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U.S. Averaging 514 Deaths a Day as Pandemic of Unvaccinated Worsens; New York Lawmakers Plot Path Forward on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D- NY) Impeachment; Senate Moves Toward Final Vote on $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Bill. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired August 9, 2021 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:04]

JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: And a last-minute never mind from the California Republican party. State GOP now says it will not endorse any of the four candidates running to replace of Governor Gavin Newsom, who, of course, faces a recall election next month.

We'll see you back here tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello and thanks for being with us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Right now, on average, 21 Americans are dying from COVID each hour. A tragic, preventable statistic as the delta variant grips this nation. And moments ago, more proof that vaccines are saving lives. The CDC just out with new data, taking the delta variant into account and it reaffirms more than 99.99 percent of people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death.

And while right now, this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. It might not stay that way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: But if you give the virus a chance to continue to change, you're leading to a vulnerability that we might get a worse variant and then that will impact not only the unvaccinated, that will impact the vaccinated because that variant could evade the protection of the vaccines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: The daily U.S. case count is now the highest it has been in six months. Hospitalizations are doubled what they were two weeks ago and vaccination rates just are not keeping up with the spread of this virus.

All of this as schools across the nation reopen, are prepared to welcome back our kids, and that is raising a lot of fears and questions as well. Are they safe?

In Florida, one in five kids tested is infected. CNN's Natasha Chen is in Orlando. And, Natasha, I know you've been seeing some really long lines for people trying to get tested today.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Ana. And it can be for many reasons, we're told, from the health staff that some employers might be asking for tests. Airlines might require tests. And some people have been telling the health staff that they might have been exposed and are not vaccinated perhaps.

So this is the line we're talking about. I think we've seen the same steady flow of cars since this started, you know, 8:00, 9:00 this morning. When you get to the orange cones over there on the right-hand side, that is -- that has a sign over there saying that that's the two-hour mark. So if you're at those orange cones, it's a two-hour wait. And, of course, there are cars lined up even behind that.

Now, on the other side of the street where we are, there is a vaccination site. There's no line to get a vaccine right now. We did talk to the first person in line this morning to get a vaccine for his son, his son's second shot. This parent happens to be a nurse. So, I asked him what his job is like right now. He said it's four times harder than it was at the beginning of the summer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRANCE H., FLORIDA PARENT WHO BROUGHT SON TO GET VACCINATED: It's people's right if they want to wear a mask or not wear a mask, but it's common sense. You see a lot of people dying. I see a lot of people dying. And these same people that are dying were people that didn't want the vaccine and now, unfortunately, on their death bed, they're saying they wish they should have taken the vaccine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Right now, and as you mentioned, we're seeing a positivity rate among younger people higher than the statewide average positivity rate. So it is really affecting the 19 and under age group. And we also know that it's really affecting at least one church right now in Jacksonville, Impact Church, where the pastor says that six people have died from their congregation within the last couple of weeks. Four out of those six people were under 35, young and healthy people. But all six of them, the only thing they had in common, they were not vaccinated.

So, that pastor is now urging his congregation to consider a vaccine, saying that God is the one giving wisdom to the scientists to create the vaccine. So he says faith and science can work together. Ana?

CABRERA: And let that church be an example of just a microcosm of what we're seeing happening right now across the country. It is stark to hear that story. Thank you, Natasha Chen, for your reporting.

Let's head to Texas now where mask mandates in schools are also not allowed, districts now scrambling to get safety plans in place with school just days away there. And CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro just got back from Austin.

Evan, how are school officials there planning to keep kids safe?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, as you mentioned, the one thing that the superintendent of the Austin Independent School District wants to do, she can't do, which is require masks in all school buildings.

It's a simple thing that the CDC has added to guidance this year for schools to prevent that spread of COVID, the delta variant of COVID.

