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Biden to Condemn Authoritarian and Anti-American Voter Restrictions; California Loosens Tough School Mask Rules, Hours after Announcement; Ex-U.S. Informants Among Suspects in Presidential Assassination. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 13:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The first lady will participate in the opening ceremony alongside American athletes.


Because of a COVID surge in Japan, spectators now banned in this year's games.

Thanks for your time today on Inside Politics. I hope to see you back here tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and thanks for being with us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And moments from now, President Biden heads to Philadelphia about to deliver a major speech confronting the big lie in what he's calling authoritarian and anti-American voting restrictions.

Next hour's address meant to boost the For the People Act currently languishing in the Senate. He will deliver his remarks from the birthplace of American democracy as democracy itself faces unprecedented attacks from within.

The Republican Party uniting around lies and false conspiracies about the 2020 election and the Capitol attack. Former President Trump leading the charge, dredging up tall tales about his election defeat as state Republicans exploit the lie to pass new election laws.

But today, President Biden plans to push back with his most forceful remarks yet, we're told. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live at the White House for us. Jeff, what more are you learning about the president's speech today?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, we do know that President Biden will call the assault on voting rights the most serious threat on democracy since the civil war. And that certainly frames all of this conversation here. He's going to be essentially trying to draw America's attention to this, calling for students, faith leaders, people of all political parties to rally behind the cause of voting rights.

Of course, he will be doing so at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, as you said, the birthplace of democracy. And he will be talking about how states across the country, some 17 states since November alone have passed new restrictive voting laws, of course, fuelled by the big lie.

So, there's no question he'll be talking about the problem. The bigger challenge is what is the solution. We do know, of course, that this legislation has been stalled on Congress. There simply are not the votes because of the 60 votes required in the Senate because of the filibuster. I'm told one thing he is not going to do this afternoon, the president, is call for filibuster reform. This is something that he believes that Senate Democrats have to work out on their own, senators have to work out on their own. So, that is the question.

Some civil rights leaders are really urging the president to more forcefully denounce the filibuster. But there are limitations to what the White House can do on this.

But what he is trying to do is certainly raise public concern and essentially rally support and troops for voting rights in this country. He calls it the cause of his presidency. But we'll see if it's enough for some of the civil rights leaders, of course, these as state laws are happening all across the country and there are no federal laws to combat this.

CABRERA: Yes. 17 states have already passed new legislation dealing with voter restrictions, essentially. What do we know about the timing then of this speech? Why now?

ZELENY: Well, the timing of this, the White House has been under a great deal of pressure to do more about this. And for the president to say more about this, to use this unparalleled bully pulpit, if you will, his megaphone to talk about the importance of voting rights.

So, he had a meeting here last week at the White House with civil rights leaders. They urged him to do a public speech like this, be more public about the need for voting rights reform. So that is why he's doing it, certainly feeling some pressure on this.

But the reality is it's not the top of domestic priority. His economic agenda, fighting COVID also has taken the front seat here. But, today, he'll be talking about this, we're told, in the most forceful terms yet. Ana?

CABRERA: Okay, we'll be listening. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thank you.

Let's bring in the lawmaker who introduced the For the People Act way back in 2018, Democratic Congressman of Maryland John Sarbanes. Congressman, thanks for being with us.

You've said the president plays a key role, a critical role. What does the president need to say today? REP. JOHN SARBANES (D-MD): The bully pulpit of the presidency is unsurpassed in the ability to lean in on these important issues of public policy, in this case, saving our democracy from the attacks that we're seeing across the country on the right to vote. So we very much hope to see the president leaning in hard on this, describing what the threat is, but also focusing attention on what the solution is.

And we have a bill, the For the People Act, that can shut down about 90 percent of this mischief we're seeing when it comes to blocking people's access to the ballot box. So we hope the president speaks to the importance of that legislation, and starts to reach out to Capitol Hill in a meaningful way to encourage legislators, lawmakers, senators, to do what it takes to get this across the finish line.


CABRERA: Your bill passed the House with zero Republican support, and it's already been batted down in the Senate. 50 Democrats, no Republicans, move to debate this bill, but that wasn't enough to overcome because it needed 60 votes to get past the filibuster. Some civil rights leaders are saying if President Biden doesn't take a stand against the filibuster in his speech today, it would be an epic fail. Do you agree?

