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Sources: WH & Health Officials Discuss Revising Mask Guidance; Biden Pleads with Americans to Get Vaccine as Cases Surge; Biden: Ditching Filibuster Would Throw Congress into "Chaos". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

Mask or no mask. Biden administration officials are now debating changing recommendations on masks as the pandemic of the unvaccinated worsens.

Making the case. President Biden urging Americans to get vaccinated and defending the filibuster. We have all of the highlights from CNN's town hall.

And detached from reality. New audio tapes capture Donald Trump still at it after being voted out of office. We're going to play for you what he said about his VP, ahead.

Thanks for being here.

We begin this hour with new developments on the pandemic. Sources tell CNN that the nation's top health and White House officials are now discussing revising mask recommendations for vaccinated Americans -- vaccinated Americans -- as the delta variant rages across the country among unvaccinated people.

And make no mistake, this is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The number of infections and the data on hospitalizations and deaths prove exactly that. In a CNN town hall last night President Biden predicting the CDC is going to recommend that kids under the age of 12 wear a mask in school.

The president also talked about when he thinks the FDA will give the vaccines formal and final approval. That could help the pace of things here in America right now because the reality is that the vaccination rate in the U.S. has simply hit a wall.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Arlette Saenz live in Washington for us. Arlette, COVID was top of mind for the president and the audience

asking him questions last night.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was and the coronavirus pandemic is at the center of so much of what the White House is going. As you mentioned, we're learning that top Biden health officials and some White House officials are engaging in preliminary conversations about whether there should be revisions to that mask guidance for unvaccinated Americans. They're talking about what kind of messages the White House could give on masks and also whether the CDC should ultimately change the guidance.

The White House insisting any changes or revisions will be coming from the CDC. As they are the ones that dictate that. But president Biden in that town hall last night with CNN was very clear about the state of the pandemic as you are seeing the delta variants really taking hold in the country and the president issuing a very direct plea for unvaccinated Americans to roll up their sleeves and get their shots saying they are the ones that remain at risk.


SAENZ: -- throughout the town hall they talked about the pandemic saying that right now the pandemic is applied to those unvaccinated Americans. He also made this call to push back against misinformation, saying that the administration is really launching as many -- launching as many initiatives as they can to push back on the vaccine information. But Biden making it very clear that the pandemic is top of mind.



SAENZ (voice-over): President Biden with a urgent plea at a CNN town hall, pushing all eligible Americans to get the coronavirus vaccine.

BIDEN: We have a pandemic for those who haven't gotten a vaccination. It is that basic, that simple.

SAENZ: But it hasn't been easy convincing the unvaccinated to get the shot. Less than half of the population is fully vaccinated, as a nation faces a spike in new cases, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

BIDEN: There is legitimate questions people could ask. This they worried about getting vaccinated. But the questions should be asked and answers and people should get vaccinated.

SAENZ: The surge also coming just weeks before back to school season. Biden saying he expects some guidelines to stay in place as children return to the classrooms.

BIDEN: The CDC is going to say that what we should do is everybody under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask in school. That's probably what's going to happen. SAENZ: The president also noting how some of his biggest critics

including some media personalities are changing their tune on vaccine misinformation.

BIDEN: If you notice, as they say in southern part of my state, they've had an altar call, some of those guys. They're all there saying let's get vaccinated. Let's get vaccinated.

The people before this were saying -- but that -- I shouldn't make fun. That is good. It's good. It's good. We have just have to keep telling the truth.

SAENZ: Biden's town hall just hours after a test vote on his infrastructure plan failed in the Senate.


The president telling the Ohio audience he's still optimistic a bipartisan agreement could happen.

BIDEN: Here is what I think. What happens is, the vote on Monday is a motion to be able to proceed to this issue. Then they're going to debate the issue of the elements -- the individual elements of this plan to say, sure, we're going to have to fix that damn bridge of yours going into Kentucky.

SAENZ: Even when a deeply dif divided Congress, he said partisanship should be thrown to the side on issues like investigating the January 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill.

BIDEN: I don't care if you think I'm Satan reincarnated. The fact is, you can't look at that television and say nothing happened on the 6th. You can't listen to people who say this was a peaceful march.

SAENZ: Biden also saying he's committed to pushing forward two voting rights bills.

BIDEN: Here is the deal. What I also want to do, I want to make sure we bring along not just all of the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who I know they know better than this.

SAENZ: But he wants to pass the sweeping legislation without eliminating the filibuster.

BIDEN: There is no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress in a chaos and nothing will get done.


