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GOP Plots Stunts as Senate Advances Biden's COVID Relief Bill; U.S. Bishops Discourage Catholics from Taking J&J Vaccine; Case Involving Trump May Be Heading to Grand Jury Soon. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 4, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Secretary Chao's actions may have been unethical but not, in their view, illegal.

Thanks for joining us today on Inside Politics. I hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. A busy news day, stay with us. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar, and I want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We begin with stunt day, targeting a relief package for Americans. As the Senate begins to advance President Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, Republican senators are set to turn it into a made-for- Fox T.V. moment.

In the first act, Republican Senator Ron Johnson plans to force a reading of the bill, all 600 pages of it.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): By the way, I feel bad for the clerks who are going to have to read it, but it's just important. So often we rush these massive bills that are hundreds, if not thousands, of pages long. Nobody has time to read them. And so you start considering something you haven't even read.

So, at a minimum, somebody ought to read it, and this will give everybody time. The clerks can read it as well, our staffs will have time to consider what the provisions are to start crafting amendments.


KEILAR: Now, if you plan to tune in, set aside about ten hours for that and then another 20 hours for the debate.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is live for us on Capitol Hill. Ryan, the president has made some concessions to satisfy his entire Democratic caucus, well, taking some of them off, quite frankly. What's in the bill and what the Republicans plan to do? RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Brianna, for the most part, this $1.9 trillion package is pretty similar to the one that the House sent over here last week. But there are some key differences. Among them, they're going to drop the income for people that will be receiving this second round of stimulus checks of $1,400. It's not a significant drop but it will mean that somewhere around 10,000 or more people will not be eligible for those checks that would have been under the House plan.

It also gets rid of that $15 minimum wage increase, and that's, of course, because of the ruling by the Senate parliamentarian that it's not directly connected to the budget and therefore cannot be passed to the process known as reconciliation, which they're using for this, which will mean 51 votes.

There is also going to be an expansion of unemployment assistance and also increased aid to states. These are all things senators specifically asked for. It's something the White House signed off on, and it's also something, as you've already alluded to, Brianna, that Republicans are likely to attack.

And Republicans right now, right, behind me, are holding a press conference somewhat offering up a prebuttal to their complaints about this COVID relief package. They claim that it's filled with pork barrel spending that doesn't do enough to actually address the issue of COVID relief.

Despite all this drama, Brianna, it's expected that this bill will ultimately pass and then head back to the Senate before its way to President Biden's desk.

KEILAR: All right. Ryan Nobles live for us on the Hill, thank you.

The nation's Capitol is on high alert today. Federal officials are warning on the possibility of another attack from domestic extremists nearly two months after the deadly insurrection. QAnon conspiracy theorists have had March 4th circled on their calendars for months now. They believe that today is the day that former President Trump will retake the presidency which, of course, is a lie.

This comes as CNN is learning that Capitol Police have requested a two-month extension of National Guard troops, which is something that is now being reviewed by the Pentagon.

Also new today, sources tell CNN that a review into Capitol Hill security has been completed, which recommends adding more than a thousand Capitol Police officers protecting lawmakers in D.C. and in their home districts and states. The U.S. Capitol Police chief also would not need approval in this case to request a quick reaction force.

Let's go right to CNN's Sara Sidner, who is following all of this for us. What's the latest, Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, we've seen literally one person who has QAnon beliefs who was here taking video of the scene. What's sad about this is this is the United States Capitol that looks a little bit like the green zone in Baghdad. You've got National Guard members who are here. They are dressed and ready to go.

They are armed. You've got their trucks blocking the way in case somebody tries to ram through the fence. You've got thick fencing up. You've got barbed wire up, razor wire up, and this goes all the way around the Capitol as well, as if you look there, you will see barriers, concrete barriers.

So this thing is a fortress right now, a place where people have naturally been able to go and see the Capitol themselves, where lawmakers go in and out constantly, they have decided that they were not going to do the business of the people today because of potential violence that the Capitol Police said that they had a credible threat.


And here we are again. It is disturbing, but it is a reality now here in the United States.

