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Moderate Democrats Derail Economic Agenda; California Recall Election; Robin Zinsou is Interviewed about Losing Her Daughter to COVID. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 24, 2021 - 08:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, a clash within the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill is threatening to put on hold the president's entire economic agenda. Nine centrist House Democrats, in fact the number may be 10 this morning, demanding a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill first before the House takes up a vote on the broader budget resolution, the $3.5 trillion bigger plan. Negotiations among Democrats set to resume this morning.

Joining us now on Capitol Hill, CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona. And with us also, CNN political director David Chalian.

Melanie, why don't you tell us what's happening this morning and what didn't happen last night.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, despite hours of negotiation last night and a tense caucus meeting, House Democrats are still at an impasse over how to proceed on an infrastructure bill, leaving Biden's entire economic agenda hanging in the balance.

And the impasse really boils down to this, progressives want a vote first on the budget blueprint that will set the stage for a massive partisan spending plan on social programs. That is also the sequencing that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has committed to. But moderates in the caucus want a vote first on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill so that they can go home to their constituents and say, look, we accomplished something. And so far this group is standing firm and they have a ton of leverage because Speaker Nancy Pelosi can only afford to lose three Democrats on the floor in any votes.

And last night she did try to work out a deal with this group. She offered a concession that would have entailed a guaranteed passage date of October 1st for that bipartisan bill. It fell short of what this centrist group was demanding. So they have not signed off on it yet.

So, where do we go from here? Well, House Democrats have a meeting scheduled at 9:00 a.m. to try to chart a path forward. The House Rules Committee is also scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m. We do think some sort of resolution will come today, even if it ends up with Democratic leaders playing hardball on the floor.

But, look, the bottom line is, frustration and anger is really building in the Democratic Party right now. And, remember, this is just the very beginning of the reconciliation process to unlock that economic agenda. So we still have a long and messy road ahead.

John. Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You know, David, I wonder what this says about ultimately what President Biden is going to get through on this agenda item between these two pieces of legislation. What do you think?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's a good question because, as Melanie said, this is just the beginning. I mean when what -- this -- this thing, this budget resolution, it's just a procedural process so that they can use this thing called reconciliation to get something through the Senate with only 50 votes, as you know, and the tie- breaker vote from Vice President Harris.

But here's the deal, we've only heard from two Democratic senators, Manchin and Sinema, $3.5 trillion is too high a number. We know that there are some moderates in the House who think that's too high a number. This involves trillions of dollars of spending and raising taxes, never a popular thing even though it's raising taxes on the wealthy as President Biden says.

Brianna, here's the rub. This $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, this budget resolution, that's where the campaign promises are. That is where Joe Biden's promise of universal pre-k, or two years free of community college, or expanding Medicare, these are die hard principles and promises that Democrats made to voters who elected them president and kept them in the House majority. So there's going to have to be delivery on some of this or it's going to be a price to pay for the Democrats. I just don't think -- you can see already how difficult it's going to be to thread the needle to bring all the factions of the Democratic Party together.

BERMAN: Yes, we'll see how it happens. I mean, look, he's got Nancy Pelosi, who can count votes on his side.

But, David, I'm going to steal a question that I heard Brianna asking you in the break. Basically, I mean, how would you like to be Joe Biden waking up in the White House this morning, aside from the comfortable rooms? I mean his economic agenda is on hold this morning, right? You have what's going on in Afghanistan, which clearly didn't go as planned, although he's getting some good news about the number of people being evacuated there, but that hangs in the balance.


And then you have Dr. Anthony Fauci coming out on COVID saying, we not may be able to return to some sense of normal until next spring, normal by next spring and a lot of Americans going, wait a second, what about normal this summer? You know, just everything seems up in the air this morning. CHALIAN: Yes, listen, this White House knows very well, John, as you

know, nothing matters as much as COVID in terms of them -- the White House and President Biden being able to move forward any piece of their agenda with the American people because unless there is a competent and clear plan to put the pandemic crisis in the rearview mirror truly, it's going to be very hard for Joe Biden to get a real hearing from the American people, rally them, rally the votes that he needs to actually get through his agenda. And they know that at the White House, which is why it dominates everything above all else.

