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GOP Senators Delay COVID-19 Relief Bill With Reading Stunt; "QAnon Shaman": Invading The Capitol "Not An Attack"; Texas Governor Stalled Federal Funds To Test Migrants, But Now Blames Them For Spreading COVID-19. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 04, 2021 - 21:00   ET




BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well at least, here, for now, the arguments are followed by laughter.

TIM DELANEY, MINNESOTA RESIDENT: It's going to be difficult for me to be here after all the--

WEIR (on camera): Oh, no, I'm sorry.

DELANEY: No, it's OK. It's OK. It's all right.

WEIR (on camera): Nobody ruins a barbecue like Bill Weir.

WEIR (voice-over): Bill Weir, CNN, Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota.



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.

Millions and millions of Americans are desperate and waiting for help. And right now, right now, the GOP-Q is showing that their only position is opposition. They are delaying pandemic relief any way they can.

Now their primary target are the Democrats and President Biden. But whom are they really affecting? The starving, the jobless, the suffering.

America is still down more than 10 million jobs. Another 745,000 filed first-time unemployment benefits, just last week, and unemployment is going to run out in 10 days, unless this stimulus bill is passed.

These people still insist the election was stolen. They sit in hearings denying the reality of January 6th. There is a new investigation into communications in the day or so leading up to the January 6th terror attack between GOP-Qers and those who attacked us.

Question, is it time to stop hoping for better from these people, when they keep showing you their worst? Is this not the most perverse and complete co-opting of a party by opposition and animus that we have ever seen in this country?

And yet, President Biden still extends a branch.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been talking to a lot of my Republican friends in the House and the Senate, continue to do that.

So, we're keeping everybody informed.


CUOMO: Why? Mr. President, every single House Republican voted against COVID relief. I have not seen anyone act like a friend toward you, or your ambitions, certainly not Senator Mitch McConnell has promised.

Remember the old line? With friends like him, who needs enemas?

More proof is what McConnell is doing right now. He's allowing conspiracy theorist Ron Johnson to pull a "Ted Cruz," except instead of Dr. Seuss, they're reading the 628-page bill. That's been going on since around 3 P.M. Eastern. It is just a stunt to delay. It will drag out the process for days.

Listen to Johnson.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): All I'm trying to do is make this a more deliberative process, you know, obviously shine the light on this abusive and obscene amount of money that's going to further mortgage our children's future.


CUOMO: He knows all of that is bunk. Nobody is deliberating. They're not even there half the time.

He was alone for one part of this period. And if he wanted fiscal austerity, why did he pass that massive unpaid-for middle-class tax cut that gave $0.83 of every dollar of the cuts to the top 1 percent?

He wants to help kids, he says. Enabling the denial of the pandemic, pushing conspiracy theories for months that drove irrational animus, denying the reality of January 6th, are those things good for my kids?

He's complaining today, people are out to destroy him. I hope not. But stunts like this don't make you popular with people who are hungry and desperate for help.

Is what he's doing right now not the advertisement for ending the filibuster? Isn't it time to cut out the malignant middleman, and just make deals with the people, and then compel your party to keep its word?

Stop trying to work with people who work for your failure, while giving comfort to terrorists, and just deal with the real questions about the bill. And there are a couple.

How do you know, Mr. President that we need $1.9 trillion right now, when almost $1 trillion from the last two relief bills still hasn't been dispersed?

Also, you released this proposal two months ago. A lot has changed since then. Have the needs. Vaccines were just starting to go out in January, COVID cases were surging more than now. The majority of Americans support this bill.

But imagine that number, if you go directly to them, speak to them, clarify the need, and cancel the noise. Do a press conference. Do a lot of them. Go to a hard-hit place.


Let your members and Team Toxic hear people demanding actions where they live, where they serve, and say their names in your party too. Make them do what their constituents demand, and what you promised, or let them pay the price. Healing the soul America means avoiding those who are determined to divide us.

Let's bring in the better minds. Do they agree? We have the Professor, Ron Brownstein, and Jonathan Swan.

Jonathan, Ron, thank you.

Swan, let me start with you. Am I missing anything in what is happening right now in the Senate chamber? Is there some good-faith cabal that wants to do a deal among the Righties?

