Return to Transcripts main page


Soon, House Votes on Final Passage of $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Package; White House Briefing as Number of Migrant Children Surge at Border. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 10, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I'm grateful for your time today. See you tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar, and I want to welcome viewers here in the United States and around the world.

After a year of suffering through a pandemic, the nation is minutes away from the final vote on one of its largest relief programs in modern times. The final vote for President Biden's COVID relief plan here is underway, and a brand new CNN poll shows it is very popular, where this should be underway here shortly.

Now, once passed it will provide a new round of direct payments to many Americans, in fact, the largest relief checks ever along with the $1,400 in direct aid. There's also a $300 boost to weekly jobless benefits that goes through September. There is expansion of tax credits, Affordable Care Act subsidies, and there's also funding for schools, states and vaccines and a lot more as well.

Here is how an eligible family of four earning under $150,000 a year, a couple earning $96,000, I should say, with two children, would receive here. Each person gets $1,400, plus there is a $3,000 tax credit for each of the two children age six or older. The total help for this family is going to be more than $11,000.

Still not a single Republican in the House is expected to vote for it in the coming moments, as was the case in the Senate.


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): I call upon my Republican colleagues to stop their march madness and show some compassion for their constituents who are less than wealthy.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I've heard people across the country say this bill today is costly, corrupt and liberal.

It's a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of the American families.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Let's go to Capitol Hill now, and Manu Raju, our Chief Congressional Correspondent, who is there following all of this. What's the status on this vote?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, any minute, they're going to start voting. We do expect the vote to begin as early as 1:10 in the east, so in about ten minutes or so. That's when it will take place. It will be about a 45-minute vote, maybe up to an hour.

And the Democrats do believe they have the votes. They are supremely confident that they will get the requisite votes. We do expect about 217 to be the magic number in the House. That means that Democrats can't afford to lose more than four votes. And this also depends on who actually shows up and votes today. But that's the expectation. They can't lose more than four. And there's no expectation that they will, in fact, lose more than four. Likely potentially only one Democrat may vote against it, Jared Golden of Maine.

One Democrat who voted against the initial version of the plan, Kurt Schrader of Oregon has indicated he will support this. And all Republicans are signaling that they will vote against it as well, suggesting this is too big, unwieldy and just simply not needed at this time, despite polls showing its overwhelming popularity among most voters.

The belief among the Republicans is that, ultimately, voters will reward them for standing firm against this, but Democrats are suggesting this is absolutely what's needed for this economy, a sweeping measure, Brianna, as you indicated, $1.9 trillion hitting virtually all aspects of the U.S. economy, money for individuals and families, relief checks, $300 a week in jobless benefits that would go through the beginning of September. Also money for schools or vaccine distribution and an expansion for a year of the child tax credit aimed at lower-income Americans.

All of that at a critical time where this pandemic has ravaged this economy and coming after a number of other massive spending proposals went into law in the Trump era, this being the biggest achievement of Joe Biden as president. This will come just a couple of months after he was sworn in. And we do expect later this afternoon both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to formally enroll this bill, take the formal steps to sign this bill once it passes the House. And that will set the stage for Joe Biden signing this into law in the coming days here, Brianna.

KEILAR: And we are going to be watching the minutes unfolding here on the House floor. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

I want to bring in our CNN Political Director David Chalian to talk about this. This is big in comparison, David. This is the biggest economic boost to American middle-class families in decades. How does this compare to other sweeping government relief efforts?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Take a look at some of the other high-priced items that have passed through Congress. Here are five of them. Three of these five, Brianna, are related to the coronavirus pandemic, including last year, the $2 trillion CARES Act and the $900 billion act in December that went for additional care, and now this 1.9 trillion American rescue plan, all three of those related to the pandemic.


You add a $1 trillion plan in today's dollars for the 2009 Recovery Act, the Obama stimulus. And if you go back to the new deal programs and add it up in today's dollar value, Brianna, that was $789 billion worth of government funding into the economy.

