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Infrastructure Negotiations; COVID Cases Surging; President Biden Sets New Target For Electric Vehicles. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 5, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Now, the order aims to make half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in the year 2030 zero emissions vehicles.

CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us now.

So, what do about this goal, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, it's nonbinding, but it certainly sets the tone for what the administration is going for in terms of its climate policy. It's something the president has said would be at the forefront of his agenda.

And today is really kind of the primary signal that, at least on the executive action side, he's willing to move forward on some of those ambitious goals.

Victor, as you noted, the president laying out a target that, by 2030, at least 50 percent of vehicles will be zero emissions, driven primarily by electric vehicles. And if you want to know the scale of what that would mean, the current marketplace for electric vehicles, Victor, sitting at around 2 percent.

In total, the White House believes it could save up to 200 billion gallons of gasoline, reduce by two billion metric tons of carbon pollution, all really aligning with the ambitious climate goals the president has made clear he wants to push.

Here's another interesting element of this. There is a federal regulatory piece of this as well. Tailpipe rules for 2026 will also be signed. They are stricter than rules that were put in place by President Obama. There were rules that were attempted to roll back by President Trump.

President Biden will now be going further. One other point on the emissions in the electric vehicles that the president will be announcing today, groups that will be standing with him, the three largest automakers, plus the UAW, underscoring that they are committed to it as well, pointing, though, that they want that infrastructure bill that's currently being considered to be passed to help that process alone.

BLACKWELL: All right, Phil, one more thing happening this afternoon, the president scheduled to sign an act to award the Congressional Gold Medals to some U.S. Capitol Police officers.

Of course, we know this dates back to January 6. Tell us about it.

MATTINGLY: Yes, look, this was kind of a long-running debate in Congress that never should have been a debate to some degree; 21 Republicans in the House ended up voting against it. It was passed unanimously by the Senate.

And I think what's going to be most interesting today when the president signs this in the Rose Garden will be twofold, one, those who are joining him in the signing. We expect some guests to be with the president when he signs this Congressional Gold Medal resolution. It would be designed to give a Congressional Gold Medal to the Capitol Police, but also others who responded, most notably the Metropolitan Police Department here in Washington, D.C., but also what the president says.

The president's never minced words about what January 6 was. He called it an existential crisis, an existential threat to the democracy of the United States, has made very clear his views on the issue, but he's also made very clear that he believes he shouldn't be dwelling on that issue. Instead, they should be trying to move forward and deliver for people to ensure something like that would never happen again.

So how the president frames this moment, and particularly those who are receiving these Gold Medals, will be very interesting to watch later today, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, it will.

Phil Mattingly for us at the White House, thank you.

So, more than 500 days into the pandemic, and the spread of the coronavirus, it's picking up, the seven-day average of new infections closing in on 100,000, 103,000 new cases reported on Tuesday alone.

And just six weeks ago, the average daily cut case count was under 12,000. Now states with low vaccination rates are running out of space in their intensive care units. Arkansas has just 25 empty beds for the whole state. Mississippi, it's worse, six ICU beds left across that state.

Louisiana, meantime, just broke its hospitalization record for the second time this week. But, as cases surge, the rate of vaccinations is going up too. A short time ago, the White House COVID response team indicated reality is setting in for more unvaccinated Americans, with the pace of vaccinations in these six states you see here reaching levels that they have not seen since the spring.


JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: And we are seeing results. Over the past 24 hours, we have recorded 864,000 vaccinations, the highest in a day since July 3, and, importantly, 585,000 first shots.

That's the highest since July 1.


BLACKWELL: And let's go to Florida now, because that is the epicenter of the pandemic today, reporting more than 100,000 new infections over the past week.

And now we're learning it leads the nation in the number of COVID hospital admissions for adults and children.

CNN's Randi Kaye is with us now from Daytona Beach.

Randi, these doctors, nurses who have just been doing God's work for more than a year-and-a-half now, what are they seeing in this new surge on the front lines.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're seeing exactly what they don't want to be seeing, which is just more and more people being hospitalized, and they are just trying to get it under control here, Victor, in the state of Florida, numbers certainly going the wrong direction.

You mentioned that Florida right now leads the nation in the number of adults and children who are hospitalized with COVID. Here's some of the numbers for you from the CDC, releasing this today; 2, 065 adults and 47 children have been admitted with COVID since the previous day.


And if you look at the numbers, the CDC is also saying that there are 143 children hospitalized in total here in the state of Florida. That's more than any other state in the country. And Texas is just behind Florida with 140 children hospitalized.

But the backdrop of this is this ongoing battle between Governor Ron DeSantis here in Florida and President Joe Biden. The president has certainly been quite critical, turning the spotlight on Florida, pointing to the governor about his handling of the pandemic and the lack of mask mandates in the schools here.