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Well, the deal that they want is about $1.3 trillion, less.

So, Biden's been talking about bipartisanship and unity. He invited a group of the more moderate Republican senators to the White House. They had a perfectly pleasant civilized conversation.

This is going back a few weeks now. But the fact is they were proposing $600 billion. He was proposing $1.9 trillion. No amount of golf games and dry martinis and backslaps or whatever, you know, that's $1.3 trillion. It's a pretty large gap.

And they're not on board with the amount of state and local funding that Biden wants in that bill. So the fact is, he's still rhetorically talking about bipartisanship, but they have made a very hard-headed decision. The only way they're going to get this bill through is to keep their

Caucus together. 50 votes, all Democrats, ignore the Republicans, and barrel through. And, look, there's going to be some hiccups here and there, but they're going to get this done.

CUOMO: The hard-headed nature, of this, Ron, which side do you ascribe that trait to?

There's been no good making on the promise by Mitch McConnell to get votes for anything. They have not shown a step towards working with Biden, on anything. What am I missing?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, you're not. I mean, look, I mean, the fact that not only did every Republican in the House vote against the COVID bill, every Republican in the House voted against the police reform bill.

Every Republican in the House voted against H.R.1 this week, which is probably the most important question Democrats face, other than COVID, over the next two years, and all but three House Republicans voted against the Equality Act for LGBTQ rights.

The COVID bill, appalled today, I was appalled today that 71 percent of Americans supported this bill, including nearly half of Republicans. 70 percent of the country supports LGBTQ rights.

And yet, not a single Republican, you know, essentially no Republicans in the chamber were able to vote for it. I think that is the reality, Chris that Biden is facing.

And as Jonathan noted, I mean, Biden's job, I mean, Biden's positioning is that he is the voice of unity. And I don't think that's going to change. He's going to always be offering the olive branch.

But in practice, they have kind of acknowledged the reality. And they are moving to do this through the special budget rules that allow them to do it with 50 plus one. And that's where they are.

Sooner or later, those special budget rules run out, as you point out, and they are going to have to confront the filibuster. But for now, and maybe their next big "Build Back Better" infrastructure plan, they can do it with solely Democrats, and that's probably the road that it's going to go.

CUOMO: Maybe Jonathan, this is Biden singing the swan song for traditional bipartisanship, and really, really having just hunker- down, and get his own side together, because that's the trick, right? They have only the ability, if they are all together, to get anything done.

SWAN: Yes.

CUOMO: Do you believe that this will be the test case for Biden's ability to say, "Listen, whether it's Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Sinema, Hickenlooper, whoever the one or two are that are out there, we have to be all in, or I'm going to have to call you out." SWAN: Yes, I mean, to the extent that there's bipartisan negotiations going on, it's Joe Biden trying to convince the Democrat from West Virginia, who flirts with the Republicans every few days. That's the extent of the negotiation and horse-trading.

And look, I think Biden really did believe, coming in that he could be this Lyndon Johnson type of figure, who could reach across the aisle, and use his relationships, over these decades, in the Senate.

But a lot of his staff did not believe that that was possible. And I think a month in they've definitely made the call that that's not going to happen.

CUOMO: Well he is that figure.

SWAN: Yes.

CUOMO: He is that figure.

SWAN: Yes.

CUOMO: I mean, we - but we all know that that is true how he's seen. But you can't talk sense with a drunk person, you know? And they are drunk on a very specific intoxicant, on the Right, right now. And they can't be friends with him, Jonathan. It's as simple as that. They can't.


CUOMO: It doesn't work for them. They won't exist if they do it.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, that's the underlying reality is that the Congress is partitioned much more than it used to be.

I mean, there are only nine House Republicans in District 1 that Biden won. There are only three Senate Republicans in states that Biden won, 47 of the 50 Republicans are in states that voted for Donald Trump, both times. They have a strong incentive to oppose him.


And on the other side of the ledger, Chris, I mean by historic standards, the level of division in the - among the Democrats is really at the low-end.

I mean, I go back - I go back to the 1981 budget deal with the Boll Weevils, when widespread defections supporting Reagan in the 90s, Bob Kerrey and Bill Clinton screaming at each other on the phone, as Clinton is trying to get the last vote on his budget and stimulus plan in '93.

