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Senate Passes Biden's $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill Along Party Lines; CNN Analysis: U.S. Could Reach Herd Immunity By Late Summer Through Vaccinations Alone; California Theme Parks & Arenas To Start Reopening April 1; Biden Administration Asks Facilities For Migrant Children To Open To Pre-Pandemic Levels; Texas Governor Stalls Efforts To Test Migrants For COVID; NYT & WSJ: Cuomo Aides Altered Data To Lower COVID Nursing Home Deaths By Nearly Half. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired March 6, 2021 - 15:00   ET


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.


It took an all-nighter on Capitol Hill to get this done, along with some fierce last-minute negotiations on unemployment benefits specifically but finally with blurry eyes, a vote happened along party lines, 50-49. All Democrats voted for it, all Republicans voted against it.

This is a major legislative victory for President Biden who made the passage of this bill his top domestic priority and now heads back to the House for a vote before it finally lands on his desk to be signed into law.

The president addressing the American people just a few minutes ago.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 and help is on the way. 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 lose 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.


CABRERA: CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on the Capitol Hill right now.

And, Manu, you were in and out of the Senate chamber as this marathon session was going on. What did it take on both sides to get this bill passed, and what happens now?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it took a lot of fraught negotiations among Democrats behind the scenes to get to the point where they are now. House and Senate Democrats, in fact, have been trying to resolve their differences privately for some time with the White House. We have not seen a lot of that in public because this has been done behind closed doors.

And when it moved -- after the House passed its version, then it moved over to the Senate. The Senate Democratic leaders tried to get their caucus all on board behind this proposal. They added sweeteners, they changed provisions, they thought they had all their members on board. Ultimately, they did, but it was difficult getting there, as was shown yesterday when one Democratic senator, West Virginia Virginia's Joe Manchin, refused to get behind a key proposal to extend jobless benefits. That caught Democratic leaders off guard, instead, they engaged in 12 hours of painstaking negotiations trying to get Manchin back on their side.

Ultimately they did, leading into a 13-hour voting session from last night into this morning, into early this afternoon where they ultimately passed a bill on straight party lines, a 50-49 vote.

Now, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer talked to reporters afterwards and I asked him about those problems with Joe Manchin and why those weren't resolved ahead of time.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: People have new differences all the time, but you notice 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 why shouldn't -- shouldn't that have been resolved on the front end?

SCHUMER: People make different -- 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.

And no one is going to pay attention to the fact -- I mean, well, I don't know about no one -- that eight hours is meaningless compared to the relief the American people are going to get. And if it helped us get to that, great. Unity, unity, unity. That's how we got this done.


RAJU: And, ultimately, what was in that plan in terms of jobless benefits would extend for $300 a week until September 6. And Joe Manchin assured there would be a cap on the amount that people can deduct that would be tax free. Certain households under a certain income threshold could deduct up to $10,200 of taxes -- from their taxes of those jobless benefits. But in addition to this bill, so much else, dealing with money for

vaccines, for schools, for states and cities, for direct payments for individuals of up to $1,400 under a certain income threshold. So, a lot on the line here on this bill for so many people waiting for relief. Republicans believed it was too much, too unwieldy, and they said that much less was needed in a time when the economy was ramping up.

Now they will take that argument to voters, because, Ana, this is going to become law on Tuesday when the House takes a final vote. They're going to send it to Joe Biden's desk and at that point, he'll sign it into law -- Ana.

CABRERA: And just a reminder, Americans did vote for a $1.4 trillion and a $2.3 trillion COVID relief bill under a Republican president prior to this.

Our chief congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, great reporting. We know you've got to be exhausted after the past 24-plus hours that was. Thank you so much.

Let's head over to CNN's Joe Johns at the White House where President Biden just spoke.


And, Joe, President Biden may have come into office talking unity, but this COVID relief bill passed directly on party lines. All Democrats voting for it. No Republicans, though, did.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and it's really a question about what's going to happen over the course of this president's term. It's new and anything could happen. But the fact of the matter is the president came out, gave a brief speech but it was a lot more than he said a week ago, prepared remarks. He talked about, among other things, this being a giant step forward toward fulfilling his promise to Americans that help is on the way.

