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CNN NEWSROOM

Tonight, President Biden Delivers First Primetime Address; Prince William Says, Royals are Very Much Not a Racist Family; One Year into Pandemic, the Battle against COVID-19. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 10:00   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Tweeted about that this morning.

[10:00:01]

You can find it there. All proceeds will go to fund research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which is fantastic, by the way, where Beans (ph) was treated. Proceeds will specifically help fund research and treatment for this very rare form of cancer, typically seen in infants.

So what we're asking to do is something small. Just purchase one of these beanies at teambeans.shop. And just know Andrew and Rachel, we're thinking of you today. It is a small thing. It is a really easy website, folks. Again, we've tweeted about it, Instagramed about it, easy to find, a small gesture for them and that little girl.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Good morning, everyone, it is the top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Tonight, President Biden is set to address the American people from the east room of the White House. It is his first primetime address as president expected to honor the more than 529,000 people who have lost their lives to COVID-19, and address the sacrifices that Americans, that all of us have made during this pandemic while recognizing how it has very much changed our lives.

HARLOW: That is right. President Biden is also expected to tout what just passed, and that is his $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package, known as the American rescue plan, really, largely popular with the American people. But it passed only along party lines. There was not a single Republican in either chamber that supported the bill.

The president will sign it into law tomorrow and then he's going to Pennsylvania next week to sell it to the American people.

So let's begin at the White House with our John Harwood. Good morning to you, John. What have you learned in terms of the tone we're going to hear from the president tonight?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, pretty consistently, President Biden has struck a very sober tone about this pandemic, honoring the sacrifice of people, speaking to -- with empathy toward the economic suffering that people have gone through. And so I think the one-year anniversary provides a moment of reflection as he reaches the halfway mark of the first 100 days.

But he's also able to point toward the sun coming out on this pandemic. That is to say, the acceleration of vaccine administration, the passage of that bill, which he pushed through in an enormous victory that he pushed through with Democratic votes, $1.9 trillion. It is very quickly going to put a lot of money in the hands of Americans, especially provide extra help for low-income Americans, more help for small businesses.

So this is both a moment of reflection and a moment of being able to look ahead with optimism as he begins the process of trying to sell this bill over the next couple of weeks, before he turns to the next item on his agenda, which, of course, is that build back better economic recovery plan. Longer time horizon there but this is a moment about the coronavirus pandemic and the imminent solution to that pandemic.

SCIUTTO: So, that is the president's plan but, as always, presidents have to respond to what comes across their plate. And right now, you have a real surge at the border of migrants, particularly children. How does President Biden plan to respond?

HARWOOD: That is such a key point, Jim, about the nature of the presidency. There are things that you plan for, there are things that you do on your own time and there are things that come at you. And this border crisis, challenge, whatever you want to call it, is one of those things. He has faced and his border officials have been faced with the challenge of a surge of children coming across the border who they've been having to keep in facilities that are very crowded, longer than they're supposed to.

So what they're doing is trying to, first of all, tell people to remain in their home countries, that they could apply for asylum in the United States from their home countries rather than making the journey to the border. And then in the more immediate sense, looking for facilities, unused government buildings so that they can provide better treatment for these children, lest they get accused of some of the same things that Donald Trump and his administration got accused of, which is holding them in inhumane conditions.

They're looking at, among other things, an unused NASA property in California. So they're scrambling at this point. This is one of the things they hadn't planned on and how they react to it is going to be a very important early test of the competence and administration of the border.

SCIUTTO: No question, they do not want to see scenes like we've seen under the Trump administration. And the numbers even higher than the peak of the Trump administration. John Harwood, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Jim Messina, former Obama Campaign Manager, former Deputy Chief of Staff under President Obama. Jim, good to have you on this morning. I do want to get to challenges for Biden's legislative agenda going forward.

[10:05:01]

But before we do, listen, this is a big bill, $1.9 trillion, and not just the price tag, because there are a lot of things in here that expand the social safety net in ways that Democrats have been pushing for some time. I wonder, put it in context for us, how lasting are these changes, how big, in your view.

JIM MESSINA, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, I think it is absolutely huge. Yesterday, 13,000 American Airlines employees got an email saying, tear up your furlough notes, you're not going to lose your job because of the American rescue plan passed.

You have a huge expansion of the childcare tax credit, the Democrats have been fighting for for a long time. You have some real investments going forward in things that are incredibly important to the country. And it is why over 75 percent of Americans support this bill.

Usually, as you know, the more you find out about a bill in the legislative process, the less popular it gets. This thing is holding steady in the high 70s because people understand how badly it is needed and how some of these things have been unaddressed for too long.

HARLOW: You know, Jim, you bring up child poverty, and this bill, through this the child tax credit expansion, will literally lift 50 percent of children out of poverty. We're talking about tens of millions of American children.

