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Georgia State Representative Arrested During Signing of Georgia Bill Concerning Voter Rights and Voting Access; President Biden Holds First Press Conference; Former CDC Director Believes Coronavirus Came from Lab in China. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired March 26, 2021 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Under arrest for what? For trying to see something that our governor is doing? Our governor is signing a bill that affects all Georgians, and you're going to arrest an elected representative? Why does the governor have more power than a representative? Why are you arresting her?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what I'm asking.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop arresting her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you arresting her? Why are you --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cite the violation. Cite the code. What is she in violation of? I want you to cite the code. Cite the code. Cite it. Cite the code. Cite the code. Cite the code. Why are you arresting her? Under what -- under what?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Under what law are you arresting her?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what I'm asking you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you arresting her?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let her go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you arresting her? Tell us now. Why are you arresting her? Cite it. Give me a reason why you're arresting her. Give me a reason why you are arresting her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let her go! Why are you arresting her?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is an elected representative. Why are you arresting her? Why are you arresting her?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That was Georgia State Representative Park Cannon being arrested, you saw it, and removed from the capital in handcuffs last night. It happened while the governor, Brian Kemp, signed a bill that restricts ballot access. And it's all based on the lie that there was vast voting fraud in that state. Remember, Republicans told us there was not. Representative Cannon now faces two felony charges. In his first press conference since being sworn in, President Biden called Republican efforts to limit voting rights un- American and sick.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now is Georgia State Representative Erica Thomas who you just heard on that cellphone video trying to defend her colleague while being arrested. Representative Thomas, thank you for being here. I know you spoke to your colleague, Representative Cannon, this morning after she was released from jail. What did she tell you?
ERICA THOMAS, (D) GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, of course, at this time, she's traumatized. It was a very traumatic experience. Just listening to it before we came on took me back to that moment. And we're doing everything we can to protect her in this moment, at the same time, trying to protect the voting rights for the citizens of Georgia.
CAMEROTA: Yes, I can understand. If you haven't heard that video before, it is really striking to hear that video and watch that video. Did you ever get an answer? Do you understand why she was arrested?
THOMAS: No. I don't understand at all. Seeing that we -- it was a group of us that were there, watching it as it panned out. I did hear that someone said, different things, she stepped on someone's toe, all these different kinds of allegations that nothing was done. And we were standing right there. It's her right to be able to knock on the governor's door. He works for all of us.
CAMEROTA: But what did you want? Why did you go to the governor's office? Did you hope to disrupt the signing ceremony?
THOMAS: Well, we do believe that it was our right to be able to even witness what was going on. Usually there's different types of signings of the bill, but the public is allowed to be able to watch this to be signed. We got a text at 6:15, we were letting out of session, that in 15 minutes this bill is about to be signed. And it was just on the House floor yesterday. So they tried to move very swiftly without us even knowing.
CAMEROTA: But had you gotten in there, what would you have done?
THOMAS: To be honest with you, I don't know. I can't speak on that situation. We weren't able to get in. I don't know. I do know that -- I can't even answer that question, to be honest with you. I have no idea what would have happened. But there were citizens standing outside that wanted to be able to see what was going on, and they should have been able to see the signing.
CAMEROTA: Here's a picture of the people who were allowed inside for the signing ceremony, and it's other representatives, all of them, it has been noted, white men. You say that you sit there every single day, you and your colleague who was arrested, and defend these, quote, bad bills like this one. What specifically makes this one a bad bill?
THOMAS: Well, it's so many egregious things in this bill. It's a 100- page bill, and they put so many different things in it. One thing is creating a state election board.
Right now in the state of Georgia, the chief officer of the elections is the secretary of state. And this will remove him as the chair of the election and create a board that will be governed by the state legislature, which, of course, we all do know is run by Republicans. And so, with that being said, they would be able to fire electors. They'd be able to take over. And the craziest thing about this election board is that all of their decisions do not have to be public. Their meetings do not have to be public. Nothing has to be public if they are doing a firing of a state superintendent, or whatever. It can be, again, behind closed doors like what you saw yesterday.
CAMEROTA: Do you think this is punishment specifically for Brad Raffensperger, secretary of state, because President Trump was mad at him?
