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Texas Democrats Block Voting Bill; Mass Shooting at Florida Club. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Should go read it. And I think you come at it from such an interesting perspective, someone who grew up not part of a military family but now is very much a part of that family. I think it gives you such an important perspective. So, thank you so much for the work you've done.


BERMAN: Our coverage continues right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. We're glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Blocked for now. Overnight, a sweeping Republican-led voting restrictions bill failed in Texas. This after Democrats walked off the state house floor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A quorum is apparently not present. The point of order is well taken and sustained.


SCIUTTO: Well, that move in the final hours of the state's legislative session left the majority Republican state house without the minimum number of lawmakers present required for a vote. The bill would have installed some of the toughest voting restrictions in the country today, including making mail-in voting more difficult, severely limiting early voting hours, also making it easier for a judge to overturn an election.

HARLOW: So Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, says this is far from over. He is going to call in a special session of the state legislature to finish the job.

Also, this, on this Memorial Day. Soon, President Biden will lay a wreath at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. We'll bring you that ceremony, the wreath laying, his remarks, all live as soon as it begins. Let's start first though with our colleague, Dianne Gallagher, in Austin, Texas.

Dianne, let's talk -- I mean the governor says this is not over. This is going to happen. In his mine, this is going to become a state law. So can you walk us through what people need to know about SB-7.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and, so, look, I do want to be clear that Texas, even without SB-7, already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the entire country. But what this bit of legislation that was effectively killed for this session by Democrats in their walkout last night would have done is add new restrictions and regulations as well as new criminal and civil penalties to the voting process. It would end drive-through voting and mass mailing of mail-in ballot applications by public officials. It would actually make that a crime. It would bar any voting past 9:00 p.m. It would also bar Sunday morning voting. It would allow judges to void elections if the number of fraudulent votes that were cast could change the result. And it would seek to create or expand penalties, we're talking about more than a dozen election-related crimes here. And something we've seen across the entire country, it would expand the powers of those partisan poll watchers.

Now, Democrats had been trying to sort of ease this bill, but it's been in conference committee. And they said that when it came back to them, just a couple days ago, that they felt like it was worse. And I've been talking to them over the past week. They were trying to figure out what they could do. They said that this was basically going to the nuclear option here, what they did last night, just before the deadline.

Take a listen to the Democratic caucus chair, whose text message at 10:35 p.m. Central Time sent sort of the green light to the rest of the members, let's go.


CHRIS TURNER, CHAIRMAN, TEXAS HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: Well, what I hope the governor will do is say, you know what, this fever that is gripping the Republican Party across the nation, that is -- that is founded upon the big lie that somehow Donald Trump actually won an election that we all know that he lost, and that subsequent Republican efforts to pass these voting measures are all facing the big lie of voter fraud. And some Republican leader in this country is going to have to say, you know what, enough is enough.


GALLAGHER: And so, look, they know that at this point this is a victory for now because Governor Abbott said that, look, this particular bit of legislation was his legislative priority before this session began and we could be looking at a special session that could begin as early as tomorrow.

Jim. Poppy. SCIUTTO: Dianne, you have two elements to these voting laws in some states. One is restricting the voting process, access hours, et cetera. The other is what happens after the voting. And do courts or legislatures have the ability to overrule state or local election officials? In Texas, what exactly would this allow? This allows giving courts power they didn't have before, is that right?

GALLAGHER: It expands it by lowering the threshold for the burden of proof in terms of fraud allegations in elections. And so it makes it easier for judges to overturn those elections.


And really, Jim, last night, when the Democrats on the floor initially seemingly were trying to draw it out through debate, they were talking about this element, which was not included in either the House or the Senate-approved versions, something they had an issue with to begin with, and how there were literally members on the floor last night whose elections could have been overturned because there was an allegation of one or two fraudulent votes by others with no real proof.

And this is something, again, we have seen in other states be introduced, maybe not pass into law, or in different ways be passed into law, like in Georgia, giving, you know, partisan boards more control over local election boards.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's notable given the president -- former president's efforts in this most recent election to do just that, try to force courts or state legislatures to overturn based, Poppy, on no credible allegations of widespread fraud.

HARLOW: Yes, no proof of fraud in this SB-7.

