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Biden Administration Considers Vacant NASA Facility to House Migrant Children; L.A. Schools Could Reopen in Mid-April Under Deal With Teachers; Pentagon Spokesman Says, Defense Secretary Austin Shares Same Revulsion over Tucker Carlson's Sexist Comments. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 11:30   ET

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


DR. MEGAN RANNEY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Shoulder to shoulder, without masks presumably in Texas, shouting, drinking, standing in line for restrooms.

[11:30:06]

Yes, we have one out four Americans vaccinated but that's mostly older folks. You're setting yourself for spread. We're almost there. This is not time to go full hog yet. Open up a little bit. Make it 20,000 people, make the mask, that would be safe right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWSROOM: That is a good way of maybe telling -- maybe explaining it. It is not time to go full hog. I'm going to keep that one.

The federal government though, the other piece of this, is that the federal government has announced it is shifting guidance on nursing homes with that almost entire population has now been vaccinated. And I've even been told that they're seeing in many facilities no new infections, no new cases because of the vaccines have been so effective. Do you think it is time for this change from the federal government on this guidance?

RANNEY: I think it is a wonderful and much needed guidance for nursing homes. We have study after study showing that our elderly parents and grandparents have been deeply suffering from loneliness and isolation over the course of the pandemic. That was seen as a lesser evil compared to the risk of them getting sick. But as you just said, most of our folks in nursing homes across country have been vaccinated.

And if community members are coming in with masks on, if those community members are asymptomatic, it is pretty safe. This is the beauty of the vaccine. And it's where I keep telling people, we're in the last miles of this marathon. If we can hold on a little bit longer, day by day, week by week, we're going to get more and more things that move back towards normal. Nursing homes are an appropriate thing. Again, 40,000 people in a stadium, that is a little bit much.

BOLDUAN: It struck -- it stuck with me how Dr. Fauci said it the other day, which is every day without a surge, we're getting closer and closer, and it's exactly what you're getting to here.

Pfizer announced today that they have some real world -- some new real world evidence coming out of Israel, which basically, I think, exclusively uses the Pfizer vaccine, that its vaccine is 97 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease and 94 percent effective in preventing asymptomatic infection. Can you help me understand and help us understand what that means? Is this getting to this big question of does the vaccine protect against transmission?

RANNEY: That is exactly. So it gets actually at three big things that I'm really excited about. The first is we know in medicine that often the data from a study is better than the data from the real world. So many of us expected, well this vaccine was 94 percent, 95 percent effective in the studies, when it gets out in the real world, it won't be as good. This vaccine is really awesome at preventing people from getting sick, which is our top goal of a vaccine.

The second thing is that it does show that it prevents asymptomatic infection, which gets at that transmission issue. It means that not just you're protected from getting sick but you're also protected from potentially catching it and then spreading it to others.

The third part, Kate, that really excites me about this is remember that B117 variant, the one that was first identified in the U.K., is quite common in Israel. And so this data in a country where B117 has been spreading tells me that the Pfizer vaccine works really well against the new variant, which is great news for the world. It means that we don't have be super scared about that variant, although there are also others behind it, which still do give us pause.

BOLDUAN: So interesting. Dr. Ranney, thank you.

Coming up for us, a surge of migrants at the border, including thousands of children. Coming up next, I'm going to speak to a Democratic lawmaker from the border, from a border state with a warning for the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:00]

BOLDUAN: A new surge of migrants across -- coming across the southern border is posing a critical question right now to the Biden administration. And the more immediate question is where to put more than 3,400 unaccompanied children that are now in custody of border patrol. Authorities are right now even considering using a vacant NASA site in California to temporarily house the children as the facilities are overflowing and not currently fit for children to be in.

New data shows that federal authorities have encountered more than 100,000 people crossing the border February. That is up 28 percent from January. The age breakdown is especially troubling too. Nearly 3,000 of the unaccompanied children are under the age of 12. 26,850 more are unaccompanied teenagers. That is almost 30,000 children in all. Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas. His district includes a big part of the southern border. Thanks for coming on again. I appreciate your time.

You told a local station yesterday that in the next week or so, we are all going to have a humanitarian crisis on our hands on the southern border. Can you describe why that is?

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): Well, certainly, because the months of March, April, May, June, are the peak months where people usually will come across. So the numbers you gave about February, with a little over 100,000, that was only February, but we're now in the peak time.

