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Scientists Behind Moderna's COVID-19 Vaccine Join NEW DAY; Oil Executives Face Grilling On Their Roles In Climate Crisis; A.G. Garland Faces GOP Barrage Over Justice Department School Memo. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 28, 2021 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We could be days away from kids ages five to 11 being able to get the COVID vaccine, but a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds a majority of parents do not plan to vaccinate their kids right away.

I want to discuss with two scientists who helped develop the Moderna vaccine and laid the foundation for other vaccines -- Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Dr. Barney Graham, former deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health. Thank you both for being with us. Thank you both for everything you did over the last two years.

Kizzmekia, when you hear parents reluctant or nervous about getting their children ages five to 11 vaccinated, what do you think about that?

KIZZMEKIA CORBETT, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF IMMUNOLOGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES, HARVARD T.H. CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, SCIENTIST WHO HELPED DEVELOP MODERNA'S COVID-19 VACCINE: I think it's completely fair. We're giving these parents a lot to digest. I think that any parent who is making a risk assessment about getting their child vaccinated really is making that risk assessment out of love, and so I'm empathetic to that.

And I know that it is a lot to really unpack, and that's why Dr. Graham and I are here today to really help parents to understand what the data mean and what it means particularly for saving their child's life.

BERMAN: OK, Dr. Graham, then what does it mean? What does the data mean?

DR. BARNEY GRAHAM, SCIENTIST WHO HELPED DEVELOP MODERNA'S COVID-19 VACCINE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, VACCINE RESEARCH CENTER, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Well, good morning. Thank you for having us visit the show. I think the main decision I'd like people to think about whether -- to

look at the side effects of the infection in comparison to the side effects of the vaccine. And this is not a trivial infection in young children. It causes a lot of disease. And even though most children get over this infection there's been over 700 deaths in children under 18 years of age, which is about three times more than the 2009 influenza pandemic. So, this is not -- and we don't hesitate to immunize our children for influenza.

BERMAN: You know, one of the things you talk about -- the side effects -- people have concerns about myocarditis, which is inflammation -- heart inflammation. And then also, separately, the inflammation of the lining of the heart. But what's one of the major side effects, potentially, from getting COVID for children, Dr. Graham?

GRAHAM: Yes. As I mentioned, there's been a lot of death but there's also been a lot of hospitalization and a lot of things that we don't entirely understand. The multisystem inflammatory disease has affected a lot of children and we don't know the long-term side effects -- whether it's going to affect lung development, whether it's going to cause other neurological problems over time.

And so, I think it's something that -- we know there's side effects with the infection and I think that's the thing that people need to really pay attention to.

BERMAN: Kizzmekia, so what would you tell parents who are a little nervous -- who are saying we want to wait and see? What's the sales pitch to them that it might be a good idea to go ahead and do this?


CORBETT: Well, so, really, back to the side effects. Like, for example, myocarditis after COVID in children is more severe and more long-lasting and to a greater quantity, following the virus, as compared to getting the vaccine. So while it does look stark when you look at these data and you say oh, the vaccine might cause myocarditis, remember that if your child comes in contact with the virus that causes COVID-19 they have the chance of getting myocarditis at a greater extent than from the vaccine.

So, overarchingly, one of the things that I tell these parents is that you're really assessing the situation in when my child comes in contact with this virus do I prefer that they be protected from the vaccine? Do I prefer that their immune response have these little soldiers called antibodies ready to really fight off this virus or not? That is the real question.

BERMAN: So, you guys, we just learned, are being awarded the Sami, which has been described as sort of the Oscars for government workers. And I assume that the outfits are just as flashy and exotic for the Samis as they are for the Oscars. But, congratulations, first of all, on this esteemed award.

And, Dr. Graham, just what does it mean to be recognized for this work you've done?

