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Interview With Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI); Interview With MGM Resorts President and CEO Bill Hornbuckle; Vaccinations Jump Amid COVID Surge. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 29, 2021 - 15:00   ET

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


PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, a few months ago, they worked with immigrant advocacy organizations to identify vulnerable individuals, those who shouldn't be subject to the policy.

[15:00:06]

And those orgs are telling me that it was supposed to be a temporary measure and they expected a wind-down by the end of July, and they felt comfortable with that.

But now they're telling me now they're calling it quits. The administration has not provided a timeline for when they plan to do away with this policy. And, as a result, they are going to end their ties with the administration in this effort on different timelines.

One organization tells me they will stop referrals at the end of July. Another tells me they will stop at the end of August. Now, we reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment, and they have not returned comment. A source tells me, though, the policy is likely to stay in effect for now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK, Priscilla Alvarez, thank you for all of that.

It is the top of the hour. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

In an hour, President Biden will announce a new offensive in his fight against coronavirus, a vaccine requirement for workers. President Biden will order that all federal employees be fully vaccinated or submit to regular testing.

He joins a growing call for vaccine requirements from public and private sector employers. They're battling the resurgence in cases driven by unvaccinated people. The CDC says that only 1 percent of us, only 1 percent of the U.S. population lives in an area now with low virus transmission.

The U.S. is now averaging almost 64,000 new cases a day. Nearly 40,000 people are hospitalized. Both of those are major increases from just the week before. But there are some signs that unvaccinated people are being swayed. More than 700,000 vaccine doses were administered yesterday.

That's way up from the day before. And the average number of people getting their first shot is the highest it's been in three weeks.

So, let's get to CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly.

So, Phil, what should we expect to hear from President Biden about an hour from now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Get vaccinated, I think, if you want to boil it down, Alisyn.

And that isn't necessarily a regulatory or a new message. The president's basically been saying that in public remarks for the better part of the last four or five months. What's going to be different is how that message is delivered and some of the policy that's tied to it.

As you mentioned, the president will do something that White House officials for the better part of the last couple of months stayed very far away from, and that is requiring federal workers to get a vaccination or at least to attest that they have been vaccinated.

And if they don't, or can't, they will then be subject to restrictive protocols as it pertains to COVID-19, whether it's masking, related to travel, social distancing, things of that nature.

And it's also not just the policy, but also the message. And I think the message is important, as we have seen a shift from the president and his top advisers over the course of the last couple of days. There's almost palpable frustration when you talk to White House officials. They recognize there's a solution here, a solution that's free, a solution that's available, and a solution that tens of millions of Americans have not decided to go through with.

And it's those tens of millions of Americans that are largely driving the surge you have seen in cases in hospitalizations and deaths due to the Delta variant. So what you're going to hear from the president is a very hard-edged message when it comes to the unvaccinated, clear policy changes that the president hopes not only will help boost the federal work force vaccination levels, but also you noted those private companies.

The White House sees this as a model. They see what private companies are doing when it comes to mandates. They hope the White House moving forward on the federal work force will push even more companies in that direction.

There's a recognition right now of the urgency of this moment, Alisyn, a recognition of the backsliding that's been occurring, and a recognition it's translating to a president very ready to pull out policy options that weren't originally on the table and a message that up until now the White House has largely tried to stay away from.

CAMEROTA: OK, we will be watching less than an hour from now.

Phil Mattingly, thank you for previewing it. So, live music organizers in Chicago are gearing up for their first big test of the COVID vaccination era. Lollapalooza is bringing thousands of music fans to Grant Park starting today. And each person entering will be required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test in the last three days.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus joins us now.

So, Adrienne, how confident are the organizers that they can make sure that everything goes smoothly here and figure out who's vaccinated, et cetera?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Smooth, that's the key word, Alisyn.

Health officials feel a little better because the event is happening outside. You see the folks behind me. They have been rocking with the crowd or the performers for the last few hours. But before anyone could even make it to that stage, they had to follow some rules.

There are rules this year for entry. You have to have a negative COVID test if you want to attend this four day festival within 72 hours of showing up at the gate. That's if you're unvaccinated. Also, if you have received the COVID-19 vaccine, you need proof, so bring a printed copy of your COVID-19 vaccination card.

