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New Day Saturday

Senate Working its way Through Amendment Votes on Biden's COVID Relief Bill in Marathon Session; Democrats Strike Deal With Senator Manchin Over Jobless Benefits After he Held up COVID Relief Bill for Hours; Eight Democratic Senators Vote Against Amendment to Raise Minimum Wage; Pope Francis Meets with Top Shia Leader During Historic Iraq Trip; U.S. Economy Adds 379,000 Jobs in February; Atlanta Police Brace for NBA All-Star Game Weekend. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired March 06, 2021 - 06:00   ET




RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill and this is CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The Senate's vote-a-rama where senators can offer as many amendments as they want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Some Republicans plan to offer a couple dozen amendments each.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): This isn't a pandemic rescue package. It's a parade of left-wing pet projects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Their goal is to get in our way and trip us up. It's not going to work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Vaccinated Americans are still waiting for the CDC to release its new guidelines which were expected this week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to get back out there.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We are making sure and taking the time to get this right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Pope Francis is in Iraq hoping to build interfaith relationships and shine a light on the plight of Iraqi Christians.

POPE FRANCIS, HEAD OF CATHOLIC CHURCH: We are gathered in this Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, hallowed by the blood of our brothers and sisters who, here, paid the ultimate price of their fidelity to the Lord and the church.

(END VIDEO TAPE) VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: It's always good to start a Saturday with you. It is March 6th. I'm Victor Blackwell.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Amara Walker in today for Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: So right now, senators are working. Live pictures here. They're working on President Biden's $1.9 trillion rescue bill. It is getting closer to passage in the Senate after this all-night voting marathon.

WALKER: Yes. The process under way right now known as vote-a-rama almost fell apart due to a nearly 12-hour delay. The surprise roadblock was Senator Joe Manchin who faced off with fellow Democrats on enhanced unemployment benefits. Now, Senator Manchin is back on board after agreeing to a compromise on extending the benefits through September 6th. Now Republicans are running out of options to stall voting, forced to keep going after Democrats refused to call it a night.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Now that this agreement has been reached, we're going to power through the rest of the process and get this bill done.

MCCONNELL: Well, my goodness. It's been quite a start. Quite a start to this fast track process.


BLACKWELL: CNN's Lauren Fox is up early for us on Capitol Hill. Lauren, I don't know if this is up early or late because you've been there all night, but where does the voting stand now?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are going to keep going and I think what you're hearing from aides that I'm talking to on Capitol Hill is no one knows exactly when these ends. It's important to remember all of this could have fallen apart yesterday. Like you said, Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate from the state of West Virginia, kept essentially a vote open for nearly 12 hours and leadership was trying to work with him to get him on board with an unemployment insurance plan.

He was frustrated with how that plan originally had been crafted and that he wasn't consulted. Eventually, they landed on a plan that will continue unemployment insurance through September 6th at $300 a week, but they could keep voting and voting and voting on subsequent amendments for many hours ahead and this is really the last stop before Senate Democrats can take that final vote on Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill and that's why Republicans are probably going to drag this out for a couple more hours.

They really view this as an opportunity to argue against the bill, an opportunity to put Democrats in a tough position when it comes to key policy priorities, whether that's energy issues, immigration issues. What you saw is some of these amendments are really aimed at just trying to tailor back pieces of the Democratic bill here. Other pieces of this are really aimed at more policy proposals and putting Democrats in a tough spot.

You saw last night that Senator Susan Collins introduced an amendment to replace the Democratic bill with a smaller, pared back Republican version, something that more moderate Republicans had come up with together. So you're really seeing here that Democrats are trying to keep their party unified, especially after this 12 hours yesterday or nearly 12 hours where they didn't know whether or not they were going to be able to move forward, Amara and Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Lauren Fox for us there. We'll keep checking in with you all morning. Thank you.

