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The Lead with Jake Tapper

AstraZeneca Vaccine Pause; Migrant Crisis?; New Reports Find Russia Favored Trump in 2020 Election; Interview With Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA). Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 16:30   ET



GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Because they open themselves up to the conversation we're having here at the moment. So, I applaud them for that. They have the right to be heard.

And, more importantly, the governor, and everybody else has responsibility to advance the truth. And that's what this independent investigation should advance.

And, on that basis, that's what we're all looking forward to. But no one liked anything they heard. And our heart goes out to each and every one of those victims. And, obviously, this is serious.

And I'm 3,000 miles away. I don't understand the domestic politics within New York that many of the example -- many of the people you just exampled do as it relates to, should he or should he not resign? But let's get to the facts. Let's get to the bottom of this.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Finally, Governor, if you survive this recall effort, are you going to run for reelection? Are you going to run for president? What's next?

NEWSOM: No, I'm looking forward to defeating this recall, getting more shots in people's arms, getting this economy roaring again.

And watch -- mark my word. California's economy is going to come roaring back. And, yes, I do have a few months after we defeat this recall, which I intend to do, a primary, and then a reelection, which proves why this recall is such a waste of time and, yes, money, because there's an election just a few months after.

TAPPER: All right, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California, you took more questions from me than Trump and Cuomo have done in the last four years.

So, thanks so much for that. I appreciate it.

NEWSOM: Great to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: Good to see you.

Coming up: a brand-new intelligence report out this afternoon on Russia and the 2020 election. We will tell you what Russia and other countries did this time.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead.

Moments ago, President Joe Biden made his first stop on what the White House is billing as the Help Is Here Tour, visiting a small business in Chester, Pennsylvania, as part of his effort to highlight the popularity and to try to increase the popularity of the almost $2 trillion COVID relief bill.

This afternoon, Biden also said he has no plans to visit the Southern border, despite a migrant crisis getting worse by the day and a chorus of Democrats and Republicans pushing him for action now, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports from Delaware County.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden is taking his sales pitch to Pennsylvania.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Is there anything else we can be doing?

COLLINS: At a small business in the city of Chester, Biden kicked off his coronavirus relief bill road show designed to build support for the nearly $2 trillion package that no Republicans voted for.

BIDEN: And you really made it work. And I think you should be aware more help is on the way for real.

COLLINS: Biden and his top aides will appear in multiple battleground states this week, as they try to convince Americans that further spending and possible tax increases are necessary next steps to rebuilding.

BIDEN: We have to prove to the American people that their government can deliver for them.

COLLINS: One place Biden doesn't plan to visit, for now, the U.S. Southern border.

QUESTION: Do you have any plans to travel to the Southern border, sir?

BIDEN: Not at the moment.

COLLINS: The president is facing new scrutiny as thousands of migrant children are stuck in Border Patrol facilities while his administration scrambles to find room for them.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. SECRETARY HOMELAND SECURITY: We are building the capacity to address the needs of those children when they arrive. But we are also, and critically, sending an important message that now is not the time to come to the border.

COLLINS: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas says the U.S. is now on pace to encounter more individuals on the Southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.

Top immigration officials blame smugglers for taking advantage of Biden's pledge to reverse Trump's anti-immigrant policies.

ROBERTA JACOBSON, WHITE HOUSE COORDINATOR FOR SOUTHERN BORDER: They are exploiting people's hope and desperation.

COLLINS: But even Mexico's leader said Biden is viewed as the -- quote -- "migrant president."

JACOBSON: It's not the way we would put it. It is a more humane system. But it is not open borders.

COLLINS: Republicans are flocking to the border to blame Biden for the recent surge, but he's also coming under fire from members of his own party.

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): It has to be a strong message, because, with all due respect, the administration's message is not coming through. That's the reality of it.


COLLINS: And, Jake, the president is still on the ground here.

And we did just get some news from the White House that he is going to hold his first formal solo press conference next Thursday. Of course, that is later than some of his predecessors, several of his predecessors, actually, when they held their first press conference upon taking office.

But the White House says, yes, he will take questions in a formal setting from reporters in a little over a week from today.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins. Get busy writing those questions. You got 11 days.

Thanks so much for being with us today.

In our politics lead: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has declared that Russia attempted to undermine Biden's chances at winning the 2020 election, the now declassified assessment finding that Russia's efforts were aimed at -- quote -- "denigrating President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S."

The Department of Homeland Security said in his statement that, while Russian, Chinese and Iranian government-affiliated actors did impact security on some election networks, there is no evidence, they say, that they manipulated the actual election results.


