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Biden Says He is Open to Reforming Senate Filibuster Rules; Dominion Voting Systems Files a $1.6 Billion Lawsuit Against Fox News; Study: COVID-19 Infects the Mouth and May Spread in Saliva; Georgia Republicans Pass Sweeping Bill Restricting Voting Access; Biden Pushes Forward with Ambitious Agenda on COVID, Economy. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2021 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:01]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Friday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with me. Jim Sciutto is off this week.

And it is a move that cuts to the core of our democracy. Republican state lawmakers in Georgia just rushed through a law that, simply put, makes it harder for a lot of people to vote. And critics say it disproportionately targets minority voters.

Here is what the law does. It limits the use of ballot drop boxes, mandating they be inside early voting locations, and only open during voting hours. That's not really the point of a drop box, by the way. It makes it a crime to give voters food and water just as they wait in line to vote. It allows for unlimited challenges to voter registration and eligibility. It grants state officials the ability to replace local election officials and it imposed new voter I.D. requirements for absentee voting.

It is called Senate Bill 202, and it was signed by the governor behind closed doors last night. And when Georgia State Representative Park Cannon knocked on the governor's door repeatedly, calling for transparency, she was arrested for just doing that. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you all arresting her?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you arresting her?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you arresting her? Can you cite the code? Why are you all arresting her? Stop suppressing the vote. Why are you all arresting her?

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: This morning, she faces two felony charges. Two felony charges for that. The fight, though, is not over. A lawsuit has already been filed on behalf of three civil rights groups.

The bill in Georgia matters a lot for the people of Georgia, but it is just one of many efforts across the country to restrict voting after the nation saw a record turnout in the November election.

So let's begin with Dianne Gallagher. She joins us in Atlanta, Georgia, this morning.

Good morning, Dianne. For people who don't fully understand what this law does, I just want to start by running through a few scenarios with you if that's OK. And you tell us what this means. So first of all, if I am a voter in Georgia, can I hand out food and water to people waiting in line to vote, like a coffee or soda? Is that OK?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, that's a misdemeanor now.

HARLOW: A misdemeanor. OK. Well, what if I'm a voter and I don't want to wait in line. I could drop off a ballot in an outdoor ballot box just the way Governor Kemp voted last year, right?

GALLAGHER: No, no more. Ballot drop boxes now are only located inside early voting polling locations and they are only able to be accessed during voting hours.

HARLOW: So I can't vote the way the governor of Georgia voted. OK. Can I swing by after a long day of work, drop off a ballot after business hours? Is that OK?

GALLAGHER: No.

HARLOW: No.

GALLAGHER: No. Only during operating hours and most of those close at 5:00 p.m. during early voting.

HARLOW: But if I work until 5:00 p.m., then I don't have a choice. OK. Well, what if the election is in 10 days. Can I request an absentee ballot then?

GALLAGHER: No, not anymore. And this is one of the parts of this bill that a lot of activists have said is -- it's frustrating for them because it does limit options. And the whole point of making it easier to vote is often to increase options. To make things convenient for people.

But, Poppy, I will say that some election experts don't have a problem with this particular measure because they say that, look, there have been a lot of problems. The USPS has been crumbling and they did run into people who requested their absentee ballots too close to the election and they just never got them. So in some cases, they do view this as a bit of a safeguard. But, again, a lot of activists say they're rolling back so many other conveniences.

HARLOW: Right.

GALLAGHER: That, overall, they are just making it harder to vote.

HARLOW: OK. Is there anything in this bill, Dianne, that makes it easier for people to vote? GALLAGHER: I think it depends on who is doing the voting, right? There

are a lot of elements of this bill that aren't getting as much coverage because some of them are mundane changes. But take for example there were a lot of headlines about this bill, Poppy, that said that they were getting rid of Sunday early voting. Souls to the Polls when black church go after service and go vote together.

They eliminated that part of the bill and instead they doubled the number of required early voting Saturdays from one to two, and added two optional Sundays. But they also added required operational hours on those weekend voting. from 7:00 to 7:00. It used to be up to the county. So for the vast majority of counties in Georgia, especially the smaller and in most cases whiter counties, they did expand access to early weekend voting.

