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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; More than 300 Schoolgirls Abducted in Nigeria; U.S. Airstrikes Hit Iran-Backed Militia in Syria; Golden Idol of Trump Displayed at GPAC; Prince Harry Opens Up to James Corden. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 27, 2021 - 03:00   ET




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

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. Appreciate your company.

And we do begin with breaking news this hour. After weeks of political wrangling, Americans are one step closer to receiving a much needed financial boost.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The yeas are 219. The nays are 212. The bill is passed without objection. A motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.


HOLMES: In just the past hour, the U.S. House of Representatives passing President Biden's sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill. The vote was nearly straight down party lines. Two Democrats broke ranks and joined Republicans to vote against the measure.

Now the bill goes to the U.S. Senate. Now this development will be a profound relief for millions of Americans, who have been struggling to get by during this pandemic.

What's actually in the bill?

CNN's Brian Todd breaks it down for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michelle Mitchom is a mother of four who's been out of a job since July because of the pandemic. She recently told CNN that while she's built a career in sales, she's found herself applying for jobs she never considered before.

MICHELLE MITCHOM, UNEMPLOYED MOTHER: I've been applying for any type of job. It doesn't matter if it's entry level, if it's internships, if it's janitorial, if it's anything I've been applying.

TODD (voice-over): Mitchom and millions of other Americans out of work because of the pandemic would get money in the stimulus package. Each unemployed American would get $400 a week in federal unemployment money through August 29th. That's up from $300 a week they're getting now, and it's added onto whatever state unemployment benefits they're getting.

What's in the stimulus for you if you're working, individuals making $75,000 a year or less would get a onetime payment of $1,400. That's up from $1,200 in the first stimulus bill, $600 in the second. If you make $100,000 a year ore more, you get nothing.

Couples earning less than $150,000 would get a $2,800 onetime payment. Families with children would be able to get an additional $1,400 for each dependent. Families earning $200,000 a year or more get nothing.

And unlike in the previous two stimulus packages, this time, adult dependent, including college students would be eligible for onetime payments.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY, PERSONAL FINANCE COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And you might be thinking, well, why should they get it? But, you know, college students lost their jobs and those jobs help for them to go to school. And so, many of them were shutout because they were older than 17. And many parents are taking care of disabled adult children and they are also in need.

TODD (voice-over): The current freeze on evictions runs out at the end of March. And the new stimulus bill designed to help millions in danger of being thrown out of their homes.

SINGLETARY: When you pause evictions people still have to go back and pay that money at some point and so putting money on the table to help them make those payments is key. If you lost your job and maybe now, you're employed again, but it's going to take you so long to catch up.

TODD (voice-over): So, in the new stimulus, over $19 billion would go to state and local governments to help low income Americans cover rent, back rent and utilities. $12 million to help struggling homeowners pay their mortgages, utilities and taxes.

And another $5 billion to help state and local governments assist people who are at immediate risk of becoming homeless.

TODD: Food insecurity has also been a huge problem in America during the pandemic with advocacy groups saying at various times that tens of millions of Americans were in danger of not having enough to eat.

With this new stimulus package, people getting food stamps would see that 15 percent increase they got in benefits extended through September. It was due to expire at the end of June -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


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

Now the big deal here is that this vaccine only needs one dose. The vaccines the U.S. is using right now, of course, need two. And planning around that isn't always easy.


HOLMES: Well, now the FDA needs to clear it officially and then the CDC needs to give it the final go-ahead. Alexandra Field has the story for us.


DR. H. CODY MEISSNER, FDA VACCINES AND RELATED BIOLOGICAL PRODUCTS ADVISORY COMMITTEE: We need every tool that we can possibly get to curtail the spread of this pandemic.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Initially Johnson & Johnson won't be able to produce as many shots as the Biden administration had hoped but the ease of the country's first single- dose vaccine should boost critical efforts to vaccinate more Americans.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF COVID-19 MEDICAL ADVISER: The more vaccines that have high efficacy, that we can get into play, the better.

FIELD (voice-over): With the possibility now of a third vaccine in the U.S., health officials say people should get any vaccine they can get. Studies show Johnson & Johnson's is 85 percent effective at protecting against severe illness.

