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Biden Arrives in Houston to Tour Damage from Winter Storm; Federal Judge Rules Eviction Moratorium Is Unconstitutional; House Passes Equality Act as Sen. Slams Transgender Nominee; Rep. Greene Faces Criticism for Posting Sign about Transgenders; Families of Those Who Died During Texas Storm Sue Energy Companies. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 26, 2021 - 14:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost water supply. Without power, the water lines froze. And we had approximately 3.5 million residents without water and we went to boil-water notices.

We lost 10,400 individuals that reported their homes had broken pipes, and they're still working on that today.

We still have multiple water utility districts that are still repairing their system today. And 57,000 residents still have to boil their water.

But we've been able to work with our FEMA partners in the state to receive waters and meals ready to eat. We've distributed approximately 450,000 bottles of water, gave out 33,000 meals to the residents of Harris County.

The judge is calm in times of crisis. She leads us in every briefing at 7:00 a.m. and 1900 just to make sure that she mentioned, we sleep here, so does she. She's in the heart of the battle with us and we appreciate that.

All of our first responders, including our CenterPoint representatives, out catastrophic medical operations group, that work with every single hospital making sure they can at least sustain themselves during this crisis,.

But we operate on three "C"s, communication, coordination and cooperation. And without, we fail.

And I want to turn it back to Chief Kidd.

Because without the relationships we have with our jurisdictions, state and feds, we would not be successful.



We say that the world in which we live in that all disasters are local. Everything starts and ends at the local level. So, our support of the city of Houston, Harris County, along with our other 253 counties and 1,215 cities has been paramount.

As the governor has directed us, all available resources all the time.

In addition to water deliver here, we have literally delivered almost 12 million bottles of water. We continue to push the resources out. And we've got to keep doing that.

We talk with our partners at the Red Cross. They're talking to us now about the boomerang effect.

So, I think a picture is worth 1,000 words.

Again, very grateful for the partnership with acting administrator --




KIDD: Preempted on the pictures? Yes, sir.

BIDEN: No, no, but it's important. You all go ahead. Go through it.

KIDD: Yes, sir.

The pink-colored counties have been cleared for individual assistance. The rest of them have category B. And again, very grateful for that.

But when you compare the days of subfreezing temperatures here, up to seven days --


KIDD: -- of subfreezing temperatures, we have a lot of families and businesses and, importantly, schools that have not yet been able to submit their damage assessments to us.

So, while we see our boil-water notices are still across a lot of our state in declared and undeclare counties, what we know is that means the water comes up out of the ground and gets into the treatment center. It gets into the distribution line.

We still don't have a count from the meter to the kitchen sink of how many homes have been damaged and destroyed with broken pipes.

We want to continue to work closely with our local partners grabbing that assessment and with our federal partners to get that information to you so we can make the best decision possible for all of us. We talked with our school district superintendents last night. Texas

has about 1,200 independent school districts. And 75 percent of those, a little over 700 were able to report to us last night that over 4,600 of their buildings had broken water pipes in them.

We have a long way to go, Mr. President. We'll get through this together, but we just have to keep marching forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good day, Mr. President, Governor.

Bob Fenton, our acting administrator --

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: You're watching President Biden getting a briefing on what is a long road ahead in Texas. There in Houston hearing from official, you heard it, pipes that burst and how much of recovery is needed in that particular city.

We'll monitor and bring it to you if anything else warrants it.

A federal judge in Texas ruled a federal moratorium on evictions is unconstitutional. The eviction order was designed to give people relief during the pandemic.


It can be invoked when a tenant states they make less than $1,000 a year and experienced significant loss of income.

The Trump-appointed judge stopped short of issuing an injunction and expected them to respect his ruling and withdraw the moratorium.

Robert Henneke is general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, one of the organizations that sued to have this eviction moratorium overturned.

Robert, you were successful. Give us your reaction to this ruling.


Today starts the period when my clients, landlords, can start recovering from the injuries they've been subject to for not being able to collect rent for the past five months.

My clients didn't do anything wrong. And they've still had to pay their property taxes, pay their mortgages, pay costs of their buildings because of this unconstitutional federal policy.

Which it was always absurd to suggest that the Centers for Disease Control somehow would have authority to order that state evictions were not allowed to occur.

So yesterday's court ruling was correct. The order has always been unconstitutional. And now my clients can move forward and try to restart their business, and to do so without federal interference.

KEILAR: As you know, on the other side of this case -- you say your clients didn't do anything wrong.

On the other side of the case, you know, those who support the moratorium will say the tenants didn't do anything wrong either and are not in a place where they can pay their rent at this point in time.

And I guess I wanted to ask your thoughts on this, because the CDC, of course, has outstanding powers during a pandemic. This was very much at the heart of this case.

They have these powers to stop the spread of coronavirus. And the CDC has said mass evictions leads to homelessness, which leads to overpacked shelters, unsanitary conditions, Americans living on the streets, and that spreads coronavirus.

How do you get around that?

HENNEKE: Well, the federal government does not have general public health powers. In this case, the federal government said it was the Commerce Clause, the power to regulate interstate commerce, that gave it the authority to this.

