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First COVID Relief Payments Start Hitting Bank Accounts; Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Digs In As Pressure Mounts For Him To Resign; Lawyers Say, Kids At Border Cannot Shower For Days Or Call Parents; DHS Directs FEMA To Help With Migrant Children At Border; Judge: Austin Can Still Ban Masks For Now As City Sued For Mandate; Senate Dems To Move Forward On New Gun Control Bill. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 13, 2021 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[20:00:00]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in the CNN Newsroom on this Saturday.

And you just heard those words from Dr. Anthony Fauci, be prudent a bit longer. Public health care officials are begging Americans this weekend to avoid travel, wear that mask, practice safety measures. They are making those pleas in a time when about one in five Americans have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Well, help is now also arriving nationwide in the form of cash. Many people telling CNN that their COVID relief payments have now appeared in their bank accounts.

Let's bring in CNN's Arlette Saenz. Arlette, those payments I just mentioned, that is part of President Biden's COVID relief package that impacts American families most directly and instantly.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They are, Pamela. And, really, those $1,400 stimulus checks are the first concrete example that Americans are seeing of how this relief package will affecting them. Those checks reached many Americans' bank accounts this weekend, and more checks and prepaid debit cards will continue rollout over the course of the next few weeks.

And those are things that the Biden administration is very eager to relay to Americans so they understand exactly what they are getting from this bill. You will see the president, the vice president, their spouses and other administration surrogates fanning out across the country over the course of the next few weeks to sell and remind people of that plan.

The president will be traveling to Pennsylvania on Tuesday and the vice president will be heading out west to Nevada and Colorado before the two of them link up down in Georgia on Friday. And this is just part of the administration's push to remind people of what is in this plan and how they will be impacted. Now, in addition to the sales pitch, there will also be a focus in the coming week on implementation. The president has acknowledged that this is a massive bill that will be need oversight for how it's actually carried out. The president, when he was vice president, actually carried out a similar role with the recovery act as he oversaw the implementation of that.

And the White House has said that they will announce a point person to lead the implementation of this American rescue plan as they are trying to get these benefits out to people and state and local governments as soon as possible.

BROWN: And, Arlette, President Biden's administration is trying to reach out to North Korea. What are you learning about that tonight?

SAENZ: Well, the Biden administration has engaged in this behind the scenes effort to try to reach out to North Korea. But, so far, Pyongyang has been unresponsive. Now, a senior administration official tells me that they started this outreach through multiple channels in mid-February. And this is really the first known attempts of outreach to North Korea, and U.S. allies and lawmakers have been very eager to see what the Biden administration's approach to the country will be as North Korea and its leader have shown this willingness to develop nuclear weapons.

Now, the Biden administration has said they are conducting an interagency review of the U.S. policy towards North Korea, that is something that they are working on right now, seeking input from outside groups and also former Trump administration officials and others who have been engaged in North Korea policy.

[20:05:01]

But administration has said that they will get some details about that review process out in the coming weeks.

BROWN: Okay. Arlette Saenz, thank you for bringing us the latest there from Wilmington, Delaware.

And with me now is Rana Foroohar. She is CNN's Global Economic Analyst and the Associate Editor of The Financial Times. Rana, great to see you.

I want to go back to the COVID relief package and talk about that. We are seeing Americans are beginning to see money in their bank accounts from it. Domestically, the massive piece of legislation is helping American families pay bills and rent, things that are really urgent. But, locally, how can this potentially impact growth? Some analysts say it could put the U.S. on pace with China.

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, the consensus economic forecast for this year is that the U.S. will grow more than 5 percent, possibly as much as 7 percent. I mean, that would be a rate that we haven't seen in 40 years. It's really going to be incredible if it happens. The second quarter in particular could be really, really hot. You've got a lot of people having been vaccinated, you've got that stimulus kicking in. You have to remember that our economy in the U.S. is 70 percent consumer spending. So, sending checks directly to individuals is one of the quickest ways to really spur growth and that's going to have a huge knock-on effect in the rest of the world.

The U.S. is still the most important economy in the world. And if we're growing, that's going to be good for the global economy.

BROWN: And it said that his COVID relief bill could potentially cut poverty in half, especially child poverty. What does it mean practically? Explain that to us.

