Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Biden Pushing Voting Rights Legislation But Manchin & Sinema Not On Board; Supreme Court Blocks Biden Vaccine Rule For Large Businesses, Allows Mandate For Some Health Care Workers; Pentagon Press Secretary, Adm. John Kirby, Discusses Biden Deploying Military Medical Teams To Six States With Overwhelmed Hospitals & North Korea's Missile Launch That "Demonstrated Surprising Capabilities"; McCarthy Doubles Down, Won't Cooperate With Jan. 6th Committee. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 13, 2022 - 14:30   ET



ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, in their words, they say they share those same concerns but where they differ is on the process.

They are, you know, it is their argument that removing the filibuster would cause so much more harm in the future and change the process of the Senate so deeply that they don't want to do that, even for this big of a question.

The irony here is that that was the Joe Biden position of two to three years ago. That's the Joe Biden position of the Democratic primary where he wasn't willing to embrace that filibuster ending.

He has arrived at this point because of the stakes are just so clearly high.

But let's be clear, the White House knew the Senators were not going to be easily swayed by just that Georgia speech.

They did it because they think that the White House needs to show that it's fighting for this issue.

They need to show voters that it is putting pressure on it and that they want to be able to keep their promise rhetorically, even if they can't keep it legislatively.

The question is whether voters buy that, and that -- that is something I'm not sure of.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Manu, the White House typically reserves this visit to the Hill to seal the deal. But they knew before the president even announced it that they wouldn't have it.

And I found it, you know, we talked about Kyrsten Sinema's remarks today, significant. We don't hear from her very often, but she saved this until minutes before the president arrived. MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that was

something that caught a lot of Democrats by surprise, that she made those remarks just before the president came to Capitol Hill to make his final pitch to try to convince Senators to come along here.

But she has been pretty clear for months, so has Joe Manchin, for months, that they do not support what the Democrats are doing here.

And despite them engaging in meetings that they have not indicated any willingness to move on the idea of changing the Senate filibuster rules the way the Democrats want, because of fears about how this could impact the Senate in the long-term.

Now, the surprise for the -- the reality for the White House here is the president has -- last year, recall how he came to the House Democratic caucus, couple times, asking them to move forward on his agenda. They initially said no to him a couple times, moving forward.

He's coming up here to the Senate Democratic caucus now. They're saying they're not going to have the votes to do what the president wants.

Showing the real limits of his power in this narrowly divided Senate, narrowly divided House, and facing an agenda that is completely stalled.

The Build Back Better plan they tried to get through, stalled, has no real path for passage in the Senate. It's unclear if that's going to happen before the November elections.

They don't have passage of the voting rights bill. They did pass an infrastructure bill last year, bipartisan bill. They did pass a COVID relief law.

But from now until the midterm elections, getting major legislation done seems highly, highly unlikely other than just a simple functioning of government, keeping the lights on, which they have to do to avoid government shutdowns.

But all these other major issues, being stymied not just by Republicans but also the president's own party. And his sales pitch isn't working for some of his members.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And, Manu, we only have a few seconds left, but have you ever asked Senator Manchin or has he ever told you, is he worried about who counts the votes now that all of these state legislatures have changed the rules?

RAJU: He has made clear that he believes that each state should have its own rules. And he has been supportive of the Democratic legislation, the larger Democratic legislation, the Freedom to Vote Act that would impose a whole series of federal standards.

So he doesn't express it the same way as other Democrats, do, the way that Joe Biden does. But he's -- he says he's on board with the policy but not the process. CAMEROTA: OK. Are we going to -- are we wrapping here?

OK, Manu, Astead, thank you very much.

We do have breaking news.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to breaking news from the Supreme Court.

Straight to CNN's Jessica Schneider.

What do we know?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor and Alisyn, the Supreme Court has issued two decisions related to the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Remember, there were challenges that were heard just about a week ago in the Supreme Court.

And this is what the Supreme Court has just come down with. They have blocked that vaccine mandate that applied to large employers, employers with 100 people or more.

This was a vaccine mandate that effectively went into effect on Monday, just the masking portion of it. And the vaccine portion of that mandate was supposed to go into effect February 9th.

Now that mandate is completely blocked.

This is a mandate that would have affected about 80 million workers across the United States at large employers.

Businesses had said to the Supreme Court, you need to block this. The agency does not have the power. That's OSHA. They do not have the power to put this mandate into effect.

The Supreme Court agreeing with them. So that mandate is blocked.

On the other hand, there was also another mandate that the Supreme Court was looking at. This was for health care workers, affecting about 10 million people. It was put into effect by Health and Human Services.

