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CNN NEWSROOM

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) is Interviewed about Investigating January 6th; Defense Chief Lloyd Austin on Overseeing End of War; China Allows Three Children. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 31, 2021 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[09:30:35]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

After Republicans stymied efforts to form a bipartisan January 6th commission, House Democratic leaders are now actively considering mounting a probe of their own. They're now looking at creating a select committee to investigate the attack.

My next guest called last week's failed vote the second most shameful day in recent American history after January 6th itself.

I'm joined now by Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips. He currently serves as vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): Good morning, Poppy. Good to be with you.

HARLOW: We'll get to the vote in a moment, but I just -- I want to mark today especially with you because it is Memorial Day and you lost your dad when you were six months old. So you never -- you never got to know him but you tweeted this -- these beautiful photos of him that I think we can show everyone this morning.

What are your thoughts today?

PHILLIPS: Well, Poppy, I think of him every day. In no small way, I'm serving in Congress because of him. I had the very best of nature and nurture. My dad, Arty (ph), couldn't afford college. Grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, quite poor. Couldn't afford school. So used an ROTC scholarship to graduate from law school. Served our country in Vietnam and lost his life there in '69, January -- I was born in January, he died in July.

HARLOW: Wow.

PHILLIPS: And I think about him a lot right now, Poppy, in light of January 6th, in light of attacks on our electoral system and voter rights. And I think about all these men and women through are history, through generations, that served our country to protect democracy. And too many right now are trying to destroy it. So I honor him, all who have given their lives, and a lot of families who have done the same thing over our remarkable history, and I think we should honor everybody today and give a little thought. It's not about a happy Memorial Day, it's about a meaningful Memorial Day.

HARLOW: Right. That's exactly right. I'm very sorry. I'm very sorry that you lost him, but I'm sure all that you have done in his name would mean a lot to him.

So let's talk about part of what you're fighting for right now because you spoke recently about the January 6th commission, saying that a, quote, purely Democratic commission, if it were that, that half of the country would probably not believe the results.

So given that belief of yours, I wonder if you think a Democratic-led House select committee investigating the insurrection at the Capitol should move forward without Republican members or if it is a necessity in your mind that there are Republicans on that commission.

PHILLIPS: Well, Poppy, first and foremost, I think we should still continue to strive for the bipartisan commission, that 35 House Republicans supported, that a number of Republicans in the Senate supported. But if, if Republicans continue to object to it and won't support a bicameral, bipartisan commission, then, yes, we have to do it. What would -- what would history think of the United States of America and our Congress if we did not?

Now that said, it does not have to be unilaterally or just Democratic or partisan. I would implore that such an investigation include Democrats and Republicans. The more legitimate it can be perceived by Americans so that the truth is told, that future generations know it happened, we should do and it should be bipartisan.

John Katko and Benny Thompson did it. we should do that.

HARLOW: But you believe that if you can't get it, the Democrats should move forward with the House select committee? I guess what I'm asking is, will that committee be worthwhile if there are no Republicans on that committee? Should there be Republicans on that committee?

PHILLIPS: Well, Poppy, to answer your first question, yes, we should do it, absolutely, if, and only if there's no commission as proposed in the legislation on which we just voted.

HARLOW: OK.

PHILLIPS: If not, if there's a House select committee to investigate it, I would ask and implore and frankly demand that Republicans be included because it does need to have legitimacy to more Americans than it would if it was just a bipartisan exploration, even if that partisan investigation exposed the truth. We know the dynamic in our country right now, which is perhaps the greatest risk facing our country.

HARLOW: Demand Republicans be included. On that note, because so much of your career over the last few years

in Congress has been about bipartisanship, I wonder what you make of the fact that the White House is still pushing for Republicans to get on board with an infrastructure plan that they can get passed, right? You've seen the back and forth negotiations. They're still $700 billion apart.

[09:35:00]

New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says, look, it's time to go it alone for Democrats.

Here she was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): I think waiting any longer for Republicans to do the right thing is a misstep. I would go forward. I would offer, you know, President Biden has a huge, bold agenda of so much he wants to do for the economy and the American people. Democrats should respond and vote together now through reconciliation to get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Is she right?

PHILLIPS: Well, you know, Poppy, I would say that we should continue to try. I am part of a group, the House Problem Solver Caucus. We recently were hosted by Governor Hogan in Maryland with a number of senators and House members and governors from around the country. We broke bread. We got to know each other. We built some trust.

