Return to Transcripts main page


Trump To Make First Post-Presidency Remarks At CPAC; Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) About Trump Speaking At CPAC; Johnson & Johnson Vaccine; Biden's Promise To Punish Saudi Crown Prince; CNN Heroes. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 28, 2021 - 16:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: And then tonight on CNN, Stanley Tucci explores Bologna, Italy. The city that many called the food capital of Italy. "STANLEY TUCCI, SEARCHING FOR ITALY" airs tonight at 9:00 right here on CNN.

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

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us on this Sunday. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Today, a twice-impeached, one-term president tries to make his comeback and settle some old scores. After more than a month of relative silence, we have a taste of what Donald Trump is expected to say at the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC today, including the declaration that, quote, "The incredible journey we began together four years ago is far from over." And that, quote, "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."

Those are quotes from Trump's prepared remarks.

Let's be clear about who Republicans at CPAC are celebrating. A man who lost them the House, the Senate and the presidency, and then incited a mob to attack the Capitol because he didn't like the election results.

CNN's chief domestic correspondent Jim Acosta is there.

Jim, is this turning out to be the return to the political stage Trump was seeking?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: It's certainly the return to the stage he's seeking. I'm not so sure it's the return to the stage that every Republican is seeking. But if you look at the results of the CPAC straw poll which just came out in the last several minutes, Ana, it is very good news for Donald Trump. He is far and away the choice of people at CPAC to be the next president in 2024 should he run again. Ninety-five percent according to the straw poll would like to see his

policies continue. A large majority of the people in the survey see election integrity as being the number one political issue. Ana, that is a sign that there are so many people at this conference who are deluded into thinking that the president's re-election was stolen from him, that the election was stolen from Donald Trump in 2020 when obviously that's not the case.

And I will tell you, Ana, having been here for the last few days, you talk to attendees at this CPAC conference and attendee after attendee will tell you that Donald Trump won the election. They will tell you that, no, he had nothing to do with the violent insurrection on January 6th. And so the people at this conference are very much living in an alternate universe.

Now as for Donald Trump, he's going to be taking the stage shortly. We understand he is running late. He was supposed to start speaking at 3:45. But if you look at the excerpts from his speech that had been released so far, it sounds as though he's going to go after establishment Republican politicians like Mitch McConnell. He may not mention them by name, but he's going to make it very clear that these Republicans who crossed him during the impeachment trial process, they're very much going to be in his sights during this CPAC speech.

CABRERA: You mentioned that alternate reality, the truth is, with Trump as president, Republicans lost the House, the Senate and eventually the White House, but based on the atmosphere there, you wouldn't know it, would you?

ACOSTA: That's right. And you can look at the video that we saw just a short while ago, as we were rolling up to the conference. That golden statue of Donald Trump that was inside the conference earlier last week is now standing outside the conference, I guess, to await his arrival. I mean, that's how cult-like the surroundings are at this CPAC.

You see, you know, Trump supporter after Trump supporter waving the Trump flag, carrying signs, I saw, you know, signs essentially saying that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, and so on. This is the recurring theme that you see time and again.

And, Ana, as you know it, we've all covered this sort of stuff for some time now especially when it comes to Donald Trump. It is very strange, it is very bizarre to see a twice-impeached, you know, one- term president maintaining this kind of grip over the Republican Party. But that's where the conservative movement, that's where the Trump movement stands today.

Jim Jordan, the Republican congressman who was very, you know, Trump friendly was making the case earlier today that this is Donald Trump's Republican Party. And after being here for the last several days, Ana, it's hard to argue with that. It very much seems that way when you look at what's been taking place at CPAC over the last several days -- Ana.

CABRERA: Jim Acosta, in Orlando, keep us posted. Thank you. Joining us now is a Republican lawmaker not speaking at CPAC,

Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's one of the few Republican congressmen first to vote for impeachment.

Thanks for joining us. How do you feel about what's happening at CPAC this weekend?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Well, so, I've always said, we have a choice as a party.


It's like a Sunday morning hangover, we can come to grips with what our life has become or we can start drinking Bloody Marys and deal with it later. And, you know, there are some that are choosing that route. That's what CPAC is. It's always been an eclectic group. But, you know, it's trying to solidify the conservative movement as Donald Trump's movement which is ironic because Donald Trump is quite honestly one of the furthest things from a conservative. So it'll be interesting to see what he says.

