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Senate Passes $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan After Democratic Senator Joe Manchin Agrees To Compromise On Unemployment Benefits Included In Legislation; President Biden Praises Senate For Passing American Rescue Plan To Provide Economic Relief To Americans Affected By COVID-19; Interview With Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA); Los Angeles County Increasing Vaccination Numbers; Texas Governor Lifts Mask Mandate; Author Mallika Chopra Interviewed On Well-Being Practices For Children During Pandemic. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired March 6, 2021 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:00]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: CNN films "Apollo 11 Quarantine" tonight at 9:00 p.m. on CNN.

Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

This breaking news from Washington, President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package passes the U.S. Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 50. The nays are 49. The bill as amended is passed.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: That vote coming down on straight party lines, 50 to 49, without any Republican support. The bill is expected to head to President Biden's desk for him to sign as early as next week. This is a huge legislative victory for the president who is expected to speak about its passage sometime this afternoon.

CNN's Manu Raju is live for us on Capitol Hill. So Manu, ultimately Democrats did not get the Republican support they were hoping for. Still, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling this a big victory.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was pretty clear for some time that they were not going to get Republican support. There was possibility they would get one, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. It still seemed unlikely heading into the final vote. She ultimately voted no. Republicans just simply wanted a much different package.

The ones who had actually some talks with the White House initially wanted something in the range of $600 billion to $700 billion. This plan, $1.9 trillion. So much larger, more sweeping in nature, one in which Republicans believe is going too far at this time when the economy is doing better, but one in which Democrats say it is absolutely needed because it affects virtually all aspects of the American economy.

Money, up to $1,400 in stimulus checks for individuals, money that would go for cash-strapped states and cities that have been asking from Washington for a bailout, money that would extend jobless to the tune of $300 a week until the end of August, as well as funds for vaccine distribution, a child tax credit, nutrition assistance for schools. So a lot in this proposal. Democrats hoped to get this done and onto the president's desk by Tuesday. The final passage vote in the House has been scheduled for Tuesday, so they're moving very quickly to get this done.

Now, there have been a lot of questions about exactly how they got this done. Yesterday the Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer thought they were going to move quickly on this proposal, but one Democrat, Joe Manchin, balked at a proposal that they had tried to advance to extend those jobless benefits because he did not like how it was structured.

Today in a press conference I asked Chuck Schumer about the 12 hours in which the Senate was stalled, leaving open one vote open for 12 hours, as it negotiated furiously with Joe Manchin. And I asked him about that and whether he should have resolved that dispute on the front end.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: People have new differences all the time, but you know what is the overwhelming point here, that everyone in our caucus realizes we have to pull together and get it done and we're a team. And sometimes it takes some discussion, and sometimes it takes some work. But we don't let our differences stop us from achieving success.

RAJU: But shouldn't it have been resolved on the front end?

SCHUMER: People come up with different ideas at different times, and we still have to take everyone into account and pull together as a team, and that's what we did.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

RAJU: So clearly catching the Democratic leadership by surprise, the concerns raised by Joe Manchin. Initially he had worried about the addition of $10,200 worth of tax-free benefits that would be part of the jobless benefits in this proposal. He said that that should not have been in there.

As a result, they cut a deal to limit the eligibility of who can claim that tax deduction. That was part of the ultimate deal. But that led to hours of stalemate, which is why they did not start voting, Fred, until late last night, after that deal was cut with Joe Manchin. President Biden got involved, talked to Manchin himself. Then they went on to almost 13 straight hours overnight, through the

night, to vote on a variety of amendments, most of them Republican amendments that were voted down. And ultimately the bill is very similar to what passed the House just a matter of days ago, which is why the Democratic leadership in the House is confident that Democrats will push this through. They may lose a couple in the House. They can't afford to lose more than four. They don't expect to lose that many, but they're going to pass this on straight Democratic support as Republicans push back, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much.

