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Biden to Kick Off "Help is Here" Tour to Promote Relief Package; Millions More Eligible This Week for COVID-19 Vaccine; Spring Breakers Crowd Beaches Despite Fears of COVID Spread; Over 4,000 Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Border Patrol Custody; Four Thousand-Plus Unaccompanied Migrant Children in U.S. Border Patrol Custody; Navy Probe Finds Contractor Charged in Capitol Hill Insurrection was Well-Known Nazi Sympathizer; U.S. Air Travel Hits Pandemic Record Despite CDC Warning. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


At the same time stimulus checks are now actually rolling out, President Biden is launching a nationwide campaign to sell the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan. We'll hear from the president a little bit later today. The sales pitch comes as a race to get shots in arms of Americans is also ramping up. Roughly 11 percent of Americans are now fully vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's amazing to see those numbers jump over 100 million vaccines delivered so far. We are at a critical time. But there are some things that have experts worried. Stunning images of crowds flocking to Florida beaches for spring break despite warnings not to let your guard down.

The other surge raising major concerns this morning is the growing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Right now, more than 4,000 unaccompanied migrant children, that's children without their parents, are in Border Patrol custody.

We are following all these headlines. But first, CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House with more on President Biden's cross-country tour, touting his relief package.

You know, it's interesting, during the Trump administration, we often talked about how it's kind of like the constant campaign, right? I mean, he had campaign-style events as president. And I wonder if you see this as something of a campaign event.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question that there is a political aspect to this. President Biden is embarking on this tour alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and other top administration officials to talk about the American rescue plan. That $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that he signed into law last week.

Part of this certainly is political. It's about preparing for the 2022 midterms, which every Democrat up and down the ticket, they will be running on this plan. In particular those incumbent members of Congress and senators who are up for re-election. It's no surprise that Vice President Kamala Harris is beginning her part of this Help is Here tour, as the White House is calling it, in two key Senate battleground states for 2022.

She'll be in Las Vegas, Nevada, today, and then tomorrow headed to Denver, Colorado. President Biden also hitting the battleground state of Pennsylvania tomorrow. And then they will both be ending the week in Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia, which, of course, is notable because this $1.9 trillion package certainly would not have happened, certainly not a package of this size would never have been possible unless Democrats had picked up those two key Senate seats in that special election back in January.

There is also, of course, a policy aspect to this as well. The Biden administration wants Americans to know what is in this bill and how they can actually access some of the relief that is in here. Besides of course those $1400 stimulus check that millions of Americans have been waiting on. The president and his administration, they are beginning to turn their attention to how to actually implement this massive bill which has a number of components that are very complex.

That's why we'll be hearing from President Biden today here at the White House to talk about the implementation of this bill, and he will be announcing that Gene Sperling, a former Obama administration and Clinton administration official who served as the top economic adviser to both of those presidents and in the Treasury Department back during the Obama administration, he will be leading the implementation of this massive relief bill.

A senior administration official telling me this morning that it is his experience that there is nobody who knows the levers of government and how government works better than Gene Sperling. That's why the president will be appointing him to lead that effort today -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Some of those payments already showing up in direct deposits over the weekend. It moves quickly.

Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much.

Also this morning, the push to get children fully back in school has hit a critical milestone. Teachers and educators in all 50 states and the District of Colombia are now eligible -- this is crucial -- to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

HARLOW: It's a big deal. And it comes as eligibility for millions of Americans is opening up across the country. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us this


Good morning, Elizabeth. What do we know? I mean, I know it's different state by state, but it seems like a big deal.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. It is a big deal. In the beginning, the rules were so strict about who could get a vaccine. Often in many states you have to be over the age of 65. That has now changed in many states. This eligibility requirements are easing up.

Here's a smattering of states just to show you some examples of what's changed. For example, in Alaska, you just have to be over the age of 16. In California, anyone over the age of 16 with certain health conditions can get vaccinated. So that is a big difference. And it's really worth keeping track and seeing what your state is doing to know if you're eligible yet.


Now once there is more supply and there is more eligibility, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service is going to be putting out a $250 million ad campaign doing, among other things, promoting the vaccine. So let's take a look at this campaign and what it involves. So the ads will be on TV, radio, billboards, print digital. As one expert told me, a quarter of a billion dollars will get you a lot of ads.

