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Key Senate Vote Tomorrow on Election Reform; Multiple Deaths in Multi-Vehicle Crash in Alabama; New Vaccine Strategy Needed. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2021 - 09:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Shut the party down in March 2020.

I did that for you, John Berman. You always channel him on that.

The Garden crowd, all fully vaccinated, by the way. They were just soaking this all in. And at one point during the show, comedian Dave Chappelle joined the band on stage for a song, "Creep" by Radiohead, as it were.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I -- what -- I don't understand why they're not singing their own songs there. Christopher Walken has nothing to do with this story, but it makes me appreciate you more (INAUDIBLE).

KEILAR: Foo Fighters.


CNN's coverage continues right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


We hope you had a nice weekend and a good Father's Day. So glad you're with us.

Well, a critical week is ahead for the Biden agenda on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are set to resume a slate of negotiations over voting rights, infrastructure and police reform, but can they make any progress on this deal ahead of the July 4th recess? A key vote is scheduled tomorrow in the Senate on a huge, sweeping voting rights overhaul, Senate Bill One. This as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says Democrats are working to come up with an agreement to compromise with what Senator Joe Manchin has laid out in terms of his suggested changes.

SCIUTTO: Last week the West Virginia Democrat left open the option that he could support a modified bill after previously opposing the drafted legislation. Speaking of compromise, a potentially big sign from a major player in the progressive wing, Senator Bernie Sanders, now signaling an openness to Manchin's proposed changes to that legislation. Stacey Abrams did that as well.

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill this morning.

Lauren, let's begin there. I mean getting to 50 is the minimum low bar, right, because that -- that gets the Democrat support they need. But, of course, then you have the next hurdle, which is the filibuster of 10 Republican votes.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jim. Look, this is all about Democratic unity. The point here is to display that Democrats are united in their ability and their wish to advance voting rights legislation.

Now, one of the biggest holdups, like you said, has been Joe Manchin, that Democrat from the state of West Virginia, who has been working with leadership and other Democrats, including Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, to try to put together a package that could garner the support of not just Manchin but other Democrats as well. That was a topic of a long lunch last week where they had this discussion, a robust discussion, I'm told, about what the future of this legislation should be.

Look, tomorrow's vote is a procedural one. It is not a vote on the actual legislation. It is a vote to open debate on this legislation.

Here's what the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said about what is at stake tomorrow.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): It is a very simple vote. It just means to proceed to debate it. It's hard to believe Republican won't even vote to proceed to debate it. As I said, we're working very well with Joe Manchin on trying to come up with every other Democrat as a co- sponsor.


FOX: And Democrats expected, hopefully, to be united on this. At least that's what the majority leader is hoping tomorrow. But we don't expect 10 Republican senators to vote for this package, meaning, the likelihood is that this will die tomorrow in the Senate. That doesn't mean Democrats are going to stop talking about it. In fact, if they can be united tomorrow, what that enables them to do is make a political argument as they ramp up their campaign messages for the 2022 midterms.

Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: But, Lauren, what does that really mean then?


HARLOW: I mean if it doesn't move forward then, is it just messaging or is there -- are you saying they come back in a month, two months and potentially move it actually forward?

FOX: Well, I think this has to play out. But, I mean, Poppy, what you've seen over the last several weeks, as we've been talking to Republicans up here on Capitol Hill, is nothing that Democrats are talking about in the voting rights space is going to be something that Republicans are going to be willing to support. You'd have to pair this bill way back in order to get those kind of Republican votes. So this looks like it would be more of a messaging bill at this point than legislation that actually has a chance of passing.

SCIUTTO: Yes, there's a lot of messaging legislation going on, on The Hill, of late, to be noted.

HARLOW: Lauren, thanks.

Let's bring in Ron Brownstein, senior editor for "The Atlantic," and Toluse Olorunnipa, political enterprise and investigations reporter at "The Washington Post."

So exactly to that point, even if you get all the Democrats on board here and a compromise over the Manchin compromise, Toluse, that doesn't get you anywhere near ten Republicans needed. So, I guess for everyone watching at home this morning, this thing isn't going anywhere?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not, at least not as currently configured. The message that is really being pressed here, especially by progressives, is that the filibuster is a relic of the past and it's not going to allow Democrats to get anything done. And they want to press this message to Joe Manchin because he has been the most stalwart in saying that he does not want to reform or change the filibuster or eliminate the filibuster.


