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Biden, CDC Consider Revising Mask Guidance for Vaccinated; Biden Still Pushing for Bipartisan Solution to Infrastructure; Standoff: GOP Yanks Panel Picks After Pelosi Rejects 2. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, July 22.


And this morning, Joe Biden is at a crossroads just six months into his presidency. And what happens next could define the rest of his term.

At last night, CNN town hall in Cincinnati, COVID was the No. 1 topic. Coronavirus cases up sharply in America as the Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy threaten the recovery from the pandemic.

CNN has learned that White House officials are already starting to discuss whether the federal government should dial back its guidance for vaccinated Americans and say that, in some situations, masks need to go back on. And this is not a blip on the COVID line graph.

The CDC projects that new COVID deaths and hospitalizations will likely increase over the next four weeks.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: The future of the president's legislative agenda also hangs in the balance. Infrastructure and budget talks are limping along in Congress.

And President Biden may still have to decide whether ending or mending the filibuster is the only way forward, a move that might kill off any hope of bipartisanship once, and for all.

So let's go to Washington and bring in CNN White House correspondent, Arlette Saenz.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, there was no topic that was left untouched last night as President Biden sat for a town hall six months into his presidency.

And the president faced tough questions on everything from the economy to the future of his legislative agenda as that bipartisan infrastructure bill still hangs in the balance up on Capitol Hill.

But it was really the pandemic that was front and center for President Biden, who grew frustrated at times and warned that it's the unvaccinated Americans who remain at risk.



SAENZ (voice-over): President Biden with an urgent plea at a CNN town hall, pushing all eligible Americans to get the coronavirus vaccine.

BIDEN: We have a pandemic for those who haven't gotten the vaccination. It's that basic, that simple.

SAENZ: But it hasn't been easy convincing the unvaccinated to get the shot. Less than half of the population is fully vaccinated as the nation faces a spike in new cases, fueled by the highly-contagious Delta variant.

BIDEN: There's legitimate questions people can ask that -- that they worry about getting vaccinated, but the questions should be asked, answered, and people should get vaccinated.

SAENZ: The surge also coming just weeks before back-to-school season. Biden saying he expects some pandemic guidelines to stay in place as children return to the classrooms.

BIDEN: The CDC is going to say that what we should do is everyone over the age -- under the age of 12 should probably be wearing a mask in school. That's probably what's going to happen.

SAENZ: The president also noting how some his biggest critics, including some conservative media personalities, are changing their tune on vaccine misinformation.

BIDEN: If you notice, as they say in -- in the southern part of my state, they've had an altar call, some of those guys. All of a sudden, they're saying, let's get vaccinated. Let's get vaccinated.

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

SAENZ: Biden's town hall just hours after a test vote on his infrastructure plan failed in the Senate. The president telling the Ohio audience he's still optimistic a bipartisan agreement could happen.

BIDEN: 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.

SAENZ: Even with a deeply-divided Congress, he said partisanship should be thrown to the side on issues like investigating the January 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill.

BIDEN: I don't care if you think I'm Satan reincarnated, the fact is you can't look at that television and say nothing happened on the 6th. You can't listen to people who say this was a peaceful march.

SAENZ: Biden also saying he's committed to pushing forward two voting rights bills.

BIDEN: But here's the deal. What I also want to do, I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who I know they know better. They know better than this.

SAENZ: But he wants to pass the sweeping legislation without eliminating the filibuster.


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.


BIDEN: Nothing at all will get done.


SAENZ: And coronavirus will again be top of mind for the president today as he meets with his team of experts to talk about the pandemic and vaccinations.

And this comes as top Biden health officials are considering whether mask recommendations should be revised as the Delta variant is taking hold in this country. The White House has insisted that any type of changes would ultimately be up to the CDC.

KEILAR: Yes. And this is really the news that's come out of this. I mean, it was interesting to hear what he said on bipartisanship, but thank you so much for the recap, by the way, on what we saw at the town hall.

Bringing in John Harwood to this conversation, as well.

AVLON: Hello.

KEILAR: The masks may be going back on for vaccinated people. I think this has been a question that a lot of people as they watch this Delta variant, they wonder if this is going to happen. It's under discussion.

HARWOOD: And it's the last thing the Biden administration wants. You know, I think one of the things that came out of that town hall was a little bit of the frustration that President Biden feels over hitting the limits of what reasonable, rational argument can do with respect to this pandemic.

They have made a lot of progress in distributing vaccines. We've got a significant chunk of the country vaccinated. But for no particularly good reason, millions and millions of Americans are not taking the step that would protect them, protect their families, protect their communities. And to the extent that they don't, and the virus returns through this

variant, that threatens everything Joe Biden wants to do. It threatens the health of the American economy. It threatens his ability to say we've gotten on top of this pandemic, and now we can help the rest of the world, which is what -- one of the arguments that he's been trying to make. It throws into question his entire agenda.