There will also be a podcast by a well-known figure. It hasn't been announced yet who that is. The focus will be on preventive measures such as masks and social distancing, avoiding crowds, and also getting the vaccine.

Now you might wonder why do we need to be promoting the vaccine when people are already fighting to get it? Well, the thinking is that once all those people who are out there fighting to get the vaccine get it, we're going to find out that there is actually a pretty goodly sized chunk of the United States that isn't fighting to get it, that really might not want it.

Let's take a look at the results of a recent CNN poll. What that poll from earlier this month shows is that these are folks who will not try to get the vaccine. Democrats only 7 percent of them said they won't try to get it. But independents, almost a third of independents said they won't try. Republicans almost half of them said they won't try. That's not great. We need to have a certain number of Americans getting a vaccine in order to reach herd immunity -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: We do. Elizabeth, thank you very much for that.

So we're clearly, as Elizabeth just pointed out, not out of the woods yet. But some people are acting like it. There are concerns over huge crowds on spring break. Could this lead to another surge? Take a look at these scenes of absolutely packed beaches. This is Miami Beach over the weekend. Will they be super spreader events? SCIUTTO: Yes. Natasha Chen, she's in Miami Beach where signs urging

people to vacation responsibly, Natasha, doesn't seem like a lot of folks are listening. I mean, what's your sense down there? And how do folks explain it? Do they just say they're done with this or they genuinely don't believe it's a danger?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, it's really a struggle for the city of Miami Beach. They are trying to welcome people and have them enjoy the beaches responsibly as you say. But they don't really want this to be a spring break destination so to speak. They did see some crowd problems especially on Friday night. There was an incident at an intersection just a few blocks from where we're standing where a couple of police officers even were injured as they try to disperse a large crowd.

So it was a lot calmer Saturday and Sunday night. But still the city tells me about 100 arrests over the weekend. Some of these issues very typical of spring break season. But a city official did tell me that trying to police these visitors during a pandemic is just twice as hard. And if you look at the hotel occupancy, projected occupancy for this month, it's way up from last year. Not quite to 2019 levels, but still more visitors than they have gotten in a long time.

We talk to some spring breakers who told me that they're not just trying to escape colder weather. They're also trying to escape some of the tougher COVID restrictions where they live.


DAVID LAVELLE, TRAVELED FROM MASSACHUSETTS TO MIAMI BEACH FOR SPRING BREAK: No one cares around here, it seems like. Not like no one cares. But like everyone is just more relaxed. And we're just here to do that. I already had COVID once so I'm not worried about it. I'm just concerned for like other people's safety. So that's why I wear masks in places.


CHEN: Most people we've seen along Ocean Drive have not been wearing masks. And you have to keep in mind, Florida reopened businesses at full capacity late September. So a lot earlier than some other regions that are just now loosening some restrictions. So one has got to ask, what kind of approach has really been best here? Of course, the mayor of Miami Beach, health experts are concerned that activity like what we're seeing this week might lead to another surge -- Jim, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Listen, based on past experience, you know, that's almost to be expected.

Natasha Chen, good to have you there, thanks very much.

Now to the southern border where right now there are more than 4,000 unaccompanied migrant children in Border Patrol custody. This as officials are still working out what to do next.

HARLOW: Now the Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is calling in FEMA to help.

Our Priscilla Alvarez joins us now.

Obviously, the key question is what do you do with all these children? Priscilla what is most humane? But I think it's worth noting the administration will still not call this a crisis. They would still not call this an emergency. But they're calling in FEMA and the E in FEMA is for emergency.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, yes, the administration is functioning her as if this were a crisis but maintaining that it is a challenge, and the reason it's become such an urgent situation is because there is an increasing number of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and just not enough shelter capacity for them.


So initially, they will be encountered by Border Patrol. They'll got into Border Patrol facilities and that'll be the first step before moving on to shelters that can accommodate them and work with them to relocate them with family.

But under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, those shelters are limited. And so the children are stuck in facilities that are intended for adults. They are not designed to care for children. So the Homeland Security secretary here is tapping FEMA to help the process, to help move along the process so it goes quickly.

But again, Poppy, the situation is becoming more urgent as the numbers show no sign of abating and instead increasing almost daily.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And you can see all those mats there, right, in the midst of a pandemic, right? Another issue.

Priscilla Alvarez, thanks very much.

