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Coronavirus Cases on the Decline as New Variants Spread in U.S.; Riot Suspect Called His Ex a Moron, She Reported Him; CNN Reports, Trump Plots 2024 Run and Revenge Ahead of CPAC Speech. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 25, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JESSICA HUSEMAN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, VOTEBEAT: I hope that that bill Arizona has no chance of passing, but who knows.

JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Who know, that's right. We're grateful for your help as we trek through this. This is a giant challenge over the next several months and into next year, before 2022. We'll stay on top of it, I promise.

Thanks for your time today, folks, I'm grateful for it. See you back here this time tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar, and I want to welcome viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We begin with the pandemic, the nation on the verge of adding another vaccine to its arsenal in its fight against coronavirus, but new variants are threatening to derail progress. This hour, President Biden receives an Oval Office briefing on the coronavirus a day ahead of the FDA's expected vote for a third vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson's candidate will be the first single dose option in the U.S. The CDC will still need to sign off on giving the drug maker an emergency use authorization, which could happen in days.

J&J's vaccine will play a critical part in Biden administration's plan to get shots into the arms of more Americans.

The president is hosting an event in the next hour to mark the 50 millionth dose administered under his presidency. The total since the first vaccine was authorized in December is now at more than 66 million doses. And for the first time, the CDC data is showing there have been more second doses given during the last week than first ones.

As more doses are arriving, there are more variants that are raising alarm, the latest one detected in New York City, and it may evade the natural human immune response. Very concerning here, so we're going to be talking about that more in just a moment.

First though, I want to get to CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, there is still this huge problem with communities of color both getting access to the vaccine, having difficulty with that, and also feeling uncomfortable taking it, even as they are sickened and dying in greater numbers. Tell us what the vice president is doing to address this issue.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what we're seeing is, really, they're trying to approach both of those. We know the efforts they've been taking trying to ramp up the supply of the vaccines, because, obviously, that is the number one issue, is making sure it's there for people to get.

But the other one that they have been pretty clear that they also feel like is going to be a pretty big challenge for them over the next several months is actually making sure people get it when it is available.

And today, we saw the vice president go to a pharmacy in D.C., trying to talk to people about their fears about getting the coronavirus vaccine, citing her own experience with it, and, of course, talking to those minority communities and how important it is for them to get it as well.

This is what she said earlier today.


SAMIR BALILE, PHARMACIST: I mean, they don't know -- they just don't know, right? And for the most part, I think we all kind of don't know, right?

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: You get a shot, then you get another shot.

BALILE: I think it's more so some of the side effects. Like there --

HARRIS: Yes. Like, I'll tell you, that second dose -- the first dose I was fine. The second dose, I thought I was fine, got up early in the morning, went to work and then midday, I realized, yes, I might need to slow down a bit.


COLLINS: And, Brianna, I think from that conversation, what you see is, really, the vice president is trying to normalize the idea of actually getting this vaccine, talking about what it's like and her experience with it, as well as urging people to get it when they can, because talking about the importance of making sure that you don't get sick having this vaccine, and what you can do, also highlighting that part of it as well. And she also did an interview after that with a radio station, talking about taking the vaccine as well.

And so this comes amid this larger effort that you're seeing by the administration. What they're preparing for right now is really this expected but still pending authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And we should note that what we heard yesterday from Biden's task force, Brianna, is they expect about 3 million to 4 million doses of that to be ready if the authorization is granted next week.

While that is certainly a welcome number for a lot of people who are still struggling to find a place to get it, it's also a lot lower than what we thought that Johnson & Johnson was going to have ready when they did get authorization. They expected it would happen around now. They thought it was going to be a lot closer to 10 million.

And yesterday, I asked the White House if President Biden is disappointed by how that -- just how stark of a contrast that number is, and they said, yes, they were surprised that Johnson & Johnson wasn't going to have the amount ready that they initially believed, but they are taking what they can get. And they do expect Johnson & Johnson to ramp it up quickly.

KEILAR: Yes, there is just not enough for the demand right now, certainly. Kaitlan, thank you so much, live for us from the White House.

