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Biden, Harris to Visit Georgia Today After Deadly Shooting Rampage; Investigators Still Too Early to Know Motive in Spa Shootings; Interview with State Representative Bee Nguyen (D-GA) about Hate Crimes in America; Joe Biden: U.S. on Track to Hit Goal of 100 Million Vaccinations Today; CDC Expected to Update Guidance on Physical Distancing in Schools; Tensions Flare in First High-Level Talks Between Biden Team and China. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Friday morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're so glad you're with us.

This morning, fears of anti-Asian violence are gripping communities across the country. Now President Biden and Vice President Harris are headed to Georgia, the scene of the violent shooting spree that left eight people dead, including six Asian women.

It is the first time that they will be in the battleground state since taking office. Their trip was originally billed as part of their tour to sell the American rescue plan, stimulus, but the political portion of it is now scrapped and the focus now is mourning those lost while meeting with leaders in the Asian American community.

SCIUTTO: We're going to be covering all the angles of the president's trip, as well as any new developments in the investigation into the shootings. But also this today, because it's a big day in the fight against COVID-19, the Biden administration is set to exceed its goal of 100 million vaccinations in the president's first 100 days in office. Forty-two days earlier than promised.

And a potential game-changer for children in classrooms. The CDC is set to cut its recommendation for physical distancing from six feet to three feet for in-person learning. Makes a big difference for schools, how much space they need to reopen.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is traveling with the president to Atlanta this morning. Natasha Chen following the investigation into these shootings.

Jeff, to begin with you, tell us what the president plans to do today and how much this trip has changed from its original intent.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden, Vice President Harris will be coming to Atlanta, as you said, and they were planning to tout the benefits of the COVID relief bill, really explaining everything that is in the bill and how it can help Georgians. Of course coming to Georgia because it was a key part of their election victory, and more importantly, a key part of Democrats winning the Senate majority that allowed this American Rescue Plan to even be passed.

But they are postponing a rally that was planned here and they are instead having a meeting with Asian American community leaders here. Hearing their frustration. Trying to console these leaders about -- you know, in the wake of the shootings here this week. But interestingly, the White House has stopped well short of calling these hate crimes. And that is the issue here directly.

So that is what President Biden will be confronted with when he meets with community leaders who believe this is a hate crime. There's a new formed group here that released a statement yesterday of Korean American business leaders who said, look, there's no question this is a hate crime. So that is one thing that President Biden will be confronted with. He'll be making remarks after he has that meeting. But also on the agenda, he's stopping by the CDC.

Of course this is a day the Biden administration wants to highlight the fact that they are reaching a goal early on the 58th day of the presidency, of 100 million shots given out. And, you know, that is something that they are also highlighting as well as voting reform. There's a meeting with Stacey Abrams here later today. Of course, voting reform front and center here in Georgia. Republican legislators trying to roll back some of those voting rights that helped the president win the White House in the first place.

So, you know, front and center here in Georgia, those voting rights. So all of these issues on the president's plate. But first and foremost, you know, he's going to be playing this role as consoler-in- chief here as he comes to Atlanta in the wake of these tragic shootings -- Jim.

HARLOW: A role he knows well. Jeff, thank you.

Natasha, to you, the Atlanta Police Department is releasing new details about the shooting. What more are you learning?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm here, Poppy, at the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office where the flags behind us are at half-staff as ordered by President Biden to honor the victims. As you mentioned the Atlanta Police Department has released an incident report and it just shows how brutal this attack was. The report shows that two of the people killed were shot in the face. One of them shot in the head. Four total people killed in Atlanta were Asian women, and police say they have not -- they are not releasing names right now because they're still trying to reach next of kin.

But here in Cherokee County, the names of the four people killed at the spa location here, they have been released. Here they are. Delaina Yaun, 33 years old, 54-year-old Paul Andre Michels, 49-year-old Xiaojie Tan, and 44-year-old Daoyou Feng.


