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Terror in Texas; Winter Storm Pummels East Coast; Voting Rights Push. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. Alisyn is off today.

It is Martin Luther King Day. It's a day to honor the civil rights icon. But, today, his family says it's no time to celebrate. They are demanding Congress deliver on voting rights laws, which are stalled in the Senate.

Martin Luther King III, his wife and King's granddaughter took part in a peace walk this morning across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in D.C. And they're calling for Congress to work against dozens of new state laws that restrict voting in 19 states, all the product of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

In a recorded message to a King prayer breakfast President Biden said today it's not just enough to praise the civil rights leader, but that the nation must commit to his unfinished work.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dr. King held a mirror up to America and forced us to answer the question, where do we stand? Who side are we on?

We're in another moment right now where the mirror is being held up to America, being held up again. Will we stand up for an America where everyone is guaranteed the full protections and the full promise of this nation, yes or no?

I know where I stand. And it's time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they stand.


BLACKWELL: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is at another King Day event.

Suzanne, hello to you.

We heard from King's son. We heard from Speaker Pelosi. What did they say?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, in fact, that event is still going on. And, really, the focus here, as Martin Luther King III has told me

time and time again leading up to this day and these events, that no celebration until legislation, that this cannot be separated from his father's mission and his father's legacy, that his father, in fact, pushing for not only the Civil Rights Act of '64,but the Voting Rights Act of '65.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure that is being put on the president, as well as members of Congress, those two Democratic senators, Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin, who oppose changing the filibuster rules to that 60-vote threshold to actually move forward with the voting rights legislation.

And we heard that over and over again. And so that is what the message is here today. Make no mistake. They are calling out names. And they are saying that tomorrow, tomorrow is when the Senate takes up this debate over voting rights legislation, that each member of Congress think about their vote very carefully, that it will be an historic one.

And this is one that they believe they will hold accountable these senators if, in fact, they vote against it. Take a listen.


MARTIN LUTHER KING III, PRESIDENT & CEO, REALIZING THE DREAM: Last week, the president said he's tired of being quiet about voting rights.

Well, we're tired of being patient. The filibuster is sacred, except for when it's not. In 2010, Senator Sinema supported the idea of using reconciliation to get around the filibuster and pass health care reform. Just last month, they both supported an exception to the filibuster to raise the debt ceiling.

But they draw the line at protecting the rights of millions of voters. History will not remember them kindly.

ARNDREA WATERS KING, PRESIDENT, DRUM MAJOR INSTITUTE: We will not give up. We will not give out. We will not give in, whether this bill is passed tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year.

And we already know what the end will be, because God always ends on all is well, and until all is well, it's not the end.


MALVEAUX: So, Victor, if you listen closely to what she is saying, there is also by the King family an acknowledgement that very likely that we know that they don't have 60 votes for, in fact, the voting rights legislation to be passed.

And they don't have the support of those two Democratic senators, those moderates who do not believe in changing the filibuster make an exception for voting rights legislation. There is an acknowledgement there of the reality, the political reality in the time in which we are right now.

And so they say, despite that, that they will continue the fight, they will continue the pressure for voting rights legislation. And you can hear, however, the fact that this is an ongoing fight that they are willing to take, they say it is part of the legacy of his father, and it is something that they will continue to do -- Victor.


BLACKWELL: Suzanne Malveaux for us in Washington.

Suzanne, thank you.

We have got a lot of pictures now. This is Denver, Colorado. You can see here what's been called a parade, which is the hybrid of a march and a parade. It really speaks to what we have been discussing at the top of this show, the parade in honor of the icon of Dr. King, but the march still that there is work to do to continue that dream. Again, this is Denver, Colorado, MLK Day Marade, as they call it, through the streets of Denver.

Let's bring it now attorney and CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers. He just wrote a new children's book, "Who Are Your People?"

I like that title.

Also, with us, LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

Welcome to you both.

LaTosha, let me start with you in the reality that we heard from the Kings, from Suzanne, her report there, that what's happening tomorrow is not going to lead to reform of the filibuster, it's not going to move the ball on passing legislation to protect voting rights.

So what now?

LATOSHA BROWN, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK VOTERS MATTER: Well, I do think that what we want is we want there to be a debate and a vote, because we want people to be on record of saying, what side they are?

