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U.S. Marks One Million Lives Lost to COVID-19; Gov. Phil Murphy (D) New Jersey Discusses About Their Plan to Fight for Abortion Rights; Jan. 6 Panel Subpoena McCarthy, 4 Other GOP Congressmen. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 12, 2022 - 15:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: It's the top of the hour on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.


Today, the U.S. is marking 1 million lives lost to COVID 19. Consider this, the U.S. COVID-19 deaths now outnumber the number of U.S. military battlefield deaths in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

CAMEROTA: That is stunning, Victor. I mean, that really puts it into perspective. I've never seen that before. During a virtual Global Summit, the President urged world leaders to redouble their efforts to stop the spread and prevent the next variant.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's still so much left to do. This pandemic isn't over. Today, we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, 1 million COVID deaths, 1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table, each irreplaceable. Irreplaceable losses, each leaving behind a family, a community forever change because of this pandemic.


CAMEROTA: Well, CNN White House Correspondent MJ Lee joins us now. So MJ, what is the White House doing to mark this milestone today?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, to start off, Alisyn, the President participated in that virtual COVID global summit earlier today. This was an opportunity for global leaders to get together and talk about how to combat this pandemic, but also potential future pandemics and the fact that there could be different variants that come up and how different countries can essentially work together to make sure that these pandemics can be kept under control.

Now, this was a previously scheduled virtual meeting, but we saw there, the President talking about this very grim milestone for the country and essentially urging people. We can't become numb to this. Reminding everyone that so many people have died in this country as a result of COVID, so many families have been affected and this is a part of the reason why the President has also ordered that flags be flown at half-mast to commemorate and remember all of the lives lost.

Now, the other big piece of this and this shouldn't come as a surprise, because anytime really that the President now talks about COVID, he is talking to Congress, he is telling members of Congress to approve additional funding for COVID. This is something that the White House has been asking and pushing lawmakers for, for a while now and really trying to show a sense of urgency and saying if we don't get that extra money, it really hinders our ability and the capability to do everything that we need to do to fight this pandemic now and going into the future as well.

BLACKWELL: MJ, the White House's new COVID Response Coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, he projected that the U.S. could see 100 million new COVID infections this fall in winter, that's if Congress does nothing to approve more funding. But the projection has puzzled some inside and outside of the administration. What does he say about how he got that number?

LEE: Yes, that's exactly what we were trying to figure out, because what sources had told CNN was that when he made that projection last weekend on television, that that had actually even caught some top Biden officials by surprise, because they had not been given a heads up that he would be making that specific projection. And it also was a little bit puzzling to public health officials, one, because the White House had not given and shared with the public the exact models that had been used to make that warning. And also, because there's so much that can change between now and the fall and winter, which is the timeframe that he was talking about.

We've been talking about throughout this pandemic, how quickly things can change, different variants can come up and so we asked the White House about this. And what one senior Administration official essentially told us is that the White House COVID team has been in touch with different people that make models and different experts and they have been working with preliminary and early data that they've been able to get their hands on for the fall and the winter. And one of the reasons at least that that information and that data can't really be shared right now is because that information actually isn't even going to be finalized for a number of weeks.

Now, there was this acknowledgment from the senior official that we spoke with. They essentially said that that warning that Dr. Jha gave last weekend, it wasn't really meant to be a prediction sorts. It was more meant to be sort of talking through the different scenario planning that the White House has been doing.


But again, all of this is just another reminder how much the White House is wanting to push lawmakers right now to approve that additional funding because they're saying we need that very badly if we want to make sure that we want to continue making progress on this front.

BLACKWELL: MJ Lee there at the White House, thank you.

One million lives lost. There is a story behind each one of those 1 million lives and CNN's Sanjay Gupta reports how the pandemic has taken people of all ages from all parts of our society.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Few of us imagine the overwhelming scope of this tragedy. More than 1 million lives lost. Far surpassing the 1918 flu pandemic or even America's deadliest conflict; the Civil War.

Across the nation, the time of remembrance. In Los Angeles, Maria Santos Peterson devoted her life to caring for others as an ICU nurse at a VA hospital. Just last year, she traveled to Central America on her last medical mission. She leaves behind her husband and teenage son.

In Virginia, Teresa Sperry's parents remember their daughter as an avid reader, smart, beautiful, loving and always open to taking care of others. At Hill Point Elementary, the 10-year-old was known to bandage her classmates' cuts and scrapes.

Similar heartaches reverberating all across the country and communities of all creeds and color. In New York, a Hispanic community hit hard, two congregations united in grief after losing more than a hundred members.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through interpreter): There are moments we can't explain with reason. We have to walk in faith, feel our own vulnerability to care for ourselves and care for others.


