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CNN NEWSROOM

Soon: Biden Holds First News Conference of Presidency; Grocery Store Massacre Suspect Makes First Court Appearance; Georgia Expands Vaccine Eligibility to Anyone 16+ Years Old. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 25, 2021 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:12]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us.

It is a huge day at the White House. Just two hours from now, President Biden will be holding his first news conference since taking office two months ago. The president has faced some blowback for that, for waiting this long to hold a formal press conference. Former Presidents Trump and Obama had both held formal press conferences by this point in their presidency.

So, you can be sure that the president has agenda, has goals when he steps to the podium today, that he wants to, of course, highlight the administration's efforts in battling back the pandemic, hitting and surpassing the goal of 100 million vaccine shots and 100 days long before reaching the 100 days. And also the huge accomplishment of passing the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

But at the very same time, he is also facing the reality that what he wants to talk about might not be what he is asked about. A wide range of other issues are on the president's plate and demanding attention right now -- the surge at the southern border, gun violence in America, voting rights under attack, and a slew of foreign policy challenges ranging from China to Russia to troop levels in Afghanistan. I'm not even hitting on all.

CNN's John Harwood is joining me now from the White House.

John, what do you think the main questions are for Joe Biden today? How are they preparing?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, aides, of course, give the president briefing books with talking points and that sort of thing. But the presidency itself is preparation for an event like this.

I think the challenge for Joe Biden is he's had a significant amount of success early on, on the COVID relief package, on vaccinations, on declining case counts. He's going to be able to tout at the opening of the press conference a new higher vaccine goal, maybe 200 million shots in the first 100 days instead of the 100 million he started with. That follows the principle of underpromise, overdeliver. That's always good in politics.

But he's going to be facing as you alluded to at the top, questions about issues on which he has faded to underdeliver. On gun rights, for example, gun safety. These horrific tragedies underscore the difficulty of acting, because Congress has not shown a willingness after even worse massacres than we've seen in the last few days. Not shown a willingness to strengthen background checks or patent assault weapons ban.

Or the border crisis where you got so many children being housed in conditions that nobody wants them to see. But there is no ready solution to the problem. So those are all challenges because those issues where you're not able to tout success or more politically problematic for you.

On the foreign policy front, I think he'll be happy to talk about his stern words to Vladimir Putin, calling Vladimir Putin a killer. His stern words of his national security adviser and secretary of state to their Chinese counterparts. All of those are in the service of saying, we're standing up for the United States against these foreign adversaries.

But it's those issues at home where there's tremendous momentum within the Democratic Party for action on immigration issues, on gun -- some aspects of gun control where he's not going to be able to deliver. They're going to be the source of frustration.

We'll have decent economic news to talk about, Kate. We did for the first time the new jobless claims tipping below 700,000 for the first time in a year. That's a sign of some of the positive economic news that Joe Biden can also talk about.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, let's talk more about this. John, if you could stick with me.

Also joining me now is Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analyst, and Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for "The Associated Press".

It's good to see you, guys.

Mark, let's start with the great and genius John Harwood steals my transition where we begin with you anyway on the first time weekly jobless numbers that were out -- below 700,000, the first time since the pandemic. Is this all good news for the economy and then Joe Biden heading into this press conference?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Yeah, it's great news, Kate. Below a million, that's the first time in over a year. I mean, it's obviously, still very, very high by any historical standard except for the pandemic. So, you know, obviously still a lot of stress out there.

But moving below a million claims, the state regular UI claims and pandemic unemployment assistance, so that's the claim, the insurance for gig workers, going both below a million a week is a very significant threshold. And it's clearly moving in the right direction, and very well for job creation, job growth which is key to how we think about the economy.

So, we'll get a jobs number and I think it will show we created a half million or more jobs during the month of March.

