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Today: Biden Meets With Top GOP Senator on Infrastructure Deal; Biden: GOP's Voting Laws "Unprecedented Assault on Democracy". Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 2, 2021 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: If you can't get -- you, writ large, Democrats and Republicans can't get to 10 Republicans to investigate an attack on the Capitol that threatened Democrats and Republicans equally, right, on that day, January 6th.

If you can't get to that, how do you get to an agreement on this?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, we - about 30 Problem Solvers Caucus members, Republican Problem Solvers Caucus --


SCIUTTO: I know.

GOTTHEIMER: -- members (ph) in the House get behind that.

But listen, on this - I know this listen (ph), but infrastructure is something, the physical side where Democrats and Republicans always agree. You know, where things break down of course is how you're going to pay for it --


GOTTHEIMER: -- and what's the scope. I'm seeing a lot of progress there.

I'm not saying we should do this indefinitely. I'm just saying, as long as people are still talking and willing to sit at the table and work through this, which I'm seeing happen right now - I was just on the phone with Senator Cassidy last night -- you know, I really believe that we should keep working at it, and that's what the country wants us to do.

And if we get to the point where there's no more conversation to be had, then we move on. But I just -- you know, I think it's really important for the country that we keep trying to work this through.

SCIUTTO: OK, to your credit, we'll see - we'll see where it ends up.

I do want to ask you about what - about voting rights, but the broader picture of the state of the American democracy, right. I mean, the president said yesterday democracy itself is under threat. You hear that from a lot of Democratic lawmakers - and, by the way, you hear Republicans who talk about, for instance, voting restrictions as being deliberately anti-democratic and un-American.

I just wonder if that is true, the way the president frames this, as a threat to democracy -- democracy itself in peril, he said -- are the Congress and the president failing to fix that, right? I mean, it doesn't seem like, you know, unlike infrastructure, it doesn't seem like Voting Rights Act or H.R.1 really has a snowball chance. What are you doing about it, if it truly is a threat to the democracy?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, one, you know, on January 6, I was in the Gallery with a gas mask on, and I'll tell you, if we don't get to the bottom of that -- whether we have to do that alone in the House, because the Republicans refuse to cooperate - then we've got to get to the bottom of it and prevent any other attack on our country and our democracy in that way.

On the voting rights piece, it's completely un-Democratic of what's going on in some of these states, right? And what Texas is doing and Arizona and Georgia -- the moves they have made to actually take away people's rights and make it harder for people to vote is, to me, you know, totally an un-American move. And I think this is where things like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act work has to go forward.

We've got to find the - we've got to find a path for that. To actually say -- which we used to say, if a state wants to try to change voting laws and undermine the vote then the federal government should get involved. I mean, this is back through (ph) the basics of voting protection and democracy in our country.

SCIUTTO: Right. So --

GOTTHEIMER: So, believe me, I think we can (ph) - we got to just keep working that and make sure we can get something done there.

SCIUTTO: That's the narrow path that some have talked about, like a Manchin, for instance, you know, saying that that - VRA, Voting Rights Act, that he would be -- and you need that -- I mean it doesn't go anywhere without him. But I wonder, is there a Problem Solvers Caucus way forward for this? I mean, do you have Republicans on-board reliability to pass something like that?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, you know, this is something we've spent a lot of time in the caucus, in the House on talking about, on voting rights. And obviously, you know, I supported H.R.1 which was a larger package in the House that passed that's hit a brick wall in the Senate.

You know, so I think we have to figure out what - what's - what it is that we actually can get done together. It's going to take us working together on this. I'm very committed in the House to try and find a bipartisan solution on this.

I think we have to, to the president's point yesterday in terms of the benefit of our democracy. We've got to find a way forward, and I'm willing to work with Senate colleagues on both sides to find some path to protect the vote.

So that's what I'm committed to. I'm optimistic, but I also know this is a very - this is one where there's just such unnecessary and surprising partisanship. This is a country over party issue, you know.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the political incentives are in the opposite direction. I do want to ask you quickly before we go -


SCIUTTO: -- you tweeted yesterday that you're working in a bipartisan way again to get to the bottom of the origins of COVID-19. Do you believe, based on what you've seen at this point, that the more credible explanation now for the origin of this virus is that it leaked from a lab rather than the story China was telling from the beginning of a market, or even that the WHO was telling from the beginning, that that's where it came from?

What do you believe today?

GOTTHEIMER: Well I certainly don't trust China on this, and I - and I really support what the president is doing in his executive order to get to the bottom within the (ph) intelligence community.

I think we - the country, all those who lost loved ones and all those who were sick deserve answers -- and not just for us, of course, but for all those around the world. And I think we've got hold China accountable in any which way they are responsible.

