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President Biden in Ohio; San Jose Mass Shooting Investigation; Republicans Set to Block Bipartisan Insurrection Commission. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired May 27, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us on NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

Listen, this is the day after another mass shooting in America, nine dead this time. And what's in its wake? Numbness across this country and apparent legislative apathy on Capitol Hill, and not just when it comes to gun legislation.

CAMEROTA: So, instead of beginning this hour with what's happening in Congress today, we thought we'd start with what's not happening, which is a bigger story.

BLACKWELL: So, first, Senate Republicans are expected to block a bill creating a commission to investigate the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

This is their workplace, not just the centerpiece of American democracy, but this is where they and their staffers go to do the work of the people. The attack led to the deaths of five and injured more than 160 Capitol Police officers.

CAMEROTA: Congress has also not reached any agreement on police reform.

They missed President Biden's Tuesday deadline for a deal, even though most lawmakers say they are disturbed by what we have all seen with our own eyes in case after case captured on video of black Americans killed at the hands of police.

The family of one of those killed, Ronald Greene, will stage their own march for justice this hour.

BLACKWELL: And we will see flags at half-staff, tweets about thoughts and prayers. Your senators, your representatives are taking no action, no real action, on the mass shooting epidemic.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said it this way:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): What the hell's going on in the United States of America? What the hell is wrong with us?


BLACKWELL: Well, CNN has new reporting about yesterday's shooting in San Jose that left, again, nine people dead. More on that in a moment.

But, first, Republican senators are expected to block what was a bipartisan agreement for commission to investigate the insurrection.

Joining us now, CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox and CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel.

Lauren Fox, first to you.

So far, three Republicans are on the record. They have said that they would support this. Democrats need 10 Republican votes. Is it going to happen? How close will they get?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats aren't there on getting on those 10 Republican votes.

Republican leadership has been working very hard to make sure their members are in line on this vote. In fact, they have been working really for weeks. And they're confident they have the votes locked down.

This really began with an effort a few weeks ago by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to really try to point out to his members his argument that there are already congressional investigations that are happening; therefore, they don't need to have this commission.

You have, in front of you, essentially just a handful of Republicans willing to vote with Democrats, people like Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski. You also have Senator Rob Portman saying he might vote on a procedural vote on this commission, but he has changes that he wants to see made.

The larger list is Republicans who are planning to vote against creating this commission. And I just want to point out that, in the House of Representatives, there were 35 Republicans who voted with Democrats to establish a commission. In the Senate, that number is going to be far smaller.

CAMEROTA: Jamie, you have some new reporting on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his personal efforts to squash this bill.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as Lauren pointed out, we know that McConnell has been pressuring Republican voters to vote against the January 6 commission since he announced his opposition last week.

But what we're told by two sources, two Republican sources, is that, in the last 24 hours, McConnell has doubled down, and he has reached out to particular senators he was afraid might be wavering. According to one Republican source, McConnell asked them to vote

against the commission as -- quote -- "a personal favor." And the source said that, while McConnell, look, he lets the conference know where he stands as leader, the senators were really caught by surprise at just how insistent he was.

Bottom line, he does not want a January 6 commission, even with the tweaks Senator Susan Collins has proposed to address his concern.


I want to read you one more quote. This was from a Republican source who was baffled by Mitch McConnell. The source said: "No one can understand why Mitch is going to this extreme of asking for a personal favor to kill the commission," and went on to say -- quote -- "How can you have an attack on the Capitol, and the Republican leader is saying vote against it?"

Quote: "It is despicable."

BLACKWELL: Jamie, we heard from Senator Thune that this could spill over into the 2020 midterms. And we know from Leader McCarthy and Leader McConnell that the goal, obviously, is to regain the majority.

Is it as simple as that?

GANGEL: I think it is as simple as that.

But let's remember that these tweaks that Susan Collins is offering would put a time certain on ending the commission. That's supposed to address it. But I think the bottom line is that Susan Collins has gotten the message loud and clear that her tweaks, whatever they are, are not enough for Mitch McConnell.

He seems to feel that the commission, any commission, whatever the rules are, will be bad for him to become majority leader and for Republicans to regain the Senate. It's as simple as that.

CAMEROTA: Lauren, trying to inject some humanity into this is Brian Sicknick's mom and his longtime girlfriend. So that's the officer who died after the attack, and we saw all of the hideous attacks on the Capitol Police officers, how they were beaten, 160 of them injured.

And so what's happened with their meetings, with Brian Sicknick's mom and girlfriend meeting and making a personal appeal to these senators?

FOX: Well, they have met with some senators who were already a yes on the commission. They have also met with some senators who had already publicly announced that they were opposed, one of those, of course, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who put out a statement essentially saying that he respected and expected to have that meeting, but he also made clear that he is in a different position, right, on the commission, and that he did make a promise to try to get answers for Brian Sicknick's mother.

