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CDC Panel Votes To Recommend Johnson & Johnson Vaccine; NYT Reports Governor Cuomo Accused Of Sexual Harassment By Second Former Aide; 500,000 Texans Still Under Boil Water Advisory. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 28, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Right now, the U.S. is on the verge of another major milestone in the fight against coronavirus. A panel of C.D.C. advisors is set to vote at any moment now on whether to recommend the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for people over the age of 18.

The group may also make recommendations on who should get priority access. CNN health reporter, Jacqueline Howard, joining me now.

So Jacqueline, what are we anticipating? And then how quickly would a recommendation go into play?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Right now, the C.D.C. advisory panel, Fred, is meeting to vote on whether to recommend the vaccine, and then what happens next, like you said, the Director will sign off on the recommendations, and then in the next few days, we could see the official rollout of the third authorized COVID-19 vaccine here in the United States.

And here is what the rollout plan will look like. We've looked at these numbers before, but they're really important. Johnson & Johnson says that it will have 3.9 million doses ready to go, ready to ship out, and those doses will be allocated to states and local jurisdictions, retail pharmacies, federally qualified health centers and community vaccine centers.

So that's what we can expect to see in the next few days, Fred, this rollout happen. But it all depends on first hearing from the C.D.C.

And during the C.D.C. panel meeting that's again happening right now. I watched some of the meeting today, and there were discussions on data around the efficacy of this vaccine.

Now, when trial data were first published, there were some raised eyebrows because the vaccine did not show as high of an efficacy number as Moderna and Pfizer, which are already authorized.

But here's what those numbers are: the study -- or excuse me, the vaccine was studied in the United States, Latin America and South Africa and it was found to be 72 percent effective in preventing moderate and severe COVID-19, eighty five here in the United States and 85 percent against severe COVID-19.

So even though the 72 percent is not as high as the 94 to 95 percent that we've seen with Moderna and Pfizer, it's still a high percentage and health officials say that there is no reason to think that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not worth getting if it is made available to you.

And actually, Fred, Dr. Anthony Fauci, you know, the chief medical adviser to President Biden, he said that if he were not already vaccinated, and he had the opportunity to get this vaccine, he would take it. Have a listen.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If I were not vaccinated now, and I had a choice of getting a J&J vaccine now, while waiting for another vaccine, I would take whatever vaccine would be available to me as quickly as possible for the simple reason of what I said a moment ago, we want to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.


HOWARD: So you see there, there is this effort to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible and there is hope that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a one-dose shot and easy to store, it requires just refrigeration, there is hope that this vaccine will help in our fight against COVID-19 -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: It certainly seems more simplified. We shall see, Jacqueline Howard, thank you so much.

All right, joining me right now to discuss is Dr. Anand Swaminathan, an emergency medicine physician. Doctor, good to see you. So in your view, who should be prioritized for this Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: This is one of the things that we don't know yet. We don't know exactly, which is the best group. But I think there are some features of this that we can kind of then tailor, so if we have groups that it's a little bit more difficult to get that second appointment, to track down, it's harder for them to get to the site for vaccination, then that's a group that we should be targeting because it's a single dose.


SWAMINATHAN: But I think we have to flip this around, too and say, where can we bring this vaccine that maybe we've had some trouble with the Moderna and the Pfizer because of the limitations there?

This can be stored in a refrigerator, Fred. That means that we can basically roll out ice cream trucks and create mobile units, bringing these shots to people, and that's what we need to do.

We need to change the way that we are doing this, bring the vaccine to people instead of people to the vaccine.

WHITFIELD: Oh, yes. Okay, so we're really talking -- you're zeroing in on the access and those are the determinations that really needs to be made that are going to make a huge difference in terms of, you know, who is getting it.

This means that offices, such as yourself, hospitals that you work in, would be able to store it, more handling whereas the other vaccines, you need special refrigeration, et cetera.

Do you believe this is a real game changer? Is this going to make a sizable impact in your view in addressing this pandemic?

SWAMINATHAN: It's going to make a big impact and that impact might not be immediate because of the limited number of doses we have right away.

But long term, over the next couple of months, this is going to be a game changer because it makes it easier for us to get it to places that we were limited before.

