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New Day

Biden Scores Big Wins as Senate Approves $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan; Anti-Vaccine Voices Falling Victim to COVID-19; Taliban Seize Ninth Afghan City in Matter of Days as U.S. Exits. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 11, 2021 - 07:00   ET




CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm CNN meteorologist Chad Myers here in the Weather Center. We had a windy day yesterday, a severe weather day across parts of Illinois, Chicago and also Wisconsin with 200 reports of wind damage and 400,000 still without power at this hour.

This weather is brought to you by Carvana, the new way to buy a car.

So we will have more weather in the same area today, more wind damage likely, right over Wisconsin, Illinois, into Michigan, the same type of weather, the same type of squall line like we had and pretty much the same spot too. So we'll have to watch out for that, people still picking up the pieces there. It will be another hot day today. Monticello, Iowa, yesterday had a heat index for a few minutes of 125 degrees. That's off the chart.

Here you go. Here is Tropical Storm Fred we talked about this yesterday, the potential was there for Fred and certainly now it is here at this hour headed toward the Florida straits. See what it does. East coast, west coast of Florida you're still in the cone. We'll keep watching.

New Day continues right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman on this Wednesday, August 11th.

And we do have breaking news overnight, a big win For President Biden's domestic agenda. Senate Democrats approving a huge $3.5 trillion budget resolution without a single Republican vote. The 50-49 party line vote coming after an all-night series of amendments known as voterama, which is more exciting than it sounds. But, nonetheless, it was a very big deal.

And this paves the way for Senate Democrats to pass the spending plan without Republican support later this year. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The budget lays out the ground work for a sweeping expansion of the country's social safety net. It would allow Democrats to fund the battle against the climate crisis. It would allow funding for healthcare, education measures, it would increase taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations.

Senate Republicans did block an attempt by Democrats to advance voting rights legislation that they say is critical to counter efforts by states to restrict voting access. Senator Ted Cruz called it a Democratic power grab and federal takeover elections.

Look, the important thing to take away from this is when you take the bipartisan infrastructure deal, the $1 trillion deal that passed with a bipartisan vote, Mitch McConnell and Elizabeth Warren on the same side, with the $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which is the first step toward passing an all-Democratic plan which could next month. That would be epic legislative achievement for Joe Biden whether you agree or not, it would be super significant.

The bipartisan deal, in and of itself, also significant because it signifies that Joe Biden's idea of how politics can work, it shows a glimmer of hope for that.

KEILAR: And combined, like you said, when you talk to critics or proponents of this, they all agree on something that is that this is big, very big.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to speak live with the White House in just a few moments about what this all means and where it goes from here.

KEILAR: Now, the battle over masks and public safety is coming to a head in courts. Overnight, a judge granted a temporary restraining order in Dallas and this would allow -- could allow county leaders to override the governor, Greg Abbott, and order their own mask mandates in schools and government buildings. Harris County, which is the largest county in the state, plans to file a lawsuit against the governor over his executive order.

And in Florida, local school districts are enforcing mask rules for students despite threats from Governor Ron DeSantis to withhold paychecks. The school superintendent in Broward County has already received a noncompliance letter from the state education commissioner.

And this comes really to this, a governor blocking local leaders from exercising local control based on conditions on the ground for them. This is actually a concept that is quite counter to Republican ideals, as professed. And all of this as the COVID crisis explodes. Look at it exploding there on these governor's watches. Florida and Texas are breaking records for the number of children who are hospitalized with COVID.

BERMAN: So this morning, as COVID cases rise, social media companies are cracking down on lies.

[07:05:01] YouTube suspended Republican Senator Rand Paul for spreading misinformation about masks. It happened the same day that Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene got kicked off Twitter for a second time. I don't remember what number offense this was for her.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting trend taking place among some prominent anti-vaxxers. A change in perspective once they get sick.

John Avlon with the Reality Check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We tell ourselves stories in order to live, so goes a famous quote by Joan Didion. But what happens when the stories we tell ourselves start to kill us? That's one of the most surreal aspects of this self-inflicted stage of the pandemic where vaccine disinformation is literally killing some of its most vocal proponents.

Take the case of Dick Farrell, a right-wing talk radio host from Florida. He called vaccines bogus bull shid and called Dr. Anthony Fauci a lying freak. He opined that vaccines were being promoted by people who lied all along about masks, where the virus came from and the death toll.

It barely he changed his mind only when he was on his deathbed. Friends says he texted her to get the vaccine because this virus ain't no joke. Then saying he wished he had gotten it. Sadly, it was too late. Dick Farrell died from COVID complications earlier this month.

Or take Texas GOP leader Scott Apley, the 45-year-old served on the Texas GOP executive committee. He endorsed mask burnings on social media and replied to a post by Dr. Leana Wen about the effectiveness of the vaccine against variants by tweeting, you are an absolute enemy of a free people. He died last week of COVID. His family put up a GoFundMe to pay for his funeral expenses.

