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President Biden Pushes Infrastructure Plan in Louisiana; Vaccination Rate Dropping; Republicans Continue Voter Restriction Efforts. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 6, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. And thanks for being with us. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

The Republican push to restrict voting access is accelerating in multiple states. The Texas Statehouse is set to debate a measure that would make it harder for voters to cast their ballots. A vote on this is expected tonight. Fifty companies and trade associations have come out in opposition of that bill.

And just hours ago, in Florida, the governor there, Ron DeSantis, signed a bill into law that creates new voter I.D. requirements, also more restrictions on mail-in voting. It also limits who can pick up and return a ballot.

BLACKWELL: And, remember, this is all in response to a lie, the idea that the presidential election was stolen from Republicans, thousands of illegal votes cast, some massive fraud, a conspiracy theory that's been widely debunked for months.

CNN's Sara Murray is in Washington with details.

Sara, the Florida bill, which is now law, already facing legal challenges. What can you tell us?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It is already facing at least two legal challenges, and they target a number of the provisions that you just laid out there.

I mean, one of the legal challenges goes up against these limiter -- these limits on voter drop boxes. Another one goes up against this provision that actually prohibits organizations and volunteers from returning ballots on a person's behalf.

And there's another lawsuit that says, essentially, this is voter suppression and this is designed to target black voters, Latino voters, and voters with disabilities in the state of Florida.

And I think it's so important that you pointed out that all of this is kind of stemming from this big lie, the notion that there was all of this fraud in the last election, which, of course, there wasn't. It's worth noting, Republicans in Florida, even Governor Ron DeSantis, has not said there was fraud in Florida in the last election.

They said that things ran smoothly, but that these reforms are just going to make it even better next time. But to give you an idea of the audience that Governor DeSantis was pandering to, he didn't sign this bill in a normal signing ceremony. He didn't invite all the media organizations to watch. He did this exclusively in a rollout on FOX News.

And I think that gives you an indication that they are pushing forward these measures to try to play to the base, to play to these Trump voters who are still insistent that the election was somehow stolen.

BLACKWELL: Yes, he held up the state of Florida as a model for the rest of the country and then said, wait, we need to change so many things.

Sara Murray for us in Washington, thank you so much.

Any moment now, we're expecting to see President Biden in Lake Charles, Louisiana. This is one of several stops he's making as part of his Getting America Back on Track Tour. He will be touting the jobs and infrastructure plan.

CAMEROTA: CNN chief congressional correspondent Kaitlan Collins is in New Orleans for us.

So, Kaitlan, what do we expect from the president today and why Louisiana?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, obviously, Louisiana is a reliably red state. His opponent in the 2020 election won this handily.

But President Biden is coming here today to make the argument for his infrastructure plan. That's part of those trillions that he's put forward and proposing, not in addition to the one that he laid out in front of Congress just last week, but this is the one he laid out right before that.

And to do so, he's going to use some useful backdrops here in Louisiana. In Lake Charles, he's going to be standing in front of a bridge that is 20 years past its prime, while he's arguing why he believes this infrastructure plan is necessary.

And then he's going to come here to New Orleans, where I am, to talk about an aging water system, saying these are proof, these things are proof that his infrastructure plan, that $2.3 trillion plan, actually needs to be put into place.

But, Victor and Alisyn, what's so interesting about the way President Biden is selling this plan and how he plans to do so here in Louisiana today is, he is not just talking about his tax increases that he plans to use to pay for this. He's embracing that. He is flaunting them, almost, talking about them yesterday to us in the State Dining Room at the White House, saying that not only is it just not fair.

He was saying that this is the way he believes it should be, talking about raising taxes on these wealthy Americans, raising taxes on corporations as a way to pay for this by saying he's not shying away from it. He's just saying he's not worried about hurting some multimillionaires' vacation home.

He's instead focused on the kind of people he grew up with who were middle-class, lower -- or lower on the economic totem pole kind of people that he says will benefit not just from getting new bridges and whatnot, but also just making it more fair, given that he says he believes the pandemic exposed just how big of a gap, a wealth gap, there is in the United States.

And so it's just interesting, because you don't often see politicians tout something like a tax increase in the way that we are now seeing President Biden do so. And a lot of that has to do with not just his belief in fairness, but also poll numbers that the White House has been looking at that shows Americans do support raising taxes on wealthy Americans, on corporations, certainly.


And so that's going to be the pitch he is making here today, of course, to push back on some of that Republican criticism that he has gotten in Washington.

