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New Day Saturday

House Passes Biden's $1.9 Trillion COVID relief package; Conservatives Rally Behind Trump, Election Lies at CPAC; Third Coronavirus Vaccine on Verge of Emergency Use Authorization; Saudi Crown Prince Approved Khashoggi killing. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired February 27, 2021 - 08:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is New Day Weekend, with Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Overcast day there in D.C. live look at Capitol Hill where there was a lot of action overnight. New this morning House Democrats passed, President Biden's $1.9 trillion rescue bill overnights and now it's moving on to the Senate.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. No Republicans voted for the plan two Democrats broke ranks to oppose it. But the package includes $1400 direct checks to people making less than $75,000 annually. Direct aid to small businesses and increase in the child tax credit, direct funding to state and local government funding for schools and more money for vaccine distribution.

BLACKWELL: Few steps still ahead before it gets to the President's desk. Unemployment benefits, health for small businesses will lapse soon. So that's important. There is still significant disagreement though, between the parties on how much to spend and where that money should go.


STACEY PLASKETT (D), U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS DELEGATE: The time for bold and decisive action is now. This American rescue plan act will crush the virus. Return children safely to school support vaccinations, put dollars in family's pockets and put people back to work.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): We are holding our kids back. This bill will actually delay reopening of schools. 95 percent of the school money in this bill can't even be spent till 2022.

REP. TERESA LEGER FERNANDEZ (D-NM): We need this package to end the nation suffering. Let's pass this bill. Save lives, save livelihoods, save communities.

REP. JASON SMITH (R-MO): This is clearly a partisan plan. That clearly is the wrong plan at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons.


BLACKWELL: St. Ann's Daniella Diaz is with us now. So, Daniella, most people were asleep when the House passed this. So, catch us up and push the reporting forward.

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: That's exactly right, Victor. This past really late last night or earliest morning, however you want to consider around 2-3 am. The House passed this $1.9 trillion COVID-19 package. This is the first major step for the Biden administration. This is his first legislative priority of his administration. So huge step for them. This past with two Democrats not voting for this package, Jared Golden and Kurt Schrader, and absolutely no Republicans supported this legislation either. And you guys kind of mentioned at the top of the show what's in this legislation. This includes $1400 stimulus checks. It includes increased child tax credit, direct funding for state and local governments, and more money for vaccine distribution. So, what happens now?

Well, it'll go to the Senate, where it will be a huge test of unity for Chuck Schumer. He needs every single democratic senator, all 50 of them to sign on and support this legislation with Vice President, Kamala Harris likely being the tie breaking vote for this. One notable thing is that this legislation will not include the $15 minimum wage increase when it hits the Senate because the Senate parliamentarian ruled against it. But other than that, there is the clock is ticking. The Biden administration really wants this legislation on his desk by mid-March because millions of Americans will lose their unemployment benefits by then. So that's a priority for Democrats and the administration.

PAUL: All right. Daniella Diaz, we appreciate it so much. Thank you. Jeff Mason, White House Correspondent for Reuters is with us now. Jeff, good to have you with us. Let's talk about what Daniella was just talking about with the COVID bill passing.


She mentioned that two of the democrats broke ranks, one of which was Jared Golden of Maine. And here is what a statement said that he had tweeted out earlier this morning about three o'clock in the morning. Saying, during challenging times the country needs its elected leaders to work together to meet the most urgent needs in their communities. This bill addresses urgent needs and then buries them under a mountain of unnecessary or untimely spending. What elements of this bill do you think they have to make that argument?

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "REUTERS": Well, I mean, that he is parroting in some ways, Republican arguments on that. The fact that the bill itself is $1.9 trillion. I mean, it's a really, really big number. And that's something that Republicans, despite honestly having supported the last several rounds of COVID relief in 2020, just couldn't get behind. And that seems to be something that this Congressman is highlighting as well. In broadly, it is - as you said earlier, a victory for President Biden, but it does have - because of these defections by a couple of different facts and the lack of Republican support. It does have some negatives in there for him because he did start his presidency really say, he wants to have unity and wanting to work together and that isn't happening so far with this initial bill.

