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NY Gov. Cuomo: There Is No Way I Resign; Interview With Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA); Biden Signs Executive Order Expanding Voter Access; Experts Warn U.S. Likely On Verge Of New Coronavirus Surge; CA Vaccine Rollout Rushing To Reach Reopening Benchmarks; Biden Signs Voting Rights Order On Bloody Sunday Anniversary; Jury Selection Begins Tomorrow In Derek Chauvin's Murder Trial; Pope Visits Iraqi Church Once Attacked By ISIS. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired March 7, 2021 - 14:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour with this breaking news just moments ago.

A defiant New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vowing he will not resign. This despite a third female former staffer and fourth woman overall coming forward with new accusations of inappropriate conduct against the embattled governor.

"The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that Ana Liss, a former Cuomo aide is the latest to make accusations against Governor Cuomo. Her claims follow accusations by Charlotte Bennett and Lindsey Boylan, those two women previously worked for Cuomo and accused the governor of sexual harassment.

Another woman, Anna Ruch also told "The New York Times" Cuomo made an advance toward her during a wedding a reception in New York City 2019.

For more on these new accusations now, let's bring in Alexandra Field. Alexandra, what more do we know about these allegations and now of the way in which the governor has said he refuses to step down?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the governor is responding swiftly here, Fredricka as he has faced these accusations over the course of the last week. We've been learning more details from women who are coming forward saying that they experienced inappropriate conduct from the governor.

The governor is saying in no uncertain terms that he has no plans to resign. The state's attorney general is looking into allegations of sexual harassment. He says her investigation must be allowed to run its course.

Here's what he had to say about that.


GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): I was elected by the people of the state. I wasn't elected by politicians. I'm not going to resign because of allegations.

The premise of resigning because of allegations is actually anti- democratic. The system is based on due process and the credibility of the allegation. Anybody has the ability to make an allegation in democracy, and that's great, but it's in the credibility of the allegation.


FIELD: Fredricka, as you mentioned, four women have now come forward alleging inappropriate conduct from the governor. Three of them are former staffers. We're hearing the story now of Ana Liss who has spoken out to "The Wall Street Journal". She was an aide to the administration from 2013 to 2015.

She tells "The Wall Street Journal" about a time when the governor called her "sweetheart". She says he placed her hand on her lower back at a reception, that he once kissed her hand when she rose from her desk. She says that at first she considered some of this behavior to be harmless flirtations. She later thought of them as patronizing. She eventually requested a transfer but she never filed a formal complaint.

The governor has spoken out several times now. Earlier this week making an apology on camera for making anyone feel uncomfortable, saying that that was unintentional. He also says he never touched anyone inappropriately.

Today when asked about Ana Liss' allegations, he again echoed some of those themes -- essentially saying that he never meant to make anyone feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. And again urged people to allow the attorney general to conduct her investigation, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Alexandra Field, thank you so much. Keep us updated on that.

All right. And now new warnings about the spread of the coronavirus as more states end mask mandates. Experts now saying the U.S. is likely on the tipping point of another COVID-19 surge. This as President Biden's massive $1.9 trillion COVID relief package passes a huge hurdle passing the U.S. Senate and is now going back to the House and could be signed into law this week.


KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: This is an incredibly transformational, frankly progressive piece of legislation. This is a bill that reflects President Biden's belief that the best way to get the economy back on track and get it growing is to invest in working people and middle class people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And here's what is in that bill. $1,400 checks for most Americans, including children. A boost in unemployment aid through September, along with more funding for food stamps and help for those facing eviction. A beefed-up child tax credit that Democrats say will cut child poverty in half. Plus big pots of money to reopen schools, distribute the COVID vaccines and expand COVID testing.

Joining me right now, one of the lawmakers who voted to pass the plan, Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

SEN. BOB CASEY (D-PA): Great to be with you, Fredricka.