Now, that provision lasts a year. But the Democrats want to make it permanent. And this is an area where there was a lot of Republican support, albeit a little bit differently structured. But from Mike Lee, from Mitt Romney, from Marco Rubio, is that an area where some structure of child support can make this actually lasting?

MESSINA: Absolutely. I mean, these things are hard to get rid of once you pass them. And while it is only a year, could you imagine being a member of Congress who wanted to vote against the extension of this. You're right, there are some differences in how people want to move this forward, but my prediction is, Poppy, that this thing is not going to go away. There will be bipartisanship --

SCIUTTO: Jim, sincere apologies, just because the new attorney general is about to speak, Merrick Garland. Please hold on. We'll have a listen.

MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: -- offices that make everything work, first, to the executive office for U.S. attorneys and then to the justice management division. And for the past seven weeks, Monte (ph) has ensured that the department continued to work and to honor its proud traditions during the leadership transition between of new administrations. I'm deeply grateful. On January 7th of this year, when the president-elect announced his intention to nominate for me attorney general, I spoke to the American people. On February 22nd, when my Senate Judiciary Committee hearing began, I spoke to the United States Congress. Today, I want to speak to you, the more than 115,000 employees of the United States Department of Justice.

Now, I had hoped to be standing before more of you today in this great hall, but the circumstances of the ongoing pandemic will not permit it. That, however, is a small disappointment compared to the hardships that many of you have suffered and the additional burdens have you borne as a consequence of the pandemic.

I have to tell you, that when I walked into the door of Main Justice this morning, it really did feel like I was coming home. I first walked into this building when I was 26 years old. I was here for a job interview. And I was awe-struck. This is a beautiful hall and this is a beautiful building built in the midst of the great depression. But it was the idea of justice to which it is a monument that was truly awe-inspiring.

Everywhere I look, there were serious people pursuing the cause of justice. I left the interview wanting the job badly. The way I'm sure each of you felt after your DOJ interview, the way we want everyone who interviews at DOJ to feel. I know that was how I felt every time I came back to interview for another Justice Department position. And after leaving my first position for private practice, I did come back, many times, to serve in a variety of positions both career and non- career.

A long the way, I worked with DOJ attorneys, agents and staff in every component of the department and across the width and breath of this country. Altogether, I served under five attorneys general appointed by four presidents.

[10:10:04]

I know that some of you have notched up plenty more.

The Department of Justice has always been a large part of -- has also been a large part of the lives of people who are close to me. My younger sister followed me to DOJ where she served as a career attorney in the civil division. More than 35 of my former law clerks went on to serve at the Justice Department in both career and non- career positions. Many of my closest friends are veterans of the department with both career and non-career service.

For all of you and for me, public service is more than a job. It is a calling. All of you have chosen the Department of Justice over other places where you might have used your skills and where you might have earned a higher salary. I am grateful beyond words for your service to this country.

All of us are united by our commitment to the will of law and to seeking equal justice under law. We are united by our commitment to protecting our country as our oath says, from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And by our commitment to enforcing our country's laws and to ensuring the civil rights and the civil liberties of our people.

The only way we can succeed and retain the trust of the American people is to adhere to the norms that have become part of the DNA of every Justice Department employee since Edward Levi's stint as the first post Watergate attorney general.

As I said at the announcement of my nomination, those norms require that like cases be treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends and another for foes, one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless, one rule for the rich and another for the poor, or different rules, depending upon one's race or ethnicity.

At his swearing in, Attorney General Levi said, quote, if we are to have a government of laws and not of men, then it takes dedicated men and women to accomplish this through their zeal and determination and also through fairness and impartiality. And I know that this department always has had such dedicated men and women, closed quote.

I too know that this department has and always has had such dedicated people. I am honored to work with you once again. Together, we will show the American people by word and deed that the Department of Justice pursues equal justice and adheres to the rule of law. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: The new attorney general of the United States, Merrick Garland, speaking there, a very clear message about a change from the previous administration, talking about adhering to norms, that there is not one law for the rich, not one law for the powerful and the rest of us, a notable commentary given some of the criticism levied at his predecessor.

HARLOW: Yes, that is a really good point, Jim.

Okay. Let's bring in CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. Also let's bring back in our Legal Analyst and former Federal Prosecutor Elie Honig.

Evan, I think Jim makes an excellent point about the contrast there. And I also think it is important for everyone to know the history that Merrick Garland comes with as a young prosecutor at DOJ when he went and -- to Oklahoma City, prosecuted Timothy McVeigh, then went on to prosecute the bomber for the Atlanta Olympics in '96, as he takes on his biggest challenge, this new case.

EVAN PEREZ, SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No, absolutely. And, look, I think for the first time since that era, the Justice Department is confronting this evil of domestic violent extremism and the fact that it has metastasized, it has grown so much in the last few years. And I think that is going to be job one for Merrick Garland, the emphasis that the department is going to be facing, be trying to emphasize this idea that we have to combat that while also preserving civil liberties, which is a tough thing to do.

