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Michael Flynn Backtracks on Coup Call; Worker Shortage; Texas Democrats Fight to Stop Voter Restrictions Bill. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 1, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Star Williams, thank you so much for joining me, for helping to shed some light. I wish we had more time.

I do want to mention your grandfather's book, "His Story, History and His Secret: Life Through the Eyes of 109 Years Old Otis Grandville Clark."

And thank you all for joining me today. The news continues now with Alisyn and Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

And I just want to take a moment to say that you and I are on the same set within six feet of each other.


CAMEROTA: It's a new day here.

BLACKWELL: Look at the vaccines working.


CAMEROTA: That's right.

And look no further than this representation of what's happening here.

It's great to have you.

BLACKWELL: Good to be here.

CAMEROTA: OK, here's your news.

President Biden and top Democrats are facing renewed pressure to stop the voting restrictions rolling out in red states. The push comes from Texas Democrats, who staged a short-term victory by temporarily stopping S.B.7. That's a voter restriction law that its opponents called the worst of the worst.

Now Texas Governor Greg Abbott is threatening to stop their paychecks until the legislature passes the bill. S.B.7 is among a spate of voting restrictions pushed by Republicans across the country, all driven by the myth that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from Donald Trump, who, of course, lost my seven million votes.

President Biden declaring that, with these restrictions, democracy itself is in peril.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world.

What we do now -- what we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure.

Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong, when people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently.


BLACKWELL: Now, Senate Republicans stand in the way of two federal voting bills.

The bills would introduce national standards for voting access and would roll back discriminatory moves against minority voters.

Today, the president is also seeking racial justice beyond the ballot box, introducing new steps to close the racial wealth gap, while marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

CAMEROTA: But we begin with the new threat from the Texas governor. He is vowing again to withhold the pay of the Texas Democrats who walked out of the session on Sunday, blocking that restrictive voting bill.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Texas covering all the developments there.

Ed, explain this maneuver that the governor is threatening to veto a portion of the budget. Explain this.


Well, he's essentially threatening to veto the funding for the legislative branch of the Texas state government. So, this isn't just a move that would affect Democratic lawmakers. It would affect all of the lawmakers.

But, more importantly, it would affect thousands of staffers, nonpartisan staffers that work in state government there in Austin. So this is quite the threat that the governor is making. He ended this tweet when he made this threat yesterday by saying: "Stay tuned."

So the real question is whether or not he's going to follow through on this threat or figure out some other way of getting at the Democrats who walked out of the last hour-and-a-half of the legislative session on Sunday night, essentially running out the clock and killing this controversial voting bill, at least for now, because the next question that everyone is looking out for here in Texas is, when exactly is Governor Greg Abbott going to call this special session and bring lawmakers back to work in Austin to tackle this voting bill again?

And the way it works here in Texas is that they would be called back for a special session. It is a 30-day session. They can focus on a handful of bills and issues that the governor deems are of importance to handle in that special session.

So, it's not -- the other question becomes, what exactly is this bill going to look like after it goes through this legislative process once again? Will the same measures that have been so controversial remain in the bill? Or will they be stripped down? Or is it possible that the bill becomes worse?

All of that still very much up in the air, and we just don't have anything to report as far as the timeline, many people trying to figure out when exactly the governor is going to call for this special session. Is it going be on the earlier side here in early summer, or is it going to take several months for him to call these lawmakers back?

So, that is what everyone here in Texas is watching very closely, as this will continue to unfold in the weeks and months ahead.

BLACKWELL: Ed Lavandera, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Let's try to get some answers right now.

Joining us now is Texas Democrat Nicole Collier. She chairs the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.


Representative Collier, thanks so much for being here.

First, what do you think of Governor Abbot docking your pay, threatening everyone's paychecks until this can be passed? Will that make Democrats fall in line?

STATE REP. NICOLE COLLIER (D-TX): Well, thank you so much, Alisyn, for having me.

And will it make us fall in line? We don't fall in line. We do what we're asked to do, what we were sent here to do. And that's to be the voice for our constituents.

The fact that the governor is saying that he would close down the paychecks of those who serve in the House of Representatives shows you how low he's willing to go to wield his power. There is no line item just to say for Democrats to cut their pay. It would have to be everyone, just like we heard. It would be everyone in the House of Representatives, and those innocent people, everyone, would be cut just as well.

