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Official Says, No Motive Yet in Massage Shootings That left Eight Dead; Biden Open to Bringing Back the Talking Filibuster. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 13:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Just not there yet. Manu Raju, we'll stay on top of it if he budges. Manu, I appreciate the live reporting there, I appreciate your time today. I hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

A busy news day. Brianna Keilar picks up right now. Have a good day.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Brianna Keilar, and I want to welcome viewers here in the United States and around the world.

President Biden will speak soon about the killing spree in Georgia that has put Asian-Americans across the nation on edge. This after months of anti-Asian attacks that many say have been intensified by the pandemic and racist language about the origination of the virus in China.

Police say the man arrested for the rampage has admitted to the shootings. Eight people are dead and a ninth wounded in the Atlanta area but it's still not clear if anti-Asian racism was the motivation.

Six of the victims were Asian women, the other two victims were white. Investigators say Robert Aaron Long first gunned down four people in a spa in Cherokee County and shot a fifth, who is expected to survive.

And investigators say Long then traveled less than an hour south to Atlanta and shot and killed four more people at two massage businesses across the street from each other.

Today, the sheriff in Cherokee County, where Long is now under custody, they say that he is talking to investigators and telling them a sexual addiction drove him to violence.


SHERIFF FRANK REYNOLDS: It's still early but the indicators right now are it may not be, it may be targets of opportunity. Again, we're -- we believe that he frequented these places in the past and may have been lashing out, and part of that is in your media packet as well.

REPORTER: But the working theory, is a sexual addiction issue rather than a racial profiling?

REYNOLDS: During our interviews, we asked that specific question and that did not appear to be the motive.


KEILAR: CNN's Natasha Chen is in Atlanta. Natasha, officials also say that the suspected gunman was headed to Florida when he was arrested and that his family was critical in the arrest.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. The law enforcement officials at that press conference told us during the interview that the family of the suspect was critical in helping them track him down.

When they put out surveillance images of the suspect, the family called in, and that's how police were able to track him using his cell phone, eventually involved a pit maneuver to stop him as he was traveling south on a highway, they said, towards Florida to potentially commit similar acts there.

Here is what they said about why he might have been headed to Florida.


CAPT. JAY BAKER, CHEROKEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: He made a comment to that effect, that he was headed to Florida and that he was going to do similar acts in that state.

REPORTER: And the issue was that he wanted to destroy what had been tempting him (ph)?

BAKER: It sounds to me like these locations, he sees them as an outlet for him some of the things that he should not be doing and an issue with porn and that he was attempting to take out that temptation.


CHEN: So they talked about how during the interview the suspect discussed his sexual addiction and that may have been more of a motivator than perhaps a racial motivator.

However, as you mentioned, Brianna, that does not change the fact that the majority of the victims killed here were Asian women, and that has really hit the Asian-American community hard especially given the larger context of recent spikes in anti-Asian assaults across the country.

We just spoke to a Georgia state representative, Sam Park, who told me that the White House office of public engagement actually reached out to him this morning just to offer their help and support in any way possible. And I know we are expecting to hear from President Biden soon on these killings. Brianna?

KEILAR: But this sort of theory they may be leaning into that this might not be racially motivated, does that appear at this point, Natasha, to be based entirely what the suspect is telling them? Do we know if they've been able to look at his social media or any sort of expressions that he has made about women or potentially people who are Asian?

CHEN: Right. Brianna, that is all part of the investigation that they will be looking into. Right now, as far as what they told us during the press conference, they said everything is very preliminary. Everything we discussed so far is really based on that interview that he gave to multiple law enforcement agencies along with the FBI last night after he was brought into custody.

KEILAR: All right. Natasha Chen, live for us in Georgia, thank you.

As investigators determine whether the horrific attacks were racially motivated, the vice president, who is of South Asian decent, is offering her condolences to the loved ones of the victims.


KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We grieve for the loss. Our prayers are extended to the families of those who have been killed.

We are not yet clear about the motive, but I do want to say to our Asian-American community that we stand and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people.



KEILAR: Investigators believe the shooter acted alone. But even so, police are stepping up patrols across the nation after what happened in Atlanta.

CNN's Jean Casarez is in New York with the details. Jean?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, the NYPD is announcing that members of their critical response command had been deployed to the Asian communities in New York City. They say there is no known nexus between the Atlanta shootings and New York but they are doing this out of an abundance of caution.

This morning, the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, reiterated the importance of this, saying, the city will use the strength of the NYPD to protect our Asian-American communities.

And the New York Police Department's statistics show that last year in 2020, there were 29 racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent, and they say that this year, one month alone, February, there were six.

Several weeks ago, I participated reporting in a rally for CNN Stop Asian Hate, and I spoke with a lot of Asians that live in New York City, in Chinatown and other areas. They told me that they're concerned about walking around. They say they take their ear buds out. They don't listen to music anymore because they're watching. And they say they are telling their parents and their elderly grandparents that they don't want them walking out on the streets of New York. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Jean, thank you.

I want to talk now with Attorney Christopher Chan in Atlanta. He is the advisory chair for the Georgia chapter of the Asian-American Action Fund. Christopher, you've heard what investigators in Cherokee County specifically are saying at this point. They say it does not appear that anti-Asian hate was behind these attacks, that the suspect is blaming a sexual addiction. It does seem like a lot of this is based on his self-report.

I wonder what you reaction to that is. Do you have any skepticism about that?

CHRISTOPHER CHAN, ADVISORY CHAIR, ASIAN-AMERICAN ACTION FUND GEORGIA CHAPTER: Well, I guess my first reaction would be that violence against any person, including Asian-Americans is wrong.

Crimes like this just serve to amplify Asian-American concerns about that crime and hate crimes against their communities and whether this is -- this particular incident or incidents is determined to be a hate crime remains to be seen. But still it's of high concern because it's such a high profile event that has occurred against our community.

KEILAR: They are saying essentially that this is what the suspect has said, that he was not motivated by anti-Asian feeling, he was motivated by -- they're saying a sexual addiction. Do you think this needs to be more closely investigated looking through social media, looking to see if he has any pattern of hate speech?

CHAN: Sure, I think this needs to be fully investigated. The victim -- the suspect's statements stand on their own but, certainly, any other circumstantial evidence as to his motives and past statements against Asian-Americans or any race should be taken into consideration.

KEILAR: And one of the reasons that so many observers look at this and they say six of the victims were Asian women, two were white, but this is coming at a time when there has been this explosion of anti- Asian rhetoric of hate crimes. They have reported being the target in just over 500 incidents of harassment, violence or discrimination. What are you hearing from your community? What are people experiencing?

CHAN: Yes. The Asian-American community here is in shock. We're outraged. We want attention drawn to this rising epidemic of hate crime, of crimes being committed against Asian-Americans. We want a stronger police presence, if not, attention to those crimes that are being perpetrated against our community, and we actually welcome our black and Latin X community leaders to stand with us in this call for increased attention to these crimes being committed against the Asian- American community.

KEILAR: What needs to be done? What support does the Asian-American community need to feel safe and to stay safe?

CHAN: Right. I think for starters, the recent COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that was introduced by Representative Grace Meng and Senator Mazie Hirono, if we could get that passed, it would strengthen the reporting around alleged hate crimes against Asian-Americans.

It would also set into place some Department of Justice procedures as well as coordination among state and local law enforcement as to the language being used to describe COVID-19, particularly getting rid of and correcting descriptions as to how COVID-19 is being described in the news and media.


KEILAR: Yes. We have noticed a pattern of that certainly since it originated. Christopher, thank you for being with us, Christopher Chan.

CHAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: President Biden is making news on a number of different topics, including why he may act on a filibuster despite Mitch McConnell's scorched earth threat.

Plus, what Biden is warning migrants thinking -- is warning migrants thinking about coming to the border as the surge escalates there.

And very soon, the coronavirus task force holds a briefing as more than a dozen states see an upswing in cases.

This is CNN special live coverage.



KEILAR: President Biden making many headlines in an interview with ABC News today. Let's go through each of them before we discuss, starting with his take on the filibuster.

Up until now, he's been opposed to getting rid of it to maintain the rules of the Senate, but he now says maybe they should only preserve the talking version of the filibuster.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't think you have to eliminate the filibuster. You have to do what it used to be when I got in the Senate back in the old days, when you used to be around there. And that is that a filibuster, you had to stand up and command the floor and you had to keep talking. You could not call -- no one could say, you know, a quorum call. Once you stopped talking, you lost that and someone could move in and say, I move for the question of. So you've got to work for the filibuster.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: So you are for that reform? You're for bringing back the talking filibuster?

BIDEN: I am. That's what it was supposed to be.


KEILAR: Biden dismissed suggestions also that he is encouraging migrants to come to the U.S., as his administration struggles to process thousands of unaccompanied minors.


BIDEN: I can say quite clearly, don't come. While we're in the process of getting set up, don't leave your town, city or community.


KEILAR: And he's weighing in on calls for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign as investigations had begun into sexual harassment allegations and his handling of COVID nursing home deaths.


STEPHANOPOULOS: If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?

BIDEN: Yes. I think he probably would end up being prosecuted too.

A woman should be presumed to telling the truth and should not be scapegoated and become victimized by her coming forward, number one. But there should be an investigation to determine if what she says is true.