He also said something we all know, it wasn't always pretty, including the fact that despite the president's talk about bipartisanship, the Democrats pushed this by -- through, I should say, on their own without any Republican support in the House or the Senate. So, after the president finished speaking, I asked him about that. Listen.


REPORTER: Why don't you think you could get a single Republican vote, and what was the drama of the last 24 hours including what Senator Manchin, tell you about the next four years?

BIDEN: It's going to be 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 is a lot of Republicans that came very close and had a lot of pressure on them. I still haven't given up. I'm getting this through.


JOHNS: The president also responded to a question about whether progressives might be upset because of all the compromises that were made in the bill and the president said the compromises did not change the substance of the bill.

Back to you, Ana.

CABRERA: Okay, Joe Johns, thank you.

So, the bill that just passed the Senate differs from the original House bill in three major ways. It narrows the eligibility for stimulus checks. It trims the federal boost to unemployment benefits and it removes the provision to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

So, who gets a check?

The full $1,400 payments will but to individuals making up to $75,000 a year. But they phase out entirely if you make $80,000 a more. And let's say you're a family of four making $150,000 or less, both parents will receive $1,400, and that's $2,800, of course, and $1,400 for each child for a total of $5,600.

Some families are also eligible for 2021 child tax credit, $3,600 for each child under 6 and $3,000 for each one under 18. Now, what happens if you're unemployed? Well, after those last-minute negotiations, you will get a $300 enhancement to your weekly unemployment benefits through September 6 and lower income earners will not have to pay taxes on about $10,000 of that.

What if you're a worker making minimum wage of $7.25 an hour? Unfortunately, you're out of luck. No federally mandated pay increase.

Food stamp recipients would see a 15 percent increase in benefits. That would continue now through September, instead of expiring at the end of June. If you're behind on your rent or your mortgage, this bill would send roughly $20 billion to state and local governments to help low-income households cover back rent and utility bills.

And if you own a small business, there's $15 billion set aside for long term low interest loans.

Joining us, Democratic senator from Alabama and CNN political commentator, Doug Jones, and CNN political commentator and columnist for "The Bulwark", Amanda Carpenter.

Senator, in the end, it wasn't a pretty process. Biden and the Democrats didn't get everything they wanted, but they can say the American people needed help and because we were in charge, we got it for you, without a single Republican. Own it, no?

DOUG JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it is a big deal. As Joe Biden would say, this is a big deal, without the colorful adjectives that he's used in the past, this was huge. Joe Biden ran on this, Democrats ran on this, and promising this to the American people. And they've delivered.

And it was not pretty. I know that the president would have loved to have had more votes, more bipartisan buy-in from members of Congress. Let me tell you something, Ana, this is a bipartisan bill, because there is overwhelming support, I believe, among Republicans across this country, including Republican state and local officials.

So simply because you didn't get members of Congress voting this way doesn't mean this bill doesn't have support across the country. And it's a great sign going forward, in his 45 days, to be able to deliver on something he promised.

CABRERA: And, Amanda, it is about two-thirds of Americans, according to polling, that supported this bill.


So, why would Republicans not want to be associated with COVID relief checks to families?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this -- this is another big spending bill. I think you're really right to point out in your introduction that it was just a year ago, almost, where everyone, all the Republicans supported Donald Trump's $2.2 trillion COVID rescue package.

And so doing this again, another trillion dollars, I think it sort of became a Republican team building exercise, because in the wake of Donald Trump, there's a lot of Republicans looking for a reset, and somehow trying to reclaim the mantle of fiscal responsibility again, even though largely no one cared about it during the Trump years. So I think there was a bit of that going on.

But here's the kind of high-altitude challenge. We're going to have two presidents who had basically $2 trillion COVID rescue bills. So who spent it better? There is going to be a story to tell about the spending, where it went, how it was targeted, and how COVID was ultimately defeated.

And I've got to say the Democrats seem better positioned, even though I as a Republican would object to a lot of the non-related spending that will be going to schools, that will be spent not until next year, child tax care credit, like, OK, but most people aren't going to care about that. All they're going to care about is who opened up America again. And Joe Biden seems better positioned going into the summer.

