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Biden to Announce Merck will Work with Johnson & Johnson to Manufacture Vaccine; Biden to Meet with Senate Democrats on COVID Relief Bill; Calls Grow for New York Governor Cuomo to Resign As Third Accuser Emerges; Senators to Grill FBI Director Over Insurrection Security Failures; Texas FEMA Sites to Receive 24,000 J&J Vaccine Doses. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 2, 2021 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:19]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Tuesday morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

This morning, the U.S. is now one step closer to vaccinating the nation against coronavirus as fears that more variants are growing and may set back our progress. As soon as today, the third vaccine authorized in the United States from Johnson & Johnson could actually begin going into people's arms. Right now 3.9 million doses of the J&J single shot COVID vaccine are ready to go. And later today President BIDEN will announce a big partnership to produce even more of that vaccine. We'll have more on who that partnership is with, in a moment.

SCIUTTO: It's great news. Vaccinations are accelerating. But first this hour, just an hour from now, we could learn a lot more about the deadly insurrection at the Capitol. The FBI director Christopher Wray, he will testify for the first time since the insurrection on security failures that day and in advance. And where do terrorists in this country, domestic terrorists, where do those risks stand today? Lawmakers are going to press him on a number of fronts.

CNN's Evan Perez joins us now. So, Evan, you know, we've heard from a lot of folks involved to this point but not yet the FBI director. He did warn Congress six months before the attack about domestic terrorism. What more have we learned and where do we expect him to face hard questions today?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the first tough questions I think you're going to hear from members in this committee is whether the FBI dropped the ball, Jim, because, obviously, there was an attack on Congress. The FBI is the agency that is supposed to provide the intelligence to protect that building, to protect the nation. And we heard last week from some of the former leaders of the U.S. Capitol Police, sergeants of arms, about -- both the House and Senate that they believe the FBI didn't provide adequate intelligence.

And so it's just a case where they are simply trying to point fingers to explain away their own failures. The reason why they're no longer in those jobs or was there something really missed by the FBI? We know that over 300 people have been charged with violence related to the January 6th insurrection. The FBI says that they're looking at thousands more leads and one of the questions that we have, Jim, despite the fact that the FBI director did warn about the dangers of some of these white supremacist groups, was the FBI on the ball enough?

Did they do enough to infiltrate and to understand what was going on with these groups? We know that some of these groups that have now been implicated. The Oath Keepers, the 3 Percenters, were on the radar of the FBI. Why didn't they know that some of these people were coming here and were intending to carry out some of the violence. Some of the things that we're seeing in the court documents. Tough questions we anticipate.

Obviously, Jim, this is a tough thing for the FBI because they're always under attack for perhaps violating, you know, our civil liberties and so they have some problems in balancing those interests. But the question here is, why did this attack happen? Why wasn't more done?

SCIUTTO: Yes, no question. And to their credit, the FBI had been forward leaning on the threat of domestic terrorism, even when Trump political appointees were not. But this is quite a big test. Did they fail it?

Evan Perez, thanks very much.

HARLOW: And joining us now, our chief political correspondent Dana Bash. Josh Campbell is also with us, former FBI supervisory special agent and our security correspondent.

Great to have you both. Josh, let me begin with you on something that I think -- I know is going to get a lot of attention today. And that is something called the Norfolk Report. And it is the report from the FBI that warned of a lot of violence and danger and extremists coming to the Capitol on the 6th of January. The FBI says it was shared with the Washington field office, of their Joint Terrorism Task Force, within 40 minutes of being published, that it went on this database called the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal that everyone in law enforcement has access to. But listen to this from the former Capitol police chief in that testimony last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN SUND, FORMER U.S. CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: I actually just in the last 24 hours was informed by the department that they actually had received that report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: He didn't even know in the days and weeks after the attack. What questions does Wray need to answer about that today?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think we could get some granularity on what that actual intelligence report entailed. And I think the best way to describe this for our viewers is to kind of take you in the room. I've sat there in the Washington field office in the command center in the run up to major events. And essentially they have a message board going, a real time update of all threats, all activity within the FBI D.C.'s area of responsibility.

[09:05:07]

And so the question will be, did the FBI get this piece of information from its Norfolk office and ingest it into this database along with a host of other different threats and a lot of other reporting, or was this something that someone thought deserved its own reporting, you know, perhaps that this was serious enough in nature that they wanted to make people not only digitally aware of it but to pick up the phone and say, hey, we're seeing this. You should know this.

