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Senate Democrats Plan to Bring Gun Safety Bill to Floor Vote; Trump White House Tenure Could Widen New York Probe; CDC Says 1 in 10 Americans Fully Vaccinated Against COVID; Can Companies Mandate Employee Vaccinations. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 12, 2021 - 15:30   ET



OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So a lot of movement there. And as I mentioned as well, this is separate from the criminal proceedings that are ongoing right now. Jury selection continues as a seventh juror was just selected for the trial of Derek Chauvin.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Doesn't bring their son, their father back but still so significant today. Omar in Minneapolis, Omar, thank you.

Senate Democrats plan to move forward with a floor vote on a new gun safety bill. It would need 60 votes to pass and that is an uphill climb for any legislation but maybe especially hard on a polarizing issue such as gun rights.

Congressional correspondent Jessica Dean is with us now, and Jessica, what do you know about just the chances of this bill passing?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is an uphill battle, Brooke, to your point. Getting 60 votes on this if that were to happen would truly be a very big deal.

Now we talked to the bill's co-sponsors, we heard from them yesterday. They are still optimistic that this could happen and their reasoning behind that is since they last made a go at this back in 2013 in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, they say that look, the political landscape has changed. There are anti-gun violence people pushing behind this, a coalition of people pushing behind this, and that there's more pressure on Republican Senators to join them on this bill.

But even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who's promised to bring it to the floor for a vote says they may not have the votes. But a key part of this for Democrats is getting some of those Republicans on the record as voting against this bill.

Now this, would expand background checks to capture commercial sales and so we do expect to see this on the floor. But the question remains will that actually pass? Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut again one of the bill's co- sponsors, Brooke, saying yesterday that a number of Republicans in recent years have come to him and expressed their willingness to vote for something like this. So now is where the rubber meets the road, as it were. And let's see if their willing to publicly vote in favor of this.

And quickly, back in 2013 you'll remember it was Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican of Pennsylvania, and Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat of West Virginia who came together with the Manchin-Toomey Bill that almost made it.


DEAN: But still failed, I talked to Senator Toomey yesterday, would he be willing to support this, does he get the sense there are Republicans willing to come together on this? He said he did not have a sense at this point of what the Republicans support might look like. He wasn't sure that he would support it because he doesn't what they're bringing to the floor.

So that's certainly one key person along with Senator Manchin to keep an eye on as we get closer to the floor vote on this -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: We'll see, we'll see. Jessica Dean, thank you on the Hill.

While Donald Trump was president, he was largely protected from the kind of investigation currently taking shape in New York. State prosecutors are diving deep into the former president's finances, and as it turns out his time in Washington may end up widening their case.

Let's bring in CNN reporter Kara Scannell. Kara, tell me how the former president's tenure in the White House may actually increase his exposure here.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: So, Brooke, this has to do with the statute of limitations which is, you know, the time a prosecutor has to investigate or bring a case from when it began.

In New York most felonies, the statute of limitations is five years. So sources tell me that prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney's office have been discussing using a provision in the New York criminal procedure law. That provision says that if a defendant has been out of state continuously that prosecutors don't have to count those days when they calculate the statute of limitations.

So for the former President Donald Trump he's a lifelong New Yorker, but since January of 2017 he's been in Washington or spending time in New Jersey or down in Florida where he has now permanently relocated. So that could give prosecutors a lot of extra time on the clock if they are able to add those days in.

Now they have been successful doing this before when they prosecuted the former Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein on sexual assault charges. They were able to charge him with and offence that went back beyond the statute of limitations. And they were able to do that because they were able to show a judge travel records that indicated that Weinstein was out of New York for a substantial period of time during that period. So this is another tool in the prosecutor's toolbox and something they are clearly discussing -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: But I'm curious, if Cy Vance, who is the Manhattan D.A. -- he's really been leading the charge on this thing -- you know, we know he's not seeking re-election later this year. How might that change affect this widening investigation?

SCANNELL: So, sources familiar with the investigation tell me that, you know, Cy Vance has known for a while that he's not going to run for re-election, and he is likely to make a charging decision in this case either way, whether it's to indict or to possibly close the investigation. Hoping to do this by the end of his term.

Now they have been doing this investigation since 2018 and it's picked up in speed in the last several months and just the end of last month, they obtained the former president's tax returns.


They have millions of pages of documents they're going through. They are interviewing witnesses. And they brought in a former prosecutor with an expertise in financial crimes. So they're gearing up for this and they still have about nine and half months to go until Cy Vance's term is up. But even when he does leave, I mean, this is a group of career prosecutors who are also working on this case and they will continue to be there after Vance leaves -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Kara Scannell, thank you, Kara.

