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Trump Allies Search for Candidate to Challenge Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) in Wyoming Primary; COVID Infections at Seven-Month Low in U.S.; Biden to Promote American Jobs Plan in Louisiana Today. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 6, 2021 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


We do begin this hour with breaking news. Former President Trump's political allies working behind the scenes in Wyoming, organizing their efforts against Congresswoman Liz Cheney, more on that in a moment.

But Cheney is this morning, very comfortable with where she is standing. She is standing tall as she faces the prospect of being voted out of Republican leadership, warning those in her caucus against echoing baseless lies about the election.

SCIUTTO: She writes in The Washington Post, 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. And also she goes on to write the basic truth, that Trump lost the election, so many unwilling to state that definitively.

CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju joins us now. So, Manu, she's already being -- or they're trying to force her out of her leadership position. Tell us now about efforts to force her out of her seat.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They're almost certainly going to force her out of the leadership position by next week, but forcing her out of her seat is another question. But there is still an ongoing effort under way by Trump allies to consolidate all of the anti-Cheney forces behind a single candidate. There are several who have emerged in the race but we're told that there is a real effort to interview candidates, find the right person and then Donald Trump eventually is expected to endorse one of those candidates. And that could lead to these other candidates dropping out of the race. There have been some setbacks by the -- from the pro-Trump forces. They tried to create a runoff in the Wyoming primary to try to essentially ensure one candidate would eventually go up against Liz Cheney. That effort to create the runoff failed. So now, they're looking into plan B and looking at some of the candidates.

One candidates who I spoke to, his name is Chuck Gray, he's a state legislator in Montana -- in Wyoming. He made very clear what he believes about what happened in 2020. He told me, quote, Donald Trump absolutely won the 2020 election. He also would not say that pro-Trump supporters were in this Capitol building rioting on January 6th despite the video evidence and what everybody saw with their own eyes.

But it's very clear where the dividing line is both on Capitol Hill and in Wyoming, about whether or not to support Donald Trump's lie that he won the 2020 election. And Liz Cheney calling out that lie is one reason why she is being pushed out. Republicans believe that she has been off message. She's not doing her job as conference chair and she's going to almost certainly be replaced by Elise Stefanik, the New York Republican.

Now, yesterday, Liz Cheney pushed back even though she recognizes privately that she's almost certainly going to be pushed out. She did write an op-ed explaining why she has decided to fight Donald Trump on this issue. She said 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. We Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.

And in that same op-ed, she went after Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, for initially criticizing Donald Trump and backing away from the criticism and aligning himself with the president and the aftermath of January 6th and all of Trump's actions.

But, nevertheless, she is decidedly in the minority in -- on Capitol Hill in her conference. That's why she's pushed out next week amid this massive shake-up within the Republican Party, within the Republican conference that overwhelmingly supports the former president. Guys?

HARLOW: Okay. Manu, such important reporting on that front, thanks a lot.

Let's bring in Brendan Buck, a former top aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan and John Boehner, and Melanie Zanona, Congressional Reporter for Politico. Good morning to both of you.

Brendan, let me just start with you, because your former boss, John Boehner, wrote that book recently and he talked about not being sure if he belongs even to the Republican Party as it sits anymore. And then he told our colleague, Dana Bash, something really interesting. He said, Republicans have to go back to being Republicans. I mean, what does that mean right now? What are Republicans right now? Liz Cheney or all the folks that are going to oust here? BRENDAN BUCK, FORMER TOP AIDE TO HOUSE SPEAKERS PAUL RYAN AND JOHN BOEHNER: Well, clearly, it's not Liz Cheney right now. We have largely become sort of a post-policy party and really much more focused on a culture war.


And I think the clearest evidence of that is, you know, look who is going to most likely replace Liz Cheney, Elise Stefanik.

By every measure, Liz Cheney is more conservative than Elise Stefanik. You go through every issue. But there is no question that Elise Stefanik has more support. But it's because she fights those culture wars. She stands by Donald Trump. That's obviously the big one.

