Return to Transcripts main page


President Biden Outlines Path to Normalcy by July 4; Maryland Lifting Capacity Restrictions on Restaurants, Bars and Gyms; Battle Brews Over COVID-19 Vaccinations and Personal Choice. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2021 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Sorry that I have to see Italy go through that again. Delia Gallagher, thank you so much.

A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


On the brink of normalcy, but we still have a lot of work to do, President Biden addressing the nation one year after the pandemic turned everyone's lives upside down. He offered a bold timeline and he called on the nation to act.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Tonight, I'm announcing that I will direct all states, tribes and territories to make all adults, people 18 and over, eligible to be vaccinated no later than May 1.

If we do this together, by July 4th, there is a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.


SCIUTTO: Boy, that is a nice image. The president is also asking Americans to continue to do their part, to get vaccinated, not to let their guards down in the coming months, things like wearing masks.

CNN's John Harwood is at the White House. And, John, the president, other top officials, they're going to hit the road and promote this. I'm sure they have the experience of the 2008 rescue package in mind. Started popular, not as popular as this, went down. You've seen Republicans kind of attacking the package from around the edges here. I mean, is the intention to try to keep this popular?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And, obviously, they're going to get some help when those checks start arriving by direct deposit in some people's bank accounts as early as this weekend, $1,400 for adults and children in families with incomes under $150,000. So that is going to help them. But they do have to make clear the other benefits of the plan, including new benefits for small businesses that haven't been touched by previous rounds of paycheck protection.

But this is a -- was a speech last night where the president was not claiming victory over this virus. Even as he held out those ambitious goals that you mentioned, trying to get everyone eligible for a vaccine by May 1st, even though they won't all be vaccinated by then trying to get back to some semblance of normal by Independence Day, on July 4th. He also appealed to the American people saying, I need you to help me do this, stay on track, because if we let down our guard, if we drop the mask-wearing, we could be vulnerable to a setback here.

Here is how the president described it.


BIDEN: If we don't say vigilant and the conditions change, then we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track. And please, we don't want to do that again. We've made so much progress. This is not the time to let up.


HARWOOD: So the president was appealing there to a sense of shared sacrifice, that has been a consistent theme of him. The other consistent theme has been underpromise, overdeliver. He has done that with the pace of vaccine rollouts. You can bet that the White House team is confident that they are going to be able to continue the accelerated production of vaccines in order to achieve that goal of making everyone eligible on May 1st, as well as trying to get back to that quasi-normalcy by the 4th of July.

HARLOW: Let's hope so. John Harwood, thank you very much from the White House this morning.

Let's bring in Dr. William Schaffner, Professor for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Good morning, Doctor.


HARLOW: We're glad you're here. Look, two big goals, May 1st, all adults could be vaccinated by, starting then, and then July 4th, semi normal mask-free barbecue with a small group of your friends and neighbors. Are they achievable?

SCHAFFNER: Well, I can taste the hot dogs already. But --

HARLOW: So can we.

SCHAFFNER: Those are aspirational goals but he made it quite clear. He set the goals but we have to implement it. I think everybody in every state health department in the country sat up straight last night and said, we have to really press down on the accelerator. And as John said, we have to have the vaccines continue to come in so we can deliver them. But once they arrive locally, we have to get them into arms. Vaccine never prevented any disease. Vaccination prevents disease.

SCIUTTO: So, in the last few weeks, a few things have risen as worries to derail recovery. One is the emergence of variants. Another is the speed of vaccination, just the availability of it. And that led to concerns about a plateauing of this decline in new infections and deaths. That seems to have abated now.

And I wonder if, in your view, did we, in effect, dodge a bullet, right, on some of the concerns?

SCHAFFNER: We're not there yet.


We're not there yet, Jim. We're still dodging and we're still very concerned because these variants are extremely contagious. We have to maintain masking. We have to continue to vaccinate. We have to continue to be prudent.

You know, we can get through this in the next several months, but we all have to continue to come together and focus on the goal and do what is necessary to get there.

HARLOW: On the schools front, the hope from the Biden administration really the guarantee is that we're going to have your kids in schools almost fully by April.