And the one shot, I think, also is a big deal, too. There are still places where you get your first shot, and then you have to go back in and make another appointment for your second shot. That's not a good system. This avoids that.

WHITFIELD: That's a very --

SWAMINATHAN: Really. Yes, and it really avoid some of these big issues. And you know, we look at marginalized groups or groups that are having difficult access. This is the perfect vaccine.

And what Dr. Fauci said is absolutely right. We have to get the shots in to arms. The more people that we get the vaccine to, the better it is going to be for everybody, the less the variants are going to spread.

So we really need to be getting this to people, doing it quickly, and you know, we've all been saying the same thing. The best shot that you can get the best vaccine is the one that you can get right now.

WHITFIELD: Yes, I love this ice cream truck imagery that you've just, you know, put into my head here. You know, but you do need to address, you know, to some who say, okay, the efficacy rate is, you know, under 70 percent whereas Pfizer and Moderna, it's very high, over 90 percent.

So what do you say to people who say that they are going to either wait, you know, for this single dose, or perhaps refrain from it because of what I just stated with the efficacy rates?

SWAMINATHAN: I think we're focused on the wrong number here. Yes, it is important to reduce all infections. But more important than that is to reduce severe infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

J&J, just like Moderna and Pfizer, no deaths in the group that got the vaccine, and that's the number we really have to focus on. Zero. Zero deaths, massive reduction in hospitalizations, massive reduction in severe disease, we should be really focused on those numbers.

And I would just tell people, get the vaccine that you can get right now, that is the best advice that we can give people.

WHITFIELD: And research is continuing even on the Johnson & Johnson because right now, they are studying pregnant women, very soon. That could be as early as April.

The C.D.C. says getting vaccinated is a personal choice for pregnant women as there is limited data availability about the safety. What is your view on pregnant women and whether they should be vaccinated?

SWAMINATHAN: We really do need to see better data on this, and any data really is what we need to see and this is a hard thing because this is how most drugs, most vaccines get tested. They don't get tested in pregnancy.

But most of the organizations around the world have said that this is probably the right thing to do, is to get this vaccine if you're pregnant, because the danger of getting COVID is far more than the dangers from the vaccines themselves.

But we would like to have some data to be able to really tell our patients, this is the best thing to do based on the best evidence we have right now. We're saying, it is the best thing to do based on expert consensus.

So having some data will be really nice when we are having this conversation with people.

WHITFIELD: All right. All very encouraging. Dr. Anand Swaminathan, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

SWAMINATHAN: Thank you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Officials say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could boost vaccination capacity for states by about 25 percent. This, as New York State Health officials say just over 14 percent of the state's population has now been vaccinated with at least one dose.

CNN's Jean Casarez is joining me now from New York. So Jean, how are officials preparing for more vaccines?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are asking for it. New York needs it because here are the statistics that they've just come out with, 89 percent of the first doses they have already administered. So they don't have that much left at this point.

They're trying to get shots in the arm as efficiently and quickly as possible. But the statistics show that 10 million people in New York are eligible for the vaccine now, and they don't have enough doses of the vaccine for 10 million people.

So Johnson & Johnson, a third supplier can only be welcomed here in New York.

You know, I spoke with people as they were coming out of the Javits Center because everyone is coming today for their appointment. You have to have that appointment to get your COVID vaccine because there is a question whether there are some people, especially underserved communities that aren't getting the vaccine, may not want to or be scared or just can't go to get it.

I asked them what their friends and family are telling them.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have to consult with your primary physician. You have to consult with all your doctors to make sure that you're in the best physical state, and you just have to have faith, you know, and do the right thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it is more a question of whether or not it's accessible. So we what you'll find is though, again, those in my age group will go out and get the vaccine. But if you're in a community -- if you're in areas where it's not accessible, and you happen not to have transportation, you don't want to get on the subway, so there's less probability.


CASAREZ: And governors in some of the states are saying that they do expect to get Johnson & Johnson vaccine by midweek -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: That's quite extraordinary. All right, Jean Casarez, thank you so much on a rainy New York City.

All right, a political firestorm in New York politics, Governor Cuomo reportedly facing new allegations of sexual harassment. So where does the investigation go from here?

And later this hour, President Trump speaks for the first time since leaving office. Find out what he plans to say at a gathering about his successor at CPAC in Florida.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: All right. This breaking news right, now a panel of C.D.C. advisors have just officially voted to recommend the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for people in the U.S. over the age of 18.

