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GOP Senator Touts Relief Bill After He Voted Against It; McConnell Tries to Discredit COVID Relief Bill's Effect on Economy Before Effect Is Seen; Trump Demands Credit for Vaccine After Disastrous COVID Response; Fireworks after GOP Rep. Brings Up Black Lives Matter, Marxism During COVID Relief Bill Debate; Sen. Tim Scott Equates "Woke" Supremacy with White Supremacy; Mayor Oscar Leeser (D- El Paso) Discusses His Letter Urging Texas Governor to Allow Local Leaders to Make Mask Decisions & Immigration Crisis at Border. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 14:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:33:59]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Do you remember in high school when the kid in your group project who didn't do anything took credit anyway? Washington is like "Bay Side High" with suits. Maybe it's no surprise it's happening here, too.

One example, Republican Senator Roger Wicker, of Mississippi. After Congress passed the president's COVID relief bill, he tweeted, quote, "Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief."

This is what he said after the bill passed the House Wednesday, after it previously passed the Senate. He said, "This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll."

While singing praises of part of the bill after it passed, Wicker left out a very important fact.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED HOUSE CLERK: Mr. Wicker?

SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): No.

UNIDENTIFIED HOUSE CLERK: Mr. Wicker, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: That is right. He voted against it. He lobbied against it. So did every single one of his other Republican colleagues, which he does link to in his tweet.

But now that it passed, he's happy to tout one part that will likely benefit his voters.

[14:35:03]

Despite its enormous popularity across the country, despite many local Republican officials and business leaders urging its passage, Wicker was part of the group literally introduced an added this amendment for restaurant relief but voted against it. He voted against the bill anyway.

And here's how he responded when confronted about this by CNN's Manu Raju. He said, "One good provision in a $1.9 trillion bill doesn't mean I have to vote for the whole thing. It goes without saying. I issued a statement but I think it's a stupid question."

He said, "I'm not voting for $1.9 trillion because it has a couple of good provisions."

Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, is trying to discredit the package's effect on the economy before we even see its effect on the economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The economy's coming back. People are getting the vaccine. We're on the way out of this. We're about to have a boom.

And if we do have a boom, it will have absolutely nothing to do with this $1.9 trillion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Translation: Republicans are worried the relief package will help the economy, because it would be bad for them politically.

Turns out, they should be worried because many financial experts disagree with McConnell.

A group of economists forecasted that the package would put the economy into overdrive in a "Wall Street Journal" survey.

Goldman Sachs boosted its GDP forecast. More than 150 senior business executives urged Congress to pass the bill.

One study by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University showed the bill could cut child poverty in half.

Some Republican Senators are also dismissing the bill as pork rather than pandemic relief.

Some colorfully or off-colorfully, I should say, more so than others.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): President Biden says it's a -- a coronavirus bill. And -- my response is, right, you know, and the stripper really likes you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Funny, because conservatives have spent so much time at Club FOX watching Seuss and Potato Head gyrate across the screen this past month that their focus on this huge bill was pretty limited.

This credit-taking, though, pales in comparison to the champion of all-time credit takers, Donald Trump.

Since Twitter kicked him off its platform, Trump has resorted to Twitter-thread-like statements slapped on a fancy letterhead.

Quote, "I hope everyone remembers when they're getting the COVID-19, often referred to as the China virus, vaccine," he said, "that if I wasn't president, you wouldn't be getting that beautiful shot for five years at best, and probably wouldn't be getting it at all. I hope everyone remembers."

Pretty pathetic.

Fact, Operation Warp Speed was launched under the Trump administration.

Fact, scientists and companies made history by developing a vaccine in record time.

Fact, whatever credit Trump and his administration deserves, he squanders by embracing an anti-science approach to managing the pandemic, an approach that cost more lives than any other country.

He constantly downplayed the pandemic's threat, promising Americans it would soon be over, even when he knew that was a lie.

He compared it to the flu. He politicized masks from the start, the original sin of his administration's pandemic response.

He spread myths and conspiracy theories about the virus, including that hotter weather would kill it.

Also linking it to a crackdown on immigration. And falsely blaming former President Obama for lack of testing.

He promoted and pushed unproven drugs and treatments.

He encouraged people to ignore social distancing guidelines, his own administration's guidelines.

He risked lives by holding large campaign rallies with no social distancing.

He failed to create a national testing strategy.

He shifted responsibility to states, allowing him to lay blame on states for his failures. He relied on discredited and crackpot medical experts to echo his

conspiracy theories. He instead attacked respected doctors and scientists, like Dr. Anthony Fauci.

And 400,000 Americans had died by the time he left office.

