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New COVID-19 Variant Found in New York City; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) Friend Stormed Capitol; Interview with Georgia-14 Congressional Candidate Holly McCormack (D). Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 25, 2021 - 14:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: It is the top of the hour, I am Brianna Keilar, thank you so much for being with me.

The president, expected to receive a briefing right now about -- on the pandemic, right about now, I should say, on the pandemic, as the nation is on the verge of adding another vaccine to its arsenal in the fight against coronavirus. But new variants are threatening to derail progress.

Tomorrow, an FDA advisory panel is expected to vote on 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 vaccination will play a critical part in the Biden administration's plan to get shots into the arms of more Americans.

The president, hosting an even next hour to mark the 50 millionth dose administered under his presidency. HIs press secretary, adding this moments ago.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Today, the president will deliver remarks to mark the 50 mark 50 million shots that have been administered since he entered office. He will also remind Americans that now is not the time to let our guards down, especially in the face of new variants.


KEILAR: Those new variants include one just detected and spreading in New York City, which researchers say appears to evade the natural human immune response. We're going to have much more on that in a moment.

First though to CNN's senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, the vice president is also focusing on vaccinations today, especially on the problem that communities of color are having getting the vaccine, and also the hesitancy of wanting to get it. PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's an

enormous issue, and I think one White House officials have been keenly aware of since they took office. And while they have been working diligently to try and find solutions to this issue, they acknowledge that it is a big problem, and it's a big problem that could have widespread ramifications in terms of how quickly this pandemic can come to an end.

Keep in mind, Brianna, as you know quote well, from a vaccine production standpoint, the U.S. supply is going to basically turbocharge over the course of the next several months. Obviously, by July, the expectation is there will be enough doses for every adult American who wants to take it, but they need those adult Americans to take it.

And that was in part why you saw the vice president visiting a pharmacy earlier this morning, to talk about the issue of hesitancy. Take a listen.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There have been many theories about populations that are experiencing vaccine hesitancy for legitimate reasons that are based on historical experiences that we should never forget.


MATTINGLY: And it's particularly prevalent in the African-American community, also in the Latino community as well, and in the early stages of what we've seen in terms of vaccine distribution, you have seen significantly lower numbers in those two communities. The White House, trying to address that.

Now, Brianna, what you're going to see from the president when he makes those remarks about the 50 million doses that have been delivered, it's not going to be a celebration. The White House knows they are on track to reach that 100 million doses in their first hundred days, but instead, it's going to be more of kind of a warning to people.

As you heard from Jen Psaki, the press secretary, letting them know that this isn't over. And while they may be on track and while vaccine supply is certainly going to be boosting over the next couple of months, people need to take the same precautions that they've been instructed to take over the course of the last year, if they actually want this to come to an end, as they wait for vaccinations, as they wait for everyone to be vaccinated over the course of the coming months -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, the long wait. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much, live for us.

The new variant found in New York City was discovered by two separate research teams, one in New York, the other in California. And this variant seems to evade not only the body's natural immune response, but also the effects of a specific coronavirus treatment that uses monoclonal antibodies. CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us now.

Sanjay, these variants, I mean, they're kind of the new thing that is scary. And we're learning about this New York one just a day after researchers revealed they found a variant in California that may cause more severe sickness as well as resist vaccines. How worried should people be by these?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, so with this New York one, we're not sure yet because we're not sure how much this is actually going to spread, and how much of a problem it's going to be in terms of overall vaccine immunity escape, you know, really escaping the protective effects of these vaccines.

I think the other ones that we've been talking about more, we know that they're present in the United States and that they're growing in numbers such as the one that, you know, started off in the U.K. It's increasingly, because of its transmissibility, increasingly becoming a more dominant strain in this country. And we're going to have to keep an eye to see if it continues to mutate in some way that makes it concerning in terms of vaccine protection.


