Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Biden Discusses Decision Making On Largest Ever Release From Strategic Oil Reserve; Partial Verdict Reached In "Unite the Right" Lawsuit. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired November 23, 2021 - 14:30   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the hundreds of thousands of folks who brought one of those electric cars, they're going to save $800 to $1,000 in fuel costs this year.

And we're going to put those savings within reach of more Americans and create jobs installing solar panels, batteries, electric heat pumps, jobs making those clean power-generating devices.

And by the way, deploying these technologies for each home where they're installed is going to save folks an additional hundreds of dollars in energy costs every year.

Let's do that. Let's beat climate change with more extensive innovation and opportunities. We can make our economy and consumers less vulnerable to these sorts of price spikes when we do that.

And finally, even as we meet to work out this challenge, it's important to maintain perspective about where our economy stands today. The fact is America has a lot to be proud of.

We're experiencing the strongest economic recovery in the world. Even after accounting for inflation, our economy is bigger, and our families have more money in their pockets than they did before the pandemic.

And America's the only major economy in the world that can say that. It's a testament to the grit and determination of the American people.

As well as our unique approach to this recovery and our focus on rebuilding our economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not the top down.

Because of that approach, we're the only leading economy in the world where household income and the economy as a whole are stronger than they were before the pandemic hit.

Let me close with this. This Thanksgiving, we have so much to be grateful for. Vaccines that are effective, safe and free. Promising new treatments providing for hope that we can bring an end to the worst tragedies of this crisis.

Record job growth. The strongest recovery in the world. And most of all, the chance to be together again with the people we love on Thanksgiving.

As you gather together with your family this Thanksgiving, I want you to know how grateful I am to serve as your president. And I promise you that I'll never stop working to address your family's needs.

And together, we're going to confront challenges that we face and we're going to face them honestly and that will keep building this economy around hardworking folks who built this country.

Happy Thanksgiving. And God bless you. And may God protect our troops.

And I'm heading to a food kitchen to serve meals right now.

Thank you for your time and effort. And I'll have plenty of time to talk to you.

Thank you.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK, he's not going to take any questions there, though as you can hear, the press has many.

That was President Biden talking about his decision making in terms of releasing some of those Strategic Oil Reserve barrels, the highest ever in history as he said, and if they will help the supply chain issues and inflation.

So back with us now, CNN business reporter, Matt Egan, and Catherine Rampell as well, our CNN economics and political commentator.

Catherine, what did you hear?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS & POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Do you know that scene in "Spaceballs," one of my favorite movies, where the Rick Moranis character, dark helmet, says something like, do something?

And then they all run around screaming, do something. That's what this feels like to me.

CAMEROTA: Why don't you think it will move the needle?

RAMPELL: Because the amount of oil that we're talking about is just a drop in the barrel, so to speak. We're talking about 60 to 75 million barrels of oil globally.

We're counting -- that's counting all six countries that are participating. That's like about a half a day's global oil market consumption around the world.

CAMEROTA: Does this send a message to OPEC nations?

RAMPELL: I mean, maybe. Their interest is in keeping oil prices high, so I'm not sure why they would necessarily want to make them lower.

But at this point, I think it's more symbolic than anything else. Biden needs to show that he cares about people's concerns about prices, particularly gas prices.

Everybody's been calling on him to release barrels of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve so that's what he's doing even if it does nothing.

CAMEROTA: Let me pull up a little bit of information on the strategic petroleum reserve because I think it's good for context.

So, there are 600 million barrels of emergency crude reserve in there. They're stored in these underground salt caverns in Louisiana and Texas.

It was used by President Obama during the Arab spring in 2011. It was used by President Trump after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. It was used by President Biden after Hurricane Ida.

So, didn't -- did any of those, when previous presidents did it, help?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: I think that those instances, it did help on the margins.

What's interesting is that the 2011 example, during the Arab Spring, that was the last time, until today, that there was a coordinated international effort. And that does pack a bigger punch. There was a bigger impact.

The other interesting thing is all of those examples, those are all examples of supply shocks where the world couldn't get enough barrels because of a natural disaster, hurricane, or because of a war.


This is not a supply shock. This is a different situation. This is a demand shock. This is the fact that the world is recovering from COVID. And there's a lot more demand for energy and OPEC nations are not keeping up.

But to Catherine's point, it's not something that even the White House expects is going to have a dramatic impact. President Biden said, they said, this will not solve the problem of high gas prices overnight.

They said in the longer run, they hope to transition away from fossil fuels. But clearly, the last few months shows how messy that transition can be.

