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At This Hour

More Companies Impose Vaccine Requirements; Soon: Biden to Announce Vaccine Requirement for Federal Workers; Senate Advances Infrastructure Bill with Bipartisan Vote. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 29, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.

Vaccines required. A growing number of employers moving to require vaccination as President Biden plans to do the same with federal workers today.

Pandemic rebound. The U.S. economy growing past the shutdown recession. How the delta variant and inflation could turn that on its head.

Olympic medalist Suni Lee wins the gold in the gymnastics all-around, as Simone Biles cheers her on from the stands and thanks her supporters.


BOLDUAN: Let's begin -- hi, everybody -- let's begin with corporate America taking a stand in a big way. The list of employers requiring that workers be vaccinated is growing up. They join the federal government and some local governments putting pressure on unvaccinated Americans who are driving the surge across the United States today.

In just hours, President Biden will announce all federal employees must be vaccinated or face regular testing requirements. The hope is, of course, that all of this creates a domino effect to get more people to get more shots.

And the urgency is obvious. Cases are rising at an alarming rate once again. The United States now is averaging nearly 64,000 new infections a day. That is five times above last month.

We have reporters and experts covering every angle of this pivotal moment in the pandemic.

Let's begin with CNN's Matt Egan who is tracking the big moves by corporate America.

Matt, how many companies are we talking about and what are they saying? MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS LEAD WRITER: Well, Kate, this is clearly a

sea change for corporate America and it is being driven by rising COVID cases and variant fears. Some businesses are clearly losing patience with employees who aren't vaccinated.

Now we heard from both Facebook and Google, they became two of the first Silicon Valley companies to say that employees that want to come back to the office, they need to get vaccinated. Other companies who are taking similar steps include Netflix, Blackrock, Lyft and "The Washington Post." The Durst Organization, one of New York's City's largest real estate developers is going a step further and saying that employees who are unvaccinated after Labor Day will get fired.

Of course, most companies are allowing for some rare health and religious exemptions. But the point is that after taking kind of a hands-off approach for months and merely encouraging employees to get vaccinated, some companies are taking a harder line here. And another new trend that we're seeing is that some tech companies are actually rethinking their return to the office.

One of them is Apple. Apple is delaying the reopening of its offices by at least a month because of the delta variant. Google as well. Twitter is closing the offices that it had open in New York and San Francisco. This is being driven by health concerns but there are economic consequences too, Kate, because clearly the local restaurants and bars and bodegas and dry cleaners that had been relying on local office workers, they're going o be disappointed in that doesn't happen this fall.

BOLDUAN: That's for sure. Matt, thank you very much.

So, President Biden, he's going to be shifting the onus of this pandemic to the unvaccinated today, announcing a vaccine requirement for all federal employees in just a few hours and CNN has learned that the president has become frustrated with the low vaccination rate really across the country.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond live at the White House for us this hour.

Jeremy, what are we going to hear from Biden?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, we know that over the last week, President Biden has been growing increasingly frustrated with the state of vaccination in the United States. While we've seen the numbers tick up in recent days, there has been a plateau for some weeks now. And the president feeling like the United States has hit a brick wall.

And that sentiment is certainly echoed inside of the White House where we have begun to see a dramatic shift in policy as the president prepares to announce today that all federal employees will either need to be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination to their supervisors, or will need to undergo a regular coronavirus testing regiment in order to continue to come into work.

The specific details of that implementation are expected to be left to the individual federal agencies that will be implementing this. But it is a huge shift in what the White House is doing here after months of saying that questions of mandates and vaccine requirements would be left to the private sector and not touching that at all, we are seeing the federal government tip its toes in that way.

] [11:05:06]

And that is because of alarming spread of this delta variant and ultimately, Kate, what the White House is hoping here is that in doing this with federal employees, that it will be an example, a model for the private sector to begin to adapt as we're seeing some companies doing this week -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jeremy, thank you, from the White House.

Florida continues to be the epicenter of the worsening pandemic. The state just reported the highest daily case count since January. More than 16,000 new infections on Tuesday. Florida leads the nation right now in number of new cases.

