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Erin Burnett Outfront
McCarthy: GOP Embraces "Free Thought And Debate" In Letter About Ousting Cheney, Who's Under Fire For Criticizing Trump; Graham: There's No Room For Anti-Trump Views In GOP Leadership; FBI: Criminal Group From Russia Behind Attack; State Media: Former Chief Doctor At Russian Hospital That Treated Putin-Critic Navalny Found Alive After Disappearing For Days; Interview With Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR); FDA Authorizes Pfizer's Vaccine for Children Ages 12 to 15. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 10, 2021 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Awful situation, indeed. Although school girls - God - I'm so worried about what happens in the coming weeks and months. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much.
That's it for me. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, shameless. Kevin McCarthy says the GOP is a big tent party that embraces free thought and debate. Is that why they're purging Liz Cheney.
And breaking news, the FDA tonight authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds, which now means 85 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to get the vaccine.
And what does sex offender Jeffrey Epstein reportedly have to do with Bill and Melinda Gates divorce? Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, Kevin McCarthy's big tent is a lie. The Republican House Minority Leader publicly admitting that he backs removing Congresswoman Liz Cheney from her leadership post. The reason she's being removed, she refuses to accept Trump's big lie that the election was stolen and fraudulent.
But in an irony of ironies, McCarthy writing in a letter to his Republican colleagues tonight, and I quote him, "We're a big tent party. We represent Americans of all backgrounds and continue to grow our movement by the day. And unlike the left, we embrace free thought and debate."
Let's just put that left comment aside. Let's just talk about this. McCarthy's kicking out Cheney, the leader of his party for having a differing opinion and he says he's for a big tent party that embraces free thought and debate. Wow. He has, I guess, in polite terms, gall.
Liz Cheney says the election was free and fair. She says Trump is responsible for what happened on January 6th. These, of course, are facts and as a point of fact, once upon a time, Cheney and McCarthy actually agreed on facts and a crucial point on January 6th. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): There's no question that the President formed the mob, the President incited the mob, the President addressed the mob. He hit the flame.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So he said it like it is, but then McCarthy flip flopped. He flew to Mar-a-Lago. He made amends with Trump very publicly so and that is where Cheney and McCarthy's paths diverged in the wood. When Trump issued a statement last week saying, "The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as the BIG LIE."
Cheney embraced free thought and facts and responded with the truth, tweeting, "The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system." So what pray tell Did McCarthy say?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I've had it with her. I've had it with her. I've lost confidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Now that audio has been edited. It doesn't include the anchor's question, but it was caught on a hot mic and McCarthy is clearly referring to Cheney. He's not disputing it. He's had it with her for one reason, her stance on Trump.
Because if you look at the facts when it comes down to what should matter to a Republican leader, if McCarthy is going to say this is all about policy, he would love her. Her lifetime conservative score is 80 percent according to the Heritage Action For America.
McCarthy though has had it with her. He's now backing Elise Stefanik for Cheney's post. Stefanik's conservative score by the same group on the same measure is 48 percent, which, of course, is an F. But Stefanik is willing to go ahead with the election lies so she is welcome in McCarthy's big ideas tent.
And because of all of that tonight, some of the GOP are warning that the tents about to collapse just like McCarthy's brief flash of honesty following the insurrection. Republican Senator Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee, tweeting today, "Expelling Liz Cheney from leadership won't gain the GOP one additional voter, but it will cost us quite a few."
Pretty simple words of wisdom. You've already got your base. You can't win without the middle and, well, they know this is a lie. Then there's congressman Adam Kinzinger who like Cheney voted to impeach Trump saying Cheney is being pushed out for one reason only, her refusal to lie like Trump and McCarthy are doing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): But listen to those of us that predicted what was going to happen on the sixth because what we're predicting is going to happen right now if we continue to lie to our voters is a complete and utter destruction the Republican Party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Manu Raju begins our coverage OUTFRONT on Capitol Hill tonight. And Manu Raju you hear Romney or I quoted Romney. Obviously, we just heard Kinzinger. You've been talking to a lot of Republicans about this today and they're not all in lockstep. What are you hearing?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. All over the map really. Some Republicans are completely downplaying it saying this is an inside the beltway story. That's what Chuck Grassley told me earlier. Others say this is not something that they are going to get engaged with because it's a House matter.
