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North Korea Challenge; President Biden Holds Press Conference. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 25, 2021 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. You're watching CNN. I am Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being be me.

The fate of the filibuster, the Second Amendment, the nuclear threat from North Korea, and so much more, really. At his first official news conference since taking office, Joseph Biden, the president there, pressed on a slew of issues currently facing his administration, notably the crisis that is deepening at the U.S.-Mexico border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The idea that I'm going to say, which I would never do, if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border, we're just going to let them starve to death and stay on the other side, no previous administration did that either, except Trump.

I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to do it. That's why I have asked the vice president of the United States yesterday to be the lead person on dealing with focusing on the fundamental reasons why people leave Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador in the first place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right, let's start there with my CNN political analysts Sabrina Siddiqui and Toluse Olorunnipa and CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, who was there in the room asking some questions of the president.

So, Kaitlan, let me start with you precisely on this immigration issue, so much to unpack. As I was jotting notes down, what stood out to me in his response, he kept saying, migrants come here every year, and nothing has changed, and then placing a lot of blame with the previous administration.

What did you make of his response? And what are the facts?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And he also made clear, Brooke, he does not think that the reason there are record numbers of children coming to the border, unaccompanied migrant children, is because of his policies or his demeanor. He pointed to surges that have happened before, of course, the surges

that happened in 2019, the ones -- there were also searches under Barack Obama when Joe Biden was vice president. And so he was pushing back on that and talking about the policies that they had.

The overcrowding at the facilities, he was pressed on that as well, and how these children are often making journeys to the border.

And one touching moment was my colleague Cecilia from ABC News was saying that she had just been down there at the border speaking to kids who are as young as 9 and 10 years old whose parents had sent them up to the border because they believe that President Biden's policies would be more humane.

And so, while he seemed emotional a bit at that answer, taking it in, listening to those stories, he also pushed back on the idea that the policy -- that his policies are the reason you're seeing those surges.

But, of course, the reality is those surges are happening. And, of course, the result of that is these crowdings in these Border Patrol facilities and the HHS facilities. That's where the kids go after they have been processed by Border Patrol.

But one thing that wasn't clear was the transparency question, which is, this week, the administration let kids into those Health and Human Services facilities, but not the Border Patrol ones. And those are the ones that are overly crowded, kids you see sleeping on mats on the floor. And President Biden said he is committed to transparency and to letting people see that.

But he didn't say specifically when we should expect that to happen.

BALDWIN: Right. We need to be let in. We need to be let in.

Toluse, to you. Immigration, this has been a complicated issue, right, for multiple administrations both on the left and the right. Just how much of an uphill battle is this for this White House on this very issue?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This was not what Joe Biden wanted to be talking about during this press conference. It is not what he wanted to be spending his first 100 days focusing on. He wanted to be talking about the American Rescue Plan, even talking about the pandemic, getting shots in arms and money into people's pockets.

But this is what it's -- what being president is about. Sometimes, you have issues that you don't choose that present themselves at your desk, and you have to decide how to figure it out.

Now, Joe Biden has said that he will have a plan in place, that he's putting his vice president, Kamala Harris, in charge of this, and that over the matter -- over a matter of the next few weeks that he will have better control of this issue. And then he will allow the cameras to come in and the reporters to come in to see what's happening. But this is a very difficult issue. It's a very complex issue, when

he's talking about trying to solve the root causes of this migration, going to places like Honduras and El Salvador and throughout Central America and trying to fix some of the very entrenched problems there, from crime, to a lack of jobs, and lack of opportunities.

That's a long-term solution that may take several years to get fixed. And, in the meantime, he has to figure out what he's going to do with the migration issue, with the fact that some of these facilities are overwhelmed. And it's a very difficult issue. It's going to be an uphill battle for this White House for quite a while, until they're able to figure out how to fix the circumstances on the ground at the border and then deal with the long-term issues over the coming weeks and months.

[15:05:00]

BALDWIN: Let's get to the next hot button issue, the filibuster.

And Kaitlan, and then, Sabrina, I'm going to fold you into this.