HARLOW: Right.

GALLAGHER: But for counties like here in Fulton County, where Atlanta is, that have been using that early weekend voting for so many of their residents, it's likely they're going to lose some of their early voting hours, even though the bill as a whole does expand access on paper. If that makes any sense.

[09:05:06]

HARLOW: It does make sense. Before you go, Dianne, there's one more provision in here about the power that the secretary of state would have, Raffensperger, for example, a Republican. That changed. Can you explain why it matters that it changed?

GALLAGHER: Oh, yes. So to begin with, Poppy, look, I don't think that anybody has forgotten about the problems between the former president Donald Trump and the secretary of state here in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger. Former President Trump was very outspoken about his disdain for the fact that the secretary of state kind of wouldn't do his bidding, it seems.

So this bill removed the secretary of state as the chair of the State Board of Elections. And instead makes it somebody that they appoint. Now, of course, Republicans control both the House and the Senate here in the state of Georgia as well as the governorship. So basically what they've done is, in addition to that, they have increased their broad power over local election management to the point that their appointees can replace local election officials, Poppy.

This is the part of the bill that most concerns activists because they say, if this had been in place in 2020, we may have seen very different results here in Georgia.

HARLOW: Very important point. Dianne, thank you for all of that reporting. You made it a lot clearer for everyone as they wake up to this this morning.

Let me bring in Franita Tolson, she is vice dean of USC Law School and an expert on all things election law. So Stacey Abrams, Franita, calls this blatantly unconstitutional. You

got these voting rights groups that have already filed First Amendment lawsuits. What do you think happens in the courts on this?

FRANITA TOLSON, VICE DEAN, USC LAW SCHOOL: Actually, it depends. So my view it is unconstitutional. I agree with Stacey Abrams. I think it makes voting more difficult without justification to uphold these particular restrictions. For example, and this is the irony here, Poppy. The Republicans are using the president's lies about voter fraud in order to make voting more difficult. OK.

The problem, and my concern, is that courts have been deferential to state legislatures in this space. And they've been deferential to the point where they don't require actual evidence of fraud to justify voting restrictions. But these restrictions might go too far. I mean, in addition to the voter I.D. requirements for absentee voting, and in a situation where 1.3 million Georgians voted absentee, you have these other restrictions that also may make voting too difficult for a court to countenance these restrictions. And so, I mean, it just depends. It really depends on how the courts defer to the state legislature here.

HARLOW: OK. So if it stands up to scrutiny in the courts, the only thing that could overturn this law in Georgia then would be federal law. Like HR-1 or SB-1, which doesn't appear to be going anywhere, given the vote requirement and the existence of the filibuster, right?

TOLSON: Yes. And HR-1 only applies to federal elections. Right? This applies to both federal and state elections. Right? So we have a situation where even federal law is somewhat limited. And Poppy, let's not forget that the Supreme Court gutted a portion of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 which would have prevented many provisions of this law. And so it's -- I'm not optimistic, but I do applaud the voting rights groups who decided to file lawsuits because you still have to try.

HARLOW: You're talking about the Supreme Court case "Shelby v. Holder." The current chief justice, John Roberts, wrote the majority opinion in that. I suppose a case could be brought up to the court, if the Supreme Court accepted another case. Could that even potentially overturn some of "Shelby v. Holder" on the voting rights front?

TOLSON: No, unfortunately, "Shelby County versus Holder" gutted a provision that the Voting Rights Act that Congress would have to reauthorize.

HARLOW: OK.

TOLSON: There are currently bills pending, but this -- if this case works its way up to the Supreme Court, you have a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court majority who has been deferential to state legislatures. So over the last year, with the litigation around COVID and voting restrictions and such, the court basically let state legislatures do whatever they wanted to do, and so this is why I'm somewhat worried here. But I do think that, you know, these groups might see some decisions -- some favorable decisions in a lower court. That's possible. HARLOW: Franita Tolson, thank you for your wise legal mind in

explaining all of it to us.