DR. SAJU MATHEW, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Also, everybody who got the J&J vaccine, no one was hospitalized and no one died. I know we're so used to the 95 percent number with Moderna and Pfizer, it's a very good, safe and effective vaccine.

FIELD (voice-over): This as new cases and hospitalizations are down significantly from all-time highs. But the CDC says they're seeing a concerning shift. Those declines may be stalling at a high level, with cases increasing for the past three days.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: CDC has been sounding the alarm about the continued spread of variants. We may now be seeing the beginning effects of these variants.

FIELD (voice-over): More Americans are getting vaccinated, more than 2 million in the last day. And more Americans are willing to get vaccinated, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation study. But officials remain concerned about a fourth surge.

DR. WILLIAM HASELTINE, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: The variants that are popping up are not only just evading our immune response. They look like they're going to be more dangerous than the original strain.

FIELD (voice-over): As to whether vaccines could help combat potential new surges, Fauci is saying they can play a big role. They don't have to specifically target a new variant in order to be effective.

FAUCI: Get as many people vaccinated as you possibly can. Everything you throw at us about a mutant is going to be countered by getting people vaccinated.

FIELD: The Biden administration says it's preparing to be able to immediately distribute Johnson & Johnson's vaccine. But before any shots can go in arms, a CDC advisory committee will meet over the weekend to make its recommendation on whether Americans should get it and who should get priority access to it -- in New York, Alexandra Field, CNN.


HOLMES: But some health experts worry that some Americans might not want to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And that is because it's showing 66 percent efficacy against moderate and more serious cases.

But that's 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.


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. 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: And whenever it decides the vaccine is good to go, the CDC already has plans to distribute it. So that's a good thing. An official who has seen those plans tells us that state and local officials will be able to put their orders in as soon as Sunday.

Now the U.S. has finally released its intelligence report on the killing of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But the report isn't new but former U.S. president Donald Trump sat on it and staunchly defended the Saudi crown prince.

Here are some of the main points that you haven't heard from, about all of this until now. The report says flat out that prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the plan to capture or kill Khashoggi in 2018.


HOLMES: It points to involvement by members of the crown prince's inner circle and finds that he viewed Khashoggi as a threat.

The crown prince, though, will not face any immediate punishment or sanction from the U.S. for his central role in Khashoggi's murder. This despite Joe Biden strongly suggesting, as a presidential candidate, that he would not spare the kingdom's de facto ruler or anyone else over this case.

Officials now tell CNN that imposing punitive measures on MBS was never really an option because it was, quote, "too complicated" and could jeopardize U.S. military interests.

But there were repercussions for many other Saudis. The U.S. Treasury Department announcing sanctions against some members of the crown prince's inner circle, including his personal security force.

And the U.S. State Department says 76 Saudi individuals could now face visa restrictions. Let's talk more about all of this with CNN's Nic Robertson, who is in London for us.

You've got all these restrictions, some sanctions but nothing for MBS.

Is there an imperative for the Biden administration to do something regarding the man that the Biden administration now deem to have approved a murder?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think the recalibration here the Biden administration has talked about is one that recalibrates but only inasmuch as the United States still wants to be an ally of Saudi Arabia, still wants the relationship to hold.

They didn't present a smoking gun, a lot of strong circumstantial evidence. You know, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has sort of been judged in the court of international opinion already on this, as you were saying, and judged to have been the reason behind Khashoggi's murder. But the reality for Biden is he wants the relationship to endure. So

what is done here is essentially, if he has information that is really damning, an unequivocal smoking gun about the crown prince, he hasn't put it out. And that's essentially allowed him to move beyond the campaign rhetoric and into the reality of working with this country.

HOLMES: Yes, and we talked about this last hour but it's worth revisiting. The former U.S. Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, saying, if we continue to support Saudi Arabia under MBS' leadership, we've lost all moral standing in the world.

In many ways, the findings, as you point out, are not a surprise in terms of realpolitik.

But does Hagel have a point in terms of moral standing of the U.S. when it addresses things happening in other countries?

ROBERTSON: Biden, in his major foreign policy speech, where he already sort of targeted Saudi Arabia in outlining how he was going to move forward with the country, which is more than he's done really with many other nations, i.e., not supporting the civil war in Yemen where there's a huge humanitarian catastrophe but he was going to protect and defend Saudi Arabia from attackers in the region, particularly those backed by Iran.

