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The Situation Room
Restrictive Voting Bill In Texas Blocked; Air Travel Hits A Record In The U.S. During Pandemic; Cruise Lines Approved To Travel But Governor DeSantis Stands In The Way; New COVID Variant Detected In Vietnam; Interview With Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ); Former FDA Commissioner On COVID Origins: Lab Leaks Happen All The Time; Biden's Memorial Day Warning: Democracy Is In Peril. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 31, 2021 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues now with "THE SITUATION ROOM."
JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I am Jim Acosta and this is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a Texas sized showdown over voting restrictions. A late night walkout by Democrats blocks a bill in the Texas legislature, but Republicans have a plan to force it through.
Also, on this Memorial Day, as he oversees the end of a 20-year war, U.S. Defense Secretary and retired general, Lloyd Austin, talks exclusively with CNN remembering his worst moments leading U.S. troops in battle.
Plus, millions of travelers pack highways and airports celebrating their new found freedom from coronavirus restrictions. We start today with Texas. The latest Republican-led state trying to enact new voting restrictions in the shadow of President Trump's big lie.
Democrats effectively killed the bill late last night by walking out of the state's capitol in Austin. Republicans had to votes to pass SB- 7, but the Democratic group left the GOP short of a quorum just minutes before midnight when the state's legislative session ended. CNN political correspondent Sara Murray joins me live. Sara, what happens now?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Democrats know that this could be a short-lived victory for them. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, came out pretty swiftly and said this is a top priority for him and he is going to call a special session to make sure it gets done.
MURAY (voice-over): Texas Democrats walking off the house floor late Sunday night in a dramatic move to block Republican efforts to pass new voting restrictions. NICOLE COLLIER, (D) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: We are no longer going to stay
in and allow them to continue to push measures that disenfranchise our voters.
MURRAY (voice-over): The move left Republicans short of the minimum number of lawmakers required for a vote, killing the bill for the legislative session. But the measure maybe blocked only temporarily.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, saying it's deeply disappointing the voting bill didn't reach his desk, and vowing to call a special session where lawmakers can take up the issue.
Democrats leaving the House floor Sunday night after hours of heated debate including Republicans refusing to take questions from Democrats about the legislation.
CHRIS TURNER, (D) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: It became clear that Republicans were going to resort to an extreme tactic to shut off debate, even though we were still fighting the bill. That forced our hand and that's what led to the walkout that you saw about 10:30, 10:40 last night.
MURRAY (voice-over): The bill would have banned drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, both measures that made Houston area ballot boxes more accessible to Black and Latino voters during the 2020 election according to voting rights advocates.
And it would have barred early voting on Sunday before 1:00 p.m., a blow to souls to the poll efforts that are popular with black churches.
JESSICA GONZALEZ, (D) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: Really this is a witch hunt. It's a witch hunt that is aimed at people of color.
MURRAY (voice-over): The bill also would have made it easier to overturn an election, allowing courts to throw out results if so many ballots were cast illegally that it could have made a difference as opposed to proving fraud actually impacted the outcome of a race.
The push for strict voting in Texas follows similar efforts in Florida, Georgia, and other Republican-controlled states that have clung to former President Donald Trump's lies that the 2020 election was stolen. Texas Republicans have cast the bill as a step toward more consistent and secure elections.
JACEY JETTON, (R) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: There should be consistency between counties. So whether you live in Fort Bend County, Harris County, Montgomery County, Dallas County.
MURRAY (voice-over): But it comes after a record turnout in the 2020 election, and no evidence of widespread fraud.
(On camera): Now, the Texas governor hasn't said when the special session will take place, but it is clear he is irritated by the events. He is also threatening to veto funds for the legislative branch saying no pay for those who abandon their responsibilities, Jim.
ACOSTA: This is certainly not over. All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much. Let's discuss with Ron Brownstein and Jackie Kucinich. Great to see both of you on this Memorial Day.
