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Biden: Putin is a Killer, Will Pay a Price for Election Meddling; Biden on Cuomo: He May Be Prosecuted if Claims Found True; White House COVID Task Force Briefing; White House COVID Task Force Voices Concerns on Rising Cases, New Variants, and Focus on Reopening Schools; Michigan's New Cases Up More Than 50 Percent in Past Week; Homeland Security Chief: "Border Not Open" Despite Migrant Surge; Texas Governor Blames Biden Administration for "Enticing Minors into Inhumane Conditions". Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00]

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But we should note just how different his language was toward the Russian president then, of course, what we saw from former President Trump, which is really something that played throughout his presidency because he refused to really issue a harsh word against him, especially after a phone call they had.

And what President Biden was describing there was the phone call he had with Vladimir Putin and talking about what that looks like and he was up front with him.

He said at the beginning of it, saying, I know you really well and you know me well, of course, given his time when he was vice president and his time in the Senate before that dealing with Russia.

And the question going forward is what those repercussions will look like. Because the other thing that you also saw Biden acknowledge was that, yes, they are also a nuclear superpower. That's something that they will have to deal with and work with on the U.S. on.

How does that change the relationship? How does that alter it going forward to make them pay a price while also these talks about nuclear treaties are still going forward? So I think that's a big aspect hanging over their relationship.

But then when he was asked, do you believe Putin is a killer, and he said he does. He said it quickly after George Stephanopoulos asked.

And that makes you think back to when former President Trump was asked, and he equivocated when he was asked about holding Biden accountable and what he thinks what Biden is responsible for.

So just completely different answers you get from these two presidents when they are talking about Russia. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yes, a huge contrast.

I am sure this intel report did not surprise you, Gloria, but --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No.

KEILAR: But it's so important to get the official word on these things. And the official word is that Russia meddled and tried to do so to Trump's advantage. And China considered doing something but didn't do it.

I think the thing that maybe stands out the most, and I wonder what you think, is, looking back at how many who are supposed to be more apolitical intel leaders, administration leaders, backed up that lie that Trump was telling.

BORGER: You mean, like, the attorney general, for example, telling --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Yes, and the DNI.

BORGER: Yes, exactly. And the director of National Intelligence.

Look, this report made it very clear, in fact, that one of the reasons China was not that involved is because didn't like Biden or Trump. They didn't like any of them. And so they didn't go all in on picking a side.

This is not to say they couldn't in the future, because, of course, they could. But in this particular case, it was Russia trying to put its thumb on the scale in favor of Donald Trump.

What stunned me -- and maybe it shouldn't have -- but what stunned me about it was that we have been spending an awful lot of time on reporting about the 2016 election and Bob Mueller's report, about how he could not prove a criminal conspiracy or what we call collusion with Trump's staff and the Russians.

But it is -- because he couldn't prove it in court, he didn't have enough information. This intelligence report echoes that from going forward through the 2020 election.

Basically, doing everything except naming Rudy Giuliani about somebody that the Russians said, you know, come on to our side, we will talk to you.

Whether wittingly or unwittingly, that people close to Donald Trump were duped. That was going on in the former president's first election and in the second election.

What we don't see, and what we don't know -- this is a report that has been declassified -- we still don't understand exactly what happened and why the Russians felt these people were so gettable. We just don't know the answer to that yet. KEILAR: Kaitlan, finally to you, Biden also took his toughest stance

yet on New York Governor Cuomo who is facing sexual assault allegations?

COLLINS: Yes. Of course, we know the two have had a previously close relationship so far. He just said he was letting the investigation play out.

And that's what you have heard from the top leading Democrats who have not gone as far as to call on Governor Cuomo to resign.

You have those two camps, the people that have and the people who are saying let the investigation play out. That's the House Speaker Pelosi on that side of things. And President Biden is on that side, saying the investigation should play out.

But when he was asked, should Governor Cuomo resign if this investigation that's underway does prove these allegations against him, and not only does he say yes, that he does believe that he should resign if that happens but he also said he believes he will be prosecuted. So he took things a step further.

And I think that was a little surprising to people to hear him actually say that on his own, unsolicited. He wasn't asked about whether or not he should be prosecuted. That's something that President Biden said on his own.

So I think that that is something that everyone is watching closely because, of course, there are so many leading Democrats that have called on Governor Cuomo to resign.

President Biden has not done so yet but, with these words, he makes it clear what he believes should happen once the investigation is over, depending on what it finds.

