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Texas Democrats Leave State; Garnet Coleman is Interviewed about the Texas Voting Bills; Biden Delivers Voting Rights Speech; Debate over Booster Shots; Dr. Jay Varkey is Interviewed about the Vaccine. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: They knew it was BS.

AVLON: All along. So all the Trump supporters who have still been duped need to face the fact that they've been lied to by the Trump administration.

BERMAN: John Avlon, thank you very much.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A wonderful "Reality Check" there.

CNN's coverage continues right now.

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

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

Well, overnight, a Texas standoff over voting rights has now made its way to Washington this morning. At least 50 Texas House Democrats have left the state in a dramatic effort to block new voting restrictions being pushed through the legislature by Republicans.

Their exodus is part of an effort to break quorum when the Texas house reconvenes less than two hours from now, instead of taking part in this special legislative session in Texas, they're in the nation's capital,. they are working to meet with members of the Senate, particularly Senate Democrats, to do more to address voting rights and to address the filibuster.

SCIUTTO: Yes, they're not satisfied with the White House efforts to date.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Once they do return to Texas, these lawmakers could be welcomed back by state troopers if Governor Greg Abbott gets his way.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): As soon as they come back into the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done.


SCIUTTO: Well, President Biden says that he is taking the issue head- on. He is expected to lay out the moral case for voting rights in a major speech in Philadelphia later today. He will also launch a pressure campaign to combat efforts by Republican-led state legislatures to restrict access to the ballot. The question is, can he get some laws passed?

CNN national correspondent Dianne Gallagher joins us now from outside the D.C. hotel where these lawmakers are staying.

So, Dianne, quorum, in other words, you need a minimum of lawmakers present to pass legislation. They'll -- it will officially break in a couple of hours when the Texas statehouse reconvenes. I mean how long can they do this, and what's the Texas governor going to do about it?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the Texas governor can't really do anything while they're here. And that was the whole point of leaving the state because he does have power over these lawmakers if they remained in Texas. And so that was kind of the point on getting on those private planes, flying out, and D.C. was very intentional.

And in a few moments you're probably going to see some of these lawmakers leave their hotel behind me, they're going to get on buses and go to Capitol Hill. They'll hold a press conference there. But what they're really hoping to do is meet with Democratic lawmakers about passing federal voting rights legislation.

Now, how long can they do this? Well, look, the idea is to stay out for the remainder of this 30-day session. But the governor has vowed to make this hard for them and has threatened them upon arrival back home in the lone star state.


ABBOTT: In addition to that, however, I can and I will continue to call special session after special session after special session all the way up until election next year. And the so if these people want to be hanging out wherever they're hanging out on this taxpayer-paid junket, they're going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year. As soon as they come back into the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done.


GALLAGHER: Now, look, the lawmakers point out that they're not going to be charged with any crime because they haven't committed a crime. So, technically, they may be arrested, but they're going to be detained, really, if that were to happen.

But what these Democratic lawmakers, Jim and Poppy, they tell me they're in this for the long haul. Representative Trey Martinez Fisher, when I asked him how long they could do this, he said, look, if it is one session or ten sessions, we are going to stick this out but we do need federal intervention because they can't do it forever and they are in the minority in Texas.

HARLOW: Yes. Dianne Gallagher, thank you for all that reporting in Washington.

Let me bring in now Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman. He serves as the chair of the state's legislative study group caucus, also served in the Texas legislature for 30 years.

Good morning, sir. Thanks for your time.

STATE REP. GARNET COLEMAN (D-TX): Oh, you're welcome. Good morning to you.

HARLOW: So, where does this ultimately get the people of Texas?

COLEMAN: Well, what it does is, number one, it shows that we are concerned about their rights. And when the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, it changed everything.

And so these bills that are being pushed through the house and the senate would actually take those rights and the ability to cast the vote and make it harder to do, particularly with the poll watchers in the polls creating intimidation with voters.

HARLOW: So, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which does have some Republican support, doesn't look like enough with the filibuster, would basically replace what was lost in Section Five in Shelby v Holder pre Clarence (ph).


