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Biden to Lunch with Senate Democrats to Strategize on Voting Laws; Omicron has Crushed Restaurants, Industry in Dire Shape; Grocery Stores Struggle to Stock Empty Shelves; January 6 Committee Seeking Information From House Minority Leader McCarthy. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 12, 2022 - 15:30   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Tomorrow President Biden plans to have lunch with Senate Democrats to talk strategy on getting two voting rights bills passed. Including changing the filibuster rule which would lower the number of Senate votes needed to get the laws approved. And yesterday the president gave a big speech in Atlanta and condemned Republicans for not supporting the bills.

Joining me now is Cliff Albright, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter. He was one of the Georgia voting rights activists who skipped attending the president's speech in person. Welcome back. Thank you for your time. Let's start here. You initially before this speech said we don't need another speech, that you need some action. Now that the president, the vice president have delivered those speeches, was there anything more consequential in those speeches than you expected there would be?

CLIFF ALBRIGHT, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK VOTERS MATTER: Hey, thanks for having me, Victor. Definitely the points about the filibuster from both the vice president and the president, I actually think that the vice president's speech hasn't gotten a lot of attention. But the points about the filibuster, the strong call to modify the rules for the filibuster or as he said to end it in regards to voting rights, that was a strong call. That's closer to the kind of thing that we wanted to hear.

We still, some of us, would have liked to have seen a little bit more laid out in terms of an outline of what the next actions would be but we're starting to see that as soon as today, as you all have talked about in terms of him and the vice president making phone calls, and the caucus meeting tomorrow. Those are exactly the kinds of actions that our coalition was calling for, more so than the speech. We would have loved for the speech to have been given in D.C., and they could have started on some of those actions even yesterday including some of the voting that could have started on yesterday.

But we're glad that we're at the point where we're at now. We just need to see these actions go real deep, with these real phone calls, to see what he says to the caucus tomorrow. That'll really determine whether or not we're able to get there by Monday. BLACKWELL: Well, the president has been saying he has been having

these quiet conversations for months, and now he says with this speech he was tired of being quiet. He suggests what you have been looking for, what you have been asking for he's already been doing, and it hasn't been effective.


ALBRIGHT: Not exactly, Victor. I think, you know, one of the hidden stories in the speech and again, I don't want to take away from it, he made the call that we wanted to hear. But think about that sentence that you just said, I'm tired of being quiet, What he said immediately before that is I've been having these quiet conversations for two months. You go back and watch it or read the transcript, he said for two months.

So, if not for the lead with the filibuster, what the lead of that speech could have been is, Mr. President, are you telling me that you've only been having these conversations since December. And so, we have been in the streets and at the White House since 2021. Those conversations should have really started on January 21st, especially given what had just happened January 6th.

But be that as it may, it didn't start soon enough. But he's doing it now, and so we want to lean in with him and with everybody listening because everybody's got a role to play. The president has a role to play. Senator Schumer has a role to play. Everybody has a role to play in terms of getting this Democratic caucus to do the things that people put them in power to do. If a majority can be used in states to suppress the vote, then a majority should be all that we need in the Senate in order to protect our voting rights and protect this democracy.

BLACKWELL: You make an interesting point about having these quiet conversations for two months, also considering that it's been six months since the speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Let me play for you what we heard today from the minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. His reaction to the president's speech.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The president's rant, rant yesterday was incoherent, incorrect, and beneath his office. He used the phrase Jim Crow 2.0 to demagogue a law that makes the franchise more accessible than in its own state of Delaware. He blasted Georgia's procedures regarding local elections officials while pushing national legislation with almost identical language on that issue.


BLACKWELL: What's your reaction to what you're hearing there?