WHITFIELD: And let me ask you before we even get to this bill and your hopes for it, I would love for you to respond, if you would, to Governor Cuomo and how he's handling these accusations, his teleconference, and saying he will not step down. Do you have any thoughts?

CASEY: Well, that's a decision that an elected official makes when they have allegations like this but one thing I think everyone should agree on is these women should be heard. These allegations should be thoroughly investigated and vetted.

We've got the attorney general of New York engaged in that process now. And every public official is responsible not only for what they do in the workplace but what they say.

WHITFIELD: All right. On to the bill now that you helped pass yesterday. President Biden said early on that he wanted a bipartisan agreement for this package, but not a single Republican, elected official in the Senate, voted for it.

So who is responsible, you know, for not being able to reach a more bipartisan consensus?

Well, look, I think the new president -- I'm calling him vice president still -- President Biden started off his presidency with the first major meeting in the White House with members of Congress was with Republican senators. Now, they came in the door and made a proposal. It was about $600 billion at the time, about a third of what was passed yesterday.

I don't think that was a serious proposal, but he tried very hard. I think there will be other instances where he can get together with them. But I think the most important thing here is we just passed a measure yesterday you just outlined in that chart that can have a transformative impact on the lives of children.

This bill as you mentioned -- and here's the backup. Columbia University is making a (INAUDIBLE) by 51 percent. As well as it attacks the virus by getting more vaccines, that help families with food assistance and unemployment insurance and the like. And also to help us reopen our schools safely.

So it's a very strong bill. I wish we got Republican support, but sometimes you can't do a lot in the end and you just have to get it done because this virus is still with us, we still have challenges with regard to the variants. So we're glad it's done.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So how do you decipher, how do you explain why more Republicans, why Republicans period, wouldn't be on board when the consensus is the majority of Americans, and the president pointed out yesterday, a bipartisan reflection of Americans are on board with this bill?

CASEY: Well, Fredricka, this is my view. This isn't the view of everyone. My view is that the Republicans are in the grip of the far right, and frankly Donald Trump. And until they escape that grip, they're not going to be willing to embrace a lot of the policies that we tried to put forward here.

If you say you're going to be a politician, you're going to elect for your school districts to be safe to open schools, and then you don't vote for the $130 billion in the bill to get schools open, you don't have much credibility.

I know they talked about how big it was and how expensive, but we have to meet the moment. Open schools, get more vaccinations and help families. And they had no compunction when they rammed through a really gross, obscene tax bill in 2017. They weren't talking about fiscal responsibility then.

WHITFIELD: It goes back to the House. It could be on the president's desk as early as this week. If the president is to sign it this week, how soon before families would see their $1,400 checks or see some of the other benefits that come from this bill?

CASEY: I don't know the number of days that it would take to get the check out. But I will say this. The Treasury Department is prepared for this. They've been dealing with this issue since last March when the electronic checks -- I think if you have an actual physical paper check, it takes a while to get it into the mail, but I think at least the electronic transfers, which are most of the payment, can happen in very short order. I just don't know the exact number of days.

WHITFIELD: Your colleague, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, you know, held up the vote for some 12 hours or so before feeling comfortable with unemployment benefits that would go to Americans. What does this tell you about the road ahead for Democrats to keep the caucus together since there is such a -- very little space, you know, to lose a Democratic vote in any upcoming legislation?

CASEY: It's difficult, Fredricka. It's a small margin for error, so any bill is going to be difficult. But it was significant, I think, that we were able to come together as a party, even with just a 50-50 Senate. Of course, yesterday we only needed 50 because a Republican senator was not there because of a personal matter.

[14:09:51] CASEY: So it's difficult, but I think Chuck Schumer is doing a good job to keep us together, especially on something as big and as urgent as getting this bill done. I think it's one of the most important and transformative piece of legislation in more than a generation.

WHITFIELD: And perhaps it will be rather difficult for Democrats to be able to reach a 60-vote threshold in order to pass legislation without, you know, the threat of a filibuster. So some in your party have actually called on ending the filibuster.

