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Judge Overturns California's 32-Year Assault Weapons Ban; Plane Makes Emergency Landing After Attempted Cockpit Breach; White House Calls Ransomware "A Rising National Security Threat"; Justice Department: QAnon Shaman Posed Real Threat To V.P. Pence; Justice Department Fails To Stop "Baked Alaska" Livestreams; CDC Report Shows Spike In Hospitalization Rates Among Teens; Las Vegas Gambles On Full Throttle Reopening. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired June 5, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST (on camera): All right, hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We begin with a major court ruling that affects one of the largest states in the country. As our nation struggles with an epidemic of gun violence, last night a judge in California overturned a more than 30- year ban on assault weapons in that state.
In the decision, Judge Roger Benitez says the law violates Second Amendment rights and that weapons like the popular AR-15s which were used in the deadly shootings in Newtown, Parkland, San Bernardino, Orlando, Aurora, Las Vegas, and the list goes on are akin to a -- I'm quoting now, Swiss army knife, end quote. And quote, are the perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment, end quote.
CNN's Polo Sandoval joining me now with more on this. The California attorney general already appealing the decision, now what?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, Fred, for over 30 years now that assault weapons act that was established by the State of California in 1989. That has actually not only defined, but it has also prohibited the possession of these kinds of semi-automatic weapons.
Now, in that law, most of those are, of course, those A.K. and A.R. style rifles that we've seen used in various mass shootings. You just gave us some of those horrible examples -- or those examples that obviously extremely tragic of actual mass shootings that we've seen happen in this country now.
And now, Fred, this new development coming from a San Diego federal judge here, ruling just yesterday alone that this law deprives law- abiding citizens in the State of California of actually possessing these kinds of weapons that are available and sold in other parts of the country.
A specific part of the ruling that's certainly leading to some outrage from this judge is not only his comparison of these kinds of weapons to Swiss Army knives, but he also goes on to write in his ruling, said, "Firearms deemed as assault weapons are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles."
So, the judge there referring obviously to the availability of these kinds of weapons here, which is something that obviously pro-gun law groups have been trying to advocate against here.
In the meantime though, you also have state officials that have been outraged by this latest ruling by Judge Benitez, and that includes California's chief executive Governor Gavin Newsom, responding on Twitter yesterday to this ruling.
And in it -- in that tweet, the governor writes, "Overturning California's assault weapon ban and comparing an AR-15 to Swiss Army knife is a disgusting slap in the face to those who have lost loved ones to gun violence. This is a direct threat to public safety and innocent Californians. We won't stand for it."
His Attorney General Rob Bonta also announced that he does plan -- I'll take advantage of that 30-day period to appeal this decision to try to, to get this reverse. But certainly, leading to some outrage, Fred, by many of those families that have actually lost loved ones to gun violence.
Not only in those situations or those incidents that you just laid out at the top, but in the meantime, some of those pro-gun groups, including the one that was involved in some of these initial legal actions are obviously celebrating victory, and one particular group, The Second Amendment Foundation, saying that they are "delighted" with the outcome. That's certainly just adding to the heartbreak for many families that have already lost people.
WHITFIELD: All right, the reaction of the range is the gamut. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.
SANDOVAL: Yes, thank you, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Joining me right now, someone who is painfully familiar with the impacts that guns can have on families. Richard Martinez is the father of Christopher-Michaels Martinez, one of six people killed during a rampage in East La Vista, California back in 2014. He's also an advocate now working at Every Town for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country.
Richard, so glad to see you. Sadly, under these circumstances, I cannot imagine the pain that you must be feeling when hearing about a ruling like this in California. What are your thoughts?
RICHARD MARTINEZ, FATHER OF ISLA VISTA SHOOTING VICTIM: It's outrageous and it's wrong. Assault weapons are -- were designed by the military to kill people, to kill a lot of people, to kill a lot of people quickly. And these types of AR-15 style weapons are modeled after the military versions and they function pretty much the same way as the -- as the weapons used by the military.
I, during the course of my advocacy, I met a woman who was a survivor of the Las Vegas music festival shooting. And she told me at some length what it was like to be there. And it was like being in a war zone. The shooter in that instance, as you pointed out, had these kinds of weapons.
