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Infrastructure Negotiations Continuing; Republican Refusing to Raise Debt Ceiling; Facebook Outages. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired October 04, 2021 - 13:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Boris Sanchez in New York. My friend Ana Cabrera is off today.

We're following major breaking news, a major Internet outage, a bad week for Facebook suddenly getting worse, three of its major services suffering outages, the Facebook platform, Instagram and WhatsApp all experiencing outages right now. And the main reason is not immediately clear.

CNN's Donie O'Sullivan joins us now.

Donie, this coming off the heels of more than a 5 percent drop in Facebook stock, this Facebook whistle-blower coming forward with allegations that the company has put profit over its users. What are you learning about these outages?


It's a very challenging day for Facebook, indeed. Facebook right now not saying what is the cause of this outage. All they are saying is, we're aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products, and they're working to get things back to normal.

I think they're maybe underestimating it there when they say some people, because it's clear from speaking to folks, both my family back in Ireland and people all across the U.S., you're unable to access Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp at the moment.

We do see these services go down occasionally, but, normally, sometimes for a few minutes. I think we're going into about an hour now since we were first hearing reports of these downs -- this outage. There is a site that tracks online Web sites that go out. It's called Downdetector, where people can report when they are experiencing an outage on a Web site.

And my colleague Clare Duffy reporting that, over the past hour, they have gotten thousands of reports that these services are out. Of course, it is worth remembering -- and, I mean, this -- that all these platforms are owned by Facebook. We talk a little bit about the concentrationship of ownership -- concentration of ownership of these platforms.

Here's a good example to show, when a service goes down, when a service at a company that owns multiple platforms goes down, all of those platforms can go down with it, but, of course, this all coming in an extremely challenging week for Facebook, where, just under 24 hours from now, a whistle-blower, a former Facebook employee, is due to testify before Congress about the harms that Instagram particularly can have for teenagers, and also the role that election misinformation is playing.

All that being said, Boris, however, is that this also goes to show that we all do rely and use on many of these apps. Many people might not use Facebook, but they might use Instagram or WhatsApp and vice versa. So for as much as we talk about all of the woes that these platforms can create, many people also rely on them as well.

SANCHEZ: Yes, no question about that.

Donie O'Sullivan, thank you for following up with that.

As we just mentioned, this news coming just one day after a damning new interview from a Facebook whistle-blower, stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight, accusing the social media giant of putting profit over safety for its users.

The identity of former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen was revealed on "60 Minutes" last night. Haugen alleges that Facebook knows its platforms are used to spread hate, violence, and misinformation. And she points to algorithms that determine the content that users see. Listen here.


FRANCES HAUGEN, FORMER FACEBOOK PRODUCT MANAGER: And one of the consequences of how Facebook is picking out that content today is, it is optimizing for content that gets engagement, a reaction.

But its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it's easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.

QUESTION: Misinformation, angry content is enticing to people and keeps them on the platform.

HAUGEN: Yes, very enticing. Yes.

Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they will click on less ads, they will make less money.


SANCHEZ: Facebook is now pushing back against those accusations in a statement that reads in part -- quote -- "We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true."

Let's bring in CNN chief media correspondent and the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter.

Brian, great to see you, as always.


SANCHEZ: Facebook stock down nearly 5.5. percent, clearly the whistle-blower making an impact. Now this outage, and this whistle- blower is testifying tomorrow before a Senate committee.


What stands out to you about all of this and what she's revealing?

STELTER: Well, all eyes on Facebook and so much disappointment about these platforms that were supposed to bring us all together, were supposed to connect us, but have really been proven to be antisocial in so many ways.

Yes, there are benefits of these platforms. But the documents from this whistle-blower, the testimony she's providing speak to how damaging and dangerous these platforms have become, whether that's Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, or some of the ones that are not owned by Facebook, for that matter.

And I think the defenses from Facebook are really interesting to examine, because we are hearing the company try to say, we are looking for flaws, we are doing research, we're going to continue to do research to figure out what's wrong with our platform.