CABRERA: Well, let me read you something from his prepared remarks that includes this line. Quote, "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."

Congressman, what say you?

KINZINGER: Well, I think he's wrong. First up, you know, I don't think the party is united and I don't think it's just a handful of, quote- unquote, "establishment hacks." It's a lot of people. When I launched this Country First Movement, which is, we are -- so many people that are disaffected Republicans that were thinking of leaving or have left or just say it's time to move on. And we hear that from independents as well as some Democrats who just want a functioning Republican Party.

So I think if you're looking at the narrow, shrinking base of the Republican Party, that's one thing. If you look at all Americans as the people we need to talk to, then I certainly don't think we're united.

CABRERA: But if money speaks, I do have to wonder where the enthusiasm is in the party because we know the former president has raised tens of millions of dollars since he was booted from the White House, and you have this new PAC. Are you finding a lot of people eager to give money to the anti-Trump faction?

KINZINGER: So I really am. And it's not that it's really even anti- Trump. It's just what is next? Where are we going to go as a party? You know, can we be a party that puts country, you know, before the party and swears allegiance to a country versus one man? And yes, there has been a massive outpouring and not just the money, but of people that are wanting to be part of it. They'd give their e-mail addresses which is not something people tend to give away too easily. And it's just literally saying, look, what's next here? We have

peddled as a party in fear. We have used fear as a motivating factor to get votes and let's be clear, fear does work, but it also destroys democracies over time and we're starting to see that shutter as a result of using corrosive fear all the time.

CABRERA: And lies destroy. Conspiracy theories destroy, right? Right now a lot of the Republican Party won't even accept facts. Republican Senator Josh Hawley is there at CPAC. He seemed to brag about his role in sowing doubt about the election. Take a listen.


REP. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): I objected during the electoral college certification. Maybe you heard about it.


HAWLEY: I did. I stood up. I stood up and I said -- I said we ought to have a debate about election integrity.


CABRERA: What's your reaction to that?

KINZINGER: Well, it's sad because Senator Hawley is one of the smarter guys. I mean, he knows a lot. So he knows better. He is using fear -- you know, standing in front of a crowd and getting applause and screams in trying to set up your presidential aspirations for 2024 is intoxicating, but it's lies. It's untrue. And it's -- as a party, we have to look at that and go, OK, you know, yes, 74 million people voted for Donald Trump. They weren't disenfranchised.

There just wasn't enough votes to make him president. They were enfranchised. Their vote counted. But more people voted for Joe Biden. So how are we ever going to use elections again if we use fear, and we use lies, and we use conspiracies? There is probably nobody in this country that would vote for Donald Trump today that wasn't going to vote for him in 2020 at the election.

We're losing people quickly. And as a party, we have a choice, we can sit around and just, you know, say our piece or we can actually go out and use optimism and win the next generation.

CABRERA: I'm curious. Have you talked to Josh Hawley since the insurrection?

KINZINGER: No, and honestly, I mean, I -- if he'd call, I'm not sure I'd even take the call. You know, I just think, given the damage to the Capitol, you know, given the fact that now people try to obscure that and say it was somehow Antifa or BLM, but yet then they go out and say -- I saw this rap song that was posted where they're talking about patriots knocking on the Capitol, it's not something to celebrate.

You see the lives lost, the destruction of families, and these people that spread lies and peddle in fear. And quite honestly, to me, I really want nothing to do with him. We have to compete for the narrative of this party.

CABRERA: Let me really paint the picture here because if this is the Republican Party, a golden statue of Trump, you have convicted felon Roger Stone dancing outside the conference, and inside these continued claims that the election was stolen. Do you have a place in this party?


KINZINGER: Well, I think that's what the battle is for. So I've been a Republican, as young as I am, even far longer than Donald Trump has. And so I have to fight for the soul of this party. If you think about it for the last four years or so, there's really been nobody competing for the narrative of the party. There's been nobody putting up a counternarrative.

And so we have to give that a shot. And I'm going to fight hard to do it. And, you know, watching Country First, you know, expand has been great. But I know that, you know, if we don't win that narrative fight, it's one thing. But I know I'm going to be at peace because I fought as hard as I could to do it.

CABRERA: We haven't heard much from Donald Trump in more than a month until now. I mean, he's been banned from social media. And yet, speakers aside, it is the people that have been clamoring for his return. How do you change the party if this is what the Republican base wants?

