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Interview with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA); The Delta Variant is Proving COVID Isn't Going Anywhere; Today NYC Announced All Healthcare Workers Will Need to Either Get Vaccinated or Get Tested Weekly. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 21, 2021 - 12:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Abby Phillip, in for John King today. The dangerous Delta Variant is proving COVID isn't going anywhere. New CDC data shows that more than 91 million Americans are now living in counties with high levels of COVID transmission.

That is nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population. Today, New York City announced that all healthcare workers will need to either get the shot or get tested weekly.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, (D) NEW YORK CITY: Look, I respect the importance of masks but if we want to make a comparison, you know, a mask is a pea shooter and the vaccine is a canon. You know, let's be clear, the thing that will make a difference is the vaccine --


PHILLIP: And as we speak the first lady is on her way to Tokyo for the Olympics as another team USA athlete tests positive and cases spike in Japan. We start with the new mandate from New York City. The mayor says that disinformation about COVID and vaccines has, quote, "Poisoned this country."

And now he wants his city to up the ante in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now. Elizabeth, first LA, now New York City, a lot of cities and municipalities around the country are all grappling with the same thing now, what to do about masks and this Delta Variant.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, and, Abby, the reason why there's such grappling about what do we do? And should it require masks, require vaccination? Is that, you know, for the vaccine for several months you could say all right, let's give people time, let's give them time to get vaccinated, let's give them time to get the right information. But as the -- as Mayor de Blasio of New York City said, enough is enough. It's time to basically, he didn't use this word, but it's time to get strict, to tell workers who work in hospitals, nursing homes, et cetera, public ones, that they need to make a choice. Either get vaccinated or get tested weekly. Let's take a listen.


DE BLASIO: 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. We've tried good incentives, and they've worked, we've got -- 9.7 million vaccination doses have been given in New York City.

Outreach, incentives, lots of things that have worked but it's time to do something else because Delta is nothing to fool around with.


COHEN: Now in New York City about 70 percent of hospital workers are vaccinated. But still, that means that if you go to a hospital one out three people approximately who are all around you aren't vaccinated. That's not great if you're in the hospitals because you're sick, you could really be vulnerable to infection and to the bad effects of COVID-19.

PHILLIP: Even 30 percent is pretty astounding.

COHEN: It is.

PHILLIP: But we're also learning about the impact that this pandemic is having on life expectancy. What is the data showing?

COHEN: Right. So many people got sick and died from COVID-19 last year, Abby, that it actually affected life expectancy. This one virus affected the entire life expectancy. So, let's take a look, and sadly it is disproportionate. People of color were disproportionately affected by this.

So, from 2019 -- I'm sorry, 2019 to 2020 everyone's life expectancy went down, mainly because of COVID. But for Hispanic Americans it went down by three years, for Black Americans, it was about the same, but for white Americans, it was only 1.2 years. So, as you can see, disproportionately affecting people of color.

And you might say, well, I, you know, this might be true all over the world, this is just the way that it went. It is not the way that it went for other countries. If you take a look at other industrialized, wealthy countries, that's the yellow line, their life expectancy is higher than in the U.S. and it didn't take a nosedive with COVID.

The lower line, the white line for the U.S., it did take a nosedive. It's a difference between 81, getting to age 81 in those other industrialized countries, like the UK or France. Versus 77 in the U.S., that's a huge difference.

PHILLIP: I can't stress this enough, getting the vaccine will save lives.


PHILLIP: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

PHILLIP: And joining us now is Dr. Megan Ranney, she's a professor of emergency medicine and associate dean at Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Ranney, thanks for being here. You know, we're talking about individual cities and municipalities figuring out what to do with their mask mandates in light of this Delta Variant.


Is it time, do you think, for the CDC to rethink their guidance and change it given that facts on the ground are changing? And this variant is spreading at a rapid, rapid pace?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: So, the facts that made the CDC change their guidance haven't changed dramatically. If you are fully vaccinated you are still for the most part protected from severe disease, hospitalization, and death. And, of course, no vaccine is 100 percent.

One of the reasons we're seeing rising cases in vaccinated people just because we're seeing rising cases overall. So, that part of the science hasn't changed. What has changed or maybe which was there all along is the larger social part of this. So, there's the biological science and then the social science.

