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Source Says, Biden Health Officials Weigh Mask Recommendations amid Surge; Cases Surging in Nevada, Health Officials Recommend Return to Masking; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Speaks after Rejecting Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Picks for January 6 Committee. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim is on assignment today.

And the delta variant continues to surge, sadly, across the country. As this happens, CNN is learning the top Biden administration health officials are considering revising mask recommendations for vaccinated Americans, namely whether vaccinated people should be wearing masks again inside.

This comes as the CDC forecasts and projects COVID deaths and hospitalizations will likely increase over the next four weeks. These discussions over mask guidance were given new urgency this week after the American Association of Pediatrics recommended that everyone over the age of two wear masks when they go back to school.

President Biden says he's following the CDC's lead. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The CDC is going to say that what we should do is everyone over the age -- under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask in school. That is probably what is going to happen. Secondly, those over the age of 12 who are able to get vaccinated, if you're vaccinated, you shouldn't wear a mask, if you aren't vaccinated, you should be wearing a mask.


HARLOW: Still, the CDC tells CNN it has to intention of changing mask guidance yet.

Let's begin this hour with our CNN National Correspondent Kristen Holmes. Kristen, good morning to you.

Where are Biden officials on this later consideration? Because it's not -- the science is key but there is also the question of if they reverse course, are people going to believe it this time around. There are those considerations too. KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And all of this is weighing incredibly heavily on the Biden administration officials as well as state and local officials. In fact, one person I spoke to who is in constant communication with the White House said that White House officials they were speaking to were really hesitant to even weigh in on anything involving masks because of how politicized it has been and also because they are aware that this could seem like some kind of setback when the country had made so much progress.

So, in terms of where exactly these discussions stand, they are incredibly preliminary. They are happening among administration officials across different agencies, as well as with these local and state officials. And they really revolve around two things. One, what should the messaging on masks be coming out of the White House, and, two, what exactly is the guidance that the CDC should be giving?

Now, as you said, the Biden administration, the president himself, they've all said they want to follow the science, they want the CDC, they're the people who would be making this kind of decision, but that doesn't mean that these conversations aren't happening because everyone is so acutely aware of what is going on, watching those case rise. And it shows you how seriously they are taking this delta variant, Poppy.

HARLOW: You have now a change that more Republican lawmakers are starting to embrace vaccinations publicly. There have always been some but more now are now, some who weren't before. This morning, you have Elise Stefanik and Representative Steve Scalise. What are they saying?

HOLMES: Yes. I want to point out before we talk about what exactly Scalise said, why he is such a powerful voice, this is a man who is a leader in the Republican Party, he was hesitant about getting the vaccine, and he appears to have done a complete 180. He got his first shot over the weekend, he made sure to send photos out and he was on Fox News yesterday talking about the importance of getting the vaccine. Here is what he said today.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): We've expressed confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine but, again, as all of these doctors have talked about, ultimately, if anybody in America, I would encourage people to get the vaccine. I have high confidence in it. I got it myself. I sent the pictures out. But also if somebody has a hesitation, they ought to have that conversation with their doctor.


HOLMES: Now, of course, it is not just members of the Hill, not just senators who are all pushing for this, it is across the spectrum of conservatives. We've seen Fox News hosts talking about this. We have talked to a number of conservatives who are pushing this in their states, governors, for example.

So, this is clearly -- again, with this mask consideration going on within the Biden administration, with these conservatives coming out and pushing for the vaccine, it just shows you how seriously they are taking the delta variant and the rising number of cases across the country.

HARLOW: Yes, it is good. Every voice behind vaccination is helpful. Arlette Saenz -- I'm so sorry, Kristen Holmes, sorry, thank you.

I'm joining now by Dr. Monica Gandhi. She is a Professor of Medicine and Associate of Infectious Disease at the University of California San Francisco. Good morning, Doctor, to you.

So, where do you fall as the CDC and the Biden administration together work on a big decision, which is do we reverse course to what we did in May and do we tell vaccinated people you should wear a mask inside?


Where do you fall on that?

DR. MONICA GANDHI, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AND ASSOCIATE CHIEF OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, UCSF: So, one thing I want to say is I actually think the CDC guidance in May was really sound because what they were trying to do is really stress the effectiveness of the vaccines, how they actually reduce transmission, and they were trying to motivate vaccinations. Now, we have a lull and we have the delta variant. And those two things are very concerning.