Hey, Dianne, before you go, there's a Democratic lawmaker in the state of Texas, Congressman Trey Martinez Fischer, who really went after Abbott last night --


HARLOW: Saying, look, there was no special session called for -- after Hurricane Harvey or after mass shootings there, or even about the coronavirus pandemic. So you're nodding, so that's correct? So he's calling a special session for this and none of those.

GALLAGHER: Yes. And I want to be clear, he's calling on Twitter for a special session. That hasn't actually been done yet. But we do expect it to be done because Governor Abbott did say this was his top legislative priority.

Representative Martinez Fisher, this was about half an hour after this bill was effectively killed, they were at a church about two miles away doing this press conference and he listed all of the things that the republican governor here in Texas did not call a special session for, like COVID-19, like the mass shooting in El Paso, you know, that killed dozens of people at a Walmart, and like Hurricane Harvey. And he noted that, you know, you may be able to outnumber us on the floor legislatively, but he said we are equal in federal court, which is probably a foreshadowing of what's to come.

SCIUTTO: We'll see if the Democrats could -- could use the same tactic in a special session.

Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much.

Joining us now to discuss, Toluse Olorunnipa, political investigations and enterprise reporter for "The Washington Post," and Republican strategist Alice Stewart.

Thanks to both of you on this Memorial Day Monday morning.

Alice, if I could begin with you.

We just went through an election cycle where you had a losing candidate, the president, try to pressure both courts and state legislators to overturn election results without proof and, in fact, you know, debunked claims of widespread election fraud. Now you have, for instance, in Texas, as Dianne was describing there, lowering the threshold to do just that. In other words, you wouldn't need to prove widespread fraud but still could potentially overturn.

What's your reaction to that? Why -- why that kind of change? And what dangers does it set up in forthcoming elections in 2022 and 2024?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, Jim, I think the big lie is a bad basis for any kind of meaningful immigration reform or election reform. And I think, overall, we have very free and fair elections across this country. And I don't think any attempts to try and call attention to what one person and some people say was a fraudulent election is helpful to the country.

And, look, I think there are parts of this Texas legislation that Republicans have put forth that are important. I believe we do need to have voter ID with regard to mail-in ballots and absentee ballots. I think it's important to have closer scrutiny for those that are watching at the polls.

But with regard to this overall comprehensive bill that really questions the integrity of the election is not positive for the election process. And as you said, Jim, the former president questioned the outcome of the election repeatedly, numerously, and challenged them in court and failed time after time after time. That says a lot. And I think setting up the precedent to make challenges to elections easier in the future is not the best way to go about really instilling confidence in our election process.

HARLOW: Toluse, can you explain the significance in your mind of what happened in Texas last night and what is to come there on a national stage, if you will, because Texas may be in the spotlight this morning, but there are bills like this, other than what's passed already in Florida and Georgia, all across the country. I mean it's Texas today and other one tomorrow. TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's right, Poppy, there are hundreds of bills that are similar in scope that are trying to restrict access to the right to vote and Democrats are looking at Texas as the one area in which they were in some way able to fight back. There are a number of these states that are heavily Republican, places where President Trump -- former President Trump won and where he has a lot of sway with voters and Democrats feel powerless.

But in this case, even though the former president did win the state of Texas, even though Republicans actually did relatively well in Texas in 2020, Democrats showed that they do have some power and they are willing to use all different kinds of maneuvers to stop voting rights from being restricted.


It's sort of a make or break issue for the Democratic Party. And I think nationally there are going to be other Democrats looking at what they can do to draw more attention to this issue, to pull out all the stops, to play by a different set of rules when it comes to voting right, which are fundamental, constitutional rights in this country. Democrats want to be able to show that they are fighting for those rights just as they fought for civil rights, just as they're fighting for all kinds of different rights, First Amendment rights, they want to show that voting rights are right up there and they're trying to put pressure nationally and put pressure on the White House and on Congress to push laws that would make it harder for these states to restrict the rights of their voters' to cast their ballots.

SCIUTTO: Listen, it's an ongoing battle that's going to take place at state legislatures, it's going to take place in courts as well.

But, Alice Stewart, we saw the -- what the potential could look like in 2020, right? I mean you had two-thirds of House Republicans vote not to certify election results in key swing states the day of, the night of the January 6th insurrection. And I just wonder, of course, they didn't have a majority to do that. Democrats held the majority.