The president saying that, if you're not going to help, then get out of the way. Well, this is what the governor said to the president just recently.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Joe Biden suggests that if you don't do lockdown policies, then you should -- quote -- "get out of the way."

But let me tell you this. If you're coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I'm standing in your way. I'm not going to let you get away with it. So why don't you do your job? Why don't you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don't want to hear a blip about COVID from you.


KAYE: Some strong words from the governor there.

And, as you know, he has issued an executive order saying that school districts cannot mandate masks. He said it should be up to the president -- up to the parents. It's their choice. He also said that he could pull funding from these districts if they defy his order.

But, nevertheless, some of those districts are doing just that. They're defying his order. Broward County, the second largest district in the state, has now issued a mask mandate. Duval County, where Jacksonville is, is mandating masks, at least for now, giving the parents an option to opt out.

Also, Alachua County is requiring masks for the first two weeks of school. And, Victor, the reason they're doing that, they say very plainly, is because they're seeing an increase in hospitalizations and cases for children.

And, finally, Leon County, where Tallahassee is, the superintendent wrote a letter to the governor asking for -- quote -- "flexibility and autonomy" on the mask mandate. He would like to issue a mask mandate for students in his schools.

In that letter -- I'm quoting here -- he says: "Let's not allow pride or politics to cloud our better judgment."

So, certainly those in the schools looking out for the well-being of the students, the teachers and the parents, who those children go home to every day -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Randi Kaye in Daytona Beach, Florida, for us.

Thank you, Randi..

Let's go to Wisconsin now, where state officials are warning about a potential super-spreader event. Close to 500 positive COVID cases have been linked to these massive crowds outside the Milwaukee Bucks' arena last month when the team won the NBA national championship.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is here now with more.

So, a lot of people say, if you're outside, you have a better shot of holding off from getting this virus, 65,000 people outside. What do we know about this potential super-spreader event?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, so, so far, it's about 491 people linked to celebrating at Milwaukee's Deer District to cheer on the Bucks by the tens of thousands.

These are at least 491 positive COVID-19 cases. The Deer District is just an entertainment spot right outside their home arena.

Now it's important to note that health officials can't pinpoint definitively, saying that this is where they picked up COVID-19, since they could have picked it up at other exposure points before getting tested. However, the one thing they have in common is they all were part of these celebrations.

And even still, the Department of Health Services says they might not be accounting for everyone. They sent us an e-mail when we asked about this, saying, we are likely undercounting or under-representing cases who attended and then got sick, but did not report, or an interview wasn't completed or information was not completely documented.

And that's because the part about attending the Bucks celebrations was completely self-reported. And it is, I should mention as well, part of routine contact tracing questions they ask about whether you have attended large events recently. And that's, of course, to help keep track of things like these.

BLACKWELL: Yes, that certainly was a big one.

Let's go to Michigan, Omar. And there's a similar situation with a music festival. Tell us about that.

JIMENEZ: Yes, Victor, so same type deal, about 83 cases linked to the Faster Horses musical festival out of Michigan. It's a three-day country music and camping festival at the Michigan International Speedway.

And, again, same type deal, people in close proximity singing. Officials are urging people who attended that festival to get tested if they're not fully vaccinated or if they develop symptoms because they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

It's part of the same -- it's the same type of messaging people here in Chicago are bracing for just a few days removed from Lollapalooza, which, of course, brought hundreds of thousands of people here to the area.


And these are the types of stories we're going to see, as people balance sort of coming back into the world with the surge of the Delta variant. And of course, we have known this from the beginning. You bring large crowds together, cases are likely going to follow -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Omar Jimenez for us.

Omar, thank you.

Louisiana up next. And, as I mentioned, the state has broken its hospitalization record again. There are now 2, 350 people in Louisiana as hospital sick with COVID. Tuesday, the state hit a new record, reporting just over 2, 100 patients.

Let me turn now to Dr. William Lennarz, the system chair of pediatrics for Ochsner Hospital For Children in Louisiana.

Dr. Lennarz, thanks for being with me.

Let's start with the comparison. What you're seeing now vs. the first I think three surges in Louisiana, what are you seeing in your hospitals?

DR. WILLIAM LENNARZ, OCHSNER HOSPITAL FOR CHILDREN: Well, from a pediatric standpoint -- we're a hospital for children -- children were largely spared by the first, honestly, three spikes of COVID that we have seen here in Louisiana.

The game-changer, unfortunately, is that, as we all know by now, the Delta variant is just much more transmissible. And when you overlay the fact that children are completely unvaccinated under 12 years old, and we have a relatively low vaccination rate between 12 and 18, since that was approved much later than adult vaccinations, and those two kind of facts converging leave us with a situation where children are getting infected at much, much higher rates than we have seen in the past.

BLACKWELL: How many minors do you have with COVID there now?