This ruling if it were to stand would make our country a more dangerous place. Assault weapons, assault-style weapons make our country a more dangerous place.
WHITFIELD: In the court ruling, Judge Benitez says, in California, murder by knife occurs seven times more than murder by rifle. What do you believe his motivation is behind his ruling in lifting this ban?
MARTINEZ: I can't speak to his motivation. But like -- just as a practical matter, it's a lot more difficult. If knives were as effective at killing people as assault weapons, then, our soldiers would carrying knives and not assault rifles.
I can recall listening to a young man who was at Virginia tech during that shooting, and he was laying in the classroom shot and bleeding. And he told me, he said, I wish that guy had been armed with a knife, you know.
If he'd been armed with a knife, the people in that classroom would have had a chance to overcome. But these assault-style weapons fire so rapidly, you can -- you can get off 40, 50 shots in a minute.
WHITFIELD: Yes. Richard, I want to remind people of what you said the day after your son, Christopher was taken from you. Let's listen and watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTINEZ: Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris's right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say stop this madness, we don't have to live like this. Too many have died. We should say to ourselves not one more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Was it your feeling at that time that a tragedy like that might motivate some change. And as you look back on 2014, how do you find any change that has occurred?
MARTINEZ: Well, as to the moment, I didn't in -- I wasn't thinking beyond the moment. I wasn't thinking in the future at all. I was just expressing my despair and outrage that this had happened to my child in a -- in a place that, you know, we thought were safe. And, you know, that's true of these situations all over the country and every day, you know. And yet it happens here today. Now, you asked me about, about, about a situation now. The gun violence prevention movement has never been stronger than it is today. The majority of Americans are tired of this. We've all been reading the headlines, the stories that have been coming out from across the country. For a variety of different types of shootings, including suicides. And people are tired of it. They want their leaders to do something.
Right now, there is a bill in Congress to improve the background check system and it's in the U.S. Senate. And there aren't enough votes for that despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans want background checks on local sales.
It's -- there is no excuse and it's outrageous that people in Congress don't have the guts to do what's necessary.
WHITFIELD: Do you have confidence that the only way in which to provoke change is through legislation?
MARTINEZ: It's not -- it's not just -- there's not one -- there's not just one solution that's going that we need to. It's a variety of solutions, it's not just one. Legislation has a role, education has a role, violence intervention program have roles.
You know, flying today is much safer than it was 30 years ago but airplanes still crash. And when they do, we don't say safety measures don't work, we investigate the crash, we find out what happened, and we do something about that problem.
And over time, different solutions add up and make the whole experience of flying safer. And it's the same situation at gun violence. You know, there's not one solution that's going to solve at all.
Background checks are important part of it, but there are other measures that we need to take as well.
WHITFIELD: Richard Martinez, so sorry to have to talk to you about this. And at the same time, so glad to hear your voice.
MARTINEZ: Thank you, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Thank you.
So, as we have mentioned, Judge Benitez did grant a 30-day stay on his ruling allowing California Attorney General Bob Bonta an opportunity to appeal.
CNN legal analyst Areva Martin is here with us right now. So, Areva, what happens next? This is very strange that you would hear the language coming from this judge in his ruling substantiating why he ruled this, but at the same time, saying, OK, I am going to allow this space for an appeal. AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Fred. I think this judge recognized that his ruling was going to face the kind of backlash that it has faced. In so many ways, the decision is fatally flawed both from a factual and a legal standpoint. And just from a common sense standpoint, the analogy that he makes -- comparing assault rifles to Swiss knives is really offensive to people who have lost loved ones to gun violence and just people who care --
WHITFIELD: We just heard that. Yes.
MARTIN: Absolutely. And I think he knew what was going to happen, and we have already seen the governor of California as well as the attorney general come out with very strong statements that they are going to file an appeal and challenge this district courts judge's ruling that overturns 30 years of legislation in the State of California that has banned these kind of assault rifles.
And I just have to say this Fred, we don't see the shooters in Miami and in Connecticut, and, you know, the mass shootings that we've seen in this country. No one showed up to kill, you know, huge numbers of people with a Swiss Army knife, they showed up with assault rifles. So, the analogy itself is just fatally flawed.
