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Biden Faces Fresh Voting Rights Pressure With Texas Showdown; Soon: Biden Delivers Major Speech on Voting Rights; Senator Manchin Plans to Meet With Texas Democrats Today; New U.S. Daily Cases Up 97 Percent From Last Week; Crisis in Cuba & Haiti Forcing Biden to Shift Foreign Policy Focus. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thanks for sharing your day with us and it's a big one. This afternoon an important speech from President Biden on voting rights and Texas Democrats catch a plane out of Austin. They are running away to block a Republican effort there to limit the ways people can vote.

Plus new COVID cases are climbing again. The Surgeon General says it's possible we'll need COVID booster shots but no change in the CDC vaccine guidelines for now. And protests in Cuba settled the Biden Administration with another big foreign policy puzzle. Can the White House do anything as the Cuban regime now moves to crack down on demonstration?

We begin today with the president in the big speech on voting rights he delivers this afternoon in Philadelphia. There is no disputing the urgency of this issue. But whether the president can do much to turn the tide is a giant question. Texas is the latest battleground; dozens of Texas Democrats fled their state yesterday, coming here to D.C. in an effort to block legislative action in Austin.

The Texas drama backs up the president's complaint. Republicans in state after state are taking steps to make it harder to vote. But it also highlights a glaring problem for the Democrats. They want to override those new state restrictions with new federal voting rules.

But the Democrats don't have the votes to make that happen. Let's get straight to Philadelphia. Chief White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, what will we hear from the president?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's basically going to lay out the case against these restrictive measures that you've seen carried out by Republicans nationwide, following the 2020 election and essentially argue that this is all based on a big lie that has been promoted time and time again by his predecessor.

And there was a reason, John that he is coming to Philadelphia to give this speech, the birthplace of U.S. democracy while he argues against these, these new measures to limit access to the ballot as what we are told by White House officials, he is going to describe it as something that an authoritarian regime would do and say that it's un-American, frankly.

And make this argument against what you're seeing play out in places like Texas that right now are completely engulfed in chaos with what is happening with their legislature. But of course, John, the question is going to be what happens beyond a symbolic speech that the president gives?

Because you have seen civil rights activist, progressive Democrats encourage the president to take matters into his own hands, by appealing more to Democrats to get rid of that legislative tool known as the filibuster, because the concern that Senate Democrats have is yes, they want to be able to essentially overrule some of these new restrictive measures going into places in states like Texas, and several others that have either already passed them or they are working on passing them.

But they don't have the votes right now on Capitol Hill to enact any kind of new federal legislation when it does come to voting rights. However, whether or not Biden is even going to touch the filibuster when he's here today seems unclear at this point.

The White House has not said one way or another. But it does appear to be clear that they don't think that's a matter for the president to decide. That's up to Senate Democrats. They think they know how Senate Democrats feel about that. But of course, they are arguing that this is going to be a symbolic speech meant to really put his voice and his political muscle behind this increasingly urgent issue.

KING: Kaitlan Collins live on the scene for us in Philadelphia appreciate the preview. With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Abby Philip, "POLITICO's" Laura Barron-Lopez, Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report", and Julie Hirschfeld-Davis of "The New York Times".

We were chatting about this before we came on the air and the White House says the president is going to give a symbolic - make a symbolic case, make a moral argument. You're conceding out of the box that you don't have the math right, that you can't make a case to actually change anything.

AMY WALTER, NATIONAL EDITOR, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: It seems so much of what we're seeing right now on both sides. And certainly what we're seeing coming out of Texas is really a question about whether this is going to be an issue to animate Democrats as much as it as animated Republicans for the upcoming midterm elections.

Tried to make the case that, you know, in the midterm, it's hard when you're the party of the White House to make it a referendum on the other party. It's all about you when you're in the White House when you're the controlling party, but to say, you know what, Democrats you got to get out voting, because the other side is rigging it against us. And I think that's the case. Really, that's going to be made over and over again through 2022. Because as you pointed out, and I think it's very true, John, there just aren't the votes to do much about the federal level.

KING: And yet and yet Joe Biden's DNA creature of the Senate institutionalist you heard Kaitlan, the White House believes Senate Democrats should decide whether Senate Democrats change their rules? The president is the most powerful man in the world, at least that's what we're all taught right? The most powerful political figure here in the United States.


KING: 17 states have already changed their election laws in ways the Democrats are arguing and they might overstate it sometimes. But there's no question. These laws make it harder for people to vote. The President of the United States doesn't think that's a big enough deal to say, I'm going to change, I'm going to change my mind, and I need you to change yours.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: And, well, there's some, you know, cognitive dissonance in what the White House is saying, which is that the White House on one hand is calling this an authoritarian threat. Their president is going to be saying that these laws in the GOP states are grounded in autocracy.

