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CNN NEWSROOM

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Doses Shipped, Injections Begin Tomorrow; Mass Vaccination Site Opens in Connecticut; Pressure Turns to Senate to Close Deal on COVID Relief; Senator Murkowski to Meet with Embattled OMB Director Nominee; Stock Futures Up After House Passes Biden's COVID Relief Package. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 1, 2021 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: In Kentucky cannot come soon enough. Very critical to have these options. Health leaders are warning that the drop in U.S. cases may be slowing down and it is true that variants are spreading rapidly in parts of the country.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It's also a critical time for millions of Americans on the brink of losing key benefits. The Senate now will take up President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package after, of course, on Friday it passed the House but with no Republican support. We're following where that bill stands and exactly what comes next.

Also this, a new speech but the same old lies about election fraud. Former president Trump returns to the political stage and makes it clear he has no plans to get off of it over the next four years. Will the party stick with him?

But first let's beginning with our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen on the good news, and that is a green light for the J&J vaccine.

How significant is this to have a third vaccine literally already on the way to people?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, it really is significant. We are trying to vaccinate basically an entire population, an entire country. That is difficult to do with two vaccines, as we've seen. There just isn't enough out there. So having a third is a big deal.

Let's take a look at how effective this vaccine is. In U.S. trials, what they saw is that the vaccine was 72 percent effective. And what they found, though, is that for severe disease, it was 85 percent effective, and I know that's a little confusing. So let's take a second to explain that. When you look at how effective the J&J was at preventing any kind of COVID, whether it was moderate COVID or the kind of COVID that kills you, all through that range, it was 72 percent effective. But when you look at how effective it was at preventing severe

disease, it was 85 percent effective, and that's actually in many ways the much more important numbers. As one doctor said, we want to keep you out of a hospital and we want to keep you out of the morgue, and so it was 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease. And that's not as good as the Moderna and Pfizer effectiveness numbers, but still, it is incredibly good.

And as Dr. Fauci and others have said, if you can get this vaccine, get it, and this vaccine has two distinct advantages over Moderna and Pfizer. One of them is that it's only a single dose. That's going to be much easier to do to only have to give people one dose, and they're done. The other advantage is that it doesn't need to be frozen. It can be stored and transported, just refrigeration temperatures. That is going to be very important, especially in getting it to more rural areas of the country -- Poppy, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth, thanks so much for helping us bring that all in.

The CEO of Johnson & Johnson says it is working with the government to get the doses exactly where they're needed and when.

HARLOW: CNN's Pete Muntean is with us from Louisville where the vaccine is being shipped from right now.

It's great to have good news to talk to you about, moving this much needed vaccine across the country. But it's also, as always, pretty complicated logistically. Walk us through how they're doing this, and if you know where it's going.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, this is the first stop on the way to getting millions of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out the door. This is Worldport, the UPS's largest hub here in Louisville, and truckfuls of the vaccine are being loaded up right now at a McKesson distribution warehouse not too far away from here in Shepherdsville.

The trucks will come here, be unloaded by hand, packages will then be sorted by machines, 150 miles of conveyor belt here, long enough to go from D.C. to Philadelphia. Then they will be directed on the cargo planes and those planes will take the packages the rest of the way. Coast-to-coast distribution. 3.9 million doses going out on this initial wave. 20 million doses according to Johnson & Johnson by the end of the month.

UPS already has a lot of practice in getting Pfizer and Moderna doses out the door. It also has a lot of practice in monitoring these vaccine shipments. You know, each individual package is able to broadcast its position in real time, monitored back here at Worldport. It is so critical and was especially critical during last month's massive snowstorm.

One operations here at Worldport actually had to shut down for a day. Some of those vaccine deliveries were a bit delayed. But UPS says because it was able to monitor those packages, it was able to get them moving a bit more smoothly. You know, this is a massive operation, Jim and Poppy, and it all

begins right here in Kentucky.

HARLOW: Grateful to all of those people doing so much around the clock.

Pete, thank you for the reporting.

Let's bring in Dr. Amy Compton Phillips, chief clinical officer for Providence Health System.

It's great to have you. If you can just weigh in on where you think we are as a country now that we have this third greenlit vaccine being shipped today.

DR. AMY COMPTON PHILLIPS, CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER, PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM: We're in an ever better place, and I think, as manufacturing continues to improve, it's going to get better and better. You know, by the end of last week, we were doing 2.2 million vaccines a day, and we're still ratcheting up, so this is a really positive sign.