And then in '09, Ben Nelson, basically telling Obama that he, Democrat from Nebraska, he would support it only if he got three Republicans, which required Obama to make big changes. Cut back, the stimulus plan to this day, the Democrats believe that part of the reason 2010 was so tough was because it was too small. So against all of that, what Manchin and Sinema and others are doing

is really changes at the edges. And I do think they may be able to maintain that unity through another reconciliation package on infrastructure, maybe give Manchin more clean coal spending that would make sense.

But ultimately, they are going to face the big issue of Democratic unity is going to be will Manchin and Sinema and maybe some others, allow them to end the filibuster sometime this fall, because without that, basically everything else they ran on, democracy reform, voting rights, gun control, immigration, LGBTQ rights, you name it, pretty much everything else--

CUOMO: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: --is going to be stalled by Mitch McConnell. And that is where the question of Democratic unity is really going to come to a head.

CUOMO: Jonathan, that's why I call him "The Professor." Man, he just puts it on you! It just comes flying out of him.

At the end of the day, look, don't all the tea leaves just show? You can avoid it if you want, if you don't like the optics. But the filibuster has got to go. Their only position is opposition. They want to kill Biden, times 10, from what they did with Obama. That's their only strategy.

And isn't the key for him being able to show, "Hey, look at the economy," at the midterms, "Look at the economy, look at the economy. Remember, they wouldn't work with me. Look at the economy, I get the credit."

SWAN: Right.

CUOMO: Isn't that the key for him in finding out how to make that happen, which has to include getting rid of the filibuster?

SWAN: Well, Chris, a lot of people around Biden agree with you, 100 percent of that point. They view - they believe that the voters are not going to penalize them on process. They don't care about process. They care about checks in the pocket, money, the economy.

Problem is Joe Manchin has said in the most unequivocal terms that he's not going to get rid of the filibuster.

But the question I have Chris is, once Pelosi is going to start passing these bills, right, she's going to pass these bills that Democrats really care about, voting rights, Ron's talked about them.

CUOMO: H.R.1 is the biggest bill for the promises that they have.

SWAN: Gun control. Yes, yes.

CUOMO: It's also their own demise.

SWAN: Exactly.

CUOMO: By the way. If they don't get that done--

BROWNSTEIN: It's their own demise

CUOMO: --legislation will sweep across this country that will cut their numbers by a significant amount.

Continue. Last point to you, Jonathan.

SWAN: So, the bills pile up. Schumer wants them done. And especially, he's potentially facing a Left-wing challenger.

So, with all that pressure, what does Joe Manchin do? That pressure is going to potentially change the calculus. I don't know. I'm not going to say he's going to go back on his word. But boy, you wouldn't be too sure that he would be able to withstand that pressure.

CUOMO: I got to jump.

SWAN: It's going to extreme.

CUOMO: Guys, thank you very much. I got to jump. We'll have you back. Ron Brownstein, Jonathan Swan, appreciate the value added.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: So, big investigative question about January 6th. Did the Capitol rioters get help from the inside? You heard Member of Congress Mikie Sherrill said "I saw people giving tours."

Now federal investigators are actively examining communications. Why did the Senate stay open today, by the way, with the House shut down, over the threat of new violence? Is one chamber kowtowing to terrorists? Are they on the same page?

Senator, former prosecutor, Amy Klobuchar, next.









CUOMO: Federal law enforcement is now looking into communications between Members of Congress and the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol in an act of domestic terror, according to a U.S. official, briefed on the matter.

There is no sign of any of this reaching a probable cause criminal threshold. But it's early. And the question is, does it show that the investigation has shifted into whom rioters were working and planning with before the insurrection?

Tonight, we have a senator, who has been digging into the events, and before January 6, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Welcome back. Good to have you, Senator.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Are we aware of whom the lawmakers are that are of interest in this investigation?

KLOBUCHAR: No. There's been rumors. But as a former prosecutor, you wait for the evidence.

And I think one of the things we learned from Director Wray this week, at the Judiciary Committee, is there's an extensive investigation. Hundreds of thousands of tips, over 200 people charged this time.

