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Texas Special Session Brings Big Fight on Voting Rights; Texas Special Session Focusing on Culture War, Voting Rights; GOP Representative: We Want "18 More Months of Chaos"; Democrats Look to Avoid "Circus" on January 6th Committee; Haitian Police Arrest 2, Kill 4 After President's Assassination. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 08, 2021 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. No fans in Tokyo, the Olympics for spectators from events inside the host city that over fears the games may morph into a COVID super spreader.

Plus, Democrats map out their insurrection investigation strategy. Brand new CNN reporting signals what they want is a no drama fact finding mission, not a public in partisan meth. And next hour President Biden addresses the Afghanistan drawdown, ending America's longest war is a big Biden priority but an emboldened Taliban could become a Biden headache.

To begin the hour, though, today in Texas, where yes, everything is bigger a special legislative session starts today to consider what you might call the "10 gallon hat version" of the Republican agenda. It is a wish list Governor Greg Abbott sees as his path to re-election victory in 2022 and perhaps beyond.

Border security, critical race theory, social media censorship, new limits on abortion, banning transgender athletes from competitions and what Republicans call election integrity. That voting rights piece is the headliner, Republicans want to limit how Texans can vote early and by mail?

And a recent Supreme Court decision could open the door to even more extreme ideas such as a provision that will make it easier for politicians to come back and overturn election results. Let's get straight to Austin CNN's Dianne Gallagher. Dianne set the stage for this important session for us.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes John. So as a special session gaveled in Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick made it very clear that elections were top priority. It is the first bill that was filed in the Senate.

And I will tell you that although the text of that bill has not been made public yet, the Senate has already scheduled a public hearing on it on Saturday, so not much time for the public to read up on what they're supposed to be speaking about.

Now, the House filed an elections bill last night and I'll tell you that it is very similar to that bill that was killed when Democrats straight days that dramatic walkout, thus denying quorum and killing it during the regular session.

We're talking about things like banning drive thru and 24 hour vote and making it a felony for an election official to send an unsolicited mail in ballot it further empowers those partisan poll workers and adds new ID requirements to vote by mail.

But noticeably missing are some items that had been shoved in during the regular session at the last minute like banning Sunday morning voting thus, making souls to the polls useless that's not in there anymore, and neither is lowering the threshold for overturning an election.

Now, some Democratic sources say they see that as a small victory that came from their walkout but they came to fight. Everyone that I've spoken to with the Democratic Party here in Texas has said that every option is on the table, that they are not going to let the governor basically forced their hand on election legislation.

And we've heard them talking, saying they need federal intervention because they can only hold this for so long. But I will tell you, John, Democrats are ready to fight but Republicans are much focused. It was embarrassing for them what happened during the regular session.

And again, this is a 30 day special session. If Governor Abbott doesn't get it done this time, he can always call another one once this ends.

KING: Dianne Gallagher grateful you're setting the stage for us. We'll watch this play out in the days ahead. With me in studio here to share their reporting and their insights Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast" CNN's Jeremy Diamond, Eva McKend of "Spectrum news" and Julie Pace of "The Associated Press".

Texas now in a Texas sized way joining what has been a Republican effort across the country to erode voting rights, to take back some of the ways people were able to vote in the COVID pandemic. Let's just look - at the part - this is part we'll see where it gets at the end as Dianne just smartly noted, this is going to change as it goes through the session.

But we know they want new limitations on early voting. They want to tighten vote by mail rules. They want a new ID requirement in Texas, among other things that will be debated. Listen here to the very different way Democrats and the Republican Speaker of the Texas Legislature described the goals here.


TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER, (D) TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Republicans want to criminalize voting behavior--

DADE PHELAN, (R) TEXAS HOUSE SPEAKER: Coming out of COVID we saw some counties creating, you know, in essence, a different election code. And but you know, we've come out of the pandemic and I think we need to have a universal. I firmly believe we need to have a universal election code that applies fairly and evenly dealt to in 54 counties.


KING: The last part there, it sounds great. The Speaker of the House, we want a universal system. We want it to be the same for everybody. The problem is Texas is a giant state with 254 counties, some of them rural, mostly white, it's pretty easy to vote on location on Election Day.

You can have one precinct or maybe two, then you have something like Harris County, Huston, which is changing even during this conversation at this table where people worked 24 hours a day where they needed expanded mail in voting.

They needed those drop boxes. So when the Republicans say oh, we're making it the same for everybody what that means is we're trying to tilt it to our advantage.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF & ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, exactly by making it the same for everybody in a state like Texas where you do have such disparities in size and popular you are disadvantages and certain people.


