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Major Safety Concerns Emerge From Fatal Movie Shooting; Speaker Pelosi Says Agreement On Spending Bill Expected This Week; Interview With Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) About Spending Bill; Interview With Dr. Francis Collins About COVID Vaccinations And Virus Funding In Wuhan; Heavy Rain Triggers Landslides In Parts Of California; Obama Slams GOP For Rigging Elections. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 24, 2021 - 18:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Sunday.

And we start with heartbreaking and haunting questions tonight. Major safety concerns are emerging from the aftermath of Thursday's deadly shooting on the set of Alec Baldwin's movie "Rust." A prop gun that was supposed to be empty killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

We are seeing new photos of the actor meeting with her son and husband in New Mexico. And CNN has now learned about past safety complaints against the movie's assistant director, the last person to handle the prop gun before giving it to Baldwin.

CNN correspondent Lucy Kafanov is in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, CNN is learning new details about David Halls, the assistant director on the production of "Rust," the film where this shooting tragically took place on Thursday. Sources telling CNN that David Halls was subject to several complaints over safety as well as his behavior on at least two productions back in 2019. They included things like disregard for safety protocols for weapons and pyrotechnics, and also fire lanes and consistently blocked, as well as some questions about inappropriate sexual behavior.

Now one pyrotechnician who worked with Halls on Hulu's "Into the Dark" series said that he consistently neglected to hold safety meetings and failed to announce the presence of a firearm on set to crew. She told CNN, and I quote, "The only reason the crew was made aware of the weapon's presence was because the assistant prop master demanded that Dave acknowledge and announce the situation each day.

Another crewmember telling CNN that when Halls did hold safety meetings, they were short and he was submissive. CNN of course has reached out to Mr. Halls for comment. We're still waiting to hear back.

Now yesterday, Saturday, was a day of grief and mourning in Albuquerque, downtown Albuquerque. Members of unions representing television and film workers had gathered for a candlelight vigil to honor and mourn the passing of Halyna Hutchins, the 42-year-old director of cinematographer who tragically lost her life. You know, this is a close-knit community, people tell us. The folks who are at the vigil, the industry workers.

People who work on movies know one another. We spoke to one woman who wasn't directly involved with this production, she's a location coordinator, but she said she knew everyone in that room and she was visibly shaken. Take a listen.


REBECCA STAIR, LOCATION MANAGER, IATSE LOCAL 480 MEMBER: I just hope all this talking does something. I hope my talking with you gets amplified and we get the changes that we need for a safe set. I'm sure you know we were about to strike this past Monday for safer conditions, and if the world didn't believe us about what's going on, maybe they believe us now.

KAFANOV: People should be able to go home after performing their job.

STAIR: Yes. A child should have a mother. Sorry.


KAFANOV: A child should have his mother. She was, of course, referring to the son that Halyna Hutchins leaves behind along with her husband. A lot of grief here and a lot of questions about how these safety oversights could have taken place, how the shooting could have happened when the weapon, the prop weapon that was used, was not supposed to be loaded with anything -- Pam.

BROWN: So many questions. Lucy Kafanov, thank you.

And just in tonight from Capitol Hill, a source tells CNN the Democratic leaders are hoping to hold a vote on President Biden's bipartisan infrastructure bill on Wednesday or Thursday of this week. Earlier today House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled that Democrats are close to a long sought-after agreement.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We have 90 percent of the bill agreed to and written. We just have some of the last decisions to be made. It is less than we had -- was projected to begin with, but it's still bigger than anything we have ever done in terms of addressing the needs of America's working families.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you saying in the next week the framework will be agreed to? There will be a deal on the social safety net bill.

PELOSI: Let's call it an agreement.

TAPPER: An agreement. There will be an agreement on that, and you will also vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill? Both of those things will happen in the next week. PELOSI: That's the plan.


BROWN: That's the plan. All right, let's bring in CNN's Arlette Saenz. She's at the White House.

So, Arlette, we are also hearing about a potential concession for moderate Democrat Joe Manchin. What more can you tell us?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, it's unclear what the larger spending bill will eventually total up to, but our colleagues up on Capitol Hill have learned that Senator Joe Manchin told Democratic leaders he is open to a $1.5 trillion price tag. That is a bit closer to the $1.9 trillion that we've heard President Biden floating over the course of the past week.

Of course, this is significantly less than that $3.5 trillion Democrats initially had laid out. But earlier today President Biden hosted Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, to talk through some of these negotiations. The White House a short while ago released a readout saying that it was a productive discussion and that they believe they are making progress, that there will be continued talks between staff of the senator and the White House as well as they are trying to get closer to a deal.

Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said that she thinks that they will be reaching an agreement, or hopes they'll be reaching an agreement soon, and our colleagues up on Capitol Hill report that Democratic leaders are hoping that they could have a vote on that bipartisan infrastructure plan by Wednesday or Thursday, and an agreement to the larger spending proposal so that they can get those progressives on board with that bipartisan infrastructure plan.

Now one thing, Joe Manchin is just one of the holdouts on this bill. We are still waiting to hear exactly where Senator Kyrsten Sinema's thinking is around this. She has some concerns about the pay-fors. Earlier today House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they were working toward a billionaire tax, that that would maybe alleviate some of her concerns, but President Biden is really hoping that Democrats can iron out some type of deal in these coming days.

He's heading later this week abroad to a meeting of the G-20 and then a climate summit, and he's hoping that he can present some type of win from back here at home.

BROWN: All right. Arlette Saenz live for us at the White House, thank you so much.

Now let's bring in California Democratic Congressman Jimmy Gomez. He is a member of the Progressive Caucus.

Thank you so much for joining me tonight. So a lot of news happening today. Will you still vote for the infrastructure bill this week if there is a specific agreement on the social safety net bill? Is that enough for you to vote on the infrastructure bill? REP. JIMMMY GOMEZ (D-CA): One of the things progressives have always

been about is about passing the entire Build Back Better agenda. That's the budget reconciliation bill with all the soft infrastructure spending, childcare, child tax credit, housing, the biggest investment in combatting climate change in the history of this country and the infrastructure bill.

I met with President Biden as well as other progressives last week, and what I said is that we just need certainty when it comes to three things. One, content. What's in it? What are the language, what are the concessions? Two, we need to know that people are in support, that the senators can't backtrack on what they agreed to like they have in the past. And three, what's the process?

And if we get certainty on all three, you'll see the Progressive Caucus as well as others support the bill, moving both bill and agree to at least a strong agreement when it comes to the bipartisan -- I mean, when it comes to the budget reconciliation package.

BROWN: The bottom line, though, is there are still several sticking points. You heard Nancy Pelosi today say they're 90 percent there, but there are some major sticking points, climate, extending the child tax credit, paid family leave, expanding Medicare, allowing them to negotiate drug prices. So you're telling me that if that is not squared away by the time the infrastructure bill is brought for a vote this coming week, you will not be voting in favor of it?

GOMEZ: Yes. Of course. Because here's the thing. That's what they're working so hard to do, is to reach an agreement on the entire package, to make sure that it's there. And for people to understand what we're voting on, we wouldn't be supporting something that we didn't know was in the package. So in the end, I think we're going to get there. I think we're going to get clarity and certainty when it comes to the child tax credit.

We'll get clarity when it comes to paid family leave, if it's in or out. We're going to get clarity when it comes to combatting climate change. But in the end, this is going to be a historic investment in all these things, and I think it's going to help us have a populist that can compete in the 21st century in a country that could be way better off than it was before.

BROWN: But you think all of that can be sorted in just a few days before the infrastructure bill is brought to the floor? You think that all those major issues, those sticking points will be sorted out by then?

GOMEZ: I absolutely do. I think President Biden and Speaker Pelosi understand that that's essentially in order to get the Congressional Progressive Caucus to support it. And that's why we're working so hard. Last week President Biden said the window is closing on a deal and that's why he called Joe Manchin to Delaware. That's why he's been working the phones. That's why Speaker Pelosi.

And in the end, I think that the Democratic caucus in the House, as well as most of the senators, recognize that if we don't get this done, then the American people will be hurt, as well as not only our political party, but everybody that would benefit from the Build Back Better agenda.


BROWN: You heard that Joe Manchin. He met with President Biden today along with the Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. And sources are telling my colleague Manu Raju tonight that he appears he is willing to go up from $1.5 trillion which he initially wanted to $1.75 trillion for that social safety net package. Is that acceptable to you? Are you OK with that if that is the number?

GOMEZ: We're looking at what's in the bill so if we get all our commitments when it comes to child tax credit, when it comes to paid family leave, when it comes to a bunch of issues, and if it totals $1.75 or $2 trillion, we're going to support it. Like here's the thing, it will still be the largest investment in workers and in families in the history of this country. I'm on the Ways and Means Committee.

