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At Least 26 Dead In Texas From Winter Weather; More Than 56 Million Vaccine Doses Administered In The U.S. According To CDC; Texas Governor Falsely Blames Renewable Energy Sources For Power Issues After Winter Storms; New Biden Push On COVID Relief Bill, Suggests It Could Be Politically Damaging For GOP To Vote Against It; Conservative Talk Radio Icon Dies At 70. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 17, 2021 - 20:00   ET


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Now, D.C. officials have not responded to our request for comment on this. But of course we know that an officer suicide has never been declared a line of duty death in D.C., so it is unlikely that this one will be an errand though it is a question that will ultimately be determined by the D.C. Police and Fire Retirement Board -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Gosh, well, it is clear, it wouldn't have happened if he weren't there that day. So I hope they will -- they will do the right thing. Thank you so much, Jessica.

And thanks to all of you. Anderson starts now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. We have breaking news, hopeful news tonight on the effectiveness of the two publicly available COVID vaccines even against new strains of the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci is going to be here live to talk about that in just a moment.

But first, it is anything but a good evening for millions of Americans who are without power tonight, some without heat or even running water for yet another record setting day, they are facing the harsh reality of cold temperatures in places simply unprepared for it.

Hardest hit is Texas where water lines have burst, gas lines are frozen and power lines are down. Some of the more than 2.6 million households without heat or power had been forced into community warming centers where available. Others have been sickened or killed by carbon monoxide from makeshift heating arrangements.

One Houston area furniture store owner opened up two of his locations for people to stay in. He did the same after Hurricane Harvey, but even remarkable individual acts of kindness, they can only go so far.

The problems right now are statewide affecting millions and instead of taking responsibility, it seems some top state officials are doing anything but, Ed Lavandera is in Dallas for us tonight. So what's the latest? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, right now, the bottom

line is the question that everybody wants the answer to is exactly when is the power going to be fully restored across the state? And sadly, tonight, we don't have a firm timeline on when exactly that is happening.

The State officials with the power grid system say that they are essentially at the mercy of the power plants across the state to get the power systems back online. There are about 680 power plants across the state, we are told that about 180 of those have been impacted in some way.

The officials here are saying they're hoping that the power can be fully restored in the next day or two, but there is not a lot of certainty that goes with that and warmer temperatures above freezing are not expected to stay around until this weekend.

So it could take some time for everything to thaw out.

COOPER: And what are officials saying about when power will be back on? I mean, and how much credibility do those officials have tonight, given what they've been saying?

LAVANDERA: Well, from the residents here that I've talked to, you know, the credibility supply is about as low as the power supply in this state tonight.

So there's a great deal of concern as to how long it is going to take. Remember, all of this started, everybody woke up to this on Monday morning with state officials saying that this was going to be a situation where we were going to see rolling power outages that your power would be off for maybe 30 to 45 minutes at a time and then it would cycle around to kind of spread the pain to most of the residents here in Texas, but that has simply not happened because the situation is so much more dire than we originally knew on Monday morning.

And that has been really what has inflicted the most amount of pain for so many people, people who have spent days without power. In fact, I interviewed a gentleman who we will hear from later tonight, who has been without power since Sunday night when this first -- when this winter storm first started making its way through the State.

So a lot of questions as to exactly what this timeline and how quickly everything could get back online, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Ed Lavandera. Thanks.

We're going to come back to the story shortly. Right now, a number of significant developments on COVID including, but not limited to weather related vaccination delays in Texas and at least seven other states as far away as New York.

In addition, there is welcome news which broke late today. A study published in "The New England Journal of Medicine" suggesting the Pfizer vaccine can protect people against new coronavirus variants, including the one first seen in South Africa. Separately, Moderna and the N.I.H. published a letter outlining

similar results for the Moderna vaccine. That said, the headlines today also included a warning from the C.D.C. and Dr. Anthony Fauci that those new strains could, quote, "dangerously accelerate" their trajectory of the pandemic.

That is on top of the news that President Biden made last night during our CNN Town Hall in Milwaukee.


COOPER: When is every American who wants it going to be able to get a vaccine?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the end of July of this year. We have -- we came into office, there was only 50 million doses that were available. We have now by the end of July, we'll have over 600 million doses enough to vaccinate every single American.

COOPER: When you say --


COOPER: When you say by the end of July, do you mean that they will be available or that people will have been able to actually get them?

Because Dr. Fauci --

BIDEN: They will be available.

COOPER: They'll be available.

