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Manchin Reverses, Agrees To Deal On Climate, Tax, Energy Bill; Uvalde School Principal Defends Actions On Day Of Massacre; "United Shades Of America" Airs This Sunday at 10 pm ET/PT. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 28, 2022 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Major news this morning. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has struck a crucial deal with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer on a significant piece of legislation.

This is literally a big and unexpected deal that they say would include a historic level of spending to fight climate change, aim to reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030, allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices -- this is a first in U.S. history -- extend expiring Obamacare subsidies for three years, and set a 15 percent corporate minimum tax.

Joining me now is the White House communications director Kate Bedingfield. Kate, thank you so much for being with us.


BERMAN: What role did President Biden play in this deal?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, remember, these are some of the core things that President Biden campaigned on in 2020. These are things that he promised to make progress on when he asked the American people for his vote. So, he was incredibly gratified last night to see this breakthrough that Sen. Manchin and Sen. Schumer and so many others worked so hard on for many, many months.

As you just laid out, it is a historic step forward in our fight to tackle the climate crisis. It will help us meet the president's carbon emission goal by 2030, which is absolutely critical as our planet is burning. So, it is enormously important.

And it's also going to bring down costs. It's going to bring down healthcare costs, and it's going to reduce the deficit. So, it's going to do all of this while ensuring that corporations are paying their fair share of taxes and that no one making under $400,000 a year sees a tax increase.


BEDINGFIELD: So, these were core promises that President Biden campaigned on in 2020.

BERMAN: He was in isolation until yesterday with COVID. I'm glad that he's out. Was he on the phone? Did he speak to Sen. Manchin in the last week?

BEDINGFIELD: This is the work of many, many months and I think everybody has seen this has been enormously hard work across the course of many, many months to get to this deal. So, this is something that, again, the president is incredibly grateful to Sen. Schumer and Sen. Manchin, and many others who put in hard work to do this.

And, you know, this is exactly what the American people are asking for. This is the action that they want to see. And this deal that was announced last night represents an enormous, enormous step forward.

BERMAN: Has he spoken to Sen. Manchin about this?

BEDINGFIELD: I don't have any private conversations to read out to you except to say that obviously, a tremendous amount of effort by a lot of parties has gone into getting here. And it takes persistence, and it takes hard work, and it takes hard work on behalf of the American people.

BERMAN: If not private conversations, what about a public statement on whether or not he has spoken to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema? We don't know where she stands on this. And in the past, over the last year -- this has been going on for a long time, or variations of this -- she has opposed certain tax increases.

What do you know about where she stands on this bill right now?

BEDINGFIELD: Well look, I obviously don't speak for her or for any member of Congress. I speak for the president. But there is a tremendous amount in this package that is going to have an enormous impact on the things that families across the country are worried about.

And I think it was very encouraging last night to see the reaction broadly from Democrats who really embraced the incredible step forward that this represents on climate, on a commitment to a fairer tax code.

So, you know, I don't speak for any particular member of Congress, but I think there is enormous energy and enthusiasm, and a recognition that this is something that we have to get done in order to meet the challenges we're facing. I think everybody feels the urgency of now here.


BERMAN: You do speak for the White House and there has been concern among some Democratic senators from the northeast that the -- reinstituting deductions for state and local taxes is not part of this deal as of now. So, what would you say to these Democratic senators who might say hey, we want this in?

BEDINGFIELD: I would say that if you look at what this deal does, it reduces healthcare costs by expanding subsidies under the ACA. It takes enormous strides on climate. It takes enormous strides to make our tax code more fair.

These are things the American people have been crying out for -- have been demanding -- and this package does that. It meets that. These are promises, again, that the president made when he was campaigning and they're going to have a real, tangible impact on families' lives all over the country. So, I would say that there is an enormous amount here for everybody to be excited about because this is tackling the challenges that we're all facing in a really historic way.

BERMAN: So, you would ask them not to hold up the bill for the SALT matter?

BEDINGFIELD: Look, I'm not going to get into the specifics of legislating. I'm going to let the Congress do that.

But I will say that the president believes that this is a historic piece of legislation. That we should move it forward. That it is going to tackle things Americans are worried about. And it's going to have a real impact on their day-to-day lives.