FOROOHAR: Well, again, you have to think about what is the economy made up of? It's made up mostly of consumer spending. So what if the real problems in the last ten years has been that stock markets rose, right? Rich people had a lot of money to spend, everybody else, not too much.

And this is actually a really important thing about the stimulus package. We may be seeing the pendulum really fundamentally shifting not just away from Trumponomics but Reaganomics, which, again, has been the paradigm in this country for 40 years, that the markets know best, stock prices or everything. We're seeing Biden really go towards income growth, really focused on Main Street as opposed to Wall Street.

So I expect that even beyond the effects of the stimulus programs with Build Back Better, with infrastructure, with support for child care for health care, I think that you're going to see some of this growth continuing.

BROWN: So you are laying out a lot of positive there, but there is some concern amongst some analysts that inflation is inevitable. Do you think that that is true?

FOROOHAR: I think that there's a good chance that we're going to get some inflation. Whether or not it's longer lived is the big question. You have one really important factor pushing against inflation, despite all the money that the government has dumped into the economy, and that is technology. Technology is really deflationary.

So, companies, for example, are spending a lot on software. They're going to be investing in robotics, so all of that is deflationary. I don't expect to see a long-term uptick in inflation from this.

BROWN: All right. Rana, thank you so much for coming on and breaking it all down for us, we appreciate it.

FOROOHAR: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, a year into this pandemic, the U.S. hits an encouraging milestone. The CDC says that more than 105 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered here. And this news comes as President Biden says he will order that all adults go on vaccine eligibility lists by May 1st and sets July 14th as a possible starting date for a return to normalcy.

But we are far from out of the woods. CNN's Paul Vercammen has more on the danger that is still out there and how our actions will determine the future.

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PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Coronavirus restrictions are loosening up from coast to coast, but one of the nation's top health experts is warning governors if there was ever a time to put on a mask, this is it.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I would just appeal to all of those leaders who have people's lives on their hands look at the data, take some risks with your political base if you need to, but do the right thing.

VERCAMMEN: Health officials are also deeply concerned Americans are letting their guard down by getting on planes in record numbers since the outbreak began and by clustering during spring break.

DR. JOSEPH VARON, CHIEF OF STAFF, UNITED MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER, HOUSTON: If you come to Texas, you would say, hey, the pandemic disappeared overnight. It is amazing. You go outside, all the clubs are packed, people not wearing masks, it's very disappointing.

VERCAMMEN: A key vaccine benchmark has been met in California so they will ease restrictions. State officials announce they met their goal to vaccinate 2 million people in the hardest hit poor neighborhoods, teachers, agriculture workers and restaurant employees all eligible to get shots. The list expands to Californians with certain medical problems on Monday.

[20:10:01]

Also on the Golden State horizon, more reopenings of California movie theaters, museums, zoos, gyms and restaurants indoors on a very limited basis, the reason for restaurant workers to expect more tips, starting at midnight Sunday.

WAITER OROZCO, RESTAURANT EMPLOYEE: There were moments that we didn't have a lot of customers coming in, so you get frustrated sometimes. But right now, everything starts coming back with the vaccine and reopening, it feels more secure now.

VERCAMMEN: More good news on the vaccine front, the CDC says more than 100 million people have received a COVID-19 shot and age eligibility requirements dropping in many states. And AstraZeneca hopes to get emergency authorization approval for is vaccine at the end of this month or into of April.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: The FDA scientists will review the data very carefully. They will get access to the complete file. And if they see any signs of any concerns, they're not going to give emergency use authorization to this vaccine. VERCAMMEN: But in Mississippi, this memento is a touching and heartbreaking reminder that COVID-19 kills. Jeff Neighbors suffered from heart disease, rushed to marry his sweet heart of 17 years.

SHERRY NABORS, HUSBAND DIED FROM COVID-19 COMPLICATIONS: It wasn't what we had in mind, it was beautiful. It was beautiful and it was so touching and it was so perfect.

VERCAMMEN: But Sherry went from newly wedded to widow in days because of the virus that so far killed 500,000 people in the United States and counting.

Paul Vercammen, CNN, Los Angeles.

