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Remnants Of Chinese Rocket To Crash Land On Earth; Explosion Kills At least 30 And Wounds 50 At All-Girl High School In Kabul, Afghanistan; Poll Finds Majority Of Americans Support Vaccine Verifications For Traveling By Plane And Attending Events With Big Crowds; Japan Prepares To Host Summer Olympics Despite Fourth Wave Of Coronavirus Pandemic; U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm Divesting From Electric Vehicle Company Virtually Toured By President Biden; Texas State Legislature Passes Controversial Voting Law. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired May 8, 2021 - 14:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Johnny created the system where he took each joke and put it on a board that went across the length of the studio, so that way he could edit while he was performing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He thought so fast on his feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you know today was the anniversary of Custer's last stand?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. The guy is applauding a massacre.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this the monologue. This is Carson's last stand right here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Johnny's monologues, when he would bomb, that was always the funniest joke.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attention, Kmart shoppers.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: "The Story of Late Night" airs tomorrow at 9:00 Eastern and pacific.

Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour with all eyes on the sky. Right now, the world is watching and waiting as a 22-ton Chinese rocket is expected to fall to Earth some time tonight, and at this point it's just too early to tell where that debris could fall, but it encompasses most of the globe. The pieces were part of a rocket that launched just last month, and they are now traveling at about 18,000 miles per hour in Earth's orbit.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is here with more on this. So Oren, are we getting a clear picture of when and where this rocket or the debris might fall?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: We are getting a better idea of when. The where is still a very difficult question. So all the latest estimates from the U.S., the Europeans, and the Aerospace Corporation, have this reentering the atmosphere sometime around 10:00 tonight.

The key word is "sometime." There is a plus or minus three-hour window of when it could reenter, so that could be as early as 6:00 or 7:00 this evening or 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.

And that's what makes the where so difficult here. It is right moving at some 17,500 miles an hour, about 100 miles up, and that is what makes the difficult question of where dose this actually reenter, and then where does it hit, the speed.

Think of it this way, this is a two-minute live shot. In two minutes, the Long March 5B, the rocket, the piece of space junk we're tracking here will move some 600 miles. So the different estimates we're seeing, the U.S. has it perhaps landing and reentering somewhere over the Indian Ocean, the Europeans over the Mediterranean, the Aerospace Corporation west of Europe at this point.

But that whole window is only a 15 minute difference, and that's why nobody is giving an accurate or definitive prediction on where this will hit. That is what everybody is watching. But as we get closer, as the window of when narrows, so, too, will the question of where. And we are expecting another round of updates in the next the few hours here, so we certainly will keep you posted.

Right now, it remains a very difficult question of where this will land, but we certainly are getting closer to that moment where this rocket reenters the atmosphere, and then most of this 22-ton piece of space junk will burn up. The question is how much of it won't burn up, and where will it end up?

WHITFIELD: In the meantime, everyone will be looking up. Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.

We're also continuing to follow this breaking news out of Afghanistan. Officials say an explosion rocked an all-girl's high school in Kabul. Details are still coming in, but we do know at least 30 people were killed, another 50 were wounded in the blast. So far no group is taking responsibility for the explosion. According to local reports, the blast happened as students were leaving the school.

Joining us right now, CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh and retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks. He's also a CNN military analyst. Good to see both of you. So Nick, you first. What are we learning?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: The death toll, as you said, has risen to 30. It may yet rise further, and there are deep fears that amongst those 30 are many young schoolgirls who were leaving at the time, in which if you look at the aftermath pictures, it seems a vehicle may have been involved in the explosion that claimed so many lives and injured well over 50.

This occurring on one of the holiest days of the holiest month of the year in the Ramadan period of the Muslim faith at a school in the west of Kabul in an area which is predominately, it seems, populated by the Shia minority in Afghanistan known as the Hazaras, who have previously been the target of extremists.

Why a school? Well, for many extremists in Afghanistan, female education, particularly in the slightly older years, is particularly abhorrent, something that they don't allow in areas that are under their control. And while the Taliban here have said in a tweet that they were not responsible for this attack, there are within the umbrella of the insurgency many different types of extremists who could be behind this. I have to tell you, though, in Kabul, we have seen many awful spectacular attacks like in the past years.


