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Desperate Small Businesses Wait for Third Round of Relief; Senate Gears Up for Marathon Push for COVID-19 Relief; Interview with Sen. Bob Menendez, Foreign Relations Chair, on Relief Bill; "Miami Herald" Reveals Wealthy Enclave Received Vaccine before Much of Florida; Facebook Lifts Ban on Political Ads. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 4, 2021 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The latest sign of the pandemic's ongoing heavy toll on the economy, another 745,000 Americans filed for first- time jobless benefit this week.

And these numbers sort of come in every week. But each one of them is higher than the peak during the 2008 financial crisis. It is crazy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That is absolutely right. And it could worsen as small businesses that are struggling and desperate for help keep waiting for it. Here is Vanessa Yurkevich.



VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Barbara Thigpen's business is in limbo. The fate of her hair salon hinging on a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

While she waits, her son's college fund is keeping the lights on.

BARBARA THIGPEN, HAIR SALON OWNER: There was definitely a moment where I was trying to decide if it had to be my child's college fund or the business. And then I soon realized that, without the business being here, there would be no way to replace his college fund.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Which is drained 50 percent. And her PPP application hit a roadblock. With six employees, she's eligible for the current two-week application period the Biden administration set aside for small businesses with less than 20 employees.

But as the sole proprietor, she had been waiting more than a week on new application rules the Small Business Administration just announced in order to move her loan forward.

THIGPEN: What I can't actually understand is that the government would make new rules and not understand that this two-week window and these new rules would cause a conflict.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Until then, she waits.

And so does Diane Bondareff. She's a one-woman photography company with a 25-year career in New York City.

DIANE BONDAREFF, PHOTOGRAPHER: My photography business definitely relies on people gathering.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Without that, she's down 88 percent in revenue. She's been waiting over a month for news of her PPP loan.

BONDAREFF: These are the things that keep up me at 3 o'clock in the morning wondering what I'm going to do. And if I don't have the funds to stay here, I may have to leave.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): The SBA, which processes PPP loans, said delays in funding are due to additional compliance checks introduced by the Biden administration.

For some, it is too late. Fortuna Sung and Matthew Garrison, own ShapeShifter Lab, a jazz club in Brooklyn. They were ineligible for a PPP loan but could access the new shuttered venue operator grant for live venue spaces. It was introduced in the December stimulus bill; the SBA has yet to open applications.

MATTHEW GARRISON, SHAPESHIFTER LAB: We're down to the wire. We knew we were going to be down to the wire by this time. And now it's here and the funding has not come through.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Without it, they will close for good at the end of the month, joining hundreds of other independent venues, who have met the same fate.

FORTUNA SUNG, SHAPESHIFTER LAB: Having the venue close, I would be very upset because it is basically our lifetime savings that we've put into it and everything has evaporated.

YURKEVICH: And a little bit of good news; the governor of New York announcing yesterday that live event spaces could open in April with audiences of 100 people. But of course, that doesn't make up for the lost revenue of the last year, which is why that special grant is so important.

And lenders, which help fund small businesses through the PPP loan, say they have hundreds of thousands of applications backlogged because of these new compliances and rules.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling on the government to extend the deadline past March 31st to the end of this year so that any small business who wants it could make sure that they have access and time to get this federal funding -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Vanessa, thank you very much for that reporting.

Let's talk about the stimulus debate in Senate; with me now, Democratic senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Good morning. And I wonder what your and the Democrats' plan is, other than maybe a lot of coffee, to deal with what is clear that is going to be Republicans doing everything they can to drag out this debate, reading every word of the bill, reading every word of the amendment.

What are you going to do about that and are you sure you have all 50 Democrats on board as a yes?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, Poppy, Republicans can do everything they want to stop direct payments to families, to help people keep their homes and apartments, to get our children back to school, to get more vaccinations into the arms of Americans, so that we're all safer and healthier.

If that is what the course that they choose to do, so be it. But we'll persevere and we will stay here as long as is necessary this week.


MENENDEZ: And I do believe that we'll have the votes necessary to get it passed.

HARLOW: You do. OK. So as you know, the $15 minimum wage was stripped out of it because of the Senate parliamentarians ruling. You supporting a $15 minimum wage in the state of New Jersey but have not signed on to the standalone bill in the Senate introduced in January for a federal $15 minimum wage.

