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Prince William Speaks Out; President Biden Signs COVID Relief Bill. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 15:00   ET



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 into law, ushering in long overdue financial aid to millions of Americans all across the country.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In 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 the final passage of the plan in the House of Representatives, their voices were heard, reflected with 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, people who have built the country a fighting chance. That's what the essence of it is.


BALDWIN: Now, this signing today comes exactly one year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic that has since claimed nearly 530,000 American lives.

It has crippled the economy and really changed life as we all know it. Tonight, the president will assess where the country has been and chart our path forward in his very first prime-time address.

And our CNN senior White House correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is with me with more on that in just a second.

But, Phil, we know that the president was planning on initially signing this thing in the law tomorrow. Why the change?



MATTINGLY: It sounds simplistic.

BALDWIN: Simple as that?

MATTINGLY: But without wandering down the rabbit hole of enrollment and engrossment process in the U.S. Congress, they thought it was going to take about a day-and-a-half to actually physically receive the bill from the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.

They got it last night. The president had said publicly that he was going to sign the bill as soon as it reached the White House. It reached the White House earlier than they expected. And, therefore, the president signed it today.

Now, they will still have a signing ceremony tomorrow with congressional Democratic leaders and committee chairs to kind of celebrate the moment, but they made clear they wanted to kick this process into gear. And so the president was going to sign once they had the bill.

One key thing that we just heard from Jen Psaki related to this actually now being law, everybody wants to know, tens of millions want to know when those first stimulus checks will start to go out the door. President Biden had said earlier this week they were targeting the end of March.

Move that target up. The process will kick into gear starting this weekend.


MATTINGLY: Those with direct deposit information with the Treasury Department and the IRS will start receiving their checks this weekend. So they are going to kick this into gear quickly, Brooke.

They understand the necessity of moving very quickly, now that this is law.

BALDWIN: And I imagine he will get into that in the prime-time address this evening. We will all be watching.

What should we expect?

MATTINGLY: So, I think you're going to kind of see this broken into three parts, at least the way it's been described to me by advisers up to this point.

You're never going to hear public remarks from the president about the pandemic where he doesn't look back. And I think this is obviously a pretty big difference from his predecessor. He will certainly take time to reflect on the more than 529,000 Americans who have lost their lives, their families, their loved ones that they have left behind.

That will be an element of this. He will also really kind of laser- focus in on the vaccine effort. The administration knows this is the linchpin to getting out of the pandemic, not just getting a handle on it, but actually getting out of it, not just the increase in supply we have seen over the course of the last several weeks, but also the infrastructure they're putting in place to actually deploy the vaccine, the vaccinators they're bringing in.

And I think this is where that $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package really kind of forms the backbone of the response that they have been planning to really fully kick into gear and surge the vaccine in the weeks ahead.

And I think the other element -- and this will probably be the most interesting -- is, the president really wants to spin this forward a little bit, talk about the next steps. There's been so much focus on just grappling with kind of every day in the moment.

They want to talk about what's next. The administration officials I have talked to, they understand, Brooke, people are tired, people are exhausted. They want this to end. And they see some kind of glimmers of hope here. And I think the president wants to tap into that a little bit, while reinforcing this is not the time to stop masking up.

This is not the time to stop social distancing. Just hang on for a little bit longer, because hope is coming. Light is finally there at the end of the tunnel. So, I think you're going to see a lot of emphasis on that as well, trying to strike that balance. Don't move too quick. But we're almost there, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We are tuning in this evening. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

I want to broaden the conversation out.

With me now, my favorite doctor, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And, of course, also CNN political analyst Astead Herndon, who is also the national political reporter for "The New York Times."

But, Sanjay, I want to start you know with you. You have been covering -- we have all been covering this pandemic for now officially a year. What does this relief bill, this now law, mean for the fight against COVID?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think this is significant, Brooke.

I mean, obviously, it's a lot of money, but some of the things that really jump out at me, we talk a lot about the vaccines, another $14 billion going towards both the innovation side, but also the distribution side of these vaccines. I mean, they are a bright spot in all this. And having more resources behind that's important.

