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White House Fighting to Prevent Another COVID Surge, at Same Time Facing Migrant Emergency at Border; Today, Biden Heads to Pennsylvania to Promote Massive Rescue Plan; Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Accuser Speaks with Investigators for More Than Four Hours. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 10:00   ET

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


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POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Right now, the Biden administration is facing two major battles in its first 100 days, of course, the pandemic as well as a growing humanitarian situation at the southern border.

Even as vaccinations increased nationwide, this is good news, the daily rate is going up, there are growing fears that many Americans are letting their guard down too early. The White House is desperately working to avoid another potential COVID-19 surge, particularly with the concern about variants spreading in the U.S.

The overall progress, we should note, on vaccinations is encouraging. The daily rate is going up. The nation now averaging a new record for daily vaccinations around 2.5 million doses per day. That is a relief to see.

HARLOW: This all comes as the Biden administration is scrambling to find shelter for the surge of unaccompanied migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border. More than 4,200 of those children are now in U.S. custody. The White House plans to move thousands of migrant teenagers to a convention center in Dallas. We'll get to that in a moment.

Let's begin though with the push to vaccinate America. Our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us. Good morning, Elizabeth.

The daily vaccinations keep going up, that's great, but you have got those big gatherings without masks, like we just saw images of, and we've got serious hesitancy mainly from Republicans.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's interesting, Poppy, because, in a way, we can't really visualize the hesitancy because so many people are getting vaccinated, which is great. But I've been talking with public health officials who are concerned that once everybody who wants the vaccine gets it, we're going to be left with an unfortunately sort of chunk of America that doesn't want it. CNN polling has shown that almost half of Republicans say that they will not try to get the vaccine.

Now, of course, many of those Republicans would look up to Trump as their leader. And we know that Trump was vaccinated along with his wife back in January. But he has not talked about it. So CNN asked Dr. Brett Giroir with the Department of Health and Human Services would it be helpful if Trump stepped up and talked about the need to be vaccinated. Let's take a listen to his answer.

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ADM. BRETT GIROIR, FORMER HHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH UNDER TRUMP: I think it's very important for former President Trump as well as the vice president to actively encourage all the followers to get the vaccine.

The people who follow former president are very committed to President Trump and I think his leadership still matters a great deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Now, if too many people say no to the vaccine, there could be real problems with herd immunity especially in certain areas of the country that have high rates of people who have not been vaccinated. Poppy? Jim?

SCIUTTO: All right. So let's talk about one category that hasn't been vaccinated yet, that, of course, young people, children. But Moderna is moving forward with the next phase of its pediatric vaccine trials. What are we learning? Are they finding it to be safe? And what does that mean now on timing as to when it will be approved for kids to get this?

COHEN: Right. So Moderna's vaccine was approved in December but just for 18 and older. So now they are just starting a clinical trial with children. So let's take a look at some of those numbers.

They're going to try it out in nearly 7,000 participants ages 6 months to 11 years old. These children will be in Canada and the United States. And they're testing different doses to see if maybe the little ones, the six-month-old to two-year-olds, if they need a different -- if they need a different dose than older children.

Pfizer is actually ahead of Moderna in this area. Pfizer fully enrolled their clinical trial with children back in January. So we're expecting news from Pfizer before Moderna. But, still, it will take months to fully test this out on children. Poppy? Jim?

SCIUTTO: Understood. We'll watch it closely. Bottom line, listen, it's all moving more quickly than I think anyone would have expected. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much. Well, the pandemic is not keeping spring breaker as way from the beach. Big crowds swarmed South Florida over the weekend. One mayor there says those visitors just aren't worth the revenue due to dangers from the pandemic.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber joins me now. Mayor, thanks so much for taking time this morning.

MAYOR DAN GELBER (D), MIAMI BEACH, FL: Thanks for having me, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So we have seen the pictures, and I'm sure many of the viewers have. I mean, it's amazing. It's like, you know, pre-pandemic sort of levels in behaviors here. We know what the science says about that. Get people together like that, you're going to spread this thing. What have your medical advisors told you about what the consequences will be of this to Miami?

