Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Unemployment Numbers; Interview With Former Senior White House COVID Response Adviser Andy Slavitt; Voting Rights Dead in Senate?. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 13, 2022 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: That's 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. Remember, you can also listen to our podcast. Download it, INSIDE POLITICS, wherever you get your podcasts.

I hope to see you back here tomorrow.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage on this very busy news day right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera.

Thank you so much for joining us.

At any moment now, President Biden breaking bread and turning up the heat on Capitol Hill. He will meet at this hour with Senate Democrats during their caucus lunch to push for the stalled voting rights legislation.

The only way to win passage here as of now is to change the filibuster rules in the Senate, so only a simple majority is needed. His own party's moderates, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have publicly said they oppose to changing these Senate rules, and they don't appear ready to budge.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is live at the Capitol.

Manu, there are only two people, it sounds like, that the president needs to convince here, Senator Sinema and Manchin, so why is he attending this lunch?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, even before he has come up here, his effort has failed. And this has been clear for months and it has become official just

moments ago, when Senator Kyrsten Sinema went to the Senate floor and said she will not support changing the Senate's filibuster rules to reduce the threshold to overcome a filibuster, which currently stands at 60, meaning 50 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and lowering that to 50 Democrats, along with Kamala Harris breaking a tie, which is what the Democratic leaders want to do, to change it to a simple majority, to pass their sweeping rewrite of voting laws.

But Kyrsten Sinema says that this will only worsen divisions in the country and says she will not go along with that effort.


SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.


RAJU: Now, she says he supports the underlying bills, but the underlying bills to overhaul voting laws need the support in the regular order of Republicans in order to overcome a filibuster.

So the only way it can pass is to change the rules. One Democratic defection is enough to scuttle the effort. Sinema made it clear there she won't back it. And Manchin just moments ago told reporters he agrees with her.

He said: "I think it's the points that I have been making for an awful long time, and she has too," referring to Sinema's speech. Manchin went on to say that: "We need to make the changes -- we need changes to make the Senate work better, not getting rid of the filibuster."

So, despite all these talks, all the political energy that Biden has invested in this, going down to Georgia this week, calling on his colleagues to get in line, coming up to Capitol Hill in a matter of minutes, asking senators to vote for this, change the rules, get this legislation to the president's -- his desk to sign into law, it simply will not happen because of the longstanding opposition of these two senators, worried that changing the rules could dramatically have ramifications for this country, allow majorities in the Senate to run roughshod over the minority, enact a wide range of proposals, in the words of Sinema, wild policy reversals.

And, as a result, a major failure here for the Biden agenda, even as the president is set to be here in just a matter of minutes here, Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Manu Raju, we know you will keep us posted. Thank you.

Now, Democrats say passing voting bills at the federal level is necessary when you consider what is happening at the state level. Take a look. Last year, 19 states, most controlled by Republicans, passed laws making it harder to vote, especially for minority voters.

The legislation Democrats are fighting for now would override these restrictions by essentially standardizing the way Americans vote. Here's what's in the two bills the House just combined, first, the Freedom to Vote Act.

This would make Election Day a federal holiday. It would require all states to offer early voting periods. That include evening and weekend voting hours. It would allow every voter to request a mail-in ballot, no reason needed, and require every state ensure that those who do vote in person wait no more than 30 minutes in line to do so.

It would also ensure online, automatic and same-day voter registration. This bill would also ban gerrymandering by creating uniform rules for redistricting. It would prohibit local election officials from being fired without cause. And in a move one would think Republicans would appreciate, it would require post-election audits and paper records of every electronic ballot, plus grants for states to beef up cybersecurity.

As for the other part of this legislation, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, it restores parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. That had been weakened by a number of Supreme Court rulings.

And joining us to discuss all of this is CNN senior political correspondent Abby Phillip and former Republican Congressman and CNN political commentator Charlie Dent.


Congressman, let me start with you.

Making Election Day a public holiday, mandating same-day voter registration, guaranteeing voters can request a mail-in ballot, Republicans can agree to this?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, same-day registration, I think, is a mistake. And I will be very candid about that. And that should be decided by the states.

