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Interview With Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); White House Pulls Tanden Nomination For Budget Chief; Texas And Mississippi Lifting Mask Mandates, Will Fully Reopen In Defiance Of CDC Warning; Drugmaker Merck To Help J&J Increase Vaccine Production; NY Lawmakers Work To Repeal Gov. Cuomo's Expanded Powers To Combat Virus After Nursing Home Revelations; NY Times: Third Woman Accuses Gov. Cuomo Of Unwanted Advances; Leonard Davis, 88, Contracted COVID Days Before He Was Supposed To Get Vaccine. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 2, 2021 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: In fact, one year ago at this very hour, I remember we took this live, Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race endorsing Joe Biden and we saw this whole speech and Joe Biden talking about him being like a son, all of this.

There were six U.S. deaths on that day. Soon, though, the mundane things may soon be celebrated again. There's a lot to be hopeful in the news we got today in the vaccine. Here's to hope.

And right now, here's to Anderson.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. The former President's handpicked F.B.I. Director today blew a hole in the effort to make the Capitol insurrection something it's not. And while he was at it, he also destroyed the lies about the election that set the stage for that insurrection. We'll have that story in just a minute.

But first, there is breaking news: the race between vaccinating the country against COVID and the virus itself just got more complicated.

In Texas, with nearly 30 million people, second only to California, the Governor has just lifted the state's mask mandate completely and told restaurants and other businesses that it's okay to operate at full capacity.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end.

It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.


COOPER: With cases down, but still at a dangerously high level, even with a third vaccine coming online, this is a surprising development. It's a major new obstacle in the fight to prevent infection until more people are protected from the virus, which after all, is still killing on average nearly 2,000 Americans a day.

We invited Governor Abbott to come on the program tonight to explain his decision, he declined, as did Mississippi's Governor Tate Reeves, who also lifted all restrictions in his state.

Joining us now is Steve Adler, the Mayor of Austin, Texas. Mayor Adler, thanks for joining us. I'm wondering what your reaction was to the Governor's decision.

Mayor, can hear us --


COOPER: Hey --

ADLER: I'm sorry. I am sorry, Anderson.

COOPER: What's your reaction to the Governor's decision?

ADLER: It is mind boggling given where we are. You know, wearing a facemask in public closed space is the most effective thing you can do to stop the spread of the virus absent the vaccine.

It's hard to find a medical professional that will tell you anything else. We should be guided by the science and the data. And this decision today is -- it just puts everything we have worked so hard to get at risk. I think everybody here in Texas, in Austin, is just -- is just dumbfounded.

COOPER: Did you know that this was -- this announcement was going to be made?

ADLER: While the Governor kind of hinted at it on Friday. The County Judge and I sent him a letter this morning asking him not to do it. I know that the Mayor of San Antonio and the Judge did the same thing. He was hearing from other cities.

We were hoping that it wouldn't happen today, but this is the -- Texas and the partisan pressures we could see we're building up on him and it's really unfortunate that it's happened now.

COOPER: I mean, I've got to ask, you know, is this related to or a result of the criticism he received in response to, you know, the recent storms and the widespread power outages in Texas?

ADLER: You know, it's not based on the science and data, so it's based on something else. And it could be the criticism here associated with the power going out. It could be the criticism he is getting from the really far right people in the state who have been complaining about masking from the very beginning. But it's not the science and the data.

We know that when we did this in Texas, the cities stepped up first, the state came along later. The numbers started going down. Every time we have opened up the economy too soon, we've started to

see a surge again and that's the concern. And especially here, you know, if you're under 65 and an essential central worker, you're about to be put into the position where you don't qualify for the vaccine, you can't protect yourself, and now you're going to be this frontline worker around people potentially that don't wear masks.

I can only hope that our community recognizes we still have a choice. Regardless of what the Governor did, we can still choose in our city to act like we do have a mask mandate, for people to continue to wear it, for businesses to continue to require it and that's what we're going to have to do.

COOPER: Is there anything -- I mean, you can do as Mayor on the municipal level to try to offset some of the increased risk?

ADLER: Well, we can make sure that within city facilities and city activities, there's a masking requirement, and we're going to do that.

And then our Chamber of Commerce has stepped out today issuing a statement urging businesses to continue to keep that restriction in their businesses. This is self-help at this point.

We're going to have to rally as a community to keep each other safe just like we did here last week with the water shortage and the power outage.

COOPER: Mayor Steve Adler, I appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

ADLER: Thank you.

COOPER: We're going to be joined later in the program by two frontline doctors in the COVID battle, one of whom saw up close the terrible price that people in Houston paid the last time the virus got out of control of Texas.

Also tonight, some truly welcome news on vaccines, a new estimate from President Biden of how much sooner full protection for all American adults could happen.