The White House is probably already considering this a big victory even though it still has a little bit to go, it has to go to the House before it finally makes it to the president's desk. Our Arlette Saenz is joining us right now. So Arlette, the president is expected to speak. You're in Wilmington, Delaware, because the thinking was he was going to be making his way there. But now, reportedly, the president will stay at the White House?

[14:05:08]

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, the president is clearly keeping his focus squarely on --

WHITFIELD: OK, actually, I'm sorry, Arlette, I've got to interrupt you because the president is now taking the microphone at the White House. Let's listen.

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, when we took office 45 days ago, I promised the American people help was on the way. Today I can say we've taken one more giant step forward in delivering on that promise, that help is on the way.

I want to start off by thanking the vice president. But I want to thank all the senators who worked so hard to reach a compromise and do the right thing for the American people during this crisis and voted to pass the American Rescue Plan. It obviously wasn't easy. It wasn't always pretty. But it was so desperately needed, urgently needed.

Also, I also need to say a few words about Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who I spoke with many times on this and again this morning. I served in the Senate, as you all know, for many years. I've never seen anyone work as skillfully, as ably, as patiently, with determination to deliver such a consequential piece of legislation that was so urgently needed as the American Rescue Plan. Chuck Schumer, Senator Chuck Schumer, when the country needed you most, you led, Chuck, and you delivered. Neither I nor the country will ever forget that.

And it's not a moment too soon. I've been talking about the urgency of this need. For over a year, the American people were told they were on their own. We've seen how hard that has been on so many Americans. As of last night, 519,064 lives lost to the virus.

That many empty chairs this morning at the breakfast table. Gone. More than 400 small businesses closed unnecessarily. Millions of people out of work through no fault of their own -- I want to emphasize that -- through no fault of their own. Food bank lines stretching for miles. Did any of you ever think you would see that in America, in cities all across this country? Families facing the threat of eviction.

This nation has suffered too much for much too long. And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation and put us in a better position to prevail, starting with beating this virus and vaccinating the country.

The resources in this plan will be used to expand and speed up manufacturing and distribution of vaccines so we can get every single American vaccinated sooner than later, I believe we'll have enough by the end of -- by the middle of May to vaccinate. It's going to take longer to get it in their arms, but that's how much vaccine we'll have.

Because of all the funding, we'll be able to hire more vaccinators, set up more vaccination sites to get the country in a place to get back to normal. This plan will get checks out the door starting this month to the American people who so desperately need the help, many of whom are lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, will I love my job, if I haven't already, will I lose my insurance, will I lose my home?

Over 85 percent of American households will get direct payments of $1,400 per person. For a typical middle-class family of four, a husband and wife working, make $100,000 a year total with three kids, they'll get $5,600 -- with two kids, they'll get $5,600, and it will be on the way soon. That means the mortgage can get paid. That means the child can stay in community college. That means maintaining the health insurance you have. It's going to make a big difference in so many lives in this country.

Unemployment benefits will be extended for 11 million Americans who have lost their jobs and who last night again were lying in bed thinking, my lord, I'm going to lose my unemployment insurance in a week or so, it's about to expire. Schools are going to have the resources they need to open safely.

States and local governments that have lost tens of thousands of essential workers will have the resources they need available to them, to those laid-off police officers, firefighters, teachers, and nurses they can rehire. These are essential personnel. Look, the American Rescue Plan lowers health care premiums, food and nutrition assistance.

[14:10:00]

It's hard to believe that 24 million adults and 11 million children, as I speak, in the United States suffer from food insecurity. That means simply they don't have enough food to eat. Did you ever imagine in the United States of America you would see lines literally miles long, folks in their automobiles waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk?

I stood in line handing out food. People coming up never, ever, ever thought they would be in that position. I saw families who are behind in their rent, their mortgage payments, so they aren't thrown out of their homes.