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You ask if health officials are confident. There's always a risk -- that's what health officials tell us -- when you have crowds like this behind us. But they feel safer because the event organizers have put steps or taken security steps to make people feel a little bit safer.

But if you're at home, you're on the fence, even if you have a ticket and you feel like you are a little under the weather or have COVID-19 symptoms, this is what doctors want you to know.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ALLISON ARWADY, COMMISSIONER, CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: and don't attend Lolla, really, don't attend if you develop any symptoms of COVID-19 and you haven't taken a test, even if you're fully vaccinated.

And if you have tested positive for COVID in the last 14 days, do not attend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROADDUS: And another safety measure put into place, everyone working backstage, Alisyn, was required to be vaccinated -- back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Adrienne Broaddus, thank you very much.

Now some of the biggest names in business are requiring their employees to get vaccinated. That includes Netflix, BlackRock, Morgan Stanley, Saks Fifth Avenue, "The Washington Post," Ascension Health, and Lyft.

And the head of MGM Resorts is begging his Las Vegas workers to get the shots. The employees must start wearing masks indoors tomorrow, following a Nevada state order.

And GM's CEO told his workers the region's low vaccination rate is not only putting their lives at risk, but workers at risk for -- quote -- "possible furloughs and layoffs."

The company is offering pop-up vaccine clinics and testing and sending a reminder that unvaccinated employees who have to go into quarantine will not get paid for their time off.

Joining me now is MGM Resorts CEO Bill Hornbuckle.

Bill, thanks so much for taking the time to be here.

So, explain to us what's changing tomorrow. Are you just sort of strongly emphasizing that your workers get vaccinated? It sounds like you're not going as far as making it a requirement.

BILL HORNBUCKLE, PRESIDENT AND CEO, MGM RESORTS: No, we're not quite there yet.

We have been on an extended education push, if you will, ever since this thing started. But we do remember what happened in the beginning. We were literally closed for six to 12 weeks, depending on the jurisdictions. We had to furlough 62,000 employees. That has not gone away.

And then we have seen a tremendous resurgence in Las Vegas ever since really, April, May, June, and even to this day in July. It's been tremendous what's happened here and across our regional properties.

But we have kept the pressure on. Recently, and you have heard -- you just mentioned the mask mandate tonight that will go into effect for Southern Nevada and all of our properties here, not only for our employees, but our customers.

And we're reminded of where we were. And so we began to step up. You're noting a letter I put out on Monday to the entire staff here in Southern Nevada. And what we're reminding them of, if they are not vaccinated, they will be tested weekly. We actually do daily tests of all of our non-vaccinated employees. It's something they have to pay for.

And, unfortunately, if a co-worker who is unvaccinated is found to have COVID, and they need to go home, they won't be paid for that time. And so, look, we think education is the right tool. We think it's the right thing to do. The entire community with something called Viva Vax Vegas is getting behind this.

The county -- we have worked extensively and great with the culinary union, all of our competitors. Vaccines are free. They're plentiful, they're everywhere.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

HORNBUCKLE: We have them our -- our back end.

And so we're pushing hard, hoping and believing education is the key. And we're having -- we're showing progress. Much like the mentioned -- in the last three weeks, when we hit I think a low point, this past week and as late as yesterday, we have vaccinated or had proof of vaccinations from hundreds of employees who potentially just hadn't come forward in the beginning.

And so we like the track, like where we're going. We hope it's successful.

CAMEROTA: I mean, I'm glad that you're seeing progress, but I don't know if it's fast enough.

The Clark County vaccination rate right now, which is where Las Vegas is, is just 41 percent. I think the positivity rate today is 17 percent. And so I hear what you're saying. I mean, you're trying to, I guess, use inducements, rather than requirements.

But why not at this point, as we see the numbers going in the wrong direction, just require your workers to be vaccinated?

HORNBUCKLE: I think, Alisyn, I would like the message -- I think it is working. We're doing hundreds of employees.

