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Cuomo Accuser Meets With Investigators; Biden's Border Challenge; New Reports Find Russia Favored Trump in 2020 Election; Biden Tours Country to Tout American Rescue Plan. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN on this Tuesday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

We start with President Biden. He is taking his message of help and recovery on the road today. In just a couple of moments -- here he is -- we will be seeing the president visit this small business in Chester, Pennsylvania. This is all part of his administration's Help Is Here Tour, promoting the $1.9 trillion relief package he signed just last week.

President Biden, though, is facing renewed pressure to do even more. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is continuing to press him on forgiving $50,000 in student loan debt, but President Biden made it very clear at a CNN town hall last month that he does not support canceling such a large amount.

First things first, to vaccination news here, getting Americans vaccinated, getting them spending those stimulus checks, and hopefully invigorating the U.S. economy.

We start with our CNN chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. She is there already in Chester, Pennsylvania.

And, Kaitlan, just -- can you just speak a little bit more about the president's intentions with his visit there today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think what you're going to see President Biden try to do today is not just make the case for this coronavirus relief bill, as we know this entire week is really designed to do with this stop and several others that are happening with other officials.

But, basically, the argument that we're also hearing from White House officials is, this plan was designed to help people in places like Chester, Pennsylvania, where a lot of people are living below the poverty line, where the pandemic has hit people really hard. And you're seeing a lot of low-income people who need that boost that we just saw President Biden sign into law with that major cash infusion that you got last week.

And so he is going to be visiting this small business just around the corner from where I'm standing right now. They're also going to be talking about how this plan is going to help small businesses either stay afloat or rebuild their trajectory as we were trying to make the economic recovery, given what we have seen has happened over the last year to so many small businesses, not just here in Pennsylvania, but really throughout the country.

And so, of course, the challenge that is going to be facing the Biden administration, and that they seem well aware of, is actually implementing this bill, given it is so large. That's what they have been touting. But the bigger the bill, the more you have to actually implement.

And so I think that they're aware of that. And that's going to be the other thing you're seeing Biden talk about when he's on the road, not just today, but other days this week.

But also, Brooke, they're looking at the long-term strategy here, because this is something that President Biden -- there are several aspects of this that he wants to make long-term. What's temporary in this bill, including that child tax credit, that's something that he actually wants to see put in place. That's something they're going to be making that argument for down the road.

And so I think that's also part of what's factoring into this stop and the others that you're going to see President Biden make this week.

BALDWIN: Great. We will look for him momentarily. For now, Kaitlan, thank you very much in Chester.

Concerns are rising in Europe about the safety of this AstraZeneca vaccine, and that's causing more E.U. countries to pause that rollout. Its makers are reportedly just weeks away from applying for emergency use authorization here in the U.S.

Nearly 12 percent of Americans have been fully immunized. And millions more are being vaccinated each and every day. Officials, of course, want to maintain that momentum, especially with spring break parties and reopened economies potentially fueling a new surge.

CNN's Alexandra Field has more.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Spring breakers rushing beaches across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I already had COVID once, so I'm not worried about it.

FIELD: A year of hardship fueling the desire to take a break.

DAN GELBER (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: The problem, it's 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. PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: This is still not a

time to travel just because. Think twice before traveling if you don't have to.

FIELD: Despite the warning, the TSA is reporting the biggest five-day air travel period of the pandemic, more than 6.4 million fliers. Perhaps they're heading to the growing number of states rolling back restrictions.

In California, Los Angeles County is opening restaurants for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First day of spring break, so we're going to L.A. to have fun. And Disneyland opens on Thursday.

FIELD: Wyoming is among the latest states to lift its mask mandate.

The country is still averaging more than 55,000 new cases a day. But the rate of decline in new cases is getting smaller.

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: We know from over the summer, federal researchers have shown, whenever states relax their universal mask mandates, you do see a rise in infection. And, likewise, we don't need to see more than the destruction that we have already seen.

