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Corporate America Requiring Shot; Biden Announces Vaccine Requirement; Breakthrough on Infrastructure Bill; Biles' Talks about Mental Health. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 29, 2021 - 09:00   ET





JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: OK, that was awesome.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: That was unbelievable.

BERMAN: The importance of organ donation, first of all.


BERMAN: And good for her for persevering. And I know she will sing with those two lungs for some time.

KEILAR: She's a beautiful singer.

BERMAN: All right, CNN's coverage continues right now.

KEILAR: That was --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. So glad you're with me. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim has this week off.

Well, get ready. From the federal government to the private sector, leaders are taking vaccine requirements into their own hands, requiring employees to get the shot or submit to regular testing. Soon, President Biden will announce a vaccine requirement for all federal employees across the country. Sources tell CNN, he feels like the nation has hit a brick wall on vaccinations. That is why he is now taking this step. And corporate America also really stepping up here, ramping up its approach. Google, FaceBook, Netflix, Lyft, so many others you see listed there among dozens of companies now requiring employees to get vaccinated.

Right now cases are surging among the unvaccinated. So that's the reason for this. The U.S. is averaging more than 63,000 cases per day. That's a 59 percent increase over last week's seven-day average. Restrictions are being put back in place. Masks are making a comeback. And, yes, the unvaccinated are to blame. This morning the president again making that very clear. So let's begin with our chief business correspondent Christine Romans,

because, Romans, it is really the private sector in conjunction with now this federal requirement from Biden that I think is really going to make -- or has the -- has the opportunity to make a world of difference here.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You're seeing leadership from corporate America on this in a way we haven't yet. They've been strongly encouraging vaccinations for some time. Now it's different. These are requirements. And you see a lot of different industries. Wall Street wants to fill its offices. Those offices downtown are filling up right now and those CEOs are saying you've got to be vaccinated.

Silicon Valley, even as it's pushing back the date for coming back to the office, they're saying, when you do come back, you must be vaccinated. A lot of different kinds of companies. "The Washington Post" making it a condition of employment.

So this is a new moment here where instead of strongly encouraging, corporate America is saying, this is good for business. Employees want it. Upwards of 70 percent of employees want their colleagues vaccinated. We're moving into a new zone here.

HARLOW: So, that's a big deal, though, Christine, a condition of employment. Do we know yet if these big -- especially those big tech firms are saying, if you don't get vaccinated by the time we say you've got to come back into the office, you don't have a job anymore?

ROMANS: So, that's what comes next, the enforcement, right, whether it's really a mandate and not a requirement, and then you have to have mitigation. You know, we heard this morning from Danny Meyer on another network who runs a Union Square hospitality. And, Poppy, he said he's giving his employees 45 days. You can't fill up restaurants again if your employees and your customers are not vaccinated.


ROMANS: So there's this new feeling that the economic recovery, Poppy, depends on people getting vaccinated period.

HARLOW: Yes. So, Danny Meyer is going to join us next hour.

ROMANS: Great.

HARLOW: I welcome your brilliant questions for him, Romans, because you make a great point about making it a condition of employment.

Before you go, GDP numbers just out.


HARLOW: What do we see?

ROMANS: They were good, 6.5 percent. Not as good as economists had thought, 8.5 percent. But, still, look, we had such a fall -- a dropout in the bottom of the economy last year and now a recovery. Every month going in the right direction, not as strong as economists wanted. What you saw in those numbers, Poppy, by the way, you saw the money that had been coming from Congress, from taxpayers to households has dried up. Those stimulus checks have dried up. And now the money -- the composition of the money is going to business and to governments. So we're seeing the recovery play out in these numbers every quarter.

HARLOW: OK, thanks so much, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

HARLOW: All right, today, President Biden, as we said, is expected to announce his vaccine requirement for anyone who works in the federal government. That would include contractors. The requirement is get vaccinated or submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements.

What is that going to look like? Jeremy Diamond is at the White House.

Jeremy, good morning.

Talk to us about what led to this. I think your reporting is that, you know, essentially the president got to a point where he felt like the nation had hit a brick wall on vaccinations.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a combination of things. And what we've seen over the last week is that both the president has grown increasingly frustrated with the current situation, as you said, viewing the country as hit a brick wall with vaccinations. But also that officials at the White House have really seen a need for more urgent, more dire action. And that has brought a serious shift in the kind of policy that we have been seeing from the White House.

We saw earlier this week the Department of Veterans Affairs announced its mandate for health workers to be vaccinated. And today we're expecting President Biden to announce that all federal workers will either need to be vaccinated or need to submit to regular testing in order to continue coming in to work.