And these are just two examples from the past ten days. On New Day, we spoke to the brother of right-wing radio host Phil Valentine, who's still battling COVID in an ICU and now deeply regrets his anti-vax rhetoric.

Then there are lesser known true believers, like 34-year-old Steve Harmon, who is proudly posting about his refusal to get the vaccine from the hospital and he died days later.

We've all seen variations on this theme, the anti-maskers and anti- vaxxers, who recognized reality only when COVID came calling for them. And even then, it's sometimes not enough.

The author, Michael Lewis, did reporting some from conservative Shasta County, in Florida, and found that one of the leading local protesters watched his mother die of COVID. In that moment, Louis wrote, a political opinion was challenged by a fact. One of them needed to be altered. The man called the coroner and demanded that the county change the cause of death.

Talking with Andrew Sullivan on a recent podcast, Lewis tried to explain what leads to such extremes. It's partly the power of narrative, he said. But once you start telling yourself a story about the way the world is, it's much easier to sort of shape the facts to the narrative than change the narrative.

It's the power of us against them in a world where people are starved for a sense of belonging, where politics has taken the place of religion for some folks, admitting you have been wrong or been taken for a ride seems like a threat to your very identity. And faced with that choice, some people are literally dying to own the libs.

This is a self-inflicted tragedy rooted in disinformation, amplified via social media. But in a free society, what can we do about these bad decisions that end up impacting other people beyond the fact that vaccine mandates are clearly constitutional?

Well, Andrew Sullivan argued in a recent column that the correct public policy is to let mounting sickness and rising deaths concentrate the minds of the recalcitrant, let reality persuade the delusional and the deranged. That's a pretty solid record of doing just that, he wrote.

But this may seem cold. But it may also be that the lasting regrets of the unvaccinated are what fellow travelers need to hear. Rising vaccine rates in red states are evidence that the vaccine hesitant are getting the message and rationally responding to the very real threat. But for many, it will be too late. That's a terrible price to pay because viruses don't care about your politics.

And that's your Reality Check.

BERMAN: Thank you very much, John Avlon. Don't go far.

KEILAR: What role is right-wing and social media and conspiracy theory-loving conservative lawmakers, what role is that playing when it comes to vaccine hesitancy and resistance?

Let's bring in our CNN Senior Media Reporter Oliver Darcy into this discussion. How impactful is it, Oliver?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: I think it's extremely impactful. Unfortunately, you have people who are not telling the truth to their audiences about what the vaccine does, and it's safe and effective and we say that every day on CNN. But, unfortunately, we're not reaching the right people.

The people that need to be reached are actually viewers of Fox News, they're fans and subscribers to these anti-vax channels on YouTube or groups on Facebook or Reddit or wherever it may be.


And they're not getting these facts. They're getting a totally different world view in which vaccines are killing people, which they're not, but they're being told this, and they're not effective. They're being told that as well, which is not true. But this is what -- this is the universe in which these people live. And it's difficult for us to get the facts to them. It just seems like they actually, in fact, in some cases, don't even want it. Like John was saying, the narrative is so powerful, they're shaping their reality around the narrative versus allowing reality to shape their own narrative.

BERMAN: What are these outlets, whether it be Google with YouTube or Facebook or Twitter or Fox, and you can go down the list, are they doing enough to get the right information out and to keep the lies from being spread?

DARCY: So this is a somewhat complicated issue, right, because at least social media platforms, their intention is to get rid of this misinformation from the platforms. They really have no interest in having anti-vaxxers spread poison using their websites.

The difference, though, is with Fox, you know, it's a very simple issue. Rupert Murdoch could call up Tucker Carlson and say knock it off or you don't have a job and he would be off the air, right? So, Fox is intentionally -- you have hosts on there intentionally spreading misinformation and disinformation about vaccines, whereas on social media platforms, it's a little more complicated. They are trying to do something about it. It's just, in many cases, not enough.

KEILAR: I was watching yesterday, I saw on Fox, there was a story that was casting doubt or was really asking if masks negatively impact kids in schools.

AVLON: I was asking the question.

KEILAR: I mean, look, no one wants to wear a mask. It's not fun. That's not why we do it. But I thought, you know what really negatively impact kids is, especially if they're in a place where they're not wearing a mask, they very well might have a parent who is unvaccinated. What would negatively impact them is if they were sick, they possibly died or more likely their parent dies.

AVLON: Yes. And as a Mexican restaurant near my house has a sign outside that says, if you don't like a mask, you're going to really hate the ventilator. These are the stakes, and that's the problem with this. It's not that anyone likes masks. It's not that anyone likes any of these measures but they are necessary if we want to stop the spread of this virus. This is basic civics 101. You're right to swing your fist ends at someone else's nose.