KINZINGER: So I think it's a couple of things. It's not just going after Donald Trump, but I think it's exposing the tricks that have been used. You know, like with conspiracy theories, QAnon, we ignored it for too long. You have to actually talk about that for it to be exposed. And I think it's the same thing with politicians that peddle in division, they peddle in fear and they peddle in conspiracy.

And until we start openly talking about that, some people in the party even will start to kind of wake up and say, yes, you know, the inspirational quotes of past leaders that I love certainly don't comport with what's happening today. So on top of that, then it's providing a counternarrative.

I don't even think these battles are about issues. It's not about where you stand on taxes. It's really about where do you stand on putting the country before the party. And that's something that I think people in their soul believe in. They just have to be kind of pulled out of this garbage that they've been fed for years.

CABRERA: I do want to get your reaction to this straw poll that was taken at CPAC. We've just got the results from it. And when Donald Trump is in the poll, he has an overwhelming lead before any other contestant. You can see there, 55 percent on top and then the next closest is Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida with 21 percent, followed by Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, Ted Cruz, people who are perhaps more like-minded in terms of the Republican Party like you, maybe Larry Hogan of Maryland or John Kasich of Ohio.

They're at 0.1 percent support. And if you throw out Donald Trump they're much the same. But Don Jr., Ivanka Trump, they're all ahead of even the former vice president Mike Pence in this poll. What does that tell you? Does this surprise you at all?

KINZINGER: No. Keep in mind, Mike Pence, you know, the guy that was very loyal to Trump, is now public enemy number one for some reason because nobody ever survives being friends with Donald Trump. What it says to me, keep in mind, Rand Paul used to win all these straw polls, too. And as far as I know, he was never president. It does show that 45 percent of that group did not choose Donald Trump which is something. I think that is something.

But it just shows we're early in this process and we have to show this competing vision. And there's, by the way, a lot of people out there that don't even know what CPAC is, would never go, would still pull a Republican ballot if you talk about things like getting rid of fear. And by the way, I would encourage people to go to, One- S-T. Just put out a video about fear and I think it's going to be really important for this narrative going forward.

CABRERA: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, appreciate the conversation. Thanks for taking the time.

KINZINGER: You bet. See you.

CABRERA: Still to come, much more on former President Trump's return to politics. Plus a second former aide has come forward accusing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment. We have the latest on the new accusations and the investigation.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



CABRERA: Just before the break, I spoke to Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger about how he feels about what's happening at CPAC. And he compared it to a Sunday morning hangover. Republicans can either deal with what their party has become under Trump, he says, or drink Bloody Marys and deal with it later.

Joining us now is CNN senior political commentator and former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, and former Republican congresswoman from Virginia, Barbara Comstock.

It's great to have both of you for this conversation and really appreciate you taking the time with me.

Senator, by the end of President Trump's -- I should say the former president's speech today, do you think there will be any doubt that Trump is still in total command of this party?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's going to be the dominant player. I don't think there's any question about that. He was going in and I think he will be going out. There was a couple of interesting things. So I think, you know, you saw a lot of policy being discussed here. I mean, this was not so much accolades about Donald Trump. There's a lot of focus on a lot of the policy things that -- you know, the president focused on and the contrast between the two parties.

CABRERA: Like what?

SANTORUM: So that to me was very, very encouraging. And the second thing was, is that I think 95 percent of the people in the survey from the polls said that -- at CPAC said that they were supportive of the Trump agenda, but only 68 percent thought he should run for president. So, you know, here we are just shortly after his presidency and you're already starting to see a little gap between the policies and maybe who the best person is to carry forward those policies.

CABRERA: What are the specific policies you speak of? Because what I've been reading has been a lot of really, you know, pat yourself on the back for being a Trump supporter and a lot of election integrity lies that are taking place. What stood out to you in terms of the policies you're grabbing on to?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean I think, you know, there's a pretty consistent -- I mean, I didn't listen to every speech, but most of the speeches, you know, you heard there, there was obviously a lot of talk about immigration.


There was talk about, you know, the economy and energy, and what the Biden administration is doing. I think the -- you know, the contrast of what's going on in the culture and the concerns about that with this new administration and the Equality Act. The impact as you mentioned --

CABRERA: What's concerning about culture under this new administration and the Equality Act?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, there's a lot of concern about, you know, the advancement of transgender rights and what that's going to do to parental rights and the concern what's going to happen in our schools and to young women. So there's lots of concerns that the conservatives are voicing out there. They're being voiced at CPAC, they're being voiced in other circles.

