Return to Transcripts main page


Biden Condemns Bigotry; Information Emerging About Atlanta Spa Murders; Biden Declares "Science Is Back" During CDC Visit; New CDC School Guidelines; Europe Resumes AstraZeneca Vaccine; U.S.-China Tensions; Current Cuomo Aide Alleges Sexual Harassment; U.S. Sending Vaccine To Mexico; Increased Attempted Migrant Crossings Into U.S.; Iceland's Residents Warned As Volcano Erupts; Olympic Athletes Face Mental Challenges. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired March 20, 2021 - 04:00   ET





JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are simply some core values and beliefs that should bring us together as Americans. One of them is standing together against hate, against racism.

KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): President Joe Biden visits a city in mourning after a gunman murdered eight people, six of whom were Asian women.

Plus President Biden doubles the goal in the fight against COVID-19.

And the U.S. and China engaged in talks but is it actually a war of words?

Live from CNN World Headquarters, welcome from Atlanta. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.


BRUNHUBER: U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled here to the grieving city of Atlanta on Friday to honor the eight people killed in the shooting at local spas earlier this week.

And while the president and vice president made time to visit the Centers for Disease Control, which is headquartered in Atlanta, they also met with local Asian American leaders, worried about increasing violence against their communities.

During his remarks Biden forcefully condemning the bigotry.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying. They've been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed. They've been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted, killed. Hate can have no safe harbor in America. It must stop.


BRUNHUBER: Initially, the Atlanta trip was conceived as part information stop and victory stop to celebrate President Joe Biden's massive COVID relief bill. But after Tuesday, that focus was scrapped. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: President Biden and Vice President Harris came to Atlanta on Friday to listen to the voices of Asian American community leaders, who were voicing their concern in the wake of shootings here earlier this week that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent.

The meeting lasted more than an hour. After that, President Biden acknowledged the rise in violence toward Asian Americans over the course of the last year during the pandemic. He had this message for Americans.


BIDEN: Hate and violence often hide in plain sight. It's often been met with silence. That's been all throughout our history. That has to change because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act.


ZELENY: For about an hour, the president and vice president did meet with Asian American community leaders, including Stephanie Cho, who I caught up with after the meeting. She said former President Donald Trump's name came up again and again for his contributions to the violence during the pandemic.


STEPHANIE CHO, ASIAN AMERICANS ADVANCING JUSTICE: I'd like to see it be beyond this moment and that, as much as the former president called it the China virus, scapegoated Asian Americans and really fueled this racism around Asian Americans, I'd like to see the Biden administration be -- come out just as strongly but in support of Asian Americans.


ZELENY: Cho said she was heartened by President Biden and Vice President Harris coming here to Georgia to shine a light on this violence but she said she will be watching the actions of the White House.

She hopes President Biden speaks out forcefully against this violence in the weeks and months to come. As for the White House, this was intended to be a stop on their Help is Here Tour, promoting the American Rescue Plan. Clearly, Georgia a central state for the White House; it helped

deliver the victory for President Biden and Vice President Harris. But it also sent the Senate majority in Democratic hands, that led to the passage of the American Rescue Plan. The White House continues to promote that in the weeks ahead -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Atlanta.


BRUNHUBER: Meanwhile federal officials and authorities across Atlanta are still investigating the shooting and more information is emerging about the lives cut short. Amara Walker has that.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While authorities say they are still investigating to determine whether the spa shootings in the Atlanta area were racially motivated, FBI director Christopher Wray told NPR on Thursday he doesn't believe race played a role.



CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: And while the motive remains still under investigation, at the moment, it does not appear that the motive was racially motivated. But I really would defer to the state and local investigation on that for now.


WALKER (voice-over): The FBI is currently playing a limited role in the investigation into the killing spree. Director Wray's comments upsetting leaders in the Asian American community.

CAM ASHLING, ASIAN AMERICAN ACTION FUND, GEORGIA: It's infuriating because everybody who's looking at this is looking at it and they smell and they see that it's a hate crime.

STATE SENATOR MICHELLE AU (D-GA): I'm going to point out two things. One is that, in the state of Georgia, 4 percent of the population is Asian American. However, of the victims of this crime, 75 percent of them were Asian American.