PAUL: Right. And so, let's talk about the minimum wage issue, which is now headed we know to the Senate. It's expected to mix this we know, but speaker Pelosi last night said, "We will not rest until we pass $15 minimum wage." Senator Tim Kaine said yesterday on CNN, the democrats are unified about raising the minimum wage, but they are divided. They are divided on how much they want to spend, how much they're willing to spend mansion and cinema, specifically said $15 is too much. So, what is the realistic expectation for unity around this issue?

MASON: Well, first of all, I think the realistic expectation is that it won't be in this bill. It's not going to make it in the Senate. The parliamentarian has made that clear that they can't get that done with reconciliation, which is the special procedure that they are going to use to pass the bill without Republican support. So, we'll have to move on, most likely with their own separate bill with regard to the minimum wage, and then they're just going to have to hash it out. Democrat progressives in particular have coalesced around that $15. President Biden is committed to that, but he is also committed to compromise. And if they end up coming down to a slightly lower number, it's hard for me to say, I am not the negotiating room but that's certainly a possibility. But I think, speaker Pelosi is certainly right, that Democrats, both moderates, and progressives are committed to doing something on the minimum wage. That was a big campaign promise, and I am sure, we haven't heard the last of that, even though it's not surviving in this bill.

PAUL: So, I want to move on to what is happening this weekend in Orlando, Florida, CPAC of course, former President Trump will be speaking tomorrow there. But there was a standing ovation yesterday for Senator Josh Hawley, as he was talking about election integrity. And if you look at what is on the agenda, there are a lot of meetings that have to do with election integrity. What is the calculus for rehashing 2020 election as opposed to discussing policy? As John Kasich said at the top of this show, that's what would normally be happening?

MASON: Yes, it's a great question. And I think we should be clear that election integrity in this context is probably almost certainly a code word for Donald Trump lost the election, which we know is not true. And that is something that the CPAC conference, and certainly many of President Trump supporters are continuing to focus on. And I think to get to your question, the calculation here is, rehabilitating President Trump to the extent that his base even needs him to be rehabilitated, focusing on him and wanting him to be where he still is. And that is at the top of the party, and that will be consolidated or highlighted even more when he speaks on Sunday. But broadly, the fact that CPAC is concentrating on that, I think is a reflection again of his dominance in the party. And it's pretty remarkable to see when only a month ago, I remember I wrote a story in the days after the January 6 attacks on the Capitol, which were so horrendous, that was focused on politics and talking to former aides of his saying, President Trump's political career is over. Well, not anymore, and we are seeing that highlighted this weekend.

PAUL: So real quickly, you know, there have been threats to primary Republicans who do not support President Trump of course, which it does not align at all with leader McConnell job, which is to grow the party and to keep the seats that they have. How do those two images harmonize?


MASON: Well, they don't harmonize. I mean it is a rift in that party and it will be a question of which side wins or how do they come to a detox. And President Trump, you are absolutely right, as threatened for ages, not just this January 6, two primary people who oppose him and he is going to do it. I am sure he is going to do it, and his supporters will get behind him on that. The question is, will the more moderate conservatives or non-Trump conservatives such as a Congresswoman Liz Cheney, and people who are siding with her have enough support amongst the public and their states to withstand that.

PAUL: Yes. I mean, the fractures evident at Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, even Vice President Pence, are not attending CPAC this weekend. Jeff Mason, always good to have your thoughts and your perspective. Thank you for being with us.

MASON: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Single sign Coronavirus vaccine clears an important safety hurdle. How soon it could be authorized by the CDC and shipped out to communities across the country.

PAUL: The U.S. directly blames the Saudi Crown Prince for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Why President Biden isn't penalizing him, despite promising to do so when he was on the campaign trail.



BLACKWELL: This morning, we are waiting to hear whether the Food and Drug Administration will grant emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. The decision could come - soon could come today.