And the trouble is when the CDC changed those mask recommendations it wasn't just vaccinated people that took off their masks, it was the unvaccinated as well. And because as a country we're not confirming people's vaccination status before they go somewhere, someone who's unvaccinated cannot wear a mask just as easily.

What I think we're going to see is on a county-by-county or even city- by-city basis as cases rise, as hospitals and healthcare systems start to get overwhelmed, mask mandates will be put in place for short periods of time. I just don't think the American population is going to tolerate a universal mask mandate at this point.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, you're just -- you're talking about what we're seeing on the ground, which is a regional pandemic. If you look at where Americans are living with high transmission rates, it's focused in the south, it's part -- parts of the southwest. And the places where the vaccination rates are many times -- or the case rates are many times higher than the national average are in the south and in the Midwest.

Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, these are states where also the vaccination rates are incredibly low. So, what do we do about those problems? Especially if there's no, you know, let's say social will among the people in those states to put in place their own mask mandates or voluntarily wear masks if they themselves are not -- are not vaccinated?

RANNEY: And you just put your finger on exactly the problem, Abby, which is that many of these states and counties where we are see rising -- are seeing rising cases are the same places that never had mask mandates, to begin with. Even in the worst of the pandemic. So, there is going to be this very local struggle of political will.

I think this is really going to come down to individuals and so, what I've been telling friends, family, colleagues in states or counties where cases are rising is I am recommending wearing a mask in all public areas where you're not sure that everyone is vaccinated.

Again, the vaccines are great but nothing is 100 percent and so for your sake as well as the sake of any unvaccinated family members who might be living with you, kids, in particular, to wear a mask in public settings. I'm also hopeful if -- I've said this for a bit, I don't want another surge in cases to occur in order to drive people to get vaccinated.

But sometimes it is that really immediate fear that drives folks to actually show up and get the vaccine. And we're seeing, right, we're seeing changing messaging from some politicians, from some media figures finally saying please go get a vaccine, don't put yourself and your community at risk. So, we may start to see some shift in vaccination numbers in those communities that are being very hard hit right now.

PHILLIP: A lot of the other questions that people have relate to whether -- what they should do if they are already vaccinated. We've seen some breakthrough cases, which is to be expected. These vaccines are very good but they are not 100 percent going to prevent you from becoming infected.

And just this morning a professor of biology at Dartmouth, Erin Bromage said this about what he's seen in his own work about whether vaccinated people can actually transmit the virus to others.


ERIN BROMAGE, PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY, DARTMOUTH: Undoubtedly it can happen. But I think that it really needs to be very specific circumstances. Like you are symptomatic, you are sharing a very small space. In my experience with the companies that I'm working with, we've seen vaccinated people test positive but we have yet to see a vaccinated person test positive and infect another person to date.


PHILLIP: Dr. Ranney, what should vaccinated people take away from that? And do you agree in general with the sentiment that he expressed there?

RANNEY: I do agree in general. So, let's be kind of scientifically specific about how people transmit the virus from one -- from an infected person to someone who's not. It's -- you have to have enough viral load in your body to be able to spread it and then that virus has to kind of take hold in the uninfected person and start to replicate.

That's what the transmission is -- consists of. That's why masks work, it lessens the amount of virus that gets spread from one person to another.


That's also why the Delta Variant is scarier because Delta seems to create high -- higher viral loads more quickly in infected people. So, although I agree with Dr. Bromage that up until now the vaccines work really, well, that those people who do get a breakthrough infection despite being vaccinated have low viral loads, so are less likely to produce enough virus to get someone else sick.

With Delta Variant, things might be a little bit more up in the air. And so this is where my recommendation is, if you're in that public setting, especially if you're in a place with high case counts, wear a mask if you're around folks that you're not sure are vaccinated.

PHILLIP: Dr. Megan Ranney, thank you for being with us this morning.

RANNEY: Thank you.

PHILLIP: And coming up next the Senate faces a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal as negotiations slowly inch along.