And so is he willing to harm those families as well just because he wants to wield his power?

CAMEROTA: It sounds like it.

COLLIER: That's yet to be seen. Yes. And that's yet to be seen.

CAMEROTA: I mean, it sounds like it.

COLLIER: Let's see him.

It does. But we have to come up with a plan.

CAMEROTA: I mean, are you doubting? Are you doubting that he would do that?

COLLIER: I don't see how he could do that. There's no line item in our budget for it. He would have to cut everyone's pay. And for him to do that would be very childish.

CAMEROTA: You heard our reporter there, Ed Lavandera, say that the governor is threatening a special session, that he's going to call you all in to make this happen.

Do you know when that's going to happen?

COLLIER: Well, we're already looking towards a special session maybe in September to deal with redistricting, and then also the federal dollars that are kind of going to come down.

So I suspect he would do it then. But there's no telling when he would do it. I mean, I have been in a session where they called it the very next day after sine died.

He has not done that just yet. So let's see what he does.

CAMEROTA: Democrats used this parliamentary procedure, where you walked out of the session, in order to stop the voting on it. What's next? What else do you have up your sleeve?

COLLIER: Well, we will see what he puts on the call. So, whenever he calls us back for a special session, he sets the agenda.

And those are the items that we're limited to deal with. And I'm going to tell you, we're not taking anything off the table when it comes down to exercising our rights under the rules. And so it's yet to be seen what we will need to do when the time comes.

CAMEROTA: Is it possible that S.B.7 changes, that it gets less restrictive or more restrictive during this time?

COLLIER: And, yes, in fact, they have threatened that already. Before we even broke quorum, that was the threat. The threat was, we're going to come back and make it even worse. They're going to talk about probably putting cameras in there. They're going to say, show me your papers.

They already had a backdoor voter I.D. provision in there for mail-in ballots. So, yes, I anticipate it coming back worse. But that's what we knew going into this. And that's what we're preparing to fight against.

CAMEROTA: What are you calling on President Biden to do for help?

Well, we definitely need the reinstatement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He's got to pass the John Lewis Voting -- Voter Advancement Act. We need those provisions to oversee -- to provide oversight on these red states, like Texas, Georgia, and Florida, that continue to create these harmful measures, these harmful election laws that disenfranchise people of color.

CAMEROTA: But how does President Biden do that? I mean, isn't that up to whether -- what Mitch McConnell wants to bring to the floor?

COLLIER: Well, we definitely need some more cooperation, collaboration. We need to put pressure.

Every single person in the -- that is in the United States needs to call their representative, whether this is your congressperson or your senator. Put the pressure on them. They work for you. They must answer to you.

And the way that you get that is, you get -- the way you get their attention is at the ballot box. So you got to call and reach out to your representative.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, again, whether it's Schumer, who doesn't want to bring it, whether it's McConnell at first, other things, what do you want Biden to do, I mean, President Biden, other than talk about it more?

COLLIER: Well, no, he needs to act. And that's what he's been doing. He's been acting on it.

He can act and put these measures and let the members that are in Congress know that it's important for them to pass this legislation if we're going to have a true democracy in America.

CAMEROTA: Representative Collier, we really appreciate getting your thoughts at this pivotal time. We will obviously be watching what happens.

COLLIER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Any moment now, President Biden is expected to arrive in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He's there to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and memorialize the hundreds of black Americans who were killed by a white mob that burned dozens of city blocks to the ground.

And later today, he will also use this visit to announce his administration's step to close the racial wealth gap.

CNN's Abby Phillip is live in Tulsa. [14:10:00]

Abby, what do you know about this plan? And what should we expect to see while the president is there in Tulsa?


Well, Victor, first of all, it's a really significant moment for the city to have a president of the United States coming here to Tulsa to commemorate this massacre that occurred 100 years ago today that is rarely taught in history books all across the country.

And part of what he will be doing here is touring the Greenwood Cultural Center. That is the kind of hub of where the commemoration for this event has been for many years. It is in the heart of Greenwood, also known as Black Wall Street. He will be meeting with the three living survivors of this massacre, who are each over 100 years old.

