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Interview With Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ); Suspect In Spa Killings Faces Eight Counts Of Murder; Asian-Americans Targeted With Attacks, Racial Slurs During The Pandemic; Biden Says He Thinks Putin Is A Killer And He Will Pay A Price For Meddling In Elections; U.S. On The Brink Of 30 Million COVID-19 Cases As 14 States See Concerning Upswing In Infections; As Pace Of Vaccinations Increase Nationwide, Residents In Oklahoma Town Resist It; Man With Rifle And Ammunition Arrested Outside Official Residence Of Vice President Harris. Aired 8- 9p ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 20:00   ET


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And if they break even the tiniest of rules, then they're isolated and have privileges taken away.

So it's a really tough regime that Alexei Navalny is going to be in the middle of for the next two and a half years.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right, Matthew Chance, thank you very much for your continued reporting on this.

And thanks to all of you, Anderson starts now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And good evening, the alleged Atlanta area mass killer is in custody tonight facing up to eight counts of murder and shootings at three massage spas in and around the city.

Of the eight killed, six victims were of Asian descent, so while police point towards some kind of sexual obsession as a motive, and not racial hatred as such, it's hard to ignore who was targeted or overlooked the fact that this did not happen in a vacuum.

It happened as three new reports explain, each from its own angle, at a dangerous moment for this country, in a climate more conducive than it's been in generations for homegrown acts of violent hatred.

Yet, as we'll talk about tonight, not everyone wants to confront the problem or to even admit it. Some want to -- some people want to look away, to not see the mass killings in El Paso and Pittsburgh, the rise in anti-Asian violence, and the white supremacist conspiracy driven mindset culminating in the Capitol insurrection is all being cut from the same ugly cloth.

Today, in his first congressional testimony since being confirmed, D.H.S. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas made the connections and the threat clear.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, SECRETARY OF U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Right now, at this point in time, domestic violent extremism, the lone wolf, the loose affiliation of individuals following ideologies of hate and other ideologies of extremism that are willing and able to take those ideologies and execute on them in unlawful, illegal violent ways is our greatest threat in the homeland right now.


COOPER: Well, that and other recent statements and priorities, the new administration has embraced the notion that the old administration tried to downplay, even though it's important to mention some of its own appointed law enforcement professionals were also sounding the alarm.

Here's F.B.I. Director appointed by the former President testifying last September.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, F.B.I. DIRECTOR: Racially motivated violent extremists over recent years, have been responsible for the most lethal activity in the U.S.

Now, this year, the lethal attacks, domestic terrorism lethal attacks we've had have, I think all fit in the category of anti-government, anti-authority, which covers everything from anarchist violent extremists to militia types.


COOPER: That's Director Chris Wray last September warning as well in his written remarks that day that the top threat facing the country was racially, ethnically or politically motivated domestic extremists.

He repeated that warning in testimony earlier this month and today, a joint report put out by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence underscored it all, quoting from that report, "The IC (meaning the Intelligence Community) assesses that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) and militia violent extremist (MVEs) present the most lethal domestic violent extremist threats with racially motivated violent extremists most likely to conduct mass casualty attacks against civilians and militia violent extremists, typically targeting law enforcement and government personnel and facilities."

Also out today, a new report from the Anti-Defamation League, which says that white supremacist propaganda incidents nearly doubled last year with more than 5,000 cases reported averaging 14 a day across the country.

Also today, a new report on growing anti-Asian violence, according to the tracking group Stop API Hate, such attacks have risen dramatically since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, which the former President, even as recently as last night still refers to as the China virus. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we got hit by the -- as I call it, the China virus.


COOPER: We'll speak shortly tonight with professional basketball's Jeremy Lin, one of the few Asian-Americans who have played in the NBA. He says that he himself was called coronavirus by a fellow player.

But again, as today's report from the Director of National Intelligence makes clear, such incidents are not isolated. They're part of a climate that nurtures violent extremism and that includes the Capitol insurrection, which was shot through with nearly every species of white supremacist, anti-government conspiracy believing, homegrown violent cranks.

But for the past few months, you've seen lawmakers, the so-called leaders of this country trying to whitewash what we all saw that day.

And it actually continued today led by Congressman Louie Gohmert and some of his Republican allies tried today to remove references to the insurrection in a resolution to give Congressional Gold Medals to police officers on duty on January 6th.

