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The White Supremacist Threat; Panic Buying Drains Gas Pumps; Republicans Oust Liz Cheney From Leadership. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 12, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Top of the hour now. I'm Victor Blackwell.

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

It's an historic day for the United States, as Congress continues to wrestle with the aftermath of the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection.

Today, in a swift voice vote, House Republicans ousted Congresswoman Liz Cheney as their conference chair because she stands by the truth, that Donald Trump was defeated legitimately and there was no vast election fraud.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution.


BLACKWELL: Now, remember, the lies about the election drove Trump supporters to riot and attack police officers and desecrate the U.S. Capitol on January 6, while calling for the vice president then, Mike Pence, to be hanged.

And the facts of the January 6 the insurrection are being twisted and whitewashed. We saw it today. Listen to some Republicans at a heated hearing about the Capitol attack.


REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): The FBI is fishing through homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal records and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime.

Zero firearms from suspects charged with breaching the Capitol.

REP. JODY HICE (R-GA): It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others. (END VIDEO CLIP)


The vote to oust Liz Cheney from Republican leadership lasted just 16 minutes. There were reportedly boos when she spoke. And now some far right House members are mocking Cheney being ousted on social media.

Let's get to CNN's chief congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

So, Manu, tell us where we are and what happens next.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happens next is the replacement vote. And that will be Elise Stefanik, the number three, vying to replace Liz Cheney.

She is someone who has had a more moderate voting record than Liz Cheney's, in fact, one of the most moderate of the entire House Republican Conference. But what she has done is allied herself with Donald Trump ever since 2019, when she was one of his chief defenders during the impeachment trial.

And then, of course, in the aftermath of the November elections, she joined him in efforts to try to overturn the elections. But, behind the scenes, she's tried to shore up support among conservatives, telling them privately that she, in fact, will side with them on some key votes and that she won't break from the party. She will essentially toe the party line, I'm told from multiple members who have talked to them.

But there are still possibilities that could -- she could face a challenge. One congressman, Texas, Republican Chip Roy, is not ruling out a run to challenge her for that number three position. He actually just spoke to our colleague Annie Grayer. And he said that there shouldn't be a coronation.

He said: "I don't believe that there should be a coronation. I think we should have a debate."

I would remind people that Congresswoman Cheney has been out of her position for only five hours and wants to slow things down. But, despite this, if he does run, it's unlikely to change the outcome here that Stefanik has the support of Donald Trump, which is, of course, very important in the Trump-supporting House Republican Conference, as well as the top two Republican leaders.

And Chip Roy is unlikely to even get most of the support or all the support of the House Freedom Caucus members. That's a conservative faction that has offered some support to Elise Stefanik, including one prominent member, Jim Jordan.

So, but there still might be a debate. And this may happen behind closed doors on Thursday up until vote to determine whether Stefanik will get the job on Friday, so questions about the way forward, as this conference remains divided about its past, about Donald Trump's role. But, overall, the conference does not want to talk about Donald Trump, did not want to talk about Cheney's with her -- fight with Donald Trump, and is ready to move on -- guys.


BLACKWELL: Big tent, Kevin McCarthy says.

Manu Raju, thanks.

CAMEROTA: So, Liz Cheney was pushed out for continuing to speak the truth, that Donald Trump lost the election and incited the deadly Capitol insurrection.

Let's talk about what today means, not just for the GOP, but for the country.

Linda Chavez is the director of the Becoming American Initiative and a former Reagan White House official. She has left the Republican Party. And Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator and Republican strategist.

Ladies, great to have you both here. I look forward to getting your perspectives.

Alice, I want to start with you.

You just published an op-ed on And I just want to read a portion of it.

You say: "Congresswoman Liz Cheney is a profile in courage. She is an intelligent, fierce, staunch defender of the Constitution and Republican values. She knows what it means to be a true conservative. She is unafraid to stand up to former President Donald Trump and made a career-defining vote for his impeachment, based on his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen."

But -- and here comes the but, Stewart, and it's a big one -- you say: "As a member of leadership, you have to sacrifice your autonomy for the good of the conference."

Alice, explain, why does she have to sacrifice her integrity and her values and the truth for the conspiracy theorists?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, Alisyn, I think it's important to realize, in a position of leadership, you're representing the entire conference. This is not about a man-on-man defense. This is a zone defense going against the Democratic Party and flooding the zone with the problems of the Biden administration.

