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McConnell Tries to Downplay Biden Vaccine Rollout; Interview With State Rep. Sam Park (D-GA); President Biden Speaks Out on Georgia Mass Killing. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Brianna Keilar.

And moments ago, the president spoke about the killing spree in Georgia that has put Asian Americans across the country on edge, this after months of Asian-American attacks that many say have been intensified by the pandemic and racist language about the origination of the virus in China.

Here was the president.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The question of motivation is still to be determined.

But whatever the motivation here, I know that Asian Americans are in -- very -- very concerned, because, as you know, I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans for the last couple months, and I think that it is very, very troublesome.

And -- but I'm making no connection at this moment for the motivation of what the -- of the killer. I'm waiting for an answer.


KEILAR: Police say the man arrested for the rampage has admitted to the shootings.

Eight people are dead, and a ninth wounded in the Atlanta area. But as you heard from the president, it's still not clear if anti-Asian racism was the motivation here. Six of the victims were Asian women. The other two victims were white. Investigators say Robert Aaron Long first gunned down four people in a spa in Cherokee County, and shot a fifth who is expected to survive.

Investigators day Long then traveled less than an hour south to Atlanta, shooting and killing for more people at two massage businesses across the street from each other. Today, the sheriff in Cherokee County, where Long is now in custody, says he is talking to investigators and is telling them that a sexual addiction drove him to violence.

CNN's Natasha Chen is in Atlanta.

And, Natasha, officials also say that the suspected gunman was headed to Florida when he was arrested. It also seems like there are some outstanding questions when it comes to the motive.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Brianna, there are a lot of questions left.

And, yes, the authorities believe that he was on his way to Florida when they stopped him. It required a pit maneuver. It was really aided by the fact that his family had called the police when they saw his images being released by police and surveillance video, surveillance images.

So they were able to track the suspect's cell phone. Here's what they said about catching him on his way south. So, the police then also were talking to the press today at a press conference about the fact that they interviewed him, that he talked about a potential sexual addiction.

Now, CNN has also learned by speaking to a former roommate of Long that he spent some time in 2020 at a transition house and had spent time in rehab for sexual addiction. Now, this roommate asked not to be named, and also did not specify where this transition house even was and what state it was in.

This roommate did say, though, that he never heard Long say anything racial, that he seemed to harbor a lot of self-hatred, and that this -- these acts yesterday didn't make sense to this roommate, so a lot of questions there as well, as far as going back and seeing what might have led up to this -- Brianna.

KEILAR: I'm sorry we didn't have that sound bite ready on the moving on to Florida and the potential of that. But I'm glad you brought that up, Natasha, because this was one of the -- there were many interesting parts of this press conference.

But this was perhaps the most alarming one, because it sounded like, according to officials, this could have been so much worse.

CHEN: Absolutely.

And what they said during the press conference is that he seems to be proceeding to Florida to potentially carry out more similar attacks. That's what the mayor of Atlanta said. And she said that it was the quick action of multiple law enforcement agencies that really stopped this from becoming significantly worse yesterday.

KEILAR: Yes, definitely.

Natasha, thank you so much, reporting live for us from Atlanta.

I want now to turn out to Georgia state Representative Sam Park, who is a Democrat.

Cherokee County, sir, the investigators there at this point, they say this is not appear that anti-Asian hate was behind these attacks. It appears so far they may be going on the report from the suspect who is blaming a sexual addiction.

Is that your understanding? Do you have any additional questions?

STATE REP. SAM PARK (D-GA): That's the information that we have received so far.

I'm happy to be here with you, Brianna. All that to say there are six Asian American women who are no longer with us. And I think it's important to make sure that we provide as much support to the victims and their families during this difficult time.


KEILAR: Definitely.

And I think, as observers are looking at this, sir, they look at -- they look at -- they have fears already, the Asian American community, in this country, because they have been watching.

I mean, the anecdotal reports are backed up by the numbers, the statistics, that they are increasingly experiencing hateful rhetoric, that they are experiencing crimes against them because they are of Asian descent.

What have you been hearing from your community about what they have been experiencing when it comes to harassment and discrimination and violence?

PARK: So there's been a lot of concern with the Asian American community, particularly given the surge in violence and discrimination we have seen over this past year, a lot of it being driven by racist political rhetoric.

And I think that context is important, again, regardless of the motivation, given the concerns the community already has, in light of all the attacks that we have seen, particularly against Asian American women and the elderly.

I think this is a reminder in which we need to do everything that we possibly can to protect the most vulnerable among us.

