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Biden Slams States Lifting Mask Mandates As "Neanderthal Thinking"; Texas Governor Faces Backlash After Lifting COVID Restriction; Meghan Markle to Oprah: Royal Family "Perpetuated Falsehoods" About Us; FBI and DHS Warn of Another Possible Attack on U.S. Capitol; Senate Gears Up for Marathon Effort in Push for COVID Relief; Interview with Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) about Securing the Capitol. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 4, 2021 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:05]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

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

This morning security around the U.S. Capitol on high alert. Federal law enforcement officials preparing for another potential attack nearly two months after the deadly insurrection. Officials are warning a militia extremist group had plans to breach the Capitol today, March 4th.

SCIUTTO: We are following that alert today. Plus this news this morning. Sources have just told me that a review into the security infrastructure and security measures around Capitol Hill during the January 6th riot and afterwards has now been completed. A draft, a final report has now been sent to relevant members on the House committees involved here.

I'm told that that review does include recommendations for sweeping changes intended to better protect lawmakers both here in D.C. and in their home districts. As CNN first reported last week that includes adding -- recommending the addition of more than 1,000 new U.S. Capitol police officers. Again, both in Washington and in home districts.

Plus, and this is key, a dedicated quick reaction force composed of National Guard members to respond very quickly to threats at the Capitol as well as longer term fencing and retractable barricades around the Capitol complex.

So, Poppy, a lot of serious recommendations here that show just how seriously they're taking threats to the Capitol.

HARLOW: Yes, that's big news. Great reporting, Jim.

We also have more on a deep divide between parties over the president's stimulus bill. Brace yourself. We could see a marathon night before the Senate takes a final vote. Republicans here digging in. The White House is making tweaks, they say, to try to unify Democrats on the plan. Get all 50 votes there. They need them. We're following it all.

SCIUTTO: Let's begin in the nation's capital. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is following the latest from Capitol Hill.

So, Shimon, how seriously are law enforcement authorities taking the threat to the Capitol today?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, certainly you can see there's been some elevation of security here, right? So we have this fencing, Jim, as you know, which has been here now for almost two months now. Over two months. Since I've been here this morning, we got here, started about 6:00 this morning, there's been an increase in National Guard troops certainly from what I can tell this morning than I've seen.

There's more than a dozen here now, as well as Capitol police here, heavily armed Capitol police officers. I did not see that this morning. So that got added. And then I just want you to look over here as well. There's a Capitol police officer in the distance. I don't know if you can see him now. But he's with a dog. A bomb-sniffing dog. So as vehicles, trucks, buses pull up through this security checkpoint, the dog does its work and we've seen that here all morning.

That has been continuing. But I can certainly tell you that there's been an increase of officers and what appears to be National Guard troops. More than I've seen this -- earlier this morning. So as you said, this threat is -- it's very concerning for authorities. It's chatter. It's stuff that intelligence officials, FBI agents, analysts are picking up in the threat stream. Social media, other places. That indicates militia want to attack the Capitol. Specifically Democrats, people who have spoken out against the former president.

So out of that concern, a lot of lawmakers aren't even reporting to work today. Staffers have been told to stay home. That is how serious they are taking this threat -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. After what happened last time, of course they are, Shimon. Thanks very, very much.

Well, the Senate is ready to move forward on President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill after moderate Democrats got at least some of what they wanted in terms of limiting eligibility, in terms of income levels for those stimulus checks.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The goal here seems to be keeping Democrats, right, united but some Republicans want, still, to truly slow down the process. Now the Senate is gearing up for a marathon effort.

CNN's Lauren Fox and Christine Romans are covering this.

Lauren, if we could begin with you. I mean, Ron Johnson, others, they're going to drag this out, including reading every single word of this legislation? Something that's normally bypassed?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right, Jim. It's going to be a long few days up here on Capitol Hill as the Senate Democrats attempt to pass Biden's COVID relief bill. One thing to keep in mind about all of this is usually when it comes to reading a bill on the floor, senators just agree to skip that part of the process. This time, Senator Ron Johnson is saying that he will force the Senate clerks to read the entire 600-plus page bill.

