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Two Men Charged With Assaulting Capitol Hill Officer; Will Andrew Cuomo Resign?; President Biden Touts American Rescue Plan. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 15, 2021 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they want to be able to walk through the other steps of it that are not just the most easily digestible ones, which, of course, are those stimulus checks that people started getting in their bank accounts over the weekend.

But what Biden wants people to know is, there's a lot more in this massive bill. And so I think that's what he was highlighting today, he's basically highlighted every time he's been near a microphone in recent days, talking about the child tax credit, talking about the other money for funding for schools and what else they have in here.

And I think that's why they have programmed this tour that you're going to see them embarking on this week. You have already got several officials, including the vice president and the first lady out on the road to tout this as well. And you're going to see that president out there too.

And so I think that's what they want to make sure, that this isn't a P.R. mistake, that they have actually got it passed through Congress. Now they're working on executing. But they also want to make sure that people understand what else is in here and how it's going to be able to help them, because there are aspects of this, like that enhanced child tax credit, that the Biden administration wants to see made permanent.

And so I think this is part of building that for them. And the questions are whether or not they actually get there, but also how the execution of it goes.

And so that's why you saw President Biden say he's tapping Gene Sperling, this longtime Democratic economic aide, to oversee the spending here, because he was talking about how, when he oversaw the stimulus bill in 2009, amid the Great Recession, how crucial it was to just be on the phone to have to these conversations at a granular level to make sure there is no fraud or abuse or misspending.

And so I think that's the next big tactic for them to go after, because, of course, Republicans are going to be watching very closely for any kind of a misstep, and if they haven't properly communicated it, that's the other question.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: So, being cautious, and also full court- press on this thing. That's number one.

Number two, Kaitlan, what's the story out of the CDC today? We're getting some new reporting. It's some of the COVID guidelines put in place by the Trump administration wasn't rooted in science.

COLLINS: Yes, which is not entirely surprising if you were paying attention to the Trump administration's response. It was often something that we would be reporting, we would ask the White House about, they would deny it.

And then for President Trump would later concede that, yes, he had, for example, pressured the FDA to speed up vaccines, things of that nature. And so now we're hearing from the CDC spokesperson that some of that guidance that came out when former President Trump was in office was not always at the best -- the best reflection of the science and the data that they had, that, oftentimes, it was limited or vague because of undue influence, they said.

And another aspect, Brooke, is that some of the documents, they say, that came out that had CDC approval on them weren't actually authored by the CDC. And, of course, that is raising a lot of questions, because people trust the CDC as an institution. Even people who may have not have liked former President Trump still look to the CDC.

And so that's why, of course, this may not be surprising, but it is still stunning to see that the CDC is now saying, yes, this happened.

BALDWIN: Yes. Wow.

Kaitlan, thank you for all of that. I want to come back to your first point here on this legislation and selling all of this to the American people. Here's a quote: "checks and shots." That is the message the White House wants to put out.

And besides this road tour, the Biden administration is about to roll out a massive ad campaign designed to convince more Americans to get the vaccine. Cases and deaths in the U.S. are still dropping. But as more states open up, more states don't make you wear a mask, the fear about a new surge is also real.

The nation's top health officials are wanting Americans to stay vigilant, to wear your mask, stay socially distant, but that warning comes as travelers broke a TSA pandemic era record, and thousands of spring breakers are crowding beaches, both in Texas and in Florida.

CNN's Amara Walker has those stories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Over the weekend, spring breakers packing beaches and crowding restaurants and bars in South Florida. DAN GELBER (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: We have got too many

people coming. We have got too many people coming who are just acting out. And we have COVID at the same time, so it's almost a triple threat.

WALKER: More than 5.2 million people have traveled since Thursday, the most air traffic since the start of the pandemic. That threat looms large for experts, as they worry about the risk of a potential fourth wave of the virus.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We're just starting to turn the corner. The data are moving in the right direction. But where this goes is dependent on whether we all do what must be done to protect ourselves and others.

WALKER: With mask mandates being lifted in some states, tensions are running high.

MIKE NGUYEN, OWNER, NOODLE TREE RESTAURANT: To take it to this far, to actual wish harm on somebody or even death, you know, over an opinion, that's taking it way too far.

WALKER: A San Antonio restaurant owner targeted by vandals, anti- Asian graffiti sprayed on his business after he spoke out on CNN about Texas Governor Greg Abbott's decision to lift the state's mask mandate.

