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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Cuomo Under Fire; Interview With Mary Trump; Trump Addresses CPAC; Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Begins Shipping Out. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 01, 2021 - 16:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to the lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin today with the health lead. Today, a new coronavirus vaccine, as top experts warn we're not out of the woods yet. This is no time for any American to get complacent. Right now, almost four million new single-shot vaccines from Johnson & Johnson are on their way to communities across the United States.

This will mark the third authorized coronavirus vaccine in the U.S.. J&J's vaccine is expected to be in American arms as soon as tomorrow. And with just one shot needed, the company plans to deliver enough doses to fully vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of this month.

So, far more than 25 million people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated with the double doses from Pfizer and Moderna. Yet, along with this promising news, today, the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, offered a stark warning, explaining progress in defeating the virus may be stalling.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths. Please hear me clearly. At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.


TAPPER: Dr. Walensky issued this warning, as she pointed to evidence that the number of cases and the number of deaths has slowly ticked up, after weeks of going in the right direction, downward.

One year ago today, right after the very first reported death in the U.S. due to the coronavirus, I spoke with then Vice President Pence, who told me -- quote -- "We're ready" to tackle the virus.

Now, more than 514,000 American deaths later, more than any other nation Earth, according to official numbers, it's clear that we were not.

And, as CNN's Erica Hill reports, with variants making the race to get shots in arms all the more urgent, a third vaccine could not have come soon enough.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first Johnson & Johnson vaccines could be an arms tomorrow.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It's very good news. Now we have three important tools in our armamentarium of capabilities against this virus.

HILL: The advantages of this latest tool? Just one shot and no need for special freezers.

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, PROVIDENCE ST. JOSEPH HEALTH: This really eases the capacity to get the vaccine where it's needed.

HILL: Three-point-nine million doses to start.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: So, that was the entire J&J inventory.

HILL: With promises of 20 million by the end of the month, the vast majority going to state and local health departments and pharmacies, about 4 percent marked for community health centers.

J&J already testing a booster for variants and hoping to expand its trials to children and infants this summer.

PAUL STOFFELS, CHIEF SCIENTIFIC OFFICER, JOHNSON & JOHNSON: We are working with the NIH to accelerate that as soon as possible.

HILL: The U.S. now averaging 1.7 million shots a day, 10 percent of the adult population now fully vaccinated, hospitalizations nationwide dropping below 50,000 for the first time since November.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH, EMORY UNIVERSITY: We're vaccinating more and more people over the age of 60. Hospitalizations should continue to drop and mortality should continue to drop.

HILL: But we're not there yet. The seven-day averages for both new cases and daily reported deaths increasing these.

WALENSKY: Data are evidence that our recent declines appear to be stalling. Please hear me clearly. At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.

HILL: And yet states continue to ease restrictions.

FAUCI: It is really risky to say it's over, we're on the way out, let's pull back. HILL: Indoor performance venues can now open at 50 percent capacity

in Massachusetts, South Carolina eliminating COVID restrictions on alcohol sales and large gatherings, Florida bracing for spring break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just asking for cooperation from our college students that do decide to come to Fort Lauderdale.

HILL: Experts urging just a bit more patience.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I'm very bullish on where we will be in May, June, July, but March/April look like tough months that we still have to get through and be very careful about.


HILL: As the country continues moving forward, we have just learned that California has now come to an agreement to get kids back in schools.

This will put the decision-making on the superintendent in various school districts, not the state, and it's got a big price tag, Jake, $6.6 billion, about $2 billion set aside for PPE, improving ventilation, and other safety measures that need to be undertaken.

The remainder of the money could go to what Governor Gavin Newsom said is the lost learning, so that could mean longer school days, even summer school.

And just one other note, Jake. Exactly one year ago today here in New York City was when we had the first confirmed COVID case, a 39-year- old health worker. What a year it's been.


TAPPER: It's been a horrible year.

Erica Hill, thank you so much.

Joining us now, Dr. Megan Ranney, emergency physician at Brown University.

Dr. Ranney, thanks for joining us.