Jackie, Democrats stopped the bill for now, but Republicans are already planning to bring it up during a special session at the end of the day. Has this really accomplished anything besides delaying the inevitable in Texas do you think?
JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: You know, perhaps it is a short victory for Democrats because Republicans do have the majority there. But what this does, this sends a signal to Washington, frankly, about what Democrats on the state level are willing to do to try to slow down this legislation for being pushed through, and shows urgency that these laws are being or these bills are being forced through and could be implemented while Washington is still unable to get, you know, the voting rights bills through their process.
ACOSTA: Yes. They're being a lot more aggressive down in Austin than they are in Washington, Ron. Democrats had to physically leave the building to stop the vote from happening.
What does that say about the state of politics right now in the U.S. where, you know, you have Democrats fleeing the Capitol building in order to stop this very highly controversial legislation?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it really is a reflection of how far the red states are moving since Biden's election and Trump's defeat, primarily on voting as Jackie said. I mean, you are seeing these in state after state where Republicans control the legislature and the governor.
But also on a whole series of other issues, Jim. I mean, on abortion. Texas has passed a six-week and a total ban on abortion. On guns, in some cases immigration. I mean, a whole variety of hot button issues, the red states are kind of going through a convulsion of backlash against the idea the Democrats have achieved national power.
And you know, Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic (inaudible) candidate in 2018 said a couple days ago that they are going to fight this as hard as they can in Texas, but as you know, ultimately, they don't have the votes. And as you and I have talked, in the end, John Robert's court is unlikely to be the answer since he set all of this in motion with his Shelby County decision in 2013.
The one lever Democrats have is their control of Congress and the White House which allows them to set a national standard, a national floor of voting rights, but it is unclear whether they can get the last votes in the senate to do so after the House has already approved it.
ACOSTA: And Jackie, more than a dozen states have enacted these bills to make it harder to vote since the 2020 election. More than a dozen other states are considering related bills right now. They are clearly trying to do at the state level what they can't do in Congress on the Republican side. How much of this is because of former President Trump and these losses that the Republicans suffered in last year's election?
KUCINICH: It wasn't just last year's election, Jim. Remember, this goes back even to the 2016 election where the president -- where former President Trump said that there was all of this voter fraud because he lost the popular vote, and he deputized Kris Kobach to have that voting commission that found absolutely nothing. It was kind of laughed off into obscurity.
So, this is something that has been pushed from well before former President Trump, but it rocket-fueled that movement. And it is absolutely because of the big lie. This is absolutely, again, it rocket-fueled the big lie.
We saw the big lie even impact the Senate last week, not being able to -- where the Republicans implemented their first filibuster of this session to block a commission to investigate January 6th. This big lie has infected government on every single level and we're seeing the result of that right now.
ACOSTA: Yes. Trump's claims about voter fraud, they were sort of the big lie before the big lie, Ron Brownstein. I mean, this has been going on for so long. Trump has never produced any evidence, any proof that any of these voter fraud claims are true, and yet these lies live to this day.
In an interview with "The Daily Beast," you say you've talked to civil rights groups and voting groups about these types of new restrictions, and you said, quote -- we'll put it up on screen -- they're worried about the magnitude of what's unfolding in the red states and they are worried about the way that the Biden White House and the Senate Democratic leadership are responding to it, that there is a gap that is widening between the magnitude of the threat and the intensity of the response." So what exactly do these groups want to do, Ron?
BRWONSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, I think the magnitude of the threat is that many of the groups who reckon voting rights and civil rights see what's unfolding as the greatest threat to the underlying principles of American (inaudible) democracy since at least the Civil War, and maybe at any point in our history.
And as we said, the House has passed comprehensive legislation that would establish a national floor of voting rights, guarantee all Americans access to on-demand absentee balloting, a certain amount of days of early voting, automatic and same day voter registration, but that legislation is now stuck in the Senate where every Senate Democrat except Joe Manchin has endorsed it.
