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Don Lemon Tonight

House GOP Leader McCarthy Makes Picks For January 6 Panel; New Cases Of COVID-19 Are On The Rise Across The United States; Top Pediatricians Say Everybody Should Wear Masks In Schools, Even If Vaccinated; Senate Committee Holds Hearing In Georgia Over Restrictive Voting Law; Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos And Crew Are Set To Travel Into Space. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired July 19, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Tonight, the House GOP Leader, Kevin McCarthy, is naming five Republicans to be members of the select committee that will investigate the deadly January 6th insurrection. We're going to break it down in just a moment for you.

Also, new cases of COVID-19 are on the rise all across the country, up 66 percent over the past week. Hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise, all fueled by the aggressive delta variant.

President Biden is pleading with Americans who are not vaccinated to get their shots. The president also walking back his accusation that Facebook is killing people by allowing COVID misinformation on its platform but still keeping up the pressure on social media platforms to control the misinformation.

I want to bring in now congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles. He joins us now live from the Capitol. Ryan, good evening to you. Let's talk about what Kevin McCarthy is announcing, and that is the five Republicans that he's naming on the January 6th select committee. He has named them. Tell us about his picks.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a couple of things that jump out to you, Don, when you see this list. First of all, it is five men, five white men that have all been named by Kevin McCarthy to this group, something that the Democratic members of the select committee all pointed out to us today.

They're all five conservative Republicans who support the former president, Donald Trump, some more than others. Jim Banks, he's going to serve as the ranking member of this panel for the Republicans. He is somewhat that chairs the Republican Study Committee, which is a conservative group of Republican members.

He, along with Jim Jordan of Ohio and Troy Nehls of Texas, they were three of the republicans who voted to object to the election results on January 6, which, of course, precipitated everything that happened on that date. The other two are Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and then Rodney Davis of Illinois, who was one of the 35 Republicans who actually voted to create that independent bipartisan commission that was eventually blocked by Republicans in the United States senate.

Now, what's interesting about this group is that they are definitely a group of people who are going to go in there and be loyal to Kevin McCarthy, and by extension, likely be loyal to the former president, Donald trump.

And Jordan, in particular, talked to us today. One of the first things he said was that he was worried that this committee was going to be all about Donald Trump. So it kind of gives you an indication of what he is thinking is as it relates to all of this.

The other thing we should point out too, Don, is that the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, because of this whole process and because Republicans blocked that independent commission that was supposed to be an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, Pelosi has the final say as to whether or not these five men will actually serve on the select committee.


NOBLES: The resolution that was passed by the House says that she has a veto power. She hasn't signalled tonight whether or not she plans to use that veto power. That could end up becoming a bigger political problem for her. Republicans could fund raise off it if she chose to kick one of them off. But it shows that Democrats are going to control this process.

Bennie Thompson, who is the chairman from Mississippi, is a serious individual. He has worked with Republicans and Democrats for a long time in his capacity as chair of the Homeland Security. He told me today that he is going to work hard to enforce the rules and make sure that this committee sticks to their intended goals, and that is finding answers as to what happened on January 6th.

They are going to go wherever they need to find those answers. That could also meanly even mean calling someone who is on the committee, Jim Jordan, to come forward as a witness. That is a real possibility, including the possibility of Kevin McCarthy and maybe even Donald Trump being called in front of this committee.

LEMON: And there we go. Thank you very much, Ryan Nobles. I appreciate that.

Joining me now are CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers and former Republican Congressman Denver Riggleman. Good evening to both of you. So, Denver, what do you think of McCarthy's pick for this select committee? Are you surprised that he actually chose two people who voted to certify the election results?

DENVER RIGGLEMAN, FORMER VIRGINIA REPRESENTATIVE: Yeah. You know, I was pleasantly surprised. I think there is a good faith effort there with Kelly and Rodney. You know, Don, I know them very well. They are very good people. I have a feeling that Kelly's background is legal. Rodney is a really smart guy. He's been there a long time. Kelly is really no danger. Rodney is always sort of a in a swing district.

So, I think there's a bit of a good faith effort there. I was surprised about that, but I wasn't surprised about Jim Jordan being chosen at all either.

So, you know, my worry too is that it won't be completely, I would say, nonpartisan because I do believe that there is still going to be phone calls back and forth to Mar-a-Lago as people make sure the right thing is said at the right time while this happened.

