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New York Mayoral Race; Republicans Set To Oppose Voter Reform Bill. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 22, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Jeff Zeleny, thank you for the breaking political news. We appreciate it.




All right, quick programming note for you on the new CNN film, "Lady Boss." It's all about Jackie Collins, who wrote the book on sex, power and feminism. But her story has never been told this way. And it premieres this Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.

CAMEROTA: All right, top of the hour. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

We're starting with what is probably certainly going to be a major blow for Democrats in their effort to protect voting rights. This afternoon, Republicans are expected to vote to oppose to even start debate for the For the People Act.

CAMEROTA: That vote is expected to happen in the 5:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

But we do have some breaking news, a shred of progress for Democrats. Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin just said he would vote with his party to open debate on the bill.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, we had been waiting for Senator Joe Manchin's decision all day. How does this change things?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what it means is that Democrats will be unified in today's vote, but it will still not change the outcome. This bill will be blocked by a Republican filibuster.

There are 60 votes that are needed to overcome a filibuster. There are 50 Democrats, 50 Republicans, and the vote is going to go down, we expect, 50 to 50.

But Democrats have been furiously trying to win over Joe Manchin in order to make the argument to voters, in their view, that it's Republicans who are blocking the efforts to ease access to voting. That's the political argument the Democrats have been trying to make.

And their concern was that, if Manchin were to break ranks, it would undercut that argument, because the Republicans could say there's a bipartisan opposition to the Democrats' bill, which they consider a federal takeover of the elections.

Now, the question is going to be after tonight's vote. What's next for Democrats? Some say, get rid of the filibuster rules altogether in trying to pass legislation on a simple majority basis, but least two Democratic senators -- actually, there are several more than two, but two of the most outspoken, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have made absolutely clear they oppose reducing that filibuster threshold from 60 to a simple majority of 51.

So, just moments ago, I asked Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, if he would finally take off the table the idea that they may reduce that 60 vote threshold, given the lack of support within his caucus, and he sidestepped the question.


RAJU: You have long said that nothing is off the table when it comes to the filibuster. But now that we have heard clearly from Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin and others, can you just say that Senate Democrats will not touch the 60-vote threshold in this caucus?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): No. As I said, we are not going to put the cart before the horse. We are going to have this vote. And then we will discuss the future.


RAJU: So, there is some discussion among Democrats perhaps splitting up this big bill going forward. But even so, that is not enough to move forward, would get 60 votes in the Senate to get any sort of bill on this issue enacted.

Even the Manchin proposal -- Manchin has his own proposal that he would offer as a substitute to the larger Democratic bill, that bill itself does not even have enough -- all the support of Senate Democrats at the moment. Senator Amy Klobuchar told me she is not yet supporting what Joe Manchin proposed, which includes voter I.D. requirements, as well as dealing with some mail-in ballot issues that she wants to resolve.

So Democrats themselves are not completely on the same page. And they are nowhere near support from Republicans, which means at the end of the day, after tonight's vote, that's going to be it almost certainly on this issue until after the midterms -- guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, so let's move forward then. We have -- we're talking about voting rights. But there's infrastructure out there. There's policing reform. What's this mean for the president's agenda?

RAJU: Those issues are still certainly on the table. How they end up remains to be seen.

On police reform, there is serious discussion, bipartisan talks that are ongoing, in an effort to try to craft some sort of general outline of an agreement among a handful of negotiators by the end of this week. But they still would need to sell that to all the respective caucuses in Congress to get any legislation through.

So there are hurdles ahead on that. Negotiations are continuing. And on infrastructure, the centerpiece of the president's agenda, there's a bipartisan negotiation that is still happening. There have been negotiations all day expected throughout the week between the White House officials and a bipartisan group of senators. That's one track.

And then the second track is a much larger, sweeping bill that Democrats want to move, trillions of dollars, maybe even as high as $6 trillion, much bigger than a bipartisan bill, but they would have to get the support of all 50 Democrats to move it through a process that allows them to circumvent a Republican filibuster and pass on a simple majority basis.

But they do not have the support to do that yet, and they haven't even written the bill yet, so a lot of steps to go on both of these issues, and a lot of questions about whether the Joe Biden can get his agenda through -- guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Manu Raju, thanks so much.

RAJU: Thanks.


BLACKWELL: Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic," they're both here.

All right, Gloria, let me start with you.

Joe Manchin announces he is now in. What's that mean? I mean, for people who are sitting at home are wondering, well, what about the legislation, why is that important?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in many ways, this legislation has been an awful lot about the message.

