Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

FBI, DHS Warn of Extremist Chatter to Attack the Capitol; Biden Advances Vaccine Timeline as Some Governors Rip Off Restrictions; Biden Slams "Neanderthal Thinking" on Governor's Lifting COVID Restrictions; Attacks on Asian-Americans Surge Throughout Pandemic. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 3, 2021 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That is what happened here. Members shot and killed two deputies in West Memphis. While QAnon believers don't necessarily share all Sovereign Citizen ideology, they use what they need.

GREENBLATT: They move the goal posts in order to wait for their reality to come to fruition.

SIDNER (voice-over): QAnon followers are not monolithic. The followers can be rich or poor, educated or not, from the city or countryside, black, or white, and everything in between. We encountered this group in 2020.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do think there is a sex trafficking ring. I do think that is going on from D.C. to Hollywood. Trump has been talking about sex trafficking and they vary (INAUDIBLE). And that's suspicious.

SIDNER: Do you have any doubt that anything you believe about that is incorrect?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In my heart, in my gut, no, but anything is possible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pedophiles in Hollywood. They're killing our children and using their blood -- using their blood for sacrifices in Hollywood. We're trying to save our children. Our children matter.

SIDNER (voice-over): There is no evidence whatsoever of blood sacrifices of children in Hollywood or anywhere. There have been no mass arrests. And Donald Trump has not exposed a massive ring of blood drinking pedophiles.

There is not one shred of evidence to support all of these beliefs, but the believers persist -- even though President Joe Biden is already working after being fully sworn in as the legitimate U.S. president.

TRAVIS VIEW, RESEARCHER AND QANON EXPERT: They don't believe things because of like actual, you know, evidence. They believe things because it excites them to be part of this grand story, so as a consequence of that really no amount of real reasoning or counterargument or debunking is very effective on them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (on camera): And before, you know, everyone jumps on these folks that believe this and calls them all sorts of names, usually crazy comes to mind, there are some people who truly believe this and they have been sold a bill of goods very much like, I hate to say it, but like Al Qaeda and ISIS. They did the same thing mind-bending mental gymnastics to try and get people to feel as if they are the hero of their own story, that Donald Trump is the hero of their story.

And so there's some psychological work being done on some of these folks as they are following this online, but the truth of the matter is we have a real problem in this country with disinformation, and we are feeling the pain from all of that -- Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We know it, we've been living through it. I think it's so important to listen to these people, thank you for telling their stories. We need to understand what everybody is thinking in this country coast to coast and why. Sara Sidner, thank you very much for that reporting.

More criticism for states like Texas as President Biden slams decisions to stop fighting COVID and open everything up. He calls it quote, unquote, neanderthal thinking.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:35:00]

BALDWIN: President Biden is offering up some good news about vaccines saying the United States will have enough vaccines for all U.S. adults by the end of May. That is two months ahead of his initial schedule. But some state leaders like Texas Governor Greg Abbott they are throwing caution and common sense, according to many, to the wind. CNN's Nick Watt has all the latest developments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. RICHINA BICETTE, ASSOCIATE MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: To say that I'm petrified doesn't even really explain the gravity and the depth of my feelings.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): One week from today no more mask mandate across Texas, and businesses can fully reopen without any state restrictions.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Now is not the time to release all restrictions. Every individual has is empowered to do the right thing here regardless of what the states decide. WATT (voice over): In Mississippi, a similarly seismic rollback kicks

in less than three hours from now.

GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): We are not going to continue to use the heavy hand of government when it's no longer justified.

WATT (voice over): Here's what the governor of Texas said he learned from last summer's COVID-19 surge.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been done to slow down the opening of bars.

WATT (voice over): That was June 26th. Fewer than 6,000 new cases reported in Texas that day. Yesterday there were 7,300 new cases in his state, yet he said this.

ABBOTT: It is now time to open Texas. 100 percent.

WATT (voice over): Texas has fully vaccinated less than 10 percent of its adult population. That should accelerate.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This country will have enough vaccine supply, I'll say it again, for every adult in America by the end of May.

WATT (voice over): Johnson & Johnson production will need to pick up a little. We're told it will.

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR ADVISOR, WHITE HOUSE COVID RESPONSE TEAM: We are not in the habit the of overpromising.

WATT (voice over): Today in Florida another FEMA supported site open to the public where some folks get a choice, Pfizer or J&J.

Dolly Parton who helped finance the Moderna vaccine just got her shot.