The bottom line is this. This plan puts us on a path to beating the virus. This plan gives those families who are struggling the most the help and the breathing room they need to get through this moment. This plan gives small businesses in this country a fighting chance to survive. And one more thing -- this plan is historic. Taken all together, this plan is going to make it possible to cut child poverty in half. Let me say it again. It's significant, historic. It will cut child poverty in half.

There's much more to this bill. But for now, let me make one final point. When I was elected, I said we were going to get the government out of the business of battling on Twitter and back in the business of delivering for the American people, of making a difference in their lives, giving everyone a chance, a fighting chance, of showing the American people that their government can work for them, and passing the American Rescue Plan will do that.

And it may sound strange, but a lot of senators and congressmen I want to thank, but I really want to thank the American people for making all this possible. So how did they make it possible? Quite frankly, without the overwhelming bipartisan support of the American people this would not have happened. Your elected officials heard you.

Overwhelming public support, every public opinion poll shows overwhelming support for this plan. And for the last weeks it's shown that. Every public opinion poll shows that people want this. They believe it's needed, and they believe it's urgent.

Now this bill returns to the House of Representatives, which has done a great job from the beginning, where I hope it will find quick passage so it can be sent to my desk to be signed into law. By passing the American Rescue Plan, we'll have heeded the voice of the American people, not ignored their voices. By passing this plan, we would have delivered real tangible results for the American people and their families.

They'll be able to see and know and feel the change in their own lives. By passing this plan, we'll have proved that this government, this democracy, can still work. It has to be done. It will improve people's lives.

And one more thing. The vast majority of economists, left, right, and center, from Wall Street to the private economic polling initiatives, the economists, as I said, left, right, and center, say, in addition to the needs that people have, we need this to grow the economy, that if we haven't spent this money and recreated the kind of incentive for people to be able to make a good living, then we would be in real trouble.

This will create millions of new jobs. It's estimated over 6 million new jobs by itself, increase the gross domestic product by $1 trillion dollars, put our nation in a position to out-compete the rest of the world, because the rest of the world is moving, particularly China. And I know that as tough as this moment is, there are brighter days

ahead, there really are. As I said before, it's never a good bet to bet against America. It's never been a good bet to bet against the American people. We are America. We're going to get there. We're going to remain the leading economy in the world, and we're going to be the most successful economy in the world, because of you, the American people.

Thank you and God bless you all. May God protect our troops. Thank you.

(INAUDIBLE)

[14:15:4]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- single Republican vote, and what does the drama over the last 24 hours, including with Senator Manchin, tell you about the next four years?

BIDEN: We're going to good. I'm going to succeed. We're going to succeed moving forward.

Look, the American people strongly support what we're doing. That's the key here. And that's going to continue to seep down through the public, including from our Republican friends. There's a lot of Republicans that came very close, that got a lot of pressure on them. I still haven't given up on getting their support. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: A question from our Joe Johns there. President Biden at the White House. Here we go. Let's listen again.

(INAUDIBLE)

BIDEN: We're not frustrated. Bernie Sanders said this is the most progressive bill he's ever seen passed. And the compromises were all compromises that didn't affect the substance and the essence of the bill, going from $300 to $400 to $300 in unemployment. It got extended. The end result is essentially about the same. And so I don't think any compromises have in any way fundamentally altered the essence of what I put in the benefit. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: OK, President Biden there saying compromise is key when you have a moment like this, legislation like this on the Hill. Overall, he says it's a good day, and he says brighter days are ahead now with the passage of this bill in the U.S. Senate, 50 to 49. He says there's money now to set up more vaccination sites and get checks out the door, 85 percent of Americans, he says, will get direct payments of $1,400.

Our Arlette Saenz is back with us out now of Delaware. All right, so the president there quite jubilant, and he is sharing a message of optimism to America.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: He was, Fred. And what you heard from President Biden there is taking a bit of a victory lap, even as he acknowledged that this bill still needs to make its way over to the House. But he said that this really brings the country one step closer to delivering the help that he has promised from before he took office. The president talked about how, yes, that there were part of this bill that weren't pretty when it came down to the negotiations, but that ultimately these senators are delivering for the American people.