So, that's how it stacks up. You see where this bill getting passed today stacks up in this very expensive legislation from the government to try and bring the economy back for most Americans.

KEILAR: And you just heard Manu there. There's no Republican support. And that's not expected to change here in this upcoming vote. That might make you think, if you look at that, that this does not enjoy broad support across the country. But that's actually not case. It does enjoy broad support.

CHALIAN: Right. You'd have to think again. Take a look at our brand- new poll conducted by SSRS. 61 percent of Americans in this poll, Brianna, favor this economic package, this COVID relief bill that's passing the House today, 37 percent oppose.

And it even gets more popular when you break down some of the components that you and Manu were talking about. 85 percent approval for the tax credits, 77 percent approval for the money that's in the bill to reopen schools and get kids back into classrooms, 76 percent approval for the stimulus checks.

By the way, you don't get numbers like this without Republicans, and it's a majority of Republicans in the poll that also support those that's not true with the aid to local and state government. That's at 59 percent overall support. And I think only about 20 percent of Republicans support that part of the bill in our poll, Brianna.

I do want to also show you in our poll Joe Biden's overall approval rating at this point in his presidency halfway through his first hundred days here on day 50. He's got a 51 percent overall approval. And this is how he stacks up against all his modern-day predecessors. You see, he's six points higher than Donald Trump was at this point in his presidency four years ago, but he's below everybody else, which sort of speaks to our polarized nature and our politics these days, and how popular the COVID relief bill is. It overcomes the polarization, Brianna.

KEILAR: David, I'm so sorry to interrupt you. Let's go to the White House briefing.

ROBERTA JACOBSON, COORDINATOR FOR THE SOUTHERN BORDER: President Biden has made clear from day one that he wants to change our immigration system. Doing so means truly building back better because we can't just undo four years of the previous administration's actions overnight. Those actions didn't just neglect our immigration system, they intentionally made it worse. When you add a pandemic to that, it's clear it will take significant time to overcome.

We must build a better immigration system that reflects our values as Americans, enforces our laws, safeguards public health, and moves away from cycles of irregular migration.

Today, I'm here to talk about what we are doing with partners in Mexico and Central America to ensure that people don't make this dangerous journey and instead have opportunities for economic advancement and safety at home.

The president has committed to seeking $4 billion over four years to address the root causes of migration, including corruption, violence and economic devastation exacerbated by climate change. As part of that plan, we will dangerous the causes that compel individuals to migrate, including improving governance and providing a foundation for investment and economic opportunity, strengthening civilian security and the rule of law.

Working across the whole of government, we will look at access to international protection and refugee resettlement and rethinking asylum processing to ensure fair and faster consideration. Only by addressing those root causes can we break the cycle of desperation and provide hope for families who clearly would prefer to stay in their countries and provide a better future for their children.

President Biden, when he was vice president, visited the region many times and is clear-eyed about the challenge. He insists now, as he did then, that governments commit to being true partners in creating the conditions for growth and security.

But I want to emphasize that the funds we're asking for from Congress don't go to government leaders. They go to communities, to training, to climate mitigation, to violence prevention, to anti-gang programs. In other words, they go to the people who otherwise migrate in search of hope.

And they will have to have the participation of the private sectors in those countries who, for too long, have evaded taxes, underpaid workers, and failed to be part of the solution to creating safe, prosperous, and democratic countries.

We've already begun specific actions to both undo the previous administration's policies and to advance a new vision of immigration.


We have ended the so-called migrant protection protocols, which sent people back to Mexico to wait, sometimes for years, for a chance to present their asylum claims.

Working with the government of Mexico, international organizations and NGOs, we have safely admitted over 1,400 migrants and closed the most dangerous face of the MPP, the Matamoros Migrant Camp. Today, we are announcing the restarting of the Central American Minors Program for children to be reunited with a parent who is legally in the United States. This program was ended abruptly by the previous administration leaving around 3,000 children already approved for travel stranded.

In phase two, we will be working to improve the camp program to expand safe and legal avenues to the United States.