CABRERA: Senator Joe Manchin completely exposed the razor-thin margin that Democrats have when he raised objections yesterday. They ultimately had to cut a deal on unemployment benefits, but it took several hours, it was like almost 12 hours. The Democratic Party, you know, they need Manchin. Does the party need him more than he needs them?

JONES: No, the party needs everybody that they can get. They need Joe Manchin. They need Bernie Sanders. They need Angus King as an independent as well. They need everybody they can get in order to deliver on the promises that President Biden ran on and won on for the American people.

He also needs Republican buy-in on some of this. I quite frankly am a little bit perplexed and I think Amanda may be right about the reset. But there's a lot of things in this bill that Republicans could have gotten their arms around even though it was a big spending bill. And I think the challenge for both Democrats and Republicans going forward now is can they work together going forward on issues like immigration, on issues like voting rights, on issues that are going to be major spending bills yet to come.

The president has already started reaching out to Republicans on infrastructure. So I think now that we've got an impeachment behind us, the insurrection, we're examining, and now we've got the COVID package. Now, you're going to see I think a lot of trying to bridge these gaps between Republicans and Democrats because that's Joe Biden's strong suit, I believe.

CABRERA: Amanda, something that got a lot of attention on the floor last night was the moment when Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona sided against her own party. And take a look at the video, here's the move. She gave a thumbs-down to increasing the minimum wage. The manner she did it, it lit up the Internet, drew comparisons to John McCain's iconic thumbs down during the health care debate, minus the praise.

What did you think?

CARPENTER: I think the hubbub over that was frankly ridiculous. I understand there's a lot of progressives who were upset she wasn't supporting the minimum wage hike. Frankly, that had no business in a spending bill. Raising the minimum wage is a mandate for the states, it doesn't have to do with federal spending in that regard.

And I don't understand. It is a common way of voting, to do thumbs up and thumbs down. That's what she did.

So I think it's a little sexist, the treatment that she got. I don't know if it was because the outfit she wore, or because she bent her knees a little bit, but she voted how she saw fit. And so, I think, you know, attack her on the merits of the policy, if you want, but not the style.

CABRERA: Let's talk more about the policy on that particular vote, because seven Democrats and an independent who caucuses with them, Angus King, voted against the amendment last night to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But progressives are vowing to fight on.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): We are not giving up on this. We are going to come back with vote after vote. And one way or the other, we are going to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. That is what the American people want. And that is what the American people need.

REP. ILHAM OMAR (D-MN): We're not going to be able to blame Republicans for our inability to deliver on the promises that we made. This is just us now negotiating amongst ourselves. I don't know how this makes any political sense. And it certainly does not make any policy sense.


CABRERA: The polls do show this is what the vast majority of Americans want.

Senator, will Democrats pay the price politically if they break this promise?

JONES: I think there's still a lot of work to be done on the minimum wage. People forget, this wasn't a vote purely on a minimum wage. This was on a procedural vote. And the American public often gets confused about that and quite frankly I think folks on the left and the right often get confused and they cast a procedural vote as one for or against.

There are a number of folks that I know voted against that amendment, trying to get that in this package, that are for a $15 minimum wage. There's a lot of work to be done.

This is something that I do think there can be reaching across the aisle to get some accommodation on this. I think people across this country need a raise in the minimum wage. How you go about doing that is going to be a challenge.

But I don't think this is dead by any stretch of the imagination just based on one vote 45 days after a new president and a new Congress take over.

CABRERA: Former Senator Doug Jones and Amanda Carpenter, my thanks to both of you.

And we have this just in, the CDC says 2.9 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered just today. That's the most ever reported in a single day. This news as a new analysis says the U.S. will reach herd immunity by late summer through vaccinations alone. This good news, next.



CABRERA: There is hope on the horizon in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. A new CNN analysis of federal data finds the U.S. could reach herd immunity by late summer through vaccinations alone. Herd immunity being the point at which enough people are protected against the disease so that it cannot continue to spread.

Now, this is factoring in the current pace of vaccinations, roughly 2 million shots a day. This is what we're averaging. The CDC says nearly 3 million doses were administered in the last 24 hours. And President Biden reiterating just last hour that the U.S. will have enough vaccine supply for every adult in the nation by the end of May.