GUPTA (voice over): In the border county of Hidalgo, Texas, more than 3,500 deaths in a county of less than a million.


DR. MICHAEL DOBBS, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UT HEALTH RGV: I'm not sure that everyone has slowed down enough to really understand who's missing and what's missing.



CAMEROTA: Well, joining us now is CNN Medical Analyst and former Baltimore Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen. Dr. Wen, I remember when COVID first started and hearing about people were likening it to the Spanish Flu of 1918 and me thinking, naively, 700,000 people, Americans killed that could never happen. Again, we have modern medicine, someday we're going to have vaccines. And the idea that today we have so far surpassed that to a million, though we had vaccines. I mean, how did we just go so wrong?

LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: That's the question that we'll be answering for generations to come. I mean, you're right that this is a tragedy in - on so many levels, but especially when we consider that the majority of these 1 million deaths occurred after vaccines became widely available here in the U.S. I mean, right now, we know that vaccines and boosters protect people very well, but even among people, over 65, a third have not yet received their boosters.

We have great treatments like Paxlovid, the antiviral pill, but that's actually still being underutilized. And Congress is holding up the funding that we need in order to get through future waves of COVID. I mean, haven't we learned our lesson that investing in prevention is what's going to save lives and also keep our economy and all the things that we love going.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Wen, the variants that really changed the trajectory in the U.S. came from other countries. Delta came in from outside our country, Omicron as well. Is the world doing a better job of vaccinating poor countries where these variants are mutating?

WEN: Well, we need to do a lot more, but I also want to say that it's not just about vaccine supply. There are a lot of parts of the world that actually have enough supply at the moment, but they're facing real challenges with distribution. Also, misinformation and disinformation aren't just problems here in the U.S. Vaccine hesitancy is a problem around the world as well and so this is a major problem both here and in other places.

CAMEROTA: Here's where we are with hospitalizations right now and it doesn't look good. I mean, this is where - how many people are hospitalized in the U.S. this week versus last week and you can see all of the portions in red that show up 10 percent to 50 percent. Dr. Wen, are our vaccines from last year no longer protecting us against hospitalization?

WEN: Actually, our vaccines and boosters are still protecting very well against severe illness and we even have more tools. We have monoclonal antibodies. We've got remdesivir. We also have these oral antiviral pills, Paxlovid and molnupiravir that are all being underutilized. And so I think we really have to get out the word that right now the most important thing is for us to decouple infections from hospitalizations.


So even if infections go up, we really want to keep the hospitalizations from also going up because that helps the individual. We don't want people to get sick enough to be hospitalized and then also reduce the strain on the entire healthcare system.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Leana Wen, thank you very much.

All right. So Vice President Kamala Harris tells CNN today Democrats will keep fighting for abortion rights. Yesterday, the party's first major effort to preserve access to abortion nationwide failed in the Senate. The vote followed that leaked Supreme Court draft opinions suggesting that abortion protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade could be struck down.

Well, with us now is Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey has come up with a plan to fight this in his state. Governor, great to see you. So tell me what you're doing in New Jersey for the possibility that Roe vs. Wade could be overturned?

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D) NEW JERSEY: The awful possibility. Good to be with, Alisyn. First some good news, we worked very hard and I signed a Reproductive Freedom Act in January of this year, so we start in a good place. We had converted a woman's reproductive freedoms from based on case law to now statutory law, but we need to do more. We need to make sure that this right has accessibility to everybody, not just for some.

So yesterday, we proposed legislation that would eliminate any financial burden and mandate insurance coverage that would expand and train the types of folks who could perform an abortion that we would set fund up for folks who are either uninsured or underinsured.

And lastly, that we would affirmatively not cooperate with any other wrongheaded state that tried to take any legal action against anyone who had an abortion in New Jersey, so that's the next package and we're going to fight this. A war has been declared to the American women and New Jersey is going to fight back hard.

CAMEROTA: Are you trying to make New Jersey a sanctuary state so that women from around the country can come to New Jersey?

MURPHY: I'm not sure I'd say it that way, but I will say this, women are welcome and respected in New Jersey and we live by the mantra that these sorts of decisions, particularly as it relates to an abortion are decisions solely between a woman and her doctor and that's what we have stood for and we will always stand for that whether you're from New Jersey or you come to New Jersey.

CAMEROTA: As we speak, lawmakers in Louisiana are debating a bill that would allow prison time for doctors who perform abortions. And in one iteration of this bill, though it sounds like they're pulling back from this particularly extreme version, it would actually charge women who get abortions with murder. What do you - how do you respond when you hear what other states are doing?

MURPHY: It's disgusting, Alisyn. Let's all remember that this was a right that women have had for almost 50 years and it's being taken away from them. And if that weren't enough, they are being criminalized. Other folks associated with abortions are being criminalized in half the country. It's appalling.

And as they say, we will stand strongly and stand tall on behalf of women and their right to choose whether to get an abortion or not, that is sacrosanct and will always be in the state of New Jersey.

CAMEROTA: So how confident are you that everything that you just laid out can actually happen? I mean, I'm sure you're getting pushback.

MURPHY: Yes. I mean, it's - the Reproductive Freedom Act I signed in January was not easy. It took a lot of work and I suspect what I've just outlined that we announced yesterday will also take a lot of work, but I will not relent and we will not relent.

CAMEROTA: While I have you, I do want to ask also about what's happening in COVID - with COVID in your state. We were just talking about this with a doctor. The numbers have gone up in New Jersey. I mean, I don't have to tell you, the hospitalizations right now, you had this great decline at the end of April and now they're shooting back up even to close to the highs that we had seen before March, so what's going wrong there?

MURPHY: Yes, a couple of things Alisyn. Number one, we're not immune. The most of the country is going up, that we're up significantly, but let's remember we're still at a fraction of the worst numbers that we saw early in the pandemic. We've got 700 and something folks in the hospital. I think our total at the peak was almost 8,300.

We know this is a very transmissible variant and we're seeing it. We have a much more modest increase, thank God, in ICU beds, ventilators. So the severity of illness is a lot less than it was in earlier iterations, just to reiterate, everybody's got to get vaccinated, get boosted, get double boosted as I have if you're old enough to be eligible for that and this is in our midst, there's no question about it and we're still dealing with it.


CAMEROTA: Gov. Phil Murphy, thank you for your time. Always great to talk to you.

MURPHY: Thanks for having me, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right. Breaking news out of Ukraine, the military is claiming there is another Russian warship on fire in the Black Sea. We're live in Kyiv ahead with the latest.

CAMEROTA: And on Capitol Hill, several Republican lawmakers have been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is among them and his response just ahead.



CAMEROTA: We have breaking news from the January 6th investigation. The Committee investigating the Capitol attack has just issued subpoenas to five sitting members of Congress. These are all Republicans.


They are House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona, Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama and Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Ryan Nobles just spoke with a committee member, Congressman Adam Schiff.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): These are people who were involved in discussions with the president. They were in communication with the White House staff on January 6th, leading up to it. Some were involved in the effort to overturn the election. Some spoke at the rally before the attack. One has said publicly that the President called him to rescind the election. They clearly have relevant testimony. They need to do their duty. They need to uphold their oath and come in voluntarily.


BLACKWELL: Minority Leader McCarthy would not tell reporters whether he plans to comply, but he said that he still views the committee as illegitimate. Let's bring in now CNN Political Director David Chalian, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig is a former federal prosecutor and CNN Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel.

David, let me start with you and the plausibility that any one of these five will sit down to provide anything more to this committee.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I don't know how to do a plausibility scale here, but I don't think it's going to go seamlessly. I don't think the subpoena is just going to be answered affirmatively and they're going to go in. I think this is going to be a prolonged political battle here over this.

And let's step back here. I think sort of this moment was inevitable, right, from a year ago, last summer, when everything broke down, and Kevin McCarthy and Nancy Pelosi could not find a way forward onto committee and Nancy Pelosi said history needs this. The truth is going to matter. We got to move forward with the Select Committee and Kevin McCarthy sort of took his marbles and left the playground. It's so that he could politicize the entirety of what the January 6 Committee was doing.

And so now being on the receiving end of these subpoenas, it would strike me not the moment that we're going to see a change in behavior with Kevin McCarthy, but that he's going to continue down that path.

And I'll just say, if you look at those five people, I mean, Elie is the lawyer here, but this is - this seems like pretty obvious folks that any investigator looking at January 6th would want to talk to and hear from, give them what we already know about their experiences in the build up to on the day of and after that are already in the public record.

CAMEROTA: Elie, what if they refuse to testify or don't comply with the subpoena?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, David's right, first of all. These are central right down the middle core witnesses that you need to hear from. The problem, however, is the calendar. We are about one month away from when these hearings are supposed to start.

Now, if and when these five people defy the subpoenas, the Committee really has two options. One is to go into a court, get an order from a judge requiring them to testify. The problem with that is, even if it moves at lightning speed that will take well more than a month, you add in appeals, we're way beyond June at this point.

