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Theft Surge in California?; Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal?; Interview With Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring; Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 17, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

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

We begin with breaking news from the Supreme Court. The justices dismissed the challenge to the Affordable Care Act for a third time. It is the law of the land, and they preserved health care coverage for millions of Americans.

CAMEROTA: Only two justices dissented, Alito and Gorsuch. The majority essentially decided that the Republican-led states and the Trump administration did not have the legal right to challenge the law.

So, moments ago, former President Obama tweeted out a statement.

It reads: "Today, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act again. This ruling reaffirms what we have long known to be true. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay. The principle of universal coverage has been established, and 31 million people now have access to care through the law we passed, with millions more who can no longer be denied coverage or charged more because of a preexisting condition."

BLACKWELL: Also decided today, a local religious freedom case with national implications. Justices ruled in favor of a Catholic foster care agency in Philadelphia that refused to consider same-sex couples as foster parents.

OK, joining us now to talk about all of this, we have CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider and CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond.

Jessica, on the Obamacare decision, what more do we know about how the decision was made?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, these seven justices in the majority here, they essentially ruled on procedural grounds, without getting to the heart of the issue. But the effect here is the same, that the Affordable Care Act will

remain in place. And, in fact, it's the third time that the Supreme Court has essentially upheld the law since the law's inception.

So, what happened here is, the three liberal justices joined with four of the conservative justices to say that the plaintiffs in this case, who were 18 different Republican-led states, plus two individuals, they just didn't have the legal right or the legal standing or the legal injury to even bring this case in the first place.

They said the fact that Congress had zeroed out the penalty for not buying insurance, making it zero dollars, that effectively meant that the federal government couldn't even enforce its provisions. Therefore, there was no harm to these states or the individual, so the Supreme Court essentially tossing it out on that ground.

And the practical effect here was that the Affordable Care Act stands. But in the dissent, Justice Samuel Alito was joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. And Alito wrote and pretty much showed his exasperate that the Supreme Court had yet again found a way to uphold the law.

And he wrote they initiated yet another improbable rescue of the act was in the words of the dissent. But, in fact, the seven justices here deciding that, because these plaintiffs had no standing, that the Affordable Care Act should stand and remain the law and, of course, protect millions of Americans who have gained coverage under the law, guys.

BLACKWELL: Jeremy, let's come to you at the White House.

We know that President Biden was heavily involved in the original passage of Obamacare. What is the White House saying today?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, 11 years ago, when then Vice President Biden leaned over to President Obama as he was about to sign the Affordable Care Act and said, "This is a big F'ing deal," it was a hot mic moment.

Today, it is a rallying cry and one that the White House is using in its statements that it's put out. You saw a tweet from the president saying that the Affordable Care Act remains as ever a BFD. And he says it's here to stay.

And that is certainly the message here from the White House, that this Affordable Care Act is here to stay, and that they plan on continuing to improve upon it to give millions more Americans access to affordable health care.

This is the official statement from the president of the United States, aside from that tweet. He says -- quote -- "Today's Supreme Court decision is a major victory for all Americans benefiting from this groundbreaking and life-changing law" and that, "After more than a decade of attacks on the Affordable Care Act from Congress and the courts, today's decision, the third major challenge to the law that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected, it is time to move forward and keep building on this landmark law."

Now, it is important to look at what this day would have been like here at the White House had the Supreme Court ruled the other way. You would have seen 21 million-plus Americans lose health insurance coverage and the White House scrambling to try and find a way to patch that up.

None of that is happening, and the White House is pretty grateful for it, other than from the practical impacts on people's lives. They have a lot on their plate already, including this infrastructure deal that is in the works, voting rights legislation, police reform legislation. They're certainly glad not to have something else like this added to their plate.


CAMEROTA: OK, so, Jessica, tell us about the other big decision today, the one from Philadelphia. And does this set a precedent for other religious freedom challenges?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, so a religious liberty case here.

And what's interesting, Alisyn, is that this was a unanimous decision. And the reason it was unanimous was because it does come under very narrow circumstances.

In this particular case, all of the justices agreed that Philadelphia violated the First Amendment rights of this Catholic foster agency, when the city of Philadelphia canceled its contract with the agency because they said it violated the city's laws against anti- discrimination, because this Catholic agency would not recruit same- sex couples.

So that was the very sort of narrow decision here. The chief justice, John Roberts, writing for six of the justices, said that, basically, since Philadelphia had made exceptions and its policy for other agencies, that it should have done so as well for the Catholic service organization.

And, also, as the Catholic foster agency had talked about in its arguments, it said that no gay couples had even applied to its agency, and that same-sex couples had other agencies in the city to go toward. But what the court here didn't get to was the broader issue that some wanted them to address, which is, can religious institutions or businesses not serve or maybe even discriminate against people for their -- for being a same-sex couple because of the religious beliefs of that institution?

The court did not come to that broad decision. This was a fairly narrow one, guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jessica Schneider, Jeremy Diamond, thank you both very much for all of the reporting.

With us now, joining us is one of the attorneys who filed the brief defending the Affordable Care Act in this Supreme Court case, the attorney general for the state of Virginia, Mark Herring.

Mr. Attorney General, thank you very much for being here.

So, let's just start by, were you surprised by this decision? And were you surprised by the way the Supreme Court broke on it, meaning that three conservatives sided with the more liberal justices to protect this?

MARK HERRING (D), VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, today's decision is a huge win for every American, because had this lawsuit been successful, it would have dismantled the entire Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid expansion. Protections for preexisting conditions would be taken away.

In my home state of Virginia alone, 642,000 Virginians would have lost their health care; 3.4 million Virginians with preexisting conditions would lose those protections. It would have been devastating all across the country.

And, today, in today's ruling, it was a very decisive 7-2 ruling in front of a very conservative Supreme Court. I think it's also important to remember how we got to where we are right now. And this is the third major legal challenge. I have been involved in two, this one and the one before, which was a case out of Virginia.

And, originally, this was led by a group of Republican attorneys general, led by Texas. And they challenged this on what were really flimsy legal theories. It was meritless from the beginning. And then the Trump administration sided with those Republican attorneys general.

And so I and my Democratic attorney general colleague said, well, we're going to fight for health care for our residents and for the country. We intervened in Texas. The case worked its way up to the Supreme Court. And, today, we won an astounding victory, 7-2, very decisive.

And, unfortunately, in that meantime, millions of Americans had to deal with the anxiety of having to worry about whether their health care would be taken away from them at any moment, people like breast cancer survivors, worried about if their protections against preexisting conditions would go away.

Would they be able to get coverage at a price that they can afford or at all for themselves and for their families, and so many others like it? But, today, it is the law of the land, it continues to be the law of the land. And I will continue to fight for health care.

Everyone deserves access to affordable, quality health care, no matter who you are, no matter what your medical history is, what your employment status is, or what your financial background is.


But, Mr. Attorney General, the decision wasn't really based on the merits of the law. It was based on the standing of those plaintiffs that, 7-2, the court found that they did not have standing to bring this case.

You mentioned that this is the third time that this has been challenged through the courts on the constitutionality. Do you expect that this decision will make a fourth challenge any less likely?

HERRING: Well, the ruling was that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear those arguments, which were meritless, and it didn't need to get to those meritless arguments because it didn't have jurisdiction to hear it.

Will there will be another challenge by conservative Republicans continuing to challenge this? I don't think there is a good legal basis for it. They may try.


But one thing is for certain. If they do, I and my Democratic colleagues will be right in there fighting for health care, making sure that Americans have access to affordable, quality health care, which they deserve.

CAMEROTA: But do you agree with President Obama, who tweeted out that this means that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay? Or is it not quite that easy?

HERRING: Well, as I said, I don't think there's any legal basis to for another challenge. Will there be one? Maybe. But we're going to be in there to protect health care.

And after three challenges in front of very conservative courts, I think the signal is pretty clear that Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, is here to stay. It is the law of the land. If there are more legal challenges, we will be right in there to beat them back.

BLACKWELL: Even with this new court that is 6-3 more conservative, with Amy Coney Barrett -- we know that that was a significant part of the confirmation for Justice Barrett.

You expect that, if this comes back with the right plaintiffs, that this law will still stand?