WHITFIELD: And I guess it too is perplexing because we're talking about this first six months of this year, which have been horrific. I mean, more than 200 mass shootings and that being a backdrop for ruling like this. I mean, one would hope or calculate that when you do have a ruling that it might be in step with the sign of the times, and this is -- this is a polar opposite.
MARTIN: Completely out of step. And Mr. Martinez said it perfectly that the vast majority of the American people want to see more legislation both at the state and federal level as it relates to guns.
And this ruling came out on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, a day where, you know, advocates all around the country stand up for more sensible gun laws. So, was that only -- was it --
WHITFIELD: Was that oversight on his part or intentional?
MARTIN: You have to imagine that this is a district court judge who's been both a superior court judge as well. He knew what he was doing and maybe trying to signal that this is something -- at least, what we do know is he gave inspiration to the plaintiffs in this case who've already vow to take their fight to other states that have similar laws.
So, maybe this was a nod from that judge to those plaintiffs because they are quite emboldened. We heard the correspondents say that some of these groups have said they are delighted with this ruling.
And as much as we know, the governor and the attorney general in California are going to fight it at the Ninth Circuit appellate level. The plaintiffs in this case are going to move forward and try to undo similar laws in states across this country.
WHITFIELD: All right, with this ruling coming from a class action lawsuit filed in 2019. But again, now being appealed by the California attorney general. Areva Martin, thank you so much.
MARTIN: Thanks, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right straight ahead this hour, parallels to 9/11, a frightening warning from FBI director Christopher Wray over recent cyber-attacks in the U.S. The former assistant homeland security secretary joining me live next.
WHITFIELD: Plus, some wild moments aboard a Delta flight bound for Nashville after a passenger attempted to breach the cockpit. We'll show you what happened.
WHITFIELD: All right. A Delta flight en route from Los Angeles to Nashville had to make an emergency landing after a passenger tried to breach the cockpit. Witnesses say the man was quickly taken down by another passenger and held down by cabin crew after he abruptly started banging on the cockpit doors mid-flight.
Video taken by a passenger shows the man barefoot and bound at the wrists and ankles being pulled from the jet after landing in Albuquerque.
For more on this frightening ordeal, let's bring in Natasha Chen. So, Natasha, I mean, you spoke with the woman who actually took that video and what did she have to say about how it all happened?
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, Fred. That was Grace Chalmers who took that video. She said that was the longest two or three minutes. It felt like years, she said. And that is because about an hour into this flight, as you said, from L.A. to Nashville, she said this man in first class started to yell, stop the plane. And then, began banging on the cockpit door.
So, she said this went on for about 30 seconds of confusion and high intensity yelling before a passenger sitting in the next section after first class, I'd be comfort, plus on the Delta flight, he got up, and with a lot of efficiency, tapped another passenger, the two of them tackled this man, and the flight crew quickly jumped in.
She said all this happened shortly after the crew had finished their drink service. Here she is talking about how grateful she is that these heroic civilians jumped in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:20:05] GRACE CHALMERS, PASSENGER, WITNESS (via telephone): I'm so fortunate that there were so many people on board that were ready to jump to action, and you know, be the people we needed because there's so many different situations that, that could have gone poorly.
And I'm -- I mean I don't even want to say so dramatically, but I feel very lucky to be alive. Like when I got, you know, on the ground In Albuquerque, I called my family, and they just couldn't even believe what I was telling them. They're like I feel like this is out of a movie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHEN: That man was taken into federal custody. Now, this has become a problem with unruly passengers on flights. Lately, the FAA says since the beginning of the year, there have been about 2,500 reports of unruly passengers.
In March, they had to extend their zero-tolerance policy which basically has stronger enforcement mechanisms for people, you know, creating issues.
And just late last month, someone punched a flight attendant on a southwest flight, taking out two of her teeth. I want to read a statement from a union of flight attendants here.
"This unprecedented number of incidents has reached an intolerable level, with passenger non-compliance events also becoming more aggressive in nature." So, there -- there's a lot going on here. The FAA has said that, you know, with their policies, some of the fines against these passengers have reached more than $52,000, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Oh my God, people are losing their minds. All right, pull it together folks. Natasha Chen, thanks so much.