And, you know, I wish that there was some bigger goal that we are working towards. You know, Joe Biden is talking about dramatically remaking the scale and role of government and Republicans are largely focused on things like Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head and imaginary meat bands. So like these are things that I feel like we need to come -- like what John Boehner is talking about is let's wait up. Let's at least focus on what the big issues are. But, obviously, we're so far beyond that because most of what Republican voters want to hear more than anything is just do you support Donald Trump, and it's as simple as that.

SCIUTTO: Melanie, Brendan says post-policy party. The fact is, as well, it's a post-truth party at this point. I mean, to hear Manu say that the person who may challenge Liz Cheney in Wyoming not only denies the Trump lost the election but denies that Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. I mean, 400 of them have been charged with crimes, right? I mean, it is mind-boggling and yet it's the reality in the party. It owns the party now. What changes that, particularly if they win the midterms?

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: That's what this fight over Liz Cheney really boils down to, right? It's about truth versus lies. It's so much bigger than just a leadership fight and a fight about Liz Cheney and her political future. And I think Liz Cheney herself recognizes that. She is fighting for this, consequences be damned, because she feels like this is about democracy, this is about law and order. And this is even bigger than the battle for the soul of the Republican Party.

And so that is why she's completely comfortable being toppled if it means going down for what she believes in. And that's what you have seen in her behavior this week.

HARLOW: I think it's interesting in your reporting, Melanie, that you said, like Liz Cheney is not even working behind the scenes as politicians almost always do to build a quiet coalition. I just wonder why you think that is.

ZANONA: Everyone on Capitol Hill right now is trying to suss out Liz Cheney's endgame. That is the big question of the day. She is not trying to fight for this leadership job. She's not making calls. She's telling people it's not worth it. This isn't a job I want if I have to shut up or lie about Donald Trump in the 2020 election. But it is a question.

She -- you know, keep in mind, she passed on a Senate bid, somewhere where she would be sitting comfortably right now to seek her political fortunes in the House. She was floated as a future speaker and now she's on the verge of becoming a woman in exile in the House GOP. So where does she go from here? She's going to also have a tough primary race.

She hasn't ruled out running for president. But everyone I talked to said she really is not thinking long game with her political career. She's doing what she believes is right for the country.

SCIUTTO: Brendan, you've worked with many senior Republicans, Paul Ryan, John Boehner among them in the past. You speak to many sitting Republican lawmakers today. You speak to lawmakers who know it's a lie, right, that Trump won the election. They know it's a lie, that it wasn't Trump supporters that stormed the Capitol. How do they explain accepting that and not standing up to the lie? How do they explain it to you?

BUCK: Well, I think that's obviously what got Liz Cheney in trouble, is she's making them confront it. It's not that they want to debate the merits of it. Nobody is going to really argue with you -- wants to argue the facts with you. And that's what makes Liz Cheney's stand so great. It is not that she's going out and saying hyperbolic things about Donald Trump and calling him names. She is just saying things that are obviously true.

And Republicans' main message at this point in response to that is let's move on. They just don't want to talk about it. And it's not because they don't want to talk about Donald Trump, it's because they don't want to talk about their role leading up to January 6th.

SCIUTTO: But the move on thing -- the move on thing is B.S., right? Because the former president won't move on from the fact that he lost. We heard Alice Stewart make exactly that same talking point, which is clearly the talking point now. But it contradicts the actual stated position of the party, right, is that it was a stolen election, right? It doesn't stand out (ph).

BUCK: But they just don't want to talk about it. They know that even a lot of them were perpetuating that myth going up to January 6th. They just don't want anybody to bring it up. I think they would love Donald Trump to not bring it up either too.


HARLOW: Melanie, also the optics here matter a lot and it would look really bad to have, you know, men in the House Republican conference push out a woman, Liz Cheney, the only woman in leadership there, but that's not the way they're doing it. They're going to have a -- your reporting is Representative Fox to bring up the proposal. You're going to have a replacement by Elise Stefanik.


Just speak about -- I mean, it's sort of masterly crafted optically, right?

ZANONA: Yes, this is not a coincidence. The sources I talked to said GOP leaders, including Kevin McCarthy, have made a very calculated decision that they knew it needed to be a woman to replace Liz Cheney. And they also wanted it to be a woman to be the one to introduce the formal resolution next week that will call for her ouster. They know that this is a major problem for the party.

