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Prosecutors Rejected Plea Offer in Arbery Trial; House Voting on Build Back Better Plan; House Passes Build Back Better Act. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 19, 2021 - 09:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, the defense attorney for one of the three men charged in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery reaching out to prosecutors in hopes of a last minute plea deal. Prosecutors rejected that offer.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Martin Savidge has been covering the trial in Brunswick, Georgia.

Martin, that's quite a moment in this trial to reach out, perhaps speaks to their perception of the strength of the prosecution's case. You're learning this from an attorney for Arbery's mother, is that right?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Yes, Lee Merritt is the attorney that represents Wanda Cooper Jones, who is Ahmaud Arbery's mother. And Lee Merritt says that last night, after the defense rested, that Kevin Gough, who is the attorney that represents William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., went to the prosecution and asked them for some kind of a plea deal.


And as you said, that plea deal was rejected.

I got to say, the timing of that sounds really strange. I mean pretty much the testimony is done in this trial. Today they're going to go over the charging documents. So, why you would think at that time you might have some leverage with the prosecution to work out a kind of deal for your client is hard to understand. But Kevin Gough at times has been difficult to understand.

So, we wait to get some kind of word from him directly. We want to know, is this really what happened. But, as far as we are told by Lee Merritt, that offer was made, it was rejected.

The reason that Lee Merritt would know and Wanda Cooper Jones would know is, of course, the state would probably consult with the victim's family on any issue when it comes to a possible kind of arrangement on a plea deal. So, again, it was rejected. It's an 11th hour kind of plea deal. And as you point out, it clearly would indicate that there is real concern amongst the defense that the case is not going well for them.

Back to you.

HILL: Yes, it is a fascinating development.

Martin Savidge, live there in Brunswick, thank you.

Also with us, CNN senior legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates.

Laura, great to see you this morning.

Let's pick up where we just left off with Marty there.


HILL: He makes such a great point, the timing of this, we saw two days of witnesses from the defense, which largely focused on Travis McMichael. And then this sort of 11th hour request. What do you make of that?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, prosecutors don't give favorable plea offers or really any real plea offers after the case has been indicted, and certainly not after the trial has been empaneled. I mean you have almost like a graduated plea offer in the sense of, when you -- before you indict the case, there's one favorable plea offer to resolve it. Once the case is indicted, it's a lesser -- more -- less favorable plea offer to you. By the time the trial is actually called, forget it. And by the time you have a trial, where, remember, just yesterday the prosecution was able to have that one of the defendants admit that Ahmaud Arbery was just running. He was not armed. He did not threaten them in any way. He was just running. And he tried to suggest that somehow his training as a member of the Coast Guard gave him a working knowledge of probable cause that led him to conclude that somehow he was entitled to have somebody who was jogging, stop, answer his questions after being pursued for five minutes with a shotgun, told that -- and threatened that they would blow his, you know, f'ing head off in some way, shape or form and then shot him. I mean this is such hubris that it's almost laughable if a man had not died.

SCIUTTO: You get to this key question of self-defense here, which is central in the trial. And to your point, McMichael acknowledged he never saw Arbery armed during their encounter, pursuit, never heard Arbery verbally threaten him, and, key, Arbery didn't respond or show any interest in conversing with McMichael, which I suppose would undermine the argument that, you know, they were somehow going head to head here.

From a legal standpoint, how does that undermine, if you believe it, undermines the defense case here on self-defense?

COATES: It fatally undermines it. Remember, the idea, the notion of self-defense is that you are using the amount of force necessary to stop a force against you. It's a kill or be killed scenario. It's not a, I'd like to talk to you, even though I'm not a cop, I have no legal right to make you stop, you can simply walk on by, but I somehow feel personally entitled does not transform into you having some belief, a reasonable belief, that this person poses an imminent harm, a harm to you and your body imminently or to serious bodily injury. That's where they're missing this very obvious notion.

And, frankly, we have a very educated jury of court of public opinion now, right, from the Derek Chauvin trial, to common sense, to notions about what's happening right now in the world. The idea that someone could believe that if you don't stop and talk to me, I'm entitled to shoot you, imagine, frankly, a woman walking down the street, and some man wants to catcall her and wants her to stop, is he entitled for her to actually stop and turn around if she has no posing of a threat, she doesn't want to talk to the person, are we saying that somebody, somehow could suggest that that would be enough?

Well, they want to go a step further and say, because they think that there has been crimes in their area before, and they have no idea if this is the person to do it, that suddenly they're even more entitled. That is not self-defense law. And that's not what you ought to be able to do in the United States of America or anywhere else.