ALBRIGHT: My reaction is this is coming from Mitch McConnell who as we know, if he's complaining about people trying to break the Senate, he's the one who's broken the Senate. And so, you know, we can't really take anything -- again, this is the same person that has said that there's no such thing as voter suppression going on, that the filibuster has never been used to block voting rights even though there's a history going back to the 1870s of the filibuster being used to block civil rights. That's what it's been use the most for. I can't really take anything Mitch McConnell says seriously. But the fact he's giving a speech is the evidence of what?

It's the evidence that we are winning. It's the evidence that he's concerned, that he is scared about the fact that this president is now on the same page with the groups that have been pushing him to do more. And all on the same page of Senator Schumer who is reintroducing these bills and is going to be introducing the Senate reforms. That's what has Mitch McConnell scared, the same way that it's our voting power that has him and other Republicans, particularly in the 19 states that have passed the bills. People don't cheat when they're winning. People cheat when they're losing. That's what Mitch McConnell is doing right now.

BLACKWELL: Well Cliff, you say he's scared. It doesn't look like the couple of votes that Democrats need to change the filibuster to make some moves on voting rights are going to shift. But we shall see. The work continues from your group, Black Voters Matter. Cliff Albright, thanks so much.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: All right, well the Omicron surge hurting restaurants. Supply shortages, staff shortages, fewer customers. It continues to squeeze the restaurant industry. We'll tell you the plan, next.



BLACKWELL: The widow of late comedian and TV dad Bob Saget is now talking about her loss. Kelly Rizzo tells "People" magazine," my whole heart. Bob was my absolute everything. I'm so complete shattered and in disbelief. I'm so deeply touched by the outpouring of love and tributes are from my family, friends, his fans and his peers. When the time is right, and when this news is not as raw, I look forward to sharing more of Bob with the world. Sharing how much he meant to me, all of those around him, and how much all of his fans and friends meant to him as well. Thank you for respecting my privacy at this time.

CAMEROTA: Saget was found dead Sunday in an Orlando hotel room. The cause of death is still being investigated. An autopsy performed Monday revealed no signs of drug use or foul play.

BLACKWELL: A key inflation report released today showed what you already know, prices for just about everything, they're rising, food, housing, vehicles, gas, all going up. One reason for growing inflation is the problem with the global supply chain.

CNN's Gabe Cohen, and Vanessa Yurkevich join us now. So, Vanessa, along with the supply chain problems, restaurants across the country are still dealing, of course, with the impact of COVID. I know you've been reporting on them for months. So, tell us what's happening.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and just in a few short weeks, the Omicron variant has absolutely demolished the industry. We know that this week alone dining down 28 percent, and that's compared to 2020 -- according to Open Table. So, there was this restaurant revitalization fund, $28.6 billion last year that helped save many restaurants, but 300,000 applications came in and only about a third were funded, leaving so many without this critical money. So now the Independent Restaurant Coalition, and 30 mayors from across the country are calling on Congress to refund and replenish this critical money.


CAROLINE STYNE, CO-FOUNDER, INDEPENDENT RESTAURANT COALITION: We knew that it just was one more wave, one big variant, one bad winter away from disaster for a lot of restaurants. The financial hit to the country is huge when you lose restaurants, to the neighborhood, to the community, and to the job market in general.


YURKEVICH: Right now, two Senators, Cardin and Wicker well I did use from Maryland and Mississippi tell us that they are crafting legislation which would bring additional aid to small businesses, but that includes restaurants. They believe by creating a broader bill for small businesses that it will help garner support from folks across the aisle in Congress.

But the key here, Alisyn and Victor, is timing on all of this. How long will this variant last? How long will it hurt these restaurants? And then if these two Senators are able to actually craft something, bring it to the floor for a vote, will it get a yes or a no. If it does get a yes, when does that money come.


It could be too late for many small restaurants, as you know, Alisyn and Victor, nearly 100,000 have closed in just the last two years because of the pandemic.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Now, Gabe, to you, that's a story for the restaurants, if you're staying home and cooking, good luck if you can find some ingredients on these store shelves.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, that's right, and this isn't so much a food shortage as it is a problem getting that food through the supply chain to grocery store shelves. And right now, we're seeing this perfect storm of factors that is making that much harder, which is part of the reason we have seen so many empty shelves at grocery stores across the northeast and other regions in recent days.