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BROWN: Breaking news coming into CNN this hour, the Department of Homeland Security is calling on FEMA to help shelter unaccompanied migrant children on the border as the U.S. sees a surge of people, including children who unaccompanied. Former Acting Director of ICE John Sandweg joins me live this hour.

But, first, a defiant governor, Andrew Cuomo, is digging and refusing to resign as he stares down an impeachment investigation. New York State Senator Jessica Ramos says it is time for him to go, and she joins me up, next.

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BROWN: Well, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is fending off an avalanche of calls for resignation from top members of his own party. The pressure is building after a number of women have accused him of sexual harassment and unwanted advances. That is on top of the New York attorney general report that says Cuomo's administration misreported data on nursing home deaths during the pandemic.

The governor denies any wrongdoing and in response to the claims and misconduct says that there is a simple explanation as to why lawmakers aren't standing by him.

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GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY) (voice over): People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture and the truth. Let the review proceed.

I am not going to resign. I was not elected by the politicians, I was elected by the people. Part of this is I am not part of the political club.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Democratic State Senator Jessica Ramos joins me now. She is among the dozens of lawmakers in her party calling on Cuomo to resign. Thank you for coming on.

What is your response to the governor's assertion there that this is happening because he is not part of the, quote, political club?

STATE SEN. JESSICA RAMOS (D-NY): The governor is the political club in New York. And I really wish he weren't so stubborn and would just resign and let the rest of us lead and govern right now when New York is hurting the most. We are really disappointed. It's been a really embarrassing ordeal.

We know the state is in the process of negotiating a budget at a time where we've lost 48,000 New Yorkers, 15,000 of them in nursing homes, a third of our small businesses are gone and may never come back, including some of our world-renowned restaurants. It's not a report card to be proud of. We need a governor that can focus and can function.

BROWN: So, you want him to resign. Stephanie Miner, who was a one-time top Democratic official in New York and former Syracuse mayor, she's actually been a critic of Governor Cuomo, but she told "The New York Times" she wants to wait for an independent investigation into the accusation, saying, we have this culture now of purity test, where there is instant gratification, are you on the right side or the wrong side, the answer is on the solutions, need to be more nuanced. What do you think about that? Do you think nuance is being overlooked in this case?

RAMOS: Yes, I'm very supportive of the investigations as long as they remain independent and as transparent as possible. I have all of my faith in Attorney General Letitia James. She'll get to the bottom of this. But those investigations are about determining criminality. And criminality may or may not mean that someone is fit to govern to hold office.

And in my opinion, along with many of my colleagues, we know that because of the culture of toxicity, the culture of sexual harassment that we do want to cancel, we can no longer trust this man to be our colleague in government.

BROWN: Governor Cuomo is also facing intense criticism for his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. An attorney general report found that his administration underreported the number of COVID-19 deaths and delayed sharing that information with state lawmakers. Should this had been enough cause for resignation? What is weighing on you the most as you call for his resignation?

BROWN: Pamela, absolutely, the deaths of all of our loved ones in those nursing homes should have been enough. It is unfortunate that we have had to count on the courage of seven women who have come forth to share their stories of sexual harassment on behalf of the governor.

[20:20:03]

But the reality is that the nursing home scandal is much more egregious. We know that the governor mishandled, manipulated the data on how many deaths happened, whether the patients have been moved to and from the hospital, determined whether they counted. He has made a mockery of our freedom of information law in New York, and we need to get to the bottom of this.

So I'm really happy that the New York State Assembly has given the green light to impeachment proceedings to begin.

BROWN: All right. New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, thank you for coming on.

RAMOS: Thanks for having me.

BROWN: Well, as the pressure at the border intensifies tonight, we are learning that children under younger than ten detained at the border haven't been able to shower or speak to their parents for days, according to a lawyer. I'll John Sandweg, former ICE acting director, how he would advice President Biden to tackle the border surge.

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BROWN: The numbers of children are growing and lawyers say the conditions are worsening at the U.S./Mexico border. More than 3,700 kids who arrived with no guardian are now in the custody of Customs and Border Protection. That is a record high.

Now, attorneys who have met with the children tell CNN that many of them have not been able to call their parents, plus, they haven't been able to shower for days. The surge in migrants was also seen as the Rio Grande. CNN witnessed boatload after boatload of people crossing the river this week. Authorities say, in just one day, 2,000 migrants were apprehended. A man from Honduras explained why he is trying to enter the U.S.

