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State of the Union

Interview With Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY); Interview With U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; Interview With Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX); Interview With Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Aired 9- 10a ET

Aired May 30, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Summer is here. Vaccinated Americans gear up for a normal summer.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have turned the tide on a once-in-a-century pandemic.

TAPPER: Now, as new evidence emerges about the pandemic's earliest days, what do we know about the origins of the virus?

I will speak to top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congressman Michael McCaul next.

And high hopes. President Biden makes another big proposal. As deadlines slip and initiatives pile up, some Democrats say, there's no more time to waste.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: There's a real sense of urgency to move quickly.

TAPPER: Are Democrats ready to go it alone? Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand join me to discuss in moments.

Plus: attack on democracy. For Republicans this week, politics trumped investigating the deadly U.S. Capitol attack. Will Democrats pursue their own investigation? House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries joins me ahead.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is giving our thanks and thinking about those who made the ultimate sacrifice on this Memorial Day weekend.

And ahead of Memorial Day tomorrow, we want to honor our fallen service members and their families and friends on a weekend that feels really quite different than last year, when the general public, for example, was not even allowed to visit Arlington Cemetery because of the pandemic. As businesses are opening up, many restrictions are being lifted, more

and more vaccinated Americans are trying to squeeze into the jean shorts that fit last year.

In Washington, panic over the spread of COVID-19 is subsiding, But Congress this week was seized by a different controversy, a different pandemic, as Senate Republicans followed their House colleagues in rejecting an independent commission on the January 6 Capitol attacks.

Only six Republican senators rejected the push by their Republican leaders to put political concerns ahead of the goals of the commission, to investigate this deadly attack on our democracy and figure out how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

And now the Dem -- and now Democrats will have to decide how best to get that information, after months of bipartisan negotiations fell apart.

Some Democrats worry President Biden will have no better luck in his other policy negotiations with Republicans, especially on infrastructure. After Republicans made Biden a counteroffer this week, that prompted many Democrats in Congress to say, frankly, they're ready to move on and go it alone.

Joining us now, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Secretary Buttigieg, thanks for being with us.

I want to get to the negotiations on infrastructure in a moment.

But, first, it's Memorial Day weekend; 37 million Americans are expected to travel this weekend. Masks are still required on airplanes and public transportation, despite new CDC guidance that vaccinated individuals are safe and do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors.

The Biden administration says you will always follow the science. What science is there that says that a fully vaccinated person needs to wear a mask on a plane or a train or a bus?

BUTTIGIEG: So, the public health guidance is a little bit different for situations like planes and trains.

Part of it has to do with the unique conditions of the physical space. Part of it has to do with the conditions of it being a workplace, and folks who really don't have a choice about being there, the way it is in some other cases.

Of course, these rules and regulations and these bodies of guidance always evolve with the science. But the bottom line is, we have a set of rules in place to keep people safe. And I really hope that travelers will respect flight attendants, bus operators, workers, anybody who is simply doing their job to keep people safe.

You think about what people who work in travel and transportation, think about what they have been through over the course of the last year, with their jobs in doubt and with a lot of challenges on the job. And with a record number, at least in recent months, traveling this weekend, let's do it in a way we can be proud of and show respect for all of those workers who are getting us to where we need to be.

TAPPER: Let's turn to infrastructure negotiations.

Just to catch everyone up, President Biden started at $2.3 trillion in his proposal. Republicans started at about $600 billion. Now President Biden has gone down to $1.7 trillion. Republicans say they're at nearly $1 trillion over eight years.

You still want more money for rail and you still can't agree on how to pay for it. When you and I talked on the show six weeks ago about it, you said the president wanted major action by Memorial Day. So, what's next? Is the White House going to make another counteroffer? What's the plan?


BUTTIGIEG: Yes, so, this week, Congress is out of Washington, but it's very much going to be a work week for us and for the conversations that are ongoing with Congress.

By the time that they return, which is June 7, just a week from tomorrow, we need a clear direction. 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.

We -- the American people expect us to do something. They expect us to deliver. And it's my hope that these continued conversations really over these next few days will be productive and will lead to that clear direction.

TAPPER: So, there seems to be a disagreement between what President Biden and -- agreed to with Republican senators and what his staff is now saying.

