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U.S. House Passes Biden's $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Package; FDA Expected to Authorize Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Saturday; Saudi Crown Prince Approved Khashoggi Killing; London's Rat Population Booms in Lockdown. Aired 2:30-3a ET

Aired February 27, 2021 - 02:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): And welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

We begin with the breaking news out of Washington. After weeks of political wrangling, the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed President Biden's sweeping COVID stimulus bill. Lawmakers voted in near party line fashion to pass the nearly $2 trillion pandemic aid package.

It's a major step for President Biden as he tries to push his first legislative priority across the finish line. CNN's Ryan Nobles with the latest from Capitol Hill.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It took into the early morning hours of Saturday but Democrats have finally passed that $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, a key priority for President Biden in the early days of his administration.

This is just the first step in the legislative process. It still needs to be passed by the Senate. They will likely change the bill before it goes back to the House for final passage.

This version of the bill that was passed on Saturday does include that increase to $15 an hour of the federal minimum wage. When it makes its way back to the Senate, that will likely be stripped out because of a ruling by the Senate parliamentarians, saying that it cannot be passed under reconciliation which would mean that with only 51 votes in the Senate, which is how this legislation is making its way through Congress.

Aside from the minimum wage, there's still a lot of other important things that Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill are really wanting to be a part of the package. That includes an extension of unemployment benefits, which are scheduled to sunset in the middle of March. Also, an expansion of the child tax credit. And then there's the

direct payments to Americans, $1,400 a person for most Americans under a certain income level, getting the full amount of aid to folks to that $2,000 mark, which was a big key debate that happened at the end of 2020.

This is a big priority for Democrats and President Biden but it's something that Republicans are still pushing back in a big way, Republicans very roundly against this in the House of Representatives, most voting against the bill on Saturday.

And it's expected that it will be the same when it makes its way to the Senate as well. But there are more Democrats than Republicans on Capitol Hill right now. They don't need Republicans to pass this legislation and it looks to be the path that this bill will take as it makes its way through the House and Senate.

The leaders up here hoping they have the bill on President Biden's desk by March 14th --- Ryan Nobles, CNN, on Capitol Hill.


HOLMES: And Ron Brownstein is CNN's senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic," thanks for staying up.

It's a first step but it is not how it will look after the Senate is done with it on a couple of key things.

How do you see it playing out?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think in the Senate, they have the fundamental problem of trying to squeeze it through the reconciliation process that allows them to pass it with a simple majority vote.

And to do that, it gets squeezed down through the rules that govern reconciliation. Sooner or later they will have to deal with the filibuster. That leaves them needing 60 votes for almost everything major they want to do.

HOLMES: You had Republicans slamming it, a return of the swamp, I think it was called. Polling has shown massive public support for the bill.

What is the risk for the Republicans to say no to it for political reasons?

BROWNSTEIN: I think that is the really important lesson for the Biden White House out of tonight. You have a bill that is about as popular as it can be in a polarized, divided America. Over 60 percent, some polls 70 percent of the country, saying they support it. And yet, not a single House Republican voted for this.

I think that is kind of a foreshadowing of what Biden can expect in terms of Republican resistance to almost everything that he wants to do. Look, it's an open question, if the economy recovers and the virus is under control, this could be a vote that looks bad for Republicans in 2022.

But in many ways these House Republicans are almost all inhabiting districts that voted for Donald Trump. They are representing Trump country and there's few of them have much to fear from this vote.


HOLMES: And progressives, of course, it's likely that -- well, It's certain that the minimum wage will be stripped out, the minimum wage increase will be stripped out of the bill by the time it goes through the Senate.

How much of a setback is it for the progressive wing?

This is something that they are fiercely in favor of.

BROWNSTEIN: Again, it was implausible always to argue that, under the arcane rules that govern the so-called reconciliation process, you could raise the minimum wage through that process. We are looking at jerry-rigged attempts to get around the fundamental issue, the filibuster in the Senate means you need 60 votes to pass almost anything.

There's almost nothing that Democrats care about that 10 Republicans are going to be willing to vote for. We saw the House, in addition to the minimum wage that will be stripped out, we saw the House already pass the Equality Act, basically equal rights for the LGBTQ community in the workplace and housing.

Next week the House is going to pass what is arguably the single most important thing that they will do other than COVID, a sweeping democracy reform bill. It will go to the Senate and face the filibuster.

Police reform will face the filibuster, a new Voting Rights Act will face the filibuster. Sooner or later Biden and the Senate Democrats will get passed everything they can do with reconciliation and have to confront head-on whether they are willing to let Mitch McConnell block the majority of their remaining agenda through the filibuster or try to end the filibuster.

HOLMES: You outlined a crucial thing for the Democratic agenda. You are right, they are not going anywhere with Republicans taking up 50 percent of the Senate and not wanting to give any ground.

Mitch McConnell, his sole aim is to regain power in 2020, that is all he wants to do.