And he can take some heart in some of the change in tone from conservative voices in the last few days. But there's a long way to go.

AVLON: Arlette, he said that, you know, some -- some Republicans seem to have found religion, in effect. That they've gone to the altar on this question.

What, based on your reporting, is the reasons for this shift? Is this part because the Biden administration really has been trying to do a full-court press, because as John just said, this is really existential issue, not just for the country and those lives but also his agenda?

SAENZ: I think what you've seen from the Biden administration is a bit of an acknowledgment that they can't reach all of these skeptical Americans.

And they have said that a lot of this messaging about vaccines, it needs to come from the doctors, from their pastors, people who they trust. And so certainly, the president welcomes some of these shifts that you've seen in tone from conservatives when it comes to these vaccinations.

But he's also been insistent that they will continue to push back against the misinformation. And you have seen this White House over the course of the past week really elevate that and make that a central focus as they really understand that there are so many pockets of this country, of skeptical Americans who are not necessarily going to be convinced by the White House, but they may be convinced if they have more factual information, if they're hearing that the people that they trust in their local communities are also pushing this vaccine, and ultimately, these conservative Republicans could also help in that messaging cost.

KEILAR: I worry that these beliefs about the vaccine, these misguided beliefs, are too entrenched. That at this point, maybe it's too little, too late. And I think it is very important that the Republicans are starting to come around, but it's certainly a worry.

HARWOOD: Brianna, the evidence suggests that you're right. I mean, the -- the pace of progress on vaccinations has slowed and really hit a wall. And you know, we'll see whether -- how incrementally they can inch up to that 70 percent level that they wanted beyond 70 percent where we get herd immunity.

But I think your assessment, the evidence tells us it's right.

KEILAR: What's convincing some people, and we've heard from some doctors, isn't the doctor saying, Hey, the science is OK. It's people seeing their loved ones die and thinking that it couldn't happen to them. That is a lesson -- that is a lesson that no one should have to go through. It's insane.

AVLON: And yet it seems to be a lesson that people need to learn, and it is horrific that it comes to that because of disinformation.

John, I want to stay with you, because you know, you've been really focused on this effort to get infrastructure through on Capitol Hill. It failed this procedural vote.

Biden seemed very confident that it would go through on Monday. And at times, he seems like the last big believer in bipartisanship in Washington. I want to play folks sound, S-7, on bipartisanship and then get John's reaction.


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 -- and I'm not talking about Portman, I'm not talking about your governor -- a lot of my Republican friends say, Joe, I -- I know you're right, but if I do this, I'll get primaried, and I'll lose my primary. I'll be in trouble.


But I think that's all beginning to move.

AVLON: Do you think, John, that that's all beginning to move?

HARWOOD: No, it's not all beginning to move. The question is, will some portion of it be beginning to move?

AVLON: Yes. Enough.

HARWOOD: The Republican friends that he talked about, a large proportion of them want his presidency to fail. And they are working to thwart everything he's doing.

What he's trying to do is figure out how, with a maximally popular agenda, focusing on physical infrastructure -- roads, bridges, broadband, all the things that Americans want in their daily lives -- can he peel off ten or 11 Republicans to progress a piece of it and then try to get the rest with Democrats only?

Even that is a very, very tall order in this environment. Now, it went down yesterday. I think the White House still believes that they will get that package and that they can walk this tight rope all the way to very large changes in the country.

They get it, we're talking about huge investment in physical infrastructure. And if they get the other part of it, huge investment in human beings in terms of education, in terms of childcare, in terms of healthcare subsidies. All those things would be very big changes, which would be landmark successes for the Biden administration. But it depends on this first step, and the first step is really,

really hard. We saw that with the failed vote yesterday. President Biden will try again next week. We'll see if he can do it.

KEILAR: This was an interesting moment, I thought, on policing. And Joe Biden kind of trying to set the record straight. He's certainly been painted as one way by Republicans. And here's what he said during the town hall.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: So then how do you respond to Republicans who try to paint you and your party as anti-police?

BIDEN: They're lying. No. Look, never once -- we have to change police conduct. We have to have rules where things are open. We have to have rules where you can be able to determine what the background, how many times a cop has violated the rules, and be able to have access to what's going on in police departments or the Justice Department can get involved in whether or not they have to change their pattern and practices. I've always said that.

LEMON: What about defunding the police, though? Because there's a --

BIDEN: No, I've never, never, never said defunding the police. Look, I don't know any community, particularly the communities that are in the most need, and the poorest, and the most at risk, that don't want police. They want police, though, to look at them as equals.


KEILAR: Co-author of the '94 crime bill, still having to push back on this characterization of him, because some Democrats have been in favor of this idea of defunding the police.

