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Senate Passes $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill; Race To Vaccinate Intensifies As Some States Relax COVID Rules; Trump Appointee Charged For Role In Deadly Capitol Riot; Newly Released Bodycam Video Shows Man Crying Out To Officers Before Death: "I Can't Breathe"; Interview With Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Biden: Relief Checks Will Start Going Out This Month; Pope Francis Holds Historic Meeting With A Revered Muslim Cleric. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 6, 2021 - 18:00   ET




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

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It obviously wasn't nice, it wasn't always pretty, but it was so desperately needed.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The Senate have never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way or through a less rigorous process.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. says it has vaccinated nearly three million people today, but the warning remains to not let your guard down.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, C.D.C. DIRECTOR: I know the idea of relaxing mask wearing and getting back to everyday activities is appealing, but we're not there yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pope Francis is second day in Iraq began with a historic private visit in Najaf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sunday, the Pope is up early again, heading to Mosul to pray in a church destroyed by ISIS.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Saturday.

And tonight, help is on the way finally for American families. The divided Senate finally passing President Biden's number one priority, a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Most of that money going to millions of individual bank accounts, $1,400.00 per person, including children and households that qualify.


BIDEN: 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.


BROWN: But it passed very narrowly and with a lot of give and take between Senate Democrats and Republicans.

CNN's Jessica Dean is on Capitol Hill for us tonight. So Jessica, how soon could people get these checks?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, President Biden is pledging that some families could start to receive money in their bank accounts this month. So this is going to move rather quickly from here.

It goes over to the House, they're going to vote on that, the changes that were made on Tuesday, and then it's going to go to President Biden's desk. They're up against this March 14th deadline when unemployment benefits run out.

And we are told by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they do expect for that to be on President Biden's desk well before that March 14th date.

As you mentioned, a massive $1.9 trillion bill, this bill touches almost every aspect of the American economy in some way, shape or form.

You've got the $1,400.00 direct payments going to those who are eligible, but you also have money going to schools to get them reopened. You have a lot of money going to cities, states, and also counties that they can use in a lot of different ways.

They've got some latitude there with how they can use that money. Of course, vaccination distribution plans, making sure that they get as many shots into as many arms as possible.

You have money that is going toward a child tax break, that's going to hopefully what people are hoping will lift millions of children out of poverty for that child tax credit. So again, it's sweeping in terms of what it touches.

But again, it passed on that very partisan 50 to 49 vote in the Senate after hours and hours, well over 24 hours of back and forth.

Here is Majority Leader Schumer earlier today.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Now that we're in the majority, they don't seem to want to work with us. But we're going to get it done anyway. We prefer them to work with us. We want them to work with us. Maybe

they'll change their minds after this. But we're going to get it done regardless because America needs it and that's what we did.

So we didn't stop. We didn't let anything get in our way.


DEAN: And again, what's remarkable about this, President Biden originally asking, Pam, for $1.9 trillion. That's what he is getting by the time this is all said and done.

Again, going back to the House next. There are a few changes that were made, namely, that $15.00 minimum wage was stripped from the bill. We talked a lot about that in the last week.

Also, they made changes to unemployment benefits that will now be $300.00 stretching through September. The first $10,200.00 I believe, will be tax free for people who qualify for that. So that's very important to people and then also they narrowed the eligibility of who will be getting those $1,400.00 checks.

But again, Pam, the key takeaway. This moves very quickly from here and families can expect to start getting those payments within the month -- Pam.


BROWN: That is such a relief for millions of Americans. Jessica, thank you so much for that.

Now, let's go to Arlette Saenz at the White House. Arlette, the COVID relief package could be on Joe Biden's desk next week. It will be his first major legislative win. Can we expect him to go on a victory lap selling this package to Americans?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, we started to see President Biden do that today, as he talked about how this package that passed the Senate is essentially the latest step in helping deliver his promise that help is on the way for Americans amid this pandemic.

And over in a speech at the White House, the President went through a list of what Americans can expect from this plan ranging from things like that $1,400.00 stimulus check to the enhanced unemployment benefits.

