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The Situation Room
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Announces Resignation Amid Sexual Harassment Scandal And Impeachment Probe; Biden Says Totally Counterintuitive And Disingenuous For Governors To Ban Masks In Schools; Biden: I Continue To Be An Optimist That House Will Pass Infrastructure Bill After Senate Approval; Interview With Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 10, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And a new win for President Biden and bipartisanship, the White House right now celebrating Senate passage of a massive infrastructure bill while facing very significant hurdles ahead.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin this hour with Governor Cuomo's resignation, a new reaction coming in from President Biden. CNN's M.J. Lee is joining us from New York right now. M.J., the president was asked about Cuomo's decision a little while ago. Update our viewers.
M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This news of the resignation has been such stunning political news that the reaction has really been coming in all day from across New York and across the country. And in Washington, President Biden was about to speak about the infrastructure bill that had passed in the Senate.
That's when he was asked about the decision by Governor Cuomo to resign. And just a sign of how unanimous this was across Democrats that Cuomo simply has to go, even the president saying that he supported that decision.
LEE (voice over): An upheaval in American politics, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announcing his resignation.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing. And, therefore, that's what I'll do.
LEE: The news marking a dramatic fall from grace for the three-term governor, a fixture in national politics for decades.
CUOMO: We're New York tough.
LEE: And hailed a hero for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged his state.
CUOMO: The enemy landed in New York State. COVID launched the attack here. You unified, and you rose, and you overcome, and you saved lives. And that was powerful in its effect. It was beautiful to see. And it was an honor to lead.
LEE: But the governor coming under siege in recent weeks, accused of sexually harassing multiple women, facing an impeachment investigation in Albany and several criminal investigations.
CUOMO: I have never crossed the line with anyone but I didn't realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn. There are generational and cultural shifts that I just didn't fully appreciate, and I should have, no excuses.
LEE: Cuomo remaining defiant about the attorney general's report released last week detailing the women's allegations.
CUOMO: The report said I sexually harassed 11 women. That was the headline people heard and saw and reacted to. The reaction was outrage. It should have been. However, it was also false.
This is not to say that there are not 11 women who I truly offended. There are. And for that, I deeply, deeply apologize.
LEE: The governor explaining that his instinct was to fight, but he didn't want to become a distraction for the people of New York.
CUOMO: It is your best interest that I must serve. This situation, by its current trajectory, will generate months of political and legal controversy.
LEE: And also speaking directly to his daughters.
CUOMO: I never would intentionally disrespect a woman or treat any woman differently than I would want them treated. And that is the God's honest truth. Your dad made mistakes. And he apologized. And he learned from it. And that's what life is all about.
LEE: Cuomo's resignation coming after a lengthy briefing by his lawyer, going on the attack against some of the governor's accusers and saying the A.G. investigation was incomplete.
RITA GLAVIN, GOVERNER ANDREW CUOMO'S ATTORNEY: Everybody should have a chance to respond, and everybody should be scrutinized with what they say by facts, context and evidence.
That hasn't happened here.
LEE: An attorney for two of Cuomo's accusers, Alyssa McGrath and Virginia Limmiatis saying a statement that the women felt both vindicated and relieved that Cuomo will no longer be in a position of power over anyone.
Cuomo handing over the reins to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Hochul tweeting this afternoon in part, I am prepared to lead as New York State's 57th governor. The news reaching the White House, President Biden, Cuomo's long-time ally, offering his approval.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I respect the governor's decision, and I respect the decision he made.
LEE (on camera): Now, just because Governor Cuomo has resigned doesn't mean that his troubles automatically all go away. Remember, there is the impeachment investigation that is still under way. There is the criminal investigation that is being conducted by the Albany Sheriff's Office brought forth by one of the female accusers, and so it is just going to be a while, Wolf, but what we actually know what is going to happen to all of these outstanding investigations, even after Governor Cuomo has left office. Wolf?
BLITZER: M.J., I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and our Senior Legal Analyst, Laura Coates.
Dana, Andrew Cuomo was not just a leading figure in New York politics, he was a leading figure in American politics over these years. Just how big of a deal is his resignation?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a huge deal. It is really almost hard to come up with words to describe it, first of all, just because of the nature of his resignation and the fact that he went out fighting and he went out and resigned because of the pressure that he was facing and not only from the legislators in Albany who were making moves to begin impeachment proceedings but more and more people, we are told, in his inner circle saying, it's enough.