PAUL: Yes. The FDA says they are moving really quickly after an advisory committee recommended the shot. The company says once it's authorized, they could ship out nearly 4 million doses as early as next week. Right now, nearly 7 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated. Now Johnson & Johnson single dose shot would likely bump that number up significantly. CNN's Polo Sandoval is at mass vaccination site in New York. Polo, the CDC, we know has the final say that Johnson & Johnson on the Johnson & Johnson shop, but we also know they're scheduled to meet tomorrow. So, talk to us about the timeline here.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Christi, we could expect that those doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to potentially be shipped and distributed and even administered as early as certainly next week. It's something that certainly would come as good news for some of those states that are trying to keep up, including here, New York City. The vaccination site that you see behind me only open for about 15 minutes already up and running here processing people, not only FEMA, but also members of the Air Force, and members of the Coast Guard, trying to make sure that things continue to run smoothly, and try to make sure those people who are here with their vaccination appointments are able to get those. And what's playing out in the back of mind of health officials across the country, there is also this idea that we have seen that much welcome decline in hospitalizations, and the average number of cases. But as we heard from the head of the CDC yesterday, there is growing concern now that those - that decline seems to be not just slowing, but potentially even stalling at an average. If you look at the numbers, now averaging about maybe 66,000 cases a day, which is what we saw on Thursday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC saying that that is a number that is still alarmingly high. And it's why the FDA Advisory Committee that voted yesterday to recommend this third single dose version of the vaccine is really stressing that urgency to try to beat this pandemic, especially with these new variants here.

A third vaccine would be poised to add at least four million additional doses almost immediately, increasing the stockpiles for at least the allotments associates are receiving by about 25 percent. Now, here is the other thing too, is you are about to hear from an expert. The other issue too is trying to convince the public that this is yet another safe and highly effective vaccine. Yes, the efficacy may be a bit lower than some of their counterparts from Pfizer and Moderna. But the reality is that this was tried and tested with these highly transmittable variants that were - that have already been detected. I want you to hear from Dr. Saju Mathew, as he describes why it's important that the United States - that people in the U.S. get this vaccine if they are able to secure an appointment, once it becomes available.


DR. SAJU MATHEW, PUBLIC HEALTH SPECIALIST: Everybody who got the J&J vaccine, no one was hospitalized, and no one died. I know we are so used to the 95 percent number with Moderna and Pfizer, but people should not think that this is a second-class vaccine. It's a very good, safe and effective vaccine.


SANDOVAL: So once that safe and effective vaccine becomes available, again, it's expected for those states to begin to offer it, and places here like in New York. Christi, I believe just late yesterday that the state reported here in New York that they delivered about 179,000 vaccinations in just 24 hours. That's a record for New York State.

PAUL: All right, Polo Sandoval, appreciate it so much. Thank you. So, this week, a federal judge in Georgia ruled that the federal moratorium on evictions is unconstitutional.

BLACKWELL: While millions of renters have received a break, landlords across the country are now struggling. CNN Natasha Chen explains.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This has been the biggest trial of my life.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Patricia Bowman says she hasn't received rent from her tenant in nearly a year.

PATRICIA BOWMAN, STONE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA LANDLORD: I saw my savings dwindle down, you know, month by month by month.

CHEN: Small independent investors like Bowman own about 16.5 million single family rental properties in the U.S. And a rough estimate from HUD suggests some 1.3 million of those mom and pop owners are now struggling to pay their mortgages due to missed rental payments. With the CDC moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, Bowman was stuck, unable to evict the tenant but she finally got a court hearing in early February.

JUDGE CLAIRE JASON, DEKALB COUNTRY MAGISTRATE COURT: Miss Bowman judgment is in your favor for $7,650 plus court costs.

CHEN: A judge in DeKalb County Georgia did order the tenant out in seven days with one catch.


BOWMAN: After the record has been filed, will the marshals still come out to actually do the eviction.

JASON: They will once the moratorium has been lifted by the CDC.

CHEN: And that moratorium is now extended with Biden's American rescue plan until the end of September. Her tenant hasn't left since the judge ordered him out. And this means, he could stay in her house for another six months. Even if he continues to not pay rent. With her own medical bills piling up from a recent bout with breast cancer, it's something she simply cannot afford.