SCIUTTO: Laura Coates, thanks so much. A lot to watch in that trial there.

And, boy, is there a lot of news this morning. As you can see there, live pictures of the House vote underway on the Democrats' Build Back Better Act. We're close to the final tally. Almost there. You can see a couple dozen votes still to be counted. Speaker Pelosi, she's going to be speaking at the top of the hour. We'll bring you that and the results of that vote live.



SCIUTTO: The votes being counted on the House floor. Oh, they're clapping there.

Jessica Dean, is this officially passed now? Is Build Back Better, has it passed the House?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That has passed. And you see lawmakers, Democratic lawmakers, cheering on the side there. A big eruption of Build Back Better -- the chant of Build Back Better just erupting out of the chamber now.

So, you see it there. It has crossed that 218 threshold. One Democratic lawmaker defecting. That was expected.

But, again, a big moment for Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic leadership and also President Biden, as he sees a monumental step forward for the second part of his domestic agenda.

We saw the infrastructure plan pass. It's now law. This is the next step. This would dramatically expand the social safety net within this country and provide -- or put into place a lot of climate provisions to fight climate change.

So what happens now? It goes over to the Senate, where it's probably going to look a lot different than what's coming out of the House. They have to get all 50 Democratic senators on board. That is a process that is going to take a lot of time. We have seen Senator Joe Manchin express a lot of concern about a number of provisions within the bill that's coming out of the House. Also, Kyrsten Sinema, we see Bernie Sanders not happy with this state and local tax deduction cap that's been removed. So there are some things that are going to have to be finessed here and there's a lot of procedure that's going to happen in the Senate.

But the big news right now is that they have crossed this first very important threshold. It had to come out of the House first.

And, Jim and Erica, you guys have been here all along as we have gone now for weeks and weeks and weeks as they have tried to thread this needle between the factions and this party to get to this very moment. So this is a big victory for House Democrats and they are quite happy as evidenced by the cheering that we are hearing come out of the chamber.

SCIUTTO: It's a big moment. Third major piece of legislation, if this gets through the Senate, this year for Democrats following the Covid relief package and the infrastructure bill, the bipartisan infrastructure bill. That's no small thing. But, as you say, Jessica, hurdles to overcome in the Senate.

Do we know, Jessica, how high those hurdles are and did the CBO score, lower than some had been concerned about, the CBO score of how much this would add to the deficit moves a Joe Manchin, for instance?

DEAN: Well, it certainly doesn't hurt, right? It only helps in this situation. We, specifically for Manchin, have heard time and time again he is concerned. He's talked about his concern about inflation. He's talked about his concern about growing some of these programs like Medicare, when he's worried about shoring them up for the future as they currently stand. So, there's still a lot to negotiate.

For example, also, this bill coming out of the House has four weeks of paid family leave in it. That is very likely to get stripped out of the bill that goes into the Senate. So, it remains to be seen exactly what shape this is going to take and just how long it will take to get there. Like I said, there's a lot of procedural hurdles that also have to -- have to take place because they are using this specific pathway forward that requires only Democratic support. So, they've got to work that out procedurally.


They also have to work it out amongst themselves.

And we are expecting president --

SCIUTTO: Jessica, hang --

DEAN: Go ahead.

SCIUTTO: Hold on there. We're going to listen in on events on the House floor. I believe this is Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the podium.

Oh, they cut off the audio from the House floor. But that is the speaker up there in front of the American flag.

Jessica, maybe you could help us understand, just procedurally here, because I could do the math there and see they're at 220 votes forward, 210 against, four no votes, that's enough to pass.

DEAN: Right.

SCIUTTO: Has it officially passed? Are we waiting for the dots to -- the i's to be dotted?

DEAN: So, because we can't hear, it's a little -- and I'm outside the chamber. It's a little tough.

What we do know is the Republicans have called for another procedural vote after this, which is why people are kind of lingering around. That does not impact the passage of this at all. It has, you know, it has passed. They have the numbers. They needed to get to 218. They're at 220. They have passed this bill.

But why you're kind of seeing people linger around is because there is likely going to be another procedural vote after this.

We are also expecting, as you guys mentioned, to hear from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both on the floor, but also likely after she comes off the floor as well.

There she is.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): On this vote, the yeas are 220, the nays are 213. The Build Back Better Bill is passed!


HILL: Yes, it's interesting. It's all there on the left-hand side of your screen.


