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Racial Disparities in Vaccine Access; Trump Rejects Offer to Testify; Biden Meets on COVID Bill. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired February 05, 2021 - 09:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Quote, a color-blind approach to vaccine distribution will no doubt proving catastrophic?

My question to you is, isn't it already proving catastrophic?

DR. UCHE BLACKSTOCK, FOUNDER AND CEO, ADVANCING HEALTH EQUITY: Exactly. Thank you for having us on, Poppy.

You know, what we saw and what we've been seeing in the pandemic is these incredibly deep health inequities. We're seeing black communities disproportionately impacted. We saw that at the beginning of the pandemic and we're seeing that now.

And we saw this early data, even though only 23 states are reporting racial and ethnic demographic data on vaccinations, we were very concerned about this early trend that we're seeing and we wanted to provide four important points for how the Biden/Harris administration can course correct.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Before I say anything, first of all, kudos to both of you. It's great to see sisters working together on this.

Dr. Oni, what portion of this, based on the data, is access versus hesitancy, right? You know, how powerful a motivator is hesitancy among black communities in terms of standing in the way of widespread vaccination?

DR. ONI BLACKSTOCK, PRIMARY CARE AND HIV PHYSICIAN: You know, it's likely that this is multifactorial. We do know that medical mistrust results from both present day and historic racism and that people have justifiable concerns around the safety of the vaccine.

But this is so systemic as well that access is likely a huge issue. We know that there have been challenges with online registration, phone lines being clogged up. So we need to ensure that we are having a streamlined approach but also doing direct outreach with trusted community members and messengers to facilitate linkage (ph) to vaccine appointments.

HARLOW: That's such an interesting and important point that you guys also make in the piece. And Dr. Uche Blackstock, to you, building on what your sister just said, the Biden administration has appointed Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who is a black woman, to lead on this front, to lead on the equity task force. I know you write in here some recommendations for the whole team but specifically how effective can she be in being that messenger and that voice and helping shape policy and distribution?

U. BLACKSTOCK: Well, we think she can be incredibly effective. We actually know her well and we respect her work, admire her greatly. President Biden chose the right person to lead the health equity task force. But she's also going to need the resources and support to execute a health equity strategy as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So we need the funding to ensure it goes to state and local public health departments and that they use that to partner and connect with community-based organizations. And that's really where the work of vaccine distribution happens and can be successful.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Oni, you know, the thing about this, right, is that for vaccinations to work it has to be widespread, right? I mean you don't get the country to herd immunity unless you have broad access, regardless of race or income, right, which is another disparity here. And I just wonder, do you see the Biden administration, right, doing the right things to get over that, right?

O. BLACKSTOCK: Yes, so broad population based in (INAUDIBLE), as you said, is our goal and in order to get that that point we want to make sure that all groups are vaccinated but particularly those individuals in those populations that are most at risk for acquiring COVID-19. And we know that the black community is. We know that, you know, Latino and indigenous people are as well. So much more needs to be done. We need a policy that is not race blind or color blind because we know that this virus is not impacting all groups equally.


HARLOW: What are we missing here, Dr. Uche Blackstock? What are -- what's the media not talking about enough on this front?

U. BLACKSTOCK: Well, I think one of the ways that we're framing this idea of vaccine hesitancy has to change. You know, I talk a lot about other colleagues talk about institutional trustworthiness and what that looks like. And I think that there are a lot of community members that are willing to take the vaccine.

They just need information to be presented to them in a clear, digestible way. They need to see some investment or resources in the community. And that looks like engaging with trusted messengers, having accessible vaccination sites, not just in, you know, large stadiums, but also mobile vaccination sites or people going door to door using community health workers who know the community quite well.

And so it's really about being innovative and thinking about how can health care institutions show these communities that have been disproportionately impacted that they do care and that they are willing to put in the resources to correct past wrongs.