FIELD: Eleven-point-eight percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated. Some states are pacing ahead of President Joe Biden's May 1 deadline to make all adults eligible for vaccines.

Still, health experts say we must fight to keep new variants in check.

DR. COLLEEN KRAFT, EMORY UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: We can really still try to wear masks and do all of the things we should have been doing to prevent all of this transmission in the beginning. We can prevent that variant from taking hold in the United States. Then we will be in a much better place to get sort of herd immunity.

FIELD: A new study shows asymptomatic or undiagnosed COVID-19 infections in the U.S. may have been twice the official case count as of September 30 last year, and the Red Cross is finding about one in five unvaccinated blood donors has antibodies.

All combined, normal feels a little closer. As for a better school year, Moderna announcing it's moving forward with its clinical trials on young children, even babies as young as 6 months old.


FIELD: And, Brooke, I know a lot of parents are hearing that news and wondering how quickly their child can get vaccinated. That is still months away.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has said possibly fall for older children, and most likely not until early 2022 for young children. A lot of data that still needs to be collected there -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Still, that's such a huge point. And perhaps that is the beginning of true normalcy, with our kids being vaccinated and being able to be back in school.

Alex, thank you.

I want to start on precisely that point with my next guest, Dr. Celine Gounder. She is a CNN medical analyst, infectious disease specialist, and epidemiologist, and the host of "The Epidemic" podcast. And she was also a member of the Biden/Harris transition COVID advisory board.

So, Dr. Gounder, great to see you.

Let's just jump right in on this point that the we have learned the first kids have been vaccinated in Moderna's pediatric vaccine trial. So, it's kids between the ages of 6 months and 11 years of age. They're being tested. How important is this?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, we're not going to be able to start vaccinating children until these vaccines have been studied in that population.

And so this is going to be really important to getting to that holy grail of herd immunity. We really do need to be able to, one, have the data on the safety and efficacy of these vaccines in kids, and then be able to vaccinate all of them.

So, this is a really important start and an important milestone in all of this.

BALDWIN: OK, I don't hear you jumping all over it, which tells me we all need to slow our roll in thinking that there's going to all of a sudden be a bunch of kids vaccinated. I hear you loud and clear on what you say and what you don't.

My other question, we're learning about this new "JAMA" study that a number of adults who have gotten COVID in the U.S. could actually be twice the official case count. And to add to that, the American Red Cross said that there is antibodies in one in five blood donations from unvaccinated people.

So, it's like I heard that today. And, basically, they're saying that twice the number of people have had COVID than we ever thought. What do you take away from that?

GOUNDER: Another way of looking at this, Brooke, is, let's say 20 percent of the American population has been infected. And yet we ended up with over 500,000, over a half-a-million deaths as a result.

And so it's really fortunate we had the mitigation measures in place, because, if a larger proportion of the population was exposed, was infected, our death toll would have been that manyfold higher.

I think the other important message to get across here is, we're very far from herd immunity, with only 20 percent of people exposed and infected. And even those people may not be immune, because natural infection provides much less reliable, often less robust, less long- lasting immunity.

So, we really do need to get a lot more people vaccinated before we get to herd immunity.

BALDWIN: That was my next question as to whether or not, if more people have had COVID than we actually realize, if this gets to herd immunity faster. And, again, I'm hearing not necessarily from you.

As more people are getting the vaccine, there are more anecdotes of folks who are wiped out for the day, flu-like symptoms. Sometimes, it's after the first dose. Sometimes, Dr. Gounder, it's after the second dose.

And I'm just -- can you just remind people, as more and more people are becoming eligible to get the vaccine, why these side effects occur and why people still need to get this vaccine?

GOUNDER: So, we're seeing about 10 percent, 15 percent of people who are getting vaccinated have these side effects, the flu-like symptoms, maybe a bit of a fever, headache, sort of muscle pains, especially after the second dose.


And what that really means is that your immune system is seeing the vaccine, it's developing an immune response. So, that means the vaccine is working.

