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Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is Interviewed about the Stimulus Plan and John Lewis; Safety Hurdles for Returning to Class; Barr to Testify Before House Panel. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired July 28, 2020 - 08:30   ET



REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Look, it's not 600 or bust. You know, you don't -- Speaker Pelosi said the other day, which I thought was a great line, we don't have red lines, we have values. And we're going into these negotiations with values. To say that $600 or nothing, no, that's not what we are.


HOYER: We're prepared to discuss this, but we're also not prepared, however, to let down the American people, we'll let down the states, the cities, the local governments who hire people who are meeting this pandemic's crisis, including health personnel. We're not willing to walk away from the American people, which we think is what this bill does. And, in my opinion, this bill is a McConnell fig leaf. It is a pretense of response, rather than a substantive response, lest they would have acted much more quickly if they really wanted to deal with this problem, but two and a half notes (ph) may provide (ph), nothing happened.

BERMAN: Can I -- I want to ask you a matter of parochial interest as a Maryland representative and Maryland resident. It has to do with baseball.


BERMAN: The Miami Marlins now with 14 players and coaches who have tested positive, scheduled to play this week in Baltimore as soon as Wednesday. Is it your opinion that it would be safe to host the Marlins at Camden Yards?

HOYER: Look, I'll let the medical personnel decide that question. I'm not expert enough to do that. But, clearly, you've got to be concerned, Major League Baseball has to be concerned, the players need to be concerned. You come back and within just a few weeks of coming back, 14 people on one team are tested positive for coronavirus. That's a worry. But I'll leave that decision as to what needs to happen to the medical and scientific personnel.

BERMAN: It gets to the issue of how early or the push to open may be before an entity, a state, a city is ready. And I was struck yesterday by the president of the United States, yesterday, in the midst of growing case numbers and whatnot saying this. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really do believe a lot of the governors should be opening up states that they're not opening. And we'll see what happens with them.


BERMAN: Your reaction?

HOYER: I think it's typical of President Trump's responses. A, shifting responsibility, B, evidencing no plan, no concept of how we can defeat this pandemic, no ability to lead this country. It is tragic that at the time of great crisis we have a president who has no plan, who has no sense of what the right thing is to do and is dividing America rather than bringing it together to confront this virus.

BERMAN: Now, you're up at the Capitol right now. I want to show our audience -- I don't know that you can see it -- a live picture right now of the Capitol and that is, of course, the late Representative John Lewis. There we see it right now. This is a live picture. There were deeply moving services yesterday inside the Capitol.


BERMAN: And I know this is a personal loss for you. This is someone who was a friend of yours for decades.


BERMAN: And I -- I don't know if I heard this correctly, did you walk with him across the Edmund Pettus Bridge 15 times?

HOYER: That's correct. And some of those times hand in hand with my friend and my beloved friend, John Lewis.

One -- I have -- I've said the day after his death, I said there was a hole in the heart of America. A sense of great loss of a leader who brought to us a vision of love and togetherness and a beloved community, who brought every day of his life a positive attitude to make America better and have it live out its ideals of equality and justice and fairness to all. And we experienced a great loss.

And, yes, you're correct, yesterday's ceremony was short at John's request. He was a humble human being. He was a great presence, a great person, as I say, Christ like in so many ways. But very humble, self- effacing, not necessarily wanting the attention on him, but on the vision that he had for a beloved community and a commitment to making America live out its ideals.

We have sustained a great loss in America, a great loss in the Congress of the United States. He was called the conscience of the Congress. He was the conscience of the country. At 23 speaking to all of America about -- in 1983, coming together -- '63, excuse me, coming together and treating people not based upon the color of their skin, as Martin Luther King said, but on their character and on their conduct. John Lewis was a great, great, great American and a great human being.

BERMAN: And I know he was deeply important to you personally and also to your family. A great story about meeting members of your family.


HOYER: Yes. I took my granddaughters and I took a great-granddaughter with me on the faith and politics, I had a program, a pilgrimage, to Montgomery, to Birmingham and to Selma on an annual basis. And we went to Mississippi as well. And we -- I travelled with John Lewis to South Africa and was in Nelson Mandela's jail cell on Robins Island with John Lewis. What an extraordinary moment that was, two extraordinary human beings, Nelson Mandela and John Lewis, leaders on behalf of the best that is within us.

BERMAN: Leader Hoyer, we are deeply sorry for your loss and we thank you so much for being with us this morning.

HOYER: Thank you.

BERMAN: But one thing I think we can all say is we are all better for having had John Lewis walk on this earth. So, thank you.

HOYER: And the -- and the -- and the people in my church would say "amen."

BERMAN: I appreciate you being with us.

I want to leave everyone with live pictures again of the Capitol right now. John Lewis, due soon, to make his final journey home to Georgia.

