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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Pence Pushes False Election Fraud Claims In New Op-Ed; Biden Slams "Neanderthal Thinking" Of Governors Lifting COVID-19 Restrictions; Biden Wants All Teachers To Get At Least One Vaccine Dose This Month. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 3, 2021 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You can catch it streaming live, 6 P.M. Eastern, at CNN.com/FullCircle, or you can watch it there, and on the CNN app, at any time, on-demand.

That's it for us. The news continues. Let's hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, thanks, Coop.

I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

We got two massive reality checks today.

First, national security officials warned there could be more politically-motivated terror attacks in the name of Trump, maybe even tomorrow, and senators learned that Trump lied about what he says he did on January 6th.

Testimony confirmed January 6 was a domestic terror attack perpetrated by Trump's people that they acted, on his behalf, in a series of domestic terror acts. Period! National security officials said they were ready and waiting to help but did not get the "Go" call for hours.

The second reality check is that this may be the most critical moment of our fight in this pandemic. The White House says they're throwing everything at getting enough vaccine to inoculate all adults by May. Why? Because we have to stay ahead of the variants.

The CDC says the vaccine won't be enough that we have to be all-in, right now, in protective measures, that something resembling normal, if we get it right, is within reach, and soon.

Now, hearing all that, why would Red state governors make what President Biden called "Neanderthal" moves, lifting all COVID restrictions, including masks? Why?

Well, let's look at the play by Governor Abbott in Texas. His move is pretty clear. He's not the most popular, after leaving the state out in the cold recently. And he's hoping the Trump base will get him an election win next year. So he's going full-Trump. He's dealing in denial of the pandemic

reality and defying whatever Biden says needs to happen.

Now, Abbott made the same mistake early on, in this pandemic, and therefore it shouldn't be that surprising he's doing it again. However, there was a reality check within the reality check of just how dominant Trump is in the party.

Listen to what happened today. Former Vice President Mike Pence wrote an Op-Ed that reads "After an election marked by significant voting irregularities... I share the concerns of millions," as in the concerns of the rioters, that "The American people expect us to ensure that every eligible citizen is able to vote and also make sure their vote is not stolen."

Can you believe that Pence is still promoting the big lie? Why? Why would he, of all people, sling-slop for those who wanted to hang him?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(VIDEO - JANUARY 6, CAPITOL HILL - RIOTERS CHANTING "HANG MIKE PENCE!")

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: I mean, you'd think if anybody wanted them to learn that it didn't go down the way they think, it'd be Pence. I guess those chants for his death and the guillotine outside the Capitol were not as scary to him as losing Trump's favor in a potential bid maybe for 2024?

The man told people that Pence was the reason he lost. He then egged on an angry mob, who went hunting for Pence. And then, when people reached out to get Trump, to stop the angry mob that was hunting Pence, he refused.

Sure, Trump said he called in the National Guard. But that got settled today. Listen to their Commander.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM WALKER, COMMANDING GENERAL, D.C NATIONAL GUARD: At 1:49 P.M., I received a frantic call from then-Chief of United States Capitol Police, Steven Sund, where he informed me that the security perimeter of the United States Capitol had been breached by hostile rioters.

Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency at the Capitol.

The approval for Chief Sund's request would eventually come from the Acting Secretary of Defense, and be relayed to me, by Army senior leaders, at 5:08 P.M., about 3 hours and 19 minutes later.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Three hours and 19 minutes! And the Commander was saying that what was being asked before he could do it was something he'd never even heard before.

Trump's Defense Department didn't approve the D.C. National Guard Commander's request for over three hours. Why? The Major General said he could have sent 155 Guardsmen to the Capitol shortly after 2, had them on buses with their gear waiting, but he couldn't get approval.

When the race protests happened last summer, he got immediate approval, to send in the Guard. But on January 6th, three hours, why?

[21:05:00]

And why aren't all the ReTrumplicans who were once terror-mongers, once wanted to waterboard terrorists, do anything to keep us safe, why are they so soft on terror now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): We cannot combat and defeat radical Islamic terrorism without acknowledging it exists and directing our resources to stopping it.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): These people are not going away. And no matter how many times you declare the war on terror over, it isn't over until the terrorists relent.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): So this is a war, and we've got to take it seriously. And we got to defeat ISIS, and we got to find terrorists wherever they exist, and wipe them out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Where's that same energy now?