You know, that was sort of Saudi-specific. But the very big picture that Biden laid out was United States' real reach in clout and moral authority in the world comes from standing up for democracy, for championing human rights. That's the real power for the United States.

And to that degree, if you partner with a nation, where those values are called into question, then, yes, then you lose some of your moral authority.

But again, I think this comes back to the realpolitik that that direction of travel for Biden on the values of democracy and human rights is hugely important. He just can't throw away the relationship with Saudi Arabia over this.

HOLMES: Yes, and it really is striking, the difference in tone compared to when he was candidate Biden and was strident in his, you know, criticism of the Saudi royal family, the monarchy, the government.

He did speak to the king this week and, to that point, that speaks to the sensitive nature of the issue in the context of the strategic U.S.-Saudi relationship.

I guess, you know, how important is that relationship, you know, aside from the context of punishment fitting the crime in this case?

ROBERTSON: Yes. I think, you know, if we listen to what the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said.

[03:15:00] ROBERTSON: You know, the United States is not going to tolerate any

activities like this again, any abuse of Saudi dissidents through violence, through intimidation.

So a red line has been drawn and this is a red line for both the crown prince and for President Biden because, if the crown prince crosses that red line or is deemed to have crossed that red line, then that's -- you know, if Biden doesn't live up to that measure, then that moral authority that Chuck Hagel was talking about really crumbles in the public view.

So this is a red line that this administration will find itself having to live up to. And if there are transgressions, then that's going to put this relationship into great difficulty.

It's pressure on the crown prince as well. You know, he's looking around. He wants to make huge changes in Saudi Arabia, is looking for international investment to sort of bring about structural, societal changes and reforms.

And a lot of that investment, he looks towards the United States and European investors who, on the face of it, care about the values of democracy, care about human rights.

But he can turn and look to other countries for weapons systems to defend the country against its enemies and for those investments as well.

You know, the decisions for both sides here are not easy but I think the fact that a red line has been drawn, you know, is something that both sides are going to have to live with now. And that's going to remain under scrutiny.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly.

It really does show the reality of global politics, doesn't it?

Nic Robertson in London, great analysis as always. Appreciate it. Thanks, Nic.

Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee was waiting for him outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul the day he was so brutally killed. She spoke to our 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 CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: And Jamal Khashoggi went to the consulate in Istanbul to get paperwork for his upcoming marriage. He was, of course, never seen again.

When we come back here on CNN NEWSROOM, hundreds of schoolgirls have been kidnapped again in Nigeria. Parents aren't just terrified for their daughters. They are outraged at their government. We'll have a full report for you when we come back.





HOLMES: Welcome back.

Nigerian police say they have launched a search and rescue mission to find hundreds of schoolgirls abducted on Friday. A government official says gunmen stormed a secondary school in northwestern Nigeria and took more than 300 girls.

It's a nightmare that parents in the country have, of course, lived through before. Stephanie Busari with the details.


STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN.COM SUPERVISING EDITOR AFRICA (voice-over): A teenage girl just 16 years old, until Friday, she was a high school student in northwestern Nigeria. Now Khadijah Abubakar (ph) and more than 300 of her classmates are missing.

Men armed with guns raided their school in Jangele early Friday morning. A government official tells CNN they arrived here at the school on about 20 motorcycles just after 1:00 am.

Hamsir (ph) was lucky. She narrowly escaped being abducted.

"I got afraid when I saw them running in, shouting and shooting," she says.

She's afraid to ever return to school again.

Jamal Haruna's (ph) daughter, Hatsut (ph), was among those taken. She believes she was grabbed in her pajamas, a hijab left behind for her mother to find.

"By Allah's name, there is no security," she says. "If there was, this would not happen."

Even if God brings back her daughter, Haruna (ph) says she will never allow her to return to school. The state police say they have launched a heavily armed search and

rescue operation. In April 2014, 276 girls were abducted from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria by Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group, who names translates to "Western education is forbidden" in a local language.

It sparked a global movement, Bring Back Our Girls. Scores would escape or later be freed.

