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U.S. Hits 70 Percent Vaccination Goal A Month Late; Third Officer Dies By Suicide After Capitol Riot; Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Finalized For Final Vote; McCarthy In Hot Water After "Joke" About Hitting Pelosi With Gavel; Florida Accounts For Nearly 20 Percent Of All New U.S. COVID Cases; FL Gov Threatening To Withhold Funds From Schools Requiring Masks; Afghan Forces Seek U.S. Help As Taliban Make Major Gains; Simone Biles To Return To Competition For Balance Beam Final. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 02, 2021 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Absolutely. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you. 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 Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the U.S. finally hits President Biden's vaccine milestone one month late. The White House calling it a significant step as the delta variant spreads like wildfire among the unvaccinated. We go live to Florida, the epicenter of this new COVID crisis as cases soar in the battle over mask and vaccine mandates intensifies.

Also tonight, a new casualty of the January 6th insurrection. A third police officer who confronted the rioters has died by suicide.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."

All right. Let's get straight to our White House, our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, COVID is again front and center for President Biden as the country now faces a new surge of cases.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. And the White House is making a concerted effort to try to correct the messaging after the CDC sparked a lot of confusion last week when they issued that new mask guidance for fully vaccinated Americans.

And now this week, the White House has filled President Biden's schedule with events related to the pandemic as they are stressing the effectiveness of vaccines given. They say that right now 90 million Americans who are eligible to get vaccinated still haven't done so.


COLLINS (voice-over): With the delta variant fueling outbreaks nationwide, President Biden is hitting a key vaccine goal tonight almost one month late.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETART: I would say it's a significant step that we have hit 70 percent.

COLLINS (voice-over): Seventy percent of adults in the U.S. have now received at least one shot, a milestone Biden hoped to reach by July 4th. The U.S. reported over 800,000 new shots were administered yesterday, making it the fifth straight day with over 700,000 shots in arms, still far from peak levels. Amid a renewed push to get more people vaccinated, the pandemic is once again consuming Biden's agenda.

PSAKI: We're not going back to the shutdowns of March of 2020. We are not going back to the economy shutting down. We've made too much progress.

COLLINS (voice-over): After getting briefed by his COVID-19 team today, the president will give a speech on the pandemic tomorrow and meet with the top science adviser on Wednesday to prepare for future pandemics. The White House is attempting to clear up confusion about the effectiveness of vaccines sparked by the CDC after the agency issued new mask guidance.

Less than 1 percent of those who are fully vaccinated have experienced a breakthrough infection according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Senator Lindsey Graham announcing he is one of them, adding, "I am very glad I was vaccinated." Not everyone is taking the CDC's mask advice.

RON DESANTIS, GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: There will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida.

COLLINS (voice-over): Today, New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, urged vaccinated New Yorkers to wear masks inside but stopped short of issuing a new mandate.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: But we thought that was the right balance. We still want to respect the fact that vaccination does and gives you different opportunities and rights than unvaccinated people.

COLLINS (voice-over): Right now, five states are accounting for nearly half of all new COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, a federal freeze on evictions expired over the weekend putting millions of tenants at risk as infections are spiking nationwide.

The White House says a Supreme Court ruling has prevented them from extending it, but made one last appeal to the CDC yesterday which was denied.

(On camera): Why did the president wait until Sunday to ask the CDC for a targeted moratorium focused on those areas with high case rates?

GENE SPERLING, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: I think what you're seeing is a president who is just trying to do everything that he can in his power. COLLINS (voice-over): Democrats didn't have the votes to get an

extension passed last week, but progressives are turning up the heat on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): We have to really just call a spade a spade. We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have a majority.


COLLINS (on camera): Now, Wolf, back to this news that Senator Lindsey Graham has tested positive for coronavirus despite being fully vaccinated, we should note, and as you know, Senator Joe Manchin has a house boat in Washington that he lives on.

Well, this weekend, he hosted a small group of senators on that very house boat including Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona. So, of course, there are questions being faced to their office right now about what precautions they are taking.

They said so far according to Senator Manchin's office, he is following CDC guidelines, which was updated last week to say that if you come into contact with someone who has tested positive, you should get tested within three to five days after coming into contact with this person.