CAMEROTA: OK, we will bring everyone those remarks as soon as he comes out. Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

Now to coronavirus. The U.S. is reaping the benefits of the COVID vaccines. Infections and hospitalizations are at their lowest points in almost seven months. The U.S. is now averaging 46,000 cases a day, which is still a huge number, but, of course, it's so much lower than it was in January. Back then, it was more than a quarter-million cases a day.

Hospitalizations are now under 40,000. At their peak, there were more than 130,000 people in COVID wards.

BLACKWELL: And deaths are at their lowest in 10 months. And the CDC is also projecting a sharp decline in cases by July.

But health officials warn that progress in the pandemic could be hampered by variants and the continued slowdown of the vaccination rate.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here.

Elizabeth, just how much has the pace of the vaccinations daily across the country dropped?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Victor, they have dropped quite dramatically.

When you look over the past 14 days and the number of cases per day, that's gone down 30 percent. That's a big drop in just two weeks.

Let's look at some other numbers that show this leveling off. What these numbers show us -- and this is according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey -- is that, in April, 65 percent of people who responded to the survey said they have been vaccinated or they intended to as soon as possible. That's pretty much the same as March. So, that number is not going off.

We're seeing a leveling off, where you could say, if you wanted to get vaccinated, you probably have or you're about to. Let's look at the flip side of that. When you look at Americans who are taking a wait and see, I'm not sure, I'm going to wait and see attitude, in April, that was 15 percent. In March, it was 17 percent.

So, the messaging that the CDC and others are trying to get out there, don't wait and see, get a vaccine, that doesn't seem to be really taking an effect here. We will see what those numbers look like in May.

But a little bit of good news here, which is that, Republicans, these numbers seem to be getting better. In April, 20 percent of them said that they definitely would not get a vaccine. In March, that number was much higher. It was 29 percent, so that...


BLACKWELL: Going to have jump in here.

We're seeing President Biden there in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to speak about the infrastructure plan.

Let's listen.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's good to be back in Lake Charles. I have been here a number of times over the years as senator and then as vice president.

The first time I came down here, there was a guy named Russell Long, who I served with. I was 29.

Please sit down, everybody.

I was 29 years old when I got elected, and I went to see Russell Long, and he said: "Son" -- I made my stops to all the senior senators, which is what you do in those days. And he said: "Son, sit down. Sit down." He pounded his desk.

And I sat down. And he said, he said: "How much money did you spend on your campaign?"

And I said: "Well, sir" -- and this is going to shock you -- I said: "About" -- I said, "A little over $285,000, but then I had to borrow some money to get through it, and I just won barely by less than a half-a-percentage point."

And he said -- well, he said: "Good thing you won." And I said: "How's that?"

He said -- well, he said: "You got yourself a $38,000 deficit."

And I said: "Yes, sir."

And he said: "Well, if you hadn't won, you would just have a plain old deficit. Now you can have a deficit party."


BIDEN: God, I miss -- he was amazing, an amazing guy.

And both of you are amazing.

Mr. Mayor, you have got a great city. And, as I said, I have been -- I have been here more than once, and it's good to be back. And I -- it's hard to believe that you got hit as badly as you have within the time frame you have.

And I used to spend some time with Randy (ph). He got hit a little bit, but not like you did, not like you have.

And, Gov, we have to build back. We have to build back better. One of the things that I'm proud of is, in the first 100 days that I became president, we have created more jobs in that period of time than any administration in history.

But the way I look at that, that's just a down payment, getting us back with the American Recovery Act, just getting us back and getting people. A lot of that had to do with getting people vaccinated, getting 600 million doses of the vaccine and getting people in a position where it was available.


But now it's about rebuilding America, rebuilding in a way that it has resilience. And the folks who are going to rebuild it are those folks right over there. Unions are going to rebuild it in a way that we're going to provide good jobs.


BIDEN: Well, look, as I said, it's good to be back, Governor Edwards and Mayor Hunter.

And I also want to thank president Reine, union president, AFL-CIO head of the -- head of the -- the -- there you are. I couldn't find you.

And, folks, there's a -- when it comes to bridges and roads and the like, I have never seen a Republican or Democrat road. I just see roads.

And, Mayor, I mean, you're a Republican. You wrote a newspaper article suggesting that we -- along with the governor, the Democratic mayor of Shreveport, Mayor Perkins, as to why we need the American Jobs Plan, and which is what I'm here to talk about today, a once-in-a-generation investment in American -- America itself, create jobs and modernize our bridges, our roads, our highways, our ports, our airports, our water pipes, our water projects, high-speed Internet, transmission lines and sustainable housing, sustainable housing.

