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GOP's McCarthy Pulls All His Picks For Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Election Deniers Jordan And Banks; Cheney: McCarthy's Rhetoric On 1/6 Commission "Disgraceful"; President Biden To Take Part In CNN's Exclusive Town Hall; CDC Forecast: Deaths, Hospitalizations Likely To Increase Over Next Four Weeks As Delta Variant Rages; Judge Forces Accused U.S. Capitol Rioter To Unlock Laptop, Prosecutors Say It May Have Video From Jan. 6; Some Key GOP Figures Abruptly Shift To Encouraging Vaccines After Months Of Spreading Misinformation. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 21, 2021 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @pamelabrowncnn or tweet the show @theleadcnn. Our coverage continues now with Jim Acosta in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Happening now. New turmoil surrounding the January 6 committee, the House GOP leader pulling all of his picks after Speaker Pelosi rejected two of them.

This, as President Biden takes part in CNN's exclusive town hall event just a few hours from now. He'll take questions on the growing challenges he's facing. That includes the spike in COVID-19 cases.

Tonight, there's disturbing new information on the deadly impact of the Delta variant in the weeks ahead.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You're looking at live pictures out of Cincinnati, Ohio as we prepare for CNN's exclusive town hall with President Biden. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is standing by with work on the site of tonight's event. But first, let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill.

Ryan, let's talk about today's meltdown in the January 6 investigation. Why did Republicans pull out three other members as well?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a response by the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Jim, to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, vetoing two of his selections, those five selections that he had for the January 6 Select Committee.

Those two members, Jim Banks, the chair of the Republican Study Committee and Jim Jordan of Ohio, Pelosi saying that she did not want them on the committee because of statements that they had made in the days after the announcement was made that made it -- made them disqualifying in her mind from being able to conduct a thorough investigation that she was looking for.

Now, Kevin McCarthy responded by saying that none of the five picks that he had initially chosen for this committee were going to participate any longer. And that he would not send any picks unless Pelosi accepted Banks and Jordan on the committee. And then he went even further saying that Pelosi had just turned this entire situation into a partisan sideshow.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: It's an egregious abuse of power. Pelosi has broken this institution, this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility. It shows exactly what I warned back at the beginning of January, that Pelosi would play politics with this. No committee in Congress will work if one person is picking all who can serve.


NOBLES: Now, McCarthy described the situation as being all political, despite the fact that it was he and his fellow Republicans that block plans for an independent bipartisan commission that was going to be made up of people not part of the Congress and have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. I pressed him on that during this press conference and he complained that Pelosi had created too broad or not broad enough of a scope for that independent commission, and that's why Republicans voted against it.

Now, there is a key player in all of this. Liz Cheney, the Republican member of Congress from Wyoming, she was asked to sit on this committee by Nancy Pelosi. And after what Kevin McCarthy did today, she reiterated that she still intends to be a part of this committee in its search for the truth. Take a listen.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think that any person who would be third in line to the presidency must demonstrate a commitment to the constitution and a commitment to the rule of law. And Minority Leader McCarthy has not done that.

At every opportunity, the minority leader has attempted to prevent the American people from understanding what happened to block this investigation. Today the speaker objected to two Republican members, she accepted three others, she objected to two, one of whom may well be a material witness to events that led to that day, that led to January six, the other who disqualified himself by his comments in particular over the last 24 hours demonstrating that he is not taking this seriously, he is not dealing with the facts of this investigation, but rather viewed it as a political platform.

This investigation must go forward. The idea that anybody would be playing politics with an attack on the United States Capitol is despicable and is disgraceful.


NOBLES: And Cheney's decision to side with the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as opposed to the Republican leader of the House of Representatives when just a few short months ago, she was the third Ranking Member of the Republican House of Representatives before she was pushed out of that leadership post by Kevin McCarthy is pretty stunning, but it allows Pelosi and the select committee to still call this investigation bipartisan even though there will only be one Republican and seven Democrats.

