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Growing GOP Group Wants Kinzinger, Cheney Punished for Joining Jan 6th Select Committee; Biden: I Whipped Donald Trump in Virgina; Biden Meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi; Department of Veterans Affairs Will Require Health Workers to be Vaccinated; Some Districts Kept from Ordering Mask Use as School Year Looms. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 26, 2021 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:30:00]

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I think in decades to come, we are going to know the name of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger in the same way we talk about Margaret Chase Smith today. Somebody that did the right thing and was on the right side of history.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: David, this move among some Republicans to strip Kinzinger and Cheney of their committee assignments, I mean, we just saw Cheney was voted out of leadership a couple of months ago.

Do you expect there will be enough fuel behind this move, that there will be a move on those committee assignments?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, we'll see.

We have seen Kevin McCarthy not necessarily take such action, even when a core part of the base starts demanding it.

But you raise the most prime example, Victor, which is that Liz Cheney's leadership position was put up for a vote, and she was stripped of that leadership position.

This will be a total distraction for Republicans who are desperate to try and turn the conversation to what they see in terms of concern over inflation or rising crime, places where they think they can make arguments to the American people that their ways are better in the 2022 midterms.

And if the party is completely inward looking and in this internal battle, that's not going to serve the purposes very well for them about trying to become the majority party and win over the middle of America, which they will need to do in order to be Victorious.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Ana, the truth is, Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney are not Pelosi toadies. They are not like-minded with Nancy Pelosi.

That's just the truth if you look at everything they've ever said, look at their record.

So what role do you think they will play on this select approximate committee?

We know the Democrats do want to determine Donald Trump did that day, why he went AWOL, where he was for those hours, why back-up wasn't called in soon enough.

What do you think Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger will do differently than Democrats?

NAVARRO: Look, whether some Republicans like it or not, acknowledge it or not, accept it or not, Adam and Liz Cheney are Republicans. In fact, Liz Cheney is a very conservative Republican, far more Republican than Elise Stefanik, who she was replaced with.

And I think the role they're there to play is to be principled, to show moral leadership, to put country over party, to put truth over fiction. That is their role.

And I think it's one that they are willing to accept, and accept readily, knowing that they may be consequences.

But let's also not forget how well Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney have done in fundraising since this all started happening.

And it's such -- you know, I look at what Kevin McCarthy's doing, trying to label them Pelosi Republicans. There's no such thing as a Pelosi Republican.

And Adam and Liz Cheney are no different today in their positions and their principles and their convictions than they were a year ago. When they were Kevin McCarthy Republicans.

And if, you know, he thinks that by calling them Pelosi Republicans, he's insulting them, I think a lot of America has two words that come to mind when they think of Kevin McCarthy. Unfortunately, because of FCC regulations, I can't say them at 2:00.

BLACKWELL: All right then.

David, let me come to you on another topic here. President Biden, fundraising, campaigning over the weekend.

I want to play what he said, which shows that he still thinks going after President Trump and tying candidates to President Trump is fertile for the party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ran against Donald Trump, and so is Terry.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(CHEERING)

BIDEN: And I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia, and so will Terry.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Is that the strategy we're seeing beyond the Virginia gubernatorial race?

CHALIAN: It was really instructive to see Joe Biden in blue Virginia or blue-leaning Virginia, no doubt.

But the fact that he leaned into the message of trying to hang Donald Trump around the Republican candidates, that indicates he thinks that is a pretty popular position to take heading into this election season.

BLACKWELL: All right, Ana Navarro, David Chalian, thank you.

NAVARRO: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, so, moments ago, President Biden spoke with reporters during this meeting that he was having with the prime minister of Iraq.

BLACKWELL: Yes, among the questions, the surge in COVID amid the unvaccinated.

Let's take a listen here.

BIDEN: We've known each other for some time.

And welcome to the White House, welcome to the oval, Mr. Prime minister.

Iraq has been a vital partner for the United States for some time now in the Middle East. And we have engaged deeply in Iraq for my entire career, back in the Senate, as vice president, and as president.

