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At This Hour

Soon: House to Vote on Charging Steve Bannon with Contempt; VP Kamala Harris to Campaign Today for Terry McAuliffe; Texas GOP Redraws Map as Senate Republicans Block Voting Bill; Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 21, 2021 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, HOST, AT THIS HOUR: Sanjay, thank you so much.


BOLDUAN: It's great to see you. Coming up next for us, House lawmakers, all of them will be voting in just hours on holding Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress just as the attorney general who decides what to do with that charge is testifying on Capitol Hill. We have it all covered for you next.


BOLDUAN: Developing right now the full House of Representatives will begin debating and vote this afternoon on holding former Trump Advisor Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the Capitol insurrection. CNN's Ryan Nobles is live on Capitol Hill with more on this. Ryan, what is going to happen today?

RYAN NOBLES, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, it's going to be a pretty straightforward legislative day, Kate. We don't expect too many surprises. As you mentioned, early this afternoon the House will take up the measures related to this criminal contempt referral of Steve Bannon.

There will be a debate on the rule, and then eventually a debate on the order itself before the full House votes on it. And then with its passage will then referred to the Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice.

There is one interesting wrinkle, and I know, Kate, you spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill, so, I'm sure this will interest you. Because of the -- kind of the dynamics of the select committee, you know, you have a chair and a vice-chair that are of different parties, Liz Cheney, and Bennie Thompson but they're basically aligned on this issue.


So, the rule that was passed actually allows for Jim Banks, who is, of course, a Freedom Caucus member of the Republican Party to be the opposing person debating this issue today on the House floor. So, Cheney will get time, Thompson will get time, and then Banks will be the one arguing in opposition to this measure today on the House floor.

And one of the things we're going to be watching for is how many Republicans break ranks with their party and vote with Democrats to refer this criminal contempt charge against Steve Bannon. Republican leadership making it clear that they want them to vote no, they put out a specific leadership recommendation yesterday.

But, of course, Kate, as we've seen with issues like this, for instance, the forming of the Independent Commission, and, of course, the impeachment of President Trump, there's always a couple of Republicans to keep an eye on to see if they break ranks.

We expect that to happen today as well. But overwhelmingly, this will be a partisan vote. Almost all the Democrats voting yes, and almost all the Republicans voting no. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Ryan. Thank you so much. So, the man at the center of whether to prosecute Steve Bannon after that step that Ryan's just laying out, Attorney General Merrick Garland.

He is testifying right now on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee. He just weighed in on the Bannon decision. Let's get over to CNN's Jessica Schneider, she's following this for us. Jessica what -- Jessica what is the attorney general saying?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, this has actually be a very wide-ranging hearing, Kate. The attorney general has very much tried to stay on message to talk about the moves that the Justice Department has made during his seven months at the top.

In particular, he referenced the fact that they've doubled the staff of their voting rights section in the past year to be prepared to evaluate this influx of voting rights laws that have been enacted by mostly Republican states. And at the same time, the attorney general here, he is sticking to this message that he always focuses on.

He repeatedly has said the justice department is not political, and that its sole goal is to uphold and protect the rule of law. But, of course, today is that House vote on the Steve Bannon contempt referral.

And when the attorney general was asked what the DOJ will do when this referral is ultimately handed over to them for potential prosecution the attorney general did stick to the response that has been repeated for more than week now by officials within DOJ and the U.S. attorney's office here in Washington. Here's what the attorney general said.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL, U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: The House of Representatives votes for a referral of a contempt charge the Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances. It will apply the facts and the law and make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHNEIDER: And interestingly so far Republicans have not really been pressing the attorney general on this possible Steve Bannon prosecution. Instead, Kate, they've been slamming Garland for a memo he sent out October 4th that directs the FBI and local prosecutors to work with school boards to maybe thwart some of those growing threats that educators have faced when it comes to COVID protocols.

Even teaching the issues of race. This has been a big Republican talking point. But the attorney general, we saw him get a little bit rattled in response defending his memo. Saying this was just a memo, not trying to tamp down on free speech just saying any threats will be countered. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jessica, thank you very much. Much more to come on that. In the meantime, let me bring in CNN Legal Analyst Jennifer Rodgers, former federal prosecutor. It's good to see you, Jennifer. So, the way that the January 6th Committee have been talking about this Bannon situation, I will call it, is that -- is that it's an easy decision for Garland to make.

They are confident that Steve Bannon has no leg to stand on here in what he is claiming. Which he says that executive privilege needs to be decided by the courts before he can do anything. So, he's not going to respond in any way, shape, or form to the request from the committee. You say for the Justice Department though it's not so easy. Why?

