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Live Coverage as House Votes to Pass Historic COVID Relief Bill; Biden Administration Resists Calling Southern Border Immigration a Crisis; Some States Lift COVID Restrictions While Cities Don't. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 10, 2021 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: It would just need his signature to become officially one of the largest relief programs in American history.

The White House says that the signing is set for Friday, and this legislation will provide a new round of direct payments to many Americans. In fact, it's -- will provide the largest relief checks ever.

Along with the $1,400 in direct aid, there is also a $300 boost to weekly jobless benefits through September, expansion of tax credits, Affordable Care Act subsidies plus funding for schools, states, vaccines and much more.

And a brand-new CNN poll shows 61 percent of Americans support the American Rescue Plan Act, but no Republicans in the Senate backed it and all House Republicans are also expected to reject it.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): And to hear Republicans talk about why they would vote no, it's typical that they vote no and take the dough (ph). And this bill has bipartisan support across the country, not only among the general public, but in mayors and selectmen, city councilpersons and county executives.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It showers money on special interests, but spends less than nine percent on actually defeating the virus. And after five relief bills, it is on track to be the first passed by strictly party lines. Mr. Speaker, I've heard people across the country say this bill today is costly, corrupt, and liberal.


KEILAR: Joining me now is CNN's senior political correspondent Abby Phillip, who also anchors "INSIDE POLITICS" on Sundays. Abby, just how significant is this measure that we are expecting will be passed? How significant is this for President Biden?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this is a massive piece of legislation, the first major priority for the Biden administration, but it's also a massive bill. And that was by design. The Biden administration wanted to make sure that this bill was commensurate with the size of the problem.

And if you look at it in comparison to these other major relief bills, it is the second-largest relief bill that has been passed in this country's history. And take a look at where we were in 2009, when Joe Biden was the vice president of the United States, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is about half the size of this current bill.

So that just really highlights the degree to which this is a piece of legislation that was designed to be large, designed to be sweeping in scope, designed to touch virtually every part of the economy, in part because the Biden administration didn't want to have any regrets that it was too small to meet the needs of the American people.

KEILAR: And this bill is a response to the pandemic, but progressives point out it's also major legislation to fight poverty.

PHILLIP: Yes, that's exactly right. And when you look at the details of this bill, some of these provisions really advance some significant progressive priorities.

First of all, just take a look at the financial transfer, cash in people's pockets. The bottom 20 percent of American households will see their actual incomes rise by about 20 percent. That is extraordinary. Child poverty is expected to decline by about a half, in part due to these Child Tax Credits that are also embedded in this bill.

And a little bit of a provision here that was not very well publicized, but there is basically a bailout in this bill for union pensions, which would mean that more than a million union workers would get to keep their pensions into retirement.

But there's also more on a slew of other priorities as well. Indigenous communities, $31 billion, the largest federal investment ever. Black farmers, $5 billion to address historic inequities for those populations.

And then, an expansion of the Affordable Care Act. This is a major provision, it lowers premiums for people who are using the Affordable Care Act for health insurance. This, Brianna, is coming at a time when so many Americans have actually lost their health insurance because they've lost their jobs.

And Joe Biden has already expanded the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act; this bill now will make sure that no one pays more than 8.5 percent of their income on health insurance.

So these are some big Democratic priorities, and they were passed in this bill, no matter how messy that process was. At the end of the day, many Democrats are very happy with what they were able to accomplish here.

KEILAR: Yes, it is huge and we can see that as you tick through it. Abby, thank you so much.

House Republican leaders are struggling with a small but loud group of GOP hardliners who are among former President Donald Trump's staunchest allies. Take Georgia's new congresswoman, Marjorie Taylor Greene, for instance, she is angering many of her fellow Republicans with tactics like her repeated calls for a time-consuming vote to adjourn.

Many in the GOP are pleading with her and other hardliners to stop, yet here was Taylor Greene during today's House vote on COVID relief.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Mr. Speaker, I ask for a motion to adjourn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is on the motion. Those in favor say aye, those in favor say no.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The no's have it.

TAYLOR GREENE: Mr. Speaker, I ask for a roll call vote.