So, let's go through those factors. One of the big ones is that the entire food supply chain: warehouses, farms, trucking, grocery stores, all of them have been dealing with worker shortages in recent months. And now those are only getting much worse with the Omicron surge. Some grocery stores reporting that as much as half of their staff is either sick or in quarantine on given day, and that's been a problem on the production and distribution side as well, which it means it's that much harder for them to get food from farms to store shelves.

Families are also stuck at home right now with this surge. And as you mentioned, with inflation hitting that 39 year high, many families are focused on cooking their own meals, and so the demand for groceries is also spiking. And on top of all of that, winter weather. We saw the storm that hit the northeast last week. It shut down I-95 in Virginia. That is a critical trucking route and that left so many grocery stores across the region without enough food on their shelves to meet the demand. So many people left scrambling to find what they need. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been in a couple of stores just to get exactly what I need or what I want because there's nothing on the shelves. I mean, nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It definitely is frustrating when you come out, schedule time out of your day to get to the grocery store, get there, and then there's nothing.


COHEN: Now most shelves have been restocked at this point, but we're still seeing this food supply that's in a fragile state where experts are warning another local surge or severe storm could end with another regional incident like what we've seen in the northeast in recent days.

Some grocery stores are saying that their distributors are already saying they have to cut back on their orders they may be sending less food so those stores are going to be scrambling to find food in other places.

But experts are warning, this is not a time to go out and start panic buying, quite the opposite, but they say people should understand there may be more limited options if folks go to grocery stores in the coming weeks -- guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Gabe Cohen, Vanessa Yurkevich, thank you.

A Texas sheriff is under investigation now for what he allegedly directed his deputies to do to undocumented immigrants. We'll have the details, next.



CAMEROTA: We are just getting some information into your newsroom. The January 6th House Select Committee now wants to talk to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about what he knows. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles. Ryan, what are you hearing?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor and Alisyn, this is no doubt a significant development in the investigation into the January 6th insurrection. The committee Chairman Bennie Thompson just telling a group of reporters a few minutes ago, including our Annie Grayer that the committee is prepared to send the minority leader a letter requesting that he appear before the committee and also provide specific information about what he knows about the events leading up to and on January 6th.

Of course, McCarthy is a central player in all of this. We know that he spoke to the former President Donald Trump on the phone during the insurrection. He was also at the nexus of the battle between hardline Republicans that were working to object to the certification of the election results. And of course, he is a key ally of the former President Donald Trump and someone that was intimately involved with the President during the election, after the election and then leading up to January 6th.

Of course, McCarthy shortly after the January 6th insurrection, you know, did blame the former President for his rhetoric in inciting people to come here to the Capitol and be a part of that riot. But then McCarthy, since then, has been very friendly with the former President. Has gone to Mar-a-Lago. Has asked him to help with his House Republicans in helping them win back the majority in the 2022 midterms.

So, he remains a close ally of the former President Donald Trump. And of course, there are a number of House Republicans that are part of his conference and his caucus that remain very close with the former president. Now this would be the third Republican member of Congress that the committee has requested information from.

They've also requested information from Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Jim Jordan of Ohio. So far both Perry and Jordan have rejected those overtures from the committee. They believe that the committee is illegitimate because of the way it was formed and that it does not have the Republican representation that McCarthy asked to be a part of it.


Of course, the committee does not agree with that. They believe that it's their responsibility to participate. Of course, Victor and Alisyn, the big question here is, how do they get McCarthy to cooperate with the committee?

