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Fiery Exchange at Voter ID Hearing; Time to Ditch the Debt Ceiling; Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired September 23, 2021 - 08:30   ET



LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY, CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: Leadership is threatened in a way it hasn't been in quite some time and we need to make crucial investments in science and technology as well.

So, we need to be tough-minded. We need to recognize, we can't buy everything tomorrow. But we need to recognize that we're going to need to raise taxes to pay for it. And there's some attractive targets for taxation starting from the $700 billion a year -- let me say that again, $700 billion a year tax gap. But there's the potential to do something that all moderates should support and that would also be the greatest progressive accomplishment we've had in this country in well over a generation. And I have a suspicion that President Biden's going to lead us towards finding that sweet spot. But it's going to involve probably some more spending than some moderates prefer and it's certainly not going to involve everything that progressives want to see.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Larry, it is so great to speak with you this morning. Thank you for being with us.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

KEILAR: Just ahead, the Senate's top Republican singing a much different tune about the debt ceiling these days.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: First, a college professor joins us next on her face-off with Senator Ted Cruz.


FRANITA TOLSON, LAW PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: I'm not saying the entire state of Texas is racist, but --

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): You just said my state of Texas.

TOLSON: Your voter --

CRUZ: So you tell me, what about the Texas voter ID law is racist.

TOLSON: Oh, absolutely. (END VIDEO CLIP)



BERMAN: A law professor and CNN election law analyst went toe to toe with Senator Ted Cruz in a Judiciary Committee hearing in a fiery exchange about the Texas voter ID law.



SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): In your judgment, are voter ID laws racist, Professor Tolson?


So, it depends. One thing we have to stop doing is treating all voter ID laws as the same.

CRUZ: OK, so your answer -- I -- I want to move quickly, so it depends is your answer?

TOLSON: Yes, it does. That's my answer.

CRUZ: OK. So what voter ID laws are racist?

TOLSON: Apologies, Mr. Cruz, your state of Texas perhaps.

CRUZ: OK. So you think the entire state of Texas is racist. What about requiring an ID to vote is racist?

TOLSON: So I think, sir, that's pretty reductive. I'm not saying the entire state of Texas is racist, but --

CRUZ: You just said my state of Texas.

TOLSON: Your voter --

CRUZ: So you tell me what about the Texas voter ID laws is racist.

TOLSON: Oh, absolutely.

So, the fact that the voter ID law was put into place to diminish the political power of Latinos with racist intent and have been found to have racist intent --

CRUZ: You're asserting that. What's your evidence for that?

TOLSON: The district -- the federal district court that first resolved the constitutionality of Texas' voter ID law.

CRUZ: OK. So your view is voter ID laws are racist. How about you, Mr. Yang?

JOHN C. YANG, PRESIDENT, ASIAN AMERICAN ADVANCING JUSTICE: I agree with Professor Tolson, voter ID laws can be racist (INAUDIBLE).

CRUZ: OK, that's two.

Mr. Sience (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some voter ID laws that are racially discriminatory in intent.


BERMAN: Joining us now is the professor who brought receipts, Franita Tolson, CNN election law analyst and vice dean of USC Law School.

Dean, thank you so much for being with us.

I'm going to ask you to do the impossible here. But put yourself in the senator's brain, Ted Cruz's brain there, what is it that you think he was trying to get out of that discussion?

FRANITA TOLSON, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: I think he wanted me and my colleagues to be in a fundraising video. He wanted some sound bite of us saying that voter ID laws, which he noted several times throughout the hearing has -- they have broad support. So he wanted some sound bite saying that we think that they're racist and that they don't further the cause of election integrity. I refuse to be a sound bite, and my colleagues as well.

BERMAN: You know, it was one of the discussions we had on this show a couple of months ago. Stacey Abrams came out on this show and said, you know, there are certain voter ID laws she supports. And people, all of a sudden, their heads exploded and said, what, what? Explain this to us so people can understand, you know, what voter ID laws --

TOLSON: Terrific --

BERMAN: You know, what -- where is the line?

TOLSON: Yes, this is a great question because I think folks get a little confused about it.