First though, today's major blow against the viral spread of lies about the election and the insurrection, those lies unleashed from the Capitol. Christopher Wray, the FBI Director selected by the Trump administration testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee eviscerated claims by Republican lawmakers about who was responsible for January 6?


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

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, F.B.I. DIRECTOR: We have not seen any evidence to that effect thus far in the investigation. SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Based on your investigation so far, do you

have any evidence that the Capitol attack was organized by quote, "fake Trump protesters"?

WRAY: We have not seen evidence of that at this stage.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): You did not see Antifa or black leaning groups playing a significant role in the January 6th insurrection?

WRAY: Certainly, while where equal opportunity and looking for vile extremism of any ideology, we have not to date seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection with the 6th.

COONS: Has there so far beyond any evidence that the January 6th riot here, the insurrection was organized by people simply posing as supporters of President Trump's?

WRAY: We have not seen any evidence of that.


COOPER: Going by arrest records and court documents for the approximately 300 people now charged in connection with the attack, this was already known. This was apparent, but Director Wray's answers before the committee made it plain and simple. Claims like this are simply not true.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters, they were masquerading as Trump supporters, and in fact, we're members of the violent terrorist group, Antifa.


COOPER: Director Wray was also asked about the foundational lie which the former President and his supporters continue to peddle.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): I guess, I'll just ask to begin with is that Attorney General Barr said that he had quote, "not seen fraud" on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election. Do you agree with Attorney General Barr's statement that there is absolutely no evidence of voter fraud that could have changed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election?

WRAY: I agree with Attorney General Barr.

BOOKER: And to be crystal clear on this, as F.B.I. Director who is -- these would be Federal crimes -- you're aware of no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, correct?

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


COOPER: And for some of the peddlers of election doubts and falsehoods and lies, well, here's some of what Senator Josh Hawley was keen on focusing on instead today.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Can I just go back to a series of questions that Senator Lee asked you. He asked you about the geolocation and metadata aspects and gathering related to -- gathering of metadata that is, related to your investigation in the January 6th riot. You said you weren't familiar with the specifics.

Can I just clarify your responses to him? So when you say you're not familiar, are you saying that you don't know whether or not the Bureau has scooped up geolocation data, metadata from cellphone records or cell phone towers? Or do you not know, or are you saying that the Bureau maybe or maybe hasn't done it?


COOPER: He asked about that, about whether the F.B.I. collected information on who used ATMs or made purchases in Washington on the 6th. He wanted to know whether the Bureau was working with social media platforms in connection with their investigation.

Now his curiosity ranged far and wide, but somehow didn't extend to what he has been putting out there for weeks now, because repeat after me, it is a lie. And Director Wray has now said so.

Senator Ted Cruz who like, Senator Hawley, tried to overturn the electoral account the night of the insurrection also avoiding questions that might bring attention to his election falsehoods. He did however try to shift the conversation for the unrest involving left-leaning protesters last year.

As for Louisiana Senator, John Kennedy, he did ask Director Wray who decided not to call in the National Guard on the 6th and had this to say when he did not get the answer he sought.



SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I'm sorry to interrupt, but we just keep nibbling at the edges and dancing around the issue. And I understand, I'm not asking you to throw anybody under the bus, Chris, and I get it. But we need to find out what happened.


COOPER: Sounds like a plan, except that after going back and forth with the Director over that, Senator Kennedy's next question was whether he believed the F.B.I. is a systemically racist institution. Then he asked about Chinese spies, then about the investigation of the Russia investigation.

As for what happened during the worst attack on the seat of democracy since the war of 1812, how it happened, why it happened, who was truly responsible? Well, it seems that he and his Republican colleagues had little time for that.

Joining us now, one of the Democrats who questioned Director Wray, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Senator Klobuchar, thanks for being with us.


COOPER: Do you think Director Wray's testimony will put to rest any of the lies, conspiracy theories being pushed by the former President, certainly, and his supporters in Congress?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, it certainly should. We'll see what they do at our hearing tomorrow. But he made it very clear that this was a coordinated effort that was led by the Proud Boys extremist group, and it's exactly what we heard last week from the former Police Chief of the Capitol and the acting Metropolitan Police Chief. Everyone has said the same thing: who did this?

So no one is dancing around it. We know what happened here. Are we trying to figure out what went wrong, so it never happens again? Oh, yes, very strongly. The Intelligence screw ups, the fact that there's a structure with the Capitol Police Board that required the Chief or he felt he had to call the Sergeant-at-Arms while they were in the middle of an insurrection to get permission. Why the DoD, Defense Department waited so long that one afternoon, every minute counted to get the National Guard.