I want to be clear, neither this announcement nor any of the other measures suggest that anyone, especially children and families with young children, should make the dangerous trip to try and enter the U.S. in an irregular fashion. The border is not open.

Going forward, we will continue to look for ways to provide legal avenues in the region for people needing protection while we continue to enforce our laws.

This is a process. We have a great deal to do. But this administration has made significant progress, and we will continue to do so. It reflects who we are as Americans putting our values at the center of our policy. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this, Roberta. This $4 billion that the administration is seeking, are you seeking this as part of a larger comprehensive immigration package or as a standalone bill?

JACOBSON: Well, I think what you'll see is that $4 billion in a Central American northern triangle strategy will be part of our foreign assistance request and will focus on the things we know that work. Obviously, it's not our first rodeo. The president, when he was vice president, worked on these issues. We know how to get money to communities that are most likely to send migrants but also that are suffering the greatest effect of two hurricanes this season, et cetera.

So, it will be part of our overall foreign assistance package. In the meantime, we are focused on getting humanitarian assistance to these countries after hurricanes Eta and Iota. So in that sense, it's part of a larger plan. But, obviously, there are parts of this that will be on the domestic side as well to fix the whole extent of our immigration processing.

QUESTION: And what else is the administration doing right now to work with these home countries to send a message to people, don't come here, don't send your children here?

JACOBSON: Well, I think one of the most important things is to make sure that we get communications right and the message right, and I'm happy to repeat that. But I think it's also important that we work with the international organizations that have very credible voices and have very good networks among migrants sending communities to dispel the myths and misinformation that smugglers are using, right?

When we talk about the border not being open and the ways in which we are trying to dissuade people from making that dangerous journey, the smugglers are conveying exactly the opposite to people. So we need to make sure we get that message out. We also need to be looking at things like the CAM Program, the Central American Minors Program, as I talked about, and how we can expand, how we can make that eligibility greater.

But the next step is to look at solutions in the region, right? What more can we do to process people legally who really do require protection so they don't have to make that journey? And we're with looking at all of those things.

QUESTION: And you said that this isn't your first rodeo. Should the administration have been better prepared to handle this influx of children before it changed the policy allowing them to stay in the country?

JACOBSON: Well, I think there are a couple of things. I think what we're doing right now is making a difference in the home countries, beginning to work with governments. That couldn't start until January 20th. There is one government at a time. You can't start changing processes of government, building facilities.

All of this is part of the plan as quickly as possible to make sure that our domestic processes work more smoothly, more quickly, as I mentioned, but also to work with foreign governments. And you can't do that obviously until January 20th when you take over.

But there have been multiple engagements with the government of Mexico at very high level, with the government of Guatemala, with the Honduran government, El Salvadoran in the first six weeks of government.


So I think we've gotten off to a big start, a fast start in that engagement.

QUESTION: thank you, Madam Ambassador. On Honduras, how has the administration balanced this need for cooperation from that government with ongoing concerns for corruption there, particularly federal prosecutors who say that the president was working on a plan to flood the United States with cocaine?

JACOBSON: Well, I think one of the things that I made clear in the opening comments, which I want to reiterate, is that none of the money that we're looking to get from Congress, from the taxpayers of the United States goes to government leaders.

And so I don't think that means that presidents are unimportant in these countries, but I do think that it's important to understand that we will be working with civil society, with international organizations and international NGOs on the ground.

We will work with officials that we can work with but we also think it's really important that these countries make commitments, really explicit commitments, to advancing on anti-corruption, and in some places that will be hard to do if you've got officials for whom there is a cloud. And I think we need to work with the organizations that we can in countries. In some places, we will work with religious organizations, NGOs, et cetera. It's a challenge in countries that have confronted serious corruption risks.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up. Like what mechanism is in place? How do you possibly safeguard that funding to make sure it stays out of the hands of corrupt politicians?

JACOBSON: Well, I think one of the things that we've always done, always, and 31 years in the State Department has taught me this, is we do end-use monitoring, right? Our embassies and people that we work with are looked at before they are recipients of funds. And we do look checks and we look at what's being done with the funds, right?

