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Biden Takes Swipe at Democratic Senators; Testing Mix-And-Match Vaccine Boosters; American Imprisoned in Russia Calls on Biden for Action. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired June 2, 2021 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden has tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to take on -- to take the lead on voting rights. Biden announced her new role yesterday while also taking swipes at two moderate Democrats who could stand in the way of any voting reform bills.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hear all the folks on TV saying, why doesn't Biden get this done? Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends. But we're not giving up.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Quite a statement there, without naming names.

Brittany Shepherd, White House correspondent for Yahoo News is with us and CNN political analyst Rachael Bade, co-author of "Politico's Playbook."

Good morning, guys -- ladies.

Brittany, it's further than he's gone before, and he named names without naming names. I mean, are words like that pressure going to sway Manchin and Sinema?

BRITTANY SHEPHERD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: Well, Poppy, it's definitely more than nothing. Though we can acknowledge it was pretty subtle, right? And what we didn't hear is the truth that Joe Biden only has a limited amount of political capital, right? And if you look at that political capital like gambling chips, he has a very limited amount just for the month of June, in that same speech yesterday, he said that he has -- he would like to get many things done in this month. So, in five days, that's infrastructure. In three weeks that's police

reform. Perhaps renewed calls for gun legislation. Look what's happening around the country. And, of course, an overhaul on the voting system. So every chip he cashes in to convince Manchin or Sinema to move on the filibuster, or at least vote towards his way, is one or two chips he can't use for any of those other things, right?

So it's definitely some pressure, but we've heard Joe Manchin say time and time and time again that he believes what he believes and he's not going to move, you know, one way or the other. So I think it's going to take a little bit more from the White House to really arm twist. Perhaps it's an ultimatum. And that's what you're hearing from Democrats and progressives and just Democrats on The Hill.

They feel like they've thrown the book at both Manchin and Sinema. You know, they've had closed door sessions with folks like -- everyone from Jon Tester to Raphael Warnock to convince Manchin that, you know, he has to do something and still he walked out of that meeting saying, I believe what I believe.

So I think what we're seeing from the White House is an attempt to lever pull but I anticipate the calls for a more severe lever pull is going to be coming soon.

SCIUTTO: OK. We'll see if those calls work.

Rachael Bade, help us understand the rules here because on infrastructure, really next up, right, in Biden's agenda, the plan b has been to go to reconciliation, as they did with COVID relief in which case they would only need 50 votes plus the vice president breaking the tie.

The Senate parliamentarian, and this stuff is hard to understand but it's essential to this question, may have made that more difficult, right, saying that in effect Democrats, they need a more -- a reason more than political expediency to use that path, right? And I'm wondering, because there are different interpretations of this, is infrastructure now in danger of failing or being pushed back significantly because of that standard, or are Democrats confident they can still do this with 50, go it alone, in effect, if they have Manchin?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think that ruling, it sort of signals more to the rest of the party beyond sort of Biden and leaders in Congress what they can't do. I think Biden and, you know, the congressional leadership probably have a pretty good idea that anything they use with reconciliation has to significantly impact, you know, the federal budget, federal spending. That's always been the rule.

But there has been talk by a lot of Democrats recently about using things like -- using reconciliation for things like immigration reform. And that, obviously, you know, under the rules, as we know, wouldn't work. And so we're sort of getting more clarity on that.

I think when it comes to reconciliation, when it comes to Biden and this sort of snide remark that we saw from the president regarding Manchin, I think it was more about infrastructure and reconciliation than it was about voting rights.


I mean voting rights isn't -- the S-1, HR-1, this bill that a lot of Democrats want to see passed, the reality is, it's not going to pass. Even if they got rid of the filibuster, Manchin, you know, says he has problems with it. But what that comment was more likely about is infrastructure because Biden is reaching this sort of tipping point in his talks with Republicans, right?

They're running out of time. They can't get a deal in the next couple of days, then they're going to change strategies and they're going to start to lean on people like Manchin to get in line to vote for something that can go through both chambers via reconciliation. And Biden has expressed opposition to that saying he wants a bipartisan deal.

And so what I think you saw with Biden and his comment about Manchin and Sinema is, you know, he's sort of warning them. It's a gentle warning, right? He's got a bully pulpit. And, you know, if he speaks out, we could see a whole bunch of people, a whole bunch of Democrat go after both of them if they stand in the way on infrastructure. And I think that that's exactly what he was signaling.

HARLOW: Brittany, on voting rights, you know, the fact that the president is tasking Vice President Kamala Harris with this is significant. It's incredibly hard, and he made quite a promise. I don't know in the control room if we have that sound. If we don't, I can -- I can read it to folks. Biden said yesterday, with her leadership and your support, we are going to overcome again, I promise you. It's going to take a hell of a lot of work.