Jobs rebuilding the foundations of a strong, fair, and resilient, resilient, competitive economy. You know, I know that times have been tough here. The damage of the hurricanes have been devastating. The governor's already spoken to me. We're talking with the OMB and with our folks and Republicans and Democrats in the Congress, because I believe -- I believe you need the help. I believe you need the help.

We're going to try to make sure you get it. But the people of Louisiana always have picked themselves up, just like America always picks itself up. There's no quit in America. There's no quit in Louisiana that I have observed.

But that doesn't mean the federal government, because it was local, doesn't mean it shouldn't help. I promise you, we're going to build back better than ever, more resilient, and build back in a way that all we build is better able to withstand storms and that are becoming more severe and more frequent than ever.

I think we have to -- you might have noticed I promised I would have a -- I would have a climate forum for the world in Washington within 100 days. Well, 40 heads of state showed up from the largest countries in the world to some of the smallest.

We can't deny it. There is a real change in the weather. And if we go 1.5 degrees warmer, we're going to be in real trouble, a point of no return. As a matter of fact, a lot of what we're going to have to build back now, in terms of infrastructure, we got to build back to a different standard, not to what it was.

It's got to be better, because the climate has changed enough now that it's still going to rise two feet when it rains, still going to -- we have got to build for what is needed now. And I promise you, we're going to do that, and we're better -- so we're better prepared to withstand storms and becoming more severe and more frequent.

We're standing here in the shadow of the I-10 Bridge, which I have gone over several times myself in the past. And it's a perfect example of how we have neglected, as a nation, to invest in the future of our economy and the future of our people.

You know, when the bridge was built in 1952, it was built to -- there was nothing there. It was built to make sure that we, in fact, are able to -- it was going to last for 50 years. That was 20 years ago. It was built for 50 years.

The I-10 Bridge was built to handle a daily traffic load of 37,000 crossings. Well, but, today, every day, more than 80,000, more than 80,000 cars and trucks cross over that bridge. And a dozen have the modern safety features that bridges need to have now. You know, six lanes of interstate narrow into four lanes of a bridge.

That's a recipe for disaster. And that's what -- I'm sure you don't need to tell the drivers around Lake Charles that it means traffic bottlenecks and delays.

And at the last inspection, this bridge was categorized as in poor condition. And after decades of politicians studying it and talking about it, Governor Edwards is the one finally moving forward with a project to actually replace the bridge, one with six lanes, new interchanges that's safer, reduces congestion.

And it shouldn't be as hard -- it shouldn't be this hard to take -- or take so long to fix a bridge that's this important. It makes no sense.


But the truth is, across the country, we have failed. We have failed to properly invest in infrastructure for half-a-century. The last four years, how many times would you say, this is going to be infrastructure week?

Well, I got so tired of hearing infrastructure week. Nothing happened. Nothing has happened. And across America, there are more than 45 -- hear me now -- 45,000 bridges that are structurally deficient, structurally deficient. Every day, Americans cross these bridges 178 million times. And they are structurally deficient.

We have seen what happens when they deteriorate. Remember, a few years ago, two counties over in Mississippi had to shut down more than 60 bridges that were in poor condition, 60 bridges. People in those communities were rerouted from 40 to 50 miles, detours, with half- hour-to-hour delays.

One of the areas when I was doing this with our last major plan, when Barack was president, was in Pennsylvania. There was a large shopping center, school, and the rest, and it was just across a creek, as we say up in that way.

And the bridge across it was deficient. But there was a fire station just within eyesight from here to the other -- to the parking lot. But guess what? When there was a burn, when there was a fire, it took them -- they had to go up nine miles to find a bridge, come back, and, by that time, a hell of a lot of damage was done.

Well, there are bridges all over America, big and small, like that. A few years ago, as I said, we found ourselves in a position where it's not just more inconvenient, like in the situation in Mississippi. It is also a matter of life and death, keeping firefighters, paramedics from getting people help they need, cutting off hurricane evacuation routes.

In addition, more than one in five miles of our highways in the United States of America, major roads in America, are in poor condition. One in five miles. That's more than a safety hazard. That is a drain on our economy. The typical American pays -- I know this is going to sound wonky, but

it's real and it affects ordinary Americans' lives, like the neighborhoods I come from.

The typical American pays a hidden tax of more than $1,000 a year in the time wasted and the fuel wasted due to traffic congestion because of the nature of our infrastructure. We rank eighth in the world in terms of our infrastructure. We used to be the leader in the world. All told, these delays cost our country, according to economists, an estimated $160 billion a year in waste, extra fuel, extra time and the like.

And that's due to the congestion. And folks in Louisiana know there are much greater threats than just congestion. When the road or the bridge is washed out or when it can't stand up to a hurricane, people can't get to their jobs, they can't get to the schools, families can't get to hospitals safely.

This is about creating jobs and also saving lives. You know, my mother used to have an expression, Gov. She would say: "Out of everything bad, Joey, something good will come if you look hard enough for it."

Well, one of these things that this crisis, in terms of the health crisis of COVID, has shown us is that we have to build back better in a whole series of ways. It's about building a strong foundation for the American people.

So, when I think about the threats of hurricanes and global warming and the poor conditions of our economy, as it relates particularly to infrastructure, I think of one thing. I think of jobs. Jobs. Jobs.

Everything we're -- we have gone through is now the -- sort of the blinders have been taken off the American people. They know how bad a shape things are in. But it creates, if we move -- all the economists, including the liberal, as well as conservative think tanks, point out, we will create -- after we pass this jobs plan, we will create up to 16 million good-paying jobs, not $8 an hour or $12 an hour, not $15 an hour, prevailing wage jobs, wages you can raise a family on.

My dad would say you had just a little bit of breathing room after everything's paid. And so your -- this state is working to rebuild the I-10 Bridge, but we can put America to work in every state, fixing roads and bridges that are in desperate need of repair.

My plan is a one-time $115 billion investment, above and beyond business as usual, what we usually do, everything in the Highway Trust Fund. This is above what we have spent in the past, so we can modernize bridges and roads and highways that need it most, putting people to work in good-paying jobs.

Now, I know a lot of you watching at home are thinking that, well, if these jobs are for you, well, all the folks who feel left out as the economy's moving so rapidly, everything's changing, and you're wondering whether what you did before, is it going to be available to be done in the future?


Well, let me tell you something. If you feel left out and forgotten in a rapidly changing economy, let me speak directly to you. Nearly 90 percent of all the infrastructure jobs that this is going to create won't require a college degree; 75 percent of them won't even require an associate's degree.

These are jobs that can't be outsourced, can't be outsourced. They just require something we have got in good supply here in Louisiana, hard work, grit, and sweat, like the workers that are here today and like all of the people you know and grew up with.

The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America, a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America, to supercharge our economy, so we can move goods, get to work, become more competitive around the world., you know, to shorten our commutes, to give us back the lost time to our families, to make our communities safer, to save lives.

All told, the American Jobs Plan is going to modernize 20,000 miles of highways and roads and will fix the nation's 10 most economically significant bridges that require replacement. They're just not safe anymore, which this bridge could be one of them.

It repairs 10,000 bridges that desperately need to be upgraded, bridges that get kids to school, people to market. And when you build better roads or extend the train line over to the next town or install reliable high-speed Internet, it sparks new life and investment in communities. It gives people hope.

Business picks up at the local convenience store, at the seafood market, the hardware store, where -- centers of people's locus and their jobs and their economies. Better jobs start coming to town. You haven't seen that in a long time. Suddenly, young people don't have to make the decision whether they have to leave to have a better opportunity. They stay where they are.

That's what infrastructure does. It has a rippling effect. And when it makes all -- we make all these investments, we're going to make sure of one thing, that we buy American.

Now, I know I'm being accused, when I say I'm only going to buy American as president, that somehow I'm going to violate trade agreements. No. Since the 1930s, you're allowed to -- a president could just decide to buy only American. It's not -- it's just, I'm going to get to spend somewhere on the order of $600 billion this year of everything from building an aircraft carrier, new decks and all.

And I guarantee you one thing, and I have said set it in place. Every single thing, from the deck of an aircraft carrier to a railing in a new building, is going to be built by an American company, American workers, American supply chains, so that we invest American tax dollars in American workers.

And that's what we're going to do, I promise you. (APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: Because, right now, that law has existed, but you're allowed to have exceptions. So what do you do?

The last presidents have come along and said, well, we have a little trouble making sure we can find somebody who is able to put the railings in this new building and the stairwells. Well, guess what? There's a whole hell of a lot of Americans to make that, so we're going to have a spot you just call the White House. We will find you any company that makes those railings, for example, as one concrete example, rather than going abroad to purchase those.

It's going to create jobs. It's going to generate economic growth. And, look, this is all about making a choice, a choice between giving tax breaks to the super wealthy and to corporations and investing in working families. We're going to build the country.

I look at this as -- what I am talking about as giving essentially tax breaks to hardworking middle-class and working people, who built this country.

