Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Biden: "I Will Not Flinch" on Voting Rights Fight; Voting Rights Group to Biden: Skip Speeches, Deliver Action; Biden to Paint Voter Suppression as Threat to the Nation; CDC: Director Schools should be Fist to Open and Last to Close; Federal Judge Questions Trump's Immunity from Liability for Jan 6. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with U.S. President Biden faces a boycott from his own base. The president in Atlanta today for a big voting rights push. But many activists say they are in no mood for another speech and demand presidential action in Washington.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This is one of those defining moments it really is. People are going to be judged. Where were they before? Where are they--


KING: Plus, a new pandemic record 145,000 people now hospitalized with COVID. But in New York and D.C., where Omicron surged first, the case count is finally trending down. And the party of Trump is the party of revenge. The former president targets a Republican Senator who told the truth.

And Kevin McCarthy promises if he gets power, he will use it to punish Democrats. We begin the hour though with the president and his consequential visit today to Georgia. Voting rights is his focus as he visits some of Atlanta's civil rights landmarks.

Remember, boycotts were a staple tactic, as the movement gained traction 60 years ago, and that the Democratic President faces a boycott today speaks volumes about the moment and about the mood. The president is about to give voting rights activist exactly what they want, including his public and vocal support for changing Senate rules to pass new voting restrictions.

But the group's boycotting say it is long past time for words and that they will not be props prefer presidential photo-op. That resistance only raises the stakes as the president now approaches the anniversary of his inauguration with a long list of unfinished business and a growing list of complaints from within the Democratic family. Let's get straight to CNN's Jeff Zeleny in Atlanta. Jeff, is the president get the stakes of this moment?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, he absolutely does of course, he knows the history better than most given his age, and the fact that he lived through the Civil rights era. But when he arrives here in Atlanta this afternoon, he is going to argue that the nation is at a turning point.

And voting rights is central to going forward as a democracy. Of course, he'll be arriving here with Vice President Harris. They know well, the stakes about what the mood is inside the Democratic Party. Yes, there is a boycott, but they are also arriving with the entire Georgia Democratic delegation, including two Democratic Senators who weren't here last year who gave the Democrats their slim majority.

So the elected officials, at least are behind them. But activist as you said, want and demand some type of action. So the president is going to lay out why he believes the Senate an institution of course he served for more than three decades in should change its rules.

He's going to endorse and support a narrow carve out to eliminate the filibuster for the purposes of voting rights reform. Now, we know all Democrats are not for this. Joe Manchin is not Kyrsten Sinema is not but President Biden is going to raise the stakes and explain to the country trying to use that bully pulpit.

He has a loan as a president to make this case. John, it's not expected that this vote will pass in the Senate when it happens as early as Monday on the Martin Luther King holiday but he is trying to show that he is going to act this year in this critical midterm election year for Democrats. We'll see if that's enough for his party.

KING: Fascinating day to watch and obviously a fascinating location for the president to pick to make this push. Jeff Zeleny appreciate your taking us up with the live report. With me to share the reporting and their insights CNN's Dana Bash, Astead Herndon of "The New York Times", and Toluse Olorunnipa of "The Washington Post". And Stead let's start with you it is fascinating.

The president finally, finally giving these activists exactly what they want. And yet listen; this is Cliff Albright with Black Voters Matter. One of the younger generation groups, if you will, who say sorry, Mr. President, we're just tired of words.

CLIFF ALBRIGHT, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK VOTERS MATTER: We'd rather that the president stayed in D.C. and perhaps delivered this this speech to the Senate to the Democratic Caucus, we would have loved that the president used the presidency as a bully pulpit for the past seven, eight months, while we've been fighting for voting rights, even getting arrested outside of the White House, begging him to do so.

But at this point, we don't need another speech. We don't need him to come to Georgia and use us as a prop.

KING: Well, what does that tell you about the mood at the moment to stand among people who helped Joe Biden win the Democratic nomination that helped Joe Biden win the presidency who is tired?

ALBRIGHT: Yes, this has been building for months and months on that activist side on the progressive side. You have people who are frankly, exhausted from what they see as a White House that has prioritized the inside relationship that prioritize keeping Senator Joe Manchin Senator Kyrsten Sinema on their side in hopes of passing their larger agenda, but really has taken an easier approach on them when voting rights.

Certainly Joe Biden has moved his words to say that he is embracing the elimination of the Senate filibuster in a small sense for voting rights. But these activists have won in much more for longer they have been asked him to named Sinema and Manchin put pressure on them.


