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The Lead with Jake Tapper
McCarthy Pulls Out Of January 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two Picks; Cases, Hospitalizations, Deaths All Up Double Digits In Recent Weeks As Highly Contagious Delta Variant Spreads; Interview With Rep. James Comer (R-KY); Right-Wing Media Suddenly Pushing COVID Vaccine?; Top General Responds For The First Time Since Multiple Books Reported Tensions With Trump, Feared "Coup"; Senate GOP Blocks Opening Debate On Infrastructure Plan. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired July 21, 2021 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: John Kasich, Nina Turner, thank you both. Great to talk to you before this big town hall. CNN exclusive presidential town hall airs tonight live at 8:00 p.m. Eastern with Don Lemon.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: THE LEAD starts right now with Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Looks like some Capitol riot apologists aren't done rebelling.
THE LEAD starts right now.
I quit. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he is done with the January 6th committee after Speaker Pelosi rejects two picks who back the big lie. Why some Republicans are seeing her move as a gift.
We had a shot to end this thing. But now people who didn't get their shots are feeling a major COVID comeback, and it's beginning to look a little like 2020 again.
And a doctor in the deep south saying COVID patients are begging for vaccine when it's just too late already. As some in the right-wing media are realizing their vaccine lies may have cost lives.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.
And we begin with breaking news in the politics lead. A flurry of drama on Capitol Hill today surrounding the future of a special House committee investigating the January 6th capitol attack. And it all started when Speaker Nancy Pelosi vetoed the Republican selection of Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio who both objected to the certification of the 2020 presidential election. That opened the door to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, pulling all of his picks for the committee.
Let's bring in CNN's Manu Raju.
So, Manu, Republican sources are telling you this is a political gift. How so?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. There was little interest among House Republicans to participate in this select committee. There was strong opposition of the two Republican members to create this select committee. And Republicans made very clear they did not have much of a desire to have any investigation whatsoever into what happened on January 6th.
The Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy had concerns, raised concerns and said he was opposed to even an outside commission, a bill that would have created an outside panel split evenly between the two parties. He considered that too slanted even though Nancy Pelosi, the speaker gave him what he wanted.
Then Pelosi moved forward with a select committee that would be run by Democrats, eight on her side, five on the Republican side. But the resolution creating that -- gave her that authority to veto the picks. And she announced today she would veto Jim Banks and Jim Jordan based on their past statements.
Now, McCarthy made clear his displeasure with this, criticized the speaker, and contended this next election would be a referendum on her leadership.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republicans, we will not participate.
This is the People's House, not Pelosi's House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So I asked Pelosi whether she had any concerns about the Republicans not participating in this investigation now that she has vetoed two of those picks. She said she did not. She said they have a bipartisan quorum, and they will move forward. She, of course, was referring to Republican Liz Cheney who is a member of one of her eight selections on the committee.
So, she said they can move forward and they plan to do that next week we'll begin the first hearing, hear testimony from Capitol Police officers and then expect a deep dive into what happened on January 6th including what Donald Trump did and all the influencing factors around it.
BROWN: And you mentioned Congresswoman Liz Cheney. She is now the only Republican left on the committee. She came out today to defend the role of the commission. What did she tell you, Manu?
RAJU: She sharply criticized McCarthy and said she agreed with Nancy Pelosi. She said there needed to be people who agree with the Constitution and that this investigation, she contended, would still be done in a nonpartisan manner. Even though there will be several Democrats and just one Republican. Cheney, of course, was pushed out of her leadership position because she challenged Donald Trump, criticized him in the aftermath of January 6th, was one of ten Republicans voting to impeach him for inciting the insurrection.
And I asked Cheney directly, do you believe that Kevin McCarthy deserves to be speaker of the House next year? She said someone who is in third in line of the presidency should respect the Constitution. She said Kevin McCarthy has not done that, making clear where she believes things are going. She believes the party is in the wrong direction. But she is decidedly in the minority, though, Pam, she was just one of two Republicans supporting the select committee, and now will be the only Republican participating in this investigation -- Pam.
