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Texas, Mississippi End Mask Mandates and Allow Businesses to Reopen; Biden Vows Enough Vaccines for All Adults by End of May; FBI Director Shoots Down Insurrection Conspiracies & Big Lie About Election. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 03, 2021 - 06:00   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This country will have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: That siege was criminal behavior, plain and simple, that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The violence that the FBI is worried about is about racism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director Wray saying very clearly that there's no evidence to indicate the participation of any left-leaning or Antifa protesters.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY, with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, March 3, 6 a.m. here in New York.

And just step back for a moment and think about what it would be like if every American were vaccinated. Everyone with protection against coronavirus. After all we've been through the last year, it really would be a miracle. And now, it may be, and a lot sooner than thought.

President Biden announced there will be enough vaccine for every adult American by the end of May, months sooner than projected. He announced a really unusual deal between pharmaceutical competitors to speed the process. If it all happens as planned, it really will be a remarkable achievement.

Now, we have to get there. And that means being careful and prudent, which is why the decisions from the governors of Texas and Mississippi are so notable and stunning, lifting their mask mandates. Joining a list of states that have done the same.

We speak to a doctor in Texas this morning who tells us, it's going to be hell. And he warned his staff overnight to prepare for a new surge.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, FBI Director Christopher Wray shooting down Republicans, who are trying to rewrite history about the Capitol insurrection.

The Trump-appointed FBI director unequivocally says there is no evidence that so-called fake Trump supporters or Antifa participated in this attack on the Capitol. Two hundred and seventy people have been arrested. None are masquerading as Trump supporters. All those Trump flags you see here and this fervor, that was real.

There's also no evidence that space aliens were behind this attack. But Chris Wray did not say that part.

He did say there is still no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. That's, of course, the lie that led to this deadly attack.

Wray warning lawmakers that domestic terrorism is metastasizing across the United States. So this morning, we'll hear from the commander of the D.C. National Guard for the first time, why did it take hours for them to show up.

We begin our coverage with CNN's Laura Jarrett on states defying public health officials this morning -- Laura.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Alisyn, defying public health officials, going in the wrong direction. More states now rolling back restrictions, just as the White House looks to speed up vaccine production.

But even with some states ignoring CDC guidance, experts are pleading with Americans to stay vigilant.


JARRETT (voice-over): Shipments of the third coronavirus vaccine arriving in Texas as the governor says he's loosening restrictions in just one week.

ABBOTT: Effective next Wednesday, all businesses of any type are allowed to open 100 percent. Also, I am ending the statewide mask mandate.

JARRETT: The announcement frustrating some local leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To put it in very stark terms, it makes no sense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's mind-boggling, given where we are.

JARRETT: And in Mississippi, the governor also lifting mask mandates. GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): This new order removes all of our county mask

mandates and allows businesses to operate at full capacity without state-imposed rules or restrictions.

JARRETT: And as more states roll back restrictions, health experts warn --

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's just irresponsible and goes against science, to try to open up.

JARRETT: The White House is asking Texas and others to keep safety measures in place.

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER FOR COVID-19 RESPONSE: We think it's a mistake to lift these mandates too early. Masks are saving a lot of lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one -- vaccinate!

JARRETT: Meanwhile in Ohio, a single shot of history, with the first Johnson & Johnson vaccines administered.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY: It's definitely a game-changer. The problem we have right now is, as you know, there are only about 4 million doses available, so they really need to ramp up the production.

JARRETT: President Joe Biden using the Defense Production Act to speed the manufacturing process, making a deal with Merck to help pharmaceutical competitor Johnson & Johnson produce its single-dose vaccine.

BIDEN: We're now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May.

JARRETT: The president is also asking states to prioritize teachers and school staff on their vaccine list, an effort to allow more classrooms to reopen safely.

BIDEN: We want every educator, school staff member, childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March.

JARRETT: Biden urging the public to keep wearing masks and following safety protocols.

BIDEN: There is light at the end of the tunnel. But we cannot let our guard down now. We must remain vigilant.

JARRETT: Health experts agree, as new highly infectious variants spread across the nation.


DR. ALA STANFORD, FOUNDER, BLACK DOCTORS COVID-19 CONSORTIUM: There's a race between these variants and getting vaccinated, and we've just got to push and push with that and not remove these public health measures that have been helping us to reduce the transmissibility.


JARRETT: Now, it is true that the country is doing better than it was back in December in terms of deaths and number of cases, but it's worth noting that current levels across the country, well, they're still around the same levels that we saw over the summer. So that makes the rollbacks that we are seeing in places like Texas and Mississippi, John, all the more dumbfounding.

