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Republican House Leader Refusing to Participate in Insurrection Commission; COVID Spreading. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

So, the pandemic of the unvaccinated is now prompting the White House to rethink its strategy on masks. The United States continues to see an increase in cases driven by the Delta variant's unprecedented ability to spread.

Listen here to what the CDC director said about that.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: The Delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains. It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career.


CAMEROTA: Well, CDC advisers are meeting right now to determine if a booster shot might be needed for some immunocompromised people who received the J&J vaccine.

And they're also discussing one very rare side effect from the shot.

So, let's turn to CNN's chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, we are seeing more places reinstate restrictions even for the doubly vaccinated. So what is the White House saying and considering doing?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're not saying much publicly, except pointing to the fact that they have not changed guidance yet on whether or not vaccinated people should be wearing a mask.

It is still that fully vaccinated people don't need to wear a mask indoors. Of course, that is what it was when they changed it several months ago. It still remains there now, but CNN has reported, others, including "The Washington Post" as well, that there are discussions happening with top White House officials, top federal health officials about potentially revisiting that guidance because of what Walensky was just talking about there, this Delta variant that is now over 80 percent of the cases in the United States.

And it is obviously raising concerns, because you are seeing some breakthrough cases. There are questions about whether people who are vaccinated and right now don't need to wear a mask should be wearing a mask when they're indoors in mixed settings with vaccinated and unvaccinated people, and those are questions that the CDC has not offered an update on yet.

They haven't even confirmed that these talks are going on, which it is a complicated discussion, because they are looking at the science and trying to make the best decision. And, obviously, if they do update the mask guidance, it would be incredibly significant.

But when we just asked the CDC director earlier to even confirm these talks were happening, this is what she told us.


COLLINS: Is the CDC considering right now changing its mask guidance for people who are fully vaccinated?

WALENSKY: We are always looking at the data as the data come in. Our guidance has been clear since we put it out several months ago. And that is, if you are unvaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask and protect yourself against others around you and, more importantly, you should go and get vaccinated to get better layers of protection.

We have always said that communities, local communities have to look at what is going on locally, as we have a very heterogeneous country right now.


COLLINS: So, Victor and Alisyn, right now, there's no change to the CDC guidance.

But we know that this can happen quickly, and the White House is not always fully aware of what is going on, because that is an ultimate decision that is made by the CDC. Remember, the White House was not aware until the night before when the CDC was going to change its mask guidance, saying that people could drop those recommendations to wear a mask if they were fully vaccinated.

So, it remains to be seen what they are going to do here, but even if they don't change the guidance, we have heard from officials who say they may put out new guidance saying make sure you are following your local restrictions or your local guidance on wearing a mask. They may more heavily emphasize that you should be wearing one without making it an official CDC guidance.

So that ultimate outcome remains to be seen. But there is a sound of alarm coming from the president's coronavirus task force on -- or his COVID team on what is going to happen with this Delta variant and the concern about the areas where people are not vaccinated.

But one positive note that we did hear from Jeff Zients, his adviser, earlier today was, they said in areas where there are high case rates happening right now, obviously, because of the Delta variant, they're seeing a bigger uptick there in vaccinations than in other places.

So they're hoping it is a positive sign that the Delta variant is at least in one part encouraging more people who have not yet gotten vaccinated to do so.

BLACKWELL: All right, chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

So, the United States is now averaging just shy of 40,000 cases a day. That's almost a 60 percent jump over last week.

CAMEROTA: But the daily average of people getting fully vaccinated is at its lowest since January. More than a quarter of Americans now live in counties with high COVID-19 transmission.

CNN's Athena Jones has a closer look at some hot spots.

Hi, Athena.



Look, with the CDC's ensemble forecast now predicting COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations will increase over the next four weeks, and, as you mentioned, the daily pace of people becoming fully vaccinated has hit its lowest point since January, more and more doctors and government officials are sounding the alarm, urging those who are unvaccinated to get vaccinated.


JONES (voice-over): America's summer COVID surge shows no sign of abating.

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: The Delta variant is, indeed, something that is like COVID of 2020 on steroids.

JONES: Louisiana reporting the most new infections per capita, with Arkansas, Missouri and Florida not far behind. New Orleans recommending masks indoors for everyone to try to slow the spread.

LATOYA CANTRELL (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: We know that masking works. We have seen this movie over and over again.

JONES: Florida averaging the most new cases in raw numbers of any state, nearly doubling since last week.

And, in California, Los Angeles County reporting a 20-fold increase in new COVID cases since last month. Amid soaring case numbers, Missouri's governor announcing new incentives to encourage vaccinations, 900 Missouri's eligible to win cash or education savings worth $10,000.