The question is whether we can trust these officials to fix the problems. Here's a part of what Nick Clegg said to me over the weekend. He's the top spokesman for Facebook, saying we're going to continue to do research to find the flaws in the platform.


NICK CLEGG, VICE PRESIDENT OF POLICY AND GLOBAL AFFAIRS, FACEBOOK: So we accept transparency, we accept criticism, we accept where that criticism is fair, that we need to act on it. I think the one thing which is deeply misleading is this idea that we commission research, then deliberately brush it under the carpet because we don't like the implications of that research, because somehow we like to have bad and unpleasant content on our platform.

Of course we don't. We want to bear down on it. We're never going to eliminate it. I'm never going to promise to you, Brian, that there won't be a teenager who is dealing with other issues in their lives who won't have a good experience on social media. We can minimize it, but not eliminate it. And that's what we do. That's why we commissioned research.

And we have always been very open about it.


STELTER: So they say they will continue doing this research.

But you hear the way these executives minimize the problems of the platform. They talk about young girls on Facebook and Instagram not having positive experiences. What that can mean is witnessing images that cause incredible distress, mental health issues, even self-harm, even thoughts of suicide.

We're talking about real-life consequences from these platforms that are being brought to our attention in ways like never before, thanks to this whistle-blower.

I mean, in some ways, it's as if there's a giant pollution plant, a giant plant snorting out pollution all day long. All of us are inhaling it every day. And now we're starting to pay more attention to the consequences.

And, by the way, this outage, it's extraordinary, right? You were just talking about this with Donie. An hour-and-a-half now for these platforms to be down? This is incredibly rare. This seems like a major, major problem for Facebook from a technical standpoint.

And to have this in the context of an ongoing dialogue about addiction and how addicting these platforms are and how toxic they are, and then all of a sudden of them be taken away from people, it actually is kind of underscoring the point.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And it's made worse by the fact that Instagram, for example, was developing a platform specifically for young kids. And they canceled that or at least put a pause on that.

I did want to ask you about the response directly from Mark Zuckerberg. The last we saw of him, he was posting a video of him sailing taken from his fancy Facebook glasses. He hasn't said anything directly about this whistle-blower, has he?

STELTER: That's right. He appears to be on vacation or relaxing, trying to avoid having to take on these issues directly.

That's true for Mark Zuckerberg. It's true for Sheryl Sandberg. They have been putting out lower-level officials to react to all this bad news to try to spin it away. But the real key leadership has not been heard from, is not commenting.

And that is very striking. Facebook is trying to put out multiple fires right now. Just in the last few minutes, they have filed a response to the FTC in Washington in an antitrust lawsuit brought by the FTC. So they have got a lot of issues on a lot of fronts. But we're not hearing from the top leadership.

SANCHEZ: So the question, ultimately, is how the status quo gets changed. And I think it not only requires regulation, but ultimately a huge amount of buy-in from the populace that has, as you noted, kind of grown addicted to social media. Do you think we're potentially at a tipping point here? And is there

enough of a surge in desire for change among people, given that there are so many stakeholders that gain from Facebook, not just advertisers, but political campaigns and the data that they gather from us that's monetized?

STELTER: In past scandals, we have seen that these impacts only happen around the margins.

So an advertiser might pull money for a week or two, but then come back, because, after all, Facebook and Instagram, that's where the users are, that's where the eyeballs are. So you need to be on there for an advertiser.

So, in the past, that's been the response, only marginal changes, a lot of fire and fury for a few days, and then it fades away. This time may be different because it involves kids and teenagers, because some of the most disturbing allegations from this whistle-blower are about kids and teenagers.

And that's what tomorrow's Senate hearing is all about. So if this time is different, and I don't think we know if it is yet, it's going to be because it's about some of the most vulnerable people in our population. It's about the next generation and how addicted they are to the devices.