My state does not have same-day registration. We do not have early voting. The federal government should not be able to tell states how to conduct their elections. We know how to register voters in this country. And we know how to conduct elections.

I think Democrats are overreaching. There are all kinds of federalism principles they violated here. They should focus on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Electoral Count Act, which actually deals with the real problem, officials who, after the election, tried to undo state-certified elections, and the elections are run fairly, and then overturn the Electoral College by Congress.

I mean, that's the issue. And they don't even address it. I mean, I think it's ridiculous that they are trying to -- campaign finance reform. Well, that's not -- that doesn't deal with the issues that they're talking about in terms of stolen elections and January 6 issues. I mean, they have -- this as a wish list of issues. They have had this

on the agenda. They have wanted this for years. Most of this has very little to do with the January 6 insurrection, and the problems, the real problems that we face that threaten our democracy.

CABRERA: Well, there are a lot of issues, though, that have come since January 6 in the state legislatures, where they have passed a number of bills at the state level, if you just leave it to the states, that do, in effect, restrict voting for certain communities, particularly those of color or make it harder for minorities to have access to vote, or make it harder for them to go ahead and vote by taking away certain hours that they usually utilize, like Sundays, Souls to the Polls, for example, in places like Georgia, or limiting drop boxes.

Those sorts of things have an impact, even though it's states that are doing that, and that is after the 2020 election.

So, Abby, I know, of course, the president is under enormous pressure from civil rights leaders, who say he's late to the game here. But he's all in right now. He's not mincing words. He went so far as to compare those who block this legislation to the likes of George Wallace, other segregationists.

And some lawmakers, especially Republicans, were offended by his remarks. Democratic Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said this when asked about the president's rhetoric.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): It is stark, and I will concede that point. But don't overlook the reality that, in 20 different states governed and led by Republicans in legislature and the governorship, in each and every one of them, they are taking step by weary step to make sure that Americans, fewer Americans are going to vote.

Who in the world sets out as a political agenda reducing the vote in America? Exactly the opposite should be our goal by both political parties.


CABRERA: He lays out what the president was getting at, but did the president's word choice backfire?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, honestly, I don't think that his word choice mattered one way or another. That was directed largely at Republicans. They took offense to it, but they weren't going to support these voting measures..

CABRERA: And I just want to note, real quick, we're watching from this camera here the president arriving on Capitol Hill for this lunch with the Democratic Caucus.

Please continue.


They weren't going to support this anyway. So, Mitch McConnell's speech was largely about making sure that that was crystal clear. On the other hand, what is really the deciding factor here is what Senator Sinema said on the floor not that long ago, just a few minutes ago.

She made it very clear that she is not going to be swayed on this issue of the filibuster. And that is what matters, right at this moment. It's not clear to me what President Biden is going to go to Capitol Hill to say to fellow Democrats at this point, because the one/two senators that matter have already made their position all of this clear.

Look, I think activists wanted President Biden to put his shoulder behind this, to put his rhetoric behind it, but they really wanted him to do that a year ago. Right at this moment, it is actually, frankly, a little bit late. There is not much political capital for the president to spend.

And the two senators who have the veto power on this issue have already made their positions very clear.

CABRERA: Congressman, I know you take issue with the president's rhetoric. You thought it was too hot, but I still can't help but think of all the truly outrageous and offensive things President Trump said that so many Republican lawmakers simply ignored or even defended.

And this, of course, is different. This is about the fundamental American right to vote, about every eligible voter having fair and equal access to vote. So, if playing nice wasn't getting people to pay attention, what this passion, the fire here warranted?


DENT: I really do think he was too hot and too partisan.

And, again, if -- because somebody disagrees with the president of the United States on same-day registration or publicly financed campaign, which is in -- campaign, which is in part of the legislation just passed today in the House, that doesn't make you a segregationist or somebody who's sympathetic to Bull Connor.

I mean, I thought that was rather offensive. And I think that he needs to get -- he had an opportunity in Atlanta, I thought, to talk about the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, how we could get a bipartisan agreement on that. I voted to reauthorize it in 2006. I was proud to do so. We can do that.

