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Biden's Doctor: President's COVID Symptoms Have Improved; 80+ Million Under Heat Alerts From California To New England; Biden's Exec Order Aims To Help Bring Detained Americans Home. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 22, 2022 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: This just in. The White House has just released, we just got it in right here, a new letter from President Biden's doctor on his condition after the president tested positive for COVID. The president's physician says in this letter that President Biden's symptoms have improved, and also notes that Biden did mount a temperature last night but responded well to Tylenol.

The President's doctor says he's still experiencing a runny nose, fatigue, and occasional cough and he will continue being treated with the antiviral drug Paxlovid. Joining me now is CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen. Doctor Wen, it sounds like things are going as well as can be hoped, yes?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Right. The -- this letter this morning is really reassuring because, Kate, what we look for is a progression of symptoms. And in this case, the symptoms are going in the right direction. They were very mild, to begin with. It sounds like they're still very mild now. The president had a temperature to 99.4 yesterday, which he was given Tylenol. But actually, 99.4 is not really considered to be a fever, it's not really considered a fever until it's over 100.4. I might not even have given the president Tylenol last night. And so it sounds like he's doing very well.

Again, a reminder, that Paxlovid, the antiviral medication should be taken as soon as symptoms start. A lot of people have the misunderstanding that they need to wait until their symptoms are severe and then they take it, but actually, the sooner you take it the better because it stops viral replication. And that's exactly what the president did. And I think that Paxlovid, in addition to him being vaccinated and boosted will ensure that he has a very good outcome.

BOLDUAN: One wild card that people face no matter how protected they are, is long COVID and the possibility of that. What more have we learned about the risks of long COVID? When will his physician know if that's even a possibility that he could be facing it?

WEN: There's a wide spectrum of what could be considered long COVID. A lot of studies looked at do people still have any lingering symptoms after two months, including a call for fatigue? A lot of people have that. Then there are a lot of people who have or some people have really debilitating symptoms of such severe fatigue, for example, that they can't work.

I really hope that that will not happen with President Biden, I think he might still have a lingering cough or even some horses for a bit. I hope that that is the extent of it. Of course, there needs to be a lot more research into what exactly is long COVID and also how we can treat the many people who are living with long-term consequences from COVID.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, NIH had launched like a huge study into long COVID but they said it's going to be a while before they can really get any data on who's most at risk and what are -- what the spectrum is. But it is something that's still out there. The White House COVID Response Coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha was asked this morning how the president contracted COVID. I want to play for you what he said.


DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We don't know much about it, you know, obviously could have gotten it anytime in the preceding days. There's obviously an incubation period. But there's a lot of variation in all of that. So we don't know.


BOLDUAN: And that is true. At this point, how much does knowing when and how it may be from whom that he was infected? How much does it matter?


WEN: It really doesn't. What matters is finding out who the president could have exposed during that one day that he might have been infectious, and could have -- and could have affected other people. The reason why it doesn't matter so much now as to where President Biden or anyone got COVID from is that COVID is everywhere. We have to assume that the actual number of cases is maybe 10 times than reported cases.

And so there's very high community transmission virtually everywhere in the U.S. And that means that if you're going out in public, if you're shaking hands, hugging people, meeting with individuals, going to restaurants, or gyms, or really going about our daily lives, you're going to encounter COVID and so chances are President Biden encountered multiple people who had COVID and could have picked it up from any of those places.

Containment right now is not the strategy. It's just not going to work. We are living with COVID, we're going to try to figure out ways to reduce our own risk, and also reduce our risk of severe illness. And that's the reason why identifying the initial source of it is not the right measure at this point, different from what it was back in 2020.

BOLDUAN: And there is the kind of the evolution of thinking that we -- on how we think about COVID now versus back in 2020 that I think that people still need to have. This gets to the new op-ed that you wrote in The Washington Post because you wrote that the president's diagnosis is actually an opportunity here. Explain for folks.

WEN: It's a teachable moment for us to let people know about what is the right thing to do once you get COVID, that you are supposed to isolate and test as soon as you have symptoms, contact trace, let people know that you were exposed. Those were all the things that the president did, take Paxlovid, also get vaccinated and boosted to protect yourself in advance of getting COVID.

