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CDC Director Raises Concerns About Travel As Variants Spread; Biden Pledges to Make All Adults Eligible for Vaccine By May 1st; Trump's Acting Defense Secretary Blames His Speech for Insurrection; President Biden Outlines Path to Normalcy by July 4th; Maryland Lifting Capacity Restrictions on Restaurants, Bars, and Gyms. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2021 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: A good Friday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


After a year of loss and fear and lockdowns, a glimpse of hope one year after coronavirus changes the world, halting life really as we know it. President Biden offered a plan to get the country back on track by this summer, saying that vaccines will be available for all adults in this country by May 1st. Remarkable. And pledging a somewhat normal Independence Day on July 4th. But still asking the country to work together.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is hope and light and better days ahead. If we all do our part, this country will be vaccinated soon. Our economy will be on the mend. Our kids will be back in school. And we'll have proven once again that this country can do anything.


HARLOW: President Biden also vowed to beat the goal of 100 million shots in arms in his first 100 days in office. He now promises that milestone will be reached by his 60th day in office. So that's just 10 days from now.

Let's begin with our Jeremy Diamond. He joins us this morning at the White House.

That was -- there were so many important things, I think, for America to hear last night in those remarks from the president. Have you learned anything more this morning in terms of all these goals and dates that he put forward, really promised last night?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look. It was interesting because in the first part of President Biden's speech which you heard from him was looking back. Looking back at the sacrifices, the grief, the loss that Americans have had to deal with over the year of this coronavirus pandemic. But then he pivoted and he started talking about the future and about what his administration is doing to try and return to that sense of normalcy.

And for the first time, he laid out perhaps the clearest timeline to actually getting to some, at least a little bit, a sliver, of that normalcy and what it will take to get there. The president promising that he will order all states, territories, and tribes by May 1st to allow every-adult American to be eligible to receive that coronavirus vaccine. At the same time, as he is doing that, on May 1st, he will also release this new Web site which will give Americans an opportunity to have a centralized system for where they can get access to the vaccine.

And then he talked about July 4th. That is the president's goal for that return to at least some sense of normalcy with allowing Americans to gather with family members, with friends, in small groups, to celebrate July 4th. But even as the president laid out that timeline, he made very clear that we are not out of the woods yet in this pandemic. And in order to get there, he implored Americans to help him along. Listen.


BIDEN: I will not relent until we beat this virus. But I need you, the American people, I need you. I need every American to do their part, and that's not hyperbole. I need you.


DIAMOND: And we didn't hear the president talk a whole lot about the nearly $2 trillion piece of legislation, which he passed yesterday. He mentioned it briefly. But today we will see the president celebrate that accomplishment with a signing ceremony here in the Rose Garden at the White House where he will be able to celebrate with congressional leaders the passage of this massive legislation, which he says will help move the country forward out of this pandemic.

And over the next week, you will really see this effort ramping up by the president to tout this signature legislative accomplishment. The president hitting key states like Pennsylvania and Georgia, as well as other administration officials doing the same. All in preparation, of course, for the 2022 midterm elections -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. Jeremy, thank you very much from the White House this morning.

President Biden said also last night during that speech to the nation that his administration is trying to rebuild trust in the government by telling all of us the truth about this pandemic.


BIDEN: We need to remember, the government isn't some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it's us, all of us. We, the people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Joining us now to discuss CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen.

David, good morning to you.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Jim, and hello, poppy.

HARLOW: Good morning.

SCIUTTO: You know, the central part of that point from President Biden last night about trust in government, it goes further than just hearing factual statements from the White House as opposed to lies because it -- you know, when you look at the COVID relief, this is a massive change in the government role in people's lives with high- approval ratings, you know, David Brooks, conservative columnist for "The Times," I know you know him well.

I mean, he compares this to a kind of mirror image of the Reagan revolution, right? You know, turning it around from saying all government intervention is bad to, listen, you know, even going back to the Trump administration, right, trillions of dollars from the government to help people. Right? I mean, I wonder if you have the same view as Brooks does.


GERGEN: Yes, absolutely. Because Ronald Reagan in his inaugural address says government is not going to solve our problems. Government is the problem. And here Joe Biden is saying, number one, out of the box, you know, we are not going to be able to solve this on our own. We need the government. The government has to do it. And I think he was very effective last night.

If you go back and listen to the fireside chats of Franklin Roosevelt, they're wonderful to listen to because they are soothing. They're informational. They're a teaching device in FDR. And I thought that's what Biden did last night. He is a fan of Franklin Roosevelt, as we all know. But he really -- he really copied some of the techniques that, I think, made FDR so effective. And that is, you can trust somebody who is more low key.