And of course, Wolf, this is all coming in a week where attendance is critical on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Kaitlan, thank you very, very much. Let's get some more on all of this. The former acting CDC director, Dr. Richard Besser is joining us and the epidemiologist, Dr. Larry Brilliant is with us as well.

Dr. Besser, as the U.S. hits this benchmark of 70 percent of adults, 18 years old and over having at least one dose of COVID-19, the vaccine, the delta variant is causing a major surge in cases around the country especially in several of those states. What's it going to take for the U.S. to finally get control over this virus?

RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ATING DIRECTOR, CDC: You know, Wolf, I think it's going to take much more immunization, much more vaccination than we're seeing. And it also takes us really in an effort to stop focusing on a national number of 70 percent.

Now, I'm here in New Jersey, and 71 percent of people in the state of adults are fully vaccinated. In my town, it is 77 percent, but the next town over, which is Trenton, it's 49 percent. We need to look at what's happening down at the community level and double or triple our efforts to get vaccines to people who are not yet vaccinated.

One of the encouraging signs is that in some of the areas with the highest transmission right now, that's where we're seeing the greatest uptake and increase and interest in vaccination. If we create space for people to change their mind, I think we're going to continue to see people deciding it is time to get vaccinated.

BLITZER: On Sunday, Dr. Brilliant, we saw the fifth day in a row with more than 700,000 coronavirus shots in arms. But even with this increase and it's a good increase, it certainly doesn't feel like enough to combat the concerning trends that we're seeing, does it?

LARRY BRILLIANT, FOUNDER & CEO, PANDEFENSE ADVISORY: No, it's not enough, Wolf. Thanks for having me. This variant is about three or four times more infectious than influenza, twice as infectious as smallpox. And it will probably take 90 percent because of that infectioness (ph) to reach anything like herd immunity.

And I would like to thank Rich for reminding us, it's just like politics, you know, all COVID is local. And we're going to find that over the next few months it divides our country even more as the blue states that are well vaccinated in the blue communities are going to be doing okay even if people who are vaccinated get the disease.

But I'm really worried about the south. I'm worried about Texas. I'm worried about Florida. I'm afraid that the COVID virus is going to drag on all through Christmas if they don't really begin to take vaccination more seriously.

BLITZER: That's an important point. Dr. Besser, as you heard, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds less than 1 percent -- less than 1 percent of fully vaccinated people experience the breakthrough coronavirus infection. So what should vaccinated people take away from this data?

BESSER: Well, they should take away that vaccination is the right choice. Not only is it a small number of people who are experiencing breakthrough infections, but if you're fully vaccinated, most of those infections are mild or asymptomatic.

When you look across the nation, you look at the data, more than 99 percent of the people who are dying from COVID are unvaccinated. And just about everyone in the hospital with COVID is unvaccinated. So, although there's a slight chance of a breakthrough infection, the chances of it being a severe infection go way down if you're fully vaccinated.

BLITZER: Yes. The key is to be fully vaccinated. Dr. Brilliant, as you know, Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom, they're already doing or preparing to give these third booster shots to vulnerable groups, especially individuals 60 and older with some underlying health conditions. Should the U.S. be taking a similar step right now?

BRILLIANT: Yes. I think we're worried that if we announce that there's a third dose, some people will think, well, the first two doses weren't good enough. The first two doses were great. This vaccine, the amazing mRNA and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are phenomenal.

But we find that there is an incremental increase in immunogenicity with the second dose and a bigger jump in immunity with the third dose. And for people who are over 65 who are immunocompromised, who have some reason to need to get vaccinated, I'm hopeful that the FDA will take an action to allow that booster dose much quicker than they had been perhaps expecting.

BLITZER: Yes, especially if they're five or six months after their second shot.


BLITZER: Dr. Besser, let me turn quickly to the federal eviction moratorium which ended over the weekend. As a pediatrician, I know this is very, very concerning to you. Tell us why.


BESSER: Well, you know, Wolf, it's pretty hard to lead a healthy life if you don't have stable, affordable housing. And with the end of this eviction moratorium, there are millions of people in our country who are going to be evicted very soon.

You know, Congress did not act to extend that. And although there are billions of dollars to provide for back rent, most states haven't put in place the systems to get that money out. And so we are really in the midst of an eviction crisis here in our country in the middle of a very dangerous pandemic. And that's not something we should allow to continue to happen.

