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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Pitches Vaccines As Administration Mulls New Mask Recommendations; Senate GOP Blocks Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill As Talks Continue; China Shuts Down COVID Investigation. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 05:30   ET




LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Julia Chatterley. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

JARRETT: A pivotal moment for Joe Biden's presidency. The pandemic he inherited is taking a dangerous turn because too many people are opting out of vaccines and this highly contagious Delta variant is being allowed to spread unabated.

This morning, 32 percent of the U.S. population lives in a county that is considered to have high COVID transmission. That is 91 million people I'm talking about, up ten-fold from early June.

CHATTERLEY: CNN has learned the White House is holding preliminary discussions on revising mask recommendations for vaccinated Americans.

At a CNN town hall last night, President Biden called for new apolitical messengers to boost vaccine numbers and at the top of his list, experts.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Number one is to restore America's faith in science is listen to the scientists. No, I'm not joking. I mean, literally, listen to the scientists and not interfere. Not rush anything. Just make -- let the scientists proceed because they desperately want to get this right.

What we're doing is getting people of consequence who are respected in the community, whether athletes, whether or not they are entertainers, whether they're just well-respected.


CHATTERLEY: Yes. It's worth noting on this, though, recent polling shows most unvaccinated Americans won't be swayed. JARRETT: Which is not great.

But let's break down last night's town hall with someone who has covered President Biden for years and now, White House correspondent Arlette Saenz. Arlette, good morning.

President Biden spent a ton of time last night on the pandemic for obvious reasons. A lot of time on vaccines. So what stood out most to you?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that what that town hall really reflected was what we have seen in these first six months of President Biden's time in office, and that is that fighting this pandemic and trying to get it under control is really front and center for this administration.

You heard President Biden really issuing this urgent plea for all eligible Americans to roll up their sleeves and get that shot, as there are some concerns about the unvaccinated and the areas that they live in as that Delta variant is taking hold in the country.

And the president put it in very blunt terms, saying that he believes, right now, that there is a pandemic among the unvaccinated. That is a comment that we have heard -- a similar message from the CDC director -- but really, something that the president leaned into last night.

And we know that the White House, just a few weeks ago, had been touting this progress that's been made in the fight against COVID-19. But as that Delta variant continues to take hold in the country there is very real concern about those pockets of America where vaccinations remain low.

And I think it was important that you also heard the president pointing to the science and scientists for their reasoning and support of these vaccines as he is trying to reach more and more of those hesitant Americans to really try to get this pandemic under control.

CHATTERLEY: Yes, and we have to acknowledge, as well, I think there has been a noticeable shift in the last few days among some conservatives making a harder push to try and get people to take vaccines. I mean, we can list some of them. Mitch McConnell, Steve Scalise, the head of Newsmax. Fox even ran a PSA urging it.

Just take a listen to what the president had to say on this.


BIDEN: One of those other networks is not a big fan of mine -- one you talk about a lot. But if you notice, as they say in the southern part of my state, they've had an altar call -- some of those guys. All of a sudden they're out there saying let's get vaccinated -- let's get vaccinated.

The very people before this were saying so that -- but that -- I shouldn't make fun -- that's good. It's good. It's good. We just have to keep telling the truth. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: It's good.

CHATTERLEY: Keep going.

Arlette, do you think the White House believes that this change in rhetoric from Fox and other names and voices will actually help boost vaccination booking, or are they just hoping at this stage?

SAENZ: Well, the White House is definitely welcoming any messenger who is going to be out there encouraging Americans to get vaccinated. And they have acknowledged that their own efforts can only go so far as there are people in the country -- for political reasons, for science reasons -- who just do not agree and will not be convinced by this administration.

And so, what you heard from the president there was welcoming some of these conservative figures who have really made a notable shift in recent days as they are -- have urged Americans to get vaccinated.


But he also insisted that they will continue fighting against misinformation. You have seen this White House really pick up that mantle over the course of the past week, trying to push back on this misinformation -- some of it spreading via social media -- as they are really concerned about those unvaccinated Americans.

And really, they want to find those messengers outside of the White House. They know that there are others who can help -- either conservative politicians, doctors, local pastors -- trying to convince those folks to get those shots.

CHATTERLEY: Yes. It's tough to see what changes people's minds this late --


CHATTERLEY: -- this late on.

JARRETT: Right, right. At this point, what's it going to take, really?


JARRETT: Arlette, I also want to ask you about voting rights. The president was asked about this by a young man headed to law school and he sort of echoed something that you've been hearing from progressives lately that the president hasn't been aggressive enough about voting rights. Hasn't seemed to have a plan for a voting rights bill in Congress.

He made it pretty clear he's not willing to gut the filibuster over this -- something he has said before. Take a listen to what he said last night, though. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, MODERATOR, CNN PRESIDENTIAL TOWN HALL: You agree with the former president. He has called you -- as you call him, your old boss -- that it's a relic of Jim Crow.

BIDEN: It is.

LEMON: If it's a relic of Jim Crow, it's been used to fight against civil rights legislation, historically. Why protect it?

BIDEN: There's no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.

LEMON: All right.

BIDEN: Nothing at all will get done.


JARRETT: The retort to that, of course, is already nothing's being done. He's being blocked at every turn by Republicans. So does he have a point or is he being naive?

SAENZ: Well, I think progressives and activists think that he is being naive with all this. They don't feel that voting rights legislation can move forward without gutting that filibuster.

But look, Biden is a creature of the Senate. He spent 36 years there in the upper chamber. And he really just, at this point, does not see that fundamental reason for limiting the filibuster.

You heard him talking about how he wants voting rights legislation to really have the support of both sides. And I think what he is talking about there when he says that eliminating the filibuster will throw Congress into chaos -- I think what he is talking about is you've heard Republicans say that if that happens they are just going to keep putting up obstruction after obstruction in the Senate to any type of agenda.

But look, the president is certainly facing a lot of pressure from progressives and civil rights leaders, and activists to change his tune on the filibuster. But for now, he just has not indicated that he is budging any way whatsoever.

JARRETT: Yes, he seems dug in on this one, of course. He doesn't have enough support even among some Democrats in Congress to gut the filibuster.

SAENZ: Right.

JARRETT: So he's not alone on this, of course.

All right, Arlette. So great to see you this morning. Thanks.

SAENZ: Thanks. CHATTERLEY: OK. Prices are rising on just about everything as the economy reopens. President Biden tried to ease inflation fears last night, too.


BIDEN: The vast majority of the experts, including Wall Street, are suggesting that it's highly unlikely that it's going to be long-term inflation that's going to get out of hand. There will be near-term inflation because everything is now trying to be picked back up.


CHATTERLEY: The hope -- and it's hope -- is that inflation will cool off as the economy reopens and supply chains are able to catch up with all this extra demand. But the Delta variant could complicate matters.

Moody's chief economist said the variant could ease inflation concerns in the short term because, of course, it would mean less demand. But in the longer term, the Delta variant could make inflation concerns worse because it will take supply chains even longer to stabilize, which then could lead to more supply shortages and, of course, back to higher prices.

The rise in COVID cases reinforces the Federal Reserve's decision, though, to maintain its emergency programs until the health crisis is well and truly over.

JARRETT: Infrastructure also came up at the town hall last night just hours after Senate Republicans blocked a vote on a bipartisan bill in what they say is a push for more time to write it.


BIDEN: The well has been so poisoned over the last four years and even now there's still this lingering effort. A lot of my Republican friends say, Joe, I know you're right but if I do this I'll get primaried (ph) and I'll lose my primary. I'll be in trouble. But I think that's all beginning to move.


JARRETT: CNN's Daniella Diaz is live on Capitol Hill with more on this. Daniella, good morning. President Biden put a timeline on moving this process forward, but we've been here before.

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: We've absolutely been here before many times, Laura, and good morning.

Look, Senate Republicans blocked this vote to advance this $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure proposal. They argued that there's still a lot of details they need to negotiate on this, including how to pay for this legislation and even writing this legislation. In the end, the vote was 49 to 51, which was short of the 60 votes needed for this legislation to pass.


But look, discussions on this proposal are not dead yet. You know, they say that they only need one more week for this legislation to be finalized. And they said in a statement, this 22 -- this group of 22 Democratic and Republican senators -- they said that they are, quote, "close to a final agreement." And they say that they are, quote, "optimistic" about where they stand right now on this legislation and trying to finalize it by next week.

And look, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer seems like he's now leaning toward next week for a vote.

And President Joe Biden, last night in his town hall, expressed optimism that these negotiators will be able to finalize a deal by then. Take a listen to what he said.


LEMON: Negotiators say that they need more time.


LEMON: OK, so then -- but -- they expect to vote again on Monday, but how much time do you think that they need to get this done?

BIDEN: Until Monday.


Look -- no, I'm not being facetious. I'm not being facetious. You had up to 20 Republicans sign a letter saying we think we need this deal. I believe, because I take my Republican colleagues at my word -- at their word when you shake -- I come from a tradition in the Senate. You shake your hand, that's it. You keep your word. And I've found Rob Portman does that.

LEMON: So you think it's going to move forward in the Senate on Monday?

BIDEN: I do. Here's what I think. What happens is the vote on Monday is a motion to be able to proceed to this issue. Then they're going to debate the issue of the elements -- the individual elements of this plan to say, sure, we're going to fix that damn bridge of yours going into Kentucky.


No, I'm serious.


DIAZ: President Joe Biden, at his town hall last night, also really emphasized the bigger picture implications here. He said that this legislation would provide jobs to Americans. And he said that it would increase commerce. He really wanted to speak directly with Americans to tell them how this would affect their lives directly. But look, the bottom line here is that the negotiations -- the window for these negotiations are closing. There's only a little bit of time left before the August recess. And then after that, only a little bit of time left before the holidays. And then next year is a midterm year.

So, President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders really recognize that right now is the time to try to pass this legislation. The clock is ticking and they're working toward this -- Laura.

JARRETT: Yes, you do get the sense that the president knows that most people are not following all of the bickering in Washington and all the process fight. They want to know when that damn bridge is going to get fixed.

All right, Daniella Diaz. Thank you so much.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: Breaking overnight, a serious blow to any hope of finding the origins of COVID in China. Beijing rebuffing the World Health Organization's plan to further study and trace the pandemic's origins.

Nick Paton Walsh is live with us with more on this. Nick, why is China refusing to cooperate on this?

NICK PATON WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, I mean, we have to remind ourselves exactly why this is so important. We need to know where the pandemic started and how it started to stop something like this and the catastrophic events that have occurred since it happening again.

Now, China, who have long been resistant, frankly, to the idea of a transparent investigation in their country where most scientific research suggests the coronavirus began late last year -- they have come out and responded to a WHO investigation request. The WHO investigators be allowed to look at raw data and even possibly look into some of the laboratories in China -- which are accused without particularly solid evidence at this point -- maybe being the source of a leak that began the virus.

Now, China, today, put out a press conference -- a startling collection of relatively senior figures, laboratory heads from Wuhan, the deputy head of their National Health Commission -- in which he said -- Zeng Yixin -- he said clearly, that it's impossible for China to accept the plan of the WHO to return and continue their investigations.

He said the WHO's plan for the next phase of investigation doesn't respect common sense and is against science. Very strident words there and essentially, a rebuff of the head of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, who said that they wanted to see a transparent and open conduct from the Chinese and the raw data -- a lot of data which the first wave of the investigation itself delayed for months access to China.

A lot of the data they got had been analyzed and interpreted by Chinese officials first. They wanted to see the raw things. The (INAUDIBLE) from hospitals in October-November that may suggest the virus was around earlier and missed by Chinese scientists.

This simply stops the investigation, it seems, in its tracks unless there's a remarkable miraculous compromise in the months ahead. And it increases suspicion people point towards China and, of course, the background noise as we head towards the Biden administration's review on what they know about where this came from due in mid-August.

It really looks today like humanity will never learn where this disease originated from, authoritatively.

Back to you.

JARRETT: Yes, really important, obviously, for that U.S. investigation to get to the bottom of this, or at least to try to. But Nick, we know you will stay on top of it for us. Thank you.

CHATTERLEY: Fire crews may feel that they're turning a corner battling the huge Bootleg Fire in Oregon. Favorable weather is helping crews stop the flames from devouring more terrain, which is bone dry from a historic drought. The fire has scorched almost 400,000 acres, but it's only grown 2,000 acres over the past two days.


Right now, more than 20,000 firefighters and personnel are assigned to nearly 80 large fires across 13 states.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we're going to do now is take some of those resources that were working here -- we're going to push them up here because this line here is still uncontained and it's going to take a lot more boots on the ground to get this under control.


JARRETT: PG&E, the nation's largest utility company, says it will bury 10,000 miles of power lines to reduce wildfire risk.

The company just confirmed the Dixie Fire in Northern California may have been caused by its equipment. PG&E is already responsible for sparking some of the most destructive fires in California history.

The western wildfire smoke also contributing to New York City's worst air quality in 15 years. Look at that smoke. It can aggravate asthma and heart disease.


JARRETT: Not good.

CHATTERLEY: All right, let me give you a quick look at what we're seeing in terms of markets around the world.