[11:40:05]

So those numbers are certainly going to increase.

And, again, with all due respect to the Biden administration, we've seen this before. We saw it with Obama in 2014, we saw it under President Trump in 2019. So there are things that we should have learned from the years of 2014 and 2019.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Let me -- you don't seem to have a problem saying the word, crisis, that we're going to have a humanitarian crisis on our hands. The Biden administration though is really resist ant to the calling this a crisis. Just yesterday, the new southern border coordinator, I want to play for you what she said when she was asked about just the word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTA JACOBSON, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: 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 this situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Congressman, when messaging is so important here, why do you think they very, truly don't want to call this a crisis?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, and I know Roberta Jacobson very well, we've worked together on so many things, when she was a state department ambassador of Mexico. Look, I don't want to spend time calling it a crisis or it's a challenging situation. I look at the numbers. And as I said, the numbers are increasing and they started increasing actually from August of 2020 under the Trump administration. Those numbers were coming up.

But now, as you know, whoever the president is, that president will own the situation. And I know nobody wants to start an administration with the word, crisis, but the numbers are going to be increasing. That is the bottom line.

We've seen this before. We ought to learn what we did in 2014, maybe not in 2019, but certainly in 2014 under President Obama. We learned the hard way, and there are ways to address it. Because, look, the kids are going to be there. They're usually are held for about 37 days until we could find families or some sort family member where we can to put them.

They're not in cages. I mean, Health and Human Services does a good job. In fact, tomorrow, I'll be heading to Carrizo Springs to see one of those facilities. So they do a good job. It is a matter of how long do we want to deal with these number of individuals coming in.

BOLDUAN: Well, there is the question of long-term fix. They're trying to ask for money from Congress to -- for a long-term fix. But if we can, let's focus on the -- I'm going to call it what it is, a crisis right now that's going to become a humanitarian crisis soon. What do you think could be done right now to fix what is right now a problem of more than 3,400 children being in custody and the facilities, they don't have enough space?

CUELLAR: Well, certainly, first thing we have got to do is we got to treat those young kids with dignity and give them the proper space. And I mean they're here already and they're going to keep coming until we change something. So we have to treat them with the respect and make sure they have got all of the care before we send them off to the families. But that is only taking care of the issue right now. What do we do about this pipeline?

And I'll say this quickly. There are three messages, and I want to put myself in Central America. One message from the White House, don't come now. Come later. Message number two from the family members and neighbors, hey, Pedro, we're able to come, come over right now. Message number three is from the criminal organizations, hey, I can get you across, pay me a little bit of money. And they're not going to listen to message number two and three. Quite honestly, that is what is happening until we have a solid message that we could send down to Central America.

And, by the way, I was involved with the first $750 million for Central America. We put -- total, we put almost close to $2 billion since we started this program, almost $2 billion and we still are facing the same situation since 2014.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, look, they have got a crisis on their hands, and as you lay out, honestly, better than I've heard everyone do it, they have got a huge messaging problem and it is not getting through.

Congressman, thanks for coming on. I really look forward to having you back on after you go to the facility that you say you're going to visit very soon. I appreciate your time.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: And coming up for us, after months of negotiations and almost a year to the day since school shutdown, Los Angeles now has a plan for reopening classrooms. The school district superintendent joins me next.

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[11:45:00]

BOLDUAN: Students in the second largest school district in the country are finally expected to start going back to the classroom in a matter of weeks. It comes after negotiations between the Los Angeles public schools and the teachers' union. The tentative agreement includes a hybrid learning scheduled and also weekly testing.

And on the issue that seemed a major sticking point, vaccines, under this deal, teachers would not have to return to work until they've had access to a COVID vaccine.

Joining me right now is the superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District, Austin Beutner. It's good to have you back on, Austin.

This was a long negotiation. You and I talked a couple times about it. You're the last of the largest school districts to announce these reopening plans. What got you to this point?

AUSTIN BEUTNER, SUPERINTENDENT, L.A. UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT: What got us to this point is a shared commitment to do this the right way. We said all along this highest standard of safety in schools, lower spread of the virus in the communities we serve and vaccinations for all the staff. Let's just keep apart those three pieces.

We've upgraded our air filtration systems in all of our classrooms back in May.