WALKER: Now, President Biden is watching from the White House while the Senate debates his COVID-19 relief bill.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to CNN's Jasmine Wright. She joins us now from the White House. So Jasmine, negotiations over the scope, the size, limits. They've exposed all kinds of fault lines within the party. What are you hearing from the White House about those?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Listen, Victor, the White House wakes up this morning like most Americans, watching the progress in the Senate as Democrats work to pass what would be his first major legislative victory, that $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.


Now, the last time that we officially heard from the White House was just after 9:00 P.M. last night when Senate Democrats got over the hump trying to really strike a deal on that expanded unemployment benefits.

Take a -- I mean, I'm going to read you exactly what the White House said. Now, they said that, "This agreement allows us to move forward on the urgently needed American Rescue Plan, with $1,400 relief checks, funds we need to finish the vaccine roll-out, open our schools, helping those suffering from the pandemic and more."

This is an area that we have heard from the White House over these last five weeks that the Biden administration has been behind me really talking about the fact that they need the money included in this bill, they need the infrastructure included in this bill to achieve President Biden's number one priority, which is ultimately defeating this coronavirus pandemic.

Now, as we wait to see what happens in the Senate, of course those in that building behind me are going to be really watching because this is -- this is high stakes for them. This is their first legislative victory. This is going to allow them to do things that they say that they need to do to really curtail this pandemic. So over here on Pennsylvania Avenue, it is a waiting game, Victor, Amara.

WALKER: All right. Jasmine Wright, appreciate you watching that for us from the White House there. Now, CNN political commentator Errol Louis is with us, host of the "You Decide" podcast. Good morning to you, Errol. Always good to see you. We just heard there from Lauren Fox all of this could have fallen apart not because of a Republican, but because of one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin. He was the road block and now he is on board. What did he get out of this?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what he got was reduced benefits, Amara. The Manchin approach to all of this is to spend as little money as possible. There is, I guess, some kind of philosophy or theory behind it one could point to. It's mostly held by conservatives. It's mostly held by large corporations and wealthier people, but there is a school of economic thought that says that you should spend as little money as possible.

Now, how that's supposed to work when we've got 9.5 million people who are not working now that were working last year, I'm not sure how that's supposed to all play out, but the reality is Joe Manchin knows that he's got a deciding vote, he can gum up the works, he can slow things down.

And I think a key part of the report we just heard is Joe Manchin saying you didn't consult me and that's kind of the political dynamic that we're going to see a lot more of in Washington where, in a closely divided Senate, any one member can say, well, look, I'm a king, I'm a queen, if you don't come and talk to me, I'll stop forward progress on everything and that's exactly what Joe Manchin did yesterday.

WALKER: And do you expect him to continue to play king, as you say? I mean, to remain a thorn in the side of Democrats because, again, as you're talking about you, unity, we're seeing these cracks being displayed right now within the Senate between the moderates and the progressives. What does this mean moving forward? I mean, in terms of getting things done.

LOUIS: Well, I think things will just go slower than they would have, Amara. I mean, you know, I don't think it was ever in doubt that this relief package is going to get passed, that it's going to be roughly $1.9 trillion, that it's going to provide help to working families. All of these were core promises that Joe Biden made. All of these are, frankly, core promises that Democrats made all across the country and they poll extremely well among voters, including Independents.

So it's not like it wasn't going to happen, but along the way, you get these bumps in the road. It'll happen a little slower than it might have and because we don't have what used to be called, you know, earmarks, basically a way that you go to somebody like Joe Manchin and say, look, we'll build an extra bridge for you, you know, we'll resurface your airport for you, stop getting in the way. That's not really available.

So it's going to be sort of more of a grind to get to the finish line that I think everybody knew we were going to arrive at sooner or later.

WALKER: Yes. So we don't know when this is going to end and when the final vote will take place, but this pandemic relief package is expected to pass obviously along party lines.

Let's talk about the debate, the fierce debate over minimum wage. Again, Democrats not united on this front as well. I do want to show you all a Monmouth University poll, a recent one, that shows that 61 percent of registered voters supported raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. That's a -- that's the majority of those who were polled. So why is there this divide, you know, why this disconnect between senators and the majority of the Americans?


LOUIS: Listen, when we say that the process in Washington is broken, this is a prime example. This is something that has not just popularity right now, but it's always popular. It has always been popular and each of the minimum wage increases over the last generation, really two generations, has been fought tooth and nail by people who said they didn't want to do it and then it gets done and it works out fine.

It doesn't do what all of the critics say was going to happen, throw people out of work and make it impossible for kids to get jobs and hurt seniors and on and on and on and on and none of those things come to pass and yet you still get this opposition. The brokenness of the process, Amara, is that you've got business owners, frankly, in a lot of cases who don't want to do it.

They are the donors. They have the ear of the legislators and they consistently convince people to stand up and take an opposition role against what they know most of their constituents actually want. And so when 60 percent, 61 percent of the country want something and you can't get the legislature to do that thing, it's a broken system.

WALKER: Just a quick -- we got to get going, but I do want to toss to a quick sound bite from Bernie Sanders who's vowing to keep up the fight to get the wage increase. Take a listen.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): The American people want us to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour and while I'm disappointed at the vote today, let me be very clear. We are not giving up on this. We are going to come back with vote after vote and one way or the other, we are going to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. That is what the American people want and that is what the American people need.


WALKER: All right, Errol. So how are the progressives going to get this done?

LOUIS: Well, I mean, in some ways what he is doing there, what you heard there, is Bernie Sanders staking out a piece of political turf. It's somewhat analogous to the way that you hear a lot of conservative Republicans say that they're going to get Roe versus Wade overturned. They don't have a particularly clear path to do it, but they want to make sure everybody understands that that's where their brand is, that that is where their passion and their efforts are going to go. That's what I hear Bernie Sanders saying.

There are some complicated tax maneuvers. They've already tried one that did not work, giving incentives or, frankly, tax penalties if you don't raise the minimum wage. That's a very tough road to go. I think they're going to just keep plugging at it, again, the way Republicans have plugged at trying to overturn a woman's right to choose.

WALKER: Errol Louis, appreciate you joining us this morning. Thanks so much.

LOUIS: Thank you, Amara.

BLACKWELL: So, more states are lifting coronavirus restrictions, but there's new data that shows just how much of an impact wearing a mask has made and we've learned just how soon the U.S. could reach herd immunity thanks to new vaccines.

WALKER: Plus, a historic meeting overseas during Pope Francis' visit to Iraq. We will take you there.

BLACKWELL: And it's NBA All Star Weekend in Atlanta. Traffic driving into CNN Center proved that this morning. An event that usually draws massive crowds, but this year, the NBA wants people to stay home. Are they?


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: Want to discourage people from coming to Atlanta for the All Star festivities. The players will be only at the hotel and the arena and there'll be no other events other than essentially a made-for-TV show coming out of the State Farm Arena.





BLACKWELL: Seventeen minutes after the hour now. CNN has some new analysis and it's found that the U.S. could reach herd immunity by summer through vaccinations alone. Seventy to 85 percent of the population would have to be vaccinated to reach that threshold. Right now, 8.5 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated.

WALKER: Now, the U.S. is administering about 2 million doses per day. The Pew Research Center recently surveyed more than 10,000 Americans and they found that nearly 70 percent have been or plan to get vaccinated. Let's get more now from CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro. Evan, some states beginning to lift COVID restrictions, but despite the good news on vaccinations, we know that Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying that this is ill advised. EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Amara. This is kind of a weird weekend for the pandemic. Here in New York City where I am, we all still have to wear these, but other parts of the country are changing those rules and people are worried that maybe they're doing it too fast.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): The COVID-19 pandemic is still all around us and still deadly, but this weekend, the question some in America may be asking, is the danger gone? In Texas, businesses are reopening at full capacity. No more state mask mandate.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Just like you can set the standard for anybody coming into your home, a business owner can set the standard for anybody coming into their business. It's just like no shoes, no shirt, no service and they can set whatever standard they want to set for anybody that comes into their business and that is their right.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Some business owners are nervous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What he's done is he's put the burden on the business now.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Governor Tate Reeves also lifting mask mandates in Mississippi, citing improved numbers while blasting continued government overreach, but Governor Jim Justice reiterates his current mask mandate in West Virginia even as businesses return to 100 percent capacity today.

GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R-WV): If we continue to vaccinate more and more and more, we'll get rid of the mask, but I don't know really what the big rush and if we don't watch out, we can make some mistakes.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Arizona, a COVID-19 hot spot last summer, has experienced success with mitigation efforts. On Friday, Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order reopening all businesses at full capacity but keeping mask rules in place.


Other states are also loosening restrictions. On Friday, Michigan increased indoor dining capacity, while Connecticut began rolling back caps on retail and restaurant numbers and while nationwide numbers of new cases are down, public health officials warning that moving too fast to reopen could be dangerous. A new CDC study shows mask mandates and restricting indoor dining could reduce COVID-19 cases and deaths.

WALENSKY: We would advocate for policies, certainly while we're at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): And Dr. Anthony Fauci telling CNN the daily new case number, still regularly over 60,000, needs to come down a lot more before states move to fully reopen. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I would say less than 10,000 and maybe even considerably less than that. We're now up to about 2 million vaccinations per day. That means every day that goes by, every week that goes by, you have more and more people protected.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So, we're kind of back to where we were earlier last year where different states have different rules about masks and about public distancing and capacity of restaurants. These are the kind of things that officials watched very closely last time and led to some of the reasons why we had such a problem with this pandemic in the United States and so now that those things are happening again, they're going to be watching and seeing if those numbers start to go back up.

WALKER: All right. Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in Dr. Carlos del Rio, Executive Associate Dean at Emory University School of Medicine. Doctor, good morning to you. I want to pick up on what we heard from West Virginia's governor there, Jim Justice, in which he talked about continuing the mask mandate, but in West Virginia, they're moving to 100 percent seating capacity for bars and restaurants. When will we know if this is too soon?

CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Well, you know, I really worry, Victor, that this may be too soon because we simply, as Dr. Fauci said, we have too much transmission happening, we have, you know, close to 60,000 new infections still per day and while we're making progress and I acknowledge we're all tired, we all want to return to normal, but right now is not the right time to drop our guard.

If we do so, we're going to see another resurgence, we're going to see another peak, we're going to see the variants take over. We're at a very good point in the pandemic, but right now, we have to hunker down. We still need to wear a mask. Every time you wear a mask, you're making a difference. Every time you get immunized, you're making a difference.

BLACKWELL: You know, there are several states, Connecticut and others, that are making this distinction of allowing businesses, restaurants and bars in many cases, to return to 100 percent seating capacity, but continuing the mask mandate. What is the virtue of a mask mandate if you've got a packed restaurant and the purpose? I mean, you go into a restaurant, you got to take the mask off. You go into a bar you have to take the mask off. Do you see some virtue in allowing restaurants to go to 100 percent if they continue the mask mandate?

DEL RIO: No. I really don't, and I also don't understand it because, as you said, you know, the one place you'll take your mask off is at restaurants and bars, right? So why would you say we have a mask mandate, but you can hold to full capacity? At the end of the day, that's where you going to see transmissions. As you mentioned, there was a CDC study published yesterday, showed very clearly that indoor dining is associated with increased risk of transmission. So, it is a place where you're going to see increased transmission. Eat outside.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you this. CDC still has not provided guidance for people who have been vaccinated. Tens of millions of Americans have received at least the first shot. The CDC director says it's coming soon. Dr. Leana Wen says the CDC is making itself irrelevant by dragging its feet on this. What do you think?