ALVAREZ: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, we're going to speak to the spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council. What he is seeing on the ground, what he sees as possible solutions. That's coming up.

HARLOW: Also new court filings showing Army reservist charged in the Capitol insurrection on January 6th was a well-known Nazi sympathizer. Details next.

And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo facing more pressure from fellow Democrats to step down amid these allegations of sexual harassment. On top of this, "The Washington Post" reports that a long-time adviser to the governor actually called county officials attempting to gauge their loyalty in the middle of all of this.


[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: There is an urgent situation unfolding at the U.S.-Mexico

border. As we mentioned earlier, more than 4,000 unaccompanied children, children without their parents or an adult are currently in border patrol custody. The image from there just stunning. CNN captured boats carrying dozens of people, there's one of them, look at all the kids there right across the Rio Grande.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says the number of migrants at the border has been rising since last April. And he blames violence, natural disasters, food insecurity and poverty in Central America. He says COVID-19 restrictions have hampered the government's ability to respond in the process many of these folks as they come in. I'm joined now by National Border Patrol Council spokesperson Chris Cabrera. Chris, thanks for taking the time this morning.

CHRIS CABRERA, SPOKESPERSON, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: All right, good morning, thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, you've got a lot of experience on the border. You say this is the busiest you've ever seen it. You've heard a lot of competing explanations for why this is happening now. Why, in your view? And is there a combination of reasons?

CABRERA: Yes, I think there is always, you know, a mix of it. You know, part of it is that every election cycle, regardless of, you know, political party that takes office, it gets interpreted in the southern countries a little different.

For instance, when President Biden announced a 100-day moratorium on deportations, some folks took it to mean that it was a 100-day amnesty period for people to come in, which we all know is not the case, but that's what these smugglers are telling people, so they can, you know, get their money and get them to come forward.

So that's one of the issues. There is just a lot of it that goes into it, and I think what people are missing is the magnitude of the effect it's having on these young children. I mean, young children, you know, 6, 7, 8 years old traveling completely by themselves. It's -- I mean, it's -- that's a disaster.

SCIUTTO: Yes, those numbers are out of control. And you see, I mean, you see facilities there being overwhelmed. The Biden administration ended the deliberate separation of parents from their children, which had been described by some in the administration as a deliberate deterrent. But you still have this issue now, right, of what do you do with all these kids? So what do you do? Are they not moving quickly enough? Were they not prepared for this? Do you need more facilities?

CABRERA: I don't think --

SCIUTTO: What needs to be fixed?

CABRERA: I don't think -- we weren't prepared for it. And you know, from the border patrol side of it, we don't normally deal with long- term housing. Usually, we deal with, you know, 12, maybe 24, 48 hours. That's the longest we deal with people. And now we're stuck because HHS isn't getting their part done. So we're stuck with people for much longer than they are intended to be in custody. Not just in custody period, but in our custody.

SCIUTTO: You've said that -- and I'm quoting you here, "the only way to get past this is to take the politics out of it." The situation has turned a political football. God knows, you know, immigration and the border and politics, so deeply intertwined in the last several years, in particular -- I mean, you got 12 Republican lawmakers going down there now.

They placed blame explicitly on the Biden administration. You have the Biden administration saying, listen, there are a lot of factors involved here. So let's -- you and I take the politics out of it. How do conditions improve? What have you got to do now?

CABRERA: I mean, as far as conditions in these housing areas or the reason --

SCIUTTO: Well, how do you --

CABRERA: Why people are crossing?

SCIUTTO: Well, how do you address the issue because they're coming. And I mean, there are some who believe that, you know, this surge will grow in the coming weeks as we come into the Spring and so on --

CABRERA: Oh, yes, the surge will definitely grow. Yes, the surge will definitely grow. Whenever you remove policy, we have to have something behind it to take its place. And regardless of what the answer is, whether it's let everybody in or nobody comes in at all, whatever they decide they need to do, we need to get this border secured first due to the immigration reform, and then allow people to, you know, let the process go forward.


And you know, we're trying to put the cart before the horse right here, and unfortunately --


CABRERA: It's just -- it's met with political head-butting, and then if you can see what we see with -- you know, an 8-year-old girl traveling completely alone or an 8-year-old --


CABRERA: In charge of his 5-year-old sister completely alone. That's heart-breaking. But these folks up in Washington, they don't -- they don't see that. They're not down there every day like we are, and we see the human toll that it takes. And until they can --


CABRERA: Take that partisan hat off and solve it as a human being as opposed to a politician, well, we're going to continue to see this year-after-year.

