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Biden's Unity Push Faces Major Test in COVID Relief Debate; Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) Says, State Has Completed Vaccinations at All Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Centers; Florida's Vaccine Rollout Frustrates Residents. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 01, 2021 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour this Monday morning. Glad you're with us, I'm Poppy Harlow.


Washington takes on the health and economic crisis at the same time, Congress preparing to make a last-ditch effort at a bipartisan COVID relief plan. Ten Senate Republicans will meet with President Biden this afternoon to share their alternatives to his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan. The trouble is theirs is valued less an than a third of that, also excludes the state and local aid that Democrats find essential to responding to this. That said, they are meeting this afternoon. We'll see where that goes.

And in the fight against the virus, some better news this morning. For the first in almost two months, fewer than 100,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19. The direction of the graph there perhaps a hopeful sign.

HARLOW: Yes, it really is. The fight far from over, as you can see, the last month marked the deadliest of the pandemic in the U.S. More than 95,000 people in this country died from COVID in that month alone.

The key to ending the pandemic is vaccinating people, mass vaccination. Some states using big sites to get as many shots in arms as quickly as they possibly can.

We kick things off in Washington on the fight for aid, for stimulus. Our Lauren Fox joins us on Capitol Hill.

Okay, so the Republicans came out with a counterproposal and Joe Biden said, come on over to the White House. But what he does with that is the big question.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well that is exactly right, Poppy. We're getting more details this morning on what this Republican plan would include. We now know it is $618 billion in stimulus funding. We do know that it does not include money for direct funding for state and local governments. It does, however, include about $20 billion for schools, $20 billion for childcare, $220 billion in an effort to ensure that the Americans have expanded unemployment benefits. It also includes $50 billion for small businesses, $160 billion for testing, tracing and other coronavirus-related supplies.

So it is a start. It is a down payment. But it is far, like you said, from the Democratic proposal, which sits right now at $1.9 trillion.

Look, we expected the Democrats could move as soon as this week to unlock a budget proposal and a budget policy plan that would allow them to pass a coronavirus relief bill with just a simple Democratic majority. We still are going to wait and see what this meeting brings tonight and whether it changes the Democrats' calculus moving forward.

But we are getting some early signs from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that this bill is just a little too small and too late.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And Senator Van Hollen telling me last hour that they're doing this kind of two tracks, right? Keep the reconciliation path open while still negotiating.

John, you look at where this stands and I wonder where you see the overlap in the negotiation here. It strikes that me no state and local funding is a non-starter for the Democrats and the president. The price tag too, this is 600 versus $1.9 trillion. Where could there be a meeting of the minds.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it's very unlikely there will be a meeting of the minds by proposing something one-third of the size of what President Biden has proposed and by proposing zero for state and local governments knowing that that is a top priority for the Democrats and for the new administration. That tells me that this is more of a gesture than a serious offer intended to come up with a deal.

Obviously, the Biden administration has signaled that they're willing to make some trims to their plan. For example, what the Republicans have proposed on curtailing the checks, targeting the checks, that might be acceptable to the administration. But that only cuts a couple of hundred billion dollars off the proposal. So, say, that would take you from $1.9 trillion to $1.7 trillion. What about everything else? It means they've slashed everything else.

And so you've got in the Biden proposal expansion of the child tax credit, expansion in the earned income tax credit, a lot of money for childcare, money for eviction protections, all sorts of things that the Biden administration wants to push forward quickly. They feel like there is a lot of pent up demand among Democrats to act and put some more money into the economy, more relief into the checkbooks of Americans.

And I think you mentioned that there are two tracks. Chris Van Hollen said there are two tracks. One of the tracks is a lot more robust than the other and that is the reconciliation that Democrats only track.

HARLOW: Thank you, John, for the reporting at the White House, Lauren, thank you for that on the Hill.


Let's go to the massive nor'easter that is hitting a number of states this morning, expected to drop a few feet of snow in some places, crippling some COVID vaccination efforts, testing centers shutting down in some states, vaccine locations closing temporarily, including a mega site in New Jersey.