TOLSON: All right. Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. This morning, despite crises on multiple fronts facing the Biden administration, President Biden is not letting it derail his big plans for the economy. He will travel to Pittsburgh next week. He will unveil there a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan.

Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans is with me. Also Nia Kumar, White House correspondent and associate editor for Politico.

I mean, another multitrillion-dollar plan, Christine. Can you explain what the vision of the Biden administration is here and how they'll get Republicans on board?

[09:10:06]

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's -- well, there's the vision and there's whether they can get Republicans on board. So the vision is big, right? It's building stuff. A lot of stuff. Investing in roads, bridges -- you know, railways, ports, you know, electronic, electric vehicle charging stations, 5g, the cellular network, all kinds of different things including domestic manufacturing production in the U.S. as well.

Things that people will feel and that will put people back to work at higher paying jobs. That's the infrastructure part. And there's clean energy in there as well. The second part is that domestic economic agenda. The caring economy as someone in the White House are calling it, or the quality of living really agenda here for low-income workers and working families to make the child tax credit permanent, to offer maybe free community college education for two or four years of that free, for paid sick leaves.

So the kinds of things to shore up the human part of the economy even as you're shoring up, you know, the harder part of the economy.

HARLOW: I mean, Anita, as Christine rightly points out, this is labeled an infrastructure plan or an infrastructure bill but there are a whole lot of Democratic wish list things that aren't exactly infrastructure in there. And as I understand it congressional Republicans, Anita, warned Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about that on the hill yesterday.

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR, POLITICO: Yes, that's exactly right. I mean, they are looking at two different things that they oppose. Both they oppose some of these issues. These things that are not the bricks and mortar. They're not roads and bridges. But they also oppose the tax increases and how this is going to be paid for. And they are saying this is not what they had in mind.

They support infrastructure, but they don't support this expansion and they don't support how it's being paid for. And as you mentioned at the top here, they've just pushed through this bill, this almost $2 trillion bill for coronavirus relief. And they feel like this is just too much spending at this time. So it remains to be seen if they're going to support any of this or if the Democrats will try to find another way through this if they don't get Republican support.

HARLOW: Well, I guess the only way through that would be you eliminate the filibuster, which the White House is saying they're not going to do right now. And by the way, you'd need every Democrat then.

But, Christine, the other way would be through reconciliation, but then they have to prove to the Senate parliamentarian that it is budget related, which I guess they could try to do? Can they?

ROMANS: I mean, I don't know the -- I don't know the maneuvers on that front exactly, but I can tell you this is really big. I mean, there's a lot in here. And you'll hear Republicans complain that there are progressives, you know, wish -- you know, wish lists in here. But what this administration has been saying, even on the campaign trail, they've been saying we could put five million people to work on infrastructure.

We can bring all the people back who've lost their jobs in the pandemic when we spend this money smartly. And this is not spending in their view. This is investment. And you look at how low interest rates are. Republicans have been on board with infrastructure before. So far this is still one big huge pie that I think the White House is going to deliver next week. But will they cut it into pieces? That goes to your question, Poppy, about how you get this through.

HARLOW: Yes. That's a good question. I suppose they could try to make the argument, Anita, that was made by Bernie Sanders and others trying to get the $15 minimum wage through reconciliation saying if you put more people to work and pay them a living wage, then it's less of an impact on the budget on government spending for their wages on the other side of it.

But at the middle of all of this, Anita, is the filibuster. I wonder what you think about President Biden's comments and Kaitlan Collins, our colleague's great line of questioning about the filibuster yesterday in the press conference. Let's listen to this from Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to say something outrageous. If we have to, if there's complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we'll have to go beyond what I'm talking about.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: The White House has been firm, I guess, until yesterday, saying we're not budging on the filibuster other than maybe a talking filibuster. Did that change with Biden's commends?

KUMAR: I feel like those were his strongest comments to date. And it's so interesting to look back at the last two months. At the beginning of the administration, he was opposed to any changes and his language and the White House's language over the last two months has gradually changed. And you talked about how he said and they've said that he would -- wants it to get back to a talking filibuster.

