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Biden Returns to Washington Ahead of Voting Rights Push; Critical U.S.-Russia Talks Underway Over Ukraine Invasion Fears; Officials Prepare for Potential Violence Ahead of Midterms. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 10, 2022 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Democrats trying to reenergize the push for Biden's broader agenda, this after Senator Joe Manchin derailed the president's key Build Back Better plan in the weeks, the days before Christmas.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes. And in the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set the stage for a showdown over voting rights reforms ahead of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday.

So, here to discuss where things go now for Senate Democrats is CNN Political Commentator S.E. Cupp and Rachael Bade, CNN Political Analyst and co-Author of the Politico Playbook. Welcome both of you.

S.E., let me begin with you because House Speaker Pelosi also said that she supports prioritizing election reforms right now. Here is what she said over the weekend.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): There's nothing more important for us to do than protect our Constitution and our democracy. What the Republicans are doing across the country is really a legislative continuation of what they did on January 6th, which is to undermine our democracy, to undermine the integrity of our elections, to undermine the voting power, which is the essence of a democracy. So, we have to do that bill. There is no more important bill that enables us to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.


GOLODRYGA: It's interesting because, S.E., she is tying the need for voting reform to the insurrection on January 6th. And, unfortunately, I don't have to tell you that the political temperature in this country is so divided as to what transpired on January 6th and how significant that was even though we saw what happened with our own eyes. Is that the right strategy for her and for Democrats to be taking to pursue this path?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it is if they stick to the message of what happened after votes were cast. That's really important because we saw a lot of the harassing of election officials, in fact, removing of election officials, phony audits, things that happened after votes were cast that I think both Republicans and Democrats should focus on when it comes to voter reform. And she is absolutely right, there is no important issue.

I think where Democrats get into trouble is where they talk about things that happened before votes are cast, when they push for things like ballot harvesting, when they push for things like a law that was just signed in New York City allowing non-citizens who have lived in place like New York City as little as 30 days to vote. That sounds crazy to a lot of people and I think it acts kind of like a poison pill maybe for people like Joe Manchin and just folks in middle all of the country who want to get behind the kind of voter reform that Nancy Pelosi is talking about but not some of those crazier, more extremist actions.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, we should note that there's nothing about letting foreigners vote in the current legislation before Congress. They trouble Rachael Bade is --

CUPP: No, that's local.

SCIUTTO: -- they don't have the votes, Manchin and Sinema, on the voting rights issue. So, my curiosity is are Democrats prioritizing this? Is this really pushing towards a symbolic vote rather than real progress on this?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, it's pretty clear that Democrats want the talking point right now of Republicans voting down they larger voting rights bill. But S.E. is exactly right, the bill that they are looking at is broad, and it does include things like campaign finance reform, which Republicans have traditionally been against.

And so there's an opportunity here for both parties to really come together and pass legislation that would make sure January 6th and what happened that day in terms of the Electoral College count doesn't happen again, and do things like try to protect nonpartisan election officials at the state level to make sure you don't have partisans coming in and throwing out legitimate votes, which is a clear threat right now.

The question is are Democrats and Republicans willing to sort of put their talking points away right now and start to get in a room? And right now, we only have about eight senators who are willing to do that and they, from our reporting, plan to meet again this week. We'll just have to see.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. S.E., I want to just pick up on that, because the focus thus far has been mainly on getting Democrats on board and on the same page on this issue. In terms of getting Republicans to side with them, at least on the fundamentals of election integrity, what are you hearing and what's the likelihood that that will happen especially going into a critical election year? CUPP: I just don't think there's a lot of will. I'll say a lot of goodwill on the side of Republicans looking to address this. It takes away a major talking point of theirs, right, which is election fraud. And we know that that's sort of a false claim.


On a grand scale, there's been no election fraud. But that is what they want to talk about going into 2022, the midterms, and I'm sure going into 2024. And so I just don't think there's a lot of incentive, sadly, for Republicans to meet Democrats at the table for anything, even incremental things.

SCIUTTO: Okay. Rachael, on that, because you brought up something separate from the John Lewis Act and so on, which is this possible bipartisan agreement on reforming the Electoral Count Act. We don't have time to go into the late 19th century election that this all rose from and created questions. But, I mean, to S.E.'s point, what would be in it for Republicans, right, to get on board with something that addresses just that issue, how electoral votes are counted?

