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At This Hour

Biden Floats Nuclear Option to Counter Filibuster on Debt Ceiling; Facebook CEO Responds to Whistleblower Allegations; Interview with Rep. Peter Welch on Biden's Target for Spending Bill. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired October 06, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here is what we're watching at this hour.

Looming economic catastrophe: Congress has days to raise the debt ceiling. A key vote is hours away, as Democrats consider a once unthinkable option.

Mark Zuckerberg pushes back: the Facebook founder unapologetic, defending Facebook against a whistleblower's claims it puts profits over safety.

And a new warning on COVID-19: Americans struggling with substance abuse issues could face an even greater threat from coronavirus.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here everyone. Let's get to these top stories at this hour.

First, President Biden considering drastic measures to avoid a potential catastrophic debt default. The president now seems open to Senate Democrats using the so-called nuclear option to raise the debt ceiling, something he previously was against. Listen to this.


QUESTION: Are Democrats considering using the nuclear option to raise the debt limit using a carve-out with the filibuster to raise the debt limit?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think that's a real possibility.


BOLDUAN: A real possibility now. Getting rid of the filibuster here means Democrats would need only a simple majority, 50 -- just over 50 votes, which they would have without needing any Republican buy-in.

Separately, the Senate is expected to hold a test vote this afternoon on a measure to suspend the debt ceiling until December 2022. That vote is expected to fail.

Another big story, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is breaking his silence on a whistleblower's damning accusations in a new statement released just hours after Frances Haugen urged Congress to regulate social media giants like Facebook, Zuckerberg says her claims don't make any sense.

And the company, in his words, cares deeply about issues like safety and mental health. We'll have more on that in a moment.

Let's begin with the battle to raise the debt limit right now. CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill with more on this.

What are Democrats considering doing at this point?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is serious discussion about changing the Senate's filibuster rules. That's been something that's been off the table for much of this Congress, because of the resistance from some moderate senators, such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Others have resisted changing the filibuster rules. Remember, 60 votes are needed to overcome the filibuster. Today Republicans plan to block the legislation that would suspend the debt limit until after the elections.

As a result, Democrats are trying to discuss what their next steps are. That being one of the leading options here in the days ahead. In talking to Democratic senators, they believe there's new momentum behind this, because they say they're simply out of options. Listen.


RAJU: Do you think there would be 50 Democratic votes --

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): There will be. There's a lot of passion in the caucus about not allowing senator McConnell to derail our advancing the Build Back Better agenda.

RAJU: Why not just allow a simple majority then?

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Well, I think it takes -- I think consent would take all 50 Republican senators. I think you've got at least one -- if I heard right yesterday, at the Republican lunch, I think multiple Republican senators who are going to object to that.


RAJU: So that last point is important. That's Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri. One of the things Democrats have tried to do to raise the debt ceiling is to get an agreement from all 100 senators, it would require a simple majority, 51 votes, to raise the debt ceiling.

But as you know, Kate, any one Republican senator can force a 60-vote threshold. Josh Hawley saying there are multiple Republican senators who won't allow it to pass on that simple majority threshold today.

As a result, Democrats looking at these new options, changing the filibuster rules. But they need full unanimity within the Democratic caucus. We'll see if they can get there.

BOLDUAN: Manu, thank you so much. That test vote later today.

Mark Zuckerberg has testified now four times before Congress since last summer with little fallout for being frank -- until today maybe. It has more to do with what the Facebook CEO is not saying than anything he has testified to until now.

Breaking his silence in a long company letter on the whistleblower, Frances Haugen's, damning accusations against Facebook, Zuckerberg's new statement put out just hours after senators excoriated him in this hearing, in which the former Facebook product manager was the star witness.

CNN's Donie Sullivan is live in Washington, was there for the hearing, watching all of this play out.

What do you make of the statement from Zuckerberg and where do things go from here?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN TECH CORRESPONDENT: A lot of deflection in there, Kate. Let me read you some more of that statement.