[09:05:09]

SCIUTTO: Tell us the difference it makes that this is not only one shot, right, but you get what you need after one shot, obviously, you know, easier to handle that, than bringing folks in for two. But also that it doesn't require the really low temperature storage in terms of getting this vaccine out to more people in the country.

COMPTON PHILLIPS: It is so much simpler being able to handle this vaccine that's much more stable at higher temperatures as well as the single shot. So imagine giving it to populations that are really tough to reach, for example, people who are experiencing homelessness or people in rural areas that are a long distance from one of those minus 70 freezers. So that this -- the fact that this can be put into coolers and then distributed out much more simply and easily, and that people only have to slip in to a mass vaccination site, which is where many of them are still being given, one time is enormous.

Also it can get into smaller venues, so into pharmacies in rural areas, for example, in a much simpler way, so this really eases the capacity to get the vaccine where it's needed.

HARLOW: Listen to this from Dr. Fauci when our colleague Dana Bash asked him yesterday about, you know, more good news, meaning people are easing up on their activity restrictions. States are loosening restrictions. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: It is really risky to say it's over, we're on the way out, let's pull back, because what we can see is that we turn up. It isn't hypothetical, Dana, because just look historically at the late winter, early spring of 2020, the summer of 2020, when we started to pull back prematurely. We saw the rebound. We definitely don't want that to happen. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Is he right?

COMPTON PHILLIPS: He's absolutely right. The analogy that I have been using for a while now is that we're in a marathon, and I feel like over the holidays, over Christmas, over New Year's, we just went up to the top of heartbreak hill because that was horrible, right? But we're not done yet. We might be on mile 21, 22. We're not at the finish line. We've got to get to the finish line. We can't ease up on all of those things we all want to stop doing.

We want to stop social distancing, we want to stop wearing a mask. We're not at the finish line yet. We've got to keep going until we're done.

SCIUTTO: Doctor, can you tell us what the data is telling us right now? Because if you look at this graph of cases which have come down dramatically, and which we should take note of that, that's good. But it is flattening out a bit. We can put these up on screens so people can see them. It is flattening at a bit at the bottom, though at the same time, deaths and hospitalizations are down.

But we had those figures, picture a big graph coming down like this and kind of flattening here. Why do you see that? Why do you think we're seeing that?

COMPTON PHILLIPS: It's hard to say, but one of the things we're worried about is people doing exactly what Dr. Fauci just said, people starting to say oh, the vaccine is here, I'm done, yay, go back to school, go back to work, go back to dinner parties, go back to my normal life, and we're not quite there yet. And that's why the news that this is good and we still got to keep going is hard for people to understand because we want to all be done.

But we're not, and so that is the worry about this flattening off because we're flattening off at a much better, but still a very high level of a burden of disease.

HARLOW: Finally, what should people do, Doctor, who have had COVID, and developed antibodies? Should they be getting these vaccines at least right now?

COMPTON PHILLIPS: They should. So wait three months after you're done with your infection, and then get the vaccine, and that is to give your body a little bit of time so that you don't neutralize the vaccine immediately upon getting it. Three months, get it.

SCIUTTO: All right. Well, good to have you on, as always, to help us process all of this. Dr. Amy Compton Phillips, thank you.

COMPTON PHILLIPS: Pleasure.

SCIUTTO: Teachers and school staff in the state of Connecticut can now schedule appointments to get vaccinated, a real priority.

HARLOW: Must be a big relief for them. Our Polo Sandoval joins us from a mass vaccination site.

Good morning to you, Polo. Hope that these sites are going to really, really speed up distribution. I just saw one of our colleagues here this morning who was so excited that he got one over the weekend. And his kids are going to a mass vaccination site to get one today. It seems to really be changing things for the better.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And especially making these kinds of vaccination sites, Poppy, a lot busier, and that's what people here in Connecticut are preparing for, to gearing up for this spike in interest and demand in the COVID vaccines.

As you mentioned, Connecticut is going to be essentially expanding or at least already expanded their age-based schedule to try to get this vaccine into arms. Starting today, residents 55 and up can get those vaccinations, child care providers, and also important to mention here, educators and staff. You're talking teachers, you're talking coaches, support staff, custodial staff as well.