BADE: One word, the filibuster and protecting it right now. I mean, I think that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are petrified that Democrats are going to go nuclear and get rid of the filibuster for legislation. And a lot of times, for the past few months, in fact, they've talked about what can they do to sort of try to negotiate with Democrats to protect the filibuster. And they did something similar earlier this year with the bipartisan infrastructure bill. There was sort of a talk, if we can't get any Republicans to do this, does that sort of kick up the need to nuclear and get rid of the filibuster?

And that's part of the reason that you saw Senate Republicans actually joined Democrats to pass this. And so I do think that that is in the back of Mitch McConnell's head right now, as he's thinking, okay, maybe I don't want to pass some sort of narrow election bill but is there something we can do here that doesn't compromise what we want to talk about that will protect the filibuster long-term?

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll see if there's an opening there. Sometimes there are. S.E. Cupp, Rachael Bade, thanks so much to both of you.

CUPP: Sure.

BADE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Another major story we're following today, right now, at this moment, critical talks between the U.S. and Russia amid tensions over Russia's potential invasion of Ukraine. Will this face-to-face meeting change the situation? We're going to discuss, next.



GOLODRYGA: Well, critical face-to-face talks are underway right now between U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva, Switzerland, as tensions mount over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both U.S. and Russian officials are expected to brief the media next hour after the talks wrap up.

And joining me now to discuss is Andrea Kendall Taylor, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia, and Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Andrea, welcome to the program.

So, as we're waiting to hear from officials coming out of these talks, there had been this long laundry list that Russia had put forward, right? Many of the demands had been nonstarters. But we did hear from U.S. officials, Antony Blinken, saying there had been some room for flexibility, whether it's on arms control, whether it's military operations and exercises in the region. It hasn't gone unnoticed though that we have heard no concessions from the Russian side, right? And, in fact, the deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, said today that Russia has, quote, been flexible with the west for 30 years, so now it's the west's turn, no concessions on security guarantees.

Obviously, a lot of this is bluster publicly but could he be saying the same behind closed doors and what does that mean about the state of negotiations?

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR, SENIOR FELLOW AND DIRECTOR, TRANSATLANTIC SECURITY PROGRAM AT CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Yes. It's a critical week. And as you noted, the Biden administration did come in saying that there are a host of issues that they would be willing to talk about as long as several conditions are met. First, they have been extremely clear that any negotiations or discussions about our allies and partners won't take place unless they are also at the table. A mantra for them has been nothing about you without you, so, as long as the Europeans and Ukraine is involved in those discussions. And the other key condition is also reciprocity. So, the United States isn't going to give something away for nothing and anything the United States would consider would have to be met by mutual reductions.

As you noted, we haven't heard much of that from the Russians, and I think we have to be prepared that Russia was using this week of diplomacy and especially the meeting with the United States as a pretext for conflict, that very well may walk away from these discussions and declare that diplomacy has failed and use that to build a public case at home to underscore to Russians that they have no alternative other than to escalate the conflict in Ukraine. So, that is certainly possible.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And we are hearing that the talks have just ended there and we're going to hear more in the next hour from officials in Geneva. But you do raise a critical point there, because one question that I think is worth asking at this point is what if Putin just doesn't want an off-ramp? Building up to these talks, there had been speculation and thought that there should be some opportunity for him to have a graceful exit out of this critical situation. But is it not worth raising the question of whether or not that's not what he wants, that he doesn't want an off-ramp?

KENDALL-TAYLOR: And I think that's what the Biden administration has been preparing for. So, they've stated that they've been willing to follow the diplomatic path, as far as it leads. They've expressed a genuine openness to having some sort of discussions that could avert crisis. But they're fully aware that that might not be in the cards and they are preparing for that eventuality.

I think what they've done is to try to make the choice for Vladmir Putin very clear. There is a set of issues that the United States would be prepared the talk about that would also be in U.S. interest to do. But if that's not the path that President Putin chooses, they have gone to great lengths to prepare your European allies and partners for how we would respond.


