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Joe Manchin Meets With Civil Rights Leaders; Interview With Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel; Kamala Harris in Mexico; Insurrection Report. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 8, 2021 - 15:00   ET



LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When the cruises resume in Miami, it will only do so with fully vaccinated passengers.

So, how they will be able to do that, given Governor Ron DeSantis' approach and ban, we will have to wait and see -- Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: And wait and see, we will.

Leyla Santiago, thank you.

Top of the hour. I'm Victor Blackwell. It is good to be with you.

And we begin with a critical week for the Biden administration's foreign policy vision. Both the president and the vice president are making their first trips abroad. Right now, Vice President Kamala Harris is in Mexico City. She's declaring a new era in U.S./Mexican relations during a meeting with the Mexican president.

It's the second leg of her trip to Central America to address the surge in illegal border crossings. President Biden is traveling to Europe tomorrow with a packed schedule, G7 meetings, a meeting with Queen Elizabeth, NATO summit, his first face-to-face since taking office with Vladimir Putin of Russia.

That, of course, comes in the wake of several suspected Russian cyberattacks.

CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly is with us now.

So, what is the president's big-picture goal here, the big headline when it comes to diplomacy?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think there's an understanding that these are priorities. I think these first foreign trips that you're seeing these leaders take, the president and the vice president, underscore kind of how they view what matters most right now. And from President Biden's perspective, Victor, he made very clear from his first foreign policy, major foreign policy speech at the State Department on, that reestablishing those transatlantic bonds, reestablishing alliances that the White House feels were ruptured, to some degree, with the past administration is critical to what they're trying to do going forward.

And I think that's what you're going to see in the first couple of stops in these trips, obviously, the G7 meeting, a NATO summit as well, U.S.-E.U. summit, all leading into that very consequential meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And, Victor, you talk to White House officials, and they make the point that having those meetings with those crucial allies in the lead-up to that meeting with Russian President Putin kind of underscores or they feel like it will underscore their strength heading into that meeting.

And I think, when you look at Vice President Harris, clearly, this is her mandate. Her mandate is to try and kind of get at the root causes of the migration issues that you have seen at the Southern border, not necessarily visiting the Southern border, which she and her team have frequently batted away, but really getting to the issues at the core of it, which happened in the Northern Triangle.

It's why she met with the leader of Guatemala. It's why she's in Mexico today. It's why she and the president of Mexico signed a memorandum of understanding related to trying to get more aid and assistance to those Northern Triangle countries.

And so it underscores the priorities and it underscores why these are really kind of their first and most prominent trips at this stage in the administration.

BLACKWELL: So let's stay with the vice president, because, while the president's away, we just got word that the vice president is planning a meeting.

Tell us about this.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and it's a very interesting meeting.

And I think it covers a couple of different fronts that I think are most interesting. Obviously, Kamala Harris, the vice president, is a historic individual in her own right, the first female vice president of the United States of America. She was also a United States senator.

And she's going to be inviting all of the female senators -- there's currently four -- 24 of them, 16 Democrats, eight Republicans -- to meet with her next week while the president is away.

And I think there's some kind of a recognition that, obviously, as a former senator, perhaps a bond from the institution, obviously is a historic individual, given her role as the first female senator (sic), kind of giving a nod to women before her, I think, that helped carve a path in the U.S. Senate, but also that she considers colleagues and friends.

But I think you also kind of have to view it from this perspective, that this is happening in the middle of very consequential negotiations, not just on infrastructure, not just on the president's American Families Plan, but over an array of legislative issues.

Really, the president's entire domestic agenda right now is kind of held up, as they're trying to find pathways forward. So, meeting with some pretty critical senators while the president is away doesn't necessarily have a downside when it comes to trying to find that pathway forward.

And it also underscores that, while the president's out of town, those efforts from the vice president, obviously, the president's senior team on the economic side, on the national security side, will still be focused on that agenda, even though the president, he's obviously a phone call away, but won't physically be here, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, more than just the photo-op there for the vice president.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Let's move on now to this Senate report released today that details missed warnings and major security and communications failures in the lead-up to the January 6 insurrection.

The U.S. Capitol Police's main intelligence unit was aware of the potential for violence weeks before the attack, but that message never made it to the many front-line officers. The bipartisan report also says that red tape got in the way, slowing down the National Guard's response.

What the 127-page report does not address, former President Donald Trump and his role in inciting the attack. It doesn't even use the word insurrection.

CNN's chief congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is with me now.


So, Manu, this report ignores that the former President Donald Trump was the person who called these people to the Capitol. What does that mean? And what does this tell us about this report?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a report that was done on a bipartisan basis among four key senders. And those senators had to reach a deal about exactly what to look at.