One thing the Bay Area did is they recommended masks for the vaccinated and unvaccinated indoors. And I think that was a prudent thing and that is where I fall. I think it is very hard to go back to a mask mandate like, L.A. did. It was met with resistance. What recommendations do is that they allow businesses to make that decision for themselves. It allows a posting of a sign.

And the problem was it was really difficult for a business to tell who was vaccinated, who was unvaccinated, and this allows those mixed places to still have masks inside while we're deal with the delta and most importantly, like you just said, getting more people vaccinated.

HARLOW: So it is playing out in real-time, the impact of so many people not being vaccinated. We see it in the deaths going up, the hospitalizations, what the delta variant is doing. But just now, just about an hour ago, the Atlanta public school system came out and said that they are going to require that everyone wear a mask, vaccinated or not, in all of the schools when the school year begins August 5th.

I mean, when you think of that news, is that a sign of what is to come for a lot of kids across the country, even though those who have been vaccinated, even those 12 and older?

GANDHI: So, yes, what we didn't anticipate was the delta variant. And it is tragic right now that we have any death from COVID-19 because they are preventable.

And so this is what likely is going to happen for the fall. People will start out in masks, children will start out in masks. But the important thing is that parents need an off-ramp. Actually, people need an off-ramp in the United States. Like you just said, people need a time where they know masks won't be needed.

And so we have proposed sort of metrics in regions, we have proposed a specific metric, less than five COVID hospitalizations over 100,000 people. The typical influenza hospitalization rate is 20 to 40 in a typical year, but COVID is much more deadly.

So we recommended less than five as an off-ramp, that is when masks can come off for vaccinated indoors and the recommendation and also for children. Because I think that will allow parents to say, okay, we're going to do this for now, but we can a place when it gets better.

HARLOW: I know. I mean, I have little kids who aren't old enough to be vaccinated but I just kept thinking, like, oh, my gosh, I don't know -- even after they can get vaccinated, how long they'll have to wear masks.

Just quickly before you go -- we do, Doctor -- the former surgeon general, Jerome Adams, wrote in an opinion piece in Washington Post, I'm not going to read it all to people but he's basically saying the CDC was wrong to reverse mask guidance in May and they did it too quickly and they need to reverse course here. Did the CDC reverse mask guidance too quickly?

GANDHI: So, I defended it at the time. I wrote a piece in the Washington Post a few days later and defended it. And I actually don't think they were wrong. They were trying to be optimistic. As President Biden said, let's see each other's smiles again.

They didn't anticipate the delta variant. Places have done it differently. U.K. has no mask. Israel has masks inside. It's called the soft suppression strategy, and changing, with the times changing, as we update and new things happen is part of the course with COVID. So I think they're trying to motivate vaccinations, we can recommend now and then have an off-ramp later.

HARLOW: Yes. Let's hope it doesn't disincentivize more people from getting vaccinated. That's the other calculation.

GANDHI: That's right. We need a new point (ph). Yes.

HARLOW: You do. Dr. Gandhi, thank you, great to have you.

To Nevada now, cases and hospitalizations of COVID are surging in Nevada as the number of vaccinations slow, the rise prompting the public health department to recommend a return to mask wearing. The situation is so bad that HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra is heading to Las Vegas right now to meet with public health officials and the governor of Nevada. CNN spoke to infectious disease doctors working on frontlines in Las Vegas at a local barbershop whose shop is now doubling at a vaccine clinic on the weekends. Watch this from our Ed Lavendera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The COVID-19 vaccine sparks passionate barbershop banter inside the Fade 'En All shop in North Las Vegas.

In the last month, Owner Robert Taylor says three of his barbers and his business partner were infected with COVID-19. Taylor and another barber got the virus last year. None were vaccinated. It was a wake-up call.


So Taylor decided to turn his barbershop into a vaccination site.

Taylor partnered with state health officials to offer vaccine shots to clients coming in for a haircut.

ROBERT TAYLOR, OWNER, FADE 'EM ALL BARBERSHOP: The barbershop is a place of transparency, truth, debates and brotherhood.

LAVANDERA: Taylor says he wins them over with trusted voices and easing their fears.

TAYLOR: Like you have people who will say, well, it is not 100 percent. Nothing is 100 percent. It's not 100 percent that I'll make it home when I leave this barbershop but I will put on my seatbelt.