WALKER (voice-over): CNN learned more about the lives that were take on Tuesday, all four killed at the two spas in Atlanta were Asian women: 74-year-old Soon Chung Park, 69-year-old Suncha Kim, 63-year- old Yong Ae Yue, 51-year-old Hyun Jung Grant. Her son, Randy Park, set up this GoFundMe page and writes that Grant was a single mother, who dedicated her whole life to providing for my brother and me. Losing her has put a new lens on my eyes on the amount of hate that exists in our world, he wrote.

At Young's Asia Massage in Cherokee County, the victims have been identified as Xiaojie Tan, 49. A friend tells CNN, Tan, owner of Young's Asian Massage, was loving and unselfish. They would call each other family. Daoyou Feng, 44; Paul Andre Michels, 54; and Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33.

Her family tells a CNN affiliate this mother of two and her husband went to the spa on a date when she was attacked. Her husband survived by locking himself in a room.

CONSTANCE SEATS, DELAINE YAUN'S AUNT: This is so heartbreaking. He took a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister for no reason. This family is broken because of this man. It is so hard on everybody today because of this man taking this innocent angel from us. He took an angel from Earth, who would do anything for anybody.

WALKER (voice-over): And 30-year-old Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz was shot in the head, according to his wife, who started a GoFundMe page. But he survived. His wife says he called her on the phone and said, "I have been shot, please come. I need you."

WALKER: During the meeting with Asian American community leaders, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris condemned the rise in xenophobia and racism but stopped short of calling this killing spree a hate crime -- Amara Walker, CNN, Atlanta.


BRUNHUBER: My colleague Michael Holmes spoke earlier with one of the community organizers who was at Friday's meeting with the president and vice president. Take a listen.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Bianca Jyotishi is the Georgia organizing manager at the National Asia Pacific American Women's Forum and joins me now from right here in Atlanta.

So you were there in the room.

What struck you most?

What are you left with?

BIANCA JYOTISHI, NATIONAL ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN WOMEN'S FORUM: Yes, absolutely. I am struck by the amount of power that, AAPI, elected officials in the state and our community members hold and the amount of support that we received from President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

They were so graceful enough to clear their schedules and came here to talk about COVID relief and completely pivoted to make space for this enormous tragedy that our people have had to experience this week.

HOLMES: I heard letters from the victims' families were read out loud. That must have been a pretty powerful moment.

JYOTISHI: Yes. I think -- I honestly -- yes, it was a beautiful moment. It was powerful and at the same time it was devastating. It was very much a clear indicator of the pain so many of our community members have felt this week and the fear we've been experiencing. The entire room was crying. I was crying. It was truly a moment of

just recognizing the true -- the amount of heinous that went into this crime.

HOLMES: You know, it's infuriating that it takes something like this, the loss of so many lives, the brutal nature of this, for the issue to go, you know, front and center, although it's been an issue, you know, with friends of mine. They say they've dealt with it for years.

Is there a sense that a dam in some ways is bursting?

JYOTISHI: I don't know about that, you know?

I think maybe to an extent.


JYOTISHI: Yes, I think that's something I've been grappling with this week in particular. We've had a flood of donations, a flood of social media, things going viral. And it shouldn't have taken the lives of so many people for this to have happened.


JYOTISHI: We've been doing this work for 25 years now as an organization and we've been working at the intersections of race and gender for so long, so we know this has been a problem, even before COVID. We were seeing a lot of anti- Asian violence and hate.

I'm going to apologize. You can probably hear my cat, who's seeking some attention.

But, yes, we've been dealing with this for a long time. I think we've seen a spike since COVID-19 started. But it's nothing new for us.

HOLMES: Yes, my former co-anchor, Amara Walker, is Korean American and she has spoken about this from the heart and has fronted incidents herself of, you know, open racism.

Do you feel that, you know, the door is opening for substantive change?

Or do you fear that, a few weeks from now, it's forgotten?

JYOTISHI: I hope it won't be forgotten. My hope is that this is a moment in time where we have failed our society and that we can do better and be proactive as a collective society and collective unit. We can respond to these crises proactively so we can be more preventive in the future.

I hope people will remember our community members and continue to uplift AAPI voices in this movement.