He says, "At the heart of these accusations is the idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being.


"That's just not true. The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical."

He's also saying that we can't trust this whistleblower about Facebook's own research. He's saying that she is taking it out of context.

But we have seen, even just a few months ago, Facebook cherry-picking their own research to release publicly to make them look good. In fact, they shelved a report about the first quarter of 2021, the first three months of this year, which showed that one of the most popular links on Facebook was an anti-vaccine, essentially, article.

They shelved that Q1 report and then released the second quarter report. So they always cherry-pick what they want to make public. So for Zuckerberg to be saying that she's taking this research out of context, we can't even trust Mark Zuckerberg when it comes to Facebook's own research.

As to where this goes next, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a top senator on that committee that the whistleblower appeared before yesterday, said he wants Zuckerberg to do his explaining, not on Facebook but before Congress. And he wants to see him here in Washington, D.C., in the next few weeks. BOLDUAN: That sentiment getting bipartisan support. We even saw that

from Marsha Blackburn, tweeting back at a Facebook spokesperson, that exact same thing. Let's have the conversation. Maybe you should testify about all this. It's good to see you, Donie. Thanks so much.

Also developing this morning, several U.S. officials tell CNN that the suicide bomber that carried out the attack, killing 13 American service members and dozens of Afghans, had just been released from prison just days before the attack. CNN's international correspondent Clarissa Ward is live in Kabul.

What more are you learning?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Really this is bound, Kate, to reignite the debate about the U.S. handing over Bagram Air Base to the Afghan national army. That took place on July 1st.

We now understand from this new CNN reporting that Abdul Rehman Al- Loghri, the terrorist from ISIS-K who was responsible for killing 13 American service members and dozens of Afghan civilians, trying to get out of the country, that he had been held at Parwan prison in Bagram Air Base.

When the Taliban took power on that Sunday, the first thing they did, before coming into Kabul, was essentially to empty the prisons at Parwan prison in Bagram and also in Pul-e-Charkhi.

I remember that very well because there were very real security concerns across the whole capital that this could lead to a huge spike in crime and also terrorist activity. Parwan prison at Bagram held thousands of prisoners but also specifically hundreds of very dangerous terrorists.

Now the Taliban was obviously trying to release their own people from the prison. But in the process, they did release these ISIS-K members. That now has real ramifications in terms of the security situation here on the ground.

There was a large terrorist attack at a mosque here just a couple days ago. There have been ongoing attacks in Jalalabad. So this is really becoming a problem for the Taliban, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Clarissa, thank you for your continued reporting. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, as Democrats fight through figuring out what stays and what goes in the massive spending bill that is all of President Biden's domestic agenda at this point, they're also trying to keep the country from defaulting on its debts.

The progressive lawmaker, member of the House, who met with the president this week, he joins me next.

Also, researchers find that people with --




BOLDUAN: Back to the drama on Capitol Hill, the Senate is expected to hold a test vote in a couple hours about the debt ceiling, which must be raised or the economy will suffer what the Treasury Secretary says is a self-inflicted wound of enormous proportions.

This vote will fail; it will put Republicans on record, voting against fixing this problem. That is the point that Democrats would like to make.

But what now?

We'll get to it.

At the same time the real challenge remains about President Biden's domestic agenda. Democrats are arguing with Democrats over this still. And this massive spending bill will affect every American. Joining me now, Democratic congressman Peter Welch of Vermont, member of the progressive caucus. He also met with President Biden earlier this week.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT): Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the spending bill first and negotiations over that.

What are you willing to lose to get this over the finish line?

Because it's going to need to be smaller.

WELCH: I would be willing to bring the number down. In our meeting with the president, he's totally committed to the policies. And he wants to focus on the policies. And he's totally realistic that the price tag is going to have to come down because of the resistance of senator Manchin and senator Sinema.

But bottom line, if we're able to do things in climate, which are very popular with Republicans and Democrats across the country, if we're able to do things that will help families with child care, with family leave, with pre-K education, we might not be able to do it for as many years.