LAVANDERA: The average number of newly daily coronavirus cases has jumped from 132 in early June to almost 700 and the average daily number of hospitalizations has shot up from 178 in mid-June to more than 900. Medical experts say this surge is driven almost entirely by unvaccinated people.


LAVANDERA: Dr. Shadaba Asad is the director of infectious diseases at University Medical Center in Las Vegas. Only 40 percent of the Nevada population is fully vaccinated, and with that, Dr. Asad offers an ominous warning.

ASAD: It is just a matter of time before you are going to come across a variant where your vaccines do not provide that degree of protection. So, unvaccinated people pose a huge threat to the rest of us who are vaccinated because their literally a breeding ground for new variants.

LAVANDERA: In Reno, where the vaccination rate is higher than the state average, the lines at the main vaccine site have dwindled. At the peak, they were administering 2,800 doses per day. It is under 150 now. Health officials say people spreading misinformation are hampering vaccination efforts.

KEVIN DICK, HEALTH OFFICER, WASHOE COUNTY DISTRICT: Our country is not united. Battling COVID-19 is bad enough, but having to battle one another to try to overcome that virus, I think, it is terrible.

LAVANDERA: To motivate the unvaccinated, the state is holding weekly lottery drawings. They're literally paying people to get vaccinated and even those events have been interrupted by anti-vaccine hecklers. TAYLOR: I'm not here to sell you anything. I just want you to live and be healthy.

LAVANDERA: At the barbershop, vaccine skeptics, like Darius Foyer (ph) --


POPPY: Let's listen to Speaker Pelosi right now taking questions.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): -- Electoral College vote and officially named Joe Biden president of the United States.

In the time since then, six months or more since then, we tried to have a bipartisan commission. In the House we passed it, it was -- we yielded on many scores in terms of makeup, process and timing and it was bipartisan in terms of the committee.

And I salute our chairman, Bennie Thompson and Mr. Katko, the ranking member. Even though it was something that was bipartisan and yielded on many points to the Republicans in order to achieve bipartisanship, the leadership of the Republican Party in the House opposed and whipped against the bipartisan commission.

Still in all, we had the votes.35 members of the Republican side voted with us to send it to the Senate. It was very hopeful that we could pass it there. We had seven Republican votes, not ten, and we needed ten to get it up to 60.

Hopefully, one day, that will still -- that opportunity will still present itself. But because it was not possible in this timeframe, last month, we passed our legislation for a select committee. A select committee is bipartisan and it has a quorum and it will do the job it set out to do. And that is to investigate the causes and that of what happened on January 6th, to find out how it was organized, who paid for it, who messaged to get those people here for the assault on the Capitol.

As you know, well over 100 people were injured, some died, it was a horrible, horrible thing. I'll never forget the trauma it caused not only for our members but for our staff and for the people who work in the Capitol to make our work here possible. Some of you were here that day as well. So you can attest to the fact that it was not all love, hugs and kisses, as it has been characterized in -- mischaracterized, shall we say.

So, as you know, we named our commission and it was committee and it is bipartisan and we have a quorum. Staff is being hired to do the job. We're there to seek the truth. We're not there to get the truth, not to get Trump.


T-R-U, truth, trump, that seems what the other side is obsessed with.

So as the legislation allows, I did not accept two of the five people who were appointed as they have made statements and taken actions that I think would impact the integrity of the commission, of the committee, the work of the committee.

This is deadly serious. This is about our Constitution. It is about our country. It is about an assault on the Capitol that is being mischaracterized for some reason at the expense, at the expense of finding the truth for the American people.

I'm very pleased, the response that we have received across the country and from my caucus on this subject and we will -- I'm very pleased with the leadership of Bennie Thompson, our chairman, the bipartisan nature of our committee with Liz Cheney, the other members who are on the committee who have experience and patriotism as their calling cards.

So we will proceed in this. As I said, they're in the process -- the committee is in the process of hiring staff to that end. It is my responsibility as speaker of the House to make sure we get to the truth on this and we will not let their antics stand in the way of that.

Another subject, again, we are working very hard to get the job done for the American people, to lower health care costs, lower pollution, raise -- as I said when we ran, we said lower health care costs, bigger paychecks, cleaner government, and that is what we are about. The cleaner government comes with the HR-1 -- HR-1, S-1, combine them, the Senate resolution, the House resolution to get this done.

So, in any event, as I mentioned, we are here to get the job done. We cannot respond to some of the legislation until the Senate acts. As I said, we will not take up infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the reconciliation bill.

With that, I'm pleased to take any questions. Yes, ma'am?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Would you need additional Republican members to serve on this select committee given the fact that the resolution says you have the power to appoint 13 members?

PELOSI: Yes. Well, I did suggest to the leader that the three -- make sure you understand this, I hear the press saying, well, they didn't vote to accept -- that had nothing to do with it. Right from the start, when the members acted in that way and said they were not going to vote for the certification that Joe Biden was president. I said to the members, do not let that stand in the way of you finding bipartisan agreement on legislation here. I'm not encouraging that at all. You find your common ground. We strive for bipartisanship. So how they voted on that bill is not relevant to how we are legislating.

On the other hand, the two people that are excluded, of the three that I pointed, one of them voted against the ratification and the other two voted for it. Having said that, though, the other two made statements and took actions that just made it ridiculous to put them on such a committee seeking the truth. At the same time, we have a committee to address economic disparities in our country and the leader gave me six names for that committee. Five of them voted against making the election of Joe Biden official but I approved all six of them, even though only one of them voted in that regard. So it has not been a factor, even though the press somehow, whether you all think that it might be. It has not been a factor.

The chairman of that committee, Jim Himes, is already staffed up and ready for a hearing next week, as is Mr. Thompson for a hearing next week. But the leader may want to rescind those names. I'm ready to have them be accepted on the floor of the House, so we'll see. We'll see. I mean, there are some members who would like to be on it but we'll see.

FOX: Would you appoint Adam Kinzinger?

REPORTER: Can you elaborate what statements and what actions caused you to --

PELOSI: No. I'll just give you their statements. I'll give you their statements.


I think one of them that was sort of the -- of Mr. Banks was that the Biden administration was responsible for January 6th. There was no Biden administration on January 6th.

But let's not go into that. Have you -- are you up to date on their statements? I would like you to see them because they completely just make it impossible for them to exercise judgment.

Again, this is about seeking the truth and it is about not -- as I said in my comment, with respect for the integrity of the investigation, with concern that the American people want to know the truth, and in light of statements and actions taken by them, I could not appoint them.

I said that while this may be unprecedented, so was an attack on the Capitol. I'm not going to spend any more time talking about them.


REPORTER: Thank you. So, on the bipartisan question of this committee and Liz Cheney, you said this is bipartisan, when you talk and told the Republicans, many of them believe that the election was stolen from him and so on. How do you convince people on the other side of the aisle that what is going to go on in this committee is going to be bipartisan and truly get to the truth --

PELOSI: Yes. It is not even -- it is not even bipartisan. It is nonpartisan. It is about seeking the truth. And that is what we owe the American people. And probably the biggest incentive for that is that the more -- the less partisan it is, the more it will be accepted by the American people. Yes?

REPORTER: Kevin McCarthy is promising to have his own probe --

PELOSI: I'm not talking about him. Okay. What else you got -- no, I'm not. I'm not concerned and I'm -- let's not waste each other's time, okay?

REPORTER: Madam Speaker, there is a bill before the House that would prohibit taxpayer funded abortion that has been brought by Republicans 37 times for a vote on the House floor but has been blocked by Democrats. Can you explain why?

PELOSI: It has been blocked by Democrats?

REPORTER: It has been blocked for a vote, to allow a vote on the House floor. The bill --

PELOSI: It hasn't been brought by Democrats.

REPORTER: Well it has -- it hasn't been accepted, I should say.

PELOSI: Well, we will be voting on it. It passed in committee. We think it is the right thing to do. It is something that many of us have been concerned about for a long time as an issue of health, as an issue of fairness, and we will send the bills over to the Senate. We'll see it may be --

REPORTER: No, I'm sorry, I think you misunderstood. It is a bill to prohibit taxpayer-funded abortions, to have money to go to taxpayer- funded abortions.

PELOSI: Well, that is in the law for Medicaid. You're talking about Medicaid. That is in the law. What we have in our bill is to overturn that. There is no need to have that -- that is the law now.

REPORTER: And the reasons why to have it overturned?

PELOSI: Because it is an issue of health of many women in America, especially those in lower income situations and in different states. And it is something that has been a priority for many of us a long time. As a devout catholic and mother of five in six years, I feel that God blessed my husband and me with our beautiful family, five children and six years almost to the day. But that may not be what we should -- it is not up to me to dictate that that is what other people should do. And it is an issue of fairness and justice for poor women in our country.

Yes, ma'am?

REPORTER: Given how divided the country is at this point, do you risk half the American public not voting what the committee finds with your finding in this select committee? And also could you talk about Liz Cheney's role now after Leader McCarthy's move of withdrawing his members? PELOSI: Well, no, in fact, I don't accept your stipulation that half of the country -- there is a percentage of the country who is in denial about COVID and getting vaccinated. And it is sort of the same crowd that -- but, overwhelmingly, if you look at the polls, and if that is what your measure is, they want to know the truth. As like in the '70s that people wanted to know more about what happened on January 6th and 59 percent of Republicans, according to the polling that came out this morning, think we need to know more about what happened on January 6th.


I think that just to take this to an end, we -- these people are going to act up, cause a problem and people said to me, put them on, and then when they act up, you can pick them off. I said, why should we waste time on something as predictable. The Republicans that they put on will have their own point of view. Nobody is saying that it all should be one point of view on the committee. But it is -- when statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, you must be kidding, there is no way that they're going to be on the committee.

Okay, I have to go.

REPORTER: -- for the language if the Latino voters in the 2020 election and should the Democratic Party be prepare to appeal to the Democrat differently in the midterms?

PELOSI: Well, you want to talk politics? Obviously, the Latino community is the future of America. If you actually study the numbers, there was a very strong vote for Joe Biden in that.

The message -- part of our issue in the last election was that we could not go door-to-door. We could not go door-to-door to get out of the vote. We will be able to go out to door-to-door next.

But regardless of that, we should be paying a great deal attention and I'm so proud of our congressional Hispanic caucus for the work that they do in the Congress to bring the concerns of the community into a priority place in our debate, in our discussion and that their communication is helpful to us to understand more fully what some of the issues are.

Some of the issues you are -- are newer issues to the discussion. The Latino community is a young population. It is a young population. And we really have to reach out better to young people as well as the Latino community.

But I have to good to the floor because I have the king of Jordan coming by now.

REPORTER: Should Dr. King's, I have a dream speech, be required to be taught in public schools across the country? There is an effort in Texas to strip that from being part of the curriculum. Should it be required?

PELOSI: What was taught in the curriculum in schools is a local decision. That is just the way it has been. I think it is a sadness for the children if they are not able to hear or learn about that speech because it is so inspirational about our country. It is not partisan. It is patriotic. It is fair.

You remind me that this weekend --

HARLOW: Okay, some significant headlines from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi there. Let's talk about them with Margaret Hoover, Host of PBS' Firing Line and our CNN Senior Political Analyst John Avlon. It's so nice to have you both on this.

And, Margaret, let me start with you. So, interesting, Lauren Fox asked her a great question, which is, all right, so McCarthy is pulling his five picks from this select committee, you've got 13 spots, are you going to fill at least some of them, and she said we'll see, maybe. And our reporting from Melanie Zanona is she is asking Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger to sit on the committee? What do you think of it?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that is great. Look, what happened was a charade, a continued charade yesterday with McCarthy pulling those five. It's as though -- I mean, his argument is completely bogus on his face, as though if you're not a MAGA hat- wearing insurrectionist denier appointed to the committee, this isn't bipartisan, right, which is absurd on its face. And all they did was just demonstrate that they can't be trusted to act in good faith on behalf of their constituents and the country. They are only advancing their own political power, their own interests which will ultimately always defer to the interest of Donald Trump.

Pelosi should appoint more Republicans. This should be a bipartisan effort. She should look at John Katko and any of the other 35 Republicans who voted for the commission. I mean, there are plenty of Republicans to choose from. We can get a bipartisan commission moving forward regardless of Kevin McCarthy --

HARLOW: One of -- one of McCarthy's picks, Rodney Davis, did vote for the commission.

HOOVER: But only one, only one of the five.

HARLOW: No, I hear you.

HOOVER: And he put forward (ph) the commission.

HARLOW: And, John, I mean, I think Margaret has a really important point here, which is, if you want this to be believed by more Americans, why wouldn't you want to -- she has the power, and as it was written, to appoint more members, should she put five on? I don't know if five would be willing to do it, but maybe.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, she theoretically has 35 to pick from. I think there was some question about the way legislation was written, whether she could, in fact, fill McCarthy's seats.


But this -- Manu is reporting that Adam Kinzinger could be.