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Biden Stresses Urgency of Passing COVID Relief Bill over Goal of Bipartisanship, Offers Strongest Criticism of GOP; Defiant Rep. Greene Says GOP "Belongs" to Trump, No One else, after House Boots Her from Committees; Trump Dividing GOP Days before Impeachment Trial, Hours after House Booted Rep. Greene from Committees; Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) is Interviewed about Marjorie Taylor Greene, Election, Liz Cheney. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 5, 2021 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: May his memory be a blessing. Our deepest condolences to his friends and family.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. I will see you on Sunday morning on State of the Union.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room. We're following breaking news.

The House of Representatives just a little while ago following the Senate in passing a key step that paves the way for Democrats to approve President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package without Republican votes.

In his first major economic speech today, the President was building the case for moving fast and without bipartisan support the stimulus plan, he criticized Republicans for either wanting and I'm quoting him now, "to do nothing or not enough."

Meanwhile, the new jobs report is out today underscoring the severe economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. economy adding just 49,000 jobs last month, leaving the country still down almost 10 million jobs since the pandemic started one year ago.

Let's begin our coverage this hour over at the White House. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is standing by.

Kaitlan, President Biden's emphasizing the urgency of his massive pandemic relief bill.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And Capitol Hill seems to be listening, Wolf, because now both chambers of Congress have passed this budget resolution that is paving the way for Democrats to move forward on this bill. And they're making clear that they want to do so quickly because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says they're going to start drafting that legislation next week. Potentially even get this passed by the end of the month.

But Wolf, here's the catch, there are no Republicans on board. And right now the White House and President Biden seem to be ready to move on without them.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But they're just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.

COLLINS (voice-over): President Biden making clear tonight in his strongest terms yet that he won't wait for Republicans to pass this pandemic relief bill.

BIDEN: What Republicans have proposed is either to do nothing or not enough

COLLINS: Days after sitting down with Senate Republicans in the Oval Office, Biden said he won't delay the bill in hopes of getting some of them on board.

BIDEN: If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting dragged -- bogged down in a lengthy negotiation. That's an easy choice. I'm going to help the American people who are hurting now.

COLLINS: Biden said he was willing to limit which Americans would qualify for stimulus checks in order to appease moderates from both parties. But he said there is one thing he's not willing to budge on.

BIDEN: I'm not cutting the size of the checks. They're going to be $1,400 period. That's what the American people were promised.

COLLINS: However, it's still not clear which Americans will qualify for how much.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's an ongoing discussion about it. And it is an active discussion. The decision has -- final conclusion has not been made.

COLLINS: After a Labor Department report said the U.S. added only 49,000 jobs in January with just 6000 of those being in the private sector. Biden pushed for Congress to vote quickly.

BIDEN: These aren't Democrats or Republicans, they're Americans, and they're suffering.

COLLINS: After a meeting in the Oval Office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a two-week timeline for getting the bill through the House and into the Senate's hands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you guarantee that this will be done by March 15?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Absolutely. Without any questions before then. COLLINS: Before dawn on Friday, the Senate took another step toward getting the bill passed as Vice President Kamala Harris cast her first tie breaking vote amid a slim Democratic majority.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Vice President votes in the affirmative.

COLLINS: Republicans have said Biden's proposal is far too large, but so have some Democrats including Barack Obama's former Economic Adviser Larry Summers who warned in an op-ed in "The Washington Post" that Biden was at risk of going too big. An assertion Biden's aides quickly rejected.

JARED BERNSTEIN, MEMBER, HOUSE COUNCIL ON ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Where Larry got something importantly wrong, by the way, is by suggesting that the administration was being dismissive of any potential inflationary pressures. That's flat out wrong.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, President Biden is about to leave the White House for his first trip on Air Force One as President. He's going to Delaware for the weekend with the First Lady. That's where they're going to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday.

But Wolf, what's notable about the fact that he's about to head to Joint Base Andrews after he leaves the White House lawn here a few minutes is the Air Force has announced that yesterday an unarmed man and intruder who did not have access got onto Joint Base Andrews, where of course Air Force One is located, and had access and got on board one of the aircraft that is typically used for flying around top government officials. Now, of course, they located the man. This entire incident is now under review.