KEILAR: Forty members of Taylor Greene's own party voted against her today.

CNN's Gloria Borger is joining me now on this. Gloria, one veteran Republican congressman, Fred Upton, called these tactics "A pain in the ass," that is a quote. We saw some of this on the Senate side too, right? This sort of the Senator Ron Johnson school of thought here.


KEILAR: Does it seem like Kevin McCarthy really has any kind of handle on his conference?

BORGER: No. I -- you know, the question is whether he's lost control or whether he ever had any control, and I think it's probably the fact that he doesn't have any control and never did, and that Donald Trump is the one who controls these people.

And if he were to come out and say, look, you know, don't gum up the works, this doesn't give the American people any kind of a good view of who you are. For example, they gummed up the works on passing non- controversial legislation like awarding congressional medals to three police officers who fought off the insurrectionists, so they delayed that. What is the purpose in that? What is the purpose in delaying the

approval of COVID legislation, which about over 60 percent of the American public approves? They look childish, they look foolish, but they're going to continue to do it, Brianna, until they lose, until it's more than 40 Republicans who vote against them.

KEILAR: And with 40 GOP House members voting against this motion to adjourn, I mean, it's pretty loud how they're speaking back here --

BORGER: They are.

KEILAR: But if GOP pleas (ph) for Taylor Greene and other hardliners to knock off the games here are falling on deaf ears, what do leaders do?

BORGER: Well, you know, that's the question. I mean, if you get more than half of the Republican caucus, I think that'll make a difference. I'm sure McCarthy is going to have a little chat with her, our congressional team is reporting that they've actually appointed somebody to mentor her, to teacher her the rules of the road, to show her how important it is to get along with your colleagues.

Perhaps she will listen to that, and perhaps she won't listen to that. I'm sure she's already getting a lot of pushback, as you can tell by the size of the vote against her in the Republican caucus.

But in the end, these people are going to have to decide whether when they need something from the Republican Party, when they want something and they go to the leader and say, I want this, and the leader says no, they might know why. It's because they've misbehaved, because they're not allowing the Congress to get on with its work.

And quite honestly, if you don't want to go to Congress to get something done, and all you want to do is delay and delay and delay --

KEILAR: Gloria -- Gloria --

BORGER: -- you have to ask the question, why are you there.

KEILAR: OK, I want to pause just for a second on that because --


KEILAR: -- actually the House just hit the threshold on this vote. So this is the final vote here, this one in the House, and the next step is going to be that it goes to President Biden's desk. So we're watching the House floor here as we are awaiting, I think, the vote to be gaveled to a close. But this -- it's going.


KEILAR: This is huge, this is huge, Gloria.

BORGER: Well, it is. And I think back to the presidential campaign, when Joe Biden at first said, you know, I'm going to be a transitional figure in the Democratic Party, and if you look at this vote, and you look at what is in this COVID bill that Abby just outlined before, you understand, this isn't transitional, this is transformational.

YEs, some of it is zeroed out in a year or two, but you can always renew it. But this changes America, it changes the face of America. It is a policy revolution, and it is a revolution that makes sure that people who have suffered during COVID, who are at the bottom end of the scale, get the benefit of this legislation.

KEILAR: And you know, I'm struck by -- I think -- I can't believe it was 12 years ago, but I think back to this time, 12 years ago, I was up covering Congress, and the Obama administration, which of course Biden was a part of, was starting to move on health care legislation, which would take so long.


KEILAR: You know, this has happened so quickly and it is such a large bill. You can just see, in a way, how President Biden looked back on history, and took a different tack. Now, some people will look at this, Gloria, and they'll say why wasn't more done to craft a bill that some Republicans could vote yes for? But clearly Biden made a calculation that what he would have to do in the end, like with Obama, wasn't going to get Republicans, and he just plowed ahead.


BORGER: Right, he did plow ahead. I mean, he made -- you know, he made some adjustments, you know, the checks are more targeted, for example, and of course the minimum wage could not be in this budget bill, and they had to save that for another day.

