Return to Transcripts main page


CDC Lowers Distance Guidelines for Schools from Six Feet to Three Feet; Trump Confidant Roger Stone Makes Appearances in New Court Filings; Some White House Staffers Asked to Resign over Past Marijuana Use. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 13:00   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: But also I think we're starting to get these metrics of what success looks like as well. Below ten per hundred thousand people would mean we want to see 30,000 cases per day in the country. Obviously, every community is different but that gives you an idea, John.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Sanjay Gupta, grateful, Dr. Gupta, for your insights after that important briefing. I'm grateful for your time today. Have a good weekend.

Don't go anywhere, a busy news day. Brianna Keilar picks up right now.

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

And moments ago, the White House COVID task force establishing the long awaited recommendations for reopening schools, the CDC is changing its guidance of staying at least six feet apart to staying at least three feet apart, specifically for children wearing masks in an elementary school classroom.

Now, this is a major development and it's happening as the average daily numbers of hospitalizations, new infections and deaths are stable or trending down while the number of those vaccinated keeps going up. But U.S. health policy leaders warn that was a -- that scenario was for several European countries who are now suffering a surge in cases amid the variants, and easing restrictions too soon. They are now returning to tighter mandates including in some cases a lockdown.

Now, the CDC director and other health officials urge that restrictions remain in place but at least 16 states now have no mask mandate and the TSA says its screeners just broke a pandemic record with more than 1.4 million people traveling through airports nationwide on Thursday.

There is though progress on vaccinations. President Biden marking today the 100 millionth dose administered since he's been in office, nearly two months ahead of the goal that he set. In total, more than 115 million vaccinations have been injected into arms, more than one in five in the U.S. have received at least one dose, and more than one in ten in the U.S. are fully vaccinated at 12.3 percent.

My next guest says that her coronavirus vaccination led to a surprising benefit. She believes that her Pfizer shot eased the symptoms that she's been suffering from long after she got sick. She considers herself a COVID long hauler. These, of course, are the survivors who suffer effects like overwhelming fatigue, brain fog, stomach problems, more than two months even after infection. Rebecca Neff is with us from Los Angeles.

And, Rebecca, we're so glad that you're feeling better. You say you were never tested since this was at the start of the pandemic and you couldn't get a test. That's the case for many people. You were extremely sick last March. What were you feeling like at the beginning and then what symptoms did not go away over the months?

REBECCA NEFF, SAYS LONG-HAUL SYMPTOMS SUBSIDED AFTER RECEIVING FIRST VACCINE: Well, for me, the biggest impact was brain fog, extreme fatigue, but I never had a fever. And one of the challenges that -- at that time, people were always looking for fever and I was basically told I could not get a test unless I felt like I was going to die and I should go to the hospital. And I thought, well, I feel pretty awful but I think I can get through this.

KEILAR: And, Rebecca, after you got your first Pfizer shot, tell us how you felt.

NEFF: Actually, it took about a day but the next day I woke up and my head was clear. I had not realized how foggy it was even on good days but it felt almost normal, like before I was sick. And I could focus, I could see, my sinuses cleared up. It was wonderful. And also the fatigue lifted. That was a big thing. It's hard to describe the crushing fatigue that you feel all the time.

KEILAR: Have you talked to your doctor about this? I mean, what have you been told?

NEFF: Well, that's perhaps another story but I've had seven insurance plans over the last five years. I don't really have a doctor. I've been doing contract work which took me to three different states. And I know this is typical of a lot of Americans but when you don't have a doctor relationship or you have high deductibles and other things, you don't have someone to call. So, no, I didn't.

KEILAR: So, no, you haven't been able to get information on that. Have you been able to get the second dose?

NEFF: Not yet. I had my first dose a week ago, Monday, and I still feel pretty good. And so in another two to three weeks, I will hopefully get the second one and I got the Pfizer, so I'm very happy.

KEILAR: And you got the Pfizer. Well, Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us. We're so glad that you're feeling better. Obviously, you know, this is a really fascinating development you've experienced that we know medical professionals and public health experts will be looking into as we try to learn more about coronavirus. Thanks for being with us.

NEFF: Thank you.


KEILAR: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have just arrived in the Atlanta area where they will meet with Asian- American leaders as fear and frustration grip the community reeling from a horrific shooting at three area spas that killed eight people, six of them Asian women.

Investigators are piecing together the exact movements and motive of suspect Robert Aaron Long. Police say he's claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack, and now calls are growing for Long to face hate crime charges.

CNN's Natasha Chen is following all of this for us. And, Natasha, we're getting some new information about some of the victims. Can you share that with us?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. So Atlanta Police -- I'm sorry, Fulton County medical examiner released the names of the four people who were killed in the city of Atlanta at two different spas. And I want to go over their names briefly here. 74- year-old Soon C. Park, 51-year-old Hyun J. Grant, 69-year-old Suncha Kim, and 63-year-old Yong A. Yue.

That's in addition to the four people who were killed here at a spa location in Cherokee County. Of the four people here, that's 33-year- old Delaina Yaun, 54-year-old Paul Andres Michels, 49-year-old Xiaojie Tan, and 44-year-old Daoyou Feng.

And I want to mention that we did -- CNN did speak with the husband of Delaina Yaun, who was killed here in Cherokee County. And it was a very difficult -- obviously a difficult conversation, an interview that was held in Spanish. He said that he and his wife had gone to the spa for a massage that they were happy that she had just come from work and, of course, did not expect this. He said about an hour in almost at the end, he started to hear shots and he started to think that it might have been in the room where his wife was.

So very emotional, all these families right now just reeling from the trauma of this, and also dealing with why this happened.

And, of course, the community is asking questions, as you mentioned, the majority of the victims were women and six of the seven women were Asian. And so the question is how is this being handled? Will it be considered a hate crime? That's something investigators are looking into.

Here's someone we talked to about the way that the suspect has been described and treated, especially during a press conference when the spokesperson here at the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said that he had, you know, been at the end of his rope, that the suspect had a bad day. Here is the reaction from someone who came to honor victims at one of the spa locations. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARYA HARRIS, LIVES NEAR SPA IN CHEROKEE COUNTY: As a Muslim American, we face terrorism, like people telling us we're terrorists and, you know, we've gone through those difficult times and people -- like it's not fair for people to blame -- sorry. It's very hard to go through this. People treat people of color in such a different way. And then for someone to say just because he was white, he was having a bad day, how is that okay?


CHEN: Yes. And so, you know, this is a difficult moment for people to experience, a lot of emotions from the community reacting to this, Brianna.

KEILAR: And the suspect's church is speaking out, Natasha?

CHEN: That's right. The suspect's church spoke out, issued a statement really condemning the acts, saying that there is absolutely no blame here to be placed on the victims here, that this is entirely the act of Mr. Long who is actually now here in custody at the detention center behind us in Cherokee County, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Natasha, thank you for that, live for us from Georgia.

Some White House staffers asked to resign or work remotely after revealing their past marijuana use. Hear why.

Plus, George W. Bush says in a rare interview that the insurrection made him sick to his stomach. Hear that.

And China and the U.S. are trading barbs as the Biden administration gets aggressive with America's foes, the stunning battle caught on camera.



KEILAR: Roger Stone, the long time adviser to former President Donald Trump, has not been charged in the Capitol riots but Trump pardoned stone just two weeks before the insurrection and his name keeps popping up in court filings against members of a right-wing paramilitary group charged for their alleged role in the Capitol siege.

CNN's Whitney Wild has the details.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, former President Donald Trump's political confidant, Roger Stone, made cameos in two court filings Thursday related to alleged Oath Keepers, who were accused of participating in the Capitol riot.

In one filing, prosecutors included a photo showing two alleged Oath Keepers standing next to Stone in an event to promote his books.

In another court filing, prosecutors say, two others discussed via text message providing security to Stone in Washington around January 6th.

The relationship between Stone and the Oath Keepers has become a recurring theme in the Capitol riot court cases though he has denied knowing of any plans to storm the Capitol or commit crimes. Brianna?

