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President Biden Honors Bloody Sunday In Alabama; Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA) Is Interviewed About Bloody Sunday; Donald Trump Wins Straw Poll At CPAC; Trump's Indictment Won't Stop Him From Running For President; Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL) Is Interviewed On Student Loan Forgiveness And Rep. James Comer's Comment On The President's Late Son. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 05, 2023 - 17:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. A day of brutality remembered as a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement in the United States. At any moment, President Biden will lead a crowd across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. We have some live pictures to show you right now in just a few moments.

This is the site 58 years ago of Bloody Sunday, peaceful demonstrators were simply calling for equal voting rights for black Americans when white deputies and state troopers violently turned on them. It horrified much of the nation and became a seminal moment in the civil rights movement.

As you can see right now, there you see President Biden joining hands with civil rights leaders, leading members of Congress. I think one of the House Democratic Leaders, James Clyburn, is there as well as other civil rights leaders. They're going to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge here in just a few moments and we're going to watch that live here on CNN as its unfolding.

One thing we should note to our viewers is that the satellite images coming out of Selma have been a little spotty at times, but there you see it right now as the shot pulls out, the president linking hands with civil rights leaders and other African-American leaders as they prepare to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which is a civil rights landmark in this country.

Let me go to CNN's Arlette Saenz, our White House correspondent who is on the scene there in Selma, Alabama. Arlette, we had a little trouble linking up with you earlier. I hope you're there now.


ACOSTA: As we're watching this unfold, I am reminded of when President Obama did the same march. And it's becoming I think of something of a ritual for presidents now, to pay respects to the sacrifices fact on that bridge. People like the late Congressman John Lewis. And just a few moment -- and there's President Obama when he did it, holding hands with John Lewis and Michelle Obama so many -- back in 2015 when Barack Obama was president of the United States. That was just an incredible moment.

And we see President Biden doing it today, Arlette. A vice president that many thought would not become president is walking that same walk that President Obama did eight years ago. Arlette, your thoughts as we're watching this. It's always an incredible moment to watch this unfold.

SAENZ: Yeah, it really is. This is a tradition that we've seen play out over and over, but it's particularly significant when you do have the president of the United States here coming to commemorate and walk through that same march that hundreds of civil rights, voting rights activists did 58 years ago today.

And so, in just a short while, you will see the president as he is slowly walking across this bridge. Of course, he has been here to Selma before on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday when he was vice president, and then also back in 2020 as a presidential candidate. In 2020, he actually did not march across the bridge, but did speak at one of the historic churches just a few blocks away.

And for President Biden, he is using the opportunity of this visit to try to remind Americans about the history and the sacrifices that were made on Bloody Sunday as 600 civil rights activists marched across this bridge trying to fight for voting rights and were met by resistance, brutal resistance by white police officers who beat many of them.

Ultimately, months later it did lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act legislation that was signed into law by LBJ. For President Biden today, this gives him an opportunity to once again try to stress his commitment to voting rights even as that legislation has floundered on Capitol Hill.

But it also just gives that symbolic moment of him linking arms, crossing this bridge with other Democratic leaders, Jim Clyburn, a longtime powerful Biden ally is on hand for that. Martin Luther King III is here as well. We've also seen the Reverend Jesse Jackson. So, these are very historic solid (ph) names when it comes to civil rights in this country.

And the president is now marching across that bridge trying to show solidarity. And in his speech today, he stressed that you can't erase parts of American history. And this is one part that he wants to ensure is not erased, that people know the good and the bad of what happened here 58 years ago on Bloody Sunday as so many people were fighting for the simple right to vote.


ACOSTA: Yeah, Arlette. And as I'm watching this right now and we're talking about folks like the Reverend Jesse Jackson, you see Reverend Al Sharpton there, Martin Luther King III, Jim Clyburn. You know, you're also seeing some folks there who are going across this bridge in a wheelchair or using a walker or holding on to a family member who might be a little bit stronger in terms of getting across this bridge.

And it's a reminder that some of the figures of the American civil rights movement, they are heading into their golden years. And so, to see them appear there with President Biden crossing this bridge I think is a very stirring image and a thing to think about as well. It kind of reminds me a little bit of when I've been to Normandy a couple of times and you see members of the greatest generation, World War II veterans there.