And obviously, they need to look at not just who was there, but who planned it, and who was involved in it. So, I don't know where that will leave Chris. But it has to be able to be able to get to justice.

We've got to put an Attorney General in. And Merrick Garland has committed to taking on these cases in a big way. And then meanwhile, there may be ethics issues in front of the Ethics Committees--

CUOMO: What do you think about that?

KLOBUCHAR: --from both the House and Senate.

CUOMO: Senate - Senate--

KLOBUCHAR: So, that is the way this should be handled.

CUOMO: Seven Senate Democrats want an ethics investigation, reportedly, into Hawley and Cruz for inciting riot. Do you agree? Will it happen?

KLOBUCHAR: I don't know what the Ethics Committee does because they do it in secret. But I think anything that leads you to think someone is coordinating with these insurrectionists, it should be investigated. I just don't know the facts.


And I - what I do know for sure is that somehow this was coordinated. We know that already. There was a recent complaint in Washington State, where the Justice Department said, for the first time, when prosecuting one of the leaders of the Proud Boys that this was a coordinated attack. Through the Committee hearings that I've chaired with Senator Peters, and Senator Portman, and Blunt, repeatedly, every law enforcement leader has said that this was coordinated and planned.

Well, that means it's planned on the ground. But it also means, and begs the question, who is funding them, who is coordinating with them? And they must get to the bottom of it.

CUOMO: Listening to the hearings, and then doing an analysis of them, Phil Mudd, who is a counterterrorism expert, here at CNN now, he put a question in my head that I can't figure out the answer to, but I do think it's important.

January 5th, they had the planning meeting. The White House was supposed to be at that meeting. Do you know if they had representation at that planning meeting on January 5th, for how to deal with the next day, and what they said was needed?

KLOBUCHAR: I don't know if the White House had people there. But what I do know is that there was multiple reports going into this.

The Capitol Police themselves, on January 3rd, said that there were tens of thousands of people that were going to descend on the Mall.

There was FBI report of raw intelligence the night before January 5th from the Norfolk office, which made it very clear that they had reports that people are going to go to war that they were going to go after Congress.

The New York City Police Department gave Intelligence in December, that they were concerned about this date.

And so, one of the questions we have kept asking is why didn't this get to the right people, so they were better-prepared? And of course, three people, leaders in law enforcement have resigned over this. And we now have a new Sergeant at Arms.

You can't have a Police Chief leading into an event that is not able to get the National Guard as reinforcement. And the day of the event, we now know that he was trying to call the Sergeant at Arms. And they were, of course, trying to protect the Members, complete chaos.

And then the final, just worse fact is that for three hours, the Head of the D.C. National Guard had to wait to get the authority while we were all watching on TV, these insurrectionists breach the police line, break the glass, the Defense Departments didn't give authority.

So, there's plenty of blame to go around. My focus is not really that as much as how do we fix it, going forward?

CUOMO: Right.

KLOBUCHAR: So, we have a better structure, so the Intelligence gets to the right people, and so that we have the ability to get the Guard there when they need them. CUOMO: Right. And just to be clear, there's now more reporting, that makes it a matter of fact that the former president says he asked for 10,000 National Guard, he was going to make that happen. There is no proof of that. And now, Chief - Joint Chief of Staff Head Milley says he never heard of anything like that.


CUOMO: And he would have.


CUOMO: So just--

KLOBUCHAR: Remember, what we know is that the President was literally refuse to--

CUOMO: Right.

KLOBUCHAR: --put out tweets telling the rioters to get out of there, and instead commended them.

CUOMO: Right. Now, on the relief bill, my suggestion, at the top of the show, is why even pretend that you can work with people, who are working for your destruction, and giving comfort to terrorists? They don't want to work with you. They want to get rid of you as soon as possible.

Use reconciliation, get rid of the filibuster, and do what you guys promised to do.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I favor getting rid of the filibuster. I think we have too much we have to do for this country.

And as I was listening to you, I thought to myself, so what Joe Biden pledged here was to represent all of America, Democrats, people who voted for him, Republicans that voted for him, of which many did, and Republicans who didn't vote for him.