So, I'm not - I don't think we should rely on the WHO to give us the answers. I think we've got to do our own investigation and get to the bottom of it. And I - if it means holding China accountable and that's where the responsible party is, then we've got to do that.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Josh Gottheimer, thanks so much for coming back on the show.

GOTTHEIMER: Thanks, Jim, good to see you, man.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead an American journalist following his dream of pursuing the truth is now detained by the military regime in Myanmar. Danny Fenster's parents will join us next on their efforts to bring him home.


HARLOW: U.S. officials are calling on Myanmar's military regime to immediately release Danny Fenster. He is an American journalist who has been held for nine days now in a prison there notorious for abuse. He has had no access to U.S. diplomatic support. Fenster was arrested at the airport trying to make his way back to the United States. He is now the second American detained currently - [10:40:00]

HARLOW: -- in Myanmar over the last four months following the military coup in February. Our Anna Core explains how dangerous the situation has become there.


ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A curious mind with an empathetic heart driven by wanderlust. Danny Fenster knew that journalism was his calling.

DANNY FENSTER: I thought it might be interesting to show the kids how I commute around Yangang (ph).

COREN: So when the opportunity arose to move to Myanmar and cover this complicated country Southeast Asia the Detroit native jumped at it. Eventually landing a position at the independent online news outlet, "Frontier Myanmar" as the managing editor.

But when the military staged a coup on February 1, sparking wide scale protests followed by a bloody crackdown, Danny and his colleagues soon realized their profession made them a target.

BEN DUNANT, FRONTIER MAYANMAR EDITOR AT LARGE: There is no safe way of doing journalism. It is a job that you do inside the country at extreme risks but it's an extremely important one. And I think for a long time in Myanmar being a foreign national was seen as a protection -

COREN: Not anymore.

FENSTER: Love you so much, miss you so much. I can't wait to get home and see you.

COREN: When 37-year old Danny tried to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur then onto the United States just over a week ago, authorities arrested him.

BUDDY FENSTER: Their efforts to squelch journalism it kills life and it kills freedom, it kills truth. And I think that they are - they just need to let him go immediately. He has not committed any crime there.

COREN: He's the fourth foreign national among the more than 80 journalist who have been arrested since the coup began. Another U.S. journalist, Nathan Maung, was also detained back in March when his offices were raided.

A family friend of Nathan's told CNN that the Editor-in-Chief of Kamayut Media was tortured for two weeks after his arrest. The 44-year old and his local producer were severely beaten around their heads, burned on their stomach, buttocks and thighs with cigarettes. And made to kneel on ice why their hands were handcuffed behind them during interrogations. The committee to protect journalists has described the abuse as unconscionable. Both Danny and Nathan are being held in the notorious Insein Prison, a monument to brutality housing more than 10,000 prisoners of which hundreds are political prisoners.

Anna Coren, CNN Hong Kong.


HARLOW: Let me bring in now Rose and Buddy Fenster. They are Danny's parents. Thank you both so much for joining us this morning. And look as a mom I can't - I can't imagine your pain but I'm so sorry that you're going through this and I know Danny would just be filled with so much watching both of you fighting for him to be released or for any information on him.

Rose, let me start with you because you said the moment your son, Brian - your other son, Brian, told you that Danny had been detained you stopped breathing.


HARLOW: That that - that that's what - that's what it was like. And have you gotten any update on him since?

FENSTER: We're just waiting and going through proper channels and still waiting to hear how he is and what's going on.

HARLOW: It's been nine days, Buddy, and you talk about your son as someone who just wanted to write what was right. That that was - that was his goal, that's why he went into journalism, that's why he went into it in Myanmar. What did he want to accomplish there?

BUDDY FENSTER, FATHER OF DETAINED JOURNALIST DANNY FENSTER: You know, I think just telling the story of people's lives and just reporting the ups and downs and the sometimes not so important things about their lives or important things about their lives. You know, we all find out that there are things that are so important to us they mean so little to everyone else and I think Danny picked up on that and he just wanted to give people a voice.

HARLOW: Our colleague, Anna Coren, just talked about the other journalist, American journalist who's also detained there as well, Nathan Maung, and you got the sense, Buddy, talking to Danny I guess the last time you talked to him that a lot of journalists were leaving and that he felt like maybe this was time to get out for good. Is that right?

B. FENSTER: Yes, you know, Danny he plays it close to the vest but I just sensed that it was his feeling that support and safety for the journalists was really a major question. And it seemed like just the country was just closing up. And he, you know, if it means - it stops you from doing your job and that's just what Danny wanted to do was his job, you know, it became really difficult.

[10:45:00] HARLOW: Rose, if it's OK I'd like to take a moment just to talk about who your son was outside of the journalist he was and how brave he is but also the person that he is. You sent us these great photos and videos of him. And this one really stuck us. This is him playing with his little niece, Ila (ph), going over letters with her, showing her how to play guitar. Let's play it for everyone.