And I worked with Iraq to -- and as a matter of fact, my son, Beau, was in Iraq for a year with the Army National Guard.

[14:35:02]

And the sacrifices that so many have made to build their U.S.-Iraq partnership has been real, and it's consequential.

And my administration is committed to strengthening that partnership, Mr. Prime Minister.

And the U.S.-Iraqi strategic dialogue is about commitments that expand our cooperations on issues like healthcare, climate, energy.

As a matter of fact, I want to tell you, I was told that half a million, 500,000 doses of COVID vaccine were sent. I was told you were told they wouldn't come for a while. They'll be in a couple weeks.

MUSTAFA AL-KADHIMI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.

BIDEN: They'll be there quickly.

And you know, we support strengthening Iraq's democracy. And we're anxious to make sure the election goes forward in October.

And we're also committed to our security cooperation. Our shared fight against ISIS is critical for the stability of the region.

And our counterterrorism cooperation will continue, even as we shift to this new phase we're going to be talking about.

I'm looking forward to consulting with the prime minister today. We have a lot to talk about. He's been a good friend. And I'm anxious to get going.

The floor is yours, sir.

AL-KADHIMI: Thank you, Mr. President.

This is a great honor to be here today with our American friends.

We have strategic partnership. I'm happy here in Washington to discuss the future of our nation and how to prove this relation between our two countries.

American, they help Iraq. Together, we fight and defeat ISIS.

And I would like to thank the American people on behalf of all Iraq's people.

Mr. President, I thank you for all that America has given for free and democratic Iraq.

Today, our relation is stronger than ever. Our partnership is safe for our economy, health, education, culture, and more.

I'm looking forward to work with you, Mr. President, to bring our two countries more closer for benefit of Iraq and United States.

God bless our two countries.

Thank you, Mr. President.

BIDEN: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, Mr. President --

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa. Hang on a second.

If you want to talk about Iraq, ask me a question about Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. President.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How many troops would you like to see in Iraq by the end of this year, and how does the relationship changes considering this is the last strategic tie that you have with Iraq and the prime minister?

BIDEN: This most recent dialogue, you mean?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Right.

BIDEN: Well, we've been talking a lot. Our foreign ministers, our cabinet members have been talking.

We're looking forward to seeing an election in October. We're working very hard with the Iraqi government to make sure the U.N. and the GCC are -- that we have oversight, that these are full and fair elections.

I've been in contact with Kadhimi. I have -- anyway, I think things are going well.

Our role in Iraq will be as a dealing with not -- it's just to be available to continue to train, to assist, to help, and to deal with ISIS as it arrives. But we are not going to be in a combat mission.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, Veterans Affairs have a mandate --

BIDEN: You are such a pain in the neck. But I'm going to answer your question because we've known each other so long. I'll answer your question. It has nothing to do with Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: The answer --

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: I'll answer your question. Yes, Veteran Affairs is going to, in fact, require that all docs working in facilities are going to have to be vaccinated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. President. Question for --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Let's go. Thank you. Thank you, thank you. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- question for prime minister.

CAMEROTA: OK, you've been watching President Biden there meeting with the Iraqi prime minister.

Joining us now to explain exactly what was established and what it will look like moving forward, chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, and senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon.

Great to have all of you.

So, Barbara, they agreed to the end of the combat presence, it sounds like, but what specifically does this mean on the ground?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT; Well, hard to say that it means a lot, because there wasn't a lot of U.S. ground involvement in combat missions on a routine basis.

[14:40:08]

But what they are saying is that the 2,500 U.S. troops that are there will not be in a combat role by the end of the year but will be more in the role that we've heard so much about, train, advise, and assist.

Importantly, they didn't say anything about the 900 U.S. troops that are just across the border in eastern Syria, also like in Iraq, going against ISIS.

But inside Iraq, one of the major challenges not addressed is the rise of these Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

They pose a challenge to the Iraqi government. They are believed -- widely believed to be responsible for several attacks against U.S. troops, against U.S. base locations.

The U.S. has been pressuring the Iraqi government to deal with these militias. They've had very mixed success on it.