KEILAR: There are certainly some actions that are being taken legislatively.

What else would you like to see? What do people need to know to make sure that people stay safe?

PARK: Particularly for Asian Americans who may be facing discrimination or hate or feel unsafe, make your voice heard. Reach out to your community members. Reach out to your elected officials, to law enforcement, and raise those concerns, so that we can do as much as we can to provide support, and hopefully prevent tragedies like this from happening moving forward.

KEILAR: Representative Sam Park, thank you for joining us today.

PARK: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: President Biden is making many headlines in an interview with ABC News today. I want to go through each of them before we discuss them, because there are quite a few.

So let's start with his take on the filibuster. Up until now, he's been opposed to getting rid of it, to maintain the rules of the Senate. But he now says maybe they should only preserve the talking version of the filibuster.


BIDEN: I don't think you have to eliminate the filibuster. You have to do it what it used to be when I got to the Senate and back in the old days when you used to be around there. And that is that, a filibuster, you had to stand up and command reform, and you had to keep talking on.

You couldn't call for a -- no one can say a quorum call. Once you stopped talking, you lost that, and someone could move in and say, I moved the question of. So you got to work for the filibuster.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You're for that reform? You're for bringing back the talking filibuster?

BIDEN: I am. That's what it was supposed to be.


KEILAR: Biden also dismissed suggestions that he is encouraging migrants to come to the U.S., as his administration struggles to process thousands of unaccompanied minors.


BIDEN: I can say quite clearly, don't come. We're in the process of getting set up. Don't leave your town or city or community.


KEILAR: And this was significant.

He weighed in on calls for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign, as investigations have begun into sexual harassment allegations against him and over his handling of COVID nursing home deaths.


STEPHANOPOULOS: If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?

BIDEN: Yes, I think he would probably end up being prosecuted too.

A woman should be presumed to telling the truth and should not be scapegoated and become victimized by her coming forward, number one. But there should be an investigation to determine whether what she says is true.


KEILAR: And on foreign policy, President Biden had tough words for Russia.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You know Vladimir Putin. Do you think he's a killer?

BIDEN: Mm-hmm. I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what price must he pay?

BIDEN: The price he's going to pay, well, you will see shortly.


KEILAR: He says there will be consequences for Russia's interference in the U.S. elections.


BIDEN: He will pay a price. We had a long talk, he and I. We have -- I know relatively well. And the conversation started off. I said: "I know you and me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared."


KEILAR: And this also stood out, Biden admitting it's going to be tough to meet former President Trump's timeline of getting all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by May 1. But he says his predecessor is partly to blame for this.


BIDEN: The failure to have an orderly transition from the Trump presidency to my presidency, which usually takes place from Election Day to the time you're sworn in, has cost me time and consequences. That's one of the issues we're talking about now in terms of Afghans.



KEILAR: Biden talked about his vice president, Kamala Harris. He said that, on these tough decisions, she is filling very much the same role that he did, as vice president to former President Obama.


BIDEN: I'd give my opinion. I was the last guy, and I get to leave. But he's all by himself to have to make that decision. That's the big difference. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Vice President Harris the last person in the room?

BIDEN: Most of the time, yes. As a practical matter, yes, she is.


KEILAR: And Biden made sure to encourage people to get their COVID vaccines, knocking down the idea that resisting it is somehow a badge of honor.


BIDEN: I honest to God thought that, once we guaranteed we had enough vaccine for everybody, things would start to calm down. Well, they have calmed down a great deal.

But I just don't understand this sort of macho thing about, I'm not going to get the vaccine, I have a right as an American, my freedom to not do it.

Well, why don't you be a patriot? Protect other people.


KEILAR: All right, a lot to talk about there.

We're joined now by CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash just to do that.

OK, let's talk first, Dana, about the filibuster, because this is the first time that we have heard President Biden being open to the idea of changing the filibuster rules. So, tell us what that would mean for the filibuster, effectively.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with what is the filibuster, because we have been hearing so much about it, where you and I talk about it as if it's second nature, but a lot of people understandably don't know its genesis.

George Washington said -- said to Thomas Jefferson that they should create the Senate to cool House legislation, like a saucer cools hot tea. But the notion of a filibuster is not in the Constitution. It's a practice of what is effectively endless debate that evolved and became more common as time went on.

Early on in American history, senators did not use endless debate very much to obstruct legislation they didn't like. It wasn't until the mid-1800s more and more senators began to talk legislation to death that they opposed.