And the Electoral Count Act of 1877, that needs to be fixed. And I think he had an opportunity to bring people together, and they should -- Democrats should jettison some of this other stuff that really is just a wish list of the progressives and they're just -- kind of use that as a pretext, using January 6 as a pretext.

So I think the president really missed a terrible opportunity. And I understand why a lot of Republicans are offended. States like New York, New Hampshire, Delaware...

CABRERA: But let's just honest. Are Republicans -- would it have mattered what the president said?

The president tried playing nice with Republicans, and Republicans straight up and Mitch McConnell specifically was saying, no, we're not going to work with you on this, period.

DENT: Well, Mitch McConnell just said he was prepared to do something on the Electoral Count Act of 1877, which, I mean, there -- it's there. I mean, why not take him at his word?

I mean, I just think that the president just really -- he said he was going to unite the country. He was going to be the bipartisan guy. I supported him. But I just did not like that approach.

And they're all upset with Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin because they won't flip-flop on the filibuster. All these other Democrats flip- flopped on it, made statements about, oh, when George Bush was president, boy, if we got rid of the filibuster, that would lead to extremism, dictatorship.

Now -- I mean, that's what they said then, some of them. And now here we are. And they're saying that we have to get rid of it. If we don't get rid of it, we will have a dictatorship and autocracy. I mean, they got to knock this stuff off and be fair.

I was there. I watched Republicans in the House when the Tea Party wave came in, and even before, wanting to get rid of the filibuster, because they wanted to pass extreme legislation. And that filibuster protected a lot of -- it basically forced Congress to compromise, forced Congress to pass more measured, frankly, more moderate legislation.

I get it. The extremes, they want to pass -- they want it all and they want it now.

CABRERA: Well, here's the bottom line. I think it's factual to say what is the current process is dysfunctional. It's not working the way it was intended to regardless.

Thank you, Charlie Dent, Abby Phillip. Great to talk to both of you.

DENT: Yes.

CABRERA: By the way, Abby, I haven't seen you yet, so welcome back to CNN after the baby. Great to have you back.

PHILLIP: Thank you, Ana. Good to see you.

DENT: Welcome back.

CABRERA: Great to have you back.

(CROSSTALK) CABRERA: All right, the highest-ranking Republican in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, today dodging and deflecting when asked why he will not cooperate with the January 6 Committee.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): After January 6, you can state this, who was the first person to offer a bipartisan commission to look at that day? Was it me? I will help you. The answer is yes.

Nancy Pelosi waited four months. In that time period, as we came here and discussed many times -- you were here -- you would ask me questions. My fear began to erode that she'd play politics with this.


CABRERA: CNN's Ryan Nobles is joining us now on Capitol Hill. And also joining us is CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams. He's also the former deputy assistant attorney general.

Ryan, let me start with you. A lot of dodging, a lot of deflecting from McCarthy today. What's going on here?


And the minority leader not really providing a lot of information as to why he is unwilling to come before the committee, despite saying in the past that he had nothing to hide and also even answered just simply sure when asked if he would answer questions about what happened on January 6.

But it's important to point out what the committee is looking for. And we learned that in the letter that they sent to him yesterday. They wrote, in part -- quote -- "Your public statements regarding January 6 have changed markedly since you met with Trump," the panel said in their letter.

"At that meeting or at any other time, did President Trump or his representatives discuss or suggest what you should say publicly during the impeachment trial if called as a witness or in any later investigation about your conversations with him on January 6?"

And that seems to be a big focus of the committee. What changed between a speech that Kevin McCarthy gave on the House floor shortly after January 6 and then how he remarkably changed his posture as it relates to -- related to President Trump's role on January 6?

In fact, let's take a quick listen to what he said on the House floor shortly after the riots.


MCCARTHY: The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. [13:15:07]

These facts require immediate action by President Trump, accept his share responsibility, quell the brewing unrest, and ensure president- elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term.


NOBLES: So, obviously after that, what was really a powerful speech at that time, McCarthy changed his posture quite a bit. He went down to Mar-a-Lago. He's met with the president. He's looked for ways to defend his actions on that day.

So the committee wants to know about the conversations, the text messages that he had leading up to January 6, what happened on January 6, and then what may have happened after. They believe it's a crucial part of their investigation. McCarthy would argue he has nothing to add -- Ana.