And then, secondly, you also heard him talk about tackling the issue of civil rights, which is forefront on the minds of Democrats and Republicans.

[10:15:04]

I think a lot of Republicans that voted against him were concerned about what will happen under the Justice Department with regard to policing and voting rights. Again, that is a big, big thing given we see what Republican legislatures are doing around the country.

And then last, I think to Jim's point, it is very important, I think, for the Justice Department to kind of emphasize that, look, because you're the friend of the president or the son of a president, it doesn't mean you're going to get a different kind of justice from the Justice Department. It is an important message, which was frankly lost over the last few years.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and there will be a test, right, for him in the Hunter Biden case.

Listen, Elie, you know attorney generals, they are political appointees, politics has influenced them in years past, but it is fair to say that Bill Barr took that to a different level, I mean, for instance, interpreting the Mueller report in favor of the president, right, someone appointed by the Justice Department. You're writing a book about this, right, about Barr's tenure as attorney general. I just wonder, what differences do you see here, do you expect to see in early decisions by Merrick Garland?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Jim, it looks like night and day. I think Merrick Garland was signaling very clearly that it is a new era in the Justice Department. All this politicization that we saw from Bill Barr under the Trump administration, all the mistruths that Bill Barr gave to the public, I think, Merrick Garland is making clear those are a thing of the past.

And what really struck, what really hit home for me was when Merrick Garland was talking about when he walked back into the Justice Department building, he said it felt like coming home again. And what is so important about that is, first of all, Merrick Garland, unlike Bill Barr, grew up at the Justice Department, like I did. He was trained about the importance of DOJ political independence and integrity and I think that will set Merrick Garland apart. And if he makes good on the speech that he just gave, I think we will see a very different attorney general, a very different Justice Department.

HARLOW: Great point. Thank you so much, Elie and Evan, good to have you. A big day for sure.

Coming up, to the royals, Prince William briefly breaking his silence to outright deny allegations of racism within the royal family from Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, but is that how the rest of the U.K. sees it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:20:00] SCIUTTO: Prince William has now made his the first public comments since his brother, Prince Harry, and sister-in-law, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, gave their remarkable interview to Oprah Winfrey, raising an allegation of a racist comment by a member unidentified by royal family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Sir, have you spoken to your brother since the interview?

PRINCE WILLIAM, DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE: No, I haven't spoken yet but I will do.

REPORTER: And can you just let me know, is the royal family a racist family, sir?

PRINCE WILLIAM: We're very much not a racist family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Our colleague, Salma Abdelaziz, joins us now, has been covering this story in London. What is the significance on multiple levels, Salma, after the promise from the palace that this would be handled privately? What is the significance of what we just heard?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Poppy and Jim, when the palace put out that statement that it was a family matter, if you heard from people of color in this country, they said, absolutely, it is not a family matter. This is an institution, it is an institution that represents Britain and this is a public debate, a public conversation. And Prince William has sort of just made it exactly that by issuing that comment bite, responding to that question. But I think an anti-racist (INAUDIBLE) will tell you that that journalist missed the point and the -- Prince William missed the point.

The point here is not just about the specific allegation of racism, it is, of course, something that needs to be addressed. But we are talking about something larger here. Meghan Markle repeatedly said in that interview, the system, the firm, the institution. We are talking about micro-aggressions, about the day-to-day, about the lived experience of being a person of color in this country.

Yesterday, I met with the woman who sang at the gospel -- the gospel songs that we heard at the wedding. I met the gospel singer yesterday and I was speaking to her about watching this interview three years after she was at the wedding. She told me it made me feel afraid in a way that she has never felt before as a woman of color in this country.

So now that these issues are out there, everyone here really wants to talk about them. Let's tackle this. This is a struggle for equality. It will not be fixed in one interview, in one marriage, in one instance. It is a larger struggle and that's what you're going to hear here in the U.K. from people of color.

HARLOW: Okay. Salma, thank you for the reporting, very much, right outside of Buckingham Palace for us.

One year to the day after this was officially named a pandemic, we have now have three working highly effective vaccines, something of a medical miracle. Does this mean we are officially turning the corner? We hope so. We'll talk about it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:25:00]

HARLOW: It is one year to the day since this was actually declared a pandemic. President Biden tonight will address the nation. He will commemorate the loss and struggles that Americans have endured over these last 12 months and the world has endured. The future though, we will hear positive message from him on that.

SCIUTTO: The director of the CDC says that the agency's new guidance for vaccinated Americans marks the first step toward a return to pre- pandemic life. Imagine that.

CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen joins us now. She's a former Baltimore Health Commissioner. So, Dr. Wen, great to have you.

Looking big picture, daily vaccination rate, it's increasing, the vaccines are showing success, protecting at least against hospitalizations and death from the new variants and also the concerns about the drop in new infections plateauing seems not to have borne out.

[10:30:06]