So that's going to be one of the major indicators to watch, what these militias will do between now and the end of the year.

Will they move against U.S. troops, will the Iraqis be able to maintain security control and still go after ISIS?

BLACKWELL: All right.

Let's take that straight to Arwa Damon.

And the strength of the Iraqi army, the Iraqi government there after the U.S. troops pulled out in 2011, they had to go back several years later to fight ISIS.

What's the strength of the Iraqi forces now? And to, I guess, convince Americans that the U.S. troops won't be back there in a few years from now?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, if there's one thing that the Middle East has taught all of us, especially Iraq, that is that it is entirely unpredictable.

But to specifically address your question, if we just go back in history to the end of 2011, when the then-Obama administration, with President Biden, then, of course, as vice president, took the decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, that was and ended up being one of the many factors that allowed for ISIS, which was then the Islamic State of Iraq, to grow, thrive, and become even more powerful than it was before.

Now, back then, the reasons for not extending the U.S. mission were largely entrenched in politics. The two countries couldn't agree on conditions for immunity.

But that being said, there was also very little appetite by the then- Obama administration to actually stay in country.

One would think that, right now, with Biden coming at this for a second time, and with the Iraqis having also learned the very bitter lesson of ISIS's growth and emergence, they do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

That being said, the situation for Iraq is even more tenuous than it was before because Iran and these Iranian-backed militias that Barbara was talking about are even arguably more powerful than they were back then.

But at this point in time, one of the best tools that Iraq has to fight against ISIS is the U.S. presence.

One of the best tools that the U.S. has to be able to counterbalance Iran's influence is by staying in country.

CAMEROTA: Kaitlan, while we have you, I want to ask you about the question that one of the reporters snuck in there to President Biden that he seemed to think it was slightly out of bounds there at the end.

But that was that the Veterans Affairs Administration will require federal frontline health-care workers to be vaccinated.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is huge, because this is the first part of the federal government that is actually requiring vaccines.

And it comes as there have been more questions and vaccine mandates have been gaining traction, as you have seen so many of these outbreaks fueled by the Delta variant happening across the United States.

It's a big discussion for city government officials, for private businesses, what is going to happen with this. And now we do know that the Department of Veterans Affairs will be

mandating vaccines for its medical staff, the doctors, the nurses, and pharmacists, going forward.

And confirming in an announcement today that staff has about eight weeks to become fully vaccinated.

And this comes after they say that four of their employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs tested positive for coronavirus and died from coronavirus, three of them because of this Delta variant, which we know is highly contagious.

And we are seeing the effect that it is having on those who are unvaccinated.

And so, of course, we should separate out that this is for medical personnel. So whether or not that is where the limit is reached, it really remains to be seen.

But I do think it's notable. And President Biden did confirm that news that had broken just before he was there, sitting with the prime minister of Iraq, talking about this.

And so I think there are going to be questions going forward about what the White House is doing, given we only have 49.1 percent of the U.S. right now fully vaccinated. And this is something that they've been dealing with.

But this idea of backing mandates for vaccines has not really been something that the White House has embraced.

But you saw today, Jen Psaki, in that briefing, before this was announced, came a lot closer than we have seen officials doing so far.

So, I do think it raises questions going forward, as well as in addition to those questions that we know are under active consideration right now, which is whether or not fully vaccinated people are going to be recommended by the CDC to put their masks back on.

[14:45:09]

BLACKWELL: All right, Kaitlan Collins, Arwa Damon, Barbara Starr, thank you.

And a lot of parents have some serious questions, trying to prepare to send the children back to school as this conversation over masks and vaccines for young children continues. We've got the latest guidance as this debate continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:50:10]

BLACKWELL: Some public-school districts, like those in Georgia, are days from start of the school year. And for the first time, districts will have to contend with the highly infectious Delta variant.

Children under 12 aren't able to get a vaccine. And mask policies are all over the place.

Some districts will require everyone to wear masks. But there are eight states in which there are bans on mask mandates. Iowa is one of them, with a vaccination rate at 49 percent.