But Wolf, it is notable that this happened just one day before the President is scheduled to head to that very airport to board Air Force One.

BLITZER: Yes, they got to do a complete investigation. That is so, so worrisome.

Kaitlan, thank you very much.

From the White House, let's head over to Capitol Hill. Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju was on the scene for us as he always is.

Manu, after a rather tumultuous week, Republicans are still grappling with former President Trump's swayed over the party.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. As these impeachment trial looms over the Senate next week, the loyalty test for Donald Trump also looms over Republicans on Capitol Hill with those straying from the former president facing sharp blowback from the right. But the Republicans who I spoke with who voted to impeach Donald Trump, all are in agreement on this, they do not regret their vote to impeach Donald Trump on the charge of inciting an insurrection.


RAJU (voice-over): With his impeachment trial set to begin in the Senate next week, former President Donald Trump continues to starkly divide the Republican Party. On one wing lawmakers like Marjorie Taylor Greene, saying the party must maintain loyalty to one leader.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): And when I tell you Republican voters support him still, the party is his. It doesn't belong to anybody else.

RAJU: On the other wing, Republicans were still furious at Trump for spewing disinformation and lies about the election results. Leading to the deadly January 6 riot in the Capitol.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R-NE): Personality cults aren't conservative. Conspiracy theories aren't conservative. Lying that an election has been stolen, it's not conservative. Acting like politics is a religion, it is unconservative.

RAJU: Republican Ben Sasse, the latest senator facing threats of center from a state party for not being loyal enough to Trump. Sasse who might vote to convict Trump at his trial with this warning to his party.

SASSE: You are welcome to censor me again. But let's be clear about why this is happening. It's because I still believe, as you used to, that politics isn't about the weird worship of one dude.

RAJU: The back and forth illustrating the struggle within the party after a tumultuous week on Capitol Hill.

It was 61 House Republicans voted to oust Liz Cheney from a third ranking spot in leadership over her vote to impeach Trump, following well short of the majority needed. The next day, all but 11 Republicans have voted to side with Greene contending Democrats were overreaching in pushing through a resolution stripping her from her two committee assignments. That move came after revelations of a wild conspiracy theories, like suggesting school shootings were staged events, all of which she disposed before winning her seat.

GREENE: There were 11 that voted against me yesterday. And that, that's something that our leader should be very upset about. That really is a big betrayal. And that could cost us the majority in '22. People are very angry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which way am I looking? Right here?

RAJU: Caught in the middle is House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, trying to please both wings of his party, the Trump loyalists and those who are ready to move on. Like Congressman Tom Rice, one of the 10 who voted to impeach Trump and has since been censured by a state party.

Do you regret your vote at all?

REP. TOM RICE (R-SC): You know, in eight years in Congress, I probably had a hundred votes that I could have gone either way and maybe second-guessed a little bit. This is not one of them.

RAJU: Now the Trump loyalty test heads to the Senate, where the impeachment trial gets underway on Tuesday.

Trump has rejected a Democratic invitation to testify in his own defense. And sources tell CNN that Democrats are unlikely to subpoena him. Believing there is more than enough video evidence to show that Trump intentionally incited the deadly riot.


RAJU: And Wolf, the remnants of the January 6 riot all over Capitol Hill still including on the House side where they have put metal detectors in front of each entrance, forcing lawmakers to go through metal detectors before they enter the House floor.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, has imposed stiff fines at anyone who blows past those metal detectors after some Republicans did so in the last couple of weeks. And we have just learned that two Republican members have been hit with fines. That's Congressman Andrew Clyde of Georgia and Louie Gohmert of Texas, each fined $5,000 for going through the metal detectors, all part, Wolf, of the new reality here on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: And Manu, those fines will be deducted from their paychecks, is that right?

RAJU: They will, and they'll go up if they do it again.

BLITZER: All right. Let's see what happens. Thanks very much.

