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Garland On Capitol Hill To Defend $35 Billion Budget Request; Biden Gives Update On Pandemic & Vaccination Drive. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 4, 2021 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Attorney General Merrick Garland was on Capitol Hill today for a hearing, trying to justify a multi-billion dollar increase in the budget for the Department of Justice.

The A.G. is requesting more than $35 billion for the next fiscal year. He wants more money for the department's Civil Rights Division and to fight gun violence.

He also wants more to combat the two threats that he says keep him up at night.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We never want to take our eyes off of what happened on 9/11 and the risks that the country continues to face from a foreign origin, terrorist attacks on the homeland.

Likewise, we have a growing fear of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism. And both of those keep me up at night.


BLACKWELL: Paula Reid, CNN senior legal affairs correspondent, is with us now.

So, what else did Attorney General Garland have to say at the hearing today?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's notable right there when he was asked what keeps him up at night, he said terrorist threats, both foreign and domestic.

And we'll note that he was the lead prosecutor in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing trial. But he says today, there's an increasing threat of domestic terrorism.

That's something we've also heard from other law enforcement officials.

But when we talk about why, what is specifically increasing the threat, he pointed to how lethal weapons are more and more available. And he also pointed to the Internet, but specifically encryption, saying these tools allow people to make plans a lot faster and in secret.

Now, interestingly, he also pointed out another related threat, and that is the threat against judges.

Now, before he was, of course, confirmed as attorney general, he was a federal judge for 24 years. And he said that he is seeking additional money for the U.S. Marshall Service to protect judges.

It's been almost a year since the son of a federal judge was murdered by a man who was actually targeting his mother. Now, that perpetrator was found to be an anti-feminist.

And Garland drew the connection. He said, look, as extremism increases, so does the threat against public officials, including judges. That's part of why he wants more money to try to protect them.

Now, he was asked about many different topics but he was also notably asked about recent threats against Asian-Americans.

And this is what he had to say.



GARLAND: From protecting voting rights to prosecuting hate crimes like those experienced by our Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities during the pandemic, DOJ's civil rights work is critical to protecting the American dream.

I ask your support for our budget as the entire department works to ensure adherence to the rule of law, protection of public safety, and equal justice for all Americans.


REID: He has really reinvigorated the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

And one other notable comment he made about policing is that he believes the police officers should be elevated from responding to mental health incidents.

He believes that is something that he should get additional funding to encourage, not only to protect police officers but also individuals.

BLACKWELL: Paula Reid, for us in Washington, thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK, Victor, we're hearing that President Biden is coming out in the White House to speak about vaccinations.

Let's listen to him. JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here to report that

we're in our vaccination program where we are, and what comes next in an effort to get this country back closer to normal.

And, first, where are we? Well, as everyone knows, I promised that we'd administer 100 million shots in my first 100 days. After we met that goal, we doubled it to a historic 200 million shots.

By the time we reached the 100 days, last week, we had shattered that mark with over 220 million shots in arms.

And as we stand here today, almost 150 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. Over 105 million Americans are fully vaccinated.

And among our most vulnerable population, seniors, we're nearing 85 percent of those who got their first shot. And 70 percent of the seniors are now fully vaccinated.

It's a dramatic turnaround from where we were in January when less than 2 percent of adults and less than 1 percent of seniors were fully vaccinated.

Not only that, cases are down in 40 states these past two weeks. Deaths are down dramatically since January. Down over 80 percent among seniors, which includes a drop among Hispanics of 80 percent, among African-Americans of 70 percent of seniors.

There are tens of thousands of Americans alive today -- who would not be alive otherwise had they not had access to rapid vaccination program.

Moms and dads, sisters and brothers, grandparents, neighbors, old friends, they're around now. And God -- thank God for that.

Now, where do we go from here? Well, as we anticipated, the pace of the vaccination is slowing now that the majority of American adults have already gotten their first shot.

But we're still vaccinating millions of Americans every day. In fact, in the last 10 days, one out of every 10 adult Americans got a shot.

But soon, we'll have reached the adults who are most eager to get vaccinated. Ad at that point, this effort will shift to a new phase, which is what I want to talk about today.

Our new phase will focus on three areas. First, kids, children between the ages of 12 and 15 years of age. They're not yet eligible for a vaccine.

The FDA scientists are currently reviewing the data to decide if and when they'll authorize that age group for vaccinations. The FDA, and the FDA along, will make that decision.

But today, I want American parents to know that, if that announcement comes, we are ready to move immediately. Immediately move to make about 20,000 pharmacy sites across the country, ready to vaccinate those adolescents as soon as the FDA grants its OK.