And what they agreed to do was to have a narrow scope, focus on the intelligence failures, all the security lapses that occurred in the run-up to January 6, and what happened on January 6, the slow response of the National Guard, the failure to communicate threats, the failure to pick up on threats along social media voiced by Trump's supporters that they were going to come and attack the building that day. All of that was the focus of this investigation. But what they did not

agree on was looking at Donald Trump's role, the origins of this, Donald Trump's efforts to subvert the election, tried to pressure local leaders to overcome -- overturn the electoral results and try to convince his supporters that somehow Congress on January 6 could change the outcome of the election.

That was -- none of that was part of the investigation because they wanted to keep this investigation bipartisan. And now that has fueled a debate here on Capitol Hill about whether further investigation is needed. Most Republicans say there is absolutely no need to investigate further.

Some are open to the idea of a commission. But, overwhelmingly, they say that this is over and we should move on.


RAJU: Do you think there needs to be further investigation into, like, the origins and Trump's role in this?

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): No, I don't, actually.

RAJU: Why is that?

LANKFORD: I think that's been fully explored this point. Then you're getting into political voyeurism at this point, rather than actually trying to figure out what we're trying to discern.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): I think we're more likely to understand that with an independent commission, of which 50 percent of the members are Republicans, and they can -- they can select 50 percent of the staff.

RAJU: And then when you hear from your leader that it's time to just move forward, not let's -- we're done, we have investigated this, we should move forward, do you agree with that?

CASSIDY: We have a difference of opinion.


RAJU: So, Bill Cassidy was one of seven Republican senators who was in support of trying to move forward with the commission, an outside bipartisan commission that would look at all these issues, including, presumably, Donald Trump's role in all of this.

But because there were not 10 Republican senators to break a Republican-led filibuster, that bill stalled and has no chance of moving forward. And now House Democrats are considering what to do and try to mount an investigation their own, something they plan to announce in the days ahead, either a select committee led by Democrats or empowering one of their existing committees to pursue these key questions that this bipartisan probe did not look in to -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us, thank you. Joining me now is former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel under President

Obama. He is also a former Republican senator from Nebraska.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for being with me today.

Let's start here with just the report, what we have learned about what was missed, the ball that was dropped leading up to the insurrection. Your reaction to what we have learned about Capitol Police?


And it's all information we need to know going forward. Where were the breakdowns? Where were the missteps? Where were the miscommunications? Where were the problems?

But it's not complete. And that's why we need a national commission, a January 6 national commission, bipartisan. And we need the whole picture, the cause. How deep is this in our society? How much is this accepted in our society, what happened? It was a historic day on January 6. We all know it was unprecedented.

We have never had anything like this happen in this country, nor in our Capitol. So, what we saw today, as far as the results of this study, important. Yes, we learned something. Yes, we know a lot more about what we need to do in the future, but it's not complete.

BLACKWELL: But, Mr. Secretary, you signed on to this letter supporting the creation of the 1/6 commission in the style of the 9/11 Commission.

There was another signatory of that letter -- John Sipher spent three decades with the CIA -- who later said that he wasn't exactly sure this would work. And here's what he wrote.

"The 9/11 report dodged many of the most difficult issues and failed to assign accountability to specific individuals, political leaders or agencies. Instead, the commissioners seemed as intent on deflecting blame from political leaders and policy decisions as they were on uncovering inconvenient facts."

So why is this commission, a 9/11-style commission, why is that the gold standard?

HAGEL: Well, we have had very few of them. We have had the Warren Commission. We have had the 9/11 Commission. They're the most recent.

So, we have only got a couple of conditions to look to as a model. But I think one of the reasons that 9/11 Commission is considered model, because the -- how it was put together, how it was crafted, the bipartisanship.


I don't think any commission is perfect. And I think there are always going to be an element of politics in these commissions. But that shouldn't stop us from trying to find perfection, trying to find the truth, trying to find as much as we can.

So I don't think that's an excuse not to have a commission that 9/11 didn't fulfill everything.

BLACKWELL: In the conversation of the radicalization that led to the insurrection on January 6, President Obama, in his conversation with Anderson Cooper, he talked about the dark spirits that he said that were at the periphery of the Republican Party and how they have now become central.

Listen, and then we will talk on the other side.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You write about Sarah Palin, about her brief ascendancy.


COOPER: And you talk about dark spirits that had long been lurking on the edges of the Republican Party coming center stage.

Did you ever think it would get this dark?


I thought that there were enough guardrails institutionally that, even after Trump was elected, that you would have the so-called Republican establishment who would say, OK, it's a problem if the White House isn't -- doesn't seem to be concerned about Russian meddling, or it's a problem if we have a president who's saying that neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, there are good people on both sides, that that's a little bit beyond the pale.


BLACKWELL: To use the former presidents description here, how long do these dark spirits stay? And what happens to the party moving forward?