PHILLIP: Today Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is pushing a vote to advance the bipartisan infrastructure bill. It is a hardball tactic and the vote is almost sure to fail. Republicans say they want the text of the bill written first. But after months of talks, Schumer wants to open debate now.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Senator, thanks for being with us today. So, the vote is expected to happen today but it is also expected to fail at the same time that both sides in the negotiating room say they're making progress they're just not done yet. So, why have this vote today when a little bit more time could produce the result that they wanted?

SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): Well, what Chuck Schumer is saying is that it's time to start the debate. It's time to start this process; the time is of the essence. And so, his job is to make sure that both this bipartisan bill and the budget package are considered and voted upon on the Senate floor before we break for August.

And he's saying that we just have to get started with the debate, we don't need the final package yet. The Republicans and Democrats who have been negotiating on the bipartisan package have been doing so for months.

And all Senator Schumer is saying is that we just have to get started because we have to finish. It's urgent for the American economy and the American people that we get these two bills completed.

PHILLIP: That second bill that you're referring to, that reconciliation package part of it would include some climate priorities, which is very important to you. But Senator Joe Manchin has said that he is uncomfortable with some of it. He said he's very, very disturbed about the proposals that have to do with climate change.

You on the other hand have said pretty simply, "no climate, no deal." So, what is your position on whether the reconciliation bill adequately addresses climate? And are you concerned that that could be in jeopardy because of Senator Manchin?

MARKEY: Well, I'm very happy with the reconciliation bill as it has been laid out. That is the budget resolution, it includes tax breaks for wind and solar, all-electric vehicles, a clean energy standard, a climate bank, a civilian climate corps, and I know ultimately that we're going to have to work with Senator Manchin.

And I think we can do that, I'm optimistic that we can do that. But otherwise, if we don't pass that bill we might as well cede our economic future to China because we won't have a plan. That's what that bill will be, it's a plan to compete against China and other countries in the world.

And I know -- and I know how hard Senator Schumer and the White House, President Biden is working on this. I know we can ultimately satisfy Joe Manchin and have all 50 Democrats voting together so that Kamala Harris can break the tie on the Senate floor.

PHILLIP: If the climate provisions are weakened in that bill are you prepared to walk away from the table on the bill that requires all Democrats to be unified?

MARKEY: Again, I'm optimistic that we can work this out. The framework that's out there right now, it's a great one. And I think within that framework we can negotiate with Joe Manchin and others to ensure that we've accommodated their concerns. But I'm very optimistic that that -- the framework that we've laid out, with some modifications, will be able to get the support of all 50 Democrats. And I'm going to work hard towards achieving that goal.

PHILLIP: I want to ask you about something else happening on Capitol Hill. With the Delta Variant spreading all across the country over where you are on the Hill, the Capitol physicians is saying that members may want to consider wearing masks again.

Do you think that that is the right course of action? And, you know, there are many in the House, in particular, who haven't even said whether they're vaccinated. Should that recommendation become a requirement now that we're seeing some of these breakthrough cases with the Delta Variant?

MARKEY: Congressmen and Senators are not scientists. We should just listen to the science. Whatever the scientists tell us to do, whatever the medical community tells us to do we should do as individuals here in the Capitol and all across our country those instructions should be followed.

Right now there's too much disinformation, which is leading to people not getting the vaccinations which they need. So, whatever precautionary steps we have to take up here on Capitol Hill in order to be good models for the rest of the country, we should do it.


PHILLIP: Are you planning on masking up?

MARKEY: I think in situations where a mask is being recommended by the Capitol physician I will mask up, yes.

PHILLIP: Senator Ed Markey, thank you for joining us today.

MARKEY: Glad to be with you.

PHILLIP: And joining me now, Margaret Talev, managing editor of Axios, Olivier Knox, national political correspondent for "The Washington Post," and Eva McKend, Congressional correspondent for Spectrum News, and Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for NPR.

So, right there, guys, you heard Senator Markey, a key progressive voice who is probably representative of some of the concerns that the White House has on the other side being pretty optimistic about where things are headed on this bill.

Given that we are still in a place where it's not clear whether the bipartisan bill is still moving forward. And we have some questions about the reconciliation bill. What is our status?

EVA MCKEND, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, SPECTRUM NEWS: I think Senator Schumer knows what he's doing here by calling for this procedural vote today. You know, Senator McConnell is often credited with being the most skilled tactician on Capitol Hill but Senator Schumer's no slouch either, he's been there a while, several decades.