I know that we can come together on an infrastructure plan. It is not easy work. It's arduous work. It is supposed to be hard. So I don't think we should give up just quite yet.

HARLOW: OK.

PHILLIPS: For if we do, we're only contributing to the malaise and great disease facing our country right now.

That said, just like the commission for January 6th, if we cannot come to terms, if there will not be concessions in a meaningful way, yes, then we have to proceed unilaterally. But that is not in the best interest of the country.

HARLOW: You -- you are Jewish and you have been very outspoken about the rise in anti-Semitism we've seen especially recently in this country. The horrific attacks we've seen in New York, across -- across the country. And you've talked about it in the lens of what your grandparents experienced or what our, you know, hometown of Minneapolis went through in the 1940s. And you also wrote this, just over a week ago, let me pull it up for our viewers, quote, I'll say the quiet part out loud, it is time for progressives to start condemning anti-Semitism and violent attacks on Jewish people with the same intention and vigor demonstrated in other areas of activism. The silence has been deafening.

You even wrote a letter to the Biden White House calling for them to name an ambassador at large to combat anti-Semitism.

Have you had any productive conversations with those progressive members of your own caucus that you addressed in that tweet?

PHILLIPS: You know, Poppy, over the last couple of years I have, on occasion. You know, I'm 52 years old. I've never had to stand up in this way in my entire life. As I've said in my tweet, this is -- these are the times my grandparents, my great grandparents warned me about.

And, by the way, I was in the -- I was in the House chamber on January 6th. I saw the Hitler shirts. I saw the confederate flags. You know, I was there for the insurrection. We know we have a problem on the right. We have Marjorie Taylor Greene spewing Nazi rhetoric almost every other day.

But now we're seeing attacks from the left. And just as the former president called COVID the China flu, which provoked attacks on Asian- Americans, calling Israel a terrorist state or an apartheid state, you know, to me is doing the same thing to the Jewish community, which has been persecuted for so many generations. And it's time to stand up and ask my progressive friends and colleagues and brothers and sisters to recognize what is at stake here and to look back in history, not long ago in Germany where Jewish people felt as safe as they do in America right now. But these are the signs and signals that are very disconcerting for the community and I feel an obligation to point that out and not condemn but invite my progressive colleagues to help us.

HARLOW: Congressman Dean Phillips, thank you for joining us especially on this Memorial Day.

PHILLIPS: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: We'll be right back.

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[09:42:56]

HARLOW: Soon, President Biden will honor America's fallen heroes by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery.

SCIUTTO: The president will be accompanied by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who is commemorating his first Memorial Day as defense chief.

CNN's Barbara Starr, she sat down with Secretary Austin to discuss the many challenges facing the Pentagon, as well as the current process underway of now ending America's longest war ever.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This Memorial Day, the nation ending its longest war, 20 years in Afghanistan. A war that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, as General Austin, fought in, just as he did in Iraq.

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I've had a front row seat. I'm probably the -- at the greatest stage in our history in terms of, you know, being able to watch our troops in action, and watch the things that they will do for each other, the sacrifices they make for this country and for each other.

STARR: Twenty years of memories about America's troops, from his own tours, as a front line commander.

AUSTIN: I will tell you, despite the fact that we can -- we can make great movies and write a lot of books, you can't adequately describe the things that I've seen over this 20-year period. What these young people will do for each other, what they'll do for their country, is absolutely amazing.

STARR: Make no mistake, Lloyd Austin does not want to talk about himself. On this Memorial Day, he wants America to know what he knows.

AUSTIN: You know, these troops deploy because, you know, in support of their country. But when a fight starts, they fight for each other. And they'll do anything for each other. And some of the things I've seen in terms of young people putting themselves in harm's way to protect their squad, or protect their buddy, or to go back into danger, to retrieve their buddy willingly, you know, without even thinking about it, it's just amazing, just amazing to watch what they'll do for each other.

[09:45:04]

STARR: Austin has put tremendous emphasis on diversity and inclusion in today's ranks. And to political critics and adversaries who think it's all making the military look soft --

AUSTIN: It is not too soft. It will never be too soft. I -- you know, I think our adversaries would like to capitalize on talking points like that, you know, the Chinese, the Russians, and I welcome them to do that because what this department, what Lloyd Austin is focused on is the defense of our nation.