Senator Ron Johnson, you just saw there, and the rest of Trump Co., all they want to wipe out is the truth about the Capitol attack. They won't even call it terror. They don't want to hold the terrorists accountable with the threat of another potential attack hanging over them in just hours.

There is Intelligence on a plot to that end, tomorrow, March 4th. Why? Those Q kooks have long focused on March 4th as a day that they believe Donald Trump will be re-inaugurated. There's a whole story to it. That's a total waste of your time.

The Intel has been picking up concerning chatter. That's what matters. It's serious enough that the House of Representatives has canceled its session tomorrow, as a precaution.

Now is no time to go soft on these people or pretend there's something else just because you think you may be exposed to what they're about. It's no time to keep pushing the same lies that got us here.

So, let's tap the better minds. We got Michael Smerconish, and John Kasich, on the way forward.

Good to have you gentlemen. Smerc, what did you make of the Commander today, in explaining his own amazement at how he was handled on January 6th, and being held back?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I've always said that worse than the speech that was delivered by President Trump, on the 6th, we don't need the Brandenburg analysis as to whether he incited violence.

It's the inaction of what transpired that afternoon. So, it was confirmation, at least for me, of the worst fears that I had, essentially to let the fire burn. I thought it became very, very clear today.

The other observation that I would make as to your opening commentary is, remember that Vice President Pence sat out CPAC.

And we were told that the reason that he sat out CPAC, while all the other sort of heavy-weights of the GOP were there, is that he was adhering to the protocol of letting some time go off the clock before a former vice president or president would reemerge.

But he reemerged today, and he reemerged to essentially cast his lot, as you point out, with the very people, who would have torn down the Capitol, if they had the opportunity to do so.

CUOMO: I like the fact that I have to think, when I'm writing my open, what are you going to say about it afterwards? It puts a good pressure on me that I have an immediate critique, potentially coming after I finish it?

Well, look, I mean, look, what I hear, Governor, is that Pence couldn't go to CPAC because Trump didn't want him there. And yet, he says what he says today, in support of this lie that only benefits Trump.

Why would Pence be so good to Trump, and forward a lie, when the man had a mob going to find him and hang him?

JOHN KASICH, (R) FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, I can only say this. He stood by Trump for four years.

And we can't forget the fact, Chris, that there were enablers in the party, and they let Trump make all these outrageous claims, and go on and on and on. And it started, you know, think about what happened in Charlottesville, think of what happened with that videotape. I mean, he just was there the whole time.

And I think he looks at that Trump base, and I think he wants it. I think he wants to run for president. And, to me, that's the answer. But I just have a hard time people sort of checking their conscience at the door. There is nothing that's worth kind of giving up your soul.

And yes, I mean, you'd have to ask Mike that question, but I just think it's a political act and - but where's the surprise, Chris? He was there for four years. There was a report that I had been offered a chance to be his running

mate. I asked my friends, and we said, "No." I asked my friends, "What would have happened had I accepted it?" They said "You'd have probably been there a couple weeks and you would have quit."

So, it's just too much for me. But, for some people, they put up with it. And I just don't happen to agree with them.

I will tell you this, Chris. Trump is fading. He went to CPAC. It was really a dud. Nobody really covered it. No one's really talking about it. And the air's out of the balloon.

He's like a tired old price fighter that just their - there's corners telling him, "Get out, get out in the middle of the ring," and he gets out, but he's just got nothing left. And you're going to see each week he will fade even more.

[21:10:00]

CUOMO: Then, why Smerc, are these senators playing his game for him in these hearings? These guys, who used to call everything "Terror," won't even have the word in their mouth, about what happened on the 6th.

They're asking them to make sure whether the FBI is treating these people, who are alleged to being connected to this, the right way. They are all doing exactly what Trump wants them to do.

SMERCONISH: Well, that's an easy one, because they're all terrified of the base. And they don't want to be primaried.

The fact that President Trump - former president Trump rattled off all the names, who had voted against him recently, in both the House and Senate, lets everyone know that he's ready to settle scores in 2022, if given the opportunity.