That's where we find CNN's Leyla Santiago. She is live in Fort Lauderdale where the first school district just voted to require masks in the classroom once again which is defying the governor.

Leyla, this is turning into something of a showdown now?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And much of that is based on some of the statistics that you just mentioned, Kate. When you look at numbers, 20 percent of all cases right here in the state of Florida. And then add to that, the new guidelines from the CDC.

Broward County decided to go back to the drawing board to look at what they plan to do with mask policy for the upcoming school year. Many of the parents who spoke at the meeting were against requiring masks but ultimately the board unanimously decided to bring back masks for the upcoming school year. Something that Governor Ron DeSantis is very much against and has hinted that he will call for a special session of the legislature in order to ensure that masks remain optional for schools.

Listen to what he said last night to a group in Salt Lake City.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Did you not get the CDC's memo? I don't see you guys complying. I think it's very important that we say unequivocally, no to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions and no mandates.

BROWARD CO. SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: We are all elected to protect students and employees, and it is my feeling that just because the governor doesn't want to act in the best interest of his constituents, that does not absolve us from our responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANTIAGO: Now that was one school board member. One board member said if we want to get this under control so our kids don't have to wear masks, let's all get vaccinated, again, a unanimous decision to move forward with masks. I called around to several other school districts in Florida, but a handful told me their still trying to figure out how to move forward given what the governor has said, given what the CDC has said and what they feel is best for the students -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's right. The way to avoid closures and avoid shutdowns as governor is saying is to either get vaccinated or wear masks. A combination of the two.

Thank you, Leyla. I really appreciate it.

Joining me right now, Dr. Richard Besser. He's the former acting director of the CDC and now the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It's good to see you again, Dr. Besser. Thank you for being here.

What we're seeing just kind of broadly as we saw from the top of this show, from big business, the federal government and even local school boards, do you see this as a turning point, are requirements and mandates to get vaccinated, what the country needs right now?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER CDC ACTING DIRECTOR: Yeah, you know, I don't think we'd be having this conversation if what we saw in may in terms of the trends with continuing downward movement in cases and increasing vaccination and a much rosier picture here in the United States. If that was continuing, we wouldn't be seeing this.

But what we're seeing is a response to a very different picture, and that is, you know, numbers of cases going up just about everywhere, hospital systems in many places that are being overrun. And because of that, it is really important to react appropriately. And that is putting in place measures that will protect people's health.

You know, we as an institution, the Robert Johnson Foundation, we're looking to open right after Labor Day and we're requiring everyone who works in the building to be vaccinated. If not, people could work remotely.

But businesses have that ability. And the reason that it is so important is that a decision to get vaccinated is not just as decision about protecting yourself. When you get vaccinated, it is clearly the best way to ensure that you're not going to get severe disease or be hospitalized. But it also protects those people around you who either can't get vaccinated, if you're under 12, or people who may have a medical condition for which vaccines don't provide full protection.

And the employers have a responsibility to ensure that their workplace is safe for everybody who is working there. And so these kind of requirements, I think, we're going to see more and more given the current context of COVID in this country.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, we've heard from some of the hesitant, which is different than the people who are resistant to vaccines. [11:10:05]

The hesitant are holding off until full FDA approval of the vaccines. Are you at a place yet starting to wonder what is taking the FDA so long?

BESSER: Well, it is -- you know, the FDA, you don't want to them to cut corners. Typically the approval of a new vaccine takes over a year. It's not going to be that long for this. There has been experience with hundreds of millions of people receiving these vaccines and so they know how incredibly safe and effective they are.

So, hopefully, it will be sooner. I hope that when FDA approves these vaccines, it will help some of those people who are on the fence decide, yes, I'm going to move forward. I think vaccine requirements in many places will do the same.

As a pediatrician, I know that there are a number of parents of my patients who have some concerns about vaccination. But because vaccines are required for school entry, they say I'm going to do it and I think we'll see the same thing here if employers put in place vaccine requirements as well.

BOLDUAN: The CDC's revised guidance that even the vaccinated should wear masks indoors in public places and in certain areas, masks are also now required again on the floor of the House of Representatives. I bring this up because I want to play what one Texas Republican, how he went off on the House floor yesterday and in protest of needing to wear a mask again.


REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): We have a crisis at our border, and we're playing footsy with mask mandates in the People's House. We have people infected with COVID coming to our southern border in Texas and you all put masks, masks up front here. Which is it? Vaccines or masks?

The vaccines work or they don't work. Do the masks work or they don't work? This institution is a sham. And we should adjourn and shut this place down.


BOLDUAN: Now, Dr. Besser, that statement was kind of a chock-full of inaccurate information.

I also try to leave on the possibility that maybe he's confused by the guidance and the science which some people are, with the revised guidance. What do you say to that?

BESSER: Well, I was really pleased by the new CDC guidance because what it represents to me is real-time learning. When the CDC back in May said fully vaccinated people don't need to wear masks anymore, it based on a number of pieces of information. One was the declining spread of COVID. Another was that vaccines were widely available. But a critical piece was that there was data that shows that people

who were fully vaccinated would not spread this to other people, even if they were asymptomatically infected or had a mild breakthrough infection. What they've learned now through outbreak investigations, is with this delta strain, if someone has a break through infection, even if they're fully vaccinated, the amount of virus -- their viral load in their nose is just as high as if they weren't vaccinated.

And because of that, to protect people because there are cases of breakthrough infection, not in terms of serious infection or hospitalizations, but because there could be breakthrough infections, it's important for people who are fully vaccinated that wear masks indoors in areas where there is high rates of transmission and pretty soon that's going to be just about everywhere.

But I wanted to just reflect on the political aspect of this and one thing that gives me hope is that I'm seeing governors, I'm seeing some governors from both parties who were not supportive of mandates who are reconsidering that based on this new information and it's important that we don't box people in. We give room for people to make a change this their policy.

And states that are now saying, you know what, we're going to go with this, we're going to require vaccines in our schools for our kids so that it's safe for them, for teachers and staff. That's a really positive sign.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Besser, thank you.

BESSER: Thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the U.S. economy recovering from the pandemic but the surge in coronavirus cases could threaten it already. I'm going to talk to a top White House economic adviser coming up.



BOLDUAN: AT THIS HOUR, the Senate is forging ahead with the President Biden's economic agenda after 17 Republicans joined Democrats in voting to advance a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill to help improve roads and bridges and pipes, ports, water, broadband and more.

CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, what happens next?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Kate. I mean, this is a major break through. After months of negotiating, this bipartisan group agreeing to new $550 billion in spending over the next five years. But there are several steps that are head and potentially many places where senators could trip up.

Yesterday, 17 Republicans voted to advance this. Can they hold their coalition together because they have several more votes? They're going to need at least 10 Republicans for. That is the big question going into the weekend.

We expect another procedural vote tomorrow and then they're going to have to get into whether or not they're going to have amendments and how many they're going to have. Because this is the U.S. Senate, things could move either very quickly or things could move very slowly, depending on whether or not one single lawmaker objects to advancing this process in a timely manner. And I think that is what everyone is watching right now.

We're also still waiting on legislative text, what is actually in this bill.


We have summaries, we have some documents laying out some of this spending, but we do not have legislative text. And that's important. Because some Republicans are arguing that they want to make sure they see that before they move forward with this process.

Obviously, they're already beginning this process but Senator Moran who was part of that bipartisan group, he's a Republican, he is saying that he is not going to continue voting for this until he actually sees that text. So that is very important and another thing we're watching for this morning, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Lauren, thank you so much.

Joining me now for more on this is former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent and former Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy, both CNN political commentators.

It's great to see you both.

Congressman Dent, how much of a victory is the first step that they took -- with the vote that they took last night? I mean, how long is the road still ahead, do you think?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the road is still a bit long, Kate, but I'm very optimistic. The fact that they have 57 votes to proceed suggests they're in a position where they could get a strong bipartisan vote.

And here is a message to all of our viewers -- any time that the U.S. Senate passes a major piece of legislation with a strong bipartisan vote, the House will eat it every single time. And the House will complain about this. But it seems to me if they get through the amendment process, this thing is greased.

The question is, will the leftwing of the Democratic Party in the House try to tank this. If they tank this bill, I can assure you, they will not get their reconciliation package. Why would Senators Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Josh Gottheimer and others vote for reconciliation package if they can't get what they want, a delicately negotiated infrastructure package.

