Return to Transcripts main page


Biz Markie, "Just a Friend" Rapper, Dies at Age 57; Why Won't Trump Promote Vaccination?; Biden on Social Media Misinformation: "They're Killing People"; All COVID Patients in L.A. County Hospitals are Unvaccinated; When is it Time to Worry About Inflation?; Will Any New Trump Book Revelations Matter. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired July 17, 2021 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: What should the president do? And, no, I'm not talking about the incumbent. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Look at this map. For the first time since January, COVID is rising in all 50 states and D.C. and in many respects, the vaccination maps of the United States resemble the final result of the 2020 election. You can usually tell the red states because they have a lower rate of vaccination.

In Mississippi, for example, only about one-third of the state is vaccinated. Seven children in the state now in the ICU with two on ventilators. A poll last month by "ABC News" and "The Washington Post" found that only 6 percent of Democrats say they aren't likely to get vaccinated, whereas 47 percent of Republicans fall into that camp.

Of course, the virus doesn't stay contained by political boundaries and the ferocious Delta variant, which now accounts for an estimated 57 percent of all U.S. cases, poses a risk not only to those who choose not to get vaccinated, but also kids and those who, for medical reasons, can't get vaccinated.

So how do we reach the vaccine hesitant? Can anyone persuade them? What about the person on whose watch the vaccine was developed in record time, former President Donald Trump? You would think that President trump would be eager to remind that the vaccines were developed on his watch and with the support of Operation Warp Speed, but relative to how much time he spends complaining about the 2020 results, he hardly ever mentions it and when he does, it's usually to complain about not getting enough credit.

Last week, he sent out a missive saying that his administration did a, quote, "Great job with respect to the pandemic and that without the vaccine, the entire world would've ended up like it was in 1917, the Spanish flu, where as many as 100 million people died."

But he refuses to take the next logical step, which would be to encourage his followers to protect themselves. I think he doesn't want to risk alienating the vaccine hesitant who support him by encouraging them to get a jab. Meanwhile, the unvaccinated needlessly suffer the most severe consequences of the virus. Here is a stunning statistic from Los Angeles County. Every person hospitalized with COVID has one thing in common -- they're not fully vaccinated. In fact, over 99 percent of the county's current COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated and now as a consequence of the surge, starting tonight only a month after reopening and regardless of their vaccination status, all L.A. County residents will again be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

To the north, San Francisco's mayor says that similarly, all of the -- all of those hospitalized for the coronavirus in the city's general hospital are unvaccinated. But of those in California, a blue state where over 52 percent have been fully vaccinated.

Do you need more convincing? Because earlier this month, CDC director Rochelle Walensky cited early data from several states that suggested in the last six months, 99.5 percent of COVID deaths occurred among unvaccinated people. Think about that. All of these real-world tests implying that a vaccine could be the only thing keeping you out of the hospital or worse and yet only about 48.4 percent of U.S. population is now fully vaccinated and new vaccination rates, they're plummeting steadily downward.

Nevertheless, the mouthpieces of resistance are more and more proudly resolute. You can look no further than the recent conservative conference CPAC where writer Alex Berenson got the crowd to applaud the fact that President Biden had missed his July 4th goal of vaccinating 70 percent of America.


ALEX BERENSON, AUTHOR: The government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated and it -- and it -- and it isn't happening, right? There's a -- younger people ...


SMERCONISH: Sucker. So what's to be done? Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster and strategist known for his "Fox News" focus groups, has been advising the Biden administration on overcoming the vaccine's political divide. This week, he pitched to CNN's Don Lemon that President Biden should ask President Trump to film a PSA with him, giving him credit for the vaccine and encouraging supporters to take it like Trump and his whole family have. I like Luntz's idea. I just don't think it'll ever happen.

[09:05:00] Pop star Olivia Rodrigo was at the White House on Wednesday to answer the call to be an advocate, but if Biden were to extend such an invite to Trump, I doubt it would be accepted and why should the onus be on Biden to get Trump to play a positive role to encourage people to receive the vaccination that Trump himself accepted and to combat misinformation?