And then there is Senator Ron Johnson. Now, not only has he been trying to divert all attention from the right-wing, conspiracy minded racist elements of the insurrection and the ongoing threat they present, he has also been dabbling with racism himself and how he is making his case.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I knew those are people that love this country that truly respect law enforcement would never do anything to break a law. So I wasn't concerned.

Now, had the tables been turning, Joe, this got me in trouble, had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.



COOPER: A little concerned, he says about a hypothetical attack by a largely non-violent movement, which never occurred, but not concerned at all about the very real, very violent attack by domestic extremists on his own place of work.

Not bothered, it seems by perhaps the biggest eruption yet of everything the Intelligence and law enforcement community warned of last fall and continues to warn of today, and he continues to claim that those people love America and love law enforcement, despite the death of one officer and the suicide following the attack by two, and the injury of dozens of other officers.

That, and of course, Senator Johnson also threw in a dash of racism, which he denies but which one of his colleagues is calling out directly.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Like I get no one likes to be called racist, but sometimes, there's just no other way to describe the use of bigoted tropes that for generations have threatened black lives, by stoking white fear of African-Americans and black men in particular.


COOPER: That was Senator Bob Menendez. I spoke to him just before airtime.


COOPER: Senator, as you know, the Senate is a very traditional place, breaking decorum like you did, calling a colleague a racist on the Senate floor is a very dramatic step. Can you talk about why you did it?

MENENDEZ: Well, I understand decorum of the Senate, but sometimes, as the late John Lewis says, you have to get into good trouble.

I just felt compelled to speak out about Senator Johnson's comments and it was crystal clear to me driven home by a African-American member of my staff who served New Jersey, two different senators for three and a half decades, an incredible human being, a tremendous staffer, who is African-American and told me about how hateful and harmful his comments were.

And so when he made these comments, in essence, you know, the racist trope that he would be more fearful of a Black Lives Matter protest than the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol, caused the death of three U.S. Capitol officers and harmed and injured so many more. I just felt that, you know, decorum couldn't just stand in the way of speaking out.

COOPER: You know, do you think it should more be done? I mean, I don't know if that's even possible, but I mean, Senator Johnson continues to stand by even double down on his comments.

He wrote an op-ed defending himself and late today tweeted out a compilation of what he appears to be saying are acts of violence in Black Lives Matter protests, adding, quote: "Along with peaceful protests last summer, there were too many scenes like this. I'll always condemn violence and rioting regardless of who is doing it."

He doesn't really sound like he is condemning so much what happened at the Capitol, or at least he's trying to, you know, whitewash it or minimize it repeatedly.

MENENDEZ: Well, it mean, he has a parallel alternate view of the world. You know, he says that he wasn't afraid of the white supremacists and insurrectionists that stormed the Capitol because he knew that they were law-abiding citizens who love their country.

Well, law-abiding citizens don't attack other police officers, don't cause the death of one and two others who committed suicide as a result of what happened. Hundreds who were injured, many who are scarred in their lives for a long period of time.

Law-abiding citizens don't come and destroy Federal property and desecrate one of the most significant symbols of our democracy. Law- abiding citizens don't try to undermine the rule of law by stopping the official count of a presidential election.

So again, it's an excuse from what is clearly, you know, a racist comment and that perpetuates that white America should fear our fellow black citizens.

COOPER: There's a report out today from the Anti-Defamation League who found white supremacist propaganda hit an all-time high in 2020. The report says, quote: "White supremacists may have been more emboldened now or emboldened than ever." I know you're not calling Senator Johnson, a white supremacist but the kind of language he is using, it certainly is, if not a dog whistle to them, it's certainly a hat tip.

MENENDEZ: Yes, well, it's an amazing set of circumstances. We all know what happened here on January 6th. We saw the consequences, the nation saw it.


MENENDEZ: And, you know, this is like some of the House members who want to honor the Capitol Police, but don't want to recognize, you know, the insurrectionists that caused them to have to perform their duties, risk their lives and get injured.

COOPER: Yes, you're talking about Louie Gohmert -- you're talking about Louie Gohmert. POLITICO is reporting today that Louie Gohmert who is a Texas Congressman circulating -- has circulated version of the bill meant to honor Capitol Police, but removing any reference of the thing they're being honored for, which is defending the seat of democracy against an insurrection.