SAENZ: Yes. And this is something that he had to deal with during the presidential campaign, as you heard President Trump and Republicans constantly trying to put these issues of crime on Biden, trying to argue that he wants to defund the police. There were some Democrats who did say that, but Joe Biden has never said that. And in fact, you know, just last week, they were urging more funding for police.

But this is something that the White House just continues to navigate because Republicans have made it very clear that they want to make this an issue heading into those midterm elections. You've had Democrats even say that the conversation about defund the police hurt people back in 2020.

And so this is something that the president will continue to have to navigate. In fact, when he landed back at the White House last night, he again made some comments about he -- how he is not for defunding the police. So, it's something that he's just going to continue -- it's not escaping him at this point, even though he's been clear in where his stance is.

HARWOOD: Not only is he not for defunding the police, he's actively encouraging mayors to use money from the American Rescue Plan to hire more police.

But this is a weapon for Republicans. There are some members of his party, as Arlette indicated, who have made it easier for Republicans to use that weapon. And Joe Biden has got to fight that.

But you know, Joe Biden defeated people who were talking about defunding the police, and he's the president. But, you know, I talked at the beginning about the limits of reasonable, rational argument.


HARWOOD: Every president bumps up against the difficulty of persuading the country of his arguments. And he's hitting that right now.

KEILAR: It was a big night last night.

AVLON: It was. More to come.

KEILAR: And we appreciate both of you joining us this morning --

AVLON: Great to see you guys.

KEILAR: -- to talk about it, John Harwood and Arlette Saenz.

A standoff erupts as Republicans pull their picks for the January 6th committee after Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejects two of them.

AVLON: Plus, new CNN reporting on why many Republicans are suddenly pushing the vaccine instead of dismissing it.

And on the eve of the Olympics, Tokyo seeing the highest numbers of coronavirus cases since January. We'll take you there.



AVLON: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is pulling his five appointed GOP members from the bipartisan sub-committee to investigate the January 6th insurrection after Speaker Pelosi vetoed Congressman Jim Jordan and Jim Banks.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It's an egregious abuse of power. Pelosi has broken this institution. And it shows exactly what I warned back at the beginning of January, that Pelosi would play politics with this.

Pelosi has created a sham process. Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republicans, we will not participate.


AVLON: Joining us now for more is CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox and CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona. [06:20:05]

All right. Listen, Lauren, let's be honest: that is some crocodile tears from the podium we just heard. Kevin McCarthy opposed a bipartisan commission. He's now accusing Nancy Pelosi of playing politics.

But the real question, I think, is could this backfire on McCarthy, or could it actually -- has Nancy Pelosi fallen into a trap set by the Republicans?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends who you ask. Republicans think this is exactly what they were hoping for, because they're arguing this proves that this committee was always going to be a partisan side show, and they're not serious about getting to the truth. They're only serious about maligning the former president's reputation.

Now, Democrats are arguing, how did you expect us to approve Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, especially after that statement --


FOX: -- that Jim Banks put out right after he was asked to be the top Republican on the committee, basically saying this only existed to attack conservatives, and it wasn't a serious investigation.

Pelosi argued she had no other choice. So, that's where things stand.

KEILAR: So there will be a Republican on this committee.

AVLON: Uh-huh.

KEILAR: Right, because Pelosi appointed one in her eight. It's seven Democrats and one Republican, and it's Liz Cheney. And I just wonder how does that serve Republicans? How does that serve Kevin McCarthy that now the voice of Republicans on this committee is Liz Cheney, who he ousted from leadership?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, if I was Kevin McCarthy I would not sleep well that Liz Cheney is the Republican that's going to be representing the Republican Party up in that committee.

She has made clear that she is willing to burn it all down, that she is going to go after President Trump and where the facts lead.

The thing I'm watching today, though, is whether Republicans are going to make a renewed effort to punish her, because I got a lot of messages yesterday after the comments she made outside the Capitol, supporting Nancy Pelosi's decision. And a lot of Republicans are very upset with her. They know that the bipartisan credibility of this panel now solely rests with Liz Cheney.

So that's what I'll be watching today. I also reported yesterday that Liz Cheney is pushing Pelosi to hire a Republican adviser or staffer for this committee. So I think that really shows where her head is at in terms of trying to make this as serious and sober and bipartisan as possible.

AVLON: All right. Lauren, you know, McCarthy is threatening to do his own committee. And we can all see what's happening here, right? Muddy the waters, say there are two competing committees. We'll never know what actually happened.

But again, do you think that McCarthy's bet that people will be confused by that will play out? Or do you think that folks will recognize that, you know, with Liz Cheney on the Democratic committee, there's an attempt to get to the facts, and there's an attempt to push a particular partisan agenda.