But listen to what one White House official said about where President Biden stands on that issue.


BEDINGFIELD: It is. It is still his position. His preference is not to end the filibuster. He wants to work with Republicans, to work with Independents. He believes that, you know, we're stronger when we build a broad coalition of support.

And look, I would say, look at what we've been able to do in the first six weeks that we've been in office with the filibuster in place. We just passed a $1.9 trillion rescue plan that's going to make a massive difference in the lives of people across the country --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: With no Republican votes though.

BEDINGFIELD: -- we've been able to -- but we were able to get it done. Look it's 50-50 Senate. We understand that. We're going to have to navigate our way through a 50-50 Senate.


WHITFIELD: And where are you on ending filibuster?

CASEY: I'm very much open to it and I wouldn't have said that two years ago. Look, when you consider the obstruction of Mitch McConnell in the Obama years, and you consider that when he had a majority with a Republican president all they seemed to be doing every day is confirming right-wing judges, making no progress on major issues.

It's pretty difficult to see how we can make the progress we must make on voting rights, on climate change, on increase in the minimum wage without changing the rule on the filibuster or at least, at the very, very, very least making it harder -- you ought to be able to -- if you're going to filibuster, you are on it. You have to be on floor. Your members should be on the floor and if that means you stay on the floor for a long time, you have to earn it.

But this idea you just call for -- you know, you invoke a filibuster without doing the work to bring it forward, I think, is really a joke. So (INAUDIBLE) maybe the most compelling argument I heard was Harry Reid had more than 400 times on the filibuster's use views when he was majority leader against our party, Lyndon Johnson in the 1950s as majority leader, one.

So it's 400 to 1 that the Senate have used the process. The Senate is not the Senate of years ago, and I think we should be open to changing it.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. Appreciate it.

CASEY: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, the fight over masks leading to wild scenes like this. Lifesaving PPE destroyed during the middle of the pandemic?

Then later, as the nation marks the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Biden fights back against voter suppression.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you had the best ideas, there's nothing to hide. Let the people vote.




WHITFIELD: All right. As of this week, 15 states don't have mask mandates in place and two more states will soon be added to that list.

In Idaho, defiance over such virus protection was front and center at "Burn the Mask" rallies held across the state this weekend. In the capital of Boise, parents and children set fire to their masks, denouncing their use as an infringement of their rights, even though Idaho has never had a mask mandate, it's only encouraged to wear one. This week the state saw its largest increase in new confirmed cases of COVID in nearly a month.

And then today, Republican governors like Tate Reeves of Mississippi are defending their decisions to lift mask orders, even though they're still encouraging residents to wear them.


GOVERNOR TATE REEVES (R-MS): We look much more closely from a data standpoint at hospitalizations, number of Mississippians in the ICU, the number of Mississippians on ventilators, and the fact of the matter is all of those numbers have plummeted in our state over the last two months.


WHITFIELD: States like Michigan and Ohio are also seeing cases drop but their governors say there is no reason to rush to get rid of masks.


GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): With the vaccine, we're now on the offense. That's a great thing. But in Ohio, we can't give up the dense. We've found that these masks work exceedingly well.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER: We're kind of at the 10-yard line. And we're taking another 10 yards ahead, we're somewhere at the 50 in dropping the mask mandate and that's a dangerous situation.


WHITFIELD: All right. Our Paul Vercammen is at a Biden-Harris FEMA site that is playing a key role in California's drive to ease COVID restrictions. Paul, what are you seeing?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're seeing statewide is an increase in these vaccinations and if we could look at a graphic, so far in California, you've got 10,200,000. Most of those vaccinations are first vaccinations.

But at this FEMA site, this is how it's a playing a role. The governor has said that if they reach a threshold of two million vaccine doses administered in low-income vulnerable neighborhoods, then there is going to be a dramatic easing of restrictions.