In my view, it's an easy choice, invest in workers wearing hardhats and doing the hard work of rebuilding the country, and put line workers -- for example, to put line workers and electricians to work laying thousands of miles of transmission lines to build a modern energy grid, to put engineers and construction workers to work building modern roads and bridges, weatherizing homes and buildings, and setting new standards where they have to be built with better material, and they have to be built to withstand heavy winds and hurricanes and the like and withstand the impact of the changing weather.

To put plumbers and pipe fitters to work replacing 100 percent of the nation's lead pipes and service lines that are delivering poison water to our kids. And there are over 400,000 -- 400,000 -- schools in America have lead pipes -- I mean, 400,000 -- yes, that's right -- 400,000 have lead pipes going to the schools right now.


And you have over 10 million homes where their water source is fed by lead pipes that were laid years and years ago. We're going to rip it all up, all up, and make it safe, all across America. And it's going to provide millions of jobs -- thousands of jobs, and it's going to provide much more security.

It's going to put plumbers and pipe fitters to work replacing this, so every child in America can turn on a faucet and not worry about drinking polluted water.

I'm going to be visiting the water plant in New Orleans today to get a closer look at what's needed to modernize the city's water system, because it needs modernization, and they need it repaired.

Look, these are the highest-value investments you can make as a nation, and they last the longest. Economists left, right, and center agree that these are investments we need to make to generate historic economic growth that's maintained, maintained, not just bringing jobs back, but creating new jobs.

And together with the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan is going to help the economy create, as I said, an estimated over 16 million good-paying jobs. And, folks, we can't afford to not do it. We can't afford to not spend the time and effort and money.

Let me explain how we pay for this, because I'm not a deficit spender, because we had a tax cut the other team put in -- back in 19 -- 2017, and it created a $2 trillion deficit, with the vast majority of that going to the top 1 -- top one-tenth of 1 percent of the wage earners.

I don't want to punish anybody. You're entitled to be a millionaire or billionaire. Just pay your fair share. Just pay -- for example, if we just were to make sure that we had the tax rate for the top rate in America for income tax what it was in the Bush administration, it would go from 36 percent to 39.6 percent.

Well, guess what? That would raise a minimum of $10 billion a year. No one's hurt. Someone making that money is still going to have two homes or a jet plane or -- these are mostly millionaires. They're not going to be hurt a little bit, but we're going to be able to put tens of thousands of kids in preschool and in free community college.

What's going to help America more? Increasing the educational standard of all Americans, so they have 14 years of school from two years of 3- and 5-year-olds, 3, 4, and 5 years old? We show that that happens, if they get -- not go to day care, they go to school. No matter what the background of the home they come from, they catch up; 58 percent of them go on to go to college. We know that now.

We also know that if you give two years, two years of free community college, you're in a situation where you're in a position that you're going to have, in your state and every other state in America, you're allowed to go the last two years. All those credits are available to your state universities and you can get a four-year degree for half the cost, and/or you get the two-year degree, and you're able to do what you needed to do.

It's estimated it will increase the average income by over 20 percent for someone in America for the rest of their lives. So, folks, the fact is that, again, I'm not looking to punish anyone. I come from the corporate state of the world, Delaware. More corporations are incorporated in the state of Delaware than every other state in the union combined.

But guess what? I'm sick and tired of corporate America not paying their fair share. Their taxes used to be 38 -- 36 percent. We all thought that was too high, even in our administration. And we wanted to reduce it to 28 percent, make it more competitive. Some thought 24 percent. But it got reduced to 21 percent.

And you know what the result is? Of the largest corporations in America, 50 don't pay a penny in tax, made $40 billion, don't pay a penny in tax. If you're a construction worker and your wife's a schoolteacher, you're paying at a higher tax rate than corporate America is paying. Not a joke. Not a joke.

I don't want to punish them. And, by the way, they used to do a lot more research and development. Major corporations now, because we have changed the law -- in fact, it used to be that a corporate CEO got paid 36 times as much as the average employee in their corporation, the Fortune 500. Now it's 456 times.

My mother would say, who died and left them boss?

Well, 56 percent of all -- 53 percent of all the money they made -- excuse me -- of a trillion dollars over 10 years, what did it do, according to a major study? It went to buying back their stock. Now, why do you buy back their stock? Because CEOs now get paid in stock purchases, stock options.

It used to be they got paid in direct salary. And they get paid in stock options. So, if you have 10 shares of stock, you sell five, the five left are worth more, you get paid in stock, you get -- it's better.