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Texas Rolls out Voting Restrictions; Jared Bernstein is Interviewed about the Rescue Plan and Wealth Tax; Army Pushed to Reject Request for Troops before January 6th. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Congresswoman, we do appreciate you joining the broadcast this morning.

REP. MARIANNE MILLER-MEEKS (R-IA): Thank you having me on and have a great day.

SCIUTTO: Texas Republicans unleashing a slew of bills that would make it harder to vote. Critics calling this the latest push to perpetuate the big lie about a stolen election, a false one, and suppress the vote.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Take a look at the markets here. The opening bell just ringing now. A mixed open here. Both the Dow and the S&P 500 did close at record highs yesterday. Fed Chair Jerome Powell will give his assessment of the state of the U.S. economy tomorrow. Investors watch closely to see what he says and also any decision on interest rates.



SCIUTTO: In what has fast become a nationwide trend, Republicans in Texas are rolling out two dozen bills that would make it simply harder for people to vote. This is the latest move across many Republican-led states aimed at limiting access to early voting, absentee ballots, expanded poll hours among other measures, all measures that Republicans calculated cost them votes in 2020.

HARLOW: Let's go to our Dianne Gallagher. She joins us in Houston this morning.

So, Dianne, we actually heard the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, say yesterday in that press conference he's not aware of any voter fraud during the 2020 election, but he is backing these changes.

How does he explain why?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Poppy, just because they're not aware and there's no evidence of fraud doesn't mean that it's not being used as a hypothetical, a potential reason for the need for these bills. It sort of falls underneath this buzzword umbrella that we're seeing a lot of these legislators use, this election integrity, that also encompasses restoring confidence in elections that, of course, was shaken because people were told lies by the former president and his supporters about the 2020 election.

But here in Texas, the sponsors of those bills also talked about fairness and uniformity, saying that they want elections to be uniform across the entire state. Texas, of course, is the second largest state in the country. There's a lot of diversity, especially when we're talking about population density. And that's why people here in Harris County, where Houston is, the most diverse city in America, it's one of the largest counties in America and a recent Democratic stronghold, they feel like these bills are targeting them specifically.

And, look, the devil is not necessarily even in the details here. The sponsors were pretty adamant about it. Take a look at what some of these bills would do. We're talking about two dozen different bills here. But in some cases, it would prevent county officials from sending absentee request forms to people unless they request them. It would make it easier to challenge signature matches, purge voter rolls.

And then there's the hour setting ban on county officials when it comes to Election Day voting and also early voting. And that's what seems to target Harris County and other large counties here. Harris County used drive-through and 24-hour voting during early voting periods in 2020 to great success. They've also used expanded hours, of course, Jim and Poppy, because of the population density and the number of people who have shift work here. The people here say that it is simply an assault on the fact that they had record turnout and that they didn't like the way the results turned out.


HARLOW: Thank you, Dianne, for that reporting.

We have a big ticket agenda ahead for the Biden administration. That means big bucks. So how is President Biden planning to pay for all of it? We'll ask a leading member of his economic team, next.



HARLOW: In just a few hours, President Biden will leave the White House. He heads to Pennsylvania where he will visit a small business in the city of Chester. It is his first stop on a tour highlighting the $1.9 trillion American rescue plan.

With me now is a member -- a key member of the president's economic team, Jared Bernstein, who serves on the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Good morning, Jared. Thanks for being here.

JARED BERNSTEIN, MEMBER, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Good morning. Good morning. Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: So Goldman Sachs says that our economy is going to be 8 percent bigger at the end of this year than last year and that unemployment is going to fall to 4 percent at the end of this year. Is that what the White House thinks?

BERNSTEIN: We certainly think that the American rescue plan is going to definitely boost GDP growth and reduce the unemployment rate to magnitudes certainly in the ballpark of what you're seeing there. Goldman's forecast tends to be --

HARLOW: So maybe 4 percent? Maybe 4 percent unemployment this year?

BERNSTEIN: What I was going to say is, Goldman's forecast tends to be the most optimistic, so I'm not ready to give a point estimate right now. But all of the forecasts I've seen, including our own, have unemployment -- not just lower unemployment at the end of the year but very tight labor markets, something that looks more like full employment, pulled forward at least a year, so that we will arrive at tighter labor markets delivering benefits for American workers a lot more quickly thanks to the rescue plan.

HARLOW: So that's really good news, but it makes me wonder why then a third of the plan, almost $700 billion, that isn't even allocated to be spent until next year, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, needs to be spent at all. If we're going to be doing that great, do you need to spend $700 billion more next year?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, that's a really important question. And the answer is, is we do. And here's why.

One of the things we've seen in this stop and start economy since Congress started fighting back against the pandemic and its economic impacts have been this kind of start again/stop again, wait and see economy. We go up. We go down. And what President Biden wants to deliver to the American people, and what he's out there, as we speak, as you just said, on his hope is here tour, himself and the vice president, are out there touting that this time is different. This time we've calibrated a plan of the magnitude and the lasting power to reliably get this expansion, this next recovery launched without the wait and see falling back kinds of problems we've had thus far.


That means controlling the virus, distributing the vaccine, getting benefits out to small businesses, which is a theme we're touting today. And that's all part of the rescue plan.

HARLOW: So here's something that must be concerning to a bunch of folks who really need this money, and that is that as of now debt collectors can seize stimulus checks of folks that are getting them, whether it's for medical bills, credit card debt. Are you worried struggling families are not going to get what they need because of this and is there anything you can do to address it now?

BERNSTEIN: Look, we're always worried that families aren't going to get the relief that they need and that's why the bill was crafted with precisely those kinds of problems in mind.

I can't speak to every --

HARLOW: No, but this can still happen. I think this can still happen.

BERNSTEIN: Yes, I can't -- so I can't speak to every single type of debt, but I know if we're talking about educational debt or housing debt, there are moratorium and forbearances built in to the American rescue plan that suspends those debts as people get back on their feet and as the relief reaches them.


BERNSTEIN: What we know now, Poppy, is that checks are already going out. Direct impact checks are going out the door. And we're talking about 100 million shots in arms and 100 million checks in people's pockets. That's the president's near-term goal.


BERNSTEIN: One we're confident we can achieve.


I hear you. I would just say that at this point it looks like unpaid credit card debt and medical bills are not exempt.

Let's talk about the wealth tax. Elizabeth Warren, Senator Elizabeth Warren, has proposed an ultra-millionaire tax. Basically any asset you have over $50 million could be taxed at 2 percent, anything over a billion at 3 percent. She says this is going to raise $3 trillion.

Jared, you loved this in 2019. You called it smart, well-crafted for our time and something our country desperately needs. But Janet Yellen says President Biden doesn't like the idea.

BERNSTEIN: Yes, well --

HARLOW: So is the White House explicitly ruling it out?

BERNSTEIN: Well, I thought what -- what Treasury Secretary Yellen said was precisely right, which is this is something that we have to look at and it's not ruled in, it's not ruled out. I have tremendous respect for --

HARLOW: Well, she said a wealth tax has been discussed but it's not something Biden favors. So it seems pretty clear. Is it off the table?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, this is -- this is not something that the president has talked about when he's talked about his tax agenda. My point, and what I wrote back then is that Senator Warren thinks, I think, very deeply about these issues and is very keyed into the disparities and wealth in this country. Something the president has talked a lot about. But there's different ways to get there and politicians are going to have different ideas. Now, when President Biden talks about tax policy, and this is -- by

the way, this is not in the context of the rescue plan. This is in the context of things that are coming later -- he talks about higher corporate rates, he talks about higher personal rates, he talks about making sure that those who have benefited most from this economy are those who are going to have to bear more of the burden of paying for these programs. And that includes wealth holders but we're not at a point we're going to be specific about this tax policy versus that one.

HARLOW: OK. Well, then I think Elizabeth Warren should maybe take some hope from this answer from you that maybe it's still on the table for you guys, her plan.

Let's end on student debt, because it matters so much to folks here -- to so many people. So the American rescue plan, in it, the president removed this obstacle that was in the way of now allowing him to cancel some student loan debt because it made loan forgiveness tax- free.

Is the White House in the process of crafting an executive order that would forgive $10,000 in student loan debt per American that holds it right now?

BERNSTEIN: So this has always been described by the president as legislation. So that's obviously different than executive order.


BERNSTEIN: He has consistently said he wants to work with Congress to resolve this.

I want to get back to the wealth tax. I want to not -- I -- Janet Yellen is our Treasury secretary and the one who determines with the president's, obviously -- the president's decision what happens in that space. So what she says is on the table and is off the table is what's correct here.

And I think the key point is that the president has consistently said that those who have done the best are going to need to pony up and probably most important from the perspective of our listeners is this $400,000 line in the sand that he's drawn. That the tax increases will be highly progressive and not hit anyone below $400,000.

HARLOW: Understood. That's clear.

We're always happy to have you. Secretary Yellen, we'd love to have her join us as well.

Jared Bernstein, thank you for hitting on all these important topics. BERNSTEIN: Sure.

HARLOW: I know today's a big day for the White House.

Thanks, Jared.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

HARLOW: And we'll be right back.



HARLOW: New this morning, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the Army initially wanted to reject the D.C. government's request for the National Guard help ahead of that insurrection on January 6th.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Whitney Wild joins us now.

And, Whitney, to be fair, the Pentagon was not alone in being reluctant to deploy uniformed soldiers in advance of this. That said, in retrospect, looks like they weren't prepared.

What more -- what more do we know now?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what "The Washington Post" is reporting is that there was this initial reluctance, as you pointed out, these initial deliberations in which the Army said we don't want to be part of this unless it's just as a last resort.


They were pushing for the National Guard to be used only in the event that there were about 100,000 protesters going to arrive in D.C. So that would have been quadruple, triple the amount that had been expected to come to D.C. for that rally that day.

This also offers a bit of a window into the deliberations, which is important because up until this point we haven't heard from anybody publicly who was within the top ranks of the Pentagon who was in this decision making process. We've heard very little about the decision making that had gone on behind the scenes.

But, again, what this shows is that there was an initial resistance to the idea at all. And that's for a couple of reasons.

The first was that they were concerned there wasn't a lead federal agency that was going to be handling the preparations, as well as the on the day operations. And then, finally, they felt like law enforcement was better equipped to deal with this.

However, as "The Washington Post" points out, it is not uncommon at all for the National Guard to assist D.C., civic leaders and law enforcement. That's something that's gone on for decades here, Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: Whitney, thank you very much for that reporting.

We're going to take a quick break.

We'll be right back.