KEILAR: On foreign policy, President Biden had tough words for his counterpart in Russia.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You Know Vladimir Putin. Do you think he's a killer?

BIDEN: I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what price must he pay?

BIDEN: the price he's going to pay, well, you will see shortly.


KEILAR: And he says there will be consequences for Russia's interference in the U.S. elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: He will pay a price. I -- we had a long talk. I know him relatively well. And the conversation started off and I said, I know you and you know me. If I established this occurred, then be prepared.


KEILAR: Biden does admit it would be tough to meet former President Trump's timeline of getting troops out of Afghanistan by the May 1st, but he says his predecessor is partly to blame for that.


BIDEN: The failure to have an orderly transition from the Trump presidency to my presidency, which usually takes place from election day to the time you are sworn in has cost me time and consequences.

That's one of the issues we're talking about now in terms of Afghanistan.


KEILAR: He did say that on some of these tough decisions, his vice president, Kamala Harris, is filling much the same role that he did when he was vice president to President Obama.


BIDEN: I give my opinion as the last guy and I get to leave, but he's all by himself to have to make that decision. That's the big difference.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Vice President Harris the last person in the room?

BIDEN: Most of them, yes, as a practical matter, yes, she is.


KEILAR: And he made sure to encouraged people to get their vaccines, knocking down the idea that resisting it is somehow a badge of honor.


BIDEN: I, honest to God, thought that once we guaranteed we had enough vaccine for everybody, things would start to calm down. Well, they have calmed down a great deal, but I just don't understand the sort of macho thing about I am not going to get the vaccine, I have a right as an American, my freedom to not do it. Well, why won't you be a patriot and protect other people?


KEILAR: We have a lot to discuss here, obviously, so I want to bring in CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins and our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Kaitlan, first, to you. Just explain to us why Biden's talk here about the filibuster is so significant and what potentially this change could mean down the road?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is significant because it's the first time we have actually seen President Biden talk about overhauling and changing, reforming the filibuster.

Before, we had only heard from his aide saying that his preference was not to change the filibuster after, of course, we heard from Democrats and progressive Democrats saying that was something they wanted to do. They wanted change this 60-vote threshold that you currently have to get major legislation passed.

Of course, what they just got passed, that coronavirus relief bill, doesn't count because it was passed through a different process, given that it deals with the budget.


But for most other priorities that President Biden has, this is going to be a big hurdle potentially for it.

And so you saw him saying there that he wants to bring back -- not necessarily change the 60-vote threshold, but talking about where if you have a filibuster, that senator has to keep talking. You can just simply have the filibuster and then go about your business. They actually have to be on the Senate floor and continue talking for several hours on end.

And he was saying that he is in favor of bringing something like that back, changing that part of the filibuster. But he did not say that he wanted to change the 60-vote threshold and we should note that Senator Joe Manchin, of course, who is going to be critical to how all of this plays out, just told our colleague, Manu Raju, basically throwing cold water on this, saying he does not support changing that aspect of it.

So doesn't look like it's going to change. Of course, how things happen in Washington, things can change quickly. But he was basically throwing cold water on that --

KEILAR: All right. You guys, let's pause. I want to -- let's listen in to President Biden.

BIDEN: -- six of Asian-American background. And I was just on the telephone briefed by the attorney general of the United States, the director of the FBI and the investigation is ongoing and the question of motivation is still to be determined. But whatever the motivation here, I know that Asian-Americans are in very concerned, because, as you know, I have been speaking about the brutality against Asian- Americans for the last couple of months and I think it is very, very troubling.

But I am making no connection at this moment for the motivation of the killer. I am waiting for an answer from -- as the investigation proceeds, from the FBI and from the Justice Department. So -- and that's -- I'll have more to say when the investigation is completed. Now, I want to say Happy St. Patrick's Day to the Taoiseach. It's good to have you on television. But next year in Washington, next year in Washington, for years, as you know, Taoiseach, we celebrated this St. Patrick's Day. I always put out a breakfast at my home and the vice president's residents with leading Irish-Americans, your ambassador, our ambassador as well as some of the (INAUDIBLE) who were involved with us, and it was always a good time.

Then we would go into this very office and you would sit at a chair over here, the Taoiseach would sit there and I sit where the -- my national security adviser is sitting and we would have a long discussion with the president, and then we would go up to the United States Capitol where the speaker of the House, starting with Tip O'Neal, would put on an event as well, and I always snuck over to the Irish embassy later. I hope we can do that next year. I hope we can do that next year.

And in the meantime, I want to thank you for the shamrock bowl. I don't know if you can see it here, but it's a great tradition, a custom that goes all the way back to Harry Truman, who have a bust of Harry Truman over in that corner. I noticed he didn't move to grab any of the shamrocks.