So, they've outlined the contours. They have gotten increasingly granular about the type of sanctions that Putin would face. They have articulated that they would continue to equip Ukrainians and I think you would see a shift from defensive to offensive weapons to increase the cost militarily, and they have talked a lot about changes in U.S. force posture. So, if President Putin escalates, he will essentially be bringing the outcome that he has tried to avoid and that would be a renewed and enhanced U.S. force presence in the United States.

I'll note also, general -- yesterday, Secretary General Stoltenberg also expressed hope that diplomacy could be an option but that NATO is prepared for a military conflict. So, I think that's exactly where we are.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. Well, listen, past shows that deterrence in the form of sanctions has not worked with Vladmir Putin. And so I do think the options that remain here for the west, NATO and the United States, are very limited, unfortunately, coming into these meetings.

Andrea Kendall-Taylor, thank you, as always, for your insights.

KENDALL-TAYLOR: Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: Yes, quite amazing to hear those words, NATO prepared for a military conflict as well.

Other story we're following, U.S. officials bracing for potential, unprecedented levels of extremist violence ahead of the midterm elections later this year. Is enough being done by law enforcement to control that threat? We're going to have more on that, coming up.



SCIUTTO: A year after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, national security officials are preparing for a wave of new violence specifically ahead of the midterm elections. Officials warn that the amount of disinformation and misinformation is likely to increase. Sometimes that disinformation spread by the candidates themselves.

Joining me now to discuss, Jared Holt, Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, just wrote a piece about how domestic extremists have evolved in the wake of January 6th. Jared, good to have you on this morning.

I wonder as we're a year out, you have seen more than 700 charges here. Those are prosecutions. It's meant a lot of intelligence has been gathered on these groups, right, the extent of the threat and the organizational ties, et cetera. Are we safer today from this kind of violence in the wake of that or less safe, in your view?

JARED HOLT, RESIDENT FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL'S DIGITAL FORENSIC RESEARCH LAB: I think we are safer. 2021, with the exception of the Capitol riot itself, we didn't see these -- what we would normally see in a year of these big, explosive acts of violence. And we have seen over and over again the FBI and the DOJ actually foiling some of these plots before they started.

Now, democracy and the threat that extremism and its ideology poses to it are still very much in play here. But as far as public safety goes, these increased efforts from the Biden administration and, resultingly, the DOJ and et cetera, have actually had some major successes, I think.

SCIUTTO: You have said that January 6th was, in effect, actually a P.R. nightmare for the alt-right, they looked bad, I mean, understandably so. But many of these groups do view today, January 6th, as a victory, as rallying cry. And I wonder how you reconcile those two. Did January 6th help or hurt that right wing extremist movement?

HOLT: So, when people who participated in the Capitol attack, whether it be Trump supporters or hard core extremists group members, a lot of them left that day thinking they had accomplished something really fantastic. But then as arrests began, as investigative reporting started to dig into these groups, hacks, data breaches, that sort of thing and the consequences of January 6th hit these groups, it kind of triggered a lot of paranoia and a freeze in organizing, at least temporarily.

Now, there has been efforts underway often with the help of elected officials, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, or prominent conservative figures, like Tucker Carlson, to recast January 6. And today, the narrative, at least polling would indicate with a large swath of conservatives is very different than it was maybe a month or two after the attack.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, many believe that. I mean, there's been a rewriting of history here. So, I wonder, does that, in your view, as more folks believing that big lie increase the chance for potential violence from extremists in that group who believe it?

HOLT: I think so. If accountability isn't enforced, the DOJ and the FBI and the Biden administration can do all kinds of things. But if the Republican Party is not forcing accountability for these actions as well, if it's not coming from that side and those voices, I fear that people will come to see what happened as permissible or an acceptable lane to go into in politics. SCIUTTO: Understood. Jared Holt, glad you're looking into this stuff more deeply. It's good to have you on this morning.

HOLT: Thanks for having me.


GOLODRYGA: Really important conversation there.

Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I'm Bianna Golodryga.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

At This Hour with our colleague, Kate Bolduan, starts right after a short break.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here is what we're watching At This Hour.

At capacity, COVID cases seeing near record numbers, straining hospitals and the doctors and staffs struggling to fight and combat this crisis.