Key Republican negotiator Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican from West Virginia, she says -- and other senators who are in the room with her agree -- that President Biden suggested he's willing to settle around a trillion dollars and it didn't matter to him if it was a trillion over five years or a trillion dollars over eight years.

Now, I understand the devil is in the details in terms of how to pay for it, the timeline, et cetera. As an overall principle, is that correct, President Biden is willing to accept a $1 trillion price tag, and it doesn't matter to him if it's over five or eight years?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, the president's counteroffer was a $1.7 trillion package. And, again, that represents coming off our original view by half-a-trillion dollars.

It is encouraging to see Republicans talking about getting to the neighborhood of a trillion. Of course, when you start trying to make it apples to apples, comparing what would have been spent anyway, looking at the categories, that's where the devil really is in the details. And those are the things that we're continuing to discuss with them.

But I will say we have been in these discussions in good faith, and there have been really healthy negotiations of the kind that I think people were starting to wonder whether that's even possible in Washington anymore. This is exactly what happens in those negotiations. Do the categories line up? Do the numbers line up? Are we talking about the same thing? And can we get to an overlap?

We're not there yet.


BUTTIGIEG: There's definitely a lot of difference in our views. But it's been encouraging to see the movement.

TAPPER: So, just to translate for folks out there who aren't staying up to speed on every single one of these details, when Secretary Buttigieg talks about the money that would have been spent otherwise, he's talking about infrastructure and transportation money that's just automatic in the budget.

And the suggestion has been made by Democrats that the $1 trillion or almost $1 trillion counterproposal the Republicans have made over eight years is really only a couple hundred billion dollars more than what automatically would have been spent, right? Am I -- I'm hearing you correctly. I believe that that's the correct assessment.

So, my question is, do you think...

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, exactly. That's -- yes.

TAPPER: Do you -- is that -- does that mean that they're negotiating in bad faith?

BUTTIGIEG: No. That's the thing. I mean, we have been very aboveboard. When we're in these conversations, the charts are out, the numbers are there. And, obviously, there are a lot of different ways to talk about the same thing.

The fact that they philosophically seem to agree that trillion-dollar investments are the kind of thing we need to be doing right now, that's encouraging. But we aren't exactly aligned.

In fact, there's a lot of daylight here, especially because things that we consider very important, from making sure that we're sparking an electric vehicle revolution, and that it happens in the U.S. with American workers on American soil, to the president's commitment to make sure that we get rid of 100 percent of lead pipes in this country -- and we didn't see as much of that in the counterproposal.

But, again, that's how negotiation works. These are exactly the kinds of things we're talking through over the next few days.

I just want to emphasize, we really are talking about the next few days, because, by the time Congress is back in Washington, I think those members of Congress and, frankly, the American people and all of us in the administration expect to have a clear direction.

TAPPER: So, some Democratic lawmakers who -- and I'm not just talking about the Bernie Sanders types, who are very skeptical of Republicans to begin with, even though Sanders does have a record of bipartisan work -- but some people who make a tradition of it, who normally cut deals, they say, you know what, Buttigieg, you have negotiated enough.

The Republican counterproposal isn't much more than the U.S. would have spent anyway. You're wasting your time. Take a listen.


SEN. BOB CASEY (D-PA): It's an old expression, fish or cut bait. I think we're getting to that moment.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We hope to move forward with Republicans, but we're not going to let them saying no stand in our way.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): And, at some point, we have to move forward.


TAPPER: Casey, Schumer, Durbin, these are people who generally would be in favor of negotiating.

Are you basically saying that, in the next week, if there isn't an agreement, Democrats are going to go it alone?

BUTTIGIEG: I think we are getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment.

But I will tell you that, on the fishing side of things, the negotiations have been healthy. There's a lot of conversations going on among members of Congress who have come forward with a lot of different ideas, in addition to the discussions that we have had with the group led by Senator Capito.


So, we believe in this process, but also very much agree that this can't go on forever. The American people want results. We are 13th place in infrastructure as a country now, and probably headed the wrong direction.

We are seeing losses to this day, not just things you count up in industry group reports of the millions that are lost when we have port backups, but just individual families paying hundreds of bucks a year in the so-called pothole tax, the invisible cost of wear and tear on our vehicles when roads aren't in good shape.

This can't go on in terms of the condition of our infrastructure. Therefore, the negotiations can't go on forever either.