And a short while ago, the President also got a congratulatory message from his former boss, former President Barack Obama who tweeted "Elections matter, and we are seeing why. Congratulations to the Biden administration and to the American people on a COVID Relief Bill that will improve the lives of families across the country."

The former President went on to say that this is a reminder of why it's so important to vote. But as you guys talked about, this bill passed without one vote from a Republican, even though President Biden has long prided himself as someone who can draw bipartisan support.

And our colleague Joe Johns was over at the White House earlier today and had the chance to ask the President about that. Take a listen.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Why don't you think you could a single Republican vote? And what does the drama of the last 24 hours, including with Senator Manchin tell you about the next four years?

BIDEN: They are going to be good. I am going to succeed. We are going to succeed moving forward.

Look, the American people strongly support the bill. That's the key here, and that's going to continue to seep down to the public, including from our Republican friends.

There's a lot of Republicans that came very close, and got a lot of pressure on them. I still haven't given up on getting their support.


SAENZ: So the President expressing some optimism -- the optimism about working with Republicans down the road, but for now, his eye is clearly on this COVID relief package as they are trying to get it across the finish line in the House so he can mark that possible win with his first major legislative accomplishment -- Pamela.

BROWN: Arlette, thank you so much, reporting for us live.

And for many Americans, the COVID Relief Bill will help, but the worry won't go away and that is important to remember.

Many small businesses are struggling right now and many are waiting and hoping that a new round of government backed loans will help keep the lights on, but time is running out.


BARBARA THIGPEN, SALON OWNER: There was definitely a moment where I was trying to decide if it had to be my child's college fund or the business. And then I soon realized that without the business being here, there'd be no way to replace his college fund.

DIANE BONDAREFF, OWNER, DIANE BONDAREFF PHOTOGRAPHY: These are the things that keep me up at three o'clock in the morning, wondering what I'm going to do and if I don't have the funds to stay here, I may -- you know, I may have to leave.

FORTUNA SUNG, CO-OWNER, SHAPESHIFTER LAB: Having the venue close, I would be very upset because it's basically our lifetime savings that we've put into it and everything has evaporated.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: Well, so far $156 billion in loans have been handed out, but

hundreds of thousands of businesses may not get approved by the March 31st deadline.

And as new COVID variants get a foothold in the U.S. and some states relax measures to reduce the spread, infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm worries, quote, "We are walking into the mouth of the monster."

But there is some good news, new polling that shows that vaccine hesitancy is rapidly declining. Last September, only 13 percent of U.S. adults said they'd get the shot as soon as it was available. Well, that number more than doubled to 27 percent by December to 43 percent in early January to 57 percent now saying they've already gotten the vaccine or will do so as soon as they are eligible.

CNN's Natasha Chen joins me now with the very latest on this race between science and this killer virus -- Natasha.

CHEN: Yes, Pamela, and some places are about to get a leg up that includes Mercedes Benz stadium here in Atlanta, which come March 24th is going to be a F.E.M.A. supported vaccination site. The goal is to increase the capacity by more than 10 times the number of doses currently administered per week, so that effort is going well.

But the effort to keep people at home and socially distance, a little more difficult. Tomorrow, the NBA All-Star game is being played next door at State Farm Arena and despite the mayor and the NBA Commissioner telling people to watch this from home, that hasn't stopped folks from promoting and attending parties in town.



NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At the current pace of about two million vaccine doses administered per day, the U.S. could reach herd immunity by late summer through vaccinations alone.

CNN analysis shows 70 percent of the U.S. population could be fully vaccinated by the end of July and 85 percent by mid-September.

Experts estimate between 70 and 85 percent of the population must be protected to suppress the spread of coronavirus.

There's hope on the horizon for people like Peggy Nickola who is now fully vaccinated. She is hugging her son and daughter-in-law for the first time in a year.

PEGGY NICKOLA, LIVES IN RETIREMENT COMMUNITY: I keep saying to everybody is if you have a family that cares about you, you're already way ahead and my kids have been extremely wonderful.

