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Some White House Staffers Asked to Resign Over Past Marijuana Use; CNN's "The Human Cost of COVID" Airs Tomorrow Night at 9:00 Eastern; Gary Locke, Former U.S. Ambassador to China, Discusses Biden Locking Horns with Russia & China, Insults Flying; Putin's Challenge for Biden to Debate is Hardly History's First. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 13:30   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And there are cases where they're simply going on a case-by-case basis as they are evaluating these people to get granted top-secret security clearances.

So a lot of that has to do with whether or not they are committed to taking a drug test now that they would work for the federal government.

If they would say they would not take or use marijuana any further going forward now that they are in these jobs. So that's the question going forward.

But there are other staffers who are saying that, yes, this is affecting their day-to-day work as a result of this. Though the White House says only five have actually been fired because of it.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Interesting. I don't know. I suspect more people will be dishonest on these forms going forward, just hoping they don't get caught in the process. So we'll see.

Kaitlan, thank you so much. Very interesting story out of the White House.

President Biden responding to Vladimir Putin's challenging Joe Biden to a debate. We'll roll the tape on other infamous political challenges.

Plus, in Texas, police say a man stabbed a restaurant manager over his mask policy.



KEILAR: Over the last year, the pandemic has changed life as we know it. Nearly 540,000 people have died in this country. The emotional toll this has taken on the U.S. may be hard to fully comprehend.

My colleague, Miguel Marquez, is hosting a new CNN special report called "THE HUMAN COST OF COVID," and it's going to air tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

So, Miguel, let's together watch a preview here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're still, in this community, a lot of vaccine hesitancy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't have buy-in locally yet from the Latino community and certainly not from the Caucasian community either.

MIQUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Because they think the safety of it is not there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not only is it safe. It's do I actually need it?

DORA PRICE, JOHN'S SISTER: I'm not telling anybody not to go get vaccinated because that would be irresponsible. I'm just saying I don't plan to.

MARQUEZ: So there's a lot of different myths. One of them is, well, is this some kind of a tracking device.

You've heard that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes, yes. Does it make you infertile?

MARQUEZ: Do you think the vaccine is actually a vaccine?

PRICE: No. I don't want it.

MARQUEZ: What do you think it is?

PRICE: Well, yes, it's a vaccine but I don't think people have tested it enough. And I don't think people know what really is in it.


MARQUEZ: In the vaccine, do you think there's a tracking device or --


PRICE: At one point, it will be that.


KEILAR: Miguel, that is so illuminating to hear what people think, erroneously.

So you spoke to a lot of people who are wary of getting the COVID vaccine in Georgia. Tell us more about what they told you. MARQUEZ: Yes. Look, this -- so we focus on Dalton, Georgia. This is

kind of a big town, a small city in north Georgia. It's emblematic of what the country went through.

We are PTSD America. A PTSD world right now. Over a half million people dead, 30 million people have contracted it in this country alone. It's almost impossible to put that into perspective.

So we focus on one town with a great help of Jim Murphy, who is the executive producer, and Michelle Rocha, who found this place.

It's the flooring capital of the world. There's a big Latino population there. Georgia has a big African-American populations. It's a very conservative county. It's a very religious county.

All those things sort of -- that the country was dealing with, this just unbelievable grief and then the fear, the distrust, the conspiracy, all of that wrapped up into this one little place.

So it was very illuminating. Tough to do.

After talking about this and dealing with this for over a year now, really, really hard to take a look at this place and talk to people and hear these stories. But very, very worth doing as well -- Brianna?

KEILAR: It's certainly worth doing, Miguel. We appreciate you sharing it with us.

I want to remind out viewers again that Miquel's special report tonight, the CNN -- this is "THE HUMAN COST OF COVID." That's going to be airing tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern. I know I will be watching.

Moments from now, President Biden and Vice President Harris will meet with Asian-Americans in Atlanta after the horrific attacks there.

Plus, they'll visit the CDC as experts are warning of a looming surge.


Plus, just in, as prosecutors escalate their investigation of Donald Trump and his finances, his former fixer just met with investigators for the eighth time.


KEILAR: After bluntly referring to Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a "killer," the Biden administration is now talking tough with China as well.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken got things off to a fiery start in the first official meeting between U.S. and Chinese diplomats since Biden was elected.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We'll also discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States, economic coercion towards 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.


KEILAR: A short time ago, President Biden reacted to Blinken's comments and whether he plans to speak with Putin.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What's your reaction to China last night?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very proud of the secretary of state.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you going to take Vladimir Putin up on his offer to talk live with you?

BIDEN: I'm sure we'll talk at some point.


KEILAR: Joining me now is Gary Locke, the former ambassador to China during the Obama administration, also the former commerce secretary.

Ambassador Locke, as you are looking at what we've seen here, this first sit-down between China and the U.S. for the Biden administration, maybe you can illuminate for us how China sees this.

