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State Official Removed after Saying "Death of America" and Making Racist Comments; Republican Stunts in Opposition to COVID-19 Relief Bill; Interview with Rep. Ted Lieu on Canceling Congress amid Fears of Capitol Violence; Texas Governor Stalled Funds to Test Migrants, Then Blames Them for Spreading COVID-19; Arizona Doctor Reaches Breaking Point as States Reopen without Mandates; Transportation Department Watchdog Asked for Criminal Probe Secretary Elaine Chao over Ethics. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 4, 2021 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: CNN has learned today that the top State Department diplomatic security official in Afghanistan has been removed from his role after declaring the "death of America" and making racist comments about Vice President Kamala Harris. CNN's Kiley Atwood is following this for us.

Kiley, what more are you learning here?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY ANALYST: Brianna, this happened late last year after the election. Nick Sabruno, the top diplomatic security official in Afghanistan, as you said, made this post on Facebook.


ATWOOD: Saying some very offensive things, calling President Biden "a senile idiot," going after Kamala Harris with some racist comments and, as you said, declaring the "death of America" because Trump had lost the election.

I am told the ambassador determined he lost confidence and sent Sabruno back to Washington. It should be noted Sabruno was in charge of the safety and security of hundreds of Americans in Afghanistan. This is one of the most dangerous U.S. missions in the world.

Now the Foreign Affairs Manual prohibits any State Department officials from using their personal social media platform, to engage in partisan political activity.

But when I asked the State Department about this specific incident, they said that they don't comment on internal personnel matters. And it is noteworthy that Sabruno still works at the State Department, even though he was removed from his role in Afghanistan.

But the State Department said his views do not reflect those of the department, which embraces diversity and inclusion -- Brianna. KEILAR: Kiley, appreciate that report. Thank you.


KEILAR: It is the top of the hour. I am Brianna Keilar.

And right now the Senate is taking up President Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill. It appears that all 50 Democrats are on board. While Republicans know that, it won't stop them from dragging the whole process out. We are talking hours here. We're talking days. CNN political director David Chalian is with us now.

This is a stunt by Republicans. It will certainly get attention.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. What you see here, Brianna, Republicans trying to prolong the process that this debate over this bill is on the floor before it can actually move to a final vote.

So as you said, Senate Democrats are moving ahead on to this bill to begin the process of debating this bill.

Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a Republican senator, has said, when the traditional ask that the reading of the bill be dispensed with comes, he's actually going to demand the reading of the bill occur.

You'll see Senate clerks take about 10 hours to read the entirety of this lengthy $1.9 trillion bill. That's one attempt to elongate the process here. Then of course, each side gets -- there are 20 hours of debate total divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats for this bill. So that will take place.

Tonight, Brianna, you're going to see something we refer to as Vote-a- rama. You're going to see a series of amendments come up, one after the other, where senators are voting on very few of these amendments, have the chance to actually alter the bill, Brianna.

Instead, they're largely political statements that each side uses to put their political opponents across the aisle in a tough position that they then can create political ads about down the road.

But that process takes time as well. So all of that together is a lengthy time that the bill is out there for scrutiny, which is what the Republicans are looking to accomplish.

KEILAR: All the reasons that people love Washington so much for.


KEILAR: Tell us the changes that the Senate has made to the House version.

CHALIAN: Well, there are some changes, as you know. We've talked about the $15 minimum wage is no longer part of this bill. Right?

The Senate parliamentarian said you can't put the minimum wage increase, according to these budget rules that are being used to pass the bill into this bill. No funding for the bridge from upstate New York to Canada. No funding for extension of the railway system out in San Francisco.

So those were two priority projects and Republicans were lambasting Democrats for putting in pet projects into the bill. They've been stripped from this version of the bill in the Senate. So that may ease passage here without that.

Also you have the caps in income for the stimulus checks. They've come down. So they're more targeted. Now anybody earning, single filers earning more than $80,000 won't get any of that $1,400 check; couples filing that earn $160,000 or more will not be eligible for any of that direct relief money.

There's more money for rural hospitals and broadband and there's a revised formula for state and local funding. And it boosts funding for smaller population states. This is one area in the Senate bill that is altered, that seems to be aimed at remaining in conversation with Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Now again, I don't think the Biden administration is counting on Republican votes here. But I think they are trying to see if there are ways that they can keep somebody like Lisa Murkowski possibly in conversation with them, because they would love, end of the day, to even have one Republican vote.


