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Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzalez Announces He Will Not Seek Reelection; Former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh Interviewed on Current State of Republican Party; Capitol Police Prepare for Rally Supporting January 6th Insurrectionists; Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) Interviewed on Negative Effects January 6th Riots Had on Lawmakers. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2021 - 08:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Voted to impeach Donald Trump in the second impeachment trial, and he is no longer seeking reelection come 2022, I think that you as someone who is -- look, you're a conservative, but you were not on the Trump train as so much of your party is, and you can kind of explain maybe what it is like to be in his position as he talks about this is really personally, it's too much. That's clearly in his calculation.

JOE WALSH, (R) FORMER ILLINOIS CONGRESSMAN: Brianna, this is so damn dispiriting. I went to bed last night when I heard the Gonzalez news, and I'm thinking to myself, the hell with it, I'm going to call it quits. I talk to the Republican base voters every day and it drives me bonkers because I try to put the truth in front of them.

I don't think, I don't think -- we need to understand what just happened. Anthony Gonzalez is a rising -- should be a rising star in the Republican Party. He's everything a Republican Party would want. He's young. He's conservative, Cuban American, a football hero. Brianna, he's an opportunity for all kind of a conservative. But he's leaving. He's leaving. Why? Because he won't get down on his knees and prostrate himself in front of Donald Trump. And that's what you have to do to be viable in this Republican Party. As a lifelong Republican, that's just a shot, that's a punch.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And if you don't do that, we're seeing what happens.

WALSH: You're done.

BERMAN: John Katko didn't do it. He couldn't get the bipartisan commission passed through Congress. Liz Cheney wouldn't do it, lost her leadership post. Fred Upton didn't do it. He's got a Trump endorsed primary opponent. You can go down the list of these 10 people, and each and every one of them have suffered in their own way. And now 78 percent of the Republican Party, Joe, says that Joe Biden didn't win the election.

WALSH: No, and, John, you're right. You're done -- if you don't -- if you do not acknowledge that Donald Trump really did win the election, you're done right now as a Republican. If you don't say that January 6th was no big deal, forget about it, your future as a Republican is over. And, yes, Donald Trump is a horrible human being. He's a crook. He's a traitor. He's all of that, John. But you just said it -- 70 to 80 percent of Republican voters don't believe Biden really won. This is about the Republican voters right now, and that's where they are.

KEILAR: He said, "While my desire to build a fuller family life is at the heart of my decision, it is also true the current state of politics, especially many of the toxic dynamics inside our party is a significant factor in my decision." He spoke with Jonathan Martin about how he is worried about his family's security. He's also -- it's so easy to be sympathetic to him when he's going through that. On the other hand, he's making a calculation like a number of Republicans, which is Trump is going to dominate the party for the next two to four years. I need to get off -- I need to get off this train for a moment. But is there any getting back on the train once someone like a Gonzalez decides to get off?

WALSH: No, it's the Trump train. Brianna, again, Anthony Gonzalez is a great guy. He is what the Republican Party wants. I get the threats. The threats are legit. I did something crazy and ran against Trump in a primary a couple years ago. I have lived with threats every single day. It's part of it. But there's no train to get off. This is Trump's party. It's an ugly party. It's a party, Brianna, that doesn't believe in truth. Think about that. Anthony Gonzalez is going to step away because he said the truth. He said that Joe Biden won. So it's a party that doesn't believe in the truth. And Trump can be gone tomorrow. Trump could be gone tomorrow. But Trumpism, this ugliness and bigotry and conspiracy denying of truth, this is what the party is.

BERMAN: One of the other things he said, he said I think I could have won the primary. He's running against a Trump guy who is primarying him. He says, I think I could have won the primary, but then what? Then I have to go to Washington and serve with these Republicans who, as you say, have prostrated themselves to Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy and others. That's what he said.

One of the things that Trump did overnight that I want your reaction to, Joe, is there is this demonstration, this rally, this whatever on Capitol Hill again in support of the January 6th insurrectionists, and the former president put out a statement who said that, as far as he's concerned, hearts and minds are with the people who attacked the Capitol on January 6th.

WALSH: And I apologize, John, and I apologize, Brianna, because I am just all wound up this morning. I feel like, again, a lifelong Republican, I've just been shot in the chest again. Donald Trump incited an attack against our government.