Now, one thing that you heard from the president over and over again was him kind of going through a list of what is in this bill, those $1,400 stimulus checks for families, the money for vaccinations. What you really heard him there was messaging to the American people what the direct benefits from this bill will be. And that is something that I think you can expect the White House to continue to do in the weeks ahead, kind of deploying their principals to sell this to the American people once it is essentially passed out of the House in just a few days.

But really, what you're hearing from the president is that he believes he is making good on a promise to deliver relief to the American people. One thing that Biden repeatedly had stressed and really prided in himself during the campaign was that he was going to be able to work in a bipartisan manner. But this measure has not gotten one bit of Republican support. We'll see if any Republicans decide to sign on to it once the House Votes later this week. But what you heard from the president is he was citing polling. He was citing economists who said that this plan is supported.

So even while Republicans up on Capitol Hill are not backing this proposal, he believes that the American public will eventually, or does embrace it now.

Now, you also heard the president take a little bit of a jab at the former administration when he said that his White House was focused not on battling on Twitter but on delivering to the American people. And that is something that they really see as a key difference between their administration and the administration before.

But bottom line here, as this bill is now moving out of the Senate and into the House, the president is really feeling like he is delivering that relief. And you also put that against the backdrop of the week that we are about to head into. This is the week that a lot of things started to turn around in this country when it came to the pandemic, with the WHO saying that COVID-19 was a pandemic.

And you're also seeing those unemployment benefits expiring in just about a week. And this White House is hoping that bill will be on the president's desk to sign in time before those benefits run out.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much, Arlette Saenz.

Joining me right now, Congresswoman Nikema Williams. She is a Democratic Representative from Georgia. Congresswoman, so good to see you.

[14:20:05]

REP. NIKEMA WILLIAMS, (D-GA): Thank you for having me. WHITFIELD: So is it your hope, and do you believe that that bill after

making its way back to the House will indeed make it to the president's desk before March 14th, or in time for that deadline where unemployment benefits expire?

WILLIAMS: House Democrats have been working since day one for the people, and I know that we will get this bill on the president's desk so that we can get relief to the people on the ground. I've heard that no Republicans supported this bill, but we're here to do the work on behalf of Republicans in the United States Congress. We are here to do the work of the people.

And this bill is going to get our children back to school safely in person, get vaccines out so that we can get this pandemic under control, get money in the hands of everyday working people who have been affected by this virus. And so I'm ready to get back to Washington so that we can vote on it and get it to the president for him to sign.

WHITFIELD: Right, so no Republican senators who were on board who voted for this passage, but we heard the president underscore there that it was bipartisan support of the American people, this legislation was popular among the American people. However, this vote did reveal something else, that Democrats, you all cannot afford to lose not one Democratic member in a Senate vote.

Joe Manchin, the moments were kind of tense and tenuous for about 12 hours, but eventually he was on board. What does this tell you about moving legislation in the days ahead, particularly in the Senate?

WILLIAMS: We're a big tent party. And so we've always had to have discussions on what final pieces of legislation look like. No one really likes to look at the sausage-making when it comes to the legislative process. But I've been very clear with my constituents in making things transparent and bringing them into the legislative process.

And so I think the American public is just seeing a lot of really what typically happens behind closed doors, because people are more aware and paying more attention now. But this isn't anything that is new. And we'll continue to deliver for the American people.

WHITFIELD: Let's talk about the House, where you are. This week the house passed the voting rights bill, HR-1, despite GOP opposition. Tell us why this bill is important to you.

WILLIAMS: Fredricka, when you look across the country at the legislation for voter suppression that has been introduced in state legislatures, especially here in my home state of Georgia, we have seen bill after bill after bill to restrict the right to vote after the 2020 election, only amplifying the falsehoods that the 2020 election was somehow fraudulent or stolen.

And HR-1 will give us a level of protection across the board. No matter your zip code, no matter what states you live in, everybody in this country should have free and fair access to the ballot box.

I represent the district that was held by Congressman John Lewis for over 30 years. And so to be able to stand there on the floor last week and speak in support of this bill that he authored the first 300 pages of, the Voter Empowerment Act, it meant a lot to me. It means a lot for this country. And it will secure our democracy for generations to come.

WHITFIELD: So what are your concerns about the obstacles ahead, given that it's not just Georgia but there are so many states in which there is legislation to make voting harder in time for the next round of elections, in time for midterm elections, removing absentee balloting, no excuses?

WILLIAMS: And even here in Georgia, things as cruel as penalizing and stopping people from doing line warming. So you're making more people stand in line to vote by getting rid of absentee balloting and making the process more difficult. But then someone who wants to give out water to keep people in line, that will no longer be allowed in the state of Georgia if Republicans have it their way.

So HR-1 will make sure that we at the federal level are saying this is something that should be standardized across the board, and everybody should have the same right to access the ballot. And people have told me, like we shouldn't be federalizing our election. But Fredricka, if you look at our history, I wouldn't even have the right to vote in this country if it was not for our federal government.

This weekend is the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, and people are doing the virtual pilgrimage down to Selma. And so it is quite fitting that this is the week that we passed HR-1, and we're sending it over to the Senate.

WHITFIELD: And then today there was action, the House passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which bans chokeholds and altering so-called qualified immunity for law enforcement. And this taking place on the eve of a trial that is scheduled to begin involving the police officer, Derek Chauvin, who held this 46-year-old man, George Floyd, suffering, gasping for air, until his death.

[14:25:06]

So talk to me about the importance of this legislation, how you believe it will survive in the Senate, and on the eve of what could be a very pivotal week.

WILLIAMS: So when I went to the floor to speak in support of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, all I could think about was my five-year-old son, Carter, who is the cute little kid with dimples right now. And one day he's going to be the black man that police look at and they automatically fear just because of who he is. And while I know this isn't going to do everything to get rid of police brutality and move us forward in this country, it is a step in the right direction, and where we need to be moving forward.

And black people are continuing to die at the hands of police. And it's past time that we do something policy-wise at the federal level to make sure that we are looking at what is happening and looking at things like qualified immunity, and holding people accountable for their actions. So that's what we're doing.

And we've already passed it on the House and sending it over to the Senate. And I am not sure what the Senate is going to do, but we've done our part in the House of Representatives, and it's up to the Senate now to pick up the mantle, to make sure that black people don't continue to die at the hands of police in this country.

WHITFIELD: Congresswoman Nikema Williams, always good to see you, thank you so much for being with me today.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Coming up, theme parks and concert venues in California are about to reopen for the first time since the pandemic got under way. The major changes to keep visitors safe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:30:56]

WHITFIELD: Theme parks, concert venues, and sports arenas in California will be able to start reopening on April 1st. There will still be plenty of restrictions at first, but it's a major step toward the country's biggest state economy. Paul Vercammen joins us now from a vaccination site in Valencia, California. So how is this going to work?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of the story unfolds right here, Fred. We'll do a little show and tell for you. Look behind me. Vaccinations, the Pfizer vaccination, 2,300 appointments here at Magic Mountain. More than 2.5 million people have been vaccinated now, most of them first vaccinations in Los Angeles County. That's a huge improvement.

Now, if we move over and we show you the rollercoaster here at Magic Mountain, it can roar back to its life, come out of its dormancy, if L.A. County and all the counties involved in this new California rule can move into the second most restrictive tier which is the red tier. They would operate at 15 percent. We expect that to happen unless there's a dramatic reversal in the number of cases.

What's interesting is some of these vaccine sites are right in the middle of all of this, including Dodger Stadium, which is a vaccination site, Disneyland. While no one can say definitively, in talking to people on background, they all seem to think they can work together. So if this theme park at Magic Mountain is only operating at 15 percent, they believe they will have both a vaccine site and an open park if the numbers hold on April 1st.

