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Florida Mass Shooting; President Biden Honors Veterans on Memorial Day; Democrats Try to Block Texas Voting Restrictions; Unmasked Holiday. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 31, 2021 - 14:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, really, this is for both of you. So, you both can open it.

Ready, go.




ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Oh. Oh, you just got to state with that moment because it is priceless.

Thank you so much for sharing your Comebacks with us. Keep them coming on Twitter. Tag me @AnaCabrera with the hashtag #thecomeback.

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NEWSROOM continues with Victor Blackwell.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. Alisyn is off. And thank you for being with me on this Memorial Day.

This is, of course, a day to reflect on the ultimate sacrifices made by the nation's heroes and the families they left behind. This is a day that also marks the unofficial start of summer. And, this year, it's the first unmasked holiday for a lot of Americans in more than a year.

And now that more than 40 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, more than 51 percent of adults, we're seeing people are feeling confident, some people, to get together with friends and family. Restaurants, some of them are open, operating at full capacity. Fans are at sporting events, many without masks.

And people have flocked the boardwalks and pools and beaches in droves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feels very, very close to normal. And it's nice to see people really all in a good mood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The human race is back to being, you know, together, united again, doing stop publicly.


BLACKWELL: And the holiday is also setting a pandemic record for travel; 37 million people are expected to hit the roads and the skies. The TSA screened close to two million passengers on Friday alone.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Coney Island, New York, for us.

So, the state -- the statewide curfew has been lifted there. What are you seeing and what else has changed?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, many of those iconic restaurants and the attractions here on the -- Coney Island on the boardwalk didn't even get a chance to reopen during the pandemic last summer.

So, now many of these businesses are welcoming back these crowds for the first time in about 18 months. So, there's certainly a high level of excitement, especially because the weather was so awful the first two days of this weekend. And now, finally, with the sun out, that's certainly bringing the crowds back out.

And you mentioned that -- you mentioned confidence a little while ago. We're certainly seeing that post-vaccine confidence with the large crowds coming back out, and then, of course, when you also see vaccination numbers continue to improve, and a lot of that also has to do with decreasing cases, Victor.

Just in New York alone already, we have had this weekend 55 straight days of a constant decrease in cases here, and the average seven-day positivity of 0.71 percent. So, that's a telling number.

But, unfortunately, another figure that's also dropping are vaccination rates. So, hoping to try to boost those, the city of New York and city officials are deploying vaccination buses this weekend and today, obviously, not just to some beaches, but also area parks, to try to convince some of those folks who still haven't had that vaccine.

As far as New York, we're looking at about 46 percent already fully vaccinated, Victor. And that is certainly a number that they want to see continue to grow. But, finally, I will tell you, I was out here last Fourth of July. We saw crowds, but we saw a lot of masks.

This time, obviously, with close to half of the population fully vaccinated, we're not seeing that many masks. And that's not necessarily a bad thing anymore.

BLACKWELL: Looks and sounds like fun.

Polo Sandoval for us there on Coney Island there in New York.

Thanks so much, Polo.

All right, let's go to the West Coast now. CNN's Nick Watt is there, Santa Monica, California.

So, things, of course, look very different this year than they were at this time last year. Nick, what are you seeing?


Well, Victor, we haven't seen the crowds quite yet here on the West Coast, a little bit of May gray June gloom here in Santa Monica. The sun will come out this afternoon, and, with it, the crowds.

Now there is a lot of optimism here right now, Los Angeles County right now in the lowest tier of restrictions before reopening in just a couple of weeks. Pretty much the entire state plans to lose pretty much all COVID restrictions.

But, Victor, I was looking back at my notes from Memorial Day last year, and we were kind of optimistic back then also. It was completely misplaced, but we were kind of optimistic. We were thankful here that we weren't New York. Bike paths like this one had just reopened. There were crabs on the beach.

And then, of course, two or three weeks later, we had a surge in cases here in California, since last Memorial Day, nearly 3.7 million infections in this state and nearly 60,000 deaths.

So, we are optimistic again. And, this time, the optimism is based on something pretty solid, those vaccines.

Now, President Biden, of course, has said he wants 70 percent of American adults at least partially vaccinated by our next holiday weekend, July 4.


By my pretty sound math, I hope, I think California is going to reach that milestone either today or tomorrow, so, yes, Victor, a very, very different scene than last year. And this afternoon, more people like this will be heading to the beach to give thanks and finally taste what normal life is like -- back to you, Victor.

BLACKWELL: They have certainly waited a long time. And let's hope your math is right.

Nick Watt won for us there on the West Coast.

Nick, thank you.