Nearly seven years later, more than 100 of these girls are still missing. After my colleague, Nima Elbagir, showed a proof of life video to the Chibok girls' families in 2016, CNN confronted President Muhammadu Buhari.


AMANPOUR: Why didn't the government share this information with them?

MUHAMMADU BUHARI, PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA: I haven't seen that video but even if I see it, I'll be very careful about showing it to the family. There is no point to deliberately raise hope of the families if you can't meet them.

I saw the families as a group twice. One, they came to visit me and my wife. Two, they came as soon as a group to see me. And the less I see them, the better for my own emotional balance.

AMANPOUR: It makes you sad?


BUHARI: Yes. I try to imagine my 14-year-old daughter, 14 to 18, missing for more than two years, trying to imagine what condition are they in.


BUSARI: Families across Jangebe now contemplating these horrid conditions, wondering how long before they see their daughters -- Stephanie Busari, CNN.


HOLMES: Now a new report by Amnesty International says Eritrean forces killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in a massacre in Ethiopia, which could constitute crimes against humanity.

The human rights organization said it spoke to 41 survivors and witnesses, who say the violence in Tigray region began after Eritrean forces captured the city of Axum last November during a religious festival.

Witnesses say they saw house to house raids, on the spot executions and widespread looting. They also say Eritrean soldiers shot at anyone who tried to move the bodies of the dead. The report says there could be more than 240 possible victims. And

satellite footage of mass burial sites seems to corroborate eyewitness accounts. Eritrea's information minister said the report is utterly false and says Amnesty often produces false reports on Eritrea. Ethiopia has not yet responded.

I'm Michael Holmes. If you're a viewer on CNN International, "AFRICAN VOICES CHANGEMAKERS" coming your way next. If you're here with me in North America, I'll be back with more CNN NEWSROOM. Stay with us.





HOLMES: And welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. Appreciate your company. I'm Michael Holmes.

Not so long ago the U.S. House of Representatives approved President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package. The legislation passing by a largely party-line vote of 219-212. No Republicans voted for it and two Democrats voted against it.

The package now moves to the Senate, where it will face changes, including removal of a provision raising the federal minimum wage. A Senate vote will follow next week. Then, because of those changes, there will be a final House vote on the Senate version.


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 SENIOR 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 votes to do anything in the Senate.


BROWNSTEIN: Except that which can be shoehorned 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: Now while President Biden's Democratic allies helped push COVID relief through Congress, some of those same Democrats are pushing back against the president over Thursday's airstrikes in Syria.

Those who have spoken out are questioning the legal basis for the strikes, but the White House says the president has the constitutional authority to, quote, "defend U.S. forces."

Two U.S. fighter jets dropped precision-guided bombs on a small compound in Syria just across the Iraqi border. At least several suspected militants, we're told, were killed. The U.S. alleges the site was used by two Iranian-backed militias to smuggle weapons and are the same militias firing rockets at U.S. forces in Iraq over the last few weeks.

President Biden said the message to Iran should be clear.


BIDEN: You can't get -- you can't act with impunity. Be careful.


HOLMES: CNN's Arwa Damon joins me now from Baghdad with the perspective from there on the ground.

So, what is the message, Arwa, that the Biden administration is sending, not just to the militias but Tehran as well?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Michael, it's something of a multi-tiered message. You obviously have that these Iranian-backed militias, that Tehran itself should recognize that, when it is going to be launching rocket or mortars at U.S. interests in Iraq, there will be a price to pay for that.

But the other message is also that this price will be measured, carefully calculated. In some ways, this is actually a return to the older way of doing things, because, look, as you know very well, the U.S. and Iran have been involved in this dance for quite some time, with Iraq being the main proxy battlefield.

By that, I mean for years, years now, these Iranian-backed Shia militias have been lobbing mortars and rockets, mostly at the green zone, mostly in the vicinity of the U.S. embassy here but also at various other U.S. installations around the country.

And the U.S. has fairly often retaliated by taking out targets that are intended to send a message but not necessarily escalate the situation.

In this particular case, the target was very carefully chosen to be outside of Iraq itself. The U.S. made a very deliberate decision to target these Iraqi, Iranian-backed Shia militias inside Syria to potentially avoid further disrupting stability within Iraq itself.

