Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

Brian Klaas is Interviewed about Authoritarianism; Dr. Scott Gottlieb is Interviewed about the Pandemic; Tropical Storm Sam Could Become Hurricane; China's Biggest Movie Star Erased from Country's Internet. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 23, 2021 - 06:30   ET



BRIAN KLAAS, CO-AUTHOR, "HOW TO RIG AN ELECTION": If you want to get re-elected. So until the party either is either dealt a crushing defeat or until Democrats reform the system to insulate the institutions from authoritarian attacks, I think United States democracy is -- is in grave, grave danger for the -- for the short to medium term.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So you just touched on where I want to go next because my inclination is to ask you, well, then what fixes this? And your entire point here is that you don't see what fixes it.

So, if you're a rational Democrat now, you talk about the rational choice for Republicans is to gravitate towards extremism if they want political success. What's the rational choice for a Democrat?

KLAAS: The rational choice for a Democrat is to wield the power they have to protect democracy. I have studied authoritarian, you know, regimes around the world, the breakdown of democracy from Sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East to southeast Asia. And what I will tell you is that once democracy slips away, rebuilding it is nearly impossible. It takes decades. Protecting it while you have political power, as the Democrats do right now, is much, much easier, much more effective.

So the point is, voters have given Democrats a mandate. They have given them control of the White House, the House, and the Senate. Democrats need to stop messing around and they need to recognize this is a grave authoritarian threat and wield the political power that voters gave them to shore up the institutions about an authoritarian attack that we know is happening.

We saw a memo -- there's a six-point plan that was part of the White House's strategy to overturn an election. What's going to happen in 2022 or 2024? We know what's going to happen. And now is the time to act.

BERMAN: They wrote it down. It's on paper.

Brian Klaas, I appreciate you being with us, Professor. Thanks so much for the discussion.

KLAAS: Thank you. BERMAN: So, despite the presence of a life-saving vaccine, the U.S. is

now seeing the highest number of COVID deaths in six months. So, what does this mean for the winter? Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb joins us next.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And CNN is on the ground in Mexico and in Haiti as the Homeland Security Department scrambles to ease the crush of migrants on the southern border.



KEILAR: The FDA has authorized a booster dose for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for people 65 and older, as well as people with high risk of severe disease.

And this is coming as the country sees the rate of new cases slowing at this point in time. Deaths, though, have hit over 2,000 a day. That is the highest in six months. And the pace of vaccinations is the slowest that it's been in two months.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb is with us now. His new book is called "Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic."

Doctor, thank you so much for being with us.


KEILAR: So I want to ask you, because you see the numbers, these two numbers going in really the wrong direction. Vaccines trending down after an uptick. Deaths at 2,000 people every day. And there is a vaccine that can largely prevent those deaths.

How do you feel watching that as a doctor?

GOTTLIEB: Well, look, it's tragic. This is now an avoidable death, certainly. And if we can get more people vaccinated, we can start to bring down these numbers. I wouldn't take too much solace that the fact that the case numbers are declining either. We see the case numbers declining across the country. But that's really driven by the fact that cases are collapsing in the south, where they had a very dense delta wave of infection.

The other parts of the country still are in store for delta to sweep through different regions. We're seeing it in the Midwest right now, in states like Kentucky and Indiana, Ohio, the Pacific Northwest has a pretty dense wave of delta spreading through those states. And I don't think the Northeast is impervious either. There's a perception that because of our higher vaccination rates here in the Northeast, and I'm here in the Northeast today, and also the fact that we have a lot of immunity from prior infection that was somewhat impervious to a delta wave in this part of the country, I don't think that's necessarily the case. I think we're going to see infections start to pick up here as well as kids go back to school, schools become sources of community transmission and people start to go back to work and the weather gets cold.

KEILAR: I know you talk to experts around the world. I wonder if you're, say, talking to a doctor in New Zealand or in England, where the vaccination rates are so high, and they're looking at what's going on in the U.S. and they think it's nuts. What do you say?