BLITZER: Yes. Okay, Dr. Besser, thank you very much. Dr. Brilliant, thanks to you as well.

Coming up, a third police officer who responded to the January 6th attack has died by suicide. We're going to bring you new information, new details and analysis right after a quick break.



BLITZER: The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department says another police officer who responded to the January 6th Capitol riot has now died by suicide. This is the third suicide among police officers who responded to the attack. CNN's Whitney Wild is joining us right now. She's got details. What are we learning about this very, very sad development?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's terrible. What we know is that he was found deceased on Thursday, July 29th. He's been with the department since 2003, clearly a veteran of the department. We know that he responded to the insurrection on January 6th.

Again, the third officer who responded to that attack to take his own life. Suicide is of course incredibly personal. It is incredibly complicated. The department did not say that it was because of his response to the attack that he ended up taking his own life.

But what it does remind you of, Wolf, is that law enforcement is an incredible burden. These officers go through trauma. They went through trauma on the 6th. Many of them go through traumas very regularly with just the sheer burden of their career.

And tonight, this department is grieving. They are sending their thoughts, their prayers to this man. I mean, we've had an outpouring of support on twitter as well for him and his family. It's just -- it's a terribly sad story and it is a reminder of the trauma and the immense burden of law enforcement.

BLITZER: The lingering, lingering awful impact of what happened on January 6th. Now, Whitney, thank you very, very much. Let's get some analysis. Joining us now, our chief political correspondent Dana Bash and CNN law enforcement analyst, Terrance Gainer. He's the former U.S. Capitol police chief.

Chief Gainer, we don't know why Officer Hashida took his own life, but we do know that the Capitol Police and the D.C. Police, for that matter, have been under enormous stress and trauma, as Whitney just reported, since the January 6th attack. How hard is it to hear this news?

TERRANCE GAINER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's heartbreaking, Wolf. And I think the number of police suicides across the country is astronomically high. And the third one after the January 6th event I think makes it doubly difficult as those officers are working now in trying to reconcile how they deal with that.

And I think the testimony of Officer Dunn when he was speaking to fellow officers to reach out and try to get help. And I think maybe part of this, Wolf, and Dana, is the police officers nationwide and out there have had a summer and fall of disconnect besides the long hours they were working because of all the absences with the COVID, but all the disorders that have been in the greater area of D.C. And, again, across the country has simply worn these officers out mentally and physically.

BLITZER: Yes. It's terrible indeed. You know, Dana, you and I have covered Capitol Hill for a long time. We know the important work Capitol police and Metropolitan police do in protecting members of Congress, but not just members of Congress. There are staffs, journalists, everyone who works up there.

One of those police officers who responded on January 6th, Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, says that when people call the attack a sham, this is during his testimony, this is devastating for us. The horror of January 6th has not gone away.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. And that is such an important point. It's not just as Chief Gainer said, the toll that this time period has taken on these law enforcement officials who are human beings and are still working incredibly hard. It's the fact that some of the people who they are still going to the capitol to protect every single day are not only not honoring the sacrifices they made, pretending like they didn't happen.

And even with the pleas that some of them are making in private to try to reverse the lies that are going on out there, and they're falling on deaf ears, I mean, imagine that. Imagine putting your life on the line every day and knowing that the people you are there to defend and protect, that's the oath that they take, are not living up to the oath that the lawmakers have taken to effectively do the same and honor the sacrifice that they are making.

BLITZER: Yes. So many of these police officers, as you and I have heard, they are suffering from post-traumatic stress issues as well.

BASH: Absolutely. It's understandable.

BLITZER: You know, Chief Gainer, what sort of impact does the political rhetoric downplaying the January 6th attack have on police officers' morale and mental health?

GAINER: I think it definitely has a negative impact on how they feel because they want the members to walk the talk.


It's not enough for them when they come in a door or into the garage just to say hello. They really want to see some action. Now, we're beginning to see some of that action, and with a new chief up there and all that -- his predecessor and he's doing and with the D.C. chief, they're trying to put time and energy to help the officers.