And as they, you know, age into their golden years, it's poignant, it's something to behold and it's something to think about and reflect upon. The same is here with the Edmund Pettus Bridge. These are major figures of the American civil rights movement. John Lewis is not there today, but if it weren't for the sacrifices they made, this country just wouldn't be where it is right now.

SANEZ: That's right. And I would also note, you know, there are is probably a few dozen people who are marching with the president right now. But right in front of me where I'm speaking, there are several thousand who gathered here over the course of the day to hear the president's words, but also to commemorate that moment from Bloody Sunday 58 years ago.

You know, I was here in 2020 when the late Congressman John Lewis made his final appearance here on Bloody Sunday. He had surprised the crowd driving up in his car to the very peak of the bridge. And it was an electric feeling when people saw and realized that he was here trying to urge people to keep up the fight for the right to vote.

And so, this is a historic day. It's a sad day when you think of the brutality that played out here. But for so many, they are holding on to what it was able to spur, the fact that it was able to, you know, serve as a significant moment in the civil rights movement, that it did spur voting rights legislation to get passed.

And so, for the president here, he is able to link up with these people, many who have been fighting for the right to vote for decades now, trying to have the symbolic gesture, a powerful gesture as they are taking those very same steps that so many activists took 58 years ago.

ACOSTA: Absolutely, Arlette. And I'm so glad you mentioned when John Lewis was there in 2020, and I don't want to put the control room on the spot, but I do think we might have some images of John Lewis when he was there with Barack Obama, but also maybe when he was a young man there 58 years ago. And it's just such a powerful reminder. You know, there's so much cynicism and people are just very sad about the state of affairs in this country right now.

And to think that, you know, people like John Lewis were beaten just for trying to cross a bridge to advance civil rights in this country. And you think we have things -- things are tough right now, imagine going through something like that in your youth, and then overcoming that and becoming a civil rights icon and holding hands with the first African American president walking across the bridge back in 2015. And members of that movement today walking across that bridge with Joe Biden. It's really a remarkable thing.

SAENZ: Yeah. And you know, one thing I also think back to when it comes to this president, President Joe Biden, is that he has repeatedly, over the course of the past few years gone to these major moments that were pivotal when it comes to civil rights. I remember being with him in Birmingham, Alabama in 2019 when he delivered a sermon at the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was the site of that bombing.

You've seen him repeatedly go into African American church trying to really draw on the history of the civil rights movement. Just in January, he was at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where he delivered a sermon at the same church where Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor. So, for President Biden, he has shown this repeated commitment trying to highlight these points of history that have been so important for the country, but also particularly for black voters as well.

ACOSTA: That's right, Arlette. And as you were pointing out earlier, President Biden mentioned during his remarks that some of his agenda is still waiting to be acted on. As you were saying, some of these agenda items that are very important to this community are stalled in Congress. Things like voting rights, things like police reform.


He is waiting on those items to advance as well. And so, you know, even when your president of the United States, the struggle continues, but as you said, Arlette, this is a very important moment for President Biden throughout his political career. He has invested heavily in those ties with the African-American community. Folks like Jim Clyburn were instrumental in his becoming president and winning the Democratic nomination. And so, he is among political friends and allies as well.

SAENZ: Yeah. And you know, actually, the last time that he was here in 2020 was the morning after the South Carolina primary, which helped catapult him to securing the nomination, in part with the support of Congressman Jim Clyburn. So, he has consistently tried to come and show up for these big moments commemorating Bloody Sunday, commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.

But he has also acknowledged that there is still so much more work that he wants to get done. Of course, voting rights, that was a centerpiece of his 2020 campaign, promising that, if he was in office, that they could get more protections for voting rights put in place. But so far, we have really seen that flounder up on Capitol Hill, first when the Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, really stymied in part by the filibuster.

And then now they're going to be facing another hurdle as Republicans are now control -- in control of the House. So, there has been some frustration amongst activists that not more has been done. But the president has continually over the course of the past year tried to put the spotlight on the need for voting rights while also saying that he knows that more work needs to be done. You know, today he used that phrase that he started using in the State

of the Union when he said we need to finish the job, pointing to a host of issues where I think voting rights is one of those issues that he would like to see action on. It's just unclear if there really is a reliable path with the current makeup of the House and the Senate and the filibuster in place.