SARBANES: I think the president dies need to address this issue of how we change the rules in the Senate to get legislation that's this critical for our democracy across the finish line. And, by the way, the Republicans, you're right, have stood against this completely in a unified way, but they're misreading what's happening in the country, because when you do the polling out there about the legislation, you find that majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans support these changes.

There's nothing controversial in the For the People Act, because it's all these things that the public has been asking us to do for years, make it possible to exercise your freedom to vote in America, fix partisan gerrymandering, fight corruption of big money in Washington. These are things the public wants to see. We can deliver on them but it is going to take some rules change in the Senate.

And I think having the president engage on that as someone who understands that institution probably better than any other person who has ever occupied the White House, perhaps with the exception of Lyndon Johnson who also leaned in in 1964 and 1965, this president can play a really pivotal role.

CABRERA: You just ticked through some of what's in this bill. Before I get to Republican criticism of it, I just want to put a button on the question of the filibuster. Do you see a path forward without getting rid of or at least amending the filibuster in the Senate?

SARBANES: I think that's very difficult to -- I mean, you've seen how the battle lines have been drawn. You have all 50 Republicans who stood against this motion to proceed forward a few weeks back on this important bill. So that means Democrats have to assemble themselves, have this very important conversation about how to change the rules to make sure that when it comes to something as fundamental as our democracy, we can achieve these changes with a simple up or down majority vote.

CABRERA: Republicans are uniformly opposed to the legislation, saying it is federal overreach, that it's a partisan power grab. Here's just a sample of the criticism from some moderate Republicans.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): S-1 would take away the rights of people in each of the 50 states to determine which election rules work best for their citizens.

This is a bill that was introduced to enhance partisan messaging, not to enhance participation in our elections.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): And you have the federal overall oversight. It ends up being a one-size-fits-all mandate coming out of Washington, D.C. that in many cases doesn't work in a place like Alaska.


CABRERA: And Senator Pat Toomey from the state where President Biden is making his big push for voting rights tweeted this. S-1 is a power grab that would effectively nullify state voter I.D. laws, mandate public funding of political campaigns and transform the federal election commission into a partisan body empowered to limit free speech. This is a bad bill, he wrote.

Are they wrong?

SARABNES: I think they are wrong. The fact of the matter is this is about the power of the American people, whether Republicans, independents or Democrats, they just want to be able access the ballot box in a convenient and straightforward way every two years. That's what we're trying to deliver to them.

And this bill would set broad standards across the country for how people can get registered and can access the ballot box, but it would definitely respect local election officials and the opportunity for states to develop their own way of reaching those standards.

So this is not a power grab by any particular party. This is really the American people stepping up and saying, we want to see our power reflected in the way elections are conducted across the country, and our power here means Republicans, independents, Democrats, citizens from all across this country who want to be able to exercise their fundamental right to vote in America without having to run an obstacle course every two years. That's all we're trying to achieve.

And like I say, it's why there's nothing in this bill that's controversial. The only controversy is that it's taken us this long to get to a point where we may be able to get it passed into law.


As representatives of the people, that's our responsibility and that's going to be our focus in the coming weeks.

CABRERA: I just have a very short amount of time, so quick answer, if you will. Then if there's nothing controversial in it, why are Republicans against it?

SARBANES: Well, you'd have to ask them. But I think they behaved in a very anti-democratic fashion over the last few years. We've seen it in the pasture they've adopted recently. But the American people, majorities of them across the board, regardless of their political party, they want to see these changes. We're determined to deliver them.

CABRERA: Congressman John Sarbanes, thank you for joining us.

SARBANES: Thank you.

CABRERA: Texas Democrats are trying to fight back for the second time in as many months. They pulled off a rare maneuver to block GOP election bills in that state. This time, it involves secret charter planes to D.C. and comes with the threat of arrest.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher has been tracking this fight for months now. Dianne, a short time ago the Texas house voted to authorize arrest warrants. Tell us what's going on.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. So, essentially, this morning, when the Texas state house reconvened, there were not enough members, as expected, present for a quorum. What there are enough members to do is file a motion to authorize the arrest of the members who were absent without excuse. So, essentially, they had the doors locked. They're on the floor and then the speaker authorized it. Take a listen.


STATE REP. DADE PHELAN (R-TX): Members, the sergeants at arms and any officer appointed by (INAUDIBLE) are directed to send for all absentees whose attendance is not excused for the purpose of securing and maintaining their attendance, under warrant of arrest, if necessary.