You know, the thing about these variants, it's interesting, Brianna, when you look at them scientifically, many of the mutations are sort of occurring around the same area, so it kind of gives you a clue. If we need to protect against these variants longer term, how these vaccine makers are going to either create boosters or something to protect against that.

So far, I think it's something that we have to keep an eye on, and we're catching these because we're looking for them more than we were in the past. But you know, my level of concern, I don't think many people's level of concern is that high yet on this New York variant. But we've got to see if it continues to change at all.

KEILAR: That is comforting. I will tell you, that is comforting to hear, Sanjay.

Tomorrow, and FDA board is expected to vote on whether to give Johnson & Johnson's vaccine candidate emergency use authorization. And the latest data shows that this vaccine may provide better protection against the variant in South Africa than originally thought. What have we learned?

GUPTA: Yes, it's really interesting. When you look at this data -- and I think we can show you some, if we have the actual numbers -- but the original data that we heard from Johnson & Johnson, we talked to them right after they released some of their initial data. They said it was 57 percent protective in South Africa.

TEXT: Johnson & Johnson Prevented About 70 Percent of Asymptomatic Infection: 10 cases in vaccine group, 37 cases in placebo group GUPTA: What you're looking at on the screen is different data, but let me just explain this since it's up on the screen for a second. One of the unanswered questions for some time has been, we know these vaccines do a great job protecting against illness, you know, prevent you from getting sick.

But the other question, Brianna, has been how well do they actually prevent you from getting infected, could you still carry the virus, not have any symptoms but, as a result, transmit it. And what we see now from very early data from Johnson & Johnson, that it's about 70 percent protective in small numbers against getting infected. That's something we're going to keep an eye on.

TEXT: Johnson & Johnson Efficacy One Month After Vaccination: Moderate and severe, U.S. 72 percent, Latin American 68 percent; South Africa 64 percent. Severe only, 85 percent no hospitalizations or deaths

GUPTA: Now on the screen is the protectiveness against illness. And as you correctly point out, if you look at the bottom left, how well did this work in South Africa, where we know that variant is spreading primarily? About 64 percent protective against moderate disease. Earlier, when they looked at the data, it was 57 percent. So the numbers have gone up a bit.

But I really think it's the right side of the screen that the FDA is going to be focused on. Nobody who received a vaccine, Brianna, no matter where you lived in the world, no one who received the vaccine died, nobody was hospitalized at one month. And it was 85 percent protective against severe illness.

So it is like one of these questions. I take the vaccine, what are my expectations from this vaccine? I hope that I don't get really sick, I hope that I don't get hospitalized or die. And it does a really good job of that. There's still some unanswered questions, but I think that that's where the FDA is going to sort of focus a lot of their attention.

KEILAR: And Pentagon leaders right now are urging service members, of course, to get vaccinated, after it was revealed about one third are actually opting out. The secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, talked about what can be done to persuade more in the military to get vaccinated. Let's listen.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have commanders that are making videos, you know, addressing this issue. I've made a video myself. And -- but it's real important that, you know, people have the facts. And we've found that, armed with the facts, they'll make the right decisions typically. The greatest incentive to getting vaccinated is that it saves your life.


KEILAR: And also, it saves the lives of people around you, which, in an environment like the military, you know, people are obviously working in close proximity, they may be traveling. It's so important, Sanjay.

GUPTA: It really is important. It's fascinating to look at these different populations of people and the hesitancy. And it's interesting, within the military, obviously, the hesitancy kind of reflects what we're seeing in the general population, about a third, roughly, of people are hesitant or want more information or just don't trust the vaccines. You know, they sort of lump this all together.

But you do find that hesitancy sometimes is higher among younger people, and the median age among the military is younger than the general population. So in some ways, I know this is a lot of numbers but the hesitancy is in some ways lower, if you compare it to the general population of the same age.

So we find, as the vaccine rollout continues and more and more people see others getting vaccinated, that the hesitancy starts to come down.