BROWN: What a remarkable turn of events. She used to be the number three Republican in leadership. And now, as you point out, she is in the minority here and the only one on this committee.
Manu Raju live for us from Capitol Hill, thanks so much.
Let's discuss this with NBC's Nia-Malika Henderson, Chris Cillizza, Paul Begala and Ramesh Ponnuru. Thanks for joining us here.
Busy day on Capitol Hill. I think we can all agree. So let's talk about what played out today. Republicans are accusing Nancy Pelosi, using this committee to play politics. They are saying this is partisan politics.
What do you think about her decision to reject those two GOP members?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, listen, she rejected two members, she okayed three members. And you had Kevin McCarthy then pull everyone out.
She is right to suggest that the two members that she did are sort of not serious people. If you think about what Jim Jordan was saying today, I think he made an argument for himself not being on the committee today because he basically is suggesting that somehow Nancy Pelosi is to blame for what happened on January 6th. You know, what did she know and when did she know it on January 6th?
And you have a committee of very serious people, Liz Cheney is one of those people. Adam Schiff is one of those people as well. And you have Bennie Thompson who's going to lead this committee.
So, listen, I think no matter what Republicans were going to say this was all partisan, they blocked the nonpartisan, sort of bipartisan committee because they wanted this opportunity to mudline (ph) Nancy Pelosi, to undermine this investigation. But I think you can still get a serious and credible investigation with the folks who are on this committee.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Just to add, I think Nia hit the nail on the head. If you go back, the reason where we are, generally speaking, with this is because Mitch McConnell decided that they didn't want to play ball within a true bipartisan independent commission. It's the only reason that there's a select committee now. All the rest is sort of the thing that if you spend time in
Washington, you see, which is partisan posturing. When McCarthy chose those five people, you knew it was likely to become something of a circus. If you've watched Jim Jordan perform, and I use the word perform on purpose, in the impeachment hearings against Donald Trump in almost everything he says, you kind of know what you're getting there. And so, whether or not she rejected these people, it doesn't really matter.
I differ with Nia not in that you couldn't get a fulsome reporting of what happened. I disagree that the public in any meaningful way will accept it. And I think that was the case long before today. I think that was the case when Senate Republicans decided we don't want to go down this road of something like a 9/11 commission for January 6th.
BROWN: Right, you mention -- you make an important point, you do, too. You know, we're hearing a lot from Jim Banks and Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans. This just shows this is partisan politics. This just shows this isn't really a fact-finding mission.
But what ground do they really have to stand on to say when they also voted the bipartisan commission that was negotiated by a Republican, which is the reason why we're here, Ramesh?
RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I think that the political choices for Kevin McCarthy through this latest period have actually been pretty easy. It was easy for him to come up with people he wanted to name to this commission, thinking that if Pelosi said no, he would then be able to say, look, it's a partisan commission, we can boycott it.
What I think was interesting today was his talk about having a Republican investigation of January 6th, which raises all kinds of questions that I'm not sure he wants to answer, such as does that mean you're going to release texts between you and President Trump from January 6th?
PONNURU: What are you going to do without any subpoena power running your own Republican investigation? And I think that ultimately that's going to be the trickier political thing for him because it's just going to open him up to the potential of ridicule.
BROWN: And also, what's the narrative going to be? I mean, today, you're hearing these Republicans, oh, these were massive security failures, they're trying to pin it all on Pelosi. But that ignores another part of the caucus that's saying nothing happened that day, there was nothing to see here. You know, no big deal, this was just a tourist event.
So which one is it?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They're incoherent. I have to say watching Nancy Pelosi taking on Kevin McCarthy, that's like this bad ass ninja against a sock puppet. I mean, it's not a fair fight. She is just so much more -- I mean, my dog, (INAUDIBLE) smarter (ph)
than McCarthy. I'm sorry. I have very low opinion of his intellect.