GELBER: Well, the problem is not just Miami. The problem is we have too many people coming. We have too many people coming who want to just let loose in ways that are unacceptable. And we have a pandemic including, I think, really sort of ground central for the variant. So there are a lot of things to be concerned about.

Our medical advisors say exactly what the national medical advisors say, that this is all a very careless and, in fact, you know, it easily be something that spreads elsewhere. And we don't want it because, honestly, it's not healthy for our residents. And we certainly don't want to be a hub of a problem that affects other communities locally or elsewhere.

SCIUTTO: You're and other local leaders are in something of a battle with your governor, right? He's tied your hands and said you can't, even if you want to, issue mask mandates just to stop the spread, which the science shows, stops the spread. What do you do about that? How do you handle that?

GELBER: Well, we were the first city, I think, in the country when the CDC said to have masks that we made a mandate about it. We gave over 1,000 fines for it. The governor said we're not allowed to do. That recently he said you can't do anything to promote that kind of compliance. We are doing the best we can. We have goodwill ambassadors on Saturday alone that gave 7,000 masks out there to people masks out to people.

The problem isn't just our ability to do stuff. The problem is that the message people are getting from the governor and others is that they shouldn't have to worry about this. Because it -- and that's the hardest thing because, you know, when we told people to wear safety belts, everybody wore safety belts. When we tell people a hurricane is coming, they all worry and do what you're supposed to do. Now they're getting mixed messages including from the most prominent voice in the state, which is very hard to overcome.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, the seat belt thing, and early on, people didn't want to wear seat belts based to freedom issues too. And then, of course, the data showed it saves lives, like masks. It's not all bad in Florida by any means. Because if you look nationally, Florida ranks better than most states both in new infections and deaths, 22nd for case rates, 24th for death rates. From your perch, what is Florida doing right?

GELBER: First of all, our country handled this horribly compared to other developing nations. So, being in the middle of one of the nations that didn't handle it particularly well is hardly something to be crowing about. Nobody should be taking a victory lap.

My county is bigger than probably a dozen states. I imagine we're not in the -- doing better than most places. We've had a day last week where 52 people died in just Miami-Dade County. So I don't think -- I don't think it makes anybody feel better that there are other place that's are worse.

And every time we open up without the mask mandate, we have a surge that has caused more people to die. So I -- you know, sort of absurd to say, you know, it's fine because other places are worse. That makes no sense at all, certainly to the families of people that have perished or have been hospitalized.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I see. You want to hold yourself to a higher standard.

I do want to ask you, before you go, about vaccine hesitancy along party lines. New polling shows that close to half of people identified Republicans are saying they will not get the vaccine. And, listen, we've talked about this a lot on this broadcast. It is product of disinformation, right? It goes back months. Pandemic is not serious. Saw that emanating from the White House and beyond. Are you seeing that in Miami Beach? Can you get over that? Because if this is along party lines, we're not going to get to herd immunity.

GELBER: Listen, we, for some reason, we politicized mask usage, which was obviously absurd. Now we're politicizing vaccine, you know, taking the vaccine. It's crazy. And I think it's incumbent on responsible leaders to stand up and say take -- wear the mask, take the shot. That's how you get the whole community safer is if everybody does it.

I don't know what's going on, but it's contrary to what America is all about, when people refuse to do things that will help themselves, their loved ones and strangers. That -- you're supposed to lean into this as Americans, not run away from it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, listen, I hope folks listen, because it's not just for other people's safety. It's for their own. Mayor Dan Gelber, thanks so much and best of luck to you and people in Miami Beach.

GELBER: Thanks.

HARLOW: Well, this morning, the Biden administration is working to find shelter for thousands of unaccompanied migrant children being held in their overcrowded Border Patrol facilities. It is now planning to use a Dallas convention center to hold temporarily more than 2,000 migrant teenage boys. SCIUTTO: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas with a warning this morning to any migrants considering making the journey to the U.S.

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ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We are building the capacity to address the needs of those children when they arrive.

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But we are also in critically sending an important message that now is not the time to come to the border.