And now he is at the center of this debate because it's his own compromise legislation that is getting the cold shoulder from Republicans. There are no Republicans that have said I want to cross the aisle and support Joe Manchin or talk to Joe Manchin about this. So he's going to face initial pressure to do something about the filibuster, if not eliminate it, at least entertain ideas about restructure it or reforming it, and that's really where this messaging battle is going next.

SCIUTTO: Ron, so one idea to restructure or reform is to lower the barrier from 60 to 55. I thought it notable that you don't just have Democrats, moderate Democrats, talking about that deal (ph). Ross Duthat (ph), a conservative writer for "The Times," raised it as well.

Does that idea go anywhere given the way -- I mean, well, look at the way the Senate majority leader -- rather current minority leader has run things there. Is that -- is that an idea that could survive the current politics of Washington?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think getting to all of those options is why it's not correct to call this solely a messaging bill. It's not just a messaging bill for 2022. It is part -- it is one scene in what is going to be a multi-act play on whether Joe Manchin, Krysten Sinema and some others are ultimately willing to, in some ways, retrench the filibuster. I mean people have understood from the beginning that the only way to pass any kind of national floor of voting rights, once you establish any national floor of voting right, you probably don't have any Republicans in the Senate willing to vote for that. And so the only way to pass it will be if ultimately those Democrats resistant to changing the filibuster are ultimately agreed to do so.

And there are lots of different options. I think the one that is more likely to taking it down to 55 is a talking filibuster. But as Toluse noted, really this -- so much that is happening in Washington right now, whether it's the vote on the January 6th commission, whether it's the vote on this, is really an effort to demonstrate to those Democrats that there are not ten Republican votes for almost anything significant that Democrats want to do and ultimately their choice is either to reform the filibuster or to have those issues die.

HARLOW: How significant, to Ron's point, Toluse, is it that Bernie Sanders, of all people, said he could probably get on board with most if not all of Manchin's changes?

OLORUNNIPA: It's pretty significant. You heard from Bernie Sanders. You heard from Stacey Abrams as well.


OLORUNNIPA: The Democrats are united about the idea of putting together a coalition among Democrats that can support something on voting rights. Progressives have wanted a lot of different changes on voting rights. If some conservatives in the Democratic Party, like Joe Manchin, are not comfortable with, but Joe Manchin includes a number of things, like making Election Day a holiday and allowing two weeks of early voting that Democrats say would help and get more people to vote.

And I think Democrats want to show, in contrast to what's happening in some of these state legislatures where Republicans are largely united about stripping voting rights and moving the ball backwards on giving people action to the ballot, the Democrats want to show that they can move the ball forward, that they can give people more voting rights and they have to be united in order to do that. They see that big contrast between what's happening in some of these Republican-led states and what's happening in Congress, the stagnation and the lack of action, and they want to be able show that they can do something.

SCIUTTO: Ron Brownstein, it was interesting to see Republicans' interest in bipartisanship challenged on Fox News this weekend by Chris Wallace. Wallace pushing Lindsey Graham.

I want to play this exchange and get your reaction. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: If you kill -- vote -- if Republicans vote, as it appears you're going to, to kill the Manchin version of voting rights, you've already -- Republicans voted to kill the bipartisan January 6th commission, looking into the insurrection at the Capitol, do you run the risk that Manchin and a couple of other moderate senators will eventually say, look, bipartisanship isn't working and, you know what, we're not going to kill the filibuster but we're going to reduce the number of votes you need to stop a debate from 60 to 55. Do you run that risk?



SCIUTTO: Well, does he? Does that move them, I suppose, is the question?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, yes, I mean, Manchin himself, in that tape recorded briefing with the group "No Labels" that was revealed last week by the intercept (ph) expressed exactly that concern, that Republican intransigens (ph) on issues like January 6th and voting will make it more difficult for the last Democrats to hold out against changes in the filibuster.

Manchin's position until now on voting has been utterly illogical and almost incomprehensible. He's saying in the name of bipartisanship, Washington should only respond to what has been a completely party line offensive in the states as I showed in a recent story with data from the Brennan Center, virtually no Democrat in any state has voted for any of these bills. And Manchin has been saying that Washington should only respond if Republicans in the Senate agree to constrain what their colleagues in the states are doing.

Now he is moving slowly away from that position.


And, again, the one hope that Democrats have and that progressives have is that a series of these votes, over the coming months, in which Republicans lock arms to prevent any movement on Democratic priorities, will ultimately convince him and Sinema that what they are saying about the filibuster, that it's a tool to promote bipartisanship, is exactly backwards and that ultimately the only way to get into a negotiation is if Republicans realize they have to negotiate because something might pass.