HOLMES: Sadly, there is a political aspect to this and a change in tone from the previous administration is certainly striking. The rhetoric from the former president, though, as well as many other Republicans, many people feel is at least partly to blame for the rise in xenophobia.

Do you feel it had an impact on what has happened over the last years under that administration?

JYOTISHI: You know, I think calling the COVID-19 virus "the China virus" is certainly not helpful. It's definitely hurtful. I would say that the real issue here, the root issue here is actually white supremacy.

So it's been dividing how communities of color are pitted against each other for so long. It's really the true nature and the true issue here is actually white supremacy, how it's divided our communities, just marginalized people more.

The reason we actually have to exist as an organization is, really, to call out white supremacy and so that -- we have to create a space for people to exist.

HOLMES: Absolutely.

What do you hope happens?

What do you hope comes of the good that happened today and the evil that brought us here?

JYOTISHI: Absolutely. I hope to never feel this way again for any community members, any community at all, any group. This feeling of having to grapple with grief and simultaneously take action to protect our communities and put myself at risk and, at the same time, it's an enormous emotional labor that goes into this.

And it's been a tremendous, tremendous effort on everyone and all of our community members as well. We've done such amazing work in such little time. It's been such a huge effort. I wouldn't wish this on anyone.

I would say in terms of tangible asks, in terms of making our community a safer place, what we really want to see is a task force, addressing hate and violence. And this would specifically work to elevate the voices of Asian American Pacific Islander women and elderly, who are disproportionately impacted by the violence and hate we've seen in our community.

HOLMES: Well, I applaud your work. I applaud your courage in doing that work. But you know, I'm infuriated that you have to do that work. But thank you for what you're doing, Bianca Jyotishi. Thank you so much.

JYOTISHI: Thank you.


BRUNHUBER: On Monday night, CNN will bring you a special: "Afraid: Fear in America's Communities of Color." Amara Walker, Victor Blackwell, Ana Cabrera and Anderson Cooper will hold the conversation, focused on the shared fear so many Americans are feeling right now. That's Monday at 9 pm Eastern and 9 o'clock Tuesday morning in Hong Kong.

President Biden says science is back and it will lead the way in the fight against the pandemic. Coming up, a look at his first trip as president to the CDC.

Plus a combative confrontation between the U.S. and China that could set the tone for future relations. We'll take a closer look at what both sides hope to achieve with two days of hardball diplomacy. Stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: The Biden administration is doubling its original vaccination goal after administering 100 million vaccines six weeks ahead of schedule. The president says he now wants 2 million shots in arms by his 100th day in office. More than 118 million doses have been administered. The nation is averaging about 2.5 million doses a day.

Biden visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he emphasized the importance of following the science in the battle against COVID.


BIDEN: We owe you a gigantic debt of gratitude and we will for a long, long, long time. Science is back. All kidding aside, think about it. For the longest time, not just as it relates to the CDC but science, science was viewed as sort of an appendage to anything else we were talking about.

You're saving lives but you're changing the psyche of the country.


BRUNHUBER: Following the science as more data comes in, the CDC is updating its guidance for in-person learning and is cutting the social distancing recommendations for schools in half. Nick Watt has details.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reopening America's schools just got a bit easier.


WATT (voice-over): The CDC now says desks need only be 3 feet not 6 apart.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: In classrooms with universal mask wearing. WATT (voice-over): The CDC now also says one kid per row on the bus, staff should still keep 6 feet away from kids and each other and everyone should still keep 6 feet of distance in the hallways when eating, singing, exercising. Physical barriers between students no longer advised but divide them into groups. According to the CDC, the science says ...

WALENSKY: They cater to all schools that implement strong, layered prevention strategies can operate safely.

WATT (voice-over): Well, good news, the President promised 100 million vaccine shots in 100 days done.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: In just 58 days, weeks ahead of schedule.

WATT (voice-over): But there's a massive mountain still to climb, about 12 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated, herd immunity best estimate 70 percent to 85 percent.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: If it is that, we would probably have to get more children and I believe as we get high school students vaccinated in the fall, we'll be able to reach that.

WATT (voice-over): Normality creeping closer. Starting today, New York City restaurants can be half full inside. Nationwide, 98 percent of AMC's theaters are open again with restrictions but open. While officials fear that more contagious variant first found in the U.K.

FAUCI: And likely accounts now for about 20 percent to 30 percent of the infections in this country and that number is growing.

