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House Passes Sweeping Voting Rights Bill Over GOP Opposition; Data Shows Nursing Home Cases Plummet Nearly 90 Percent Since December Peak; Meghan Markle Says, Royal Family Perpetuated Falsehoods About Us. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 4, 2021 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWSROOM: Late last night, House Democrats passed a sweeping election reform bill that passed with no Republican support and it is likely to face the same opposition in the Senate, which makes it future uncertain, at best.

The bill Democrats say aims to increase election security, stop states from restricting mail-in voting and to end partisan gerrymandering and also limit the influence of big money in campaigns. That is just some of it.

But it also comes as Republicans are pushing for the opposite on the state level. In many, many states, hundreds of bills, Republicans say, are being put forth, approved and passed in the name of voter security and election security, but is it really voter suppression masquerading as election reform.

The states with the biggest efforts in this direction include Georgia and Pennsylvania and Arizona, three states at the core of Donald Trump's election fraud lie.

And joining me right now is CNN Election Analyst, longtime Republican Attorney Ben Ginsberg. Ben, I have been chomping at the bit to have a discussion with you about this. Just to remind -- I know, it shows where my excite comes from. In September, you wrote an op-ed that you said, after decades of looking for illegal votes, there is no widespread fraud. Elections are not rigged.

So in layman's terms then, what are the state bills about?

BEN GINSBERG, CNN ELECTION ANALYST: The state bills are about trying to put in protections for fraud that doesn't exist. But what is behind the bills is a really unfortunate development for the Republican Party, which is a fear among legislators that the make-ups of their states are changing. And many of the bills would appear to put barriers in the way of the new voters in the states who Republicans seem to be afraid that they won't vote for them.

It also comes as Republicans have gotten short on policy ideas and that would be the right way to appeal to them.

BOLDUAN: Right. Because as you look at it, Ben, I mean, is there any way of thinking about this other than Republicans thinking they win when less people vote?

GINSBERG: Well I'm not sure that is how all of them are looking at it. I mean, there are a lot of bills in a lot of states.


GINSBERG: But it is important to remember in the past election, governors such as Doug Ducey in Arizona and Brian Kemp in Georgia were able to tell President Trump that his judgment about the election was wrong. There was no fraud. And there are provisions in their state laws that were important to them to be able to say that. And that includes voter I.D.s and verifying signatures and many of the things that are in the bills in other states, even though most of the Republican legislation just goes too far.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, Mike Pence, let's add him into this conversation, he's leaning into all of this, despite, honestly, what he lived through, despite Trump supporters chanting, hang Mike Pence, at the Capitol. One line of the op-ed that he just put out this week, after an election marked by significant voting irregularities, numerous instances of officials setting aside state election law, I share the concerns of millions of Americans about the integrity of the 2020 election.


He knows better. I am sure of that. Ben, what is Mike Pence doing?

GINSBERG: Well, I've known Pence for a lot of years and I always thought he was really a principled individual. So the actions during the election except for January 6th in this op-ed are hard to understand as a real value. I think he's trying to stay relevant to the Republican debate.

It is interesting that in his op-ed, he doesn't talk about fraud. He just talks about irregularities. And there is a difference, because the fraud was all myth, the irregularities were all litigated in the state courts and up so the Supreme Court with all those Trump appointees. So it really is a little puzzling.

BOLDUAN: And that is how it is supposed to work. If you see an issue, take it to the courts. When the court decides, then you move on. You have to.

Republicans -- actually, let me ask you about HR-1, you have got the Democrat's election bill that is moving through Congress. You are not a fan of that bill either. Why?

GINSBERG: Well, in the course of that nearly 800-page bill, there are laudable provisions but there are also a lot of provisions that indicate that while it started out as a reform bill, it got hijacked along the way by Democratic operatives. So, just like Republicans in the states when they have control try to push through bills that they feel will help them in elections, I think that is what the Democrats in Congress are doing.

You know, there was frustration at the election results, especially in Democrats' inability to win the state legislative level. Well, they have got redistricting commissions to take away the power from state legislatures. They want to use taxpayer funding for campaigns, always something that they thought helps them.