And if you're going to do that, and if that is your guiding light, well, then you have to get something done on the pandemic, you've got to get the money out for distribution.

He's now up to over 70 percent more vaccines getting distributed than the first week that he came in office and has now pledged to get enough available vaccines for every single adult in America by May. That's extraordinary. But to do that, you need funding.

And so, I look at it this way. He wants to work with Republicans. I have a good track record of working across the aisle. I'm considering continuing to do it. And you can do it on certain things.

But when it comes to this pandemic, right now, you can't mess around. You've got to get the funding out there. And you've got to make sure our economy is strong, so that when the moment comes that we are ready to bounce back, we are there ready, full throttle to do it, and we're not on our heels in a deep recession.

CUOMO: Right. Now look, Ron Johnson is proving right now where their heads are at. His only position is opposition that he says, "This is to be more deliberative." Nobody's debating right now. He's just running a stunt. This is who they are.

And here's the forecast forward on it. You can do this reconciliation. You probably won't be able to do H.R.1 through reconciliation. And that bill is arguably the biggest pledge that your Party made to its constituents.


If you don't pass that bill, there is a good chance there'll be about 250 laws across this country, on the state level that makes it harder for folks to vote.

KLOBUCHAR: Exactly, Chris. And one of the things that happened, after we won Georgia, after the people of Georgia decided "We want change," is that I took over the gavel of the Rules Committee. That is where that bill is headed.

For the very first time, we're going to be able to have a hearing. And Senator Schumer is on that committee with me. He is a big proponent of this bill. And then, even if it's a 50-50 split vote, he is able to then bring it to the floor of the United States Senate.

And this is what this party has done. They lost the national election, OK. When parties lose elections, what do they usually do? They reflect. They look at what policies they can do - bring forth to reach out to people, what they can - need to do to best message their policies?

Do you know what these guys are doing right now? They're doubling down at CPAC. And they are, in fact, right now, saying, "You know what? We can't win with the existing electorate. So why don't we disenfranchise people, allow less people to vote?"

It's a raw abuse of political power with these over 200 bills that are being introduced in states across the country, to limit voters. Voters aren't going to have it. They voted in droves in this pandemic, even in the middle of the biggest public health crisis that we have seen in decades. They came out in droves.

And so that's why H.R.1 is so important. It's about the long-term problems with gerrymandering and campaign financing. But it is also about making it easier for people to vote, not harder, and that's why it has to be such a major priority. And we are having our hearing on March 24th. And that bill is going to the floor.

CUOMO: The question is what happens once it gets there. Senator Amy Klobuchar, thank you very much. You're always welcome here to argue the case to the American people.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, thank you, Chris Cuomo.

CUOMO: Be well.

We're getting closer to midnight. I don't think that the Messiah is going to come for the QAnon kooks, which is what they were waiting on today, which is why half of our house of - half of our Congress is closed today, out of fear of threat from these kooks.

One of the most recognizable faces of the insurrection, this cat, is now talking. Now, I get it. I don't want to hear from him. It is instructive, in a way. I will explain why you want to hear what he says, next.









CUOMO: Too many in Donald Trump's party want to con you into thinking that January 6th was something other than what we all witnessed together.


JOHNSON: This didn't seem like an armed insurrection to me.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This is not about security at this point. This is about political theater.


CUOMO: Now, I know you think that is worthless piffle that we should forget. Let me make the case as to why you must expose and out absurd lying, all right?

Ignoring these guys is a mistake. Trump being gone was not a cure-all. We are being poisoned by what and who remains. It's as real right now as the military guard standing guard in this nation's capital as we speak.

You can't let a Cruz and co-conspirators go, or you will see more metastasizing of the cancer of misinformation, creating tumors, like this guy, in the body politic. Jacob Chansley, stupid antics, outfits, but still being led to believe that he must be all-in for Trump. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JACOB CHANSLEY, CAPITOL RIOT SUSPECT: And I honestly believed and still believe that he cares about the Constitution that he cares about the American people.

LAURIE SEGALL, JOURNALIST: But you don't regret the loyalty to Donald Trump?