Now I think what the FBI has said is that this particular reporting was what they called aspirational. And that is someone wants to do something bad but doesn't necessarily have the capability to do so. Whether that results in people picking up the phone and, you know, setting people's hair on fire, that will be a question for the FBI.

SCIUTTO: Dana, another question, right, is the White House decision- making. The president's decision-making on that day. Did he order National Guard? Did he resist calls for calling in the National Guard? I wonder, can we expect the FBI director to shed any light on that?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It would be great if he could because you're absolutely right. That is one of the unanswered and extremely important questions about the ability to prevent the tragedy, the historic tragedy that we saw on that day. You know, the other question is, if the threat was that high, you know, kind of the flipside of that coin that you're talking about is, why do law enforcement, specifically the Secret Service, let the president get anywhere down there to begin with?

You know, there are all of those questions. And the other is, Josh -- I mean, obviously, he's got the experience that none of us has, talking right now to actually be in the command center, but as I hear about the Norfolk Report and other flairs that were sent up and were not either seen or adhered to, I think about, you know, what we all talked about almost -- 20 years ago, rather. Maybe it's just you and me on this panel, Jim. The stove piping of intelligence.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BASH: And the fact that agencies don't or didn't share information well enough in a way that could have maybe prevented some of the tragedies on 9/11. Are we at that place now with the focus on domestic terrorism in addition to threats from abroad?

SCIUTTO: Yes, remember the memo, right? Biden -- sorry, Al Qaeda determined to attack the homeland. You know, the warnings in advance of 9/11 and the parallel there. HARLOW: Dana, that's a really good point. Josh, to you, I mean, one

thing we also know now, and I wonder if the FBI knew it before, is that there were dozens of people on the terror watch lists in D.C. that day. I wonder what your most important question to Christopher Wray would be if you were on the committee doing the questioning?

CAMPBELL: Well, the questions that we've heard and I think this will certainly be a grilling. This will be something to watch because both Republicans and Democrats have lines of inquiry that they want satisfied. I think from the Democrats, one of the first questions they're probably going to ask is, where have you been for two months? That's one criticism we've heard from Democrats.

You know, the FBI director after that insurgence at the Capitol wasn't out there publicly. This was actually a third or fourth rung person, a regional director that he assigned in D.C. to sort of be the face of this investigation. And, you know, the problem there is that what we're hearing from critics is that, you know, this goes to that idea that perhaps the FBI treats right-wing terrorism different than it does international terrorism because, after an ISIS or al Qaeda-style attack, you typically see the FBI director out there front and center, reassuring the public, talking about potential threats.

We didn't see that here. And I talked to people inside the FBI almost every day and they were puzzled by that because one thought was perhaps Wray was trying to simply keep his job. Donald Trump, the mercurial president, was still in office. No one knew if he would go on a firing spree. And so the question was, if Wray came out there going after right-wing extremists would he be fired?

No one knows if that's the case. Only Christopher Wray. If it is the case, it worked. But again that question that we have from -- we're hearing from Democrats is why has the FBI director not been more forceful and then very quickly what I will say is that the Republicans also, I think, might be very aggressive in their questioning because they're going to try to get to this idea of whether this was inspired by Donald Trump on the day of the attack or whether there was actually preplanning.

The latter being a possible opportunity to give Donald Trump some kind of cover. So I think both sides will have aggressive questions.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Although he was ceding this for many days before, too. It's kind of -- it's a weird distinction there, but, Dana, sorry to interrupt.

BASH: No, I heard what Josh just said about the fact that the FBI director was nowhere to be found publicly while Donald Trump was still the president. Yes, was still the president rather. My understanding is that a big reason was what Josh just said is that, you know, he was incredibly mercurial, even more than before during the waning days of his presidency.

[09:10:04]

And there was a concern that he would fire him. And, you know, that was one of the reasons why he sent others out publicly as opposed to him being out. Having said that, Joe Biden has been president for a month, so --

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, and I thought of this the other day after the Tiger Woods crash. Like within hours of that, you had the cops out there giving details. It was six days before anybody briefed -- forget about the FBI director.

HARLOW: Yes, good point.

SCIUTTO: Before anybody briefed about a violent insurrection in the Capitol. So lots of questions to answer.

Dana Bash, Josh Campbell, thanks very much.

We turn now to the pandemic. President Biden will announce later today that Merck, the big pharma company, will now partner with its competitor Johnson & Johnson to manufacture -- to help manufacture the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

HARLOW: Nice to see that collaboration. Let's go to our colleague Lucy Kafanov, she's at a mass vaccination site in Houston preparing to administer the vaccine as soon as it gets there. 24,000 doses headed to Texas.