BIDEN: They'll be available.



COOPER: Joining us now is Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical adviser to the President.

Dr. Fauci, thanks for joining us. So I know yesterday earlier in the day, I think you had said maybe June, July, August. Are you confident that the vaccines will be available to all Americans in July? And what does that actually mean?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, that means that the contractual arrangement that was made by the Federal government with the various companies to get 600 million doses for 300 million people, that contractual arrangement calls for exactly what the President in what you just showed what he was quoted as saying, by July.

By the end of July, there will be available, that amount of vaccine to essentially vaccinate everybody in the country, because that's what you would need, it is about 600 million doses when you have a prime and a boost for about 300 million people.

So when he said available, that's exactly what he meant. How long it will take to vaccinate people will really depend upon the efficiency with which you get doses into people's arms.

So they will be available in July. It may take an additional couple of months, actually, maybe towards the end of the summer, to get everybody vaccinated. So that's what he meant by available, it's ready to go if people need to be vaccinated,

COOPER: Obviously, it is kind of a -- it's a building effort. So those will be fully available by the end of July, according to the President and what you're agreeing with.

But some of those -- some of that will already be available earlier, and therefore people can continue to get vaccinated. So the vaccinations will continue all the way through.

FAUCI: Yes. Exactly what I was talking about, you may have heard the comments that I have made is that you have now what are called prioritizations, Anderson, where you have the 1A group, which are the healthcare providers, the people in nursing homes; 1B, the elderly, and those who are in critical jobs in society and on and on.

By the time you get through them, you are still vaccinating a considerable number of people, and the point that I had made is that I originally said April, but it really probably now because of the gap between supply and demand, it won't be probably until May or June, when you get through that first group, so now that you could say that anybody in the sense of you don't have to be in a priority group can actually get a vaccine if we were available.

The July timeframe means now we have enough vaccines available to vaccinate everybody and beyond that is how long it would take to actually vaccinate them. So it really is all compatible in the timeframe going from month to month.

COOPER: And what's going on with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? Because this is a big deal, obviously, that's a game changer. That's an overused term. But it certainly would be a huge help to get that, you know, potentially millions of doses online.

Was there miscommunication about production? Because there was obviously a lot of hope about the scope of the rollout, which I'm confused about now.

FAUCI: Well, okay, we've contracted with them, Anderson, for 100 million doses that we should be able to get by the end of June or July.

We will meet that. We will get that. So they have sort of more back loaded than front loaded. So in a week or two, I guess it'll probably be by February 26th, they likely will go to their advisor committee to talk about the possibility of an Emergency Use Authorization.

If the Emergency Use Authorization gets approved, and I don't want to get ahead of the F.D.A., but if it does, let's assume that it does, they're going to have very few doses available the next day to give. It likely will be in single digits.

And then the next month will be a bit more, but then as you get to May and June, then you'll have a real escalation of the available doses.

So essentially, they are going to come through with their contractual agreement of getting a hundred million doses by a certain period of time, except it will be heavily loaded towards the latter part of that time, as opposed to immediately after they get their EUA.

COOPER: At the, you know, past the end of July into August-September when all the stuff that's available, everybody who has wanted one has been able to get a vaccine in their arm. What does that mean for, you know, the herd immunity?

FAUCI: Well, that's a great question, Anderson, it really is going to depend on how many people actually want to get vaccinated, and that's the reason why we're putting a big push on in getting out and extending ourselves into the community, particularly the minority community to address what would some people refer to as vaccine hesitancy.

Namely, not really wanting to get vaccinating or wanting to hear a little bit more about other people getting vaccinated. I had said and it's purely an estimate, Anderson, that the so-called herd immunity percentage that you would need would be somewhere between 70 and 85 percent.


FAUCI: Again, that's an estimate. You don't know what herd immunity really is until you reach a certain level and then when you get below it, then you start getting infections in the community.

So we know exactly what it is for measles. We don't know what it is yet for SARS-CoV2, but I imagine it is somewhere between 70 and 85 percent. I hope that by the time we get to that point where as the President said, we have enough available for anyone who wants it, that people come forward and we actually do vaccinate that 70 to 85 percent of the population, which hopefully will get us to the point of herd immunity.

COOPER: So we also learned today that according to "The New England Journal of Medicine," studies performed in labs suggest that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can protect against the current known variants. That seems like a -- that seems like great news, what more are you learning and is that as promising as it sounds?

