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Today, House Votes on Biden $1.9 Trillion Pandemic Relief Bill; FDA Panel Reviews Johnson & Johnson Vaccine for Emergency Use; 32 GOP Mayors Sign Letter Urging Congress to Pass Biden's Relief Bill. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 26, 2021 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Happy Friday to you.

[10:00:00]

Happening right now, some good news. An FDA advisory committee is meeting to review Johnson & Johnson's COVID vaccine. So it will be the third approved here in the U.S. 4 million doses could be sent across the country next week if the panel authorizes the shot for emergency use. We will bring you the details as we get them.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: And a critical vote on Capitol Hill hours from now, the House is taking up the president's $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. Millions of Americans are in support of it. A majority of Americans are in support of it. But it is really split down party lines in Congress.

We're also following the president and first lady as they prepare to head to Texas this morning. It is Biden's first trip to the disaster zone as president after that horrible storm last week.

Let's begin at the White House. John Harwood joins us. Good morning, John.

So you have got President Biden and first lady heading to Houston. What will they do there today?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're going to showcase the role of the president as providing comfort and assistance for people in times of crisis there. President Biden is going to visit the emergency operations center in Houston that helped respond to that crisis last week when so many people lost power, lost water, suffered property damage and personal hardship. Jill Biden, the first lady, is going to a food bank where President Biden will join her.

And then subsequent to that he will visit a mass vaccination site in Texas. Of course, the administration has been playing catch-up this week after the storm interrupted the delivery of vaccines to many places around the country. They celebrated their 50th vaccination during the Biden administration this week. They're going at about 1.4 million vaccinations a day. And all of this comes, of course, as the president is waiting for the House this evening, we expect, to approve on a party line vote that $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that is the linchpin of his agenda, it would then, of course, go on to the Senate. SCIUTTO: Yes, 50 millionth so far, the presidency. John, you have new reported on the OMB nominee, Neera Tanden, says she's going to meet with Lisa Murkowski, Republican. Could this rescue the nomination? I mean, is there a quid pro quo going on here potentially?

HARWOOD: I don't know what's going to come out of that meeting. But, yes, it could rescue the nomination. Of course, with a 50-member Senate, one defection -- 50-member Democratic caucus that is, one defection can sink a nominee. Joe Manchin announced a while back that he was going to oppose Neara Tanden. What that mean her nominee to be budget director was sunk unless you could get one Republican vote.

Systematically, Republicans who might have been a possibility, ruled themselves out, except for Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who some independence, of course, voted to convict President Trump on those impeachment charges some weeks ago.

So she will meet with Neera Tanden on Monday. It emerged in the last couple of days that one of the mean tweets that she sent was about Lisa Murkowski. Nevertheless, the fact that she's meeting with Tanden has not ruled supporting her, suggests that she might have an open mind and look for this as an opportunity to say let's all put this behind us. I don't know the outcome, but Neera Tanden still have a shot and Monday is going to be critical.

SCIUTTO: Curious and curiousier. John Harwood at the White House, thanks very much.

Well, the House is expected to pass Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package today.

HARLOW: Let's go to our Manu Raju. He joins us on the Hill. Obviously, they're going to keep that $15 minimum wage in it but it is not going to get through. It was a big decision last night. Explain the importance of that and also the timeline and what it means now for people to get aid.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The timeline for getting aid will probably be early to mid-March. The push for the Democrats is to get this done before that March 14th deadline when jobless benefits for millions of Americans expire. And today is a critical day to meet that deadline, the Democrats advancing their $1.9 trillion package out of the House.

This bill would touch virtually all aspects of the U.S. economy, provide money for vaccines, provide money for schools, provide money to extend jobless benefits and states and local governments and the like. But what it does not have or will not have ultimately is that $15 minimum wage increase at the federal level.

The House plan will include that tonight. But because of the ruling by the Senate parliamentarian, who essentially sets and determines what fits in within the rules of the Senate, the ruling that this does not -- cannot -- this would violate the rules of Senate by including it in this proposal. That means that next week, when the Senate takes up this plan, the $15 minimum wage will be stripped out. And, ultimately, what will pass the Senate assuming the Democrats can keep all members in line, is a bill without the $15 minimum wage. They will have to move that separately and that means that it is very unlikely that it will become law because a separate process would require 60 votes to pass is out of the Senate.

[10:05:05]

This current process requires 50 votes to pass it out of the Senate.

Democrats can do it if they are all in line.

