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Protest Planned Today Over Georgia Bill Restricting Voter Access; Georgia Voting Law Intensifies Democratic Debate Around Filibuster; Biden Looking At Possible Executive Action On Guns; Number Of Migrant Children In Federal Custody Continues To Surge; How A Texas Mom Escaped The Anti-Vaccine Movement. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired March 27, 2021 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:19]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour with the fight over voting rights in Georgia. A protest is planned later on today at the state capitol in Atlanta where Governor Brian Kemp signed a sweeping and controversial voting bill into law this week, a law already facing several lawsuits from voting rights groups.

Georgia's law limits the use of voter drop boxes and puts new requirements on people to cast absentee votes. It also gives state officials authority to take over local election boards. And it makes it illegal to hand out food or water for those waiting to vote in lines.

The White House and voting rights groups are calling Georgia's new law "Jim Crow for the 21th century". President Biden says the Justice Department is now looking at the restrictive voting law, while blasting the people who passed it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's an atrocity. The idea, if you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency, they passed a law saying you can't provide water for people standing in line while they're waiting to vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Republicans like Governor Kemp argue this voting law is designed to secure election integrity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): It wasn't a voting rights bill, it was an election security bill that will allow Georgia to have secure, accessible, fair elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Outrage is growing following the arrest of Georgia State Representative Park Cannon. She was handcuffed after she knocked on the door of the governor's office where the law signing was taking place.

Cannon has been released on bond and said on Twitter, "We will not live in fear and we will not be controlled. We have a right to our future and a right to our freedom. Her lawyer, telling CNN that they will contest the felony charges she faces, including obstruction of law enforcement and disrupting a session of the Georgia general assembly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD GREIGGS, ATTORNEY FOR GA STATE REP. PARK CANNON: She is shaken, but she's resolved to fight for justice and fight for the voices of the people she represents, you know, the millions of Georgians. She's going to stand resolute and make sure that we don't go one step further backwards. That we don't go to 1850 or 1950, but we stand up and protect our voting rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Georgia's new law is facing several new lawsuits from voting rights groups. Joining me right now, the executive director of one of those groups who filed suit, The New Georgia Project. Nse Ufot is with us now.

Nse, so good to see you.

So your suit asks that the new law be invalidated because it violates the Voting Rights Act, plus First and 14th amendments of the U.S. constitution by placing undue burden on voting rights.

What are you bracing for in this fight?

NSE UFOT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE NEW GEORGIA PROJECT: What we're bracing for is a Republican Party that is absolutely desperate and will do and everything within their power to hold onto power, including breaking the machinery of our elections and our election infrastructure.

Our governor and our secretary of state spent the past several weeks talking about the integrity and the security of Georgia's elections. Hell, they even said it directly to the president of the United States.

And then they turned around and, while the sort of extreme members of their party passed these atrocious bills that make it super difficult for all Georgians to vote, quite frankly, they've been silent in this moment.

I think it's really important to point out that the bill that was passed two days ago in Georgia also essentially fires the secretary of state from Georgia and removes him as the head of the state election board and allows the Republican-controlled Georgia legislature to overturn the results of elections. Unlike what they were unable to do after the November 2020 elections, and after the January '21 runoffs.

And so while we are advocating for a passage of H.R.1 and H.R.4 in Congress, we absolutely are going to court to make sure that this bill in Georgia is invalidated.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: So tell me about this -- yes, so tell me about your court battle in Georgia because you described the new bill, the way you did, but of course the governor is describing it as an election security bill.

[11:04:56]

WHITFIELD: So what do you envision for this battle in court, how long might it take?

UFOT: Well, one, please don't compare our statements to what the governor is saying. He has proven himself to not be --

WHITFIELD: Well, that's the contrast. That's the contrast.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: That's how the governor describes it, even though there was no proof of a fraudulent election. There were three counts of the election results, yet the governor is saying this is an election security bill.

So what do you envision in court, how long might this battle take?

UFOT: I have no idea how long the battle takes. I would like for it to be quick. But we will see what the judge has to say about this. The idea is that, not only is it a violation of the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment, because it makes it difficult for people to participate, to choose how they want to participate in our elections.

And the First Amendment doesn't protect lies, which is what we see the governor of Georgia doing in this moment, and which continues to get perpetuated where folks like traffic in his lies.