And I think with an added impetus behind this week and the next coming week, we're in this state until August 17 with masks. I think the county will take another view and we will take another view. And, frankly, if we have to step it up, we're prepared to do so.

But until that time, I like where we are. It's aggressive. Look, I watched your interview or the interview this morning with Danny Meyer. I understand what many of these companies are doing.

For us, it is complicated. We're in many jurisdictions. We have had a tremendous success over the last 90 days that we'd like to keep going. And so we're hoping and believing, with encouragement, because our employee population base is well ahead of the Clark County number, and so we'd like to demonstrate leadership here and continue to push them to do the same for the safety of themselves, their family, their community, and, ultimately, our company.

[15:10:24]

It's essential. And we continue to push that message. And we're starting to see it really work.

CAMEROTA: I listened to that Danny Meyer interview also with great interest. I thought that that was a great interview. I got a lot of information out of that.

Are they -- are you requiring your customers as well, like Danny Meyer, or what's the policy for that?

HORNBUCKLE: No, it's just a mask mandate. It's just a mask mandate.

We have 36,000 hotel rooms here. We have 100,000 customers on staff -- on board at any given moment just here in Las Vegas. Never mind, there are other eight regional properties. Any one of these environments has 14 or 16 ingresses and egresses.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: So, you're too big. You're saying you're too big to have a vaccine requirement?

HORNBUCKLE: For customers at this point in time, yes.

For employees, I hope our education program works. I believe it is, and I believe it will. I have faith. We have got this far. If it doesn't, time will tell.

CAMEROTA: You know, one question that I have, Bill, for people who say that, if you don't do this -- and I hear a lot of managers and even officials, city officials, say this -- if you don't do this, you're going to get have to get tested every week.

Is that really so onerous? I mean, is that a big ask to get tested every week?

HORNBUCKLE: It's also costing them money and time.

And so it's working. It is driving more people to get ultimately a vaccination. Look, there are some people, for religious and other reasons -- and we respect that view and that opinion -- that are not going to get vaccinate.

But I have this belief that there's 20 percent of our population that, if motivated, if properly educated on the benefits, we will end up in a much better place. And so we have got the community behind us. We're pushing hard on this. I'd like to see what happens over the next couple of weeks. And, hopefully, we end up in a much better place than we are today, because we have come so far.

And to see us go backwards would just be a crime.

CAMEROTA: Bill Hornbuckle, we really appreciate you explaining all this to us. And, of course, we will be watching and seeing if you continue to make progress.

HORNBUCKLE: Thank you for the moment, Alisyn. Appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much.

OK, a rare glimpse of bipartisanship, as lawmakers reach a deal on infrastructure, but can it get past the next hurdle?

Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin joins us next.

Plus: As cases surge across Texas, teachers plead with Governor Abbott to mandate masks in the classroom. What's going to happen as school begins there?

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[15:17:23]

CAMEROTA: It's being called the bipartisan breakthrough, 17 Republicans crossing the aisle to allow debate to begin on that trillion-dollar infrastructure bill.

But will this rare display of bipartisanship work? The top Republican in the Senate praised the bill, but ripped the bigger $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that progressives want to tie it to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I was happy to vote to begin moving the Senate toward what ought to be a robust bipartisan floor process or legislation of this magnitude.

Just the kind of focused compromise that our colleagues have been hashing out could not contrast more sharply with the multitrillion- dollar reckless taxing and spending spree that Democrats hope to ram through on a party-line vote later this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: And it's not just Republicans.

Some Democrats are also not sold on the larger bill. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema says she cannot support the $3.5 trillion price tag for the bigger bill.

And that's drawn fire from progressives like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who ripped Senator Sinema in a tweet.

So, could the progressive wing of the Democratic Party withhold its support and scuttle the whole deal?

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Senator, thanks so much for being here.

So, bipartisan baby steps. It's cleared the first -- the infrastructure bill has cleared the first hurdle. And I know that that is a big victory for the bipartisanship in the Senate. But you have already heard the Democratic pushback on this.

Are you afraid that this Democratic logjam which we're seeing could scuttle the whole thing?

SEN. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-WI): You know, I believe that we are going to work our way through this.