Let's discuss what's going on. Our Chief National Correspondent John King is with us. And our Senior Political Correspondent Abby Phillip is with us as well.

John, let's talk about this COVID relief bill, $1.9 trillion, despite his initial outreach to Republicans, it certainly looks today like the President is prepared to go it alone, push this through with only Democratic support. What do you think of the political trade off he's making?


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: It's very clear, Wolf, the President has decided to trade a Washington conversation for an American conversation, talking today in powerful terms that Americans are on the brink, that many of them are losing hope. And that he believes it is best to go big and not get bogged down with Republicans if they're not willing to come anywhere near we -- where he is. He's also trading his own DNA (ph), his history of bipartisanship for the urgency of the moment. He keeps remembering his days in the Obama administration. Remember that stimulus plan, Wolf, in 2009, they waited for Republican votes, they only got a few and they decided in the end, it was way too small. So Joe Biden, President Biden's calculation is, we have power right now, let's go big. As long as Democrats stay unified, we can do this.

The jobs report today convinces him the economy is in a ditch and needs big help. And so that's the 2009 stimulus experienced is part of this. But also remember, Wolf, 2010 that's when the Republicans seize control of the House and the Obama administration essentially hit the brakes. Republicans had more power to stop the Obama agenda.

The new president who lived in those days says Democrats have power for at least two years. At least, let's use it.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what he's certainly going to do.

You know, Abby, do the political benefits, though, of delivering on his promise to quickly pass a major relief package outweigh the potential downsides of losing Republican support?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the Biden administration certainly believes that it is. And there's some evidence to suggest that maybe they're right. When you look at on the Republican side, you actually see quite a few Republicans, including people like Mitt Romney and people like Marco Rubio talking about components of this stimulus bill, giving families checks, increasing tax credits for people with children, those are kind of tea leaves that suggest that Republicans are aware that there's a need to give direct relief to Americans right now.

And I think the Biden administration is looking at that environment and saying, they're going to have a hard time explaining why they threw out an effort to do just that over some objections to certain elements of it, whether it is the cutoff for direct checks, or whether it is something like the $15 minimum wage, which is already something that is seems to be very much up for negotiation.

So the politics here could very well be on Biden's side, because at the end of the day, they did win to Georgia Senate seats on the promise of getting $2,000 checks to Americans. It is hard now for Democrats to go back on that promise. And I think many Republicans are feeling the pressure back home too.

BLITZER: They certainly are.

You know, John, the Republican Representative, Marjorie Taylor Greene said today that the Republican Party is Trump's party, Trump's, and it doesn't belong, she says to anybody else. Given what we saw this week, is she right?

KING: Certainly, she's right by the numbers. Now, there's -- there has been an effort or there was going to be a big effort by the leadership, especially on the Republican side -- in the Senate side, excuse me, for Mitch McConnell to pull it away from Donald Trump. To try to make a point that it's time for Republicans to move away from Trump personally and to move away from the more combative conspiracy theories and lies of Trumpism.

But with Marjorie Taylor Greene and her Republican colleagues, most of them refusing to stand up to her, we now, Wolf, are going to live through this. There will be some days when it's quiet. There'll be other days when it explodes.

You saw Ben Sasse in Manu's piece. Manu very smartly laying out, you can't, it's a choice here between conspiracy and conservatism. Right now, conspiracy has more support, if you will, because she keeps waving the specter of Donald Trump.

It'll be interesting to watch how this looks after the impeachment trial of next week. Whether the former president starts to come out, he's been relatively quiet. Whether he tries to come out and assert more control over the party. But the Republican Party is a mess right now. And there's no reason to think that's going to stop.

BLITZER: And on that point, Abby, Senator Ben Sasse, saying politics isn't about the weird worship of one dude. Is that wishful thinking right now on his part?

PHILLIP: For the Republican Party it certainly seems to be. I mean, it has been amazing to watch the transformation from party that years ago, really kind of got riled by a tea party from within its own that was supposed to be about, you know, fiscal responsibility to being transformed into a party of one person, the party of Donald Trump. But that transformation has happened. And that's why Ben Sasse and people like Liz Cheney, and others, feel like they are increasingly isolated because there is no room in the Republican Party right now for people who are not willing to back Donald Trump up on virtually anything, even when he is no longer in office.

