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North Carolina Sheriff Puts AR-15 Rifles in Schools; Sentences Handed Down in Ahmaud Arbery Case; FBI Investigates Murders of Muslim Men; Senate Democrats Pass Inflation Reduction Act; President Biden Surveys Kentucky Flood Damage. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 08, 2022 - 14:00   ET



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

President Biden is now out of COVID isolation. He is on the road and on a run of legislative wins. Any moment now, he will be speaking from flood-ravaged Kentucky. This is a disaster experts say was worsened by the climate crisis. Well, now he will be able to claim the nation's most significant response yet to the planet's warming.

The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act yesterday. The House is expected to give its final approval by the end of the week. Now, this legislation provides $369 billion in new climate spending, which the White House says should help cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by half by the end of this decade.

Now, the bill also includes new initiatives on corporate taxing and drug price controls. Now, if it becomes law, it will join a host of major legislative achievements for the president ahead of the midterms, including bipartisan investment in the country's infrastructure and manufacturing sectors.

CNN's Joe Johns is in Eastern Kentucky following the president.

Joe, what should we expect to hear from the president?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is here, Victor, in his role as consoler in chief. But if his previous remarks today were any indication, he's also promising that the government is going to stick around and help the people of Eastern Kentucky see this through to the other side.

And they have got quite a lot of work to do. The president is now expected to get a tour of some of the damage that we saw here in Eastern Kentucky. It'll only be a glimpse around the Lost Creek area, not far from me, a glimpse, I say, because the damage here in this area extends over a 12-county area. It's just massive.

But I can say that, having driven through the Lost Creek area, the damage there is just devastating, as we see people's property, their possessions, parts of their homes just strewn across the landscape. So, the president is getting a look at that. Earlier today, at what

was essentially a briefing with FEMA, including the governor of Kentucky, the president did promise to stick this out for the people of Eastern Kentucky to the long term.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not leaving. As long as it takes, we're going to be here. And we are committed.

And there's absolutely 100 percent coverage of costs for the next few months. It matters. What people don't realize, all those piles of debris and everything else, it takes us a lot of time and a lot of money to get that out of the way.


JOHNS: And the piles of debris are just about everywhere. Victor.

Three dozen people, more than three dozen people lost their lives in this flooding event. And the governor says it's going to take years to recover -- back to you.

BLACKWELL: Joe Johns traveling with the president there in Eastern Kentucky. And we will keep an eye and ear out for when the president steps up.

All right, let's bring in now CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona, CNN political director David Chalian.

Let me start with you, Kaitlan, at the White House. I mentioned these legislative wins that the president has had over the last several weeks.

What's the expectation from his team there at the White House of how this will help him politically, help the party politically?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they're hoping that it certainly will, and that it is kind of a turning of the tide for this White House, which has obviously had some setbacks over the last several months, including just getting to this point with this particular bill, where it really was a year of up-and- down negotiations, a lot of infighting among Democrats.

And so that is why they view this as such a victory, even though this bill that the Senate passed yesterday does look a lot different than what President Biden had initially rolled out. But they do feel that the president is on a roll here now. They're hoping that this will help kind of dispel this notion that he can't work with Congress to get things done now that Democrats have gotten this bill together, and they stayed in agreement and got it passed through the Senate yesterday. They're hoping it will help. And, of course, all Democrats are hoping

that this string of legislative wins will help come November, when those midterm elections are. But I think the thing to watch now going forward and what is still uncertain is whether or not this lifts President Biden's approval ratings, which we know such a drag on those has been because of inflation.


And so the White House is looking to the passage of this bill. Now it's going to be in the hands of the House before it goes to President Biden's desk. And they're looking at that, some other positive economic indicators, and they're hoping that that is going to change his approval ratings, because, of course, that is what Democrats who are up for reelection or running for election in November are also hoping to see.

BLACKWELL: All right, before I go to Melanie on the policy of the inflation reduction bill, I'm going to come to you, David, on more the politics.

So this last bill was passed with only Democratic votes. But there had been bipartisan wins on CHIPS, on the PACT Act, of course, the gun legislation as well. Is there any indication, David, that the hope that we heard from Kaitlan at the White House is coming to fruition, that the landscape is better for Democrats heading into the midterms?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, first of all, this is part of delivering on a promise, not just on the specifics in the issue areas that Joe Biden promised on the campaign trail, but he promised that all his years and experience in Washington, in the Senate, as vice president, gave him the ability to be able to reach across the aisle and actually do business with Republicans, when sort of partisan gridlock had become the way things are always working here in Washington.