I agree with everything that Governor Kasich said. And the easy part is to identify what's going on here.

Here's the hard part. The hard part is how do we turn the 73 percent of Republicans, who see widespread fraud, who read the Vice President Pence letter, and agree with what he's saying? And I don't know the answer to that, Chris.

Is there a 9/11 Commission that we need to have to analyze not only the events of January 6th, but also the allegations of fraud? And if so, who could serve on it that would be believed by both the Left and the Right?

But we need to instill confidence or people are going to question elections going forward 2022, 2024, and all those thereafter.

CUOMO: Well, the problem is, is that that momentum is creating a wave of retaliatory legislation, Gov., that is not good--

SMERCONISH: Right. CUOMO: --for access to the polls here. I mean, getting rid of early voting, I don't know why Republicans would want to do that. They use early voting more than the Democrats do.

But do you think that's the right answer is to have this wave of bills, some 250-plus bills?

KASICH: No, it's terrible. They're saying not - in Arizona, that there's a - there's a notion there that they're going to let the legislature quote, pick the electors, if they think something's not right. No, this is just terrible.

And look, the fact is, the election system works. Bill Barr, the Attorney General, who some were very critical of, came out, and said there wasn't any fraud. This is what they call Chris, I think, in the vernacular, cognitive dissonance. Something is true, but you just deny it.

I was teasing a friend of mine today. I said, "You know, they went to University of Michigan. They have cognitive dissonance. They can't agree that Ohio State beat them the last 10 years in a row. They've said the game never happened." That's what we're dealing with here. It's a psychological thing where people just want to deny.

And for these politicians, let me tell you this, and Smerc was on this, right, they don't want trouble. They don't want questions.

And they know if they invoke the name "Donald Trump," they'll be pretty good with the base, and they'll be able to go on, and nobody's going to hassle them. At the end, that's a prescription for being, frankly a nobody.

CUOMO: Cognitive dissonance is no good when it leads kids to go and tear up their school, and riot in a parking lot.

KASICH: Unbelievable!

CUOMO: It's really bad when it's targeting the U.S. Capitol, and going hunting for the Vice President and the lawmakers.

All right, so now here is a something that seems like a conclusion. But I don't see any other way right now.

When you watch the way the members of your former party, are behaving in these hearings, and their disposition towards everything that's going on, how can you think that the Democrats can get anything done unless they get rid of the filibuster? I'll ask you each that question.

Michael, looking at the state of play, how can the Democrats not blow up the filibuster, if they want to get anything done?

SMERCONISH: Well, I think that the COVID relief bill is a case in point because all the data that I've seen suggests widespread approval for it. So I say and, you know, to the extent any president these days gets a honeymoon, we're still in that process. So, if you've got an incredibly popular relief bill, and you've got a president in his honeymoon phase, and they can't get it done, but for a simple majority, it doesn't bode well for what's to come.

CUOMO: Again, yes. And Gov., look, like even these 250 bills we're talking about, if that filibuster is in place, there will be no federal legislation that supersedes it. I mean, I know why--

KASICH: Well--

CUOMO: --some people want the filibuster. It's a long conversation. I keep saying I'm going to have it, but I don't, because it's like one of the least interesting things to me, on some levels. But they're not going to get anything done if they don't get rid of the filibuster.

KASICH: Well, look, first of all, I would say that I wanted Biden to compromise.

But I've come to realize, by talking to people inside, that the Republicans were never serious about actually producing votes, that could in fact, have accomplished a filibuster, which is shame on the Republicans for not doing that.

But you're going to need Republican support, Chris, even if you got rid of the filibuster, when it comes to things like immigration, when it comes to the green, you know, what they're going to do on the environment.

You're going to have Joe - Joe Manchin, you're going to have some of these Democrat Senators, Sinema from Arizona, you're going to have Democrats are going to say, "No, no, no, we're just not going to vote straight part."

CUOMO: True.

KASICH: John Hickenlooper, a pal of mine. So, they're going to need Republicans. This was not a good way to start.

[21:15:00]

Can they get some deal on minimum wage? I think they can. Can they get some deal on immigration involving the DREAMers? I think they can. This was just not the right way to start by the administration. And shame on the Republicans--

CUOMO: You--

KASICH: --for not willing to compromise.

