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At This Hour

Biden Honors Fallen Heroes at Arlington National Cemetery; Texas Democrats Stage Walkout, Blocking Restrictive Voting Bill; Israel PM Netanyahu May Be Ousted As Rivals Try to Unseat Him; Manhunt Underway After Mass Shooting Outside Florida Club. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2021 - 11:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Kate Bolduan. Welcome to this special holiday edition of AT THIS HOUR.

Here are the top stories we're watching, blocked for now. Texas Democrats walk off the statehouse floor forcing a restrictive voting bill to fail but the governor vows to keep fighting to get it passed.

Manhunt in Florida. Police now searching for three gunmen after another mass shooting in America.

And it's been a century since one of the darkest days in U.S. history. Why have so few Americans learned about the Tulsa race massacre and what's destroyed.


HILL: AT THIS HOUR, President Biden is honoring those who gave their lives for this country on his first Memorial Day as commander in chief. The president just spoke at Arlington National Cemetery, taking part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier a short time ago.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond joining us now live from the White House with more.

Jeremy, good morning.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. This was President Biden using his role once again as consoler in chief, a role that he is familiar with not only because of his long years of service to this country but also because of course because of the personal tragedy that he has faced. He did reference the fact that yesterday marked six years since the death of his son Beau Biden who died of brain cancer but did serve in the Delaware National Guard in Iraq and the president recalling that that was the best year of Beau's life.

We did hear the president although he did not directly address the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which is under way and could be completed as early as July, he did talk about Section 60. That section at Arlington National Cemetery where the war dead from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried and we did hear the president talk about those who are buried there.

Listen to a few moments of his remarks.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hundreds of graves are here from recent conflicts. Hundreds of patriots gave their all, each -- each of them leaving behind a family who live with their pain and their absence every single day. I want to assure each of those families we will never forget what you gave to our country. We will never fail to honor your sacrifice each day.


DIAMOND: And the president sought to make this speech about so much more than just honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this country, the president also talking about the importance of unity and democracy and saying that those soldiers, those brave soldiers who died for this country died for the sake of this idea of democracy that we have here in the United State.

And the president once again making one of his many appeals for unity in a country that at times seems oh so divided, especially notable just days after Senate Republicans blocked that effort to investigate -- to create that bipartisan commission to investigate that January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol -- Erica.

HILL: Jeremy Diamond with the latest for us from the White House -- Jeremy, thank you.

AT THIS HOUR, Republicans in Texas suffering a big defeat in their efforts to make voting harder. Democrats in the state legislature walked off the House floor late last night, leaving Republicans without a quorum for a vote. The GOP backed effort to enact a slue of new voting restrictions is dead for now, emphasis on for now because the battle is far from over.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in Austin, Texas, with the latest for us.

So, Dianne, where do we stand?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Erica, at this point the Democrats are, to be very frank, elated today, the members that I have spoken with, the voting rights activists I have spoken with this morning and late last night said that this was the nuclear option and some of them still can't believe that the Democrats actually used that breaking up the quorum, but this may be short- lived.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott who declared this election legislation a legislative priority at the beginning of this session tweeted almost immediately that he planned to call a special session to redo this, basically, and that could happen as early as tomorrow. Now, look, Senate bill 7 adds new restrictions to Texas' already very restrictive voting laws, it adds the restrictions and regulations, also adds new and enhanced criminal and civil penalties to the whole voting process.


For example, it makes it a crime for a public official to send an unsolicited mail-in ballot application. It also prohibits overnight and Sunday morning voting, which Democrats pointed out could make it hard to do something like souls to the polls. It expands access for partisan poll watchers, stops drive-through voting and makes it easier to overturn election results by lessening the burden of proof for evidence of fraud.

Now, this bill we have been working through covering over months now. But in the past few days over a holiday weekend much of this was done under the cover of darkness into the early morning hours. Democrats say that they are ready to continue taking this fight and are prepared in special session, Erica, but, again, this is an uphill battle as Republicans do control both chambers and of course the governor's mansion here.

HILL: Dianne Gallagher with the latest for us in Austin -- Dianne, thank you.

Joining me now Democratic Texas State Senator Beverly Powell.

Good to have you with us.

As Dianne just noted a lot of activity in her words under cover of darkness Saturday night. You were there, can you just walk us through -- we are talking about late on a Saturday night over a holiday weekend. There are a lot of questions about the timing there.

Can you take us into the chamber and just walk us through what happened in those hours?

BEVERLY POWELL (D), TEXAS STATE SENATOR: Absolutely, Erica. And thank you for having me today. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

Yes, absolutely, it was dark of night kind of collaboration over this bill. And we began deliberation of this bill, I think, at 10:30 in the evening on Saturday night, and deliberated on it until 6:00 the next morning. You know, that doesn't allow for time for the public to know what you're about to do. This -- we've done a number of these bills this session that have been deliberated throughout the middle of the night.

We've had 3:00 in the morning sessions, 4:00 in the morning sessions and this one that lasted until about 6:15 in the morning. And then, again, last night we were here until midnight as we watched our Democratic colleagues walk off the floor in the House.

