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Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Reached?; COVID Cases Rising. Aired 3-3:30p ET.

Aired July 28, 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.

In public remarks minutes ago, President Biden again tried to appeal to the unvaccinated.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to mention this one thing. We still have a lot of people not vaccinated.

The pandemic we have now is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. So, please, please, please, please, if you're not vaccinated, protect yourself and the children out there. It's important.


CAMEROTA: Tomorrow, the president plans to announce a requirement that all federal employees, not just medical workers, be fully vaccinated or submit to regular testing.

And the president is expected to announce more incentives for people to get the shots.

BLACKWELL: Now, the country's top doctors say that the map on your screen is red and orange because of the unvaccinated; 49 states are seeing at least a 10 percent rise in cases.

And the U.S. is now averaging about 61,000 new cases a day. Right now, there are more than 35,000 people in hospitals with COVID. Plus, we're just getting in some numbers from the CDC about the nation's death toll from the pandemic. It's forecasting that, by August 21, the U.S. will see as many as 633,000 deaths.

That means that 20,000 more Americans could die in the next three weeks. CAMEROTA: So, the new masking guidelines are taking on particular

significance in Arkansas. The state ban on mask mandates is now in effect.

BLACKWELL: Now, Arkansas is one of two states where the CDC says that every county is in a high transmission state.

The vaccination rate in the state is around 30 percent. The governor says the rates have increased by 40 percent since he's been holding town hall meetings.

CNN's Martin Savidge is outside Little Rock, COVID testing there in Little Rock, I should say.

Martin, the new school year just around the corner. What are schools planning to do?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, August 16 is when schools start, at least in the Little Rocky area.

And there is a great deal of concern by parents and even by teaching staff now as they see these numbers and the Delta variant really kick in this state. And as you pointed out, it's against the law to mandate masks. So it's a problem.

And the governor knows that. He's meeting with state legislators. There's talk that they may need to come back in session or that the governor could pass some executive order to tweak their law and make it so that at least municipalities and schools could have the choice to be able to put in that mandate.

But stay tuned on that one. This testing site behind us here, there was a time when demand for testing was so low -- I'm talking about the early part of the summer -- hardly anybody was here, and the staff had to be cut back.

That all changed about a week ago. Since then, the numbers have been going up steadily, 500 people tested at just this site alone in Little Rock on Monday, 300 yesterday. Today, they are at least on par for that same kind of number, 200 to 300, maybe more.

And it shows you that the low vaccination rate is having a terrible impact, over 1,000 people in hospitals across the state. Over a third are in ICUs. Over 200 are on ventilators. And the death toll jumped by 10 yesterday.

So, to that low vaccination rate, the governor has been going from community to community holding meetings to try to encourage people to go out and get vaccinated. Here's what happened Monday. Take a listen.


GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Does this impact fertility?

Well, the answer is no. And that's been the data, but they--



HUTCHINSON: Dr. Dillaha, you want to answer that?

DR. JENNIFER DILLAHA, ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: So, at this point in time, there is no evidence that the COVID--


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- you shut down for telling their stories.

This is ridiculous.

HUTCHINSON: All right, so, go ahead, Dr. Dillaha.

DILLAHA: So, there is no--



SAVIDGE: That is not good when you get that kind of almost visceral pushback from people who say they don't want the vaccine.

The children's hospital in Little Rock, by the way, has more COVID patients than they have ever had in the pandemic. And half of them are in the pediatric ICU -- Victor.

CAMEROTA: Martin, I know you have been on the ground talking to doctors in the children's hospital. And so what are they telling you about how they feel about all this?

SAVIDGE: Well, here's what they see and what they feel.

And that is that there is a direct correlation between the fact that what I just stated, that they have got more kids with COVID in the hospital than they have ever seen, and they say it's directly related to the low vaccination, the reason being, they say that, when the kids come in, they, of course, query the parents and say, well, did you get vaccinated?

And the parents all say no. That's for every child that they have in their ICU. The parents were not vaccinated. And if the kids were of vaccination age, they too weren't vaccinated. They say if the parents don't get it, it's likely the kids who are eligible won't get it as well.

And they know that it keeps the Delta variant alive in the community, and they're passing it to the children. And the children pay the price. There was a child that died there just a couple of weeks ago.

BLACKWELL: All right, Martin Savidge for us there in Arkansas, thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: Joining us now is Little Rock pediatrician and president of Arkansas Center for Health Improvement Joe Thompson, who is calling for the reversal of that ban on mask mandates.

Dr. Thompson, thanks so much for being here.

Wow. I mean, we just listened to that video of what Governor Hutchinson is up against. He's trying to get people vaccinated. He's trying to keep people safe. And you heard the mutiny erupt when he said the data shows this, and people didn't believe it in the crowd.

I can only imagine what you feel that you're up against.

DR. JOE THOMPSON, ARKANSAS CENTER FOR HEALTH IMPROVEMENT: Well, we're in the middle of a COVID-19 forest fire racing across our communities and affecting those unprotected people that have not been vaccinated.

It's a combination of low vaccine rates, the Delta virus, and a lot of misinformation that continues to penetrate our population and cause difficulty in getting true information out and taken up.