GOTTLIEB: Yes, look, the -- we have a lot of difficulty in this country getting people vaccinated. And there's a lot of heterogeneity as you move across the country. The overall rate of vaccination of adults over the age of 18 is about 77 percent right now, which is pretty good. We've been building that over the course of the last six, seven months. The Biden administration has been pushing out the vaccine, doing a pretty good job getting people vaccinated. But it's not enough. We really need to get to around 80 percent to 85 percent to have enough vaccination in the population that you start to see case rates decline and the velocity of spread start to slow.

We have a lot of immunity in the population from prior infection. That does count. People who'd been previously infected with the virus do have some immunity from continued infection. But we don't know how long that immunity is going to last. So, eventually, people who have been infected, who are relying on natural immunity, they, too, are going to need to get vaccinated at some point. So we do need to get these vaccination rates up higher if we want to create a backstop against the kind of spread that we've seen this past summer.

KEILAR: What does winter look like? What do you think winter looks like here in the U.S.?

GOTTLIEB: Yes, I think this delta wave may be the last major wave of infection, assuming nothing unexpected happens. We don't get a variant that pierces the immunity offered by prior infection by vaccination. So assuming that doesn't happen, and I think it's unlikely, this will be the last major wave of infection. This becomes the more persistent, endemic risk. So you continue to have coronavirus spread but not at the same rates we're seeing right now. And it settles into a pattern, more of a seasonal pattern and basically becomes a seasonal flu, probably more pathogenic than the flu, but something on par with the flu.


The challenge is that we already have with flu. And if we have COVID circulating alongside flu, the cumulative death and disease caused by those two pathogens is going to be too much for society to bear. So we're going to have to do things differently in the wintertime to try to cut down on the risk of the spread of respiratory pathogens in places like work and schools. That means improving air quality in indoor spaces, improving air infiltration, trying to de-densify offices, putting in place hand washing stations, encouraging the use of hand washing stations, probably wearing masks voluntarily in public spaces during peak COVID and flu season. I think you're going to see masks becoming much more culturally acceptable and used in parts of the country.

So there's a lot of things we're probably going to be doing differently to cut down on the risk of the spread of these respiratory pathogens once we get past this COVID epidemic and it becomes a more endemic risk.

KEILAR: You said yesterday that we're heading in a direction where masks will become optional. You know, can -- can you be clear on that about where we are now on masks indoors -- you know, we're looking at schools, for instance -- and when you think we're heading to a place where masks are optional?

GOTTLIEB: Yes, look, I think we need to base this on prevalence. Once the prevalence starts to decline, I think a lot of the steps that we've been taking become more routine and fade into the background, become more optional. People wear masks when prevalence is high and they'll -- and they'll take them off when the prevalence declines.

Right now, in many parts of the country, prevalence is still very high. If you look at the south, during the peak of their epidemic in this summer, states like Florida, Mississippi, Alabama had about 110 cases per 100,000 people per day. New cases diagnosed. That's exceptionally high.

New York City, in the summertime, when they had their mini delta wave, they had about 20 cases per 100,000 people per day. That's probably the level we're going to see on the back end of this wave. I don't think that we're going to get down to levels where it's about two to four cases per 100,000 people per day, which is what we had in July -- June and July when we really hit the nadir.

I think we're still going to have a lot of cases this winter, just because it's the wintertime and this is a winter pathogen, it likes to spread in the cold weather. But I think when we're getting down to about 20 cases per 100,000 people per day, that's when you're going to start to lift some of these mandates. And that's why I think masks are going to become something that's optional. People will wear them if they feel at risk, they want to protect themselves and their families, but I don't think that you'll be mandating the use of masks.

But we're a long way from that. We've got to get through another surge of infection around the country. And you're seeing parts of the country get engulfed right now.

