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Corporations Requiring Vaccine As COVID Surge Threatens Business; Miami-Dade County Mandating Masks in All County Facilities; 17 Republicans Join Democrats to Move Forward on Infrastructure Deal. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 29, 2021 - 10:00   ET



CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Jason Ackley says he knows it's getting hotter and drier, but he points to forest management. Firefighters agree but their biggest worry is what's going to happen for the rest of the season and for years to come. Things really are just getting worse. Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Camila, thank you very much. We wish them safety and obviously protection for all of their homes. Thanks for the reporting.

It is the top of the hour. 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 A.M. out west, so glad you're with me. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim has this week off.

And cases are up of COVID, Corporate America though is stepping up, taking vaccination requirement into its own hands. Several companies will soon require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This comes as President Biden is expected to announce a vaccine requirement for all federal employees. More on that in a moment.

And there are some good news, daily vaccinations are up slightly from last week but the country is recording a new surge of cases among the unvaccinated. Right now, we are seeing numbers we have not seen since April.

The U.S. is averaging more than 63,000 COVID cases a day, that is a 59 percent increase over last week's seven-day average.

So let's begin this hour with our colleague, John Harwood, he joins us at the White House. Talk about this federal requirement that -- for federal employees, I should say, that the president is going to announce today.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, it is a soft requirement in a sense that if you don't get vaccinated, you're not going to get fired or have your federal contract cut off but you will be subject to serious testing protocols.

So it is an effort by the federal government to use its status as an employer as the status of the president as having the loudest bully pulpit in the country to galvanize action by the country in response to this alarming surge in cases driven by the delta variant. Of course, we saw the CDC this week say that in areas of higher or substantial transmission, indoor mask requirements or recommendations would be returning, even for people who are vaccinated. This is an attempt by the scientific and public health community to say, hey, we've got to do something about this.

And from the perspective of President Biden, getting people vaccinated and taming this pandemic is the key to every single thing he is doing as president in terms of public health, economically and politically. And as those vaccinations have sort of plateaued and hit a wall, he's trying to galvanize action.

We're seeing that organically as well in some of the red state where vaccination has been slow. We've seen, of course, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell running advertisements in his state of Kentucky, where vaccination rates are low. So this is all part of a broader effort to get this accelerated and get the United States on top of a pandemic that just a few weeks ago it seemed like we were on the verge crushing, Poppy.

HARLOW: And good for Mitch McConnell. He knows the value of vaccine being a polio survivor himself. John Harwood, thanks a lot.

Getting vaccinated, get vaccinated or get out, rather, that's a message from Corporate America. Major companies beginning to take a hard line by no longer just requiring the COVID vaccine, they are requiring it for their employees to come back into the office completely. Google, Facebook, Lyft, Netflix among a growing list of companies doing this as the unvaccinated in America threaten obviously the health of this nation but also the economic recovery.

Our Lead Business Writer Matt Egan joins me now. This is a sea change. This is a key moment where the private sector is leading the way.

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS LEAD WRITER: Yes, Poppy, that is right. This does really feel like a turning point for Corporate America. With delta fears on the rise and COVID cases going up, businesses are starting to crack down on some of the employees who still are not vaccinated.

Facebook and Google just yesterday became two of the first Silicon Valley companies to require vaccines for employees who are coming back to office in the United States. Other companies that you could see on your screen include the Washington Post, Netflix, BlackRock, Morgan Stanley, Saks Fifth Avenue and Lyft. The Durst Organization, one of New York City's largest real estate developers, it's going a step further. It says that employees who are unvaccinated after Labor Day will be fired.

Of course, most companies do have some very rare religious or personal health exemptions, but the point is that after months of taking sort of hands-off approach, companies are starting to crack down here.

I just want to say though, Poppy, this won't be easy. We do have record number of job openings in the United States right now. There is a war for talent. And a lot of companies can't afford to lose the employees that they have.

HARLOW: That is true. But if most of them do it, if they can get everyone on board, it's going to sort of level that part of the playing field.

Matt, what about some companies actually delaying opening their offices or I think Twitter said it is closing some of the offices because of the delta variant?


EGAN: Yes, Poppy, that is right. So, technology really led the way at the beginning of the pandemic with moving to virtual work. And we're starting to see some tech companies take similar steps right now. Apple is delaying the reopening of its offices by at least a month because of the delta variant. Google plans to end its work from home period on September 1st. That is now being pushed back until October 18th. And as you mentioned, Twitter is closing its open offices in New York and San Francisco.

Again, this is being driven by health concerns but there are economic consequences as well. Poppy, if more companies follow suit here, that is obviously going to deal a blow to some of the local restaurants and bars, bodegas an dry-cleaners that had really been banking on a return of workers this is fall.

