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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Says Senate Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to be Voted on Separately from Possible Senate Reconciliation Bill; Senate Republicans Block Motion to Raise Federal Government Debt Ceiling; Sen. Angus King (I-ME) is Interviewed on Lawmakers Set to Grill Pentagon Leaders on War Exit. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 28, 2021 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats from President Biden to Chuck Schumer to Nancy Pelosi said they had to be passed together. President Biden promised that. Nancy Pelosi said overnight said, you know what, no, not anymore. Infrastructure is coming up for a vote on Thursday and we're going to separate the two. How significant it that, and how does the White House view things on this this morning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is incredibly significant because it's a major reversal of what Pelosi and Schumer and the president have been saying for the last several weeks. And so I think it came because there really was no other option when you look at what Nancy Pelosi was facing. And so she is someone, of course, who has known for her maneuvering, but this is an option where they had very few routes that they could take because the reality of the matter is they're not going to have that reconciliation package by Thursday. If they do, the White House believes it is incredibly going to be a long shot.

So that's the reality they're being faced with. And so now the question is going to be how does she deal with these progressives who have been saying that they will sink that $1 trillion infrastructure plan, that bipartisan package that was passed through the Senate, if they don't secure the votes on this.

And so I was talking to White House officials yesterday about this, John, and essentially what they think it's going to come down to is trust, and whether or not that's -- whether or not the progressives trust the president, trust Manchin, trust Sinema. That is going to be the big conversation here of whether or not this is successful on Thursday.

BERMAN: So if that's what it comes down to, Ilhan Omar has some bad news for them. I want to play some sound of how she views some of the so-called moderates in the party, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, these Democratic senators. Listen.


REP. ILHAN OMAR, (D-MN): It is saddening to see them use Republican talking points. We obviously didn't envision having Republicans as part of our party. And I hope that they will understand that Democrats need to be united behind the president's agenda, and we need to have urgent conversations on how to get this agenda done.


BERMAN: So, Kasie, that doesn't sound like the kind of trust that Kaitlan was talking about there. So do you think that enough Democrats will move in the next day to make this happen?

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: First of all, just listening to that, my top line thought is here that Democrats control government because Joe Manchin got elected in West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema got elected in Arizona. Those are not easy things to do. And the reality is Democrats are staring down a midterm election where they're likely to lose the House and where they face increasing challenges in the Senate. This is their one and only shot.

And I think that's what the House speaker and the president are banking on here in setting up this situation where there is pressure on progressives to actually stand up and say, OK, we're going to do this, we are going to trust that there will be something big on the other side.

Now, that said, moderates have not been willing, and the conversation had been very much around what is the top line number of this bill, how much are we spending. That shifted a little bit in recent days, and it has become more about, OK, how are we going to balance the policy questions in this bill? That seems to have made things slightly less tense around the reconciliation part, the big changes to the social safety net.

But at the end of the day, there still is a lot of bitterness about the power that Manchin and Sinema wield here. But I do think that there is at the end of the day a hard political reality that progressives in the party face that there is their only shot to do this. And the question is, OK, are you going to do it, or are you going to end up with nothing?

And I think that there is a sense that at the end of the day progressives will have to get on board, because otherwise there is really no other option here for the president's agenda. But this week is going to be really, really tough to see how we get there, and of course Republicans aren't going to make it any easier. Kevin McCarthy, I don't think, is going to let Republicans who might otherwise support -- remember, this is a bipartisan infrastructure package that is going to be on the floor on Thursday, I don't think he's going to let them go until we're actually watching Pelosi try and get this done on the floor. And if she gets to 218, then, OK, he'll say, fine, go ahead, vote for it. But that's going to make it harder for her.

BERMAN: Eva, first of all, welcome to NEW DAY.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: It's great to have you here. And as a welcoming gift, just solve this. (LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Right? Go ahead. I mean --

MCKEND: Oh, boy.

BERMAN: If I can, I'll move to the debt limit, right? Mitch McConnell followed through on a promise, and no Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling, which would help pay for the debts incurred under past administrations. Republicans aren't going to help here. Former Senator Al Franken told me Democrats are just going to have to do this on their own. What is the significance of this, and what is the endgame here?