Now, for the most part, that is the way things are still working here, Victor. But this is a proof point now that Joe Biden can say, I have put together a string of bipartisan, significant bipartisan victories here in terms of legislation, more so than recent administrations, and that this is something I promised, a different kinds of politics.

That's a helpful thing. But I just think we have to be -- as Kaitlan said, the White House is watching. I think we have to be wary that these legislative successes are automatically going to turn into better poll numbers for the president.

It may not be that way. We have seen the president's low poll numbers actually underperform his own party's generic standing in the battle for Congress. Usually, that correlates so closely. It still may. We will see what happens in November. But, for now, Democrats generically in the polls have sort of been outperforming where the president is.

So it's unclear to me if indeed we're in a world where these victories will immediately translate into a bump for Biden's numbers.

BLACKWELL: Melanie, let's talk about the policy of this latest bill that passed through the Senate over the weekend. What's in it?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, it's certainly not everything Democrats wanted.

But this bill is still quite substantial and includes a number of key Democratic priorities. And we can really break this down in terms of three buckets. The first major bucket is climate, a historic investment in the climate. It includes $369 billion for energy and climate provisions. That includes electric vehicle tax credits and money for clean energy manufacturing.

And supporters of the bill say this is going to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by the year 2030. So that's major. The second big bucket is health care. This bill would allow Medicare to negotiate some drug prices. It also would cap out-of-pocket Medicare costs at $2,000. And it would extend Obamacare subsidies, which were set to expire in the fall.

And then, finally, tax provisions. And this would help pay for the bill, as well as reduce the deficit. And there it includes a 15 percent corporate minimum tax, as well as a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks. So now the bill heads to the House, where we are expecting it to pass, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Kaitlan, one of the mistakes or missteps that then-Vice President Biden said happened during the Obama administration was not going out and selling the Affordable Care Act, going to the people, telling people, this is why we passed it. Here is how it helps you.

What do we know about the president's schedule, if they're going to go out and sell these latest wins?

COLLINS: They haven't announced any specific travel yet, Victor, but they have said you should expect to see President Biden once this bill is passed out on the road selling it and talking about it, because, of course, that is what is going to be so much of this.

I think a factor that will go into that and this conversation whether or not it actually lifts his poll numbers in a significant way that helps Democrats is the timing here, because they are getting closer and closer as the day goes by to the midterm elections.

You have heard from some of the allies of the president who say you need about three months to really change people's minds, to have them believe that things are looking up, the economy is looking better. And that has been a struggle for the White House so far. Even as they have looked at the really good signs in the economy, the jobs numbers, the unemployment rate, it's still been tough for them to sell that to voters.

And so that's going to be a primary job for the president and Cabinet members and top aides is to sell this bill once it's actually passed and to talk about where they can see the changes, not just in the long term, because a lot of this bill, what Melanie just laid out there, are long-term priorities that you will see later on, but also talking about what's going to happen in the immediate future and how it can help people now, basically.


BLACKWELL: David, let me bring that back to you, because what you just told us was that the president's approval rating, which latest CNN poll of polls is at 36 percent, is underperforming the generic Democrat.

So do they want President Biden coming out and selling this, considering his low approval numbers, or do they want to take care of it -- I'm talking about members of Congress here -- selling it themselves?

CHALIAN: Obviously, a lot of that depends on specific districts and states.

And that's sort of an age-old question. When you have an unpopular president, and you are on the ballot as a member of that president's party, how much do you invite him into your race that fall? But, overall, Democrats tell me they're very happy to welcome President Biden out, especially on something like selling some of these legislative successes.

I think the reality here is, right now, President Biden is not just struggling with independents, and obviously Republicans wrote him off a while ago, but with folks in his own party, so getting some of these accomplishments done may bring home some Democrats, Victor, but I think we can't forget that, sometimes, it's opposition that is the stronger motivator for voters.

So things like Roe v. Wade being overturned, or Donald Trump inserting himself into the midterm landscape in a bigger way, those could actually motivate Democrats far more than actually getting some of their checklist items accomplished, even though that is a success of their initiatives.

BLACKWELL: All right, the clock is ticking.

David Chalian, Melanie Zanona, Kaitlan Collins, thank you.

The city of Albuquerque is on high alert today. Police say the killings of four Muslim men could be linked. New Mexico's governor is pledging whatever resources are necessary to help authorities in their investigation.

Now, the most recent victim is 25-year-old Naeem Hussain. He was found shot to death on Friday night. And he actually attended a funeral for two of the other victims just hours before he was killed. Now, police say all of these men were ambushed.