Now most Americans have a vaccination site about as close as their house is near to a neighboring school.

We're also going to ship vaccines directly to pediatricians, ship to pediatricians during the following weeks. So parents and their children can talk to their family doctor about it and get the shot from a provider they trust the most, easy fast and free.

And if teams are on the move this summer, they can get their first shot in one place and the second shot elsewhere.

We know that adolescents are at risk from COVID-19. Most serious illness at that age range is rare. They can still get sick and spread the virus to others.

So my hope is that if the vaccine is authorized, parents will take advantage of it and get their kids vaccinated.

The second area of focus is making it more convenient for everyone to get a vaccine.


We know that many adults have not been vaccinated because they have found it too confusing or too difficult or too inconvenient to get a shot.

So, for those having trouble finding a location or making an appointment, we're going to make it easier than ever. We have formally launched a simple Web site where you can find the vaccination location closest to you. That site is

Let me say it again. Go there now. Find a location to get the shot and make an appointment.

Also today, if you prefer texting, we have another easy way to get the shot. Text your zip code to the following number, 438829. Your zip code to that number, 438829, and you'll get texts back the location that is nearest you with vaccines in stock right then and there.

Yes, you can text your zip code right now to 438829 and get text back within minutes to places nearest to you to get a vaccination that are available immediately.

So, send this to your kids, your grandkids, your friends, who have not been vaccinated yet.

I know some people find making an appointment in advance inconvenient. So, starting this week, we're also going to direct all federal pharmacy partners to begin to provide walk-in hours.

You'll soon be able to get vaccinated without an appointment at the vast majority of our 40,000 pharmacy locations across the country.

We also are encouraging our state and local partners to have a walk-in ability as well to the sites that they run.

And beginning next week, we'll be shipping new allocations of vaccine to rural health clinics, getting more vaccines to more rural clinics so Americans, who don't live near one of those 75,000 vaccination sites, will have new options that may be closer, may be closer than anything they thought.

We know that vaccination rates are lower in rural areas and that's why we're going to get vaccines closer than ever to rural residents. Also, as we wind down the large mass vaccination sites, we will move toward smaller locations, even more convenient to the unvaccinated.

So, millions of Americans just need a little bit of encouragement to get the shot.

I recently called on employers to do their part by offering paid time off for employees to get vaccinated and opening up a tax credit program that reimburses the businesses for the cost of giving the employee the time off to get vaccinated.

And I want to thank the 1,000 businesses that have stepped up so far.

We're also going to roll out new partnerships with the business community. We're working with major businesses like grocery stores to provide special deals like discounts to shoppers who come to the stores to get vaccinated.

It works both ways. Bring them in to get vaccinated, but when they're in, they'll get discounts to purchase goods in that store.

Further, we're working with major sports leagues to launch special promotions for their fans. Things like ticket giveaways, in-stadium vaccination programs, discounts on merchandise, and other creative ways to make it easier and more fun to get vaccinated.

Not making it sound more fun to get vaccinated, but it doesn't hurt to get vaccinated. I'm not saying it's fun but they'll be able to have other things available besides being protected from the virus. I'm going to repeat.

We're going to make it easier than ever to get vaccinated. Visit or text your zip code to 438829, 438829. Walk into your local pharmacy without an appointment. Go to the doctor or local health clinic. It's free. It's nearby. Every adult is eligible.

You know? Go get the shot as soon as you can.

The third area of our focus is Americans who still aren't sure they want to get vaccinated.


We've seen the confidence in vaccines rise steadily these past few months among virtually every segment of the population.

And as more and more Americans see their friends and family get vaccinated, they're making the choice to get vaccinated themselves. Democrats and Republicans, progressives, conservatives, people of all persuasions are getting vaccinated.

In fact, the fact is that nearly 85 percent of seniors have had at least one vaccination shot, and the wide cross section of the nation trusts the vaccine, regardless of race or ideology.

Now, we need to make the same progress for those under 65 years of age.

There are a lot of younger people, especially those in their 20s and 30s, who believe they don't need it.

Well, I want to be absolutely clear, you do need to get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated not only protects you. It also reduces the risk that you give the virus to somebody else.

You could save your life or the lives of people you love. We're still losing hundreds of Americans under 65 years of age every week. And many more are getting seriously ill from long stretches at a time.

Look, even if your chance, even if your chance of getting seriously ill is low, why take the risk when you have a safe, free, and convenient way to prevent it?

Additionally, we know that some people may need more information to decide whether to get the vaccine.