HILL: But, a lot of excitement. You could hear it in the speaker's voice. You could see it in her face. Getting to this moment, as we have talked, and, Jessica, as you pointed out, as we have talked about so much over the last several weeks, was no small feat.


HILL: This was a very heavy lift. They're going to take this moment. They're going to enjoy this moment. But now, in many ways, more of the hard work is on the plate right in the Senate for Democrats as they try to get Joe Manchin on board.


HILL: Bernie Sanders has some issues with it, as you pointed out. So, walk us through what's next at this point, Jessica?

DEAN: Right. So, at this point, everybody's going to go home for Thanksgiving first. So, the House is going to leave after this. The Senate is already out. But once they come back in the Senate, they're going to start working on this diligently. They have been talking about this, of course. But now, now that it's formally going to make its way over there, they're going to really buckle down on this.

Now, the House -- or, I'm sorry, the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he hopes to have this on the floor by Christmas. But, Jim and Erica, that's a very tight timeline in the best of circumstances. Just to, like, zoom out and give you the big picture over on the Senate for a second, remember, they've got to deal with the debt limit that's coming up. They've got to deal with government funding. They're doing the defense act. They've got a lot going on over there. And that takes up floor time.

HILL: Yes.

DEAN: So -- and with the process that they're using, they're going to have to do vote-a-ramas. And there's just a lot of procedure that has to take place.

In addition to that, they all have to get on the same page. And they are not on the same page right now. That is the bottom line. They do not have all 50 senators on exactly the same page. So they've got to find their way forward. And it really runs the gamut because this is a big bill. There's a lot in it. You're expanding the social safety net. It's pre-k for three and four-year-olds, it's -- there's paid leave in the House version. That's likely to come out on the Senate side. It's prescription drug negotiations.

But then there's also a whole host of climate provisions. That's really a giant part of this.


DEAN: And, Joe Manchin has had problems with a variety of these issues. Kyrsten Sinema had some issues with the prescription drug negotiations, but they seem to have worked out a deal that she feels comfortable with. But there's a -- there's a long way to go before they can get to this.


DEAN: So, all the attention is going to go that way.

And then just to look a little further down the road, Jim and Erica, it's got to come back to the House.


DEAN: So we're going to do this all over again. But, again, this is a big step forward.

HILL: This is good practice.

SCIUTTO: It's a big step. It's a big step.

DEAN: Right, a big step forward. Yes.

SCIUTTO: And, by the way, climate provisions there, more than half a trillion dollars.

DEAN: Right.

SCIUTTO: That was a big subject of discussion at the G-20 because that's central to the U.S. commitment to meet its climate goals.

HILL: Right.


DEAN: Right.

HILL: Kaitlan Collins also with us.

Obviously, Kaitlan, this is a big day for the White House. The president, right now, at Walter Reed getting his annual physical and a colonoscopy.


HILL: But they'll have a lot to celebrate, even in this moment, right? Even as we then need to go to the Senate, come back to the House, this is a big deal for President Biden and the White House.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and I think one thing we should note is that, you know, this is a bill that the White House was expecting would pass the House last night. They thought this vote was going to happen about 12 hours ago. But then, of course, Kevin McCarthy delivered that eight-and-a-half-hour speech. And so, actually, instead of this bill passing late at night, of course, when not a lot of people are paying attention, it's now passing at 10:00 in the morning. And so I think that --

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's a good point.

COLLINS: Yes. Of course, you know the White House was not thrilled with how that went. They wanted that vote to happen last night. But now, you know, potentially, Kevin McCarthy, in essence, is actually giving the House -- or giving the White House a win, you know, in broad daylight when more people are paying attention to what's happening on the House floor.

SCIUTTO: Yes. COLLINS: And so now this bill, of course has passed. It did come at a time when President Biden is at Walter Reed getting that annual physical. We will see him later today, though, because he's got that annual -- as Jessica was noting, people are going home for Thanksgiving. He's got to do that annual Thanksgiving tradition here at the White House, pardoning those two turkeys. Though, of course, we likely will hear from President Biden on this because last night if this had passed about 10:00 last night, they were just going to issue a written statement from Biden. And now we will actually see him on camera before he leaves the White House for his own Thanksgiving vacation to talk about this and to tout this, because, yes, they do still have a very long road to go. We don't know what this bill is going to look like when it gets through the Senate. But this is a big step for the White House.