[11:05:04]

And I think the next few months, the next couple of quarters, perhaps even the next year, we're going to see a lot of good economic news and this is the beginning of it.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, all right. So that's one thing you no he that Joe Biden is going to want to talk about, Julie. I mean, like, look, the Biden team announced this press conference last Tuesday, more than a week ago. Since then, you have had on the -- since then, you have had a lot of things jump ahead in terms of agenda and what the country is facing.

You've had mass shootings in Atlanta and Colorado, the surge growing at the southern border, North Korea firing off missile. And that is on top of the economy and coronavirus.

Julie, do you think they're -- I don't know, regretting announcing and setting a date for this nine days out?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Look, I think what we've seen over the last week or so is a microcosm of what you face when you're president. You go in having a very clear vision for what you want to talk about, what you want to focus on, what your pro- active agenda is going to be. Then you take a lot of incoming. And you really don't have the ability to control the other issues are.

And so, we're going to see that play out in real time. I suspect that Joe Biden will want to keep the focus in this news conference on the COVID-19 relief bill on vaccinations, on his administration's handling of the pandemic which so far has gotten high ratings from the majority of Americans. Yet he's going to be asked about the question on the border. He's going to be asked about how he squares the rhetoric around guns, wanting to take some major steps in terms of restricting access to guns with the reality of the political challenge of doing that. And he will be asked about foreign policy as well.

But I think Joe Biden knows. He's been in Washington a long time. He served as vice president, and that is a constant battle that you face in the White House. What you want to talk about and the outside forces that are constantly pushing you.

BOLDUAN: And, John, there does seem to be quite a lot writing on this formal press conference today. What do you think -- how do you think the White House defines success today?

HARWOOD: Well, I think by having it in the middle of the day instead of primetime, you'll have a so much smaller audience. Lots of people will see clips of this. But not as many watch it live. I think the administration would regard it as a success if Joe Biden

can be concise and clear in his answers, that there were times during the 2020 presidential campaign where he would ramble or get off course during debates, for example. But that's a little bit different because then you're -- he was fending off a large number of challengers. Here it's going to be him with the reporters and if he can show command of the issues and if he can avoid significant verbal stumbles, avoid getting testy with reporters and overly defensive on some issues, I think they'll regard that as a success and also if he can continue as Julie indicated, to try to keep the focus as much as possible on where he has succeeded so far and that's on the pandemic which is upended American lives in so many ways over the last year.

BOLDUAN: So, then, Mark, the economy is a relative bright spot for the president going into this press conference today, what -- what is the question that you would ask him?

ZANDI: What's next? I mean, you know, obviously, this American rescue package, the $1.9 trillion package that was passed into law a couple weeks ago is now starting to hit. But that was designed to get us to the end of the pandemic. You know that's coming into view.

But then how are we going to get this economy moving longer run? And how are we going to, you know, achieve some of longer term big goals that we have here with regard to climate change and incoming wealth distribution and infrastructure spending?

So I would ask him about the future. You know, where are we headed next? What is next on your agenda? This is great what you've done so far. You know, you deserve a lot of credit. But, you know, obviously, we have a lot of work to do here. So, what's up next?

BOLDUAN: And, Julie, can you talk to me about style and personality here? I mean, this can really -- these two things can come out in the press conferences with presidents. Its not just in those one-on interviews that journalists can have with the president. You can see how they handle this bright spotlight and high pressure moment facing a lot of -- a lot of incoming from, a lot of incoming questions from reporters. He is doing this later than his predecessors have done. He didn't do a lot of press conferences, if we're quite frank on the campaign trail.

PACE: Certainly not of the length that we're expecting to see today. I think that is what makes the press conferences, the solo press conferences really unique and important. It's a chance for the American people to see the president for a long duration of time on their feet, having to handle a lot of different issues. And it's a chance for the president, though, also to show a little bit of a different side.

[11:10:03]

To show a little bit of personality, not just a command of the substance of what they're talking about but a little personality to look beyond some of the reporters in the chairs to Americans that are watching at home to sometimes bring a little levity to these moments. So, there's is a lot that you can try to accomplish as president. But I do think it's important for the president to take questions in this format. He is a person that Americans elected to run the country on a number of fronts. I do think that it's crucial for journalists to have a chance on behalf of the public to put him on the spot on a lot of tough issues today.