DOLLY PARTON, ENTERTAINER: Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I'm begging of you please don't hesitate.

WATT (voice over): Because they help slow spread, new nursing home cases reportedly down more than 80 percent from the peak in December suggesting that the vaccines are working.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT (on camera): Meantime, we hear that the CDC is finalizing the guidance on how people should behave once they have been fully vaccinated. Apparently that guidance will say they should limit social gatherings to at home and just with other people who've also been vaccinated and while out and about, keep the mask, keep the distance -- Brooke.

[15:40:00]

BALDWIN: Yes, I'm smiling because that just made my day, Dolly Parton there. Nick Watt, thank you for all of that. I do really want to really drill down on what's happening in Texas

where the governor --as Nick was reporting -- is dropping this whole mask mandate.

Moments ago President Biden didn't mention any names but denounced quote, unquote, neanderthal thinking as some governors are lifting COVID restrictions.

And joining me now Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Varon, thank you so much for being with me and thank you for just being you and working. Listen to this, everyone. He has worked 349 days in a row. 349 days on the front lines risking your own life to save the lives of others. And when you hear your governor saying no need to wear masks, what do you think about that?

DR. JOSEPH VARON, CHIEF OF STAFF, UNITED MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: Well, I mean, you can imagine what happened. Yesterday I was actually looking at the light at the end of the tunnel, you know, things were going to be better. I was thinking when I get to 365 days I'm going to go somewhere, a little vacation or something.

Now I feel -- I feel frustrated. I feel angry. I feel very angry. Because I don't think that what the governor is saying is reasonable, not founded on science. That is my primary concern. I don't know where he gets his data from.

When you have a state that has 7 percent vaccination. When you have a state where we actually have over 400,000 tests in our facilities at UMMC and we still see more than 15 percent positivity rate, and we are telling people don't wear our mask or you know, it's not mandatory.

I mean I understand that there are constraints. I understand that the governor wants to open the economy, and I respect that by all means. However, can't we go like halfway? I mean tell people continue to wear your mask. Allow facilities to make a decision. For example, supermarkets, you know, let's -- supermarkets can put a big sign, if you don't have a mask, you won't come in. Let people -- let those people decide.

BALDWIN: Let the businesses decide, find some halfway mark because, of course, you can understand these, you know, folks are just trying to make ends meet. They want their businesses to reopen but maybe keep the mask mandate in check.

What will this mean? I'm just curious, doc, for you and your already exhausted medical team if people just stop wearing masks.

VARON: Well, you know, what it means immediately after I heard about this, we actually had a meeting with the president of UMMC and some of the other services. Because you know, we need to prepare. I mean if on March the 10th people are stopping to wear masks, I expect that we are going to have a surge in the number of cases. So we need to get more PPE, we need to get more equipment. More importantly we need to get more health care providers that want to work. My nurses, you know, on the peak of this situation, they were crying

in the middle of the day because they were getting so many patients. I don't want that to happen again to them. I even e-mailed the governor yesterday, sent him an email requesting, you know, pleading to please reconsider his -- his announcement.

BALDWIN: Have you heard anything back?

VARON: No.

BALDWIN: No. I was talking to an emergency room physician just yesterday, and he was saying to me, Brooke -- he's in rural Michigan -- and he was saying, you know, just in the last week or so he was treating two of the most serious COVID cases he has seen so far in the pandemic -- which to me was such a wake-up call, it's a reminder to all of us, we are still very much in this pandemic.

And I wonder just because you have a front row seat, fortunately for us, unfortunately for you, to just how horrible this still is. Just anecdotally, can you just tell me a story of something you've seen most recently.

VARON: I mean the problem is, you know, the patients that we're seeing now are sicker than before. Why? Because they are waiting longer. They wait between two and three weeks before they come to the hospital. And you know, one important thing that we're forgetting is that despite the fact that we're vaccinating people, we have a couple of strains out there that may not be sensitive to our vaccine, you know, the California strain and the New York strain. They seem to be difficult to control.

So the fact that we're telling people that this is not mandatory, that having a mask is not mandatory to me it's -- it's something that I cannot understand, and I would love to look at the science that the governor has looked at to make this decision.

BALDWIN: Well, the second you hear from the governor, Dr. Varon, you let us know. All right, let's continue this conversation. Let's continue beating the drum because it's important and scientists and the science as you point out, so matters.

Dr. Joseph Varon, thank you so much and for all your hundreds of days in a row. Thank you.