Well, this site is already a well-oiled machine and now they're increasing the number of people getting vaccinated each day, up to 7,000 -- 8,000 originally when I was here just a couple of weeks ago. They said that they had projected the peak to be at 6,000 a day.

So this is a key factor in all of this. And I'm going to bring in a FEMA spokesperson. This is going to be Veronica Verde. She's going to explain to us -- as I said, you have overshot your projections for the maximum vaccinations -- Pfizer vaccinations. How did you do this?

VERONICA VERDE, FEMA SPOKESWOMAN: Well, originally we started at 4,000 on February 16, that was literally 19 days ago. We're now to 6,000 - 7,000 and at some days up to 8,000.

We're working really close with the city and county of Los Angeles and their leadership and also working with (INAUDIBLE) to get the word out about this vaccine site.


VERCAMMEN: So you had originally said that this was a pilot program. How long will you be here? We should note that we have 220 soldiers from Fort Carson also putting needles in arms.

VERDE: Yes. So originally this is a four to eight-week project. We're looking to see if we're going to go beyond that depending on the need. So far here at L.A. County there's over 450 vaccination sites as more vaccines are starting to come in. And this simple structure is just another way to help complement L.A. County and their vaccination sites to get people vaccinated. VERCAMMEN: And as California opens up the rules on who can be

vaccinated -- teachers, food service workers and the like, tell us about the demographic and the people who are coming through here now and who will soon be coming through here.

VERDE: So as you mentioned, we have Tier 1-a and Tier 1-b. Those are teachers, food and agriculture. Next week we'll have those with disabilities that could come in and get vaccinated. If they go on to the Web site, at they'll see who is eligible. So we want people to pay close attention to see when they could get vaccinated through that Web site.

VERCAMMEN: And we're on the campus of Cal State University of Los Angeles, and not far from here are many of these vulnerable, very poor ZIP codes. You're from the Los Angeles area. How does it feel for you to be putting a dent in those figures that the governor has highlighted. How he wants to get 40 percent of the vaccinations dedicated to these ZIP codes.

VERDE: Yes, this is also part of President Biden's goal to open up these vaccinations but because of Governor Newsom, FEMA did come in with (INAUDIBLE) to help open up these vaccination sites in Cal State L.A.

Additionally we have three mobile centers that are actually going out into the hardest hit communities -- East L.A., Inglewood, South Central and we're placing those mobile sites. We're on to two to three days to get people vaccinated, people that actually live in that community, working really closely with the county and city of L.A. Leadership to make sure that we're there and get people vaccinated that are from that community.

VERCAMMEN: Great. I thank you so much for taking time out.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to slip right in --

VERDE: Yes, sir.

VERCAMMEN: -- and wrap up this for Fredricka.

Veronica Verde of FEMA. So some good news on an otherwise gloomy day, weather-wise in Los Angeles. As you heard, this FEMA site is a well- oiled machine and it's just humming along right now, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Everybody can use the encouragement. All right. Paul Vercammen, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Emergency medicine physician Dr. Anand Swaminathan joins me now from Westfield, New Jersey. Dr. Swaminathan, good to see you.

So we've had almost 90 million doses of vaccine administered here in the U.S. and yet still no CDC guidelines on how people should behave after getting one.

Dr. Fauci says it's coming imminently. Why the delay, and is it important to have this kind of instruction for folks who have been vaccinated?

DR. ANAND SWAMINATHAN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: I think the delay here is trying to figure out what the best messaging is and what really is safe. There are so many unique situations, it's hard to know exactly how to give the best overall advice.

But getting this advice is going to be really important because people need to know why they're getting the vaccine, not just because it's protecting them from COVID, but also what they're going to be able do if they get the vaccine, and the influence that they can then exert on their family, on their neighbors about getting the vaccine as well.

I think what we will see is that it's going to be safe if everybody is vaccinated to gather in small groups, indoors, no masks. I think everybody agrees that that's is going to be something we're going to see from the CDC.