HARWOOD: Kate --

BOLDUAN: Yeah. And, John -- go ahead.

HARWOOD: I was going to add to what Julie said. Remember that a lot of the attacks from the political right on Joe Biden is that he's not just lost the step at age 78. He's lost five steps. And they made a lot of hay with any verbal stumble that he has.

And I think if the president can deliver a performance that shows him on top of issues and able to parry, handle the questions he's getting from reporters, the White House will consider that a success.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys. Really appreciate it. A lot coming up today.

Coming up for us still this hour, the suspect in the Boulder shooting makes his first court appearance as community there is mourning the devastating loss of the ten innocent victims in that violence. The mayor of Boulder, Colorado, joins us next.

Plus, a new study on a huge question surrounding coronavirus -- the safety and efficacy of vaccines in pregnant women. Are they safe and do they work?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:00]

BOLDUAN: Breaking news, just in to CNN. The suspect in the mass shooting at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder has just had his appearance in court. It happened moments ago, in person in Boulder. He faces ten counts of first-degree murder.

Let's get over to CNN's Dan Simon. He is outside the courthouse.

Dan, what happened in court?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Kate. This is the first time that we have seen the suspect since Monday's massacre, 21-year-old Ahmad Alissa. And he was brought in on a wheelchair. Keep in mind, did he have that injury when he exchanged gunfire with police officers, had an injury to the leg. He was wearing a blue gown. He was also wearing a mask. Didn't look like he had much expression.

The judge informed Mr. Alissa of all the rights. He was asked whether he understood the rights, he answered yes, in the affirmative. I believe that was the only time we heard him speak.

The judge then required about scheduling a preliminary hearing. That's when the public defender stated, quote, we cannot do anything until we're able to fully assess Mr. Alissa's mental illness. We cannot begin to assess the nature or depth of Mr. Alissa's mental illness until we have discovery from the government.

So, bottom line, Alissa waived his right to a speedy preliminary hearing. The next court date will be about 60 to 90 days for a status conference. The Boulder D.A. also announced that additional charges should be filed the next couple of weeks.

So, that's what happened in court, Kate. I want to tell you about what happened in the community last night. There was a series of very somber candlelight vigils, people huddling together to mourn and other the victims.

We also heard from Officer Eric Talley's sister, the sister talking about how she tried to call her brother when she heard about the shooting. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIRSTIN BROOKS, SISTER OF OFFICER ERIC TALLEY: I called him. I said, hey, I know you're in the middle of this probably. Give me a call. And I didn't hear from him. I didn't hear from him.

I made it home. I made it into my front door and my mother called me and she was just screaming. And she said his daughter had called her, his young daughter and said, nana, daddy's dead.

I didn't know other people had been killed yet. I just knew at that moment that Eric was gone. And with that, everything about Eric was gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON: Still so much shock and sadness in the community of Boulder.

In terms of overall investigation, Kate, I can tell you that from a law enforcement source, we're still trying to ascertain a motive. Specifically, they're trying to figure out why that particular grocery store was targeted, because there were several other grocery stores closer to where the suspect lives. That grocery store 30 minutes away from where the suspect live. So, they're trying to pinpoint why exactly targeted that store -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Dan, thank you.

I have Officer Talley's voice in my head right now as we for the first time are seeing this video. We see the suspect, gunman, shooter in court for his first court appearance. This is the first video that is coming out. It is just coming in moments ago and that first brief court appearance.

As we look at this, joining me right now is the mayor of Boulder, Colorado, Sam Weaver. He's joining me now.

Mayor, thank you for coming in. I'm curious as to your reaction from what we're hearing from Dan Simon

that's happened in this courtroom right now, hearing from the suspect's defense team already seeming to lean into mental illness, saying they cannot assess the depth of the mental illness until they hear more from, you know, the D.A. and their case against him.