FAUCI: No, it is, particularly for example, the two major variants that we've discussed now for weeks has been the 1-1-7, which is the predominant U.K. variant, which is right now in this country and models suggest that by the time we get to the end of March, it might be the dominant strain in the country.

We know that the vaccines of Moderna and Pfizer, the antibodies that they induce do quite well, against the B-1-1-7. The South African isolate, the 3-5-1 isolate, it's a little bit of a different story.

The efficacy of the vaccines induced by both the Moderna and the Pfizer are diminished multiple fold, but there's such a cushion of efficacy at the level of acts of antibodies that are induced that even with that diminution, which there is some for sure, with both of the vaccines, even with that diminution, there is enough protection to be able to protect against mild to moderate disease, not as well as you would protect against any disease.

But the good news is that it protects very well against severe disease. So all in all, the fact is we are challenged by these variants, we have to address them. But the good news is that the vaccines that we are currently using have very good efficacy against one of the variants, and modestly good against the other.

COOPER: You've warned that the variants could really take hold in March or April. Why is that? And whether how concerned are you that people will see the daily infection rates decreasing, and, you know, either stop paying attention and following, you know, all the guidelines, not wearing the mask, not social distancing, including by the way governors who may loosen restrictions.

FAUCI: Right, great point, Anderson, and that's the reason we have two very good tools against the variant that is now in the United States and that is projected to maybe be the dominant one in a month or so, and that's the 1-1-7 or the U.K. variant.

The two ways that we can counter that is one, continue to do the kinds of public health interventions that we talk about all the time. You know them well: the wearing of masks, universally; physical distancing, avoiding congregate settings, washing of the hands. You do that you're good against the wild type virus, you're good against the mutant virus.

But also, as the weeks and months go by, as you vaccinate more and more people, you have a vaccine that works against this variant. So if we roll out the vaccine appropriately, efficiently and effectively, and get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can, while we maintain the public health measures, we should be in good stead.

It's not going to be easy, because you have this variant that has a pretty good way of increasing its transmissibility, which is the reason why we have to act quickly on that.

COOPER: And as more and more people are getting vaccinated, there is still confusion about what you can and can't do afterwards. People should still wear masks. Yes. And they should still, you know, isolate and social distance, if they're exposed to someone known to have the virus certainly, quarantine if they've been exposed to someone who have the virus.

FAUCI: Well, no, actually, it's -- not necessarily, though you said one thing correct and another one that I'll just give a minor correction on. The fact is that after you've been vaccinated, it is conceivable, maybe likely that you could get infected, but because you are vaccinated, you don't get any symptoms. So the good news is you don't get any symptoms, but you could get

still infected and have virus in your nasopharynx which means that even though you're vaccinated, you feel well, you could conceivably spread it to someone else.


FAUCI: So that's the main reason for wearing the mask, even though you've been vaccinated. But the C.D.C. has come out and said, now, if you are fully vaccinated, and you get exposed to someone who in fact, is known to have COVID-19, you don't really need to isolate and quarantine the way you did before. So that's a significant change.

COOPER: But you should wear a mask because you may actually -- you can still catch it from somebody you just -- and spread it, you just won't get sick, you won't have symptoms.

FAUCI: Exactly, because the vaccine is 94 to 95 percent effective in preventing you from getting clinically apparent disease. But we don't know yet. We will know in some time as we do some follow up studies. We do not know yet whether you can get infected and still be capable of transmitting it to someone else, hence, the recommendation of wearing the mask even though you've been vaccinated.

COOPER: And just finally, I'm sure it's a question you've been asked a million times, I probably asked you several times already.

Last night, President Biden told me things may be back to normal by Christmas. What is that definition of normal by Christmas to you? Or when do you see them at all?

FAUCI: I think it's perfectly reasonable to say that. We don't know -- the President made an estimate, which I think is a quite reasonable estimate, I would be right in that ballpark myself.

What we're talking about is that maybe not 100 percent exactly the way we were before all this happened. But what he was referring to and I would agree with that is that we're going to be able to do things that we right now are not able to do. For example, indoor dining, going to a theater, going to a movie, being able to congregate in a setting with dinner, with people beyond those who are in your own household.

If we get the level of infection to really very, very low in the community, not like it is now where you still, even though we're doing much better, you still have up to a hundred thousand new infections per day. I'm talking very, very low level of infections. You can start doing some of the things that really resemble what we call normal life.

COOPER: Dr. Anthony Fauci, I appreciate it. Thank you.