LENNARZ: Across the state, out of hospitals, there are certainly thousands.

But within the hospital, we are seeing still very, very small numbers. What I think is important to realize, though, and a bit of a telltale and a concern with school openings ahead of us is that, as of the end of last week, the rate of COVID testing for children aged zero to 12, about 24 percent of those are positive. And that's testing for any reason.

So that's an extremely high rate of positivity. That tells us there's a lot of COVID infection in that age group. And, fortunately, we continue to see the same severity curve, meaning that, in the pediatric age group, only a very small percentage of children will see serious illness.


LENNARZ: We here at Ochsner Hospital For Children, we have cared for children all the way down to 5 days of age and up through teenage who have necessitated hospitalization.

But, again, by and large, children are able to tolerate the infection without severe effects.

BLACKWELL: Five days. Wow.

You know, I read that you said that -- and you mentioned it here just a bit -- that children are the most susceptible not because of anything organic, but because 12 -- under 12, they are 100 percent unvaccinated.

So, for parents who obviously want to protect their children, what can they do, what should they do to try to hold off this trend, slow this trend that we're seeing with positive cases in kids? LENNARZ: Great question.

And we're afraid that some people think there's nothing to do, but there are steps that you can take. If your child is 12 or older, you should get them immunized immediately. If your child is under 12, masking and distancing and grouping in very small groups will prevent exposure and spread.

And, of course, we look forward to what we hope will occur in the early fall, which is that vaccination eligibility will become available to children under 12 as well. And then we would have the same advice, which is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.


And we know that vaccinating those around children under 12, parents, the older siblings, could protect them as well potentially from transmitting it. Let me ask you, though, about the -- it's sad that it's happening this way, but the trend in Louisiana went from 47th in the nation for vaccinations to now first, as we're seeing the increase of people getting the shots.


Are you seeing that urgency at where you are in New Orleans there?

LENNARZ: We absolutely are.

We have seen a huge uptick in vaccination demand. And what we in the children's hospital want to message is that that includes your teenagers. And, as you accurately pointed out, even though teens are unlikely to suffer severe consequences themselves, their unvaccinated siblings are at risk if they get infected.

And, of course, so are adults and older adults and anyone who has risk factors for complications from COVID. So, it's really all about we're -- everyone being in this together and having as many of us vaccinated as is possible.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Dr. William Lennarz, you said it, in this together. Thank you so much.

LENNARZ: Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: Right now, on Capitol Hill, senators are working to set a final vote on the infrastructure bill as soon as tonight.

And the nation's education secretary has a warning for certain Republican governors: Politicize masks and jeopardize in person learning.



BLACKWELL: Just into CNN, attorneys for Governor Andrew Cuomo have released a new statement.

And Erica Hill is back.

What do you have?

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So they are saying they're going to cooperate. Essentially, they appreciate this opportunity.

Let's read this to you: "The governor will cooperate with the Assembly and appreciates the opportunity to provide a submission to them and an opportunity not provided by the A.G.'s investigators," the letter says, "who acted as independent fact-finders -- not as independent fact-finders, but as prosecutor, judge and jury. The report omits documents, e-mails and testimony that contradict its narrative."

So this from an attorney for the governor, in response to the letter that they were given earlier today, noting that the investigations into these different allegations for impeachment was nearing a close. And they had until next Friday at 5:00 p.m. to submit any additional documentation they would want to.

BLACKWELL: Any insight into what specifically this new documentation is?

HILL: It could -- what they will submit, we will sort of have to wait and see.


HILL: But it could have to do with -- so, there was -- I believe it was an 85-page, essentially, a rebuttal that the governor's office also released.

And they took issue with some of the way incidents were described, including one in particular with an assistant on November 16. There was some back-and-forth about what was and what wasn't in the report. And the governor's attorneys felt that it didn't provide a fulsome picture of what they believe happened on that day, notably, that the executive assistant was there for a longer period of time, had a brief conversation with the governor.

This is on the date that she alleges that he grabbed her breasts. And so, therefore, this showed that nothing could have happened, she wasn't there for long enough, and it was comfortable enough to have a conversation.

HILL: OK, Erica Hill following every detail. Thank you very much.

Right now on Capitol Hill, talks are happening to see if lawmakers can get to a final vote as soon as tonight on a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal.

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

What are you hearing, Manu? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, talks are

happening behind the scenes to accelerate the vote that was expected to happen potentially over the weekend or into early next week on final passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. That will include $550 billion in new spending for roads, bridges, broadband, waterways.

This bill is expected to pass. It could happen tonight. But there needs to be an agreement between the two sides to move up final passage. And we will see if they ultimately are able to get an agreement on that.

Now, one big thing that is holding up or at least part of the reason why they have not reached an agreement on the timing is that the official cost analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has not yet been released. That is expected to happen sometime this afternoon.