BLACKWELL: The governor has said that he's open to potentially a special session to change this law. Some Republicans in the state legislature are as well.

What would your case be to them? Because this passed by a large margin back in March banning the mandates. Your case for them to allow schools to mandate masks?

THOMPSON: It did pass by a large margin.

Our elected officials were COVID-fatigued last spring and politicized, unfortunately, also. What I would argue is the virus itself has changed. The Delta variant is much more infectious. We have ways to offer protection to kids 12 and up. We need to up that protection by getting people vaccinated.

But for our kids less than 12, we have no way to protect them from this virus. Parents have no way. Superintendents now are handcuffed. They cannot require masks. And even if they recommend masks, they must tell parents it's not a mandate.

So this is something that needs to be reversed both by the governor and the General Assembly. We're three weeks away from school. I have been out talking to superintendents and parents. Both are panicked. They are saying, what are we going to do with our kids in three weeks?

CAMEROTA: And is one of the possibilities to do with the kids to just make everybody go back to remote learning? Is that on the table?

THOMPSON: Well, I think, as a nation and particularly here in our state, we lost too much educational progress last year. Too many of our students don't have families and support structures that let virtual learning really be effective.

So we don't want to repeat the lost year that we had last year. But we're under a threat that, if we don't use all of our resources, our protective resources of vaccine and our defensive resources of masking, handwashing and hygiene and increased ventilation, then we are threatened with a repeat or even a worse year than we had last year.

BLACKWELL: Alisyn just read a statement from Florida Governor DeSantis, which is anti-mask for children.

I had a guest on yesterday who's suing in New Jersey to try to ban mask mandates there. They say that it impedes speech and socialization and has bacterial concerns for children.

To those people, first, do you engage them? And, second, if you do, what do you tell them about these claims?


THOMPSON: I think -- I'm trying to engage everyone, because this threat is across all of our communities.

What I am trying to do, and I think it is working to a limited extent, hopefully more and more over time, is parents want to not put their child at risk. So this is not about vaccinated or unvaccinated, masks or not. This is about whether you want to protect your child from this virus, which is now causing death and hospitalization among Arkansas children.

Parents don't want their kids to be unprotected on the school bus. They don't want their kids to be unprotected at the playground. Let's get -- move them from an unprotected place to a protected place through both vaccinations, where possible, and defensive measures, where it really, really works.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Walensky of the CDC talked about how there's this fallacy, well, COVID isn't as dangerous for kids as the seasonal flu. Not true. Not true; 188 kids tragically died from the flu in 2019. She was using the number 400 children who have died from COVID.

So the numbers just don't bear out what people I think still think, that it's just -- this is not a big deal for kids.

THOMPSON: This virus has changed. The Delta variant is affecting younger and younger people. In part, that's because we vaccinated more of our older population, but more than 50 percent of our infections are in individuals under age 35.

And as your reporter relayed, our children's hospital has seen a tripling in number of cases just in the last week or 10 days.


All right, Dr. Joe Thompson in Little Rock, thank you so much for spending some time with us.

THOMPSON: Thank you for having me.

BLACKWELL: Certainly.

We have got more on the big news from Capitol Hill. GOP negotiators announced an agreement on major issues in the infrastructure deal. But is this a plan that progressives can get behind?



CAMEROTA: OK, now to the news out of Capitol Hill, where, according to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a bipartisan infrastructure deal has been reached, saying moments ago that a vote to open debate on this bill could begin even tonight.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Tonight, I'm intending to call a vote to move to proceed to the bipartisan infrastructure bill. I believe we have the votes for that. And we will then proceed to do amendments and go forward on that bill.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House, and CNN Ryan Nobles is on Capitol Hill.

So, Ryan, take us inside these final negotiations.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's no doubt Alisyn and Victor, that this is a pretty significant development that those bipartisan negotiators have agreed on the top-line numbers for this package.

It's a roughly more than $1 bipartisan infrastructure package, a little more than $500 million -- or $500 billion in new spending. And the two sides both say that it will be paid for. And this vote tonight will be just to move the process forward. It's not the actual vote on the legislative text itself.

And even if this does pass the Senate though, it is still facing an uphill climb, because, of course, this bipartisan infrastructure deal is directly tied to that much broader $3.5 trillion reconciliation budget bill that Democrats are hoping to pass on just partisan lines.

And that has hit a pretty significant roadblock. Kirsten Sinema, who is a Democrat from Arizona, one of the key negotiators to the bipartisan package, put out a statement today saying that she at this point cannot support $3.5 trillion in spending in the reconciliation package.

Now, it's a little complicated, so I will try and walk you through it. That is important, because House Democrats have said that they're not going to vote for the bipartisan deal unless they can also be assured that reconciliation package can be passed.

And this is what Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just tweeted. She said -- quote -- "Good luck tanking your own party's investment on child care, climate action and infrastructure, while presuming you will survive a three-vote House margin, especially after choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations, and then calling it a bipartisan accomplishment."

