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Justice Department Sues Texas; Trump Praises General Lee; Manchin Lays Out Demands. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired September 09, 2021 - 09:30   ET



AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Federal court because it does given enforcement of this restrictive abortion law over to everyday citizens.

It's not clear what pathway the Justice Department is going to seek in filing this lawsuit that's been reported about. We know that there was some talk about using this 1994 law called FACE, which is the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act that's been used to prevent individuals from threatening or intimidating or harassing those that seek to, you know, have an abortion or even to provide abortions. But it's not really clear.

What we do know is that this sets up a real clash between state officials and the federal government.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. It's -- "The Journal" at least reporting is that the Justice Department's expected to pursue an argument that the Texas law illegally interferes with federal interests. I wonder what the pathway could be for that.

MARTIN: Yes, well, we've heard some talk again about this potential of the FACE Act being used. We've also heard some potential about the Ku Klux Klan Act being used. So there are these decades old federal statutes that prohibit individuals from interfering with things that are in the interest of government that we could see the Department of Justice try to use.


MARTIN: We know that they sought an injunction last month against Texas for having state troopers stop trucks that they thought were carrying illegal immigrants coming across the border. So there could be a similar argument made that this law, as restrictive of it is, does prevent the enforcement of a very important federal law, which as we know at this point, Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land. It hasn't been overturned.


So, as you're describing it here, it is being set up as a federal government versus state government kind of thing. Based on the makeup of the Supreme Court, if it gets there, 6-3 conservative majority, on what side would they be expected to come down on?

MARTIN: Yes, that's the problem, with -- with this Texas law, as well as this Mississippi ban that we know will be before the court this term, that 15-week abortion ban is also to be heard by the court. And because of the majority conservative court that we now have, it's not very likely that the Department of Justice is going to face a friendly court in trying to enjoin the Texas law.

The court had an opportunity to do so itself when opponents of the law filed for an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect just last week and the court refused to do so. So not real clear that there's a path for the Department of Justice, but we know there's tremendous pressure on the department from the White House, from, you know, pro-choice advocacy groups and other Democrats to take some action, some aggressive action to prevent this law from impeding the reproductive rights of millions of women.

SCIUTTO: And as you say, it's in effect today in Texas. You know, regardless of what federal law is or even court precedent, for women today in Texas, effectively an abortion is outlawed.

Areva Martin, thanks very much.

MARTIN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Ahead, just a bizarre, straight up offensive claim from former President Trump. He defended, even praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the man who fought against his own country to preserve slavery and lost. Trump says he would have done a better job handling Afghanistan, called him unifying. We're going to have more on that next.



SCIUTTO: New this morning, former President Trump denounced the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Richmond, Virginia. It was the largest confederate statue standing in the nation until it was taken down yesterday. Trump said in a statement, quote, if only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. What an embarrassment we are suffering because we don't have the genius of a Robert E. Lee.

I don't know that we need this history lesson. He lost the Civil War. He fought the war, led a rebellion against his own country to keep African-Americans slaves. Simple facts.

Here to discuss, political reporter from "The Wall Street Journal," Josh Jamerson, and political anchor for Spectrum News, and CNN political commentator, Errol Louis.

Good to have you both on this morning.

And, Josh, I know that everything is a partisan issue today. I mean we see it with vaccinations, right, a public health crisis.

Are you amazed that Robert E. Lee, the leader of a rebellion against his own country to defend slavery is -- has become a partisan issue, too? I mean Trump does this -- of course Trump's going to Trump, right, because he does it because he believes there's an audience for this, right, and that people eat it up?

JOSH JAMERSON, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Exactly. And what I remember looking at the pictures you just showed of them taking down the statue, I remember the protests last summer where there were thousands of Americans in the streets protesting against that statue still being there, protesting against racial injustice after the death of George Floyd. And I also got reminded back to the polls from last summer that showed a majority of Americans actually supported removing those statues.

But as you said, this also fell along partisan lines. A majority of Democrats supported removing those statue, a majority of Republicans support -- or opposed removing them. And so that's just the moment we're kind of in and the president knows that -- the former president, I should say, knows that.


SCIUTTO: Errol, you can sense a Trump sort of energized perhaps in recent weeks, cheering, in effect, the fall of Afghanistan as an opportunity to criticize Biden, the return of the delta variant, et cetera. Is he running in 2024 and can he win?