But, of course, he remains in the same position that he has been in. Obviously, this is a very emotional moment, moments, on Capitol Hill, when it comes to someone who was serving the Capitol, who was well- known to members up here on Capitol Hill, their mother coming up and making a personal appeal, a powerful moment, for sure.

Those votes very locked in for the Republican Party, though, which is not the 10 Republicans, like we said, willing to vote to establish this commission.

BLACKWELL: And let's...

CAMEROTA: Let's take a listen, yes, to his mom, what she had to say today.


SANDRA GARZA, GIRLFRIEND OF BRIAN SICKNICK: Police officers were getting attacked. They were getting beaten. Fire extinguishers were thrown at them. They were being attacked by flagpoles.

I mean, Mike and Officer Dunn here, or, I should say, Officer Fanone, they can basically tell you right now what they experienced. And it wasn't a tourist day. It wasn't tourists just passively walking by.

HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: If January 6 didn't happen, Brian would still be here, plain and simple.

QUESTION: Do you think you can change minds today?

GLADYS SICKNICK, MOTHER OF BRIAN SICKNICK: I hope so. I hope so. And Brian had a work ethic like second to none. And he was just there for our country and for these guys. And he just was doing his job, and he got caught up in it. And it's very sad.

They're supposed to uphold the Constitution. And, right now, I don't think they're doing it.


CAMEROTA: I mean, Lauren, they want justice. They want answers, you know? I hear you sighing there, Jamie.

I mean, how can the senators say, no thanks?

FOX: Well, I think that that's part of the challenge of having meetings like this, right?

I mean, this reminds me of right after Sandy Hook, when lawmakers on Capitol Hill were trying to come up with some kind of bipartisan background check bill. And I remember those families coming up to the Hill and meeting with senators, many of whom had already made their positions very public on where they stood.

I mean, the hope, right, is that a personal story, meeting with someone who has lost someone in a tragedy changes your world view, sort of makes you take a step back from the political moment and make a different decision. I just don't think that that's what we have seen happen in the

aftermath of some of these meetings.

BLACKWELL: And, Jamie, one of our colleagues caught up with Senator Joe Manchin, who is, in cases like this, the person that Democrats should go to first if you're trying to get the votes of the caucus.

And he was asked if this is the time at which there needs to be some filibuster reform, if not for voting rights, if not for some of the infrastructure bills, for this commission. He said -- quote -- that he is -- quote -- "not ready to destroy our government" -- close quote -- by reforming the filibuster.


There were people who really went there to kill members of the government, to destroy the -- at least the facade, the edifice of the Capitol.

I find it interesting that that's the terminology, that's the verbiage he used here.

GANGEL: You know, it's interesting.

Joe Manchin is in this position where he is standing in between possibly the filibuster going away. And he does not want to do this.

But we also have reporting from our colleague Dana Bash that he said to Mitch McConnell that -- in no uncertain terms, that he thought there should be a commission.

I just want to go back to Officer Sicknick's mother for one minute. What we have seen today is not just heartbreaking. Her son gave his life protecting these men and women. And I know a little bit about her behind the scenes. We corresponded.

She did not want to come here. She was hoping that this would -- that there would be a commission, that she wouldn't have to come here today. That's why it was so last-minute. She really expected, in her words, for them to do the right thing.

CAMEROTA: And, Jamie, just one more point on that.

I remember so vividly after -- when Patricia Smith, another grieving mother, went -- and she was -- she was the mom of Sean Smith, who was killed during the Benghazi attack. And Donald Trump brought Patricia Smith to a presidential debate. The RNC gave Patricia Smith a platform to make a speech, because all Republicans felt she deserved to be heard, she deserved justice, she deserved answers.

And the idea that they're not going to extend that same courtesy to Brian Sicknick's mother makes no sense.

GANGEL: So, the numbers here, we believe, at least 15 Republican members agreed to sit down with her. Eight others offered staff. But that means that about half the conference either said no or has

not responded, which I think is a startling number. But, at the end of the day, let's remember this is about one thing. Whether you're talking about Kevin McCarthy or Mitch McConnell, these two men, it's about politics. They want to take back the House. They want to take back the Senate.

And they think that a commission makes them look bad, even a bipartisan commission, with all of the allowances that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats negotiated with their Republican membership on the House side.

CAMEROTA: Well, I'm glad everybody's on the same page and knows what it's about in that case. I mean, it's just really a remarkable point to see where we are.


CAMEROTA: Jamie Gangel, Lauren Fox, thank you very much.

