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Nearly 50 Million Under Winter Alerts Across Northeast; View COVID Leaked from Lab is Held by Minority in Intel Community; Biden's Student Loan Relief Plan Goes Before Supreme Court. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 28, 2023 - 07:00   ET



CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: And my little boys, Leo and Luke, they're three and five, and like we talk about Frank like he's still alive today.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: It is so amazing he wrote this for your family and now it's getting to be so widely shared with so many people his story. It's such an important one. I know this is really meaningful for you.

MELAS: And everybody is going to learn more when the miniseries comes out. It stars Austin Butler. It's going to be amazing. We don't when it's coming out but everybody soon is going to learn what these young men did during World War II.

LEMON: We've got to start at the top of the hour, but you do travel with an entourage or a whole group of men in uniform.

MELAS: Active duty pilots, navigators from Barksdale Air Force Base are here with us today. And I roll deep, you guys. Talk about an entourage. There they are.

LEMON: Thank you, guys. Thank you, Chloe.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Luck of the Draw is out today. Until the miniseries, Buy the book, folks. Chloe, congratulations.

MELAS: Thank you.

HARLOW: CNN This Morning continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had like 70-degree weather almost the other week. And now it is again cold and it's all over the place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are just out here on our own and usually, by now, plows come by and it just seems like we are being forgotten about.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Listen, it is not just the whiplash of warmth and then cold. It is dangerous and it can be deadly. And that's what we're going to talk about today. Good morning, everyone.

From the mountains of California to the streets of New York City, back to back winter storm tearing across our nation. Coming up, the dangerous situation that's unfolding in some mountain towns.

HARLOW: Also in the nation's capital, will the Supreme Court scrapped President Biden's student loan forgiveness program? His education secretary joins us live ahead of today's crucial oral argument.

COLLINS: The White House now ordering government agencies to delete TikTok from all phones and devices. They only have 30 days to do so. And now, the Chinese government is hitting back. We are going to show you the fiery response that's coming from Beijing this morning.

LEMON: But this is where we begin, coast-to-coast winter storms pummeling the nation right now. Nearly 50 million Americans under winter weather alerts here in the northeast while the West Coast deals with another barrage of heavy snow. Blinding white out conditions forcing an interstate and major roadways to shut down in California.

And this is a live look at the San Bernardino Mountains were some towns have been cut off and buried under several feet of snow. Residents say that they are running out of gas and baby formula. And the sheriff says supplies are critically low at grocery stores.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are running out of baby formula. We are just kind of up the creek right now if it goes on for another two days where they don't come and plow us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm letting you know that there is absolutely no gas to be found up here.


LEMON: A live look now, this is from Hartford, Connecticut and from Manchester, New Hampshire. So, stay safe out there on the roads, very snowy, icy and dangerous conditions.

Meanwhile, New York City finally getting its first major snow of the season. Athena Jones out in it in Central Park. Good morning, Athena. How are the roads looking? How is Central Park? How is New York? What is up?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Don. Well, look around, just take a look around Central Park. This is a site that New Yorkers have not seen here in the city all winter. As you mentioned, this is the first significant snowfall here in New York City. Up until now, Central Park had only received less than half an inch. Well, now, as of midnight, we've gotten just under an inch, bringing the grand snowfall total to 1.3 inches so far this winter. That is not very much. We are going to get an update. We expect one shortly.

But, already, some New Yorkers are fed up with this weather. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had like 70-degree weather almost the other week, and now it is, again, cold and it's all over the place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The snow is like building up on my face just being here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enough already.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, exactly, precisely.


JONES: And so total snow and sleet accumulations in New York City are expected to get from one to four inches. Meanwhile, we know it is going to be a messy commute with slick roads. But elsewhere in the country, we're seeing cities setting records. Milwaukee saw more than two inches of rainfall on Monday. That is a record. Wisconsin, some parts saw an 1.5 inch of rainfall in just six hours. And in California, a storm system brought heavy rain and high elevation snow stranding some folks, as you mentioned, in San Bernardino Mountains, and also whiteout conditions we saw in the Sierra Mountains. And some kids in Orange County were stranded at science camps because of the weather. Meanwhile in Oklahoma, at least 14 tornadoes struck.


