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Congress to Resume Slate of Tense Negotiations over Voting Rights, Infrastructure and Police Reform; Supreme Court Issues Ruling on Student Athlete Payments; Nine Children, One Adult Killed in Fiery, Multi-Vehicle Crash in Alabama. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 21, 2021 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.


The Biden agenda facing a critical test on Capitol Hill this week as lawmakers resume negotiations, you've heard that term for a while, on several major pieces of legislation, voting rights, infrastructure and police reform all on the table as Congress works to get things done before the Independence Day recess. Both parties have said their interested potentially in deals here.

The Senate will vote tomorrow on whether to advance the For the People Act to debate, a key legislative step. The sweeping elections overall would, among other things, make Election Day a holiday, expand early voting and crucially ban partisan gerrymandering.

HARLOW: But the bill's future remains uncertain as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is still working to get Joe Manchin to back the legislation in its current form or to reach a compromise at all sides in the Democratic Party see palatable. Manchin has proposed those changes that have been laid out.

Perhaps the most attainable changes could come in the form of infrastructure. President Joe Biden expected to welcome members of Congress to the White House this week amid those talks.

So let's get started on all of this, this hour, with our Congressional Correspondent Jessica Dean on Capitol Hill. Jessica, good morning to you.

Schumer confident he can get Manchin on board or the others on board with the Manchin plan, what are you seeing?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN COGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, Poppy and Jim, the best case scenario for Democrats tomorrow is that all 50 Democrats vote to advance the discussion on this bill. That's the best they can hope for. There is just very, very, very, very, little chance any Republican is going to support this. In this case, all indications are that no Republicans will be supporting this. And, of course, those 50 votes will fall well short of the 60 votes needed to continue forward with the For the People Act. So, again, that filibuster coming into play likely tomorrow.

At this point, Schumer just wants to make sure that Manchin is on board for political reasons. They want to be able to make the case to the American people that Democrats are united when it comes to voting rights and that it's Republicans that are being the obstructionists here. Of course, the Republican Party, Mitch McConnell, saying that he does not believe any Republican will be supporting this. And when the minority leader says that, it is generally always true. There will be no Republican support.

So that's what we are anticipating, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer kind of laying it out. Take a listen.


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


DEAN: So, again, we will see how that unfolds today. We are waiting to hear from Senator Joe Marchin on where he is on this, if they have been able to coalesce around perhaps his changes. You mentioned some of those in the beginning. One key thing that he keeps in place is that there would be a voter I.D. requirement. So that's kind of the difference from where a lot of the other Democrats are on this. So we will see if they can make up some ground on that.

Jim and Poppy, something else to keep in mind this week, police reform, overhauling policing in America. These talks and negotiations have been going on now for months. The three key negotiators in this have all said to me it's June, it's happening in June. Tim Scott saying it's June or bust. Well, our last day of June that they are going to be here is Thursday.

So we're looking to see. They seem to be inching toward getting there. We'll look to see if they can come to a deal later this week, Jim and Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Yes. There's the Capitol Hill version of the Boy that Cried Wolf, right, going on there, but we'll see. We still have got a few days. Jessica Dean on the Hill, thanks very much.

Let's get not to CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood. All right, so, John, if the voting rights thing is a far higher bar, tell us about infrastructure, because that's another one where we have heard so many times, we are just about there, right? And we are on plan, C, D, E, F, G, not quite sure where. Going to be a reality?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is the long slog portion of Joe Biden's first year. Obviously, he got very rapid success with his COVID relief bill. I still think on voting rights, you cannot rule out the possibility, as you were discussing with Ron Brownstein in the last hour, that, over time, a united Democratic Party seeing united roadblock opposition from Republicans may persuade Democrats to move forward in some way the evade side step, alter the filibuster.

But leaving that aside on infrastructure, they already have a way. That is the budget reconciliation process. Now, on this bipartisan plan, they have made progress. There is significantly more new money in this plan than in the plan Republican Shelley Moore Capito was discussing with President Biden. Those talks collapsed a few days ago.


