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Trolls Attack Big Bird For Advocating COVID Vaccines For Kids; U.S. Reopens Borders Today To International Travelers After Nearly Two Years; CIA Director Has Rare Conversation With Russia's Vladimir Putin. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired November 08, 2021 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, why does Ted Cruz hate Elvis? He must, right, based on what we saw this weekend.

It started, as most things do, with Big Bird. Big Bird, whose track record dealing with childhood development is pretty darn good. Big Bird has helped generations of children build self-confidence, confront fear, deal with loss after Mr. Hooper died. This is really important stuff.

So, Big Bird put out a tweet after getting the COVID vaccine, since it's now available for kids ages five to 11. That sent the apparently Elvis-hating Sen. Ted Cruz into a tizzy. More on Elvis in just a moment. He called Big Bird's tweet government propaganda for your 5- year-old. And he said a whole bunch of other stuff, too.

And then, more Republicans attacked the "SESAME STREET" character. You can see it all here. I don't really want to dignify it by reading it out loud.

What these folks dunking on a beloved childhood character might not realize is that Big Bird has been talking about the importance of childhood vaccines since anti-Elvis Cruz was two.


BIG BIRD, "SESAME STREET": Well, there's all kinds of people and they're all in a line, and they don't look like they're buying candy. And there's a sign that says "Don't wait, vaccinate."


BERMAN: So -- and Big Bird has been in excellent company always since, shall we say, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.


C-3PO, "STAR WARS": All you need is a little rewiring, but children need to be fully immunized -- and alas, so many are not. Immunize your children, please. And may the force be with you. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: One would have to believe that Ted Cruz played with his R2-D2 action figure at least through his childhood, if not much, much longer.

Then, there is Muhammad Ali.


MUHAMMAD ALI, BOXER: The law says if your kids don't have their shots for dangerous diseases like mumps, measles, and polio, they aren't getting into school. The law also says they must go to school. So, you have no choice. Get your kids their shots.


BERMAN: So, Big Bird, R2-D2, C-3PO, Muhammad Ali, and yes, Elvis. Elvis famously being photographed getting the polio vaccine in 1956. Yes, Elvis. So, if Ted Cruz bashes Big Bird he must be anti-Elvis.

So, when you're preaching against Elvis, Big Bird, Muhammad Ali, R2- D2, and C-3PO, that's a pretty impressive list of American icons. Does Ted Cruz hate America, or just efforts to help kids grow and keep them healthy?

Joining me now to discuss, CNN anchor Erica Hill, who is a friend of Big Bird and who was mentioned in Big Bird's original tweet. Also here, CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon.

Erica, all joking aside, you've done such phenomenal work for the last 18 months during this pandemic with "SESAME STREET" to educate kids and help kids get through this pandemic.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, look, I have to agree. This partnership was unprecedented. Our first special was April 25th, 2020, and in the wake of that the number of e-mails that we got from adults, not just kids, saying I needed this. I needed the comfort and characters in "SESAME STREET" -- another institution that I trust the facts first, just like we do at CNN, because they make it easier for me to understand.

And so, the fact that we could continue that partnership as we talk about COVID vaccines for kids, it made me happy that we could do it and grateful that CNN and "SESAME" still have this partnership. I'm so grateful that our boss, Jeff Zucker, really believes in it as has Sesame Workshop.

But the number of questions we got from kids and parents prove that these are questions that need to be answered. So, why not do that in a way that is comfortable and smart, and relatable for kids of all ages? It's a no-brainer.

The fact that then you're attacking 6-year-old Big Bird because he and his Granny Bird had conversations and Granny Bird asked her questions and she got her answers because she has concerns like all parents do. But the fact that we saw that play out on television and that Big Bird decided to get the shot because that's what right for their family, that's a beautiful moment and we should be celebrating it the way we should have celebrated Elvis and everybody else on your list.

BERMAN: Why is Big Bird important to kids?

HILL: Big Bird's important to kids because, as you point out, Big Bird and so many of our other friends on "SESAME STREET" -- they're relatable. And they are characters that can talk to children and, frankly, on adults -- and adults the same level.

Look, Big Bird's scared. Big Bird was scared of needles. Big Bird wants to know if the shot is going to hurt. Granny Bird wants to know what does this mean for Big Bird long-term. He's only six.

We all have those questions. I have an 11-year-old getting his first shot today. I have those questions, right, and we need to have them answered by experts. And sometimes when the questions and the concerns come from a character that many of us have grown up with and that our kids have grown up with -- they may sleep with a Big Bird doll at night, or an Elmo doll there is -- I keep going back to the word comfort back that's what's so important. There's a comfort level there.


JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, look, as the father of a now 8- and 6-year-old who watched your specials early in COVID, I can attest to how powerful that was to kids who were scared -- who knew that something unprecedented was happening.

And it's all part of a process of public -- of education and public health. And that's something that all parents and all folks who say they love families and kids, which should be everybody, should be able to get behind.

But the impulse to make a basic PSA politicized -- to call it propaganda -- to go so over the top reflectively as these folks did on this sort of very fundamentally innocent and informative tweet and special, shows just the sickness in our politics and how deep the rot has got. They can't tell the difference between public health announcements and propaganda, and that makes them the outlier.

BERMAN: Ted Cruz is obviously very afraid of Big Bird.

AVLON: Well, he's afraid of a lot of things.

HILL: He's 8-foot-two. I mean, he's a big guy. Big Bird is a big guy.

BERMAN: So is Ted Cruz, to be fair.

But, you know, look, I haven't gone back and checked but I bet you Ted Cruz wasn't attacking C-3PO and R2-D2. It just seems like it's a now thing for Ted Cruz.

AVLON: This is a completely opportunistic dunk designed to sort of -- but reinforced by so much of the conservative ecosystem that just immediately took the bait to hate.

HILL: Yes.

AVLON: To call this propaganda rather than just an attempt to inform kids and calm parents and answer their questions.

I mean, you saw -- I appreciate you didn't want to dignify some of the attacks. But in one case, an Arizona state senator named Wendy Davis called -- to just bleat it out, Big Bird is communist. And what I loved about that was it was the belch from the deepest recesses of McCarthyism. I mean, at the end of the day, we're just going to call Big Bird a communist.

It's so bonkers that I think people should be forced to see and confront it for what it is. There is something palpably unwell about these people who would demonize and politicize Big Bird. It's bonkers.

HILL: Look, the other thing, too, that it does such a disservice to children and families everywhere is the amount of these knee-jerk reaction tweets and other social media reactions that are filled with misinformation. Filled with misinformation.


AVLON: It almost goes without saying -- yes.

HILL: It's just -- you know, whether it's myocarditis where the risk is incredibly low and actually much higher if your child gets COVID. Long-term effects of the vaccine. There aren't long-term effects from vaccines because they leave your body after they do their job of teaching your body how to fight the virus.

It's very easy to find these facts. It's very easy to get those questions answered. They are lazy.

BERMAN: We've got to run but based on your relationship with Big Bird, how do you think he would feel being attacked like this on social media?

HILL: I don't think Big Bird would appreciate it. I really don't. Like, Big Bird is -- and I mean this very seriously -- Big Bird and all of "SESAME STREET" and the folks at Sesame Workshop work so hard every day to talk about the importance of kindness --


HILL: -- being a good friend, and doing what's right for you and your community and your neighborhood. And I think if we all behaved a little bit more like Big Bird and our friends on "SESAME STREET" --


HILL: -- the world would be a lot better.

AVLON: We might be better neighbors.

BERMAN: Erica Hill, John Avlon, thank you very much.

So, new rules for international travel now in effect in the United States. Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg joins us in just minutes.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And NFL legend -- legends ripping Aaron Rodgers on live T.V. for lying about his vaccination status.



KEILAR: Dueling departures there just moments ago from London's Heathrow Airport, which is marking a pandemic milestone, and that is the U.S. reopening to foreign travelers for the first time in 18 months -- only, though, if they are vaccinated and if they have tested negative for coronavirus within three days of flying.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is live for us near the southern border in El Paso, Texas. This is a big move. It's going to bring a lot of people, Priscilla, and also a lot of money.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN IMMIGRATION REPORTER: Brianna, it's a big day here in El Paso, Texas and across border communities in the United States. More people will be able to come into the United States via land crossings like the one behind me.

Over the last 19 months, there have been restrictions in place that only allowed essential travel. Today it is opening up to non-essential travel. That is visiting friends or family, or for tourism.

Now, travelers will have to have a couple of items with them -- primarily, proof of vaccination. Now, that can come in digital or in paper form. The U.S. is accepting FDA or WHO authorized or approved vaccines. And children under the age of 18 will be exempted provided that they are traveling with a fully vaccinated adult.

And unlike air travel, they will not have to show a COVID-19 test at these land crossings -- again, like the one behind me.

Now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency that has been under immense strain this year, is anticipating larger travel volumes and extended wait times as this kicks into gear. But the overall consensus from the border mayors I've spoken with is that this is a positive development and a needed one.

A lot of these border communities rely on each other for cross-border travel and local businesses had to close when that -- restrictions took place. So, an anticipated day here, Brianna, as the economies look to get a boost.