That could take up to 10 hours, according to leadership sources that we're talking to. After all of that, there's still 20 hours of debate, and that is before you get to the vote-a-rama which could stretch well into the evening again tomorrow.

[09:05:08]

So all of this means that this process could stretch into the weekend potentially. It also means the Democrats have a long slog ahead. Because remember, both the president and Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, have been trying to tell their caucus it is critical that they all stick together on every single one of these poison pill amendment votes but that's going to be difficult. So it's going to be a long few days ahead up here on Capitol Hill.

Democratic leadership very confident they're going to have the votes they need in part because of some of the tweaks they have made over the last couple of days in trying to make sure this bill is ready for the floor.

HARLOW: OK. Let's go to our chief business correspondent Christine Romans.

Christine, I'm sure everyone now who may have qualified before is listening closely to see if they still qualify.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

HARLOW: Where is the cut-off point?

ROMANS: You know, they're narrowing and phasing out these benefits here for single people, it's up to $75,000 a year. That's really the same. But then at $80,000, it's completely phased out. So it's sort of narrowing the eligibility here and phasing this out much quicker. And for couples, it's $150,000. Same as the House bill but you can see that ends right there at $160,000. Had been $200,000. So this is what you've heard moderate Democrats and Republicans frankly complain about targeted stimulus checks.

I will point out, these stimulus checks are incredibly popular when you look at the polling. People like the idea of getting another one of these checks. Especially since we're still down 10 million jobs, right, since the crisis. So there are a lot of folks here who are eyeing those. And it will be targeted. More targeted and more quickly phased out. ROMANS: Romans, before you go, here's the thing. How do they know how

much folks are making right now? Because aren't they basing this on the 2019, maybe 2020 tax returns?

ROMANS: Yes, I mean I think that they're going to use the same protocol. We'll have to see what's in the bill actually, you know, because there are some changing goal posts here. But we're going to be looking back at what you were -- qualified for in your other stimulus checks, right?

HARLOW: OK.

ROMANS: Also another thing to point out here I think that's really important are the unemployment benefits. There had been talk about only $300 a week instead of $400. It looks like that talk has faded a little bit. And I want to tell you why that's so important. You've got low-income workers who are really the brunt of this jobs crisis. They are down some 7.9 million jobs. These are people who didn't have savings. Look at this.

This is the K-shaped recovery. If you are one of the top 25 percent of earners, you're doing fine right now. In fact, jobs are growing. They're not coming back on the lower end. That's why the unemployment benefits part of this relief -- I'm not even going to call it a stimulus. I'm going to call it a rescue or relief package -- is so important here.

HARLOW: Yes.

ROMANS: Especially for low-wage workers.

HARLOW: It's a great point. Thank you so much, Christine Romans, Lauren Fox. We'll be watching.

SCIUTTO: Joining me now to discuss is Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio. He sits on the House Appropriations Committee, also involved in the security response post-January 6th.

Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH): Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: So, first, if I could begin on this news that I'm hearing that the Capitol security review ordered by Nancy Pelosi is now complete. Of course, it was led by retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore, and it includes a lot of very serious recommendations here to my knowledge. A thousand additional U.S. Capitol police, retractable fencing around the Capitol and a quick reaction force.

As you hear those recommendations, do you believe they're necessary?

RYAN: Yes, absolutely. You know, having looked at it, been working with General Honore over the past few weeks and his really amazing team that he put together, he's hitting the nail on the head. I mean, it's very comprehensive. It's about intelligence. It's about information flows. It's about training. Training of intelligence officers. You know, the hardening of the Capitol, the districts are covered.

You know, the congressional districts that most members spend almost most of their time in and live in is taken care of as well. So he's done a very, very good job, and it's going to take some time to get all this implemented, but it was spot on as far as I could tell.