So, we will see what happens, but I was a little bit surprised to see Kelly and Rodney chosen.

LEMON: Kirsten, the reason that I -- you know, I had been saying that bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship is really just empty, right? It is just mechanics. But on this particular thing, I think it is really hard to deny what happened on January 6th, and even with Jim Jordan there, it just makes him look bad. It's not a good narrative for them to try to pretend that January 6th didn't happen.

So even if Jim Jordan is there and people who tried to not certify the election, I think it just shows them for what they are. I don't know if you agree with that, but that is certainly my thinking on it.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think, to the point of the conversation you were having with Chris earlier about whether or not the Democrats -- you know, this is sort of blowing up in their face because you have a Jim Jordan on the committee.

I am more inclined to think about it the way you do, which this has to be investigated. Of course, the ideal would have been to have a 9/11- style commission. That was not an option because of the Republicans. And so this is what they are left with. And so I do think that they have to try to do the best they can.

This will be heavily weighted, you know, under the control of not just Democrats but people like Liz Cheney, who are being a little more honest about what happened and not just carrying water for one party or the other.

In the case of Jim Jordan, he will be carrying water for Donald Trump. He alone is one of the most disruptive members of Congress and will do as much as he possibly can to hijack this and be theatrical.

LEMON: I don't think that helps him in this situation, Kirsten. I actually think it makes them look worse, especially if he --

POWERS: Yeah. Well --

LEMON: -- if he carries on his antics and you see it publicly.

POWERS: Yeah. And I think it looks worse for certain people. It obviously gins up the republican base, but I think it doesn't look great to people who are more in the middle or more moderate, suburban- type voters. So, yeah, I agree with you on that.

LEMON: Yeah. I think it counteracts what they are trying to do with this whole fake critical race theory narrative by trying to win back --


LEMON: -- the, you know, the suburban white women and men --


LEMON: -- and, you know, educated people, because people see through -- I think people see through what happened on January 6. Denver, also tonight, we are hearing that Marjorie Taylor Greene -- I think it was a 12-hour Twitter ban for violating their COVID misinformation policies. She sent two tweets about vaccines in the past day, that they labelled as misleading.

Misinformation is actually killing Americans. Do these suspensions work? Are they just capitalize on, you know, the storyline that Democrats are taking away free speech from conservatives or Trump supporters?

RIGGLEMAN: Don, you took my thunder on that last part of the question.


RIGGLEMAN: There we go. This is a fundraising activity for Marjorie Taylor Greene. You know, a lot of people are looking at Twitter, right, that she is talking to right now, so she can put out a fundraising e-mail or go digital or something like that that says, you know, the far-left is censoring me again, they're cancelling me, you know.


RIGGLEMAN: That's the thing. If we talk about being disingenuous or misleading information, I don't think Marjorie Taylor Greene would never be on Twitter, right? But it also goes back to the commission, too. Listening to Kirsten, here's the deal. We should be looking at the disinformation pathway on why January 6th happened.

I think there is a correct thing here. We have two members who are really like, I guess, selected to this, but I do believe there is going to be a lot of hyperbole and disinformation. I think that Marjorie is sort of -- she plays into that. All these individuals do.

But really, Twitter is a fundraising tool for her. Not exactly how you think, not going on Twitter and saying give me money, but using Twitter as a foil. It is just something she does very well.

Here is a thing. You know, she capitalizes on stupidity brilliantly because she believes it. That's just something she's very good at.


LEMON: That was a generous way of putting it. There is a more direct way, but go on.

RIGGLEMAN: When I listened, at the back of my head, it came out a little worse than I thought, but a little bit more brutal. But I do believe that Twitter is just a great, great thing for her fundraising because she can say she got thrown off. She is going to send out a mail overnight. She is going to make money.

LEMON: I hope the heads of the social media companies are listening because it is not just -- they're doing it on purpose. If you give them a light sentence or kick them off temporarily, it only helps them.

Go on, Kirsten. I'll give you the last word.

POWERS: Well, I mean, just think of how different our world would have been if they would have banned Donald Trump a long time ago, right? So, they just -- they give these people too much leeway. And there's certainly an argument for banning her altogether. Just to quickly say, the Republicans do not care about free speech.