Let's go to Texas now. Democrats are counting a victory, but it may not may not last very long. Democrats in the Texas House walked out of the chamber late Sunday night. They prevented the passage of S.B.7, which one voting rights advocate calls one of the ugliest anti-voter bills in the country.


STATE REP. TONY TINDERHOLT (R-TX): Am I seeing that we don't have a quorum? And, essentially, it looks to me like the Democrats left the House floor.


BLACKWELL: Now Texas Governor Greg Abbott is promising to call a special session to get the bill passed.

Texas is a part of this nationwide trend of states trying to pass laws restricting voters, a solution in search of a purported problem, all based on the fallacy that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from Donald Trump.

Texas Democrats say they're not giving up if and when Governor Abbott makes this move.


STATE. REP. CHRIS TURNER (D-TX): Senate Bill 7 was the worst of the worst.

And so we were determined to kill this bill in any way we could. Some Republican leader in this country is going to have to say, you know what, enough is enough. This is nonsense. This is based on a lie.

Maybe Governor Abbott will reach that realization here in Texas, but, if he doesn't, and if he calls a special session to pass voter suppression legislation, we're going to fight him every step of the way. We're going to fight Republicans every step of the way.


BLACKWELL: Ed Lavandera is in Texas.

Ed, do we know when the governor will call this special session?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not clear at this point, just that the governor is saying that this voting bill is one of his main priorities that he had for this legislative session.

So there will definitely be one at some point. The timing is just not clear yet, Victor, but we also should keep in mind that, because of the new census numbers, Texas is also getting two new congressional seats this year. So, the legislature also has to battle out redistricting here in the state.

So the question is, do all of these issues get thrown into the same legislative session? You can imagine the political fireworks that would explode during all of that process. But this comes as lawmakers continue to fight over the details in this, and it will surely come up again. And the question is just to what extent will Democrats be able to

temper some of what they consider to be the harshest voter suppression tactics in this bill.

We can run down some of the issues that were in this bill that was shut down, with Democrats essentially walking out of the House chamber late last night. This new bill would bar voting past 9:00 at night. It would end drive-through voting and mass mailing of vote-by-mail applications.

It would seek to create expanding penalties for 12-plus election- related crimes, guarantees partisan poll watcher protections, and would also make it easier to overturn elections based on ballots, not proof of fraud.

So these are dramatic changes, Democrats say, but Republicans also very critical of the tactics Democrats used last night in the House chamber, essentially saying that they vacated their constitutional responsibility to show up and battle out these ideas inside the chamber there.

But, Victor, this isn't the first time Democrats have done this. If you remember, back in 2003, Democrats fighting redistricting plans here in this state, they left and went to Oklahoma for a period of time to block redistricting plans that were done about 18 years ago.

So, this is not uncommon. But it was enough to at least stall this legislation, for now -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Ed Lavandera on the story for us in Dallas.

Thank you, Ed.

Joining me now, one of the Democrats who walked out of the Texas House floor -- off the floor, I should say -- state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer.

Representative Fischer, thanks for being with me.

We have been using the characterization of blocking this bill. Did you all block it or just delay the inevitable?

STATE REP. TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER (R-TX): No, we killed the bill, right?

So, as far as we're concerned, that bill is dead.

And yes, of course, the governor can bring us back into special session at any time. But we have plenty of tactics and strategies at our disposal. And we will fight every single day to protect the sacred right to vote in Texas.

BLACKWELL: So, when you say you have other options, what are they?

MARTINEZ FISCHER: Well, Victor, that's the magic. I mean, we're not going to telegraph that on national TV. [14:10:00]

But we have a very robust rule book. We have lots of ways to engage in debate. And we have a Texas Constitution that really stands up for lawmaking. And make no mistake, the Texas House is different from the Texas Senate and the governor's office.

Our speaker is elected by both Republicans and Democrats. And so our speaker needs to look himself in the mirror and decide, does he represent the Republican Party when he's in the chamber, or does he represent the House?

And if the interests of the House are what's important, we can come up with a pragmatic response to this solution in looking for a problem.

If there is a problem out there, the problem is, people are voting, and Republicans don't like what they're seeing. So they want to change the rules to make it harder to vote. And there's no denying that.

BLACKWELL: So, let's separate politics and policy here, because you say -- you ask about representation and representing the people. You also say you have killed the bill.

You may have maneuvers. You don't have the votes. So, when you say you have killed this bill, that may be rhetorically something that your supporters want to hear. But Republicans in the state House, in the state legislature, have the votes to get this passed.

Why are you so confident that you can, even in a special session, kill this bill?