So I think the -- hearing a delayed timeline of a return to normalcy, continued delta surge, even though there's good news, obviously, vaccinations up we've seen in the last week, they have some things to point to, the full authorization from the FDA, the fact that COVID, as we now go into a third school year where kids are going to be impacted by this pandemic, is still so front and center is just a roadblock to almost everything else that they have to work around.

KEILAR: A third -- I mean when you put it that way, a third school year. And I wonder, Mel, are you getting a sense from Democrats how worried they are about the political ramifications of a pandemic with a lot of hospitalizations that will stretch into the spring?

ZANONA: They are really concerned about this. Even before they left for the break. My colleague Manu Raju and I reported that there was some new polling that the d-trip (ph) had released that showed that if the election in the House was held today, that Democrats would lose. So combine that with the Afghanistan situation, along with the COVID cases that are rising, and now potentially the economic agenda being derailed or delayed, there's a lot of concern on Capitol Hill about what the potential political ramifications are.

But I think really underlining all of this is that Democrats know that they -- if they want to hold on to their majorities in the House and in the Senate, that they have to accomplish something. And so that is really what's driving the negotiations. That's why you see these groups wanting to get to yes today and going forward in the months ahead.

KEILAR: Yes, they need something to counter maybe some of these headwinds they're going to face with this slim margin.

Mel, thank you so much.

David, great to see you as well.

President Biden is under pressure to extend this deadline for troops in Afghanistan. He's going to be speaking today to G7 leaders just minutes from now.

BERMAN: And how California's recall election could affect you even if you don't live anywhere near California.


[08:41:55] BERMAN: So, two weeks until an election with huge, national implications. It's the recall vote in California for Governor Gavin Newsom. It's a quirky law in process -- quirky is a nice way of putting it -- with a huge amount at stake.

John Avlon with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's a recall election looming in California, and here's why it matters if you live outside the golden state. First, because it's another Republican end run around majoritarian democracy. Second, because control of the U.S. Senate could hang in the balance.

Now, you might have thought this was just some doomed GOP stunt because California is reliably Democrat, right? Well, yes, if you judge by most statewide elections. After all, Joe Biden won the state by almost 30 points. Hillary Clinton did even better. California hasn't elected a Republican senator since Pete Wilson in 1988 and no GOP gubernatorial candidate has passed 41 percent of the vote since the decidedly centrist Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.

Incumbent Gavin Newsom won with nearly 62 percent of the vote less than three years ago. And that's in large part because more than 46 percent of the voters there are registered Democrat, compared to 24 percent Republican and 23 percent independent, what the state calls no party preference.

Look, I'm no fan of one-party states, but recall races like this aren't the right way to correct it because the rules are designed to empower extremes, requiring just 1.5 million signatures, a fraction of the votes cast in the last election, to kick this gear into process. And between COVID, wildfires, and rising murders, and, I mean, Californians are feeling (INAUDIBLE).

Now, voter turnout in recalls is typically low. And those motivated to recall are more likely to participate, even in a mail-in election.

But here's how it works. The first question is a simple yes or no, should the governor get recalled. Now, if more than 50 percent of the voters say yes, Gavin Newsom is toast, and with him the Democrats. Then the next question becomes, who should replace him?

Now, there are 46 candidates running. And this isn't rank choice. It's first past the post, which means that after the recall vote on September 14th, residents of America's largest state could wake up with a new governor who only got the votes of a tiny percentage of the electorate.

Now, a leading Republican candidate is a right wing radio host named Larry Elder. He's a black Trump backer, which helps him stand out from the crowd. But with front runner status comes increases scrutiny, from accusations that he waved a gun at an ex-fiance, which he denies, filed improper financial disclosures, which his campaign calls a simple mistake, and then there's the shock jock lines that have come back to haunt him like this 1996 ad.


LARRY ELDER: Glass ceiling? Ha, what glass ceiling. Women -- women exaggerate the problem of sexism.


AVLON: Other candidates considered top tier, which means polling in the low single digits, include reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, former mayor of San Diego Kevin Faulconer, assemblyman Kevin Kiley and businessman John Cox, who got thrashed by Newsome in 2018 by around 3 million votes.

Now, this if this all sounds a little kooky, screwy, even by California standards, you're not wrong. In fact, a few scholars argue this process isn't constitutional at all if it leads to a new Republican governor receiving fewer votes than the Democrat.


