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President Biden Prepares to Promote COVID Relief Plan; Governor Andrew Cuomo Accuses New York Politicians of Ulterior Motives; Interview with Former Biden-Harris Transition Advisory Board Member Julie Morita. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 12, 2021 - 14:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar and thank you for joining me.

Moments from now, President Biden and Vice President Harris will take their victory lap in the White House Rose Garden at an event to hail Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan. It is one of the most expensive and most consequential government rescue packages in U.S. history, and Biden signed it just a day ago.

Now the work goes from the bill's passage to its promotion. The Democratic National Committee is kicking off a new ad campaign to help sell the COVID relief plan to a politically fractured nation.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The plan will get checks out the door starting this month. Over 85 percent of American households will get direct payment of $1,400 per person.


KEILAR: In fact, the White House says the checks for some Americans could come as soon as this weekend. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

Kaitlan, that will be welcome news to many people. Give us a sense of what we're about to hear and what the plan is for Biden to take his message on the road next week.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It will be welcome news. And so that's really, you know, the easiest for people to grasp on, that they are going to be getting those checks if you do qualify. But of course, there is so much more to this package.

It is massive, it is $1.9 trillion. And so that's why the White House says you're going to see Biden holding an event on Monday, talking about how they're actually going to get it implemented. We already know they're picking someone to oversee all of that because it is such a big plan, so look for that on Monday.

But I think first, this afternoon, it's going to be more of a celebration for President Biden in the Rose Garden, signing this. Of course it is only going to be Democrats that you're going to see in attendance, given that zero Republicans voted to actually pass this plan.

So the White House is saying yes it will be bicameral -- meaning both houses will be represented -- but it will not be a bipartisan event, given none of those Republicans were part of getting this actually signed into law, which President Biden did yesterday.

And so the next big thing is not just actually implementing it and making sure people understand what all is going to be in this, it's actually selling the plan to ensure that it stays popular. And that's why you're going to see so many officials fanned out across the country next week.

That includes President Biden and Vice President Harris, but also their spouses. They're going to be making several trips: New Jersey, Colorado, New Mexico, several different states you're going to see them really all over the place, trying to sell this plan. And the White House says that these states were picked on purpose.

But I think another thing that you're going to hear President Biden talking about next week, Brianna, are those big promises that he made last night, talking about that July 4th timeline for a somewhat semblance of normalcy for Americans, potentially being able to get together with family and friends, depending on how the vaccinations go.

Though we should note, earlier today, when we asked the CDC director what exactly kind of a number did they want to see by then to meet that goal that he set last night in that primetime address, but they say they're not ready to put a specific number on it yet, of how many Americans they want vaccinated by the 4th of July because they have other things to address (INAUDIBLE) the supply, but also whether or not people are going to be hesitant to actually get the vaccine.

KEILAR: Yes, a very good point. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

and as the first lady pointed out in a tweet last night, it took just 50 days after President Biden was sworn in to get this relief bill signed into law. The only major legislation that happened more quickly in recent history is when President Obama signed his 2009 economic stimulus plan in just under a month.

I want to bring in my colleague Jake Tapper, who is the anchor of "THE LEAD" and CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" to talk about all of this.

What do you think this says, this law, this early legislative success of his, about how his agenda is going to fare for the rest of the year?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, THE LEAD: Well, it's interesting because obviously when it came to his pledge to work across the aisle, this was the bill he wanted almost entirely, $1.9 trillion. And with the exception of a few items here and there, it really was the bill that he proposed in January.

And when Republicans said, hey, we'd like to work with you but it needs to be significantly less money, the president basically said no. And so I'm not saying that it's his fault that it's not bipartisan. Obviously he thought that it needed to be this big, and obviously the memories of 2009 and trying to get a bipartisan bill there that, in the end, wasn't enough for a more robust recovery, linger in the minds of President Biden and others in the White House.

That said, I wonder how much this is the template versus how much this is going to be the exception. Because obviously, there is a lot that can be done in a bipartisan way, whether it's infrastructure or immigration reform or climate change. And the question is how many Republicans are actually going to step up to the table and how much are Democrats, who don't need their votes necessarily, going to be willing to listen to them.


KEILAR: Yes. There are some Republicans who appear open. I mean, there's not many, but there are some. So there is a question of whether he's going to try to zero in on them.

And, Jake, I want to highlight something that you're doing. You're hosting a special tonight. This is going to be a live special, and this is on the issue that I think is so much on people's minds right here, which is getting kids back to school amid the pandemic. What can we expect?