So, we're now a year into this after the first confirmed COVID death. Based on what you're seeing in your hospital, are you optimistic that the worst is behind us?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So I'm optimistic that the worst of the winter surge is behind us.

There's absolutely a difference right now, Jake, when I work in my emergency department, compared to what I was seeing in October, November, December, and even January. The number of new cases coming in is lower. The number of patients who are still hospitalized is lower. And the tone is different, partly because so many health care workers

are vaccinated now, right? So we have hope. We're not getting sick ourselves. We're not worried about bringing the illness home.

But -- and here is the but -- what Dr. Walensky, what you just replayed of her saying is the thing that keeps many of us up at night. We're watching infections start to tick up again, across Europe. And we're seeing across my own state and across other states people who have been cooped up who are just desperate to get out and about and we're worried about a new surge.

We have been through this movie before. And we're worried that it's going to come back again.

TAPPER: So, just to be clear, is your concern, not because of the new variants causing any new surge, so much as human behavior, that people are starting to go into crowds, they're not wearing masks, they're not wearing good masks, they're not cleaning their hands as much? Is it the complacency that worries you the most?

RANNEY: It's the combination of the two. It is both the complacency and the variants.

If the new variants weren't here, I would have a lot more confidence that we were going to get through this. But we know that some of those variants are more transmissible. And when you combine that with the complacency, with the fact that Massachusetts is opening up indoor gatherings, and only 10 percent of folks are fully vaccinated, that's what worries me.

If you have a super-spreader and one of those events, you're going to see this whole surge over again. We have come so close. We just need to get these vaccines in arms. And we're just reopening a little too quickly.

TAPPER: Dr. Fauci says people can feel comfortable having maskless small gatherings in their homes as long as everyone, everyone there is vaccinated. Do you agree?

RANNEY: I do agree, with one additional thing, which is kids. So kids are not going to be vaccinated for a very long time. I think it's awfully tough to tell people that they can't get their grand -- together with their grandkids if their grandkids haven't been vaccinated yet.

And based on the current evidence, I think that, if the grandparents and the parents have both been vaccinated, if the kids are in school, but wearing masks and asymptomatic, that that is likely OK as well.

But, yes, there is hope. Once two people are both vaccinated, you can get together maskless in the privacy of your own home.

TAPPER: When it came to kids, Fauci told me and Sanjay also told me, because I was asking about my parents coming to visit, that the most safe thing you can do with vaccinated parents visited unvaccinated grandchildren is have the grandparents also get tested ahead of time to make sure they're not carriers, even though they're not sick.

Do you agree with that?

RANNEY: Yes, I mean, the safest thing is to get the grandparents tested, to get the kids tested. But let's be honest. I think that most folks aren't going to do that. And I think we have to provide people ways to get back together with their families again.

If you can't see your grandparents or your grandkids, what's the point of getting vaccinated?

TAPPER: Right, right.

What's your response to people who think the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is inferior to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines because Johnson & Johnson's efficacy numbers are smaller when it comes to preventing illness? Johnson & Johnson is 66.1 percent vs. the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are 95 94 percent, respectively.

What do you say about that? We should note that the J&J vaccine is 85 percent effective against severe disease, and 100 percent effective at preventing death.

RANNEY: So, it's those second two numbers that you just quoted which are the things that I quote back to people when they question me, which is, why do we care about these vaccines? It's because we don't want people to get really sick, to get hospitalized, and to die.

And the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is just as good as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine at doing that. Additionally, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested in different countries and over a different time period, and was not tested head to head with Moderna and Pfizer.

So, it's not really a fair comparison. It's not apples to apples. At the end of the day, when it comes to that bottom line, my answer is, if I were offered one vs. the other, I would take whatever was given to me first. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and a shot in the arm is worth a shot two months down the road that you might not even get.

They're both lovely. They are more than we hoped for. And the fact that we're here a year, a little more than a year into the pandemic, and we have three options is just truly tremendous.


TAPPER: Yes, I mean, an incredible achievement by the people that started Operation Warp Speed, including the previous administration.

How big of an impact will having this third vaccine available make in your vaccine distribution?