Damn it, think about that. This is what we're talking about this morning, John. And by the way, we're still talking about it. And here he is, as you said, out there yesterday praising the people who attacked our government. But, again, the point is not one damn Republican has the courage or the decency to stand up against this treasonous cult leader at the top of the Republican Party. And John, not one Republican will say anything about what Trump said last night.

KEILAR: This is sad commentary on our times. Joe Walsh, thank you so much.

WALSH: Thanks, Brianna.

BERMAN: And the department of Homeland Security is now threatening -- warning, I should say, of potential violence as soon as today linked to this demonstration, this protest that is set for the capitol tomorrow.

CNN's Whitney Wild is live on Capitol Hill with that. Whitney?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: The Department of Homeland Security is warning that there are a small number of people out there having this online chatter that suggests that they might be willing to engage in violent acts either here in Washington D.C. or somewhere across the country today and tomorrow. It is all related to this idea that this violence may be in furtherance of this big election lie.

And this is something that Department of Homeland Security and other federal officials have been warning about for months. Now we're seeing it pick up because there's actually this rally happening on Saturday where law enforcement is concerned that there may be acts of violence either from people within the protest or between protestors and counter protestors.

So Washington D.C. in particular on heightened alert, John. That's why you see this fencing behind me. This is all around the Capitol grounds. In addition, Capitol police is coordinating with federal partners, with local partners from surrounding agencies, surrounding suburbs, to make sure they have enough law enforcement presences to counteract any potential violence.

There is a mitigating factor here, John, and it's that Congress is on recess. The main people that some of these protestors may want to confront or interact with are not going to be here. That's lessening the burden a little bit for law enforcement, but they are taking no chances.

And it's important to note, John, that the organizer of the rally insists that it will be peaceful. However, law enforcement knows acutely well that it just takes one person, one lone wolf actor, to do something outrageous John. That's why you see this major presence here. You'll see it today. You'll see it tomorrow.

However, the Capitol police chief says if all goes well tomorrow, if it's peaceful, this fence will come down pretty shortly after that rally, John.

BERMAN: After January 6th, you can't take anything for granted. Whitney Wild, thank you so much for being there for us. Appreciate it. KEILAR: And join us now is Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan. He is the chief deputy whip of the House Democratic Caucus, and he has been very public about how he sought help for the trauma that he suffered from the January 6th attack and the PTSD that he has suffered in the aftermath of it. Congressman, thanks for being with us this morning.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): That's for having me on.

KEILAR: First, can you just tell us how you're doing? I know that you have been meeting with a number of other lawmakers who have also been dealing with the aftereffects of January 6th. They were also stuck in the gallery of the House chamber as you saw people trying to get inside. How are you feeling?

KILDEE: I'm feeling pretty good. I've been meeting, as you said, with the gallery group, those of us that were trapped in the gallery. A number of us have received treatment for the post-traumatic stress that we've experienced. It's been very helpful to me in lots of different ways. I've been meeting with Dr. Jim Gordon who is an expert on Trauma in communities with people, and it's making a difference.

But I will say this -- every time that we see another eruption of this, it brings it back. And I'm concerned for our country, I'm concerned for my friends and my colleagues. I'm particularly worried about my staff. These are people that I care about. And we're doing everything we can right now to make sure that we protect ourselves.

But just think about what we've come to. Not only do we have this potential violence. We've already experienced that we know it's possible. But we have the former president encouraging it, and the stunning silence of Republican leaders as this is all happening, treating it as if it's a walk in the park. It's very painful to see.

KEILAR: There are so many precautions that have been put in place ahead of this rally tomorrow. The fence has gone back up. You've just seen a lot of proactive behavior from Capitol police informing leadership. But DHS is worried, right, Capitol police are worried. What are you concerns about what we might see tomorrow?


KILDEE: I'm worried that this sort of mob mentality takes over. Thousands and thousands of people came to Washington on January 6th, but they followed the worst of them into the Capitol. So it doesn't, as the reporter was saying earlier, doesn't take much to incite a mob that is stuck with a set of beliefs to based on fantasy that they're moved to do whatever they think they have to do to try to save their country is what they're saying. It's a dangerous situation whenever a group like this comes together, because they're moved by a lie that they don't see as a lie. Many of them truly believe that this election was stolen, and their mission is to try to retrieve democracy when the truth is they're tearing it down.