HOLMES: And the phrasing you used there is worth revisiting because we are talking about Iran-backed Iraqi militia in Syria.

How does all of this complicate life for the Iraqi government?

DAMON: The Iraqi government, for quite some time now, has really been stuck between a rock and a hard place because, on the one hand, they have very close economic ties with Iran. They share a very lengthy border, hundreds of kilometers long. There

are cultural ties that exist as well. But at the same time, few here are under the impression that Iran's other form of influence on Iraq is beneficial.

And by that, I mean obviously the power that these Iranian-backed militias or paramilitary forces do hold, not just as a fighting force on the ground but also quite a bit of political capital as well, very closely affiliated with a number of political parties here.


DAMON: On the other hand, you have Iraq's relationship with the United States, one that Iraq does also need on many fronts, whether it's financial support or, as we have seen demonstrated over the last few years, the need for U.S. military support, the ongoing cooperation in terms of training up the Iraqi security forces that still need quite a bit of assistance at this stage.

And so when the U.S. and Iran end up using Iraq as their proxy battlefield, which is where the vast majority of this proxy warfare does end up unfolding, the Iraqi government is in an impossible position.

That is also perhaps one of the many reasons why this particular U.S. administration chose to launch that strike inside Syria itself, to spare Iraq some of the blowback.

But then you also had the comments, Michael, that came out from the U.S., saying that the strike -- the target was chosen in coordination with the Iraqi government. This is something that the Iraqis were very quick to try to deny, wanting to distance themselves from that actual operation.

But talk to any senior government official here and they will tell you that the core of many of the issues that they face is really this ongoing warfare between the U.S. and Iran and also Iran's ongoing influence in this country.

HOLMES: Arwa Damon back in Baghdad. Good to see you there on familiar turf.

All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, the twice-impeached former president is still as good as gold when it comes to an annual conservative conference. When we come back, how Trump supporters are displaying their loyalty.




HOLMES: Donald Trump taking center stage at this year's CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference.


HOLMES: The 6-foot-tall golden statue of the former U.S. president on display at the convention, receiving praise from many in attendance. Not so much praise from people not there, perhaps.

While the Republican Party is deeply divided about its future, conference attendees, well, they're making it clear, they're all in on Trump. Here's CNN's Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Look around this year's Conservative Political Action Conference --

DONALD TRUMP JR., FORMER PRESIDENT'S SON: TPAC. That's what it feels like, guys.

ACOSTA (voice-over): And it's clear much of the Republican Party still sees Donald Trump as something of a golden idol, who will lead the GOP back to the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he was the greatest president to live.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Despite Trump's role in the bloody siege at the Capitol on January 6th --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.

ACOSTA (voice-over): -- CPAC's chief organizer, Matt Schlapp, handed the former president a prime speaking slot, closing out the conference on Sunday.

MATT SCHLAPP, CPAC: I like the fact that he wants to stay in big. Now you can say that he lost the election but his supporters, 73 million --


ACOSTA: But he did lose the election.

SCHLAPP: You can say that he lost the election and --

ACOSTA: But he did lose the election.

SCHLAPP: Yes, but I'm not quibbling that.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But Schlapp insists Trump shouldn't be held responsible for the deadly insurrection.


ACOSTA: -- and then there was a violent insurrection --


SCHLAPP: You simply don't know what you're talking about.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After our interview, some CPAC attendees became interest rate, many of them refusing to believe Trump incited any violence.

ACOSTA: Don't you feel Trump is at all responsible for that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not at all.



ACOSTA: Do you still believe that Donald Trump won the election?


ACOSTA (voice-over): And still believing his big lie that he won the election, a falsehood the former president is expected to repeat this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. What did he do?

I mean he's out there doing a rally. I mean you got a bunch of nut cases going out there.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Trump's presence is overshadowing the other presidential wannabes at the conference, like senator Ted Cruz, who made light of his trip to Cancun while his constituents were freezing to death in Texas.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I got to say Orlando is awesome. It's not as nice as Cancun but it's nice. In the immortal words of William Wallace, freedom.

ACOSTA (voice-over): This chaotic post-presidency has twisted the GOP into a pretzel, with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell saying he could support another Trump campaign.