And tonight, Taoiseach, I wish -- I hope you will be able to see it, at least remotely, we're going to light up the White House in green and we -- to celebrate the deep, deep affection that we Americans have, particularly Irish-Americans, have for Ireland and the people of Ireland, and it includes millions of Americans like my great, great grandfather and my great grandfather and my grandfather, all of whom were Irish-Americans on both sides of the family.

My grandfather, Ambrose Finnegan, who was a great American football player, American football, and a newspaper man back at the turn of the 20th century, he used to always say later when he was much older and I would walk out of his home, he'd said, Joe, remember, the best drop of blood in you is Irish. I remembered it, I promise you, and because if I didn't, my grandmother, Geraldine Blewitt Finnegan, would take me down.

And we have a lot of great memories as well in our family because one of your predecessors -- I have been over to Ireland many times, but the first time I went to actually go back and look at my roots and meet my family was back when the last year, we were -- I was vice president of the United States. And we went both to Mayo, where the Blewitts are from, and Ballina, the city, and we went to County Louth where the Finnegans are from.


And it was a great, great opportunity for me to show my grandchildren and children and my brother and sister.

I joked at the time, but I wondered why in the hell we left in the first place. It's beautiful. It's beautiful.

And so I think, you know, there's a lot of folks here in Ireland, my friends from Ireland would always say the American-Irish think they are more Irish than the Irish, but the truth of the matter is that we have a great affection for the country and a great affection for the tradition.

And Ireland and the United States have a robust agenda that we have to deal with on the substantive side of these issues, Taoiseach, and combating COVID-19, to strengthening global security, to also discussion, our economic cooperation, and Ireland's leadership now in the U.N. Security Council, which we're working together. Our U.N. ambassador is online with us here, and I just welcome the leadership and your partnership.

And you know my view and the view of my predecessor, of the Obama- Biden administration on the Good Friday agreements. We strongly support them and think it's critically important to be maintained and the political economic stability of Northern Ireland is very much in the interest of all our people, so people-people talks (ph).

And I think the idea that we talked about, about renewing our partnership in the All-Ireland Consortium, Cancer Consortium --

KEILAR: All right, we're going to duck out of this, the president, as he's meeting there with Prime Minister Michael Martin of Ireland on this St. Patrick's Day.

I want to bring back in Kaitlan and Gloria to continue the conversation about what is really a critical point in so many ways for the Biden administration.

Gloria, to you, this filibuster position that Biden is taking, maybe it's not going to have any major significant change but this is really a question about how this is going to be handled. How is Biden -- what is the calculus here between liberals who really want to get rid of the filibuster and then moderate Dems who say, hey, guys, wait until the shoe is on the other foot and we're the ones in the minority?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: So, I think, first of all, we ought to consider that if Biden were to take a vote today in the United States Senate, he would not have all his Democrats with him to get rid of the filibuster, and I think he knows that. He's got Joe Manchin, for example, who sticks out in my mind.

And so what he's trying to do, by saying, let's go back to the future, is, okay, let's try it the way we used to do it, as he put it, in the good ole days, when you had to stand up there like when Jimmy Stewart went to Washington and on the floor and keep talking and talking and talking.

The problem with that, as it's -- is that all of the business of the Senate had to stop at that point. So now, if you stop a piece of legislation because it doesn't have 60 votes, you can continue with the business of the Senate. In this circumstance you would not be able to.

So maybe what Biden is trying to do is to say, okay, you want to keep the filibuster that way? Let's see. Let's see how it works and then in the meantime buy himself a little bit of time to figure out what to do next, and to talk to Democrats about what they would like to see, because right now, they are not united.

KEILAR: And the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, Gloria, is warning about a scorched earth Senate if this were to happen.

BORGER: Yes, but he used the filibuster on judges, come on. When that went away, Harry Reid used that to confirm more than 100 judges by a majority vote, so he didn't seem to be too concerned about it at that point.

Yes, he can issue his threats, but if you hold up popular legislation, that could be a problem as well.

KEILAR: Yes, it would be very much change the dynamic of the Senate, no doubt.

BORGER: Yes, totally.

KEILAR: Kaitlan, President Biden said Vladimir Putin will -- he quote, will pay a price, that's what he said, for his efforts to interfere in the 2020 election after this intel assessment that found Russia tried to denigrate Biden's candidacy, tried to buoy Trump's. What is that price? Do we know?

COLLINS: No. And he was asked repeatedly what that price is going to look like, and, repeatedly, he declined to really go into detail, to say what it is going to be. But we should note just how different his language was toward the Russian president that, of course, what we saw from former President Trump, which was really something that plagued him throughout his presidency, because he would refuse to even really issue a harsh word against him, especially after a phone call they had.


And what President Biden was describing was the phone call that he had with Vladimir Putin.