It would be the largest investment in green infrastructure in combating climate change in the history of this country, even if the number is lower. So we're not going for the ideal, we're going to do what we believe is going to really set the course for this country for the next 50 years.

BROWN: I want to play what your governor, Gavin Newsom, says about the Capitol Hill debate going on right now. Let's listen.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: I have reverence and respect for the president. I'm not here to offer advice unless it's sought. I will observe as just a taxpayer that it's COVID, stupid. Not just this $3.5 trillion reconciliation that's over 10 years, People won't know it's 10 years, don't even know what a trillion is, don't know what reconciliation is. No one is getting a damn thing done. And it's driving them crazy. And of course they're going to blame whoever is in the executive branch.


BROWN: And of course there are two high-stakes races coming up in November 2nd in New Jersey and Virginia, for the governor's race. He goes on to argue Democrats need to focus again on the COVID response to build confidence with voters.

What do you think about what he said? Is it that easy?

GOMEZ: This is Washington, D.C. I served in the California legislature and it's a different ball game there than it is in D.C. The elbows are definitely sharper and they're definitely harder, and people have different ideas, right? The California Democrat isn't the same as a Texas Democrat. So we have to work harder to bring everybody together.

But he has to understand, and I think people understand, that we're going to deliver this package. I have no doubt that we're going to get a package that's going to help restore confidence. And when we do that, then people are going to start seeing their lives improve when it comes to child care. A lot of reasons why they can't -- people can't go back to work is that it's hard to find anybody to take care of their child, and if they do, it's too expensive.

They're also struggling with housing. They're also struggling with making sure that they have time to take care of a sick family member when they get in trouble. So one of the things we're going to do, we're going to get it done. And it's not that easy, but it's a different ball game, but we're going to get it done. And when we do, it's going to be time to sell it to the American people and tell them why it's a good thing and how their lives are going to change for the better.

BROWN: All right. Congressman Jimmy Gomez, thanks for joining us tonight.

GOMEZ: Thank you for having me.

BROWN: Coming up this Sunday, wild weather triggering a huge landslide as heavy rain and flash floods batter northern California.

And then a CNN investigation revealing how used, soiled surgical gloves are being repackaged as new and then brought into the U.S.

Also tonight, America on the cusp of emergency authorization for kids' COVID vaccines. I'll ask the National Institutes of Health director what he's telling parents nervous about giving their children the shot.

And singing superstar Ed Sheeran stuck at home with COVID.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.


JAMES CORDEN, LATE-NIGHT SHOW HOST: Moderna or Pfizer will do.

ED SHEERAN, MUSICIAN: You'll be good after jab number two.

CORDEN: But wait two weeks for it to take effect.

SHEERAN: Doesn't fit this song, but it's important.




BROWN: Well, we could be just days from a major advance in the nation's battle with COVID-19. 28 million children between 5 and 11 years old could become eligible for the vaccine if the FDA gives the green light this week. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the next month may be pivotal in the pandemic. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: So if all goes well and we get the regulatory approval and the recommendation for the CDC, it's entirely possible, if not very likely, that vaccines will be available for children from 5 to 11 within the first week or two of November.


BROWN: Joining me now is the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins.

Hi, Dr. Collins. Thanks for joining the show again. So look, there are a lot of parents out there that are still nervous about getting their kids vaccinated. How do you convince them it's safe?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Well, I would want them to be convinced by the data because that's really what this is all about. Let's look at the evidence about what the safety issue is and what the benefits are, of course, of kids being able to be protected against COVID-19.

Maybe early on in this pandemic, people thought that kids didn't have to worry about it too much because they wouldn't really get very sick, and that's still true most of the time, but unfortunately, we have now had more than 500 children die of COVID-19.

This can be a very serious condition. And if you look at the pediatric intensive care units across the country, many of them now are full with kids who have COVID. So it's a serious condition for them as well. So on the side of benefits, you don't want your kid to get that disease. On the other side of benefits, you don't want your kid also to be the one who catches this and spreads it to their friends and adds to the problem keeping the schools open.


So there are a lot of reasons to do this. But then parents are going to want to know, is it safe? And that's what the FDA Advisory Committee is going to be debating in a very public meeting on Tuesday. Some of the information they're going to be discussing has already been put on the internet so people can start looking at it.