You know, who doesn't say -- he said we are going to make it by July 4th, if you all stick together. It's not a speech about I, I, I. It's a speech about us, us, us. What we -- what we can do together. So I thought altogether it was just a very effective start to the execution of this new plan.

HARLOW: Yes. It's a great point, David. I think, what struck me most in it. I guess, as a parent, and he's raised young kids, is when he said that line about the hardest walk you'll ever have to make.

GERGEN: Yes. HARLOW: Is a parent walking up to your child's bedroom to tell them I

lost my job and we can't live here anymore. And I pose this to you in the mind frame of there are still challenges after nearly everyone is vaccinated. We are entering an economy where, you know, economists say maybe 40 percent of the jobs lost are never going to come back. So there is a lot of work to do here.

GERGEN: There is a lot of work to do. I must say, I'm so glad you remembered the phrase, the metaphor because it worked so well. And you had a sense that Joe Biden had been on the stairs himself more than once.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

GERGEN: And that made it very, very effective. But there's no question. We have a great deal of work to do. I think the Biden administration was smart not to overpromise. They underpromised and the other, I think they are going to over-deliver on the first, you know, hundred-million shots. They'll be well within the goal they set.

But I think this idea of setting some goals and then measuring yourself by that, and letting the country measure you, you know, this gives the country a chance to say, OK, Mr. Biden, you promised X, now you only got to Y. Why? What happened? I think that's very, very good.

I must say one other thing. You know, it was so interesting last night to -- in terms of how we think about what's normal. When -- and Biden's phrase, when he talked about July 4th, what he remembered was family barbecues, going outdoors with your family. Maybe your dogs. But small, intimate gatherings. And it's worth remembering when we had our last July 4th with President Trump, where did we go? He went to Mt. Rushmore.

That's what he thought about July 4th. And I thought it told us everything we need to know about the two different men.

SCIUTTO: David, you have watched Republicans struggle a bit to criticize this plan because they know that even a large majority of Republicans actually approve it. Certainly, independents and Democrats. Kind of, saying, well, I like this piece but not -- but not that piece. So, what do they do, right? I mean, there is some confidence among Republicans that, well, Obama's stimulus plan, post- 2008, was at first popular became less popular. And then not -- certainly not to the levels we've seen now. I mean, is the strategy just to try to attack it on the outside and make it just less popular?

GERGEN: I think the strategy on the bill to just pass COVID bill will be to try to undo it here and there so it doesn't become -- it gives the right, the conservatives, something to hang their hat on when they say well, it wasn't perfect. We had a lot of flaws in it. We would have done it better. That's the approach they took to Obamacare and it -- you know, it worked up to a point. I didn't think it was very gratifying but as a political matter, it worked. And I think that's what they will do.

What the Republicans need to do, though, is, frankly, they don't have a game plan for where the country ought to be going. You know, they didn't have a -- when they went to the convention, they didn't come out with a manifesto that if they were elected, here forth what they would do. They really need to do that on infrastructure, on immigration. These two big issues that are coming down the pike very fast and not wait for the Democrats to come up with their view.

If we're going to have a true negotiation, the Republicans have got to put something on the board and say, here's what we believe. Now what do you believe?

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen. Although it seems like the cultural path, the cultural warpath is the interim strategy, right?

HARLOW: Right. Right.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Seuss and beyond.

GERGEN: I agree.



GERGEN: But he didn't do too much of a victory lap last night. He didn't go out there and pound his chest. I was so pleased about that. That was lower key about it because I thought it was more trustworthy and sort of like, OK, I get it. I get what you are trying to do and let's work on it.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. Definitely change in tone. David Gergen, always good to have you on.

GERGEN: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Wish you the best for the weekend.

GERGEN: Thank you. Take care, Poppy.

HARLOW: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Well, Maryland is the latest state to roll back COVID-19 restrictions. Starting later today, restaurants and other businesses will be allowed to open at full capacity there. The state's mask mandate, however, remains in place.

HARLOW: So the governor there, Larry Hogan, cited significant improvements in the state's health metrics as his reason for relaxing these restrictions.

Let's go to our colleague, Joe Johns. He joins us from National Harbor in Maryland.