SCIUTTO: As this is being considered, today you have another threat to the Capitol. Two months after January 6th, the FBI circulating that information to its officers. And of course, the House did not go into session today in response to that. I wonder, based on what you've seen, how serious is the threat to the Capitol today?

RYAN: Well, I think it's serious enough that, you know, we were being -- it was recommended to us to, you know, make sure our staff didn't stay here as of, you know, yesterday. Our staff was going to stay home. They were going to, you know, work from home today and the rest of the week. So it was that serious, and then enough to cancel votes. So I think there's some intelligence out there that said this could potentially be real. And, look, I mean, this is going to be the new reality here for a little while.

[09:10:03]

This is why, you know, the fence is still up. That's why the National Guard is still here. And we can't move on that until we have all of these things that General Honore has given us, all these recommendations, fully implemented. And that's going to take some time because you've got to train a thousand police officers. And then there's still, you know, I think 100 police officers a year that are retiring. So you've got to fill that additional gap every year.

So it's going to take some time. This is going to be the new reality for a little bit. But we've got to do the responsible thing, Jim. We can't just say, hey, we don't like the way the fence looks. You've got to take it down. We have an obligation to keep the staff here and the members here safe, and we're going to do that until we have the hardening of the Capitol and these recommendations fully implemented.

SCIUTTO: This is going to take some money. Tens of millions of dollars and other supplemental. There has been nothing bipartisan in the last couple of months on the Hill. Certainly not on stimulus relief. A lot of battles over Cabinet appointments. I wonder on this issue, is there bipartisan support? Because I was surprised watching those hearings that you still had Republican lawmakers pushing lies about the election.

Still talking about Antifa when Chris Wray and others said they had nothing to do with January 6th. When you speak to your Republican colleagues, are they as serious as you are about the threat to the Capitol today and these necessary changes?

RYAN: You know, some are, but the cameras aren't always on when they are. And that's the problem. I mean, there's nothing worse than a politician who is not willing to do the tough work that needs to get done when the country needs it to get done. And they'll let everyone go out and then make the votes and spend the money on securing the Capitol and kind of take on the political risks that that may entail so that they can go to the microphone and scream and yell to their base to try to look like they're against the establishment.

Look, the country needs responsible leaders now. That's why Joe Biden is at 60 percent approval. Given all the complexities, he looks responsible. He is responsible. And that's why he's doing so well with the American people. And that's what we need in Congress, Jim. We need people to do the responsible thing. We spend about $700 billion a year around the world protecting our troops and bases in far-flung places that are hard to pronounce.

And if we can't spend a little bit of money to secure this Capitol here, then that's a big mistake. And look, it's never easy, but we need to do it in a bipartisan way. So I hope that the Republicans will wake up and join us in trying to be responsible and do the responsible thing.

SCIUTTO: Some of your Democratic colleagues raised questions about Republican lawmakers giving tours in the advance of January 6th to some members of extremist groups, whether knowingly or unknowingly. It's been two months now. Have you seen -- has any evidence turned up that Republican members of Congress did do that? Brought some of the folks who ended up storming the Capitol into the Capitol in the days prior and knowingly so?

RYAN: The U.S. attorney's office here in D.C. is handling that. They have all the evidence. They are looking through it. They are investigating it. So they are in charge. And as you know, the U.S. attorneys' investigations are a really black box. There's no looking into it. So we just trust that they're evaluating this and they're going to give a response. And if somebody needs to be prosecuted, they'll be prosecuted. That's all we can say at this point.

SCIUTTO: OK. Final question before I let you go, of course, on COVID relief. Top of the president's mind, other members of Congress. As you know, the Senate narrowing the income window of those eligible for stimulus checks. House, of course, already passed a different version with a wider window. Would you accept a narrower window if that's what comes back to you from the Senate?

