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CNN NEWSROOM

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) Set to Speak on GOP Efforts to Restrict Voting in Texas; Washington Post Reports, Two Arrested in Attack on Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick; Syria's Civil War Now Ten Years Old. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 15, 2021 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWSROOM: The fight over voting rights takes us to Texas today. Any moment now, Texas Governor Greg Abbott is going to be holding a press conference with Republican state lawmakers, and because they're pushing to restrict voting access even further in the state.

Texas is already has some of the tightest voting restrictions of any state in the country. Republicans there are now directly targeting the early voting practices that are credited with Texas achieving some record turnout in 2020.

Take Harris County, which includes Texas, in 2020, the county offered 24-hour voting and drive through voting for the first time. We reported on this extensively at the time. Officials say over 100,000 voters used drive through voting, 10,000 took advantage of the expanded polling hours to get -- to cast the ballot. Now, Republicans are trying to ban that and make sure that never happens again.

It was also one of the first counties in the state -- one of the few counties in the state to go for Joe Biden during the 2020 election.

Joining me right now is Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo for more on this. Judge, thanks for coming in.

Two-thirds, I saw, of all voters in Harris County cast ballots in the 2020 election, the highest turnout in almost 30 years. That is great news and should be seen as great news. But now you have the bills that are moving through the state legislature. You call it political theater that is hurting both parties, actually. Please explain.

JUDGE LINA HIDALGO, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: That's right. We were an example in 2020 for what good voting and elections policy look like. We triple our early vote locations. We did voting until 10:00, 24 hour voting, drive through voting and had that extraordinary turnout from both parties.

What they're doing is filing these bills that are essentially a poll text that weaponize the election system against our own voters. Obviously, these Republicans are hoping that their work is going to disenfranchise mostly Democrats. But the truth of the matter is, it's going disenfranchise both parties. And what they're proposing is absolutely tragic and reminiscent of the worst of what we've seen in Texas and across the south since reconstruction.

BOLDUAN: Let me read just one of the state lawmaker who authored this bill. He has talked about specifically these two aspects that they're targeting in your county really broadly. Let me read what this guy says.

On drive through voting, he said you don't have the same voter protections in place than you have for voting inside polling places. That's one of the reasons that he's anti this. On 24-hour voting, he said that voting during the day time is what people have historically done and what they're comfortable with.

Do these reasons hold any water? Should they hold any water with anyone in Texas looking at this?

HIDALGO: Absolutely not. Let me give you one example of what is in that bill, is they are keeping folks with access and functional needs from voting unless they can provide medical documentation to show that they have those disabilities.

Now, that's specifically a poll text. It is requiring you to make medical expenditures in order to vote. And you have to think about it. This is in a state where almost 20 percent, 20 percent of residents are uninsured. That's twice the national average. They are stopping voting at 7:00. A lot of folks can't get home, can't get to a polling location by 7:00.

These frontline workers, first responders, the drive through voting that they're limiting is something that both parties used and they're keeping us as local governments from sending voters mail ballot applications, not mail ballots but the mail ballots applications and information about how to vote by mail.

[11:35:06]

Look, I get it. We have a lot of challenges in the state. We're at a crucial point of the pandemic. We are still recovering from the outages and the freezes that killed so many people. But these elected officials should earn their vote through good policy. They shouldn't hope to win by keeping people from voting.

BOLDUAN: Because on its most basic level, what Republicans are doing in the state are saying, if the game doesn't look like it's going our way, then change the rules of the game. I mean, if that's the case, which it seems transparently to be that, since there are no examples of widespread voter fraud in Texas, there is no examples of widespread fraud in any the states actions that we've been talking about, these voting actions taking place, because it seems pretty transparent at this point.

What can you do to stop it? HIDALGO: You know, it's not a new playbook, and we have to call it out. And I do hope that legislators in both parties call it out. It's part of the big lie. It's part of the intimidation, the confusion, the antics that this party has engaged in for so many generations, that culminated in President Trump asking people to overturn the election, calling the Georgia secretary of state telling him to overrule the election.