GOV. MIKE PARSON (R-MO): So, if the incentive program boosts those numbers, that's great. You know, that's exactly what we want. We just want to make sure people are getting good information to make the decision.

JONES: Austin, Texas, public health officials now urging people in the community to wear masks indoors, too, while Atlanta Public Schools, just 18 percent of eligible students are fully vaccinated, will require masks for all students and school staff.

And as the virus strikes more and more unvaccinated young people:

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: We do know that, in our ICUs, we are seeing younger people intubated who are very sick or who are on the floors and are very sick. That should be a gigantic wakeup call.

JONES: One Arkansas doctor sharing this stark warning:

DR. MICHAEL BOLDING, ARKANSAS WASHINGTON REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: What I really wish you could see is to look into the eyes of a young father or a gentleman who knows that they may be short for this world because they didn't get their vaccine, and the regret and remorse on their face and fear.

JONES: A doctor in Alabama writing in a Facebook post about seriously ill patients who thought the virus was a hoax begging for the vaccine when it is already too late. "I go back to my office, write their death note and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives," she writes, urging people to ask her questions about the vaccine, adding: "It is not too late, but, some day, it might be."


JONES: And even as Florida leads the nation in average number of new daily COVID cases, Governor Ron DeSantis says he will not be mandating masks for public school students, the governor saying: "Is it really comfortable, is it really healthy for them to be muzzled and have their breathing obstructed all day long in school? I don't think it is" -- Alisyn, Victor.

CAMEROTA: Wow, Athena, it is just haunting to hear those doctors talk about the -- as somebody gets intubated, then they have so much regret. And they're trying to spread the word about all of that.

Thank you very much for that story, Athena.

Joining us is Dr. Paul Offit. He's the director of the Vaccination Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He's also on the FDA's Vaccine Advisory Committee.

So, we have a lot of questions for you, Dr. Offit. First, parents are concerned, are interested, interested and concerned

about what this coming school year is going to look like on many levels. Do you have any insight into when kids 12 years old and younger might be eligible for the vaccine?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Well, as soon as the data are generated and submitted to our committee, we will look at those data. And if we are confident that this vaccine is most importantly, save and effective in that age group, the 6-to-12-year- old age group, then we will recommend to the FDA that the vaccine be approved for use.

But until we see those data, it is really hard to know. Hopefully, we will have it before we hit late fall or early winter, because this virus is a winter virus. And if we have children going back to school unvaccinated, Delta variant, winter, those -- that's a bad confluence of three events. And, hopefully, we will have a vaccine before then.

BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about masks, that we know there's a conversation at the White House.

But I want to focus on the children and schools. We just heard Athena read a bit of what we heard from Governor DeSantis in Florida. I want to play more of what the governor is saying about masks for children.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): There's been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level imposing compulsory masks on kids.

We're not doing that in Florida, OK? We need our kids to breathe.



DESANTIS: We need our kids to be able to be kids. We need them to be able to breathe. It is terribly uncomfortable for them to do it.


BLACKWELL: The masks are uncomfortable. He wants kids to breathe.

What is your response?

OFFIT: Kids can breathe through the mask. Actually, kids are pretty good at wearing a mask.

You are heading into a winter where, unlike last winter in schools, where schools were very good about masking and social distancing, that is going to be less true now. The Delta variant is clearly more contagious. It has a reproducibility index, if you will, of between six and eight.

That makes it more contagious, much more contagious, than influenza. And it's a winter virus. It does better in cooler, non-humid climates. And that's what about to happen. If I was the father of a 10-year-old, I would be nervous sending my child to school. I would like to know, at the very least, that everyone (AUDIO GAP)

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, we, in fact, have parents coming up later in the program who are in exactly that boat. They're very nervous about sending their kids back to school, because their governor is refusing any mask mandate.

And so I mean, Doctor, we already know from mental health studies that it's better for kids to be back in the classroom than to do remote learning. But if your school refuses to order masks, what are parents to do?

OFFIT: Were I a parent in that situation, I would make sure my child wore a mask.

It is -- it explains to you, in part, when you hear Governor DeSantis say that, why it is that Florida has more cases (AUDIO GAP)

BLACKWELL: I think we had a bit of an audio issue there at the end, but we still got you. I can see you on screen if you're looking around.

Paul, let me ask you -- or, Dr. Offit, during the town hall last night here on CNN, the president was inconsistent, let's say, on the protection that's offered or guaranteed by a vaccine. So let's listen to what the president said. And I want you to clear it up.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're vaccinated, even if you do "catch the virus" -- quote, unquote -- "like people talk about it in normal terms, you're an overwhelming -- and not many people do. If you do, you're not likely to get sick. You're probably going to be symptomless. You're not going to be in a position where your life is in danger.

You're not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.


BLACKWELL: All right, two different things there. We have reported on the breakthrough cases. The protection is not absolute. Give us the facts.