They do have a lot of employee assistant programs. You know, but you and Dana know this about police officers. They're awful reticent sometimes to ask for help. And these officers, whether it's in the District of Columbia or up on the Hill, they have to be sharp all the time, under attack and constant threat of attack. It is wearing on them. And, listen, they're tired out.

BLITZER: Yes. And that's an important point, Dana, because I know there are things happening on Capitol Hill to give these police officers some support, some help. What are you hearing?

BASH: Yes. I mean, exactly right. You just heard Chief Gainer talk about the fact that there are avenues for them to go down. There are resources for them, offered to them to have discussions, to talk about the stress that they're under, to talk about the trauma that they were part of and that they're still living with and carrying with them from January 6th.

But it certainly isn't necessarily naturally in the DNA for many of these officers to seek help --


BASH: -- you heard Chief Gainer saying, no, not at all. Maybe one of the positive things about the conversation, the national -- international conversation that is going on right now about mental health, that it will seep into police departments not just in the Capitol Police Department, the D.C. Metropolitan, but all over.

If it's Naomi Osaka or Simone Biles, very, very different kind of stresses, but they are all about mental health and the fact that people, no matter what your career, but especially the most competitive and in this case the most stressful and traumatic, need to seek mental health analysis and just help.

BLITZER: It's critically important. Chief Gainer, let me just ask you, what's the most important thing you think we can do to help these police officers?

GAINER: I think talk about this as you are. Ask the members of Congress when you get them to support that. And I think every person watching this program needs to understand we owe something to the other person. You don't know what stress they are under. And the more type of jobs they're in where the stress is increased, you need to take that into consideration when you're dealing with them.

So, if we can back away from the hurt, the hate, and the half-truths, that may go a long way to make everybody feel a little bit more comfortable no matter what they're going through.

BLITZER: Yes. I think you're absolutely correct. Chief Gainer, thank you very much. Dana, thanks to you as well.

Up next, the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is in hot water tonight after a rather tasteless so-called joke about hitting Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a gavel. Stay with us. You're in "The Situation Room."



BLITZER: We're following new developments up on Capitol Hill including a final push to try to get the massive bipartisan infrastructure bill over the finish line. Our chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is joining us. Manu, after weeks of intense negotiations, so what are the chances right now they can finally get this legislation passed?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHOEF CONGRESSIONAL CORESPONDENT: Well, the negotiators who put together this bill are optimistic that they can get this through. They will have to keep that bipartisan coalition together and also fend off poison bill amendments, amendments they consider would undercut the core of the bill as it is now being considered on the senate floor.

This is a massive proposal, $1.2 trillion over eight years, $550 billion in new spending. It deals with funding for a whole wide range of issues, everything from broadband, $65 billion for that, $73 billion for power infrastructure, money for roads and bridges to the tune of $110 billion. Even more money for ports. Electric vehicle charges and the like.

This would not be paid for by raising taxes. Instead, it would be paid for by a range of mechanism such as redirecting already enacted COVID relief money. But ultimately the question will be whether or not they can maintain -- keep 60 votes in the Senate to beat back some amendments they consider could be problematic, ultimately getting to a final vote here.

And one issue to watch out here, Wolf, is that Republicans want a lengthy process to offer amendments. Democrats are signaling they want to wrap up votes in just a matter of days. That is going to be a point of contention going forward. But can they get there and can they get it through the House where Democratic liberals in particular are concerned about this? That is still a question to be seen in the week as head, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu, the recent war of words between the House Minority Leader McCarthy with Speaker Pelosi seems to be getting uglier. What's the latest on this one?

RAJU: Yes, back and forth, and this weekend, the Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, made some remarks and has gotten a lot of attention from Democrats in particular who are now calling on McCarthy for a joke he made at a dinner suggesting that he would hit Speaker Pelosi with the gavel.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I'll make this one promise here. If we win the majority, which I know we're going to do, you're all invited.


But more importantly, I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel.


It'll be hard not to hit her with it, but I will bang it down.



RAJU: Now Mr. McCarthy's first contends that this was just a joke, but Democrats want him to apologize. But the war of words, indeed, has been escalating Pelosi last week will call McCarthy a moron after he questioned the science behind mask mandates.

And those two have had an increasingly acrimonious relationship from January 6 on to today, in which he has battled tooth and nail for any investigation into what happened that day, battled what happened over the Select Committee formation of that to look into what happened on January 6, as Pelosi rejected two of his picks.