It's the greatest threat since the civil war to democracy. But then also a beat later is saying, but this is in Congress's corner. And the president can't say, you know anything about the filibuster isn't going to endorse a filibuster carve out because the math isn't there.

Because even if he did, Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary pretty much essentially said yesterday that even if he did endorse a carve out that that wouldn't necessarily move any of the Senate Democrats. Now that's true. That's probably true.

Because Manchin and Sinema, as we all know, those Senators aren't really swayed at this point. But what Congressman Jim Clyburn, and the third ranking house member really wants to see it's just the president through everything on the line, do as much as you can.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY: And he's not going to do that, because it's a game of priorities. At the end of the day, you can't have everything that you want in Washington, and this White House knows that more than anyone else, they still want their infrastructure bill that's still hanging in the balance.

And we're learning this week that that it's on the - you know, as shaky ground as it's been in months. And they know that if they expend all of their political capital on this issue, and press Manchin and press all of these other moderate Democrats, they're going to - not going to have the political capital that they need to get the one thing that the Biden Administration, from a philosophical perspective thinks is frankly, more important, which is that they think it's about the pocketbooks of Americans. And if they can pass this infrastructure bill, and change the sort, of

course of people's personal sense of their finances and the direction of the country, that's going to be the ticket to winning reelection is going to be the ticket to Democrats holding on to the Senate, and possibly having a shot at keeping the House.

KING: The drama at the moment are these Texas lawmakers once again, staging a boycott once again, leaving Austin so they don't have a quorum. There are not enough people on the floor. So you can't have a vote there here in Washington we're just told that some of them are going to meet with Senator Manchin.

Now they met with Joe Manchin, the last time they were here, when they did the same thing in the normal legislative session. This is a special session. But listen to some of these Texas Democrats essentially making the case.

They understand that this is a stunt, or at least it's temporary. They might not use the word stump, but it's temporary, and they need help.


REP. RAFAEL ANCHIA (D-TX): We are not going to buckle to the big lie in the State of Texas, the big lie that has resulted - that has resulted in anti-Democratic legislation throughout the United States.

REP. SENFRONIA THOMPSON (D-TX): I'm not here to take a vacation in Washington, D.C. I'm up here because I don't plan to be a sitting person in that legislature. I'm not going to be sitting--

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You mean sitting duck?

THOMPSON: I'm not - I'm not - I'm not going to be a hostage.


KING: Now they're going to meet with Senator Manchin but a lot of people have met with Senator Manchin on this issue. And he's not alone. He gets most of the attention, but there is Senator Sinema, Senator Hasson, there are others who are reluctant to change the rules. But is there any evidence on the table that any of them are willing to change their mind?

And to my point, I beat up the president a little bit there. Is there anything he could do? If he looked into the camera and then brought them into rooms and said, I get it, but we must change this now?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It certainly doesn't seem like it, right? I mean, they have been working on him. They've been working on this issue now for more than six months, since before this president took office.

This is clearly going to be Democrats a big priority. And Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema particularly Manchin have made it pretty clear that they are not going to change the filibuster rules. He has gotten much more engaged in this issue since they started working on him. And that's part of the reason I think, why he we saw him put out his own alternative. And I think Democrats really do want to sort of continue to push this issue by potentially even bringing that up and saying, OK, Republicans we're coming, you know, part of the way in your direction, are you going to block this again, which of course the answer will be yes.

But then the question is what is he going to do? And there's very little evidence that even the impassioned pleas of these legislators from Texas, or the progressive groups that frankly have been, you know, getting on him pretty consistently now for months, are going to change his mind on this question of rules.

Now, there is the issue of, you know, what the procedures are on the Senate floor? Can there be - if there's a get another vote where Republicans block his alternative, which is, you know, a much narrower bill than the one that Democrats have been pressing does that then get him to a place where he isn't now?

But again, he hasn't really signaled that he's ready to have that conversation no matter what the stakes are. And so it's not clear to me that Biden you know, throwing his voice into this lobbying campaign would really make much of a difference.


KING: And so the stakes - the stakes are we know 17 states have already moved to change voting laws in a restrictive way. Texas would be next. The governor says, sure, nice she got out of town. You're going to come back eventually. And I will do this over and over and over again until we changed the voting laws.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): I can and I will continue to call special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year. And so if these people want to be hanging out, wherever they're hanging out on this taxpayer paid junket, they're going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year. As soon as they come back in the State of Texas they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done.