SCIUTTO: Chad Myers tracking the timing and scope of the storms. So we got a few inches here in Washington, New York getting a lot worse. Tell us what you're seeing out there.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: For D.C., you're just about done. I think maybe another inch or two will be possible as the storm swings on by but not much. The storm is winding up for New York City, for Boston, for Connecticut and all the way across parts of New Jersey. There is the radar right now really getting some bright banding here across parts of New York City and the like and an extreme event for power outages, for, really, critical infrastructure problems, and, of course, trying to drive around or even get a city bus.

Here is the morning hours right now where we're seeing the snow. The low continues to develop south of Long Island. It is not even as strong as it will be yet. We're still ramping this up. It is in very warm water, the Gulf Stream water. Now, this isn't hurricane water but it's very warm out there. 50s out there, that's enough for the storm to gather more strength and then it starts to throw that snow up into the colder air here.

Boston will change over to a sleet mix. We have a lot of sleet in Philadelphia in the morning hours already. But by tomorrow, especially by 5:00, it begins to pull away but hours and hours and hours of snow. So at least a foot-and-a-half in New York City, less in Boston, and I'll get to that in a second, because it ramps across the city. But there will be spots west of New York City, two feet or maybe three.

Now, let's hope one of these bull's eyes is not over Manhattan's, not out of the question. That's just now the forecast. And look at Boston. You go from along the harbor at maybe two to three inches back toward Worcester at over 18. So, yes, I said 6 to 12 for Boston but that is downtown. You get away from into the suburbs, a lot more. Guys, back to you.

SCIUTTO: It is Worcester, by the way, Chad Myers, just to keep it local. Thanks very much.

How is the storm impacting mass vaccination sites like the one just opening in Boston's famous Fenway Park?

HARLOW: Let's get to Alexandra Field. She joins us inside of Fenway Park with more.

I mean, it looks like a lot of folks still there.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, snow doesn't get in the way of a lot here in Boston and for now, there are absolutely no plans to shut down this vaccination site. They did encourage people who had appointments in the afternoon to come a bit earlier, and come they did.

You can see there is a long line. That's because every vaccine is spoken (ph) for. They opened up their registration for vaccines for the public here at Fenway for the first time last week, all of the appointments filled up within a matter of hours, they'll be releasing new appointments every week. They expect those to book up again in a matter of hours.

They say this is the first mass vaccination site in the city of Boston. It will serve an urban and a diverse population. They believe that concentrating the supplies and the resources in a site like this is an effective way to do it and the numbers seem to bearing that out. They'll start about 500 vaccinations today, and next week, they'll ramp up to doing about a thousand people a day, 1,250 beyond.

But what happens when it comes time to play baseball. We asked the CEO and president of the Red Sox and here is his hope.


SAM KENNEDY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, BOSTON RED SOX: Hopefully, we'll do both. We'll see what the state and city tell us. If they would like us to keep going, we're happy to do that and work it around the baseball schedule. I mean, it's just so important. We obviously play at night and then we have early morning shifts. We'll figure it out. It is just too important. We have got to get everybody vaccinated.


FIELD: Vaccine in the morning, baseball at night, a whole new kind of ball game. The city said or rather health officials believe that this site would be effective because they say they're having a lot of success with the site at Gillette Stadium that's been open since January. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Wishing them a ton of success, that makes such a difference. Alexandra Field, great to have you there, thank you very much.

Well, West Virginia, if you haven't heard, now you know, has become a national leader in the vaccine rollout process. How did they do it and how can other states model and replicate the blueprint of their success. We'll talk to the state's governor. It is great.

SCIUTTO: It's a hopeful model. Maybe there are lessons to be shared.

Plus, CNN learned overnight the former president, Donald Trump's new political action committee took in more than $30 million in the final weeks of 2020. Ahead, what these fundraising numbers it might mean for the future of the Republican Party. Of course, most of it based on the lie, that the election was stolen.

And FBI agents are reportedly calling the investigation into the deadly Capitol Hill riot, their biggest case since the September 11th attacks. We're going to have new details.



HARLOW: Welcome back. Well, this morning, as most states across the country are facing a bumpy, often frustrating vaccine rollout, we are seeing a real vaccination success story across West Virginia. The state very early on deployed its National Guard to help with logistics and decided not to follow the Trump administration's plan to use chain pharmacies for the mass vaccination and vaccinating nursing homes first.

It is a different approach. It's been successful for them. They have taken the route of using small local pharmacies instead.