Now, winter weather advisories or warnings are going to remain in effect for parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine. Here in New York, that winter advisory will lift at about 10:00 A.M., so just a couple of hours from now, because the snow, which you see now is more like kind of a freezing sleet is expected to stop much earlier. Don?

LEMON: It looks beautiful out there, but looks can be deceiving, very dangerous as well. Athena Jones in Central Park, thank you, Athena.

COLLINS: Also new CNN reporting this morning, the Department of Energy's assessment that COVID-19 most likely came from a lab leak in China is still a minority view within the broader intelligence community. With the varying theories on the virus' origins continuing to swirl, what's the take from the medical community?

Joining us now is one of the biggest members of the medical community, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent and the host of Chasing Life, the podcast, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, I feel like we have been talking about this for so many years now, and still there's no definitive answer. There are two theories about it, basically that it spread from animals to humans or this one that is now gaining traction with this update from the DOE that it spread from a lab in Wuhan. What kind of evidence or investigation -- what else could be learned given what we have seen from the Chinese government to prove definitively what exactly this was?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, look, it's been three years now that this question has sort of been out there and some of the new evidence that prompted I think this report from the Department of Energy that there was coronavirus research happening in these labs.

Frankly, if you're a reporter covering this, we have known that for some time. I mean, this type of research has been happening in those labs. In fact, one of the lead researchers, Xi Jian Li (ph), who works in the lab, she is known as the bat lady, because there has been 20 years, really, of coronavirus research happening there over the last 20 years since SARS. Really, that research has been happening.

To answer your question, though, I think there are a few things that could make this knowable. I think the answer here is knowable, Kaitlan. One is that, you know, if there was coronavirus research happening, how closely linked were the coronaviruses that were being researched to COVID? You know, you got to sequence the viral samples. Are they similar, are they identical, are they related? That would be a really important piece of data. Testing blood samples of the people who worked in the lab. If this was an accidental leak, it is likely the people in the lab were most likely to have been infected first. We understand that some blood samples were taken, but we have never seen the results of what those samples showed, and then, obviously, like a full forensics investigation into the lab.

With regard to that first thing, you know, the idea of looking at the virus samples, there was a database that basically had all the data on what coronaviruses were being studied. We have asked for that many times. It's been asked for. One of the investigators on the World Health Organization investigative team, I specifically asked him about this as well. Listen to how he answered.


GUPTA: Have you been able now then as a member of this WHO team or in any capacity to look at that data?


GUPTA: That sounds concerning, Peter. If it is as serious and we're trying to be as thorough as possible, maybe it mounts to nothing. But I think the fact that you still haven't seen that data base, it's just going to raise a lot of eyebrows as we go forward.

DASZAK: Well, rightly so. I think that China should be more open about the things that they've not released.


GUPTA: And therein lies the problem. So, you know, I think the answer again is knowable, but unless there's forthcoming about the data, the transparency about the data, we may not know. And I think that's been the real rub for the last three years now. LEMON: Sanjay, it's important to note that you've been doing your own reporting on this, some of it we just saw. And you have spoken to several former officials who also have support that the lab leak theory, the skepticism or skepticism on the outbreak timeline. So, what do you know about this? What have they told you?

GUPTA: Well, it's speculative certainly. I mean, there is no smoking gun here. But I thought it was interesting when I spoke to Dr. Robert Redfield more than a year ago, close to two years ago now, it was interesting to sort of hear his perspective on why he believes the lab leak theory is the predominant theory. And it wasn't because there was some definitive evidence, but more based on his background as a physician, someone who studies these viruses. He believes that there were differences in terms of how this virus behaved right out of the gate.

And keep in mind, as you listen to this, he was the CDC director at the time. So, he may have had access to information that the general public did not. Take a listen.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human.

Normally, when a pathogen goes from a zoonotic to a human, it takes a while for it to figure out how to become more and more efficient in human to human transmission.


I just don't think this makes biological sense.


GUPTA: So, he's basically saying, look, viruses typically when they start circulating, they start really slow. This thing sort of came out and spread like wildfire very, very quickly. And for him, that was at least some evidence that it had been sort of in the lab for some time and that's why it was able to start becoming so contagious so quickly.