But I think, you know, a lot of these people who work for Joe Biden were there in the Obama administration, and they believe that they gave up too much and that the recovery, as a result, was too slow, and that they didn't get enough in return for their stimulus package, from -- you know, from Republicans.

And that the Affordable Care Act, for example, they didn't -- you know, they didn't get the Republican support that maybe they thought they could have gotten after stimulus. So I think --

KEILAR: Let's listen for just a moment, Gloria, to the speaker.

PELOSI: The motion is adopted.


Without (ph) objection, the motion --


Without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

KEILAR: All right, Gloria, I mean, you know it's a big deal when you have a moment like that, right?

BORGER: Yes, and I think you could see that in Nancy Pelosi. She's been sort of dancing lately, she's just so -- you know, she's so thrilled with this package and what they were able to do.

And again, you know, I think this tells you an awful lot about Joe Biden. He was in the Obama administration, his people were there, they learned from what they believed they did the wrong way. And Biden said, all during the campaign, I promise you I'm going to get you help. You remember this, help is on the way.

And the two things they always talked about were getting the vaccines in your arms, and getting relief on COVID. And I think, you know, people in the administration right now are breathing a sigh of relief because they've got one big part of that done. And the public agrees with him, and that's what's important to them.

KEILAR: Yes, especially when you look at the individual measures that are in this. There's huge --


KEILAR: -- agreement on most of them, that includes a lot of Republicans.


KEILAR: I want to bring in Catherine Rampell to this discussion, she's our CNN economics and political commentator. You know, this moved so fast. And, Catherine, one of the things that is sort of stunning about it is how this was able to move forward.

It is popular. There was no sort of public backlash against this, like we have seen with other big legislative priorities. And quite frankly, Republicans didn't seem as -- even though they have voted unanimously against this, they didn't seem to kind of channel, I guess, outrage and opposition against this as they have with other large spending bills.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's really puzzling in a sense. They've been complaining about this legislation, but not really so much on the merits, it's mostly been whining about the lack of bipartisanship, which they themselves have made sure would happen, right? I mean, they can, by definition, help Biden break his promises of bipartisanship and unity if they take their ball and go home.

They have mostly been complaining about these sort of procedural things as opposed to the merits of the legislation, and I think that that reflects the fact that the legislation is extremely popular. It's even popular amongst a lot of Republicans. For example, a majority of low-income Republicans in particular support this legislation.

So, look, this is a historic piece of legislation. It now brings the size of the U.S. fiscal response to this crisis to something like 25 percent of GDP, which is just enormous when you include the legislation that passed last year as well. This is going to have a huge impact on the U.S. economy, on the global economy, and it's going to make a big difference in the lives of low-income families throughout this country. KEILAR: And Phil Mattingly, our senior White House correspondent, is

joining us now.

Phil, tell us when the president will be signing this.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Bri, just announced a few minutes ago that the president will sign the bill on Friday. The expectation being that Friday, because it actually takes some time to engross and enroll the bill -- procedural details, Bri, that you know quite well, but most people probably don't -- but the --

KEILAR: The fun stuff.

MATTINGLY: Yes, the really fun stuff. We'll get into Senate procedure next.

I think one of the key elements here is what we're going to have to watch, coming forward. Obviously the administration has made very clear that President Biden is going to be out a lot over the course of the next several weeks, to sell this bill, to answer questions about this bill, to try and underscore what the White House believes are the clear positives of this bill for individual Americans.


Whether it's on the stimulus checks, whether it's on the Child Tax Credit, whether it's on the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, all kind of up and down the line. It's not just going to be the president, it's going to be the vice president, it's going to be the first lady, it's going to be the second gentleman, it's going to be all of the cabinet officials as well, really a full-scale blitz, underscoring a lesson learned.

When you talk to administration officials, a number of them have pointed this out to me over the course of the last several weeks. They felt like this was something that was missing back in 2009, when President Obama secured the stimulus that time around. They didn't sell it enough.

The president himself, President Biden, recalling this in a conversation with House Democrats a couple weeks ago, saying that the humility actually cost them when it came to that bill, which ended up being kind of a 50-50 split in terms of popularity.