MENENDEZ: Absolutely, that's exactly what I'm referencing. And, and so, you know, what is the problem with recognizing that white supremacists, those who stormed the Capitol with Confederate flags with Nazi symbols, and who, you know, shouted racial epithets to our African-American Capitol Police officers, what the difficulty in recognizing that? That is the truth?

That is the truth, not the alternative truth you're promoting.

COOPER: It's also so just the -- you know, history matters and how we remember history accurately matters and at this early stage, trying to be rewriting the first drafts of history, it just seems particularly galling.

Senator Menendez, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.


COOPER: Just ahead, everything that we're learning about the Atlanta killings, and later, professional basketball player Jeremy Lin on the attacks Asian-Americans now face. Be right back.



COOPER: As we reported at the top of the program, the suspected Atlanta area mass shooter is in custody. CNN's Natasha Chen reports now on the crimes, the victims and everything we know and do not know at this moment about what happened.


CALLER: Please hurry.

DISPATCHER: Do you have a description of him, ma'am?

CALLER: I need to hide right now.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That quiet plea came from a woman hiding in one of three spas in the Atlanta area, where by the end of Tuesday night, eight people were dead and one injured.

The killing spree in which most of the victims were Asian-American women happened in the span of just a few hours.

The suspect told investigators he had no racial motivation, but that he targeted what he felt were temptations.

A former roommate told CNN he was deeply religious and felt tortured and distraught by his sexual addiction.

Another roommate said he had spent time in rehab for sex addiction and had spent time in a transition house.

Law enforcement sources told CNN, the suspect purchased the gun he used this week. One source said nothing in his background would have prevented the purchase.

At 5:00 p.m. Tuesday night. Cherokee County Deputies were called to Young's Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia about 30 miles north of Atlanta. Four people died at that location.

About an hour later, Atlanta 911 dispatch received two calls from spas across the street from each other, emergency calls where it took time, perhaps across language barriers to comprehend what exactly was happening.

DISPATCHER: Is it a male or female?

CALLER: They have a gun, but (inaudible).

DISPATCHER: They have a gun, you said?

CHEN (voice over): They found three Asian women killed at the Gold Spa. Ten minutes later, this call resulted in first responders finding one Asian woman dead there.

CALLER: Some guy came in and shoot the gun, so everybody heard the gun shots. Some ladies got hurt, I think. Everybody's scared, so they're hiding.

CHEN (voice over): Police said the suspect's family called in to help identify him from surveillance images. They tracked his cell phone 150 miles south of Atlanta in Crisp County. State troopers intercepted him. Investigators believe he was headed to Florida to make similar attacks.

While the suspect told investigators this attack was prompted by his sexual addiction.

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GEORGIA: I taking that with a grain of salt. This is a man who murdered eight people in cold blood. So it's very difficult to believe what he says.

I'll leave it up to the prosecutors to determine what other appropriate charges may be warranted as it relates to hate crimes, but it's very difficult to ignore that the Asian community has once again been targeted.

CHEN (voice over): Whether or not this is called a hate crime, the Asian-American community says the fear is real.

SAM PARK (D), GEORGIA STATE HOUSE: I think there's an enormous amount of fear and anxiety, particularly in that this crime that was not necessarily committed based on race, at least based on what we know so far, but that it was six Asian-American women who were shot and killed yesterday, in light of the broader context where we've seen a spike in discrimination, hate and violence against Asian-Americans across this country.


COOPER: And Natasha Chen joins us now. Do investigators believe that the suspect acted alone?

CHEN: Anderson, I asked about that at a press conference today with the multiple investigating agencies about whether similar businesses should be concerned, if there's still a threat out there. And I was told no, they believe this person acted alone.

Of course, it could have been much worse had they not stopped him on his way south. Investigators believe he was headed to Florida to commit similar attacks there -- Anderson.

COOPER: Natasha Chen, I appreciate it. Thank you.

We're going to continue the conversation in a moment about the fear right now in the Asian-American community. Regardless, the motives in this particular attack, Asian-Americans have seen a large number of attacks and racial slurs since the pandemic began.

Professional basketball player, Jeremy Lin joins us to discuss his own experiences when we continue.



COOPER: Regardless of the motive in the Atlanta area shootings, the Asian-American community has been on edge because of increased hatred and racism brought on during the pandemic. In fact, only made worse by the commentary of the past year the former leader of the free world.



