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White House Staffers Asked to Resign After Revealing Pot Use; U.S. to China, Respect Global Order or Face More Violent World; Biden Does Not Regret Calling Putin a Killer; Insults Fly in First High Level Talks Between Biden Team and China; Nearly Half of Republicans Have No Intention of Getting Vaccinated. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 15:30   ET




ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- transition officials ran into these issues where they saw younger applicants being disproportionately affected by their past marijuana use.

BALDWIN: Is there anything they can do to get their jobs back?

SAENZ: Well, we don't know the exact details involved with those staffers who are no longer working there, but for those staffers who have been working remotely. The whole process right now, the White House consulted with the security personnel over at the White House. And they are granting kind of waivers to people who were required to get top secret clearance.

Now, from now on, some of those people who are eligible for that exemption, those are people who had said that they had used marijuana within the past year and their job doesn't necessarily require a security clearance.

Now if people are eligible for this waiver, they must stop using marijuana. They have to sign a pledge saying they won't use it while in they are in government service and they will be subject to random drug tests.

So for those staffers who have been working at home, there is a potential they could come back full time into the White House. A lot of people are working remotely during this period. But it just represents one of the challenges they're facing over there.

BALDWIN: Indeed. Arlette, thank you very much.

President Biden weighs in on that fiery exchange his Secretary of State had with Chinese officials. The impact that on-camera confrontation could have on diplomatic relations. Next.



BALDWIN: On the heels of President Biden referring to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as a, quote, killer, diplomatic tensions are rising again. But this time with China. In the first face-to-face high-level talks since the new administration has taken over, U.S. and Chinese officials clashed in public with Secretary of State Tony Blinken not mincing words.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I said that the United States relationship with China will be competitive where it should be, collaborative where it should be, adversarial where it must be.

YANG JIECHI, CHINESE DIPLOMAT (through translator): Many people in the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States and they have various views regarding the government of the United States.


BALDWIN: James Clapper is former Director of National Intelligence. He's also a CNN national security analyst. Director Clapper, always a pleasure sir, welcome back. You know, watching that back and forth, have you ever seen our top diplomats spar like that in front of the cameras? And what do you think it says just about the state of the U.S./China relationship right now?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, I can't, Brooke, I can't recall a case of this in the past. But actually I think it's a good thing. I think, you know, hiding behind the diplomatic niceties which is typically what's done in those fora. And I think, you know, take the gloves off and have a frank and candid exchange is a good thing. So you know, they've got grievances with us and we certainly have grievances with them.

So in one sense it represents some continuity from the Trump administration, which at least towards the end had a get tough policy with China. So that's a good thing to have some continuity.

I think the difference is we're going to engage with friends and allies as a part of this and which I think actually strengthens the U.S. hand a great deal more than trying to go alone.

BALDWIN: Yes. To your point a second ago about in the end with Trump being tough on China. You know, for all the criticism, former President Trump and his administration's handling of just foreign policy in general, Trump was tough on China and some appreciated how he handled them. What should the Biden administration be doing differently here?

CLAPPER: Well, I think what they'll do is -- and that was indicated in Tony Blinken's statement -- is we're going to be confrontational in those cases where we need to be. But I also think we're going to find areas that we need to work together.

And climate change certainly comes to mind. You know if we have further pandemic challenges. So, there are issues where we're going to need to work with China. And of course, you have to remember how our economies are inextricably bound, which is of course, in stark contrast to our other adversary these days, Russia.

BALDWIN: You mention Russia. Putin is now challenging President Joe Biden to a debate. After Biden called him in this past week's TV interview a killer. I'm curious first, Director Clapper, what you made of Joe Biden's language and, secondly, Putin's reaction to it?

CLAPPER: Well, I think this is language that Putin understands. And the fact is maybe it wasn't the most tactful, diplomatic thing to say, but it is truth. Putin does have blood on his hands. He is a killer. He's tried to rub out political opponents. As far as I'm concerned, he has blood on his hands -- on his hands because of what the Russians have done in Syria.

So, this is another case of truth telling. And I think this is a welcome change from the past administration, which was basically given the Russians a pass. And so and again, we already have found one area of agreement which I think is probably the most crucial aspect of our relationship, which is in nuclear weapons. So, the S.T.A.R.T. treaty with all its flaws has been extended.


