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Supreme Court to Hear Arizona Voting Restrictions Cases Tomorrow; Interview with Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX); BioNTech CEO Encourages COVID-19 Vaccine Against Variants. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 1, 2021 - 10:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: But this weekend is the gathering of the party. What did you see and hear?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Yes, Poppy, she might want to tell some of the people we met yesterday at CPAC, who were waving a QAnon flag outside of the event.

Look, not all Trump supporters are totally in on QAnon, but pretty much everybody we spoke to this weekend still believes that core conspiracy theory that the former president continues to perpetuate: that he didn't actually lose the election.

I want to show you sound from two ladies I spoke to yesterday. The first woman is actually somebody who believes that Trump is the future of the party, but has tried to speak -- tried to talk her friends out of QAnon. The second lady you'll see is more down the route of conspiracy theory. Have a listen.


DANNA JEANNE, TRUMP SUPPORTER: We want to know, we're waiting to hear the next step, where -- what -- we're all looking for guidance.

O'SULLIVAN: Do you think it's important for Trump today to come out and to condemn the January 6th insurrection?

GAIL SEDGWICK, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I'm not convinced that that was started by -- you see how peaceful we are. I'm not convinced yet because there's been no actual investigation done yet.

O'SULLIVAN: You don't trust the election officials --


O'SULLIVAN: -- you don't trust the FBI.


O'SULLIVAN: You don't trust the courts.

SEDGWICK: No. O'SULLIVAN: Who do you trust?

SEDGWICK: Trump and his supporters.


O'SULLIVAN: So as you can see there, these conspiracy theories are eroding trust in pretty much every single American institution, and it is obviously extremely troubling and it's something that is not going away.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And it's deliberate, frankly.

Donie O'Sullivan, it's good to have you there in the middle of it, it's important to see.

We are seeing the fallout now, the real consequences from the big lie. In the face of record turnout in 2020 -- even in the midst of a pandemic -- Republicans in state legislatures across the country are moving to pass new, more restrictive voter laws, make it harder for you to vote. According to the Brennan Center, a nonprofit that tracks voting laws, 43 states are now considering 253 bills that could make it harder to vote.

Joining me now to discuss is Ben Ginsberg. He's a Republican election lawyer, and CNN legal analyst. Mr. Ginsberg, thanks so much for joining.

BEN GINSBERG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So you and other conservatives -- to your credit, George Will, Charlie Sykes among them -- have called many of these efforts straight-up voter suppression, intentional. I wonder, why haven't we heard folks like Mitch McConnell and others call this out and oppose measures like this? Or are they calculating may be unseemly, but it's in our interest?

GINSBERG: I think there's a period of great uncertainty amongst traditional conservative Republicans. Look, the problem is, is that the Republican electorate that Donald Trump has appealed to is shrinking demographically.

And rather than proposing a whole suite of new conservative policies to deal with the changing electorate, the Republican Party, especially in those laws you mentioned, have taken the position that we will make it harder for those voters who might not vote for Republicans, to in fact cast their ballots. And that's a bad place for the party to be.

SCIUTTO: I mean, absolutely. I mean, what does the law say about that? Why isn't it illegal to deliberately pass laws that disadvantage your opponents? I mean, I know there's a case coming up before the Supreme Court that may help set a standard here, but where does the law stand on that?

GINSBERG: Well, the law says that a legislature can pass a law. If it is challenged, then the burden goes back to the state to show the compelling interest. The Republicans in the legislatures will argue it's to prevent voter fraud. Again, voter fraud being prevalent, never proven in this past election. Sort of a duty to prove that fraud exists if you're going to pass those laws, but that's what the subsequent court cases will be about.

SCIUTTO: So let me ask you this, because we saw the courts, in the pace of the president's false election fraud claims seeking to overturn votes after this election, even Trump-appointed judges saying, hey, man, there's no proof here of election fraud, you know, go home, basically. Does that give us an indication as to how they might decide on some of these voter restrictions that are now passing the state legislatures?

GINSBERG: Well, it depends how careful individual legislatures are in passing laws. If they can actually produce evidence that hasn't been produced so far, then a court may find that the law is warranted. And there are provisions in some laws that make more sense than provisions in others laws.

The political reality for the party though is that this is sort of a bad mix. Because on the one hand, Trump supporters are saying, more and more, we're not going to vote because the election's rigged. And on the other side of the spectrum, moderate Republicans are sort of leaving the party, which means they won't vote in primaries and they certainly won't vote in general elections, especially in those moderate districts that are the key to Republicans retaking the House in 2022.