CAMEROTA: But what's the answer if not drawing this down, Catherine? Doesn't he have to try something?

RAMPELL: I think he has to show that he's doing something but the president just has very limited control over what is a global market.

That's true for gas prices. That's true for almost all sources of inflation right now.

And he's in this tricky position where Republicans are blaming Biden for higher inflation, even though he's not to blame for it. And rather than saying, well, I can't really do very much, he's saying, you're right, I can do something.

But I think he's overpromising by pledging gas prices are going to go down, other price increases are going to go down when, again, he doesn't have a magic wand he can wave.

CAMEROTA: I just want to quickly show, Matt, what gas prices have looked like in the past three or four years. Because if you -- let me pull up this graphic for a second.

The red line is where we are, OK? Yes, it's the highest it's been in years at $3.40. But if you look back, the green line is 2019. The yellow line is 2018.

You know, a few months ago, they're all kind of intertwined there.

EGAN: Right.


CAMEROTA: By the way, that was before the pandemic. Clearly, this is pandemic-related.

EGAN: Right. Absolutely. Listen, gas was really cheap. We're talking about $2 gas in March, April of 2020.


EGAN: But no one could take advantage of it because the world was shut down because of COVID.

Inflation, you know, food prices, air fare, hotels, all of those prices were down and collapsing, actually, but no one could take advantage of it.

Now the economy is back open. We're seeing prices go higher.

To Catherine's point, though, President Biden doesn't have the ability to completely lower prices. And that's not something that we should expect to happen overnight.

CAMEROTA: But if this is COVID-related, Catherine, when will we come out of this?

RAMPELL: I wish I knew the answer. If I did, I would be a very rich woman.

It does look like, obviously, lots of supply chain bottlenecks are persisting longer than anybody anticipated, the fed anticipated, other economists anticipated.

And today, as was the case a year ago, the pandemic is in control of the global economy.

So unless we get vaccination rates up, not just in the U.S. but in poorer countries that don't have sufficient access to vaccination supply, I think you're still going to see these disruptions around the world --


CAMEROTA: President Biden also talked about that just now. I mean, he talked about the supply chain and trying to do things on that front as well, including ports.

RAMPELL: Yes. So, he is trying, on ports. You know, again, maybe helping things on the margin. But I just don't think he has sufficient control.

And there are other levers he could be pulling that he's not.

For example, I wrote a big piece today about the contributions of the constraints on legal work-eligible immigration that are contributing to these supply chain problems and, again, inflation, worker shortages.

And the administration seems to have little interest in doing anything on that.

There are -- yes, they're trying to get ports to run longer hours but that alone is not going to make much of a difference.

In general, they can't do very much. But even things that are available to them, some of them, they are objecting.

CAMEROTA: I think we have Jeff Zeleny, who is following the president, is standing by for us.

Jeff, tell us what you're hearing from the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, we were just in the room with President Biden, and you could clearly see a defensiveness on one hand, trying to make the argument that his policies, his climate change policies, his environmental policies, are not contributing to the higher gas prices.

He really tried to take a step back and put into historical perspective the other times where gas prices have been high.

But I thought making very clear, for the first time I recall him saying, look, my climate policies are not contributing to this. There has been some chatter out there about that, so I thought that was actually quite interesting.

But also trying to dispel the myth that the holidays are going to be ruined with the lack of toys, with the lack of grocery supplies.

So really trying to take down the temperature, if you will, to say that the White House is on this, he is on this, the White House is acutely focusing on this.

But we didn't really get the sense of if they really think that this is going to help bring down gas prices. There's been a big debate inside the administration about, you know,

is this really the wise long course of action, or is it simply an expedient political thing to do?

We tried to ask the president about this and other matters, and he wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving and did not take questions.

He, of course, will be heading to Nantucket this evening to spend Thanksgiving with his family.

CAMEROTA: He talked about how first he was going to go help serve some meals, I think, that he said there.


ZELENY: He will.


And let me pull up -- to Jeff's point, about Thanksgiving, we have a graphic that prices will be up. Everybody knows that. Anybody who's gone shopping knows they'll be up something like 14 percent.

It was interesting, Matt, the president talked about how there are all these positive signs in the economy but they are being eclipsed when people go to the grocery store.

EGAN: No surprise Thanksgiving prices are up because, a year ago, families didn't get to gather. This is a sign of progress in the economy and also the COVID front.

But to your point about things being overshadowed, listen, unemployment rate, down from almost 15 percent, hiring has been very strong, wages have been up.

But people are very, very aware of higher prices. Gas prices, food prices, they feel it. It's tangible.