TAPPER: Well, what we can expect is, I think, just a robust discussion from parents, from teachers, from a representative of a major teachers' union, from students, from policymakers, the secretary of Education -- who was just sworn in a few days ago -- we're going to have a discussion.

I don't have the answers. I think the question is, how do we get kids back into classrooms for in-person education as safely and as quickly as possible? Safely and quickly. And look, if it were easy, it would have been done by now. It's not, for a lot of people. Now, for some school districts, they think that they have solved the problem, they've cracked the code.

So it will be a robust discussion about what works, what doesn't work. And I'm going to be doing a lot of listening, quite frankly. I'll be asking some tough questions, but I'm going to listen to what people have to say.

KEILAR: I'm really looking forward to that personally.

I want to ask you about Biden and his goal for vaccinations. He is poised to hit 100 million vaccine doses, and this is well ahead of the 100-day goal he set for himself. That's probably part planning because of that. But conservatives have criticized him for not giving former President Trump enough credit for that. What do you think of that?

TAPPER: Well, it's interesting because look, I've said it on my show and you've said it, Brianna. Obviously President Trump deserves credit for Operation Warp Speed, which is part of the reasons that we now have -- miraculously, almost -- three efficacious vaccines in this country and more to come, without question.

That said, President Trump's response to the pandemic generally speaking was very, very problematic, and we spent a whole year going over the things he said that were ascientific, the undermining he did of the scientists and the health experts, the way he turned his own Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Infectious Diseases Center, how he turned that -- him into a bogeyman, a bad guy, how he mocked masks as the White House became a superspreader location several times.

So it is a mixed bag, mostly bad, except for ventilators, to a degree PPE, and Operation Warp Speed.

I think that there's a reluctance by the Biden White House to relitigate the past. I have heard them credit Trump and Operation Warp Speed, but no doubt they could be doing it more. But no doubt they're also a little bit resentful because --


TAPPER: -- let's be honest, it was something of a mess when they took over.

Now, 100 million doses in 100 days is not that difficult, given the fact that it was already at 1 million doses a day when Biden started, but that said, there was a lot that Biden needed to do in terms of the Defense Production Act, in terms of getting a lot of other things in line.

So I mean, the people that are complaining about it are also largely people who didn't fault Trump for the things he did wrong. So I'm sympathetic to the argument to a degree.

KEILAR: Yes. And look, one of the companies with the vaccine, one of them didn't take the Operation Warp Speed money, right? So it's also this kind of like mixed bag on how you assess that as well.

But before I let you go, Jake, I do want to ask about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo because on top of the independent investigation that is already under way into claims of sexual harassment that have been made against him -- multiple now -- he's now facing an impeachment investigation and it's led by Democrats. And there's 55 state lawmakers from his own party who have signed this letter that calls for his resignation.

This is how he responded to that, moments ago.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY) (via telephone): The people of New York should not have confidence in a politician who takes a position without knowing any facts or substance. That my friends is politics at its worst. Politicians take positions for all sorts of reasons, including political expediency and bowing to pressure. But people know the difference between playing politics, bowing to counsel (sic) -- cancel culture and the truth.


KEILAR: I wonder what you think of -- I see you smiling. What do you think of him bringing up cancel culture, what'd you think of that?

TAPPER: Well, before we get to the cancel culture, can we talk about the fact that --



TAPPER: -- his administration has already admitted -- first privately, and then they were forced to publicly -- that they hid data about nursing home --

KEILAR: Right.

TAPPER: -- deaths, they hid it and they did it for political reasons. They did it because they didn't want then-President Trump to attack him for it. They hid this data.

Not to mention, of course, there's the original disastrous nursing home order that said that nursing homes in New York had to take people in even if they had COVID, and there was a suspicion that there were a lot of people that got infected because of that?

I mean, so when he puts himself up as the arbiter of truth, I find it a bit rich, given that history.

In terms of cancel culture, look, what we have here is a number of individuals, a number of women who have bravely come forward and told their stories. And Governor Cuomo is entitled to have the investigation go forward, he's entitled to have an independent investigation happen and wait for those results. I don't see any problem with that.

So I guess I'm of a mixed mind because, you know, we all want to take a stand against sexual harassment in the workplace and making people feel uncomfortable. And if what these women have said is true -- and I have no reason to doubt them -- but if what they said is true, that certainly sounds, at least in the case of Charlotte Bennett and Lindsey Boylan, it sounds like a textbook case of sexual harassment.

But that said, I also believe in due process. And honestly, that's something that I think has been too often left out of these conversations. So let's see what the attorney general, Letitia Janes, who is as gutsy as they come, let's see what she finds.

