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Georgia Republicans Pass Sweeping Bill Restricting Voter Access; Biden Blasts GOP Efforts to Limit Voting Rights; Trump Claims Deadly Insurrection was "Zero Threat" to Capitol; Dominion Voting Files $1.68B Defamation Suit Against Fox. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2021 - 11:00   ET



[11 00:22]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us.

The focus today is in your vote, your right to vote and effort across the country to make it harder for you to vote. Georgia overnight just passed a sweeping new law that quite simply restricts voting and voter access, and it really is based not on evidence of any actual problem. It's a solution in search of a problem, based on the false premise that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Governor Brian Kemp, he signed a bill into law last night after it quickly moved to the GOP-lead senate -- legislature, GOP-led state legislature. Among other things, the law limits ballot drop boxes, makes it a misdemeanor to offer food or drinks to voters and imposes new ID requirements for absentee voting.

Three voting rights groups have already filed a lawsuit, saying that the bill violates the First and 14 Amendments of the Constitution.

On top of that, take a look at this video. A Democratic lawmaker in Georgia, Park Cannon, was removed from the Capitol and arrested by state troopers as you see there, after she was knocking on the governor's door because she wanted to witness the bill-signing. She was opposed to the bill and she wanted to witness the bill signing. She now faces two felony counts.

It is clear that what's happened in Georgia is just a tip of the iceberg, with Republican efforts to undermine voting, not limited to that state. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which has been tracking us, more than 250 bills to curb or complicate access to casting a ballot have been introduced in 43 state legislatures since the beginning of the year.

And joining me now is CNN's Dianne Gallagher who is in Atlanta.

Dianne, what kind of reaction are you hearing to what's happening in Georgia today?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, look, the arrest of Representative Park Cannon is sort of the arrest heard around the country now, which makes the law in Georgia that was signed yesterday, the law that everybody is paying attention to now.

Look, we're going to talk about these restrictive measures in there that, of course, disproportionately affect people of color and low income voters and just sort of a sample of what's in it, you mentioned ID for absentee voting, now, limiting drop boxes, making it a misdemeanor to give somebody food or drink, if they're waiting in line to vote. And it gives state officials more power over local election management.

Now, look, Governor Brian Kemp signed it into law, behind closed doors, about six hours after it passed the House and Senate. This is a quick process.

We talked about Representative Cannon trying to make it so people can see this happening, knocking on that door. She was dragged out of the Capitol, handcuffed, taken to jail. She faces two felony counts, obstruction and disrupting the general assembly, which, of course, she is an elected member of, and it has really caused people to pay attention of her arrest, shock across the country, but also now elevate this Georgia law across the country, to see what is in it.

And lawmakers here in Georgia are not pulling any punches on describing the, in their words, suppressive manner of what it will do.


REP. DONNA MCLEOD (D-GA): That fear has seeped in, and, you know, and this is all manifested on a lie, a lie trumped up by Trump. And I think that this Jim Crow 2.0 is represented in that pitcher. You see those men. There's no color in them. There's just pure white males trying to basically hold on to power with their life.

It's dangerous. This does not represent a representative democracy.


GALLAGHER: Now, of course, Republicans here in Georgia who control the House, the Senate and the governorship said that this was about security and restoring confidence in the election, which, of course, was shaken by the big lie spread by former President Trump and his allies.

The secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who also lost power in this law, Kate. He is no longer the chair of the state board of elections, well, he basically said in implementing the law, I'm going to ensure that every eligible Georgia voter is not hindered in exercising their right to vote.

But I can tell you, state lawmakers here say they are not so sure if they believe that.

BOLDUAN: Dianne, thank you very much.

So, hours before Georgia's governor signed that bill into law, President Biden spoke out against the efforts. He called them sick and he called them un-American.

Let's get to the White House, CNN's John Harwood is joining me now.

John, what else are you hearing from the White House about this?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, what I'm hearing is that President Biden is dead serious about this issue. You know, a lot of people during the 2020 campaign thought that Joe Biden was going to be a minimalist president who followed the familiar grooves of the back and forth between Republicans and Democrats that he'd live over the decades.