WATT (voice-over): Average new case counts arising in 10 states, Michigan up 45 percent in a week,

DR. JONEIGH KHALDUN, CHIEF MEDICAL EXECUTIVE, MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: We are going in the wrong direction with the key metrics that we are tracking for COVID-19.

WATT (voice-over): Case counts falling in 11 states holding steady for now in the majority, including Texas. There's a jack in the box manager in League City, Texas showing a customer their rules to help slow the spread.

CHIEF GARY RATLIFF, LEAGUE CITY, TEXAS, POLICE: When officers arrived at the scene, they found the shift manager leaning against the counter with multiple stab wounds.

WATT (voice-over): Stabbed, police say, for asking that customer to wear a mask.


BRUNHUBER: That was CNN Nick Watt reporting from Los Angeles. Countries across Europe are racing to get their people vaccinated over

fears of a third wave of COVID infections. As of Thursday, they've administered more than 94 million doses.

And this comes as a number of European nations are seeing a rise in new case numbers. Many countries are resuming the use of the AstraZeneca shot. The World Health Organization weighed in on Friday, indicating it doesn't indicate that the relatively few cases of blood clots reported after the vaccination are connected.

But not every European country is necessarily on board with that. For more, let's bring in Phil Black from Essex, England.

Regulators say it's safe but the controversy not going away.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, for some countries in Europe, that's right, Kim. Despite those assurances, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland all say for the moment they're maintaining their suspension on using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

These are countries that are not yet satisfied. They believe that those concerns about a possible link to symptoms, including clotting and excessive bleeding, well, they believe the cases of those symptoms are unusual and they're not satisfied and they believe they need more information, more time to get to the bottom of this and be sure.

These countries, all the others that also, through the week, suspended -- although now having reversed that suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine -- have talked about the importance of safety, of being open and ensuring trust in their vaccine programs.

It is a very cautious approach but there is no doubt there is also concern that this abundance of caution could be more harmful in the long term, initially, through not expanding protection and ensuring that people are not at risk of developing severe COVID-19.

But in the longer term, too, concerns over reputational damage to this particular vaccine, vaccine programs in general, there is a concern that this can fuel hesitancy and uncertainty when there is already great concern about not enough people being ready to accept a vaccine, when the broad view, the accepted view, is the vaccines are, of course, the only way out of this pandemic.

That's probably why, within a space of just a few hours, you saw two European prime ministers rolling up their sleeves and getting the AstraZeneca vaccine in front of cameras, both the French and the British, as part of the push to overcome the turmoil surrounding this specific vaccine over the last weekend.


BRUNHUBER: And all of this is especially critical now as many countries in Europe seem to be going through a third wave.

BLACK: Yes. So France, a large part of it, are locking down today, including Paris; Poland too. Italy locked down this week. Germany is talking about tightening restrictions in order to deal with exponential growth there.

For the people of Europe, this is all depressingly familiar and largely driven, we understand, because of the new, more highly contagious variant, first identified here in the U.K.

The concern, though, for people who are living through this is that there is no imminent end in sight. There's no substantial reason to hope because the European vaccine program is simply too slow at the moment. They don't have the supply to make a substantial difference in driving down transmission in the near future -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Very worrying. Thanks so much, CNN correspondent Phil Black. We appreciate it.

And do join CNN for a special look at "The Human Cost of COVID." CNN correspondent Miguel Marquez profiles several people who have been affected by the pandemic and their stories will resonate with people across the U.S. and around the world. See it tonight at 9:00 pm Eastern in the U.S. and 9:00 am Sunday in Hong Kong.

The U.S. and China have ended two days of heated talks in Alaska. It was the most contentious senior-level meeting yet between the global rivals. So we'll tell you what both sides are saying now. Stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: Thank you for watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Hardball diplomacy might best describe the past two days of contentious talks between senior U.S. and Chinese officials. Those discussions in Alaska were the first such high-level meetings between China and the new administration with the sharp and unexpected rhetoric of the opening session, with a combative tone and neither side backing down.