Also, we have had a period of low inflation for about a dozen years. People never -- a lot of people just haven't experienced inflation like this. So now that it's here, they're feeling it and reacting.

CAMEROTA: Catherine Rampell, Matt Egan, thank you very much for walking us through everything we just heard --

EGAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- from the president.

OK, we have some breaking news out of Charlottesville, Virginia. A verdict has been reached in the "Unite the Right" trial in Charlottesville. So we are going to go live to the courthouse, next.


[14:46:00] CAMEROTA: OK, we do have some breaking news. We want to go to Charlottesville, Virginia, where a partial verdict has been reached in the trial of the men who planned the deadly 2017 "Unite the Right" rally.

Let's go to CNN's Jason Carroll outside of the courthouse for us.

Jason, walk us through everything that's just happened.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, well, just to backtrack a little bit, Alisyn, as you know, this is a civil trial, not a criminal trial.

And what we have here is a situation where plaintiffs were claiming -- and there are nine plaintiffs -- who were injured that day during the "Unite the Right" rally.

That 17 defendants, some of them individuals, some of them hate groups, conspired to commit acts of violence. And that conspiracy was based on racial hatred.

And so what they were claiming here in court and arguing during this trial is that this was a conspiracy.

And so there were six claims that jurors were looking at. Two of the most serious claims, the first one being conspiring to commit racially-motivated violence. The second claim, failing to prevent that conspiracy.

Jurors could not reach a unanimous decision. They were deadlocked, we have just learned, on both of those two claims.

Now, there were four more claims in addition to that. I'm just going to outline those for you very quickly where jurors did reach a decision.

Civil conspiracy, a state civil law, the jurors found that the defendants were liable.

Number four, violating Virginia code by subjecting plaintiffs to racial or religious harassment. They also found that the defendants were liable.

Assault and battery, unanimous decision, liable.

Intentional inflection of emotional distress. That was claim number six. Jurors also found that the defendants were liable in that situation as well.

Again, what they were looking for here, the plaintiffs, and their attorneys, were looking for, this is a civil case, monetary damages.

So very quickly just want to go over what the jurors were able to come to.

In terms of the individual defendants here, we're talking about people like Jason Kessler, the one who secured the permit for the "Unite the Right" rally.

People like Richard Spencer, he coined the phrase "alt-right." He's a white nationalist. Neo-Nazi, Christopher Cantwell. So these are some of the individuals.

So at last count, they are, at this point, in terms of compensatory damages, each one is facing $700,000.

As for some of the groups, they are looking at, at least $1 million in compensatory damages.

And one more that I want to tell you about, James Alex Fields. I have to backtrack just a little bit, Alisyn.

Folks may remember he was the one during the criminal trial who was convicted, now serving several life sentences, for driving his car into counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring several others.

Again, that was during the criminal trial. Here during the civil trial, he was found liable for at least $12 million in damages.

But the headline here, attorneys here for the plaintiffs were really looking for those first two claims, the ones that I told you about, the conspiracy claims.

That's -- those are the claims that were the most serious. Those were the claims that plaintiffs were really looking to get the big numbers for.

They were asking for anywhere between $7 million to $10 million for each plaintiff. And again, the jury was deadlocked. They have now been dismissed.

So, you know, a mixed bag here. Some of the defendants were found liable. But for the two biggest claims, the jury was deadlocked -- Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Jason, thank you very much for walking us through all of that. It's obviously multifaceted.

We want to bring in former U.S. attorney, Harry Litman, and CNN legal analyst, Joey Jackson.

Joey, help me understand. It's a split verdict. And for some, they're held liable. For some, they were deadlocked. Are they going to be retried civilly for the two --

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, what happens, Alisyn, is you have that right or, otherwise, you can settle the case. You can resolve it in some way.


And so remember that because you're dealing with a civil case, you're talking about a whole different standard. Usually, when we're speaking about a criminal it's beyond a reasonable

doubt. There you have a very high standard because it involves somebody's liberty interest.

When you talk about monetary claims, it's a preponderance. What does that mean? Is it more likely than not? Did you probably do it?

In the final analysis, remember what the defense will say. The defense is, I have a First Amendment right. I have a right to say what I want, do what I want.

But you do, but if it conflicts or goes averse to the law --


JACKSON: Exactly. If it goes averse to the law, violence kicks in, and then you lose that right.

And so the jury, again, to Jason Carroll's point, the first two games with respect to racially motivated violence finding, we can't make a finding. Preventing it, we can't make a finding. On the other matters, can't make a finding.