WALTER: John, you know - are older enough to remember 2003 when Democrats did this protest, redistricting, they thought that the lines drawn by Republicans in Texas were unfair, that they ended up in Oklahoma and then New Mexico for a time it stopped the line drawing.

But eventually, the lines got drawn. There is - the end game we all know what the end game is. But I think Abby's exactly right. This is really about priorities for this president and getting something through on a bipartisan basis before the end of the year. 2022 is a whole another year, remember, and you have other opportunities. KING: But that's the part we don't know. You both make the critical point. We don't know what the world is going to look like when people go to vote a year from now. Is the economy back? Are the vaccines at least in the places that matter? Can Joe Biden make the case?

You know, I'm doing a good job stay the course with the Democratic majorities, but the margins are so narrow. Republicans believe if they change the voting rules, and they get about the business of drawing redistricting in the states would have the power that for the next 10 years or more they tilt the battlefield is that - is an infrastructure bill worth letting the Republicans tilt the playing field for the next decade in American politics?

PHILLIP: That is exactly what a lot of Democrats are saying it is not a foregone conclusion that just giving people you know, stimulus checks is going to resolve the structural problems for Democrats. Though I think they have some reason to feel like they can work in this environment.

Last year, it wasn't a foregone conclusion that their voters would vote by mail, for example, they were able to organize their way out of that. There is a way to organize their way through this. But they have to do it and they have to invest in it and they have to start right now.

KING: That's going to be - it's fascinating. We were in early chapters, early chapters, and yes, I do remember those days. Gray hair helps. Every now and then it helps.

Big announcement before we go to break, CNN announcing right now that next Wednesday, the President of the United States Joe Biden will join our Don Lemon for an exclusive CNN Presidential Town Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio.

It comes a little more than six months after the president is sworn into office. You won't want to miss it right here CNN 8 pm Eastern. And up next for us the numbers just don't lie new COVID infections are up 97 percent from last week.



KING: Not now but maybe later is the Biden COVID teams answer to a push by Pfizer to prepare Americans to get a third dose of the COVID vaccine.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Make it clear that the data from Pfizer is one part of a much larger puzzle.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The CDC and the FDA said that based on the data that we know right now, we don't need a boost. So that doesn't mean that that won't change. And that we might we might need as a matter of fact, at some time to give boosters either across the board or to certain select groups.


KING: The administration prefers to focus more right now on getting vaccine hesitant Americans to sign up for their first shot. And I'm going to wander through these latest numbers they make clear just why?

Look at the case map right now. Look at the case map. Red and orange mean you're going up 45 of the 50 states reporting more new COVID infections this week compared to last week 45. Now some from a small baseline so this map can change because a lot of states have shoved it down but still 45 states trending in the wrong direction right now.

Here's another way to look at it when you go through the case count Monday 23,000 plus new COVID infections a week ago it was 11,800 and 97 percent increase in cases in just a week and 97 percent increase in just a week.

One more way to look at it this is the CDC community transmission map. You want to be yellow or blue on this map. Look at the orange and red, more and more of it across the country in the middle of the country down here in the southeast out here in the West.

At this point, let me bring in our special guest right here in studio, Dr. Leana Wen the Former Baltimore City Health Commissioner it is great to see you in person.


KING: This to me is a fire alarm, if you look at the map here, and you see all this red. And if you come back here and you look at this, we talked throughout the year of COVID. And this, again, the baseline is smaller. But what does it tell you when you see a 97 percent increase in cases week to week and when you look at the community transmission map. And again, red and orange are bad. And there's a lot more red and orange.

DR. WEN: Well, up until a few weeks ago, the map here was completely green. I mean, we were seeing that we were trending in all the right directions here in the U.S. And I think what's so disappointing right now is that this doesn't have to be the case.

I mean, this is not back in November, December before we had vaccines available. We now have a method to prevent these massive surges to prevent hospitalizations and deaths. I think we need to remind people again that 99 percent or more of the individuals who are dying now from Coronavirus are people who are not vaccinated. This doesn't have to happen.

KING: And the connected dots are not that hard. Again just remember just take the - remember at home where the red the orange is? Just remember where the red the orange is and then you come here, these are the 14 states that have vaccinated fully vaccinated less than 40 percent of their population.

Where was the red and orange in the middle of the country in the southeast, out in the West? It's just not - there's no dispute over this, correct?

DR. WEN: That's exactly right. But here's the thing too.


DR. WEN: What happens in some of these states with low vaccination rates, it's not just going to affect them. I think there is the sense that somehow it only matters to people who are unvaccinated about if they're saying unvaccinated or not, except that it actually affects the people who are vaccinated too.