We all carry around these supercomputers in our hands, which can unlock miracles around the world, but too often they are providing toxicity and causing actual violence. And it's -- honestly, it's -- we're now having a belated reckoning about the consequences of these platforms.


SANCHEZ: Yes, it's been roughly a dozen, 13 years since these platforms really exploded. And you have to wonder whether real change is going to come about, because it has to be from the ground up. We have to decide not to use these platforms to some degree, right?

STELTER: That's right.

Ultimately, if it's free -- and Instagram and Facebook and WhatsApp, they're all free -- that means we are the product. The users are the product. And those basic ideas, those principles, I'm not sure the average user actually is aware of that, especially the 12- and 13- year-olds who we know really want to get on Instagram, really want to share on these platforms, but can also experience the downside of these platforms, while their brains are still developing.

Honestly, I think it comes down to brain science. Our brains, as a species, were not made to be constantly connected to people all around the world with these impulses that are pushing your buttons all day long. Honestly, that's what this whistle-blower, that's what it really comes down to, pushing people's buttons for profit over safety.

SANCHEZ: All right, we got to leave the conversation there. Brian Stelter, thank you so much for the perspective. Always

appreciate it.

STELTER: Thanks. Thanks.

SANCHEZ: We're also following some other breaking news, a catastrophe off the California coast.

Officials are right now giving an update, as crews are racing to recover tens of thousands of gallons of oil from the Pacific. A spill from a pipeline breach is shutting down beaches and devastating wildlife. One mayor warning that this could become an ecological disaster.

We have CNN climate correspondent Bill Weir standing by. We also have CNN's Natasha Chen, who's live on Huntington Beach for us right now.

Natasha, just ahead of this press conference that's going on behind you, we learned some concerning details about the owner of the pipeline and their track record, and a checkered one, at that. What are we learning?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris, the owner here is Beta Operating Company. Their parent company is Amplify Energy. They are not at this particular press conference behind me, which is just about the wildlife at the moment.

But we are expecting an opportunity to perhaps ask more questions of Amplify later today. But so far, here's what our CNN team has found out. Let's put up bullet points for you.

Beta has been cited by federal regulators for more than 100 violations over the past 11 years. They have been fined a total of $85,000 in 2013 and 2014 for three different incidents. And they received a warning on September 29. That was just last Wednesday. They did also do inspections on the 28th and the 30th.

It's unclear what that warning last Wednesday was for. We don't know the exact details of that just yet. The parent company, as I mentioned, Amplify Energy, went through bankruptcy in 2017. Their CEO did speak yesterday at a press conference, saying that their team, they also live and work in this area and are deeply concerned, they're going to do everything they can to make this a quick recovery.

Now, part of the recovery process is what they're discussing right behind me right now, the concern that a lot of protected animals, protected wildlife and the wetlands, they're all being affected.

So far, this group that's been trying to help these animals have found four birds with oil on them. One of them, a brown pelican, has unfortunately had to be euthanized because of injuries. One of those four birds actually just came in right behind the media today. So it is happening as we speak that there are these teams going out along the shore, both looking on the water and on land to check for these animals. They're also seeing some birds that are in flight that they notice

have oil on them. And those may be difficult to capture and help out. But that is an ongoing effort, in the meantime, telling people the humans to please stay out of the water and stay away from the shoreline because any contact with that oil that's coming up that we have seen get stuck to the bottom of people's feet, that can be very harmful to the skin.

Products evaporated from the spill also could be very irritating to the eyes, nose and throat, according to health officials in the county -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Natasha, the mayor of Huntington Beach calling this a potential ecological disaster.

Bill Weir, hearing that this company that operates the pipeline has quite a bit of marks on its record, and looking at the consequences potentially of that, walk us through the short-term and long-term impacts, and potentially whether we could see accountability if negligence is found.


Yes, the -- in terms of the environmental, ecological impact, the area that folks are most concerned about is a couple hundred acres of estuary called the Talbert Wetlands there. It's right where the Santa Ana River goes into the Pacific. And they have been spending, local folks there, local shareholders, the land trust, Army Corps of Engineers have spent years trying to protect this one little slice of life that's surrounded by so much human development.