THOMAS: I do. I do think that this is the Republican Party being upset because they lost. They lost. This is a time where we should be excited. We had record numbers turning out this last year and the beginning of this year. We should be celebrating. But because it did not go the way that they wanted, we're not celebrating. We're talking about getting rid of mobile voting. We're talking about giving a misdemeanor to volunteers that are passing out water to people that have stood in lines for five, six, seven hours. We are talking about things that are egregious and that are going to hurt the Georgians that we represent.
CAMEROTA: Is it your belief that this will hurt voters of color or all voters?
THOMAS: I believe that, of course, it will hurt voters of color, but it will hurt every -- all voters. All voters. When you think about these drop boxes that are placed all over the state of Georgia and that gave so many people access to vote, and now we're cutting it down to one per 100,000 people, and to have a police officer standing right beside a ballot drop box, that is voter intimidation. And that hurts all Georgians.
CAMEROTA: Your colleague, Representative Park Cannon who was arrested last night, what's her plan now? I know you spoke to her and you say that she's traumatized. What's going to happen today? What does she plan to do?
THOMAS: We don't really know what is going to happen today. What we do know is that she has lawyers on her side. She has representatives on her side. And, of course, as you saw last night, Senator Raphael Warnock was here straight off the plane, came try to the jail and he was right by her side. He's been our pastor for many, many years. And so what we are now is praying for her strength to get through this. And we are definitely lawyered up to defend her in every way we know how.
CAMEROTA: Representative Erica Thomas, we really appreciate your time. We know you've had a long night. Thank you very much for being here.
THOMAS: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: President Biden with a message for the American people and for Republicans in his first press conference. More from our White House team, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's the deal. I think my Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together or they'll decide that the way in which they want to proceed is to -- is to just divide the country, continue the politics of division. But I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to move forward and take these things as they come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: President Biden at his first formal news conference. Joining us now, CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins and CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. Kaitlan, you were in the room where it happened. You there were for President Biden's first formal press conference. So stepping back, what do you think the biggest of big picture takeaways is from what we saw?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think we learned a lot about his agenda and what we should expect to come up over the next few months and what we should not expect to be something that is going to be at the top of his priority list. And I think that was really revealing in his answer where he turned to infrastructure and what that plan is going to look like, because, of course, we knew it was on the horizon. We knew it was something that he had been formulating. But in the context of whether or not he's going to pursue something like that or guns, he made pretty clear he wants to go after infrastructure, because he thinks that's going to have a bigger effect on the country in the wake of not just the pandemic but also in a global sense, talking about our competitiveness with China.
And so he made clear that, yes, this week he was calling for legislation on guns. He was talking about executive actions, and that's something his aides are working on behind the scenes. But he made very clear that he is sticking with what he came into office with back in January with that recovery plan, and infrastructure is next up for him.
BERMAN: John Harwood, your biggest takeaway from the press conference?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, similar to Kaitlan's, but what struck me most of all throughout that press conference was that what he was doing was preparing to make the case for plan b if plan a doesn't work. That is to say, on infrastructure, for example, plan a is to try to entice Republicans to make a deal with him. I think few people in the White House expect -- I don't think President Biden expects that they actually are going to make a deal. They made pretty clear that they're going to roadblock opposition wherever they can. But he's making the case that I'm trying. If I can't get it done that way, I'll go another way. The other way in this case is the reconciliation -- the special budgetary path that lets you proceed with only Democratic votes as they did on the American Rescue Plan.
Similarly, on the filibuster, his plan a is to work with Republicans, not seek the abolition of the filibuster, but talk about potentially tweaking it to prevent the abuse of the filibuster, but also making clear that if that doesn't work, he said, I think if they want a complete lockdown and chaos, we're going to move forward. So he's making the case that action is what his top priority is. And if he can't get it one way --
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- lockdown and chaos, we're going to move forward.
So he's making the case that action is what his top priority is. And if he can't get it one way, he's going to seek to get it the other way. Now, of course, on the filibuster, the challenge there is that the president does not possess the power to abolish the filibuster.