ALBRIGHT: It is their contention that Georgia and voters on the Democratic side are not the ones who need to be convinced about eliminating the filibuster. Most voters don't even know what the filibuster is. This is an insider problem that's going to require insider solution.

You hear a cliff, you hear Latasha Brown, another person from Black Voters Matter saying repeatedly spare to speech in Georgia give this speech to the Senate Democrats who are the ones who need to come together on the issue.

KING: And so as we watch the president Toluse, your colleagues, I'm in Kim part of the story. I just want to show the headline and prop in pivot to voting rights. Biden is falling short on a second big goal.

Voting Rights is central to the Democratic Party. It is a defining issue for the country right now. He's in a state, which is one of the more than a dozen states where Republicans have rolled back the way people were able to vote in 2020, where we had historic turnout.

But it's even bigger than that. This is day 357 of the Biden President. He's approaching the one year mark; a lot of his domestic agenda is still in limbo and now voting rights again, a giant question.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS & ENTERPRISE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it is a giant question. And there's a giant question of what he's doing to deliver for the voters that put him into power, especially the black voters that saved him during the primary in 2020.

Back in South Carolina, you've even heard from Representative Jim Clyburn, who gave Biden that important endorsement and right before the South Carolina primary that really launched this campaign and led him to the White House saying that more needs to be done on voting rights that not enough is being done not enough political capital is being spent on this issue that Biden needs to do more to keep his promises.

And he kept he did make a promise to specifically the black voters that helped save his campaign. He said that he would have their back. And this is one of the main things that black voters have been calling for that black representatives in Congress have said is one of their top priorities in the fact that this could potentially be yet another instance of the Biden Administration sort of struggling to follow through and struggling to be able to deliver because of the Senate rules because of the filibuster because they only have 50 votes.

It could be another disappointment for a lot of the progressives, a lot of the Democrats who helped him get in power. And now we're looking to see whether or not it was worth all of the effort all the door knocking to get him in power.

And that's a big challenge that you're facing as he goes to Atlanta to show that he has delivered and that he will continue to deliver for the voters that helped him win the White House.

KING: And Dana when you listen to these activists, they essentially say be LBJ do something we don't want lip service. We want elbow grease, we want to see you work Manchin; we want to see you work Sinema, we want you to see you work the one or two other Democrats who have raised objections about changing the filibuster rule.

So it's a big test for the president within his own family, if you will. And we've had this conversation before, but on that very day, I'm going to call this this is Senator Joe Manchin poking the bear listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he could say to change your mind on filibuster procedure.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Filibuster is what we have our rules, we need some good rule changes to make the place work better, but to get rid of the filibuster doesn't make it work better.


KING: Even if you're not going to give the president what he wants, even if you're not going to give the base in these activists what they want. One of the recurring themes of the Biden Presidency is the Democrats won't like Manchin won't keep quiet on the day, the president's trying to make a big point.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, because he's made it very clear that he doesn't like the idea of changing the rules. He actually did support a compromise bill of sorts to deal with voting rights, and Republicans even blocked that.

And I think that that is an important part of this conversation, John, which is, it wasn't that long ago, I believe we were both covering the White House during George W. Bush's Administration. He was the last president to sign into law, an extension of the voting rights law from 1965.

Republican President he did it with a Republican majority in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House. And here we are talking about Democrats fighting amongst themselves on an issue that has since 1965, been bipartisan, of course, because the politics were so different than it was the Democrats who are Southern Democrats who were harder to bring along.

And Republicans have put the Democrats in this box somewhat politically, brilliantly. Maybe it's certainly an affair and nefarious, former brilliance, but they're doing it in a way that they're forcing the Democrats to fight among themselves, as opposed to taking a step back and saying,

Well, this is historically was a bipartisan notion that everybody should have the right to have access to the ballot box. But that's not where we are right now.

KING: It's not where we are. And you make a key point, though, in some ways, it is quote, unquote, not the president's fault. However, he's the president. He ran and his calling card was electing me and I can get things done. He won those two Jordan's Senate seats, which gave him the possibility with a very narrow, the narrowest possible majority.

And so let's just look, there's the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. That's one of the bills the Democrats want to pass. It would restore protections in the Voting Rights Act that protects against voter suppression expands and strengthens the government's ability to respond to discrimination.

Then there's the Freedom to Vote Act, which expands registration and voting access makes Election Day a federal hospital. You see other new protections in there as well. Astead they have both of the Federal holiday Election Day.


KING: Astead the Democrats have these proposals the question is if the president gives this speech today, and the math does not change, is there a fallback plan? Or is this all or nothing?