But if you only were a partisan strategist, which I used to be for many years, you would want Jim Jordan on there. You're going into the midterm where the deck is stacked against the Democrats, right? Republicans have very strong chance to taking the House. But people like Jim Jordan really ignore those suburban swing voters who are Republicans but they're sick of Trump. And Democrats are really worried without Trump, would they go back to being Republican, because that's where their roots are?
So, in a partisan -- strictly partisan move, you would want Jordan on there. Pelosi's an institutionalist. Sources talk to her I've talked to today, said look, first off, Congressman Jordan has a conflict of interest. On December 21, he was one of the ultra right-wing Republicans who went and met with Trump to plan strategy for January 6, not necessarily the rally, but to plan for the vote on certifying the Electoral College.
So that's a conflict of interest right there. And, of course, Banks, as soon as he was appointed, had this hysterical statement including things like -- make no mistake, Nancy Pelosi created this committee solely to malign conservative and justify the left's authoritarian agenda.
The Capitol was breached for the first time since 1814 in the war of 1812 with the Brits. That's not pursuing a leftist authoritarian agenda. So, I just think she's
CILLIZZA: Just one point that I was surprised by, Paul, when we're talking about intellect. Paul is smarter than me, so he may know the answer to this. But one thing I was surprised by. She said, Nancy Pelosi said I think either on Monday or Tuesday that vote, past votes would not be disqualifying as it related to serving on this committee.
But then she picked Jordan and Banks and said no to them. And in her statement today explaining it, she said something about their actions and past statements or something like that, that that was the reason. She's denied that it is their vote, and Troy Nehls who is from Texas also voted for the objection to the Electoral College.
I just don't think she explained her logic well. It doesn't really matter in the end because we're going to get what we're going to get and this is a partisan food fight. And again, it all goes back to Mitch McConnell saying they don't want a bipartisan independent commission.
I was just surprised, like if you're going to say, it was the vote, then get rid of all three. If you're going to say it wasn't the vote, then what was it?
BEGALA: What they're saying is that Jordan was part of a meeting to plot strategy for January 6th -- that should disqualify him. CILLIZZA: That December meeting?
BEGALA: The December 21st meeting. And with Banks he just issued this hysterical statement. So, they're not saying the votes on January 6th.
PONNURU: I think it would be though a real mistake to exaggerate the impact that this committee's likely to have on the election. There are a lot of other things that outrank this issue in terms of what's likely to affect people's votes.
It doesn't mean it's not important. But the idea that partisan points are going to be scored by the Democrats or the Republicans should be really worried about it, I wouldn't put too much stock in that.
HENDERSON: I think that's right. We obviously saw a lot of partisanship and a lot of performance today from Kevin McCarthy. They're always going to make Nancy Pelosi part of any sort of re- election campaign. So we'll see that. But it's going to be fought on other issues.
BROWN: Yeah, and it's interesting, too, the White House is basically leaving it up to Speaker Pelosi. They don't want to be involved in this.
BROWN: All right. Thank you all so much.
CILLIZZA: Thanks, Pam.
BROWN: So will kids have to go half the school year without vaccines available to them? That's next.
And the nation's top general speaking publicly for the first time since it was revealed in a book that he compared Trump to Hitler. We'll have his comments for you just ahead.
BROWN: In the health lead, it's getting worse. COVID cases up 55 percent in one week, hospitalizations are up about 52 percent over the past two weeks. And COVID-related deaths, which usually trail those other two figures, are up 13 percent in two weeks.
Now, to be very clear here, the vast majority of people included in these numbers that I just laid out are unvaccinated. Today, the CDC says nearly 30 percent of the country, 91 million people, live in a county with a high rate of spread. That would be an area there in bright red.
As CNN's Athena Jones reports, the rise in rates ignites a possible debate in possible mandates to help stop the spread. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With new coronavirus cases surging in 47 states, driven in large part by the more contagious delta variant, nearly 30 percent of the country lives in a county with high COVID transmission, according to the CDC. That's 91 million people, 18 million more than the CDC reported earlier this week.