He does, however, possess the power to exhort his party to do so. And I think that's what plan B is if other things, like voting rights, which he said was elemental, if those get roadblocked there.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Kaitlan, stylistically, how did that presidential news conference differ from the ones you've covered for the previous four years in the previous administration?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a lot different because it was more structured in a sense that -- I can remember one time with a Trump press conference and we got a 20-minute heads-up. And it wasn't just in the briefing room, something like that. It was in the East Room, a real press conference by Trump. And, you know, to just give examples of how different that is from this one. We found out nine days in advance about this press conference. And it also looked a lot different than a first presidential press conference normally does. You saw only 30 reporters in the room this time. We were all really spaced out. There were very few senior staff in there.
But, then, of course, when it came to the answers, you also saw a difference to where the immigration thing really spoke to it the most, I think, because that is something that President Biden was pressed repeatedly on given the numbers and, of course, the scramble that we've seen that ensued to find space for those children on the border.
But despite being asked about it, time and time again, President Biden was asking those questions but then kept going back to what his agenda is going to look like. And it wasn't really this attempt to let it derail what he wanted to talk about at the press conference. Of course, his agenda, he talked about his new pandemic goal at the beginning and then infrastructure as well.
But despite, you know, what's happening at the border and what we've seen happen with these two mass shootings, he's still trying to stay focused on what his ultimate agenda is. And that is something that former President Trump obviously struggled with.
There would often be a press conference that was ostensibly on vaccines and progress there and we would end up talking about something completely differently because of how the former president would -- what he would tweet about or what he himself would focus on in those briefings, those press conferences.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: John, one other stylistic difference is that President Biden doesn't seem to need to be loved in the way that President Trump needed to be. And President Trump, if you didn't love him, would punish you.
And President Biden, I think, wants to be loved through his policies or through what he deems success. And so when he was asked maybe by Kaitlan about, are you going to -- you haven't invited Mitch McConnell over. He's like, I know Mitch. Listen, all in good time.
Like he just -- he wasn't currying favor. He didn't seem to be. And when asked when Kaitlan did ask him if he was going to run again and pointed out his predecessor Donald Trump had already set up a reelection campaign by that, he was like, he sort of chuckled and said, my predecessor. It was just interesting, these little asides that he gave away.
HARWOOD: I think that's right, Alisyn. Look, he is not going to go out of his way to smack anybody politically, to take cheap shots at them. But he's also making clear he's not going to suck up to anybody either.
This is somebody who has been around, as he said, for 120 years in Washington. He understands the rhythms of the place. He understands when legislators need to posture and when they don't. He was not -- he is not questioning their motivation. That's something
that he's always said he learned early in his career that you don't get anywhere if you start questioning somebody's motivation.
But he's clearly trying to stay focused on the substance of his agenda, the rescue plan and then the infrastructure, the build back better recovery plan, and I think that's a pretty striking level of discipline that contrasts with former President Trump.
The one other thing I would just say to Kaitlan's point, I don't want to tell on myself, but I've been going on these presidential press conferences since Ronald Reagan was president. They've come a long way and certainly, COVID is a big part of that. The way reporters were spaced out. The way the president had a list of people he was going to call on.
When Reagan was president, people used to lift their hand and strain like they were getting the teacher to call on them. They'd wear a red outfit in order to -- red tie or red dress because President Reagan responded to red.
This was a much more orderly and subdued affair, I think, that's in keeping with the discipline that Joe Biden is trying to project in the opening days.
BERMAN: John, Kaitlan, thank you both very much.
CAMEROTA: Paging Sam Donaldson.
BERMAN: I know.
You wore a red suit. I mean, the red suit really stood out.
BERMAN: The former director of the CDC speaking out in ways that he never has before. Hear him tell our Dr. Sanjay Gupta when and where he thinks the pandemic really started.
BERMAN: So, Dr. Robert Redfield, the former CDC director, is speaking out for the first time saying publicly where he believes the coronavirus that caused the pandemic came from. His extraordinary comments come in a new interview for a CNN documentary airing this weekend.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now.