HARLOW: Thank you both --

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, that's the -- it's the issue, right, because you have a loss of confidence in institutions. And, by the way, a hesitancy, Dr. Oni, you know, it extends across communities, right, when you look at some of this public polling.


So, sorry, Dr. Oni, I didn't mean to interrupt.

O. BLACKSTOCK: Yes. No, exactly. No, medical mistrust is -- it's really a symptom of these deeper issues around systemic racism that impact black communities. Obviously, Latino and indigenous communities, but I think a sole focus on vaccine hesitancy, as my sister was saying, is somewhat of a distraction and we need to insure that this vaccine rollout is done in a way that ensures that the vaccine is accessible to black people and also that it's delivered in a way that is culturally responsive and by individuals in the community.

HARLOW: We're so glad to have you both on, doctors.


HARLOW: Thank you very much.

O. BLACKSTOCK: Thank you.

U. BLACKSTOCK: Thank you.

O. BLACKSTOCK: Thanks for having us.

HARLOW: Of course.

President Trump is now rejecting Democrats' invitation to testify at his upcoming impeachment trial next week. Will Democrats subpoena him?



HARLOW: President Trump invited to testify at his second impeachment trial. He says he will not. The former president's attorneys quickly rejected the impeachment manager's request for his testimony.

SCIUTTO: But it's possible the former president may not ultimately have a choice in the matter.

Let's speak now to what the law says. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig. He's a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Elie, good to have you. Congress does have the option of subpoenaing the president. But I just wonder, do subpoenas hold water anymore, congressional subpoenas, given the Trump administration's defiance of them in the previous impeachment?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it's a good question, Jim.

So, first of all, the decision whether to issue a subpoena is obviously a very important decision, but it's also a two-step process. First, the House impeachment managers, who are essentially prosecuting this case, led by Representative Jamie Raskin, they have to decide that they want to seek a subpoena.

But that's not the end of it. They don't necessarily get to do whatever they want because it's up to the Senate. Now, if we remember last year during the Ukraine impeachment, the Senate was Republican controlled at that time. The Republican majority basically decided, we don't want any evidence, no subpoenas, no witnesses.

Now it's a Democratic-controlled Senate, but that does not mean they're going to give the impeachment managers everything they want. The Democrats in the Senate would have to all agree, yes, we'll issue this subpoena. It's not clear they would do that. Senator Chris Coons and others have expressed some hesitation about subpoenaing the president.

So that's all necessary before we even get to the question of a subpoena.

HARLOW: Well, if they did, it's pretty likely, maybe you think, that he would plead the fifth, which would just be interesting given what he said about people who plead the fifth.

HONIG: Yes. We all remember that President Trump said only guilty people plead the fifth and that's only for mobsters and mob bosses. If a subpoena does issue to Donald Trump, that is an aggressive move and it puts Trump in a tough spot where he's got three choices. One, he can testify. I can't see any responsible lawyer permitting that.

It would just be incredibly dangerous to Trump himself. Two, he can fight it in court. That would probably delay the proceedings. I don't think anybody wants that. And I think he would clearly lose in court. Or, third, he can take the fifth, but, Poppy, for the reasons you said, I think President Trump would be very reluctant to stand up there and take the fifth just because it looks so bad if he were to do that.

SCIUTTO: Can you help clear up something for me and maybe for people watching here. We had that vote in the Senate last week in which 45 Republicans said, or seemed to say, even trying him is unconstitutional because he's out of office.

Since then I've spoken to a couple of Republicans on this broadcast who voted for that and they say that's actually not what we voted for. Portman, Cassidy yesterday said that was just to open debate on the question and that their minds are still open. Legally, are their hands tied in any sort of -- I mean did they vote for anything by saying it's unconstitutional?

HONIG: No, Jim, their hands are not tied. It's so important that we correct this because there is a misimpression out there, it's being spread by Donald Trump's team. They declared 45 senators have already voted this is unconstitutional. Not so as the guests you referenced said.