We also don't deliver money in most cases. We deliver training. We deliver new lighting facilities that reduce violence and crime. So, a lot of what you do, it's not handing over blank checks. And I think that's really important in this.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thank you very much. You were talking about restarting CAM and these other long-term goals for what immigration policies should look like. But right now, new CNN reporting shows that unaccompanied migrant children are being held in these Border Patrol facilities for on average 107 hours. That's up from, I believe, 77 hours on average last week.

So, what is the Biden administration doing right now to fix that?

JACOBSON: Well, I think my part of this focuses much more on what we're doing at the end of this process in Central America and Mexico. I think all of us at every stage of this process are doing everything we can to make sure that children are well cared for and moved into facilities that are appropriate for them. But I want to make a point again that it's really important that people not make the dangerous journey in the first place, that we provide them with alternatives to making that journey, because it's not safe en route.

And so if I could just emphasize that that it's really important that that message get out, because the perception is not the same as the reality in terms of the border not being open. But we want to provide through CAM, through other mechanisms ways for some of these young people to be reunited with family members in the United States.


COLLINS: You're telling them not to come, just to follow up quickly, you're telling them they should not come. Would you describe what's happening on the border as a crisis given how these numbers are spiking so much week by week?

JACOBSON: I think -- I'm not trying to be cute here, but I think the fact of the matter is we have to do what we do regardless of what anybody calls the situation. And the fact is we are all focused on improving the situation on changing to a more humane and efficient system. And whatever you call it wouldn't change what we're doing, because we have urgency from the president on down to fix our system and make sure that we are better at dealing with the hopes and the dreams of these migrants in their home country.


QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, do you think it's a coincidence that as soon as Trump and his immigration policy were on the way out and Biden and his stated policy were on the way in, this historic surge at the border started?

JACOBSON: Well, first of all, one of the things I think is important is we've seen surges before. Surges tend to respond to hope. And there was a significant hope for a more humane policy after four years of, you know, pent-up demand.

So, I don't know whether I would call that a coincidence but I certainly think that the idea that a more humane policy would be in place may have driven people to make that decision. But perhaps, and more importantly, it definitely drove smugglers to express disinformation, to spread disinformation about what was now possible, and we know that.

QUESTION: And if the change in administration has brought hope, then, from your perspective, is this surge good?

JACOBSON: I don't think that's what I just said. I think it's a reflection of how migrants feel at a particular time. I think what we are doing is making sure that we respond to that hope for people who need protection. We respond to that hope in a way that their cases can be adjudicated more quickly.

But I don't think anybody would say that coming to the United States in an irregular fashion is a good thing. That's why I've tried repeatedly to dissuade people from listening to those smugglers. But we're going to try our best to do everything we can at each end of this in the United States, but especially in Central America and Mexico to ensure we have safe, orderly, and legal migration.

QUESTION: President Biden, when he was vice president, was very active on working with the northern triangle countries. And I'm just wondering were there lessons that you or he or other administration officials, many of whom are in jobs in this administration, have learned about how to deal with those countries or how to deal with foreign aid to them, that are informing how you're approaching things now?

And just to kind of follow-up a little bit on what Peter was asking, are you concerned at all about kind of mixed messaging, at the same time you're telling people not to come, that the journey is dangerous, that because you are offering this talk about more humanitarian process, that people will not, you know, pay attention to the fact that they could apply from their home country that they are still from, that they are still, you know, so hopeful that there really is kind of a conflicting message coming from Washington to Central America? JACOBSON: So, on the first question, the question of learning things from when the vice president was leading a lot of our efforts in Central America previously, I think, yes, that's a resounding yes. Both the president and all of us who worked with him on that, for him on that, learned a great deal. And I think that it's really important that we put that to use now.

One of the things he thinks is so important is being really explicit with leadership in the countries from which migrants are coming about commitments that they need to make. Because overcoming the reasons people migrate is not going to be the United States' job alone, right?

