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White House COVID Response Team Holds Briefing; Democrats Dealt Major Setback in Push for $15 Minimum Wage; CPAC Kicks Off This Weekend, Expected to Unite Around Trump. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 26, 2021 - 11:30   ET




And before we turn to the -- for questions, I want to maybe pose a question to you, Dr. Fauci --

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWSROOM: All right. So we've been listening in to the coronavirus response team right there. I think there was a lot of important information that came out.

Let me bring back in CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen once again. It was good news and bad news, I think, is what we heard in this briefing, Doctor. Good news about progress in the vaccination efforts, that one in five adults now have had their first dose, an impressive number about the percentage of adults 65 and older. Almost 50 percent, I think, they said are now received doses. This is all great news, especially when you add on to that Johnson & Johnson.

But I think it is also quite noteworthy hearing from the CDC director that they are worried, they're worried about the trends that they are seeing with the pandemic still, the virus still. And what we're looking at, she said the latest data, the declines in data could be stalling. And it is very -- they're seeing a very concerning shift in the trajectory.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes, I agree. And I'm glad that the CDC director really emphasized this, because I think there has been the sense that we are out of the woods, that the worst is behind us. And to be fair, we have seen a really dramatic decline in the number of new cases, the number of hospitalizations. But what the CDC is saying is that we're now seeing what looks like the beginning of a plateau and maybe even a slight uptick in the number of new infections. And that is really concerning, especially with the variants on the horizon that may be more transmissible, so we could have a fourth surge, which none of us would want.

And the message here has to be that we could prevent this from happening. Just as it has been throughout the pandemic, the future is up to us. And so question if we keep on masking, if we ramp up vaccinations, if we just keep holding in there for a bit longer and not let down our guard, we actually can beat this, but we're not out of the woods at all. BOLDUAN: And, look, it is exhausting to hear that the trajectory is not a good one once again. It is exhausting, of course, for everyone to hear and frustrating to hear that the CDC director saying very plainly now is not the time to relax restrictions, just as we are seeing states and cities across the country doing just that.

Where they also are focusing a lot of their concern on are the new variants. They are spreading. They talked about the new variants from -- that we've seen in the U.K. and South Africa and the work being done there, but also on these new variants that we're seeing in New York, we're seeing in California.

I've been struck by how I am hearing a level of concern, I would say, from experts, real concern, yet also not panic. And I'm wondering if you could just help me understand why the tug and the pull there.

WEN: Part of it is that we don't have complete information yet. We do have what appear to be these homegrown variants. But we don't know really are they more virulent, more likely to cause severe disease, are they more transmissible? We just don't know, and so part of it is hedging because we are not certain about that.

I think the other part is that the vaccines that we have do appear to be very highly effective against all of these variants, maybe a little bit less effective of the variant that's coming out of South Africa, the B1351 variant, but still effective there and effective against the other variants that we have.

And so I think this needs to be two things. It needs to be caution about what is ahead. And so all of the governors that are lifting mask mandates really should not be doing that. Maybe we can relax some other restrictions to allow businesses to come back. But, actually, masks are what allow our economy to keep going. Masks are what allow our schools to come back. So don't relax these mask mandates.

But I think that we should also be pushing vaccinations as much as we can, because that is going to be our path back to some type of normality.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And the administration announcing that partnership with the private sector to push that message of how -- the importance of masks, the importance of getting vaccinated and kind of like a public education campaign in trying to coordinate with businesses big and small on that effort.

Doctor, thank you very much.

We've got much more ahead this hour. Coming up, House Democrats set to pass the COVID relief bill today. But they also just hit a major road block on raising the minimum wage. What this means for this major focus of President Biden's agenda.


[11:35:00] BOLDUAN: A big deal on Capitol Hill today and a big bill that impacts the lives of millions and millions of Americans. It is also the first major legislative vote of the Biden agenda. Today, the House will vote on the massive COVID relief package. It is expected to pass with really only Democratic votes.

But Democrats also just suffered a big setback. The Senate parliamentarian ruling that the $15 minimum wage increase that is currently in the House bill violates the rules of the Senate.

Beyond a stream of Democrats issuing statements that they're disappointing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is keeping it in the House version that heads to the floor today.

So what does this mean for this massive bill and this huge effort?

Joining us right now, Manu Raju. Manu, first, could you lay out what happens with this bill now?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is going to pass the House tonight, probably on a strictly party line vote. We don't expect any Republicans to vote for it. Maybe there might be a couple of Democratic defections but essentially will be along straight party lines and it will happen late tonight.