ACOSTA: There's no question about that, Arlette. But at the same time the president made it very clear in his remarks that he sees a connection between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and what he describes as the battle for the soul of America and the preservation of American democracy.

I mean, he was -- I think he made that direct connection during his remarks just about an hour ago, a little less than an hour ago when he was saying that the mission that was started then continues today. And that has been a centerpiece of how he became president of the United States.

I mean, he made that a focal point of his campaign. He continues to talk about it now, not just domestically but on the world's stage. This is very much part of the Biden message. All right, Arlette Saenz there for us. And I think if we can just listen in for just a few moments, I believe they might be saying a prayer. If we can just listen to that for a few moments.


REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): -- a black congresswoman, the souls who braved (ph) these foot soldiers never meant to be yet you made her so. Lord and his (inaudible) once would not allow a little black girl to ever dream of higher office. Lord, bless and heal Reverend Jesse Jackson from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. And Lord, bless the most powerful elected official in the world, the president of the United States. Lord, we are thankful to witness the truth in your word, the truth that the government would be on your shoulders. The government is indeed upon the shoulders of those who suffered like Christ himself.


ACOSTA: And Arlette is back with us. Arlette, I just wanted to pause for a few moments and listen to that prayer there. I heard most notably a prayer there for the Reverend Jesse Jackson who is there on the scene for all of this. He's been dealing with some health issues. Arlette, I mean, this battle for the soul of America, I mean, the president has talked about that time and again and he talked about this earlier today in his speech.

SAENZ: Yeah. And it's really a throughline that we first heard in April of 2020 that has continued on to his administration now and likely will continue on if he does launch that re-election bid. The president has repeatedly pointed to those clashes in Charlottesville during the Trump administration, that that was a defining moment for him, and hearing the anti-Semitic, vile things that were said, as well as other hate-filled moments that came from those clashes in Charlottesville is really inspiring him to run and inspiring him to try, as he said, fight for the soul of America.

And you hear him throughout speeches over and over going back to that. He talks about it on the world's stage as well. And it's likely something he would continue should he launch a re-election bid.


Now, I think also a few things that were notable from his speech earlier is he talked about some of the threats to voting rights, and the integrity of voting in the United States. He specifically called out the way election deniers have really impacted the electoral system. And you've heard the president, especially heading into the midterms, really take aim at people who would deny the results of an election.

And so, these are things that the president feels passionately about when it comes to voting rights and the right to vote and the way that fair elections play out and it's something that he's trying to shine a spotlight on just once again.

ACOSTA: That's very true, Arlette. And I think the other thing that is worth mentioning here is that the president is making these remarks today, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge at a time when we're seeing anti-Semitism on the rise in this country. We're seeing hate groups, neo-Nazi groups, feeling emboldened in this country. It is something that the FBI has specifically said remains a threat to domestic tranquility here in the United States.

And that is something that the Biden administration has had to grapple with as well. So even though this image that our viewers at home are looking at right now, for our viewers who are just tuning in, President Biden has just crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge with civil rights leaders there in Selma, Alabama to mark the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

I think President Biden himself would acknowledge that right now is an incredibly -- it is an incredibly polarizing time in the United States when it comes to some of these issues. He has had to grapple with this as president, as did his partner in the White House during the Obama/Biden administration. President Obama also had to deal with these issues. And Arlette, President Biden knows he's going to have to deal with that moving forward as well.

SAENZ: And I think one thing you also heard from him today is he used this line that is often used in many of his speeches, where he talks about silence is complicity. And he really has said that people need to shine a light on some of these issues, hate-filled issues that are playing out across the country and that if you don't speak up, that that is essentially being complicit with what is happening.

And so, part of what the president has tried to do with speeches like this is give voice to some of the frustrations that he has seen and really heard from from people across the country, and particularly today, it was focusing on voting rights and also some of the issues that so many black voters are facing across the country. I think that these are all common refrains that we hear President Biden turn to over and over again against the back drop of Bloody Sunday, of that march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and of course, holds a new and important significance as well.

