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Questions at Town Hall on Covid, Unfractured, Economy; Authors of Book Shar Audio Clip of Trump Interview; Republican Leader Yanks All His Picks from January 6 Panel; More than a Dozen Athletes Have Tested Positive for Covid, Dropped Out; More than 20,000 Firefighters Deployed in 13 States. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares in London. And just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM --


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is back and they go are you really back? I mean, how can I -- we believe you, Joe. But will the country ever get it together?


SOARES: From voting rights to the January 6 Capitol insurrection, President Biden discusses key issues affecting Americans today.

Dozens of COVID cases linked to the Olympic games including U.S. athletes just a day before the opening ceremony. We are live for you in Tokyo.

And a swift rejection, China declines the W.H.O. plans for a second look at the origins of COVID-19.

Hello, everyone, happy Thursday. Now six months into his first term in office, U.S. president Biden is addressing several of the key issues weighing on the minds of millions of Americans. He was pressed on the economy, infrastructure and COVID-19 at a CNN town hall on Wednesday. With cases on the rise and the delta variant of course taking hold, Biden's top health officials are now discussing revising mask recommendations for vaccinated Americans. But the president says the nation is facing a pandemic of the unvaccinated adding his administration is working to fight a flurry of vaccine misinformation. Take a listen.


BIDEN: One of those other networks is not a big fan of mine. The one you talk about a lot. But if you notice, as they say in the southern part of my state, they have had an altar call some of those guys. All of a sudden they are out there saying let's get vaccinated, let's get vaccinated. The very people before this were saying but that -- I shouldn't make fun. That's good. It's good. It's good. We just have to keep telling the truth.


SOARES: Well the economic impact of COVID has sparked growing fears of inflation, the president trying really to tamp down those concerns saying it is a temporary issue.


BIDEN: The vast majority of the experts including Wall Street are suggesting that it's highly unlikely that it will be long term inflation that's going to get out of hand. There will be near term inflation because everything is now trying to be picked back up. So what's happening now is all of a sudden people are having choices. You know, I always thought the free market system was not only that there is competition among companies, but guess what, company should have to compete for more workers. Guess what? Maybe they'll pay more money.


SOARES: CNN's Kaitlan Collins has more now on the crucial issues really the president addressed. Take a listen.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This town hall in Ohio came at a critical juncture of Biden's presidency, of course that six month mark since taking office. And he talked about what he's done so far, but also was asked a lot about what he plans to do in the next six months and the six months after that. And what that's going to look like.

And of course the pandemic is top of mind for many voters, many who were in the audience at that town hall asking him what is going to happen for children under 12 who cannot yet get vaccinated. He believes that they are going to get vaccinated soon, though the president said he cannot speak from a scientific timeline, that's up to the federal health experts who will make that decision ultimately. He also said he does believe take the CDC is going to recommend that children under 12 who cannot yet get vaccinated are wearing a mask when they are back in school. And he talked about what the pandemic will look like as we try to get the unvaccinated vaccinated in the way that President Biden phrased it tonight.

He also was talking about how bipartisanship was still essentially is north star. And when it comes to infrastructure, he says he is optimistic about what's going to happen on Monday when lawmakers get back together on that bipartisan infrastructure plan. He is confident it's going to move forward. And was talking about of course Ohio's home Senator Rob Portman talking about how they shook on the bipartisan deal that they came to in the Oval Office that day. And so we'll see how that shakes out given the deal has been in limbo so far as they are trying to write the text of it. And then of course while President Biden was here, one thing he was

pressed on by Don Lemon was the filibuster and what the plan is because it seems very unlikely that the voting rights legislation that is sitting in Congress right now is going to go anywhere unless there are changes made to the filibuster. He has supported his -- talk once again about the talking filibuster saying that is an effective tool. But when it comes to getting rid of the filibuster entirely, he said he believes that it would essentially throw Congress into chaos if that happened and nothing would get done.


He said he does not want arguments over voting rights to get wrapped up into talks about the filibuster. So clearly making his position known there as there has been little appetite on the Senate side to change that filibuster.

So a big town hall for the president and of course the big question is going to be how the next few weeks shape what the next six months of his presidency is going to look like.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, traveling with the president in Ohio.


SOARES: But the Congressional filibuster is a big deal. Partly because Republicans in 17 states have passed restrictive voting laws sense Mr. Biden was elected. The president blasted those laws comparing them with those that legalize racial segregation as far back as in 1800. Take a listen.