And so, he knows what he's doing here and he has to feel as though he has enough Democrats on board for this to advance. This vote may fail today but it has increased the urgency of this package for everyone invested, both Republicans and Democrats on getting a bipartisan bill across the finish line.

PHILLIP: And Democrats make the point that it's not the first time they would have had a procedural vote that's failed, and they've done it again. They will likely do it again next week. But on the reconciliation package part, we're talking about $3.5 trillion in mostly Democratic priorities. Republicans are starting to mount their response. Listen.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): This a new Democratic Party saying we don't incentivize work, we just want to be able to mail cash to people every single month and maybe they'll vote for us.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): The Democrats are spending taxpayer dollars like it's Monopoly money.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): It's simply irresponsible and reckless to borrow more money from future generations. And to throw gasoline on the fire that is already burning when it comes to inflation.


PHILLIP: At what point does that start to matter? Or does it not matter at all what they say because they don't need Republicans for this reconciliation bill?

OLIVIER KNOX, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: OK, well, in terms of the reconciliation vote, no, that's right. They don't need the Republicans so it doesn't matter so much. I mean, you're already starting to see the posturing ahead of the 2022 mid- terms.

PHILLIP: Exactly, yes.

KNOX: If you are -- if you are inclined to play a drinking game connected to all of this don't pick reckless. That is...

PHILLIP: Don't pick Monopoly...

KNOX: ...your word.

PHILLIP: either.

KNOX: I think Monopoly money is -- well, inflation, you're dead.


KNOX: Yes, I mean, it's, you know, after four years in which they signed on to all kinds of provisions that inflated the national debt Republicans have gone to renew their virginity in the sea (ph) and they suddenly find that they are outraged by the proposal to spend more money.

But, yes, this is -- this is mostly just posturing ahead of mid-terms for them. That said, it could very well have an impact on what we see in the -- in the -- over the next week. You know, I -- I'm intrigued by Joe Manchin saying on the one hand he's optimistic that they're going to advance some of this stuff next week and on the other hand saying that there absolutely can't -- we can't touch fossil fuel subsidies.

I'm intrigued by some of the other folks who are coming out and saying we're optimistic about reaching a deal, all we have to agree -- all we have to work out now is how we pay for it. So --

PHILLIP: That's that -- yes, it's almost like saying all we have to work out now is like, you know, the hardest part of the whole --

KNOX: The text.

PHILLIP: Right. The text of the whole thing. TALEV: You had Republicans come out last week and say we have a deal and now saying we will -- we will not vote on this until we have a deal. So, but I think well, two things are true. One thing that is true is that Joe Biden wants bipartisan support for this. He would rather have the $600 billion the bipartisan way than not.

But if not they take the money, they tack it onto the Democratic bill. The other thing that's true is that there are a lot of Republicans who would like to vote yes on the smaller piece. The $579 billion in new spending, the $1.2 trillion deal. So, there are a lot of messaging reasons why both sides are testing this and both sides are like, yes, we could walk away, we got a plan b.

But the truth is I still think that $1.2 trillion fix is enough of a common interest that it's worth it for both sides to play around with. To kind of kick the ball around for another few days --


TALEV: and figure it out.

PHILLIP: At the same time and lurking in the background are concerns about inflation, the White House taking those concerns seriously.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Certainly they are, though they are also trying to say well, this could just be transitory, this could be a pandemic effect. You know, let's see how it goes.

But they've had the Treasury secretary out there talking about it and certainly if this inflation sticks that's a really, really big problem and it does create a message problem for a $3.5 trillion restructuring of the relationship that the U.S. has with the -- that the American people have with the government.


PHILLIP: Although it's not clear to me whether we will know what is really happening with inflation in time for Republicans to use it to stop any spending that happens over the -- in the course of the next several months.

KEITH: I think we just found --


KEITH: -- that the recession ended a year ago --


KEITH: -- this week.


KEITH: Like with the economy you see it later. PHILLIP: Yes, exactly. Coming up next for us the first hearing into the January 6th insurrection is just days away now. We have some new reporting about how Democrats and Republicans are preparing.