KEILAR: Yes. Very interesting. David, thank you so much for sharing that with us. We do appreciate it.

CNN is learning that Capitol police have requested a two-month extension of National Guard troops. And that's being reviewed now by the Pentagon. This comes as security is already beefed up at the nation's Capitol today.

Federal officials have warned domestic extremists may launch another attack. And that is because March 4th is the day that QAnon conspiracy theorists absurdly believe that former president Trump will somehow retake the presidency. CNN Shimon Prokupecz is on scene for us.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Brianna, security here at the Capitol on high alert. The Capitol police here, along with the National Guard, as you can see, over this way, there are several National Guard troops, more than a dozen.

And through the day they've been streaming back and forth. And then you have this military vehicle here at this checkpoint.

This is one of the areas where trucks come through. People wanting to go inside the Capitol, having to go through some of the screening here. They have to pass through these gates to get inside.

Capitol police also have a bomb-sniffing dog that they're using, all this obviously because of this threat against the Capitol. Members here also not reporting to work. Some of them told to stay home today -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Shimon, thank you.

Joining us now to talk about the threats against the nation's Capitol is Democratic congressman Ted Lieu of California, he also served as impeachment manager in the last trial.

Congressman, thank you for being with us. Sources tell us that Lieutenant General Russel Honore, retired, has completed his Capitol Hill review, recommending the addition of 1,000 more officers to protect the Capitol and lawmakers in their home districts and states.

Is that enough to prevent another attack?

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Thank you, Brianna, for your question. I previously served in active duty in the United States military because I believe America is an exceptional country. And never thought I'd see the day when we had to deploy military troops to protect our nation's Capitol against ourselves.

And Republican leaders can reduce the risk of further political violence by simply saying one simple truthful sentence: the election was not stolen.

Their refusal to do that is why we need more Capitol police officers. And as Russel Honore has recommended and why National Guard troops still patrol our Capitol today.

KEILAR: Is this enough?

This recommendation by Honore, 1,000 additional officers, to protect the Capitol but also to protect lawmakers like yourself in your home districts, your home states, is that enough to prevent another attack?

LIEU: That would depend on, again, what Republican leaders do. If they continue to perpetuate the Big Lie and enflame white supremacy groups and other groups, that somehow this election was stolen, then we're always going to be at risk of attacks on our nation's Capitol.

If they, however, tell the American people the truth, tell their base that Joe Biden won fair and square, then I don't think we're going to need all of these troops or, in fact, all of these police officers.

KEILAR: When it comes to the delayed response of getting help to Congress on the day of the insurrection, there's been a lot of blame going around about this massive delay. You know that this has been part of the case, having been a House manager in the impeachment trial.

Do you have any evidence that the Trump administration delayed a response, because of the protesters' politics?

Because of their political leanings?

LIEU: Based on recent testimony, we do know that the request for National Guard troops went out very quickly. And then there was a delay at the Pentagon. I think we need to hear from Pentagon officials why that request was not approved.

At the same time, the former president was watching on TV the same thing all of us were watching. The moment he realized there was an attack on the Capitol, all he had to do was make a phone call and National Guard troops would have been there.

Instead, he sent another tweet, attacking then vice president Mike Pence. That's what Trump was doing.

KEILAR: The House Speaker -- pardon me -- the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denied that threats about today, this is part of the QAnon conspiracy theory that today would be the day that Trump would ascend to the presidency, she's denied that that was the sole reason for canceling what was to be the House in session today.

Certainly it was part of it, though. No denying that.

How is that not conspiracy theorists dictating the schedule of the House of Representatives?

LIEU: So there were at least two reasons for their schedule change. One is because of the increased risk for the political violence today. The second is the Republicans are doing their retreat. So they now don't have to vote today. They can go to their retreat. At the same time, what we did is sped up the schedule.


LIEU: So in fact, we actually did those yesterday that we were going to do today. So --


KEILAR: Look, Congressman, I get that. I guess my point is, it's pretty extraordinary that this is the situation that Congress, the House of Representatives, at least, is scheduling around conspiracy theorists.

LIEU: Oh, yes. Absolutely. It is absolutely ridiculous that in the United States of America, we have people who continue to believe these crazy conspiracy theories, like I drink the blood of little babies or I'm somehow a Satan worshipper and I'm working with this deep cabal of people in the federal government.

