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CNN This Morning

House Panel To Vote On Bill Empowering Biden To Ban TikTok; TikTok To Set 1-Hr Daily Screen Time Limit For Users Under 18; Emergency SNAP Benefits End For Millions Of Americans Today; Families Struggle Amid Soaring Food Prices As Emergency Funds End; Fauci: "We May Never Know" Where COVID-19 Originated. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 01, 2023 - 06:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Lawmakers want President Biden -- some lawmakers want President Biden to ban the app from the U.S. citing security risks because of its ownership by Chinese company ByteDance. Take a listen to what former Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger testified about the dangers he sees in the app.


MATTHEW POTTINGER, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: If TikTok is permitted to continue operating in the United States and if we chat and other Chinese platforms are allowed to continue to operate, is that it gives the Chinese Communist Party the ability to manipulate our social discourse. The news to censor and suppress or to amplify what tens of millions of Americans see and read and experience and hear through their social media app.


HARLOW: Tik Tok's position is that is not the case, that it does not censor. But another real concern is the amount of time kids and teens spend on TikTok. Just announced moments ago, this is a big development this morning. TikTok says that every user under 18 years old will soon have their accounts defaulted to a 1 hour a day screen time limit. Teenagers can turn that setting off, but it's still one of the most aggressive safety moves yet by any social media company

Let's bring in Kara Swisher, host of the podcast "On with Kara Swisher" and "Pivot". Kara, good to have you. All right.


HARLOW: When I read this, I was very happy. And then the qualifier that, yes, kids and teens can turn it off. But I have to say, I don't see Meta doing this. I don't see Instagram or Facebook doing this. It's a big important step, is it not?

SWISHER: Well, other services have limited screen time and put in lots of screen tools. Instagram has, in fact, done that and Snapchat has. HARLOW: But not a default. But not a default.

SWISHER: Not a default, no. No. And so it's a nice -- look, kids can turn it back on is the thing. And China actually, they turn it off and that's off. They have rules like that and they can't turn it back on. And obviously we can't do that in this country. But it does -- it slows people down, but they'll continue to turn it on.

And so that's a good thing. It's sort of reminding people, but I don't know how many teens are going to turn it off or keep it off once the default is in place. I just don't think they will. It's an addictive app, just the way all of them are. And it's the whole social media problem, is that TikTok is so good, you can't stop watching it.

And so what -- how do you solve that problem? And then how do you solve what Matthew Pottinger was talking about, which I've talked about for years, which is propaganda, I think more than censorship, but propaganda that is being broadcast into this country. And you just don't know because it's, you know, the influence of the Chinese Communist Party is significant on companies like ByteDance, which owns TikTok.

Even if the executives say otherwise, and I think they're very -- and they're being very sincere. You just don't know. And that's one of the big issues we have to cover.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And the thing is, people think of TikTok as entertainment, and they just watch the videos. You know, my dad, for example, just, like, watches the videos and thinks it's just getting entertainment. But it also is becoming a news also.


COLLINS: People are leaning on that instead of, you know, looking at the CNN app, for example. I mean, you think it's so dangerous. Don't you have a burner phone for TikTok?

SWISHER: Yes, I do. Many years ago, I wrote this. I said, I have a burner phone. I love it. It's a great app. I watch it. It's like potato chips or something. I don't know what to compare it to, but it is entertainment. And I had a burner phone and everyone made fun of me, and I was like, look, I don't want -- you know, it's so obvious that the Chinese Communist Party controls companies in China.

There's no U.S. companies allowed in China. There's not a reciprocal thing going on. And so I felt like I'll just -- I like it. I'm going to use it here, and we'll see how it goes. But there's two separate things. One is the influence of the Chinese Communist Party. The second is the addictive nature of this thing, and it happens to be the best at it.