That's the extraordinary part about all of this is that this is someone who has been impeached twice. He is a one term president, is no longer in office and yet still, this is the kind of reaction that Republicans are getting all across the country if they cross him.

It certainly is a warning sign. It really tells us a lot about where this party is right now and where it's headed for the next two, four, maybe even six years from now.

BLITZER: That's in the long term. In the short-term next week, John, we're talking about the Republican Party and the U.S. Senate. The former president's impeachment trial begins on the Senate floor on Tuesday, are we going to see the same party divisions on display that we've seen in recent days?


KING: I don't think you will see them on display at that volume we have seen that, because most Republican senators want this trial to be quick and over, and most of them are going to argue on procedural grounds. They're not going to stand up and defend Donald Trump. They were in that building, many of them, their staffs work in that building. And they have open anger at the former president of the United States for instigating those -- the violent mob that came up there.

And so, the Senate side is very different than the House side. But I think you raise an interesting point. We will watch the Senate trial. Republicans there want to keep their heads down, say it's unconstitutional or say Donald Trump is gone, this is gratuitous, it's over the top. They want to argue process. They're not going to defend the president.

But as it plays out, what are the conversations from their colleagues on the House side? Do some of the more vocal Trump supporters on the House side, you know, essentially get in the face of those Republican senators saying you need to defend the president? So, next week is going to be fascinating to watch.

BLITZER: We'll watch it.

But coming up this Sunday, Abby, this is very important. We're all going to be watching "Inside Politics Sunday" with Abby Philip. This Sunday, well, John and I will be gearing up for the Super Bowl by watching "Inside Politics Sunday" morning 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

One more promotion for our viewers, the new Secretary of State Tony Blinken, he will give His first CNN interview on Monday to be right here in the Situation Room. Join us for that 5:00 p.m. Eastern on Monday.

Up next, congressional Republicans torn between being the party of Trump or a future without him. We'll talk about it with a Republican Congressman who voted to strip Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee posts.

Plus, mixed messages hit the new head of the CDC against the White House when it comes to reopening schools, kids and teachers. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Today, the Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene declared the Republican Party, in her word, "Belongs" to former President Trump.

Let's get reaction from Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Gimenez. He's the former mayor of Miami Dade County. He's one of 11 Republicans who voted yesterday to remove Representative Greene from her to committee assignments.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

She reacted earlier today. You probably heard this but let me play for our viewers. This is what she had to say about your vote and the vote of 10 of your Republican colleagues.


GREENE: When you have Republicans in the ranks voting against one of their own, opening the door for Democrats to go after every single Republican next, that really is a big betrayal. And that could cost us the majority in '22.


BLITZER: So how do you respond to her, Congressman?

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ (R-FL): It's not going to cost us the majority in '22. Actually, the problem is the rhetoric, the QAnon, the conspiracy theories, those -- if you get attached to that, you're going to -- it's going to cost us the majority in '22. I reject all of that. I think most of my colleagues on the Republican side reject it.

I think the ones that voted in her favor voted because of the procedural and then it's something without precedent. However, you know, I had the vote my conscience, and I felt that she should not be especially on the Education Committee.

BLITZER: So, what's been the reaction so far, these past 24 hours? What kind of -- are you getting a lot of grief from your Republican colleagues?

GIMENEZ: No. Look, one of the things that that really, I like about this side is that we're able to vote our conscience. And then you know, you vote your conscience. That's the way it goes. And each vote is different, you know.

It's a little bit different over on the Democrat side, if you fall out of line, I think you get slapped down pretty hard. I don't think any Democrat has fallen out of line yet.

You see, some Republicans have crossed over. I don't think you've seen any Democrats have crossed over. And so we're a little different over on this side.

BLITZER: Well, I will point out that some Republicans who voted against the other Republicans Adam Kinzinger, for example, you know, or Liz Cheney, they're getting a lot of grief from their fellow Republicans right now. But it's good to hear that you're not, at least not yet. It's only been 24 hours. We'll see what happens down in Miami Dade.