And it's also noteworthy and extraordinary, given the fact that Andrew Cuomo is known for legendary for fighting and not giving up, but also known and legendary for understanding the political realities and the political wins for other people, and he clearly saw them in himself.
But the other reason this is a big deal is because this is what happens when there are allegations that are taken seriously that are investigated, and in this case, investigated by a member of the governor's own party and then a report is filed. And then members of his own party in Albany, largely, were moving towards impeachment.
And so this is what happens. This is a kind of exhibit A of what happens when women speak out and are taken seriously. This is not going to be the case in every situation where there are these allegations or these, you know, power conflicts, is probably the nice way to put it, but it's, I think, a textbook of how it should work if, in fact, these allegations are proven to be true and there is no reason to believe they're not.
BLITZER: You know, Laura, why do you think the governor actually sent out his own lawyer earlier in the day, this morning, just before his speech to try to discredit the women who were accusing him of harassment? LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It was probably equal parts a litmus test to figure out how it was going to be received. And also to indicate that, as you said before, that he may intend to keep fighting and he is going to continue to say these allegations are not true.
But to Dana's points raising here is that, essentially, he read the room. He read the political room and understood that this was untenable. But it's curious as to why the inability to read the room if these allegations are not true did not come until now, and I'm wondering what the true catalyst is.
As you know, you've got the notion in the A.G.'s report which, of course, put him in an already precarious position because he was actually commissioning this report. And so you ask people to do an investigation. They are particularly, you know, holistic in their approach, they have said.
He heralded them as consent professionals. And then when it did not go his way, then the discrediting happened and began, which is politically inconvenient and, of course, does not do anything to undermine the credibility of those who have come forward.
Also the notion that -- his lingering notions of whether the resignation actually stops impeachment and/or criminal investigation in their tracks, and although he may have closed one door, it may have opened up possibly for other things now. Because some of the reasons you don't go forward with the politician or a sitting election official is because of the effect on their ability to govern in other respects.
Well, he's not governing any longer, will have ample free time to now address these claims if there are any. And so now he's opened up a door of possibility if the prosecutors used the credibility findings of the A.G. to support any criminal charges against this governor, which likely would be a misdemeanor level, but still on the horizon.
BLITZER: Well, on that point, M.J., and as you reported, sources telling CNN the New York State Judiciary Committee looking into whether impeachment, despite the resignation, impeachment is still possible. What would the goal be if continuing down that impeachment route?
LEE: Yes, Wolf. Every indication we have gotten so far is that even though Andrew Cuomo has resigned, that impeachment investigation, that is going to proceed for the time being.
The meetings that were previously scheduled, those are still going to take place.
Keep in mind that it is really important to remind viewers that investigation was not just about the allegations of sexual harassment. It was actually pretty wide in breadth. It wanted to look at the nursing home deaths here in the state of New York related to COVID. That has been a big controversy for the Cuomo administration, looking at safety issues, even, at the Mario Cuomo Bridge. It is the bridge named after Andrew Cuomo's father.
So there are questions that I think the assembly members can expect to face from their constituents about accountability, right? The governor, yes, has resigned, is going to be resigning in 14 days, will no longer be in office. But is there a duty that these assembly members have to their constituents to get to the bottom of some of these important questions. And I think that is the question that they are going to have to answer in the coming weeks as they decide whether to really move forward and how to move forward with this investigation.
BLITZER: Yes. And, Dana, what do we know about the lieutenant governor, Kathy Huchol, who will take over and become the governor in just two weeks, will face a host of challenges right at the start?
BASH: Well, let me start because I'm talking to you, Wolf, by saying she is from Buffalo, New York, like you, Wolf Blitzer. And she came up really through the ranks in politics in the state of New York, worked in local government for quite some time and then was a member of Congress briefly.
She -- you know, just to give an example of how this is not the first time that men behaving badly in politics anywhere but particularly in New York has had an effect on her career, she ran for Congress in an open seat because the member that she was replacing resigned amid the sexting scandal. So after that, she lost her seat but then she went back up and she became lieutenant governor.
So, she, according to people that I'm talking to and our colleagues are talking to, she has seen the writing on the wall and known that she has to be prepared. And she's going to have a lot of challenges ahead of her, given the fact that this pandemic is far from over, not to mention the issues that M.J. was talking about that still linger in New York.
BLITZER: You know, and she's a fellow Buffalonian, which is obviously very nice, Dana, and also very important, she's a fellow Buffalo Bills fan. And as you know and our viewers --
BASH: I mean, that goes without saying.
BLITZER: And as all of our viewers know, the Buffalo Bills the only NFL team that actually plays in New York State. Those other NFL teams, they play in a place called New Jersey, not in New York.
BLITZER: But Buffalo Bills, that's --
BASH: No New Jersey hating here, though, Wolf.
BLITZER: That's right.
BASH: We won't tolerate that.
BLITZER: Let me get M.J. just to weigh in. Notably, the lieutenant governor will become the first woman, M.J., to lead the State of New York. This is significant, especially when you consider why Cuomo was forced to resign.
LEE: That's right. There is real irony here, right? The fact that, ultimately, what led to governor Cuomo not having a path forward in politics were the sexual harassment allegations from these women, now that is leading to the first woman taking the helm and leading the state for the first time.
Two additional points that I think are worth making about the future governor of this state, the first is that, even though her title right now is lieutenant governor, I think a lot of people imagine that that must mean that she is effectively sort of acting as the deputy. She actually doesn't have a very close relationship with Cuomo, in fact, hasn't spoken with him in months. And, second, virtually, she is an unknown. That is the total opposite from Andrew Cuomo. I think a lot of people are trying to figure out how to pronounce her last name.
So, this is going to be a big change for the state of New York, and as Dana said, she is going to have a very tough job ahead of her.
BLITZER: Becomes governor in two weeks. All right, M.J., Dana, Laura, guys, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, school officials in one of Florida's biggest counties upholding a mask mandate, defying the governor and his threat of financial punishment.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is taking aim at Republican governors attempting to ban masks in schools, calling their efforts totally counterintuitive and disingenuous. Those governors are facing push back on multiple fronts as CNN's Nick Watt reports.
BIDEN: See little kids, I mean four, five, six years old in hospitals in ventilators. The reason children are becoming infected is because in most cases they live in low vaccination rate states and communities.
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Like Florida, where the governor doesn't want masks mandated in schools --
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Ultimately, my view is it is a parents' decision.
WATT: -- and Governor Ron DeSantis is threatening to withhold salaries from school officials who mandate masks.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you are not interested in following the public health guidelines to protect the lives of people in their state, then get out of the way and let public officials, let local officials do their job to keep students safe.
WATT: Broward County school board, despite protest and the governor's threat, this afternoon voted to keep their mandate anyway.
DR. ROSALINA OSGOOD, CHAIR, BROWARD COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD: People's lives are invaluable, even if it means that I'm not going to get a paycheck.
WATT: Meanwhile in Texas, the Dallas County judge says there are just two pediatric ICU beds available in the area. He wants masks everywhere inside, not just school.
JUDGE CLAY JENKINS, DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS: Masks suck but it is a small sacrifice to save lives.
WATT: Baltimore just re-enacted an indoor mask mandate.
MAYOR BRANDON SCOTT (D-BALTIMORE, MD): For anyone that's frustrated about wearing a mask, and you 're not vaccinated, then look in the mirror. It's your fault. If you are not vaccinated, shut up. Don't complain.
WATT: Big picture, we're now averaging well over 100,000 new cases a day, up 37 percent in just a week. And just over half of Americans are fully vaccinated.
GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R-WV): You're taking a hell of a risk if you're not vaccinated. That's all there is to it.
WATT: Andres Perekalsk from Texas, young and healthy, did not get vaccinated, nearly died, now regrets it.
ANDRES PEREKALSK, COVID-19 PATIENT: Do it for your kids. Do it for your family. Do it for yourself.
WATT: Arkansas has just 8 ICU bed unfiled. In Mississippi --
NICHOLE ATHERTON, ICU NURSE, OCEAN SPRINGS HOSPITAL, MISSISSIPPI: There are going to be children, children in my own community that are orphans, and it could have been prevented.
WATT: Many hospitals now feeling the strain particularly in states with low vaccination rates.
ARTHUR CAPLAN, DIRECTOR, MEDICAL ETHICS AT NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICNE: There is outbreaks following the unvaccinated strategy all over the place with hospitals just about to tip over. A moral equation has to shift. Stop protecting the unvaccinated. They're selfish. They're greedy. They're not doing the right thing by their neighbors.
(END VIDEOTAPE) WATT (on camera): Now, there is some good news. The pace of vaccination is back on the rise. Average daily shots in arms just crept above half a million a day for the first time, Wolf, since the middle of June. Back to you.
BLITZER: All right. Nick Watt reporting for us, thank you.
Let's bring in our pandemic experts, Andy Slavitt, he's is a former Senior Adviser to the Biden White House COVID response team. He's the author of the book Preventable, the Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response. Also with us, CNN Medical Analyst, Emergency Room Physician Dr. Leana Wen, she's the Author of Lifelines, a Doctors Journey in the Fight for Public Health, both very important, very timely books.
Andy, as more students are heading back to school, the political fight over mask mandates is intensifying dramatically right now. What do you say to governors, like Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas, who are actually fighting to keep masks out of schools?
ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO THE BIDEN WHITE HOUSE COVID RESPONSE TEAM: It's time for Governor DeSantis to decide what matters. Is it kids and families or is it politics? Very simply, Wolf, if I wear a mask and Dr. Wen wears a mask, if my mask is, say, 70 percent effective, if we're both wearing masks, together, we're 90 percent effective. So mask mandates are not just important for the kid being vaccinated but every kid in the classroom depends upon other kids.
So when school districts trying to do the right thing and they overrules them, he's both overruling conservative principles and local control, but more importantly he's putting kids at real risk. He has got pediatric hospitals that are filling up. It is time for him to put politics aside, as Asa Hutchinson did in Arkansas, and say he was wrong, and it's time to move on.
BLITZER: You know, Dr. Wen, nearly 94,000 cases of coronavirus in children were reported in the past week alone here in the United States. What is it going to take to get kids back to school safely?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Wolf, this is now one of the most dangerous times in the pandemic when it comes to children because we have the more contagious delta variant, we have surges and we have so many adults letting down their guard, not wearing mask, not getting vaccinated, that's contributing to this really dangerous environment for children.
That said, we do know what it takes to get our children back in school safely. We also know that it requires layers. And so when we remove a layer, for example, we remove the layer of distancing because we can't get kids back in school in person full time if we still keep six feet instancing, but if we remove that layer, then indoor masking becomes even more important.
Universal masking, as Andy mentioned, type of mask also matters, ideally KN95 or N95 if the toddler is able to tolerate that, if not at least a three-ply surgical mask, cloth masks are not enough, improved ventilation, vaccination for the teachers and staff and parents, and very importantly, testing as well. We should at least be having weekly testing for all the unvaccinated children and staff. Putting all that together is how we can get kids back in school safely.
BLITZER: Very important. And, Andy, the president says he's actually looking into whether he can intervene in Florida and Texas as governors clash with school officials over a mask. Does the Biden administration, Andy, have a bigger role to play here?
SLAVITT: Well, look, the president has no choice but to put every possible option on the table. It's extraordinary to think that we have governors in this country that aren't putting the needs of school kids first.
And this is something that I think every voter and everybody in the country should be very focused on. Let's get our kids vaccinated. And for kids that aren't vaccinated or can't be vaccinated, they should simply be wearing a mask. This is not a political issue. It shouldn't be a political issue.
And the president doesn't care too much about Ron DeSantis or Greg Abbott. What he cares about are the people of Florida and the people of Texas, and the kids in Florida and the kids in Texas. And I think he's going to do everything that he can and he's got to do everything he can to protect those kids. These hospitals are filling up right in front of DeSantis' nose and it's almost shocking that he's not doing anything about it.
BLITZER: Yes, we want these kids back in the classroom and not to have to go to school remotely. That would be affordable if we have to do that one again.
I spoke, Dr. Wen, to the president of the American Association of Pediatrics in the last hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, she's actually pushing the FDA to move more quickly to approve vaccines for younger children 5 to 11 year- olds. Do you think there needs to be more of a sense of urgency on this front?