CHEN (voice over): As many states are now expanding vaccine eligibility beyond the elderly, Dr. Anthony Fauci clarified it is better to vaccinate people ahead of their turn than to let doses go to waste due to canceled appointments or logistical issues.

One challenge for vaccination sites is knowing how many doses they'll get each week. Fulton County, Georgia is one of the places about to get a huge boost in resources and predictability with the help of F.E.M.A., a steady flow of vaccine shipments to ramp up vaccinations at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

DR. LYNN PAXTON, DISTRICT HEALTH DIRECTOR, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: With this new initiative, the vaccine is coming and we can handle definitely 6,000 a day.

CHEN (voice over): The State of California announced Friday that theme parks in counties with lower virus spread can reopen at 15 percent capacity to California residents only beginning April 1st.

JORDAN HANSON, THEME PARK VISITOR: I really think it's time I think enough people are starting to get vaccinated, I think California needs it. Like, look at how dead it is out here.

CHEN (voice over): Connecticut will keep its mask mandate, but allow some businesses like restaurants to reopen at full capacity with social distancing requirements.

West Virginia is doing the same, but allowing bars under those relaxed rules, too. Health experts are troubled by that.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY: The one place you take your mask off is at restaurants and bars, right? So why would you say we have a mask mandate, but you can hold to full capacity.

At the end of the day, that's where you're going to see transmissions.

CHEN (voice over): Meanwhile, some states are completely lifting mask mandates: Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa, Montana and Texas where the Governor there says it is safe to reopen at 100 percent starting Wednesday.


CHEN (on camera): After announcing the relaxation of those rules, Texas Governor Greg Abbott alleged without evidence that migrants coming into Texas were exposing the state's residents to coronavirus.

At the same time, Dr. Anthony Fauci told MSNBC today, undocumented people in the U.S. should get a vaccine when it's available to them. He said the Department of Homeland Security has made it clear, there is no punitive element associated with anyone getting a vaccine -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right, Natasha Chen, thank you for bringing us the latest there from Atlanta.

And coming up later tonight, we have footage from the Apollo 11 mission that hasn't ever been seen until now. And it will probably resonate more than ever today. Apollo 11 quarantine takes us back to the summer of 1969, and the

extraordinary conditions Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins endured when they returned from the moon.

The Director of that new CNN film, Todd Douglas Miller joins me with more of that unseen footage and this incredible story of human endurance, sacrifice and resilience, something so many of us have had to be a part of this last year. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN NEWSROOM.

And also ahead tonight, the F.B.I. reveals the threat of domestic terrorism is now worse than ever. Reformed neo-Nazi recruiter, Frank Meeink tells us what it takes to break the cycle of hate. That's coming up next hour.

But before all of that, Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing intense pressure to quit. What his attorney is now saying about a claim the Governor didn't complete sexual harassment training. That's up next.



BROWN: Shocking details emerging this weekend from the investigation of the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection, shocking because of who was among the violent rioters and where that person was employed at the time.

Katelyn Polantz is CNN's crime and justice reporter, Katelyn, Good to see you. Give us all the details. Who are we talking about here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Hi, Pam. We're talking about a man named Federico Klein.

Now, this is someone who worked on the Trump Campaign in 2016, and then he earned an appointment into the Trump State Department. So he became a mid-level official in the Trump State Department and stayed for several years even after the insurrection.

Now in the insurrection, he is accused of taking part and also holding a police riot shield as part of this insurrection as people were pushing against the police line to get into the building. That's a slightly more serious charge than many that we've been seeing.

And after the insurrection, Klein then resigned from the State Department, but left only at the end of the presidency. So there is nothing abnormal about the way he left there.

He was later identified by people who spotted him on F.B.I. wanted posters, and also a former State Department coworker.

And so the F.B.I. was able to arrest him on Thursday, bring him into jail, and then he is going to be in court again this upcoming week as the Justice Department is trying to keep him detained in jail.

BROWN: And Katelyn, something else related to the Capitol riot investigation, "The New York Times" is reporting that the F.B.I. has found a clear line of contact between a Trump associate and the Proud Boys. What more can you tell us about that?