[15:05:17] But, Brooke, we don't talk as much about testing, but there's $50 billion in this bill that goes towards testing. I remember, Brooke, you and I talking some time ago. I mean, imagine the idea of being able to have regular testing in your own home that you could do easily and know--

BALDWIN: Incredible.

GUPTA: -- whether or not you would be contagious. That seemed like a pipe dream, but maybe now more of a reality.

Big one, Brooke, that you and I both talk about as well a lot, schools, for K-12 public schools. We know that schools can open safely if, right, if they have proper ventilation, if they have the resources, if they have many of the things that we have been talking about.

All school districts simply don't have these things -- $125 billion, I don't know exactly how all that money will be allocated. But you got to imagine that, in terms of improving ventilation, getting personal protective equipment, those types of things, it'll help a lot.

BALDWIN: In terms of jobs, it'll help a lot.

Astead, this is for you. I mean, obviously this is a huge deal. It's a huge win for team Biden in just the first 50 days of the administration.

For example, I was reading this morning, American Airlines just told thousands of employees they wouldn't be furloughed any longer because of this. How will today lay the groundwork for the future of Biden's presidency?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there's no question that this is a kind of initial political victory, but also just a kind of starting point for this administration to say, hey, we got this done.

And there's -- it's how they got it done also, right? The size of the bill from did not kind of shrink from that $1.9 trillion number, which is what Joe Biden originally proposed. I think that says a couple things. It says stuff about the state of the Democratic Party right now, who is not afraid around deficit spending, who's not worried about the kind of claims of the debt rising that had usually scared them in the past, and also was fairly unified on the question of the need to expand the social service safety net, particularly in this time of the pandemic.

It also says a lot about Republicans. Obviously, none voted for the bill. And that shows that this is a starting point, that there was not going to be agreement on this, even without a minimum wage increase that was taken from it or other kind of hot-button issues, then that likely does not signal there's going to be much agreement bipartisan- wise going forward.

The question is, how does Joe Biden use that political capital he asked now? (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: On your point, just a quick follow-up on the fact that just not a single Republican voted for this, not one, will this come back to haunt the GOP?

HERNDON: It is a base that is really not motivated around policy right now.

So it's very hard for us to say this. We know that the type of suburban voters that they lost in both 2018 and 2020 is someone who will be reached by this bill, small businesses and the like. But this is a party that has oriented itself around social and cultural issues, and is not kind of looking to be a majority party.

They're right now implementing voting restrictions to kind of restrict the number of people who go there and get to those polls. So, yes, they're opposing another popular piece of legislation. But this is the track record the GOP is on. It is about motivating a small constituency and not appealing to the American masses.

BALDWIN: Sanjay, back over to you.

Just when you look at the death toll, it is so much better, right, than it has been. But the U.S. is still losing 1,400 people a day over the last seven days. You said it. We all want normal again. How much longer do we need to be cautious?

GUPTA: Right.

I mean, that is the -- that's the tough question, right, Brooke? And, by the way, 1,400 people dying a day, I mean, just -- I mean, I know that's better. But hopefully that never feels normal. I mean, it's going down. But, man, what a year it has been.


GUPTA: I don't know, Brooke, when the normalcy sort of returns. I mean, you can look at this objectively. And you can say, from a public health standpoint, we have been in what is called mitigation mode, just trying to slow things down.

We could get into what's known as containment mode, if you have roughly one per 100,000 people a day becoming infected. That'd be about 3,500 people per day, right? We're closer to 60,000 right now. But that could happen., Brooke, over the next few months. I mean, I have tried to keep it real this year, Brooke, but I'm optimistic about the next few months.

I will say this, that the vaccines are already -- in terms of death rates and hospitalizations, already probably making a difference, because so many people in long-term care facilities and people over the certain age are increasingly vaccinated. So even if cases plateau or go up, we may not see the corresponding proportional hospitalizations and deaths.

And that would be -- that'd be significant.

BALDWIN: Listen, let me just say we appreciate you for keeping it real. And that is why we pay attention and we listen to people like you, Sanjay Gupta.

Astead, here's what I'm wondering about. I was reading a little bit about this last evening just about how President Biden and his team, they're going to have to do what Obama and his team did with basically the stimulus back in 2009, sell this plan to the American people.