So there is promise here. Big disagreement on how you pay for it. The White House sees as a potential to bridge the gap, Republicans want to raise the gas tax. Joe Biden says raise the corporate tax. Each side rules out the other or's proposal. One potential middle ground is tougher IRS enforcement, that is would not require changes to any existing tax law, just beefing up the IRS.

But if that fails, if the bipartisan talks fail, then do you have this potential for a big package to go later on. So, all of this is a step along the path and you have to take this step because the only way to get Democrats united around the follow-on step, the big package later, is if people like Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and others see that they went the last mile to try to get bipartisanship here.

It is a complicated dance but it is going to play out a significant part of this week.

SCIUTTO: And both parties always love to say, hey, if we just collect better and harder, all that money is going to be there, it is sort of like the last resort when can't come to an agreement. It's always doubtful whether the IRS can suddenly find all this money. Anyway, that's a skeptical me talking, Poppy.

HARLOW: You are usually my glass half-full guys.

SCIUTTO: I know, but I'm just (INAUDIBLE). Yes.

HARLOW: Get back there. John, thank you, and your piece, by the way, this weekend was great, about what a big challenge at home Biden faces after facing off with Vladimir Putin. Thanks, John Harwood, at the White House.

All right, let's bring in our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, great to have you. Happy belated birthday. I think I've had you on since your birthday. But, of course, you worked on your birthday weekend.

You had this great interview with Senator Bernie Sanders where you basically got him to shock everyone and say he could get on board with the Manchin voting plan. Do I have it right?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sort of, yes, because the fact that he didn't say no was as close to as I think a yes as we can get. Why don't we play that and we will talk about it on the other side.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): What we are trying to do is preserve democracy. And what Republican legislatures and governors are doing in the most disgraceful way imaginable is to try to deny people of color, young people, poor people the right to vote, people with disabilities. That is outrageous.

And I really -- we can disagree on all kinds of issues but taking away the right of people to participate in American democracy is unacceptable and the Congress must address that in any and every way.


BASH: So, Jim and Poppy, that's Bernie Sanders setting up the dire consequences from his perspective and most Democrats' perspective if the federal government doesn't step in when they have this crucial vote starting on Tuesday, tomorrow, to put a federal -- some federal limits, some federal guidelines on how these states, a lot of the Republican-led states, are rolling back voting rights.

The question is, what happens not if, as Jessica Dean reported, but when that doesn't get anywhere. Joe Manchin, as you mentioned, Poppy, has a sort of slimmed down version of what he is presenting. I did asked Bernie Sanders about that.

SCIUTTO: Dana --


SANDERS: I like what the House passed, HR-1. I think that's a serious, comprehensive effort to protect American democracy. We will see what evolves here in the Senate.

BASH: It sounds like you are open to the compromise though?

SANDERS: It sounds like I am open to doing everything I possibly can to protect American democracy.


BASH: It's about as pragmatic I think as we are going to get from one of the most progressive members of Congress, and not just a progressive, but somebody who is a leader among progressives on all of these issues. But, obviously, first and foremost, this week in front of the U.S. Senate will be the question of voting rights.

SCIUTTO: So, Dana, we were speaking to Ron Brownstein last hour. And I said to him, is this just symbolic voting, right, for Democrats at this point just to reach that bar of keeping their caucus together to get the 50, which, of course, doesn't pass the legislation, or is it part of a bigger plan? He said, listen, look at this as a step along the way. Unite the caucus, undermine Republican unity in standing up to virtually any Democratic proposal. Is that the way we should look at this or is that a little pie in the sky?

BASH: No, I think that's exactly right, that that is the way that we should look at it, a step along the way. I would add one data point or one stone in the way that the Democrats are stepping, and that is Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and not just them, but other Democrats who frankly are up for re-election, who might be reluctant to vote for the broader voting rights package. Because it is very broad, the one that passed the House, because it doesn't just include protections for voters, it also includes a pretty significant overhaul of campaign finance and other such issues.