KEILAR: And, Gloria, it's worth pointing out that a lot of people facing allegations, like Governor Cuomo are facing, or even worse, sexual assault charges, often find themselves not charged.

[13:35:09]

Even people in positions of prominence. I know we have seen some high- profile cases where that's not the case. We have seen convictions.

But there are -- actually, if we could pause for just a moment. There's a COVID briefing at the White House. Let's listen in.

ANDY SLAVITT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER ON COVID-19 RESPONSE: -- point-of-care testing, which can contribute significantly to our ability to safely get back to normal life.

Today, we're releasing details about how our testing strategy can be advanced in three additional critical ways.

First, first is how we can reduce the disparities and health outcomes by investing more testing resources in under-served communities. We will also discuss how we will get critical therapies to under-served communities.

Second, the investments we are making in testing to increase screening and surveillance.

Third is how we can strategically invest in testing to ramp up the opening of schools and get them back open.

First, you will hear from Dr. Nunez-Smith. She will then introduce Dr. Carol Johnson, the White House testing coordinator. She will introduce Dr. Walensky, and then Dr. Fauci.

Between all of them, you will hear how various elements of our testing strategy come together.

With that, I will turn it over to Dr. Nunez-Smith.

DR. MARCELLA NUNEZ-SMITH, CHAIR, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 TASK FORCE: Thanks so much, Andy.

Good afternoon, everyone.

You know, as Andy said, we are continuing to advance robust efforts to ensure equity in our federal COVID-19 response, making sure there's access to all COVID-19 resources.

So whether that is access to PPE or masks, access to vaccines, access to testing, which you will hear more in today's briefing, or access to treatments.

And today, I am here to provide an important update on how this administration is making COVID-19 treatments more accessible and available for the American people, particularly for those in the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities.

We are working to improve to access to one specific class of therapies, the monoclonal antibodies. And you have heard Dr. Fauci discuss the benefits of the therapies previously.

There are currently three monoclonal antibodies that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, with the most recent authorization coming just in February.

The positive impact of these treatments has become pretty clear.

For individuals who are diagnosed early with COVID-19 -- that's early testing -- and who, you know, although they are currently doing OK, are really at risk of getting pretty sick, these treatments can make a huge difference in preventing them from developing certain illness from COVID.

In fact, Eli Lily's newest monoclonal antibody combination therapy has shown the ability to reduce COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths by up to 87 percent.

So the National Institutes of Health and the Infectious Disease Society of America -- that's an association of over 12,000 physicians, scientists and public health experts -- they specialize in infectious disease.

And they both formerly recommend the use of this treatment in patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are at risk of progression to severe disease.

These recommendations by the NIH and by IDSA send a really strong signal to patients as well as providers all over the country, a message that these treatments are efficacious. They show enough promise in clinical studies to recommend their broader use during this pandemic to help us save lives.

And we are certainly tracking all of the science and updating clinical recommendations as needed.

For all Americans, these treatments for COVID-19 are free. And the cost of administering them is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance companies.

These therapies are already available across the United States. And we've shipped these treatments to over 5,000 sites across the country. So that's hospitals and emergency rooms, urgent care settings, physician's offices and infusion centers.

There is still work to do, to make sure these treatments are available and accessible to the highest-risk communities. Those communities that have high rates of COVID-19 over this past year.

So today, we are announcing a new $150 million agreement, signed by the Department of Health and Human Services, specifically to help us make sure that any individual and any community who meets the clinical criteria can have access to these important therapeutics.

These funds will help us go beyond those existing 5,000 sites to help get these therapies to folks in other settings as well, giving us the ability to continue to meet people where they are.

[13:40:02]

This new effort is going to speed assistance to hard-hit communities and increasing the administration of the monoclonal antibody therapies preventing hospitalization and death.

This assistance may include additional staffing, infusion center capacity in traditional and nontraditional health care settings, and the equipment necessary to administer this intravenous infusion.

As well as increase awareness among health care providers and patients about the treatment options that are available, including where and how to access them.

So this is just another example of how we are committed to an equitable COVID-19 response.

We're working absolutely to keep people from getting COVID-19 in the first place. The vaccines currently being administered across the country are key to doing just that. But for those individuals who get COVID-19, we want to make sure that

they, too, have the benefit of the latest and scientific discovery to help them hope and help towards a speedy recovery.

You can learn more about these monoclonal antibodies and how to access them by going to the combatcovid.HHS.gov.

With that, I will hand it over to Carol Johnson, the testing coordinator and the White House COVID-19 response team.

Carol?