KEILAR: It sure is. Priscilla, live for us in El Paso, thank you.

BERMAN: And joining me now is Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg. Mr. Secretary, thanks for being with us. A lot of the people coming today for the first time are coming by air,

which puts them under your jurisdiction. How important is this day?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: It's incredibly important. We're talking about families -- people who haven't been able to see loved ones for a long time. We're talking about business opportunity.

As it happens, I'm about to get on a plane for the U.K. to participate in the transportation portion of the climate talks going on in Glasgow. And I just love the thought that plane that's taking me across the pond is going to come back to the United States filled with travelers who have been waiting a long time for this opportunity.

Now, this is day one. There's a lot of pent-up demand so folks can expect that there will be long lines as this new system gets into gear. But I think a lot of people will be arriving in the U.S. with full hearts knowing that they have that opportunity that has been made unavailable by the pandemic for so long.

BERMAN: There are plenty of critics who suggest that they waited longer than the science dictated they had to.

BUTTIGIEG: You know, you can't mess around with something as deadly as this pandemic. And we've always been led by the science, carefully weighing all of the different considerations.

But I certainly believe that being able to move from a country-by- country framework, which is what we used to have, to a risk- based/traveler-based framework that really emphasizes how vaccines make people safer -- I think that's the right way to go.

It was done, by the way, also in partnership with a lot of the other countries in these working groups that were put together -- different agencies -- Homeland Security, our department; the White House, of course. And just so glad we have finally been able to get to this point.

BERMAN: So, the infrastructure bill passed the House of Representatives with 13 Republican votes. It's a bipartisan bill. There will be some kind of signing ceremony at the White House soon. President Biden was talking about it over the weekend.

And he was also talking about the ongoing supply chain issues. I want to play some of what he said. Let's listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the way, you all write for a living. I haven't seen any one of you explain the supply chain very well. No, no -- I'm not being critical. I'm being deadly earnest. I sincerely mean it. This is a confusing time.


BERMAN: Why is the supply chain the media's fault? BUTTIGIEG: No -- I think he's pointing out how complicated and difficult it is to explain. I like to think I'm good at explaining things and I find it incredibly difficult to account for all of the different things that are affecting our supply chains.

You know, this is a private-sector system but it runs on public infrastructure. There are federal, state, and local roles. We're talking about every mode of transportation at once. And a lot of complex interactions where sometimes you see a lot of ships at anchor off of a port and the issue might have very little to do with the ships and everything to do with the availability of truckers a thousand miles inland.

So, these are intricate, complex issues but that hasn't stopped us from taking them head-on. And what's great about this infrastructure deal is even as we work the short-term issues partnership with the private sector to try to unclog some of this -- these issues, we also now have the tools to do so much more.

You know, some of what we've been working on in our department is designed to make it easier for goods to move through the country.

For example, I recently approved a grant that would go to an inland port in -- near -- serving the Port of Savannah in Georgia. So, the idea is you get all the containers in, and if it's too difficult or complex or it takes too long to sort them in the port, just move them out of the port inland to where you have more space and an easier ability to sort them to get them onto the trains and trucks. That's an example of something where the federal government has a role.

But now, thanks to this bipartisan infrastructure deal, we have far more resources to do more good projects like that and have a resilient, strong supply chain for the long run.

BERMAN: I want to ask you something about the sort of more thematic esoteric, right? There was a Botho jobs report that came our Friday, if we still use the word Botho. You have the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which now has passed both houses of Congress. These are achievements, yet Americans continue to look at the economic situation and think it's not good.

Charlie Sykes wrote over the weekend he thinks that there might be an issue that Americans can't handle optimism.

Why is it that you don't think that Americans are feeling more positive developments?

BUTTIGIEG: Well look, America simply has a lot going on. We've got a lot weighing on us. We're still working to emerge from this pandemic. We've seen all of these shocks -- a kind of whipsawing effect, including in our economy.

Also, of course, there's more to the economy than anyone measured. We are so proud that the president's leadership has helped create millions and millions of jobs. We're also concerned about the effects that you're seeing, largely

driven by the pandemic, on prices and we know that a lot of people are feeling that.

That's why the president put such a priority on things like bringing down the costs that families face, partly through some of the work that we are doing to unstick supply chains. But largely, through the second half of the president's economic vision -- that Build Back Better plan that's going to make it more affordable to raise a child with cheaper childcare, free pre-K, those tax credits that put money in people's pockets.


Because there are still, obviously, a lot of things on Americans' minds and I don't think that's any lack of capacity for optimism. It's just this moment that we're in but that this administration, I'm very proud to say, is pulling us through and putting us in just such a dramatically better place than we were even one year ago.