Do not take the dangerous journey now. Give us time to build an orderly, safe way to arrive in the United States and make the claims that the law permits you to make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Quite a clear warning there from the DHS secretary. More than 4,000 migrant children are currently in Border Patrol custody. These kids coming on their own, right, many delivered by smugglers. The situation at these overcrowded border processing centers growing more dire by the day. The DHS warning just this morning that the U.S. is on pace to encounter more people on the southwest border than has been seen in this country in the last 20 years.

HARLOW: Our Rosa Flores spoke to people who made the dangerous journey from their homeland but are now waiting and they are worried. Watch this.

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ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As tens of thousands migrants make the dangerous journey to the U.S. southern border -- someone stole all her money along the way -- many discover that getting here is just the beginning.

Some migrants describe crowded immigration processing centers -- she says it was packed with people -- without showering facilities.

Did they let you shower?

And some say they slept under a bridge overnight, on pebbles and sand while waiting to get transported to immigration processing facilities. Once there, migrants say they get three meals a day.

This as CNN learns about 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children are in Border Patrol custody, attorneys blowing the whistle this weekend about children in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at this massive temporary immigration processing center in Donna, Texas, where unaccompanied children, including many under ten years old, are being held, some for five to seven days, which is against U.S. law.

Peter Schey is a lawyer representing thousands of unaccompanied minors in federal custody and says capacity at the Donna facility is 1,000 detainees. And right now, it's holding about 2,000.

PETER SCHEY, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: It is an untenable situation. The administration needs to address immediately.

FLORES: The head of Homeland Security directed FEMA to help credit more shelters for unaccompanied children and move them out of Border Patrol custody quickly. DHS says, Border Patrol officials do everything they can to take care of unaccompanied children in their care.

As for mothers entering with children, many are released by Border Patrol at this bus station in Brownsville.

Why did you come here? She said the economic crisis in her country is very severe.

The reasons migrants say they're trekking to the United States varies. Some, like, Selvi Melgar (ph), says he lost everything during a recent hurricane in Honduras. And Marisol Ramirez (ph), who says the toughest part of her journey was when her daughter was hungry and she had no food, said she's here because of the lack of jobs and the abundance of violence in her home country.

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FLORES (on camera): CNN has made repeated requests to Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection to get access to the Donna facility that you see behind me, and other processing centers like it, and that access has been denied.

Today, we also asked about those migrants who say that they slept under a bridge on the dirt overnight, and we have not heard back.

Rosa Flores, CNN, Donna, Texas.

HARLOW: Rosa, thank you very much for that important reporting.

We have a lot ahead. President Biden heads to Pennsylvania to promote the benefits of his American rescue plan. What he says you can expect in the next ten days.

SCIUTTO: Plus, news of a possible setback in a trial of a former police officer charged in George Floyd's death. Does a $27 million settlement from the city stand in the way of a fair trial for Derek Chauvin? We'll discuss.

HARLOW: Also, a decade -- a decade, ten years of war has left millions of Syrians with no home and no hope and really no change ahead. Ahead, hear one family's story about their life inside of this war-torn country.

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[10:15:00] HARLOW: Today, President Biden takes his message about the huge American relief plan directly on the road to the American people. He will leave the White House very soon. His first stop is Pennsylvania. He's going to stop on this tour designed to highlight the American rescue plan.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Jeremy Diamond is covering. And, Jeremy, we've heard a lot about stimulus checks, right? That's an enormous part of the deal. Focus today from Biden will be on aid to small businesses. What is that aid? How much of it? How is it happening?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. Every day this week, you're going to see as the president, the vice president and members of the cabinet travel across the country, they're going to be hitting a different aspect of this massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

Today, it is small businesses as the president hits a small business. The vice president also in Denver, Colorado, visiting a empanada shop. And that aid includes billions of dollars for restaurants in particular, $28.6 billion in grants for restaurants, $8 billion in additional PPP funding.

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That is that payroll protection program that's so many small businesses have jumped on.

So that is what we will hear from the president today, as he continues his efforts to not only sell this coronavirus relief bill for political purposes but also, the White House, to let Americans know what kind of aid is actually in this bill and how they can access it.