BERMAN: So, before this deal was announced, the Senate passed what would be historic legislation and an investment into semiconductor research and development -- the chips bill. In the House now, the Republicans are saying they are going to whip against this even though it was a -- it was a bipartisan bill in the Senate and there have been Republicans who have supported it in the House. Now, the leadership in the House is going to whip against it as a protest, I think -- is my understanding -- against this bill -- the bill we were just talking about -- the inflation bill.

Your reaction to that?

BEDINGFIELD: Well look, I think it is incredibly unfortunate that Republicans are choosing to play politics with a bill that many of them, in fact, supported as recently as yesterday. Because it's a -- it is an incredibly important bill that's going to increase our semiconductor chips here in the United States, which means it's going to lower costs on things like cars, phones.

It has enormous national security implications. I mean, China is actively lobbying against this bill. China does not want to see us pass this bill.

So, it's incredibly unfortunate to see Republicans, many of whom have actually supported this very measure, now choose to play politics because we're on the cusp of a historic agreement that's going to move us forward to tackle the climate crisis and bring down prices for Americans. I'm not sure there's really a whole lot of logic there, to be honest with you, John.

BERMAN: You're talking about China. The president is going to speak to the Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the next hour or so. What message will he deliver? BEDINGFIELD: Well, I'm not going to get ahead of the president's direct conversation. But this is going to be the fifth time that they've spoken since President Biden has been president. He obviously believes in the value of leader-to-leader communication and having an open line of communication. Of course, there are issues of mutual interest between us and there are issues where we have friction and tension, and the president certainly never holds back from being direct about that.

So, we'll certainly have a readout after the call. We'll tell you more about what they discussed. But as the president likes to say, he doesn't do these conversations in public and I'm certainly not going to get ahead of him on that.

BERMAN: Any reaction or response from Russia in the last 24 hours to the proposal of a prisoner swap for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan to get them back to the United States?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, you can understand that these are the kind of negotiations that also have to happen in private. You know, what you saw Sec. Blinken say yesterday is we have put -- we have put a significant offer on the table to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home and we have shown that we're willing to take extraordinary measures to get wrongfully detained Americans home. You saw that in the case of Trevor Reed a few weeks ago.

So, obviously, the specifics of these negotiations, for reasons I'm sure you can understand, have to remain private. But what I can say is I have personally seen the president's engagement in this case. He spoke to Cherelle Griner a few weeks ago. He has directed his team to do everything in their power to ensure that Brittney and Paul come home to their loved ones.

BERMAN: Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, we appreciate the time this morning. Thank you.

BEDINGFIELD: Thank you for having me.

BERMAN: And in just moments, we are going to speak to former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was in the same situation that Griner and Paul Whelan are. He was in that situation just a few months ago. His reaction to the possible prisoner swap.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And in a CNN exclusive, the principal of Robb Elementary School is breaking her silence.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you feel you share some responsibility?

MANDY GUTIERREZ, PRINCIPAL, ROBB ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, UVALDE, TEXAS: I believe that there is always room for improvement. I believe that I did my job to the best of my abilities.



KEILAR: In a CNN exclusive interview, the principal of Uvalde's Robb Elementary School, Mandy Gutierrez, defends herself after a damning report from the Texas legislature criticizing how she handled school security before the devastating massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

CNN's Rosa Flores is joining us live from San Antonio. What did she tell you?

FLORES: Well, Brianna, she stands by her actions on that ill-fated day. She says that she followed her training and that she really wouldn't change anything that she did. In particular, for the allegations that there was a culture of non-compliance at Robb Elementary School, she says that that's simply not true.


GUTIERREZ: When I was calling Chief Arredondo, I heard three shots -- the initial three shots.

FLORES (voice-over): The principal of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde breaking her silence and answering questions about allegations of lax security at the school.

GUTIERREZ: I believe that I did my job to the best of my abilities.


FLORES (voice-over): While law enforcement's handling of that ill- fated day has seen the most scrutiny up to now, the families of the victims --

BRETT CROSS, UVALDE PARENT: But you all do not give a damn about our children or us.

FLORES (voice-over): -- turning their calls for accountability towards the school administration, including the principal who says she was suspended with pay this week pending a performance review relating to campus security. Last school year was her first year as principal.

CROSS: Every -- starting at that school -- at Robb -- that principal needs to be gone. All of the school board needs to be gone.

GUTIERREZ: I believe they're entitled to their opinion. I followed the training that I was provided with to the best of my abilities.

FLORES (voice-over): The Texas House Investigative Committee report revealed that Robb Elementary had a culture of non-compliance with safety policies requiring doors to be kept locked, which turned out to be fatal. Gutierrez responding to that criticism.