And I thought "The Washington Post" editorial board had an interesting take. They say that Democrats should work on a more modest raise, maybe the $11 that Joe Manchin is behind.

Do you think they're right?

MENENDEZ: No, I think we should still strive for the $15 minimum wage. I have always supported the minimum wage and I will again. And the bottom line is some of the amounts being suggested are lower than even some of the states where Republicans are saying well let's go with the lower minimum wage.

It is lower than in the states that they come from. So the reality is what we need to do is reward work. And at the end of the day, if you work hard, play by the rules and are still at the poverty level, something is wrong with that.

HARLOW: Let's talk foreign policy because you chair the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. A lot of questions on this front but let's begin with the murder of journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi.

You said that the Biden administration has a responsibility to send a global message that you cannot kill someone with impunity and get away from it. And the administration needs to go beyond where it has gone on condemning specifically the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Do you believe the Biden administration gave him a pass?

MENENDEZ: I'm not of the belief yet that this is the end-all of the Biden administration's actions. I do applaud the president for doing what president Trump refused to do, which is to make the report public, something that, when I was the ranking senior Democrat before I became the chairman, called upon under the Magnitsky law to do and Trump wouldn't do it.

President Biden has. That creates global shame for the crown prince. I do appreciate that they are recalibrating their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

But I do think that there are, in the universe of potential actions and sanctions, including looking at our armed sales to Saudi Arabia, actions that would be more specific. And I think that would send that global message and I hope the administration --


HARLOW: So let me ask it this way.

If the administration does not directly sanction Mohammed bin Salman, which there is precedent for, in the past three administrations, is that -- and continues with armed sales to Saudi, is that giving him, someone who could lead that kingdom for decades to come, a pass?

MENENDEZ: Well, if, in fact, we do nothing, then we fail to send the global message. The person who ultimately gave him the pass was Trump or we won't be in the situation we are today.

But the reality is I do believe that the administration should go further and I think that they may. And until I see that they don't, I'm not ready to say they have given him a pass.

HARLOW: OK. Let me get your reaction to this rocket attack that the U.S. is investigating now. Obviously it was this week on U.S. forces in Iraq. There is one contractor who died of a heart attack in the Pentagon, as you know, as a result of the attack. Secretary of state Antony Blinken is saying the U.S. will take appropriate action.

What is appropriate action in your mind?

MENENDEZ: Well, we have to -- this is from my perspective and knowledge -- this is once again Iran's surrogates in the region. They have given them green lights to make these types of attacks. There have to be consequences for that.

There are many ways in which you could respond in a consequence. I think that, should the president consider that there is another action to be taken in the military context, similar to the one that he took in Syria, that he should come to the Congress before he takes such action.

HARLOW: Yes. I know you guys want to be in on all of that, appropriately, from the beginning. Let me end on this, in your neighboring state, New York, where I am.

There are now three women who have come forward and accused Governor Cuomo of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior.

And back in December of 2017, you were not one of the senators who called on then Senator Al Franken to resign but you did say he's coming to terms with the implications of his ability to remain in the Senate after he was accused.

And you said it is a moment of reckoning, where women are finally feeling they could speak out about sexual harassment.

When it comes to what these three women have said about Governor Cuomo, do you believe he is still capable to and fit to serve as New York governor?

MENENDEZ: Well, I take the women's allegations seriously. I believe, at the end of the day, it is a question for the people of New York, for its legislature.


MENENDEZ: And for the governor himself to come to. And I just don't prejudge the determination of allegations until they are ultimately verified, in which case obviously there would be serious consequences for the governor.

HARLOW: Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, thank you.

MENENDEZ: Good to be with you.


SCIUTTO: The governor of Florida is responding to a report that claims a wealthy community in Florida got vaccines before most of the state. We'll have the reporter who broke that story next.




HARLOW: Florida's governor this morning, Ron DeSantis, pushing back on accusations that favoritism, for the wealthy in particular, may have played a role in his state's vaccine rollout.


HARLOW: The "Miami Herald" is reporting that elderly Floridians who live in a very wealthy enclave in the Florida keys, were really among the first in line for the vaccine back in January.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): The "Miami Herald" article was a train wreck. That was not a site that we were involved in, in the Keys. What that was, was one of the South Florida hospital systems went and went to this community, vaccinated a bunch of seniors. I think that is great.