We can shrink the years but we can get those programs started.


WELCH: So I think that's a path forward and there's broad support among our caucus.

Unfortunately, we need unanimous support in the Senate and every Democrat, except three in the House.


WELCH: The massive spending program, even at $3.5 trillion, over the next 10 years, the gross domestic product in our country is $282 trillion. You put it in that context and it gives you a different picture, that this is something we can afford to do.


BOLDUAN: As we look 10 years out, the numbers get squishy.

What you're getting at, though, is an important piece, which is, is it better to cut the time that programs will be available, scale down who and how many benefit?

Or cut out programs entirely in order to let things be as fully funded as you maybe originally wanted?

You're thinking shrink the time period, yes?

WELCH: Well, I am. I also think we're not going to be able to escape some hard decisions. So I think at the end of the day we're going to try to do things that has a immediate a benefit for American families as possible -- do that perhaps in a shorter period of time -- and with the confidence that, if people get accustomed to the tax reduction for working families, where the child gets a $300 credit each month, or where there is affordable and accessible child care or when a loved one gets sick, you can take family leave with some help from the federal government, we think those will be popular.

And actually, I think those are really good for a family, whether that family voted for Trump or whether that family voted for Biden. Families need that. So we think that the success of the programs will be, once they're implemented, people will support them.

BOLDUAN: Will you vote for the bill if the Hyde amendment, a measure prohibiting federal funds to be used for most abortions, if it's part of the final deal?

I ask because other progressive members have drawn a line here.

WELCH: I'm against the Hyde amendment but there's no way that -- we're going to be able to work around that and we have to because the Hyde amendment is already, n here or not, it doesn't change what is existing law.

So what you're seeing is an effort that is unrelenting on the part of the Senate leadership and House leadership, on the Republican side, to doom everything in the Biden agenda, even things that many of my Republican colleagues privately tell me they support.

BOLDUAN: The debt ceiling: the test vote is going to fail in the Senate today. And, yes, Republicans are being hypocritical and not cooperating to avoid catastrophe here because they have done it many times in the past, raised the debt ceiling with Democratic support to make it an easy path.

But even just getting to the edge of disaster and avoiding it, when it comes to the debt ceiling, could have real effects, could be very bad for the economy and the country. Democrats can do this alone.

Do you think it is smart to take this any closer to the edge?

WELCH: Well, that's up to senator McConnell. As you mentioned, it is hypocritical. By the way, I've always supported increasing the debt ceiling, whether it's a Republican or a Democratic president.

It's like a family who has a mortgage and decides they're sick of paying for it, they won't pay the mortgage. That's not going to work out well for that family. It's not going to work out well for our country.

But we will do it alone if we have to. But the imposition by Mitch McConnell of the reconciliation process, which he's talking about, is fraught with procedural peril.


BOLDUAN: But it can be done. But it can be done. And for a moment -- for a moment, not blaming the other party, if you have a menu of options before you, you know it's a real problem, you know that waiting longer makes it more of a problem. You have options before you. Why not pull the trigger and avoid disaster?

Why not?

WELCH: Senator Schumer will do whatever it takes in order for us to avoid it. But you're saying something here that has to be challenged.

Why won't senator McConnell let the Democrats do it alone in the straightforward process?


BOLDUAN: Because he wants to stop the Biden agenda. I mean, the hypocrisy here is real. I'm not saying that Republicans aren't at fault for being on the other side of this and McConnell -- I've run millions of sound bites, I'm exaggerating, of the disaster it would be during the trump years of default.

I'm just saying you're going to get blamed because you have got the House, the Senate and the White House, if there is damage done, from even getting up to the line on the debt ceiling.

WELCH: Yes. And the person that has the most control about us resisting us doing what we are absolutely required to do is Mitch McConnell.