And there is also a question of whether several Senate Democrats would agree to exempt it from what is a certain Republican filibuster. Here's the irony, Jim. Manchin's position is that any changes in voting rights at the federal level should only be done on a bipartisan basis. In effect, what that means is he's giving a veto to Republicans in the Senate on whether you respond to restrictions on voting are passed on party line basis in state after state.
A lot of the groups want Biden to ring the alarm louder. The White House says they have a better chance of getting Manchin and maybe Sinema and others on board through a quiet inside game. It's all going to be coming to a head this summer. Chuck Schumer says the bill will be on the floor in June.
ACOSTA: It will be a busy summer on this issue. No question about it. All right, Jackie Kucinich, Ron Brownstein, thanks so much. Great seeing both of you.
Coming up, the rush to get away, Happy Memorial Day -- becomes the race to get home. Will the unmasked holiday weekend cause a new spike in U.S. coronavirus cases? We hope not.
Also ahead, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks exclusively with CNN, remembering some of his toughest moments when he was a general leading U.S. troops in battle.
ACOSTA: A record number of passengers traveled through U.S. airports this weekend, marking a turning point for travel during the pandemic. Now, nearly half of all Americans are fully vaccinated. Let's bring in CNN's Pete Muntean. Pete, how many passengers are we talking about right now?
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well Jim, Reagan National Airport here was a ghost town only a year ago. And now the TSA says 1.6 million people passed through security at America's airport just yesterday. Compare that to the same day back in 2020 when only 350,000 people flew nationwide.
The air travel record of the pandemic set only back on Friday when 1.96 million people flew. The real question is now, whether today's numbers will get to the elusive 2 million passenger mark, a number we have not seen since March of 2020.
But you can't just talk about air travel. AAA says it expects 37 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more over this holiday weekend -- 34 million by car, and those numbers really aren't that far off from where we were back in 2019.
You know, people tell us they feel excited to get out. They feel safe. They're doing the things that they have not been able to do in more than a year, going to the beach, going to see family. A bit of a sense of normal.
One thing that is still not normal though, you still have to wear a mask as mandated by the federal government on all forms of public transportation. Planes, trains, buses, boats, and also here in terminals, Jim.
ACOSTA: All right, Pete Muntean, looking good there at Reagan Airport. Hopefully, it doesn't get too busy over there for you. We appreciate it. Thanks so much.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis clashing with cruise lines over a law he signed banning businesses from asking customers whether they've been vaccinated against coronavirus. Cruise ship operators are ready to set sail, but say the order may keep them anchored. Very interesting development. Let's got to CNN's Alison Kosik who joins us now. Alison, what's going on here?
ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, you know, it's hard not to call out the irony of this. The state of Florida sued the Biden administration and the CDC to reopen cruising immediately, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, he's also standing in the way of getting the ships back in the water.
DeSantis recently signed a law which prohibits businesses including the cruise industry from asking customers and employees if they've been vaccinated against COVID-19. The thing is, part of the CDC's updated guidance gives the green light to cruise lines to set sail again if at least 95 percent of crew members and 95 percent of passengers are vaccinated.
But if they can't ask, how will they know? It's leaving cruise lines in a tough spot here especially with them wanting to re-launch this summer. Now, DeSantis is digging in and says he has no intention of allowing an exemption for cruise lines telling the Orlando Sentinel, "We are going to enforce Florida law. We have laws that protect the people and the privacy of our citizens, and we are going to enforce it."
So what's the cruise line to do? Well, the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines said the company may actually avoid the state altogether, suspending operations out of its port in Florida if the governor doesn't allow COVID-19 checks for passengers and crew.
During the company's quarterly earnings call, CEO Frank Del Rio said there are other states in the region operates from, meaning it could move its ships elsewhere. Well after losing billions of dollars because of the pandemic, the cruise industry is just trying to stay afloat.
It also brings in a huge amount of revenue and tens of thousands of jobs to Florida. But with Governor DeSantis not budging on this at least not just yet, it's turning into a real face-off between the cruise lines and the governor. Jim?
ACOSTA: All right, very interesting development there. Thank you, Alison. Great to see you.
ACOSTA: As always, let's discuss with William Haseltine, former professor at Harvard Medical School. Great to see you, sir. William, let me ask you this, 40 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, 50 percent have at least one dose. Are we on pace to hit President Biden's goal of 70 percent by July 4th? That date is coming very soon?
WILLIAM HASELTINE, CHAIR AND PRESIDENT, ACCESS HEALTH INTERNATIONAL: The answer is yes, we are. CDC just issued guidance, we're now 61 percent of adult Americans have had a single shot. The goal that was announced for July 4th was 70 percent. They are confident. We are going to meet that goal. In addition, we're starting the vaccination of children as well. So, we will definitely meet the initial goal of 70 percent of adult Americans having one vaccine by July 4th.
ACOSTA: That would be great news, but there are some worrying signs on the global front in the battle against COVID. Vietnam's health minister has detected a suspected new coronavirus variant which it said appears to be a hybrid of two highly transmissible strains. What do we know about this strain? How worrisome is it? Could it potentially make its way over here to the U.S.?
HASELTINE: Let me put things in a little bit of context. One of the most troubling things about the variants is how infectious they are. If you take the Wuhan strain, initial strain as one, you take the first strain that appear that was more transmissible, then Europe is two. The British strain as four, the new Indian strain in Britain and other places as six, this may be even higher.
What does that mean? It means if a little bit of virus gets into your environment, you're likely to get infected. A mask, a single mask may not protect you. You get into a room that somebody has been in half an hour before, you get infected.
Let me give you one of the most troubling things I've read. When the Australians really tracked down how an infection happened in a quarantine hotel, one person opened a door in a corridor, closed it. Thirty minutes later, a second person opened it, closed it, got infected, left the hotel, and infected others.
That's how infectious these are. That's why you see rapid spikes, unprecedented spikes in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, the whole region, not to mention what's happened to India and other places, and what's now going on in South America, 200,000 people about every day are getting infected in South America. Where the cruise lines are going, by the way.
ACOSTA: And this Memorial Day looks really different than last year.
HASELTINE: Yes, it is.
ACOSTA: Packed beaches, bars, restaurants. In many ways, that's a good thing. But, you know, many people are unmasked. I mean, we don't have enough people vaccinated, obviously, at this point. Is any of this concerning to you?
HASELTINE: Well, the good news and bad news. Certainly, its great news that people can see their friends, they can feel comfortable to travel because they're vaccinated. It's good news because from just two or three months ago, we're down less than 10 percent of infections that we were getting, that's all good news.
The bad news is if you're not vaccinated, you're still at risk and your risk is about as high as it was before. You're at risk if you're not vaccinated. And the strains that are coming and they're out there and in this country are much more infectious. For adults and even more infectious than they were for children. So, this is serious. If you have a chance to get vaccinated with the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine, get vaccinated.
ACOSTA: Yes. All the more reason to get vaccinated. What are some of the different risks for vaccinated, unvaccinated people over this holiday break? I think if you're vaccinated, are you pretty much good to go? That's what I think folks want to hear when they go out the door.
HASELTINE: You're about 95 percent good to go. There is a small fraction of people who the vaccine doesn't take on, but I could say this is about the best vaccine we've ever seen, about the safest. Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines, about the safest we've ever seen.
At their peak, they are the most protective that we've ever seen. It's a fantastic success, but some people who are vaccinated, 5 percent perhaps, can still get infected. But the rate of infection for unvaccinated people is pretty high. The virus is still there. About 20,000 Americans are getting infected every day.
So, it also depends where you are. If you go to where the virus is, you have a higher chance of getting infected. If you go to where the virus isn't, you're not going to get so infected. So, it's a complicated picture of who you're with, where you go. But the simple message is much, much better to be vaccinated than not. And as far as we can tell, this is the safest vaccine we've ever seen.
ACOSTA: And can we send kids to camp this summer? That's what a lot of parents are wondering. They want to get those kids out of the house. You know, CDC says the kids can go if they're vaccinated. What do you think?
HASELTINE: I think definitely if they're vaccinated and the camp counselors are vaccinated. The CDC, and I would agree with them. It's a great thing to do. The CDC's guidance, I was just puzzling over it before we got on the air here.
It's a little complicated. It's complicated for me to work on, it's going to be really complicated for the parents. The simple answer, if your children are vaccinated, everybody at the camp is vaccinated, the counselors are vaccinated, you're going to be good to go, good to be without masks.
But if you mix the two groups, just like you're going to mix groups on a cruise ship, it's much more complicated. Are you going to keep unvaccinated kids over here and the vaccinated kids over there? Are the counselors all going to be vaccinated? How do you mix them? So, it's much more complicated if you're going to mix people. If you're not, everybody is vaccinated, no problem.
ACOSTA: All right. You just made a lot of folks' day with that advice. William Haseltine, thanks so much. Great to see you. Happy Memorial Day and we appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
HASELTINE: Thank you, Jim.
ACOSTA: Thank you, sir.
Up next, what if COVID came from a lab rather than from a wild animal? Why the search for its origin is so important. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.
ACOSTA: Almost 600,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and lawmakers want answers about the origins of this pandemic. And joining me to talk about this is Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski of New Jersey. He's on the Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining me. Your colleague and a top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Mike McCaul told my colleague, Jake Tapper, this weekend this. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): I do think it's more likely than not it emerged out of the lab, most likely accidentally for several reasons. This is the worst cover-up in human history that we've seen, resulting in 3.5 million deaths, creating economic devastation around the globe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: What do you think, congressman? Do you agree with that? And is the Biden administration taking this seriously enough do you think?
REP. TOM MALINOWSKI (D-NJ): I think they are. Look, we have been briefed by the intelligence community, and right now to be honest, there are two highly plausible explanations, either it was transferred from animals in a market or there was an accidental lab leak. Our intelligence community doesn't have a conclusion. They don't know for sure and we may never know.
But whether it was a lab leak or not, we do know that the Chinese government was covering this up because they have blocked the World Health Organization and every other independent body from going in and investigating this.
I think that the Biden administration is doing the right thing by expediting a review of the intelligence because we do have to try our best to figure this out if we're going to prevent future pandemics.
[17:29:55] ACOSTA: And you want to put some pressure on China. You recently co- sponsored a bill that would ban the federal government from contracting with businesses sponsoring the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Your co-sponsor, Mike Waltz, Congressman Mike Waltz, cites the, quote, cover up of the COVID-19 pandemic as one reason for the ban? How does this bill go beyond the work of the Intelligence Community in trying to uncover what happened?
MALINOWSKI: Well, I think these are two separate things. And just another word on the COVID issue, I want to hold China accountable because there's no question whatever the origins, there was a cover up. But what China is hiding, again, are the origins of COVID, not the fact of COVID, which was known to us from a very, very early point last year.
I mean, it wasn't China after al that call this a hoax or that said that, you know, we should take hydroxychloroquine, or that it would go away by the summer. So we need to know the facts to prevent future pandemics, but we shouldn't use this investigation as a way of absolving ourselves of responsibility for what happened in our country.
And on the Olympics, look, I just don't think it's appropriate to hold the Olympics in a country that's committing a genocide. That's, you know, this is in some ways worse than 1936 in that respect. And what our bill does, it doesn't force the athletes to boycott.
I don't want them to lose this experience, but it would put pressure on the U.S. corporate sponsors of the game by saying that they can't contract with the U.S. government if they sponsor these games.
ACOSTA: And former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CBS on Sunday, quote, leaks, lab leaks happen all the time. And often the Chinese government is so opaque. It is up to journalists to find out the truth. What mechanisms should the International Community put in place so we don't see another pandemic on the scale?
