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CNN NEWSROOM

Georgia Republicans Pass Sweeping Bill Restricting Voting Access; Biden Says He is Open to Reforming Senate Filibuster Rules; White House COVID Response Team Holds Briefing. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2021 - 10:00   ET

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


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: To vote for everyone equally.

[10:00:02]

Critics say a series of new voting restrictions just passed and the law then signed by the governor in the battleground state are a clear attempt, they say, to suppress ballot access. Republicans say otherwise. Here is what it does.

It limits the use of ballot drop boxes to only being inside early voting locations and only there and open during voting hours. It imposes new voter I.D. requirements for absentee ballots. It grants state officials ability to replace local election officials and it makes it a crime, a misdemeanor to just give someone waiting in line to vote anything to drink, any water or any food.

Now, a lawsuit has already been filed on behalf of three civil rights groups over it arguing it violates the First Amendment, but this bill was signed into law by the governor behind closed doors last night. And a state lawmaker is now facing two felony charges after she was arrested for just knocking repeatedly on the governor's door calling for transparency. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. You said you would give her one more time like you're going to do something.

Are you serious?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. You are not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you all arresting her? Why are you arresting her? Can you cite the code? Why are you all arresting her?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Joining me now is our Dianne Gallagher, Greg Bluestein is also here, a Political Reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

We'll get to the arrest in a moment because I think it is stunning for so many people to see. But, Dianne, can you explain in the simplest terms what this means for voters in Georgia? DIANNE GALLAHGER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, look, SB202, which is now law in Georgia, effectively changes elections from top to bottom, almost every level in the state of Georgia. And, look, a lot of the components of this law that have been focused on are those that would restrict ballot access in some ways specifically for a disproportionate number of voters of color and low income voters here in the state of Georgia.

And so, look, we talk about adding I.D. requirements for voting absentee instead of signature match, which is what the state of Georgia used beforehand. Drop boxes, limiting them to be inside voting locations and only during vote hours, codifying that into law at this point in the state of Georgia.

But, look, there are other components that have more of a broad reaching aspect to it and some of that is just control that the state has given itself now over local election management. And by meaning that, they have taken the authority of the secretary of state away from the state board of elections. He is no longer going to be the chair of the state board of elections. And, instead, it will be somebody that is appointed by these elected legislators.

And so there is this appearance at least that you have elected officials who have control over the state election board, which has control over local election officials, so much that they can replace them if they don't like how they're doing things.

And, look, we heard a lot about this in 2020 from former President Trump and his allies sort of perpetuating that big lie but focusing a lot on counties, like here in Fulton County, and other diverse Democratic counties in the state of Georgia and zeroing in on those election officials. And this gives really partisan legislators more power at the state level over those local officials.

HARLOW: Okay. Dianne, thank you for that, but stay with us for this conversation.

Greg, to you, I mean, this is your area of expertise as well. Just like Dianne, you cover this every day for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution. There is something -- one of the things -- the changes here is that I can't just or any Georgia voter can't just go to a ballot box after work one evening and drop off a ballot. And it's not just that that limits access to being able to submit your vote, but it's -- can we pull the video up, guys, in the control the room? This is actually how Governor Kemp voted in the last election. That will be illegal now, right?

GREG BLUESTEIN, POLITICAL REPORTER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Yes. It will be banning outdoor ballot boxes. They now have to be inside -- these the drop boxes have to be inside locations and only doing normal voting hours. So you couldn't go overnight. You couldn't go early in the morning.

And what critics say is this really severely limits people who have -- who work mostly at 9:00 to 5:00-type schedules who would try to go to these outdoor ballot drop boxes at night or before at work, who couldn't get off to go drop off their absentee ballots.

This is a major change in a way that critics say is limiting innovations from local counties that, during the pandemic, came up with these ideas to encourage more people to vote.

[10:05:05]

HARLOW: Can I just ask you though, Greg? I mean, I know part of this is subject to interpretation, right? And, therefore, there are critics that say it limits and supporters would say, no, this makes it safer and in some ways expands voting access technically, in some ways.

But it's not really just critics who say this limits voting on the ballot box side, it just does. It just empirically, on its face, means that you have less opportunity to put a ballot in a box, right?

BLUESTEIN: Yes, we've been clear about it in the pages of the agency that say, flat out, this limits drop boxes and allow us -- as we mentioned earlier, allows state takeovers of local elections after the close election this year in January and last year on November. So there's no doubt about it, this limits, this creates new obstacles to vote.

