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COVID Relief; Republican Governors Eliminating COVID Safety Measures; Interview With Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ); Capitol Threats. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 4, 2021 - 15:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thanks so much for being with me. I'm Bianna Golodryga, in for Brooke Baldwin.

Capitol Hill is under tightened security today, and congressional business has been rescheduled because of a second threat of a potential insurgency on the building. Capitol Police and the National Guard are at the ready after monitoring online chatter about a possible attack.

This threat is inspired by an absurd QAnon conspiracy that today the former president will somehow return to power, a conspiracy that is only exacerbated by the series of lies continuing to be perpetuated by the former president, some Republicans in Congress and, most recently, the former vice president.

Joining me now, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz and Donie O'Sullivan, both in Washington.

Welcome, both of you.

Shimon, let's begin with you. What are you seeing at the Capitol today? And what are you hearing about the latest threats?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, much of the fencing, as we have been talking about now for weeks, still remains here.

This is all along the Capitol here. In fact, this is expected to be here for quite some time. Of course, the Capitol Police asking that the fence -- some of this fencing remain here for some time.

But I also want to show you here, where there are some of the National Guard troops that have been out here all day and some of the military vehicles. For the most part, it was busy here through the day, vehicles coming in. This is one of the checkpoints and one of the areas to get inside the Capitol.

But for the last hour or so, things have quieted down. There seems to be a more relaxed atmosphere here. You can see some of the National Guard troops certainly just standing around. But, of course, there's a lot of concern over the chatter. There's this chatter, the concern in the intelligence bulletin that indicated that militia wanted to breach the Capitol specifically today as one of the days, March 4 through the 6th.

And so this is why we're seeing some of the security measures here still in place. A lot of concern over still what's going on in social media, online, the chatter of wanting to attack the Capitol -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: It is so disheartening to see that barbed-wire fencing behind you at the nation's Capitol.

Donie, let's talk about this date in particular, March 4. Can you explain the significance of that for QAnon followers?


Many QAnon followers were convinced that Joe Biden was not going to get inaugurated. They thought that former President Trump was going to declare martial law and the inauguration would never happen. Of course, when Biden did get inaugurated, they quickly moved on to this date, March 4.

It's a very long, convoluted story as to why they believe this date is significant. But, essentially, many presidents in the 19th century got inaugurated on the 4th of March, and many QAnon believers, many of whom are Trump supporters, believed that Trump would come back on this day.

Have a lesson.


LISA HARTMAN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: It is my hope that President Trump comes back as the 19th president of the United States under the -- 1776 and that he is inaugurated on March 4. That is my hope for our future.

O'SULLIVAN: Are you going to feel foolish on March 5 when Biden's still president?

HARTMAN: Then Trump has a different plan in play.

O'SULLIVAN: Everybody keeps saying Trump has a plan, he has a plan. When he lost the election, they said he has a plan. He's going to stay in office.

HARTMAN: Oh, Trump didn't lose the election, sir.

O'SULLIVAN: But he did.

HARTMAN: Trump did not lose the election.


O'SULLIVAN: So, obviously, that's crazy.

But as you heard there, people who believed that he was going to come back today, those QAnon followers, many of them will continue believing in QAnon. This -- today will not be proof that all QAnon is a nonsense conspiracy theory. They will continue it, probably come up with a new date, and move forward.

GOLODRYGA: And the goalposts continues to move. And, unfortunately, that woman is not alone in this crazy thought process.

Shimon, we know House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had ordered a security review of the Capitol after that insurgency. It was just completed this morning. Anything noteworthy come of it?

PROKUPECZ: Well, certainly, training from -- one of the -- they're a couple of things there.

One of those is training, suggesting that the Capitol Police here, they need better training, certainly in how to deal with rioters and civil disobedience. We have heard that become an issue when the former chief testified before the Hill.

The other thing they talked about in this review was having a quick reaction force on standby just in case something else was to happen here to be able to mobilize and move teams quickly to try and deal with potential rioters.


It's very clear that the Capitol is going to remain a target. And the big question is, how do they reinforce it? How do they keep a sense of security here, while also trying to keep this an open space? Of course, this is the people's house.