Should we discount the possibility that the next time around such an effort could be successful, right, if Republicans win back the House in 2022 and they were willing to do that, make that vote. If two- thirds of House Republicans were willing to make that vote on the night of an insurrection, right, based on false claims, are we setting up for the possibility in 2024 that you could see them do that with a majority and refuse to seat -- refused to seat those electors?

STEWART: I strongly don't believe that will happen. Look, I think there are many in the Republican Party who, for some reason, wanted to question the integrity of the election and still for some crazy reason believe that Donald Trump still won the election, but that's not the case. We have free and fair elections. President Biden won. Donald Trump lost.

And, look, I think it's important for people to realize that these elections are run by well-meaning, good-hearted people, on the local level. SCIUTTO: Yes.

STEWART: I served as deputy secretary of state. These people, Republicans and Democrats, in these local areas, run these elections fairly and accurately. They take great pride in it. And I think questioning the certification of elections is an insult to election workers across the country. And when Americans go to vote, they need to have the confidence that their vote will count and someone that just because they're upset about the outcome of the election is going to challenge it I think is wrong. I think the most important thing we can do is instill confidence in the election process and make sure that people want to go out and vote for their candidate of choice. And may the best man win.

HARLOW: Or woman.


STEWART: Exactly. Exactly.

HARLOW: Thank you both very much.

Toluse Olorunnipa, Alice Stewart, thank you.

STEWART: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, there is a manhunt underway for the gunman who opened fire at a Florida nightclub killing at least two people, wounding at least 20. What police say they are looking for, next.

HARLOW: Also, will Democrats go it alone and form a select committee to investigate the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol? A Democratic lawmaker calling for bipartisanship will join us live this hour.

And you're looking at live pictures of Arlington National Cemetery this morning on this Memorial Day, as we all remember our fallen heroes. Our Barbara Starr sits down with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Her exclusive interview ahead.

Stay with us.



SCIUTTO: Well, sadly , on this Memorial Day, another violent weekend. More lives lost to gun violence. A shooting outside a private venue in Miami-Dade County, Florida, left two people dead, at least 20 people injured.

HARLOW: There's a manhunt underway now for three gunmen.

Our Natasha Chen is live in Miami-Dade County.

Natasha, good morning to you. Do they have any leads at this point?


There are no breaks right now for their investigation, but we are about to find out more hopefully at a press conference. They're setting up this podium behind us. That's about to begin in -- within the hour. So we're hoping to get more information perhaps about the victims, perhaps about the search for these three people.

Let's show you what we know about that. They say three people got out of a white Nissan Pathfinder outside of this venue, just after midnight, early Sunday morning. Again, they say that there was a private concert or show going on that evening on Saturday night and patrons were standing outside when these three people got out of the car with assault rifles and handguns and started shooting indiscriminately at the crowd and that's why they call this a targeted attack, just very brazen. They get back in the car and they flee the scene.

Yesterday, investigators spent hours there in that strip mall parking lot. We saw a lot of yellow markers showing all the shell casings. They brought in canines to assist. And a couple of families also showed up, very emotional, saying that perhaps their loved ones are among the wounded or perhaps even one of the two killed there. So we are definitely waiting for more confirmation on identifying those people.

Here's the county mayor talking about this very serious issue of growing violence and what they're going to do about it.


MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: We know certain neighborhoods are more affected than others. And we need to make sure that we have prevention and intervention strategies in place.

We need to solve this murder. We need to bring these people to justice and we need to prevent the next one.


CHEN: Police are really asking the public for help in identifying the people who did this.


There's a large reward now based on a huge donation, $100,000 from Miami businessman Marcus Lamonus (ph), as well as a $25,000 donation from ATF Miami. So quite a bit of money there, up to $125,000, for any tips leading to the arrest.

Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: How often have we seen that yellow tape, crime scene tape? Natasha Chen, thanks much.

Joining me now is Juliette Kayyem, she's former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security and now a CNN national security analyst.

Juliette, good to have you on.


SCIUTTO: You know, the statistics in this country are disturbing.


SCIUTTO: Two hundred and thirty-eight mass shootings so far in this country this year. This as defined by CNN, four or more shot or killed. Two this weekend in the Miami area alone.

At the same time you're seeing an overall rise in homicides and other kinds of gun violence in a number of cities across the country.

Is it correct to see those two trend lines as separate? Are they related? I mean there's some overlap, too, in those numbers.