This bill massive in size and scope, $1.9 trillion, it affects virtually all aspects of the U.S. economy, provides $1,400 checks to individuals under a certain income threshold and, as you mentioned, still includes that $15 minimum wage hike at the federal level.


Now, the problem for the Democrats in the senate, that wage hike violates the rules of the Senate, the so-called Byrd Rule. That rule actually requires and assures that nothing considered extraneous can be included in this budget process that they are employing to pass this bill. They're using this process so that they can pass it with a simple majority of 51 senators. Otherwise, it usually takes 60 senators.

But in order to use this process to pass it under the lower vote threshold, they need to follow the rules of the Senate to ensure that it actually is a budgetary matter. And last night, the Senate parliamentarian said the wage hike is not a budgetary matter and it is extraneous to this and it violates the rules of the Senate.

So now Democrats behind the scenes are looking at an alternative proposal. Top Democrat Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, as well as Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Bernie Sanders, who chair the Senate Budget Committee, are in talks right now about proposing an alternative plan, actually penalizing corporations and companies that do not provide a $15 minimum wage to their employees. They plan to offer that. They're talking about offering that, I'm told, as an amendment on the floor next week.

The question though is they will actually need 51 senators, 51 votes, potentially 50/50 Senate with Kamala Harris breaking the tie, to actually adopt and add it into the bill. It is unclear, Kate, if they actually have 51 votes on that because these two democrats have raised concerns about raising the minimum wage to that $15 level. So whether they can get that remains to be seen.

But at the moment, it looks dire to get that wage hike into -- on to President Biden's desk even though there is still optimism that the overall bill, which impacts so much, could get on to Joe Biden's desk by the March 14th deadline, the ultimate big deadline, because that is when so many Americans are slated to lose jobless benefits set to expire at that time. But that is their goal to get it done by then, Kate.

BOLDUAN: This, a first step in a very -- it will be a long but truncated process. Important day today. Manu, thanks so much for laying it out.

Coming up for us, Donald Trump, his election fraud lie and the conservative obsession now with cancel culture, they take center stage at CPAC. What this means for the Republican Party in this moment.

We'll be back.



BOLDUAN: Donald Trump's grip on the Republican Party will be on full display this weekend at CPAC, the annual conservative gathering which began this morning. The key note will be the former president, his first public speech since leaving office.

But even before that, many of Trump's biggest backers and allies are taking the stage, including, really, all of the Republican members of Congress who are clearly looking to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, people like Senator Ted Cruz.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): There are a whole lot of voices in Washington that want to just erase the last four years.

They look at Donald J. Trump and they look at the millions and millions of people inspired who went to battle fighting alongside President Trump and they're terrified. And they want him to go away. Let me tell you this right now, Donald J. Trump ain't going anywhere.


BOLDUAN: And further evidence of Trump's continues grip on the party, look at Senator Mitch McConnell after saying, and let me quote this, because what he said is important. There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the insurrection, and also calling Trump's actions a, quote, disgraceful dereliction of duty.

Well, now Mitch McConnell says he will support Trump in the future.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the president was the party's nominee, would you support him?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The nominee of the party, absolutely.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now is CNN Political Commentator and former Republican Congresswoman from Utah Mia Love. Thanks for coming in.

You have -- let's start with CPAC. You have spoken at CPAC more than once. I actually looked back at your 2016 speech this morning. You talked of conservative courage at that time. How -- there has never been a greater need for courage and courageous leaders is one thing that you said. If that is what CPAC represented for you then, what does it represent now?

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I really was hoping that we would get back to that. I was really hoping that we would get back to all of those principles that we believe in, the reason why I ran for office, the reason why I feel like those policies are so good for the American people, the reason why my parents immigrated from Haiti to the United States.

Unfortunately, I think it is going to be all about the former president. And it is really interesting because I've always said, look, we are not a party that stands behind a person. We're a party that stands behind a principle. And it is our job to hold people accountable if they go outside of those principles. And I don't see that.

Right now, I see, unfortunately, at CPAC, which I loved being there, by the way, unfortunately, I see something that is very similar to another rally. I really hope that it is not. But, so far, this is exactly what we're witnessing.

BOLDUAN: I mean, how can you hope that it is not? I mean, just look at like the subtitles of what is happening at some of these breakout sessions. One of the themes of CPAC is Trump is -- is on Trump's lie that the election was stolen because of widespread fraud. A couple of subtitles of panels in breakout sessions include failed states, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, oh, my, and other culprits, why judges and media refuse to look at the evidence.