The committee reiterated their plans to move forward with or without the picks that McCarthy has selected. And Jim, of course, they have a hearing scheduled for next week. Jim.


ACOSTA: OK, Ryan Nobles, stand by. We'll come back to you in just a moment.

Let's check in with our Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny, he's joining us live from the site of CNN's exclusive town hall with President Biden.

Jeff, the White House says the President strongly supports Speaker Pelosi's investigation into the Capitol riot, that has not changed.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jim, as President Biden was flying here to Cincinnati, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said aboard Air Force One that the President does indeed strongly support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision today on that, be a commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol.

But clearly the White House and the President came to Ohio for four different reasons. The President, just a few moments will be arriving at a union Training Center here in Cincinnati trying to sell his jobs plan, sell his infrastructure plan. Of course, all those topics are top of mind of Ohio voters who will be questioning the president here tonight.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Biden arriving in Cincinnati tonight for a CNN town hall meeting as the White House urgently tries to sell its domestic agenda.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's nothing that America is unable to do when we do it together.

ZELENY (voice-over): But in Congress, both sides are far from together. That divide was on full display again today as Senate Republicans voted against the President's bipartisan infrastructure plan in a key test vote.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: So, who's playing games? ZELENY (voice-over): But Raising questions about whether a deal can still be reached before Democrats try passing a bill on their own, which is complicated in its own right.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: We all want the same thing here to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill. But in order to finish the bill, we first need to start.

ZELENY (voice-over): At the six month mark of Biden's presidency, the list of summer challenges facing the administration is daunting. COVID cases are spiking with the Delta variant. Inflation is up, border crossings are rising. The Taliban is taking over Afghanistan and the signature piece of the domestic agenda. The jobs and infrastructure plan is teetering.

White House officials concede the coming weeks hold the cards to the future of the President's agenda before the midterm elections consume Washington and make deals even harder to reach. A senior Biden adviser telling CNN, "The clock is running. We all know that the President certainly knows that."

Tonight, Biden will appear on stage at Mount St. Joseph University taking questions from Ohio voters on those topics and more. Here in Cincinnati, like many parts of the country, infrastructure is a critical issue.

The Brent Spence Bridge, which crosses the Ohio River on one of the busiest trucking routes in the country, has long been labeled functionally obsolete. It's an unfilled promise of the Obama and Trump administrations. Biden, hopes not to fall short.

BIDEN: On the verge of being able to get something really done, rebuilding roads and bridges.

ZELENY (voice-over): Protecting voting rights, likely by eliminating the Senate filibuster is also something many Democrats say they would like to hear Biden speak about more forcefully.

ALICIA REESE, VICE PRESIDENT, HAMILTON COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS: I would hope that this administration would put their weight because it is the foundation of who we are. This is what makes us America.

ZELENY (voice-over): So far, Biden has largely kept Democrats united behind him in the face of stiff Republican opposition. But the White House selected Ohio, a state Biden last to show he's making his case to a far bigger cross section of the country.


ZELENY: And the infrastructure pieces exactly at the center of the White House's argument. They do believe that there are still room for negotiation on Capitol Hill for a few more days for Republicans and Democrats to work together. That of course, an open question. Another one is can Democrats stay unified if they go it alone on infrastructure here? So, so many questions, of course, on the minds of Ohio voters. But Jim, one thing that's also clear, these town meetings can also be unpredictable. Voters can have their own questions on their mind what to ask the president.

ACOSTA: That's right. They can be full of surprises. All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Let's discuss what CNN White House Reporter Natasha Bertrand, CNN Political Commentator Bakari Sellers, and from the site of tonight's town hall, our Political Director David Chalian. We know David was not going to be able to be kept far away from that. And CNN's Ryan Nobles is still with us as well.