And so infringing on the ways that Georgians get to participate in our elections is a violation of our constitutional rights, A. And B, every branch of government in the United States, including the courts, have acknowledged that the right to vote is a sacred and fundamental right, which is deserving of enhanced protections.

And so when we see Georgia Republicans attacking vote by mail, for instance, which Georgians have been voting this way for 16 years, and it's now only a security concern because we were in the middle of a pandemic. The majority of Georgians availed themselves of voting in this particular way, including Georgians of color, including new voters, and they lost.

And that is the security concern. That is the crisis of confidence that they lost and that they will continue to lose, because in a marketplace of ideas, fewer and fewer people are buying what they're selling. And the only way for them to continue to hold onto power is to make it difficult for more people to vote.

WHITFIELD: So your lawsuit is one method. Your organization is also trying to put pressure on businesses like Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot -- all based in Georgia -- to end financial support for lawmakers who passed this bill. So why do you think businesses have an important say here, and influence?

UFOT: Well, because they have been funding Republican voter suppression for quite some time. In the past year and a half, the companies that you've named have given $7 million not to just all Republicans, but to the specific sponsors of these anti-voting bills.

And so what we're saying is that you can't spend all of 2020, Coca- Cola, investing in the get out the vote ads and commercials and the whole campaign targeted at young voters of color, encouraging them to vote and participate, and then give $100,000 to the Republican sponsors of the worst anti-voting bills since reconstruction and dragging us back into Jim Crow.

And so the idea is that not only do we want them to stop funding Republican voter suppression or voter suppression, period. But we also want them to speak up on behalf of the tens of thousands of Georgia voters who are their employees, right. Georgia is home to 18 Fortune 500 companies. And the right to vote --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: Are you also calling for a boycott of some of those companies?

UFOT: Listen, I'm not calling for a boycott. But I don't see a world where -- that's not off the table. We're continuing to escalate. There are those in our coalition who believe that justice and a proper argument is persuasive, but that's absolutely not off the table. That's how important this is.

WHITFIELD: Nse Ufot, thank you so much for being with us.

UFOT: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. It also brings some political implications to Washington, this new Georgia law, where congressional reporter Daniella Diaz is joining us right now on the hill.

So Daniella, this law adding to the Democratic debate around changing the rules of the senate, allowing a quote/unquote "carveout" so that voting rights legislation might be advanced with 51 votes, instead of the 60 required to break a filibuster. Where is this conversation headed? DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Fred, right now it doesn't

look like that's going to happen, that there's going to be an exception to break the filibuster, a 51-vote break for the filibuster for the senate legislation.

But the Senate right now is in a two-week recess even as this legislation looms over the senate and has hit a wall. This legislation known as SB-1 would directly counter any Republican-led state efforts to restrict voter access, namely what we saw happen this week in Georgia.

We've been talking about it all day at CNN what happened with this bill that passed the Georgia state legislature that was signed by the governor that would limit voter access.

[11:09:59]

DIAZ: And here is what a couple of lawmakers had to say about the issue this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): This is an interesting change in tune for the governor. He just said a couple years ago that everything was under control with our elections here in Georgia. What is the purpose behind all of this?

SENATOR CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): Only 31 cases of credible voter fraud. and so this is not about secure voting. This is about suppressing the vote. Because we know, GAO reports, when you put a voter ID law -- and remember, disproportionately more African-Americans lack IDs.

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): It is a throwback to the past when black people did not have rights in this country and couldn't even go into the capitol. Now you can go in but it's a law against knocking on the door, seeking entry. And it's something that will not stand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAZ: So this legislation that passed in Georgia this week is like a lot of efforts happening in more than 40 states across the country. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been clear that this is a priority. The Senate legislation that would counter those efforts -- he wants to put that to a vote. But right now there is just not 60 votes in the Senate to be able to break the filibuster to pass this.

Everything always goes back to the filibuster when it comes to these issues. But I want to be clear. This state-level efforts by Republican-led state legislators could have massive impact on elections going forward, which is why Democrats have made this a priority.

WHITFIELD: Right. And it's not just Georgia. 43 states across the country, Republican lawmakers proposing at least 25 laws that would limit or restrict voting as we know it.

All right. Daniella Diaz, thank you so much on Capitol Hill.

