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State of the Union

Is Gerrymandering Dividing America Further?; Republican Senator Calls African-American Supreme Court Pick 'Affirmative Action'; Interview With Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE); Interview With Sen. James Risch (R-ID); Interview With Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH); Interview With Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired January 30, 2022 - 09:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): United front? As the U.S. warns Russia is ready to invade Ukraine...

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a little like reading tea leaves.


BASH: ... a bipartisan group of senators is trying to prevent war.

I'll speak exclusively to the two top members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Chairman Bob Menendez and Republican ranking member Jim Risch, next.

And are we done yet? Omicron show signs of retreating in the U.S., as some states rethink COVID restrictions. But with millions still unvaccinated, is it too soon to figure out how to live with the virus?

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): We're still seeing pretty high levels all across the state. I will speak to New Hampshire's Republican governor, Chris Sununu, in moments.

BASH: Plus: historic first. President Biden will nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court...

BIDEN: It's long overdue, in my view.

BASH: ... as some on the right object to the president's pledge. Will any GOP senators support the pick? Our panel is here to discuss ahead.


BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is on the brink, on the brink of history, as President Biden prepares to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court, and on the brink of war in Europe, as the Biden administration tries to manage the growing crisis between Ukraine and Russia.

President Biden said Friday that he will move troops to NATO-allied countries in Eastern Europe in the -- quote -- "near term," as his top military general warned an invasion by the Russians would be -- quote -- "horrific," harsh assessments the Ukrainians are downplaying, as that country's president urges calm.

But in the latest sign of the growing threat, CNN is reporting that the U.S. sees indications Russia is positioning new supplies of blood near Ukraine's borders, that according to two senior defense officials.

It's a grim potential signal of Russian plans for an invasion. And, on Capitol Hill, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are working together, trying to reach a compromise on a large sanctions bill to deter Putin or punish him, a bill that would require bipartisan support.

I want to begin with a special exclusive this morning, two top senators on the Foreign Relations Committee together, Democratic Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey and the Republican ranking member, Jim Risch, of Idaho.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

Mr. Chairman, I will start with you.

We have heard some stark warnings about a possible invasion from top American officials. The Ukrainian president is urging the U.S. to stop those dire warnings, saying it might cause panic in his country.

Why is the U.S. assessment of what the Ukrainians -- and what the Ukrainians are saying so different?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, good morning, Dana. Good to be with you and my friend and colleague Jim Risch.

Look, I think that President Zelensky is in a difficult position. Clearly, he must be preparing for the possibility of invasion or re- invasion, since Russia did that already in -- in the past with Crimea and with irregular forces in Eastern Ukraine.

But, at the same time, he wants to create a semblance of calm as it relates to his economy, which is a challenge for him as well. So I understand that.

But there is a reason that President Biden has sent more aid to Ukraine, military aid, lethal aid, since 2014, $650 million. It's because you have 130,000 Russian troops. They are surrounding three different parts of Russia's borders. And you have to take seriously that the potential for an invasion is real.

And so it's getting the Ukrainians to be prepared and to give them the wherewithal to defend themselves, at the same time understanding the economic needs that they have.

BASH: And, Senator Risch, you have said that Russia is just setting up a pretext for war.

Do you see any scenario in which Russia chooses not to invade at this point?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R-ID): Well, I don't think that decision has been made yet.

There's a lot of us that believe that, if Putin sees weakness, if he sees bumbling, if he sees ineptitude, if he sees indecision, that he will take advantage of that. I don't think he's made a decision to do that yet.

What Bob and I and a coalition of bipartisan senators are attempting to do is to project the resolve that we have, as Americans, to see that he doesn't do that, to provide the strength, to project the strength, and convince him that this would be a very, very bad idea, and it's going to be extremely painful.

This is not the same as the Crimea, when he did this last time. There is substantially, substantially more worldwide opposition to his thoughts this time.

BASH: And let's talk about what you just mentioned, Senator Risch, Chairman Menendez.


You are working together. The two of you are leading a broader discussion, bipartisan discussion to put together legislation to sanction Russia.

The Ukrainians have written the two of you and the broader group, specifically asking for help. So, how close are you to a deal on this legislation?

MENENDEZ: Well, Senator Risch and I have been working with our staffs and colleagues, a bipartisan coalition, both on the Foreign Relations Committee and members off of the committee, in a intensive effort over the last week.

I would describe it as that we are on the one-yard line. And, hopefully, we will be able to conclude successfully.

What there is no doubt is that there is an incredible bipartisan resolve for support of Ukraine and an incredibly strong bipartisan resolve to have severe consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine, and, in some cases, for what it has already done.

And so what I would say is, what we are devising, building upon the legislation that both Senator Risch wrote independently and I wrote, which I call the mother of all sanctions, it's to include a variety of elements, massive sanctions against the most significant Russian banks, crippling to their economy, meaningful in terms of consequences to the average Russian in their accounts and pensions, more lethal assistance to Ukraine, the ability to deal with Russia's sovereign debt, to look at sectoral elements of Russia's economy, which is largely an extracting economy on energy, to sanction its sovereign debt.

These are sanctions beyond any that we have ever levied before.

BASH: Right.

MENENDEZ: And I think that that sends a very clear message.

BASH: Right.

And, Senator Risch, how do you get from the one-yard line into the end zone, to keep the metaphor that the chairman just talked about, specifically, if I may, given the fact that you and other Republicans, you want the sanctions to take effect now? The Biden administration, they want to wait until after any invasion. They say that's their best deterrent?


BASH: How are you going to compromise on that?

RISCH: Well, first of all -- first of all, I think that Bob's description is a very good description of what's happened and where we are.

There's been a 24-hour-a-day effort for the last several days. And, as always with these things, people have different ideas of how to get to where they want to get to.

Now, if you have two things on almost any problem, you can resolve it. Number one, if you have parties on each side wanting to reach the same objective, and, number two, both sides are working in good faith, if you have both of those, there's no reason you can't get to the finish line...

BASH: So, you will get there?

RISCH: ... as Bob described.

We think so. I'm more than cautiously optimistic at this point that, when we get back to D.C. tomorrow, that we're going to be moving forward. And I know Bob shares that...

BASH: What are you going to...

RISCH: ... shares that hope also.

BASH: What are you going to do about the timing of the sanctions? Will you -- will you say that they will not go into effect until after an invasion, if that happens, or will you do it preemptively, Mr. Chairman?

RISCH: That's a work in progress.

But I can describe where we have come together on that. And I think it's a combination of both.

Bob, would you agree with that?

MENENDEZ: Yes, I agree with Senator Risch.

Look, there are some sanctions that really could take place up front, because of what Russia has already done, cyberattacks on Ukraine, false flag operations, the efforts to undermine the Ukrainian government internally. Those are just some examples of sanctions that could take place now.

But then the devastating sanctions that ultimately would crush Russia's economy, and the continuing lethal aid that we are going to send, which means Putin has to decide how many body bags of Russian sons and -- sons are going to return to Russia, the sanctions that we're talking about would come later on if he invades.

Some sanctions would come up from for what has been done already. But the lethal aid will travel no matter what.

BASH: And, quickly, Senator Risch, the issue of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany.

The administration is reluctant to do anything to block that. Will you have legislation -- in this legislation, will you actually take action?

RISCH: Well, as you know, we have had a disagreement on that, a continuing disagreement, since the administration took office.

But, look, the -- there's been something happen on the ground that has changed the dynamics and opened the door really for us to reach agreement on that. And that is that the Germans have signaled that they are suspending, pausing, if you would, certification, thus completion, of the pipeline for six months or until late summer, in any event.


That gives us the opportunity to work with that idea. Certainly, we should be in at least as good a position as they are. And that is sanctioning until that period of time.

So, we're working on that. I think that's the -- that's going to be the last T crossed, I dotted before we put the ball across the finish line.

BASH: And, Chairman Menendez, are you still in favor of removing Russia from what's known as SWIFT, which is the global financial system that connects thousands of banks?


I believe all options need to be on the table.

The president can exert that option, or he could target it against the very significant Russian banks. It would have a crippling effect on Russia's economy.

So, I believe giving the president the total arsenal of tools, sanctions, the expedited delivery of lethal weapons, the dealing with the misinformation that Russia is generating, the cyberattacks, all of that is envisioned in our legislation, and is a comprehensive and powerful approach that says to Putin, you have a choice, diplomacy or conflict.

If it's conflict, you will pay a devastating price.

BASH: And, Senator Risch, some conservative personalities, even some sitting GOP lawmakers, they're questioning why the U.S. is helping Ukraine at all.

I want you to take a listen.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Why is it disloyal to side with Russia, but loyal to side with Ukraine? Ukraine is strategically irrelevant to the United States.

He just wants to keep his western border secure. That's why he doesn't want Ukraine to join NATO. And that makes sense.


BASH: Senator, as one of the top Republicans on this issue in Congress, what do you say to that?

RISCH: Well, I think, first of all, when you have a country like the Ukraine, which wants to move West and look towards Western values, that is a democracy, we side always with countries that are democracies.

And, certainly, there isn't going to be troops committed in that regard.

But I will tell you, the people who are saying that we shouldn't be engaged in this at all are going to be singing a very different tune when they go to fill up their car with gas, if indeed there is an invasion by Russia, because, as Bob pointed out, there are going to be sanctions that are going to be crippling to Russia.

It is going to cripple their -- their oil production. And, as we all know, Russia is simply a gas station that is masquerading, thinly disguised, masquerading as a country. This is going to have a devastating effect on the economy around the world when it comes to the price of gasoline.

If you're someone who doesn't care about the price of gasoline or oil, that's fine. But if you do have a concern about the quality of life for people all over the world, this is something that always you have to consider, and you always have to take these things into consideration, particularly when you're -- when you're -- sympathy and trying to help democratic countries.

BASH: And, as I wrap...

MENENDEZ: Hey, Dana, a brief...

BASH: Please. Please, go ahead.

MENENDEZ: Dana, a brief comment on that.