Speaking of which, Thursday brought an unusual warning from America's surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, against health misinformation which he blamed for declining vaccination rates and yesterday on the South Lawn of the White House, a reporter asked President Biden about his message to social media platforms like Facebook on COVID misinformation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On COVID misinformation, what's your message to platforms like Facebook?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're killing people. I mean, they're really -- look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated and that -- and they're -- and they're killing people.


SMERCONISH: It's a pretty stunning claim and it displays the level of concern the White House now has about the sudden stall in finishing off the pandemic.

Facebook had this to say about being blamed, "We will not be distracted by accusations which aren't supported by the facts. The fact is that more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period."

This leads me to this week's survey question. Go to this hour and vote. Agree or disagree, quote, "They're killing people." That's President Biden regarding social media platforms like Facebook on COVID misinformation.

Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Doctor, thank you so much for being here. That L.A. data is stunning to me. What do you hear from the vaccine hesitant?

DR. ANISH MAHAJAN, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, HARBOR-UCLA MEDICAL CENTER: Well, we hear all kinds of reasons people are hesitant, but perhaps the greatest reason is that people are very worried about side effects. They've heard strange stories, you know, either through social media or the national media or certain political leaders and, you know, that is really a tragedy because as you know, we are seeing rapidly increasing rates of cases and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated.

SMERCONISH: You had the surgeon general, the White House press secretary and the president himself all speaking about social media in particular. How much of what you hear is coming from social media?

MAHAJAN: Well, it is hard to say, but, you know, what we see in the hospital, in the clinics is that folks that are hesitant are sometimes convinced by their doctor or their nurse, someone that they trust that they go to for their other medical care. If we can get in with them and speak to them one on one about it, that sometimes help overcome some of what people are hearing on social media or what they're hearing from other trust -- other sources of media that they trust. So that's really important to do.

SMERCONISH: The data that says that no one hospitalized in L.A. County for a COVID-related ailment is fully vaccinated suggests you're not going to get COVID if you're fully vaccinated, but if, in one of those very aberrant cases, you do get it, nothing bad is going to happen to you, you won't require hospitalization and you won't -- you won't die.

MAHAJAN: Well, you know, that is, so far, what we are seeing. We are certainly seeing a small percentage of breakthrough infections among people who are fully vaccinated, but as you said, you don't usually get very sick, you don't need to be hospitalized.

Certainly, for the unvaccinated, we are seeing the things that we've seen before, but even worse because as you said, Michael, in the -- in the beginning, the Delta variant is ferocious. It is highly contagious, and it may, in fact, make people way sicker with COVID than the earlier variants of COVID. So, this is a really big deal.

SMERCONISH: And finally, why do we here and among those who are fully vaccinated nevertheless need to have a global perspective in all of this?

MAHAJAN: Well, that's such an important point and what we see is that we in the United States are so fortunate because of the work, as you point out, that was done by the previous administration to obtain a huge volume of vaccines. We have enough vaccines for everybody in the United States actually twice over and yet we have people not taking the vaccine. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, on the continent of Africa, Asia, South America, there are countries struggling with significant outbreaks of COVID.

[09:10:05] People are dying and they're dying to get the vaccine and the problem with all of this is that as we have people who don't take the vaccine, the virus then replicates a lot more in people and can create even worse variants. So right now, we're dealing with the Delta variant. Let's hope that enough people get vaccinated so that we don't see another even worse variant that makes all the vaccines we've taken ineffective.

SMERCONISH: And to those who simply see a matter of personal liberty, I say consider the people who can't make a choice, right? Because they are kids or they have a medical condition that doesn't allow them the freedom of making a determination as to whether they can get it for themselves. You get the final word.

MAHAJAN: Absolutely. We all have loved ones who may have cancer or other immunosuppressive conditions. They took the vaccine, but it may not work as well for them. Children, as you point out, under the age of 12 are not yet eligible and then we have family members that are hesitant. We all have to work together to get everyone to make the right decision, the scientific decision, the decision that's backed by medical science.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Mahajan, thank you so much for being here. MAHAJAN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Remember, I want to know what you think. Go to my website at this hour. Answer this week's survey question. Do you agree or disagree with what you heard from the president yesterday? "They're killing people," is what President Biden said regarding social media platforms like Facebook relative to COVID misinformation.