KEILAR: Whitney Wild, thank you.

Former President George W. Bush is breaking his silence on the Capitol riot and weighing in on a number of divisive issues facing the country and the Republican Party. In a rare on-camera interview, the 43rd president also talked openly about how far on some issues the Republican Party has drifted from the Bush brand of being a compassionate conservative.


In his first on-camera comments since the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th, the former president talked candidly about his emotional reaction to the riot and false claims that the election was stolen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I was disgusted. I can't remember what I was doing. But I remember feeling a sense of -- I was sick to my stomach. And then to see our nation's Capitol being stormed by hostile forces, and it really disturbed me to the point where I did put out a statement. And I'm still disturbed when I think about it. It undermines rule of law and, you know, the ability to express yourself in peaceful ways in the public square. This was an expression that was not peaceful.

EVAN SMITH, CEO, TEXAS TRIBUNE: You are a lifelong Republican. You and your family have been stalwarts in the party. Your point of view matters. I need to ask you directly and simply, do you believe the election was legitimately conducted or if there was any taint whatsoever to the outcome?

BUSH: I think the election -- all elections have some kind of improprieties. I think this election, the results of this election though were confirmed when Joe Biden got inaugurated as president.

SMITH: Well, Mr. President, with respect, you didn't really answer the question. Was the election stolen or not?


SMITH: No, okay. Well, that's an important thing to say and I appreciate the fact that you're willing to say it, sir, thank you.

Did you believe our own government, in any way, was putting our democracy at risk? BUSH: No. I think what's putting democracy at risk is the capacity of people to get on the internet and spread all kinds of stuff. But democracy -- checks and balances work. It's a -- you know, it's a balanced system and the courts work. You know, the legislative process needs a little work, particularly like on immigration reform. But it's -- no, I thought the system worked fine.


KEILAR: Evan Smith is the CEO of the Texas Tribune, and you'll recognize him because he conducted that interview with former President Bush.

Evan, what did you think about how candid he was? I mean, this, I guess, is the post-presidency, right?

SMITH: Well, I never expected President Bush to be as specific as he was on some of those answers. You know, the interview was mostly about his new book, which is on immigration policy, and that part of the conversation, he actually broke from Republicans in saying he believed there should be a path to citizenship for people who are undocumented in this country and he acknowledged that a book coming out at this point about immigration might be seen as a rebuke of the past four years.

But when we got into the meat of the conversation about the democracy we live in, about the election, about the insurrection and all that, I actually thought he felt like a guy off the leash, a guy who didn't feel like he had any reason to be constrained, saying what he believed. President Bush, back when he was Governor Bush, when we knew him in Texas, was a fairly candid guy in moments like this and I think at this point he's free to say what he wants and he's not running for office, doesn't care what people think and, you know, so we got the unvarnished Bush in this interview, Brianna.

KEILAR: I really appreciated that you pinned him down on your question about Joe Biden being president, and I wonder what you think, you know, knowing him and covering him, I wonder what you think about his initial answer and sort of having to pin him down on that.

SMITH: Well, I mean, look, you ask a question, you expect an answer. I don't care if it's a guy on the street or the president of the United States. If you're a journalist, the job that you have is to ask a question and to get an answer and to press if the answer doesn't come the first time, as many times as necessary.

I read the statement that the president put out at the time of the election and at the time of the inauguration and he absolutely did say he believed that Joe Biden was president, there was no question about that. But we have been treated, Brianna, to a procession of Republican officials over the last few months who continue to refuse to say whether the election was actually legitimate. And there's nothing that we can conclude other than the fact that they believe the election was stolen, because if they didn't think that, then they would say so.

There has been a Quinnipiac poll in the last few weeks that shows three out of four Republicans and one out of four independents still believe there was a taint on this election. For the health of our democracy, it was important to pin the former president down. He was one of fewer than 50 people to hold that office. He's one of five former living presidents, his point of view, as I said, matters.

KEILAR: And he's in this no man's land, I think, that some Republicans who have not gone the way of Trump are. And as you mentioned, the reason you were talking to him was because of this new book that has come out. A lot of us are aware that he's taken up painting in force after the presidency and this is one that features stories and portraits of immigrants.