BOWMAN: This been like a perfect storm of events that have happened. You know, and where I feel like now that, I am in jeopardy of losing my own residence.

CHEN: Bowman says her banks allowed her to put this house and her own home in forbearance. That means her mortgage payments may be on pause, but she'll still owe the money later. She could apply for rental assistance herself now that landlords are able to directly submit for the aid approved by Congress in December, but they still need the tenant to sign off.

TINA BROWN, NEW YORK LANDLORD: I don't understand why I would need her approval to pay for the rent. I don't understand that.

CHEN: Tina Brown says, her tenant hasn't been paying rent, all while Brown lost her own job during the pandemic. Temporarily moved in with her mother, then finally moved into the basement of her rental property right beneath her non-paying tenant.

BROWN: Being strapped financially, dealing with COVID, dealing with not knowing where you're going to live, and then also dealing with the possibility of losing your property. It's terrifying.

CHEN: But more help is now on the way.

SUSAN REIF, DIRECTOR OF EVICTION PREVENTION PROJECT, GEORGIA LEGAL SERVICE: If you're a landlord and you're at the point where you're extremely frustrated which you have, you know, the circumstances would justify. Now is not the time to try to evict.

CHEN: Because no one will receive rental assistance if the tenant is kicked out Reif says. She says advocating for tenants is also advocating for smaller landlords to who provide most of the scarce affordable housing in this country.

REIF: It's a timing issue right now between getting this rental assistance to the landlords in time to save the affordable housing.

CHEN: Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.


PAUL: Well, President Biden is expected to address the nation this morning, after the House passed as $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill overnight.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to the White House now, and CNN reporter Jasmine Wright joins us. So, what do you know about what he is going to say?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. Listen, one White House official tells me, that President Biden will praise the House of Representatives for passing his $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. We know that is something that the President has said is necessary to accomplish his number one priority in office, which is defeating the pandemic. The official says that Biden who was slated to speak at the White House later this morning, will talk broadly about the importance of passing this bill in terms of his effort to really scale up these vaccinations as well as to reopen schools. There is money provided in this package to do that. But also, he will talk about the need for the Senate now to pass this bill, putting pressure on them, looking to get it out as we know that Democrats are looking to get this bill on President Biden's desk by next month before those unemployment benefits run out. Christi, Victor?

BLACKWELL: Jasmine Wright for us at the White House. Thanks for the update.

PAUL: Thank you, Jasmine. Our U.S. intelligence report says the Saudi Crown Prince approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Will there be any political consequence is the question for the Kingdom, that's next?



PAUL: Well, President Biden has decided not to sanction Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman even though a U.S. intelligence report concluded, he did approve the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Alex Marquardt has the latest details.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: In black and white, the United States is saying that the de facto ruler of a close ally is responsible for murder. The intelligence community concluding, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The long-awaited unclassified report is barely three pages long and doesn't offer any new hard evidence of an order from MBS as the prince is known. It's based on MBS's control of decision making in the kingdom since 2017. And support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad. The report describes MBSs having absolute control of the kingdom's security and intelligence organizations. The team of assassins, the report says, includes people associated with top MBS Lieutenant, Saud al-Qahtani and MBS's bodyguards, including Maher Mutreb, who traveled with MBS to United States.

This public intelligence report comes more than two years after the brutal murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul of The Washington Post columnist, who was long critical of MBS, the Crown Prince took responsibility but denied any personal involvement. And the Trump administration, despite having access to all the classified details, ignored the law requiring a public intelligence report and instead provided cover for MBS.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the fact is, maybe he did. Maybe he did.

MIKE POMPEO, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: There is no direct evidence linking him to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.


MARQUARDT: Now, the Biden administration has said that NBS is responsible, but it's not sanctioning him. Instead, the Treasury Department on Friday announced sanctions against a former senior Saudi intelligence official and an entity known as the Tiger Squad, several of whose members were allegedly among the assassins. Failing to immediately punish MBS comes as a major disappointment to Khashoggi's family and supporters.