West Virginia's governor, Jim Justice, announcing over the weekend the state has now given doses to all willing individuals at nursing homes and assisted living centers and he joins me now. Good morning, Governor, thank you for being here.

GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R-WV): Thank you for having me, Poppy. Thank you.

HARLOW: It is such a success story and so many folks on the ground there leading this effort deserve a lot of praise. You've got 94.23 percent of your vaccination doses out there that you've received and no state has given a larger share of its residents the second dose of vaccine. West Virginia has led on that front as well.

You have said this is practical smarts, not rocket science. Why have you been able to do this when so many others haven't?

JUSTICE: Well, Poppy, I have got to tell you a story real quick with my dad. When I was skinny and had brown hair, I was probably 18 or 19 years old, I was standing in front of his desk one day, and I said, dad, is there anything I could do? And dad played a little bit of football at Perdue and he was a big chested guy and everything, about that time the desk exploded as he grabbed me around my shirt and literally slammed me down on the desk and said, damn you, there is always something you can do and you better damn well always remember that.

Well I have and I lived my life that way. And it is a virtue and a curse at the same because I won't give up. But in West Virginia, that is what we did. We looked at this, instead of trying to create a bureaucratic model of to get this administered and get going, we got going. And we knew that it was all about age, age and age and we knew that, absolutely, our elderly, especially those people want to go to their local pharmacies and they want to go to the local health clinics and everything. And so we dispersed the National Guard and we just got after it.

And just imagine that today, and this is hard to believe, but we have put on first round shots of the vaccines that we've received, we're now at 108.1 percent of the vaccines received that we've put in arms, meaning that we've got more vaccines out of the vials and absolutely not throwing a single one away.

I mean, West Virginia is a small state but it bounds with a lot of good and smart people and we've been missed in a lot of ways but it is really going on here and going on good.

HARLOW: I don't think you're going to be missed anymore after this. I mean, this is critically important.

You've had a message to other governors who have really struggled and that is stop playing the same play, another football analogy, stop running the same play. Are they calling you now, those governors?

JUSTICE: Well, I'm sure they're reaching out to a lot of different people. I've not had any governors call directly to me. But from the standpoint -- everybody wants to be a shining star and think they've got this figured out. I mean, for crying out loud, Poppy, it doesn't matter if it is an American in West Virginia or Nebraska or Texas or wherever it may be, if we've got vaccines that are sitting in a warehouse shelf, I mean, they need to be in somebody's arms.

We need to realize as a nation that this stuff happening by the hour, not by the month and people are dying. And we need to all come together and quit fighting with one another.

HARLOW: That is true. And I know none of your doses have sat on shelves there for more than a week.

There -- you have taken though, I just want to get your response to this, some heat about teachers. And you've taken some heat from some of your state saying you're not prioritizing teachers, what happened on Friday was a move to take them down. Can you respond to that down on the list, can you respond to that and you could guarantee that teachers are among the essential workers you're deeming to get the vaccine now across the board for teachers?

JUSTICE: Well, without any question, we have made the teachers the essential from the very get-go. And, Poppy, there is no truth to that, whatsoever. I mean, what we did was just this, in fact, we decided that we needed to go back to school from eighth grade down because we can't do anything but follow the science and follow the medical communities and they're saying that that is perfectly safe and we should be doing that and everything.

But in addition to that, we decided we were going to get all of the teachers and all of the service personnel, all of them, 50 years of age and older, all of them vaccinated.

And so we've been on that campaign. And what we're going to do, as soon as we get some vaccines, as soon as we get more vaccines, we'll double back and get the rest of the teachers and everything. But our teachers are doing great and I hope and pray that we'll keep our kids in school.

HARLOW: Okay. Well, that is a promise to those teachers. So I'm sure they're glad to hear that.

Let me switch gears here because economic relief is critical for Americans right now.


It's critical to your folks in West Virginia. You have been clear about your desire to support President Biden, to work across the aisle. When it comes to this COVID relief bill, I wonder what is more important to the people of West Virginia and to you, that Biden's $1.9 trillion bill passes even if it is without Republican support and reconciliation, which would mean bigger checks to your folks in need, or that it is a bipartisan agreement even if it is less money?