We have to remember that he is someone who tried to push immigration reform through Congress, he failed narrowly.


But let's -- I want to listen to some of this interview of what he had to say about this.


BUSH: I was deeply concerned about the rhetoric around immigration. And it's been an issue that I've thought about for a long time. As a matter of fact, when I was president, I tried to get the Congress to reform a broken immigration system.

And so I thought it was appropriate to basically say to American people, let's refocus our attention on immigration in a way that understands the contributions immigrants make to our society. Not only do I think immigrants renew our soul and bring our spirit to our country but also it helps our economy.

One of the problems is immigration has become overly politicized and it's really a rebuke of Congress' inability to come together to get something done on immigration.

SMITH: But we have seen in recent years is a demonizing of immigrants as the other, of immigration as a drag on our economy, and a threat to our security. What do you think of that?

BUSH: I disagree with that.


KEILAR: You know, it's exactly to your point, Evan. He's showing immigrants as human beings, which isn't something that we saw a whole lot of coming from Republicans in the last four years. I wonder how you think he thinks of his role in what is really an immigration crisis right now and even just how this nation views immigrants.

SMITH: Well, I think he obviously believes he can be a positive contributor to the conversation, whether it's through interviews like this or through his book. His position, as you point out, has been pretty consistent, 15 years ago, he tried to pass something like he advocates for in the book and was unsuccessful in doing it. Look, Brianna, one of the things about the politics of our moment right now and the Republican Party, which George Bush and his family have been members of for a very long time, is the landscape has shifted. I don't know that George W. Bush could get through a Republican primary in Texas today with policies like the ones he's advocated for. I think people have memories of President Bush as president and think about him as the definition of someone who they considered to be conservative but the definition of conservative has changed.

And so I think he feels like he can play a role but I also think he understands the political realities on the ground. He was a pretty smart political tactician. Whatever else you said about President Bush when he was in office, he understood the politics of the moment he was in and the politics of the moment we're in right now. Very hard for the position he takes to be the mainstream position of this Republican Party.

KEILAR: Yes. And I try to imagine any number of Republicans signing on to that immigration effort of his too as well. Evan, great interview, thank you so much, Evan Smith, for being with us and sharing it with us.

Some White House staffers asked to resign or work remotely after revealing their past marijuana use. Hear why.

Plus, how did President Biden feel about his secretary of state's tense meeting with china, the one that was caught on cameras? We'll have that next.

And we'll roll the tape on other infamous challenges after Vladimir Putin challenges Biden to a live debate.



KEILAR: Although recreational marijuana use is now legal in at least 14 states and the District of Columbia, the Biden White House is weeding out dozens of staffers who have admitted to past pot use even though some say they were informally told it would be overlooked.

CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins has more on this. So, Kaitlan, help us understand this. If a staffer comes from a state where recreational marijuana is legal, what for them? Anything different?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, no, nothing different, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are going to get a pass on these security clearance forms that White House staffers often have to fill out as they are getting background checks. Of course, that was a big thing that we talked about during the Trump administration, and that's because these background checks help make sure that a federal government employee cannot be blackmailed, for example. And so often staffers when they're applying and have to go through this are pretty detailed about past drug use so they can be upfront about it. And when they were, now they are not being granted these clearances or they are being fired from their jobs.

The White House has said only five people have been permanently fired from their positions because of what they have said on their background checks. But White House press secretary said in a statement that there were other factors at play, and many of these cases of those five who were fired. But there are other staffers who say they have been either suspended or they are now being told to work remotely because they were honest about their past marijuana use on these background clearance forms.

And so that's been the big question here and the White House says -- the Biden White House, we should note, says that they did work to make this a more lenient policy, so if you do say on a background clearance form that you have used marijuana in the past, that it doesn't automatically disqualify you from the job. And there are cases where they are essentially going on a case by case basis as they are evaluating these people to get granted top secret security clearances.


And so a lot of that has to do with whether or not they are committing to taking a drug test now that they work for the federal government.