And this has been months in the making. And I think that's why you saw that celebration that you saw there on the House floor with House Speaker Pelosi triumphantly saying, yes, we have got this Build Back Better passed, at least through here for now. A big step for the White House. And so, of course, we will likely hear from President Biden on this by this afternoon.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes, Democrats have not had a lot of good news this week or days before.

Jessica, a quick question, and I hate to put you on the spot for timeline questions because this is Capitol Hill tea leaf reading, the worst kind of tea leaf reading, but do we know the timeline for this getting through the Senate, perhaps back to the House, or is that just, you know, we've just got to wait and see?

DEAN: It's -- right, it's everyone's best guess at this point, right? I mean the old adage is always take the over when it comes to these things. But -- but at this point, again, Schumer aiming for by Christmas, Manchin at first was kind of opposed to that. He was, you know, hesitant to commit to that. Now we talked to him more recently. He said he was open to that if they could get to where they wanted to be.

So, the question now is, will they get there. And, again, they're out all next week for Thanksgiving. That puts us into the first week of December where they're going to come right up against the debt limit, you know, deadline and also government funding deadline.


DEAN: These are things that take time and eat away at also the procedure they're going to need to be doing to get this through the Senate.

So, Jim, the long answer to your question is, we don't know exactly, but that is what they're working toward.

HILL: Right.

DEAN: And I think that is the key at this point is that's what their goal is. We'll see if they can actually achieve it.

HILL: In terms of pulling together, you know, what will happen in the Senate, Margaret Talev is back with us as well.

You know, I was noticing some "Axios" reporting earlier this week, Margaret, but that there are apparently conversations happening. Paid family leave is a big issue for Joe Manchin, but that Senator Gillibrand is continuing conversations about paid family leave, including with Republicans, her colleagues and their staff, and there could be a potential that that maybe becomes a stand-alone. What are -- what are those talks looking like today?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Erica, this is really important. I mean, as you know, there has been a years-long effort, largely led by women, heavily by Democrats, but by some Republicans as well.


TALEV: At some -- at one point Ivanka Trump was involved during her dad's administration, about trying to find a way to create a paid family leave system in America that so many other western countries have. The details, what could it be? Would it be 12 weeks of paid family leave, what Biden originally talked about? Would it be something smaller like four weeks? How much would the benefit be? Would it be up to $4,000? Would it be less? How would it be paid for? Would you have to pay in, in advance, like a Social Security system, or would it be a benefit? Where would that money come from? All of those discussions have been underway for months as part of this plan.

Manchin made clear, he doesn't want to do paid family leave through reconciliation. And Gillibrand has been having conversations behind the scenes, not just trying to understand where Manchin's at, but with some key Republican women, Lisa Murkowski, you know, like a handful of people just to understand what are the chances for a bipartisan deal if it can't happen through a Democratic reconciliation.


TALEV: And the -- this could -- this is another kind of issue that, for a segment of Americans, would be hugely beneficial and important, but it costs a lot of money.


SCIUTTO: Yes, and has big, public support, as you mentioned, has some bipartisan support, remarkably.

Toluse, with this passage here and then ongoing negotiations with the Senate, what happens next with Democrats in terms of, you know, the issue of messaging this, telling people what's in it, because we show a lot of folks just don't know what's actually in Build Back Better.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's going to be the battle of the next year for these Democrats. They worked very hard to get the majority in the Congress, in the Senate and the White House. They spent ten years in the wilderness not having power to do what they wanted to do.

Now, they did an infrastructure bill, which was bipartisan. They did a Covid relief bill, which was an emergency bill. But this is the one bill that really has their stamp of approval to say, you put Democrats in charge, you had Democrats win in Georgia in the Senate, which was unexpected and which was a huge lift for them (ph), and this is what they've done with that power. So now they have to be able to show voters that, you put us in power, we're delivering for you, and they're going to have to try to keep power by messaging on this bill.

HILL: Yes. Jessica Dean, Kaitlan Collins, Margaret Talev, Toluse Olorunnipa, great to have all of you with us this morning as we talk through this together. Thank you.

TALEV: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: And we continue to follow events not just on Capitol Hill but a number of the trials we're watching today, including developments in the Ahmaud Arbery case. We're going to bring you all the latest coming up.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

HILL: Good Friday morning. A very busy Friday morning. I'm Erica Hill.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

We are following breaking news on a whole host of fronts this hour.

Right now, on Capitol Hill, next stop, the Senate, after just minutes ago the House passed the president's Build Back Better Bill.


We expect to hear from Speaker Nancy Pelosi any moment. We will bring you her comments live.