FAUCI: Good to be with you. Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up next, a closer look at the people left in the cold and the officials who are supposed to be looking out for them and not spreading falsehoods about the problem, former Democratic presidential candidate and Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke joins us.

And later, on the occasion of Rush Limbaugh's passing, we'll talk about the political climate he helped create and where it led.



COOPER: It'll be another night of subfreezing temperatures across Texas tonight with no relief in sight until the weekend. For millions, that'll mean going without things we all take for granted. For some though, it means trying to live without the necessities of life itself. Once again tonight, here is Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The temperature in Jose Limon's house in Del Rio, Texas is 35 degrees. He lost power Sunday night.

JOSE LIMON, DEL RIO, TEXAS RESIDENT: I just stayed in this room, to keep the room warm.

LAVANDERA (voice over): He can handle the cold, but he needs a generator to keep his oxygen machine going. Limon spent three weeks in a hospital Intensive Care Unit recently battling COVID-19, he still needs around-the-clock oxygen.

LIMON: I'm nervous. I'm nervous. I don't know what's going to happen when the power is going to come out. That's another around -- around my house, there's a lot of people that have light, but not me. I don't know why.

LAVANDERA (voice over): The bitter cold has now turned to heated anger over the catastrophic failure of the State's power grid.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott made the rounds on Texas television news programs to say it's a total failure of the organization known as ERCOT, which runs nearly all of the State's power grid. He's called for an investigation and for executives to resign.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): ERCOT stands for Electric Reliability Council of Texas and they showed that they were not reliable.

LAVANDERA (voice over): Most of Texas runs on its own power grid separate from the rest of the country. State leaders designed it this way to avoid Federal regulation.

ERCOT officials insist the decision to take power away from millions of homes using controlled outages spared the entire state from a system-wide failure that could have taken months to repair and left even more people freezing.

BILL MAGNESS, CEO, ERCOT: If we had waited and not done outages not reduced demand to reflect what was going on in the overall system. We could have drifted towards a blackout. LAVANDERA (voice over): According to ERCOT officials, equipment

failures at oil and gas plants account for the largest amounts of power knocked offline. Despite that, right-wing pundits have used the Texas freeze to blast the reliability of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

In the middle of this crisis, Governor Abbott went on FOX News.

ABBOTT: This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal. It is essential that we, as a country remain where we continue to provide access to fossil fuels for heating, for taking care of our homes.

LAVANDERA (voice over): But before the governor made that appearance, he was telling Texas new stations that one of the biggest concerns was frozen equipment at natural gas plants which provides most of the heat for Texas homes.

ABBOTT: The power generators froze up and their equipment was incapable of generating power and then on top of that of that, the natural gas that flows into those power generators, that is frozen up also.

REP. MARC VEASEY (D-TX): There is no green new deal at Texas. That is a J-O-K-E -- joke.

LAVANDERA (voice over): Democratic Texas Congressman Mark Veasey says the Governor and State Republican leaders are trying to shift blame.

VEASEY: I would say a hundred percent of the blame goes to Greg Abbott and Republicans just for years and years of neglect and mismanagement.

JORDAN ORTA, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS RESIDENT: We are starting to get relief frustrated.


LAVANDERA (voice over): In the meantime, Texans like Jordan Orta and her little boy are scrambling to fight off the freeze. They slept in their car last night and fear, they'll do the same tonight.

ORTA: It's uncomfortable as you can imagine. It's not like sleeping in your own bed, but we were warm and we were able to make it through the night and just hoping that tonight is a better night.


COOPER: Wow. Ed Lavandera is back with us. I mean, it's obviously not only a heating problem, what are the dangers are Texas families facing tonight?

LAVANDERA: Well, one of the other concerns that millions of people regardless of whether you have power tonight or not, Anderson, is the water situation. There are a number of hospitals across the state that are reporting water issues and water pipe issues.

Cities and municipalities across the state are also issuing warnings to boil water for safety reasons and pipes are cracking. So this is a problem that I think will become a much bigger problem here in the next day or two. So something to be on the lookout for there as well.

COOPER: Ed Lavandera, appreciate it. Thanks.

More now in the politics of this, which as you saw in Ed's report constitutes a lot of blame shifting and accountability ducking at a moment of real need for millions of Texans. We want to talk about it now, former Democratic presidential candidate and former Congressman, Beto O'Rourke.