All right. Coming up, the United States sets a coronavirus vaccine record as more than 20 states report an increase in new cases. We'll have the new warning from the CDC and the best ways to celebrate Passover and Easter safely.

Plus, after two mass shootings in less than a week, President Biden considers taking executive action on gun regulations. The proposals that he is now considering.

[11:12:21]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Police in Virginia Beach are calling it a chaotic situation. Two separate shootings moments and blocks apart, leaving two people dead and eight injured. Police say they found at least eight victims at one crime scene. The injuries ranging from serious to life-threatening, and one fatality.

Police say they have no information yet on a suspect. An officer then shot and killed a man about a block away in a situation they say was related to the first incident.

The Virginia Beach police chief calling it a police intervention shooting.

And Adding to the chaos, a Virginia Beach police officer was hit by a car at one point and taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

All right. After the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado President Biden is talking about possible executive action on gun regulations.

Jasmine Wright is at the White House for us. So Jasmine, what exactly is the president saying about his options?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well Fred, President Biden is saying he's looking at what he can do via executive actions on gun control. Now, President Biden has been clear up to this point that he wants congress to act. That is where he sees that lasting change happening.

But we know because of the slim majorities that they do not have the votes right now to pass a gun reform bill. So President Biden is now saying that he is looking for options, what he can do by himself, until a bill comes up in Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're looking at what kind of authority I have relative to imported weapons, as well as whether or not I have any authority to -- these new weapons that are being made by 3D equipment that aren't registered as guns at all, there may be some latitude there as well. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT: So Fred, we heard from Biden on those options. And also over the last few days, White House officials say that they are preparing some other options, and that is including requiring background checks on ghost guns. Those are those handmade or self-assembled guns that don't have serial numbers, strengthening the federal background check system to alert law enforcement when someone fails their background check and fulfilling a campaign pledge to send $900 million to community programs to combat violence.

So those are a few of the things that are being floated right now. But we know, Fred, that next week President Biden wants to focus on his next major legislative push, that infrastructure bill. But we will be watching and then there's an open question really of whether this White House takes up the issue of guns as well, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jasmine Wright at the White House, thanks so much.

All right. Still ahead, a dramatic spike in the number of unaccompanied migrant children in federal custody. Is the Biden administration doing enough to fix this issue at the border?

[11:19:11]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The number of unaccompanied migrant children in federal custody at the southern border continues to grow. On Thursday, there were more than 18,000 children in U.S. government custody. That's an increase of more than a thousand from just the day before.

And we also are getting a new look at the conditions inside a crowded border patrol facility in Donna, Texas. Republican Senator James Lankford sharing this video, following a trip to spotlight the influx of unaccompanied minors.

The video showing people crammed together on the floor inside pods and covered with Mylar blankets at the facility there.

CNN's Rosa Flores has more on the long journey for desperate families as officials work to ease the overcrowding.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over) : This is what the Biden administration has not allowed America to see. To tell this story, we were escorted by Texas state troopers. Lines of migrants on Texas trails along the Rio Grande.

Nancy is pregnant and cried describing her painful journey from Honduras.

Ronnie says his family fled Honduras due to devastation from two recent hurricanes. [11:24:56]

FLORES: And under this bridge, even more lines of migrants. Their silhouettes beyond the trees, a sign America's immigration system is overwhelmed.

BIDEN: Please sit down. Thank you.

FLORES: During his first formal press conference, President Biden said --

BIDEN: I will commit to transparency.

FLORES: And while one full news camera was allowed inside an HHS facility for unaccompanied migrant children this week, it was a sanitized version of reality, far removed from the bottleneck of this border processing facility. U.S. Customs and Border protection releasing their own video this week.

CNN's repeated requests for access to immigration processing facilities have been denied. The day we captured this video, Texas state troopers were our guides.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as they make landfall, that's considered the U.S. side for us.

FLORES: Sent here by Governor Greg Abbott earlier this month to thwart smugglers.

VICTOR ESCALON, DPS REGIONAL DIRECTOR: It's a way to suffocate and put a lot of pressure on the cartel.

FLORES: Victor Escalon is the top cop in charge of what Abbott calls Operation: Lone Star.

ESCALON: As border patrol gets tied up with processing migrants that come across, they'll leave miles at times, open on the river.