And what's so neat about today, Lucy, is that when folks walk out of there, that's all. They don't have to come back for a second shot, right? If they're getting the J&J one, at least.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's it. And that's exciting news for the country and certainly for anyone who manages to get that shot in the arm. Of course, the question is when those Johnson & Johnson vaccines will finally go into arms. We know that Texas is expecting 24,000 doses like you say. Those will be split between Harris County, which is home to Houston, and Dallas.

This mass vaccination site, this FEMA vaccination site is expecting to get those Johnson & Johnson vaccines. They just don't know when. And they don't know when they'll be able to go into arms. But we do know we've heard from the mayors of both Dallas and Houston, and they said that they will be prioritizing underprivileged, underserved populations to get that single dose vaccine, for example. Folks in jails or the homeless population.

And that's because it's so much easier to administer just that one dose. You don't have to worry about scheduling follow-up appointments and sort of that is what they're going to be prioritizing for that single-dose vaccine.

Now federal officials have warned that the first month of deployment for that single shot might be rough. They have about 3.9 million doses available at the moment. There aren't more in the pipeline for the first week but again it's still good news for the nation's vaccination effort. Now a total of three vaccines soon to be available for the public -- guys.

HARLOW: It's great. Lucy, thank you very much.

Still to come, despite that good news, the CDC director is warning fast-spreading variants could wipe out progress in the battle against COVID. We'll have the latest ahead.

And also, calls for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign, including a call from a Democratic lawmaker. A Democratic member of Congress from his own state after "The New York Times" reports a third woman has now come forward to accuse the governor of inappropriate behavior.

SCIUTTO: Plus, the Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a case from Arizona that many fear could weaken a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. What it means for voters. And lots of these things are happening across the country. The Arizona secretary of state is going to join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Well, the director of the CDC this morning is warning that all of the recent progress that the country has made in really trying to get a handle of COVID could be wiped out because of these highly contagious variants. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL & PREVENTION: Please hear me clearly. At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. Now is not the time to relax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: CDC Director Dr. Walensky also said she fears COVID fatigue has set in. Americans are getting more lax with safety measures like mask-wearing and social distancing. Let's bring in Dr. Carlos del Rio; the executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine. Good morning Dr. Del Rio. I'm going to start --

CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Good morning, how are you?

HARLOW: I am feeling glass half full today, so I'm going to start on the good news. And that is the J&J rollout, that this vaccine is going in the arms of people in America starting today. You've said that you're very impressed with this vaccine. The CEO of J&J told Jim on the show yesterday, they're currently working on a booster to deal with these variants. How do you think having J&J one dose vaccine on the market that can be refrigerated in a normal fridge, no deep freeze needed. How is that going to change things, especially for more vulnerable populations especially for homeless people getting it distributed more broadly. What will it mean?

DEL RIO: It's definitely a game changer. Having a vaccine that you don't need to schedule a second dose, it really is a very useful tool to have. The problem we have right now is, as you know, there are only about 4 million doses available. So, they really --

HARLOW: Right --

DEL RIO: Need to ramp up production. I was very excited to see that Merck is going to partner with them to ramp up production because we need, you know, a 100 million doses of that vaccine right away if we really need to reach those populations we're talking about.

HARLOW: What do you think -- that's a great point about Merck. What do you think that partnership with Merck is going to mean? Merck is one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies not only in the U.S., but in the world. So, how much -- you know, production capacity could they have?

DEL RIO: Oh, they have a lot. Merck has a lot of experience producing vaccines. They have traditionally been a very strong vaccine manufacturer. And I think they have the capacity to help in a very useful, you know, rapid way to scale up production.

[09:20:00]

HARLOW: Yes, OK, that's great news. There is this alert, warning from the CDC, and I want everyone to be really clear on what it means. So, I'm hoping you can explain it to us. They are saying now that two doses of a COVID vaccine protects more against these variants than one dose. But are they saying basically two doses of Moderna or two doses of Pfizer protects more than one dose of either of those? They're not saying two doses of those protect better against the variants than one dose of J&J, is that right?

DEL RIO: That's right. I think it's -- you know, it's getting to be so confusing.