So that's a good thing and I think just as in the case of China, we'll also find areas where we will work with the Russians because it's in our mutual interest to do so.

BALDWIN: It's interesting between, you know, the on-camera exchange and then what Biden said. It feels like there's a lot of truth telling coming from this administration and just given China and Russia, et cetera, President Biden is facing a number of significant challenges now on the international stage. Director Clapper, what does he need just to do to combat those threats and relax tensions?

CLAPPER: I'm sorry, Brooke, I didn't hear the question. I'm sorry, could you --

BALDWIN: Between China and Russia and other huge foreign policy challenges that Biden is now facing in his first 100 days, what does he need to do to just relax tensions?

CLAPPER: Well, I think one important difference here and as a tool of diplomacy and relating to foreign countries is the engagement of other -- of our friends and allies. And I think it calls, obviously, for a continuation of a strong military posture.

At the same time, we need to get our house in order here at home. And of course, as you saw the Chinese, you know, cited that, all of our challenges here. So there are tools available to him, and he's certainly got the experience -- personal experience through his long experience as a Senator and again as vice president in dealing with these foreign countries. So, I personally think he's off to a great start and he's doing the right thing.

BALDWIN: Director Clapper, thank you very much. Nice to see you.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: President Trump finally came out and endorsed this coronavirus vaccine, but still so many Republicans in this country refuse to get it. We'll talk about why and what it would take to change their minds.



BALDWIN: 47 percent -- that is how many Trump supporters do not want to be vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus, that's according to this NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist survey. It is a big number, it's an alarming number no matter how you slice it and poses a real hurdle in the nation's effort to reach herd immunity.

CNN's Gary Tuchman traveled to a deep red part of the country to find out why this is.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you going to take the vaccine?


TUCHMAN: Tell me why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't trust the government and I don't trust Biden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just don't want to.

TUCHMAN: Why don't you? If you don't mind me asking?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because when I take the flu shot, I usually get the flu. So there's no reason to take it.

TUCHMAN: So are you saying you think you'll get COVID by taking the COVID vaccine?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just not. I'm not going to take it.

TUCHMAN: What if President Trump came out and was very robust and said, take the vaccine, I took it even though I didn't tell anybody about it, it was kind of done secretly, but I think you should take it? He said it a little bit, but he hasn't been robust about it. If he was robust and said take it, would you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump's a liberal New Yorker. Why would we listen

to him either?

TUCHMAN: Did you vote for him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was the best option.


BALDWIN: Wow, wow.

Frank Luntz is a Republican strategist and pollster and joins me now. Frank, nice to have you on. You know, we're going to your op-ed in just a second, but you just heard those incredibly candid sound bites from these guys. Why do you think there's so much resistance on the right?

FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER, STRATEGIST: It comes from the politicization and the partisanship of the virus among Trump people. They think that it was used to defeat him in the November election.

It comes from a concern, even a hostility towards the media. And it comes from a lack of trust in the information that Washington's providing them. Your focus group sound is alarming but it's accurate. It's what we're hearing in our focus groups.

We did a study for the de Beaumont Foundation and to make a scary situation even worse, among Trump voters 18 to 49, more than half either are unlikely or don't want to take the vaccine. It's actually more than half.

So, you're looking now, if Trump got 75 million votes and roughly half of his people won't take the vaccine, that's over 30 million people -- 35 million people. And you can't get to herd immunity. This is a problem. It's going to become a challenge. It could become a crisis if we can't move these people along.

BALDWIN: Yes, that's what I was just asking one of our doctors about, is might this prevent us from ever reaching herd immunity.

And you heard Gary's question to one of those guys about, well, if President Trump were to be more robust in his getting vaccinated, and if he believes in it, would that make a difference?

And the guy said, no, he's a liberal New Yorker who maybe he voted for. Is there anything President Trump can say that could help this move the needle?

LUNTZ: Trump's participation will help. It should have come four months ago, five months ago. It should have come back in November, December, January, but better late than never.

But there are arguments that work even better than that. First and foremost, just since the flu vaccine, despite what that gentleman said, the flu vaccine is about 60 percent effective. This COVID vaccine is about 95 percent effective. The public needs to know that. The other statistic is that over 90 percent of doctors when given the opportunity have taken the COVID vaccine. Doctors, there the ones that know.


