn't see last year.

JONES: With less than half the population fully vaccinated, some are rethinking mask mandates and vaccination requirements.


DR. COMILLA SASSON, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: And masking is now going to have to be a part of our daily life again.

JONES: Starting in August, New York City will require workers at city hospitals and health clinics to either get vaccinated or be tested weekly.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: We have 22 million health care workers in the United States. By the information we have, only about 50 percent are vaccinated. This is unacceptable.

JONES: Banner Health, a nonprofit health service that implies 52,000 people in six states, is requiring its employees get vaccinated to keep their jobs.

And the U.S. capitol now recommending mask mandates once again after several new cases.

Starting today, Jackson Health System in Florida will again no longer allow visitors in most inpatient units or any adult emergency departments.

DR. LILIAN ABBO, CHIEF OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, JACKSON HEALTH SYSTEM: This virus is highly contagious, highly transmissible. This is not a joke.

I really encourage everyone who's acting like the pandemic is over -- we all wish it was over -- it is not over. And we all need to be responsible.

JONES: Still, there's no sign the CDC is planning to change its guidance on masking, which focuses on the unvaccinated.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urging the agency to revise its policy in places where cases are rising yet vaccination rates remain low.

Writing in "The Washington Post," "Instead of vax it or mask it, people might need to vax it and mask it.

And stunning new data from the CDC shows just how much COVID ravaged the nation over the last year.

Life expectancy falling by a year and a half, the largest decline since World War II, with minorities hit hardest. Latinos and blacks seeing a three-year decline, while life expectancy for whites fell 1.2 years. (END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: And just to give you a sense of how devastating the pandemic has been for the world's children, Boston Children's Hospital estimates more than a million children across the globe lost a parent or custodial grandparent to COVID between March 2020 and April 2021.

It's a staggering amount of loss. And unfortunately, it's not over.

BLACKWELL: This is remarkable that 18 million more people are living in one of these highly transmission counties over yesterday.


BLACKWELL: It happened so quickly.

Athena Jones, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much.

So Florida is among the states seeing the biggest surge right now. On Tuesday, a Jacksonville hospital broke its own record for COVID cases that it had set back in January before vaccines were widely available.

Chad Neilsen is the director of infection prevention as U.F. Health Jacksonville.

Chad, thanks for being here.

It's astonishing to hear you broke a record for COVID-positive patients that you had set back in January when most of us felt that the pandemic was at its height. And now, of course, that's preventable.

So how frustrating is it for all of the folks there at your hospital?


Extremely frustrating to be honest. When the vaccines became EUA approved, and we started to disseminate them into the communities, there was almost a sigh of relief amongst health care workers, myself included, our hospital workers, because we saw a way out of this.

Now that we're two, three months after the vaccination campaigns have started to stagnate, cases are exploding in our hospital and in our communities and everybody is getting really worn down and frustrated.

CAMEROTA: One of the frustrating things, I think people choosing not to get the vaccine think that they're just making a choice for themselves. They are willing to take their own risk.

But they don't realize the ramifications for all of you, for all of the doctors and the nurses and the hospital staff.

I can only imagine the level of morale and burnout that the folks at your hospital are experiencing.

Can you just give us some examples?

NEILSEN: Absolutely. Our staff are tired. We began to recover staff- wise and our turnover rate of employees leaving started to improve after the vaccines came out.

So many of our staff were happy to see case numbers go down in the hospital.

So now that we know vaccination rates are stagnating, particularly here in northeast Florida, we're only 50 percent or less amongst the eligible population, staff are frustrated. Morale is low.

And frankly, they're waiting for this to end and we don't know when that end is in sight.

CAMEROTA: I have read that its even inspiring some people to get out of medicine altogether.

NEILSEN: That's right. There's not a nurse every day in our hospital who doesn't privately tell me this is really making me look at my career and think about changing when this is over.

I know our nursing staff and physicians and all of our clinical staff members take their job seriously. They're showing up and doing the absolute best for our patients.

But it's grinding them down over time. Myself included. And our administrators included.

So we're really trying to get the word out that vaccinations are the way out of this. Social distancing and masking really need to be reinstituted in the community because there's no end in sight for us.

CAMEROTA: Are you seeing younger people now get sick? What's the average age of patients in your hospital?


NEILSEN: Absolutely. The average age has shifted down. We don't have a large pediatric population of patients right now but we have added to what we do have in our pediatric ICU.

Our average age of case is slipping down into the 50s now. Whereas, prior to now, it was well in the 60s.

Our average age of death among COVID patients has decreased by 10 years since July 1st. Now our average age of death for a patient in our hospital due to COVID is about 59, whereas, prior to July 1st it was 69.

So it's really showing us right now --

(CROSSTALK) CAMEROTA: As you know, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, until recently, had taken a victory lap for how he felt Florida had handled the pandemic.

He had famously said, we didn't have to resort to mandates. You won't see any lockdowns. You won't see any mandates. We sort of skirted this disaster. He had been saying recently about two months ago.

Now the cases are going up again and Florida seeing a surge. Just today, he is touting the effectiveness of vaccines.