DEL RIO: Well, you know, I'm not sure why it's delayed, but Dr. Wen published an opinion -- an op-ed in "The Washington Post." I published an opinion post in "JAMA" last Thursday. We all kind of agree what people can do if you're fully vaccinated. CDC already told us if you're fully vaccinated, you don't need to quarantine after you've been exposed. I think that's very big, but I also think you can gather with other people who are fully vaccinated in small groups indoors without a mask and I think that is a clear component.

I also tell you, I travel with a lot more ease instead of wearing an N95 and face shield, the goggles nowadays, I still wear a mask, but I -- but I don't wear an N95 or I don't wear goggles or shields when I do travel and I think you can certainly feel much more at ease now that you're -- that I'm fully vaccinated. So, I'm looking forward to those guidelines, but I'm pretty sure what they're going to say.

BLACKWELL: Yes. So, we're both in Georgia. It's NBA All Star Weekend. The game is in Atlanta. Parties, concerts, driving in today, there was traffic and Saturday is really the night we're expecting huge crowds. Georgia health officials are concerned that this will be a super spreader event, but we heard the same or similar concerns from Florida officials ahead of the Super Bowl.


I want to put up the numbers from Hillsborough County. This is the graph of new daily cases over the last month since the Super Bowl from February 7th to March 5th, the latest numbers we have, and there isn't any huge spike after the Super Bowl there in Tampa in Hillsborough County. Are these concerns overblown?

DEL RIO: You know, you really can't tell because, again, it depends whether there are people who are infected who come or not, right? So, you can't really tell. It's almost like playing dice and, you know, playing roulette. If there's somebody infected and you get to a super spreader event, you'll have an increase. If the number of people infected is small and they don't go to the places where there could be a lot of spread, then the numbers will be low.

So, I think you really can't tell. You simply -- it's a little bit like saying it's dangerous to cross the street. Well, it depends whether a car's coming or not.

BLACKWELL: Good point. Dr. del Rio, thanks so much.

DEL RIO: Delighted to be with you.

WALKER: Pope Francis is in Iraq today. It's a historic trip, marking the first ever papal visit to the country. What we're learning about who the pope is meeting with and what's on his agenda, later this morning.



BLACKWELL: Pope Francis is in Iraq for a four-day religious tour of the war-torn country, meant to improve inter-faith relations.

WALKER: Earlier today, the pontiff met with one of the most senior leaders in Shia Islam. Then the two delivered a message of unity and peace. CNN's Ben Wedeman has more.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pope Francis is into his first full day on this historic trip to Iraq. He started with a rare private meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani, one of the leading authorities of Shia Islam. Afterwards, both men stressed the importance of dialogue and harmony between the two religions. And the top-trending topic on Twitter this morning in Arabic in Iraq is hash tag, the historic meeting, referring to the encounter between the two men. The pope went on to another inter-faith event, involving representatives of Iraq's many religions and sects in the ruins of the biblical city of Ur, birthplace of Abraham.

Sunday, the focus of the pope will be on expressing solidarity with and support for Iraq's dwindling, but ancient Christian community. Back in 2003, it numbered around 1.5 million souls. Today, it totals perhaps just 300,000. Tomorrow, he'll be traveling to Northern Iraq, including Mosul to pray at a church destroyed by ISIS during its occupation of the city. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Baghdad.

BLACKWELL: All right, Ben, thank you.

WALKER: The latest jobs numbers show the economic recovery is finally gaining some steam. Where we saw the biggest gains and why experts say there's still much work to be done.



BLACKWELL: So, it's a promising sign for the economy, a big jump in hiring in February.

WALKER: Yes, and more jobs were added than expected. A much needed boost towards recovery. Here's CNN's Alison Kosik.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Amara and Victor. The economic recovery is finally gaining steam. Employers added 379,000 jobs in February, and the majority of those jobs came back to a sector that was among the hardest hit. The leisure and hospital industry added 355,000 jobs last month as lockdown restrictions eased and many restaurants reopened. But the sector still has a deep hole to fill, 3.5 million positions have yet to return. That's 20 percent of that total workforce still sidelined. Retail and manufacturing saw job additions while construction jobs fell by 61,000. Weather could have been the problem there, between the storms across the south and the cold weather in the Midwest, holding back some construction projects.

