Return to Transcripts main page


Another Study Links U.K. Variant to Increased Risk of Deaths; Daughter Testifies Against Dad, He Told Me Traitors Get Shot. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 13:00   ET




I appreciate your time on Inside Politics. I hope to see you back here this tomorrow. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: Hello. I'm Brianna Keilar, and I want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

The second study in less than a week is showing the U.K. coronavirus variant is more deadly. And this is variant that has poised to become the main strain in the U.S. The CDC says it's only a matter of weeks, end of this month or early next before that happens and it's a big reason why the CDC director is pleading with Americans to keep up social distancing, and mask wearing, especially during spring break as more and more Americans head to beaches and travel through airports and as more states are easing their restrictions.

The U.S. reported more than 56,000 new cases on Monday alone with 740 deaths, and more than 41,000 hospitalizations, which is a significant reduction from peaks two months ago.

But it's still far too high say health policy experts who are trying to prevent another surge. 11 states are reporting an uptick in new infections compared to last week. Vaccinations are the bright spot here. The nation is averaging 2.4 million actual shots a day with more than 11 percent of the country fully inoculated against coronavirus through the vaccine.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now. Elizabeth, I feel like this U.K. variant has been the tsunami that we kind of see coming at us. Where is at this point in time?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That is for sure. I mean, remember, Brianna, when we were counting cases of the U.K. variant, one by one, well, now there are thousands of cases in the United States. And let's talk a little bit about what we know about this U.K. variant. It's been spotted in 48 out of 50 states.

Now, luckily, we do know that the vaccine seems to work pretty well against it but it does seem to spread more easily. That seems certain now. And according to a new study just out, the risk of death when you get it is 55 percent higher than the death rates for other variants. So that is obviously not good news.

Now, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, has talked about this variant quite frequently. And let's take a listen to this because she talks about how soon she thinks it's going to become the dominant strain in the U.S. And, by the way, she calls the U.K. variant by its scientific name, and what we're about to listen, by its scientific name, which is B117.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: In some states, Florida and California, it's up to 25 percent, in other states, it's lower. Our current models still project by the end of March, early April, B117 will be the dominant variant.


COHEN: So, again, the vaccine does seem to work well against the U.K. variant but it does seem to spread more easily and it seems to kill people more often than the other variants. Brianna?

KEILAR: Also can you tell us a little bit about this Moderna trial? They are actually doing a trial on kids who will, of course, have to be vaccinated as well.

COHEN: Right, because we know that kids can get COVID-19, and they don't show the signs of it often, and that's a bad mixture. So kids are spreading it but we don't know they're spreading it.

And so what Moderna and Pfizer are both doing is they're doing trials with children. So let's take a look at where Moderna stands on this. They have just started enrolling their first set of children. These children will be ages 6 months to 11 years. They have enrolled about 7,000 participants between those ages in Canada and the U.S. And they're going to test different doses to see if the younger ones should be using a smaller dose than the older ones.

Now, don't expect that you'll be able to get your child vaccinated anytime soon. Pfizer is ahead of the game. They enrolled all of their children back in January. But still it takes months to do these clinical trials. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Elizabeth, thank you so much.

Today, Mississippi becomes the second state to open vaccine enrollment to all residents 16 years of age or older. Alaska was the first.

CNN's Health Reporter Jacqueline Howard has more.

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Brianna, Mississippi is the next state to open up COVID-19 vaccination appointments for all residents ages 16 and older. Now, this is starting today but Governor Tate Reeves tweeted about it yesterday saying this, quote, starting tomorrow, all new appointments will be open to all Mississippians, get your shot, friends, and let's get back to normal, end quote.

As for who can get vaccinated, out of the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson's vaccines are authorized for adults 18 and older.


As for younger people, Moderna and Pfizer are both currently holding clinical trials that include younger ages. They're looking at that right now. Johnson & Johnson says that it plans to do so as well very soon. Brianna?

KEILAR: Jacqueline, thank you.