If we realize that it's lack of good governance, economic opportunity and security issues or violence, then some of those require commitments by the governments on anti-corruption and transparency on creating governments that function better to provide services for their country.

So, he is very clear on being sure that we get those commitments from leaders and holding them to it, right? The money is not a tap that gets turned on all at once. You have to make sure that you're continuing to follow those issues.

So I think there's a lot of things we learned, and a lot of things we learned about ensuring that funds get to the communities that are really in need, whether it's post-hurricane or a coffee rest, which was ravaging Guatemala and Honduras or a historic draught.

I think when you look at the issue of mixed messages, it is difficult at times to convey both hope in the future and the danger that is now. And that is what we're trying to do. And I will certainly agree that we are trying to walk and chew gum at the same time.

We are trying to convey to everybody in the region that we will have legal processes for people in the future, and we're standing those up as soon as we can. But, at the same time, you cannot come through irregular means.


It's dangerous, and the majority of people will be sent out of the United States, because that is the truth of it. We want to be honest with people.

And so we are trying to send both messages, and smugglers are only trying to send one message. So, we're relying on every means we can to get that message out there, and that leads me to want to reiterate as I did before.


QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, can you say a word more about what you're talking about in terms of the private sector? Can you explain what you're enjoining (ph) there and like what exactly do you need?

And then just to sort of as a second question, you're talking about being really explicit with these countries, but what sort of leverage does the United States actually have to effect change in those countries? Like what exactly can you do?

JACOBSON: Yes, let me take that second one first only because -- look, in the end, I think the implication of your question, which is quite right, is we can't make the changes. We can encourage them, we can help support them with resources, both technical assistance and funding, but we can't make those changes. The changes have to come in the northern triangle countries.

What I should say is my own experience from traveling to those places, there are myriad of people and organizations who are trying to make those changes. And part of what we want to do is empower them. Whether that's more effective, you know, economic support, whether it's training for young people, whether it's anti-gang programs, whether it's mothers clubs and empowering local communities. All of that gets done through people on the ground, not by the United States. So we want to be able to empower those actors.

I also think that it's really important when you say what leverage do you have, well, I do think that working as partners with these countries means sitting down and talking about what we can do together, but also if American taxpayers' funds are going to be used, then that is a certain amount of leverage. The president really wants to move forward on this, but he won't unless he feels he has those commitments on an ongoing basis. Is that leverage? You know, funds are sometimes important means of having that conversation.

Your first question was on -- remind me.

QUESTION: Well, let me just follow up.

JACOBSON: No, you can't follow up. You have to come back to the first one.

QUESTION: I mean, are you saying explicitly the U.S. could withhold funding, whether it's State Department aid or USA aid?

JACOBSON: I think the really important thing to know is we are looking forward to getting this proposal before Congress and having Congress act on it, and what comes after that, you know, I just don't know. An executive branch can always adjust things like that.

I also think it's really important to understand, you asked about the private sector, the private sector in all of these countries, and Central America in particular, is a really important player here. And I think, to be very honest, we have not seen them step up.

One of the mechanisms that was really effective under the Obama/Biden administration was for every dollar that the U.S. put into an assistance program, we asked for private sector organizations, local chambers of commerce or business organizations to either match us or exceed us. This gives the private sector skin in the game. It makes sure they are part of the solution.

If the governments in these countries don't always have enough resources to do what they should to improve the economic opportunity for people, there are private sector organizations, and members of the private sector, the business community, who need to be part of that solution.

And so we just feel that that's really an important element to this. We talked about international organizations, governments, NGOs. I don't want to leave out the business community as a participant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. Last two or last three, if you have time. Okay, thank you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So, Ambassador, just to follow up a number of questions --

KEILAR: We're going to jump out of this briefing at the White House with the border czar. This is the NSC coordinator for the southern border talking about the crisis on the border, though she is not calling it that. It's very clearly a crisis from what we are hearing from folks who can see it, including CNN Correspondent Rosa Flores, who is on the border in Donna, Texas, And Jonathan Blitzer, who is a Staff Writer for The New Yorker, and who has covered this extensively.