We'll be right back.



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: If kids are returning to school in the fall, how will we with get them there? Millions of students rely on school buses, but, of course, there's not a lot of social distance on a school bus. So what changes can be made now?

Well, CNN's Bianna Golodryga joins us with more.

What have you learned, Bianna?


Well, as the nation struggles to come up with solutions on how to safely reopen schools, you're right, another major hurdle could make that journey even bumpier, how to transport the nearly 40 million American students who rely on buses to and from school every day. Remember, their parents are trying to get back to a semblance of normalcy with their jobs. And less than 10 percent of students in this country ride their bikes or walk to most schools.


LUCY FORBES, SINGLE MOM: Honestly, it was, what?

GOLODRYGA (voice over): Lucy Forbes was shocked when she learned that her 13-year-old daughter won't be eligible to take a school bus to and from her Houston middle school. The city's acting superintendent recently announced that in order to meet CDC social distancing guidelines, only a fraction of its 60,000 students who regularly ride the bus will have an available seat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Only special education, homeless and priority students will be transported.

FORBES: We have to make alternative --

GOLODRYGA: Forbes's, a single mother, works full time. Her hours at the office make it nearly impossible for her to drive her daughter herself.

FORBES: For me it will require a two-hour commute a day. I have a greater spectrum of options and I am worried about the families who don't.

GRENITA LATHAN, SUPERINTENDENT, HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: We have normally anywhere from 76, I think, to 83 students per capacity. As you can see, we've labeled our seats to where we would space students out.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): And does this require configuring every school bus in the city?

LATHAN: We're working through that right now.

GOLODRYGA (voice over): Refitting the buses is a challenge for school districts already facing budget pressures. Austin, Texas, announced buses will have a capacity of 12 students and, like Houston, only eligible students will be provided with initial seating. Atlanta will be limiting bus ridership to 60 percent. Philadelphia Public Schools plan to limit each school bus to 11 to 15 students.

Smaller cities are also feeling the pressure.

RON WILSON, SUPERINTENDENT, IONIA SCHOOL DISTRICT: It's more of a rural school issue. Many of your bigger metropolitan schools, where they may have more students, but quite often have smaller geographic districts.

GOLODRYGA: The Ionia School District covers more than 132 square miles across Michigan, where over 1,500 students rely on bus transportation. Superintendent Ron Wilson is running out of options when schools will open their doors August 26th.

WILSON: I would not have enough buses to socially distant the kids. I would need basically six buses to complete a single bus route.

GOLODRYGA: It's not just about keeping kids safe. Many school bus drivers are concerned about possible risks to their own health too.

ROBERT SALLEY, BOSTON SCHOOL BUS DRIVER: And as you can see, they haven't done anything to these buses. We should have a partition, something that will block us from the kids as they board the bus.

GOLODRYGA: Robert Salley has been a school bus driver in the Boston area for 39 years.

SALLEY: I get a lot of calls from drivers, they ask me, what is the plan for starting September 10th? And it's really bad to say, we don't know anything.

GOLODRYGA: There are currently few solutions at hand. The school bus industry has introduced a $10 billion relief plan that Congress may or may not take up. Social distancing will make carpooling less appealing. And according to the CDC, less than 10 percent of U.S. students walk or bike to most schools.

FORBES: It's great to say that schools are open, but if we don't have a way -- a reliable way that's organized and structured to send our kid there, it will trickle down into nothing else happening either.


GOLODRYGA: And, Alisyn, aside from needing more buses, school districts are finding themselves in need of more drivers as well. Ron Wilson, the superintendent of the Ionia School District that you just heard from, said that he had three bus drivers quit because they're concerned about Covid and being infected.

And then I want to show you this picture. Our colleague Meredith Edwards, who happened to produce this piece, was taking her daughter to a sports practice event last week and took this photo. It's the Marietta, Georgia, school district, advertising on a school bus, a $1,000 signing bonus for more drivers. So, clearly, there is a deficit for drivers. There's not enough planning. And this is a story that we haven't focused on nearly enough in this country. We're talking about getting kids to school. They have to get there safely as well.

CAMEROTA: And there it is in stark relief, that advertisement on the side of the school bus that just says it all.


CAMEROTA: Bianna, thank you very much for all of that.


CAMEROTA: So Attorney General Bill Barr in the hot seat this morning. He'll be testifying on Capitol Hill. [08:45:01]

This is a live picture right now. The big questions that he will face, next.


BERMAN: We're about an hour away from William Barr's first testimony before the House Judiciary Committee since he became attorney general. Lawmakers are expected to press Barr on his handling of the criminal cases of Trump allies and Barr's role in the forcible breakup of peaceful demonstrators outside the White House so the president could have a photo-op with a Bible in front of a church.