And so the Democrats who are reluctant to do that, you know, they at least need to show that -- their voters back home not maybe that they would vote no or they would oppose that, but that, look, I am also somebody who is okay with compromise. So I might support something that Joe Manchin is proposing right now, for example, which would protect voting rights, you know, maybe not in a robust way like a lot of Democrats would want, but also ban partisan gerrymandering and other issues that a lot of moderate Democrats could get behind.

But, again, the issue here is that the issue that we see on every bit of the Biden agenda going through Congress, particularly the U.S. Senate. They do not have one Democrat to spare. So this is as much about kind of going through the motions of showing Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and others that they are at least trying to get to yes. It's a different dynamic than infrastructure but it's the same idea.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you don't have a Democrat to spare but also not a lot of interest from the other side in terms of reaching compromise. We will see. Maybe we will be surprised. Dana Bash, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thanks, Dana.

Still to come, a missing American student in Russia has been found dead. She sent a final chilling text to her mother that may have been a signal something was wrong.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Well, the push to vaccinate students against COVID-19 before the new school year has begun. Can we avoid a fall surge in COVID cases?

HARLOW: And we are also learning more about that horrific chain reaction crash in Alabama. We know most of the victims, nine of them, were children. More on the investigation ahead.



HARLOW: We do have significant breaking news just in from the Supreme Court. Our Jessica Schneider joins us in Washington. This is a fascinating decision on basically paying student athletes. The NCAA bringing the case to the Supreme Court, what's ruling?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and this is a big win for those student athletes who have been fighting for years. So, the Supreme Court ruling that the NCAA cannot limit education-related payments to students. Again, students have been fighting for this for many years. Now, to be clear, this doesn't open up the door to cash payments to students, which many have been fighting for, but it does open the door to education-related expenses. This includes everything from computers, study abroad expenses, scholarships, paid internships.

These are all things that schools have been trying to give to student athletes. But the NCAA has stepped in saying, no, even education- related expenses shouldn't be given to these athletes. But today, the Supreme Court affirming with the lower court said, saying that, NCAA, you cannot step in and prohibit these education-related expenses.

So, again, the NCAA losing here. They were trying to fight this, saying that it would really dilute the amateur status of these college programs if any sort of payments were allowed. But the Supreme Court here agreeing with the lower court, saying that you can give payments if they are education-related and not necessarily cash payments to these students.

Guys, this has been a long-running debate. This has actually been taken on in many of the states. In fact, both California, Florida, several other states in the past few months and years have passed some of these laws that allow for payments to student athletes. In fact, there's a Florida law that's set to take effect July 1st. It will allow college athletes to profit from their name and likeness. That's set to go into effect in just about two weeks. Also, the state of California signed a law saying that student athletes could sign deals for endorsements through their agents, but that law won't go into effect until 2023.

So the Supreme Court ruling today on a very small part of that, education-related expenses, saying the NCAA cannot prohibit that, cannot stand in the way of these colleges giving some sort of payment in forms of scholarship, computers, paid internships. They can now do that. That can move forward. Guys?

SCIUTTO: Yes, to move, a key distinction, education-related.

Jeffrey Toobin, I believe, joining us as well. Jeffrey, I am fascinated by something here. This was unanimous, right? Last week, we had a decision, 7-2, for instance, on the ACA. And, of course, all the talk about this court had been enormous division between a growing conservative of bloc of six justices and an increasingly isolated liberal block of three. And yet we have seen decisions where you have had a bridging of those gaps. Does a unanimous decision on a case like this surprise you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Not really, to be honest, Jim. I mean, I think, you know, there are certain issues that transcend the political differences. But when we get into abortion, when we get into gay rights, when we get into voting rights, I expect you will see the same partisan differences reassert themselves.

This case is, I think, uniting all the justices as it unites a lot of Americans in frankly outrage at what goes on in college sports.