HATICE CENGIZ, KHASHOGGI'S FIANCEE (voice-over): I am devastated than ever before. Now, I believe he will never come back. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: I asked the White House why MBS isn't being punished despite the fact that the report clearly says that he has responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The senior administration official tells me that they are fulfilling their requirement to the law. And that the goal here is to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. The CNN team at the White House is also being told that sanctions against MBS were "too complicated and could jeopardize U.S. military interests in Saudi Arabia." Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.

BLACKWELL: Alex, thank you. And let's pick up right there with CNN global affairs analyst and opinion columnist at the Washington Post, Max Boot. Max, good morning to you. And I want to start where Alex left off with specific punishment for Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince specifically, and the reaction to that lack of sanctions. This is the Chairman of House Intelligence, Adam Schiff.


ADAM SCHIFF, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: I would like to see the administration go beyond what it is announced in terms of repercussions to make sure that the repercussions directly to the Crown Prince. I think the Crown Prince should be shunned by the President. I don't think he should be invited to the United States. I don't think the President should meet with them or speak with them. And I think there are ways to go after assets controlled by the Crown Prince.


BLACKWELL: So, where do you fall on that? Should the Crown Prince be shunned?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. I absolutely do think that MBS should be shunned. But I am not sure that we should go beyond that to actual formal sanctions on him. That would be a very unusual step to take for somebody who was a de facto ruler of a major U.S. ally. I mean, I think the Biden administration has to balance competing values and interests, and I think they are doing a pretty good job of it. We can't sever our relationship with Saudi Arabia. We have to work with them on a host of issues, including counterterrorism, ending the war in Yemen, containing Iran, we have a lot of mutual interest. At the same time, you have to hold MBS accountable. And I think that they are doing that by releasing the report, by ending support for the Saudi war in Yemen, by shunning MBS, for example, on Thursday. President Biden called King Salman MBS's father, not MBS himself to talk with him. So, you know, it's a very hard balance to get right. But I am sympathetic to what the Biden administration is doing, and they are doing much better than the Trump administration, which actively covered up for MBS's rolling this heinous and grisly murder.

BLACKWELL: More than just doing better, you wrote that in the early tests, too soon for a final grade, but in the early tests of the administration, and their dealings with the Middle East that this administration is earning flying colors, expand that, and this is the transition into the conversation on Syria too.

BOOT: Right, exactly. There's been a couple of important things that have happened in connection with the U.S. in the Middle East in the last few days. One of them, of course, is the release of the report about MBS, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. But the other one is, the bombing of a pro-Iranian militia in Syria in retaliation for an attack last week on a U.S. base in Northern Iraq. And in both cases, I think that President Biden is pursuing a tough but smart approach. There is none of this, you know, over the top juvenile rhetoric that President Trump is known for, but he is sending a strong signal to Iran that we will not tolerate the attacks on our bases, yet, at the same time, we welcome negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program. And he is also sending that message of toughness, I think, to Saudi Arabia saying, that we are not going to sever the relationship with the Saudis, but we are certainly going to recalibrate it. And we are not going to give a blank check to MBS and the Saudi government in the way the Trump administration did.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Some of that, as you describe it. Juvenile rhetoric came in the summer 2019, when former President Trump said that he was cocked and loaded in response to Iran. And during that summer, then candidate Biden tweeted that no president should order a military strike without fully understanding the consequences or the consequences of the strike that happened this week fully understood.

ROOT: Well, you never know for sure. I mean, you can't control the future. So, you don't know how things will play out. But I think there is no question that the Biden administration goes through a much more rigorous analytical process than was the case under Trump, where you felt like, policy was being made with these terranes tweets. That's not the case here. It was a very low key, very coordinated interagency effort. And I think the result makes sense, which is to push back on Iran, bomb their proxies, inflict some damage on them, make clear that there is a red line here that they cannot cross, which is to attack us bases, but no Not go so far that you're going to risk an actual war with Iran or to blow up the nascent nuclear negotiations.


So, I think they are striking the right balance, even though of course, you never know exactly what the fallout is going to be.

BLACKWELL: Yes. That two-track approach as you've written about this weekend. Max Boot, thanks so much.