We -- critical race theory is a perfect example of it, critical race theory in quotes because they misuse it. They are dictating what government employees are allowed to say. They are dictating what people are allowed to teach. So they do not believe in free speech.

And besides that, there are limits to free speech and everybody knows that. There are some things you cannot say. And there are some things in the society where you do cross a line. I would certainly argue that Marjorie Taylor Greene has crossed that line a hundred times.

LEMON: Do you want to share what you texted me or no?

POWERS: Sure, yeah, about critical race theory, why Republicans are doing it?

LEMON: Yeah.

POWERS: Yeah. Well, it's a political strategy, first and foremost, as you and AOC were talking about. But I think it's not just because they don't want children or people in general to learn about antiracism or to really learn the truth about MLK. It is because they don't want anybody to learn the real history of America. They don't want white kids to learn the real history of white people.

So that's the most important part of it. It's not -- because they're not teaching actual critical race theory. Critical race theory is a legal theory. You learn it in law school. You don't teach it to a child. What they're doing is trying to give children and give students an accurate history lesson.

I mean, Don, I didn't even know about black Wall Street until last year. I'm an educated person, right? And I didn't know about indigenous children being taken away from their families and not allowed to speak their own language. This was institutionalized in this country. So, again, I'm a person who is interested in these issues, so there's so much basic information that people are not getting in school. That's what people are trying to do. They're just trying to teach history. They're just trying to tell the truth.

LEMON: All right. Thank you both. I appreciate it.

I want to turn to Andy Slavitt now. He is a former White House senior adviser for COVID response and the author of "Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response," because I need to get to you, the rise in COVID cases and what's happening with this variant.

Andy Slavitt, thank you so much. I appreciate you joining us. So, we were getting really close to a normal summer. But now, these cases are up 145 percent from just two weeks ago. Hospitalizations and deaths also up, but almost all of those people are unvaccinated, Andy Slavitt. Is this the toll that this misinformation that we're seeing, especially what's coming from the right media, is that's what's happening here?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER BIDEN WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: This is the unvaccinated pandemic. I think that's the theme of 2021. We learned something interesting. It's so profound. Sometimes, I can't even believe it. But of all the people that aren't vaccinated, we now know from the data that two-thirds of them believe one of five provably false statements about the vaccine.


SLAVITT: And so that tells us that there are at least in part, if not in full, influence of things that aren't true that they're hearing from people. I would like to think that happens innocently, but you and I both know, Don, that a lot of that is perpetrated by a machine that is trying to essentially say we have to stop this thing from being successful for whatever reason.

LEMON: Yeah. What -- give me some of the five.

SLAVITT: That the COVID vaccine itself will give you COVID. That is one of the five. That is the one that is most believed from this theory. So, the other four can be found in a survey done by Kaiser Family Foundation. We can play those. We can get you those for you to show. But there are provably false. They are all things that have no basis in truth. They are all things that sound kind of believable.

So, people will take them on face value. But more than that, they will promote them. They will promote them in social media algorithms, because they sound like maybe they can be true. They put just enough doubt --

LEMON: Yeah.

SLAVITT: The people are deciding not to get them.

LEMON (on camera): There's some kernel of truth. There's something that, you know, that could seem legitimate. Listen, I know it is -- you know, I hear all the time, when people give me fall statements or when they spew back misinformation, I say, where did you hear that? They will say Facebook or on Twitter, on some form of social media, but also on right-wing media as well. This is an example of what's happening on Fox.


UNKNOWN: If you didn't get a vaccination, it is your choice. If you did like I did and they did and maybe you did, then you should not wear a mask. And if you did -- if you want to go keep talking (ph) this weekend, you don't have to check with me. It seems a little dangerous. But I am not going to judge you. And if you ahead and put yourself in danger, if you feel as though this is not something for you, don't do it, but don't affect my life.

UNKNOWN: Ninety-nine percent of people who are dying from COVID are unvaccinated.

UNKNOWN: That is their choice.

UNKNOWN: They don't want to die. So they are -- the administration and the government are saying we need the mask mandate to protect the unvaccinated.

UNKNOWN: That is not their job. It is not their job to protect anybody.


LEMON (on camera): Okay. So, go ahead. What do you think? I mean, listen, it is not just about you and your choices. You can infect others, including unvaccinated children. And protecting American public is -- that is the White House's job, right?