HARLOW: Sanjay, switching gears, Season 3 of your podcast, Chasing Life is out. And you look into how social media and screen time is affecting all of our health. I love you talk to your girls about all of this as well. Share a little bit with us.

GUPTA: This has been really fascinating. You know, everyone knows that screen time probably is a problem for them, whether you're a teenager or an adult. We spend too much time on our phones. And what's amazing is that, look, these phones have not been around that long. So, a lot of people are now researching this, trying to look into how much time are we spending on phones what can we do about it.

Interesting one piece of data that jumped out at me, the average person will pick up their phone to look at it, just look at it, 300 some times a day. HARLOW: Oh, wow.

GUPTA: So, you're just constantly doing this. And breaking that cycle, that initial cycle of, look, I don't even know why I'm picking up my phone, I'm just doing it, I think it was a really important thing that came up over and over again.

So, Catherine Price, who wrote a book about how to break up with your phone, she says, ask these three questions. Every time you pick up your phone, what for, why now and what else? What else could I be doing instead? It's just the sort to bring your brain back online for a second to you're not mindlessly starting to look at your phone.


GUPTA: I thought that was really interesting, something I have been doing already in my life.

And I have to tell you, you mentioned my three daughters. I did interview with my three teenage daughters. I have three teenage daughters. There are some of the most intimidating interviews I think I have ever done but magical as well, just sitting there and talking to your kid for an hour and a half, no phones, no interruptions is a really interesting thing.

And I asked Sage, who is my oldest, she's 17, about when she becomes an adult, would she do things differently? And I want you to listen to this and I'll tell you, it was humbling for me as a dad to hear this.


SAGE GUPTA, SANJAY'S DAUGHTER: When I have kids of my own, if, I don't think I want to let them be on social media as early as I was. And I think I would want to not restrict what they can go on. I just want to like teach them to be a little bit more responsible with their amount of usage, not what they view, but how much they view. Because I think I'm a lot better with it now, but I think when I was a little younger, I was on my phone a lot.


LEMON: Wisdom from a 17-year-old.

GUPTA: Yes. It's a little bit -- yes. It's a little hard to hear that because you think you're being a good dad, letting her use her phone and she's saying basically, hey, look, in retrospect, probably it was too much. And I think you live and learn here a bit.


HARLOW: I've been wearing my watch. I have an old -- not an apple watch, an old school watch, and I have been wearing it out to dinner and on the weekends intentionally so I don't look at my phone to see what time it is because that's I think what we do a lot. So, little by little.

COLLINS: Yes. And I have two phones. So, I'm like wondering, does that mean I look at my phones 600 times a day, not 300?

HARLOW: Probably.

GUPTA: Probably, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Sanjay, cannot wait to listen to the podcast. Thank you so much.

GUPTA: Thank you. You got it.

COLLINS: And you can listen also to the sixth season of Sanjay's amazing podcast, it's so good, Chasing Life, wherever you get your podcast.

LEMON: And now, the U.S. Marshal Service scrambling to protect what it says is sensitive information after becoming the latest government agency to come under a cyberattack. A spokesperson saying the apparent ransomware attack potentially compromised a wide range of information, that includes reports by process servers, administrative information and personally identifiable information about subjects of investigations, third parties and some employees. It's at least second significant cyber incident to hit federal law enforcement agencies this month. The FBI had to contain malicious activity on part of its computer network. There's no immediate indication the two attacks were related.

COLLINS: Also this morning, the White House is giving federal agencies the next month, 30 days, to remove TikTok from all government-issued devices. Federal contractors must also meet the same standard. They've got 90 days to do so. U.S. officials are concerned that the Chinese government could pressure TikTok's parent company known as ByteDance to hand over user information to potential intelligence or disinformation purposes. Experts have said that the type of access is possible but there have been no reports of it so far.


Still, it remains a major concern for U.S. officials.

A Chinese official is responding to this move this morning saying, quote, as the world's most powerful country, the U.S. needs to be more self-confident instead of being so afraid of an app loved by young people.

HARLOW: Well, the fate of the Biden administration's student loan forgiveness program heads to the Supreme Court today. Up next, we'll ask the education secretary, Miguel Cardona, what the 26 million Americans who already applied for that program should expect.