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

YANG JIECHI, CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY FOREIGN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR (through translator): Many people in the United States have little confidence in the democracy of the United States and they have various views regarding the government of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRUNHUBER: The Biden administration glossed over the verbal fireworks, simply calling the bilateral discussions "tough and direct." America's top diplomat said the trip was worthwhile.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We wanted to share with them significant concerns we have about a number of actions China has taken. And the behavior it's exhibiting, concerns shared by our allies and partners. And we did that. We also wanted to lay out very clearly our own policies, priorities and world view. And we did that, too.


BRUNHUBER: Now despite the obvious tension between the two global adversaries, China's top diplomat is describing the talks with the U.S. as candid, constructive and beneficial. We get more from CNN's Selina Wang in Tokyo.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. and China ended their first high-level talks in Alaska with no major breakthroughs. But it appears there was a certain degree of posturing in an extraordinary public display, more than an hour of accusations, all playing out in front of TV cameras.

But both sides say there were constructive talks behind closed doors. The U.S. side say they accomplished what they needed to, laying out concerns and priorities. They say they were clear-eyed walking in and walking out.

On the Chinese side, here is what the Chinese diplomat had to say.


JIECHI (through translator): The strategic dialogue this time is candid, constructive and beneficial. Of course, some major differences between the 2 countries. China will safeguard our national sovereignty, security and our interest to develop. China's development is an unstoppable trend.


WANG: These remarks suggest that Beijing is not going to back down. At the start of the meetings, we heard China lash out against the U.S.' accusations that China is undermining the global state. We heard China tell the U.S. to stop meddling in its affairs, calling out the U.S. for its racism at home and its struggling democracy.

Experts say this more combative rhetoric suggests an important shift, a growing view in China that this is China's time. China is rising and the U.S. is in an inevitable decline. This makes cooperation much harder.

There had been hope that, under the Biden administration, the two powers would be able to cooperate on issues like climate change and dealing with the global pandemic. But it remains to be seen how the two sides will compartmentalize the issues as a rift grows in every other area.

China has made it clear, while it wants a reset relationship with the U.S., it will only do so on its own terms -- Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.


BRUNHUBER: Part of the Biden administration's strategy to counter China is to rebuild and strengthen U.S. ties with allies. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been in India to discuss deeper security ties. He laid a wreath at the National War Memorial in New Delhi.

India has drawn closer to the U.S. because of its own problems with neighboring China. Most recently, they've fought deadly skirmishes at the border region of the Himalayas.

Another woman is alleging sexual harassment by New York governor Andrew Cuomo but, this time, it's one of his current aides. "The New York Times" broke the story on Friday. CNN's Brynn Gingras has the details.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thirty-three-year-old Alyssa McGrath is the first woman to come forward with allegations of inappropriate conduct by governor Andrew Cuomo, who is actually still working in the governor's administration. She said to "The New York Times" she would often be part of a pool of young aides, who would be summoned to the governor's mansion on the weekends to work.

In one instance, she says she noticed the governor was looking down her shirt and he commented on a necklace she was wearing. She said there were often comments he made toward her that made her unsettled. He would make remarks about her looks, tell her that she was beautiful, say, "ciao, bella."

These are all instances that she say amounted to sexual harassment.


GINGRAS: It's important to note she had no sexual contact with the governor. In one remark, she said to "The New York Times," "He has a way of making you feel very comfortable around him, almost like you're his friend. But then you walk away from the encounter or conversation in your head, going, 'I can't believe I just had that interaction with the governor.'"

The governor's attorney did give a statement to "The New York Times." CNN is trying to get it.

"The governor has greeted men and women with hugs and a kiss on the cheek, forehead or hand. Yes, he has posed for photographs with his arm around them. Yes, he uses Italian phrases, like 'ciao, bella.' None of this is remarkable although it may be old fashioned. He has made clear that he has never made inappropriate advances or inappropriately touched anyone."

Now of course, McGrath is just another woman who has similar stories to a number of women who have come forward with allegations against the governor and the governor has said he never meant to make someone feel uncomfortable and he denies any inappropriate contact or conduct with the allegations that are against him -- Brynn Gingras, CNN, Albany, New York.


BRUNHUBER: Still to come, the White House says the decision to send millions of doses of COVID vaccines to Mexico has nothing to do with the worsening situation at America's southern border.

But are they actually related?

We'll discuss that next. Stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: The U.S. will be sending millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to its two North American neighbors, to Canada and Mexico. The White House says they're essentially a loan and will be returned through AstraZeneca later this year.