MALINOWSKI: This is why we need to have the answers as best we can as to how this happened in the first place. If it was animal to human transmission, that suggests a certain strategy going forward to prevent the next one. If it was a lab leak, it suggests a different strategy. So, you know, I do think we have to put as much pressure as possible on China to cooperate with an international investigation.
I think there should be consequences if they don't. Regardless, we need to get to do more to ensure that the critical supply chains for dealing with infectious disease, pandemics are within the United States that we're not dependent on China, or any other country, that in and of itself, would be punitive.
ACOSTA: All right, Congressman Malinowski, thanks so much for joining us. Great talking to you. We appreciate it on this Memorial Day weekend.
MALINOWSKI: Thank you. ACOSTA: And on this Memorial Day -- thank you -- we want to honor the incredible toll combat takes on our servicemen and women, and how their experiences defending our country with them long after learning the active line -- or excuse me leaving the active line of duty.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sat down with CNN's Barbara Starr to discuss his time on the battlefield and the looming end to America's longest war in Afghanistan. CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now. Barbara, what did the Secretary tell you? This sounds like a very interesting interview.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jim, one of the most compelling things he said is he is not worried about the critics and their talking points. He, on this Memorial Day, remains focused on developing a strong force, an inclusive force ready to defend the nation.
STARR (voice-over): On this Memorial Day, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is overseeing the end of 20 years of war in Afghanistan. More than 2,000 American troops died, 20,000 wounded. Austin is promising the U.S. will help those Afghans who no longer feel safe from the Taliban after years of helping the U.S.
LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: You know, we care a lot about them, and we're going to do everything we can for those that want to come out to help them relocate.
STARR (voice-over): The White House hasn't yet publicly agreed. But after combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Austin pulls no punches about the duty to ensure everyone is looked after. It was never more clear than on what Austin says was his worst day ever. Commanding troops in the early days on the front line in Iraq.
AUSTIN: All of our chemical attack alarms went off. I got a call on a radio at about the same time that, you know, one of my helicopters had just disappeared off the screen. I was listening to the radio as I heard a pilot report being engaged by a heavy anti-aircraft weapon that it was tough for him to try to evade the, you know, the engagement.
It turned out that that was one of our weapons, a patriot that engaged them. I lost the helicopter to another incident. A vehicle close by us was struck and exploded by a troops injured in that. And so all these things happen within about an hour.
STARR (voice-over): Today, the Secretary has no patience for those on the conservative spectrum, who suggest the U.S. military's best days are gone.
(on-camera): We see this whole question of whether or not as the Department of Defense tries to deal with diversity and inclusion, is the military getting too soft. Sounds like you don't buy that? Is it too soft?
AUSTIN: You know, I think our adversaries would like to capitalize on talking points like that, you know, the Chinese, the Russians. This is the best military in the world today. It will be the best with military in the world tomorrow, it will be the best military in the world 20 years from now.
STARR (voice-over): So there's still room for diversity and inclusion.
AUSTIN: We represent the United States of America. We got to look like America, not only in the ranks bar, but our leadership should look like America.
Thank you for your trust and your confidence.
STARR (voice-over): For America's first black Secretary of Defense, the sprint to that day is on.
AUSTIN: There should be a day when everybody wakes up and feels, you know, the same. Part of my responsibility and one of my goals is to work towards that day, and move this along as far as I can, as fast as I can.
STARR: On this Memorial Day for this Secretary of Defense, it's all about the strength of America's armed forces. Jim?
ACOSTA: Great interview. All right, Barbara Starr, thanks so much.
Just ahead, mega deal or go it alone. President Biden and Congressional Democrats may have to answer that multi-trillion dollar question this week. And 100 years ago, the richest black neighborhood in America was ripped apart by a violent white mob. Tonight, uncover the hidden story. The CNN film "Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street" premieres tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Imagine Harlem, Bourbon Street and Chocolate City all in one place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From executive producers LeBron James and Maverick Carter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People call it the Black Wall Street.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was nothing that you could not do. The sky was the limit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A strong black community, destroyed by a white mob.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's lunch (ph) talks on the streets of Tulsa black (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White Tulsans murder. Black holes (ph). UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Between 100 and 300 people, most of the black were killed by white mobs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today they call the massacre.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The crime was heated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Victims were buried in unmarked graves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were trying to get in here other bodies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: White Tulsans could control the narrative.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a systematic cover up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a responsibility and an obligation to find the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street".