So it is a political bill borne of the frustration, Democratic frustration with some of the election results in 2020.

BOLDUAN: Look, these issues not going away. We have got to talk about them more, even state by state. Ben, we have got a lot more discussion to have. Thank you.

GINSBERG: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, allegations that a Trump cabinet secretary abused her office. She also happens to be married to Mitch McConnell. Coming up next, why the Justice Department decided not to open a criminal probe.



BOLDUAN: New this morning, the watchdog at the Department of Transportation sending a clear message to the Justice Department saying that it should open a criminal probe in then-Trump Cabinet Secretary Elaine Chao, who happens to be married to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. The allegations, Chao repeatedly used her office and staff for personal benefit. But the Justice Department declined to pursue the case.

Joining me right now is CNN's Kristen Holmes with more on this one. Kristen, what is going on here?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, look, this report shows the inspector general concluded that this misuse or alleged misuse of staff was for tasks that, quote, appear to be personal in nature.

So what exactly does that mean? Well, here are just some of the allegations, that she had her staff ask the Department of Homeland Security about a work permit of a student who was a recipient of her family's charity, that she planned to include her family on a work trip to China that was ultimately canceled, that she tasked her staff to edit her father's Wikipedia page. Also, and sending a copy of her father's book to a, quote, well-known CEO of a major U.S. corporation. Now, these are, again, just some of the allegations.

Now, one thing to point out here is that the investigators did not have any formal findings that she violated ethics rules. And as you said, the Department of Justice declined to open a criminal probe. So, likely, because of those things, this was the statement from her spokesperson. It says, this report exonerated the secretary from baseless accusations and closes the book on an election-year effort to impugn her history-making career as the first Asian-American woman appointed to the president's cabinet.

Now, I also want to add, as you said, she's the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell and Mitch McConnell's office has declined to comment on this report, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Interesting. Kristen, thank you very much for that.

Coming up for us, a new sign of hope for one of the communities hit hardest by the coronavirus. New infections plummeting in nursing homes across the country. Next, what this could mean for visitors finally, maybe, being able to see their loved ones again.



BOLDUAN: There is some really good news on the coronavirus front this morning. According to new data from the federal government, new cases of coronavirus in nursing homes across the country fell nearly 90 percent in eight weeks, from over 33,000 new cases during the December to just over 3,505 the week of February 14th.

Now, remember, more than 170,000 in long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19, which accounts for more than a third of all coronavirus deaths in the United States. So this news is so welcomed today.

Joining me now is Mark Parkinson, the president and CEO of the American Health Care Association, which represents over 14,000 long- term care facilities across the country.

Mark, I've been thinking. I mean, you and I have been talking since the very first days, the first month of the pandemic, and this is the first time that this is all good news all around, new infections dropping nearly 90 percent.

MARK PARKINSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, AMERICAN HEALTH CARE ASSOCIATION AND NATIONAL CENTER FOR ASSISTED LIVING: Yes, it's absolutely astonishing and I can't tell you how happy we are about it. You nailed the numbers, a peak of 33,000 cases a week just three months ago, now just 3,000 new cases a week, a 90 percent drop.


And I'll tell you, Kate, that data is two weeks old. As I talk to providers around the country this week, they are telling me that they have zero cases. It's just absolutely astonishing. We all thought that the vaccine would reduce cases. I don't think any of us thought that we would have zero cases, but that's the case in almost all the nursing homes and assisted living buildings across the country. It's amazing and fantastic. BOLDUAN: And, Mark, is that what you attribute it to? Is this the effect of the vaccine?

PARKINSON: Yes, absolutely. So, two things happened. One is that the government did a good job in prioritizing long-term care and getting clinics into the buildings. So, CVS and Walgreens in some long-term care facilities have come into building and provided the vaccine. So, the first thing is that program worked.

The second thing that I don't think we anticipated was the vaccine worked astonishingly well. It's hard to put into words how well this vaccine works. There were very few side effects with these shots, and the results speak for themselves. In most facilities right now, absolutely, no COVID.