The agreement with Mexico came up in recent talks between the two countries about the border situation.


BRUNHUBER: President Biden has been seeking help from his Mexican counterpart to curb the current surge of migrants. But the White House says the discussions about the vaccine and border security aren't directly related.


BRUNHUBER: Tony Payan is the director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute and joins us from El Paso by Skype.

Thanks for being with us. The White House says sending the vaccines to Mexico and helping stem the surge of migrants were, quote, "unrelated but also overlapping." It's hard not to see a quid pro quo here.

TONY PAYAN, CENTER FOR THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO, BAKER INSTITUTE: Correct. The narrative in Mexico -- and I was in Ciudad Juarez (ph) today and yesterday -- is this is an offer to Lopez Obrador administration in exchange for his cooperation stemming the flow of migrants from Central America. That's exactly how it's being seen in Mexico. The other criticism is these are AstraZeneca vaccines, which, of

course, are being questioned in Europe and in the United States they're not quite approved yet for use. And Mexico is in such dire need of additional vaccines, that they're willing to take that.

BRUNHUBER: Interesting.

Is there as much skepticism over there as we're seeing in Europe?

PAYAN: Absolutely. I'm told about 40 percent of the individuals that might be eligible for the vaccines are refusing to be vaccinated. There are a lot of conspiracy theories around Mexico.

We don't often hear about them but there's a lot of people who do not trust the government, do not trust the vaccines and it has nothing to do with the anti-vaxer movement. These are just people who don't trust the government.

BRUNHUBER: Really. I guess you can see why, because of the way the vaccine distribution has rolled out. It's been both problematic and at times political. Explain what's been happening.

PAYAN: Yes. The vaccine is being supplied by the Servants of the Nation, a group of tens of thousands of individuals that are paid in cash by the administration to do the political work, to plan political work throughout the country.

They're the ones that transport the vaccines, along with the army. They're the ones that actually implement or put the vaccine in the arms of Mexicans all over the country. They're the ones that actually are doing all the work. And they're not really medical personnel.

And they often make mistakes, like calling people on their phone from their own cell phones. And people do not recognize the number.

And, of course, Mexico has high levels of extortion by telephone and threats by telephone. And there's all kinds of rumors that these might be organized criminals that are doing this. And people refuse to answer the phone, give them information or sign up. This is creating a real serious problem in Mexico.

BRUNHUBER: And some people are, you know, accusing people of getting preferential treatment, for instance?

PAYAN: Yes. Obviously all these young people that work for Lopez Obrador directly, his own personal employees, are being vaccinated. And some of their families are being vaccinated. They're being put ahead of the line, even though officially Mexico is on the 60-plus years stage of the vaccination process.

Many younger people, of course, are getting vaccines because these servants of the nation simply put them ahead of the line.

BRUNHUBER: And then on the U.S. side of the equation, the surge at the border, Republicans and even many migrants themselves say the Biden administration's more welcoming posture is basically inviting the migrants to come.

The timing and the size of the surge suggest it can't be coincidence but some people are arguing the numbers don't exactly bear that out.

Where do you stand?

PAYAN: Well, obviously we're looking at higher numbers than we saw in 2020 but only slightly higher than we saw in 2019. The problem of unaccompanied minors and family units coming to the U.S.-Mexico border is something that goes back to 2014. It goes up and down regardless of the policy.

Obama was not as strict and draconian as Trump. Trump's policies were, of course, very draconian. And now Biden is a little bit more accepting. The numbers go up in the spring and summer and back down in the fall and winter and seem to obey root causes that have nothing to do with U.S. policy. This is just one more surge.

BRUNHUBER: Interesting. We'll see how that bears out. President Biden is undoing many of those Trump policies that you spoke of, on dealing with the migrants. But one thing that hasn't changed is the reliance on Mexico to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

And the conundrum is the Biden administration is signaling it has a friendlier, more humane policy toward the migrants but wants Mexico to get tougher.

So does that put Mexico in a tougher position?

How does Mexico navigate this?


PAYAN: Well, I think Mexico is going to need help from the United States for the vaccination to end the pandemic in Mexico and, of course, to open the border depends quite a bit economically from the United States.

