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Soon, Biden Heads to Pittsburgh to Unveil Massive Infrastructure Plan; Dave Bauer, President & CEO, American Road & Transportation Building Association, Discusses Biden's Infrastructure Plan, McConnell Saying Infrastructure Plan a "Trojan Horse" for Higher Taxes & Spending; Pfizer Kids Vaccine Breakthrough; Delta Will Start Selling Middle Seats Again; Gaetz Under Investigation, Denies Relationship with Teen Girl, Claims Extortion Attempt. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 31, 2021 - 13:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: In just a few minutes, President Biden will make his way to Pittsburgh where he will unveil an ambitious plan to boost the economy, a roughly $2 trillion infrastructure spending plan.

It's the first of a two-part proposal. And this round is aimed at revamping the physical infrastructure. We have talked so much about those needs, like roads and bridges and train tunnels.

The White House is making clear the proposal being announced this afternoon is only a starting point.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's more than just roads, railways and bridges. It's also broadband. One-third of the country does not have access to broadband.

It's also ensuring people have access to clean water, something that should be a human right in this country.

So there are several components of this that will also be a job creator. But it's a historic investment we are really excited about.


HILL: CNN chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, joining us with a closer look at what the president will be pitching.

We heard a little bit of that pitch there by Jen Psaki earlier this morning. What else are we going to here, Jeff? JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Erica, it's

really going to be a transformational bid to change the economy in many ways.

And this is President Biden's latest effort to push a progressive agenda in the wake of the pandemic. And the pandemic may, indeed, make this easier to pass because the economy, of course, has been hurting so much.

That is why this is called the American Jobs Plan. It's not called the infrastructure plan. It has infrastructure in it, no doubt, but it's called the American Jobs plan.

And it's a once-in-a-century look at trying to improve, yes, infrastructure but also many other things across the entire economy.

Let's take a look at the breakdown, numerically at least of some of these programs, adding to some $2 trillion.

And it would be $650 billion in physical infrastructure. That's the roads, bridges, airports, seaports, waterways, things to that effect.

And $300 billion in housing infrastructure. That's improving some public housing but also other housing needs across this country.

And $300 billion in manufacturing. That's bringing some manufacturing programs up to speed, up to the new age, and creating several jobs.

As well as the electric grid. That's what the climate change proposal is in this. We saw the storms in Texas earlier this year and electric and that was an issue. This would be to update the electric grid in parts across the country.

And finally, $400 billion in home health care. That to aid the elderly. By lifting the wages for home health care workers. They're widely underpaid. But also adding assistance and to ease the waiting list there are for many housing populations for the elderly.


But really, Erica, this is a big, broad plan. This is just part of it. The second part will come later next month.

This is going to, of course, be paid for by raising corporate taxes and raising that 21 percent rate. It's 28 right now. And it would raise to -- actually it's 21 right now, excuse me, and it would raise it to 28 percent.

To put that into perspective, during the Obama administration, it was 35 percent. And it was lowered during the Trump years.

All this to say, Erica, this is a starting point for this. Republicans are on board with the idea of doing infrastructure but not raising corporate taxes.

So this is going to be a big push and a test for this White House and president to try and get this massive legislation through. But it's yet one more example of how President Biden is trying to go big -- Erica?

HILL: Jeff Zeleny with the latest for us. Jeff, thank you.

ZELENY: You're welcome.

HILL: As Jeff mentioned, this is a push to go big. But to really get a grasp of what that price tag translates to, let's take a closer look at the needs around the nation. Trillions of backlogged projects, roads and highways in need of updates.

What is the situation literally on the ground across the country and could this plan help? If so, how?

Let's turn to Dave Bauer, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

It's good to have you with us.

This is a massive number, as we know, and that could stop people in their tracks. We saw the breakdown a little bit from my colleague, Jeff Zeleny.

We're talking about -- if we talk just about highways and roads and road safety, that's about $135 billion as it breaks down.

Is there enough in there to be more than just a Band-Aid?

DAVE BAUER, PRESIDENT & CEO, AMERICAN ROAD & TRANSPORTATION BUILDERS ASSOCIATION: Oh, no, Erica, look, the important thing about this package, as your colleague just described, it starts a much-needed and long-overdue discussion about renewing the federal government's leadership in the area of infrastructure.

And the amount of investment that is included in the president's plan would certainly allow and elevate the federal government's ability to start tackling some of the problems.

Is it going to automatically solve everything? That just can't happen. It will have to be a process that is done incrementally over time.

And that's not going to start unless the ball on this package or something very much like it starts to get rolling.

HILL: In terms of the getting that ball rolling, you have unique perspective because you spent seven years working in the Senate. You have decades of experience now in the industry that you are involved in.

And as I understand it from your bio, part of your job is lobbying Congress. You are out there advocating, obviously, for these projects that you want to see passed.

I should note heading into the 2020 election, 74 percent of people polled by Gallup infrastructure was very important to their vote. Here's what we just heard from the senate minority leader, Mitch

McConnell, today. Take a listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It's like a trojan horse. It's called infrastructure, but inside the trojan horse, it's going to be more borrowed money and massive tax increases on all of the productive parts of our economy.


HILL: So there's support among the American people. As we just heard from Jeff, there's support on both sides of the aisle for getting some of the projects done. Where things fall apart is in the funding of this.

Why -- I mean, all of these years in, to emphasizing this need, why is it such an uphill battle, do you think?

BAUER: Look, what I think gets lost in this discussion about who pays for infrastructure improvements and how much is needed, I mean -- let's be really clear at the outset that it does take money to improve infrastructure. It can't be done, you know, with a shell game.

What gets lost is how much inadequate infrastructure is already costing us each day, in lost time with our family, and supply chain inefficiencies, and wasted fuel from cars sitting in traffic.