ACOSTA: absolutely. And Arlette, you might not be able to see it from your vantage point, but I can see it from mine. President Biden looks like he just climbed into the beast. It appears his visit there may be wrapping up. Is he on his way to the airport from here? And what happens next to the president this week?

SAENZ: Yes. So, he will be heading from Selma to Montgomery and then heading back to Washington, D.C. I will also note, one thing that we didn't get to touch on is that Selma was devastated by a tornado back in January. As we drove through the city, you can see the businesses and homes which have still -- appear to have been ripped through, still cleaning up some of the debris that impacted this area.

The president and the city's mayor talked about the importance of the community coming together to try to recover in the wake of those tornadoes. So, the president is also coming here after that devastating moment. Now, he's going to be heading back to Washington, D.C. where he has a busy week ahead. Tomorrow, he's actually speaking to the International Association of the Firefighters -- I apologize if I didn't get that exact phrase right.

But this is a group actually when he was running in 2020 that was really kind of pivotal for him as he got ready to launch his bid. It was kind of one of the big political moments for Joe Biden heading into that 2020 campaign, of course, trying to go and rally the support of union workers.

And so, it will be an interesting moment to watch tomorrow, especially if you're trying to read any tea leaves about 2024. But also, it will be an opportunity for the president to promote some of his agenda as well.

ACOSTA: Arlette, you know Joe Biden all too well. You've been covering him for a long time. And I remember back in 2015 when he was talking to the firefighters. They thought for a moment there that he was running for president back in 2016.


SAENZ: Yeah.

ACOSTA: So, that's an important constituency, you're right, when he makes that speech tomorrow. That will be an important indicator as to what Joe Biden plans to do next. All right, Arlette Saenz, our White House correspondent, thank you so much. We really, really appreciate it.

There's some video again of President Joe Biden with other civil rights leaders. We're going to show you these images as we go to break. More news coming up in just a few moments. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ACOSTA: And we just saw President Biden cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to mark the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, an important civil rights date in the United States.

And joining us now to talk about this is Democratic Congresswoman Nikema Williams. She represents the fifth district of Georgia. It was a district held by a hero of the civil rights movement, the late John Lewis. And you can see John Lewis right there.


He's in a light-colored coat on the right as a 24-year-old leader of student non-violent coordinating committee. Lewis led those courageous marchers on the bridge on this day in 1965. And joining us on the phone is Congresswoman Nikema Williams. Congresswoman, can you hear me? Are you there? What did you think of --

REP. NIKEMA WILLIAMS (D-GA) (via telephone): I can hear you well, yes.

ACOSTA: Terrific. What did you think of everything we just saw take place there in Selma? It was quite a moment.

WILLIAMS (via telephone): So, I've been to Selma many times. I grew up in Alabama about an hour from Selma and I've been here with Congressman Lewis. But now being here as a member of Congress is that much more important for me because I know that sitting in the seat that was held by the late Congressman John Lewis, I have an obligation to continue this work.

Congressman Lewis taught us that each generation has to do their part and move us one step closer. And so, I'm here with my family this weekend. I have a 7-year-old son who marched across the bridge with me, met the president today. But it also means a lot to have the president of the United States, the sitting president, here in Selma marching across the bridge, with not just elected officials, not in an election year, but as foot soldiers of the movement and uplifting all of the work that we continue to fight for in this country, for free and fair access to the ballot.

ACOSTA: And I know you represent John Lewis' district now and we have some video of you just a few moments ago crossing the bridge as well. There you are with your family members crossing the bridge as John Lewis has done so many times. What does that mean to you?

WILLIAMS: I mean, I -- we're in a state in this country where some states are saying that we can't even teach the full history of what happened here in Selma. So, it's important for me to bring my son as he continues to learn about black history, American history so that he can experience this firsthand.

So, I'm going to continue to do my part to make sure that I elevate the stories of the movement for everybody to hear and learn from so that we can truly move forward and we don't repeat the mistakes of our past.

ACOSTA: And don't you think it's time for the bridge to be named after John Lewis? What do you think?