From the world of Twitter, I think this comes. What do we have, Catherine? "You know what kills? Censorship. Ask people in Cuba, China, Russia, North Korea, the list is too long. Let's make sure that we don't add one more country to it."

I understand the argument that says flood the zone with accurate information because if you remove it from social media, you're only going to fuel it. You know, before there was social media, nothing spread across town like gossip and this is just the modern incarnation of that. I think what poses more of a danger than social media are people who have platforms like this one and spread information and not enough people are willing to change the channel.

Up ahead, as President Biden and the Democrats look to shell out the big bucks for their sweeping social agenda, average consumers are having to shell out more than usual for food, for gas, for housing. I'll speak to former Obama economic adviser Lawrence Summers who's been warning about inflation for months. Was he right all along?

Plus, we're seeing a deluge of tell-all books about President Trump's final year in office with tidbits that are supposed to evoke shock or outrage. Frankly, maybe I'm desensitized. I've read so much and yet nothing surprises me. Will any of these revelations really change anybody's opinion about Donald Trump?




SMERCONISH: For months, former Obama economic adviser Lawrence Summers has been sounding the alarm, saying that President Biden's big spending agenda creates the risk of a dangerous inflation spike, but the White House and Summers' fellow Democrats view their spending as sound investments.

Some of those big ticket items include the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan in March which provided $1,400 stimulus payments per person, a $300 federal boost to weekly jobless benefits and an expanded child tax credit where eligible families can get up to $3,600 for each child under six and $3,000 for each child aged 6 to 17. In fact, tens of millions of families have been sent the very first payments this week.

And now Democrats have reached an agreement on a proposed $3.5 trillion budget resolution for President Biden's sweeping social agenda. It would include funding for Medicare and Obamacare expansion, paid leave programs, continuing the expanded child tax credit through next year, clean energy tax breaks and two years of free community college. Plus, the latest budget resolution doesn't even include the $600 billion bipartisan bill on roads and bridges.

So as all that spending begins to add up, has Lawrence Summers been right all along about inflation? This week, he met with top White House economic officials as a new economic report brought bad news. The Consumer Price Index, the nation's key inflation measure, jumped 0.9 percent in June and over the last 12 months, prices were up 5.4 percent. Those are the biggest one-month and one-year jumps in annual inflation in nearly 13 years.

To get more specific, here's where your wallet is taking a beating. Compared to this time last year, filling up your gas tank is now 45 percent more expensive, transit costs have increased 10 percent, clothing by 5 percent, food up by about 2.5 percent. The Federal Reserve and White House has sought to downplay inflation as temporary and a senior administration official points to recent easing in the price of lumber as a welcomed development.

Some experts agree like the chief economist at PNC financial who says, "The headline inflation numbers have been eye-popping in recent months, but underlying inflation remains under control." But climbing out of a once-in-a-century pandemic also complicates matters and there's new evidence that labor shortages are slowing the recovery.

So what are the biggest economic risks we may be facing? What might happen next? Joining me now to discuss his longstanding inflation concerns, former treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, director of the National Economic Council for the Obama administration and president emeritus of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers. Mr. Secretary, in terms that I can understand, why are we paying more for virtually everything?

LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS, FORMER U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY/PRESIDENT EMERITUS, HARVARD UNIV.: Because we've got more demand chasing only a little bit more supply and when the demand goes up fast and supply doesn't, prices get bid up.

[09:20:07] That's the way it works with shirts, that's the way it works with houses, that's the way it works with gasoline. We have pumped demand all up and there's a question as to how fast we can grow supply and right now in substantial sectors, we've got demand growing faster than supply and that's why what we've got to do is take an approach that balances demand growth and supply growth.

I was, as you said in your intro, very uncomfortable with the level of funds that were being sprayed around in the initial recovery act because I thought it was doing almost nothing to increase supply and in fact, the unemployment insurance payments were reducing the supply of workers because people were staying on the sidelines and it was doing a huge amount to promote demand.