So this is a grieving community right now. The Cherokee County District Attorney's Office released a statement saying that they will be meeting with the impacted families. The district attorney saying that she recognizes the terror in the Asian American community right now and that they'll work to bring justice for the victims here.

Now at the same time, we are dealing with a situation, the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office where the spokesperson, Captain Jay Baker, came under fire for comments he made earlier in the week at a press conference describing the suspect as having had a bad day. And this is what happened. He has now been removed from that -- serving that role just for this case. He is still with the sheriff's office. The sheriff released a statement, too, saying that Baker's words were not intended to disrespect the victims here or the tragedy of the situation -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Natasha, thank you for that reporting. And Jeff, to you as well. We'll be watching the president and the vice president throughout the day there.

Throughout this pandemic, nearly 3800 hate incidents have been reported between March of last year and last month against Asians specifically. This is according to Stop AAPI Hate. Women were targeted 68 percent of the time. So overwhelmingly. One of the state lawmakers meeting with the president and the vice president today is Bee Nguyen. She joins me now.

Good morning. It's nice to have you back. It's important to have you back. It's horrible that it's under these circumstances. You were just with us last week. You know, I was struck with your comments about what you describe as the vulnerability, the invisibility and the isolation of working class Asian women in America right now.

What will you tell the vice president and the president, your community, your city need?

BEE NGUYEN (D), GEORGIA STATE HOUSE: Well, you know, I think it is important to highlight that because here in this country, Asian Americans have always been propped up as the model minority. And that, we know, is a myth. And in preaching that myth forward, we leave behind working class Asians and Asian women who are specifically vulnerable, such as the women who died in this shooting.

You know, as far as we know so far, law enforcement in Atlanta, they have not even been able to contact their next of kin. We do know, however, through a gofundme and through various media sources that one of the women killed was a single mother of two boys that have been left behind. Her son has told us that he has not been contacted by law enforcement. That he was very close to his mother. That she loved sushi. She loved dancing.

And here he is trying to grapple with what happened. It is a horrible and horrific tragedy and we ought to be centering people like him and the women who died. HARLOW: You know, it's the first thought I had, Representative, were

they mothers? And here's still so much we need to know. We don't even have that reporting that you just mentioned, but your heart breaks over that.

Given all of this, I wonder what you think of the FBI Director Christopher Wray saying yesterday that the massacre does not, in his view, appear to be racially motivated. What did you think when you heard that?

NGUYEN: Well, when you think about whether or not this crime is racially motivated, you cannot simply take the word of the suspect in custody. You have to take into the context, the history of Asians living in this country, as well as present day. And one of those things that is being under looked is the fact that you cannot divorce racism and gender-based violence and misogyny. And the hyper- sexualization of Asian women, the sexual exploitation of Asian women, those are all very relevant in this case.

Under the hate crimes law passed in Georgia, gender and sex are protected class. And we have that. We know that he targeted three Asian businesses. He drove 40 minutes between those businesses and along the way, and we know this area well, there are other adult entertainment businesses that are black and white and he chose not to go to any of them. He specifically chose these two businesses and, as a result, six Asian women are dead.

Under the hate crimes law, both from a racial and gender perspective, I believe it is a hate crime.

HARLOW: Does the Biden White House need to call it a hate crime? You're going to meet with them today.


NGUYEN: I believe they ought to investigate it as a hate crime, and they ought to listen to the Asian people living in Georgia and to the community as a whole because we are the ones asking this to be considered a hate crime and to be investigated as one.

HARLOW: So let me just finally get your take on this. What happened yesterday in a preplanned House hearing on anti-Asian violence in this country? Listen to this first from Republican Congressman Chip Roy of Texas.


REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): I'm not going to be ashamed of saying I oppose the Chi-Com. I oppose the Chinese Communist Party. And when we say things like that and we're talking about that, we shouldn't be worried about having a committee of members of Congress policing our rhetoric because some evildoers go engage in some evil activity as occurred in Atlanta, Georgia.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: And then Congressman Rodney Davis told CNN he doesn't believe that public figures using words like China virus or kung flu are connected at all to the dramatic rise in anti-Asian violence. He said this is all just political correctness. What do you say?