POLANTZ: Well, we don't have a lot of details on this or what it means at this time, but what "The New York Times" reported yesterday was that a member of the Proud Boys, there was a call between a member of the Proud Boys and someone associated with the Trump White House.

Now, the Proud Boys is an extremist group that we do know have ties to people like Roger Stone, people in the Trump and the White House's communications circles, and this also comes whenever CNN has learned with our own reporting that lawmakers and rioters were in communication. That's something that investigators had swept up in all of the data that they're bringing in.

Now, at this time, we don't know of any open investigations into anyone in the political sphere, who wasn't taking part in the riot more directly or making threats in the way that we're seeing people charged.

But this is the sort of thing that we're going to be seeing in this investigation, as more information is being gathered by authorities, not just about what happened in the building, but also what happened in the days leading up to January 6th -- Pam.

BROWN: Yes, the F.B.I. scrutinizing everything. Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much.

Well, an attorney for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is denying a claim made by one of his accusers, that the Governor did not complete sexual harassment training himself.

Charlotte Bennett says one of Cuomo's aides actually finished the training for him. Alexandra Field joins me live from New York and Alexandra, this comes as the Governor faces another call for his resignation from a one-time ally.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Pamela, and this one is significant. We're talking about the "Albany Times Union," a paper that has endorsed the Governor in the past now calling on him to resign, saying that he has squandered the public trust.

This of course, as scrutiny is intensifying around the Governor regarding the state's handling of the reporting of COVID-related deaths in nursing homes, and also, as we learn more details about these allegations of sexual harassment. Charlotte Bennett the 25-year- old former aide to the Governor coming forward this week detailing more of her allegations on camera with CBS News, calling the Governor a textbook abuser.

We did hear from Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this week. He did issue an apology for making anyone feel uncomfortable saying that that was unintentional. You also alluded to the fact that a lawyer for Charlotte Bennett has a

-- rather a lawyer for the Governor has also rejected claims that Bennett made in the interview with CBS. She says that the Governor did not complete state mandated sexual harassment training. The Governor has said that he did complete that training.

Now an attorney for the Governor saying that he did complete that training rejecting Bennett's claims. More fallout continuing here.

You also have an attorney for Bennett, Debra Katz, who has asked the State's Attorney General to instruct the Cuomo administration to preserve any documents related to Bennett's allegations and any notes concerning meetings that she had with top aides in the Cuomo administration.

That letter details two meetings in June in which Bennett reported behavior that made her feel uncomfortable. She told top administration officials that she believed that the Governor had sexually propositioned her and that she felt quote-unquote, "terrified."

The Governor's special counsel, Beth Garvey has responded to that, Pamela, saying that she says that Charlotte Bennett was treated with respect and sensitivity, that she was given a transfer to a job that she wanted, that she was consulted about the resolution of the case there, and that she expressed satisfaction.

Certainly, Charlotte Bennett not appearing satisfied at this point. We're going to be learning a lot more-- Pamela.

BROWN: We certainly will. Alexandra Field, thank you for reporting on the latest on the fallout there from New York.

And as the George Floyd murder trial is set to start, a new video, a disturbing video has surfaced showing another man crying out to officers that he can't breathe right before he died.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee joins me next to talk about her fight to stop police brutality.



BROWN: Well, three years before George Floyd who cried out "I can't breathe" as an officer knelt on his neck, a similar scene played out in California. Newly released body cam video shows the moments before the death of 41-year-old Joseph Perez back in 2017.

And we're going to show you this video, but first I want to explain what you're going to see and also warn you that it is very disturbing.

Fresno officer saw Perez acting erratically saying that they later handcuffed him for his own safety once he became uncooperative.

Police say Perez was grinding his forehead into the sidewalk. Paramedics arrived and that's when a blue plastic backboard is placed on Perez's back while an officer is instructed to sit on it as they secure him.

You'll hear him crying out, "I can't breathe" as authorities restrain him face down on the ground.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) strap him, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joseph, just relax, OK? Come on, buddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joseph, you OK? Joseph, you all right? You all right, dude? Joseph?