I think if we do the investments that are now under discussion what by President Biden and the Congress, if we do them right, which means we pay for them, we spread them out over time and we focus them on growing the economy's potential, then I think that can very much be the right thing to do. Ultimately what we want to do is reduce inflation by increasing the economy's supply potential and that means investing in our future.

SMERCONISH: Does the Fed needs to do something to pump the brakes, namely to raise interest rates?

SUMMERS: I think it would be premature for the Fed to raise interest rates right now. I think the Fed is sounding -- I think the Fed has been wrong for the last six months in its optimism of that inflation will be transient. I think it is still being too gradual in recognizing that error. I think the Fed should stop, in a gradual way, but should indicate very soon that it is stopping buying mortgages at a time when the housing market is totally on fire.

I think in general what the Fed is doing is, for our country, substituting short-term debt for long term-debt at a moment when interest rates are low and the economy is taking off is not probably what they should be doing. So I'd like to see them on the fastest reasonable track, and that doesn't mean immediately, but the fastest reasonable track to ending quantitative easing.

SMERCONISH: What happened to concerns over debt? What happened to the era of Simpson-Bowles where that was a part of the conversation of all of these matters?

SUMMERS: I think what happened is we pursued overly austere policies, Michael, for seven or eight years and we got too slow a recovery. So I think in retrospect, the Simpson-Bowles concerns at the time were badly over done. We had super low interest rates and it wasn't enough to push our economy well forward.

I think the problem is that we then went and ran completely to the other side of the boat. It was the right thing to do to spend 15 percent of GDP last year when we all had to stay home because of COVID. This year when the economy was coming back, when people had huge levels of assets that they were ready to spend, to inject another 15 percent of GDP was an imprudent act.

But we need a balance and that balance doesn't mean going back to austerity economics, which is not appropriate for this moment. It means learning that government's got an important role in sustaining public investment, in sustaining demand, but that doesn't mean we can be completely undisciplined and that's why the principles going forward need to be paying for spending, not just borrowing to spend, targeting spending on high priority investments in the economy's future potential.

If we can concentrate on those two things -- look, we got a lot of problems in this country, but I would rather be playing the economic hand of the United States than that of any other country.

[09:25:06] SMERCONISH: A quick final answer. I respect the privacy of your communications, your meeting this week at the White House. I'll ask it this way. Did you leave the White House satisfied that your concerns had been heard? SUMMERS: You know, I don't talk about -- I don't talk about my meetings in the -- my meetings or conversations with public officials either in the White House or the Treasury or the Congress. I will say that I think President Biden is a very, very strong leader and he has a terrific team of people around him who are doing their absolute best for this country and I admire them very much.

SMERCONISH: Secretary Summers, thank you. Appreciate your being here.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via Twitter, via Facebook. This comes from the world of Twitter I think. "The more money you print, the less value it has thus inflation."

Yes. I guess that's the way I was schooled. I'm just surprised and I asked Secretary Summers about this and he answered me. He said we were, frankly, too austere, but I remember on President Obama's watch when Simpson-Bowles seemed like it had a likelihood, at one point, of passage and then of course it went nowhere, but debt and deficit were a part of the conversation and amidst all this spending, that subject, those subjects, don't seem to get a sufficient airing, at least not for my taste.

I want to remind you, go to my website at Answer this week's survey question. I have no idea how this one will turn out. Do you agree or disagree with what you heard from President Biden yesterday regarding social media platforms like Facebook when it comes to COVID misinformation? President said, "They are killing people." Go vote. I'll give the result at the end of this hour.

Up ahead, bookstore shelves being deluged with tell-alls about the last year of the Trump administration, but given that Kevin McCarthy was still trekking this week to a certain golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey to kiss a certain ring, will any of the new reporting do anything at all to undercut the power that President Trump still has over the GOP?

And this week, the first pay-outs of the new federal child tax credit started appearing in mailboxes and bank accounts of families of nearly 60 million children. Could this kick off an ongoing plan to guaranteed income American households?