My point to the senator was that all voter ID laws are not the same. And Texas has one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country and it really harms communities of color.

But voter IDs do not have to be that restrictive. For example, Texas accepts only a limited number of IDs to vote. So if you have a drivers' license or an election ID card or a handgun license or military identification you can vote. But if you have federal ID or state ID or a student ID, you can't vote. And it's clearly targeted towards making it harder for the people who are more likely to have those IDs. The students of -- students of color and students more generally tend to skew toward the Democratic Party. And, also, Texas has part time ID issuing offices in rural areas with

high concentrations of people of color and people in poverty, right? So, the entire regime is really targeted to make it very difficult for minorities to get the ID that they actually need in order to cast a ballot. It does not have to be that way. There are other states that have voter ID laws that are less restrictive.

For example, South Carolina has a voter ID law that has a reasonable impediment provision that allows voters who have -- who fill out an affidavit and attest that they tried to get the ID, well, they can vote, right?

So there are -- there are different ways to do this. And Texas has just chosen the path that leads to disenfranchisement.

BERMAN: And in this district court case that you cited there, what was the finding of that court?

TOLSON: So the -- the federal court that first reviewed Texas' 2011 voter ID law found that the state acted with racially discriminatory intent. And after years of litigation -- so this went up and down -- the courts, Texas passed a new version of its law in order to try to purge it of that discriminatory intent.

But let's keep in mind, John, this problem is not just unique to the voter ID context, right? Texas has had -- Texas has had similar problems with its redistricting plans, which have been litigated amid allegations of racially discriminatory intent. So this is a recurring problem in Texas. And it's no coincidence that Texas kept coming up over the course of the hearing yesterday.


BERMAN: You know, I'm not sure that -- in fact, I know that Congress isn't close to passing any kind of huge voting reform or voting deal here. But what role could, in a perfect world, what role could voter ID play in a compromise there?

TOLSON: Well, so I think it's important to be clear about what the hearing was actually about yesterday, right? The proposed bill is a compromise of sorts, right, because it's a direct response to the Shelby County versus Holder decision from 2013 which invalidated a portion of the Voting Rights Act that required certain jurisdictions to preclear changes to their voting law with the federal government before those changes could go into effect. The Supreme Court struck that down.

So the bill that was being considered is something called practice based preclearance, where only certain practices, instead all of election laws, would have to be precleared with the federal government. Among those practices are voter ID laws. And arguably, if a voter ID law is not designed to minimize the political power of minorities, then it is administratively easy for that law to be precleared. It's just that we focus so much attention on the bad actors and their efforts to try to put discriminatory laws into place that it seems like this is overly burdensome. Most jurisdictions will -- would pass this preclearance process completely fine.

BERMAN: Dean Franita Tolson, we appreciate you being with us today. Thank you for sharing your insights.

TOLSON: Thank you.

BERMAN: So does the United States even need a debt ceiling anymore? A "Reality Check" is next.

KEILAR: Plus, highly trained dive teams ready to return to the water to resume the search for Brian Laundrie, as we get new clues from witnesses who may have seen Gabby Petito in her final hours.



BERMAN: The full faith and credit of the United States now just another political football. But it was not always thus.

John Avlon with a "Reality Check."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The latest entry in America's self-inflicted wound sweepstakes is the debt ceiling. It' an absurd, artificial fiscal cliff that risks the U.S. defaulting on its debt, something that would damage our credibility and throw the world economy into crisis, while pulling America into recession almost overnight. And yet we're playing Russian roulette with this right now. Largely because Republicans don't want to help Democrats avoid a national disaster. They think it might benefit them politically. Despite the fact that Democrats have often extended the debt ceiling for Republican presidents, including three times for Donald Trump.

Let me pull back.

Now, America's had debt basically since its founding. We've had a debt ceiling since World War I, which requires Congress to raise the limit on what the government can borrow. But that's usually a formality.

For example, the debt ceiling was raised 18 times under Ronald Reagan, while the national debt almost tripled to $2.1 trillion. But back then, Democrats controlled the House and they invoked a common sense measure known as the Gephardt Rule, stating that Congress automatically authorized whatever borrowing is needed to fund the budget that they passed. Makes sense, right?