And I can tell you, as somebody who has been vaccinated as well, those side effects are nowhere near how bad COVID can be. And, really, you do want to be vaccinated, you want to be protected against those severe cases, the hospitalization, the death.

And just a little discomfort for a day after especially your second dose is really not a high price to pay for that protection.

BALDWIN: OK. I hear you loud and clear, Dr. Celine Gounder. Thank you so much.

GOUNDER: My pleasure.

BALDWIN: We do have breaking news this afternoon.

A new U.S. intelligence report on the 2020 election is indicating that Russia tried to interfere to help then President Donald Trump and -- quote -- "denigrate" candidate Biden. We have those details ahead.

Plus: The White House is under growing pressure when it comes to the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border. More kids are showing up each and every day. But President Biden says he has no plans to visit the Southern border anytime soon.

Also, North Korea is breaking it silence on the new administration, issuing this new warning, as the U.S. learns North Korea could be ready to carry out a new weapons test. We have those details for you.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We have breaking news. A U.S. intelligence report is concluded that international rivals, including Russia, tried to interfere in the 2020 election. This declassified report says Russia's intent was -- quote -- "denigrating President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S."

Let's go straight to Max Boot, our CNN global affairs analyst. He's also the author of "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."

Max Boot, always a pleasure.

Listen, this doesn't come as a total surprise, right? But we now have this information that Russia did try to interfere to hurt Biden and to help Trump. Your initial thoughts on that?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I have a few thoughts, Brooke.

You're right. It's not a huge surprise. But it is a huge change to hear the U.S. intelligence community saying this. This would have never happened in the Trump administration for them to be admitting that this actually happened. In fact, Trump's directors of national intelligence, the last ones, Ric Grenell and John Ratcliffe, they consistently tried to minimize and downplay Russian election interference, claiming that China and Iran were the real culprits.

And the report makes clear that is not the case. The second important conclusion in the report is that there was no foreign interference in the actual voting process. There was no tampering with ballots. And that, again, destroys a popular conspiracy theory on the right about how China or somebody else was involved in monkeying around with the results and somehow tilting the election towards Trump -- towards Biden, rather.

That's clearly not true. And the third point, I think, that comes through in this report, Brooke, is just how closely the Russian messaging during the election echoed the messaging of the Trump campaign, of FOX News and this kind of whole right-wing media industrial complex.

I mean, it's fascinating to see the extent to which the Russians were pushing the same messages about alleged Biden corruption...

BALDWIN: Yes. BOOT: ... about his supposedly corrupt son, about you can't trust

mail-in ballots, that the Democratic Party is trying to interfere with the election. These were the things that Trump was saying. But these were also the things that the Russians were saying.

And, in fact, the report highlights the close ties between Russian agents of influence, like Andriy Derkach from Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer. Konstantin Kilimnik is another one, who is a former business partner of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager.

So, these ties are copious and disturbing. And to use a word we haven't heard in a few years. I would say this is certainly evidence, not if -- it may be evidence of collusion, but it's definitely evidence of cooperation, and congruity between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

BALDWIN: Yet it wasn't successful. Max. What do you make of that?

BOOT: Well, it clearly was not successful, I think in part because there were a lot of dedicated men and women in the intelligence community in the Department of Homeland Security, some of whom Trump fired, but, nevertheless, they were able to push back on this Russian interference effort.

And so they were working to defend our country, even as Trump was clearly working to allow the Russians to interfere as much as possible to help reelect him. And I think we were just on guard in general, because this happened in 2016.

And so I think the media, the Democratic Party, everybody in general, was much more attuned to the possibilities of Russian election interference. It didn't catch us by surprise the way did in 2016. And so it was not nearly as effective back then, back in -- it was not nearly as effective in 2020 as it was in 2016.

BALDWIN: Max Boot, thank you.


BOOT: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Emotional stories coming from the border, as the U.S. is struggling with a surge in cases of unaccompanied children. We will take you live to El Paso.

And more heat on New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo, after one of his accusers sits down for a four-hour interview with investigators.