It sort of seems like a middle ground between where we are in New York and what Texas did. Because he is keeping the mask mandate in place. JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely

right, Poppy. And, look, Governor Larry Hogan has put this thing into effect. 5:00 Eastern Time, a bunch of coronavirus restrictions ease up, including bars, restaurants, gyms, and other businesses, will be able to open at full capacity but with a bunch of caveats, including there will still be social distancing. People will still have to wear masks. So, keep those masks around.

But probably the biggest caveat of all is the fact that in this situation at least the individual localities, counties, cities can opt out if they think they're not ready. So despite all the caution, Governor Hogan has still got a bunch of grief from people who say he is going too fast. Even though he is not going as fast as some other states like Oklahoma that has essentially gotten rid of all of its restrictions, or take, for instance, Texas, which has gotten rid of most of its restrictions.

But also the attorney general there is suing Austin, the capital of Texas, as well as surrounding, Travis County, because they're not getting on board with the program. So it just goes to show that this is a situation where one size fits all still doesn't seem to work. Back to you.

HARLOW: That's right. Joe Johns, thank you for that reporting this morning.

We have a lot ahead this hour including a warning from the CDC director. What the U.S. does, next can and will affect the trajectory of this pandemic. Her advice for the critical months of March and April. Next.

And we have new reporting this morning. Former President Trump's time in the White House may open him up to even more legal exposure? Our reporting on that ahead.

SCIUTTO: And with talk of reopening the United States and returning to normal, or close to it, Italy, very hard hit at the beginning of the pandemic, announces another nationwide lockdown. We're going to be live from there.



JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: COVID-19 numbers are on the decline in the U.S. That's good news. But remember this. With tens of thousands of deaths still projected over the next several months, experts are warning Americans not to drop their guard just yet. It's too early.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: That's right. One of the key concerns is the spread of these variants.


ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL & PREVENTION: There is about the same amount of travel now as happened during Thanksgiving. We do know every single time we have escalations in travel, that happened around July 4th, it happened around Labor Day, it happened around the holidays. Right after that, we have a surge. We are very worried about transmissible variants. A lot of them have come through our travel corridors. So, we're being extra cautious right now with travel.


HARLOW: Let's bring in Dr. Paul Offit; he is the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital, Philadelphia. He is also a member of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. Quite the title, quite the expertise. We're glad you're with us, good morning.


HARLOW: So, two big goals set out by Biden last night. Do you believe, as he said, we can be back to semi-normal by July 4th?

OFFIT: I believe, it's possible. I mean, if we -- if we can get to roughly 80 percent population immunity, and by that, I mean, people who have either been naturally infected and are now immune or people who are vaccinated and therefore, immune. I think that we can significantly stop or at least slow the spread of this virus. Plus, the other thing that's working against this virus is the weather. I mean, as we move into the Summer months, this is at its heart, a Winter respiratory virus. So that also works against the virus.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Offit, two of the things that worried folks in recent months about holding back the progress we made. One, the advent of variants. And two, what looked like it might have been a plateauing in the statistics and number of infections and new deaths. I believe we have a graphic that shows that plateauing is now resumed its downward trend. Does that put us, in your view -- does that give you more confidence that we're on a positive path now, in terms of reaching that goal for the Summer?

OFFIT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think the good news is, 25 percent of this population has already been exposed to the virus, and, therefore, they're immune. Another 10 percent have been fully vaccinated, another 20 percent are on the road to being fully vaccinated. If we can get to 80 percent population immunity, which means another 120 million people would need to be vaccinated. That's 240 million doses for the most part because most of the vaccine out there is the two dose, MRNA vaccines. At the rate we're currently going, we can definitely reach that mark by the Summer. [09:20:00]

What worries me is we don't get to that mark. As things get better, you know, because this is a Winter virus, largely, and you don't see it over the Summer months. People say, great, I don't need a vaccine, it's gone and it's not gone. This virus is not going to be gone for decades, in all likelihood. What we're trying to do is control it, not eliminate it. And you're going to know whether or not we've won when the next Winter comes because if we can get to 80 percent population immunity, when next Winter comes, you are just going to see a bump in cases instead of a fierce surge in cases don't get enough people vaccinated.

HARLOW: Let's hope it doesn't come to that next Winter, it'd be nice to have a Winter without --


HARLOW: What we've had in the last few. May 1st is the goal for all adults to be able to be vaccinated. That's great.


HARLOW: It made me think, immediately, well, what about our kids? I mean, Jim and I, you know, our youngest --


HARLOW: Are toddlers. I understand, like 12-year-olds and teenagers may be sooner, but what about the littlest of kids?