Are you supporting voting rights at this moment, or are you not supporting voting rights at this moment? And so I think it's one thing for people to say. I think it's another thing for them to have to get on the floor and vote one way or the other.

The second thing is, we have always seen where there's been -- there's never been a right time for voting rights. I have to remind people, in 1965, that everybody told Dr. King to wait, including the president say it wasn't the right time. And so we have to continue to put pressure on.

But I agree with Mrs. King. Whether it's tomorrow, whether it's on Friday, but we're putting the pressure on. We're also calling out to the consciousness of the 16 Republicans that actually voted for the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. Where are they now? We're asking and calling your conscience and asking you to stand in this space right now. It's not over until it's over.

BLACKWELL: Bakari, let me ask you, from a political perspective, should the White House, should the party do this every six months? And I'm not saying it to be dismissive. We did this in July. We heard from the president at the National Constitution Center, the big powerful speech, and then the vote that didn't lead to anything.

Then we see it in January, the big speech and then the vote tomorrow. Is it beneficial for the party to continue to look as if and try to continue to pass this? Or do you set up a failure every six months that you can't get it done?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think we need to do it every six months, Victor, to be completely honest with you. I think we need to do it every 30 days.

I mean, the fact is, when you're talking about Dr. King, there are a lot of people who think that Dr. King graced this planet, he said, judge thee by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, and then he died peacefully in his sleep.

I mean, we can't forget about his letter from the Birmingham Jail April 16 of 1963, when he actually talked about what we're dealing with today. In that letter, he went about talking that the fact is the white moderate is the person who stands in the way of progress in this country.

It's not the White Citizens Council over the Ku Klux Klanner. It was the white moderate who wants to preserve order over justice. And that's what you have in Sinema and Manchin at this point in time. And so we have to have that fierce urgency of now. And it's unfortunate that this has become such a partisan issue.

And it was done by none other than the chief justice of the United States of America, John Roberts, who made this into a political football. But this should be an issue that black, white, Democrat or Republican, Northern or Southern, we shouldn't have to rehash this every time around. This should be an issue we can all agree on.

BLACKWELL: Yes, former Secretary Clinton tweeted something, a quote from Dr. King speaking about the white moderate and being a dam of progress. I'm paraphrasing here.

LaTosha, let me come back to you on this bipartisan group of senators now discussing maybe some progress on the Electoral Count Act. Is that any consolation? Is it any measure of a win for you?

BROWN: No, not at all. We don't consider that a win at all. That's not the same as voting rights.

So we're seeing that that is a compromise to pacify a group that is actually standing as obstructionists to voting rights. We need point- blank voting rights protection. ECA is a whole different issue. It is an issue that actually has been accelerated by this lift-up of the great lie that they're all hiding behind.

I think that they have to come out. We have to smoke them out. But we have to also recognize it is not an acceptable -- it is not a substitute and is not acceptable.

BLACKWELL: The Electoral Count Act, of course, speaks specifically to what the vice president does, what happened on January 6.

It is, I think most analysts would say, sloppily written or not clear as it could be. So that needs to be tightened up, I think many agree.

Bakari, what does -- you say this should happen every 30 days? What does the party now do with this energy? Because it's not going to happen every 30 days, we know. What does the White House do with all of this energy from -- we see the live pictures of people marching. We hear from -- the passion from Natasha.


SELLERS: I mean, look, let's be completely honest, because we have had a lot of people in our party who want to preserve the status quo, who say, why are you giving the president and vice president and the administration and the leadership so much hell?

And the reason being is because this issue matters that much. And then they ask, OK, he finally used his bully pulpit, he being the president of the United States. What more do you want them to do?

I would say, I want to challenge the Department of Justice to do some things they're already doing, plus do it more, which means go into these states which are passing regressive laws, and be a fence, be a fencepost, challenge those laws continuously.

Let's utilize some executive action. Let's see what the president can do along the lines of voting rights while we're fighting this battle in Congress. And last but not least, my father told me this the other day. He said, while we have all of this energy, we need to organize and we need to register voters.

We need to make sure that we're going out and registering hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters, and not registering them in New York, Massachusetts, and Colorado. I want to register them in Little Rock, Arkansas; Jackson, Mississippi; Columbia, South Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina.