There's now plenty of information for people to do their homework within nearly 150 Americans living -- in fact, with 150 million Americans living now have gotten the vaccine.

Talk to someone you trust, like your physician or your pharmacist or people who have already been vaccinated. Talk to your faith leaders or others in your community that you trust. Look to those people to help answer your questions.

I want to be clear. I've been saying this a long time, but I really believe this is not a democrat or a Republican issue. Science behind the vaccines has been under development for decades.

Two of our vaccines were authorized under prior administrations, Republican administrations.

My administration, a Democratic administration, is doing the work to get hundreds of millions of shots in arms.

While we may not always agree on everything, this is one thing people across the political spectrum can agree on.

So I want to thank prominent conservatives like Mitch McConnell and a large group of Republican members of Congress who have medical training who have advanced getting vaccinated.

I also want to thank the 105 million Americans of every background who are fully protected from one of the deadliest pandemics in our history.

You know, there's a lot of misinformation out there, but there's one fact I want every American to know. People who are not fully vaccinated can still die every day from COVID-19.

Look at the folks in your community who have gotten vaccinated and are getting back to living their lives, their full lives. Look at the grandparents, united with their grandchildren, friends getting together again.

This is your choice. It's life and death. And I hope everyone knows within themselves it makes the choice that will -- is going to help them and their loved ones be safe. Get our businesses open again. Get us back to normal.

Again, in the next two months, our focus is going to be on three groups: Kids between 12 and 15 who are awaiting potential FDA authorization to get a shot.

Two, adults who have had trouble locating a place to get a shot or who just haven't gotten around to it.

And, three, those who need more convincing, being convinced is a necessity of getting the vaccine.

As we turn to this new phase, we're also setting a new goal. Two months from today, families across the country are going to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Our goal by July 4th is to have 70 percent of adult Americans with at least one shot and 160 million Americans fully vaccinated. That means giving close to 100 million shots, some first shots, others second shots, over the next 60 days.

Of course, Americans can still get shots after July 4th, but no one should wait. Let's try to hit that 70 percent mark, at least with one shot before that day. It's another huge goal.

And as you may remember, we were initially focused on getting enough vaccines for every adult. Well, we did that. We have enough vaccines.

Now that we have the vaccine supply, we're focused on convincing even more Americans to show up and get the vaccine that is available to them.


If we succeed in this effort, if we succeed in this effort, as we did in the last, Americans will have taken a serious step to return to normal. That's July 4th.

But we're not there yet. That's why I'm asking people to continue to follow the CDC guidelines as we work to get more people vaccinated.

And to clear up any confusion, the good news is that last week the CDC said that vaccinated people do not need to wear their mask outside unless they are in very crowded settings, like a sporting event.

If we can continue to drive vaccinations up and caseloads down, we'll need our masks even less and less.

I know it will take time to get everyone back to -- everything back to normal. You know, we're all going to have to be patient with one another.

Masks have needlessly divided this country. Masking, as directed as a patriotic duty, but so, too, is treating each other with respect and patience.

One final point. As I said in my address to Congress last week, Congress is going to be the arsenal for fighting COVID-19. Just like we were the arsenal for democracy in World War II.

Not only because it will have kept us safe, but because it's who we are.

We've already committed to work to send 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to other countries starting this month and into June.

That means of all the vaccines we've produced for the United States at that time, we'll have given about 10 percent to the rest of the world.

It's a significant humanitarian commitment in addition to our funding of Covax. I'll have more to say about that soon.

I'll conclude with this -- the light at the end of the tunnel is actually growing brighter and brighter.

So Americans have sacrificed and served to make this progress possible, showing the best of who we are as a people. We need you. We need you to bring it home.

Get vaccinated. In two months, let's celebrate our independence as a nation and our independence from this virus. We can do this. We will do this.

Thank you all. May God bless you. And may God protect our troops. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, how much harder will this next phase be for the vaccination campaign.

BIDEN: I'm sorry. You're both speaking. One at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Where are you standing -- (INAUDIBLE) -- what will be the criteria, countries like India or Brazil that need the most or --

BIDEN: We're helping Brazil. We're helping India significantly. I spoke to Prime Minister Modi. What he needs most are the material and parts to be able to have his

machines that can make the vaccine work. We're sending him that. We're sending him oxygen. We're sending a lot of the precursors. So, we're doing a lot for India.

With regard --


BIDEN: Let me finish.

With regard to the AstraZeneca vaccine, which we had, we have sent that vaccine to Canada and to Mexico.

And there are other countries that we're talking to now. As a matter of fact, talked to head of state today. I'm not prepared to announce who else we'll be giving the vaccine to.