David Chalian, we start with you first. With Republicans, you know, pulling out of this January 6 committee, how incredible is it to see this united front between Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney and the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It's pretty extraordinary. They are working together on this. You can't break them apart.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, it's really a classic case of strange bedfellows. I mean, obviously there's no love loss, Jim, between Liz Cheney and Kevin McCarthy. There's been a rift there for a couple months now.

But to see Liz Cheney take on her former partner in the leadership of the Republican Conference in Congress today, calling him unqualified to be speaker because he has not shown a commitment to the constitution or democracy, this is hard hitting stuff from the former number three in the House Republican leadership who is doing Nancy Pelosi's work of pushing back on Kevin McCarthy and what he's trying to pull here by taking all of the Republican members out of this Select Committee.


ACOSTA: And Bakari, what did House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy think was going to happen when he named people to this committee who rejected the 2020 election results? He was getting pretty, you know, apoplectic earlier today, but I suppose this shouldn't be a surprise to him.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It shouldn't be a surprise. And I'm just glad that he was actually pressed on the fact that he turned down an opportunity to have a bipartisan independent commission, that would have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on it, he literally turned that down. I think his excuse was the scope of such.

But regardless, what we're seeing again and again and again is the skill of Nancy Pelosi. Kevin McCarthy backed himself into a corner. So there was absolutely nothing left for him to do today other than the pull the plug.

Usually in circumstances like this, and Chalian and Nobles can correct me if I'm wrong, but in circumstances like this, you'll have the committee come out and issue a report and then the Republicans in the minority would issue their own report. That now won't happen. You will have this what appears to be a bipartisan committee going forward, doing the work, issuing the report.

And I'm assuming that Jim Jordan and others are going to have to go out and do their own thing, create their own committee and play in their own sandbox.

But again, you have to give praise to the skill of Nancy Pelosi, as she navigates a very fragile majority in the United States Congress.

ACOSTA: And Natasha, what do you make of this Republican efforts to argue the House Speaker is to blame for the security and intelligence failures of January six? I mean, that was a clear talking point earlier today. That was said over and over again at that news conference.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Jim. And we had -- CNN had actually reported that this was going to be a GOP strategy moving forward into the committee even before Kevin McCarthy decided to pull all of his picks off of the panel, that they were going to really try to shift the blame from the former president, from the former president's aides to the House Speaker. Of course, that is pretty nonsensical, because this was a failure across the board of the previous administration.

The president -- former president is the one who got his supporters to come to the Capitol who incited arguably this violence and who rile people up to the extent that they felt like they were actually defending Donald Trump by being there. And of course, the Senate report that was issued last month made clear that there were a number of security and intelligence failures that contributed to the violence and the chaos and January 6.

But nowhere in that report was Nancy Pelosi faulted, right? I mean, this was really placed at the heels of the former administration of Capitol Police. And that's why there were so many reforms that were recommended to the security apparatus that protects the Capitol, because the intelligence failures leading up to this and the delays that we saw from the Pentagon in sending the National Guard to the Capitol, were really unacceptable. And that is something that the people that were reviewing the situation after January 6 said just really needs to change moving forward.

ACOSTA: And Ryan, six months into the presidency of Joe Biden, is this a distraction from the many items on his legislative agenda to the point that he's going to have things that he can't get past? Are you hearing from lawmakers that well, they can't work on these items on the Biden agenda because of this January 6, investigation?

NOBLES: You know, Jim, I really do think they're on two different tracks. And the big reason for that is because this is all playing out in the House of Representatives, right? That in the House of Representatives, Democrats really don't need Republicans in order to pass the legislation that they need to pass. It's really in the Senate, where you need some bipartisan support for a certain number of pieces of legislation, for instance, that bipartisan infrastructure package that they're currently negotiating.

That big reconciliation package, the $3.5 trillion jobs plan, that can be passed without any Republican support whatsoever. So, even if there is some bleeding into the conversations between Republicans and Democrats over this partisan rancor over January 6, it really doesn't have anything to do with the broader Biden agenda.