BIDEN: This is Jim Crow on steroids. More people voted last time than anytime in American history in the middle of the worst pandemic in American history. More people did. And they showed up. They're going to show up again. They're going to do it again. But what I want to do is I'm trying to bring the country together and I don't want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster or exceptions to the filibuster or if it's going back to the way the filibuster had to be used about of.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You agree with the former president, he has called -- as he calls him your old boss that it is a relic of Jim Crow.

BIDEN: It is.

LEMON: If is a relic of Jim Crow it's been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically. Why protect it?

BIDEN: There's no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done. Nothing at all will get done. And there's a lot at stake. The most important one is the right to vote. That's the single most important one. And your vote counted and counted by someone who honestly counts it.


SOARES: Well Joe Biden is also slamming Republicans for obstructing the investigation into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and for trying to whitewash the assault on democracy.


BIDEN: I don't care if you think I'm Satan reincarnated. The fact is, you can't look at that television and say nothing happened on the 6th. You can't listen to people who say this was a peaceful march.


SOARES: Now a new book claims that after the U.S. presidential election last year, the top U.S. general was worried that former President Trump and his supporters might try to pull off a coup. The book "I Alone Can Fix It" adds that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff General Mark Milley and other top officials informally planned for different ways to stop Mr. Trump. When asked about these claims, Milley did not comment on the book but said he had taken an oath to the Constitution and not to any individual. The authors of the book shared an audio clip with CNN of part of that interview with Trump. Take a listen.


CAROL LEONNIG, COAUTHOR, "I ALONE CAN FIX IT": What did you hope that they would do when you said go up there and stop the steal?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well I heard that people wanted to go down to -- you know, that wasn't my rally per se, that was, there were a lot of people that spoke. They had rallies the night before. They had speakers all over the city. You had hundreds of thousands of people. I would venture to say I think it was the largest crowd I've ever spoken before. It went from that point which is almost at the White House to beyond the Washington monument. It was, and wide and --.

LEONNIG: But if you could --

TRUMP: And it was a loving crowd too, by the way. There was a lot of love. I've heard that from everybody. Many, many people have told me that was a loving crowd.


SOARES: Well the authors also told CNN's Anderson Cooper that Trump appeared to live in an alternate reality.


PHILIP RUCKER, COAUTHOR, "I ALONE CAN FIX IT": You know, and it is not just this topic where he spewed lies to us in our interview. We talked to him for 2 1/2 hours and on almost every topic, it was this sort of alternative reality playing out in his head. He brought up the fact -- according to him -- that he won the state of Arizona. Well we all know he lost the state of Arizona. He lost the state of Arizona in part according to some of his advisors, because he was attacking John McCain, a hero in that state, and he brought it up and attacks John McCain in our interview. And it's just again and again he would say things that weren't true as if they were true as if when you enter Mar-a-Lago and sit in a lobby, you are in a different universe with a different set of facts.

LEONNIG: Every conspiracy theory that Phil and I heard people whispering in his ear after the election, he was that to Kellyanne Conway, how could we have lost? How could we lose? I'm so sorry we lost. But as time has gone by, his narrative has gotten more conspiratorial, more totally lacking in basis of fact, but he's spreading the word.



SOARES: Well all these developments that we've laid out for you are happening as a special U.S. House panel gets ready to investigate the Capitol riot, but there's been a huge showdown over who should be part of that committee. CNN's Manu Raju has this report for you.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As Democrats preparing to go it alone in the aftermath of the blowup between House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi over the January 6th Select Committee. The panel that would have investigated, and that still plans to investigate what happened on that day on January 6th, the attack in the Capitol. This has been a squabble that has been going on for months, but now it's clear, Democrats will go to alone.

This in the aftermath of her rejecting two of McCarthy's picks, Pelosi saying that those two picks Jim Jordan, Jim Banks, too staunch Trump defender, did not deserve to sit on the panel based on past statements. Those past statements I'm told included Banks suggesting that the investigation was an effort to advance the less authoritarian agenda. Jordan saying this is all an effort to go after Donald Trump. She believed -- Pelosi -- that they were not serious members and they should not sit on the committee.

Kevin McCarthy responded saying that he would pull all five of his selections out of this because of his concerns that this was a partisan investigation and Pelosi should not be taking this step. He believes -- Pelosi herself acknowledging that is this an unprecedented move to deny a minority party's picks.

Now there is still a Republican member. Liz Cheney, she is still -- she one of Nancy Pelosi's eight picks. Pelosi says that she has a bipartisan quorum and can move forward because of Cheney. And Cheney in the aftermath of this came out swinging, criticizing McCarthy, agreeing with Pelosi and telling me that she does not believe that McCarthy should be the Speaker of the House after the 2022 midterms.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think that any person who would be third in line to the presidency must demonstrate a commitment to the Constitution and a commitment to the rule of law. And minority leader McCarthy has not done that.