GANGEL: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So, the survivors of the San Jose mass shooting are speaking out about what they saw when their co-worker opened fire. One witness says the gunman specifically targeted certain people to shoot.

BLACKWELL: And we're just a few minutes away from President Biden pitching his economic plan, as negotiations over infrastructure continue. We will bring you that live from Cleveland.



BLACKWELL: We have got new details now about the man who shot and killed his co-workers at a San Jose, California, light rail yard. Again, nine people were killed, and then he killed himself.

CAMEROTA: His ex-wife and ex-girlfriend say that the 57-year-old had bouts of anger and mood swings and ranted about his colleagues.

Investigators say he targeted his victims and even stored explosive devices in his work locker. And this video obtained by CNN shows a man leaving what police say is the shooter's home with a duffel bag in his hand just hours before the shooting. Later, that same house would catch on fire.

BLACKWELL: City officials plan to honor the nine victims tonight at San Jose City Hall.

Survivors of the shooting and family members of the victims are now recounting the anguish there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She left a message from a co-worker's phone saying that she was OK. She dropped her phone. And that was all I heard from her.

I have just got to get to my wife.

JOHANNA TAVALDO, DAUGHTER OF VTA EMPLOYEE: He was praying the whole time and wasn't sure if he was going to come home to us. So, it was definitely very scary.

BAGGA SINGH, COUSIN OF VTA SHOOTING VICTIM: Nobody should have a gun. Not even the good people has gun too. We don't need guns. That's what the 911 is, right? If no one has a gun, and anyone has a gun, you can arrest the gun people. That's the law in India.


BLACKWELL: CNN security correspondent Josh Campbell is live in San Jose with more on the investigation.

Josh, I understand you spoke with the sheriff just a few minutes ago.

What did you learn?


We're getting some new details from the sheriff's department on what exactly transpired here yesterday, Sheriff Laurie Smith telling me that, at this point, based on preliminary figures, authorities believe that this shooter fired 39 rounds whenever he arrived here yesterday at this location during that mass shooting.

This morning, she had confirmed to me some of the weaponry that was used, saying that the suspect had two pistols, as well as 11 magazines, so a serious amount of ammunition that was brought here, but the sheriff just confirming a couple minutes ago to me that they believe 39 rounds were fired.


Now, interestingly, the sheriff also said that it looks at this point as though the shooter may have targeted his specific victims. She told me that present at the scene, whenever the suspect was in the middle of his rampage, there was a local union official who did not work for the Transportation Authority.

And, according to the sheriff, that shooter walked up to the union official and said -- quote -- "I'm not going to shoot you."

And that person was not shot. Of course, we know the people that were shot were people who worked here at this trail -- train yard, that leading authorities to believe this was an act of workplace violence.

Now, one other thing that we're learning as well is, there was this incident at the shooter's house, as this was taking place, the shooting, where authorities say a fire erupted at his residence. The sheriff said that she believes that there could have been some type of device that was timed either to go off to set that fire, or maybe it was detonated remotely, but that is something that remains under investigation.

Take a listen to what she said.


LAURIE SMITH, SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, SHERIFF: We got the call of shots fired at 6:34. The fire department got the call at 6:37.

So, he -- either someone else set the fire, which I don't believe -- it's my opinion that he had some kind of a device in his house to go off simultaneously, perhaps, but we don't know that for sure, and we don't know the cause of fire, but that's being investigated.


CAMPBELL: And, finally, we know that it wasn't just shots fired here that obviously is concerning.

Authorities say also that, in a locker -- of course, this is a place where the suspect worked -- in his locker, authorities found what the sheriff described as precursors to explosives, so explosive ingredients in the locker at his place of residence.

Of course, at this hour, authorities say they still do not have a specific motive in this case. That remains under investigation. The crime scene here remains being processed, as well as his residence. They're looking for any clues that they can obtain to try to get into the mind-set and try to understand what exactly transpired.

BLACKWELL: All right, Josh Campbell for us there in San Jose, thank you.

Charles Ramsey, a CNN senior law enforcement analyst, former Philadelphia police commissioner, with us now.

Commissioner, let me start here with the reporting that we have on this shooter.

His ex-girlfriend said he had mood swings, exacerbated when he had large amounts of alcohol, enjoyed playing mind games. Ex-wife says he spoke angrily about his co-workers and bosses and at times directed anger at her.

Is this someone who the red flag laws should have prevented from having these weapons?


It depends on whether or not this is something that those two people knew or if it was widely known. But it could have. It could have made a difference.

But, again, you're in a state that has good gun laws now.


RAMSEY: But it didn't stop this from taking place.

You have a lot of people out there that display that kind of anger, but then they don't pick up a gun and go to a workplace and start killing people either. So, it's complicated. Easy to look at afterwards, but not so easy during the time it's taking place.