WILLIAMS (via telephone): Well, I know that was a big conversation when Mr. Lewis was alive and that's not something that he fought for, but this bridge is in the community of Selma. It's a community conversation. I don't live in the city of Selma but I support the community. We have a lot of people that come into Selma one weekend a year and not giving back and leaving something to make the community better. And so, I would love to have members of the community tell us what it is that they want to do with the bridge.

ACOSTA: Very good. And we know it will continue to be a scene of commemorating what was just an act of heroism there 58 years ago. Congressman Nikema Williams, so glad you were able to enjoy the day with your family there. Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

WILLIAMS (via telephone): Thank you so much.

ACOSTA: All right, thank you. While President Biden is in Selma today, the atmosphere was very different yesterday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland right outside of Washington. Former President Donald Trump spoke there in a nearly two-hour speech where he lashed out at President Biden and the Republicans who he may be running against.

He vowed he won't drop out of the race even if he's indicted. And joining me now is Republican strategist Doug Heye. Some pretty stark contrast this weekend, Doug, between what took place over there at National Harbor and what is taking place in Selma, Alabama.

But let me ask you your thoughts on last night and what we heard from the former president because he's in a position right now where he obviously won this very unscientific straw poll, but all of the other very scientific polls are indicating right now that he is the clear front-runner. Did you anticipate that? Did you expect that at this stage? What do you think?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, there's been a lot of conversation, Jim, about how Donald Trump has been diminished, that he's not the alpha dog that he was, that he's not getting the attention that he used to, not being on Twitter, you know, been part of that. But he's still the first among equals in the Republican primary. And the reality is, whomever runs and doesn't run -- obviously, we saw Governor Hogan's announcement this morning -- they're going to have to take him out, but what they have to do is also be smart and strategic about it.

There's been so much conversation, a lot of Republicans just want -- who don't like Donald Trump say. Well, just say what I want you to say, which means attack Donald Trump, call him names, do whatever it is. That they want to see that person do.

I think Ron DeSantis by not taking the bait from Trump, has been very strategic and smart here. What he's doing is recognizing that Donald Trump needs opponents. That's where he's at his most effective. And so, he and, say Nikki Haley, by not criticizing him directly, potentially Mike Pompeo, they're denying Trump that oxygen that he needs. He wants to be in a fight. He's spoiling for a fight and they're denying him.


Now, they can't do that throughout the distance of this. It's very much like Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman in a rope-a dope fight, observe blows, don't retaliate until you see the opening. You can't do that forever, but when you see that opening, then they'll strike.

ACOSTA: And you suspect that is why we saw folks like Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley not really going after Trump by name because, I mean, one of the questions that I have and it's always been a question with Trump, is that, you know, you almost have to at some point make the decision to directly confront him.

But like you said, you have to do it strategically. Is that why you think we saw some of the other potential 2024 contenders and people who have announced, like Nikki Haley, tiptoeing around Trump?

HEYE: Yeah, absolutely. And they know that if they get into a direct -- especially a one-on-one fight -- there are only two announced candidates right now, that Trump has the power to eliminate them pretty quickly. He's very skilled at that and we've seen him do that with Republicans in 2015 and 2016. The Jeb Bush campaign and Marco Rubio's campaign being the two most prominent examples.

So, wait, look for your opportunities, make the mild criticisms, talk about new generations and things like that, but then continue to talk about those things that you want to talk about. And it's why, you know, DeSantis is doing so well in the polling right now, even if he's not in first place.

ACOSTA: And earlier today, former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that he is not going to make a run for the presidency. And I think that surprised a lot of folks because, I mean, they thought that he would be their sort of providing a moderate voice in the battle for the 2024 GOP nomination.

And what do you think that says, Doug, that we won't have a voice like Larry Hogan's on the debate stage, staking out more moderate positions, more centrist positions in the party? And you may have folks, of course, like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis very much from the Trumpist wing of the Republican Party?

HEYE: Well, look, obviously Larry Hogan has been a great governor for Maryland. I couldn't be a bigger fan of his personally or professionally, politically. But he recognizes part of the challenge that Republicans had in 2016, was there were so many Republicans on the debate stage that they had to have two separate debates. Remember, there was the matinee (ph) debate, and then the adult table versus the kid's table.