Now, tonight is key because it is the first step, as I mentioned. But could the Democrats keep all their members in line. The expectation is probably yes, they might lose a couple. Nancy Pelosi could really only lose five members because we do expect Republicans will vote in lockstep against this plan, which they consider an overreach, too much money spent. But we expect it to pass and the question would be can the Senate get it done and can they get it out of the House before March 14th.

The goal is, yes, for the House Democrats and Senate Democrats. Let's see if they can get it done. Guys?

HARLOW: Yes. okay, Manu, thank you very much.

Now to the vaccine news, the FDA's panel of independent advisers is meeting right now to discuss Johnson & Johnson's single-dose coronavirus vaccine candidate. If they do give it, emergency use authorization, that means it will roll out early next week.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Adrienne Broaddus joins us now from a mass vaccination facility at Tinley Park, Illinois, just south of Chicago.

And, Adrienne, delivery is one thing, supply is another. I'm just curious where you are. Do they have enough supply to meet demand?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are expecting more supply and they are working really hard here at Tinley Park, especially on that news from President Biden commemorating a milestone. 50 million doses of the vaccine since he took office have been administered. That is half of his goal.

Meanwhile, let's just take a look behind me here. We are inside of the vaccination park here at Tinley Park in cook County. Cook County encompasses Chicago and some of the surrounding suburbs. Today alone, Jim and Poppy, they are expected to vaccinate 2,800 people.

And we talked about President Biden's milestone, their part of that number. So far, they have vaccinated 40,000 people here at Tinley Park alone.

Let's take a look at some of the other numbers. For example, we told you this is in Cook County, and Cook County is doing 5,000 shots a day. That's the Cook County Health Department. But it has the capacity to do 60,000 a week if the vaccines are available. Meanwhile, here inside of the convention center at Tinley Park, I kind of want to show you what is going on. Behind me, there are roughly 55 vaccination stations. But before people walk in this room to receive their vaccine, they are greeted outside by members of the National Guard.

We know members of the National Guard have a variety of missions. Right now, their mission is to protect the people here in their hometown. They're collecting information and making sure that folks who come inside have appointments.

We'll have much more for you on this throughout the day. Back to you, Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Such a great sight to see, 2,800 folks just there today getting a vaccine. Adrienne, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Good morning, Sanjay. Huge day.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

HARLOW: And there is no reason to believe the FDA will not give the green light to J&J, right? So if it does, what will we see over the next few days?

GUPTA: Yes. So this is a process that we've gotten used to seeing, at least twice before with Moderna and Fizer. So, right now, as you mentioned, this advisory committee is reviewing all of the data that we've already seen. And it looks very promising, which is why people are so optimistic. They will make their recommendation.

The FDA will then officially authorize this. They don't have to but they almost always follow the recommendations of this advisory committee. And after that, this goes to the CDC over the weekend. A committee for immunization practices will meet. They sort of determine the who, the when, the how this vaccine will get rolled out and then the CDC basically validates that recommendation and put it altogether, basically, early next week you should see the existing doses of Johnson & Johnson benefits roll out.

They've been making the vaccine at risk. Meaning, they've been manufacturing this vaccine even before they have authorization in anticipation of this. So the next three or four days will be very big days for Johnson & Johnson and for all of us with regard to vaccines.

SCIUTTO: So, Sanjay, help us understand what is going on big picture here. Because you have the good news, this could be a third vaccine authorized, you got more supply going out there, you got this number on our screen rising of the number of Americans vaccinated and you have hospitalizations coming down and new infections coming down.

But we just spoke with Dr. Michael Osterholm, or rather Professor Osterholm, and he says he thinks we're poised for another rise based on this U.K. variant. And I wonder where you stand on that. GUPTA: Yes. And I talked to Professor Osterholm all the time about this. There is a more -- these variants are more transmissible, they're more contagious.

[10:10:02]

So if you've sort of had a certain amount of contagiousness right now, it will go up, because what would have otherwise been an encounter that you could have gotten away with, you won't be able to get away with that because of the more transmissible variants out there.

I think the big question, and I think this the important one, is will we see the lagging indicators like we've been talking about all year. So cases go up, but does that mean that hospitalizations will also go up a few weeks later and that deaths will go up a few weeks after that? And if they do, will it be the same proportion that we've seen in the past?

Now, what I would say with regard to that, after talking to lots of people, is that I'm optimistic that they won't go up as much if -- or as quickly as they did in the past because we have so much more immunity out there in the public.