GRAHAM: Well, first of all, it's been a real privilege for me to be able to work in this system that gives you the freedom to develop solutions for unmet medical needs. And so, the work we've been able to do and the basic research that's been done over this last seven years allowed us to go so fast on the vaccine development. And being in a system like the intramural NIH system is -- has been a real privilege for me. And so, getting awarded and being recognized for this work is a special honor.

BERMAN: Kizzmekia, it's been a lot of work. You've spent a lot of time working on this and really changed a lot of lives.

CORBETT: I feel the same sentiment as Dr. Graham, particularly for me as I have been in public service since I was about 19 years old on and off working at the National Institutes of Health. At the end of about June, I transitioned to start my own lab at Harvard.

And so, it really is kind of the icing on the cake, really, around all of the work that we've done over all of these years. And it's always an honor to be honored beside my mentor and now my good friend, Dr. Graham.

BERMAN: Well, Professor Corbett, Dr. Graham, thank you both for everything you've done, and congratulations to you on this well- deserved honor.

CORBETT: Thank you.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BERMAN: A 2024 audition tape. That is what our next guest says was being made by several Republican senators as they fired off against Attorney General Merrick Garland.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And Elon Musk has a problem with being taxed by the government, but not with using government funds to help build his empire.



KEILAR: For the very first time, executives from some of the world's largest fossil fuel companies are set to face questioning from Congress about their role in the climate crisis, and if they put profits ahead of a potential solution.

CNN's Rene Marsh is following this live for us. She has more on Capitol Hill -- Rene.


You know, we have never seen this before -- this sort of political scrutiny that the heads of these big oil companies will be facing today surrounding this particular issue of climate change and their role in climate change. But in just a matter of hours, we're going to hear lawmakers grilling these CEOs of these very large companies about evidence they say seems to suggest a coverup.


MARSH (voice-over): Increased floods and flames scientists link to climate change have caused death and destruction nationwide. But lawmakers say the fossil fuel industry has misled the public on the energy sector's role for decades.

In one leaked 1998 memo -- this one from the oil industry's most powerful lobby, the American Petroleum Institute -- it lays out a multimillion-dollar communications plan for the industry. It states, quote, "Victory will be achieved when average citizens understand uncertainties in climate science."

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D-NY): They spent billions of dollars lobbying or trying to stop any meaningful change in Congress, which they were successful at doing, and really putting out false information -- very similar to the tobacco companies.

MARSH (voice-over): In this 1978 internal memo, Exxon scientist James Black wrote, "Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical."

Despite the warning, more than two decades later, Exxon took out this full-page "New York Times" ad titled "Unsettled Science," which argued little is known about the effect of climate change, positive or negative.

Documents also show the energy industry heavily funded contrarian scientists like Willie Soon, and junk science theories like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For polar bears, I think essentially you do want to watch out for ice. Too much ice is really bad for polar bears.

MARSH (voice-over): More recently, this July, an Exxon lobbyist was caught on a secret recording admitting the company had used shadow groups to fight early climate science efforts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's nothing -- there's nothing illegal about that.


MARSH (voice-over): Exxon CEO Darren Woods responded to the footage by saying the comments, quote, "in no way represent the company's position on climate policy and its commitment to carbon pricing."

GEOFFREY SUPRAN, RESEARCH FELLOW, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: This is a labyrinth of people and money connecting. Fossil fuel companies, trade associations, think tanks, and P.R. firms all feeding into an echo chamber of climate-denying media blogs and politicians. MARSH (voice-over): The fossil fuel industry's messaging has evolved to include social media. The industry is using Facebook to target Americans with messaging based on their demographics and interests.

SHELL AD ON FACEBOOK: We know there's an urgent need to tackle climate change.

MARSH (voice-over): Some users could see ads similar to this one from Shell that touts their net-zero plan by 2050, and this one from BP promoting methane regulation.

Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association funded in part by Shell and BP, uses Facebook's advertising to target conservatives in key states, such as Arizona, with anti-climate policy ads. That's according to InfluenceMap, a nonprofit, independent think tank that has analyzed corporate spending and Facebook ads.

SUPRAN: So, this sort of speaking out of both sides of their mouths is a contemporary and ongoing means by which fossil fuel companies divide the public and politicize the politics of global warming.


MARSH: Well, for both Shell and BP's part, they say that they have recognized climate change since the late 90s and have been advocating for policies to curb emissions. And that's a lot of what we're expecting to hear from these companies today, that they stand behind this idea of climate change and they want to be a part of the solution.

But, Brianna, I can tell you that the lawmakers, especially the head of this House Oversight Committee -- they are coming prepared with the so-called receipts to show that they actually believe that these companies are saying one thing and doing another behind closed doors -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it's going to be a tough sell for these companies.

Rene, thank you so much. It's great to see you.

MARSH: Thanks.

BERMAN: So, the storm-battered northeast is bracing for another potential soaking. Let's get right to meteorologist Chad Myers. Chad, what are you doing to us?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, not as much wind this time. That's the good news. There are still somewhere around 400,000 people without power -- customers without power. That could be a million people.

And the rain is coming again. Coming again for tomorrow and into the weekend.

This weather brought to you by SERVPRO, making fire and water damage like it never even happened. So let's get to it. Today, wind in the Plains, wind in the south, 40 to 60 miles per hour here. Up the coast, we're going to see the potential for some severe weather. There could be some wind damage there with thunderstorms -- not with the front, itself.

But then by Friday, the rain goes into the Ohio Valley and also even into the northeast in places that certainly don't need more rain after all that they got just a couple of days ago. Two to four more inches here in the higher elevations -- Vermont, all the way down to Virginia. Even a flash flood watch in effect probably for the rest of this area on Friday. Certainly, the threat is there, John.

BERMAN: All right, Chad, we're ready. Thank you very much for that.

MYERS: OK, you bet.

BERMAN: All right, the breaking news this morning. Just moments from now, President Biden is set to arrive on Capitol Hill to present what the White House is now calling a new framework for the deal on this social agenda. Will this be enough to get it over the finish line before he leaves for Europe? We are hearing some skepticism in the last few minutes from some progressives.

KEILAR: And the U.S. military calling on the private space sector for help against a growing wave of national security threats.



KEILAR: Attorney General Merrick Garland defending a Justice Department memo that reports a disturbing spike in threats of violence against school employees and board members.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It responds to concerns about violence, threats of violence, and other criminal conduct. That's all it's about. And all it asks is for federal law enforcement to consult with -- meet with local law enforcement to assess the circumstances, strategize about what may or may not be necessary, and to provide federal assistance if it is necessary.


KEILAR: Now, to be clear here, this DOJ memo makes zero reference to domestic terrorism. Republicans are accusing the DOJ of treating parents like domestic terrorists for protesting school COVID restrictions and teachings about racial history in America.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This is a memo to the Federal Bureau of Investigation saying go investigate parents as domestic terrorists. SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): It's wrong. It is unprecedented, to my

knowledge, in the history of this country, and I call on you to resign.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): Thank God you are not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace, Judge.


KEILAR: Joining us now to discuss this and more, CNN political commentator and the host of "SMERCONISH" on CNN, Michael Smerconish.

Michael, we should be clear there was a letter from the school board association that went to the Biden administration looking for help because clearly, school boards have been suffering a lot of violent threats and a lot of tumult. But that was not what this Merrick Garland -- this DOJ letter said.

What do you think about how this all went down?


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": Brianna, I felt sorry for Merrick Garland yesterday. And he reminded me of good people who step forward and are willing to serve as school board members, and then are brow-beaten or worse by parents who show up at meetings and are uncivil. That's exactly the way those senators reacted yesterday to Merrick Garland.