So this has been going on for some time. But the underlying tension here is he wants her job. He wants to be speaker next year in the midterms, and she's doing everything she can to prevent that from happening.


RAJU: Wolf?

BLITZER: It's been really, really ugly. Manu, thank you very much. Let's get reaction from Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, she's the Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Congresswoman, thanks very much for joining us. I know I have a lot to discuss with you. But what's your reaction to that so called joke, a joke from the House Minority Leader?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): It is absolutely unacceptable. It is not funny. It is not the kind of thing that any leader should saying. It just shows that Kevin McCarthy isn't up to the job. He's not up to being Minority Leader, much less, you know, any other higher position. It's just outrageous.

And particularly in this time when there's so much violence already, when Nancy Pelosi was being hunted by insurrectionists on January 6, it's outrageous, Wolf. And it just -- it's what I've come to expect, sadly, of Kevin McCarthy.

BLITZER: And what's your reaction of Speaker Pelosi calling him a moron?

JAYAPAL: Well, look, I just think we are now at a place where in the last month alone, COVID cases have gone from 15,000 a day at the end of June. That was the lowest point to 97,000 at the end of July. And so anybody that continues to say that we shouldn't wear masks or that we shouldn't get vaccinated is clearly not using their intellect.

So I sympathize with Speaker Pelosi's response to that. I think she was just very frustrated. She's trying to keep us all safe. She's trying to keep the United States safe. And here you have someone denying that wearing a mask is an important thing to do at this moment in time.

BLITZER: Let's talk about infrastructure. It's so critically important. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hinted that up to 90 progressives in the House of Representatives could let the bipartisan infrastructure deal die if you don't get what you want on bigger reconciliation, a bigger reconciliation package. As the Chair of the Progressive Caucus, is that your strategy?

JAYAPAL: Well, we have said for three months, Wolf, and we've been very clear, I don't think anybody would be surprised that we are not voting for a bipartisan infrastructure package without the reconciliation package that funds our progressive priorities. We made that very clear, nobody should be surprised by that.

We took a whip count several, you know, almost a month and a half ago, and over 60 percent of our caucus felt that they could already say that they were completely with us. And we had a lot of people who, you know, said that's likely to be my position, but I want to wait and see.

So there is a significant number of progressives in the House, who will not vote for a bipartisan package without the reconciliation package. That is what Speaker Pelosi has said as well. And we're going to stick to that. The Senate wanted to do a bipartisan package, that's fine, Wolf. But there are two chambers in the United States Congress, the House of Representatives has 435 people.

And each of us represents a district and we want to make sure that this recovery is done in such a way that women, that folks of color, that poor people, working people have childcare, have paid leave, have access to higher education and community college, have healthcare in the midst of a crisis that is still not going away with the pandemic.

And, of course, that we address climate change and immigration. So we are not backing off of that. And I think the Senate should understand that that is our position, has been our position, will be our position.

BLITZER: So, just to be precise, you want the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package to be voted on before you vote, even vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan compromise package?

JAYAPAL: That's correct. And that's what Speaker Pelosi has said as well. And that is, Wolf, so that we can make sure that if we're going to create a bunch of great jobs as the infrastructure package anticipates, then we want to make sure that women have access to that and we don't want that delayed. People are hurting, Wolf, and at the end of the day, the reconciliation package has all of the, you know, all of the pieces that are really going to allow people to be able to participate fully in this economic recovery.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thank you so much for joining us.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, just ahead, the Republican Governor of one state when COVID cases are surging is threatening to withhold funds from schools that require masks.


BLITZER: Troubling pandemic news tonight, COVID hospitalizations and deaths climbing here in the United States with a number of new cases up more than 50 percent in a week. CNN's Rosa Flores is in one of the states where cases are surging. Rosa, Florida where you are, has become the epicenter for COVID here in the U.S., so what's the latest?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, good afternoon. Public schools here in the state of Florida are evaluating their policies on masks because of the executive order that was issued by the Governor last week. They're trying to figure out what their policy can be so they can say be safe and keep their children safe there, the students and teachers, and also follow that executive order so that they don't lose their funding.

