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House to Vote This Week on Bipartisan Deal Creating Jan 6 Commission; Interview with Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI); Supreme Court Takes UP Major Abortion Case for Next Term; Bill Gates Faces Conduct Accusations While Navigating Divorce; Deadliest Day Yet as Scenes of Horror Unfold in Israel, Gaza. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 17, 2021 - 09:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This week a big vote on a bipartisan breakthrough is set to take place in the House after months of gridlock. A deal is now on the table to create an independent commission that will investigate the deadly January 6 attack, the insurrection at the Capitol.

The January 6th Commission is set to be modeled after the 9/11 Commission. It will be about six months, though, not 20 months.

So with me to discuss this and more is Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan.

It's good to have you Congresswoman. Thank you very much for being with me.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: So it's not exactly clear this morning, though, that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is totally on board with this deal. As you know he has voiced some concerns and he seems to still be concerned about the scope.

For example, he gave this note, he said, look, the Good Friday attack where an officer was killed after a car rammed into the barricades that should be included, too.

You're someone known to reach across the aisle to work down the middle when you can. Do you think he has a point? Is he right?

SLOTKIN: Listen, I think that the draft that the Representatives Katko and Thompson came up with is a good draft because it literally in some places is cut and paste from the 9/11 commission back 20 years ago.

I think once we start putting things outside of the scope of this attack into, you know, the scope of the commission it dilutes it and frankly it's not what we did during 9/11. We wouldn't have researched the Sinn Fein or the Shining Path when we were actually looking at al Qaeda. So I just used something that has worked and that the American people are familiar with.

HARLOW: Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney says that Kevin McCarthy should absolutely testify, also noting that it should not take a subpoena if it were to come to that. Listen to what she said.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): He absolutely should and I wouldn't be surprised if he were subpoenaed. I think that he very clearly and said publicly that he's got information about the president's state of mind that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you would welcome a subpoena for Kevin McCarthy to testify to that committee?

CHENEY: I would anticipate that, you know -- I would hope he doesn't require a subpoena but I wouldn't be surprised if he were subpoenaed.


HARLOW: What questions would you have? Obviously no politicians current are going to be on this commission, but if you were questioning Kevin McCarthy about that day and subsequent conversations with the president, what do you think is most important to know?

SLOTKIN: Well, first of all, I need the timeline. I need to know exactly when they spoke, what they said, what was the message both ways, right? What did the president say to Mr. McCarthy, what did Mr. McCarthy say back to the president? And how did that fit into the violence that then spilled into the U.S. Capitol?

Certainly anything that has to do with incitement I'm interested in and then the response from Representative McCarthy. Did he engage the president and tell him to get folks to stand down? What was the message back?

I want to know those details and the specific timeline.

HARLOW: You know, to the point of preventing any further violence of this sort when Liz Cheney was asked also by Jonathan Karl this weekend, you know, do you think something like January 6 could happen again? And she said I think there is no question.

And you just, you know, a week or so ago on "Real Time with Bill Maher" talked about President Trump, in your words, waiting in the wings, very much being alive and well in politics today and his style, the word you used.

You've got your Democratic colleague Bennie Thompson saying that, yes, they would want the former president to talk to the commission. Do you agree? Do you believe whether it takes a subpoena which they would need a majority agreement on for the former president, do you agree that President Trump should speak to the commission?

SLOTKIN: Well, sure. I mean, I think, you know, we've already engaged on this back in January in the House. I mean, the president played a significant role in encouraging, egging on and inciting violence. And so of course the president should answer for that and should come and talk to the committee.

And I do think that, you know, the point of doing this -- like I know it's a political football right now, but we had this really amazing experience with the 9/11 Commission where serious people went through, explained first to themselves what actually happened and then put it into like a paper back book that you could buy at the airport.

It became a best seller. The average American understood what happened to us as a country and hopefully understood what we needed to prevent future attacks.

That's what I'm looking for, the same model, rather than just kind of throwing it back and forth. And of course the president plays a big role in that.

HARLOW: I'd like to change topics, if I could, Congresswoman, before you go, and ask you about the ongoing violence between Israeli forces and Hamas and what has come out of a number of progressives within your party that would like to hear the Biden administration speak more forcefully against Israel than it has.


HARLOW: And I thought it was notable that the Secretary of State Antony Blinken just a few hours ago reiterated Israel's right to defend itself as the U.S. has always said. But he went on to say I believe Israel as a democracy has an extra burden to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.

Your Democratic colleague in the House Rashida Tlaib -- congresswoman tweeted this. "Israel targeting media sources is so the world can't see Israel's war crimes led by the apartheid-in-chief Netanyahu."

