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Interview With White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy; Criminal Complaint Filed Against Andrew Cuomo; Vaccination Push. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 6, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. Thank you for joining me. Alisyn is off.

The U.S. has now reached a major milestone in this fight against COVID. Half of the country is now fully vaccinated. The CDC reports that more than 165 million people have received their shots. But the Delta variant is swarming this country.

The average daily case count is above 98,000 now. Hospitals are filling up with patients, almost all of them unvaccinated. And now the White House is thinking about withholding federal funding to get places like nursing homes to mandate vaccinations.

The president continued his full-court press to get more shots in arms just a short time ago.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, cases are going to go up before they come back down. It's a pandemic of the unvaccinated. I know I have said that constantly, and others have as well, the vaccination (sic) of the unvaccinated.

And it's needless -- taking a needless toll on our country. About 400 people will die because of the Delta variant in this country, a tragedy, because virtually all of these deaths were preventable if people had gotten vaccinated.


BLACKWELL: CNN's Nick Valencia is focusing on the COVID hot spots. He's starting with Florida, which now leads the nation in new infections.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): COVID cases on pace to surpass 100,000 a day again, with the Delta variant spreading as easily as chicken pox, now accounting for almost all new COVID-19 cases in the country. DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH, EMORY UNIVERSITY:

What has happened is that public health is no longer being followed in many places. And when you don't follow the principles of public health, you should not expect good results.

VALENCIA: Florida remains one of the hottest hot spots in this surge, leading the nation in number of adults and children admitted into the hospital.

But Republican Governor Ron DeSantis says he's not backing down in his fight against masks and vaccine passports.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): But in terms of imposing any restrictions, that's not happening in Florida. It's harmful. It's destructive. It does not work.

VALENCIA: In Louisiana, the emotional toll on front-line workers is evident. The state currently has the highest rate of new COVID-19 infections per capita in the nation.

WANDA RIVERS, LOUISIANA NURSE: We're stressed because we thought that this was getting better. And now we're working as hard, even harder than we did a few months ago.

VALENCIA: The push to mandate vaccines continues to be a polarizing issue, especially in schools.

American businesses have stepped up, adding to the vaccination momentum. United Airlines announced it will require vaccines for all its employees. And this week, California became the first state in the nation to require all health care workers be fully vaccinated.

In Michigan, more than 80 cases were linked to a three-day country music and camping festival. Some of those infected didn't attend, but contracted the virus from someone who did.

With the upcoming Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, there are concerns of another possible super-spreader event. Large crowds are expected in a red state that has pushed back against COVID safety protocols. But the city is taking some preventive measures.

CHRISTINA STEELE, STURGIS PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: These are just little tests that you get that you take home. You still do the nose swab, but you have results within about 15 minutes.

VALENCIA: CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the agency's models project a huge surge nationwide, but says quick action could avert a wider crisis.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: If we work together, unify as a country, vaccinate everyone who is interested and unvaccinated, and put our masks on to prevent disease, we could really control this in a matter of weeks. However, our models show that, if we don't do so, we could be up to several hundred thousand cases a day, similar to our surge in early January.

VALENCIA: West Virginia's governor issued a dire warning.

GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R-WV): We're running out of time. You're absolutely running out of time.


VALENCIA: And with COVID cases trending up in the country, masks continue to be a hot button issue and, for some, whether to wear them is an evolving issue.

Recently, New Jersey's Governor Phil Murphy said it would take a deterioration of COVID-19 data in his state for him to require masks. Earlier today, though, he announced that all staff and students K-12 will be mandated to wear masks when they start the new school year in just a couple weeks -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Nick Valencia in Atlanta, thank you so much.


Dr. Zeke Emanuel is the vice provost of global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and was a health policy adviser in the Obama administration. He's one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act. He's also the author of the book "Which Country Has the World's Best Health Care?"

Thank you, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, for being with us.

I want to start with one of the considerations. Preliminary discussions, we should say that, inside the administration about potentially leveraging federal funding to get people, especially, namely at nursing homes, to get vaccinated, the employees there. Do you think that's a good idea for this administration to pursue in?


I think, from a health standpoint, getting nursing home staff, which run about 60 percent vaccinated, fully vaccinated is the best way to prevent outbreaks that we have seen happening in long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and other rehabilitation hospitals.

So, I do think it's urgent. And just last Monday, whatever, 10 days -- 10, 11 days ago, we, along with 60 health care organizations, called for employers in the health care space to mandate all health care workers be vaccinated.