As Marco Rubio told me it's an internal House matter. Others dodging altogether like with the Wyoming colleagues of Liz Cheney. Sen. Cynthia Lummis who said that I am not going to comment whatsoever.
But others are uneasy, clearly, about this effort to purge Liz Cheney. One, Joni Ernst of Iowa said this is cancel culture that they've been railing against applies to this situation as well and is worried that this is a distraction for their party.
Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Republican leadership, said that if the shoe run the other foot they'd be doing the same - they'd be trying to exploit democratic divisions on this issue and he's concerned that Democrats are going to exploit Republican divisions that he wants to unite.
And one Republican who voted to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, Bill Cassidy raised serious concerns about this effort going forward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): It will be perceived by the American people as she's been ousted for disagreeing with the President. We need all Republicans on board, and if people feel like they are not heard, that doesn't work. And there's a whole lot of Republicans that agree with her. There are a lot who disagree with her. Both sides need to be heard, I think it is going to create the perception that those who support Liz are not being heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: But then you have others in the Republican Conference who say
Donald Trump is essential going forward. So people like Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch Republican ally of the former president's and you have some members of the House Freedom Caucus, too, who are concerned about the replacement of Liz Cheney, Elise Stefanik the likely replacement, I'm hearing from, that there are some push to potentially delay a vote that's expected at the end of the week for Stefanik to replace Cheney. We'll see if that ultimately happens.
But nevertheless, you're seeing a party divided here about this effort to get rid of Liz Cheney, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you very much.
So I want to go now to Matthew Dowd, who served as Chief Strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 Presidential Campaign and Van Jones, former Special Adviser to President Obama.
So Matthew, McCarthy sends his letter tonight, says the GOP is a big tent party that embraces free thought and debate and then purges someone who dares express either, what do you say to that?
MATTHEW DOWD, CHIEF STRATEGIST FOR THE BUSH-CHENEY 2004 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, maybe he's defining big tent differently than what we would define it as because I guess you need a big tent if it's filled with charlatans, cucks (ph), crazies, conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, KKK members, Neo-Nazis so you kind of need a big tent, I guess, to fill it.
The funny thing about it or the ironic thing about it is this is the main tent pole of the big tent he's describing is the big lie. And so the only people that aren't being allowed in the tent are people that tell the truth and that to me, it's a defining line in politics today. It's not progressive versus conservative, which would become meaningless. It is who stands on the lie, who stands on the side of facts and the truth and our democracy and who's on the opposite side of it. That's the dividing line in politics today.
So if he's defining big tent is all of the nuts and flakes that are now part of the party, well, maybe he does have a big tent.
BURNETT: So Van, the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to this point that Matthew is making was asked tonight, is there are room in the Republican Party for anyone who's against former President Trump and that comes down to this issue of do you say the election was free and fair or is it fraudulent. If you're fraudulent, you're on Trump's side.
And Graham's response was in terms of is there a room, "Sure. You're just not gonna be a leader of the party if you're anti-Trump." So that's Lindsey Graham. You got to him credit. He just said it like it is.
But Republican Senator Joni Ernst says, "Cancel culture is cancel culture, no matter how you look at it. I support President Trump and his policies, so I have a slightly different view on that - but I still think we shouldn't be trying to cancel voices." Her clearly defending Liz Cheney. Van, there there's a split even within the GOP.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, there is. But, I mean, we're in real scary territory now. You don't get more conservative than Liz Cheney.
JONES: No don't get - I mean, you literally hurt - you cannot have a more conservative voting record than Liz Cheney. She was one of the most pro-Trump when it came to policy, when it came to votes and stuff that's supposed to matter. You can't get more pro-Trump or more conservative.
But as Matthew was just saying, she just refuses to go along with something that is demonstrably false according to Republican lawmakers in Georgia, according to Republican lawmakers across the country, who at the grassroots level certified the election, 60 cases, including conservative judges. That's her only sin. It's her only sin and it's enough to get her ripped down from a leadership position in this party.
JONES: Now, if that's not cancel culture, I don't know what it is. Because I mean it's not like she did anything else. She literally has a different point of view and is being canceled by her own party.
BURNETT: For speaking the truth, which I think is what's, to your point, what's so terrifying about it. It'd be one thing if there's a litmus test and people don't like it politically. But this is just a factual thing.
Matthew, Republican Senator Mitt Romney tweets tonight and I just want to read this again, "Expelling Liz Cheney from leadership won't gain the GOP an additional voter, but it will cost us quite a few." Now, Cheney is being replaced with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik who is in complete lockstep with Trump. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need election integrity and election reform immediately.
REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): We want to be able to fix and strengthen our election security and election integrity.
TRUMP: Democrats are obsessed with impeachment.
STEFANIK: They have been obsessed with impeachment.
TRUMP: Sleepy Joe rejects the scientific approach in favor of locking all Americans in their basements for months on end.
STEFANIK: Joe Biden wants to keep them locked up in the basement. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So Matthew, 70 percent of Republicans according to a recent poll that we did believe Trump's big lie that Biden didn't win the presidency legitimately. That's why you have Elise Stefanik as the word echo being who they're picking for leadership.
Mitt Romney is making a bigger point. You can have 70 percent of the Republican voters believe this and that's 70 percent of 26 percent, 27 percent maybe of the U.S. population. You can't win a national election with those kinds of numbers as Mitt Romney, right?
DOWD: He's exactly right in this. And I mean the classic, the choice that they're making between are complete opportunities to, I guess, characters been revealed by the great reveal, Donald Trump, who seems to reveal people for who they fundamentally are and it's perfect in this moment for who the Republican Party is.
But you can't win with 25 per, 24 percent, 23 percent of the vote. I mean, it's just simple math. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. And so you not only can't win a popular vote in a national election, which I think they've decided they're never going to do and they don't want to win a popular vote. You can't win in key states that are swing states and you can't win in swing districts that are going to decide the House election.
So the Senate elections will be decided in swing states, the House elections will be decided in swing states. You can't win with that smaller percentage of this and so I think they are continuing with Donald Trump. Before Donald Trump there was we need to expand our electorate, today it's we need to coalesce our smaller and smaller electorate.
And I think they fundamentally understand that and that's why they're pushing restrictions in states to keep the electorate from being diverse. They understand they retain only a minority of the country right now and they can't win if that doesn't equal the popular vote in any given jurisdiction.
BURNETT: So Van, what happens to the Republicans who are putting their careers on the line here? Liz Cheney, obviously, she's out of leadership, at least, probably more, Adam Kinzinger and then you've got Mitt Romney's probably say for very specific reasons and he's safe in his state.
But I mean, even people like Cassidy who are coming out to defend Cheney, who voted for impeachment. What happens to Kinzinger and Cheney and maybe even to Cassidy now?
JONES: Well, I mean, it's up to the voters. I mean, it's up to Republican voters and how many of them want to stay trapped in this bizarre, kind of, echo chamber. And one thing I want to say, Kevin McCarthy knows better.
BURNETT: Yes. JONES: I mean, the thing is like we know these people. Kevin McCarthy
had a vision of the Republican Party that was a big tent vision, et cetera. We all know that. The Kevin McCarthy bottle of milk has curdled in the Trump refrigerator faster and more than anything else.
For him, he's talking about the big tent party. It's a party he wishes for in his heart, but he won't fight for it in real life and so that's the sad thing is that you have people who know better, you have people, in the past, taking rational positions, even against Trump, who are so terrified and who are so weak in their character that they're joining something that they literally three, four years ago would have sworn, would have been the enemy of the Republican Party and they're doing it.
And listen, I hope that the Republican voters will reward people like Cassidy and others for standing up, but it's got to be up to them. Because if you're waiting for the leadership of the party to lead, you're going to be waiting for a long time.
BURNETT: Well, yes. Well, they just purge themselves of anybody who doesn't believe something that's false. All right. Thank you both very much as always.
BURNETT: Next, it is one of the only ways Democrats think they can fight back against some restrictive voting laws across the country. But can Senate Democrats get even their own party fully on board.
Plus, cyberattack on a critical U.S. fuel pipeline. President Biden says there's no evidence Russia is to blame, despite all signs pointing to hackers with Russian ties. What gives there?
And Sen. Rand Paul already taunting Dr. Anthony Fauci ahead of a Senate hearing tomorrow. Is he hoping for a repeat of this so we can fundraise off it again?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): You have the vaccine and you're wearing two masks. Isn't that theater?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: No, it's not. Here we go again with the theater.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: New tonight, Russia denying any involvement in a cyberattack that shutdown one of America's largest pipelines. And when I say that, I mean it. I mean, this pipeline is responsible for about half of all the fuel consumed on the East Coast; New York, Boston, Washington, all of the population centers to the East Coast.
The FBI identifying a Russian-based criminal group named Darkside as the culprit. But President Biden is stopping short of blaming the Kremlin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So far there is no evidence based on from our intelligence people that Russia is involved. Although there is evidence that the actors' ransomware is in Russia. They have some responsibility to deal with this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: This does come just weeks after Biden blamed Russia for another major cyberattack. The SolarWinds' data breach. So let's start here with Oren Liebermann OUTFRONT.
Oren, what do we know right now about the scope of this attack? I mean, and I suppose its impact, these sorts of things sometimes could be seen as tests for broader capabilities.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this in and of itself was a massive disruption to U.S. oil supplies and U.S. oil transfers around the country.
Crucially, at least at this point, the White House says there are no shortages or issues with fuel supply in the East Coast, but that's dependent upon Colonial Pipeline. Getting this pipeline up and running as quickly as is possible, perhaps, by the end of the week. Longer than that, we could see effects on gas prices and more.
This was a ransomware attack, which means the cyber criminals locked Colonial Pipeline out of their own computers and demanded ransom. How important is this pipeline? Here is some information.
It is the largest refined products pipeline in the United States, 5,500 miles running across more than a dozen states. It supplies 45 percent of the gas, diesel and jet fuel on the East Coast. On a daily basis, there are 2.5 million barrels of gasoline and other fuels that go through this pipeline. That's more than a hundred million gallons.
So if this is disrupted for too much longer, you could start to see some major problems here.
BURNETT: Obviously, it just shows the vulnerability of, frankly, our entire way of life around this planet. But Oren, what do you know about the group behind this attack that's called 'Darkside'?
LIEBERMANN: So the FBI confirmed that this was Darkside. A group that runs out of Russia. They're a relatively new group. They haven't been around that long, but they are sophisticated. They're good at what they do. They move quickly and they adopt the changes or adopt the changes, rather, in cybersecurity. They've carried out attacks against big targets; electric companies in
Brazil, banks in Italy, according to a cyber expert who spoke with CNN. And that speaks to not only their brazenness, but their targets. They go after big targets and targets that have money. As you pointed out, this is an indication of not only how big of an attack they're willing to carry out, but their target critical infrastructure in the United States and that is a very vulnerable area.
BURNETT: All right. Oren, thank you very much.
I want to go now to the White House and Kaitlan Collins as well as to Moscow and Matthew Chance.
Kaitlan, let me start with you. Biden, we heard him saying no evidence so far that Russia is involved with this ransomware attack. But, of course, the group is based in Russia. Biden has been very quick to blame Russia for other attacks, so what's going on here?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He has. And so, so far Biden went a little bit further than what his officials had earlier today, when they were briefing us talking about what they had seen and saying that they were investigating whether any kind of nation state had sanctioned this attack on Colonial Pipeline, what was really behind that.
And he went further to say that Intelligence officials have said there is, so far, no evidence that Russia was behind this. But he did say they do bear some responsibility given it does appear that the group is based in Russia. And so that question and how that really factors into the upcoming meeting that he is supposed to have with President Putin, it really remains to be seen.
But he did say pretty definitively today that that meeting will be happening and his officials have not said as much so far just saying that they are working through a time and a date and what that could look like. But he seemed to be saying that, yes, we will be having this meeting and this does seem to be something that would be brought up at that meeting.
BURNETT: So Matthew, a Kremlin spokesman, as I said, denied any involvement with this or any other cyberattack as you would, of course, expect them to do. Tonight, though, the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner said, "The idea that any crime syndicate in Russia doesn't at least have the indirect blessing of the Russian services is not believable." Does he have a point, Matthew?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think he does, particularly when you're talking about an organized crime syndicate like this that is carrying out attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure.
There's very little doubt in my mind that Vladimir Putin would know about this and the Kremlin and the government in general would know about the existence of such an operation, whether it was state- sponsored or not and then either approve of it, although crack down on it. And I'm not seeing anybody being arrested at this stage. Now, the other thing I would say is that Russia has a record of
attacking not just using cyberattacks to gather information as it's done in the U.S. and around the 2016 election and in the SolarWinds attack where it was trying to get information for espionage purposes. But it's got a record of attacking infrastructure in countries it doesn't like. It did it to Estonia, in the Baltics in 2007 disabling its internet, which is important in a country which is so dependent on the internet as Estonia is.
