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Biden Faces Questions On Stalled Agenda At CNN Town Hall; Biden At CNN Town Hall: I Think We're Going To Have To Move To "Fundamentally Alter" The Filibuster; House Votes To Hold Bannon In Contempt For Defying Subpoena. Aired 9.30-10p ET

Aired October 21, 2021 - 21:30   ET






CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, our thanks to Anderson, and President Biden.

To pick up on his last comments, and paraphrase, how big a deal, was this Town Hall, for President Biden, I'm Chris Cuomo. Welcome to a compact edition of PRIME TIME, following the main event, our CNN Town Hall, just wrapping up. You see it right there.

President Biden made news, tonight, on his stalled agenda, some good insight into how negotiations are going, and also, where he stands, on the fate of the filibuster.

He now says he thinks "We're going to have to move to the point, where we fundamentally alter it," to get some legislation passed, like voting rights, and raising the debt ceiling, but can't embrace reform now, because he'd lose at least three Democratic votes.

Now, that is farther than he's ever gone before. The question is does he really go all the way? In the meantime, he insists that he will be able to get his own party behind him, on his bold domestic agenda.

Let's bring in some better minds now, for analysis, Dana Bash, Paul Begala.

Dana, first, to you, what's your take?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CO-ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: A lot of news, a lot of news, things that we have been trying to gather in reporting, because a lot of the discussions have been very opaque.

Well, the President just confirmed a lot of source reporting, and also revealed some new information, like the fact that the way that they are going to pay, for whatever deal this is, will have no tax increases, because Kyrsten Sinema refuses not just to raise taxes on corporations, but also on individuals. That's a pretty big deal.

And then also, on the fact that he confirmed that there will be no free community college, that he's shrinking the size, or the scope of paid family leave. He wanted 12. He said "I could only get four."

And just more broadly, he's very clear, and clear-eyed, about the reality of his situation. Democrats control Congress. But he said - and, of course, the White House.

But the most telling moment, Chris, was when he said, when you have a 50-50 Senate, every senator can be president, and is president. And you certainly have a couple of them, who are taking that leverage that they have, and using it to the nth degree.

CUOMO: All right, so Paul, Dana is right. There is news. But that really just matters to us. To people watching, who are voters, it's not about the incremental moves, and what we now know that we didn't know. It's feel.

And what do you think Biden put out there, in terms of command, the ability to get something done, and his sense of urgency, about where things are, in America, problems and solutions?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I think he showed - he was - he was commanding and yet comfortable. This is not a presidency in crisis. This didn't look like a guy, whose poll numbers have dropped, which they have.

He was - there's this right-wing myth that "Oh, he's just kind of out of it. And he's not really running things." That shattered tonight. I mean, I think it's very smart of his staff, to put him on this, and in this format.

He showed wit. He was able to laugh at himself, and his own situ. "I've been in the Senate 370 years. And oh, when I told Jill, we couldn't get free community college, I had to sleep down the hall."

So, from a stylistic point of view, I think his team is probably very, very happy, right now. And from a substantive point of view, he seemed, I think Dana is right, he seemed to have the balance, right. He's optimistic and yet realistic.

In each of those things, he looks like he's going to have to lose on, frankly, and give up. He was already talking about other ways to get to them, other ways to get around them.

BASH: Yes.

BEGALA: So, I just thought this was a guy, truly in command of the presidency. And I think that really disappoints a lot of my Republican friends, who've been trying to convince us that somehow he was out of it.

He didn't even ask for anybody to inject bleach, or a sunshine, where the sun don't shine. So, that's pretty good performance.

CUOMO: Dana, on the plus side, he seemed to have unusually good command of the data.

BASH: Yes.

CUOMO: He was spitting a lot of facts, tonight, about numbers.

In fact, to my checking, to this point, I'm sure well, Daniel Dale, and all the better minds look it up, the only thing I heard him say tonight that factually, I think, is wrong, will mean nothing to you guys, but it means a lot to me.