BERMAN: All right, Laura Jarrett. Thanks so much for that.

Joining us now, Dr. Paul Offit. He's the director of vaccine -- of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the FDA's Vaccine Advisory Committee.

Dr. Offit, always a pleasure to have you with us. You're right in the middle of the vaccine situation. So I want to start with the announcement made by President Biden.

Three hundred million doses by the end of May, two months earlier than originally projected. This deal, this really unusual deal between Merck and Johnson & Johnson. What's the significance of all of this?


I mean, if you look at last Friday FDA's meeting, the CDC stated that roughly 83 million Americans have already been infected. So -- so when we say it's roughly 29 or 30 million, that's -- that's a low number. It's really 83 million. That's 25 percent of the population.

Plus, another 15 percent have either been fully vaccinated or partially vaccinated. You're up to 40 percent of the population. Get to 80 percent, and we can significantly stop the spread of this virus.

To do that, we need to vaccinate about 120 million more people. And we can do that. If we're still going two million doses a day, we can do that by June.

And it's very frustrating, actually, when you have the people, say, from Texas or Mississippi saying, OK, let's open things up.

Because we're still in the midst of this pandemic. There's 60,000 cases a day and 2,000 deaths a day. It's obviously still the pandemic. And if we can just hang on for a few months and just -- and mask and social distance until we get everybody vaccinated that needs to be vaccinated, we'll -- we can stop this pandemic.

It's just really hard to watch us not being able to wait those few months that I think we need to wait before we can -- can get on top of this.

CAMEROTA: Well, I totally understand. I mean, when you see the finish line, somehow it feels longer away. I mean, I -- I understand the sudden, you know, impatience. But there's two different things that you raised. And one is

reopening, OK? And then there's the mask mandates going away. And those two things are at odds.

It's the wearing of masks that allow the businesses, like the retail stores, the nail salons, the hair salons to reopen successfully. The reason that those haven't been super spreaders, we now know, during these past months, is because everybody wears masks going into the hair salon right now.

So they're -- they're at odds. I mean, you should reopen businesses, my feeling -- you tell me if you agree -- but keep the mask mandate.

OFFIT: I agree. I think we don't realize the power of masking. It is spread by small droplets. If you mask appropriately and do the best that you can to sort of physically distance, you can -- that's a powerful way -- it's as powerful as vaccine, frankly. And so while we're waiting for the vaccine, that's what you do. This is sort of the pre-vaccine thing to do.

But you're right. I just don't think people understand exactly how powerful the masking can be.

BERMAN: Dr. Offit, we're going to talk to Dr. Joseph Varon, who is an emergency room physician in Texas who hasn't had a day off in a year, and he told his staff overnight, based on this new measure from the governor of Texas, prepare for a new surge. He thinks it's going to be hell.

He thinks if people stop wearing masks in Texas, which isn't a guarantee. I mean, just because you lift the mandate doesn't mean people will stop wearing them, but it certainly gives them permission to stop wearing them. He's worried it will lead to more cases and soon.

OFFIT: Right. So we're doing the natural experiment, right? We're doing the natural experiment in Texas and the natural experiment in Mississippi to see if, in the middle of a pandemic, which we still are essentially in the middle of a pandemic, if you eliminate mask mandates, what will happen?

I mean, I think we already know the answer to that question. It's just hard to believe that we -- we still want to do that kind of experiment.

CAMEROTA: Here's another fringe benefit, although I guess it's not even fringe, it's a huge benefit of wearing masks. The flu this year, doctors can find very little evidence of the flu. Exactly a year ago, on the right side of your screen, that's last year. That's the flu, the purple, the red, the dark crimson there. Those are very high levels of flu.

On the left side is where we are right now. All the green means basically minimal or undetectable. That's where the flu is right now.

I mean, the fact that last year, at exactly this time, the positivity rate of flu was 30 percent. This year, 0.1 percent. I mean, that's -- that's got to be masks, right? And the fact that people are socially distancing.

OFFIT: That's exactly right. I mean, typically, every year between 150 and 200 children die of influenza. This year, so far, one child has died of influenza.


On Friday, March 5, our FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee is going to meet to discuss what flu strains we are going to pick to be in next year's flu vaccine. The way we do that is we figure out what flu strains have been circulating in places like Australia or South America, which sort of predicts what -- what strains are likely to come into our country.

There's been so little flu in those two areas, I think it's going to be hard for us to try and figure out what flu strains to pick.

But you're right, if we mask and social distance every winter, we will see a dramatic reduction in flu, which usually causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths. I wonder whether that would be -- will be the lesson from this.