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MARCO MEJIA, HONDURAS: We want to enter through the front door so they can provide us support. We want to work. Everyone has families to take care of. As you can see, look, everything is clean. Everything here is in order.

SANDRA CABALLERO, HONDURAS: I am very scared to cross the border. I arrived a year ago. When I arrived in Tijuana, they tried to kidnap my 18-year-old daughter. I have been going down this road for two years and we have never crossed the border illegally. We are waiting for him to give us an answer.

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BROWN: Well, the U.S. is so overwhelmed at the border right now that ICE is asking its own people to volunteer to help out. Immigration and customs enforcement is requesting that staffers assist with security for migrant families and unaccompanied children. The deployments could happen as soon as this weekend.

And joining me now is John Sandweg who served as acting director for ICE under former President Obama. John, thanks for coming on.

This just in, we are just learning tonight that the Homeland Security secretary says he is now directing FEMA to help with the situation at the border. Here is what the department statement says tonight. FEMA is now integrated and co-located with HHS, the Health and Human Services Department, tolook at every available option to quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging.

Explain what that means, John, and how FEMA is helping with all these children.

JOHN SANDWEG, FORMER ICE ACTING DIRECTOR UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Sure, Pam, thanks for having me on. So, the challenge here is not the number of people actually crossing the border. The real challenge here is how is crossing the border. So when you have a surge like we're seeing right now of unaccompanied minor children, so these are kids under the age of 18, in a lot of instances that parents are already in the United States, wired money home to bring their kids up.

But when they come across without any parent, it's actually the responsibility of Health and Human Services to place them in a long- term shelter facility.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration really inherited a bit of a mess here and that HHS is not funded for the level of kids that we're seeing now. So they are left with in DHS custody until HHS can get them. So what we're hearing today is that DHS, because Border Patrol is a security agency, they are not supposed to be housing kids. And there is a lot of concern about the welfare of the kids when they're on board (ph) child custody.

So what you're hearing today is that FEMA is now going to come in and help try to build short-time shelters where they can house these children until such time as HHS can place them in longer term shelters or reunite them with their parents.

BROWN: When you say, inherited a mess, what do you mean exactly and why are we seeing this rise in children, 800 unaccompanied migrant children are taken in custody by U.S. Border Patrol and told that over 3,700 are in custody in jail-like conditions, according to lawyers who have spoken to these children, why?

SANDWEG: Well, there's a couple of factors. I think, first of all, it's very important, as we heard from those interviews of those individuals, at the beginning of this segment, there's massive desperation. This is driven by great desperation in Central America to get out, right? And it's a difficult journey. These people pay everything they have to smugglers, they risk their lives. They get exploited every step of the way. But yet, the pull of the United States is so strong, they are willing to do that.

But Biden inherited a mess with two reasons. One, the Trump administration was to use COVID as a basis to say, push everyone back into Mexico. So you had all these camps spring up along Mexico where you had migrants, Central American migrants, waiting to come to the United States. And then, secondly, is, of course, you have smugglers who are using the election and the change of administration to say now is the time to come across because the Biden administration is going to eliminate these other policies. So it was predictable in a sense that you have large number of individuals right there at the border who had been waiting for a year or more to come across, were now seizing the opportunity. The challenge though, of course, was they inherited a budget that was not ready for what was very predictable, meaning, there was not enough resources at HHS to place all of these kids.

[20:30:07]

So, what we're seeing again is a crisis in terms of really, I wouldn't say crisis, but a challenge, because we have a short-term housing needs for these children so we can reunite them with their families, or placed them in foster care facilities.

BROWN: OK. So, the Biden administration will not call the border situation a crisis. I want you to listen to this exchange.

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KAITLIN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Can you described what's happening on the border as a crisis, given how these numbers are spiking so much week by week?