For people who don't know, how difficult is it for Democrats to get rid of the filibuster and go to a majority vote?

BROWNSTEIN: The irony is it requires you to get 60 vote to do anything in the Senate is, except that which can be shoe-horned into this reconciliation process. But you can change the filibuster with 50 plus one votes. If every Democrat votes to end the filibuster, or even exclude more kinds of legislation from it the way they've been carving serial exemptions, one by one, for lower judicial appointments, executive branch appointments and Supreme Court appointments, they can do it with 51 votes.

And I think that you know, right now, we are going to be focusing on the reconciliation process for COVID relief, probably for the next few weeks or even months we may be focusing on the reconciliation process for the next stage of Biden's economic plan.

He can do this once more on things that have a budget impact. But by some point this fall, they are going to be standing there, kind of naked, you know, what Winston Churchill said, you see what everyone is wearing when the tide goes back out.

They are going to be in the position where there could be half a dozen major priorities of the Democratic coalition, democracy reform, voters rights, police reform, LGBTQ equality, gun control, all piling up on Chuck Schumer's desk, all being filibustered by a Republican coalition that by the way now represents 44 percent of the country if you assign half of each state's population to each senator.

So, you have a double whammy of minority rule here. And I think it will be difficult for Democrats to get all the way to 2022 without addressing the filibuster. The problem is, two of their members, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona at the moment said they will not change it. I don't know if that can stand up to the actual realities of these fights one by one where Democrats are being stymied by a minority.

HOLMES: We are didn't even get to voter suppression on the state level and gold statues of Donald Trump at CPAC. We'll have to save that for another day. Ron, good to see you, thanks for that.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Michael.


HOLMES: Well, the U.S. is taking another big step to tackle the root of the coronavirus problem. A third vaccine might get the green light in just a few hours from now. Advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are endorsing Johnson & Johnson's vaccine and did so unanimously.

The big deal is that this vaccine only needs one dose. The two major vaccines that the U.S. is using now need two. And planning around it is not always easy. The FDA has to clear it and the CDC has to give it the final go-ahead.

Some health experts worry that some Americans might not want to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And that's because it is showing 66 percent efficacy against moderate and more serious cases. But that is from a global analysis and the numbers out of the U.S. are a lot higher, as CNN medical analyst Dr. Jorge Rodriguez told me earlier.


DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: First of all, it's a very good vaccine. We have gotten spoiled by the numbers that were thrown out by Pfizer and Moderna in the 90s.


RODRIGUEZ: That is spectacular. Had it not been something to compare to, we would think, well, this is a great vaccine. It has 72 percent efficacy here in the United States, 85 percent reduction of very serious COVID illness and 100 percent, really, reduction in deaths.

What makes it great is it's one injection, it doesn't need to be kept in sub-zero temperatures. It is likely more affordable and it's something that can be distributed to many areas of the world with one shot. So it will be a global game-changer for sure.

HOLMES: Absolutely. Another arrow in the quiver. Vaccines, of course, prevent illness but what do we know about whether they prevent infection?

It was interesting, J&J was shown to be effective in that regard. It's interesting, too, we should note, it was trialed against comparatively more serious versions of the virus as well.

RODRIGUEZ: Which is why you can't compare one to the other. They used different populations, different results and different times of year. Yes, the J&J virus in South Africa were tested that had that variant, I should say. It has shown to decrease the spread.


HOLMES: The U.S. finally releasing a report on the killing of a dissident Saudi journalist, pointing the finger at the highest levels of the Saudi kingdom. We have details on that and reactions, when we come back.




Welcome back.

A U.S. intelligence report, saying it, flat out, the Saudi crown prince approved the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The report isn't new but former president Donald Trump refused to release it. The Biden administration making it public on Friday, announcing actions against several Saudis but not the crown prince.


HOLMES: Khashoggi's fiance was waiting for him outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul the day he was killed. She spoke to Christiane Amanpour.


HATICE CENGIZ, JAMAL KHASHOGGI'S FIANCEE: I am devastated than ever before. Now I believe he will never come back.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: You tweeted "justice for Jamal" in one of those beautiful pictures that you put out.

CENGIZ: Yes, I took it in our house. I took it, yes, most beautiful picture of Jamal. So I would like to see the world leaders to take action for justice for Jamal, I can say that just now.


HOLMES: CNN's Nic Robinson, live in London with more on this.

Nic, we have seen visa restrictions and sanctions on some of the kill squad but is it imperative to do something significant, especially now that we know the man deemed to have approved the murder?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, the fact that there isn't a smoking gun in this report, the very strong circumstantial evidence here. His control in the kingdom, his complete control over the intelligence and security services.

All of the things that were listed in their report, they don't amount to a smoking gun. If the Biden administration has that and that is available to them and they have not put it out, certainly, it allows them the path they have taken, which is to sanction some individuals, to tell the Saudis don't ever do this again, don't ever chase after dissidents around the world again, don't use these violent tactics again.