The justices during arguments indicated that that might be OK. And turns out, the justices saying that mandate is OK.


So we have a bit of a mix here for the Biden administration. They wanted this mandate that arguably affected a lot more people, about 70 million more people, to be allowed to go into effect, but it will not.

Large employers now no longer have to enforce this mandate that their employees had to wear masks for the time being and beginning in February had to be vaccinated.

That mandate has been blocked by the Supreme Court.

Now, granted, the legal challenges are going to continue to play out in the lower courts on the merits of this case. But the Supreme Court was acting here to immediately block that mandate.

On the flip side, health care workers will have to get vaccinated. Again, affecting about 10 million health care workers.

And the difference here, guys, is in the agencies that are administering this, and the powers that they have as related to certain workers.

The justices indicated in oral argument that the federal government, OSHA, the agency, could not put this mandate into effect so widespread for all of these businesses with 100 or more employees.

It was just beyond the power of OSHA. It was maybe something that Congress had the power to do. But in this case, an agency had acted.

And we've seen from the Supreme Court, these conservative justices very skeptical of agency power, so that's why that mandate has been blocked.

On the other hand, the health care mandate applies to health care workers at health care facilities, hospitals and otherwise that get federal funding, Medicaid, Medicare.

And the justices here saying that because it gets federal funding, the Biden administration does have the power to enforce, enact this mandate for health care workers.

So we've been waiting for this ruling, this decision for the past week. The Biden administration has been waiting for this. The White House has been waiting for this.

And Alisyn and Victor, they've got a bit of a mixed bag here. The bigger mandate that would have affected more workers won't go into effect. The smaller mandate that affects about 10 million health care workers will go into effect -- guys?

CAMEROTA: Jessica, really helpful on helping us understand all this.

Let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig.

So as Jessica was just saying, a split decision. Do either of these surprise you?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, Alisyn. The key question in both of these cases, both of these mandates, is, is the mandate too broad and who gets to decide?

On the bigger mandate, the vaccine or test mandate applicable to all businesses of 100 or more employees across the country, if you listen to those arguments -- I listened to them last week.

The conservative majority on the court clearly felt that the mandate was too broad, that it was not tailored to any particular industry, that it applied regardless of local conditions or what other precautions a business might have taken.

And the conservative majority seemed to be of the view that this is not up to an agency, as Jessica said. This is not the kind of thing OSHA can do within its powers, unless Congress specifically authorizes them to do it.

And it should be up, according to the conservative majority, to the states and to localities. This is not something for the federal government.

So, the bigger mandate, the nationwide mandate for large employers is blocked.

Now, on the other mandate, requiring vaccines for health care workers, who do business with the government in any capacity that receives Medicare or Medicaid, which is essentially every medical capacity, that's much narrower.

And the court there seemed to be persuaded by the fact that, well, now we're just talking about people in a very specific industry, a very specific field.

A field that obviously has a direct tie to COVID and a direct need to have this kind of sort of more aggressive action by the federal government.

So, I think that's how you understand why the Supreme Court struck down the bigger, broader one, but allowed the more focused, more narrow mandate to stay in place.

BLACKWELL: All right, we're just getting this as we learn more from this decision from the court.

"It is not our role to weigh such tradeoffs. In our system of government, that is the responsibility of those chosen by the people through democratic processes."

That from the majority.

Jessica, let me come back to you.

And I know this is early on, just breaking, but do we know if this decision came down along ideological lines? And 6-3 in these -- the first decision on the large company mandate?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, you know, I have to check on the vote count.


SCHNEIDER: But we knew it was 5-4 for one of these decisions. So I'm going to have to get back to you because I just came on the air so quickly, didn't get a chance to totally home in on that.

But it does look like, you know, 5-4 in one of these decisions, but I'll get back to you on that -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: Understood. Because there was the question of where Chief Justice Roberts would fall on this.


BLACKWELL: As he often, in these cases, is -- the questions about on which side he will fall.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. And he was -- Victor, during these arguments, specifically as it pertains to OSHA, that larger mandate for employers with 100 employees or more, he was sort of weighing the arguments on both sides.


But where it came down, he seemed much more inclined to block that mandate.

He talked about the fact that this would be something that Congress would have to explicitly tell OSHA that they could do.

I mean, he said, wouldn't this just be unprecedented? This is something we've never seen before that OSHA would implement this sort of mandate.

So, he did express skepticism, then was trying to understand the other side as well.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, and, Elie, as you point out, not surprising. This is, as you would -- as we all would expect, in terms of conservatives thinking, that it should be up to elected officials and states.