UNKNOWN: Can you find the D for uncle Danny?

D. FENSTER: Do you know what - do you know what Danny starts with?


D. FENSTER: What letter?

UNKNOWN: This one.


HARLOW: Look at that. Can you tell us about Danny, Rose, beyond these tragic headlines?

R. FENSTER: Yes. Danny is very loving and caring, compassionate. He loves family, family's very important. His niece and nephew just -- his grandmother, his friends; he's very giving, he's very selfless, very intelligent, great sense of humor. Just very chill, non- pretentious. I mean he's just one of a kind guy that just, I don't know, has that wanderlust like we said before but does come back home every so often.

And he, yes, just a good hearted guy, always he worked for a couple years with AmeriCorps in San Jose working with the homeless and helping. He's got charity and heart and giving back in his soul.

HARLOW: He was coming back, Buddy, to surprise you guys and he was going to make it - he was going to make it before Father's Day.

B. FENSTER: I guess so, yes, I mean Dan always somehow or another ends up on the couch. And it was - yes, he's one of those couch people, you know. Then he's gone and all you see is loose change and a sock and he's off to the next adventure. But, yes, I mean we haven't seen him in a - in a long time. And would have (ph) really nice to see him.

HARLOW: So let me ask you then, Buddy, if - I know you've had some constructive conversations with the State Department but the fact is they just don't - haven't had any contact - the consult (ph) over there hasn't had any contact with Danny. If anyone from the State Department, if the administration is watching now, is there more you think they can do at this point? That you want them to do at this point?

B. FENSTER: I mean I honestly believe that our State Department and the Embassy, they have the best people on it. I have confidence in this country. It's - the ball is in another one's court right now and it's very vague as to, you know, who's going to return the volley on their end.

HARLOW: Yes. Rose, you guys have started a website, That's a fund raiser there too. Information I'd point everyone there. What can everyone watching do to help?

R. FENSTER: Continue to be on social media, sign the petition, order t-shirts, fund raising, speak up - speak up to your legislature, pass it on to people. Don't let the story, you know, die down until we get him home. Got to keep having these voices out there.

HARLOW: We won't. Rose and Buddy Fenster, thank you and, Brian, your son, who has been a leader on all of this as well. I know thank and -


R. FENSTER: He's been incredible.

HARLOW: -- we will stay on this, very much.


R. FENSTER: Thank you so much.

B. FENSTER: Thank you. Thank you, very much.

R. FENSTER: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Of course. We'll be right back.



HARLOW: Another tragic example of gun violence and the crisis of gun violence across this country. A Florida Sheriff says a 14-year old girl was shot after she and a 12-year old boy open fire and exchanged gunfire in a shoot-out with Deputies.

SCIUTTO: Children with automatic weapons --


SCIUTTO: -- on the streets of America. The Sheriff says the two foster children ran away from their juvenile homes before breaking into another home which contained multiple guns including an AK-47. This happened in Deltona, 45 minutes south - north rather of Orlando. Leyla Santiago joins us live with the very latest and just a shocking story in a series of shocking stories. Tell us what we know.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is a 12 and 14-year old, think about that, 12 and 14-year old involved here. The Sheriff, the Volusia County Sheriff saying in his 30 plus years in law enforcement he has never seen anything like this. He said that the shootout left his Deputies no where to hide but the trees. We're expecting to get body cam footage later this afternoon. And so that will sort of shed some light as to exactly how everything went down. Buy, yes, let's get to what the Sheriff is saying actually happened here. According to the Sheriff, the 12 and 14-year old ran away from their foster home eventually ended up breaking into a home that had guns. He says that his Deputies tried several de-escalation tactics and eventually the 14-year old was shot and is now fighting for her life. As for the 12-year old, I understand there was some sort of diabetic issue, called him a severe diabetic and so for that reasons those were the issues, but is expected to be OK.

But listen this is a Sheriff that was very passionate speaking about what happened. Listen to what he had to say.


MIKE CHITWOOD, SHERIFF COLUSIA COUNTY, FLORIDA: Deputies did everything they could --


CHITWOOD: -- tonight to deescalate and they almost lost their lives to a 12-year old and a 14-year old. Where have we've gone wrong that 12- year old and 14-year old think it's OK to take on law enforcement.


SANTIAGO: And, Poppy and Jim, we actually reached out to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, they have agents that are there right now investigating. They're investigating the use of force, something that is standard in situations like this. But they expect to put out a report that will detail exactly what happened. And again the use of force that led to a 14-year old fighting for her life and Sheriff who is saying lawmakers need to wake up.

HARLOW: Leyla, unreal but far too real story of the gun crisis in America today, as you said kids. Thank you for being with us today. We'll see you tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. At this hour with Kate Baldwin will start right after a short break.