Listen, this is beyond Ukraine, although, certainly, we dramatically support Ukraine. We cannot have a Munich moment again. Putin will not stop with Ukraine if he believes that the West will not respond. We saw what he did in 2008 in Georgia. We saw what he did in 2014 and pursued Crimea.

He will not stop. And so, at the end of the day, this is about defending Ukraine, but it's also about sending a message, you can't by force change the boundaries of a country. You can't by force tell them they cannot look westward.

BASH: Mr. Chairman, you are confident that you will have a bi...

RISCH: There's no question -- there's...

BASH: Go ahead.

RISCH: There's no question about that.

And, if it wasn't for NATO, the Baltic countries would be gone already, and there'd be worse problems on the other side. So, Bob's absolutely right in that. This isn't -- this isn't a place where there's going to be just some action and it's going to quit.

At some point in time, there's got to be a line.

BASH: Thank you both for joining.

Just, it sounds like the answer is, yes, you believe that you will get a bipartisan deal on a -- this mother of all sanctions bill, to quote you, Chairman Menendez? You will do it this week?

MENENDEZ: I believe that we will get there.

We have been working in good faith. We have been accommodating different views. And we are committed, jointly, in a bipartisan way, to defend Ukraine and to send Putin a message.


MENENDEZ: It'll be bluntly and consequential.

BASH: Thank you, a very important moment. Thank you both for coming on and coming on together. I really appreciate it.


MENENDEZ: Thank you.

BASH: And a drop in COVID case rates is prompting some vaccinated Americans to wonder, can we go back to living more normally now? I will ask Republican Governor Chris Sununu about rolling back COVID

restrictions next.

And President Biden is going to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court. Why does that pledge have Republicans up in arms, at least some of them?

Stay with us.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

The nation's top health official is cautiously optimistic about the direction of the pandemic, as Omicron starts to peak in areas across the U.S.


Now many Americans are starting to recalibrate again and ask how they can safely live their lives. But how and when should states roll back restrictions? In some places, it's become a very heated debate.

Joining me now is New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu.

Thank you so much. It's nice to be here, I should say, since we're talking about COVID, especially.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): It's great to be here.

BASH: We both need to be tested negative before coming on.

But let's talk about Omicron, and specifically in your state of New Hampshire. The vaccination and booster rates have plateaued there. COVID misinformation is everywhere.

SUNUNU: Right.

BASH: We have it from RFK Jr. We have it from people like Joe Rogan, from FOX News.

Is misinformation costing your constituents' lives?

SUNUNU: No, I think misinformation is just creating massive confusion.

So I don't want to say it's costing lives, but one of the roles I have, in terms of a leadership position, is always trying to clarify. We have had a lot of confusing messages out of the CDC, and we try to clarify in New Hampshire. We have a lot of misinformation that comes on social media or even sometimes the mainstream media. And, again, we try to clarify, be super transparent.

That earns public trust. And I think that's why New Hampshire has had a fairly high vaccination rate even without mandates and whatnot. So it's frustrating, but you just have to keep kind of corralling everybody where it needs to be in terms of, here's the A, B's and C's. If you have questions, talk to your doctor.

But you bring up a good point. Vaccination rates across the country have really plateaued. I think Omicron is less severe than everyone thought it was, which is a very good thing. But it does allow for a little more complacency.

We can't be complacent.

BASH: And, to be fair, the CDC might have bumbled some of its messaging, but it's not deliberately putting misinformation out there.

SUNUNU: Oh, no. Oh, I don't think they do.

BASH: Yes.

SUNUNU: No, no, I wouldn't -- I would never say that.

BASH: But there are people who I mentioned who are.

Do you think companies like Spotify should make a concerted effort to stop people like that from spreading misinformation on the platforms?


Look, it's a tube of toothpaste. You can say, well, we're going to stop people that we disagree with or there's misinformation, we think there's misinformation here. We're going to stop this over here. Look, it's free speech, right? People can have their right to their voice and have a right to their opinion. And that's fine.

That's why I think, from a leadership position, you have to be crystal clear. I don't -- I would never say the CDC intentionally misled anyone. Of course not. But there has been, well, we think this, we're going to do this. Why are we going to five-day isolation, quarantine and not 10-day?

BASH: Yes.

SUNUNU: And it took weeks to figure that one out.

Things with monoclonal antibodies. The ones that work for Delta don't -- aren't necessarily the antivirals you want to be working with Omicron. When can those become available? Do we have information to the doctors?

So, I'm always trying to corral from a leadership position the importance of transparency, here's where we are, here's what the new regulations mean, here's what the new guidance might mean, here's the tools that we have in the toolbox to help get us through it.

BASH: So, some of it is bully pulpit, what you can say as a leader, and some of it is how you actually make laws.

So your fellow Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, he signed an executive order that bans mask mandates in schools. His argument is that parents should decide for themselves whether their children should wear masks.

Is that the best approach right now?

SUNUNU: Well, I will say, in New Hampshire, we're a little different.

So, just to speak for my own state, we already have a lot of local control in our schools. The parents, the school boards, the teachers have a lot of say in how that's managed. So we let them have that discussion and decide, understanding that maybe Southern New Hampshire and Manchester and a big high school might have different resources and different availability and different strategies to manage than a one-room schoolhouse in rural New Hampshire, right?