CHEN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, a rising national security threat. That's how the White House is describing a series of cyber-attacks in the U.S. We'll talk with the man who had to help Atlanta get back on track after hackers crippled that city.
WHITFIELD: A series of ransomware attacks is putting cybersecurity squarely at the center of U.S. national security. In the last month alone, the targets include oil pipelines, meat producer, media companies, even transit systems.
The White House calling the cyber-attacks a rising threat. And FBI Director Christopher Wray says we must meet it with the same kind of response that authorities took to terrorism after the 9/11 attacks.
Wray telling The Wall Street Journal, "There are a lot of parallels, there's a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention."
Joining us now, Atlanta's former chief information officer Gary Brantley. He's the author of The Art of Organizational Transformation. Gary, so good to see you.
GARY BRANTLEY, FORMER ATLANTA CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER: Good to see you as well.
WHITFIELD: So, your point of view is very important because Atlanta was hit with a ransomware attack just months before you actually took over as CIO. And you were tasked with making sure that it didn't happen again. So, what's your take on what we are seeing, what this country is seeing with these increased attacks?
BRANTLEY: You know, this is -- this has been growing year by year. I think we really started to have serious conversations about this as a nation, at least, a warning from senior leadership, almost about 10 years ago.
And so, it's only rising. Last year, I think there were about 65,000 successful ransomware attacks. That's about one in every eight minutes. So, this is only getting -- is only getting worse. Technology and devices are being put in the hands of not only employees but students as well. And so, we'll continue to see these attempts rise over the next few years.
WHITFIELD: So, Atlanta, back in the day, you know, decided not to pay the ransom, which, you know, was $50,000 worth of Bitcoin. But the cost of holding out, according to one estimate by the AJC, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper was $17 million. In the end, was it worth it to hold out?
BRANTLEY: Absolutely think it is. I think -- first of all, I think the mayor made a great decision about doing that. But the -- but the other side of it is -- and I think I heard one of your guests talk about it earlier, you're feeding a beast.
And so, it actually puts the threat -- the bad threat actors in a position to want to continue to do that and continue to move forward with that type of behavior.
I think the second most important piece is that when you do pay, you still really haven't fixed the issue. And so, if you look around the country, there are several examples of this happening again to organizations that have just, you know, gotten through with -- or who have pay.
And so, organizations -- I remember reading an article where the organization paid twice. And so, it takes -- it took about two years for me and my team to feel comfortable with what we did in the city as it relates to getting everything back, you know, secure.
WHITFIELD: Because recently, private enterprise has actually paid the ransom.
So, you know, what is the White House tasked with right now? Do you believe it is, you know, on top of things? I mean, especially hearing, you know, FBI director Wray's comments, or does it seem as though this administration might be behind?
BRANTLEY: Yes, I think we have to -- we have to go deeper. I do think that there needs to be more regulation. I think there needs to be more funding.
I know I was on Capitol Hill with the mayor and she was pleading for more funding, especially for our critical infrastructure areas. I think that needs to happen.
And I also think, you know, this needs to be mandatory. It needs to be mandatory that you do not pay and that you follow the guidance.
I thought the White House put out, you know, very straightforward guidance on how you should behave as an organization. And so I think they're moving in the right direction.
WHITFIELD: A lot of companies are trying to weigh is it costly to pay the ransom or more costly to not be able to continue with their business? What's your answer to them?
BRANTLEY: I think it's more costly to pay the ransom. I do not think that is a good idea.
This is probably one of the only criminal attacks that I have seen where the accountability level for those who are committing these crimes is very low.
We're not catching them at all. And we're paying them for terrorist acts. So I think, as we move forward, I think paying is absolutely the wrong move.
WHITFIELD: Gary Brantley, thanks so much for your expertise. Thank you for joining us. Be well.
BRANTLEY: Thank you for having me.
WHITFIELD: Nearly five months after a mob stormed the U.S. capitol, there are new developments in the case against at least one of the rioters accused of the brutal assault on a Capitol Hill police officer. We will talk about that next.
WHITFIELD: All right, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday the so- called QAnon shaman posed a genuine danger to Vice President Mike Pence when he and other rioters stormed the capitol on January 6th.
Marshall Cohen is joining us live from Washington.