We have been listening to people who believe in QAnon. There are enough people who believe that March 4th is supposed to be the real inauguration date because that was the inauguration date before 1933 in the 20th Amendment. They are, of course, wrong.

And when this conspiracy theory fails to come true, they will come up with another one. Let me let you listen to one of the experts in talking to QAnon and trying to reason with them.


TRAVIS VIEW, QANON RESEARCHER AND EXPERT: They don't believe things because of, like, actual evidence. They believe things because it excites them, excites them to be a part of this grand story.

As a consequence of that, really, no amount of real reasoning or counterargument or debunking is very effective on them.


SIDNER: And it's very much like a video game, if you will. People get online, they listen to clues. It is very interactive when Q shows up online with some strange message, they try to figure out what it is. So there is an addictive nature to this.

But there's also -- let's be clear, there's clearly some mental health issues going on with this as well. People are losing their family members, their friends to this belief that just doesn't come true, conspiracy after conspiracy, doesn't come true, and that some people have decided that they would rather follow QAnon than be around the people who love them. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, we hear it over and over. Sara live for us from not far from the Capitol, thank you for that report.

It took three hours and 19 minutes before National Guard troops received authorization to help quell the violent mob on January 6th. D.C. National Guard Commanding Major General William Walker pointed to an unusual, as he called it, set of Pentagon restrictions for hindering his ability to provide emergency assistance, which we now know cost lives and put lawmakers at an even higher risk.

Let's talk about this now with Dana Milbank, he's a Political Columnist for The Washington Post. And, Dana, this is -- I want to jump off of this op-ed that you wrote where you raised this question, did the Pentagon wait for Trump's approval before defending the Capitol? We've heard a lot of testimony from folks who were involved, from law enforcement, from the military, and you piece a lot of this together and you pose the questions that still remain. Do you think, ultimately, that is what happened here?

DANA MILBANK, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, look, we have enough trouble with QAnon without adding conspiracy theories, but let's just study the circumstantial evidence. So you have that three-hour 19-minute delay from the desperate police of the Washington Metropolitan Police and the Capitol Police until the Guard got the okay to move in.

You had memos coming out on the 4th and the 5th from the Pentagon severely restricting beyond anything that has happened before the ability of the D.C. National Guard to do anything without the expressed permission of a secretary of the army and a secretary of defense.

Then by the Pentagon's own admission, the actual okay was granted at 4:32. They didn't get it until 5:08, but that was 4:17, we had President Trump saying, okay, go home in peace to his great insurrectionists in the Capitol. So it certainly sets up the possibility that they were waiting for some sort of okay from Trump.

Look, the most benign is that they were terribly incompetent, which isn't terribly good, either. The question is was this acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, doing President Trump's political bidding in withholding the assistance of the National Guard. He had acted in President Trump's political interest, otherwise, in his brief tenure, trying to force a new general counsel at the NSA. So it wouldn't be terribly surprising.

KEILAR: Has there been any explanation for this gap between when then-Defense Secretary Miller okayed everything and yet the okay was actually received for military help to go to the Capitol?

MILBANK: The only thing -- the poor fellow sent by the Pentagon who didn't really have any firsthand knowledge at all was saying it was just a communications delay. That's really sort of hard to accept that the nation's -- the people's representatives were facing potential assassination, people were getting killed, the police were getting beaten. We had a coup underway in the Capitol of the United States, And I don't know, somebody forgot to make a phone call or something? That was very odd.

And then another part of the delay, they said, was a little over an hour as the army secretary, Ryan McCarthy, was asking questions. He had a lot of questions about how this would be done, which was a very strange thing to be doing in such a national emergency.


KEILAR: I wonder what the delay is. Because you know, I know people who are familiar with Washington, D.C., know, you could practically jog -- I think you probably could, in fact, from the Pentagon to the Capitol in that amount of time.

MILBANK: Sure. And they have this rapid force waiting at the armory, which, at most, was 20 minutes from the Capitol, probably got there in ten minutes. They had National Guard on the streets of D.C. doing traffic control with the Metropolitan Police. But the National Guard commander said he wasn't even able to move people from traffic control because he required the permission of the army secretary and the secretary of defense, which is just an extraordinary restriction.