CUOMO: You think the Republicans--

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: --will give him a deal on the DREAMers with nothing else attached?

KASICH: I think you could see that. It could conceivably happen. Yes, I do think so. Because that's just a matter of justice.

CUOMO: And I could see Smerc growing - waking up tomorrow with an Afro.

KASICH: Well, ask Smerc what he thinks. I think it's possible to get a deal--

CUOMO: It is not a--

KASICH: --on the DREAMers.

CUOMO: There is not a chance of that happening anywhere. But look, I love the optimism.

KASICH: Well!

CUOMO: Look, Gov., I love the optimism, because you should be right, you know?

As Michael brilliantly designed, as the metaphor for his show, people should be stuck in the middle in trying to find ways to get things done. But man, are we a world away from there?

I got to jump. Smerc, thank you very much, brother. Governor?

KASICH: I just can't help but laugh at Smerc having an Afro. That - I'm going to think about that tonight.

CUOMO: I've seen a picture of him with a big bushy head of hair.

KASICH: When I'm at home.

CUOMO: And you know what?

SMERCONISH: Back in the 70s.

CUOMO: You know what?

SMERCONISH: Back in the 70s.

CUOMO: He looks better now. He's got one of the most beautiful heads in the business. I say it every time I see him. Che bella testa! What a beautiful head! Take care, fellas.

All right. Now look, here's what we know.

KASICH: See you.

CUOMO: As a matter of fact. January 6th was about lies run wild, OK? That's why it happened. It's not that these are inherently bad people. You have your extremists, but it took more than them. And it was the motivation of a lie. And that threat never stopped.

Remember, it was always about what and who would remain. And it hasn't gone away because the lies haven't been shut down. That's what makes what Pence is playing at here so dangerous. The House of Representatives will not be in session tomorrow, because they're worried about a real credible threat that the Capitol could be attacked again. March 4th is a Q-Kook conspiracy date.

I want to bring in friend of show, former CIA counterterrorism official to take us through what's likely and not, but really what's a hit, next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[21:20:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Let's go deeper now into the Capitol Hill security lapses on January 6th, and what was behind them? And why are they ramping up for tomorrow? How real is this threat? Let's bring in Phil Mudd.

Good to see you, brother.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL, FORMER FBI SENIOR INTELLIGENCE ADVISER: Hey?

CUOMO: Now, this idea of QAnon and March 4th and, you know, it has nothing to do with the Ides of March. This is about some crazy idea they have about what makes somebody a real president, real enough this threat that the House isn't going to convene.

What do you see in the severity of the threat, and what it means to you about the state of play?

MUDD: Boy, I see really two different stories, Chris, where I sit down on the civilian side, look at this and say, my expectation is this will be like the Inauguration Day. We were really concerned. And you remember those images of some state capitals, people showed up, lone people with Trump flag, nothing happened.

That's not relevant in the world of a practitioner. This is what we used to call a "1 percent problem." That is if you were 99 percent confident, nothing will happen, because maybe the protesters are intimidated, if there's a 1 percent chance it happens, you got to be prepared, which is why the House shut down.

You cannot risk the chance that three days from now, you're sitting in front of a House committee, saying "How did you guys miss this again?" So, I think there's a relatively low prospect that something will happen. That does not matter, if you're sitting in the chair. You want an abundance of caution, Chris.

CUOMO: Do you ever think that you'd see the day where Republican senators didn't want to call something "Terror?" And when it was called out by you guys as a terror act, or a domestic terror act, in this case, they would want to fight you on it?

MUDD: Boy, in some days, it's sad. And some days it's proud.

The sad point is let me be really basic. Terrorism is simple, an act of politics that is a political protest against a non-combatant target using violence. What did we see at the Capitol? Violence against non- combatant target for a political purpose. I'm sorry, the definition is pretty simple that that's domestic terrorist.

The reason I'm proud is, for four years, people like me were described as the "Deep State." Nobody's talking about this.

For everybody who's watching the testimony on the Hill, these are, including the National Guard officer today, who I thought was great, these are practitioners who were demeaned, for years, by President Trump.

