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COVID Grips Biden Presidency, Becoming Top Issue for White House; Biden to Require Vaccine or Testing for all Federal Workers; CDC Changes Mask Guidance in Response to Delta Variant Threat; GOP Negotiators Announce an Infrastructure Agreement; CDC: Louisiana is 1 if 6 States Less Than 38 Percent Fully Vaccinated. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 28, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. A big news day ahead, Senator strike a deal. The bipartisan infrastructure framework is done. The top negotiators say tonight, a possible test vote that could dictate the shape of the Biden agenda.

And the COVID numbers for some major Biden reset now a call for most Americans to mask up indoors again. And next the vaccine mandate for federal workers. New York City today get this, says it will pay you yes pay you to get the shot.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): When you get your first dose, you will get a $100 incentive $100 for any New Yorker who goes to a city run site to get vaccinated.


KING: Plus the January 6 Committee sets the stage for a giant confrontation bank on a flurry of subpoenas the members say including for everyone who talked to then President Donald Trump on insurrection day. Up first this hour though, the urgent White House COVID reboot.

CNN has learned President Biden will announce tomorrow all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated or get regularly tested for COVID. That mandate comes after the CDC changed this masks guidance for vaccinated Americans urging more caution because of a surge in COVID cases tied to that more transmissible Delta variant.

Let's get straight to our Senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly, who's traveling with the president, Phil a mandate is a big deal.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRSPONDENT: No question about it. I think it underscores a really dramatic shift we've seen from the White House when it comes to the pandemic just over the course of the last several days. It's a shift the White House officials say bluntly is driven by the data they've seen tied to that Delta variant.

But at one, it's one that basically reverses almost all of their both policy and messaging positions, John that they've held for the better part of the last several months on the messaging front. They've been very careful. Don't blame this on individual's trend; gently push those who don't want to get vaccinated at to that point.

You've heard a stark shift on that front from the president on down making very clear. They believe the reason why this is happening, the reason why there's backslide is because of unvaccinated individuals. It's something you're likely to hear from the president when he gives remarks on this issue tomorrow.

And then on policy side, the White House has been so cautious on mandates making very clear they don't believe that's the way they want to go. They didn't think they were going to apply it on the federal side saying if companies or businesses wanted to do it, they would support it, but they certainly weren't going to try and force it. That is shifting as well.

Now what you're going to see tomorrow, according to sources familiar with the plan is the President will lay out that federal mandate for employees and federal employees and contractors. You have to have a test to vaccination status, if they choose not to; they'd have to be masked and have other mitigation elements as well as won't apply to the military.

But John, all this underscores the urgent moment the White House now finds it in, as somebody told me at the beginning of this administration, if we don't solve COVID, we don't get anything done in this administration. They're now back to trying to solve.

KING: The optimism of weeks ago seems to be missing right now Phil Mattingly a big challenge for the president appreciate the live reporting from the road. Let's look more closely at some of the numbers as Phil talks about this turn-about inside the Biden White House.

Here's the main reason for it right here. Look at this map right here. You see the red that's high transmission, you see the gold that's substantial transmission by county across the United States of America, two thirds of the American population, two thirds of the American population today covered by this revised masking guidelines that if you are indoors, you should wear a mask if you are in a place with higher substantial COVID transmission.

That is one of the reasons for the about face. If you look at the case line, the trends right now 61,000 new infections reported yesterday. 61,000 new infections you go back a year ago, it was 65,000. Why is that relevant?

Remember, we were at about the peak of the summer height. Then a year ago, we came down a bit never shoved the baseline all the way down, and then we went through that horrific winter. This is the question now, with vaccinations most people think there's no way you can get this high again, but we're going up. We're going up. We were flattening out last summer. We're still going up right now. If you want to just take a quick look right now at this the seven day average of new Coronavirus cases when the CDC relaxed its masking guidance back in May. We were at 35,000 new infections a day.

Now the CDC says we need to be more cautious. We're at 61,000 new infections at this point. Let's bring in to share her insights and expertise Dr. Leana Wen she of course the Former City of Baltimore Health Commissioner, Author of a brand new book "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health" Dr. Wen grateful that you're with me today.

Let's go through some of these questions. Number one, Phil Mattingly was just talking about the White House did not want to do mandates, they understand the politics of mandates. Is the president right, given the course of where we are right now to say if you're a federal worker or a contractor, you have to get a vaccine or you have to get tested a lot.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. I'm fully support President Biden in this anticipated vaccine mandate tomorrow for federal workers. This is exactly the right step at this point in the pandemic. We have hit a wall when it comes to vaccinations that we've now seen the consequence, which is that we have surges across the country.


We can't keep doing more of the same. Of course, we should keep on doing education and outreach. But we have to do something dramatically different and vaccine mandates are really important.