Our viewers should know, Congressman, that you did vote to object to the 2020 electoral votes when it came up before the House. Why did you feel it was important to remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from her two committees while at the same time you upheld what a lot of us called that big lie that incited so many people to storm the Capitol?

GIMENEZ: No, I didn't -- look, I never said that the vote was stolen. I objected because I believe that I want to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution says that only state legislators can determine the means and methods by which the electors are chosen.

And in those cases, some people that were not the legislature made rules and change laws. And that's against the Constitution.

And by the way, at the end of the day, those two states would not have overturned the election anyway. Unlike what happened in 2005 when 31 Democrats voted against certifying Ohio and 100 or so, 80 or so abstained from that, that would have changed the outcome of the election. So this is not without precedent.

And so, no. I find no inconsistency in my votes.

BLITZER: But do you believe that Biden and Kamala Harris were elected freely in a free and fair election?

GIMENEZ: Yes, I do. I just -- I think that we need though, is to make sure that in the future, it's the state legislators that determine the rules and that those rules are set. And then that's it.

Look, some rules were changed, but it doesn't mean that anything was stolen. I believe that, that the President is the president and Kamala Harris is the vice president duly elected. And my votes do not reflect anything but the fact that I believe that the constitution needs to be upheld.

BLITZER: The number three House Republican a woman I assume, you know, Liz Cheney defended her vote to keep Marjorie Taylor Greene on those two committees by saying and let me quote now precisely what she said. She said, "It is our responsibility as Republicans to address these issues inside our own conference. Speaker Pelosi and the Democrat majority have no business determining which Republicans sit on committees."

I should note that lists the congresswoman, Congresswoman Cheney did vote to impeach the former President Donald Trump, you did not. So, what do you make of her argument on this specific issue? She disagreed with you on the issue of this congresswoman from Georgia.


GIMENEZ: Well, I think she has, you know, there's a valid argument to that. This is precedent setting. But also look, now everybody is going to be held to that standard. And so, I look towards the Democrats and some of the members that they've had, that made some anti-Semitic remarks, have had some interesting conspiracy theories of their own, to be held to the same standard.

And so, if it's good for the goose, it's going to be good for the gander. And since I did vote, to remove Representative Greene from her committees, I'll be looking over to the other side and making sure that the Democrats do the same with their members.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on this emergency COVID relief bill. President Biden today said Republicans haven't gone far enough and that they have all of a sudden rediscovered what he calls fiscal restraint. I'm sure you have constituents who are struggling right now. Why not go big, in light of this truly unprecedented crisis? A lot of folks in your district, Miami Dade, down there, they're struggling right now.

GIMENEZ: No, I agree with that. But listen, there is a trillion dollars from the original CARES Act that hasn't been spent yet. So you can go big just by spending the trillion dollars that you allocated back in June that has not been spent. And now we're going to add another $2 trillion to that on top of the 1 trillion that hasn't been spent.

I want to give money to the people that are suffering, those residents of Miami Dade County that have suffered during COVID-19, they should get a bigger check. Those businesses should get relief. Those businesses really been hurt by COVID-19 should get relief.

I don't want to give money to states that have been mismanaged prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. And now the rest of the country is going to be bailing out those states. So, I want a COVID relief package that actually helps the people and does the things that it's supposed to do relative to COVID-19.

BLITZER: So, very quickly, because we're out of time, Congressman, if you have to vote on the $1.9 trillion emergency COVID relief package that the President is putting forward right now, will you vote in favor of it or against it?

GIMENEZ: I will vote -- Look, I said when I was running that I would vote against such a large bill. We need to be more surgical. We just can't be spending trillions and trillions of dollars.

You know, if you put a trillion dollars end on end, it goes 92 million miles. The distance from here to the sun.

We need to take care of our children and our grandchildren. We're spending their money. I want to make sure it's spent the right way, not unnecessarily on pet projects.