Joining us now, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.

And, friends, Alisyn and I have been super excited about this segment all day, mostly because we're just going to turn it over to you, two of the great legal minds here. And what we want to know is what questions you have for the attorney general.

Jeffrey, you go first.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: OK. I think the broad question that the Democrats will certainly want to know the answer to is, are you the people's lawyer, as the attorney general is supposed to be, or are you Donald Trump's personal attorney?


I think many of the issues flow from that.

You know, why did you downplay or mislead the public about the Mueller report? Why did you intervene in Roger Stone's case to get him a lighter sentence? Why did you intervene in Michael Flynn's case to get the case thrown out altogether? All of those questions relate to what the attorney general's job really is, and Democrats are going to try to make the case that he's been doing Donald Trump's business, not the public's business.

CAMEROTA: Laura, as John said, there is nothing he and I like more than outsourcing our job responsibilities to you guys. So what are your questions?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, consider it outsourced and consider it appreciated because I had questions for him prior to reading his opening statement and now I have questions after reading it where I wonder, are you delusional in many respects because he leads the public to believe on the one hand that he is here and he was invited. He was forced to come back to the Department of Justice because he alone was going to be able to remove it from the political bowels that apparently they were in. When in reality, he solicited the opportunity, he asked for it and he had (INAUDIBLE) with open arms. And all for apparently a reason to politicize it, as Jeffrey has already talked about, the questions that he has for him. Most of the questions I have surrounding fall under the umbrella of whether he is aware just how politicized the Department of Justice has become? Why? Because un -- instead of actually upholding the rule of law and enforcing the federal statutes and ensuring that there is equality under the law and no persons above it, he has done the polar opposite in so many instances.

And one of the areas that I found most disturbing, frankly, was his notion in talking about, well, you know, it was a horrible killing of George Floyd, but then went on to talk about how black on black crime is actually the bigger issue to focus on and that people have been condemning the police unnecessarily. This is not somebody who has an attachment with reality of what we're actually seeing, even giving stats about the number of white men versus black men who have been killed this year by police, all the while not answering the question, where is the data the Department of Justice intends to provide to give this information as opposed to in an opening statement?

BERMAN: The attorney general, and this is P202 (ph), he does address the idea that he's a political attorney general as opposed to someone dispensing justice. He says, my decision on criminal matters have been left to my independent judgment based on the law and fact without any direction or interference from the White House or anyone outside the department. He dropped even dropped the factotum bomb, Jeffrey. He says he is not the president's factotum.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, that's an assertion and the question is, what do his actions show? I mean sometimes if you are such a toady, you know what to do even if you're not specifically instructed to do it. And I think, you know, Laura raises the broader question of the response to the unrest in the cities. And specifically what's going on in Portland. And, you know, one of the key questions that is broader than just William Barr, but certainly Barr is relevant, is, you know, are federal authorities, federal law enforcement going in to Portland as people trying to keep the peace and protect federal property, or are they stirring up more trouble, are they soliciting campaign video for Donald Trump's re-election campaign by trying to show that their -- the degree of anger in the streets? I think the response to protests whether it's in Portland or in the photo-op in Lafayette Square in front of the White House, that is another area that I'm sure will be explored today.

CAMEROTA: Laura, let's talk about that photo-op in front of Lafayette Square where the president went and posed in front of the church with the Bible, because that is -- that was the use of, we saw with our own eyes, force by national guardsmen at the behest of Bill Barr for a protest that we saw with our own eyes were peaceful. And, in fact, now we have the testimony today, one of the most senior guardsman who was there on the scene that night will be testifying to Congress. His name's Adam DeMarco, Major Adam DeMarco. He says, the events I witnessed at Lafayette Square on the evening of June 1st were deeply disturbing to me and to fallow national guardsmen. Having served in a combat zone and understanding how to assess threat environments, at no time did I feel threatened by the protesters or access them to be violent.

So, obviously, Bill Barr is going to have to answer to that too.

COATES: Well, who are you going to believe, Bill Barr or your lying eyes. And lying eyes of the nation. Everything that we've actually been able to see and witness with cameras and live and being able to see the ham handed Bible holding.


And all of this is going around the idea of, can there be use of force by officers, by federal agents. Yes, there can be. But the question has always been whether it's appropriate, whether it's pre-textual in some form or fashion and whether it's actually prompted by the use of force by someone else.

We saw in each of these instances that was not the case. And so William Barr will have to answer a lot of rhetorical questions today because our lying eyes have already seen so much.

BERMAN: Laura Coates, Jeffrey Toobin, we thank both of you for year expertise. I'm sure you will both have a busy morning watching this hearing unfold.

Again, it starts very shortly. CNN's live coverage of Attorney General William Barr testifying on Capitol Hill continues after this quick break.



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.