HAGEL: Well, I think the president is right in his assessment.

I think it has a lot to do with a complete breakdown in this country of trust and confidence in our institutions, in our leaders. What's a fact? Who can you believe? What's honest? What isn't?

And I think we all have to take some responsibility for that. But what we have seen here is leaders -- and I put President Trump in this category -- who use this mistrust, who use this breakdown in our society for their own political ends.

And, I mean, it's astonishing to me that so many people, smart people, good people, people of every stripe, caring citizens, responsible citizens, still believe that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

And that's because of all of these different factors that the president talked about and others that have seeped into our society and into our thinking, have captivated our thinking in many ways.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about the war in Afghanistan, fewer than 100 days until the deadline that President Biden set to withdraw U.S. troops.

The Taliban released a statement just yesterday saying that the thousands of Afghans who assisted as interpreters and other roles that the U.S. military, that they should apologize, but they will not be in any physical harm.

Now, we know that's not credible. According to accounts, hundreds of interpreters have been killed by the Taliban over the years. There is a movement in Washington to expedite the visa process that could typically take years to get those estimated 18,000 Afghans out of Afghanistan, if not into the U.S.

What should happen to the people who were crucial to the effort in Afghanistan?

HAGEL: Well, we should absolutely expedite this effort to get those people out of Afghanistan. We counted on them. They took tremendous risks. Yes, we came in and provided new opportunities over the last 20 years for the country, essentially rebuilt the country in every way.

But they put their lives, their future on the line for us to help us. Yes, it was helping them and helping their country. But we owe them something. I mean, I'm a veteran of Vietnam. And it was disgraceful how we left Vietnam, and left so many people who helped us in Vietnam to the slaughter of the North Vietnamese.

We owe them something very deep, and we need to expedite it. And it should be done. It should be a priority.

BLACKWELL: Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, thank you.

HAGEL: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, next: Democrats are forced to confront the reality of their razor-thin majority in Congress. Some are increasing pressure on Senator Joe Manchin.


I will speak with a civil rights leader who was in the room with him today about whether they made any progress.

Also, a Texas lawmaker wants to ban critical race theory in classrooms there. He claims that Martin Luther King Jr. would approve. He joins us live.


BLACKWELL: Let's go now to Vice President Kamala Harris talking about the border. She's in Mexico City.


had now in the last 24 hours, to have a one-on-one conversation, to eyeball each other and to say, look, let's speak honestly, let's speak candidly about the interconnection, the interdependency, and also the responsibility each of us has to address these issues.


But you can't say you care about the border without caring about the root causes, without caring about the acute causes, which include the fact that you're looking at populations, particularly from Central America, who are plagued by hunger and the devastation caused by the hurricanes and, of course, the effect of the pandemic.

So let's approach this in a way that acknowledges there are many factors. And, as with any intractable issue, we cannot be simplistic and assume that there is only one element or way of approaching the overall problem.

If this were easy, it would have been handled a long time ago. And there is no question that it is complex, in fact, and that we have to navigate the complexities of it with a goal of solving it.

It would be very easy to say we will just travel to one place and therefore it's solved. Well, I don't think anybody thinks that that would be the solution.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone.


HARRIS: Listen, I have been to the border before. I will go again.

But when I'm in Guatemala, dealing with root causes, I think we should have a conversation about what's going on in Guatemala.


BLACKWELL: All right, that was Vice President Kamala Harris taking questions after meetings in Mexico City. She's talked about there getting to the root causes of what is now the border crisis and immigration in this country.

And she says, of going to the border, as many have called her to do, that she has been to the border, she will go again, but, again, she's focusing on root causes. We will get you more from the vice president's trip as we get it in.

Turning now to these civil rights leaders who met with Senator Joe Manchin today. They urged him to support the For the People Act. This is this new federal voting rights bill that is seen by many as the only way to counter the restrictive voting laws that are being passed in Republican statehouses across the country.

So far, though, it does not appear that the senator has been convinced.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I'm very much concerned about our democracy, protecting people's voting rights, making sure that that's done, and making sure we understand how fragile, how fragile we are as a country.

It was just an excellent meeting. And they were so -- so -- they helped me, so informative, and it was just such a good exchange back and forth. It was very respectful.

QUESTION: Is there anything about your position on S.1 that changed based on this conversation?

MANCHIN: No, I don't think anybody change positions on that. We're just learning where everybody's coming from.


BLACKWELL: All right, Damon Hewitt is the president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. And LaTosha Brown is the co- founder of Black Voters Matter.

Welcome to you both.

Damon, let me start with you. You were in this meeting with Senator Manchin today. Does it appear that he's -- he's not convinced. Is he any more likely to support your cause, to support the For the People Act, than he was when they wrote that op-ed?