And we're going to flip the head of the Southern states passing these regressive bills on their head.

BLACKWELL: Bakari, let me stay with you.

And I want you to listen to Mitt Romney here, who I'd expect, if Democrats were putting together a list of Republicans and -- that they want to discuss maybe making some progress on this, five to 10 names, Mitt Romney's name would likely be on that list. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: There are group of 12 senators, Republicans and Democrats, that are working on the Electoral Count Act. We will continue to work together.

Sadly, this election reform bill that the president has been pushing, I never got a call on that from the White House. There was no negotiation, bringing Republicans and Democrats together to try and come up with something that would meet bipartisan interest.

Sure, we can work together on almost every issue where there's common ground.


BLACKWELL: Now, I should preface this by saying phones both work both ways. If he wanted to talk about voting rights, he could certainly call the White House.

But I wonder, if that is true that they did not engage moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney, was -- is that a missed opportunity?

SELLERS: No, I mean, let's have a conversation about what intellectual dishonesty is.

I mean, the fact is, Mitt Romney has been very much on the record about where he stands with H.R.1, with the John Lewis voting rights bill. So he's been very clear about that.

But voting rights, again, should be inherently nonpartisan. And I like when I hear Republicans say that this is a federal takeover of elections, because it actually shows their hand, because that's the same language used in opposition to the Voting Rights Act in the first place.

And so if Mitt Romney wants to come on board with something that's as pure and as democratic as voting rights, then we will welcome him to have that conversation. I dare not ask the president and vice president of the United States to waste their time with Mitt Romney or Rand Paul or others who are just being intellectually dishonest at their core.

BLACKWELL: All right, Bakari Sellers, LaTosha Brown, thank you both.

SELLERS: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about this weather.

A powerful and dangerous winter storm is prompting severe alerts up and down the East Coast. Millions of people are being impacted. Hundreds of flights have been grounded. CNN has teams covering it from every angle.

Plus, the FBI now calls the hostage standoff at a Texas synagogue a terror incident that targeted the Jewish community. What we're learning about the hostage-taker and his possible motive.



BLACKWELL: More than 50 million people up and down the East Coast are under winter weather warnings and alerts today.

The massive storm system created a mess all the way from Florida up to Maine with snow and ice and tornadoes. And there have been widespread power outages and road closures. Thousands of flights were canceled at major airports.

CNN's correspondents are across the region with the latest on the storm and the travel problems.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Polo Sandoval in Pittsburgh, where that snow started to fall yesterday. And it continued overnight and has amounted to well over five inches of snow here in and around the Pittsburgh area.

That has resulted in quite the challenge for road crews that have been just working around the clock to try to keep those roads and highways as clear as possible. But when you look behind me, it gives you a snapshot of what some of these streets look like not just here, but in other major American cities have been affected by this.

We know that the snowfall is likely going to be seen just up and down that Eastern Seaboard, obviously all the way up to Maine here. So, the concerns are in the coming days that all of this snow that is left behind, if not removed from these highways and these roads, has potential to refreeze and then create problems for folks that are heading back to work tomorrow.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: I'm Pete Muntean at Reagan National Airport.

And the travel chaos from this latest winter storm is not over yet, because this storm as it moved up the East Coast hit some major hubs for the airlines. Look at the latest numbers from FlightAware, more than 1,400 flights canceled so far today, more than 3,000 flights canceled on Sunday, the highest number we have seen since January 3.

Places like Charlotte were hit especially hard, a hub for American Airlines. More than 90 percent of all departures on Sunday were canceled. More than a third of all departures today have been canceled.

The good news here, though, American, Delta, United, and Southwest have all issued travel waivers, letting customers who are impacted by this storm rebook free of charge.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dianne Gallagher in Charlotte, where conditions are icy still, but melting. And that could be a problem leading into tomorrow.

Officials are concerned about a refreeze, already dealing with still around 30,000 power outages on this Monday. Now, that's down from around 90,000 across the state of North Carolina on Sunday, as freezing rain and sleet just sort of rained down on almost the entire state.