And so, he recognizes that. And part of this is how the Republican national committee structures its primary process. So, if you start with winner-take-all states which the RNC did last time -- let's see if they do that this time -- it means that if you're a candidate who gets 2 percent or 6 percent, you're not getting any delegates. You're potentially taking some away.

And Donald Trump didn't get 50 percent in a state until New York, which was really deep in the process, but he was getting all of the delegates because he got one more vote in some states than in others.

ACOSTA: Yeah. He was exploiting the fractured field in 2016. It helped him become the nominee. And it's why you may see a smaller field this time around. All right, Doug Heye, we'll catch up again soon. We'll talk about this further. Thanks so much for your time.

HEYE: Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right, still ahead, a defiant Donald Trump says he wouldn't even think about dropping out of running for the GOP nomination if he were indicted. What would that look like, that kind of a candidacy, a candidate under indictment? A legal expert weighs it next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: Former President Donald Trump remains defiant despite facing indictments in a number of federal and state investigations. Trump told reporters at CPAC he wouldn't even think about leaving the upcoming presidential race and used his old trick of argument they've weaponized justice in our country, in his words.

Shan Wu, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor joins us now to talk about this. Shane, great to see you. I mean, you know, we were talking about this yesterday with Elie Honig and other guests, how bizarre it would be to have a major presidential candidate under indictment in this country. But I suppose this could happen. How hard would it be for Trump to win, do you think, I guess not only the election but his case in court in this kind of scenario?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, on the election front, I'll put on my political analyst hat here, I think it would just kind of lock in and excite his base, and then excite the opposition's base as well. So, it's really at the margins where I think it would have a negative effect.

People on the fence for him I'm sure the indictment would hurt. As a legal matter, normally, Jim, it would be hard for a candidate to be out talking about these issues, including the ones that he's being -- would be charged with because they would be worried about things like the Fifth Amendment, worrying about attorney-client privilege. That's probably not going to apply to him here. So, I think he would pretty much carry on as normal and of course, you know, try to weaponize the fact that he has been charged.

ACOSTA: And one of the things that we talked about with former D.C. Police Officer Mike Fanone who was injured on January 6th, you know, he made the point that it's just taken to long for these investigations to move forward when it comes to investigating the former president and his actions and inactions on January 6th.

And now we're at a juncture, Shan, where there's the potential that this case -- an indictment may not be brought against the former president until we're almost in the thick of the primaries. I mean, if they wait too much longer over there at the Justice Department, we're going to be butting up against that calendar. Does that affect things from a prosecutor's standpoint?


WU: It doesn't affect them in the sense of how the evidence would come in or what the charges are, but I totally agree. The fact that you and I are even having this conversation is a consequence of how slow DOJ's pace has been.

I think, unfortunately, if you're in the thick of a primary or he actually becomes the nominee, I think there's going to be a lot of hesitation at DOJ to push forward to quickly, again, for the fear of looking political, which I think is a misplaced fear. I think the bigger fear is not doing anything in a timely fashion.

And of course, you know, in the scenario where he actually does get elected, then everything -- all bets are going to be off of that points.

ACOSTA: Yeah. I mean, do we then go back to the OLC memo, the legal theory where the Justice Department that a sitting president can't be indicted? I suppose, what if the president has already been indicted and is then sworn into office? I wonder if the Justice Department has even taken a crack at that one.

SHU: Right. I think they would probably come down and decide that you kind of just postpone the criminal trial while the president is in office. They'd worry about interfering with his duties. But I really think, Jim, we'd never reach that point. If Trump's in office, step number one, he's just going to wipe out the indictment, pardon himself, tell the A.G. to dismiss it. There will be no criminal charge of him once he's in office.

ACOSTA: All right, Shan Wu, interesting stuff. I'm sure we're going to keep talking about this one. I don't think the issue is going away. Shan, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

WU: Good to see you.

ACOSTA: All right, still ahead, Republican lawmakers in Florida are considering passing laws that could radically reshape their state. Congressman Maxwell Frost, a Democrat who represents a district in Florida that knows all about this. He joins us next. We'll be talking to him in just a few moments. Stay with us. You're live in the "CNN Newsroom."


[17:45:00] ACOSTA: ACOSTA: More than 40 million people with federal student loans will have to wait several months to find out if they're going to have any of the debt forgiven. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on two cases challenging President Biden's plan to eliminate up to $20,000 in student debt for some borrowers.