We're telling the American people "We're trying to serve you. And now, we can serve you better because we can speak." I'm proud of the people I served with. They're speaking up, Chris. The Deep State speaks.

CUOMO: And they were right about the domestic terrorists, right?

MUDD: Yes, that's worked.

CUOMO: Being these groups, because here they are.

MUDD: Yes.

CUOMO: I want you to hear something that Major General William Walker said about why he thinks he would slow-walk that day in responding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALKER: So, the Army senior leaders did not think that it looked good, it would be a good optic. They further stated that it could - it could incite the crowd.

So, their best military advice would be, to the Secretary of the Army, who could not get on the call. So, we wanted the Secretary of the Army to join the call, but he was not available. We were told that he was with the Secretary of Defense and not available.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: This smells bad. First of all, nationals - National Guard, always spooks a crowd. But last summer, they had no problem calling it out. When Trump wanted to walk down to the church, they had no problem calling it out.

Why did they have a problem calling it out here for optics? MUDD: They're embarrassed. I mean, if you go to the day before that, that protest, if you had said, "We want to organize a group to determine how potentially to respond to the President provoking violence," people who are political leaders, that is people like the Secretary of Defense are going to be nervous.

I just talked about the Deep State, people, you know, who were called the Deep State that is government officials. They want to respond, regardless of whether it's the President, we have a potential problem in Washington, D.C.

[21:25:00]

I tell you what the real question is here, Chris. It's not about Intelligence. It's not about whether there's an FBI memo. One question. In a national security event of this significance, the people who can bring a hammer down to guarantee the National Guard response are the White House.

When there were secure video conferences, on January 6th, was the white House there or not? Yes or no? That's the answer I want, because on a typical day, Chris, they should be there.

CUOMO: Phil Mudd, thank you, brother. Appreciate the perspective.

MUDD: Thanks.

CUOMO: We got a new president, and it's President Biden. And he is taking a look at two governors that are still playing the Trump game with the pandemic, which is to play to the denial of the reality.

They were told "Now's the time to knuckle-up. This is our window to stay ahead of the variants, and get vaccines, and get back to some semblance of normal," and they say "No, we'll do the opposite."

Dr. Fauci calls it inexplicable to roll back mask mandates and other restrictions. It could put millions of lives at risk.

Let's bring in one of our top medical minds to join us with the risk assessment and the realities, going forward.

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TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

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[21:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: President Biden will not allow governors to deal in denial of the reality on the pandemic. Here he is, targeting the governors of Texas and Mississippi over their decision to lift all COVID restrictions, including mask mandates, right after the CDC told them now was the time to knuckle-up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease.

And the last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything's fine. Take off your mask, forget it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Top health experts say our daily case rate is still too high. And then, if we want to maximize the vaccine, and this race between it and the variant, now is our chance. So, it makes no sense to let down your guard, right when you need to do your best.

And you know what? The Texas Governor knows it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Remember, he went and did this play for Trump early on. "I'm not closing anything." And then the cases exploded down there. So, he learned the lesson. That was back in June. Case counts were just above 5,600. The day's case count, Tuesday, that he decided to reopen, 7,300.

He says vaccinations will make a difference. But not when less than 70 percent of Texans are fully vaccinated. And variants, we're told, they have all four notable variants in their state right now. They have something like 11 of the top 20 counties of case counts in the country.

And Mississippi hardly doing better, 7.5 percent of the people there are vaccinated fully.

Let's bring in Dr. Leana Wen.

I want you to hear why he believes this is the right move. This is Governor Abbott from Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABBOTT: Personal vigilance, to follow the safe standards is still needed to contain COVID.

Texans should continue - continue following medical advice on preventing COVID, just as they do on other medical issues.

At this time, however, people and businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Leana, you're the smart one. But isn't this an amalgam of exactly what he said the first time that businesses and people don't need it? And then, isn't it the opposite when he says you should follow the medical advice, because the medical advisors wear the mask, and he just told you, "You don't have to."

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER, ER PHYSICIAN: That's right. What is happening in Texas and Mississippi, it just defies common sense. And it's so infuriating Chris, because we are so close.