And look, Brianna, as you well know, this hesitancy of vaccines is not unique to this particular situation. I mean, we've seen vaccine hesitancy around childhood vaccines for a long time. But even if you go back to H1N1, 2009, there was hesitancy around that vaccine as well. So hopefully it'll improve because we do want to get to that 75, 80 percent of the country vaccinated.


KEILAR: All right, that is the goal. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, great to see you, thank you.

GUPTA: You, too, Brianna, thank you.

KEILAR: Next, more finger-pointing on Capitol Hill about how the intelligence failed ahead of the January 6th riots. What we learned today from two law enforcement officials.

Plus, CNN reveals new videos that prove a close ally of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was part of the mob, and he's contradicting her false claim that it was full of Antifa supporters.

I'll be joined live by the Democrat who just announced she's running against Taylor Greene in 2022.



KEILAR: Underprepared, overwhelmed, and outnumbered: Those are just some of the reasons given for the security failures at a hearing on the January 6th Capitol insurrection. Angry lawmakers grilled security officials over the lack of leadership as the mob stormed the building.

In a powerful exchange, one congresswoman asked her a very pointed question: Did you neglect to prepare for this because it was mostly white people? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D-MA): We had white supremacy that's fueling the violence, white supremacy that fueled the big lie about our elections. Do you believe that institutional racism, that a culture of white supremacy -- and I'm not saying any specific person or one action -- do you believe that played a role in the discrepancy between the intelligence received, the assessment of the likelihood of violence and the preparation that left our officers really at the mercy of the mob?

YOGANANDA PITTMAN, ACTING U.S. CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: So as the first black and female chief of this department, I take any allegation of inequitable policing extremely seriously. I can assure you that under my command, the USCP will continue to police equitably.

With that said, I have no evidence whatsoever that suggests that there was any discrepancy based on our security posture and as it relates to making enhancements or not based upon race.


KEILAR: The Justice Department has charged more than 255 people in the Capitol attack so far. Among those who made it into the building on January 6th? A close ally of Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. She of course is the lawmaker with a history of promoting dangerous conspiracy theories.

CNN's KFILE made this discovery, and senior editor Andrew Kaczynski is joining us now. Tell us what you found, Andrew.

ANDREW KACZYNSKI, CNN KFILE SENIOR EDITOR: So a close friend, ally, an associate of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was among those in the Capitol mob on January 6th.

To sort of illustrate how close that these two are, prior to Greene's run for Congress and ultimately getting elected, this guy and Greene collaborated on trips to the border. They visited lawmakers' offices together, they did events together.

We all remember that Greene suggested that Nancy Pelosi could be executed for treason in a video? This guy, Anthony Aguero, was actually with her when she made those comments, so the ties are very close.

And what we were able to find was that Aguero, in videos posted on his Instagram, you can actually see him cheering on the break into the Capitol. He later said that he was part of those who went into the Capitol, and saying, quote, that "a message was sent to lawmakers."

And what's really interesting about this too is that we've seen Greene sort of suggest that this was Antifa that did this -- you know, it's a false sort of nuts conspiracy theory. In the video after he claimed that he was among those who went in, Aguero actually says he's a little angry almost, he's mad and says this wasn't Antifa, this was Trump supporters. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY AGUERO, CONSERVATIVE LIVESTREAMER AND GREENE ALLY: We were all there, it was not Antifa and it was not BLM. It was Trump supporters that did that yesterday. I'm the first to admit it, being one myself.


KACZYNSKI: What's pretty interesting too about this as well, when we talk about the ties, was Aguero and Greene were actually together as recently as November, at an event in D.C. following after President Trump lost the election, when he was pretending that he didn't, called -- it was called the Million MAGA March. And in videos that we saved, after her speech, she can actually be seen with him as she's going offstage.

Now, Greene did not respond to a request for comment from us. In a comment request to Aguero, he didn't mention -- respond to many of the questions that we asked, but he did reiterate his support for Greene and claimed that he was there at the Capitol as an independent journalist.

