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Republican House Leader Refusing to Participate in Insurrection Commission; Interview With U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Nominee Xavier Becerra; COVID Rising. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 15:00   ET



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

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

Unvaccinated Americans are sending the country backwards and prompting the White House to rethink its strategy on masks. Sources tell CNN top health officials are considering whether to revisit guidance on masking for all of us, even Americans who have tried to protect themselves and their communities by getting vaccinated.

The unvaccinated and the Delta variant are causing cases to spike, as you can see on the map on your screen in most states. But as for deaths and hospitalizations, it's almost 100 percent unvaccinated people.


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.


BLACKWELL: Well, CDC advisers are meeting right now to determine if some immunocompromised people who received the J&J vaccine need a booster. That's one topic.

They're also talking about a very rare syndrome among people who've received the shot.

Let's go to our CNN correspondents who are tracking what's happening in COVID hot spots.

And we will start with CNN's Sara Sidner in Las Vegas.

We understand that she is with the health and human services secretary, Xavier Becerra. That is certainly a hot spot that we're seeing, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, they are seeing more cases. We're seeing more people going to the hospital due to this Delta variant, and more people dying from it as well as they're seeing across the country.

But Nevada is once again a hot spot. And that is really, really, really difficult for all of the people who have been here trying to treat these patients.

I am joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Thank you, sir, so much for being here.

You are here because this is the first time that we have seen a COVID- 19 surge response team show up since the Delta variant has swept the nation. Tell me exactly some specifics on what exactly this team, this group of folks are going to do here in Nevada.

XAVIER BECERRA, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Sara, in a way, we're going to do what we have done. We're going to -- but we're going to do it with intensity.

And that is to partner up with the state. Governor Sisolak has invited us to come. The locals here in Las Vegas, Clark County, have said, we want to help. And so what we're doing is, we're teaming up with them and their volunteers. The volunteers know their communities, they know their neighborhoods.

We're going to provide them whatever support we can. They want to set up a vaccination site, we will be there to help them. They want to get the right information in the hands of people that they're meeting, we want to help them.

What we want them to know is, if you have got a trusted community member who wants to help neighbors, family members get vaccinated, we want to help.

SIDNER: You had talked about the fact that this could be technical support, it could be boots on the ground. It could even be people helping with trash. It could be any of the things.

But there's also grants, money that's available for state to try and tamp down on this. And the Delta virus, the Delta variant is so incredibly infectious, and we're seeing it kill people. We're back to that again.


SIDNER: I do want to ask you about one of the things that has become a controversy when it comes to this particular program.

And one of the things that was talked about is that door-to-door knocks, that there will be volunteers going door to door. And there are a lot of folks that are like, we don't like strangers coming to our door. This is not a good idea. You're also seeing Republicans react in a very negative way, saying

this is -- and this is some of the misinformation out there -- like the Gestapo. They're using that kind of language. They're using the Nazis, saying it's like the Nazis coming to your door to check on you to make sure you have done something.

How do you respond to that?

BECERRA: Well, it's absurdly extreme.

When someone from your neighborhood is going to help provide you with information -- they could even be your relative, but a neighbor, a friend, a community member is volunteering to let the information you need in case you haven't been vaccinated.


Of course we want to do that. We want to support that. And President Biden has said, we want to offer everyone who wants to help Americans be safe get there. And so we're going to be out there partnering. We want to be nimble. We know that the folks who know their communities do it best. They're the trusted voices.

So we rely on what they say. If they're going to go into their neighborhood, we want to be supportive. We -- if you find out there's some neighbors who want to get vaccinated, we want to make sure there's a vaccine available for those neighbors.

SIDNER: Let me ask you one last thing about a controversy, because I want to be able to explain your words.

You had said to CNN itself it is absolutely the government's business. It's the taxpayers business. If we have to continue to spend money to try to keep people from contracting COVID, then we should be able to know exactly whether or not you are vaccinated.

And there was a huge backlash to that. Do you regret those comments? Or would you like to revise what you said?