I think there's something else too which is that the president took a lot of precautions, including masking, including having people around him test, and yet he's still got COVID. And I'm sure we know many people like that in our lives who had been so cautious all along, but two and a half years into the pandemic still got COVID.

I hope people do not feel shame or guilt or stigma associated with getting COVID but rather understand that we're dealing with an incredibly transmissible variant that's all around us. So it's not necessarily inevitable that you get COVID. You can still try to reduce your risk and the risk to others around you. But it is very likely that we will all encounter COVID maybe multiple times over the course of a year. And so the key is to be prepared for when that may happen.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Doctor Wen. Thanks for being here. Coming up for us. Dangerous extreme heat to impact millions across the United States this weekend. Chad Myers will be joining us. The weather forecast is next.



BOLDUAN: Right now, more than 80 million people from California to the East Coast are under heat alerts, New York, DC, Philadelphia, and Boston, all approaching 100 degrees this weekend. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is back with me now for more on this. I mean, Chad, it's just -- it's not going to quit like I feel like ever.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No, maybe not until September. I hope it's not that's the case where, Kate, spreads some of his heat around this weekend a little bit. But it's already feeling like almost 90 and so many cities across the East Coast. We will be in the 90s, even 99 in Philadelphia. The problem with the humidity there, it's going to feel like 105, same story for DC. We'd like to get some showers to cool down but most of that rain is going to be in the Great Lakes where there could be some severe weather tomorrow with significant wind. Watch it if you're outside or boating, whatever it might be there.

It's hard to imagine 102 is a better day in Dallas today. But think about this. Tuesday and Wednesday, they were 109. Wichita Falls was 115. The hottest spots in the country today, Vegas all the way down to Phoenix, of course, into Death Valley but above 110 all across the Southwest, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Chad, it's good to see you. Thank you so much. All right, let's go to Texas where there are virtually no limits on individual campaign contributions. CNN has found a small handful of influential billionaires now are gaining more and more power over school boards, City Councils, and state governments. Set in another way, all of the levers of power and a very important state. It's the focus of a new CNN special. Here's a preview.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For more than a decade, you were winning elections out here in East Texas.

BOB DEUELL, FORMER REPUBLICAN STATE SENATOR: I looked at myself more as a Reagan conservative, someone that was interested in good government and policy.

LAVANDERA: In all of your time in the Texas Senate, you never received any money from Tim Dunn, Farris Wilks, any of the PACs that they represent?


LAVANDERA: And someone who says look, I have a hard time believing that a couple of guys who were donating to candidates across the state can really have this much influence. I just don't buy it.

DEUELL: I had one senator literally open a book and said, I think I can vote for that because I haven't really voted against them on anything so far. What kind of public policy? I'm not going to name him but someone it's --

LAVANDERA: Well, you got --

DEUELL: Someone that's still there.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Ed Lavandera joins me now from Dallas. Ed, one person told you in the course of filming this special that it's shaping up to be like a Russian oligarchy down there. I mean, who are these people? And what our viewers -- what else our viewers going to learn in this -- in this special report?


LAVANDERA: Well, the purpose of this is to try to like peel back the curtain a little bit on exactly how Texas politics works right now. As you heard, as mentioned there in that clip, there are a couple of West Texas billionaires, Tim Dunn, Ferris Wilks. They donate millions and millions of dollars to state offices all across Texas. And they have been extremely effective and smart about how they have spent their money and they wield a great deal of influence. But these are figures that are not household names, Kate. You know that they get some mentioned every time -- every once in a while when campaign expenditure reports are published and that sort of thing. But we're trying to peel back the curtain to kind of get people a sense of exactly how they operate to view into this world as best we can.

BOLDUAN: And how much power they really hold. It's great to see you, Ed. looking forward to seeing this special report this weekend.

LAVANDERA: Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: And you can watch "DEEP IN THE POCKETS OF TEXAS" Sunday night, 8 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Happening right now, a jury is now deliberating the criminal contempt case against Steve Bannon. Closing arguments wrapped up moments ago. CNN's Sara Murray is live at the federal courthouse in Washington with the very latest. Sarah, what do you hear now?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the jury is finally beginning to deliberate. That comes after we got these closing arguments this morning. The prosecution was arguing that look Steve Bannon just decided he wasn't going to show up. He decided not to comply. He decided to stand with former President Trump rather than standing with the law and sort of exhibited that he, you know, sort of feels like the rules don't apply to him.