And there have been any number of roadblocks, which maybe is an appropriate metaphor when we're talking about infrastructures, that have cropped up in this process. But we keep on negotiating, seeking input, listening to concerns, and finding a way to take that next step, just as we achieved last night, when 17 Republicans joined all the Democrats in opening up the debate on the bipartisan bill.

That bill alone introduces a lot of new federal resources to address the fact that we have neglected and failed to maintain our nation's infrastructure for years, if not decades. And we understand that it really needs this once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation infusing of funds for not just surface transportation, but also water infrastructure and broadband access and affordability.

[15:20:13]

So, these are really bold goals. And I will tell you, my own perspective is that the bipartisan framework, now bill, goes hand in hand with the budget resolution which we will take up next week, because we need to support the workers who are going to actually be building and maintaining and making stronger our nation's infrastructure.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, you're not alone in that feeling.

We have heard from other congresspeople this week, particularly the progressives, who feel that it must go hand in hand, as you just said. But then you hear Senator Kyrsten Sinema say that that -- she won't -- she's not sold on that price tag.

So how do you break that? How do you win her over?

BALDWIN: Well, I think that, right now, we're just talking about the budget process that sets up an opportunity for all the committees of the Senate to put together the bill.

And it would serve us all well to wait until we see it and be active in the process of putting it together before determining how one is going to vote. So, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to keep an open mind as we assemble that budget reconciliation bill.

But it's a two-step process. And at least we have everyone's commitment in the Democratic Caucus to open that process up and begin it.

CAMEROTA: I want to move on and talk about COVID and what's happening across the country in terms of the unvaccinated and the spread of the Delta variant...

BALDWIN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: ... and the battle against misinformation, which I know is important to you.

And your fellow Wisconsin leader Ron Johnson is peddling some of the misinformation. So, let me just read to you what he said this week.

This is in a statement, an official statement: "Do masks even work? Do they do more harm than good," he's asking, "particularly to children, who have a low risk of serious death or disease from COVID? Remember, the initial goal of the public policy was to flatten the curve, so we wouldn't overwhelm hospitals. Time to let Americans, not federal agencies, make decisions for themselves. Time to reclaim liberty and end this state of fear."

What do you say to Ron Johnson?

BALDWIN: You know, I think the responsibility of leaders is to speak the truth and to help share the evidence and the science that's out there.

And I have been throughout this period of time, as the Delta variant has begun to rage through our country -- and, certainly, the numbers in Wisconsin are quite alarming. We had 794 new cases yesterday, 900- some the day before. We haven't seen these numbers since early April.

And what it shows is that vaccines make a difference and masks make a difference. And I am urging all Wisconsinites, especially in those parts of the state where the vaccination rates remain stubbornly low, that this is your opportunity to not only prevent yourself from getting very sick and being hospitalized, ventilated, and maybe dying, but also to help your loved ones and your community.

And had we all -- had we all gotten vaccinated at very high rates right away, we could have stamped out the entire coronavirus. There would be nowhere for that virus to turn, if you will. But because so many people do not have immunities because of failure to be vaccinated, there are still a significant percentage of our population where that virus has the opportunity to spread.

And...

CAMEROTA: Yes.

But, I mean, and then you have Senator Ron Johnson, who's wondering if masks work. I mean, do you speak to him about that? How do you even fight it if -- when a senator wonders, do masks do more harm than good?

BALDWIN: You know, we have a lot of challenges in terms of disinformation that's purposeful and misinformation.

What's important for me is to share the science and evidence that I have gained in my position as a U.S. senator directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et cetera, and to go out there and urge people to do what we know works.

[15:25:08]

And that is vaccinate and wear a mask.

CAMEROTA: Senator Tammy Baldwin, thank you. We appreciate your time. Obviously, we will be watching what happens next with the infrastructure bills.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, now to this.

The wildfires across the West are bringing devastating drought conditions, as state officials plead with the federal government for more help.

Plus: As the Delta variant rips through the country, teachers in Texas are calling on the governor to allow masks and allow mask mandates in the classroom.

So, we will speak to the president of the Texas State Teachers Association about what teachers are going to do. What are students going to do? What do parents want?

That's next.

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