He's shown to be different in the rescue plan, the infrastructure plan he's laying next week, but also on this issue of voting rights, especially after the searing experience he went through post-election, with the challenges by President Trump and the insurrection.

Listen to the vehemence of his language on what's happening in Georgia and other states across the country.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This whole initiative is. It's sick. It's sick. Deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line, waiting to vote. Deciding that you're going to end voting at 5:00 when working people are just getting off work. Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances.

The Republican voters I know find this despicable, Republican voters.


HARWOOD: Now, what that tells you with that language is that the voting right, which he called elemental yesterday is more important to him than political process considerations like the Senate filibuster. Now, of course, he doesn't have the power, Kate, as you know, to eliminate the filibuster himself.

He can ask his Democratic majority to vote to do that, but it's pretty clear that if he thinks that he can't protect voting rights, doesn't mean he will insist on all of the things in the very sprawling bills that the House and Senate have put forward, which include public financing and other components.

But if he thinks that core access to the ballot is going to be threatened, he appears ready to go as far as you can go in trying to make that happen and not necessarily waiting for 10 Republicans to join him to overcome a Senate filibuster, Kate.

BOLDUAN: It is quite a threat.

Good to see you, John. Thank you.

Joining me right now is Cliff Albright. He's a cofounder of Black Voters Matter.

Cliff, thank your for coming in.

So, in the lead-up to this, you called the bill in Georgia, putting a little make up and cologne on Jim Crow. Now that it is law, what do you say?


Exactly what I just said, you know, that you can't clean up Jim Crow, you can't make it smell better or look a little bit better. It's still Jim Crow and we're calling it Jim Crow 2.0.

This bill is the biggest attack on voting rights and voting access not just since the '50s and '60s, but since the onset of Jim Crow. You have to go back to Reconstruction to see this kind of attack, the breadth of the attack, the depth, the pace of the attack.

To pass the most dangerous piece of this bill is the fact that it's essentially buys into the big lie, Trump's big lie and it empowers the state to do exactly what Donald Trump wanted the secretary of state to do, which was to overturn what these counties have certified to take over this local board of elections and to overturn the elections. If this law was in place during the most elections, then we would have a very different outcome, and not just the presidential race, but both of the Senate races that we had in January.

BOLDUAN: Is there any reason for that element of it? It means -- it seems to be the most damning of, one of the most damning pieces of what is now law, stripping -- stripping authority from the secretary of state, giving it to other state officials and they can remove and replace local election officials if they deem them ineffective, which by the way, I think that definition is going to have, going to be squarely up to interpretation.

ALBRIGHT: Yeah, not only that definition of ineffective is going to be up to interpretation but it's also going to be sabotaged by the other provisions of this bill.

What they have essentially done, when you look at the other aspects, the technical aspects, the number of days that they've given for early voting, the number of days that they have to even certify, there are things in this bill that makes it almost impossible for the counties to administer the elections correctly, so they have set them up for failure and they have put in their -- the ability for the state to then use that rationale to take over from these local boards of elections, they've really set this entire thing up based on what exactly what Donald Trump wanted them to do.

When the secretary of state said, I don't have the power to do what you want me to do, Mr. President, guess what, this bill solve that problems for them. It is nothing more than a pure power grab in the most, not just anti-Democratic but also anti-black waves, because it is all rooted in white supremacy. And when you look at the picture of the timing, right, the picture of Kemp --

BOLDUAN: Let's put that up.

ALBRIGHT: Yeah, please?

And you look at who he was surrounded by, that's very telling. They don't even care about the optics. They're not even trying to hide what it is that they're trying to do, and just looking at the paradox of that photo, that signing at the very moment they were literally dragging out a black woman legislature who I know personally.

She is one of the most, our fiercest defenders of truth and justice that we have. For them to do that to her, as they were signing a bill that were directly targeted at black and brown community, lets you know exactly what their intentions are.

BOLDUAN: Cliff, just real quick. Your group, you filed a challenge, a legal challenge, a lawsuit to stop this bill. What happens now?

ALBRIGHT: Yeah, we -- the fight continues, and that's what's been saying all along, that, you know, there are different stages to the battle and, you know, we fought the legislative fight, we're still fighting our corporate accountability fight, to get companies like Delta and Home Depot to get involved in this battle.

But there's litigation, right? And so, we're going to fight this in the court. We believe it's a violation of the Constitution, First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment.

We've got some pretty good attorneys in our side. I'll take an attorney that's pretty much like 50-0. So, you know, we feel very confident.

But at the end of the day, in order to support our legal case, we've got to have SR-1 and HR-4 passed. The issue that your reporter, your commentator was just talking about --

BOLDUAN: And these are the voting rights, the voting reform bills coming from Washington, coming from the House of the Representatives.

There's a lot going on here. Cliff, thank you for coming on.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, they used flagpoles to beat officers, bear spray against Capitol Police. Now, Donald Trump is trying to convince that what you see there was all hugs and kisses on January 6th.

Plus, $1.6 billion, Fox News gets hit with another lawsuit after promoting the lies about the election.


BOLDUAN: You have seen very clearly from many angles the violence that took place at the Capitol on January 6th. Rioters using flagpoles, police shields, hockey sticks and chemical spray to attack the officers protecting the Capitol.

We have all seen this with our own eyes. Five people died, even the Republicans who pushed the Trump lies still have acknowledged that violence took place on the Capitol that day.

Yet, Donald Trump emerged last night to do an interview on Fox, and he thought this was important to say.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: It was zero threat. Look, they went in and they shouldn't have done it. Some of them went in and they, 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.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now, CNN political director, David Chalian.

David, is it politics that this is all about for him or is -- is he delusional?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'm not sure it's an either/or proposition, Kate. But this is not disconnected from your last segment. It's entirely connected, because what Donald Trump went on Fox News to do and normally, I would think, why do we care what Donald Trump is saying, the former president, and why pay attention to it?

Well, it's because he still has enormous sway over policymakers and officeholders in his party on Capitol Hill. That's why. And in state legislatures across the country.

And what he went on to say when he completely tried to alter reality again and come up with some entirely false version of events, as you said, we all see it with our own eyes, that horrific video of the attack of January 6, is because he wants to perpetuate the big lies that there was somehow mass election fraud when there wasn't. So that his allies in Republican legislatures across this country go ahead and change voting laws to make it harder for people to vote that he thinks won't vote for him or his party. I mean, this all interconnected.

BOLDUAN: Really, you say it perfectly, David, and the people who should have the final say on this are the officers perhaps who survive this attack.

Let me play for everyone, Michael Fanone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL FANONE, DC METROPOLITANT POLICE OFFICER: Guys were stripping me of my gear, these rioters pulling my badge off my chest. They ripped my radio off of off my vest, started pulling like ammunition magazines from the holder on my belt. And then some guys started getting a hold of my gun, and they were screaming out, you know, kill him with his own gun.

At that point, it's just like self-preservation, you know, how do I survive the situation.


BOLDUAN: But only wants people, only sees people who love him, support him and that's all that matters and you think back to the last four years plus, this is the same playbook and it doesn't seem as you're laying out, David, it's not going to change because that's the game plan going forward.

CHALIAN: Without a doubt. I don't think it could be more clear, which is why I think this issue around voting rights and legitimacy of elections is going to be the central issue of our time.

Just listening to that officer, Kate, describe his experience and that the former commander in chief who his own party leaders, Liz Cheney, Mitch McConnell and others, say he was largely responsible for creating that environment for that attack to happen. The fact that he goes on sort of propaganda network of Fox to continue to create a false reality is all, all about trying to set the groundwork for a way to restrict people's ability to vote.

BOLDUAN: And that's why it needs to be called. David, thank you so much.


BOLDUAN: So, that story and the lie from the Trump is, as David's laying out, at the core, at its core about your voting rights, or people trying to take them away.

And so, is this, this morning. New today, Dominion Voting Systems is filing another billion dollar suit over the 2020 election, a massive defamation lawsuit, this time against Fox News, accusing the network of falsely claiming that Dominion had rigged the 2020 election

CNN's chief media correspondent Brian Stelter is joining me now. He's been looking through this.

Brian, talk us through this and what it means in this entire conversation that we're having.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Right, Fox is saying this a meritless lawsuit and vigorously defend itself. It's going to have an uphill battle. This is a damning lawsuit by Dominion. That's just the evidence -- the case, the argument, this is the evidence that Dominion is submitting all the interviews on Fox, promoting a big lie about fraud, and Dominion is one of two voting technology companies. The other one is Smartmatic, that says it was defamed on Fox and on

other channels as a result of Trump's claims and they are trying to get even by holding these companies accountable for billions of dollars.

Here's a part of statement from Dominion this morning, Kate, saying: The disinformation campaign waged against our company has caused us severe damage and undermined trust in American democratic institutions.

These lies have also threatened the personal safety of our employees and customers. And no amount of money will repair the damage one.

But they are asking for $1.6 billion from Fox, and Dominion is also suing Mike Lindell, the head of My Pillow, as well as Sidney Powell and other figures.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, and add to this, the crazy response from Sidney Powell to the lawsuit against her. I mean, her defense against legal action is, you can't and shouldn't believe anything that she said. That's literally the case that she's making is I shouldn't be held accountable here because I was lying.

STELTER: Right, that, quote, no responsible person should have expected she was presenting facts, that she was only coming up with their opinions and making claims, not proving facts or truth. This really speaks to the, you know, we talk about the big lie for months, there's been this campaign to deceive tens of millions of people and it worked. It was a grift. People made money off of these lies.

And now, you know, in the case of the Murdochs, Dominion is trying to hold the Murdochs by suing, but it all stems from this desire to make up lies about Trump winning an election he lost.

It's so sad on one level, Kate, it's so sad that we're stuck re- litigating these crazy lies from last year. But you know what? There was real harm and we're seeing that in Georgia today.

BOLDUAN: It's real and it's serious and the threat continues as you said, in Georgia, today.

Thanks. Thanks so much, Brian.

STELTER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, weeks after passing the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. President Biden says he has another massive economic package waiting in the wings.

Up next, the president's top economist is our guest.



BOLDUAN: It's day 65 of the Biden presidency and Joe Biden is already preparing for his second multitrillion dollar legislative push. He made it clear yesterday that his priority to help the American economy now is infrastructure.

The president teased an announcement that is expected this week on what this next massive plan will include.



BIDEN: It's the place where we will be able to significantly increase American productivity, the same time providing really good jobs for people. But we can't build back to what they used to be.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Christine Romans has more on what could be in the plan.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the next big priority for this White House is building stuff, a lot of stuff -- roads, bridges, rails, ports, investing in domestic manufacturing and technology as well, EV charging stations, the 5G cellular network and America's cyber defenses.

The president vowing to put Americans to work and making the U.S. more competitive with China. It's a campaign promise. Biden vowed infrastructure investments could create 5 million new jobs and bring back the pandemic jobs lost. Now, the economy, as you know, still down 9.5 million jobs since February of last year.

Infrastructure is the first piece. The second, quality of life, universal pre-k, free community college, making the child tax credit permanent and paid family leave.

The Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg making case on the Hill Thursday for green energy investments since transportation is a leading driver of climate change, congressional Republicans warning the White House, keep the focus on roads and bridge and not climate change and social justice.

Also on the table, higher taxes for companies and rich to pay for this Biden agenda foreshadowing the political battle ahead. The White House working out detail to unveil next week, Kate, in Pittsburgh.

BOLDUAN: Christine, thank you very much.

Joining me right now from the White House is President Biden' top economist, Cecilia Rouse. She chair of the Council of Economic Advisors.

Thank so much for being here.


BOLDUAN: As Christine laid out and the president made clear, infrastructure is his next priority. Our reporting is it could be maybe a $3 trillion package.