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


ACOSTA (voice-over): Even though he just condemned the former president right after his impeachment trial.

MCCONNELL: President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.

ACOSTA: And there were sessions at this CPAC dedicated to advancing Trump's big lie that he won the election when that's obviously not the case. And senator Josh Hawley at one point received a standing ovation when he defended his attempts to overturn the election results -- Jim Acosta, CNN, Orlando. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Now one of the alleged leaders of the Oath Keepers is now denouncing the right-wing extremist group. Jessica Watkins is accused of helping plan the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

On Friday, a judge ruled she must stay in jail until her trial. She's pled not guilty. At the hearing, she disavowed the group, saying, quote, "I'm canceling my Oath Keeper membership. I'm sorry for any inconvenience I've caused the court. I am not a criminally minded person. I'm humbled and humiliated that I'm even here today."

Well, Prince Harry is opening up like few have seen before. When we come back, what he says about leaving the U.K. and his position in the royal family. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be right back.





HOLMES: Los Angeles police say Lady Gaga's two stolen dogs have now been returned unharmed, we're pleased to say. They were apparently turned over at a police station in Los Angeles two nights after they were taken in what was a brutal robbery.

They still don't know who took them or who attacked the singer's dog walker on Wednesday. That's when assailants shot the dog walker and drove away with the French bulldogs. A source close to the singer says the dog walker is recovering well in hospital. Lady Gaga calls him a hero.

She also offered half a million dollars for the return of the dogs. Don't know if the person who turned them in is going to be suddenly rich.

The golfing great Tiger Woods is sending word that he's recovering from his injuries in a car wreck last Tuesday. A post on his Twitter account says he received successful follow-up procedures at Cedars- Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and is, we're told, in good spirits.

The nature of those procedures wasn't specified, though. Woods already had emergency surgery to insert a rod, pins and screws into his fractured right leg and ankle. The 15-time major champ thanked his fans for their support, but the tweet says there won't be more updates for now.

And the American talk show host James Corden invited a very special friend from back home in England to make an appearance on the CBS "Late, Late Show," Prince Harry. And when Corden showed up to give the Duke of Sussex a lift, it wasn't in his usual Range Rover.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES CORDEN, CBS HOST: I thought this would be a nice way to see L.A., right?

Right. We're going to have a great day. Just pay the fare and hop on up, OK?


HOLMES: CNN's Anna Stewart joins me now from London.

What more did we learn from this rather unusual interview?

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael, we learned quite a lot. We learned that Prince Harry calls the duchess Meg, that she calls him Haz. We learned that the queen gave Archie a waffle maker for Christmas and that Prince Philip, when he does call, ends the call rather abruptly by sort of slamming the laptop down.


STEWART: We also learned that Prince Harry has watched "The Crown." But amongst what was a really fun interview, there were some serious exchanges, not least on why Prince Harry decided to leave the U.K.


HENRY, PRINCE OF WALES: It was never -- it was never walking away. It was -- it was stepping back rather than stepping down.

You know, it was a really difficult environment, as I think a lot of people saw. We all know what the British press can be like. And it was destroying my mental health. I was like, this is toxic. So I did what any husband and what any father would do, is like, I need to get my family out of here.


STEWART: Prince Harry has been very open about his feelings about the British press before and his mental health. You may remember, Michael, a couple of years ago, he said camera flashes take him right back to the death of his mother, Princess Diana.

So potentially nothing new there. But I think the context of this very relaxed interview where, we see Prince Harry more relaxed than we've ever seen him, so kudos to James Corden for bringing that out of him.

What was new was the style of interview. This was entertainment, an interview on the top of a bus going through L.A. with a cream tea. It ends with a military style assault course. It's a far cry from what we're used to seeing from the royal family and it doesn't stop here because, next weekend, Michael, it's Oprah.

HOLMES: Oh, really?

(LAUGHTER) HOLMES: OK. Can't wait for that. And we'll have you back to talk about it, Anna. Anna Stewart there in London. Appreciate it. Thanks for that. Say hi to your cat.

I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. Don't go anywhere. The very well-dressed again Kim Brunhuber is going to pick things up after a quick break. I'll see you tomorrow.