NGUYEN: Rhetoric matters. And we know that since the beginning of the pandemic, we've been in this for a year now, the increase in hate crimes against AAIP is 150 percent. And of those victims, 68 percent are Asian women. And that messaging came directly from the president, the former president. And he gave permission for other leaders and elected officials to use language such as that.

And it is also important to note the law enforcement officer in Cherokee who offered a more sympathetic narrative related to the suspect in custody, he was selling T-shirts with the word China virus on it and making a profit off of that.

HARLOW: I'm sorry that we lost your shot at the end of the interview, Representative, but we heard every word. Thank you very much. And now we have your shot back.

Thank you for being with us today. It's a big day. I know you're headed to meet with the president and the vice president.

Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen, thank you.

NGUYEN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Still to come, the CDC is expected to update guidelines on how far apart children need to be in schools, cutting it in half. That's big news. What's it going to mean for students, ahead.

SCIUTTO: Plus, talks at a high level between U.S. and Chinese officials are off to a fiery confrontational start. What does this signal for hopes of a reset?

And we're live at a detention center in Texas where hundreds of teenage migrants are now being held. This amid a new wave of children arriving unaccompanied at the border.



POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: President Biden says today the United States will hit his administration's target of getting 100 million vaccine doses administered within his first 100 days. Except --


HARLOW: Jim, it's not day 100. It's day 58. So, it's way ahead of schedule.

SCIUTTO: Listen, it's enormous progress in a short period of time and it's good news for everyone, really. The president's announcement comes ahead of a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Today, the agency is expected --and this is key, to update its guidance on physical distancing in schools, reducing the recommended distance from 6 feet to 3 feet apart, cutting it in half. Joining us now to discuss the headlines, these developments, Dr. Ashish Jha; dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Jha, good to have you back. Can you explain --

ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Good morning, thanks for having me back.

SCIUTTO: Could you explain the science and the data here that leads to this change in recommendation. I mean, because we've -- you know, we're a year into this pandemic. Why now, and why are they confident in this?

JHA: Yes, so thanks again for having me back. I mean, the bottom line is that there was never a very good evidence for doing it at 6 feet. Not if kids are masked up, not if there's at least a reasonable amount of ventilation within the school. And now we have emerging studies that show that when schools opened up with a 3 feet rule, they did not see any increased risk of infection over schools that opened up with 6 feet. And of course, it makes an enormous difference. Because if you do 6 feet, you largely can't get all the kids back this Spring, probably can't get kids back next year. So there's a lot of reasons to go to 3 feet. The biggest one is, there's no evidence that 6 feet is any safer.

HARLOW: It's great news. I mean, I just think that this is going to be a game-changer for so many parents, doctor. When it comes to the vaccination of children, it was just interesting what Dr. Fauci said that essentially to reach herd immunity, children are going to need to be vaccinated. This brings up a question that I remember asking our kids' school like -- at the beginning of this. Are you going to mandate children be vaccinated? I know it's sort of legally dicey to be able to do that in all public school systems, but what do you think?

JHA: Yes, so we do mandate vaccines, right, I mean, that's not a --

HARLOW: But not all of them --

JHA: That's not a new concept --

HARLOW: Not a flu shot, right?

JHA: I'm sorry?

HARLOW: But not all of them, not a flu shot. So there are some vaccines --

JHA: Not a flu --

HARLOW: That are mandated but not all.

JHA: Right, exactly. So I think -- well, first and foremost, we've got to make sure that we test these vaccines in kids -- HARLOW: Yes --


JHA: And make sure they're safe and effective. I think we'll have that data, for some kids probably by the end of the Summer, other kids later in the Fall. My take is given how much of an impact COVID has had on our society, assuming that these vaccines are as safe in kids as they are in adults, I can totally imagine school districts mandating this. It's going to be a really important part of keeping schools even safer. So, yes, I do think that this will happen, it may not happen everywhere. We just got to make sure that it's safe in kids before we obviously do that.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Jha, just back for a moment to the 3 feet, 6 feet thing because we're still told outside of schools to keep 6 feet for social distancing. Does this change that guidance, and are you saying there was no data to make that the magic number?

