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Live Coverage as President Biden Signs $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill Today; Military Responds to Tucker Carlson Comments; Prince William Responds to Harry and Meghan. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 14:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president will obviously look back at what's transpired over the course of the last year, 529,000 dead and stilly dying over the course of the coming weeks and months.

That is something the president has done throughout, whether it was the day before his inauguration, whether it was when the nation hit 500,000 deaths, he regularly tries to look back and remember. That's obviously going to be a key point.

The other is on vaccines. Look, this is the linchpin of the administration's kind of entire strategy here, is trying to get the country vaccinated and not just the ramp-up that we've seen in terms of supply over the course of the last several weeks, but also the distribution that they're putting in place, the infrastructure they're putting in place. And infrastructure that will be bolstered by this $1.9 trillion COVID relief package he will sign in just a few moments.

And then the other element here -- and this will probably be the most important -- is he's going to try and look forward, he's going to talk about a launch of the next steps of the COVID response process.

The administration knows people are tired, people are exhausted. They want people to hold on, continue to wear masks, continue to socially distance but they recognize that they need to point forward with the vaccines coming online, with numbers dropping in terms of cases and deaths over the last several weeks, that people want to know what's coming next.

I think you're going to hear the president talk a lot about that, but again, an emphasis will most certainly be on what he's about to sign in just a few moments.

And one other thing to keep an eye on, Brianna, the administration is already launching into their blitz to sell and message this proposal. The importance, in their minds, of what this $1.9 trillion will actually bring to the table.

The president, they announced yesterday, will make a trip to Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and they just announced that next week, the president and the vice president will be heading to Georgia as part of the effort to talk about this proposal.

Why does that matter? Well, were it not for Georgia and the two Senate Democrats who hail from that state, because of runoffs on January 5th, $1.9 trillion wouldn't have even been remotely possible. Democrats would have been in the minority in the Senate, Mitch McConnell would have been the Senate majority leader. Obviously Democrats are in the majority now, and because of that, the president is about to sign his cornerstone legislative proposal -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yes, it is very symbolic. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much, covering the White House for us.

It is remarkable for President Biden to be signing such a sweeping piece of legislation, just seven weeks after taking office. So how does it compare to past presidents and some of their signature achievements? CNN's Tom Foreman has been tracking that for us. How does this COVID relief bill stack up, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is big, it is popular, and it is super-fast when you compare it to the records of previous presidents in terms of getting their major legislation through. Look at this, 51 days compared to these much higher numbers for everyone else.

TEXT: Days From Inauguration to First Major Legislation: Biden, 51 days; Trump, 334 days; Obama, 427 days; Bush, 279 days; Clinton, 202 days

FOREMAN: So what else were they doing? Donald Trump, in his almost first year, he occupied all of his time trying to get through this giant tax plan, which of course many people were aware of at the time.

This was not necessarily so popular, a lot of Republicans liked his tax plan but that wasn't so much true of many other people in the population, especially as they realized that the impact of it would not move their money the way they thought they would. A lot of people got (INAUDIBLE) an advantage, but they were more concerned about the money that went to wealthy people out there and how it ran the deficit up.

Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act, he pushed that through. That was something that wasn't so popular, it was passed by a razor-thin margin, but became more popular as these measures settled in with the population and has moved on forward. Big, very iffy thing, passed with no GOP support, no Republican support.

TEXT: Affordable Care Act, March 23, 2010: Creates state-based exchanges; Expands Medicaid; Institutes individual mandate; Protects people with pre-existing conditions

FOREMAN: If we go further back and we look at George W. Bush, the U.S. Patriot Act. This one was fast when you think about where it came from. This was a response to 9/11, so it wasn't really fast in his term so much, but certainly fast in terms of 9/11, bipartisan support, no surprise there, a lot of concern in the country at the time. This one, very popular at the time, but then not so much as it went on, people looked at privacy concerns.