RAJU: And the first hearing still slated to take place next week. It'll hear testimony from Capitol police officers and as well as D.C. Metro Police about their experiences that day. And then Democrats with Liz Cheney plan to press ahead potentially even calling in witnesses who interacted with Donald Trump like Republican members of Congress, potentially even Jim Jordan. Jordan himself told me earlier this week, he is willing to testify about his conversations with Trump and McCarthy too has said to me earlier he'd be willing to talk to anybody including the select committee potentially that could come to a head in the months ahead.

Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.


SOARES: As Manu Raju pointed there, Republicans having jumping all over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for kicking those two Republicans off the committee calling her an authoritarian who abused her power. But one of the Democrats on the panel insisted said those particular Republicans were selected just to be disruptive and that's not acceptable. Take a listen.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It was absolutely the right decision and look, I think for Kevin McCarthy, this is all about what does Donald Trump want. That's the first question he asks in the morning, that's the last question he asks at the end of the day. And Donald Trump doesn't want this to go forward. And so, Kevin McCarthy is doing everything he can to try to stop it. To try to distract from what we will find. But it won't work.


SOARES: Now the bipartisan group of U.S. senators working on infrastructure deal say they are making progress. But one Senate Republicans blocked a vote to begin debate on the unfinished $1.2 trillion bill. Lawmakers say they hope to have the details of the bill completed this week, allowing for a new vote early next week.

Now Miami-Dade County officials now say 97 victims of the Surfside condo collapse have been identified. And that includes 96 victims recovered from the collapse site and one who died in the hospital. Officials say they believe there is still one victim of the June 24th tragedy who was not been identified. Once the recovery effort ends, the investigation into the condo collapse will intensify.

Now with the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics just one day away, nerves are being rattled of course by an alarming rise in COVID- 19 connected to the games. Tokyo 2020 organizers say at least 91 new cases are now linked to the Olympics including four more testing positive inside the Olympic Village. More than a dozen athletes have tested positive and dropped out of the competition. Even as jet fighters we heard, as you see there for Friday's opening ceremony. Controversy is again tarnishing the event. Its director has suddenly been fired. CNN's Blake Essig joins us now from Tokyo. So you know, Blake, here we have a day before the opening ceremony and they fire the man who put it all together. What's behind the dismissal?


BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Isa look, just the latest scandal to impact these games, the ceremony's director Kentaro Kobayashi has been dismissed for mocking the Holocaust and making anti-Semitic jokes during a comedy routine back in the '90s. As a result he released this statement.

He said quote: As it was pointed out, there were some inappropriate expressions in the scripts from my past skit. I understand that my foolish choice of words at the time was a mistake and I regret it.

Now the director's dismissal takes place just a few days after the man in charge of composing music for the opening and closing ceremony stepped down. He resigned after admitting to bullying children with disabilities years ago. Now though Olympic organizers said that they wouldn't use the composer's music, they have not said how the director's removal would impact tomorrow night's event.

And while controversy surrounding the opening ceremony grows, so do the number of positive of COVID-19 cases for people involved with the Olympic Games. That number currently stands at 91, with four new cases confirmed in the Olympic Village, bringing that total up to eight. It's a clear sign that the Olympic Village bubble has in fact been punctured. Now athletes are worried about catching COVID-19 or being considered close contact with someone who tests positive, essentially ending their Olympic dream before it has a chance to start. It's a tough situation. It's already played out for five members of team USA and 13 athletes from around the rest of the world.

Sadly, there's no question that this story will continue to repeat itself in the days and weeks to come. And while COVID-19 remains a concern, Olympic competition is already under way and five women's football teams took a knee to stand up against racism and for human rights. In April, the IOC upheld their ban preventing athletes from demonstrating at the games. When asked about the demonstrations yesterday, IOC President Thomas Bach said kneeling ahead of the matches is allowed and didn't violate the rules against protesting. That being said, Olympic social media pages, Isa, haven't posted any images showing these demonstrations.

SOARES: Very interesting indeed. Blake Essig, thank you very much. Good to see you my friend.

Now the W.H.O. warns the global COVID case total could exceed 200 million by the time the Tokyo games are over if the current trends continue. And that will mean another 8 million cases added over the next three weeks. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the CDC is projecting an increase in COVID deaths and hospitalization over the next month as you can see there. The latest forecast predicts up to 625,000 and as many as 14,000 new hospitalizations by mid-August.