ROBERTA JACOBSON, WHITE HOUSE COORDINATOR FOR THE SOUTHERN BORDER: You know, I think that I really -- I'm not trying to be cute here. But I think the fact of the matter is, we have to do what we do, regardless of what anybody calls the situation. And the fact is, we are all focused on improving the situation on changing to a more humane and efficient system. And whatever you call it wouldn't change what we're doing, because we have urgency from the President on down to fix our system and --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: As a former Acting Director of ICE, do you think it is a crisis? And, you know, you're hearing the administration say, look, we don't want to play political games by calling it this. But do you think if it was called a crisis, if the administration use stronger language, it could be a deterrent for families not to send their children over alone?

SANDWEG: Now, you know, Pamela, look, there's a lot of political overtones here, because there's obviously -- the Biden ministration has introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill. A lot of folks oppose that bill, you know, typically, and traditionally, every time President Bush tried President Obama or now President Biden's tried to enact immigration reform, they tried to suggest the border is out of control.

Today, the border is more secure than it's ever been, the number of individuals crossing the border, are still at record lows, and we still have more than 20,000 border patrol agents to meet a threat, you know, of -- that's lower than it's ever been. What we have is a unique problem because it's children, and special rules apply to children. And, you know, I think a lot of folks might be wondering, I didn't even realize Health and Human Services was involved in the border at all. But that's because it's, again, it's minor children are coming across.

So, we have a funding and resource problem. One that we're capable of handling. Obviously, it's not ideal to have FEMA building shelters to house children for long term. Yes.

BROWN: I'm sorry. I just -- I just want to hone in on this. So, you don't want to call it a crisis either. So, do you not view it as a crisis? You were saying they are record lows, but 3,700 children in CBP custody, that's a record number.

SANDWEG: Yes. Well, listen, you mentioned deterrence, I just want to emphasize something -- the point is this, that the desperation that these people feel, there's nothing we can do on our side, very little we can do on our side that will deter them from coming across. If you look at the Trump administration, the number of children coming across during the Trump administration, the number of family units, the number of Central Americans, we still had exceedingly high numbers, there was very little -- all the efforts to deter were relatively ineffective.

And the bottom line is, we just can't deter people who are fleeing poverty. They're scared that their children are going to be murdered, they are so desperate, they're going to pay thousands of dollars. They don't have the smugglers to bring their kids across. It's very difficult for us to deter it. No, it's a big challenge. It's not ideal is what I was saying, obviously, but I think it's a short-term problem and what the administration will be able to fix and is one that can just be fixed with resources.

BROWN: All right. John Sandweg, thank you for coming on the show.

SANDWEG: Thank you.

BROWN: The Texas Attorney General is now suing the city of Austin over its refusal to follow the state's order to lift the mask mandate. We'll get reaction from the mayor, Steve Adler, who is standing by for us and you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be right back.

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BROWN: Well, now to a Texas showdown over masks. The Attorney General Ken Paxton in Texas is suing the city of Austin and Travis County for their mask mandate after the governor lifted the rule on Wednesday. Now, no masks are required to be worn in Texas even though it is second in the nation in coronavirus cases at more than 2.7 million.

And total third for total coronavirus deaths, exceeding 46,000. Austin's Mayor Steve Adler joins me now to discuss all of this. Mayor, thanks for coming on. Friday, a judge denied the state's request for a temporary restraining order. So, for now, your mask mandate still stands. Are your constituents heeded it? Or are you seeing more defiance because people know the state no longer requires the masks? What are you seeing?

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: You know, by and large, I am really encouraged by the number of people in our community that are continuing to wear the mask, consistent with the city's mandate, the number of businesses that are doing the same. I had a lot of businesses and people ask the city to maintain its mandate. But there are some that are confused by what the governor did.

There are a lot of people that hear what the governor did and take it to mean that masks aren't effective, which they are or that they're not necessary, which they are or that we're out of the woods on the virus, which we're not. And we wanted to maintain our mandate in order to push back against that confused message.

BROWN: So, how are you responding to people who say they don't have to wear the mask because the state doesn't require it as you just laid out? What are you doing about it?

ADLER: Well, you know, businesses, when they -- when the governor removed the mandate, a lot of them came to me and said that that put them in a really horrible place because they wanted to mandate masks in their businesses to protect their employees. But when the governor took the mandate off, they didn't want those same employees, they have to become the masked police. It was better for them. When there was a mandate from the state, they could say, hey, it's not our rule, it's the law.