[09:10:04]

All those important folks that are involved in trying to get obviously students back into the classroom. They are now going to have that opportunity to be able to secure an appointment and then head to one of these locations to get that vaccination. Governor Ned Lamont saying that he is also hoping that the recent authorization of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine will mean increasing roughly 30,000 more doses of vaccinations.

That would mean that now Connecticut would have a weekly allotment of about 130,000, but then also important is to try to get people to administer those vaccinations as well. So they are also increasing not only their personnel, manning the phones, working those Web sites and those appointments, but also getting those shots into arms at these locations -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Polo, thank you so much for being there, and for that reporting. It's good to see.

Well, up next for us, Senators, you're up. It is now your turn to vote on President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus bill. Where does it all stand this morning, ahead. And former president Trump might be out of the White House, but he is definitely not out of the picture for Republicans. How he's tightening his grip on the party and targeting his political foes?

SCIUTTO: And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing another allegation of sexual harassment. Why he's saying sorry this morning?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

SCIUTTO: With unemployment aid set to expire in less than two weeks, President Biden is now calling on the Senate to move quickly and pass his $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package after the house passed it a couple of days ago.

HARLOW: That's right. So, what we're hearing is that Senate Democrats are still finalizing their next steps with the possible open debate on this bill as soon as this Wednesday. Let's go to our colleagues Jeremy Diamond at the White House, Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill. Good morning to you both. So, Lauren, where do these negotiations stand? We know the $15 minimum wage won't be in the Senate version. What's else?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, we expect that this all could get started on Wednesday, like you said, Poppy. But I think it's important to remember that, that minimum wage increase is not going to be included.

Also, the so-called plan B, which was Senator Ron Wyden; the chairman of the Finance Committee's plan to try to create some kind of tax penalty for corporations that didn't raise the minimum wage on their own, that is also not going to be considered as part of this package, and that's because Democrats are trying to move quickly. They believe that they have the votes on their side of the aisle. They do not expect to have a single Republican supporter.

Here's what one Republican, Senator Bill Cassidy, someone who has crossed the aisle on these packages in the past said about the Democratic relief bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): You can find one thing, perhaps where, oh, my gosh, we will get criticized on that, so we'll adapt. But the reality is, is that they put forward a package which reflects the interest of the democratic constituencies that elected the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOX: And after 20 hours of debate, that could get started on Wednesday, there would then be what is known as a vote-a-rama, that is a marathon vote in the Senate. It would likely go late into Thursday night, into Friday morning. That is the earliest that we could expect passage of this $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Jeremy, the politics of this are interesting, right? Because unified support in the house, unified opposition, I should say, among the Republicans, but broad public support even among Republican voters for many of the parts of this. In the Senate, is Biden's hope that he might get some Republican senators realistic?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, we -- so far, there doesn't seem to be any one Republican senator who seems likely to vote for this legislation.

But the White House is insisting so far that they are not giving out hope, even as they are making very clear that they are willing to pass this on a party-line-basis, and that the president would sign a bill that was passed only by Democrats. But here's Cedric Richmond's, one of the president's senior advisors talking about just that possibility yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CEDRIC RICHMOND, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT: It won't be from a lack of effort, but if you're asking at the end of today, do I think a Republican in the house or a Republican in the Senate will vote for it? Possibly, maybe even probably.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: And you hear him say there, probably, but again, the White House has yet to identify a single Republican senator who would actually be willing or has indicated that they would be willing to vote for this package. And Cedric Richmond also said in that interview that if our choice is to wait and go bipartisan or to pass something that we think is important now, they are going to choose the latter option. And so, that is what is very clear.

And even as the White House makes clear that they are still extending that hand to Republicans, they've said that so far Republicans haven't offered a counter proposal that comes anywhere close to what the White House is looking to accomplish here. And if you look at the president's schedule for the rest of the week, he's got a call with Senate Democrats, a call with house Democrats, and so, clearly, that is where his focus is on passing this quickly, not necessarily making any more concessions to those --

HARLOW: Right --

DIAMOND: Republican senators.

HARLOW: Right. OK, Lauren, before you guys go, today is also a big day for the Biden administration in terms of getting their pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden through. I mean, they're standing by her. You heard it from Jen Psaki yesterday, she -- Neera Tanden is going to meet with a Republican senator today who could be the key, right, is that Lisa Murkowski?