Look, we should all agree everyone should pay their rent. And the real focus is the policymakers in Washington, D.C.

Over the last year, the government spent trillions of dollars in COVID funding that's gone to pork projects and special interests and hundreds of millions of dollars to groups not enough of that funding has been dedicated to Americans who still need to have help.

So, let's not be angry at the landlords for trying to keep their businesses and properties afloat.

Let's put the focus on Washington, D.C., to do its job. Not through unconstitutional orders but actually by getting to work to help Americans that are still recovering.

KEILAR: On the issue of the Commerce Clause, you know, when you talk about the powers that the CDC has, or that the federal government has, you know, if you're in a situation like the country is at war, and there are people who are providing necessary services or they are providing the products necessary to fight that war, and evictions are something would get in the way of that national effort, perhaps there's a case to be made.

I wonder what you think of the argument that, look, if you're talking about people who are unable to pay their rent and they are evicted, they -- out of their homes, there's going to be a risk of spreading the virus. There's going to be community spread because of that.

It's not something that is just going to be contained with the folks who are being evicted. And that is going to hurt the national effort.

What do you say to that?

HENNEKE: Well, you have to look at the specific target of the regulation. That's what the Supreme Court case law says.

And here the CDC order was specific in prohibiting the eviction process, which is a state-based judicial remedy if you're a landlord and have a non-paying tenant. So that going to court is not an economic activity.

And here, the judge in Tyler correctly agreed that the federal government had not been able to show that interstate commerce was involved in what this order prohibited was, which was being able to remove unwanted persons from private property and be able to avail yourselves of your state court legal remedies.

KEILAR: Robert, obviously, this is a very complicated issue, and there are folks being hindered on both sides of this.

We appreciate you coming on to talk with us. Thank you.


HENNEKE: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: Still ahead, Senator Rand Paul criticized for a controversial question he asked President Biden's first transgender cabinet nominee.

And I'll speak to a family whose son froze during the Texas storm are now suing the power companies.


KEILAR: Senator majority leader, Chuck Schumer, plans to bring to the floor a bill that would protect against discrimination for LGBTQ people.

The House, yesterday, passed the Equality Act, protecting against discrimination at work, in housing, and other services.

President Biden praised the decision tweeting this: "Transgender rights are human rights and the House made that clear today by passing the Equality Act. Now it's time for the Senate to do the same."

For some members of Congress, Thursday's vote was highly personal.



REP. MONDAIRE JONES (D-NY): Growing up I watched as straight politicians mostly white, mostly male, used my basic human rights as a political football to further their careers.

Had this legislation been enacted when I was growing up, it would have been direct evidence of the fact that things really do get better, that I didn't have to hide or cry so much.


KEILAR: Gillian Branstetter is with us now, a transgender advocate and spokeswoman for the National Center for Transgender Equality.

As you first do, explain how meaningful key legislation like this is to you. Why is this so critical?


The Equality Act is really a historic opportunity to finally recognize that transgender people are not up for debate in this country.

We still continue to face prejudice throughout many areas of our lives, where we work, where we live, where we learn, and the Senate has a really unique opportunity to say what kind of country we live in.

A place where we're going to allow that to happen with no recourse, or a place to give people the tools to fight prejudice when it comes up in their lives.

Transgender people are twice as likely to live in poverty, three times more likely to be unemployed. One in three of us are homeless in our lives.

There's a real critical need for advocacy in the law and this bill will do that.

KEILAR: I wanted to discuss a moment, sure you've seen it, where Republican Senator Rand Paul yesterday during a confirmation hearing for President Biden's first transgender cabinet nominee, Dr. Rachel Levine. What he said, of course, if she were confirmed, she would be the assistant health secretary.

Let's listen.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): Genital mutilation condemned by the WHO, the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Population Fund. According to the WHO, genital mutilation is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights.

Dr. Levine, you've supported minors given hormone blockers to prevent them from going through puberty as well as surgical destruction of the latter's genitalia.

Will you make a more-firm decision on whether minors should be involved in these decisions?

DR. RACHEL LEVINE, HHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HEALTH NOMINEE: Senator, transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field. And if confirmed to the position of assistant secretary of health, I would certainly be pleased to come to your office and to talk with you and your staff about the standards of care and complexity of this field.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Her answer there was to basically say, you don't know what you're talking about, once you put it through the translation machine there. Your reaction to that moment?

BRANSTETTER: What Senator Paul said was offensive and disgusting and wrong. The health care needs of one in 50 kids in this country.

The fact of the matter is transgender children are some of the most vulnerable kids in the country today. Six times as likely to experience a suicide attempt due to their peers.

But the good news is accepting and affirming them and recognizing them for who they are is critical to giving them a chance at a full life as their peers.

For young children, the kind Rand Paul was looking at, a haircut, a new pronoun in school name.

The health care community is behind the need to respect transgender children for who they are. These are not controversial questions amongst the doctors who actually work with these kids.

It's critically important if parents think their child might be transgender, they listen to their child and their doctor.