TEXT: USA Patriot Act, October 26, 2001: Enhanced surveillance for law enforcement; Increased authority to freeze assets of suspected terrorists; Enhanced border security

FOREMAN: And Bill Clinton, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation -- boy, that's a catchy title, but this --

KEILAR: It sure is.

FOREMAN: -- this one actually had quite a huge impact. No Republican support for it, but this was the thing that led to a reduction in spending in the government, and the first surplus that we'd seen in a long time in the federal budget, and the last surplus we've seen in a long time in the federal budget.

TEXT: Omnibus Budget Reconciliation, August 10, 1993: Deficit reduction; Earned Income Tax Credit Expansion; Student Loan Reform; Empowerment Zones; No GOP Support

FOREMAN: This was the antithesis of what happened to the budget under Donald Trump, and this is something that a lot of people may not look at and say it's popular or not popular, but absolutely had a big impact. And it came about not nearly as fast as what Joe Biden's doing right now, so we'll see how that plays.

KEILAR: Omnibus Budget Reconciliation. Like you said, that --

FOREMAN: Just rolls right off the tongue.

KEILAR: -- is such a mouthful.

FOREMAN: That's a re-election campaign right there.

KEILAR: This is -- yes, it certainly is. Tom Foreman, thank you so much for that --

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

KEILAR: -- appreciate it.

Some of the seniormost members of the military are smacking down a Fox host for saying that pregnant women serving in the armed forces are a, quote, "mockery of the U.S. military," end quote. Here's what Tucker Carlson, who has never himself served in uniform -- maternity or otherwise -- said on his show.



TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: 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. While China's military becomes more masculine as it's assembled the world's largest navy, our military needs to become, as Joe Biden says, more feminine, whatever feminine means anymore, since men and women no longer exist.

The bottom line is, it's out of control, and the Pentagon's going along with this. Again, this is a mockery of the U.S. military, and its core mission, which is winning wars.


KEILAR: I really didn't want to repeat that, but I have to so that you can know what we're talking about here. To be clear, women are an essential part of the U.S. military according to the U.S. military, and the creation of a maternity uniform loan program to help female service members with what has been a costly process of getting uniforms that actually fit them throughout a pregnancy, was signed into law in the last Defense Authorization Bill, by former President Trump.

It was a bipartisan effort, pushed by now-Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the first Green Beret to serve in Congress, Florida Republican Michael Waltz.


REP. MICHAEL WALTZ (R-FL): This was really brought forward to me by an Air Force major I have on my staff. She's a mom of five kids, and to your point, it's a tremendous expense, but also when we see these experienced -- she's an Air Force cyber-warrior, we need her to stay in the military and to continue to serve. And, you know, as they're trying to have a family, deal with deployment, and they shouldn't have to deal with these additional expenses.


KEILAR: Kaitlynne Hetrick is with us. She is a Navy veteran, the daughter of a Navy vet, and a sister of a Marine. She works with the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, tracking the most pressing issues of American female veterans.

And we are also honored to be joined by the sergeant major of the Army, Michael Grinston, who is the seniormost enlisted member of the U.S. Army. Sir, with deference to you, I am going to start with the guest who has served in uniform while pregnant.

Kaitlynne, I want to know what your reaction is here.

KAITLYNNE HETRICK NAVY VETERAN: I mean, everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion. I happen to think that his opinion is wrong. As someone who served while pregnant, this is -- it's very disparaging to hear him say these things about women. I served with many women, women who were pregnant at the time, and none of us let our pregnancies affect our positions, and we all came to work, every day, ready to do our job, and we loved our jobs.

So again, he's entitled to his own opinion, but I believe the people who are in the Pentagon, making these decisions, have a lot more insight into what our military service members need than someone who's never served a day in their life. KEILAR: I am going to have to pause for just a moment, we have to go

to the White House for the president.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for coming in. In the -- the weeks that this bill has been discussed and debated, it's clear that an overwhelming percentage of the American people -- Democrats, independents, our Republican friends -- have made it clear, the people out there made it clear they strongly support the American Rescue Plan.