And I was reading this whole post from Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's chief coms guy at the time, who recently wrote about Obama's speech after speech to sell his stimulus plan. And he wrote this.

"He, Obama, visited factory after factory that had reopened because of the Recovery Act, but it was nearly impossible to break through the avalanche of bad news."

Now, I realize, this go-round, COVID relief has the majority of Americans support, but, Astead, how will this be different? How will this be successful?

HERNDON: Yes, I think that this is a focus of the entire Democratic Party is basically to say that we cannot kind of stop championing this once it's signed into law, but there has to be a kind of continuous drumbeat to sell this to voters leading up into the midterms, right?

Let's remember that the reason that the '09 stimulus comparison has such resonance for Democrats is because the midterms were such a bloodbath. That is what they are trying to avoid. The feeling among the party right now is that delivering to voters and showing them kind of what the Democratic trifecta got them is much more important than it is kind of to explain how the sausage was made.

So they're going to go. You're going to see a unified effort from senators to Joe Biden, all the way to House reps, to say, here is what the this relief got you. And I think that this is going to be different in 2009, partly because there's a little better understanding of where Republicans were at the time, but also you had a president who came in with such a mandate on this issue, and then was able to do it without that Republican support.

It is a Democratic Party that is more oriented right now on the same page than I think there was 10 years ago.

BALDWIN: Sanjay, last question just on the vaccine. We have seen this recent push publicly, former Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush, Obama and their wives, the former first ladies, all part of this newly released ad campaign, urging all of us to get vaccinated, notably missing, former President Donald Trump, who we know got his vaccine secretly in January, but, by the way, is taking like all the credit for vaccinations in this country.

How important is it that this be done so publicly? GUPTA: Yes, I think it's important. And, historically, it's made a


There's been various vaccination campaigns in other parts of the world. I remember covering polio in Nigeria. And when leaders came out and started getting those vaccines, it translated. People who were otherwise hesitant were more likely to do it.

We have to increase the -- decrease the hesitancy. I don't know if we have the graphic. We can show you sort of how vaccines are being distributed right now. And there's a disproportionate sort of distribution, 67 percent, I believe, mostly among whites.

BALDWIN: There you go.

GUPTA: Look at black Americans, 6.4 percent, despite the fact that they are two to three times more likely to be hospitalized.

So, what we see typically is that those types of campaigns make a difference. What we see, as more and more people get vaccinated, people who may have been unsure or hesitant early on may be more willing to do it. So, hopefully, that becomes the trend, because if you get to that 70, 80 percent number, that's a huge win.

BALDWIN: Sanjay, thank you. Astead, thank you.

Gentlemen, appreciate the conversation.

GUPTA: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: More states opening vaccinations to more Americans and ditching restrictions in the process. We have got to talk about that ahead.

And Prince William is breaking his silence for the very first time since his brother, Prince Harry, and sister-in-law, Meghan, spoke with Oprah Winfrey, and Prince William says his family is not racist. We will discuss.

And 59 Democrats now calling on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign. Can he survive the flurry of allegations against him?

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.



BALDWIN: On this one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, there is more optimism than we have seen in a long time. Vaccines are proven to be effective and they're rolling out in greater and greater numbers.

But the experts warn we are not out of the woods yet, especially as some states are just dropping mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen. CNN's Amara Walker has the status check.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One year into the COVID-19 pandemic that has left more than a half-a-million Americans dead, America's top infectious disease expert reflecting on the year that was.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: And things will get worse than they are right now.

I made the statement things are going to get much worse before they get better. And that was at a congressional hearing a year ago today, but I did not in my mind think that much worse was going to be 525,000 deaths.

WALKER: Today, the numbers continue to trend down, an average of more than 56,000 new COVID-19 cases a day in the last seven days. That's a 13 percent decrease compared to the previous week, average hospitalizations down 14 percent and average daily deaths down 22 percent, more signs there is light at the end of the tunnel.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Earlier this week, we saw the number of deaths per day drop below 1,000 for the first time since November. All of this is really good news.

WALKER: More than two million doses of COVID-19 vaccinations are going into arms per day, on average, almost 19 percent of the population having received at least one dose and one in 10 fully vaccinated.