Could it hang over the conversation, is it something that a lot of these members are going to be forced to answer questions about, because it's going to dominate a lot of the headlines? That's for sure. But there's no reason that Democrats can't get the work that they need to get done whether or not this committee moves forward as planned.

ACOSTA: And David, President Biden just faced a setback on infrastructure. It may be temporary, but other efforts on the Hill are stalled. He's facing this COVID resurgence. How do you expect him to dress all of these hurdles tonight at the town hall? He has a lot to answer for at this town hall.

CHALIAN: He certainly does. But I don't think we've seen in the Biden presidency thus far, Jim, that he gets frazzled by the challenges. I fully expect that we're going to hear the President urge every American to get a vaccination, that that is going to be the way to stem this surge that we are seeing with the Delta variant across the country.


And as you noted on infrastructure, I don't think you're going to hear the sound of a president who thinks his bipartisan effort is dead despite the vote that took place in the Senate today. It sounds like the White House is reading hopeful signs from what Republican senators are saying in hopes of getting a deal done by early next week.

ACOSTA: It sounds like that may still be on track. You're right, David Chalian.

All right. Thank you so much to all of you.

And a reminder to our viewers, we're closing in on CNN's exclusive town hall with President Biden live from Cincinnati, Ohio. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. CNN's Don Lemon will moderate.

Coming up. Well, Americans need to mask up once again now that the Delta variant is driving a huge surge in new COVID cases.

And later, we're getting reaction from General Mark Milley to reports that he fear former President Trump would attempt a coup during his final days in office.



ACOSTA: A new forecast from the CDC projects rising hospitalization rates and deaths as the Delta variant takes a heavy toll on unvaccinated Americans. I want to bring in Dr. Paul Offit for more analysis. He's a member of the FDA Vaccines Advisory Committee.

Dr. Offit, great to see you as always.

I'm sure you've seen this, the CDC now predicting that by mid-August there will be up to 625,000 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. and as many as 14,000 new hospitalizations. That's disturbing. That paints the picture of a very challenging month ahead. How did we wind up back in this position?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: It's the Delta variant. I mean, it's just much more contagious. It has a so called contagious index of six, which means it's more contagious than influenza. And it's still spreading and still causing suffering and hospitalizations and deaths in the summer.

I mean, this really basically is a winter respiratory virus, it's much more easily spread typically in cool, dry climates. And now, here you see it spreading and causing a lot of suffering. It just speaks to the contagiousness of this virus.

ACOSTA: And I hear this question time and again. I'm going to ask you, I'm sure you've heard it over and over, but it bears repeating. If you are fully vaccinated, just how protected are you against this variant? And should vaccinated people be taking precautions like wearing masks again?

OFFIT: You're highly protected. I mean, look at what's happened. We've gone from sort of primarily initially the so called D614G variant to the alpha variant, now the Delta variant. The Delta variant is more than 80 percent of the circulating strains. And nonetheless, 99 percent of people who are killed by this virus and 97 percent who were hospitalized as far as are unvaccinated.

If this delta variant as it continued to increase what was not being covered by vaccine induced immunity, then you would have seen a greater percentage of people who were vaccinated that were hospitalized or killed, and that hasn't happened. So this vaccine protects you against severe critical disease caused by the Delta variant. But it doesn't work if you don't get it. So get vaccinated.

ACOSTA: That is such an important message and it bears repeating. We'll just keep asking that question.

In the meantime, starting next month, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is mandating that health care workers either get vaccinated or be tested for the coronavirus weekly. What do you think about that? Is it time for more local officials to start mandating vaccination? So this just keeps spreading?

OFFIT: Yes, I think we've hit a wall. I mean, we've made the vaccine, we've missed distributed the vaccine, everyone over 12 in this country can get a vaccine. We've tried education, we've tried making sure that we have people have access, we've tried to decrease misinformation, we've done the nudge where people can get win a lottery, we've done all those things. And so, there's a critical percentage of this population that doesn't want to be vaccinated.

