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Biden Takes to the Road to Promote COVID Relief Plan; Biden Faces Pressure Over Situation at U.S.-Mexico Border; Increasing Number of Americans Getting Vaccinated; Growing Number of Countries Pause Use of AstraZeneca Vaccine; Cuomo Accuser Speaks to Investigators for Four Plus Hours; Two Men Charged in Assault of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick; Police Officer Due in Court, Accused of Kidnap and Murder of Sarah Everard. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 04:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, President Biden sets off to sell his COVID relief plan to Americans, but critics say he should be focused on a growing migrant surge. We will have the very latest on that.

Plus, putting the AstraZeneca vaccine on pause, why a number of European countries have stopped giving out the shots for now at least.

And charges are filed in the assault of Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick. We will explain why those arrested are not charged in his death.


Good to have you with us. Well U.S. President Biden got his COVID relief plan through Congress, now he's hitting the road to sell it to the American public. He will be in Pennsylvania later today. Vice President Kamala Harris will be in Colorado. But promoting the plan isn't the only thing on the president's agenda. Addressing the situation at the southern border is quickly becoming a growing challenge. Kaitlan Collins has more.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Shots in arms and money in pockets.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden is betting on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill to shape his pandemic response. And now he must execute it.

BIDEN: It's one thing to pass a historic piece of legislation like the American Rescue Plan, and it's quite another to implement it. And the devil is in the details.

COLLINS (voice-over): Biden announcing he's tapped longtime Democratic economic aid Gene Sperling to oversee the spending, a job Biden held as vice president when the 2009 stimulus bill passed amid the great recession.

BIDEN: I learned from my experience implementing the Recovery Act just how important it is to have someone who can manage all the moving parts.

COLLINS (voice-over): But Sperling will be in charge of a bill twice the size of that one, as Republicans are watching closely for any missteps.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): We had no input into actually what transpired.

COLLINS (voice-over): Like many Americans, Gene Sperling will work from home for now.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He will be working remotely for a period of time until he has his vaccine.

COLLINS (voice-over): Although stimulus checks begin hitting bank accounts this weekend, Biden wants the American people to know what else the massive bill does.

BIDEN: The plan does a lot more.

COLLINS (voice-over): The president and his top aides will spend the next week traveling the country promoting the plan, while hoping to make some of it, like the expansion of the child tax credit, permanent.

PSAKI: We recognize that signing the bill is just a first step.

COLLINS (voice-over): But another crisis is at risk of overshadowing Biden's cross- country tour.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I know the president's going to travel this week. This is where he should bring Air Force One.

COLLINS (voice-over): Record numbers of children are crossing the U.S. Southern border and being held in jail-like Border Patrol facilities for longer than legally allowed. Republicans who traveled to the border are blaming Biden for the crisis.

MCCARTHY: All because the policies of our president has changed and told them something different. Told them to risk their lives and broke families apart.

COLLINS (voice-over): The Department of Health and Human Services has opened an emergency intake site and the administration even sent FEMA to the border to help shelter migrant children. Yet top officials still refuse to call it a crisis.

PSAKI: I know that we always get into the fun of labels around here. But I would say our focus is on solutions.

COLLINS (voice-over): Republicans are the only one saying Biden needs to step up. Fellow Democrats say they agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we could do so much better than we're doing now.

COLLINS (voice-over): After Biden sent a delegation of his senior staff to the border, other Democrats have called for a presidential visit.

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): As you know, the president sent a delegation of two secretaries and a whole bunch of folks from the White House. They didn't talk to anybody, not even members of Congress, down here.

COLLINS: And right now the White House says President Biden doesn't have any trips to the border scheduled. But we should note that we are told the Biden administration is planning to use a convention center in Dallas to house about 2,000 migrant teenagers at least temporarily. And of course, that does raise the question of whether or not they're going to have to find other facilities as this surge across the border is continuing.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: Well meantime, COVID-19 vaccinations are ramping up across the United States. About 2.4 million doses are now going into arms each day. That's according to the latest estimates. And about 11.5 percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated against the virus, but there's still a very long way to go. Health experts say we won't reach herd immunity until 75 percent to 85 percent of people have all their shots. And while the Biden administration is pushing hard to roll out vaccines the U.S. remains vulnerable. CNN's Nick Watt explains why.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here's a split-screen of our current situation, on the right, a record high 3.2 million vaccine doses in arms reported Saturday, but on the left, that's Miami Beach on Saturday.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We have seen footage of people enjoying spring break festivities maskless. This is all in the context of still 50,000 cases per day.