More countries in Europe suspend AstraZeneca vaccine doses, and that could have some consequences here in the U.S. even before it's been approved here.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our health lead today: The list of countries considering halting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine continues to grow over reports of a small number of patients developing blood clots after receiving the shot.

More than a dozen countries in Europe have paused vaccinations, despite the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency saying there is no evidence of a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me now.

Sanjay, vaccine hesitancy already an issue in the U.S. Do you think, whatever issue there is with the AstraZeneca vaccine, whether or not it's legit, do you think that's going to worsen hesitancy for vaccines overall?


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it might, Jake, and, I mean, it might worsen hesitancy for this particular vaccine if and when it gets authorization here in the country, in the United States as well.

The European Medical Association is having this meeting on Thursday. It's sort of an emergency meeting. I think they need a pretty conclusive sort of statement coming out of that. I think right now, it's been -- you know, there's been a lot of sort of people drawing these correlations without any real evidence. You have 17 million people who have been vaccinated. About 30 people have developed these clotting problems which is roughly what just sort of the population maybe developing clotting problems even without the vaccine.

So, they've got to investigate it. Our antennas are up really right now, Jake, looking for any kind of adverse effect, and then you find something. And you think, oh, what does this adverse effect mean? Is it related or not? They need to answer that question quickly and hopefully that will not fuel any hesitancy.

TAPPER: Yeah. I mean, as it said, correlation is not causation. It might just happen.

GUPTA: Right.

TAPPER: It might not be connected. We could see results from the AstraZeneca U.S. trials very soon which

means the FDA could vote on emergency use authorization in the weeks ahead for AstraZeneca. Could that be derailed by what's happening globally?

GUPTA: I think this will come up in the conversations. You remember the way this works is, first of all, no one other than the independent data monitoring safety board is seeing the data initially and then when they say they have enough of the data including safety data, then it gets presented to the FDA and that's the first time we typically hear about how effective this is and any kinds of concerns about adverse effects.

You remember with Pfizer, for example, there was a concern about allergic reactions, and that got discussed at a subsequent, you know, FDA advisory committee. So it will come up. I know that for sure. I can guarantee that. The FDA advisory committee may say not an issue. We don't think there's an association here at all or they may say, look, if you've had a history of clotting problems, and then X, Y, Z, you have to do the following things. We'll see.

But, again, Jake, this may be nothing. There may be no relationship whatsoever to this vaccine and these clotting problems. It was just something that was incidentally found.

TAPPER: Yeah, and the people who had the allergic reactions it turned out that they were reversible and now, after people get the shot, they just sit and wait in the waiting room for 50 minutes to make sure that they don't have that and need to be fixed, whatever they have.

The CDC is warning that the U.K. variant of the coronavirus could be the dominant strain in the U.S. in just a matter of weeks, and a new study found risk of death from that variant is about 55 percent more than death from other strains.

How concerned are you about the surge of this U.K. variant?

GUPTA: Well, it's really interesting. We've been following this closely now for some time as you know, Jake, and there are states where you see a -- certainly an increase in the variant. I mean, the variants becoming more dominant. Florida, for example, the variant is more dominant but we've not seen a corresponding increase in cases.

So I don't think if the variant becomes more dominant that it will definitely lead to more cases, but, you know, you've got to be prepared for that possibility, and right now, across the country, 15 states have actually had at least a 10 percent increase in cases. Is that variant-driven, or is there something else going on? We have to sort of figure that out.

But I do think out of the two things, the transmissibility versus lethality, it's still transmissibility that's of larger concern. We can show you the numbers, but basically if something is 50 percent more lethal versus 50 percent more contagious. If it's 50 percent more contagious it's likely to spread a lot more, spread to a lot more people and as result, Jake, after about a month, be 11.4 times more deaths, that's from being more contagious. That's the concern.

You know, we have 11 percent, 12 percent of the country vaccinated, so that still means that 88 percent of the country is not and we've got to make sure that this variant isn't affecting them.

TAPPER: Yeah. Got to get shots into arms. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: The push to make it harder to vote in the U.S. is growing. At least 250 bills in 43 states and voting rights advocates now have a nickname for this effort. That's next.


TAPPER: In the politics lead today, Texas is the latest state where Republicans suddenly want to make it more difficult to vote. They just rolled out two dozen bills that could restrict absentee ballots. They could limit voting hours, purge voter rolls faster and more.

All this to crack down on the widespread voter fraud that does not exist, a crackdown largely motivated by Donald Trump's big election lie. Critics of these types of bills popping up nationwide call it modern day Jim Crow.


JUDGE LINA HIDALGO (D), HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: What they are proposing is absolutely tragic and reminiscent of the worst of what we've seen in Texas and across the South since Reconstruction.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: It is a naked effort to try to suppress black, brown and indigenous votes.

STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT: I do absolutely agree that it's racist. It's a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie.


TAPPER: Let's bring in to discuss and much more, Don Lemon, anchor of "CNN TONIGHT" and author of the new book out today. It's called "This Is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism."

A very candid, provocative and in some moments poetic book that I highly recommend, and I want to get to it in a second, Don.


TAPPER: But I'm running the interview, so let me start with this. Texas is among 43 states with these kinds of bills introduced. You touched on this last night on your show.


Do you think Republicans will be trying this hard to change voting laws to make it more difficult to vote if Trump had won?

LEMON: No. They would be trying to expand and enhance the laws that are on the book right now. That's an obvious question.

Listen, you answered it in your introduction when you said it was a big lie. This is all a big lie, this whole election integrity thing. It's a lie, yes.

If Donald Trump had won, Republicans had done better in these places, Republicans overall did better. Trump is the one that actually didn't do very well. They would be trying to enhance these bills. Simple as that.

TAPPER: And the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, defended his support for changing some of these laws. Take a listen.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): We must have trust and confidence in elections and one way to do that is to make sure that we've reduced the potential for voter fraud in our elections, but the fact is election fraud does occur.


TAPPER: It does occur in small doses here and there. Nothing to change an election. I have to say the biggest most significant case of voter fraud that you and I have covered in the last few years was that Republican operative in North Carolina which required an entirely new congressional election.

LEMON: Yeah. And it was on the Republican side.


LEMON: He says, you know, he wants to enhance voter integrity, what have you. You know what the best way to do that, Jake, is top lying to the American public about voter fraud. That's the best way to do it.

Listen, 17 million registered voters in Texas. Texas attorney general just spent 22,000 hours, I'm sure you know this, looking at voter fraud. You know what they came up with, they came up with 16 cases of false addresses on registration forms, not people who had actually voted, and they are spending all of this time trying to prove that.

What they should be doing is continuing what they did the last time and allowing as many people to vote as possible to take part in the electoral process. That's what they should be doing.

TAPPER: Yeah. And as you pointed out, that actually ended up working really, really well for almost every Republican running in the country running for office, except for Donald Trump.

Let's turn to your book "This is the Fire." In your book, you write that we live in a system of while supremacy and you say, quote, I'm talking about the innocuous mashed potato racism we swallow every day without chewing. It goes down easy until you notice it's full of broken glass.

What do you say to your friends about racism? Do you try to call out every blatant example?

LEMON: No, I don't -- because I don't think every example is blatant. I think that people are imperfect, right. No one is perfect and people make mistakes and I think people should be allowed to do that in conversation and especially in relationships.

And that's why the subtitle of the book is "What I Say to My Friends About Racism" because I think we all need friends who don't look like us. We all need to do the work.

Now in this book, Jake, I don't let people off the hook, as you know already. Accountability is very important, but it's also important to give people a space to be able to talk about these things. It's not up to black people to teach white people about racism. But it is up to all of us to engage in a conversation with people we know or people we should know or want to know.

But, yes, it is about the mashed potato racism that happens every day without us even knowing it, and I think it's important for us to learn about that and to point it out when we do see it.

TAPPER: So to me the most poignant moment in your book, and it's full of all sorts of emotional and provocative stories about southern history, about your family, but -- but to meet one that really -- that really just got me, you and your mother traveled to Ghana to explore your roots. This is part of a thing CNN did a few years ago with, and obviously your family was taken in chains out of Ghana, and there's a time when you guys, you and your mom are driving and you notice some kids playing in the ocean in a very carefree way, and then something hit you about that moment. Tell us about that.

LEMON: Well, I wondered if I was still there if I would be as carefree as those children, and I wondered about my experiences in America, had it given me a paranoia and that the -- those -- and -- and a lack of authenticity that those children had in that ocean, and in a way I envied them because they didn't have a care, didn't seem to have a care in the world and they did not know as we talked about just moments ago the mashed potato racism that we swallow every day until we realize it's filled with broken glass. Even though those kids did not have the means that my mother and I have, they did not know the world and I the way my mother and I know, but they don't know the racism and bigotry that comes from white supremacy in America, and in a way, I envy them for that.

TAPPER: Yeah. It was a really -- it was a really provocative moment. Thank you so much, Don Lemon.

The new book is called "This Is Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism." It's out today. I just tweeted a link. Don Lemon --

LEMON: I'm going to hire you, Jake, as a book publisher.

TAPPER: Two percent, that's all I want.

LEMON: I really appreciate it, Jake. Thank you very much. I appreciate the conversations that we have about race and other things as well. Thank you.

TAPPER: Always, buddy.

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