So you let that flexibility happen at the local level. You let the parents have that voice. And, as a community, they figure it out. But a one-size-fits-all mandate from the state saying, you must, everyone must wear a mask, that's just not the way we roll in New Hampshire.

And we have been very successful with that local control flexibility and allowing parents to have a voice.

BASH: And the opposite of that, the notion of saying, well, you can't wear masks?

SUNUNU: Again, I believe in the local -- the local control. That's where we really want it to be, because when do we -- to your point, are we out of this? Are we not out of this? When do you lift regulations?

Whatever -- from a state level, I'm trying to put in things that are sustainable for the long term, right? Almost pre-pandemic to-post pandemic, we made -- are we out of this for good? Who knows? Maybe it goes away in the summer. Maybe it comes back next fall. We don't want to be turning our emergency orders, our mandates, and our regulations off -- on and off like a light switch.

So we want to create sustainability. And that builds a lot more public trust and confidence in the system.

BASH: Yes, and I want to move on, but you say that you do things differently in New Hampshire, and you do.

But the idea of saying that local school districts can't mandate masks, you obviously don't agree with?

SUNUNU: No, I think local school districts should have the ability, yes.



I mean, I got to be careful, because every system is different in terms of the rules, the regulations and the tools that they have in the toolbox.

BASH: Yes.

So I want to play something from President Biden's recent press conference. He referenced comments that you made about Republican senators. Here's what President Biden said.



BIDEN: Here's what he said: "They were all, for the most -- quote -- "They were all, for the most part, content with the speed at which they weren't doing anything. so I'm just going to be a roadblock for the next two years? That's not what I do," Sununu said.


BASH: And the president went on to say that Republicans don't stand for anything, other than obstruction right now.

Do you agree with him?

SUNUNU: Well, I don't appreciate the president using my words out of context a little bit.

Let's be very clear. I have been pretty clear...

BASH: Why was it out of context?

SUNUNU: Because I have been critical of both sides of the aisle of Washington, all 100 senators.


BASH: But it doesn't mean you weren't critical of Republicans.

SUNUNU: Oh, no, I'm critical of everyone.

Democrats were a roadblock for four years with President Trump. Republicans are trying to stop a lot of things, which I fundamentally disagree with in terms of, I think it's good that they stopped certain things, to be sure.

But, as a governor, it's such a different job. We're doers. We're managers. We're designing systems. We're creating solutions. We're integrating one-on-one with kids and constituents and businesses.

It's just a fundamental job. And I love it. It's very challenging, very fulfilling. We're managing COVID. And I can do more to protect the interests of New Hampshire as a governor.

There's -- look, I believe that you need to balance a budget. I think managing other people's money is the foremost responsibility of public service. I think that immigration reform, both sides of the aisle, there is consensus that can be found there. I think there's consensus you can find on almost any issue.

BASH: But...

SUNUNU: So I don't appreciate any party trying to just stop a process.

BASH: But when you called around, and you're -- when you were deciding whether you wanted to run for Senate, which...


BASH: ... is the context here, you did hear from your fellow Republicans who are senators.

SUNUNU: Well, I only heard -- well, there weren't any Democrats calling to ask me to run for Senate, right?

BASH: No, right. No, I understand.

SUNUNU: To be fair, right?

BASH: But they were saying, we just have to hold the line for two years.

And that's what you opposed. You didn't want to be part of that.

SUNUNU: I think the frustration that Republican senators has is, when -- when you are in the majority party, you have the responsibility of reaching over the aisle.

And I think -- look, I think President Biden, I sure as heck didn't vote for him, but we all wanted him to come in and use those relationships with the Republican senators he had, reach across the aisle, find consensus, and really build some bipartisanship that we haven't seen in a long time.

Zero. I mean, if...

BASH: No, that's not zero, and -- the infrastructure bill.

SUNUNU: Thanks to the Republicans forcing it, right?

BASH: Well, they both did. That's what bipartisanship is.

SUNUNU: To be fair, if the Democrat Party spent as much time trying to reach across the aisle with a couple of Republicans as they did beating up Senators Sinema and Manchin, we would have got something done.

But they spent all their time tearing apart their own party, as opposed to saying, OK, who are the couple Republicans we can work with here? Where can we trim things back? That's what America wants.

And I think I'm just expressing the same frustration that, frankly, most Americans have.

BASH: Let's move on to the Supreme Court. President Biden pledged to nominate a black woman to succeed Justice

Stephen Breyer. On Friday, Republican Senator Roger Wicker said whoever Biden picks will be a -- quote -- "beneficiary of affirmative racial discrimination" and filling a -- quote -- "quota."

Do you agree with that?

SUNUNU: Well, look, I'm never for quotas. I think he just -- in the opportunity of bringing somebody to the U.S. Supreme Court, it's an amazing opportunity. And it always has to be on merit.

BASH: But is this a quota?

SUNUNU: Oh, I will just say, as a governor, I don't -- I don't see things as quotas like that.