CUOMO: Remember, his lawyer was on the show here, early on. I brought him on to make the case that guys like Chansley were the Democrats' best bet, or anybody with an open mind, for saying that Trump was the problem with the insurrection. His lawyer said that he was like part of a cult with Trump. OK.

But in a court filing today, his lawyers argued that he wasn't "Leading anyone anywhere," despite shot after shot of him, at the head of the mob, tough to miss. That flagpole doesn't constitute a weapon, they say. Take a look at it. It's a six-foot spear. And by the way, you wouldn't want to be beaten with it. I promise you that.

Now, they really think that because Trump and Co. told them to go to war for them that it made what he did OK. That's what he believes. He doesn't think it was an insurrection. He doesn't even believe that what he did was an attack.


CHANSLEY: My actions were not an attack on this country. That is incorrect.

My actions on January 6th, how would I describe them? Well, I sang a song. And that's a part of Shamanism. It's about creating positive vibrations in a sacred chamber.

I also stopped people from stealing and vandalizing that sacred space, the Senate, OK? I actually stopped somebody from stealing muffins out of the breakroom.


CUOMO: I think he's going to have problems. But that's not the point. He's not an aberration. You can't just be like, "Why even listening?" Because there are a ton of them.

You remember the guy who broke into Pelosi's office, put his feet up on the desk, before stealing from the Speaker, and then gave all these internets - these interviews, Richard Barnett? He screamed at a judge today, during a hearing, because he can't understand why he's still behind bars? No, he has not been found to be mentally-ill.

This is a mentality that they have. They don't believe that there are any errors of their ways. Why should they? There's an entire Trump party, telling them, and who knows, how many like them, "You are right to believe the things that you do, even though they are fundamentally wrong."


Ask experts in extremism, ask the men and women who keep us safe, ask yourself, if we don't call out the people, peddling the BS, and drown it out with better ideas and facts, do you really think we won't see more violence in the name of this viral vitriol?

Here's a hint as to the answer. The House of Representatives shut down today because of a credible threat from cats like that.

Now, the Republican Governor of Texas is also part of this. He is making trouble for reason when it comes to COVID. He believes that migrants are responsible for the spread of the virus, that Biden is responsible for the spread of the virus.

This is the message he's putting out. We must expose it and oppose it. And we will, next, with facts.








CUOMO: Texas Governor Greg Abbott, an exhibit of someone who has to be given the spotlight for scrutiny because he is peddling trumpery.

First, it was blaming the green new deal for the power collapse in a state, even though it mostly uses non-renewable energy. That's a fact.


And now, without evidence, he wants to blame Biden and immigrants for the spread of COVID in Texas.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): His administration has been releasing, in South Texas, immigrants who came across the border that they refused to test, that turned out there were more than a hundred of them who had COVID.

The Biden Administration must stop importing COVID into our country. That is Neanderthal type approach to dealing with the COVID situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: Now, there is a downside to the Biden administration rolling back Trump's programs that were very restrictive, and maybe even not legally so, at the border.

However, the idea that migrants pose more of a risk than COVID, which has killed more than 500,000 of us, including nearly 45,000 Texans, in less than a year, come on!

A senior Homeland Security official tells CNN Abbott has been stalling efforts by the Biden administration to provide federal funds that would go toward COVID tests for migrants released from custody.

If you're afraid that they have the virus, why wouldn't you want them tested? The FEMA funds are already in place to be sent to the border communities, but the state has to approve it. Why won't you, Governor Abbott?

Let's not forget, the nation's top scientists have repeatedly warned not to ease up on safety restrictions right now, especially masks, because the contagious variants are spreading. And this is the chance for us to get ahead of the variants with a vaccine.

Texas, fact, known to have all four known variants at-scale in America, active there, and it is home to half of the top 20 counties, when it comes to cases.

Vaccinations will take time. If the Governor wants a boogeyman, look in the mirror. With less than 8 percent of the state vaccinated, how many lives, how many lives, in order to seem like you're doing the right thing about opening up? No masks, opening too soon burned you once. Will you make it twice? Apparently so!

I want to bring in Dr. Ashish Jha.

Good to see you, Doc. Let's test the theory of Governor Abbott. "You know, it's those migrants. They're full of COVID. You stop them, stop the virus. That's our biggest threat. That's why I won't test them."