Kevin McCarthy, the GOP House minority leader, said that what America needs now is to, quote, fully reopen our economy and our classrooms. What do you think, not from a political perspective, but from the sciences as we sit here this Friday morning? Is it time now to fully reopen classrooms or does April make more sense?

SCHAFFNER: Well, I think moving toward it at a local level, how much is the staff all vaccinated, and can we implement a lot of those recommendations made by the CDC to continue to keep the school environment safe. If we can do both of those things, I think we can open up our schools at very, very low risk. And that will help stimulate the economy because those parents then can focus on going back to work.

SCIUTTO: So, about a fifth of the country now has gotten at least one shot. That is great progress. But still most the country has not been vaccinated. Your advice to folks, like Poppy and myself, as we wait to get vaccinated.

SCHAFFNER: Please, when your turn comes up, roll up your sleeve, let's all get vaccinated. And we have to provide access to the vaccine to all minority and ethnic communities and they have to make the decision, they have to be comfortable that this is good for them and their communities. We don't want to leave pockets of our population unvaccinated.

SCIUTTO: Dr. William Schaffner, well, listen, it is good advice. Always good to have you on.

SCHAFFNER: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: Well, joining us now to talk about the politics of all of this, CNN Political Director David Chalian. Good morning, David.


SCIUTTO: I'll tell you, in terms of tone setting, but beyond tone really focus, right, the difference between Biden's approach and this Trump's, right? Trump's I alone can do it, Biden, let's do it together, et cetera, that kind of thing. I want to play one clip of that that gets to that larger point. Have a listen and get your reaction.


BIDEN: I need every American to do their part.

Beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity.


SCIUTTO: He was not able to do that, it's a reflection of the politics in Washington today in terms of the legislation, right? Does he have an opportunity to get the public, you know, with him here on this? I mean, they already support the COVID relief plan but can he do that more broadly?

CHALIAN: Yes. The public, according to our polling, Jim, broadly sees Joe Biden, they have a lot of confidence in him to get the country to the other side of this COVID crisis. Our brand-new poll, I think, showed two-thirds, if you add up there the 42 percent, so they have a lot of confidence in Biden's ability to lead the U.S. on this, and 25 percent some, 67 percent, two-thirds of Americans. Two-thirds of Americans don't agree on anything these days but two-thirds of Americans have confidence in Biden's ability to lead us out of this.

Obviously, we still see polarization in our politics and we see that breaks down along party lines. But, Jim, I think it shows, there you go, of people that have a lot of confidence in Biden's ability, you have got Democrats, 82 percent say they have a lot and independents 35 percent and, only 6 percent Republicans say they have a lot of confidence in Biden's ability to get us out of this.

But, again, that is the polarization. I think the moment last night, what you see there is this is a man sort of built for this moment. And as you noted, the difference from what the kind of rhetoric that we heard from Donald Trump, not this is everything I've done, but I need you in this with me. It is just a total turnaround in terms of political rhetoric.

HARLOW: Yes, such a good point. This was the line, David, that struck me the most. Here it is.


BIDEN: Longest walk any parent can make is up a short flight of stairs to his child's bedroom to say, I'm sorry, but I lost my job, can't be here anymore.


HARLOW: The reason it struck me is because, as our David Gergen said brilliantly last hour, you sort of felt like Biden had been on those stairs, his dad did when he lost his job, and so many parents have been in the last year to tell their kids, we have got to move, we're going to lose the house.


But also because it addresses the challenges they have ahead. Because even when most people are vaccinated, a lot of the jobs are never come back, that's what economists say. So it was like he was acknowledging we have a lot of work because the whole world, our whole economy is just different now.

CHALIAN: Right, which is why this COVID relief package that just passed is not going to be sort of the end of what Biden pursues economically in terms of policy in terms of policy. You've heard the administration describe this as sort of a bridge to get to the other side of this crisis.

But as you know, Poppy, on the other side of the crisis still a totally new American economy that is going to have to be dealt with. But the empathy in that moment, you know, there are just moments where a president matches the time, right.

And just hearing that from him as he's addressing the nation for the first time in primetime as president, and that is a line he says for his whole career. Everybody that's covered Joe Biden has heard him talk about that long walk. But in this moment in time, in that setting, it just has this connection ability that I think very few of his predecessors really had. This is a unique Joe Biden thing.