And for years, really, that place has been -- sort of prided itself on allowing people to get close to it. This is a big issue now. How close are they going to allow people to get to it? And that is what some of the security review was looking at.

GOLODRYGA: Defending the people's house from Americans, we should note.

Donie, going back to President Trump and this idea that he has some plan, if he were to come out and officially just denounce QAnon, not a wink and a nod, not a sort of read between-the-lines statement and then say something else, if he was to definitively come out and say, this was wrong, would any of this make a difference at this point?

O'SULLIVAN: It really would, because I spoke to a former QAnon believer. She actually gave up on QAnon when she saw that martial law wasn't declared on the inauguration and she saw this talk about March 4. That's where she said, this is too much.

I asked her what before that point would have made her stop believing in QAnon, and she said if Trump came out and condemned this. And also, Bianna, I mean, this whole March 4, all of these ridiculous conspiracy theories are -- all still have their basis in the big lie that the former president continues to perpetuate, which is that he in some way did not lose the election.

GOLODRYGA: That is un-American as you could get, not coming out and condemning it, given that his words have so much power.

Shimon Prokupecz and Donie O'Sullivan, thank you so much.

And with me now for more on this is Congressman Ruben Gallego. He is a Democrat who represents Arizona.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

You were at the Capitol Building on January 6. We see now the heightened security in response to that attack, and obviously today's threat.

Many Americans and many of your own colleagues got to see people like yourself and Congressman Crow, who have served in war zones, in a completely different light.

How does it feel walking into what's meant to be the people's house, but resembles more of a military fortress?

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): Look, it's sad.

The amount of troops that I see on the grounds, young men and women, with M-16s, this huge fencing with razor wire on top, it's something that we should not be doing. And, in fact, if we had proper leadership -- and we can just put this on Trump. Republicans also engage in this type of rhetoric.

They play games with QAnon. They play games with the big lie. Some of them have gone on CNN, MSNBC, and other shows, not just FOX News, and continue to spread the big lie. They're just as responsible as the people that were breaking through the doors and trying to attack members of Congress.

GOLODRYGA: It's sheer cowardice. I mean, I you can't call it anything but that.

But at the heart of the issue -- and Donie touched on this earlier with Shimon -- is the fact that this big lie continues to be elevated.

Just today, President Trump issued another statement, once again, lying and saying that the election was rigged. This will continue. So, how will anything change, if this continues to be supported by a majority of Republicans? You can't condemn the violence, but still support the lie that leads to the violence?

GALLEGO: I agree. I think there has to be some political repercussions.

I think we have to unelect more of these people that are engaging in this. And then also, if you are a donor, if you're the business community, if you're the labor community, if you're any type of community, do not participate in helping these people win elections again.

We -- if you want to actually stop this, you have to stop these people from coming into office that are going to are going to bring (AUDIO GAP) whether they believe it or not. And that's the problem.

They think this is just part of the political game. They believe this is just part of every lie, whether it's trickle-down economics, or late-term abortion, whatever they try to use. Now they're just using this as another way for them to try to gain political power.

And let's not forget that they're timing this exactly with all these 40 different states that are trying to pass some very restrictive voting laws.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, that is happening as we speak.

Speaker Pelosi today downplayed the reason behind scrapping today -- the votes today and said she wouldn't comment on the National Guard being asked to stay a bit longer. So, how big of a threat is this? I mean, is all of this extra security necessary if you have the speaker sort of downplaying the urgency of canceling today?

GALLEGO: I definitely need to get more information to make a guess -- or not a guess -- to make an educated opinion this.

But, for my opinion, I do think that we need to try to return to as normal here in Washington, D.C. We can't let these terrorists win. This is the people's house. We can improve security. But we don't have to look like we're a Third World dictator that we need to hide away from the public. We shouldn't.

And the last thing I want to do is for us to fulfill their little weird fantasies that somehow we are separated from the people, when, in fact, those terrorists, those white nationalists are the ones that are truly separated from the people of this country.


GOLODRYGA: Congressman Ruben Gallego, thank you so much for your time.

