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Now, CDC Meeting after FDA Approves Third Dose for Immunocompromised; Feds Detect Alarming Amount of Online Extremist Rhetoric; Record Number of Children Hospitalized for COVID. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired August 13, 2021 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:00]

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Do have a fantastic weekend. I hope to see you back here on Monday.

Don't go anywhere. Pamela Brown picks up our coverage right now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Pamela Brown in for Ana Cabrera in Washington on this Friday.

And we are following two major stories this hour. Right now, U.S. forces rushing to pull Americans out of Afghanistan and out of harm's way as the Taliban rapidly advances towards a complete takeover, the latest on this dramatic deterioration and what impact it can have on President Biden's foreign policy legacy.

But, first, a dramatic development in the fight against the deadly delta variant, the CDC right now meeting and discussing booster shots. This just hours after the FDA announced some people with weakened immune system should get a third dose right away.

And the news that comes out of the CDC meeting could impact millions of Americans as the nation right now averages nearly 124,000 new cases a day.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is in Mississippi where doctors are now treating patients in a hospital parking garage. Adrienne?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, good afternoon. The parking structure behind me on the lower level is what a team of doctors is transforming right now. If you step inside of that area, which will be designated for COVID patients who need minimal care, you will see hospital beds in spaces that were once reserved for parked cars.

This is all a move to relieve the pressure from the emergency department here at the University of Mississippi medical center. This as the state announces more than 5,000 new COVID cases. 98 percent of those cases, the new cases, that is, were among the unvaccinated. I spoke with the associate vice chancellor here at the hospital. He told me these numbers terrify him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ALAN JONES, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI MEDICAL CENTER: We just can't continue to sustain a trajectory that we're on. If we continue this way, there will be nowhere for a patient to go for anything, for any type of care. And, you know, you'll see environments where people are in hallways and not able to -- we can't get to them for 10, 12, 14 hours. And that's not what we want to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROADDUS: And, Pamela, the hope that this challenge right now will be temporary. Pam?

BROWN: That is the hope. As he said, they just cannot continue on that trajectory they're on.

And there is also tragic news today out of Broward County, Florida, Adrienne. Four educators there dying from COVID in 24 hours. What more are we learning about this?

BROADDUS: That was tough news for some to hear. We heard that all four of those employees were believed to be unvaccinated. And across that district, at least 138 have tested positive for COVID. Pamela?

BROWN: Adrienne Broaddus, thank you so much for bringing us the latest there.

And joining us now is Dr. George Williams, an ICU physician in Houston, and Dr. Julie Morita, Executive Vice President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former member of the CDC's advisory committee on immunization practices. Great to see you both, thank you for taking some time out of your day to talk to us.

Dr. Morita, I want to start with you, because the CDC is meeting right now on boosters. Last night, the FDA approved an additional dose for immunocompromised people. What guidance should we now expect from the CDC?

DR. JULIE MORITA, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON FOUNDATION: Yes, hi, Pam, thanks for having me.

I think right now we're at a critical point in terms of having enough information to say that people whose immune systems are not strong or are weakened because of transplantation or because they have cancer, they would benefit from getting a third dose of one of the mRNA vaccines. So if people had gotten two doses previously, they likely need a third dose just to get the immune response that's necessary to provide protection.

BROWN: Dr. Fauci says, though, sooner or later, Dr. Morita, booster wills likely be needed for everyone. Israel is already giving people 65 and older a dose. If we know we're headed that way, why not just recommend it for the elderly? Because for many of them, they had their vaccines six months or more ago.

MORITA: So, a critical distinction to make right now is that the doses that are being recommended are being considered by the advisory committee at CDC today are not booster doses, but they're doses, third doses for people who didn't respond really well to the first two doses. And these are people that don't have normal or strong immune systems. That's different than having a booster dose, which is recommended to people who have responded well to the vaccine previously and their vaccine immunity is actually waning.

[13:05:01]

We're not at a point where we're seeing that there's waning immunity.

The CDC and other researchers throughout the country and throughout world are really monitoring to see are these breakthrough cases occurring and who is being affected. And at this point, it's too early to be saying that booster doses the recommended. What we're talking about now are third doses of the mRNA for vaccines for people whose immune systems are actually weakened.

