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Avg Gas Price Nears $5 Per Gallon, Up From $3.07 One Year Ago; Bipartisan Burn Pits Bill Could Help Millions Of Veterans. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 09, 2022 - 12:30   ET



ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I also think they're trying to temper expectations, right, from some Democrats you hear there is this sense that people think there's going to be some sort of bombshells revealed. And if there's not, then what happens, right?

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Let's just take a step back, though to and just remember that no matter what the political consequences are, and we talked about the midterm elections and who's got stuff on the line, this is really about history, right? This is a very important point. This is something that's unprecedented in American history that really goes to the foundations of what the country was founded on. And it really is important to get a full on accounting out there in the public. And I think meeting that mandate, actually speak will speak well of the committee, regardless of the immediate political reaction.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Right. And to echo that point, I think you're absolutely right. The most important thing are the facts. And everyone should watch this with an open mind, if Democrats who believe, you know, Trump should never run again, should watch it with an open mind. Maybe you'll get changed. Maybe you want Republicans who think that day we overplay it should watch with an open mind. See if you still believe that when it's done, but the political stakes, two members of the committee, at least, Liz Cheney, the top Republican on the committee has a primary back home and most if you talk to Wyoming Republicans think she's losing and losing badly right now in part because of her willingness to challenge Donald Trump.

Elaine Luria, a Democrat of Virginia, told "The New York Times" on Tuesday, if I don't get reelected because of this, that's OK. They're willing to -- they believe the principal, the history, the moment deserves leadership, win or lose.

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. And you also seen that with some of these Republicans who did vote to impeach President Trump. They, a number of them obviously sought not to run for reelection, some of whom, like Anthony Gonzalez, he was one whose family was getting attacked. And he's like, you know what, I better bow out for the sake of my own family.

But a lot of these people like Tom Rice in South Carolina, he, of course, has a primary next week, he's facing someone who has Trump's backing and endorsement. He still to this day, could have just, you know, switched his tone. And he still kind of gives an edge and says, well, if Trump apologizes, I'll forgive him. But they're sticking to it and saying, you know what, I took a vote for the Constitution. And that's something I'm sure that we're going to hear today and, in these hearings,,

KING: And many key members of the Committee say that one of the reasons it's important to do this for the history is also for the future in that this has created a cancer in the Republican Party of these election deniers. Just today, just today the FBI arrested Ryan Kelly. He's a Republican candidate for Governor of Michigan. He was charged with involvement, entering -- illegally entering the Capitol on January 6th. You see the complaint right there. He's an election denier. He wants to be the governor of Michigan and yes, he was here on insurrection day.

Ahead gas prices up 25 cents in just a week closing in on five bucks a gallon. And the Biden administration conceding, he's running out of options to lower them.



KING: Probably not a surprise to you. But inflation tops the list when voters are asked to name their biggest concern. And we are getting daily reminders why. The price of gas for example, up 25 cents in just a week now. Now we're approaching a national average of $5 a gallon. And as you can see, in 20 states, the average is already over $5 a gallon. The President knows this is a giant drag on family budgets and on his political standing.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're the strongest economy and that's allowed us at least to stay on top of and a little bit ahead of what's happening around the world. Second thing is, look, inflation is the bane of our existence. Inflation is mostly in food and in gasoline.


KING: If we just show as we continue the conversation with our great reporters, just show the record high gas prices and the trajectory of it a year ago $3.67. And then you see where we are today. And you see the quarter gallon spike, just in a week. Asma, the President has released, you know, oil from the strategic petroleum reserves. He has tried to do some other things. But this is just evidence, no matter whose president, Democrat, Republican, your tools are pretty limited when this happens.

KHALID: It could really only have helped on the margins, right? They're released from the strategic petroleum reserves, even though as he points out correctly, it is the largest that they've ever released from the strategic petroleum reserves. I mean, I think that the challenge for this administration is they have tried to change the messaging on inflation repeatedly over the past couple of months.

And when I talk to analysts and economists, they will say the fundamental challenge is that so long as inflation is a problem, there is nothing that this president or this administration can say that will be solace to people like they are going to be frustrated, so long as they're, you know, paying $5 to gas, $5 a gallon, I'm sorry, on gas. And that is I think the fundamental challenges. These are frustrations that are beyond the President's control. And yet, he is going to continue to be blamed for them.

KING: Right. And so this from the Quinnipiac poll, we can show you the chart. It's just stunning. Of course the nation is paying attention to mass shootings. Of course, the nation pays attention to many other issues. Not that one, please, if we could come to the Quinnipiac poll here. You just show inflation though, 34 percent of Americans say inflation is the number one issue facing the country. It just makes it really hard to break through on anything else, because that's just the -- that's voters see it every day they go to the grocery store, they drive to work and stop at the pump.