HARLOW: Yes --

DEL RIO: And the problem is we can't really compare all those vaccines. We need to think about the MRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, sort of in a separate category. Those vaccines, you know, we need two doses, one of them 21 days, Pfizer, one of them, 28 days, Moderna. A lot of people have said well, let's just give one dose because you get some protection from one dose and indeed, you do, but the protection you get from one dose is not high enough to protect you against the variants. Now, the only difference though is that if you already had COVID, having one dose of the vaccine, it's almost like having two doses. You get a very nice boost --

HARLOW: Wow --

DEL RIO: From the -- from that first dose. So it's a little tricky to decide what to do, what not to do. At this point in time, my recommendation to people is that if you're going to get Pfizer and Moderna, schedule that second appointment. Get your second dose.

HARLOW: You told my colleagues yesterday that you're hopeful that little kids will be vaccinated this Fall. Jim and I have really little kids, so we're very interested in how little. What are we talking about here?

DEL RIO: Well, you know, the different clinical trials right now are going down to about age -- first one of them went to age 12, now, they're going down to age 5 and 6. I think pretty soon we're probably going to have -- I'm starting to think that this vaccine maybe in the Fall will be a vaccine that is available when you start elementary school, maybe sixth grade -- 6-year-olds.

HARLOW: OK, we'll take it. Very quickly, when you saw the important meeting that President Biden had with the president of Mexico yesterday. You're from Mexico yourself, you worked in public health in Mexico. We know that the Mexican president asked in some form or another for the Biden administration to share vaccine across the border with Mexico. Is that what this country should do, needs to do? And the question would be when? Is it after every American is vaccinated? Is it right now?

DEL RIO: Well, you know, I frequently think about our country Mexico and the U.S., almost like three zones right there. It's U.S. or Mexico, and there's a zone there in the middle called Mex-America which is, you know, the border region. I think focusing on that border region is going to be really important. There's no point of vaccinating everybody in California if the people across the border in Baja are not vaccinated. So, somehow, trying to think about how to help those border states and Mexico really ramp up their vaccination. I think it's going to be important because there is a border there, where a lot of people are going back and forth, and having people in the U.S. vaccinated and not in Mexico puts Americans actually at risk.

HARLOW: Yes.

DEL RIO: So my suggestion is that I really hope our governments can work together with the Mexican government, the U.S. government, to really see how we can help them scale up their vaccination in Mexico. Mexico is way behind in their vaccination efforts, and we've got to get them vaccinated. It's going to be in the best interest of the U.S. to do that.

HARLOW: Dr. del Rio, so good to have you. Thank you very much.

DEL RIO: Delighted to be with you.

HARLOW: All right, well, President Biden plans to meet again today with Senate Democrats as the White House works to unify lawmakers around his COVID stimulus plan.

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes, they cannot lose a single Democratic vote.

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Senators who attended Monday's call say they're pushing to better target toward -- you hear a lot, the relief aid for those who need it most, but not reduce the overall price tag. CNN's Lauren Fox live on Capitol Hill. So, Lauren, one item looking to limit is unemployment benefits which expire March 14th. And I also wonder where Joe Manchin's vote stands here, right? I mean, he's looking to tweak this, but might he actually vote against all this?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, the president's job today going into this discussion with his Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate is going to be to close this deal. He's really like a coach going into the locker room right before the big game, trying to remind everyone that there is a goal at the end of all of this. And this is to pass this massive stimulus proposal. And like you said, there are some Democrats who don't love every aspect of this. There are some moderates who are trying to push to lower how much that unemployment benefit is from $400 to $300 a week.

That's because they want to make sure that it can last a little longer. Right now, that provision goes through August. They want to try to push it through September or even maybe beyond by saving that money week-to-week and the overall benefit. So, that's one thing that moderates are looking for. Progressives, of course, very disappointed about this ruling from the Senate parliamentarian over the $15 minimum wage. So, the goal today is going to be for Biden to remind people like Joe Manchin that this may not have everything you love in it, but it is important for the country that we do something now. So that's certainly the argument that the president is going to make. Will it work?

[09:25:00]

I think that that's the biggest question right now. We have just a few days until this is expected to go to the Senate floor. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes, I suppose it is hard to imagine Democrats thinking the president's primary legislative priority at this stage, but we'll see. Lauren Fox, thanks very much. Next, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing mounting calls to resign after a third woman has accused him of unwanted sexual advances.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street this morning. Taking a look at futures, lower across the board just slightly. Investors concerned about the rising bond yields that we're seeing. What does that actually mean for the equity market? Sometimes an indication of higher interest rates to come, though the Fed has said that is not on the horizon. They have signaled repeatedly we're going to stay low for a while on that front. Wall Street will be keeping a close eye on stimulus negotiations as Lauren just told us about. The talks are focused on potentially lowering that weekly boost in unemployment benefits. We'll see what happens there.

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