Before the plague from China came in, you know what that is? It's the China virus.

Today, I want to provide an update on our response to the China virus.

Kung Flu. Kung Flu.

Medicine will eradicate the China virus once and for all.

To me, corona means Italy. China is China and it came from China, so we had the China virus, right.

TRUMP (via phone): When we got hit by the, as I call it the China virus.


COOPER: And now, the last comment was just last night, still doing it. Again after a year, in which Asian-Americans have been verbally harassed, spit on, injured, our Randi Kaye has more on the state of fear our fellow Americans are living.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In San Francisco last month on the edge of Chinatown, a 67-year-old Asian man is suddenly ambushed at a laundromat.

Surveillance video shows the terrifying moments as he is dragged to the ground.

The attack comes just after police increased patrols in the area following attacks in Oakland's Chinatown. Oakland's Chinatown is where this 91-year-old Asian man was shoved to

the ground. Watch as his attacker rushes in from behind.

Police quickly identified the male suspect who was involved in two other assaults on elderly people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have charged him with three counts of assault.

KAYE (voice over): In New York, this Filipino-American believes he was targeted because of his race. His attacker slashing him across the face with a box cutter.



KAYE (voice over): It all happened on the New York City subway during the morning rush.


KAYE (voice over): Early in the pandemic, this Asian man was also harassed on the New York subway, and when he didn't move, the suspect sprayed him in the face with Febreze.

In San Francisco, this 84-year-old Thai immigrant died after he was pushed to the ground in January. He was simply out on his morning walk when an unprovoked attacker charged him from across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He never wake up again. I will never see him again.

A 19-year-old is now charged in his death with murder and elder abuse.

In Los Angeles, 27-year-old Denny Kim says he was randomly punched in the face by two strangers.

DENNY KIM, PUNCHED IN THE FACE IN LOS ANGELES: Two assailants basically approached me. They were hurling racial slurs. They're calling me Ching -- Ching-Chong, Chinese virus.

KAYE (voice over): While not all of these have been ruled hate crimes as of now, they do contribute to a disturbing wave of violence against Asian-Americans. It spurred on many in the Asian community and beyond to rally in an effort to stop the hate.

At a demonstration in New York City last month, some spoke openly of fear.

WILL LEX HAM, NEW YORK CITY RESIDENT: Many of my family members are living in fear and anxiety.

KAYE (voice over): Others pointing fingers.

PEARL SUN, NEW YORK CITY RESIDENT: I think the rhetoric from our previous administration was definitely the catalyst for all of this.

TRUMP: It's got all different names -- Wuhan. Wuhan was catching on. Coronavirus, right? Kung Flu. Yes.

KAYE (voice over): There have also been attacks on property. Asian- owned businesses have been hit and robbed, too.

And out in the open, in restaurants, bold-faced racism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Bleep] Asian piece of [bleep].


KAYE (voice over): In some communities, it's come down to neighbors protecting neighbors.

After some in this California Community threw rocks and hurled insults at an Asian couple's home, neighbors set up camp, standing guard in shifts to keep the couple safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They see us and they turn around.

KAYE (voice over): Standing strong together in the face of hate.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach County, Florida.


COOPER: Perspective now from Jeremy Lin, a professional basketball player who has spoken about racism Asian-Americans have faced and has had to confront himself even while on the court.

Jeremy, thanks so much for being with us. I'm sorry, it's under these circumstances.

In February you posted on Facebook, about racism against Asian- Americans and you said you were called coronavirus on the basketball court by another player. You've talked about experiencing bigotry throughout your career and of course, racism against Asian-Americans is nothing new.

But does it feel different to you now because of the pandemic.

JEREMY LIN, NINE-YEAR NBA VETERAN: It feels very different. I think, you know, growing up it was always something that might be a little bit more subtle or verbal. But I think what we're seeing right now is a lot of physical, actual violence, lives being taken.

A lot of Asian-Americans who are looking over their shoulders when they go outside, when they go to the grocery store and we're starting to slowly see more and more reporting of what is going on, but this is something that is definitely hitting different and I think we can start to see that, you know, kind of what you guys have shown before in terms of the previous administration and the rhetoric that was being used. And you can even hear in the audio recordings, the cheers, the laughs,

you know, from everybody in those situations when, you know, it was called the kung flu virus and everyone is cheering and I think there's just a lot of racially charged hatred right now that we're seeing and feeling.