The U.S. seeing a startling 55 percent increase in cases over the last week. Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida, and Nevada leading the nation in new infections per capita.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are literally at the beginning of a wildfire. If we don't get young people vaccinated, we are all going to be at risk for a really awful fall ahead.
JONES: And with less than half the population fully vaccinated, some are rethinking mask mandates and vaccination requirements.
Starting in August, New York City will require workers at city hospitals and health clinics to either get vaccinated or be tested weekly.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: We have 22 million healthcare workers in the United States. And by the information we have, only about 50 percent are vaccinated. This is unacceptable.
JONES: Officials in Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, passing a temporary mask mandate for employees at work. And the U.S. capitol now recommending mask mandates once again after several new cases. And in Kansas City, Kansas, a new mask mandate for all public school students with few exceptions including on school buss and for parents visiting school buildings.
STEPHEN LINKOUS, CHIEF, STAFF OF KANSAS CITY, KANSAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Getting the masks on, although they're not always the most comfortable thing, they are going to keep us safe.
JONES: Still, there is no sign the CDC is planning to change its guidance on masking, which focuses on the unvaccinated. Former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urging the agency to revise its policy in places where cases are rising, yet vaccination rates remain low, writing in "The Washington Post": Instead of vax it or masking it, people might need to vax it and mask it.
Starting today, Jackson Health System in Florida will again no longer allow visitors in most in-patient units or any adult emergency departments.
DR. LILIAN ABBO, CHIEF, INFECTIOUS DISEASES, JACKSON HEALTH SYSTEM: This virus is highly contagious and highly transmissible. This is not a joke.
(END VIDEOTAPE) JONES (on camera): And there is stunning new data from the CDC showing just how much COVID ravaged the nation over the last year. Life expectancy falling by a year and a half, the largest decline since World War II, with minorities hit the hardest. Latinos and blacks seeing a three-year decline, while life expectancy for whites fell 1.2 years -- Pamela.
BROWN: All of that so troubling. Athena Jones, thank you so much.
I want to bring in Dr. Jonathan Reiner.
He's a cardiologist and professor at GW Medical Center.
Let's zero in on this delta variant, Dr. Reiner. Back in May, the CDC found this variant circulating in about 3 percent of cases. Now less than two months later it's circulating in 83 percent of cases. Is it most of the unvaccinated allowing this variant to spread so much and so fast in this country?
DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: What we really have is an asymmetric spread of the virus. And although every state is seeing an increase in cases, we're seeing it disproportionately in places where a number of folks who are unvaccinated is high.
In fact, if you look at right now, we're averaging about 37,000 cases per day in the United States. That's a 200 percent increase over the last 14 days, but a third of those cases is coming out of just four states, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Arkansas. Other parts of the United States where vaccination rates are high has seen very modest increases in cases. So it really has become a tale of two countries.
BROWN: When you look at the numbers you look at those states. What is your visceral reaction as a doctor?
REINER: It's so unnecessary. And the word is maddening. You know, I've worked in a hospital every single day since the beginning of this pandemic. And every person that I work with has donned their productive gear and has gone into the hospital before we had vaccines, many of us showering before we touched our family members or had dinner for fear of bringing this home.
So many people in this country have sacrificed, 3,600 healthcare workers have died. And to see a solution for this ignored by almost half the country is maddening. It makes me furious.
BROWN: It's literally half the country. Half the country has the option to get vaccinated, hasn't yet. Of course, kids under the age of 12 cannot, which raises the question about schools. Some children go back to school in just a couple of weeks.
Dr. Fauci estimated earlier winter for vaccine data available for those 12 and younger.
If this virus keeps spreading, what is the safest bet for kids when school reopens in a matter of weeks?
REINER: Yeah. So I think every kid going to school should be masked, vaccinated or not. And I know this angers the people who have been vaccinated. But we need to protect everyone. And we really can't tell who's been vaccinated and who hasn't. I think every kid going to school should have a mask on to protect those who just have chosen not to be vaccinated and those who can't be.