C.D.C. Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to accept the recommendations and issue a final sign off by the end of the day.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be the third vaccine authorized for emergency use here in the U.S. The vaccine only requires one dose and can be stored in regular refrigeration. Officials say, nearly four million doses will be available right away.

"The New York Times" is reporting a second former aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has come forward accusing him of sexual harassment. The former aide, Charlotte Bennett tells "The Times," the alleged conversations happened late last spring during the height of the state's fight against coronavirus.

And now, there is a growing fight over who should investigate the harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is following the story for us and joins us right now. So Brynn, what more do we know about these allegations? The status of the investigation, how the Governor is responding?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, let's first get to those allegations. You mentioned her name, former aide Charlotte Bennett. She is 25 years old. She spoke to "The New York Times" and she said, she had a number of interactions with the Governor during her time in the administration starting last spring, as you mentioned feeling like, at times, he was her mentor initially, but that changed.

She particularly, to "The Times," recalled one incident from last June telling the newspaper she was alone with Cuomo in his office, and he asked her a number of personal questions like if she had ever been with an older man and she said, he said, he was open to relationships with women in their 20s.

Now she interpreted those questions as clear overtures to a sexual relationship according to the report and she was also discomforted by conversations the two had about her own past experience with sexual assault. "The Times" also says she provided text messages to support her claims.

Now, Cuomo released a statement and I want to read in full to you: "Miss Bennett was a hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID. She has every right to speak out. When she came to me and opened up about being a sexual assault survivor and how it shaped her in her ongoing efforts to create an organization that empowered her voice to help other survivors, I tried to be supportive and helpful. Miss Bennett's initial impression was right, I was trying to be a mentor to her."

"I never made advances toward Miss Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported."

"This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press. I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review and I'm directing all state employees to comply with that effort." "I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that

they know the facts before making any judgments. I will have no further comment until the review has concluded."

And we reached out to Bennett for further comment on her allegations, but she did not respond to CNN. But she's a second person this week, Fred, to accuse the Governor of inappropriate behavior.

Remember earlier in the week, former aide Lindsey Boylan said in a "Medium" post, Cuomo gave her an unwanted kiss on her lips when she worked with him in 2018. The Governor recently denied those allegations and also did months ago when Boylan first came forward. Boylan also didn't comment further to CNN.

All of this, as you can imagine more bad, bad headlines for the Governor and his administration who had soaring popularity during the pandemic, but has been taking a ton of criticism, a lot of hits recently for his handling of nursing home death data during the pandemic.

So really, now, it looks like Cuomo will be facing two different investigations: one for harassment allegations, and then one that's in the early stages by the D.O.J. and F.B.I. in regards to the nursing home data, but it is unclear at that point or at this point, rather that the probe is on the Governor or members of administration, but again, Fred, a lot going on there.

WHITFIELD: Right. So, Brynn, what do we know about the status of the investigation into these accusations?

GINGRAS: Yes, so Fred, the Governor's Office has asked the Attorney General and the Chief Judge in the state's highest court to pick an independent private lawyer to conduct this probe to, quote, "avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or interference of politics."

But we're already hearing from sources and lawmakers that this is not enough and here's the issue. They say what the Governor's Office is proposing doesn't allow a subpoena power for the investigation, meaning they wouldn't be able to compel witnesses, they may not get their hands on certain data.

So they're calling for Cuomo to make a referral to the A.G.'s Office which would grant those powers and the A.G. has been very vocal about this already, too, saying she doesn't accept what the Governor is proposing, and that her office can completely handle this investigation on its own. It just needs that referral from the Governor's Office.

So this certainly is going to be shaking out in the next couple of days -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Brynn Gingras, thank you so much for that.

All right, still to come, two weeks -- two weeks without running water to bathe or drink or cook, frustrations growing for some residents of Jackson, Mississippi after a devastating winter storm.



WHITFIELD: All right, cities and towns in different states are still scrambling to recover from the devastating storms earlier this month. Take a look at Texas right here.

While power has been restored across that state, more than 450 public water systems are still working to get back to full operations, and that has left more than a half a million people under a boil-water advisory as of today.