Look, it's not a binary choice, Alisyn. Look, I can believe and I can have the two thoughts at the same time that I applaud Liz Cheney for standing up to the big lie. I agree with her 100 percent. But I can also believe that she should no longer serve as caucus chairperson, because she is not looking out for the best interests of the unified party. I agree with what she says. I agree we had free and fair elections. I

agree that Joe Biden won, Donald Trump lost.


CAMEROTA: I know you do, Alice. But then who is going to be the voice that stands up for truth when she's gone?

STEWART: Well, she can still do so. But she can do so as a member of Congress. And I hope that she does.

And what she said today, that standing up to the lies and speaking out is the proper move, and doing what she can to keep Donald Trump away from the Oval Office, but she can do so not as a leader. We need someone in that position that is speaking up every single day about the Biden administration--


STEWART: -- and the policies they have with regard to the unemployment rate, with regard to the crisis at the border, outrageous spending and not working across the aisle.


STEWART: That needs to be the message, and looking forward and not back.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let me bring in Linda.

What do you think about the ousting of Liz Cheney and what that means?

LINDA CHAVEZ, DIRECTOR, BECOME AMERICAN INITIATIVE: Well, first of all, I think there will be no future of the Republican Party unless the Liz Cheneys of the world lead us in that direction.

There's no possibility for Republicans to win national elections if they continue to hold the lie and to succumb to all of Donald Trump's deranged conspiracy theories. Liz Cheney is perfectly happy to talk about the Biden agenda, to talk about what the Biden administration is doing wrong. She's happy to go out and talk about that every day.

The problem is, you have a president and his followers who continue to lecture America and to say that the election was stolen from them. It's not Liz Cheney who continues that narrative. It's Donald Trump and all of those acolytes that he apparently holds enthralled to who are apparently quite frightened of him.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, Alice, what about that?

I mean, you're basically saying that Liz Cheney needed to get in line with the party. But the party line is that Donald Trump somehow was robbed of the election, stop the steal, all of that stuff that we have heard from Elise Stefanik, who is going to replace her.

It doesn't -- I mean, what do you think is going to happen when three of the people who've pushed the big lie are in leadership?

STEWART: Look, I think we can all agree, in my view, many commonsense Republicans believe that the big lie is a distraction. It is not true. Joe Biden won. Donald Trump lost. We had free and fair elections.

The insurrection was an affront to our Constitution. And many Republicans absolutely understand that. But the goal moving forward is to win back the House and to fire Nancy Pelosi. And the only way to do so is to look at the policies that impact everyday Americans.

And when you go out across this country -- and I have talked to many Republican congressmen in the last several weeks. When they're in their districts, people are not talking about the insurrection. What they are talking about are the outrageous spending that is on the table and the problems that we're having with regard to immigration.

And while the insurrection was atrocious, it was uncalled for, and we do need an investigation, Alisyn -- we do need to hold people accountable. And one of them is Donald Trump.


But for the head of the caucus to unite the party, and not divide it--


STEWART: -- that needs to -- the sole focus needs to be on pushing back against Democratic policies.

CAMEROTA: So, Linda, what about that? I mean, what about that argument? It's time for the country to move on. It's been four months.

We're going to have an investigation of the insurrection, but it's time to move on and put that in the rearview mirror. What about that argument?

CHAVEZ: Well, I think that's exactly right. Just tell it to Donald Trump. He's the one who won't move on.

But I think what Alice said about the 2022 elections is absolutely right. If Republicans have any hope of controlling the House of Representatives, they have got to win back districts that they lost in 2018 and 2020. And internal polling by the Republican National Committee shows that Donald Trump is deeply unpopular among Republican voters and all voters in those swing districts.

So, he had a 15-point deficit in his unfavorable rating over favorable rating in those swing districts. The only way you're going to win those seats back is by offering Republican candidates who don't hold to that lie.

And as long as Donald Trump is controlling the party, he's going to insist that people keep up with that big lie. And that's going to keep the Democrats in control of the House and the Senate for the foreseeable future. CAMEROTA: Alice, if you want people to go -- if you want Republicans

to go in the right direction, they're going towards Donald Trump. They're not going away from Donald Trump. They're making choices in leadership and beyond that is towards Donald Trump.