I mean, we could, by the end of May, we could have enough vaccine for every adult American, according to President Biden. So, we're not talking about locking down for, forever. We're talking about hanging in there for just a little bit longer.

And look, even if what the Governor of Texas is saying is "Let's open businesses at 100 percent capacity," I have some sympathy for that, right? We want our businesses to operate. We want our schools to come back for in-person instruction.

But if that's the case, why are we removing mask mandates? We should be trying to keep workers safe. And we know that it's not a question of individual responsibility. This is not like somebody deciding, "I'm going to smoke a lot," or "I'm going to eat bad food." This is about personal choices that directly impact somebody else's wellbeing.

And it just makes no sense that we're seeing masks as somehow restricting individual freedom. But actually, it's something that allows our businesses, allows our churches, allows our schools, to come back safely.

CUOMO: What can the federal government do about it? They can't demand that Texas put mask rules back, right?

Can they do anything with how much vaccine the state gets? I mean, I wouldn't want to see, God forbid, anybody punished, for living in Texas, not being able to get the vaccine, but do they have any control?

WEN: This is the problem. I've thought about what are those levers that President Biden could use. And the levers are things that are punitive to Texans. I mean, you wouldn't want him to withhold the vaccine doses.

CUOMO: No.

WEN: Or withhold aid to a state and hurt individuals. I think that the Biden administration though can continue to use their bully pulpit. Because there are going to be mayors, there're going to be business leaders, church leaders, who need the cover of the federal government, as in if local leaders can say, "Hey, this is something that we're doing because the CDC has just issued guidance saying it's hazardous to roll back mask mandates, that's why we are asking you to put on your mask."

I think something like that could be helpful in order to basically assist those, on the ground try to protect their workers or their customers.

CUOMO: Quick, bad news, good news.

[21:35:00]

Bad news, CDC guidance keeps getting delayed on what the cans and can'ts are once you're fully vaccinated. Why? And what do we think is going to be the upshot of what people will be able to do?

WEN: I'm sure the CDC is in a difficult bind because they want to be careful with the guidance that they're giving. But I also think that now is the time to give people practical guidance.

We have eight percent of the population that's fully vaccinated. And we really need to tell them something more than "Keep up the same precautions that you were using before being vaccinated."

CUOMO: Right.

WEN: That also defies common sense. And so, I really think they should say to people, you can get together with others, who are fully vaccinated, indoors, including without masks. You can hug.

And also, you can travel, and see your family that you haven't seen for a long time. Keep on wearing masks while you travel. But you can travel now. You can go to museums. You can go to restaurants. We need to give people some hope.

And the idea that they can reclaim some normality that also is a counter to people like Governor Abbott and others, because we want to tell them, "The end is not far away. Here are the things that you can do, once you are fully vaccinated."

CUOMO: We know members of the administration watch the show, and they must have heard you railing about teachers getting vaccinated.

And now, Biden has said at least what the vaccine distribution chain that they control, which is through the pharmacies, those are going to have vaccines earmarked for teachers, staff, caregivers, daycare givers.

Now, is that the secret sauce? Is that enough now to say "Now, reopen the schools. You're getting vaccinated. Reopen."

WEN: So, I think that the Biden administration actually missed an important opportunity, which is when they issued the school reopening guidelines, a few weeks ago, they should have included vaccinations as part of those guidelines. They didn't. And now, I think that there's going to be a bind.

Now, we are thankfully going to be able to get teachers and school staff vaccinated. That's a really good thing.

But the next step is to say, what other layers can vaccination replace, as in if you have teacher vaccinations, and masking and improved ventilation, do you still need that six-foot distancing? Or can you now go to three-foot distancing, if you have all these other measures?

That's what the CDC needs to do next. And maybe if they're watching your show, maybe that's what they're focused on, as their next - as their next piece of guidance.

CUOMO: If they said to you, "You get the vaccine. Everything else, you'll have some masks, but you're not going to get any of the other things that are being asked. You have to go back. The vaccine's enough," would that be true?

WEN: It would depend on the level of community transmission, and masking has to be required and enforced.

CUOMO: Dr. Leana Wen, always a plus. Thank you.

WEN: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: So, as I was just talking to Dr. Leana Wen, about, teachers are now - and remember, it's not just teachers. It's teacher - because look, we all know with our kids in schools, right? The teacher is very important.