In 2015, it took control of a Ukrainian power station and disabled it cutting off power to more than 230,000 homes. And so this may well be nothing to do with the Russian state, but the Russian state does have a record of attacking critical infrastructure in countries it doesn't like, Erin.
BURNETT: This is really crucial. So Kaitlan, until now Biden has taken a much tougher stance against Putin than Trump, obviously. In fact, he took it to a whole new level when he talked about how he describes Putin in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. Let me play the moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: So you know Vladimir Putin. You think he's a killer?
BIDEN: Uh-huh, I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: There was absolutely nothing diplomatic about that, Kaitlan. The Kremlin then obviously was livid, warned Biden's comments would have damaging consequences. Is that what we're seeing today with Biden's much more diplomatic approach, his hesitancy to call Russia out?
COLLINS: I think it's kind of an up and down, because remember after that interview, then you saw Putin at a conference saying that the United States were the real killer because any term that Biden had assigned to them was actually something that was describing the United States. Tensions were really high between the two essentially is what I'm saying.
And so I think what the White House is trying to do now as they are navigating what this is going to look like if Biden does sit down for the first time in-person in Europe with Putin in June as it's looking likely he could do, they're navigating what that's going to look like with this relationship.
And I think that he's right that, of course, if this group is residing in Russia, obviously, we know how Russia operates. It's presumed that this would be something that maybe not is formally sanctioned, but tacitly sanctioned by them, and so I think that's like the question facing the White House. And so this has only been something that White House has known about
for a few days. They had emergency meetings over the weekend and so they are still looking into this and what this means. They did not tell us why intelligence officials believe Russia is not behind this. They didn't say if that's like the conclusion based on conversations with officials there.
Those are still things that we are trying to learn. But, of course, you've got to keep in mind, they've got that upcoming summit in their head and so that, obviously, is a factor in this.
BURNETT: And Matthew, this also goes along as the top opposition leader in Russia's life is in danger. Former top doctor at the hospital where Alexei Navalny, that opposition leader was originally treated after he was poisoned, has been found alive after vanishing from a forest. Other top doctors at the hospital, two of them, have died, including the one who is in charge of Navalny's treatment died suddenly.
So and the White House has said release Navalny, Putin hasn't done it. Does Putin feel he's untouchable right now?
CHANCE: Well, I think there's two different things going on there. I mean, first of all, you're right, there has been these weird apparent coincidences at the hospital where Alexei Navalny was saved in the Siberian City of Omsk. Two top doctors there, the chief of the trauma department, the chief of the anesthetic departments, they both died already in their 50s of heart attacks.
Then we had this third guy who was the head of the hospital who we thought was dead, but actually has resurfaced sort of pouring water on that conspiracy theory that the Russian government is trying to sort of clear out any witnesses to what took place.
Then there's something else happening, which isn't a conspiracy theory and that's Putin and the Kremlin is rounding up its critics. It's cast Alexei Navalny into jail and thrown away that key at least for the next two and a half years. They banned his political organization, branding it an extremist group, meaning that if you belong to it, you act on behalf of it, it's a lengthy prison sentence.
And that's born not out of a sense of invincibility, but out of a sense of vulnerability that Vladimir Putin is feeling at the moment. He sense that the mood in the country is slightly turning against him. He's his approval ratings are pretty low. And he's moving now to try and crack down on that.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both very much. I appreciate it, Kaitlan, Matthew.
And next, Democrats trying to fight new laws aimed at restricting voting by passing a national voting rights bill, but can they get the votes even from their own party?
And breaking news this hour, the FBI authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds. But will parents choose to get their kids vaccinated?
BURNETT: Right now, Senate Democrats are trying to blunt the impact of Trump's lie that the election was stolen. Tomorrow, they're going to hold their first committee vote on a new bill that could stop a series of Republican-backed state laws that place new restrictions on voting. According to the latest tally from the Brennan Center for Justice, 361 bills restricting voting have been introduced in 47 states, as of March 24th, more have since been added.
And I want to be clear, not every single one of these are in Republican states, not all of them will pass. Some include new provisions that will make voting easier and more secure, all of that is true. But it is also true that some new restrictions, which could have a big impact on minority voting specifically, are front and center in many of these bills. Some of which have already become law.
The reason, according to Democrats, that Republicans are going to try and change the law?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Facts are on our side, this was a massive fraud. There should never take place in this country, we're like a third world country.
Make no mistake, this election was stolen from you, from me, from the country.
