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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

America Faces A Pandemic Of The Unvaccinated; Iranian Nationals Charged In Plot To Kidnap U.S. Journalist; Biden Forcefully Condemns Voting Restrictions In GOP States. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired July 14, 2021 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Polo Sandoval in for Laura. About 5:32 a.m. here in New York.

ROMANS: All right, it has become a pandemic of unvaccinated now. Almost every adult American now has the choice to avoid a needless death from COVID-19, but persuading holdouts to take the vaccine is vastly complicated by the way the pandemic has been politicized. It's a deadly trend that will worsen the tragedy of this pandemic, something former surgeon general Jerome Adams is keenly aware of.


DR. JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL UNDER FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is not a Republican thing, it's not a Trump administration thing. It's about people getting vaccinated. And your viewers need to understand that whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, the virus doesn't care.

I would like to see President Trump and everyone else out there who is in a position to influence people, encourage those individuals to get vaccinated. But we've got to do our part and make sure we don't demonize people and that we speak to their mistrust. That we show them that we care. And then they'll care what we know.


SANDOVAL: And get this -- Miami's Jackson Health System says the number of COVID patients has doubled since the start of the month. Many of the cases are among people in their 30s and in their 40s.

One of the biggest surges right now happening in Missouri where Mercy Hospital in Springfield has just opened its sixth COVID ward. The hospital is threatening more -- it's right now treating, rather, more COVID patients now than during what they were seeing in December during that surge.


DR. ANN ELIZABETH MOHART, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MERCY HOSPITAL WASHINGTON: That's a pretty astonishing figure. What that requires is that more than surpasses the typical ICU capacity, so then you have to overflow into other units.


ROMANS: And then there is this plea to the St. Louis community from a man who nearly lost his life to COVID-19. Thirty-eight-year-old Terrell Brown had not been vaccinated when he came down with COVID in April. Doctors gave him a five percent chance of survival. Now, here he is 76 days later.


TERRELL BROWN, UNVACCINATED MAN NEARLY KILLED BY COVID-19: And I don't want nobody to go through what I have been through. From April 26th all the way until like the second of June, I don't remember anything. I was in a coma. It was a lot of dark times then. I had to learn how to walk again.

We take advantage of like simple things in life like going to the bathroom and brushing your teeth. I have trouble doing all of that now.

So I highly recommend everybody to get the vaccines and really protect themselves because this is no joke.


ROMANS: No joke. He wants you to know a vaccine would have prevented that.

And think of -- just thank you to all the healthcare workers who are seeing this again -- this stress again as they are expanding their COVID treatment areas.

Travel bans are making an unwelcome comeback now. After more than 40 days without any states on its travel advisory list, the city of Chicago has added back Missouri and Arkansas because of that increase in COVID cases in those states.


Polo, you are just back from a reporting trip to Arkansas. What are you hearing from these people who don't want to be vaccinated? Are they hesitant? Are they resistant? They want more information? What is the holdup here?

SANDOVAL: So I asked the mayor of Little Rock just that, too, Christine. And it's interesting because the reasons are ranging from the more outlandish conspiracy theories that we've heard.

ROMANS: Right. SANDOVAL: But then you also have, for example -- especially working- class folks -- they are -- there is this fear that a second dose will get them a little sick, which we've heard from officials that is certainly something to be expected. But even missing one day of work would mean maybe not paying their rent.

So in terms of a solution here, you do have a lot of nonprofits on the ground in states like Arkansas -- states that are seeing a vaccination rate -- in Arkansas, for example, is like 35 percent -- that they're actively working with employers to try to make sure that those folks do have an opportunity to stay home --

ROMANS: Right.

SANDOVAL: -- if they need it.

And then there's also, for example, a lot of pregnant mothers there. You have concerns about fertility. And so you have a lot of gynecologists in states that are reaching out to their patients and putting those fears --

ROMANS: Right.

SANDOVAL: -- to rest.

So really, it's just a wide-ranging sort of myriad of excuses here that we're hearing from people. But in the end -- get this -- 95 percent of the patients in one of the hospital systems there in Arkansas were people who did not have that vaccine, which means it's safe to say that a majority of them that have either not been infected had they been vaccinated --

ROMANS: Right.