KEILAR: Yes. He's left that out, I will tell you, Governor Cuomo, some conversations, due process when it comes to some folks. So will he get the courtesy he hasn't always extended? We will see.

TAPPER: Excellent point, it's an excellent point.

KEILAR: Jake, it's great to see you, I'm very excited for your special tonight. Just to remind people again, it's a live special that Jake is doing. It's called, "BACK TO SCHOOL: KIDS, COVID AND THE FIGHT TO REOPEN." And that is going to be on our air tonight at 9:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

We do have some breaking news regarding the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. The Floyd family attorney is set to hold a news conference any moment now. Omar Jimenez is in Minneapolis.

And you have some new information from the city council. What can you tell us, Omar?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. We just learned, a few moments ago, the city council voted 13-0, unanimously, for a $27 million settlement in the wrongful death civil lawsuit that George Floyd's family filed against the city of Minneapolis and against the four officers involved in his death.

This is separate from the criminal trials that are already taking place for Derek Chauvin and for the three others expected to take place later in the fall.

Attorney Benjamin Crump was the one who made this announcement. He set (ph) this out and said that this is the largest pretrial settlement in United States history for a wrongful civil lawsuit.

And so obviously this is big news. As the criminal proceedings has been taking place, we had been keeping an eye on how this was moving forward. And we weren't exactly sure how this was going to come to the forefront.

We knew that there was a meeting from the Minneapolis City Council scheduled for this morning, but this morning's meeting was about a separate matter, trying to dismantle the police department and replace it with a more encompassing public safety department.

And while that wasn't the final vote there, at one point during the session, they went into a closed session. And so we are trying to figure out what was happening in that closed session. We knew that it was involving a George Floyd potential settlement.

But we also knew by the rules instilled by the city council here, they would have to come back out in public and do a public-facing vote before any sort of decision. They came and did that, and voted unanimously, as I mentioned, on a $27 million settlement to the estate of George Floyd, paid for by the city of Minneapolis and the four officers involved in his death as part of this wrongful death civil lawsuit.

KEILAR: And, Omar, I think, you know, you hear that number, I know the first thing I think of is that is so much money, and yet nothing brings George Floyd back, right? What is the price tag on the pain of the family, what is the price tag on the pain of a community and the similar feelings that other people in similar situations have had.

JIMENEZ: Of course. And it's difficult to put a price tag on these types of situations because you're exactly right, no matter what the dollar amount is, it does not bring back George Floyd for his family. The only hope that they have had throughout all of this is that this process and that his name be met with justice when it comes to the proceedings playing out.

Obviously we're going to see what happens on the criminal side of things. Derek Chauvin, he's in the middle of his trial right now, in the middle of the jury selection phase, and that will be a process that plays out.

This is a separate type of justice, that they knew that if they were going to be in these types of negotiations, it was never going to be for a small amount, it was always going to be for an amount that they felt met the history of this occasion.


This was an unprecedented situation for here in Minneapolis, what happened last May, and I think this settlement reflects just that, if as Attorney Crump says, this ends up being the largest U.S. settlement for a wrongful civil lawsuit -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Omar Jimenez in Minneapolis, thank you so much.

And just in to CNN, the Biden administration taking action to alleviate the overcrowding at the border as agents struggle to house thousands of minors now in U.S. custody. I'll be speaking to a former deputy chief of staff at ICE about the chance in policies.

And again, we're just minutes away from hearing President Biden speak in the Rose Garden, so stay with CNN for live special coverage.



KEILAR: We're minutes away from President Biden speaking about his COVID relief package at the White House, and this comes as he marked two concrete dates on the calendar to achieve major vaccination milestones.


BIDEN: Tonight, I'm announcing that I'll 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 the 4th, there's 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 and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: I want to bring in Dr. Julie Morita, she is a former member of the Biden-Harris Transition Advisory Board, and she's executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

OK, so let's talk about these dates, May 1st and July 4th. Are these dates achievable, can we hang our hats on these dates?

JULIE MORITA, FORMER MEMBER, BIDEN-HARRIS TRANSITION ADVISORY BOARD: Hi, Brianna, thanks for having me. So I like to have goals, and May 1st and July 4th are good goals to have in place. And what gives me hope that we can actually accomplish those goals is that we're seeing increasing rates of vaccination, so we're not at over 2.2 million doses that are being vaccinated every day.

And we (ph) also seeing that the systems are smoothing out and people are getting their vaccines more readily and more comfortable (ph) getting the vaccines, so all those things actually give me hope.

But I also recognize that there's a lot of work that has to happen from now until May 1st, and also from May 1st to July 4th to really allow those things to actually happen. And they'll require resources. So I was pleased to see the American Rescue Plan actually includes quite a bit of resources that will support intensive and acceleration efforts to actually make sure the vaccines get out there as quickly as possible.