Congressman, thanks for being with us. You said yesterday that the situation in Texas is worse than what we're all hearing. Have things gotten any better.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unfortunately not. I joined a bunch of volunteers tonight making calls across Texas to check in, especially on senior citizens. And as Ed just reported, many of them don't have water or very low water pressure. Many still don't have electricity and most of them are under a boil water notice, which is tough when there's no water coming out of your faucet and you don't have the electricity to heat it up, if you could.

There are others who are having to break up furniture and literally burn it in their fireplace to keep them and their kids warm. Thankfully, Texas has set up warming centers throughout the state that folks can go to that are powered by generators and have, you know, the warmth necessary to keep people alive.

But most of the seniors I've talked to tonight didn't want to leave their homes and they are, you know, bundled up in blankets and as much clothing as they can get on their bodies hoping that the electricity is going to be turned on.

And as you know, too many people have already lost their lives, and I'm afraid more will if we don't get this fixed soon.

COOPER: So the Texas Governor Greg Abbott is now defending his comments blaming the state's power issues on frozen wind turbines and the Green New Deal. He is saying his point that it if Texas relied solely upon green energy, it would be a challenge, which is not the situation there at all right now. Does that make sense to you?

O'ROURKE: No, there's been complete Republican control of the State of Texas for 20 years. And so for example, the Public Utility Commission, which oversees and regulates the electric utilities that we're talking about right now, he makes the appointments onto that commission.

The Railroad Commission, which regulates actually not railroads, but the oil and gas industry in Texas, there are three statewide elected commissioners, all of them are Republicans.

So the decision to deregulate our electricity grid in the first place and not to require additional capacity in emergencies like these, nor to connect to the rest of the national grid so that we can draw down power we needed, these are all decisions made by Greg Abbott, Rick Perry, their predecessors and other statewide elected Republicans.

But I think most Texans right now don't want to deal in blame, but want to make sure that we can get online and prevent this from happening again. So that means investing in weatherizing our power generation and transmission lines.

It means having either a mandate or incentive to provide extra capacity for situations like these, and it means rethinking ERCOT, our electricity grid in Texas, and connecting it to the rest of the country so that we can sell off surplus which we can drive the profits back into weatherizing the grid, and being able to draw down electricity in the rare emergencies that we have, like this one.

Last thing, Anderson, you also have state leadership that doesn't believe in climate change. And it's very clear, that's what's causing these extreme weather events, whether it's severe droughts in the summer, or winter storms, the likes we haven't seen in anyone's lifetime in Texas, these are going to become more common, more intense and more deadly.

And so we've got to take action as a State and energy leader to help lead the country on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and making sure that those in the frontlines of climate change are taken care of.

COOPER: You know, I actually interviewed Bill Gates just the other day and he talked a lot about the electrical grid, which a lot of people don't really pay much attention to in this country, but he's saying basically, essentially that it needs a massive increase and overhaul to handle all the electrical needs that are going to be coming down the pike as more people use electricity through wind and solar.

He is also a proponent of nuclear saying in a situation just like this, when there is no wind, when there is no sun, and the grid in Texas isn't connected to the national grid, there is no way to get power from elsewhere.

Do you support nuclear as a kind of a part of a green solution?


Do you support nuclear as a kind of a part of a green solution?

O'ROURKE: I do. I think we need a diversity in power generation. We have that in Texas. In fact, we have coal, we have nuclear, we have gas as well as wind and solar. But I want to make one really important clarifying point, wind and solar, our renewable energy portfolio actually outperformed the forecast over the course of this winter storm.

So, regardless of what, you know, Greg Abbott and other Republicans and right-wing media are saying our renewables actually did well. And in fact, it was nuclear, it was coal, it was gas where we really had our problems both in the transmission and the actual instruments freezing, because we haven't weatherized them. But to your point and to the point of Bill Gates, yes. I think nuclear is part of the portfolio that gets us to a carbon neutral America as soon as we possibly can. So that we have net zero emissions, and we start effectively combating climate change before it's too late.

If any state can really take the lead for our country, it would be the center of energy in North America, which is Texas. And I think we have the ability to do that. And hopefully, it's one of the lessons we take from this disaster is that we have to do a much better job going forward.

COOPER: Beto O'Rourke, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

O'ROURKE: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next, is breaking news in the White House on President Biden's latest strategy to pass that nearly $2 trillion COVID relief package, that when we continue.



COOPER: There's breaking news from the White House tonight. There are new details on President Biden's plan to try and secure passage of this nearly $2 trillion COVID relief package.