And then there's Jackson, Mississippi, where there are still some residents who haven't had running water since the storm hit two weeks ago. I want to bring in two mayors 650 or so miles apart, different states, but you're sharing similar water woes and that just is not right.

Ron Nirenberg, the Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and Chokwe Lumumba is the Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi. Good to see both of you, Mayors.

MAYOR RON NIRENBERG (I), SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS: Good to see both of you as well.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Mayor Nirenberg, let me begin with you.

You have bottled water distribution sites set up for another week. People -- are they getting what they need? What is the overall state of recovery?

NIRENBERG: Well, service has been restored in San Antonio for power and water, but we are still recovering damage and a lot of folks are still without water service because there is breakage in lines that are at facilities, pumps that haven't been turned back online, a lot of damage being repaired right now.

So we have water distribution sites all around town. We also have door to door distribution of food and water for many folks that that had been without for a long time: homebound seniors, disabled, et cetera. So it is still an all-hands on deck effort to recover from the storm.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness, and Mayor Lumumba, you know, some of your residents didn't have water at all for days. How are things looking right now?

MAYOR CHOKWE LUMUMBA, JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: Well, the story, first and foremost, I'm thankful to join you both and the narrative here in Jackson, Mississippi is similar to what my friend is experiencing there in San Antonio.

Our systems were not meant to sustain the extreme weather conditions that we suffered and simultaneous problems or excuse me, consecutive storms, back to back that disabled our water treatment facility, reduced the PSI, the pressure being released to the system. And so those were the first wave from the plant to sustain without

water the most for a long period of time. And so we are doing distribution efforts both potable and non-potable water throughout the community and that continues.

WHITFIELD: Who are among the most vulnerable, Mayor Lumumba in your area?

LUMUMBA: Of course, those seniors are most vulnerable, individual who suffer from mobility issues; individuals, you know who have health concerns and need water, patients, obviously still concerned about the sanitary issues, and we have to remember that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, where we are encouraging people to wash their hands frequently, to do all of the measures that we have recited over time, time and time again and that becomes increasingly difficult without access to water.

So frustrations are high. People don't understand how systems can fail in this way and they don't necessarily understand just how aged our infrastructure is, and also that we are experiencing more extreme weather conditions in recent years.

WHITFIELD: You know, frustrations are high not just because of, you know, the deficit of these basic needs like water, but Mayor Nirenberg, people are really concerned about money and being hit with exorbitant bills.

And you told CNN earlier that, you know, there would be held to pay if individual residents are forced to pay for sky high electricity bills. So what are you hearing about the kind of relief that might be coming the way of residents -- we talked to one last week who said he had like a $7,000.00 electricity bill?

What are residents being told and who is going to pay for this stuff?

NIRENBERG: Well, there is a state investigation underway right now. What I will tell you, Fredricka is that this was an outrageous market collapse of the deregulated energy system here in Texas, and if allowed to go forward without any intervention, it would probably be the most massive redistribution of wealth from citizens to a very few profiteers that we've ever seen.

And so we're asking for intervention. We are going to exhaust every avenue including legal to protect the ratepayers of our communities, to make sure that the people who have been suffering through this crisis aren't also asked to bear the burden of the costs.

WHITFIELD: So Mayor Nirenberg, how do you prepare for the next possible storm?

NIRENBERG: You know, we have to do what -- promises were made and broken last time, which is that we have to have weatherization of the entire Texas energy grid.

Now the Public Utility Commission has the authority to regulate that and to require those kinds of measures to be put in place, so we could have been ready. They did not do that.


NIRENBERG: They also at the same time, allowed for this just obscene profiteering to happen as, you know, consumers of the market was forced to buy gas at just insane costs, so there is a huge amount of work to be done.

But to your point, infrastructure preparation for what we know is the reality of the changing climate has to be addressed immediately.

WHITFIELD: And Mayor Lumumba, are you getting what you need from Washington?

LUMUMBA: We certainly need more support. It is long overdue for a Federal package that addresses the issues that legacy cities are facing today. Not only do we have aged infrastructure, but as I said earlier, we're expecting to experiencing colder winters, hotter summers and more rain than has historically been the case.

And so communities need the support from Washington, our annual budgets, our city budgets are not sufficient to address the need.