And that's what they're saying, they don't want the vaccine, they -- which means the virus will continue to reproduce itself, continue to cause suffering and hospitalization, and worse, still, continue to have the chance to make variants that are much more resistant to vaccine induced immunity.

It's not your right to do that. It is not your right as an American citizen to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection which affects everybody. This is a contagious disease. And so, I think that's where the rubber is about to meet the road is mandates. The war against this vaccine, I think, is becoming a war against ourselves.

ACOSTA: And a CDC study finds us life expectancy has fallen -- U.S. life expectancy has fallen by more than a year as a result of this pandemic. Just how concerning is that trend do you think?

OFFIT: No, it tells you the impact of this. I mean, the, you know, nobody, unless you're 130 years old has lived through a pandemic like this. I mean, the last one was the 1920 influenza pandemic.

And this is what it means to have a pandemic. It shortens our lives. It brought us to our knees. I mean, apparently not so much so that there's still a critical percentage of the population that either denies the existence of this problem, or it's just chooses to deny the science that shows the vaccine can save their lives.

ACOSTA: All right, Dr. Paul Offit, thank you so much for that critical message, people need to get vaccinated. We appreciate your time as always.

And let's get an update on the COVID situation looming over the Olympic Games with the opening ceremony is just two days away. CNN's Will Ripley has the latest for Tokyo.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the Olympic Games are underway, the host city on edge under a COVID-19 state of emergency.

New infections dashing the dreams of Olympic hopefuls, including Team USA beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb, the fourth U.S. athlete to test positive for the virus.

Inside the Olympic bubble, cases on the rise, a Chilean Taekwondo athlete and Dutch skateboarder also out after testing positive. One British athlete posting her routine showing daily COVID testing for athletes, temperature checks, mask wearing and other COVID protocols in place meant to keep them safe.


USA Gymnastics deciding to forego the Olympic Village altogether, housing the team at a hotel instead. Their coach tweeting, "It was also a decision that we all made together, we know it isn't ideal during a pandemic, we feel like we can control the athletes and our safety better in a hotel setting."

Infection spiking outside the bubble as well. Roughly two thirds of the Japanese population are already opposed to the games even moving forward. More than 1,800 new cases on Wednesday, the highest number in more than six months.

Tokyo's governor telling Japanese to avoid going out during the games. To stay home and watch them on T.V. After pouring billions into supporting Tokyo 2020, some key Olympic sponsors like Toyota backing away from advertisements, canceling special events surrounding the games.

KUNITOSHI ABE, KOKESHI MAKER (through translator): They call it a recovery Olympics. But in the midst of this situation, I don't really feel it's any sort of recovery Olympics. I feel the Olympics itself isn't really in the mood for the Olympics.

RIPLEY (voice-over): In the Mood or not, the first competition softball and soccer kicking off Wednesday. With Women's World Cup reigning champions Team USA suffering a stinging defeat in their match against Sweden, falling three to nothing, snapping a 44-game winning streak and making their quest for gold a much tougher climb.

A surreal scene at the Olympic venues, no fans to cheer, virtually empty, crowd noise piped in. Athletes adjusting to the new normal as best they can.

JORDAN WINDLE, TEAM USA ATHLETE, MEN'S DIVING: It was difficult because I want it to be a normal Olympics. I want to have the atmosphere, you know, the roar of the crowd when someone hits a big dive. But also, it gives off you know less pressure to a lot of the athletes.


RIPLEY: A group of us attended one of the soccer games yesterday and the mood described as absolutely bizarre. Basically, the journalists were the only ones there, nobody in the stands.

And we know that around us in Japan the case numbers are exploding to some of their highest levels since January. So there are big questions about the safety of athletes. At least five Team USA athletes now forced out of the Summer Olympics due to COVID.

And the opening ceremonies haven't even begun yet. By the way, we don't even know what they're going to look like yet, Jim, because all those details are being kept secret for now.

ACOSTA: All right. We hope they can get there.

Will, Ripley, thank you so much.