BROWN: According to the Fresno Police Chief, Perez went into medical distress during the process and life-saving efforts in the ambulance failed. The county coroner ruled his death a homicide, saying a high level of methamphetamine was also a contributing factor. Perez's family has filed a civil suit against the Fresno authorities who responded to the scene.

Well, that video is surfacing as jury selection for the George Floyd case is set to begin in two days. Former Minneapolis Police Officer, Derek Chauvin, is charged with his murder. Earlier this week, the House of Representatives approved legislation named in honor of George Floyd.

The bill is aimed at preventing police misconduct. It would stop officers from dodging consequences for their actions by moving to another jurisdiction. It would overhaul qualified immunity and ban racial and religious profiling by law enforcement.

Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas held a news conference today on the George Floyd justice and policing act calling in a victory for the Floyd family. She joins me right now near George Floyd's childhood home at a rally for police reform. Thank you so much for coming on, Congresswoman.

We just played that new disturbing video showing Joseph Perez crying out I can't breathe as police restrain him moments before his death in 2017. Tell us how the George Floyd justice and policing acts might apply to a case like his.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Well, Pam, first of all we offer our sympathy to the Perez family, another person killed at the hands of misconduct by police in America. So the George Floyd justice and policing act that my colleague, Karen Bass of Congressional Black Caucus, our Chairman Jerry Nadler of the Judiciary Committee and we worked on along with many members on the Judiciary Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus in a concerted and purposeful manner to be able to say that we cannot tolerate one more of these killings or any killings such as the Breonna Taylor.

So what the bill does, for example, is that it bans chokeholds of any kind. As I listened to the video, the very fact that there was something put on this human being and they were told, another human being, who has the responsibility of protect and serve sat on that board and literally watch the breath come out as they did with George Floyd when they sat on his neck, we want to stop that in many ways.

So banning the chokehold we're going to record the misdeeds of police officers, so that it's in a national registry and a bad acting police cannot go from department to department. We're going to make sure that there is a consent decree and patterns and practice so that police departments who consistently have bad actors and do nothing about it can be put under a consent decree to change their behavior.

We're going to end racial profiling. We're going to end the no knocks that killed Breonna Taylor, we're going to make sure that people understand police officers, understand their limits on excessive force, they can't do that where they kill unarmed persons for no reason whatsoever and then there is a duty to intervene.

What sickens me is a humorous comments or laughter that I've seemingly heard from police officers with respect to Mr. Perez. And then, of course, to see officers in Minneapolis watch the life seeping out of George Floyd and to see them do nothing. His daughter, Gianna, is here with us today. What a precious little girl that said, "My dad is going to change the world."

She said that today. And I will tell you, we are determined in the United States Congress. We pass it in the House. I want to thank the leadership. We moved it expeditiously. This is one of the fast bills, faster than you've ever seen and then goes to the Senate.

BROWN: Let me ask you really quickly, though, because it goes to the Senate where it died last year. Do you see a path forward - where bipartisan measures are you willing to take to ensure that the passage of this bill?

LEE: Well, we're willing to work for the passage of this bill. We encourage our Republican friends to join us on the purpose and the value of this bill. This bill is about valuing life, giving worth to George Floyd's life and all of the other lives like Michael Brown.

We are not, at this point, looking to water the bill down. We are looking to engage. But we're most of all looking for the Senate to pass a bill. We hope that it will be consistent with the George Floyd justice and policing bill from the House.


But they didn't even pass a bill that captured the past president's executive order. So let them begin their work. Let them put something forward. We have the ability to go to conference, that's where both houses meet together. But I will tell you, this bill deserves to be passed, signed by the President and not watered down.

BROWN: OK. I want to pivot really quick to coronavirus because your State's Republican Governor, Greg Abbott, decided to roll back the state mask mandate, I see you're obviously wearing a mask and others, and business restrictions, how do you view this? Why do you view this as such a dangerous decision?

LEE: It is a stunning and shocking decision and it is not based on science. In fact, it may be based on politics. It is dangerous because we are the second largest state in the nation, that 29 million Texans. We are the number two, I think, or three on the list as a hotspot. We're one of nine states that have over a million cases. In fact, we have 2.4 million cases, our infection rate is above 10 percent to 15 percent.