But Kaitlan, as I was watching, you -- it seemed to me you stumped the president. Let's watch the exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Regarding the filibuster, at John Lewis' funeral, President Barack Obama said he believed the filibuster was a relic of the Jim Crow era. Do you agree?

BIDEN: Yes.

COLLINS: If not -- why not abolish it, if it's a relic of the Jim Crow era?

BIDEN: Successful electoral politics is the art of the possible. Let's figure out how we can get this done and move in the direction of significantly changing the abuse of even the filibuster rule first.

It's been abused from the time it came into being, by an extreme way, in the last 20 years. Let's deal with the abuse first.

COLLINS: It sounds like you're moving closer to eliminating the filibuster. Is that correct?

BIDEN: I answered your question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Do you feel like he answered your question?

COLLINS: I think, without explicitly stating it, it seemed pretty clear that that is where he is headed.

I mean, he has talked about the filibuster so much and said -- but not said explicitly that he doesn't favor -- or getting rid of the 60-vote threshold. He talked about this talking filibuster, actually having to talk while you're filibustering up on Capitol Hill, like when he was in the Senate. He's often spoken about that.

But what's really clear is that he has other things on his agenda that he wants to get accomplished. Of course, guns is something that he's been talking about this week. Immigration has been another thing. Those are things that he won't be able to get passed in the same way he got his coronavirus relief bill passed.

There is going to be either a decision to get rid of the filibuster in order to get there or try to get Republicans on board, which, of course, has not happened. So, this is very and critically important to what his agenda is going to look like beyond the COVID relief bill and the infrastructure bill, which, of course, he made clear is his next priority.

BALDWIN: We know that he said the filibuster -- Sabrina, this is for you -- has really changed since his time in the Senate. He said it has gotten more extreme in the last 20 years.

Just for all the non-Washington wonks watching, just explain the brief history of the filibuster and just why the president agreed with what President Obama had said, that it's a relic of the Jim Crow era.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that the most simple way we can put this is that most major legislation must meet a 60-vote threshold in order to advance in the Senate.

Now, you saw Democrats pass a coronavirus relief package through a process known as reconciliation, through which they could do it with a simple majority vote. But for President Biden's agenda on virtually everything else, from immigration, to voting rights, to gun control, he would need, if he's under the current rules, to have 60 votes.

Therefore, in a 50/50 Senate, he would need support from Republicans. And that's why, because Republicans have signaled that they oppose much of Biden's agenda, a growing number of Democrats are calling for eliminating the filibuster altogether.

And I thought Kaitlan did a great job of framing that question and saying, look, former President Obama said this is a relic of the Jim Crow era. Do you agree? And he said yes. But, as Kaitlan just noted, he still is stopping short, President Biden, of supporting doing away with the filibuster.

And so this is kind of push and pull between his agenda. But this instinct on his part that is in many ways born from the 36 years he spent in the Senate to try and work across the aisle, to try and work within the system and forge some kind of bipartisan compromise with Republicans, I think the real question moving forward is, how long is that going to hold on President Biden's part?

And you -- will we see him continuing inch toward some sort of filibuster reform, if it is the case that much of what he wants to do next -- and infrastructure was the priority he laid out as his -- as the next phase for his administration -- if that continues to be opposed by Republicans and he doesn't have the vote, then do we see him continuing to evolve in his position on the filibuster?

BALDWIN: We will watch.

Sabrina, thank you. Toluse, thank you. And, of course, Kaitlan, thank you as well.

CNN is learning -- speaking of the Democrats, we're learning that growing Democratic divisions are becoming a bigger issue for President Biden's giant agenda. We're getting those new details from our correspondent up on Capitol Hill.

Also ahead, the president warning in that press conference North Korea -- warning against any new escalations after it launched two ballistic missiles. We will talk about that.

And some pretty encouraging new news if you are pregnant. If you have safety concerns about two of the most widely available COVID vaccines, we have answers today.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

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[15:14:32]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

As President Biden pressures Congress to act on gun violence, much has been made about Democrat Joe Manchin, a moderate who has often stood in the way of any left-leaning agendas. But CNN has new reporting today that Senator Manchin is not alone, that other Democrats may not be so sold on some of the president's initiatives.

