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What's in COVID Relief Bill, What's Not; Roy Blunt Is Latest GOP Incumbent Not Seeking Re-Election; Biden to Mark 1 Year Since Shutdown in 1st Prime-Time Address; Mexican Restaurants Threatened with ICE for Enforcing Masks. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 8, 2021 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yes, it was a very sad part of the interview.

Omid, thank you so much for being with us.

Carolyn Durand, as well, thank you.

OMID SCOBIE, CO-AUTHOR: Thanks.

CAROLYN DURAND, ROYAL CONTRIBUTOR, OPRAH.COM & CO-AUTHOR: Thank you.

KEILAR: And certainly, we want to say this, because if you or someone that you know is having suicidal thoughts, there's help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Another Republican incumbent today announcing that he will not seek re-election. What this means for the party.

Plus, as Congress advances what's being called the largest cash infusion to Americans in modern history, hear what's in the COVID relief bill. Also what is not.

And Mexican restaurants in Texas being threatened with ICE calls after it asks people just to keep wearing masks.

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[13:35:48]

KEILAR: The House is poised to pass the final version of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package tomorrow. The Senate passed the plan Saturday with zero Republican support. President Biden could sign this by the end of the week.

So what could this bill mean to Americans who are struggling during this pandemic to keep a roof over their heads and to keep food on the table?

CNN political director, David Chalian, is with us now on this.

Tell us what is in it.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, Brianna, a lot is in this bill. Obviously, you don't get to $1.9 trillion of money without it.

With those stimulus checks, individuals earning $75,000 a year or less get the full $1,400 payment. Married couples earning under $150,000 a year, $2,800. Families with children, they get an additional $1,400 per dependent.

Those are the stimulus checks. They will be going out by the end of the month the president has said.

Unemployment benefits are the next piece this bill. If you are unemployed, you are going to get $300 of weekly federal benefits, a federal enhancement of unemployment benefits. That goes all the way through September 6th.

We are also looking at the child tax credit. If you have children, $3,600 tax credit per each child under 6 years old. A $3,000 tax credit for each child under the age of 18.

Rent assistance is a big part of what this bill has, too. Roughly $20 million for back rent, rent assistance. And millions of dollars in assistance to pay mortgages, utilities and property taxes, helping people who are behind on their rent or mortgage.

Take a look about small businesses, $15 billion in the bill, to provide long-term low-interest loans to small businesses. As you know, they have felt the pain here of the shutdown for the last year due to the pandemic. There's some assistance for small businesses in the bill -- Brianna?

KEILAR: That is a lot. Certainly, we will keep an eye on this. People will start to feel it very soon.

David, thank you so much.

CHALIAN: Sure.

KEILAR: And just in, Senator Roy Blunt, of Missouri, becomes the latest to deal a blow to the GOP by announcing he will not run for re- election.

While Texas changed its mask order, some restaurants are requiring customer to mask up and they are facing threats.

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[13:42:55]

KEILAR: Republican Senator Roy Blunt announcing just a short time ago that he will not be running again when his term is up next year. Blunt becomes the latest Republican incumbent to call it quits following similar announcements by Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Richard Burr of North Carolina.

Blunt wields a great deal of behind-the-scenes power and influence in the Senate as the ranking Republican member of the Rules Committee.

CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is with me now.

More than anything, Blunt has been there so long, Gloria, he's known as a pragmatic Republican leader. He's a close ally of minority leader, Mitch McConnell.

Were you surprised to learn he wasn't running again?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Surprised. And then when I thought about it, not surprised. I mean, this is a man -- you say pragmatic, not of the Trump wing of the Republican Party.

Although he did call Biden president-elect before Trump would have wanted him to. He did not vote for impeachment.

But I think there are lots of Republicans -- you just saw them all on your screen -- who have decided that rather than face divisive primaries with pro-Trump candidates on the right challenging them, he decided, at the age of 71, he just wasn't up for it.

He is a close ally of McConnell, who just released a glowing statement about him, calling him a true leader of the Senate. Being an ally of McConnell is not a great thing in Donald Trump's mind as this particular point.

In a way, the more I thought about it, Brianna, the more I thought, well, you know, I guess it makes sense.

KEILAR: Maybe now isn't the time to be a Roy Blunt. Maybe it's not ideal right now.

BORGER: Right.

KEILAR: The president, President Biden announced a short time ago that he is going to make his first primetime address on Thursday to commemorate one year since the coronavirus became a pandemic.

What are we expecting to hear here?

BORGER: What we are not going to hear is a huge it's over, reopen, forget the masks, go back to risks, I think. We're coming out of the dark winter, that the president always spoke about.

[13:45:04]

And he is probably going say, we are coming out of it, but we are not there yet, so don't stop being careful because we have to be careful now with all of these strains coming in.

But I think he's going to let the public know how far we have come with the vaccinations going into people's arms, with trying to start reopening schools, by giving schools the right resources to do that. He will probably talk to people also about the relief that's coming in

the COVID relief package. And you know, $1.9 trillion is an awful lot of money.

But I think he's going to try to outline to the American people who is going to get the benefit of it. And let the people know that those who have been suffering this last year, who lost their jobs, are going to get some help and that it's on the way.