WEN: I do, because things have changed dramatically since last month and certainly since two months ago. We now have an even more desperate situation when it comes to rising number of cases and the dangers for our children.
And so I definitely want the FDA to be following the right protocols. I don't want any shortcuts to be taken. But I also think the FDA should give us an explanation of exactly where they are for the five to 11-year-old group, that would be up next, where are we with the data? So, for example, is the FDA really requiring more than two months of data, or can two months, which is what we requested for older groups, can that be sufficient when it comes to safety?
It is so important that we make sure that the vaccines for this older group, or for this group, the 5 to 11-year-old group, are also safe and effective as they are for older children and for adults. But we need to get that information. And the more that we can expedite this process safely, the better it is going to be to protect our kids.
BLITZER: Yes, absolutely right. All right thanks very much, Dr. Wen, Andy Slavitt. I appreciate it very much.
Coming up, we will have more on Governor Andrew Cuomo's resignation and what it means for the 11 women who accused him of sexual harassment.
BLITZER: Right now, we're getting more reaction to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's resignation announcement and what it all means for the sexual harassment allegations against him.
Let's discuss with the attorney, Debra Katz, who represents one of Cuomo's accusers Charlotte Bennett. Debra, thank you so much for joining us. What does this resignation mean to your client, Charlotte Bennett?
DEBRA KATZ, ATTORNEY FOR CUOMO ACCUSER CHARLOTTE BENNETT: What it means is when you finally have transparency, there can be accountability. And after the attorney general's report came out, which was very detailed and was carefully done, the governor had no choice but to step down because he could no longer deny how serious and inappropriate his conduct was. He lost allies. He had no choice.
BLITZER: Even as the governor resigned, and you saw this, you heard it, he tried to undermine his accusers, tried to portray himself as a leader on diversity and woman's rights, what message does that send to anyone facing sexual harassment in the workplace?
KATZ: I think that for those who are facing sexual harassment in the workplace, they would have to look at this and see that when women come together and they support one another, which is what happened here, Charlotte supported Lindsey, courage begets courage. After she came forward, other women came forward.
And I think the takeaway here is when the governor denied he had engaged in behavior that others knew he engaged in because he had done it to them, they came forward. We are in a moment where women will not sit idly by and allow perpetrators, like the governor, to normalize the conduct and continue to put blame on the victims and say he was misunderstood. So this is a powerful day for women.
BLITZER: As you know, Debra, the governor still faces the possibility of impeachment in Albany, certainly faces the possibility of criminal charges, civil charges. Beyond this resignation, what does accountability look like both for the governor and the staffers who enabled him?
KATZ: Well, they clearly violated the law. I think all options are on the table. There are four jurisdictions that are looking at criminal charges. What is so pernicious about what the governor did today is he started the press conference by saying he did nothing wrong, the investigators were bias and he did cast dispersions on motives and the credibility of the complainants, and that's just simply wrong.
And anybody who reads the report, anybody who looks at the detailed, incredible notes and text messages and emails that my clients and others sent can reach only one conclusion, which is that the governor did it, exactly what the investigators found.
And this is really an important road map of how we actually investigate high-level, powerful people, which hasn't been done in other cases where serious allegations like this have been made. He said, wait for the investigation. As soon as we did and the complainants participated, he said the investigators are biased. But that had no water. That was a silly argument.
BLITZER: Debra, I know you have represented some important figures in the Me Too movement from an employee of Harvey Weinstein's company to Christine Blasey Ford. What does all this say about how the movement as evolved over these past few years?
KATZ: It says that the Me Too movement is about more than just toppling powerful men who have engaged in bad behavior.
Institutions need to change. After the governor signed the most protected piece of legislation in the country, broadening protection for women from sexual harassment, the next few days, he went and sexually harassed people.
So what we know is that simply changing laws and toppling men like Cuomo, it's important to have accountability, but that is not enough. Our society needs to change. And today, victims of sexual harassment and survivors everywhere can look at this and say we can come forward. We can be listened to. We will be heard. We will be credited. And that's what today is about.
BLITZER: Debra Katz, thank you so much for joining us.
