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Interview With Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI); Cyber Threats; U.S. Adds 560,000 Jobs in May; Infrastructure Talks Continue. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 4, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. thanks for joining us on newsroom. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

Round three now of infrastructure talks, but still no closer to a deal. President Biden is again meeting with the GOP's point person, Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito. They're trying to reach a deal to address the nation's crumbling transportation systems, roads, power supplies.

But how to pay for it, that's the question. They are hundreds of billions of dollars apart.

CAMEROTA: The urgency to fix the country's infrastructure is front and center today in two major ways.

The Justice Department is sounding the alarm on the threat of more ransomware attacks and likening to the terror attacks on 9/11. In recent months, meatpacking plants, a fuel pipeline, hospitals, subways and ferries all have been attacked.

CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us now.

So, Phil, let's start with President Biden. You have written a piece for today, where you called Biden's decision-making right now a high-wire act. What does that mean?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so this pertains directly to the infrastructure negotiations.

You know, the president obviously has put a $4 trillion duo of economic proposals on the table, this infrastructure negotiation with Republicans just a piece of that. But, guys, the president, he's getting a lot of pressure from progressives: These talks aren't going to amount to anything. Break them off and let's go at it alone.

He's getting a lot of pressure from moderates, saying very clearly, you need to continue these bipartisan negotiations. Obviously, Republicans are questioning his broader plans. All of these things are coming together.

And I think it underscores why this is a complicated moment for the White House, why the president is still in these negotiations, even though, as you point out, they are still hundreds of billions of dollars apart. There's no clear consensus on how to pay for anything.

He needs to ensure that, if they do go unilaterally from the Democratic side, he actually has the votes to actually do something on that. And I think there's also the broader point. You talk to the president's advisers. He believes a bipartisan agreement would be good, good for the country, something that country hasn't seen in a while over the course of the last several years.

So all of these things are playing into one. And I think the critical thing to keep in mind here is, the president's entire economic agenda kind of lays on how this decision is made, how he decides to go, whether a deal can be struck and whether Democrats can stick together if one can't be.

That's all on the president's lap right now. And, obviously, that's why we're waiting to see how this call with Senator Capito goes.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's also talk about jobs. The May jobs report today, U.S. added close to 560,000 jobs last month, big improvement from April, but not as high as some economists predicted.

What are we hearing from the president about the number?

MATTINGLY: The president spoke about these numbers earlier. And I think he's taking kind of the 30,000-foot view, which is convenient, to some degree, when the 30,000-foot view is better than numbers that missed analyst expectations.

But I think what the president is making clear is that, over the course of the first four months of his administration, the administration has averaged more than 500,000 jobs per month. And that has led to a pretty tangible recovery.

However, there's still a lot of work to do. And there's still a lot of uncertainty about what the economy is actually going to look like coming out of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In short, this is progress, historic progress, progress that's pulling our economy out of the worst crisis has been in 100 years.

As we continue this recovery, we're going to hit some bumps along the way. Of course that'll happen. We can't reboot the world's largest economy like flipping on a light switch. There's going to be ups and downs in jobs and economic reports.


MATTINGLY: That's important for the president, obviously laying the groundwork for some bumps in the future. Obviously, you have seen inflation numbers that have given some concern to Democrats. Republicans have certainly use them to oppose the president's proposal.

You had that bad jobs report last month. Economists are really trying to figure out what all of this means, as you have supply and demand kind of not connecting in a way you would think they would, but also coming out of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

And so the president trying to lay the groundwork for the idea that what they have put into place up to this point has worked. What they're trying to do in the future, it will just be more of that and that, if things don't look so great on all of the kind of individual economic data over the course of the next couple of months, don't worry, things are on the right track, according to the president -- guys.

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

Let's bring it down to discuss CNN economics and political commentator Catherine Rampell, also a columnist for "The Washington Post."

Catherine, the president says the plan is working. Is it working as well as expected?


So, not very long ago, economists had been expecting that, around now, we would be adding a million jobs a month, right? We are not anywhere near that number right now. The numbers are up relative to last month, when there was a big miss. And that's a good thing that employers are hiring.

But, at the moment, it seems like part of the problem is that the labor force just is not growing. There are many fewer people who are in the labor force, which means they're either working or actively looking for work today, vs. before the pandemic began.


And that's probably due to a host of different reasons. But that's why you hear a lot of employers complaining that they have openings -- and the official government data suggests that there are a lot more vacancies that are available than are being filled -- and that they're having trouble finding workers.