The staff, the people who were there, daycare, you know, everywhere, there's a lot of people involved. So that whole group has just been moved to the front of the vaccine line in this one chain that the federal government controls, which is really the pharmacies now.

But will President Biden be able to make good on his newly-announced goal of getting schools back open? Is this the key? Got an important guest on it, next.

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CUOMO: After weeks of prodding here, as we were just discussing with Dr. Leana Wen, here, elsewhere, why don't teachers and the staff get vaccinated, if we want to kids get back - get kids back to school?

President Biden today made a move.

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BIDEN: We want every educator, school staff member, childcare worker, to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March.

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CUOMO: Now, we keep saying on the show, "Great! How?" Turns out, when it comes to delivering shots, the Feds do control the rules for the pharmacies.

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BIDEN: Starting next week, and for a month, the month of March, we'll be using our federal pharmacy program to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K through 12 educators and staff and childcare workers.

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CUOMO: So, what's the problem? Well, once again, not enough supply for the demand.

The latest numbers we have say pharmacies are only getting a little more than 2 million shots a week at this point. There are more than 3.2 million teachers in the United States. And that's just public schools. And they'll have to compete with everyone else for appointments. That's tough. So the Feds won't be able to do this alone.

The good news, bully pulpit still carries some weight. At the start of the week, all teachers could get a shot in just 31 states. After the President's announcement, it's now 38. It's good.

But it's not like once teachers get "A shot," right? Because he said one shot. So it doesn't mean they're going to get two. And even if they did, it's not home-free.

All the other things that the CDC lays out for reopening still have to figure in, universal mask rules, spacing, ventilation, cleaning. This was never going to be a one-size-fits-all answer, and it shouldn't.

There's just too much of a difference from one community to the other. That's why the decisions are happening at the district level. That's why your kid may still be in the hybrid mess. But their friend down the street goes to a different district, riding the bus every day. I know. I'm living it.

A latest CNN analysis found 72 percent of kids still live in a red zone, a high transmission area, as defined by the CDC. That's a lot better than the 89 percent we saw the week before.

So bottom line, we're still looking at about 4 million kids out of the 56 million total in the U.S., who live in a county that meets the CDC's threshold for full in-person learning, meaning we ain't anywhere close to where we need to be.

That raises this question. In light of the vaccine move, are we being too cautious, when it comes to reopening schools? The Teachers Unions say "No." Let's put that to the test with the President of one of the largest Teachers Unions, next.

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CUOMO: Biden is moving teachers up in line for the vaccine, but it's going to take time. We're talking about millions of teachers and staff.

Remember, it's not just the teachers. Teachers matter, of course, but there are a lot of people that keep our kids in school, and daycare, all across the country, competing for the very few available appointments that do exist.

Let's discuss whether we can afford to wait even longer to get our kids back in school. Randi Weingarten is President of the American Federation of Teachers.

Good to see you. Welcome back on the show.

RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: You too, Chris, nice to see you.

CUOMO: How big a deal is, the vaccine improvement and the protocol by Biden?

WEINGARTEN: Look, it's huge. And, but even beforehand, we had just done some polling of our members.

And about 25 percent of our members, or 20 percent to 25 percent, had gotten vaccines already. The really good news is 70 percent of our members really want it and want it quickly.

[21:50:00] And so, we are overcoming vaccine hesitancy, particularly in our Black and Brown membership. And so this was, no pun intended, a shot in the arm, when President Biden said this yesterday, about vaccines.

But what Leana Wen, Dr. Wen, said was really important, which is there is a roadmap. It's basically three things right now.

It's the layered mitigation that CDC has told us is needed.

It's the testing that the NFL and March Madness and others have done, because so much of the transmission of the vaccine - of COVID is asymptomatic.

And then what vaccines do, and this is really important, we don't know yet if they stop transmission. What we know is that if you, God forbid, get COVID, you're not going to get as sick as - and you well know what it means to be so sick.

CUOMO: Right. I hear you.

I want to play you some sound from lawmakers on how they see this situation.