TAPPER: Before you go, Secretary, you're a veteran. You served as a Naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan. I know that there's someone you're thinking about this Memorial Day



I mean, for Memorial Day, when you serve, of course, you think about people who didn't make it back from a deployment. Also thinking about people who came back seemingly whole from a deployment who we lost years after they returned.

And it's a reminder that you never know what somebody is up against, that mental health struggles are real and need to be addressed, and that it's never a bad time to check on somebody you served with or to check on somebody you cared about.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

Secretary Buttigieg, thanks so much for your time. And, of course, thanks for your service.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.

TAPPER: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, says White House negotiators are making a terrible political misstep. She will be here next.

Plus, some Republicans are still casting doubt on the free and fair 2020 election. Are they setting the stage for more evidence-free claims the next times -- next time Americans cast their ballots?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Senators this week found themselves more bitterly divided than ever. And it's still not clear what, if any major legislation is likely to pass this summer.

My next guest is trying to buck that trend with a bill to change the way military sexual assault cases are prosecuted. She's gotten herself a filibuster-proof majority of senators to agree. And you might be surprised at who she's working with to get it done.

Joining me now to discuss, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Thanks so much for being here. Good to see you.

So, I want to -- I want to get to that bill, obviously, but I do want to talk about infrastructure, because it's pressing right now. And you heard Secretary Buttigieg talking about it and how it's approaching fish-or-cut-bait time. You have said that you think it's a terrible political misstep for the White House to continue negotiating with Republicans. Why?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): Well, we have seen this time and time again.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said his goal is to defeat the agenda of this administration. We just had a vote on the January 6 rights and only had six strong souls to vote with us. That's a problem.

And I don't think there's necessarily good will behind all negotiations. And I think the American people elected us to solve the problem of COVID, to rebuild the economy, rebuild the infrastructure. And I think it's our moment to act.

I think we need a bold solution that does both the hard infrastructure of roads, bridges, high-speed rail, rural Internet, but also the softer infrastructure, the human infrastructure of paid family leave, affordable day care, making sure our kids are back to school, so that all parents can get back to work.

TAPPER: You heard Secretary Buttigieg mention the fact or allude to the fact that the counteroffer that the Republicans made over eight years, almost a trillion dollars, is just a few hundred billion dollars more than would have been spent on infrastructure and transportation anyway.


TAPPER: To you, does that suggest that Republicans are negotiating in bad faith?

GILLIBRAND: To me, it means we're about to miss the moment that we have to answer the need of this country.

We are in an important -- an important time, where people need government to work for them. And so we have to answer that moment with bold reforms. And I think waiting any longer for Republicans to do the right thing is a misstep. I would go forward.

I would offer -- President Biden has a huge, bold agenda of so much he wants to do for the economy and the American people. Democrats should respond and vote together now through reconciliation to get it done, and then move on to the rest of the bipartisan agenda, like my bill.

TAPPER: Then let's talk about that.

GILLIBRAND: Yes, exactly.

TAPPER: So, you and Senator Joni Ernst are working together on this bill. You have been on -- working on this for a long time.

But you and Ernst compromised, came together in order to get the 60 votes you need. But your fellow Democratic Senator Jack Reed said this week he would include a similar plan in this year's defense spending bill. But when you tried to bring up your bill that would pass, that has 60 votes, he blocked it because, frankly, he supports a more narrow version. He doesn't support your legislation.

Do you think that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, your New York colleague, should bring it up for a vote now?

GILLIBRAND: I believe we should have a vote now. I think it is a hallmark bill. It is a generational bill of shifting how we address military justice, how we build a military justice system that's worthy of the sacrifice our men and women in the military make.

And this Memorial Day weekend, there is no better time to talk about the sacrifice the men and the women in our armed services have made for us.

And so what this bill does is, instead of having the current process, where, after a sexual assault or other serious crime is committed, the commander will look at the investigation report and decide whether or not it goes to trial -- unfortunately, under that current method, we have seen enormous bias, bias against survivors of sexual assault, but also racial bias against black and brown service members, and how often they are punished.

And so to take biases out of the system across the board, you need a trained military prosecutor to make these decisions about whether it should go to trial. That takes it out of the chain of command.