FOX: Well, that's exactly right, Poppy. And look, it's pretty remarkable. It has been more than a week since Joe Manchin, that moderate Democrat from West Virginia said that he would not support Tanden.

[09:20:00]

That meant that the White House was in a race to try to find a single Republican willing to vote for her. We now know of course, this meeting happening today between Murkowski and Tanden, we also know Murkowski is very aware of some of Tanden's past statements against her colleagues and even tweets against her personally. Those items could come up, of course, in today's meeting.

But look, this is a member, a moderate Republican from the state of Alaska, who is going to be looking for some kind of concession for her state. That is how Lisa Murkowski has always operated up here on Capitol Hill. She is a sophisticated and you know, really thoughtful member when it comes to making sure that if she's going to vote for something, there's going to be something that she likely will be getting in return.

So, keep your eye on what that could be, of course. But a critical meeting today on Capitol Hill that will likely seal the fate one way or the other for Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I'm so curious what the quid pro quo might be. What would be the trade? That's -- you know, politics is all about that. We'll see if it comes through. Jeremy Diamond, Lauren Fox, thanks so much. Well, former President Trump, he is threatening revenge against Republicans who turned against him and attempts to send a message to others who might do the same. We're going to have more on his attempted return to the political stage next.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell this Monday on Wall Street. Take a look, futures all pointing higher this morning, of course, a lot of focus on the stimulus package and what's going to happen to it. That will obviously affect the markets and confidence, all three major averages ended February higher, investors looking ahead to a post-COVID economy with this positive news from J&J on the vaccine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:00]

SCIUTTO: In his first public speech since leaving the White House, former President Trump kept spreading the big lie about a stolen election. It's been debunked many times, rejected by courts, Republican lawmakers, Trump-appointed judges, and yet, he kept at it and even hinted he might run again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will take back the house. We will win the Senate, and then a Republican president will make a triumphant return to the White House, and I wonder who that will be.

(APPLAUSE)

(CHEERS)

I wonder who that will be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Joining me now, former Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock and Evan McMullin; former chief policy director for the House Republican Conference, also a candidate for president in 2016, thanks to both of you this morning. We're less than two months out from a deadly insurrection on the Capitol who senior most Republican in the Senate says explicitly the president incited. I wonder Barbara Comstock, has the party already rehabilitated him?

BARBARA COMSTOCK, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: No, I don't think so, not the party at large. You know, there's a difference between CPAC and a small group of people there and the party at large, and the American people. First, I'd like to point out, my prediction and I think pretty accurate, nobody who spoke at that convention is going to be president.

That includes Donald Trump. Secondly, this is really about raising money. One of the notable things other than the big lie and the, you know, revenge thirst that he had there was asking for money. And so, this is about the bottom feeders who are still around Donald Trump trying to raise money by keeping that idea alive that he'll run, and now -- or endorsing candidates.

It doesn't matter if these candidates win. It means the consultants around him need money. So, that's really what this is about. So, I think it's good that by and large, people ignored this. It was the same old rant that you've heard over the past year. I think it reminded people why he has a 60 percent disapproval because, you know, this is not somebody with a vision of the future. And I think the 17 people who voted for impeachment, the brave, the bold, you know, those are the people who are the future of the party and they weren't there.

SCIUTTO: But still, Evan McMullin, a minority in the party among -- a small minority among sitting lawmakers and a majority of voters, at least in public polling and far beyond CPAC, which I agree is a kind of a fringe event say they still support Trump. I wonder do you see -- do you agree with Barbara that his support in the party is heading in one direction, down?

EVAN MCMULLIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, STAND UP REPUBLIC: I think it is, but slowly. You know, I mean, I'm somebody who has wanted a new direction for the party for some years now, and for four to five years, I was aligned with 10 percent to 15 percent of the party, and now I think it's more like a third of the party wants to move in a new direction.

We saw that only 68 percent of those in attendance at CPAC, and these are, as Barbara points out, these are, you know -- this is a small portion of the party's activists, but they're some of the most -- they're some of the most loyal, only 68 percent even wanted him to run again. So, about a third don't even want him to enter the race in 2024.

But also only 55 percent of them said if given other primary choices, they would vote for him. So, I think there is reason even among that select group at CPAC, again, the most active of the loyal party base activists, you know, there's cracks even among them with regard to whether they'll support Trump again.