And the problem is, I think, Oliver has pointed out in all of his reporting, is the hypocrisy of these organizations but also the profit mode, right? I mean, they're maybe well-intentioned gestures. They're may be well-intentioned press releases.

But at the end of the day, as long as these social media algorithms reward engagement, they're going to push people further and further down rabbit holes and views that would been isolated by their own absurdity in the past because anti-vax are ain't that new. We've seen examples of this going back decades. But they would have been isolated by their absurdity. Instead, it creates an ecosystem and that's what we're dealing with today.

KEILAR: Yes. It's like augur and the Petri dish. It just sort of grows it. It's kind gross, to be honest, just like a Petri dish.

John, Oliver, thank you so much.

A Florida church right now is grappling with the devastating consequences of being unvaccinated. In just two weeks, six members of the Impact Church died from COVID-19. Four of them were under the age of 35, all of them were previously healthy, all were unvaccinated. And every county right now in Florida has seen a high level of community transmission.

In Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, more than 1,100 people are in the hospital right now and they only have a handful of ICU beds still available there.

Let's talk with the senior pastor at Impact Church, George Davis. Pastor, thank you so much for being with us. I am so sorry for the circumstances under which we are talking. And I can't even imagine how your congregation is struggling. How are they doing? How are you doing?

GEORGE DAVIS, SENIOR PASTOR, IMPACT CHURCH: I'm doing well. I mean, it's a difficult time. But this is what we do as pastors. We do our best to take care of those who are part of our congregations and that's what we're doing at this time. It's been very difficult for our church. Our church has been as church that has supported vaccinations. We supported to wear masks in our church services. We're socially distanced. Every one of the CDC protocols, we follow them to a T.

And so it's very difficult to see us come to a place where we are now where we did a vaccination event back in March and did our best to get as many people vaccinated as possible, almost 1,000 people registered. 800 actually showed up and were vaccinated. And so we've been pushing, trying to help people stay safe for the entire time.

KEILAR: So, the folks that you have lost, can you talk a little bit about the vaccine hesitancy that you have heard from your congregants? What do they say when they explain why they're not getting the shot?

DAVIS: There's a myriad of reasons. And we are still a predominantly African-American church.


I'd say probably 70 to 75 percent African-American, the other 25 to 30 percent are other. And in the African-American community, and I think this is something that sometimes gets overlooked, there is legitimate historical reasons why people are initially hesitant. Some of the things that have happened medically, going back to Tuskegee experiment, things of that nature, and my own grandmother died of emphysema because she didn't want to go to the hospital over 30 years ago.

And so because of some things that have been intrinsically part of the African-American experience, I think there's some natural hesitancy. What complicates it and makes it worse is when there's all this misinformation. And I think the misinformation kind of fuels a narrative that already exists in our community.

So, I'm not one of those that just say, just get the dog gone shot and move on. I do recognize that there is legitimate hesitancy and part of my role and I think the role of other community leaders and religious leaders is to try to share proper information and to try to be a trusted source.

There are a lot of people will trust their pastor and trust their religious leaders, even more so than they would a community health site or something of that nature even. Which is why even when we did our vaccination event back in March, we purchased a building that used to be a department store and so we're in an existing mall, and right down, probably 300 yards from our front door, the government institution had a vaccination site set up, but a lot of people in the community weren't going there.

So, we argued or at least put the case to the Duval County Health Department, that if you allow us to do an event, I promise you there are people who will come here that won't go 300 yards down the way. And it turned out to be true.


DAVIS: And so there is legitimate hesitancy but some of it is now being fueled by a lot of this misinformation.

KEILAR: Yes, I think you're so right on, Pastor. We've heard from a number of people who were vaccine hesitant and then they got the shot and they said, you know, more than a few of them have told us they prayed on it, they listened at their church. It was hugely influential.

You are organizing a vaccination drive after Sunday service, and there was one young man who got his first dose this past Sunday. This is what he and his father said about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't want to get vaccinated in the beginning because, like, it wasn't a threat to me in the beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to have a plan. I wanted to do something to protect him as much as I could.


KEILAR: What do you say to that and how do you move through, as you put it, this misinformation to breakthrough on vaccine hesitancy?

DAVIS: I'm thrilled to hear that. You know, the first event that we did was on a Saturday, the one we did this past weekend. We actually moved it to a Sunday. So, right after all three of our Sunday services, if someone wanted, there was no pressure. But if someone wanted, they could go over and be vaccinated.

We had people from U.F. Health that were there to give information, actual medical information to answer questions. And we had almost 300 -- I think 269 people vaccinated and 35 percent of those were teenagers. So, there were a lot of people whose story was similar to this family that I want my child to be protected. They're heading back to school this week. And I just want to know that I've done my part.

