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Biden to Announce Gun Control; Kentucky Expands Voting Access; Debate over Vaccine Passports; Biden Pushes Infrastructure. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired April 8, 2021 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, just hours from now, in his first steps to tackle the nation's gun violence crisis, President Biden will announce a series of limited executive actions.

Joining me now is Nicholas Kristof, he's a columnist for "The New York Times." He recently wrote an op-ed titled "How Do We Stop the Parade of Guns." One step is one that Biden is looking at with these executive actions, banning what are known as ghost guns.

Nick, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: So for folks at home who may not know, ghost gun, a gun without a serial number, it could be homemade. I mean there are machines you can buy to print these in effect, or improvise, take something that's not quite a firearm and turn it into a firearm.

Do we have any idea how many of these things are out there and how big a danger they are today?

KRISTOF: So their -- the estimates are that there may be hundreds of thousands of ghost guns out there, but we don't have a good idea precisely because they are untrackable, untraceable. But we do know that in 2019 ATF recovered 10,000 of them. We know they've been used in three mass shootings in California alone. And we know that they present a particular problem both because they're untraceable and because people who shouldn't have access to firearms, like people who have felony convictions, can acquire them in this way. We also note that extremist nationalist groups, white nationalist groups, have been very interested in acquiring arsenals through ghost guns.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. And we should note Justice Department says definitively domestic extremists, including white nationalists, are the number one terror threat to this country today.

You write about this, and this is truly alarming, just how easy it is to get these, or to make, many of them. You can buy a machine for $2,000 and print these out.

I just wonder, as a practical matter, are ghost guns regulatable? I mean is there a practical way to limit these things?

KRISTOF: So, there is some disjunction between the lethality of weapons and, you know, the capacity of people with metal shop equipment and ability to produce them. And so there isn't any, you know, perfect magic wand that enables us to keep people from making lethal weapons.

But we can make it harder. And right now the issue is that a lower receiver, which is the heart of a firearm, that if it's sold complete, then it requires a serial number, then it's regulated as a gun. But if it's sold 80 percent complete, then it's not. Then it's just unregulated. It's a piece of plastic it's a piece of metal.

And so what we need to do is define more clearly at what point that lower receiver does become a firearm, requires a serial number. And I hope that that's what the Biden administration is going to do. And I hope that it's also going to stipulate that all those self-made firearms out there, all those ghost guns out there, there should now be a process over, you know, give people six months to make them legal, to give them serial numbers, et cetera.

SCIUTTO: You have covered this issue for some time and raised the alarm on this issue for some time. And here we are again. Mass shootings every other day it seems by CNN's count more than 20 just in the weeks since that shooting at the spas in Atlanta.


We have another bunch of packages on The Rill, right, doing things like background checks and so on. But, you know, at each point like this we think this might be the point where it will happen. Do you sense any change in the politics on Capitol Hill that allows something like, for instance, universal background checks, which does have some Republican support?

KRISTOF: Boy, Jim, I would love to say that, you know, this is the moment when we'll actually move forward on these issues. And, you know, universal background checks have -- polls have suggested that 90 percent of gun owners favor universal background checks.


KRISTOF: But I really have a hard time seeing essential legislation getting through the Senate. So I don't think that there is going to be gun legislation passed by Congress. I think that's why the Biden administration is moving forward with these executive actions. And so, you know, I find it incredibly dispiriting that we lose more than 100 people a day to gun violence and yet we don't seem prepared in contrast to just about every other country in the world to actually address this in the way we do other sources of violence around the country.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I remember covering El Paso and Dayton in quick succession and for a moment after those shootings there were a couple of Republicans who said, this is too much, and then that disappeared. And here we are again.


SCIUTTO: Nick Kristof, great to have you on. I hope we can keep talking about this because it deserves a lot of attention.

KRISTOF: I look forward to that. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, the red state of Kentucky is doing something other red states are not. In fact, it's doing the opposite, it's expanding voting rights.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It's a reminder, you can do either, right, Jim?


HARLOW: You can restrict them or you can actually do what Kentucky's done, what Virginia's done and codify things that let more people vote. Let's bring in Dianne Gallagher --

SCIUTTO: Yes, safely. And safely, yes.

HARLOW: Safely.

Let's bring in Dianne Gallagher.

Good morning to you, Dianne.

Let's talk about why Kentucky is doing this while other red states, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, are moving in completely the opposite direction.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, Jim, Poppy, there are a lot of factors that went into this, but some of them are simply that, well, it was a pretty low bar for Kentucky to improve its already very limited voting restrictions that they had there.

And so, look, they noticed the Republican secretary of state, the Democratic governor and a bipartisan group of lawmakers and election workers just how well many of the pandemic protocols in Kentucky worked. They saw record turnout. And here's the key, Republicans learned that expanding ballot access can be good for them, too.

President Trump won Kentucky by more than 25 points. And many of those parts of the pandemic protocols have now been put into law. I just want to go over a couple of them here.

They have voting centers now, absentee ballot registration online now, early voting, just three days of that, though, drop boxes. It creates recount procedures and it mandates that all machines generate this paper trail of the votes cast.

The governor talked about why this was such a big accomplishment, he felt, for his state.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): Voting is the bedrock of our democracy. And I firmly believe that we should be making it easier for Kentuckians to vote and participate in the democratic process. This new law represents an important first step to preserve and protect every individual's right to make their voice heard by casting their ballots in a secure and convenient manner on the date and time that works best for them.


GALLAGHER: Now, again, Kentucky still has some of the more limited ballot access, but it is moving in the right direction. Voting rights advocates said they would have liked to have seen more expansion, Jim and Poppy. But, again, this was done in a bipartisan way in that state of Kentucky. And it is moving in, again, the right direction to make it easier for people to vote there.

HARLOW: Dianne, thank you. It's such important reporting. And there are always, you know, two ways you can go here, and clearly Kentucky is making a different choice. Thank you very much.

Well, you've heard maybe a lot, especially in recent weeks, about vaccine passports, proof you've had a COVID vaccination. They are sparking debate across the country. We're going to take a look at this argument ahead.



HARLOW: Well, there is daily progress every day toward a return to normalcy. We'll get there. But as this happens, there is a growing debate over so-called vaccine passports. Minnesota Governor Tim Waltz the latest to reveal he has no plans to implement them in Minnesota and Idaho -- also Idaho Governor Brad Little has signed an executive order banning any state entity from requiring them.

SCIUTTO: But some businesses and some schools across the country are now demanding them, even as some opposition bills over the question of privacy.

Here's CNN's Randi Kaye. She's taking a closer look with more.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At Rocco's Tacos and Tequila Bar in Del Ray Beach, Florida, customers are returning, and with them talk of so-called vaccine passports. Owner Rocco Mangel has been vaccinated and would like others to do the same, but he's not in favor of requiring it at his restaurants for staff and customers. For him, it's about freedom of choice.

ROCCO MANGEL, OWNER, ROCCO'S TACOS AND TEQUILA BAR: Requiring people to have a vaccination card to come into the restaurant or a vaccination app or a passport, I think it infringes on their rights.

KAYE: That tracks with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' view. It's part of why he issued an executive order banning vaccine passports in the state of Florida.


DeSantis has dismissed passports in the same way he did many other measures during the pandemic, like mask mandates and lockdowns, all in the name of protecting rights and, in this case, privacy.

KAYE (on camera): You think you'd get more business or see more business if a vaccine was required here?

MANGEL: I think quite the opposite. If we required it, that would be a perception of that we're trying to govern them.

KAYE (voice over): DeSantis argues that vaccine passports reduce individual freedom and would create two classes of citizens based on vaccination.

KAYE (on camera): According to the executive order, businesses here in Florida are prohibited from requiring customers to provide documentation certifying a COVID-19 vaccination or post transmission recovery in order to gain access to that business.

KAYE (voice over): DeSantis' order puts him at odds with those who believe they're included in the order and are planning for or at least considering requiring a vaccine passport, like the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.

JUDY LISI, CEO, STRAZ CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS: It's really critical to our reopening and eventually to get us to 100 percent capacity.

KAYE: CEO Judy Lisi says she's surprised by and disappointed with the governor's decision.

LISI: If you think about mass gathering places, like theaters and stadiums and arenas, we're sitting right next to each other. So it becomes really important to have a vaccine program as an option for our -- for our guests and for our artists.

KAYE: At Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, proof of COVID-19 vaccination was going to be mandatory for staff and students come the fall semester. But when I alerted the university's CEO to the governor's executive order banning vaccine passports --

GEORGE HANBURY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: I will change whatever is necessary to comply with the law and to the governor's executive order.

KAYE: The popular South Beach Wine and Food Festival may also now have to change its plans to require proof of a vaccine or a negative COVID test to enter next month's event. LEE BRIAN SCHRANGER, FOUNDER, SOUTH BEACH WINE AND FOOD FESTIVAL:

We'll be constantly re-evaluating up until the last second. But, for now, this is the plan we have in place, and the plan that I hope stays in place.

KAYE: Back at Rocco's Tacos, Rocco Mangel says he doesn't think a vaccine passport would make his restaurant any safer than it already is.

MANGEL: People make a choice, and people need to make hopefully a choice that they're not going to put other people at risk.


KAYE: And there is some concern that banning these vaccine passports could only increase vaccine hesitancy. We're already seeing that. Last month there was a CNN poll that showed 57 percent of Republicans were not planning to get the vaccine and another poll that same month from NPR/PBS/Marist showing that 47 percent of the people who supported Donald Trump were not planning to get the vaccine. So as Republicans continue to make this a wedge issue, it really could possibly delay or even prevent us from reaching herd immunity.

Back to you.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Echoes of the masking debate, right, despite what the science and the medicine shows.

Randi Kaye, thanks so much.

Well, President Biden is using a new tactic to frame his infrastructure push, arguing that without it the U.S. is at risk of falling behind China. We're going to discuss.



SCIUTTO: President Biden is now pushing back in forceful terms against GOP criticism of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan by warning America that it could fall behind its international rivals, specifically China, if major investments are not made today.

HARLOW: Our White Hour correspondent, John Harwood, joins us from Washington on this.

John, the president made it a point, clearly, to highlight the way that China is beating the U.S. on this front. And he's not alone. I mean you've got major leading CEOs making the same argument.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, it's a fascinating framing that Joe Biden is undertaking here. He knows he has an enormous fight on his hands to try to get this massive infrastructure and human capital program through to Congress. And so what he's trying to do is take it out of the context of a fight within the United States between Democrats and Republicans but put it as an American fight with forces and the rest of the world, like China, that pits free countries, democracies, that rely on the consent of the governed, versus autocracies, which rule from the top down. And he's saying that this is how we compete with those autocracies.

Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you think China is waiting around to invest in this digital infrastructure or in research and development? I promise you, they are not waiting. But they're counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited, and too divided to keep pace.


HARWOOD: Now, Poppy, as you indicated, he is get some support from people like Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase, who is saying, we have been hobbled by bad policy. We are not rising up to meet challenges of inequality, climate change and the like. But people like Jamie Dimon, of course, have to look in the mirror and see whether they're being part of the solution or part of the problem because they benefitted from a very large tax cut under the Trump administration and right now the business roundtable that Jamie Dimon's part of is defending that tax cut, opposing the way that Joe Biden wants to pay for his plan.

So the question is, if you're serious about wanting to tackle these problems, where's the money going to come from, Poppy?


HARLOW: Such -- so interesting because the Lyft CEO yesterday on this program told us they do -- it's a, you know, big ride share company, they do support a 28 percent corporate tax.

HARWOOD: Some do.

HARLOW: But most don't.

HARWOOD: That's right.

HARLOW: So is that going to change? I don't know. We'll see, John Harwood. Thank you very much.

Well, we're just minutes away from testimony resuming in just minutes in the trial of Derek Chauvin. You'll see it all live right here.

Stay with us.


HARLOW: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Just minutes from now, the ninth day of testimony set to begin in the trial over the death of George Floyd.

HARLOW: The medical examiner who conducted George Floyd's autopsy could take the stand as soon as today.


And that could prove to be crucial testimony as the defense and the prosecution square off over what was the substantial cause of Floyd's death.

So let's begin this hour.