HARLOW: That is right. All right, Matt Egan, thank you so much for your reporting.

Well the owner of a major restaurant group right here in New York City has just announced he will require indoor diners to show proof of vaccination starting September 7th, that same going for all of their employees.

Danny Meyer is the founder and the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, which, of course, runs the famous Gramercy Tavern and dozens of other restaurants. He joins me now. Good morning, Danny.


HARLOW: So why did you make the call?

MEYER: We have a really, really serious responsibility to our staff members and to our guests to make sure that it is a safe working environment and a safe place to dine. And I think we've known since the outset when restaurants were prohibiting from serving people almost all of 2020 that indoor dining and restaurants, because you're not able to wear a mask while you're eating and drinking, is a place that people understand can be a place of transmitting the virus.

And so when we know that we care deeply about hygiene and every other respect of our restaurants and we know so much about the science of what is happening with the delta variant, especially for people who have not been vaccinated, why in the world would we just stand by and not take action right now? HARLOW: It is true from a health perspective, but I also think -- I mean, Danny, you run businesses, and your business, all restaurants were on their knees for the better part of a year. Economically, do you think that this hurts you guys or helps you guys?

MEYER: No, I think your question is actually the answer. I think that none of us wants to turn back and experience what we experienced in 2020 and even in early parts of 2021. Our industry was prohibited from having any type of revenue in terms of indoor dining for most of last year. I refuse to see that happen again.

And I do know -- I know that the minute we start to see COVID cases spike, we're going to see restaurants closing again across the country, we're going to see local governments and state governments mandating that the capacity limits of our dining rooms are severely curtailed and I don't want to go backwards. We have an answer called the vaccination.

HARLOW: What does this mean for your -- so, obviously, someone will be turned away from dining in one of your restaurants if they don't show proof of vaccination. It is another thing to handle an employee who doesn't want to get vaccinated. Is it a condition of employment, Danny, at your restaurants, meaning do they lose their job if they will not get vaccinated?

MEYER: As of September 7th, it will be a condition of the job. So we're giving everybody 45 days to make the choice. We're providing all kinds of education and resources, we're even bringing mobile vaccination unit into our restaurants.

Just this week we did that and I was incredibly moved by the fact that not only did we have lots of employees getting vaccinated, we even had people driving or commuting in from Queens for an hour to do it.

So I think that there is this assumption out there that just because you have not been vaccinated yet that you are either a nonbeliever or you're just against it for some reason, when, in fact, I think more and more people are understanding that it is in your own best interests to do the right thing and be safe.

HARLOW: That is an interesting take on what you've learned already from your employees this week on it.

Danny, you banned smoking, I remember. I am sadly old enough to remember when did you this. You banned smoking at Union Square Cafe in 1990. That was more than a decade before New York City banned indoor smoking at restaurants and establishments. What is going to be harder, that or this?

MEYER: You know, I think so often, Poppy, you get presented with choices and problems to solve and the key thing is to try to understand is this the kind of problem where you actually know the answer but it is just too unpleasant to try to advance it, or is this a problem where you just don't know the answer?

In the case of smoking, I knew that it was just -- every single night in the restaurants we were breaking up fights between the last row of smoking and the first row of nonsmoking and I just said enough is enough.


And we made the choice.

And, look, in a city that's got 26,000 restaurants, if you really want to smoke, you're welcome to do that somewhere else. And I would say the exact same thing here. If you really want to go unvaccinated, you could dine somewhere else and you can also go work somewhere else.

I really hope that the small numbers of our employees who have yet to be vaccinated will say, I actually like this place even better because they cared about me.

HARLOW: Danny, some of our viewers might not know but you actually founded Shake Shack, which pretty much everyone now knows and you're still the chairman of the board. It is a public company now. But does this mandate apply to all Shake Shack employees and anyone who walks in to get a burger at Shake Shack?

MEYER: Well, first of all, I would you call this a company policy rather than a mandate. I think governments do mandates. But Shake Shack will make whatever appropriate decision it is going to make at the appropriate time. This is for the restaurants that we own and operate in New York City and in Washington, D.C., full service restaurants, not fast casual.

HARLOW: Okay. All right, well, let me ask you it in a slightly different way, Danny, because I think it is really important because a lot more people go in and out of and work at Shake Shacks across the country than even in all of your restaurants across New York City.

Would it be your preference that Shake Shacks, even ones you don't own and operate, but, again, they're your baby, it was your idea, that they follow suit?

MEYER: My hope is that in taking this first step with our restaurants here in New York City and in Washington, that we will provide courage for the entire hospitality industry to see that for an industry that cares so much about taking care of people and doing it with great hygiene, that this is a safe thing to do.

