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USA Wins Women's All-Around Gymnastics Gold; Infrastructure Negotiations; Interview With Orange County, Florida, Mayor Jerry Demings; Vaccinations Jump Amid COVID Surge. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 29, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Victor is off today.

And we begin with the growing call for vaccine requirements from government and private employers, Netflix, BlackRock, Morgan Stanley, Saks Fifth Avenue, "The Washington Post," Ascension Health, Lyft, and more businesses all issuing vaccine requirements for employees.

Two hours from now, President Biden will announce that all federal workers must be fully vaccinated or receive regular testing. He will also continue to push to get more Americans vaccinated. The unvaccinated are still driving the spread of coronavirus.

The CDC says only 1 percent of the U.S. population lives in an area with low transmission at this point.

The U.S. is now averaging almost 64,000 new infections a day. That is 59 percent higher than last week. Almost 40,000 people are hospitalized with the virus. And that's roughly 11,000 more than last week.

But there are signs that the unvaccinated are being swayed. More than 700,000 vaccine doses were administered Wednesday. 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's Jeff Zeleny at the White House with a preview of the president's message later this afternoon.

So, Jeff, what's he going to say?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the president is going to really increase his rhetoric and language, going from simply asking Americans to get vaccinated to requiring them to, at least those in the federal work force.

The White House believes that the president does not have the broad authority to require all Americans to get shots. But they do believe he has the authority to require people who work for the federal government to do that. So, by doing so, they believe he's setting an example for other private businesses, several of which you just named right there. And they do believe that all of this increased conversation about this

is having some effect that. You had noted that vaccinations are indeed going up. So that's what the White House is hoping as they head into August, that will continue as a trend.

But, look, the president is going to -- he's really changed his rhetoric. Only a few days ago here, he was saying, look, we're not going to blame anyone or shame anyone. That basically has changed.

So I am told he is going to really deliver some intense remarks this afternoon in a couple hours, targeting the unvaccinated, again, urging people to do so.

But, Alisyn, interestingly, the word mandate has long been a do-not- say word here at the White House. They thought it would simply backfire, it would be bad politically and in terms of a matter of public policy. But now they're stopping just short of that.

But by requiring the federal work force to get this vaccination, it is a dramatic shift in what they have been doing. The question is, will that spark other businesses? And it looks so far like it is doing so. We will see if it's enough to slow this rising variant -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you for the preview. We will check back.

Turning to Florida now, where nearly every county has high virus transmission. Still, the Republican governor there will not allow any mask mandates. We're also seeing anti-mask protests erupt at school board meetings. But the state's second largest school district, Broward County, is pushing back and says they will require masks.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is outside a school in Broward County's Pompano Beach.

So, Leyla, how is the school board getting around the governor's ban on mask mandates?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a unanimous vote yesterday, Alisyn, when the school board decided to move forward with the upcoming school year, saying they want to require masks.

And that's even after having heard from parents who were against it, parents who were echoing the governor's stance. He is doubling down, saying he's not a fan of this. He does not believe that masks should be required in schools for the upcoming school year, despite what the CDC is recommending.

And he has even hinted at calling a special session for the legislature to ensure that it remains optional. So I went back to a school board member and asked her response on that. Listen to this.


SARAH LEONARDI, BROWARD COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD: Well, you know, the governor can make his decisions. If he wants to use taxpayer dollars to call in a special legislative session, he can go and go ahead and do that.

But while I'm one of nine board members, and while I am a board member, I will try to be the adult in the collective elected official room and make the right choice for our constituents.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): All Americans should be free to choose how they govern their affairs and they should not be consigned to live, regardless of which state in the union, consigned to live in a Faucian dystopia, in which we're governed by the whims of bureaucratic authorities who care little for our freedom.



SANTIAGO: Now, the governor is encouraging people to get vaccines, but his critics are quick to say, stop attacking Fauci and focus on vaccination.