Unfortunately, people do believe that and, in the wake of January 6th, the insurrection incited by the president, we now have to take all these threats of attacks seriously. So yes, you do see this alteration of the schedule.

And we can fix this if Republican leaders would simply tell their base the truth, that Joe Biden won fair and square.

KEILAR: Congressman Lieu, thank you for being with us.

LIEU: Thank you.

KEILAR: The White House is firing back at comments from the Trump administration's former coronavirus testing czar.

Admiral Brett Giroir tweeted, "I am so tired of the continuing lies that the president inherited a COVID-19 vaccine mess, when, in fact, 99 percent of current vaccine manufacturing and distribution is exactly as planned and explicitly described by Trump administration's operation Warp Speed."

Here's how the White House press secretary responded to that moments ago.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think anyone deserves credit when half a million people in the country have died of this pandemic. So what our focus is on and what the president's focus is on, when he came into office just over a month ago, was ensuring that we had enough vaccines.

We have them, we are going to have them now. We had enough vaccinators and we had enough vaccine locations to get this pandemic under control. There's no question and all data points to the fact that there were not enough of any of those things when he took office.


KEILAR: Next, I'll speak to a doctor in Arizona, who says he has reached his breaking point as he tries to help COVID survivors get the care they need.

Plus, the governor of Texas is blaming migrants for spreading COVID in his state. But CNN learned he's stalling federal funds to test people coming across the border.





KEILAR: The governor of Texas, who just lifted all of his state's COVID restrictions, is now blaming migrants for spreading COVID in his state.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): My point is this -- the Biden administration has been releasing immigrants in south Texas that have been exposing Texans to COVID. Some of those people have been put on buses, taken that COVID to other states in the United States.

The Biden administration must stop importing COVID into our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Governor Abbott did not provide any evidence for that claim and CNN has learned he's actually stalling the Biden administration's efforts to test migrants. CNN Politics reporter Priscilla Alvarez is following this for us.

What's been happening behind the scenes here?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: A DHS official tells me the Department of Homeland Security has offered federal funds to help cities and counties test migrants released from custody. The state needs to approve that before the funds can be distributed to localities.

And thus far they've not received a response from Texas, though the governor is blaming migrants released from custody for spreading COVID.

We should remind viewers that the Biden administration is still turning away the vast majority of migrants encountered at the U.S.- Mexico border, though some families are being released into the United States.

KEILAR: Priscilla, thank you so much for that, Priscilla Alvarez, appreciate it.

It has now been almost an entire year since this pandemic began. The strain has taken its toll on everyone, physically, emotionally and, for so many, financially. Front line health care workers are the ones seeing firsthand some of the devastation.

One Arizona physician is talking about the anguish of fighting with insurance companies to get his patients, especially those with long- term COVID-19 symptoms, the medical care they need.

Dr. Andrew Carroll tweeted in part, "I think I'm finally broken."

He joins me now.

You described in that tweet how you were brought to tears. And I don't think anyone can blame you here.

What took you to that point?

DR. ANDREW CARROLL, FAMILY PHYSICIANS: You know, I don't usually cry with insurance companies. I cry with my patients when they come in and they're new widows or widowers.

But it was just this absolute frustration with a system that is horribly antiquated, based on old medicine. We're in a new reality now and we're trying to get the patients the care they need.

This was a young woman only in her 20s, who now, after three months having had COVID and now post-COVID symptoms, she cannot even go up a set of steps without getting winded. She doesn't understand why she is still coughing.

And I want to get answers for her but her insurance company is making me jump through extra hoops to get there. It's just not right.

KEILAR: What were you trying to get for her?

CARROLL: Just a CAT scan. I wanted a CAT scan of her lungs just to be able to image it. One, we know that she's going to have COVID appearance, right. It's going to be on the chest X-ray. There's no point to that. We know that. What I'm looking for is in her lungs.

Does she have pulmonary fibrosis?

Does she have -- did she have clots while she had COVID-19?

Does she have sarcoidosis or maybe she has valley fever. I need an answer for her. She wants an answer and yet here we are, two, three weeks later, and the insurance company's not letting me get an answer for her.


KEILAR: And why are they saying that they won't do this or they can't do it yet?

What's the reasoning here?