And so this -- rather than being pure messaging, this is something in the middle. This is a step in what is going to be a months' long process. We don't know where it will get in the end. But I think most Democrats feel encouraged from this compromise that he's put forward that there's at least the chance that he will open the door to creating a democracy exception to allow bills establishing voting rights floor to go forward without Republican support.

SCIUTTO: And you make a good point, not purely messaging in your view but a step along the way. Outcome uncertain, but they're working it.

Ron Brownstein, Toluse Olorunnipa, thanks so much to both of you.

And still to come this hour, I mean just heartbreaking as I've read this story. A horrific chain reaction crash on a highway in Alabama left ten people dead, nine of them, nine of them children. We're going to have a live update, next.

HARLOW: Also, a surge in crime and gun violence leading to another violent weekend in cities across the country. The Conference of U.S. Mayors is now calling on the Biden administration to do more. We'll discuss.

And a former FDA commissioner says the United States needs to start thinking about the next phase of COVID vaccine strategy. What will that look like? And how will they get more people to say yes?



HARLOW: We are following tragic news out of Alabama this morning. Ten people, nine of them children, were killed in a fiery multivehicle crash on a highway this weekend.

SCIUTTO: I just have so much trouble reading the details of this story. Eight of the children were in a van from a girls' ranch for neglected or abused young people. They were coming back from a trip to the beach.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in Camp Hill, Alabama.

Federal investigators, they're now examining the scene. Martin, I mean the details of this are just heartbreaking. Nine out of ten are children. Do we know what caused this?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, not yet. Weather is certainly being looked at as suspect. But as you say, federal investigators now joining the effort by state and local investigators to try to determine the exact cause.

We're at that girls' ranch where many of the victims came from or were connected to. And as you point out, this is horrific on a number of levels. Number of lives lost, ten. Number of children killed, nine. And the fact that many of those children had already, in their lives, suffered trauma and hardship.

It all goes back to Saturday afternoon, 2:30, I-65 northbound, just south of Montgomery, Alabama, when you had this multiple car pileup. There are at least 17 vehicles involved, including two semi-tractor trailer trucks.

And we know at least seven of the vehicles caught on fire. Most of the victims died in the ranch van. There was one survivor, that is the ranch's director. She was actually pulled unconscious from the wreckage by passers-by. They tried to get to the children, but the flames forced them back.

We should point out that the director was also driving the van and that she, too, lost two of her own children in that vehicle. Two other people died, a 29-year-old father and his nine-month-old daughter in a second vehicle.

And as we say, we know that there was that tropical system that was moving through the area. There were storms and heavy downpours that day. So that's where investigators are going to begin.

Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: And, Martin, you mentioned what hardship most of the children that died had already faced in their life, or the reason why many were living in this home. What do we know about them? I mean do we even -- do we have their names yet?

SAVIDGE: No, we don't. It's complicated out of the fact that many of them were in a foster care program. And that, too, is another hardship. They don't all have families to mourn for them.

This is the CEO of the ranch here as he talks about the lives lost.


MICHAEL SMITH, CEO, ALABAMA SHERIFF'S YOUTH RANCHES: We lost eight young people that could make a difference in our world. We lost eight young people that didn't have a chance to have their own children. We lost eight young people that can't break the cycle of where they've been and change it for their children.


SAVIDGE: These were children that had come from homes where maybe there was abuse or homes where maybe parents were suffering from addiction. It was truly, truly a terrible, terrible day.

Poppy. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Our hearts genuinely go out to those poor little children. What a heartbreaking story, Martin Savidge. It's good to have you on it.

Well, more we're following this morning.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb says the U.S. now needs a new strategy to get people vaccinated. But while the country is struggling to reach President Biden's July 4th vaccination goal, Gottlieb says more people may want a shot later this year.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Now we need to think about trying to push out the vaccine into community sites where people could get it delivered to them through a trusted intermediary. That's going to mean doctor's offices, schools, places of employment. We need to think about a different vaccine delivery strategy to get the people who are still reluctant or who still face challenges getting into those access sites.


But as people contemplate going back to school and back to work in the fall, they will be seeking out vaccines. And I think that's when we need to think about that 2.0 campaign and a different strategy for delivering vaccine to those who remain unvaccinated.


HARLOW: So, all of this as new research showed that the delta variant is becoming much more prominent in areas with lower vaccination rates.

Joining us now on all these headlines, Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University's School of Medicine at Grady.