CAMEROTA: Where are the workers?

RAMPELL: So it depends who you ask.

So Republicans will say that the real problem is the more generous unemployment benefits.

CAMEROTA: People can make more staying at home than going out and pounding the pavement.

RAMPELL: For some people, right, for a temporary period of time.

And I think it is reasonable to think that, for some people, that outside option that they have, that they have more generous unemployment benefits to fall on, could factor into their decision about whether to return to work or not.

However, it's probably a very tiny share of the people who are sitting on the sidelines. And the reason why I say that is that there are so many other factors that are causing workers to be hesitant about returning to work or unable, for that matter, to return to work. They lack childcare. Public transit has had cutbacks. There are a lot of reasons why jobs people might have had before which were not particularly pleasant before have gotten even less pleasant, because of there were cultural wars about mask-wearing, if you're in a food services job, and you're trying to enforce the mask mandate or whatever.

They're worried about getting sick. Now, a number of those concerns should be lessening as vaccinations go up, and people get more comfortable going back to work, and social distancing measures, et cetera, get pulled back.

But, even so, there are a lot of reasons besides the unemployment benefits that could be holding people back. And, in fact, there was a study that was recently released from the San Francisco Fed that found that, of every 28 people who were out of work, there are about seven who maybe aren't taking a job that they would have otherwise taken, and one of those seven is not doing so because of unemployment benefits.

So, it's a factor, and it's a noticeable factor. But it's a small one relative to all of the other things going on here.

BLACKWELL: So, let's compare what actually happened to the expectations. The expectation was 670,000 jobs for the month of May.

What does this mean for the president's agenda as he's trying to push through this American Jobs Plan?

RAMPELL: He's clearly trying to set aside the fact that we missed expectations. And, to be fair, the forecasts were all over the place. I mean, some people were forecasting 670,000. Some people were forecasting 300,000 or a million or whatever.

So there was so much uncertainty that I don't want to emphasize that forecast miss too much.


RAMPELL: But -- and he's clearly not emphasizing it.

He is arguing that the economy is on an upswing, we are reopening, things are working as planned, and now is the time to invest in these longer-term job growth strategies, things like infrastructure or providing work childcare -- childcare services and things like that could help support people's return to work.

But those are longer-term programs, as opposed to the immediate need. I mean, the immediate need of the economy is still getting the public health crisis in the rearview mirror, because that's what's holding things back.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the infrastructure bill, because the president has come down to $1 trillion. Republicans say that they have come up to $920 billion. All of it sounds like Monopoly money at some point to regular people, because the numbers are so high.

But I know that there's this debate about new money vs. previous spending.

RAMPELL: Yes, you read my mind.

So a lot of the headlines about this debate, this offer and counteroffer, suggests the two sides are much closer than they are. In fact, the Republicans are using a different set of accounting rules, and they are counting money that would be spent otherwise, that is scheduled to be spent even if no new infrastructure legislation is passed, along the lines of what Biden is proposing or what they're proposing.

So they're kind of double-counting money. So it's an apples-to-oranges comparison. If you're doing it on an apples-to-apples budgeting comparison, if you're saying new money, as you say, or above baseline is the formal jargon, then Republicans are really only offering about 25 cents on the dollar of what Biden is requesting.

So they're very far apart. And that gives me pause about how likely a deal is, as do a lot of other factors, including, like, who are the 10 Republicans who are willing to come on board even if they did put forward a proposal that Senator Capito, for example, endorsed and that Biden agreed to?

You could imagine maybe a handful of them, but you got to get to 10 in order to pass this through regular order. So, the parties are -- the two sides are very far apart, where they are now, and it's really hard for me to imagine them getting any closer -- getting close enough, I should say.


I mean, Senator Capito is going through this exercise as though it's not in futility, but we will see. We will see what happens after yet another call.

Catherine, great to talk to you. Thanks so much for being here.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Catherine.

RAMPELL: Of course.

CAMEROTA: Still to come: food suppliers hospitals, ferries, pipelines all targeted by hackers recently -- why the FBI director says he sees parallels between these attacks and the terrorism threats around 9/11.


BLACKWELL: Plus, a concerning report just in from the CDC, it may give parents even more incentive to get their kids vaccinated.


CAMEROTA: A stunning warning from the FBI director.

BLACKWELL: Christopher Wray compared the challenge in confronting recent ransomware attacks across the country to what this country faced in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins us now.

Alex, why is he drawing this parallel?