SCIUTTO: You know, you look back at the decision in Shelby, Shelby v. Holder, which decided basically -- and I'm oversimplifying here -- but that a lot of the protections in the 1965 Voting Rights Act did not apply anymore because there really wasn't a compelling effort to disadvantage minority voters, et cetera.

I mean, haven't the cases since then, and all these attempts at voter restrictions, shown that that was flawed thinking? That in fact there is still very much a threat to minority voters in particular?

GINSBERG: Well, it's important to remember that Section 5 only applied to a finite number of states and counties around the country. And part of the case was that the coverage of where Section 5 applied didn't make any sense in today's world. That's why you see the attempts in Congress to re-pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to deal with the coverage issue.

SCIUTTO: Just quickly, though, based on what we know now, does the Supreme Court, with a 6-3 advantage, is it likely to rule to expand the vote or to allow these restrictions to stay in place?

GINSBERG: No, but what it's likely to do in the Arizona cases that are up tomorrow is to deal with the phenomenon of actual ballot- harvesting, and whether that has a disparate impact or it's just a natural -- it's a program that shouldn't take place because it invites fraud. That's a much more narrow issue than the sweeping Section 2 approval or disapproval that you're referring to.

SCIUTTO: OK. Well, something to watch closely, these laws are getting passed virtually every day. Ben Ginsberg, thanks very much.

GINSBERG: Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: The Biden administration, announcing over the weekend they are setting up another tent city to house migrants in South Texas. This is just the latest snapshot of the surge we're seeing at the border. We'll discuss with Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, next.



HARLOW: Well, right now, the Biden administration is preparing to open another facility along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is to handle the surge of migrants crossing.

Here are the numbers. We know in January alone, more than 5,800 unaccompanied children, nearly 7,500 families were taken into custody crossing the southern border. It's the highest we've seen since 2019. With me now is Democratic Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, whose district sits right along part of the border.

It's good to have you, Congressman, thanks for the time this morning.

REP. VICENTE GONZALEZ (D-TX): Thank you, Poppy, for having us.

HARLOW: So I just read the numbers, in the surge that we're seeing and you're experiencing right there on the border. The Biden administration has chosen not to expel unaccompanied minors who have chosen to cross the border. That's a reversion of what the Trump administration did. But they've decided not to do this, even though legally they could expel those minors.

Do you think we are headed towards a repeat of the border crisis we saw in 2014 and 2019?

GONZALEZ: Well, I certainly hope not. I hope that we have some good policy in place to address asylum-seekers, both young and old. I think I've been advocating for a system in place where asylum-seekers can go to embassies or consulates in Central American countries or their neighboring country and ask for asylum there.

Usually the evidence that you need and the witnesses that you need to prove up an asylum claim are in your home country, and the fact is that, you know, my heart goes out to everyone, we're in the middle of a pandemic.

But for thousands of people to be reaching our border in the middle of a pandemic, in a disorderly fashion, could be catastrophic to my district. I have lost over 3,000 citizens to COVID in my southern border district. I still have over a thousand Border Patrol officers, 500 customs agents and a lot of frontline workers who still haven't been vaccinated who are dealing with this population when they're coming.

We need to have a humane, compassionate way for people to ask for asylum in their home countries or their neighboring countries, and if they get the document, they can get on a plane for $400 and fly in.


GONZALEZ: I think this policy forces them to make a 2,000-mile walk that is very dangerous, and they're getting raped and pillaged along the way. And I think we need to come up with more common-sense solutions to dealing with asylum-seekers.

And we have to face the fact that 80 percent -- over 80 percent of asylum-seekers -- never qualify for asylum, which is another issue we need to address. Immigration needs a holistic approach in America. So -- go ahead.

HARLOW: I mean, there's -- there's no question a holistic approach is needed. But in the absence of what you're calling for right now, here's what's happening. The new tent facility that's going up that I just mentioned, you've got this -- and we'll pull up images -- this is just a reopened Trump-era detention facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas for unaccompanied minors. It's not state-licensed.

Julian Castro, who ran for president against Biden, just told me on Friday that it is the wrong move -- formerly the mayor of San Antonio. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said this is not OK, has never been OK and will never be OK, no matter the administration or the party. Do you agree with them or do you support this reopening of this Trump-era detention facility for unaccompanied minors?


GONZALEZ: Well, the concern is living on the border and dealing with border issues on a regular basis is, what do you do with a mass volume of people coming across our border. Recently they were processed and released into the community and taken to the bus station. That cannot be an acceptable norm in the middle of a pandemic. So I'm really concerned about this --


HARLOW: So is this acceptable for the children?

GONZALEZ: -- I believe that the -- I think if children end up on our border, we have to do what's humane and what's -- the way Americans have always acted, and done what's right for mankind around the world. So we'll have to deal with it.