That's why they went to bat for her last time around when they also were trying to defend Marjorie Taylor Greene. And so they knew this could really hurt the party standing with women, especially in those key suburban swing districts that are going to determine the House majority. So they've been trying to very carefully orchestrate this whole thing so they can avoid some of those uncomfortable optics.

But at the end of the day, they are still pushing out a number three, the highest ranking Republican woman in leadership. And, essentially, they're trying to silence her and telling her to shut up. So I don't think, you know, maybe Elise Stefanik eases some of the uncomfortable optics but it doesn't go away for the party.

HARLOW: That's a great point.

SCIUTTO: That is the meta message, right? Shut up.

HARLOW: Met message. Thanks, guys.

SCIUTTO: Bredan Buck, Melanie Zanona, the truth hurts. Thanks very much.

Still to come, hope on the horizon. COVID-19 infections in the U.S. hit the lowest level in seven months, and the CDC projects an even sharper drop by this summer. Great news. Is the nation finally turning a corner, as we've often said, in the pandemic?

HARLOW: Plus, as restaurants across the country begin to reopen, they are facing a new challenge finding workers. We'll explain.

And debris from the Chinese rocket that is falling toward Earth, experts have no idea where it will land, reporting on that ahead too.



HARLOW: Welcome back. Right now, the U.S. is averaging the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases since October, around 46,000 per day. A new model from the CDC suggests there could be an even sharper decline by July. It's great news, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's fantastic news. It's the fact of pace of vaccinations in this country and forward progress depending on the continuing fast pace of vaccinations. CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now with more. So, Sanjay, we've talked about this issue a lot, willingness to get the vaccine. A new survey shows that willingness is leveling off. Why and what is the significance?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, so, first of all, that is great news, the graphic you just showed. And I think it's important to point out because everyone talks about herd immunity or community immunity, you do see significant progress even before you get to that point. So this isn't a switch. You know, this sort of improves as you go along.

But let me show where you we are with regard to vaccine hesitancy overall. It's leveled off. It's improved a little bit month-to-month in terms of people who were previously on the fence that are now more willing to get the vaccine. So the dark blue is the overall people who are very confident. The second category and third category are people who are more on that fence area. And you are seeing some movement along there as well. So that's -- that's good.

Vaccinated population alone probably won't be enough based on the data that we're seeing to get to that specific community immunity. But keep in mind, as we've talked about on your program before, that if it's immunity overall, there is immunity that comes from people who have been previously infected. That's not the way you want to get it but they do have antibodies. Add that into the vaccinated population, and together, that's probably what's really driving the downward trend. So, overall, good news.

And the virus itself becomes less contagious in the summer, so the threshold for immunity will be lower. So good news all around.

HARLOW: Sanjay, I've been sort of procrastinating on signing my kids up for summer camp, waiting for some answers here, because I don't exactly want them running around all day again with masks on. And there is some new guidance for summer camps from the CDC in terms of mask-wearing at camp indoor, outdoor. What do we know?

GUPTA: Well, the guidance is there. I think there is two headlines that came out of this. First, I'm sort of in the same boat you are, Poppy, you know, and I think the big headline there for a lot of people were, are we going to do summer camp this year or not?


GUPTA: And I think you're hearing that, yes, you can do summer camp. So that should be the first sort of decision point that I think a lot of families are making now. Then it's a question that you're asking about what that summer camp is going to look like --


GUPTA: -- specifically in terms of mask-wearing.

And I think that the idea that you need to wear masks outside, I think there is plenty of data showing that that's just really not necessary. I mean, you know, the virus just doesn't transmit well outside. Even if you go back and look at the data from the camp outbreaks from last summer, something Dr. Walensky has talked about, those are probably most likely related to indoor settings, youth sports outbreaks probably related to being on the bus together or being in other indoor settings. So it could very likely be a bifurcated thing. Masks will likely still be necessary indoors but not outdoors. And I think that will make things, you know, frankly, a lot more comfortable.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's interesting. Even Dr. Fauci said it. Those rules seem a bit strict for camps.

Well, President Biden took a step here that many had been encouraging him to do, but is not welcomed by everyone, and that is relaxing vaccine patent rules, potentially open the floodgates to help other countries make them themselves.