I continue to strongly believe that we must reform our election laws, to verify the identity and eligibility of all voters, and to ensure faith and confidence in all future elections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Of course, the election wasn't stolen. It was free and fair. Trump's followers, those still believe him and that is why there is so much motivation behind these bills right now.
OUTFRONT now, the lead sponsor of the Senate voting rights bill, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley.
And I appreciate your time, Senator.
Let me just start by asking you about Mitch McConnell. The minority leader today, said about your bill, quote, it's an atrocity. Every Republican opposes it and we'll do everything we can to defeat it.
But, he may not even have to work that are because right now you don't have all the Democrats in the Senate on board. You need two-thirds of the Senate to overcome a Republican filibuster.
So, does the bottom line of where you see right now, Senator Merkley. Do you see any chance of your bill passing?
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Well, absolutely, Erin. Tomorrow is going to be very exciting because we're going to have the first markup of the bill. We have been talking to election officials, local officials, secretary of states, Democrats and Republicans across the country that is giving us a lot of feedback on the details, on here's how you make early voting work, here's how you make vote by mail work better, here's how you make automatic voter registration work, or ballot tracking.
And we've adjusted the bill to take all of that into account, which has been important to all of our members that we really have a bill that's feasible or being implemented.
And while Mitch McConnell isn't on board, Republicans across the nation are on board. They support defending the right of every American to vote, they support ending gerrymandering. They support stopping billionaires from buying elections. And those are the three big things that this bill does, to defend the integrity of elections across our country.
BURNETT: So, you know, I know obviously you're hoping you're going to get there, but if the bill doesn't pass which you're dealing with all the state bills that are passing in many cases, right, because states have a lot of control over their own elections. So, if that's the scenario, those bills keep passing and you don't get a federal bill, what's your next move to try and stop some of these restrictions from taking place, in certain states?
MERKLEY: Well, to your point, we have now six states that have passed such restrictions. We have another six that are on the verge of passing those restrictions, and they're designed to prevent communities of color from voting, colleges for voting, poor communities from voting. They're designed to enable election officials in Republican parts of the country to make it very hard for Democrats to get to the polls on Election Day.
And so, this is really an attack on this most fundamental of American freedoms, the right to be involved and participate in the direction of our country. And we thought we have gotten past this point from 1965 forward when we had the Voting Rights Act passed. Little did we anticipate, that here almost half a century later, we'd have this massive attack on the right of Americans to vote.
So, you're going to see, that Democrats get together, 50 of us and figure out, on how to defend this fundamental constitutional right. It's really our responsibility, we've taken an oath to the Constitution, and we love to have Republicans on board with us. But Mitch McConnell has said Republicans in the Senate, unlike Republican election officials, unlike Republican voters has said no longer will they participate.
They want to keep gerrymandering. They want to keep millionaires buying election, and they want to talk so many communities in America from being able to vote.
BURNETT: You know, as I put -- as I put forward, obviously, the promise for all these bills are happening around the country, you know, is because of the lie that the election was stolen. That doesn't mean that there aren't some things in the bills that many reasonable people can agree on.
So, I want to talk to you about one specific thing, and that is voter ID. In your bill, I know you want to remove strict voter ID requirements the some of the states are enacting. You're not trying to get rid of them entirely. But, for example, trying to allow people without an ID to sign some sort of a statement instead.
It is true though, Senator, as you know that 76 percent of Americans -- this is according to the newest Pew poll -- support requiring all voters, all voters to show a government issued photo ID to vote. Is this really such a crazy idea?
MERKLEY: Well, it is -- it is a bad idea, and here's why: well, we have no examples of any -- other than a few here and there, very rare instances of people trying to vote who aren't legally entitled to vote. And the states that have elected security, they have used the voter signature to make sure that the voter is really the person. And if the signature doesn't match, they follow up.
In state after state, where Republicans have conducted investigations to try to find out whether people illegally vote, they find and come up with a zero. It doesn't -- it doesn't happen. So what's this really all about if you're not solving a problem?
They know that far fewer Democrats in urban communities, far fewer members of communities of color, have these IDs readily at hand. And therefore, it will make it harder for them to vote.
And so, that's what this is about. And so, if you're defending equal opportunity for people to vote, then you are going to allow this artificial premise. You depend on the signatures, and the follow-up investigations. And the fact it's a felony to pretend to vote if you're not eligible -- those things already work extremely well.