I think we're also going to see encouragement not to have large groups, even if everybody is vaccinated. And for vaccinated people to continue to wear masks in public and if vaccinated people and unvaccinated people are getting together, definitely masking, distancing as much as we can.

I think that's what we can expect to see but I do think it's important because people need to know what they're working towards. Why we're recommending getting the vaccines and that it's not just because I have a vaccine, now I can go back to doing everything.

The vaccine is not a hall pass. We can't just break all of our restrictions and public health limitations just because we have a vaccine, we need everybody to get it.

WHITFIELD: Right. Don't abandon those precautions as yet.

So now, with so many states now reopening and public health experts, you know, saying the main concerns now are new variants, do you think there will be a need for a vaccine booster or additional doses because of those variants?

DR. SWAMINATHAN: I think this is a major concern, and we're not sure yet. But it's something that I think a lot of public health experts, a lot of the virology experts have said this is definitely a possibility, that we'll need a booster. Now whether that booster is the same shot again to boost our antibodies, or if it's a booster that's more directed at the variant that is prevalent at that time, we're not sure yet.

This is something we're going to see but this is very similar to what we see with flu on a yearly basis. As new flu strains pop up, we get vaccines that boost our immunity or increase our immunity to that.

I think we're going to see the same thing here at least for the foreseeable future. So I would expect that when you're going in for your physical exam, when you're getting your flu shot, you may also be getting a COVID booster.


DR. SWAMINATHAN: And again, the question really is going to be how adaptive we are with that. How well our monitoring goes on knowing what variants are there and how to fight them the best.

WHITFIELD: Oh my gosh, I mean I think those people, you know, elderly people, I think the people who had difficult means in which to get transportation to get the vaccines they did get, and now they may have to once again be in that space to try to coordinate how do they to get a place for their booster. I mean boy, I can only see anxiety levels going right back up again.

All right. Let me also --

DR. SWAMINATHAN: And Fred, you bring up some really --

WHITFIELD: Ok, go ahead.

DR. SWAMINATHAN: -- important points there with those barriers. Those barriers are really important for us to address not just now but for the future. So in the future, when those boosters are available, let's get the boosters to people instead of trying to drag them to us.

WHITFIELD: Right. Ok. Well, we'll leave it there for now then. Dr. Anand Swaminathan, good to see you. Thanks so much.


WHITFIELD: All right. Still to come up, President Biden turns his attention to voting rights as more than 250 voter restriction bills are introduced across the country. We'll have details next.





WHITFIELD: On the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the day when peaceful voting rights protesters were attacked by state troopers in Selma, Alabama, President Biden signed a new executive order today aimed at expanding voting access. Biden's order directs the heads of all federal agencies to submit proposals for their respective agencies to promote voter registration and participation.

The order also calls for the modernization of the federal government's portal.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm signing an executive order to make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote and improve access to voting. Every eligible voter should be able to vote and have that vote counted. If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.


WHITFIELD: Biden is also praising a sweeping new voting rights bill the House just passed and urging the Senate to support the legislation. The new bill is aimed at countering efforts by the GOP in 43 state houses across the country restricting voter access.

Dianne Gallagher has more.



DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Demonstrators chained themselves together outside the Georgia state capital, protesting one of hundreds of new proposed laws around the country sparked by former President Trump's big lie.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: We won this election and we won it by a landslide.

GALLAGHER: The massive nationwide push by state Republican lawmakers is now underway to pass election laws that experts say will restrict voting access.

TRUMP: The Republicans have to get tougher.

GALLAGHER: More than 250 proposed bills in 43 states so far this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes are 97, the nays are 72.

GALLAGHER: Like in Georgia, where the Republican-controlled statehouse passed a bill this week that would add new ID requirements for absentee voting and reduce weekend early voting hours, among other major changes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today, I rise to the opposition to HB-531 because it was predicated by a big fat lie.