HONIG: Yes, Alisyn, in a way, listening to the argument, felt like a throwback to the old days when conservatives were skeptical of federal power and more in favor of states' rights and liberals were more in favor of sort of the regulatory state and agency action.

And you could hear that in the justices' questioning. And the quote that Victor just put up on the screen and read, I think, reflects that sort of concern where the Supreme Court, in that quote, is saying, it shouldn't be up to unelected officials at OSHA or other federal agencies.

This really should be up to Congress. The proper role of Congress is to say, OK, executive branch, whether it's OSHA or any other agency, we hereby empower you to take a certain action or a certain type of action.

Now, OSHA does have the power to issue certain regulations if there's a, quote, "grave danger."

And the liberal justices at this argument said, well, of course, this is a grave danger. This is a once-in-a-century pandemic. But the conservative justices plainly seemed to disagree. BLACKWELL: Yes.

SCHNEIDER: And you know, guys, you know, these justices, the conservatives, have been very skeptical of agency power.

We saw it just a few months ago when the Biden administration tried to hold on to that eviction moratorium, citing the pandemic, and the emergency conditions of the pandemic.

The justices in that case just a few months ago struck that down, saying that the CDC just didn't have the power to issue an eviction moratorium.

So this is in line with what we've seen from these conservative justices just a few months ago during the pandemic.

BLACKWELL: Certainly, a blow to the strategy from the Biden administration.

We should point out that many of the largest companies in this country have already enacted vaccine mandates that cover tens of millions of Americans.

Jessica Schneider, Elie Honig, thank you both.


BLACKWELL: All right, some hospitals reeling because so much of their staff are out sick with COVID. They could get some relief soon. President Biden says military medical teams will be deployed to several states.



CAMEROTA: This morning, President Biden announced that he will deploy military medical teams to six states where COVID-19 cases are overwhelming hospitals.

As early as next week, the administration will send these teams of doctors and nurses and clinical staff to New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan, and New Mexico.

University Hospital in Newark is one of them. And the CEO tells CNN he has 300 COVID-related callouts right now, and his overwhelmed staff is grateful for this news.


DR. SHEREEF ELNAHAL, PRESIDENT & CEO, UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: I was just -- I was jumping for joy, to be honest with you. It is saying that I've been telling my staff we've been trying to do for weeks. We put in the request last week.

FEMA came on Monday, which gave me a lot of optimism, but we didn't get confirmation until this morning.

And I was, frankly, in the car on the way to work when I heard and I wanted to just jump for joy. It is just going to be so, so helpful to us at a critical time.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now is Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby.

John, great to see you.


CAMEROTA: You just heard the gratitude there from one hospital.

Let me put up the list again of these hospitals that will be getting these special military medical teams. Obviously, hospitals, we've heard, are so desperate.

But then there's this other news of the seven-day averages in New York that appear to be, god willing, ticking down a little bit. It's possible that we've seen the peak and that we've crested there in New York.

Similarly in New Jersey, it's possible that cases are coming down.

So what's your strategy to stay ahead of the curve since this is such a moving target?

KIRBY: This actually is part of that strategy, Alisyn, to make sure we can alleviate some of the burdens on the healthcare system.

So if those numbers are right and we are getting past the peak, we can fill in for folks in the civilian health care system that are either out because they're sick or just overburdened .

And hopefully, this mission of ours won't take that long because we will be, hopefully, on the back end soon. But we want to be ready and we want to pitch in.

This is not new for us. As you know, the Department of Defense has chipped in, in the past. And we're only too happy to do it now.

CAMEROTA: Understood. I think the people are really desperate for it.

But it is whack-a-mole, for lack of a better term. Just as cases come down in one place, then you see them spiking in Michigan or Texas or wherever.

How can you tell where to deploy them?

KIRBY: That's a great question. We're going to be in constant touch with state and local authorities about the best place to put these teams.


These teams are about 25 folks. And they're multi-disciplinary. They won't be working on COVID. They'll be helping flesh out emergency rooms and doing all kinds of things that doctors and nurses in the civilian community won't have time to do.

So we'll be working closely with hospitals around the country to find the best fit. Where is the need the most and for how long do you need that help?

Every team will be kind of deployed in an individual way for a different period of time.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, cases of COVID in the military have doubled in just the past week. Thank goodness hospitalizations have not followed suit.

What's the plan for keeping servicemembers safe?

KIRBY: Well, we have a mandatory vaccine program. More than 90 percent of the active-duty force is vaccinated. We're grateful for that.

We want to get that to 100 percent. So we're going to continue to push on encouraging people to obey this mandate and get the vaccine.

Now we're always looking at force protection across the force.