And that is all because of what one person close to the White House told me is a different environment brought about by the delta variant. That essentially the delta variant, because it has been spreading like wildfire, leading to this surge in cases, that that has really changed the calculus at the White House which had focused really on trying to convince the unvaccinated, provide incentives, and now is moving to some more compulsory measures here.

Now, of course, the president isn't going to be mandating vaccination for all Americans or doing this vaccinate or test model, but he is hoping that what he is going to do for federal workers, that it can become a model for the private sector, for local government entities. And that is really where the White House's focus is today is on establishing this model through the federal government and then hoping that the private sector comes in and picks up the slack there.

And we've already seen several companies, as Christine was just talking about, doing just that. The White House is hoping that more will follow suit after the federal government takes this action today.

HARLOW: They already have. I mean I think he, by doing this, gives the private sector some breathing room because look how many companies have come out in the last 24 hours and said we're doing this, too.

DIAMOND: Exactly. Yes.

HARLOW: Jeremy Diamond, great reporting at the White House. Thanks a lot.

Let's talk about all of this with CNN medical analyst and former city of Baltimore health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen. She is also, give me a moment here, the author of this great new book that I also have in my hands, "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health." And for everyone, this is about a lot more than just COVID. It's an incredible story of her personal experience. So congratulations on the book, Doctor.

Also with me, Elliot Williams, former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst.

Good morning to you both.

Dr. Wen, what do you think? How much does this move the needle? Big companies saying you've got to get vaccinated and then President Biden saying, federal employees, you've got to get vaccinated or we're going to make your life pretty annoying with a bunch of testing and mitigation measures?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: This is huge. And I think we need to talk about why it's being done. I mean imagine if you're being asked to go back to work in-person and you know that you're going to be surrounded by potentially unvaccinated people who could infect you. And even if you're vaccinated and then you know that you're not going to get very sick yourself, what if you live at home with young children who are too young to be vaccinated. What if you live with immuno compromised people? And so this is saying basically that workplaces have an obligation to their employees. Either you have testing or you have proof of vaccination.

And I think this is such an important move. I wish that the Biden administration, of course, did this a while ago, months ago, but better late than never. I think this will have a huge impact exactly on what you said, which is to motivate other employers to do this as well. And I think we're going to see vaccination numbers really increase because of the federal government's leadership here.

HARLOW: That would be a very good thing to see.

So, from a legal perspective, Elliot Williams, how strong of legal footing is the Biden administration on with this requirement?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, look, I think it's as rock solid as it can possibly be, Poppy.

Look, think -- forget that the government is the government and think of it as an employer that employs 2 million people. And in any sort of employment question, you're going to have two things to think about. Number one, what right does a -- does an employer have to mandate a vaccine on people that are coming into its work spaces? And, number two, what right does an employee have to say, you know what, I don't want to be, quote/unquote, coerced into a medical procedure that I don't want.

And the law is pretty clear that the government sort of wins on both of these here. Number one, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, back in May, said that it doesn't violate anyone's civil rights to be required to have a vaccine before entering a workplace. Number two, the Justice Department, just earlier this month, said even a vaccine that's under an Emergency Use Authorization, can be required of a private or public person. And then, obviously, and then courts have said -- or look favorably on this.

So, yes, it's pretty good for the government.

HARLOW: Can I ask you, Elliot, do you know how far precedence says, if there is precedent, the -- a president can go on a requirement/mandate, right? Like --

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, this is about -- yes, I mean this -- sorry.

HARLOW: Beyond just federal employees.

WILLIAMS: Well, no, the president can't require state employees. Now, certainly the Centers for Disease Control could say, we think it's in the interest of states and private employers to require mandates, but the president can't require private employers to do that. That's just not the way federalism would work.

HARLOW: So this is -- this is it in terms of how far he can, almost (ph).

WILLIAMS: In terms of -- yes, in terms of employees, because these are employees essentially of the president.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

OK, so, Dr. Wen, you've got 2 million folks who work in these federal jobs, as Elliot said. You've got many millions more who work in the private sector. Is that -- is this private sector requirement that we're seeing really ramping up what you think moves the needle?


WEN: I think that people have been looking to the Biden administration for leadership on this for a while. I mean back in April, the federal government was supposed to be working on some type of proof of vaccination.

HARLOW: Right. WEN: Maybe they wouldn't do it themselves, but at least they would work on verification with businesses. And they didn't do that. And so we then -- these businesses were left in a lurch. And so I think the federal government's signaling now, hey, vaccine mandates are a good idea. We're going to do this. It gives cover to these businesses that have long wanted to do this.

