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Senate Democrats Approve $3.5 Trillion Budget Resolution; Expert Says, Now is One of the Most Dangerous Times of Pandemic for Kids; Senate Judiciary Chief Wants to Investigate Allegations that Trump's Chief of Staff may have Aided in 2020 Election Pressure Campaign. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 11, 2021 - 10:00   ET


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: $3.5 trillion deal with everything, from health care to climate change, to immigration, expanding the social safety net, raising taxes on high income earners, as well as corporations to pay for this massive social program.


This is a two-step process. The first step happened last night, in which they approved the budget resolution.

Now, that is non-binding but it must pass both the Senate and the House before they can move on the binding $3.5 trillion legislation. And that is what Manchin is raising concerns about. He says that the binding bill, the big bill needs to be pared back. And that is important because all 50 Senate Democrats need to essentially hold hands and vote, yes, because all Republicans are going to vote against it, it cannot be filibustered under the rules, which means 51 votes, 50 Democrats with Kamala Harris as the vice president breaking the tie, that is the only way it can pass the Senate.

But Manchin, in a statement today, says he has serious concerns about the way forward here. He says, given the state of the economic recovery, it is simply irresponsible to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a great depression or great recession, not an economy that is on the verge of overheating.

Now, this $3.5 trillion plan is part of the larger, more than $4 trillion worth of Joe Biden's agenda. The other piece, that $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan that passed the Senate with 69 votes yesterday, that still is awaiting action in the House. And Nancy Pelosi has made clear she will not move on that bipartisan plan until the Senate moves the larger Democratic plan.

So, you can see the challenge that the Democrats have both from the progressives, pushing the larger plan, the moderates, like Joe Manchin, raising concerns about the price tag, and Pelosi saying she won't move ahead on the bipartisan infrastructure deal until the Senate acts first. It explains here the complicated dance that she has to perform between now and the Democrats hope to getting this into law before September or October, but still a question about whether they can get there. Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And it is, and they sound far away. That is right around the corner, as we know. Manu, thank you.

Joining me now to discuss, Toluse Olorunnipa, he's a CNN Political Analyst and Political Investigations and Enterprise Reporter for the Washington Post.

So, Toluse, the bipartisan group of senators that negotiated this deal put out a statement calling it a historic victory for the American people. The reality is this is also a pretty big victory for the Biden administration.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's exactly right. The Biden administration put out their ideas for infrastructure and not only normal traditional infrastructure but also human infrastructure back in the spring. And a large chunk of that was passed by the Senate on a bipartisan basis as well, also a win for Biden's larger governing agenda, which is essentially trying to bring both parties together.

There was this idea that Washington was broken and Biden campaigned on being able to bring Republicans and Democrats to the table, being able to take half a loaf, getting people behind closed doors and getting them to agree on something that would be better for the American people.

So he can tout this as a major victory, but there's a very big challenge on the horizon in which he has to not only keep Republicans and Democrats together, but keep his own party together about the strategy ahead and actually how to get this from being a partial win in passing it in the Senate to an actual piece of legislation that gets to his desk. So, there's a long road ahead for him as he tries to tout this as a victory while also strategizing --

HILL: Trying to harness that momentum, that will be key moving forward. As we look at this, as you know all too well, infrastructure week has been a running joke for the last several years in Washington. The reality is, there's been a lot of public support, right? I mean, most of the American public has to deal with some form of crumbling infrastructure on a daily basis. What changed in 2021 to finally get this done?

OLORUNNIPA: I think it was a combination of the pandemic and Republicans and Democrats having, for lack of a better term, the infrastructure of having worked together on a number of COVID bills, having worked together in these smaller groups of five or ten senators across the aisle, and they have sort of practice of actually making some of these laws come into pass. And they have been working on infrastructure for a long time.

And there was this idea that Biden was not as much as a rising figure as the former president, President Trump, and that he would be willing to deal. He got on the phone and talked to Republicans and was willing to hear from them.

And the fact that several Republicans have areas in their district that need to be fixed, airports in their district that need to be upgraded, broadband that needs to be brought to some rural parts of the country, there was a need to do this, and I think some of the challenges about debt and deficits and costs have been thrown out the window, especially in the wake of the pandemic where so much money has been spent.

HILL: For now. Although we're already hearing that come up again, right, as we're looking at the budget resolution.