BROWN: And, Dr. Williams, I want to bring you in, because you are seeing what's going on firsthand. You have described the ICU where you work to be like a warzone. How is the surge in Texas going through right now compared to previous pre-vaccine surges? Help us understand now versus previously.

DR. GEORGE WILLIAMS, ICU PHYSICIAN, U.T. HEALTH HOUSTON AND LBJ HOSPITAL: Well, thank you, Pam. It's great to be here.

The big difference we're seeing this time is that we have younger patients who are getting sicker quicker, who are having to the ICU faster and having that rapid escalation of care. And the really sad part of that is that the vast majority of patients that we have in the ICU are unvaccinated individuals. So it honestly feels a little preventable because we're not seeing a lot of vaccinated patients but we're seeing a great deal of unvaccinated patients in our ICU.

BROWN: Are you currently treating any vaccinated patients though? Help us understand what you're seeing in terms of that as well.

WILLIAMS: Well, we actually have occasionally seen vaccinated patients admitted to the hospital. But, essentially, right now, we really don't have any vaccinated patients that are currently we're taking care of. However, we have seen it and it is reality.

The big point to make a big difference though is that the vaccinated patients, even when they come to the hospital, they seem to not be as sick as unvaccinated patients, which is what we would expect based on the immunology behind how a vaccine would work and how we expected it to prevent acute disease or severe disease more often.

BROWN: Right. I think that is the key point. Had they not been vaccinated, they would be much more sick or perhaps have died. And I think that is a key point in all of this. Dr. Morita, you also served on President Biden's COVID-19 advisory panel and you have a strategy you say will defeat the delta variant and end the pandemic. What is it?

MORITA: It's really critical to make sure that the vaccines are getting out there. Vaccines are the path out of this pandemic. And we really need to make sure that everyone who is eligible to get the vaccine really gets the vaccine. We have to make sure we're vaccinating people, adults, that can be vaccinated so we're protecting children who cannot be vaccinated or other people who cannot be vaccinated as well. And when the vaccine becomes available for young children, making sure the vaccines are widely available for them to get vaccinated as well.

BROWN: All right. Dr. Julie Morita, Dr. George Williams, thank you both.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Pam.

MORITA: Thank you.

BROWN: Fresh U.S. troops could be arriving in Afghanistan at any time scrambling to fortify a U.S. embassy as the nation around it crumbles. Taliban fighters have swept across the country with breathtaking speed, far faster than Washington expected and feared. The extremist group now controls at least half the provincial capitals in all of these major Afghan cities. Other areas are under siege, look at this, from the lightning offensive, and Taliban fighters have encircled the capital, Kabul, where the 3,000 U.S. troops will help protect the drawdown of the American embassy.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon, Jeremy Diamond is at the White House for us.

Oren, how quickly is the situation deteriorating?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very quickly. With the Taliban sweeping across the country, as you mentioned, 17 out of 34 provincial capitals have now been taken over by the Taliban.

And this comes within a matter of days, essentially since last Thursday or Friday. And that shows the speed with which they have moved, the speed with which the Afghan army and military have essentially crumbled before them as they've made these advances across the country with what seems to be a pretty clear intent here. Isolate Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and at least have the option of moving on it.

Because of that speed, the U.S. has accelerated its own plans, a partial drawdown of the embassy, a warning to U.S. citizens to get out as quickly as possible, essentially, and an acceleration of the plans to remove Afghan interpreters and their families who helped the U.S. That process is just at its beginning. Some 1,200 have already come out of the country, perhaps just a little bit more at this point. There are still tens of thousands more and now under the pressure of the Taliban having surrounded Kabul with the option, essentially, the pressure they've put on it, and possibly coming closer.

They have taken key cities, including the third largest city, Herat. They control parts of the second largest city, Kandahar. And all of this speaks to their momentum and the force with which they are moving. Military officials here had warned there was an option that the Taliban could have the strength, the CIA director, at the end of last month, warned that the Taliban is in the strongest position it's been in the last 20 years. So, this was possible. Was it expected? Not yet.

BROWN: And you remember, Jeremy, I think it was back in July when President Biden said it wasn't inevitable that the Taliban would take over the country.