RYAN: Yes, I mean, we're going to have to. You know, I don't agree with it. I think there are still a lot of people hurting. I don't know why they're doing that. I'm not on the inside there looking at how they're horse trading or what they're doing, but if that's what comes back, I'll be supporting it because it still has significant extensions of unemployment all the way to September. Significant investments into state and local governments that need help.

And there's still $1400 check that will be for millions of Americans that need it. My mom asks me every day. Hey, am I getting my check, honey? So we've got to make sure that we get these checks out the door, and the -- it's going to be key to the economic recovery. So we can't, you know, kind of worry about little bites around the edges. We've got to get this thing out the door if we're going to have -- stabilize this economy and then be ready once we get everybody vaccinated to really make more investments to have the economy take off. So I'll be supportive of it.

SCIUTTO: All right. Congressman Tim Ryan, thanks so much for joining the broadcast this morning.

RYAN: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, President Biden calls it neanderthal thinking. Dr. Fauci says it is ill advised, and the mayor of Ft. Worth, Texas, a Republican, says the move by the governor of her state to lift COVID restrictions now is premature. She's going to join us next.

[09:15:00]

HARLOW: Also the investigation of former President Trump for possible election fraud heads to a Georgia grand jury today. What to expect from that? And the Duchess of Sussex accuses Buckingham Palace of perpetrating falsehoods about her. She calls the royal family the firm. You're going to hear what she had to say, ahead.

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HARLOW: The CDC will pretty soon issue recommendations for the nearly 27 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated in terms of what they can do, what they can't do, when they have to wear masks or not.

[09:20:00]

This is as states race to administer even more doses.

SCIUTTO: There's a big change. And CNN's Martin Savidge joins us now at a mass vaccination site just outside Atlanta, Georgia. Martin, you know, these big sites are important, right, because they get a lot of shots into a lot of people's arms quickly. And we're seeing more of them around the country. I'm curious there, do they have the supply they need now to do that?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the governor has just announced that they're going to get a boost of the supply. I'll tell you about that in just a minute. This is one of four mass vaccination sites Georgia has, located right next to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport which you can probably tell by looking at that thing over there. Gates open at 8:00 a.m. Things have been moving smoothly here. There are five more mass evacuation sites that Georgia is planning to open, starting around the 17th of this month. And judging by the numbers from the CDC, Georgia needs them because Georgia right now ranks, you know, very low on the list, actually, some say dead last when it comes to percentage of population that's been vaccinated so far.

Now, to that point, the governor says that this state is receiving about 83,000 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And as a result, he's making that a priority for educators and for teaching staff starting on Monday. He's a big believer of kids learning in a classroom. Here's the governor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): As I've said many times before, every student belongs in the classroom. Five days a week, full-time, as soon as possible. That is my expectation moving forward, and we look forward to partnering with local districts to ensure that this happens very quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: That, of course, getting educators vaccinated should help speed up that process. Then we mentioned the CDC coming up with these guidelines about what life is like in a post-vaccinated world. The truth is, it isn't going to change a whole lot. The recommendations that are anticipated are very similar. They're basically saying that people, even after they've been vaccinated, you should still only host small groups inside of their home with people who have likewise been fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, out in public, you should still wear a mask and you should still socially distance yourself. But I am told you will have that great peace of mind that comes with getting vaccinated which these days is worth quite a bit. Poppy and Jim?

HARLOW: Yes, it is.

SCIUTTO: No question. I can't wait to be in line for that myself. Martin Savidge, thanks so much. Well, state leaders in Mississippi and Texas, are facing fierce backlash now over controversial decisions to lift coronavirus restrictions now. The governor is ditching mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen with few, sometimes without any restrictions, despite continued warnings from the CDC and other health experts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything is fine. Take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: But you're only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines, particularly when we're dealing with anywhere from 55 to 70,000 infections per day in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Let's bring in Betsy Price; a Republican mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, it's nice to have you. Good morning, mayor.

MAYOR BETSY PRICE, FORT WORTH, TEXAS: It's nice to be with you, Poppy and Jim. Thank you.