CABRERA: Elliot, what do you make of this back-and-forth from McCarthy and how he's trying to defend himself today against cooperating?


And it's also significant, Ana. Also in the letter is information that McCarthy received briefings from the FBI about additional security threats that had come to the Capitol immediately following January 6. And they want to know, did he convey those to the president of the United States?

What they are getting at is, was the president aware of the nature of the threats both before and after January 6? All of these things go to this question, the question of whether the president obstructed Congress. The language of the statute is whether an individual corruptly impedes the carrying out of congressional duties.

And trying to cover up that could be evidence that would help support. That's what they're poking around. And, frankly, this is just not a good look for Kevin McCarthy, given the long litany of statements laid out in that letter that seemed to indicate that he knew how serious this was, and he knew that more threats were coming, but then quickly changed his tune after going down to Mar-a-Lago.


And that part that Ryan read from the committee as well as they ask about whether Trump or his representatives told McCarthy what to say publicly in follow-up investigations. Could this spell other legal trouble for Trump in any way? Is the committee pointing to potential witness tampering here?


It's not an accusation, but it's clearly evidence that they are investigating this question of obstruction of justice or obstruction of Congress, because trying to cover up something that you knew about or trying to cover up the fact that people were engaging in acts of violence on the Capitol or would do so could itself help support an obstruction of Congress or obstruction of justice charge.

CABRERA: Elliot Williams, Ryan Nobles, so much to discuss always. Got to leave it there today. Thank you both.

NOBLES: Thank you.


CABRERA: President Biden today announcing a new effort to fight the COVID crisis, deploying teams to overwhelmed hospitals and buying hundreds of millions of new tests. But is it all too little too late?

Plus, Novak Djokovic is now officially the top seed for the Australian Open. But it's still not certain if he will be allowed to stay in the country.

And His Royal Highness no more. Breaking moments ago, Prince Andrew stripped of his military affiliations and royal patronages, and that's by Buckingham Palace.



CABRERA: President Biden announcing today his administration is deploying additional medical teams to six states to help hospitals getting crushed right now by a surge in COVID patients.

The president also announcing the administration is buying 500 million additional COVID tests for Americans. That's on top of the 500 million tests already being acquired.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And in addition to the 500 million, half-a-billion tests that are in the process of being acquired to ship to you home for free, today, I'm directing my team to procure an additional half-a-billion, an additional 500 million more tests to distribute for free.

That will mean a billion tests in total to meet future demand.


CABRERA: Joining us now is Andy Slavitt.

He's the former senior adviser to the Biden administration COVID response team.

Andy, what do you make of the president's plan? Is it enough?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: Well, look, we're in a sort of historic peak. I don't think -- we're going to be facing shortages of everything in

the short term, hospital workers, tests, virtually everything, except, thankfully, vaccines and boosters, which we still have plenty if people want to get them.

And so I think what the president's announcing today is very much of a wartime posture, getting people on the ground, getting more tests out to people, day-to-day focus. This is exactly what I would hope to see from them, more daily communication as we make our way through this Omicron way, which hopefully is showing at least some signs that it's going to be cresting soon.

CABRERA: But you're right. We are in the thick of it right now. Hospitals are overwhelmed, the number of new cases skyrocketing.

Two years later into this pandemic, Americans still can't find tests. Now, to be fair, the administration says 500 million free at-home tests will arrive shortly. They're ordering more. Their Web site where people can just order a free test is almost ready, they say.

But the vice president was pressed on this today and I want you to hear what she said.



We -- I have to look at the current information. I think it's going to be by next week, but soon, absolutely soon. And it is a matter of urgency for us.

CRAIG MELVIN, "THE TODAY SHOW": Should we have done that sooner?

HARRIS: We are doing it.

MELVIN: But should we have done it sooner?

HARRIS: We are doing it.


CABRERA: You are a former health official in two White Houses. Is that response good enough for you?


SLAVITT: Well, we're in a situation where it's almost impossible to do enough.

With probably -- with a reported close to a million cases a day, but actually four to five million cases a day, it's almost impossible to do enough. We're going to -- by some estimates, half of the country is going to be exposed to COVID in the next six weeks alone.