RANNEY: So, it's going to make very little impact today or tomorrow. As you just mentioned, there's only about four million doses that are coming out this week. We're going to see about 20 million by the end of the month. Compare that to the 1.6, 1.7 million that are going into people's arms per day currently with Moderna and Pfizer. J&J isn't going to make a huge impact today. But over time, it's going to have a really big impact, because of the fact that it's single-dose, because of the fact that it doesn't have to be stored at the same cold temperatures.

And here's the biggest thing that I'm excited about. It's not about the U.S. It's about the rest of the world. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the fact that it is so effective and can be stored at such regular vaccine temperatures means that we're going to be able to expand vaccination outside of the United States much more quickly, which, of course, is good for citizens of the rest of the world.

But it's also good for us, because it helps to protect us. This virus has been global since day one. And we're not going to conquer it only focusing on the United States.

TAPPER: That's right. We don't want more variants cropping up, which is what will happen if we don't get the rest of the world vaccinated as well.

Dr. Megan Ranney, thank you so much for your time and expertise.

Is former President Trump seriously considering a 2024 presidential run? Or is he just trying to get more attention? The former president's niece will join us next.

Then: breaking news. The second woman to accuse New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment just reacted to the governor's response. We have that for you.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Back now with the politics lead.

Former President Trump's first public remarks since leaving the White House at the pro-Trump see CPAC conference Sunday. Mr. Trump continued to lie about his election loss. He vowed revenge on Republicans who voted to impeach him. And he also hinted he might run for president in 2024.

Joining us now is Mary Trump, niece of Donald Trump and a clinical psychologist, author of the book "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man."

Mary, thanks so much for joining us again.

And I have to say, in addition to knowing the former president as you do, your degree in psychology helps us understand him, to a degree.

You have said that you think that your uncle will at least pretend to run for president again, even if he doesn't ultimately pull the trigger. Why?


I think he's made more money in the last several months since promoting the big lie that he maybe has ever. And he's not going to turn away from that opportunity.

The other thing that I think we have seen with Donald for decades is that the more room you give him to transgress, the more room he will take. And the Republican Party had several opportunities to take an off-ramp, as soon as President Biden was elected, and they have refused to do it.

And Donald is going to make the most of that. I think he believes that, if he remains the leader of the Republican Party, that that will continue in some way to grant him immunity.

I don't think that's going to be the case. But he will do whatever he can to change the subject or to protect himself.

TAPPER: Well, he really -- in his speech yesterday, he lashed out a lot and named a number of Republicans who voted to impeach him who were disloyal, in his view.

You see this as the way that he will attempt to maintain his stronghold on the party?

M. TRUMP: Yes, I think the first instance we saw this, of course, was his refusal to accept the election results, and then, again, because the Republican leadership allowed him to get away with it, either through the complicity of silence or actively backing the big lie, they let it go on so long that, when the Senate trial came around, he threatened to form a third party if they didn't get in line.

So, I think we're seeing the results of that as well.

TAPPER: What do you think it will take for the Republican Party to break away from him? What did -- what will they need to -- I mean, I just -- what he did before, during and after the election in this big lie that actually resulted in the death, the deaths of multiple supporters of his is so offensive and so obscene.

And yet even that was not enough for two-thirds of the Republicans in the House and some in the Senate. What's it going to take?

M. TRUMP: Nothing, because what we have also seen is that Donald's brand of politics doesn't scale.

He lost the Oval Office, he lost the Senate, and he lost the House for them. So, I think what we need to understand and what I really hope Democrats start understanding is that he is the Republican Party. He is mainstream Republicanism at this point, and that we can't play by the rules, because the Republicans through the rule book out.

And the longer we pretend that that's not the case, the longer we're at a disadvantage. And I don't mean this in partisan terms. I think the country suffers when we have one major Republican -- sorry -- one major political party that isn't functioning, because, right now, the Republican Party, as it exists currently, is an anti-democratic Party that is perfectly comfortable embracing countermajoritarian tactics to stay in power, which is why I see this increase in voter suppression laws that are being considered in over 33 states.


Very, very troubling.