Air travel in the U.S. is at a five-day pandemic high. TSA has screened more than 6 million people since last Thursday as folks head out for spring break.

CNN's Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean reports with that comes another problem.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, the FAA says it's not done getting tough on mask violators. It says there are still too many unruly passengers on flights. The FAA says it's investigating 450 cases of that right now. So it's keeping a policy in place of harsher punishment against passengers who act out of line, that includes criminal penalties and steeper fines. The FAA says it has fined one passenger $27,000, just one of 20 cases where it has taken action on this.

All of this came to be right after the Capitol riots when the FAA put the policy in place. It was set to expire at the end of this month. But back during the Capitol riots, that's when video started to surface of flights full of passengers going to and from Washington where they were harassing each other and flight crews. Brianna?

KEILAR: Pete, thank you.

Biden's CDC director completed a full review of her agency this month and his spokesman is now revealing her review found some guidance issued under the Trump administration was not grounded in science and it was not free from undue influence.

The review also determined some guidance was not primarily authored by the CDC or it used less direct language than evidence supported or it needed to be updated to reflect the latest scientific evidence.

Dr. Richard Besser is the former acting director of the CDC under President Obama. Dr. Besser, your reaction to this.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: Well, Brianna, it's what we saw taking place last year, a total disconnect between what public health was recommending and what we were hearing out of the White House. And it's one of the reasons why the U.S. response was so tragic. You know, it is a breath of fresh air right now that we're hearing from the CDC director, Dr. Walensky, at least three times a week. And whenever there's any change in guidance, she's there talking us through it, explaining it, helping us understand why the science has changed and why guidance is changing.

Last year, that wasn't the case. We weren't hearing from CDC and we couldn't tell what was being done for political reasons and what was being done because of scientific learning.

KEILAR: Do you think in retrospect -- I mean, as you said, we saw this happening before our eyes. Here it is codified into a review, and we get to see everything laid out in one fell swoop. Do you think that Dr. Robert Redfield should have stepped down, raised awareness about this?

BESSER: Well, you know, I was not in his shoes. I think anyone who's in that position has to have a line that they won't cross. You know, in listening to Dr. Walensky, her line is political influence in science. Clearly, policies are made where science is one factor. But the science itself has to be left intact and people need to have that transparency to know what the science says so they can interpret why policies are what they are.

You know, I hope going forward that no CDC director would allow that to happen.

KEILAR: Let me ask you this then. I don't want you to stand in someone else's shoes. In your own shoes, when you were acting director of the CDC, what would you have done if you saw this happening?

BESSER: You know, I would like to think that I would have called it out, but, again, I don't want to claim that would be the case. It's a hard thing to do in a leadership position. But, clearly, one of the most important things the CDC director can do is maintain the integrity and trust in the agency and we saw the agency take major hits in terms of trust last year.

KEILAR: You just wrote an opinion piece about going beyond the COVID relief bill and saying that more long-term policies are needed to bring racial equity to health care. And you cite these figures about COVID vaccination, 65 percent receiving at least one dose are white, 9 percent Hispanic, 7 percent black, 5 percent Asian, 2 percent American-Indian or Alaska native.

Those numbers are -- you know, those really stand out. What should the government do, what can it do to address this inequity in getting the vaccine to groups?

BESSER: I mean, Brianna, the pandemic has hit every community in America. But as we've talked before, black, Latino, Native American communities have been hit the hardest with hospitalization and death rates that far exceed their proportion of the population.

[13:10:08] The early rollout of this vaccine effort was really not in line with the recommendations of the advisory committee to CDC. Essential workers were not targeted for vaccination early. It was all done based on age. And what we saw when that happened was that individuals who had more challenges in getting the vaccine, either transportation challenges or didn't have vaccine available in their communities, it was harder to get vaccine.