LEMON: This morning, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments over President Biden's student debt relief program. The plan was to forgive up to $20,000 in debt for 40 million Americans, but it was put on hold by lower courts before any forgiveness was granted. Now, it is facing legal challenges from two different groups.

CNN's Rene Marsh joins me now live. Good morning, Rene Marsh. Is there any indication that the anxious borrowers can expect a ruling?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's what everyone is going to be waiting for.


Good morning, Don.

We know that today, the justices will hear these arguments, but we likely won't get the ruling until late June, early July. That's when the justices usually release their rulings. But just in about another hour or so, we do expect to see borrowers and advocates from around the country outside of the court because whichever way the court rules, this case will undoubtedly affect their personal finances.


SABRINA CALAZANS, STUDENT LOAN BORROWER: On board my flight headed to D.C. for the people's rally for student debt cancelation.

MARSH (voice over): 25-year-old Sabrina Calazans traveled from New York to Washington, D.C. to rally outside the Supreme Court when justices will hear oral arguments on the legality of President Biden's student loan debt relief program. Six Republican-led states and two Texas borrowers argue the administration does not have the authority to cancel the school loan debt of about 40 million Americans. But the Biden administration says Congress gave the secretary of education expansive authority to alleviate hardship for student borrowers during a national emergency, like the pandemic.

On the eve of the arguments, advocates already outside the court for a case that could change the trajectory of their lives.

CALAZANS: My first student loan bill, it was about $350 of a payment. And I hadn't secured a job at that point. And so, for me, it felt really impossible.

MARSH: Calazans graduated from college in 2019. She has nearly $30,000 in student loan debt. When the pandemic hit, repayments were paused. She could now contribute to household costs for the home she shares with her parents. When the Biden administration extended the pause this past August, multiple lawsuits followed. The program was halted and is now before the Supreme Court, leaving Calazans in limbo.

CALAZANS: My family would be eligible for up to $50,000 of student loan cancelation. And so as a whole family, that's huge.

MARSH: Federal data shows America's student debt crisis is multigenerational, spanning from recent grads to grandparents, with 2.6 million borrowers over the age of 62. 72-year-old Vietnam Vet Cecil Hamilton is one of them.

CECIL HAMILTON, STUDENT LOAN BORROWER: I never got the amount paid off.

MARSH: In 1977, Hamilton says he took out a loan for an associate's degree for $5,250. Nearly five decades later, he still owes nearly the same amount.

HAMILTON: I thought I would have a good job and a home and all the things that people like to have and then enter retirement on a good note. But instead, I'm back in the hole again. So, I'm just surviving as I go.

MARSH: He says despite the government garnishing 15 percent of his social security disability payments for the loan he defaulted on, interests and fees made it impossible for him to put a dent in the principle.


MARSH (on camera): While the loan forgiveness program would help people like Hamilton, that vet that you saw in the piece there, he says that he still can't ignore of the harms that his debt has caused over the last 40 years. He has really bad credit, never been able to buy a home, has not been able to provide for his children the way he wanted to. So, Don, even if he gets the good news at his age, he says, almost the damage has been done for him.

LEMON: Rene Marsh, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

MARSH: Sure.

HARLOW: Rene's reporting was great and Nebraska's attorney general, Michael Hilgers, will be arguing on behalf of the six Republican-led states suing to stop President Biden's plan for student loan debt relief today. He just published this piece in The Wall Street Journal describing Biden's use of emergency status as a, quote, pretext to claim breathtaking authority. He goes on to write, national crises are problems to be navigated, not opportunities for amassing presidential power.

Let's talk about all of this with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. He is right in the middle of this. Good morning, Mr. Secretary, and thank you.

MIGUEL CARDONA, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Good morning, great to be with you.

HARLOW: So, let's begin with the people. That's what matters, right, the 43 million Americans who have federal student loan debt. Your administration has estimated about 40 million would qualify for this program. If the Supreme Court does not rule in your favor, do they have any avenues for relief?