OFFIT: Right.

Well, no vaccine is 100 percent effective. But what you can say, though, this is highly effective. I mean, despite the rise of the Delta variant, the fact that you know it's more contagious, nonetheless, 97 percent of people who are hospitalized are unvaccinated; 99.5 percent of people who die are unvaccinated.

If the vaccine didn't work well against the Delta variant, you would have seen far more people who, despite being fully vaccinated, nonetheless were hospitalized or killed. That hasn't happened, which tells you this vaccine works to protect against the Delta variant. But it doesn't work if you don't get it.

It's really -- it's so frustrating for me. There's so much in medicine we don't know. There's so much we can't do. This, we know. And that people, despite the overwhelming evidence that this vaccine is safe and effective, nonetheless choose to reject it is just enormously frustrating.

CAMEROTA: So, Dr. Offit, that leads us to, if there's overwhelming evidence that this vaccine is safe and effective, when will it have full FDA approval? You're on the FDA advisory committee.

And we do hear some vaccine-hesitant people say that that would make a difference for them.

OFFIT: It's more psychological than anything else.

I mean, you have more than 300 million doses of these vaccines that are out there. You know its safety profile. You know its efficacy profile. You know its immunogenicity profile. This isn't exactly an experimental new drug at this point.

I mean, you have all this information.

CAMEROTA: So, why not full approval?

OFFIT: Well, again, it's -- when the FDA licenses a product, meaning when the company submits a biologics license application, there's two aspects to that.

One, and, here, it's having six months of efficacy data, which are already in hand. But the other thing is something that the FDA calls chemical manufacturing control. Means that they have to go -- they don't just license the product. They also license the process and the building.

So they have to go through to make sure that there are protocols in place for production that are all validated. And that can take some time. It is a massive submission. Hopefully, we will have this in place by mid-September.

BLACKWELL: On safety, there's the CDC advisory committee meeting that's happening today. They're discussing a couple of things, one of them, 100 or so cases of this rare syndrome, Guillain-Barre.

I should say 100 out of 12.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that have been administered. What do you expect to come out of that meeting?

OFFIT: I suspect what's going to come out of that meeting is that you have this side effect, so-called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which occurs in roughly one per 128,000 vaccines. It's a neurological problem that generally is self-resolving, but can be severe. Nonetheless, the vaccines' benefits outweigh the risks.

[14:15:00] I think what would be interesting to see is whether or not the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease, COVID-19, is also associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome. We have already learned that with myocarditis.

We found out that the myocarditis risk, for example, with the mRNA vaccines was between one in 20,000 to one in 50,000 people. But when you look at people, for example -- this was done with sort of sports folks at the Big 10 Conference. Everybody who had COVID had a cardiac MRI to see whether they had evidence of myocarditis.

And it was present in 2.5 percent of the athletes, roughly one in 40 people, which is obviously much more common than the roughly one in 20,000 to one in 50,000 who got it associated with the vaccine.

So, again, it's -- to avoid the vaccine is not necessarily that you're avoiding this rare problem.

BLACKWELL: All right, again, 100 cases out of 12.8 million doses of J&J.

Dr. Paul Offit, thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Doc.

OFFIT: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: We've seen a lot of Republicans suddenly embrace the coronavirus vaccines this week, but there is still a giant GOP divide on this issue.

Nearly half of House Republicans still refuse to say whether they have been vaccinated.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Lauren Fox has the details.

So, Lauren, first of all, what happened this week that made them change their tune, if we know, and why have they suddenly found religion, some Republicans, on getting the vaccine, and why won't others say if they're vaccinated?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, look, I think one of the things that I have been hearing from Republican lawmakers that I have talked to today is that the Delta variant is really forcing members to have a reckoning about how they talk about getting vaccinated.

Senator Lindsey Graham, I talked to him just a few minutes ago. He said, look, we have to do better than we have been doing in getting constituents and specifically our base out there and vaccinated, because this is deadly, and the longer it hangs out there, the more of a risk it is to not just human lives, but also the economy and the future of the country.

So I think that is one factor. Now, I do want to point out that CNN has done a survey every several months trying to get to the bottom of how many members of Congress are actually vaccinated.

And as of today, after doing this survey once again, CNN still cannot confirm the vaccine status of 97 House Republicans. We reviewed public data that was available. We also asked these members directly in our survey, and we still don't know the vaccine status, again, of 97 House Republicans. That's nearly half of the Republican Conference.

That is significant and really speaks to the moment that we are at, because this is more than just about are you vaccinated or aren't you vaccinated for the safety of yourself, but how are you talking about vaccines with your constituents back home? Are you educating them? And do you view that as part of your role?