It's just the focus I think on this is because of the nature, it seems, of the victims. In the footage of the aftermath, we've seen people sifting through schoolbags, schoolbooks, people simply trying to get an education, something that was remarked upon, in fact, by the Charge d'Affaires Ross Wilson in a tweet who called this attack unforgiveable, essentially saying it was against the future of Afghanistan. All this occurring, though, as the U.S. expeditiously tries to withdraw.

WHITFIELD: Major General, the Taliban is denying responsibility, but what other groups in the region do you think could bear some responsibility here?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Fredricka, thank you for having me. Yes, this is an incredibly devastating blow, but again, not surprising, right. The United States has been there for 20 years.

We've made a valiant effort. It's cost a number of lives. America has really stood by the development of this Afghan government, and it, the government in Afghanistan, needs to get its act together in a very expeditious and a very fulsome way.

And frankly, Afghanistan is ungoverned space outside of Kabul, and now we've realized, and we have probably known this all along, that even Kabul is at great risk as well. Clearly what you have in Afghanistan is you've got the Taliban, you've got Al Qaeda, and you also have ISIS, and those three elements, and then you have splinter groups within each of those. And so those elements don't necessarily have the same playbook or have the same script.

So getting into the intelligence and figuring out what those networks are trying to achieve is what this is all about. The United States has pledged it's going to leave. It's going to go to zero by September. We will not have a presence. We might not even have an embassy in Kabul in September, unbelievable after 20 years of this incredible price that we have paid.

But these are soft targets. These terrorist organizations get great lift, great recruitment, great validation when they can go after these kinds of targets and demonstrate that they set the tone for what happens next.

You talk about the future of Afghanistan, clearly what we are seeing is a revision to the past. They want to bring back that they haven't necessarily seen in full flavor for quite some time. That's the objective.

WHITFIELD: So, Nick, while I know you just reported that attacks have been happening rather regularly in recent years, is this attack being read differently? Is there a message that is clearly being sent because of this attack?

WALSH: I think it will, and it is getting increased attention, partly because of the disgusting nature of victims here, young girls trying to pursue their education, caught, it seems, as they left their school, but also because of the timing, as it feeds into the fears about the security vacuum, about what will inevitably happen once the U.S. forces withdrawal.

They've begun to withdraw. It may happen faster. They may possibly be a diminished diplomatic presence. That's nothing remotely confirmed at this stage, but there are broader fears that as you can see the security vacuum begin to be created, do the Taliban rush in around the country to try and fill it?

It does seem unlikely that the capital, Kabul, will in fact have a Taliban presence more permanently within it because of the security forces that are concentrated there, but attacks like this you are sadly likely to see more of in the months ahead. It is about creating a feeling of instability. It's about drawing, perhaps, the Afghan government in positions diplomatically they're less comfortable with.

But broadly, the whole tenant of the U.S. plan to withdraw here is there would be peace talks occurring at the same time. The Taliban have flatly said they're not interested in doing that. And in fact late last night, the U.S. special representative to this particular conflict said that if the Taliban wasn't interested in talking peace, then the U.S. government would no option but to stick by the Afghan government there, essentially saying they'll back the administration almost indefinitely.

So we're seeing a crux moment here where the usual push of violence and escalation and insurgent behavior we see before summer comes with an extra issue here about what it does for the peace process and the pace and consequences of the U.S. withdrawal, Fred. WHITFIELD: So I wonder, Major General -- less than 30 seconds -- what

should or even can the U.S. do, what should or can the response be to something like this?

MARKS: Yes, Fredricka, the issue here is if this were a few years ago, the United States might have doubled down in terms of its presence and maybe some more aggressive operations that we might see take place. In this particular case, as it has been described, the United States has already committed to a departure from Afghanistan, and unless the Taliban or some other terrorist organization has an ability to strike our homeland, the United States is not going to have a presence in Afghanistan. I think that's what we are facing right now.


WHITFIELD: All right, Major General James "Spider" Marks, Nick Paton Walsh, thanks to both of you gentlemen, appreciate it.

Coming up, if you Republican a COVID-19 vaccine, then you're very familiar with these CDC cards that verify that you have received a shot or two shots. Could this be your ticket to traveling, attending a sporting event, or perhaps even a live conference. We'll discuss vaccine passports or verification, next.