CNN's Lauren Fox is breaking that news. Also joining us, CNN presidential historian Doug Brinkley.

So, welcome to both of you.

[15:15:00]

And, Lauren, tell me what you're hearing about these Democrats.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, obviously, Joe Manchin has been one of the loudest Democratic members who has spoken up against issues like the House's background check bill or their voting rights bill.

But there are other Democrats who have expressed some concerns about key items in Biden's agenda, including that gun bill that came from the House that would expand background checks. One of the things that I have been hearing from other Democratic members is, they aren't sold necessarily on that piece of legislation just yet. And that's significant, because Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, has promised to bring the bill to the Senate floor.

Now, I asked Senators Gary Peters, Senator Jon Tester, both Democrats, about whether or not they were going to back that bill. They said they still needed to take a look at it. There's also other issues. Think about the minimum wage increase. That was something that Bernie Sanders had been pushing for, something that the White House said they supported, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

But there were eight Democrats who voted against including that in the COVID relief bill. And Democrats are still trying to work out differences that exist within their caucus about that legislation. They had a meeting a couple of days ago with Majority Leader Schumer to try to sort out their differences.

But there's still a lot of conflict, according to sources that I'm talking to.

It reveals that even, if Democrats could get rid of the filibuster -- and we should be crystal clear here that Senator Joe Manchin has been very clear he doesn't support it, as well as some others -- even if you got rid of the 60-vote threshold, you still have to get all of your Democratic members united to support key agenda items, like background checks, like raising the minimum wage.

And that's something that's a lot harder to do than you might expect. It's not just that Democrats all agree.

BALDWIN: Yes.

FOX: Their majority is a big tent, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So, Doug, just given everything Lauren just reported out about some of these Democrats, and you watched the press conference there with the president, what do you think of his big agenda and whether or not President Biden really can be as FDR as he wants, if even Democrats aren't all behind him?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, I don't think he's going to be able to be like FDR, who came in with the New Deal, had a whopping majority of all not just Democrats, but Republicans, basically giving FDR on his first 100 days a blank check to do whatever he wanted.

I'm seeing Joe Biden being really a third Obama administration. If we go back to 2009, Barack Obama was able to get a big thing done, the Affordable Care Act. But then you had the Tea Party revolt, and then you have Mitch McConnell refusing to do business.

Biden has very successfully got the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package through. History is going to reward that mightily. He's getting shots to arms. He gets high marks. But how in the world are you going to deal with issues like climate change and gun control when, as he said in today's press conference, he's only spoke to Mitch McConnell once since he's become president?

BALDWIN: I want to come back to that point in just a second.

But let me first just pivot a little bit back over to Lauren on the issue of voting rights, right? This came up in the press conference. And, Lauren, you have been reporting on this.

You know Republican states across the country, they are trying to pass legislation to limit people's voting access, absentee ballots, polling times, et cetera. Biden was asked about this, and he responded so swiftly and strongly, calling it un-American and sick, but then stopped short of laying out his strategy in front of everyone in terms of how to fight it.

So what is Congress trying to do here?

FOX: Well, the House has passed their piece of legislation.

And Democrats in the Senate are trying to advance that bill, but Senator Joe Manchin again is standing in the way. He says that there are promising pieces, promising aspects of the House's legislation, but there are areas where he wants to have further discussion.

I mean, this is just showing you more broadly than, even if you got rid of the filibuster, which, again, the filibuster is still standing in the way of advancing this bill from the House, there are still issues in your Democratic Caucus.

You have Senator Joe Manchin making it very clear that he is willing to have a discussion. There are things he likes about that proposal, but there are also things that he wants to see changed.

So, right now, those negotiations are still happening behind the scenes.

BALDWIN: So, then, Doug, coming back to your point about the one or two times the president has spoken to Mitch McConnell and how he talked about being on the trail and being bipartisan in terms of all this legislation.