GALLAGHER: It could directly impact voter turnout efforts like Souls to the Polls, which encourages black churchgoers to cast their ballots the Sunday before Election Day, leaving Georgia Democrats calling it, quote, the most blatantly racist attacks on voting acts in the South since Jim Crow.

The GOP sponsors argue the bill will restore confidence and uniformity in elections across the state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of good common sense ideas in this bill that is in front of you.

GALLAGHER: In Arizona, state legislatures have introduced nearly two dozen restricted bills many focused on voting by mail, a method used by more than 80 percent of Arizonans in 2020. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No voter in the United States of America should

have their access to the ballot dependent on who holds the majority in their state legislature.

GALLAGHER: At the Supreme Court, arguments over a different Arizona election law which Republican legislators already passed claiming it would limit fraud but when asked by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett why the GOP agreed with the law, party lawyers admitted what some experts say is really behind this nationwide effort, telling the high court --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Join me in voting yes for this transformational bill.

GALLAGHER: Democrats are fighting this push at the federal level, hoping to pass H.R.1 the so-called For the People Act, which, in part, would require states to have at least 15 days of early voting, automatic and same-day voter registration, and would prevent states from prohibiting mail-in and curbside voting.

Republicans have slammed the bill.

REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): It is a bill by the majority, for the majority and it's intended to entrench the majority in power for years to come.

GALLAGHER: Former Vice President Mike Pence called it, quote, an unconstitutional and antidemocratic bill, in an op-ed published on "The Daily Signal", where he also pushed false claims of election fraud.

Meanwhile, voting activists while holding out hope for Congress aren't ready to give up on their states.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not an either or. I want both. I want the federal government to provide protections and I want our state legislature to do right by the citizens of our state.


WHITFIELD: Dianne Gallagher, thanks so much.

All right. The battle for voting rights is also playing a big part in today's NBA all-star game in Atlanta. NBA superstar LeBron James and other athletes have launched an ad campaign to help protect black voting rights. Here's what he said just moments ago.


LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: I think this has been a great thing that we've been able to do more than to vote, continue to highlight and continue to educate people on what's going on in a lot of our communities with the voter suppression and things of that nature.


And, obviously, you know, making sure that people don't think that the job is done. The work is not completed. It is never completed even if you have a victory. It's never completed.


WHITFIELD: All right. All-star game tipoff is just hours away.

Meantime, coming up next hour for us, we'll take a closer look at the campaign to help protect black voting rights. Representative Terry Sewell joins us from Selma, Alabama, the very birthplace of the civil rights movement on the 56th, now, anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

All right. Straight ahead, he was caught on camera kneeling on George Floyd's neck for eight minutes. Now the officer charged in his death is about to stand trial as tensions rise outside the courthouse in Minneapolis. We're live.


WHITFIELD: Last night in Minneapolis, a man was shot and killed at the same corner where George Floyd was killed last summer.


Police say the suspect of the victim last night had a verbal disagreement before the shooting.

That corner has been a memorial to Floyd since the 46-year-old man was suffocated to death. And tomorrow, jury selection begins in the trial of the man responsible for Floyd's death, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. He is accused of killing Floyd last May after kneeling on his neck for nearly eight minutes.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is in Minneapolis.

So, what is expected tomorrow, Omar?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, for starters cameras will be in the courtroom for this, though we won't see any prospective or chosen jurors in this. This will be what is known as a sequestered jury selection. Meaning that any potential jurors or chosen ones will be examined outside the presence of other chosen or potential jurors. The prosecution and defense will have a number of challenges they can use against picks, as well.

Bottom line, it's not expected to be an easy process getting down to 12 jurors. Prospective ones, I should mention, were sent a 16-page questionnaire asking about everything they know about the case to what sort of news they primarily consume, all as part of a process that has now been a long time coming.


JIMENEZ (voice-over): Some calling for justice to letting the justice system play out.