BIDEN: Nothing at all will get done.


BOLDUAN: Arlette Saenz reporting there -- thank you, Arlette.

Joining me right now for more on all of this is Andy Slavitt. He's a former senior adviser to Biden's White House COVID response team.

It is good to see you, Andy. Thanks for being here.

So it is very interesting hearing the president last night talking about COVID and where things could be heading for schools. The president said the guidance for schools is likely to be that kids under 12 need to wear masks. A lot of kids, though, over 12 are still not vaccinated. We know that.

And it is not necessarily clear what public schools or any schools are actually going to be requiring masks for even unvaccinated kids.

Can you explain how this guidance that he's talking about is going to keep kids safe, because school is about to start up in a couple of weeks in a lot of places.

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: Well, first of all, I think President Biden was doing last night was doing his job, talking directly to the American public, taking questions, acknowledging that things are hard, but also buoyed by the optimism that we have a solution at our finger tips in vaccines. I think for people not vaccinated and people under 12 are at the top of the list.

I think the advice to continue to wear a mask and take other steps to protect yourself with a delta variant is I think a wise move because the delta variant is indeed something that is like COVID of 2020 on steroids. It circulates twice as quickly. There is a lot more particles if the air. We all ought to be more careful.

And so whether you're under 12 or over 12 and in school, this is important. Now I think the challenges that these things get applied locally and we have a lot of diversity in the country and if a school said you don't have a mask mandate, very difficult for a 13, 14-year- old who already nobody wants to be isolated in middle school to make their decision on their own to wear a mask for families. So hopefully schools will provide as much support as possible.

BOLDUAN: Exactly to that point, do you think more along the lines of what the American Academy of Pediatrics has said, that everyone over the age of 2, vaccinated or not, should be wearing masks in school.

Do you think that is more -- that should be more of what the CDC could be looking at?

SLAVITT: Well, unfortunately, the diversity we have in our country and how politicized this has been and it is so diverse, regardless of what the CDC does, we all know that in places like Texas and in Kansas and Arkansas and places that have passed laws that outlaw any requirements for people to wear a masks are in place. Those laws are senseless and reactionary but this means this is going to be applied unevenly around the country.

So the CDC is going to say its best job possible, saying, here's what the science says you should do and it will be what the American Academy of Pediatric is or maybe a little bit different, but it will be what the data tells them. The problem is on the ground all around the country, we all know for sure that this is going to be very -- very diversely applied.

BOLDUAN: We know this is top of mind though in the White House and beyond. Because we're reporting that White House officials are in talks now about advising mask recommendations for even vaccinated Americans. Until more people are vaccinated, do you think that federal health officials should tell vaccinated people to start wearing masks again indoors?


SLAVITT: So, the conversations that I have had with folks in the White House suggest that this should be a constant conversation as facts changed on the ground and that I think they will be constantly keeping things on the table regardless of what is happening in the past. If, in fact, the variant changes the way it is spreading and so forth, they're going to take their cues from the CDC, and as would I. So I won't be out there, you know, be one of hundreds of people offering my irrelevant opinion on whether people should or shouldn't wear masks. We'll wait for the experts to study it.

But what you'll probably hear more of, if your in communities with a lot of unvaccinated people or in doors with people potentially unvaccinated, yes, they work, but why stress test them constantly? It is not like you have an umbrella, you therefore want to stand outside in the rain and see if -- how well it works. Because occasionally water does seep in and we know that with these vaccines, they're great but they're not perfect.

So I think what you're going to hear is probably some caution to suggest that if you're around unvaccinated people, in communities in particular indoors as we get to fall and winter, that masks make a certain amount of sense.

BOLDUAN: So let me play a moment from the town hall where it does seem like the president misspoke when talks about vaccines. I want to play this because misinformation is so pervasive about vaccines. It is important as you know, words matter here. Let me play this moment from President Biden.


BIDEN: One last thing, that's really important is, we're not in a position where we think that any virus, including the delta virus, which is much more transmissible and more deadly in terms of non -- unvaccinated people, the various shots that people are getting now cover that. They're okay. You're not going to -- you're not going to get COVID if you had these vaccinations.


BOLDUAN: Can you clarify this because people are showing breakthrough infections as yet another false reason to not get a shot. What should the president have said? SLAVITT: I think he probably would have added the word "severe"

before COVID. We know that upward of 99 percent of people who died from COVID in 93 percent or 94-plus percent in the hospital are people who are unvaccinated but is that doesn't mean that you won't get a mild case. You should ask yourself if you get a mild case or you test positive for COVID is a couple of things. One is, a lot of people will test positive when their immune system is fighting off COVID. And so, in a sense you'll test positive but it is really the vaccine is working and doing its job.