The governor back in May signed legislation which limits what local municipalities can do in terms of measures set for their own counties. I will say, the mayor of Miami-Dade, she yesterday also announced that she is requiring masks in all county buildings, but, again, Alisyn, keeping in mind that the governor has limited what local municipalities can do in terms of combating COVID-19, and this very contagious Delta variant.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it makes it complicated.

Leyla Santiago, thank you for the reporting.

OK, now to Orange County, Florida, where some of the nation's biggest tourist attractions draw millions of visitors. So, the mayor there has just issued a state of emergency and an ultimatum to about 4,000 non- union county employees.

They have until August 31 to get a first vaccine shot, and they must be fully vaccinated by the end of September. Orange County, Florida, just reported the highest number of COVID cases in a single day, more than 1, 300. And earlier this week, the mayor said his county is in a -- quote -- "crisis mode."

And Mayor Jerry Demings joins us now from Orlando.

Mayor, thank you for taking the time to be with us.

How did you get -- how did your county get back into a crisis mode?

JERRY DEMINGS (D), MAYOR OF ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Well, thank you first for inviting me on the show.

We are a county that has been open for business now for better than a year. We were one of the first to do so. And we were able to get our numbers down really low. For an extended period of time, they were well below 5 percent. But because of really all of the people coming into our county and the

mutation of the current virus, it has created some perhaps unpredictable circumstances for us here within Orange County.

We have been the number one tourist destination for travelers for the most recent holiday period of time, to include Independence Day, Memorial Day, a significant number of people flying into our Orlando International Airport here.

And that creates an opportunity for others to bring the virus into our community. We have been innovative. We have been offering vaccination opportunities for those who come into our airport. And we were doing very well.

But, unfortunately, once the virus mutated, that was something that created an additional challenge for us. And here, within the state of Florida, of course, from the state level, they have not been as good at partnering with those of us at the local level as I believe they should have been.

CAMEROTA: That might be an understatement.

Let me play for you what your governor said yesterday. As you know, he's opposed to mandates. And he seems just opposed to the CDC guidance. Here it is.


DESANTIS: Did you not get the CDC's memo? I don't see you guys complying.


DESANTIS: I think it's very important that we say unequivocally no to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions, and no mandates.



CAMEROTA: OK, well, that's a lot of no's right there.

So, if he doesn't want business closures, and no lockdowns, and no school closures, and no restrictions, and no mask mandates, how do you think your state's going to get out of this situation?

DEMINGS: Well, certainly, the governor has failed to lead in this regard.

I think that, in many ways, our governor is not focused on the people here in the state of Florida. He's focused on his political future, and he's really running for another office and he's pandering to a base. And, unfortunately, this crisis has nothing to do with politics, or should have nothing to do with politics.

It should be all about health, safety and welfare of Floridians here. And, at the local level, when our citizens get in trouble and they need help, they dial 911, and they depend on our local first responders to respond to help take care of them.

That is where I come into play, as Orange County mayor, here in the metro Orlando area, is to ensure that we are prepared, that we have all of the tools by which to make some decisions in the best interests of the life, health and safety of our residents.

And we should depend on having a good relationship with our governor and with those who serve at the federal level as well. And, unfortunately, our governor has been too busy focusing on other things, rather than focusing on the crisis that we have before us at this point.


So it's been left up to us. And then what did the governor do? He diminished our ability to be able to have any type of enforcement to ensure that the businesses comply with any mandates. He diminished our -- took away our ability to even institute any types of mandates, if the circumstances dictated that.

And that's all because of being more concerned about his political future than being concerned about the people here in Florida and their life, health and safety during a public health crisis.

CAMEROTA: Well, I'm just curious, Mayor. I mean, if he has his sights, if you think the governor has his sights set on a higher political office, how will that go if his is the worst state in the nation with COVID?

DEMINGS: I don't know. Unfortunately, I don't have a crystal ball. I'm not sure how all of that's going to work out.

What I have been focused on here, as a leader in this county, is to make certain that we are making adjustments when we should, real time, to take care of the people here to stop the spread of the virus, to stop people from being infected and dying.