I do think having all health care workers vaccinated is an imperative. We pledge to do whatever's important to promote the health and well- being of our patients. And, certainly, getting a COVID vaccine qualifies as promoting their health and well-being, not transmitting the virus to them, whether they're in a hospital, a physician office, or a long-term care facility.

So, I think that's a really important objective that we need to expeditiously achieve. BLACKWELL: So, let's stay with the mandates that you say that you

have supported for health care.

How far should the government go? We know that there is now the call for federal employees to be vaccinated or get regular testing. How far should this go? Should the military as well, should it be mandated for them?

EMANUEL: Yes, I have called for the military to be vaccinated. The last thing we need is for our national defense to be threatened by COVID, and the best way to protect the military is vaccination of all the people defending the country.

I also think private employers, they just can't sort of say, well, we're -- the government has to do it. I think having private employers step up is very, very important and doing their part, especially if they're calling workers together.

I was very pleased to see that Tyson Foods, where processing in the foods plants, we know, have had large outbreaks because workers are close together, has also required vaccination. United Airlines, where you have lots of people coming together, is requiring its workers to be vaccinated.


EMANUEL: So, this really is a whole country effort, and I think you have seen a change in the psychology over the last couple of weeks, maybe a little longer, to, look, we just have to pull together.

This isn't about individuals exercising their freedom. This is about all the community coming together to protect ourselves. And I think the president's 100 percent right. Look, if we had vaccinations up at 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent, the Delta variant would be -- it would be troublesome, but it would not be causing hospitalization surges and these surges in deaths that we're seeing.

And I think that's really, really important. The president is absolutely right. We have to get the unvaccinated people vaccinated.


EMANUEL: And we have tried everything. And mandates by employers and others is absolutely the next step.

BLACKWELL: So, I mentioned at the top that you're one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act.

And I want your response to this proposition from two health care experts. They wrote this in "The New York Times," and I will read it here.

"The Affordable Care Act allows insurance to charge smokers up to 50 percent more than what nonsmokers pay for some type of health plans. What if the financial cost of not getting vaccinated were just too high? If patients thought about the price they might need to pay for their own care, maybe they would reconsider remaining unprotected."

Essentially, should the unvaccinated be charged higher premiums?

EMANUEL: Well, there are good arguments to say, if you're taking known risks that increase the costs, you ought to pay for that.


EMANUEL: On the other hand, this really is health insurance, and we don't want to raise the price and then get people uninsured.

And that's one of the things I worry about. Precisely the people who need insurance would then become uninsured because the price would be prohibitive. That would be counterproductive in our system. I think there are other ways of getting those people vaccinated than raising the premium and having them say, well I really can't afford that premium for health insurance.



So, let me ask you about the FDA potentially laying out this strategy for booster shots, which we have been talking about since most people got their first shot of one of the vaccines. That could come in the next couple of weeks.

What should that look like? Should the hot spots be prioritized? Or should we look at individual profiles, immunocompromised people first? What do you think? Age, potentially?

EMANUEL: Well, I'm not a -- I'm not clear what boostering in hot spots -- we have more than enough vaccines, so we can booster if we needed to.

It seems to me that, if you look around the world, countries are going this all different ways. Israel, it's 60 and above. The U.K., it's 70 and above. France, it's 75 and above, and those people who are sick. There's not -- the real science isn't here.

What we do know is that immunocompromised people, cancer patients, patients who are taking immunosuppressants, organ recipients who are on immunosuppressants, they probably do need to have a booster. The science about older people or just after a period of time, I think, is less clear that having a booster is essential to protecting the country.

And we have to remember that the United States is leading the world in distributing vaccine to other countries. The Delta variant got here because people in other countries weren't vaccinated. This is not only a whole-of-the-United States effort. This has to be a whole-of-the- world effort.

It's going to take us to the end of 2022 to get all people in the world vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: All right.

EMANUEL: But that's really going to be essential to reducing the chance of serious variants like the Delta variant coming into the United States and, again, threatening our health and wellbeing.

BLACKWELL: All right, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, thank you for your insight, sir.

EMANUEL: Thank you. Glad to be here.

BLACKWELL: Glad to have you.

A current staffer of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has now filed a criminal complaint against him with the Albany Sheriff's Office. The woman has been identified as executive assistant number one in the attorney general's report. She's one of 11 women who accused the governor of sexual harassment.

The complaint was confirmed to CNN by an attorney representing the accuser and by a second source with direct knowledge.