All of this happening as signs of new reopenings begin to emerge across the U.S. California announcing this week that amusement parks, concert and sport venues, could start to reopen April 1st.

I want to bring in CNN's Paul Vercammen at Magic Mountain Amusement Park, also now a mass vaccination site in Valencia, California.

Paul, the roller coasters aren't running. But what's happening on the ground with the vaccine?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're going to show you right now. As you point out, the roller coaster is now dormant, but it could come roaring back to life shortly. That's because here in California, they have announced if a county can move into the second least -- the second severe tier, the red tier, which California counties are on their way, most of them, then they can operate at theme parks at 15 percent and at baseball stadiums, professional baseball stadiums, at 20 percent.

How do they get here? Well, one of the reasons is what's going on behind me. Here at Magic Mountain, this is a mass vaccination site. They've moved through 2,300 people per day, a day like today, they have that many reservations. And now in L.A. county, most of these are first vaccinations but they've vaccinated somewhere around 2.5 million people.

So this is a developing story, if ever that banner was fitting. They're all trying to sort this out including right here in L.A. County. And they think, talking to fire officials, that they can run the park, if this happens, as well as the vaccine site, in this very same parking lot.


KENICHI HASKETT, SECTION CHIEF, LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We would like to keep vaccinating here. We'll have to work with our partners here at the park, at Magic Mountain. They want to continue this relationship. So if it doesn't work and we can't hit that throughput of at least 4,000 per day at Magic Mountain, we have other sites identified in Santa Clarita t open up and transition to other sites.


VERCAMMEN: So, let's talk about another site in Los Angeles County, Dodger Stadium. If allowed to reopen at the red tier, that would be 20 percent attendance, if they can move down into the orange eventually, 33 percent. Then yellow, 67 percent.

This is the largest vaccine site in Los Angeles County, and indications are they'll be able to work things out with the Dodgers to coexist with them and keep vaccinating people. And then there's California's huge concert business, especially here in southern California, the Hollywood Bowl saying that they are very encouraged by all of this good news.

Many of these venues are now just trying to hash things out and prepare for what could be an April 1st reopening. We're all wondering, am I going to hear "Maneater" or "Private Eyes"? Some Hall and Oates at the Hollywood Bowl.

Back to you now, Ana.


CABRERA: I love the throwback, Hall and Oates.

Thanks so much, Paul Vercammen. Good to see you.

Other states also rolling back restrictions, but in a much bigger way. The governor of Texas announcing this week his state is 100 percent open. He has lifted the mask mandate and any type of business will be able to open at total capacity starting next week.

Just a couple of states over, Mississippi is doing the exact same thing, no masks, no capacity limits.

Here's the thing. It's not like either of these states is doing incredibly well in terms of slowing spread or administering vaccines. Take a look. The outbreak in Texas is currently growing in the last week. It has averaged more new cases than all but one state, its seven-day average of COVID deaths only behind one other state as well.

As far as the positivity rate, both Texas and Mississippi are at 12 percent. As for people getting vaccinated, both Texas and Mississippi are ranking nearly dead last. So this raises an obvious question, is now the time to let up?

An analogy I think of as a runner, are we nearing the end of the race, the finish line is in sight, and then we're suddenly deciding to walk?


Dr. Celine Gounder joins us now. She is an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist. She also hosts the podcast "Epidemic."

Dr. Gounder, does it make sense to get rid of mask mandates and open everything up right now?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Ana, I love your analogy because I think that's really right. This has been this long marathon, this as long over the past year. And we're almost at the finish line with the arrival of three highly effective and safe vaccines.

However, this is really not the time to be lifting mask mandates and opening up indoor dining, in particular because there is the spread of this new U.K. mutant variant that is much more transmissible. And we've already seen that this new variant is now 20 percent of all COVID in the country, and it is an even larger proportion of COVID that we're seeing in states like Texas and Florida. And that's really alarming, because that strain is increasing exponentially, it's spiking up. And so, we are probably right now on the tipping point of another surge.

CABRERA: So, I'm curious what you think about how Connecticut is handling this. It's removing capacity restrictions for a lot of businesses, like restaurants, gyms, museums, churches. But it is keeping its mask mandate. And right now its average positivity rate is just 2 percent. It also has one of the highest vaccination rates.

So, is this a rollback or reopening you can support?

GOUNDER: I think it's more measured. If you have the mask still in place, if you have a much higher vaccination coverage rate and you have a much lower infection positivity rate, your risks are just much lower. So what we have to do is, the higher the level of community transmission, the more protections you need to layer, the more things you need to put in place to prevent transmission. But once you get that rate down, you can start to lift some of these measures.

CABRERA: I want to turn to vaccines. We've learned that the mayor of Detroit initially turned down an allotment of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Here is why he said he did that.


MIKE DUGGAN, DETROIT MAYOR: 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 the residents of the city of Detroit get the best.


CABRERA: He later walked that back, but does his rationale have any merit?

GOUNDER: So I think it's very important to understand that the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all equivalent. We do not vaccinate to prevent the sniffles. For example, with the measles, we vaccinate to prevent pneumonia and brain infections and blindness. You don't use that vaccine to prevent the rash that you get from the measles.

And similarly here with COVID, we're really trying to prevent hospitalization and death. And by that metric, all three vaccines are equivalent. They were 100 percent effective in clinical trials in preventing hospitalization and death. And the other key point to make here is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was also studied in South Africa and in Latin America where we've seen the emergence of this new, more resistant mutant strains and it was effective there too.

CABRERA: We have some new vaccination numbers. So, let me just put them up. Right now, we're now averaging more than 2 million shots per day. The White House says 2.9 million were administered today alone, one in 12 people are fully vaccinated now, one in six are partially vaccinated. How are we doing?

GOUNDER: I mean, that's astounding, how far we have come in the last couple of months here. You know, I'm really encouraged by the rate at which we've picked up our vaccinations to hit 2.9 million in the last day is amazing. Our vaccine supply is also going to be opening up tremendously.

My main concern remains around equity. And we do know that black and brown Americans are lagging behind in terms of vaccination coverage. And that's a combination of issues with access as well as confidence in the vaccine. So I do hope that attention is paid to that particular issue moving forward.

CABRERA: Dr. Celine Gounder, as always, thanks so much.

Coming up, an influx of migrant children leads to a growing crisis for the Biden administration at the border. We'll take you there live, right after this.



CABRERA: The Biden administration is asking facilities caring for migrant children to open to pre-pandemic levels. The reason? A memo obtained by CNN cites extraordinary circumstances amid a rising number of children trying to cross the U.S. southern border alone.

Former President Trump seizing on the border influx, and in a statement, saying, quote:

"Our border is now totally out of control thanks to the disastrous leadership of Joe Biden. A mass incursion into the country by people who should not be here is happening on an hourly basis, getting worse by the minute. The Biden administration must act immediately to end the border nightmare that they have unleashed onto our nation."

The White House responding they don't take advice on immigration from Trump.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Brownsville, Texas.

Polo, give us a reality check on what is going on there at the border.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, we've been here before. We've seen these kinds of increases, especially when it comes to these minors.

But obviously, the difference is we're still in the middle of this pandemic. So the administration right now in Washington really struggling to manage this growing number of unaccompanied minors that have shown up not only here in Brownsville, Texas, but up and down the border.


Exactly what are we talking about? Take a look at the numbers alone, coming out from the Department of Health and Human Services. Now showing, at last check, roughly 7,700 unaccompanied children have been in the care of HHS.

What's also important is to put this up against the capacity. This is about 13,000 less beds, about 13,650 or so, that would have been available pre-pandemic.

So what the administration is doing right now is basically alerting authorities up and down the border and authorities at Customs and Border Protection, saying because of those extraordinary circumstances, that you mentioned a while ago, it is possible we'll have to return to pre-pandemic capacity in terms of housing these children -- Ana?

CABRERA: The governor of Texas recently blamed migrants for spreading COVID in his state.

I want to play this for our viewers.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): 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, taking that COVID to other states in the United States. The Biden administration must stop importing COVID into our country.


CABRERA: Polo, bring us the facts.

SANDOVAL: It is not as simple as what you just heard from Governor Abbott, Ana. Being here on the ground, actually seeing it firsthand, it really depends how those migrants made it here into the United States.

I'll give you an example. Remember, for the last year and a half or so, we have seen many families right across the border from where I'm at right now having to wait there in the Mexico in these migrant camps because of the Trump initiated Migrant Protection Protocol back in 2019.

Fast forward to February 2021, just last year, and those migrants are now being processed, and their asylum claims are being heard in the United States.

They cannot step one foot into the United States, according to authorities here on the ground, without testing positive -- I'm sorry -- without testing negative for the coronavirus on the Mexican side. So that's the key difference.

And then you have those that are the so-called interior releases. Those are the families we have seen sitting in these chairs at the bus station that you'll find here in the heart of downtown Brownsville.

These are the families that have made their way across the border, not using a port of entry, then surrendered to U.S. authorities and then petitioned for asylum.

Many of those families, especially those that do not have kids, they are returned to Mexico. But for the families that do make it -- that are released from CBP

custody, they end up waiting in places like this, waiting for their bus ticket, waiting for that plane ticket.

And that's where that COVID concern kicks in. Here in Brownsville, it's the city that's responsible for actually testing these families and making sure they are not COVID positive before they're allowed to continue on their way.

But there is certainly a concern here that some of these families test positive and are still allowed to make it into the country.

Though it's a very important thing to point out here, Ana -- I'll leave you with this -- it's still a very small percentage of those families. The mayor of Brownsville saying just a little over 100 out of 1,700 migrants have tested positive recently.

CABRERA: On top of that, we know the Biden administration, DHS, has been pushing funding for FEMA to be able to provide money for these local jurisdictions or on-the-ground organizations to do the testing. But it needs a sign-off from the state and the government is holding that up. That's part of the story also.

Polo Sandoval, thank you so much for all of that reporting.

And now to the northeast. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo weathering multiple scandals as the state's attorney general orders all evidence be preserved related to sexual harassment allegations.



CABRERA: Welcome back.

A major sign the investigations into the sexual harassment allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is ramping up.

A spokesperson for the New York attorney general confirming she has asked the governor's office to preserve evidence related to the allegations.

This comes as one of the accusers, Charlotte Bennett, shares more of her story.

CNN's Jason Carroll reports.



JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Charlotte Bennett providing more details surrounding allegations New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed her, and what she said happened after she reported it. BENNETT: It felt to me like if I got a new job, we didn't have to

investigate this. And I really did not want to it be investigated. I was terrified.

CARROLL: Bennett is Cuomo's former executive assistant. The 25-year- old detailed private conversations she said she had with the governor June 5th in his office.

BENNETT: He wanted a girlfriend. When he said he was lonely, I mentioned his daughters had been around. And he also rejected that and said, yes, I love my daughters, but that's -- I want a girlfriend.

CARROLL: Bennett said she felt the governor was trying to groom her through his line of questioning and said she was called back into Cuomo's office the next day.

BENNETT: I was terrified. I was shaking. I thought, any moment, something can happen, and I have no power here.

CARROLL: Days after the alleged incident, Bennett said she reported it to the governor's chief of staff and was moved to a different position, not working directly with Cuomo.

NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS ANCHOR: What do you think should happen to Andrew Cuomo?

BENNETT: I think he should start telling the truth.

I'm really confident in this investigation. But if this investigation finds that he has conducted himself this way, which he absolutely has, because I have contemporaneous evidence, he should step down.

CARROLL: When asked to comment, a spokesperson for the governor referred CNN to his Wednesday press conference.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): I'm sorry. I'm sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone. I never intended it. And I will be the better for this experience.

CARROLL: All this as the "Wall Street Journal" and the "New York Times" both publishing reports alleging the governor's aides changed a state health department report in June 2020 to hide a higher death toll among nursing home residents.


The initial report, not made public at the time, listed deaths at long-term care facilities in the state at nearly 10,000, a stark contrast to what the Cuomo administration was publicly saying about those deaths, putting the count at about half that number.

The administration's public count only included residents who died at long-term care facilities, not residents who got sick and later died at hospitals.