This isn't over. Just because the south is coming down and the national average looks like it's falling, this has been a highly regionalized epidemic and it's likely to continue to be so.

KEILAR: When do you think masks will be optional in schools?

GOTTLIEB: Yes, I think we're going to have to get to a point where the vaccines are widely available in schools. Schools aren't inherently safe environments, but they can be made more safe by taking proper precautions. Masks are certainly one tool. Also using testing. The data shows that if you implement twice a week routine testing -- asymptomatic testing of students, you can cut down on the risk of transmission in the schools dramatically.

And also keeping students in defined social pods. So not letting students intermingle, but keeping them within their class, for example, and having to move around the schoolhouse within their class. The goal has to be to keep kids safe in the schools and to keep kids in the classroom. And you want to prevent outbreaks in those settings.

A lot of people talk about the fact that COVID hasn't been as deadly in children, and thankfully it has not. This would be a whole different ballgame if it was as deadly in kids as it is in older adults. But we don't know the long-term implications of this virus. And you don't want to see this become epidemic in children, like it has in many states. I mean there's states in the south that this has really ripped through schoolhouses. And that's deeply unfortunate because we don't understand what the long-termism indications of COVID is going to be in a lot of these kids who have been infected.

KEILAR: You sit on the Pfizer board. We've seen the recommendation and it is for older Americans and for people who are vulnerable. Of course this is still going through the process this week with the CDC.

The White House got ahead of this process, talking about a rollout for all Americans of a booster shot. Do you think they jumped the gun? Do you think the president jumped the gun?

GOTTLIEB: No, I don't. I think the White House did the right thing. I mean they didn't have to talk about a specific date. Perhaps that created the perception that they were locking in to a date and getting in front of the regulatory process. But I think they were right to talk about an approximate timeframe for when they wanted to roll out boosters because if you want to make boosters available to an older population, particularly in nursing homes, it takes weeks to get that in place, to get the logistics in place to actually deploy the boosters. And so if they want to be ready to start administering them this month or early next month, they needed to have an approximate date.

What happened in the Trump administration, and I was talking to the Trump administration over this time period is, after the vaccines got authorized, I think on December 12th, it took about four weeks to vaccinate the 1.34 million residents in nursing homes.


And this was over a time period when we were losing about 7,000 people a week in nursing homes. We had to wait four weeks to get into the nursing homes to start vaccinating because they hadn't planned in advance to go into the facilities. It took a lot of time. You had to get consents in place for example with the patients. A lot of patients you had to get the consent from their families.

So the Biden administration didn't want to make the same mistake. They wanted to have the logistics in place. So I think they've done a good job of that. And so it created a perception that they were getting in front of the regulatory process. But that's not what was going on. They were just trying to get the logistics nailed down so they could get ready to administer these vaccines. And they will be.

KEILAR: Dr. Gottlieb, we really appreciate your perspective. And just a reminder to our viewers that your book out now is "Uncontrolled Spread."

Thanks for being with us this morning.

GOTTLIEB: Thanks a lot.

KEILAR: The focus on the Gabby Petito case is putting the spotlight on missing black Americans, including the case of a young geologist who went missing in the desert. Only his clothes and car left behind. We'll be speaking live with his father and brother.

BERMAN: Plus, one of China's most popular film stars has vanished from the Internet. Hear why.



BERMAN: The next tropical storm is on the way, and it could become a major hurricane in coming days. Uh-oh.

Let's get to meteorologist Chad Myers for that.

Where is this?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is still off the coast of Africa in the middle of the Atlantic. Right now just number 18. But later today it becomes Tropical Storm Sam.

Now, ironically, we still have Peter and Rose in the Atlantic, although they are just about done right now. They're not going to make any headway. We're worried about 18. I'll get to that in a second.

This weather brought to you by Servpro, making fire and water damage like it never even happened.