I mean, this -- I think your hope -- I don't know what to say about it. But, I mean, do you think CPAC --

LOVE: There is always hope. There is always hope. But I agree with you completely. It is not turning out that way. I'm not surprised. I knew that this was going to be like a Trump rally. I find it really interesting because I saw Ted Cruz talk about Donald Trump, where at convention where Donald Trump was the nominee for the Republican Party, it was nothing about Donald Trump when he first actually gave his speech at the nominating convention. If you remember that speech, everybody was surprised that he had such a prime time spot and it had nothing do to do with the president. And now it is all about the president. It's all about the election was stolen from him.

BOLDUAN: I mean, Mia, with Ted Cruz is transparent. Yes. But, I mean, with Ted Cruz, the motivations are transparent and they always seem to be.

What is not necessarily transparent or something I'd like your take on is what you think of what Mitch McConnell has said just last night after everything he said very clearly about the president after January 6, now saying that he would support him if he was a Republican nominee.


LOVE: Yes. It's really kind of going back and forth. I kind of see this idea. And I think what happens with Mitch McConnell is that he is in a really rough spot. He is trying to do everything he can to gain those seats that he lost during the election. Georgia is a main one, Arizona is another one, and he is trying to do what he can to save the party.

He also said that Donald Trump has to make his way, like everybody else. There are a lot of senators that he is working with that want to run for president also. And so he has actually left it open to saying, look, I'll support who the nominee is. Unfortunately, if that's Donald Trump, he said that he would support Donald Trump. I hope that it's not.

BOLDUAN: I don't know how -- obviously, it always is for Mitch McConnell to save the party and get the party in power. I don't know how saving the party is, after what he said about Donald Trump, how saving the party is backing Donald Trump in 2024. But we can continue that as we watch CPAC play out.

Thank, for coming on, I appreciate it.

LOVE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Biden is on his way to survey the situation in Texas after that devastating winter storm and the complete failure of leadership down there. Details on what he'll see and who he is meeting with, that's next.

But also this week, we are launching CNN Heroes 2021. It's the 15th year of celebrating everyday people who are changing the world.

To kick it off, an update on someone at the center of the moment that you selected as the most inspiring last year, a grandfather rescuing a man when street protests turned violent.


PATRICK HUTCHINSON, CNN HERO: There was a lot of unrest, there was a lot of frustration. I didn't see color, I just saw somebody who needed help. I just had the presence of mind to scoop him up, put him on my shoulder.

And I had a message coming up on my phone from my sister. She said, it's gone viral, you've gone viral.

I've spoken to the likes of Reverend Al Sharpton, Prince Harry, I've been on the cover of Men's Health, BBC News, I've been on live T.V., CNN, CNBC, I received a humanitarian award. I've had Michelle Obama write a message on her Instagram. It hasn't stopped and it's still going.

We strive to unite and to change and inspire. And we call it UTCAI. We're inspiring other people to be the change in the world that we want to see, going out there and do what's right. Don't stand by and watch certain things unfold when you know that you have the ability to do something about it.


BOLDUAN: A change in the world that we want to see. It's always good to hear that.

To learn more, go to We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: Right now, the president and the first lady are on their way to Texas, making the trip today to Houston for a firsthand look at the damage from last week's deadly winter storm and the massive failure of the state's electrical grid that followed.

Joining me right now from Houston is CNN's Arlette Saenz, ahead of the president's arrival. Arlette, what are you expecting from the president's trip today?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, President Biden will be here in Houston, Texas, to get an in-person and on the ground assessment of the recovery efforts after that severe winter storm battered the state last week and left millions without power, heat or water.

Now, the president will be making multiple stops here in Houston, one of those hard-hit areas, and he will start by touring an emergency operations center here in Harris County. He will also be visiting and meeting with volunteers at a Houston food bank where his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, will be packaging food and water for the community a little bit earlier in the day.

And then the president will be wrapping up his day by delivering remarks here at the complex of NRG Stadium, where there is one of those federal mass vaccination sites that the government has set up, as they are trying to get more vaccines out to the American people.

Now, while the president is here on the ground in Houston, he will be joined by several state lawmakers, including the state's governor, Greg Abbott, as well as Senator John Cornyn, both of those men Republicans. The state's other senator, Ted Cruz, is over in Orlando speaking at CPAC this morning. And also joining the president on this trip will be some of the Houston area members of Congress.

Now, the White House has said that this trip is supposed to focus on ways that the president can help offer federal assistance to the state of Texas, but it also will be an opportunity for Biden to play that role of comforter-in-chief. You see presidents step into that role time and time again in the wake of disasters and tragedies, and it's something that Biden is quite comfortable with as well, as he is quite known for his empathy.

We have seen him go into communities in the past multiple times to meet with families and survivors.


And you've also heard him express that empathy amid the coronavirus pandemic, and we will see that firsthand here in Houston in just a short while.