You can kind of guess the road that they're traveling down. Your reaction to this?

MAYOR SAM WEAVER (D), BOULDER, COLORADO: Well, I think it's no surprise because we heard from the suspect's family that he may have had mental health challenges. So it is obviously something the defense team is going to look at.

You know, from our standpoint, right now, we're focused on the victims and the families. So what happens in the case is in the hands of the D.A. and any future jury. We have a lot of faith in our Boulder D.A., Michael Dougherty.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, a lot of people said great things about him and his work ethic.

One thing that we heard in court also is that they're still processing the scene. We know we heard from the press conferences from authorities that it's going to be still days to process the scene.

Do you have any sense how much longer that will be? How much longer you're looking at, you know, King Soopers being a crime scene and then also a memorial?

WEAVER: Well, we heard initially that it will be five to seven days. We're three days in. So, we expect early next week, it will stop being a crime scene.

I do know that a lot of the associates who are involved in the grocery store have personal items that are still inside. Just yesterday, I believe some of the vehicles were allowed to be removed from the scene that belonged to people who work in the store and shopping.

So, it's slowly moving from being a crime scene back into being a scene of rebuilding. And as you say, you know, there's a memorial sprouting up there and we're going to have to begin to think about how we memorialize the victims of this terrible crime.

BOLDUAN: Well, that's right. I mean, I spoke with Nicole Hockley yesterday. She's the mother of Dylan Hockley -- one of the children who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting years ago.

And what she said is the shock will fade away. The pain never does. And I'm wondering, Mayor, what that means for Boulder.

WEAVER: Well, I think that's probably right, sadly. It means that we do need to process it. We started last night. We had a council meeting that had maybe 30 folks from the community testify. We also had those candlelight vigil held in front of the Boulder County courthouse on the Pearl Street Mall. So, we're beginning that process. I think, you know, the milestone for

our community is when that grocery store opens back up to the public. That's something that for me will represent, you know, the start of the return to a calmer, civic life here.

That is -- that grocery store serves as a community center and nexus point for an entire part of town. So, once that's open, I think we have to start looking at what we do as a memorial.

I know there is a park not too far. There is actually a couple parks nearby the grocery store, and I can imagine that we do something in one of those parks for memory of the victims.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, a lot to consider and process, though. Mayor, thank you for your time.

WEAVER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, after hitting his goal of 100 million shots well before the 100-day mark, President Biden is expected to lay out a new target today. Will he be setting the bar higher this time? Higher than he did last time? What it means for states as they expand access to vaccines?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:24]

BOLDUAN: Today, President Biden is expected to announce a brand new vaccination goal after meeting his benchmark of 100 million doses administered long before he hit the 100-day mark. Two sources are telling CNN he's going to be making the announcement during his first news conference that will be getting under way now in less than two hours.

Biden's announcement comes as more and more states are opening up vaccine eligibility to more and more people. As of now, six states are letting any adult who wants the shot to get it, anyone that is the age of 16 and up. This is well ahead of the president's call to expand eligibility to that point by the beginning of May.

CNN's Natasha Chen is live in Georgia where starting today, anyone 16 and older can get vaccinated.

Natasha, what are you hearing there?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kate. People getting vaccinations are relieved and grateful at this site. About 400, 500 people are getting their shots today.

Now they had to book their appointments far in advance. So those who just became eligible as of midnight, they're the ones behind me here today. They're online right now trying to find an available appointment in the coming weeks.

But I did speak to a couple who lives here in DeKalb County, Georgia. The husband had actually recovered from COVID-19 last fall. And so, to be able to survive and get to this point after, you know, staying in the hospital for two weeks, it really was an emotional moment for them. Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARENCE FULLER, RECEIVED FIRST COVID VACCINE TODAY: The first thing I'm going to do is shout and thank God because I had caught COVID-19. And I was at the very point, I was in the hospital.