The other thing is, that if you hadn't been vaccinated, that test positive would have been much more severe case. So, it will -- we'll hear stories around people with breakthroughs and it will sound very stunning and puzzling. And in deed when you take a vaccine you don't expect to test positive. In fact, that is how it does work.

And so we'll see this as more people get vaccinated, we'll see more and more of these cases that are -- I don't think breakthrough is the way I would describe it. I would describe them as post vaccination infections because they're not very dramatic and often the infection isn't noticeable. You see it with Olympic athletes and sports stars who are required to go through testing protocols who wouldn't know they have it. But we should protect ourselves.

BOLDUAN: Once there is full FDA approval of the vaccine, would you advise the president to set an example and require federal employees to get vaccinated in order to work in government buildings?

SLAVITT: I think presuming that the FDA approves -- providing full approval, which there is no doubt that they will, that everything should be on the table. Not just for government agencies, but also for state and municipalities, for employers and venues like concerts and restaurants and sporting -- sports stadiums.

BOLDUAN: I hear you say on the table. But, you know, you were an adviser to the White House. Would you advise the president to set an example and lead in this regard?

SLAVITT: Well, if I were there, I would call together the major agencies, I would call together certainly the secretary of defense, the people around the TSA, the V.A.., et cetera, and I would have a serious conversation with them. Would you hear objections. But yeah, I would probably lean very hard into particularly in certain agencies like the V.A. where I might start with that.

But the TSA, where people are coming into lots of contact with people.


So, you know, I would probably not make a blanket decision until I went through an agency by agency review. But I would be -- I would be fairly aggressive in answering your question.

BOLDUAN: Andy Slavitt, thanks for coming on.

SLAVITT: Thank you. BOLDUAN: Let's get to some of the other news that President Biden

made last night in the town hall. Pressed on what is the decision doing to combat misinformation about vaccines and much more.

Arlette Saenz is back with me. And also joining us now is CNN's John Harwood.

So President Biden last night, he also spoke to the problem of misinformation around vaccines and something of a shift that we were seeing among some conservative lawmakers.

Guys, let me play the president.


BIDEN: All of a sudden they're out there saying let's get vaccinated. Let's get vaccinated. The very people who before this were saying so that -- I shouldn't make fun. That's good. It is good. It's good. We just have to keep telling the truth.


BOLDUAN: And then let me play what one top Republican in the House held a -- said at a press conference about all of this just this morning. Here's Steve Scalise.


REP. STEVE SCALISEL (R-LA): We've expressed confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. But again as all of the doctors have talked about, ultimately if anybody in America, would you encourage people to get the vaccine. I have high confidence in it. I got it myself.


BOLDUAN: John, what do you think of this?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Joe Biden was right to correct himself when he said I shouldn't make fun of it. He shouldn't make fun of it. Because any step forward adds value to the attempt to help diminish suffering and death in the United States by getting more people vaccinated. We know that vaccines work.

It is welcome for that endeavor that some voices in conservative media and conservative politicians like Steve Scalise, Mitch McConnell, Sean Hannity and others are joining the core us and trying to get followers to get vaccinated.

One of the real problems for the United States and a big problem for the Joe Biden administration is that millions and millions and millions of Americans, for whatever reason, have been reluctant to get vaccinated and that has slowed to a crawl the process of getting Americans protected against this virus and that ultimately endangers all of us. BOLDUAN: He also talked about the pandemic economy, Arlette, and one

important moment last night was when a restaurant owner talked to Biden about he's struggling to fill jobs. Here is what Biden said.


BIDEN: I think it really is a matter of people deciding now that they have opportunities to do other things and there is a shortage of employees. People are looking to make more money and to bargain. And so I think your business and the tourist business is really going to be in a bind for a little while.


BOLDUAN: What was Biden trying to say here, Arlette? What did you think of that moment?

SAENZ: Well, really, what you've heard from President Biden in recent days is trying to express their confidence that this inflation, this spike that you're seeing in prices, is simply just going to be temporary. His argument is that it is occurring as the economy is reopening. And they're pointing to economists who back up some of their claims.

But there have been very real concerns about whether this inflation would end up being a longer term influence. And so much of what the administration has been trying to do, as they're not just combating the virus, it's also trying to set up the economy for moving ahead and growing stronger after the year and a half or past year and a half at least spent in this pandemic.