The White House is also beginning to turn the page from -- on the vaccine front and starting to look towards vaccine hesitancy efforts and trying to encourage Americans who may be hesitant about the vaccine, who may be apathetic or simply maybe struggling to get access to this vaccine. A $250 million campaign is beginning in a few weeks from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Part of this campaign is looking to address hesitancy among Republicans. Nearly half of whom say that they are not making plans to get the vaccine. The president addressed that aspect just yesterday. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: They say the thing that has more impact than anything Trump would say to the MAGA folks is what the local doctor, what the local preacher, what the local people and the community say. So I urge -- I urge all local docs and ministers and priests and -- to talk about why, why it's important to get that vaccine.

(END VIDEO CLIP) DIAMOND: And that certainly is the White House's view. They view it as more important to get those local leaders to endorse the vaccine than the president himself. Nonetheless, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said just yesterday that if the president -- if former President Trump woke up today, deciding he wanted to be helpful in promoting vaccines, they certainly would welcome that. Jim? Poppy?

HARLOW: Okay. I think it will make a big difference. Jeremy, thanks very much.

To that point, as some Republican members of Congress push to do away with COVID-19 safety measures inside the U.S. Capitol, some of them have not been vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: Four GOP senators, Senators Ron Johnson, Mike Braun, Rick Scott and Rand Paul, who is a doctor, by the way, say they have yet to get vaccinated, this despite lawmakers being prioritized to for those, this goes all the way back in December, to encourage public trust in the vaccine.

CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill this morning. And, Lauren, you have to try to explain this to me. With three safe vaccines in this country, which are shown to save lives, not just your own, possibly others if you infect someone, do these Republican senators doubt that science? Do they see political advantage here?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we are hearing from lawmakers, and I should say that we reached out to dozens of senators yesterday about whether or not they had been vaccinated, and these four Republican senators said, no, they had not been vaccinated. Now, three of the Republicans had coronavirus in the past.

Now, the CDC guidelines are still that even if you had the virus, you should still go ahead and get vaccinated. That's because the CDC just doesn't know how long you would have antibodies, or how long you will be protected.

Now, when I asked Senator Ron Johnson and Senator Rand Paul, they were two members who said, look, we had coronavirus. We believe that, you know, we are not at risk essentially in getting coronavirus again. And even if we got it, it would be a mild case.

I want to read what you Senator Ron Johnson told me in a phone call yesterday. He said, quote, I thought I was doing everyone a favor, Johnson told CNN in a phone call. I don't think any of this is settled science but the reason I am not vaccinated yet is I have had COVID-19 and even when I had it, I had a mild case. So there you have it. Republican senators arguing that if they had COVID-19, they feel protected here.

Now, we should note that Mike Braun did not have COVID-19. He said he is still looking into getting the vaccine but he just wants more information. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: And the science is settled. I mean, the trials show across the board, it's just amazing. Lauren Fox, good to have you on. Thank you.

One of Governor Cuomo's accusers speaks with investigators for more than four hours. What was discussed, revealed during that meeting, next.

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SCIUTTO: We now know that Charlotte Bennett, one of the multiple women who has accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment or unwanted touching, has spoken within investigators.

HARLOW: For hours. Our Dan Merica is following this again for us this morning in Albany. I think it was four hours, right, of this zoom interview, more than four hours. Do we know anything about it?

DAN MERICA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. So we learned on Monday that the investigation of Andrew Cuomo from the New York state attorney general really started in earnest with this interview. And Debra Katz, the lawyer for Bennett, who I'll remind you is the 25- year-old former Cuomo aide who has alleged sexual harassment, unwanted touching, part of the allegations against Cuomo, issued a statement saying that she sat with investigators for four hours and gave the investigators over 120 pages of documents.

And now, Katz says that Bennett laid out a hostile work environment in the Cuomo office and gave specifics. And I want to read one specific to you. This is what Katz said. One piece of new information that came to light is that the governor's preoccupation with his hand size and what the large size of his hands indicated to Charlotte and other members of his staff.

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