Meantime, new CDC data shows vaccination efforts have sped up, with one in five Americans now having received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, the pace of vaccinations picking up, with more than 5.93 million doses administered this weekend alone, an increase of 11 percent from last weekend.

[15:05:09]

A total of 107 million vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S. More than 11 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated. Adding to the progress, a former FDA commissioner says scientific evidence suggests that asymptomatic infection and transmission drastically decreases with the vaccine.

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: If that's the case, the vaccine creates what we call dead end hosts, a lot of dead end hosts, meaning people will no longer be able to transmit the infection.

WALKER: As of today, teachers joining those eligible to receive the vaccine all across the country. The full reopening of schools remains a state-by-state, city-by-city decision. A federal official says the CDC is now renewing data to see if it might revise guidelines to change social distancing in schools from six feet to three.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALKER: Now, Dr. Fauci tells CNN, if the CDC indeed updates the physical distancing rules in schools, it won't be very long before the guidance comes down. Now, the CDC, according to a federal official, reviewed some data,

including a study that showed no significant difference in the rates of COVID-19 at the Massachusetts public schools, where three-feet distancing was implemented vs. six feet.

Here in Georgia, we're at a vaccination site in Gwinnett County. And as of today, Georgians who are over the age of 55 -- 55 and older, I should say, and anyone with high-risk conditions 16 and over are now eligible for a vaccine -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: That's great in Georgia. And also super interesting about the potential to go from six to three. I want to talk to the doctor about that.

Amara, thank you in Georgia.

Dr. Leana Wen is a CNN medical analyst and a former Baltimore health commissioner.

So, Dr. Wen, welcome.

Let me start first with just the news out of the White House this afternoon, how they are preparing for a potential fourth surge. My question is, is it preventable or is it inevitable?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I don't think that anything in the course of this pandemic, Brooke, has been inevitable. It's a combination of the actions that the federal government should be taking and the actions that we as individuals can be taking.

We are now at a very high rate of vaccination, which is fantastic. We know that there is a lot of immunity in the community just from people who have recovered from coronavirus as well. That is blunting some of the effects of people loosening up, loosening restrictions, and letting loose and letting down their guard.

But I also think that we're at a really precipitous point here, that we could go in either direction. And what happens now is really up to us. And whether we keep up masking and avoiding indoor gatherings, as we should be, until the point that we're vaccinated.

BALDWIN: Immunity in the community. I like that.

What about the point about the six feet to three feet? Dr. Fauci saying that the CDC is looking at this new study that shows social distancing measures could be just as effective at three feet. Do you see a scenario, Dr. Wen, where that could actually allow school five days a week again?

WEN: I do. And I really hope that that is the goal for the fall, that we have to have our kids back in person full time at that point.

BALDWIN: Yes.

WEN: And the only way we can do that is if we do come to three-feet distancing, because a lot of schools are not able to open full time if they have to keep six-foot distancing.

I think the key that the CDC needs to now reevaluate is, what is the difference that vaccination makes, as in, if teachers and staff are all vaccinated and come the fall if the majority of parents are also vaccinated, can vaccination, in essence, replace distancing? So can you have vaccination and mask-wearing and maybe even testing?

If you do all these things, do you still need that six-foot distance? And I think it's that next iteration of the guidelines--

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Isn't three feet acceptable in most schools now?

WEN: There is the one study in Massachusetts that shows that when mask-wearing is done all the time, that three feet vs. six feet is the same.

But I think we need to have a lot more studies and also looking at students of different ages. And also there are other factors too, including, are masks worn the entire time? Do you have good ventilation in these classrooms? What about good testing and contact tracing?

And so I think all these need to factor in together, but we need to see vaccination as the additional layer that the CDC guidelines currently have not put in as a layer for what it can replace.

BALDWIN: Got it.

Here's something else with the CDC. We have just learned about this review of the CDC's COVID-19 guidance, and it found that some of the agency's guidance during the Trump administration was not grounded in science and free from undue influence.

How much do you think that sets us back as a country?

WEN: Well, it's awful, but I don't think it's shocking, because we saw so many examples of the last year under the Trump administration of guidance that was edited.

And I just want to say that you can have a public policy that weighs public health and other components, and maybe the policy is not driven only by public health. But you can't have a government that is revising the science, is preventing scientists from speaking up and telling the truth.