WATT (voice-over): Back to the good news, more than one in five Americans have now received at least one shot. And new evidence suggests those fully vaccinated are unlikely to spread the virus.


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.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: If I have an anxiety, it's that something worse than the South African variant is out there that will get to the point where the vaccines no longer appear to be fully protective against a bad outcome.

WATT (voice-over): In every single state and D.C., teachers can get vaccinated. Meantime, a new study suggests that if kids and teachers all mask up, then, whether it's six feet or just three of social distance, it doesn't make any difference.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The CDC is very well aware that data are accumulating making it look more like three feet are OK under certain circumstances.

WATT (voice-over): Which would make it much easier for more schools to reopen. Expect an update to the CDC's guidelines soon.

FAUCI: It won't be very long, I promise you.

WATT (voice-over): Meanwhile, college kids at Duke now in a seven-day lockdown after 180 confirmed cases last week driven by parties, say college officials, who warn, if this feels serious, it's because it is.

These past four days, the busiest air travel since this pandemic began. Wednesday is --


WATT (voice-over): And, of course, there's this --


WATT (voice-over): But with more contagious variants circulating, sobering tales from Europe for those South Florida throngs. Take Italy, where case counts are climbing once more, and fast. Why Europe?

WALENSKY: They simply took their eye off the ball. I'm pleading with you for the sake of our nation's health. These should be warning signs for all of us.

WATT (voice-over): Meanwhile, today, Italy, France, Spain and Germany temporarily suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine while authorities investigate some safety concerns. AstraZeneca says there is no evidence their vaccine might cause blood clots. It's not yet authorized here in the U.S.

WATT: Now, part of what's driving that surge in Europe right now is that variant first found in the U.K., more contagious and more deadly. And the CDC here in the U.S. says that variant will become dominant in this country within just the next few weeks.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


CHURCH: And Portugal is joining that growing list of European countries pausing the use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine. The move follows reports of blood clots in some who were vaccinated. AstraZeneca says its analysis shows no evidence of an increased risk in vaccine recipients. The European Medicines Agency is set to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to advise on possible next steps.

Cyril Vanier is in London. Frederik Pleitgen is in Berlin covering the growing concerns of AstraZeneca's vaccine. They join us now live. Good to see you both. So Cyril, the U.K. had no problems with their rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, so what's being said there about the multiple European nations now suspending its use due to these concerns about blood clots in only a few people?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the rollout here of the vaccination program has been extremely successful and it has allowed the U.K.'s contamination numbers to go from 60,000 a day at the very beginning of this year to just 5,000 a day now. So they see the benefits. And everybody here from politicians to scientists to, it seems, the general public are in full support of the continued use of AstraZeneca.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson writing in an opinion piece in the "Times" today that that vaccine is safe and works extremely well. That's a direct quote.

As for the British health regulatory agency, the MHRA, it says, given the large number of doses administered and the frequency at which blood clots can occur naturally, the evidence available does not suggest that the vaccine is the cause of the health issues that have arisen.

So everyone here supports the continued use of AstraZeneca. And on the other side of that argument there are, of course, a majority of European countries, member states of the European Union that have now put on pause their vaccination rollout because they've seen, as you say, a handful of cases that they can't explain. And for which they do not have a good explanation. Including deaths, including instances of very rare combinations of symptoms in people who had no known illnesses and who displayed those symptoms following the -- receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. So they want answers from the European health watchdog, and we hope that will be forthcoming on Thursday -- Rosemary.

All right. Thanks for that, Cyril. We turn to Fred now.


And Fred, you're there in Germany, one of the countries adding to this list of other European nations suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to these concerns. But where does this leave efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19? Of course, we're talking about 17 million doses handed out and there've been 37 blood clot cases. So the numbers are extraordinary and probably tell a story of their own. FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they

certainly do, and I will tell you what, Rosemary, the fact that AstraZeneca has been paused in Germany throws a wrench into the efforts to get the German vaccination campaign going which of course has been sputtering and in big trouble for a while. There was actually one health expert who I just watched on German TV who said there simply is nothing else that could fully replace AstraZeneca until the summer.