JENNIFER RODGERS, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, it's just not quite that simple, Kate. You know, this is a winnable case, don't get me wrong. I think the Justice Department should do it. And the reason is that what Bannon is doing is not really claiming he's got executive privilege but, in fact, claiming an absolute blanket privilege.

That he doesn't have to do anything, he doesn't have to supply any documents or testify at all. So, that's the reason I think that DOJ should begin the case. And this is, frankly, the best shot they're going to get at it because Bannon has by far the weakest claims on executive privilege.

But they're going to be reluctant, they haven't been excited to do, frankly, any investigations surrounding Trump or his inner circle. They've taken a pass it seems on the obstruction laid out in the Mueller report, on the Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels campaign finance case that was brought in Manhattan.

And so far as we know on the January 6th activities. So, this kind of puts it in the Justice Department's lap and I'm not sure they're happy to have it. You know, they've been historically reluctant to bring these kinds of prosecutions on contempt of Congress.

And the DOJ, which is part of the executive branch has a long-standing pursuant to its office of legal council opinions view that executive privilege is broad.


And that is relatively expansive. So, I think for all of those reasons they're pretty reluctant to do this.

BOLDUAN: And look, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are using the word executive privilege when it comes to this. But what they're really -- seem to be seeking is obviously more than that. I mean, the way you described it is absolute immunity. Why is that different and distinct here?

RODGERS: Well, the truth is we don't have a lot of information about the parameters of executive privilege because it hasn't been litigated very much. But one thing we do know, it is not an absolute privilege. You cannot just say I absolutely refuse to come, refuse to turn over any documents at all.

Instead what Bannon really should be doing is engaging with the committee to go through what parts of his testimony he can give. What doesn't have anything to do with communications between him and the former president. Because the select committee is seeking a lot of information from Bannon that it is clear he can give without executive privilege even coming into play. So, we do know that.

The problem is we don't know the exact parameters of executive privilege. And it is possible under the case law that a court might find in this lawsuit that President Trump brought the other day might be the vehicle to do that. That there is some limited executive privilege in some of the conversations between the former president and Steve Bannon.

BOLDUAN: And what I hear on all of this is that it's this -- if when this starts going through the legal process it takes -- it just takes a lot of time. It's good to see you, Jennifer, thank you very much, appreciate it.

Coming up for us, less than two weeks until election day in Virginia's governors race. The most-watched race in the country right now. And Vice President Kamala Harris will be campaigning today with Terry McAuliffe. Her pitch, and what is at stake in this neck and neck race right now.



BOLDUAN: It is the most closely watched governor's race in the country. And the Democratic Parties big names are showing up. Vice President Kamala Harris will be in Virginia today to campaign with Terry McAuliffe.

A new poll shows that the race between Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin now is in a dead heat with just 12 days to go until they start counting votes. Let's get over to CNN's Dan Merica, he's been watching all of this. Dan, what does the vice president bring? What are you hearing from Virginia? DAN MERICA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, CNN: I mean, it's all about excitement at this point. As you note, that polls showed a dead heat. It's a Monmouth University poll that showed Glenn Youngkin, the Republican at 46 percent, and Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat at 46 percent.

As you see in the graphic, that is a shift towards Youngkin over the last month. And that is why Democrats over that last month have really been dower about their standing in this race. And whether their base, a base that helped tilt this state blue in 2020, you'll remember Biden won it by 10 points over Donald Trump.

Whether that base is motivated enough to deliver the state again for Democrats. And that's why they're calling on people like Kamala Harris, as you'll note, Stacey Abrams will be in Virginia on Sunday, President Barack Obama will be there on Saturday for a rally in the Richmond area.

There is expectations that President Biden will be back in Virginia, again, McAuliffe has said multiple times that he intends Biden to come back. But all of this is aimed at turning out voters, Democratic base voters. Those same voters that delivered Biden a win in the Commonwealth in 2020.

And there are concerns that Democrats are not engaged enough. And that's why you've seen McAuliffe repeatedly turn to tying Glenn Youngkin to Donald Trump throughout this campaign.

And the aim of that, if he -- if McAuliffe can successfully tie Youngkin and Trump together the aim is to really see whether Democrats are still motivated by Trump and turnout because of their fear of Trump coming back and Republicans rising again. Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Dan. Thank you so much for your reporting. So, I want to turn to this, a big development and story we've been following closely. A big move today by the NFL.

"The New York Times" is reporting that the league has agreed to end the use of a controversial practice known as race-norming, to calculate payments to players for past concussion injuries. The original process involved assuming that black players began their careers with a lower cognitive level than white players.

And what this resulted in was black players need -- players needing to show greater cognitive decline than white players in order to be compensated in these settlements. So, now the league has agreed to a race-neutral process. Meaning millions more in additional payouts could be coming if a judge approves this deal.