KEILAR: Last month, you delivered testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, their Subcommittee on Health. And this was about the vaccine rollout. And one of the problems that you flagged was accessibility. Do you think the president's plan adequately addresses that issue?

MORITA: So what I was talking about at the -- in my testimony was really that in order for the vaccines to be really -- reach the communities who have been most impacted by the pandemic itself -- so some of our poorer communities, and our black and brown communities have really been disproportionately impacted by disease.

And making sure that they have access to the vaccine requires that the systems be simplified so that people can use telephones, they can actually be able to walk into clinics, they can have clinics that are before work hours or after work hours and on weekends and located in the right places.

And the plan actually includes a doubling of effort to actually pop up clinics in the communities that have been hit hardest, also doubling the number pharmacies that are actually located in those communities as well, and then also increasing the manpower to actually make these clinics happen.

So the resources are really included within the plan, and it's a matter of operationalizing those so that we can actually make sure the vaccines get into the right communities.

KEILAR: How worried are you that, you know, people, that Americans basically think the pandemic is over? MORITA: I'm concerned. I think, you know, the weather's getting warmer, people are outside, people are seeing other people getting vaccinated and we're feeling a desire to let our guard down. We all want this pandemic to be over, but we can't really end this pandemic until we have much higher rates of vaccination.

Right now, it's about 20 percent of our population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and only 10 percent have really been fully vaccinated. So we really have to have much higher levels of vaccine coverage to really let our guard down, and it's a little early to do that now.

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly is. Dr. Morita, thank you so much for joining us.

MORITA: Thank you.

KEILAR: With a massive influx of migrants at the southern border, today, the Biden administration is ending a Trump-era agreement to share information between federal agencies, hoping it will encourage more family members to come forward and claim children who are currently being held.

A wave of unaccompanied young migrants are now in U.S. Border Patrol custody, 3,700 children are being housed in jail-like facilities at the border right now. Unaccompanied minors are supposed to be turned over to the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours, but they're experiencing a huge spike as well. The number of children in HHS shelters, now up to 8,800.

John Amaya is the former deputy chief of staff for Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Obama. You know, John, the concern prior to this change is that family members of these minors, already living in the U.S., were reluctant to come forward to care for them because the Trump administration had made a change that allowed information about the ones who were undocumented to go to those who would apprehend people, and they would actually be apprehended when they came forward to take charge of minors and get them out of custody.


Do you think this is as simple as just changing this policy, or do you think there's an erosion of trust that is going to dissuade some people from coming and caring for these young people who are in custody?

JOHN AMAYA, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR ICE UNDER OBAMA: Well, thank you for the question. And that's actually critical to be discussing at this point because the reality is, both when I was at ICE and as I see it now with individual clients, the fact that people were being turned over to ICE essentially was problematic, people were fearful of that.

And when I was at ICE, we had to go above and beyond to assure family members that we wanted to make sure that these children were being transferred into safe custody of actual family members, and that we weren't (INAUDIBLE) further trafficking children into the United States.

So I think, number one, yes, this is going to help significantly because people will come forward. And number two, I think it's incumbent upon the administration with a messaging campaign, if you will, to ensure that people understand the significant change so they do come looking for their children.

KEILAR: What -- the Biden administration changed another policy that would allow people to remain in the country while they're awaiting their immigration proceedings. That's something that was banned under President Trump. Is Biden's policy of being friendlier to asylum- seekers partially to blame or wholly to blame for the surge that we're seeing at the border?

AMAYA: Well, I don't think it's fair to blame the policy changes on -- or dictate that the numbers are growing because of policy changes. We've seen policy changes, and we've seen the flow of migrants come in with the beginning of every new administration.

That said, for everyone who's concerned about the numbers that we're seeing right now, we need to keep in mind that the American people need to understand what it really looks like, and Republicans need to stop crying about the numbers at the border.

Case in point, we had a significantly greater number of people come to the border around this period back in 2019, under the Trump administration, and we didn't hear anything from Republicans crying about some crisis that was happening at that point.

KEILAR: John Amaya, I mean, look, whatever different parties want to say about it, it was a crisis then, we are seeing a crisis now. I do think that is incredibly clear, as we try to just assess how big this problem is. John Amaya, we certainly appreciate you coming on the show, thank you.

Any moment now, we are expecting to see President Biden and Democratic leaders in the White House Rose Garden tout the new COVID relief law. They're going to lay out how this will help Americans struggling in the pandemic, and we will bring that to you live.