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Expert Says, Now is One of the Most Dangerous Times of Pandemic for Kids; Soon, Biden Touts Senate Wins on Infrastructure $3.5 Budget Plan. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired August 11, 2021 - 13:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. We have a busy afternoon taking shape both here in the CNN Newsroom and across the nation.

COVID cases keep rising, available hospital beds are vanishing and the partisan battle lines are deepening. The nation's schools are now both the battleground and the focus of growing alarm.

Also, just minutes from now, we'll hear from President Biden. He is pushing his massive build back better agenda, which just got a boost by a Senate vote that took place overnight.

And next hour, we'll hear from New York's next governor and the first woman to fill that role in state history. Kathy Hochul will succeed Andrew Cuomo, who was brought down by a sexual harassment scandal, resigning in disgrace.

Let's begin with the coronavirus health crisis and specifically its worsening impact on the young. CNN's Amara Walker is in Fort Lauderdale and our Nick Valencia is in New Orleans.

Amara, there is a brewing battle between Florida's governor and the school system in Broward County where you are. Tell us about that.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana. The battle is over whether or not schools should be requiring masks regardless of vaccination status. And right now -- this per CDC guidance, by the way. And right now, there's a total of three school districts in Florida that are defying the governor's executive order that prohibits mask mandates, and that will be Broward County public schools here, Leon and Alachua Counties.

Now, the state education commissioner, as we know, sent a letter to all of these districts to tell them that they are being investigated for noncompliance and that their salaries, the salaries of the superintendents and school board members, could be withheld as potential punishment.

This mask fight happening amidst this backdrop of a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases here in the state of Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis saying that he is unaware that 200 ventilators were sent earlier this week to the state, and this is according to a health administration official.

And he's also saying this morning that this delta variant is having a small impact on children. Take a listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Some people, yes, you hear a lot of stuff. Does delta behave differently vis-a-vis kids than the kind of the previous iterations, which, fortunately, have a very minor impact, particularly on young kids. And the answer is, in terms of the hospitalization percentage, we have not seen any change in that in Florida. Clearly, we're at the top of a wave here so you're going to see more cases and infections diagnosed.


WALER: Well, here are the facts. Here is the data from the Health and Human Services Department. Pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the state of Florida is more than four times higher than it was a month ago. We're hearing a lot from hospitals in the state saying that they are feeling overwhelmed. In fact, Florida right now has one of the highest hospitalization rates in the country, Ana.

CABRERA: And one of the highest case counts, and that's still growing as well. Thank you, Amara, stand by.

Nick, you are there in New Orleans at Children's Hospital New Orleans. What are you seeing there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, hospitals here are overwhelmed, and much of that has to do with the emergence of the delta variant. Frontline workers tell me they are seeing children get more sick, that they are being hit harder because of the delta variant and we got a chance to see just how devastating of a situation they're dealing with here firsthand, given exclusive into the pediatric ward at Children's Hospital of New Orleans. And what we saw were babies, some of them just a few weeks old, struggling to take a breath, fill their tiny lungs with air.

These are children, some of them who had underlying conditions. All of them were unvaccinated and particularly vulnerable and susceptible to COVID-19. Inside, we met the parents of Nelson Alexis who told me that they are unvaccinated. But after seeing their child fight for his life, they're rethinking that decision.


QUINTETTA EDWARDS, MOTHER OF COVID-19 PATIENT: I would heed everyone to take precautions because it is serious. It is serious and no one wants to sit up here and watch their child fight for their life.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VALENCIA: Here are the numbers. Louisiana in the last three days has had a reported 16,000 COVID-19 cases. Of those, 18 percent are children. Overall, 1,500 children are sick here under the age of five with COVID-19.

And just to give you some perspective here, Ana, as of today, the ICU is full. Every room we walked past was at capacity. It was just a month ago where they only had one case of COVID-19 in the pediatric ICU. Ana?

CABRERA: As a parent myself, which just makes me sick to think about what's happening to some of these children. Thank you, Nick Valencia and Amara Walker, I appreciate both your reporting.

Now, the partisan division of this pandemic is creating some parental divides as well.


Let's take a closer look at some new polling on this.

Tom Foreman is joining. What are you learning, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What I'm learning is that in places like Florida, in places like New Orleans, my old home area of Louisiana, people are just digging in despite those numbers. Look at this from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Already have vaccinated their children, how many people have done that? Now, 41 percent have done that compared to June, when it was 34 percent. That's a good sign. But the same poll found that one in five of the people have kids over 12 who could be vaccinated, one in five are saying no way, no time, never going to do it.

That's expressing in other ways too. If you look at the question of schools out there reopening and all the worry about exactly what you see there just exploding, should schools require a COVID vaccine? Yes, 42 percent of the people polled, no, 58 percent. And this is absolutely driven, yes, by political divides, by Republicans who don't want this, by people who are -- a lot of them are less educated.

And then there are people who have these fears in society that somehow their children will be vulnerable to something terrible. One of the stories you hear very often people saying, will it affect their fertility going forward. CDC says, zero, no, no evidence of that, whatsoever, but people believe it.

And should schools require the unvaccinated to wear masks? That's where it does change. 63 percent of the people polled said, yes, do that. 36 percent say, no, again, heavily Republican, heavily people who just philosophically hate this whole idea. But most people in America say, yes, put masks on kids, make it safer.

Politically, though, look at the map. These are states that have already decided that they want to block any kind of mandate, anything, vaccine, masks, anything, those states doing that. A few saying, you got to do it, but right now, this is a significant problem because the virus will not stop at the borders. It will go where it's going to go. Ana?

CABRERA: And that is all a very important part of this broader story of the pandemic. Tom Foreman, thank you.

To discuss and much more about where are as a country right now in this pandemic battle, Dr. Leana Wen, CNN Medical Analyst and former city of Baltimore health commissioner.

Dr. Wen, first, I just want to get your reaction to the number of parents who say they will definitely not vaccinate their children who are currently eligible. It's one in five, 20 percent.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's a lot and it's disappointing, but at the same time not surprising, because we're also seeing a lot of adults who are saying, no way, I'm not going to get vaccinated myself. And so those are the same people who are saying, well, there's no way that I want my children to be vaccinated.

Of course, this is extremely frustrating because we really need to start seeing the COVID vaccine as we do other childhood immunizations, which parents routinely have their children get. And I hope it's time for us to start seeing coronavirus out of this political light and as the pandemic and the life threatening disease that it really is.

CABRERA: We have heard this argument now from some of the unvaccinated that those who are vaccinated are still getting COVID, so what point is getting the shot? What do you tell those people?

WEN: What I would say you don't stop wearing a seat belt just because you could still be in a car accident. The problem is reckless drivers. And, ultimately, we need to be reducing the level of COVID-19 infection. That's how we're going to get out of this.

I mean, I would also use the example of other illnesses too. For example, if somebody is taking medications for high blood pressure, just because they might still have some degree of high blood pressure, it doesn't mean that that medication isn't working. It means that you might need something else as well.

And then I would also point to the numbers. We know that being vaccinated, it reduces your chance of having a severe illness by 25 times. It reduces your chance of contracting COVID-19 and thus being able spread it to others by eight times. That's a very compelling reason for getting the vaccine to protect yourself and to protect others around you.

CABRERA: And to protect the economy, we know, as well, the vaccine is our greatest weapon against COVID-19. And Corporate America is now starting to issue vaccine mandates, United Airlines among them. But other major airlines did not follow suit. Delta, Southwest, American all saying they will not require unvaccinated workers get the shot. Is it a problem if they aren't all on the same page?

WEN: Well, I think, at some point, consumers are going to have to make our wishes known as well. I would certainly feel a lot more comfortable getting on a plane where, for example, I know that all the flight attendants are vaccinated, but, ideally, that everyone is vaccinated or at least had to show proof of a negative test.

And I think at some point, we're going to have look at workplaces and say, is it really fair that people have to go to in person and be exposed to unvaccinated individuals who could infect them? What about the safety of workers and their families and the customers?


So, at some point, I hope that the tide -- I think the tide is beginning to turn, but I hope we can do a lot more in order to compel workplaces to do the right thing for their customers and workers.

CABRERA: And just this afternoon, Amtrak also became a company that announced it will require vaccines for its employees, all workers there.

Now, COVID misinformation has been a huge problem. It still is. Social media has been a big part of that. Republican Senator Rand Paul was just suspended by YouTube for a week after his B.S. claim that cloth masks don't work. He even encouraged people to disregard indoor masking. Let's first make sure the facts are here. Masks do work.

Do you think that social media sites are doing enough to stop the spread of dangerous misinformation?

WEN: No, I don't. But I also think all of us can be doing a lot more whenever we hear colleagues or friends or other people spread misinformation, and maybe not deliberately but maybe they heard something. We also have an obligation to correct them gently, to approach them with compassion and empathy but also to speak the truth as well.

And in this case about masking, I think it's really important for us to emphasize that masking does work, that quality of masks also matters, that, at this point, we really should be wearing not a cloth mask but at least a three-ply surgical mask. And in high-risk settings, ideally, we should be wearing a KN95 or N95 mask as well.

Vaccines also are extremely effective. They're very safe. Vaccines, in the long-term and masks until we could get more people vaccinated, that's how we're going to get out of this current surge. But we really all have to be involved in spreading that accurate message.

CABRERA: Dr. Leana Wen, it's always nice to talk with you. I really appreciate you taking the time with me today.

WEN: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: The markets are now in record territory after the Senate passed that infrastructure bill and the first hurdle on a massive $3.5 trillion budget resolution. But the fight is far from over. President Biden set to address all of this just moments from now.

Plus, what we are learning about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's final days as he steps down in the wake of a flurry of sexual harassment allegations. And the Taliban take over another key city in Afghanistan. How are they gaining so much ground so fast?



CABRERA: We're standing by to hear from President Biden any moment now on his jobs and infrastructure agenda, what he calls his plan to build back better. Both the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Democrats' $3.5 trillion parallel plan have some new momentum after key votes in the Senate. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said today that this two-track strategy is right on track.

But the constant thorn in the side of progressives, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is raising, quote, serious concerns about the more sweeping package, arguing in part it is simply irresponsible, he says, to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a great depression or great recession, not an economy that is on the verge of overheating.

Here to walk us through what happens now is CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju and Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, how do we expect the president will both tout the bipartisan victory and also make the case that the entirety of his agenda is still needed when he speaks just moments from now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what we're going to see just in a few minutes from now is essentially what he's going to be saying for the next several weeks, as they are working on shepherding this through the Senate and through Capitol Hill, what this is going to look like as it's going through the House as well now, that they have got the infrastructure bill, the bipartisan part of it, in their hands, in which, of course, we know House Speaker Pelosi has said they will not bring for a vote unless and until they get that much bigger package as well.

And so what you're going to hear from President Biden is not only touting what happened yesterday, and, of course, he is very happy that that bipartisanship actually did happen, but he's also going to talk about what's to come. And we're already seeing the challenges that are facing that when it comes to keeping his own party in line, and keeping them united is going to be one of the biggest challenges facing this White House over the next few weeks.

And they are well aware of that, especially when it comes to those moderate Senate Democrats, like Senator Joe Manchin, who is expressing concern about the size of what this package could turn into, this one that is expected to the bipartisan part of this now that they've moved on from the bipartisan aspect.

And so that is going to be something that the White House is dealing with going forward. And part of what President Biden is going to say soon is essentially why they feel like they still need to get both parts of this together, not just the bipartisan part, because he wants both of those to achieve his legislative goals.

CABRERA: Manu, you pushed the Senate majority leader earlier about what comes next for the Dem-only plan. What did he tell you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he made clear that he believes ultimately the party will unite even though there is a significant divide between the progressives in his caucus and the moderate Democrats over the policy, as well as the price tag. And the price tag is one of the key issues at the moment. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, just a few days ago, raised concerns, that she could not support $3.5 trillion. And as you mentioned, Joe Manchin this morning made clear he has serious concerns about this as well.

So, I asked Schumer directly whether or not he would agree to lower the price tag or if he's firm on that number and he sidestepped the question.


RAJU: Are you open to lowering the price tag or are you firm on $3.5 trillion?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): As I said, every part of Biden's proposal will be there in a big robust way.


There are some members in our caucus who want less, some members in our caucus who want more, that's same in the House. We're going to all come together to meet that goal.


RAJU: So, how they all come together, of course, remains to be seen. Schumer acknowledging how difficult of a road it will be to get some unity. He expects over this recess that begins today in the Senate that the chairman of the key committees will begin to draft the legislation to meet the goals of this massive proposal that would expand the social safety net, deal with climate change, deal with immigration, deal with health care, raise taxes on the corporations and the wealthy, get some agreement among his members and try to have a proposal together by September.

But, of course, they need to have all 50 Democrats in line. They don't have that yet in the Senate side. And then they need to get it also through the House, where there's very little margin for error. Pelosi is demanding that the Senate act before they move on that narrower bipartisan infrastructure deal, a lot to get through, a lot of hoops to jump through. Can they get there? It's not known yet. Ana?

CABRERA: And, Kaitlan, both packages would be transformative if signed into law, historic investments in family, in climate, in health care in jobs, according to the White House. But when you look at the latest economic picture, you have one hand jobs going up but you also have inflation going up. How is the administration balancing their ambition with this concern that the economy is too fragile to handle it?

COLLINS: Well, they repeatedly said this is something that they are keeping an eye on, but they have pointed to comments by people like the Fed chair, Jerome Powell, saying that they believe this could be temporary, what we're saying, with inflation. But the question, of course, is how long is it going to last and how temporary is temporary in their eyes. Is that through the end of the year or is it something that is going to continue into 2022, potentially longer than that?

And so this is something that does threaten the president's agenda because, of course, it is something that you've seen Republicans use time and time again to get at his agenda. Yes, you had those 19 Republicans who voted for this bipartisan deal yesterday, but that is really essentially where the bipartisanship has stopped.

And so that is going to be the question going forward of how they not only keep Democrats in line but also how they push back on Republicans and what they're saying about what you're seeing with consumer prices and the concerns about inflation and what this is going to look like and whether or not the economy is overheating or is going to overheat further. And so that's another aspect of this.

But we should note, when it comes to Senator Schumer not answering about what he wants and whether or not he is firm on that $3.5 trillion price tag, Press Secretary Jen Psaki did just tell us in the briefing that that is something President Biden is comfortable with. Now, whether or not it changes given the fact they have to have every single Democrat on board, of course, remains to be seen.

CABRERA: And, Manu, while most of us were sleeping, there was a vote- o-rama last night. Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, he put forward an amendment that would punish jurisdictions that defund the police. Here is Senator Cory Booker's response.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): This is a gift. If it wasn't complete abdication of Senate procedures and esteem, I would walk over there and hug my colleague from Alabama. And I will tell you right now, thank God, because there are some people who have said that there are members of this deliberative body that want to defund the police, to my horror.

And now, this senator has given us the gift that, finally, once and for all, we can put to bed these scurrilous accusations that somebody in this great esteemed body would want to defund the police.

So let's, all of us, a hundred people, not walk but sashay down there and vote for this amendment and put to rest the lies.


CABRERA: First of all, I want to know like what he was drinking, how much coffee had had to have that kind of energy when this was going on. But in all seriousness, how did the vote on that amendment play out, Manu? RAJU: Well, the Democrats turned around and supported it. As you heard Cory Booker there, he said he viewed it as a gift because they can push back on the narrative that they are seeking to defund the police. But what that was a part of was this 14-hour process on the floor called the vote-a-rama, in which senators can offer any amendment they want.

And, often these are very politically tinged amendments aimed at putting one party on the defensive, trying to force them to take a position here. Those amendment votes are not binding because it's part of a budget blueprint that sets the stage for drafting that larger $3.5 trillion plan that we are talking about here. But as you can see here, Democrats sought to turn that attack on its head and say they are on the same page.

CABRERA: And hopefully they can say -- I'm sure they're thinking that this now puts an end to that debate. We'll see.

Manu Raju and Kaitlan Collins, I appreciate both of you.

In Texas, dozens of Democratic state lawmakers could be arrested and brought back to the house chamber by force after the Republican house speaker issued civil arrest warrants for 52 who won't come back to the capitol.

Now, those lawmakers fled the state last month, you'll recall, to block the passage of restrictive voting bills.


Governor Greg Abbott called a second special session in an effort to get the bills through, but they still don't have a quorum because many of those Democrats still won't take part in the proceedings, but now they could be arrested because of it.

The good news, we've seen companies hike wages to lure workers. The bad news, inflation is wiping out those raises. We'll break down the numbers.

And she is on the brink of becoming New York's first female governor. In just minutes, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will hold her first news conference after a sexual harassment scandal forced Governor Cuomo to resign.