It started happening so much in the mid-19th century that the term filibuster was born, derived from a Dutch word freebooter and the Spanish word filibusteros, who were pirates raiding a Caribbean island, but there was no mechanism, Bri, at all to overcome filibusters for the first century and a quarter of the U.S. Senate. KEILAR: Freebooter? Is that what you said, freebooter?

BASH: That's the word.

KEILAR: I wish that's what they called it, right? Then everyone would pay attention.


KEILAR: OK. So how and when did the Senate change the rules to get around this talking a bill to death?

BASH: It wasn't until 1917 that this happened. It was at the urging of a frustrated President Woodrow Wilson that the Senate adopted what is known as Rule 22, which allowed senators to vote to break a filibuster.

And it was and still is known, as you know, Brianna as invoking cloture. Here's a fun fact. The first time the new rule was used was to try to overcome a filibuster for the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

But, at first, the vote threshold was a supermajority. It was actually 67 votes. But that became too hard to reach. So, in 1975, it was brought down to the 60 votes that we have today.

KEILAR: That's very interesting.

And people look back, they look at the filibuster, they say it's a relic of Jim Crow. Explain that.

BASH: Because Southern senators really took advantage of the filibuster for years to block civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching bills.

You see Strom Thurmond there. In 1957, he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. That was the longest uninterrupted filibuster in Senate history. It wasn't until 1964 that senators finally overcame a filibuster to pass the landmark civil rights bill under President Lyndon Johnson's watch.

And you remember, Brianna, I think we're recovering the Senate at this time together in 2013. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, got so fed up with GOP obstruction of Obama nominees, he led a major change so that judicial nominees and executive branch nominees now only need a simple majority.

KEILAR: And you mentioned that Thurmond talked for more than 24 hours.

I think ever the filibuster or the freebooter or the filibusteros, which I love those words, we all are familiar with them from this behind you, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," where Jimmy Stewart just talked for a day straight until he was like crazy.

That's not done much anymore. I mean, occasionally, I remember, when I did cover the Hill with you, we'd see the cots rolled out overnight, very occasionally.

BASH: Yes.

KEILAR: And that is the part of reform that President Biden is now talking about, right?

BASH: That's right.

What's happened in recent years is that senators use the filibuster so much that the expectation is that legislation will need 60 votes to pass, so it's kind of baked in. And majority leaders tend to schedule that so-called cloture vote to overcome a 60-vote threshold right away.


The talking filibuster would actually be more of a change in practice than Senate rules, force senators to do what you're looking at here. This happened over the past 10 years or so. Rand Paul stood up and talked for like 13 hours about the use of military drone strikes. Ted Cruz filibustered Obamacare.

But so here is the thing. This is important. Experts that I talk to say that they don't really expect that the talking filibuster would do much to change obstruction. And here's why. Let's say Republicans are filibustering H.R.1, the voting rights legislation.

If they have 25 GOP senators or even 10 or five who want to talk and take turns going through the night and talking for days and days and days, they can. So the process would change, but the result may not, Bri.

KEILAR: Interesting.

Dana, that was quite the tutorial. I appreciate it. Dana Bash, thank you.

BASH: Thanks, Bri.

KEILAR: And next: The CDC says it may change its travel guidance for people who have been vaccinated, this as Disneyland and California announces plans to reopen.

Plus, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tries to downplay President Biden's achievements on the vaccine rollout. We will roll the tape.

And, later, new reports of migrant children not showering for days, taking turns sleeping in shifts because of a lack of space. An immigration attorney who is helping families at the border right now joins me live.



KEILAR: The happiest place on Earth is ready to reopen its doors.

Disneyland and its sister park, California Adventure, will end their yearlong closure and reopen on April 30. There will be limited capacity, but park officials say that more than 10,000 cast members will return to work.

Here are some other coronavirus headlines from our correspondents around the globe.



Today, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told Congress that vaccinated people may be getting some new advice about travel. Last week, the CDC said that people who have been vaccinated still should not travel, but she said that that may change. And she said the question about travel for vaccinated Americans is a key question.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Fred Pleitgen in Berlin, as the European Union has unveiled its plans for a green travel certificate or a vaccination passport.

Essentially, what this is supposed to do, it's supposed to give people who have been vaccinated the chance to travel within the European Union more freely, but it's not only for people who receive the vaccine, but also for folks who have a negative P.R. test or for people who have already had COVID-19 and therefore have antibodies.

Now, the European Union says it wants to get this project on the way by summer ready for the summer travel season.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm calling in an Ottawa, where Canadian public health officials say, despite European concerns, they are expanding the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine to include those over the age of 65.