Special counsel to Governor Cuomo say the administration consistently followed federal guidelines, saying, "The out-of-facility data was admitted after DOH" -- the Department of Health -- "could not confirm it had been adequately verified. This did not change the conclusion of the report."


CABRERA: That was Jason Carroll reporting.

A royal family feud about to come to a head with a primetime interview as Meghan Markle tells Oprah the palace perpetuated lies about her.

And Stanley Tucci eats and drinks his way to the second-biggest city in Italy. Explore Milan on "STANLEY TUCCI, SEARCHING FOR ITALY," tomorrow night at 9:00, right here on CNN.



CABRERA: Anticipation is building and the world will be watching when Oprah Winfrey's interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle airs tomorrow night on CBS.

It is the couple's first interview together since they've stepped back from their royal family duties.

The duchess of Sussex tells Oprah she is talking now because she can.


MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: So as an adult who lived a really independent life, to then go into this construct that is different than I think what people imagine it to be. It's really liberating to be able to have the right and the privilege, in some ways, to be able to say, yes, I'm ready to talk.

OPRAH WINFREY, FORMER TALK SHOW HOST: And say it for yourself.

MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: And say it yourself.

WINFREY: And not have to consult with anybody at this point.

MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: Yes. To be able to make a choice on your own and to be able to speak for itself.


CABRERA: This interview comes as Buckingham Palace suddenly announced this week it will investigate allegations that Meghan bullied several staff members in 2018.

CNN's Anna Stewart joining us now.

Anna, the timing of these allegations can't be ignored. Just how candid do we expect the couple to be?

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in terms of allegations coming days before the Oprah Winfrey interview.

It was extraordinary that unnamed sources in "The Times" article, who made the claim and said they've done it because of the Oprah Winfrey interview. They feel their views haven't been heard. They want to put them out there now.

The Sussex team has dismissed the smear campaign, calling the claims defamatory. There's been a lot of back and forth, I can tell you.

What's been so interesting though is the claims made by these unmade sources had to do with the fact they didn't have a voice. That's exactly how the duchess of Sussex felt when she was in the U.K.

Take a listen.


MEGHAN, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I don't know how they could expect that, after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there's an active role that The Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us.

And if that comes with risk of losing things, I mean, there's a lot that's been lost already.


STEWART: That is one explosive sound byte. The language she uses is so interesting, saying "The Firm, which refers to the royal family. And that question was also about the palace, which is the household, the staff, as well as the family.

And the idea they played an active role in perpetuating falsehoods. Maybe they haven't lied but they've allowed speculative stories that are out there.

We did ask Buckingham Palace for a reaction to the clip and it was "no comment." Perhaps the palace are waiting to hear the full interview and get a bit more context.

As are we all, Ana. We haven't gotten long to wait, do we? Twenty-four hours.

CABRERA: The anticipation is building. They did a long interview. I'm curious what else could possibly be within.

STEWART: Two hours. It will be 1:00 a.m. in London, Ana.


STEWART: It's going to be extraordinary.

CABRERA: You'll be glued like the rest of us, with popcorn in hand.

Thank you, Anna Stewart.

This year will mark 15 years of "CNN Heroes." And this week, we're introducing you the very first "CNN Hero" of 2021.

Growing up in Maine, Lynda Doughty developed a passion for the array of marine animals living along the beautiful there. So when state government funding vanished and local organizations working to protect these animals closed their doors, she dove in to fill the gap.

Meet the field rescuer.


LYNDA DOUGHTY, CNN HERO: Releasing a seal is really bittersweet. And as much as I'm excited to see that animal be released, it's also hard in the sense of seeing the animal now gone.

Do you guys know that you're going back to the ocean?

So any seal that we rescue, the ultimate goal is for the animal to be released back into the ocean.


I feel this intense responsibility to help these animals. And really, this is what I'm on this earth to do.





CABRERA: To see the threats to these seals and how Lynda is helping them, and to nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero," go to right now.


CABRERA: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.


Let's being with our breaking news. Money on the way for struggling American families and for small businesses hurt by the pandemic.

The U.S. Senate pulled an all-nighter to finally pass President Biden's massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.