JHA: Yes, so the 6 feet comes from a mental model that has two elements. One is that it assumes that a lot of the spread is through droplets, through cough and spit and those kinds of things, and not so much the aerosol, the breathing. The second is, it assumes that people are not masked up. You know, what we have seen in hospitals and other places across the country over the last year is, we don't have 6 feet rules in hospitals and we have not seen big outbreaks because everybody is masked up. So, rule number one is masking. Once you have masking, it becomes much safer. And again, we just haven't seen any evidence that 6 feet is safer --

SCIUTTO: Right --

JHA: Than 3, if people are masked up --

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's a big difference, yes.

HARLOW: Jim, I didn't think about that. I mean, that's a great point. Does this change the game entirely? I guess final question is just how encouraging is it that you've got today, at 58 days into this administration, a 100 million Americans will have at least one vaccine dose?

JHA: I think it's terrific. And what I would like, and I think is doable is I'd like to get us to 200 million by that 100-day mark. That gives us 42 days to get an additional 100 million --


JHA: I think we can do it and that's what we should be pushing for.

SCIUTTO: Wow. That would be enormous. Let's hope so. Let's hope so. I'm rooting for it. Dr. Ashish Jha, thanks very much.

JHA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, after a tense, really an extremely tense first meeting, U.S. and Chinese officials are set to have another face-to- face today. And if the first encounter was any indicator, things could get interesting. It was fiery.



HARLOW: This is not great to see, off to a very fiery start. U.S. and Chinese officials clashing immediately in their first face-to-face high-level talks since President Biden took office. A short photo op ahead of two days of meetings in Alaska spiraling into a tense back- and-forth series of heated rebukes.

SCIUTTO: This was unusual, to say the least. As CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us now from the State Department. Kylie, I've been inside meetings like this at this level. And at least when the press is around, they tend to avoid heated exchanges like this, but that didn't happen yesterday. How is the Biden administration reacting?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, it didn't happen at all. I mean, I think people are a bit surprised, to say the least, that this unfolded, particularly, given it's the first U.S.- China face-to-face meeting of the Biden administration. But this is how it happened, Secretary Blinken delivered his opening remarks on behalf of the Biden administration. He gave some pointed remarks with regard to what the Chinese officials could expect from the U.S. during these discussions. Let's listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: We'll also discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion toward our allies. The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all, and that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us.


ATWOOD: So after that, the Chinese officials had their turn to deliver their opening remarks. They went for far longer than the U.S. side did, and they essentially claimed that the U.S. was being hypocritical. They then went aggressively after things that were happening in the United States. Divisions in U.S. society. Black Lives Matter protesters. Accusing the U.S. of being champions of cyber attacks. And so after that happened, Secretary of State Tony Blinken told the cameras to stay in the room. He wanted to say something in response to what the Chinese had just said. And he essentially said, you know, listen, the United States isn't perfect. We are consistently seeking to be a more perfect union, but we work through our differences and we do so in the public -- in the public eye, in front of everyone.

You know, and then the cameras left the room. They were then invited back into the room just two minutes later. The Chinese officials wanted their turn at a rebuttal. And this is just, you know, demonstrative of, as you said, Jim, it's bizarre. This doesn't normally happen, but the Chinese officials then said the U.S. was being condescending in tone, and they wanted to make their point to the U.S. officials on camera. So this was quite an extraordinary exchange to launch this really important series of meetings.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and then the question going forward, what does it mean for future cooperation here? The Biden administration certainly wants to talk about for instance, climate change. We'll see the effect. Kylie Atwood, good to have you on the story. Thanks very much. Well, this morning, the FBI is now asking for the public's help in identifying ten suspects after releasing new video of the violence at the January 6th insurrection. The footage is graphic. It shows rioters attacking Capitol police officers violently. The new video comes a day after Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned that domestic violent extremism in this country.