We're seeing increased efforts, but one of the challenges is that only about half of all states report data based on race and ethnicity in terms of vaccination. Every state should provide that information so you can see where vaccines are being distributed in an equitable fashion, where they're not and you can direct additional resources to get vaccines into communities.

I'm encouraged by efforts to get vaccines now into corner pharmacies and to churches and community centers, places people trust. That's going to go a long way. And the increasing vaccine supply will help as well. It will mean that hopefully that privilege and skin color aren't main drivers in terms of vaccination rates.

KEILAR: In speaking of trust, a CNN poll finds that 46 percent, so we're talking nearly half of Republicans say they are not going to get vaccinated. And despite the fact that former President Trump himself received the vaccination, one of his biggest supporters on Fox is saying this about getting the shot.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The administration would like you to take this vaccine. Joe Biden told you last week if you don't, you can't celebrate the 4th of July. But it turns out, there are things we don't know about the effects of this vaccine.


KEILAR: How worried are you about this spread of misinformation?

BESSER: I'm very worried about the spread of misinformation. You know, one thing that is becoming increasingly clear is that people want to hear from voices that they trust, and for most people in America that's not politicians. It's their local doctor, maybe a faith leader, family and friends.

And I hope that as more people know people who have been vaccinated and see the things they can do safely and confidently, that the rates of vaccination will go up in all groups. But we need to understand who are the trusted voices for different groups and make sure they are hearing messages from those particular leaders.

KEILAR: Dr. Besser, really appreciate you coming on, lots of important issues to cover today.

BESSER: Thanks so much, Brianna.

KEILAR: A family torn apart as the children of one of the insurrection suspects testify against him, saying that he threatened to shoot them if they became, quote, traitors.

Plus, a Capitol Hill officer is suspended after something is discovered in his workplace.

And North Korea finally breaks its silence in the Biden area -- era, I should say, issuing a new threat but it's not from Kim Jong-un.



KEILAR: As prosecutors continue to charge those suspected of taking part in the Capitol riots, some families are being torn apart as loved ones help investigators make their cases. On Monday, the 16-year-old daughter of Guy Reffitt testified that her father was not violent and should be released. But the rest of her testimony didn't quite validate that.

She said her father warned that, quote, her traitors get shot when she and her siblings threatened to turn him into authorities for his role in the Capitol siege.

CNN's Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is joining me. It's heartbreaking, Jessica, to read about this family. What more can you tell us about this?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a heartbreaking, Brianna, and, really, a heart-wrenching courtroom scene that happened. Despite his kids testifying against him, they actually cried out in disbelief when this judge decided to keep their father, Guy Reffitt, locked up.

So, Reffitt, he's allegedly a member of the Texas Three Percenters groups. That's an extremist paramilitary group. And prosecutors laid it out this way. They said, he drove to Washington with guns in his car days before January 6th and took part in the Capitol attack where he was clad in body armor and carrying plastic cuff restraints.

But one of the reasons he's being kept behind bars is not necessarily because of his participation, it's because of these alleged threats against his children once he returned home to Texas. So his daughter actually testified, and she said that her father told her he would put a bullet through her cell phone if she posted about him on social media and that his children would be traitors if they turned him in.

So, his daughter though tried to make her case that despite that, he wasn't violent. She said this, he's not a violent person, he just says things, he talks a lot. That's just him being a drama queen. But, really, the judge here didn't back down. She said that Reffitt would remain in jail because he could still be a danger to the community. And, Brianna, that's because he allegedly kept firearms at his house and had also made statements about potential future violence, including allegedly messaging some other Three Percenters talking about taking the Capitol again.

So, Brianna, there's the entire case here but what we saw in court really highlights this divide among many families, they're confronting extremists within their own home and many people are turning their families into authorities. We've seen it with the FBI, many FBI agents getting tips from family members turning their family members in for their participation in the riot. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes. This particular one really stood out but maybe it's representative of other families as well.


Jessica, thank you.