BECERRA: Listen, we have spent trillions of dollars. We had to prevent people from coming into our country. We have had to ask everyone to mask up and to stay home.

It is definitely, absolutely the business of our government to try to help communities be safe. But it is absolutely absurd to suggest that somehow that hearkens back to the World War II days, where the Nazis were doing just outrageous, unconscionable things.

What we're simply doing is saying, you want to reach your family and your neighbor get vaccinated, we want to help. How can we -- you, the trusted voice, help you? You're volunteering to do this, we want to support you. We will make sure there's a vaccine available. We will make sure there's a testing kit available.

We will make sure that your state and your local government have the resources they need to reach everyone that you know should be vaccinated and you're willing to help us get there.

SIDNER: So there is no database where you're tracking Americans and who is vaccinated?

BECERRA: Never was that implied.

Again, remember, we're not even requiring certain -- a vaccine or a mask. We're giving guidance.

And so those who wish to explode this into something wildly absurd and inaccurate, that's up to them. But what they're doing is, they're making it tougher for us to reach those Americans who, if they had the right information, would say, are you serious? You're telling me that, of every 100 people who have COVID who dies, there are -- 99 percent of them are unvaccinated?

I think they will say, I think I will get vaccinated.

SIDNER: Thank you so much.

I appreciate it, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, joining us live here after getting a debrief from all of the folks here in Nevada as to what is happening with the virus here. It is exploding. And he did say something that very poignant; 99 percent of the people dying right now today in America due to coronavirus are people who are unvaccinated -- guys.

CAMEROTA: Sara, thank you very much for that interview. Great to hear from him.

Now let's go to Leyla Santiago in Miami.

So, Leyla, for the second week in a row, Florida leads the nation in new daily COVID cases. Its average now is nearly 6, 500 new cases a day. That's the highest in the country. So what's happening on the ground there?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, Victor, when you look at the average case numbers in Florida, it has nearly doubled since the last week. It is about quadruple what we saw a month ago.

This morning, we actually went by a testing site where we saw a bit of a line outside. And the folks that run that testing site and a few others here in Miami-Dade said that they have seen -- they had seen, rather, kind of a low in the demand for testing. And just in the last several weeks, it has increased significantly.

And they say that's because of the number of cases on the rise, as well as traveling. Now, the White House did just report that in the states with the highest case numbers -- so, yes, that includes where I am right now here in Florida, they have actually seen vaccination rates go up or higher vaccination new -- for those that are being newly vaccinated compared to the national average.

So that is a good thing. Where we are right now, at Jackson Health System, they are saying that they have actually just recently put the threat level for COVID-19 at high. And of those COVID-19 patients that are in the ICU, 95 percent of them are unvaccinated.

Listen to what one doctor told me.


DR. LILIAN ABBO, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: I will tell lawmakers to -- you're there. You have been elected for a reason. Do your work. Protect everyone. This is not about red or blue. This is about a United States of America. Keep your country safe.


SANTIAGO: That doctor also said that vaccination is one of the most important things you can do, as well as wearing a mask.

That said, this morning, Governor Ron DeSantis doubled down, saying that there will be no future lockdowns or any mask mandates, again, in the state with one of the highest case numbers right now.


CAMEROTA: Leyla Santiago, thank you very much for all that information.

OK, so, as cases go up, some are trying to -- some counties and cities are trying to tamp down the virus. Los Angeles County, the nation's most populous, just mandated masks this weekend.

But not all city officials are on board. Council members from Torrance, El Segundo, and several other cities wrote a letter to a county supervisor saying in part -- quote -- "We have had enough of these policies. We demand that you stop this one-size-fits-all approach to health and health outcomes. This most recent order will drive people away from the vaccine."

Joining us now is Councilman Tony Wu of West Covina, California.

Councilman, you were not part of the letter, but I understand you too are angry about masks. Why?


When the CDC, when the entire country want everybody to vaccinated, OK, and myself and then my city, we have, my city, West Covina, almost 80 percent vaccinated, OK? We continue to promote vaccination. We promote all these, OK, CVS, drugstore, OK?