WHITFIELD: A new Gallup poll finds a majority of Americans support vaccine verifications on two major activities, traveling by plane or attending an event with a big crowd. But support drops from there down to 40 percent for dining in at a restaurant.

Dr. Jay Schnitzer is the chief medical officer and the chief technology officer at the MITRE Corporation. That's a nonprofit group helping to lead the vaccine credential initiative.


Dr. Schnitzer, so good to see you. So how are you envisioning this path forward getting the medical community and the technology community together?


So we have known for some time, several months that vaccines and vaccinations are the best and perhaps the only path out of this pandemic. And we see evidence of that already as we can see the drop in the hospitalizations, the decrease in new cases per day across the country, and the deaths, which is great.

What we do want to do, though, going forward is to provide individuals with a choice. So just as you described, we know that many organizations and various types of activities are going to request or require proof of vaccination for those who wish to participate in those activities -- sporting event, returning to college or university in the fall, and others.

And if a person has been vaccinated and has chosen to be vaccinated, and if he or she chooses to participate in one of those activities, they may want to be able to provide a credential that says I have been vaccinated, which is safe, secure, and reliable.

WHITFIELD: I don't want to interrupt you, sorry to interrupt you.


WHITFIELD: So how does that differ from -- I had my two shots, and I was given a card after the first shot, and there is a date and it says what kind of the vaccine I got, and then of course, the follow-up on the second shot. So how different from that are you suggesting? Should we all be walking around with that card, or are you saying that there is another form in which we can show the vaccine verification?

SCHNITZER: Well, unfortunately, you can go online to a number of sites today and download a blank version of that card, and somebody can then fill it out with any information they choose. So the problem with that card --

WHITFIELD: We don't want that.

SCHNITZER: No. The problem with those cards is they can be counterfeited, and they're not completely under your control as a result in terms of providing your information. So you want to be able to have access to something that you know is legitimate, can't be counterfeited, and is completely under your control, and preserves your private, confidential health care information.

WHITFIELD: And what form would that be?

SCHNITZER: Well, that is the initiative that we have, to provide just exactly that kind of opportunity based on the carefully constructed open source software that's based on standards to preserve everything I just said, and then it can be a credential that's downloadable either to your smartphone, to another device, or can be printed out with a QR code on it that is completely secure and under your control.

WHITFIELD: So labeling and marketing is going to be another big obstacle, because already there's a lot of consternation about the whole terminology of the vaccine passports versus verification. How would you settle that score?

SCHNITZER: I prefer to use the term "credential" as opposed to "passport" and the reason is that this is completely voluntary, and it's not under government control. It's your own individual health care or medical information which you have under your full control, and it's completely voluntary. Nobody is forcing anybody to do it.

WHITFIELD: Dr. Jay Schnitzer, thank you so much. All of the best on that venture.

SCHNITZER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Stay well.

Coming up next, after more than a year of living in a pandemic, do scenes like this make you a little nervous? You are not alone if you have a little anxiety. We'll explain what's being called "reentry anxiety" next.



WHITFIELD: All right, before COVID, take a look at this. This scene would have looked and felt perfectly normal, right? Folks going out to enjoy a baseball game on a nice Friday evening. At this time this was in Atlanta. But then for some just looking at a full capacity crowd like that, right on the heels of this pandemic and still in the midst of, brings on certain levels of anxiety. It actually has a word, "reentry anxiety," a couple of words for it now.

Psychiatrist Dr. Kali Cyrus joining me now from Washington, D.C. So what happens to you? Do you get the heebie-jeebies when you look at a crowd like that, or do you say, OK, I'm in, I want to sign up right now?

DR. KALI CYRUS, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: It should be in the middle when it comes to risk and jumping into these kinds of things. So I will say I get a little bit of the heebie- jeebies.

WHITFIELD: Yes, we have all -- we've had to where we're wearing masks, we're washing our hands, we're doing all that stuff. We become -- if you weren't a germophobe before this pandemic, you are definitely a germophobe now. And if you were a germophobe, it's kind of like 2.0.

So how do we handle the anxiety that comes with now getting out there and getting comfortable with the idea of a letting go of your mask on certain occasions, and just getting used to a whole new habit of doing things?