MARTINEZ FISCHER: So, look, we make no assumptions, number one, right?

The Texas Democrats have grit and resolve, and we will fight this thing tooth and nail. No one thought that we could break quorum with less than seven hours' notice last night. Nobody a decade ago, as Ed mentioned, thought that we could get on a bus and go to Oklahoma for a week. Don't underestimate the resolve of Texas Democrats.

Now, the eyes of the nation are watching us. There are 330 million people in the United States. But the president singled out Texas on a Saturday afternoon and called S.B.7 un-American.

Walking out last night is the equivalent -- equivalent to us being on our knees begging the president and the United States government to come up with a federal response. Please give us a For the People Act. Please give us a John Lewis Act. Please give us a federal response when it comes to elections in America.

BLACKWELL: You have spoken out on social media and in person about calling the president to do more, the vice president to do more.

It doesn't look like the options of getting this through the Senate are favorable for your side. What do you want to see from President Biden? MARTINEZ FISCHER: Number one, I have hope.

And, number two, I am encouraged by the president of the United States to talk about the situation here in Texas. We know what happened in Georgia. We know what happened in Florida. And if they steamroll us here in Texas, they're just going to march all across this country until they have made it very hard for everyone to vote.

And anybody who misses a step is going to go to jail. This is the right time, with the eyes of the nation watching our democracy. Today's Memorial Day, where we honor those who put on the uniform to defend freedom and democracy.

But yet those soldiers come home, they wouldn't be allowed to vote when they went to church because Texas was going to eliminate the Souls to the Polls program.

This is ripe for federal intervention. And I hope our federal leaders are taking notice.

BLACKWELL: Texas Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, thank you so much for your time.


BLACKWELL: So, this is the first Memorial Day for President Biden as commander in chief. And as his success -- or predecessors, rather, have done, he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Shelter to honor America's heroes.

The vice president and the defense secretary were by his side. In remarks honoring fallen service members, the president said we will never fail to honor your sacrifice. The president also spoke of his son Beau, who died from brain cancer six years ago. He was a National Guard major and served in Iraq.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It can hurt to remember, but the hurt is how we feel and how we heal.

I always feel Beau close to me on Memorial Day. I know exactly where I need to be, right here honoring our fallen heroes, because through pain and anguish of his loss, I remember the pride on his face the day I pinned those bars on his shoulders.


BLACKWELL: CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly is with me now.

Phil, the president says that he always feels especially close to his son on Memorial Day.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, Victor, it's obviously -- was deeply personal remarks from the president and a deeply personal day from the president.

As you noted, Beau Biden died six years ago yesterday. The president was in Delaware this weekend, visited his grave, but, also, any time you hear the president talk to service members or the families of service members, he often goes back to his son and his son's service and what it meant to his son, and also what it meant to him as a father.

But I think you can also see the through line there of when you're talking to Gold Star families, when you're talking to those who have lost loved ones in the service of their country. The president understands loss more perhaps than many people who've ever sat in the Oval Office, whether it was his wife and his young daughter in a car accident, or whether it was Beau Biden to brain cancer.


And he's certainly able to tap into that. But, also, I think the interesting element of this speech was not just the personal elements of it, but his effort to broaden it out and make very clear that those individuals who died in the service of their country died for their country.

There's much more every American can do, whether you're serving or not, to keep pushing on in what they were trying to accomplish when they put their lives on the line. And it's incumbent upon everybody to try and do that, whether they serve or not.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the president has said that our military is the spine of this nation.

Let's turn to politics now, Phil.

The president's infrastructure proposal started off at $2.2 trillion, the sides about $700 billion apart now. The White House is putting some pressure to get a deal.

Listen to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: By the time that they return, which is June 7, just a week from tomorrow, we need a clear direction. Certainly encouraging to see the healthy conversations that have happened over the last days and weeks, but the president keeps saying inaction is not an option. And time is not unlimited here.

I think we are getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment.


BLACKWELL: All right, one week out now, what's the state of play?

MATTINGLY: Yes, look, I mean, the secretary puts it very clearly. This is a make-or-break moment. Victor. Keep in mind, the original deadline that the president set for

tangible progress was today, was Memorial Day, they extended that deadline after going back and forth with the Senate Republican group on their counterproposals.

As you noted, they have inched closer together, but 700-plus billion dollars is still quite a gap here. I think what's happening right now and I think what we're going to see over the course of this week, the president is supposed to speak with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, the lead Republican senator on this issue, try and continue to close issues.