But to your critics, including the governor, obviously, of Texas, here's what he said. He said what you guys are doing, the group that has left the state of Texas and gone to Washington, says inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve. And then he says it leaves these issues undone, sir, property tax relief, funding to support sheriffs and law enforcement, funding for children in foster care, and funding for retired teachers.

I wonder what your response is to him.

COLEMAN: My response is, please, those aren't even on the agenda for this special session, unless he just put them on today. This special session, the call was for voter suppression legislation, for making every criminal offense have to have a cash bond. Those -- that's what's on the agenda. In the Senate, the agenda is looking at transgendered youth and whether they should play sports within the -- in the -- with the gender that they were born with. I mean this is their agenda. And the other is abortion.

So, I mean, I don't -- I don't think we're holding up anything.

HARLOW: One question is, where does this end, right? Some of your fellow lawmakers have booked hotel rooms for 30 days in Washington. But the governor has said, look, his words were, I'm going to call special session after special session after special session. He's threatened you guys with arrests when you come back.

And you specifically, you've done this before.

COLEMAN: Yes, I --

HARLOW: 2003, in order to oppose the redistricting law, right? You guys went to Oklahoma. Then you went to New Mexico. Governor Rick Perry then just kept calling special sessions. And, ultimately, the law got passed. So I wonder if there's a lesson in that. Does it -- does it indicate that you -- you can't really prevent this in the minority, you can just delay it?

COLEMAN: Well, what we are really doing is putting left pressure and leveraging our elected officials in Washington, D.C. And I think that the governor doesn't like that because if they pass a national bill in the House and the Senate that re-established pieces of the Voting Rights Act, it's to his detriment. And that's why he's going to make it more difficult, particularly for people of color, to vote.

You know, in Georgia, obviously, the Justice Department is suing Georgia because of what's happened there and the severity of that bill. So, this is something that is not just Texas. There are 14 other states that passed bills that keep people from getting to the ballot box in the way they could two years ago.

HARLOW: I hear you. This is not just Texas, what's going on right now.

I will say, in your state, this new version of SB-1 and HR-3, these bills, do take out some of the things that many of your fellow Democrats saw as the most egregious in terms of restricting voting, right? It takes away -- you no longer have that provision that would limit Sunday voting. And it also strips away the process that made it easier for a judge to overturn the results of an election without as high a threshold of proof.

What is it specifically that you oppose in these two bills now?

COLEMAN: I can tell you this, when the Justice Department sued Georgia, they -- those came right out. That's what I'm saying. It's still a bad bill because, first of all, we had 24-hour voting in 2020, and that allowed people who work late, who work other jobs to go and vote at any time on the last day of the election.

And why can't we have curbside voting? We have curbside liquor.

HARLOW: Let me ask you this finally. And this is a question that was raised last night by my colleague Chris Cuomo on this network. A point that he made to your fellow Texas Democratic Representative Claudia Ordaz (ph) Perez. He said, look, you guys are the minority party in the Texas legislature. You're going to Washington to plead with lawmakers to basically get rid of a legislative filibuster because of minorities in Congress, the Republicans are using it to block movement on voting rights.

His point was, are you not asking on a federal level to do away with a similar or the same tool, essentially, that you are using right now as a minority in Texas? I wonder what you say to that.

COLEMAN: Well, what I would say is the Republicans did it on judicial nominees. They got rid of the filibuster rule for Trump's judicial nominees. They seemed to not care about the filibuster rule then when they were in the majority.


So, you know, these are things -- tools that people use at the moment. When -- when I left with two other members, Pete Gallego (ph) and Jim Dunham (ph), the group to Ardmore, Oklahoma, we weren't thinking about our consequences, we were thinking about representing our constituents in making sure that that redistricting bill at the time that was affecting the congress was not passed.

So these are the types of things that members do. And I think it shows our constituents that we're serious. If anybody thinks that the bar is low for representing your constituents, we just raised it. And that's what's important, that they know that we're fighting for them and their ability to cast a vote for the person of their choice, and not have the rules changed in the middle of the game.

HARLOW: Texas State Democratic Representative Garnet Coleman, I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

COLEMAN: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you very much.