Those are all really good questions, so we can fix this in the future. But this idea that we don't know who did this. We know. They were all over social media. There have been hundreds of thousands of tips, as Director Wray testified today, hundreds of thousands with hundreds of arrests and more to come.

So we know exactly who did this. We just need to make sure that they never do it again.

COOPER: It is fascinating, though, and disturbing the extent to which that Senators Ron Johnson, Josh Hawley and others are just trying to rewrite history. And it seems like that is -- I mean, the Republican Party doesn't have a platform anymore because they decided not to have that last year. But it seems like their platform on this is certainly clear.

KLOBUCHAR: It is. And the issue here is that misinformation matters. As we know from the last election, people believe this stuff. I mean, I just had someone in Minnesota ask me if the vaccine involved a microchip, that that would be put in their arm.

These things are happening, and it is misinformation. And just as we're doing with the vaccine, I would say pretty effectively, we need to shut it down every time it happens, which is why it was so important to ask Christopher Wray about the truth, and that is that this was not a festive atmosphere, which Senator Johnson said last week at our hearing.

This was not just people out for a picnic that got a little carried away. No, these were people as we've now learned, with two-way radios, decked out in military gear, with handcuffs, with weapons that were ready to charge and in their words, you know, shed blood and to -- they even had one of their social media posts was about how they were going to evacuate their own wounded, what the perimeters were for the Capitol.

This stuff should have been known and action should have been taken ahead of time. But to pretend we don't know who did it is not just hypocritical, it is dangerous.

COOPER: What did you make of Senator Hawley's line of questioning today, focusing on F.B.I. data collection instead of you know, what caused the insurrection and who committed it?

I mean, if he is so proud of what he did and there was nothing wrong with it, why wouldn't he try to get Chris Wray to somehow validate that in a public forum?

KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. I think we all know where Josh Hawley is coming from and where his other pals that are running for President are coming from. This is all about CPAC. This is all about Donald Trump. This is all about getting their base going.

And it's on the rest of us to make sure that the truth prevails. We know democracy prevailed in the last election. We know that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won. But now, we can't let this slip away from us again.

For those of us that were there late into the night at 4:00 a.m. Senator Blunt and I with Vice President Pence, we know very well how close this all was, as we finally finished our job and we can't go back. We have to keep the truth strong.

COOPER: You know, there are certainly legitimate questions about what the F.B.I. knew before the attack, what they did about it, something you pressed Director Wray about. Were you satisfied with what you heard from him today?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I really wanted to and I think he was honest about this. Yes, they wish they would have had more information on the Proud Boys now that they are arrested 20 of them. That would have been, I think, quite clear what they were up to that day.

And the questions I was getting at is there were things that were known immediately before the attack that were sent to the Capitol Police. The Capitol Police somehow didn't read them at the highest levels. They didn't know about it, and why did that happen?

We know three leaders have now resigned because of this on the Capitol side. We need to get replacements in place, but we also have to change the structure of this, as I noted, the Capitol Police Board. So the Police Chief has the discretion to do what's necessary.

I think the most interesting thing of a hearing we're having tomorrow. Senator Peters and myself, as well as Senator Blunt and Portman is going to be the head of the D.C. National Guard.

He was in communication with the Capitol Police Chief, but most significantly, he was on the call with the Department of Defense, so he can give his version under oath of exactly what happened there and why the delay occurred.

COOPER: Yes, that will be fascinating. Senator Amy Klobuchar, I appreciate it. Thank you.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

COOPER: Perspective now from Andrew McCabe, former Deputy Director of the F.B.I., now CNN contributor. So Andrew, I'll start with where I started with Senator Klobuchar given what we heard from Director Wray, Republican appointed by the former President, do you expect any of these lies and conspiracies we are from you know, Senate Republican Senators and Congress people to abate?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, I don't expect that to abate at all. Anderson, we've seen how desperately they are continue to cling to that lie.

I think that Director Wray did a good job today in letting some of the air out of that balloon by saying very clearly that there is no evidence to indicate the participation of any left-leaning or Antifa anarchist protesters in the riot.

He was also very clear about the fact that the F.B.I. had not collected any evidence of the sort of election fraud that would have undermined the results of the election.

But what I think we've seen over the last couple months is that this is not a group that embraces fact when it gets in the way of their preferred narrative.

COOPER: It seems like under the former administration, there wasn't a lot of emphasis put on, you know, far-right groups monitoring far- right groups from an Intelligence perspective, from a law enforcement perspective. Correct me, if I'm wrong about that, or what you know about that.

But it is -- I mean, it surprises me that the F.B.I. doesn't -- didn't have more information ahead of time about what some of these groups were up to.

