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CNN NEWSROOM

New Warnings as Third Vaccine Rolls Out; U.S. Starts Distributing Johnson & Johnson Vaccine; Biden Discusses Immigration, Pandemic with Mexican President; More than 300 People Charged in Connection with Deadly Riot; Third Woman Accuses New York Governor of Sexual Harassment; Goya CEO Under Fire, Falsely Calls Trump "Legitimate" President. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 2, 2021 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, more shots into arms. The third COVID vaccine to be authorized for use in the U.S. should be administered to the public for the first time today. But health officials say it's still not the time to relax restrictions.

Plus, Joe Biden meets with Mexico's leader as the U.S. president grapples with how to handle immigration reform and growing numbers of people heading towards the southern border.

And they're preparing to welcome the Pope in Iraq. Why some say this isn't the right time for a papal visit. We're live in Baghdad and Rome this hour.

Good to have you with us. Well we begin with the much anticipated rollout of a third coronavirus vaccine in the United States. Johnson & Johnson began shipping its doses on Monday and they could start going into arms as early as today, and not a moment too soon. Recent declines in case numbers appear to have stalled. CNN's Erica Hill has details now from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Now we have three important tools in our armamentarium of capabilities against this virus.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The advantages of this latest tool? Just one shot and no need for special freezers.

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, PROVIDENCE ST. JOSEPH HEALTH: This really eases the capacity to get the vaccine where it's needed.

HILL (voice-over): Three-point-nine million doses to start.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: So, that was the entire J&J inventory.

HILL (voice-over): With promises of 20 million by the end of the month, the vast majority going to state and local health departments and pharmacies, about 4 percent marked for community health centers.

J&J already testing a booster for variants and hoping to expand its trials to children and infants this summer.

PAUL STOFFELS, CHIEF SCIENTIFIC OFFICER, JOHNSON & JOHNSON: We are working with the NIH to accelerate that as soon as possible.

HILL: The U.S. now averaging 1.7 million shots a day, 10 percent of the adult population now fully vaccinated, hospitalizations nationwide dropping below 50,000 for the first time since November.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: We're vaccinating more and more people over the age of 60. Hospitalizations should continue to drop, and mortality should continue to drop.

HILL (voice-over): But we're not there yet. The seven-day averages for both new cases and daily reported deaths increasing.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, U.S. CDC DIRECTOR: These data are evidence that our recent declines appear to be stalling. Please hear me clearly. At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.

HILL (voice-over): And yet states continue to ease restrictions.

FAUCI: It is really risky to say it's over, we're on the way out, let's pull back.

HILL (voice-over): Indoor performance venues can now open at 50 percent capacity in Massachusetts. South Carolina eliminating COVID restrictions on alcohol sales and large gatherings. Florida bracing for spring break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just asking for cooperation from our college students that do decide to come to Fort Lauderdale.

HILL (voice-over): Experts urging just a bit more patience.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I'm very bullish on where we will be in May, June, July, but March/April look like tough months that we still have to get through and be very careful about.

HILL: On Monday New York City marking one year since its first confirmed COVID case. Mayor Bill de Blasio calling this the city's longest, toughest year while also noting a new milestones, nearly 2 million vaccine doses administered.

In New York, I'm Erica Hill, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: And those Johnson & Johnson doses could be administered in the coming hours. This is what many health officials have been waiting for, being able to vaccinate more people. And here's where vaccinations stand in the U.S. right now.

According to the CDC, more than 96 million doses have been distributed to states and nearly 77 million have been administered. But less than 8 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated.

The pandemic was among the topics discussed when the leaders of the U.S. and Mexico met virtually on Monday. The two presidents reaffirmed their ties and stressed the importance of a strong relationship. A source said Mexico's president was expected to ask the U.S. for help with vaccines, but the White House said it's not currently considering sharing its vaccine supply.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:05:00]

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president made clear that he is focused on ensuring that vaccines are accessible to every American. That is our focus. The next step is economic recovery and that is ensuring that our neighbors, Mexico and Canada, have similarly managed the pandemic so we can open borders -- open our borders and build back better. But our focus is on his focus. The administration's focus is on ensuring every American is vaccinated. And once we accomplish that objective, we're happy to discuss further steps beyond that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: And U.S. President Joe Biden is working to make good on his campaign promise to pass a COVID relief Bill for the millions of Americans struggling right now but there's a different campaign promise that Mr. Biden is falling short on. Our Jeff Zeleny explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the White House, President Biden intensifying his efforts to push his signature COVID relief bill through yet another hurdle in Congress. After returning from a weekend at his home in Delaware, the president meeting virtually with nine democratic senators, whose votes he needs along with all Senate Democrats to pass the $1.9 trillion package.