OFFIT: Right. So, already, trials are being done down to 12 years of age, and those trials are fully enrolled for the MRNA vaccines. And so, then, the question becomes going down to 6 years of age. And I know Johnson & Johnson is already in the midst of doing those trials, and I think Moderna and Pfizer will also be doing those trials. I don't think we're going to go younger than 6 years of age. For the most part, this is not a disease --

HARLOW: At all?

OFFIT: This is not a virus that causes disease in less than 5-year- olds.

HARLOW: At all? Or I just ask our kids get flu shots, right, as young as one. So -- but that's interesting. You're saying people under six just probably won't get this vaccine at all?

OFFIT: No, I think -- I think we will have a vaccine for the 12 to 18-year-olds by the Summer. I think we'll have a vaccine for the 6 to 12-year-olds by the end of the year. Remember, children -- young children don't really express the so-called receptor that the virus binds to. The less in viral. The virus has to get into cell by binding to a protein on the surface, that protein is called ACE2.

HARLOW: OK -- OFFIT: Most young children don't have that protein. That's why they

generally don't get infected.

HARLOW: OK, great.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Offit, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, third option, has been a little slow in reaching the production targets that had been hoped for. I wonder -- you know, listen, your cup runneth over now, right? Because you've got three-approved vaccines. But do you see those issues being solved to help juice, right, the overall- vaccination numbers?

OFFIT: Yes, I do. I mean, as the old saying goes, you know, the hardest part of making vaccines is making a vaccine. It's hard to mass produce virologicals, but I think we learn as we go, and I think that certainly been true for the MRNA vaccines, I'm sure this will be true for J&J's vaccine too. And you have two -- likely will be coming online, we'll see. One is the Novavax vaccine, the other is the U.K. AstraZeneca vaccine. Those strouts are ongoing in the United States, we, the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee will probably be hearing about that in the next few months. We'll see if that also will help.


HARLOW: Dr. Offit, thank you. So nice to have good news to talk with you about --


HARLOW: We appreciate it very much. Well, a --

OFFIT: Thank you --

HARLOW: Stunning admission from the president -- from President Trump's own acting Secretary of Defense. He says that Trump is to blame for inciting the violence at the Capitol on January the 6th. More on that, ahead.



SCIUTTO: Former President Trump's time in the White House, temporarily, shielded him from some legal actions. But that delay could, actually, come back to haunt him. CNN is just learning that prosecutors investigating Trump's finances have discussed using a legal mechanism that could extend the statute of limitations for some potential crimes.

HARLOW: It's fascinating. Our Kara Scannell has this story. You broke this reporting. Explain to us what this would mean and exactly how much more of an avenue it opens for prosecutors here?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Sure, Poppy. So, I mean, this whole does center on the statute of limitations as we said in New York for most felonies, that's five years. So sources tell us that prosecutors in the DA's office are exploring using a provision of the New York criminal procedure code, which says that prosecutors don't have to count the time that someone is continuously out of state when they're looking at the statute of limitations. And that applies to the former president because, even though he was a lifelong New Yorker, ever since he was elected president and moved to Washington D.C. in January of 2017, he has mostly been out of New York.

He has spent time at Bedminster in New Jersey. He has spent time at Mar-a-Lago. But he has not spent many days in New York. So, this could potentially allow prosecutors to look further back in his conduct because they would essentially be able to stop the clock. And prosecutors have used this successfully before, in their prosecution of Harvey Weinstein, they were able to charge him with a sexual assault that occurred 68 days outside of the statute of limitations. Now, Weinstein's lawyers challenged that, but the prosecutors prevailed because they were able to show a judge that Weinstein had traveled 193 days outside of the country, and that was enough for the judge.

Now, at the point in the investigation of the former president, you know, this is still an ongoing investigation. These are discussions, no charging decisions have been made. But, you know, for a former president, who was able to use that office as the shield and as a way to delay investigations and lawsuits, now, the tables might be turned. Poppy, Jim?

HARLOW: Well, so interesting. Kara, thank you for that very much. So, the man who was leading the Pentagon on the 6th of January when the insurrection happened is now placing blame for inciting it, squarely on the former president's shoulders.

SCIUTTO: Yes, former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller speaking out, saying that former President Trump's speech -- he is saying this directly, incited that deadly riot.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the president was responsible for what happened on the 6th?

CHRISTOPHER MILLER, FORMER ACTING DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't know, but it seems cause and effect, yes. The question is, would anybody have marched on the Capitol and overrun the Capitol without the president's.