MCCABE: That's the best question right now, Anderson, based upon what Director Wray told us today, I think there are legitimate questions right along those lines, right?

So Director Wray said that he wished he had had better information about the Proud Boys and about what the intent was going into this event. So that leads us to say, well, how is your Intelligence collection? Are you positioned to -- your Intelligence collection platforms, are they pointed in the right direction? Are you getting and developing the right sort of informants and sources of information in the right groups?

And we're not going to get those answers, I'm afraid in a congressional hearing. We're going to need a considered investigation to really peel back the bottom of that.

COOPER: How do you reconcile Republican Members of Congress who have sworn an oath to the Constitution, continuing to traffic in conspiracy theories and just lies about the insurrection and a very serious and persistent threat from extremist groups, right-wing extremist groups that Director Wray himself laid out today? Is there a precedent for this?

MCCABE: Not that I'm aware of. You know, it's disgraceful. And I think you accurately pointed out with the Senator, they abandoned those lies long enough to ask questions about things like data collection and the threat from China because they couldn't reasonably you know, put forth that nonsense in front of the F.B.I. Director who just laid waste to the lie by saying that no, in fact, the election was righteously conducted and that there was no Antifa in the protest.

So you know, when it's not convenient for them, they distract by you know, looking at something else, but send them back to CPAC, and I'm sure you'll hear it all again.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, Josh Hawley, his whole thing as well. I was just, you know, saying you know, there's a lot of people who believe there was election fraud. So I just was saying, you know, we should have a discussion about an election security.

He could have asked the F.B.I. Director all about that, all about election security, all about his concerns. He didn't.

MCCABE: Of course, he could have and you're absolutely right, he didn't. There's no shelter here for senators and congressmen who, when confronted with the ridiculousness of what they're saying, saying, well, I'm just you know, repeating what I'm hearing from my constituents.

If that's what you're hearing from your constituents, you have an obligation to tell them the truth. They got the truth from the Director today and that's the message they should be putting out there.

COOPER: Andrew McCabe, appreciate it. Thanks.

MCCABE: Thanks.

COOPER: Breaking news coming up, the Biden administration meeting defeat in its fight for one of its top picks to advise the President, Neera Tanden. New reporting on what's behind the decision to withdraw her nomination as Budget Director.

[20:20:09] COOPER: And later, more in the stunning decision that now leaves Texas

perhaps wide open to COVID. The question now: will growing vaccine availability be enough to handle what could be a Texas side surge


COOPER: We have more breaking news. The White House tonight withdrawing Neera Tanden's nomination to be the President's top budget advisor. It is the first big staffing setback for the new administration.

Phil Mattingly joins us now with the latest. So what's the word from the White House on this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, the White House knew they had a fight and they said it was a fight they were willing to have, but that fight has now come to an end, Anderson.

The President just putting out a statement a short while ago reading, "I've accepted Neera Tanden's request to withdraw her name for nomination of the Director of Office of Management and Budget. I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel, and I look forward to having her serve in a role in my administration. She will bring valuable perspective and insight to our work."


MATTINGLY: Now a couple of things to pick out of there that are important, Anderson. First and foremost, the White House knew that they had a narrow pathway to 50 votes. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he was opposed.

The White House was very focused on Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. They needed at least one Republican, but I am being told by administration officials the issue wasn't necessarily that they couldn't lock in Lisa Murkowski. It's that they still had issues with Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, two Democrats.

All of this put together made clear that this fight that has gone on now for several days had finally come to an end. Neera Tanden, in a letter to the President tonight, making clear she saw no pathway forward and thus, the White House is withdrawing the nomination -- Anderson.

COOPER: Do you know if the President has a replacement in mind?

MATTINGLY: You know, there's been a number of names that have been batted around over the course of the last couple of days in Democratic circles. I think everybody kind of saw this coming at some point.

One person to keep a very close eye on is Shalanda Young. She's a well-known congressional staffer, really, well-known on Capitol Hill, very behind the scenes staffer, but one with wide bipartisan support. Senator Lindsey Graham earlier today said that he would support her

nomination to be Deputy Director, likely to support it if she ended up being nominated for Director.

A couple of Republican sources I was pinging about an hour ago, Anderson, made very clear, as one told me, she will cruise if she gets nominated. That's not a sure thing yet. Obviously, the President is the one who makes the selection.

The White House has publicly been saying they're not considering anybody else. But Shalanda Young is somebody who is up for Deputy Director and is definitely one of the top tier names that will be considered now that Neera Tanden is out -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much. Actually stay with us because I want to bring in Gloria Borger, chief political analyst.

Gloria, we knew the nomination was in peril. Should anyone be surprised the White House pulled the plug?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don't think you should be surprised. I think they stayed with it as long as they could. I spoke with a senior administration official this evening, who said to me, look, there just wasn't any clear way forward at this point.