SLAVITT: Yeah. I mean, I think this is much simpler than the discussion, what lead people to believe. If we were sitting here without a vaccine and we have this delta variant coming, that is the case that is happening in Australia right now, we would be so hopeful that there would be some solution.

And if someone old us there would be a solution that will be 96 percent effective against something seriously going wrong and it would be very, very well tolerated by just about everybody, we would say thank god and we would say what is political about that? I mean, that's exactly the type of thing that one hopes for.

It's a combination of science, public sector, private sector, Democrats, Republicans. Lots of people had their hands on it. So to then go on and make it about something else, individual liberty, freedom, tyranny of government, and whatever Marjorie Taylor Greene wants to say on any given day, it just confuses people.

LEMON: Andy Slavitt, thank you so much.

SLAVITT: Thanks, Don. LEMON (on camera): So, let's continue on and talk about top pediatricians calling for everybody over the age of two, vaccinated or not, to wear masks in schools.


VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Even if you don't want to do it for yourself, consider getting vaccinated to protect the children in your community. They are depending on us.





LEMON: So the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that everybody over the age of two should wear masks in schools. Now, this applies to teachers and students, whether they have been vaccinated or not.

So I want to discuss now with Dr. Rhea Boyd. She is a pediatrician and the co-developer of "The Conversation," a resource that brings together Black and Latino health care workers to answer questions about COVID-19 vaccines and other health issues. We're so glad that she is here to answer questions for us this evening. Thank you very much, doctor.

RHEA BOYD, PEDIATRICIAN: Thank you so much for having me.

LEMON: So this -- you know, this top pediatric group calling for universal masking in schools for everyone above the age of two. But at least nine states have laws prohibiting districts from requiring masks in classrooms. Is this going to put children at risk?

BOYD: Absolutely. The American Academy of Pediatrics is so courageous to take this stance right now, because what they know and what we all know is that kids under 12 don't even have the chance right now to be vaccinated, because they aren't eligible for an authorized vaccine.

And so what that means is all of the caregivers, adults, and kids above 12 around them have to protect them first by getting vaccinated and second by masking and distancing, so they're not exposed to COVID.

LEMON (on camera): The surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, spoke to Anderson earlier tonight and had some advice for vaccinated parents with unvaccinated children. Take a look at this.


MURTHY: I have two small children as well. They're three and four. They're too young to get vaccinated. I'm worried about their health, too. So here is how I'm thinking about it. I know that if you're fully vaccinated like you and I are, our risk of both getting sick and transmitting it to our children is low.

But if you're in an area where there's a lot of infection or if you're worried about that risk of transmission, then wearing a mask, especially indoor settings, when you go out, is the right thing to do. That's what I do.



LEMON (on camera): Do you agree, doctor? Do you agree that -- should vaccinated parents be masking up their children or masking up to protect their children?

BOYD: Absolutely. And I think there are two critical reasons why. First, it's important for caregivers and parents to model for kids the behavior that will keep them safe while they are unprotected because again, kids under 12 are unable to get vaccinated.

And second, it's important for caregivers and parents to mask even if they're vaccinated because there's a small chance that they could contribute to transmission, which means they could be exposed to COVID in their workplace, when they go out into public spaces, and they could bring that exposure into their home when they interact with their kids.

And so wearing masks when you're in public or other indoor settings helps limit the risks that parents would transmit it to other young kids.

LEMON: I want to get your push now to get more Americans vaccinated. You spoke to more than 5,000 people in rural Georgia last week. Most were not vaccinated because of what you call legitimate and important questions. So, what are the concerns? What are you hearing from people?

BOYD: Yes. So we've been going across the country talking to folks about the importance of COVID vaccination. The number one concerns that people have are really common and important ones, things about safety and about whether or not they might have side effects.

People have heard of some of the side effects that are more severe from some of the COVID vaccines and they're concerned about whether those side effects might affect them. And so we just have honest conversations so that people know what to expect.

LEMON: Do they go out and get vaccinated after your talk? Do you find that?

BOYD: We do. We do find some of the people who call and get vaccinated. What we've really been encouraged by is the folks who call in not just as individuals but entire families who are on the line, folks whose kids call in for their parents or grandkids who are calling for their grandparents, who are all sitting there and asking questions about them as a group. That's really important to us because we want households to be vaccinated together. I think we as a nation have taken a really individual approach to ending the pandemic. What we really need is to think about the people who are likely to encounter each other. And so, when we have these conversations, we encourage people to come as a household, as a family.

