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Shooting Suspect Expected to Make First Court Appearance; Today, Biden Holds First Press Conference of Presidency; AstraZeneca Updates Data on How Well its Vaccine Works after Criticism. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired March 25, 2021 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Thank you for being with me.

Facing a judge for the first time minutes from now, the suspect charged with ten counts of murder in a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, is scheduled to have his first hearing this hour. Federal investigators are now setting their sights on the online activity that the shooter had as they try to zero in on what could have possibly motivated this. We'll bring you the hearing live once it begins.

And grappling with growing crises on multiple fronts, from gun control to immigration to hate crimes, President Biden is preparing to face reports with his first solo press conference since taking office.

We are covering all the headlines this morning. Let's begin this hour in Boulder. Our Dan Simon is there this morning.

There are questions as to whether he'll appear in court this morning, though I understand the judge has requested that he does.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The judge requested that he be here in person, although he can waive that right if he does so in writing, and we're not aware if he has done so. This is set to begin in about 15 minutes. These hearings are usually quick and routine, where suspects are advised of the charges and informed of their rights. But, you know, given the enormity of this case, I think it's fair to say that this will be anything but routine.

As we await for this to take place, Poppy, I want you to listen to the sister of Officer Eric Talley who spoke out about her feelings towards the shooter. Take a look.


KIRSTEN BROOKS, SISTER OF OFFICER ERIC TALLEY: I don't hate that person. He doesn't get to have that power. Shootings and death and darkness, they happen but they cannot put out -- they can't put out -- they don't win. They can't put out the light that was my brother. They can't put out the beauty that is his children and his family and this is not okay. It is not okay that I'm burying my brother. That's not okay.

But everything is going to be okay, and he would say that. He would say it with that look, that bemused look like don't be too upset, like there is still light.


SIMON: So much grief in this community, Poppy. Last night, very somber, as you had hundreds of people gather throughout the Boulder community for a series of candlelight vigils, people huddling in the cold to honor and mourn the victims.

In terms of the overall investigation, one of the things that police are trying to ascertain is the motive. They're trying to figure out specifically why this particular grocery store was targeted when there were other supermarkets closer to the alleged shooter's home. This one was 30 minutes away. Poppy?

HARLOW: There is still light, that's what her brother would have said, pretty remarkable. Dan Simon, thank you.

President Joe Biden will hold in the middle of all of this national grief and trauma, his first formal news conference since taking officer. Our White House Correspondent John Harwood joins me now from Washington.

What is notable, John, is for all the criticism that the administration took for not putting him out there sooner for a press conference, this may be the most necessary time for him to be answering questions directly on multiple fronts.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And it's the time when the presidency -- when Joe Biden is meeting realities of the presidency. As much as you try to control the message, control the agenda, the story, to try to achieve your objectives and Joe Biden's been very disciplined about that so far, reality and truths sets the agenda for you.

So we expect him at the top of this press conference to invoke the new goal of achieving perhaps 200 million vaccinations in his first 100 days. He's already topped the 100 million vaccination goal. Underpromising and overdelivering is what presidents like to do.

The challenges on the issues that are likely to come up in this press conference with higher force than we've seen in the past is he has almost faded to underdeliver, that is on gun control, against the emotion that you just heard in that clip from the surviving sister. The reality is he's not going to be able to get much done legislatively on gun control and that creates real tension within the party because there is overwhelming desire on the part of Democrats to do something, running up against the limits of what you can do in Congress.

Same on the border crisis, a lot of impulse within the party to very quickly deal with the plight of these children who are being held in conditions that are not what anybody wants to see. But it's a very difficult problem that they're not going to be able to solve immediately. And that's what Joe Biden is going to bump up against in this press conference.

HARLOW: Can I ask you very quickly, John, it seems increasingly by the day as though Senator Joe Manchin, in many ways, may dictate this presidency, whether it's on guns and where he stands on that.


Look what almost happened on stimulus, and then with his concerns issued yesterday about H.R.1 and voting rights. I just wonder if you have any insight in how the administration feels about that and how they're going to deal with it.

