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COVID Relief Stalls in Senate; Confusion Follows Detroit Mayor Duggan's Vaccine Statements; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Rewrote Nursing Home Report. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 5, 2021 - 14:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hello, it is the top of the hour, I am Brianna Keilar.

And vote-a-rama is under way in the Senate right now, it is the latest stunt by Republicans to delay passage of the president's $1.9 trillion relief bill. That means delaying direct payments to families, delaying a plan to get children back in school and delaying the very vaccines that would get the U.S. out of this mess.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill. There's been a lot of wrangling on the Senate floor in the last hour over jobless benefits. Tell us about this.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's -- in fact, it's ground action in the Senate to a halt, and all because of one senator, Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, someone whose vote is so critical in the 50-50 Senate. In order to amend this bill, you need 51 votes, which means that if they don't have bipartisan support, all Democrats would need to join hands and also get the vice president to come and break a tie.

But because of the jobless benefits, a last-minute deal that Democrats cut with the White House, Joe Manchin is not on board with that yet and that has essentially stalled action in the Senate.

This last-minute deal that was reached would extend jobless benefits at $300 a week through September, but it also includes a plan that would ensure that the first $10,200 of jobless income from jobless benefits would not be taxed.

That last part, the non-taxable part of the jobless benefits, was not part of the original proposal. The original proposal actually extends jobless benefits at $400 a week through August. So this new plan goes an additional month, and includes that tax-free plan.

Now, Joe Manchin, I am told by multiple sources, is not yet sold on this new plan. in fact, he has been approached by Republicans to back an alternative jobless benefit plan at just $300 a week, down from the $400, and that would go through July, not including this tax (ph) $10,200 of tax-free income for -- as part of this plan. That is not part of the Republican proposal.

So the concern is that will Joe Manchin not support the Democratic effort to amend the bill, and in fact side with Republicans instead and move forward with a Republican plan that would pare back the jobless benefits?

As a result, Democrats have essentially ground the chamber to a halt. They have not had a single vote int he last few hours other than one on the minimum wage, which has failed. In fact, that vote is still open as they're trying to sort this out with Joe Manchin.

So all this, Brianna, shows how much power one individual senator can have to essentially delay, derail this entire process over this $1.9 trillion plan as they head into a series of amendment votes that could take hours and hours and hours.

Right now, stuck on such a key issue, and important too, Brianna, because as you know, March 14th is when jobless benefits expire. But what does it look like in this plan and what will Democrats ultimately agree on? Big questions, going forward.

KEILAR: All right, we'll be keeping our eyes up there on Capitol Hill, Manu, thank you so much for that report.

The CDC has new evidence that mask mandates work to slow the spread of COVID, as does restricting on-site dining. This is a study that looks at COVID rates from March through December of last year, and it found that places with mask mandates had a nearly two-percentage-point drop in cases and deaths, 100 days after taking effect.

When it comes to onsite restaurant dining, inside or outside, places that allowed it had a roughly one percentage point jump in cases after 100 days, and a nearly three-percentage-point increase in deaths. The study did not control for other COVID-19 safety measures in counties and states that could have influenced the data.

Mississippi's governor is doubling down on his decision to lift the state's mask mandate. Mississippi is experiencing actually an uptick in COVID-19 cases, recording more than 400 new infections just yesterday. CNN's Ryan Young is at a mass vaccination site in Jackson.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here at this mass vaccination site, you see National Guard members helping the Department of Health give out those much needed COVID shots. We're told, across the state, over 300,000 shots have been given so far. There are 20 sites across this state.


JEREMY PARKER, COLONEL, MISSISSIPPI NATIONAL GUARD: They are ecstatic to do this mission. This has been great, and to me it really has shown the utility of the National Guard, that you have soldiers and airmen that are trained to deploy and support the Army and Air Force, but you can also use them to support their state.


RYAN: Brianna, this site opened several hours ago, but what we know is you have to register before arriving here. There's also going to be another mass vaccination site on Saturday in the city of Jackson. Now, folks of course are going to be watching over the next few days to see if hospitalizations and new cases rises after the change in mask policy.