CNN's Josh Campbell is following the story.

So, I understand police now have a vehicle of interest. What do you know?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Victor. We don't yet know much information about the suspect or suspects that

authorities are looking for. But they do say that there is this vehicle, a dark gray Volkswagen with tinted windows, that they're asking the public if they have any information to certainly come forward and contact law enforcement.

This vehicle may be connected to all of these incidents. Now, these ambush-style shootings of Muslim men in Albuquerque have certainly alarmed the city's Muslim community and triggered warnings for mosque- goers as police try to investigate how they might be linked.

And authorities are looking at the religion of the victims, the location where the shootings occurred, and the method of attack. Now, just to walk you through these horrific events, police say that, on November 7, Afghanistan native Mohammad Ahmadi was shot and killed. Two other victims later killed were Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, both of Pakistan.

And then, this past Friday, as you mentioned, Naeem Hussain, who had migrated to the U.S. as a refugee, he was killed. He had just become a U.S. citizen last month. So there are a lot of commonalities here in the victims. Authorities aren't yet labeling this as a hate crime. But the Albuquerque mayor spoke with our friend John Berman this morning. He said he clearly sees hate as a factor.


TIM KELLER (D), MAYOR OF ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO: Well, it was certainly a hateful act. I mean, I think you have to call it what it is. It's obviously targeting Muslim men. And it's a string of killings that are all related.

We know that. Now, there are different terms that speak to motive. And I think, at this point, we have no indication as to motive. And we don't even have an indication as to where the perpetrator is even from, but obviously is a person that, in my opinion, clearly, it's hate-driven.


CAMPBELL: So, no known motive yet, at least as authorities are willing to announce.

But a robust investigation, Victor, is happening behind the scenes. Obviously, that is occurring as members of the Muslim community in Albuquerque are describing the fear that has been gripping the city as the shooter remains at large -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Josh Campbell covering that for us.

Thank you, Josh.

Live pictures here. Let's take them. This is President Biden and first lady Jill Biden meeting with officials there in hard-hit Eastern Kentucky. Of course, we have been following the flood damage, more than 35 people killed. The governor there, Governor Beshear, expects that number to increase.

We, of course, will bring you the news that comes out of this visit, again, the president visiting hard-hit Eastern Kentucky.

There's also a potentially catastrophic situation at Europe's largest nuclear power plant. Details on the blaming and deflection between Russia and Ukraine and what the U.N. secretary-general is warning.

And after Uvalde, a North Carolina sheriff is planning to place an AR- 15 on every school campus this fall.


We will tell you how people across that county are reacting next.


BLACKWELL: We're awaiting the third and final sentencing hearing today in the federal hate crimes trial of three white man convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery.

You will remember Travis McMichael. He shot Arbery. He was sentenced to life in prison, plus 10 years today. Moments ago, his father, Gregory, who helped chase Arbery down in a pickup truck, was also sentenced to life in prison plus seven years. The hearing for their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, who joined in the chase and filmed it, that happens next hour.


CNN's Ryan Young gets outside the courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia.

For people who don't recognize the names, this is the case in Georgia of a black jogger who was running through a neighborhood and then was surrounded by these men. They were convicted on state charges.

So what's the impact of these now federal sentences, Ryan?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it sort of runs concurrent, Victor.

But one of the things that stands out -- and, of course, you were just describing it -- really, it comes down to the video that was released. And if you believe this, it was one of the lawyers of the three men who thought this video would clear things up in this community about what exactly happened.

But when people saw this video, they had the opposite reaction. They were shocked. They were horrified by watching what happened over a three-to-four-minute period as Ahmaud for his life. And his family kept bringing that up over and over, that he was trapped like a rat.

And then, when he finally decided to try to fight back to save his own life, that's when he was shot three times. Wanda Cooper-Jones, his mother, says she still feels those shots on a day-to-day basis. And when you extend this all the way out, up until this very moment, no one has ever said they were sorry.

Well, that happened today in court. Travis McMichael did not address anyone in court. And, in fact, that's something they were talking about after that life sentence came down. But Greg McMichael, the father, actually stood up in court and apologized, apologized to the Arbery family and apologized to his family.

And Wanda Cooper-Jones reacted to that, actually saying she accepted his apology. Lee Merritt, her attorney, said he felt like the apology to the Arbery family wasn't the same level as the apology to his wife. There's a lot of conversation here, Victor, just about safety and security and what happens next.