And then yesterday we saw him saying, look, if my agenda can't go through, we'll look at other ways to get this through. So I do think they are moving in that direction. President Biden is really adamant that he wants these two packages in. The one that he got, with no Republican support, and this infrastructure package. He feels that he was elected to deal with these two issues, right? Getting the coronavirus under control and bringing back the economy.

Thought it was also telling in that press conference that he called other issues that were asked about, immigration, firearms, voting rights, long-term issues.

[09:15:00]

So, it's clear that this is his focus right now.

POPPY HARLOW, ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Anita Kumar, thank you, Christine Romans, always good to have you. Still to come, Dominion Voting Systems, you remember that name because it was attacked repeatedly by former President Trump and conservative news outlets during and after the 2020 election. Well, that company is now suing "Fox News" for $1.6 billion. We'll tell you why? And then there's this. Former President Trump making blatant false claims about the January 6th Capitol insurrection. He just said in an interview there was, quote, "zero threat" that day. Even said that some of the insurrectionists were, quote, "hugging and kissing police officers".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:20:00]

HARLOW: This just in. Dominion Voting Systems, the target of baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud. It's now suing "Fox News". The company just filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against "Fox", arguing the media outlet falsely claimed that it had rigged the 2020 election. Remember, Dominion was at the center of attacks spread by President Trump and his allies following his loss to President Biden. Let's go to my colleague Brian Stelter; our chief media correspondent, host of "Reliable Sources". Brian, explain why this matters so much here, and I wonder if "Fox News" is saying anything, what their defense could be in this.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: The network has just responded and I'll share that with you in just a moment. This is a really remarkable lawsuit. You don't see these every day or even every week or every month. What we are seeing are these technology companies trying to punish the Murdochs where it hurts in their bank accounts, in their wallets to the tune of billions of dollars. It was Smartmatic that sued first, now it's Dominion. These two companies were both alleged to be in cahoots with one another to rig the election, of course, that was nonsense. It was debunked thousands of times, and yet it was promoted on "Fox"

in November and December by guests and by hosts. So, the new lawsuit this morning alleges this was done for profit. Here's part of the quote from the lawsuit saying "the truth matters. Lies have consequences. "Fox" sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes" -- meaning the boost of ratings. And Dominion alleges severe injury to its reputation as a result. Now, it may be hard to get $1.6 billion as a result, you know, figuring out the damages will be a complicated process. But proving an injury, proving damage may end up being a lot easier because --

HARLOW: Yes --

STELTER: Of how Dominion's reputation was affected. "Fox News" statement by the way, they're saying the same thing they said about Smartmatic. They're saying they were proud of their 2020 election coverage. They believe it stands in the highest tradition of American journalism and they say they will vigorously defend against this lawsuit in court. Their argument, Poppy, is, you know, if the president of the United States is out there claiming he was, you know, cheated out of an election, we need to cover that story. We need to take it seriously. That's been "Fox's" claim, but I don't -- look, you and I both went to journalism school, we didn't learn in journalism school that you're supposed to just take both sides and treat them the same even if one side is lying and making stuff up.

HARLOW: Yes -- no, you're actually supposed to check -- fact-check --

STELTER: Check it out, I know --

HARLOW: What people in power say. Brian, before you go, though, this connects to the bigger issue that we led the show with, which is --

STELTER: Yes --

HARLOW: Voting rights and what happened in Georgia overnight.

STELTER: Yes, that's what I was thinking when you were interviewing your guest a few minutes ago, this big lie from last Fall promoted by pro-Trump propaganda networks is now the cover, is now the excuse for these attempts at voter suppression. So, I think we have to see this as a one in the same. A connection between the lies last year and now the fallout. And some of the fallout, Poppy, is going to be in court due to these lawsuits.

HARLOW: It is. Brian, thank you.

STELTER: Thanks.