If it suggests that it does not -- is not fully paid for in the new spending, as the sponsors have been promising, that could be problematic in getting to a final vote. But, at the moment, there's optimism in the Senate that they can get this through. And then the question will be, will it get through the House?

That is a question for the fall, as the Democrats are pushing to move forward on their larger $3.5 trillion package. They want that out of the Senate first before the House would take up that bipartisan infrastructure bill, so still a lot of hurdles to get through.

But it would be a one major hurdle they would overcome if they pass this bill as soon as tonight, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, you have also got some new reporting about fears within the GOP as relates to former President Trump's choice for a Senate bid in Georgia next year. Tell us about it.

RAJU: Yes, Herschel Walker, the football great, is someone that Donald Trump has pushed to run for the Senate in Georgia. He's a former Georgia Bulldog.

He lives in Texas right now. But Walker himself has suggested an openness to running, even that he might do so. And it has effectively frozen the field. A number of candidates have not gotten in because of Trump pushing Walker.

But Republicans that I have talked to are concerned because of Walker's unvetted past. There was an Associated Press story that came out just days ago suggesting real concerns about his past, including him threatening his ex-wife, allegedly.

Democrats -- Republicans are concerned, including the leader of the Republicans. Mitch McConnell has talked to other potential candidates and even suggested that the two former Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue take a second look at the race here, concerns here.


BLACKWELL: All right, Manu, I'm going to interrupt you here to go to the White House.

Thank you for that. I apologize for the interruption.

President Joe Biden will now sign an executive order that relates specifically to ensuring that 50 percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2030 will be zero emissions.

The president, of course, this is part of his effort to combat climate change. We know that the White House says that this will lead to a benefit of up to $900 over the life of a vehicle in fuel savings. We're seeing, of course, the introduction of the president.

Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- now with our brother in the White House here today.

UAW members are excited about the future. The UAW is ready to build these electric cars, trucks, and the batteries that go in them. We know that President Biden has our back. We know he understands that we can grow our industry and preserve and create more good-paying union jobs through his Build Back Better plan.

We know that this president understands that, as we move towards this bright future, none of us will be left behind, that we are the true engine and making this technology work, grow and power America's middle class.

That is why I'm proud to introduce President Biden today, as a UAW member and a proud American.

Mr. President, you have our back and we have yours.

Thank you, President Biden.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please, everybody, sit down, please, please, please.

Good afternoon.

I -- before I begin, let me start with something -- and I apologize -- more somber.

I learned a couple hours ago, when my staff came in, that a close friend of mine, and I think of many of you as well, Rich Trumka died today from a heart attack. The reason I was a few minutes late coming out -- and I apologize for that -- I was talking to his wife and to his son, who called.

He wasn't just a great labor leader. He was a friend. He was a friend of yours too, Debbie, I think. And he's someone I could confide in. And you knew, whatever he said he would do, he would do. It was simple, Tommy. You knew him well as well.

He was always there. He was an American worker, always fighting for working people, protecting their wages, their safety, their pensions, and their ability to build a middle-class life.

I have also believed that the middle class built America, but I know who built the middle class, unions. Unions built the middle class. And there's no doubt that Rich Trumka helped build unions all across this country.

My heart goes out to Barbara and Rich Jr. and the grandkids. And I might point out that I used to always kid him. He was from soft coal country. I was from hard coal country.


BIDEN: We used to have this thing about he used to be president of the United Mine Workers. And that's how he got started.

Folks, let me now turn to today's events -- event. I want to thank Bernie (ph) for the introduction and for being part of the best autoworkers in the world.

Thank you, Ray Curry president of the UAW. You're here. Ray, I was in with you. Good to see you, pal.


BIDEN: And I also want to thank the leaders of the Big Three companies for being here today.

Mary Barra, she's with General Motors. She--


BIDEN: I want to tell you, I think she's one of the reasons we're here today. We had a long discussion on a Zoom call with a bunch of labor leaders and other major business leaders.

And she made a commitment. And she's keeping it.

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Jim Farley of Ford. And, by the way--


BIDEN: -- my dad was in the automobile business. He sold Fords for a while, but mostly General Motors projects -- products.

But you see that sucker over there? Zero to 60 in 4.1 seconds. It's all electric. I will tell you what. And I want to say publicly I have a commitment from Mary, when they make the first electric Corvette, I get to drive it, right, Mary?


BIDEN: You think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding.

And my entire Secret Service detail went, oh, my God. What is going -- and Mark Stewart of Stellantis.

I -- Mark, we used to have one of your big plants in my state. And, as the man I'm about to recognize -- you know, a special thanks to all the members of Congress who are here, but I want to particular recognition to my chairman, my buddy. We served together for years, Tommy Carper.