FLORES: That's where Texas steps in -- by water, air, and by ground, says Escalon, to fill the gaps of security on the Rio Grande.

(on camera): According to state troopers if you look closely in between those trees, you'll see a camp, some sort of staging area on the Mexican side. I'm on the U.S. side and this is one of the hot spots they described -- an area, a trail that is used by migrants. You can clearly see the path.

The landscape is peppered with evidence that it is used by migrants. We see clothes, documents, masks -- all leading to these dirt trails with arrows pointing migrants to the immigration processing center under the bridge.

(voice over): Nancy says feeling hungry for two was the worst part of the journey.

While most of the migrants I met said they made the trek to the U.S. because they were poor, this little girl was rich in faith.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gracias.

FLORES: Ending our conversation by saying "thanks", and "God bless you".

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Rosa Flores, thank you so much for that report.

So with me now to talk more about the situation at the southern border is Jonathan Ryan. He is the executive director of the refugee and immigration center for education and legal services. Jonathan, so good to see you.

JONATHAN RYAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, REFUGEE AND IMMIGRATION CENTER FOR EDUCATION AND LEGAL SERVICES: Thank you for having me.

WHITFIELD: So what's your reaction when you see the surge of unaccompanied children continuing to flock to the border and then also see images, most recently provided by Senator Lankford, of what appear to be overcrowded conditions of a number of people under Mylar blankets and just crowded in small spaces?

RYAN: Well, we've been working with unaccompanied children who are in the government's custody for a dozen years that I've been there. This is something that we do every day. Even when the news is not reporting a so-called surge, which I would bring up is a word that we also associate with the virus. And I think we should reflect on how we talk about these humanitarian issues. These are children.

When we talk and we work inside of these detention spaces every day, and so what we're seeing right now is really the direct consequence of what's been happening over many years, most significantly over the last couple of years, when the previous president effectively closed off the border to all asylum seekers, even including children.

And so we saw, for example, in our intakes, because we're doing work with these children in custody all the time. Last year we saw fewer children than we've ever seen in the dozen or so years we've been doing this work. This time last year --

WHITFIELD: But right now --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: Right. But right now we are talking about a significant increase and even, you know, according to the Biden administration officials, they're saying -- they're looking at 18,000 unaccompanied children right now. In April it could increase between 18,000 and 22,000. And then there is bracing for 21,000 -- upwards of 21,000 or more in May.

So how can any administration, but namely this one that we're in, address this kind of increase in unaccompanied children? What are your expectations? RYAN: Well, again, we work inside of the facilities where these

children are detained, and we know from our experience that the parts of the government and the organizations that run the facilities, they can re-unify children with their families very rapidly. And they actually believe and we talk that know that they can re-unify children more quickly.

What's happening right now is that the government is putting up additional barriers. They talk about these facilities as though they're simply existing to re-unify children with their family members.

[11:29:59]

RYAN: What's really happening inside of the facilities is that ICE is beginning deportation proceedings against all of these children. When they say that they're processing the asylum claims, what they're actually doing is throwing the book at these children. They're putting them alone into deportation proceedings and then seeing which children might be able to navigate their way out.

If we were completely focused on an enforcement approach to this humanitarian need, then trust me, we would be able to re-unify these children with their family members quickly, expeditiously as a country without the need of these mega facilities.

What the government is doing --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: All right. How do you do that? Can you paint the picture of how? I mean, what is this enforcement approach that you speak of that could mean processing this number of children more easily, you say?

RYAN: 40 percent at least of the children who are in government's custody have a family sponsor who is an immediate relative here in the United States. It takes very little time to identify them. The problem is that our government is putting them through a background check, fingerprinting, potentially fingerprinting all the people in their family.

Could you imagine your child sitting in a government detention center, when your brother, your sister, that child's uncle or aunt is there wanting to take custody, but the government will not hand them over?

These children are held in Texas, one of the most anti-immigrant states in the country. If there was not such fear, if the former administration had not given all sponsor information to ICE for them to detain and deport people who came forward as sponsors, if this was not a fear-based system, but rather a system that sought positive outcomes for children who are refugees, then we could process people through much more quickly.

Sponsors would come forward. They would come and collect their children. All of this wouldn't be necessary.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: So is it -- am I hearing from you that you're feeling like the Biden administration's approach is a continuation of the Trump administration? Or are you seeing an outcome that promises to be different under this administration?