You know, as Phil was outlining, they had no Republicans -- yes, Murkowski was a maybe and they had a couple of Democrats they were worried about and so, I think they decided they are going to give Neera Tanden a good job, which is not going to be a confirmable position, I might add.

But I think they felt this is a big week for them. They want to get COVID done. They just had to kind of move on with this.

COOPER: I don't know why anyone tweets. I mean, like, it just seems like this is just a -- I mean --

BORGER: I'm not sure she will.

COOPER: Haven't we learned this lesson time and time again that no real value comes from this? I mean, people just destroy their careers with stupid stuff that they tweet out. There was obviously a lot of talk of a double standard given the tweets the Republicans tolerated from the former President, certainly.

Yes, I mean, obviously, do you think that's the whole story in terms of what sunk her nomination? Or was it bigger than that?

BORGER: Well, I think that's a big part, honestly, of what happened with Neera Tanden. She tweeted about an awful lot of people, including Bernie Sanders.

Also, you know, what's ironic to me here is that she is not the most liberal of the Biden nominees. She is actually quite center-left, if you will. She fought with Bernie Sanders over policy. She was a Hillary Clinton person.

So she had -- she had trouble on the left, and that's why Sanders was -- you know, was so unenthusiastic about her.

But I think, honestly, a lot of this was about her tweets. And of course, there is a crazy double standard here because all of these people ran to the other side of the room when you ask them about Donald Trump's tweets.

COOPER: They ran to the other side of the room.

BORGER: They did.

COOPER: Phil, having to pull a nomination, I mean, it's not a small matter. It isn't like having to pull a household name or someone nominated for Secretary of Defense. How much does this impact, you know, President Biden's agenda or ability to work with Congress?

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think it's limited to be completely honest. Look, the administration wanted this fight for a couple of reasons. One, obviously, the President was supportive of Neera Tanden.

Neera Tanden is incredibly close to Ron Klain, the White House Chief of Staff, who really kind of spearheaded this nomination. But there was also a feeling according to administration officials that I've spoken to over the course of the last week that they needed to show that they were willing to fight.

They put this nominee up. They wanted to show they had the fight in them and they weren't willing to just pull the plug immediately.

They feel like it had that fight at this point in time. And obviously, you know, Gloria made the point there. They're expecting the Senate to pass their cornerstone legislative proposal this weekend that at some point, key budget issues are going to be coming up and they need somebody in that role.

And if there was no clear pathway forward, and they didn't think one was going to all of a sudden come into play at some point soon, it was just something they needed to put an end to.

In the grand scheme of things, is this a catastrophic defeat? No, not even close. It's not something they wanted. But if you're going to lose one, this wasn't necessarily the most consequential.

COOPER: Yes, and Gloria, aside from this, President Biden is basically getting the Cabinet he originally wanted, the confirmation votes tend to be more partisan than they were in years and decades past.

BORGER: He is.

COOPER: But there's going to be Senate confirmed heads of major Federal department which is much more than the last administration was able to get with all the Acting Secretaries it installed.

BORGER: Well, there's a big difference here. One is that this is an administration that has actually vetted its nominees and most of its nominees actually know something about the departments they are going to head, which is also a difference from Donald Trump.


I give you Ben Carson, a surgeon who was nominated to head the Housing Department, Betsy DeVos, nominated for the Secretary of Education and Rick Perry, my personal favorite, who was nominated to head the Energy Department, which of course he had suggested during the political campaign or to be eliminated.

So, there's a big difference here. Biden's nominees are qualified. So, when Republicans say they're not, they have to look back to the people they voted for to confirm in 2016.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

More on our breaking news about Texas, Mississippi, ending their mask mandates as a third vaccine now goes into use. Our medical experts going to assess the impact on the national large also what happens if more states follow their lead.


COOPER: More now, a breaking news about the lifting the mask mandates in Texas and Mississippi and the reopening of both states. As you heard at the top of the broadcast, the mayor of Boston is well as those some other cities in Texas are upset about the decision.

A top White House COVID advisor told CNN the changes are at stake. Texas Governor Greg Abbott made his announcement on all days Texas Independence Day. He insisted state mandates are no longer needed, citing a rapid increase in vaccinations. However, it's clear from the numbers that most states do have a long way to go.


In particular, Texas, as you can see from the map, the second largest state by population has only vaccinated about 6.8 percent of residents. It's one of the lowest rates in the country. Both states are below the national figure of eight percent.

The backdrop to this is the rollout of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which today was administered for the first time and after news that fellow drugmaker Merck competitor in normal times, will help manufactured the one dose vaccine. It's an absolutely unprecedented action.

