Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

CNN Poll Shows 78 Percent of GOP Say Biden Didn't Win Enough Votes to be President; Dems Eye End-of-Month Showdown with GOP on Debt Ceiling as Anxiety Grows in the Ranks. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 16, 2021 - 10:30   ET



BILL GATES, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: Just last Friday, my colleagues and I all were treated to an orange jump suit that a gentleman sent to us, and, you know, declared that we will end up in jail someday because we are traitors in the minds of these people.

GRIFFIN: This could lead to a damaging loss of experienced professionals who know how to conduct elections. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice found one in three election officials feel unsafe because of their job. Matt Masterson was the lead cyber security adviser for the Department of Homeland Security in the 2020 election and says it's all creating an alarming situation.

MATT MASTERSON, FORMER SENIOR CYBERSECURITY ADVISER/CISA: Local election officials are going to leave and then that opens the door to adding less professional, more political actors into the election space, which, again, is incredibly dangerous.

Woodall-Vogg says she's staying but she closed the elections office until she can beef up security.

CLAIRE WOODALL-VOGG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MILWAUKEE ELECTION COMMISSION: And so it made me really concerned how powerful conspiracy theories have become that my job would become dangerous, that election administrator now in our very well established democracy has lots of checks and balances is now a dangerous profession.

GRIFFIN: The danger isn't just the obvious threat of violence but the threat to democracy. Experts say Donald Trump and his Republican allies have injected enough doubt into the election process to threaten its stability.

RICHARD L. HASEN, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE: It's going to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. He is undermining the system in a way that is going to cause the system to deteriorate.

GRIFFIN: Some Republicans are also undermining the system with new unnecessary legislation. Across the United States, Republican state lawmakers are passing law after law aimed at fixing a problem that does not exist, mass voter fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This bill, I'll say it one more time will make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Easy to vote, and hard to cheat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Arizona, we want to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.

GRIFFIN: At least 18 states have enacted 31 laws with new restrictions on voting methods since the beginning of the year. The most concerning are being called election subversion laws, impacting how elections are run and who's in charge.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, CO-FOUNDER, STATES UNITED DEMOCRACY CENTER: They didn't like the fact that they lost those states, and so now they're rewriting the rules for the future, but they're doing it in a way that will make it extremely problematic because they make it very partisan.

GRIFFIN: Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, is part of a group working to safeguard U.S. democracy.

WHITMAN: What you have with local official secretaries of state and others are people who are trained to oversee elections. That is their job to do that. Now, what you see in the states like Texas, Arizona, Georgia, is they are starting to pull it back and put it in the hands of legislatures, the political legislatures.

GRIFFIN: Case in point, Georgia's Election Integrity Act of 2021, 98 pages long. It was signed into law in March by Governor Brian Kemp repeating that Republican mantra.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This bill makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat.

GRIFFIN: Among its provisions, it strips power from the Georgia secretary of state and allows lawmakers to intervene in how counties administer and count the vote.

It sounds like it makes it easier for the politicians to cheat.

TONNIE ADAMS, HEARD COUNTY, GEORGIA ELECTION SUPERVISOR: You could have that perception. You're going to have your I.D. with you.

GRIFFIN: Tonnie Adams is Heard County, Georgia's elections supervisor.

ADAMS: I believe it's a massive power grab. The secretary of state has been removed as a voting member of the state election board.

GRIFFIN: Basically tossing the secretary of state aside for a political person?

ADAMS: Exactly.

GRIFFIN: in Arizona, Republican legislators have made their power grab blatant, passing a law that strips some election oversight powers from the Arizona secretary of state, currently a Democrat, and gives them to the Arizona attorney general, currently Democrat, and gives them to the Arizona attorney general, currently a Republican. It expires in less than two years, making sure it's a Republican who oversees any disputes in the important midterm elections. Gates says his party's big lie about vote fraud is getting way out of hand.

GATES: I'm worried about the people who look at this now, they have listened to their leaders, their Republican leaders, and they are now convinced that our system is corrupt, that there's this large conspiracy. And we have yet to see many Republicans speak out, and tell people, no, the election was fair. It's time to move on. Enough is enough.

GRIFFIN: In Texas, which Trump won, Republican legislators passed law that bans drive through and 24-hour voting favored in heavily minority Houston, and creates new hurdles for mail-in voters. The Texas legislation also makes it a crime for election workers to interfere with partisan poll watchers.


