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HHS Secretary in Nevada Amid Effort to Boost Lagging Vaccinations; Dreams Dashed as Nearly 100 Athletes Test Positive Before Olympic Games; Biden Delivers Blunt Talk on Economic Worries at CNN Town Hall; GOP Blocks Vote on Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, Pushing for More Time to Debate & Write It. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 13:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: As vaccination rates stall nationwide, new cases are spiking in Nevada. The Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is in the state today meeting with health officials amid efforts to boost lagging vaccination.

CNN's Sara Sidner is live in Las Vegas for us.

Sara, the state has reached out for help here.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The governor looked at the numbers here and the vaccination rates here, which are about, in this county alone, in Park County, about 19 percent of people fully vaccinated, which is lower than the national average in this country and decided he would reach out to the offer of federal help from the Biden administration.

We've seen Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who came here, met with the governor, had a handshake, and with FEMA, and is being debriefed by local, county, state authorities on the situation here.

What they are really here for is they have deployed, in a major way, the COVID-19 surge response teams. This is the first time that they have deployed the teams since the Delta variant is sweeping the nation.

And why here? One, because the governor said, yes, we will take that help in the form of grants, in the form of boots on the ground to try and bring up the numbers of vaccinations and bring down the numbers of hospitalizations from people who are getting this very virulent and very contagious Delta variant.

But also, it is because the federal government has these resources.

There's one thing that's controversial. That is they are going to, as a part of this, send out people to knock on doors.

They said look, it won't be FEMA or the CDC or federal government knocking on your door in neighborhoods. It will be local community groups, religious-based, as well as the AmeriCorps and Peace Corps to try to convince people to get vaccinated -- Erica?

HILL: Sara Sidner, with the latest for us from Vegas. Thank you.

First lady, Jill Biden, is now in Japan. She'll attend tomorrow's opening ceremony.

But even before the torch is lit, the games are plagued by COVID. The city of Tokyo reporting nearly 2000 new cases since yesterday.

And the number of COVID infections linked to the games specifically climbing to 91.

The word from organizers, tomorrow's opening ceremony will proceed as planned.

CNN's Selina Wang reports from Tokyo.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first lady starts her first solo trip overseas. Jill Biden arriving in Tokyo in support of close ally Japan, a country in a day by day fight to keep the Olympics going, even before the games have officially started.

As Biden travels in, more Olympic hopefuls are set to travel out after testing positive for COVID-19. Five athletes from Team USA alone have been cut from the games due to coronavirus.

NBA star, Kevin Durant, says he feels well looked after.

KEVIN DURANT, NBA STAR: USA basketball has made this experience easy for all of us, especially throughout the circumstances of COVID and in Japan where cases have risen. I think USA basketball is keeping us safe, if they could.

WANG: Yet nothing is certain when it comes to COVID. Around 100 people connected to the games have now come down with the virus as Tokyo is reporting more than 10 times that number of cases each day.

And if the pandemic wasn't enough to worry about, Olympic organizers are getting hit with another controversy.

The director of Friday's opening ceremony dumped from his role for past remarks making light of the Holocaust.

"I'd like to extend my sincere apology," she says.

Not what the Olympics needed after the opening ceremony sure to be subdued.

One person who will be there is the state premiere of Queensland, Australia, who made an successful bid to host the 2032 event. But that didn't spare her condescension from IOC vice president, John Coates, late Wednesday.


JOHN COATES, VICE PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: The other thing is I was reading some questions, if you're going to the opening ceremony. You are going to the opening ceremony.

WANG: As the COVID controversy continues to stir sports stars in action, including soccer teams, who took the chance to take the knee in protest of racial inequality.

Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.

HILL: Well, he didn't sugar coat it. President Biden says some businesses will be in a, quote, "bind" for a while when it comes to labor shortages. More from CNN's town hall, next.



HILL: Blunt talk at a CNN presidential town hall. Joe Biden conceding inflation, at a 13-year high, is a real concern, at least in the near- term.

He didn't sugar coat his answer to a restaurant owner struggling to find enough workers.


JOHN LANNI, RESTAURANT OWNER: How do you and the Biden administration plan to incentivize those that haven't returned to work yet? Hiring is our top priority right now.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Two things. One, if you notice, we kept you open. We spent billions of dollars to make sure restaurants could stay open.

And a lot of people who now -- who worked as waiters and waitresses decided they don't want to do that anymore because there's other opportunities at higher wages because there's a lot of openings now in jobs.

And people are beginning to move. People are looking to make more money and to bargain.

And so I think your business and the tourist business is really going to be in a bind for a little while.


HILL: Joining me now, CNN national political reporter, Maeve Reston, and CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen, presidential adviser to four former presidents.

Good to see both of you. David, this may not have been the answer the restaurant owner wanted.

You want to maybe pay your people more, he said. How do you think President Biden handled that moment?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I thought overall for the evening, he had a very good town hall. He has an empathy about him, a warmth and decency that I think appeals to a great number of people.

And going into Ohio and a big crowd, cheering him on, I think it was a good night.

On this particular question, he doesn't have much of an answer, unfortunately. He's waiting for the economy to catch hold. People start coming back and working again in restaurants and elsewhere. But he doesn't have an answer.

I think he's defensive on that question. So much now depends on next week and what happens with it, the infrastructure bill. The likelihood this battle is likely come to a head, perhaps later.

If he can get that infrastructure bill through, that would help with the restaurant and a lot of other people.

If he fails, he's in a tougher situation. He's got to not only the issue of jobs but the spike, and as you've been talking about on the show, this spike and the variants.

It's very, very dangerous, and Americans are exhausted from the last year and a half already.

HILL: And to those points, both in what -- just how much is riding on infrastructure as we know for this president.

But also, Maeve, when it comes to empathy, that has served Joe Biden well for decades.

But it doesn't boost the income for workers. It doesn't boost the ability for businesses to increase wages. And it's really about how this is playing out for individual Americans.

Does the White House need to perhaps work on more of an answer, or more of a suggestion, a connection in that way?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think, absolutely. And that was one of the failures that the White House has had recently.

Being back out on the campaign trail in Iowa and Texas, even in California where there's a recall, the issue that people bring up the most is how inflation is hitting their pocketbooks, talking about the sticker shock they're feeling every time they go to the grocery store.

And also talking about the labor shortage. I talked to a welder a couple of weeks ago who said, I'm exhausted, I'm working seven days a week because we can't get people to come in and fill the jobs to work with us.

And it is taking a big toll on Americans and their families. Both of the issues.

And it took a while for Republicans to get their talking points down on this, but you are really hearing that now.

We heard from Jim Jordan this week, from Joni Ernst, talking about the price of milk and eggs, talking about Biden economics, and really trying to blame President Biden for that.

And so I do think this is an area where Democrats really do have to figure out how to connect better with what Americans are feeling right now in terms of the pocketbook issues.

And not just say well, we put all this money out there in COVID relief, because people are seeing the tail end and feeling the rising costs.

HILL: When we look at what is -- what the White House is waiting on, which as you rightly point out is infrastructure, President Biden came into that town hall as a test vote failed on infrastructure.

He's still clinging to the hope of bipartisanship. Even as the initiative is hanging by a thread, we know Washington in 2021 is not the same Senate that Biden served in for decades.


Does he need a reality check in this respect in terms of that bipartisanship? He's holding out hope but it's rough.

GERGEN: Well, you know, I think different folks with different business. On one hand, there's a few they took a big gamble on bipartisanship, and he may actually succeed.

There is a story in "Politico" saying why he might succeed in the infrastructure bill. But it is a gamble. If it goes down, then he's paying a price for his gamble.

Similarly, he took a gamble -- he has a theory of the economy that if you pumped money in early, it would not overheat the economy.

And then we had Larry Summers, the Democratic former treasury secretary, in regard to -- a very bright guy -- who has been leading the charge saying, no, you're in danger of overheating the economy and the Fed is going to raise interest rates and then you're going to really have a slowdown.

He's in a tenuous situation right now. We don't know what way things are going to go. But six months into his presidency, he faces a hard climb.

HILL: There's been talk about the filibuster since Joe Biden took office.


HILL: He said last night he doesn't want to get rid of it. Nothing will get done. It will throw Washington into chaos.

Maeve, it raises the question, there's not a lot getting done with the filibuster, so what would change? Is he right? Would it be complete chaos in Washington?

RESTON: I think he was frank in the moment, just in explaining sort of what his theory of the case is.

Because there are -- as you point out, there are so many people on the left, so many progressives that want him to get rid of the filibuster.

He believes, as a Senate institutionalist, that getting rid of that check on -- that keeps people in line in the Senate, that that would throw things into chaos.

I think on both that point and the infrastructure bill, it's hard to see what beyond infrastructure President Biden is going to be able to get through.

And so I think that issue will just continue to heat up as the progressive left is looking at issues like voting rights and police reform and all of these other bills that potentially are not going to go anywhere unless there are some changes to the filibuster.

I think a lot of progressives were not happy with the answer where he talked at just going back to a talking filibuster and that being an intermediary step he was willing to take.


GERGEN: If I may say so, I think this is another area where Biden gambled. Don Lemon said, Mr. President, you can get a filibuster or voting rights, but you can't have both. Biden came back and said, no, no, I disagree with that. I think I can get both.

Who is right? We don't know. It's why this is a real drama.

HILL: It certainly is.

David Gergen, Maeve Reston, I appreciate it. Thank you both.

RESTON: Thank you.

GERGEN: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: So where do infrastructure negotiations stand? We'll head to the Hill, next.



HILL: Today, President Biden will host business and labor leaders at the White House as his infrastructure bill hits a major logjam with Republicans on the Hill.

GOP lawmakers blocking the bill yesterday in its first congressional vote, and now pushing for a little more time to write the legislation and debate it.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is on Capitol Hill.

Ryan, what is the latest on these talks today?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're still talking, Erica. And I think it is the most important part of the negotiations.

We knew from the very beginning this was going to be a very complicated and difficult process.

And what you saw the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, do yesterday was try to push the process along, saying we need to start coming to some sort of agreement on some of the big numbers and these big issues that are holding up the process.

Republicans did seem to get the message. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been behind closed doors, hashing out the finer points of the deal.

There does seem to be breakthroughs, but they have a lot of work to do.

They're hopeful as soon as Monday they will be able to come up with some sort of agreement that then can begin the process of voting on this.

You know, erica, it is only part of the process here. This bipartisan agreement about a $1 trillion deal that Republicans and Democrats are negotiating is separate from that $3.5 trillion budget bill, the so- called Human Infrastructure or Jobs Bill.

And the two are intertwined because many Democrats, especially in the House, say they're not going to vote for one without the other.

The problem is while that can be passed with only Democratic votes, not all Democrats are on board with spending that much money.

Including, of course, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who told us today he has yet to agree to that big $3.5 trillion plan.

So this is a fraught process. Every day it is going to seem like it is going to collapse.

The will, so far though, is to get it done and lawmakers remain hopeful Erica?

HILL: They are going to keep you very busy for the next several days, my friend.

Ryan, thank you.

NOBLES: Thank you.


HILL: CNN first hit the air 41 years ago. And now we are opening up our video archives for the first time to offer you the opportunity to own a piece of history digitally.

"The Collectibles," just released today, feature the presidential election calls for Joe Biden in 2020 and Donald Trump in 2016.

And 1,000 of each election call will be available, plus a very limited number of special editions that come with a framed copy. I have one right here but I'm told I have to give it back.

But you can find out more at

Thanks for joining me this hour. CNN NEWSROOM continues next with Alisyn and Victor after a short break.