No, I mean, there's a very limited number of individuals. You want folks with a diverse set of backgrounds, of course. So, in that sense, no, I would agree it's a quota. You want somebody that brings a different perspective. And whether it's a person of color, whether it's a woman or a male, whatever it might be, you want a variety of perspectives.


BASH: You're OK with him saying, I'm going to nominate a black woman?

SUNUNU: If that's what he feels like the Supreme Court needs, and that's what gets confirmed by the Senate, then that's the process.

I think the most important thing, what every American wants, is a civil, respectful process on both sides as we move forward. That would be a nice breath of fresh air for America. And I think that's what everyone hopes for.

BASH: I want you to listen to what the former President Donald Trump said at a rally last night about the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly. We will treat them fairly.


TRUMP: And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.


SUNUNU: Your response?

Look, the folks that were part of the riots and, frankly, the assault on the U.S. Capitol have to be held accountable. There's a rule of law. I don't care whether you were part of the burning -- burning cities in Antifa in 2020, you were storming the Capitol in 2021.

Everybody needs to be held fairly accountable across. That's part of leadership.

BASH: And they shouldn't be pardoned?

SUNUNU: Of course not, oh, my goodness, no.

BASH: Would you cam -- would you like to have the former president campaign with you in your reelection campaign in New Hampshire?

SUNUNU: I don't need anyone to campaign with me.

Look, I'm a big believer that, as a candidate, you got to stand on your own two feet, you got to look your fellow citizens in the eye, and you got to earn their vote as you, not as endorsements. Endorsements are fine and all that kind of stuff.

But, at the end of the day, I'm a big believer, whether you're running for the planning board, governor or president, you got to look folks in the eye and earn the votes yourself.

BASH: Governor, thank you so much for being here. It's nice to see you in person.

SUNUNU: In person. We love to have it. Thank you.



SUNUNU: Thanks for having me.

BASH: Thank you so much.

And President Biden does have a long list of potential justices he is considering for the Supreme Court. All of them are black women. That is a problem, as we just discussed, for some Republicans.

We will talk about that next.



BIDEN: The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity.

SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): The Supreme Court is at the very same time hearing cases about this sort of affirmative racial discrimination...



QUESTION: Yes. WICKER: ... and while adding someone who is the beneficiary of this sort of quota.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

We're here with our panel.

And, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, let's start with you.

Your response?

REP. LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER (D-DE): Well, first of all, I have to say I am so excited. I am beyond thrilled that the president is going to nominate a black woman for the Supreme Court.

I was in the audience when he announced that in South Carolina, and I think, number one, she will be one of the most qualified, if not most qualified, members of the bench, which I'm excited about.

But, also, I really thought back to when I was ending high school and President Reagan announced that he was going to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court, and how excited I was then.

This moment, I think, is long overdue. And I feel like, for all the little girls out there, for all of the -- for everybody, this is a big deal.

I'm not going to say another word in the middle there, but this is a big deal. And so...


BASH: We're cable.


BLUNT ROCHESTER: This is true.

BASH: Yes.

BLUNT ROCHESTER: This is true.

BASH: Alyssa Farah Griffin, I -- understanding what the congresswoman is saying, but I want to go back to what Senator Wicker said, the fact that he -- that this is akin to affirmative action.

Compare that to President Trump, and President Trump, who -- he promised to put a woman in RBG's seat when she passed away. He just didn't say black woman.


Well, listen, I think representation is always a good thing. So I think this is a good moment. I don't really understand the strategy, though, of Joe Biden admit -- saying in advance it's going to be a black woman, because what it does is, it subjects this individual, who no doubtedly will be highly qualified, to being called somebody who was there because of affirmative action.

I think the bigger thing here is, Joe Biden's struggling with African- American voters. And it's surprising. Last year, in April, he had 83 percent support. Now he's got about 64 percent. I think he's hoping this is going to give him a bump. But I think he's misreading the tea leaves.

I think it's much more it's economic policies that are resulting in this, not simply who he is nominating to the bench.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think he's making this decision to ensure that the Supreme Court represents the people that it is supposed to serve.

And we have never had a black woman on the court. And that's a tragedy, you know? So, this is a historic moment. And it's a shame that people can't see the importance of the moment. He's not making this choice because of politics. He's making this choice to ensure that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, represents all Americans.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Steph, did you say that without laughing? He didn't -- this is not a political pick?

All Supreme Court picks are political picks.

CUTTER: This...

URBAN: They're political. It's completely political. And it's his right. He can -- it's well within his right to do.

CUTTER: Elections matter.

URBAN: Right, absolutely.

CUTTER: We all agree with that, right? So this is his pick.

URBAN: That's right. It's his pick.

CUTTER: This is President Biden' pick.

URBAN: But to say it's not political...

CUTTER: He made a commitment -- he made a commitment to put a black woman on the court because there has never been a black woman on the court.

Regardless of whether you think it's politics...

URBAN: Joe Biden wouldn't be president if it weren't for black women.

CUTTER: ... it is the best thing for the country.


URBAN: Joe Biden wouldn't be president but for black women.

CUTTER: Exactly.