We look forward to those days as well. Thank you.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, the nation's top health officials expressing shock and outrage, as some Republican governors rush to end mask mandates. What's behind the effort to stop this simple, yet effective and lifesaving practice?

Plus, fewer Americans will now qualify for those $1,400 stimulus checks, as the COVID relief bill makes a painful journey through the Senate. We will discuss straight ahead.

And a new report recommended a criminal probe of former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, but the Department of Justice declined to follow up.

We will have more details coming up after the break.



GOLODRYGA: It is a race against time to vaccinate as many Americans as possible from the coronavirus.

But as some states ditch their mask mandates and allow businesses to reopen, many Americans are left on their own when it comes to staying safe.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov has the latest on a controversy that President Biden has slammed as Neanderthal thinking.


GOV. KAY IVEY (R-AL): Let me be abundantly clear. After April the 9th, I will not keep the mask on in effect.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the pandemic continues to ravage America, more states are ignoring the advice of health experts by rolling back COVID-19 safety measures.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It just is inexplicable why you would want to pull back now. I understand the need to want to get back to normality, but you're only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines.

KAFANOV: Alabama announcing it will lift its statewide mask mandate after April 9, Texas and Mississippi scrapping there's this week.

GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): The numbers no longer justify government action and executive orders. Mississippians can make their own decisions.

SHANNA PEGUES, FOUNDER, MOMMY GYRL CUSTOM CREATIONS: I really do think that we are as a state being too lax too quickly. I pray that I'm wrong.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Exactly when would be the right time? Would it be when everybody gets a vaccine? Will it be when COVID is completely over? And the answer to those, of course, is no.

KAFANOV: Well, actually health experts, the doctors who follow the science, they disagree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really just truly see this as sabotage.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: This is not the time to do it, not with the U.K. variant starting to accelerate.

KAFANOV: And that's the concern. Those new, more contagious variants are spreading across the country, the seven-day moving average of new cases in Arkansas and Mississippi up more than 50 percent compared to the previous week, deaths also on the rise in 14 states.

Across the nation, coronavirus claiming more than 518,000 lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you with all my heart. I love you so much.

KAFANOV: The impact felt coast to coast.

SYLVESTER TURNER (D), MAYOR OF HOUSTON, TEXAS: The reality is, is that people are still being impacted. People in this city, I don't care who you are, are literally suffering because of this virus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice and relaxed.

KAFANOV: America's vaccination effort is improving, the CDC reporting more than 109 million vaccine doses have been distributed and more than 82 million total doses administered.

The question now, how to convince all to take it. In an interview with a Chicago radio station, Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledging the reasons why some black Americans might be hesitant to get vaccinated and urging them to get the shot.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this year of our lord 2021, folks have got to take this vaccine when it is their turn. It is safe and it will save lives.


KAFANOV: And with shipments of that single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine arriving in several states, including Utah today, the governor there, Stephen (sic) Cox, said that he hopes to be able to open up vaccinations to all adults in Utah by April -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Lucy Kafanov, thank you so much.

And joining me now for more is Dr. Saju Mathew, a primary care specialist and public health expert.

Dr. Mathew, always great to see you.

Something struck me in "The Houston Chronicle." They had an article that was headlined that the Houston medical community has called Governor Abbott's rollbacks like PTSD. One doctor said that he had a pretty strong visceral reaction from the news. "These masks were doing a lot for us," he says.

I would imagine that's how many doctors across the country view this, correct?


Listen, we have reasons to rejoice. I mean, the cases are coming down, the hospitalizations are coming down. But let's remember, back in January, there were 300,000 daily cases. We're down to 70,000. That's still a very high rate. And 2,000 people are dying every day. Now, I completely understand that businesses need to operate. We need

to keep food on the table. I take care of a lot of patients, Bianna, that are the small business owners. And it's been tough. But why can't we do both? Why are we not opening businesses safely and mandating masks?

I think that's the way to keep employers, employees and people coming into these restaurants or hair salons safe. I think that will give you an incentive to keep these businesses open.


So, it really alarms me that we're opening back up at 100 percent without a mask mandate.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, that's such an important point.