HARLOW: Well, as those Texas Democrats make the case to Congress to enact federal voting rights protections, President Biden is heading today to Philadelphia to make what the White House is calling the moral case for protecting voting rights in a big speech.

SCIUTTO: The speech comes as Republican-controlled legislatures in 17 states, identified there, have passed 28 restrictive new voting laws, all predicated, we should note, on the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen. That's the justification you're hearing in many of these legislatures.

Arlette Saenz live at the White House.

Arlette, I'm curious, it's a big speech for the president. He's going to make a moral case for voting rights. Will he detail a plan for pushing back against these, particularly for passing legislation, voting rights legislation through Congress?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Biden, today, is planning to use the power of the bully pulpit to try to relay this message for why protecting voting rights is so important. The White House has really framed this as a moral imperative that the country needs to pursue.

And one White House official this morning was specifically saying that the president would call out those efforts in Republican-led states to enact voting changes. The White House -- officials said the president would say that they reflect the most egregious attempts to harm the integrity of our democracy since the Civil War. The president is expected to push back in that as he delivers those remarks. Remarks that he's been promising for weeks in Philadelphia a little bit later this afternoon.

Now, the White House has said that this will really be part of a pressure campaign to try to drive some type of action. One thing that the president is also expected to talk about is putting together this coalition, including activists and advocates, really trying to combat what they are calling an un-American trend against voting rights.

And one issue here is that while the president is engaging in this public pressure campaign, it is still unclear what can actually happen without federal action, as right now voting rights is just completely stalled up on Capitol Hill.

SCIUTTO: Arlette Saenz, it's an important speech. We're going to be watching it and we're going to bring everyone live coverage as it happens. Thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, will we need booster shots of the coronavirus vaccine sometime in the future, like you have, for instance, flu vaccines? Pfizer says yes for a booster of its vaccine. The surgeon general says the company's data is part of a, quote, larger puzzle, in effect saying we don't know yet for sure. We're going to discuss, next.

Plus, new details of the dramatic police chase that followed the dramatic, brazen assassination of Haiti's president. In a CNN exclusive, we will show you step-by-step how it unfolded, how they followed these attackers. It's a remarkable report. We're going to be live in Port-au-Prince.

HARLOW: Plus, there is a stunning new allegation in a new book that Rudy Giuliani, former President Trump's former personal attorney, was telling aides to the president on election night, quote, just say we won. More of those details coming up.



SCIUTTO: Well, federal health officials are telling the drug maker Pfizer that they need more data and more time before making a decision on whether a COVID-19 booster shot will be necessary.

HARLOW: Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us again this morning.

Good morning, Elizabeth.

There's so much, it seems like, back and forth on this and I'm so confused and we cover this stuff every day.


Good morning, Poppy. Good morning, Jim.

I'm going to cut through the confusion and I can basically explain it in one sentence. You do not need a booster shot now of a COVID-19 vaccine, but you might in the future.

So, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, both said that the meeting yesterday that they had with Pfizer went well and they say that, what I just said, may not need -- we may need them in the future but we don't need them now.

Let's take a look at a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services which lays it out quite plainly. So the statement says, at this time fully vaccinated Americans do not need a booster. The vaccines available now offer a very high degree of protection. The administration is prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed.

So, Pfizer can apply for Emergency Use Authorization if they want to, but the FDA is going to consider, do we really need them.


I will add one caveat here, which is that there are Americans who are immune compromised and you know if you're one of them. You're taking a drug that suppresses your immune system. Maybe you have had an organ transplant. You might benefit from a third vaccine. You should talk to your doctor. But for the rest of us, it is not needed now.

Poppy. Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's why we have the process, right?

COHEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: You gather data over time.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Here with us now, Dr. Jay Varkey. He's associate professor of medicine at Emory University.

Dr. Varkey, good to have you back on.

Dr. Fauci says nothing has really changed. This after yesterday's meeting between Pfizer and federal health officials.

Where do you stand on this? I mean do you think that Pfizer's ahead of the game here in terms of how much we know about the necessity of a booster shot? I mean we may reach that point, though, right? DR. JAY VARKEY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, EMORY UNIVERSITY:

Absolutely, Jim. And good morning. And I think you and Elizabeth summarized it well, the take-home message is at this time there is no compelling scientific data to suggest that fully vaccinated people need a booster right now. But that could change in the future. But that decision should be guided by science.