[13:05:01]

I went down to Texas, I spoke with her a bit about this. And it was one of the most emotional stories I've done about education since this whole thing began.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE ELIZALDE, SUPERINTENDENT, AISD: Because I have in my mind, what if a child dies on my watch? How do I go say to you, I'm really sorry, we did everything we could. The governor's executive order kept me from -- like what does that do to a parent, like just thinking about that, like I'm like, I don't want to have that conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So, it's a scary situation for administrators and for parents, but there are things the schools are doing to keep kids safe. In Austin, for example, they have gone ahead and tried to get around the governor's spirit of his ban on mask mandates by mandating them on buses. They say, look, everybody who rides a bus has to wear a mask. Once they get to school, they're going to have distancing in classrooms. And at lunch, they're going to have assigned seating with plexiglass, that they're also going to be -- these kids are going to be in pods to track them and contact trace them as they go. These are the kinds of things that they say they can do to keep schools as safe as possible but obviously it's not that thing that they really want to do.

Now, there's some indication that maybe there might be a bit of drama down in Texas. The Dallas ISD, just a couple of hours ago, announced it will go ahead with a mask mandate despite the governor's orders saying that they can't have one. I called Austin and said, are you going to do the same thing? They said there's a board meeting tonight and you should stay tuned.

CABRERA: All right. Safety first, always. Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you.

With us now, Dr. John Williams, he's the chief of Infectious Diseases at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. And, Dr. Williams, it's great to have your expertise. Thank you for being with us.

You're a pediatric infectious disease specialist. The trends are worsening as schools are starting or preparing to open. Right now, 75 percent of the U.S. population lives in a county with high community transmission. How safe is returning to school?

DR. JOHN WILLIAMS, INFECTIOUS DISEASES DIVISION CHIEF, UPMC CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Well, if everyone who's over 12 who's eligible for a vaccine will get vaccinated and if our kids, staff, teachers and families wear a mask when they're in indoor settings, that will reduce the risk for children dramatically.

CABRERA: That is a big, big if, because right now, kids who are eligible are only getting vaccinated at a much lower rate than the rest of the country. About a third of eligible kids, school-aged students between 12 and 17 have been vaccinated at this point.

And so I'm wondering, do you think at some point is now the time maybe to implement vaccine mandates for students?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it's best to work with people to help them recognize that, as a parent, as a pediatrician myself, one of our primary goals is to keep our children safe. My wife and I have four kids. They're all vaccinated.

You know, we know that severe disease from COVID is rare in kids, but it happens. And hundreds of children have died from COVID and many thousands have been vaccinated -- hospitalized. So vaccination can reduce the ratings of severe disease significantly in children.

CABRERA: Obviously, there are still so many children who aren't even eligible for the vaccine under 12. And so that's most elementary school-aged kids, right? And in Florida, as well as in Texas, we know that the mask debate has been a big one and you can see there in Florida, the test positivity among kids is above 20 percent right now. That means more than one in five kids are testing positive if they're, you know, getting the vaccine, or the COVID test, I should say. So that's higher than the average positivity rate statewide there.

Why do you think so many children are getting COVID right now?

WILLIAMS: Well, there are really a few reasons. One is the delta variant is much more contagious than other strains of the virus and the delta variant is the dominant virus in the United States right now. And then we know that the best way to protect kids from any disease, if they can't be vaccinated, is for those of us around them to be vaccinated.

So it's not just protecting myself with a vaccine, it's protecting my family, friends and loved ones. And more of us need to be vaccinated around these young kids and wear our masks around these young kids to prevent the spread to those young children.

CABRERA: Given your area of expertise, I'm curious, Dr. Fauci has said COVID-19 is unlike any disease he has studied in his decades of research. When it comes to children and COVID impacts, how does it compare to other infectious diseases? Where does it rank?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's a great question. It actually -- in terms of infecting and spreading among children, it's not as similar as respiratory seasonal virus or flu or metapneumovirus. These are viruses that spread primarily among children and our kids give them to us.

COVID is mainly spreading among adults and we give it to our children. And although people say, well, the rate of death is very low, as a pediatrician, I'll never say only a few hundred deaths, you know, is a low number.

[13:10:06]

Typically, in a common year, somewhere around 200 to 300 children die of influenza in U.S., so more have already died from COVID than die from influenza in a typical year. This is serious business, people.

CABRERA: Yes. And so what is your message to parents who are hesitant to get their child vaccinated because they feel like this vaccine, this virus just hasn't been around long enough?

WILLIAMS: I think a lot of people have those concerns. The vaccines have been studied, this technology, for over ten years, and the vaccines have now been given to hundreds of millions of people. So we know they're safe and effective. And, in fact, we have more data on their safety and effectiveness than pretty much any other drug or vaccine we've ever had.

And I would encourage people to think about the rare but serious risk to their children. Tragically, about 600 children under 13 a year die in the U.S. from car crashes, but we're not stopping wearing seatbelts. 300 to 400 kids under 13 have died from COVID already. We should all be trying to vaccinate older kids and wear masks to protect them.

CABRERA: Dr. John Williams, thank you so much for that message and for all you do. We really appreciate you joining us.

WILLIAMS: Good to be with you.

CABRERA: Ahead, she was executive assistant number one in the New York attorney general report that found Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women. And today, Brittany Commisso speaking publicly about him allegedly groping her.

Plus, U.S. troops move out, the Taliban move in seizing cities across Afghanistan. Will the White House shift strategy?

And a dire new climate report. You know all that extreme weather we've been seeing, like heat waves and drought? What could happen in your lifetime without drastic changes now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:15:00]

CABRERA: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's days in office could be numbered. A source telling CNN the lieutenant governor is huddling with staff and creating a post-Cuomo roadmap. This as state lawmakers plot a path forward on impeachment, including a plan to let the governor formally respond to sexual harassment allegations. Now, those allegations have led to one criminal complaint so far, and this morning, the woman who filed that complaint publicly detailed her accusations against the governor.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is here to get us caught up on all these developments. Shimon, it is the first time we're hearing from this particular accuser. What's her story?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is the first time we're hearing from her. We've heard of her story. Certainly, the attorney general in describing her allegations referred to her as executive assistant number one, but it is the first time she herself is getting to tell her story.

It is the most serious and damning allegations against the governor, which, as you said, are now at the center of a criminal investigation. And here is how she has described what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRITTANY COMMISSO, GOVERNOR CUOMO ACCUSER: He gets up and he goes to give me a hug and I could tell immediately when he hugged me, it was probably the most sexually aggressive manner than any of the other hugs he had given me. It was then that I said, you know, Governor, you know, my words were, you're going to get us in trouble.

And I thought to myself, that probably wasn't the best thing to say, but at that time, I was so afraid that one of the mansion staff that they were going to come up and see this. And think, oh, you know, is that what she comes here for? And that's not what I came there for and that's not who I am. And I was terrified of that.

And when I said that, he walked over, shut the door, so hard to the point where I thought, for sure, someone downstairs must think, they must think if they heard that, what is going on, came back to me and that's when he put his hand up my blouse and cupped my breast over my bra.

I exactly remember looking down, seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself, oh, my God, this is happening? It happened so quick. He didn't say anything. When I stopped it, he just pulled away and walked away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PROKUPECZ: Now, Ana, the governor and his lawyers have denied these allegations. It's all now up to the D.A.'s office. She has yet to tell her story to the Albany County D.A., which is running this investigation. She filed that criminal complaint with the Albany sheriff.

The next step would be that she gets interviewed by the D.A.'s office. We're waiting to hear on when that happens. And then we'll see if the D.A. feels they have enough here to pursue a criminal case.

CABRERA: And we've also learned one of the governor's most loyal and high ranking aides has resigned. What can you tell us about that, Shimon?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. People that I've talked to who work for her and worked in the governor's office describe her as a loyalist of the loyalists, like she is the most loyal person to the governor. She's well-known to all of us in the public. She sat by the governor for many, many months during the pandemic in all of his briefings, Melissa DeRosa. That's her there on your screen. She resigned last night.

It certainly shocked people that were close to the governor, some of the people who used to work for the governor. They certainly did not expect to see her go as quickly as she has.

The thing here is with her is that she is in the attorney general's report.