HERRING: Absolutely.

Look, the legal basis of their lawsuit was flimsy, at best. It never should have seen the light of day. But, really, it was a lawsuit that is -- was a thinly veiled political attack. We have seen Republicans over and over trying to take health care away from people. Will they try again? Maybe.

But we will be in there. And we will win. And we will protect health care for all Americans.

CAMEROTA: But I do just want to bring up that graphic again that shows the breakdown, because I do think it's interesting to see who aligned with whom. And so, as we said, the conservative -- well, this is how it's broken

down in terms of liberal and conservative, but I just want to show you what happened with the decision today, because as Victor just said, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts and -- as soon as I see the graphic, I'm going to be able to tell you -- and Clarence Thomas sided with the majority opinion.

And then there was Justice Alito and Gorsuch, who dissented. And, basically in their dissension, Mr. Attorney General, they said there's nothing that this court won't do to protect the Affordable Care Act. I mean, they were sort of disparaging in saying that they felt that, I guess, the bias was towards the Affordable Care Act.

HERRING: Yes, I think the court had a strong basis to do exactly what it did.

And had it actually reached the merits, we would have won that too. There was really no merit to this case. It never should have seen the light of day. Even the most conservative justices on this court could see there was no merit here and threw it out, and with instructions for the lower courts to dismiss the case.

So it's a strong ruling, a strong majority. And that's a great day for Americans to know that their health care now is protected. They know, also, if there's another legal challenge, we will be right in there to fight for health care, to protect their health care.

Again, tens of millions of Americans would have lost their health coverage. That's staggering. Over 130 million Americans with preexisting conditions would have had their protections taken away. It would have thrown the health care markets into turmoil.

Thankfully, even this conservative Supreme Court could see the case was without merit and threw it out.

CAMEROTA: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, sir.

HERRING: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, so President Biden returns from the White House to find a new bipartisan infrastructure plan. Could this be the one that breaks the gridlock?

BLACKWELL: Plus, dramatic video of a thief who just does not care who was watching. And the bigger question here, what's behind San Francisco's surge of shoplifting?



BLACKWELL: President Biden is back in Washington.

The to-do list is, as always, long, a litany of stalled agenda items and a Congress deadlocked over how to get them to his desk.

CAMEROTA: Infrastructure, voting rights, police reform.

Now there is some movement on an infrastructure plan to improve the country's crumbling roads and bridges and energy systems; 21 senators, including 11 Republicans, say they support this new infrastructure framework.

BLACKWELL: CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is with us now.

Still a huge sticking point here, though, on infrastructure, how to pay for it. What are you hearing?


Yes, no question about it. There's still a lot of details that they have to work out both on the process and the policy. And the process too is important, because what the Democrats are saying, particularly those on the left, who are concerned that their priorities are not going to get into this $1.2 trillion eight-year plan, is that wait for the next bite of the apple, that being trying to move along straight party lines through a budget process known as reconciliation.

And the person who is in charge of that budget process on the Senate side is Bernie Sanders, the progressive independent who caucuses with Democrats. And he told us earlier today that he is looking at a $6 trillion price tag and to move on a reconciliation package that would include a lot of Joe Biden's agenda items.

But that $6 trillion number has caused some concerns among moderate Senate Democrats, who say that they need to negotiate that price to be much lower. So a lot needs to be determined here.

And then, on the left, a lot of Democrats are saying that the moderates who negotiated this bipartisan deal need to agree to go along party lines for them to support that bipartisan deal.


And at the center of all that is Senator Joe Manchin, who has not yet committed to going along straight party lines. But in talking to House Democrats today, they told me that Manchin absolutely needs to commit, in their view, in order for them to support a bipartisan proposal.

CAMEROTA: And then, Manu, just this morning, Mitch McConnell weighed in. What did he say?

RAJU: Yes, Mitch McConnell made very clear that he is opposed to moving forward on anything on voting rights.

He also made clear that an infrastructure package, a bipartisan deal will need to be negotiated. He's been open to that. He said that there could be a discussion going forward on that.