And I think that they liked the fact that now they can say in Austin, it's a law, and then we're going to keep doing it. We're going to keep doing it because it encourages people to wear masks. You can't ultimately enforce your way to compliance. It has to be something that the community and the businesses want to do.

And we think that by doing what we're doing, we're sending a better message, a better communication to the community that masking is the single most important thing we can do to keep more and more kids in person in school more and more businesses open. And that's what we're trying to do. We're real thankful the judge gave us another two weeks at least.

[20:40:24]

BROWN: But again, how are you handling it with those who are not now wearing a mask in Austin, because of the state lifting the mandate? Is there any penalty for them? Are you giving the -- Is there any Grace because of the situation? How is that playing out right now?

ADLER: Yes, there is a penalty associated with the enforcement of the Health Authority order. A business that has someone that won't leave can call our police and our police will respond. There are two grounds for the police to act. Even the governor gives that business the ability to set their own rules and their establishment.

So, someone there is going to be and not leaving will be guilty of criminal trespass, regardless of whether our local rules are enforced. Our local rules give it a little bit more teeth. But again, Pamela, at the end of the day, it really is a community that's hanging together to try to do as much of this as we can on our own.

BROWN: Why is it not enough to just encourage people to wear a mask? And why do you have to enforce a mandate? I know you laid out that some of these businesses like the cover to be able to say, look, it's the law, you know, this is what has to be done. But why can't you just rely on the people there in Austin to make good decisions and wear a mask and let the businesses sort of dictate, hey, if you want to come in this store, you know, you need to be masked up?

ADLER: I mean, ultimately, that's what happens because there aren't enough police or deputy sheriffs to enforce this. And that hasn't been -- that's been the same since March of last year, a year ago. It's the communication that is real significant to the degree that the government steps forward and says hey, you don't have to wear masks anymore if you don't want to. People take that to mean that the virus is over. Masks aren't important anymore.

So, having a mandate, just from the messaging standpoint, I think is critical in a community for people to understand we are still in the middle of this. We are so close right now. But if we actually want to get there, we have to continue wearing masking. It is the message that's being sent by the mandate. As important as anything else. For the last year, we haven't been putting people in jail. We haven't had to.

BROWN: And you think you will ultimately prevail even though there was another lawsuit where the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state on COVID restrictions at Austin, you think you will ultimately prevail on this?

ADLER: The earlier case was about my emergency order is mayor. In this situation, we're enforcing the rules of the local health authority. We can't find anywhere in Texas history that a state leader has been successful overruling the orders of a local health authority. We think we're on solid ground, but I'll tell you every day that we can keep our mask mandate in place as a victory.

BROWN: All right, Mayor Steve Adler, thank you for coming on the show.

ADLER: Thank you Pam.

BROWN: With COVID relief done and dusted Democrats on the Hill are moving on to the next major legislative goal, gun reform. Suzanne Malveaux is standing by on Capitol Hill with the very latest on that and we will be right back.

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[20:45:58]

BROWN: Well, Senate Democrats vow to move forward on new gun control legislation that would expand background checks. The measure passed in the House but it faces an uphill battle in the Senate and a 60-vote threshold. The push comes as Americans are arming up and record numbers. Industry data shows nearly 23 million firearms were purchased last year.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joins me now from Capitol Hill. So, Suzanne, polling shows that expanded background checks are supported by a large majority of Americans. But that has not translated to new law. So, what is in this latest bill and can it actually pass?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pam, it has been a very difficult journey. You may recall that President Obama's greatest regret was that he was not able to pass gun control reform even after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. So, members of Congress, lawmakers, democrats on both sides in the House and the Senate with a slimmest majority are trying to do just that to take it one more time.

Thursday was critical, two pieces of legislation that passed essentially which would expand background checks for purchasing firearms who would require background checks for guns purchase at gun shows, and between states over the internet, allow family members to give guns, temporarily transfer guns to friends without background checks, and require background checks for gun sold to family members or friends.