MCKEND: It seems like that is what it is going to come down to, because ultimately when we start to see this dramatic implosion of the economy, no one is going to care if Republicans or Democrats are at fault. People are going to be principally concerned with how it impacts their life. So yes, Democrats will have to go at it alone.


I think about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell long ago, a different context, he talked about a situation of mutually assured destruction. That's what we're going to see in this scenario if the debt limit is not addressed. And so Democrats have no other choice, they will have to go it alone. And even though Republicans are engaging in hypocrisy, they seem to only find religion, be concerned with the debt under a Democratic president, it sort of makes no difference in a practical sense.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You don't take the pin out of the grenade, right? It doesn't matter who is doing that, it is going to affect everyone around them.

I do want to ask you guys about something that former President Obama said. He was talking, of course, about the Biden agenda and who is going to be on the hook for the price tag here. Let's listen.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I think that they can afford it. We can afford it. I put myself in this category now. And I think anybody who pretends that it is a hardship for billionaires to pay a little bit more in taxes so that a single mom gets childcare support, or so that we can make sure that our communities aren't inundated by wildfires and floods and that we're doing something about climate change for the next generation, that's an argument that is unsustainable.


KEILAR: I wonder, Kaitlan, what you think about getting this assist from former President Obama. The Biden is kind of creeping up the hill. It could use maybe a little push, though. COLLINS: A big push, potentially, especially judging by how this week is looking so far. But I think what the former president is saying there is something that the current president wants more people to be saying, because the reality of the matter is we often are talking about the price tag on this and how it is going to be paid for and the arguing between the moderate Democrats and the progressive Democrats, but not always looking at what's inside this package.

And even if they do scale it down, it is still going to be a very transformational bill if it does ultimately get passed along with the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. And I think that is something that the White House has pointed to time and time again, which is this is a broadly popular package. When it polls, not just in certain polls that may be more favorable to Democrats, across the board, it is very popular.

KEILAR: It's very popular, but, look, one of the reasons that you have some moderate Democrats, Kasie, who are arguing about how this is paid for is because, maybe they're from New Jersey, maybe they're from New York, and they're saying, hey, we got hosed under the Trump tax plan that sort of hurt people with this in really high priced areas like New York, like New Jersey, like California. And they're looking at the price tag going, I don't know if my constituents are going to be on board with this.

HUNT: Yes, there are some challenges and some of those unique districts, a handful of which are swing areas. I do think that increased taxes on corporations are very much supported by the American people. They are actually a little bit trickier in Congress because they're listening to companies that are based in their districts, et cetera.

But I think the bottom line here is the economy does not seem to be on the kind of rocket-ship track that many were hoping when back on July 4th we as a country were trying to celebrate the end of the pandemic, the president was trying to set that as, OK, this is the date we're all freed from this. Instead, the labor market is still doing some strange things, there is a lot of nervousness about inflation, especially among the more moderate Democrats, that's a lot what they're worried about. And frankly, they're worried about being blamed at the polls if in fact all of this spending doesn't reverse those trends and instead potentially makes them worse.

And I'm starting to hear from, especially, members of Congress who are in the Midwest, that things are just really tough out there. And that underlying reality, if in fact people are experiencing the economy as going in the wrong direction come next November, they're probably going to, if they pass this package, at least potentially blame the president.

So that's, I think, why the swing district moderates are so particularly stressed out now. And frankly every day that goes by it gets worse. Over the summer, Biden's approval ratings were much higher, then we had this series of chaotic events here in the fall, and again, those troubling economic numbers, the rise of the Delta variant, people are still really struggling with their kids in school, especially if they're not vaccinated. People just don't feel very good the way that they may have expected to.

KEILAR: And that's the thing, Eva, is that Democrats really need to sell their constituents on what they have to gain here, right, how are they doing there versus what it might cost them.

MCKEND: Absolutely. Every time that they're talking about that top line number, they're losing the argument. Every time they're focusing specifically on what's in the package -- every parent in this country wants more money, right, wants an expanded child tax credit, then they are winning the argument.


I think it is also palatable to the American people to talk about increasing the burden on the rich. That is a winning argument. And that is why we see them doubling down on that.

KEILAR: So wonder follow have you, Eva. Thank you so much for joining us. And Kasie and Kaitlan, really appreciate it.