BURNETT: All right. Senator Merkley, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
MERKLEY: Thank you so much, Erin.
BURNETT: All right.
And next, is a time to drop indoor mask mandates for vaccinated Americans?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We do need to start being more liberal, as we get more people vaccinated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: That is music to the man you know where, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, he's next.
And then, Bill and Melinda Gates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL GATES, CO-FOUNDER OF MICROSOFT: We said, hey, I love you, and then she said she love me. And then, it was like, wow. Now, what's going to happen?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So what did happen? We have new reporting tonight.
BURNETT: Breaking news, the FDA just authorizing the use of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for people aged 12 to 15. That is the first time the vaccine has been made available to that age group. The CDC advisory committee will meet Wednesday and must sign off on the use, which is expected to happen, and then vaccinations can start.
OUTFRONT now, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, cardiologist who advised the White House medical team under President George W. Bush.
So, Dr. Reiner, Pfizer's clinical trial data showed a hundred percent vaccine efficacy among this age group. Of course, this is an age group that tends to, even if they contract the virus, not get sick.
So, what's your reaction to this move by the FDA? And what do you say if you go back to that group, can the point I just made and that doesn't get sick?
DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Firstly, this is big news, Erin.
REINER: Remember, the young in this country are now the reservoir for the virus. So, if you're going to eradicate this virus, we need to vaccinate the young. There were about 1 million and a half infections in this, and kids 11 to 17 since the beginning of the pandemic. But right now, this is where the virus hides.
So, this vaccine is 100 percent effective in this age group. It's super safe. The challenge is going to be to get parents to given the vaccine to kids. The latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that only about 30 percent of parents were ready to give this vaccine to kids right away.
Another 25 percent want to wait and see.
So, that means almost 50 percent of parents, I have no intention to vaccinate their kids. That's unacceptable. We really need to educate them on how important this is.
That age group has about 6 percent of the United States population, 20 million kids. We need to get shots in their arms.
BURNETT: There's a lot of people. All right. So, obviously, coronavirus cases, we haven't seen an increase in any states over the past week, vaccinations have been going at a much lower rate, but more of been getting vaccinated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked if it's time to start doing more relaxing of rules, including indoor mask mandates. And here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAUCI: I think so, and I think you're going to be probably seeing that as we go along, and more people get vaccinated. We do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Now, you've been saying this for many weeks. Dr. Fauci is now saying that, but he's still saying soon. This is a crucial question. Is the administration losing valuable time? You know, kind of taking advantage of the trust the American people have? The longer it waits to relax these rules that, in practice, people can only seem to change?
REINER: I think, yes. Look, the administration has been walking a tight line, trying to protect a large number of folks in this country who are still unvaccinated, and those people who need to mask while, on the other side, trying to liberalize what vaccinated people can do.
I think they now need to pivot, and pivot to this message. Vaccines work. They work as well as we possibly could have hoped for. And, for people who have been fully vaccinated, they need to know that they are now immune, and they can -- they can do things now without masks.
Masks are how we stayed well until we got a vaccine. Now, if you are fully vaccinated, you can drop the mask.
BURNETT: It is a mask, right? It is a mask. It's just a virtual one, I guess.
BURNETT: Republican Senator Rand Paul is continuing his feud with Dr. Fauci. He's taunting him in a tweet, looking forward to tomorrow's hearing, Dr. Fauci. There is a hearing tomorrow. This, after Dr. Fauci said he's been politicized by the public attacks that he faced from Paul, and others, like this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FAUCI: No, it's not.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): You've got the vaccine, and you're wearing two masks. Isn't that theater?
FAUCI: No, it's not -- here we go again with the theater.
PAUL: As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don't think you're the end-all. I don't think you're the one person who gets to make a decision.
FAUCI: I have never made myself out to be the end all, or the only voice in this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: It happens every time, and will happen again tomorrow. It's been helping Senator Paul. He raises money successfully off of it.
What can Fauci do to avoid it, to avoid walking into that trap tomorrow?
REINER: He just needs to stick to the facts. The facts are the United States is moving in the right direction. We almost have 60 percent of adults with at least one shot, and cases are plummeting. He needs to continue to remind Senator Paul that the reason why we're doing so well right now is we are getting shots in the arms of Americans.
Senator Paul has, basically, been a buffoon throughout this horrible year. It's best for Dr. Fauci to just stick to the facts and -- because right now, the facts speak for themselves.