But when we talk about this specifically, 19 Republican senators came over and voted for the infrastructure bill, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell though just telling The Wall Street Journal, Republicans shouldn't help Democrats raise the debt ceiling, pass federal voting legislation, as we know, or other Democratic priorities. So, I mean, is there a sense that there are other areas right now for bipartisanship, because Mitch McConnell certainly makes it sound like almost one and done?


OLORUNNIPA: Yes. I would be very surprised if this sort of infrastructure bill open the door for more bipartisanship. This is still Washington that we're talking about. It's still a highly polarized Senate where it's broken down 50/50.

And Republicans are looking at trying to take back power in less than two years. So, there is a move towards trying to figure out how to seize political power, how to win the political battles over a number of different things, including the debt ceiling, making sure that America can pay its bills going forward.

So, it does appear that Republicans are girding for a fight even though they were willing to lay down their weapons and push this infrastructure bill. It does appear that in the weeks ahead, we're going to have much more polarization, much more hyper-partisanship between the two parties as they try to do a number of different things, including simple things like raising the debt ceiling so that America can pay the bills that have already been put in place by former Congresses.

HILL: And we know too, as you alluded to, and as Manu laid out for us, this is not one united block of Democrats either. There's going to be a lot of back and forth, a lot of negotiating there. How difficult do you think it's going to be to bring everyone in line?

OLORUNNIPA: This is a tightrope act that Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, the White House are all going to have to work on, not to bring Republicans on board but to get some of those moderate Democrats and the very progressive Democrats that are looking at different ways to try to capitalize on the fact that they do have power with the White House, Senate and the House, but they have very different ideas about what to do with it. So they do need to get Joe Manchin on board. They do need to convince Kyrsten Sinema that this is a good idea, that spending $3 trillion, $3.5 trillion and putting forth all of these plans is a smart idea for their constituencies and for their states. And it's a very diverse Democratic caucus. And it's going to be hard to herd the cats and get everyone all together.

But if they don't do it together, it's going to be hard for Biden to do anything, especially looking at the midterms where Republicans are looking to take over and stop Biden from doing any other major piece of legislation. So this may be the one chance that they have to do something. And that may be what brings them together and make sure that there's a coalition that can come together around the very big idea of passing trillions of dollars of new infrastructure spending.

HILL: We will all be watching. Toluse, I appreciate it, good to see you, my friend, thanks.

OLORUNNIPA: Thank you.

HILL: Before the Senate passed that budget resolution, they're working into the wee hours to power through the so-called vote-a-rama, which sounds fun, but, really, it's just a marathon session where senators are forced to go on the record on any amendment that one of their colleagues may bring to the floor.

So, among the topics, defunding the police. Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville explained his amendment much to the delight of Democrat Cory Booker. Take a listen.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): The local leaders across the country have decided the woke thing to do is cancel their city's police force. My amendment is pretty simple. If your city council wants to defund their police, don't expect the federal government to make up the difference.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): This is a gift. If it wasn't complete advocation of Senate procedures and esteem, I would walk over and hug my colleague from Alabama. And I will tell you right now, thank God, because there are some people who have said that they're members of this deliberative body that want to defund the police, to my horror.

And now, this senator has given us the gift of finally, once and for all, we can put to bed this scurrilous accusation, somebody in this great esteemed body would want to defund the police. So, let all of us, a hundred people, not walk, but sashay down there and vote for this amendment and put to rest the lies. I am sure I will see no political ads attacking anybody here over defund the police.


HILL: And with that, ultimately every senator, Democrats and Republicans, did vote in favor of that amendment, as well as one of the Democrats put on the table to honor the police officers who fought to defend the Capitol on January 6th.

Also on the table, critical race theory. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin was the only Democratic to vote with Republicans for an amendment banning schools from teaching it. He was also the only Democrat to support the preservation of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal money for abortions. Eight others Democrats though joined Manchin to support a GOP amendment which prohibits the banning of fracking. All the votes, of course, are non-binding.

Senator Rand Paul booted off YouTube for a week of encouraging Americans to ignore public health advice from the CDC. And this comes as Republican lawmakers maybe -- seem to be trying to make a boogeyman out of the nation's top health protection agency.

CNN's Melanie Zanona joining me now live from Washington. So, Melanie, what more are you learning about this effort, it seems, to exploit fears and frustrations?


MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Republicans are really trying to turn this into a new midterm message. They are railing against the new vaccine and mask mandates that they think are heavy-handed and they're also trying to turn the CDC and Dr. Fauci into punching bags. They're really trying to use the fears and frustrations of Americans as cudgels against Democratic opponents, and this is really on display at the House GOP press conference right before the August recess, which they used to solidify their message and get Republicans on the same page, where House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent the most of his time bashing these mandates and bashing the CDC.

Now, regardless of whether or not this is a politically effective message for the GOP, which is very arguably up for debate, it's certainly an irresponsible one, right? I mean, the delta variant is surging, pediatric hospitalizations are on the rise, kids are going back to school and democrats also point out that we likely wouldn't be in this position right now of having to have vaccinated individuals, wear masks indoors again if it weren't for some of the anti-vaccine sentiment being spread by members of the Republican Party.

HILL: Yes, which raises the question -- I mean, you talk about the sort of political angle of this. But is there a sense that this fear campaign is working with Americans?

ZANONA: Well, vaccination rates are still struggling to get up there. You have Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rand Paul, who were suspended from social media for spreading this disinformation. So, this is still a huge problem not just for the Republican Party but also for the entire country.

And Republican leadership has really failed to push back on some of those members who are spreading anti-vaccine sentiment in the party and spreading disinformation but we have seen some of these social media companies step in a little bit. But I think it's a big question of just how effective these temporary suspensions are. I mean, Marjorie Taylor Greene was suspended once before and she didn't stop, and she was suspended again. So, we'll have to see.

HILL: We will see. Melanie Zanona, I appreciate it. Thank you.

ZANONA: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come this morning, the battle over masks picking up where Melanie left off. We have Republican governors who are refusing to take measures to require them in schools, actually banning those mask mandates in most cases, as when health expert warns this is the most dangerous time of the pandemic for children.

Plus, former President Trump's White House now facing increased scrutiny on Capitol Hill as a powerful Senate committee interviews a former DOJ official and is pushing to interview another key player in the investigation of Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

And the inflation report is out. Just how much did prices rise on essential items, like food and gas? That's ahead.



HILL: As the debate over masks in schools rages, most parents just want to make sure their kids are as protected as possible from COVID- 19 when they return to the classroom. Right now, 45 states are seeing an increase in new cases over the past week. And one doctor has said that reopening schools without mask mandates is a, quote, formula for disaster.

President Biden looking now looking into whether he can stop states from blocking mask requirements at schools. The governors of Florida and Texas remain defiant, prohibiting those requirements. But get this, both of those states have more minors hospitalized than at any other time during the pandemic.

Joining me now to discuss, Michael Osterholm, he's Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Good to have you with us this morning.


HILL: I'm hoping like you can help clear us up. So, last week on CNN, you said, and I'm quoting you here, many of the face cloth coverings people wear are not effective and you encouraged N95 masks as the best option. As you've likely heard by now, Senator Rand Paul was just suspended from YouTube for saying cloth masks don't work. The CDC still recommends a two-play breathable cloth mask worn well as an effective option to stop the spread. So, I think you can understand how confusing this is for people.

So, what's the real story on masks? What works, what doesn't, especially for kids in schools?

OSTERHOLM: Well, in fact, it is confusing for the public, and I understand why, because in this business today, you cannot nuance anything. It's either left or right, or it's either blue or red, it's either yes or no. And, in fact, science isn't that way.

A year ago last April, we put out a statement from center, as well as others being involved with it, that basically pointed out that this virus is an aerosol, it's transmitted in the air, just like we see with cigarette smoke. If you're in a room and you have a covering on your face and you can smell the smoke then you know you're also getting virus in there if, in fact, you had an infected person in there.

We know that face cloth coverings can reduce the amount of virus that you may inhale. But to be fully protected in a way that we believe particularly with this variant today, delta, you need to have the kind of protection that comes with a N95 or a KN95 for kids, which are available in children's sizes. And just putting something over face, in of itself, doesn't protect you.

Now, that doesn't give anybody license to take my statement and say masking doesn't work. What you have to do is use effective masking. And we have done a poor job of communicating that, and I think CDC is, in part, responsible for that. They, for many months, did not come to the point of realizing that aerosols were a very important part of the transmission. And as such, their messaging has portrayed that. And we need to let people know that's not the case.

HILL: So, you're saying best option, N95, a KN95.

For some kids, as you likely know, maybe that can be tough. Maybe it's tough to wear all day. CDC, as we just checked out this morning, still recommending a two-ply cloth breathable face mask worn properly as an option.