On the staff level, I'm told they're still trading paper back and forth, seeing what they can narrow down. But I think the reality is, the fish-or-cut-bait moment is very real, because they recognize there's a very, very finite window that they can push forward on things.

Obviously, the president wants a bipartisan agreement. But if they stay as far apart as they have been and continue to be over the course of several counterproposals, there will be a real impetus, not just for the president, but from Democrats on Capitol Hill, to try and go it alone.

I think the big question if they decide to go that route is, are all Democrats on board with that? Keep in mind, moderate Democrats have made very clear they want a bipartisan agreement, at least on this piece of the president's plan, a lot of different dynamics at play right now in a very big week, Victor.

BLACKWELL: One week, and the clock is ticking.

Phil Mattingly for us at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's go to Miami, where there's a manhunt for the shooters you see in this video. The latest on the investigation, we have that for you next.

And Texas authorities probably saved a lot of lives after they arrested a man they say was planning a mass shooting at a Walmart. We have got that story.



BLACKWELL: Police in Miami are searching for three people responsible for now the latest mass shooting in America.

Watch this. This is new surveillance video of the three shooters who police say pulled up outside of club in Miami-Dade County early Sunday. Authorities say the shooting started after a rivalry between two groups. It lasted just a few seconds before they got back into the SUV and drove off. Two people were killed; 21 others were wounded.

CNN's Natasha Chen joins us now. What are investigators saying, if anything, about this new video and

the search for those shooters?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, we can tell a few things by watching this video.

If we could show it again, the whole thing happened so quickly, within a matter of less than 10 seconds. What you're seeing is a white Nissan Pathfinder that a public information officer tells me here that this is in between a couple of buildings right next to the club lounge space where this private show, concert was being held.

So, they pull up. These three people jump out, start shooting at the people standing outside. And police told us today that the people standing outside actually shot back. And that's why we saw so many shell casings on the ground.

Then the three people jump back into the vehicle and take off and escape through an alley. And you can tell also that there is a driver in that car who never gets out. So, police are asking the public for help in identifying who might be responsible for this.

And there's a huge Crime Stoppers reward now, $130,000, for information leading to their arrest. Now, police did talk to us about this being a rivalry, an ongoing problem between two groups exacerbated by social media posts.

Here's what the police director said about that.


ALFREDO RAMIREZ III, MIAMI-DADE POLICE DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR: A lot of these crimes, although narcotics, gang activity is a part of it, but what's really the engine is what they're saying in their -- in their rap songs or what they're posting on videos that are trigger words that create a retaliation.

In other words, they're being called out on social media several times. It goes back and forth. If you don't have a strong foundation at home -- and this is where the peace and prosperity comes in. If you have a home where you're not parented, you got issues, there's no one here to pull you aside and stop that nonsense, you're going to follow that pathway of retaliation.


CHEN: So that is a real concern right now.

A total of 23 people were shot. Two of them died. The rest of them were taken to area hospitals. Of those who were injured, three of them remain in critical condition right now. Another three of them were actually treated and released, and among those released, a 17-year-old who was shot in the leg.

So, these are very young people we're talking about. The two people who died are in their 20s. And the father of one of them showed up to today's press conference. Here's what happened when he came.


RAMIREZ: Ruining families, harming mothers who are here today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You all killed my kid. You must burn! You must burn! You hear me? You killed a good kid for no reason.

RAMIREZ: And that's the pain that you see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE) until you all find out who killed my daughter! You all promised (OFF-MIKE)

RAMIREZ: That is the pain that affects our community right there right before you.


CHEN: That man and other family members identified their loved one as Clayton Dillard III, 26 years old.

His grandmother tells me that he had a 2-year-old son. So, a lot of families hurting right now.

And I also want to mention that the chief of the city of Miami police did speak to CNN, saying that one of the problems is that, when people get arrested, they are able to bail out, right back out on the streets, and they're rearresting the same people.

He said that's going to lead to a long, bloody summer -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: A long, bloody summer.

Natasha Chen for us, thank you so much.

In Texas, deputies have arrested a man they say was planning a mass shooting, possibly in a Walmart. Investigators arrested 28-year-old Coleman Thomas Blevins on a warrant for a terroristic threat to create public fear or serious bodily injury.

Now, this arrest game after the Kerr County Sheriff's Office says they intercepted a message that the suspect was planning to proceed with a mass casualty event. After Blevins' arrest, authorities searched his home, and they say they found firearms, ammunition and radical extremist paraphernalia.

We're talking books and flags and documents. Of course, looking to find out more about that.

Now, life may be feeling like it's getting back to normal, but the World Health Organization warns that it would be a monumental error to think the danger of coronavirus is over.