President Biden noted the achievements today but also urge caution. without referring to the news out of Texas and Mississippi, the President said that, among other things, the nation needs to keep wearing masks, now's not the time to let down our guard, he said.

Let's get some perspective. Now from Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, author of the new book Preventing the Next Pandemic Vaccine Diplomacy in a Time of Anti Science. Also with us is Dr. Ala Stanford, a pediatric surgeon and founder of Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium.

Dr. Hotez, Texas Governor Abbott tonight saying state mandates are no longer needed. Do you agree?

PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT TEXA CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: We still need those mandates, Anderson where we've got some rough sledding ahead of us. We heard from the CDC director yesterday that the new variants, especially the one from the United Kingdom, the B117 is accelerating.

We know what that means. We saw this in England back in September, it means that we're going to start seeing increased transmission again, and unfortunately, higher mortality rates, that's not been peer reviewed. But the data coming out of the UK that they put up on the government websites pretty compelling.

So, we're expecting a fourth surge, unfortunately, in the state. And our level of vaccination is among the lowest in the country. We had a big setback a couple of weeks ago because of that terrible storm and the collapse of the grid power -- power grid system. So we're behind. So I think it'd be really important before we to do any kind of lifting of restrictions at this point, to try to get the vaccination rates up. And remember, we've got the mother lode of vaccines coming by the end of May and June. So they've accelerated that timeframe.

So we have a lot to look forward to. I don't quite understand why where the urgency is now to lift those restrictions.

COOPER: Dr. Stanford, I mean, I know you've said there's a race between the vaccine and the variants. How concerned are you by what Texas and Mississippi have done?

ALA STANFORD, FOUNDER, BLACK DOCTORS COVID CONSORTIUM: I am very concerned and glad we are not doing that in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania. You know, the writing is on the wall, and you're starting to see very slow increases in cases. Following from that is usually increase hospitalizations, more critically ill patients and more deaths.

We've already seen this trend and pattern, it's happened to us multiple times before and we were just starting to see a plateau in a dip. It would be nice to put our efforts into getting more people vaccinated. So we could decrease the transmissibility, not rip the band aid off until people stop wearing a mask and get in large groups again.

COOPER: Dr. Hotez, the low percentage of resonance vaccine vaccinated in Texas compared to the rest of country, is that just because of the last week from the natural disaster?

HOTEZ: I think that's a big part of it. We also, of course, have a very large state, when you have a smaller state, it's a little easier to get your arms around it. We're a massive state, you know, were 30 million people and a huge geographic area. So that's a challenge. Also, we have a lot of low-income neighborhoods that are not always easy to access. We have large rural populations that are not easy to access. So all

those things combined in the perfect storm. And that's why I think if we were to hang on another month or two, get those vaccination rates up, which they will provide and we have the supply to do it. We're expanding the number of hubs that where we vaccinate, that could make a big difference. That could be a game changer. And --

COOPER: Dr. Hotez, I mean, you're in Texas, why do you think the governor did that?

HOTEZ: You know, I don't know. I haven't had the ability to speak with the governor or his staff. And I don't I don't know why the decision was made and why today for instance, why the where the urgency lies. I mean, we could have made this decision in a week or two weeks or a month. But, you know, what wide today is a bit baffled.

COOPER: Dr. Stanford, and President Biden today said the U.S. would have enough doses for every adult by the end of May, which is two months earlier than the need earlier projected. It doesn't mean shots in every arm for every American by that time. Do you worry about the concern over the, you know, that some people have about taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that, you know, that there's a feeling that it's not as effective as the Pfizer or the Moderna?


STANFORD: I guess I'd like to quell some of those fears by saying 66 percent or 75 percent, or even 100 percent prevention against death, 100 percent prevention against hospitalization is huge, 66 percent against vaccine efficacy for mild disease, and 85 percent for severe disease, vaccine efficacy is wonderful. I mean, it's certainly better than 0 percent, which is what you have, if you don't take a vaccine.

And that vaccine, that single shot would be very helpful for our homeless population, for folks that are sick and shut in and can't get out of their house. It's a huge effort to get to a vaccine testing site. And for people in congregate settings with intellectual disabilities, that it's a challenge. There's great angst (ph) for them, getting one shot, let alone two. So, there's great use.

And of course, and Dr. Hotez would agree, the Johnson & Johnson stopped enrolling January 2021, whereas the Pfizer and Moderna were October, November. So those variants where they had the resilient variant, the South African, and of course, from Wuhan were all part of their study. So I wouldn't be discouraged that the vaccine efficacy is less with Johnson & Johnson. I think that they had some more virulent strands that they were testing their vaccine again.