So even if they do have the votes here in the Senate to pass this bipartisan bill, which it's clear they do at this point, it still needs to go over to the House. And House leaders, and not just AOC, but the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, have said that they're not going to vote for the bipartisan package without that reconciliation package.

So there is still a lot of work to be done.

BLACKWELL: Kaitlan, the president initially said he would not sign one without the other, then backed away from that.

How are they feeling about this announcement that the bipartisan plan is moving forward?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he backed away from tying those two together, but they still stood by it in principle following what House Speaker Pelosi and senator Chuck Schumer were saying was going to be their tactic on Capitol Hill.

And so today, now that we are having these negotiators come together after trying to hammer out the details of this for several weeks since they came out of the White House in late June and announced they did have the broad outlines of agreement -- they have spent the last several weeks actually hammering out the details of what that's going to look like.

And so President Biden today is sounding upbeat. He is in Pennsylvania trying to sell this infrastructure deal, but also trying to shore up his domestic agenda. And he was asked earlier by reporters when the White House had not commented yet on the outlines of this deal and what was coming out of these talks between these top negotiators.

And this is what President Biden said.



BIDEN: Looks like they reached a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure, fancy word for bridges, roads.


BIDEN: Transit system, high-speed Internet, clean drinking water, cleaning up and capping the orphan wells.

And I'm working with Democrats and Republicans to get this done, because, while there's a lot we don't agree on, I believe that we should be able to work together on the few things we do agree on.


COLLINS: And that right there is something that President Biden has repeated for months on end, saying he does want to have a bipartisan achievement.

And this agreement coming out of this today for $550 billion new federal spending and transit, rail, roads, bridges, water, that is something that would help President Biden get closer to achieving that goal, though, as Ryan said, there is still a long way to go, because, even before you get to this bigger deal that Democrats want, Nancy Pelosi is saying there's a chance she could change this agreement when it goes to the House.

And so there is still a long road to go ahead of them. The White House is aware of this, but this is welcome progress in their books.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kaitlan Collins, Ryan Nobles, thank you.

So, on this debate over masks, we see that it is now heating up, of course, on Capitol Hill. The speaker of the House and the House minority leader, they're name-calling again.



CAMEROTA: The nasty debate over masks includes on Capitol Hill.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is slamming the Capitol physician's mask mandate in the chamber, claiming it's against the science, though he did not offer what that means.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi then made clear what she thinks of McCarthy's logic.


QUESTION: Leader McCarthy says it's against the science.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): He's such a moron.


BLACKWELL: Now, McCarthy has since responded.

He told reporters in part: "Well, if she's so brilliant, can she tell me where the science in the building changes between the House and the Senate? If she knows so much science, explain to me where the science changes in the Rotunda."

Max Boot is a "Washington Post" columnist. S.E. Cupp is a CNN political commentator.

Welcome to you both.

S.E., let me start with you.

I think it's a fair question to ask why the rules are different in one chamber vs. the other. But the question here of what Republicans are doing, Representative Boebert throwing a mask at a House staffer because she didn't want to wear one, it seems to undermine that, what, four or five days that they were pro-science, talking about getting a vaccine.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think, Victor, when history looks back at this very dark chapter in American life, one of the greatest embarrassments will be the culture wars over mask-wearing.

And, look, the politicization of science is not new. That's been happening for a long time. And Republicans have for decades really been on the wrong side of science.

But now, at a time of a global pandemic, when we could all agree to do so little, really so little, you have half the country on the far right claiming it's courageous to walk into Walmart without a mask on and pretending this is some kind of public service, when, really, it's just a terrible self-own of your own health, your family's health, your community's health.

And it's just prolonging this pandemic limbo that none of us want to be in.

CAMEROTA: Max, I mean, we always hear from Republicans, we continue to hear every day, this is about personal responsibility. Don't take away my personal freedom.

It turns out, when you give people personal freedom, they don't always make the right choice, or the neighborly choice, or the healthy choice. And now we're going in the wrong direction. And people -- I mean, the CDC is changing its guidance. The country is awash in COVID, as we can see from the red on the map.

So how do Republicans plan to get out of this?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think the problem is that you're seeing a perversion, Alisyn, of the word freedom.

We all are in favor of freedom. But freedom -- there is no freedom to spread a deadly disease. There's no freedom to smoke indoors. There's no freedom to drunk drive. There have to be public safety laws. And we have to take those rules seriously.

And Republicans are not. I can understand some of the frustration about masks. I feel the frustration, too, because I have been vaccinated for months. Why should I have to wear a mask? If everybody else was vaccinated, if we had a vaccination rate of 95 percent, you wouldn't have Delta variant circulating around, you wouldn't have hospitals filling up once again with patients.

This should not be happening. But the reason it is happening, Alisyn, is because Republicans refuse to take vaccination seriously. In one recent poll, only 52 percent of Republicans said they had gotten at least one shot, compared to 86 percent of Democrats.

That's why we still have this COVID crisis in this country. And that's why the CDC is now recommending masks. Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves. BLACKWELL: We should also say that we know that Republicans are

meeting with the House physician this hour.

I don't know if that's to listen to the explanation or to try to convince the physician to change the guidance. But, hopefully, we will get a readout of what is happening in that meeting.