BALDWIN: A delegation of Republican senators is planning a trip to the Southern border next week. Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn will lead in the tour in

response to the surge of immigrants there. GOP members visited the border yesterday and placed blame on the Biden administration.

Their criticism really comes as the White House announced new measures aimed at easing this crisis. It plans to use a Dallas Convention Center to house more than 2,000 teenage boys.

Let's go straight to El Paso, Texas, to my colleague Lucy Kafanov, who is there.

And, Lucy, we keep talking about all these children just showing up, thousands of them. What is the situation there where you are? And what are officials saying about the new shelter there at the Convention Center?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we are in front of the Greyhound Bus station in El Paso, where some of the migrant families who have been processed, tested for COVID, released are coming here to move on to their final destinations across the U.S.

My producer just spoke to one family from Haiti that is catching a bus to Orlando, Florida. But in terms of what's happening at the border, you have this complicated confluence of several factors. You do have a growing number of families coming to the U.S. to seek asylum.

You also have this growing number of unaccompanied minors, and all of this is coming under the added stress of the pandemic. Now, under a public pandemic health order known as Title 42, the Trump administration used to automatically deport anyone caught crossing into the U.S. illegally.

The Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for opening the border. But that is not what's happening. The border remains severely restricted. What we are seeing under the Biden administration is the application of Title 42 to adults and some families, but not unaccompanied minors, which is why we now have this situation of a large number of unaccompanied minors in CBP custody.

That's Customs and Border Patrol custody, staying in these temporary shelters for a longer period of time that they should be in conditions that are less than ideal.

Now, as you point out, the White House has directed FEMA to help with these growing numbers of unaccompanied minors. They have approached the Dallas city to lease an exhibit hall at the Convention Center to house up to 3,000 unaccompanied minor boys ages 15 to 17.

Is this a crisis? I mean, that word is politicized in itself. We spoke to the head of -- Dylan Corbet. He's the head of the Hope Border Institute, which works with minors. Here's what he had to say.

Oh, maybe we don't have that sound. No sound. I apologize for that.

Well, he basically said, look, this is a humanitarian crisis. And the NGOs here who are dealing with migrants, they say they have the resources they need to deal with them. They're concerned that the politics is taking away from the fact that these are human beings in desperate situations fleeing horrible conditions in their home countries who need our help -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: We will look for those Republican senators there next week. For now, Lucy, thank you.

Also today, new details in the investigation into New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.

The lawyer for Charlotte Bennett, one of his accusers, says she talked to investigators for multiple hours and provided more than 120 pages of records and documents.

The list of state and national Democrats calling for Cuomo's resignation is growing, but the White House says it is waiting to see what this independent investigation provides. Governor Cuomo has denied the allegations against him.

And CNN's Dan Merica is falling this for us from Albany here in New York.

And, Dan, what more do about how this investigation is going on?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: I mean, what we know from the announcement yesterday is that the investigation by the New York attorney general has begun, with Debra Katz, that lawyer, saying that her client Charlotte Bennett spent considerable time speaking with investigators over videoconference.

And Katz says that Bennett laid out a pretty harrowing work environment in and around Cuomo's orbit.

And I want to read to you exactly what she said. Speaking of Bennett, Katz said: "She also provided detailed information about the sexually hostile work environment the governor fostered in both his Manhattan and Albany offices and his deliberate effort to create rivalries and tension among female staffers on whom he bestowed attention."

Now, even as this investigation continues, as well as an impeachment inquiry, what we're being told is that this could be a very long, drawn-out process. Speaking with Democrats behind me, including leaders of the state Assembly and state Senate, they say that you're going to likely measure this process in weeks and months, certainly not days.

And that all comes at the same time that the legislature has to work on a number of key priorities. They have a state budget to pass. They want to pass a marijuana bill, and they have to continue to fight COVID.

And Governor Cuomo's priorities right now and the way that he sees his way out of this crisis is to focus exactly on that work, Brooke. Obviously, that's in part because he has to -- he is still the governor -- and because it's that work that made him so popular just a year ago.