I asked one Republican senator, Kevin Cramer, who has not said whether or not he is vaccinated or not. He's from the state of North Dakota. He told me, look, it is not my job to educate people on whether or not they should get vaccinated. That is a personal choice. My job is to be a lawmaker.

Now, I think a lot of other Republicans are starting to believe it is their job to spread the word, and you saw that from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was very firm this week at the GOP Republican leadership stakeout, arguing that there's no excuse at this point to not getting vaccinated. It is safe, it is effective, it is important.

He has also made that message clear back home. So, look, there is a disconnect I think clearly between the House and the Senate, but I think that this is an important issue and a moment where the Republican Party has to decide, which side of this are they going to be on?

CAMEROTA: I mean, their job title is still public servant, right? So things in the public health would be helpful.

Lauren Fox, thank you for staying on them and continuing to ask those questions.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's talk about this continuing standoff between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. It is about the investigation into the January 6 insurrection.

CAMEROTA: And former President Trump has a disturbing description of that day. We will bring you the newly released audio.



BLACKWELL: Let's turn now to the fight over the investigation into the January 6 attack.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy calls the select committee a political sham. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi's defending her decision to reject two GOP members. She called their past comments disqualifying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): 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.

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.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us now.

So, Ryan, the speaker is moving forward. Is she trying to add another Republican to the committee?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure seems that way, Victor and Alisyn.

It is clear that Pelosi wants this committee to move forward and she also doesn't want it to seem like it is just a partisan exercise. So, to that end, she is trying to find willing Republicans to be a part of this process.

And she's already appointed Liz Cheney to the panel. Cheney has reaffirmed her desire to stay on the committee. We are also hearing that she is considering Adam Kinzinger, a sitting member of the Congress right now in Illinois, someone who has, of course, been a vocal critic of President Trump's conduct around January 6.

Now, Kinzinger and Pelosi won't confirm that they're having conversations about him serving on the panel. And then, even further, there are conversations that Pelosi is having with former members of Congress that are Republicans to serve in some sort of an adviser capacity, among them, Denver Riggleman, a former congressman from Virginia who has also been a pretty big critic of the former president and what happened on January 6.


So this is Pelosi trying to show that she's making a good-faith effort to get Republicans involved in the process. Obviously, what we heard from Kevin McCarthy today, he is still going to do everything he can to make it seem as though this is just a partisan exercise.

But Pelosi has said, no matter what, the committee is moving forward with their work.

BLACKWELL: Ryan, I want to play these two sound bites. We are getting new recordings of the former president speaking to two "Washington Post" reporters, Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig, nearly four months after the insurrection.

Here is the first one.


of love. I have heard that from everybody. Many, many people have told me that was a loving crowd. And it was -- it was too bad. It was too bad that it got -- you know, that they did that.


BLACKWELL: Yes, a loving crowd that tried to beat the hell out of the Capitol Police and wanted to kill the vice president.

NOBLES: Yes, Victor, and this is exactly what the January 6 committee -- this is their mission, to try and dispel this false information about what happened on this day and get to the bottom as to what motivated the people to attack the Capitol, why the Capitol wasn't prepared, and how to prevent it in the future.

But it is pretty clear, when you listen to these recordings, that the former president is trying to paint a completely different narrative.

Listen to what else he told those Washington reporters.


TRUMP: I happen to believe the election was rigged at a level like nothing has ever been rigged before. There's tremendous proof. There's tremendous proof.

Statistically, it wasn't even possible that he won.

PHILIP RUCKER,"THE WASHINGTON POST": Did you need better lawyer? .

TRUMP: I needed better judges. The Supreme Court was afraid to take it.


NOBLES: So, what is clear here is that there's been a lack of the Republicans that are in the Congress right now being willing to equate the big lie, the president suggesting that he somehow actually won this election, along with the motivations of those who attacked the Capitol on that day.

They just refuse to draw that comparison. And you have to imagine that that's going to be a big part of the responsibility of this committee to clearly lay out how those two things affected one another and how you prevent it from happening in the future -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Ryan, just hearing the president in his own words is so disturbing on so many levels.

If one of your loved ones was that untethered from reality, you would be worried. You would be worried and want to stage some sort of intervention, if they were saying things like, statistically, the math would never add up.

I mean, it is just -- it's not rooted in reality. And hearing him try to -- I guess he is justifying it to himself or to the "Post" reporters, but it is just -- it is very upsetting to hear.

BLACKWELL: Yes. I mean, he says he needs better judges. Judges have reviewed the case.


BLACKWELL: And all of them dismissed these lawsuits.


BLACKWELL: Ryan Nobles, we have got to wrap it there.

Thank you so much there on Capitol Hill.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Ryan.

BLACKWELL: So, we are on the eve of the Olympics' Opening Ceremony.

Coronavirus, though, is overshadowing the competition, and a new scandal, another high-profile official forced out.