Derek Chauvin, the former officer seen on now infamous cell phone video for kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for eight excruciating minutes. He is standing trial for second degree unintentional murder and second degree manslaughter, both of which he's pleaded not guilty to, but the first carrying a weight of up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

The case is likely to bring protesters and renewed attention to George Floyd's death. His family remains at the center of it all, balancing grief with the weight of a racial justice movement.

Now, with the trial on the horizon, preparations are under way on a number of fronts, including closing the intersection where some of Floyd's final moments played out, leaving it as a central grieving point, as it was in the immediate aftermath of his death.

MAYOR JACOB FREY (D), MINNEAPOLIS: We fully expect our Minneapolis residents to engage in the time honored tradition of their First Amendment rights and speech and we want to make sure that that right to protest is protected in every way, shape and form.

JIMENEZ: But with some protests over the summer devolved into still fresh on the minds of city officials. It's why to say expect an increased law enforcement presence over the next weeks, even months, with up to 2,000 National Guard prepared to respond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot allow for any sorts of unlawful activity.

JIMENEZ: Not to mention the physical barriers going up around the government center where the trial will be taking place. Then there is COVID-19 protocol. Chauvin will be the only four former officers on trial this spring, with Judge Peter Cahill citing physical limitations of the courtroom make it impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions and a joint trial involving all four defendants beginning March 8th, 2021.

Given the number of lawyers and support personnel the parties have now advised the court are expected to be present during trial. The judge said it's the largest courtroom they have.

Tied to that, only one member of the Chauvin family and one member of the Floyd family will be allowed in the courtroom at a time. A decision the Floyd family called disappointing.

PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: The video is enough. There's nothing else to talk about. You can make a judgment off of that because Chauvin showed you he was the judge, the jury and executioner all at once, right then and there when he took my brother's soul from his body.

JIMENEZ: And with jury selection beginning March 8th, opening statements weeks later, a country watches as a test of police accountability gets under way, which many see as a major step towards justice for George Floyd.


JIMENEZ (on camera): Every day, starting tomorrow, until potentially up to March 26th, jury selection will begin at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time and go until 6:00 p.m.

Outside of jury selection, the judge in this case had initially dropped a third degree murder charge. The prosecutors wanted against Chauvin, while an appeals court judge ruled that this judge now has to reconsider reinstating this charge, unclear right now if reinstating it would affect the timing of this at all. But again, jury selection begins tomorrow with opening statements set to begin March 29th -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Omar Jimenez, thank you so much in Minneapolis.

All right. Up next, Pope Francis pushes for peace and unity during his historic visit to Iraq. His fitting message about love after visiting a church attacked by ISIS.



WHITFIELD: Pope Francis on the last full day of his historic trip to Iraq is visiting a church in Northern Iraq once attacked and almost decimated by ISIS during its occupation. This is the pope's first international trip since the start of the pandemic and the first time ever that a pope has visited the country, telling followers today: Iraq will always remain with me in my heart.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Erbil, Iraq.

So, Ben, what is the significance of the pope visiting that church and visiting with Muslim leaders?


All right, Ben. Yeah, I hear you. Looks like we had a delay.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Communications problem. Yes, I can hear you loud and clear. Yes, Pope Francis has returned to Baghdad after, as you said, a very busy day in northern Iraq.

He started in Mosul where he prayed in a square that was once home to four separate churches but thanks to ISIS, all of those churches are now in ruins. He then went to the town of Qaraqosh, which is the largest Christian town in Iraq that also ravaged by ISIS. There, he was -- he held prayers in a church I went to back in 2017, which was completely scorched by ISIS.

They had lit all the bibles and prayer books on fire. They had used the courtyard as the firing range.

In Qaraqosh, he called upon worshippers to have forgiveness. But after such knowledge that they've experienced, what forgiveness can they have?