Option two is to hold these people in contempt, send them over to the Justice Department, which can then choose to prosecute them. Now that does not compel their testimony, that's just punishment. And that too, will almost certainly take way more than a month.

So these subpoenas are big and bold steps, but they would have been much bigger and bolder if they had been issued six months ago.

BLACKWELL: And this step, Jamie, was not a foregone conclusion, the members of the Committee, they debated and deliberated for many weeks and now have reached this point. You've reported extensively on the Committee, what does it tell you that they've now issued the subpoenas?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So to both Elie and David's point, I think what we know is they did debate this for months and months. I don't think that everyone was convinced that they would get here. But I -what I am told by source familiar with the investigation is they knew that this would be a political tsunami. They knew that this was really unprecedented, except for subpoenas from, let's say, the Ethics Committee, and they decided they had to lay down their marker.

They are aware that there could be a tit for tat. This could lead to retaliation if and when the Republicans take the House. But I am told that it is - all of that was taken into account and I would find it very hard to imagine that this decision was not made without running it all the way up to the top to the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and I'm told they decided they just had to do it.

CAMEROTA: Now to that point, David, Adam Schiff was asked about turn about being fair play and if he's afraid of what happened if they'll be some sort of payback and he just told us, we don't have the sound bite, but I'll just read it. He says, "In terms of how Republicans would abuse their power or if they ever got power, frankly, I'm much more concerned with what they do when they lack power and that is overturning the election."


So I mean they're talking tough as though they're not afraid of it being turned around, but, of course, it will be turned around on them.

CHALIAN: Well, sure, there's no doubt. I mean, that's just the nature of what our politics are today and the way that things operate on the Hill. I would certainly think that in some future Republican controlled House, if there's some kind of investigation going on, subpoenaing your fellow members of Congress would be treated as sort of, hey, par for the course now, the Democrats sort of open the seal on this.

I think it's interesting, you putting up that Adam Schiff comment and listening to what he said before. Clearly, the members of the Committee, given what Jamie just reported about the careful consideration about this, they're trying to keep it focused on these are central characters to this matter.

They clearly have information that's relevant to our investigation. They don't want to get drawn into questions about, well, what will the repercussions be if they don't comply with the subpoena and they don't want to get drawn into the retaliation question, either. They're trying to keep it very focused on the events that need to be investigated as part of a full and complete and transparent review of this, you know, awful day in American history.

BLACKWELL: And Elie, to that point, I mean, this is a gamble. I mean, what is the impact of not having compliance from these members and maybe the clock running out if they choose to pursue or enforce these in some way, what that means for precedents simply?

HONIG: Well, Victor, if they want to get the full story here, these subpoenas are absolutely necessarily - necessary and arguably even overdue. And look, let's remember, a subpoena is not an accusation, there's going to be some defensiveness here from Kevin McCarthy and others that already has been the sort of how dare you accuse us of anything.

But a subpoena is not an accusation. It is a formal request, a demand for testimony. And so really, the question should just be do these people have relevant information. Of course, they do. Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, both of them we know spoke with Donald Trump on January 6th. All of these people are key players. This is not something that Committee did lightly.

Ultimately, I don't see a way for them legally. I don't think they have enough time legally to enforce it, but it's an important step and it's a statement by the committee that they're determined to get the full truth, whether they do or not will be up to these individual members.

CAMEROTA: Jamie, here's just one example of how uniquely involved they are. This is a - this was a text from Congressman Perry to Mark Meadows in which he says this is November 12, 2020, "From an Intel friend: DNI needs to task NSA to immediately seize and begin looking for international comms related to Dominion - was China malware involved?"

I mean, this is just one text. Of course, the Committee has some questions.

GANGEL: These are firsthand fact witnesses in different ways. To your point, there is Scott Perry, who introduced Jeff Clark, apparently to the White House and was trying to have him become acting Attorney General so that they could overturn the election. I think there's one thing to stay focused on here, though. The Committee is focused on Donald Trump and each of these five members of Congress have information about Donald Trump, what he was saying what he was doing, his state of mind, to David's point about Kevin McCarthy, those phone calls they had and also what happened in the aftermath.

Let's not forget Kevin McCarthy goes down to Mar-A-Lago and makes up with Donald Trump. When that phone call came out between Kevin McCarthy and Trump, when the reporting came out about January 6th, I know that committee is very interested in whether Donald Trump said to McCarthy don't talk about that, it didn't happen that way. Is there obstruction of justice? So each of these members play a critical role?

CAMEROTA: Okay. Jamie Gangel, David Chalian, Elie Honig, thank you all.

HONIG: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Now to this, Finland got a lot closer to joining NATO. The government is expected to propose it officially this Sunday, now how Russia is responding.