Those are incredibly strong words. What is your response to her? Do you agree with those progressives in your party on this?

SLOTKIN: Well listen, I mean I don't think anyone likes to see what's going on on their televisions. It's devastating right now. And I'm literally getting texts and messages from people saying, please, like please make sure that there is awareness on what's going on here frankly on both sides of the issue.

I think that this issue, again, becomes something where we just sort of like play back and forth, it's like ping-pong, and you know, what I'm seeing right now is civilians losing their lives on both sides. What I see right now are people trying to defend themselves first and foremost in Israel but also now inside of Israel.

There are gangs and roving sort of groups of thugs that are threatening and beating people up. I mean, it is devastating to watch. And I think the more we say you have to come down on one side or the other, the more we lose sight of like this systemic problem when people don't have a two-state solution. That's the problem.

HARLOW: Just to be very clear for our viewers, are you saying then you do not believe the Biden administration position and word -- word- choice should change at all here? You're comfortable with the statements coming out of the administration?

SLOTKIN: I think -- I think people need to read them for what they are, which is Israel has a right to defend itself and the Palestinians have a right to live in security and safety and all human beings have dignity.

And that I believe is what they're trying to say. That is what I am saying certainly. And I think that's extremely lost in the debate right now.

HARLOW: Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, thank you for your time this morning.

SLOTKIN: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news just in the last several minutes from the Supreme Court. They have agreed to take up a major abortion case. We will have all the details right after this break.



HARLOW: Significant breaking news just into us. The Supreme Court has agreed to take up a major abortion case next term concerning a controversial Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks.

SCIUTTO: It's going to be a big test for the Roe v Wade decision which initially legalized abortion particularly with the new 6 to 3 conservative makeup of the court.

Joining us now CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider as well as CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig.

Jessica, first to you. Tell us exactly what the Supreme Court announced this morning. And how soon will we see this go before them?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this won't actually be heard by the Supreme Court until next term so sometime after October. And it's important to note that this law was blocked by the fifth circuit here. It remains blocked. It will remain blocked until the Supreme Court hears it and then issues a decision.

So we are looking at least another year of this law blocked. This is a major law out of Mississippi. It blocks abortions after 15 weeks, except for cases of a medical emergency, severe fetal abnormalities, but it does not make exceptions for rape or incest.

It's important to note that, you know, this case comes now that this court is solidly conservative, 6 to 3.

It also comes now with justice Amy Coney Barrett on the court. We know that as a private citizen she has expressed her anti-abortion views, however, during her confirmation hearing she did say that she wouldn't let her private feelings, her opinions impact her decision.

But one justice who has spoken out repeatedly about Roe v Wade saying that it needs to be overturned is Justice Clarence Thomas. He has made no secret of his opinion that it should be overturned. I mean, we heard from him recently saying that Roe v Wade has created the right to abortion out of whole cloth without a shred of support from the constitution's text.

So this will be a real test for the court. We have also seen the court weigh in recently on some abortion-related issues.

It was just back in January when the court actually reimposed restrictions on the abortion drug that women could previously get without visiting a doctor. They reimposed the rules saying that women had to go in-person in order to get this abortion drug.

So we've seen already the court sort of moving more toward the right and now this will be a major test for the court, no doubt -- sorry, abortion rights activists are very concerned about this opinion being -- about this case being heard at the Supreme Court next term.

This is definitely a major case that we've been waiting to see if the Supreme Court will take up. and now this morning the Supreme Court saying, yes, in fact, they will hear it come next term, guys.

HARLOW: Ok. So Elie, Mississippi here in their filings is saying that Roe versus Wade's line in terms of viability of a fetus is arbitrary. But there is some history here, you know, with this same chief justice.

Chief Justice Roberts sided with the liberals when it came last term to the Louisiana law, which he said echoed the Texas law that was struck down about four years ago. The question is, is it different now? The makeup of the court is different.



ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is Poppy. That is the number one factor. Like you said, about a year ago we got our last major ruling out of the Supreme Court on abortion where they struck down a very restrictive Louisiana law.

If that law had stood, it would have essentially meant that the entire state of Louisiana had one doctor who was legally licensed to perform abortions. The Supreme Court came down with a somewhat surprising 5 to 4 ruling where Chief Justice Roberts joined the then-four liberal justices to make a majority.

Since then the biggest change is that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of course, has passed and been replaced by Amy Coney Barrett. So if you do the math and you assume that Justice Ginsburg's vote against the restrictive law will flip over to Amy Coney Barrett you could have a totally different result.