I mean we're now seeing -- I would equate this to the no smoking indoors. You have the majority of people who are saying, we want to feel safe at work. The equivalent to, we don't want smoke being blown in our faces, although in this case it's actually worse, right, it's being exposed to a potentially fatal illness. And I think at some point we need to say, you don't have the right to infect others with this disease, just like you don't have the right to be in indoor spaces and blow smoke in people's faces.

I think, at this point, you know, if there are individuals who still are resisting this in some way, the federal government can also say -- well, businesses can also say, look, this is not a vaccine mandate. You could also frame this as a testing mandate. You have to test, except that you can opt out if you end up getting the vaccine.

HARLOW: Thank you both so much for helping us understand this as we go in real-time.

Dr. Wen,, thank you and congrats again on the new book.

And Elliot Williams, thank you, as always.

Well, still to come, a breakthrough. Some good news, there may be a deal here on infrastructure after months of negotiation. We're live on Capitol Hill with what is in this bipartisan deal.

Plus, Republicans openly defying the mask mandate on the House floor. Not all of them, but some of them. One even changing the way he is paid to avoid fines.

And Simone Biles cheering on her teammates in Tokyo as she sits out the individual all-around competition that just wrapped up. We'll share who won as well, just ahead.



HARLOW: Overnight, a bipartisan breakthrough, it appears, in the Senate, paving the way for a major piece of the president's agenda if they can come to a final yes on this. What did we see? Seventeen Senate Republicans joining Senate Democrats in voting to advance and begin debate on an historic $1 trillion infrastructure bill. The vote coming just hours after a bipartisan group of senators reached an agreement with the White House after weeks of negotiation.

Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, it reminds me of the president's inaugural when he said, politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. At least not yesterday, right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly, Poppy. I mean, look, this is a significant step for this bipartisan group that had been working behind the scenes for several months trying to find some kind of consensus to actually move a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Look, this bill has $550 billion of new spending over the next five years, $110 billion for roads and bridges, $39 billion for public transit, $25 billion for airport infrastructure and a lot of other spending as well.

This is a key accomplishment for those bipartisan members like Mitt Romney, like Rob Portman, like Susan Collins, as well as Democrats like Joe Manchin who had been trying to negotiate this bill for several months. And, of course, the president had made clear that this was something that was crucial to his legacy as well because he talked, like you said, so much about bipartisanship and the importance of it in the Senate.

But this is just the first step, Poppy, this process, to actually pass this bipartisan infrastructure bill is going to pass a lot more hurdles over the next couple of days, and potentially even weeks. This process may take up to two weeks, depending on whether or not lawmakers agree to speed this process along or potentially slow it down. And it only takes one U.S. senator to make this whole thing drag on a lot longer.

Look, tomorrow we expect another procedural vote. Over the weekend there could also be additional votes. We expect that there may be an amendment process. How big that amendment process is, how long it takes to play out, still TBD. But significant that there were 17 Republicans willing to let this process move forward. Will they continue to stay together? We just don't have the answer to that right now, Poppy.

HARLOW: Not to mention Mitch McConnell, who said not long ago he'd do everything to basically block Biden's agenda. That's a big deal, right, Lauren?

FOX: That's exactly right. I mean, look, he vote to advance this yesterday.


FOX: And I thought it was interesting that Republican leadership was sort of split on this because you had Thune voting against advancing it. He's up for re-election in 2022 if he decides to run. You had McConnell saying he's going to let this process move forward. And, in part, that's because there were some key members including Rob Portman, who he's close with, who had worked with the White House to try to broker this deal. I think it was sort of an act of good faith to let this process advance.

But, look, Poppy, we should not be saying it's going anywhere fast because there's so many obstacles ahead. HARLOW: Lauren, thanks for the reporting. We'll watch. Hope the

obstacles aren't to huge.

While many Republicans are openly defying the reinstated mask mandate in the House, the Capitol attending physician brought back that order this week after the CDC issued new guidance because of COVID surges across the country.

Let's go to our colleague Melanie Zanona. She joins me from Capitol Hill.

Melanie, good morning.


HARLOW: How are they actually playing this out or acting out on the House floor?

ZANONA: Well, tensions are boiling over in the House of these newly instated mask rules. The chamber was already a tinder box given the January 6th fallout, but now House Republicans are openly revolting and lashing out.

We spotted dozens of Republicans who refuse to wear their mask on the floor. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy getting into a war of words, with Speaker Pelosi calling McCarthy a moron for his criticism of the new rules.