CYRUS: Well, the first thing I want to do is I usually say the anxiety is normal, so don't be alarmed. Remember, that anxiety is our body's warning that we feel like there is a threat or that we are afraid. So what you want to do is to slow the brain down, and you might be feeling your heart racing, your palms getting a little bit sweaty.


Once you realize that this is happening to you, ask yourself, what am I afraid of? I think that's the first thing to do is really slow yourself down, is say what's the risk, what am I afraid of, what can I control, what can't I control, and it is worth it?

And so as you start to make decisions about going back in public and whether or not it's safe, just remember, we've been told that the safe place is in our home wearing a mask all of the time, and now everyone is just trying to get you to go back in public, and you don't need a mask if you have been vaccinated. It is OK if you're not ready to do that right away.

WHITFIELD: And then we've been talking about people are starting to try to make plans, and that involves traveling. But then there are going to stresses that come with that, whether you are renting an RV or whether you're saying I am going to go to the airport.

So what do you say to people about how to navigate the idea of traveling, getting on a plane, getting in a car, going to visit friends and family post -- well, I guess that we are still in the pandemic, so it is really not even post pandemic, but post whatever it is that we are in right now.

CYRUS: Yes. So this is why these cases when asking yourself what can you control and what you can't control is a really good place to start. So if you are traveling, one, think about the distance I which you are traveling. Is it a long distance or a short distance? What's the risk?

Can you take a plane, or can you drive there? Let's say you are going to take a plane, which I think probably has the least amount of control in it. What can you do? You can get yourself plenty of time to get to the airport you can take some space between the people in front of you in line and you don't have to wait.

If someone is rushing, and they want to get in front of you, you can do that. You can bring wipes to clean off the seat around you. And these kids of controls that you can put in place so that you feel a little bit more comfortable.

But then you have to be prepared for that part that you are not going to be able to control. And this is the tricky part, especially if you are prone to anxiety or maybe you're newly prone to anxiety, and in this case you want to be prepared for what happens when maybe you freak out.

You can take deep breaths, do you have something else that you can envision, being on that beach wherever you are going. But as long as you think about what you can control and what you can't and try to prepare as much as you cannot.

WHITFIELD: I'm happily married, but this next question comes from a colleague who is single and wants to know about the whole dating scene out there. So how do single people meet each other, because the whole dating scene has changed a lot, so I hear, particularly over the last year. How do you help people navigate that?

CYRUS: Well, the first thing I want to say is you can move at your own pace. I was reading an article that showed that I think contraceptive sales went up actually since people were thinking about getting back into the dating pool, which made me think most people are very eager. So that means that you don't have to be eager just because other people are. So first of all, just remember, you can reenter at your own pace.

The second thing I will say is ask yourself again what you're afraid of. How much of that is just a dating process. Remember, you are meeting a stranger for the first time. You probably don't want to think it is going to be your new husband or --

WHITFIELD: Some people were happy with meeting the strangers online and getting to know each other that way, but now we're talking about actual person-to-person seeing each other, in each other's space.

CYRUS: Yes, which is, again, go at your own pace. If you want to know if they are vaccinated, you are in your complete right mind to be able to ask that. So I also want to encourage people to advocate for yourself. This dating process might look different than it does before.

I think we are entitled to know a little bit more about the people that we are going to be meeting in person just because of the risk. And it's OK. And if someone gives you pushback on that, maybe that's not the type of person you want to be with.

But again, I think it is going to be within limits, and ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen. And from there, you can set your questions of what kind of information you need to know, maybe you can ask a friend if this sounds reasonable to ask somebody to know about them. But I think it's really going to be managing that face-to-face, and what is the risk, especially if you're vaccinated and if they are vaccinated, and remembering the chance of get COVID or severely getting COVID is less than a one percent chance right now if you have been vaccinated. So keep that in mind if you have your fears about meeting up in public.

WHITFIELD: Wow, so it's all so complicated, but that is why we called upon you, Dr. Kali Cyrus. We loved you so much last week helping us to navigate how to deal with friends and family, and the whole vaccine conversation, and now this as well. So this is our new world. It is very complicated, and so we consult smart ones like you. Thanks so much.

CYRUS: Thanks for having me.

WHITFIELD: All right, so in less than three months the world will be watching as Japan is prepares to host the Summer Olympics in the middle of a global pandemic. And as a fourth COVID wave takes shape, Japan announces that it's extending a state of emergency through May 31st. Doctors there fear the country's medical system could be pushed beyond the breaking point.