You know, moreover, I think we need to accelerate vaccinations among adolescents. We've only vaccinated about a third of eligible adolescents in this country. This is a preventable illness. Every state in the United States requires vaccinations for school-aged kids. Why is this vaccine any different?
BROWN: The argument some make is it hasn't gotten full approval from the FDA. But as you well know, that's something that does take time per FDA rules, and they don't want to shortchange that because then that would only fuel more uncertainty.
But I've got to ask you about these breakthrough cases. You know, I wonder, too, as a mom of two very young kids who can't get vaccinated. We've seen these breakthrough cases, notably in the White House, people who were fully vaccinated getting COVID at least two White House employees, a senior aide to Speaker Pelosi, at least two U.S. Olympic athletes.
The vaccines prevent serious illness, we know, in most of these cases.
But are you surprised by the frequency of these breakthrough cases?
REINER: No, I'm really not. I'm thrilled that the vaccine is doing what we wanted it to do, what we hoped it could do, which is to prevent serious illness including hospitalization and almost entirely to prevent death. That's what we hoped we would have a vaccine that does achieve. And that's what we have.
Look, this delta variant is very potent. It causes illness with very high viral loads. And in the wrong setting, yeah, it can overwhelm in certain cases vaccine protection. But the vast majority, almost everyone who acquires this virus who has been vaccinated will have relatively mild illness or even be asymptomatic. Very few people are hospitalized who have been vaccinated, and almost no one has died. So, we have a solution, the solution is vaccination.
BROWN: And what about transmission, though? I think that's a big question, too. Again, for parents with young kids who can't get vaccinated.
REINER: So, if I had little kids at home, I would mask up in public to prevent the unlikely but possible scenario of bringing the virus home. Likewise, if I live with someone who is a solid organ transplant recipient or was somehow otherwise immuno-compromised, I would mask up in public to prevent inadvertently bringing the virus home and infecting them.
We're going to have to do this for the next several months until we can get all of our kids vaccinated.
Probably some time in mid-winter we'll be able to vaccinate our youngest kids. We should be vaccinating all of our adolescents now. Once we do that, we'll really have control.
BROWN: Really have control, key points there. We all want to get out of this.
Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you so much.
REINER: My pleasure.
BROWN: Coming up, a heartbreaking story about young COVID patients literally begging for vaccines as they're about to be intubated as some in conservative media have a change of heart after fueling vaccine skepticism.
BROWN: An Alabama doctor's Facebook post went viral because it clearly puts the current COVID crisis into perspective.
She writes: "I'm admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that, I'm sorry, but it's too late. A few days later, when I call time of death, I hug their family members, and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated.
"They cry, and they tell me they didn't know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought it was just the flu. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can't."
And now some Republican lawmakers and right-wing TV hosts who used their platforms to question the vaccine are changing their tune ever so slightly.
CNN's Jessica Dean shows us how.
STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: If you have the chance, get the shot. It could save your life.
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A shift in tone and the right-wing media when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. "FOX & Friends" host Steve Doocy talking over his co-host to encourage viewers to get vaccinated.
Doocy has been advocating the benefits of the vaccine since the winter. But now other FOX News hosts are following suit.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I believe in science.
DEAN: Sean Hannity, who in January said he was beginning to have doubts about getting the shot, made this plea to viewers this week:
HANNITY: Just like we have been saying, please take COVID seriously. I can't say it enough. Enough people have died.
DEAN: The CEO of the far right network Newsmax, Chris Ruddy, published an op-ed saying he's been vaccinated and writing President Biden should be -- quote -- "applauded for his administration's vaccine efforts."
That shift in tone coincides with the Delta variant tearing across the U.S., hitting conservative-leaning states especially hard, where vaccination rates are some of the lowest in the country.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): It's safe and effective. I took it. And I wanted to show the picture to just encourage people.
DEAN: Now some Republican lawmakers are being more outspoken in their effort to encourage people to get the shots. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise announced he got the first dose of the vaccine on Sunday, after seeing the COVID cases rise due to the Delta variant.
SCALISE: I was ready to get the vaccine. I have always felt it was safe and effective.
DEAN: In his state of Louisiana, only 36 percent of people are fully vaccinated. And the daily case rate is three times the national average.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who survived polio and has consistently advocated for people to get vaccinated, did not mince words this week.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): This is not complicated; 97 percent of the people who are in the hospital now for COVID are unvaccinated. So if there's anybody out there willing to listen, get vaccinated.
DEAN: But there are still a number of Republican lawmakers who do not face any public rebuke from their Republican peers for pushing vaccine lies.
REP. MADISON CAWTHORN (R-NC): Now they're starting to talk about going door to door to be able to take vaccines to the people. They could then go door to door and take your guns. They could then go door to door to take your Bibles.
DEAN: This is not true. But that did not give the North Carolina congressman a reason to correct his statement.
DEAN: Now, all of this is happening is the Capitol attending physician here on the Hill put out a letter to members and staff members saying that the Delta variant has been detected here on the Hill, begging anybody who has not been vaccinated to get vaccinated.
And one thing to keep in mind, Pam, is, as all of this is happening, there are still some Republican members who either won't disclose their vaccine status or have not been vaccinated -- Pam.
BROWN: All right, Jessica Dean, thanks so much.
And joining us now is Kentucky Republican Representative James Comer.
Nice to see you, Congressman.
You are vaccinated. Do I have that right?
REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Yes, you do.
COMER: And the day I got vaccinated, I posted it on social media.
BROWN: And what is your message then to those who still don't want to get vaccinated?
COMER: Well, I have been very vocal.
I think that you should be vaccinated. I tell people that, obviously, I'm not a doctor. But every person that I know in the medical profession, they were the first in line to get vaccinated, and they constantly tell people to be vaccinated. So everyone should be vaccinated.
What you have shown on your show already today, it's proved 97 percent of the people who are in the hospital now as a result of COVID were not vaccinated. And that's really unfortunate, because the government has spent a lot of money. We have put forth a lot of effort. Operation Warp Speed was a success in creating the vaccines.
And it's to the point where everyone probably should have already been vaccinated, but it's not too late. And, hopefully, we can continue to see an increase in vaccinations.
BROWN: And it is so unfortunate, what you just pointed out, and also that it's become so politicized, right?
I mean, there's this new CBS News poll that shows 29 percent of Republicans refuse to get vaccinated, compared to 6 percent of Democrats. What do you think? Is that why we're seeing a tone change among some members in your party on vaccines, and being more outspoken, taking the virus seriously now? What do you think is behind that?
COMER: Well, first of all, Pam, there are people in both parties that have spread misinformation about the vaccines. But I will say this, that...
BROWN: When you say that -- I just want to be clear. When you say that, on the other side, what do you mean?
COMER: Well, Kamala Harris, if you will remember, during the debate, she said she wouldn't take the vaccine if Donald Trump were president. She said she wouldn't believe anything that Donald Trump said with respect...
BROWN: She said she was -- she was going to listen to the scientists and the doctors. She wasn't going to listen to Donald Trump. And I know that's been a Republican talking point.
But just go ahead.
COMER: Well, the Republicans we met this week, we all see that the Delta variant is spreading. We don't want to go through more government shutdowns.
The Republicans have always been very vocal that we need to keep the economy open. We can't afford to continue to pay people not to work and hand out stimulus checks. We have got to be safe. We have got to be vaccinated, and we have to take this very seriously.
So that's a message that you're going to continue to hear from Republicans moving forward.
BROWN: And I know you want to talk about both sides.
But the evidence, it's very clear, Congressman Comer, that it's largely in right-wing media and Republicans, your colleagues on Capitol Hill, who have been fueling some of the vaccine hesitancy.