Marshall, what can you tell us about this case? MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Hey, Fred. Good afternoon.
The so-called QAnon shaman, real name Jacob Chansley, as you mentioned, he went viral for storming the capitol wearing a bear outfit with horns.
He's been in jail since January and he's trying to get out but prosecutors say he's too dangerous to release.
And now, they're also making the point that he directly threatened Vice President Pence during the insurrection.
In a court filing yesterday, they said this, quote:
"It is truly incredible that the defense can believably contend that a man carrying a spear, repeatedly contradicting the directions of law enforcement, and shouting that, 'Mike Pence is a F'ing traitor,' was not a threat to the real vice president of the United States."
They said he was a real threat.
And as you might recall, Fred, Pence was inside the capitol that day. He was counting the electoral votes. He evacuated the Senate chamber, which was quickly breached by Chansley and some of the other rioters.
Since January 6th, Pence really hasn't said much about what happened that day but he did speak out a few days ago at an event in New Hampshire.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don't know if we will ever see eye to eye on that day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: Yes, so, Fred, he's not downplaying the attack like some Republicans are. And he's seeking a little distance from former President Trump.
But really, Fred, it's tiny sliver of daylight he's trying to get there.
WHITFIELD: Then, Marshall, the Department of Justice prosecutors had a small setback on Friday, didn't they? They tried unsuccessfully to stop a far-right activist known as "Baked Alaska" from posting livestreams online.
COHEN: Yes, you know, so many different cases here, so many strange details. This one is pretty unique. It involves a far-right troll.
COHEN: His name is Tim Gionet. He's well known online as "Baked Alaska," as you mentioned.
He made a name for himself livestreaming himself last year, violating mask mandates. He caused chaos once inside a Starbucks. He's also livestreamed himself provoking police officers.
So prosecutors actually saw one of his recent videos online. In that video, they say he instigated a fight with one of his friends and called the cops, livestreamed the whole thing, and raised money off of it.
They asked a judge to ban him from posting more of these inflammatory livestreams. The judge said that was really too much. He makes his living off these videos.
But he did say, if he has interaction with the cops, he's got to notify the court right away.
So they're trying to curb the troll, if you will.
WHITFIELD: Wow, that's something else.
OK, Marshall, thanks for bringing all of that to us. Appreciate it.
Still ahead, as life tries to get back to pre-pandemic normal for some, how safe are teens from the virus? The warning from experts now that doctors are seeing a spike in teen hospitalizations.
WHITFIELD: All right, more than 51 percent of the population has now received at least one COVID vaccine dose.
But a new CDC report sheds new light on the continued threat the virus poses to young people, as hospitalization rates are up significantly among 12 to 17-year-olds.
Researchers say the spike might be attributed to variants, kids returning to school, and changes in prevention measures like physical distancing and mask wearing.
Joining me right now to discuss is Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a primary care pediatrician at Columbia University, and Jody Baumstein, a licensed therapist in Atlanta.
Good to see both of you, ladies.
WHITFIELD: Dr. Bracho-Sanchez, does this surprise you or did you see this coming
that there might be an increase in hospitalizations particularly among those 12 to 17?
DR. EDITH BRACHO-SANCHEZ, PRIMARY CARE PEDIATRICIAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I think we were all worried, Fredricka, this would happen. We really hoped it wouldn't.
We have vaccinations now for kids who are 12 and older. We really hoped this wouldn't happen and worried it would. Here we are.
It is particularly heartbreaking because we have those vaccinations now, because we know exactly how the virus spreads, how to prevent it, how to protect kids.
So it's disappointing. I can't say it's necessarily surprising.
WHITFIELD: So, then, Jody, how can we help parents, families help their kids adjust to changing guidance as states begin to lift mask mandates, shift other recommendations? Some members of their family may be vaccinated and then some in the family are not.
How do you help people navigate all of this?
JODY BAUMSTEIN, LICENSED THERAPIST, CHILDREN'S HEALTHCARE OF ATLANTA STRONG4LIFE: Right. I think it's important to recognize it is a natural human instinct to want to protect kids from things that are scary and overwhelming.
The reality is adjusting to change and transition are natural parts of life. So we want to see it as an opportunity to build a resilience so they can ultimately handle life's ups and downs.