HUNT: That's right. And frankly, sometimes I've been tempted to take a picture of how much money I spent filling up my gas tank and, you know, I don't honestly I live in the city and I don't drive that many miles to work. You think about most Americans who are really, really struggling with all of that. And, you know, I think we're the challenge for the administration, John, is that they in their messaging attempts to push back it can if they do it a little bit wrong make people feel like they don't care because they're essentially saying, well, it's out of our control, it's not really our fault, not the greatest way to message to voters necessarily, even though it may be true that there are outside factors, and that there's not a lot that they can do. So they're really in a bind.


KING: Right or you keep saying we're on top of it, but a month later, people don't feel any better. And they say, well, then you're obviously not very -- you're not very good at it, right, which is why that other graphic, you bring it up -- back up now. This is from Reuters/Ipsos poll, but you could show any poll or average or polls, the President's job approval, you go back to inauguration. And you see where we are now. There's a little bit of an uptick there in June, but the President needs that number to go up. And it needs it to go up quickly because we're now inside five months to Election Day.

And if you go back through the history of elections, it's hard for President to get that number to move. And if you're a Democrat in Congress, and that numbers right there, you might be unemployed.

SOTOMAYOR: Exactly. All of these House Democrats are hoping that his approval rating goes up so that their own approval ratings go up. And, you know, to the point that we were just discussing, even Speaker Nancy Pelosi has privately told her members, you know, what, don't get too hung up on these January 6th hearings, we're going to talk about guns, but the only thing that voters are going to care about is inflation is high gas prices, and next week, because they like to do their themed legislative weeks, they'll actually be voting on legislation to try and drop the prices on fertilizer to gas prices, and also try and, you know, address the supply chain issues. But of course, where's that going to go in the Senate? And that's the question.

KHALID: -- I mean, they're capitalizing. And a couple of months ago, I was out in Lansing, Michigan, one of the most competitive congressional districts in the country. And the Republican candidate was holding his press conference, lo and behold, at a gas station on the side of the road, you know, and it was creative, marketing, genius, but also sort of basic and understandable.

KING: And so the President's had a big summit, the Summit of the Americas out on the west coast in California. And, you know, look, it's a complicated job, right. And give your President some grace. You look for things, maybe just some things he thinks foreign policy is his wheelhouse, has a chance to play to my strengths, get a break from some of the day to day pressures. He's meeting with the Brazilian President, Mr. Bolsonaro. Look at this headline. Brazil's Bolsonaro cast out on Biden's 2020 election win ahead of meeting him. Great.

HUNT: Great indeed. Yes, I mean, this is part of this is part of why when leaders are repeatedly telling Americans about something that didn't happen, right, this is a false is an election lie. There are a lot of people who believe him in our own country. And there are people in the rest of the world who are going to use that to, frankly, our national security detriment.

So I think it's a pretty good example of how this is about. It's not just about the political divisions in this country in the way that we have to grapple with that. It's also about our standing on the world stage, and our current sitting duly elected President's ability to do his job as a representative for all of us.

KING: Well said.

Up next for us, very important story, the new Agent Orange, veterans getting sick and dying because of exposure to toxic chemicals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress, finally, moving legislation now to help. We're going to check in with a reporter who has spent years chronicling the impact on veterans in his state.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you afraid?


ELBA BARR, VETERAN EXPOSED TO TOXIC BURN PITS: My path is not an easy one? My death will not be an easy one. And my fear is what that means for the people around me.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: A rare bipartisan agreement this week in Congress. The Senate voting 86 to 12 to move forward with legislation that addresses the burn pits crisis. The hope is to get this measure to President Biden's desk by the end of the month. Burn pits were commonly used to get rid of trash, chemical compounds, hazardous materials, other waste when troops were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now like Agent Orange back in Vietnam, there is a tragic legacy.


WESLEY BLACK, VETERAN EXPOSED TO TOXIC BURN PITS: I had survived, I come home. I was supposed to be on Easy Street. And then I got hit with the big C word.


KING: Staff Sergeant Wesley Black died in November at the age of 36. Darren Perron is an anchor and reporter WCAX-Channel 3 in Burlington, Vermont. And for years, he has told the stories of Sergeant Black and his fellow Vermont National Guard members. Darren grateful for your time today. I want you to just walk back through this because you have spent years on this and this is a testament to good reporting and persistent reporting, documenting the pain in these families, these heroes, these heroes and their family, but also the resistance of the V.A. and the Pentagon to come to grips with the truth.