RYAN: We heard President Biden as a candidate say that he was not trying to play left versus right, but right versus wrong. And if there was one issue that candidate Biden distinguished himself from the former president, and not to mention its the only issue that President Biden has distinguished himself from President Obama for whom he served, that he was going to act differently with respect to immigration.

And he must keep that promise. Now is not the time to give in to a right wing hate-mongering campaign that's being waged. Let's us be remembered by people like Senator Ted Cruz, who not very long ago supported an insurrection in our country, who flouted the risks of COVID in our state.

And now we're listening to these people telling us what a crisis is. I missed the day in school, Fredricka, when all of those sepia pictures of immigrants coming to Ellis Island, of those boats in the Hudson Bay. I miss the day that they called that a crisis.

We are a nation of 330 million people. The richest, most wealthy, most powerful nation on earth. And we're calling the crisis that children are coming, seeking help from three tiny, poor, Central American countries. That is the crisis that our wealthy, powerful nation thinks that children are the problem.

And we need to reflect, are we really looking into the soul of our nation and how we treat children? Because a future generation, will they look at the way that we warehouse children with disdain and confusion? Yes.

But what a future and like generation will really look back at as neanderthal behavior is the fact that this country is deporting children back to a place where it's dangerous for them to be.

WHITFIELD: We're going to leave it there.

RYAN: It's not necessary.

WHITFIELD: Jonathan Ryan, thank you so much. Thank you for your time.

RYAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Up next, a Texas mom now regrets being part of the anti- vaccine movement on social media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How does that make you feel now?

HEATHER SIMPSON, FORMER ANTI-VAXX MOTHER: Really bad. (END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:34:18]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The U.S. set a new record for vaccine doses given in a single day yesterday and that brings the country to nearly 15 percent fully vaccinated.

But this week has also seen a rise in cases. Michigan has quickly soared to one of the highest infection rates in the country. And Vermont recorded its highest single day caseload since the pandemic started.

The CDC is urging Americans not to get complacent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We have seen cases and hospital admissions move from historic declines to stagnations and increases. And we know from prior surges that if we don't control things now, there is a real potential for the epidemic curve to soar again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Dr. Leana Wen joins us now from Baltimore. Dr. Wen, so good to see you.

All right. So the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation is projecting that still another 50,000 Americans will die by July 1st. And now we're also, as a nation, celebrating an increase in vaccinations.

So what in your view is behind this level of complacency, if we want to call it that?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think pandemic fatigue is very real and people are also looking at the vaccines and thinking this is wonderful. We are having 2.5 million vaccinations per day. That is fantastic.

But I also think that restrictions are being lifted so quickly, including mask mandates. And people are getting very tired.

[11:39:54]

DR. WEN: And at the same time, we also have these more contagious variants that are circulating, and something that's more contagious means that the activities that we thought was relatively safe is now going to be higher risk because there is a more transmissible variant that's out there.

So I think at this point we really need to explain that it's not about zero risk. We're not going to be able to get to zero risk. But we can help people to manage their risk and then to try to reduce that risk as much as possible.

And that means encouraging vaccinations, continuing to wear masks. And ideally, messaging that masks and vaccinations are our way out of this pandemic.

WHITFIELD: All right. So talk to me about your thoughts about children being vaccinated and the timeline. I mean, every state is doing something different. Say for instance, in Georgia, you know, children over the age of 16, you know, vaccinations are being opened up for them.

But what are your concerns or thoughts about the timeline for the rest of the country?

DR. WEN: So in terms of children, the Pfizer vaccine is the only one that's currently approved for children 16 and older. There are studies now under way, and we would expect that hopefully the studies will be done for kids 12 and older to be able to receive the vaccine by late summer, early fall, which means that for younger children, including my children, they're probably not going to be vaccinated until 2022.

And so all this means that it's even more important for adults to be vaccinated, because if we have any chance of reaching herd immunity, we as adults, the vast majority of adults have to be vaccinated in order to protect those who are not yet able to receive the vaccine, including our children.

WHITFIELD: Passover begins today. Easter is next weekend. So how can people safely celebrate? Because people are going to want to get together.