And third, if it comes from the local doctor, from your doctor, that is more believable than any politician, than any government agency, than Dr. Fauci, than anyone. We need the medical profession to participate directly in telling their patients, in telling their community, please, getting the vaccine may bother you for a day. Getting COVID can bother you for a lifetime.

BALDWIN: So this is the point you made in your "Washington Post" opinion piece today where essentially, you're saying it really is up to doctors that folks on the right in this country who may be refusing would truly listen to the MDs. Can you just explain more on that and also if you want to speak about your own health here?

LUNTZ: And I acknowledge it because this is why I'm focused on it. You can hear it in my voice. If I had done this interview with you 15 months ago, I would be clearer, I would not stumble over words. Frankly, I'm still having trouble.

I had a stroke a year ago in January. And I did it to myself by my eating, by my travel, by my lack of sleep, by not taking my medications, I made myself sick and now I have to live with it for a lifetime. Don't make the same mistake.

If you get COVID from chronic fatigue to loss of taste, to lung issues that will never heal, you don't know. It's a random attack. This virus, it's unclear what it does to you, but it is clear that the virus is far more dangerous than the vaccine. Please don't make the same mistake I made. Take the precautions, get the vaccine. It doesn't hurt. I will tell you for somebody who doesn't like vaccines, that it really is painless, and I feel so much safer, and I wish I had learned this lesson a year ago.

BALDWIN: I appreciate you saying all that. I really appreciate how this is personal, and just you lifting the veil on your own health here.

My last question, Frank, to you is, you know, sowing mistrust in science and the government is nothing new in the GOP. We've seen Republican lawmakers consistently downplaying or outright denying the threat of climate change, for example. Do you ever see that changing?

LUNTZ: Well, I've got numbers behind it. In the de Beaumont COVID survey, only 5 percent of Trump voters think that the virus is a hoax. 5 percent.

And I remind people that Bobby Kennedy Jr. is the leading anti-vaxxer in the country and he's hardly a Trump voter or Republican. That there are people on both sides that don't watch CNN or don't collect news, don't collect information. And they're going to make mistakes.

But for the vast majority -- 95 percent of the public -- they know that you get vaccines for dangerous viruses. You know that you wear a mask because it's proper behavior to protect others, not just yourself, and you know that this is something serious. I hope that we focus on the 95 percent and not the 5 percent that are extreme.

BALDWIN: Frank Luntz, thank you. Be well.

LUNTZ: Thank you. Thanks.

BALDWIN: We have more details on the coronavirus pandemic as President Biden visits the CDC today, thanks the staff for fighting this deadly virus, a new concern about the U.K. variant next.



BALDWIN: One in five children in the United States has a learning difference, and this week's CNN Hero understands the challenge because he has lived them.

David Flink was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia at the age of 11 and struggled all throughout school. And today, his nonprofit pairs college or high school students with middle schoolers who have similar learning differences. Launching confidence, successful learners into the world.


DAVID FLINK: Eye to Eye provides a safe space that's constructed around what's right with kids so they can talk about their experiences.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you get scared during tests, you're like nervous or no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have anxiety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And like I shake a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that happens sometimes.

FLINK: People's hearts sing when they're seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my shield.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mask could be really cool. Like I use duct tape as a handle.

FLINK: My moment that I am wishing for is when the problem of stigmatizing kids because they learn differently goes away. I want them to know that their brains are beautiful. I want them feeling like they know how to ask for what they need, and they can do it, and that's what we give them.

CROWD: All right, Daniel.


BALDWIN: These stories are so special. You can check out David's whole story, go to And while you're there, please nominate someone you think should be our next CNN Hero.

And for of the impact of the pandemic on the U.S. please join CNN for the new special report, "THE HUMAN COST Of COVID." With more than 30 million cases and 530,000 deaths the numbers are staggering.

CNN national correspondent Miguel Marquez has set out to introduce us to some of the people behind the statistics. So make sure you join Miguel for this emotional hour about loss and survival, the new CNN special report. "THE HUMAN COST OF COVID" airs tomorrow night at 9:00.

And we leave you with a quick programming note. Join Stanley Tucci as he travels to Sicily, the new CNN original series "STANLEY TUCCI SEARCHING FOR ITALY" Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific.

I'm Brooke Baldwin, thank you so much for being with me. Let's go to Washington. THE LEAD with Jake Tapper starts now.