And now to this new variant, one in particular found in New York City. Two research teams, one in New York, the other California, discovered this independently from one another. This is a variant that seems to evade not only the body's natural immune response but also the effects of the specific coronavirus treatment that uses monoclonal vaccine antibodies.


CNN's Polo Sandoval is at a mass vaccination site at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Polo, one of the researchers described the surge of this variant as alarming.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it's certainly something that obviously many New Yorkers have been about and also underscoring the importance of those eligible New Yorkers to secure of those appointments and to get in line as soon as they can, obviously, whenever they have that appointment to get that vaccine to hopefully increase that protection.

And we should obviously preface everything by saying that these early findings that have not yet been peer reviewed, not yet published, though we certainly expect that to happen. And researchers at Columbia University Medical Center noting this increase in this particular variant from December to February, it's specifically the last couple of weeks, a nearly 13 percent increase.

Let me kind of have breakdown for your and our viewers to kind of explain what the scientists have found so far regarding this variant, that apparently it seems to have mutations that offers the virus an ability to somewhat invade the body's response to vaccines and also those antibody treatments. Also quite concerning here for officials would be that this mutation also gives the virus the ability to slip past, as you know a little while ago, some of the body's immune response.

And it really does go back to what we heard from authorities from the very beginning since we saw that variant that was first detected in the U.K., the other variant that was detected in South Africa, and now this variant that seems to possibly been bred or originated in and around New York City and the northeast is that the more people affected, the longer hat they're affected, then that provides the virus really a bigger chance of potentially mutating.

And that, again, is really underscoring what we've heard from Dr. Anthony Fauci, even as early as this morning, the importance to not only get that vaccine when you're eligible to get one but also continue with those measures that we've been implementing or at least following for the last year now or so. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, we are so familiar with them now. Polo, thank you for that report live for us from New York.

And we're going to get some expert analysis on this now. We definitely need it today. E.R. Dr. Richina Bicette is Medical Director at the Baylor College of Medicine.

I am so glad to speak with you today about this, because I think a lot of people are looking at these variants, and in particularly this one detected in New York City, and they're worried. How concerning is this variant?

DR. RICHINA BICETTE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: It's very concerning and people should be worried. We're now seeing variants pop up in the U.K., South Africa, Brazil, California and now New York. And it sounds like, from what researchers have looked at, that this new variant in New York is accounting for about 25 percent of their cases. Not only that, it's not in one borough of New York, it's widespread. So this isn't just a single outbreak.

The scary thing about this new variant is not only does it look like it could potentially be easier to spread, but it looks like the new variant has also adapted ways in order to kind of evade our immune system. One of the protein changes allows it to stick to cells better so that our immune system has a harder time to kill it. So definitely something to be concerned about.

KEILAR: And we found out about this New York City variant a day after researchers revealed they found a variant in California that may cause more severe sickness as well as resist vaccines. How does the U.S., or how can the U.S. response be tailored to address these mutated viruses?

BICETTE: We need to ramp up our vaccination efforts. If we get everyone vaccinated, we will be protected. The vaccines are going to protect against the new variants. They may not protect as well, but they still will help overall with our case numbers, our hospitalizations and our death rates. We've seen that in other countries across the globe.

So I think what we need to focus on right now is getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, and then we can start worrying about booster shots for some of the new vaccines or new variants that are popping up.

KEILAR: In the absence of that, because there are many people -- most people aren't vaccinated yet and it's going to be months before many of them are. What can we do in the absence of -- for folks who are not eligible yet for a vaccine?

BICETTE: Pandemic fatigue is a word we've become familiar with, but now is not the time to drop your guard. It's too soon to stop wearing masks, too soon to stop social distancing and too soon to stop any of the mitigation strategies that we've been shouting from the beginning of the pandemic. We still have to do our part to curb the spread while we're working on ways to protect our population.

KEILAR: Moderna, Doctor, is updating its vaccine. It is looking into boosters to address these variants, and describing three approaches here, a booster candidate specific to the variant, another booster that combines Moderna's vaccine with this specific booster candidate and then a third option of just giving a third shot to the current Moderna vaccine. Should all vaccine makers be preparing to add or adjust their products like this to address variants?