HARLOW: Of course. Well, the chief medical officer in your state, in Texas, told state lawmakers that he did not speak with Governor Abbott directly about this really significant decision. I wonder if you think the decision by Governor Abbott makes Texans less safe. PRICE: Yes, we're trending in the right direction, but we're

definitely not out of the woods yet, and I think it's a bit premature, I've cited that publicly where Spring break is coming up. Big Saint Paddy's Day celebrations, and I would love to have seen this, you wanted an outfit now, but make it effective May as numbers begin to trend down. But that said, we just have to encourage our personal responsibility of our residents.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, mayor. I wonder if there's a happy medium here, right? In that, I get and we get -- Poppy and I, we have business owners --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: On this broadcast all the time who are losing or lost their businesses, right, due to closures. On the other hand, masks aren't a lot to ask from people, right? I mean, I wonder from your perch, could a happy medium be, yes, you know, relax some of the restrictions, but ask people, really demand from people that they take that simple step of wearing a mask because it works.

PRICE: I think you're right, Jim. That's pretty much where we're going from the city. It's great to see some of these small businesses being able to open or increase their capacity a little bit. I had dinner at a local restaurant last night, the owner said that I'm going to require masks of all my employees, and I'm going to strongly suggest it for my visitors coming in to eat. But he said, I couldn't be more thrilled that I can add a few more tables and increase what I'm paying my employees and what they're making here.

[09:25:00]

So, there's a happy medium there. People are just going to have to be responsible. And we're going to have to shift our focus now that --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

PRICE: The state's lifted it a little bit away and get more vaccines in people's arms.

HARLOW: And to think about the people serving you in a restaurant, for example, if you choose to go in and not wear a mask, you're putting them at risk as well. It's not just about you. Listen, you're not running again. You've served for ten years as mayor. The longest- running mayor in Fort Worth. But you've said something really interesting just a few weeks ago when you addressed the city. You said "our nation has lost a focus on service above self." I wonder what your message is as you depart a leadership position in the Republican Party for your fellow Republicans.

PRICE: Yes, my message really for Republicans and for that matter for Democrats is, this should never be about politics. Not the COVID. None of it. We should all be in this for public service. Long ago, that's what people ran for office for, was to serve the public, and we seem to have drifted away from that. I think we've got to get back to it.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

PRICE: You've got to do this job with a passion and a service, not looking for your next office.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I think -- listen, from your lips to God's ears --

HARLOW: Of course, it is --

SCIUTTO: I mean, it's a message for all of us. I wonder, do you hear, though, because let's be frank, you have so many members of the Republican Party who are not willing to challenge that in public. They might say it in private, right, but in public, there's -- and I've had members tell me, listen, if I criticize the president or go out in favor of masks in public, I won't win again. Who do you hear -- who do you respect in the party now who has the backbone, has the guts to kind of speak the honest truth about all this?

PRICE: Oh, there are a lot of people in the party who are willing to speak the truth about it. I think Senator Cornyn has done a good job with it. Senator Cruz, whether he's your favorite or not, is pretty outspoken about it. Representative Brian Jones(ph), there's a good many people, just the ones I know. But you're right. Most people are afraid to cross anybody much in public. They're walking that fine middle ground and, you know, Poppy said that I have some freedom because I wasn't running again. I said I've pretty much been unplugged for ten years anyway. So I think more of us need to be that way.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Amen. Mayor Price, thank you. And we wish --

PRICE: Thank you, Poppy, thank you, Jim --

HARLOW: All your constituents a safe next few weeks given this decision by the --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: Governor. Thank you.

PRICE: I hope so. We wish this goes down for everybody nationwide.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we're with you on that. Thanks so much, mayor.

PRICE: Thank you all.

SCIUTTO: Well, former President Trump goes from falsely claiming election fraud to now being investigated himself for election fraud in Georgia. That probe is heading to a grand jury today.

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