KATZ: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
BLITZER: Thank you. Governor Cuomo's resignation represents a gain for women in more ways than one. His replacement will be New York State's first female chief executive. CNN's Miguel Marquez has more on the incoming Governor Kathy Hochul.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Kathy Hochul, soon to be the empire state's new governor, its 57th, and the first women to take the reins.
GALE BREWER (D) MANHATTAN BOROUGH PRESIDENT: She's very ready. She's been, in some weird way, preparing for this without knowing it.
MARQUEZ: The 62-year-old mother of two married 37 years will now oversee more than 20 million citizens, a $1.5 trillion economy all still recovering from the pandemic. CUOMO: Kathy Hochul, my lieutenant governor, is smart and confident. We have a lot going on, but she can come up to speed quickly.
MARQUEZ: Now, she and her staff, says one state official with direct knowledge of the administration, have already been charting out the first days and months of the task at hand, how to spend billions of dollars of COVID-19 relief from the federal government and reviewing personnel decisions and executive orders signed by Andrew Cuomo that expire when he leaves office.
I agree with Governor Cuomo's decision to step down. It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers, Hochul tweeted today. As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State's 57th governor.
STATE SENATE TIM KENNEDY (D-NY): I know for 100 percent facts she's ready to go. She knows how to govern and she knows how to listen to the people.
MARQUEZ: Hochul's name may be unknown to many nationwide, but here, she has served at the local, county, national and now statewide levels. She was known to New York.
BREWER: She knows literally all the leaders, all the issues in all 62 counties.
CUOMO: Kathy will represent you.
MARQUEZ: Hochul ran on Cuomo's slate in 2014, but the two hadn't spoken directly for months, says one official. Those who know her say she's been charting her own path for years.
BREWER: In the last four years or three years, I don't believe there has been much of a relationship. She just plowed on.
MARQUEZ: With Cuomo's dominating style of governance coming to an end --
CUOMO: Get it already.
MARQUEZ: -- Kathy Hochul, quietly building relationships for years may have the political wind at her back.
KENNEDY: You are going to see elected officials again at every single level of government really gravitate toward her because of her style.
MARQUEZ (on camera): So all indications are that transition is already beginning, and it may be smooth. Kathy Hochul found out from aides to Governor Cuomo, before his resignation, that he was going to do that. They then spoke afterwards. And tomorrow, she will hold her first press conference here in New York City, and we will find out a lot more about this history-making woman. Wolf?
BLITZER: Certainly will, all right, Miguel. Thank you very much, Miguel Marquez, reporting.
Just ahead, after a critical win for President Biden's agenda in the U.S. Senate, the bipartisan infrastructure bill now heads to the House of Representatives.
BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is celebrating Senate passage of a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill. And he's looking ahead to the next hurdle, declaring he's an optimist about the measures prospects in the House of Representatives.
CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly has more on the president's victory lap.
BIDEN: This is a moment that is beyond the headlines.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHTIE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, President Biden delivering on a dual-pronged campaign promise, infrastructure and bipartisanship.
BIDEN: After years and years of infrastructure week, we're on the cusp of an infrastructure decade.
MATTINGLY: The U.S. Senate passing a $1.2 trillion infrastructure proposal with 19 Republicans voting in favor of the bill, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
BIDEN: This bill shows that we can work together. I know a lot of people, some sitting in the audience here, didn't think this could happen.
MATTINGLY: A critical victory in the high wire pathway laid out for Biden's $4 trillion agenda.
BIDEN: We have to get to work on the next critical piece of my agenda, my build back better plan.
MATTINGLY: But the finish line still far in the distance and no shortage of headwinds already emerging. With unified GOP opposition to Biden's $3.5 trillion social safety net expansion --
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Make no mistake, this reckless taxing and spending spree is nothing like we have seen, nothing.
MATTINGLY: In the barracks (ph) of House and Senate majorities, there is zero margin for error. And moderate House Democrats already agitating for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move the Senate infrastructure bill immediately, saying in a letter to Pelosi, we cannot afford delays to finally deliver on a physical infrastructure package, immediately drawing sharp rebuttals from progressives who refuse to support the bill until the second bill is ready for passage. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeting, quote, if mods want
to blow up the infrastructure bill, that's on them, and Congressman Mondaire Jones tweeting simply, no.