Just a short time from now, top military leaders will be testifying. They'll be talking about Afghanistan for the first time since the U.S. had a chaotic withdraw from the country. We'll have Senator Angus King who is set to grill this trio here. He's going to join us with the tough questions he wants answered. Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The female who got hit, they both -- the male and the female both got into the van and headed north.


BERMAN: New dispatch audio shedding new light on what police were told about the altercation between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.

And 20 days straight on death row, that's how former NBA star Cedric Ceballos describes his battle with COVID after spending time in the ICU.


KEILAR: Here in just a few hours, the nation's military leadership will be appearing before Congress to deliver testimony for the first time since the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. The chaotic nature of the withdrawal has drawn criticism, and not just from Republicans, also from many Democrats.


KEILAR: Joining us now to discuss this is independent senator from Maine, Senator Angus King, he caucuses with Democrats. He sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee that is going to be hearing this testimony today.

Senator, thanks for being with us this morning. SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): Absolutely, Brianna. Nice to be with you.

KEILAR: So, this is -- look, this is a critical hearing that you're going to be taking part in.

And we just had our chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward live for us from Kabul. And we asked her, you know, what kind of question would you want to ask of General Mark Milley?

And so, I'm just curious, are you curious, are you going to ask anything like what she suggested, which was why wasn't there more preparation in place to make a less chaotic withdrawal? She said knowing the U.S. had to get out of Afghanistan, that's not really in the question, why wasn't there more preparation in place?

KING: Well, absolutely. I heard that interview and I think that's a great question. And certainly is going to be one of my questions, although I suspect it is going to be asked by practically everybody.

There are a whole series of questions, but what is really important about this hearing is that this is the first time the public will have a chance to hear from these officials about why they left Bagram, why August 31st, was there adequate preparation, what was the intelligence on the likelihood of the fall of the Afghan government, all of those questions.

I should mention we have had a series of classified hearings on those subjects. So it is not like those of us on the -- I'm on intelligence and armed services -- haven't delved into these questions. I think this is important for the public.

It bothers me a little bit, Brianna, there has been so much, you know, this was a disaster, the secretary should resign and all those kind of things, before the facts come out. I like to try to get to the facts and then make my conclusions and I think that's what's going to be important today, not only for us, but for the American people.

KEILAR: There is still a number of Americans and green cardholders, we're talking about residents, people who have lives and had lives in the U.S. for years. And they're still stuck in Afghanistan. I heard from many people who are working to get these folks out and they say that the number of Americans and green cardholders in Afghanistan has to be significantly larger than what the Biden administration puts that number at.

Do you have any questions for these folks about what led to these people being stuck?

KING: Well, yeah, that's a question that I've been asking throughout this process. One of the questions, what you're getting at is should we have left on August 31st with Americans still there. And my understanding and I think we're going to hear this today is that this was a judgment our military leaders made that there were very limited number of people there we don't know whether it is 100 or 200, but they were concerned that if we went beyond August 31st, the kind of tacit cease-fire with the Taliban would be over, the Taliban indicated that. There would be attacks on our troops that were still there, also a rising level of terrorist violence.

As we know we lost tragically 13 people near the airport. So they made a judgment that the danger to the Americans that were there was greater had we stayed longer and that wouldn't have necessarily helped these people to get out. It is very unclear and I think your reporter this morning said there were 100 who they are, a lot apparently are people with dual citizenship who at least at first were reluctant to leave, didn't want to leave, now they do.

And actually several hundred and I think -- I hope we're going to learn this, this morning, have gotten out subsequent to the leaving of our troops. So, that's the kind of judgment that had to be made in the heat of the moment in terms of comparing risks and that's the kind of thing that I think we're going to hear much more about this morning.

KEILAR: I do want to ask you, this book "Peril," this new book about the final period of the Trump administration by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa talks about General Milley who contacted his counterpart in the Chinese military via a back channel, trying to assure his Chinese counterpart the U.S. wasn't going to launch some sort of offensive or that certainly that's something that he would put on their radar, wouldn't come out of the blue.

If that reporting is accurate, would you say General Milley breached the chain of command?

KING: No, I think General Milley did what he was supposed to do and should do in that situation. Most wars start by accident, by miscalculation, by misunderstanding. And apparently, there was some understanding that the Chinese were concerned about a preemptive American attack and therefore considering their own preemptive attack in response, we could have ended up in a nuclear war.