But Joe Biden, as you know, is not the kind of guy to take a victory lap and say this is the greatest thing ever. Look, he's probably going to say we're just at the beginning, so keep up the good work, and we have a long way to go.

KEILAR: He is banking on getting some appeal from voters, more than he has gotten from elected Republicans, for sure.

BORGER: Right.

KEILAR: Gloria, it's great to see you. Thank you so much.

BORGER: Good to see you.

KEILAR: The rush to repeal mask mandates putting some workers in a terrible situation. Customers in a Mexican restaurant in Houston even threatening to call ICE simply because employees were being safe and keeping their masks on. That's next.

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[13:51:03]

KEILAR: Some businesses in Texas are already feeling the fallout from the governor's decision to lift the mask mandate in the state, allowing businesses to operate at 100 percent capacity.

According to a "Washington Post" report, customers in a Mexican Restaurant in House threatened to call ICE when employees refused to work maskless. Other restaurants report their employees have been yelled at for wearing masks.

Emily Williams Knight is the president and CEO for the Texas Restaurant Association.

Emily, thank you so much for being with us.

You have -- your association has issued updated guidance to restaurants in Texas that recommends restaurants require their employees to wearing masks and encourage guests to do the same thing.

What is your reaction to learning about this backlash that restaurants are receiving just because they're trying to stay safe?

EMILY WILLIAMS KNIGHT, PRESIDENT & CEO, TEXAS RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION: It's clearly incredibly unfortunate. We've stepped through 12 months -- on the 19th in Texas, it'll be 12 months that restaurants have gone through everything and it's been almost unimaginable.

So we quickly, when we heard the governor's announcement, did a survey of our members. And 700 restaurants reported they would keep their employees in masks, especially until they're vaccinated.

It was disappointing through the weekend to see this behavior.

One of the key reasons we issued this set of guidelines is there are guidelines for the restaurants, which is their promise to the consumer.

But there's also really consumer guidelines. If you're going to interact with a business, these are guidelines or rules you should follow.

It was certainly disappointing. And for the long-time members of ours, it was very concerning.

KEILAR: Has the mask mandate being rescinded, has it brought on confusion when it comes to how patrons should behave, how patrons might think that people who work in restaurants should behave?

KNIGHT: Sure a good question. That was our number-one goal, to reissues these guidelines that came out in April and put them on the front door of every restaurant in Texas.

That tells the consumer, when they walk up to that door, this is what is expected of you. We're going to do our part but you have to do your part.

This is a real it's a partnership, an expectation in communication. And if you choose to not follow the guidelines - maybe the outcome of COVID has been a positive for restaurants. If you can do curb-side, take-out, delivery, there's many ways you can interact.

But when you go into a restaurant right now, especially for employees, they need to follow the guidelines they published. It's just the right thing to do.

KEILAR: You know, Emily, you know that there are patrons who want to go into a restaurant and they want to go in now and not wear a mask. And in a lot of cases, they're not going to have to unless the restaurant requires it.

And when the restaurant requires it, there's this pushback that so many of the restaurants are seeing.

How should restaurants handle this when they have guests refusing to abide by that restaurant's mask mandate?

KNIGHT: You know, a slight advantage, maybe, in all this is restaurants have been public facing to the guest community, right, to their communities forever.

Whether it be that they forgot the ketchup in your bag or you're unhappy with your food or your service, most restaurants and their employees are trained to de-escalate these situations.

At the association, calls have been coming of in. That's our first and foremost advice, is de-escalate.

Since May 1st, guests in Texas have been wearing their face covering or mask into the restaurant, and once they're seated, they can remove it. So we're talking about a couple of steps in most cases.

And so this is where we're just going to rely on Texans in our community and ask them to lean and really show grace to an industry and a set of employees that have been remarkable at ensuring we had food, right, for the last 12 months.

KEILAR: Yes.

KNIGHT: So this is where we really need that partnership.

KEILAR: These reports of, especially it seems when it comes to Mexican restaurants, of some patrons saying that they're going to call ICE on these restaurants.

You know, we've heard in the press, employees of those restaurants who say, you know, I -- I am an American. Why would they be saying this? I think we know why.

[13:55:00]

But have there actually been any calls to ICE to your knowledge?

KNIGHT: We have not heard this. And this the role of social media and we're monitoring it very closely, too.

I have to say, I think the incident in Houston was unfortunate. The good news is it's brought to light. And I think you see, when you monitor social media, you have so many folks, consumers rallying around that restaurant and others to say we're going to do the right thing.

But it's just unimaginable that you would target a restaurant for trying to keep their employees safe. It's the day we live in, right? This mask debate has become highly political.

And that's why we're really pushing restaurants to post these guidelines outside, so at least guests know where you stand. And then let's have the community vote.

And what we've seen so far in Houston is a ton of support for this restaurant and their employees.

KEILAR: Yes, that is good news.

Emily Williams Knight, thank you so much.

KNIGHT: Thank you.

KEILAR: Once you get the vaccine, what can you do, what can't you do in everyday life? The CDC just revealed its long-awaited guidelines on that.

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