A Columbia University study found the U.S. government's failure to act cost at least 130,000 of our fellow Americans lives. And as many as 210,000 during his presidency.

On top of this, the guy demanding credit for the vaccine is the same guy that secretly got the vaccine himself in January before leaving the White House. Didn't tell Americans he did it.

And didn't widely promote it while in office to help calm the nerves of a skeptical public and of skeptical conservatives, who, polls show, are less likely to get the vaccine than liberals.

Credit where credit is due.

[14:39:43]

Next, a heated back and forth on the House floor after a Republican Congressman claimed the Black Lives Matter movement, quote, "doesn't like old-fashioned families." I will speak live with one of the founders of BLM in Los Angeles.

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KEILAR: Fireworks on the House floor Wednesday during debate over the COVID relief bill when Wisconsin Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman decided to invoke the name of the activist group, Black Lives Matter, while arguing against the trillion-dollar plan.

Here's what he said:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GLENN GROTHMAN (R-WI): One of the things that hasn't been mentioned here, the increase in earned-income tax credit for single people, has a marriage penalty in it.

I bring it up because I know the strength that Black Lives Matter had in this last election. I know it's a group that doesn't understand the old-fashioned family.

Disturbed that we have another program here in which we're increasing the marriage penalty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: All right, so that caught the attention very quickly of Democrats.

And Democratic delegate, Stacey Plaskett, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands, and was a House impeachment manager during the Trump trial, rebuked her Republican colleague.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEL. STACEY PLASKETT (D-VI): How dare you! How dare you say the Black Lives Matter, black people, do not understand old-fashioned families!

[14:45:07]

Despite some of the -- the issues, some of the things you have put forward that I've heard out of your mouth in the Oversight Committee, in your own district, we have been able to keep our families alive for over 400 years.

And the assault on our families did not have black lives or not even have black families.

How dare you say that we are not interested in families, in the black community. That is outrageous! That should be stricken down!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Melina Abdullah is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles, and the co-director of Black Lives Matter Grassroots.

Melina, thank you so much for being with us.

You heard what the congressman said here. And you heard the response. What is your reaction to this moment on the House floor?

MELINA ABDULLAH, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK LIVES MATTER, LOS ANGELES & CO- DIRECTOR, BLACK LIVES MATTER GRASSROOTS: It was just congressman, he was completely insensitive and disrespectful to the long legacy of black people and black organizations, keeping black families together.

We're grateful to Delegate Plaskett for speaking so forcefully against that allegation, against that false allegation.

Also it's kind of cringy, using terms like "old-fashioned." We know what that means, that there's racial undertones to it. And we need to recognize the deliberate anti-blackness that sought to destroy black families.

And it's been black people and black organizations, including Black Lives Matter, that have kept black families together and helped us to thrive and grow, despite that oppression.

KEILAR: He also called BLM and its founders Marxists. And I wonder what you think about that?

You know, on its face, the message of Black Lives Matter -- I mean, how do you really argue? How do you argue with that? That's not what opponents -- sort of having a different argument here. Instead saying that BLM is Marxist.

What do you say to the way they've tried to change that conversation? ABDULLAH: So they use that as a reasoning, as an excuse, to not fund

black families. I'm speaking not just as an original member of Black Lives Matter, but as a mother of three black children, as one who helps to keep black families together.

What we're demanding, what we're saying, as we value black families, is that it's important that we prioritize resources to black communities so that black children can thrive.

And so if that's called Marxism, when we say we should be feeding our children, if it's Marxism to say that, you know, we should be housing our children and our people, then maybe we need to really grapple with what we think the economic structure of this country should be.

Because we absolutely believe that families and children should be housed and fed, and live in safe communities where we're not constantly under the assault of the state, including police violence.

KEILAR: This has become part of such a divisive conversation, or argument, I guess you call it here in Washington.

I do want to get your reaction to something that another lawmaker said. This is Senator Tim Scott, equating what he called "woke" supremacy with white supremacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): "Woke" supremacy is as bad as white supremacy. We need to take that seriously. And to all of those folks who oppose good common sense, Matthew 5:44 is still available to be read, and read.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: What do you say to this sort of equivalence that Senator Scott is making?

ABDULLAH: Well, Senator Scott needs to become a student of history. He needs to understand where the term white supremacy comes from.

I know he thought he was coming up with a snappy slogan. Right? But white supremacy is the foundation of this country.

And if we're serious about building a country of equity, about building a country of fairness, about building a country of justice, we have to end white supremacy.

We have to end the kind of racial hierarchy that puts black people, black families, black businesses, black workers, at the very, very bottom of virtually every social, political and economic measure.