In California, Los Angeles County reporting more than 2,500 cases on Wednesday, that is 20 times the amount of infections reported just a month ago. On Wednesday, the mayor of New Orleans announced an indoor mask advisory due to a dramatic spike in cases there. Although masks are not mandatory, it is recommended that even vaccinated residents wear one while inside. And for those across the country who are unvaccinated, the director of the National Institutes of Health has this warning. Take a listen.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH: For those who are not vaccinated, this is becoming a pandemic that has you in its sights. Hospitalizations going up as much as two-fold in just the last two weeks. And cases which for a while were looking like they were headed down in a lovely trajectory two months ago, are now going back up again fairly steeply and the delta variant, which is so incredibly contagious, is contributing a lot to this. So we are in for trouble.


SOARES: Still ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM, why China claims it's impossible to accept the WHO's plans for further study into the origins of the coronavirus.

Plus, firefighters in the U.S. make progress. What's helping them get a handle on the biggest blazes burning out West. We'll bring you both of those stories after a very short break.



SOARES: Now it may be a little hard to see at first, but you're looking at two water waterfalls in Utah Capitol Reef National Park, they're not usually there, but days of heavy rain and flash flooding loosened the famous red rock producing the muddy flows that you are witnessing.

Well more than 20,000 firefighters are battling wildfires across 13 U.S. states. The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon is the biggest, and it's only about 38 percent contained. Campfires have been banned in most Oregon state parks.

California's biggest blaze the Beckwourth Complex Fire is now 96 percent contained. But the Tamarack Fire near the border of Nevada is proving to be a lot more challenging. The National Interagency Fire Center has reported is 0 percent contained.

A ranger and his -- a rancher and his wife recorded this video as you can see there on Monday, as they went to check on their neighbor's cows, they said it sounded like Niagara Falls as the fire came up the hill behind the pasture. Those images very alarming.

Let's bring in CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam. And Derek, it is staggering. Isn't it? When you look at these images and we see the number of wildfires ripping through the U.S. states, and the ferocity too. Give me a sense of whether there's going to be any respite for these communities and these firefighters.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It really is astounding, Isa. And you know what's astounding to me as a meteorologist, is how fire -- a wildfire or several wildfires 1,500 miles away from the East Coast of the U.S. can impact people's quality of their health over the eastern seaboard. This is New York City on Tuesday. This is smoke and haze from wildfires that are well away from this area. We're talking about the worst quality of air in 15 years. You bring up the video and you'll see just how smoggy it really was this week.

Fortunately, that has started to clear, but there is more bad quality of air in the forecast as the wildfires over the Western parts of the U.S. and southern Canada continue to billow into the upper levels of the atmosphere creating this smoke. It gets caught in the jet stream and lofts itself eastward. 78 large active fires over the Western U.S. and that covers 13 U.S. states.


So a large expansive area and when we talk specifically about the Bootleg Fire, it is now -- this is new information overnight -- now the third largest wildfire in recorded history for the state of Oregon. So that is incredible.

There has been some positive news there though, they have had improvements in the weather conditions, temperatures have cooled, winds have relaxed. But at the height of the fire earlier this week, wow, they were really starting to see that smoke go into the upper levels of the atmosphere, over 30,000 feet into the air. And that gets lofted and caught up in the jet stream, as I mentioned before, and races across the country from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Now, it's incredible to think what this does to people with respiratory problems. I'm an asthmatic. I study this stuff. It's incredible. The average diameter of the human hair around 50 to 60 microns. 50 to 70 microns combustion particles, smog and pollutants from a wildfire smoke, less than 2.5 microns. So that has the ability to be ingested. Really lodged deep within your lungs and that can create obviously problems for asthmatic and people with medical conditions like that. You can see air quality index a problem from Minneapolis to Indianapolis for the day today -- Isa.

SOARES: Thanks very much, Derek Van Dam there.

While wildfires are wreaking havoc in what's normally one of the coldest places on earth, so far this year more than 2.5 million hectors or 6 million acres have burned in northeastern Siberia. The Russia military is helping to fight the fires, which one environmental group says by creating an apocalyptic of toxic smoke, Greenpeace claims fast melting Siberia's snow and longer than normal droughts. The death toll has jumped to at least 33 with eight people missing

from severe flooding in central China. Heavy rain pushed the Yellow River over its banks in Henan province where more than 120,000 people have fled their homes. A dozen people were killed when floodwaters rushed into subway cars in the provincial capital, as you can see there. State media reports the train was stopped between two stations and some passengers waited more than three hours to be rescued.

Now the U.S. state Nevada becomes a COVID hot spot as the vaccination pace really plummets, but some vaccine skeptics there are changing their minds after a personal brush with COVID. We'll bring you that story ahead. And this --


BIDEN: This is simple basic proposition. If you are vaccinated, you are not going to be hospitalized, you're not can it be in an ICU unit and you're not going to die.