I don't believe they made a 1967 Corvette without Positraction. Positraction is where power goes to both of the rear tires. They both spin at the same time.

BASH: I hear you speaking, and saying words, but I've no idea what it means.

CUOMO: He said he--

BEGALA: He's such a gearhead, Dana.

CUOMO: He said the reason that he won the race was because--

BASH: I know. I'm kidding. I don't know what any of that stuff means.

CUOMO: They thought he was going to hit because he doesn't have Posi rear.

BASH: I know.

CUOMO: But I don't know that they made a '67 Corvette without it. But other than that--

BASH: That is--

CUOMO: --I thought that - I don't know how many voters will respond to that.

BASH: That is definitely checkable. But listen, I think you're absolutely - you're right, that he has been very engaged, of late.

BEGALA: Right.

BASH: It was - he's been engaged for more than that.

But really going back and forth, I mean, he has been on the phone, with Senator Manchin, with Senator Sinema, with meeting - and a meeting, in-person, with the key members, of the House, not to mention the leadership, because that's how this is getting done.


There has been criticism that I've heard, I'm sure you both have heard as well, especially from what we call the front-liners, here in Washington, the moderate House Democrats, who are the most vulnerable, and then midterm election, criticism that he hasn't been in a room, with all sides, of the Democratic Party, on this.

And what I have been told by people, who are part of these negotiations, is that that might not be happening. But he's doing it in the way that he learned, as a senator, for 375 years, or whatever he said, and that seem to be on display, tonight.

And the big goal that they had tonight, at the White House, was to turn all of this Washington gobbledygook, into English, and into policies that people can digest, and understand and appreciate. And that's the question about whether or not he achieved that goal.

CUOMO: I thought he did a good job with that, Paul, subject to your comments.

He's got to learn to take a compliment, a little bit better. When people applaud, he always stops them, and says, "No, I'm serious. No." But he was obviously trying to explain in simple lesson.

But, again, Paul, to the feel issue, somebody's got to be to blame here. This is absurd that the Democrats seem to be trying to steal defeat, out of the jaws of victory.

They're going to get an infrastructure bill. That alone is going to be one of the biggest ticket items, we've seen, in a generation. It's right up there, with Obamacare, in terms of money and different allocation to States.

Why is it OK for Biden, to not seem to have an ounce of animus, for Sinema, or Manchin, or Schumer, or anybody on that side that's not getting this done for him?

BEGALA: Well, I was struck by that, too. The other day, you remember, he said, everybody's frustrated, when they work in the government. That's the nature of democracy.

He didn't show any frustration tonight. And boy, that must be superhuman effort. He's been doing this a very long time, as he said.

But the one criticism I would have, not, that, he didn't criticize Sinema or Manchin. Good Lord, he needs their votes! He can't succeed without them.

He seems to have lost the thread of the threat, right? He didn't talk about how not a single Republican supports paid family leave. Not a single Republican supports his ideas on childcare, or education, or seniors getting cheaper prescription drugs. He left that out.

Now, that's the hyper-partisan Democrat in me is that I'm always looking for a way to bash to the side. That is not in his character. He really doesn't want to do that, even if people like me would like that.

CUOMO: Dana, yes, I mentioned Chuck Schumer, in there are also, because when we talk about the Republicans, it's all "McConnell, McConnell, McConnell, McConnell." There is no talking about the Senate, without McConnell. Schumer has been a ghost in this process. Now, is that because it's about Biden? Or is it what I hear that at least, when it comes to Sinema and Manchin, they don't care what Schumer says? Like, what's the read about, who Biden, can lean on, to get this done?

BASH: I don't know that Chuck Schumer has the greatest relationship with Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema.

And it's probably fair to say that in the case of Joe Manchin, in particular, he has a longer, and a closer, and a more trusting relationship, with the now-president, the former senator, Joe Biden, than with a lot of people, because he is kind of in that negotiator mode, and that model that that Joe Manchin, very much likes.

They can just kind of talk to each other, like "Let's cut out all the, you know what, and let's just talk to each other. What do you need to get there? What do I need to get there? OK, let's do it."