HARLOW: Yes, okay. Dianne, anything about SB202? Because it was like two pages and then became 93 pages and there was a whole lot of stuff in there. Is there anything in it that expands voter access?

GALLAGHER: So, look, there are a lot of components to this law at this point. I think that the part is, especially the Republicans have been hanging their hat on when it comes to expanding access is the fact that, initially, they said they were going to basically eliminate Sunday early voting. And instead they say they're expanding weekend early voting by officially doubling what is the required one Saturday to now require two Saturdays and making the two Sundays optional. But here is the thing, Poppy.

And some of these counties, look, across the state of Georgia, this does expand weekend early voting for them, some of them smaller counties, some of the, I mean, honestly, whiter counties, it is going to expand access. But for some of the more diverse, larger counties, again, like here in Fulton County, in Georgia, it is likely going to cut away at least a few hours of that early voting. So it doesn't really expand access for them.

HARLOW: Greg, what do you want people to take away from this big picture? Because this happened in Georgia, something similar happened in Iowa, this is happening in -- I mean, not this exact bill, but similar moves in 43 states across the country.

BLUESTEIN: Yes, exactly. And Georgia is the first battleground state to adopt these measures but it might not be the last.

And, look, the next phase of this is in the courts. Last night, before 11:00 P.M., a coalition of voting rights groups filed a lawsuit, challenging these in federal court. This will come to a head over the next few months in federal hearings. And so parts of this bill or the entire bill could be subject to being struck down by a federal judge. There are many provisions, even some non-controversial provisions that could be subject to the scrutiny of federal judges.

So the next phase of this goes in the courtroom, but there is also a political battle And you heard Stacey Abrams, who is likely to challenge Governor Kemp in a rematch of 2018, already say that this amounted to Jim Crow era tactics. So this will also play out in Georgia's 2022 election in a major way.

HARLOW: Yes, great point. Thank you so much, Dianne, Greg. You guys have been excellent on this the whole way through. We know you'll stay on it. We appreciate the reporting a lot.

President Biden at his first formal press conference yesterday said he agrees with former President Obama that the Senate filibuster was a relic of the Jim Crow era, is a relic of the Jim Crow era, when it when it was used often by segregationist senators to block civil rights legislation. President Biden now says he is open to some rule changes on that, but just how open and how big is what we heard him say about it yesterday.

With me now is our Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod. Good morning.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: How are you?

HARLOW: I'm well. Thanks for being here.

You know all this so well because of your work in the Obama White House. And I just want to take a moment to play what I just thought was excellent questioning by our colleague, Kaitlan Collins, direct questioning to President Biden on this yesterday. Here she was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: 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?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT: Yes.

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

BIDEN: Successful electoral politics is nearly impossible. Let's figure out how we can get this done and move in the direct 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.

[10:10:00]

Let's deal with the abuse first.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: David, what you didn't see there is the long pause, do you remember that, that Biden took before he --

AXELROD: Yes, I sure do.

HARLOW: -- answered Kaitlan's question? And, to me, that long pause said maybe even more than the words he spoke, because I think she got him to really think, wow, like, I just -- you can feel it. And I wonder what you think, you know, guns, voting rights, all of this coming together in this moment, does it change things for him?

AXELROD: Yes. Can I just take a point of person privilege here to respond to your last conversation, because it relates to this. What the legislature in Georgia did yesterday is about as subtle as a screen door on a submarine. They have a goal, which is to retard voting and keep people from voting who they think may not vote for their party.

And it's based on a colossal, demonstrably false lie, which is that there was some sort of large scale fraud in the last election. There was not. So they proposed this really draconian assault on democracy as a response to a lie. And so this raises the stakes on the voting rights legislation that is before -- that will be before the Senate.

But returning to your question about the filibuster, I thought -- you know, I read Biden' answer a little differently than everyone else. I didn't read it as him saying he now supports or may support overturning the filibuster so much as him saying, let's try this. But I live in the world of reality, and in the world of reality, I need 51 votes to do away with the filibuster and I don't have them. There are two Democrats -- you know, everybody points to Republicans. There are two Democrats who do not support doing away with the filibuster. I'm not entirely sure that Biden thinks it's a great idea either.

