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At This Hour

How Should Biden Handle the Russia and Nord Stream 2?; Voting Rights Legislation; Kamala Harris Addressing Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta Virtually. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 11:30   ET


JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: The way the withdrawal took place, the Russians and the Chinese would be saying, well the fact that we withdrew from Afghanistan at all is a sign of weakness.

So, we -- we have to be careful about how we analyze the Afghan factor in the current crisis.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That's an interesting point. You -- look, you've been very clear on how you feel about how this administration, the Biden administration handled the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. You've called it a disaster.

HERBST: Correct (ph).

HARLOW: Their handling of it. That, of course, is the pipeline that carries gas from -- is about to carry gas from Russia to Germany.

Listen to President Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Friday.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: There is no gas currently going through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. There will not be for months at least. And we have made clear to the Russians that that pipeline is at risk if they move further into Ukraine. That is leverage for us. You slap sanctions on it right now you take that leverage away.


HARLOW: Is the Biden administration just simply miscalculating that it has the leverage here?

HERBST: Well yes, because the Germans have refused to say so.

HARLOW: Right.

HERBST: The Defense Minister, when he said last week, there's no connection between Russia going into Ukraine and Nord Stream 2. When the German Foreign Minister was with Blinken in Washington a week or so ago, all Blinken could say was, well if the Russians go into Ukraine they may not be able to use Nord Stream 2. May is a signal -- is a word that signals weakness.

The administration should make it very clear right now to Germany and to Russia that if Germany does not stop Nord Stream 2 if Russia goes into Ukraine the United States will. They'll let the Senate do its work, which the administration, to its disgrace in my opinion, fought successfully last week.

HARLOW: What should President Biden do if Russia invades Ukraine?

HERBST: They should do what they've said about punishing sanctions. They should do what they said about increasing the force posture of NATO in the East and sending more weapons to Ukraine. They should also take out Nord Stream 2 forever.

HARLOW: Thank you very much, Ambassador Herbst. Appreciate your time this morning.

HERBST: My pleasure.

HARLOW: And coming up, the Rabi from the terrifying standoff at that Texas synagogue is speaking out for the first time what he says he and other hostages did to get out alive, next.




HARLOW: Let's listen in to Vice President Harris about to address on this Martin Luther King Day, Ebenezer Baptist Church from the White House.



HARLOW (voice over): All right --

HARRIS: -- teaches clearly is there is --

HARLOW (voice over): -- I think we're -- we're waiting for this to begin. She's about to give these remarks on MLK Day virtually from the White House, again to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a co-pastor with his father, where he delivered his first sermon.

Let me bring in Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change. Rashad, thank you for joining us we wait to hear from the vice president.


HARLOW: What are your thoughts on this? Because, not only is she marking this very meaningful consequential day for the nation, but she's doing it as this administration prepares for the Senate to take up its voting rights legislation that is going to fail?

ROBINSON: Yes. I mean, these are the moments where we're not just in a conversation about words, as we remember Dr. King, but we are in a conversation about action. And what type of action will our elective leaders, who feel so comfortable quoting Dr. King so often, but so many of them are unable to live up to his legacy. Of actually doing things that are important and powerful, but sometimes maybe not popular with everyone.

HARLOW: Yes. As we look ahead to Tuesday, right, and what is going to play out in all likelihood in the Senate, what should the plan be after Tuesday? To keep pushing forward on this?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, I think about this day and I -- I've woken up to quotes from corporations that have, you know, put -- put, you know, Dr. King on their logos and talk about justice and freedom, but haven't actually spoken up around the right to vote. One of the signature pieces of -- of work, of Dr. King's life, the ability to express our will for a better future through the vote.

I think about sort of all the enablers. I think about Krysten Sinema, someone who I've known for quite some time and worked up -- worked with, you know, around LGBT advocacy and think about all of the people who took unpopular actions for her to be able to live the life that she has. And now, to see her in power, standing in the way of us being able to continue to move this country forward.

You know, I think about sort of not just what happens if we do not pass this voting rights legislation, but the powerful message it sends to those that want to stand in the way of ensuring that all of us have access to health care, all of have access to education, all of us have access to the freedoms and opportunities that we have contributed to this country and helped to build with this country.

You know, I think about sort of the message that it will send to those standing in the way of those things that that their strategy works. And that they can continue their efforts at dismantling the progress and the -- that we have made. And so, I think that there is so much on the line on Tuesday.

But I also know that this work is not something that happens overnight. And we will continue to push. We will continue to fight. And most importantly, we will continue to hold those who stand in the way of justice accountable, regardless of their political affiliation, because, that is part of the work to bring about real change.

HARLOW: We -- I think so many today are thinking of Dr. King's words, but his -- his -- his writings and I think about the letter from Birmingham City Jail and the pastors coming to him and saying, your fight is right but now' is not the time, right? And his response and -- and what he wrote about the white moderate.