DR. WEN: Absolutely. Well, according to the CDC, the great news is that if two households or multiple households are gathering and everybody is fully vaccinated, they can definitely see one another, including indoors.

If there are people in one of these households that's not vaccinated or multiple of these households that are not vaccinated, that's where it gets tricky. People who are in different households who are not yet vaccinated should not be gathering indoors without masks. And so these families or people can still be gathering, but they should be gathering outdoors with different households spaced at least six feet apart.

I know it's difficult, but we have gone through so much in the last year and I would hate to see all of the sacrifices that we have made be in vain.

WHITFIELD: Right. Folks, just be patient. Don't let your guard down just yet.

All right. Campuses are already thinking about the fall semester. Rutgers University is planning to require all returning students in the fall to show that they have been vaccinated.

Is that the approach that you see other campuses will take? DR. WEN: I think Rutgers is the first but I think a lot of others are

going to be following their lead. And I can understand why because they want to ensure the safety of their students and staff.

Essentially what Rutgers is saying is that they want to create this herd immunity on their campus if everybody or nearly everyone is vaccinated. I do think that exemptions will need to be offered. And I think there are ways, for example to do this.

So maybe if somebody is not willing to be vaccinated or unable to be vaccinated, perhaps you give them the option of having twice weekly surveillance testing instead of vaccination. But I do think that this idea of having vaccinated only people gathering in different settings, we're going to see a lot more of that. Including, you can imagine on cruises, in restaurants, on planes. I think a lot of people will feel more comfortable if they're going to a setting where everybody around them is vaccinated also.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dr. Leana Wen, thanks so much.

I'll be talking live with the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Rutgers University coming up in our 1:00 Eastern hour.

Thanks so much, Doctor.

All right. A return to normality depends on a vast majority of people getting the coronavirus vaccine, but anti-vaccination groups are working overtime online to promote frightening and false theories about the shots.

CNN's Donie O'Sullivan spoke with one mother who got pulled in and then got out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HEATHER SIMPSON, BELIEVED IN ANTI-VACCINE MISINFORMATION: I was like, oh, my gosh, we are not vaccinating our kid. There is no way. The vaccine goes into our child, she'll just die, that's all there is to it.

O'SULLIVAN: You thought if your daughter took the vaccine, she might die?

H. SIMPSON: That she would die. Not might. Just like would.

O'SULLIVAN (voice over): Until recently, 30-year-old Heather Simpson was somewhat of an influencer in the anti-vaxx space. Now she's changed her tune, although her husband has not.

(on camera): You're going to get the COVID shot when you can get it?

H. SIMPSON: Right.

O'SULLIVAN: Ben, are you?

BEN SIMPSON, ANTI-VAXXER: Probably not, and that's because I already had it. Like I had COVID, so I have antibodies.

O'SULLIVAN (voice over): The CDC recommends all adults get the vaccine, even if they have had COVID-19. Heather says she blames herself for the vaccine misinformation she shared online and with her husband.

(on camera): When you went online you became part of the anti-vaxx community. Tell me how you found it. How you got into it?

H. SIMPSON: When Charlotte was 15, 16 months old, I decided to make a post thinking I was so brave about my anti-vaccine views and vaccine hesitancy and it got shared like 600 times and I was like holy. And then after that I just got this following of people.

[11:45:03]

O'SULLIVAN: You got the validation from the likes.

H. SIMPSON: Yes. Yes, the validation that I'm not an idiot. A lot of people believe this.

O'SULLIVAN: And then you got pulled in?

H. SIMPSON: Yes, I feel like a lot of the anti-vaxx moms all found each other all at once. I was getting like a friend request per minute.

O'SULLIVAN (voice over): With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the stakes of online misinformation about vaccines are even higher.

Renee DiResta, expert at Stanford explains how negative but not representative stories about vaccines go viral online.

RENEE DIRESTA, STANFORD INTERNET OBSERVATORY: When I was a new mom I joined a couple of groups on Facebook for new moms where people were saying, well, I have a friend and she vaccinated and then this terrible thing happened. And it was this concept of like the friend of a friend narrative.

The power of the personal story is what social media really brings home for all of us. We may live in a world of facts and statistics in the aggregate, but in terms of what we personally feel, it's what comes to us from our communities. It's what comes to us from people who are like us. That's what people are really sharing. That's the kind of content that spreads.