SANDOVAL: -- or they would have been well enough to recover at home. So that's the number I think that -- especially in some of these sort of red-leaning states that officials there on the ground are really stressing is like if you're not going to pay attention to us --

ROMANS: Right.

SANDOVAL: -- if you're not going to pay attention to health officials at the federal level, then at least take into account that number.

ROMANS: We now know it is a crisis among the unvaccinated.


ROMANS: And I have heard just anecdotally that there are people who think that once you have FDA approval, not just emergency use authorization --


ROMANS: -- that could help some people feel more comfortable about taking the vaccine. They say since it's just still an emergency measure that's why some people are a little bit hesitant.

SANDOVAL: And that could come soon.


SANDOVAL: Well, also this story here. The White House is holding a bipartisan briefing for all members of Congress tonight on cybersecurity and ransomware attacks.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken says that diplomacy is the key to dealing with cybersecurity issues. He says our democratic values and way of life are at stake.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's not enough to highlight the horrors of techno authoritarianism -- to point to what countries like China and Russia are doing -- and say that it's wrong and dangerous, even as it is. We've also got to make the positive case for our own approach and then we've got to deliver.


SANDOVAL: And this morning, out of the blue, a Russian-based ransomware group that U.S. officials have linked to a series of recent cyberattacks has mysteriously gone offline.

Matthew Chance with the latest from Moscow this morning.


That's right -- it's called REvil. It's one of the most notorious cybercriminal gangs that operates in Eastern Europe, particularly in Russia. It was responsible earlier this year for the attack on the big meat distribution company in the U.S. Also, earlier this month, on a software provider.

And it's one of the reasons why at the summit with President Putin last month in Geneva, Switzerland, President Biden said look, this kind of cyber activity has to stop. The Russians should try and crack down on the criminals who operate on their territory. That message was reiterated just last week with a telephone call from President Biden to President Putin after another ransomware attack by this group.

And then all out of the blue, suddenly, this group REvil has disappeared off the internet. Its websites aren't there anymore. The channels that it set up to communicate with potential victims are not there anymore. The payment systems -- all the infrastructure of that has all gone as well.

And it's raised this idea -- this speculation that the Russians have heeded the American warning and they've acted, although that might not be the case. It may be the Americans that have -- that have acted unilaterally or it may be that REvil itself has taken itself offline because of the mounting pressure. No one, at this point, is commenting.

But it's a very interesting development when it comes to that battle against the cybercriminals based out of Russia, given there have been so many warnings coming from the United States to Russia that if they don't act then the United States will.

SANDOVAL: All right, Matthew. Thank you so much, in Moscow -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right.

Four Iranian nationals are charged in an alleged plot to kidnap a journalist in New York City. One of the suspects is an Iranian intelligence officer accused of hiring private investigators to conduct surveillance on their target, along with family members, in Brooklyn.

The plot mirrors the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis and other efforts to silence critics with a voice in the West.

Arwa Damon is in Istanbul. And, Arwa, this sounds like a movie plot but was, according to the FBI, an Iranian government-backed plan to kidnap a journalist on U.S. soil?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, what's that expression? Truth is often stranger than fiction. And this does seem to be just another case of that.


Now, according to the indictment, this Iranian mastermind of this plot, along with several others, initially attempted to lure this American journalist and human rights activist of Iranian origin to a third country. At one point back in 2018, even trying to somehow force or entice this individual's family members to also try to meet up with him in a third country so that, presumably, they could then kidnap him from there.

And what is also disturbing about this is that according to officials, this is not the first time that Iran has tried to carry out this kind of a ploy or a plot. Apparently, according to officials, this particular Iranian individual's network -- again, the individual who was behind this entire kidnapping plot -- surveillance plot -- has also attempted to target other victims in countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates.

And similar to what we saw with the Saudis brutally murdering Jamal Khashoggi after kidnapping him from the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, is this ongoing attempt of certain governments to try to carry out these types of brazen plots to silence the voices of their critics.