But we do know the federal court judge has decided to make sure the men go to state prison. So that is something that will happen. Their lawyers are trying to push to go to federal court.

But listen to Wanda Cooper-Jones talks about this long, exhausting ordeal that they have been going through for years.


WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: I wanted them to know the pain that we as the family goes through every day.

And for Travis to make a suggestion that he wanted to do his time in federal prison, whether he goes into federal or state prison, it wasn't going to bring Ahmaud home.

And that's the pain that we live with each and every day. I'm very proud to say that we finally got justice for Ahmaud on the federal level. I am pleased that they will do their time in the state penitentiary.


YOUNG: Yes, just on the other side of this SUV -- and, sometimes, Victor, you know things can -- you can hear things in the distance.

Jesse Jackson is on the other side with the family members. You can hear some -- several people saying amen. They are happy that they have reached this part of the trial and the fact that they're getting these guilty verdicts. Everybody's waiting to see what happens next for the third one, but they said they're not done, because, obviously, there are some officials, public officials, who also will face court dates pretty soon.

So we will continue to watch it, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Ryan Young there in Brunswick following it all for us.

Thank you, Ryan.

Well, Chicago police say that no one is in custody after a stunning weekend of gun violence in the city. Police say more than 55 -- 5-0 -- people were shot. Eight died. Now, in Atlanta, local reports say that at least two people were

killed after a shooting at a public park baseball game there. Several others were injured. A 6-year-old was hurt who's now hospitalized in critical condition. In Ohio, police are now looking for at least two men after more than a dozen shots were fired outside a bar in downtown Cincinnati Sunday.

Authorities say the suspects fired into a crowd after two groups started fighting. Nine people were hurt there. And two separate mass shootings in Detroit Saturday just miles apart, three people killed, 12 others wounded.

In North Carolina, a sheriff is now unveiling his new strategy for stopping school shooters. Here's the plan.


BUDDY HARWOOD, MADISON COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, SHERIFF: I have decided to arm all of my school resource officers with an AR-15 rifle, optics and accessory.

God forbid that anyone ever come to our schools to cause harm. But if they do come to my school, I want my resource officers to have the ability to meet violence with violence.


BLACKWELL: Madison County Sheriff Buddy Harwood plans to stock the AR-15s in each of his county's six schools when they open. And they welcome back students later this month.

CNN's Nick Valencia is with us now.

So how would it work and what's been the reaction so far?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'd love to get the details of this plan, but no one's calling us back, not the Madison County School District, not the sheriff.

But what we know from reporting is that, if this plan goes forward, the sheriff there in Madison County, Buddy Harwood, will have an AR-15 rifle in each of the six schools in that district. He says he wants those school resource officers to have as much protection to prevent another school shooting.


This is his plan, he says, to keep from what we saw happen in Uvalde. And, as you can imagine, the plan of the sheriff is being met with some skepticism, though he says that sometimes a sheriff with a handgun is not enough to prevent violence.

Listen to the reaction, though, from some members of that community.


DOROTHY ESPELAGE, UNC CHAPEL HILL SCHOOL OF EDUCATION: I thought it was a joke. I really thought that this was just some fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have mixed opinions, I would prefer to have the children safe. But, then again, you never know if one of them is going to be able to get ahold of the AR-15.


VALENCIA: The sheriff says that he's doing this with the support of the school district and also some members of the community.

In fact, he says that the money used to pay for some of that ammunition and the AR-15 rifles were donated by local residents. Now, I mentioned that we tried to reach out to the superintendent and the school district. They didn't get back to us.

But here's what they said to one of our local affiliates here. This is the superintendent of Madison County: "As superintendent of schools, my highest priority is the safety and welfare of students and staff. I believe in our school resource officers. They build strong relationships with students, and they are highly trained in the use of firearms and de-escalation strategies."

The statement went on to say: "They need to be able to take decisive action. That includes all appropriate steps to neutralize an assailant should a critical incident occur."

The school district serves about 2,400 students. It only is about six schools. But school is expected to start on the first day on August 22. We're working to get those details of this plan, waiting for calls back, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Sheriff Hoffman and -- Sheriff Harwood and Superintendent Hoffman, give us a call back. We would love to have this conversation.

Thank you. Thank you, Nick.

All right, Taiwan's foreign minister says that China's threat to the island is more serious than ever. We will hear more from CNN's interview ahead.

And new images reportedly show former President Trump's habit of flushing White House documents down the toilet, or at least trying, because these didn't go -- the new reporting and potential legal fallout ahead.