[15:10:10]

And I think that really has hurt the efforts, because, at some point, it's up to the American people to protect ourselves. But if we don't know how to do that because the information that we're getting is censored, and actually is against science, I mean, we're talking about the cost of preventable deaths that may have happened because of this.

BALDWIN: Last question for you, just looking ahead to people wanting to go on spring break, right?

The CDC is pleading with the public not to stop taking precautions, make sure you social distance, wear your mask. But not a lot of that is happening in some of our nation's beaches during spring break. How dangerous is it? And is there a way to spring break safely?

WEN: I think it's important for the CDC and for all of us in public health to give guidance that's practical, that meets people where they are. And that means for people who are already on spring break, you can't tell them don't go, but we should say be outdoors as much as possible.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: But look at these pictures. Dr. Wen, look at all these people walking around Miami Beach, some of them in masks, some of them not. It's crowds of people.

WEN: I know. And I am very concerned about that, because, as much as we want to be on spring break, the virus is not on spring break. There's a level of magical thinking. People are like, well, let me go somewhere else, a vacation there, things are open, so it must be safe.

But that's not true. You can definitely still acquire coronavirus that way and bring back coronavirus to your community. So, one more plea for spring breakers, please, just hang in there. Try to not increase the risk of infection.

Also, when you come home, quarantine and then get tested, because you don't want to be spreading it in your community.

BALDWIN: Dr. Leana Wen, thank you so much.

New calls today for the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, to resign, but they are not coming from President Biden, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or even half of New York voters. That's according to a new poll. We will talk about that.

And after an intense effort, police have finally made two arrests in the assault on a Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick. We have those new details.

And Republican Senator Ron Johnson under fire again, this time for claiming he wasn't afraid of the violent Capitol Hill rioters because, as he says, they -- quote -- "love the country" and that they were not affiliated with Antifa or Black Lives Matter.

Let's talk about that. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

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[15:17:05]

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me. New developments this afternoon the attack on that Capitol Police

officer, Brian Sicknick, who died shortly after the siege on the U.S. Capitol. The Justice Department has announced two men have been arrested and charged with assaulting Sicknick during that interaction.

These are the first arrests related to Sicknick's death.

So, let's get straight to our CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

And, Evan, what do you know?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, these charges against these two men.

Their names are Julian Khater and George Tanios. They're facing nine counts in total, including conspiracy and assault against a federal officer. According to prosecutors, there were three police officers, including Officer Sicknick, another U.S. Capitol Police officer and a Metro police officer from Washington. They were all on the line at the Capitol when they were being assaulted by this crowd.

And according to the FBI, these two men used a spray, a chemical irritant to spray into the faces of these officers.

I read you just a part of what the affidavit says.

BALDWIN: Yes.

PEREZ: It says -- quote -- "Officers Sicknick, Edwards and Chapman, who were standing within a few feet of Khater, all react one by one to something striking them in the face. The officers immediately retreat from the line, bring their hands to their faces and rush to find water to wash out their eyes."

One of these men, Tanios, just made a an appearance in court in West Virginia, where he lives. They're going to be facing charges here in Washington. We expect to see them here, where they're finally going to expect to make their pleas in this case.

But, Brooke, these are obviously just one of many of the assaults that we have seen on video. The FBI has been trying to round up all of the people who are responsible for these crimes.

One last thought. You will notice that these men are not charged with murder. That's, in part, I'm told by officials that they still have not been able to get a medical examiner finding that ties what happens Officer Sicknick to what happened there on those videos.

BALDWIN: Got it. I was wondering. And we were waiting for the day when these arrests would come in connection to this officer.

PEREZ: Right.

BALDWIN: And there you go.

Evan Perez, thank you for the update very much.

PEREZ: Thank you.

BALDWIN: The list of Democrats calling for the resignation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is growing, as he faces multiple allegations now of sexual harassment and unwanted advances.

And President Biden is commenting for the first time, although he stopped short of saying the governor should step down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you think Governor Andrew Cuomo should resign?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the investigation is under way, and we should see what it brings us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is also saying she wants to wait and see the results of this independent investigation led by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

[15:20:04]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I do think that the women deserve to hear the results of these investigations, as does the governor.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: But you're not calling on him to resign right now?

PELOSI: I think we should see the results of the -- but he may decide, though, hopefully, this result will be soon. And what I'm saying is, the governor should look inside his heart -- he loves New York -- to see if he can govern effectively.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Governor Cuomo has apologized for -- quote -- "making anyone feel uncomfortable," but has maintained that he -- quote -- "never touched anyone inappropriately."