The justices aren't expected to rule until June or July, and Florida democratic Congressman Maxwell Frost joins us now. Congressman, I know you've been pushing for student loan forgiveness. What happens if the Supreme Court rules that the Biden administration's proposal is unconstitutional? What do you do next?

REP. MAXWELL FROST (D-FL): Well, the fight isn't over then. You know, what we're saying is no matter what the verdict is, the fight isn't over. There are still more actions that the administration can take. It might take some creativity, hopefully not much, in ensuring that the administration can use their executive powers and we can do our job in the legislative branch to ensure that this can be done.

It is constitutional for the government to forgive student debt for not just students -- a lot of times when we think about this problem, we think about this issue we're just thinking about young people. It's young people, but it's a ton of older folks. It's seniors, it's people with working -- it's people with families, working class people who have shackles right now, economic shackles because they have this crushing student debt.

ACOSTA: And turning to politics, I know you sit on the House Oversight Committee I'm sure you saw this past week, the chairman, James Comer, appeared to lament that investigators did not have a chance to prosecute the president's late son, Beau Biden, when he was alive. Comer went on to say claimed that he didn't say that.

But the White House slammed Comer for those comments. What is your response to the chairman, and how do you expect to get things done on the House Oversight Committee when it appears the chairman is pretty determined to really investigate the Biden family as much as possible?

FROST: That's all they want to do. And we heard it from Jim Jordan out of one of these conservative conferences. He said, look at the Judiciary Committee, look at Oversight, we're setting ourselves up, were his words, for 2024. Setting ourselves up in terms of messaging. So, in terms of getting things done on that committee, not much is going to get done on that committee to be honest. They are more interested in talking about Hunter Biden's laptop, the disgraceful comments from Chair Comer relating to the president's late son. It's just disgraceful, right.

They spent two years during the midterms talking about inflation and education and all these issues, hitting Democrats, hitting the president, and now that they have the house narrowly, they're not talking about it at all. They're not talking about Housing. They're not talking about lowering costs for working families. They want to spend our time talking about Hunter Biden's laptop and made-up fantasies of an open border. And if you look at this Oversight Committee, we are rebutting those,

you know, what they're saying and we're really shooting down those comments' day by day because they're not true. It's a waste of time and we really need to focus on what's going to help working families and the growing class of what we call the working poor.

ACOSTA: And as you probably saw yesterday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis came in second in the unscientific straw poll at CPAC. He said he'd be weighing a run for the White House. Down in Florida, I mean, it's been reported numerous times, he's been advancing proposals that target the LGBTQ community, banning gender studies, requiring teachers to use pronouns matching a student's sex assigned at birth. That's some of the latest reporting that's in a "Washington Post" article that came out on some of this today.

You know Ron DeSantis pretty well. How should Democrats take on these issues? We've seen education as an issue work well for Republicans. You know, you can debate the merits of what they're talking about obviously. But it is a potent issue that a lot of voters are talking about. But on these issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community, DeSantis really seems to be aiming for that community. How do you take that on?


FROST: We take that on by, number one, being bold in our messaging and calling it out for what it is. He isn't acting on education, we have to be clear. He's acting on scapegoating vulnerable communities due to his failures. He's not talking about how we're going to increase the amount of money per student in classes. He's not talking about ensuring that we raise teacher pay, that we ensure that parents do have a say in the way that their students are being educated outside of this bigotry that he has.

He's talking about targeting queer students, targeting LGBTQ+ kids. It's not just the broader community. He's going for the kids. A piece of legislation that was just introduced pretty much would allow the state to seize, to kidnap trans children if they feel like they're at risk of gender-affirming care, and a lot of times, lifesaving health care as well.

This is what we're up against in Florida right now. And it's hard to keep track of because it seems like there's a new victim. There's a new bill every day. But we have to call it for what it is. He is abusing his power and using the state to target political opponents and political enemies. And there's a word for that, and it's fascism. And we have to be honest about it.

It's just a problem for Florida now, sure. But in a few years, it could be a problem for the nation. We need everybody to pay attention and talk about it, how he's targeting trans folks, targeting not just black history but black people in general, which is American history, and targeting marginalized communities across this entire state.