And so to come up with a snappy slogan like he's attempted to do -- I don't think it's that snappy -- and then say that that can be somehow given a false equivalency to white supremacy is hugely problematic.

[14:50:06] I teach black studies. I invite Senator Scott to sit in on any one of my classes so that he could learn a little bit about white supremacy and why it has to be undone.

KEILAR: Melina, thank you so much for being with us. Melina Abdullah.

ABDULLAH: Thank you so much.

KEILAR: A group of conservative Texans are saluting their state's re- opening with a celebratory bonfire. They're burning their masks.

Mask burning is happening in Texas since the state opened for business with zero coronavirus restrictions in place.

"Freedom" is what FOX calls it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FOX CORRESPONDENT: Let me show you what 100 percent capacity looks like. This is freedom right here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: All right, well, experts call it dangerous.

Joining me now is the mayor of El Paso, Oscar Leeser.

Mayor, you lost your mom. You lost your brother to coronavirus. This isn't an academic debate for you. It's not ideological.

And you talk about them in a letter that you wrote to your governor, Greg Abbott, where you were urging him to let local leaders make the decisions that they need to requiring masks to protect people who live in their cities.

What else did this letter say?

MAYOR OSCAR LEESER (D-EL PASO): You know, we talked about there's 254 counties in the state of Texas. And they all have different needs.

And it was important to allow local leaders of each community to kind of look and see how we could best protect our city. And that's what we talked about.

I didn't write the letter to the governor because I wanted sympathy. I wanted to write the letter to show that we're not there yet. We don't need to go backwards at this point. It's really important that our city continues to protect each other.

And that's what my letter talked about to the governor, how we continue to protect ourselves, all our businesses.

And I'm a local business owner. And it was important that I protect my team members, because when they go home to their family, we need to make sure that they're safe and their families are safe.

KEILAR: What is the El Paso policy on masks right now?

LEESER: You know, we are following the governor's orders. But in all city facilities, we are requiring masks, our local airport and our mass transit, which is our Sun Metro, will also require masks.

And we've asked all our local businesses to please follow the mask order. It is not mandatory.

But I can tell you, it's been very receptive. After I wrote my letter and was published on local TVs and in the newspaper, we had hundreds of phone calls saying that they would continue to make sure they protect their business and protect their key members.

I've been very humbled by the response of our community. And we look forward to continuing to protect each other.

Because if you look at it, the first people that really get affected by it are first responders and our medical providers. And it's important for us to make sure we protect them and protect each other to have a bright future for our community.

KEILAR: I do want to turn now, sir, to the crisis at the border, which is becoming both a humanitarian and a political problem for the Biden administration as the number of migrants, especially children, especially unaccompanied minors, are coming across the border, and they are now in custody. That's something that's spiking.

As you see this, is this a crisis as you see it?

LEESER: You know, in El Paso, we do not have that crisis today. And we need to make sure that we continue, again, to do -- as the borders are opening up, that we continue to protect our community.

And I think that El Paso is doing an excellent job today of making sure we welcome people into our country.

KEILAR: As you see what is happening, sir -- you're saying that you're not experiencing that. How do you see what is happening in other areas, like McAllen?

LEESER: I can tell you that I'm not up to date on what's happening in McAllen. I am up to date on what's going on in El Paso.

And we're making sure that we keep in contact with our local medical providers and our office of management to make sure of what's going on in El Paso and continue to be briefed.

KEILAR: All right, Mayor, thank you so much for joining us today. Mayor Oscar Leeser, joining us from El Paso.

LEESER: Thank you very much. Have a wonderful day.

KEILAR: You, too, sir.

Before we go, I do want to take a moment to remember a brave, spunky little girl. It would've been her first birthday. Francesca Kaczynski, lovingly called "Beans," was the daughter of our

CNN colleague, Andrew Kaczynski, and his wife, Rachel Ensign. And Beans died of a rare form of brain cancer on Christmas eve when she was just mine months old.

In Francesca's memory, CNN is launching a beanie with the hashtag "Team Beans" on it. I'm going to put it on, so that you can see it. Because I think you need this. I think kids like Beans think you need this.

[14:55:10]

All proceeds will be going to fund research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where Beans was treated. Proceeds will specifically help fund research and treatment for this rare form of cancer that is typically seen in infants.

We invite you to purchase a beanie at teambean.shop.

Andrew and Rachel, we're all thinking of you today.

And, Beans, happy birthday, sweet girl.

We'll be right back.

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[15:00:04]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Here we go. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Our breaking news this afternoon, President Joe Biden has now officially signed this historic $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.