Everyone talks about herd immunity. That is very true. But I think what is important is if you look at who is getting immunized, 75 percent of people in long-term care facilities have now gotten immunized, gotten vaccinated. That is really important because that population of people accounted for more than a third of the deaths in this country and now they are largely protected. Vulnerable people all living together in a long-term care facility, that was a problem. If they are largely protected now, that, I think, should reduce the likelihood of hospitalizations and deaths.

So that is what I'm really going to be looking for. Cases may go up. And that is not a good thing. But if we can keep hospitalizations and deaths from going up correspondingly, I think that is going to be really important.

SCIUTTO: That is helpful, thank you.

HARLOW: And, Sanjay, there is a new model that shows that you have got cases falling even faster than expected. You spoke with the doctor heading that modeling team last night. What did you learn?

GUPTA: Well, so it is Dr. Murray. This is the IHME model that everyone has quote heard of from the University of Washington. I think there is a couple of things. One is that, again, I think people have been thinking about herd immunity as sort of being the switch, right? You get to herd immunity and that is when everything is going to be improving. But what we now see is that you can get significant improvements along the way. And that is really what I think Dr. Murray was talking about.

If you look at the fact that there has been, you know, somewhere between 20 percent to 30 percent of the country has likely developed natural immunity because they've been exposed to the virus and then you're increasing vaccinations to the right population, you should see it decreasing numbers overall. And he also added in that in many places, people are being more adherent to the basic health practices of mask-wearing and things like that.

I mean, look, I just have to say, as much as we talk about the vaccines and the vaccines are this amazing scientific thing that's worth celebrating, if we wore high-filtration masks in high density areas for four weeks, people tell me that we could essentially bring this pandemic to an end in four weeks, which is kind of incredible.

HARLOW: Wow.

GUPTA: So those things make a difference. They've always made a difference. We don't lean into the easy things because we wait for the big breakthrough.

SCIUTTO: Yes, gosh. Well, listen, part of the problem, right, is a deliberate misinformation against masks so a significant portion of the country either doesn't believe it works or believe it is an infringement.

Final question here, because we are seeing vaccine hesitancy declining. Kaiser Family Foundation, 55 percent of adults say they have been vaccinated or want to. It is up from 47 percent, up from 34 percent in December. I mean, it is going in one direction. That is good, right?

GUPTA: That is very good news. I mean, that is the basic problem. I mean, you could create these vaccines but vaccines don't matter. Vaccinations matter. And there's more people -- if you look through history, as more people get vaccinated, hesitancy does tend to go down. I see the other guy doing it, I'm less likely to be resistant myself.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, I look at jealousy to the folks I have known so far. But I am happy it is happening. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks very much.

GUPTA: You got it.

SCIUTTO: Well, the U.S. military has carried out airstrikes at a site in Syria linked to Iranian-backed militias. Ahead, how this could potentially complicate negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

Plus, as Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill criticize the president's stimulus package, dozens of GOP mayors across country, they actually support the bill and strongly. We will speak to two of them.

HARLOW: And in the wake of former President Trump's defeat in the 2020 election, GOP state lawmakers have been introducing bills that critics say are blatant attempts at voter suppression. CNN takes a closer look.

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[10:15:00]

SCIUTTO: Later today, the House will hold a crucial vote on President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. It is expected to pass along party lines to go on to the Senate with no Republican support.

Joining me now though are two Republican mayors who do support President Biden's plan. Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and Mesa, Arizona, John Giles, they are two of more than 400 mayors across the country in a letter are urging lawmakers on both parties to pass the bill. Mayors, thanks for joining me this morning.

MAYOR DAVID HOLT (R-OKLAHOMA CITY, OK): Thank you, Jim.

MAYOR JOHN GILES (R-MESA, AZ): Thank you, Jim.

[10:20:00]

SCIUTTO: Mayor Giles, if I could begin with you, Republican Congressman Trent Kelly of Mississippi, and this is a consistent point, he's not alone on this, has said that this -- what I see, and I'm quoting him here, is a bailout for poorly-run cities states, not money that is earmarked for those who have discovered losses based on COVID.

Mayor Giles, is Mesa, Arizona, a poorly-run city?

GILES: Not at all, Jim. I'm very proud of the way that we've administered the COVID relief that we received a year ago. There are a lot of people in Mesa that received food and utility assistance. Our first responders were funded. Our hospitals were coordinated with. We were able to get kids back into school, to help with our school districts to have the remote learning devices they needed.