BURNETT: All right. Dr. Reiner, thank you.
REINER: My pleasure.
BURNETT: And next, new details about the Gates divorce. What does Jeffrey Epstein have to do with it?
And we're hours away from the family of Andrew Brown Jr., who was shot, and killed, a sheriff's deputies seeing 20 minutes of body cam video from the deadly encounter.
BURNETT: Tonight, we're learning Bill and Melinda Gates' divorce has been in the works for about two years. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting Melinda Gates had been consulting with lawyers since 2019.
Dan Simon is OUTFRONT.
MELINDA GATES, BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION: How are you? DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They met at Microsoft after
she started in 1987. Bill, the founder, and CEO, Melinda worked in product element.
M. GATES: I was new to Microsoft, there was a lot of men there. And, you know, you are still looking around, you know? You are still figuring it out.
B. GATES: After one year of that, you know, sort of, to our surprise, certainly my surprise, we said, hey, I love you, and she said, she loved me. Now, it's like. Now, what's going to happen?
SIMON: After 27 years of marriage, the surprising split has become a source of great intrigue. Now, questions are rising on whether Bill Gates contact with convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, may have played a role. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that Melinda Gates was concerned over her husband's relationship with Epstein, going back many years.
EMILY GLAZER, BUSINESS REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: It seems that Melinda and Bill Gates actually met with Jeffrey Epstein back in 2013, that's according to a source that we spoke with. And Melinda Gates was not happy at the time.
SIMON: That source, an unnamed former employee at the Gates Foundation. Melinda Gates made her concerns known to her husband, according to "The Journal's" Emily Glazer.
GLAZER: She expressed her frustration to Bill Gates, and really didn't feel comfortable with the relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, especially since Melinda Gates is a global advocate for women and girls. And it was already known at that time that Jeffrey obscene had his issues. And that dismay was expressed, but Bill Gates continued meeting, and having ties to Jeffrey Epstein.
SIMON: In fact, according to "The New York Times", beginning in 2011, Gates met with Epstein on numerous occasions, including at least three times at Epstein's Manhattan townhouse, and at least once staying late into the night.
Gates emailing colleagues in 2011: His lifestyle is very different, and kind of intriguing, although it would not work for me, "The Times" reported.
A Gates spokesperson, clarifying in 2019, that he was referring only to the unique decor of the Epstein residence. And Epstein's habit of, spontaneously, bringing acquaintances into meet Mr. Gates. And it was in no way meant to convey a sense of interest, or approval.
His spokeswoman, also saying, they met to discuss philanthropy, and that Bill Gates regrets ever meeting with Epstein, and recognizes it was an error in judgment to do so.
In 2019, Gates told "The Wall Street Journal" he did not have a business relationship or friendship with Epstein.
It's not clear whether Gates' relationship with Epstein ultimately played a role in the divorce. But, while the public just learned about the divorce last week, apparently, it had been in the works 2019, and through the pandemic, according to "The Journal".
B. GATES: In the case of millennia, truly, it is an equal partner. She is a lot like me in that she's optimistic, and she's interested in science. She's better with people than I am.
SIMON (on camera): Announcing the split last week on social media, Bill and Melinda Gates said, quote, we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives. We asked for space and privacy for our family, as we begin to navigate this new life.
Now, according to the divorce filing, they worked out a separation agreement to split their assets, which according to "Forbes" is estimated to be $130 billion -- Erin.
BURNETT: With which of course, they've been so incredibly generous.
Dan, thank you so much.
And next, the family of a man killed by sheriff's deputies set to see more body cam video taken on that day. But, is 20 minutes of nearly two hours of recordings enough to know what happened?
BURNETT: Stay tuned, for this top story tomorrow. The family of Andrew Brown Jr. will finally view more body cam video of his deadly encounter with sheriff's deputies in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It's been 19 days now since Brown was killed. There are almost two hours of recordings.
So far, members of Brown's family say they have been allowed to see 20 seconds. Now, they'll be able to see 20 minutes, according to a judges' order. Of course, the public hasn't seen any of it, not a single frame.
And tomorrow, the family will not get full transparency, the judge ordered the sheriff's office to blur the deputies faces, and, of course, there are hours of footage from all the different cameras. Attorneys for the Brown family have called Brown's death an execution, we will find out what's actually on the tape.
Thanks are joining us.
"AC360" starts now.