BICETTE: You know, I have to give it to Moderna because they are truly dedicated to fighting this pandemic, and I think myself and all those who are on the frontlines can definitely appreciate that fact. The other companies who are in the process of creating vaccines have a little bit of a leg up in that they can involve people who have tested positive for these variants in their clinical trials. So when their vaccines come out, they can let us know, like Johnson & Johnson, whether their vaccine is effective against the variants.

The vaccines that have already come out, Pfizer and Moderna, they're going to have to start doing new studies to see just how effective their current vaccines are. What Moderna has told us is that they have looked at the new variant, and, yes, their current vaccine protects against it but it produces a weaker immune response. And I think they're so dedicated to the health and safety of our population that they're trying to make sure they can garner the best immune response possible.

KEILAR: There was a large study of folks across England that found overall a strong antibody protection in people who got both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. But for those already infected, they had an even stronger response after just the first dose. What does that going to mean? What are the -- what's the significance or what does that indicate for how we're using vaccines of people who have already had COVID?

BICETTE: So it's similar to the two-shot method for people who have never had COVID, okay? The first shot is like a primer, like when you're painting your walls, you put primer down so that the color will really -- they can really pop. That's what the first dose of a vaccine does. For people who have already been infected with COVID, their bodies are already primed. So when they get that first shot of the vaccine, it's expected that they do produce a more robust immune response. And I think that's part of the reason why, as you mentioned, Moderna is looking at three different approaches to this booster shot, and one of their approaches includes just giving a third dose of their original vaccine to see if another priming of the immune system can enhance our immune response.

KEILAR: It's really interesting. I relate to the painting analogy. So, thank you, Dr. Bicette, I appreciate it, great to see you.

There are some new and alarming details that are coming out of a hearing on security failures during the Capitol riots, with security officials testifying that intelligence failed to predict how big the attack would be.

And a man charged in the insurrection bragged about being there with his ex-girlfriend. Ahead, why she reported him to the FBI.

Plus, new details on former President Trump's future plans in the GOP as he plots his return and his revenge.



KEILAR: A Capitol riot suspect texted his ex-girlfriend during the insurrection to call her a moron, and she turned him into the feds. You can see Richard Michetti in these photos here. Prosecutors say that he sent several pictures and videos to tell his ex-girlfriend that he was trying to stop the vote.

The criminal complaint says Michetti texted, quote, if you can't see the election was stolen, you're a moron. The vote was fraud and Trump won but they won't audit the votes. We are patriots, we're not revolutionaries. The other side is revolutionaries, they want to destroy this country and they say it openly.

Now, prosecutors charged Michetti with three federal crimes, unlawful entry into a restricted building, obstructing Congress and violent conduct in the Capitol. The Justice Department has charged more than 255 people now in the Capitol attack, but that is only a small slice of the huge mob that stormed the building.

In a House hearing today, law enforcement officials said the large number of people was a big part of the problem. The acting U.S. Capitol Police chief said intelligence did not prepare them for the scope of the violence.


ACTING CHIEF YOGONANDA PITTMAN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: It has been suggested that the department was either ignorant of or ignored critical intelligence that indicated that an attack of the magnitude that we experienced on January 6 would occur. The department was not ignorant of intelligence indicating an attack of the size and scale we encountered on the 6th. There was no such intelligence.

Although we knew the likelihood for violence by extremists, no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol, nor did the intelligence receive from the FBI or any other law enforcement partner indicate such a threat.

Indeed, the Secret Service brought the vice president to the Capitol that day as they were also unaware of any credible threat of that magnitude.


KEILAR: CNN Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is covering this story for us.

A lot of the questions today, Shimon, dealt with communication failures that happened on January 6th. What happened?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the communication failures. Very different kind of hearing today where we had current officials within the Capitol Police testifying as opposed to the other day where you had all these formers who were kind of pointing fingers at each other and then also pointing fingers at the intelligence.

What the acting chief here did today, probably one of the most important things, is that she admitted that there were failures on the day of the insurrection in protecting the Capitol. And as you said, Brianna, one of those things was communication.