I would say parents ought to look at that discussion, see what the experts are saying. These are people who don't work for the government. They don't work for a company. They're just experts in infectious disease and they're going to come forward with their recommendation about whether this is safe and effective for 5 to 11- year-olds.

Now that's FDA. Then next week CDC's advisory committee will look at the same data and make a recommendation. So we won't really have the final answer until about November 3rd or 4th. And at that point if everybody agrees this is a good thing, and parents look at the information and they agree, too, then kids can start getting immunized before Thanksgiving, and that's a good thing.

BROWN: And how pivotal will that be assuming that it will be approved for kids 5 and up?

COLLINS: I think it could make a huge difference in getting us past this terrible Delta surge that right now has cost so many lives just in the last few months. And altogether, of course, COVID-19 has cost 750,000 lives, just unimaginable a year ago that it might have gotten to that point. How are we going to end the pandemic? The best way to do so is to have the maximum number of individuals immune, and that's what vaccines offer you.

You know, that includes kids, that's all the more reason to send this virus packing so that we don't see this going on month for month after month after month. So it would be a very good thing. It would be pivotal if the judgment is it's safe and effective. I don't want to get ahead of FDA and CDC's advisory process. Let's see what they say, but the data preliminarily looks pretty good.

BROWN: Very quickly, what about those who say this is going to be an endemic, it's not going to go away, we're going to be living with this virus in perpetuity? Do you agree with that?

COLLINS: You know, Pam, I don't think we really know. This virus has only been with us now for about 22 months and it has presented a lot of surprises. We didn't expect this to be a virus that was so infectious in people who had no symptoms. We didn't expect it also to have variants like Delta that came along and made almost like a completely new pandemic. So I'm hesitant, and I think most of the experts are, to make predictions about what might lie ahead of us another six or 12 months from now.

Certainly possible it might become an endemic, might become more like the flu, we just don't know. But the best thing we can do to keep it from being where it is right now, which is still a very dangerous pandemic, is to get everybody vaccinated. So we're talking about 5 to 11-year-olds, but let me just say the 65 million adults who have yet to get vaccinated can also be part of the solution here.

And I know those folks have been hit with a lot of information, a lot of them from the internet. Is it necessarily accurate? I hope they will look at this situation and say, hey, if the kids can get vaccinated, maybe we better do that, too. That would help a lot.

BROWN: We shall see. Doctor, please stay with us. We have a lot more to discuss.

Also ahead tonight, extreme weather disrupting travel in parts of California. Check out this massive rock slide. Boulders too big to move, and we are following it all.



BROWN: I want to continue our conversation with Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Collins, I want to talk about what has been making some headlines in the last few days, and in what appears to be a major shift, the NIH now admits to funding risky research in the Wuhan lab years ago through EcoHealth Alliance but just found out about this in August this year. Saying in a letter to Congress, it was done in a limited experiment and that mice became sicker with type of a bat coronavirus compared to another type. In May, this is what Dr. Anthony Fauci declared.


FAUCI: The NIH has not ever or does not now fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute.


BROWN: Dr. Collins, how can he say that when you're just now finding out that U.S. tax dollars was being used to pay for this risky research in that Wuhan lab two years ago? If you didn't know about what was going on, what else do you not know about?

COLLINS: So I'm glad you're asking because this really needs to be clarified. Part of the confusion here, Pam, is this term "gain of function." In common scientific parlance, gain of function involves all kinds of experiments where you're trying to understand the function of a particular biological cell. For instance, cancer immunotherapy. They're trying to give people with cancer a chance to fight off their cancer by activating --

BROWN: I just need to be clear. Sorry, Dr. Collins, I do want to interrupt because I think I want to be clear I'm not -- I don't need to get into the nitty-gritty about gain of function. This is to say, and I know it's manipulating a virus to make it more pathogenic. But this is to say that grant money was given to EcoHealth Alliance that was then conducting research in the Wuhan lab.


And EcoHealth Alliance violated the terms of its contract by not immediately notifying the NIH of this risky research it was doing. You're just now finding out. So the question is, you know, how can you know what this money is going toward? What kind of research this is going toward in places like the Wuhan lab if you're just now finding this out from EcoHealth Alliance, how the U.S. taxpayer dollars was being used?

COLLINS: Well, EcoHealth did violate the terms of their grant award. I want to make it really clear, Pam, that's why I started explaining what this term gain of function means. Yes, they did some things they should have told us about, but they did not do the kind of gain of function research that requires special high-level oversight. That's where the confusion arises. Yes, they messed up. We're going to hold them accountable.

They sent us a progress report two years late that they should have sent a while ago, and it had information in it that they should have told us about. But let me be clear. This was in no way -- no way -- connected with the advent of SARS COV-2 and COVID-19. And anybody who tries to connect those dots --

BROWN: And we're not saying that.

COLLINS: OK. Good. OK. Some people --


BROWN: And we want to be clear to our viewers there is no allegation here from what we know that the virus used in this experiment two years ago in the Wuhan lab is in any way connected to COVID-19.

COLLINS: Thank you.

BROWN: But what it does show, what it does show is that there was risky research being conducted in that lab with U.S. taxpayer dollars that the NIH was unaware of and is just now finding out. So it raises the question of what other risky experiments could be going on with taxpayer funding that you don't know about. Does that concern you?

COLLINS: It does. I think in this instance, the particular grantee, which is EcoHealth Alliance, failed to follow the terms of their grant award that they should have followed, and they're in some trouble as a result of that. We ask all of our grantees to give us regular progress reports telling us the details of what they're doing, and of course they then publish their results. I don't think this is indication that there is a broad range of this kind of difficulty going on.

But this particular grantee is in trouble for not having been completely open and transparent about the work they were doing, and we are very much following up on that, and I guarantee you that will not be ignored.

BROWN: And I know you have asked for them to share more documents which I believe the deadline is tomorrow. But isn't this also an oversight failure of the NIH? Because the NIH is responsible for taking taxpayer money and giving these grants. So would you say that this is also an oversight failure?

COLLINS: So I'll get into a little bit of the weeds here. The way that Congress gives our authorities, we are able to require performance by the grantee, which is EcoHealth Alliance. They had a sub-award to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We are not permitted to have direct interaction from the sub award. That had to come from EcoHealth. That needs to be changed. We are actually interested in asking the Congress to change that.

And we're also looking closely in circumstances where progress reports are delayed to see what should be done in that space that perhaps in this instance was not done. So, yes, it's a learning experience for sure.

BROWN: Why should Americans trust you and the NIH on the issue of COVID origins when you didn't even know about the programs it was funding with taxpayer dollars this China?

COLLINS: Well, that's a little too strong, Pam. We did know exactly what the funding was intended to support in terms of the research on these bat coronaviruses, and the vast, vast majority of what they did was exactly what we had given them permission to do.

In this one instance, they failed to report the results of an experiment that they should have told us about immediately. Frankly, it's not an experiment that we think has a huge impact on any of the work that was done, but they missed the opportunity to be completely responsive as they should have been.

So please relax here. This is not a circumstance where I think you could say there was a major failure that put human lives at risk. It was a mess-up in terms of their being responsive to the requirements they should have followed.

BROWN: And I understand. I just -- for transparency purposes, I think this has raised those questions. Again, no connection between that and COVID-19, and we want to be really clear with our viewers about that, but it certainly raises questions about transparency and oversight by the NIH of where this grant money goes.

And I know it's convoluted, as you point out, but it does raise the question, too. Will the NIH now pull funding from EcoHealth Alliance? I believe the contract is through 2025, and have they handed over those documents you're looking for?

COLLINS: That grant has been suspended actually since last year. They are not receiving funding going to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.


We lifted that support almost a year ago. And yes, we are looking carefully to see what they put forward int terms of any other unpublished data that they hadn't told us about. That deadline is tomorrow. We're going to be tough about this.

BROWN: And you're going to -- and just to make sure, you'll let the show know as well if anything comes out. You will be transparent with anything else that comes out.

COLLINS: Absolutely, Pam. I promise you that. We want to be completely transparent about it. The last thing that needs to happen right now is any sense that we're not revealing everything that we know. And I think there's been a lot of concern, and I understand that, you know, I guess this is a sensitive area, but we want to be completely clear about what we know and what we've been able to do to respond to the facts that this particular grantee didn't live up to their expectations.

BROWN: And to be fair, one source told me in Congress, they did say that you have been, actually, really cooperative with them in handing over the information. So I do also want to note that. But of course, this is important for -- this is U.S. taxpayer dollars going for -- going toward risky research, and I believe every American deserves to know about it.

Dr. Francis Collins, thank you for joining us tonight. We do appreciate it. We hope you'll come back.

COLLINS: I will, indeed, and thank you for what you just said. I do feel totally responsible as a steward of the taxpayers' money. I would never want to do anything about that other than being completely fair and open, so thanks for making that point.

BROWN: Absolutely. Thank you very much, Dr. Collins.

And coming up tonight, wild weather triggering a huge landslide as heavy rain and flash floods battle North Carolina.

You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.



BROWN: Wild, impossible history-making weather is thrashing parts of California. Heavy rain from what's known as an atmospheric river combined with high winds from a so-called bomb cyclone have triggered several landslides. This one shut down Highway 70 in both directions about two hours north of Sacramento.

CNN's Paul Vercammen joins me now. Paul, you're at the scene of another mudslide?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm in the greater Sacramento area. In fact I'm actually east of Sacramento on the way to South Lake Tahoe. There is not another mudslide here quire yet, but you look in the distance you can see what they're concerned about, Pam, and that is so-called burn scars from all these massive fires we've had in Southern California.

If you look closely, you'll see these toppled trees. The hillsides have been stripped of all vegetation, the slides come down. And as you pointed out on State Route 70, a big slide there. It has closed off that route. You can tell that the debris is so big that the equipment is not even big enough to pull it out of the way, so this is going to last for days. And as this what is pretty much unprecedented for us to have an atmospheric river of this level pound California in October.

As this continues, look behind me, this is the South Fork of the American River, and it is starting to swell up. So we have flash flood watches throughout Northern California. This is a huge swath, by the way, hundreds of square miles. The rivers are filling up. It's good news in the sense that we have had terrible drought in California. Everyone, though, crossing their fingers and hoping that we don't get lethal mudslides and that sort of thing.

They're all watching the weather closely and they say it's only going to get wetter and windier in the coming hours, Pam.

BROWN: All right, Paul Vercammen, thanks so much. And up next tonight, warnings of rigged elections. Well, they're not

coming from former President Trump but from former President Obama. Is that kind of rhetoric helpful? Maria Cardona and Alice Stewart are here with their takes up next.

And an angry volcano on a Spanish island showing no signs of stopping.



BROWN: You're looking at live pictures from La Palma Island, one of the Spanish Canary Islands right off the African West Coast. As you see lava continues to shoot from the volcano called Cumbre Vieja which means old summit. The eruption started last month. Multiple lava flows are forcing entire towns to evacuate. About 2,000 homes have been destroyed by the lava. Spain's prime minister says the volcano shows no signs of slowing down.

Well, it's apparently a trend on the campaign trail, saying the other side knows they can't win on their idea so maybe they'll just try to rig the election instead. Former President Barack Obama suggested as much not once but twice this weekend as he rallied Democrat in Virginia and New Jersey.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: If you've got good ideas, people will flock to your ideas, but that's not what they're trying to do. Instead you're trying to rig elections. People flock to you if you got good ideas. Make your case. But instead they try to rig elections. Because they know people don't agree with their ideas.


BROWN: Preemptively accusing your rival of trying to rig an election is something Obama rightly criticized his eventual successor for back in 2016, and Donald Trump broke out that old campaign chestnut again in 2020.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER TRUMP: The Democrats are trying to rig this election because it's the only way they're going to win. The only way they're going to win is to rig it.


BROWN: So let's start there with CNN political commentators Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist, and Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist. Together they host the podcast "Hot Mics from Left to Right."

All right, so, Maria, we're going to kick it off with you tonight. It's one thing to argue that there are a number of states where Republicans are making it harder to vote. But do you think former President Obama saying, rig the election before the election is a step too far?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I was hoping to -- that you had shown that because I didn't actually hear him say that. But now that I have, and having seen the other places where he's talking about this, he's right because we already saw Donald Trump and the Republicans try to rig the election.


They tried to -- actually, they tried to go further. They tried to overturn a fair election. What President Obama was trying to say is absolutely true. The big lie has now turned into what the Republican Party is, which is the big fraud.

They feel like -- and this isn't just Obama saying it -- they are essentially admitting -- the Republican Party is admitting that they cannot win on the battlefield of ideas with Democrats because if they felt in their heart of hearts that their ideas and their proposals were better than the Democrats', and that they could win over majorities of American voters, they would be happy to let everyone who could vote and was eligible to vote, to vote.

They would be happy to do as Democrats are doing to make it easier for everyone who is an eligible citizen to vote. They are making it harder. They are making it harder because they know the only way they can win is to cheat, steal, lie, and rob Americans of their right to have their voice heard.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's laughable that you are saying what you're saying simply because Obama is making the case that Trump made, and you are critical of that. Look. Everyone just needs to stop with the rigged election nonsense. We have free and fair elections. The election process was full of integrity back when Donald Trump won in 2016 and it was free and fair when Joe Biden won in 2020.

And I think just the sheer mention of rigged election plants that campaign chestnut in voters' minds like, well, if the campaigns and the elections aren't fair, then why should I even go out and vote? And we should be telling people to get out and vote. The elections are fair. And your vote does count, and making sure that there is integrity in our election process because the more we talk about rigged elections, it is distracting people from going out to vote.

The problem that Obama has is he's campaigning in a state like Virginia where Terry McAuliffe is in a losing situation. Obama is trying to sell something that the people of Virginia aren't wanting to buy. And so he himself is bringing up questions about the elections because he doesn't have a good candidate that he is trying to sell to the voters.

CARDONA: No, what I think what Obama is saying, and I will say to you, Alice, I agree, they shouldn't use the word rigged. They can use other words like what I just used. The Republican Party being completely devoid of ideas.

Being a big fraud because they are pushing the big lie and wanting to push these ridiculous, draconian election laws that are unnecessary, and that the only thing they do is to keep eligible Americans -- frankly, Americans that they believe would mostly vote for the Democrats but that right there, they are admitting that a lot of people in this country will not go for their ideas.

I wish that is what they would focus on and not use the word rigged. But, Alice, they -- Republicans did try to rig this election in 2020. They tried to steal it, and that is the other big warning sign that not just Obama but every single person that is campaigning in Virginia, including Terry McAuliffe, and I wouldn't say he's in a losing position right now. They're neck and neck. But he is making the point, look, this is a really dangerous point in our democracy.

And if somebody like Glenn Youngkin wins, Glenn Youngkin is Donald Trump in a moderate's clothing.

STEWART: The last thing we need to do, what Obama is setting the stage for is having these conversations. So he thinks that gives leverage and more emphasis for Democrats, who are trying to nationalize these elections with these federal election laws. That's not what we need to have.

CARDONA: That's exactly what we need.

STEWART: We need to continue to have this -- the elections run state by state, which is the way they are executed and the states need to -- set up their own laws. And that needs to happen. I was deputy secretary of state in Arkansas. We oversaw elections and it needs to be handled at the local and state level, and not at the federal level. And voter I.D. is a critical component of that.

BROWN: I want to talk about this. Because you bring up, you know, being done at the state level. That is a Republican principle, of course. And let's talk about ideas, too, right? Republicans call Biden's social spending plan a trojan horse for radical policies. One of the policies in there -- and I asked Republican Meijer of Michigan last night about this, is paid family leave for four weeks. That is what Obama -- President Biden said it's at right now in the negotiations. Here is what Congressman Meijer had to say about that.


REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): I think that those type of plans are far better executed at the state level where there is a need to have a consistent application across the country is two weeks too little, it's four weeks too little. Should it be six? Should it be eight? Being able to have that alternative and that comparison, and also know what the impacts of that policy will be before it is rolled out across all 50 states. I think we are continuing to seek solutions in Washington, D.C. that should be sought in state capitols.


BROWN: But, Alice, the states have had the opportunity to do this, and a vast majority haven't.


And the U.S. severely lags behind other developed countries when it comes to paid-family leave. How is it not bipartisan?

STEWART: I think it's critical that states do take this by the horns, and really make progress on this because the more decisions like this we can have done at the state level where the money really makes a tremendous impact, that's where we need to go. And this is what happens is without decisions on the state level, it becomes a federal problem, and they are quick to spend money. And we're at the situation where that is a key sticking point in the spending plans that Democrats are trying to get through, and it needs to be handled more on the local level.

CARDONA: You know, it's interesting that Republicans complain about money being spent, when they spent trillions of dollars on the rich and on corporations, and when the people that need it are the -- working class and the middle class, where this kind of family leave policy would really help.

BROWN: As always, a lively discussion. We didn't solve the world's problems but it was a great discussion.

CARDONA: Next time, Pam. Next time.

BROWN: And we didn't even get to half of what I was looking to.

Alice Stewart, Maria Cardona, thank you so much. We'll be right back.