And that's the stance I took when I was getting elected. I got elected and so it's a stance I will continue to do.

BLITZER: All right, Representative, we'll see what happens.

Carlos Gimenez, thanks very much for joining us. Stay safe out there.

GIMENEZ: OK. Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, a potentially major increase in vaccine availability possibly within a matter of a few weeks. We're learning new details, standby.

Plus, they're growing concern that Super Bowl parties will be super spreader events.



BLITZER: All right, take a look at this. Just a moment or two ago, you could see the President of the United States. He's at Joint Base Andrews, he got off of Marine One. He's now boarding Air Force, want to make a very brief flight over to Delaware.

He's going to be spending the weekend there presumably Sunday night watching the Super Bowl with his family before coming back to Washington. There he is. President Biden, this is his first trip as President of the United States aboard Air Force One.

Tonight, the U.S. coronavirus death toll is top 458,000 people and the country now facing more than 26.7 million confirmed cases. But new infections have dropped significantly, along with hospitalizations. CNN National Correspondent Erica Hill has the latest from New York.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More Pfizer vaccine could be coming soon with some help from the Defense Production Act.

TIM MANNING, DPA WHITE HOUSE SUPPLY COORDINATOR: We told you that when we heard of a bottleneck on need equipment, supplies or technology related to vaccine supply that we would step in and help.

HILL (voice-over): And a third vaccine now in line for FDA Emergency Use Authorization.


HILL (voice-over): The FDA will consider Johnson & Johnson's single dose vaccine on February 26th.

JHA: Certainly, by April, it'll become a real player in terms of expanding vaccine access.

HILL (voice-over): More mass vaccination sites coming online today.

JAHQYAD AUSTIN, RECEIVED FIRST DOSE AT YANKEE STADIUM: As soon as I heard about on the news, I signed up right away.

HILL (voice-over): Yankee Stadium offering 15,000 appointments in the first week.

AARON BOONE, MANAGER, NEW YORK YANKESS: Today is a special and opening day as Yankee Stadium's ever seen.

HILL (voice-over): Mega sites also opening in San Francisco and Maryland. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell telling President Biden every team stadium will be available as a mass vaccination site.

KATHLEEN GILMORE, PHILADELPHIA CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: How we prioritize communities of color with the continued vaccine distribution and rollout will be vitally important to ensuring that we can close that inequitable gap.

HILL (voice-over): Teachers and some school staff now eligible for the vaccine in 24 states and D.C. The CDC working on new guidance after prompting confusion earlier this week.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Dr. Walensky spoke to this in her personal capacity. Obviously, she's the head of the CDC, but we're going to wait for the final guidance to come out.

HILL (voice-over): Nationwide, more than 9 million shots administered last week, that's 10 times the number of new cases added in the U.S. Two very different metrics marking important games.


DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I think overall things are definitely getting better. And I really do think that we will get on top of this by summer or late summer because I think everything is now moving in the right direction.

HILL (voice-over): New cases dropping 61 percent in the last month. COVID hospitalizations falling below 90,000 for the first time since November. More states loosening restrictions, increasing indoor dining capacity. North Dakota dropping its mask mandate, Wisconsin's Governor fighting his state legislature to keep one in place.

GOV. TONY EVERS (D-WI): We're going to keep putting people first. We're going to keep listening to the science.

HILL (voice-over): The TSA announcing a new fine for travelers who refuse to mask up. As experts caution, these proven efforts are still needed to keep fast-breeding variants at bay.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Viruses will not evolve and mutate if you do not give them an open playing field.


HILL: One note, Yankee Stadium was chosen because of the high positivity rate in the Bronx. This area has been particularly hard-hit when it comes to New York City. And one other note that we're hearing from officials, Dr. Walensky, Dr. Fauci and elected officials as well, Wolf, is a reminder not to gather this weekend for the Super Bowl to simply watch the game at home with your household because there was a lot of concern about parties becoming super spreader events.