KEILAR: There's extremist chatter about kidnapping lawmakers. What is you fear when you hear that? KILDEE: I saw with some sadness the announcement of Congressman Gonzalez, that he's not going to run again. But I totally understand it. We're human being. We have families. We happen to be in these positions of some responsibility. But the idea that as a part of a political strategy there would be threats of violence or kidnapping, and that's what it is. This is intended to intimidate public officials to keep us from speaking up and saying the truth. It's personally obviously threatening. We've had to take measures to protect ourselves. I won't go into detail as to what those are because we want them to continue to be effective.

But my gosh, this is the United States of America. For God's sake, this can't continue. But we need responsible possible, and I don't like to be overly partisan, but let's fact it, we need responsible Republican leaders who are willing to speak truth and put this down. They won't do it because they somehow feel that this whipped up sentiment will help them in the 2022 election. My God, if that's how they're going to try to win, what does that say about these leaders, these so-called leaders? It's pathetic. It really is.

KEILAR: What does it say maybe about the state of our country right now as well? Congressman Dan Kildee, thank you.

KILDEE: Thank you much.

KEILAR: Up next, will COVID booster shots help stop breakthrough infections. We are going to ask Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

BERMAN: And breaking this morning, the Biden administration taking a tough new stance against atrocities exposed by CNN's reporting in Ethiopia.

And new CNN video showing thousands of migrants camped under a bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border. We'll take you there.



KEILAR: Vaccine advisers to the FDA meeting later today to debate and decide on COVID booster shots. A lot of Americans have been reaching out to their doctors asking about booster shots and how they'll help protect them from breakthrough cases.

We're going to talk about all of that right now with our doctor, CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

OK, Sanjay, first, can you just tell us on these breakthrough cases, we hear people with their anecdotes about it, a friend, a friend of a friend. How common are these?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: A very good question, a very basic question, and still hard to answer because in this country almost since the beginning we haven't been doing enough testing. And in fact, the message was for a long time, if you're vaccinated you don't need to get tested, so how would you even know how many breakthrough infections.

The official data from the CDC is that out of 176 million people that have been vaccinated, there have been 14,000 breakthrough infections. But that number only reflects people who really got hospitalized or died after being vaccinated and then developed a breakthrough infection. So I don't think it's at all reflective of what's going on in the country. I think there's probably a lot more people who test positive after having had a vaccine and either have no symptoms or mild symptoms, but never get tested.

So it's pretty common. The one number that I think is important is if you look hospitalization overall, then you say, OK, out of the COVID patients in the hospital, what do they look like? About 95 percent of them are unvaccinated. So the vaccines work really well against the important stuff. I think we've proven that over and over again, but breakthrough infections, they seem to occur a lot more than we ever realized.

BERMAN: So as this booster discussion, debate today, I guess, Sanjay, goes on, I mean, is the idea that the boosters would stop breakthrough cases?

GUPTA: Another great question, and one that we should be able to answer. This shouldn't be that confusing. So there's four main points I think that are really going to come up today at the meeting, John, around boosters, how well do they work, how severe are the breakthrough infections as we were just talking about. If you do get a booster, how long does the additional protection actually last?

And then the point you're raising, how much would a booster potentially reduce transmission? Don't know for sure. There's been some data out of Singapore that says people who get these boosters, who get vaccinated, they tend to have lower viral loads and the viral loads come down faster if they do develop a breakthrough infection.

But I want to show you what's going on in Israel because we look to Israel often. They're a bit ahead of us in terms of vaccinations, about 64 percent of the country vaccinated. And they've been boosting since August as well. And so you ask about cases, well, their case rates is higher than it's ever been throughout this pandemic despite the fact rate that they have such a high vaccination rate and they've been boosting.

I mean, there could be lots of different reasons for that. But I think we have to pay attention to this sort of data and it raises this question, should breakthrough cases really be the metric by which we determine whether or not boosting is necessary? That would suggest no, if you look at the Israel data.

KEILAR: So, tell us about, you know, obviously there's folks who get boosters, there's folks who get vaccines and then there's people who also get COVID. Not -- I'm talking about unvaccinated who get COVID. How powerful is natural immunity compared to immunity from a vaccine?

[08:20:08] GUPTA: Let me preface by saying, nobody I think is suggesting that people go get vaccinated in an effort to get that really strong immunity. I mean, no one is suggesting go get infected to go get strong immunity. That's a terrible strategy. Hospitals are full. My hospital is full right now because of that sort of strategy.