KEILAR: Ryan, thank you so much.

Meantime, in Detroit, the mayor is coming under fire for declining thousands of doses of Johnson & Johnson's newly authorized vaccine, and here is how he explained his decision.


MAYOR MIKE DUGGAN (D), DETROIT, MICHIGAN: So Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine; Moderna and Pfizer are the best. And I am going to do everything I can to make sure that residents of the city of Detroit get the best. The day may come when we have more Detroiters asking for vaccines than we have Moderna, Pfizer, in which case we'll set up a Johnson & Johnson site.


KEILAR: I want to talk about this now with CNN anchor and political correspondent Abby Phillip.

This completely contradicts, Abby, what we've been hearing from public health officials who point out that Johnson & Johnson's trials, compared to Moderna and Pfizer's, were done at a point when COVID was at a higher rate, and they also point out that there are so many positive things about the Johnson & Johnson virus (sic), don't wait for, you know, trying to get one over the other.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, you know, Brianna, you and I have both talked to doctors who emphasize what I think is the most important thing, which is that all three of these vaccines are extremely effective at preventing two of the most important things, which are hospitalizations and deaths.

And so it is really surprising to see an elected official basically giving credence to this idea that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is, you know, less effective in a way that should prompt people to not want it.

And especially, I thought, the idea he was saying there, that there is not enough demand to warrant them taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? I would be very surprised if that were true. There are so many people, I'm sure in Detroit and all across the country who are clamoring for a chance to take any vaccine, to get some kind of protection against this virus. KEILAR: Yes, it's so dismaying to hear this, you know? I think this

this a question a lot of people have had; I had it, I looked into it and discovering with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that 100 percent of people, after the period of about a month, didn't go to the hospital at all? I mean, that's amazing, that's an amazing result for a vaccine. And --

PHILLIP: And that's what we want.

KEILAR: Yes, right? I mean, that is -- it's pretty -- that's what you would hope for.

The White House weighed in today, Abby, they tried to clarify and tried to say that the mayor's comments were misinterpreted.


ANDY SLAVITT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER ON COVID-19: We've been in constant dialogue with Mayor Duggan, who said in fact that was not what he said, or it -- however it was reported. In fact, he is very eager for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and I think we would reiterate the message that for all of us, the first vaccine we have an opportunity to take makes absolute sense to take.


KEILAR: I mean, Abby, we heard what he said.

PHILLIP: Right, yes. I mean, the context here is that Mayor Duggan is an ally of the Biden administration, of Joe Biden's. That's all fine, but the reality is, is that Andy Slavitt is acting as effectively as a public health adviser here.

And this was an opportunity to say pretty clearly, there is no reason that any, you know, jurisdiction in this country should reject vaccines of any kind, but certainly not the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And people should feel confident that the vaccine is worth getting.

But I also thought, you know, as you pointed out, Brianna, what's really I think disappointing about that comment was saying that's not what he said. That is what he said, he did say that he was -- you know, that they were -- he was going to try to get his constituents the best, and that maybe at some point later he might get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but because it was not effective, did not want it right at this moment.

You can't twist that, that was pretty clear. And I think condemning it and putting it in its right place is a really important thing to do from a public health perspective, just as it is important to do from the perspective of just reflecting what was actually said and what the truth is of the situation.

KEILAR: Yes, Abby, thank you so much. You do such a great job of putting these moments into context, and we know that you will as well on "INSIDE POLITICS" on Sunday at 8:00 a.m., we'll be there with you. Thank you. PHILLIP: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Next, a former State Department aide is charged in the January 6th riots, the first person with a clear link to the Trump administration.

Plus, another Democratic lawmakers files suit against the former president and his allies for stoking the insurrection.


And I'll speak live to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar about the COVID relief bill, and if there's any path for Democrats to get a $15 minimum wage passed.


KEILAR: A former State Department aide who also worked for the Trump campaign in 2016 is now charged for his role in the Capitol riot. Federico Klein is the first known Trump administration political appointee to be arrested for taking part in the siege. CNN's Whitney Wild has more.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, Federico Klein is charged with his role in the January 6th insurrection. He's seen in photos using a police riot shield to try to get inside the Capitol, and to fight with police. He's one of roughly 300 people prosecutors are charging in this case.