I mean that's a huge promise. Former White House communications director Alyssa Farrah, under Trump, tweeted, Biden carrying on the longstanding American tradition of passing on the terrible, impossible tasks to your VP.

Brittany, what more can or is there more that Harris can actually do on this front?

SHEPHERD: Yes, that Farrah remark is quite stunning. Harris is limited by the powers of the vice presidential office, which is quite small. She can go on The Hill and try to pressure folks like Manchin and Sinema and other committee members to speed along legislative drafting process because when she's familiar it's a place where she used to work for a limited amount of time.

She said in her statement that she released yesterday that she's hoping to meet with groups on the ground. She can travel. She can go to states where voting rights are being limited, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and try to pressure Democrats to turn out for the midterm elections, help organizing efforts, all of that.

But we also should recognize, the VP's time is quite limited. It's not just voting. She also has to tackle immigration with northern (ph) triangle countries, which is in and of itself someone's entire job. She also has broadband, unions, the National Space Council. Her portfolio is getting bigger and bigger by the day. So the vice president's office is thinking, how can they correctly deputize her to come out.

I think it's also important to recognize the dynamic that this sets up the vice president for. So many Democrats were very critical of Harris when she was appointed to be VP, thinking that she might be gunning for Biden's job very soon. They said that she might be disloyal. So they have to think about just the political posturing of this. If she seems like she's going out so hard all the time, there might be some talk that she's trying to step outside the bounds of her job.

So it's really tricky for just executing one thing correctly, not just this entire portfolio that the VP has to deal with.

HARLOW: Huge, huge tasks he's given her for sure.

Brittany, thank you.

Rachael Bade, great to have you both.

Well, be sure to watch as former President Obama will join our very own Anderson Cooper for a rare one on one about his life post- presidency. An "Anderson Cooper 360" special report, "Barack Obama: On Fatherhood, Leadership and Legacy" airs Monday, 8:00 Eastern, right here.

Ahead, with growing -- with talk growing over COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, there is a big question, can you basically mix and match vaccines? Researchers are testing that now.



SCIUTTO: So question about the possibility of boosters down the line for folks that have been vaccinated. The National Institutes of Health is now launching a clinical trial to determine if it would be safe to mix and match different brands of coronavirus vaccines as booster shots. In other words, if you took Pfizer this time around could you take Moderna next time around? Does it actually work?

HARLOW: Well, let's go to our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, good morning.

What do we know about this trial?


You know, this trial is so interesting because it's sort of testing two theories. One, can we mix and match? If you got your original doses with say Pfizer, can you do a third dose with Moderna and how does that -- and will that work? But it's also asking the question, just in general, does a third dose do any good? What does it do to your antibodies? What does it do to your immune system?

So let's take a look at how the NIH is going to do this trial. They're recruiting 150 study participants, and they've all already been fully vaccinated. They either got two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of J&J. But they are -- they are done. And so what's going to be done differently here is that about 12 to 20 weeks after they were fully vaccinated, they'll get a single Moderna dose and they'll see how that works. They'll be looking at their antibodies, looking at blood markers, also looking to see, is it safe?

Jim. Poppy.

SCIUTTO: President Biden, he wants to issue a rallying cry to get people vaccinated ahead of the July 4th deadline. You know, I say this every day because I keep watching the percentage of people vaccinated. It's definitely slowed down. The average per day had slowed down, granted from a high -- a high level. Are we going to meet that goal or is the slowdown so significant that we don't?

COHEN: You know what, Jim, it is an excellent question. It is unclear if we're going to meet that goal.


You'll recall that earlier President Biden had set other kinds of vaccination goals and those were met quite easily. He set pretty realistic goals. But this one is -- there's really a question mark.

Let's take a look at Biden's goal. What that is, is he wants 70 percent of U.S. adults to have at least one dose by July 1. That's his goal, 70 percent by July 4th. Currently, it's only 62.8. So he's got a little bit of a ways to go in about a month.

And now let's take a look at how those vaccination rates are looking. As you said, it is not great. They are just going down, down, down. And will it be enough? You know, we're just not sure. But what we're seeing is that the vaccine enthusiastic already got their shots. Now it is the slog of convincing people who aren't so enthusiastic of -- to get a shot. We know that two out of 10 Americans have said, you know what, look, I just, you know, don't want to get it or I'll only get it if you force me.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And it's so easy now. I mean there are no lines.

COHEN: Right. Right.

SCIUTTO: It really is easy.