Look, I don't think that people should be using this argument of individual choice when it comes to this public health matter, you can have a choice to stay unvaccinated. But what the administration is saying is, in that case, if you still want to come back in person, you need to get tested, because nobody should have the right to infect others with a potentially dangerous disease.

And I also think that the Biden Administration's move will really paved the way to private employers and many other local and state jurisdictions do the same for their employees to you, which is really, really important to curbing the surge.

KING: Right. So I want to show you mentioned that the vaccination, how much it is slowed down, I just want to show people when the vaccines first started to come out, you see it quickly went up from 2 percent in February 41 percent 47 percent is more or less flat line.

The administration does say in recent days, they've seen a slight uptick, a slight uptick. But Dr. Wen we're at this moment, because of this right now, I'm coming back to the CDC transmission map, two thirds of Americans are covered by this new revised masking guidelines, essentially, the administration says even if you're vaccinated, if you live in a place with higher substantial community spread, you should put a mask on when you go inside. I want you to listen to some of the experts involved here because I know for starters; you think they got too optimistic too soon. My question now is, is this the right policy? And are they talking about it right? Listen.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I know that this is not a message America wants to hear. The science that prompted this guidance is just days old--

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: --designs changed, even though we're putting your mask back on. I know it is an annoyance and it feels like something that we had hoped we were all going to be able to leave behind. It is one step we can take to help prevent transmission and we'll get us closer toward the end of this pandemic.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Nothing changed about the science. It was the virus that changed. We're dealing with fundamentally a different virus.


KING: Now, the two questions, right policy be tougher on masks again, more restrictive on mask again, and are they communicating it clearly?

WEN: Most mostly the right policy, terrible communication. I'm confused and I think many people are very confused about what exactly happened and why? Here's what I think the Biden Administration should have said. They should have said the issue is not with the vaccinated the issue is with the unvaccinated.

The reason why we have to go back to mask mandates indoors is that the unvaccinated didn't abide by the honor system, the honor code didn't work. And so the reason we're doing this now is we want to protect the unvaccinated from spreading to one another.

And that's why if there's no proof of vaccination, if there are vaccinated and unvaccinated people mixing in indoor spaces, that's why we need mask requirements. In addition, there are some individuals who may be living at home who, even if they're vaccinated themselves may be living at home with unvaccinated family members or immune- compromised family members, those individuals should take additional precautions.

But right now, the messaging is so confused from the CDC. That sounds like there's something wrong with the vaccine or there's something wrong with the vaccinated, that's neither of those things are true. The vaccines are still really effective at protecting you. The issue is with the unvaccinated spreading to one another not with the vaccinated.

KING: That's an excellent point. I want to bring up the just this chart that shows you the vaccination rate across the country by age group right now. And it gets you a question. I mean, if you look at older Americans 50 to 64, 65 - pretty giant pretty substantial the vaccination rates.

Here, if you look at school aged children 12 to 15 only 28 percent fully vaccinated, although they're all eligible now. 16, 17 year olds about 40 percent fully vaccinated even though they're all eligible now 43 percent 18 to 24 groups.

Dr. Wen the new mask guidance also says remember just a month ago, they were saying if you're vaccinated in school, you can maybe not wear a mask. Younger kids should wear a mask. Now they're saying everybody in K through 12 should wear a mask. Again is that the right retreat, if you will?

WEN: Yes, this is exactly the right policy. I was very concerned at the time when they released the CDC's school guidance, because it sounded like school administrators or teachers would have to be figuring out who is vaccinated in a classroom.

If let's say you teach middle school or high school, and half the people are not wearing masks. How do you know that it's the half was actually vaccinated. Right now, this is the safest thing to be doing to say, yes, we need for our schools to come back in person. We can do this safely.

But everybody needs to be masked. And I really hope that school officials across the country are listening to this urgent plea because our children are still at risk. Our children - many of our children don't have the option yet to be vaccinated because they don't they're not yet eligible. They're at risk. And so in order to protect them, we really need indoor masking requirements to stay in schools.

KING: Just looking at this chart again. You see there's a problem right now you give me the technical term for it, if you will the public health. Problem with younger Americans being open to getting the vaccine school is about to start again.

The city with the largest schools it system in America, New York City, you heard the mayor at the top of the program saying come get a shot we'll give you $100. Is that the way to do this?

DR. WEN: I don't think so. Although I will - I will commend Mayor de Blasio in New York for the work that he's done to require vaccinations for city for city workers.


WEN: I hope that in the future, we also look to see you what France and Italy and other countries are doing basically saying, you can have the option to stay unvaccinated if you want. But if you want to engage in public spaces, if you want to go to restaurants, bars, concert venues, museums to go to work, and then you need to either be vaccinated or get a test.