FOX: Well, I think it depends who you're talking to, right? The Republican base is not going to believe Liz Cheney and what she says in this bipartisan committee, no matter what they uncover.

AVLON: The Republican base will not believe Republican Liz Cheney, no matter what she says.

FOX: A Republican with a very conservative record.

AVLON: True.

FOX: One of the most conservative records in the U.S. House of Representatives on every other issue.

But I would argue that Democrats are going to try to make this a discussion about what led up to this, what the motivations were. How did such a large group of people make it to Washington? Why did they feel like they were emboldened to go into the Capitol, to break and enter the U.S. Capitol?

Meanwhile, I think Republicans are really looking at those security failures. And that was what they were trying to talk about in the days leading up to this decision by Pelosi yesterday. They were arguing that their whole strategy was going to be why wasn't the Capitol secure? And did the speaker have something to do with it? Of course, it's not the speaker's ultimate responsibility to secure the Capitol.

AVLON: Just an important clarification there: Do the Capitol Police report to Nancy Pelosi?

FOX: Well, I think that is not the argument that Pelosi would make, right? Democrats are arguing that there were so many factors and so many failed security protocols here that it was not on Pelosi to secure the Capitol. Not even Mitch McConnell could secure the Senate, right, when people are breaking and entering into the U.S. Capitol. That's beyond their control.

KEILAR: We are seeing some agreement between Republicans now and Democrats on a pretty interesting topic, which is the vaccine. We're starting to see more lawmakers, and we're starting to see more right- wing voices of influence come out in favor of it. What's going on here? ZANONA: Yes. So our reporting shows that more and more Republicans are

recently trying to show that they're taking the vaccine more seriously. They're trying to push back on the anti-vax sentiment within their own party.

But here's the thing. The one thing they are not confronting is still one of the biggest culprits of vaccine hesitancy, which is the misinformation that's being spread by members of their own party. AVLON: Right.

ZANONA: Buddy Carter, he's a Georgia Republican. He's a doctor. He's been pushing people to get the vaccines. And he was asked on CNN whether he would push back on Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose Twitter account was actually recently suspended for spreading misinformation, and he said, Well, she has a right to her opinion, even though I disagree with it.

KEILAR: An opinion? It's not --

ZANONA: It's not an opinion.

KEILAR: She doesn't have the right to her own facts.

AVLON: Exactly. This is where the Moynihan quote comes in. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not their own facts. And you'd think a doctor would get that.



AVLON: So it raises the question, though: at what point, if they're trying to turn around this ocean liner of disinformation, at what point will they actually start trying to punish or call out members of their caucus who are still spreading this dis-info?

FOX: Well, I think that you have seen from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, he was pretty fed up this week. I saw his strongest statement yet.

And he talks about vaccines a lot. He's a polio survivor. This has been an issue he cares a lot about. But he basically said there's no excuse at this point for not getting a vaccine.

And you saw some Republican lawmakers going on FOX News, going on "CBS This Morning," talking about the importance of getting vaccines, because I think they're starting to realize that there are only a few members in the Senate who don't want to talk about their vaccine status. But they're realizing that this is becoming a major issue.

I talked to Kevin Cramer, one of those Republicans. He said, Look, I'm not an educator. I'm a legislator. It's not my job to teach people about vaccines.

But look, you're in a position of power. You're in a position of power. KEILAR: Oh, I can't even. I mean, give me a break. Right?

AVLON: But it rhymes.

KEILAR: This is -- that's right. It rhymes. And that's all the credit he gets for that. Because he has a platform. He -- that's part of the job, is to inform people, educate people --


KEILAR: -- even if you are a lawmaker. And I do think, you know -- I think it's good that they're starting to come around, but this is kind of a low bar that they're clearing.

ZANONA: And is it too little, too late? Something else Democrats have been saying. Great, they're on this train now, but where were they a few months ago when it really could have made a difference?

KEILAR: Yes. Are they going to just be pulling along maybe some moderate Republicans? We're like, what's the problem talking about vaccines? And maybe not turning off some more Republicans more to the right? I don't know. What do you think?

ZANONA: I mean, I think that's the issue that a lot of Republicans are wrestling with right now. They don't want to poke their own base. So they're essentially trying to have it both ways.

They also don't want to call out big tech. They don't want to call for censorship on, you know, social media platforms. So it's a very difficult line that they're trying to walk and, you know, it's going to make it very difficult to actually convince skeptical Americans to get the vaccine.

AVLON: Not a difficult line. Tell the truth. It's called leadership.

OK. Melanie and Lauren, thank you very much, guys.

All right. Coming up, critically-ill coronavirus patients are pleading with their doctor for a vaccine. Hear this emotional response.

KEILAR: And a CNN reporter's personal story of tragedy, highlighting the challenge of unequal access to vaccines around the world.