But I think the other key element that I'm hearing a lot from administration officials is going to be the focus on implementation. Jen Psaki, just a short while ago, saying there would be a point person on the implementation of this bill. Keep in mind, Vice President Biden at the time was the point person on the implementation of the stimulus.

But it's a recognition that getting it to this point is obviously a huge victory, this is the cornerstone legislative achievement for President Biden in his first hundred days, the number-one priority for him when he walked into the Oval Office 50 days ago. But none of that matters if the checks don't go out in a timely

manner, if the Child Tax Credit, the direct payments that will be coming out of that on a monthly basis, the way it's structured, don't go out as well. If the school money doesn't go out, all of these things need to actually work for this bill to be success in the end and to maintain those current, rather positive poll numbers.


KEILAR: Which goes to just such a huge undertaking that this is. I am so sorry, you guys, we do have to leave it there. This is a big moment, I'm so glad to cover it with all of you, Gloria, Catherine and Phil, thank you so much.

Next, why the Biden administration refuses to call the crisis at the border a crisis? We will roll the tape.

Plus, I'll speak to a doctor who has worked in eight different states during the COVID crisis, why she says her patience is wearing thin.

And several Texas cities decide to keep their mask mandate in defiance of the governor lifting it statewide.



KEILAR: Pressure is mounting as record numbers of migrants are coming to the southern border, and the U.S. has nowhere for them to go. And President Biden's vow to be more humane when it comes to the U.S.- Mexico border is being tested.

Here's the backstory. The Trump administration allowed border officials to turn away migrants citing public health in the pandemic. Then, this year, the Biden administration decided that unaccompanied children are exempt from that order, allowing them to remain in the U.S. until their immigration cases are decided.

Well, now, the number of migrants trying to enter the U.S. is exploding, and this includes a backlog of migrants who were forced to wait in Mexico by the Trump administration. And this clear turning point is being downplayed by the White House.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this a crisis at the border?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I don't think we need to sit here and put new labels on what we have already conveyed is challenging, what we have conveyed is a top priority for the president, what our policy teams are working on every single day.

They -- obviously there was a trip to the border this weekend, they are working over the course of every say since then on putting in place policies that can help address what we're seeing, and help ensure that we are keeping these kids safe and moving them as quickly as possible from Border Patrol facilities to shelters where they can have access to educational resources, health resources, mental health resources, legal aid, et cetera.


KEILAR: Moments ago, the coordinator for the southern border also would not call it a crisis.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Would you describe what's happening on the border as a crisis, given how these numbers are spiking so much week by week?

ROBERTA JACOBSON, COORDINATOR FOR THE SOUTHERN BORDER: You know, I think that I really -- 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.


KEILAR: Now more than ever, it is important to call it like it is, and the situation at the border is a crisis and it has been for a while. Consider these facts. U.S. agents encountered more than 100,000 migrants at the border in the past four weeks alone, that is the highest level since at least 2016. Single adults make up the biggest portion of arrests, but CNN reports the percentage of families and children jumped last month.

A record number of unaccompanied children are currently being held at the border. According to documents, more than 3,000 unaccompanied migrant kids are in Border Patrol custody, in facilities in the United States. That is half of the total number of people in custody. I will say it again, half of the people that the U.S. currently has in detention at the border are children.

TEXT: U.S. Border Crisis: 100,000+ migrants at border in past month; Highest level since 2016; Rise in families and children; Record number of unaccompanied children being held; More than 3,400 unaccompanied children in custody; Official: "alarming and concerning; About 2,600 awaiting placement in shelters; Facilities are overcrowded, beds are scarce; Border officials encountering 4,000-5,000 migrants a day; DHS asking for help with "overwhelming surge"

KEILAR: One DHS official telling CNN that the number of kids is, quote, "alarming and concerning," and not good, and not good at all.

Of those, about 2,800 are waiting to be placed in shelters that can serve minors, even though there are just under 500 beds available in the facilities where they are currently housed.

DHS admits the facilities are overcrowded, and that beds are scarce. DHS says border authorities are encountering up to 5,000 people trying to enter the U.S. a day. Things are so dire, Biden's DHS is asking internally for volunteers to help with what it calls a, quote, "overwhelming surge." And what makes this even more urgent is that we are in the middle of a pandemic, when obviously the U.S. doesn't want to risk outbreaks at these facilities or inside the U.S.