HARWOOD: Well, Joe Manchin, in that respect, Poppy, is a reflection, a symbol of the broader political limits in the country. We saw this in a smaller way during the consideration of American rescue plan when the $15 minimum wage came up for a vote. And it was not just Joe Manchin, it was seven other Democrats who said no to that $15 minimum wage. Democrats, to hold their majorities in the Congress need to win states that are more conservative than the typical Democrat. They've got to see in Montana, they're hoping to win seats in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, for example, which have significant gun cultures there, same is true of West Virginia.

So, yes, it's Joe Manchin, he's the face out front of that. But it's Joe Manchin and it's Krysten Sinema and it's Tom Harper and Chris Coons and others who reflect the fact that the median -- the center of gravity of politics in the country is not where the Democratic Caucus is exactly. They have significant popularity behind many of their proposals but it's hard to get -- whether it's 60 votes or even 50 votes, hard to get some of those things over the finish line.

HARLOW: That's an excellent point and a great way to put it, John Harwood, thank you, at the White House for us this morning.

More states are set to expand vaccine efforts, Louisiana, Iowa, Washington, the latest states to announce plans to expand vaccine eligibility to anyone over age 16. Those expansions will begin in late March, early April and May respectively. This as children 16 years and older can receive the vaccine starting today.

Our Natasha Chen joins us in Stonecrest, Georgia, just east of Atlanta. Good morning. What do you see?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. We're at a site here in Stonecrest that is going to vaccinate about 400 or 500 people today. And, of course, there is ramping up of efforts downtown in Atlanta as the FEMA-supported site is now going to do 6,000 vaccinations a day.

And if you take a look at the map, we can see what you were just describing. The expanded eligibility here, the states in green are already offering vaccines to anyone 16 and older as of today. Georgia joins that group. And then the states in yellow will be doing so by the end of March. So this time next week, they will also offer that. And then the states in red, by the end of April, they will also make vaccines available to all adults 16 and older.

With me right now, I have the public information officer for DeKalb County Board of Health, Eric Nickens Jr. And I want to ask you, Eric, about the expanded eligibility. How does that change your operations right now on the ground knowing that a bunch of people are going to try and get online today?

ERIC NICKENS JR., PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, DEKALB COUNTY BOARD OF HEALTH: Well, we understand that everybody is very anxious now that we have expanded eligibility here in the state of Georgia for adults 16 and older. But we definitely need everyone's patience. Although we're only able to see 400 or 500 a day here at this site and another one on another part of the county, there are other options out there.

So we encourage everyone to explore the websites that are available here in the state of Georgia to get those vaccines. It may take a little time but we will take care of it, you can get your shot in the arm.

CHEN: And Georgia has fully vaccinated a little more than 11 percent of the population, which, unfortunately, sort of the bottom of the list of 50 states as far as how well they've been able to vaccinate enough people. What is the challenge for you? Where is the bottleneck to be able to vaccinate more people?

NICKENS: Ultimately, the rate limiting factor is vaccine. Once we receive more vaccines, that will allow us to ramp up our operations even more, possibly expanding ours, bringing out more staff. But until that happens, we're kind of in a holding pattern until we do receive that vaccine when it actually hits the door.

Right. So it's all about receiving the doses that you need.

Now with Biden administration's announcement of a $10 billion investment to expanding vaccine access, and I know Biden is speaking later this afternoon, what could help at this point from the federal level to make your jobs on the ground easier here?

NICKENS: Ultimately, I would think flexibility would be our biggest advantage to be able to utilize the funds for public health in the way that we see fit here on the local level.

CHEN: Can you explain a little bit how that works, the flexibility that you need?

NICKENS: So, for example, if we have a need to bring on more staff, shall we say it should not be categorized for one specific person. The use should be broad enough to allow us flexibility to expand the way that we need to.


CHEN: Okay. And thank you, Eric. And so another thing is not only do folks probably need some patience, they also need to understand a little bit more flexibility when they come receive a vaccine. Eric has told me about certain people who have, you know, left the room because they didn't get the vaccine that they wanted. And, you know, what they're telling people is please, you know, the encouragement is get whatever vaccine is available to you in that moment. Poppy?