He's not giving a full-throated demand for people to go get them or endorsement but he is saying they will keep you -- your chance of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is zero with the vaccine.

What do you want your governor to do now?

NEILSEN: I think this is a first step. It's a good step. We need leadership at the top level of our state to start putting these messages out. I'm glad that has started.

Our local leadership here, our mayor in Jacksonville just did a joint press conference espousing the same message that vaccines save lives.

I think right now, just the presence from the governor, here in our hospitals, around the different low vaccination counties, I think is really necessary to ensure that everybody knows we're all in the same page about this, from the top of the state down to our hospitals that vaccines are the key.

And that's the only way we're going to get out of this.

CAMEROTA: Chad Neilsen, thanks so much for your time. Hang in there. We're thinking of all you down there.

NEILSEN: Thanks for having me on.


BLACKWELL: The former surgeon general under President Trump wants the CDC to update its mask guidance immediately.

In a new "Washington Post" op-ed, Dr. Jerome Adams writes, "The CDC could help by acknowledging that it's prior messaging has not been effective and actually harmful. Instead of, vax it and mask it, people might need to vax it and masks it."

Millions of kids will be back in classrooms in a few weeks and some school officials have to decide masks or no masks.

The superintendent of the Parma School District in Ohio says students will not be required to mask up regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.

Charles Smialek joins me now.

Mr. Superintendent, I thank you for your time.

Let's start with the decision. Ohio is not one of these states banning mask mandates. So the option is yours. How did you arrive at this decision?

CHARLES SMIALEK, SUPERINTENDENT, PARMA CITY, OH, SCHOOL DISTRICT: I want to preface by saying that that was as of June 24th. When we made that announcement, we made sure to say, if there was change or conditions, we might have to step back off of that.

As of right now, we're continuing to monitor the data, we're continue to watch what's happening in community.

As of right now, we are standing by the fact we will not require masks.

However, to be perfectly candid, I'm glad we have a month before school starts. We don't have to make that final decision just quite yet. We're going to continue to watch.

This Delta variant has been a concern. And we acknowledge the concern and aware of it and monitoring how that could impact how we begin the school year as well.

BLACKWELL: We're seeing cases rise across this country in every state. We're seeing hospitalizations go up.

What are the criteria that you're looking at to determine if it'll be masks? I know it has to be everyone or no one, according to state law.

What goes into that decision for you as you look over the next month?

SMIALECK: Big part of what local superintendents are frustrated about is we get a lot of mixed messages. If you look at the CDC message, part of it says we'll have to require masks on buses but the sec piece second piece says we can have a way to distinguish if you're vaccinated or not.

And then the state of Ohio comes out and says, no, you can't have any distinction between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.

We would love to have some type of clarity from especially our governor, our legislature to point to and say this is why we're making this decision.

Short of that, we work through community factors. Our county board of health, which is our local board of health here, has been extremely responsive, very helpful. We'll certainly rely on them for guidance.

We look at community spread to determine what's happening right now locally, beyond just our school district, but into our community and into our county.

Those are the types of factors that we look at.

Again, it's been a frustrating time, in large part, because of the contradicting messages that we get.


BLACKWELL: Are you recommending masks for students and teachers?

SMIALEK: At this point, again, we'll stand by what we said on June 24, that masks will be optional. Certainly, we recommend families make the decisions with their children.

That our staff -- about 70 percent of our staff is vaccinated. And our parents indicated that about 70 percent of our students -- when we gave them a survey at the end of the school year, about 70 percent sate our students ages 12 and above would be vaccinated.

By and large, we have our population vaccinated. And we have taken that opportunity very seriously.

But beyond that, we want people to make decisions where they feel safe. If they want to wear masks, we're going to encourage that.

BLACKWELL: You're right. There's so much conflicting information. You hear from the AAP, the Association of Pediatrics, that everybody should wear masks and the CDC says those vaccinated do not have to wear masks.

What they agree on, though, is it's best that students are in the classroom.

As I understand it, you're giving an option for parent who is are not comfortable with their children being in an environment where everyone is unmasked to continue virtual learning.

Will that continue throughout the school year?

SMIALEK: That's accurate as well. One of our lessons that came from COVID is we can do remote schooling and do it really well for families that think that option works best for their family or child for any number of reasons.

We said that our virtual learning academy was built to last when we launched it last year. We want to continue to offer that option.

We have approximately 200 students enrolled in our virtual option. We're proud of the fact that our teachers are dedicated specifically to those students.

We're not asking teachers to do two things at once. They are not asked to stream to kids at home and present to the kids in front of them.

It's a dedicated teacher to those students who say virtual is how they need to stay.

BLACKWELL: All right, Parma City school district superintendent, Charles Smialek, I know these are difficult times for everybody as we head into another school year of this.

I thank you for walking us through your decisions.

SMIALEK: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me today.


CAMEROTA: So coronavirus will be a top issue for President Biden tonight when he joins Don Lemon for an exclusive CNN presidential town hall. That's tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

BLACKWELL: Our breaking news coverage continues. Minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, is pulling his picks from the committee to investigate the January 6th insurrection. What it means for Capitol Hill hearings set to start next week.