The chain of command has bias because they may know the perpetrator, the accused. They may know the survivor. And they may have a certain lens about which service member is better for fighting a war or better for good order and discipline within the ranks.

That bias is inappropriate when it comes to serious felonies. If someone can go to jail for more than a year of their life, for defendants' rights alone, you would want an unbiased system.



GILLIBRAND: But we also believe, if you created the unbiased system, you would also -- and professionalized that system, you would also see different cases going forward with sexual assault and more ending in conviction.

Over the last 10 years, the number of sexual assaults have gone up, but the percentage of cases going to trial and ending in conviction have gone down. Under President Trump, the statistics and details got even worse. And so we are not moving in the right direction.

And, last, our allies have already done this.

TAPPER: Right.

GILLIBRAND: This is not a scary step. This is something the U.K. has done. They have written to our government, saying they did not see a diminution in command control.

TAPPER: So, why is Jack Reed -- why is Jack Reed blocking you? Why is Jack Reed stopping you from doing this?

GILLIBRAND: You would have to ask Jack Reed.

But his insistence on narrowing this bill to one crime, the crime of sexual assault, you're going to have -- you're going to basically break apart the criminal justice system within the military. You're going to create one set of justice for one set of plaintiffs and defendants and the rest for everybody else. It's not fair.

And, arguably, if only women who are survivors of sexual assault, because men are -- have survived more than half of these cases. They typically just don't come forward. But that women will use this court, it will become a pink court, and it will destabilize and make, unfortunately, a mockery of the entire criminal justice system.

You need the bright line at felonies for defendants' rights, but also so that sexual assault cases get treated better and that the civil rights of black and brown service members are also supported.


I want to ask you, because you're working with Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri on a separate military sexual assault bill focused on reporting and training.

Senator Hawley, as I'm sure I don't need to tell you, he was one of the main instigators of what happened on January 6. If he hadn't said that he was going to join the House Republicans in objecting, it's possible that that riot might not have happened. That's certainly what a lot of Republican senators think.

The day after the attack, you said you were open to censuring or even expelling Hawley and others, according to WAMC radio.

Take a listen.


GILLIBRAND: I'm deeply concerned. And I don't think they fully understand how misguided and how irresponsible their actions have been. And so I think we should look at it.


TAPPER: I understand your job is to work across the aisle and accomplish things for the American people, but do you have any misgivings about working with Josh Hawley?


But I do believe that the purpose of this January 6 commission was to give us the facts about whether we should have proceeded towards...

TAPPER: He voted against it.


But that's why, again, back to the first question, I don't think the Republican Party is acting in good faith to govern and to bring forward what the American people want done.

We should have that January 6 commission. And the fact that we only had six Republicans vote for it shows the lack of good will that we have between the parties at this moment.

I believe my responsibility is to serve the American people and help the people of New York. And that means passing a robust infrastructure bill with both the human soft infrastructure and the hard infrastructure.


GILLIBRAND: And I have always believed, if you just did the small, thin hard infrastructure bill first, that soft infrastructure would never get a vote and it would fail, because, again, the good will's not there.

We need a bold response to the moment we're in. But I will work with Josh Hawley. I will work with any Republican if we are moving forward towards something that helps New Yorkers and helps the American people.

And it's my responsibility to work with everybody. And I have done that my entire 11 years in the Senate.

TAPPER: I want to ask you before you go, the Supreme Court is now preparing to hear a case about a Mississippi law that would ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks, which is about two months earlier than Roe v. Wade would make legal.

How worried are you that this Supreme Court, which is basically 6-3 majority conservative, will gut Roe vs. Wade?

GILLIBRAND: I'm very concerned.

It's one of the reasons why I deeply opposed the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. It's why I deeply opposed the nomination of Neil Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh. These justices were put forward on a very political agenda very purposefully by President Trump and by Mitch McConnell.

And, again, back to the lack of good will, again, Amy Coney Barrett was voted on moments before the next election, just days. And we couldn't have Merrick Garland even have a hearing more than a year out.

And so, when it comes to this hardball politics, there isn't the good will that we need. And I just think we today have to do our responsibility to meet the needs of the American people.

TAPPER: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, thanks so much for being with us today. We really appreciate it.


GILLIBRAND: Thank you.

TAPPER: A theory discounted for months now being investigated by the White House -- what a House inquiry turned up about the COVID-19 lab leak theory.

Congressman Michael McCaul is next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper

As COVID cases and deaths continue to drop in the United States, the inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 is heating up.

This week, President Biden ordered a 90-day investigation into whether the virus could have come out of a lab in Wuhan, China. And we learned that several lab researchers in Wuhan were hospitalized in November 2019, earlier than Chinese officials had revealed.


Joining us now, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Texas Congressman Michael McCaul.

Congressman, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.


TAPPER: So, you conducted your own investigation into the pandemic's origins on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And your committee was just briefed on this last week.

Based on what you have seen, do you think it's more likely than not that the coronavirus emerged naturally or from a lab accident?

MCCAUL: You know, I do think it's more likely than not it emerged out of the lab, most likely accidentally, for several reasons.

And, first of all, Jake, let me say, this is the worst cover-up in human history that we have seen, resulting in 3.5 million deaths, creating economic devastation around the globe.

As you mentioned, though, it was just declassified that three of the researchers were actually hospitalized in November of 2019 with flu- like symptoms consistent with COVID. That was suppressed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Since that time, in December, they silenced and detained the doctors who were reporting a SARS-like virus, which, under international health regulations, had to be reported within 24 hours. They went and destroyed lab samples. They wouldn't admit it was human-to-human and then, working with the WHO, failed to report to the world that we had a local -- local epidemic that was now going into a global pandemic.

So, time and time again, we're seeing this cover-up. A couple more facts here, that there were two State Department cables in 2018 that called into question the safety protocols at that lab. And let's not forget, in 2004, with SARS virus, they accidentally leaked the SARS virus from that lab in 2004.

They were studying corona-like viruses from bats, genetically mutating them, and then trying to develop a vaccine for what would be a next wave of a SARS-like virus, almost precisely what COVID-19 is.

TAPPER: So, let me ask you.

President Biden has ordered this 90-day review by the intelligence community to see what they think. If they conclude the same thing that you have -- and there's no reason to think that they wouldn't -- what should the world do? What should President Biden do?

MCCAUL: Well, I'm glad the president finally has done this. It's long overdue.

I think, because they have destroyed everything at the lab, it could be very inconclusive. We have SIGINT, signals intelligence and HUMINT and other forms of intelligence, but it may not be 100 percent. But I think saying it's more likely than not is probably the right answer here.

My response to this whole thing is supply chain. We need to pull our supply chain out of the region, that being medical supply, rare earth mineral supply. And a bill that's going through Congress right now, bipartisan, that I'm working on, the CHIPS for America Act, advanced semiconductor chips, which are sort of the brains in everything from your iPhone to the F-35, if we can pull these chains out of China, it will hurt them economically.

And that would be very punitive in nature.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about this pressing life-or-death issue in Afghanistan right now that you and I have talked about.

Thousands of Afghans who helped U.S. troops could be and, in all likelihood, will be slaughtered by the Taliban once U.S. service members withdraw completely. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley says that -- quote -- "There are plans being developed very, very rapidly" -- unquote to evacuate them.

The head of the nonprofit group No One Left Behind, who you and I both know, he says that these Afghans and their families should be immediately evacuated to Guam, and, after they're safe in Guam, the U.S. can deal with their visas, et cetera.

Do you support that idea?

MCCAUL: Well, I do think they need to be protected.

General Milley said that we need to keep our promises here. We have a moral responsibility and obligation to protect them. Who are these people? There are about 18,000 of them that have applied for special immigrant visas because they served with our special forces, with our troops in Afghanistan.

The interpreters put their lives on the line. Our guys couldn't have done the job without them. And the old saying no man left behind, No One Left Behind organization, it's a fine organization with special operators who have worked with these people -- for us to leave them behind, only to be slaughtered by the Taliban, which is looking more and more like what's going to happen here, would really be unconscionable.

So, when the State Department says, oh, it's going to take a year or two to process these visas -- and, remember, that's 18 -- there are probably about 50,000 of them. We can't leave them.


As the military is talking about withdrawing in July -- they're going to withdraw earlier than we anticipated. And that's when they're going to be in the bullseye in the target of the Taliban.


MCCAUL: I think we could easily -- and General Milley has said this, and General McKenzie, the CENTCOM commander, has said that they have plans, contingency plans, under way to evacuate them.

They have the capability to evacuate them out at night to the United States -- or Afghanistan. Where that is, that's really their choice to make. But I believe, if they don't -- because what you're seeing right now is a spring offensive by the Taliban taking over northern and southern parts, taking over bases that have been abandoned.

And it's a matter of time before I think the entire country gets overrun by the Taliban. And I really, Jake, very much about the safety and security of our embassy itself.


MCCAUL: I don't want to see another Saigon go down like we saw in Vietnam, the same thing happen in Afghanistan.

And, lastly, the women left behind, we're already seeing what they're doing to them in the schools, and how they're going to degrade women and little girls in Afghanistan.

I think the decision made -- the president made this decision, but I don't think they're really prepared for the aftermath and what is necessary, both from a human refugee standpoint and from a counterterrorism mission standpoint.


At home, let me ask you, the Texas Senate just voted this morning to pass a sweeping new bill restricting voting rights. A draft bill would ban drive-through voting. It would stop local officials from mailing ballots to all voters. It also would make it easier for judges to overturn an election without requiring evidence that fraud changed the race's outcome.

This is not your legislation, but you are a Texas Republican. What do you say to people who look at what's going on with this kind of law and say Republicans are trying to make it harder to vote because they can't win the battle of ideas ultimately, so they're just trying to, for instance, make it tougher for black Americans to do Soul to the Polls voting by saying you can only do voting on Sundays after 1:00 p.m.?

I mean, that's how it looks to millions of people.

MCCAUL: Right.

And this, as I understand, passed at 6:00 a.m. I haven't had a chance to look at it or really comment. I know it's going to a conference committee.

There are a couple of fundamentals here, though, that -- that I think most Americans do agree with. And that is asking for an I.D. when someone votes. I don't believe that's voter suppression. I think 70 percent of Americans agree with that idea.

And then the idea of verifying signatures, I think, is very important as well. I think what the Republicans here would tell you is that they're trying to make sure that the person voting is the person on paper, so it's a legitimate vote devoid of fraud.

Now, we can debate whether -- how much fraud occurred in the last election, and Democrats have claimed fraud had happened in the prior previous elections.

But one thing is pretty clear to me, Jake, is that a lot of the American people seem to have lost faith in our government. They have lost faith in our elections, that we need to restore.

And I think, if we can take measures to take fraud out of the system or any potential for fraud -- now, COVID was a very different circumstance, where you had different voting measures and longer periods of time.


MCCAUL: And I'm all for longer early voting times. But I'm also for counting the votes during early voting, so you don't -- you're not waiting a month or two after the election to see who actually won it.

TAPPER: Right, but, Congressman, I mean, Texas had a very successful, very clean election. And Republicans did really, really well. You won a bunch of congressional districts that Democrats thought they were going to -- they were going to win.

"The Houston Chronicle" reports there are only 43 pending voter fraud charges in Texas. Just to repeat that for our viewers, not 43,000, not 4,300, 43. And only one of them, one, is from the 2020 election.

This -- again, I don't disagree with what you're saying about polls and the American people supporting making sure that there isn't fraud, but this goes beyond that. This is -- this is -- I mean, why would you make it -- why would the legislators -- not you -- why would those legislators make it easier for a judge to throw out an election without even having to -- without anyone having to prove that there's fraud?


And, of course, these 70 cases in the presidential got thrown out as well. But I do think -- I think the intent -- and I'm not in the state legislature -- is to restore confidence in the elections that fraud isn't taking place.

Now, you're -- you make a good point. I'm a federal prosecutor. In a court of law, that hasn't really been borne to bear. This may be more of an optics issue, restoring confidence with the American people and in my state who actually do believe there was tremendous fraud.


In any event, I think there's -- there are small measures we can take, whether it's voter I.D. or signature verification, that I think we give the American people more trust in our elections, which, by the way, the Russians didn't give us much confidence either, or what the Chinese tried to do either in our elections.


Speaking of getting to the bottom of things and people having trust, I was surprised to read, frankly, that you had voted against creating the January 6 commission, even though you had backed similar legislation earlier this year.

I just want you to take a listen to what Gladys Sicknick, the mother of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the insurrection, told me on Friday.