BLITZER: And for good reason, indeed. All right, Erica, thank you very, very much. Let's get some analysis from CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency room physician, former Baltimore City Health Commissioner. Dr. Wen, thank you so much for joining us. As you know, more than 35 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have now been administered here in the United States. And drug makers, Johnson and Johnson, Novavax, they're working through the authorization process for their vaccines. Could we see a real difference in our fight against this virus in the coming weeks and months?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf, and here's why. I think we need to spend more time focusing on the metric and these vaccine trials, that's the most important, which is of substantially reducing hospitalizations. That's what we care about, preventing severe illness. It's not preventing your sore throat and congestion and fever and body aches. It's preventing somebody from becoming so ill that they end up in the hospital.

The Pfizer and the Moderna trial had more than 30,000 people who received the vaccine, only one person was hospitalized. Johnson & Johnson, no one was sick enough to be hospitalized. And so, here's how we could actually end the pandemic. If we end up turning COVID-19 into something not much worse than a bad cold or the seasonal flu, that would really make a difference.

BLITZER: Yes, the Johnson & Johnson, you just need one dose, you don't need two once that gets Emergency Use Authorization. The Biden administration, Dr. Wen, also is saying that it's considering mailing face masks to every American out there. Would that lead to an increase in mask wearing do you think, or would those resources be better put forward towards some other mitigation effort?

WEN: Well, I think the Biden team wants to do this. They should show us the research of why this is going to be effective. Maybe 10, 11 months ago when people didn't have masks, it would have made a difference. But right now, the people who are going to wear masks have masks. And I think there are people who are against masks.

I don't know if sending them a mask that's from the federal government. Somehow, they're going to open their mail and say, why I wasn't going to wear masks? I wasn't going to wear masks before. Now I will. And so, I just worry that this is not the best use of taxpayer dollars, when actually maybe you could have masks available in public places for people who don't have masks and happened to be there.

BLITZER: That's a good point. You know, a lot of our viewers, understandably, so including me, we're all looking forward to the Super Bowl Sunday. What's the best way from your perspective to safely watch the big game?

WEN: Best thing to do is to stay home with the people that you live with and watch the Super Bowl in that way. There are people who may live in warmer climates. Maybe you can be outdoors, watching a screen with people who are spaced at least 6 feet apart, definitely not sharing food and drink. Let's not let the Super Bowl be another super spreader event and have a major surge coming out of this weekend.

BLITZER: Good advice indeed as always. Dr. Wen, thank you so much for joining us.

Coming up, what should we expect when former President Trump's second impeachment trial begins next week? Plus, a new arrest in the investigation of the riot at the U.S. Capitol.



BLITZER: With former President Trump's second impeachment trial set to begin next week, Democrats are now signaling they don't need his testimony to make their case despite only yesterday requesting that Trump testify under oath and be available for cross examination. Let's get some insight from CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero and Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg. Ben, Democrats seem to think they can effectively make their case without the President's testimony, was their request that he appear enough to counteract some of the defense team's arguments?

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: No, I don't think so, Wolf. There's no real way to enforce a congressional subpoena quickly enough. So that really was not a serious effort. And what the Democrats have to do is to try and appeal to the emotions of the 50 Republican senators. Good luck.

BLITZER: Yes, that's not going to be easy indeed. As you know, Carrie, the lead impeachment manager from the House, Jamie Raskin, the Democrat from Maryland, says the former President's refusal to appear underscores, in Raskin's words, his guilt, is that an effective argument?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think that that will be the argument that will would have the effect of convincing senators who are not otherwise going to vote for conviction. I think it's unlikely, I think everybody knows that the President wasn't going to agree to testify. This gives the Democrats the ability to say, well, we offered him the opportunity, but the evidence that's going to be compelling is the video evidence of his words that day, of the rally that riled this crowd up before they attacked the Capitol.


The video evidence showing the violence that transpired, many Americans maybe have seen snippets of how violent parts of the attack were. But there are longer clips that are available that perhaps they might show that really show the brutality and the aggressive action and the fighting that took place. That was inflicted upon the members of Congress who were having to hide from the event and on the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department.

BLITZER: You thin, Ben, the Democrats, or for that matter, the Republicans are going to call witnesses?

