Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Biden Administration to Restrict Travel From India; Biden Celebrates Amtrak's 50th Anniversary. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 30, 2021 - 15:00   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, the fact is, I'd probably take Angie's (ph) word before I'd take the word of what the article said.

But the point is, in the process, as conductor Reid (ph) will tell you, Amtrak became my family. I literally, literally, every single day that I was in the United States Senate, got the -- either the 728, as it became the seven 732, and/or -- and got home on -- if I got lucky, I got the Metro that left -- the last one left at 6:00, or I got the 7:30 coming home.

And you get to know everybody. You get to know the folks. And I used to have a Christmas party for Amtrak employees at my home. And it got so big, we ended up having a summer party, because family and retirees kept coming back.

I want to tell you, these guys and women, they work like the devil. They really, really, really do. And Amtrak wasn't just a way of getting home. It provided me -- and I'm not joking -- an entire other family, a community dedicated that was professional and who shared milestones in my life.

And I have been allowed to share milestones in theirs. I have been to an awful lot of weddings and christenings and, unfortunately, some burials as well. We're family.

You know, I remember, one night, my daughter was only 6 years old and it was my birthday. And we were voting. And I went to Bob Dole, and I said: "Bob, when's the next vote going to take place?"

He said: "Joe, why?"

And I said: "Well, my daughter is really upset I'm not going to be able to be home for the birthday cake she made for me."

He said: "What do you need?"

I said: "I need just time to catch the 5:00 Metro, and I can get the 6:28 coming back," because, in the platform, I guess, in Delaware, you walk from one side to the other."

Got off the train. My wife, Jill, was standing there. My daughter had the cake with the candle lit. I blew them out, gave me a kiss, walked across got on the southbound.

So, it's been part of my life. I have been riding on Amtrak for almost as long as there's been an Amtrak.

And I have come to see that Amtrak doesn't just carry us from one place to another. It opens up enormous possibilities, and especially now. It makes it possible to build an economy of the future and one that we need.

Last week, I announced the target of cutting greenhouse gases and gas emissions in half by 2030. And most of that, of those emissions in this country come from transportation.

But if just 10 percent of the freight ship and the largest trucks went by rail instead, we'd be removing 3,300,000 cars from the road, and we have been planting -- it's the same as doing that or planting 260 million trees in America.

As I have said from the beginning, when I think about fighting climate change, I think about jobs and rail. And, hopefully, the expansion of rail provides good union jobs, good-paying jobs. It also connects people to jobs and economic opportunities that can be reached from wherever you live.

Let's put this in perspective. For years, I fought efforts to cut funding for Amtrak, because cutting funding for Amtrak would be a disaster for our environment and our economy. Amtrak carries four times as many riders between Washington and New York City as every single airline does within 50 miles of the shore from Florida all the way up the coast.

Imagine what we'd have to do a single day without the Northeast Corridor, for example, with Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor, would cost the economy $100 million. If you shut down all passenger service on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, the projects that compensate for the loss, you would have to add seven new lanes of highway on I-95.

And consider that cost, average of $30 million for a linear mile on I- 95. This is the bargain of bargains and bargains. It's economical and it's environmentally a lifesaver.

That's why, in my Rescue Plan, American Rescue Plan, we have worked hard to keep Amtrak running. At the height of the pandemic, because we weren't traveling, Amtrak furloughed one million -- 1,200 employees.

And we were able to provide emergency relief to keep rail service running. And we have now brought back 1,200 union workers who had been furloughed.

And, by the way, you get a union wage, not 15 bucks an hour, a prevailing wage.


BIDEN: But we have to do more than just build back. We have to build back better.

And, today, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to position Amtrak and rail, and inner-city rail as well, in general to play a central role in our transformation and transportation economic future, to make investments that can help America get back on track, no pun intended.


Before the pandemic hit, Amtrak's ridership and revenues were on the upswing. The Northeast Corridor has been making money for a long while now, but, last year, the whole of Amtrak's system was projected to break even for the first time in history. But then we had the pandemic.

But there are still a huge backlog in deferred maintenance, huge need to modernize our trains, our stations, our bridges, our tunnels. Well, we're taking -- we're talking about critical jobs, like the Hudson River Tunnel, the Baltimore and Potomac tunnels, and the Susquehanna River Bridge.

In my American Jobs Plan, I propose spending $10 billion a year on passenger rail and freight rail. Of this, two-thirds would support existing Amtrak routes, including the Northeast Corridor, but nationwide. And we're talking about union jobs, as I said. And we're taking care of the riders, laying track, wiring switches, fixing bridges, tunnels, modernizing stations, and repairing and rebuilding this vital infrastructure.

This would allow for the potential to expand passenger rail service. Imagine a two-hour train ride between Atlanta and Charlotte going at speeds of 220 miles an hour, and two-and-a-half-hour trip between Chicago and Detroit, or faster and more regular trips between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a route that I imagine could be pretty popular on Fridays.

Bill, as you have said, your vision for Amtrak calls for a new inner- city rail service up to 160 previously unserved communities being connected. Think of what it will mean for opportunity if we can connect Milwaukee to be Green Bay to Madison, Scranton and Allentown to New York, Indianapolis to Louisville, and much, much more.

It's going to provide jobs and will also accommodate jobs. And what this means is that towns and cities that have been in danger of being left out and left behind will be back in the game. It means families don't have to sacrifice the cost of living or quality of access to opportunity that sometimes only occurs if they live in a big city.

We have a huge opportunity here to provide fast, safe, reliable, clean transportation in this country. And transit is part of the infrastructure. And like the rest of our infrastructure, we're way behind the rest of the world right now. We need to remember, we're in competition with the rest of the world.

People come here and set up businesses, people stay here, people grow because of the ability to access, access transportation, access all the infrastructure.

It's what allows us to compete. And with the rest of the world, to win the 21st century, we have got to move. China already has 23,000 miles of high-speed rail 220 miles per hour, two-thirds of all the high- speed rail in the world, 220 miles an hour.

And the way -- and they're working on transit, on trains that can go as high as 400 miles an hour. We're behind the curve. But, folks, as I said the other night, America is on the move again. We need to remember that. We're in the United States of America.

There's nothing beyond our capacity, nothing we can't do if we do it together. And we celebrate Amtrak's birthday. I was thinking about America -- Amtrak's role, as I said, on my birthday, when they allowed me to come home and blow out that candle.

There's a lot of things that Amtrak does. And the fact of the matter is, if we're able to, which is now beyond the ability to pay for it, but if we're able to straighten out three curves from Washington to New York, you could make it from Washington New York in an hour and 32 minutes, an hour and 32 minutes.

Folks, there's so much we can do. And it has such an incredibly positive impact on the environment, incredibly positive impact on work, present -- on opportunities.

And, again, all the things we have to do to put Amtrak in place and be one of the great, great contributors to our country is, we have to invest.

So, you know, if you think about it, when we were -- when I was vice president with Barack, he allowed me to put together a budget for Amtrak. And it had money for high-speed rail at 200 miles an hour from -- from Charlotte -- excuse me -- from Charlotte, one, and another line going from -- in Florida down to Tampa, another line.

If we had moved, Gov, we'd have that money fixed in New York now. The money was there to get it done. There's so much we can do. And it's the biggest bang for the buck we can expend.


So, on this momentous birthday of Amtrak, I want to thank you for making so many birthdays possible.

I believe that the best days for Amtrak and for rail and for America are ahead. I really believe that. And I'm just confident, I'm confident we can get this done.

And I must tell you, I'm anxious to see the new train.

Thank you all so very much. God bless America, and may God protect our troops.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: All right, we have been listening to President Biden there help celebrate the anniversary of Amtrak, 50 years old.

And he really speaks with some genuine passion about Amtrak because it was such a part of his life as he would commute from Washington, D.C., home every night, or most nights, he was saying, back to Delaware. And he told that sort of poignant story about his birthday--


CAMEROTA: -- getting on the train, and only having time to go out to the train platform, blow out the candles of his cake that Jill, now the first lady, had brought for him, kiss his young daughter, and get back on the train to go back to

BLACKWELL: Yes. We -- this -- we have known for a while just how much a part of his family -- as he said today, Amtrak has become a part of my family -- the people on those trains have been.

Now it's at the center, or at least a significant part of the pitch he's making for multitrillion-dollar infrastructure improvements across the country. As part of the Getting America Back on Track tour, he's there in Philadelphia, the vice president is in Cincinnati, and they will be trying to take this to the people for support.

Let's go to Jeff Zeleny, who's there at the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.

Jeff, the president started with a lot of things, a lot of stories, and then got down to business.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It was more of a walk down memory lane than it really was a sales pitch about the details of this infrastructure plan.

But, clearly, as you said, you can tell President Biden's strong affinity for Amtrak and really a slice in time. And he was right when he said he's been riding Amtrak nearly as long as it's been in existence, some 50 years.

But, look, the point of this is, at the end of his message there, this is a central part of the argument about why he believes that all of these plans are needed, the infrastructure plan is needed. It's to keep the United States competitive with China.

A globally competitive world, of course, relies on really reliable infrastructure. And we have seen time and time again across the country bridges are crumbling, airports are simply not up to speed like other countries. So, that is a central part of his argument. Of course, what he didn't

get into are the details. How will these plans be paid for? So this, of course, is the American Jobs Plan. It's the first part of his two- part economic agenda.

But, again, there is broad support, at least in theory, of needing to improve infrastructure. The question will be, is the White House going too big by adding other things onto this bill? How will this look at the end of the summer?

But the White House and the folks on Capitol Hill, they do believe that they will come to some type of an agreement perhaps mid to late summer on this. But, again, for the president's part, at least, a bit of nostalgia there as he stood in front of a new Acela car telling all of those old stories -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, indeed.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

And we are also following some breaking news out of the White House at this hour. On the advice of the CDC, the Biden administration will now restrict travel from India because of that country's skyrocketing COVID cases.

BLACKWELL: Yes, India is reporting more than 300,000 new COVID infections for the ninth day in a row.

CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is with us, as well as Vedika Sud in New Delhi.

Kaitlan, we will start with you.

When does this restriction on travel to and from India start, and any indication of how long it will last?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No indication yet of how long this is going to go for.

Of course, you have to think it's going to depend on just how the situation progresses in India and what has happened, because, right now, the cases are not letting up. They are continuing to see these record-breaking numbers.

And that's really what led to this decision that the Biden administration has made to start restricting travel from India starting on Tuesday. This doesn't go into effect right now. We should make that clear, because that certainly was a consideration, given the panic that those travel bans last year caused for Americans who were overseas.

And so this doesn't actually start until Tuesday at midnight, and it doesn't even apply to American citizens. It is not for permanent U.S. citizens. Instead -- or humanitarian workers, we should note. This policy does not apply to them. But it's for non-U.S. citizens who have been in India in the last two

weeks. Of course, this is a concern that the CDC had with not just those rising case numbers, but also the variants. That has been something that you have seen multiple health experts talk about over the last several weeks, as people are getting vaccinated and that is getting ramped up, is a concern about people who aren't getting vaccinated and the countries that are not ramping up vaccinations, as you were still seeing these variants mutate and continue to happen.


And so that really played a key factor into this decision by the administration to make this decision. And so the question of how long it's going to last still an unanswered one, so it remains to be seen what's going to happen there.

I assume we will get an update from the White House on this. But they have confirmed that, yes, this is their plan, starting on Tuesday, to restrict travel from India to the U.S.

CAMEROTA: OK. Thank you for breaking that for us, Kaitlan.

Let's go to Vedika Sud.

So, any reaction yet there to these travel restrictions?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, it's late at night here, so I'm not expecting a reaction in the coming hours, but perhaps, local time tomorrow morning, we will be getting a reaction from the Indian government.

But, like Kaitlan said, this was expected as well, given the U.S. travel advisory for Americans also to leave India if they can, especially the families of employees, government employees of the U.S. here in India. They had asked them to use the availability of commercial flights.

Now, what's interesting is domestic carrier Air India was actually operating at pre-COVID levels. They had about 29 flights taking off every week. And they planned to expand it to about 31 in the coming days. But, of course, now those operations have to be put on hold.

We know a lot of people were leaving India, especially U.S. citizens, because of the caseload going up. In fact, it's much closer to 400,000 currently, which is a staggering number, along with the deaths, which are the highest ever that India has seen.

So we did also speak to some people who've been traveling recently. And they said that the prices of tickets were skyrocketing, and very few seats were available. So, this was anticipated because there was a rush also on these flights back to the U.S. at this point in time, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Vedika, the reports that you and other colleagues there have been bringing us have just been absolutely heartbreaking. There's some anger with the government for disorganization. How are people faring now trying to get something as crucial as oxygen for their family members?

SUD: Victor, they're only hearing bad news. And that's the sad part of this situation, because being an Indian and being a journalist has been very difficult for me to actually keep the emotions aside when it comes to the developments in India.

So, I can just about imagine how others are faring at this point in time. It's too close to home this time, Victor. Oxygen supply has been the biggest issue, along with shortage of beds. Whoever we have spoken to, either they're running around to get remdesivir, a medicine needed for COVID-19 patients in very extreme situations, or beds or oxygen.

In fact, I was just speaking to my husband. And I'm going to make this a bit of a personal account, because he just called me saying that a colleague needs oxygen. And they are actually running in the middle of the night right now trying to get oxygen for him.

So, this is the story in every household possibly. Every one is being affected at this point in time. You have seen the visuals from crematoriums. You have heard people talk and break down. Some people are just exhausted at this point in time. Others are numb. And some haven't even been able to digest the tragedy within their own households.

So, at this point in time, yes, there is a shortage. Global -- people are coming in. Countries are coming in to help. There are donation drives even happening overseas to help bring these oxygen concentrators and other emergency aids into India.

But I don't really see a huge change on the ground. There is frustration, there is anger building, especially in social media, where people are wanting someone to be held accountable for this, be it state authorities or the central government.

The anger is palpable at this point in time -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: It's certainly understandable.

I mean, it is impossible to be there and see in person what we have seen on television and not be impacted, not feel something.

Vedika Sud, to you and your team, stay safe, and thank you.

All right, next: President Biden weighs in on whether America is a racist country, as a group of bipartisan lawmakers work on policing reform.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee joins us live to talk about that.



CAMEROTA: Ma'Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old girl shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio, is being laid to rest today.

Bryant died after a Columbus police officer shot her as she lunged at another girl with a knife. Today, family members and friends gathering to say final farewells to the teenager who was living in a foster home at the time of her death.

The shooting was captured on police bodycam video, and the case is under investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

BLACKWELL: A group of bipartisan lawmakers is now working to push forward legislation on police reform. President Biden has called on Congress to pass a bill by the end of next month.

And my next guest is part of the effort to make that happen.

Democratic Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is with me now.

Congresswoman, thank you for your time.

You were part of these talks with the relatives of victims of police violence, the negotiations with Republicans to get something done. How close are the two sides to coming to an agreement on what can get to the president's desk?


REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Well, first of all, thank you so very much for having me.

What a powerful meeting and meetings that were held. There's nothing more potent, more powerful than the story of a loved one about the loss of their family member. All of these family members were eloquent. They were profound and pointed.

And I really think they were convincing. Again, I think they made it very clear that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is not against policing in America. But it is and does stand for good policing in America and the ending of police misconduct that day after day finds officers who are doing the wrong thing.

And they are bringing about the death, the death, the heinous death of a loved one who could have been alive, just like George Floyd, but for the actions of a police officer who is designated and destined to protect and serve.

BLACKWELL: Well, and to the question of how close you are to getting something done, one of the sticking points for Senator Tim Scott, Senator Lindsey Graham is the House version's limits on qualified immunity, which essentially protects law enforcement officers from most civil litigation.

You have called the qualified immunity protections an injustice. Could you support a bill that does not lift those protections?

JACKSON LEE: Well, I think as the negotiations are going forward, I may not have to do that. Frankly, I believe, as I said, the meetings yesterday were powerful.

But I think there's a greater understanding of really what qualified immunity is. And let me just say very simply, it only allows both the victim, the harmed family of the victim, to go into the courthouse, just as the police have been able to go in the courthouse.

And, also, if it is described as going after those officers like an Officer Chauvin that exhibited absolutely clear bad conduct, it's not going after officers who every day of the week do their work. I think it is the wrong analysis that our friends on the other side of the aisle may be using by suggesting this is going against all police officers and changing the way policing is done.

That's not the case. Qualified immunity only rises when there is that kind of action that we have seen in the actions of Breonna Taylor and Daunte Wright and George Floyd and Tamir Rice, and the list goes on.

So, we're going to continue to lead with the negotiators.


JACKSON LEE: We're going to continue to hear from the families. And I, frankly, think that we're going to get to a good place.

BLACKWELL: But, Congresswoman, you say that, as negotiations go on, you may not have to.

Do you have some indication -- you were in the meetings with Senator Scott and with Senator Graham -- that they will back off that requirement to keep those protections for individual officers?

JACKSON LEE: Well, they met with the families. And all I can say to you is, I see a light at the end of the tunnel.

But we are still talking, everyone is talking, and they're trying to talk in the right direction. I'm going to reserve how I would vote or whether or not that would be the final vote. But, yes, I'm committed to qualified immunity because I think it only goes after those officers exhibiting bad conduct.

And, again, everyone believes in people having their right to a day in court. This is what this is.


BLACKWELL: Let's get to the broader question. I apologize for the interruption there.

JACKSON LEE: That's all right.

BLACKWELL: President Biden was asked to respond to Senator Scott's assertion that America is not a racist country. I want you to listen to what the president said.


BIDEN: No, I don't think the American people are racist. I don't think America is racist.

But I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow and, before that, slavery have had a cost, and we have to deal with it.


BLACKWELL: Now, Congresswoman, you have talked about institutional and systemic racism. But the question that was posed to the president, I'm going to put to you.

Is America a racist country?

JACKSON LEE: Well, I'm going to hold to the point of my earlier comments.

Institutional racism and systemic racism taints and spoils the way that America treats in one instance African-Americans and other instances minorities. So, there are aspects of America's laws, America's structure as relates to the black community in particular and other communities that is racist.

There are -- certainly, what the president said is accurate about the American people, that the American people, I think, have called to goodness. That's where they want to be.