URBAN: That's why he's picking a black woman. He wouldn't be president.


BLUNT ROCHESTER: Look at this, bipartisan agreement already.


URBAN: He wouldn't be president. So, let's -- it's his pick. It's his pick.

CUTTER: You know what? We shouldn't be arguing about why. Let's just take a moment and recognize that this is the right thing to do for the country regardless of politics.

URBAN: His numbers are so terrible everywhere else, he needs a...


CUTTER: And the number of -- supposedly, there's a short list.

Nobody really knows exactly who's on that list. But the women that are being reported are incredibly accomplished women.

URBAN: Yes, of course.

BASH: So...

FARAH GRIFFIN: And I'm interested to see if he's going to go with one of the more moderate ones who in the past has gotten Republican support at lower court levels, or if he's going to go with a very progressive left, and that -- left-leaning judge.

And I think that's kind of the open question. Is this a justice for the entire country or for the leftmost flank?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: I want to -- I just want to go circle back to representation, hopefully to a point where we get to, as Ava DuVernay says, normalization.


BLUNT ROCHESTER: And I also want to just make the point that let's be consistent.

It wasn't affirmative action when Ronald Reagan said it. And I was that high school student who was so excited to hear that a woman was going to be on the Supreme Court. And now we have this historic opportunity.

CUTTER: Or Clarence Thomas.

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Historic opportunity.

BASH: Right. It doesn't necessarily mean liberal.

Stephanie, I want to get to an op-ed that you wrote in "The New York Times," urging the Democrats, your fellow Democrats, to take a page out of Mitch McConnell's playbook.

You wrote: "Thanks to President Donald Trump and the former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, there is a new set of rules in place for Supreme Court nominations that all but guarantees Democrats will succeed, unless, of course, we mess it up."

What do you mean by that?

CUTTER: Well, look, there are a new set of rules put in place, thanks to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.

Amy Coney Barrett, 38 days from when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, she was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice. That's a record.


And you they were criticized at the time for not having a deliberative process, not accurately vetting her. I don't expect President Biden and Senate Democrats to move that quickly. But we need to take some lessons from that. It is -- we should move quickly, so that this nominee doesn't get tarnished by somebody like Senator Wicker, or we know that a lot of this conversation in the Republican Party is going to be about affirmative action and undertones of racism.

We need to be careful and not tarnish the nominee. Let's move quickly. They are incredibly accomplished women. We should do our jobs, vet, deliberate, but get it done. Do not drag it out.

BASH: Let's talk about COVID politics now.

And I say COVID and politics, and it's unnecessarily tied together. But that's just the world in which we live.

I want you to listen to what journalist and author Bari Weiss had to say just this month about Americans and their mood right now with regard to the pandemic.


BARI WEISS, JOURNALIST: I'm done with COVID. I'm done.


WEISS: It's like, I went so hard on COVID.

MAHER: Yes, I remember.

WEISS: I sprayed the Pringles cans that I bought at the grocery store, stripped my clothes off because I thought COVID would be on my clothes.

And then we were told, you get the vaccine. You get the vaccine, and you get back to normal. And we haven't gotten back to normal. And it's ridiculous at this point.


BASH: Speaking of COVID, I should say that all of us tested negative before coming on set.

Congresswoman, are Democrats missing something here when it comes to that kind of sentiment out there that is kind of growing with people, in her words, done with COVID?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: I think we're all done with COVID.

BASH: Right. Who isn't?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: I mean, who isn't done with COVID and who isn't exhausted by it?

But we have a responsibility to make sure that we recover our health and our economy. And when you just look at the sheer numbers, first of all, the numbers of vaccines that -- shots that we got into arms, over 700 million or some incredible number, but also look at who is really in the hospital, who is really having a hard time?

It's the unvaccinated. And so we're all done with COVID. But we in the Democratic Party are going to continue to make sure we have an American Rescue Plan, make sure we continue to get shots and arms, and also to look at -- I think it was mentioned before -- our economy.

We have got an America COMPETES bill that is just introduced. And I have got two provisions that are bipartisan, provisions on supply chain. So, again, yes, we're done with it, but we got to follow the science. We got to do what we got to do.

When I came here -- I remember driving on the highway during COVID at the beginning. There were no cars on the road. Think about where -- how far we have come, kids back in school, people back on the roads, and people shopping...


URBAN: Yes, I don't disagree with you, Congresswoman.

I think -- listen. I live in the free state of Florida, right...


URBAN: ... with the much maligned Governor DeSantis.

I was just with Mayor Suarez in Miami. These are people who know how to run things, despite having COVID, right, despite having a pandemic raging across our nation. In Florida, we protected the most vulnerable, the elderly, those at risk. We got vaccines. We got heavily -- testing.

I think what has been overlooked a great deal, and, at the end of that clip -- I wish we had played the whole clip -- the author there references the amount of self-harm in young girls, right? There's a huge, huge health risk, a huge health cost of the pandemic, of people staying home, women missing mammograms, kids -- depression amongst children, terrible, terrible things that need to be balanced.

There needs to be a balancing test. We can't wrap ourselves in bubble wrap and stay in the house forever.