And then, to move on from there. I think the anger we heard and, the speed from the rebuttal foreign ministry in Riyadh is indicative of how these stings for them. The reality is, as you say, Biden has not put sanctions on the crown prince, because this is a man who, effectively, leads the country on a day-to-day basis and Biden could very well and will end up sitting around summit tables with him, doing business with him. They both need each other.

HOLMES: Meanwhile, Jamal Khashoggi.

The former U.S. Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, said something interesting. He said, if we continue to support Saudi Arabia under MBS' leadership, we have lost all moral standing in the world.

In many ways, the findings and actions are not a surprise in terms of realpolitik, as you have outlined. But does Hagel have a point in terms of moral standing for the U.S.?

What Joe Biden said before he was elected, when he was a candidate, was quite different to what his attitude is now.

ROBERTSON: Yes. I think this is what the Saudis were expecting. I've talked to Saudi officials about what Biden said on the campaign trail and about what they would expect, and they were expecting a bumpy ride and they were expecting the relationship to dip.

I'm not sure they were expecting it to happen in a public fashion. That's a difficult thing for the Saudis.

But equally, it is difficult for President Biden, who will make such a big stand on human rights issues and on what democracies are and the values they stand for. You are morally undermined, if you are knowingly dealing with a leader who abuses those very principles you stand up for, that you say and this is what president Biden said, it's the democratic values that give the United States the power and the reach around the world.

In that way, it's a tarnishing there. Michael, it is a very realpolitik. It also reflects the bigger picture of the global geopolitical standings right now. China is on the rise. Biden cannot afford to lose that relationship with Saudi Arabia.

HOLMES: Absolutely. Great analysis, as always, good to see you, Nic Robertson, in London.

And, London in lockdown seeing a rise in rodents. When we come back, pandemic restrictions have given rats freedom to roam. Now is there a pied piper in the house?

We will be right back.





HOLMES: Now life in London can be a bit of rat race, if you've ever lived there you would know. But coronavirus restrictions mean the rats are actually winning. Here is CNN's Nina dos Santos.


NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR (voice-over): Here in the parks, up the pipes and heading toward a kitchen near you.


DOS SANTOS: Lockdown London has become a boom town for the capital's rats, left unchecked in shuttered shops and restaurants over the winter and now making their way out of the inner city and into the suburbs.

MICHAEL COATES, CO-FOUNDER, COMBAT PEST CONTROL: Look at this rat, trying to get into the house.

DOS SANTOS: According to the British Pest Control Association, rodent sightings increased 51 percent during the first lockdown and 78 percent, thereafter, prompting fears the U.K. capital could soon become famous for the super rats that once belonged in Paris and New York.


DOS SANTOS (on camera): Like a hole.

COATES: A hole. DOS SANTOS: To let water out.

COATES: Exactly. It's screwed out, because people get lazy. They undo it and it will come off.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): To avoid that, the city needs prevention like this. It's just before daybreak on the banks of the River Thames. And former soldier Michael Coates is patrolling the refuse site, looking for the telltale signs.

COATES: And what you can also find, especially in heavy populations of rats, they'll start gnawing. And this plastic's real easy for rats to gnaw.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Fewer people on the streets has made rats more conspicuous.


DOS SANTOS: Do you ever see rats?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've seen one, a little one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rats and pigeons and everything, yes.

DOS SANTOS: So, you think there probably is something in there?

COATES: Definitely stuff in here. Definitely.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): And more abundant waste from locked down homes has lured them to backyards.

COATES: We've certainly seen now a spike in rats migrating back into people's gardens. Beginning of last year, we got a really bad case in someone's garden. She was an elderly lady and she'd seen a few rats. And by the time we got there, there was maybe 10 or 15 rats and it had become this really big issue.

DOS SANTOS: Rats have always been a part of London life, but nobody really knows how many there are in the capital. That's because usually, they're pretty elusive.

They do, however, outnumber the human population and they multiply really fast. Just one pair of breeding rats could give rise to 1,250 in one year. As the population swells, rats themselves are getting bigger and harder to catch. Some are immune to poison. Others have figured out how to avoid traps.

Exterminator Paul Claydon has never been so busy.

PAUL CLAYDON, OWNER, FAST TRACK PEST CONTROL: I would say, probably, calls have increased about 50 percent for me.

DOS SANTOS (on camera): Do you think that when London eventually reopens, they're going to realize they've got one big rat problem?

CLAYDON: I think that's right. And I think a lot of commercial businesses have -- have been closed so long. I think when they start going back to these properties and certainly, businesses that haven't have pest control contracts involved, they might find themselves going to have a big surprise.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): The mayor's office doesn't have a rodent plan and many local governments don't offer free pest control, either, meaning businesses and homeowners are often left to their own devices to deal with their new post-pandemic neighbors -- Nina dos Santos, CNN, London.


HOLMES: On that note, I will be back with more CNN NEWSROOM in just a moment. I am Michael Holmes, appreciate your company.