And it's confusing when you have Governor Abbott, after pulling back on this mandate and resending it, then say he still encourages people to wear a mask. You can see where a lot of people might wonder, well, then why rescind the mandate in the first place?

Can you talk about the effectiveness of mandates? Do they actually work?

MATHEW: I think that any time a governor, a president, a leader models behavior about wearing a mask and they practice it themselves, I think it makes a huge difference.

That would be like me, as a physician, talking about masks here at work, and then somebody catching me at a restaurant without wearing a mask. And, also,I think we need to really understand the power of masks. Look at the number of health care providers like myself, nurses, paramedics that are taking care of sick COVID patients.

And if you look at the number of health care workers that have fallen sick, it is absolutely not in proportion to what you would normally think should happen on a daily basis. This one cloth mask over your face and nose is really our biggest medication that we have until we have these vaccines.

And, also, let's look at these nursing homes, Bianna, where over 75 percent of nursing home residents have been vaccinated, and cases are dropping by 80 percent. So, we have got the vaccines on one hand. We have got the masks. A combination of both of that is what's going to get us out of this pandemic.

GOLODRYGA: Look, it's not hard to do. Kids at school are wearing masks as well. If children can do it, sure -- surely adults can do it too.

But Governor Abbott has received his vaccine. Less than 10 percent of Texans have received their vaccine, but he's received his vaccine. And I think, when it comes to what happens after someone's vaccinated, we have yet to hear what they can and can't do. Can they congregate with others? Can they be with their family

members? Can grandparents visit their grandchildren? This guidance is very important, because people hear that maybe we don't know yet, and then people may ask, well, what's the point of being vaccinated then?

When are we going to get guidance?


MATHEW: Yes, that's a good point.

I mean, I think that we have to be a little careful, because people might be disappointed when the CDC guidelines are officially out. I think it's going to be just very specific, which is, if you're vaccinated, and somebody else is vaccinated, or other family members are vaccinated, then if you look at the science, you should be able to take the mask off.

I mean, for me personally, Bianna, I'm going to make small changes. For the last nine months, my parents have been in jail in a town home. They're doubly vaccinated. I have been vaccinated, and after nine months, I am going to walk into the house and give them a hug. I'm going to travel with them and see other family members that are vaccinated.

But the people that are vaccinated should also be careful about not possibly infecting other people, because vaccines work to prevent disease, but they don't work to prevent necessarily an infection.

So, if you're around people that are not vaccinated, you should still wear a mask.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, vaccine isn't the end all/be all, at least not yet. But we obviously want to encourage every American to get their vaccine when it is their turn.

Dr. Saju Mathew, thank you so much, and we look forward to seeing pictures of you with your parents again.

MATHEW: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, breaking news on the COVID relief plan.

The Senate is voting right now to open debate on the bill. Could Vice President Kamala Harris be needed to break a tie?

Plus, new questions about accusations against former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao -- why the DOJ declined a criminal investigation of alleged misuse of office.



CLERK: Twenty-nine-twenty-one, supporting older Americans and their families. Section 2922, national technical assistance center on grand families and kinship families.

Title III, Committee on Banking Housing and Urban Affairs, Subtitle A, Defense Production Act.

GOLODRYGA: And what you're hearing is the beginning of what's expected to be a 10-hour process of reading every word of President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.

It's one tactic that Republicans are using to throw sand in the gears and slow down the process as much as possible.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on the Capitol, Capitol Hill.

Manu, could this actually backfire?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the concerns among some Republicans is that it could go on too long.

Their concerns are that they don't want it to go as long as Senator Ron Johnson wants it to go. I have talked to some who say, let's just make our points on our votes on the floor and then move on.

But the process is essentially going to go down like this. The Senate Democrats just introduced a 628-page bill, their version of the COVID relief plan, the $1.9 trillion plan, different in some ways than the bill that was -- passed the House last week.

Now, after the Senate voted by 51 to 50 votes -- Kamala Harris, the vice president, came in and broke the tie, just moments ago. Now they are in this process of reading the bill, because Ron Johnson has essentially forced Senate clerks to read every word of the bill, something that he can do under the rules, but a practice that is typically dispensed with.