And just a programming note for all of you. Make sure you tune in to CNN this Sunday as the destruction of the Civil War unfolds. President Lincoln attempts to console America. See how Lincoln used the power of his words to uplift a nation in sorrow. We're calling it "LINCOLN, DIVIDED WE STAND." It continues this Sunday night, 10 o'clock Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.

When we come back, it is the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. Boy oh, boy, does that feel good to read -- as President Biden calls for all adults to get vaccine access by May 1st, but, folks, I'm talking to myself too, doctors say we are not out of woods yet. There are fears of a fourth surge. More on that ahead.



BALDWIN: The White House says it plans to do all it can to help Americans find available vaccines. Today it announced plans to establish a call center and a website where people can get critical information they need, but those variants remain a big concern, especially as more people begin to travel.

Vaccine experts fear a possible fourth case surge as more states do away with all these mask mandates. CNN anchor and national correspondent Erica Hill has more on this vaccination push.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Her first hug in a year.

EVELYN SHAW, HUGGED GRANDDAUGHTER FOR FIRST TIME IN A YEAR: It was blissful. It was wonderful, and it was something I'm going to remember for the rest my life.

HILL (voice over): Across the country, families reunited.


HILL (voice over): Offering hope for what lies ahead. To get there the White House promising more shots in arms and easier access to COVID-19 vaccines.

DR. MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH, CHAIR, COVID-19 EQUITY TASK FORCE: Up to 700 new community health centers coming online, a doubling of pharmacy locations and a surge in vaccinators. We're ensuring that equity remains at the center of our response

HILL (voice over): As experts stress it's not just about the vaccine.

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, FORMER DETROIT HEALTH COMMISSIONER: We've always needed vaccines in the context of tried and true basic public health blocking and tackling.

HILL (voice over): And yet, more of those public health measures are being phased out. As of 5:00 p.m. today, most Maryland businesses can operate at full capacity, masks still required but quarantines for out-of-state travelers are not. New York state will eliminate them for domestic travelers starting April 1st.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D) NEW YORK CITY: I don't know if that's the state's idea of an April fool's joke but it's absolutely the wrong thing to do.

HILL (voice over): Nearly 1.3 million people passing through TSA checkpoints on Thursday, the third busiest day since the start of the pandemic.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Every single time we have escalations in travel, right after that we have a surge.

DR. LAURA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Travel itself is not the problem. It's more about what happens when people get to their destination.

HILL (voice over): The seven-day average of new cases is at its lowest level since mid-October, down 47 percent in just the last month. Average daily reported deaths down 48 percent in the last month, gains no one wants to lose.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I think May and June are going to be really good months and July is going to be terrific, but we do have to get through the next six weeks.

HILL (voice over): A well-known model now predicting U.S. COVID deaths could approach 600,000 by July 1st. That's an increase of more than 22,000 since its last estimate less than a week ago due to increased mobility and a drop in masking.

WALENSKY: We need every individual to do their part. We can provide the guidance, but if -- if people are not doing their part to keep the infection rates down and to get themselves vaccinated, we are -- you know, this is in our control.


HILL (on camera): Brooke, the CDC also releasing updated guidance today for childcare providers as more and more people are preparing to go back to work. This will, of course, be increasingly important. Bottom line, masks for everyone 2 and older. They also stress that even after staff and childcare providers are vaccinated, they should like the rest of us, continue with those public health measures, continue masking, continue to have some distance. They also stress ventilation in childcare centers and when possible keeping kids in pods -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Erica, thank you.

Still to come, the president has set the deadline to return to normal, and for a lot of us that means a return to the office. But could a company actually force you to get the vaccine to come back to work? Let's talk about that. I've got lots of questions for this labor attorney next.



BALDWIN: We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, a return to pre-pandemic life as more and more Americans get vaccinated, but there will likely be some new normals, particularly around the use of vaccines.

So as people return to their offices, you know, one huge question remains. Can companies actually require employees to get a vaccine before returning?

Brett Coburn is a labor and employment attorney and a partner at Alston and Bird. Brett, nice to have you on. I've got a bunch of questions for you, so let me just start hitting you with this.

You know, a lot of companies are obviously discussing their back-to- work plans. Can an employer make an employee physically return to the office, and what rights do people have to tell their bosses if they are not ready?

BRETT COBURN, LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT ATTORNEY: So generally speaking, yes. Employers can determine that being physically present in the office is a requirement of the job and say, yes, you need to come back to work.