However, his case is notable because he worked on the 2016 Trump campaign, and he worked at the State Department until January 19th, almost two weeks after the January 6th insurrection. He had a Top Secret-level clearance, he was also ID'd by a coworker at the State Department, among others -- Brianna.

TEXT: Trump Appointee Arrested, Federico Klein: Charged for pushing police and entering the Capitol; Former State Department aide; Held a top secret-level security clearance; Worked with Trump campaign in 2016; Identified by tipsters, including a co-worker

KEILAR: Whitney, thank you.

I'm joined now by CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen, who is also a former White House ethics czar. Ambassador, your reaction to a Trump political appointee and former State Department employee with a top- level security clearance being charged in the insurrection?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Brianna, thanks for having me back. We've been talking for weeks about the question of the president's involvement, and whether there's more evidence that was going to come out. And this is one step closer, with the first charge inside the administration.

I think it's serious, I think it shows the danger of the president's incitement of insurrection using the big lie, even reaching a sitting government official who had Top Secret security clearance, and my own belief is, based on all the evidence we've seen so far, that this is not the last of the shoes that are going to drop of official involvement in these terrible, terrible events.

KEILAR: And, to that point, right now the DOJ is investigating communications between lawmakers, Hill staff and insurrectionists on the day of the riot. You know, we're still awaiting, obviously, the findings of that, to see if they were witting or unwitting, even, in communications, or not. What are the implications if these communications did take place, if there was assistance?

EISEN: Well, the evidence in plain sight was that there was incitement of insurrection, not just by Donald Trump with his words that whipped his mob, after months of telling them their democracy was stolen. He lit the fuse, and (ph) his words threw the bomb down Pennsylvania Avenue at Capitol Hill.

But those lawmakers were also involved, Representative Mo Brooks, who's one of those who was sued today -- another lawsuit was brought today by a member of Congress in connection with this -- Mo Brooks is one of those who spoke at that insurrection tailgate on January 6th.

So I think the implications are that we're going to see more troubling evidence emerge. We already have enough evidence to plot the trendlines, and I don't think it's going to stop with just those who spoke at the rally.

KEILAR: Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell is now suing former President Trump and his allies for inciting the Capitol riot, and that makes this the second Democratic lawmaker to file a civil suit against the president for what happened on January 6th. Do these lawsuits have teeth?

EISEN: Brianna, I think they do have teeth. The first on, by Representative Bennie Thompson, now a second one by Representative Swalwell, both of them are backed by an all-star cast of really outstanding lawyers.

And they're going to push these lawsuits forward, and there are going to be more lawsuits and there's movement in the criminal investigations of Donald Trump as well, so it's definitely a sense of the walls closing in because of the strength of the evidence, Brianna.

Donald Trump did incite insurrection, and the law does not let any American get away with that. It doesn't matter if you're a current president, a former president. If you incite insurrection, you're going to pay the price. And that's what these lawsuits are starting to demonstrate.

KEILAR: We'll have to see if there are more to come. Norm, thank you so much for being with us.

EISEN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Next, "The New York Times" breaks new details about the efforts to hide the number of nursing home deaths in New York. That reporter will join me live with what he learned about Governor Cuomo's role in all of this.


Plus, I'll get reaction from a woman who lost her mother in one of those nursing homes.


KEILAR: "The New York Times" is reporting that aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rewrote a nursing home report to conceal a markedly high number of nursing home deaths at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The "Times" reviewed state health department documents and interviewed multiple people with direct knowledge about the report. It shows a death roll roughly 50 percent higher than the figure that was being cited publicly by the Cuomo administration.

David Goodman is one of the "New York Times" reporters who broke the story, he covers the economic and health impacts of the pandemic in New York State.

David, Cuomo's critics have accused him and his aides of a months-long effort to cover up the truth. Cuomo adamantly denies this. Tell us what you uncovered.