Especially, you know, there have been -- there was a moment here where, even as the U.S. is calling out China on human rights, China sort of throws it right back at the U.S., talking about Black Lives Matter and the treatment of Black Lives Matter folks.


How does China view this sort of, I guess, aggressive push out of the gate by the U.S.?

GARY LOCKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA & FORMER COMMERCE SECRETARY: Well, I think they're used to it. Certainly, not unexpected. Perhaps a little bit colder and more testy than they might have expected.

But they were -- they knew that the United States was going to be raising these very deep-seated, long-standing issues between the United States and China, covering not just trade and the trade war, intellectual property, but especially human rights.

That's a subject matter they're very, very sensitive to because they think it's other countries meddling in their internal affairs. And they're trying to push back and say, basically, who are you, the

United States, to lecture us on human rights and civil rights and so forth when you have your own problems?

So they're feeling their strength. They're feeling their economic rebound. Their country has really come back. Life is almost back to normal in China.

Whereas, here in the United States, we're still struggling with the coronavirus. And our economy is still in tatters. Although, it's also rebounding.

So China's feeling a bit of strength and confidence. But they also want a close relationship with the United States. And so they're hoping that these talks will kind of set -- reset the relationship.

But the United States is being very, very firm in saying, no, we have some very, very deep-seated concerns over many, many issues.

KEILAR: And, you know, the former President, Donald Trump, really took an aim at Joe Biden, painting him throughout the campaign as soft on China.

When it -- I wonder how much that either forced, in your view, if at all, the Biden administration to take a tough stance or even liberated the Biden administration to take a tough stance on China. What do you think?

LOCKE: No, I think that the Biden administration has also shared these concerns.

And many of the people, whether it's Antony Blinken or Jake Sullivan and the folks in the National Security Council, or even the diplomatic security agencies have long had deep concerns about China's practices.

So it's been building for quite some time.

KEILAR: It's not just Russia that the U.S. is being aggressive with out of the gate. And it wasn't just Tony Blinken either.

It was after North Korea criticized the U.S. and South Korea for resuming military drills that were paused due to COVID, the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, warned that American forces are ready to fight tonight.

What are the ramifications of those comments?

LOCKE: I think what you're seeing is the United States trying to present a more unified, consistent message of strength, of resolve, but at the same time, saying we want to work diplomatically with other nations.

And quite frankly, with respect to the trade war with China, while the concerns were legitimate under the Trump administration, reflecting deep and long-standing concerns by American businesses and government over the trade and economic policies of China, the strategy was wrong. And what you're going to see under a Biden administration, on many other issues, is enlisting the support and the collaboration of our allies so that we present a united front.

KEILAR: I wanted to ask you, while I have you, at this moment that we're in, with the attacks that we saw in Atlanta, that have highlighted anti-Asian, anti-Asian-American rhetoric and violence, and incidents that we've been seeing, especially increased during the pandemic.

What your thoughts are as you -- as you look at this moment that America is facing.

LOCKE: Well, it's really, really sad. I mean, obviously, we have issues in terms of the discrimination, systemic racism toward many ethnic groups, and especially African-Americans and black people in our country. It's a terrible history.

But one thing that Antony Blinken mentioned to the Chinese when they were lecturing America on our own internal issues of racism, Secretary of State Blinken said, at least we acknowledge it, and that we are always striving to be a more perfect union.

And we have mistakes, and we have made mistakes, we will continue to make mistakes. But we try to be open about it. We try to learn and we move forward.

KEILAR: Thank you, Ambassador Gary Locke, for that interview.

In an attempt to settle their drama, Vladimir Putin is challenging President Biden to a live debate.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): We must continue our relationship. Moreover, I just thought about this. Last time the initiative of the telephone conversation came from President Biden.


I want to the invite Biden to continue this discussion. But on condition that we do it live, online, without any delay, in an open, direct discussion. I think it would be interesting.


KEILAR: Now this is hardly the first time in history that a dispute resulted in in kind of invitation. Most of the bluster, not surprisingly, involves politics.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson turned down all requests to face the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater, in a debate.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan passed on the final face-off before the Iowa caucuses with George H.W. Bush. Reagan lost Iowa but won the nomination and ultimately the White House.

Then, more recently, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell challenged his Democratic opponent to debates without, quote, "notes, props or an audience."

And last year, Senator Susan Collins' Democratic opponent, Sara Gideon, suggested they do five debates. And Collins flipped the script, countering with a proposal of 16 debates. In the end, they went one-on-one just once.

Jeff Sessions wanted five debates with fellow Republican Tommy Tuberville in their Republican runoff for Alabama's Senate seat. Tuberville said, nah. Debated Sessions not once and he still won.

Democratic candidate, M.J. Hegar, challenging incumbent Texas Senator John Cornyn to three televised debates.

It's not all domestic politics though.