I want to get to this scathing new report on the former top White House doctor and current Congressman Ronny Jackson describing drinking, drugs and sexual harassment on the job. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:45:00]

BALDWIN: An incredibly disturbing trend happening from coast to coast is only becoming more pronounced by the day. I'm talking about the sharp rise in anti-Asian attacks. Since the onset of this pandemic, Asian-Americans have emerged as the victims of verbal harassment, physical assault and worse.

Fashion designer and activist Phillip Lim has been speaking about against the spike in hate crimes and joins me now. And my friend, it is such an honor to have you on. And can you believe you were on TV with me one year ago already sounding the alarm over, you know, xenophobia in this country and now look at where we are.

[15:50:03]

What do you make of what's been happening?

PHILLIP LIM, FASHION DESIGNER: Yes, Brooke, thank you for having me on. And I wish I could come and visit you as a friend and report good news but, unfortunately, a year later things have escalated. More attacks, more hate crimes, more just bullying individuals, our elderly, women, businesses. It's just getting worse and worse. And it's escalating to the point where it's become enough. Enough is enough. And we now have to speak up and stand up about it.

BALDWIN: We've heard these stories, you know, seen the videos. And these are --Phillip, these are the cases that have been reported. My question is why do you think that some in the community are so hesitant to come forward, to report these crimes?

LIM: You're absolutely right, Brooke. You know, it's so complex. It's generational. It's also -- because it's not reported in the media, conversations are not happening. So you can see the recent attacks on the elderly and women, and this is the segment that, you know, they're the least likely to report.

It's even gotten to the point where I had to really ask my colleagues around me and hesitantly, I have colleagues that like, hey, yes, I was harassed on the train. Someone came after me.

I recently moved my office, my studio into Chinatown to be a presence in the neighborhood. I walk on Baxter Street every single day to just get lunch. And last week on Baxter Street two incidents happened.

The gentleman that was stabbed for no apparent reason and also the restaurant that I was getting food at, an elderly man was pushed down to the ground right behind me and just by someone on a bike who just fled. And it's really hitting too close to home.

And again it goes under reported because there's no confidence in the system. National media is not covering it. People are not talking about it. So this is causing a problem.

BALDWIN: Listen, we're sitting here, talking about it. And we have been reporting on it here at CNN. And we need to keep talking about it. And I thank you for coming on to talk to me about it.

You know, Jeremy Lin was just on last night with Don Lemon and they were having a conversation about this. And essentially, you know, what Jeremy was saying was that the former president and his language around China just made all of this worse. Quickly, do you agree? And what is your message to all Americans right now?

LIM: I absolutely, 100 percent agree. This former administration's strategic usage of the China virus, kung flu, really was to create blame on the Asian community, a false narrative that we are the cause of this pandemic.

We are Asian-Americans. I repeat, we are Asian-Americans. And, you know, it's not fair that because the incompetence of this past administration we are now the scapegoat.

When he said that, he gave permission to have open season on our community. And I want to say to the American people here, you know, this is my country. I'm an American. I'll an Asian-American. This is the country that I call home, I love and will defend to the end.

All I want, all my community wants is for the peace of mind to walk down our streets in our homes, not to feel that we're going to get assaulted, going to get maimed, going to get killed. It's very simple, guys. We need your help to stand with us, stand for us as Americans.

BALDWIN: Sitting here, right along with you, Phillip Lim. Thank you for all of that. Thank you for your message. Thank you for you. Appreciate it.

LIM: Thank you. Can I plug one thing that we started? To help Asian- American community?

BALDWIN: Ten seconds. I'm over time. Just quickly, quickly.

LIM: So if you can, stop Asian hate. We're part of GoFundMe, and Gold House.

Visit gofundme.com/aapi and please donate. Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you, Phillip. Appreciate it.

Our breaking news coverage continues as securities increase around Capitol, what we've learned about the intel on a possible plot for tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:55:00]

BALDWIN: Drinking on the job, sleeping pills and sexual advances on a female subordinate.

This new scathing report released by the Department of Defense watchdog and first obtained by CNN is painting a disturbing picture of Republican Congressman Ronny Jackson while he served as the top White House physician under both President Obama and President Trump.

Jackson has since released a statement saying, quote, I'm proud of the work environment I fostered under three different presidents of both parties. I take my professional responsibility with respect to prescription drug practices seriously and I flat-out reject any allegation that I consumed alcohol while on duty. End quote. The now Congressman there from Texas.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. Let's go to Washington right now. THE LEAD with Jake Tapper, starts right now.

END