BOOT: Thanks for having me.


PAUL: White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, is one of your attendance strongest supporters to lead the budget office. Why is he so determined to get it confirmed by the Senate? That's next. And be sure to watch, all new episode of Lincoln: Divided We Stand. It's tomorrow at 10 pm Eastern, right here on CNN.


PAUL: Well, White House is fighting to keep alive the nomination of Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget.

BLACKWELL: Several Republican senators and at least one Democrat have said. That they will oppose her nomination, but President Biden's Chief of Staff, Ron Klain recommended Tanden for the position. He continues to push for a confirmation. CNN's Kevin Liptak is with us now. So, Kevin, Ron Klain is a powerful voice obviously, in this administration. Does Tanden's confirmation fight show the limit of his reach? What's the interpretation?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Victor, and we should be clear in all of this. Well, it has been an uphill battle for Neera Tanden. Her nomination is not dead yet. She has this key meeting on Monday with Lisa Murkowski, the centrist republican from Alaska that could ultimately prove determinative in her confirmation battle. But what this episode has really exposed are where the power centers lie in the West Wing, the biggest of them being with Ron Klain, the Chief of Staff. And what we've heard from White House officials, people close to the White House is that Ron Klain has really emerged as the most powerful White House chief of staff in memory. And that's not just our assessment, we talked to an expert Chris Whipple. He's written the book about chiefs of staff, The Gatekeepers. He said that there is really no one who could have been better prepared for this position, because he knows how the place works, and he has a great relationship with Biden. And we are seeing a couple of things emerge. One is that he is involved in nearly everything at the White House. He's been described as something of a micromanager, albeit a capable one.

And you see that in the COVID relief efforts, he of course, was the Ebola czar under President Obama. He has taken an active role here, even though President Biden has his own COVID czar. One person, we talked to called him kind of whirling dervish of activity. Another person said that he is kind of the ultimate arbiter in knowing what the boss wants. Having served with Biden for so many years in different roles. Now, he is also taken an active role in personnel decisions. And the Neera Tanden one is probably the most controversial one today. They are very close. He has taken some blowback for all of this because of how it's gone down. As I said, it's not dead yet, though White House is actively pushing for her nomination. Listen to what Ron Klain said on MSNBC this week.


RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: If Neera Tanden is not confirmed, she will not become the Budget Director. We will find some other place for her to serve the administration that doesn't require Senate confirmation. But let me be clear, we are going to get Neera Tanden confirm. That's what we are working for. And she will be - she will prove her critics wrong as an outstanding Budget Director that works with people on both sides of the aisle.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LIPTAK: Now this episode is not expected to lessen his influence at all in the West Wing, and that's maybe most seen in his Twitter account. Everyone we talked to mentioned this when we asked about Ron Klain. They look to that White House chief of staff's Twitter account to see where the White House is headed, where their heads are at in this new administration takes power in Washington. Vector and Christi.

PAUL: All right. Kevin Liptak, we appreciate the update. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: So, after President Biden's win in November and the Democrats success in flipping the Senate in January. Republican led legislators across the country are moving to change voting laws and change control over the election process. Dozens of state legislators have introduced at least 250 as they're called restrictive voting bills. Voting rights experts see a direct link between these bills and the conspiracy theories, promoted about the 2020 election. Backers of the legislation say, they are concerned with restoring election integrity. With me now to discuss, Myrna Perez, the Director of Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program. Myrna, good morning.


BLACKWELL: So, let's start here. The Conservative Political Action Conference is this weekend in Orlando, and the big lie of this mass widespread voter fraud is a marquee topic here. President Trump scheduled to speak tomorrow. He's slated to talk about how Republicans can win majorities in 2022. But based on your study of these laws and where they're happening and the justification for them, is it less about policy and or is this the strategy, the changing of the law across the country is the way that the party expects they'll be able to regain majorities in Congress?


PEREZ: We just had a historic election with incredible turnout that Americans from all walks of life participated in. And then the first thing we see happening in legislatures across the country is in states where there are political or demographic changes, a wave of voter restrictions. It is very clear to me that there are some politicians that rather than competing for votes would rather use their legislative influence to try and change the rules of the game, so that some people can participate and some people can't.