They do have those conversations. And I'm not sure that that's where Chuck Schumer is in that relationship. But he hasn't really had the chance, because, and he hasn't had to do it, because that is what Joe Biden is doing. And it's oddly, what Nancy Pelosi, who works on the other side of the Capitol--

CUOMO: Right.

BASH: --has been doing, in a big way, because she has that relationship with Joe Manchin.

CUOMO: This has really been an interesting process, for the Democrats, if you like inside baseball, in terms of who's emerged, and who isn't.

AOC, not part of the process, big on social media, but it's about Ro Khanna, Jayapal, Pocan, and others, not her. And Pelosi, big, on both sides of the aisle. Schumer, nowhere. Now, that's inside baseball.

Outside baseball is not a phrase, but also, Dana, a quick bounce question on it. Sinema not being in favor of personal, or corporate, tax increases was not even a comma, for President Biden. He kept talking as if there was still a way, to raise the revenue, which is what exactly?

BASH: We don't know. That's a great question. But they--

CUOMO: Why was he like unfazed by it?

BASH: But because he's--

CUOMO: Like if you're not going to do that, he just kept riding the wave.

BASH: Yes. No, that's a good question.

I think the reason is because this wasn't - this might have been a big news flash to us, because she has been so - holding her cards, so close to her vest, but not the White House, and not the leadership, the people, who have been negotiating, with her, on this particular issue.


She is very likely, and the signals have been made, to me, and to other reporters, very much that she has - she's made this known, to the White House. So, they have been looking, for other ways, to pay for this, for some time.

It still is a tough one to swallow. I mean, we all know, we've seen the applause lines, at Democratic events, for the idea that Corporate America, or the wealthy Americans, should, the wealthiest, should pay their fair share.

That is very universally loved among Democrats, and even some Independents and some Republicans. I'm sure that's not easy for somebody like Paul to let go of right now.

CUOMO: Well, but also it's just feasibility, you know?

BASH: Right.

CUOMO: So, how do you explain by this comfort, with this concept?

I mean, Sinema is sticking it, in their face. She's having fundraisers with the exact same people, she says, she doesn't want to raise taxes on, during this negotiation. I mean, there's no shame in her game.

But how do you raise this money? Or do you risk winding up, like the Republicans, with that, unpaid-for tax cut, which you guys all hated?

BEGALA: Yes, I have no idea. Senator Sinema voted against that Trump tax cut, by the way. And most Democrats did. And they thought it was a terrible idea. I don't know why she wouldn't want to repeal the worst parts of that Trump tax cut today, doesn't seem to me to be very consistent.

But it's impressive that President Biden was not, at least tonight, on air, visibly annoyed by that at all. I can tell you, as a matter of polling, the CBS poll, last week, 67 percent of Americans think it's a good idea, for the rich people, to pay more, and corporations to pay more.

CUOMO: So, should he have been upset?

BEGALA: Well, I bet he was in private. But no, this is the thing. Don't get mad. Don't get even. Just get your bill passed, whatever it takes to get the bill passed.

And I think what you're seeing is a guy, who has been through the fires, both personally and professionally. And, as we say, in Texas, "This is not his first rodeo." And man, I thought every bit of that experience is going to come in handy.

To put in perspective, by the way, Lyndon Johnson had 68 senators, when he passed the Great Society. FDR had 60, and there were only 96 senators. Clinton had 57. Obama had 59. This guy has 50. And he's trying something as big as has been tried, in at least a half a century. So, my hat's off to him.

BASH: And--

CUOMO: And he doesn't really have 50. Dana, let me ask you something.

BEGALA: Well yes, that's right.

CUOMO: I mean he doesn't. He does not have control of 50. And the guy, who's supposed to be in control--

BEGALA: Right.

CUOMO: --isn't even really part of the process.

The idea of the big fight, I think that if there is any list of regrets, to be written, by Begala, and the Democrats, after the midterms, not putting voting rights, at the top, and really the only thing on their list may be there, because I've never seen a bigger misplay, honestly, about something that matters as much.