Stay with us. We're keeping an eye on preparations for tonight's exclusive CNN town hall with President Joe Biden. We'll also look at what's ahead for the House Committee investigating the January 6 attack. With all the political turmoil, can it reach any useful conclusions?



ACOSTA: We're following today's extraordinary political maneuvering and name calling up on Capitol Hill surrounding the House Select Committee investigation of the January 6 insurrection. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy's picks for the committee. McCarthy then pulled his other three picks off the committee and the only Republican left on it, Liz Cheney, blasted McCarthy earlier today.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): The rhetoric around this from the Minority Leader and from those two members has been disgraceful. This must be an investigation that is focused on facts. And the idea that any of this has become politicized is really unworthy of the office that we all hold and unworthy of our republic. And we cannot allow those voices who are attempting to prevent the American people from getting the truth to prevail, and we certainly will not.


ACOSTA: And we're joined now by an experienced investigator, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, he's the author of "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump". Thanks so much, Andrew, for being with us. Let me ask you right off the bat here, are you concerned these developments that we saw today up on Capitol Hill might interfere with the law enforcement investigations into what happened on January 6?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Deeply concerned, Jim. You know, it's a well-known theory. Politics is the enemy of any good investigation, right, politics from either side. Right now with the kind of -- all we're talking about is the politics around the committee and who's going to be on the committee. And we're all anticipating that there will be, you know, moves to obstruct different areas of investigation. That is exactly what we don't need here.

What we do need is a panel of dedicated folks who are committed to pursuing the facts wherever they go, into whatever agency, into whatever group or entity or white supremacist organization or wherever they go, that's what we need to find out to figure out how this happened and how we prevent it from happening again.

ACOSTA: And then Andrew, some disturbing new information. We're also learning a judge has forced one of the Capitol rioters to unlock a laptop seized by the FBI that is believed to contain valuable video evidence. How significant is that decision as this investigation progresses? I mean, that is -- that's a pretty remarkable step for the system to take.

MCCABE: It is, Jim, but, you know, it's -- I think it's a good sign that the FBI and the Justice Department are continuing to pursue each one of these individual investigations with great intensity and aggression.


And, again, that's what we need to completely peel back the onion on who was involved here, what kind of planning went into this, what sort of violent acts were involved in this attack, and who should be held responsible for each of those acts as many as we can possibly figure out. So I think it's a good sign that the prosecutors are pushing in that direction, and that the courts are giving them the access they need.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you about Congresswoman Liz Cheney. She says that the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is trying to prevent, quote, prevent the American people from understanding what happened on January 6. How important is it do you think to see at least one Republican speaking out in favor of learning the root cause of this attack? Would you like to see much more of a bipartisan display in this regard?

MCCABE: Well, Jim, I would have preferred to see in a completely independent commission, filled with Republicans and Democrats, but no political people, no people who are currently holding office or running for office. I think that would have been our best chance at really finding out what's happening here.

But having said that, I have utmost respect for Representative Cheney and the position that she's taken. She is really committed to getting to the bottom of this attack on our democracy, regardless of the repercussions it has politically for her party, for her personally, or for anyone else. And I think she's being courageous. And it's a shame that we haven't seen more that out of the Republicans.

ACOSTA: But Andrew, you do agree that the Speaker is right to be moving forward with this committee. You can't have a situation, I suppose, where the Republicans say no to a bipartisan commission, and then say no to putting members on this select committee?

MCCABE: That's absolutely right. You know, an independent committee would have been better in my opinion, but the Republicans shut that option down. So, now, Speaker Pelosi is doing the next best thing, which is putting together a committee of responsible serious people who will approach the task well.

I think Representative Cheney is a great addition to that committee. I have -- I don't blame her for excluding Representatives Banks and Jordan today. It seems those two were, you know, intent on obstructing the progress in the investigation rather than assisting in trying to get to the bottom. So I think she's doing the right thing.