HILL: I think the question for a lot of people, especially outside of Texas as they watch this is why? Why not let the public in? Why not do this during sort of normal operating hours? How do you answer that question?

POWELL: I think that the leadership in the state of Texas as in leadership in states across the United States have been intent this year on making it more difficult for our citizens to vote. I'm not surprised to see that this bill went down during this regular session.

But make no mistake about it, this could come back in its worst form in a special session. So, we are already making our plans to know how to address that if it happens.

HILL: So it sounds like that could happen, there is a very real possibility based on, you know, what we've heard from Governor Abbott. You said we must begin preparing for the fight ahead in response to what we saw last night.

What does this mean? This is an uphill battle as Dianne pointed out for Democrats in Texas.

POWELL: Well, it means -- one of the things that it means is that we have to scrutinize the bill in its current state as closely as we can to understand the details and the impact of every single element in that bill. And you laid them out very succinctly at the beginning of this interview. We need to have our staff look over these bills and we need to be prepared on the floor to deliberate every single element of the bills as they come forward.

HILL: So you're prepared to deliberate -- some Democratic lawmakers have threatened legal action if these restrictions go into effect. If you get to that point, I mean, do you think that would be successful?

POWELL: You know, we have spent a decade fighting for voters' rights in the state of Texas and many times the court system has overturned different elements of what was deemed to be voter suppression and they've overturned elements of redistricting to make sure that we do a better job in the state of Texas of making sure that minority voices were heard, make sure that our African-American voices were heard, that our Latino voices were heard.

Also elements of this bill restrict the voting rights of our elderly, of veterans, of new voters, of people that are being naturalized into the state of Texas and into the United States.


We have an enormous responsibility as Democrats right now to ensure the voting rights of all people and I think it's important to say here that that's our job, that's our responsibility to make sure that everyone has easy access to the ballot instead of making it harder to vote and more restrictive to vote.

I fail to understand why we aren't doing things that make it easier for people to vote, to provide for more access (ph) for people to vote. That's the thing that we should be focusing on. More times, more locations.

HILL: State Senator Beverly Powell, I appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you.

POWELL: Thank you, Erica. It's been great to be with you. HILL: Also with us, Jeremy Wallace. He's a political reporter for

"The Houston Chronicle".

Jeremy, good to have you with us as well.

So, you know, I was struck by my colleague Ed Lavandera retweeted your Twitter thread from late Saturday night into Sunday morning which really struck me. It began with you chronicling what it was like to try to do your job.

You said, they took away my access to the floor and to be able to read amendments to major bills. They took away my access to electricity to power my laptop, and they took away my Saturday night with my kids but, Texas, I'm still here. And you stayed there letting us all know what was happening.

What set you up for that scene? We did reach out, I should point out, and heard from the lieutenant governor's office who they basically told us there was nothing out of sorts here. They're not sure what the power issue was.

A spokesperson telling us there was a thunderstorm Saturday night but power was never lost, and said that this had been determined by all 31 senators at the beginning of each legislative year about permission to be or not be in the Senate gallery.

JEREMY WALLACE, POLITICAL REPORTER, HOUSTON CHRONICLE: Yeah, this is something that they set up at the start of the year for sure. They declared that this was a COVID precaution to make sure that there was proper social distancing.

So, normally, we would be on the floor of the Texas legislature -- of the Texas Senate able to see what amendments were coming up, what bills, what changes were being made. We would be able to see how the votes happen.

But this year, what they've done is relegated us to the public gallery up in the upper deck where we don't have access to any of that stuff. And to make matters worse there is no electricity up there for reporters to plug in computers or cell phones or any other devices. We are literally up there with no electricity to be able to plug in when some of my colleagues have tried to, you know, bring up extension cords to plug into outlets we've been stopped from doing so.

So we're up there. You know, in this case, this was an eight-hour debate on Saturday night into early Sunday morning. I had no way to keep my computer powered up.

So I would occasionally have to step out just to be able to power things up so I could continue to tweet and let the people of Texas know what I was seeing.

HILL: And there's such high interest in this, not just in the state of Texas where I know you've covered politics for a long time but nationwide. I think we can put up a map of looking at which states are working to pass measures at this point that would make voting more restrictive. What is the potential impact of SB-7 in the state of Texas?

WALLACE: Well, the impact -- you know, there is an immediate impact which is to take away particularly some voting elements that Harris County where Houston is try to experiment with, that means drive- through voting, that means late night voting. San Antonio did some of this stuff as well where they were trying to give more options for people to vote.

And it worked. There were a lot of people who went to work, historic numbers voted in this presidential election, just blew us away by how much. Some of those options now are going to be taken away and so those folks are going to have to find a different way to vote and as Senator Powell was talking about, they're making changes to absentee balloting here where people who are 65 and older who are eligible to get an absentee ballot, they are going to have new paperwork to fill out, they are going to have new things to look at to try to make sure they get those ballots.

So, you can see that there are going to be people who just have new elements put in front of them in order to go vote and the more things you put in front of somebody to vote, just the more chances you have for people not getting there and getting their ballot counted.

HILL: Jeremy Wallace, appreciate you staying up late for everyone, was out there across the country as well. We'll continue to follow your reporting. Thank you.

WALLACE: All right. Thank you.

HILL: Just ahead, Israel's longest serving prime minister could be us ousted in days. How Netanyahu is fighting back as his rivals move to unseat him.

Plus, searching for the suspects. Three gunmen on the loose after a mass shooting in Florida. What the police are saying this morning.



HILL: AT THIS HOUR, the fate of Israel's longest serving prime minister is in limbo. A group of opposition leaders is trying to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu by forming a coalition government uniting right wing centrists and leftist parties.

Joining me now, CNN global affairs analyst Aaron David Miller. He's a former State Department and Middle East negotiator and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Good to have you as always.

I mean, when we look at the situation, given how long Netanyahu has been in power at this point, what are the chances that this coalition succeeds in ousting him?

AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Right now, it looks pretty good, although Mr. Netanyahu is well beyond his quotient of nine lives.


And I frankly was surprised by this and I won't believe this until the government is actually not just announced but sworn in I believe early next week, maybe on Monday.

He still will command -- he will go to the opposition, he will still be the head of the largest and probably most coherent political party in Israel, the Likud, but it will bring to an end, Erica, a decade- plus longest governing prime minister in Israel's history surpassing even Israel's greatest prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

HILL: So if that, if that were to happen as you said, you will believe it when you see t this could be a very long week as we watch things play out depending on where they end up, what do you see the impact being specifically when it comes to the situation in Gaza because I think the timing here is really important and can't be ignored. Just on the heels, of course, of this ceasefire, this is typically a move that would have helped Netanyahu and yet here we are with this challenge.

MILLER: You know, I think you're dealing finally with Netanyahu fatigue. In the last election, the Likud lost 300,000 votes and they didn't go anywhere else, this he stayed home. Plus, this coalition is composed of all of many of the former prime minister's proteges, all of whom he has wronged and all of whom are here to see him go.

It's a change coalition. One of the things it's going to change is the departure of Mr. Netanyahu. As far as Gaza is concerned, I think frankly, Erica that's going to be driven more by the reality that Israel and Hamas have accomplished about all they're going to accomplish and to renew confrontation is going to risk those accomplishments.

So I think this government will not be able to deal with politically sensitive issues. Gaza, though, it may actually be willing and able to tackle and, again, that's uncertain, we will see how this plays out in the next couple weeks.

HILL: What could the impact be potentially on relations with the U.S.?

MILLER: I think Joe Biden caught a break here. I think you're going to end up with a Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who paradoxically is to the right of Mr. Netanyahu on peace issues but who at the same time is going to be constrained by the fact that you've got center and leftist parties in the coalition, this is short of a mutually assured destruction.

So, it will end up I think in a relationship with the U.S. that is less volatile. Mr. Bennett will not play to the Republican Party or to the evangelicals as Mr. Netanyahu did. I think by and large, even on Iran, I think assuming the government is formed, it's going to be, I think, much more difficult and unwilling, I think, to openly challenge Mr. Biden's efforts to return to the joint plan of action, Iran nuclear agreement.

So, on the whole, I think this will benefit the Biden administration.

HILL: We will be watching to see how this plays out. Aaron David Miller, always appreciate your insight. Thank you.

MILLER: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Coming up, chilling new video of the masked gunmen wanted for a deadly mass shooting over the weekend. We have the latest on the investigation next.



HILL: At this hour, a massive manhunt is under way for the masked gunmen who carried out the latest mass shooting in America. On Sunday, three suspects opened fire outside a club in Miami-Dade County, triggering a shootout between two rival groups, two people were killed, 21 others wounded.

CNN's Natasha Chen joining us now.

So, Natasha, I know police and the mayor just held a news conference. What more did we learn?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, a lot is still out there, a lot of questions marks, but what we do have is brand-new video that the police released publicly to ask the public's help in identifying these people and this car.

If we can show that, this happens very quickly, but you see three individuals getting out of a white Nissan Pathfinder. They exit the vehicle. That's when police say they fired shots at a crowd standing outside of this establishment, this lounge hosting a private concert.

And really from the video we're seeing within seconds they are getting back into that car and fleeing the scene. Police explained that when they shot at people standing outside that venue the people there shot back at them and so that's why perhaps we were seeing so many markings on the ground yesterday for shell casings outside of that business.

In talking about the people who were shot, police say there were 23 in total, two people were killed, three of the injured remain in critical condition right now, three others who were injured have already been released from the hospitals and one of those who was released is only 17 years old. So, a lot of young people here.

Here is the police talking about speaking with the family members now grieving and dealing with the fallout of this incident.


MAJOR JORGE AGUIAR, MIAMI-DADE POLICE HOMICIDE BUREAU: The mother that yesterday fell down and broke down in front of me that I could hardly hold her up and we had to get a group of people to hold her up, we have to tell her that her child is dead.