What they're trying to do, they're trying to concoct and manufacture a narrative but they don't have the facts to back it up.


SCIUTTO: Well, joining us now with more is one of those who broke the story, David Goodhue of "Miami Herald."

There were two essential elements as to this story, that this community sort of jumped the queue but also that there were donations that then went to DeSantis in response. But you heard the governor's response there.

What is your response to him, saying this was the hospital system that made this decision?

DAVID GOODHUE, "MIAMI HERALD": Well, with all due respect to the governor, our story never said that he choose that site or his office chose that site. We did say that there is -- seems there is a coincidence in some of the places that are being chosen for these pop- ups and, at the same time, wealthy donors seem to donate a lot of money to his political action committee.

HARLOW: Yes, so let me read the reporting that does that for our viewers.

"The only people from Key Largo who gave DeSantis' political committee live in Ocean Reef."

Ocean Reef Club is the area in question here.

"All 17 of them had given the governor contributions of $5,000 each through December 2020."

And that is from the Florida Division of Elections. You're saying maybe there is more there?

GOODHUE: Yes. Well, one of the contributors is Bruce Rauner, who's a former governor of Illinois and a former head of a Chicago-based private equity firm. In February, February 25th, after pretty much all seniors in Ocean Reef Club were inoculated, he wrote a check to the governor's political action committee for $250,000.

SCIUTTO: OK. So I mean, donations happen all the time. Basically you're saying that there is a suspicious coincidence here between those checks and the timing -- and timing of and access to these vaccines here.

Is there anything more that proves that connection?

GOODHUE: I wouldn't say suspicious coincidence. But there is a coincidence. It is a pattern. HARLOW: David, one of the key issues here is not just who is getting

it, like it is good for people to get it and it is good for people over 65 to get it. No one is contesting that.

But this was in January, when a lot of people across Florida weren't getting it, which was laid out in this internal memo that you guys report on within this community.

GOODHUE: Exactly. Ocean Reef Club maybe has about maybe 2,100 members, or full and part-time residents. This was a part of the online newsletter that goes out to residents and, at the time, this went out January 22nd.

And the memo said that, in that past two weeks, about 1,200 of the residents had already received the vaccines. And it also said that they had enough for both the first and second dose. And it did point out that most of the state had not received its first dose by that point.

HARLOW: Yes, right. So we know you'll stay on this reporting. You clearly caught the attention of the governor. So thank you, David.

GOODHUE: Thank you.

HARLOW: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to speak in just a few minutes. This is after the House canceled its session today because of major concerns, given this security threat at the Capitol and the threats against it. We'll bring you her comments live.





SCIUTTO: This morning Facebook is lifting its temporary ban on political advertising. The social network had not allowed political ads on its site since the November elections.

Poppy, they make a lot of money from these ads.

HARLOW: A ton. This as the social media's role in fomenting the January 6 Capitol riots is under increasing scrutiny. Our Brian Fung is all over this.

It's a little odd to be happening on the day of another series of threats against the Capitol.

But bigger picture, have they made any fundamental changes to the issues with some of this advertising?

BRIAN FUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is a great question. And as you said, officials are on high alert in the nation's Capitol on concerns of potential violence targeting Congress. And that is just a reminder of the extent to which misinformation

flows organically on social media, not through advertising.

So when we talk about Facebook's ban on political ads, that was really driven by concern that politicians are allowed to lie on Facebook in their advertising and the ad ban shuts off that one specific threat of misinformation.

But there is a whole universe of -- excuse me -- of misinformation that stems from influencers and individuals just posting regular content. And just yesterday, there were two major studies that dealt with misinformation that speak to this issue.


FUNG: The one from New York University finding that right-wing misinformation sources are much, much more engaging than left-wing misinformation or even centrist media.

And in the second, from researchers at the Election Integrity Partnership, saying that most of the information, the misinformation being put out on social media, was due to organic content and not through misinformation. So this is a huge, huge deal and the ad ban only captured one slice of it.

HARLOW: Yes, Brian Fung, thank you for staying on top of it.

And thanks to all of you for joining us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with Kate Bolduan starts right after a short break.