And it's just been rewarding for these firefighters and others who have been vaccinating people for well over a year now -- excuse me, not vaccinating people, I should say, but testing and helping with the pandemic. Let's listen to a county fire spokesman. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENICHI HASKETT, SECTION CHIEF, L.A. COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: That's exciting to be part of that reopening of our society. A year ago, I was helping out with testing and project room key. Now we're vaccinating. And it's the light at the end of the tunnel. And that for us is -- it's exciting and it's monumental, to be part of that mission, it really is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: And in talking with and looking at statements from the Dodgers, from the Hollywood Bowl and others, they're all taking a wait and see approach. But they're calling this extremely encouraging, Fred. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: That's a lot of hopefulness in one location. Paul Vercammen, thank you so much.

Coming up, no masks required. The governor of Texas defies the health experts and reopens businesses at 100 percent capacity. I'll talk about it with a restaurant owner and chef, Tim Love.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:38:01].

WHITFIELD: Many small business owners across Texas expressing anger and uncertainty after the governor announced that he's ending the state's mask mandate and capacity limits. Here is CNN's Ed Lavandera.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As Mike Nguyen whips up lunch in his San Antonio noodle restaurant, he can't stop thinking about what happens next week when the state's mask mandate is lifted.

MIKE NGUYEN, OWNER OF NOODLE TREE: What he's done is he's put the burden on the business now.

LAVANDERA: He says Texas Governor Greg Abbott is forcing small business owners to become mask wearing police and face the frustrations of defiant customers.

NGUYEN: Instead of being a real leader and uniting us and helping us get past this once and for all, he's created division.

LAVANDERA: The last year has already been brutal for Nguyen. We first met him last may when he told "Out Front" that while the pandemic ravaged his business, he would close the noodle diner to undergo months of cancer treatment. Six months later Nguyen reopened, and he's still struggling to keep the business going.

NGUYEN: We all had COVID fatigue. I even have it at by this point. And it's just like, we're on edge. People's anxiety is at an all time high. GOV. GREG ABBOTT, (R) TEXAS: This must end.

LAVANDERA: Without consulting most of his medical advisers, Republican Governor Greg Abbott says because of lower positivity rates and the vaccine rollout, it's time to fully reopen the Texas economy and lift the mask mandate. While the number of people hospitalized with COVID- 19 is dropping, the state still has one of the highest hospitalization rates in the country.

ABBOTT: Texans have mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID.

LAVANDERA: Missy Herring says in her south Texas embroidery and print shop, the mask mandate was always ignored. She is celebrating the governor's announcement.

MISSY HERRING, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER, CREATING PRINTING AND MORE: I was tickled to death.

LAVANDERA: Do you think mask wearing has kept the pandemic from getting worse?

[14:40:00]

HERRING: No. Everybody that I know who has been sick, they wore their mask faithfully. Faithfully. I've never worn the mask. I don't have people come in my store wearing the mask. I'm not sick.

LAVANDERA: But the governor's controversial decision has sparked a tidal wave of local leaders sending out pleas for Texans to keep wearing their masks. Scenes like this is what many officials and business owners fear.

There is one other fear haunting Mike Nguyen, the recent unprovoked attacks on Asian-Americans.

NGUYEN: Saying "Go back to China" or "you and your kung flu." I'm nervous, my anxiety is at an all-time high because I'm trying to hope for the best.

LAVANDERA: Despite the intense criticism, there is a great deal of support for the governor's move to reopen the economy and end the mask mandate. However, some of the biggest chain businesses here in the United States say they will continue to insist on mask wearing by customers inside their stores. However, there are still another number of large businesses that are saying just the opposite. It is that inconsistency that has many people worried about how all of this is going to unfold starting Wednesday.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, San Antonio, Texas.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

WHITFIELD: Joining me right now to talk more is Chef Tim Love, the owner and executive chef and several Fort Worth area restaurants including the White Elephant Saloon, the Love Shack, and the Woodshed Smokehouse. So good to see you, Tim. TIM LOVE, TEXAS RESTAURANT OWNER: Good afternoon. How are you,

Fredricka? Thanks for having me on.