BERMAN: Finally -- look, I'm the father of twins, one of whom spent a few days in the NICU after he was born. I understand that you've had a challenging couple of months with your baby twins here. I just want to ask you how everyone's doing and what you've learned through this process.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, thanks for asking. I think no one really expects in advance to become one of those parents who knows their way around a children's hospital. But when you have such vulnerable, beautiful infants who are just completely dependent on you and you see the need that they have for medical care, it really -- as it sounds like you've experienced and millions of Americans have experienced, it's one of those things that nothing can truly prepare you for.

But what I'll say is that thanks to not just amazing medical care but just the amazing support of friends and family, and even strangers wishing us well, we got through it.

And I'm proud and pleased to say that both of the twins are doing well. They're at home. One of them miraculously slept through the night last night. The other very much did not. But like so many new parents, we're just overjoyed and overwhelmed and very much in love.

BERMAN: Well, I hate to tell you but you're in for it.

Treasury Sec. Pete Buttigieg, appreciate you being with us. Thank you.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, we have brand-new CNN reporting on Russia's Vladimir Putin. What he talked about in a rare phone call with the CIA director, next.

KEILAR: Also, some new reporting on the festival tragedy in Houston. Was a warning before the show ignored?



KEILAR: We have some new CNN reporting right now on CIA Dir. Bill Burns having a rare conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And CNN anchor and chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins us. This is a big deal.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, no question, and it gets at the seriousness with which the U.S. is taking the buildup of Russian forces on the border with Ukraine.

So, I'm told that the CIA Dir. Bill Burns, sent by President Biden last week to Moscow to meet not only with his counterparts in intelligence there to deliver this message, but also had a conversation while there directly with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. That is a rare step, particularly for your CIA director rather than, say, your senior diplomat, the Secretary of State, or most -- the thing you'd expect most would be president to president on this kind of thing.

The concerns that he expressed were one, why are you doing this, right -- get a better sense of Russian intentions, but also to communicate we're watching. We see this buildup of forces. We're aware of steps that are being taken there. Basically, to put Russian on notice to some degree that the U.S. is watching here and would take any Russian move seriously.

Now, to be fair, Russia already invaded Ukraine in 2014. They took over Crimea and they've been causing trouble in Eastern Ukraine since then.

The concern, I'm told, is that they expand the military intervention right up to a possible invasion. That's among the U.S. concerns here and that's why sending your CIA director there to communicate directly with the Russian president is significant.

KEILAR: It seems like time and again Vladimir Putin and Russia -- they push --


KEILAR: -- they push the envelope to see what the U.S. will do. And in the end, the U.S. kind of -- I don't want to say allows them, but there isn't this deterrent effect. So, where is Russia seeing this right now in terms of how serious the U.S. is?

SCIUTTO: That's the question. And to be fair, to your point, Russia sometimes pushes that envelope and then pulls back. That happened in the spring. There was a big buildup of Russian forces there and then Russia pulled them back. It's possible this is in the same category.

But I've spoken to U.S. officials and some officials among them who are -- who, based on the kinds of movements, the kinds of units that are deployed and the number and the swath that they're cutting across the border -- that they believe this may be different here. Now, to your point as to what is working -- clearly, nothing is working, right? I mean, so far, in terms of deterring this because Russia remains inside what is sovereign Ukrainian territory. The question is how do you raise the cost for Russia? And that is also part of the conversation.

I'm told that U.S. officials -- that the U.S. wants to increase military assistance to Ukraine so that Russian then calculates the cost will be higher if they were to invade -- to do a formal invasion or expand their incursion into Ukrainian territory.

KEILAR: All right. Look, this is a big deal, this meeting. Jim, thank you so much for breaking it down for us.

SCIUTTO: It's a space I've been told by multiple officials we should watch very closely.

KEILAR: All right.

And NEW DAY continues right now.

BERMAN: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Monday, November eighth. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

So many questions still unanswered this morning about the chaos, the confusion, the tragedy at the Astroworld music festival in Houston. Eight people died and dozens were injured in the stampede during a concert performance by artist Travis Scott.

Fans were crushed, trampled on, pleading for help over the loud music to no avail. The youngest victim, we have learned, just 14 years old.

KEILAR: Now, some 50,000 people attended this show on Friday night. And Houston people have now launched a criminal investigation. The first lawsuits have been filed against Travis Scott, Live Nation, and the concert promoter as well.

Joining me now to talk more about this is "New York Times" Houston bureau chief David Goodman. David, the "Times" now reporting that Travis Scott got a warning --