CARDONA: Well, first of all, you know, we're sharing our case today and we feel very confident in our case in my authority under the HEROES Act, to provide relief over 40 million people across the country, people like the story that you shared. We have teachers, nurses, veterans, thousands and thousands of veterans need to get back on their feet after this pandemic and we're fighting for them.

HARLOW: But there is no avenue for relief if you do not prevail under the HEROES Act, right?

CARDONA: Well, we feel confident in our case, but the Department of Education since day one, the president has been very clear that he wants to make sure we're putting our borrowers first, our students first, borrowers first, and provide pathways to higher education that doesn't break the bank, that doesn't require people to give up on their dreams of buying a home, of starting a small business because of college debt.


We're working on fixing broken systems, but we feel confident that this plan is legal based on the fact that it's off of the pandemic and the economic impact that the pandemic caused.

HARLOW: So, let's help people understand the legal basis for your argument here, because you guys believe that you have the authority to do this under the HEROES Act. That was passed in 2003 after 9/11, in the wake of and as a result of 9/11. And the text of the statute says that you, as the education secretary, have the power to waive or modify a federal student loan program to make sure people are not placed in a worst position financially, quote, because a war or other military operation or national emergency. What is the national emergency you are predicating this on?

CARDONA: Once in 100-year pandemic that shut down our country for some time, and, to me, that's a national emergency. I can't recall any other time as an educator where we had the impact in our schools, our businesses. Look, let's face it, the government has helped corporations in the past. We provided funding for small businesses to help them get back on their feet after this pandemic. Why is it that people are fighting it when we're helping blue collar Americans, veterans like the one you saw, get back on their feet?

HARLOW: I don't disagree with you that Main Street always deserves the most relief but this is a legal argument and you have to prevail on the law. The Congressional Budget Office says this is going to cost $400 billion over the next 30 years. The crisis absolutely, COVID crisis, but listen to the president's own words when he was speaking to 60 Minutes saying the pandemic is over. Here he was.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lot of work on it. It's -- but the pandemic is over.


HARLOW: Can Biden tell the country the pandemic is over and then you guys argue before the justices today that this is a current, ongoing national crisis? CARDONA: Yes, we can, and I'll tell you why. We're pleased and -- listen, as an educator, as a father, I'm glad our schools are resuming and things are -- we're managing better. It doesn't mean COVID is gone. It just means that we're managing better thanks in large part to the work of this administration to make sure vaccinations and testing is available to everyone across the country.

With that said, the economic impact of the pandemic is still real. When I travel the country, and I talk to folks, they're still reeling in from the economic impact. I mean, talk to anyone who is struggling right now to pay their bills. This relief will allow them to get back on their feet a little quicker.

And what we're trying to do here, too, Poppy is prevent defaults, prevent delinquencies that we gave know happen after emergencies or after pauses. We're trying to help folks get back on their feet.

HARLOW: Even the president himself in a CNN town hall in Milwaukee last year questioned and actually laid out the limits of his authority. Listen to this.


BIDEN: I'm prepared to write off $10,000 debt, but not $50,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, let me ask you --

BIDEN: Because I don't think I have the authority to do it by sign of a pen.


HARLOW: Then-Speaker Pelosi said this in 2001 about the limits again of what you can do without an act of Congress. Here she was.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): People think the president of the United States has the power for debt forgiveness. He does not. He can postpone. He can delay. But he does not have that power. That would -- that has to be an act of Congress.


HARLOW: She later said in 2022, actually, we do have this power. But you can see those are two key people in the administration and the then-speaker saying there are limits to this authority. And that's the real legal question here. How far can a president go?

CARDONA: Right. Well, look, the president -- I think it was targeted relief. 90 percent of the dollars in this benefit would go to people making under $75,000. So, it's not a wholesale cancelation of loans. We're targeting to people that need it most. And, you know, with regard to whether or not there's authority, the last administration used the same authority to pause student loans. If that administration can use it, we can use it as well to make sure we're providing targeted debt relief to those who need it most, those who are affected most by the pandemic.

HARLOW: Look, this is $400 billion. This is why those Republican senators wrote in an amicus brief to the court, other Americans will have to pick up the tab to the tune of $2,500 per taxpayer.

And, you know, the other argument in this case, because there're two arguments to be made before the court, is that you are picking and choosing, that you're picking those with federal student loans.