SCIUTTO: David Chalian, a popular relief package, very popular across even among Republicans, did not get a single Republican vote. The president has a very ambitious agenda going forward, immigration, infrastructure, voting rights, et cetera. Where does that all go here, right? I mean, are there places to work together or is the Republican strategy in effect, no, right, that is the best strategy going forward?

CHALIAN: So far, it seems that the Republican strategy is to believe that their best chance back to power is in a totally unified opposition. Because, as you noted, Jim, if you can't get some Republicans on board with a broadly popular program, even listen to the way Republicans are dealing with the president's speech last night, he's joining in a parade in trying to get to the front of it that was already going. There is clearly a decision among Republicans here that they're in unified opposition, there is strength. Now, that doesn't mean there won't be an opportunity maybe on some of those agenda items you're talking about, Jim, for Joe Biden to pick off some Republican votes. The White House press secretary said again this morning, the Oval Office remains open to Republicans.

But as narrowly divided as the House and the Senate are in these very polarized times and having just seen no Republicans come on board with this bill, I'm not that all hopeful for a whole ton of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill going forward.

HARLOW: Right. You can wish --

SCIUTTO: Smart bet. It is a smart bet.

HARLOW: Sad reality.

David, also this moment last night, addressing the hate and violence against Asian-Americans, listen to this.


BIDEN: Vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated. At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, they're on the frontlines of this pandemic trying to save lives. And still, still they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It's wrong, it's un-American and it must stop.


HARLOW How important was that from him in primetime last night?

CHALIAN: So incredibly important, because he's not brushing over the ugliness that exists, right? He's trying to call it out and call upon a unified America to appeal to better angels, right? And so it is not ignoring the reality that we're seeing on our streets as it comes to this particular slice of racism and racial hate. It is putting it front and center and explaining to America how wrong it is as part of his overall plea for a unified approach to combating every aspect of what this virus has brought.

HARLOW: Yes, for sure. David, we're so glad you're with us this morning.

CHALIAN: Thanks, guys.

HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE) a little bit. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, still to come this hour, vaccine hesitancy particularly among Republicans, may have a hand in delaying when this country reaches herd immunity. We're going to take you live to one of ten states considering legislation to outright bar some institutions from requiring a vaccine.

Plus, Maryland is the latest state to ease restrictions in quarantine requirements. We're going to have a live report next.

HARLOW: And the nation's hunger crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic, so many children, millions of them in America and their families, still without enough to eat. How should the Biden administration tackle America's hunger problem? The CEO of Feeding America is here.



HARLOW: Later today, the state of Maryland will lift some COVID restrictions. They'll do away with all capacity limitations on businesses, gyms and churches, they'll end the quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers as well.

SCIUTTO: However, the state's mask mandate will stay in effect. In concert and sporting venues, they're going to have to be operating at just 50 percent capacity.

CNN's Joe Johns is following this.


It is interesting balance here. Texas reopen everything, kill the mask mandate. They're reopening most things but keeping the mask mandate. I wonder how businesses react to that.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the reactions have been interesting. I think most of the reaction has been surprise, pleasant surprise in the restaurants. But in the health care community, a lot more concern.

Either way, Governor Larry Hogan's order going into effect at 5:00 Eastern Time today easing up some of the coronavirus restrictions that have been in place for so long, that means bars, restaurants, gyms, and other businesses can now go to full capacity.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean all things change. In fact, there are a number of caveats, probably the most important one is that masks remain in effect. There is also social distancing that is going to remain in effect. Probably the biggest caveat is that counties and cities can opt out if they think all of this is moving too fast.

There is a reason for that. The number of vaccinations in this state is going up. The number of cases is actually going down. Still, with all of the caution here in the state of Maryland, there are people who say the governor is moving entirely too fast. Though he's not moving as fast as some states, like Oklahoma, for example, got rid of all of its coronavirus restrictions just about.

Texas got rid of most of its restrictions. But still, the attorney general in the state of Texas is now suing the capital city of Austin, as well as the surrounding county, Travis County, because, essentially, they are not getting on board with the program. It just goes to show cities, counties states, they may all have to go different ways to get to the same place.