The folks that are championing these bills are some of those folks that peddle those kinds of lies. So I hope that serious legislators will stand against this kind of policy and that the community will come together to remind them that that is what is expected from our leaders in this state.

BOLDUAN: Judge, you just listed out, you're up against a lot in your state, not just dealing with what is coming at from the state legislature in terms of voting restrictions. Thank you for your time.

HIDALGO: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, we have breaking news coming in. Two major arrests tied to the Capitol insurrection. We have the breaking details coming up right after this.

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BOLDUAN: We do have some breaking news coming in on the attack on Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the siege on the U.S. Capitol. The Washington Post now reporting two men have been arrested and charged with assaulting Sicknick during the insurrection. I believe these are some of the first arrests linked to the officer.

Joining me now is CNN's Jessica Schneider. She is gathering these details as they're come in. Jessica, what are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we've actually gotten arrest records now from one of the men. He's 39-year- old George Tanios of Morgantown, West Virginia. So we're actually working through this extensive arrest record now.

We understand, of course, that The Washington Post has reported on a second individual who has also been arrested. Both of these men now charged in assaulting Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. They are not charged with his death but instead charged with assaulting him and two other police officers, a Capitol Police officer and a D.C. Police officer.

Now, as you remember, this has been an investigation that has been at the forefront for the FBI. In the past two months since Officer Sicknick's deathm, they have made this a priority but it has been difficult. In fact. they still have not yet announced the manner of death here. So that may be why these two men now charged just with assault and not with any homicide related to Officer Sicknick's death. You know, Officer Sicknick, he was 42 years old. He had injuries related to the Capitol attack but he actually collapsed in an office after the attack and he died the next day, so the medical examiner still not releasing the cause of death here.

But these two arrests are significant. We understand that they were arrested yesterday. We're expecting that they will be in federal court today charged with assaulting the officer who died as a result of the Capitol attack here, Officer Brian Sicknick.

Now, there could be other people charged potentially, Kate. Right now, these two individuals who were charged should be appearing due in court later today. It's important to note here that the FBI has put forward images and video and potentially this led to some tips that then led to the arrest of these two men.

So we're still working on getting a lot more of the details here, but at least some progress here in getting justice for Officer Sicknick's death today. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, much more to come, that's for sure. Jessica, thanks for jumping on and bringing us that. She's going to be working through that arrest record and bringing us more details as it comes. I appreciate it.

Coming up for us, more than 400,000 people dead, cities turned to ash, families destroyed. Syria marking ten years today since the peaceful uprising began and then became a brutal war. I'm going to speak to Congressman Adam Kinzinger about this, next.

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BOLDUAN: It was ten years ago today that ordinary Syrians stood up to call for the end of Bashar al-Assad's repressive rule. Ten years ago, what started as a peaceful uprising calling for more freedom, was met with a brutal crackdown and then became a horrifying war. According to the United Nations, some 400,000 Syrians lost their lives to this war. UNICEF reports that one child has been injured or killed there every eight hours for the last ten years. 5.6 million Syrians became refugees because of the fighting. 6.6 million more are still in Syria but have been forced to flee homes.

The country is a shell of itself and Assad is still in power. Where do we go from here ten years on?

Joining me now Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. Thanks for coming on.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Yes, you bet, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Ten years, there is now a generation of kids in that country who have literally not known life without war.

[11:50:04] I mean, what has all been lost in these ten years and just looking at it from this -- our perspective right here, why should Americans care about it?

KINZINGER: Yes, so it's been lost, obviously, hopes, dreams live, when you were going over the numbers it's mind-blowing but it also can be numbing, right, if you say 5 million, 6 million as a point, it's just hard to conceptualize what it means until you see a picture of the young babies pulled out of rubble where the Russians and Syrians targeted specifically medical facilities and specifically civilians.

And now because of the inaction, frankly, of those that can act, we're in kind of a stalemate. Every major empire generally has a presence there in Syria. We're on the edge of explosion of violence at any time and Bashar al-Assad is still in power.

So, I think, first off, you have to hold the Assad regime and those that systematically killed, murdered, tortured accountable, don't allow them to travel. I think starving the Syrian starving the Syrian regime of its ability to spread aid from the United Nations, having war criminals held up in court is important and, ultimately, never forgetting the story. And that's why I appreciate your insistence to bring that to the forefront so often.

BOLDUAN: Well, thank you. But some of your actions in Congress that have been some of the strongest actions to hold Assad accountable and those around him accountable at all, I mean, because conventional wisdom is now that there's nothing to do that the U.S. can do in Syria. It's too complex. It's too messy. There are too many proxy wars with the influence of Russia and Iran so entrenched there, but you got to it.

Assad is accused of war crimes. The evidence we've seen is described as stronger than the evidence that existed against the Nazis. So, conventional wisdom be damned, is there really nothing to do at this point when you're now looking at a new administration?

INZINGER: No, I think there certainly is stuff to do. And if you think of Caesar (ph), he was this really brave regime member that spent years basically taking photos out of the regime and sending them out to the rest of the world, he finally escaped. And he has these pictures of people tortured to death, young kids tortured to death, bodies numbered, the systematic evidence that can be put up against the regime is incredible which goes to show what a stiff arm regime like that is just so cold and methodical. So we can hold that accountable.

I think the other thing is the U.S. can finally realize again that the power of our ability to bring people to the table and negotiate solutions really is powerful. The Russians weren't involved a number of years ago. Now they're in there. We need to bring the Russian, the Syrians, everybody to the table for an answer, including Turkey, and try to negotiate a solution that works and also recognize that, yes, we need to leave Syria at some point, we have a small number of people there, but that our presence in Syria right now is protecting a significant number of people and also giving us that moral seat at the table to negotiate a solution. Because keep in mind, right now, the next generation of terrorists potentially is being recruited out of refugee camps because where hopelessness exists, that's where extremism can thrive.

BOLDUAN: When you leave a vacuum there, that's what enters. We've seen it time and time again.

I have to ask you, Congressman, you have been one of few Republicans speaking out strongly, decisively and early against the lies and disinformation that came from Donald Trump and also what led to the insurrection. There's now a new twist on the disinformation that is being pushed about just what happened that day that I have to ask about. Because now, it's coming from Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

I'll play it for you. It's a radio interview where he is explaining why he didn't think you all were really in that much danger on January 6th.

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SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I knew those were people that loved this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn't concerned. Now, had the tables been turned and, Joe, this could get me in trouble, had the tables been and President Trump won the election, and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.

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BOLDUAN: I don't know. What do you say to this?

KINZINGER: I don't think there's anything to say. It's as ludicrous as it sounds. Look, Officer Fanone, who was the officer that was drag down the stairs, told shoot him with his own gun, he was beaten, he told me that there was basically real evil that day. He was beaten with Blue Lives Matter flags.

Look, because of your political preference, it doesn't mean that it was any different (INAUDIBLE). And, by the way, Black Lives Matter has not stormed and occupied the Capitol as of yet, so let's just be realistic here.

[11:55:00]

I don't know what the senator was trying to say but I do think it's absolutely ludicrous.

January 6 was a threat to democracy. The democracies are not really defined by their bad days. They're defined how they rise from those bad days and that's why it's so important that we look in the mirror and accept the role that we have played in that, recognize what it was and call it out in our own party.

That's why, by the way, I started Country First, country1st.com, just to say we have to, in the Republican Party, be very clear about how we've gone off the rails and how we may get through that.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for your voice on this, and thank you for speaking up for Syria. Thanks for your time.

KINZINGER: Thank you, back to you. Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Coming up for us, the vaccine rollout accelerates as health experts are warning of a possible surge because of what you're looking at, spring break.

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