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: On this Memorial Day, President Biden paid his respects to fallen service members and their families at Arlington National Cemetery. In a passionate and personal speech, Biden praise service members and laid out his vision for the values of the country.
CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us now. Phil, today Biden said, quote, empathy is the fuel for democracy. What else did he say about democracy? It's some pretty provocative comments, it sounds (ph).
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very strong comments, Jim. And it gets to a theme that he's touched on often off the cuff when he speaks over the course of the last several months.
Yes, deeply personal speech, particularly as it pertained to his late son, Beau Biden, but also kind of laying out a stark moment in time, not just because of international tunneled (ph) or international challenges, but also domestic challenges, basically saying with the graves of those who gave their lives for their countries surrounding him, that nothing is guaranteed. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democracy itself is imperiled here at home and around the world. What we do now. What we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Jim, from the President's perspective really underscored today, those are the stakes, those are the stakes of this moment in time. Those are the stakes of the actions that both the federal government, of course, but also individual Americans will be determined by, over the course of the next several years.
Clearly, it has been a tumultuous last several years, the President trying to underscore that that can't be the path forward if you want to maintain what the country has held on to for the last couple of centuries.
ACOSTA: Yes, Phil. I mean, it's pretty striking to hear the President of the United States talk about democracy being in peril.
ACOSTA: But Biden's speech that he was also full of idealism. He's going to face, though, hefty dose of realism, as you know, on this issue of infrastructure as those talks get down to the wire. How is the administration feeling about a deal at this point?
MATTINGLY: You know, Jim, it's an interesting point. White House officials always refer to the President is kind of the eternal optimist in the White House, but even they acknowledge. There's a long road ahead. They've been trading counter offers with Republicans, a group of Republican senators over the course of the last several weeks and they are still very far apart.
Keep in mind, the initial deadline was today, Memorial Day. It was extended because of a good faith counteroffer that White House officials thought they could work with. But they are making very clear, time is short. Take a listen to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: By the time that they return, which is June 7th, just a week from tomorrow, we need a clear direction. You know, certainly encouraging to see the healthy conversations that have happened over the last days and weeks. But the President keeps saying inaction is not an option and time is not unlimited here. I think we are getting pretty close to a fish or cut bait moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Jim, behind the scenes, White House staff has still been trading talking -- trading papers with Republican senators trying to get a better sense of where their potential pathways may exist.
And White House officials, Jim, have told me, don't necessarily think this has to be $1 trillion deal or some large grand bargain. There may be a scaled back option here, underscoring that they're looking at several avenues over the course of these next several days to see if they can dig out some sort of agreement. [17:45:14]
The President, Shelley Moore Capito, the West Virginia Republican, leading the Republican negotiations by all accounts on both sides, get along, like one another, wants to see something come to fruition. But there is a large gap to close and a closing window to get that done.
One date I've been told repeatedly to keep an eye on, June 9th, that's when the House Transportation Committee is supposed to start its work on a really crucial transportation bill, wants (ph) supposed to be at the core of any agreement. White House officials want eight outline of what they can do by then. They might have to walk, Jim.
ACOSTA: OK, we'll see if it's Lucy and the football. CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly, thanks so much for that report.
And coming up, the middle child finally getting some attention. Major policy change affecting every family in China.
ACOSTA: There are some important global stories in the news today. Let's begin in China, which just announced a major change in social policy. Let's go to CNN's David Culver in Beijing. David, this is fascinating. Parents now will be allowed to have three children per family there in China.