PACE: You are taking away methods of voting. So I think there's an inherent flaw in that argument and what Democrats will argue here is that this is just not intellectually honest, what Republicans are saying that they, yes, support the idea of having clear guidelines for people so you know.

I do think that was one issue during the pandemic, it did get so confusing for people to know how to vote. So I think there's some universal support for that idea. But again, Democrats would argue that Republicans should at least be honest about what their goals are here, which is to make it more difficult for certain people in certain places to cast a ballot.

KING: And if you're sitting here in Washington, you're watching this or if you're a Democrat, or on the country watching this, maybe in one of the states 14, I think so far, where they've actually gotten to the finish line, new voting restrictions, you're saying, is Washington going to help? The answer that is probably no, correct?

EVA MCKEND, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, SPECTRUM NEWS: No. Senate Democrats really have very little recourse at this point, as long as the filibuster remains in place. And moderate Democrats indicate that they have no appetite or not only indicate double down reinforce that they have no appetite for changing the Senate rule. So the John Lewis Voting Act before the People Act, not moving, the administration is meeting with civil rights advocates today, they are going to continue to feel this pressure. I don't know if that changes the ultimate and calculation here, but there is just not much at the federal level that members Senate Democrats can do.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think how this ends, honestly, is them using this as a political issue. Save any, you know any changes that we can't foresee right now, it seems like they're going to use this to beat up Republicans. They're going to try to use this to beat up Republicans at the polls for 2022 and use it as that right stay - short of any real action.

KING: Which raises the fascinating question, and let's listen to the words of the president, he is having these meetings today. We expect him to talk about this repeatedly. But if you can't get the votes in Congress, you're right. All the Democrats can try to do is look their voters in the eye and say you need to study the rules. You need to learn what changed in your state. You need to vote. But here's the president's take.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You see this assault from restrictive laws, threats of intimidation, voter purges, and more assault that offends the very democracy, our very democracy, we can't rest. So the promise of equality is fulfilled for every one of us, in every corner of this nation.


KING: There are a lot of progressives in his party who wish he would bank some heads here in town to try to find those votes. With that unlikely to happen how does he become part and the vice president? This is her portfolio of trying to get out around the country and say, look; you better study the rules in your state to figure out what's different this time.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And listen, we've been waiting for weeks now since it became clear that the Senate was not going to pass any of this voting rights legislation to see what the White House's next move would be.

And we are seeing it today, with the vice president speaking at Howard University at a DNC Democratic National Committee event, to talk about the ways in which they are going to expand this "I will vote program" to expand voting across the country, grassroots efforts to encourage voting among communities that that perhaps don't have the highest rates of voting and to ensure that they have access, as some of these rights are impacting those communities.

Some of these laws are impacting those communities in certain states. But it certainly is interesting to watch the White House kind of make this calculation. They have made no secret that infrastructure is their number one priority, both in terms of a legislative effort, but also in terms of the message that they put out every single day. And so there has been some frustration from activists that the White

House isn't doing enough. We have been waiting for the president, for example, to make remarks on voting rights to outline what his next steps will be. Instead, we will hear from the vice president speaking today, the president meeting behind closed doors with some of these groups.

So there is still a lot that remains to be seen as far as the White House's effort, but to Jackie's point, this is going to be all about politics now going forward and grassroots efforts in these states where some of these restrictions - restrictive measures are being--

KING: And it's about the specifics in this case of voting rights. But it's also about the broader issue of who's going to get what done between now and the midterm elections, in which that that's what the midterms are about, right?

A referendum on the first two years of the Biden presidency, a referendum on republicans in the minority, just barely, but in the House and the Senate so Chip Roy, one of the Republicans in the House, essentially use it speaking using his inner voice, but letting it out in public and saying how the Republicans view the next 18 months to get to the election.


REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): Honestly, right now, for the next 18 months our job is to do everything we can to slow all of that down to get to December 2022 and then getting inherently. I actually say thank you for 18 months of chaos and the inability to get stuff done.


KING: It's actually quite revealing if you listen to that in Washington, whether it's the House or the Senate Republicans, when essentially say no do anything they can to block the Biden agenda, which is infrastructure.

As you noted, the vice president - the president, excuse me would call that jobs, get the economy back on its footing. Move healthcare and the other you look at the Texas agenda, this is an agenda of Republican Governors across the country critical race theory social media censorship limits on abortion banning transgender athletes.


KING: Elections are about choices that were early in this cycle, but I'll tell you the choice is A and Z.

PACE: It's pretty stark. And I think this is also that what really drives some progressives' crazy about the Biden's strategy that yes, he spent a lot of time on infrastructure, in particular reaching out to Republicans, and there is one deal that has been struck.