STARR (on camera): So you're not too perturbed about -- about Vladimir Putin or the Chinese leadership? Let them say what they want? It doesn't sound like it worries you what they say.

AUSTIN: I will not lose one minute of sleep about what the Chinese leadership is saying or what Vladimir Putin is saying. What I -- what I will focus on, and what I am focused on, is the defense of this nation.

STARR (voice over): For Austin, Memorial Day is about his duty to make troops ready to defend the nation and to remember those he has met along the way.

AUSTIN: You know, sometimes I would -- I would -- I would think to myself, OK, what do I got -- what do I need to say to this young man who just lost his legs, to, you know, to encourage him, that, you know, we can, you know, he can be successful in life and that sort of stuff. And without fail, every time I walk into a room of wounded warriors, someone in that room cheers me up more than I cheer them up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Austin is well aware of all of the critics. But for him, it is all about the enduring strength of America's armed forces Memorial Day 2021.

Jim. Poppy.

HARLOW: Barbara Starr, thank you very much. What an interview. Thanks a lot.

Well, new this morning, China is announcing it will allow parents to have up to three children. Why now? We will explain.

That's next.

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[09:51:32]

SCIUTTO: China is changing its strict family policy once again, or attempting to, now allowing couples to have up to three children. This after the country's census showed its population was growing at the slowest rate in decades.

And, Poppy, there's so much history here, including the draconian ways in which China enforced its one child policy in the past. I mean imprisonment, fines, et cetera, but also a lot of couples today, they're just not interested in having more than one child.

HARLOW: Our David Culver is live from Beijing with us this morning.

David, walk us through this change. It's a big one.

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy and Jim, this is huge. And this cannot be understated. And you're right, Jim, when you look at the history of the one child policy, which dates back to around 1979, that ended in 2016. But for that period of time, there were such extremes that the government went to, to try to force people to keep to that one child. Everything from fines, to imprisonment, to even forced abortions. That extreme has not been lost on the folks today. So when they see changes from 2016 until more recently, 2021, when they had two children, now this talk of moving forward with allowing for three children, the hope on the government's part is to encourage people to have more kids. Why? What are they looking at in particular? They're looking at this aging population that is not going to be supported by a strong enough workforce if there's not enough people to provide for it.

I'll show you the numbers right here. If you look at just one year in comparison, you saw a drop in the birth rate of nearly 15 percent. Meantime, the 65 and older, the retired population, increased by roughly the same figures, 13.5 percent there.

The concern is beyond, though, just altering family planning. This is about social stability. Why? Because when you talk about economics and you talk about maintaining prosperity, well, here, if you pull back from the people, you challenge social stability. So it is something that is very, very dire for the leadership here, the Chinese Communist Party, President Xi Jinping himself involved in this decision. And it's interesting, Jim and Poppy, the timing of this, this didn't happen during National People's Congress, this was a really middle of the year decision that they came out with.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Shows the urgency of it. And you're so right about how significant it is.

CULVER: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: David Culver, live from Beijing, thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: You are looking here, live pictures, from Arlington National Cemetery this Memorial Day. A moment of silence there.

This is where President Biden will soon honor fallen service members by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Of course, you'll remember his own son Beau served. We'll bring you that moment and Biden's speech coming up.

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[09:58:27]

SCIUTTO: Today is, of course, Memorial Day. It marks our fallen soldiers through the years. But it also marks another incredibly sad and violent day in the history of this country. One very important to remember.

On May 31, 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma, became the site of one of the most horrific massacres in this country's history and it is part of our history that was practically erased. Certainly wasn't talked about for decades. One hundred years ago today a white mob descended on the city's prosperous black community of Greenwood, an area known as Black Wall Street, and proceeded to burn, loot and kill until scores were dead and 35 city blocks were destroyed.

HARLOW: One hundred years later, Tulsa and the entire nation are still very much reckoning with this violent history. One of the survivors of that day, 107-year-old Viola Fletcher, recently spoke to lawmakers about the horrors that she witnessed.

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VIOLA FLETCHER, OLDEST LIVING SURVIVOR OF TULSA RACE MASSACRE: I will never forget the violence of the white mob when we left our home. I still see black men seeing -- being shot, black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams. I have lived through the massacre every day.

Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not. And other survivors do not.

[10:00:00]

And our descendants do not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Again, 100 years ago.

And President Biden will travel to Tulsa tomorrow.