PSAKI: We've reserved time in his schedule to ensure that he can be engaged, roll up his sleeves and be personally involved in making phone calls, having more Zoom meetings, potentially having people here to the Oval Office to get this across the finish line.

ZELENY (voice-over): With some benefits to Americans expiring on March 14th, the clock is ticking for Biden to make good on his pledge. There is no room for error in the closely divided Senate after the House narrowly passed the measure over the weekend with no Republican votes. Progressives are seething over the $15 minimum federal minimum wage law being stripped out of the Senate version after the parliamentarian ruled it did not meet the strict requirements to be included in a budget bill.

Twenty-three congressional Democrats sent a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris urging them to override the decision and keep their campaign promise of raising the minimum wage. The White House says it's committed to doing so but not in the COVID bill.

ZELENY: Progressives don't understand this. In some respect, they're like, why not fight for this? So why is the White House not more aggressively challenging that and sending the vice president to try and potentially overrule that with a vote?

PSAKI: The decision for the vice president to vote to overrule or to take a step to overrule is not a simple decision. The president and vice president both respect the history of the Senate. They are both formally served in the Senate and that's not an action we intend to take.

ZELENY (voice-over): It's the first legislative test for the White House. Maintain support for moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who do not support the $15 federal minimum wage, without alienating other Democrats who do.

The White House also still reconciling Biden's tough talk on the campaign trail with his decision as president to stop well short of punishing the Saudi Crown Prince for his role in the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.

ZELENY: How does this come anywhere close to his pledge to Americans in November of 2019 at that division?

PSAKI: The president has been clear to his team and he has been clear publicly that the relationship is not going to look like what it's looked like in the past.

ZELENY (voice-over): The White House insisted the relationship with Saudi Arabia would be recalibrated, but the move underscored how Biden's advisers see the partnership with a key Arab ally as too critical to break.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: President Biden facing some pressure on multiple foreign policy fronts with the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico also in focus. CNN political analyst Josh Rogan spoke with me about this just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well it's no secret that the relationship between the new American president and the existing Mexican president started off in a very bad place. The Mexican president didn't acknowledge Biden's victory until after the January 6th riots at the Capitol. And actually he had a much closer friendship with President Trump than would be widely expected.

And one of the areas that they actually cooperated on was immigration. And now that the Biden administration is trying to revamp the U.S. immigration policy, they're finding it more difficult than when they had talked about it in the campaign. And they're finding that they need Mexican government help and that has caused and led to this meeting today where both sides are promising to work together on the problem. But there are no easy solutions.

Already the border is getting more crowded. The Biden's administration policy of letting in some migrants but not -- returning others has pleased nobody and right now they need the Mexican government to help to sort them out to keep people from getting to that U.S./Mexican border.

[04:10:00]

And the Mexican government needs something from the U.S. It needs more vaccine, so perhaps there's a deal to be made.

CHURCH: OK, so the Biden administration has had to hit the ground running on other foreign issues as well, foreign policy issues. The White House now facing considerable backlash for not sufficiently punishing the Saudi Crown Prince for his direct role in the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. On the campaign trail Biden said he would make Saudi Arabia pay the price and make them the pariah. That is clearly not going to happen. Why? And what are the likely consequences of not doing what he pledged to do?

ROGIN: Well it seems that the Biden administration's approach, which is to release the intelligence reports naming Mohammed bin Salman as responsible for the murder but without punishing him directly has pleased nobody and has fallen short of their own promises in the campaign to make Saudi Arabia, quote, the pariah state that Biden said it is. Nevertheless, there's a lot of feeling inside Washington that the U.S./Saudi relationship is too valuable to throw away altogether.