J. DAVID GOODMAN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, what we found is that as far back as June of last year, the health officials in the state knew -- or had good data, data that they were confident enough in about the number of people who had died, who lived in nursing homes, from the pandemic. They were prepared to put that number in a report that was seeking to look at some of the factors that caused those deaths in nursing homes.


And if you remember back to that time, the governor was riding very high, was, you know, being praised for his national -- or his leadership on the pandemic, and for his nationally televised press conferences. And -- but he was being criticized at the same time by Republicans and some others for his handling of nursing homes.

And so the governor and others in the administration were eager to push back on this notion, and so the Health Department at the time was studying this, and wanted to put in their report that roughly 9,000 between nine and 10,000 people had died who lived in nursing homes at the time, except the problem was that the Cuomo administration was only revealing about 6,000 or 6,500 people who lived in nursing homes had died at that point.

And so when they discovered the Health Department wanted to update their numbers and give a fuller picture of what had happened; that's when the aides to Governor Cuomo stepped in. KEILAR: And does any of this have to do with that March order, that

late March order that said it was a directive to hospitals and nursing homes, and it said that nursing homes needed to admit COVID patients, that they couldn't require a test for patients coming from a hospital who'd had coronavirus. What's the relation here?

GOODMAN: Right. I mean, it has everything to do with that. The report that was being put together by the Health Department was looking at that order, among other things, to see what were the reasons why New York had such a high number of nursing home residents dying during the pandemic.

And so this was the main crux of the criticism of the governor, that he had taken an active role in, you know, nursing home policy and sent back into nursing homes people that had tested positive, and people were saying that he was in part to blame for the number of deaths.

So this study was meant to look at that. And in fact, the study came to the conclusion that that order had -- was not a main driver of the deaths in nursing homes. And ironically, the Health Department reached that same conclusion, even with the higher number of deaths in their report that they sent to the governor's office.

But even so, the governor and his aides were unwilling or did not want the higher number to come out at that time, and so took it out of the report.

KEILAR: The governor did cancel that order in the summer, I just want to be clear about that, and Cuomo has said that the order should not have meant that there were folks going to these nursing homes from hospitals. But at the same time, we know that happened, we know there were a lot of people who went from hospitals into nursing homes. Has the governor responded to this story?

GOODMAN: What they've said in response to the story was that the findings of the report -- and you know, new analysis with fuller data that was since released in recent months, came to the conclusion that that order didn't result in a much higher number of deaths in the nursing homes.

But I think what's at issue here and what was so revelatory and frankly surprising about what we were able to uncover is just the degree to which they were willing to shape the data to fit the narrative that they had at the time.

And so even if the report was going to be, you know, a positive report in terms of what they were looking for, was going to, you know, absolve in large measure the governor's policies. They still didn't want this bigger number in there because even that bigger number would have been taken as a sign that the pandemic wasn't as controlled as the governor was saying it was at the time.

KEILAR: Yes, I think it's one of the most fascinating parts of what you've uncovered in this, and we really appreciate you sharing your reporting with us, David Goodman, thank you.

GOODMAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: My next guest lost her mother to COVID-19 after she was transferred to a Long Island nursing home after a surgery. Vivian Zayas followed -- pardon me, filed suit against the facility citing gross negligence, but she also testified last summer, before the New York State assembly, that officials did not safeguard patients like her mother, Ana Martinez, from the virus despite earlier warnings.


VIVIAN ZAYAS, LOST MOTHER TO COVID: My mother and many others contracted the virus at the nursing home, and today I am still under the belief that she was unaware and uninformed as to what was happening to her. As someone who spoke limited English, it appears she was not informed as to her condition, and she never shared that information with us, who were always her best advocates.


KEILAR: Vivian is with us now to talk more about this. Since Vivian's mom's death, I want to add, she has co-founded the Facebook advocacy group Voice for Seniors.


Vivian, thank you so much for being with us. We know that it has been an incredibly difficult year for you and your family, with the loss of your mom. And I wonder, when you hear this report accusing the governor's office of intentionally changing a health report so that the number didn't appear as bad as it was when it came to nursing home deaths, what's your reaction to that?