CNN's Blake Essig takes us inside the COVID-19 ward at a Japanese university hospital for a closer look.


BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Infectious disease specialist Dr. Hideaki Oka is making his rounds. For now, it's relatively calm in the COVID ward at Saitama Medical University. But all that can change in an instant.

DR. HIDEAKI OKA, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, SAITAMA MEDICAL UNIVERSITY (through translator): If two patients entered today, and another two patients are admitted tomorrow, and all cases turn out to be severe, then the day after tomorrow, we would already be in crisis.

ESSIG: A crisis that has the potential to explode in just a few months when tens of thousands of people from more than 200 countries enter Japan to participate in the upcoming Summer Olympic Games. It is a frightening scenario for Chief Nurse Kyoka Ioka, who has been treating the COVID-19 patient since the beginning.

KYOKA IOKA, CHIEF NURSE, SAITAMA MEDICAL UNIVERSITY (through translator): I am sorry for the athletes, but I am terrified that the Olympics are going to happen. It is really worth it? We are in the mid of a fourth wave, and what is the point of having the Olympic Games now?

ESSIG: Despite overwhelming concern from medical professionals and the Japanese public, Olympic organizers remain determined to hold the already once delayed games this summer, pointing to COVID-19 countermeasures outlines in a series of playbooks.

It was only just a few months ago that a third wave of infection pushed Japan's medical system in some spots to the breaking point. Here in Saitama, medical staff say they still haven't recovered.

While Japan's medical system as a whole is strained, the U.K. variant has brought the system in western Japan to its knees.

DR. HIROO MATSUO, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST (through translator): It is really like a natural disaster hit our hospital. But it is a disaster that the people on the outside can't see.

ESSIG: Unlike previous variants, Dr. Hiroo Matsuo, an infectious disease specialist at Amagasaki General Medical Center in Hyogo, says the current virus variant is spreading faster and seriously impacting younger people, which nearly 1,800 people waiting to be hospitalized.

MATSUO: Amid this fourth wave, hospitals are finding they can't admit patients or even treat them, some of whom are dying at home. We are confronting a situation where we want to take more patients, but we just can't.

ESSIG: The same situation is unfolding in neighboring Osaka. According to the government website, the hospital bed occupancy rate is maxed out at 103 percent, and nearly 3,000 people are waiting to enter a treatment facility. The result, doctors like Ku Kurahara are left to repeatedly make a heart-wrenching choice.

DR. KU KURAHARA, KINKI CHUO CHEST MEDICAL CENTER (through translator): We are forced to make decisions on which lives to choose to save by providing a respirator or not.

ESSIG: With hospitals already struggling to cope with the sheer volume of sick patients, lacking enough beds and adequate staff, experts feel the Olympics could take the entire Japanese medical system past its breaking point. MATSUO: I think if we did allocate help for the Olympics, then our

medical system would totally collapse. We are living through a disaster at the moment. So we firstly have to find ways of overcoming this. It's so difficult to be thinking about the Olympics while we are living through this disaster.

ESSIG: A disaster, Dr. Matsuo says, with no end in sight.

Blake Essig, CNN, Tokyo.


WHITFIELD: Wow, no end in sight.

Up next, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the Trump Justice Department obtained phone records of "Post" reporters back in 2017. Their reasoning, that's next.

And tomorrow night, join Don Lemon for a look at Marvin Gaye's groundbreaking album "What's Going On." Fifty years after its release, why has it become an anthem for a new generation?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mother, mother, there's too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there's far too many of you dying.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marvin Gaye's groundbreaking "What's Going On."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the first time that I understood poetry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And picket signs don't punish me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the greatest albums ever made.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His melody was like a voice of pride.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He created something that will last.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty years later.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is it an anthem for a new generation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was prophecy, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think Marvin would think about what's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN's special report "What's Going On, Marvin Gaye's Anthem for the Ages" tomorrow at 8:00.




WHITFIELD: Welcome back. We are learning the Trump Justice Department may have gone to some extraordinary lengths to learn about news reporting into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. "The Washington Post" reporting that the DOJ secretly obtained phone records and tried to get email records belonging to journalists at "The Washington Post" as part of an investigation into government leaks. CNN's Marshall Cohen joining me now with more on this. Marshall, what are you learning?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Hey, Fred, good afternoon. "The Washington Post" says that the Justice Department secretly obtained phone records for three of its reporters as part of the leak investigation. They said this happened last year during the Trump administration and would have been required to get approval from Attorney General Bill Barr.

