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U.S. Reports at Least 150 Mass Shooting in 2021; U.S. President Facing Challenges, Both Domestically and Abroad; Bush Calls on Congress to Tone Down Harsh Rhetoric; Church in Texas Worries for Unaccompanied Migrant Children; New Waves of Infections Slowing Recovery in Much of Asia; Australia and New Zealand Begin Travel Bubble; Wildfire Rages in Cape Town, Threatens National Park; Hong Kong Won't Air Oscars for First Time Since 1968. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 19, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: CNN considers an incident to be a mass shooting if four or more people are shot, wounded, or killed excluding the gunman. But President Biden has call America's mass shootings a national embarrassment. But the debate over how to stop it is one steeped in deep political division. One gun control advocate told CNN that tougher gun laws are a good place to start.


PETER AMBLER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GIFFORDS COURAGE TO FIGHT GUN VIOLENCE: If you look at gun crime across the United States, states with stronger gun laws have less gun crime. States with weaker gun laws have more gun crime. Furthermore, two-thirds of crime guns recovered at crime scenes in states with stronger gun laws actually come from states with weaker gun laws. So if gun laws don't matter, why are folks heading for states with weaker gun laws to buy the guns and bring them back and commit crimes?


Joining me now is CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's also a senior editor for "The Atlantic." Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So Ron, this is a nation on edge right now. At least 50 mass shootings in the last month as the country also deals with civil unrest, police violence, the Chauvin trial may have a verdict very soon, and even before that, shots were fired on the Minnesota National Guard and police in Minneapolis as the trial wraps up and in the wake of the deadly police shooting of Daunte Wright and the police killing of a 13-year-old. What does the Biden administration need to be doing about all of this and how potentially explosive could this prove to be?

BROWNSTEIN: Well look, Rosemary, as you know, I have written that the 2020s could be the most difficult decade for America since before 1850 and the most divisive decade since the years before the Civil War. And you know, we see the lines in our society, the fissures in our society just deepening month by month, year by year.

Joe Biden's strategy I think to me seems pretty clear. I mean, he is trying to lower the temperature on the cultural wars which are the main drivers of this division and try to get the country to coalesce around a common goals of controlling the virus and restarting the economy and trying to shift the political debate to a less confrontation areas like vaccine distribution and infrastructure.

But the centrifugal forces the degree to which Republicans and Democrats or red and blue America are now living in different worlds to the point where we can't respond to a gun violence epidemic of this sort. Because red America views it as a cultural afront to limit guns in any way. You know, all of that is very real, and it's not clear to me that any single leader has the leverage to stop or reverse that kind of centrifugal direction that we've been progressing on for several decades now.

CHURCH: Right, and so frustrating because most of the American people want to see some sort of gun control and police reform. But I want to head overseas now. Because former national security advisor Lieutenant General HR McMaster calls Joe Biden's plan to withdrawal U.S. troops from Afghanistan an utter disaster. And other defense officials suggest it's likely that this would dismantle the CIA network. Others disagree, of course. They say it's time to get out just as Joe Biden says. What is your reaction to those criticisms?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, in it is highly possible, if not probable, there will be bad outcomes of the U.S. leaving. The question is whether the outcomes would be any better if we leave in a year or two years or five years. I mean, I think ultimately what Biden was saying is that we cannot solve this problem unless we are willing to, you know, essentially stay there forever. And that is the gamble that he is making.

CHURCH: And just very quickly, to Russia now, the Biden administration says there will be consequences if Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny dies in custody as a result of his hunger strike. What might those consequences be? And where could this issue take relations with Russia?

BROWNSTEIN: Well look, I mean, this is, you know, this is the clearest turning of the page. One of the clearest turning of the page since the Trump administration to divide. And Trump always found a way to kind of temporize on Russia, if not excuse their behavior. Biden is making very clear he wants to respond forcefully to it. So I assume they will be significant sanctions. And as you know, the EU is talking about this, as well. Biden's instinct is to try to be the leader of the Western alliance.

So I'm guessing that whatever he does, he's looking for the broadest possible coalition to do so. And the question will be, I think, in not only the days ahead, but the months and years ahead does a more forceful response illicit any change in direction from Putin, and so he felt that under Trump, he had cart blanche to, you know, extend his authority both domestically and try to expand his influence abroad.


CHURCH: Ron Brownstein always enlightening to get your analysis, many thanks.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

CHURCH: Well former President George W. Bush is urging Congress to move beyond partisan politics when it comes to the issue of immigration.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do want to say to Congress, please put aside all the harsh rhetoric about immigration. Please put aside trying to score political points on either side. I hope I can help set a tone that is more respectful about the immigrant which may lead to reform of the system.


CHURCH: The plea comes amid a heated debate on Capitol Hill of immigration reform and the influx of migrants at the U.S./Mexico border. Bush says he's lobbying the Republican Party to act on creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Well a church in Brownsville, Texas was once a salvation for many unaccompanied migrant children, but services are now on hold because of the pandemic leaving those same children stuck in shelters. CNN's Rosa Flores has more.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is more than a Sunday service in south Texas. It used to be a lifeline for dozens of migrant children living in shelters who crossed the border alone. Before the pandemic, here they are attending a Christmas posada. The children allowed to come to church every week.