And -- and then there's this, what he said in 1963. Let me play this for you, 1963, his interview about a potential Civil Rights Act. At the time they were still a few years away from passage. Here he was.


MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., AMERICAN MINISTER: I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting.


HARLOW: That was 1963. How do you reflect on that today?

ROBINSON: I mean, I -- I think -- I think it's sad that we are still in this place. Dealing with these relics of bygone errors, or that should be relics of bygone errors in terms of the filibuster.

A rule that has been used to make sure that the United States still doesn't have anti-lynching laws. To make sure -- at the federal level -- to make sure that we have stalled so much progress through this rule that actually prevents members of the Senate from actually doing their job. Not even having to debate on legislation that opens up more opportunity.


You know, Poppy, I think about 2020, the summer of 2020, when people of all races took to the streets, when many people though the best we could do, in terms of activism, was clap outside of our windows or uplift investigative journalism.

But, people took to the streets to stand up and make their voices heard around racial justice. To stand up and push back against the videos that they were seeing and the injustices that they were seeing and people of all races came together.

Racial justice became a majoritarian issue. But the challenges that we have with so many of our rules and our democracy is that we can't translate that majoritarian belief into a governing majority. The majority of Americans actually want to make sure that everyone can express their will for a better future through the vote.

But, what we are seeing is rules that actually prevent that. And then we have members of the Senate who, I think, in so many ways want to be able to keep their own power, their own legitimacy.

Having to -- us to keep coming to them to beg them for the ability for us to be seen and heard and treated equally. And them being able to determine whether or not they're going to stand with us even though they would not be, you know, members of the majority without our votes.

I think about all of that and I think about that the work must continue, we must continue to build power. We have gotten ourselves to this point where we are debating this and we are pushing this, but it's going to take a lot more effort.

And it's going to take not just holding members of Congress accountable, but it's going to hold -- holding corporations accountable and the donors accountable and so many others that have created this climate where this is possible.

HARLOW: Rashad Robinson, thank you very much for your thoughts on this MLK Day. As we await those remarks from the vice president. We appreciate it.

And we'll bring you that from the White House after this.





HARRIS: -- Bernice King, thank you for that introduction and for all that you do every day in your role of leadership.

HARLOW (voice over): Let's listen to Vice President Harris speaking from the White House.

HARRIS: And thank you for the invitation to address this most distinguished group of leaders. I also want to thank Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Pastor Sam Collier and all those taking the stage today for sharing your words and your wisdom. And encouraging us to fight on born out of the optimism that we must hold, grounded in our faith.

I also wan to thank members of Congress who are there and part of this important occasion, including your own, Reverend Raphael Warnock and the members of our administration who are part of this, state and local leaders, activists and organizers, for coming together on this very special day in this most special place.


As some of you know last week I was honored to once again visit your historic sanctuary, together with members of the King family. And it is an honor to be with you today, as our nation remembers the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As has been said, as is known throughout the world, Dr. King was a prophet. He was a prophet and that he saw the present exactly as it was and the future as it could be. And he pushed our nation toward that future.

Dr. King pushed even as his character was maligned. He pushed even as his family's life was threatened. He pushed even as his own life was in jeopardy. He pushed for racial justice, for economic justice and for the freedom that unlocks all others, the freedom to vote. Today, our freedom to vote is under assault. In Georgia and across

our nation anti-voter laws are being passed that could make it more difficult for as many as 55 million Americans to vote, 55 million Americans. That is one of out six people in our country. And the proponents of these laws are not only putting in place obstacles to the ballot box, they are also working to interfere with our elections. To get the outcomes they want and to discredit those they do not. That is not how democracies work.

We know the threat we face. We know that this assault on our freedom to vote will be felt by every American, in every community, in every political party. We know that if we stand idly by our entire nation will pay the price for generations to come.

You know, I'm reminded of the words of Dr. King's partner, a great American leader. And his partner in the struggle, yes, Coretta Scott King, who said freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.

So, many in this state have worked tirelessly to protect our democracy. You have registered voters. You have organized on college campuses and in senior living communities, at coffee shops and cookouts. You have worn out the soles of your shoes going door-to- door to get out the vote. And last week the president and I visited Atlanta to deliver a message. It is time for the United States Senate to do its job.

A landmark bill, as we all know, sits before the United States Senate. The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. This bill represents the first real opportunity to secure the freedom to vote since the United States Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act nearly a decade ago. And the Senate must pass this bill now.

You know, it was more than 55 years ago that men, women and children marched from Selma to Montgomery to demand the ballot. When they arrived at the state capitol in Alabama Dr. King decried what he called normalcy, the normalcy, the complacency that was denying people the freedom to vote.