A Capitol Police officer has been suspended after texts that influenced Hitler was discovered near his work area. The Washington Post first reported that the officer was suspended after a congressional aide saw a printed copy of the protocols of the meetings of the learned elders of Zion, in plain sight, at a Capitol checkpoint.

Now, these are fictional papers that were used as anti-Semitic propaganda, falsely claiming to be documents showing a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. This is a text that inspired the Nazis, for instance.

Butch Jones is a retired Capitol Police officer who spent nearly four decades on the force. Butch, what is your reaction to learning about this, that a Capitol Police officer allegedly had these anti-Semitic writings just sitting right out in the open at a checkpoint?

THEORTIS BUTCH JONES, RETIRED CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: I'm not surprised. Sadly, when this happens on Capitol Hill, it is -- I'm not surprised because a lot of officers on Capitol Hill are racists. The department has issues with the black officers. So I'm not surprised at all that this had taken place.

KEILAR: In your experience, what is the tension within the -- within the department, because certainly there are a lot of officers who would not be reading this? There are a lot of officers who are not racist. What is the tension inside the department?

JONES: It's -- on the whole, Capitol Police have good officers, on the whole. There's a few bad apples on Capitol Police, as all the way around the world. And for Capitol Hill to be known as the last plantation, I'm not surprised that this has happened on Capitol Hill. The years that I was on Capitol Hill, there was a lot of discrimination between blacks and whites.

So, again, I'm not surprised that this has happened on Capitol Hill.

KEILAR: I also want to get your reaction to what Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson said recently about why he wasn't afraid of the Capitol rioters. Let's first listen to what he said, and then also how he's trying to dismiss racial overtones of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I knew those were people that loved this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break a law, and so I wasn't concerned.

Now, had the tables been turned, and, Joe, this could get me in trouble, had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.

There was nothing racial about my comments, nothing whatsoever. This isn't about race, this is about riots.

I wasn't surprised but still pretty shocking that they would take what I considered a completely innocuous comment and turn it into using the race card on me and saying there was a racist comment involved, and that there was none.


KEILAR: What did you think, Butch, of his original comment and how he tried to clean it up?

JONES: I was appalled. I was appalled to hear that members of -- a member of Congress would make a statement like that, and evidently he had not watched the tapes of the riot because they didn't care about the officers in blue, as officer Dunn, as officer Goodman, as the Metropolitan Police, they didn't care who it was when they were beating up on police officers, so they had no respect at all for the policemen in uniform.

Second of all is, if he was not afraid, sadly, my thoughts are, that was he appalled of it, did he know about it, was it a coup? And to say, because there was a white demonstration, he wasn't afraid and for it had been Black Lives Matter, he would have been intimidated.

And two months and a half behind, he said he wasn't afraid, I would like to have seen him the day of where was he at? And did he hear, take a chance to help the police officers fight the demonstration?

KEILAR: I will say, butch, we have no reason, there's no evidence to believe that Senator Johnson had any involvement in this but he's clearly making excuses for the people who did. And, you know, I wonder what you think the effect of that -- of that is, for there to be someone who is essentially downplaying what the insurrectionists did and then saying that they would be afraid, basically, if this were Black Lives Matter protesters who, of course, would be more likely to be black.

JONES: A lot of members took an oath to protect the Constitution.


For number one is for them to say that the election was a fraud, it was a bad tally of the votes, they're just as much as blame as 45 was to incite this kind of demonstration. So for him to even say that, I'm not saying it's definitely, but I would be -- I wouldn't be surprised if the senator had some knowledge of what was going on. It was too easy for them to walk up and come up to the Capitol the way they did.

KEILAR: All right, just, again, we have no evidence of that, Butch, but I certainly appreciate your opinion and you coming on. Thank you so much for being with us.

JONES: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: Duke University is on lockdown amid a coronavirus outbreak and officials are blaming fraternities. I'll be speaking with a student who has a concern about this.

Plus, a new twist in the racial controversy surrounding The Bachelor, as we learn the star offered his final rose to a woman who has participated in racist photos.