JUSTICE: Well, first and foremost, I wish we would all come together, and that is not just blowing smoke. I mean, that's just -- because I don't do that. But the other flip side of this is, Poppy, we've got a lot of people in West Virginia that are still struggling with paying their power bill because they got laid off because this pandemic just stripped their job away from them.

HARLOW: Right, so which one is it?

JUSTICE: I mean, at the end of the day, really and truly, Poppy, what we need to do is we need to -- we need to understand that trying to be per se fiscally responsible at this point in time with what we've got going on in this country, if we actually throw away some money right now, so what? We have really got to move and get people taken care of and get people back on balance.

And I want to work with the Biden administration just like I worked are with the Trump administration and I want to move forward.

HARLOW: That is really significant to hear from a Republican like yourself in a state where your Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, thinks these payments are not targeted enough. Have you talked to him about it?

JUSTICE: Well, you know, I have not talked directly to Joe about that and everything. I don't really -- you know, I don't really know exactly what the thinking could possibly be there. I mean, we have got people that are really hurting. I mean, that is just understood.

And on top of that, I mean, here is a perfect example, Poppy. My executive assistant came in the other day and said, not far from my home, there was an elderly man that froze to death in his house and everything, probably couldn't afford to pay the power bill. I mean, there is so many different things where people are really, really hurting. And today we've got to move. We can't hold back. We've got to move.

HARLOW: That is a clear message on stimulus. But for that man, I mean, aren't there powers that you have to not allow them to be turning off the heat on your folks right now?

JUSTICE: Well I -- HARLOW: That is a tragic story.

JUSTICE: Yes, I do not know exactly -- I don't know the details of what happened there at all. And, you know, and, again, our utility companies here are doing a great job and they're not turning off the heat on people and everything but I don't know what happened. But there is too much pain. I mean, there is too much pain going on right now. And we just got to adjust that and then let America take off again.

HARLOW: West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, again, congratulations on your efforts on vaccination and thank you for joining us this morning.

JUSTICE: Poppy, thank you so much. Thank you, now.

HARLOW: We'll be right back.



HARLOW: We just told you a success story about vaccine rollouts in West Virginia, but Florida's vaccine rollout has been plagued with issues. So now the state is trying something new to try to get more people vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Rosa Flores has been covering the story for some time. She has more.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Evelyn Aub misses pre- COVID times.


FLORES: And says her Palm Beach County home is her safe haven, her car is her freedom and the COVID-19 vaccine is hope. And while getting an appointment online was frustrated.

AUB: I waited and waited and they never said there wasn't room. They always said it's full. Do not leave this page.

FLORES: Did it try your patience, Evelyn?

AUB: Yes, it most certainly did.

FLORES: Her son used multiple devices to get her an appointment at a Publix near her home.

AUB: I said, what did you? How did you do it?

FLORES: The vaccine rollout in Florida has been bumpy but Governor DeSantis has been working to fulfill a promise.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Our senior population deserves to be the priority.

FLORES: And so far, more than 1.6 million people have received one or both vaccine doses, including more than 1.2 million seniors 65 and over.

But the governor's promise has a blind spot, say some home health workers like Stephanie Hayman MacDonald (ph). She takes care of vulnerable seniors and has to compete with the elderly for the same vaccine slots on the same jammed websites.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's terrible. It's awful.

FLORES: Stephanie is one of the lucky ones. She got the first dose Friday. In Florida, there are about 80,000 home health workers like her and they are up in arms because while the governor's executive order on vaccines gives health care workers and those over 65 priority, home health workers feel forgotten.

SHAYNA ADANIEL, DIRECTOR, CLIENT SERVICES FOR BRIGHTSTAR CARE: Home health has just been in this blind spot from the very beginning. It kind of is disheartening that we are having such a struggle.

FLORES: Governor DeSantis says the answer to getting more people vaccinated is to get more vaccines. And he has been in a fighting match with the Biden White House about it.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They've only distributed about 50 percent of the vaccines that they have been given in Florida. So, clearly, they have a good deal of the vaccine.

DESANTIS: When the person at the White House says that Florida has all these doses, she was -- those are second doses.


MELISSA MCKINLAY, COMMISSIONER, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Where has he been. So all of a sudden now that we've had a transfer of power, he now recognizes.