I can imagine some scenario where we have to give boosters either across the board or to select populations, like older adults or those with chronic medical conditions. But, again, that decision should be guided by the science. Again, like most doctors, I look forward to reviewing the Pfizer data when it's actually published in a peer reviewed medical journal.

But until then, you know, and part of the reason we're interested in the data, full disclosure, is that my wife volunteered for one of the booster studies. Yes, she got her booster back in April. But it's through volunteers like her and tens of thousands of volunteers like her that we'll be able to advance the knowledge and be able to make informed decisions.

HARLOW: How do you know then -- your wife is part of this study so, obviously, they're studying it. But would they then be seeing a significant material amount of the population who has been fully vaccinated getting sick again with COVID?


HARLOW: And, if so, how severely sick because, you know, -- there are hardly any cases of people getting a COVID vaccine and getting seriously ill from COVID.

VARKEY: No, Poppy, you nailed it, I think that we will see signals. And absolutely one of the metrics that we're looking at -- and we're looking at it at my hospital at Emory is, when we see vaccinated patients, are we seeing vaccinated patients who are getting breakthrough infections.

And to date, we are not. Almost every patient that gets hospitalized unfortunately are still dying of COVID at my hospital and hospitals across the country are unvaccinated. If we saw a signal to suggest that fully vaccinated people are actually getting sick with COVID, then that could be one trigger to suggest that we may need to actually implement a booster. And that's why this process should actually play out. That way we'll actually be better prepared if and when we get to that point.

SCIUTTO: I mean the numbers off the charts, more than 99 percent of COVID deaths in June, based on CNN's accounting, were among the unvaccinated, 99.2 percent, I think, was the figure there.

I do want to ask you, there is a new FDA warning regarding the J&J, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, over a possible increased risk of a rare neurological complication known as Guillain-Barre syndrome. Now our Dr. Gupta says that you still have a higher chance of getting this syndrome just from getting the flu as compared to being vaccinated. But I wonder where you stand on this because, listen, you do studies and trials and sometimes you find even rare, potential side effects here. Does this change the way you look at this vaccine?

VARKEY: No, I think the take-home message, Jim, is that -- and I think the key question is, do the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risk? And the answer is, yes, absolutely. Guillain-Barre syndrome, or GBS, as you said, is a rare disorder. It was first described over 100 years ago. So long before COVID. Long before COVID vaccination. And you actually -- we actually see GBS as a complication of certain infections caused by bacteria and viruses, including COVID.

In fact, at Emory, we have seen patients with GBS as a complication of COVID. So from my standpoint, I think that the FDA actions should be seen as evidence of the system working. When vaccines are administered, we have multiple different systems in place to monitor for safety. So in this case the FDA made the correct decision to share this information with the medical community and with the general public.

So my take-home is that another important thing to remember is that over 300 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna product have actually been administered in the United States --


VARKEY: With no association of GBS. So, again, for your -- for your viewers who are unvaccinated, please, talk to your doctor, an expert that you trust, because nearly all of us have actually chosen not just to vaccinate ourselves but our families. And there is a vaccine reserved for you probably at your local pharmacy.


And it's not too late to get it.

SCIUTTO: That's a good point there, right, doctors are getting vaccinated. Not a bad measure of confidence in this thing.

HARLOW: Dr. Varkey, thank you, as always.

VARKEY: Thanks, Poppy. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, sources tell CNN that several men involved in the assassination of Haiti's president previously served as informants for U.S. law enforcement. We have an exclusive look at just how police tracked the alleged assailants down. We're going to be live in Haiti, next.

HARLOW: We are also moments awaiting from the opening bell on Wall Street here. Futures dropping slightly this morning after a record high close for the S&P 500. That positive news seeming to indicate investors comfortable with the pact of economic recovery. Big banks this morning with some blockbuster earnings out.

But we just got a key inflation metric that is concerning that may be holding markets down this morning. Stay with us.