BASH: And then there's the other part of this discussion, which is misinformation.

And there's a big question this week about Spotify and whether Spotify should keep Joe Rogan as part of its company. Music icons Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulled their songs off of Spotify.

You do this for a living. You advise not just politicians, but people in general. I mean, what do you think about what Spotify should do?

CUTTER: I think they should take them off their platform.

You asked Governor Sununu whether that type of misinformation is costing lives. I understand why he answered the way he did and didn't really want to get into it.

However, I want to say, yes, that misinformation is costing lives, because it is convincing people that vaccines don't work or vaccines will harm you. And that is just not the case. And, as a result, we're hitting this plateau of people who are refusing to get the vaccine.

And, as a result, we are dragging this recovery out.

FARAH GRIFFIN: Well, and it's no question that misinformation is costing lives.

There was a police officer who'd gone on FOX News, talked about he wasn't going to get vaccinated, who died this past week.


But I will say this. I give tremendous credit to Dr. Sanjay Gupta for going on Joe Rogan's show. The CDC director should go on Joe Rogan's show.

He should knock down the points and just argue with him.


FARAH GRIFFIN: There's no reason -- I don't think censorship is the answer. He needs to reach those audiences.

There are people who are still getting wrong information. I know women in my own life who think it's -- getting the vaccine will affect their fertility. And I have told them, this is not what the data shows, but we need to reach them with public health information.


And, listen, as we know, it's not a partisan issue. Those who aren't being vaccinated, there's a wide swathe of the left and right that aren't being vaccinated, right? Large amounts of African-Americans, young people, extremely progressive people aren't getting vaccinated for a wide variety of reasons. They live cleanly. They don't want to have vaccines.

So, just not the Joe Rogan listeners that aren't being vaccinated. Let's not just single the people who listen to Joe Rogan out. There's a wide range of folks who aren't getting vaccinated, for whatever reason they believe.

BASH: Stephanie?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: But I got to say, that's why the misinformation is so dangerous.


BLUNT ROCHESTER: That's why it's so dangerous.

URBAN: Yes, but let's...


CUTTER: And it wouldn't be -- it's not just Joe Rogan.


CUTTER: And we shouldn't target him because he's a conservative.

It's the fact there's misinformation. And if that was happening on a progressive show, I would say the same thing.

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Yes. That's right.

BASH: OK, guys, great discussion. Thank you all for joining me this morning.

And up next: How did American policy get so divided?

My special report on one of the clear causes that's about to get worse. That's next.



BASH: There are a lot of reasons the U.S. feels so divided these days.

One is the way congressional districts are drawn. And even though we all know that's a problem, elected officials in statehouses all over the country are guilty of trying to seize whatever advantage they can.


BASH: We're in downtown Austin.


BASH: This is an area that right now is represented by a Republican. It's going to change with the new lines.

TURNER: It is. It is.

BASH (voice-over): Austin, the capital of Texas, is a pretty liberal town. It's a key reason Republicans drew new congressional maps that took city blocks like this and progressives who live here out of their GOP districts.

TURNER: Here in Austin, what the Republicans did was pack as many Democrats into as few districts as possible. The Republican districts are not just going to be Republican. They're going to be very Republican. And the Democratic districts are going to be very Democratic.

BASH: Will Hurd is a moderate Texas Republican who left Congress last year frustrated about the lack of bipartisanship. He says new gerrymandered maps in his home state and beyond will make partisanship in the House even worse.

FMR. REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): You have so many seats that are extreme in one direction or another. That means people are no longer forced to work together.

BASH: More on that in a bit, but first a primer.

The Constitution says that, every 10 years, after the census, state political maps are redrawn based on population changes. In recent decades, state legislatures in both parties have taken to gerrymandering congressional districts.

DAVID LUBLIN, CHAIR, DEPARTMENT OF GOVERNMENT, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Redistricting is simply the process of redrawing the lines. Gerrymandering is redrawing the lines with the intent to benefit a particular party or group or individual.

BASH: Look at the map the Texas Republican legislature passed after the 2020 census. Even the untrained political eye can see how jumbled and jagged the new House districts will be.

(on camera): When you look at the new Texas map after redistricting, what does it look like to you?

HURD: Well, to me, the new map is -- it's incumbent protection. The red seats got redder, and blue seats got bluer.

BASH (voice-over): Professor David Lublin of American University: LUBLIN: When you have a lot of redistricting manipulation, it feels more and more like the representatives are choosing their constituents, rather than vice versa.

BASH: Texas state Republican Jacey Jetton.

STATE REP. JACEY JETTON (R-TX): I hear that said often, but, at the end of the day, the voting still occurs by the population that goes and votes.

BASH (on camera): But if you decide that the population that's going to vote for you are like-minded people?

JETTON: Well, they're communities of interest.

BASH: Communities of interest isn't just code for keeping Republicans with Republicans and Democrats for Democrats?

JETTON: I don't believe so, no.

BASH (voice-over): Jetton on the Texas House Redistricting Committee. His own district is becoming more Republican.

(on camera): When the districts are drawn so that Republicans are in safe Republican seats, Democrats are in safe Democratic seats...


