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At This Hour

Biden Heads to Hill as Senate Dems Reach $3.5T Budget Deal; Unvaccinated Fuel Surge of New Cases Across U.S.; 4 Iranians Charged in Plot to Kidnap U.S. Journalist. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 14, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

Massive budget deal. President Biden heads to Capitol Hill after Senate Democrats announced plans for a huge spending package. What this means for Biden's big push to get Republicans on board.

Going in the wrong direction. Unvaccinated Americans are fueling a big spike in new cases and hospitalizations while millions still refuse to get the vaccine that could save their lives.

Kidnapping plot on American soil. Federal prosecutors charge Iranian agents with a wild plan to abduct a journalist in New York. New reaction is coming in from Tehran.

Thanks for being here.

We begin this hour with major developments on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats reaching agreement on a massive $3.5 trillion budget package, paving the way to pour federal resources into many of Joe Biden's top priorities, from expanding the child tax credit to offering paid medical leave to addressing climate change. And there's clearly much more.

In the next hour, President Biden will head to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats about it. All of this comes as the president is getting together today as well with a bipartisan group of governors and mayors from across the country to continue his push for a massive infrastructure deal.

A lot going on.

CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill. She's joining me now.

Lauren, what is in this new budget deal that they just announced?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Kate, this is really the first step, and Democrats trying to cement the president's agenda items here. And this broader package, this budget outline is expected to include other changes as well. It's not just traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges.

But Democrats also announced last night that they want to recreate some very fundamental government programs including Medicare. They want to now expand Medicare so individuals would have access to vision coverage and dental coverage.

We also expect this plan might open the door for Democrats to try to make some immigration changes as part of this broader infrastructure push.

Now, there's some moving dynamics here. Remember, Democrats for this stand-alone, Democratic-only bill will need to have complete unity among their caucus. Right now, there's question whether they can do that. Senator Joe Manchin, a key swing vote, told my colleague Manu Raju just a few minutes ago that he was still looking over the proposal and he wants to understand more about how it's going to be paid for.

We're also trying to hear from Republicans. Remember, Kate, there's that bipartisan infrastructure proposal moving through the Senate as well. The question is whether or not this Democratic-only proposal will get in the way some of those Republican votes that the bipartisan senators are counting on to get their proposal over the finish line.

There's a lot of moving parts. And that's in part why we expect the president will come to Capitol Hill to try to make the case for why this two-track proposal is still the best way forward -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Lauren, thank you so much.

It's going to be a busy day on Capitol Hill. Let's see if anything comes of it, though.

Joining me right now for more on this is CNN political commentator Errol Louis. He's the political anchor at Spectrum News, host of the podcast "You Decide". Also with us is CNN senior political analyst, Nia-Malika Henderson.

Guys, thanks for being here.

So, Nia, this deal, one part of a two-partner, if you will, happened -- came out last night.


BOLDUAN: And Biden is now heading over to meet with Senate Democrats today. But this is -- as Lauren lays out, this is a long way from the finish line. How do they get there? Is it clear to you?

HENDERSON: It isn't clear. Senator Chuck Schumer has been very ambitious in terms of the timeline here, saying he wants this essentially wrapped up before a recess in the first week of August, August 6th. That's incredibly ambitious and unlikely. But if you're a Democrat, you feel good about where things are right now.

They've reached an agreement, not only a bipartisan agreement about this reconciliation agreement. There were so many complaints from progressives about whether or not they would get their wish list. Obviously in the bipartisan deal, that's a slimmed-down version of what progressive Democrats wanted. In this new reconciliation package, I imagine a lot of those progressives that were worried are quite happy.


Bernie Sanders among them, who started out wanting a $6 trillion package. This is much smaller. But still, he has expressed real confidence in this.

But, listen, so many more days and nights to go to see if this thing actually crosses the finish line. I think you have to look at 2022 when you think about this. Democrats want a deliverable to voters. They need something to run on. And, Biden, he wants a legacy item.

If you think about the past presidents, Obama got one big deal with Obamacare and Trump got one big deal with those tax cuts. So, this is Joe Biden's one big shot at some massive piece of legislation that will, quite frankly, change the way people live in this country. A lot stronger safety net, changes to Medicare as well as some things to do with climate as well. So, this is a real progressive dream, and we'll see if it happens.

BOLDUAN: The second part of this, Errol, is that, yes, this is a deal among Democrats. At the same time you have these bipartisan -- this bipartisan effort to reach this big infrastructure deal. And that big push is also reaching a critical point this week. They've set themselves a deadline to see if they can reach a deal there.

I'm curious -- when nothing -- none of this is in a vacuum, especially as Nia points out and when you got 2022 in the backdrop, do you see this kind of budget deal as helping the bipartisan effort on infrastructure or getting in the way?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it sets a trap for the Republicans, to be honest with you. I mean, the Democrats, if they can get it together, will have scored a major victory, not just a legacy item --

BOLDUAN: That's the key question, Errol, if the Democrats can get it together.

LOUIS: If they -- well, if they can get it together. But I suspect they will. That's why the president will meet with the conference today.