GLADYS SICKNICK, MOTHER OF BRIAN SICKNICK: If they had a child that was hurt, was killed on a day like that, they would think very differently, or if they were hurt. I mean, they could have very well -- somebody could have been killed.

They are elected for us, the people. And they don't care about that.


TAPPER: Now, you're a former federal prosecutor, as you noted.

Back in 2014, I agreed with you when you said this about House Republicans' sixth investigation into the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. You said -- quote -- "Tragically, we still do not have answers as to how it could have happened, what exactly occurred in the critical response hours. We owe it to the victims, their families and the American people to find out the truth."

I agreed with you then, but I wonder why you don't have the same feeling here about this commission?

MCCAUL: Well, it was a dark day in American history.

As you know, I voted for certification. It was my constitutional duty...

TAPPER: Absolutely.

MCCAUL: ... once the states certified -- certified the ballots.

But I also at that time, in the aftermath, was the first one to call for a DOJ investigation into this. And you know what, Jake? That happened.

In essence, I view this not as an overview of policy, like the 9/11 Commission did. It's a criminal investigation, a criminal case. In my judgment, that properly falls within the venue, the purview of the Department of Justice, where I worked for many years, rather than a politically appointed commission.

And the reason why I say this, I have been on the other side in the Department of Justice when I prosecuted the campaign finance investigation while ongoing in Congress was another investigation. And what happened, it provided duplicative testimonies. It undermined our federal investigation.

My judgment is ,for right now, let's let this DOJ investigation go forward. They have arrested over 400 people now responsible. I want those responsible to be held accountable and put behind bars. And I want all the answers as to what happened on January 6, and then report it to Congress.

I think Congress should have a full report on this DOJ investigation that I don't believe will be tainted by politics, whereas some other methods could be. I think the DOJ, having been a part of that for so long, really is where this properly should be to get to the bottom of what happened. And then, really, let's get to prosecuting and putting these people behind bars.

TAPPER: Congressman Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, thank you so much for being with us.

I hope you have a meaningful Memorial Day. I know your father was a World War II veteran. And we appreciate his service.

MCCAUL: No, thank you, Jake, and you as well.

TAPPER: Now that Republican lawmakers have blocked the commission on the U.S. Capitol attacks, will Democrats choose to investigate a different way?

Top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries joins us next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Democrats negotiated for months with Republicans on a bipartisan January 6 commission. Now this week's push by top Republicans against that commission leaves House Democrats with a decision to make.

Joining us now, House Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

So, Congressman Jeffries, what's the decision? Senate Republicans blocked the creation of this commission. What are House Democrats going to do?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, January 6, was a violent Capitol insurrection. It was an attack on the Capitol, the Congress and the Constitution.

You had individuals, a violent mob, who were there to assassinate Speaker Pelosi, hang Mike Pence, hunt down members of Congress, stop us from undertaking our constitutional responsibilities. Officers died as a result of the events that occurred that fateful day.

More than 140 officers who were defending the Capitol were seriously injured, some permanently. And so we clearly have to get to the bottom of what happened, why it happened, and how do we prevent something like that from ever happening again?

We're going to reevaluate what the way forward is in the next few days. We have a caucus meeting on Tuesday. I look forward to hearing from the speaker, as well as the members, as to what comes next.

TAPPER: The Texas Senate just passed this morning sweeping new voting restrictions, a bill to ban drive-through voting, new rules for how judges can overturn elections.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he's going to bring up Democrats' sweeping voting rights legislation for a vote next month, but there are not 60 votes to pass it. So, what are you going to do and what's your reaction to the Texas law?

JEFFRIES: Well, the Texas law is shameful.

And Republicans, clearly, in Texas and throughout the country want to make it harder to vote and easier to steal an election. That is the only way that I can interpret the voter suppression epidemic that we see working its way from one state, Georgia, to Arizona, to Texas, and all across the country in so many different ways.


Fundamental to our democracy is the right to vote, self-government, that the American people get to decide and work for a democracy that reflects the voices of all Americans, not just a certain segment, not just conservatives, not just Republicans, not just people in certain parts of the country, all Americans.

And so I support the effort to move H.R.1, the For the People Act, which will bring to life democracy reform in a meaningful way. We will have to see what occurs in the Senate in terms of whether they can get to the 60-vote threshold. And the Senate is going to have some decisions to make in terms of reviewing their arcane procedures that traditionally have been used to uphold institutions like slavery and Jim Crow.