Look, that's for Senator Manchin to answer. It's difficult to predict. I would say it's important to have the relationship and to speak with clarity, and to speak beyond the partisan divide.

We have in this country a history of bipartisanship when it comes to protecting voting rights, certainly since the civil rights movement. And so, suddenly, all of that seems to have changed. It cannot be that stopping partisan attacks on the vote is somehow a partisan activity. That's a false equivalence.

And we're trying to help Senator Manchin see behind that. And I think it's going to be a process that will not happen overnight, if it happens at all.

BLACKWELL: So, let's stay on that, because Senator Manchin says that he is not going to support partisan voting reform legislation.

But his definition of partisan has really nothing to do with the content of the bill, that it advantages one party or another. It's that it -- that another party won't vote for it. So it's partisan simply by Democrats -- by Republicans rejecting that. How do you convince someone to support it? It's not based on what the

bill does. It's based on if Republicans are voting for it. How do you change that mind?

HEWITT: Well, all we can do, Victor, is deal with truth and facts. We can look at the provisions of the For the People Act, and look at how many of them mirror some things that are already in place, at least to some degree, in West Virginia, some of which came about under Senator Manchin's watch when he was secretary of state.


So, we can just deal with the truth and the facts, focus on the policy, and less on the politics.

BLACKWELL: LaTosha, let me come to you and the White House's effort here.

Vice President Kamala Harris, as we have discussed before, has been tasked with leading the effort to protect voting rights. Her office has reached out to your group. Tell me about those conversations, what you will be doing with the office.

LATOSHA BROWN, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK VOTERS MATTER: I think that they have been reaching out to a lot of organizations.

I think what we will do is continue to do the work that we're doing on the ground, which is to mobilize voters. We think that this is the most critical issue that has been attempting to undermine democracy in this country, which is why are doing a voting rights tour, where we're actually doing a freedom ride on June 19 through June 26, because that is the week that we're supposed to have the vote.

And we have to really show that the public is actually saying, we don't want voter suppression. Even in Senator Manchin's own district -- what makes this so interesting to me is that he would say that he has to represent the people of West Virginia, but what's interesting is the news media talks about a survey that was just taken.

Almost 70 percent of the people in his district in West Virginia actually support For the People Act. So what is the problem?

And then what we're talking about when he says that he does not support a bill that is being partisan, then that's exactly why he supports -- should support For the People Act, that, literally, it takes some of the partisanship, it holds accountable, and continues to actually provide to keep those parties from actually using this process just for partisan issues.

And so there's a disconnect. There's a misalignment in what he's saying and what the facts are. The facts are that in his own district, in his own state, the majority of people, including Republican voters, are actually in support of the For the People Act.

BLACKWELL: The senator is now focused on another piece of legislation, the John Lewis legislation that actually gives Congress some purview over what was taken out of the Voting Rights Act when the Shelby decision came out during the Obama administration.

Do you think that has a path forward, if not the For the People Act, LaTosha?

BROWN: I do.

I do think that there's a path forward. But I think we also have to recognize that we need both of them. One of them actually helps us once that -- those bills are enacted, that has some protection, but that we actually need accountability. We need more accountability.

Here we are now, where we actually have people who are participating in the process who are now being punished for participating. That's not democratic. That's actually undermining our fundamental rights as voters in this country.

And so what we need is, we need For the People Act to actually provide, give us some mechanism to protect democracy in a way that literally holds these parties accountable to prevent them from being able to do some of the things that they're doing on the state level, and create at least a federal standard, so that we can have a voting system, at least an electoral system, that people have more fair and free access to the ballot.

BLACKWELL: Damon, let me wrap here with you.

You say that your effort is to offer information, but you need to change minds to get the numbers to get the vote to pass this legislation and send it to the president.

And Mondaire Jones, a New York congressman, he tweeted: "Manchin's op- ed might as well be titled why I'll vote to preserve Jim Crow."

Does this help your effort to change minds to convince the senator?

HEWITT: Well, look, everyone has their own angle.

The prevailing wisdom on Senator Manchin is that he doesn't respond to outside pressure. That's why we have taken multiple lines of, I won't say attack, multiple lines of communication. And, right here, we want him to understand that we appreciate his support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Restoration Act.

That is bread and butter civil rights law. We need that to fix what was undone with the Voting Rights Act.

But if we only get one of these pieces of legislation, we have done half or less than half the job. These pieces of legislation are mutually reinforcing. And we think we can break through and make sure that Senator Manchin and others realize, that you can't support one and not support the other, and think that somehow we are safe.

BLACKWELL: All right, Damon Hewitt, LaTosha Brown, always good to have you both. Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you. HEWITT: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, next: Former President Obama speaks to CNN about the controversy over critical race theory in classrooms.

I will speak to the Texas lawmaker who just got a bill passed to ban it in his state.