The Western part of North Carolina getting dumped on with about a foot of snow, but it's in cities like Charlotte and Raleigh that they were dealing with transportation issues because of the icy conditions, more than 400 calls for traffic collisions, and many roads shut down after big accidents.

They say that much of that is clearing up today, but, again, the concern be the refreeze of this currently melting ice.


BLACKWELL: All right, Dianne, Pete, Polo, thank you all.

Let's go to Tom Sater now. The CNN meteorologist is with us.

Tom, we have seen what the storm has done. Where's it headed?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's still churning, believe it or not.

Victor, this is started two days ago, dropping a foot of snow in the Dakotas, 14 inches Des Moines, moved all the way down through Missouri and Arkansas. How about nine inches in Mississippi?

Then we started to see it make its turn toward the Northeast. Incredible still to see this many advisories and warnings all the way down in Eastern Tennessee, Gatlinburg picking up a foot of snow.

These are some of the higher totals that we were expecting to happen overnight. Again, it was Eastern Ohio, it was Western New York getting this. In fact, Toronto, Canada right now, under a blizzard warning. They got 20 inches, could be an all-time record. Cars are trapped all over their interstates.

It's still winding up enough that, even on the tail end, we could see an additional inch in some areas down into Eastern Tennessee and toward West Virginia, mainly rain. But it was interesting to see thunderstorm activity after getting snow in Baltimore changing to rain, thunderstorm warning up even into New York City.

But it's still winding down. And it's going to take a while. With that, a little bit of accumulation, but I'm concerned about the winds. Five states have power outages, nowhere near what we were expecting, because the forecast for ice underachieved. And that's a good thing. We don't want to see that ice really form, so got pretty lucky in some areas of the Carolinas and Virginia with the ICE, overachieved with snow in areas. But still there are areas down in the South in Georgia, those that didn't even get an accumulation of snow could lose their power. So, again, a pretty strong storm. It's going to stay well below freezing. These are highs in areas, the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes.

Here's what's next, already advisories in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio for the next clipper. This is a Thursday-Friday event. If an area of low pressure develops down around Mississippi and Georgia, here's your Friday snow accumulations. And it's quite heavy in areas again of the Southeast part of the U.S., another wallop.

Hopefully, it won't turn out. We got a couple of days to get it right, but it looks like it may be happening.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the Carolinas do not need another hit.

Tom Sater, thank you.

All right, we are hearing from the rabbi taken hostage during that standoff at a Texas synagogue for the first time. You're going to hear him describe what happened, also how they escaped.

And the world's top-ranked men's tennis player is back in Serbia after being deported from Australia. This may be just the beginning of tournament trouble for Novak Djokovic.



BLACKWELL: The FBI is now investigating the hostage situation at a Texas synagogue over the weekend as terror-related.

The FBI says 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram held four people hostage in his hours-long standoff Saturday. And officials in the U.K. have now arrested two teenagers in connection with that standoff.

We know an elite FBI team entered the building to rescue the hostages. That suspect was killed.

CNN's Natasha Chen is in Colleyville, Texas, where this all happened.

So, what more are you learning?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, as you said, the FBI is calling this terrorism-related, an incident they say in which the Jewish community specifically was targeted.

You can imagine the tense, terrifying moments that not just this congregation had on Saturday, but all of these surrounding neighbors. The houses here are actually quite close to the building. So there was a lot of fear here. And, unfortunately, that threat is something that this congregation thought might be possible because they actually went through crisis training, active shooter training in the past. That proved extremely helpful in this situation. I just want to point out some video that we took in the last hour or so of police still actively working the scene. We saw folks from the FBI investigators even on the roof of the building, still taking -- surveying the site, possibly processing evidence too.

They have got a truck there that they'd been loading yesterday from items within the building. So this is still active and ongoing. As you mentioned, this is a 44-year-old British national, the suspect, who -- described as having arrived in the United States in late December, passing the vetting process ,was not on a terror watch list.

And hearing from the rabbi who was one of the hostages inside for those nearly 11 hours on Saturday,it seems the suspect had a manic demeanor, especially toward the end. Here's the rabbi talking about how they safely resolve this.



And when I saw an opportunity where he wasn't in a good position, I asked -- made sure that the two gentlemen who were still with me, that they were -- that they were ready to go.