Our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us now. So what is the latest on how President Biden is framing this stimulus bill?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it seems like the closer it gets to actually getting on his desk for his final signature to actually be passed into law once it makes its way through Capitol Hill, he seems more and more divorced (ph) from this idea that Republicans are going to support this, that there's going to be any kind of compromise, because that had really been what you heard President Biden talking about inviting Republicans to the Oval Office listening to their proposals for what they think the bill should look like how they could meet in the middle.

And you really heard kind of a reversal of that today where he was in the Oval Office. And he was basically saying that the polling that he is looking at is showing how popular his proposal is for a really big package, which he told you last night, he feels like he's got to go big here.

And he basically said that he thinks it's politically risky for Republicans not to support this bill. And they're kind of daring Republicans not to support it to a degree. And you heard him what he said earlier today. He said not just his polling, but public polling that he is saying he believes supports this.

And so, he is framing it more as a risk for Republicans not to get on board in the sense of let's find a way to meet the middle compromise on this. He is insisting pretty much that he is staying with the top lines he initially proposed when he got into office.

COOPER: It's interesting though, because I mean, it's been more than two weeks since, you know, he met with GOP senators, they were pitching a slimmed down relief package certainly doesn't seem to be going the way he's going. How does he work with Congress in passing this? Obviously, the Democratic majorities in both chambers are slim.

COLLINS: Yes. And so, that's what's key here. Yes, they have the House and the Senate and the White House, but not by much. So, there still has to be some waffling here. And so, it's being crafted in the house right now, the bill is it's going to pass to the House, likely, potentially next week, and then it's going to go to the Senate.

And that's where things will be really interesting, because, of course, while Democrats have largely been unified behind this bill, there is a major sticking point. And that's that $15 federal minimum wage that Biden proposed, which he later said he did not think would actually survive in the bill. But now moderate Democrats are saying we're not going to support that.

While progressive people like the Bernie Sanders of the world are still saying they are have a roomful of attorneys, and they're still trying to get it into this bill. So whether or not ultimately survives is another question. But we should note Biden is already looking ahead to infrastructure and what can come next. And so, those are really going to be the things that form his legacy, shape his legacy, while he's in office. So what Democrats look like on that is going to be another question.

COOPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins. Thanks.

Of course, that leads members of Congress, both in the House and the Senate, great dealer to over potentially negotiate in the coming days and weeks. With me now is Florida Congresswoman Val Demings.

Congresswoman Demings, thanks for being with us. Where do things stand in your view right now, in terms of passing the full $1.9 trillion proposal?

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Well, Anderson it's great to be with you. And I think President Biden made it quite clear. We need to go big or go home, the American people are hurting small businesses are hurting. And if there was ever a time that we need relief, the time is now.

And so, I think he's also made it clear, really, since the campaign that he does want to work in a bipartisan way. We know that has been his style, if you will, in the past. But he is clearly prepared if we have to go it alone on the Democratic side of the aisle that we are prepared to do that, to bring much needed relief to the American people.

I got to say I'm a little shocked that Republicans who obviously represent people, small businesses that are struggling, will not join. There's still time, we'll see. But we are prepared to go it alone. And I know the President's prepared to get relief to the American people. COOPER: I mean, it's obviously not just COVID relief is being debated right now. There's the prospect of increasing the federal minimum wage $15 an hour possibly cutting student debt. President Biden is not as bullish on those issues or going as far on those issues as some progressives in the Democratic Party would like him to be. Does he go far enough?

DEMINGS: Anderson, we've been talking about raising the minimum wage for a while now. So it is certainly nothing new. Of course, we do have some challenges with the budget reconciliation process, but I know that it's a priority for President Biden. I know it's a priority for his administration.

Certainly, we know it is a priority on the Democratic side of the aisle and we're certainly hoping that the final package would include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, it may not. But what we do know is we will be back in D.C. and pass the relief package. And we'll do that next week.


COOPER: So you think it will pass March 14th is when a lot of folks lose unemployment insurance?

DEMINGS: Yes, we're certainly going to do our part in the House of Representatives. We know it will leave there and go to the Senate may go through some changes at that time. But we are on a fast track to get much needed relief to the American people. Remember, we started this process with the Heroes Act. We know what that went through the weeks and months, and the Senate, I guess, in the graveyard with the Grim Reaper. But we need to get this done.

As I said, we'll be back next week, we'll begin the process of a goal to the Senate. And we've got to have the relief to the American people, as you've indicated by March 15th.