I want to see us set an example. I want to show that it works and then my hope is that others in the industry will follow the lead.

HARLOW: You're leading again on this, Danny, as you did a long time ago with smoking, so thank you for coming on and explaining it to us. Danny Meyer, we appreciate it.

MEYER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, Miami-Dade County is reinstating its mask mandate inside of all county facilities. According to the mayor, it is a result of the, quote, alarming rise in the COVID cases across our country and our community.

Leyla Santiago is in South Florida this morning. What is the reaction to the reinstatement? Because I have to note it is in a state where the governor has been very critical of this.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Poppy, he remained critical. Just last night, he spoke in Salt Lake City, started off his speech sort of mocking the new CDC guidelines, and this comes as only 48 percent of his residents in Florida are fully vaccinated.

In Miami-Dade 61 percent are fully vaccinated. But, yes, the mayor of Miami has said it is time to make a change. We need to go back to masks inside all county buildings.

Now, as for the school district, they are sort of going back to the drawing board to figure out with these new CDC guidelines how they will approach the upcoming school year. Now, that is a big difference from where I am right now in Broward County where, yesterday, the school board decided to require masks for students for the upcoming school year.

I want to you listen to what one of the school board members said.


SARAH LEONARDI, BOARD MEMBER, BROWARD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: We are all elected to protect students and employees and it's my feeling not just because the governor doesn't want to act in the best interest of his constituents, that does not absolve us from our responsibility.


SANTIAGO: I should note that the governor actually hinted at calling in a special session of the legislature if -- because he believes that schools should not be requiring students to wear masks. In that meeting, it was a unanimous decision by the school board to vote for masks in school. But most of the parents who did speak at that meeting were against it. Poppy?

HARLOW: Wow, Leyla, thank you for the reporting.

Still to come, a bipartisan breakthrough, that is right, progress. The Senate reaches an agreement on a historic infrastructure deal, at least moving it forward. We'll lay out what is in the plan and the next steps.

Plus, out of control, flight attendants are speaking out about the stress of managing unruly passengers on flights. What is happening? How frequently and what they think needs to be done about it?

And Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles offers a new message to her critics and to her supporters following her withdrawal from the all-around final. We'll take you live to Tokyo.



HARLOW: Overnight, 17 Republican senators joined Democrats in the Senate and they voted together to advance and begin work on a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure bill. But a lot of work still needs to be done before one of President Biden's key priorities becomes reality.

Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Manu, good morning. You just spoke with a critical Democratic component in all of this.


That is Senator Joe Manchin. What did he say?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He is critical because he helped cut that bipartisan infrastructure deal with nine of his colleagues. That is now going to be on the the Senate floor probably for about a week or so, maybe even longer, $1.2 trillion plan. But that is one piece of the larger efforts to try to move forward on Joe Biden's agenda.

The other piece, $3.5 trillion package that would expand the social safety net. That is -- Democrats, to get that through, they need to have all 50 members on board to begin the process and then ultimately draft this bill and pass it.

This is going to be a month's long process, but the first step is critical. They have to actually pass a budget resolution to allow them to move forward on that larger $3.5 trillion plan. And they need the support of Joe Manchin to move forward.

And just moments ago, Manchin revealed that he would back the efforts to move forward on that budget plan.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I think the first thing for all of us to do, out of respect to all of the people who have been working hard on the reconciliation bill is to look at the contents. I'm just getting all the information now, starting to evaluate it. So I'm keeping an open mind looking at everything.

RAJU: So, you could support a bill --

MANCHIN: I'm not saying that I can or I can't. I'm looking at everything (INAUDIBLE) from my colleagues.

RAJU: Will you support moving forward with the budget resolution?

MANCHIN: We should move forward with the budget resolution because you've got to get on the bill work. But there is no guarantees and there's should be -- every bill should go up on some (INAUDIBLE).


RAJU: So, that was a key point, we should move forward on the budget resolution. Democratic leaders will be heartened to hear that because that means that they are probably moving closer to getting all of their members in line when that comes up for a vote, that first step coming up for a vote in the next several days here.

But there are still a lot of hurdles that they have to go through. They have to draft that legislation. They have to get their members in line. They have to get it through both chambers of Congress. That is still uncertain whether they can even get to that point.

And also there are concerns from Kyrsten Sinema, who had said that the $3.5 trillion price tag, the Democrat from Arizona, she said that she is not in favor of that.

Joe Manchin, however, said he is open minded on that aspect of it. So, first, though, Poppy, they have to pass the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. That is going to be on the floor for some time. We'll see if they are able to get it through to keep their bipartisan coalition together to do that. Poppy?

HARLOW: They do. Thanks, Manu, for the reporting.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Senator Casey, good morning and thanks so much for being here.