But to your question, if you have had COVID in the past, how well protected are you and how well are you protected compare to someone who's vaccinated, well, the answer is you're pretty well protected actually. If you look again at some data coming around the world, the suggestion is you have natural immunity, you do seem to generate a very significant antibody response. And some have suggested the protection that you get from that could even be stronger than the vaccines.

Again, a terrible to do it but if you've had it, what most docs would suggest is you could think of that COVID infection that you've had as sort of your prime. You primed your immune system, dangerously so but you primed your immune system now in a boost with one of the vaccines would still be helpful to give you a longer duration of that protection.

This is evolving science. But as a general rule, if you do get infections, not just with COVID, other things, that does give you a natural immunity for a period of time.

BERMAN: Sanjay, I really appreciate these answers because these are some of the questions that people are dealing with every day.

As this booster discussion happens, which I know you'll be watching today, now in addition to all this, you have a new documentary called "THE ORIGINS OF COVID" that airs Sunday night. I want to show people a clip.


KRISTIAN ANDERSEN, SCRIPPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE: In January knowing the type of work that was going on at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, we started thinking, it's like, look, we need to consider the possibility that this is maybe not a natural virus.

GUPTA: Dr. Kristian Andersen is an evolutionary biologist at the Scripps Research Institute. In late January 2020 he wrote to Dr. Fauci in correspondence that was also later released.

ANDERSEN: We are concerned about this particular virus. We think that what we are looking at here might be different than what we would expect to see just from a naturally emerged virus.

GUPTA: Andersen and other scientists worked around the clock searching for clues deep in the gnome.

ANDERSEN: The engineering aspect of this, very quickly we realized that we just don't have the evidence to support that.

GUPTA: Even though they initially thought this novel virus had evidence of bioengineering, they subsequently found evidence of similar traits in other known naturally occurring viruses.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We debated up one side down the other and ultimately decided if you were a human trying to design a really dangerous coronavirus, you would not design this one.


BERMAN: So, Sanjay, it's really interesting to hear that. What else did you find out?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it was fascinating when you're dealing with a novel pathogen. You're seeing something that people haven't seen before. So the idea that look, this is so unusual, could it have been bioengineered, really was -- it really resonated I think for some time among high-level government officials, including Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci. But then they found evidence of those traits in other naturally occurring viruses. And Kristian Andersen went on to right the paper that really makes the case that this spilled over from animals into humans.

I'll tell you, the one that really struck me making this documentary, I've made a lot of documentaries with scientists over the years, they're really scared to talk about this. So many of them have received death threats. So many of them said, hey, we'll talk to you this but we're never going to talk again about this because it has become just so toxic.

I mean, it was remarkable to me how much care we had to take interviewing some of these folks in order to protect their safety.

BERMAN: That's unfortunate, Sanjay, but telling. Thank you very much for all this.

And of course you can join CNN as Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks with scientists about the "ORIGIN OF COVID-19." The new CNN Special Report begins Sunday night at 8:00.

Coming up, the surge, the new surge of migrants at the southern border this morning. CNN is there live as the Texas governor wants to close big parts of the border.

KEILAR: And next, the real reason why there's so much misinformation in right-wing media.



BERMAN: A series of stunning new studies show just how much misinformation in the social media platforms that spread it erode our democracy.

John Avlon, with the "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So the protest on Capitol Hill this weekend organized by a former Trump campaign staffer says it's seeking justice for the January 6th rioters. Now an objective definition of justice for people who attacked the U.S. Capitol trying to stop the certification of an election should be a stiff prison sentence. This was political violence, an insurrection, and there's nothing more serious in a democracy.

But through the hyperpartisan looking glass, these people have been conditioned to feel like victims. The only thing they're really a victim of, though, is misinformation. They've been lied to for a long time. And a few new studies show us just how deep this rot has gotten. NYU and French researcher Cybersecurity for Democracy Effort found that in the five months around the election sources known for misinformation got six times more clicks on Facebook than real factual news.

And the prime drivers of this misinformation are hyperpartisan sites, particularly on the far-right. Get this, misinformation accounts for 68 percent of users engagement with far-right news sources. And on the flipside, misinformation accounts for 36 percent of engagement with new sources on the far-left, reflecting asymmetric polarization. And for what it's worth, new sites that were comparatively centrist saw the least engagement with misinformation.

And by the way, in return for their work tracking misinformation on Facebook, these NYU researchers were deplatformed by Facebook. Now Facebook says that deplatforming is related to a different matter and says the study only regarded a tiny amount of content.