KEILAR: Yes. Some that were put in place, as you mentioned in your column, ahead of this day when they knew people would be gathering.

Dana, thank you so much for joining us and for helping piece some of this together.

MILBANK: Thanks very much.

KEILAR: Fears growing of a fourth coronavirus wave in America as some states defy CDC guidance and fully reopen without mask mandates.

Plus, why are U.S. bishops telling Catholics to not to get one of the three vaccines that are available? We're going to talk about that.

And why one of the cases against Donald Trump may be heading to the grand jury very soon.



KEILAR: The stars at night may be big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, but this year, the Lone Star State has had more troubles than you can shake a stick at. The state sued over Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election, challenging the results not in Texas, but in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. They claim fraud, which they could, if there was any actual evidence of widespread fraud, but there isn't. And the state's high court rejected their case. Then in January, the Supreme Court did too.

Senator Ted Cruz would have argued the case, but all hat, no cattle, and now Donald Trump just can't stop, this week still lamely arguing that the case was legit and the justices were too inept to take it up.

But that may be the least of Texas' problems. In February, a debacle crippled the state, a winter storm knocking out power to millions because the state's power grid was unprepared for the storm. Texas is the only state in the nation that operates its own power grid. But as the temperatures dropped, it turned out to be as independent as a hog on ice. Everyone blamed each other. Some even flew the coop, Senator Ted Cruz jetting off to Cancun faster than a prairie fire with a tailwind.

And now it's March, and Texas is, once again, at the center of the national conversation. Despite warnings from public health experts, Governor Abbott has announced that Texas will fully reopen and end its mask mandate. His defiance of health guidelines is as welcome at the CDC as an outhouse breeze. But facing pressure from within his own party, he won't stand up for science and the health of his constituents. He's made it clear he wouldn't bite a biscuit.

And for folks in Texas and across America who are actually following the science, who sees the state's COVID numbers were worse than they were in their September surge, this move to cancel a mask mandate while fully say reopening the economy is about as smart as spitting into the wind.

Next, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is sparking controversy in the Catholic Church. Some bishops are telling church members to avoid the single-dose vaccine and to take the Pfizer or Moderna shots instead, whenever possible. Why? Because several diocese and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have morals concern over the J&J shot, due to what they claim was Johnson & Johnson's use of lab-grown cells originating from tissue cells of aborted fetuses.

Dr. Chris Pernell is a public health physician who participated in the Moderna vaccine trial, Michelle Boorstein is the Religion Reporter for The Washington Post.

Michelle, I want to start really with what is happening here. What are the bishops arguing?

MICHELLE BOORSTEIN, RELIGION REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, overall, the Catholic Churches in the United States and Rome are encouraging vaccines, but it's all about the details. Their issue when it comes to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is how direct is the connection between the fetal tissue that was taken decades ago and the cell lines that were used to make the vaccine.

And that connection, while decades and generations passed is closer than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. So the question is, how closely are you, if you take the vaccine, cooperating with what they see is this illegal abortion.

KEILAR: So, Dr. Pernell, you tell us about this. Tell us about this claim about the fetal cell lines and what the science says here.

DR. PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Sure. I think the most important thing for us to focus on is that there are no fetal cells in the vaccine itself. What you have seen is described where fetal tissue that was derived from aborted fetuses provide a surface, provide a baseline for clones to be made across successive generations. And this is how vaccine research is conducted. This is how vaccines are tested. The concern with J&J is whether or not these derived (ph) cells were also used in the production of the vaccine itself.

But, again, I'm going to return to what I started saying. There are no fetal cells in the vaccine itself. And there's some complexity to what you hear certain archdiocese and the bishops saying. The bishops are not saying, if you don't have a choice, that you should abstain from vaccination, meaning that J&J is your only option, but that people may want to make considerations around moral obligations. But, bottom line, I think the science still holds and people need to get vaccinated.


KEILAR: Certainly, we know people need to get vaccinated. We've heard that from public health officials. Can you clarify one thing for us, Dr. Pernell? Would there be a J&J vaccine without fetal cells?