This is a very personal issue for some members of Congress. Congresswoman Lucy McBath lost her son to gun violence. She's explains why this is so critical right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LUCY MCBATH (D-GA): As a mother, as a survivor, we thank you. There's so many of us survivors and family members that have lost our loved ones that have been waiting and waiting and waiting. And today, we have the real possibility to make a difference and save lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Pam, as you had noted, it is going to be a very difficult battle on the Senate side, Democrats would actually have to get beyond that 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster or potentially use the process of budget reconciliation to get just a simple majority to pass. But, of course, that would require the Senate parliamentarian to approve all of the provisions in that bill.

[20:50:10]

And, finally, Pam, it would require the Democrats really get much more support from Republicans on a much stricter gun control bill than they saw back in 2013 when they had a bipartisan bill on the floor. Pam?

BROWN: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, live for us from Capitol Hill tonight. Thanks, Suzanne. And when we come back, world-renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, surprises a vaccination clinic earlier today with the performance, that story is next.

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[20:55:25]

BROWN: Abraham Lincoln is often hailed as one of America's greatest presidents who ended slavery and save the country from collapse. But the truth is more complicated than that. This week's episode of the CNN Original Series, "Lincoln: Divided We Stand," examines the 16th president's evolution on slavery and equality. Here's a preview.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was people to the left of Lincoln, who had the vision that most closely ascribes to what we think of as what rights should be today. And I don't say that to take Lincoln down, I say it to try to accurately reflect how change really happens.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: We think about presidents as if they are weather makers, but they go create history, they serve history. These are not positions he rushes to. He's drugged to them by events as he tries to surf the waves. And it shows that people can make a difference whether you're in office or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now that Lincoln has been nominated, the Republican Party officially adopts universal abolition as its platform. After decades of moderate and conciliatory rhetoric on slavery, Lincoln becomes a full-fledged abolitionist.

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BROWN: Joining us now is Edna Green Medford. She is a professor of history at Howard University and the author of "Lincoln and Emancipation." Thank you for coming on.

So, this week, we get a look at the Battle of Gettysburg, the deadliest battle and a major turning point of the Civil War. Four months later, Lincoln gives the Gettysburg Address, and it is hailed as an instant masterpiece. If you would, tell us about the importance of that speech and how it came together.

EDNA GREENE MEDFORD, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, HOWARD UNIVERSITY: Of course, Lincoln was in Gettysburg to dedicate a new national military cemetery. And so, he was there first and foremost, to honor the dead, but he also used that event as an opportunity to convey to the American people what the war was really about. And so, it's interesting that in the beginning of this speech, it's very short speech, about 270 words or so, he was able to give it in less than two minutes.

But what he says is that the country was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. So, he ties the war to that idea, to the concept, to the principles upon which America was supposedly founded. And so, it was important to him to let the country know that although the carnage and the destruction had been horrific, it was very important to continue the fight that they were in, because at stakes was whether or not this union -- this union that he thought was perpetual, could actually endure, could it actually endure under those kinds of -- under those tenants, that creed. BROWN: And how did Lincoln's position on slavery evolve over time?

MEDFORD: Well, Lincoln initially started as an anti-slavery man, he was not an abolitionist. He was someone who was very much concerned about not having slavery expand, because he believed that it would -- if it was contained, then it would die a natural death.

He becomes an abolitionist during the war, because he realizes that slavery is at the crux of everything that they are fighting for, that they -- that they've constantly been divided on. And so, he believes that if slavery can end, then there won't be that problem anymore that is facing the union. So, he really does believe that something has to be done with slavery.

Eventually, he starts his administration, though, saying he has no intention to interfere with slavery. But the war requires him to do so, and he does issue the proclamation as a military necessity. And, of course, he eventually supports the 13th Amendment, because he knows that slavery has to end forever in the country.

BROWN: Edna Greene Medford, thank you.

MEDFORD: My pleasure.

BROWN: And be sure to watch the all-new episode of "Lincoln: Divided We Stand" tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern only on CNN.

And before we go, a touching moment at Massachusetts today. After receiving his second dose of the COVID vaccine at Berkshire Community College, world-renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, used his 15-minute observation period to play an impromptu concert for everyone at that clinic.

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BROWN: Can you imagine being in that clinic when that's going on? Unforgettable especially with live music so rare during this pandemic. Thank you for joining me this evening. I'm Pamela Brown. Don't forget to set your clocks ahead one hour tonight. I'll see you again tomorrow night starting at 6 Eastern.