It's not -- it's the whole problem across social media, self-esteem, especially for girls, addictiveness, time suck, et cetera, et cetera. I challenge people to go on there and not put it down. It's really good the way it tweaks the algorithms to you in terms of entertainment. It's like watching TV and leaving it on and staring at. So you're a TikTok potato, I guess. I don't know.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I have done your challenge, and I don't find it as addictive as maybe it's just because I'm not, you know, that young. I'm not as young as you guys. But, you know, as Poppy --

SWISHER: That would be alright.

LEMON: As Poppy was ticking through, like, you know, who's not going to do it? What hasn't been done? And you said kids aren't going to do this, right? So then to what end --


LEMON: -- If kids aren't going to use this, you know, time limits and then to what end? What should be done then, Kara? What's the solution?

SWISHER: I -- parents. That's what should be done. Parents are going to have to put in the controls, and you can do that, that's for sure. And you could turn them off for good for your kids. But parents don't do that. And that's the problem. I don't think it doesn't slow them down.

Look, I like a stop sign like anybody else, you know, with teen drivers around, and it does slow them down. I just don't think it's necessarily the solution. It's the addictive nature of these things. And all social media and these -- you know, you're addicted to your phone, Don, I'm guessing, too.


LEMON: Oh, I am. I'm telling you.

SWISHER: We are. Whether it's Twitter or whatever it is. And that's really at the heart of this, is these are addictive devices. And so what do we do? It doesn't mean we don't use them, but what are the various things these companies can do? Because you know what they want you to do? Keep pushing that button in the casino and that's their business, unfortunately.


SWISHER: Because it's aligned with advertising and attention span.

LEMON: More content so they can get more ads, put more ads in between our content.

HARLOW: 100 percent. Kara, thank --

SWISHER: And I think it goes on.

HARLOW: -- you very much.

SWISHER: It goes on.

HARLOW: Thank you, thank you.

LEMON: Good to see you. Hi to the kids.

SWISHER: Thanks.

LEMON: And the wife. Good to see you.

SWISHER: Thanks. Thank you. Bye.

LEMON: So inflation is up, but food stamp benefits are going down. Why millions of families across the country are going to lose much needed assistance this morning. We'll tell you about that.



LEMON: Welcome back to CNN This Morning. This morning, low-income families are bracing for the end of emergency food stamp benefits. Because of the pandemic, more than 30 million people across 35 states were given extra money to buy food. Now those benefits are being cut, and they're being cut big time.

Gabe Cohen joins us now live from Washington, D.C. Good morning, Gabe. How are families and communities planning to deal with this?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, good morning. What it means right now is a tighter budget for a lot of people. Every household was getting at least $95 a month added to their SNAP benefit. But as of today, those extra funds are gone. And it is happening, as you mentioned, as inflation is squeezing Americans, especially those living paycheck to paycheck.


MICHELLE RICKETTS, SNAP RECIPIENT: And beans, got a lot of those.

COHEN (voice-over): Michelle Ricketts stocked up her Pittsburgh pantry in February, knowing this month buying food will be much tougher.

RICKETTS: I should be good until April.

COHEN (voice-over): The 63-year-old is on food stamps, part of her fixed income, but she says her monthly SNAP benefit is about to go from $277 a month to $23.

(on-camera): What will this mean for your budget?

RICKETTS: I'm going to be struggling.

COHEN (voice-over): Wednesday marked the end of a pandemic hunger relief program. Emergency SNAP benefits passed by Congress at the start of COVID expired for more than 16 million U.S. households in 32 states and D.C., where they were still in place. On average, SNAP recipients will lose $98 per month, and some households, like Ricketts, could lose more than 250 as the program returns to its pre- pandemic totals. ELLEN VOLLINGER, SNAP DIRECTOR, FRAC: It is going to be a big impact. We don't believe that they have a financial cushion based on everything we know about these households.

COHEN (voice-over): These benefits kept 4.2 million people out of poverty, lowering child poverty by 14 percent, according to the Urban Institute. Inflation on much more than food continues to strain Americans.

RICKETTS: We're going from 131 to 228. I don't even know how that happens.