And as you well point out, the memo about which theoretically they were cross-examining him made no such reference. I watched Sen. Blackburn, by way of example, say that this memo was over the top. Really?

The memo expressly says, "While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, the protection does not extend to threats of violence." Who wouldn't want an attorney general of the United States underscoring that exact point?

Look, this was a sizzle reel for several of those participants yesterday for 2024, should Donald Trump not run for president. It was pure theater.

BERMAN: What do you think of the way that the attorney general handled it?

SMERCONISH: Too much of a gentleman, frankly. I think that it demanded a little more forceful of a reaction. He should have said are you blanking me? Have you even read the memo that I issued and if so, Senator, would you kindly tell me what line in it you find objectionable? Because there's no response for that.

But John, here's the problem. The problem is that 50 percent of the country is going to walk away from this exercise because we know where they get their news, convinced that Merrick Garland did say that these parents are domestic terrorists. Listen, I'm most concerned about who will step forward and for little

or zero pay want to be on the school board. And what I'm most worried about is that the people who will step forward and fill that void are the type of kooks who come out at these meetings and make threatening comments.

Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm for spirited debate, as you can tell also. But the people who go out and threaten school board members -- they're the ones who will probably end up running for the school board, and that should worry all of us.

KEILAR: We've had school board members on who have said I had to resign. I was worried --


KEILAR: -- about the safety of my children. People -- someone came into my garage. They're very concerned. They're concerned for their personal safety.

I do wonder -- you know, if Merrick Garland had been -- just to play devil's advocate here -- if he's been forceful, Michael, does that kind of play into this? Is that exactly what a Ted Cruz or a Josh Hawley wants?

SMERCONISH: You're probably right. I mean, he doesn't seem to have the temperament for it. I've got a short fuse. I watched and is said to myself if I were in that position yesterday, I wouldn't have sat and taken it. But he's probably the better man.

BERMAN: You've got a short fuse? You're one of the most patient people I know, Michael Smerconish.

SMERCONISH: No, John, not true.

BERMAN: You're --

KEILAR: He puts up with us.


BERMAN: You put up with us. No, you're willing to listen. You listen so well I think to so many different points of view.

But, you know, you're right. I mean, Merrick Garland might be living in a different world than the 2021 world. It's hard to know.

SMERCONISH: He's used to -- he's used to wear -- he's used to wearing a robe.

And I guess the part that was so upsetting to me is that I have read in on this. I know about the school board association and their language, and how they backed off.

I just thought that yesterday was a very vivid example of the manipulation of what goes on on the national stage to the detriment of people who don't have time to pay attention and to read in the way that we do. Because anyone who has read in on this issue, I think will fully recognize that the attorney general was doing the right thing in saying hey, these school board meetings are out of control and somebody's going to get hurt. And I'm going to use the power of my office to begin a dialogue and have a partnership to try and protect people who are willing to be local public servants.

But that is not the way it was transmitted to half the country yesterday, and what a shame that it.

KEILAR: I mean, explain that to us. Explain it to our viewers because you do have this letter from the National School Boards Association and they did back off of some language. And I wonder what you think about how they handled that.

SMERCONISH: Well, I don't think that it's proper to call the parents domestic terrorists. I need to make that very, very clear. But Merrick Garland didn't say that. And in the very subject line of this memo, he speaks of the need for a partnership between DOJ, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, et cetera, et cetera, in trying to lend some sense of protection to the climate.

I mean, do we really need to wait for some school board member to have harm done to them before we then wake up and say my God, why didn't we act sooner in this particular case.

So, Garland is on the side of right. And Brianna, you referenced having interviewed school board members. I had a wonderful public K-12 education and in my school district --

KEILAR: As did I.

SMERCONISH: -- the community in which I was born and raised -- they recently had a school board meeting. It was so large they had to put it in my old high school auditorium, which is not the normal venue. And after a meeting on masks, one of the school board members resigned after being given a police escort and said I can no longer.