The unemployment rate fell to a pandemic era low of 6.2 percent from 6.3 percent. But many top economists have warned the official rate, underreports how many people are actually unemployed. Many people have dropped out of the labor market, meaning they're not counted. So the actual unemployment rate is likely closer to 10 percent. And the coronavirus is still keeping many Americans from even finding a new job. For example, 4.2 million Americans who dropped out of the labor force last month said the pandemic prevented them from looking for work. So Friday's good news is only part of the recovery story. The economy is still down, 9.5 million jobs from last year. And while it's great that the number is going down, the reality is, millions of workers, more than 18 million, still rely on the government to help them make ends meet. Amara and Victor.

WALKER: Yes, definitely not out of the woods yet. Alison Kosik, thank you. With me now is CNN economics and political commentator Catherine Rampell; she's also a "Washington Post" opinion columnist. And she has a new piece out, February's jobs report doesn't let Congress off the hook for more stimulus. Kathryn, good morning to you, thank you so much for joining us. So, like we were saying, it was a strong February for jobs, the numbers of jobs that were added that month much higher than expected. But you are warning Congress to keep these numbers in context. Give us some of that context.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, it's exactly what you were just discussing, that we are very deep in the hole, it's great that we're digging our way out of it a little bit more slowly than we would like, but there's just this huge jobs deficit that still persists in this economy. For context, for example, we have about the same jobs' deficit, that is, the number of missing jobs relative to employment levels before the pandemic. Today, that as was the case during the very worst point of the great recession.


And the great recession was called great for a reason, right? There was a lot of suffering throughout the economy. The same is happening today, even with the faster pace of job growth in February, if it were to continue indefinitely, it would still take another two years before we made up all of the ground lost early last Spring because of the pandemic. So, yes, there's a lot more work to do.

WALKER: I mean, that's a staggering number, just hearing Alison Kosik say 9.5 million jobs that have been lost since last year. Are economists predicting that we will recover these jobs?

RAMPELL: It's an interesting question. At some point, of course, more jobs will be created. We don't know how long it will take, of course. The question really is whether the jobs that come back will be identical to the ones that were lost. And if they're not, what will that transition be like? There are questions about, for example, whether restaurants and other businesses have been accelerating the pace of automation, displacing, you know, the people taking orders, for example, for food, with an iPad or with other kinds of technology. Now, this is the kind of thing that always happens during the economy. It's gradual. There is -- there are products to be gained, there's more automation. But some of that may have accelerated during the pandemic.

And the real question is, what happens to workers who have been permanently displaced from their jobs? What kinds of positions will be available for them to go back to? If you look at surveys of the unemployed, a higher share today than was the case during the great recession say that they expect they will need to change fields or occupation which indicates people think, yes, probably, I'll need to find something new.

WALKER: Yes, and you know, as you and I are talking and as millions of Americans are looking at the calendar wondering if, you know, the benefits will actually expire on March 14th. You have the Senate still voting on these series of amendments, and it looks likely that it will eventually pass. When that will happen, we don't know. But tell us more about what's in the package and just how critical this stimulus is right now, passing it.

RAMPELL: Right. So, look, the government has -- the federal government has been generous. Contrary to the popular narrative, we have actually spent a lot of money on fiscal programs to try to deal with this pandemic. But we're not out of the woods yet. More support is needed. The most urgent deadline we're facing is exactly those federal unemployment benefit programs which are set to expire quite soon that will leave a lot of workers in a lurch if they are allowed to lapse. But there are other things in this legislation too. Like there are the so-called stimulus checks. There's funding for childcare, funding for small businesses including businesses in certain sectors that have been hard hit, such as restaurants. There's funding for child allowances, and some other kind of longer-term concerns that maybe predated the pandemic.