But with the U.S. Senate divided 50/50, if something should happen to the oldest member of the senate, 88-year-old Dianne Feinstein, the new governor of California would choose her replacement, flipping control of the Senate. This could also give Republicans the power to block a replacement for the oldest Supreme Court justice, Stephen Breyer, if he chooses to retire. This could give Republicans a 7-2 majority on the court, despite having won the popular vote in a presidential election only once since 1988.

So, yes, the California recall on September 14th matters a lot. Not just in the golden state, but nationwide.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: It sure does matter. And I'm with you on the kooky, screwy part also.

John Avlon, thank you.

Now here's what else to watch today.


ON SCREEN TEXT: 9:30 a.m. ET, Biden speaks with G7 leaders.

12:00 p.m. ET, Biden remarks on Afghanistan.

1:00 p.m. ET, White House press briefing.


BERMAN: New reporting on a secret meeting between the CIA director and the Taliban. Live coverage ahead.

KEILAR: And, next, a young mother's final message before losing her battle with COVID.



BERMAN: A Texas mother is sharing her daughter's heart-wrenching, final message before dying of COVID. Mom, I wish I got vaccinated. Thirty-two-year-old Page Ruiz was nine months pregnant when she tested positive. It was just days before she was due to have her second child on July 30th. She had an emergency c-section and it looked as if she was recovering, but there were complications and she passed away last week before being able to hold her newborn baby Celeste.

With me now is Page's mother, Robin Zinsou.

And, Robin, we're so sorry for your loss. And I want to talk to you about your daughter, Page.

But first, just let me ask, your granddaughters, Joanna and newborn Celeste, how are they doing this morning?

ROBIN ZINSOU, LOST 32-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER TO COVID-19: They're doing well. They're healthy and they're doing well.

BERMAN: Well, that's a blessing. And I'm so pleased to hear that. I know how hard this has to be on you and them.

Look, your daughter, Page, she was pregnant and had chosen not to get vaccinated. Why?

ZINSOU: She thought that there wasn't enough information or data out there to say that she could confidently get vaccinated without harming the baby. And she -- I would ask her, have you talked to the doctor? Have you talked to the doctor? I would like you to get vaccinated. And she kept saying, no, I'm going to wait until after I have the baby. She was afraid she would harm the baby. So that's why she didn't get vaccinated.

BERMAN: And you were worried all along.

ZINSOU: Yes, I was. It was my worst fear.

BERMAN: I think having a loved one come down with COVID is such a fear for everybody right now.

After she was diagnosed, she started trying to convince other people to get vaccinated. She came around. What did she do?

ZINSOU: It wasn't until after she had the baby that she -- and she started to get worse that she said that she wished she have gotten the vaccine. She texted that to me. I didn't find out till after she passed that she was texting that same message to her sister and to her friends.

BERMAN: That's so hard to hear.

ZINSOU: And that she wanted -- and she wanted people to get vaccinated. BERMAN: No doubt she'd want you to be telling people right now to go

out and get vaccinated and share her story.


BERMAN: So, her daughter, Celeste, was delivered, and Celeste is doing fine.


BERMAN: Page was able to see Celeste, but never able to hold her. Explain that.

ZINSOU: As soon as Celeste was delivered, they whisked her away. And when my daughter came to, they said that they couldn't -- they had to keep each other separated because of the COVID.

Celeste was discharged from the hospital a couple of days later and we figured out a way to do video chat so that Page could see the baby. And that's how we let Page -- figured out a way for her to mother her daughter.

BERMAN: Well, I'm sure she would have loved to have been able to hold her. But even being able to see her, I'm sure, in and of itself, was a blessing.

Robin, I've got to let you go, but what is the message you want the American people to hear this morning?

ZINSOU: Mask up, get vaccinated so this doesn't happen to your family.

BERMAN: Robin Zinsou, we're sending you love. We're with you.

ZINSOU: Thank you.

BERMAN: You know, we're thinking about you and your granddaughters. We wish you the best of luck. Thank you for being with us.

ZINSOU: Thank you. Thank you.


BERMAN: We'll be right back.


KEILAR: "The Good Stuff" this morning, Airbnb pledging to help Afghans who fled their country after the Taliban takeover. CEO Brian Chesky tweeting this morning that the company will give free housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees globally. There is no word yet exactly where or how long refugees would be able to stay for free.

For more information on how you can help Afghan refugees during this crisis, go to

And CNN's coverage continues right now. [09:00:09]