Well, he's sounding the alarm this way because he knows how destructive and harmful these ransomware and cyberattacks can be, how they can be so destructive to the country's critical infrastructure, even harm people.


So, now we're hearing the Biden administration talking about this threat in terms of this being a -- an urgent national security priority, especially following those two major ransomware attacks against a JBS Foods and Colonial Pipeline.

And they are now calling on companies across the country to harden their own cyber-defenses, as they say that they are going overseas to try to disrupt these ransomware groups.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): The cyber-threats against the United States have grown so much, it's like dealing with terrorism after 911, that urgent message from the head of the FBI, Chris Wray, today adding his voice to the alarm being sounded by the Biden administration over the growing ransomware attacks here and around the world.

"There are a lot of parallels," Wray told "The Wall Street Journal. "The scale of this problem is one that I think the country has to come to terms with."

JOHN HULTQUIST, MANDIANT THREAT INTELLIGENCE: Before long, we are worried that some people will get hurt, especially when we consider all these incidents that are affecting health care.

MARQUARDT: Health care schools, and, most recently, the Colonial Pipeline and JBS Foods, which is the biggest meat producer in the world. Those two recent attacks caused gas shortages and beef plants to shut


MICHAEL LEITER, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: I think the country does face some really existential risks to its critical infrastructure, its economic well-being, its securing of technology and individuals' privacy. So I think it's critical that people understand how far-reaching this risk really is.

MARQUARDT: The Justice Department announced Thursday it will implement practices used for terrorism cases, telling prosecutors to share more information and coordinate efforts on ransomware attacks, which is when hackers take control of a network and hold it hostage, demanding money.

The attacks and the amounts paid have skyrocketed. The Justice Department says ransom payments, often in cryptocurrency, last year went up 300 percent. The White House on Thursday released a rare open letter, pleading with companies to strengthen their online defenses, saying they can't fight the threat alone.

But experts say the government also needs to find a better way to take down the attackers and deter them from even trying.

SHAWN HENRY, PRESIDENT, CROWDSTRIKE: It really requires the government to take additional actions. They have got to work collaboratively with foreign law enforcement agencies to take these people off the field, to use law enforcement efforts, intelligence agency efforts, economic sanctions to disrupt and deter these actors.

MARQUARDT: Most of the recent major attacks have come from Russia, government hackers in the case of a breach like SolarWinds and criminal hackers striking the pipeline and food companies.

Today's comparison of cyber and ransomware attacks to terrorism and 9/11 is one that has been made for years, including in 2018 from the country's head of intelligence.

DAN COATS, FORMER U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It was in the months prior to September 2001 when, according to them CIA Director George Tenet, the system was blinking red. And here we are, two decades -- nearly two decades later, and I'm here to say the warning lights are blinking red again.

Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.


MARQUARDT: Those lights are certainly doing more than just blinking now.

Now, this string of cyberattacks from Russia, whether it's criminal groups or coming from government hackers, is certainly something that will be raised, you can imagine, in that summit between Presidents Putin and Biden in Geneva in just under two weeks' time. The Kremlin has responded to the Biden administration, saying that Russia can do more, because they have been accused of harboring these ransomware attackers. A spokesman for the Kremlin said earlier today that Wray's comments today were emotional, that they have nothing to do with the real state of affairs.

But the Biden administration certainly believes that Moscow can do more -- Victor, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.

Joining us now is Democratic Representative Jim Langevin from Rhode Island. He's the chair of the House Cybersecurity Caucus.

Congressman, thanks for being with us.

Let's start here with the stakes. You heard from the former DNI there in 2018 that the system was blinking red. If it was blinking red before SolarWinds and all that we have seen recently, what's the alarm now? What are the stakes?

REP. JIM LANGEVIN (D-RI): Well, first of all, thanks for having me on.

The comments that you have made and that we just heard made about the headlights -- the warning lights blinking red are spot on. This is an issue of great urgency. We're seeing increased number of ransomware attacks. And we have to get serious about cracking down and trying to stop them, more so than what we are right now.

First, we just most recently saw a serious ransomware attack on our gas pipeline. Next, it was at a meat processing plant. Just yesterday, we had a ransomware attack on the Steamship Authority in Massachusetts that, both coordinated with Rhode Island and Massachusetts, provides ferry service from Rhode Island, for example, to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.


So, we're seeing this escalate. And my concern is that it's only a matter of time before something more serious gets hit. This could have been much worse. I have been using the example, what about a natural gas pipeline in the dead of winter, when not only would it do damage to our economy, but could cause loss of life?