DR. CAROL JOHNSON, COVID-19 TESTING COORDINATOR: Thank you, Dr. Nunez- Smith.

When the president announced his national strategy to fight COVID, he outlined a comprehensive plan to scale and expand testing in order to safely reopen schools and society.

Today, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we're turning that plan into action.

We know school districts want to reopen but, up to this point, many lacked the resources to set up COVID screening programs to for students, teachers and staff to help keep COVID out of our schools.

Today, that all changes. Earlier today, the Department of Education announced the state funding allocations for the $122 billion in the American Rescue Plan to help schools invest in medication strategies, like PPE, additional space, more teachers, and extending their critical learning and enrichment programs.

And today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to distributed to distribute $10 million to support COVID-19 testing in schools across our country.

With this funding for testing, every state in America will have access to millions of dollars to set up screening testing programs, to add a layer of protection for schools, teachers and students.

This funding can be used to test teachers and staff, students, and others with symptoms of COVID, and those who may have been exposed, and to establish sustained regular screening testing programs across the school system.

We recognize that establishing a COVID testing program is new for many schools. And that's why CDC will work with state and local health departments to support technical assistance to help schools and states in standing up and implementing these programs.

With this critical funding through the American Rescue Plan, we hope more schools will reopen across the country and more kids will be back in the classroom soon.

We know that testing works. We know it works for identifying cases and slow the spread of COVID. And we look forward to working with schools to implement this exciting new program.

KEILAR: All right, we have been listening there to the White House COVID Task Force talking about the rising cases in several states, the concern about variants becoming dominant in the U.S., and also what they are doing to help schools reopen.

Let's talk about this with Elizabeth Cohen, our senior medical correspondent, and Dr. Leana Wen, who is a CNN medical analyst and a former Baltimore city health commissioner.

Elizabeth, this is a pretty big announcement here regarding the money for schools to expand testing. Recognizing, they say, this will be new to schools knowing how they are going to proceed with a testing program.

How important is that to getting kids back into the classroom and to convincing parents that it's safe to send their kids back into the classroom?

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it's very important. Throughout the Trump administration, we heard people saying, if we could test kids, it wouldn't solve everything, you could still have outbreaks in schools but it would go a long way to helping tamp down outbreaks in schools and help keep kids healthy.

It will be a tough endeavor. There are a lot of schools all over the United States, and there's no one centralized authority here. Some of these schools have more resources than others.

But if they can really get a good testing program going for schools, that really could be quite -- quite -- make quite a difference in keeping outbreaks out of schools and keeping teachers and kids healthy.

KEILAR: Dr. Wen, what did you think about what you heard there?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I am glad the White House COVID team is not just focused on vaccines, because that's what we've been hearing so much about. And I think the Biden administration has done a lot when it comes to ramping up the vaccinations.

But we also have to think about these other strategies that are really, including testing, as you and Elizabeth mentioned, and also about early treatment.

[13:45:00]

Because we know there are now these therapies that we have available, these monoclonal antibody therapies available. But they have to be given early in the course of somebody's illness.

That, again, emphasizes why testing is really important, because if you don't know you have coronavirus, how can you get treatment for it?

But these treatments are really important because they prevent someone from progressing to a more severe illness. So having more people have access to that early available treatment to prevent severe illness I think will be really important.

And I really appreciate, as always, the Biden's team focus on equity, recognizing that access is a major problem that prevents so many people from accessing testing and treatment.

KEILAR: It's such a good point because we have heard about these monoclonal antibodies, but when they are going to be administered too late, perhaps there isn't a point and they are going unused. So they are available but by the time they could be used, the bus has really left the station here.

At this House hearing, Elizabeth, on the U.S. vaccination effort, it was the Energy and Commerce and Oversite investigations, the variant identified in California, tell us about this because it's now being called by the CDC a variant of concern.

COHEN: Right, so we have heard about the U.K. variant, the South Africa variant, and now we are hearing more about the California variant.

The concern is it appears to spread more easily. And the concern also is it seems to be evading to some extent some of the treatments we have out there. For example, one of the antibody treatments we have, it doesn't seem to work so well against this variant.

Convalescent plasma is when people have been sick and they donate their blood to give their antibodies to somebody -- someone who has recovered gives their antibodies to someone who is sick. There's a decrease in effectiveness when that person has the California variant.

There are treatments out there that don't seem to be working quite as against this California variant. It seems they haven't really commented on the vaccine but these treatments don't seem to be working as well. Right now, it seems that the vaccine is fine.