And now you have Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, fellow Kentuckian, saying that people should ignore voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice. What do you think about that? Do you think that -- do you agree with Mitch McConnell?
COMER: Well, the data I have seen in Kentucky, two groups primarily that haven't been vaccinated, and that's very right-wing conservatives, as you mentioned, but also minority groups. So -- and, obviously, they're not traditionally right-wing.
So I think we have got pockets of the population out there who just really don't understand the vaccination process. Pam, before COVID-19, I never took a flu shot in my life. It just wasn't something that I did. I'm not anti-science. I'm not -- I don't have conspiracy theories. I just never took a flu shot.
So I think there are a lot of people out there, especially rural Americans, that just before have never taken the shots they weren't required to take. The shots that you're required to take to go to school, to public schools, we have all had, and we have all been vaccinated. But when it comes to flu shots, it's just not something a lot of
American did. And that's something that we in Congress need to continue to educate people on. And I think that another problem has been, when the Johnson & Johnson, which is the shot that I took, two days after I was vaccinated by Johnson & Johnson, they came out and they suspended the shot, the vaccine for a few days because of blood clots and things like that.
That was probably unnecessary by the federal government. We don't have an FDA commissioner right now. And this is something that is a shortcoming of the Biden administration. If Donald Trump didn't have an FDA commissioner during COVID, I can only imagine what the media would be saying.
So we have got to get an FDA commissioner confirmed.
COMER: We have got to, as members of Congress, in both parties, educate people on the importance of being vaccinated.
BROWN: And you're absolutely right, Congressman. And we actually just put out reporting on some key posts, including the FDA commissioner, that the Biden administration hasn't appointed anyone to.
But I have got to ask you before we go about what's going on with the January 6 committee. McCarthy said today the focus needs to be on Speaker Pelosi and all the security failures.
There are other people in your party, as you well know, who have downplayed what happened on January 6, who have said this was just a tourist visit, it was no big deal.
So, who is right? Was it a massive security failure or was it no big deal and just a visit from tourists?
COMER: Well, it was a massive security failure.
I was on the House floor when it all happened. And it was a scary situation. I certainly haven't downplayed it. And no one should downplay it. It's something that should never happen again.
But one thing that McCarthy said that I think the speaker used against Jim Banks and Jim Jordan was part of what they wanted to dive into was, well, why didn't the Capitol Police communicate better with respect to intelligence that they received a couple of days prior to January the 6th?
Why didn't the Capitol Police force have reinforcements there? How could this happen?
So, I think there are a lot of things that the select committee or a commission should look into. But I have to agree with Kevin McCarthy on the part that, when you
have a select committee, the Democrats traditionally pick their members, the Republicans traditionally pick their members. Obviously, it's going to be political when you do that.
When you have people like Adam Schiff, who, as a Republican, I don't have a lot of credibility on -- I understand the Democrats don't have a lot of credibility in Jim Jordan.
The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to have an independent commission that we know who's going to be on it. It doesn't need to be political people.
BROWN: Well, wasn't that what Republicans voted against, the bipartisan -- oh, you mean like not politicians, not lawmakers, outside people. OK.
COMER: Not politicians, right, outside people, like the September the 11th Commission.
Because any time you have political people -- I don't care if they're Democrats or Republicans -- it's going to turn into a political event. It's going to turn into a political entity. And...
BROWN: And we're seeing that happen, for sure.
COMER: Right. Yes.
BROWN: OK, Congressman Comer, thanks so much for joining us. Nice talking with you.
COMER: Thanks for having me on, Pam.
BROWN: Well, a new book claims he feared Trump would stage a coup.
Today, the nation's top general was asked about that and his comments -- up next.
BROWN: In our national lead, Joint Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley, making his first public comment since explosive books reveal tensions with former President Trump, including him comparing Trump to Hitler.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
So, Barbara, what did Milley say?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, all of this unfolded earlier today at a press conference earlier in the Pentagon. Milley was joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Perhaps not a big surprise. Milley shied away, would not confirm after repeated questions anything about what these books said about him and his relationship with the former president. Have a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I know there's a lot of interest out there and all of these books that are out there quoting me and lots of others, et cetera. I'm not going to comment on what's in any of those books. Let me just say this, though.