KAYYEM: Right.

SCIUTTO: What's happening here?

KAYYEM: Right, so you're seeing both the mass killings skyrocket, and the sad thing is that this Florida attack, or the ironic thing is, is not yet qualified as a mass killing because only two people are dead --


KAYYEM: Even though this was like an assault spray to a group of people who were standing outside a club. And then you see the single homicides that are increasing in various areas. That is a combination of factors.

Now, this is typical, unfortunately, as the weather gets warmer, we're also seeing the sort of everyone out after the pandemic.


KAYYEM: But one thing to remember is gun purchases skyrocketed during COVID, absolutely skyrocketed, three times, four times in various parts of the country, including amongst women. So you're seeing, in all likelihood, the use of what was -- what's a massive surge of weaponry out into the streets and into people's homes.

SCIUTTO: You speak to some in law enforcement.


SCIUTTO: Art Acevedo (ph), now Miami police chief, who used to be in Houston, he makes the point that contributing to this is a backlog of cases in the criminal justice system, some of which is COVID related. You just have a lot of cases there, you know, people accused of felonies. Those cases aren't moving forward. And, in many circumstances, they're out while those cases wait to be adjudicated.

Is that a significant contributor here? And what's got to be done about that?

KAYYEM: So the backlog in court cases, bail hearings, preliminary hearings, but even investigations is -- is just the natural and unfortunate impact of COVID and just the slowness of things.

What you saw in Florida, for example, is what looks like, just from what we're hearing from local officials and what's being reported, it looks like this may have been not just targeted but in reaction to a shooting that had occurred or shootings that had occurred at similar music venues. So you're seeing the back and forth that is just not able to be stopped by law enforcement at this stage.

I cannot overestimate, or overemphasize how shocking this attack is, the three guys are hooded, with glasses it appears, they are waiting, and they just shoot into 20, 30, 40 people. We don't see that very often and just for the grace of God that not -- more people were not killed.


KAYYEM: So we are, unfortunately, the backlog and the -- and the exhaustion in public safety, the retirements that you're seeing, everything else, will have an impact at this stage.

SCIUTTO: No question. But also --

KAYYEM: But, as I always say with you, guns --

SCIUTTO: Well, it's the kind of guns that allow you to shoot more quickly with a larger capacity magazine that, obviously, increased those numbers.

KAYYEM: Yes, quickly.

SCIUTTO: You mentioned retirements.


SCIUTTO: There is a morale issue that you hear both anecdotally but also from commanders. I've had a number of conversations with the chief of the NYPD on this. But he's not the only one who says that, that you have a pullback by officers.

KAYYEM: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Some who either don't want to serve, or they police less aggressively than they did in the past.

KAYYEM: Yes. SCIUTTO: What is the significance of that? Is there a solution to that? Is that a major contributor?

KAYYEM: Well, let me -- there's contributions to it, but I think, in the end, they're going to be good for law enforcement and community relations. We are at a -- at a moment between communities and police. So let's just be clear on the data, police dockets, police budgets did not go down despite what you're hearing in terms of the influence of Black Lives Matter or defund the police. They are getting steered to very, very hopeful policies and programs that -- that do not put cops in positions where you might need a social worker or someone who can deal with drug or alcohol abuse. That's what we -- that's what we need.

And I should say one final thing, you know, part of the challenge with police officers is that their own were not coming forward. In other words, the unions were protecting these bad cops.


So the defensiveness that you hear from a lot of police officers is something they can solve, right? In other words, they have to be clear that the police work with communities and that the bad elements within them are going to be exposed, rather than hidden or protected by unions.


KAYYEM: And so sometimes I can get my back up when you hear police complain about them feeling on defense because they actually have the power to cure a lot of what ails police and community relations and move forward in ways that are meaningful for communities as well as the police.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And it's so often right, there's not one simple solution, right?

KAYYEM: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: There are multiple layers to this.

Listen, we're going to keep up discussion of this topic because it's important.

KAYYEM: Yes, of course.

SCIUTTO: It's affecting a lot of communities.

Juliette Kayyem, thanks very much.

KAYYEM: Thank you. Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: Well, after Senate Republicans derailed the bipartisan probe into the January 6th insurrection, Democrats are pushing for a House select committee to investigate. What would that mean for the country? What would it look like? Minnesota Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips joins me next with his call for bipartisanship.