SCIUTTO: Yes, political head-butting, by the way, I'll copy that, write that to you, but it perfectly captures the situation. So what is the legislative fix? The most important one because you know, it's hard to see compromise on this. But if you're to pick one thing, say, Congress, get this done now otherwise this is only going to get worse.

CABRERA: You know what? Honestly, I don't know the answer to that. I think that's way above my pay grade. You know, I don't know that, I just -- whatever it is, it needs to come soon. And I think the only way -- like we said is get rid of the partisanship out here, and if these folks can't put it aside, then maybe they need to step aside and let folks in there that can do it. And I think the best ways for people to come out, whether it's media or Congress or whoever, and actually see this for themselves before they make up their mind.

SCIUTTO: Well, Chris Cabrera, let's keep talking about this because it doesn't look like it's going away tomorrow. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

CABRERA: All right, thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: Well, now to just alarming new information about an army reservist who is charged with taking part in a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

HARLOW: CNN has learned that he worked at a Navy base, he was a well- known white supremacist and a Nazi sympathizer, as you can see in these images. Our Whitney Wild is following the details of this. Good morning to you. And it is so hard to even look at those photos and all that they stand for. What was his job at this Naval base?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was a security contractor. He had a security clearance on a Naval weapons base in New Jersey. And this is just -- it's so shocking, it's so startling, but what we're learning from court filings is the extent to which he was a well-known white supremacist within his colleagues.

Investigators interviewed dozens and dozens of colleagues. The majority of whom allege that he had made racist and bigoted comments in the past. However, his lawyers say he's not a white supremacist. He is now facing several charges in this Capitol riot case, Jim and Poppy, he has not yet entered a plea.

SCIUTTO: So, Capitol police now, they say that the fencing around the Capitol and the security presence, you know, these thousands of National Guard troops may be scaled back. You know, there are some politics involved here, no question. Does that mean the threat level is lessening, right?

WILD: Well --

SCIUTTO: And they're comfortable doing this or is it more about pressure they are getting from some of the politicians?

WILD: I think they're trying to sort of split the difference. So there is still this heightened threat environment. I mean, they're acknowledging that, inside with USCP, there's still this thinking that the political climate is extremely tense, that there is still this heightened threat environment. However, they have to adapt.

They can't, you know, keep this extreme level of security forever. As you point out, a lot of members of Congress have said, what is the point of this? What is the credible threat here? And the thinking within USCP now is that despite this heightened threat environment, there is no credible specific threat.

So they now feel more comfortable to take on more responsibility incrementally, start taking down these extra security measures and begin scaling back the National Guard. The fence will come down within two weeks -- a couple weeks after that they're going to re-assess the intelligence, re-assess the need and then very likely begin scaling down the National Guard, Jim and Poppy.


HARLOW: OK, Whitney, thank you for the reporting on both those fronts. Air travel just hit a new pandemic-era record. This despite the CDC is still advising against traveling. We'll have a live update ahead.

SCIUTTO: And we are just moments away from the opening bell on Wall street. Futures, see the green arrow, pointing higher this morning, this after last week's record closes for both the Dow and the S&P 500. All on the heels of President Biden signing that stimulus plan into law. Some Americans already seeing stimulus payments hit their bank accounts as the first batch of funds is rolled out. We're going to keep an eye on the markets.



HARLOW: Well, the numbers say it all. U.S. air travel has hit a new record in this pandemic as more Americans head out on Spring break.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the number is notable here. TSA screened nearly 4 million people at airports nationwide over the weekend. And more than 1.3 million people traveled on Sunday alone. That surpassed even Christmas and new year's holiday numbers from last year. CNN's Pete Muntean is live at Dallas International Airport, outside Washington. So, Pete, all this despite the CDC still urging people not to travel. I mean, clearly, they're getting ahead of that guidance there. I mean, how crowded are the airports now?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: They're getting more and more crowded all the time, Jim. You know, this new pandemic record, though still only about half of flying was like pre-pandemic. The numbers are going up, 1.3 million passing through security at airports on Friday, 1.3 million people again yesterday.