The filibuster is the key. Manchin doesn't want to touch the filibuster.

Anderson was correct, in moving Biden, specifically on to that issue, after a question. Here's what he said on point.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I also think we're going to have to move to the point, where we fundamentally alter the filibuster.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Are you saying once you get this current agenda passed, on spending, and social programs that you would be open, to fundamentally altering the filibuster, or doing away with it?

BIDEN: I am open to fundamentally altering--

COOPER: Or doing away with it?

BIDEN: Well, that remains to be seen, exactly what that means, in terms of fundamentally altering it, whether or not we just end the filibuster straight-up.


BIDEN: Voting rights is equally as consequential.

COOPER: When it comes to voting rights, just so I'm clear, though, you would entertain the notion of doing away with the filibuster on that one issue? Is that correct?

BIDEN: And maybe more.


CUOMO: He was like thinking about it in real-time, there. Then, he's like walking around. Anderson's trying to get his attention.

It's Manchin. It's not "We, we, we." There's no "We, we, we."

Is there any indication Dana, that Manchin got a message, from the rebuff, of his own retooled voting bill, when none of his buddies, on the other side of the aisle, would even vote for debate?

BASH: Maybe, maybe, but not in the short-term. Because the President was very, very clear, very candid, in so many ways. And this was one of the ones that was most striking to me, about the fact that he just doesn't want to deal with voting rights, until he gets this done.

The argument that you made about the fact that voting rights could be, and that they could look back on this, as a very big missed opportunity, because nothing else matters, unless people in these key states, from Georgia, to Texas, to Arizona, and beyond have the ability, to not just go to the polls, in a way that is not restrictive, but to make sure that the votes that they cast are not overturned.


And so, that is such an important issue. And Joe Manchin has lobbied non-stop, on this issue. And it is a very big open question, whether or not, as you said, because the compromise bill that he says he put forward, got no Republican support at all, earlier this week.

Once this - these two bills are done, whether or not that is going to change, in terms of approach, and you can bet that, from the activists out there, to constituents, of every other Democrat, and people, who talk to the White House constantly that that is going to be a big, big priority.

I just want to say I think I said earlier that Kyrsten Sinema doesn't want to - they're not going to raise taxes at all. I meant to say on the - they're not going to raise the rates, not necessarily taxes on wealthy. People, who are wealthy, will likely see their taxes go up.

CUOMO: Well, it's also going to be - I think one of the workarounds, while we were talking about this, somebody texted me, "Don't forget enforcement."

BASH: Yes.

CUOMO: As Joe Biden - as President Biden, pointed out, tonight, Paul Begala, and thank you for drawing the distinction, Dana, they don't - the top X number of corporations, he knew the number, I don't, paid zero in taxes. Enforcement is what matters, not really the rate. The rate is irrelevant, if nobody pays it.

So, because he's in a little bit of a slip, as part of your finishing thought, Paul, do you believe that the next set of polls, after tonight, shows some type of bounce, for him?

BEGALA: No, not until he gets his package through. No, he's going to have to actually have the signing ceremony, in the Rose Garden. I think he will. I think tonight, he showed us that he's farther down the field, than perhaps we thought. But I don't think you can fake that kind of optimism. I think that he's making real progress.

And it's pretty impressive. The guy, who's been locked in a room, with professional legislators, for the last several weeks, can walk in a room, with ordinary citizens, with teachers, and nurses, and firefighters, and speak to them, just like average Joe. So, I thought that was a pretty impressive bifurcation there, or duality that Biden really encompasses.

CUOMO: Paul Begala, Dana Bash, better minds, thank you very much.

All right, we have another big event, the Bannon contempt vote, on the Hill, by the full House, this time, instructive, as always, to see which Republicans choose to uphold the rule of law. None, right? Wrong! Nine.

"Well that's nine. Does that matter?" Yes. Why? Because the dynamic on that side that we're going to discuss. Anybody who steps out of line is basically taking a risk with everything. What does that mean?