So, everything they're doing is going to seem like a lot. But on the other hand, it's going to seem like it's not going to get the whole job done. And that's just the reality of trying to manage this type of peak.

So, I like the job they're doing. And I think they're being more aggressive now. I think they're being more communicative. But it's never going to be enough when you're in the middle of a crisis to get everything done. It's a matter of just like shoving the sandbags by the side of the river until you have stopped it.

CABRERA: So, Craig Melvin, though, he asked twice whether the new efforts to make testing more available and accessible should have been done sooner. Europe seemed to be on top of it. Why wasn't this done sooner?

SLAVITT: Well, I would make a couple of points.

One is that, in retrospect, you would always wish you would have been able to anticipate Omicron and know where we are. And we -- I think we pulled the Defense Production Act in the spring if I'm not mistaken. We invested $3 billion in scaling, approved dozens of tests.

And if there hadn't been an Omicron wave, it probably would have been sufficient. So, I think, if you want to say that they didn't anticipate that, that's true.

The other thing, though, is that, if you look at Europe and you look at the U.S., there's not a really marked difference in the number of cases and hospitalizations. It's not as if what's happening in Europe is markedly different from the standpoint of preventing the wave.

So, understandably, people are frustrated. We not used to shortages in this country. When you have shortages of anything, it's frustrating.


CABRERA: But, in Europe, you do have access to tests that are cheaper, that are just easy to acquire.

In fact, we hear from people who are talking to family members or friends in Europe who are literally sending them tests from Europe, because they can't get them here in America.

And as you speak of the administration really ramping up their efforts right now, trying to really go hard, there's data that suggests this Omicron wave could already be reaching a peak in some regions. And so any efforts that happen after this moment are going to be a little bit late.

So, more broadly, I guess the question is, what does this administration need to do to get ahead of COVID, not just be playing catchup?

SLAVITT: Yes, well, look, you may recall that Europe is buying tests from China.

The U.S. has got a more stringent process. And I think, as you know, there are some questions about some of these tests and their effectiveness, particularly with Omicron.

So, look, I don't know whether Europe is right or the U.S. FDA is right, but they have given different judgments in the tests that they have been willing to approve.

The administration has to get ahead of it. Getting ahead of it is essentially by what they're saying now, getting Americans to understand that wearing a high-quality mask and sending out high- quality masks, that's a good move. I liked that move that the president announced today.

Saying that, on an ongoing basis, Americans should be able to get eight tests per person per month across the country, about $1,000 worth of tests, on an ongoing basis, so starting to plan ahead, starting to plan ahead and ramp antivirals, doubling the amount of antivirals we're buying from 10 million to 20 million, so -- because what you want to do is, you want to -- we are where we are in January.

What you want to do is be in June and say, OK, we're not still facing the same problems. And the administration is thinking ahead right now, which is, I think, the best thing -- the best news that I think we could hope for.

They also put a new testing administrator in place, someone from Johns Hopkins who is just terrific. I think that announcement yesterday sparked a lot of confidence in the public health community.

CABRERA: Andy Slavitt, I really appreciate you taking the time. It's great to have you with us. And I hope you will come back. Thanks so much.

New economic numbers today. We learned about 230,000 Americans filed new jobless claims last week. That's a little higher than expected. But it comes as inflation continues to rise as well.

And Joining us now is CNN's Matt Egan.

Matt, take us behind these numbers.

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS LEAD WRITER: Well, Ana, we did get a bit of a surprise on the jobs front this morning, first-time unemployment claims rising unexpectedly by 23,000 in the latest week.

Now, the overall level remains pretty low here at 230,000. We have a chart showing how this has really come down dramatically from this point a year ago, when three-quarters-of-a-million Americans were filing for jobless claims.

So the overall trend is evidence of a strong jobs market and shows that firing is pretty uncommon. But the fact that claims did rise is noteworthy. It could be just because claims tend to be a little bumpy, they have been a little volatile this time of the year, or it could be an early sign of COVID stress.

Economists at Goldman Sachs saying that they do think that this uptick in jobless claims is related