And, Sanjay, Dr. Redfield says he's giving his opinion, but I have to say, I think you're about to break some pretty significant news here. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this was
extraordinary, John, for certain. He is the former CDC director. He spent his entire career as a virologist. I interviewed all six of these doctors sort of in the form of an autopsy, really to sort of meticulously dissect exactly what happened here, really no pre-agenda.
Dr. Redfield when we sat down to talk, he wanted to start at the beginning, the origins of this virus. What he believed actually transpired.
Take a listen.
ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: September, October?
REDFIELD: That's my own view. It's only an opinion. I'm allowed to have opinions now.
You know, I'm of the point of view that I still think the most likely ideology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped.
Other people don't believe that. That's fine. Science will eventually figure it out.
It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker.
GUPTA (voice-over): It's also not unusual for that type of research to be occurring in Wuhan. The city is a widely known center for viral studies in China, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has experimented extensively with bat coronaviruses.
It is a remarkable conversation I feel like we're having here because you are the former CDC director, and you were the director at the time this was all happening.
For the first time, the former CDC director is stating publicly that he believes this pandemic started months earlier than we knew. And that it originated, not at a wet market, but inside a lab in China.
These are two significant things to say, Dr. Redfield.
REDFIELD: That's not implying any intentionality, you know? It's my opinion, right?
But I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology. I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and at that moment in time, the virus came to the human, became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission.
Normally, when a pathogen goes from a zoonotic (ph) to human, it takes awhile for it to figure out how to become more and more efficient in human to human transmission. I just don't think this makes biological sense.
GUPTA: So in the lab, do you think that process of becoming more efficient was happening? Is that what you are suggesting?
REDFIELD: Yeah, let's just say, I have coronavirus and I'm working on it. Most of us in the lab are trying to grow virus. We try to help make it grow better and better and better and better and better and better so we can do experiments and figure about it. I -- that's the way I put it together.
GUPTA (on camera): It's a pretty extraordinary conversation. And a little glimpse of what we revealed sort of within these couple of hours. I should point out, the World Health Organization calls the lab leak theory unlikely. And Chinese officials have started increasingly pointing to a multiple origin theory, saying that this pandemic may have started in multiple places, even around the world, including U.S. military labs. That's unsubstantiated, but that's sort of the back and forth that's happening right now.
We still don't know, a year later, exactly how this pandemic started.
BERMAN: Sanjay, he's the former CDC director. So when he says it's just his opinion, it's not just an opinion.
BERMAN: The former CDC director sees things and knows things the rest of us don't see --
CAMEROTA: A life long expertise.
BERMAN: But only his life's long expertise, but actually when he was in the U.S. government, seeing things that the rest of us aren't entitled to. I mean, how much of just an opinion can it be?
GUPTA: That's exactly right. I mean, he's talking to people on the ground, not just as counterparts of the China CDC, but we have investigators on the ground in various countries around the world, including China. If you look even at our preparedness and response sort of strategies in the United States, it's medical and public health. But it's also intelligence gathering.
So when we're sitting down and talking to all these people, we're giving a sort of overall picture, I think, for the first time of what they knew, what they knew at what time, and how they were sort of piecing that together. So, it's really -- and it's not just intrigue. It's important to know how this started if you are going to best prepare for a possible future pandemic. To go and -- sort from an animal to a human and suddenly become one of the most infectious pathogens we've ever seen in humanity simply doesn't happen very often.
That's the point that Dr. Redfield was trying to make.
CAMEROTA: Sanjay Gupta, thank you very much. We really appreciate that. And it does sound like something we need to discuss more.
Let's do that right now, John.
Let's bring in CNN political analyst Josh Rogin. He's done a lot of reporting on the origin of COVID-19. He's the author of "Chaos Under Heaven: America, China and the Battle for the 21st Century."
Josh, you have done reporting on the origins. You -- we've had these discussions with you. Tell us the significance of hearing Dr. Redfield, former director, say this. That's what he thinks, it came from a lab.
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, my initial reaction, Alisyn, is, wow, stunning, ground-breaking, really narrative-changing conversation that Sanjay Gupta had with Robert Redfield for a couple of important reasons. One is as you mentioned, he is not any Schmoe -- Joe Schmoe scientist. He was the head of the CDC, a life-long virologist and in apposition to know all this information.