And by giving proper information and not putting people under the microscope and try to make them feel bad if they hadn't gotten vaccinated, I think we're starting to see the needle move in the right direction, where people that are saying, I think I have gotten some bad information, I think I may have been overly anxious about this, and I'm going to go ahead let down my guard and get the shot.

KEILAR: Yes. Pastor, thank you so much. And, look, our hearts go out to those who are in your congregation and into the families in your congregation who have suffered losses. And, George, we really appreciate you being with us. Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you. Thank you so much.

KEILAR: So what should you do if you're vaccinated but you're living in a community with high transmission of COVID? We have a lot of answers. Will Dr. Sanjay Gupta has a lot of answers to your questions?

BERMAN: Just in overnight, the Senate moves ahead with a huge $3.5 trillion budget plan just hours after passing a historic infrastructure bill.

KEILAR: And next, we take you live to Afghanistan as the Taliban captures yet another key city.



BERMAN: New overnight, the Taliban claiming control of yet another key city, that's the ninth provincial capital fall in less than a week. Sources now tell CNN there are active discussions about a further drawdown of the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

President Biden yesterday defended his decision to end U.S. military support by the end of the month.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years, we trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces and Afghan leaders have to come together.

They got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.


BERMAN: Joining us now from Kabul, CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. Look, I don't think anyone thought this was going to go well in Afghanistan, but this bad this fast, how much of a surprise?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think everybody is really reeling, particularly here in Kabul, as you say, John, nine provincial capitals have fallen in five days, that's more than a quarter of Afghanistan's provincial capitals.

And we have been doing some traveling around the country, there are plenty of others, bigger cities, bigger prizes that look like they are poised to fall as well. We were in Kandahar. That's Afghanistan's second largest city. We recently returned from Ghazni, another major center completely surrounded by the Taliban.

So, there's a very real, palpable fear here in Kabul that things are unraveling at an alarming rate. We did hear from the President Ghani, the Afghan president. He came out on Twitter and basically appealed to ordinary Afghans to pick up arms and go and sign up to join a popular uprising, trying to get the warlords who fought for so many years here back involved.


That's not necessarily going to be a magic bullet, John, because the primary place those warlords were working was in the north of the country, the northern alliance, five of the provincial capitals that have been taken in these past few days have been in the north.

So no sense that anyone really knows how to sort of stop this massive Taliban attack offensive in its tracks, and meanwhile, yes, U.S. embassy apparently making contingency plans, looking at reducing its footprint here. That, of course, flies in the face of what had been promised to the Afghan government and that only then serves to further deteriorate morale here on the ground, John.

KEILAR: That is huge, Clarissa, because you have heard American officials say that that would not happen because, essentially, they were saying Kabul would hold. And we have been talking about -- we've been asking you that question now for weeks. So it sounds like it's more in danger now.

WARD: So, I mean, here is what I would say. For the moment the capital is secure more or less. And there have been clear instances, such as the first night I got here, massive explosion nearby targeting the defense minister. He wasn't killed. But, still, the Taliban making the point, we can strike and we can strike whenever we want.

I will say that moving in and out of the capital the last couple of days, there isn't a huge amount of security in terms of checkpoints for those people who might be trying to get into the capital. I would also say that we have seen Afghan forces again and again deserting their bases pretty quickly when the going gets tough.

And that's for a number of reasons. That's because there's low morale. That's because they think they see the writing on the wall. That's because, understandably, many of them don't want to die. And that's not a problem the Taliban suffers from, because the Taliban are ready to die. Many of them even want to die. It feeds into their entire ideology, which makes it a very complex enemy for Afghan forces to confront as we are seeing now.

BERMAN: The Taliban is in the midst of a winning streak at this point. What does that do to whatever exists in the peace talks?

WARD: Right. So, U.S. Representative Zalmay Khalilzad is in Doha. He is trying to get those peace talks going again. But from what we're hearing, it's very difficult to pull that off because, simply put, as you mentioned, John, the Taliban is on a winning streak, they have the leverage, they hold the cards and they're not interested in making concessions right now. They think they can win this thing. They're convinced of it.

And not only that, they feel very aggrieved that they're being blamed for all the violence and bloodshed. They're very upset about U.S. airstrikes, Afghan airstrikes. They're claiming that they are responsible for many of the civilian casualties. And so you have to ask yourself, how on Earth do you get these two sides to sit down and hammer out some kind of a power sharing agreement when one side at this stage really doesn't think it needs to be sharing power with anyone.

BERMAN: Clarissa Ward in Kabul for now, we appreciate you being there. Thank you so much, Clarissa.

So, two cable networks now the target of another billion dollar defamation lawsuit tied to lies about election fraud. We're going to speak live with the company that is suing.

KEILAR: And there are so many questions about the variants and vaccines. We'll have Sanjay Gupta here, our in-house doctor, ready to answer those questions.