This also, one can only assume, sends a very dangerous and terrifying message to other Iranians who are perhaps living in exile -- other people who are of Iranian origin who are attempting to also speak out in opposition to the Iranian regime. You can just imagine if you are one of those people right now you are absolutely terrified.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right, thank you so much for that. Arwa Damon for us in Istanbul -- Polo.

SANDOVAL: President Biden forcefully condemning the wave of voting restrictions being pushed by Republican lawmakers nationwide during a speech yesterday, and taking direct aim at questions about the credibility of the 2020 election.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Audits, recounts were conducted in Arizona, Wisconsin. In Georgia, it was recounted three times. It's clear for those who challenge the results and question the integrity of the election, no other election has ever been held under such scrutiny and such high standards. The big lie is just that, a big lie.


ROMANS: The president called the passage of voting legislation a national imperative.

Jeff Zeleny is at the White House for us.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Christine and Polo, President Biden spoke more forcefully about the 2020 election and the conspiracy theories that have spawned out of it than we have heard him do so before.

He really has spent the last several months essentially trying to overlook and ignore former President Donald Trump. Now, he did not mention him by name during that speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday, but he did talk in stark terms about the true effect of these false claims.

BIDEN: We continue to see an example of human nature at its worst -- something darker and more sinister. In America, if you lose you accept the results. You follow the Constitution. You try again.

You don't call facts fake and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you're unhappy. That's not statesmanship. That's not statesmanship, that's selfishness.

ZELENY (on camera): So the president putting his full weight behind supporting federal voting rights legislation, but there is some reality here that goes with the rhetoric. There simply is not the support on Capitol Hill, even among Democrats in the Senate, to support this.

Now, they would need to change the filibuster, of course. That is the rule that requires 60 votes for any major piece of legislation. And that was something that President Biden did not address at all during his speech on Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Now, it's clear that he supports voting rights protection but less clear how much capital he intends to put behind it.

Now, at the White House, the president also is talking on infrastructure. That is the central piece of the domestic agenda. That is what he'll be doing today at the White House.

And, of course, on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also is visiting here.

So no question, a full plate here for the White House. A question among civil rights and voting rights activists, how much of that time will he devote to their issue?

Christine and Polo.


SANDOVAL: Thanks so much, Jeff, at the White House there.

You can hear more from President Biden as he joins Don Lemon for an exclusive CNN presidential town hall live next Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. only here on CNN.

ROMANS: All right.


There could be a steep cost of that assault on democracy and this worsening political divide -- America's perfect credit rating.

In a new report, Fitch Ratings called governance a quote "weakness for the country," specifically citing the January sixth insurrection -- "...the events certifying (sic) -- surrounding certifying the election have no parallels in other very highly rated sovereigns."

Ongoing efforts to restrict voting rights in several states could play a role in that rating. Fitch said redrafting election laws in some states could weaken the political system. Quote, "These developments underline an ongoing risk of lack of bipartisanship."

Even though Fitch reaffirmed the country's AAA credit rating, it said the rating could change because of the state of politics and rising debt. A downgrade by Fitch could raise borrowing costs, making it harder to refinance America's big pile of debt.

We'll be right back.


ROMANS: All right. The Biden administration facing the possibility of another immigration headache as it weighs whether to more widely reopen U.S. borders in the near future. Current travel restrictions expire in just a week.

Priscilla Alvarez joins us now. Priscilla, lay out the pros and cons here for the White House at this moment.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Look, the pros are opening up travel to the United States again, be it on the land borders in the north and the south or from certain countries abroad.


And also on that list is shedding criticism from immigrant advocates and lawmakers who say the administration shouldn't be turning away migrants, especially those seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the cons are also, for some, opening up too early, especially as we grapple with variants that are highly transmissible, including the Delta variant.

Now, taking a step back, these are restrictions that went into place at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and they hit different populations. So that includes non-essential travelers at the U.S.- Mexico border as well as the Canadian border, as well as migrants who are seeking asylum in the U.S., and foreign travelers from certain countries.

Now, a source tells me that part of what's complicated the efforts and looking at easing these restrictions or lifting them all together is that they've become so intertwined. In fact, one of the questions internally is could you lift one set of restrictions without the other, or do they have to happen altogether?