COOPER: That's a really important point, Dr. Hotez that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been tested in places in South Africa in Brazil with those variants, whereas the Pfizer, Moderna ones have not necessarily.

HOTEZ: Yes, and remember, this is going to change too, because most likely we're going to be looking at additional boosters. It wouldn't surprise me that later on in the fall or next year, we wind up giving a third immunization with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine as a booster possibly tailored to one of the variants of concerns, maybe the B1351.

All of the vaccine developers including us and our recombinant protein vaccine, we're looking at that. And it wouldn't surprise me if the J&J vaccine winds up being a two-dose vaccine as well. And, when you look at the numbers from the phase 1 trial on the two-dose vaccine, really impressive virus neutralizing antibodies, and that J&J and probably more durability of protection as well.

So, this will change. I wouldn't surprise me if you can take whatever the number of doses of the vaccines that are being released by Operation Warp Speed and add one to it, probably starting in the fall or next year.

COOPER: Dr. Stanford, how big of a deal do you think it is that Merck is going to help Johnson & Johnson with their production?

HOTEZ: That's really important --

STANFORD: That's magnificent.

COOPER: Sorry, that was for Dr. Stanford.

STANFORD: I mean, that's magnificent. You know, that collaborative approach is what we've needed from day one. I'm great to have that here in the city of Philadelphia, where we had recently a 24-hour vaccination clinic, where we vaccinated nearly 4,000 people, of which 80 percent were black and brown communities where the vaccination rates have been low.

And that collaborative from, you know, the firefighters and the police officers and Office of Emergency Management and Salvation Army, and even the Philadelphia Eagles coming out in Temple University is what allowed us to vaccinate that many people and that's what we've got to do.

You know, there's a race between these variants, these mutant variants and getting vaccinated. And we've just got to push and push with that and not remove these public health measures that have been helping us to reduce the transmissibility.

COOPER: Dr. Stanford, Dr. Hotez, thank you so much for your expertise. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Still to come --

STANFORD: Thank you.

HOTEZ: Thank you.

COOPER: -- emergency powers given to Governor Andrew Cuomo to fight the coronavirus could be repealed by state lawmakers just as a third accuser in a separate controversy comes forward alleging sexual harassment. Details of both stories, when we continue.



COOPER: Top lawmakers in the New York State Legislature now advancing a bill to repeal Governor Andrew Cuomo's expanded powers related to the pandemic. The move comes after revelations the Cuomo ministration underreported the number of COVID deaths in nursing homes. That's according to a report by the state attorney general. Governor Cuomo has denied any suggestion of wrongdoing.

Also, the governor faces a new independent investigation on multiple allegations of sexual harassment. More on that story now from CNN's Brynn Gingras.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pressure mounting on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Good afternoon.

GINGRAS (voice-over): Once in front of the cameras daily providing pandemic updates, Cuomo hasn't held a press briefing in days since allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted advances surfaced now by three women. 33-year-old Anna Ruch telling the New York Times she met the governor at a wedding reception in 2019.

She thanked him for a toast he gave the newlyweds and then he put his hand on her lower back. She tells the Times she removed his hand and then he put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her. Their encounter seemingly captured in this photo taken by Ruch's friend and provided to the New York Times. I was so confused and shocked and embarrassed, Ruch said, I turned my head away and didn't have words in that moment.

CNN hasn't been able to independently corroborate her account and Ruch hasn't returned our calls. Cuomo's office did not respond to CNN's requests for comment on Ruch's allegations. A spokesperson though for the governor pointed the New York Times to a statement made over the weekend in which Cuomo said to be clear, I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to

LETITIA JAMES, ATTORNEY GENERAL, NEW YORK: Let that be a fair warning.

GINGRAS (voice-over): And investigation now in the hands of the New York Attorney General who will appoint a special prosecutor to look into claims of sexual harassment against the governor. It could include accounts from two former Cuomo administration staffers, who also made allegations in the last week. After going public to the Times one of the women Charlotte Bennett issued a lengthy statement encouraging others to speak, we will be standing with you, Bennett said. Cuomo said he will cooperate fully with the probe.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): It's a troubling situation but I've been through this before with other colleagues and I just have to say the investigation should be completed and should be as quickly as possible and credibility given to the charges.

GINGRAS (voice-over): Many Democrats hesitating to comment on Cuomo spate until the investigation is finished, but Representative Kathleen Rice becoming the first Democratic House member to call on the governor to resign.


COOPER: And Brynn joins us now. Do we know how the governor has been spending his time the uproar?

GINGRAS: Well, Anderson, certainly behind closed doors, you know, we usually get those briefings about the state's response to the pandemic several times a week and we haven't gotten one yet those updates are actually coming into our e-mail inboxes instead. So, it'll be interesting to see moving forward this week if he actually goes in front of the cameras.