Officials here say that they have seen the data, they believe that this vaccine is completely safe, and they are now recommending it for all adults over the age of 18. All of this comes as Canada's vaccine rollout continues to go slowly.

And that is of concern, as this country awaits to see whether or not it will have to go through a third wave of the pandemic. At issue now are those variants which continue to spread throughout the country. And, key, hospitalizations in some hot spots in Canada continue to rise.


KEILAR: Thank you to my colleagues for those reports.

President Biden says every American should be eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine by May 1. Even so, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor this week in an apparent effort to take the shine off of what could be the Biden administration's biggest achievement.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The president announced another supposedly audacious goal on Thursday, that all adults in all 50 states should be eligible to schedule vaccinations by May 1.

Here's the problem. Dr. Fauci said a month ago we'd be there by April. Quote: "I would imagine, by the time we get to April, that will be what I would call open season, namely, virtually everybody, and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated."

That was Dr. Fauci's prediction last month. So, the president's announcement of May 1 wasn't ambitious good news. It was actually a walk-back.


KEILAR: This is a stretch. We are talking about the projected date by which all Americans should be eligible to receive the vaccine, not vaccinated, to be clear.

Dr. Fauci said, "By April I would imagine." And Biden said May 1, which is technically one day after April. That is true. So Mitch McConnell is apparently upset over the difference between six weeks and two days from now vs. six weeks and three days from now, now, when only a couple of states have opened up vaccinations to adults of all ages, Alaska and Mississippi.

McConnell is accusing Biden of underpromising to over-reform. It is something that Biden arguably did with his transition promise of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office. By the time he entered office, the U.S. was already up to almost one million doses a day, so it turned out not to be too hard to hit.


But that's not what's happening here with Biden's projected date for when Americans will be eligible to receive a vaccine. Still, McConnell apparently wants Americans to believe that having enough vaccine to have all adults eligible for one by May 1 is not an achievement. He apparently is outraged over a timeline that has slid by a day.

But that would be very weird for McConnell, who has had no objections to a vaccine timeline that slid by months, when former President Trump promised it would arrive before the presidential election.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And a safe vaccine is coming very quickly. You're going to have it momentarily.

We're very close to that vaccine, as you know, and I think closer than most people want to say or certainly closer than most people understand.

We're on track to deliver and distribute the vaccine in a very, very safe and effective manner. We think we can start some time in October. So, as soon as it is announced, we will be able to start. That will be from mid-October on, maybe a little bit later than that.

What I said is by the end of the year, but I think it could even be sooner than that. It could be during the month of October, actually. Could be before November.

We're all set to distribute immediately. As soon as that vaccine comes out that is safe and good and works, whether it's Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson or anybody else, we are ready to distribute it very rapidly. As Scott said and as our team knows, and they're ready, and that could be on -- it could be in October, some time in October or November. I don't think it's going to be much later than that.

But I think it could be some time in October. We will be able to distribute at least 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020 and a large number much sooner than that.


KEILAR: By the end of 2020, about 2.8 million Americans had received a dose of the vaccine.

McConnell takes aim at the Biden administration for underpromising and overdelivering. He does, after all, seem to prefer overpromising and underdelivering. He stood by as former President Trump said this:


TRUMP: It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle. It will disappear.

We're prepared, and we're doing a great job with it, and it will go away. Just stay calm.

It's going to go away, hopefully at the end of the month, and, if not, it hopefully will be soon after that.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you said it was going to go away.

TRUMP: It will go away.

This is going to go away. And whether it comes back in a modified form in the fall, we will be able to handle it.

It's going to leave. It's going to be gone. It's going to be eradicated.

With or without a vaccine, it's going to pass and we're going to be back to normal.

This virus is going to disappear. The virus will disappear. It will disappear. Even without the vaccine, the pandemic is going to end. It's going to

run its course. It's going to end.



KEILAR: With the vaccine, the pandemic will obviously end sooner, if enough people choose to get it, as polls show conservatives are more reticent to get the shot.

Perhaps that is where Mitch McConnell could be training his efforts and his outrage. Instead of splitting hairs with the president, maybe McConnell could be convincing his own supporters who don't plan to get the vaccine at all, whether they are eligible for it on April 30 or May 1.

And next: A new U.S. intel report completely debunks the claim of former President Trump and his allies that China may have been to blame for attacks on the U.S. election.

Plus: President Biden says the Russian president is a killer. Details on what he says Putin will have to pay for.