STATE REP. CARL SHERMAN (D-TX): We're at a tipping point as a nation and our democracy is at stake.

GRIFFIN: Democratic legislators like Carl Sherman fled the state trying to prevent a vote on the bill. The standoff ended after 38 days.

SHERMAN: It matters because we've got a long history of cherry-picking who can vote and who cannot vote.

GRIFFIN: If all these election laws being surfaced in Republican-led states seemed like a coordinated effort, that's because it is.

JESSICA ANDERSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA: We've honed in on these eight specific focused states.

GRIFFIN: A former Trump administration official who now heads up the conservative Heritage Action for America said the group had made recommendations to several states, which ended up in election related bills.

ANDERSON: From there, as we create this echo chamber, we're working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills. In some cases we actually draft them for them, or we have a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, you know, from the bottom-up type of vibe.

GRIFFIN: Donald Trump's big lie and his party's willingness to go along with the facade is now the biggest threat to free and fair elections we face.

HASEN: It used to be unthinkable to contemplate election subversion in the United States. It's now not only become thinkable but become something that we need to spend the next few years guarding against. It is the greatest danger facing American democracy today.


ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM: The greatest danger facing American democracy today. Our thanks to Drew Griffin for that excellent reporting.

Joining me now to discuss, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, she's a democrat from who is also is running for governor, and Trevor Potter, the founder and president of the Campaign Legal Center and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. It is great to have you with us.

Secretary Hobbs, we have some new CNN polling and the numbers really give you pause. 78 percent of Republicans in this poll say President Biden did not legitimately win enough votes to be president. 54 percent of Republicans say there is no solid evidence that President Biden didn't win. I mean, there is no -- absolutely no evidence to support that. I think the question at this point so many months in is how do you combat that?

KATIE HOBBS (D), ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, and that is a majority of the Republican Party but certainly not a majority of the voters in Arizona. And so I think that is the good news, that reasonable folks understand that the election was free and fair and the results we certified were accurate and that is the truth about the election. And we're going to continue to tell that truth to anyone who will listen. And I think there is more and more of those folks in Arizona as this so-called audit continues to drag on.

HILL: Which is encouraging because we know that those spreading the big lie are incredibly vocal, they are loud.

Trevor, as we look at this, I know the campaign legal center is really calling on Congress now to push this Freedom to Vote Act, so, Senate Democrats announcing this on Tuesday. And for folks who are not familiar, I just want to go through, it would make it is easier to register to vote, Election Day would, of course, be a public holiday, it would ensure states have early voting for federal elections, allow all voters to request mail-in ballots, also bolster election security and overhaul how new House districts are drawn.

The reality is that this faces long odds in the Senate as we're look at this. So if that doesn't pass, what is next?

TREVOR POTTER, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER: Well, first of all, I'm hopeful that Senator Manchin's efforts in the Senate will bear fruit. Because, as you know, he had asked for changes in the bill, he has now gotten a bill that he likes, that all 50 Democrats like. And his goal is to find some Republicans to support it.

Parts of this bill were passed unanimously by the Senate in the Voting Rights Act a couple of years ago. So there has in the past been bipartisan support. But I think the real battle here, as you say, is whether there are going to be national rules that protect the freedom to vote, that ensure that citizens will be able to get to polls or vote absentee or by mail. One of the important provisions of this bill responding to Republican claims that there could be election fraud is to establish a national list of acceptable voter I.D. so that they can respond to claims that people may be trying to vote without correct I.D., without being who they claim to be. There is to be clear no proof that that ever happens, but it is important to increase public confidence, particularly with all of these lies being told by the former president and party leaders that there is something wrong with our elections, which is, of course, fundamentally very damaging to our democracy.


HILL: I want to follow up on one point you made. You're confident with some of the changes, right? And Senator Manchin, I believe, said in the wake of that announcement on Tuesday that he's talking to people and he thinks he can really shore up the Republican votes needed. You talk about bipartisan support in the past. Realistically, do you see that support today in 2021?

POTTER: Well, I think various senators have -- Republican senators have supported aspect of this new bill. Senator Murkowski has worked with Senator Manchin on the voting rights restoration portions. There are other parts of this bill that have had bipartisan support in the past.