The argument that the defense made was a little bit choppy. You remember they didn't call any witnesses. They kept getting interrupted today during their closing argument with objections when they were veering into territories. The judge has already put off limits. He basically said, look, if you think Steve Bannon just made a mistake here, you cannot find him guilty. And they also tried to inject a little bit of politics at the end of their closing, Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Sara, thank you so much. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: 155 days. That is how long WNBA star Brittney Griner has been held in a Russian jail. President Biden has just signed an executive order to try and help bring home Americans like Brittney and so many others wrongfully detained overseas.

Joining me now is someone who knows about this personally, Washington Post opinion writer Jason Rezaian who was unjustly imprisoned in Iran for a year and a half. He's also the executive producer of Bring Them Home, a documentary on Americans being held overseas. It's good to see you, Jason.

I -- really, I read with much interest that -- your piece that you wrote about all of this. The headline of it is we officially have a hostage crisis. And you say it's a problem that is only getting worse. Why is that?

JASON REZAIAN, OPINION WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, Kate, this is something that's been going on for centuries, right? But Americans being targeted by authoritarian states is on the rise. Over the past five or six years, we've seen the number jump from just a handful of cases to literally dozens of cases. There's more than 40 Americans who are being wrongfully detained by governments around the world, and it's because governments like Iran, like China, like Russia, are using the notion of a free and independent judiciary against us and holding our citizens in these very opaque judicial long term processes.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And so the President's Executive Order sign Tuesday, would it have made a difference for you, do you think? Do you think it will make a difference now for Brittney Griner in Russia or Emad Shargi in Iran and the dozens of other Americans unjustly detained?

REZAIAN: I think it does make a difference because it clarifies that what these governments are doing is hostage taking. That being said, it's not a magic bullet, it's not going to bring people home right away. What it does is it gives different government agencies, more authorities to go after states that do this, but also to really call it what it is. Call it hostage-taking and address it as a serial crime rather than just some consular mix-up that -- which is the way we looked at it for so many years.

BOLDUAN: For sure. And even -- yes, words matter and how you're talking about it.

REZAIAN: So real.

BOLDUAN: I think that's a really important point, Jason. We've heard from Brittney Griner's wife, I've also heard it from Emad Shargi's sister that the most important thing for these families to do is to get the president's attention only then does anything really happen. I'm sure they look to use, these families, for advice on just how to survive at all. What do you tell these families?

REZAIAN: Well, without getting into too many details about specific cases, anybody who asks me, I say, be as vocal as possible, the more vocal you are, the more quickly it's going to become part of the presidential agenda whichever administration that we're talking about. And ultimately, as you -- as you indicate it, it's up to the president of the United States to make hard decisions on how and when people will come home. It's not the president's fault that Americans are being detained, but ultimately, it's up to him to make hard calls sometimes. And, you know, I think compelling presidents to do that is really the only thing that a family and the employer of hostages can actually do.

BOLDUAN: One part about this has become prisoner swaps as a solution. Trevor, that were -- they were able to secure Trevor Reed's release with a prisoner swap, there was a swap involved with your release as well.


BOLDUAN: The practice though remains controversial. People think that -- some people think that it rewards bad actors does nothing to discourage these nations from detaining more Americans. What do you say about that?

[11:55:06] REZAIAN: I think that there's two problems here. One, the first priority is bringing Americans home as safely and quickly as possible. The second is how do we deter this moving forward? There's absolutely no evidence that says that doing these kinds of deals increases the likelihood of more hostage taking. But at the end of the day, until we have the deterrent measures in place until we're able to punish and hold hostage takers accountable, it's not going to stop. The reason they keep doing it is because they can get away with it.

So, you know, while it's unsavory to think about the trade of prisoners for you know Americans who are innocent and wrongfully detained in exchange for people who've been convicted in American courts, sometimes that's the only time option. And I understand it's a hard decision. I empathize with administrations that have to deal with this. But at the end of the day, the safety, the freedom, the lives of these American people and their families who are suffering deserve to be tended to and bring people back together.

BOLDUAN: Jason, it's really always good to have you. It's nice to see you. Thanks for coming in.

REZAIAN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it. And thank you all so much for being here at this hour, I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS" is up next after this quick break.