And she said that emergency protocols were not followed on that day, that the incident command protocols that were in place for such an activity, as we saw on the insurrection, were not followed, that commanders that were on the ground that were supposed to provide leadership to officers did not do that because they themselves were in the middle of this riot and trying to fight off the rioters.


And she said that was a mistake. And so there was this communication breakdown.

She also said that the other thing that they believe, there are more threats against the Capitol, that they believe that the same militia members, she said, that were there on the day of the insurrection, they want to come back. Some of them want to come back. They have said that they want to blow up the Capitol, that they want to kill as many lawmakers as possible, so that is why we're still seeing all the fencing and the security around the Capitol.

Also I want to point one other thing out. She talked about some of the intelligence. Remember, the former officials testified the other day that there was this information that came from the FBI the day before the insurrection concerning threats and war-like atmosphere at the Capitol. She kind of downplayed that, Brianna, and that she said that, basically, even with that information, based on what the FBI brought to them, that would not have changed their security posture on that day.

And even though they knew, they said they had information that white supremacists were coming and these militia members were coming, they still did not increase the security to the level that they should have. In the end, it was just complete chaos. Even one of the Congress members there said that, you basically did not plan for a worst case scenario.

KEILAR: No. The threat was vague, right, but perhaps that's something they should have taken into consideration. Shimon, thank you so much for that, Shimon Prokupecz live for us from New York.

Aides close to former President Trump says he is plotting his future as well as revenge ahead of his CPAC appearance this weekend. We'll have details on that, next.

Plus, the senators standing between President Biden and his legislative agenda, they are not Republicans. How two Democrats are wielding an outsized amount of power in a closely divided Senate.



KEILAR: Today, the big annual gathering of conservatives known as the Conservative Political Action Conference gets underway, and it comes at a crucial time for a Republican Party that is facing an identity crisis.

Former President Donald Trump is scheduled to headline the event Sunday in his first speech since leaving office. Sources tell CNN he is actively plotting his political return and also revenge. One source describes the sentiment of Sunday's speech as going to war but not physically.

CNN White House Correspondent Kate Bennett is with us now. Kate, tell us what else you're learning about this.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it sounds like typical Donald Trump, which is a cycle of revenge and payback and revenge and payback, reward and payback. And he's been relatively quiet this last month or so from Mar-a-Lago, silenced by Twitter, obviously, but also just sort of taking his time talking to people, watching this play out among the Republican Party and sort of enjoying this riff that he has actually caused, even though he's not in office anymore.

And most importantly, Brianna, he is thinking about 2024 in a very serious way. He wants to run again. He intends to run again. He is telling friends and family that that is his plan. Of course, this could all be a quixotic dream of sorts, because, as we know, he is under investigation. Clearly, his tax returns are going to be an issue. Reporting from earlier today indicate that might be a problem for him.

But beyond that, this is sort of a moment where he's got the popcorn emoji going and he is watching the Republican Party cave under the pressure of, are you a Trump Republican conservative or are you a non- Trump Republican conservative?

Add Donald Trump Jr. to the mix who will be out and about very frequently, as I'm told, on the campaign for midterms for 2022, and you cannot escape the fact that Donald Trump very much wants to keep his hand in Republican politics in this country for the foreseeable, if not, long-term, future.

KEILAR: Yes. And he's able to, it appears, so far. Kate Bennett, thank you so much for that.

The House could vote as early as tomorrow on President Biden's nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. This is expected to pass along partisan lines with Republicans pretty much unifying against the bill, despite the broad popularity of relief checks with Americans, including a majority of Republicans.

CNN National Political Reporter Maeve Restin is with us now. Maeve, first of, you have a really great piece right now on, where you're talking about the dangerous gamble Republicans are making if they vote against this bill, this economic relief bill. Because in it are these checks, right, this is free money for a lot of Americans and they are pretty popular.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: They are pretty popular. We've seen in poll after poll, Brianna, that seven in ten Americans supports this $1.9 trillion package, and it's not just the relief checks. I mean, you have to remember that also in here is aid to help schools reopen.

And Republicans now are coming out sort of in unified opposition. This week, they've been sharpening their arguments. You saw Kevin McCarthy yesterday coming up and talking about how this bill was a giveaway to progressive constituencies.