COOPER: You also in a Facebook post I read, talked about kind of a feel -- a different feeling among particularly young Asian-Americans right now in terms of standing up and speaking out and just not taking the kind of stereotypes that have traditionally been used against Asian-Americans.

LIN: Yes, I think, I mean, you know, that's something that, you know, I've talked about and a lot of us have talked about in terms of the model minority myth, and I think if you look back into history, a lot of this stuff I never learned and never heard about until I had to go dig it up myself.

But if you look at how Chinatowns came to existence, if you look at the Japanese internment camps over the death of Vincent Chin or the China Exclusion Act, the first legislation and only legislation that banned a specific people from coming in.

I mean, I feel like the Asian and Asian-American experience has often been not talked about and Asian-American immigrants have just come over -- Asian immigrants that come over and basically just been told what to do and to be quiet and to stay under the radar and to not cause any noise.


And I think with this next generation is, as we're starting to see more and more of this happening, Asian-Americans are no longer wanting to just be told what to do and keep our heads down, work hard and say nothing. And so, we're seeing a lot of people stand up and stand out and speak up. And that's what we need. Because, you know, it's time and we've been dealing with this for a long, long time. And it's just a matter of people are starting to see it now and it's being exposed.

COOPER: I'm wondering what you thought when you heard about the Atlanta shootings and how that adds to all this.

LIN: I mean, it's tough, it's tough, because I feel like, it's almost like, my raw emotion is that it feels like it's happening more, and it feels like it's getting worse. And even for me, like I'm starting to question it very, very, you know, very, very openly.

I'm questioning like, oh, if I speak out more, am I like encouraging more people to have even more hate, like, by other people seeing these headlines? Are we encouraging more people to do more crazy things and to hurt more Asians and Asian-Americans like. And it's just a very fearful thought process of thinking through that.

But I think now it's like, we're, like people are starting to really see like, no, this is a serious, serious issue. And I think Russell Jeung from stopped AAPI Hate call it a, you know, a while ago and said, hey, everyone's kind of in lockdown and quarantine. But, when everyone starts to come back out, there's a high likelihood that we're going to see stuff like this, and it is happening.

And I mean, it's just heartbreaking. It's really hard to process and every day is not just one headline -- every day is new headlines. It's feels like it's more, but at the same time, we can't stop. We can't stop speaking out. We can't stop fighting, and we can't lose hope. If we lose hope, you know, that's, that's the end of it. But we have to keep remaining, you know, strong and what we feel like we need to do and how we want to better this world.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, just in seeing Randi Kaye's piece, I mean to see the images of, you know, vulnerable, elderly, you know, Asian-American men or women being just completely blindsided and attacked, dying, being severely injured. Even that, you know, biggot sitting in a restaurant just blatantly saying to the faces of some table and people he knows nothing about horrible, horrible things. It's just stunning to see it so blatant right out in the broad daylight.

LIN: Yes. And that's the thing is like, for me, when I see these, these headlines, one of the things I always try to make myself do is to watch any clips if there are clips. Because you can literally see just somebody turn their face, see an Asian and just go attack. Like it's almost like, I mean, it's not even really, like it's hard to comprehend how you could do something like that to somebody that you've never met. Just you look at them. And, you know, you think and I think what we're seeing is we're seeing all these microaggressions through history, you know.

Asians have always been have been projected as being others or outsiders and you can you can hear and see these microaggressions and like oh no, where are you really from or, you know, talking about the way the way that we look or our complexion or things like that. And there's so many microaggressions that contribute to that and again, calling it the coronavirus that is adding to fueling the fire. And now we're starting to see a lot of microaggressions turn into actual acts of violence and it is really hard to watch.

And so, I encourage people to watch these videos to see this is actually happening. I mean, these are these are real stories real lives.

COOPER: Yes, it's sickening, but frankly, to turn away from it and pretend it's not happening is makes it even worse. People don't deserve to suffer in silence. People should know about what's happening and take a part in stopping it.

Jeremy Lin, I really appreciate you speaking with us tonight and appreciate all the -- you've been doing. Thank you.

LIN: Thank you for having me and for raising awareness about so I really, really appreciate it.

COOPER: Yes, take care.

(voice-over): Just ahead, President Biden calls Vladimir Putin killer leaving no doubt that the relationship between Russia and the White House the past four years is over. What that means for the U.S. and our elections when we return.



COOPER: Today, the White House says Biden would not hold back against Vladimir Putin after the President went directly after the Russian leader for undermining our elections in an interview Tuesday.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: He will pay a price, I -- we had a long talk. He and I we've -- I know relatively well. And I the conversation started off I said, I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred then be prepared.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: So you know Vladimir Putin, you think he's a killer?

BIDEN: I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what price must he pay?

BIDEN: The price is going to pay? Well, you'll see shortly.


COOPER: Those comments came after new intelligence reports that Russia us Trump allies to influence the 2020 election, which led to a rather remarkable turn of events this afternoon when the Russian Foreign Ministry recalled their ambassador to the United States back to Moscow for quote, consultations, unquote.

We're joined now by our chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins and our chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

So Kaitlan, obviously President Biden is a very different response of Vladimir Putin and the former president consistently had. What more is the White House saying about Moscow recalling its ambassador?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're not really commenting specifically on it. The White House press secretary was asked today during the briefing if they wanted to respond to that. Instead, they just basically said they're taking a very different approach to Russia than we saw with Biden's predecessor. And, of course, that was obvious from January when President Biden had his first call with Vladimir Putin. And you saw the readout of that it was basically a bill of complaints. Like all of these things, going after Russia talking about their interference in the elections, talking about their poisonings of dissidents, everything basically, that you could think of that could be a U.S. group with Russia, they listed in the readout of Biden's called Putin.

[20:40:03] And so, that's what he was talking about in that interview, basically saying that he feels like he can take a much more combative approach with him, that he is fully aware of what he's doing. And so what you're seeing today with them summoning their ambassador back to Russia, of course, comes after yes, he agreed that he does think that Putin is a killer.

And that is something that you heard from President Trump, but in a very different way. Because remember, in 2017, he was also asked, and/or he was confronted by Bill O'Reilly saying, well, Putin is a killer. And Trump said, yes, he was. But the U.S. had killers too. Basically equivocating what you've seen the Russian leader, do. We have not seen that from President Biden.

And so, I think it's kind of a wake up call for Russia. The question is how it changes things going forward, because of course, they still to work together, given their both nuclear powers and how that looks like.

COOPER: Dana, I just want to play quickly for our viewers, just one of the many examples of the former president had to say about Putin. This is from the infamous Helsinki summit, which was really shocking. The comments that he made in front of Putin, in front of the world -- on the world stage, casting doubt on what his own top intelligence officials said about the Russian election interference in 2016.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.

So I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President of Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.


COOPER: I mean that was nuts when it happened, it still seems kind of crazy. How much of what we're hearing from President Biden is basically what any other president except the most recent one would be saying to Putin?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's a couple of things. One is it is pretty strong. It's pretty strong stuff. And it is a no question, a direct result of the way that his predecessor handled Vladimir Putin. And that was the kind of pinnacle, maybe it is that better way to say the low point of the U.S. presence and the U.S. posture towards Russia. Across the board, Republicans and Democrats will tell you that even to this day. And they did even at that point.

And so, what Joe Biden is clearly trying to do is reset in a dramatic way. And he did so with those comments. And I just hung up before talking to Anderson with a top senator on foreign relations matters, who, you know, just wanted to emphasize how big of a deal it is for Russia to pull back its ambassador for consultations. And according to our colleague, Matthew Chance, his sources inside Russia, inside Moscow say it was directly because of the comments that President Biden made, saying, yes, Vladimir Putin is a killer.

And, you know, a lot of people say that he was just speaking the truth, but it certainly wasn't diplomatic. And so, the question is, how much does this escalate? And that's a very open question right now.

COOPER: You know, Kaitlan, we had Jim Sciutto on the program last night talking about the new intelligence report that said Russia attempted to hurt then candidate Biden and help then President Trump in 2020. Pretty much in much the same wording that was used to describe Russian interference in 2016.

I mean, you know, many Americans, even critics of the administration might not want to hear ad nauseam about it again, but it, you know, obviously, still kind of worn some sort of response, one would think from the United States.

COLLINS: Well, and Biden has said he will respond. He was press repeatedly in that interview he did last night with ABC News how is he going to respond? He has not told us yet. So we are waiting to see what the actions for that are going to be? What's the response going to actually be for them?