[13:20:01]

They say she did some retaliation against one of the alleged victims, where she released her employee file to the media, so the attorney general took issue with that.

And, of course, now, the big issue is who is next to resign from the governor's inner circle.

CABRERA: And it's interesting that she is so loyal to Cuomo and yet she didn't even say his name in her departure announcement. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you.

We have breaking news now. The Defense Department expected to mandate the coronavirus vaccine for active military by mid-September. Barbara Starr is standing by at the Pentagon. What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, at this hour, we are waiting for a memo from the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, and a message to the force, to the troops, from General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Austin will say that he is now seeking that approval from the president to make the vaccine mandatory.

This is something that had been in the works so it's not a complete surprise, but what is interesting is they're also saying, make the vaccine mandatory or await the FDA full use authorization, whichever comes first. Either way, the vaccine will be mandatory by mid- September, according to the secretary, for U.S. troops.

Up until now, the vaccine has been voluntary because it did not have that full FDA approval. Emergency use authorization is what the vaccine was being administered under, and under that, it was going to be very difficult to make it mandatory unless the president gave a full waiver.

It was several days ago when President Biden, as part of his overall effort to boost vaccination rates in the country, said he wanted the Pentagon to take a look at making it mandatory. Now, this afternoon, we expect in a very short period of time the official announcement that all of that is underway, that the vaccine will be mandatory for the active duty U.S. military by mid-September. Ana?

CABRERA: Barbara, thank you for that reporting. Please stand by.

The Taliban seizing cities across Afghanistan, one Afghan official put it this way, things are getting nasty.

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[13:25:00]

CABRERA: Less than 24 hours from now, we expect the Senate to have that final vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. This includes money for upgrading roads, transit, airports and much more. But even if this clears the Senate, approval by the House is far from guaranteed.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Lauren Fox joins us from Capitol Hill. Lauren, what's next for this bill?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it's inevitable that this bill is expected to pass in the upcoming hours, but it could happen overnight. That's because, because of Senate timing, what you've seen over the last several days is Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican from the state of Tennessee, is saying he's not going to allow this bill to move any sooner than he wants it to.

Now, there are some efforts underway to try to get some kind of agreement so that senators could vote at a more sane hour tomorrow. That also a big accomplishment for the president, right, because if you pass this bill, you want to give the White House some opportunity to do a lap celebrating the fact that they pushed this through the U.S. Senate.

Now, that's just the first step. This bill will, of course, have to go to the House of Representatives. They are on recess right now. We don't expect them to come back. So it's going to sit there for several weeks, Ana, before it makes it over in the House of Representative.

We also expect that Democrats are going to have to move forward in the Senate this week with their budget resolution. That will set the framework necessary so they can pass a more robust infrastructure package in the upcoming weeks.

So a lot of moving parts happening, the Senate expected to go on recess by the end of the week, but they have a few more items of business to get through before then. Ana?

CABRERA: Thanks for that update, Lauren Fox.

As the U.S. leaves, Taliban forces are taking over Afghanistan, five major cities just since Friday. And one Afghan security official telling CNN things are getting nasty. The United Nations says, in just the past three days, more than two dozen children have died in the escalating violence. Take a look at this time lapse. It shows the chilling speed with which the militant group has taken over since the U.S. began pulling forces back in May.

And our Nick Paton Walsh has an extensive reporting from Afghanistan. He is joining us as well as Barbara Starr back with us from the Pentagon.

Nick, just the speed with which the Taliban have been able to do this is stunning. What does it tell you?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. I mean, a lot of the hope had still been, I think, within U.S. officials and Afghan government officials that they might still be able to hold the city centers. But what's happened since Friday is dramatic. The worst moment, I think, really, it's fair to say, in the last 20 years of the war for the Afghan government. We've seen five provincial capitals fall since Friday, three just yesterday alone and a key one, Kunduz, a major city there.

Now, I should point out none of this is necessarily irreversible.

[13:30:03]

And in Kunduz, the Taliban have moved in twice in the last six years and have been kicked out, but that was back when Afghan --