DARREN PERRON, ANCHOR & REPORTER, WCAX-CHANNEL 3 NEWS: Yes, we began looking into military burn pits about seven years after WCAX photographer Lance MacKenzie and I embedded with the Vermont National Guard in Afghanistan. We joined them in 2010 after the largest call up of the Vermont National Guard since World War II about 1,500 soldiers.

We saw these burn pits, John, massive as you said, open air trash fires that burned all day all night. In them everything was torched with jet fuel. We're talking about human waste, body parts, trash, metals, tires, everything. You know, it was odd. Obviously that's not allowed in the U.S. But then you were more worried about enemy attacks, bombing that kind of thing not the smoke that hung over the bases. But seven years after that deployment our soldiers started getting sick, many died.


And the wife of one of them, Pat Cram, whose husband Mike Cram, a soldier and a police officer in Vermont died from a cancer that doctors hadn't seen before. We were with him in Afghanistan. And so we started digging, and quickly discovered that many, many soldiers were dealing with the same thing. Mike Cram told his wife Pat, just before he died, quote, we got into something over there and he was talking about the burn pits.

And for him and the vast majority of soldiers in the same boat, they were denied medical claims by the V.A. which said more proof was needed linking their illnesses to these burn pits.

KING: So let's I want to listen to a couple more of these heroes, Wes Black, we heard from, I want to hear a little more from him, Sergeant Black and also Brigadier General Michael Heston, also no longer with us, because what strikes me in all of your reporting, but especially listening to these heroes is they're dying, they have cancer, they know they're dying, and listen to how selfless they are.


BRIG. GEN. MICHAEL HESTON, VETERAN EXPOSED TO TOXIC BURN PITS: No, I never asked this. And it's five years I was away from home. I come back. She still was there. And she's the one that's picking up the pieces for me. So we got to take care of our family. This is not just affecting the soldier. This affects the whole family. I need the army to be there for us.

BLACK: If I can prevent just one family from going through what family is going to go through, what I'm going through. If I can prevent one vet from having to do that, that's what I want my son to know about me is that, you know, I fought until the end.


KING: Darren Sergeant Black, General Heston are sadly gone. This legislation adds 23 conditions related to burn pit exposure to the V.A.'s list of illnesses, it requires the V.A. to perform an exam to see if there's any link between the illnesses and exposure to these burn pits. In your reporting in recent days, after years of this, do these families feel at least some indication for the cause?

PERRON: Well, you know, I think that once the President acknowledged in his State of the Union address, John, that he was going to do what he could his administration would do what they could to help these vets who were returning from the war zones after this exposure. I think they finally felt heard. And of course, the legislation that was passed on Tuesday that the President signed into law, they say that, you know, this is a huge step forward.

You may remember that on the campaign trail, the President had talked about how he thought his son Beau was sick because of these burn pits. Now, I have to say that Vermont was ahead of the game in this passing state legislation, expanding the burn pit registry and mandating that doctors take burn pit exposure into consideration when treating vets.

So our soldiers here have had a little bit of a leg up on the rest of the nation. But you know, since then, smaller pieces of legislation have passed at the national level. But again, those nine bills signed by the President on Tuesday are huge for him. And they're waiting for what Congress does next.

KING: Darren Perron, grateful for your time today, grateful for your dedication to the hard reporting it takes into helping these families, really appreciate your time today, thank you.

PERRON: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you.


Ahead for us, some new details on the man charged with attempting to murder the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. What he says set him off.


KING: Topping our political radar today, the Biden administration says children under five could start getting COVID vaccines in less than two weeks. The White House today announcing a rollout plan which includes making more doses available for pre order and establishing partnerships to distribute the shots as quickly as possible.

The FDA's vaccine advisors will meet next week to discuss authorizing emergency use of Moderna and Pfizer shots for young children. Federal agents today rating the California home of the man arrested after the FBI says he threatened to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. You can see the agents here in Simi Valley busting down the front door after obtaining a search warrant. Authorities found a pistol extra ammunition, a knife, pepper spray, and zip ties among other things. According to court records, 26-year-old Nicholas Roske was upset about that leaked draft Supreme Court opinion on abortion as well as an upcoming gun control case and the Uvalde School shooting. If convicted, Roske faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

Nine hundred and fifty one votes, that's the tiny margin T.V. personality Dr. Mehmet Oz won last month Pennsylvania GOP primary by, the recount, not doing much to change the final vote. Before the recount, Oz led David McCormick by 972 votes. McCormick conceded last week in that primary more than 1.3 million votes were cast.

This quick programming note what made John Dean decide to testify against Richard Nixon. The Watergate scandal heats up when the CNN Original Series Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal continues this Sunday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.


Thanks for your time today on Inside Politics. Hope to see you back here tomorrow and tonight for our special coverage of the January 6th hearing. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.