Now, keep in mind, as I mentioned in the piece, he hasn't directly responded to these newest allegations from Anna Ruch, only telling the New York Times to refer to the comments that he made over the weekend about the previous allegation. So again, it'll be interesting to see how he responds to not only that, but if any other women or people come forward. Anderson.

COOPER: Brynn Gingras, appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, a reminder that across America, the pandemic still very much with us. And even though the vaccines are available, people are still dying. One family wants to know about Leonard Davis the life he lived and what happened to him just days away from getting a vaccine.



COOPER: Earlier, we told you about the governors about Texas and Mississippi. Tonight declaring their states totally open lifting all mask requirements and allowing restaurants to reopen without restrictions. This is President Biden says the vaccine rollout for all Americans is expected to proceed much faster than originally promised.

On average, nearly 2,000 Americans are still dying every day of COVID. Hundreds of families of course have been forever changed by this virus and the loss of loved ones, hundreds of thousands. Tonight, Leonard Davis was just days away from getting the vaccine. CNN's Randi Kaye has his story.


SALLY SHORE, FATHER DIED FROM COVID-19: You just can't understand how incredible he was. I wanted everybody to meet.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sally Shore is talking about her father, Leonard Davis, a man she says was larger than life generous and very, very funny.

SHORE: We were extremely close, I would consider him my best friend. We spoke every day, maybe twice a day since I moved to California.

KAYE (voice-over): Her father Leonard lived in Cleveland, Ohio. Over the years he'd worked as a lawyer, a pharmacist and a city councilman. He was also an army veteran. And as his family tells it a pretty good prankster. Leonard loves sailing on the Great Lakes.

SHORE: He loves to sail, sailing and the water were his thing.

KAYE (voice-over): Leonard Davis was 88 he had four daughters, two step sons, 14 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. He couldn't wait to meet yet another great grandchild who was on the way. Then COVID hit him in mid-January. What started as a fever and a sore throat landed him in the hospital four days later.

(on-camera): What had he told you about the virus and his willingness to fight it if he did get sick?

SHORE: He told me that if he caught this, he would not survive it.

KAYE (voice-over): Sally says during the pandemic, her dad did everything right and took all the necessary precautions. What's especially difficult about this is he was just days away from his vaccine appointment when he got sick.

SHORE: He was in line for the vaccine. He was to get it the following week before he caught COVID.

KAYE (on-camera): And when you think about that, you know he was so close to being vaccinated. How hard is that for you?

SHORE: It's extremely hard for me and my sisters because my sister had arranged it. My mom did go and is fully vaccinated now. Unfortunately, my dad didn't get that opportunity.

KAYE (voice-over): A retired nurse, Sally was incredibly frustrated she couldn't be at her father's side in the hospital.

SHORE: It was just grueling and devastating not to be able to be there and to not comfort him. I would rub his head I would talk to him I would sing to him when he was sick before and I couldn't do any of that.

KAYE (voice-over): Just 10 days after he was admitted to the hospital. Leonard Davis passed away.

(on-camera): Were you able to say goodbye?

SHORE: We were able to have the phone held up to his ear. And each have -- and I got my children on the phone and all from different places. And we were able to say our goodbye and to tell him we loved him. There wasn't much more to say because he couldn't answer back. It was a very emotional moment for all of us.

KAYE (on-camera): I'm sure it was heartbreaking.

SHORE: It was. I know some people will say 88 is a good long life. But my father had so many plans. He got up every morning. He loved life. He wanted to live life every minute, we're just devastated.


COOPER: And Randi joins us now. I'm so glad you were able to tell this family story. He's so close to getting the vaccine. I mean, and to not be able to be there at in the end. It's just, its devastating.

KAYE: It really is. It's heartbreaking for so many families including this one Anderson. And they really have no idea how Leonard Davis got this. His wife got sick first started showing some symptoms. She was also hospitalized but recovered.

And his daughter said he always wore the mask. He took the precautions but he's still got it, so close as you said to getting the vaccine. But the saddest thing about this one of the saddest things about this is that he never got to meet his seventh great grandchild. We have a couple of pictures --

COOPER: Oh my gosh.

KAYE: -- of baby Meyer (ph) to show you. He was born just five days.

COOPER: Oh my god. Look at that.

KAYE: Yes and born just five days after Leonard Davis passed away. So --



KAYE: -- they never did get to meet. He was so excited. He wanted to meet him so badly. He said he would wear a hazmat suit before he got sick if he could come and meet this new baby, but unfortunately, they lost him so quickly.

COOPER: Well, thank you for telling that story appreciated and my best to the family. Randi Kaye, thanks.

The news continues. Let's hand over Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME". Chris.