So now let's get to 18. What happens with it? Well, it's not a storm yet. It doesn't have a name yet. But that's likely to change later on today. And it's likely to become a category one hurricane. And then here a category three major hurricane. And the Hurricane Center even this morning saying it could be stronger than 115 when it gets there north of the islands. So far so good, making a right-hand turn into the ocean, but we'll see.

Temperatures across the Midwest, nice. Still muggy in the Northeast. You still have a lot of humidity. A lot of rain still to come this afternoon for New York and for tonight into Boston, Philadelphia, as the front moves by. But the humidity is leaving. It is out of here today. And temperatures are going to be amazing for the weekend.

Now, it has been such an awful summer that 74, that's going to feel, I mean, just great, is actually just normal. But sometimes you just want to take normal, John.

BERMAN: Yes, I've never had anything close to normal, Chad. I had nothing -- no way to identify with that. I'm still worried about that storm, number 18. MYERS: Yes.

BERMAN: That could be a three as it heads toward the Atlantic. I'm done with hurricane season now. So make sure that -- that veers off somewhere, Chad.

MYERS: I'll do.

BERMAN: Appreciate it. Thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

KEILAR: Can he do that? Amazing.

So there are highly trained dive teams ready to return to the water to resume the search for Brian Laundrie, as we get new clues from witnesses who may have seen Gabby Petito in her final hours.

BERMAN: And a 24-year-old geologist in Arizona missing for three months. He was last seen leaving work. And his family is desperate to find him.



KEILAR: A beloved Chinese actress and business mogul erased from the Internet amid a government crackdown on the entertainment industry. Zhao Wei was likened to the Reese Witherspoon of China. She directed award-winning films. She sold millions of records even as a pop singer. She had 86 million followers online.

Today, though, you search for her name on the Chinese Internet and it comes up blank.

CNN's Ivan Watson has more on this story.

I mean she has been completely erased.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, it comes down to China's leader, Xi Jinping. He is rewriting the rule for broad sectors of the Chinese economy. Part of an effort to level the economic playing field, he says. And his government has made an example of several very wealthy celebrities, basically canceling them.


WATSON (voice over): Imagine one of Hollywood's biggest celebrities erased from the Interpret in a single night. That's basically what happened to Zhao Wei, one of China's most success actresses. A star of Chinese television and film, Zhao was also a wealthy entrepreneur who bought vineyards in France and acquired a stake in one of China's biggest film studios.

WATSON (on camera): That all changed one night in August when Zhao suddenly, explicably disappeared from the Chinese Internet. Her movies and TV shows removed from streaming sites. Her social media accounts, erased.

JENNIFER HSU, RESEARCH FELLOW PUBLIC OPINION AND FOREIGN POLICY PROGRAM, LOWY INSTITUTE: To imagine that someone's name, history is eliminated from the Internet, it shows the power and the infrastructure of China's Internet architecture and who really is in power. It is the Chinese party state.

WATSON (voice over): China experts say the canceling of Zhao Wei is part of a much bigger crackdown now underway in China.

WEN ZHAO, INDEPENDENT CHINA ANALYST: The whole entertainment industries was targeted by Xi Jinping.

WATSON: Canada-based analyst Wen Zhao argues, there's only room for one real star in today's China, Chinese President Xi Jinping.

ZHAO: Xi Jinping deliberately eliminate anything independent social influence might be out of his control. He wants to take control over everything.

WATSON: This summer, Beijing issued new rules, cutting back the activities of China's wildly popular celebrity fan clubs. Other regulations, Beijing says, are aimed at restoring morality, ban male celebrities from appearing too effeminate on TV, and limit minors to three hours of online video games a week.

Meanwhile, the government introduced a new subject to the curriculum for students of all ages, from elementary school to universities, Xi Jinping thought, an approach that some say echoes the cultive personality of Mao Zedong, the founding father of communist China.


ZHAO: People have only one voice to be heard, only one