LEMON: Dr. Boyd, thank you so much.

BOYD: Thanks.

LEMON: Thank you. The push for voting rights is heating up and Senate Democrats are taking their fight on the road. Senator Amy Klobuchar is leading a key hearing in Atlanta, the first time her panel has had a field hearing in two decades.




LEMON (on camera): A U.S. Senate hearing today happening in Georgia. You heard that right. The Senate Rules Committee relocated to Atlanta for the day to hear testimony about the new restrictive voting law in that state.

The committee chair, Senator Amy Klobuchar, joins me now. Senator, thank you so much. I appreciate you joining especially I know it has been an extra busy day for you, having to travel. This is the first field hearing held by the rules committee in 20 years. I want to play some of what you heard from witnesses in Georgia. Here it is.


SALLY HARRELL, GEORGIA STATE SENATOR: One of my colleagues in the House, Representative Allen Cowell (ph), actually in a committee meeting said to somebody who was testifying, you're correct, it wasn't found, meaning fraud. It's just in a lot of people's minds that there was.

He actually said that in a committee meeting. It's just -- it's really not there. It's just in a lot of people's minds that there was. So this legislation is based on things that are in the imagination, in people's minds.

JOSE SEGARRA, GEORGIA VOTER: After an hour and a half of standing outside, we made it inside the building, finally, just to find out that the line inside the building was just as long as the line outside the building. We were able to handle those three hours standing in line but we know that not everybody can.


LEMON (on camera): So, what else did you hear today, and will this testimony compel your colleagues in the Senate to take some action?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Just listening to Segarra at the end, he's a veteran, Don. One of the things I asked him was, when you signed up to serve in the Air Force, did you have to stand in line? He said no. But to vote, voter after voter, Stacey Abrams and I met with a number of them in Cobb County yesterday, were waiting five hours, seven hours.

And as you know, the bill that passed in Georgia, one of 28 bills that's already passed across the country, it is exhibit "A," over 400 have been introduced, this bill basically says no water for nonpartisan volunteers in lines even if you're there for seven hours.

But the devil is in the detail. What we learned is that the runoff period where Ossoff and Warnock, both of whom were there, where they got elected, that used to be nine weeks, it's down to 28 days, can't vote on weekends during the runoff period.

And you want to register in those 28 days? Too bad, you have to register 29 days before an election. Surgical precision. Those are the words of a North Carolina judge when looking at a discriminatory bill that was passed there years ago. Literally discriminating with surgical precision.

LEMON: You mean the Republicans are doing that, because not a single Republican member of the committee was present for that hearing. Go on. Why weren't they there?

KLOBUCHAR: What I was most concerned about is they didn't put witnesses. If they want to defend this bill that takes away people's freedom to vote if they're in rural Georgia or suburban Georgia or if they're in the cities, then be there and defend it.


KLOBUCHAR: They sent no witnesses. So, it did give us an opportunity and this is why we brought the rules committee to Georgia, to the civil rights museum. It gave us a case, the opportunity to show the people of Georgia, look, we have a job here in Washington, and that is to ensure your basic federal voting rights and we have a way to do it with the For the People bill.

In fact that bill, as I pointed out in this place, devoted to civil rights and the history of civil rights. It is firmly grounded in our Constitution, don, because our Constitution says that Congress can make and alter the rules regarding federal elections. It's clear as day.

LEMON: But it's stick in limbo. The For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, both stuck in legislative limbo. Over the weekend, you told our Dana Bash that you would consider election measures in the infrastructure reconciliation bill in order to get some voting protections passed. Are you just throwing things at the wall hoping something is going to stick at this point? Like, what is the strategy?

KLOBUCHAR: I have a little more strategy than that. First of all, no one has given up on For the People. Senator Manchin in good faith came to the table and we actually put together a pretty good package, it's not quite done, which includes so many federal basic rights like same- day registration and many other things, commended by Stacey Abrams and many others.

You know we have the issue of the filibuster there, but he has signalled a willingness to look at a standing filibuster. We could potentially do a carve-out for this legislation. Those hearings start in the House this fall and that is something that would be incredibly helpful. You could add other provisions to it.