BASH: ... isn't that, by definition, incumbent protection?

JETTON: Not necessarily, because, even if it's a Republican district, they still got the Republican primary. And so the incumbent is not necessarily safe.

BASH (voice-over): True, incumbents still aren't safe. But the threat to them in politically gerrymandered districts full of voters in their own party comes from within, not across the aisle, pulling lawmakers even more to the extreme.

Texas state Representative Chris Turner, a Democrat.

TURNER: There's no scenario in which Republican could win my House district.

BASH (on camera): That could pull you left if you did have a primary opponent.

TURNER: Sure. There's no question.

BASH (voice-over): There are different kinds of gerrymandering, packing, putting like-minded voters together, or cracking, separating them to dilute their influence.

After the 2010 census, Texas Republicans went the cracking route, spreading the Democratic vote in Austin across Republican districts. This time, they packed. Republican Congressman Pete Sessions' district will be even more red.

REP. PETE SESSIONS (R-TX): We have, by and large, entered a period of time where Republicans want to be represented by Republicans and Democrats want to be represented by Democrats.


BASH (on camera): The fact that there are so many more safe seats, Republican and Democrat, in Congress, does that make things more partisan here?

SESSIONS: It makes things to where the person that represents those district more hardened in their belief.

BASH (voice-over): Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee says, when she first came to Congress three decades ago, the first legislation she worked on was bipartisan.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): We didn't know any better. We thought we had to work together. And even though there might have been one or two who would make those speeches on the floor of the House that everyone would look up, the majority felt that our work was to work together.

I think we have an obligation that we should not let redistricting change America.

BASH (on camera): Has it?

LEE: I think it has. How long can people enjoy having difficulty in getting good work done?

BASH (voice-over): Since the 2010 census, Texas has gained nearly four million new people and will get two new congressional seats.

A big Democratic criticism of the new Texas GOP drawn map is that 95 percent of the new population is minority, and the two new seats were drawn for Republicans.

REP. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D-TX): The growth in this country, and especially in this area, is not Anglo. It is a mixture of minorities. And that should be reflected in the representation. And it is not.

BASH: Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson is retiring after 30 years in the House and says, though gerrymandering is hardly new, it's become more extreme.

JOHNSON: When these lines are being drawn with the help of computers, where they can be so exact that they can break up a bedroom if they wanted to, it is hurting our nation.

BASH: Kimball Brace has one of those computer programs.

KIMBALL BRACE, ELECTION DATA SERVICES: This is showing you concentration of where the Trump vote was being cast. BASH: He's hired by states across the country to draw their maps and

showed us just how advanced the technology is now.

BRACE: By the time you get down to the census block level, you can end up getting exact populations for any given piece of geography.

BASH: To be sure, gerrymandering is happening in statehouses all across the country, including those with Democrats in charge. Maryland Republican Delegate Kathy Szeliga is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Democrats for gerrymandering new congressional districts in their favor.

STATE REP. KATHY SZELIGA (R-MD): This makes no sense. Look at this district that wraps around there.

BASH: She's advocating a nonpartisan approach.

SZELIGA: This is the Citizens Redistricting Commission, a nonpartisan commission. A fifth grader can look at these two maps next to each other and see what looks fair and what looks like it was created with partisan purposes.

This is our historic House chamber.

BASH: CNN reached out to Maryland state Democrats and leadership and on the redistricting committee. None of them agreed to an interview.

SZELIGA: When you let politicians draw their own maps, be they Republican or Democrat, they're going to hold onto their power. Creating partisan representation isn't good for citizens.

Most people are not on the far left or the far right. Most people reside somewhere in the middle on most issues.

BASH: In his upcoming book "American Reboot," Will Hurd writes about the importance of appealing to those in the middle, not on the edges.

HURD: My title was representative. That means I represent everybody, people that voted for me, people that didn't vote for me, and then people that didn't vote at all.

BASH (on camera): Because you were in a swing district, your incentive was to work across the aisle.

HURD: Absolutely.

BASH (voice-over): Congressional crossover districts, where voters choose a president and a U.S. House member from different parties, are virtually disappearing.

In 1996, there were 108, in 2016, down to 35. And, today, there are only 16.

(on camera): The number of competitive districts here in Texas -- you were in one of them -- has gone from 12 to one. What does that mean for the way things work in Congress or don't? HURD: Well, you are going to see more dysfunction, because people

aren't going to work together.

And let me give you some...

BASH: How is it possible that there will be more dysfunction?

HURD: Well, because you could have even less people working together.

BASH (voice-over): Thanks to politicians in both parties across the country drawing their own districts to stay in power.


BASH: And some wonderful news before we go.

Everyone here is ecstatic to welcome baby Talia Davida Kaczynski, the adorable newborn daughter of CNN's Andrew Kaczynski and his wife, Rachel Ensign. Talia is named for her older sister, Francesca, known as Beans, who passed away a little more than a year ago, after bravely battling pediatric cancer.

Everyone at CNN is welcoming Talia with open arms. We can't wait to meet you. And we're so happy you're part of our family.

The news continues now.