There's concern about the First Amendment and the cancel culture. I mean, the whole theme of the show is, you know, conservatism uncanceled. So there is a lot of policies that are unifying conservatives out there that are quite apart -- the consistent with Trump but they're quite apart from Trump personally.

CABRERA: Congresswoman, you said on CNN earlier this month, quote, "A 70-something-year-old man is not the future of our party." And yet, what we've witnessed over the last couple of days at CPAC is a nonstop effusive praise for a twice-impeached president as well as a total embrace of his rhetoric. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: How is it going, CPAC? Or I heard someone earlier phrase it a little bit earlier. TPAC.

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE, TRUMP SUPPORTER: The Republican Party is being reborn thanks to President Trump. The party of America first. The party of President Trump.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): President Trump did something that has never been done in our lifetime. He stood up to all of establishment Washington and said no.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): They want him to go away. Let me tell you this right now. Donald J. Trump ain't going anywhere.


CABRERA: There is even a golden statue of Trump on site. So, Congresswoman, are you in the minority in thinking Trump is not the future of the party?

BARBARA COMSTOCK (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, VIRGINIA: No. I think I'm in the majority of the American people who canceled Donald Trump. He never had a majority the entire time he was president. He lost by three million votes in '16 in the popular vote then seven million. You know, twice impeached. Somebody who lost the House, the Senate and the White House is not the future of the party.

And I'll go further to say I don't think there was anybody there speaking this week who is going to be the future of the party either. I think people like Adam Kinzinger who you had on earlier are going to appeal to a broad cross section of people, Republicans, independents and even disaffected Democrats who may not like the far-left turn that Democrats take, but will be commonsense focusing on kitchen table issues.

So I look at the 55 percent in the poll that the president go as that he only got 55 percent of his family. This was all organized by his family, his friends. You're not down there if you're not sort of a Donald -- trying to make money off of Donald Trump. And I would point out, a lot of this is that Trump hangers-on, people like a Jason Miller or a Steve Bannon, a, you know, Brad Parscale, who they want to keep this hope alive that Trump will win because they want to make money off of him.

But they know he cannot get a majority. And now, even 45 percent of the people at that, you know, family -- Trump family convention don't even support him. So I'm very encouraged by that, and I think every day, even within the party -- I mean, he's divided the country, he's still trying to divide the party, but I think pretty quickly the party is going to start waking up and be sick of losing.

And Donald Trump is going to continue to lose. He's going to have court cases he's dealing with, civil and criminal. He's got a lot of business problems. So this is somebody who is a sore loser who's going to be on a losing track for quite a while. And I think that poll today is a loser.

CABRERA: Senator, as someone who ran for president yourself, how would you feel if you're one of these 2024 presidential hopefuls, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, for example, hoping to use CPAC as a launching pad and you have Trump just sucking up all the oxygen in the room?

SANTORUM: Yes, I think this is a process. You know, you noticed Mike Pence did not come to CPAC. I think there's still a lot of high emotions from the election and what happened, obviously what happened at the Capitol and the like. So I think what a lot of folks have done -- Nikki Haley wasn't there. There are others who didn't appear. And I think for a reason that, you know, things need to calm down and cool off a little bit.

And I think Barb is right. I mean, you see 55 percent that supported him, 68 percent who said he should even run. So I think that that number will probably drift down. I'll be curious to see how he handles his speech today, if it's bombastic and confrontational, and looks back or if it's something that looks forward and talks about the policy differences between where the Republican Party is.


I do disagree with Barbara in the sense that I do believe the policies that are being discussed at CPAC -- I don't agree with all of them, but a lot of them I think are where the Republican Party is. It's not necessarily where Adam Kinzinger is. But I think it really is a party that is focused on blue-collar America. And that's who the voters -- that's who votes for Republicans these days. We're not the party of the suburbs, we're not the party of the elites, we're not the party of big business. We're the party of working men and women. And that's a big change in the last 30 years.

And I think a lot of Republicans are struggling with that. How do we become that and be successful and hold on to the values that we all agree with? But I think that is the future, and how we shape that future is going to be really important for the country, not just on the party.

CABRERA: Congresswoman, as to question of whether Trump launches a 2024 run, one longtime adviser told "The Washington Post," quote, "If he is left alone, he may or may not run again. If they keep on attacking him, he will get more involved. If he's getting attacked, he's going to attack back."