But when he was asked about guns and executive orders today, the president instantly pivoted to the fact that he's going to be in Pittsburgh Friday, his infrastructure plan, Build Back Better. Just listening to some of our analysis, hearing the point that it's clear he believes, if he can provide economic press prosperity out of the gate to Americans, that his agenda will be easier to pass.

But he didn't really address the need for gun reform. What do you make of that?

[15:20:00]

BRINKLEY: That Barack Obama did everything he could to get gun reform after Newtown. He put all of his chips on doing that and came up empty-handed, because guns are cultural in places like Kentucky and Missouri and so much of the rest of the country.

But I think Biden is right in the idea that, if he can get the economy humming, and get us into a sort of celebratory post-COVID world, that he might be able to start moving the meter on things more.

He -- a couple of times made it clear that: I may not be winning over Republicans on Capitol Hill, but look at my poll numbers. I'm winning over Republican voters.

And that who he made a big appeal today at the press conference. And I think he wants to talk to the people, if it continues to be dysfunctional working with Republicans on the Hill. Win by getting polling on your side.

BALDWIN: And perhaps, once Americans feel -- start feeling a bit more prosperous, those Republicans then translating to the Hill will be less maybe hell no on some of these more hot button issues.

Doug Brinkley, Lauren Fox, thank you two very much.

Another issue, North Korea. It looks like North Korea is finished talking -- its latest message, this missile test. We will get you President Biden's response to that show of force.

Plus, Biden's new goal on vaccines, 200 million shots in arms in his first 100 days.

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[15:26:07]

BALDWIN: It could easily be seen as a direct challenge to the Biden administration. North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles earlier today.

The launch, which was first reported by South Korean officials, marks the second in less than a week and a primary topic for President Biden in his first press conference today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: U.N. Resolution 1718 was violated by those particular missiles that were tested, number one.

We're consulting with our allies and partners. And there will be responses. If they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly.

But I'm also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization. So, that's what we're doing right now, consulting with our allies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: With me now, Gordon Chang, author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

Gordon, good to see you.

Just how do you gauge the president's response just a little while ago? And do you think the U.S. needs to do more?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": Yes, that was the correct response. I think President Biden eventually is going to have to start to

tighten sanctions. And the sanctions are going to be against North Korea, but they also should be against China, because China has been openly money-laundering and also violating oil sanctions of the U.N.

So, something has to be done. If the president were to do that, then I think we might have some progress on the diplomacy front.

BALDWIN: What's your read on just the timing of today's launch? And what's the message from North Korea to this White House?

CHANG: Well, I think North Korea, of course, is trying to get the attention of the Biden administration.

But this could also be in conjunction with China, because we saw the first statements from the North Korean regime, which were from Kim Jong-un un's sister, Kim Yo-jong, before the Anchorage meeting between China and the United States.

And I think that China was probably trying to play the North Korea card, which is to say, we will help the U.S. on North Korea, if the U.S. will make concessions on other issues. This has happened in previous administrations. So it looks like they're taking this out from their old playbook.

BALDWIN: Speaking of previous administrations, Gordon, you and I have talked on TV many times about how the president handled -- President Trump handled Kim Jong-un, offering him a ride in Air Force One, the proverbial love letters between these two.

How does that policy affect America's new position now?

CHANG: Well, President Trump actually gave Kim Jong-un a lot of things and didn't get anything in return.

And I think it's largely because we saw Trump's policy was more about prying North Korea away from China than it was from taking weapons away from the North.

What President Biden today said in his press conference is crucially important. He said, our goal is denuclearization. So that's a very important shift in American foreign policy with regard to both the North and with regard to China.

BALDWIN: He also acknowledged it's the number one threat we face. And just given these recent provocations, on a scale from one to 10, Gordon, how would you rate the current threat that North Korea poses today, both to the U.S. and our allies?

CHANG: I don't think that this was major.

I mean, this was a violation of 1718, the U.N. Security Council resolution, but when we consider it in comparison with the threats from China, Russia and Iran, I think North Korea right now is pretty much at the bottom of that list.

BALDWIN: Gordon Chang, thank you.

We're getting some breaking news into us here at CNN, some reports of major damage after a tornado has hit Alabama. This is near Birmingham.

Stand by for news.

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