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. China's easy niche strict family planning policies now allowing couples, as you mentioned, have up to three children. That is a change from two which was made a few years back.
And this is coming from the top, the Chinese Communist Party's leadership, including President Xi Jinping, making the decision just three weeks after Beijing published its 2020 census. That census showed that China's population was growing at its slowest rate in decades.
But this is more than just about altering family planning, this signals at what is a critical and pressing issue for China, as the country here is trying to avert a demographic crisis. They've got a declining birth rate combined with increased life expectancy.
The result? It is sparking fears that there will not be enough workers here to support the aging population. And we've got to keep in mind about China is that economic stability and prosperity are deeply intertwined with social stability here. That is exactly why the central government is moving so urgently on this issue.
Now in 2016, the country ended its decades long, and at times harshly enforced one child policy that allowed for up to two children per family. They thought that that would lead to a baby boom, but it did not live up to those expectations. State media did not say when this new policy would be implemented.
But already, Jim, there are questions as to if it will be effective in encouraging families to have more kids or if the damage is already done after years of harsh enforcement to dissuade people from having big families.
ACOSTA: Yes, David. And I wonder how the message is being received there because I would imagine that for many folks there in China, there's sort of a social pressure or societal pressure on not having more than one child even though these policies have been adjusted over the years.
CULVER: You're right. In opposition to central government's decisions is often quickly quieted here if not censored, but this is renewing concerns again over government control over women's bodies infringing on their rights. There's also folks online pointing out that there are financial realities.
Life's getting more expensive for them. Families are dealing with rising burdens of housing, education, general cost of living. All of that going up, Jim, and they acknowledge adding more children, well, that could alter their being able to maintain a certain lifestyle.
ACOSTA: Fascinating. All right, David Culver, thanks so much for that. Look at that issue there in China. In Israel, it looks like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing his most serious challenge yet to retaining his job.
Let's go to Jerusalem and CNN's Hadas Gold. Hadas, we've seen Prime Minister Netanyahu survive a lot of scrapes, political scrapes over the years. What's the latest there?
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we may be seeing the final days of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel's Prime Minister. This comes after his actual former aid Naftali Bennett, now the leader of a small right- wing party called Yamina, announcing that he is willing to work with opposition parties in order to form a new government coalition, a new unity government. Under this Agreement, Naftali Bennett would actually first serve as prime minister followed by the centrist leader, Yair Lapid.
And if this coalition government comes to be, it will be made up of a wide swath of political parties from the far left all the way through the center, all the way through the center and to the right. Now these parties don't agree on much other than that they are united that they do not want Prime Minister Netanyahu as prime minister, they want him out of power.
But Naftali Bennett said that he is willing to sit with people across the ideological spectrum in order to prevent Israelis from having to go towards a fifth election. But there are still a few obstacles before this new government can be sworn in.
First, they have to actually come to their coalition agreement, they have to formally sign these agreements, then it has to be presented to the Israeli President before it will actually go to Parliament for a formal vote. They have seven days to do so -- excuse me -- they have seven days to do so. And that means seven days in Israeli politics is an eternity, a lot can change. And just a few defectors could cause this coalition to completely crumble.
And in Israeli politics, Netanyahu should never be written off, so things could change pretty quickly in the next few days before this government is formally sworn in. Jim?
ACOSTA: All right, Hadas Gold, yes, you cannot count out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's been through a lot of these battles before. All right, thanks so much. Great to see you, Hadas.
Coming up, a manhunt happening right now for several suspected killers after another mass shooting.
ACOSTA: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and this is a SITUATION ROOM special report. Happening now, an urgent manhunt for the suspects in a mass shooting that left two people dead and almost two dozen injured in the Miami area.
Also, a surprise move by Texas Democrats, walking out of the legislature and blocking Republicans from passing a restrictive new voting law. And Americans mark the first maskless holiday in more than a year with tens of millions traveling over Memorial Day weekend.
First, let's go straight to CNN's Leyla Santiago in Miami. Leyla, good to see you.