WELCH: As you know, the House has raised the debt ceiling. That was with all the Democratic votes and massive resistance on the Republican side. In the Senate, with the procedural rules, where you have the filibuster, 60 votes, then McConnell has a lot of authority to be able to stop America from doing what America needs to do.

Senator Schumer will probably proceed -- this would be my guess -- with reconciliation. But as you know, with reconciliation, you have two sets of vote-a-ramas, all these absurd all-night Senate voting issues.

You get grandstanding senators, like Ted Cruz, who can do a lot of mischief along the way. So with senator McConnell, let's put responsibility where it belongs. He's empowering, he's empowering the most extreme elements in his caucus to grandstand on the debt ceiling at America's peril.

And he's doing it at a time when he knows it's our collective responsibility to pay our bills.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thanks for coming on.

WELCH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, one area of bipartisan agreement in Washington, cracking down on Facebook and other companies like it. Pressure mounting after the whistleblower's damning testimony. A deeper dive into this next.





BOLDUAN: Following the damning testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, there appears to be bipartisan consensus that social media giants and Big Tech like Facebook need to be regulated.

The question ,is how do lawmakers do it and what would it look like?

Joining me now, CNN commentator and former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, and Keach Hagey, one of the "The Wall Street Journal" reporters behind that bombshell series of investigative pieces on Facebook and the thousands of documents that Frances Haugen released.

Thanks for being here, guys.

Keach, Zuckerberg said, the way he described it was, it's frustrating and difficult to read. Another place he said what he calls mischaracterizations of Facebook as it relates to their research on Instagram's effects on kids but also Facebook's work overall more broadly. He's talking about your reporting.

What do you say, Keach? KEACH HAGEY, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": There are a few things in Mark Zuckerberg's response that I think don't really paint the whole picture. And the main one is that, when he's describing why they rolled out this algorithm change in 2018 toward meaningful social interactions, which is what our story was about, he said that this was something that changed the emphasis away from viral videos and toward friends and family.

Yes, that's true but that's only part of the picture. What he doesn't talk about and what our story really focused on was, at the same time, what that change did, was it boosted Facebook's obsession with engagement.

During the whistleblower's testimony yesterday, you heard over and over again her talk about the dangers of engagement-based ranking, this obsession with getting comments and likes and reshares.

This is where the danger lies for the current version of the algorithm. And Mark Zuckerberg completely skips over that and then says that Facebook was making a sacrifice by doing this because it sacrificed time spent.

But as we report, that doesn't really tell the whole picture because they were panicking inside the company before making that change, that these engagement metrics were going down.

So part of the reason for doing this algorithm change was to boost metrics for Facebook's bottom line, because it was going to help Facebook's business in the long term, by making sure that people stayed on the platform.

The second broad point I would say is he sets up several straw men, including this idea that we were suggesting -- or that the whistleblower was suggesting -- that Facebook was creating an algorithm on purpose to make angry content go viral.

That's not what anyone is suggesting. We're suggesting that they did this, they created incentives that allowed this to happen. Then when their own researchers came to them with solutions, they didn't want to do it if it meant sacrificing engagement.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, if you were sitting in this hearing and then reading Zuckerberg's response, dismissing it as a false picture and pieces of it -- just not true is how he put it -- what would you be doing today?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, making it very clear -- here is the problem. By the way, some great reporting, Keach, on this. I think this is so long overdue.

Facebook is an advertising company that has a good technology platform. They earn their revenue by advertising. And so, of course, they're making decisions that, on the outside, we would say, probably ought not do that. I would be pointing out a couple things.

One, they know and clearly didn't do anything about it, that this is harmful to kids on one of their platforms; certainly Instagram. There's a few things that we can do to that end. One is giving parents more control. It doesn't take any regulation. They can do it tomorrow if they want.

I argue, as a parent myself, kids are a little older now, would love to have that ability if my kids were younger, number one.

Number two, they knowingly, according to past testimony, even in Congress, they knew that the Russian government was causing some trouble using their algorithms, targeting Americans.