CARROLL: So these companies that are set up to do prior authorization process, one of the big ones is called Interqual. And they set these guidelines, these rules which are really just ways to avoid spending money on health care.

And the rules say that she needs to do X before doing Y to get the answer Z. In her case, it was getting a chest X-ray before getting a CT scan. Seemed pointless to me. Here's an extra amount of money we have to spend, more radiation I have to expose her to before I actually need the -- will be able to get the test that she really needs, which is a CAT scan, in addition to other things that I'm doing to help work her up.

KEILAR: Yes, that sounds incredibly frustrating, as you point out, in the end, it's spending more money, as you point out.

Something else we're seeing across the country now, states fully reopening, like Texas and Mississippi, but rescinding their mask mandates as they do it.

Your thoughts watching this?

CARROLL: It really is frustrating. I've done 24 surge shifts. I've worked in the -- normally a clinic doc. So I've been doing and helping out at the hospital, done 24 12-hour shifts. These are overnight shifts, really hard work. I've been at the bedside. I've turned off the machines on people with family there.

And it keeps going. We still have folks in the hospital. We're still seeing in the state of Arizona over 1,000 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 daily.

And yet we're opening back up?

Are you kidding me?

This is just going to make things worse. It's -- now that we're 13, 14 months into this really hard battle, to see everyone around us acting normally or trying to get back to normal, we're trying to get them there with vaccines. It's just way too soon.

Let us get there with the vaccines, let us just keep fighting this fight. We'll be there eventually.

But to do this now?

It's 10 steps back from two steps forward.

KEILAR: Yes. We're getting there. Right?

It's ahead of us. We can see it. Look, Dr. Carroll, I know you said that might have broken you but it certainly got a lot of attention. And I'm so glad that we were able to talk about this important topic. Dr. Andrew Carroll, thanks for coming on.

CARROLL: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Next, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao accused of using her office for personal gain.

So why did the Justice Defendant refuse to investigate just weeks before Trump left office?





KEILAR: On Capitol Hill, the flip-flopping tale of a lawmaker who has switched places more than Jodie and Barbara in "Freaky Friday." Congressman Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey who, in 2019, co-sponsored a bill to expand voting access.

At the time he said it, quote, "will clean up corruption in Washington, restore our democracy and promote bipartisanship."

But less than two years later he took quite a different stance on a House ethics and election bill that is pretty much the same one he co- sponsored in the last Congress.


REP. JEFF VAN DREW (R-NJ): We were warned for years about the rise of socialism. Well, Madam Speaker, here it is, served on a platter.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Same guy. Same bill. Two opinions as different as DeVito and Schwarzenegger in "Twins."

What has changed?

First, he's now a Republican. He left the Democratic Party to become an enthusiastic Trump supporter, watching the political wins in his New Jersey district just before Trump's first impeachment, Van Drew made the switch and even got a nice welcome party inside the White House, tailor made for cameras.

The second thing that's changed, Republican legislatures in several states are trying to turn the Big Lie into law with bills that would make voting more difficult under the guise of solving a widespread voter fraud problem, which is a problem that doesn't exist outside of the truthiverse confines of Trumpland.

The House passed a Democratic bill to stop that, faced uniform Republican opposition. Democrats argued that this is pro-democracy. Republicans argued the bill was a power grab and limits political speech. Congressman Van Drew, of course, has argued both ways.

And this isn't the first switcheroo for him. In 2019 he also co- sponsored an equality bill as a Democrat to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination.

Quote, "All Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, must be treated equally under the law."

But the Republican Van Drew apparently now says, just kidding. He voted against the historic bill that would amend the 1964 Voting Rights Act bill to expand those protections to people, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What's that thing we learned in kindergarten?

No takebacks?

We are learning about new details about a request for a criminal probe into then Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in late 2020. The Treasury Department's inspector general asked for the investigation because of concerns that Chao may have misused her office for personal benefit.

The report accuses Chao of using agency staff for personal tasks, like editing her father's Wikipedia page, sending his book to a CEO and sending Christmas ornaments to family. It also alleges in one instance that Chao directed her staff to reach out to the Department of Homeland Security to help get a work permit application program for a student, who was a recipient of her family's philanthropy.

We now know that the Justice Department declined to pursue the investigation into Chao in the final weeks of the Trump administration. A reminder, of course, Chao's husband is Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.