And what the governor is now saying, you're the heck on your own. Just roll on your own. And that means that restaurants, concert venues, none of them will be restricted. People will be coming into places and not wearing masks where other of our residents will be concerned and wearing masks.

Altercations will occur. Grocery stores, some grocery stores are saying it's going to be of your own choice. Some grocery stores are protecting their essential workers by having them work on those, wear those masks and the customers wear the mask.

So you're talking about a hodgepodge in a state that has all five, I believe there are five other new variants. We have not yet seen what the new variants which are more contagious is going to do and, of course, as hard as our local governments are working counties and cities, we are not yet vaccinated at even 10 percent in the state.

So this is a shameful act. There should be shame on the state government. And I want to work with the federal government to ensure that the privileges of the COVID-19 effort go straight to the counties and states and that we do not fool around with the Governor's policy and make sure that the vaccines are going to local jurisdictions to get as many people vaccinate as possible.

BROWN: All right. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, thank you for coming on. We appreciate it.

LEE: Thank you for having me.

BROWN: Well, President Biden's main campaign promise to pass COVID relief just cleared another huge hurdle. But what about the promise of bipartisanship and what concessions were made to push the package through. A. B. Stoddard and Bill Kristol will join me live to discuss up next. Stay with us.



BROWN: Well, President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package passed the Senate today. His first major piece of legislation could be on his desk ready for a signature next week. And not long after that, many Americans will be feeling the effects of this historic bill.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This plan will get checks out the door starting this month to the American people so desperately need the help. Over 85 percent of American households will get direct payments of $1,400 per person. For typical middle-class family of four, husband and wife working making $100,000 a year in total with two kids, they'll get $5,600 and will be on the way soon.


BROWN: Conservative Writer and Editor at Large at the Bulwark, Bill Kristol joins me now along with Associate Editor and Columnist at Real Clear Politics, A. B. Stoddard. Great to see you both. Thanks for coming on this Saturday.

Bill, let's get right to it with you. Biden got what he asked for. I mean, he got his $1.9 trillion relief package. That is a big win. There were some minor concessions, but overall he got what he wanted. Do you think this gives Democrats a huge talking point against Republicans for not getting onboard with this bill that was so popular to so many Americans on both sides of the aisle?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE OF THE BULWARK: Yes. Actually, I do think it does. And look, what democrats need, what the country needs in a way is a successful Biden administration and it looks like within his first hundred days we'll have made huge progress on vaccinations, we will have a ton of money flowing out of the federal government into people's pockets, into businesses, into families.

And the final thing he's got to do, I think, once he signs the bill next week, turns attention to the schools, pressure some of his friends in state and local governments and the teachers unions to complete the opening of schools. But if you think about it, Easter is about a month from now.

If by Easter you really can see that the vaccination stuff is getting done, the money starts to get felt from this massive stimulus and the schools are reopening. I think people are going to say, you know what, that's a pretty good first, what will it be about that in 75 days to the Biden administration.

BROWN: Right. And, A.B., something else that people are talking about in the wake of this is the lack of bipartisanship, no Republicans voted for it. Biden had promised voters his deep experience in the Senate would help him create coalitions in Congress. But since there were Republicans who voted for this relief bill in either chamber, what does that tell you not just about now but in the few years ahead?

A. B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: So I think that President Biden got one thing right, initially, which was what needed to be in this bill and what he stuck to keeping in the bill. Though there were minor modifications, he got what he asked for and it pulls better than health care or the big bills that were pushed through when he was in the Obama administration. And so he can take the fact that no Republican voted for it and sell

it as bipartisan because he believes it will be popular and it will address the pandemic and stabilize the economy.


But what Joe Biden got wrong is that he said the fever was break among Republicans after Trump left and they did not have one defection, they voted in lockstep. And when Republicans do that, they get to call this a partisan bill.

So I knew that the Democrats would find a way to be together on this first bill. It's COVID relief. It's the first big effort. It's probably the most important one in his administration, at least before the midterm elections. But I think that what we're seeing is not only Republicans dead set on blocking Biden, but serious pressure from the liberals to get rid of the filibuster and push through on a bunch of things that will be controversial and politically risky not as popular as COVID relief and he will be under pressure to basically do away with that procedural protection for the minority in the Senate.