So they certainly see that all this is a big problem. And one of the things the Germans have been trying to do to try to give a spark to their vaccination campaign is they've been trying to move it from not just being in centralized big vaccination centers to also moving it into general practitioners' offices to make sure that more people can get the vaccine. And AstraZeneca was going to be the main one that was going to be used by those GPs. Of course, now that simply isn't happening.

And right now the German government really doesn't seem to have very much of an alternative. There was a meeting scheduled for Angela Merkel and her state governors to happen on Wednesday, that's now been called off because they say they want to wait for the European Medicines Agency to see if there's going to be any developments there.

All of this coming as Angela Merkel and her government are losing a lot of trust here in Germany in large parts because that vaccination campaign has been going so slow. And on top of that, Rosemary, to make matters worse, Germany is now again -- and this is something a health expert also said this morning from the German health institute -- he said that right now the cases of the novel coronavirus are rising exponentially once again here in this country.

So big problems here in Germany. Of course, for a lot of other European countries as well as they try to come to terms with this news about AstraZeneca -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, hopefully, they can get this investigation done quickly and nations can move on with their vaccination programs. Frederik Pleitgen joining us there live from Berlin, many thanks.

Well two men have been arrested and charged for the assault on police officer Brian Sicknick who died after responding to the Capitol riot. We will have the details on you on the other side of the break. Do stay with us.



CHURCH: Well one of the women who accuses New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment spoke with investigators for more than four hours on Monday. The lawyer for Charlotte Bennett says her client shared detailed information about Cuomo allegedly fostering a sexually hostile work environment. The information includes more than 120 pages of records and documents. Bennett told CBS earlier this month she was deeply uncomfortable when Cuomo asked her about her sex life while in his office last June.


CHARLOTTE BENNETT, FORMER ADVISER TO ANDREW CUOMO: I thought he's trying to sleep with me. The governor is trying to sleep with me. And I am deeply uncomfortable, and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.


CHURCH: Cuomo denies Bennett's allegations. New York's governor has been embroiled in scandal for weeks over allegations of sexual harassment and of a cover up over the number of COVID-19 deaths in long term care homes. Despite this a new poll shows 50 percent of New York voters say Cuomo should not resign immediately.

Well two men are now in custody charged for assaulting Brian Sicknick, the U.S. Capitol Police officer who died in the January 6th riots. Federal authorities say images from a police body camera show the men sprayed a toxic chemical at three officers including Sicknick. CNN's Brian Todd reports.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Suspects, Julian Khater and George Tanios work together to assault U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and other officers with an unknown toxic chemical spray. That's according to an FBI agent's detailed statement in court records. Khater from Pennsylvania and Tanios from West Virginia have been arrested and charged with nine counts total. The case of Sicknick who died of injuries suffered in the January 6th attack on the Capitol has been a top priority for investigators.

ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: This is a huge development in this case, and it's clear that it took a long time for law enforcement to get to this point.

TODD (voice-over): Details of the alleged assault are jarring. In court papers, an FBI agent cites videos taken at between 2:09 p.m. and 2:23 p.m. on January 6th on the west side of the Capitol. On the videos, court papers say, Khater walks toward Tanios and says, quote, "Give me that bear sh*t," and reaches into Tanios' backpack.

Tanios replies, "Hold on, hold on. Not yet, not yet ... it's still early". The filing says Khater then tells Tanios, quote, "They just f- ing sprayed me".

About nine minutes later, court papers say, a police officer's body camera caught Khater discharging spray into the faces of Sicknick and two other officers from just a few feet away.

MILGRAM: One of them has already said to the FBI agent who was an affiant for the complaint that it was worse than any pepper spray that they'd been exposed to when they were in law enforcement training.

TODD (voice-over): The officers recoiled, court papers say, tried to get water to wash out their eyes. They were temporarily blinded by the substance, the agent wrote, and were unable to perform their duties for at least 20 minutes. One officer reported scabbing that remained on her face for weeks. Law enforcement officials have said Sicknick went back to a police command center and collapsed. He died the next day.