Remember, it's a 6 to 3 court now, conservatives have six, liberals have three. So you would need to see Chief Justice Roberts plus one other conservative now flip over and join with the liberals to give a ruling in favor of the liberal position.

SCIUTTO: Elie the background here is important because Roe v Wade has been a target of conservatives for years. And by the way, as they choose justices for the court and other high courts, they're looking at what -- how they might decide cases like this.

I just wonder they've all been asked in their confirmation hearings these questions, they all have an answer for it, you know, tend to sort of say, well, you know, I'm not going to break with precedent, blah-blah-blah.

Does that really mean anything? I mean or are we going to see now with this court what conservatives have been trying to accomplish really for decades now, in terms of if not overturning Roe v Wade certainly restricting abortion more?

HONIG: I put almost no stock in the stock answer of I'm just going to follow precedent because, guess what, the Supreme Court justices do, they decide what they think the precedent is and what the precedent means.


HONIG: So yes, this is a major issue. It's sort of remained quiet, relatively quiet if you look nationwide in the Supreme Court over the last several years. But clearly the position of the new justices on abortion has been a major political and legal animating factor.

And let's remember the three newest justices all appointed by Donald Trump during his term are also the three youngest justices on the court. So they are likely to be together as a block for many decades.

SCIUTTO: And that by design as well. They are younger, they are there longer.


SCIUTTO: Jessica Schneider, Elie Honig -- this is big news. We will be following it as it gets into the fall. Thanks so much.

And we will be right back.



HARLOW: Well, new details this morning on why billionaire Bill Gates resigned from Microsoft's board of directors last year. Of course, the company he founded. According to "The Wall Street Journal" Gates stepped down after the board began an investigation into a romantic relationship that he had had with a Microsoft employee.

SCIUTTO: This news comes less than a month after Gates' wife, Melinda Gates, filed for divorce after 27 years of marriage.

CNN's Christine Romans has been following this. Christie first, has Gates responded to these allegations? And this is quite -- this is major news, not just personally, right, but for the company.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're hearing from the company and from Bill Gates on this. This is through "The Wall Street Journal" and reporting for "The New York Times". I should be clear here.

Now "The Journal" said during the investigation, board members felt Gates should no longer serve as the boards' director. Gates resigned before the investigation was completed.

A spokesperson for Gates admitted to this relationship telling "The Journal" quote, "There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably. Bill's decision to transition off the board was in no way related to this matter."

A separate report from "The New York Times", as I said, on Sunday says Gates had quote, "developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work related settings involving Microsoft as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."

Now earlier this month, of course, Melinda Gates filed for divorce from the billionaire. In a statement announcing that split the couple said this. "After great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we've made the decision to end our marriage."

Now the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did not respond to requests for comment. CNN has not confirmed the allegations cited by "The Journal" and "The Times". But a spokesman for Bill Gates telling "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times" essentially that this was a relationship with a staffer 20 years ago that was not something that was -- it was not something that was out of the bounds and that it was not something that had led to his leaving that board.

SCIUTTO: Interesting. So much more coming out now.

Christine Romans, thanks very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: Well, still ahead this hour, civilians caught in the middle of the worst fighting between Israel and Hamas in nearly a decade with no end in sight now. Dozens in Congress are demanding the Biden administration put more pressure on both sides to come to a ceasefire, to put an end to it.

CNN's live team coverage next.



HARLOW: Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Just a harrowing human toll. Hundreds dead, thousands injured, escalating international pressure for a ceasefire yet no signs the violence in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank is ending any time soon.

This conflict just saw its deadliest single day so far. Overnight the Israeli Air Force -- you're seeing some of them there -- carrying out new air strikes in the Gaza Strip.

HARLOW: Palestinians say at least 52 people were killed in Gaza yesterday alone. The death toll there climbing to 200. The Israeli government says ten people including two children have been killed as a result of Hamas rocket fire in Israel.

All of this as violent confrontations are growing in the streets, in towns and cities across the West Bank.

Our Nic Robertson is live in Israel right near the Gaza border. Nic, what can you tell us on the ground?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I'm located where the Israeli Defense Forces at one of their artillery positions.

When we arrived here, they were distributing artillery shells -- fresh artillery shells to each of these guns here. And there are a number of these heavy artillery pieces dug in in this field.

While we've been here over the past half an hour to an hour or so we've been able to see and hear artillery being fired from here into Gaza.


ROBERTSON: Now, we don't know what the target is but a couple days ago when the Israeli Defense Forces were firing a lot of artillery, we found out later that that was targeting tunnels.

And the Hamas tunnels were what the Israeli Air Force were targeting last night with an intensive bombing run in Gaza.