And I think the Republicans are -- in the Senate are going to have to look at this and say there are support across the country, the majority supporting the provisions of this bill, do they really want to be seen as anti-voting, making it harder to vote, do they want to be seen as in favor partisan gerrymanders.

An important piece of this as you mentioned is that it will now be clear that gerrymandering, drawing districts for purely partisan reasons to disadvantage the other party is illegal and can be challenged in federal court. And citizens support that. They've supported independent commissions. CLC has been active in helping promote around the country (INAUDIBLE).

HILL: So -- so, as we keep an eye on that. Secretary Hobbs, we're really focused on what is happening on Saturday in Washington. This rally in support of the insurrectionists, we've been talking so much about the security measures. There are not Republican lawmakers who are slated to speak at that. They've been trying to distance themselves to it, as we've reported here on CNN. I'm curious though, do you think there are enough Republican voices speaking up to condemn, to continue to condemn what happened on January 6, as we just heard from Bill Gates in your state on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors saying there need to be more voices here.

HOBBS: Yes, I'm absolutely in agreement with what Supervisor Gates, and I think that is really part of the problem. We have elected leaders in our state who know the truth. They sat and certified the election results in November and they've been silent, and because the political consequences or whatever reason, and it is just wrong. The truth about the election is that it was fair, secure, accurate and we need more leaders on both sides of the aisle who are willing to stand up and defend that.

HILL: Really quickly, this polling found 51 percent of likely elected officials in the U.S. would successfully overturn the results of a future election. 52 percent said they don't have confidence in the elections, excuse me, reflect the will of the people. Secretary Hobbs, do you think that damage is permanent?

HOBBS: I think that damage is going to be long lasting. And we have these folks, Trump and his allies who are continuing to promote these allegations, make up new allegations every single day about what did or didn't happen. And there is just no basis. But, yes, the damage is long-lasting into the 2022, 2024 election not just with people's confidence, but with what the groundwork that they might be laying to actually be able to overturn a future election.

HILL: Which is why it is so important that we continue to stay on this. I appreciate you both joining us this morning. Thank you. Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Coming up next, we will get a Republican's take on all of this as we wait on President Biden's remarks on the economy. Can Congress avoid default in a government shutdown? Senator John Barrasso, number three in the Republican Senate leadership, will join us right after a short break.



SCIUTTO: Just a brief update. This is live pictures, not at the Capitol, to be clear, just behind the Capitol. CNN just got an update from D.C. Fire. This appears to be a fire on 7th and D Street, a couple of blocks away, again, from the Capitol building in a high-rise building under construction. D.C. Fire is now responding. We will continue to follow this and share any updates that we have.

Well, just a couple of hours from now, President Biden is expected to speak from the White House, pushing his $3.5 trillion economic package. Negotiations underway on Capitol Hill have been going on for a while, you may remember.

For more, joining me now to discuss is Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming. He's number three in the Republican leadership in the Senate. Senator, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): It is great to be with you. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, I want to start, if I can, on the debt limit, because this appears to be a red line for Republicans. I do want to ask you about consistency here. Because, as you know, the last time this happened in 2019, Congress and then President Trump, they suspended the debt limit through July of this year. I wonder, why is adding to the debt limit a red line now for the Republican leadership but it was not then?

BARRASSO: Well Republicans are not going to be a rubber stamp to this reckless spending that the Democrats are now proposing. What you saw last year were five bipartisan coronavirus relief bills. The suspending of the debt ceiling was a bipartisan bill that came forward and that is what we ought to be doing here. But we're not. The new administration, they passed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill but only 9 percent of the money really went to COVID relief and to health care.


Right now, they're talking about --

SCIUTTO: That is -- that stat is arguable, as you know.

BARRASSO: But right now, they're talking 3.5 additional trillion dollars of spending. Not a single Republican is going to vote for that. And the Democrats have the House, they have the Senate, they have the White House. They have the capacity to raise the debt ceiling on their own if they want to go it alone on the spending and the taxes. And you look at this $3.5 trillion bill, it has included in it $1.75 trillion of additional borrowing capacity, going on to the debt.

SCIUTTO: But you get my point on consistency, don't you, Senator, because barring was not a problem, for instance, for the 2017 Republican tax cuts. There was no raising of hands, gnashing of teeth by Republicans then. You get point. Why not then and why so much now?