BERMAN: Dr. Offit, I want to go back to the vaccines for a minute and the deal that President Biden announced yesterday between Johnson & Johnson and Merck. How important do you think something like that is? How unusual is it that Merck is going to manufacture Johnson & Johnson's vaccine and how important is it?

OFFIT: So it's incredibly important. I mean, only vaccine makers have resources and expertise make vaccines. I mean, so -- so Merck has graciously stepped forward and said, OK, we have experience making things like replication effective or replication incompetent viral vaccines like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a replication incompetent adenovirus 26 vaccine. We can do that, so -- so we'll help out.

I think it's absolutely -- It's not like you can get a shirt manufacturer to sort of, you know, do it. Only a pharmaceutical company would have the resources and expertise to do that, and it's definitely going to definitely help out. Great news.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Paul Offit, thank you very much for all the expertise. Great to talk to you.

OFFIT: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. Developing overnight, at least ten rockets targeting a military base in western Iraq that houses U.S.-led coalition troops. At this hour, there are no reports of casualties.

This is the first attack since the U.S. struck Iran-backed militia targets along the Iraqi-Syrian border last week. The Al-Asad Air Base was attacked by Iranian missiles last year in response to a U.S. air strike that killed Iran's top general. Well, the head of the FBI stating unequivocally that there is no

evidence at all that so-called fake Trump supporters or Antifa or BLM participated in the Capitol insurrection. Will this put an end to the conspiracy theories that some Republican lawmakers are pushing?




SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Based on your investigation so far, do you have any evidence that the Capitol attack was organized by, quote, "fake Trump protesters"?

WRAY: We have not seen evidence of that.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Is there any evidence at all that it was organized or planned or carried out by groups like Antifa or Black Lives Matter?

WRAY: We have not seen any evidence to that effect thus far in the investigation.

COONS: And is there any --


CAMEROTA: No evidence of space aliens behind it either. I mean, he didn't say that, but that's what I'm assuming.

FDA Director Christopher Wray completely debunking claims by some Republicans, like Senator Ron Johnson, that maybe it was fake Trump supporters behind this Capitol attack. All these people that you see here wearing the MAGA paraphernalia, carrying the Trump flags, yes, those were real, we found out.

This morning, the commanding general of the National Guard will testify for the first time.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst Rachael Bade. She's a reporter and co-author of "The Politico Playbook."

So, I mean, will that put it to rest, Rachael? Is that -- now will Ron Johnson believe this authority figure, who has all of the evidence about who has been arrested and their backgrounds? Or will he still go to right-wing blogs for his information?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: From having covered him, you know, for a while, I think we're probably going to continue to hear him talk like this, just you know, knowing Ron Johnson.

But I think, obviously, what you're seeing right now is some Republican voters around the country and at least one in Congress, you know, trying to rewrite history here. And that's very dangerous. And so, to the extent that lawmakers can continue to have these

hearings sort of shining a spotlight on exactly what happened and getting to exactly what Trump's actions were on January 6, I think is very important.

And not only just Trump's exact actions but these clear, blatant falsehoods about, you know, fake Trump protesters driving what happened on January 6.

I mean, people were there, Republicans were there. They know what happened. And you know, Dick Durbin called this the second big lie, the next big lie coming down the pipeline after Trump, you know, said he won the election and Biden did not. And this is just as dangerous as the first one.

And so to the extent that lawmakers can get these authority figures up on the Hill, put them on the stand to sort of push back on these falsehoods is really important. And I think that that's why we're going to continue to see these investigations. Obviously, Trump has already been impeached again over what happened.

But there's a lot of detail. And the more detail that can be put out there, and the more authority figures that can sort of confront these conspiracy theories, the more important. Because there are people, not just Ron Johnson, but people across the country, some Republican voters, Trump supporters, who are saying this, as well. And it's very dangerous.

BERMAN: Look, you know, Christopher Wray was soft spoken, but this was a crystal-clear, systemic debunking of the major claims. Not incidental, the major claims being made by Republican elected officials, Republican activists, Republican talk show hosts, and the former Republican president.

Line by line, Christopher Wray just, you know, blew them all up there. It wasn't Antifa. There were white supremacists -- Sorry, Tucker Carlson -- who were part of the crowd there. You know, and he even had to say at this hearing, no, there wasn't the widespread election fraud. This wasn't a fake election, which the former president just told 7 million viewers on Sunday. Listen to this.



SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): To be crystal-clear on this, as FBI director who is -- these would-be federal crimes, you're aware of no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, correct?

WRAY: We are not aware of any widespread evidence of voter fraud, much less that would have affected the outcome in the former election.


BERMAN: The former president told his 7 million viewers on Sunday that he won the election, repeatedly. And the FBI director, under sworn -- you know, under oath right there, sworn testimony, has to say, No, this is just not true. It's a lie.