HARLOW: Yes, okay, wise words. Natasha, thank you.

Next, drug maker AstraZeneca releases new information on its COVID-19 vaccine just days after a U.S. safety board expressed concern that some of their data may have been outdated. Ahead, what do the new numbers tell us?

And torn apart by oppression, Uyghur parents are desperate to reunite their families in a CNN exclusive. Our David Culver travels to Xinjiang to look for the lost children left behind.



HARLOW: We are watching as, any moment, the suspect in the mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, that left ten people dead will appear in court for the first time.

Anne Milgram is with me, former New Jersey Attorney General, and Cheryl Dorsey, retired LAPD Police Sergeant. Good morning, ladies, and thank you very much for being here.

Could you just walk through briefly, Anne, what we'll see today? Because as I understand it, it's going to be short and pretty procedural.

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning, Poppy. Yes, so today, what we're going to see is what is called a first advisement hearing in Colorado. And that basically means that the defendant, the suspect has been charged with an arrest affidavit, meaning, they laid out these ten counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. And the judge is going to read him those charges, potential charges, and go through all of the suspect's rights, the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney provided to him. We understand that he has already had an attorney provided to him but the judge will walk him through all of this. And it is the first step in a very long process.

He will not be asked today to plead guilty or not guilty. He has not yet been formally charged. So this will be about whether or not he gets detained and what his rights are.

HARLOW: And there are so many questions as to motive, Cheryl, to you, including the fact that this grocery store was 30 miles away, right, and that there could have been a closer target. What questions would you be asking right now as an investigator? CHERYL DORSEY, RETIRED LAPD POLICE SERGEANT: I'm wondering why this target was chosen specifically. I know that there were COVID-19 shots that were being given out that day, and I wonder if that's a motivating factor. Does he have a relationship with maybe an employee? Has he frequented this location and has beef with someone who may work there? So there's a lot left to be answered. That will come if they have an opportunity to talk to this individual. There has been some talk about possible mental illness.

But, I mean, the thing that bothers me about all of that is that people who have mental illness can get a right in order to go purchase a weapon. I mean, he bought this gun six days ago. He got right then.

HARLOW: Well, and the fact, Anne, to Cheryl's point, that in the affidavit it -- police spoke to a sister-in-law who said, yes, I saw him two days before the shooting playing with what looked like in her words a machine gun. And there is a red flag law, a new one, just a year old in Colorado, that would give family members the ability to report concern to authorities, and that could potentially mean the folks would lose their weapon, but that's a lot, you know, to put on family members and they don't always do that.

MILGRAM: Yes, that's right. And what we've seen in the past year since Colorado put that red flag law in effect is that there are a number of weapons licenses and weapons purchases that have been denied. And so I think 40-plus have been denied. And so that is a significant fact. Again, here it didn't happen. And I think that the investigators will be asking a lot of questions about what was known.

But I want to also agree on the question of mental illness. I think it's very frequent in mass shooting cases to hear people, defendants come out and immediately say mental illness or to hear the family members saying that. But what the investigators are doing right now is that they're going to unearth a lot of other things that were happening. We already know that the suspect had a 2018 misdemeanor arrest and conviction for a violent act when he was in high school. And so there are going to be a lot of things that they're going to look at prior aggression, you know, his conduct.

And so I think it's way too soon to say -- to say whether mental illness was involved here and what the drivers were.

HARLOW: Cheryl, as we look just going forward as to changes here, what do you think the most significant change to come out of this could be given that we just don't know the results of this background check yet for him and the gun purchase?

DORSEY: Well, certainly a ban on assault rifles would be helpful. I mean, we know that there was something like that in place prior and mass shootings reportedly had gone down. And so I think what's wrong with a cooling off period for everyone? What's the urgency for anyone to possess a weapon, let alone what's the need really for a military- style weapon on an urban street, a gun that can fire rapid rounds quickly, numerous rounds?

[10:20:03] That's not necessary in a regular environment. You don't need it for home protection. And so all of those things need to be looked at.

Finally, for real, no more thoughts and prayers, this has to end.