HARLOW: OK, more than 100 Capitol police officers were injured in the violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on January the 6th. Five people died. Those are the facts. But what you are about to hear is a lie from former President Trump.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Its was zero

threat. Look, they went in, they shouldn't have done it. Some of them went in and they're hugging and kissing the police and the guards. You know, they had great relationships. A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in and they walked out.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HARLOW: Does this look like a great relationship? An officer crushed in a door as the mob pushes to get inside or how about what Capitol police officer Harry Dunn told our Don Lemon about that day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY DUNN, CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: Once I had time to sit down and put it all together, it was just so overwhelming that here we are, giving so much and putting our lives on the line to protect democracy and keep it. And we're being called racial slurs, traitors and any just weapon that these people could use because they were upset. We had officers that took their lives because of the stress that they endured from that day. That is what happened. I don't know how you can word it any different than what exactly happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Yes, or what about this? New video released just this week shows officer Brian Sicknick who died sprayed with that bear spray.

[09:25:00]

Does that look like zero threat? And to you, former President Trump, have you forgotten the memorial held in his honor in the very building your supporters mobbed? Here with me, former FBI Director Andy McCabe. Andy, you worked in the administration before you were fired by the president. When you listen to those words and you see everything that we just showed our viewers, what do you think?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, Poppy, it's -- we tend to listen to Trump's lies and just kind of throw them in the same bag of nonsense that we've been listening to for years and years and years. It's hard to find a new low. But this really might be it. He is now denying the very reality that every single one of us, conservative, liberal, whatever, saw on television. Has seen and experienced over and over again, endless loops like the one that you just showed. He's just absolutely denying a reality. And to do it in a way that's so directly insults and sullies the memories of those law enforcement officers who lost their lives, two of whom killed themselves in the days following that event after having experienced that brutal attack.

It's just such a -- such a brutal and heartless level of disrespect for the men and women who put themselves in great danger to protect our country. It's just absolutely horrendous. I think it's hit a new low.

HARLOW: Yes, it will be, I think very important to listen to what his fellow Republican lawmakers choose to say or not say about this. But one who is speaking out, Andy, is sitting Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He tweeted this, quote, "he" -- about the former president, "is an utter failure. No remorse. No regret. It is quite honestly sick and disgusting." What is the impact of it? You know, I just think about the impact on security for our elected officials, right? If the president is saying that was zero threat, isn't that something that just emboldens people to do it again?

MCCABE: Oh, sure. I mean, the president is basically saying, you know, that was hugging and kissing. Beating police officers with axe handles and their own shields or flag poles or poles ripped from the scaffolding around the capitol, that's perfectly acceptable to the president. So, that's the message that his most violent and extreme supporters get. I mean, we know they came to the Capitol on that day because he told them, come to D.C., quote, "it's going to be wild". We saw that in the text messages of Kelly Meggs, the Oath Keeper leader from Florida. Those text messages having been released just a few days ago.

So his -- what he says, as absurd and offensive as it is, it resonates with this community. And it signals them to take future action. So, I think this is definitely not helping the current threat level that we're experiencing from domestic violent extremists.

HARLOW: And remember what prompted that insurrection was the big lie that the president perpetrated. The big lie about the result of the election, and that brings me to ask you about Dominion; the voting company, the voting system company now suing "Fox News" for $1.6 billion. Beyond the money amount, the facts that they are standing up and saying, you helped perpetrate this lie about us, vis-a-vis the election. Your thoughts?

MCCABE: Well, I mean, my first thought was, good for them. They are going right to the source of, you know, the amplification of this -- of this falsehood, of this false grievance that's driven us to such an extreme place in this country. But I think it's going to be fascinating to watch. I mean, we saw earlier this week in the filings by Sidney Powell in a similar lawsuit where she was finally pushed to the point that she had to basically give in and say --

HARLOW: Right --

MCCABE: Oh, essentially, you know, everything I said about stealing the election, nobody could possibly have taken it seriously, i.e., it was just my opinion, and I wasn't really been serious. Let's see if "Fox News" gets pushed to that point where at some point in this litigation, they have to admit that what they did was completely baseless. They didn't -- they didn't conduct themselves at any of the standards of normal journalism. They checked nothing, they just served to amplify these lies and these messages of false grievance for their own profit and for their own ratings.

HARLOW: That's a really important point. Andy McCabe, thank you very much.

MCCABE: Thank you. HARLOW: Next, we have new details on how coronavirus may infect your

mouth, saliva. How does this all correlate to the loss of taste, and what does it mean? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)