And then we even have two locations to help people to get vaccination, OK? We want to say, hey, if you get this, you can -- your freedom, OK, and you can travel. And that's why we try to promote have everybody try to do the vaccination.


WU: OK, but the problem is when you're talking county, without any proof against the CDC and the state health department guideline, and they say even you have this, you still have to wear the mask indoor, no matter where you are at, including a restaurant, they sent a shockwave.

And the confidence level regarding this vaccination become much less. So how can we promote that people to trust that this vaccination will work, OK, and get this herd immune system, for everybody can have freedom and get over this pandemic?


Here's the problem, is that cases are up in your county. So I understand that you're saying that, in West Covina, you have a good vaccination rate. I think it's at 74 percent right now. That was the latest number that I read.

But in your county hospitalizations, if you look from April, they're higher now than they were in April. And, as you know, everything is porous. And so what harm is wearing a mask? I understand that it's annoying. Yes, wearing a mask is not ideal, but it's better than a ventilator. If it's saving lives, what harm is wearing a mask for this time while you try to bring cases down?

WU: If you see the record since last year, OK, much, West Covina provide the free masks to the resident, to the senior center, to the hospital.

We're with the first city continue to get all the PPE to our hospital, to our, OK, retirement home. And we have the lowest confirmed cases, OK? We believe the PPE. We believe the masks. We believe all these vaccination.

But the point is this. Now, when your policy, you have been consistent. You're talking about this thing. We can make sure that we have a freedom. The masks, right now, you say no matter you have vaccination or not, you have to well mask indoor. Then what kind of logic, what kind of proof?

You say you have increased hospitalization. OK. Can you give us data is in our neighborhood or in your downtown neighborhood? Where is this data coming from? Because, don't forget, L.A. County is 88 cities. It's the biggest county in the United States, 11 million population.

You have one health department control everything in different geographic location, including different demographic, including different cases.


WU: How can you let us -- like, for example, West Covina already apply to the state, OK, health department to have our own health department.


WU: So, we can -- based on the local previous -- you're, again, talking about local control and local to go into the vaccination, helping people to gain trust.

Government need to have a trustworthy policy that people are willing to follow.

CAMEROTA: I hear you.

WU: Our job, the government -- and that's what we're trying to do.

CAMEROTA: I hear you.


CAMEROTA: And I know what you're trying to do. You're -- in West Covina, you're trying to set up your own health department, so not have to listen to the mandates of the county health department, but set up your own health department.

But what science in that case would you be basing doing away with masks on? Where's the science that, if you had set up your own health department?

WU: No, no, no.

OK, if our data showing the mask will work, we would absolutely where we press everybody wear a mask. We not against wear masks. I wear mask. Everybody wear mask, OK, if it's necessary, if the proof are there.

We need the people voluntarily, OK, wear masks. We have no power to enforce what county health department talking about mandate this and that. How we enforce that? We want people voluntarily, for their health, for their beliefs that can help to help their family, for example, like this vaccination card.


Like -- is the example, the trust has to be there, the science, the proof. Everybody, we all doubt. We need to give people transparency about their information. We have -- our local health department, we can base our local data. We have found the local. OK, we know what the issue we have.


WU: We have the trust. Because we get elected, we have accountability and responsibility to our community.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I understand.

WU: So, that's why we need to give -- provide our residents.

CAMEROTA: Yes, you're such an interesting case, Mr. Wu, because, I mean -- and your county -- because you guys have done it right. You have you have brought down cases. You have a high vaccination rate.

So I take your point that it shouldn't be one size fits all, but it will be interesting to see if you are allowed to set up your own health department there.

But we have to go.


WU: We will do it.

CAMEROTA: Yes, you will do it?

WU: We will do it. We can do it. We are absolutely confident. We have to do it.

CAMEROTA: OK. We will be watching.

Tony Wu, councilman from West Covina, thank you very much for your time.

WU: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Well, still to come, Attorney General Merrick Garland is on his way to Chicago to promote the Justice Department's new anti-gun trafficking initiative. We're going to take you there live.