This after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed that executive order on Friday which does not meant ban mask mandates but what it does do is it orders the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Health to issue emergency rules that gives parents choice.


Now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a staunch critic of the new CDC guidelines on masks so much so, he made fun of them, joking at a conservative conference last week in Utah, I mean, while here in Florida, in his state, the number of cases were surging. Florida making up one out of five cases in the entire nation. Last week, Florida reporting 110,000 cases.

Now, just to give you an idea of what that means, in the week ending of May the 21st, that number was 15,000. So when you compare those two numbers, you realize how much these numbers are growing, a huge concern for a lot of the local leaders here. Now, the positivity rate in this state, 18 percent. When you look at the positivity rate for the children, ages 12 to 19, that positivity rate is 22 percent.

Now if we look at the counties here in this area where I am, Miami Dade, 12 percent, Broward, 14 percent, and Palm Beach County 15.5 percent. Now, Wolf, the frustrating part for local leaders and county leaders here in the state of Florida is that Governor Ron DeSantis clipped their powers to enforce mask mandates that are county wide. So it really clips their powers, it makes it very difficult for them to see these numbers to continue to rise and they really can't do much about it. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Rosa, Rosa Flores in Fort Lauderdale for us. Thanks very, very much.

Let's get some more on the situation of Florida. The Mayor of Miami Beach, Dan Gelber is joining us.

Mayor Gelber, thank you so much for joining us. Last fall, you said Governor DeSantis's handling of the pandemic, in your words, was killing people. Do you still feel the same way now?

MAYOR DAN GELBER (D), MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: Well, unfortunately, I think he has converted a healthcare challenge into a political opportunity and is -- and there's no question that increased hospitalizations and therefore increased deaths are happening. You just look at what he's doing. He's not allowing us to do all the things that we did that reduce the spread of the disease.

And worst of all, he's doing nothing to really encourage people to follow CDC guidelines, you know, to wear masks, to get vaccinations. They can't even require vaccinations as a condition of coming into a business in Florida because of what he in the legislature did.

He's almost taking every step he can in the opposite direction, I think trying to curry favor with a group of supporters who probably tend to be the folks that are unlikely to wear masks or perhaps even get vaccinated.

BLITZER: Miami Dade County Public Schools, as you well know, Mayor, they're deciding whether to require masks. But Governor DeSantis has not only banned mask mandates in schools, but he's also threatening to withhold funding for schools that require wearing masks. How worried are you that back to school could become a super spreader event?

GELBER: Well, we already are having a super spreader in our county. We have about 1,500 people in the hospital today with about 300 or more in ICU. I have a kid in our public high school, and I want him to go to school, but I feel a lot more comfortable knowing that the local school officials are free to make the decision that they think should govern schools and mask usage, et cetera. And the fact that he's decided that this is just an opportunity for him to make a logical point rather than a -- taking a healthcare precaution is really troubling.

BLITZER: Did you ever think, Mayor, that you'd see the ICUs fill up where you are down in Florida and have people lining up once again for COVID test even after vaccines rolled out and they're plentiful right now, it's easy to go out and get a shot?

GELBER: It's nuts. And, by the way, we just opened up -- we had closed it some -- a few weeks or months ago, we just today opened up a joint vaccine testing center next to City Hall because we realize so many people are coming here. Now, I think my city is pretty well vaccinated. But, of course, we receive hundreds of thousands of people all the time. And so, it's an opportunity to really get them safer, maybe give them vaccines as we have done.

But, again, they're -- you know, the -- there seems to be no political will to really make this an issue for people to get vaccines and the result is that this disease is self-spreading. This is an incredible, unforced error on the part of, you know, our state, in a sense that we aren't doing really enough to get people vaccinated. Everybody, almost everybody at our hospital here in Dade County is an unvaccinated person.


BLITZER: Mayer Gelber, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to you, good luck to everyone down in Miami Beach.

GELBER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us.

GELBER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, it's official. Simone Biles will, repeat, will compete in the balance beam finals at the Olympics after her stunning withdrawal from four events. We're going live to Tokyo when we come back.


BLITZER: The effort to hold off Taliban fighters from an advancing it's a critical Afghan struggles is not going well, that according to a dire new assessment from a key U.S. defense official. Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you hearing? What's the latest?