What they voted back last week, those 45, was, let's have the debate about constitutionality now. Let's have that debate. Fifty-five voted no and so the motion got tabled. It got killed essentially.

But senators like Portman and John Thune and potentially others have made very clear that was not our end vote. We still can, and they legally can, vote guilty or not guilty in the end.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

HARLOW: Elie, thank you. Yes, this all starts Tuesday. We appreciate you, Elie. Have a good weekend.

HONIG: Thanks, Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: The path to push COVID stimulus relief through without Republican support has been started and cleared the first hurdle. A critical White House meeting is taking place right now. The question is, what does it all mean for you? A top member of the president's economic team is with me, next.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

Well, this hour, President Biden meets with Democratic leaders. It's a meeting that could impact millions of American livelihoods because COVID relief can now happen without Republican support. But is that the way this is going to go or will it be more targeted and will they get Republicans on board to make it bipartisan.

Jared Bernstein is back with me, a member of the council -- White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Jared, it's so good to have you.

So, something interesting happened last night. When they crossed that first hurdle toward reconciliation, 99 senators said that they want something to change and that that is that they want not the upper income folks to get any of this relief.

So does that mean you guys are going to change that, or are negotiations over and you're pushing forward with reconciliation?

JARED BERNSTEIN, MEMBER, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: You know, these are ongoing discussions. And as Jen Psaki said yesterday, the president is very firm on making sure that people who need these checks get them. And checks in the amount of $2,000 when you add in $600 from the last plan.

I think the discussion is around whether parameters change such that some of the targeting moves around. But that's an ongoing discussion as we speak.

HARLOW: The really big problem, Jared, though, that we saw in the jobs report this morning is that there are a lot of folks still out of work.


HARLOW: I mean it's like 9.9 million and the pandemic, 5.2 million women.


Stimulus and one-time checks doesn't put them back to work. I wonder, would it not be a better approach, more -- approach makes more economic sense to increase the amount of unemployment assistance benefits, or UI aid every month until you get vaccinations up to a certain level? I know you guys are saying through September, but wouldn't more UI aid help more than a stimulus check?

BERNSTEIN: Well, let me start by just going over this labor market news because it's really important and I suspect people haven't had quite a chance to fully absorb it.

This morning's job report shows that the U.S. labor market has essentially stalled in terms of job creation. Last month was 49,000 overall. That's actually a very low number for payroll job gains. But if you look at the private sector, it's only 6,000. That's essentially zero.

Now, if you look over the past three months, Poppy, and average, because we've got ups and downs and volatility, you're talking about 29,000 jobs on average over the past three months. Again, that is a stall, especially when you compare it to the 1 million jobs per month that proceeded it in the prior three months. So this is -- this is a job market that is calling out for the magnitude of intervention that's in the American Rescue Plan.

But your point is very well taken. If we simply provide people with the relief they need to get through the crisis, we're definitely helping them, that's essential, but we also have to attack, of course, the pandemic itself.


BERNSTEIN: And, in my view, this is at the heart of the ARP, of the rescue plan.


BERNSTEIN: That virus control, vaccine distribution.


BERNSTEIN: The -- as you know, the joint crisis of the health care and the economic crisis are the target of this plan.

HARLOW: No, I know, but I'm just saying, why are you guys not increasing the UI for months --

BERNSTEIN: We are increasing the UI.

HARLOW: Well, help -- no, I know you are, I know you are, $400 a month until September, but you're not tying it to vaccination rates. That seems like that might make the most sense because that's when people are going to go back to work, no?

BERNSTEIN: I think that is important. But I -- you know, I also think that it's -- it's not -- you know, I think there's a lot of thinking that somehow if you're not unemployed -- if you're employed, you're doing OK and, you know, you don't need help. So that's just, in my view, and in the president's view, fundamental.

HARLOW: Yes, I don't think that. I don't think that. OK. OK. Let me --

BERNSTEIN: OK. So that's good. I'm glad you don't think that.