BLACKWELL: Yes, let's put up the breadth of ransomware attacks recently, food, fuel, hospitals, trains, ferries all across the country.

We know that, in 2019, more than 100 cities and municipalities were hit by ransomware as well.

You want $400 million for the Department of Homeland Security. I mean, what is that money going to go toward? These are -- these hackers are focusing on private sector. What's the government's role here? LANGEVIN: Yes, so the additional $400 million would go to the

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is the civilian agency that is charged with protecting the DotGov network.

But it's also the primary liaison and resource for the private sector. Remember, government doesn't have any clear responsibility or authority over the private sector critical infrastructure, because it's owned and operated in private hands.

Now, we can get more serious about some regulatory authority, and we should. But it really needs to be a public private-partnership. And CISA needs to have the inherent capability and people to do the job to be a valued partner and resource to private sector critical infrastructure.

That's why I'm fighting so hard for the dollars. By the way, I give a lot of credit to the Biden administration. They have really stepped up their efforts on cybersecurity, including there's now a -- President Biden has nominated the first ever national cyber director, which will be like the quarterback on the field to coordinate our cyber program, cyber defenses.

BLACKWELL: All right, I think we just lost Congressman Langevin's audio, unfortunately.

Sometimes, it happens.

CAMEROTA: Oh, it does all the time.

BLACKWELL: All too often.

CAMEROTA: There are technical devils, and particularly when we talk about things like cyberattacks...

BLACKWELL: Cybersecurity.

CAMEROTA: ... and cybersecurity. It seems...

BLACKWELL: All right. I don't know if it's a correlation.


BLACKWELL: But thank you so much to Congressman Langevin.

Oh, Congressman Langevin back.

Congressman, we got you back.

Let me pick up with this question. You were talking about a public- private partnership. What do you want from the private sector? And should they be paying these ransoms?

LANGEVIN: So, first of all, one of the most important things everyone can do, both government and private sector, is to do the basics in terms of good cyber-hygiene. So, apply your security patches, back up your systems. If you -- first

of all, the reason why it's so important to apply security patches is because security researchers have identified vulnerabilities. They basically identified, in your house, let's say, an open window or an unlocked door. And they're basically saying, apply the patches to close up those avenues where an attacker can get it.

Also, if you back up your systems, if you get hit with a ransomware attack, very likely, you can reconstitute your own networks without having to pay the ransom. I don't believe in paying the ransom. But, in some cases, I understand businesses have had to make that business decision.

Is it more costly to reconstitute your networks and start from scratch? Or is it cheaper to pay the ransom? And, unfortunately, some businesses have made that -- had to make that decision to pay the ransom.

BLACKWELL: And we know that the paying of the ransom promotes more of these ransomware hacks.


BLACKWELL: Before we let you go, we know that FBI Director Christopher Wray singled out the Russians and talked about specifically they're allowing these hacker groups to operate within Russia.

The response from the Kremlin was that that was an emotional response and that there are hackers all over the world. We know that Russia is unique in this space, but not exclusive. What's your response to that reaction from the Kremlin?

LANGEVIN: Well, clearly, the Kremlin is trying to push this aside. They're kind of like, there's nothing to see here.

I believe the intelligence shows that these criminal organizations are acting within Russian borders. And if Russia is looking the other way and allowing these criminal organizations that are carrying out these ransomware attacks to act with impunity, no responsibility, they're not trying to crack down on them, then Russia bears some of the responsibility.

It's against international law to allow criminals to conduct criminal operations against other countries and not have the host government crack down on them.


LANGEVIN: Russia needs to get more serious about this.

But the Biden administration, which I believe is doing a very good job on cybersecurity -- and I thank them for the work they're doing.

BLACKWELL: All right. LANGEVIN: And I know we got cut off on -- before, but appointing the

first national cyber director, and also the deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity.


BLACKWELL: All right.

LANGEVIN: But the Biden administration needs to get more serious with Russia in cracking down and holding them accountable.

BLACKWELL: We know that that summit is coming up in just a couple of weeks.

Congressman Jim Langevin, thanks so much.

LANGEVIN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, up next: a new warning from the CDC director -- her concern about adolescents being hospitalized with COVID.

BLACKWELL: And from the pandemic to an epidemic.

Fred Guttenberg joins us. His daughter Jaime was killed in the Parkland shooting. He has a message on this National Gun Violence Awareness Day.