And here's the sad, sad part, Jim. He's doing it because it's polling high for him in the Republican Party. And I think that says a lot about the state of that party right now. ACOSTA: And let me ask you this. You're the first, I mean, it's been

noted many times. You're the first-generation Z congressman. I think the last time we spoke about this, I said, you know, I was doing other things when I was 25 and 26 years old, but here you are, a member of Congress. Let me ask you this. I mean, are you going to back President Biden for a second term? Would you like to see younger challengers out there? What do you think?

FROST: I think generally it's really important for young people to be at the table. But to be clear, I'm not one of these people that say, you know, wipe everybody out and just have young people at the table. We need a representative body, and young people, Gen Z and millennials make up a third of this country. We're nowhere near a third of the electorate.

As far as President Biden is concerned, if he decides to run, I am going to back the president. You know, he's been one of the most pro- union presidents we've seen and I believe the most progressive president we've seen in modern history and I want to continue on that track of the amazing bills that Congress passed and the president signed last session.

And so, we'll see what his decision is, but either way, I'm saying generally about politics, state and local politics, a lot of times we focus on the national. We need younger, good progressive legislators all across this country. The battles going on in Florida right now wouldn't be as big of a deal if we had more state legislators up there who actually gave a damn about people's lives.

So, we need to pay attention to the full picture holistically here and not just the presidency, which is incredibly important, and I'm backing the president. But there's a lot of work that needs to be done on the ground level to build power across this country to protect our freedoms, our liberty, and our rights.

ACOSTA: All right. Congressman Maxwell Frost, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

FROST: Thanks for having me on.

ACOSTA: All right. We're getting a dramatic first look at a fire that ignited in a commercial building in the Bronx. The New York Fire Department has just released this footage, which they say shows a lithium-ion battery on a scooter exploding inside a grocery store. The ensuing fire spread quite quickly, injuring at least seven people.

Crews were still working to extinguish the last smoldering pockets of fire. New York's fire commissioner says it's not clear yet what exactly caused the explosion, but that the scooter may have been using an unauthorized battery. We're going to stay on top of that, but that footage coming from the New York Fire Department is pretty chilling stuff. We'll stay on top of it.

Still ahead, new reporting on that second train derailment in Ohio from last night. News about what exactly the train was carrying and why it may be making some residents anxious right now. Plus, the million-dollar question. How did HQ Trivia go from internet

obsession to total meltdown. The answer coming up tonight in a new CNN Film.


UNKNOWN: I'm working with these guys who started Vine and they want to do this trivia show on an app.

SCOTT ROGOWSKY, HOST HQ TRIVIA: To me, I didn't have high hopes for it.

UNKNOWN: Four, three, two, one.

ROGOWSKY: This is HQ. I'm Scott the host.

UNKNOWN: HQ Trivia was everywhere.

UNKNOWN: You could actually win real money.

UNKNOWN: It just kept getting bigger.

UNKNOWN: Bigger prizes, bigger celebrities.

ROGOWSKY: People has dressed as me for Halloween.

I was doing "Today Show," "Colbert.:

We had a Super Bowl commercial.

UKNOWN: This company is going to make at least $100 million.


UNKNOWN: It just got so popular and the app is not ready to work with too many people on it.

UNKNOWN: Freezing, disconnection, and error messages.

ROGOWSKY: And it crashes.

UNKNOWN: That's when the cracks started showing.

UNKNOWN: Colin and Rus started as co-founders, but both competing to be the CEO.

UNKNOWN: When you have a lack of trust between the two people running the company, it leads to chaos.

UKNOWN: You had HQ imitators.

UNKNOWN: We're in trouble.

UKNOWN: Will Facebook copy this? And they did.

UKNOWN: There was some jealousy. ROGOWSKY: I was the face of the product he created.

I am a god!

UKNOWN: Working day and night, really grueling hours.

UKNOWN: So, what did they do? They got drunk.

UKNOWN: At the end of this, someone lost their life.

UKNOWN: Why don't we grab lunch, and we can do this after lunch?

UKNOWN: That's fine.

UKNOWN: "Glitch: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia," tonight at 9:00 on CNN.