I mean, keep in mind, look, like you said, this is all of a piece. One thing happening this week, talking about a major legacy item, the child tax credits are going to start to flow as early as tomorrow for millions and millions of households, $300 per month per child, in some categories, $250 per child per month. It's estimated it could lift almost half of all poor children out of

poverty. That's a pretty big deal. That's something Democrats can and will take credit for. They have to make it work properly, of course. But if they do that, if they can arrive at agreement on the $3.5 trillion deal for things like expanding Medicare, it will put Republicans so far back on their heels, they'll have no choice than to do the ordinary looking roads and bridges bill that the president has been pushing for.

So, I mean, if they want to run next year to say they were against dental and vision for seniors and they're against lifting children out of poverty, and they're against repairing roads and bridges, good luck to them. But I think this is sort of a power play by the president and by the Democrats. We'll see if they can pull it off.

BOLDUAN: So, Nia, President Biden on voting rights, calling it the test of our time in that speech yesterday, slamming very directly the former president and Republicans that have been following the former president over election lies saying the peddlers of lies are threatening the very foundation of our country.

Just a few moments ago, Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, responded to some of what Joe Biden said in that speech. We're having a technical challenge in getting it cut. But I want to read it because it's important what he said.

He said: This is our new president who promised to lower the temperature, bring America back together and rebuild a civil society where we can dialogue as fellow citizens. That's the person who is now yelling that mainstream state laws are more dangerous than two World Wars, more dangerous than poll tests and actual Jim Crow segregation and somehow analogous to the Civil War. That's what the president of the United States said yesterday.

What utter nonsense, McConnell says. It would be laugh-out-loud funny if it wasn't so completely and totally irresponsible.


HENDERSON: Wow, indeed. I keep thinking about Joe Manchin as you were reading that. His concern about pushing through a voting rights bill is that it would lead to more division. You have Mitch McConnell there saying he feels like Joe Biden's language was division around voting rights.

Democrats, of course, look at that and say that is Mitch McConnell. Democrats obviously know where he has been and where Republicans have been all along on this issue.

The big question still remains, the filibuster and what Joe Manchin would do on the filibuster. He has been steadfast in saying he doesn't want to have a sort of special carve-out on voting rights on the way they did with judicial appointments as well as cabinet officials in 2013 and 2017.

[11:10:01] So, that's been the big question. You saw Joe Biden, he's remained silent on the filibuster, essentially not wanting to come out and say it should be scrapped, a special carve-out for voting rights. You have Democrats wanting him to do more.

They were pleased with his speech. But a lot of progressives still want him to use the filibuster word, right, and push Joe Manchin along and prod him to up end the filibuster when it comes to voting rights. If it's this serious, if he's using this language about the civil war, everything needs to be done to prevent something like the civil war, then why isn't he coming out against the filibuster in this instance?

BOLDUAN: Yeah, one thing seems clear, that the voting rights bill is going nowhere in the Senate, as you heard from Mitch McConnell. Also, the audience wasn't Mitch McConnell from Joe Biden yesterday. The audience was America, was folks out there watching the speech at home, not Mitch McConnell standing in the Senate.

Great to see you, guys. Thank you very much.

A quick programming note, everybody, President Joe Biden, he's going to join Don Lemon for an exclusive CNN presidential town hall, that is next Wednesday night 8:00 p.m. only here on CNN.

There's also more evidence today, folks, that unvaccinated Americans are fueling a surge of coronavirus here in the United States. Forty- six states are now reporting a significant rise in new cases.

You've become very familiar with this map. This map just a few weeks ago was essentially all green because the country was all headed in the right direction. No longer. The number of new cases of coronavirus is soaring, up nearly 60 percent nationwide compared to a week before.

The number of people sick enough with COVID to need hospital care is up nearly 21 percent in the last two weeks. The number of people dying is rising once again. Experts say more than 99 percent of COVID deaths in June were among unvaccinated people.

The former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is once again warning it's going to get worse.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: The delta variant is going to move its way through the country over the course of August and September, maybe into October. That's what the modeling shows. That's what we expected, that the peak of this epidemic would be sometime around the end of September, back-to-school season. That seems to be what is happening. Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Leyla Santiago is live in Miami, Florida, where the epidemic is also getting worse -- Leyla. LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Kate. Here at the Jackson

health system, they actually over the weekend saw the number of COVID patients they've treated double over the last month. They're seeing patients that are younger, in that 30 to 40 age bracket.

And one Florida epidemiologist explained it like this. He said, look, the numbers have doubled over the last few weeks, so have the percentages of people testing positive, while the number of people getting vaccinated gradually decreases. One infectious disease expert told me that's a big problem because what we have right now are a lot of unvaccinated people following the CDC guidelines. That's the big issue in the rise in cases we're seeing.

Here's else what else she had to say.


DR. AILEEN MARTY, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: If we don't heed the fact that people need to be more cautious than what they're being right now, we're going to see more deaths, more cases and a lot more long COVID which is what's really, really troubling for the younger population.


SANTIAGO: So, there you go. You have two medical experts telling you the same thing. If things don't change, they will get worse.