GINSBERG: I would be surprised. I'm pretty sure the Republicans won't. I mean, the Democrats need to be able to connect Donald Trump more directly with actually causing the insurrection, giving directions to the to the protesters to go in and break into the Capitol, or to find somebody in the White House who is with the President the afternoon of January 6th, who can talk about his refusal to send help quickly enough. If they can find those witnesses, perhaps, but otherwise, I would be surprised.

BLITZER: What do you think, Carrie?

CORDERO: Well, the timeline, certainly, I think they'll lay out the timeline. And the timeline is really relevant because there were members of Congress who were reaching out to the White House trying to get -- reaching out to other parts of government -- trying to get support because they were so scared, and they feared for their lives. And the President did nothing. In fact, they can show the tweaks throughout the day. So I would expect, if they don't call witness at the very least, are going to be able to show a timeline that shows that even once the event became violent, he sat back and he did absolutely nothing to help them.

BLITZER: We'll, of course, have live coverage every step of the way. The trial begins on Tuesday. Carrie Cordero, Ben Ginsberg, guys, thank you very, very much.

There's more breaking news we're following, significant changes just announced by the acting Capitol Police Chief in the wake of the January 6th attack.



BLITZER: There's breaking news up on Capitol Hill right now where the acting police chief is not pledging to make significant changes in the wake of the Capitol attack. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working the story for us. So, Evan, what changes is she talking about implementing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first of all, I think we should note that it's been a month since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And we've seen such precious little from the leadership of the Capitol Police, the leadership that was responsible, frankly, for this catastrophic failure. We are hearing from Yogananda Pittman who's the acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief, she's talking about changes that are already underway, as well as just the fact that there were 175, or I'm sorry, 125 officers that were assaulted in that attack on the U.S. Capitol. Here's what she had to say.


YOGANANDA PITTMAN, ACTING U.S. CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: We have taken steps to ensure that the operational tempo and the posture of the department conforms with the available intelligence. We've also reinstituted critical emergency training, and we'll be providing officers with additional training based on the lessons we have learned.


PEREZ: And, Wolf, we're hearing from her justice as well as we're hearing from -- there's a letter from Stevenson, who is the former chief who resigned after the attack, and he's talking about some of the intelligence beforehand. He said that some of the intelligence reports that they received said that there was a probability of any kind of attack being remote or improbable. Clearly, they were not prepared for what happened.

BLITZER: We understand, Evan, there was another arrest of one of the key players in these riots. What can you tell us about that?

PEREZ: That's right, Wolf, we're getting close to about 200 arrests, or at least we know of publicly. This one is Rachel Marie Powell you've -- we've seen her in some of these videos with that distinctive pink hat and a bullhorn leading the charge, so to speak, or at least from the depiction in the videos, she appears to be trying to give instructions to some of the crowd telling them exactly where to go inside the building. We know that according to prosecutors, they're saying that, you know, she seemed to be trying to help coordinate the efforts of some of the riders to take control of the building.

She was interviewed by the New Yorker and, you know, she kind of pushed back on this. I'll read you just a part of her quote in which she says, "I was not part of a plot-organized or whatever, I have no military background. I'm a mom with eight kids. That's it". And she is, obviously, now Wolf, facing some very serious charges from prosecutors here in Washington.

BLITZER: What -- Is there's like about 170, 180 charges that have been filed now against these individuals?

PEREZ: That's right, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Evan Perez, working the story for us.

An important note to our viewers, be sure to join me tomorrow night, Saturday night for an in-depth look at the historic events surrounding the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The CNN Special Report, The Trump Insurrection: 24 Hours That Shook America airs tomorrow night, 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, President Biden building the case for moving fast without bipartisan support as he holds the lines on a stimulus package. Much more and all the breaking news right after this.



BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. We're following breaking news on the urgent push to pass an emergency COVID-19 relief bill. The House just followed the Senate and approving a key step toward allowing Democrats to pass the legislation without GOP support. This as President Biden is building his case for quick action, making it clear -- clearer than ever really that he's prepared for Democrats to go it alone.