This morning, as you can see, it's green across the screen once again. Strong gains in Hong Kong and over in Asia as well, and for the German and the French markets.

On Wall Street, the handover also positive and we are in green for the week. Stocks also closed higher on Wednesday, rebounding more after Monday's plunge, of course.

Wall Street will get earnings reports from American, Southwest, and Alaska Airlines today. Investors will also be listening closely as the travel industry rebounds from the pandemic.

The ongoing global chip shortage still a major problem though for the auto industry. General Motors says it will stop production on two of its pickup trucks next week -- the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.

Automakers are struggling to find the chips they need to build enough cars and trucks to meet surging demand.

Consulting firm AlixPartners expects the chip shortage to cost the global auto industry $110 billion in revenues this year.

And a major win for the right to repair movement. The Federal Trade Commission voted to push for consumers' right to fix devices like cell phones themselves instead of relying on manufacturers. Supporters of the Right to Repair have argued consumers should have access to the tools and software needed to fix products they own.

The vote doesn't just place more pressure on the tech industry, it also ramps up pressure on companies like John Deere, which has clashed with farmers over repairing its tractors.

As someone who continually breaks her phone, I like this concept. This concept works for me.

JARRETT: I'm not even going to show you the back of my phone --


JARRETT: -- and all the cracks.


JARRETT: All right. The long-awaited Olympic Games don't officially start until tomorrow but some events are already underway with a very different feel.

Our Coy Wire is in Tokyo with this morning's Bleacher Report. Coy, what is it like there right now?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: It is totemo totemo atsui. It's very, very hot right now --

JARRETT: Look at you.

WIRE: -- Laura -- these athletes out here competing in this.

But hey, the Summer Games are finally here, postponed a year due to the pandemic. Athlete training regiments have been compromised. Track star Allyson Felix told me that she sprinted in neighborhood streets. Swimming sensation Katie Ledecky said she was swimming in a backyard pool.

But athletes are finally here, Laura. These Olympics will be the pinnacle for most of these athletes' careers. Most won't ever make it back to another one.

Some gave up jobs to be here. They're not making much money. They're sacrificing family life. This is their one shot to make it all worth it.

But athletes are being sent home just days before the moment they've been hoping for, testing positive for COVID.

We asked Team USA's Kevin Durant and Brittney Griner about navigating strict protocol and dealing with uncertainty -- listen.


BRITTNEY GRINER, TEAM USA WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: I mean, it was a little different process. A little bit longer process getting here and following COVID restrictions and everything that we have to do. But, you know, we're professional athletes and the game doesn't change.

KEVIN DURANT, TEAM USA MEN'S BASKETBALL: USA Basketball has made this experience so easy for all of us, especially throughout the circumstances of COVID, especially here in Japan where cases have risen. So I think USA Basketball is keeping us safe as they could.


WIRE: All right. We have softball and baseball back in the Olympics for the first time in 13 years. USA Softball now 2-0 here after a 1-0 win over Canada. Monica Abbott pitching a one-hitter, striking out nine. Team USA and host Japan are the favorites to win gold here.

Dating back to 2002 -- listen to this -- those two teams have met in every single finals of the women's softball World Cup.

All right, one big question here was whether we'd see athletes using the international stage to protest racism and online hate. Protests had always been banned by the IOC but it recently loosened the rule for that.

Five teams taking a knee so far, including the U.S. Women's National Team ahead of their 3-0 loss to Sweden. The IOC is now allowing athletes to protest before competing or as they're being introduced.

Now, I was at that stadium for that match last night. No fans allowed -- not even family members who have been with these athletes every step of the way. Nothing but plastic and metal seats.


Staff and about 75 to 100 media members all corralled into one tiny part of this 50,000-seat stadium, further evidence that these might end up being the oddest games we've ever seen, Laura and Julia. No fans.

But the announcer there still screamed "dear fans." They were playing loud music. It was just awkward.


WIRE: Team USA's Megan Rapinoe -- she even said that after that huge loss it felt like the atmosphere may have played a role -- yet another factor. Every athlete here is going to have to manage mentally here in Tokyo.



JARRETT: -- such a good point. It's just such a different -- such a different atmosphere.


All right, Arigatogozaimashita, I believe is thank you in Japanese, but don't quote me.

JARRETT: You guys are putting me to shame. Thanks, Coy.

CHATTERLEY: Thank you for joining us.

JARRETT: Appreciate it.

CHATTERLEY: I'm Julia Chatterley.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. I do not speak Japanese. "NEW DAY" is next.

CHATTERLEY: Neither do I.