Now, the stories that are apparently contained the leaked information were about Russian interference in the 2016 election, and contacts between Trump advisers and Russian officials.

So Fred, it is extremely rare for the DOJ to get records like these from journalists. When it does happen, it raises huge concerns about the First Amendment and whether the government is trying to crack down on reporters.


So the Justice Department did defend the move in a statement yesterday, and I want to show you exactly what they said. This came from the Biden DOJ, quote, "The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with the access to the national defense information who provided it to the media, and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.

Seeking media records is only done after all reasonable attempts have been done to obtain the information from alternative sources. So they say it really was a last resort. And Fred, when we're talking about phone records, we're not talking about anybody listening in on phone calls.

What this means is that the government got metadata, like the phone numbers that these reporters were calling, and how long those calls lasted. And when that was all happening around the time that these stories were being published about the Russia probe.

WHITFIELD: How is "The Washington Post" responding to this?

COHEN: They are very upset, Fred. They are outraged by this. They put out a very strong statement last night. They said, quote, "We are deeply troubled by this use of the government power to seek access to the communications of journalists." They went on the call it an intrusion into constitutionally protected reporting.

But Fred, I do want to repeat, the Biden administration defending these moves in their statement last night, and they are standing by what the Trump DOJ did last year. And in terms of just the big picture here, when the feds do go after leakers, when the feds do take this extraordinary step of getting phone records from journalists, that is a practice that really ramped up a lot under Obama and before Donald Trump even ran for president. So it is part of a continuing and concerning trend, Fred.

WHITFIELD: It is fascinating. Marshall Cohen, thank you so much for that.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says she is in the process of divesting from an electric car company she really sat on the board of, this after President Biden participated in a virtual tour of the company last month as part of his American jobs plan rollout. Granholm holds millions of dollars in vested stock options from the company, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest. CNN's Kristen Holmes has more on the red flags.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Biden administration has been touting an electric vehicle company that could potential be worth millions to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. The company is Proterra, and the reason the name might sound familiar is because out of hundreds of electric vehicle related companies in the U.S., President Biden went on a virtual tour of Proterra. He also praised the CEO, who later spoke at the U.S. Climate Summit.

Here is where the potential conflict of interest lies. Granholm owns millions in stock options of Proterra, and while she has through her ethics agreement pledged to get rid of all of those stock options in 180 days, in that same time period, the company is slated to go public.

According to multiple experts we spoke to, any promotion of the company, particularly by the president of the United States, could actually increase her profits. So here is what she told our Jake Tapper about that visit as well as getting rid of all those stock options.


JENNIFER GRANHOLM, U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY: I am so grateful that this president makes everybody who comes on in an appointed position sign a strong ethics agreement which requires that everybody divest of their individual stocks, which I am in the process of doing. I certainly had nothing to do with that visit, didn't even know about it until the day that it happened.


HOLMES: So clearly, she says that she had no idea that this trip was even happening, and we also heard from a senior administration official who said that as well, that Proterra was chosen because it is a leading manufacturer in its field.

But I want to point to the other thing she said there, which is that her divesting of these stock options is already in progress, this is already happening. But the one thing that is still unclear is how exactly the company going public is going to affect that. So it's something we are going to be keeping a very close eye on.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.

We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Across the country, Republican- controlled state legislatures are moving forward with a series of restrictive voting laws. Just yesterday the Texas House voted to pass a bill that critics say would make it one of the most difficult places to cast a ballot in the whole country.

And here's why. The bill would bar public officials from sending out mail-in ballot applications without prior requests. It also puts in place strict rules on voting machines in major cities. Texas' bill follows similar controversial laws already passed in Georgia and Florida.

Joining me right now is Isabel Longoria. She is the Texas elections administrator for Harris County which encompasses Houston. So good to see you. So, Republicans say that this bill is needed to ensure and protect full access to the ballot box while also cracking down on illegal activity undermining elections there. So what kind of illegal activity was taking place?