COHEN (voice-over): Michelle is behind on her surging power bills. She postponed her dog's vet appointment to save money.

RICKETTS: I'm just feeling some anxiety about what cuts I'm making and where. I'm sure I'll be going to the foodbank.

COHEN (voice-over): In a survey, roughly three quarters of U.S. food banks reported that ending these benefits is already driving up demand as donations drop and food costs surge.

(on-camera): Are you worried about keeping up with demand?

LISA SCALES, GREATER PITTSBURGH COMMUNITY FOOD BANK, PRESIDENT & CEO: We are worried about keeping up with demand.

COHEN (voice-over): Lisa Scales heads the Greater Pittsburgh community foodbank, which was $2 million over budget in the second half of last year before the SNAP cuts.

SCALES: We're expecting to see a dramatic increase in the number of people we serve each month.

COHEN (voice-over): Like Jodie Sprinkle (ph), a single mom waiting to find out how much her SNAP benefits will drop.

JODIE SPRINKLE, SNAP RECIPIENT: It's going to hurt. That's one thing, it's going to hurt.

COHEN (voice-over): In some states, these nonprofits say they may have to ration food or limit selection so there's more to go around.

SCALES: If our network can't meet the demand, it means that more and more kids will go to bed hungry. Seniors will struggle.


LEMON: So, Gabe, let's discuss this and talk about solutions. What can people do who receive these extra benefits? What can they do now?

COHEN: Well, look, Don, a lot of this is going to fall on nonprofits, right? You saw the food banks that are gearing up. People can look into the nonprofits in their area because there are a lot of services. Also, that government funding package that ended these benefits created a summer meals program for some 30 million children. So families will get some support there. And the USDA also operates a hunger hotline. The goal there is to connect families with emergency food providers, with government assistance and with other social services. And bear in mind that millions of people likely qualify for SNAP benefits or similar benefits they don't even realize, especially seniors. So if you know of seniors who are struggling with food, you'll want to get them connected with some of those services.

LEMON: Yes. And you see that number on the screen, they're very important. The USDA hunger hotline 1-866-3-Hungry.

Gabe, thank you.

COLLINS: Also this morning, the COVID-19 lab leak theory went from being shot down, outright dismissed, to now back in the spotlight. John Avlon is going to look back at the politicization of investigating the virus' true origins next.




DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, FMR. DIR., NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: There needs to be a lot more investigation into the origin. It's very difficult to do if you don't have access to the location in which it occurred, and that we may not ever know. That's unfortunate, but that's the possibility that we might not ever know.


COLLINS: We may not ever know. More than a million Americans have died from COVID, a number that is still growing to this day. But despite how it started three years ago, we still have no definitive answer about how, how it began.

The debate has been revived in recent days after the Energy Department updated its assessment to say that with low confidence, it does still believe -- it does now believe that it was likely the result of a lab leak. The FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed overnight for the first time publicly, that his bureau does believe it was most likely a lab leak as well.

That does not mean that as a consensus. There are still five other agencies that believe it was natural transmission. Dr. Anthony Fauci says we may never know how the pandemic ultimately began. This debate, though, has been politicized since the early days of the pandemic. So how did we get here?

John Avlon, upon further review -- I love this segment idea, what have you found?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST AND ANCHOR: We have found a significant shift in the conversation around the possibility of a lab leak because of shifting evidence. It's fascinating stuff. [06:50:07]

All right, so the Department of Energy's assessment that a Chinese lab leak was the likely cause of the COVID pandemic is big news. Not because the matter is now settled, not by a long shot. This assessment is, after all, graded low confidence. But it is more evidence that the Biden administration is actively investigating an idea that was once being actively shut down, dismissed by some as an anti-Chinese conspiracy theory.

And that's the subject of today's upon further review. Now, the first steps during a pandemic are to slow the spread, then find a vaccine. Finger pointing isn't going to solve those problems. But knowing the origin helps us figure out what went wrong, so it's less likely to happen again.