SCIUTTO: Oh, we lost Errol there. We're going to get him back.

While we get him -- while we get him back, Josh, I'll send that question to you. What is the -- because folks have been saying for some time, oh, no, he's not going to do it. I've been skeptical of that. And you certainly see him talking a lot about it, hinting a lot about it.

JAMERSON: Exactly. You know, I think, you know, we'll see if he runs. But I think what's almost more interesting to me is, even if he doesn't run, the field of candidates, the potential field of candidates are modelling themselves after either policies that he shepherded when he was president or the personality that catapulted him to office. The type of appeal that he got with the white working class base that he built for the Republican Party.

So either it's going to be President Trump who's a front runner in 2024, or it's going to be someone -- or it's likely to be someone who's modelling themselves after him.

SCIUTTO: He owns the party in effect.

JAMERSON: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: I wonder, as you look to the flip side, you -- the Biden presidency is facing its toughest period so far, certainly, and his approval rating are showing that, down double digits according to some polling. Is that a listing drop, in your view, for President Biden?

JAMERSON: You know, I've been talking to pollsters about this for a few weeks now and it seems clear that no one really knows. But what's interesting is that his approval rating was slipping before Afghanistan.


JAMERSON: Pollsters were noticing that beforehand. And so as the delta variant continues to wreak havoc among the unvaccinated in this country, as parents start to reconsider things about sending their children to school, as return to work plans start to get amended, as the coronavirus continues to upend our -- continues to upend our lives and this pandemic goes on, and you saw vice president -- President Biden's approval rating slip. So that is something of concern for Democrats.

SCIUTTO: No question. And it certainly informs why Biden is coming out so strong today.

JAMERSON: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Attempting to change the narrative and to try to get a handle on the delta surge.

Josh Jamerson, thanks so much. Apologies -- apologize for the technical difficulties with Errol Louis but we'll get him back as soon as we can.

Ahead this hour, new CNN reporting about the demands that Senator Joe Manchin is making as budget negotiations enter a critical phase. We're going to be live on Capitol Hill, next.



SCIUTTO: Moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is now laying out a long list of demands in order to win his vote for the Democrats. That's his own party's massive reconciliation budget bill. The demands include a wide range of issues on health care, education, taxes. He's making clear as well he will not cave on climate provisions that many Democrats, including progressives, want. Sources say Manchin and his staff have engaged for weeks in intensive negotiations with the Democratic chairs of the relevant committees in the Senate.

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill this morning.

Lauren, I mean is this a negotiation or an impasse, right? I mean is there a path forward on these demands, I mean, because he's -- he's certainly playing his hand aggressively.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think one thing to keep in mind up here on Capitol Hill, Jim, is if you've covered Joe Manchin, you know that he's not someone who just votes yes or no at the end without having an impact on this process. Time after time we've seen him really engage from the beginning because he wants to impact exactly how these bills are written. And you're starting to see this with what his priorities are on this reconciliation bill.

And I think one thing to keep in mind is that Joe Manchin is having conversations on a regular basis, with staff, with top committee chairman, and he's been doing so even though Congress has been away for the last several weeks from D.C. And I think this is an important moment for Manchin because he has some key agenda items that he wants to make sure are included or aren't included in this massive bill. And he's going to have a real impact on this process because it's a 50/50 Senate.

One of those things is those energy provisions. He has strong ties, obviously, to the state of West Virginia, that he represents. He wants to ensure that nothing in the Democrats' bill that passes out of the House and would go to the Senate is going to go too far to impact the economy in his state.

He also is very concerned about some of the bigger social agenda items that are going to be included. He wants to put more parameters, more guardrails around things like the child tax credit, around who receives free community college, who's eligible for free pre-k. Those are some items that he's really starting to push forward with.

And we should also note, he has problems with the fact that this price tag right now is $3.5 trillion, Jim. He's argued that he wanted a pause. He argued that he wants this to be paid for. But how you pay for it is an entirely other issue that moderates and progressives are going to disagree about. And you're starting to see some of those disagreements play out on the tax front because you have Democrats who are arguing they don't want the corporate tax rate to go to high. You have progressives arguing we need that money if you're arguing this bill needs to be paid for. So those are just some of the tension points.


And we should note, Manchin is one senator, Jim. These are conversations that are happening with House members, these are conversations that are happening with other Democratic senators. Manchin's, obviously, a high-profile member. He has a big impact on this process but he's not the only one, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's a point you always smartly make, right, he's not the only one with demands and not the only one -- Democrat, frankly, who's blanched at the total price tag. Kyrsten Sinema on the list as well.