Now, we know that at the end of the month the Biden administration is anticipated to start to ease restrictions on migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border -- particularly, migrant families -- and allowing them to seek asylum in the United States. But that doesn't guarantee that non-essential travel across that same border is going to be lifted.

Now, a White House official tells me that there are working groups with the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico to talk about when they can reopen travel altogether, saying that discussions are still ongoing. But as you mentioned Christine, that deadline's coming up. The question is are these restrictions going to be renewed?

ROMANS: Yes, Priscilla. All right, some big decisions for the White House. Thank you so much for that.

SANDOVAL: Demonstrators in South Florida showing support for protests in Cuba, shutting down one of Miami's busiest highways. Cubans are protesting the country's worst economic crisis in decades.

People with family in Cuba worried this morning as internet service has been cut off. Anti-government activists say more than 100 people have been arrested or gone missing in Cuba just since this past Sunday.

The chief of Homeland Security urging people from Cuba and Haiti, where the president was assassinated, not to try coming to the United States right now, saying they will not be allowed to enter. ROMANS: Abortion rights advocates are going to court to block a recently passed Texas law that allows private citizens to sue anyone involved in violating the state's so-called "heartbeat" ban. That includes someone who accompanies a woman to an abortion or helps pay for the procedure.

The "heartbeat" law bans most abortions at the onset of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy before many women even know they are pregnant.

SANDOVAL: So, every U.S. coastline is in for a dramatic increase in flooding thanks to a so-called wobble in the moon's orbit. New research from NASA says that the rapid increase will start in the mid- 2030s.

Why you might ask? Well, rising sea levels due to climate change and a naturally occurring shift in the moon's orbit that results in changes in the tides.

The floods aren't going to be life-threatening but they could damage coastal infrastructure, which in turn could hurt businesses that may have to keep closing because of those tides.

ROMANS: A list of things I didn't know I had to worry about.


ROMANS: The moon's wobble.

Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Looking at markets around the world, declines in Asian shares. Those major stock markets have closed lower and Europe has opened lower this hour. On Wall Street, stock index futures also narrowly mixed this morning.

Stocks slipped from record highs. Two headlines: a booming economy enriching the banks. Great earnings there in bank earnings. But that booming economy also stoking inflation.

The Dow fell 107 points. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also fell. Still, very close to record highs.

Consumer inflation running hotter than expected as the economy roars back to life. Consumer prices rose 5.4 percent in June compared to last year. That's the largest increase in 13 years.

The next big event, the Producer Price Index. That's out at 8:30 a.m. It's going to give us some insight on just how much costs are rising for sectors like the restaurant industry.

Popeyes -- speaking of restaurants -- is adding more chicken to its menu. New chicken nuggets will debut at the end of the month after the wild success of its chicken sandwich.

It's an interesting time, Polo, to add a new menu item. Americans are in love with chicken at the moment. Demand is surging. Supply chain constraints have driven up the prices of some chicken parts and some restaurants say they're having a hard time meeting demand.

So, new Popeyes chicken nuggets -- exactly the moment when you're having all this --

SANDOVAL: I have read --

ROMANS: -- sort of havoc in the supply chain.

SANDOVAL: -- that the chain was even stockpiling some of that chicken because of what happened in 2019 --

ROMANS: That's right.

SANDOVAL: -- when we all worried about -- we all remember the drama because of that chicken sandwich and why it was in such demand.

ROMANS: That's right, you couldn't get it. People were outraged.

SANDOVAL: They're ready this time.

ROMANS: All right, it's a sign of a recovering economy when we're all going out --


ROMANS: -- to eat again.

Thanks for joining us, everybody. I'm Christine Romans. It's nice to see you today, Polo.

SANDOVAL: Great to be here again. I'm Polo Sandoval. Our coverage continues with "NEW DAY."



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

On this new day, disturbing new evidence that younger, unvaccinated people are behind the surge in coronavirus cases across the country.

Plus, breaking overnight, a major deal to advance President Biden's agenda, but will all Democrats get on board?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And just in, the Taliban responding now to CNN's disturbing report that shows militants executing Afghan soldiers as they surrendered. We are live from Afghanistan.

And a new warning that America could lose its perfect credit rating because of political polarization and the ongoing assault on democracy.