And as we all remember, Trump's decision to jump into politics was spurred in part by the mocking he endured at a White House Correspondents Dinner. So how do you see this playing out?

COMSTOCK: Well, actually I sat at that same table, it was a "Washington Post" table in 2011 when he was mocked. So horrifying that I was there. But at any rate, I don't think, being what a sore loser he is, he's not going to risk losing again. I don't think he is going to run. It doesn't matter whether he does or not because he will not be able to get 50 percent. He does not have that in him, to be able to get a majority of the country behind him.

That's why we need to turn the page and move on. I think we can have a party that embraces having working class, blue-collar and having educated suburbanites. You know, my family consists of all of those things and in two generations has gone through that. So we are becoming a country that is more educated, you know, more integrated, more diverse. And we as a party need to embrace that and not fear it because the party that Donald Trump is trying -- the group that he amasses is a shrinking demographic and that is not going to ever win you the White House.

More importantly, you need to be able to govern and bring people together. And that doesn't mean you agree all the time on issues. We can have strong, you know, disagreements on things. But you need to bring together a coalition of people like Ronald Reagan did. I mean, Ronald Reagan did it (INAUDIBLE). It wasn't an ugly divisive kind of thing that Donald Trump has done for the past four years. And I think even people at that convention are sick of it.

CABRERA: Former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock and former Senator Rick Santorum, thank you both for being with us.

COMSTOCK: Thank you.

CABRERA: Any minute, the CDC director is expected to sign off on Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. So when might you be able to get it? That's next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



CABRERA: Some breaking news now, the CDC advisory's committee on immunization practices just voted to recommend the Johnson & Johnson Coronavirus vaccine in Americans 18 and older. Now, this comes after the FDA granted emergency use authorization for that vaccine last night. The one final step before shots of this vaccine can go into arms is for the CDC director to sign off which we are expecting at any moment now.

With us now is emergency physician at Brown University, Dr. Meghan Ranney. Dr. Ranney, as someone who has been on the front lines of this pandemic, what is the impact of the U.S. on the brink of having a third COVID-19 vaccine, especially this one, a single dose?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: Yes, Ana, it is just tremendous. I mean, you think about a year ago. That was when we diagnosed our very first cases of COVID-19 here in the United States. And to now have three vaccines that are tremendously effective against severe disease, hospitalization and death, that's more than I could have hoped for when I admitted my first patient to the hospital last year, at the end of February.

It is just going to be tremendous. You know, we've already seen huge decreases in the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths, among people who have gotten the vaccine in the United States. In my own home state of Rhode Island, we've seen an 80 percent decrease in new cases in the towns where we've concentrated vaccinations.

And getting Johnson & Johnson's vaccine out is going to just be transformational. It's going to be more fuel to getting more people vaccinated more quickly. And get the end in sight a little more -- a little more quickly for the rest of us.

CABRERA: Yippy is all I can say. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, let's just talk about this for a moment. Because in the trial, here in the U.S., it had a 72 percent efficacy. Here is what Dr. Anthony Fauci said about it this morning.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: If I were not vaccinated now and I had a chance of getting a J&J vaccine now or 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.


CABRERA: Dr. Ranney, what would you tell someone who looks at Johnson & Johnson's, you know, numbers, the efficacy percent and may be hesitant to get that vaccine because it's lower than the other two vaccines that have been authorized?

RANNEY: So, Ana, there are two things. The first is, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. The Moderna and Pfizer trials finished in a different time period and were, honestly, done in different countries than the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.


RANNEY: It's possible that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is going to be better against those novel variants, the ones from South Africa and Brazil and the U.K., than Moderna and Pfizer are. And it's only one shot.

You know, if my own parents came to me and said, Megan, we have the chance between getting the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine two months from now or Johnson & Johnson today, I would say get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine today. It's going to protect you from what we care about, which is ending up in the hospital or dying. There were zero deaths in the people that got the J&J vaccine after 28 days post vaccination. That's just amazing.

CABRERA: That's so important to point that out. Johnson & Johnson says it will begin testing its COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents next week. I know a lot of parents are wondering, you know, when this is going to take place, that their children can get vaccinated. How important is it to get a vaccine authorized for children? RANNEY: So, it's particularly important for those older age groups,

really age 12-plus who we know are more likely to catch and to transmit the virus. For the younger age groups, it would be lovely to get them vaccinated but we don't need that in place, in order to get schools back to school.