Back to you.

SCIUTTO: Yes, maybe not one-size-fits-all. Joe Johns, thanks very much.

As President Biden pushes for Americans to get vaccinated, there are still many people refusing to get the coronavirus vaccine.

HARLOW: And some states are taking up legislation, allowing citizens to opt out of vaccination or prohibiting certain institutions from making them mandatory. Let's go to our colleague, Miguel Marquez, who went to New Hampshire and spoke with a number of people who thinks vaccination should be a personal choice and not the law. Here is his reporting.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As coronavirus vaccinations pick up steam, some aren't convinced it is safe. Enough of them could make it tougher to get back to pre-pandemic life.

JENNA PEDONE, NEW HAMPSHIRE RESIDENT/WON'T GET COVID VACCINE: I think that people should be allowed to choose, have medical freedom.

MARQUEZ: Jenna Pedone, a pharmacist, says she takes coronavirus seriously, isn't opposed to vaccinations but thinks getting one for COVID-19 is a matter of individual choice.

PEDONE: It doesn't matter what Trump did, it doesn't matter what Biden is doing, what matters is do I get the choice to say what is good for me.

MARQUEZ: Nursing assistance and mom of three, Seouquia Downs, her youngest, on five weeks old, says she won't get the coronavirus vaccine because she does not believe the virus is a threat to her.

SEOUQUIA DOWNS, NEW HAMPSHIRE RESIDENT/WON'T GET COVID VACCINE: I feel like I would be able to get -- if I was to get sick, I would get natural immunity to it and I would be -- you know, it wouldn't be as detrimental to me as someone else.

MARQUEZ: Both Downs and Pedone say they support a bill making its way through the New Hampshire state house barring punishment against those who refuse any coronavirus vaccine.

TIM LANG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We introduced house bill 220, which is Medical Freedom Act.

MARQUEZ: The Granite State, one of ten, says the National Council of State Legislatures currently considering legislation allowing citizens to opt out of vaccinations, protect them from being punished for not getting it or prohibit certain institutions from requiring them.

LANG: The state should never mandate to the 1.3 million citizens in New Hampshire, some sort of medical intervention that they all have to have.

MARQUEZ: Lang expects the bill to pass with bipartisan support after amending it to allow several exceptions, like school vaccinations and some law enforcement medical emergencies.

Is there any concern that we will not get to that herd immunity?

LANG: I don't think this bill will change the vaccination rate. We don't have mandatory vaccines right now and people are still getting vaccinated.

MARQUEZ: When it comes to hesitancy about getting the coronavirus vaccine, polls show a higher degree of skepticism among Republicans. In a new CNN poll, 46 percent of Republicans nationwide said they would not try to get the vaccine. Here in New Hampshire, 45 percent of Republicans said they almost certainly or probably would not get vaccinated. This is after former President Trump's drumbeat of statements playing down the seriousness of the pandemic.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Having a vaccine is good but we're rounding the turn regardless. We're rounding the turn.

MARQUEZ: Even neglecting to announce he and former First Lady Melania Trump got vaccinated before leaving the White House.


To combat vaccine hesitancy, all of the former presidents and first ladies except the Trumps releasing a PSA encouraging people to get vaccinated.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So roll up your sleeve and do your part.

MARQUEZ: While the medical experts warn about the consequences of not enough Americans getting the vaccine.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We anticipate, and, again, it is purely a speculation, that the herd immunity level will be about 70 to 85 percent. If a significant number of people do not get vaccinated, that would delay where we could get to that endpoint.

MARQUEZ: The endpoint, enough people getting vaccinated to allow life to get back to something like normal.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So one little bright spot that researchers and pollsters are seeing is that as the politics around the coronavirus itself, as those politics get less heated, as more people get vaccinated, as society opens up, that hesitancy will go down, more people will get vaccinated and with a little hope and a little luck, we'll get back to something approximating normal life pretty darn soon. Back to you guys. HARLOW: Both hands, finger crossed. Miguel, thank you. That was really interesting reporting. And my toes. A really interesting reporting.

All right, well ahead, a very serious and important conversation that the world is now having about the history of racism and oppression in the U.K. following the interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.