A lot of people, myself included, use the disposable ones that we order online in bulk. Those are still -- if I'm hearing you correctly, those are still somewhat effective at preventing transmission. They are just not as good as we know as those N95 masks. So, are those still a good option, for example, for kids in schools and staff in schools?

OSTERHOLM: Well, this is where it's hard. No matter who is listening to this interview, some are going to want to skewer for playing into the hands of those who are anti-masking, those who are saying, be truthful and tell us really how the masks work. The bottom line is nuanced.

I mean, for example, there's a group of industrial hygienists, people who really study how to protect ourselves from airborne chemicals or infectious agents. And they determined that, based on the CDC's data that an infectious dose can occur in 15 minutes in a room, meaning there's enough virus in a room for me to breathe in, just like if it were cigarette smoke, where I'd get infected.

They did the work along with actually data from NIOSH, a part of the CDC, that showed, if you wear a face cloth covering, you get about five additional minutes of protection in that room. If you wear a surgical mask, you have about is ten minutes of extra protection. If you wear an N95 respirator, not fitted, you get about 2.5 hours of protection additionally. And if you wear an N95 that's tightly face fitted, you may get up to 25 hours of protection.

Now, you tell me how you want to parse that out? I'd tell you, if you were driving an old car and it only had an old common seatbelt in it, wear it. But if you had a modern car that had a body harness that basically had airbags, had a collusion conducive body to it that had shard glass, that had a computer program on board to reduce impact, brake you before you hit something, I'd tell you to get that one. But I'd never tell you not to use the seatbelt.

And I think that's the challenge we have today, as I'm a grandparent of five kids. I love those kids. I want them protected. The first and most important thing is vaccinate everybody right now, 12 and older. We're not concentrated on that. Do you know how many kids in our schools can be protected if we just vaccinated them? How many teachers are vaccinated? How many family members are vaccinated? Concentrate on that, and using the masking as a backup. And then when you do use it, get the best you can.

HILL: Look, I think you're doing a great job of explaining that to us, use the seatbelt that you have, right? It's certainly better than no seatbelt. Get the shot.

As we're looking at all of this, I mean, I just got a note, I will say, from my school district, my public school, my kids need to be back masked, even the kids who are vaccinated. They're setting up vaccination clinics. They're setting up one in town, to your point. How much do you think is access still an issue at this point for kids 12 to 17?

OSTERHOLM: I think it is an access issue, but we have survey data out today that the number one factor are parents and whether they're encouraging their children or really supporting their children to get vaccinated. And kids take their direction from their parents. And so we've got to educate parents.

They say, well, we want to wait longer to see if there are health effects. I can tell you right now, go look at the pediatric intensive care units in the southern states and now spreading to the rest of the country. Go look at the hospitals where these kids are seriously ill. Do you want to know what's going to hurt kids? It's the virus. It's not the vaccines. Parents, please, get your kids vaccinated. That will also stop the spread from older brother and sister to a younger child.

We've had numerous reports of that recently, one family member, a child becoming infected, transmitted to the other children in the family. So you want to protect them all and you don't want to be sitting there and asking yourself when that child is in intensive care why you didn't vaccinate them. That's not what you want to do.

HILL: No, absolutely not. Michael Osterholm, always good to have you with us, thank you. OSTERHOLM: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: New developments in the probe into former President Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election results. A Senate committee wants to grill his former chief of staff. What are the chances? We've got the latest, next.



HILL: This morning, as part of its probe into former President Trump and top allies' pressure campaign to overturn Joe Biden's win in 2020, Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin now says he wants to interview Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows. The committee obtained internal documents showing that Meadows sent five emails in late December and early January to then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, asking him to look into false election fraud claims.

Now, this comes as former U.S. attorney in Atlanta B.J. Pak is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Pak suddenly resigned in January as Trump ramped up attacks on Georgia's election results and following the release of an audio recording with Trump pressuring Georgia officials to find enough votes to change the state's electoral votes.

Joining me now to discuss, former Federal Prosecutor Renato Mariotti. Renato, good to see you this morning. So, if, right, there can be testimony from Mark Meadows, just how significant do you think that would be in laying out maybe the scope, the scale of these efforts by the former president and his top aides to pressure the Justice Department to intervene and overturn the election?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It could be very significant. Obviously, Mr. Meadows was there, he was present, he was having a lot of conversations with former President Trump.


He would, I think, present significant evidence of Trump's state of mind, but, of course, I don't expect Mr. Meadows to be forthcoming.