FLORES (on camera): Was there a culture of non-compliance at Robb Elementary?

GUTIERREZ: Absolutely not. Any time that an alert went out, every single teacher on that campus took it to mean it could be a potential escalating situation. And so, everybody follows protocol.

FLORES: So, you disagree with the findings of the Texas House investigative report?

GUTIERREZ: I disagree.

FLORES (on camera): According to the Texas House investigative report, a coach that was somewhere on school property say the gunman jump this fence. She used her radio to report it. The principal heard the call and tried to initiate a lockdown using a software application, but the Wi-Fi was bad, and she did not use the school intercom.

GUTIERREZ: They could potentially magnify a situation.

FLORES (on camera): That's the door that the gunman used to enter the school. According to the report, the door was unlocked. Had the door been locked, as the policy required, it would have likely slowed down the gunman.

FLORES (voice-over): Instead, surveillance video showed the gunman walked into the building through an unlocked door --

FLORES (on camera): Why was that door unlocked that day?

GUTIERREZ: I am not sure why that door was unlocked.

FLORES (on camera): So that door was normally locked during the day?

GUTIERREZ: Always locked.

FLORES (on camera): Always?


FLORES (voice-over): -- then walked into a classroom, which was likely unlocked, according to the report.

The report also states that the principal, teachers, and even many fourth-grade students widely knew of the problem with the lock to room 111 but no one placed a work order to repair the lock -- not the principal, not anyone else. Gutierrez disputes that account.

GUTIERREZ: What I know for a fact is that the door to room 111 did, in fact, lock.

FLORES (on camera): It did?

GUTIERREZ: The teacher has to use the key to enter.

FLORES (on camera): Do you feel you share some responsibility?

GUTIERREZ: I believe that there is always room for improvement. I believe that I did my job to the best of my abilities.

FLORES (voice-over): Some of the families of the victims say any safety lapses were inexcusable.

FLORES (on camera): And what did you tell her?

CROSS: You failed our children. You failed our children.

GUTIERREZ: I am very close to my staff and my students, and many of their families. It is an unimaginable pain to know that we don't have those individuals with us anymore and that there's families that are missing their loved ones every single day.


FLORES: The Texas House Investigative Committee stands by their report. The chairman issuing a statement to CNN saying that their findings are based on multiple interviews with multiple agencies.

And Brianna and John, as for the school district, we reached out and a spokesperson said that they're too swamped right now and they can't answer specific questions.

KEILAR: Rosa, thank you for that interview. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: It's such an important discussion. Good for Rosa to get that.

KEILAR: So important.

The much-anticipated GDP report is going to be released here in the next hour. So, what is this going to tell us about a potential recession?

BERMAN: And this morning, progress in containing California's Oak Fire. Ahead, we're going to speak with W. Kamau Bell. His latest episode of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" explores how climate change is making wildfires stronger, hotter, and deadlier.



KEILAR: Comedian Chris Rock is commenting on the infamous Oscar slap from Will Smith while on comedy tour with Kevin Hart. He joked, "Anyone who says words hurt has never been punched in the face. I'm not a victim. Yeah, that shit hurt, but I shook that shit off and went to work the next day. I don't go to the hospital for a paper cut."

Here to talk about that and more is the host of "UNITED SHADES OF GRAY," W. Kamau Bell. He's also the director of the Emmy-nominated series "WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT COSBY," which is excellent. And the co- author of The New York Times bestseller "Do the Work! An Antiracist Activity Book."

What did you think about what he said? W. KAMAU BELL, HOST AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, CNN "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" (via Webex by Cisco): Mostly, I'm just all tingly that he dropped the s-bomb twice on television -- wow.

KEILAR: I know.

BELL: OK, here we go.

KEILAR: Tingly.

BELL: I would have to say this about Chris. I appreciate the fact that he has not turned this into a whole tour or a whole thing. With everything going on in the world, a lot of people would have turned that into four more comedy specials about it. But Chris Rock is just going on tour doing the job and we'll hear about it in his next special. With everything going on, he just keeps it moving and I appreciate that.

BERMAN: I want to talk about your show, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA." United Shades of Gray is kind of the naughty version --

BELL: I'm going to let that go. I'm going to let that go.

BERMAN: -- of that show. I'm now saying I don't want to see that version of the show.

BELL: You can see that version at two in the morning.