Let's just start. I saw you listening intently to what your Democratic colleague in the Senate, Joe Manchin, said. What do you make of that?

SEN. BOB CASEY (D-PA): Well, Poppy, I think it is very consistent not only with what Joe Manchin said yesterday when we were gathered for our caucus discussion about this new breakthrough to have a bipartisan 67 vote infrastructure bill move forward, but it is consistent with what I've heard across our caucus.

We are focused on moving forward and the first step forward is making sure that we can advance this bipartisan bill. That is essential. But then, ultimately, right after that, we're going to move to a process to move forward on a budget resolution.

Now that is the first step in a long road to get to reconciliation.

HARLOW: Yes. And that is the $3.5 trillion right now Democrat-only proposal. So people understand the difference here.

Now, you talked to my colleague, Jake Tapper, about a month ago and your words to him were that you needed a, quote, ironclad agreement from your fellow Democrats in the caucus to pass the second part, right, that $3.5 trillion deal in order to get on board with this smaller bipartisan one.

Now that you've heard that from Manchin, but Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is saying, I can't get on board with $3.5 trillion but I'm going to move forward in good faith, is that ironclad-ish enough for you?

CASEY: Yes. I think we're at the point where we have a very strong consensus from 50 Democrats to move forward. Now, we're going to be debating the component parts of the next part of this and that still has to be worked out. Even when we are doing the budget -- the so- called budget resolution with instructions, that process will not have specific numbers that will determine the outcome of a program or a new initiative.

So we're still a long way, a very long way from numbers but getting to the budget resolution part of this process is critical. And I think we have all 50 votes for that.

HARLOW: I want to get your reaction to something that is very concerning to your fellow Pennsylvania senator. That is Republican Pat Toomey. Listen to what he told Jake Tapper over the weekend.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): And we know in a couple of months, the Democrats are going to pass what they call a $3.5 trillion bill but, really, over ten years, it is over $5 trillion.


This is completely out of hand.


HARLOW: On the $5 trillion, he is correct if you reference, and he's referencing the committee for a responsible federal budget. They say, and I'll show you here, quote, we estimate that the policies under consideration could cost between $5 trillion and $5.5 trillion over a decade. So are you comfortable with that price tag, if it is not $3.5 trillion, it's upwards of $5.5 trillion?

CASEY: Well, look, you're going to have different people make different efforts of the total. But when we get to --

HARLOW: No, but this is a big deal coming from that nonpartisan committee for a responsible federal budget, no?

CASEY: They have got their point of view and I've got mine, right? When we get to the policy, Poppy, what we're talking about here in the next part of this is whether or not this nation is going to invest families or not, or whether we're going down the road we've been going for 40 years to rig the tax code for big corporations and rich people. That is the choice.

And I believe we have to invest in families with quality affordable childcare. If you're a senior or a person with a disability, you should have the option, which you often don't have now, of home and community based service and we should have every three and four-year- old to have the opportunity for pre-kindergarten education.

So we're either going into that direction or we're going to in the direction that Washington usually goes in which is rich people benefit, corporations pay no corporate taxes and we have the workforce challenges we have and, therefore, can't outcompete China. That is the choice in my judgment.

HARLOW: So, Senator Casey, you brought up in-home care and that has been particularly important to you. It was actually taken out of the now bipartisan bill advancing on infrastructure in the Senate. You have a whole piece of legislation that you have wanted included in the president's jobs and recovery acts. Is it your understanding or your hope that that is worked into the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation approach?

CASEY: Well, there is no question that bill that I introduced, the better jobs, better care legislation for seniors and people with disabilities, that will be in the next -- the budget resolution and the reconciliation bill. So we're assured of that and we're reassured also that we're going to make other important investments for families.

HARLOW: Okay. Final question, what do you make of the fact that the former president released a statement yesterday blasting Republicans for working with Democrats on infrastructure, saying it will lead to a lot of lost primaries coming your way, and still 17 Republicans sided with Democratic senators to move this thing forward, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, not for nothing, said not long ago, like 100 percent of his focus will be standing up to Biden's agenda? What does that tell you?

CASEY: Well, I'm not sure what it tells us. It just tells us that a former president is trying to get attention. But the good news here is that we have the beginning of a consensus on one part of this, which is the physical infrastructure, roads and bridges very important for our state. And then we have to immediately thereafter bring the other initiative into place to focus on families.

But I hope we can get some Republicans on that as well but we'll see what happens.

HARLOW: Well, I think last night showed us folks can still work together sometimes in Washington. Senator Bob Casey, thanks for your time.

CASEY: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Well, next, they have been cursed out, grabbed, even punched. A new survey details just how dangerous the past year has been for flight attendants. I will speak to the head of their union, ahead.