In Jackson alone, we know that we have nearly a $2 billion infrastructure challenge. And so we have to really demonstrate in the things that we fund, what our values are as a nation and we must be value safe drinking water for our residents. We must value infrastructure that supports their lives each and every day.

WHITFIELD: And Mayor Nirenberg, are you getting what you need from Washington?

NIRENBERG: You know, we had approval for individual assistance for F.E.M.A. disaster relief done very soon. So I appreciate the White House response to that.

But to Mayor Lumumba's point, we have to demonstrate the fact that we are not going to leave anyone behind. It is always the most disadvantaged members of our community that are forced to endure infrastructure that stays in disrepair.

As a result, they are also in homes and other shelters that are likely to be more impacted by power going out with poor weatherization, et cetera.

So we've started our effort locally to set up some funds where people can have access immediate relief to get repairs done immediately. But we also are going to need the state and the Federal government to put their money where their mouths have been for a while, which is that we need equity in our infrastructure investments.

WHITFIELD: All right, Mayors Ron Nirenberg and Chokwe Lumumba, thanks to both of you. I appreciate it. All the best.

LUMUMBA: Thank you.

NIRENBERG: You, too.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: Later on this hour, former President Donald Trump will make his first public speech since leaving office.

Trump is the closing speaker for CPAC, a four-day gathering in Florida for conservatives and Trump loyalists. Despite his election loss and his role in inciting the deadly riot on the U.S. Capitol last month, Trump remains the G.O.P.'s biggest star and the face of the Republican Party.

CNN's Michael Warren is covering the CPAC conference for us in Orlando. Ron Brownstein is a CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic." Good to see both of you.

So Michael, you first, tell us what you have learned about what people might be hearing from the former President when he takes to the stage?

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Fred, we're just really minutes away from Trump taking the stage and speaking to the conservative faithful here.

Our own Jim Acosta obtained a few excerpts of what the President -- former President intends to say, including a hint, at really the big question of this weekend: will Donald Trump run again for President in 2024?

Here is some of what we expect him to say. We expect him to say that the work that they are doing is -- excuse me, "I stand before you today to declare that the incredible journey we began together for four years ago is far from over."

He also takes a shot at the man who beat him for re-election in November, "Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any President in modern history."

Also hitting on a theme that's been quite common here at CPAC that, "The Republican Party is united. The only division is between a handful of Washington, D.C. establishment political hacks, and everybody else all over the country."

And finally a sort of a message of encouragement to the troops here. "The greater the challenge and the tougher the task, the more determined we must be to pull through and win."

And a lot of excitement, Fredricka, about this speech from the attendees here.

WHITFIELD: And so Ron, you know, two things here. Number one, usually a predecessor kind of goes dark for a while reflecting on what's next, you know, philanthropically, et cetera., and then number two, you know, there's a small group of Republican lawmakers who are ready to move on from Donald Trump. This is what Republican Senator Bill Cassidy told CNN this morning.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): We've got to win in two years. We've got to win in four years. If we do that, we'll do that by speaking to those issues that are important to the American people and there's a lot of issues important to them right now, not by putting one person on a pedestal and making that one person our focal point.

We had economic policies that were working. So if that's the case, and we can speak to those policies to those families, then we'll win. But if we idolize one person, we will lose.


WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. Okay, so Ron, Senator Cassidy points out that the G.O.P. has lost the House and Senate and White House during Trump's presidency. So why is Trump still front and center right now?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he has reconfigured the party in a way that has put his concerns, the anxiety, the fear of a changing America at the center of the Republican coalition.

If you look at recent polling, there are two-thirds of Republicans who say discrimination against whites is now is as big a problem as discrimination against minorities. Two-thirds say Christianity is under assault in America. Three-fifths say immigrants are invading -- what word -- our country and replacing our culture.

And 55 percent, in one poll by a conservative think tank the other day said the American way of life is disappearing so fast we may have to use force to save it.


BROWNSTEIN: This is the party that Donald Trump has left behind, and that's why I think that for Republicans like Cassidy or others who are criticizing him, they face the reality that he holds the dominant hand in the party.

And really, the question for the roughly one-fifth or one quarter of Republican voters who are uneasy with the way the party is being redefined in this kind of nationalist, nativist, authoritarian mold, their question is, are they willing to stay in the party in a subordinate role? Because right now, they have very little chance of overcoming Trump's dominance.