Listen to your doctor and not politicians, who are spreading fears and spreading lies and trying to get you to vote one way or another.

Listen to your doctor. And, please, give your child a chance to a happy life by affirming and respecting them for who they are.

KEILAR: You mentioned politicians who are spreading fear, and one is Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.

She's facing sharp criticisms for this time after posting an anti- transgender sign directly outside the office of her fellow Congresswoman Marie Newman, who has a child who is transgender.

You see what the sign says, "There are two genders male and female. Trust the science."

Look, Gillian, you will never convince Marjorie Taylor Greene, but there are -- when I think of groups of Americans who, over time, have acquired more protections, needed protections.

There's been a shift when it comes to American public opinion about seeing those people as people, as their friends or their kids or someone they know.


How do you convince those people?

BRANSTETTER: The biggest thing is, one, lift up transgender voices and to meet transgender people in their daily lives. I think one of the things that I've been really hopeful about is the

fact that Representative Newman is not alone in having a child who is openly transgender. She's joined Representative Katherine Clark and Representative Jayapal and Cory Booker has a family member who is trans in the Senate.

And when trans people are in the room and in your lives, it will get harder and harder to spread lies like this.

And with regards to whether Marjorie Taylor Greene of all people is telling us to trust the science. I really wish they would trust the science.

As I said earlier, the scientific consensus, the consensus of the public health community is transgender people are real and transgender people are here to stay and they deserve the same respect and dignity as everybody else.

KEILAR: Gillian, thanks so much for being with us.

BRANSTETTER: Any time. Thank you.

KEILAR: Right now, President Biden is in Texas assessing the damage from last week's brutal winter storm. Moments ago, he visited the Harris County Emergency Operations Center alongside Governor Abbott.

The Electrical Reliability Council of Texas and CenterPoint Energy were unprepared for the magnitude of the storm.

When their systems failed, millions were left without power, heat and water in frigid temperatures. And some people, sadly, froze to death.

Now lawsuits are mounting against the energy companies as their families search for accountability.

Lawrence Ibarra is one of those people. He lost his uncle in the storm. He's joined by his family's attorney, Larry Taylor.

His family right now is suing the power companies for negligence.

Lawrence, first, I'm -- I am so sorry. How is your family holding up?

LAWRENCE IBARRA, FAMILY SUING ENERGY COMPANIES AFTER UNCLES DIES IN STORM: We're holding very well right now. It's -- it's a very tough time. We're very strong, very strong-knit family so we're working very hard to cope with this. Thank you for asking.

KEILAR: So good to hear that you guys have a support system to get through this.

Tell us what happened to your uncle.

IBARRA: Well, power was lost in the Houston area about 1:30ish on Monday morning last week during the storm. And he was out of power pretty much from 1:30 all the way up until he was deceased, which happened on Tuesday. He didn't have power. He didn't have any electricity, didn't have any


Most of the homes in this area were probably in the high 30s, you know, without any heat in the house. And if you weren't protected with any type of layers, it was pretty difficult for you to stay warm.

So, I think that it was a pretty difficult thing for him to stay warm. So, my father actually ended up driving over to his facility or to his apartment and found him on the floor. He had frozen to death.

KEILAR: Larry, what does this lawsuit allege?

LARRY TAYLOR, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING IBARRA FAMILY: We're alleging that ERCOT and CenterPoint failed to do their due diligence in protecting the people of Texas by upgrading those systems, following numerous plans, as well as heeding warnings that something like this can happen.

And failing to notify and to have a plan to effectively roll out energy as far as blackouts or anything else is concerned.

KEILAR: The -- the power companies so far haven't been willing, Larry, to comment on pending litigation. ERCOT told a local station that we're confident that our grid operators were able to avoid a statewide blackout.

What is your response to that?

TAYLOR: My response is that they are throwing an excuse against the wall hoping it sticks.

They knew, since 2009 -- since 2011, that something like this can happen. They knew as far back as 1989 that these systems were not prepared for the winters or for very cold winter, and so they had ample time to do the right thing.

We're not necessarily just talking about what they -- what they did on the day of the storm but failing to do things prior to that.

KEILAR: Lawrence, the president is in Texas today. What do you want him to focus on? What do you want him to know from your perspective?

IBARRA: One of the things that I really want for us to focus on is how we can become well-educated with something like this happening.

We live in the Deep South where temperatures normally don't get that frigid in the wintertime, so it makes it a little bit difficult for people that aren't aware of how to deal with the surroundings to be able to be educated, to get an idea on if this ever happened again what to prepare for, just like we're prepared for hurricanes.


I want to make sure that in the future that people are prepared for something like this so they don't have to lose loved ones like we did. KEILAR: That is -- that is a wonderful thought and so helpful.

Lawrence, thank you so much to you. We're thinking of your family.

Larry, thanks for being with us as well.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

IBARRA: Thank you.

KEILAR: Two critical votes on COVID are happening within hours. First is the FDA. It could pave the way for the first single-dose vaccine. And the president's first landmark COVID relief bill hitting a major setback hours before the House votes on it.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.