When I say resilient, I don't mean the absence of pain or suffering. I also don't mean avoiding it or completely numbing ourselves.
But we want to equip kids with the skills they need to be able to feel something, to navigate it, to problem solve, and also to get out on the other side from where they want to be.
I encourage parents to really think about the long term, so having a future-oriented mindset. Because in the moment, it's really common and makes a lot of sense to look for the big fix.
How do I take away their pain today? How do I make them happy?
But we want to think instead about, where do we want to be a year from now or five for 10 years from now so we can develop their ability to handle challenge that's come their way.
WHITFIELD: Oh, really helping them think long term instead of the immediacy. That would go a long way. We all need help having those conversations with our kids. So the FDA's independent panel of vaccine advisers will meet in the
coming days to discuss the parameters for authorizing COVID-19 vaccines for children 11 and under.
Both Moderna and Pfizer are testing their vaccines in children's ages 11 and under right now.
So, Dr. Bracho-Sanchez, what do you hope is learned from that meeting?
BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Gosh, I still hope that the data speaks for itself, Fredricka. I really hope this is safe, this is effective in kids who are 11 and younger.
I think a lot of my families that I see in my practice are waiting for this.
But we really just want to get ahead of ourselves. We want to make sure we looked at all of the data. That every independent expert who needs to look at this and does and no steps are cut here.
Because some families are really reliant on us looking at this carefully to make a recommendation for them. And there's many at this point who are eagerly waiting for this to happen.
WHITFIELD: And, Jody, back to the conversation about short-term and long-term scenarios, how should parents talk to their kids about the whole idea of vaccinations, whether they're eligible, whether the kids in that category now are eligible or later on they might be eligible.
How do they navigate that?
BAUMSTEIN: Yes, I think it's important to start by asking open-ended questions and finding out what they know because we know there's a ton of information out there.
And especially older kids who have their own devices and spend a lot of time on social media, they might be hearing rumors that are just not accurate.
So find out what they know. Definitely, correct any misinformation they hear.
And we want to get them to open up about how they're feeling about it. When we ask questions, we want to make sure we're not leading them with our own anxiety.
For instance, not saying are you nervous about this or that? But how are you feeling about it?
And then really letting them take the lead so your job really just becomes listening and supporting and really validating whatever their experience is.
And this is particularly hard because we want to make them feel better. We want to take away their pain. But we want to be careful not to say things like don't worry about it,
it will be fine, because it doesn't actually make them feel better. It just helps them not to talk about it.
WHITFIELD: Great advice.
Jody Baumstein, Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, thanks to both of you. I really appreciate it.
BAUMSTEIN: Thank you.
BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, continue to be well.
All right. So Las Vegas, well, it's once again wide open. Casinos are operating at 100 percent capacity. And bars and restaurants are throwing their doors wide open. And the first convention since the pandemic began is about to get under way.
CNN's Lucy Kafanov was there at the official reopening in Vegas.
LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In downtown Las Vegas, a countdown to mark Sin City's come back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is officially open right now!
KAFANOV: Pandemic restrictions are now a thing of the past.
KAFANOV: Maskless tourists celebrating
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just have to see it in order to believe it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feels good though to be back free. Hopefully, everybody goes and gets vaccinated and be back out here.
KAFANOV: For the first time in over a year, visitors rocked out to live music.
KAFANOV: Casinos, restaurants and hotels back to full capacity.
Those Plexiglas dividers meant to keep gamblers safe during the pandemic, officially coming down.
In most places, fully vaccinated visitors can now ditch the mask and scratch social distancing. But health experts worry, not everyone will play by the rules.
BRIAN LABUS, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, UNLV SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, the challenge is to get people to actually wear masks if they have not been vaccinated. It's on the honor system. We have a lot of people coming to town who are on their first vacation in a year and a half.
KAFANOV: But for a city so reliant on tourism, it's a tricky balance. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic turned Vegas into a ghost town. Casinos were ordered to shut their doors, costing thousands of jobs and billions in lost revenue.
The Vegas jobless rate shot to 33 percent last April from 7 percent in March, one of the worst in the nation. Large trade shows and conventions came to a halt.
KAFANOV (on camera): How critical are conventions to the Las Vegas economy?