And I think the message here, with Joe Manchin in, is that Democrats are united on voting reform and on voting rights. And so they can say that all the Republicans voted against it and all the Democrats voted for it.

What is so interesting to me about what Manchin is saying he would go for includes some things that some Republicans should be for, Democrats might oppose, but some Republicans should be for, which is things like a voter I.D. requirement. Some Democrats should like he proposes to end dark money in elections. He's all for early voting. He's all for vote by mail.

So Manchin has proposed a substitute that has some very interesting things in it. And I'm wondering if Schumer has got in his head, well, maybe there's a next step here? I have no idea, because lots of his Democrats might oppose it. But Manchin did put something serious out there when he said that he was going to vote yes.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but doesn't that just make -- reveal the Republicans, Ron, in that these are things that they have long said that they have want wanted, in terms of voting reform, voter I.D.?

And the fact that now they won't even debate it, what does that tell us?


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it tells you that the Republicans, that it's always been unrealistic for Manchin or Sinema or others to expect that Republicans in Washington were going to accept anything, no matter what is included in it, that imposes any constraints on what Republicans in the states are doing to restrict access to voting, as I have written, on a virtually complete party- line basis.

I mean, in state after state, these bills are being passed over the nearly uniform objection of Democrats. And what's being -- happening in Washington is that the minority party is holding a veto over federal action. That's why I don't think it is fair to conclude that this is the last word on this broad issue of voting rights in terms of congressional action.

Clearly, there's no guarantee that there is a pathway forward to do this. But it's also, I think, premature to say that there is certainly no pathway to do it. We are in the same position that we always have been. There are several Democratic senators, Manchin and Sinema, who are resistant, reluctant, opposed to changing the filibuster.

And the one hope of passing not only this, but other elements of the Biden agenda, is that, ultimately, Republican -- enough Republican intransigence will convince them to change that position.

And so, today, Alisyn, becomes an important proof point in trying to make that case, both to the public and to those senators, that, even with the provisions in there that Manchin put in as an olive branch, every Republican is still saying no.

BORGER: I mean, Mitch McConnell has called the Democratic bill a power grab. If you look at what Manchin did today, he gave on voter I.D. He said, OK, voter I.D.

And I'm going to -- I'm going to do that, right? Let's do some access to voting. Let's allow people to vote by mail. I mean, so what he is saying to them is, well, how is this a power grab? I'm doing what you want here. I'm doing what you want.


BORGER: How do you oppose making elections more open to people, when I'm using some of the things that you like?

BLACKWELL: Hey, Gloria, as we look at the White House, we know that there's an announcement coming tomorrow on moving forward on crime.

But the responsibility, what we heard from the president the start off his administration, the promises he made, that he would invest in this legislation, let's listen.


BLACKWELL: Let's get a reminder of what President Biden said he would do to get this legislation passed.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to spend my time doing three things, one, trying to figure out how to pass the legislation passed by the House, number one, number two, educating the American public.

The Republican voters I know find this despicable, Republican voters, the folks out in -- outside this White House. I'm not talking about the elected officials. I'm talking about voters, voters.

I'm going to do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and the Senate, to keep that from becoming the law.


BLACKWELL: We have watched him make the tour to sell the infrastructure bill, to go to red states. Has he done, as he said, everything in his power to get this legislation passed?


BORGER: No, I don't think so. I think that's what progressives are very upset about.

They think he should have put more of an effort to go into states to try and get -- find some way to get Congress to curb what's going on in state legislatures. When Jen Psaki was asked about it today, she said, well, we did an executive order about access to voting, which is true.

But I think they think he should have put a lot more effort into this. But that doesn't mean that won't happen after this vote today.

CAMEROTA: Ron, I want to ask...

(CROSSTALK) CAMEROTA: Yes, Ron, I want to ask you about the filibuster, because Kyrsten Sinema laid out her case in an op-ed, in which she basically said, Democrats, be careful of what you wish for. This can come around and bite you. You think that getting rid of the filibuster makes perfect sense right now, and it would for them for voting rights. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be used against you.

I will just read to you what she says. "Should those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act, voting rights legislation that I support and have co-sponsored, I would ask, would it be good for our country, if we did only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter I.D. law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections over the objections of the minority?"

That's -- I mean, in other words, she's saying, I really care about this bill today, and even I don't believe that getting rid of the filibuster makes sense.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, the reality is, we have kind of an asymmetric situation now, Alisyn, were the things that Republicans care most about, cutting taxes, can be done through reconciliation and 51 votes, and appointing justices can be done through 51 votes because of changes in the filibuster that were done both by Democrats and ultimately by Republicans to eliminate it for a Supreme Court decision.