And according to one Orange County supervisor, Katrina Foley, all of their work was destroyed in a single day with this spill, which, in the grand scheme of things, I think we need to widen out big picture, these sorts of leaks happen all the time all over the world.

The reason this one is so newsworthy is where it's happening, on some of the most popular beaches in Southern California in the wealthy communities of Orange County. Back in 1969, a union oil tanker blew off of Santa Barbara, and 100,000 barrels spilled onto the beaches there, which was the sort of inciting incident of Earth Day and the modern environmental movement.

This is much smaller in comparison, but up against all the other optics of the Western United States on fire, scientists say, as a result of manmade climate change, the overreliance on the kind of fuels that burn and spill and leak just like this, the droughts that go with this, the bigger storms on the East Coast, accountability is a key question mark right now when it comes to loss and liability.

There are six state attorney general's and the Washington, D.C., all suing big oil companies right now for deceiving the public about the true cost, but it does sound, as you were just reporting, like a small player owned mostly by hedge funds, so harder to pin down and certainly harder to stick a multi-multi-million-dollar penalty on the kind you saw, after the Exxon Valdez.

SANCHEZ: All right, Bill Weir, Natasha Chen, we will let you get back to that press conference and gather more details. Thank you both.

Still ahead: dangerous and hypocritical, President Biden calling out Republicans moments ago, slamming them for refusing to raise the debt limit, as they did three times under the Trump administration.

Meantime, Democrats continue to battle each other over the Biden agenda.

Plus: For the first time in months, COVID cases on hospitalizations are dropping in a big way. Could we finally be turning the corner, or can we expect another winter surge?

We will be right back.



SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

The president's agenda is in a tenuous position right now. Democrats have a self-imposed deadline of Halloween to pass infrastructure and to set a price tag for Biden's Build Back Better package. Progressives want $3.5 trillion. But moderates, including two holdouts, Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, want closer to $1.5 trillion.

And tensions are boiling over. You may have seen this video. Last night, protesters hounded Sinema in Arizona, cameras rolling, filming, as they followed her into a public restroom.

The high stakes for the Biden agenda, though, pale in comparison to a looming economic meltdown. In the Senate, the two parties are playing a game of chicken over the country's debt limit. If that's not resolved in the next two weeks, the U.S. will default on its debt for the first time ever.

Here was President Biden slamming Republicans just a short time ago.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But let's be clear. Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job. They're threatened to use the power, their power, to prevent us from doing our job, saving the economy from a catastrophic event.

I, think quite frankly, it's hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful.


SANCHEZ: CNN chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny is at the White House and CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Jeff, let's start with you, the president directly telling Republicans on the debt limit -- quote -- "Just get out of the way."

He's clearly fed up on this issue. I'm curious about what you made of those remarks.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Boris, he is. And he simply called Republicans reckless for not joining what both parties have routinely done in this town is come together on the idea of raising the debt ceiling, but the president clearly calling out Republicans and also doing something else, really trying to separate the matter and trying to instruct Americans exactly what is happening here, making clear that it is not the spending in his current program.

This is spending from previous programs, from the Trump administration, from Trump tax cuts that Republicans voted for, so President Biden essentially having a "Schoolhouse Rock" moment, If you will try to explain how the debt ceiling actually works, and then trying to urge them to come along, and, if not, to get out of the way and don't use the filibuster to block this for Democrats.

But it is unclear how this puzzle is going to get worked out. The president, he says, will be speaking with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at some point in either the coming hours or days about this.

But this problem is looming. And, again, there's no clear solution for how to get out of it.

SANCHEZ: Manu, let's talk about how these puzzle pieces, as Jeff alluded to, how they come together. Notably, the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, sent a letter to Biden saying that Democrats would have to raise the debt ceiling on their own. He is not budging on this.