[11:50:01]

We built the nation's most comprehensive school-based COVID testing system. We launched that in September. We've doubled our custodian staff in September. So the right protocols are in place at schools. We've seen community spread come down, and let's remember, Los Angeles was the epicenter until very, very recently. It's coming down.

And we're delighted the governor and the president share our commitment to make sure all schools have the vaccines, hopefully, teachers are in place, by mid-April, we'll be welcoming students back to classrooms.

BOLDUAN: The district did a survey, I believe, back in the fall that showed that something like two-thirds of families were not interested in returning to in-person learning at the time. What proportion of families are going to be returning for in-person? What are you hearing from them?

BEUTNER: Well, it's a very important point you raise, because we're reopening schools in the safest way possibly builds trust, not only with the families that we serve and those who work in schools. And if we want students back, everyone needs to know it's safe.

Now, when you have hard-hit communities, like those we serve, it's going to take time. They need to see the right practices and protocols are in place, they need to be comfortable with teachers and school bus drivers and cafeteria workers, (INAUDIBLE) pretty safe environment. Our hope is when they see that and they understand the extraordinary measures that we've taken, they'll feel comfortable with sending their children here.

BOLDUAN: Do you have a sense of how many families are going to be coming back?

BEUTNER: We just sent out a family return guide, which is all the information about the health practices and protocols, the instruction schedules. Let's have a conversation in a week or ten days, we'll have a pretty good picture what it looks like.

BOLDUAN: All right, interesting. You shut down your district back on March 13, basically one year ago to the day. What's your biggest reflection in the last year, Austin?

BEUTNER: I think at that time, there is a lot we didn't know about COVID. But we saw this existential threat, and we made the commitment that through thick and thin, we're going to protect the health and safety of all our school community.

We've continued to do that. It's been, boy, a year of struggles for a lot of people. We hope there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe for the first time it's not another train. And as we look to go back in schools, we're delighted to see the president with his leadership and bringing that martial plan for schools we've been talking about for many, many months now. We need to make sure when students come back and they're on the path to recovery that we have extra time with students, extra teachers in the classroom that will help support the schools that we're going to need, extra custodian staffs.

So it's not just opening the front door and go back to the way it was, we better go forward on this path to recovery. We're glad to see the president and Congress and the leadership giving us the resources that we need.

BOLDUAN: Yes. The recovery doesn't -- isn't complete when the doors to school open back up, that's for sure. Thanks for coming on.

BEUTNER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, the Pentagon just issued a scathing response to a Fox News host's sexist commentary about women in the military. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:55:00]

BOLDUAN: So this just in to CNN, top officials at the Pentagon are now calling out Fox News Host Tucker Carlson for his sexist commentary about women serving in the military. First, let me read what Tucker said. He was at the time responding to Joe Biden announcing some changes to the military to make it more inclusive. Let me read just part of what Tucker said.

He said, quote, so we've got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It's a mockery of the U.S. military. And he went on from there. Joining me right now is CNN's Barbara Starr, she's at the Pentagon for us. Barbara, how is the Pentagon now responding to this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this morning, Kate, a furious response from several senior serving generals who took to social media to call out Tucker Carlson and remind him of what he certainly must already know that women have served, fought and died for this country for hundreds of years.

The Pentagon really furious that they even have to discuss this, that he would bring this up, because it's frankly so ridiculous. So many women -- it all revolved around a photo that the military has now developed flight suits for women who are pregnant while serving.

The Pentagon press secretary adding to it a little while ago, speaking out publicly about the Pentagon's views and the views of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY (voice over): What we absolutely won't do is take personnel advice from a talk show host or the Chinese military. Maybe those folks feel like they have something to prove, that's on them.

This secretary certainly shares the revulsion of so many others to what Mr. Carlson said in his opening statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: I'll take just a second and remind him and everyone else, Mr. Carlson, one of the greatest women that ever served the U.S. military, Harriet Tubman. She was buried after fighting years in the confederacy, freeing slaves, leading raid, serving in combat in the confederacy war. She was buried with full military honors and a very small military pension, just one woman who paved the way for decades of service, fighting on the frontlines by so many other military women. Kate?

BOLDUAN: But Tucker Carlson thinks a mockery of the U.S. military.

[12:00:01]

Barbara, thank you very, very much. We want to talk about the real patriots that Tucker and his friends like to learn (ph) so much, there you've got it.