Lauren Fox, always good to have you on The Hill. Thank you.

Just ahead, China is now launching a well-funded disinformation campaign around the pandemic, pushing lies about COVID and vaccinations. How the country is exploiting the American divide over both masks and vaccines. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SCIUTTO: A new report has found that a pro-Chinese influence operation is now targeting Americans online, looking to exploit divisions over the coronavirus pandemic and, quote, to physically mobilize protesters in the U.S.

I want to bring in John Hultquist now, he's the vice president of Mandiant Threat Intelligence, one of the firms behind this report, with a long history of tracking this kind of stuff.

John, it's good to have you on this morning.

You know, the disinformation aspect of this damaging enough, right, spreading lies and so on. But to physically mobilize protesters, get them out in the streets, that's particularly alarming.

JOHN HULTQUIST, VICE PRESIDENT, MANDIANT THREAT INTELLIGENCE: Yes, this is something we haven't seen for a while, since the Russians, under the Internet Research Agency, put people on the streets to -- you know, in cages, you know, dressed as Hillary Clinton, or on opposite sides of rallies around Black Lives Matter, right? At least they attempted to do that in some cases.

This is really these Chinese operators moving in the same direction.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Because with China and Russia and these kind of campaigns, a big advantage for these foreign countries attacking the U.S., right, is that they have an easy target here, right, because they're, you know, they're not creating these divisions over this stuff. They're really trying to take advantage of existing divisions. And, by the way, existing domestic sources of disinformation, among them the former president.

HULTQUIST: Well, they're really about promoting narratives that portray the U.S. as chaotic and disorderly. And, unfortunately, there have been a lot of, you know, very real incidents that they've been able to latch on to. So what we see really is a mixture of them fabricating things, but also a lot of very real problems in the United States that they are latching on to and using to their advantage.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes, they go after so -- I mean all -- all of the divisive issues, right, whether it's gun control, Black Lives Matter, et cetera.

I -- there's been a lot of pressure, as you know, on social media companies to police this stuff better. They've talked about efforts that they've made to police this stuff better. But is anything, the big companies, the Facebooks, the Twitters have done really helped address the issue?

HULTQUIST: Well, I can tell you that the -- the social media networks are working overtime against this actor, actually. We've seen -- we've been working hand in hand with quite of few of them. Google, for instance, and us have been -- have been attacking this after for the last three years.

What we're seeing though is that they're -- they're very persistent, right. They're coming back and it's, you know, becoming a very -- it's a -- it's a difficult problem even -- even for some of the most advanced teams on earth to target this group. We're going to -- we're going to be facing an uphill battle as they get better at this, which they will.

SCIUTTO: One thing I remember from Russia's interference of the 2016 election, I was told by senior officials in the NSA, was that the Russian hackers just stopped hiding. I mean they were very aggressive in doing this, so they didn't care if the U.S. knew where it was coming from. Is it similar with China now?

HULTQUIST: Well, yes, I think they -- they've all sort of watched each other play this game, right. And every time somebody sort of crosses a red line, or what we thought was a red line, the rest of them sort of move in that direction as well.


HULTQUIST: So, you know, they're not only pushing these lines for themselves, but they're pushing the lines for all of their peers.

SCIUTTO: Understood. And with great damage here in the U.S. John Hultquist, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

HULTQUIST: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: A very good Thursday morning to you. It's a busy morning. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Striking words from Dr. Anthony Fauci. He said that the pandemic in the U.S., in his view, is not even modestly under control at this point. Noting that infections are 16 times higher than where we should be as a country in order to feel comfortable.

Today, President Biden will lay out a new six-part plan to get control, he hopes, of the surging delta variant. That includes a big push for more vaccines, as well as increased testing.

New this morning, we're learning that Biden's plan includes a requirement that all federal workers be vaccinated with no option to test out of vaccination. He'll also press private businesses to mandate shots for their employees.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: People are sick and tired of waiting. So we know requirements work. We've put in place some mandates over the past couple of months for components of the federal government. Many big companies have put in place requirements. We've seen them work. They've also become more popular, in part because probably vaccinated people want to return to some version of normal.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [10:00:05]

SCIUTTO: Well, Biden's speech comes right as cases are surging. Take a look at this.