ACOSTA: All right. Andrew McCabe, thanks so much for those insights. We appreciate it.

And stay with us, we're keeping an eye on preparation for tonight's exclusive town hall with President Biden. Also ahead, the Joint Chiefs Chairman has asked about revelations he was concerned then President Trump might be planning a coup. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ACOSTA: And you're looking at some live pictures right now of President Obama -- excuse me -- President Biden in Cincinnati, Ohio. He's touring a training facility, a union training facility just ahead of tonight's town hall here on CNN. And this is part of his Build Back Better agenda.

You're seeing one of the union members there talking to President Biden about what they do in that facility. And we're monitoring these comments from the President in just a few moments. We'll see if he has anything to say to the press. And we'll bring you those comments as they come in. President Biden there in Ohio.

Also tonight, there's a new Pentagon reaction to the scary revelations from a stack of new books about the closing months of the Trump administration. Today Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley was asked about reporting he was concerned that then President Trump would attempt the coup. Let's listen.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I'm not going to comment in your books. But I want you to know and I want everyone to know and America to know, that the United States military is an apolitical institution. We were then we are now. And our oath is to the Constitution, not to any individual at all. And the military did not and will not and should not ever get involved in domestic politics.

We don't arbitrate elections. That's the job of the judiciary, and the legislature and the American people. It's not the job of the U.S. military. We stayed out of politics. We're an apolitical institution.


ACOSTA: And with us now is the former Defense Secretary William Cohen here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much as always, for being with us.

Let me ask you, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs reportedly fear that former President Trump would try to use the military to claim to power. You heard some of General Milley's comments there. What do you think of the significance of what he had to say? He didn't comment directly on what's being reported in these books, but he did make a point of saying that our duty is to protect the Constitution.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think he was wise to be concerned about a possible coup, because there were suggestions being made by the former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, saying that perhaps they should invoke The Insurrection Act in order to put troops on the street in order to overturn the election.

And as I mentioned earlier, a short time ago, that's why 10 former Secretaries of Defense all signed a letter addressing the Pentagon saying, under no circumstances, should you ever allow the military to become involved in suppressing, overturning the election, stay out of politics.

And we were worried about it because of the talk that was emanating, some of it in the White House itself, having been reported coming out of the White House. So I think that they were wise to be concerned about it. And I think he has made it very clear that the one institution that the former president has been unable to date to politicize has been the military. He tried to do it with General Milley. Obviously, he's tried to do it with James Mattis, Jim Mattis. He tried to do what I think with General Kelly. I think he also tried to do it with General McMaster.

ACOSTA: He tried to do it every step of the way. And you're not only the former Defense Secretary, you're also a former Republican senator.

COHEN: Right.


ACOSTA: And does Congress need to respond with more guardrails around the presidency, do you think? Is this something that should be taken seriously, just how close, as you were just saying, former President Trump came to politicizing the military and trying to use the military, suppress protests and all these other sorts of things that would have been constitutional violations?

COHEN: Well, I think there were -- there's enough that we should do to try to make sure we don't get another president like President Trump. It was known from beginning who he was, what his character was, what his temperament was, or lack thereof. And so, the American people have to look more carefully at the power that we entrust to the president of the United States. It's the most powerful position in our government, may be the world.

But to put a person in that position with his, potentially, his finger on a nuclear weapon or any other type of weapon, I think calls into question the judgment of the American people, is this someone you really want to entrust our security, our safety, and that of the rest of the free world and beyond with a man who is so mercurial, so impetuous, so subject to rage in a moment's notice?

I don't think we want to entrust that. But there are things that we can do, there are efforts that we can make to make sure that the chain of command really remains intact, that no one president has the sole authority to put in place a command that could be carried out to the world's detriment.

ACOSTA: Right. And, absolutely, I mean, that is the concern. That is the fear, is that Trump could have put generals that he wanted in place to try to control the military and that that is how close we got but that is all the time we have.


ACOSTA: Secretary, we'll continue this discussion. COHEN: All right.