We're going to see how all of that moves through the system here. But they look at comments like that and they say, what leads you to believe Biden White House that Republicans are playing, you know, on a level playing field with us right now?

What makes you believe they actually want to work with us on any of these issues? Our priorities for the next 18 months should be to ram everything through weekend with this narrow margin that we have. That's just not who Joe Biden is ultimately, that is the tension his party faces as he goes into the midterm.

KUCINICH: I think the only difference between this and the Obama Administration is that they're saying it out loud. Remember that that that secret meeting that happened on Inauguration Day between Republican leaders? He was behind closed doors now. Now they're very open about this. And it to your point, I think that's what's driving Democrats absolutely nuts.

MCKEND: Republicans have always been more vocal about their obstruction. I mean, just listen to Senator McConnell, he said that his priority was blocking 100 percent of President Biden's agenda. At this point it's are Democrats listening?

KING: Are Democrats listening? And then what do they do about it? What are they disillusioned, disappointed don't turn out next year? That's happened in 2010 after the Obama cycle, or do they say no, there's another way to do this.

We'll be right back. We're next with some brand new reporting on Democrats plan for that January 6th Committee one goal avoiding a big circus.



KING: I'm going to share some news CNN reporting now in the January 6th Select Committee. House Democrats grappling with how to avoid a Trump centric circus as the investigation into the deadly insurrection gets underway?

Congressman Jamie Raskin who will sit on that new committee tell CNN this "There are forces out there who would like to bring this investigation down into a partisan mud fight as quickly as possible". The Maryland Democrat goes on to say "This is not going to be Benghazi part two".

Our panel is back with us. I've been in town long enough to remember the Benghazi Select or special investigation and it became very partisan very quickly as Congressman Raskin notes. The question is this - this is what leading Democrats say is their goal, can they accomplish it?


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We're going to try to create a report that's as comprehensive and holds up to time as the 9/11 Commission Report.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Maybe we'll be surprised and this will actually be a thoughtful examination by the Republicans joining the Democrats about what I think was the most significant threat to our legislature since the civil war.


KING: Is there any prospect? A fact finding no drama, let's look into what happened on January 6th? Let's assign blame based on evidence to people who are responsible. Let's have an open mind until the end. Any prospect of that in today's Washington?

MCKEND: I think we are already past that point. This is going to be a partisan affair, just by makeup of the committee just by the fact that Republicans rejected the bipartisan commission. So that train has left the station.

But you know, I think both sides really risk a lot politically by turning this into a circus, not just Democrats, Republicans as well. And that's why we have - we're learning that Leader McCarthy will appoint Republicans.

And I think it behooves him politically to appoint some serious people, they'll probably be of the same mind as he is on this but people that will at least conduct themselves seriously.

KING: Leader McCarthy may have that view, but the real leaders of the Republican Party you can listen to two of them here have a different view.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: The person that shot Ashli Babbitt, boom, right through the head, just boom, there was no reason for that. And why isn't that person being opened up? And why isn't that being studied?

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): If this country can demand justice for someone like George Floyd, then we can certainly demand justice for Ashli Babbitt.


KING: We mourn the death of Ashley Babbitt. But Ashli Babbitt was part of the crowd of rioters who crashed through the Capitol. She was shot in the incident, and that is horrific. And that's one of the facts that should be investigated.

But if you have the former president, and essentially his ally, and chief ally in the Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene saying that's what this should be about.

PACE: I think, to Eva's point, I mean, this is politicized by the very nature of the lawmakers who are pushing some of these theories, this has become politicized. It is remarkable that we are six months from that insurrection and we're at that point that there is not an honest effort to just do a fact finding mission about what happened in this really just unbelievably ugly moment in American history.

But we are past that point. I do think that you know Trump's role in this is going to be really interesting. How much of Trump's political future is going to be about going back and doing revisionist history around January 6th, revision his history around the election seems like quite a bit at this point. That's a choice he's making. It's going to be a question of how much Republicans follow him.

DIAMOND: And ultimately it seems like we're headed for a point where we were during so many of these Muller investigations were investigations into Russian interference that were carried out in Congress, which is a majority report and a minority report right?

And so throughout this process, you're going to watch the Republicans on this committee, try and poke little holes at every single thing that they possibly can try and obstruct perhaps some of the efforts to call witnesses although that will likely be unsuccessful. And ultimately you'll see this tale of two January 6th is hard one to say. That will come out of this.

KUCINICH: Yes, I was just going to - excuse me, sorry for interrupting you. I think it also matters who is appointed to this committee? How many of them voted against certifying the election because you cannot underestimate how angry Democrats still are about the at those Republicans that did so and keeping emotions out of this, I think it's going to be impossible.