Those are the voters that are Republicans now and they are by and large, in his mold and comfortable with his direction.

WHITFIELD: And so Mike, is there a feeling that the gathering here at CPAC, is it all representative of the Republican Party? Are people interested in hearing other conservative voices? Or really, is this all about a pep rally for Trump?

WARREN: Well, we just got the results of the CPAC straw poll which attendees take here. It's not scientific, but it can give us a sense of an answer to that question.

The results they were asked whether or not they wanted Donald Trump or another Republican to be the 2024 nominee. When asked with Donald Trump, Trump won 55 percent of the vote. The closest person behind him was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, we are of course, here in Florida. He got about 20 percent. Everybody else got in single digits.

Now interestingly enough, they asked the poll question without Donald Trump, the winner of that was Ron DeSantis as well. So that we may be seeing a little bit of Florida bias here, but really dominant here is Donald Trump. He remains the favorite. Everybody here wants him to run.

I think 68 percent in the straw poll said they would like him to run for President in 2024. It's still Donald Trump's party -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Ron again, at any moment now we expect that Trump will be taking to the stage there. But in that excerpt that we just heard from his speech, he does say that the G.O.P. is united except for a handful of what he calls establishment political hacks, and perhaps he might be talking about people like G.O.P. Congresswoman, Liz Cheney, who did take a stand this week against Trump's role. Listen.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Yes, he should.

QUESTION: Congresswoman Cheney?

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): That's up to CPAC. I've been clear on my views about President Trump and the extent to which extent to which following -- the extent to which following January 6th, I don't -- I don't believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.

MCCARTHY: On that high note ...


WHITFIELD: Okay, so Ron, a real distinction there. Cheney says no, you know, Trump should not be playing a role in CPAC and McCarthy there saying, yes, he should. So is that representative of what the party is struggling with right now?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I know. It's going to shock you, Fred. What the former President said is not exactly accurate. It's not just a few elected officials in Washington.

If you look across all of the polling, it's pretty clear that somewhere between a fifth and a quarter of Republican voters, traditionally Republican voters are uneasy with Trump continuing to be the face of the party.

They are uneasy with the way Republicans have responded and acted since the November election. They are certainly unnerved by the assault on the Capitol, and they are the ones who face the question, I think, because right now, there is no doubt that because of all the things I said, the way in which he has reconfigured the party, it made it more dependent on the non-college and non-urban and evangelical white voters most uneasy with the way the country is changing.

Because of all of that, those voters who don't like Trump's direction are the minority and they are unlikely to be the majority in the party anytime soon. Mitch McConnell reflected, by kind of raising the white flag of surrender after his very, you know, tough speech on Trump saying he would support him if he is the nominee.

So the question is not whether the Trump side is the dominant hand, the question is what those other Republicans do. And right now, you know, what we're seeing in the states is Republicans of all stripes, locking arms to pursue what is probably the most aggressive wave of voter suppression since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

So you see the party, you know, we talk about a Civil War, in practice, Republicans are kind of linking arms, all of them voted against the COVID Bill, for example in the House, and probably all of them will in the Senate.

The core issue is: do those Republicans who are uneasy with Trump's imprint on the party, are they willing to accept a subordinate role and what will remain probably for a few years -- for quite a few years now, a Trump oriented party even though he himself is not the nominee in 2024?

WHITFIELD: Yes, those voter suppression efforts, particularly in those states where Trump and his allies were trying to contest saying that those votes, which were free and fair, were not valid, and now, a new effort to try to change, make it more difficult for voters to vote.

Our next go round, Michael Warren and Ron Brownstein, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

All right, coming up next, attacks on Asian-Americans stoking fear and anger across the country. So what can be done to fix the problem?



WHITFIELD: Since the pandemic, racially charged attacks on Asian- Americans has multiplied. Last week, a man was attacked in Los Angeles's Koreatown. He was struck in the face claiming his assailants told him that he has the China virus and go back to China. Thursday, surveillance video captured a man being stabbed in the back in Manhattan.