We're going to take it to a key House player, member of the January 6 committee that Bannon is accused of defying, next









CUOMO: The Justice Department now has the House referral, to prosecute Steve Bannon, for failing to comply with his subpoena, from the January 6 committee. Nine Republicans voted, with the Democrats, to hold Bannon, in criminal contempt of Congress. It's, frankly, more than I expected.

What does it mean? Let's bring in a member of the January 6 committee, Representative Pete Aguilar.

Good to have you, Congressman.

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Good to be with you, Chris.

CUOMO: So, Merrick Garland was keeping it close to the vest. "I will apply the law and the facts." Yes, no kidding! What will your outcome be?

Do you believe that he will bring charges himself, go to a grand jury, or neither?

AGUILAR: Well the federal law says that upon certification, by the Speaker, and after we pass this successful bipartisan vote, the Speaker will certify, and it will go to the U.S. Attorney, for the District of Columbia, where they have a duty, and the federal law specifically mentions that, a duty to bring it before a grand jury.

And so, that's our expectation, is that they will do just that. And this was a victory for the rule of law. And if we follow the law, then that will be the end result.

CUOMO: It would be quicker, if he just does a felony warrant, on his own, or just does his own charges, which he can do, in other matters. Is he not allowed to do that? Is the duty a must? Or is it just a must to do something?

AGUILAR: Well, they always retain their prosecutorial discretion. But the law specifically says "Duty." So, our expectation is that they will uphold that, and bring it before a grand jury.

But ultimately, and what people need to understand is this is a pursuit of the truth. Whatever vehicle is used, whatever tools that we can use, or that the Department of Justice seeks to use, the Committee is open to that.

We don't bring any - there's no joy in bringing this contempt citation. We just want to get to the facts. And the American public deserve that. And clearly, a bipartisan group of members, in the House, believe the same thing.

CUOMO: Time matters. And message matters. What happens if Bannon doesn't wind up getting prosecuted, and nothing happens to him? What do you think that does to your ability, to get anybody, to speak to you?

AGUILAR: Well we'll cross those bridges, when we get there. We hope that that's not the case.

But I can tell you that, from an investigative standpoint, we continue to have productive interviews, and conversations, with people, who are fact witnesses, and who know things, about the planning of the January 5 and January 6 rallies, the planning, the funding, the execution of those events.

We're having those good conversations. And we're making significant progress. And so, that obviously is helped by the more people, who come forward, and many have, and the more voices that we hear.

And that's why it's so important that we have Mr. Bannon, on the record, because he's the one, who said "All hell was going to break loose," on January 6. He's the one that said these, these things.

And so, we need to make sure that we ask him questions, and hold him accountable, for what he said, and to find out, who in government, and out of government, knew about the events.


CUOMO: Quickly, before I let you go, I know you're very busy, in terms of what you've learned about what you're up against?

When you hear the Minority Leader, in the House, McCarthy, say, "This is not a legitimate subpoena, of Steve Bannon, because you have these privilege issues," when he knows that the privilege issues are weak sauce, at best, what does that mean, in terms of what you're really up against here?

AGUILAR: Well, it means that unfortunately, the "Big lie" continues, and that, people, even in very high positions, in government, continue to foment that. And that's - and that's difficult.

But clearly, this was a vote, today, to proceed, Democrats and Republicans, seeking to get to the truth. Congress spoke loudly and clearly. That's exactly what we're going to do. Doesn't matter what the Minority Leader says. We're going to continue the pursuit to get to the truth here.

CUOMO: Congressman Pete Aguilar, good luck doing the work of the people. The truth matters.

AGUILAR: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. We're going to take a quick break, come back with the handoff.


CUOMO: Big night, for the President, chance on a big platform, to look at the American people, hear their questions, and give them confidence, that he can get it done, at a time that confidence in him is flagging.

Did he get it done? Our first take, on the big show, "DON LEMON TONIGHT," and its big star, D. Lemon.