But he will also be announcing in his remarks today some efforts, as you mentioned, to address the racial wealth gap that sprung not just from this Tulsa massacre, in which black businesses were burned to the ground, homes were lost, hundreds of residents fled the city, but also the decades of systemic racism and policies that followed in cities like Tulsa.

It's a broader agenda that addresses the effects of policies like redlining or urban renewal, which had a devastating effect on black communities like the ones in Tulsa. And so it's an important part of the big picture. He's going to be talking about increasing the federal government's contracting with minority businesses, proposals that will have to go through Congress that would establish funds for infrastructure and transportation investment in low-income communities and also fair housing, enforcing fair housing regulations at the federal level.

But here in Tulsa, you have got a lot of people just wondering, what is President Biden's position reparations for those survivors and for their descendants? The White House saying today that he still supports studying it, looking into it, but would not say whether or not he supports reparations for these Tulsa massacre victims today.

CAMEROTA: That's really interesting, Abby.

I mean, just the more you learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre, the more horrifying it is. And it wasn't in the that distant past.


CAMEROTA: It was just 100 years ago.

BLACKWELL: There are survivors who have testified in the last couple of weeks in Congress.

CAMEROTA: That's right. This is our history happening right now. And so, are their executive

actions or executive orders that he's thinking of taking? Or is he just going to press Congress, Abby, to do things?

PHILLIP: Well, some of these things can be done at the executive level.

For example, the federal contracting issue is something that a lot of people say is very important. The federal government is a huge, huge force in the sort of work force, and they can mobilize federal dollars to hire and to put money into black communities.

But, at the same time, some of the other investments that he's asking for are related to his infrastructure bill, which we don't know what the future of that is. It is still stalled in negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.

So there are some real questions about whether some of the other funding that they have proposed and that he will talk about today has much of a future. It's all tied up in the broader picture of function or dysfunction, rather, back in Washington.

BLACKWELL: Well, speaking of being tied up, Alisyn just had this conversation with the head of the Legislative Black Caucus there in Texas...


BLACKWELL: ... who says now it's time for the administration to do something. And she asked the right question: What do you want the president to do? Isn't this on Mitch McConnell? Isn't this on the Senate Republicans?

What is the White House doing? Is there going to be an additional pressure to pass some of these federal voting rights protection laws?

PHILLIP: Yes, President Biden recently has said that democracy is under attack. He's denounced this Texas voting bill.

And the White House actually has indicated that, today, we will be hearing some more from President Biden on this very issue, whether that will happen here in Tulsa or as he travels between Tulsa and back to Washington.

But it'll be an important question whether President Biden is willing to put the muscle of his White House behind some of these voting legislations that are stuck in Congress, and they are subject to the filibuster. This all comes down to whether or not Democrats are willing to go it alone.

I think the consensus back in Washington is that there's not going to be enough bipartisan support with Republicans to get the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed or any other voting-related legislation passed.

So, will President Biden endorse a strategy that is a go-it-alone strategy? And if he does do that, will he put his legislative muscle behind it? That is a big, open question, but we do expect to hear more from President Biden about that later today.

BLACKWELL: Yes, there is a lot of legislation that Democrats are asking if the president's going to put some legislative muscle behind.


Abby Phillip for us there on a very important day in Tulsa, thank you very much.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn now denies that he supports a Myanmar-style coup in the U.S. We're going to play the video for you and then you can decide what he means by his comments.

CAMEROTA: And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the worker shortage is real, it is getting worse by the day, and it's having big consequences.


CAMEROTA: So, Michael Flynn, former President Trump's first national security adviser, is denying that he would support a military coup in the U.S. to put Donald Trump back in power.

BLACKWELL: So, for months, QAnon and some other Trump-supporting groups have celebrated the deadly military coup in Myanmar.


And over the weekend, at an event attended by prominent peddlers of QAnon, Flynn, a retired general and former national security adviser -- remember that -- appeared to suggest something similar should happen here in the U.S.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can't happen here.



I mean, it should happen here. No reason.


FLYNN: That's right.


BLACKWELL: CNN's Michael Warren is with us now.

Michael, what's the denial here? What is he saying now about these comments? MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: Well, now Flynn is denying that he made

those comments or the context around those comments, posting on the right-wing social media site Parler this -- quote -- "Let me be very clear. There is no reason whatsoever for any coup in America. And I do not and have not at any time called for any action of that sort."