So let's dig into the debate around the origins of COVID. Here's what we know. The virus, of course, first reported in humans in Wuhan, China, traced to a seafood wet market that also just happens to be very close to a government virology lab and the local Chinese version of the CDC.

Here's another piece of relevant information. Accidental lab leaks happen a lot. Don't take my word for it. Here's former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: These kinds of lab leaks happen all the time actually. Even here in the United States, we've had mishaps. And in China, the last six known out breaks of SARS-1 have been out of labs.


AVLON: So given that, you might think at the outset, all theories would have been considered equally open to investigation. But that's not quite what happened. February 19, 2020, weeks before lockdowns in the USA, a letter signed by 27 scientists appeared in the British medical journal, The Lancet, that read, in part, "We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin."

Conspiracy theories. And that sort of set the tone, right? Scientific inquiry in the direction of a lab leak was seen as suspect. So when former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told CNN this --


ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: I still think the most likely ideology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped.


AVLON: Redfield was stunned by the kickback he received from the scientific community. And when Jon Stewart raised questions about a lab leak, he was also surprised by the backlash. Here's how we described it yesterday.


JON STEWART, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The two things that came out of it were, I'm racist against Asian people, and how dare I align myself with the alt-right.


AVLON: Now, this maybe the only recorded instance where Jon Stewart had an experience share with a Trump official. But China, of course, is quick to angrily deny the lab leak theory and condemn it as a sinophobic slur, which would have a lot more weight if China didn't have a record of suppressing information and silencing covered whistleblowers.

Over time, more and more evidence has suggested that a lab leak theory can't be dismissed, including intelligence report that Wuhan lab workers got sick from an unspecified illness in November of 2019, shortly before public reports of a local infection.

In May 21, The Washington Post even offered a helpful timeline on, quote, "How the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible." That fall the Biden administration's intelligence assessment came back with a mixed bag, with most agencies saying there wasn't enough evidence to determine natural origin or lab leak, though notably the FBI backed lab leak theory with moderate confidence, which Director Chris Wray doubled down on just yesterday.

Now on the flip side, in the summer of '22, two peer reviewed articles published in the Journal Science found that the most likely origin was natural transmission at the wet market. To take it all together, it's a reminder that science isn't ever settled. It's a process of the accumulation of knowledge and data constantly building upon itself towards human progress.

The missing pieces of this investigation are on China. As Dr. Deborah Birx said on CNN This Morning just yesterday.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We're never going to get the data from China. China has not been transparent. They were not transparent with COVID in 2019. They're not transparent today in 2023.


AVLON: So given that, in some ways, all we can say definitively is that the origins of COVID are not a settled question, that's exactly why we need more independent, open minded, data driven investigations.

Pursuing the facts without fear or favor is what we should always do. And trying to shut down debate because of political discomfort is what we should never do. That should be clear upon further review.

COLLINS: You know, two things really stick out to me. One, which is being a lab leak accidental does not mean it's some man made, you know, bioweapon --

AVLON: Very important.

COLLINS: -- there's a lot of people in the far right said. But also the idea that China could help with this investigation, and as officials say, they're actively blocking it, they're never going to provide that.

AVLON: Every step of the way. And that other point is so important. You can have a lab leak can be accidental. It doesn't need to be a nefarious bioweapon. In fact, that's one of the few points of consensus among all Americans intelligence communities.

COLLINS: Yes, which is really important to note.

AVLON: Absolutely.


COLLINS: John Avlon, that's a really good look back. Thank you for doing that.

AVLON: Yes. All right, take care.

HARLOW: Yes, thank you, John.

Up next, we're going to take you live to Capitol Hill, where House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is defending his decision to share thousands of hours all of the January 6 insurrection footage with Fox. Those who -- with Tucker Carlson as he downplayed the attack.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thought it was a very serious attack in the (INAUDIBLE) Capitol.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's a very serious attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then why give it to someone who has downplayed it?

MCCARTHY: Because I think sunshine matters.