So while the bigger and most important question is what the Biden administration plans to do about it, especially the children here -- and there are so many -- part of finding a solution to a problem is admitting that you have a problem in the first place, a problem that's undoubtedly a crisis.

Meanwhile, Texas has opened with no coronavirus restrictions, yet only slightly more than eight percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. So it doesn't quite add up, lifting the statewide mask mandate right now.

Apparently, major Texas cities agree with this. Leaders in Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso have announced policies of their own, trying to mandate face coverings on the local level.

And Texas isn't alone in lifting coronavirus restrictions. Despite warnings from infectious disease experts that this will allow the virus to spread. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the famous astrophysicist and author, making this analogy.


NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: If most states in the United States of America have retained their mask-wearing rules to protect everyone from COVID, and some states have relaxed that rule, allowing people to walk around without it in public, that's like designating a peeing section of a swimming pool.


KEILAR: Don't you just love that? Emergency medicine physician Dr. Comilla Sasson is with us now. She has spent the past year traveling the U.S. to COVID-19 hotspots.

And you wrote in an op-ed on, you talked about governors opening up their states, writing, "I'll risk my life to help save yours. And I will because I feel compelled to do it. But I am getting tired. My patience is getting thinner when I go outside and see life going back to normal."

I imagine you connect with that assessment of designating a peeing section in the swimming pool being what we're seeing with some of these states reopening.

COMILLA SASSON, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN, KAISER PERMANENTE: You know, I hadn't thought of it that way until you said it. But you know, I think ultimately what makes it really hard is that, you know, all of my colleagues and I, we literally, from north to south, I've been, you know, three miles away from the Canadian border, I've been in Texas, working COVID, you know, helping out with COVID patients down there because they needed extra support.

I actually just got back from California, where I was helping my other Kaiser Permanente colleagues who needed help in the ICUs because they were so overwhelmed with so many patients. You know, all of us were pitching in, doing everything we could to help as many patients as we can, and then, you know, you do see a lot of folks out there who kind of are living their lives like nothing is going on.

And you know, there's part of you that says, OK, what's going on? Why is this happening? But there's another part of you that says, OK, this is my job, I'm going to do what I need to do.

But we've been running on adrenaline and goodwill for a long time, and I just really hope that people do the right thing and wear their mask and you know, do what you need to do.

KEILAR: See, that's the thing, is you're running on adrenaline, and now we look and thank god that medical staff are now vaccinated. But that's not really enough here because you all have been fighting a war that -- it's not even -- you know, there are some ebbs and flows, but you've been fighting a war for a long time and you're tired, you're exhausted. And I wonder, you know, at what point do you worry that things kind of fall apart for medical professionals?

SASSON: My colleagues and I had this conversation literally just a few weeks ago, we're exhausted. I mean, we've been literally on a marathon run, right? We've been running almost at full speed for a year, that's a long time.

I know a lot of folks out there are watching, thinking, yes, you know, it's been a long year for everybody, but we've been on this tidal wave of ups and downs. And I think a lot of us are afraid that if we don't really get the pandemic under control, if we don't get everybody vaccinated, if there's another surge, I'm not sure if we all have it in us to be able to do it again because it's just so exhausting.

You know, being at the bedside, being the last person that somebody sees before they die, there's no other family members around. That's never happened before. This is something that's totally different with COVID. And it takes a physical toll on you, it takes a mental toll on you.

But you know, ultimately at the end of the day, masking is public health. It's not about personal freedom, it's just about doing the right thing and taking care of yourself and taking care of others, and then it's about getting vaccinated because then that helps us all get back to our lives. I mean, we're so close, we're so close to that finish line. It's just a little bit longer, and we can all just do it together.

KEILAR: I can see it from here, but we're not quite there yet. Dr. Sasson, I want to thank you so much for all the work that you have been doing. It's unbelievable. And thank you for talking to us today.


SASSON: Thank you, appreciate it. Wear your mask and get vaccinated.