Here in the state of Florida, you have roughly 47 percent of the residents here that are vaccinated. So I did reach out to the governor's office to ask if there's any sort of plan to change the approach or any new measures that will go in place. The governor's office telling me this morning that no closures are being planned. In fact, he has ruled out the possibility of any lockdown.

BOLDUAN: Leyla, thank you so much for that reporting.

Coming up for us, Arkansas saw the single biggest one-day jump in new COVID cases since February. The state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. The mayor of the biggest city in the state joins us to talk about what has gone so wrong. That's next.



BOLDUAN: The state of Arkansas demands renewed focus today. Tuesday, it reported the biggest one-day jump in COVID cases in five months. Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccine rates in country. Only about one-third of eligible residents are fully vaccinated right now, well behind many other states that are north of 50 percent at this point.

New cases in Arkansas are up nearly 150 percent in just the last two weeks. The number of people hospitalized because of COVID has jumped 65 percent in the same period. In summary, Arkansas has a real problem right now. So, let's go there. Joining us right now is the mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, Frank

Scott Jr.

Mayor, thank you for being here.

I just laid out a lot of numbers and a lot of graphics saying things are not going in the right direction. They're going in the wrong direction in your state.


Can you tell us what that looks like in your city right now?

MAYOR FRANK SCOTT JR. (D), LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS: Right now, Little Rock being the state's capital city, most populated, most diverse. We're about 40 percent. That's pretty high in comparison to other cities within the state of Arkansas, but clearly we have so much more work to do. It makes no sense that we're not north of 50 by now.

It's been due a lot due to misinformation, conspiracy theories and, quite frankly, it's disappointing and disheartening that we're literally seeing lives lost due to those not getting vaxed.

And so, we're sending (ph) a statement, we need everyone to please get vaxed. It saves not only your life but your loved ones. Me being someone that's lost a loved one to COVID-19, I know how serious it is and we have to get it done.

BOLDUAN: What are the reasons that you -- you talk about misinformation and conspiracy theories. What are the reasons you've heard and are hearing from people about why they're still resisting getting a shot?

SCOTT JR.: Being a black man, in both the black and brown communities, there's a lot of mistrust as relates to the Tuskegee airmen back in the day when there were issues with that type of vaccine and that type of issues with those type of tests. But also the Hela cells.

And so, what I've done is I've take in time to get the research, share the facts and also take the test myself. You're talking someone who had never taken a flu shot before just because it's not something I wanted to do. I had to lead by example and take stock of the lives of our residents and be out front and aggressive as relates to proactive measures to ensure we get out of this pandemic.

One of those most essential corrective measures is make sure we all get vaxed and as we are engaging, putting on a mask as well. And so, we want to ensure that we continue to move out of this pandemic, and the best way to do it is to get vaccinated.

BOLDUAN: Mayor, you've just explained and an important aspect of this, your personal experience, your personal journey, your initial hesitance, but also knowing you wanted to lead by example. What did your personal experience teach you about how to successfully convince others to get vaccinated? Because I'll tell you, I come from a small town in Indiana. Hearing

from federal officials speaking from Washington is not convincing many people in the middle of the country or especially in the South, that they should be getting a vaccine.

SCOTT JR.: From a personal experience standpoint, I think it takes not solely elected officials being the messenger, but having real people, residents, community leaders that are not only on TV, on the radio, but really going door to door and sharing with residents, these are the real concerns. This is what happens when you do obtain the COVID-19 issue and what can happen as far as those downstream ripple effects.

I think those one-on-one conversations truly has been very helpful, but engaging our community leaders as well. And the more we do that, that's where we've seen an increase in knows accepting the vaccination as we move forward. But when you also have loved ones that are literally dying, and particularly those who already have health care issues. And we've seen how COVID-19 exasperates those existing issues as well.

And so, what we want to continue to show those real stories as we continue to communicate, whether social media, radio, TV, and one-on- one door-to-door conversations.

BOLDUAN: Yeah. Mayor, thank you for coming on and spreading the message. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us --

SCOTT JR.: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, she thought she was safe in the United States but now is revealing that she was the intended target of a wild kidnapping plot. Four Iranians were just charged. A live report ahead.



BOLDUAN: Developing at this hour, Iran is now denying allegations that it had agents planning to kidnap a journalist on U.S. soil. Federal prosecutors have charged four Iranians in an alleged plot against an Iranian-American who is an outspoken critic of the regime in Tehran. The four suspects remain at large this morning. But what they were planning is shocking.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is joining me with the details on this -- Brynn.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kate, there's actually a fifth person, a woman who is of Iranian descent living in California. She's already been arrested. She's the only one so far of all five. And she has pleaded not guilty to the charges she faces.

But like you said, those four men, Iranian intelligence agents, essentially part of this plot according to the United States attorneys in the Southern District of New York. And they allege that this really started in 2018 when the Iranian government went to the family members living in Iran of this American journalist and tried to pay them to lure her out of the country and back to Iran.

And when that plan didn't work, it picked back up in 2020 according to this indictment where these Iranian intelligence officers hired an American private investigator under a guise that they basically were trying to find someone who owed debts.