STEWART: The goal, Alisyn, is to keep those people on board, but also to bring back on board the people that we lost in the last election.


STEWART: You cannot just -- the goal is to keep the people on board that Donald Trump supports. And that, in large part, includes letting Donald Trump have a voice within the party.

But we have to go back and win over the disaffected Republicans and the independents and grow the tent that we talk about.

CAMEROTA: Alice, I hear you, but those are mutually exclusive. Those are mutually exclusive.

Allowing Donald Trump and all of the statements that he keeps putting out, I won the election, the stop the steal, the big fraud, the big lie, I mean, he continues to put out these statements. How do you think you're going to win back -- I should pose this to Linda to get more of her in.

Linda, are they mutually exclusive or not? How do you win back independents?

CHAVEZ: You can't win them back with the big lie. You have got to broaden the party.

And one of the things that is amazing is, all of these state legislatures that are controlled by Republicans that are passing these restrictive voting laws, it indicates to me that they are very pessimistic about the opportunity that the Republicans have to win new voters.

What they want to do is to shrink the voting base, not to expand it, not to try to take a winning argument, not to try to take the things that Liz Cheney believes in, that I believe in, that Alice Stewart believes in, and promote those with voters.

Instead, they want to turn the Republican Party just into a cult that follows one man.


STEWART: And, Alisyn, that's why we need to -- that's why we need to focus on policy and not personality.

That's what got us into this mess. And returning back to policies is the right path to the future.

CAMEROTA: If you listened today, Alice, to that so-called investigation into the insurrection of what happened with lawmakers, it devolved, of course, into a shouting match, as one would expect, but it was all about personality.

It was Republicans who were whitewashing what happened that day and trying to absolve President Trump. That's still where they are. They still -- they were trying to say, it wasn't pro-Trump supporters who were doing this violence. It were -- it was agitators.

I mean, it's just not going -- I hear what you're saying, Alice. It's not going in that direction right now.

And so, Alice, look, you have heard -- one of the things that Republicans like Linda believe are that it's basically beyond repair, the party, and that they are going to have to start their own party that does believe in integrity and truth and conservative values.

Your thoughts on that?

STEWART: It is not beyond repair. And it's really important.

Of course, when we're in an investigation on the insurrection, we're going to have conversations about what got us to that point. But the goal of the Republican Party is to get past the partisan and political and the personal differences and focus on the policies that unite us, and not the personality that divides us.

CAMEROTA: Linda, do you think it's beyond repair?

CHAVEZ: I believe that the Republican Party of Donald Trump is not a party that I and thousands upon thousands of other people who've left the party, as I have -- I'm now unaffiliated -- can support.

If you want to make the Republican Party a national party again, you have got to move on and to focus on issues and policies. I agree with Alice there, but you can't do it with Donald Trump as your standard- bearer.


CAMEROTA: Linda Chavez, Alice Stewart, thank you both very much for the conversation.

STEWART: Thank you, Alisyn.


BLACKWELL: All right, coming up: states across the East Coast declaring emergencies after a cyberattack on a major pipeline starts these fears of gas shortages.

We will have the latest on that.

And breaking news: The CDC advisers have now made a decision to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15. We will talk more about what this means next.



BLACKWELL: All right, breaking news: A CDC advisory committee really just in the last couple of minutes recommended the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children 12 to 15.

Now, this already had emergency use authorization for ages 16 and up. The CDC director is expected to sign off on this, which means millions of kids can now be vaccinated. And today's decision has a major impact on the push to reopen schools for in person learning in the fall.

The panel's recommendation now goes to the CDC director, as we said, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who could give it the go-ahead at any moment.

CAMEROTA: And we will have much more on this and what it means for your family coming up.

But now to the latest on the cyberattack that shut down a major fuel pipeline. It has created long lines at gas stations across the Southeast, and the panic leading to shortages and higher prices.

Now, five days after the hack, we're getting new information about the group behind it.

So, let's bring in CNN security correspondent Josh Campbell.

Josh, what's the latest?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, we're learning more about this group.

And I will show you some of the latest details that we know. This is the group that is believed to have hacked this Colonial Pipeline

We're told that this DarkSide ransomware, as it's called, is used by what's being described as affiliates. Basically, you have the developers of the ransomware that then contract, essentially, with people who actually deploy it to try to extort victims. Sources tell us that the affiliate that hack the Colonial Pipeline was likely Russian.