HARLOW: Thank you both, Cheryl Dorsey and Anne Milgram. As the shooting suspect is in court, we understand in Boulder right now that that hearing just began. Thank you both.

Drug maker AstraZeneca has released new analysis of its COVID vaccine after a few days of controversy. What has changed? We'll break down the data next.



HARLOW: Drug maker AstraZeneca is now updating its data on how well its COVID-19 vaccine works. In a news release, the drug giant said yesterday that the vaccine showed a 76 percent efficacy against symptomatic disease, 100 percent efficacy against severe or critical disease requiring hospitalization.

It's different though than what the company said earlier this week when they said the vaccine showed 79 percent efficacy.

Let me bring in former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. She is an emergency physician at George Washington University. Thank you for being here.

Again, it's not a big difference. It's a 3 percent difference. But, I mean, it's still a difference and it's still not clarity from the jump. Here is what Dr. Fauci said about it.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It really is unfortunate that this happened. You know, this is really what you call an unforced error, because the fact is this is very likely a very good vaccine. And this kind of thing does, as you say, do nothing but really cast some doubt about the vaccines and maybe contribute to the hesitancy.


HARLOW: What do Americans need to know this morning, if this vaccine gets the green light from the FDA? Is it safe? Is it good? Is it effective?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what the Americans need to know about AstraZeneca vaccine along with any other vaccine is that they will all go through a very rigorous process with the FDA. AstraZeneca has not yet submitted its data for emergency use authorization to the FDA. All we have are their press releases. And I do agree with Dr. Fauci that this is an unforced error. 76 percent efficacy is also really good. Why didn't AstraZeneca just say that from the start? Now, it raises questions about are they cherry picking their data and trying to make it look better than it is when actually it is really good?

And so I think at this point, we need to wait not just for a press release but for the full data to be submitted and Americans should take heed that the FDA has a very rigorous process. They will analyze every piece of data and come up with their own independent analysis. That is the promise to the American people that we will make sure that these vaccines are safe and efficacious before approvals get in.

HARLOW: You are really worried still about where we're seeing rise in cases, places like Michigan, for example. And you are wrote in a recent op-ed, we as a society will never agree on the level of virus transmission that is deemed safe. Rather, we should focus on whether activity must occur than work backward to reduce risk.

How do we -- how do we balance that realistically, Dr. Wen? I mean, must occur versus getting back to -- at least trying to live as much of a fulfilling life as we can while being careful and being safe?

WEN: Right, it's a really difficult question. And I think that at this point in the pandemic, we have to realize that most of America is already speeding towards normalcy. We may wish that many things were not happening. As in from an infection control standpoint, it's probably not a good idea that every business is open at 100 percent in many states or at least are able to open at 100 percent in many states. Certainly not a good idea that we're lifting mass mandates. But we also have to recognize this is what is happening. People are going to spring break. People are traveling and telling them not to party and not to travel is not going to work.

And so I think at this point, we need to look at what are those things that have to occur such as schools, make them as safe as possible and then other things, recognizing that people are doing potentially dangerous risky behaviors. We need to help them to figure out how to reduce risks. So individuals going on spring break trips, I wish they weren't going. But if they went, at least when they come back, quarantine and get tested.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. What about for parents? You talk about schools, and we're all thinking about the fall and I'm wondering, you know, because my little kids won't be vaccinated by then. I don't think we'll have the ability to do that yet. Is it going to be another fall school start with masks and social distancing? And what do you think?

WEN: I do think that our students, all of our kids should be back in school, in person, full time this fall. But I also think that masks are probably going to still be there. And there is going to be some degree of physical distancing.

So, school is not completely back to normal for exactly the reason that you said, Poppy. I mean, I also have little kids. I plan to send my son who is now 3.5 back to preschool in the fall. And I am certain that he's probably not going to be vaccinated at that point. And so we as adults need to be vaccinated as much as possible because that will help to put an umbrella of immunity over the kids who cannot be protected, but in the meantime, we probably are going to be keeping up these other measures as well.

HARLOW: Dr. Wen, thank you, good to have you.


WEN: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, there is something you need to watch. It's an incredible special report on CNN with our Dr. Sanjay.