Alina Leela (ph) and sister Cindy Borealis (ph) say they'll never a boy whose eyes filled with tears when he said his mom wouldn't take him out of the government custody.

FLORES: So the mom was in the U.S. and rejected her child?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It's very painful. It's a painful situation for them.

FLORES (voice-over): Pain the children now have to deal with in confinement. The pandemic keeping them in south Texas shelters with little to no contact with the outside world. Except for this religious live stream with Catholic Priest Tony O'Connor.

TONY O'CONNOR, SAN FELIPE DE JESUS CATHOLIC CHURCH: Because of COVID, we can't go into the centers and they can't come here. FLORES (voice-over): Nearly 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children live

in shelters under the care of U.S. Health and Human Services for about 30 days.

FLORES: What do you tell them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That they should have faith. Even though they feel that they are in prison.

FLORES: Do they tell you that it feels like a prison?


FLORES (voice-over): And while they're treated well overall, says O'Connor --

O'CONNOR: Well they're looking to be free.

FLORES (voice-over): He's sure they miss the little things.

O'CONNOR: And they always manage to find a lot of food. Because hey like food and Coca-Cola.

FLORES: They like Coca-Cola?

O'CONNOR: They like Coca-Cola.

FLORES (voice-over): Since the pandemic, the pews where the migrant children used to sit are empty. But their presence is peppered throughout the church.

O'CONNOR: That's from one of the kids.

FLORES (voice-over) Their prayers in sealed envelopes are here at the foot of religious statutes.

O'CONNOR: Probably saying help me get out of here. Increase my process so that I can go north and be with my family.

FLORES (voice-over): The bright paper flowers and figurines they made inside the shelter, still decorate the church. Including this swan made by a boy, who O'Connor said, had been in custody for a year.

O'CONNOR: When they're talked to about it, you just say, well you know you're not going to be here 50 years. Just don't throw the towel in. You'll get out.

FLORES (voice-over): But he knows that advice is tough for young children. Especially since they can't leave the shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I pray for them, and I always have them in my heart.

FLORES (voice-over): Leaving them without freedom through faith.

Rosa Flores, CNN Brownsville, Texas. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: That is a tough story there.

And still to come, a break from COVID fatigue. A chance for families to reunite. Australia and New Zealand get their travel bubble off the ground. We'll explain.



CHURCH: Welcome back everyone.

Well India has recorded more than 1 million new COVID-19 cases in five days. On Monday, the country reported more than 270,000 cases, a record high. The capital New Delhi is especially hard hit and will be under lockdown for a week. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under fire for holding election rallies but ironically he is appealing to people gathering for a major Hindu festival to keep it symbolic.

And in Thailand and Japan, a new wave of infections is threatening to slow recovery. Top health experts in Japan say the country is in the middle of a fourth wave while Thailand is implementing new restrictions after a sharp rise in cases.

And CNN's Paula Hancocks joins me now live from Bangkok. Good to see you Paula. So the vaccine rollout has been slow across Thailand and other parts of Asia despite these new waves of infections. What is the latest on all of this?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, really many of those countries in the Asia-Pacific region that were praised in 2020 for their ability to contain the pandemic, they are now struggling with a slow rollout of vaccinations. The likes of Thailand also New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, really the vaccination rates in those countries is particularly low.

Now we have heard from the Lowy Institute that they believe that the Asia-Pacific region on average was the best prepared and dealt with the pandemic the best. But really there is sort of a difference in the way that they dealt with the vaccinations.

When you look at the likes of Thailand, for example, the death rate here is remarkably low when you compare to others. It is still below 100 people since the pandemic began. Compare that to the United States where it's well over half a million people.

So clearly the level of urgency when it came to having to roll out the vaccination is very different. But now, of course, Thailand, for example, is in the grip of another outbreak. Its worst outbreak since the pandemic began. And it is finding itself low down the list of priority countries when it comes to getting these vaccinations in a world which is very short on the vaccinations.

South Korea, as well, is still less than 4 percent vaccinated or at least with the first dose in the country. We heard from officials at the beginning say they were happy to take a wait and see approach to see what possible side effects there could be.

And then of course, with Japan, less than 100 days to go to the Olympics, they certainly would have expected to be far further along in their vaccination program.


So really it appears, in many ways, that the tables have turned. That those countries that were doing remarkably well in containing the pandemic are not doing so well when it comes to vaccinations -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, that certainly seems to be the pattern we're seeing right across the world, doesn't it? Paula Hancocks, many thanks for bringing us the very latest there.

Well elsewhere signs of hope and progress in the battle against the virus just a week before Anzac Day, New Zealand is now allowing Australians to travel to the country quarantine free. Angus Watson has the story from Melbourne.


ANGUS WATSON, JOURNALIST: A travel bubble opening between Australia and New Zealand on Monday with the first of 140 flights planned this week across the Tasman Sea with no passengers having to quarantine on arrival. That offer previously was available to New Zealanders traveling into Australia. Now New Zealand returns the favor, making that one way travel corridor into a two way travel bubble.