And so what he was saying is we have to live in the world of the possible and maybe events will move those two Democrats. And maybe I will have more leverage with them as time goes on. But right now, even if he wanted to do away with the filibuster, he could not.

And, you know, I thought he was adept throughout at being honest and realistic about what his goals were, what his priorities were, and what his range of possibilities are.

HARLOW: You make a great point that I think I miss and I should say more too, which is, you're right, he doesn't even have the votes to do away with the filibuster. So, yes, it's important what he and the White House think of it, where they stand, but if the votes aren't there on the Senate, then there is not much he can do on it.

To your last point about his broader goals and what this administration will look like in terms of shaping the country, I thought that David Brooks' piece column in The Times this week was interesting. And it says, the Biden revolution rolls on. And he writes about Biden. He may not have sought transformation but found him, you know? And you hear him talking about FDR, and he has the portrait of FDR across from the resolute desk. I mean, I just wonder how transformational you think this presidency maybe, and maybe in an unintended or unplanned previously way.

AXELROD: Yes. Well, first, let me say, I welcome David's column having been fighting -- having fought for Affordable Care Act ten years ago. His revolution came ten years late for me. But I'm glad that he's evolved on this.

But, look, I think that events have -- there are so many things that have happened in the last ten years, David is right, that pointed a need to address the just gaping inequality in our economy, in our society. And there is a real impetus for action. And the virus has accelerated all of that.

And Biden is seizing that opportunity to try and fill in those gaps, first by dealing with the virus, recovery, next phase, rebuilding the economy in a way that offers, you know, security and good opportunities for large numbers of Americans. And I think he is wise to seize that opportunity.

So, yes, I think the times have -- this is not the time for incremental action. Biden is known as a moderate. But I think he's also -- in the councils of the White House, I can tell you, he was always, always the guy who said, how is this going to affect the middle class family in Scranton or Wilmington? And so, you know, this is consistent. His economic values are consistent with what I saw when I sat in the White House with him.

[10:15:01]

HARLOW: David, always great to have the perspective, thank you.

AXELROD: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: And a little plug for my favorite podcast, The Ax Files, you have my buddy, Kara Swisher, on this week. So I'm excited to listen to that over the weekend. David, thanks.

AXELROD: Yes, she was great. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you.

Minutes from now, you're going to see right here live the White COVID task force, their briefing. This is after, notably, the president set a new vaccination goal of 200 million shots within his first 100 days. We'll bring you that as soon it begins.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Let's listen in to the White House COVID-19 task force briefing.

JEFFREY ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: -- this effort each and every day, 200 million shots in 100 days. This is an unprecedented case. No country has ever vaccinated these many people this fast. And this effort will coincide with us reaching into harder to reach communities all across the country to keep up this pace and ensure equity and fairness.

[10:20:06]

We are making progress.

As of today, 71 percent of individuals, 65 and over have received at least one shot. That's important because seniors sadly account for 80 percent of COVID deaths. Overall, more than one in three adults have had at least one dose and more than 47 million adult Americans are now fully vaccinated.

We will need to continue to build on this progress to meet out new goal 200 million in the first 100 days. And thanks to the resources of the American rescue plan, we have the resources to scale activity, fully implement the strategy and put the pandemic behind us.

I want to briefly outline how, in order to reach our new goal, we will continue to increase vaccine supply, vaccinators and places to get vaccinated.

On vaccine supply, we've taken an aggressive action to accelerate the production timelines for Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, including using the Defense Production Act to expedite critical supplies, equipment and materials and brokering the historic partnership between Merck and Johnson & Johnson.

This week, a total of more than 27 million doses went to states, tribes and territories and through the federal channels. That's more than three times the weekly supply that was being distributed when we took office, From 8.6 million doses to more than 27 million doses this week. This significant increase in supply means by the end of May, we will have enough vaccine for adult in the U.S.

To be clear, this is a direct result of all of our work with the vaccine manufacturers. It has produced results. They are setting and hitting targets. And we will continue to get all available vaccine supply out the door as soon as it's available.

On vaccinators in the field, we've deployed over 6,500 federal personnel to serve as vaccinators and to support vaccinations, including calling on FEMA, retired doctors and nurses and active duty military to administer shots. And in the coming weeks, at the president's direction, we will increase the 2,900 active duty military men and women in the field to over 6,000 active duty troops.

On places to get vaccinated, we've dramatically increased the number of convenient and trusted place for people to get a shot. Today, across the country, there are nearly 50,000 sites where Americans can go to get a shot. This number of sites continues to grow and includes 16,000 local pharmacies in the federal pharmacy program that we launched a few weeks ago. Millions of Americans can now get a shot in their local pharmacy the exact same way they get their flu shot. We will increase to the total number of participating pharmacies to more than 20,000.

There are 300 community health centers providing vaccines, which we will expand up to 950 in the coming weeks. Importantly, over 65 percent of the shots administered at these community health centers have been to people of color.

In addition to pharmacies and community health centers, there are over 650 federally supported community vaccination sites across the country. And we're also continuing to bring more federally-run mass vaccination centers online, including three new sites we're announcing today, in Boston, Massachusetts, Norfolk, Virginia, and Newark, New Jersey. Together, these three new sites are capable of administering 15,000 doses a day. And we're meeting people where they are, from deploying more than 500 mobile clinics, to our new program to vaccines directly to dialysis centers.

Because of the progress we're making, states are following the president's call to open up eligibility to all adult Americans no later than May 1. As you can see from this map, 46 states and the District of Columbia have already announced plans to open up eligibility no later than May 1. That's the goal the president announced earlier this month.

[10:25:00]

In navy blue, 14 states have already opened eligibility to all adults or will open eligibility in the next week. And in blue, and further good news, 12 additional states are opening up eligibility to all adults by April 15th. So in total, about half the states will have opened up eligibility to all adults by mid-April.

The president's new goal of 200 million shots in his first 100 days is only possible because of the president's whole of government national strategy and our partnership with state, territorial, tribal and local officials, vaccine manufacturers, federal workers and then not-for- profit and private sectors.

Before I hand it over to Dr. Walensky to talk about the state of the pandemic, let me close by saying it's clear there is a case for optimism but there is not a case for relaxation. This is not the time to let down our guard. We need to follow the public health guidance, wear a mask, socially distance and get a vaccine when it's your turn.

Over to Dr. Walensky.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Thank you, Jeff. It's a pleasure to be back with you today.

Since early in the pandemic, it's been clear that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected certain groups in the United States, particularly blacks, Latino, Native American communities, as well as in rural and low-income communities. Not only have these seen disproportionate cases of COVID-19 but they have also often had higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease that resulted in increased hospitalizations and deaths. Additionally, survey data indicate that these communities are facing higher rates of stress, anxiety and other mental health challenges as they navigate the pandemic. These communities have experienced long standing disparities and access to care and services, which have been further exacerbated during the pandemic. And I worry that these disparities have consequences that far outlast the infectious disease aspects of this pandemic.

We already know that life expectancy has dropped more significantly in black and Latino Americans compared to white Americans. We can and must do more to address these inequities.

Yesterday, CDC announced several actions that will represent important steps in our agency-wide commitment, the health equity. CDC will provide $3 billion from the CARES Act and the American rescue plan to 64 jurisdictions to support broad based vaccine distribution, access and administration efforts. Importantly, this funding will continue our work to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines by those disproportionately affected by the virus.

To achieve this goal, 75 percent of the funding must focus on specific programs and initiatives intended to increase vaccine access, acceptance and uptake among racial and ethnic minority communities. In addition, 60 percent of the funding must go to support local health departments, community-based organizations and community health centers.

Jurisdictions may use these new resources to provide funding to local health department, faith-based and other community-based organizations to identify and train trusted messengers in communities to conduct door-to-door outreach to raise awareness of our COVID-19 vaccines, to help get individual signup for appointments and to provide them transportation to vaccine appointments.

Food assistance and housing non-profit in the rural, high-poverty community could receive this funding to conduct vaccine outreach and education and to church (ph) clients, including those with disabilities and limited mobility have transportation to a FEMA- supported mass vaccination site.

Funding could also be used by local health departments to partner with local businesses to support vaccination clinics in local communities and at places of business frequented by communities that are medically vulnerable and underserved.

In addition, CDC announced a separate investment of $300 million that will train, deploy and engage more community health workers to help communities and individuals hardest hit by the pandemic. And I am proud that CDC is helping to lead the new effort in vaccinating patients receiving dialysis for chronic kidney disease across the country.

Working with these dialysis clinics to vaccinate patients is a health equity imperative. These actions are an important step to help spread -- stop the spread of COVID-19 and to begin to address the longstanding inequities that prevent some communities from achieving optimal health.

[10:30:07]