KEILAR: This sort of goes, Andrew, to I think a fear of some people on Capitol Hill, where, you know, they worried about some of their Republican colleagues and about, you know, have they been close at all to perhaps any of the insurrectionists, do they have sympathy for the cause. And this maybe is something that those folks might look at and this kind of almost informs that fear they have.


KACZYNSKI: Yes, absolutely. Especially because this is somebody who she is very, very close to, they -- before Greene -- you know, Greene basically became this known figure in, you know, as like a conservative live-streamer, provocateur, whatever you want to call what she did before she ran for Congress. And he was very much in that same world.

And as I mentioned earlier, they were photographed together as recently as November, so it's not like this is a person she's no longer connected to.

KEILAR: Yes, it's a good point. Andrew, thank you so much for sharing that with us, we really appreciate it.

And next, we are going to speak to the woman who just announced that she is challenging Marjorie Taylor Greene in the midterm elections.



KEILAR: Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is feuding with a fellow member over the Equality Act, which is a law that would ban discrimination against LGBTQ Americans. Now, this all began when Democratic Congresswoman Marie Newman

displayed a transgender pride flag in the hallway outside her office, directly across from Congresswoman Greene's office. And in response, Greene tweeted, referring to Newman's 20-year-old transgender daughter as her biological son.

Hours later, Greene then posted that video that you just saw there of her putting up a sign that reads, "There are two genders, male and female, trust the science."


REP. MARIE NEWMAN (D-IL): I just wanted to make a statement so that she sees LGBTQ+ people. And so the symbolism was simply to put the flag out there so she has to see our community every day. You know, I'm immensely proud of my daughter, and that's all anyone is asking for, is to be treated as anyone else. She's welcome to her sign, no one's buying it and that is not science.


KEILAR: Holly McCormack has announced that she will be challenging Congresswoman Taylor Greene in the midterm election. I wonder, you know, you're -- this is your opponent, Holly. I wonder what you think about this back-and-forth that she is having with Congresswoman Newman.

HOLLY MCCORMACK (D), RUNNING AGAINST REP. TAYLOR GREENE: Yes. Thank you so much for having me on, and for giving attention to Georgia-14. I'd say as a mother, it broke my heart. I don't want to talk too much about Marge (ph) because I think that her rhetoric is extremely harmful to the people in the LGBT community, and especially to our children that are seeing this.

KEILAR: I wonder, you know, as you are looking here to get into the race, what has the impetus been for you?

MCCORMACK: Really, I looked around and it is my kids. It's that we see what kind of example are being set for them. It's certainly not empathy, it's not caring about other people and other Americans. And I just decided I can't sit around and wait for somebody else to fix it, so I made the decision and I spoke to the kids and my husband and said, OK, this isn't going to be easy but it's worth standing up and doing what's right.

KEILAR: And I hear you that you don't want to talk about her too much. But of course, you know, your race is going to be you as the alternative to her. And so I wonder what you think. CNN's KFILE, we just covered, in our last segment, a connection of Greene to someone who is part of the Capitol riot, actually someone who is an ally of hers. Is that something that surprised you and what do you have to say about that to constituents in the 14th District?

MCCORMACK: I think that she doesn't represent us. I think that a lot of people are surprised by how she's acted since she's gotten in Washington, and she doesn't represent us as a people, and I believe that people here are good and decent, and I don't think that she at all represents who we are. And I'm sure they're not OK with the way that she's behaving and representing us.

KEILAR: I will say, I'm going to challenge you on that. There are a lot of people who are completely OK. And not only are they OK, they are supportive of what she is doing in Washington. Let's listen to what some of her supporters have told CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, like you just said, she wasn't a congresswoman right then. And I done a lot of things in my past that I ain't proud of now, you know? And -- but I'm not going to run for Congress, and I'm not going to run for a senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You haven't changed your mind one bit about her, have you?




KEILAR: I mean, she won counties in the 14th by a huge number. And we should also point out to our viewers who might not be familiar with the 14th in Georgia, that former President Trump won by 80 percent.