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GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): They're saying that teachers need the vaccine for schools to open. That also is completely wrong.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): If everybody has to be vaccinated, we might as well just tell people the truth, there will be no in-person instruction.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Democratic Party puts the interests of education unions and special interests ahead of the wellbeing of our children.

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CUOMO: Now, you got them coming from all sides, saying that the reason our kids--

WEINGARTEN: Right.

CUOMO: --aren't back in schools are because the teachers are being unreasonable about this.

WEINGARTEN: It's completely--

CUOMO: And they don't want to take the risk with the rest of us. What's your take?

WEINGARTEN: Look, it's completely false. And some of the people, and sorry, you know, I get very angry about this.

My Union has been trying to reopen schools since last April. We know how important in-school learning is. Well we had a president who refused to collect data, give us the guidance that the CDC has just given us, and given us the resources. These are the three things - and I was on your show. I begged for it for months and months and months.

And ultimately, what's happening is that between some of the resources, we already got, in December, which is starting to be out there, the resources in the Rescue Act, this vaccine announcement, and the CDC guidance, you've already seen, in the last few weeks, a turnaround that all the school districts that had closed in November or December because of the surge are now reopened.

The goal is we get every child, who wants to have in-person learning this year, have in-person learning. We have the safeguards this year. And then we have a great summer school program to really get kids their mojo back.

But it's just a complete lie that some of these folks, who didn't help us at all, last year, are now turning around are Johnny-on-the-spot. It's really hypocritical.

CUOMO: Summer school, how do you think summer school is going to fly with families and kids? And do you think it's a good thing to have? Or do you think it's going to add to the collective agita about COVID in the first place?

WEINGARTEN: So, I think summer school has to be completely different than how we would normally envision it. It has to be much more like camp. So, wealthier parents are already starting to figure out how they can get their kids to camp this summer.

And let me just also say, I agree with Joe Biden, I agree with Dr. Wen. It was irresponsible and unconscionable what the governors in Mississippi and Texas did, because we are so close.

So, if we think about summer, as a place for joy, as a place for enrichment, so kids can get their mojo back, I think it's going to be a net-plus. If we think about it as remediation, where a kid is going to sit with a tutor, I think it's going to be a net-minus.

We have to help kids deal with and, get their resiliency back, and deal with the social isolation that they have had.

CUOMO: Absolutely.

WEINGARTEN: I was in Meriden today. Let me just say this.

CUOMO: Go ahead, please.

WEINGARTEN: The school was open. I was with Dr. Biden, the First Lady, and with Dr. Cardona. This was Dr. Cardona's home district, and a district that we represent, and spent a lot of time with.

The joy in that school, the joy in the kindergarteners' faces, the joy, in seeing the First Lady, walk the halls, talking to all the teachers, they have the safeguards, people are back in school, there is a sense of resiliency and joy there. I wish everybody could see it. CUOMO: Quick thing. And I'll tell you - you know you're welcome back on this show, Randi. These are very important issues. I live in personally, and I know they matter most to most families.

What percentage of the kids do you think are going to be way behind where they're supposed to be, after a year of schooling the way we had to go through it?

WEINGARTEN: So, I think, Chris, we don't really know that answer.

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I think what we do know is that if we can actually deal with kids' wellbeing and get their resiliency and their mojo back, I think you're going to see a lot of kids snap back in a fabulous way.

But we have to actually start with resiliency. And we have to start with addressing the social/emotional deprivation of kids being alone for so long.

CUOMO: Well, if they're going to think about summer school, they better start talking about it soon, because families have to plan and figure it out.

WEINGARTEN: Well - right.

CUOMO: But I got to go.

WEINGARTEN: It's--

CUOMO: You are always welcome here to discuss these issues.

WEINGARTEN: Thank you.

CUOMO: They're not going away. Randi Weingarten, big news today, but it's not the end of the story. Thank you for being here.

WEINGARTEN: Exactly.

CUOMO: Stay safe.

We'll be right back.

WEINGARTEN: Thank you.

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CUOMO: Thank you for watching. I hope you didn't get distracted by all the news and forget the huge headline we had today.

In that hearing, you heard the Commander of the National Guard say, plain, straight and real, "This was about politics. They didn't like the way it looked for us to send in the National Guard, so we didn't." Think about what that means.