[13:10:07]

Now it certainly looks that way. He stands by his decision for the withdrawal, a move supported by a majority of Americans. What is the mood inside the White House now given how rapidly this is happening?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Pam. And not only did the president say that it wasn't inevitable, but he even said that it was highly unlikely that the Taliban would quickly overrun everything and take over the country of Afghanistan. And yet that is what appears to be happening very, very rapidly, certainly more rapidly than the U.S. Intelligence Community had assessed.

Inside the White House, Pam, I can tell you that the president, for his part, he certainly is not second guessing his decision here. He certainly stands by it. In fact, officials have told me and my colleagues that, if anything, the speed with which the Taliban have been able to overrun Afghan security forces, their front lines, that that has bolstered the president's view here, that if 20 years and a trillion plus dollars couldn't bolster the Afghan security forces to the point where they would be able to withstand a Taliban advance, then there certainly would not be any point in the U.S. continuing the involvement.

A surge of U.S. Troops is the only other option that this administration viewed because they viewed a Taliban advance as inevitable here regardless of whether or not U.S. troops were there and, therefore, unless you withdraw, you would have to bolster those forces to be able to withstand that advance.

I can tell you that according to an official who I spoke with just a little bit ago, the president will be regularly briefed on the situation in Afghanistan this weekend while he is at the presidential retreat at Camp David. So, again, no second guessing but certainly a big effort in this administration to continue the contingency planning and prepare for possibly the worst case scenario, which is the Taliban quickly approaching Kabul. Pam?

BROWN: All right. Jeremy Diamond, Oren Liebermann, thank you both.

Well, Russia is at it again. In fact, it never stopped. The new intel report detailing how the Kremlin continues to interfere in U.S. elections.

Plus, why the president of a children's hospital in Texas is now pleading with the FDA to approve COVID vaccines for kids.

And how extreme weather is raising prices for everyday items like never before.

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BROWN: We have breaking news into the CNN Newsroom. The intelligence chief of the Department of Homeland Security says there's an alarming amount of online chatter right now from extremists. John Cohen says it is strikingly similar to what was out there before the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Let's get straight CNN Senior National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt. Alex, what specifically are officials hearing?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, this is really disturbing news from an exclusive interview that our colleague, Geneva Sands, did with DHS's head of intelligence, John Cohen, as you mentioned. And what he is saying is that some of this online chatter, so, on social media and different online platforms, they include phrases like, the system is broken. They call on people to take action into their own hands and to bring out the gallows.

It is hard to underestimate how significant these comments can be because, as you know, Pam, on January 6th, we heard calls by the Capitol insurrectionists to hang Mike Pence. There were actually gallows, makeshift gallows on the National Mall. It is not just that these comments are similar to what we saw before January 6th, according to Cohen. It is that there is an uptick in these calls for violence.

Cohen told CNN that there are a number of conspiracy theories but that they all revolve around the big lie. All of this, he says, is being fuelled by this -- the lie, that the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump actually won the election, that it was stolen from him and that Joe Biden is not actually the legitimate president. And that lie, as you know, simply won't die, because people continue to talk about it. It continues to be supported.

We still see the former president going around the country saying the election was stolen from him. People like Mike Lindell, a big supporter of the former president, saying that he has proof that the election was illegitimate, which, of course, has been widely debunked.

So, the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly warned, Pam, that the persistence of the big lie could lead to violence. There is no specific threat, they say, but they have said that it could lead to deadly violence. And now you have the head of intelligence at DHS pointing to these comments and saying that they are incredibly dangerous and that they are growing. BROWN: And that is so concerning, because as officials look back on January 6th and how it happened, they said, well, in large part, it was a failure of imagination. We had chatter coming in. We didn't know it would lead to this. Now, they know what can happen from chatter that you're laying out, and that is very, very disturbing. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much for bringing us the latest on that.

And new intelligence reveals Russia is actively trying to interfere in the 2022 midterm elections. Officials say Moscow's meddling never actually stopped and has only evolved since 2016.