I mean, we will see more breakthrough infections. We are going to see potentially parts of our economy, maybe even be shut down again in the future if we cannot get the surge under control. And so we really needed to increase vaccination rates across the country.

KING: So the middle of July, which means the school year, is closer than we think. A lot of schools in the south go back in August and September, up in the northern parts of the country. You see Tennessee on this map here at 38 percent. I want to bring it up this way here.

Tennessee is well behind. And when it comes to vaccines, the state health official in charge of vaccines just got fired. Here's what she said on CNN today.


DR. MICHELLE FISCUS, FORMER TENNESSEE TOP VACCINATION OFFICIAL: We serve at the pleasure of the Governor. You can be terminated without cause. And so that's what happened yesterday, I was given a choice to resign or be terminated and I choose to be terminated because I've not done anything wrong except inform our physicians of where the guidelines were around vaccinating minors.


KING: Her crime was encouraging physicians to get children vaccinated before schools went back.

DR. WEN: That's right. And Dr. Fiscus is a well-respected pediatrician and public health leader. Actually we have seen this trend occurring around the country, dozens of health officials have been fired and scapegoated. They had been the public face of restrictions that in some ways have not been popular.

And right now, that kind of political pressure is applied to them for speaking the truth about vaccines. What she also said that I find to be extremely disturbing is that Tennessee legislators are putting so much pressure on the health department that they now cannot even inform the rest of their state about routine childhood immunizations.

We could see emergence and resurgence of measles and chickenpox and polio, even these other illnesses that we have prevented for so long, because now they're not allowed to speak about COVID and not allowed to speak about other immunizations too. KING: One other quick one to the vaccine hesitant any headline suggesting a problem is going to feed their idea. Hi, I told you so I'm not going to get a vaccine. J&J now will have - the J&J vaccine will not have a warning label on it. Because there have been 100 preliminary reports of a rare disorder 100 out of nearly 13 million doses. Is this a big deal? Or is this just a precaution?

DR. WEN: I do think it's important to investigate these 100 cases. It may end up being less or more. This is a very rare syndrome - syndrome, it causes muscle weakness, paralysis, most of it is completely reversible, and there's no long term harm, but it is something to keep an eye on.

I think it's really important to point out though two things. One is that the mRNA vaccines, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not associated with this rare, rare effect, and that this is not a long term consequence. So people should not be afraid of long term consequences from the vaccine. They should be afraid of the virus.

KING: Dr. Wen, grateful for you coming. It's good to see you in person. When we come back, President Biden now facing two new crises right here at the country's doorstep an assassination in Haiti, and an uprising in Cuba.



KING: President Biden's list of major challenges now includes two surprise foreign policy emergencies close to home, a crackdown in Cuba after days of remarkable political protests, will test the administration's promise to stand by the demonstrators. And then there's the political turmoil in Haiti following the brazen assassination of its president.

With me now to discuss this is Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Author of the newly revised edition of "The World: A Brief Introduction", and you see it right there now available in paperback Richard, grateful for your time today.

Let's start with Cuba; you do have these remarkable demonstrations in the streets, people mad about economic conditions about health conditions, and more. What should the President of the United States be doing right now?

And in that context, Ben Rhodes, who worked in the Obama Administration, which of course normalized relations, says the administration should figure out ways to engage the Cuban people which necessitate taking off some of the sanctions. The Trump Administration put back in place some sanctions are going back to Obama or close to Obama. Is that the answer now?

RICHARD HAASS, AUTHOR, "THE WORLD: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION": Well, there wasn't clear that what we did then made a big difference. And I'm not - I'm not sure what it means to engage the Cuban people and a country, which is tightly controlled by the government?

I would actually say what we should think about is offering to reduce certain sanctions, in exchange for specific reforms, be it about Cuban foreign policy; it's not there, why they need to have thousands of their intelligence people in a place like Venezuela, for domestic economic and political forms?

We already give them food and medicine, that's not the issue its other types of constraints on currency in the light. So I would basically enter into a transactional approach. But beyond that, I really think it's what we say. And it's really going to be a dynamic. And so--

KING: You worked across several administrations in the past, and you've voiced these issues for a long time, but the Castro's are gone but these conversations about Cuba, carrots and sticks, sanctions trying to nudge them along.

I go back to the Eisenhower Administration. Is there any hope? Any hope that there's something on the table now? You do see the remarkable - have the demonstrations in the street, a reason to take notice. But is there any hope that there's anything in American President can do to change things?

HAASS: Not at the core here. No, we can have significant I think what we really want to do is avoid making this a U.S./Cuban dynamic.