And yes, I think maybe people are tired of hearing about it, because it is something we've talked about it at length. But what's important is that it's still happening clearly, according to the intelligence community on an ongoing basis. So the question is, how do you respond to it?

How do you confront Russia over it? And I think the big difference with Biden is that he's not someone who shies away from it. With President Trump, I had aides who told me they were hesitant to even bring it up with him because they knew it would set him off. So even on a granular level like that, things have changed.

COOPER: Dana Bash, Kaitlan Collins and by the way, you are shaming me both. You have fully embraced St. Patrick's Day both of you with convincing the White House I guess to match your jackets --

COLLINS: You got a green White House.

COOPER: Yes, I clearly have led --

BASH: Your St. Patrick's Day sandwich Anderson, we got you covered.

COOPER: Yes. I've led down my, you know, I don't know I'm very sorry about this. I apologize. Thanks very much.

BASH: A big steer.

COOPER: A big steer, yes. (voice-over): Updates on several fronts regarding the coronavirus is going to take you to a small town Oklahoma where the very idea of getting the Covid vaccines seems pretty much on thinkable.



COOPER: Tonight, the U.S. is on the brink of surpassing 30 million confirmed coronavirus cases and we're seeing concerning increases in infections in 14 states. Michigan's cases are up more than 50 percent compared to last week, but the overall national rate of cases continues to decline.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says that the agency plans to issue new guidance to allow less social distancing in schools that down to three feet instead of six. Also, nearly one out of eight Americans is now fully vaccinated. Nearly 2.5 million doses were given per day over the past seven days, which is a new record.

Still political loyalties appear to play a role and acceptance of the vaccine according to NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 47 percent who support the former president, they will not try to get the vaccine. One of those pockets of the country where that is playing out is in red state of Oklahoma.

Here's what some residents in one town told our Gary Tuchman about the vaccine.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's breakfast time in Boise City, Oklahoma. And I have this question.

(on-camera): Does anybody in this restaurant think it's a good idea to take the vaccine?


TUCHMAN (on-camera): Raise your hand if you think it's a good idea.



TUCHMAN (on-camera): Anyone here is a good idea to take the vaccine. Raise your hand if you think it's a good idea. Not one person here thinks it's a good idea? Complete quiet.

(voice-over): Boise City is the county seat of sparsely populated Cimarron County, Oklahoma, where 92 percent of the voters chose Donald Trump on Election Day, the highest percentage in a state where all 77 counties went for Trump.

(on-camera): What do you think about the vaccine? Are you going to take the vaccine? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Tell me why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't trust the government and I don't trust Biden.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Chad and Misty Hughes (ph) are husband and wife. Neither of them plan to get the vaccine.

CHAD HUGHES (PH): Just come on to.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Why don't you want? If you don't mind me asking.

HUGHES: Because when I take the flu shot, I usually get the flu. So there's no reason to take it.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): So, you're saying you think you'll get COVID by taking the COVID?

HUGHES: Probably.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Why are you thinking that? The research doesn't show that at all, it shows that it keeps people safe.

HUGHES: That's just my choice.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): These women are sisters. And they too, are doubters.

(on-camera): Why are you doubtful?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They've just started rolling them out.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Well yes, but they I mean, this has been a worldwide effort by great doctors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) the flu can be cured. There's still hundreds of thousands of people die from the flu.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Well, yes, but not nearly as much as COVID. This is a horrible pandemic. And this is like the amazing vaccine, these vaccines have come out, they're saving lives. You don't believe it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I would just agree to disagree on this subject.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just -- I'm just not. I'm not going to take it.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): What if President Trump came out and was very robust and said, take the vaccine. I took it even though I didn't tell anybody about it was kind of done secretly, but I think he should take it. He said it a little bit but he hasn't been robust about. If he was robust and said take it, would you? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump is a liberal New Yorker. Why would we listen to him either?

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Did you vote for him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was the best option.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): No matter where we went, enthusiasm for the vaccine wasn't easy to find, despite this front page pronouncement.

(on-camera): So this is the Boise City news, your newspaper. And here's an article, COVID vaccines are available in your hospital. They want people to get them. Are you going to get one?


TUCHMAN (on-camera): How come?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't ever get vaccines.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): We did find a boss in the grocery store, though, who gave us a different answer. But with a caveat.

(on-camera): Are you going to take the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have taken it.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): And what made you decide to take it?