HERNDON: Right. I mean, to this point, it seems kind of all or nothing for Democrats. They have said, the John Lewis Act they have, they also have that voting rights rolling expansion, access bill. But both of those have sailed, though those have sailed through with her House support, particularly the For the People Act, and they're now facing that same Senate challenge is going to go back to that filibuster question over and over and over.

And so essentially, this is the White House trying to make a moral point saying, oh, it's not us. We're shifting that on to Senate Democrats to come here. But that's we don't know if that's a distinction that voters really make. It was Joe Biden, as Toluse said; he was in South Carolina saying that he would do everything he could for black voters.

And so I do not I do not know if there are people are going to hold this White House to the same standards that the White House is imposing for themselves. But we do know that voting rights has been a top priority. The Republicans are pushing on it. And frankly, Democrats are fairly late to the party.

Even those bills that they're seeking to pass don't deal with questions of election subversion that we saw in 2020. Don't deal with the kind of a loss of trust that we saw over the last year in our election system. They are frankly, arriving to a 2022 party with tools that are from free from the Obama era. And they are still not at the point where they can even pass.

KING: Those remarkable tests for the president today. We will watch it unfold and we'll continue the conversation. We'll also continue the conversation with some other big stories in just a few moments. Up next for us, new and very troubling pandemic record COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States today just reached a record high.



KING: GOP members of the Biden COVID response team up on Capitol Hill today fielding questions from Senators the hearing coincides with a new pandemic record take a look more than 145,000 Americans hospitalized right now with COVID-19 that eclipses the previous peak of one year ago.

A vast majority of those hospital beds are filled it needs to be noted by unvaccinated patients. The daily COVID case count is eye popping the United States now averaging more than 750,000 new infections per day. Let's get straight to our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen,

Elizabeth hospitalization it's not just a number. It is an enormous stress on the system. It is a stress on the system.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: --health system John, especially since they're having staff shortages, because so many hospital personnel doctors and nurses and others are out because they're sick with Omicron.

So in this Senate hearing, we're hearing the Senators grilling about why are we still having test problems this far into the pandemic, what's with all the confusion from the CDC about isolation Dr. Fauci and Walensky defending their choices defending what the government did with the isolation guidance, and also with the openings of school.

But let's take a look at these hospitalizations that have now hit a record number. Now, I want to give an important piece of context here. Many of the people in hospital with COVID, they just happen to have COVID. They're there because they've had a heart attack or they need cancer surgery or for whatever reason.

So they're not sick enough with COVID to be in the hospital. They just happen to have COVID along with their other diagnosis. But if we put that aside for a minute, this is the important part that it's the unvaccinated that are deriving all of these numbers.

They are the ones putting people's lives at risk. They are the ones putting a burden on the system. Take a look at this graph that red line you see on top that's the unvaccinated who have COVID-19 linked hospitalizations, the green line that's the fully vaccinated it that says it all right there the kind of burden that the unvaccinated are putting on our hospital systems which puts the rest of us and hospital workers at risk.

Let's take a look at what happens when you're fully vaccinated and boosted. The University of Maryland says less than 5 percent of their COVID hospitalizations are in that group are fully vaccinated and boosted. Beaumont Health in Michigan says it's just 8 percent Riverside Health in Virginia, just 10 percent.

This is clearly as it has been a pandemic of the unvaccinated that has continued with Omicron, John.

KING: The numbers don't lie. Sadly, a number of people a decent percentage of people out there the countries just simply refuse to listen to them. Pay attention to them. Get those shots Elizabeth Cohen grateful for the important reporting there.

Let's get some insights now from Dr. Leana Wen she's the Former Baltimore City Health Minister. Dr. Wen I want to start with an issue I know is important to you. Which is it safe to keep kids in schools the Chicago teachers walk out strike call it what you will is ending the teachers are back today the students will go back into the classroom tomorrow.

This was one of the big questions that kept coming up in this hearing on Capitol Hill. I want you to listen to Dr. Walensky who says hey, look during the Delta surge in the fall, we didn't have pediatric vaccines in schools were safe with Omicron now, yes, more cases, but it is safe. Listen.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: School should be the first place it's to open in the last place. It's too close. We had a Delta surge in the fall and 99 percent of our schools were safely open.


KING: There's no disputing that right?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I agree completely with Dr. Walensky here. In addition, we're also dealing with a different variant. Omicron is milder than previous Variants. We have a lot more protections than we did previously in place.

The Biden Administration committed $130 billion to upgrade into improve schools. And we also have to remember where our school - where the students going to be if they're not in school, some of them by actually be isolating at home but many of them are going to be in less safe daycare childcare settings. [12:20:00]

DR. WEN: They might be hanging out with their friends or in other people's homes, places that don't have the kind of protective measures that schools do. Students and kids have lost out so much of learning of their development because of because of schools being shut.