So I would invite any scrutiny that partisans would like to apply to the way that we've administered the funds that we've received thus far.

As is typical, cities and what we're seeing is we're the ones that are primarily dealing with the consequences of COVID and primarily tasked with mitigating and avoiding those consequences. So if partisans want to think it is a good idea to eliminate cities from distributing the COVID relief, that is a big problem. I would encourage them to take a second look and realize that we're doing the heavy lifting and it is -- now is not the time to take cities out of the equation.

SCIUTTO: Mayor Holt, the Republican argument at the national level here is that you guys are making out just fine. Revenues went up in some cases so you don't need this money. Tell us what the truth is in your city.

HOLT: Sure. Look, I don't know a city where revenues have gone up. That is news to me and I think that is not true. Whether your mayor is a Republican or a Democrat, revenues are down. They may not be uniform around the country but there is ways to compensate for that in the legislation. You ask about Oklahoma City. Here in OKC, our revenues are down about 5 percent. That precipitated cuts of about 4 percent to our public safety functions are police and fire, causing us to have to have to freeze a lot -- the hiring of a lot of positions and it caused 11 percent cuts on all of our other functions.

You know, municipal government is the level of government you interact with the most. It is the one you depend on the most every single day. And we're not able to provide the level of service that people expect. We're also the largest employer in most every community. We've got 4,800 employees here. And we're not laying off people, we are freezing the hiring and there are cities around the country that are laying off people.

So the idea that this is a red state/blue state or red city/blue city thing is really a myth. Everybody is down. Everybody needs some support to get their services back to the level that people expect.

SCIUTTO: Mayor Giles, you said that these aren't bells and whistles we're talking about here. Where would this money go, for you?

GILES: Well, it goes straight into addressing food insecurity. It goes straight into assisting our schools and our first responders in coordinating with hospitals and go straight into putting needles into arms. I mean, these are basic services. This is what is keeping people from having their utilities turned off.

And to David's point, if people -- if they want to debate the financial questions, we can submit invoices for twice the amount that we're receiving in COVID relief funds from the federal government for all that our city has been involved in that is directly tied to COVID relief.

So expenses are way up. Revenues in some cities, we are not being hammered on revenue because we're collecting a lot of sales tax off of internet sales. That's the only thing that's keeping the lights on in my community.

But what I can tell you again is that expenses are way high.

SCIUTTO: Mayor Holt, and perhaps this question to both of you, I wonder, do you think the National Republican Party has the politics wrong here, right? Because polls show that Republican voters generally support a lot of the measures in this relief.

And by the way, President Trump, he supported stimulus payments. Josh Hawley, aspiring for 2024, he's talking about a raise in the minimum wage for companies above a billion dollars. Do you, Mayor Holt, think that the National GOP has the politics wrong?

HOLT: Well, two thoughts on that. First of all, Mayor Giles and I are mayors of cities that got funding last spring. We couldn't use it on our own revenue shortfalls and so that is what we need here. But as an example, that is a popular move. That helped his city and my city tremendously. We were able to respond to COVID-19 in a very proactive way due to that funding. And this time around, I don't know about what Mesa's estimate is, but we've been told we may get $116 million. I can assure you, every one of my residents, whether they are registered Republican, Democrat or independent, is going to welcome those dollars, is going to welcome the return to normal city services that we'll be able to realize because of that investment.

[10:25:02]

So, yes, I think this is a no-brainer. I mean, it is a very popular issue in my community regardless of your party registration. And, certainly, that is why we would encourage and we think it is good public policy. Whether it is good politics is to judge. But that is why we encourage Congress to move on this package.

SCIUTTO: Mayor Giles, same in Mesa?

GILES: Absolutely. The emergency relief, I don't know how this got into a partisan debate. Emergency, COVID relief has got to be viewed for what it is. It's bipartisan, it's non-partisan. So, shame on anyone who wants to make it anything but that.

SCIUTTO: Well, gentlemen, I know you have got a lot on your hands in Mesa and Oklahoma City. We wish you the best. We wish your constituents the best going forward.

HOLT: Thank you, Jim.

GILES: Be well.

HARLOW: Well, the first known military action carried out by the Biden administration overnight targeting Iranian-backed militia in Syria, what impact could it have on the administration's attempt to resurrect those talks around the Iran nuclear deal, ahead.

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