As eligibility opens up in many states, some places are getting innovative with distribution. In Atlanta, Walgreens teaming up with Uber to provide transportation to vaccine sites in some communities. And in a notable new development, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, along with the CDC, issuing new guidance for nursing homes, saying it's now OK for in person visits regardless of vaccination status.

CMS cited the psychological and emotional toll that pandemic has taken and the fact that there's been a significant drop in nursing home cases. Meanwhile, as Maryland lifts nearly all COVID-related business restrictions beginning Friday, and once hard-hit New York and New Jersey eye increased restaurant capacities, there remains tremendous concern, as states like Texas and Mississippi have lifted mask mandates and capacity restrictions, and Wyoming following suit on March 16.

Here in Florida, thousands of revelers have descended upon the state for Bike Week in Daytona and spring break.

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH: What are we doing? We're inviting the virus to go wherever it may want over the course of the next week. So this is the challenge we have. This is all kind of a perfect storm moment.

WALKER: And on the day President Joe Biden plans a prime-time COVID addressed to the nation, the debate over mask requirements continues, a battle that has taken center stage in Texas.

STEVE ADLER (D), MAYOR OF AUSTIN, TEXAS: The science and the data are very clear that the single most important thing we can all be doing at this point is wearing masks.


WALKER: And, Brooke, here on South Beach, all around me, you can see that spring break is very much under way. In fact, city and tourism officials telling me that they expect to see the highest number of tourists in the greater Miami area that they have seen since the pandemic began this weekend and next weekend.

Now, if you also take a close look, not a lot of people here are wearing masks. You would never know that there is a mask mandate in effect for the city of Miami Beach even when you're walking about on the streets here. And that is the dilemma. Governor Ron DeSantis lifted cover restrictions and also lifted the authority of local municipalities from enforcing a mask mandate.

And this is the kind of tug of war that we continue to see across the country between state and local officials -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: No, I'm so glad you pointed that out. And it is extraordinary just what feels like a patchwork, like various states approaching this pandemic so differently.

Amara Walker in South Beach -- Amara, thank you.

Prince Harry's brother, Prince William, is speaking out for the very first time since that explosive Oprah interview, Prince William saying his family is -- quote -- "very much not racist."

That's next.



BALDWIN: In his first comments, his first public comments since the duke and duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, gave that bombshell interview to Oprah Winfrey raising allegations of racism within the royal family, Prince William is breaking his silence.


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

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


BALDWIN: That is all in response to the stunning moment in that conversation from Sunday with Oprah, when Harry and Meghan said that there had been conversations, royal worries about how dark their son Archie's skin tone might be, but they did not name names.

So, back to our CNN royal correspondent, Max Foster.

And, Max, just even the fact that Prince William responded, that he commented, were you surprised?


I mean, this is a very short clip, Brooke, but there's so much to unpack. First of all, the message really of this day, this visit was that business is carrying on as usual in the royal family. They had an engagement in the diary at a school, so that was one part of it.

Then this reporter, an established reporter, breaks protocol ,fires a question off at Prince William. He would normally ignore it. But we particularly expected him to ignore it at this time, when the queen has effectively told everyone to stay quiet, deal with this privately. But he did respond.

He told us that he hasn't spoken to Harry since the interview, just showing how deep this rift is. And then this follow-up question, very punchy, about race. And I think he had to respond to it, saying, "No, we're not a racist family."

Very hard to imagine this sort of thing ever happening even last week. This just shows how far we have come in this story. A senior royal being asked if the royal family is racist, I think, is a really seismic moment.

But I think frankly, Brooke, he was caught off-guard by this. He answered it. It was off the cuff. I don't think it looks organized. These doorsteps, as we call them, are normally organized. I think he was caught out by it.

But, of course, the whole world is receiving it as a response to what Prince Harry said in his interview.

BALDWIN: So much in these six little words.

Max Foster, thank you in England.

Joining me now, Ateh Jewel, journalist and broadcast writer based there in England.

Ateh, it is such a pleasure to have you on. My first question, you heard the clip. Prince William says the royal family isn't racist. Does he think people will just accept that and move along?