CNN's chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is with me.

And, Dana, you heard it. President Biden and also Speaker Pelosi, like, two of the most powerful people in the entire Democratic Party, are not joining this chorus of people calling on Cuomo to resign. What do you think is stopping them?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things.

One is, if you listen very closely to way that the speaker answered that question, she said that she -- these are my words, not hers, but she wants there to be due process, meaning she wants the attorney general of New York, that investigation to play out.

But she also said a couple of times that Governor Cuomo should look inside his heart and see if he can still lead New York.

That is about as much of a nudge without saying he should resign as you can define and to come up with, especially from somebody like Speaker Pelosi, who is, as you said, the top Democrat in Congress. She's now one of two of the top female Democrats in the country.

And so that was very interesting.

The other thing, Brooke, that I am hearing much more explicitly than I heard at the beginning of this whole thing, when the allegations first came out against Governor Cuomo, is -- again, this is what I'm hearing in private -- I haven't heard anybody say this in public -- is that there are lessons that these -- some of these top Democrats feel that they are learning from what happened with Al Franken, and that he was basically forced to resign before the Senate Ethics Committee got through with any investigation that they were going to do.

It's a different situation for a lot of reasons when it comes to that due process, That the Ethics Committee is very opaque. It takes a long time. What the attorney general in New York is doing is supposedly much, much quicker and much more thorough.

But that is AN interesting thing that I'm hearing, that it is a lesson just to take a little bit more of a breath. Obviously, that's not what a lot of the lawmakers and Governor Cuomo's fellow Democrats in New York are doing. They're saying, OK, we're done. He cannot govern effectively.

BALDWIN: The other piece of this that's come out in the last day is that -- this is from "The Washington Post." They're reporting that the New York vaccine czar, this longtime adviser to Governor Cuomo, is picking up the phone, calling officials around the state for the last two weeks to gauge their loyalty to the governor.

And I was reading this piece. Art Caplan, he is an ethicist with NYU. He's quoted as saying this: "If you are in control of a vital supply of a lifesaving resource like vaccines, you are carrying an enormous amount of implicit clout when you ask for political allegiance, and you shouldn't be doing that anyway."

Dana, how is this helping their case?

BASH: Well, if it's public, like it is now, according to "The Washington Post" reporting, it's not at all.

This is another data point in the allegations that have become the larger narrative and the larger allegations about Governor Cuomo, that it's not just about the sexual harassment allegations. It's about bullying. It's about a workplace that is untenable beyond the regular politics, and that the sort of brass-knuckle politics that he is known to play.

And so what this report suggests is that there is -- it's beyond that. It is -- it sounds like, according to this, there's a quid pro quo that people are now feeling emboldened to make public because the governor is in a much more precarious situation.

BALDWIN: Yes. As you pointed out, it doesn't seem like Governor Cuomo is stepping down anytime soon. He says he wants to let this independent investigation play out.

BASH: No.

BALDWIN: You also have -- we have these new numbers today -- this new poll; 50 percent of New Yorkers, New York voters, say the governor should not immediately resign, 35 percent saying he should.

Are all of these Democrats calling for him to resign, do you think they're getting ahead of their skis here or that they're out of step with what New Yorkers want?

BASH: It's always the question of whether these Democrats -- and, as you said, there are so many of them now, both on the federal -- elected to Congress and in the state level saying that he should resign.

[15:25:05]

There's so many different factors, right? I mean, there's a factor of the fact that some of them, not all of them, but some of them never got along with him to begin with. And then there's the other factor of the fact that they -- if they get out, as you said, perhaps over their skis, they won't face much backlash.

But that poll suggests that it's not that clear, that there's more gray area there. And, remember, it's easy for people, perhaps in the short term to forget, but a year ago, he was for many people, not just in New York, but around the country, filling a void, a leadership void on the pandemic that people desperately wanted and needed.

And that reservoir among New Yorkers of support still appears to be there, given the fact that half of the people in that survey said that they don't want him to resign.

BALDWIN: It appears that way, doesn't it?

Dana Bash, thank you, friend.

BASH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: New developments with the crisis on the Southern border. The Biden administration is opening another facility and calling on FEMA to help process the growing number of migrant children who are showing up without their parents. That number, by the way, as of Sunday, is more than 4,000.

Also, this just into us in the George Floyd case: The attorney for former police officer Derek Chauvin is now asking for a continuance and a change of venue.

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