So, there's a lot in this legislation. Is it perfect? No, if I had my druthers, there are things that I would change about it, but it's pretty clear that more support will be necessary to prevent further layoffs, particularly at the state and local level which lost a lot of jobs in education last month. But also, to provide relief and to prevent the sort of permanent scarring that can come from a recession like this. We want to get it -- we want to get back into full recovery as quickly as possible.

WALKER: Don't we all? Yes. And if you know anyone who's lost a job during the pandemic or owns a small business and has been hemorrhaging money for the past year, you know just how crucial of a life-line the stimulus package would be for so many people. Catherine Rampell, appreciate you joining us this morning, thank you.

RAMPELL: Thank you. BLACKWELL: Up next, we'll take you to a pharmacy in Missouri where

people can choose which vaccine they get.

WALKER: And be sure to catch an all new episode of "STANLEY TUCCI: SEARCHING FOR ITALY" tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern, you'll join Stanley as he eats and drinks his way through Milan, the second biggest city in Italy. That's Sunday night at 9:00 right here on CNN.



WALKER: Misconceptions about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine have complicated efforts to get people vaccinated. Yesterday, Detroit's mayor had to clear up comments after declining a shipment of the J&J vaccine, saying he wanted, quote, "the best".

BLACKWELL: The health experts agree that all three approved vaccines are very effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization. CNN's Gary Tuchman went to a pharmacy where customers can choose which vaccine they get.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dellwood Pharmacy is a black-owned business in the small predominantly black city of Dellwood, Missouri, just north of St. Louis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I waited a long time for this.


TUCHMAN: And the pharmacist who was also the owner of the business --

MAWUENYEGA: OK, congratulations, you're all set.

TUCHMAN: Just got her first supply of COVID vaccine for her community. But she didn't just get one kind of vaccine, she got two, Moderna and the newly approved Johnson & Johnson.

MAWUENYEGA: This has been the biggest owner, it's been great. It's a blessing to be in this position.

TUCHMAN: Particularly because Rebecca Mawuenyega knows there's been a reticence among many of the minority groups about getting a COVID vaccine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And how I need to get it, I was hesitant about getting it.


TUCHMAN: And because she has two kinds of vaccine, she has the unique opportunity of giving her customers a choice.

MAWUENYEGA: So, I have the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson, which one would you want?


MAWUENYEGA: This is the one, the shot, the Johnson & Johnson, you want to get that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is it? Just one shot?

MAWUENYEGA: Just one shot and then you're done.



MAWUENYEGA: Yes, that's the best option.


MAWUENYEGA: And it's equally effective. So, we do have a Johnson & Johnson, and we have the Moderna. Johnson & Johnson, one shot, you're done. Moderna, two shots, which one are we going with today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Johnson & Johnson.

MAWUENYEGA: Johnson & Johnson. Why is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One shot and I'm done.


TUCHMAN (on camera): This is just one small pharmacy in America. But the trend here is very clear, the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is very popular.

MAWUENYEGA: You're not going to feel a thing --

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Trenia Clark also chose Johnson & Johnson.

TRENIA CLARK, RECEIVED COVID VACCINE: I cried, I was so happy because here in North County, we weren't getting any vaccines. They were making us drive 60 and 80 miles to go get it.

TUCHMAN: Reggie Jones is the mayor of Dellwood.

MAWUENYEGA: OK, you're all set, sir.

TUCHMAN: He was one of the smaller number of people here who chose Moderna. Outside the pharmacy in nearby neighborhoods, it is not difficult to find people who aren't planning to get any COVID vaccine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I believe that they will bring the lesser drugs to our communities to test us to see if it works before they hit the masses.

TUCHMAN (on camera): You're referring to the Johnson & Johnson one dose? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

MAWUENYEGA: Congratulations, you're set.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The pharmacist knows about the past but tells her customers that now is a much different time.

MAWUENYEGA: Done, sir.

TUCHMAN: Timothy Williams believes that with all his heart.

(on-camera): Tell me how this vaccine is going to change your life?