Yesterday, with final passage of the plan in the House of Representatives, their voices were heard, reflected (ph) in everything we have in this bill. And I believe this is -- and most people, I think, do as well -- this historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country, and giving people in this nation -- working people, middle-class folks, the people who built the country -- a fighting chance. That's what the essence of it is.

And I'm going to have a lot more to say about that tonight and the next couple days, and be able to take your questions. But in the meantime, what I'm going to do is sign this bill and make a presentation tonight, and then there's going to be plenty of opportunities, we're going to be on the road not only talking about what I'm talking about tonight, is the impact on the virus and how we're going to end this pandemic, but we're going to talk all the elements of the bill beginning on Friday, Saturday through the week.

So thank you for being here.

Got it, thank you all, appreciate it.


KEILAR: All right, so there you have it, President Biden, signing this huge, almost $2 trillion COVID relief plan. I want to bring in Dana Bash to talk about this.


Dana, this is a big day, this is a huge legislative achievement pretty early in Biden's term here.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. You started to say something that made me think of what he said to President Obama, when they --

KEILAR: Hopefully I didn't.

BASH: -- passed the ACA -- you did not. It is a big blank deal, and it is very different in so many ways, but it is presidency-defining for him at a very early time in his administration, of course, you know, just a couple of months in. And it is promises kept for him on a whole host of issues that are inside this giant piece of legislation.

And despite the fact that it was passed with only Democratic votes, you are already seeing Republicans kind of, with a wink and a nod and maybe even a more transparent than that, you know, telling their constituents that help is coming even though they didn't add to that help with a yes vote.

Now, what is very interesting and what is going to be noteworthy when we hear from the president tonight -- and of course when he gives, you know, people across the country a look at what exactly is in this -- is how he explains all of the specifics, and makes people understand how this is going to affect their lives.

Because there are so many things that, here in Washington, they do that are, you know, obviously intended to affect people's lives. But as we've covered Congress together -- and we did several years ago, Bri -- there are few things that I can think of that will have as much of a direct and immediate impact as this particular piece of legislation, now law, will have.

Because so many people are hurting, and this is going to get at their wallets, get at their bank accounts, get at the schools, get at the health centers around them to help them get vaccines, and on and one and on.

KEILAR: Yes, it's huge, to sort of think of how much almost $2 trillion is, it's gigantic. Dana, thank you so much for taking us through that, we appreciate it.

I want to get back to this incredibly important story, another very important story that we are tracking today, and that is a Fox host saying that pregnant women in the military are a mockery of the U.S. armed forces.

I want to restart our conversation with Kaitlynne Hetrick, who is a Navy veteran, and also the sergeant major of the Army, Michael Grinston, who is the seniormost enlisted member of the U.S. Army.

Sergeant Major, I actually -- I missed my bedtime last night because I was watching social media just light up over this, and then I saw you weigh in, and it caught fire. It is very significant that you are calling out this person by name. saying that their words are divisive, saying that it doesn't reflect values. Why did you feel it was important to do that?

TEXT: SMA Michael Grinston: Women lead our most lethal units with character. They will dominate ANY future battlefield we're called to fight on. @TuckerCarlson's words are divisive, don't reflect our values. We have THE MOST professional, educated, agile and strongest NCO Corps in the world.

MICHAEL GRINSTON, SERGEANT MAJOR, U.S. ARMY: Thank you, thank you for having me here. I think it's really important to say that because, you know, the Army has 185,000 women in our Army today, and we have the most lethal army in the world, and that is because of our people, all of our people.

So I'm extremely proud of all the women that I've served with in combat, that have been my commander in units across, in my 32-year career. So I'm extremely proud of all those women, and I don't think those comments need to divide us as a military because we have the greatest military in the world.

KEILAR: When you think of the contribution of women in the military -- and look, they're still obviously a minority in the military, but they are a significant fraction, I think it's almost one fifth when you look across the branches -- the branches, of course, vary. How essential are they in order to, you know, have force readiness, in order to make sure that you're hitting national security objectives?