We're also told that this ransomware impacting victims in more than 15 countries. It's also worth noting that this outside security firm, FireEye Mandiant, that's been contracted by Colonial Pipeline, they just came out with a new analytical report on this group yesterday saying that most of the victims are primarily inside the United States, which span across a number of sectors, from manufacturing to retail and technology.

Guys, just to tell you about some of the sophistication of these ransomware attackers, we're also told by this cybersecurity firm that one of the techniques that they use is, as they're getting into someone's system, they often look for data, such as, how much are these companies insured when it comes to cyber-protection?

They use that as leverage to actually use to demand the ransom, knowing what the high figure might be, so a high level of sophistication there.

Finally, that's the one line of effort, the investigation. The second line of effort right now for the U.S. government, the U.S. Department of Energy continues to work with this company to try to get these pipelines back up online. Yesterday, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said that the company hopes to have things back up fully by the end of this week, but today, by the end of today, that we will know when that launch will actually take place to try to get these pipelines up and running.

Until then, as we have seen, you see consumers that are clearly rattled by what's taking place, as depicted by some of these images we have seen at the gas pumps.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we have heard from the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, warning against hoarding, people rushing to get to -- fill their tanks up.

Apparently, that's not working, because we're seeing the shortages on cities coast to coast from North to South.

CAMPBELL: No, exactly.

And this attack really getting into the psyche of the American people. And it just goes to show, I mean, part of this is human nature. If people feel that there's going to be a run on supplies, that they're going to be going to be less of a critical supply, then they might go out.

Of course, officials, including Secretary Buttigieg, are trying to implore people, don't go out and hoard. The processes are in place now to try to get this pipeline back up and running.

But I think the larger issue, for those who follow these cybersecurity attacks, is just how important it is that some of this regulation takes place about critical infrastructure that is maintained by the private sector.

We have heard officials from government come out since this Colonial Pipeline hack, saying, look, this is a private company. There's not a lot we can do here. But, of course, that is raising a lot of questions. This isn't an ordinary company. This is a company that supplies critical infrastructure in the United States.

Guys, we will have to wait and see whether we see the federal government assert a greater role and try to regulate how these firms go about protecting themselves from threats.

CAMEROTA: Josh Campbell, thank you.

BLACKWELL: So, white supremacy extremists are one of the most lethal threats in the U.S. today. That's the warning that came during a Senate hearing on domestic extremism from both Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Let's bring in now CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, how did the senators react to what they heard?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, some of them, Victor, appreciated the words from Alejandro Mayorkas and Merrick Garland, which, frankly, mirrors the warnings that we heard from their predecessors in the Trump administration.

They talked about the fact that white supremacists are the most lethal threat, which is a remarkable thing for us who've been covering this issue. we have talked about a lot -- a lot about ISIS and some of the foreign actors that were threats to the U.S. And now we have this.


A lot of this, of course, is coming on the same day that Liz Cheney was being punished for essentially standing up to the big lie about the election and the false narratives that you keep hearing mentioned from people in Congress.

Mayorkas addressed some of the false narratives and the dangers that comes from that. Take a listen.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Senator, false narratives, the spread of false narratives are used to fuel extremist ideologies.

And we're focused on the connection between extremist ideologies and the threat or intention to commit acts of violence.


PEREZ: And the homeland security secretary, by the way, also mentioned that they're creating a new part -- a new bureau inside their intelligence section which is going to take a look and better track some of these domestic terrorism threats.

There is some criticism of that, because there's a previous iteration that targeted Muslims. And so there's a lot of concern about what this new office inside the Homeland Security Department will be focusing on -- guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Evan Perez for us there.

Thank you, Evan.

CAMEROTA: There are also new developments in the George Floyd murder case.

Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of murdering Floyd, may soon be facing a longer prison sentence than initially thought. And that's because of four aggravating factors in the killing of Floyd.

So, a judge can give Chauvin a longer prison sentence. The aggravating factors include Chauvin abusing a position of trust and authority and treating Floyd with particular cruelty. Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, 25 years for third-degree murder, and 10 years for manslaughter.

BLACKWELL: President Biden is expected to speak at any moment about his administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine plans as well.

And we have got this just in. Of course, the CDC, the vaccine advisory board, has just voted to recommend the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children 12 to 15.

We will discuss next.