WHITFIELD: I'm great, fantastic. So I'm wondering, in this whole thing, this year, how have your businesses done?

LOVE: I don't know if we have enough time to really go over that, but it's been one of the most tumultuous years that I've ever had in business especially, but just personally and through my friends and through other colleagues. It's been a rough ride, without a doubt. Something that you can't predict and something that you would never actually plan for, that wasn't in our budget discussions in February, let's plan for the pandemic in case that happened. So it's been rough.

But I have a tremendous team, and everybody's stuck beside us. My leadership team has been amazing. And we tried to keep positive just like we're doing now, the more positivity you have, I think the better you come out of this deal.

WHITFIELD: So it's been rough, and I'm wondering when that mask mandate is lifted then, come Wednesday, is that going to be breathing new life into your businesses? Does it add new stress? Do you welcome it?

LOVE: Well, here's what I think. Because, as I mentioned before, it's all about positivity in my company. And so when we went from 50 percent to 75 percent, that really didn't make a big difference because we kept the six feet of space in between the tables. But what it did do was produce a tremendous amount of confidence in the public. So the mask mandate and going to 100 percent really isn't what we're about.

We're about positivity in the public eye. And we all know, with the news that comes out today, with the new bill that passed, a $28 billion bill for restaurant relief, and the fact that people are starting to open up their states is a positive thing for people in my business. And that's what we want to concentrate on, keeping people safe and keeping the positive movement.

WHITFIELD: So what do you envision it's going to be like for you, your employees, with mask mandates no longer being in place, for it to be on a voluntary basis?

LOVE: Well, at my restaurants we're going to continue to wear masks and continue to do our protocols. When the pandemic first started, I wrote what we called our COVID-19 playbook, which was more stringent than anybody I knew, and we still continue to do that -- temperature checks, contact tracing, all my team is in masks. But if Texas lifts the mask mandate, then I would anticipate that some people are going to show up not wearing a mask.

WHITFIELD: And then how will you handle that?

LOVE: How do we handle that?

WHITFIELD: Yes. LOVE: We practice our own protocols by keeping people masked on our

team. And if people don't want to wear a mask at the restaurant, then we're going to ask them to wear one.

WHITFIELD: And then you've said that you've been fielding a lot of phone calls from people. Are these your patrons expressing concerns or thoughts? What are they saying?

LOVE: Well, it's not our patrons. It's more about my colleagues, it's also about a bunch of news outlets and things like that asking what our stance is going to be. We do have a lot of restaurants. And what we're going to do, really to me it's not about a stance. It's more about the safety of my team and the best that we can do for that. So we'll continue our protocols and we'll analyze it again in a week and analyze it again the next week, and keep going on down the road until we feel like everybody is going to be safe.

I can tell you this, the attitude that I have seen since the announcement has just been really, really good. We've been lucky here in Texas, we went through the snowstorm and now the weather is absolutely spectacular.

[14:45:04]

So sunshine and positive news always gets people happy. And my team can feel it. Everybody on my team is elated. We're excited. They know we're looking towards the end. We're not there yet, and we're going to keep working towards it.

WHITFIELD: All the best to you, your co-workers, colleagues, and of course all your customers. Tim Love, thanks so much.

LOVE: Yes, ma'am, thank you, have a great day.

WHITFIELD: All right, you too.

Coming up, the coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on children across the country. So what can you do to help them cope during these very trying times? I'll have some expert advice, straight ahead.

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WHITFIELD: This pandemic is taking a troubling toll on America's children. The CDC says the number of pediatric emergency room mental health visits have risen significantly since April of last year. And President Joe Biden's nominee for U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy says there are also other concerning signs.