And so all of these costs are somehow absorbed and treated as if it's just the way it has to be. And it doesn't have to be.

Infrastructure can be improved. We can have better bridges. We can have better roads. We can have better public transportation.

And all of those things will bring down those costs and mitigate the onerous discussion about who pays and how much.

HILL: We will be watching this as the ball starts rolling, as you said.

Dave Bauer, appreciate your insights. Thank you.

BAUER: Thank you for having me. OK.

HILL: Up next, Pfizer said its COVID vaccine is 100 percent effective in adolescence in its clinical trials. Dr. Leana Wen is with us. So when could kids start, perhaps, getting shots, kids between 12 to 15? We'll ask Dr. Wen.

She'll also give her thoughts on news that will Delta start selling middle seats again. That's when we come back.


[13:45:10] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: As we see increases in cases, we can't afford to let our guard down. We are so close, so very close to getting back to the everyday activities we all miss so much, but we're not quite there yet.

We need to keep taking the mitigation measures, like wearing a mask and social distancing, as we continue to get more and more Americans vaccinated every single day.


HILL: CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, there with what has become a daily plea to hold on a little longer, a plea that may be falling on deaf ears.

The number of new cases continuing to climb. It's actually up 25 percent over the past week. That's the highest increase we have seen since mid-January.

If we look at the map today, more than half the states -- as you can see -- reporting a rise in new cases.

But there's also good news. More than 20 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated in the U.S. And Pfizer says its clinical trials show its vaccine is 100 percent effective in kids 12 to 15 years old.

Joining us now, CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore City health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen.

Dr. Wen, when we see this, the fact that we know the Pfizer vaccine isn't yet authorized in the U.S. for anyone under 16.

But seeing this news that Pfizer is sharing from their clinical trials, are you -- I guess, hopeful would be the right word -- that we could see the data be put out there, perhaps even submitted for emergency use authorization in time to get kids vaccinated for back to school this fall?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I am very optimistic. These data are excellent. They show that the vaccines are safe and effective for teens, for children 12 to 15.

This is really important for getting back to school but also for us reaching herd immunity as well.

I do think there's a good chance that we will be able to get the vaccines authorized in time for the start of school so these older teens, at least, are able to get the vaccines by late summer and early fall.

HILL: Good news especially as we continue to follow the variants. Dr. Fauci saying today the vaccines currently authorized seem to be effective when dealing with variants. That's the good news. A lot of reaction to news from Delta today that they will begin

selling middle seats again on planes. The last major airline to make that announcement.

Can you tell us, scientifically, does it make a difference when it comes to potential spread on an airplane of masked people with the ventilation whether the middle seat is filled or not?

WEN: Common sense tells us it would make a difference because when you are able to have physical distancing, that's an additional layer of mitigation. And so I think it is good for us to continue masking at all times while on flights.

But not everybody is able to keep their mask on the entire time. What about people eating or drinking? And also, the more people that are traveling now, that also adds to the risks as well.

I do hope that people are going to continue to keep up as many of the other mitigation measures as possible. Although, I do worry about the increased risk of infection when you allow planes to have that much more capacity.

HILL: Definitely a lot to think about.

Dr. Wen, always appreciate it. Thank you.

WEN: Thank you.

HILL: Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz denies he ever was involved with trafficking a 17-year-old. He says what is really happening here is that he is the victim of an attempted extortion, one he claims has been orchestrated by a former Justice Department official.


Our Evan Perez is following the investigation for us and he will bring us all up to speed, next.



HILL: Republican Congressman from Florida Matt Gaetz is denying allegations he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. And that comes after "The New York Times" reported he's being investigated by the Justice Department.

CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is following this for us.

Evan, the DOJ looking into whether Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws. What more can you tell us? Because it's also interesting when this investigation was apparently launched.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Erica. This investigation began near the end of the Trump administration under Bill Barr, the attorney general at the time. It has been ongoing here at the Justice Department.

Public corruption prosecutors here are focusing on this idea, on these allegations that Matt Gaetz was involved in sex trafficking, was involved with prostitutes.

Again, this is all an outgrowth of another investigation that's been made public now for several months. A politician down there by the name of Joel Greenberg, a friend of Matt Gaetz, was charged with a number of counts, including sex trafficking.

We're told that that is what spurred this investigation, that is now focusing on Gaetz.

But we don't know a lot of details about it. "The New York Times" reported that it involves sex with a woman who was 17 at the time, a couple years ago.

Gaetz went on FOX News last night to address that allegation. Take a listen.



REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): It is a horrible allegation. And it is a lie.

"The New York Times" is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman. And that is verifiably false. People can look at my travel records and see that that's not the case.

What's happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official.


PEREZ: Erica, so the story is complicated, as Gaetz pointed out. Because there's a separate investigation now being run by prosecutors in northern Florida. They're looking into these claims that Gaetz has made that he was being extorted.

He named this former prosecutor, David McGee, who worked in the federal prosecutor's office in Pensacola years ago.

Now, we've been trying to reach McGee. He has not responded to us.

He did talk to "The Washington Post," and I'll read you what he said.

He said, "This is completely false. It's a blatant attempt to deflect from the fact that he" -- Matt Gaetz -- "is under investigation for sex trafficking of minors. I have no connection with that case at all, other than one of the thousands of people who have heard the rumors."

Apparently, the facts of the allegations of these cases, Erica, has been widely known in Florida legal circles. So we expect that these two separate investigations are going to continue.

HILL: Evan Perez with the latest for us. Thank you, Evan.

And thanks to all of for joining us on this Wednesday. I'm Erica Hill. See you back here tomorrow at 1:00 p.m.

Brooke Baldwin is up next with more live coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial.