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Drug Overdose Deaths Top 100K Annually for First Time; Interview with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), When to Expect the Vote on Biden Agenda in Congress; GOP's Gosar Retweets Violent Video that House Censured Him Over; Governor Grants Julius Jones Clemency Hours Before Execution. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 15:30   ET



ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He says this is yet more evidence, as if more is needed, that that is the case. Is that racism and discrimination is systemic -- Allison and Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: More than 50 years after that conviction and exoneration. Athena jones, thank you.

Well, for the first time ever, U.S. drug overdose deaths have topped 100,000 in just one year. These deaths, which were recorded between May 2020 and April 2021, account for almost a 30 percent rise from the year before. Experts say the pandemic and an increase in the use of fentanyl were key factors in the increase.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: For Cindy Singer and Staci Katz, this hits very close to home. Cindy's 28-year-old son Rory died in 2015 from an overdose. And Staci says her 29-year-old son is still battling an addiction that began in his teens. Ladies, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate talking to you and we know that you're the front lines trying to help people every day.

Cindy, I want to start with you. 100,000 people in one year alone. I mean, as you know better than anybody, all of these people were somebody's sons or daughters.

CINDY SINGER, LOST TO DRUG OVERDOSE: Exactly, Alisyn. Thank you so much for having us on the show. One person is too many, and certainly 100,000 is a milestone that we never wanted to reach.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Cindy, we know the numbers, but you know the stories. So, as we look at the rise over the pandemic, just explain how that environment, how much harder it made for people to stick to recovery.

SINGER: Sure. So, we know that the pandemic has affected everyone, and we certainly know that people with substance use disorder face many challenges. Such as low-level work wages, housing issues, and a lot of times theirs co-occurring mental health issues. So, we get calls every single day from families and people who are battling to stay in recovery, asking us for all kinds of things to help them stay. And a lot of it has to do with money for recovery residences, food, transportation and such. CAMEROTA: Staci, as we said, your son is still battling addiction, and

we know it's a lifelong disease, obviously, that tends toward relapse. What's the answer? What do all of these folks that got worse during the pandemic, what do they need? What can be the solution?

STACI KATZ, SON BATTLING DRUG ADDICTION: Well, again, thank you for having us. We appreciate you taking the time for such a serious matter. We say that -- There is a saying that says the opposite of addiction is connection, and during the pandemic, that just made it worse because we tended to isolate as a whole, and then the people that are in recovery would also tend to isolate, and now we have to isolate further.

So having a way to connect with other people, even as simple as going to meetings. It begins there. It's unfathomable how we just allow people to just do it yourself. We are not offering any help for them and any suggestions other than the old-fashioned ways of doing things.

BLACKWELL: Yes. You know, we know that it's just not the pandemic that led to the riots, five years ago I read this in preparation for this conversation. Drug overdoses has killed just about as many Americans as car violence accidents and gun violence combined. Now overdoses cause about twice as many deaths. So, this trend is long growing. Cindy, I want to give you just a moment to tell us about your son. Tell us about Rory.

SINGER: Yes, that brings a smile to my face. Rory was a very special son, person. He was someone that always went out of his way to help other people. He hurt his back on his job and was prescribed opioids, and that led to his substance use disorder becoming full blown. And when he was no longer able to get the opioids, he turned to street drugs. And of course, we know the street drugs are full of fentanyl and fentanyl is poison. And he didn't have a chance against that, and he left behind though two sisters and grandparents and a family and friends that love him and honor him.


And, in fact, Staci and I have a non-profit called our two sons in memory of Rory, in honor of Dylan, and we raise money. Because for me I had to put purpose to my pain, and I had to do something. And my son would always say to everyone, go to my mother, she'll help you. So that's what I'm trying to do.

CAMEROTA: Well, you are doing it. I mean, we've read about how many people you both have helped. So, we really appreciate you guys coming in and talking to us, and you can learn more about Cindy and Staci's non-profit at Cindy Singer and Staci Katz, thank you both very much.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

SINGER: Thank you.

KATZ: Thank you. CAMEROTA: All right, with hours left before he was set to be executed, Julius Jones is taken off death row. Details behind the governor's last-minute move, next.



BLACKWELL: The House Speaker is promising a vote on the president's rework of the social safety net bill soon. But not before it gets a key score that will say if it is or is not fully paid for. And even if the bill passes the House there are serious roadblocks I had in the Senate.

Joining me to discuss is one of the leading proponents of the $1.75 trillion economic and climate bill, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Representative Pramila Jayapal. Congresswoman, good to speak with you again. Thanks for spending some time with me. First on the timing of the vote. Do you have any more insight beyond soon what we're hearing from the Speaker?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Victor, it's great to see you. I think in terms of the timing, we are very, very close. It's just a question of if we can pull together everything that we need from the parliamentarian scrub in order to get the bill to the rules committee and then to the floor. So, I would say either tonight or first thing in the morning, but we hope tonight, and we're working towards that end.

BLACKWELL: OK, so you supported more than a week ago now the delay of a vote on the bill because moderates wanted, some would say demanded, a CBO score before they voted for it. The White House is preparing the party for potentially it will not be paid for as they promised if some of the calculations on taxation policy are off. Do you think if that is the case, you've got the moderate votes that you need to pass?

JAYAPAL: I do and let me just be clear that the agreement that we inked a couple weeks ago with our colleagues, our five colleagues, was not for a CBO score, it was just for additional fiscal information that would make them comfortable that generally the top lines were the same.

Now, there were some things we already knew. For example, we knew that the IRS provision, for example, was going to be underestimated. Remember, Victor, that the revenue pieces of this come from the joint committee on taxation, so we already got the estimates on the revenue side from the JCT.

The CBO is really about the spend side, the investment side. And so, those are the titles that have been coming in pretty regularly. Those are actually CBO scores which is fine, that's not actually what was required. And I think at this point we have all of the titles in with the exception of Ways and Means, and what we have seen is that they are absolutely consistent. And, of course, the Ways and Means side is consistent with the revenue side that JCT has already given us.

BLACKWELL: And just to be clear, you believe you got the votes in the House to send it over to the Senate.

JAYAPAL: I do, absolutely. And I trust my colleagues' commitment that they would vote for this pending this fiscal information.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's talk about the Senate side now. Because Senator Manchin has said to our Manu Raju today that he's not sold yet on voting to begin debate on the legislation. Here's what he told Manu.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I just want to see basically the score and what they put out. I haven't seen it. I don't know what they found. I've seen the text to a certain extent but I just haven't seen the final bill. So, when the final bill comes out, CBO score comes out, then we'll go from there.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You haven't made a decision on whether to vote on the bill?

MANCHIN: No. Actually, I'm still looking at everything, absolutely.


BLACKWELL: Your reaction to that, that the Senator is not even ready yet to say if he wants to begin debate.

JAYAPAL: Well look, I think Senator Manchin has been negotiating in good faith. Obviously, there are differences. There are things we don't agree on, but I do think he's been negotiating on this bill with the White House for five weeks now. And I think a vast majority of the bill is preconference. It does need a CBO score in order for the Senate to begin debate. So that's -- to me that's not a terrible what he's saying.

I have full confidence that Senator Manchin is going to support this bill that he has now spent time negotiating, and I think we will get it across the finish line and hopefully to the president's desk in time for Christmas. Because we really need to make sure that people across the country are getting the help that we have promised them on the campaign trail and now in this bill.

BLACKWELL: You're confident he will support the bill, even with paid leave, something he said should not be with the bill and his concerns about inflation. What's the basis for your confidence?

JAYAPAL: Well, the basis of my confidence is that the framework that was agreed to that the President presented and said he was confident he could get 51 votes, that is the baseline that I think will be supported. Now there are a couple things, Victor, in this bill, and paid leave being one of them, that Senator Manchin -- that was added, that we added in the House and Senator Manchin has not signed off on.

And to that I would just say there are some very strong Democratic women Senators in the Senate who I think are going to make the case. And hopefully they can convince Senator Manchin that this is an important thing to do for families across this country, for women across this country, and hopefully that will stay in.


But the vast majority of this bill has been pre-conferenced, pre- agreed to, and so I don't expect that that will change.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about Congressman Gosar. You co-sponsored the resolution that censured him, also stripped him from his two committee assignments. After that vote the Congressman retweeted the video that depicted him killing Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and attacking the President. Should there be further action against Congressman Gosar?

JAYAPAL: Look, I think we took the action that we could take. I firmly believe that somebody should not be able to serve in the Congress if they are tweeting out videos, animated or not, about killing a colleague.

If you were in the airport, Victor, and you threatened to kill somebody, whether it was a joke, whether you meant it or not, you threatened to kill somebody, you would be locked up like that. And I don't believe that here in Congress we should have to put up with that violence. I don't think the country should see what happens here in Congress as the further incitement of violence across the country.

I think that is absolutely wrong, and I think it's outrageous that Kevin McCarthy has been silent on this issue as Alexandra Ocasio- Cortez said yesterday, what is so hard about saying this is wrong?

BLACKWELL: Yes, what we did here from the Minority though was that this vote sets a precedent. That if Republicans take control of the House in 2023 after the election that the members would have to get approval from the majority to keep their committee assignments.

Are you expecting retribution and was that potential -- is that potential -- was it worth the vote?

JAYAPAL: Well, let me say this. We have to do what is right. If a colleague here on the floor of the House threatens to kill in an animated video, puts out an animated video, you know, killing another member of Congress and attacking the President of the United States, we have to do what is right.

Now, I also think that we are going to make sure that Republicans don't get the majority, but we can't shy away from this kind of violence. It is a culture of violence. It's a culture of violence particularly levied against women, and particularly against women of color. And there is no precedent for this.

Nobody has ever done what Paul Gosar did, and I don't believe that anyone on our side would ever do such a thing. So, let's just be clear, this is absolutely out of the ordinary, should not consider a norm. And should not be, you know, expected and unfortunately, I think my Republican colleagues that voted no, the vast majority except for two are condoning violence not only in this body but across the country. BLACKWELL: Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thank you for your time.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Victor.

CAMEROTA: OK, well, pressure is mounting on China after one of its biggest tennis stars goes missing after publicly accusing a top official of sexual abuse. Now Serena Williams is demanding answers.



CAMEROTA: Just a few hours before Julius Jones was set to be executed Oklahoma's Governor spared his life by granting clemency.

BLACKWELL: This is the reaction from the crowd that was gathered at the courthouse as they waited for the Governor's decision. Now, Jones was scheduled to be executed about an hour from now for the 1999 murder of a businessman in Oklahoma. Now Jones had long claimed his innocence and drawn the support of sports celebrities, actors, musical performers, as well.

Let's get right to CNN's Ed Lavandera. So, what happens now, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, right now, attorneys for Julius Jones try to figure out exactly what to do as the family processes this news.

As you mentioned, they were about four hours away from the scheduled execution of Julius Jones. His attorney writing this afternoon saying that the Governor took an important step toward restoring faith in the criminal justice system. And by ensuring that Oklahoma did not execute an innocent man. The Governor has prevented an irreparable mistake.

Now, the family of Julius Jones continues to say that he is innocent of this murder conviction. They would like to see him get a new trial.

But the Governor by reducing his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole, which is different from what the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board had recommended that he be given life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Paul Howell who is the victim in this case, his family has been saying all along as well that they believe there is overwhelming evidence to support Julius Jones' conviction. We've heard from the daughter of Paul Howell a short while ago. Who said that she understands that the Governor had a difficult decision but that they take comfort in that this decision from the Governor has affirmed the guilt of Julius Jones.


They do not want to see him released or to get a new trial in any way. So, the real question now becomes what does Julius Jones' supporters do here in the months ahead? Is there a way of getting him a new trial as they'd like to see? CAMEROTA: OK, Ed Lavandera, thank you for that reporting.

Now to this really disturbing story. The International Tennis Federation says it has been in contact with the Chinese Tennis Association to get more information about the whereabouts of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.

Peng has not been seen publicly in two weeks. After she allegedly on social -- sorry, she alleged on social media that a former Vice Premier of China had sexually assaulted her.

An email released by Chinese media claims that Peng allegedly wrote "the allegation of sexual assault is not true. I'm not missing, nor am I unsafe."

The head of the Women's Tennis Association doubts that Peng in fact wrote that e-mail.

BLACKWELL: Well, U.S. Tennis Champion Serena Williams is asking for answers, also. She tweeted, I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found soon as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.

CAMEROTA: We will continue to follow that and "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.