CNN White House Reporter Natasha Bertrand is following this for us. So, Natasha, this comes despite President Biden's warnings to President Putin and a new round of sanctions in the spring. What more are you learning?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Exactly, Pam. So what we're learning is that the Russian interference really never stopped despite all the warnings from the White House to Vladimir Putin, that there really needs to be a new track here in U.S./Russia relations. The Russians are pretty relentless when it comes to sowing disinformation and chaos in U.S. society. They want to interfere in the 2022 midterm elections. That is according to our intelligence sources. And that is all being conveyed, of course, to the president to the ultimate consumer of this intelligence.

[13:20:04]

And he alluded to that a couple weeks ago saying that this was a violation of U.S. sovereignty, these efforts by the Russians to interfere.

So, what they're doing, according to our sources, is they're kind of trying to sow debate and division and chaos over the COVID vaccines and over mask mandates. That is one area where they're really trying to drive wedges in between Americans and perhaps capitalize on the political divisiveness that already exists in our society over the coronavirus.

So that's one area where they're making a lot of efforts to kind of spread on social media that the vaccines are not safe, that the Biden administration is tyrannical for imposing these kinds of mask mandates and they hope to then kind of create this environment where the public is even more divided than usual.

And so they're amplifying voices the on the extremes and pretty much using the same strategy that they have been over the last two election cycles, in 2020 and 2016. But the thing is that their tactics are changing, that is what intel officials tell us we have to really watch out for.

BROWN: All right. Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much.

Well, Democratic infighting could throw a wrench into Biden's domestic agenda. Nine House members from his party are now warning they'll block the president's $3.5 trillion budget plan unless something else is dealt with first.

CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju joins us now. So, Manu, help us understand what's going on there. How real is this threat?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nancy Pelosi has to pay attention to this because she has very little margin for error. Just three Democratic votes she can afford to lose. There are nine Democratic House members who are demanding a change in the leadership strategy. The strategy being at the moment Nancy Pelosi has suggested she would put off a vote on that bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed along bipartisan lines in the Senate.

She suggested she would wait to move on that until the Senate moves on the larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. That includes a wide range of priorities for the Biden administration. That is in line with what most progressives in the House Democratic Caucus want.

But what these moderates want is a shift. They want an immediate vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan before acting on that Democratic-only approach. And this is the concern for Democrats because they are threatening to withhold their support for a key budget vote later this month. Now, that is important, because they have to approve the budget resolution in order to move on the larger Democratic agenda. So if these Democrats ultimately carry out on this threat and withhold their vote, that could tank the effort to move things that move that larger package.

Now, the problem also facing these moderates, however, is that a number of these progressive Democrats have said that they will vote against the bipartisan infrastructure plan if it's put on the floor first, because they say it is inadequate and they want to pressure all 50 Senate Democrats to approve the larger economic package first.

So, it shows you how difficult a balancing act this is for Pelosi in the weeks ahead. She's trying to get more than $4 trillion in spending, two separate packages, and clear divisions over strategy within her caucus. Can she piece it together? She has got about a week-and-a-half to two weeks to figure it out. There's uncertainty of how it comes together. But they're strategizing behind the scenes to figure this out. Pam?

BROWN: And, of course, complicating the picture for her is the fact that Democrats only have a razor thin majority there in the House. We'll have to see how she manages this. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Well, as more and more kids test positive for COVID, the CEO of Texas Children's says it's time to okay vaccines for children ages 5 to 11. He joins me next.

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[13:25:00]

BROWN: More kids in the hospital than ever with COVID-19. In Texas, there are more than 300. In Dallas County, there are zero pediatric ICU beds available. A judge there offering this morning today if your kid needs one.

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JUDGE CLAY JENKINS, DALLS COUNTY: In Dallas, we have zero ICU beds left for children. That means if your child is in a car wreck, if your child has a congenital heart defect or something, needs an ICU bed or more likely if they have COVID-19 and need an ICU bed, we don't have one. Your child will wait for another child to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: That is so disturbing. Mark Wallace is the president and CEO of Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, the largest children's hospital in the nation. Thank you so much for joining us.

When you hear that warning, what is your reaction? How worried are you about a similar scenario at your hospital?

MARK WALLACE, PRESIDENT AND CEO, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Well, we are worried about that. We certainly see the surge occurring in this region of Texas in Houston and in Harris County.

[13:30:00]

Fortunately, at Texas Children's Hospital, we've been anticipating and planning for this surge for weeks and months.