So the administration last month, when they met virtually, Mr. Biden and Mr. Lopez Obrador, asked Washington for some help with the and, of course, they said, no, Americans are first. But now they've offered some in exchange for Mexico helping with the migrants.

I think Mexico will have no choice to continue doing the work it was doing under Trump.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Listen. I really appreciate you talking to us today, Tony Payan, thank you so much.

PAYAN: Thank you.


BRUNHUBER: A volcanic system in Iceland has suddenly erupted for the first time in hundreds of years. When we come back, our meteorologist has the latest. Stay with us. (MUSIC PLAYING)



BRUNHUBER: This is lava from an eruption in Iceland, people are warned to stay indoors, close windows and stay far away.


BRUNHUBER: The flow is considered small, covering an area the size of 200 football fields. The Iceland Meteorological Office says the eruption follows weeks of seismic activity. Thousands of earthquakes have jolted the area this past month.


BRUNHUBER: The COVID-19-delayed 2020 Olympics are set to begin in four months in Tokyo. There are still uncertainties and the wait has taken a mental toll on some athletes. CNN has a story of one Olympic fencer and his struggles.


WANG (voice-over): Olympic fencer Ryo Miyake took up a new job last year, delivering food for Uber Eats to make extra cash and stay in shape during the pandemic.

His training stopped for several months after Tokyo announced the postponement of the Olympics. He since resumed practice but the physical and mental challenges remain.

RYO MIYAKE, OLYMPIC FENCER (through translator): It's been very difficult. And after all, the Olympics are like God, an absolute existence for athletes. It's like running a full marathon for four years. Adding another year is like we have to keep on running before reaching the goal.

WANG (voice-over): With the Olympic Games just months away, it is still unclear how Japan plans to hold the games safely. While the Japanese government has vowed the games will go ahead, a poll in January by public broadcaster NHK found that 77 percent of people in Japan think the games should be canceled or further postponed.

MIYAKE (through translator): I think it's quite risky to hold the Olympics at this stage. I think all athletes understand safety is the first priority and I don't think there are any athletes who want to compete in the Olympics, no matter what.

WANG (voice-over): At stake are tens of billions of dollars and Japan's national pride. But for athletes a lifetime of dedication hangs in the balance as does their mental well-being.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've started to see more and more Olympic athletes and aspiring Olympic athletes coming through our support system and having to put themselves through not only the level of training that these athletes are working at, 6 or 7 days a week, but also to stay as mentally hungry, driven, trying to reach their goals that isn't yet actually finalized and fixed at a set date in time.

It's really tough. Eventually that will take its toll on the mental health of these Olympians.

WANG (voice-over): But sport climber Akiyo Noguchi was happy to have an extra year of practice.


WANG (voice-over): She was planning to retire after the Tokyo 2020 games when sport climbing was supposed to make its Olympic debut. She has pushed back her retirement by one year in order to make the Olympics the last competition of her career.

WANG: How are you feeling that your first and last Olympics may be a strange one with COVID restrictions?

"Well, I feel very sad," she told me. "I wanted to be in the Olympics because I wanted to show my best performance in front of my family and supporters but this will not be in the form that I've been imagining," she said.

Olympic organizers have yet to decide if international fans or if any fans at all will be allowed to attend. Miyake's wife, Marie, who he met over Zoom during the pandemic, said she has never seen him fence in person.

MARIE MIYAKE, RYO'S WIFE: Physically, I've never been able to be at his matches or see his matches yet. So I've just watched on YouTube his past Olympic match.

WANG: You're hoping you can go to the Olympics then?

M. MIYAKE: I hope so, yes. I hope it's here in person, hopefully.

WANG (voice-over): But for now all Miyake can do is train and wait -- Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.


BRUNHUBER: Archaeologists have discovering a prehistoric predator that looks a little like it could be from a "Sharknado" movie. So this is an artist's rendering of an eagle shark. It looks like wings but they're fins about six feet across. This rendering was created after a fossil was discovered in Mexico. Here's that fossil there.

The eagle shark was thought to have lived 93 million years ago during the cretaceous period. Archaeologists say it was probably a gentle giant. It had a large mouth and tiny teeth, which indicates it likely ate plankton, which is good news.

That wraps this hour. I'm Kim Brunhuber. I'll be back in just a moment. Stay with us.