GRINSTON: They're extremely important. I can just look no further than when General Richardson, she was the acting commander for Forces Command, the largest Army component command in the Army, for about six months, which is in charge of all the readiness in the Army. And without her leadership, for those six months, we wouldn't have a ready army.

So that's extremely crucial for what we do as a military, and it's because of her leadership during that time, and I'm proud to have served with her.

KEILAR: And Kaitlynne, to you, it's not uncommon for women to decide they're going to get out of the military when they're pregnant. I know a lot of women who assume that when they decide to start a family, that's probably going to be what happens to their career. And the military is trying to actually kind of turn that around. Why are maternity uniforms and just the attitudes towards women who are mothers, why are they so important?

HETRICK: I think it's so important because we need to value, obviously, the women that are within our military, and retaining them, because they bring diversity to the table. And we're focusing a lot on diversity right now, as we should be, and making sure that we retain those women because they have skillsets that are imperative to maintaining the world's finest military, which is what we have.

So I think making these decisions and expanding uniform options and even grooming standards is imperative to making sure that women in service feel that they are wanted, and that they are accepted, and that they belong there.

KEILAR: And Sergeant Major, you are of course -- you're a top leader in the Army, but just specifically as the sergeant major, I mean, your background in, you know, being operational and you know, very -- having a lot of experience when it comes to that.

You have a lot of -- there are a lot of young women who are new to the Army or they're new to the military, and they're looking to leadership to figure out sort of how they fit into things. Sometimes there are some mixed messages, I know the military has been trying to, you know, fix that.

But what do you say to them? What do you say to young women in the military who want to know what their leadership sees in them as part of the armed forces?

GRINSTON: Yes, we see the future of the Army. That's what we see in our young soldiers, both men and women, and it's important for us to make sure that our policies are aligned that keep them getting promoted.

One of the things we recently have done is we allow temporary promotions for women that are pregnant, so that they don't have to interrupt their career. They'll get promoted on time, and we go ahead and promote them and get them to the school that they need to get to on time. And I think that's extremely important for the future of the Army, and we're extremely proud of all of them.

KEILAR: And Kaitlynne, some of the work you do focuses on -- you know, there's been 500,000 female veterans who have served since 9/11. You focus a lot on how the needs specific to female veterans are going to be addressed. You know, this goes to the contribution that they have made in combat as well. What are you working on as you try to highlight this important -- these important issues for women?

HETRICK: So first and foremost is just acceptance. The issues that affect female service members definitely trickles over and affect female veterans as they're trying to access services at the V.A. And that starts at the door.

So right now, the V.A. motto is -- explicitly, it leaves out women veterans, and so we are really pushing to have that motto changed so it's inclusive of all veterans who serve. So from the moment you walk through the door of a V.A., you are able to feel like you belong.

And we have a wealth of other priorities that we have that affect women veterans, and if you're wanting to learn anything about that, you can go to our website, which is, and you can read all about the things that we are doing to help women veterans.

KEILAR: Yes, it is -- look, I'm so glad to have you both here, talking to us. Thank you so much. It's been a huge week for women int he military, not because of this particularly, although it is great to hear you speak out on this issue. A big, big week for especially leaders, women leaders in the military as well.

Sergeant Major, Kaitlynne, thank you to both of you.

GRINSTON: Yes, thank you.

KEILAR: Next, the mayor of El Paso, Texas will join me live as much of his state reopens. We'll have details on the emotional letter that he sent to the governor about losing his mom and brother to COVID.

Plus, Prince William breaks his silence after his brother and sister- in-law accuse the monarchy of racism.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you just let me know, if the royal family a racist family, sir?





KEILAR: Prince William today, breaking his silence on claims of racism within the royal family, made by his younger brother, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle during their Oprah interview. Here's what Prince William had to say.


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

PRINCE WILLIAM: No, I haven't spoken to him yet, but I will do.

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

PRINCE WILLIAM: No, we're very much not a racist family.