TAPPER: So, to translate for people at home, Congressman Jeffries opposes the filibuster, and he's hoping there can be filibuster reform.

So let me ask you another issue, sir, because four of your fellow House Democrats this week, Josh Gottheimer, Elaine Luria, Kathy Manning, and Dean Phillips, wrote a letter to President Biden condemning Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican of Georgia, for her Holocaust belittling.

But they also said this in the letter -- quote -- "We also reject comments from members of Congress accusing Israel of being an apartheid state and committing acts of terrorism. These statements are anti-Semitic at their core and contribute to a climate that is hostile to many Jews."

Now, we have seen attacks on Jewish Americans coming not from the right, but from the left, physical attacks, confrontations in New York and Los Angeles and elsewhere. And those four Democrats are specifically talking about comments by other fellow House Democrats such as Rashida Tlaib.

Do you agree with them that the language that some of these members of the Squad, some House Democrats use about Israel is anti-Semitic and leads to a climate of hostility against American Jews?

JEFFRIES: Well, I haven't seen the precise letter. And I do look forward to talking to my colleagues.

I think their concern as it relates to rising anti-Semitism and the hateful incidents that we have seen directed against Jews here in New York City and across the country is unacceptable, untolerable, un- American, unconscionable, and it's got to stop.

And all of us need to raise our voices in that regard. We have seen a rise in anti-Semitism over the last few years, in xenophobia, in anti- immigrant sentiment, anti-Asian hate, a rise in hate crimes directed against African-Americans. And so we have got to deal with it.

But, specifically, the troubling rise of anti-Semitic instances in the aftermath of the recent conflict in the Middle East has to be crushed with the fierce urgency of now. And I call upon all of us, not as Democrats or Americans or House members or senators, or Democrats or Republicans, all of us, to speak up against anti-Semitic hate. TAPPER: Lastly, sir, congressmen missed President Biden's May 25

deadline to pass police reforming legislation on the anniversary of George Floyd's death.

But House and Senate negotiators, including your colleague Karen Bass, say they're making progress. House Majority Whip James Clyburn said he will accept whatever deal negotiators reach, even if it does not change qualified immunity for police. Do you feel the same way?

JEFFRIES: Well, I want to look at the totality of what is agreed upon ultimately. And Karen Bass, who's our lead negotiator in the House, is doing a tremendous job, working closely with Senator Booker and Senator Tim Scott.

Listen, the overwhelming majority of officers that I interact with here at home are hardworking individuals who are in the community to protect and serve. But it is clear as day that we have a police violence problem, a police brutality problem, a problem with the police use of excessive force that we have to deal with in a comprehensive way.

The House has passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act twice. It is the most transformational police reform bill ever to pass a single house of Congress.

And I think that Senator Tim Scott seems to be negotiating in good faith. Qualified immunity is a problematic doctrine. It does need to be reformed. It is a block on accountability for officers who clearly violate someone's civil rights, by being held to a standard of the least reasonable officer on the force. That is not an acceptable standard, when you can take someone's life and liberty.

So, let's evaluate the totality of the package, Jake, before making any decision as to whether we will support it or not.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, hope you have a peaceful and meaningful Memorial Day tomorrow, sir.

Thanks for joining us today.


JEFFRIES: Thank you, Jake. You too.

TAPPER: Memorial Day in the United States did not become a federal holiday until Congress declared it one in 1971. Officially its roots can be traced back to May 1866 in Waterloo, New York, where a tradition began to honor local veterans who had fought for the Union Army in the Civil War.

Yale historian David Blight however found this "New-York Tribune" article from a year before that, in May 1865, in which a correspondent in Charleston, South Carolina noted a tribute held for more than 250 Union soldiers who had died from disease and exposure while in captivity at the open-air Confederate prison. Amazingly, one of the first acts of the thousands of slaves freed

after Charleston fell was to honor these Union troops who had been previously buried in a mass gave. They honored them with a monument and a memorial ceremony.

This weekend we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to fight for this country, which we hope is in the service of justice and freedom but it is worth remembering the origins of this sacred weekend are in memorializing those who fought evil here at home.

To you and all of those remembering fallen family members and friends, we wish you a peaceful and meaningful Memorial Day. The news continues next.