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[14:50:06]

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL NOMINEE: The rise in depression, in anxiety and suicide that we've seen during this pandemic have been staggering and deeply concerning, because even before the pandemic we were struggling with a very, very high rate of mental illness, including among our children.

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WHITFIELD: Joining us right now, wellness expert Mallika Chopra. She's the author of a new book "Just Be You," an illustrated guide empowering kids, and their parents, of course, through meditation. She is also the daughter of Deepak Chopra. Mallika, good to see you.

MALLIKA CHOPRA, AUTHOR, "JUST BE YOU": Thank you for having me.

WHITFIELD: So this isn't the first book that you've written for kids, but what prompted this one?

WHITFIELD: I grew up with my father, Deepak Chopra, who taught us how to meditate when I was nine. So I'm a lifelong meditator. And I am also a parent of an 18-year-old and 16-year-old. And what I had seen even before the pandemic was the level of anxiety and stress that our kids face. So my job as a parent and as an educator is to share tools with kids and the parents who love them on meditation, mindfulness, but also social and emotional knowing and ultimately self-reflection. And that's what this book is about, self-reflection.

WHITFIELD: So you've been doing this, being mindful, meditating, since you were really young. So how do we introduce our kids who perhaps haven't had that kind of exposure, how do you introduce them to the idea, because it's tough verbally to try to convince your kids that maybe meditating would be good?

CHOPRA: Yes, so my first piece of advice to parents and teachers is think about your own practice, so do you practice something, and it can be as simple as taking a deep breath. Just a deep breath in and out. So just pausing helps us. And then we can expand it from that to three breaths or four breaths or body awareness exercises.

So the goal with the books that I've written is to give really simple exercises that can be one minute or less, as well as now on the Chopra app, we're presenting meditations for kids as well, everything from grounding, being in nature, having a mindful meal. So meditation doesn't have to be something that's daunting and overwhelming. It really can start really simple.

WHITFIELD: I love that. And I talked to your dad recently about the whole meditation, how you get started. And a lot of people think it means thinking of nothing, but he said, no, that's not it at all. It really is about being centered and paying attention to your breathing and finding the things that bring you pleasure.

CHOPRA: Yes, it's a misconception. We can't empty our mind, so I think people get overwhelmed with the thought of meditation because they say, oh, I can't settle it down. All we're doing is we're just slowing down our breath, slowing down our thoughts and getting more centered and anchored.

And I think that's the goal with this book as well, is that we also need to remember it's not just about slowing our breath, but ultimately it's helping kids feel empowered in who they are, in defining their story, and being confident. And I think as we get out of the pandemic now, kids are going to go back to school, there's going to be a change of even the routines that they've had at home. There is so much uncertainty. So the more tools we can give kids the better.

WHITFIELD: There's still a lot of anxiety that they're going to be facing. So Dr. Vivek Murthy says researchers need to study how this pandemic have affected kids so the right strategies can be implemented to address the fallout. Where do you think a good start is going to be?

CHOPRA: I think it's a very monumental problem, and thank God professionals like Dr. Murthy are leading this. He has talked a lot about loneliness. I think just watching my kids, also that reconnecting with people and what does that mean is something that's very important.

But also, just when they're anchored in themselves, then with all the uncertainty in the world, I think it helps. So we need to do a lot of research and put a lot of effort, and also support the teachers and other caregivers who are helping our kids as parents along with us get through this journey.

WHITFIELD: Oh, boy, and we are all in this journey together, that is for sure. Mallika Chopra, thank you so much. Great talking to you.

CHOPRA: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: And this programming note. In 1969 the Apollo 11 astronauts returned to earth, but their mission wasn't over. CNN's films "Apollo 11 Quarantine" tonight, 9:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

[14:54:6]

Thank you so much for being with me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The Newsroom continues with Ana Cabrera in a moment.

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ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Breaking news impacting millions of American families and businesses trying to get through this pandemic -- help is on the way in the form of a nearly $2 trillion COVID relief bill.