Here at the Pentagon, Alisyn, we just moved our health protection condition up to what we call "Charlie" -- more significant, more severe, spacing people out, encouraging teleworking.

So we'll apply not only CDC guidelines but additional force protection guidelines inside the Department of Defense to keep our people safe.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask about North Korea while I have you.

There was a missile launch this week and it traveled 435 miles. It hit a velocity more than 10 times the speed of sound, we're told.

Our CNN reporting is that there were a few U.S. officials who were connected to this or knew about it who felt it, quote, "demonstrated surprising capabilities."

What part was most surprising about this?

KIRBY: I'm going to be careful here not to get into an intelligence assessment of this launch, which isn't complete. Our intelligence analysts are still trying to pick this apart so I want to be careful here.

We certainly assessed at the very least we were looking at a ballistic missile launch. That is, of course, a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

We continue to call on North Korea to stop these provocations. We have a sophisticated air and missile defense system in that area,

not just in that region but also on the West coast of the United States. We'll continue to watch these and monitor them and try to be as prepared as we can.

But ultimately, this comes down to North Korea being serious.

If they want to get to negotiations, to be serious about acting in a way that would lead the international community to feel safe sitting down with them and that it would be actually effective.

CAMEROTA: I mean, there was ground stop of U.S. flights. That felt different this time.

KIRBY: Look, I think the FAA has spoken to this. I'll let them speak to their decision to make the ground stop.

We were watching this and monitoring this in real time, as you expect we do when we detect launches in North Korea.

And we try to share information in those early morning with the interagency, with our partners in the government as best we can.

CAMEROTA: I've read the Biden administration has tried to reach out to North Korea several times with no real response.

KIRBY: Right.

CAMEROTA: Obviously, the former administration, the Trump administration, prided itself, President Trump did, on his contact with North Korea.

Why do you think the Biden administration isn't being as successful?

KIRBY: Well, I think that's a great question for Kim Jong-Un. We have made it very clear that we want to sit down and negotiate the denuclearization.

We want to see complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But we haven't seen any sincerity on North Korea's part to sit down and debate how we get to a denuclearized North Korea.

In the meantime, while we continue to explore the diplomatic path, in the military, we have a treaty alliance with the South Koreans and we'll continue to work on that alliance and make it more robust, make it more capable.

And make sure we're ready to handle provocations if, in fact, they lead to potential conflict.

CAMEROTA: John Kirby, great to talk to you. Thank you for your time.

KIRBY: You, too, Alisyn. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Take care. BLACKWELL: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy feels very differently today than he did one year ago, January 13, 2021, when he was sure Donald Trump bore responsibility for the insurrection on January 6th.

But today, Kevin McCarthy is adamant he will not help the January 6th committee figure that out.

On Wednesday, the panel asked McCarthy to voluntarily provide information that could give insight into then-President Trump's state of mind during the insurrection and the weeks that followed.

CAMEROTA: The committee's vice chairwoman, Liz Cheney, told CNN that McCarthy is, quote, "clearly trying to cover up what happened on January 6th" and did not rule out a subpoena for him.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins us now.

Ryan, McCarthy just spoke and he deflected questions about the committee. Where are we now?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The problem right now, Alisyn and Victor, is that there seems to be a lot of information that Kevin McCarthy has about events leading up to January 6th, what happened on January 6th.

And then, even what happened after January 6th that he has not shared publicly and that the committee feels is an important part of their investigation.


And at this point, despite the fact the committee would like McCarthy to shed light on this investigation in a way to help the investigation, McCarthy just isn't interested.

He believes this committee has become too partisan, that it's basically just a political witch hunt to go after the former President Donald Trump and his allies, so, therefore, he won't participate.

Just listen to his excuse that he gave earlier today as to why he doesn't think it's appropriate for him to participate.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I didn't wait a year later. On January 6th, I spoke to the American public. Not one network but many networks. My conversation was very short, advising the president of what was happening here.

There's nothing that I can provide the January 6th committee for legislation moving forward.


NOBLES, Obviously, they want to know more about this phone call, Victor and Alisyn. But there are other things they're interested in, the conversations

with the White House leading up to January 6th, the talk of censure and impeachment after the fact.

These are all things McCarthy hasn't discussed publicly, and the committee wants to know more -- Victor and Alisyn?

BLACKWELL: Ryan Nobles, on Capitol Hill, thank you.

NOBLES: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So we just saw the most significant charges yet from the Justice Department in the January 6th probe. The leader of the Oath Keepers and 10 other defendants now charged with seditious conspiracy. We have much more on our breaking news, ahead.