BLACKWELL: So, let's stick through some of the states here. In Georgia, there is a bill that would give the state election boards the option to assume control over the local elections and voter registration. Arizona, there is a bill that would make it a felony for an official to modify any deadline filing dates, and middle date, any other election related date. Kentucky a bill would strip the Governor and Secretary of State the power to change election procedures. I know that you are a supporter of The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. How would that impact the flood of legislation we are seeing across the country? PEREZ: We are at a point in American history where we really critically need The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It is, this Congress has promised to people that when they step into the ballot box, they will be free from racial discrimination in voting. And John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act sets for certain protocols, so that when jurisdictions want to change their election practices, there is an assessment before that change has happened, as to whether or not communities of color will have their voting strength worsened or will it stay the same. So, in the law, in the states, and in the jurisdictions that will be subject to these requirements, those laws cannot go into effect until they get a clean bill of health.

BLACKWELL: Of course, the Shelby decision several years ago, and the gutting of Section 5 has been something that many have wanted to address, as they look ahead to, not this the upcoming election, but over quite a while here. Let me ask you also about acting to restore access to the ballot. Why you've got these restrictive laws on one side on the other? There are some states and even now on the federal side, restoring rights for former convicts. Where is that happening and what's the progress?

PEREZ: And this country is moving in an incredible direction to restore voting rights to people in our community who have lost their voting rights because of criminal convictions in their past. We saw a New York just pass a piece of legislation through its Senate that would give people who are in the community, but nonetheless have criminal convictions voting rights. California in the last election had a constitutional amendment, so that people who are disenfranchised but in the community were able to get their voting rights and the Democracy Restoration Act, which is federal legislation that would restore voting rights in federal elections to people who are in our community that have criminal convictions in their past, it would ensure that they were able to participate in our elections.

BLACKWELL: All right. Myrna Perez with the Brennan Center. Thank you so much.

PEREZ: Thank you for having me.

BLACKWELL: And we'll be right back.



PAUL: Rabbi Jeffrey Myers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, spoke to me about the reset what we've learned about ourselves during COVID. How it's changed us. And he says the relationships we have outshine anything else we've prioritized.


RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: I said, vast majority of people I speak to, agree with me, not because I am the Rabbi, and they have to agree with me. But because they've discovered through their own reflection that, yes, what really matters to me is my family and the people around me. And the rest of it, really just doesn't matter.


PAUL: I remember in 2018, a shooter attacked the congregation during morning prayers. 11 people were killed. Rabbi Myers says, neither that attack, nor this virus has changed. How he and leaders of all faiths in Pittsburgh help each other.


MYERS: We will return to our building, which you can see behind me. With the help from a lot of friends, we will reopen because we are going to give the message to the rest of the world. Evil will not win. We cannot let it win. We all know what needs to be done. I've come to see particularly, there is a vast silent majority in the United States, good decent people. But they just remain silent.


PAUL: I asked, why he thinks people stay silent. And he said, he thinks we are missing modern day prophets.


MYERS: The last really powerful prophet of our day, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr bless his memory. We are lacking those people for today in our world, to speak out with moral clarity in terms of the direction we want to take as human beings. And I think when you lack those prophetic leaders, then the silent majority is leader less.


PAUL: And he said, he's seen moments of resilience in people and he doesn't want us to miss them.


MYERS: I could probably think of dozens, honestly. But sometimes it's, if you don't have your antenna on just right. You may not recognize that what you've just seen is an example of resilience. People helping other people. People thinking other people.


People being kinder. No Man Is an Island is, as John Donne said, so I expand that to that. No faith community is an island. We are all here together to be able to help each other. And that, I think there is just an important message that continually needs to be repaired. You are not alone.

PAUL: You are not alone. Tell me how the coronavirus and quarantine measures changed you and your approach to life. You can find me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I love to hear from you. Thank you. And we'll see you in an hour.

BLACKWELL: Smerconish is up next. We'll be back at 10 Eastern. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Normalcy is not for everyone. I am Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.