TIMOTHY WILLIAMS, RECEIVED COVID-19 VACCINE: It's going to change my life -- you can get out of the house, normally get to -- I got grandkids. I haven't seen my grandkids in over a year. My youngest grandkid is turning 1 on March 21st.

TUCHMAN: You must feel great.

WILLIAMS: The last day I saw them was March the 20th, would also --

TUCHMAN: Last year?

WILLIAMS: Yes, last year. So, I want to just hug and squeeze them, that's all, and see my grandkids.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN, Dellwood, Missouri.


BLACKWELL: So, LeBron James is working to stop legislation he says would suppress black votes. We'll tell you how he's using the All-Star game this weekend to get the message out with the support of the head of the NBA.



WALKER: Atlanta police say they are taking no chances this All-Star weekend as NBA fans from all over come to Atlanta for Sunday's game.

BLACKWELL: Now, the general public won't be able to go into State Farm Arena for the game, but around the arena, there are lots of activities and some businesses are staying open for longer hours. But authorities say they are planning longer shifts to patrol those streets.


CHARLES HAMPTON JR., DEPUTY CHIEF, ATLANTA POLICE DEPARTMENT: We have our men and women on 12-hour shifts, off days cancelled as well as selective members of other units and divisions also on 12 hours and off days cancelled.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLACKWELL: Now, several NBA stars, LeBron James is one of them, really

vocal about not wanting to play this game because of the pandemic.

WALKER: Coy Wire joining us now with more. And Coy, LeBron will be in Atlanta tomorrow and he'll be taking advantage of the platform to send the message off the court.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a passion project. Good morning to you. Now, LeBron James certainly has a message he wants to get across, and he's working with the NBA, the players association and the NAACP to get it out. Releasing this ad yesterday, it will be shown during the All-Star game in Atlanta. Shines light on proposed voting legislation around the country, that includes here in Georgia where the state legislature passed health bill 531 which critics say would make it harder to vote. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver tells CNN he's proud of LeBron and other players who are taking a stand for change.


ADAM SILVER, COMMISSIONER, NBA: I think it's fantastic that players are engaging in our democracy. I mean, that's what it's all about. And you know, I've made this point to many, asking about it doesn't mean you necessarily have to agree with our players. But I think you should applaud their engagement in our system.


WIRE: All right, to baseball, the Angels, As, Dodgers, Giants and Padres will all have fans back in the stands in some capacity this season. Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom loosening restrictions on outdoor events, welcome news to the defending champs. Here's Kershaw.


CLAYTON KERSHAW, PITCHER, LOS ANGELES DODGERS: I think the home opener in and of itself this year is very special. You know, like first time at Dodgers stadium, fans in a year after winning the World Series after 32 years. So, regardless if there's ten fans or 2,500, whatever it is, it's going to be a special day.


WIRE: All right. In the NFL, another woman breaking barriers, Maia Chaka is the first black woman to become an NFL official. Chaka started off in the high school ranks in 2006. She worked her way to the top levels of college out there in the PAC-12, she took part in the NFL's development program, all this while being a standout teacher in schools for athletes, kids in Virginia. She says she hopes her story can inspire her students and others -- always follow your dreams, she says.

All right, we have our first dancer from March Madness, and they didn't even have to put all the work in to get into the NCAA tournament. Liberty will represent the Atlantic Sun Conference for the third straight year, even though they haven't even played in their conference title game yet. That is today. They beat Stetson in the semis yesterday, so how did they get in? Their opponent today, North Alabama is so new to D-1 level hoops, they aren't eligible for the NCAA tournament. That means win or lose, Liberty is in. So, if they lose their conference title game, there's still probably going to be low-key, two-step in celebrating. They are going dancing. Selection Sunday for March Madness next weekend.

And just a reminder for all our viewers out there, don't participate in any bracket challenge with Victor Blackwell. That man stays at the top of the leader board every year, knows how to pick them, knows how to go dancing.

BLACKWELL: I am a fantastic guesser.

WALKER: I was going to say, what's your secret?