We know what it takes to keep schools open safely. And I see no reason why we have to revert to, to remote learning at this point.

KING: You are one of the people and I'm grateful who have helped me understand and which data I should look at as we've gone through the past two years of this horrific pandemic. So you see the case count, its eye popping 750,000.

You see those record hospitalization numbers, and you shake your head in sadness? So is there any reason to be optimistic here? If you look at New York City and you look at Washington, D.C., the two places two of the places where Omicron started to surge first.

The New York City case count down 23 percent from the first of the year, the D.C. case down 13 percent from the first of the year is that evidence to you that in the places where Omicron hit first, it is cresting and receding. And perhaps in the week or two ahead, we will see that elsewhere.

DR. WEN: We are seeing some signs of hope that there are some places that look like they might be just getting beyond the peak. And actually in these places, there was a clear decoupling between infections and hospitalizations that yes, you did see hospitals of these places become at capacity or over capacity.

But at the same time, there was a huge spike in cases and those cases that we're aware of. That's a huge undercount, because of the rapid tests that are not being part of the official total, and many people not being able to access tests.

And so I am optimistic that we are seeing the peak in some places. However, I'm very worried about the rest of the country, including parts of the country that have pretty low vaccination rates, less than 50 percent of their total population is vaccinated.

I'm not sure what's going to happen when Omicron hits these areas. Are we still going to see that decoupling? Or are we going to see many more hospitalizations and unfortunately, deaths among the predominantly unvaccinated?

KING: Which is why it's important to listen to the public health experts like you and as I like to say use common courtesy and common sense. I just want to show this data from AXIOS and their Coronavirus index. If you look at the data over time, we see right now that the percentage of people who say they are masking up is on the way up.

The percentage of people who say their social distancing is on the way up, the percentage of people who say they're seeing their friends, or they're going out to restaurants is going down. Does that show you that at least most Americans? I know there are sadly some exceptions. Most Americans are using common sense and common courtesy.

DR.WEN: I think so although we do have a split screen here because on the one hand, if you're vaccinated and boosted the individual risk to you is still very low of becoming severely ill. But on the other hand, I'm sure none of us want to be the one that's inadvertently infecting others around us.

And so using common sense measures, including wearing a high quality mask when in indoor spaces, and I hope that's something that CDC really takes up ASAP, to not just recommend, but ideally require KN-95 or N-95 masks while in these indoor public places as other countries have done.

But to do that is what will allow us to keep our schools open. That's what will allow us to keep our businesses open our economy open and people not having to isolate and having these huge work and staff shortages.

KING: Dr. Wen as always thank you very much.

DR. WEN: Thank you.

KING: Up next, can Donald Trump be held liable for the Capitol Insurrection? It's a tricky legal question, tricky legal question, a federal judge to trying to answer right now. Plus, will, Mike Pence agreed to meet with the House committee investigating what led up to that violent day?



KING: Giant test of presidential power and potential liability is playing out in a federal courtroom. Several individuals impacted by January 6 by the insurrection are suing Former President Donald Trump arguing he is liable for what happened.

Trump lawyers argued his words and his conduct that day are protected by presidential privilege bought at a hearing Monday the judge seems skeptical any precedent gets such broad immunity. Judge Amit Mehta repeatedly pointed out Trump wanted more waited more than two hours to tell writers to stop he said this quote, "What do I do about the fact the president didn't denounce the conduct immediately and sent a tweet that arguably exacerbated things"?

Isn't that from a plausibility standpoint that the president plausibly agreed with the conduct of the people inside the Capitol that day? Let's get some perspective now Former Federal Prosecutor, CNN Senior Legal Analyst, Laura Coates is here Laura, the judges raising the key question if you want to gateway and allow these civil suits to go forward, can you possibly make the case that Donald Trump is at least partially responsible?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: When that two hour window of time in which the president had the authority to act, and we still don't yet know what he in fact was doing? Remember, he's been fighting it tooth and nail all the way to the Supreme Court at this point, hoping that he will be excused from having to provide or the National Archives will as well.

But the idea of plausibility is really the key word here in the judges consideration, John thinking, would it really be a stretch to believe that the President of the United States was doing nothing when we have indication that in fact, he was not doing all that he could to actually try to stop it, including the bare minimum of a tweet the bare minimum of not essentially going along with it and just being very vocal and adamant about his truth position.

If he in fact did not want this to take place and so the judges questions really raised a bigger issue.