That said, if I had the chance, I would sign my kids up for a trial. And when the vaccine is approved for kids, I hope that all of us, as parents, go out and get our kids vaccinated as well.

CABRERA: COVID-19 hospitalizations fell to less than 50,000 for the first time since early November. This country spent almost two months with Coronavirus hospitalizations, you know, averaging over 100,000. What's your reaction to this encouraging indicator?

RANNEY: You know, I'll tell you, I'm feeling the difference in my hospital. I worked our emergency department on Friday and Saturday evening. And I saw so many fewer people with COVID who were there either to get evaluated or to get hospitalized. It's just tremendous.

But I also want to remind us that the numbers now are similar to where we were during last summer's surge, when we were talking about what a horrific place we were in. This is not the time to celebrate victory. We have about a month, two months to go until the majority of adult Americans have the chance to get vaccinated.

And now is the time to maintain mask wearing, avoid crowded indoor social situations. The end is in sight. But if we let up too early on those precautions, Ana, we risk a new surge in March and April, which would just be so sad and disappointing because we're so close to the end.

CABRERA: And we've all been sacrificing for so long. We don't want to make that sacrifice all for naught. Dr. Megan Ranney, I always appreciate hearing from you. Thank you for coming on and for all you do.

RANNEY: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, crowds are getting ready for former President Donald Trump's speech at CPAC. Waiting for him both inside and outside. He is expected to tell Republicans that the journey he started four years ago is far from over. So, what exactly does he mean by that? We'll talk to David Axelrod next.



CABRERA: In his first speech since leaving office just over a month ago, former President Donald Trump is expected to declare that the journey he began four years ago is far from over. And based on what we've seen over the last few days at CPAC, the Republican Party agrees. We saw a six-foot-tall gold statue parked at the conference to honor him. GOP lawmakers taking the stage to praise him. And supporters lined up to listen to him.

CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod joins us now. David, how significant will Trump's speech be in shaping the Party's future?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey, Ana. Well, look, it's his coming out party. There's no doubt about it. And it is a Trump fest down there. In fact, if they had smaller gold statuettes, they'd be giving them out for fawning -- awards for fawning over Trump. Because that is, really, what this has been about.

And it's important because the last time we saw him, he was leaving Washington as a disgraced president. And this is -- this crowd is saying, we don't care about what happened on January 6th. We don't care about his excesses. We still believe he's the leader of the Republican Party.

And you see most Republican -- major Republican leaders, but not all, coming down and paying homage to the former president. So, I think it's going to send a signal that he still has primacy in the party. It's a long way to 2022; a long way to 2024. But this is Donald Trump's party right now, and there's no question about it.

CABRERA: In his prepared remarks, he's going to say, quote, "Joe Biden has had the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history." I kind of laughed when I read that line, because it sure sounds like the Trump we've all come to know. How do you respond?

AXELROD: Well, look, if Joe Biden had found a cure to cancer and put a man on Pluto in his first month, Trump would have said the same thing. We know that. I mean, this is his modus operandi. It's unusual for a former President to behave this way, but this is a guy who has busted every rule, law, norm, you know, institution of our democracy. So, this isn't surprising.

I don't think that Joe Biden is losing any sleep over it. And I do think that it will be -- you know, it's red meat for the crowd he's talking to. They -- really, in addition to masks, they should have handed out Lipitor to the audience, because he is -- he and everyone else who's speaking is serving up a lot of red meat. And a lot of it is beating up on Democrats, beating up on Biden. You know, the suggestion that Democrats are socialists. Familiar themes that we've heard before.

CABRERA: Let's talk about President Biden, because he's facing criticism for his decision to not sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, even after the declassified intelligence report concluded he directly approved the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist from "Washington Post."

He promised, while campaigning, that he would hold the crown prince responsible.


CABRERA: So, is Biden breaking his promise?

AXELROD: I think Biden is confronting the reality of governance which he is aware of. I -- look, I remember sitting with President Obama and then President Mubarak of Egypt when Obama was asking for help in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli issue. And Mubarak sort of sighed wearily, and he said, well, we'll do what we can, but the Middle East is a very complicated neighborhood. And, you know, that is what Biden is confronting.