I always personally provided the best military professional advice to President Trump previously, to President Biden or any other president. But we take an oath, an oath to a document, an oath to the Constitution of the United States, and not one time did we violate that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: Perhaps most interesting, Milley did not dispute any of the things that any of these books said about him and his very tense relationship with the final days of the Trump White House. And then Secretary Austin weighed in and gave General Milley his unqualified support -- Pamela.
BROWN: And, Barbara, Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were also pressed about the Afghanistan withdrawal.
STARR: They were. And Milley had an interesting perspective on it. He did say that the Taliban had been gaining territory. They've been gaining some district centers around the country. No surprise there. But he also went into unusual detail that Afghan forces are consolidating, they're repositioning themselves, and they are focusing not so much on the remote areas but on major towns, cities and the capital of Kabul, and that's where Afghan forces are making their stand -- Pamela.
BROWN: All right. Barbara Starr, thank you so much.
And up next, the White House reacts to a center piece of President Biden's agenda failing a key test in the Senate.
BROWN: Just moments ago, as expected, Senate Republicans shut down the first attempt at opening debate on a bipartisan infrastructure bill which is still being negotiated. Democrats knew that. The Majority Leader Chuck Schumer still went through with today's vote.
I'm going to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who's in Cincinnati, ahead of CNN's town hall tonight with President Biden.
So, Kaitlan, what's the White House saying about this procedural vote that Biden knew would ultimately fail? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they did
know that it would likely fail. But they said they still supported it anyway. And I think behind the scenes, you've heard some aides say, well, hopefully it helped speed up the writing process of the actual text of this bill and hopefully would speed up some agreements on the pay-fors which has been a big disagreement between the two sides. This is something that the White House has been very closely involved in.
So, they were fully aware of what the nuances were and what different lawmakers were concerned about or supported there, because President Biden's top aides have been on Capitol Hill all week.
But I think the thing that you're walking away from here is you're seeing some Democrats say this underscores our concern at the beginning that Republicans were going to balk at this. But the White House said they feel confident that that agreement is still there. You heard President Biden tell us just the other day at the White House they shook hands on this agreement. And he has said before, he trusts these Republicans at their word.
So, of course the question is whether or not they can actually get this all finalized, the text of the bill, by Monday.
BROWN: And from COVID to Afghanistan, Biden faces a crisis on multiple fronts. What issues do you expect him to emphasis on a CNN town hall tonight?
COLLINS: So, Pam, he's just passed that six-month mark of taking office. He actually hit that yesterday. So, what we heard from the White House that President Biden is going to do tonight is not just reflect on those six months and that $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that he signed into law earlier this year, but also focus on his economic agenda to come.
He is actually going to give remarks before he takes questions from voters at this town hall tonight with CNN focusing on the domestic agenda. But he's going to talk about that tonight and the economic vision that he has for the United States going forward and the next six months of his presidency, which we know not only involves that bipartisan infrastructure deal, but also the bigger piece that they are expecting to only have Democratic support on that reconciliation part of the agenda.
And so, this is what you're going to see President Biden talk about, but there are also going to be other major questions. Because problems that existed on day one, those challenges with coronavirus are still very much in the picture with the delta variant largely circulating throughout the United States as concerns about whether or not masking is going to have to come back.
But also several foreign policy fronts as well when it comes to that withdrawal from Afghanistan, when it comes to ransomware and recent attacks by China.
So, a lot of topics for the president tonight, Pam.
BROWN: And we'll be watching closely.
Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.
And you can see the exclusive CNN presidential town hall with President Biden and CNN's Don Lemon right here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.
We'll be right back.
BROWN: I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @PamelaBrownCNN, or tweet the show @TheLead CNN.
Our coverage continues now with Jim Acosta in "THE SITUATION ROOM".