Good morning, Doctor.

I think he makes a great point. Obviously the current strategy isn't working for the people who still haven't gotten vaccinated or are not working to the levels that are needed in order to make this country as healthy as possible on this front. Do you agree with him that something new is needed, a 2.0, if you will? And what would you do?


I think that the initial rollout in mass vaccination sites and points of vaccination was very useful to reach people that wanted to get vaccinated, you know, sort of the low-hanging fruit. But now we have a good, you know, 30 to 40 percent of Americans that still need to be vaccinated. A percentage of them will never get vaccinated ever at this point in time. They've simply said, we're not going to. But there's still -- that leaves, you know, 25 to 30 percent who are probably willing to be vaccinated but they're not willing to do it the way it's being done.

So, yes, I agree with Dr. Gottlieb, we need to get vaccines into doctor's offices, we need to get vaccines into places that people trust because at the end of the day what I've heard from several people is, I want my doctor, I want my own doctor to administer the vaccine. And that, I think, is what we need to do now.

SCIUTTO: Dr. del Rio, something I've been watching closely, you have the advent of this new, more virulent variant, the delta variant, which is now showing up in the states, and then the concern is that it's going to spread more quickly in those areas of the country that have lower vaccination rates, which, frankly, stated it right out loud. I mean it's the south, typically places of more conservative folks getting vaccinated at a much lower rate.

What is the danger here, right, in having this disparity in vaccination rates? And do you see those areas with the lower vaccination rates as a fertile ground for the delta variant? DEL RIO: Well, Jim, I think you -- there are several issues here.

Number one, absolutely, the delta variant is much more transmissible than any of the other variants and therefore it rapidly outgrows the other ones and becomes a dominant variant. They'll probably do so in the next six to eight weeks in the U.S. and it's going to spread very quickly among those that are either vaccinated, partially vaccinated or unvaccinated. And what I mean by that is, if you've just gotten one dose of some of the vaccines, which is what, you know, the Biden administration is looking for one -- at least one dose by July 4th, that's not enough. You really need to get both doses.

So I think we need to really accelerate vaccinations so we get two doses into as many people as possible. The more people we have vaccinated, the less likely the delta variant is going to spread. So we really need to ramp it up. We really need to get vaccines to people that are hesitant because otherwise we're going to have a problem. We're going to have more hospitalizations. We're going to have an uptick of cases and hospitalizations. And that's exactly what we don't want to see right now. But the country's in a very good place. Let's not lose ground.

HARLOW: Well, what are you anticipating for the fall? Because we know that -- like we and our children all get the flu, a cold, we just get sicker with the virus in the fall. So, I mean, if this is what we're seeing now, and if delta becomes the dominant strain in the United States come the fall, what are we bracing for?

DEL RIO: Well, it's very hard to predict with this virus. I think we've learned that predictions just don't work because, you know, this virus brings a lot of surprises. But we need to be prepared. And the way you're prepared is you vaccinate as many people as possible and you monitor, you really continue doing surveillance because then you start seeing what's going up, what's going down. And based on that, you can make decisions. You can say, well, you know, we need to mandate masks again or we need to do more testing in schools or we need to -- you know, there's clearly going to be FDA approval of some of these vaccines coming up in the next several weeks to months. I suspect by the fall there will be approval of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines. And once there's full FDA approval, you're probably going to see a lot of places mandating -- more and more mandating the vaccine. And I think by doing that, you're going to increase the number of people vaccinated. So hopefully we won't have another spike in the fall. I really hope we don't.

HARLOW: OK. Us too. We hope so too.


HARLOW: Dr. del Rio, thank you, as always.

SCIUTTO: Seven people killed, dozens more injured in shootings. Another violent weekend in cities across the U.S. Up next, we're going to speak with the president for the U.S. Conference of Mayors as they call upon the Biden administration to reduce what they call an epidemic of gun violence. HARLOW: We're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures all higher this morning. The market rebounding after the Dow experienced its worst week since October last week. Stocks slid Friday after the St. Louis Federal Reserve president said he thinks the Fed should raise interest rates as soon as the end of next year.


Obviously, inflationary concerns at play there. We'll stay on top of all of it.


HARLOW: Well, this country saw another surge of gun violence over the weekend. According to data compiled by CNN since just Friday, seven people were killed in ten mass shootings across the country this weekend. At least 45 others injured.


This growing gun violence epidemic now prompting dozens of mayors from America's cities to band together and demand more action from the Biden administration.