And the president was also just very frank and saying that businesses are going to be in a bind for a bit. And he and he pointed to support that the past -- the coronavirus relief package offered to business in the past. But all of the issues relating to inflation and price spikes are certainly something that the White House is keeping a close eye on.

BOLDUAN: All right, guys, stick around for me, if you will. Much more of President Biden's town hall last night including the most direct answer on the fate of filibuster. That's next.




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: You agree with the former president, he's called him your old boss, that it is a relic of Jim Crow.

BIDEN: It is.

LEMON: If it is a relic of Jim Crow, it's been used to fight against civil rights legislation, historically. Why protect it?

BIDEN: There is no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into a chaos and nothing will get done.

LEMON: All right.

BIDEN: Nothing at all will get done.


BOLDUAN: President Biden making clear his position on the Senate filibuster last night. Many Democrats have been pushing him to support changing the rules of the Senate chamber to throw out the 60 vote threshold in order to more easily pass major elements of his agenda without needing Republican support.

So, with what Biden said last night, does Biden's comments finally settle it?

Back with me, Arlette Saenz and John Harwood.

John, does this settle?

HARWOOD: No, it doesn't. A couple of points to be made here.

First of all, Joe Biden very much wants to pass his agenda by whatever means he can.

Secondly, he does not have the power himself to change the filibuster.


And, third, there are not the votes within the Democratic Caucus, Democrats alone could do it, to get rid of the filibuster.

Fourth, when he said you could have chaos and nothing would get done, he's got his eye on this very large infrastructure package both the bipartisan version and the subsequent version he wants to pass with Democrat-only votes. That is his top priority right now for the economy. It is the top priority legislatively.

He wants to try to address that. He thinks the fight on a filibuster over voting rights will be will be counterproductive of that. But that he doesn't want that happen right now.

BOLDUAN: That is a great take, that's a great take, John.

Arlette, on another aspect of Biden's agenda, police reform, Biden did not mince words last night. Biden saying that Republicans are lying about how Democrats -- about Democrats wanting to defund the police.


LEMON: So then how do you respond to Republicans who try to paint you and your party as anti-police?

BIDEN: They're lying.

(CHEERS) BIDEN: I've never -- never said defunding police. Look, I don't know any communities that are in most need and the poorest and most at risk that don't want police. They want police though to look at them as equals.


BOLDUAN: What you could see in this moment how much it seems to matter to him because he was very defiant in what he was saying. Is this about reframing a political message, though, Arlette, or is this about something more?

SAENZ: Well, this is messaging that Biden has had to confront and battle all the way, going back to the campaign where Republicans and President Trump tried to hit-and-run the tables -- tried to turn the tables on him when it came to the midterms that there were impacts of the defunding the police message on Democrats in their congressional races.

But, look, the White House and the president are aware this is something that Republicans will continue to hammer them on. This is something that they've already signaled they want to go after heading into the upcoming midterm elections.

But there is nuance in what Biden has said about crime recently. Just last week, he was hosting local officials here and he was urging them to use the funding from that federal COVID relief package, use that funding to hire more police.

One of Biden's aspects of his crime in policing plan is to invest in community policing and ensure that police have the resources and their departments have the resources to hire people. So this is something that the White House will continue to have to push back on as we're seeing Republicans not really shine away from using that messaging heading into the upcoming elections.

BOLDUAN: John, let me play for you how Biden talked about what it feels like being president.


BIDEN: For the first time I walked downstairs and they played "Hail to the Chief", and I wondered, where is he? You think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding. You know, I mean --

LEMON: It's a great tune, isn't it?

BIDEN: That is a great tune. But you feel a little self conscience.


BOLDUAN: What did you think of that, John?

HARWOOD: Look, I think there were a couple of points, Kate, where he was expressing the way that the presidency humbles whoever holds it. One of them is realizing that the guy everyone is looking at is you. The other point he made is he talked about how he once told Barack

Obama being vice president is a great job because he got to be last in the room to advise the president and he didn't have any of the responsibility. When you're the president it falls on your shoulders and that is a heavy burden and he was candid about that as well as the fact he can't walk outside in a t-shirt or shorts or walk out of his bedroom with a robe the way he used to when he wasn't president.

BOLDUAN: He can. But it might make more headlines than it used to.

HARWOOD: It might be awkward.

BOLDUAN: Maybe. Slightly. Good to see you guys. Thank you very much.

SAENZ: Thanks.

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Still ahead for us, a new standoff on Capitol Hill. What is going to happen with the insurrection investigation if Republicans just walked away?