ACOSTA: Thanks so much.

Coming up, you're looking at live pictures of President Biden on the ground in Cincinnati, Ohio, as he sells his agenda ahead of his exclusive CNN Town Hall. Plus, we're seeing a remarkable shift toward the COVID vaccine from influential conservatives. Why are some Republicans finally coming around and endorsing vaccination?



ACOSTA: And we're showing you live pictures out of Cincinnati, Ohio where President Biden is selling Americans on his infrastructure plan. His exclusive CNN Town Hall is just over two hours away, much more on that in just a moment.

But first, we are following a growing number of influential conservatives finally coming around on the COVID vaccines. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, this is a remarkable shift, but it could be a big boost for these declining vaccination rates.

BRIAN TODD. CNN CORRESPONDENT: It could be a really big boost for that, Jim. And with the threat of the Delta variant, it could not come at a more crucial time. In fact, if that variant that some analysts say has caused some leading conservatives to change their tune on the vaccine.


TODD (voice-over): Congressman Steve Scalise waited four months to get the coronavirus vaccine. The number two Republican in the House said he believed he had the antibodies for the virus, but recently became worried about the spikes caused by the Delta variant. So this past weekend, Scalise finally got the vaccine. Now he sounds like he's trying to get others to follow suit.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA), MINORITY WHIP: It's safe and effective. I took it and I wanted to show the picture to just encourage people.

TODD (voice-over): Scalise joins what appears to be a growing chorus of Republican politicians and opinion makers who are suddenly touting the vaccine. Christopher Ruddy, a staunch Trump ally and founder of the conservative website, Newsmax, wrote an op-ed on his site, saying he'd gotten the vaccine, "The bottom line, the vaccines are safe and effective".

And Fox Host Sean Hannity, who earlier this year voiced doubts about getting inoculated, pleaded this week for his viewers to take the virus seriously and said this about the vaccine.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science, I believe in the science of vaccination. TODD (voice-over): So what's behind the shift for those who have been skeptical of the vaccine?

MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING EDITOR, AXIOS: If you are a politician in the state who is facing reelection in 2022 or perhaps a very strong candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, it is imperative they are on the right side of this issue.

TODD (voice-over): And could it help President Biden in his quest to get more Americans vaccinated?

TALEV: If you're really trying to reach Americans who take their cues from different political leaders, Republican political leaders, and that message is consistently take the vaccine it can save your life, it could have an impact.

TODD (voice-over): But not every Conservative has gotten the memo. This week, Twitter briefly suspended the account of Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene for what it says was misinformation she spread in a recent tweet about the dangers of coronavirus vaccines. The Congresswoman responded.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I didn't spread misleading information.

TODD (voice-over): One analyst says a certain level of exhaustion has been reached regarding misinformation put out by some Conservatives over the pandemic.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: It seemed just two months ago or so that the pandemic at least in the United States was on the way to being linked, people were getting vaccinated. And then all of a sudden, we reach this ceiling where there are, you know, millions of people who are resisting getting vaccinated for reasons that seem to be as much political as they are genuine concerns about the medical implications.


TODD: One possible reason for the shift in vaccine rhetoric among conservatives, CNN report earlier this week that there have been regular high-level conversations between the White House and Fox News regarding that network coverage of the pandemic and the vaccines. Both Fox and the White House have denied that the conversations were regular and at high levels. Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Brian Todd, thank you very much for that.

Coming up, we go live to the site of CNN's exclusive town hall with President Biden. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



ACOSTA: Happening now, President Biden confronts threats to the nation and his agenda when he takes the stage for an exclusive CNN Town Hall just two hours from now. Also tonight, Republican divisions are on display. Liz Cheney blasting Kevin McCarthy's decision to pull his picks from the January 6 committee, calling his rhetoric disgraceful.

And 91 million Americans are now at risk in counties where COVID-19 is spreading at a high rate. I'll discuss the danger from the Delta variant with the Director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.