As you know, Jamal Khashoggi was a contributing columnist for "The Washington Post" where I work. Our paper has been very forceful in calling for more accountability and more justice for the perpetrators, including accountability and justice for the Crown Prince. It's difficult to sanction the Crown Prince, especially as he may become the head of state at any moment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH (on camera): CNN political analyst Josh Rogin talking to me there earlier. Well we are learning new details about the attack on the U.S. Capitol

on January 6th. The Justice Department revealed to a federal judge on Monday that they have gathered evidence showing the far-right group the Proud Boys used radios to communicate during the Capitol siege. CNN's Brian Todd has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The dragnet is widening and suspects in the January 6th attack on the Capitol are under more pressure than ever, with over 300 people charged, more than 280 arrested and law enforcement tracking many more.

JOHN CARLIN, ACTING DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The investigation into those responsible is moving at a speed and scale that's unprecedented, and rightly so. Those responsible must be held to account and they will be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would do it again and it's pretty bad.

TODD (voice-over): Today, Thomas Caldwell, an alleged leader of the far-right anti-government paramilitary group the Oath Keepers pleaded not guilty on Monday. Caldwell is one of nine alleged associates of the Oath Keepers charged with conspiracy. Prosecutors say he discussed bringing weapons across the Potomac River into Washington by boat on or before January 6th.

And Dominic Pezzola, an alleged associate of the extremist group the Proud Boys, seen here breaking a window at the Capitol with a police shield appeared before a federal judge as well. Prosecutors told the judge on Monday, they've gathered new evidence that the Proud Boys were communicating by radio on January 6th, that Pezzola ordered a radio ahead of that date and was trying to make sure it worked around that time. Pezzola's lawyer said it doesn't mean he was taking or giving orders during the riot.

Pezzola has pleaded not guilty and is now trying to distance himself from the Proud Boys. His lawyer saying Pezzola's association with the group was minimal. According to court records, prosecutors have used witnesses in his case to gain information about the Proud Boys and about Pezzola.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: People are going to start to crack and we are going to get more information. When things start to go down and people start to get charged, they all think about what's best for them.

TODD (voice-over): Meanwhile, an independent review of security around the Capitol conducted by Retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore could be released in the coming days. Sources with knowledge of the findings telling CNN, a draft of a proposal recommends building an integrated system of walls and fences around the Capitol and adding more than a thousand more officers to the U.S. Capitol Police Force, as well as establishing a quick reaction force to avoid bureaucratic delays in deploying police in an emergency like we saw on January 6th.

Sources say the review found that more officers are needed to protect members of Congress when they're in their home districts.

CHARLES RAMSEY, FORMER PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: But there is a need to have coverage outside of Washington, D.C., that's when the representatives are most vulnerable is when they're outside of Washington.

TODD: And law enforcement officials have told CNN the FBI has identified a suspect it's focusing on in the death of Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick. The FBI is not publicly naming the suspect as of now. As CNN has previously reported, law enforcement officials are working on the theory that Sicknick became ill from bear spray that the mob used to attack the Capitol that day.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: New York governor Andrew Cuomo under fire again today with another reported allegation of sexual harassment. Those details just ahead.

[04:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHURCH: Well, more trouble for New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo, as a third woman has gone public with an allegation of sexual harassment. Anna Ruch tells "The New York Times" she encountered the governor at a wedding reception in 2019. She says Mr. Cuomo placed his hands on her face and asked to kiss her. CNN has not corroborated the allegations. Cuomo released an apologized over the weekend to two other women who have accused him of harassment in the workplace. One of those women says his apology fell seriously short. CNN's Brynn Gingras has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 25- year-old woman who came forward over the weekend with sexual harassment allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo not accepting his apology. She teamed up with an attorney and released a statement. I want to read in part to you. It says --

It took the governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation. These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood.

[04:20:00]

They are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice.

Now Charlotte Bennett came forward to the "New York Times" with allegations that she was sexually harassed by the governor in a one- on-one particularly pointing to a one-on-one conversation that happened in June while she was working in the administration. Where she says the governor asked her some very personal questions

like had she ever been with an older man. She took those as overtures for a sexual relationship. Now the governor has issued an apology and I'll also read that to you. It says --

I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments given my position made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I've said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry.