Pelosi making clear the bipartisan bill will go nowhere until that second measure is completed.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Whatever you can achieve in a bipartisan way, bravo. We salute it. We applaud it. We hope it will pass soon.
But at the same time, we're not going forward with leaving people behind.
MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, after the president's remarks on infrastructure, he took a series of questions, including whether the sweeping and dramatic Taliban gains in Afghanistan over the last several days would cause him to change course on his troop withdrawal. The president, Wolf, responded flatly no. Making it clear for the Afghans now, it's in his words, they've got to fight. It's their nation, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you very much.
Coming up, a powerful U.S. Senate committee chairman wants to hear directly from former President Trump's last White House chief of staff about efforts to use the U.S. Justice Department to overturn the presidential election.
BLITZER: The Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois tells CNN he wants to hear directly from former President Trump's last White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about Trump's efforts to use the U.S. Justice Department to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Joining us to discuss this and more, Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. He's a key member of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th Capitol insurrection.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
Does your committee, we're talking about the select committee, also want to pursue testimony from former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, we want to get testimony from every material witness. There was clearly a campaign originating with Donald Trump but sweeping within it the whole executive branch to try to convert the Department of Justice into an instrument of the president's political will. And that's extraordinary thing that not only over rides the traditional boundary between what's political in the White House and what is law enforcement in DOJ, but it really threatens the Hatch Act.
I mean, they really were attempting to get the Department of Justice to become essentially campaign actors for Donald Trump and we know that that was part of an on going odyssey by the president, the then- president, to overturn the 2020 election and it ended, of course, in the attempted coup and the insurrection.
But in the early days, they were trying to get the DOJ to set the whole thing up by declaring the election corrupt and then as Trump put it, just leave the rest to me and my friends in Congress.
BLITZER: So, when you say violation of the Hatch Act, are you talking about possible criminal behavior?
RASKIN: Well, of course, that's not for Congress to determine but that was the first thing that left out at me. You know, the White House trying to convert the Department of Justice into a bunch of campaign henchmen in order to overthrow popular election results in Georgia and other states.
But they were really trying a number of different methods there. I mean, some cases, as we know, from Trump's call to Secretary of State Raffensperger, they were trying to get election officials simply to concoct votes. That was an attempted conspiracy to election fraud. You know, Trump was trying to get election fraud going in Georgia.
And then at other points, they were approaching Republican led legislatures to get them simply to oust the popular election result, call it fraud or corruption, for whatever reason, call it contaminated and then install Trump electors and when that didn't work, that was when they began to, you know, organize their campaign and orchestrate all the moves against Mike Pence to try to get him to pronounce magical new powers to reject electors coming in from Georgia, from Arizona, from Pennsylvania, and that is what led to the nightmare of January the 6th.
BLITZER: The former vice president stood firmly against all of that.
The Senate Judiciary Committee as you know, Congressman, has documents showing Meadows sent emails to Justice Department, to the Justice Department pushing various election fraud claims. How far along is your committee going in issuing subpoenas that for documents and for testimony? Have many subpoenas actually gone out yet?
RASKIN: Well, we're still in the preparatory phase of these steps towards subpoenas and other investigatory routes that we're on. So, we're in the process of doing that in the month of August and I know that Chairman Thompson wants to move from all deliberate speed.
What I've read about Mark Meadows is overtures to the Department of Justice is that they were floating even some of the most fantastical and absurd election fraud conspiracies about, you know, people in Italy orchestrating campaign results and fraud against Donald Trump through, I don't know, spacecraft or computers or whatever.
You know, they were just taking up the most random conspiracy theories online and then seeing if they could get the United States Department of Justice to embrace them and simply state well, these election results are contaminated in particular states so that Trump and Meadows could put pressure on Republican legislatures there just to appoint Trump electors.
RASKIN: So these people have identified every vulnerability and booby- trap in the Electoral College to try to politicize the entire institution away from popular election results, and that's a very dangerous thing that we're going to have to look at as not just a committee but a country. What are we going to do about this problem of the ultra-politicization and corruption of the Electoral College system?
BLITZER: You're going to have a lot of work to do.
Congressman Jamie Raskin, thanks so much for joining us.
RASKIN: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And we'll have more news right after this.
BLITZER: To our viewers, thanks for much more watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
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