All General Milley said was there is no intention of attacking, calm down, our system is stable. And ironically, President Trump who has been very critical of General Milley has himself said I have no intention of attacking China and that's what General Milley communicated to China to try to calm them down from the possibility of initiating some kind of attack on us in anticipation.

So this is -- this kind of thing happens and as I say, miscalculation, the guns of August is a very real phenomenon where you get into a disastrous war and everybody looks back and says how did that start, it is usually based upon a misunderstanding. He was simply trying to clarify that we were stable, there wasn't an imminent attack, and that the Chinese didn't have to prepare to attack us.

KEILAR: I do want to ask you about something we learned from a DHS whistle-blower, this happened during the Trump administration, but he has just now come out and been public, talking about what happened. He said that he was told by leadership at DHS, including Chad Wolf, the acting secretary as well as top official Ken Cuccinelli that he needed to downplay the issue of white supremacy when it came to putting together essentially the intelligence about what the state of threats were, not only white supremacy, but also Russian meddling in American politics as well as border issues, the southern border. What is your reaction in learning that?

KING: Well, I can't comment on that particular assertion. I don't know anything about it. But I can say that one of my principle issues up here is straight unvarnished intelligence. When the intelligence community --


KEILAR: Do you believe what he's saying, though? Do you believe his statements about what he had to scrub from assessments?

KING: Well, I don't know. I mean, I just -- I don't know who this fellow is. I haven't read his reports. So I'm reluctant to draw a conclusion.

But if he's correct, that's very dangerous because you can't make good decisions if you don't have good intelligence. If you're cooking the intelligence to meet the political needs of the leadership of whoever they are, that's how you get in a lot of trouble and that's been true throughout our history, whether it is Vietnam or Iraq or perhaps the ignoring of white supremacists potential violence.

It is -- if it's true, it is very disturbing and usually harms the leader who thinks they're being served by repressing intelligence. That's -- it's terrible for the country and for the leader.

KEILAR: Senator King, thank you so much for being with us this morning ahead of this crucial hearing with defense officials.

KING: Absolutely, Brianna. Good to be with you.

And up next, can anything be done to hold lawmakers actable for their roles in the insurrection. We're going to tell you about the little known corner of the Constitution that could do just that. We have reality check next.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And new numbers this morning that show just how overburdened hospitals are and it's driving increases in vaccinations.


BERMAN: So during the Trump presidency, there was some talk of using the 25th amendment, the one that outlines procedures for declaring a president unfit. In the wake of the January 6th insurrection, there is a different amendment that some believe could be used to hold Trump and the people who supported him accountable.

John Avlon with a reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Our constitutional crisis is already here. That's the title of a powerful op-ed published in "The Washington Post" by Robert Kagan.

In it, he points out that the Founders did not foresee the Trump phenomenon, they anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality, nor did they foresee members of Congress would refuse to check the power of the president from their own party. That's, of course, what happened over and over again, especially when Republican leaders decided to oppose impeaching ex-president Trump after the attack on our capitol, which ultimately could have disqualified him from future office.

Instead, they helped the big lie metastasize inside the GOP, fueled subversion efforts. But while the founders didn't foresee this challenge to our democracy, the civil war generation did. And it is written in the Constitution.

The 14th Amendment, Section 3, which reads in part, no person shall be a senator or representative in Congress or hold any office, civil or military, who having previously taken an oath to support the constitution of the United States shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.

That was designed to disqualify any office holder who took part in the insurrection after Lincoln's election. The Civil War stopped them from participating in American politics. Congress enacted it with majority vote, but its intent was forward looking.

Senator Waitman T. Willey explained at the time: Being a permanent provision of the Constitution, it is intended to operate as a preventive of treason hereafter, a measure of self-defense. This measure has been evoked on rare occasions, notably during World War I, but it is a prohibition, not a criminal penalty for insurrection.

That's reserved for Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code, Section 2383, which states, whoever in sights sets on foot assists or engages in any way rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof or gives aid or comfort there to shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

The language echoes the 14th Amendment and specifically covers anyone who incites a insurrection. There is a separate criminal statute for seditious conspiracy. Now, prosecution is a matter for the Justice Department to decide.