GINGRAS: Now she is the second person in just a week to come forward as another former aide came forward last week with also sexual harassment allegations that the governor has also denied. As far as the investigation goes, the AG now officially has it in their hands, and they say they are going to appoint a private lawyer to look into these claims. The governor says he will cooperate fully with the investigation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: In Washington, election reform is a focus for both parties right now. The House of Representatives is expected to consider legislation this week that would expand voting rights. Democrats are backing the new measures which include provisions like same-day and online voter registrations. Proponents say it would significantly reduce barriers to young people and voters of color.

But Republicans argue the law would take powers away from states and lead to fraud concerns. Many are still buying into Donald Trump's lies about mass election fraud which he repeated at CPAC over the weekend. Stacey Abrams, a prominent Democrat and election organizer had this to say about state-by-state efforts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER OF FAIR FIGHT: Your place of residence determines the quality of your democracy, which should not stand in the United States of America. And we are seeing it play out in the most grotesque way possible, because across the country and as you pointed out, more than 40 legislative bodies, we are watching attempts to roll back the right to vote because, to put it simply, Republicans believe that too many people voted. They believe that too many eligible voters choose other than their candidate and because of that they're going to be punished by being denied the right to vote or being prevented from participating in our elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: The CEO of Goya Foods is under fire again after pushing Donald Trump's election fraud lies at CPAC. And calling Trump, quote, the real, the legitimate and the still actual president. Now this comes just after a month after his company's board reprimanded him for doing this very sort of thing. CNN's Jason Carroll has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JASON CARROLL, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After pledging to keep his controversial political views private, Goya's CEO Robert Unanue is again publicly making false election claims.

ROBERT UNANUE, CEO, GOYA: The real, the legitimate and still actual president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.

CARROLL: This echoes Unanue's unfounded election claims during this TV appearance in January, two weeks after the Capitol insurrection.

UNANUE: Mission accomplished by the conglomerate of social media, big tech, big media and government, big government for ushering in the dawn of a new world order. This great reset with an unverified election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

CARROLL (voice-over): That caused Goya's board to essentially silence their CEO, voting to censor him. A person familiar with the board's actions, which includes Unanue's family members, called them insulting and dangerous. And said that Unanue can no longer speak to the media without the board's permission.

The source also tells CNN, Unanue has hurt Goya's bottom line, imperiling the future of the company. Unanue and Goya did not respond to several attempts by CNN to reach for comment.

But at the time Unanue told "The New York Post", independently I've made the decision to lower the temperature and walk away from speaking about politics and religion.

Welcome news to this consumer who said he had stopped buying Goya products given the CEO's past politically charged comments.

MAURICE, FORMER GOYA CUSTOMER: When certain corporate leaders support an ex-president who basically green lighted white nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, then they should expect to pay the consequences.

CARROLL (voice-over): Unanue first came under fire late last July after he praised then Donald Trump during a White House visit.

[04:25:00]

UNANUE: We're all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump.

CARROLL (voice-over): Those comments prompted a backlash from buyers hash tags like #Goyaaway and boycott Goya trended, and supporters of the president fought back with the so-called "buycott." Ivanka Trump even posting a picture with a can of beans. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is among a number of Latino leaders critical of Unanue, saying his words then and now have consequences.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): It's a great disappointment whether you are immigrant, whether you are one or two generations from Puerto Rico like my family is. To see that, it's a great shame. CARROLL (voice-over): It's unclear if Unanue's comments have hurt

sales. Goya, a privately owned company, doesn't disclose earning. Hispanic consumers make up a significant chunk of buying power in the United States. $1.7 trillion in 2019, that's 11 percent of the country. The president of one of the oldest Latino civil rights organizations offered this advice to the censured CEO.

DOMINGO GARCIA, NATIONAL PRESIDENT, LEAGUE OF UNITED LATIN AMERICAN CITIZENS: You need to tone down the rhetoric. You're entitled to support whoever you want. We're not going to stop that. But when you put out false information, when you put out lies to the community, there are consequences and there are going to be ramifications for your product.

CARROLL (voice-over): Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: And still to come, the CEO of BioNTech speaks exclusively to CNN on how his company's vaccine performs against new COVID-19 variants.

And as more vaccines roll out and case numbers fall, parents and educators are anxious to get kids back in school. We'll see how some major school systems are tackling the problem of how to return safely.

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