I really don't know what to say about that migrant theory. It's obviously not like even remotely a major contributor to infections of COVID. In Texas, those infections have been high. They're spread across the state. This is not - this is a distraction. This is not the real issue.

CUOMO: All right, tougher one, because it plays well, Texas, but everywhere.

"Cases are on the way down. Things are moving the right way. Vaccine's coming up. You just said it yourself, President Biden, May, we'll have it for everybody. Get the masks off. Let's get open up now. We can't take another day of economic pain."

Why is that not right - the right work? JHA: Yes, so here's why. Right now, especially in place like Texas, where vaccinations are not going super-well, a large chunk of their high-risk population hasn't been vaccinated yet.

You let go of the mass, you open things up, you're going to see a spike in cases. That's happened over and over again. And you're going to see a lot of people get infected and die.

And that's horrible at any moment. But when we're this close to being able to vaccinate high-risk people, I think it's irresponsible. I would not recommend it.

CUOMO: His theory is this. Listen to this shot.


ABBOTT: The last spike occurred during Christmas and New Year's, at a time when people were not transmitting it, when they went to restaurants or businesses. The lead area of transmission at the time was in the home-setting where people were not wearing masks in the first place. And no one has ever mandated wearing masks in the home- setting.


CUOMO: Response?

JHA: Yes, so there is clearly some spreading that happens at the home- setting too. He's right about that. But we also know that there's a lot of spreading happening in restaurants and bars and other places.

So his point is, if you can't stop one, you shouldn't try to stop the other. I don't know bye - buy that. There are things we can do to slow this down. And again, we're talking about a few more weeks. I don't - I just don't see why we want to risk people's lives with restaurants and bars opening up.

CUOMO: Now I want to try something new called where we could be, if things are done right, and the numbers are met, on the federal side, and it gets into arms, and the variants are kept at bay.

Let's first look at spring. Where could we be in the spring?

JHA: Yes. So, I think this next month, six weeks is a part that's probably the most fuzzy. But as we get into the spring, things will start getting better, Chris. I really do see cases coming way down, hospitalizations way down, and things starting to open up.

CUOMO: And let's see what that looks like in summer. What are we doing this summer?


JHA: You know, summer, I think the summer of 2021 is going to look a lot more like summer of 2019 than it did the summer of 2020. Backyard barbecues, gatherings, some indoor dining gets much, much safer. It starts to feel not quite 100 percent normal, but like a pretty close to a normal summer.

CUOMO: And then fall, winter.

JHA: Yes, so this - there's a little bit of a wildcard here. I expect the fall to begin really strong. I expect September-October to be good months, kids back in school, things generally doing OK.

But this is a seasonal virus. And I do expect a bump in cases in November, December, maybe January. We'll see. It'll depend on how many people are vaccinated, depends on how good our testing is. All that stuff will help us get through those months. But I would not be surprised if we see a bump in cases at the - during that time.

CUOMO: I'll tell you what. You get my kids back in school full-time, and let's start healing their head and their heart, from what this displacement did, I give up everything else.

Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you very much. Appreciate you.

JHA: Thank you.

CUOMO: We got to start thinking about what our incentive is to do this. Instead of this "Don't! That will be wrong! That will be wrong! We have to do this," let's talk about why, what the upside is.

All right now, the country needs all of our best voices that people want to listen to, to help stop this spread. This is a pivotal time to make sure people want to get the vaccine that they keep their mask on, and we do what we have to right now.

That's where Basketball Great, friend of show, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comes in. He is a Social Justice Warrior. And he is doing whatever he can to help counter hesitancy in the Black community to get the vaccine.

He has an interesting take on what he thinks might help, next.









CUOMO: How do we deal with this tough situation? Minority communities are much more likely to get COVID, much more likely to be hospitalized, much more likely to die, but less likely to want the vaccine.

Let's bring in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It's great to see you in PRIME TIME, brother.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, NBA HALL OF FAMER: Hi, how are you, Chris? What's been going on?

CUOMO: Plenty! So what do you believe we can do to help communities trust to take the vaccine?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, we have to gain the trust of minority communities by showing them that the vaccine is effective, and that it's in their best interest to take the vaccine.