KUCINICH: But it is a question on how many?

KING: In addition--

KUCINICH: You know there are going to be--

KING: --in addition to keeping emotions out of it, it becomes part of our job to look at the Republicans who are named and simply ask the question, are they on planet Earth? And I don't say that as a joke. And then or do they accept basic facts?

Do they accept the basic fact that that was an attack on the Capitol that was an attack on the United States government that that was an attack meant to disrupt part of the democracy meaning certifying the results of the Electoral College?

The Washington Post Editorial Board joins the chorus. A lot of people have talked about this lately, Republican leaders have played footsie with dark forces on the far right, under the mistaken impression, they could benefit from the enthusiasm of racist conspiracy theorists and other extremists while maintaining control of the party, nominating traditional conservatives and promoting their long standing policy goals. These forces have instead reshaped the party.

That is not in dispute anymore. That was a conversation for much of the Trump presidency, and perhaps through the transition to Biden in the insurrection. You cannot argue against that anymore. You just simply can't say that the Republican leadership seems not only afraid of these people, but trying to reach and keep and cultivate-- PACE: That, I think is the difference. It was always this question of could they - could they contain that part of the party? Could they as "The Post" said play footsie with that part of the party? Now, it actually seems like an embrace of that part of the party and an effort to put that part of the party at the forefront. And there's no shame or embarrassment from a lot of Republican leaders about doing that right now.

DIAMOND: There was a question in the days after January 6th, where you saw some Republicans kind of dip their toes in the idea of criticizing what the president had said, what had happened. That was their window of opportunity to actually acknowledge the reality of what had happened and the dark forces that had led to that day.

And now they're so far past that point where to acknowledge that President Trump or any of his Republican allies who are still in Congress played a part in what - in the events of that day that is not going to happen anymore. And so that's why we're going to see this commission become a completely partisan.

KING: It is a simple power calculation that they need those votes in 2022 with them, maybe they get power back without them they don't. That's what this is about. Everybody sit tight, we'll continue the conversation. Up next a fragile nation on edge new developments in the assassination of Haiti's President inside his own home.



KING: The search effort in Surfside is now called a recovery effort. The search and rescue label dropped as we hit the two week mark since the horrific building collapse. Officials say they are still praying for a miracle, but that the pancake style of the collapse simply doesn't provide any realistic hope of survival.

This hour the death toll stands at 60 with 80 people still unaccounted for. Two of the victims you see them there. This is so sad have been identified as 11 and four-year-old sisters Lucia and Emma Guara you see them along with their parents there.

The family's priest telling CNN, the funerals were held just a few days ago, and the two girls were buried together in the same casket. Our condolences and best wishes for the family there it's just as you learn more, it's a horrific, horrific story.

Now to Haiti now where the country is at risk of collapsing into chaos that after the assassination of its President Jovenel Moise, overnight Haitian National Security Police say they arrested two people and killed four others, all of them suspected of killing the Haitian President.

The Haitian Ambassador to the United States says the murder was carried out by professional killers who he says murdered the president in his home in the middle of the night. Now we have very few details on who the suspects are and how police tracked them down? The ambassador claims they are foreigners, also unclear this hour just to his running the troubled country. Let's get some perspective now from Garry Pierre-Pierre. He's the Founder and Publisher of "The Haitian Times" and a Pulitzer Prize Winner, formerly a "New York Times Reporter".

Garry grateful for your insights today, as you know, one of the challenges here and especially in a country that has profound political problems even before this is what do we believe at this moment? Let's start with this gunfight and the arrests.

You hear from the ambassador of foreign hired killers. Do we know that to be true? Or is that just the suspicion?

GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE, FOUNDER AND PUBLISHER, HAITIAN TIMES: Well, that's a suspicion based on the tactics that were used during the assassination. And we had a video "The Haitian Times" received a video where we could hear people speaking in Spanish and American accent while we could hear shooting going on. So there is a strong suspicion that the suspects were not Haitian.

KING: So help out with the here and now in the sense that the assassinated president himself was a controversial figure trying to be an authoritarian extend power through constitutional decrees, if you will.

The prime minister says he is in charge now but the prime minister himself was supposed to move on and be replaced by a new prime minister. Do we have a clear understanding of who is running Haiti right now? Is anyone running Haiti with any credibility right now?

PIERRE-PIERRE: Not at all, John, no one is in charge despite what the Prime Minister Joseph has said. He's not in charge. He was discharged of his duties. The interim prime minister was supposed to be sworn in and of course, President Moise was assassinated.

And so right now, I've been told by some credible sources in Haiti that they've been - all of them have been at home, trying to figure out what next time?