TUCHMAN: Anderson, the phones of the local hospital don't seem to be ringing off the hook regarding vaccines. But appointments are being taken. And doses of the Johnson & Johnson are being given.

I talked to a hospital official who's dealing with the vaccine. And she described the people coming in, she described it, it's fair. There's been a fair response so far. She also told me that she's hearing the same concerns and fears about the vaccine that I heard here today. Anderson.

COOPER: Gary, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Perspective now and those reactions in the other COVID developments from our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, just surprised to see people across almost across the boards, talking to Gary saying that they're not going to get the vaccine.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it does surprise me a little bit, I guess. I mean, you know, we know that there's a fair amount of hesitancy out there. But I just thought that was a fascinating piece. I mean, there wasn't a lot of dialogue, right. I mean, there was no convincing, it seemed like, of these people who just simply did not want to take the vaccine.

But, you know, we do know that the amount of vaccine hesitancy out there has been hovering around 30 percent, maybe going down a little bit as more and more people get vaccinated. So it's that's not a new phenomenon, Anderson, was essentially to see it sort of spelled out like that.

COOPER: It's interesting in some countries, like Israel, people who have been vaccinated it seems like from what I've read, have more access to, you know, going to a gym or entering an office. Do you think that's going to happen here?

GUPTA: I do. I think that'll happen here. It's really interesting. I remember Anderson when we were talking about this initially, and we said, look, if you get this vaccine, it essentially is 95 percent protective against you getting severely ill, 100 percent protective against dying. And I remember thinking that's incredible. I mean, that that's huge incentive.

My parents are in their late 70s living in Florida. They've been worried for the past year about, you know, getting sick and possibly needing to be hospitalized. And this was a huge weight off their shoulders. But to your point, I think one thing I've learned, I think is a lesson maybe for all of us and in terms of communicating about this.

What does the vaccine allow you to do? We know it can save your life, but what do you now get to do with that life? And so, if people can fly, if they can enter certain facilities, do things that they otherwise would not be able to do, that could be a huge incentive.

COOPER: The CDC and the World Health Organization weighed in late yesterday on two new variants first detection California, the CDC called them quote variants of concern. What do we know so far about them?


GUPTA: So, these are two variants that are found that are more transmissible than the, what we call the wild type virus. The virus that is currently circulating. It's interesting with these, we knew that the you know, there'll be more and more variants as the virus circulates more and more.

But when you have a variant like this, the thing you're trying to figure out is a, is it more transmissible and b, how do the antibodies that the vaccine generates, or the antibodies that someone who's infected generate work against these, these variants? And what they're finding is that the antibodies still seem to work well, but there's a reduced effect from these antibodies against the variance.

This is all done in a lab. So it's hard to know what that really means for individuals. But I think what we're learning is an over and over again, is that these variants, while they're not escaping the immunity given by a vaccine, that is increasingly the concern, we haven't seen it yet, if that were the case, it'd be called a violence -- I'm sorry, a variant of high consequence. We haven't seen that yet. But that's what they're monitoring for.

COOPER: And we saw today, this new study that showed that antibodies less effectively neutralized these two variants in the lab. So in layman's terms, what does that mean?

GUPTA: So, what they basically do is they take the virus and again, this is all in the lab, not in the real world. So, you know, we don't always know how well this translates, but they take the virus, they take the vaccine, and they basically say is the vaccine, is it creating enough of these neutralizing antibodies, a term that many people now know is it making these proteins that will neutralize the virus?

And what they find is that it does, it does make these neutralizing antibodies, but fewer neutralizing antibodies as compared to the more wild type virus, the virus that is more predominantly circulating.

COOPER: Interesting, Sanjay, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

(voice-over): Police arrested a man outside the official Washington residents of Vice President Harris today. Details on that, when we come back.


COOPER: Police in Washington today arrested a 31-year-old Texas man outside the U.S. Naval Observatory, the official residence Vice President Harris. Police say a rifle and ammunition recovered from his vehicle and he's been charged with several counts. Among them carrying a rifle or shotgun outside of business, possession of unregistered ammunition and possession of large capacity ammunition feeding device. Secret services that uniform division officers from the agency detain the man before police showed up.

Also, Vice President Harris was not there at the time of the incident. They were alerted to his presence because of a law enforcement bulletin that had actually originated in state of Texas.


The news continues right now, let's hand it over Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME". Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: I appreciate it Coop. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.