The problem, in times past, was that no one wanted to give them the latest treatment. So the experiment that everyone relates to, the Tuskegee experiment, withheld treatment for venereal disease. And they just observed people with it, and until they died.

CUOMO: Right.

ABDUL-JABBAR: That was a situation where something was withheld.

Now that people want to extend the cutting-edge medicine, and treatment to people of color, they're suspicious of that. So, we have to gain their trust, and go through all of the things that we need to go through, to make sure that their trust is well-founded.

CUOMO: Got to work it like a campaign.

ABDUL-JABBAR: That's all we have to do.

CUOMO: Got to work it like a campaign.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Yes. You have to.

CUOMO: Selling that Johnson & Johnson is--

ABDUL-JABBAR: And you have to be consistent.

CUOMO: --just as good. One shot is better than two, obviously. Fight the facts.

But getting to that community, you wrote a really interesting Op-Ed about how to do that. And I don't think some people took it the right way. They're saying, "Oh, Kareem wants all the basketball players to get the vaccine first. That's so wrong."

That's not what you're saying in the Op-Ed. You're talking about incentivizing people to see their heroes believing it's safe.

ABDUL-JABBAR: A lot of people in minority communities respect the athletes that go out there, and take their word on things of this nature. So we have to make that connection for them, and show them how many of their favorite athletes, and some of their celebrities - I saw Dolly Parton a couple of days ago, you know?


ABDUL-JABBAR: There are a lot of people that are stepping up. And that's making a difference. So anytime that that happens, it's making it possible for more people to get the vaccination that they need, and help us beat this COVID-19 thing down.

CUOMO: You are a Social Justice Warrior. You're developing it as a brand.

You sent me stuff. Thank you very much. I was shocked that Don Lemon actually gave it to me, because he's a thief, and he usually takes all the good swag, but he shared it. And thank you very much.

You are looking at a lot of different ways to improve society. Voter fraud, suppression efforts, is what you call the real voter fraud. And now we have this existential battle. If these 250-plus laws across the states are put into place, you will have a rollback of what we just saw in this election and quick.

What is your big concern? What do you see as the fix?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, my big concern is the fact that the Republicans are pursuing this with such intense fervor. It's none of the issues that they bring up, voter fraud, or people that are using crooked machines, none of these are reality.

The Republicans remind me of zombies chasing a jeep, you know? We've got to keep our foot on the pedal, till we get to the finish line, and pass laws that inhibit this voter suppression. We've got to do that.

CUOMO: Now--


CUOMO: Go ahead. Finish your point, Kareem, please.

ABDUL-JABBAR: No. If we can't do that, we're not going to have a real democracy. If everybody wants the American democracy to look like it did in the 18th Century, no, you know, it's not like it was when the Founding Fathers were around.


But we will have a real democracy where people respect the laws and are able to live with one another. That's what we're supposed to be working toward.

CUOMO: And that's what your shirt is about. "Make a friend that doesn't look like you."

ABDUL-JABBAR: Absolutely.

CUOMO: "You might just change the world." Now, it is a beautiful reference, first of all, to a beautiful idea, but also to when you were not just friends with Bruce Lee. You were in one of his movies.

And I'm a huge fan of yours, though everybody is, in so many different generations, in this country now. And I was watching the fight. And we were watching this guy get his front leg attacked.

And this buddy of mine randomly said, "Just like Bruce did to Kareem, chopping them down by the front leg," that was when you fought in that famous scene with Bruce Lee, who was of course your friend. It was such an amazing message of two different genres of greatness coming together.

Thank you for the swag. Thank you for the message, Kareem. Always a pleasure.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Oh, you're welcome. And anybody who wants this shirt can go to And this is kind of memorializes him. He would have been 80 this year.



CUOMO: The idea lives on.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Thank you for--

CUOMO: Oh, please! Always a pleasure.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Thank you for - for referring to him.

CUOMO: I love what you're about, Kareem. I love what you're about. You're fighting the good fight. You're always welcome here. God bless and be well.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Thank you very much, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. We'll be right back.


CUOMO: Thank you for watching. It's time for the big show, "CNN TONIGHT" with the big star, D. Lemon.