PERNELL: I think that question is not directed at what we need to discuss specifically, because would there be a Pfizer vaccine? Would there be a Moderna vaccine? These fetal cells are helpful in the manufacturing process because they allow these drug companies to test whether or not these vaccines will be effective and safe in humans.

So, would there be a J&J? Let's expand it. Would there be any coronavirus vaccine if we didn't have this type of science as a part of the process?

And I don't believe we need to pit one life-saving intervention against the production of science itself. I think we just need to help the public understand that there are no fetal cells in the vaccine (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: Michelle, I wonder if, you know, Catholics are going to listen to warnings that they're hearing from church officials.

BOORSTEIN: Well, I mean, that's one of the big differences today from the past, is these church officials, in general, don't have the authority that they once had. I think that the concern among some people is the confusion, I mean, that things could be confusing and chaotic and discouraging. And I definitely think that's a real concern.

And you also have different bishops saying different things. I mean, just yesterday, we had the San Diego bishop almost saying that it's a moral ultimatum to take any vaccine to protect the common good while you have bishops, including one in Texas, Bishop Strickland, saying, basically, you can't take any vaccine because you're in some, in a remote way, encouraging the continuation of abortion.

So I think the difference today, vaccine historian would say, is that this is a pandemic. It's not like polio or chicken pox. It's much broader and it's a different situation. But I think there definitely is a lot of concern. That's what I hear from the bishops.

KEILAR: Is there any discussion, Michelle, about -- I mean, look, if you're having a philosophical discussion about this, getting the vaccine protects other people as well. So by, say, perhaps abstaining from it, you can see where maybe certain religious values are actually coming up in opposition to one another.

BOORSTEIN: Yes. No, I think that's exactly right. I mean, whether you see statements from the U.S. bishops or from the Vatican in December, this was before Johnson & Johnson was approved, they raise different issues. And they state their different categories of proximity to the problem, whether you're the maker of the vaccine or you're someone who took the vaccine. And on the other hand, there is the good, to protect other people on these things.

So I think people who are worried about these kinds of warnings are saying, you know, people don't have the choice -- don't necessarily have the choice because they're trying to get vaccine, plural, the waiting period. They don't have the opportunity to shop around. And so it's not a hypothetical, really, for them to say, given every vaccine you could take.

KEILAR: Certainly. Michelle and Dr. Pernell, such an important conversation, thank you so much for having it with me.

PERNELL: Thank you.

BOORSTEIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Ahead, why hasn't President Biden held a news conference yet? He is certainly trailing his predecessors.

Plus, the governor of Georgia was targeted by Donald Trump for months insulted, dragged, blamed. So hear whether Brian Kemp would support him in 2024.

And an extraordinary moment, Meghan Markle accusing the royals of perpetuating lies against here as the family investigates her for claims of bullying.



KEILAR: Donald Trump's legal headaches just keep piling up and we're closely watching Georgia for this today where the Fulton County district attorney is expected to go before a grand jury this week and request subpoenas to further her election fraud investigation into Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

CNN's Sara Murray is in Atlanta for us. What's happening there today, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we know the grand juries are convening here in Fulton County, and the district attorney here has made it clear that as early as this week, she would go before the grand jury and requesting subpoenas for evidence, for witness testimony regarding her investigation into Donald Trump's efforts to influence the Georgia election.

And, of course, we know the heart of this investigation is this call that then-President Trump made to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, but the district attorney here has made it clear, that's just the jumping off point, that this is going to be a wide- ranging investigation as she tries to get to the bottom of what happened.

It's going to potentially include a phone call that Senator Lindsey Graham also had with Raffensperger, where Raffensperger came away from that, thinking Graham was trying to get him to throw away ballots, which Graham denies.

She's also expressed interest in looking at Rudy Giuliani's presentation before Georgia's senators, in which he repeated a lot of these false election fraud claims. Although Giuliani says, look, I was just representing my client.


And the other thing that she says she is interested in is this sudden departure of the U.S. attorney here in this area, B. J. Pak.