And there's also a verbal altercation between a Democrat and a Republican, Byron Donalds of Florida, who refused to wear a mask even though he's unvaccinated.

I'm also told Republican Andrew Clyde has been finding an elaborate way to avoiding paying the fines for not wearing a mask. One of his colleagues told me that he actually has gone and raised his federal withholding so that he's only getting a dollar in his paychecks, essentially making it impossible for the House to garner his wages. And he's racked up nearly $15,000 in fines so far.

Look, in all of this is a stark contrast to the Senate where there are no mask rules in place. And that's for a key reason. CNN did a survey and nearly all of the senators are vaccinated, whereas in the House, while every House Democrat has reported getting the vaccine, there are still a significant chunk of Republicans who either refuse to say what their status is or get the vaccine.

HARLOW: It's a big difference.

Before you go, just 45 percent of people in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state of Kentucky are vaccinated. It's important to note, McConnell is a polio survivor, right, and we all know how critical the polio vaccine was and has been. Talk about his push now to encourage more people to get vaccinated in Kentucky. ZANONA: Yes, to Mitch McConnell's credit, he's been one of the leading

voices in his party, preaching the importance of vaccines. And as you mentioned, it's personal for him. He is a polio survivor. But now he's taking that to the next level and he is actually running ads in his home state directly urging people to get the vaccine as well as combatting the disinformation.


HARLOW: Melanie, thank you for the reporting.

ZANONA: Thank you.

HARLOW: I'll see you soon.

Well, the women's gymnastics all-around competition, the Olympics wrapped up moments ago. Simone Biles was there cheering on her teammates after she withdraw personally from the event. We'll bring you all the latest from Tokyo, next.

We're also moments away from the opening bell here on Wall Street. Futures are a little bit mixed this morning. This as we learned the U.S. economy grew 6.5 percent in the second quarter, expanding at a little bit slower rate than expected. Still, though, its fastest pace since last fall. We'll keep an eye on the markets.



HARLOW: Some great news to bring you this morning. Just in, U.S. gymnast Suni Lee has won gold in the women's all-around event in Tokyo, and her teammate, Simone Biles, was there in the stands cheering her on and celebrating her win. Biles, who won the gold in this event in 2016, pulled out of the competition to focus on her mental health.

Let me bring in sports reporter for "The Washington Post," Liz Clarke.

Liz, good morning to you.

LIZ CLARKE, SPORTS REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Good morning, Poppy. Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: It's a pleasure. And congratulations to Suni Lee. How great is that. We saw her parents on CNN yesterday morning talking about this and just an incredible accomplishment for her.

And how meaningful to see Simone Biles there on the sidelines cheering her on, having focused, rightly so, on her mental health and saying, I can't do this right now, but I am here 100 percent for my teammates.

CLARKE: Yes, I mean, Simone is extraordinary in so many ways. But what we've seen the past couple days, we saw her pivot immediately from favorite competitor to cheerleader.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes. I --

CLARKE: And she's been great.

HARLOW: I was just trying to find, if we can pull it up in the control room, I woke up this morning to her -- to her tweet. And I was so struck by it. I'm just pulling it up here because Simone Biles wrote this overnight. She said the outpouring of love and supportive I've received has made me realize I am more than my accomplishments in gymnastics, which I never truly believed before.

You know, I mean just to -- I think it just moved me so much because I think a lot of us, you know, have had points where we think all we are, are our accomplishments. And it was just very moving. And I wonder what you think it means, more broadly for the world of sport, and a real dedicated focus and care for mental health.

CLARKE: Yes, I saw the same tweet, too, and it really choked me up in ways that both inspired me and broke my heart, that at 24, you know, this incredibly lovely, accomplished woman, who brings so much joy to others and has redefined her sport, is having this revelation later in life.

But I do think this is an inflection point across all sports, an awareness that true health includes mental health. And the amount of pressure on these extraordinary athletes, whether it's Michael Phelps as a swimmer, Simone Biles as a gymnast, Naomi Osaka as a tennis player, we see them as so fierce and strong, but we don't have the slightest clue about the inner turmoil, the inner fear, the dread, the anxiety, and what the cumulative weight is on their shoulders. And it can be too much. And what's essential is that the athlete feels empowered and emboldened and OK about saying, I need to take a pause, you know. Something's going on --

HARLOW: The --


CLARKE: Go ahead, I'm sorry.

HARLOW: No, not at all.

Liz, the International Olympic Committee said yesterday that they support athletes for their mental health