But when Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich took control of the House in 1995 under Democratic President Bill Clinton, they ditched the Gephardt Rule, instead using the debt ceiling as leverage, leading to an era of the government shutdown.

That got so bad that during the standoff in 2011, America lost its AAA credit rating with the S&P stating that the effectiveness, stability and predictability of American policymaking had weakened.

But Senator Mitch McConnell looked on the crisis with some satisfaction, calling it a hostage that's worth ransoming.

But when Trump was president in 2019, McConnell sang a very different tune.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We will never have America default.

Well, we raised the debt ceiling because America can't default. I mean that would be a disaster.


AVLON: Right. And because there was bipartisan concern, Republicans and Democrats actually suspended the debt ceiling for two years, even while Trump increased America's debt by nearly $8 trillion.

Now, Democrats are in control of the White House and Congress, and here's Mitch McConnell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Republicans are united in opposition to raising the debt ceiling.


AVLON: Now, McConnell's rational is that this is the Democrats' problem to solve. And it might be if Senate Republicans hadn't threatened the filibuster, which means Democrats will need 60 votes to avoid hitting the debt ceiling sometime in October.

This is madness. There's a reason no other major industrialized nation has a debt ceiling, because it's basically an invitation to chaos. According to Moody's Analytics, a prolonged impasse over the debt ceiling would cost the U.S. economy up to 6 million jobs, wipe out as much as $15 trillion in household wealth and send the unemployment rate surging to roughly 9 percent from around 5 percent.

Now, Republicans say they're doing this in the name of fiscal discipline. Don't buy it. Because it does nothing to actually reduce the debt. We're paying down money we already spent. In fact, failing to raise the debt ceiling would actually cost taxpayers more money because default would make it more expensive to borrow. No wonder former Republican Treasury secretaries have been trying to warn Republicans in the Senate of the dangerous consequences of this game. But reason left the building a long time ago. That's why it's time to ditch the debt ceiling, one way or the other, together.

As former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said, we took on this debt in a bipartisan way. Reality is not a partisan thing. Raising the debt limit is acknowledging reality, not making a partisan choice.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: And, again, this is not a both sides thing. AVLON: Nope.

BERMAN: This is one party that has made this an issue.

John Avlon, thank you very much.

AVLON: Take care, John.

BERMAN: All right, we have breaking news. The U.S. special envoy for Haiti has just resigned, citing the, quote, inhumane deportations of Haitian migrants. Stand by for this new development as the Biden administration faces the growing crisis on the border.



KEILAR: We do have some breaking news.

A top U.S. diplomat announcing his resignation moments ago over what he calls the inhumane treatment of Haitian migrants on the southern border. Ambassador Daniel Foote was appointed as special envoy for Haiti following the assassination of that country's president. So just two months ago.

And this is coming after the U.S. began deporting back to Haiti thousands of migrants who fled across the Mexican border, setting up a makeshift camp in Texas. Foote says that he will not be associated with the United States' decision. He's citing Haiti's poverty, crime and corruption as the reason that Haitians are seeking safety.

BERMAN: Two months. I mean this shows how passionately he feels about this. He's been on the job for two months and he's quitting over this.

It shows the political pressure or vice grip that the White House is in on immigration at this moment because you have pressure from the right saying that, you know, you're not doing enough to guard the border, protect the border.


But when the president takes action, deemed harsh like this, he's getting it from his own party.

KEILAR: He's kind of ticking everyone off. I think that's the tricky thing about this situation, right? There are actually -- there are a ton of deportations going on, right, using Title 42 to take a lot of Haitians back to Haiti, including, as our reporters have told us, folks who haven't lived there for years. So --

BERMAN: Again, remember, during the Obama administration, which you covered, there were a lot of deportations then too.

KEILAR: That's right.

BERMAN: Some times the politics don't work exactly the way you think they will.

KEILAR: Right.

So, next, CNN retraces what may have been some of Gabby Petito's last moments alive.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This clearing could be where that van was parked, certainly based on the distance that we were given.



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Thursday morning. I'm Erica Hill.