New Zealand says that will mean billions for its economy with Australian tourist dollars targeted and of course, families split by these border closures for over a year will be reunited again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Australian (INAUDIBLE) we're going back to my schedule and we are taking this little guy to meet his family for the first time. He's 15 months old, so it's going to be exciting for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no replacing the human touch and human relationships. So we're looking forward to getting over to New Zealand. And speaking to our people. Making sure that welfare is great, but also that our business continues to prosper.

WATSON: Both countries entering into this agreement tentatively. Each saying they're willing to pop this bubble if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 on either side of the Tasmin Strait. Both countries have had success with that sort of strictness when it comes to COVID-19. Just around 2,500 cases in New Zealand since the pandemic began and just under 30,000 in Australia.

That platform means the countries want to extend the travel bubbles further into the region. New Zealand wants to incorporate Pacific Islanders into its travel bubble. Australia has earmarked Singapore as a potential country, that it could have a travel bubble her. But will also rely on vaccine rollouts in Australia and New Zealand where governments have been criticized for being slow to get vaccines to their people.

Angus Watson, in Melbourne, Australia.


CHURCH: Firefighters are battling flames threatening Cape Town, South Africa. A massive wildfire is tearing through Table Mountain National Park. And authorities say one man has now been detained as they investigate whether the fire was deliberately set. Michael Holmes has that story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're taking everyone out because there's a fire starting. There is fire already inside.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An out-of- control fire that broke out in Cape Town's Table Mountain National Park on Sunday spread to the upper campus of the University of Cape Town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Strange. We're just taking them out. Out, you guys. Out.

HOLMES (voice-over): Students evacuated. UCT library, nearby restaurants and historical structures damaged, including Mostert's Mill, which was built in 1796. It was the only working windmill in Africa south of the Sahara.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's horrible. It's bad. It's worse than I expected.

HOLMES (voice-over): Residents watched as the fire spread from the mountain to other parts of Cape Town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A portion of the Devil's Peak Mountain and the Table Mountain is in flames.

Helicopters, too, bringing in water to quench the fire.

HOLMES (voice-over): A statement from Table Mountain National Park says an early investigation shows a fire left unattended by a homeless person might have sparked the blaze.

And a fire and rescue official says two firefighters were admitted to the hospital with injuries.

Michael Holmes, CNN.


CHURCH: Well some of Europe's top football clubs are on the back foot after a big announcement. They are forming a super league where they get to call the shots. Why critics said it's about the money. We'll explain.



CHURCH: Well now to an announcement sending shock waves around the world of football, 12 of the top European clubs plan to form a break- away 20-club super league. The final line up is a work in progress, but these are the titans of the game that are involved so far. Both FIFA and the governing body for European football are condemning the move.

Well when the academy awards are presented next Sunday, viewers in Hong Kong won't see it on television. Maybe the blackout is just a coincidence, but two of the major nominees are being criticized in mainland China. CNN's Will Ripley has the story.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This year's Academy Awards off the air in Hong Kong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to need a bigger boat.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Hollywood's biggest night won't be broadcast in the Chinese territory for the first time since 1968, more than half a century, even with two Hong Kong films nominated.

The city's leading broadcaster, TVB, tells CNN the Oscar blackout is purely a business decision. Political scientist Willy Lam believes it's much bigger than business.

WILLY LAM, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, CHINESE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: Well, the extent of censorship and self-censorship in Hong Kong for the past few years has been stunning. They do not want to show anything which is considered to be politically incorrect. So that's why they would want to air on the side of caution.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Caution, he says, over comments made by Beijing- born director, Chloe Zhao. Her film, "Nomadland," nominated for six Oscars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Including Best Picture of the Year.


LAM: Director Zhao did an interview many years ago in which she expressed thoughts about the censorship system in China.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Lam believes China media regulators are also wary of "Do Not Split," the Oscar-nominated documentary about the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

ANDERS HAMMER, DIRECTOR, "DO NOT SPLIT": I'm surprised how fast it's possible to change the city, and now you see all these examples of how these basic human rights, from my point of view, are disappearing. RIPLEY (voice-over): Hong Kong has charged dozens of pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers under its draconian national security law, imposed by Beijing last year.

The city's chief executive, Carrie Lam, says the law also applies to the arts, potentially muzzling movie makers in a city once called Hollywood of the East.

RIPLEY: This the avenue of stars. Modeled after the Hollywood walk of fame. And this is the statue for the Hong Kong Film Awards. Kind of like the Oscars, but only Hong Kong films. This town's movie business peaked about three decades ago.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Martial arts legend Bruce Lee received the Star of the Century Award from the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2005, more than 30 years after his untimely death at 32.

Lee set the stage for another Hong Kong star, Jackie Chan, who took home an honorary Oscar five years ago.

And this year, the first Academy Award nomination for a Hong Kong-born director, for Derek Tsang's film, "Better Days."

The best days of Hong Kong cinema may be over, critics fear, if creative freedom, like the Oscars, is silenced.

Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.


CHURCH: And thanks so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is up next. You're watching CNN, have yourselves a wonderful day.