I hope that more cities step up and do things like this because ultimately, this is about protecting the public's health.

KING: Dr. Wen, thank you grateful for the insights as always. Up next to us a big deal here in Washington - Republican negotiator say there's an agreement now on infrastructure and a test vote on this long negotiate a bill might happen as early as tonight,



KING: Big breaking news in Washington today. Just moments ago Republican negotiators announcing they've reached a bipartisan infrastructure deal with Democrats. The lead Republican negotiator Senator Rob Portman of Ohio says they'll have the language written in time for the Senate to take a test vote that could come tonight.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Senators continue to make good progress on both tracks of legislation. Members should be prepared to vote again on cloture on the motion to proceed to the bipartisan infrastructure bill as early as tonight.


KING: That the majority leader short time ago remember Leader Schumer's first try it that test vote failed a week ago, because Republicans said there were too many things still to be worked out. Now they say they have a deal. Let's get straight to Capitol Hill, CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju, Manu did they really have a deal?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, we have to see the details still. But the change in tone is significant. But just a couple of days ago, it looked like things were on the brink of collapse. Now, it looks like that they can least shake hands.

This negotiating group can shake hands and say that they have reached some sort of agreement here now that respective caucuses in the Senate side, the Republicans and the Democrats will each get their own briefings this afternoon about exactly what is in there.

And at that point, we'll see what level of pushback there is. At the moment it does sound like there's at least enough support to open debate on this proposal as soon as tonight. Number of the Republicans who voted against moving ahead last week is now telling reporters that they are supportive of an opening debate on this but then there are a number of hurdles ahead.

There are votes that have to be taken to eventually close off debate that was still required. 60 votes 10 Republicans joining with all 50 Democrats of all 50 Democrats remain united and it's not even clear of all Democrats will remain united with Democrats, including one key Chairman of the Committee, Tom Carper, yesterday was concerned about some key language dealing with water systems. There were also concerns about transit funding that Democrats had.

And then John, what happens if it does pass the Senate when it comes to the House? Just moments ago, I asked the speaker if she'd commit to allowing the Senate a plan if it passes to pass the House unchanged. She said no. She said yes to look at the language and said expected there could be some discussion between the House and the Senate, John.

KING: Some discussion diplomatically put Manu Raju at Capitol Hill. But we're at the beginning. We're at the beginning of the process. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Carl Hulse of "The New York Times", Francesca Chambers at McClatchy and CNN's Lauren Fox.

Let me start with you, Lauren. How - they get here? We've - this has been dead. It's been back to life. It's been dead. It's been back to life. It's alive at the moment how?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well look, I think one of the meetings that happened last night between Ricchetti and Portman of course, Portman being the key Republican negotiator here. That was crucial.

It was important those two men both view this as a long term legacy agenda item. This is not something that they think is just about political moment or just about scoring points right now. They wanted the deal. They sat down they went point by point.

But look, there is still a little bit of a trust fall happening here until we see legislative language. I am not convinced we have a deal. And the reason for that is because we've seen this show before. They did this last month at the White House. They said they had a deal in principle. We never got legislative tax. Portman said that they are going to have it ready by the vote tonight. We'll see.

KING: We'll see part. Let's assume for the sake of argument, and for those that - I know those of you around the country, cloture motion to proceed, Senate speak, Senate speak, but they're going to bring this to the floor. Let's assume they have the votes tonight to proceed. And let's assume for the sake of this conversation, the Senate actually passes something.

Manu made a point at the end Carl about the speaker; we were talking about it before we came on the air. House progressives don't like the idea that the Senate goes first anyway, they especially don't like the idea that a whole bunch of people they think are too centrist or too conservative for their liking. If this passes the Senate, it still faces quicksand in the House.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. Manu, said obstacles ahead? You know, that's a great - that's Congress speak for well look out. Speaker Pelosi said at a press conference that she wouldn't commit. And I know she's telling people privately that they are going to change this bill.

So you have this group of Senators who really like worked on every semi colon, right? They want to get it off, right? And it's going to go to the House, and they want to make changes. I know there are a lot of people in the house who think why should we let Susan Collins and Rob Portman write our legislation.

So this has a long way to go. But this is a good first step. It sounds like they're going to get onto the bill.

KING: So if a bill has a long way to go, one way to keep it moving is a president who is engaged on both sides. Can the president - will the president, call Speaker Pelosi and say, sorry, we're going to give you what you want in the second piece, the reconciliation apologies again to America.

The Democrats only - the Democrats only spending money, you're going to get your climate stuff there. You're going to get your health care stuff there. You have to vote for this.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that remains to be seen. He has been on the phone a lot when these negotiations especially over the weekend, he basically spent Sunday all day on the phone. Steve Ricchetti is one of his closest advisors and it's been the one dealing with Portman and some of the other Republican negotiators on this.


COLLINS: Whether or not he tries to use that muscle when it comes to the House Speaker on what this deal ultimately looks like remains to be seen, because obviously Speaker Pelosi has her own power and has her own caucus to answer to and they have also got to try to keep those Democrats on board when it comes later down the road.

And so I think that remains to be seen how he uses this muscle but the White House has made clear they really want to get this through Nancy Pelosi as well aware that this is a priority for president.

KING: It's - you're right. It's a big - it's a big step today that they have this deal, a big step that they might actually start debate in the Senate tonight. The longer anything like this is on the vine, the more suspect it is that somebody will try find a way to take it out, given the narrow margins.

One of the big questions is what about the former president? The other day he issued a statement attacking Republicans for even negotiates this deal. Rob Portman who's believed Republican negotiator telling "" that he's been on the phone with the president, I would hope that President Trump at the end will be supportive.

I'm going to try to keep them informed of what we're doing. Because I think it's important we continue to have this be bipartisan. A, good luck, but can Trump sway enough Republican Senators to back them off or if Portman's - is for it? Is that enough to pull it through?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: There's no indication that the former president would want to do that. And he's made quite clear, by the way that anything that they would be discussing that comes anywhere close to those 2017 tax cuts that are essentially his signature piece of legislation, that he's not going to have anything to do with those.

And that matters here because if you look towards unfortunately, reconciliation, that budget bill, then that is exactly what they're going to be touching. So you can try and be linked them as much as you want if you're President Biden, but they're still linked together.

KING: So it's complicated, but you can't have a deal unless you start the process and they're starting the process. So that's significant. We will watch it as we go. But today is a good day if you're a fan of bipartisanship or getting the roads and bridges in your neighborhood fixed up a bit.

Up next for us, a close look at one of the States driving the COVID surge Louisiana right now adding new infections and get this 3.5 times the national average.



KING: There is an alternative to debating whether we should be wearing masks again or whether we should be required to get a COVID vaccine.


DR. FAUCI: We have 100 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not gotten vaccinated. If you want to end all of this, this back and forth let's get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated. And all of this will go away.


KING: All of this will go away. Dr. Fauci says let's take a close look at one of the states involved right now one of the States lagging when it comes to what he was just talking about the vaccine rollout. You see the States down here in the Southeast Louisiana 37 percent of its population 37 percent of its population fully vaccinated, one of six states where they're still below 38 percent fully vaccinated.

What happens when your vaccination rate is so low? This is what happens. This is what happens in Louisiana, they call them parishes, they might be counties where you live all of Louisiana's parishes right now reporting high, high community transmission of COVID.

And what happens when you have high COVID transmission in your communities? Well, then you get a high case count. Look at this; just look at the jump June 22nd, 285 cases Tuesday, more than 3600 cases, the highest since back in January. We all lived through January.

With us now to discuss this Louisiana's Top Medical Official Dr. Joseph Kanter. Dr. Kanter grateful for your time more importantly grateful for your work trying to confront this why - why is this happening in your state with this case count has to be scary to you?

DR. JOSEPH KANTER, STATE HEALTH OFFICER, LOUISIANA: Thanks, John. Good to be with you. It is scary. And it feels very similar to each of our three previous surges here; the slope is very, very steep. We've got a perfect storm going on.

As you point out, we have unacceptably low vaccination coverage, you superimpose that upon a lot of Delta, we had more Delta variant circulating in this part of the country than the national average for a good month and we no Delta is much more aggressive.

And you know, I'll tell you what happens down here in the summertime are analogous to what happens up north in the winter, which is the weather drives people indoors, its 90 degrees or higher every day this week, and that increases transmission.

So you put all that together, and we find ourselves where we are now and I'll tell you it is a kick in the gut to feel like we effectively have lost six or seven months of progress. And I'm right back to where we were, then.

KING: It's horrific to hear you say that we've been through this last year. I just want to look right now. And when you have higher cases, sadly, you get this, higher hospitalizations as well. More than 1100 people in the hospital there. As you just did there your governor trying to convince people you have this in your power to turn this around the governor tweeting out for anyone asking the question, when will this end?

The answer is simple when we decide to do what it takes to end it, meaning roll up your sleeve and get a vaccine. However, you're one of the states that are all across the country where there's a lot of misinformation out there. "The New York Times" reported on a Shreveport City Council meeting the other day where a woman got up warning the Biden Administration is sending people door to door to document unvaccinated Americans.

And she said the vaccine was an experimental gene therapy that had killed thousands. We know that's simply not true. We know it's simply not true. How do you combat the misinformation when you hear it like that spreading in your communities?

KANTER: By not giving up, by addressing it each every time and we hear it all the time. And look, I would never fault someone for falling victim to these myths or deliberate misinformation.