CAMEROTA: But, Commissioner, here's the problem.

The ex-girlfriend had been involved in a court suit. There was law enforcement and a court case involved with this shooter and his ex- girlfriend. There was a 2009 filing in which she described, frankly, a sexual assault that she says he committed against her.

Commissioner, hold on one second. We're following some other breaking news.


CAMEROTA: The president is about to come out and speak, so we want you to stand by for us.

The president is in Ohio right now. He's taking the podium to talk about infrastructure and the economy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please, please, please. Please sit down.

Charlotte (ph), thank you very much for sharing your story. It's impressive.

Dr. Johnson and everyone at Cuyahoga Community College, thank you for being here and have having me here.

And, by the way, all the elected officials, you know what we call this in my business? We call this a busman's holiday.


BIDEN: To have to come and ride a bus again with another guy.

You're awful nice to be here. The only thing worse for an elected official when the president shows up is to say, the worst sentence in the English language is, "I'm at the airport."

So, thank you all so much. I got some really great friends here, start with Marcy (ph).

And, anyway, Mr. Mayor, thank you.

Dr. Johnson, thank you very much, and for letting me borrow, by the way, Marcia Fudge to serve as secretary of housing and urban development.

(APPLAUSE) BIDEN: You know, certain places, just by chance and circumstance, can become markers in the course of your life or in the course of the nation.

And, for me, Tri-C is one of those places. Just a little over a year ago, March 10, 2020 -- and 2020, I came to Cleveland as a candidate running for president to rally, hold a rally here at the community college.


Upon unloading, we got word that Governor DeWine, he did the right thing, wanted large indoor events to shut down because of the growing concerns over the virus and spreading all across America.

There would be no rally that night. And life in America had changed. And a long, dark year was about to descend upon all of us. Fourteen months later, we finally made it to campus. And from a year of darkness, we're now emerging into the light.

And I said from the very beginning, there's no chance, no chance for this economy to come back unless we beat the pandemic. I remember Congressman Ryan and I talking about that a lot on the campaign trail. You had to beat the pandemic to bring the economy back.

And so that's what we set out to do, with the help of a lot of the people that are right here. And after administering 271 million doses of the vaccine in the first 120 days, and we have -- the cases are down now from January from -- they're down 83 percent, COVID cases, down.

The number of deaths has fallen by 85 percent. Schools are reopening. Businesses are opening. Restaurants are reopening. And I hear that, as last night's vaccine lottery, Ohio has a new millionaire.


BIDEN: I will tell you what. Who would have thunk it?


BIDEN: A million bucks for getting a vaccine. But it's working.

Now 56 percent of Ohioans have had at least one shot. We got to get to 70 percent. That's the goal. We have turned the tide on a once-in-a- century pandemic. We have turned the tide on a once-in-a-generation economic crisis.

And families are beginning to be able to breathe just a little bit easier. We still have work to do, but our future today is as bright and as wide open as it ever has been. And now we're faced with a question. What kind of economy are we going to build for tomorrow? What are we going to do?

I believe this is our moment to rebuild an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not a trickle-down economy from the very wealthy. That has never benefited people who are at this college or any other place where they're trying to make a living.

To build an economy that rewards work, not just wealth, an economy that works for the backbone of this country, the people who get up every single day, work hard, raise their families, pay their taxes, serve their country, volunteer in their communities, just looking for a little bit of breathing room. My dad used to say, just a little bit of breathing room, honey.

And Tim has heard me say this 1,000 times. My dad used to say: "Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It's about your dignity. It's about respect. It's about your place in the community. It's about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, honey, it's going to be OK."

The last few months have demonstrated what that economy can look like. When our event here was canceled in March, our economy was on the brink of collapse. My mom used to have an expression. She'd say, you know, the greatest gift God gave mankind was the ability to forget, because, if we didn't do that, everyone would only have one child.


BIDEN: But, all kidding aside, the good news is, we forget the bad times. That's the good thing about we Americans. We're always optimistic.

But 10 months -- 10 months ago, we were in trouble. When I was sworn in, there were 10 million fewer jobs in America, and a lot here in Ohio. But in my first three months in office, the economy has added back 500,000 jobs per month.

In fact, we have created, with the help, again, of the members of Congress that are here today, 1.5 million jobs, more jobs than have ever been created in the first three months of any presidency in the history of the United States.

Before I took office, the average initial claims for unemployment insurance were over 830,000. This morning, we learned that number has fallen to below 460,000, cutting it in half. And we're at the lowest level we have seen since March 2020, when the pandemic first struck.

Before I took office, almost 24 million Americans were going hungry. Marcy's heard me say this before. Did you ever think you would see people lined up for miles and miles and miles