Again, just like with Perry and Jordan, this is a voluntary request. They are not demanding he be there. They are not subpoenaing him to be there. If he rejects their overtures like Perry, like Jordan, do they take the step of issuing a formal subpoena? That's something that they haven't even figured out whether or not they're going to do with Perry and with Jordan. So, a big open question now as to how it relates to McCarthy. And one other point about this, Victor and Alisyn, you know, Kevin

McCarthy has been pressed repeatedly as to whether or not he would be willing to cooperate with this committee, answer their questions and in the past, he said that he has nothing to hide. He's never said definitively that he wouldn't come before the committee. He's no doubt tried to dance around that question when he's been pressed on it several times. But he's never outright said he wasn't going to cooperate.

So, it will be very interesting to see how he handles this very direct request for him to answer questions and supply information as part of this committee's investigation -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill with the breaking news. Let's broaden the conversation now and bring in chief political analyst Gloria Borger and senior legal analyst Elie Honig.

Gloria, let me come to you. Considering what we know about McCarthy's engagement with the former President that day it makes sense they want to speak with him. This significance now, and there are a couple of nuggets in this letter that's released, this press release about what they already know about his engagement with the former President.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and what they already know quite honestly is what he has said publicly. I mean he's told colleagues that he had disagreements with the president. He told news organizations as much. And so, what the committee is saying here in their letter is, as is readily apparent, all this information bears directly on President Trump's state of mind during the January 6th attack as the violence was under way.

So, he is somebody who is a firsthand witness here who spoke with the president, who argued with the president. He's a leader, a Republican leader in the Congress. And they believe that his testimony is hugely important to them to say, OK, what was the president's state of mind?

Now, obviously, there's a privilege issue here because if he was talking to the president. The president is going to say those are privileged conversations. And so, we have to see whether McCarthy, as Ryan points out, who has always said I have nothing to hide, what McCarthy decides to do with this.

CAMEROTA: And Elie, I mean I'm sorry to be a broken record and ask you the same thing that I do every day, but I think that this is the $64,000 question. What if he doesn't cooperate?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I feel like this is deja vu. Alisyn, we've seen this before. Kevin McCarthy should have been on the very first list of witnesses in this case. I mean he's an obvious key fact witness for the reasons Gloria and Ryan just laid out.

Now if he does not cooperate, again, we're going to see the committee put to its proof. Are they willing to fight for his testimony? Are they just going to sort of send him this polite invitation and if he declines say, OK, sorry to bother you, Mr. future Speaker potentially McCarthy, Mr. Minority Leader McCarthy? Or are they going to follow up with the subpoena? And if they do follow up with the subpoena, are they willing to hold him in contempt if he declines to cooperate and then to go to court potentially with him. So, this'll be a test of the committee's political will yet again.

BLACKWELL: Gloria, if there's one thing we know about what Kevin McCarthy wants, he wants to be Speaker of the House. And he believes that this committee is crafted to hurt Republicans in the midterms. So, I mean do we already have our answers potentially if he will cooperate?

BORGER: I think we do. I think you're right. I think we do. I mean he's called it highly partisan. The two people that he wanted to put on, one of whom is Jim Jordan who has gotten a letter like this, were rejected by Nancy Pelosi. So, he believes this committee doesn't have any standing to call anyone. So, we know that.

And we know that he wants to remain in the good graces of Donald Trump and we know that Donald Trump is claiming privilege. So, I think you're right, Victor. I think you can play this out and you have your answer.

And, however, he is a leader in the Congress. He understands what Congressional oversight is all about. And so, it's clear that while he may not do it, it's going to be interesting to see what his answer is going to be and what his reasons are going to be on cooperating if he decides not to.

CAMEROTA: Yes, you talk to these folks every day, Ryan. What is the next step?

NOBLES: Yes, well, the first thing I should point out is that we have reached out to McCarthy's office to ask what his response will be to this letter.


I've not heard back from Kevin McCarthy or his team as of yet. But I do think this is something the Committee is deliberating. We're going to have to find out what their next step will be -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Well, Ryan Nobles, Gloria Borger, Elie Honig, thank you very much or helping us understand this breaking news.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, everyone. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.