STEVE HILL, CEO & PRESIDENT, LAS VEGS CONVENTION AND VISITORS AUTHORITY: They're so critical that what you see on the strip would not make sense to build without meetings and conventions as a major compliment of that.
KAFANOV (voice-over): Conventions bring in big bucks and crucial weekday bookings, contributing more than $11 billion in 2019 alone.
Next week, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will debut the nearly $1 billion expansion to host America's first major trade show since the pandemic began.
HILL: World of concrete, which is tens of thousands of people, will be here June 8th. It will be the first, what we call a citywide event to happen in the United States.
KAFANOV: It's an economic test for the stakes are high, even for a city accustomed to high stakes.
KAFANOV (on camera): Now it does feel like there is a lot of optimism here. Things appear to be returning back to normal. But there's still a long road ahead.
International travel isn't back yet. That's a critical missing piece of the economic puzzle.
And we're not out of the woods yet in terms of the pandemic. A new surge in cases and COVID-19 cases or a new variant could put the brakes on Sin City's comeback.
Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Las Vegas.
WHITFIELD: And tomorrow night, it's a brand-new episode of W. Kamau Bell's "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" right here on CNN. Here's a preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA": But before we get into the racism pierce, let's talk race.
DR. LABA BLAY, SCHOLAR, ACTIVIST & AUTHOR: Race is a construct. People say race is a social construct. And we like to speak as if race doesn't matter.
But when I think about race, I think of race in a way that society has characterized people really for the purpose of instituting power and to protect privilege.
BELL: Dr. Laba Blay, scholar, activist, author. Her book, "One Drop, Shifting the Lens on Race," challenged the narrow perceptions of blackness and the diversity of what it means to be black in America.
This ain't our first time talking on TV.
BLAY: In a lot of ways, when we talk about race, we conflate race with skin color. So we think that whiteness is about people who look white. Blackness is about people who look black. But that wasn't how it was defined at its origin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: A Democratic Senator from a small deep-red Republican state has become one of the most powerful and polarizing lawmakers in the Senate.
West Virginia's Joe Manchin has drawn praise and criticism for his bipartisan approach since Joe Biden took office as president.
The 73-year-old Senator is now the only Democrat holding statewide office in West Virginia.
And his vote on many bills for Biden's agenda will decide if they pass or fail.
CNN's Dan Merica is joining us right now.
Dan, you traveled to West Virginia. You talked to voters about Senator Manchin. What did they have to say?
DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: You know, you talk to enough voters, there's going to be a range of opinions, especially in a place like West Virginia that has really had a political transformation over the last few years.
There are plenty of voters who respect the position Manchin is in. They like the fact that he kind of sticks his finger in the eye of national Democrats at times.
And then there are former Democrats who now vote as Republicans who wish that Manchin would have that transition like they had.
What is really the most interesting thing we found was just how much the hometown, Manchin's hometown of Farmington, West Virginia, a tiny coal mining town in Merion County, has changed.
Manchin has drawn a line between his upbringing in Farmington to his political views and the need that he sees to bring everyone together.
Now what we have found is that Farmington has changed a great deal over that time, over the time of Manchin's career.
And with that, there's a lot of skepticism among Democrats and some Republicans that the kind of bipartisanship that Manchin so desires is even possible in this political climate.
Take a listen to a few of the voices we talked to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We take care of home first. And that is how the way that Joe wants to take care of the people of West Virginia, because he represents us.
And then, let's go to Washington. What can we do for the rest of the country so we can all come together in a bipartisan way to work together?
I think President Trump would have done that because he lent out a hand to Pelosi and Schumer. And they did not want to work with anyone. It was their way or no way.
And that's my -- you to meet somewhere in the middle. You have to be able to have a common goal in what is in the best interest of our country and use common sense.
LUCINDA POWELL, WEST VIRGINIA VOTER: I'm not a tremendous fan just because he doesn't know where he is playing. One minute he is going with the Democrats and another it is with the Republicans. It's pick a side and go with it.
On some aspects -- and I have seen a lot of picketers up here, you know, and it is like, you know, one minute he's doing something good and the next minute, it is like, what are you doing, Joe? It is like, pick a side.
You know, do what is right for West Virginia, and don't side with them just because that is your party.