He then came here to Erbil where he attended mass in a stadium for perhaps more than 8,000 people -- 8,000 people was the number given by Kurdish authorities here and it was a wildly enthusiastic event. People there saying that it was sheer happiness to see him, to have someone of his international stature coming to Iraq, coming to this part of the country, speaking to the Christians and others all around the country.

He ended his mass by saying in Arabic, salam, salam, salam, shukraan. Peace, peace, peace, thank you. And the crowd went absolutely wild.

One woman afterwards telling CNN, perhaps now there's hope -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Wow, extraordinary moment and story, thank you so much, Ben Wedeman in Iraq.

All right. Coming up next, Democrats and Republicans putting politics on ice. CNN goes ice fishing in Minnesota.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no common grounds any more, right? And everyone's so angry about it. I think we're just tired.




WHITFIELD: Less than 100 days into President Biden's term and it looks like Republicans and Democrats are still having a tough time working together. But in one Minnesota suburb, voters agree they are tired of the political division.

CNN's Bill Weir has more on how they managed to put some of their concerns on ice.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the end of ice fishing season. The one sport so slow it demands food, drink, seating and conversation.

Are you more optimistic for the future as an American or?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am way more optimistic than I was two years ago.

WEIR: But conversations on the Lake Minnetonka these days, hope is mixed with worry.

VALDO CALVERT, MINNESOTA RESIDENT: I don't see it smooth sailing for Biden. I see it's always going to be obstructionism, but it's more calm, and I think it's going in the right direction. CINDY GARIN, MINNESOTA RESIDENT: I'm really happy with our new

president, Mr. Biden coming in. And he's vaccinated, I don't know how many people in the first not even 60 days.

WEIR: Well, a love for Biden is not hard to find in this blue suburb. Young Democrats like Ben see a lot of promises unkept.

BEN CALVERT, MINNESOTA RESIDENT: They're putting that stimulus check on the back burner and the minimum wage hike raise on the back burner, and they're dropping bombs on Syria right now, and those bombs are kind of expensive for a dude who owes $2,000, you know?

WEIR: But whether left or right, to a person, they all worry about division.

TIM DELANEY, MINNESOTA RESIDENT: There's no common grounds any more, right?

WEIR: Right.

DELANEY: And everyone's so angry about it. I think we're just tired.

LEAH BEAMISH, MINNESOTA RESIDENT: You know, I'm all about love. Everybody should be loving each other. There shouldn't be this --


BEAMISH: So divided. You know, there doesn't need to be that ask I just think it's really sad.

B. CALVERT: We all got along and then now it's like those guys aren't my friends any more because I know what they really think.

WEIR: That's heartbreaking.

B. CALVERT: Right. You can't hang out with someone who's like, yeah, I think I'd be a good thing to assassinate the sitting House majority leader.

WEIR: But then over by the smoker, a group that renews hope that barbecue and brotherhood could be stronger than politics.

But you guys are at different parties?

DELANEY: Oh, yeah.

WEIR: Is that right?

DELANEY: Oh, yeah.

We're not going to go there.

WEIR: But Tim can't help it. He goes there.

DELANEY: What if Trump ran for Congress or House, the House reps and he got elected in the house and then we took the house and we took the Senate and then he sent impeachment to both, you know, the president and the vice president and he would be president for the next two years, plus, then re-elected for another four. Good idea?

WEIR: That's a new one. I hadn't heard that. He would be speaker of the House, is that what we're saying?


WEIR: All right.

KEVIN BEAMISH, MINNESOTA RESIDENT: The old story of you don't talk politics or religion with your friends or your family.

WEIR: The good fences make good neighbors theory of politics, while at least here for now, the arguments are followed by laughter.

DELANEY: It's going to be difficult for me to be here after all --

WEIR: Oh, no. I'm sorry.

DELANEY: Oh, it's OK, it's OK. It's all right.

WEIR: Nobody ruins a barbecue like Bill Weir.

Bill Weir, CNN, Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota.