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Liz Cheney to GOP: Trump or the Truth; Kevin McCarthy Concerned Commission Will Call Him as Witness; U.S. Averaging about 2 Million Inoculations Daily for a Week; Giuliani Seeks Trump's Help with Legal Bills; Biden EPA Proposes Rule Cutting Climate Pollutants; Companies Call for Expanded Voting Access in Texas. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 6, 2021 - 09:00   ET

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


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POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Good morning, everyone. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): I'm Jim Sciutto.

A turning point for the Republican Party, perhaps for the country. It's a simple choice between truth, the truth about the election, Joe Biden won, Donald Trump lost, and blind loyalty to former president Trump.

Fact is, most Republicans, even senior leaders refuse to acknowledge the facts. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, whose days as number three in the House GOP leadership appear numbered, is firing back at her fellow Republicans, many of whom have now exiled her from her own party for taking the simple step of telling the truth about former president Trump's election lies.

HARLOW: The congresswoman wrote a scathing opinion piece in "The Washington Post." And the message is aimed directly at her fellow Republican colleagues.

It warns them that history is watching and that embracing the former president's lies, quote, "will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country," she writes.

"The Republican Party is at a turning point and Republicans must decide whether they are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution."

There is so much to discuss on this front this morning. Let's begin there with our colleague Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill.

She couldn't be clearer and she seems very comfortable with where she sits, knowing that this will likely cost her that seat.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Poppy. This really mirrors what I've been hearing from sources over the last several days, which is that Cheney is not trying to fight the fact that she is going to be ousted from her position in leadership within the Republican conference.

Instead, her belief is that she is doing the right thing and, if her leadership doesn't like it, if the rank and file do not like what she is saying, that is not worth trading her honesty and her loyalty to what she believes should be the orthodoxy of the Republican Party for this leadership slot.

I want to read a few pieces of this op-ed. She calls out Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House in this op-ed.

She says, quote, "While embracing or ignoring Trump's statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country.

"Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack on January 6th and now suggests that our elections and our legal and constitutional system cannot be trusted to do the will of the people."

She also goes on to warn, quote, "History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be."

That, obviously, a very sober take on what she knows is going to transpire over the next several days. We expect that next Wednesday there could be a vote in that Republican conference meeting that that resolution would likely be brought by Republican congresswoman Virginia Fox to remove Cheney from her post.

Of course, the heir apparent being Elise Stefanik, a young congresswoman, who has become someone who was a fierce defender of former president Trump during the first impeachment. She was someone who came in, really looking up to someone like Paul Ryan. And then once Ryan was no longer Speaker, she became someone who was close to McCarthy and, therefore, became someone willing to go out and defend Trump at every turn.

So obviously, a very fast moving story, something that a week ago seemed improbable now seems like it is the writing is on the wall -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: What's remarkable here, we talk about Liz Cheney being on an island today. She was not four months ago in the wake of January 6th. Mitch McConnell said similar things. Kevin McCarthy said similar things. Lindsey Graham said he was done with Trump.

What has changed since then is not the facts, the politics or their calculation about the political consequences of this. And that's remarkable. Lauren Fox, thanks so much.

Let's speak to our CNN political commentators, Alice Stewart and Amanda Carpenter, both with a long history of working in the Republican Party.

It's a moment to sigh, right, because, four months ago today, hundreds of people violently attacked the Capitol, based on a lie. They attacked police officers; many were injured. The president refused to call them back. There was a brief moment of bipartisan outrage at it. That's disappeared.

And now Liz Cheney is on an island. She's paying a price for it.

Amanda, we talked, under Trump, Republicans and Democrats, about the threat to the American democratic system posed by Trump singularly.

[09:05:00]

SCIUTTO: But is the fact today that it is not him singularly, it's a party unwilling to accept a lost election?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what, Jim, after I read that op-ed, I stopped wringing my hands. I stopped sighing over the situation because Liz Cheney is moving into position to do something really good for the country and democracy.

The most important part of that op-ed had to do with her push for the January 6th commission to get to the bottom of what led to that day. And that is an important trade-off because, if Kevin McCarthy and the Republican leadership want to continue with this big election lie, then that just bolsters the need for a January 6th commission to set the record straight.

And she can do this. She can have -- she can pull together Republicans to help Democrats pass this in the House and the Senate and I think that will do a lot more good than she could ever do working with Kevin McCarthy.

HARLOW: You make such an interesting and important point, Amanda, because what she called for was no politicians of either party, current politicians, to be on that commission.

And, Amanda, you've made the point that she really wants actual honest answers, especially probing McCarthy and his conversations with Trump on that day and subsequent conversations, which reminded me of this exchange recently with Chris Wallace. Let's roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Has the president ever reached out to you, since that report came out, to discuss what you and he talked about in the January 6th phone call?

And did you say to him, I can't because we're under oath.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: No.

WALLACE: That never happened?

MCCARTHY: It's never happened. WALLACE: And you --

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY: Never even close.

WALLACE: And if it did happen, you would agree, that would be witness tampering?

MCCARTHY: Yes, but it never happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Questions like that, Amanda?

CARPENTER: Yes, I mean, this goes beyond Kevin. I'm not going to say it's just about him although he's an important element of it. There are a lot of things that Republicans in leadership positions don't want to talk about, how the stop the steal efforts in Georgia culminated in the riot that occurred on January 6th.

All the attorneys general doing robocalls and pushing these efforts. This is really wide sweeping. There's new arrests every day, where people are suggesting they are willing to talk more about this.

You see Adam Kinzinger on Twitter, pushing a letter from the Washington, D.C., police officer, Michael Fanone, who wants to talk about what he saw and what happened.

And so you really have a lot of people who want to talk about this. And once this thing gets kicked out of Congress, once it passes, you'll have so many Republicans with competence and experience who want to support this effort.

This is rough. It's hard to watch what they're doing to Liz Cheney. But I think so much good is going to come out of it. And this is what real Republicans would do. They put their country first. They protect their institutions and they restore the damage that has been done.

SCIUTTO: Amanda, I wish I shared -- I wish I shared your hope.

Alice --

CARPENTER: I'll work on you.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: I wish. Because the political incentives -- and this is what I want to ask Alice about -- are the opposite. It's pushing elected lawmakers in the opposite direction. I have had a sitting member of Congress, a Republican, who I respect, a long history, military veteran, in fact, who told me, after he voted to decertify the election results, that, if he didn't do it, he would lose his seat.

Two-thirds of Republicans voted to decertify the votes the night of January 6th. And since then, that feeling has gotten stronger, not weaker, Alice. And Republicans are confident and Democrats, by the way, equally fearful that Republicans are going to win back the House in 2022.

I wonder if the political incentives mean that this is baked for the party, right, despite stands like Cheney's.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree with you and I agree with Liz Cheney, that the facts are the facts. The election was free and fair. Donald Trump lost. Joe Biden won. And there needs to be people held accountable for the insurrection at the Capitol. And many of them don't want to do so.

I think all of those facts are true. The difference now is, the focus has changed. The focus needs to be on firing Nancy Pelosi and winning the House in 2022. And unfortunately, with Liz Cheney putting so much emphasis, understandably, on her hatred and relitigating that hatred for Donald Trump and taking the focus off of what the goal is, she --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: Alice, she didn't say hatred once in that piece. She said truth. She said he lost. And that's the thing that other Republicans won't say.

STEWART: I am telling you what members of Congress are telling me in her -- that are in their GOP conference. They are saying that it's not as much about her and what she continues to talk about president Trump, it is that the way she is with -- in the conference.

[09:10:00]

STEWART: She's not building a consensus. She's more focused on the division within the Republican Party than the united front we need to have against the Biden administration. And it might seem laughable to some people. But her goal as conference chairwoman is --

CARPENTER: Disgusting, too.

STEWART: -- her goal is to unite the conference, not to divide them. I applaud her efforts to look to the bottom of what's happened on January 6th. Her role as conference chairwoman is to unite the party.

And if her goal wants to be on the January 6th commission, more power to her. But the conference deserves someone that is going to be there to unite the conference and win back the House in 2022.

HARLOW: Amanda, even if it's uniting behind a lie?

CARPENTER: Yes, this is the dumb, stupid tribalism that got us into this mess. The dumb, stupid tribalism, where people can say, I will support Donald Trump no matter what, because red team, yea; blue team, bad.

I mean, this is why we have to break this up. And Liz Cheney is not going to sacrifice an ounce of her conservative policy beliefs because she knows how to put country first. National security, democracy, our institutions are what unite us as a country, as Americans, not getting behind a Big Lie and covering up for an insurrection because we wear a red hat.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Alice Stewart, do I -- why can't the party, before getting to issues of tax rates and so on, state simply, as a fact, Joe Biden is the president?

I watched John Barrasso on the air, wiggle and writhe. He just would not say the worlds. He would say he's in the White House now. He wouldn't say he won.

Why can't Republicans acknowledge that fact?

It sounds like -- will you acknowledge that fact?

Why can't they acknowledge that?

STEWART: I've said this from Election Night on, the election was free and fair. And when Donald Trump lost and Joe Biden won, he is the free and fair winner. I applauded him. I support him. He is our President of the United States.

Why more Republicans don't acknowledge that, I don't know.

But what is big and dumb and stupid, Amanda, is for Republicans to go back and continue to relitigate the past instead of unite --

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Oh, we will. We will for the next two years for as long as it takes. As long as it takes, so people can look at the camera and say Donald Trump incited an insurrection and doesn't deserve to lead the Republican Party. There is no unity coming under the red flag until then.

STEWART: The midterm elections need to be about policy and not about the past. That's the only way that we're going to win as --

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: I think protecting our institutions is a policy. I think, when it comes to telling lies, where people get into the voting booth, that's a policy. I think when people rant back voting rights based on Big Lies, that's a policy. And I don't agree with those policies. Maybe you do.

STEWART: I agree with the -- (INAUDIBLE) -- big government policies of the Biden administration and that's how the GOP united can go against that and take back the House.

CARPENTER: There's no policy debates in Congress when people overrun it and climb the walls. HARLOW: All right, ladies, if we didn't have to --

SCIUTTO: -- to go today.

CARPENTER: Thank you.

STEWART: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Thanks to both of you.

Well, that's why we have the show, to have spirited debate like that.

Still to come this hour, cases of coronavirus in the U.S. hit a seven- month low -- that's new, good news -- with a prediction they'll drop even more sharply in the coming months.

Has the U.S. finally reached that point of turning the corner?

HARLOW: Also ahead this hour, aides and allies of Rudy Giuliani are now calling on -- or even Republicans -- are calling on president Trump to pay for Giuliani's mounting legal bills.

And we're going to be joined by the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. His calls for climate justice, what that means for the agency going forward.

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SCIUTTO: This morning, something we can say and report with a smile, great news in the fight against COVID-19. New infections in the U.S. are the lowest they've been in seven months.

Look at that graph there, coming down from that peak back in December. Plus this: a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that vaccine enthusiasm, that's a willingness to take the shot, is rising among Republicans in particular, who were once reluctant.

HARLOW: Right now more than 107 million Americans fully vaccinated; daily vaccinations starting to slow down, though. The average just over 2 million shots per day over the last seven days. Let's go to our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen with more.

Good morning, Elizabeth. We haven't seen new case numbers this low since October.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I know, Poppy. What a great number. So nice to sit here and talk about cases being at the lowest that they've been in seven months. And to a great extent this is a testimony to what vaccination can do. But I don't want to sound like an Eeyore here. But something to keep

in mind, nearly 700 Americans are dying every day from COVID. Still, even with these relatively -- and I stress the word relatively -- low numbers, nearly 700 people are dying every day. So we've got to keep working to keep this headed in this direction, keep the case numbers down.

And that means vaccination. So let's talk about these Kaiser poll numbers.

[09:20:00]

COHEN: Because they get the heart of what's going on with vaccination. Let's take a look at how vaccinations seem to be leveling off. To put it simply, people who want it have gotten it or are about to get it.

In April, 65 percent said that they had already gotten vaccinated or intended to ASAP. In March, it was 62 percent, 65 percent, 62 percent. That's very, very similar. It looks like things are starting to level off.

Now let's take a look at the other side of the coin, which is Americans who will wait and see before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. In April, that number was 15 percent. In March, 17 percent. That's not great because that number hasn't really budged very much.

It means that whatever messaging the Biden administration, the CDC is putting out, it may not be working as well as they would like because that number has not changed much.

But there is one number that did change. You mentioned this a bit. When Republicans were -- Republicans who said they would definitely not get a COVID-19 vaccine, in April that number was 20 percent. But in March, it was 29 percent. So that's a big decrease. That's good.

So the number of Republicans who will definitely not get the vaccine went down significantly just over the course of one month. So hopefully, that number will continue to go down -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Let's hope so. Thanks, Elizabeth, very much.

Let's talk about all the recent developments with our medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner and contributing columnist for "The Washington Post," which is, Doctor, where I'd like to begin on your "Washington Post" piece.

It's really good and certainly made a lot of us think about what we should do if we're fully vaccinated, sort of what do -- the challenging decisions each family has to make on their own. The title is, "The vaccinated will make different choices about what they can do now and that is OK."

What are the three factors people should look at here?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Poppy, we're in this in between time, when people are going to make different choices about what they're going to do. And the three factors I would encourage people to think about, the first is the medical risk of their household.

If everybody is fully vaccinated, that's very different than if there are unvaccinated people. Especially if those unvaccinated are at higher risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19. For example, if they are immunocompromised. They're in a higher risk profile as a family.

The second and most important is the risk tolerance of people in that family. We have been talking all along about following the science. Of course, I believe in following the science. It's just that you can have one data point and totally different interpretations of that.

For example, the CDC now says that there have been 9,200 breakthrough infections. So people who are fully vaccinated, 95 million, out of those, 9,200 or so people who have still gotten COVID-19. Somebody is going to look at that number and say, I don't want to be one of those 9,000. I want to keep hunkering down and being careful.

Somebody else is going to say that's a breakthrough rate of 0.01 percent. I'm fine taking the chances and going back to prepandemic normal. So then you have to weigh the other circumstances.

Two main things: outdoors, much better than indoors and being around fully vaccinated people much better than if you're around people of unknown vaccination status.

SCIUTTO: These micro questions are important because everybody is making judgments like this every day for themselves and for their family. Big picture, though, when you look at that graph, perhaps you can put it up again, of how much new infections have come down, how much deaths have come down, how much vaccinations have gone up.

Is it correct to say that the U.S. has turned the corner, the peak there in January, coming down since then, to say we've turned the corner as a country on this pandemic?

WEN: I think we're in a much better place and things are only going to get better over the summer. I feel extremely optimistic about where we're headed. I actually think that we were in the middle of a fourth surge of sorts.

And if it weren't for vaccinations, we could have seen something really catastrophic as we did last winter. But it was because vaccinations were rising so quickly that we were able to blunt the effect of a fourth surge.

With the warmer weather coming -- and if we look at Israel as an example, they reached something like over 60 percent of people in their overall population who have some type of immunity.

They saw cases drop from 10,000 new infections every day to well under 100. They've gone days without any deaths due to COVID-19. I think that's coming our way over the summer as well. But we really have to keep up the rate of vaccinations. HARLOW: You know, you've noted, you're a doctor, an expert and a

parent. You have noted the unique challenge that vaccinated parents with little kids face, because we don't know what to do.

WEN: Right. I think we need to consider ourselves to be in a higher risk category as a household because we do have unvaccinated kids. And it is true that kids tend to get much less severely ill than adults. But they still can get sick.

[09:25:00]

WEN: And again I think that depends on the risk tolerance of the parents involved. The way that my husband and I are thinking about things is we're willing to be cautious in the meantime but also use some common sense.

For example, we go to outdoor playgrounds. We have our 3-year old have play dates with his friends, without masks, outdoors. Indoors, they need to be wearing masks. We are sending our 3-year old back to school. And he's going to summer camp. Again, outdoors, masks optional but, indoors, masks required.

We as a family can go to outdoor restaurants but we're not going to go to indoor restaurants. So I think every family needs to navigate this for themselves knowing that there's no easy answer and also no answer that's going to be the same for every family.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's interesting. Since the CDC guidance on outdoor mask wearing, I've noticed that difference, even around Washington, D.C. It's come down a bit. Dr. Leana Wen, always good have you on.

Next, a U.S. Capitol Police officer, who was swarmed, beaten in the riot on the U.S. Capitol, you can see it happening there through video, is opening up to Congress, calling their response "disgraceful." We'll have his words ahead.

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