But it's worrisome to see these variants pop up, especially when we hear they can spread more easily.

KEILAR: Yes, it is.

Elizabeth, Dr. Wen, thank you so much for being with us.

Michigan is now the fastest-rising state for new COVID cases in the U.S. New Cases there are up more than 50 percent in the last week.

I want to bring in CNN's Adrienne Broaddus, who is outside of Detroit's Ford Field, which is soon going to be a mass vaccination site.

Adrienne, what is triggering the spike in the new COVID cases in Michigan?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, a number of factors. A short time ago, I spoke with Jennifer Morse, the medical director for the state's regional health department, and she points to multiple factors. First, she talked about COVID fatigue. She says, of course, people

have been experiencing and living in the middle of the pandemic for at least a year, and people are not staying at home. She told me data from the state shows transportation is at pre-pandemic levels.

Aside from COVID fatigue, she also talked about Governor Whitmer rolling back some of the COVID-19 restrictions.

And because some of the restrictions have rolled back, people in Michigan, she says, have skipped out on mask wearing. They thought that was a green light to skip the mask. But she wanted to underscore that folks should still continue to wear the mask.

You talked about that spike, more than 50 percent. And let's take a look at some of the numbers.

Here in Michigan, on average, the number of new daily reported COVID cases is about 2,300. On top of that, Michigan has been tracking a rise in COVID cases since January.

Just moments ago, we heard Elizabeth talking about that U.K. variant. Well, that U.K. variant has been reported here in Michigan. For example, it has the second-highest number of reported cases of the U.K. variant.

And when I spoke with Jennifer Morse earlier in the day, she told me she is fearful but she is hoping this mass vaccination site will help slow the spread as more Michiganders, 17 and up, receive the vaccine -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Let's hope.

Adrienne Broaddus, in Detroit, thank you.

[13:49:24]

The Homeland Security secretary is falling the Biden administration's lead and not calling the situation at the border a crisis, despite reports of conditions that some migrant children are taking turns showering and have not seen the sun in days.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: The new Homeland Security chief testifying before Congress today and telling lawmakers the border is not open amid a recent surge of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. And he is pushing back against characterizing the new influx as a crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I will share with you how I define a crisis. A crisis is when a nation is willing to rip a 9-year-old child out of the hands of his or her parent and separate that family to deter future migration. That, to me, is a humanitarian crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: CNN has learned that more than 4,200 unaccompanied children are in Border Patrol custody. That is up from 3,701 one week ago.

I want to bring in CNN's Lucy Kafanov.

This testimony from Mayorkas, Lucy, comes as President Biden warns, don't come. But is it a warning that migrants are listening to?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't seem to be. The numbers continue to increase. We continue to see minors, families and individuals attempt to cross the border to get asylum here in the United States.

We are, in fact, in front of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convent Center in Dallas, which is expected to temporarily shelter up to 3,000 unaccompanied minor teenagers, boys aged 15 to 17.

And they could begin operations as early as today. We have seen Red Cross teams go in and out.

[13:55:04]

We don't know what the conditions are inside the specific facility. But it's being referred to as an emergency intake site.

The Red Cross is going to be helping with operations. They're supposed to have clean and comfortable bedding, toiletries, access to medical services. And we have learned they are going to be tested for COVID-19 inside the facility as well.

And, in part, FEMA has been tapped by the Biden administration to create centers like this because the facilities at the border are so overwhelmed.

We know of at least CBP facility in Donna, Texas, where lawyers for the children there say the kids haven't been able to shower for days. They haven't seen sunlight for days. They haven't been able to contact their parents.

This is something that's very difficult for the federal government to deal with at the border. That's why they're expanding to sites like this one.

Earlier, Governor Greg Abbott arrived in Dallas. He held a press conference, in which he blamed the Biden administration for, in his words, enticing minors into inhumane conditions.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (D-TX): These sites are a direct result of President Biden's reckless open-border policies that are causing a surge in border crossings and cartel activity. The administration has yet to provide answers that Texans deserve. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KAFANOV: So he expressed concerns about whether the children were being abused. He demanded access from the Biden administration for Texas officials to be able to go in and interview the children when the kids arrive.

No word on whether that's expected to take place -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, important questions. Certainly, things that should be answered. There does appear to be a double standard as we have seen compared to this administration and the last from Governor Abbott.

Lucy Kafanov, in Dallas, thank you very much.

We are following this investigation into a deadly series of shootings at massage parlors in the Atlanta area. And the suspect may have intended to move on to Florida and kill more people there.

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