BARRASSO: The debt ceiling needs to be raised and the democrats want to raise it by a lot for a lot of spending, which to me is big government socialism. And I'm just not going to be a rubber stamp to that nor are any of the Republicans that I've talked to.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about --

BARRASSO: So we have a 50/50 Senate. That is what the American people have given us, which, to me, is a mandate to move to the middle. President Biden ran for office as a centrist. But what we're seeing a lurch to the left, a dramatic change in the role of government in people's lives and what they're talking about is the biggest tax and spending bill in the last 50 years. I mean, that is the kind of thing that the Democrats are proposing. Everyone --

SCIUTTO: Let's move on -- if we won't get an answer on tax cuts, let's move on then to Afghanistan. There has been, and you've noted this, criticism of the Biden withdrawal, not just from Republicans like yourself but also from Democrats. Looking ahead, I want to talk about solutions, because you and I often talk about or try to talk about solutions on this broadcast. Do you believe that a solution is to send U.S. forces back into Afghanistan, to redeploy, for instance, to help evacuate remaining Americans but also for a counter-terror capability? Would you support that?

BARRASSO: There is a real concern that may be necessary. I don't know right now if that is necessary. But you're 100 percent right, you saw it in the Foreign Relations Committee meeting the other day, Republicans and Democrats. And some wanted all soldiers out. I thought we should leave a stay behind force. But wherever you were on that issue, you would say that this evacuation was an epic failure. It was all done poorly. The president promised everybody would be brought out. But the White House's own statements over last month, there could be hundreds, if not, thousands of Americans still trapped behind enemy lines. We have got to get those people out.

President Biden promised the American people everyone would come out but yet we know they're still on the ground, we know we can't get them out. The White House yesterday said we pushed every lever we could, because there are planes on the ground, north of Kabul, in the airport up there, and they said we cannot get movement. We've only gotten 37 out since the soldiers --

SCIUTTO: Not to mention, of course -- and I'm sorry, we're short on time, but not to mention, of course, the many Afghans who worked for the U.S., many thousands more.

I do want to ask you about what is going on in Wyoming now. You have a race now to replace Liz Cheney. Her challenger is Harriet Hageman, has questioned, as many Republicans have, without basis, the integrity of the 2020 election. You say you're neutral on this race. Are you neutral on Hageman's refusal to accept the 2020 election results? Are you neutral on that or will you reject that?

BARRASSO: Number one as you know, President Biden is president. I voted to certify the election, period. Wyoming did our election right. We have mail-in ballots, we also have voter I.D. In terms of this upcoming race, the Republican primary voters are going to decide who we in Wyoming want to have represent us in Congress.

And the primary, Jim, is not for almost a year away. We have so many fights on our hands with this administration in terms of the economy, in terms of COVID, in terms of the border, across the board. And my goal is to focus on future of the fights that we have with the administration.

SCIUTTO: I get that. But the fact is --

BARRASSO: And, hopefully, the primary will go behind -- will be put down a little bit --

SCIUTTO: I get that. But you know the fact is many Republicans are not looking to the future. They're still looking to the past election. It is created this cancer that 78 percent of Republicans still don't believe that Joe Biden legitimately won. Will you, as the number three Republican in the Senate, say, we have to move on from this, accept it, this cannot stand this in party?

BARRASSO: My focus is what is happening to this country. We have had this epic failure by the administration in Afghanistan.


We have hundreds, if not, thousands of Americans trapped behind enemy lines, basically at the mercy of the Taliban who are not people known for showing mercy. The head of the country has a $10 million price tag on his head. There are so many more important things to be focused on. SCIUTTO: I get that.

BARRASSO: My focus is on the future and the 2020 election -- and the 2022 election, we need to make sure we take back the House, take back the Senate so we can stop this freight train to the left.

SCIUTTO: The trouble is, of course --

BARRASSO: The spending and all the things that are happening.

SCIUTTO: The threat at home, as you saw with that great Drew Griffin reporting. Listen, we'll call it a continuing conversation. Senator John Barrasso, thanks for joining us.

BARRASSO: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And thanks so much to all of you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HILL: And I'm Erica Hill. Boris Sanchez picks up after a quick break. We'll see you tomorrow.



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Buenos dias. Hello, everyone. I'm Boris Sanchez in for Kate Bolduan. We are thrilled that you are with us.

Here is what we're watching at this hour.