The third you mentioned, reconciliation, and that is a fancy word which means the second infrastructure package. The first one is the bipartisan that they're negotiating this evening. The second is the one for things like child care and housing, things that matter a lot to Joe Biden.

You can put in that package, you can put election infrastructure and then tie it to incentives for things like mail-in ballots. Now, let me say, it is not a substitute for those federal, basic election rights. But it would be a good start. Then you go on from there.

And finally, the Justice Department is no longer Bill Barr's justice department. You've got people like Vanita Gupta, Kristen Clarke that are very serious about enforcing our election laws. I'm not ending here. This was the beginning.

We are taking the rules committee to other field hearings. We're going to continue our work, fact-finding, and bringing our members out to hear the real stories from voters.

LEMON: Taking it on the road. Senator Amy Klobuchar, thank you for your time.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Let's get some perspective now from someone from Georgia and a leader in the fight for voting rights. I'm talking about Stacey Abrams. She is the founder of Fair Fight Action. She joins me now. She was at the voting roundtable with Senator Klobuchar yesterday.

Thank you for joining us, Ms. Abrams. Republicans were given the chance to have witnesses testify. They didn't. In fact, not a single Senate Republican showed up. Mitch McConnell saying this, and I quote it, "It was a silly stunt based on the same lie as all the Democrats' phony hysteria." What's your response to that?

STACEY ABRAMS, FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, FOUNDER OF FAIR FIGHT ACTION: That he is both aware of and afraid of the reality, that voter suppression is emanating from the states and is being suborned by his leadership and by those in his caucus.

This is not a democratic or republican issue. This is an American issue. This is a democracy issue. And the lengths to which Republicans will go to pretend that the insurrection didn't happen and that the continued insurrection that is taking place by stripping voters of their rights, that it's not happening, is emblematic of just how failed the republican strategy is, but how craven they are about wanting to hold on to power instead of holding on to patriotism.

LEMON: I think I know the answer. I was going to ask you if this hearing was enough. I'm sure you won't agree with that. And there are other things that need to be done to mobilize voters. Am I correct?

ABRAMS: Absolutely. The roundtable yesterday and the hearing today are all a part of making certain that Americans understand what's at stake. This is not a battle between Democrats and Republicans, which is how Republicans are trying to couch this.

This is about whether or not an elderly voter standing in line for 3- 1/2 hours should be entitled not only to water without facing the likelihood of the volunteer who provides it going to prison for two years, but whether that person is entitled to the same quality of voting access as someone in a more affluent neighborhood who can go in and out of their precinct in five minutes.

That's the conversation we need to be having, whether a disabled voter who needs to vote by mail now has to risk identity theft in order to access what seems to be one of the most kind and sympathetic things that we could offer, which is that the ease of voting from home should be made available.


ABRAMS: And so we know that these targeted bills are looking at people of color, they're looking at the disabled, they're looking at young voters, and they are trying to eliminate access for inconvenient voters who have the temerity to show up and use their power in 2020 and in Georgia in the 2021 runoff elections.

LEMON: Your group, Fair Fight Action, has an initiative going on called Hot Call Summer, trying to get people out and thinking about their voting rights. Talk to me about that.

ABRAMS: We know that the best way to move legislators, to move leaders, is to show them we're paying attention. This is such an urgent summer. We are proud that 40,000 phone calls were made during the first phase of Hot Call Summer. We're encouraging voters to get back at it, call 888-453-3211. You'll be patched right through to your U.S. senator, your two U.S. senators, so you can share your information and demand they take action to protect our democracy and pass the For the People Act.

LEMON: We know it has been one year since the death of Congressman John Lewis. As you know, he fought tirelessly for equal voting rights throughout his life. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act though is still not passed. Do you think lawmakers in D.C. are acting with the urgency needed to protect voting rights?

ABRAMS: Absolutely not. But I will say this. I want to give credit to the 50 Democrats who did vote to advance the For the People Act. And let's be clear, the first 300 pages of that act were authored by John Lewis.

And so while the Voting Rights Advancement Act bears his name, they both bear his stamp because he understood that we had to have a level playing field for democracy no matter which state you live in, which is the For the People Act, and that we had to have higher standards for states that consistently demonstrate a lack of integrity in how they run their elections when it comes to communities of color, and that's the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

LEMON: Do you blame senators Manchin and Sinema for the delay in voting rights protection? I mean, you know too well how voters in Georgia secured the Democrats' slimmest majority in the Senate. Do they need to make that majority matter?