Yet those members, Republican members of Congress, continue to enable this kind of speech.

BADE: Yes, I mean, by clearly not pushing back more forcefully, it continues. And you know, Trump didn't just say this once over the weekend. He said it over and over and over again, seemed to be mocking this whole notion that he won -- won the election. It wasn't Joe Biden.

And I mean, this is a problem for the entire country. Right? I wonder if, you know, the self-interests of Republicans will at some point prevail. You talk to some of them privately, and they acknowledge that this is bad not just for the country, but it could decrease conservative confidence in the voting system. And that's one of the reasons they believe they actually lost the Georgia election.

OK, well, if that's -- perhaps maybe you should say that more broadly. What is it going to take to make people sort of condemn that conspiracy theory and say point-blank, Our elections are secure and Joe Biden won the election?

Again, conspiracy theories, very dangerous. And Republican leaders have to be the ones to push back on this. Otherwise, these Republican voters who do believe it are not going to change their minds.

CAMEROTA: So it seems like Director Wray was having to do double duty. Which is debunk these conspiracy theories and these lies and explain what went wrong, what happened? Did the FBI sound the alarm loudly enough? And how are they going to prepare for whatever is coming down the pike?

Because, you know, there's all sorts of this chatter, as you may know, in QAnon, et cetera, that tomorrow is another big day where they think that, you know, President Trump will somehow be reinstated -- I don't even know what the word is -- and made president again tomorrow.

And when that doesn't happen, there'll be widespread anger and confusion and disappointment. And so here he is explaining that he thinks that the FBI did try to sound the alarm three different ways.


WRAY: That raw, unverified information was passed within, I think, 40 minutes to an hour to our partners, including the Capitol Police, including Metro P.D., in not one, not two, but three different ways. One email, one verbal, and one through the law enforcement portal.


CAMEROTA: One verbal? Who did they tell it to? I mean, I'm not sure we actually got the answer yesterday of where the ball was dropped.

BADE: And yes, this is -- I mean, this is the ongoing problem right now. I mean, last week, we heard from top police chiefs who said, yes, there was some sort of message conveyed the night before January 6. But remember, these Capitol Police officers were also getting ready

for January 6. That fell through the cracks. If something was e- mailed, if somebody talked to some -- the communication broke down. That message was not conveyed.

And so that's one of the things lawmakers are trying to get to the bottom of.

Another thing they're trying to get to the bottom of is why exactly Pentagon officials, you know, delayed so long in sending National Guard. And that's something we're going to hear more about today, specifically, you know, Army officials, who were on the phone with Capitol Police chief and the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, saying they were worried about optics. The optics of sending in the National Guard as these Trump supporters were storming the Capitol, searching to kill lawmakers. And they're worried about optics.

And so I think, you know, today, we're going to hear more about, what -- what were these Pentagon officials thinking? I'm also curious, you know, were they hearing from somebody at the White House? Clearly, they had to be in touch with the White House. What were the -- what were the instructions? What was the sentiment coming from the White House?

And this is, again, going to be part of this sort of ongoing investigation to find out, was there some sort of stand-down order or was -- were they not able to get approval for something? And that -- that's going to be critical in terms of accountability to make sure this doesn't happen again.

BERMAN: We're going to hear from Major General William Walker. He will be testifying today, so that will be fascinating.

Rachael Bade, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: Meanwhile, it's all about TV commercials. That's what Senator John Cornyn told CNN about the fight Republicans are gearing up for as they try to tank the coronavirus relief bill. CNN has brand-new reporting, next.



BERMAN: The Senate is expected to begin debate on the coronavirus relief bill as soon as today. Overnight, Speaker Pelosi announced that two infrastructure projects that were part of the bill will not be part of the final legislation.

CNN's Lauren Fox, live on Capitol Hill. A lot of developments here, Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right, John. We are down to the wire when we are looking at this coronavirus relief package.

The expectation and hope for Senate Democrats is still to put something on the floor and begin that debate today. Once they start, it will be 20 hours of debate, followed by what is known as a vote-a- rama on Capitol Hill.

And this is an opportunity that Republicans plan to take advantage of. Essentially, it is an opportunity to force Democrats into a series of very difficult votes. Not for a couple of minutes, not for a couple of hours, but potentially through the night Thursday into Friday.

And the goal I'm hearing from Republican lawmakers and aides is that they want to exert maximum political pressure and pain on Democrats. Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to stay together as they try to negotiate the final pieces of this bill.

But a couple of areas that Republicans are eyeing to basically try to peel off some moderate Democrats are amendment.