So now we are in a situation where the things that Republicans care most about can be done with 51 votes and the things that Democrats care most about require 60 votes. And for Senator Sinema to say that the filibuster historically has encouraged by partisan cooperation, really, it's the opposite.

I mean, Republicans now have no incentive to negotiate on what they might or might not accept on federal voting rights because they know that the Democrats can't pass anything under current rules. If there was no filibuster, if the Republicans knew that something could be passed over their objections, there would be more incentive for something like the Manchin compromise to be taken seriously on the Republican side.

Changing the filibuster is going to be very hard for Democrats. But there has always been only one possible path to doing so, which is for Democrats to create proof points time and again of Republicans voting en masse against ideas that have broad support in the country, like the January 6 commission, potentially like gun control, immigration for dreamers and so forth.

And so that really is the one play. Will that be enough to move Manchin and Sinema in the end? Maybe, maybe not, probably not to lower the threshold, perhaps to require a talking filibuster. But that is the game that is playing out now over the next several months and why it's a mistake, I think, to say that today's vote is simply a messaging bill for 2022.

It's part of a process, maybe a longshot process, but the only process they have to try to change the filibuster.

CAMEROTA: Really helpful perspective.

Gloria Borger, Ron Brownstein, thank you.


BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So, polls are open in New York City. And a short time ago, we saw the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, voting for his replacement. But it could be weeks before the results of today's crowded Democratic primary are known.

BLACKWELL: And another interesting race on the ballot. Voters in Manhattan are choosing the next district attorney, who will likely inherit the criminal investigation into the Trump Organization.



CAMEROTA: New Yorkers are heading to the polls today to vote in a crowded and heated Democratic primary race for mayor.

BLACKWELL: So, adding to the pressure, this will be the first time the city is using ranked choice voting.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is at a polling place in Brooklyn.


So, the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, tells CNN that he's worried that COVID fatigue and the ranked choice system might suppress turnout. What are you seeing?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, we are seeing a steady stream of people, at least at this particular location here in Brooklyn.

I think that you do get a sense, Victor and Alisyn, that a lot of people do know that there is -- all of New Yorkers, I should say, do know that there is a lot riding on this primary election.

Obviously, in a heavily Democratic city, it is very clear -- and almost everybody agrees here -- that this Democratic primary is all but sure to tell us exactly who will be the next mayor of New York City come the general election.

But here's the thing. It's going to take a while to get there when it comes to counting the ballots, especially as part of this ranked choice voting.

And a quick refresher here. Basically, what this is going to do, it's going to allow voters an opportunity to pick their top five preferences out of the giant field of candidates here. We have seen multiple people already that are running for this office. They are able to actually rank their choices here.

What this does, it basically would trigger that instant run-off, if none of the candidates are able to secure that 50 percent plus one of that preferred ballot, which is actually what we expect.

Now, it may sound a bit confusing, but, at the end of the day, this is what New York voters decided on back in 2019 during the referendum. Caught up with a couple of voters just a little while ago. They say they're actually quite pleased with this new approach.


ERIC BAKER, NEW YORK VOTER: It's really pretty straightforward, if you do your research, and it makes a lot of sense.

B STONE, NEW YORK VOTER: I think it's better than an all-or-nothing candidate. I think it gives more progressive candidates a chance to actually win.


And I wish there had been a stronger slate of progressive candidates in this election, but, for now, we're at least, like, getting the chance to do it a different way, which I think is good thing.

CATELINE STONE, NEW YORK VOTER: I think it was the best thing that really came out of this -- this system was the idea that I could choose different people. And I'm OK with waiting months or weeks until we figure out. I don't need instant gratification on a mayor.

Like, I would almost rather it be vetted and it done properly than get the answer tonight.


SANDOVAL: So, it's certainly going to be a waiting game, obviously.

We have been told by New York's Elections Board here that it might be a while. It might be potentially until July when we might find out who will emerge the winner here. And a lot of voters here, Victor and Alisyn, saying they're OK with that, especially it means getting a clear picture of obviously who's going to be the winner here.

Then, finally, when it comes to turnout, we did see those early voting numbers. Early voting, by the way, wrapped up in Sunday. They were certainly less than impressive. Workers here have told me they wish it was a little busier. But, then again, the day is not over yet, remember, polls closing at 9:00 -- back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Polo, thank you very much for that status report.