ABRAMS: I think we should hold accountable every single U.S. senator who has the right to cast a vote. This is not a partisan issue. This is a patriotism issue. And I hold accountable every single U.S. senator who is willing to allow mechanics to defeat democracy.

There are mechanisms in place that can be amended, can be diminished, and can be altered in order to allow the people of this country to be heard. And so I refuse to say it is one side or the other. It's every U.S. senator that has the responsibility to stand up and say that authoritarianism, that the attempted overthrow of our elections, should not stand, and that we have to protect our voters, we have to protect our elections, and we have to protect our election workers.

Those three pieces are the responsibility and the province of every single U.S. senator, Democratic, Republican, or independent.

LEMON: Stacey Abrams, thank you so much. I appreciate you joining us.

ABRAMS: Thank you.

LEMON: Billionaire Jeff Bezos hours away from blasting off into space, and he is speaking to CNN, responding to critics who say this new space race is all about joyrides for the ultra wealthy.




LEMON: Tomorrow morning, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, the world's wealthiest person, will blast off with three other people for an 11- minute ride to the edge of space. His company, Blue Origin, developed a rocket technology.

So let's talk more about it with CNN's aerospace analyst Miles O'Brien. I love that, from aviation to aerospace. I love the title. Good to see you.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST: We are going higher. Aviation does not cut it. We need to do aerospace.


O'BRIEN: Let's go high.

LEMON: Right on. So listen, Jeff Bezos had to go up. Last week, it was Richard Branson. You say the billionaire space efforts may seem tone- deaf, but they are important milestones. I don't disagree with you. But tell us why. Tell the viewers why.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it is hard to look at it and say, wow, this is great for the world, right? A couple of guys doing gold-plated bungee jumps. And I suppose you could've looked at Wilbur and Orville back in 1903 and said the same thing, right? What does it lead to is really the important question, right?

The billionaires always go first. The rich people always go first. The inventors go first. And these guys have, you know, reached into their rather deep pockets and have made big investments. And they are entitled to ride their rockets if they want to.

The important thing is what this does for the space economy. Does it open up space in a meaningful way? Does it make it accessible in a more frequent and cheaper way? What does that lead to? Does that make it possible for us to put sensors in space or easily look at the problem of climate change, for example? Does that lead us to not pose to the moon more easily? Does it allow us to look at asteroids as a source of minerals?

There's any number of things that you and I probably could've imagined in 1903 when the Wright brothers did it or 1927 when Lindbergh flew the Atlantic. That would lead us to the Airbus A380. But it happened. And so this is one of those steps. I think a lot of people -- there's kind of a sense that these rich guys are being tone deaf. But I say it is an important milestone.

LEMON: Yeah.


LEMON: Listen, I wasn't here for the '03, but '27 one, I was.

O'BRIEN: I was there. I reported on that.


LEMON: Bezos's launch tomorrow, though, fully autonomous. They had 15 test flights. But none of them had humans on board until now. This is pretty risky, Miles.

O'BRIEN: You know, I will be honest with you. I think, as a pilot, with several thousand hours flying airplanes, the humans are usually the riskiest part of the operation, right? When you look at crashes, it almost always is the pilot that is somehow in the loop.

You know, there was a time, Don, when you and I would have been reluctant to get on an elevator in Manhattan, if there wasn't a guy there with a white glove operating the elevator, right? We did that without thinking about it or we get on a train.

So this idea that the human has to be there on board to make it safer, you know, yeah, you got to wrap your head around it, but the truth is, statistically, it is really safer without the human there.

LEMON: Yeah. I mean, we get on elevators now without buttons, right? You just trust that they are going to take you to the floor that you said.

O'BRIEN: Yeah.

LEMON: Right? Thank you, sir.

O'BRIEN: Freaky.

LEMON: Good to see you, Miles. It is always a pleasure. You are looking good, man. All right, I will see you later. We'll be right back.




LEMON: I need to make sure you know about our exclusive CNN town hall with President Joe Biden. I will be moderating and it is live. That is Wednesday night at 8 p.m., only here on CNN.

And thank you for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.