Why does this make sense, in your view? Does it?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I think it may make sense but maybe not necessarily in the short run and it may not really solve the problem. I mean, the issue that we have seen all along really with a lot of the vaccines is simply having the raw materials, the reagents, the stuff, if you will, to make the vaccines. So if that is still a rate limiting step, if you know how to do it but you don't have the raw ingredients to make it happen, it doesn't really solve the problem. And I think that's what a lot of people are reacting to.

So, inherently, it seems to be a good idea, especially when you're in the middle of a pandemic, to share some of the precious intellectual property around the very, very effective life-saving vaccines. But you got to make sure that the other -- the manufacturing capabilities are there.

The other thing I'll just tell you is -- and I talked to folks in India all the time. I was just -- what's happening with friends and colleagues and family over there, they're still in a very acute situation there, right? I mean, it's kind of like the -- if we were a hospital and patient, the patient is still coding and they need to take care of that problem first. It's not to minimize the importance of vaccines. It's going to be very important.

But right now, they're talking about oxygen, hospital beds, just the basics in terms of trying to save lives, and, obviously, stopping viral transmission. That's the lockdown that is happening in New Delhi and other places right now. So we'll see if the lifting of the I.P. sharing makes a big difference. But they have a more urgent problem right now.

HARLOW: Sanjay, just very quickly, can they force a company -- can the Biden administration make Pfizer or Moderna share it?

GUPTA: I think with Moderna, so much of the research came from the NIH specifically in terms of actually the mRNA vaccine, the various techniques to allow it to work. So, in that case, it's taxpayer funded dollars that have allowed a lot of that intellectual property to even be developed.

HARLOW: Or maybe in that case. Okay, Sanjay, thank you.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

HARLOW: Up next, help wanted, restaurants reopening, some at full capacity. Owners, many of them say, they can't find enough workers. We'll explain, ahead.



SCIUTTO: So, President Biden will be in Louisiana today. He is going there to promote his American jobs plan. It's one of several stops he's making as part the Getting America Back on Track tour. He's also promoting the restaurant revitalization fund that is part of the American rescue plan.

SCIUTTO: It would provide $28 billion in direct relief to restaurants and food and beverage establishments that were particularly hurt by lockdowns.

CNN's White House Correspondent John Harwood joins us now from Washington. John, how are these public tours going, right? I mean, he's basically trying to sell this to the public given what he's running into in Congress. Does the administration think they're working?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's still early, a lot of room to run in the legislative process. But the fact is, right now, Joe Biden is a popular president with a popular economic agenda but a leadership of the other party that is absolutely committed to blocking him.

So what he's doing in Lake Charles, Louisiana today, visiting a bridge that President Donald Trump had vowed to improve during the 2020 campaign, is to try to put pressure on and escalate pressure on Republicans by talking about the elements of his agenda that are popular. That is job creation through heavy spending on more than $100 billion in roads and bridges, of course, much else in the president's program, and paying for that by raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.

That is a red line for Republicans in terms of their opposition. They don't want to do that. It's rolling back part of that Trump tax cut. But what Joe Biden is saying is that what are we better off doing? Investing and creating these jobs and forcing corporations to pay for it or simply not doing that and letting those corporations and wealthy individuals continue to do very well in this economy while ordinary Americans languish?

Now, the president has said, and he repeated it at the White House yesterday, that he is willing to negotiate with Republicans. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm going to meet with Republicans next week when they come back and seriously meet with them. I'm willing to compromise.


HARWOOD: Now, of course, the challenge is that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday he is 100 percent focused on stopping Joe Biden. The question is how long does President Biden continue the effort to court Republicans? Vice President Harris said yesterday, we're going to persist in that outreach until it's proven that it can't work, that it's not viable, and we may be in the process of watching Joe Biden demonstrate that beginning next week and he's trying to make that -- begin to make that case today.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching. We'll see what the effect is on Capitol Hill. John Harwood, thanks very much.

With the country reopening, many hotels and restaurants are facing a new COVID-19 challenge, that is finding workers to fill open positions.

HARLOW: Workers are leaving for several reasons, and some have gotten completely new jobs, some COVID fears, some unemployment.