CAMEROTA: And conservatives, along with FOX hosts, are suddenly urging Americans to get vaccinated after those very same hosts have been so skeptical.

Why? Why now? What's changed?


BLACKWELL: All right, we will take you live to the White House, where the president is going to sign a bill to provide continued financial support for the Crime Victims Fund used to help provide counseling, shelter, even cover lost wages. Let's go to the White House office.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I apologize for keeping you waiting, because I know you're all equally as busy as am. I want to thank you.

Today, I think is a day of hope. I mean that, a day of hope and healing for victims of crime and organizations that support those victims of crime.

And I want to thank the vice president and the second gentlemen, Senators Durbin -- I think he's here. I thought I saw him, Senator Durbin, and Baldwin and Grassley and Graham and Murkowski, Representatives Nadler, and Fitzpatrick, and Jackson Lee, Wagner, and Scanlon, and everyone who has helped make possible this moment, including so many of you who are here today that I haven't mentioned.

When someone commits a crime, it's not enough to bring the predator to justice. We also need to support the victims. And it's something that, way back 150 years ago, when I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we spent a lot of time working on and setting up victims' funds. What -- that's what this crime victims fund does. And many years of

working on the issue, I have visited an awful lot of domestic violence shelters. Every time I would go into a city, I would quietly -- before I went to where I was supposed to be, quietly slip in and spend time in a domestic violence shelter to speak to the people giving the services and people getting the services.


And many times, the body language that you would that you would see when you walked in was one of the victims of crime find themselves almost curled up, and in a ball. They were still suffering from a serious, serious, not only physical abuse they received, but, quite frankly, the emotional abuse.

And you can see the pain. You could see the pain was still with them. And you wondered, when was this going to abate, no matter what we did?

According to the CDC -- and I think Senator Feinstein remembers I got in trouble because, when I was pushing the legislation way back in those days, I said I'm convinced that women who are victims of domestic violence suffer from post-traumatic stress, no different than a soldier being shot at regularly.

You come home, and every time, your significant other would come home, if the dinner wasn't ready, they smashed your head against the wall, there's no -- there's no difference than being shot at.

And the CDC two years later came out and said survivors can experience mental health problems, and such depression and symptoms of post- traumatic stress syndrome. Even before research confirmed it, you could see it. And there are economic costs for survivors as well, medical costs, lost productivity from work, and navigating the court system.

That's why victims compensation program help victims and their families cover the costs they have suffered from the crime. They can -- there can be counseling and medical bills, lost wages because you couldn't work, paying for temporary housing for a family fleeing abuse, even fixing a broken door kicked down by an abuser.

And the vast majority of children out in the street are the children who are, in fact, the children of abused women. It can also be the long-term support survivors need to heal every time in every single sense of the word.

In 2019, these victims compensation funds went directly to 230,000 victims, 230,000. These funds also got to states, territories and tribes to support thousands of victim service organizations. And these organizations have provided services and support to over 13 million survivors.

And, by the way, last night, some of you heard me talk about the need for more policing that understands the need for communities and citizens. These funds will also go to law enforcement agencies to support training on how to respond to victims who have experienced trauma.

In 1984, I was proud to support the passage of the Victims of Crime Act and created -- that created this fund. I'm also proud to sign the law that significantly strengthens it today. This fund doesn't take a dime of taxpayers' money. It uses fines and penalties paid by convicted federal criminals.

However, find some what are called non-prosecutorial agreements or defendant -- or deferred prosecution agreements did not go into this Victims Crimes Fund in the past.

Since there's been more and more of these agreements in recent years, the fund is being depleted. That meant dramatic cuts in the funding it could provide for victims and for organizations to support these victims.

Between 2017 and today, the amount of money in these funds has gone down 92 percent, which has resulted in a 70 percent reduction in victims assistance programs and grants. This means that, for a lot of victims, the help they need isn't there any longer.