Saudi Arabia has been helpful, in terms of some of the anti-terrorism activities of the U.S. Obviously, active in the energy markets. Active in the fight to limit Iranian adventurism in the region -- in the region. So, there are a lot of common elements that are important to the U.S.

In addition to that, you know, China is more than happy to replace the U.S. as Saudi Arabia's ally. They don't care about human rights. On the other hand, human rights is something that is very important to the U.S. And the -- so, the President is trying to balance those interests. I think he should do more. I think he needs to do something directly about MBS, the crown prince who sanctioned this horrendous murder. And he says we're going to hear more about this tomorrow so we shall see.

But I have some sympathy for the delicacy of trying to balance these interests. And that's why governance is difficult and challenging.

CABRERA: Sure. Another promise Biden made on the campaign trail was raising the minimum wage. But that, of course, is part of the House bill that passed, is expected to be stripped from the bill that eventually will go through the Senate. If Democrats don't find a way to passed a $15.00 minimum wage, what will that mean for the Party, politically, come 2022 or 2024?

AXELROD: Well, look, there are a lot of Democrats and a lot of people who aren't Democrats who are interested in seeing the minimum wage go up. It's been raised in many states that Donald Trump carried by a vote of the people. So, there's a lot of interest in raising the minimum wage.

And my feeling, Ana, is that if it doesn't move in this package, it will be moved through the Congress. And you'll find some Republicans supporting it as well. Now, there may be some negotiation about the terms of it. But -- and there will be disappointment on the -- on the part of progressives. It's going to, I think, intensify the sense that we should do away with the filibuster in the Senate, so that a minimum wage could be passed only with Democratic votes.

CABRERA: But you don't even have all Democrats --

AXELROD: And now, we should point out there are a couple of Democrats -- exactly.

CABRERA: -- on board. Manchin, Sinema.

AXELROD: There are a couple of -- exactly. And that's, you know, again, we talked before about the difficulties of governance. There are a couple of Democrats who don't support the minimum wage proposal, as it is written in this package. And to pass minimum wage, they are going to have to be dealt with. Even with or without, you know, the filibuster, it's going to be hard to pass, unless you have all the Democrats on board.

So, yes, I think that is a big problem that is not acknowledged as much by progressives. I hear people say, well, let's, you know, compel Manchin to do it. I think Manchin is doing what he thinks his state supports. They have lower wages in that state. A lot would argue it would be better for his state if you passed a higher minimum wage.

But I don't feel he feels cowed on a state Donald Trump carried by, like, 40 points. I don't think he feels cowed by, you know, unhappiness on the left. So, these are choppy waters one has to navigate in Washington.

I do think the minimum wage is going to be raised, however, whether it's in this package or whether it comes later. There is a lot of public support for raising the minimum wage.

CABRERA: The latest polling shows, like, two-thirds of Americans support it.


CABRERA: And, as you pointed out, it passed in states like Florida in this last election cycle. And, of course, Florida went --


CABRERA: -- for Donald Trump.

David Axelrod, good to have you with us. Thank you.

AXELROD: You got it.

CABRERA: We'll be right back.



CABRERA: Welcome back. This week we launched CNN Heroes for 2021. And we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the CNN Heroes' campaign. A decade and a half of inspiring moments and stories of everyday people who are changing the world.

We begin this year with an update on the man at the center of the most inspiring moment you selected from last year. Patrick Hutchinson, a London father and grandfather who rescued a vulnerable man caught in the middle of street protests turning ugly.


PATRICK HUTCHINSON, CNN HERO: There was a lot of unrest. There was a lot of frustration. I didn't see color. I just saw somebody who needed help. And I just had the presence of mind just to scoop him up, put him on my shoulder. And I had a message ping up on my phone from my sister. She said, it's gone viral. You've gone viral.

I've spoken to the likes of Reverend Al Sharpton, Prince Harry. I've been on the cover of "Men's Health," BBC News. I've been on live T.V., CNN, CNBC. I've received a Humanitarian Award. I've had Michelle Obama write a message on her Instagram.

It hasn't stopped and it's still going. We started United to Change and Inspire, and we call it UTCAI. And we're inspiring other people to be the change in the world that you want to see. Go out there and do what's right. Don't stand by and watch certain things unfold, when you know that you have the ability to do something about it.



CABRERA: To learn more about the campaign and to hear Patrick Hutchinson's full story, go to And, of course, if you want to feel good, that's another reason to go. And while you're there, nominate your own CNN hero.



CABRERA: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.