H. SIMPSON: Here's the vaccine that protects you from getting sick.

O'SULLIVAN: Heather says her views on vaccines and on medicine began to change when she needed surgery.

H. SIMPSON: I posted about it and my friends were like, this is the lazy way out. You need to be eating this food and taking this and doing this to heal yourself. Getting surgery is lazy.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): So was it overnight you went from -- H. SIMPSON: No, it took months. And I had friends that really poured

(ph) into me listened to my fears and talked me through it. And it really helped to know that they were scared, even though they're pro- vaxx, they're scared giving their kids shots because that's just normal parental anxiety.

O'SULLIVAN: You said your intent by posting this was to inspire some parent to stop their child from getting vaccinated. Do you think you did that?

H. SIMPSON: Yes, like I know I did. I've had people tell me that they're not vaccinating because of my posts.

O'SULLIVAN: How does that make you feel now?

H. SIMPSON: Really bad. I'm sure it's not just those few, like the amount of people I reached. Because my main way of posting was fear- based and emotional-based and I can't take it back.

O'SULLIVAN: Are you afraid that you might have harmed some children?

H. SIMPSON: I mean, I don't -- I would hope not. I'm also hoping that if they still follow me, they're going to see that I changed and maybe I could reverse the damage. I know that's a long shot.

O'SULLIVAN: Have you sought to contact any of them to say, I was wrong?

H. SIMPSON: I don't even know who they are anymore. I shut that Facebook down and I started a new one and I -- all I can hope is that they will somehow see me changing my mind. But, yes, it is hard to live with.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Donie O'Sullivan, thanks so much for that report.

Coming up, tomorrow night on CNN, an unprecedented event with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, when the medical leaders of the war on COVID break their silence.

Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In an unprecedented event, the leaders of the war on COVID break their silence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to make sure that we stopped saying that the risk to Americans was low.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I finally hit a moment in life where I said, you know, enough is enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they saw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a line in the sand for me.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGIES AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We're in for a disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they believe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are not being transparent about it. YOU KNOW, I could use the word "cover-up".

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I knew I was being watched. Everybody inside was waiting for me to make a misstep.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Were you threatened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what's next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As bad as this was, it could be worse. And there will be another pandemic. Guaranteed.

Join Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

DR. GUPTA: We were not testing enough?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with you.

DR. GUPTA: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN's special report, "COVID WAR: THE PANDEMIC DOCTORS SPEAK OUT" tomorrow at 9:00.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[11:49:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Severe weather threatens 50 million people this weekend in the form of large hail, damaging winds, tornadoes and strong storms. Today will be the third time this week that some southern states are southern states are facing the possibility of severe weather. Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia were hit with multiple tornadoes less than two days ago.

And here is look at where this new system is headed. Meteorologist Allison Chinchar joining us from the CNN Weather Center. Allison.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Hello there, Fred.

We're taking a look at the area that are dealing with the most severe weather right now. We do have some severe thunderstorm warnings in place as we speak, most of them right now across portions of Tennessee as the line continues to race off towards the east.

But there will be further development. You're going to start to see more storms fire up, especially this afternoon across areas of Arkansas, Mississippi, portions of western Tennessee and even Missouri as that first portion of the line continues to slide east.

So we do have -- we are expecting more severe weather as we go through the rest of the afternoon. The main threats will be damaging winds, a few tornadoes and some large hail. We've already had reports of quarter size up to ping-pong ball size hail already today. Those reports likely to continue this afternoon.

The main concern is going to be for cities like Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, but even St. Louis over towards Knoxville and then eventually stretching down into some other cities as we make our way into Sunday.

[11:55:00]

CHINCHAR: Notice again that line continuing to slide east, even into the Carolinas by later on this afternoon. And more of those storms starting to backfill on the western side too, which is why you have such a wide swath for potential for severe weather.

Tomorrow the main concern for severe storms exist mainly in the Carolinas as well as Virginia, the main cities there will be targeted say like Atlanta, Charlotte, even up to Washington, D.C. Fred, through Sunday.

WHITFIELD: All right. Good warnings there. Thank you so much, Allison Chinchar.

Coming up -- crews in the Suez Canal racing to remove a ship the size of the Empire State Building. How the canal shutdown in Egypt could affect your wallet, straight ahead.

[11:55:39]

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