BERMAN: I'm not saying I don't want to see it, it's just a different version.

But Kamau, you're often prescient with what you look into. And in this episode, you talk about devastating wildfires in Northern California. I want to show a clip of that.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the Camp Fire is really a story of stories. And so, there's two words that are interchangeable a lot and that's bravery and heroism, but they're different. In bravery, in our job, is an expectation, right? But you're looking at two people who stayed in the fight that day even though they lost everything they owned. And these two are in that rare area of being a hero because of that.

BELL: I would imagine that no one would have blamed you both to say I've got to go be with my family. What made you stay and do the work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I saw the house was gone I kind of took a moment and said all right -- well, go back to work.

BELL: Oh my God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, there's nothing -- I think I just kind of shut that part of it like there's nothing I can do about that but here's what I can do. Yes. This is -- you know, you go back to your training.


BERMAN: Kamau, these are powerful conversations that you had with firefighters and wildfire victims. What did they tell you about the impact these fires are having?

BELL: I mean, first of all, I want to say this episode was personal to me. I live in Northern California. And while I have never been threatened by the fire specifically, many times my family has had to leave the area because of the toxic air that comes off the fire. So, for me, this was an opportunity to understand what's going on in Northern California.

And I think the thing we don't understand is the fire is bad enough -- what's happening in the Oak Fire -- but it's all the -- everything that happens after that. How do you rebuild your house? Are you getting paid back by the insurance company? All the sort of disaster capitalism that happens -- that money is pulled out of an area where a fire happens and isn't put back in the area. So, it's not just the fire, which is bad enough -- it's everything that happens after it.

KEILAR: Yes. Look, I woke up one morning to covering this story on our show and realized that my aunt and uncle were in the evac map.

BERMAN: Really?

KEILAR: This was last year, I think -- I think it was.

It's incredibly stressful, Kamau, and it's becoming -- that's not how it was. It's become the reality of that.

You know, I woke up another morning and there was a fire in the county not far from where I grew up. It's just something that has gotten so much worse.

BELL: Yes, and those of us who live in Northern California -- I remember September of 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, pre-vaccine, when the sky was just red. All day long it was just red. All day long because the fire had gotten so thick and the air so toxic that it was dark red all day. And I don't think I'll ever recover from that, frankly. It was -- it just showed that like --

And I've lived in California since '97 and it was -- this has gotten worse. And we talked to many people throughout the episode who say that fire season has gotten longer and more destructive. Climate change has definitely affected it. It's gotten worse.

KEILAR: It sure has.

Kamau, it's great to have you. Thank you so much. We're really looking forward to this new episode so be sure to tune in to it -- all-new episode of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" with W. Kamau Bell. That's going to air Sunday at 10 pm only here on CNN.

And NEW DAY continues right now.

BERMAN: This morning, an offer is on the table and the White House is waiting on the Kremlin.

I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

Vladimir Putin has not yet responded to a proposed prisoner swap. The Biden administration offered to send convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, a man dubbed the 'Merchant of Death', in exchange for two detained Americans -- WNBA star Brittney Griner, and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

CNN was the first to report on this proposed prisoner exchange that President Biden, we are told, personally signed off on. The Justice Department had opposed offering the convicted arms trafficker as part of the potential deal. He is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.

KEILAR: Secretary of State Tony Blinken expecting to speak with Russia's foreign minister on the phone here in the coming days. This is going to be the first time that the top U.S. diplomat has spoken to his Russian counterpart since the war in Ukraine began.

And joining us now is Trevor Reed, former U.S. Marine who was imprisoned in Russia for nearly three years. He was released in a prisoner swap in April. Trevor, it's great to see you. I have to say you are looking great. I know that it's been quite a recovery for you emotionally and physically, and so it's wonderful to see you doing so well here.

As you're watching this all unfold, are you worried at all that the Russians are not going to play ball with this deal?

TREVOR REED, FORMER U.S. MARINE RELEASED FROM RUSSIA IN APRIL: You know, I'm cautiously optimistic. I think that it's in their -- in their interest and in the United States' interest to get this done, so I am optimistic that they are going to agree on that. Obviously, I'm not positive but I have a good feeling about it.

KEILAR: You do have a good feeling about it. Well, that's certainly very good news.

And few people have been in this situation. You are one of them. What do you think it is like for Brittney Griner or Paul Whelan to know that there is this offer that has been made, there are these robust efforts, and there may be hope?