BOLDUAN: Well, and, Congressman Kennedy, that's -- the next kind of other lane of this, with this more than a $3 trillion budget deal that Charlie is getting at here, you have Democrats moving forward with this kind of all on their own, and which is like the rest of Biden's domestic agenda, Republicans are not for it. There is even in-fighting among Democrats on this pretty publicly.

Do you see how Democrats navigate that divide? Do you think it is smart to push forward on that if you could, I don't know, you could potentially be getting a win with infrastructure? Do you see this as failure ahead on the other side?

JOE KENNEDY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think there is failure ahead, Kate. But I think you absolutely have to make sure that the House and the wishes of the House are accommodated. I don't like to disagree with Charlie here, but he and I will both remember back to an immigration vote in 2013 that had about 68 votes from the U.S. Senate which Republican House leadership refused to take up.

And I think there is concern here to say, hey, the House is a co-equal chamber. They've got voices, they have representation, they deserve to be heard in this and yes, some moderates have been and again this is an achievement, what we've seen, a long way to go but a long ways that already come. But if this is going to be successful, I think most folks would agree there was always going to be a step two and that is reconciliation.

And I think that you're seeing Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer walk through that process to basically try to move them both at the same time knowing they have to have both steps to keep this coalition together.

BOLDUAN: So, essentially, friends, viewers that are watching, what you're hearing is if you really enjoy this whole back and forth in infrastructure, you're going to love reconciliation. You're going to love that part.

We see this bipartisanship with infrastructure, Charlie. But something -- but on something as basic as the truth, the divisions continue. I want to play Adam Kinzinger because he spoke to this yesterday following that insurrection hearing and he spoke directly to Republicans.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I think, you know, every Republican needs to look deep in their soul and say, okay, maybe you're scared of ticking some people off but this has long-term implications and not just political implications, human implications, and frankly, implications for self-governance which is why I'm so passionate about this.


BOLDUAN: Look, there has always been a fringe. We've talked about this, Charlie, in the Republican Party. But now with so many members actively dismissing truth in such a wild fashion and rejecting science if you want to add coronavirus into this. What does the Republican Party stand for now?

DENT: Well, right now, I think the party is really struggling. There was a time when I served that we tried to marginalize the fringe elements. We didn't elevate them. And we elevated people who are serious, thoughtful members, like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, for example.

And now what is happening is it feels like that people like Kinzinger and Cheney are being marginalized, and the fringe elements are being elevated. This is a long-term problem for the party. In the short- term, though, I think Kinzinger is absolutely right.

Republicans shouldn't look at this through a political lens.


I mean, everybody was horrified and deeply upset about what happened on January 6th and seeking the truth is -- should be beyond political, just like 9/11 was. And there shouldn't be all of this acrimony.

I'm dispirited that so many of my Republican colleagues, former colleagues are just resisting these investigations.


And, Congressman Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi called Kevin McCarthy a moron yesterday for criticizing the mask requirement in Congress. He's calling Kinzinger and Cheney, and I would assume probably had Charlie Dent into that, a Pelosi Republican, which they are not.

But in a raw political sense, do you think this works?

KENNEDY: I hope not. And so obviously I served with all three, Charlie and Adam and Liz. And none of them are anywhere close to a Democrat.

What you have particularly with the two in office at the moment are dyed in a wool Republicans that are willing to stand up for truth and when you have a insurgent mob that tries to stop the wheels of democracy, they're going to call it out. That shouldn't be a high bar to clear.

And I think what you're seeing in the house from House leadership is a calculation that they cannot win without a Trump base. The question for the country is do we want them to win with a Trump base. And that is going to be a question for each and every one of us out there, to say is this, given what we're seeing from House Republicans now, is that the type of leadership and is that the tone and character and policy that we want to see leading our chambers going forward? And I think that is a clear call for everybody to take warning.

BOLDUAN: Gentlemen, thank you so much.

KENNEDY: Thank you.

DENT: Thanks, Kate. BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the economy growing in at a pace not seen in months. But could inflation affect that. A top economist is joining me next.