KEILAR: Meghan Markle, shocking the world earlier this week when she revealed that, during her pregnancy with son Archie, someone inside the palace raised concerns about how dark his skin might be. I want to bring in Anna Miles, who is a biracial writer and actress in Manchester, England.

Anna, what's your reaction to Prince William's -- what he said to that question there? He said the royals are very much not a racist family.

ANNA MILES, WRITER AND ACTRESS: Well, I mean, to start with, who gets asked the question is your family racist, and says yes we are? No one does. So I feel like it was a knee-jerk reaction. And the only thing we really have out there is the palace's statement, which was along the lines of although recollections may vary, we're going to discuss this as a private family matter.

And to me, this is not a private family matter, this is a very public matter, and it needs to be discussed publicly and there needs to be a formal investigation. So until that happens, I don't -- I'm not satisfied with the answer.


KEILAR: He clearly felt compelled to respond though, that was very noticeable, right?

MILES: Absolutely. And I believe they're not actually supposed to respond in that way, so he did seem angry and upset. And I can totally appreciate that those kind of allegations are going to make you upset. But they're serious, and they need to be addressed. And I don't think just a statement of, no, we're very much not racist, is enough to satisfy the world, the British public, Meghan and Harry. And I think what they said was clear, that serious things have happened, and public money is being allocated, depending on, potentially, just the color of this baby's skin. So one comment that we're not racist, for me, isn't enough.

KEILAR: And you know, the statement from Buckingham Palace, it clearly shows that they're trying to retreat into this as a family matter to be dealt with privately. I mean, you basically said there, that's not enough for you. This is an institution as well. What do you want to see? What would you say, that is an adequate response to the allegations that have been made here? What would make you say that?

MILES: Well, an investigation needs to happen. Like you said, it's an institution. So I think there is a blurred line between the family and the institution. I think Prince Harry tried to discuss it during the interview, and I think we're still not completely clear on it. But the fact of the matter is, this is an institution that's been accused of racism within that institution.

And we need to see an investigation, a proper, public investigation. Who said what, what happened. You know, there's hundreds of staff members, there's aides involved, and these men in suits that we don't know who they are. The only people we have are the faces of the royal family to sort of attach blame to and question.

We need to know what happened behind those closed doors. I think, you know, with the British public and the royal family, the relationship between them, I think we're just not clear on what happens. And they can't just say, oh, this is between our family members? They just can't. This is something that --


MILES: -- go on.

KEILAR: No, no, I'm sorry to interrupt you. One of the things that sort of struck me in all of this was in the statement where it says recollections vary. So clearly, you know, Harry's experience, Meghan Markle's experience may -- what certainly they took away from something perhaps -- look, I mean, if you take them at face value with this statement, perhaps that is not something that was understood to have happened on the other side of this conversation.

But that's not -- I think to me, that's not unusual, for there to be recollections that vary. And it doesn't mean that Harry and Meghan's experience is not valid.

MILES: Exactly, exactly. And for me, I think the comment, "recollections may vary," in that statement, was quite triggering. It felt to me to be, you know, a very much a P.R. statement put out by a brand, saying, we're sorry you feel that way. That's what I heard as a mixed-race British woman, I heard, we're sorry you feel that way.

And I just think there's an element -- it feels gaslighty to me, and I think the reason why people of color in Britain are so upset by it is that it mirrors experiences we have every day, trying to explain to people your experiences. No, this happened, this racism -- I experience on a daily basis -- happens.

And I feel Meghan and Harry very, very eloquently laying out what has happened, and to have that response? I'm sorry you feel that way, we're concerned, we're dealing with it? It's triggering, I think, to many people in Britain.

KEILAR: Yes. I think they probably felt it on a personal level as well, right? For them, so. Anna, I want to thank you so much for coming to chat with us and have this conversation. Anna Miles.

MILES: Thank you very much.

KEILAR: One Republican senator, touting the bill that he voted against as Donald Trump demands credit for the vaccine. We will roll the tape.


Plus, fireworks erupt on the House floor after a Republican congressman says Black Lives Matter doesn't like the traditional family. We will speak with one of the founders of the movement.