CNN's Erica Hill is here.

So what do we know about this specific complaint?

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, this would be the first known criminal complaint against the governor.

As you mentioned, it was filed by executive assistant number one, still anonymous. We do know that the anonymous accuser sat for an informal interview on Thursday with the Albany Sheriff's Office, and this was reportedly filed on Thursday.

This is also regarding an account that we know is in that A.G.'s report that was also referenced specifically at the press conference on Tuesday. And this is that allegation of groping that was brought up. Here's how it was addressed in the press conference.


ANNE CLARK, SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR: On November 16, 2020, in the executive mansion, the governor hugged executive assistant number one and reached under her blouse to grab her breast.

This was the culmination of a pattern of inappropriate sexual conduct, including numerous close and intimate hugs, where the governor held her so closely that her breasts were pressed against his body and he sometimes ran his hands up and down is -- her back while he did so. There were also several occasions on which the governor grabbed her butt.


HILL: Now, in response, in both his taped statement and also in this 85-page rebuttal, essentially, that we got from the governor's attorneys, he said very clearly, this just did not happen. Those were his words, Victor.

Now, just to put a little bit more in context here too, we also heard from his camp. We are waiting to hear from his attorneys. We're told there will be a virtual briefing with them at 3:30, so we will, of course, be monitoring that as well.

This is also, though, I should point out -- the governor said this never happened. This is a specific incident that the governor's -- that the governor knew about, that the executive chamber knew about. They were notified in March. They actually filed information with the Albany P.D., per state policy, once they were told this person who had retained an attorney was not filing.

BLACKWELL: All right, Erica Hill with all the developments, thank you so much.

Wildfires are ravaging the West. Up next, I will speak to the White House national climate adviser about what the federal government is doing to help.

Also, a positive July jobs report shows Americans are heading back to work, but some experts warn that the coronavirus, this Delta variant, could upend the momentum.



BLACKWELL: The Dixie wildfire in Northern California has exploded in size. It is now the largest wildfire burning in the country. And fire officials say there's going to be a long fight against it.

The historic mountain town of Greenville is in ruins. Look at this, more than 100 homes destroyed there. There's practically nothing left on Main Street.

Meantime, the River wildfire is raging just 80 miles South and has already destroyed dozens of buildings.

CNN's Josh Campbell is in Chico, California, near the Dixie wildfire.

So, what are you hearing there, seeing from the people who live there and the people trying to stop that fire?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, we're getting new details on that devastation that hit the town of Greenville.

We're told that over 100 homes were devastated as this fire moved through. We're also told that four people remain unaccounted for. Not everyone heeded the warnings to evacuate.


Now, the sheriff here, who is a native of Greenville, he spoke yesterday about the devastation that hit his hometown. Take a listen.


TODD JOHNS, PLUMAS COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, SHERIFF: Despite efforts of firefighters, aerial resources, and law enforcement, the fire spread into the community of Greenville and caused mass destruction.

For those of you that don't know, I'm a lifelong resident of Greenville. And I want to start by saying my heart is crushed by what has occurred there. And to the folks that have lost residences and businesses, I have met some of them already. Their life is now forever changed. And all I can tell you is, I'm sorry.


CAMPBELL: Just devastating.

Now, as far as where things stand now, this fire here, the Dixie Fire, over 400,000 acres right now. Over 5,000 firefighters personnel are trying to contain it, currently at 35 percent containment.

Victor, of course, as we cover these, we have to talk about the cause. Experts continue to tell us that climate change is at play here. We're also hearing from veteran firefighters about this trend, something they have never seen.

Take a listen to what one senior firefighter said.


CHRIS CARLTON, FOREST SUPERVISOR, PLUMAS NATIONAL FOREST: We're seeing truly frightening fire behavior, and I don't know how to overstate that, but we have a lot of veteran firefighters who have served for 20, 30 years and have never seen behavior like this.


CAMPBELL: So, the work of these thousands of firefighters continues here as they try to stop this blaze, as you mentioned, Victor, this fire now the largest fire burning in the nation.

BLACKWELL: All right, Josh Campbell for us there in Chico.

Josh, thank you.

It's not just California. Firefighters are battling large wildfires in more than a dozen states, close to two million acres have gone up in smoke and flames. President Obama -- President Biden, I should say, says urgent action is needed to deal with this and has met with Republican and Democratic governors to determine how the federal government can help.

Gina McCarthy is the White House national climate adviser and former EPA administrator.

Thank you so much for being with me.

I want to start here with a question. I have worked in -- in Florida for many years. I have covered a lot of storms. I have covered a lot of fires, and I have learned, unfortunately, that people care about the fire that threatens their community. They care about the storm that's coming to them.

How do you get people to care about what is happening that's not directly affecting them? Let's start there.

GINA MCCARTHY, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL CLIMATE ADVISER: Well, let's start there by talking about climate change not as a planetary problem, but as a people problem.

You know, President Biden met with all of the governors in the Western states to talk about these wildfires, these droughts that we're seeing, this excess heat. There is no question, I don't think, in anyone's mind that the climate has changed and we have to address this new normal that we're facing.

But we also have to take immediate action as a government and as states to work together to start addressing the challenge of climate change and tackling it in a more robust and aggressive way.

And so President Biden is enormously sympathetic about the damage that he is seeing, the lives that are being lost. But part of that empathy is to turn it into action for everybody, to make sure that we're protecting our communities.

The only way we can do that is to jump on the -- and tackle our climate change. That's why the president was out in the South Lawn yesterday standing with the Big Three automakers and the union of autoworkers to talk about how the shift to clean energy is going to be an opportunity of a lifetime to create good-paying union jobs.

We have to convince people that what we have to do to address these climate change impacts, so they won't get worse, is not just to be better prepared for what's happening now, but to make sure that we're investing in our future.


MCCARTHY: The U.S. can win the 21st century, which is what President Biden wants to do, if we start investing in ourselves.


MCCARTHY: We're talking about the bipartisan infrastructure plan. We're talking about the bipartisan -- the Build Back Better plan. These are investments we need to make in ourselves to protect our communities.

This is about us.

BLACKWELL: Yes, let me ask you about -- you obviously point out that there's a lot of work to do, right?

I have got a question about if you have the people that you need to do it. MCCARTHY: Yes.

BLACKWELL: There's this "New York Times" report that hundreds of federal jobs in climate and environmental science are vacant, many of them as a result of cuts or positions that weren't filled by the Trump administration.

Let me read from the story here: "The Interior Department has lost scientists who study the impacts of drought, heat waves and rising seas caused by a warming planet. The Agriculture Department has lost economists who study the impacts of climate change on the food supply. Energy has a shortage of experts who design efficiency standards for appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators to reduce the pollution they emit."


And rehiring has been slow. There also is a national security nexus here. What are you doing to fill those positions?

MCCARTHY: Well, I would not suggest that it's been slow.

But it is challenging, because we do have to rebuild. The prior administration did everything it could to dismantle our ability to do science, and they rolled back a lot of standards, including our car standards, which is what we were talking about yesterday to actually move forward with, so we can start capturing the car market again in the United States.

But you also make some very good points about the fact that we have to look at every opportunity now to start making change. I think you might have heard that there was announcement in FEMA today where we actually have identified money that we can put on the table. It's a historic investment of almost $3.5 billion.

That's because we know people need -- they need to be able to protect themselves today. And we're doing everything we can, while we're looking at the Hill, to actually make investments that are going to make this shift possible.


MCCARTHY: We need the investments to build our E.V. infrastructure. We need the investments to support our investment in our -- cleaning our forests and designing our new strategies for water.

BLACKWELL: Well, let's talk about these electric vehicles.


BLACKWELL: Let's talk about these electric vehicles...


BLACKWELL: ... and the president signing this executive order trying to, by 2030, make sure that half of the vehicles sold in the U.S. are electric vehicles.

I went back and looked at the June numbers; 4 percent, less than 4 percent of the vehicles sold in June were electric vehicles.


BLACKWELL: Fifty percent by 2030, is that realistic? How do you get there?

MCCARTHY: Well, first of all, we did a couple of rulemakings as well that we put out, because we had to make up for lost time from the prior administration.

But the reason I know it's doable is, I was standing with the Big Three, and they were saying they could do that and more. We were standing with the United Auto Workers, who said, you know what? I want that manufacturing in the United States. If you get those tax credits for consumers, for manufacturing, you get those rebates for consumers that you all proposed, we know that we can make this happen.

Look, we have been ceding so much of the supply chain for electric vehicles and the manufacturing itself to other countries like China. It is time for us to capture those back. That's what this is all about.

And make no mistake. The analysis tells us and these companies that we can get there at this level, because this is the future. We just need to invest in that future now.


All right, White House national climate adviser, former EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, thank you.

MCCARTHY: Great to be here. Thanks.

BLACKWELL: All right.

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