And I think that these days, these early days might be the best days. I think the challenges that are around the corner will be steep.

BROWN: You see Republicans, Bill, the way they're framing this as A.B. sort of laid out, this is a partisan bill. They're saying it was rushed through. They're making a lot of hay over that this adds so much to the national deficit. But when you look at the national deficit, President Trump added 7 trillion, around 7 trillion to the national debt with not as much pushback from Republicans. Is that really a winning argument right now for Republicans?

KRISTOL: I think reality is going to determine this. You can have all these debates and people bills can be unpopular for a while. At the end of the day, with Ronald Reagan, there were these massive tax cuts. He then had to take some of them back. There were clumsiness. But by 1983 forward, the economy was roaring.

If the economy is in good shape in two or three months, maybe you'll have to do some stuff next year to worry about some buildup of inflation. But I don't think he has to worry about Republicans as much and they can exchange talking points about how much Trump spent and how much he spent.

Well, the only thing I would say and I say this as someone coming from the conservative side, this is a bill whose benefits - whose money goes - well, most of it does go to middle class and working class, lower income families and to the public sector.

So if you're a liberal, I mean, the left is really silly, I've got to say. And they can complain about things. They don't like some things that didn't happen. This is the biggest piece of domestic spending probably since Lyndon Johnson, I believe. And most of it is going to things liberals, sort of like the public sector and lower income families.

So I think this is a pretty big achievement. People are under estimating it for Joe Biden.

BROWN: It is. I can't believe we're already out of time, we didn't even get to talk about Joe Manchin, Sen. Manchin, and the power that he wields. But, of course, that will continue on that storyline well and I would love to have you back to discuss that. Bill Kristol, A. B. Stoddard, thanks so much.

KRISTOL: Thanks.

BROWN: Well, Pope Francis using his first ever trip to Iraq to call for friendship and cooperation between religions as he holds a historic meeting with a revered Muslim cleric.



BROWN: Calling for cooperation between religions and condemning violence. Those were key messages from Pope Francis today during the first ever papal visit to Iraq. His historic trip comes as Iraq struggles with a series of crises, including a wave of COVID infections and a struggling economy. Delia Gallagher has more from Baghdad.


DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Pope Francis' second day in Iraq began with a historic private visit in Najaf, to the home of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the 90-year-old cleric who is rarely seen in public, but who wields great influence amongst Shia Muslims. And the Vatican says that Pope Francis thanked the Ayatollah together with the Shia Muslim community for his support for those persecuted in Iraq and for his calls for unity amongst the Iraqi people.

Al-Sistani's office says that the Ayatollah told Francis that Christians should live like all Iraqis in security and peace and with their full constitutional rights. The Pope then headed down to Ur, the historical site which is said to be the birthplace of Abraham who is considered the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He met there with leaders of other religions in Iraq and he told them that all religious leaders should look to Abraham, follow in his footsteps looking to heaven as the journey on Earth.

The Pope also said a special prayer for the Yazidi community, the persecuted ethnic minority in Northern Iraq. And Pope Francis finished out his day at the Chaldean Catholic cathedral here in Baghdad. On Sunday, Francis travels to Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh.

Delia Gallagher, CNN, Baghdad.


BROWN: A $1.9 trillion relief package for Americans in need up next, who qualifies for the new checks, how much they'll be and when they're set to go out, we're going to answer those important questions when we come back and more.



BROWN: A bit of good news here, nearly 3 million people were vaccinated in the U.S. just today. That is a major progress. So far more than 87 million Americans have been vaccinated and there is cautious optimism about a return to relatively normal daily life this summer.

But it is important to remember this that it doesn't change the reality that on Friday alone, 2,405 Americans died.

In Texas, a heartbreaking story tonight of a father of seven who died from the virus after almost a month in the hospital.


Charlie Torres was a volunteer firefighter in his hometown in Texas. He was also a FEMA Disaster Assistance specialist.