Let's turn to Mark Lane. He's the superintendent of schools in Decorah, Iowa, which educates about 1,700 students, K through 12.

Mr. Superintendent, thank you for being with us.

School starts, classes resume August 23rd, so about a month out. As I understand it, this ban is not just for students. It's for teachers, the staff. It's for is visitors.

How do you keep kids safe in that environment?

MARK LANE, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS, DECORAH COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT: I think we do what we do best in schools. We educate people and we share the most current information and then allow them in Iowa to make an informed decision.

BLACKWELL: Is there a way to incentivize masks for children? I know you will be wearing a mask. You'll be telling others to do it.

But is there a way to get kid who is are not at home or getting masks but to make it something they want to do?

LANE: I think we experienced that last school year. We started the year with mask mandate in our district.

But it was not hard to get our students and staff to embrace the idea that we are a community of care and we are doing this to make our school a safe place to learn and a safe place to be for everyone, every adult and every student.

I really think our approach from the board, down, to our buildings will be sharing CDC recommendations and informing our communities of that and then continuing to live our mission and revision that we are a community of care.

We want students to be in school. We want them to be learning in safe environment. We want our employees to be working in a safe environment. That will be our message.

BLACKWELL: Let's try to walk out way through this.

LANE: Yes.

BLACKWELL: We know that social distancing is not possible in all situations. Outdoor learning in Iowa all school year is not an option. Right?

LANE: Right. BLACKWELL: If you have a student that has a case of COVID, or someone in the building, what happens then?

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: Do they even have to disclose it?

LANE: Our nurses in our district and our community, again, work very closely. This is something we have worked routines and protocols around.

When we are aware that an individual has COVID, they are required to have a 10-day break from school to be able to return when they are symptom free and they had a negative test or 10 days after that positive test.

That's the most recent guidance from Iowa --

BLACKWELL: So --

LANE: -- Public Health.

BLACKWELL: So, let me --

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: Let me take this in two directions, first. Are they required to disclose if they or their child has COVID or if they are in a home with someone with COVID?

LANE: They're not required. Again, we share that information. We share the guidance that, if they are experiencing symptoms, they need to stay away from school.

And what that isolation time would be, we communicate with Public Health so that we're aware of being on the same page and sharing the same information.

Then, again, if a student would demonstrate symptoms at school. our nurses have done on exceptional job of working with students and staff, of communicating with families --

BLACKWELL: OK.

LANE: -- to ensure we're following protocols.

BLACKWELL: The second thing is, at first, that's the honor system. If someone in your home has COVID, then you have to tell us on the honor system.

The second question is, is there virtual learning for the student who has to stay home if they have sniffles? And for the parents who decide, I don't want to send my kid to classroom where there are no vaccinations and masks are optional?

LANE: We did offer a virtual learning option last school year. We're not doing so this coming school year.

[14:55:02]

We're a small school district. We had about 85 students with an interest in a full virtual option last year. That number dwindled over the course of the year where we were down to about 20 students by the end of the year.

We are not offering an in-district virtual option. In Iowa, we have an open enrollment law. Students that prefer a virtual option could enroll to one of the public academies in our state.

We won't offer a virtual option this year.

BLACKWELL: All right.

LANE: We do offer, if students are in quarantine, we'll offer virtual supports if they are in quarantine or isolation.

BLACKWELL: All right. Mr. Superintendent Mark Lane there in Decorah, thanks so much for be with us.

LANE: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We have new details from the White House. President Biden says long-term effects of coronavirus can be considered a disability under federal law and offer some help to those with so-called long COVID.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: There was a rough start at the Tokyo Olympics for Team USA but it is still scooping up medals right behind China.

CAMEROTA: The U.S. has 14 medals, seven of them gold. China has 18 medals but only six gold.

The daily COVID cases, sadly, in Tokyo are still rising.

[14:59:58]

CNN's Selina Wang is there.

Selina, it's been a mixed start for Team USA.

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, there were some major upsets, including in men's basketball, with France beating Team USA, ending Team USA's --