But we're going to by the Fourth of July have sent 10 percent of what we have to other nations, including some of the ones you mentioned.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How much harder will this next phase be for the administration, compared to the first 100 days?

BIDEN: I think in one sense it's easier in that it's up to convincing the American people rather than guaranteeing them we would have the supply for them.

So, that was really hard. It was really hard to get from, you know, that old expression zero to 60 miles an hour. It's getting very hard to get from very low count to 600 million vaccines and then set up all the logistics.

But I think what's going to happen, this is my prayer, that more and more people who get vaccinated are going to be listening to people who they love and are around and they're going to say, why don't you just go ahead and do it?

And there's some evidence -- we still had a good dose of vaccine being administered the last two weeks and it's still moving. But we know we're going to get to a place where the doubters exist or the people who are just -- don't want to say lazy.

Just not sure how to get to where they want to go. It's going to be hard. So, we're going to keep at it. We're going to keep at it.

And I think the end of the day, most people will be convinced by the fact that their failure to get the vaccine may cause other people to get sick and maybe die.




BIDEN: Let me finish. I promise I'll get to you. OK?

And so it's in one sense, it's harder -- it's easier because I don't have to put together this massive logistical effort.

In the other sense, it's harder, it's beyond my personal control. I cannot control. But I could arrange and make sure those other things happened if we did it well. I think we did. It's going to be harder.

Yes, ma'am?


Are there any circumstances under which you would require the vaccine for people to do certain things, like travel? If not, what more can you do beyond this?

BIDEN: I'm one of these guys who thinks positively and not negatively. So, there's more that we can do.

One of the things we can do is we can continue to produce more of the vaccine, work harder to get it available to more people, and export a lot of that to help.

Secondly, whether we're going to -- I think that we're going to continue to -- I don't think.

We're going to continue to try to bring in an effectively spokespersons to represent communities that, in fact, people listen to. It's going to get more granular, I think, rather than large.

The likelihood of us being able to get, you know 100,000 vaccinations in a week at a major site is getting harder and harder. Those people desperately wanted to get the vaccine.

So, I think we're going to make some real problem here. We'll see. But we're going to keep at it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you say whether you've spoken to your trade representative about the issue of issuing waivers on vaccine patents? Is that something you would support?

BIDEN: Well, we're going to decide that as we go along. Haven't made that decision yet.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you ordering more doses from Pfizer and Moderna?

BIDEN: We are.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you order additionally on top -- (INAUDIBLE)?

BIDEN: My answer is, we're going to. As long as there's a problem anywhere in the world, even if we sell it here, we're going to move as quickly as we can to get as many doses as Moderna and Pfizer as can possibly be produced and export those around the world. Yes, ma'am? This is the last question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, thank you. Are you planning to meet President Putin during your upcoming meeting to Europe?

BIDEN: With whom?


BIDEN: That is my hope and expectation. We're working on it.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The U.S. is currently administering about a million first doses per day, 35 million -- about 35 million people to hit 70 percent. Why not hit that for 75 percent or 80 percent?

BIDEN: I would like to get it 100 percent. But I think realistically we can get to that place between now and July 4th.

By the way, it's not like July 4th the doors close. It's just I picked July 4th to try to get to a place where we get back closer to normal.

So, we're going to be vaccinating people into next fall. It's not going -- this is not something, all of a sudden, July 4th we're going to just declare it's over.

Thank you.


CAMEROTA: OK. You've been listening to President Biden at the White House talking about their new goal of having 70 percent of adult Americans vaccinated with at least one shot by Fourth of July.

Victor, he laid out a three-pronged approach for how to do that.


CAMEROTA: He said they're going to give it to 12 to 15-year-olds starting very soon if the FDA approves it.

Number two, make it more convenient for everyone to get one. He had a Web site that people could go to.

Number three, get it to the vaccine hesitant or resistant as well.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Children, convenience and convincing.

Let's bring in now vaccine researcher, Dr. Peter Hotez.

You heard the plan. You heard the strategy. What do you think?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: I think it's important that he sets ambitious goals. And I think we can do this. You know, the problem is even 70 percent of adults may not be


What we really need is 70 percent of the entire population of the United States in order to really slow dramatically transmission. And so that means almost all of the adults and adolescents.

So, I think it's good we do have goals. But even that ambitious goal may not be sufficient.

I think the strength of this is he's doing everything he can to vaccinate anyone who wants to get vaccinated.


Creating pop-up clinics, making that anyone who wants to have a walk- in appointment can go ahead and do so. These things are really important for access.