I went to a funeral today of one of my correctional officers who died as a result of COVID-19. And so I have several other of our employees who are now hospitalized in critical care units. And I care about our employees. I care about the residents of this community.

I spent a full career in law enforcement as a police chief, as a sheriff, as a public safety director standing up to make certain that we were taking care of our citizens. And so, since I'm the mayor here in the metro area, I'm not retreating from that responsibility at this point.

And I just demand that our legislature realizes that we need to be engaged in the process of taking care of our people.

CAMEROTA: How are you going to enforce that your county employees get the vaccine? DEMINGS: In terms of our county employees, we have received a lot of review and advice from our legal team, our team, our county attorneys, and we are certain that we on all solid legal grounds to be able to mandate this.

Again, the people who live in these local communities, they depend on us to provide the services. When I start seeing my own employees dying as a result of the virus, then there's a call to service and make -- for me to make adjustments in what we're doing here.


DEMINGS: So, I have to protect our employees and the citizens of our county. And so we're going to do that through...

CAMEROTA: Yes. No, I understand.

I just mean, are there vaccine passports? Are you -- are they going to have to show their vaccine card? How do you enforce something like that?

DEMINGS: Yes. OK. Yes.

Yes, we are going to require our employees to have to attest that they have been vaccinated. They have to receive at least the first dose, if they take the two-shot vaccine, by August the 31st and the second dose by the end of September. And they have to provide an attestation that they have done.

If they don't fall under one of the areas where there's an exemption, then they are subject to disciplinary action.

CAMEROTA: Major Jerry Demings, thank you for your time. Thanks for explaining all this to us. We will be watching what happens there.

DEMINGS: Thank you very much. Have a great day and weekend.

CAMEROTA: You too.

So, as President Biden's infrastructure plan gains new momentum, House and Senate progressives are still split over the next steps, with AOC accusing a fellow Democrat of tanking her own party's progress.

So, how's that going to work?

Plus, all-around gymnastics gold for an American who has been through some very tough times. What it took for Suni Lee to claim her victory.

Stay with us.



CAMEROTA: It was a shocking display of bipartisanship, 17 Senate Republicans joining Democrats to advance that nearly $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

There's still a long way to go before one of President Biden's signature goals becomes reality.

CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill for us.

So, Manu, CNN obtained a 57-page summary of what's in the bill. We can either read the whole thing in its entirety, or you could just tell us the headlines from it right now.



But -- and we're also still waiting for the bill text itself, what they will actually vote on. That's more than 1,000 pages. That's what's expected, at least. And this 57-page outline give some rough parameters of how this would be broken down, about $550 billion in new spending. You would include about $110 billion for roads and bridges, an additional $66 billion for public transit.

That had been actually one of the sticking points here. You see money that's spread all across different areas of so-called hard infrastructure, clean water, about $55 billion for that. That was another sticking point that had emerged through the course of these talks.

Now, this will be financed through a wide range of efforts that would not raise taxes. That had been a red line for Republicans. Democrats did not want to raise the gas tax. So, both of those were off the table.

Instead, they're going to redirect COVID relief money that has already been enacted, but has not yet been spent. They're going to do things such as target so-called crypto currency to raise more than $28 billion. And also they assume that this proposal would increase the economic growth and it would generate revenue to the federal government for that.


That counting mechanism has been criticized in the past by Democrats. But they have agreed to use that as a way to contend that this will be fully paid for.

But now we're about to begin the arduous process of legislating on the floor. That requires amendments to be considered. They have to agree on amendments, any changes. And if there are no -- if the Republicans in particular are not happy with the number of amendments being considered, presumably, they could break ranks and block the bill from passing on the back end.

So there's still many hurdles here, Alisyn, to get to final passage. There's some optimism that they will get there, but still a ways to go. CAMEROTA: Manu, what about that larger $3.5 trillion bill? As you

know, the progressive Democrats are sparring with the more moderate Democrats about it. So where does that leave it?

RAJU: Yes, because Nancy Pelosi made clear, even she did in a question I had with her yesterday, that she will not move on this bipartisan Senate infrastructure plan unless that larger $3.5 trillion plan passes the United States Senate.

But at the moment, there is not a consensus among Democrats about what that bill will look like and about how much money they should spend. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democratic, came out yesterday against that price tag. She said she's willing to negotiate, but she's opposed to spending that much money.

And you're getting some pushback, including from one Democratic senator, Bob Menendez, earlier today, who said that we're not going to get everything we want.


SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): At some point, any member of the Democratic Caucus can say, I will not support X if X doesn't happen. So, this was not unique to our colleagues who have made those statements.

I could say I will not support reconciliation if immigration isn't it. I could say I will not support reconciliation if some of the things I care about are not realized. When that happens, then nothing succeeds.


RAJU: Now, this is just one step in a two-step process to approve this larger $3.5 trillion plan. The first step is, they actually have to pass a budget resolution that would set the stage for that larger bill.

Importantly, though, Alisyn, Democrats are signaling that they will support moving forward with that first step, the budget resolution. That includes Joe Manchin told me earlier today they should move forward. Kyrsten Sinema is signaling that she would support moving forward.

So that's what Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, wants, move forward on the first step. They will haggle over the details. They will haggle over the price tag. So that's a fight they want to have down the line. But, at the moment, they want to keep the process moving forward and are confident that they can -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Manu Raju, thanks for helping us understand it all.

OK, now to COVID. Hospital units across the country are filling up again with the unvaccinated, as misinformation drives up the death toll.

We will talk to an E.R. doctor in a Michigan hot spot about how he's trying to fight his patients' misinformation.



I just got done with a shift and just had just one of the most frustrating conversations with a patient, who was just violently angry with me for trying to get a COVID test.

The patient came in with some symptoms that were concerning. They had some findings and some imaging that was suggestive of COVID. And I said, hey, we want to get a test. And they just went into a tirade about...




CAMEROTA: A big win for team USA.

Gymnast Suni Lee wins gold in the women's all-around competition, the Minnesota teenager stepping up to fill the void of Simone Biles, and then beat out Brazil and Russia.

Her win sealed a record-equaling sixth victory in that event for the U.S. She was cheered on by teammate Simone Biles, who watched from the sidelines after dropping out of the competition.

So the medal count shapes up like this. The U.S. is leading with 38, followed by China, Russia and Japan.

CNN's Selina Wang is in Tokyo.

So, Selina, tell us more about Suni Lee. Did she almost quit gymnastics at one point?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, she has just faced so much adversity leading up to this moment, pain, tragedy, loss.

In the past few years, she's had to train through several injuries. She lost both her aunt or her uncle to COVID-19 last year. And in 2019, after an accident, her father was left paralyzed from waist down. This is a man who she calls her best friend, her number one supporter, her inspiration.

He even built a wooden beam in their backyard for her to practice on when she was younger because they couldn't afford one. Now, after she won, she thanked her parents for their support, said her victory was surreal.

Take a listen to what else she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SUNI LEE, U.S. OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: This medal definitely means a lot to me, because there was a point in time where I wanted to quit. And I just didn't think I would ever get here, including injuries and stuff.

So there are definitely a lot of emotions, but I'm super proud of myself for sticking with it and believing in myself.


WANG: Alisyn, also a proud moment for the Hmong community. She is the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast.

While her family couldn't be there in person to cheer her on, there's just this heartwarming video of a huge watch party of her family. They are jumping up and down with excitement and joy, even some tears of joy.

They were not there in person, but Simone Biles was cheering her on with the rest of Team USA. And there's just been an outpouring of support for her since she has come out about her mental health challenges.

And in a tweet, she said she's thankful for that support and it makes her realize that she is more than just gymnastics and her accomplishments, something she said she didn't truly believe before -- Alisyn.