In 2015, after Iran's foreign minister poked at Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, implying his opposition to the U.S. lifting sanctions on Iran was irrelevant, Cotton suggested the two work it out in a public war of words at, quote, "a time of your choosing to debate Iran's record of tyranny, treachery and terror."

Mohammad Javad Zarif responded, quote, "Serious diplomacy not macho personal smear is what we need." And congratulated Cotton on the birth of his then newborn child, saying, "Enjoy him in peace."

Newt Gingrich, notorious for challenging people to word wars, wouldn't let up on then-President Obama while he was a Republican presidential candidate.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: As your nominee, I will challenge him to seven Lincoln-style debates, two adults talking about the nation.


KEILAR: And Gingrich made sure to offer up this sarcastic concession.


GINGRICH: I've already said that if he wants to use the teleprompter that would be fine with me.



KEILAR: Gingrich made a habit of challenging people to debate duels, including Mitt Romney during the primaries.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: I'll meet him anywhere in Iowa for 90 minutes, just the two of us, in a debate with a timekeeper, no moderator.

If you want to run a negative campaign and attack people, at least be man enough to own it.


KEILAR: Proving one's macho-man bona fides is often the motive behind these invites.

Jim Gilmore, whose question for the presidency lasted about as long as Crystal Pepsi, may it rest in peace, said, quote, 'I challenge Donald Trump to a debate, mano a mano, any time, any place on the 14th Amendment."

Speaking of Trump, because he is at the center of many of the challenges, Jeb Bush tried to put an exclamation point in his name with this overture.


JEB BUSH, (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald, I'll take you on, one-on-one, on a debate, any time, any place. You name it. I'll do it.



KEILAR: Well, Trump was ahead in the polls and that never happened. Maybe it did and we just don't remember? No. Really, it didn't happen.

And Ted Cruz also challenged the future president.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Donald is so scared that he doesn't think the people of Pennsylvania deserve a debate. If he actually understood the problems facing this country, he should welcome a debate here in Pennsylvania before next Tuesday.

(voice-over): I would like to invite him on your show to participate in a one-on-one debate between me and Donald, mano a mano.

CRUZ: Tomorrow, CNN has two townhalls back-to-back. An hour with me, an hour with Donald Trump in the exact same location. We should make it a debate. Let's make it a two-hour debate. Let's combine our events.

CNN has already scheduled it. You've got a venue. You've got a location. You've got the TV cameras. The only thing missing is Donald Trump because he is scared to debate.


KEILAR: It's worth noting, this was an interview Cruz gave shortly after Trump insulted his wife.

Also worth noting, Cruz's animosity for Trump is a collector's item. He is one of Trump's biggest defenders and one of the biggest enablers of Trump's big lie.

The "let's debate it out" bluster is certainly not exclusive to America though.


JEREMY CORBYN, MEMBER, BRITISH PARLIAMENT: I invite her to go to Cambridge and debate her policies, debate her record, and let the public make up their minds.



KEILAR: And the bluster is certainly not exclusive to elections.


BEN SHAPIRO, HOST, "THE BEN SHAPIRO SHOW": Hi. I really wanted to make a direct appeal to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes.

Not only am I eager to discuss the issues with you but I'll offer $10,000 to your campaign today. Free to come on our Sunday special and we can have an hour-long conversation about all the topics under the sun, really probe your belief system.


Frankly, if you want to raise charity and we'll do it as a debate, we can do that, too.


KEILAR: Ocasio-Cortez likened that to cat calling, refusing to respond to, quote, "unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions."

Sometimes the challenge is not one for stage. Duels, they're not just for the olden days when Alexander Hamilton learned the hard way by throwing away his shot against Aaron Burr.

Back in 2002, before the U.S. invaded Iraq, the Iraqi vice-president suggested that Bush 43 and Saddam Hussein settle their differences in a duel, refereed by the U.N., to which the White House responded.


ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There can be no serious response to an irresponsible statement like that.


KEILAR: Sometimes the challenge isn't to a war of words. It's to a war on drugs.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said, what the hell is he taking? And we'd like to ask him. And I said that. We want a drug test. We want a drug test. We'll both take it.


TRUMP: We'll both take it.


KEILAR: Biden said no comment.

But his campaign couldn't resist the setup saying, if the president thinks his best case is made in urine, he can have at it.

And we'd expect nothing less from Donald Trump, who pissed away the chance to protect the lives of 200,000 Americans -- now more than that obviously -- when he didn't make a plan to stop COVID-19.

It stands to wonder -- which is the original reason why we're talking about this -- why Vladimir Putin, who loves to embrace his strongman image, challenged President Biden to a debate in the first place.

Because almost always, as you can see, the challenger is coming from a position of weakness.

Ahead, as Europe faces a third coronavirus wave, moments ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci with a warning about the new variant that is here in the U.S.

Plus, we're now hearing from the husband of one of the victims in the Atlanta shootings who had just gone to one of these spas for a couple's massage together.