But what I'm saying is, we need to have a policy in place to prevent children and adults from making this 2,000-mile walk to our border. And when we send the wrong message to Central America that if you make it to our southern border, you're going to be processed and released, you're going to -- you could pretty much assure that you're going to have tens of thousands of people coming up, making this very dangerous trek. We need to --


HARLOW: You --

GONZALEZ: -- find a safer solution to deal with asylum-seekers.

HARLOW: You're quoted in "Politico" as saying this, and it really struck me, and it's one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show today. You said, "The way that we're doing it right now is catastrophic and it's a recipe for disaster... Our party should be concerned. If we go off the rails, it's going to be bad for us." You went on to say, "Biden is going to be dealing with a minority in Congress if he continues down some of these paths."

Which paths do you think are the wrong paths that you see the Biden administration going down now on immigration?

GONZALEZ: Well, my concern -- this -- in the recent weeks, in my district, migrants who made it across the border, who -- even past the line of MPPs who are 5,000 folks that have been waiting for two years across the border -- made it across the Rio Grande Valley, were processed and released.

If that is the message that we send to Central America and around the world, I can assure you it won't be long before we have tens of thousands of people showing up to our border, and it'll be catastrophic for our party, for our country, for my region, for my district, in the middle of a pandemic, in an area where we've lost over 3,000 people in my small congressional district.

So I think we need to have a better plan in place. I think we -- asylum-seekers should be able to ask for asylum and be processed in their home country or a neighboring country. And we shouldn't have a policy in place that impulses people to make this 2,000-mile trek, where cartels and human traffickers are enriching themselves.

HARLOW: So -- we know that President Biden will be meeting with the president of Mexico today, and CNN has learned that the Mexican president will be asking Biden to, in some form, share COVID vaccines with Mexico. We don't know if that's going to be a purchase agreement, a donation or a loan. I wonder if you think that's a good idea, and what your message to President Biden is on that.

GONZALEZ: I believe once we inoculate the American population and people here in our region, it would be smart to assure that our friends and neighbors are also immunized. As you know, the borders are closed in my district, people cannot -- Mexican nationals with visas who normally travel here or own second homes, come and do business here, are not allowed across the border right now.

So we definitely need to immunize our friends across the border at some point, once we're finished doing it here in our country. And I think we have five vaccines for every American, so we certainly have some extra vaccines that we could share with other countries, especially somebody like Mexico or Canada who we do a lot of business with, we travel, we have borders, we have borders that -- where a lot of commerce and tourism and -- flow on a regular basis.

So we don't live in this world, isolated. It's a global community, and certainly North America is a very tight-knit community. We have relatives on both sides of the border, we do business on both sides of the border, whether it's Canada or Mexico. And certainly I feel both of those countries and many others around the world should be inoculated. And we travel to vacation spots in Mexico, we do a lot of business, and we need to make sure that everybody is safe and healthy.

HARLOW: Congressman, thank you. I think that the key in your statement there, you said timing, once all Americans have access to a vaccine. Thank you very much, we'll have you back soon.

GONZALEZ: Thank you --



HARLOW: Ok, we'll be right back.

GONZALEZ: -- thank you, Poppy.


HARLOW: Use all of the vaccine now, that is the message from the CEO of BioNTech.

SCIUTTO: CNN senior international correspondent Frederik just spoke with the CEO. Tell us what he said about next steps.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Jim. Well, one of the big things that we talked about these variants of the novel coronavirus, and the potential threat that they pose. And he said, look, there's essentially two threats out there.

One is that the virus could spread, the variants could spread faster than the original coronavirus, he says it's absolutely important for countries to vaccinate their populations as fast as possible. But he also said that he believes that the virus will not be able to evade the vaccine even in variants. He says that can be kept under control. Let's listen to what he had to say.



UGUR SAHIN, CEO, BIONTECH: We believe, particularly the mRNA vaccines and BNT162b2 (ph) is designed in a way which is valuable against variants. Of course we need to collect real-world data and see the protection rates. But for example, the data that have been collected in Israel shows that we have full control of the U.K. variant, it's almost the same efficacy as we had observed for the (INAUDIBLE) virus in our Phase III clinical trial. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: And of course, Jim, that vaccine has also just been approved by the FDA to be stored at regular freezer temperature, making the logistics easier. He says they're also working on a new formula to even be able to store it in regular fridges, to make the storing and the transport even easier than it is now -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Listen, lots of good vaccine news out there, it's good to hear it --


SCIUTTO: -- Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you for the good news, Fred.

And thanks to all of you for joining us today, we'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto, NEWSROOM with Kate Bolduan starts right after a quick break.