So you -- so if you don't think that, then you have to recognize that getting checks to people who may be working but they may have lost hours, they maybe accumulating mortgage debt, rental debt, that's why those checks are so important.

HARLOW: I understand that. Yes. I -- I understand that. I just want to raise what might be a missing element that could help a lot of Americans here as you decide on this.

Larry Summers, your friend, you worked with him for a long time, he's got some pushback here. He writes in "The Washington Post," the proposed Biden stimulus is three times as large as the projected shortfall. He also warns of two big things. He says inflationary pressure of a kind we have not seen in a generation could come because of this plan with consequences of -- for the value of the dollar and financial stability.

Are you sure he's wrong?

BERNSTEIN: I think he's wrong. I think he is wrong in a pretty profound way about that -- about that claim in the following sense. And there's a way in which Larry's offering a warning that we've actually already heeded. So let me get into this a little bit.

Where I very much disagree with the thrust of the argument is that we have to go big and we have to go bold here to finally put this crisis, to finally put this virus behind us and to finally and reliably launch a robust, inclusive and racially equitable recovery. We have consistently said that the risks of going too small are much greater than the risks of doing too much. Now, that doesn't mean there are no risks engaged in the kind of work

that we're doing because that's always the case in an economy. But what Larry is worrying about here is inflation overheating. And right now we have inflation that's been below the Fed's target rate of 2 percent for well over a decade. And so we also have tremendous unused capacity in this economy.

We have black and Hispanic unemployment rates around 9 percent. We have 10 million people unemployed. We have 2.5 million fewer women in the labor force who aren't even counted in the unemployment rate, out of the labor for because -- often because of their care responsibility.

HARLOW: I know. It's -- it's --

BERNSTEIN: So, wait, let me just finish, Poppy.


BERNSTEIN: It is all that capacity that the American Rescue Plan plans to get back online into this economy primarily through controlling the virus, distributing the vaccine and providing people the relief they need to get to the other side.


BERNSTEIN: That's not overheating. It doesn't mean there won't be some heat. And where Larry got something importantly wrong, by the way, is by suggesting that the administration was being dismissive of any inflation -- potential inflationary pressures.

HARLOW: OK. I don't think he was writing --

BERNSTEIN: That's flat out wrong. I --

HARLOW: I mean he knew this was going to not make you guys happy. He's your friend. He worked with you through the great recession.

BERNSTEIN: He also said some very positive things.

HARLOW: I think he's pointing out something -- this is -- he did, that is --

BERNSTEIN: He also said some positive things about --


HARLOW: But he's worried -- he's worried about this. I think it's important to address.

Final question for you.

The numbers this morning were tragic on the job front, I think. We've still got 40 percent of the unemployed, long-term unemployed. And you know those University of Chicago economists who said 42 percent of the jobs lost are never going to come back. They're never going to come back. A stimulus check is not going to help them. UI eventually will run out. What is the Biden plan for the permanent job loss?

BERNSTEIN: So, that's a very important point that you just made. That number is probably not as well-known as it should be. Forty percent of the 10 million unemployed, so about 4 million unemployed people have been so for six months or longer. That is a highly elevated level and it represents a shift, as your question suggests, from temporary layoff into permanent layoff. So people need relief to get to the other side of the crisis, of course, and that's very much part of the plan.

But we also have to make sure that our businesses have the support that they need to get through this.


BERNSTEIN: You know, there are many economically viable businesses and many entrepreneurs of color who haven't gotten the assistance that they should.


BERNSTEIN: So we have to make sure that that stays intact. On the other side of the crisis is really where we really get to the answer to your question, and that's the building back agenda, building back better agenda, as per a robust and racially equitable recovery.


We're up against a break, but let's do this, come back and we're going to talk about what to do big picture for those jobs that are never coming back.

Good luck, Jared, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: It would be a pleasure.

Thank -- thank you.

HARLOW: All right.

We'll be right back.