ISABEL LONGORIA, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, ELECTIONS ADMINISTRATOR: If you find it, let me know. The handful of the cases that come up in the November election or any election are chocked up to innocent mistakes usually by our election workers, things like not looking at the form correctly or not reading the lines, just little mistakes.


And we're looking at Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6 that keep penalizing those innocent mistakes by election workers, most of whom are seniors from the neighborhood who do this as a little extra pocket cash, who have done it for 20 or 30 years in the neighborhood. And the bills are just getting ridiculous, and unfortunately, they are just not based in the truth in how elections are run in Texas.

WHITFIELD: So Isabel, how much more difficult do you believe this new law is going to make it for people to vote?

LONGORIA: It's going to make it really hard for people to vote, these bills. And it's interest, there's a political sense that somehow Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6 were meant to be a punishment for Houston or Harris County for all the innovations we put in place, like drive-through voting, like 24-hour voting, like sending out those mail ballot applications.

And as you referenced, it's sending out mail ballot applications to anyone over the age of 65, our seniors in Harris County. Without this, it's only campaigns that send mail ballot applications and only in competitive districts. And so our thought is you should get a mail ballot application.

You should know your right to vote and your choices in voting no matter where you live, no matter how competitive the district is, no matter how much money candidates may have to reach out to you, you deserve to know how to vote.

And it's just this really bizarre sense that instead of punishing the leadership, you're punishing voters by saying we're going to cut out the ability for the office to talk to you. These bills still, even in their slightly amended versions, are going to prevent me and my staff from working at centers on Election Day.

So with this bill, on election day I can go to all 800 voting locations in Harris County if I have a who is fixing a machine or delivering a very specific elections supply, they can go all 800 centers. But I can't have staff who are from our award-winning, national award-winning high school program be there. I can't have our hotshot teams, our deputy clerk specialists, who help get extra trained and who are there to help our judges on Election Day.

I won't be able to have staff who go investigate poll watcher issues or issues reported by voters. It's just a really bizarre sense of restricting not only the options that voters have, but my ability to do my job in safeguarding the elections and making sure they run smoothly here in Harris County, Houston, and Texas.

So while this bill was passed in the Texas house and Senate, it isn't law yet. I just said it was law, but the governor hasn't signed it yet. But let me ask you this, because last month you and I spoke after the Senate voted for that measure, and it seemed like there was a feeling that there was momentum to potentially defeat this measure. So now we see it's passed both houses there, state houses. So tell me what your level of defeat is, if you feel like there's a point of no return here.

LONGORIA: There's still one last shot. So now that Senate Bill 7 was voted out of the Senate and the House, it is going to something called conference committee. Because the version that came out of the Senate is very different from the version that came out of the House. The Senate version still had all of those pieces about drive through voting, expanded hours.

The version out of the House this week was a little watered down. But there's this false choice of, well, now it goes to conference committee to reconcile which version of the bill is ultimately going to be law. But here's the thing, it still doesn't have to be law. There's this false choice that we just have to accept what's there.

WHITFIELD: You're feeling hopeful.

LONGORIA: Yes. I'm feeling hopeful that people know that this is a bad thing, and it can be stopped.

WHITFIELD: Isabel Longoria, thank you so much, appreciate it. And we'll talk again soon.

Thank you, everybody, for being with me this hour, really, this afternoon. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The Newsroom continues after a quick break with Jim Acosta.

But first, this week's "The Human Factor."



TABITHA HALY, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Singing has been a way since childhood for me to exercise my lungs. Taking in deep breaths and practicing my diaphragm muscles. I have spinal muscular atrophy type two. I was first diagnosed when I was nine-months old.

My parents noticed that I wasn't sitting up on my own. I have never been able to walk. When I turned 18 is when I started to be able to have health aides, and that made the possibility of me moving out, and living in a dormitory worked perfectly.

I graduated summa cum laude in computer science, and I minored in mathematics and music. My father would always play guitar and piano for us. And that's how my sister and I started to sing. I started to write songs to deal with coping with my disability, the pain I go through physically.



HALY: My first single is called "I Am Able." "I Am Able" is a reminder saying I can help someone, I can be someone, and most importantly, I can be loved like anyone else.

I am an advocate for people with disabilities in trying to get more places to be wheelchair accessible. There are a lot of things that have been done to help make the world more inclusive, but there is so much left to be done.