BOLDUAN: One thing I remember seeing though, there was quite a bit of reporting that the employees at facilities were turning down the shot. I think Walgreens had said in January that at some facilities, it was as high as 80 percent of staffers declining to get the shot. Is that still an issue?

PARKINSON: It is. That's been the one negative thing about the entire program. We had really good uptake from the residents. 80 percent to 90 percent of the residents said, yes, and took the vaccine. Unfortunately, the staff we're only at about 40 percent right now.

So we have set as a sector-wide goal to get that percentage up to 75 percent by June 30th, and we're implementing all sorts of programs to do so.

The problem is there's just a lot of misinformation out there about this vaccine, the side effects were thought that they would be much greater than they are and then all sorts of other crazy rumors out there.

As we're able to beat those down, we think we're going to be able to get the staff vaccination rates up. But even without that high level, we're still seeing no cases in the facility, so I think we have some level of herd immunity even at the numbers we have right now.

BOLDUAN: I mean, Mark, and for everybody, and that the people will know who watch the show, you're not one to be overly optimistic because you were extremely realistic about what you're up against at the beginning. So, seeing, hearing you say this is really heartwarming.

So then you also have more and more people inside facilities and outside facilities being fully vaccinated. And we're waiting for the CDC to kind of give their guidance with what fully vaccinated people can do. Do you think that this means that it's time to start loosening restrictions at nursing homes on things like visitors?

PARKINSON: It is. We need two things right now. First of all, we need for the priority for the vaccinations for the nursing homes to continue. So now that we're done with the clinics, the White House needs to set aside some doses for new residents and new staff. The second thing is, and this is really great, we need to reopen these nursing homes. These residents haven't been around their loved ones now for almost a year. It's been incredibly difficult on them and their loved ones. Now that we've reached this level of success, we really think it's time to open the buildings up.

BOLDUAN: It's so great to hear that, Mark. I mean, like are you looking at hope on the horizon at this point?

PARKINSON: Absolutely. I mean, i think that we have the clinical nightmare in nursing homes behind us, and now we can really get to recovering from the emotional side that the residents and the staff and the incredible trauma that they've gone through. But if we just continue to stay vigilant with this program, all of the horrible stats on cases and deaths in nursing homes, those are over, those are history.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Thank you so much for coming on, Mark.

PARKINSON: You bet. Absolutely, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up from us, Prince Harry, Meghan Markle speaking out about their split from the royal family as Buckingham Palace says that it's now investigating Meghan Markle and her behavior before the couple left.

We'll be back.



BOLDUAN: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are opening up about their split from the royal family in this brand new interview with Oprah Winfrey that is set to air soon. The duchess says this about the royal family. Listen.


MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I don't know how they could expect that after all of this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that the firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us. And if that comes with risk of losing things, I mean, there's a lot that's been lost already.


BOLDUAN: And there's much more to come. This interview comes as Buckingham Palace is saying that they are looking -- that it is looking into allegations that Markle bullied her staff during her time in the U.K.

Let me bring in CNN's Max Foster right now for a little bit more on this. Max, first, kind of like on where I ended right there, what is your sense and what are you hearing about this looking into these allegations against Meghan Markle and the fact that they're talking about this, even?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, because the palace is a broad system of different households, different teams, and, clearly, one group within one of the households felt that all of this talk coming from the Sussexes wasn't being balanced from their point of view.

So they went to The Times Newspaper, unnamed sources, and made allegations about bullying, Meghan apparently forcing personal assistants out of her house over at Kensington Palace. Then Buckingham Palace comes in and says the H.R. department is going to look into these claims.

This is what they said. We're clearly very concerned about allegations in The Times following claims made by former staff of the duke and duchess of Sussex. The royal household has had a dignity at work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace.

All of this, of course, Times, ahead of that interview with Oprah Winfrey, then you have that sound bite that you just played, which was recorded before this happened, but speaks Meghan's frustration, I think, really with the palace system and whether they supported her. So it's complex but we'll get a better picture when this Oprah interview plays out on Sunday.

BOLDUAN: Now, that's a good point. Max, I'll be looking forward to your take once we do hear the full extent of the interview.


Thank you so much.

And thank you all so much for joining us at this hour. I'm Kate Bolduan.