Now, when they do that, they need to still be following CDC, OSHA, state and local health authority requirements and guidance to make sure that they are providing a safe workplace. But they can say to employees, you need to come back. Now one important exception is for employees who have medical conditions that might be impacted by COVID.

BALDWIN: Of course.

COBURN: Those people might be entitled to an accommodation under the ADA and that accommodation might be continuing to work remotely when everybody else is coming back in.

BALDWIN: How about when it comes to the vaccine? Will employees have to disclose to employers that they got the vaccine?


COBURN: Well, the EEOC has issued some guidance on that, and they have said that it is permissible for employers to ask an employee, have you been vaccinated, yes or no? The employers can't go beyond that and ask why someone has not been vaccinated. So employers have been given the green light, you know, at least at the federal level, to ask that question. And I think it remains to be seen, you know, in different types of workplaces whether companies will in fact ask those questions.

BALDWIN: Also we know a huge portion of the country has been working from home for about a year. Some people have, you know, taken that opportunity to leave town, maybe go somewhere more rural, maybe a more affordable location. Brett, what happens when offices reopen and then what rights do those people have to hold on to their same jobs and maybe even keep the same salary?

COBURN: Sure, I mean, you know, it's really going to be a company by company issue, some companies may be willing to allow employees to work remotely if they've moved out of town. But again, going back to what I said originally, the employer generally has the ability and right to say you need to be here in the workplace. And so there certainly could be a number of people who have moved out of town and would like to stay there who have some issues or some tough decisions to make.

BALDWIN: Last question, just crystal ball time, imagine us one year from now, what do you think the workplace looks like?

COBURN: Well, you know, I've talked with some companies that didn't renew their lease during the pandemic. They said, you know what, this remote thing is working for us so we're going to keep doing it indefinitely.

Most companies, though, are going to go back. And I think, you know, a year from now, probably most things look the same. I do think overall we're going to see more people with permanent or maybe, you know, a couple day a week remote working just because so many people have demonstrated that they can work from home productively, or maybe even more productively.


COBURN: I think we're going to see increased -- still reliance on Zoom and other online meeting platforms and maybe, you know, some decrease in work-related travel because we've all learned we can have meetings virtually and still get business done.

But you know, I think a year from now, we probably, you know, see, you know, the American workplace looking not dramatically different than it did pre-pandemic, but you know, with some changes here and there.

BALDWIN: Brett, thank you.

COBURN: Thank you, Brooke. I appreciate it.

BALDWIN: You got it.

Today, New York officials unveiled a statue to honor one of its strongest daughters, the statue of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There she is -- will now stand in Brooklyn, the borough of her birth. We have those details ahead.



BALDWIN: With COVID-19 forcing so many people into isolation for safety reasons, that feeling is an everyday reality for some of the 61 million Americans living with disabilities.

And this week's CNN Hero became paralyzed from the waist down and struggled for years to live just a healthy, normal life. Now, motivated by his own successful journey, he provides an adaptive training and nutrition program that helps people with disabilities push beyond their limitations toward fuller lives. Here is Wesley Hamilton.



HAMILTON (voice over): My main goal is to teach people how to take control of their life. Take full accountability and embrace your reality.

HAMILTON: Slowly. All right, you can stop right here.

HAMILTON (voice over): When we go through our program it's only the beginning. I want to be there through your whole journey because I want to see you successful.

HAMILTON: There we go. One more.

HAMILTON (voice over): I've gained so much from my injury. And I want other people to have that same mind-set.

HAMILTON: You're learning that you're about to do more.

HAMILTON (voice over): I believe that once we help someone, now they have the ability to help someone else. This is something that has to have a ripple effect. We come together, empowering each other, be an inspiration for one another.


BALDWIN: So good. So impressive to see Wesley's full story and learn more about his work, go to And by the way, while you're there, please nominate someone you think should be the next CNN Hero.

Well, this morning New York officials unveiled a statue of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The sculpture will be on public display from now on in her native Brooklyn. The borough will also mark March 15th, this coming Monday, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Day. This piece is part of a series called "Statues for Equality, Working to Represent More Women in Public Sculpture."

The artist who designed says the steps on the piece represent her steep climb to the bench and how she spends her lifetime fighting to give others an equal platform.

And as we head into the weekend, make sure you tune in to the latest episode of the CNN original series "STANLEY TUCCI SEARCHING FOR ITALY." Stanley Tucci explores the beautiful region of Tuscany in this one from the art, the food, the culture, there is nowhere else quite like it.

Again, please tune in Sunday night 9:00 o'clock Eastern and Pacific. That's it for me. I'm Brooke Baldwin, thanks for being with me. Let's go to Washington. The Lead with Jake Tapper starts now.