Khater and Tanios are charged with assault, not murder, because investigators still haven't determined with certainty that the exposure to the spray directly caused Sicknick's death.


JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: They are keenly focused on trying to find the right evidence to fully understand how he lost his life, trying to understand what was that, you know, singular moment? We may not get to that, but I think we have to look at this officer's engagement throughout the day of defending the U.S. Capitol.

TODD (voice-over): One former prosecutor says, if authorities can't bring murder or manslaughter charges against these defendants, they still have one powerful weapon in court.

MILGRAM: The other two officers are witnesses. You are also going to have two officers who are going to say I was sprayed in the face with a chemical substance.

TODD: Julian Khater's defense attorney says he plans on entering a plea of not guilty. For weeks images of Khater and the other suspect George Tanios had been on FBI flyers seeking information on the Sicknick case. Finally a tipster identified the suspects to the FBI and told the bureau that Khater and Tanios had grown up together in New Jersey.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: In London, a police officer charged with the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard will appear in court today. The suspect, Wayne Cousins, is accused of snatching Everard while she was walking home earlier this month. Her body was later found in a wooded area outside of London. He was not on duty at the time of her disappearance.

CNN's Nina dos Santos joins us now live from London. Nina, the police officer accused in Sarah Everard's murder set to appear in court soon as protests continue. What is the latest in all of this?

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wayne Cousins will be appearing in about two hours' time here at the central criminal court in the Old Bailey. The last time he appeared was on Saturday, just a few hours before that fateful vigil on Clapham Common near where Sarah Everard was last seen which was swept aside by police officers and that has become a focal point of ire for many women across the country and also elsewhere.

Wayne Cousins was from Kent, he was arrested at a property in Kent. As you said, Sarah Everard's body was found also in Kent a number of miles away from his house. But the investigation continues and there are still large parts of Kent that are actually cordoned off as the search continues there.

It's emerged overnight also that a probationary officer of the metropolitan police has now been -- who was guarding one of those cordoned off areas linked to the Sarah Everard case has now been reassigned to nonpublic facing duties temporarily as he's being investigated for sharing some sort of graphic that alarmed colleagues and then they reported that to the Met.

All of this has increased public scrutiny on the role of the police at a really heightened time when it country has faced lockdown rules for the best part of the last year that has prevented people from protesting. Despite that for four nights in a row they still took to the streets last night.


DOS SANTOS (voice-over): They came to stand up for their right to protest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your laws will not stop us. No, no, we won't. Your laws will not stop us.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): But after gathering under the only statue of a woman in Parliament Square, they ended up walking around London for hours, to be able to do so.

CROWD CHANTING: Women united will never be defeated.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): By keeping moving the people said they wanted to make the police task of reminding them that they were in breach of COVID rules more difficult, which in turn made for very different scenes to Saturdays vigil in honor of the killed Londoner Sarah Everard.

DOS SANTOS: It took police one hour to break up a peaceful protest in a south London suburb. Yet these demonstrators have been on the streets near Parliament for around about an hour and a half already and so far, there has been no intervention. This despite the fact that they blocked a bridge over the river Thames and are now heading towards Scotland Yard.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Metropolitan police said they hadn't wanted to break up the event on Saturday but felt the need to protect people from the pandemic. As women showed their anger at London's police force the government went ahead with a bill it had been working on for some time. Proposing new sweeping changes to the justice system that critics said protected statues better than women.

BELL RIBEIRO-ADDY, BRITISH LABOUR MP: What kind of message does it send out that if you violate a woman, you're likely to get no time at all or very, very minimal sentence. But if you violate a statue which is made of stone or metal and usually is a statue of a man that you are going to get up to ten year. DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Parliament will vote on the new bill this

week. And the opposition is saying it's not expected to pass, then again neither is the heart felt anger of a woman's right to safety in the U.K.


DOS SANTOS (on camera): So this is an issue that isn't going away anytime soon. In the meantime within the next two hours to come we're expecting that probably armed police van to bring Wayne Cousins into the back of this courtroom and he will appear in court roughly in about an hour and a half's time -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: And we'll continue to follow this shocking story. Nina dos Santos joining us live from London. Many thanks.