We'll continue to follow this and bring you more. Ahead for us, Democrats are now facing two more roadblocks in their attempts to bolster voting rights. Republican opposition in the Senate, and newly redrawn Congressional maps in Texas.

Don't turn away, this is important because if you are frustrated in politics, this is why and this segment is one you will want to see. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BOLDUAN: Senate Republicans yesterday blocked for a third time this year legislation crafted by Democrats to strengthen voting rights protections across the country. All 50 Democrats and Independents supported the bill, all 50 Republicans voted against it again. The divide also playing out in a big way in Texas.

Where the Republican-controlled legislature just approved their new congressional map redrawn to further increase Republican-dominated districts. And they do not reflect the fact that black, Hispanic, and other minority groups account for basically all of the population growth in that state according to the census.


Joining me right now is long-time Republican Election Attorney Ben Ginsberg who's been involved in drawing a few maps in the past, and Jessica Huseman, the editorial director of VoteBeat, and importantly Texas native.

Jessica, people are looking at this because Texas gained more Congressional seats this time, this time around than any other state. You're looking at what the legislature has finalized. How bad is this gerrymandering?

JESSICA HUSEMAN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, VOTEBEAT : It's not great. And I think that you could look only so far as the fact that the state has already been sued over these maps. And, in fact, was sued before the maps were even officially approved. As you said, all of the growth is due to mostly Latino population growth in the state.

But the maps don't take that into consideration at all. Despite the huge growth we're not going to see any Democratic seats gained in the next election most likely given these lines. And so, I would say that it is -- it's really the Republicans last attempt to hold onto power here.

BOLDUAN: Ben, this something you and I have debated for so long. He stopped taking my calls, I'm just warning everyone. Here's a look at what the redistricting looks like in Texas this time around.

And gerrymandering is the source of all evil I will declare yet it is still happening. Why are these legislators allowed to do this? There is a portion according to "The Journal," Ben, in one district in Texas now that is just 28 houses wide.

BEN GINSBERG, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes, that happens from time to time. This is the time of the decade when the political animal behaves in this particular fashion. Just like the Texas map, the Democrats in Illinois have drawn up a map that would completely eviscerate the Republicans.

Illinois loses a seat, Democrats would pick up two seats, Republicans would lose a seat. A swing of three, very oddly drawn lines. So, this is a bipartisan exercise in incumbents exerting power at this particular time of the decade.

BOLDUAN: But, Jessica, hold on one second I got to go for a double-dip here. Then why, Ben, why aren't they all independent commissions? If the choice is the lesser of two evils in who gets to decide, why not try to take politics out of it slightly?

GINSBERG: Well, as you can see in the commissions that are now operating in Virginia and Colorado, and several other states you never take the politics out of it. And arguably redistricting by legislators who are directly elected by the people is a preferable way to do it than the commissions that are equally political but driven by staff that are not responsible to the people.

BOLDUAN: Arlington, Texas is now broken into, it's like 400,000 people, it's now broken into four Congressional districts, Jessica. This is -- it really -- it should make everyone upset. This is not a new problem as Ben is clearly laying out. But what we see though is that Democrats are trying to tackle -- voting access is what they're targeting on a federal level, right. Is that the place to fight this out when we see this going on in states?

HUSEMAN: No. I -- the Democrats have really gone about this in a confusing way. I can't really understand what their political strategy is. They spent the last few months really laying in hard to Joe Manchin ignoring the fact that they still do need a couple of Republicans to sign onto whatever bill they come up with in order for it to pass.

Or they need to, you know, reform the filibuster, which they seem to have no appetite to do. So, I think that this has sort of been an effort in frustration all along. I'm not sure why they thought it would be successful. And in the meantime, they've not done a lot of really important stuff.

For example, fund election infrastructure, which is crumbling. Which would be a great way to serve voters and they could have done a couple of different times.

BOLDUAN: So, Ben, then the easiest -- here's the softball for you. What is the solution? Is -- I will declare once again, gerrymandering is the source of all evil.

GINSBERG: Yes, I don't necessarily agree with that that it's the source of all evil.

BOLDUAN: Cut his mike.

GINSBERG: But I think that --

BOLDUAN: I'm kidding, keep going.

GINSBERG: -- but the solution to this I think is to recognize the demographics of the country as they exist. Which is to say that in this decade people are living more like other people. So, it is really difficult to draw competitive districts.

But the way to do this is to pass legislation in individual states that say our highest virtue is competitive districts as opposed to preservation of communities and things like that. And by creating competitive districts as the top criteria in states you'll force states to actually look at how to make closer elections.

BOLDUAN: A girl can dream that this could actually be solved.-