COOPER: Your home state Florida sees -- continues to see high cases of the UK variant, in fact, as the most instances of the variant in the nation, I just talk Dr. Fauci about his concerns about these variants. Do you think most Floridians understand the threat that it is still very real?

DEMINGS: Well, it's our job to educate them. I think the top question would be does the governor of Florida understand what is going on? We know that we have well over 400 cases of the UK variant more as you've indicated, than any other state. And so we need to stay focused, we have almost 2 million cases of COVID in Florida, over almost 30,000 people have lost their lives.

So it's certainly not a time to be taking a victory lap. We still have a lot more work to do here. And get to the bottom of number one getting more people vaccinated, we need to do that in the state of Florida. We also need to understand why the high numbers of the variant here. So, we still have a lot of work that needs to be done.

COOPER: I've got to ask them in next year, both the governor Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio for reelection. I'm sure you're not going to announce your running tonight. But are you interested in either of those jobs, or might they potentially interest you?

DEMINGS: Well, Anderson I've had a lot of people reach out to me to talk to me about --

COOPER: I'm sure.

DEMINGS: -- both of those jobs. But let me say this whether the governor's office or the Senate, Floridians deserve to have a governor and a senator and two senators who are up to representing all Floridians look at the response to COVID-19. We know black and brown communities, black and brown businesses have been adversely affected. We should not just represent some, we should represent all. And so, we'll see what happens down the road.

COOPER: All right, Congresswoman Demings. Appreciate it. Thanks very much.

One of top radio's most controversial polarizing figures and popular figures Rush Limbaugh is dead. Coming up, we'll look at his life along with the assessment of his impact and following left behind.



COOPER: Oh, he was polarizing, bombastic, loved by his listeners derided by his critics. Rush Limbaugh died today after battle cancer at the age of 70. Randi Kaye tonight looks at his life and legacy.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO ICON: You don't have to worry about staying informed.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was the king of conservative radio and controversy. On the Rush Limbaugh show everyone was fair game. Whether you were a U.S. president --

LIMBAUGH: God does not have a birth certificate neither does Obama. Not that we've seen.

KAYE (voice-over): -- or the president of China, who he mocked during his 2011 visit to the U.S.

LIMBAUGH: Hu Jintao was just going (INAUDIBLE).

KAYE (voice-over): For decades, Limbaugh filled the airwaves with lies and conspiracy theories, racist and misogynistic comments. One of his most outlandish moments was in 2007 when he aired this racist parody called Barack The Magic Negro to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon.

He often mocked women saying this when Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House.

LIMBAUGH: I wonder when she loses next year she'll go back to the kitchen.

KAYE (voice-over): Last year, he floated the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was being weaponized to bring down Donald Trump and it was nothing to fear.

LIMBAUGH: You're dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold folks.

KAYE (voice-over): Instead of knocking him off the airwaves, his commentary turned him into a national hero for the right and made him a very rich man.

LIMBAUGH: Somebody stand up for you.

KAYE (voice-over): The New York Times reports Limbaugh earned $85 million a year lived in a 24,000 square foot oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, and owned a $54 million Gulf Stream private jet. Not bad for a college dropout from Missouri.

Ronald Reagan called him the number one voice for conservatism in the country. And last year, Limbaugh was awarded the Medal of Freedom at Donald Trump's State of the Union address.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Rush Limbaugh, thank you for your decades of tireless devotion to our country.

KAYE (voice-over): Limbaugh was a Trump supporter early on, and when Trump lost in 2020, Limbaugh helped incite anger by spreading the falsehood that the election had been stolen.

LIMBAUGH: You didn't win this thing fair and square and we are not just going to be docile like we've been in the past and go away and wait till the next election. So much I want to say --

KAYE (voice-over): But on his final radio show of 2020 all that bravado was no more. Limbaugh as usual sarcasm replaced by solemnity and a feeling the end was near.

LIMBAUGH: I can't be self-absorbed about it when that is the tendency when you are told that you've got a due date. You have an expiration date. This (INAUDIBLE) that is Little Rock.

KAYE (voice-over): Now, after more than 30 years, the chair at Rush Limbaugh trademark golden microphones sits empty.


Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach, Florida.


COOPER: It's fair to say that while millions of his listeners will mourn him his death also leave a void in the nationwide industry. He is credited with launching and sustaining for more than three decades.

I want to talk to Bill Carter, CNN media analyst and former television critic for the New York Times about this. Bill, thanks for being with us. It does seem like in so many ways, Rush Limbaugh sort of laid the groundwork for this moment that we've been living through.