When you say anti-democratic, you mean democratic small D, anti- democracy.

M. TRUMP: Small D, yes, yes.


There are millions of pages of documents, including Trump's tax returns from 2011 all the way through 2019, now in the hands of the Manhattan district attorney. How worried do you think your uncle should be?

M. TRUMP: He should be extremely worried, because there's -- there are a lot of stories that are going to be told within those millions of pages of tax returns.

The other thing, too, is that it's difficult sometimes to prove intent. And I think that is a central element to any case of this scope.

However, because of the documents I have, which are decades-old, we are going to be able to establish patterns, which can imply intent. Donald, however, has gotten away with this kind of behavior for so long, that I'm not suggesting he's sanguine about it, necessarily, but he's probably not taking it as seriously as he perhaps should be.

TAPPER: So you don't think he's worried? You don't think he necessarily feels the pressure that he should feel, it sounds like?

M. TRUMP: Well, he's literally never been held accountable for anything in his entire life. So it's hard for me to imagine that he sees this any differently.

I hope he's wrong.

TAPPER: So you were talking about the big lie before? And I wonder, do you think your uncle fully believes this lie?

Do you -- I mean, it's so false it was rejected by so many courts, so many election boards, so many Republican officials. It's just -- it's just nonsense. It's crap.

But does he believe it, I guess, is -- it doesn't really matter, because it's not true. But I just wonder, as somebody who's clinically trained and also somebody who has known him your whole life, does he believe it?

M. TRUMP: It's an interesting question. And it's a sort of complicated answer.

But the simplest way to answer it is to say that we need to remember that Donald has done everything in his power to steal this election, starting with the phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, on through undermining people's faith in mail-in balloting and claiming that the results would be rigged if Joe Biden won.

So, it isn't exactly that he doesn't believe he didn't win. It's that he cannot believe that he lost if that makes any sense. Losing in my family, according to my grandfather, was literally the worst thing a person can do. And he can't wrap his head around it, which is why he has tried so vociferously to get people to change their minds and believe that big lie, because, again, it doesn't matter how you win.

It matters that you win. And I wouldn't be surprised if he still thinks that there's a loophole somewhere.

TAPPER: Mary Trump, thank you so much.

And we're going to have more on the five -- yes, five investigations into the former president later in the show.

But we have some breaking news. The second woman accusing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just responded to the governor's apology.

That story is next.



TAPPER: We have breaking news in our politics lead. We're hearing from one of Governor Andrew Cuomo's accusers for the first time since he said he was deeply sorry.

His former aide, Charlotte Bennett, says the governor is not taking responsibility for his behavior. Cuomo did say he was sorry if his comments were misinterpreted as unwanted flirting.

Bennett has accused the governor of making a variety of inappropriate comments to her when she worked for him, including asking her about her sex life and if she ever slept with older men.

Let's get right to CNN's Brynn Gingras.

Charlotte Bennett said this behavior is typical for the governor, and she's asking others to come forward, right?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, Charlotte Bennett actually retained an attorney. And she issued a statement shortly before your show came on the air. And I want to read part of it to you. It says: "The governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior. As we know, abusers, particularly those with tremendous amounts of power, are often repeat offenders, who engage in manipulated tactics to diminish allegations, blame victims, deny wrongdoing and escape consequences.

"It took the governor 24 hours and significant backlash to allow for a truly independent investigation. These are not the actions of someone who simply feels misunderstood. They are the actions of an individual who wields his power to avoid justice."

And her attorney adding to that statement, what the governor did was -- quote -- "textbook sexual harassment."


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Good morning to everyone.

GINGRAS (voice-over): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo trying to stem the fallout after a new sexual harassment allegations surfaced, the second in a matter of days, calls for an investigation coming from the biggest names in Cuomo's own party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and even the White House.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The New York attorney general will oversee an independent event investigation with subpoena power, and the governors office said he will fully cooperate. We certainly support that process.

GINGRAS: The most recent accusation first reported by "The New York Times," 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, a former aide telling the paper the governor asked her personal questions in a one-on-one setting last year, like had she been with an older man or if she had been monogamous in her relationships.