Elizabeth Cohen, let's hope folks answer that call. Thank you.

COHEN: That's right. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: An American detained by Russia speaks exclusively with CNN from jail. Up next, his message to President Biden ahead of his summit with Vladimir Putin.



HARLOW: An American man imprisoned in Russia is calling on President Biden to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin during their summit in just two weeks. Paul Whelan spoke exclusively to CNN from a Russian labor camp where he is serving out a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that he fiercely denies and he's urging President Biden to take decisive action to stop Russia from detaining U.S. citizens.

Matthew Chance is with us from Moscow.

Matthew, incredible that you talked to him and the conditions that he described to you that he's going under, it's tragic. Talk to us about this conversation.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean extraordinary access that was actually achieved by our State Department producer over there in D.C. He called her from his, you know, labor camp, which is in the Russian Republic of Moldova, which is a very remote location, basically a long way from anywhere, where he says he works in a prison sweat shop making clothes. He's now looking to President Biden in his upcoming summit with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for a negotiated release.


CHANCE (voice over): For more than two years Paul Whelan has languished in Russian jails, insisting he's an innocent pawn in a political game.

PAUL WHELAN, AMERICAN DETAINEE IN RUSSIA: I want to tell the world that I'm a victim of political kidnap and ransom.


WHELAN: There's obviously no credibility to the situation.

CHANCE: Now the former U.S. Marine has spoken to CNN from his remote Russian penal colony ahead of a much anticipated summit between the U.S. and Russian president.

CNN PRODUCER: And if you could get a message to President Biden ahead of this meeting, what would it be?

WHELAN: Decisive action is needed immediately. The abduction of an American citizen cannot stand anywhere in the world.

This is not an issue of Russia against me, it's an issue of Russia against the United States and the United States needs to answer his hostage diplomacy situation and resolve it as quickly as possible. So I would ask President Biden to aggressively discuss the resolve this issue with his Russian counterparts. CHANCE: It was at this upscale hotel in Moscow in December 2018 where Whelan was detained by the Russian security services, the old KGB, and accused of receiving a flash drive containing classified information. In a closed trial, he was sentenced to 16 years after being convicted of espionage, a trumped up charge, he says, intending to make him a valuable bargaining chip for the Kremlin, something Russian officials deny.

WHELAN: It's pretty simple. There was no crime. There was no evidence. The secret trial was a sham.

As I said, you know, the judge, when I was sentenced said I was being sent home. This was done purely for political motive. And it's really up to the governments to sort out either an exchange or some sort of resolution. My hope is that it will be quick. It's been, you know, more than two years.

I have not had a shower in two weeks. I cannot use a barber. I have to cut my own hair.

CHANCE: Ever since his arrest, there have been serious welfare concerns. The state of Russian prisons is poor. Now, Whelan tells CNN he spends his days sewing clothes in a prison factory, but that health issues, especially during the COVID pandemic, are a worry.

CNN PRODUCER: So tell me how -- how are you doing? How are you feeling?

WHELAN: I'm doing OK. I've got some sort of illness right now. I call it a kennel cough. It kind of comes and goes in the barracks. People have it, get better, and then have it again. Getting medical care here is -- is very difficult.

CNN PRODUCER: Are there concerns about COVID still where you are? I imagine the vaccine hasn't reached you?

WHELAN: Yes. We have serious concerns about that. I just had one shot and I should have a second shot I think two weeks.


WHELAN: So that's -- that's a step in the right direction.


CHANCE: A step in the right direction perhaps. But for Paul Whelan, it may still be a long road home.


SCIUTTO: So, Matthew, Russia, of course, imprisons many of its own people, and it has used this tactic before on questionable or unfounded charges with foreigners. Does this fit a broader pattern by the way the Kremlin operates and Russian authorities?

CHANCE: I think, actually, it might do. I mean Paul Whelan isn't the only U.S. citizens in a Russian prison. There's someone called Trevor Reed as well who's also been convicted for a very lengthy sentence for a criminal conviction for assault. They also want him returned because the diplomats that I've spoken to say that that conviction isn't safe either and was actually a sort of punishment imposed upon him.

What the Russians want in exchange are a couple of Russian citizens in U.S. jails. One of them is convicted of conspiracy to smoking cocaine, the other one's a notorious arms trafficker. So those are the kinds of guys that they want switched out.

SCIUTTO: And then it raises the questions whether they're picking up these Americans deliberately, right, as hostages and bargaining chips.

Matthew Chance, thanks very much.

Ahead for us the next hour, we will speak with the parents of an American journalist who has been jailed by the country of Myanmar. They have a message for the State Department as they fight simply to get their son home.