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: There's just no doubt about it. I mean, you know, there's a direct line really from Limbaugh to Trump. I mean, you, you look, listen to that litany of views that he had, and how different is that from what we've heard so much from Trump's supporters in recent years.

And, you know, he really is the guy who sort of created Fox News and Newsmax and all the other right-wing news organizations, they're just feeding off his template, and he created what is now really the conservative voice of media in America.

COOPER: The -- in terms of just talk radio and conservative talk radio, I mean, he was really I don't know if he was the first but he was certainly the biggest at the time, and made it possible for Sean Hannity and all these others.

CARTER: No question. That industry absolutely owes everything to him the right-wing media talk industry, because he came along and, you know, radio was not strong. In fact, terrestrial radio was obviously on its way out. But he built an enormous following.

And every town every media market then would have its own, Rush Limbaugh, somebody would have that the same sort of outspoken kind of mean spirited, nasty views that, you know, people wanted to hear on the radio, and I think you absolutely have to say radio owes all of that to Rush Limbaugh.

COOPER: How much of an impact do you think he had on the past two presidential cycles?

CARTER: Enormous. I mean, look, you know, Trump winning obviously, was a gigantic surprise. We all knew that at the time. But, you know, you had a drumbeat of people going after Hillary Clinton, the way this guy went after women was incredible, is unbelievable, as you just heard from Randi.

And in this cycle, I think he was not as effective because, you know, he obviously was not in good health, et cetera. But, you know, he was speaking for so many people that you have to say, you know, it helped Trump enormously. And, you know, Trump gave him the Medal of Freedom.

COOPER: There's been speculation about whether it's possible, you know, did Rush Limbaugh believe everything that he said. I know, you mentioned that, you know, especially at the beginning, he was very much about bombast and shock value.

CARTER: Yes, he was -- he consider himself an entertainer. If you look at his early work, he was sort of absurdist, he would say things that were really out there and wacky and sort of in a way that made you think, oh, this guy's kind of pulling my leg a little bit. But he was making enormous money from this. And people were following him to hear this, because they had views like that. And he was affirming those views. He was saying he was giving him

cover, if you felt like gay people shouldn't be married, if you felt that women should, you know, not have an equal place in America. They were feminazi, whatever. You didn't think he was kidding around or entertaining you, you thought he was telling you the truth and validating your views.

And I think Rush went along with that. I mean, look, he is making these enormous amounts of money. He wanted to make enormous amounts of money. That was part of his ambition from the beginning. He overtly said that. So I think he jumped on the carousel and said, yes, this is going to take me everywhere I want to go.

COOPER: I mean, his career had ups and downs. There was the -- there was an issue with prescription drugs at one point that I recall. He'd also gotten, there was something with the NFL didn't --

CARTER: Yes, the NFL incident was he was working for ESPN. He didn't last very long, a number of weeks at most, because he criticized a black quarterback and Donovan McNabb, who was a very good player by saying he only had the job because the media wanted to say a black could play quarterback.

That's the only reason this guy was playing, when he was an all pro five times that guy. But that kind of racist commentary ESPN would not tolerate. And in fact, mainstream media could not tolerate but he that niche, that niche that he carved out and that Trump then jumped into, they not only tolerated they celebrated that's what they wanted to hear.

COOPER: Bill Carter, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

CARTER: Great to see you and talk to you.

COOPER: Just ahead, the forecast for the millions without power and heat from the extreme winter weather hitting Texas and central part of the U.S., when we come back.



COOPER: It's breaking news report, CNN is now confirmed at least 33 deaths across eight states since last Thursday from the extreme winter weather that we reported on at the top of the broadcast, about half occurring in Texas. Tonight, the forecast is for this weather to continue.

According to the National Weather Service and other major winter storms descending and the effects of the extreme weather will reach from Texas to the southern plains to the northeast. The new storm is predicted to bring a wintry mix of snow and ice causing significant travel disruption and extended power outages for places that have gone days without it and includes areas like the eastern part of Texas where residents have already had rolling outages. Some of whom have been without power since at least Sunday as our Ed

Lavandera reported earlier. All the people there are in our thoughts and our prayers and will continue of course to bring you the latest. A lot more ahead tonight. Reminder, don't miss "Full Circle" our digital news show. You can catch streaming live at 6:00 p.m. Eastern at or watch it there and on the CNN app at any time on demand.


That's it for me. The news continues right now though. Let's hand it over to Chris "CUOMO PRIME TIME". Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, appreciate you Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to "PRIME TIME".