In New York, Asian-Americans gathered this weekend to rise up against anti-Asian hate. [15:50:01]


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're tired of like, being scapegoated for many of the problems of the pandemic. We're tired of being ignored.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been escalating, you know, because of what we've been hearing and seeing in the political arena, and with the coronavirus, and putting a lot of the blame on us when it wasn't -- it's not us. It's not our fault, but we're paying the price.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are sadly seemingly an easy target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a way to live, you know that -- to walk with our backs against the walls, always, you know, in fear, you know, something must be done.


WHITFIELD: And with me now, CNN legal analyst, Shan Wu. Shan, so good to see you. You wrote a very powerful op-ed this week calling for prosecutors to charge anti-Asian violence as hate crimes.

So help people understand why that distinction is so important and why it is so difficult to prosecute under the current heading of hate crimes.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thanks for having me, Fred. It's important because it's more than just the crime. It's a hate crime, meaning it's motivated by racist hate and that hate itself needs to be held accountable. That's what the laws are for.

And the history of violence against Asian-Americans in this country is really important because many people don't realize this, but there's a long history of violence against people of color, including Asians that has been under prosecuted dating back to the 1800s, where massacres occurred, lynchings and no convictions resulted.

Even in the 1980s, the very well-known tragic case of Vincent Chin where he was prosecuted at the State level, his defendants got a very light sentence and the Federal Civil Rights charge ultimately failed. It did not result in convictions.

WHITFIELD: So under prosecuted in many cases, and also underreported, we heard that from, you know, former NBA star Jeremy Lin yesterday, where he said, you know, culturally, it may be very difficult for a lot of people to report the crimes. And thereby, there isn't sufficient documentation of how often this is happening.

But it's clear right now, it is being magnified and multiplied too many times over.

WU: Yes, that's so true, Fred, particularly, oftentimes, not just in immigrant communities, but in underprivileged communities, people of color are living there. There is an uneasiness with law enforcement, with some immigrants coming from countries where law enforcement may have been, you know, very oppressive, they're afraid to report that.

So a lot of outreach needs to be done there to make the community comfortable with being able to report these crimes. That's a very important part of that outreach. And then once it is reported, then prosecutors have to step up and charge the hate crime.

WHITFIELD: Yes, this is very personal for you. You know, you've dealt with discrimination growing up in the U.S. Talk about your own experiences, how that informs, you know, what you are seeing right now, and even your worries about your family members today, including your daughter's.

WU: Well, when I was a child, I was bullied on the schoolyard, and even though my own father was a New York City Human Rights Commissioner, it still really hurt my self-esteem.

I remember saying to my mom, "I hate being Chinese." I think a big part of why I went into boxing as an amateur was to kind of get out those insecurities.

And seeing this happen today, it is a historic issue. It's a current issue and it's very stressful as you heard from reporting. I mean, thinking about my own family, my children being out on the streets, not knowing what might happen. That's the terrible strain of it, it is not knowing where it may come from.

And so important for people to come together on this. We can't allow any different races, different groups to be played off against each other. This is a hate problem and we really have to unite around that.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it's amazing and so upsetting that in such an abundance of, you know, the stew and gumbo that we have in America, that we would also have this horrible scourge that just seems endless.

Shan Wu, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

WU: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: And this just in to CNN. Vanessa Bryant, the widow of NBA legend, Kobe Bryant is asking a Los Angeles court to disclose the names of four LA County Sheriff's Deputies who she claims took pictures of the remains of her late husband, daughter and the seven other people killed in the January 2020 helicopter crash.

Her attorney has added the names to the list of defendants already named in the lawsuit. Lawyers for the defendants argue against revealing the name saying any photos the Deputies took of the crash site and the victims have been destroyed and that none of the photos have been publicly distributed. And finally, these beautiful pictures. This is known as the firefall

at Yosemite National Park. It happens only two weeks of the year in February and only if conditions are right.

There can be no clouds in the sky, there has to be enough snow for what is known as the horsetail fall to come over the vertical rock formation, El Capitan.

The waterfall is reflecting the sunlight at an angle that just simply brings out all those gorgeous colors. Pretty spectacular.

And then tonight on CNN, Stanley Tucci explores Bologna, Italy, the city that many call the food capital of Italy. "Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy" airs tonight at nine right here on CNN.

All right, thank you so much for joining me today. I am Fredricka Whitfield. The NEWSROOM continues with Ana Cabrera right after this.