Let's discuss this with Bob Hardt. He's the political director of the local news station, New York 1.

OK, so, Bob, great to have you hear.

Is this as much of a tossup as it appears with all of these different candidates?

BOB HARDT, NEW YORK POLITICAL DIRECTOR, SPECTRUM NEWS: Well, I think we might have a very good idea tonight of who the eventual winner might be, if it's not that tight.

You did a great job describing how the system works. But I think if someone has a 5- or 5-point percentage lead tonight, it's going to be hard to hopscotch up over that person with ranked choice voting.

Now we're talking -- we would about talking about very strategic voting, where people would basically say, I'm not voting for this other person no matter what. So we could have an idea. And in the Republican primary for mayor, there's only two candidates. So we will know the winner in that race tonight.

BLACKWELL: Bob, let's talk about these issues.

We know that there's a crime surge across the city, of course, the return, the economic recovery after the pandemic. What's out front for priorities for voters?

HARDT: Victor, if you had told me a year ago that the number one issue in the New York City mayor's race was crime, I'd say you're crazy. It was clearly the pandemic a year ago. New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.

But as last summer progressed, crime for the first time in decades really went up. And it's continued to go up. And the media attention has been there across the city. And, suddenly, law and order, according to our poll that we have done with Ipsos, is the main issue.

And that's sort of what's helped Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough president here, rise to the top in all the polls. He's a retired police captain. He's African-American. It's a double-edged sword kind of a resume that's helped him, I think, with a lot of Democratic voters right now.

CAMEROTA: Bob, as you know, New York has had several well-known Republican mayors. So, is it a sure thing that one of these Democrats will ultimately be the mayor.

HARDT: Well, I would put asterisks next to Michael Bloomberg and to Rudy Giuliani, our last two Republican mayors.

In Bloomberg case, he was really Republican in name only, Republican in name only, who also spent millions upon millions of his personal fortune. That really isn't the case here with Fernando Mateo and Curtis Sliwa. They're not well-known.

And, typically, you do have these once in a generations, these John Lindsays, or you go way back, La Guardias, who break through. I don't see that happening right now.

The good news for either whoever the Republican nominee is, they have months to try to build their case between now and November. That didn't used to be the case. The primary in New York City, the mayoral primary, used to be in September, so it gives them a little bit of time to work on it.

BLACKWELL: For the Democrats, does this look like the progressives are out front? Or are we seeing the moderates at the front of the pack?

HARDT: Victor, I'd say the ladder right now.

Eric Adams is certainly more moderate. Andrew Yang, who we all know from the presidential campaign trail is up there, he's more moderate.

But that's where ranked choice voting could suddenly kick in, where you see a coalition of the candidates to the left suddenly maybe making a little bit of ground as the ranked choice voting progresses. Our polls haven't shown that, where that people are voting that strategically.

But if it became an Adams vs. a more liberal candidate, like a Kathryn Garcia or a Maya Wiley, maybe that person would be able to hopscotch him, but, right now, it doesn't have that feel to it.

CAMEROTA: Why did the city decide to do this ranked choice voting?

HARDT: It's a combination of good government people thinking that this gives voters more of a say, even if their person is out, and also the idea to save money, that, if someone in the old way here in New York City, if someone didn't have 40 percent in the citywide election, two weeks later, there would be a run-off, which costs a lot of money.

So it was a combination of good government and people wanting to save some bucks. We will see today. We're a big laboratory for this process. I'm very curious how it'll play out and, by the way, how many people are actually going to fill out all five slots.


BLACKWELL: On that DA's race quickly, Bob, Cy Vance leaving at the end of the year, of course, the investigation into the Trump Organization.

Is that central to that race?

HARDT: Surprisingly, Victor, not.

And, by the way, this race, because it's technically a state race, will not use ranked choice voting. So we will know who the nominee is tonight unless it's really tight. It hasn't been an issue. You know why? Because all eight of these Democrats are not fans of Donald Trump.

Whatever Cy Vance does, I think they will say, hey, we're just going to keep on doing what he's doing. This isn't like a Biden Justice Department picking up after a Trump Justice Department. This will be -- they will just be staying the course with whatever happens with the Trump case.

BLACKWELL: Bob Hardt, thanks for helping us understand it.

HARDT: Thanks, guys. CAMEROTA: Thanks, Bob.

OK, so, right now, first lady Jill Biden is in Jackson, Mississippi, trying to encourage people to get vaccinated. Cases of the Delta variant are spreading in low vaccination areas around the country.

So, we will speak to a doctor dealing with one of those surges at her hospital right now.