When my son Beau was the attorney general of the state of Delaware, he took pride in getting more support more quickly to victims, especially to protect and care for child victims. And I know that, as a San Francisco DA and a California attorney general, Vice President Harris expanded support for victims of crime and launched one of the nation's first medical centers focused on treating childhood trauma caused by violence in a home or in a community.

This bill is going to allow us to make sure that all the fines and penalties that are from federal cases go into the victims -- the Crime Victims Fund to rebuild this fund, because it's badly needed.

This is going to enable us to provide more help and support to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, trafficking and other crimes all across America.

And in order to provide more access and safety and services for victims of gender-based violence, it's long past time to reauthorize and strengthen the protections through the Violence Against Women Act, please, please.


You know, you can--


BLACKWELL: All right, President Biden there at the White House about to sign a bill that will replenish the Crime Victims Fund.

We will, of course, continue to monitor what's happening there at the White House and bring you any news that happens there.

Let's turn now to Capitol Hill and the partisan fighting that continues over the investigation into the January 6 attack. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled all five of his picks after Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of them for the select committee.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): This is a sham committee that's just politically driven by Speaker Pelosi, for her to pick and choose who can serve on, to say that the ranking member of Judiciary, who would have jurisdiction, cannot serve, when she decides that Jim Banks, who served his nation in the Navy and Afghanistan, that he can't serve here.


BLACKWELL: Well, Speaker Pelosi told reporters that she won't let Republican antics, as she called them, get in the way of the investigation.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Manu Raju joins us now.

So, Manu, the speaker is still moving forward, she says. And we have some reporting that she is considering adding another Republican to the committee. Are any Republicans willing to do that, or Republicans?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Adam Kinzinger has made very clear that he would be willing to serve on the select committee.

He said that in the run-up to the appointment of Liz Cheney serving on the committee and being a Pelosi appointee. And when I tried to ask Adam Kinzinger multiple times today whether he'd be willing to serve, if he'd spoken to the speaker, if he was expected to get the appointment, he absolutely refused to comment, which indicates perhaps there's something moving behind the scenes.

And what we are hearing from multiple sources is that Kinzinger could be added. Pelosi is considering that, we are told. And, also, Bennie Thompson, the chairman of that committee, told me that that has been under discussion.

Now, they just had a meeting of the eight members who were selected by Nancy Pelosi, including Liz Cheney. They have talked about their way forward. And they also talked about next week's hearing, which will be the first hearing. Capitol Police officers, D.C. Metro Police will testify about their experiences that day.

They're trying to talk about those issues. And they expect to announce staff members, staff hires who will do a bulk of the investigating in the weeks and months ahead. So, after this next hearing, expect that work to happen behind the scenes, the intensity to pick up, and we will see if they add another Republican.

It seems like there's a very likely possibility that Kinzinger could be added by the end of the week.

BLACKWELL: Manu, let me ask you about the infrastructure plan, potential hang-up on those talks. RAJU: Yes, this is on the issue of transit funding. That is one piece

of this $1.2 trillion proposal that would spend about $579 billion over five years in new money.

But the issue about how to pay for the transit systems has been a sticking point for days. And just speaking to the top Republican negotiator moments ago, he made very clear that his concern is that Democrats are asking too much. In his view, they're being unreasonable. Take a listen.


RAJU: Have you guys resolved the transit funding issue?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): Transit funding has not yet been resolved. And that's important.

But if we can't resolve it, then we could leave that out. I hope not. But Democrats, frankly, are not being reasonable in their requests right now. We have got a very generous offer out there that provides a significant increase in funding over the next five years.


RAJU: So, this is a big question now, because it had been expected, at least the talk had been that they could get a deal by the end of the week, by into the weekend, and, by Monday, there could be a vote that could open debate where 10 Republicans would break ranks, join 50 Democrats going forward.

But as you can see from Portman's comments right there, still some sticking points to resolve. Can they get there? Still an open question -- guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Manu Raju Capitol Hill for us, thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, next, we want to try to get to the bottom of why some conservatives and right-wing TV hosts are suddenly pro-vaccine, after months of casting doubt on the vaccine.

What's that about? What's going on?