As Dr. King said, the only normalcy he would accept is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all God's children.

Today we must not be complacent or complicit. We must not give up. And we must not give in.

To truly honor the legacy of the man we celebrate today we must continue to fight for the freedom to vote for freedom for all.

Thank you all.

May God bless you. And may God bless America.

Have a good morning.

(END LIVE EVENT) [11:50:00]

HARLOW: Those remarks just now from Vice President Harris, delivered virtually from the White House to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, of course, the church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was co-pastor with his father, where he gave his first sermon.

A powerful argument ahead of this critical Senate vote on the voting rights legislation. That will come on Tuesday. You heard her plea there for changes federally that she argues if not changed will suppress the right to vote in this country for tens of millions of Americans.

Again, those remarks from the vice president.

Well meantime, this morning the Australian Open Tennis Tournament began without the world's top ranked player, Novak Djokovic. He returned defeated to his home country of Serbia after losing his Australian visa because he is not vaccinated. Djokovic's unceremonious exit opens a door for his chief rival, Rafael Nadal or the world's number two player Daniil Medvedev, to take the top prize.

The troubles for Djokovic are not over when it comes to being allowed to play in these tournaments. He could be barred from the French Open because of a new law requiring vaccination there. Spain also now says that it will enforce vaccination requirements to compete in the country.

Let me bring in CNN Contributor and former professional tennis player Patrick McEnroe. He is covering the Australian Open for ESPN. Thanks for the time this morning.


HARLOW: Good to have you. So, let's start now with France, the next grand slam is the French Open in May and CNN has learned a brand new French law just passed yesterday, is going to require people to show proof of vaccination to enter public places. So, does that likely mean that that would prevent Djokovic from playing in Paris in a few months? Maybe another showdown?

MCENROE: Well -- well, Poppy, as we've seen through this entire process politics becomes a big factor in the decisions that are being made in all counties around the world, including in Australia, where Novak Djokovic assumed he had a visa and a medical exemption to get into the country.

Then mid-flight on his way to Australia, the goal-post changed a bit and the federal government stepped in and said hold on a second, we believe that you'll -- at the end of the day, it was kind of interesting Poppy, that the decision to deport him stemmed not that he had made some mistakes or not that he'd gone out after receiving a positive test in Serbia. Well that was part of it.

But the real reason that the government thought that he posed a threat, his anti-COVID vaccine stance posed a threat to the general public. So now we move to the rest of the tennis season and this will continue to be an issue as we've seen rules continue to change in various countries, as the pandemic moves on and continues.

So, France just announcing, in the last few hours, the French sports minister announcing that all athletes will have to be vaccinated to participate and all fans as well.

HARLOW: This could all be solved for Djokovic if he would get vaccinated. And I just wonder, because you've covered him for years, do you think he might?

MCENROE: Well, I've watched him win this Australian Open. That, as you said, we're now covering here on ESPN. It's live. Nine times, he was going for his 10th and his 21st major overall.

But he is -- he's very strong-willed, as we've seen. And obviously he should -- could have gotten vaccinated. This whole thing would be behind us and behind the tennis world and for him as well.

But, he's dug his heels in, in a big, big way. And it appears that he's not being manipulated in any way. That he's going to do what he wants to do. Every single other tennis player, at the highest level, has made a decision, Poppy, to get vaccinated. Many of them weren't even as recently as the U.S. Open a couple of months ago.

In fact, about 50 percent of the male players, at that time, were not vaccinated. But they saw what was coming with the Australian Open. And this is just the first domino to fall in the tennis world and in the world in general.

HARLOW: Thank you very much. It's good to have your analysis, Patrick McEnroe. We look forward to watching the tournament regardless.

MCENROE: Yes, tennis actually. Thank you, Poppy.


Tributes continue to pour in for beloved comedian Bob Saget, who died unexpectedly last Sunday. He was the original host of "America's Funniest Home Videos." The show aired this tribute with its current host last night.


ALFONSO RIBEIRO, SR, ACTOR: As you've heard the world lost a legend last week and AFV lost a family member. Bog Saget is synonymous with AFV to this day. And this show wouldn't have been the same without his unique sense of humor.

It's been my honor to continue carrying the torch Bob so brightly lit. Take a look back at Bob being Bob.




HARLOW: Saget was laid to rest on Friday. He was just 65-years-old.

Americans today also remembering iconic actress and comedian Betty White. On this day she would have turned 100-years-old. Fans of the legendary actress are leaving flowers and pictures on her star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

White is also being remembered for her lifelong commitment to animals, to pets. The Betty White Challenge is trending on social media, encouraging people to donate to the Betty White Wildlife Fund or other organizations that help animals in honor of Betty White.

Inside Politics with John King starts right after a quick break.