And instead of saying guilty in civil, we say liable. Meaning, you're responsible.

CAMEROTA: Understood.

Harry, here are the ones they couldn't reach a decision on. And as Jason said, these are the most serious ones.

Claim one, the defendants conspired to commit racial violence at the 2017 rally, claimed the defendants knew but failed to prevent conspiracy to prevent racial violence.

What do you see here, Harry?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Those were the big-ticket items. It was under the aptly named, passed in 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, for the Reconstruction racial violence that we saw re-rear its ugly head in Charlottesville.

So certainly that was the main focus of the plaintiffs. And they'll have to think about whether they want to go back for it.

On the other hand, this money effort to actually hit the white nationalists in their pocketbook is overall very effective because they are not well healed, the 3 Percenters, the Proud Boys, the other folks here.

What they might end up having to pay could be ruinous for them. It's more than a consolation prize.

But without doubt, they wanted to show the racially motivated violence under the Ku Klux Klan. The jury was deadlocked on and they've been dismissed. It wasn't because of the First Amendment. First Amendment would not

apply here.

It was rather because they couldn't agree, was this really a conspiracy for racial violence as opposed to general mayhem.

CAMEROTA: Jason Carroll, I know you're getting new information. Tell us.

CARROLL: Just to add a little bit more, Alisyn, when you talk about conspiracy because it was outlined during the jury instructions what exactly conspiracy meant here.

I mean, because when you use that term, it's a loaded term. You think of this intricate sort of connection of people talking and communicating. But that wasn't necessarily the case here, and not the standard here as well.

Because you go back, and the judge made it clear that the conspiracy here did not have to mean a formal agreement. It did not have to mean a written contract. It didn't even have to mean some sort of an organize agreement.

The judge made it clear here that in this particular situation, a conspiracy could have been some sort of informal agreement that would have been sufficient.

But again, these jurors, eleven men and women, could not come to a consensus in terms of whether a conspiracy occurred here.

And again, plaintiffs during, you know, their opening arguments, they say, look, these people communicated, these people, through text messages, social media posts.

You know, in their estimation, they presented a bounty of evidence which should have shown conspiracy in a formal defense.

But the defense had been arguing saying, yes, these people communicated. Yes, they knew each other. You might not like who they are. You might not like what they say, what they stand for. But there was no conspiracy here.

And again, at this point, it seems very clear that jurors could not come to a consensus that a conspiracy did occur.

CAMEROTA: So, Joey, to Harry's point, there were millions of dollars in damages at stake here. So now these self-professed white nationalists will have to pay those damages or, what, they go to jail?

JACKSON: What happens is you have compensatory damages and punitive damages.

What on earth is that? Compensatory damages are designed to make you whole. As a result of an injury, you're out of work for some time. What would I have made had I had gone there?

Punitive damages are designed to punish you. Those could be astronomical damages.

At the end of the day, you either pay or sometimes people are judgment proof. That's why some lawsuits are viable, Alisyn. But you don't sue because you can sue, A, to collect money, or B, send a message.

I think they were perhaps doing issues here. You want to send a message that this is not acceptable. That's very important as a policy consideration.


The other thing is let me hit you where it hurts. You come up with the money or you have a judgment against you, which, at some point in time, you have to pay.

CAMEROTA: Harry, I think that it's interesting to go back and think about what happened in Charlottesville because, again, criminally, the man who plowed through the crowd or killed Heather Heyer is in prison.

This is above and beyond that. The nine plaintiffs, they include town residents, counter-protesters who were injured, and are the ones who are still suffering, as you can imagine, some physical and emotional injuries.

And so is this a victory for them today, even though the two biggest counts they were hung on?

LITMAN: It's a partial one. You're totally right. And this is the community striking back. So in the sense that we were just talking about, there's something of a repudiation under state law.

I do think they wanted to show a conspiracy. By the way, a conspiracy is simply an agreement. You can do it with a wink, but it has to be for the same goal, the unlawful goal.

It's a mixed verdict. And that might inform whether they go back because I think part of this is symbolic.

The lead counts they were really trying to establish, the jury is deadlocked on. So they're not, you know, it's not -- they're not jubilant.

But they definitely will make some money. And there will be the point made that you did these things under Virginia state law. You did assault and battery and inflict emotional distress.

So, you know, all in all, they don't go home empty handed, but maybe half a loaf at best.

CAMEROTA: Harry Litman, Joey Jackson, Jason Carroll, thank you all very much for helping us with that breaking news.

OK, when we come back, weeks after his remains were found, Brian Laundrie's cause of death is now revealed.