But that letter simultaneously calls on the White House to move Democrats to act immediately. How does that work?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are actually three different options to raising the debt limit at the moment.

There's one that would go through the regular order that would require 60 votes, if Republicans threatened to filibuster. That means 50 Democrats, 10 Republicans, but there are not 10 Republican votes. So the second option is to try do a just on that simple majority, getting 51 votes, 50 Democrats, Kamala Harris as the vice president breaking the tie.


But all Republicans would have to consent to allow this to advance at a simple majority threshold. So what Mitch McConnell is saying, instead, he wants the Democrats to go through the what's known as the budget reconciliation process. That is a cumbersome, time consuming- process, takes about two weeks, maybe longer. But more concerning for Democrats, by going that route, it opens them

up to a flurry of politically charged amendments on the Senate floor, something they want to avoid, particularly for members in difficult reelection races.

So that's why they are pressuring McConnell to at least allow this vote to happen on a simple majority basis, so all Democrats can vote for it, all Republicans vote against it, get it done by the end of the week. But given that any one Republican senator can force a 60-vote threshold, the only option, Republicans say, is to go through that more time-consuming process.

And that's what the Democrats say is off the table. So we are looking at a procedural fight that needs to be resolved pretty soon. Otherwise, the chances of default increase exponentially by the day, Boris.

SANCHEZ: And, Jeff, the president also, in a frustrated tone, made reference to two people, two votes in his party that he's struggling to get. What exactly did he say?

ZELENY: He was asked about that infrastructure bill, of course, the bipartisan bill that has cleared the Senate, but is not yet through the House.

And now it's tied up, of course, in this broader Biden economic agenda, and he was asked specifically why he couldn't close the deal with his fellow Democrats.


BIDEN: Been able close the deal with 99 percent of my party.

Two. Two people, that's still under way. I don't think there's been a president who's been able to close deals that has been a position where he has only 50 votes in the Senate and a bare majority in the House. It's a process.

QUESTION: It sounds like you're putting the blame squarely on two U.S. senators for your inability to close that deal, Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin. Am I hearing correctly? Is that who the blame lies with?

BIDEN: Look, I need 50 votes in the Senate. I have 48.


ZELENY: Of course, left and spoken there were the names of those two votes he needs, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

And that is the reality that the president finds himself in. He simply cannot get this program forward without those two votes, so some frustration there, but also a reality check to other Democrats as well that they're all going to have to come together and work on a compromise if they want to get anything accomplished on this big Biden agenda -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: So, Manu, last week, we saw a self-imposed deadline to get these two bills passed come and go, the new Halloween deadline not that far away. Any signs of progress toward consensus on the Hill?

RAJU: It's really unclear at this point.

Yesterday, the progressives led by Pramila Jayapal told our colleague Dana Bash that she would not accept that $1.5 trillion number that Joe Manchin has said that is his number. And they called on him to move up.

Now, just moments ago, we caught up with Joe Manchin and asked him if he's willing to go any higher than $1.5 trillion.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I have been very clear where we are, been very, very clear.

QUESTION: Thank you.


RAJU: So he said, "I have been very, very clear," not explicitly saying you wouldn't go higher, but making clear he's not really interested in going much higher.

But aside from the price tag, differences still on key policy issues, including how to deal with the expansion of a number of benefits that Joe mentioned wants means-tested to limit its eligibility. Progressives have pushed for broader expansion of these new social programs in this larger bill.

So, so many issues here, and the question is, can they get a deal quickly? Chuck Schumer wants to deal in a -- quote -- "matter of days." Seems hard to see how they can get there, but the push is on -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: The push is on.

Manu Raju, Jeff Zeleny, thank you both. We appreciate it.

So a question that could have an enormous impact on your holiday plans: Are we finally turning the corner with COVID? Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations seeing their first significant drop in months. Evidence shows that mandates are helping to turn the tide. But will the unvaccinated spark another surge?

We will talk to a doctor next.