I mean, you have universities making millions of dollars off of March Madness, off of Division I football. You have coaches making millions of dollars. And the athletes, the people who are doing the work, putting their bodies at risk, they are the ones who can't even get a laptop at school in payment. And that is something that the court rebelled.

Again, as Jessica said, this is just about education-related expenses. But don't kid yourself. The movement in all these states, the movement is away from this sort of fake amateurism, where, you know, unpaid labor provides the grist for other people making millions of dollars, endorsements, education-related expenses, frankly, I think it is just the beginning of athletes getting what is their due.

HARLOW: I think you are definitely right. I mean, they lay out in this opinion, Jeff, how much people like the commissioners of the conferences make, their aides, the coaches. I mean, in oral arguments, it was brought up just how much the coaches bring home. I mean I think it was Clarence Thomas who brought that up.

The Biden administration, interestingly, Jeffrey Toobin, backed the athletes in this case in a brief that they wrote. And I think Justice Alito in the oral arguments put it exactly as you are stating, which is basically when he said they face training requirements that leave little time or energy for study, constant pressure, and most of them don't go on to professional sports. So, he says, how can this be defended in the name of amateurism, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Right. And the NCAA's argument has always been, well, you know, what we do is a lot more than just Division I football, you know, the Alabamas, the USCs, and the teams that make March Madness and men's basketball. We have to do women's cross-country. We have to do wrestling, which do not bring in any significant revenue. And so we need the subsidies from the big sports.

But it has grown so outrageous, the distinctions between the millions made by the coaches and the nothing made by the athletes that the change is coming. And that is, I am pleased to say, along the lines with what you were saying earlier, Jim, a pretty bipartisan sentiment, which is reflected in this unanimous opinion.

SCIUTTO: A little bit of pushback because there is a whole story about dirty money, payments under the table that has been going on for years, and certainly not sufficiently policed by the NCAA. But in terms of legal compensation, different story.

Jessica, I just want to ask you, are there other cases already in the pipeline for the Supreme Court that would expand this further than this relatively narrow ruling here? SCHNEIDER: Given the fact that states are moving in their own directions on this, I am sure that we will see cases that come up about this, because a lot of the states have moved to really broaden this. This is very limited to education-related expenses but we have the state of California saying that you can contract for endorsements. I mean, that really opens it to being more like a professional athlete than an amateur one in college.

So a lot of -- there are several states here that have laws that make it possible for these student athletes to get money. So I think this isn't the last that we will hear from maybe even the Supreme Court on this and this is just a very narrow focus here that maybe was somewhat easy for them given this unanimous decision.

The NCAA here rested their hat on sort of this weak argument that fans wanted the players to be amateurs and they wouldn't be amateurs if they got paid. And the justices really rejecting that argument saying, come on, NCAA, you know, you have made a lot of money off of these athletes, these students should benefit in some way.

HARLOW: It's such an interesting case. Thank you very much, Jess and Jeffrey Toobin, for explaining it all to us. We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: Well, this morning, federal investigators are joining local officials in Alabama to try to figure out what caused just a horrific, fiery, multivehicle, heartbreaking crash on a highway there this weekend, ten people, and nine of them were children, died.

HARLOW: Eight of the children were in a van that was coming from a girl's ranch for neglected and abused young people. They had taken them for a day trip to the beach.

Our Martin Savidge joins us again this hour in Camp Hill, Alabama. Any word yet on the cause?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, Poppy, although I think probably weather is being looked at very closely here. There are, as you mentioned, the NTSB investigators, now ten of them, that have been brought into this investigation. That's top, of course, the state and local investigators that have already been working on this investigation in the past few days.

Law enforcement have been asking for anyone who may have taken photographs or who had dash cams. Crucial now because many vehicles today, people drive with those, and they could capture perhaps something, maybe even the instant of which this all began. It was Saturday afternoon, 2:30 in the afternoon, and it was on I-65 northbound just south of Montgomery, Alabama.


We don't know which vehicle or how it may have initially triggered. But if it was the intense rain, which the area was having, the possibility is that you could have.