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what U.S. officials are doing is watching the map very carefully, and let's go to the map. There are three major provincial capitals right now where the Taliban are making an all-out push. Herat in the west, near the Iranian border, and two critical provincial capitals in southern Afghanistan, Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, these are areas where the Taliban are advancing.

And as a result, the U.S. conducting up to five airstrikes a day trying to push the Taliban back, but so far, especially in Lashkar Gah, we are told that is a city that right now is very vulnerable to a Taliban takeover. Even in Kandahar, the Taliban had been on the southern outskirts of the city.

So what does this all mean? The concern is, if the Taliban are able to take one of these major population centers, it may unravel Afghan the confidence of the Afghan people in their government and it could start a tipping point. Interesting to note, the U.S. is saying, you know, the ground could still shift, the Afghan forces could have time to come back, regained territory, but nonetheless, the U.S. is keeping a major amphibious warship offshore in the Persian Gulf reaching Iwo Jima.

Kust in case it needs it, they don't think they will, but just in case, they decide they need to reduce the presence at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul or even shut the embassy down in the coming days and weeks. They will have the military assets in the region to do it. Wolf?

BLITZER: In the region, but all U.S. troops will still be out, we're told, of Afghanistan by the end of this month, except for those protecting the U.S. Embassy in the diplomats there.

Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

STARR: Sure.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, all eyes right now, Simone Biles, as the U.S. gymnastic superstar returns to Olympic competition just hours from now. CNN's Will Ripley is joining us now from Tokyo. Will, Biles withdrew from four events citing mental health but we'll compete we're now told in the balance being final. What's the latest?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The final chapter of Simone Biles troubled Tokyo 2020 story will be written in the coming hours and it is no doubt going to be dramatic.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Tonight, one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, aiming for a comeback in Tokyo, Simone Biles will compete in the balance beam final, alongside Suni Lee, confirmed in a tweet by USA Gymnastics. The bar is higher than ever. This is Biles final chance to go for gold in Tokyo.

The GOAT stunning the world by stepping back from the all-around team event and three individual events. The face of Team USA struggling with a condition gymnast call the twisties, a dangerous disconnect between body and mind during complex aerial moves.

Biles back alongside Team USA's rising star, Suni Lee, who stepped in for Simone taking home individual all-around gold. From resilience to redemption, gymnast Jade Carey, overcoming a disappointing performance on the vault final winning gold for the U.S. on the floor exercise.

JADE CAREY, U.S. OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: I feel like all my hard work has paid off and this is all that I've ever dreamed of

RIPLEY (voice-over): Dreams of Olympic gold for the U.S. women's soccer team crushed by Canada in the semi-finals, one to nothing. It sucks, U.S. Forward, Megan Rapinoe said of the loss. "You never want to lose in a world championship, you never want to lose to Canada obviously, and you never want to lose playing the way we did."

A bitter end for the Women's World Champions at a most surreal Summer Games. Some of the sporting world's biggest stars facing crushing defeat and one back on the beam hoping for a comeback.


RIPLEY: This will be Simone Biles final chance to win gold at Tokyo 2020. She was expected to swim a lot of the events that did not happen. She's not ruling out Paris 2024 so this may not be her final Olympic appearance, but frankly, Wolf, we just don't know. The U.S. women's soccer team, they were hoping to go for gold, now they will be competing for bronze. And it's actually Canada versus Sweden in the gold medal match on Friday.

BLITZER: CNN's Will Ripley reporting live from Tokyo. Will, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, vaccinations on the rise here in the United States, but so our new COVID cases with just five states now accounting for half of the new infections. We have details on the latest twists in the pandemic when we come back.



BLITZER: Happening now, new hope that the United States has reached a tipping point in the fight to get Americans vaccinated. President Biden's July 4th vaccination goal is finally achieved as the Delta variants assault on the unvaccinated grows worse. Also tonight, a third police officer who faced rioters on January 6th has died by suicide. We'll tell you what we're learning about him, the emotional toll of the insurrection.

And senators are bracing for the next fight over infrastructure with a long awaited vote likely this week. I'll talk live with the Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in The Situation Room.

We begin this hour with the rise in COVID-19 vaccinations here in the U.S. Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, this is another life and death moment in the pandemic. What's the administration saying tonight?