But what Mitch McConnell is saying is that he was looking forward to a key vote coming in the Senate next week, a bill to overhaul voting and election laws in this country. Democrats are setting up a key vote on Tuesday on that. Mitch McConnell is 100 percent opposed to that, and Republicans are unlikely to break ranks, meaning it will almost certainly die.

But Manchin is also in the center of that. And he has proposed changes to try to get all 50 Senate Democrats on board. And when I talked to him earlier today, he said he's making his pitch to his caucus, and he hopes they come aboard. Take a listen.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): That's going to be Leader Schumer's decision to make on that. I think that, basically, Stacey Abrams, I have been talking to Stacey, as you know. I have talked to everybody.

And I have been working across the aisle with all the Republicans, trying to get people to understand that that's the bedrock of our democracy, an accessible, fair, and basically secure voting.

That's it, to have -- and right now, in a divided country, this is not about me. It's about our country. People better start looking at, how did we get to where we got to January 6, and why don't we want to fix it?


RAJU: And one of the key things that he has proposed to change this Democrats sweeping election overhaul bill is to actually require voter I.D. in states across the country. That's something a lot of Democrats don't agree with.

But they did have a caucus meeting just moments ago and talked about this issue. They're trying to find a compromise. But the Democrat goal here is to get all 50 of their members to agree on something to make the argument that it's Republicans blocking their plan going forward, because, as I said, it does not have the 60 votes to advance going forward.

So this argument ultimately will be taken to the voters to decide who is right and who is wrong -- guys.

BLACKWELL: And Senator Graham last night said that there could be some progress, some breakthrough on one of these major legislative proposals. What is he saying?

RAJU: Yes, on policing. He's, of course, part of those discussions, those bipartisan talks, to overhaul policing practices in this country.

When I talked to him last night, he said there could be a breakthrough over how to -- because they are closer to an agreement about the standards to set in prosecuting police officers. Democrats want to lower that standard, making it easier to prosecute police officers who commit crimes. Republicans had been resistant to that, but they could come to some

common ground by adding some new crimes that police officers could be charged with, such as sexual assault and the like. They're still negotiating that.

And also, on the issue of so-called qualified immunity, which refers to lawsuits in civil court brought against individual police officers, there is some agreement about that the employers can be sued, like police departments and cities, not individual police officers.

But there's still many details to sort out there even as there seems to be some more optimism that a deal on that major issue could be reached as soon as next week -- guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Manu Raju there for us on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

So, America is reopening after the pandemic. Criminals, though, are taking advantage. Still ahead, the video that shows this theft. And you can see people here are recording him in a busy drugstore.

CAMEROTA: It's that brazen.

BLACKWELL: Yes, just put it on the bike and head out. Why this is just a sign of the times.



CAMEROTA: Wait until where do you see this brazen crime caught on video in the heart of San Francisco.

Shoppers were inside a Walgreens, and they watched in shock as a masked bicyclist rolled in and began shoplifting, filling a trash bag with merchandise.

BLACKWELL: So, a store security guard was standing there watching. You will see it. It's part of a disturbing trend in the Bay Area.

And CNN's Dan Simon has the video.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shoplifters usually try to conceal their crimes.


SIMON: Not this one at a Walgreens in San Francisco, the thief grabbing items off the shelves and filling up a garbage bag, even as a security guard observes from feet away.

Moments later, he bolts away from the store on a Lyft bike. The guard attempting to grab the bag, but the thief gets away with the large haul. LYANNE MELENDEZ, KGO-TV: It's hard for me as a journalist to say I

won't be involved, I can't get involved, I have to be sort of neutral.

SIMON: The viral video captured by local ABC reporter Lyanne Melendez lay bare the lawlessness, further eroding the image of one of America's most beloved cities.

MELENDEZ: I live in this city. And I see this constantly.

SIMON: Indeed, it has happened so constantly that Walgreens says it has shuttered 17 of its stores in San Francisco over the past five years, mainly due to theft.

JASON CUNNINGHAM, REGIONAL VICE PRESIDENT, WALGREENS: When you see the amount of theft in San Francisco for some of our average stores in the company, that multiplier factor is really driven by the organized retail crime.

SIMON: A Walgreens executive telling elected supervisors last month that theft here is four times the national average, driven by organized crime rings.