But the video that you just played, Victor, really sort of shows the contradiction there. And it really shows, I think, a problem that Flynn is potentially facing. It's very unlikely he's going to face any sort of sedition charges in civilian court.

But, remember, he is a retired general. There are some experts saying a court martial could be looming if he continues to speak this way. That's why you're really seeing this walk-back.

But I think the context here is important as well. This idea of a coup is sort of the latest iteration of fantasy in the QAnon conspiracy community. And, remember, Michael Flynn is really seen as a or perhaps the most important leader in the QAnon world.

It's very important that he's out there saying that, affirming these fantasies that really stem from the idea that Donald Trump won the election. It's a false idea, but it's something that they're continuing to follow.

Sidney Powell, who was Michael Flynn's lawyer, who is also a lawyer who was in the Oval Office in the last few days of the Trump administration talking about the idea of invoking martial law, she's also been talking about these ideas of Donald Trump won the election. And she even said that he should be reinstated into the White House.

So that kind of idea would, of course, take a military-style coup that Flynn was seen endorsing in that video. It's really all sort of a vicious cycle that continues and perpetuates itself. And it's exactly what the QAnon folks want to hear.

CAMEROTA: And, by the way, it's not just our viewers and all of us that just heard Michael Flynn say it.

The crowd went wild.


CAMEROTA: The crowd heard very clearly what he said and applauded for it.

BLACKWELL: The crowd cheered the question. Everyone knew what the context was in the room, because they have been talking about it for so long.

We know this from Donie O'Sullivan's reporting that this is something that is celebrated in the QAnon circle. It's just bizarre and dangerous.

Mike Warren, thanks so much.

WARREN: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: Big warning from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The warning is that America is facing a worker shortage crisis, it's real, it's urgent, and it's getting worse by the day.

Let's bring in CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik to talk about this.

OK, so what are the words from the Chamber of Commerce CEO about it, Al?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, Victor, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce saying the worker shortage is real and it's getting worse by the day, the organization announcing a nationwide initiative today to address the worker shortage in the U.S., calling this a crisis, saying it's the most critical and widespread challenge that businesses are facing.

So, as we see the economy emerge from this pandemic, we're seeing unemployment still higher than it was pre-COVID. But the thing is, many businesses say they still can't find enough people to hire, tapping a range of industries, you name it, from restaurants to construction to manufacturing.

Economists point to a mix of reasons why this could be happening. For one, they say people could still be afraid to be good to go back to work because of COVID. They also say businesses are reopening, but childcare and schools, they're not back open just yet. And women who've left the work force in droves after making the decision to leave their jobs to care for their kids, they're still on the sidelines.

And many people are taking in more money through unemployment and supplemental government benefits than they would in certain jobs out there. So there's a wage issue here. There's a low wage issue here. They're thinking, why should I go back to work if I don't make more money through -- if I make more money through unemployment benefits?

But the thing is, that's actually going to become an even weaker argument as states move to cut off benefits. That's actually beginning on June 12. Some states will stop those enhanced jobless benefits. But this issue of a worker shortage is not so cut-and-dry either.

There's a great article on CNN business from my colleague Tami Luhby who highlighted people who've actually been applying for work, but they can't get a job. They can't get an interview. She highlights one person who his job hasn't come back yet. He in the concert industry. Performances aren't happening yet.


Keep in mind, the Chamber does give some solutions here. They suggest filling empty jobs by mobilizing government and industry to go ahead and remove barriers that prevent people from entering the work force, like childcare and transportation. They say get people skills they need for these open positions and enact a sensible immigration policy.

One thing to keep in mind, Alisyn and Victor, this whole worker shortage thing is going to take some time to settle out. We're going to see this effect over the summer. You're going to go out to a restaurant. You're going to go to a hotel.

I say take some patience with you. They may be short on employees.

CAMEROTA: Such a great point.

Alison Kosik, thank you very much.

KOSIK: Sure.

CAMEROTA: So, reaction to Naomi Osaka's sudden withdrawal from the French Open.

U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion Rennae Stubbs is going to join us next about what could have been done differently. Could this have been avoided?