GALLAGHER: So what does this mean? Well, look, Ana, it doesn't have much impact if they're not within the state of Texas because Texas law enforcement doesn't have jurisdiction outside of the Lone Star State. But what it does mean is that if they return to their home state, it is possible that there are going to be law enforcement members who can come, detain them and bring them back to the state capitol and essentially force them to maintain their presence there as they go through state business.

Now, the governor said that he -- that's what he wants done, and he has also essentially threatened to kind of play this game of chicken with them. We have a 30-day special session. There's about 26 days left in this particular special session. And the members who have left have said that they plan to stay out for that. But, Ana, the governor said he will call 30-day session after 30-day session until the election. And it's very difficult for them to stay out for that long.

CABRERA: And some of those lawmakers from Texas are saying that they realize they're just buying a little bit more time at this point. Dianne Gallagher, thank you.

To the pandemic and the backtrack over face masks. Just hours after California issued a new rule banning unmasked students from school, state health officials are walking that rule back. It's a debate we're seeing play out across the nation. We're on it.

Plus, it's hard to make a financial comeback when the cost of living just spiked to its highest level in 13 years. How much more you're paying for just about everything.

And they were trying to surrender. The Taliban fighters executed the 22 commandos any way. The disturbing images as the U.S. pulls out of the country.



CABRERA: Mask or no masks? That is the question. And the growing debate as schools across the country prepare for the upcoming school year, and the pressure to make a decision is playing out in California right now.

CNN National Correspondent Brynn Gingras is on it for us. Brynn, what happened?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, Ana, the politicalization of mask-wearing really has been from day one of this pandemic, right? I was just shifting into the schools as districts are really hoping to get every child back into their seats in classrooms.

And in California, there was a lot of back and forth that happened just recently with the California Department of Health who said that no student K through 12 could enter a classroom if they didn't wear a mask. And they got a lot of pushback from parents and from administrators, and the governor really heard it too.

And so just a couple of hours after that tweet was sent, another tweet was sent that essentially said they're going to let individual school districts decide what they are going to mandate when it comes to masks in the classroom.

Now, this is something that is being echoed across the country. I know, New Jersey, for example, neighbor to New York, is saying districts are the ones who are going to decide.

But there are many states in this country who are saying you can't mandate wearing a mask, seven of them at this point that we can count by CNN's terms. And, honestly, it's really been spurred by parents going to school board meetings, protesting in the streets that their schools, their government officials shouldn't be mandating if their kids, teachers, administrators are wearing masks in the classroom.

And then there are different districts like what we're seeing here in New York City, the biggest school district in the entire country that says, for now, every student, vaccinated or not, is going to wear a mask. And the mayor here, Mayor Bill de Blasio, made that mention yesterday, saying, assume your child will wear a mask and maybe that will get updated soon. But for now, that is the rule as they try to safely return to in classroom learning. Ana?

CABRERA: Brynn Gingras in New Yor for us, thank you, Brynn. She mentioned the seven states that are blocking COVID-19 vaccine requirements, those are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma and Utah.

Let's discuss more now with Dr. Richina Bicette. She is an Emergency Medicine Physician and Medical Director of Baylor College of Medicine.


Dr. Bicette, on this issue of masks in schools, from a medical perspective, are they necessary?

DR. RICHINA BICETTE, BOARD-CERTIFIED EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: Well, Ana, we've seen recently in the last few weeks, as a matter of fact, there have been several outbreaks linked to summer camps in Texas, Illinois, Kansas, among other states. So what's worrisome is that this could potential be a microcosm and a preview of what's to come when schools open in the fall.

There are multiple school districts in plenty of states that require childhood vaccines in order for children to come to school as a public health measure. Wearing a mask in order to prevent coronavirus is along the same lines.

CABRERA: There are also growing questions about whether vaccines should be mandated in certain places. Take a listen to the surgeon general this morning.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Patients coming to the hospitals are often vulnerable. And what you're seeing already is some hospitals include the COVID-19 vaccine in their requirements.

I think that's a very reasonable thing for hospitals to do. I think that health care workers have a responsibility to protect the patients that they are caring for.


CABRERA: And we have seen some hospitals implement this, and as a result, dozens of people have been fired or walked off the job, in Texas, for example. Should health care workers be required to get vaccinated?

BICETTE: Well, health care workers are already required to get vaccinated. There are plenty of hospitals and health care systems that require their employees to get the flu vaccine every year. And if you don't get the flu vaccine, you either have to have a medical exception or you have to undergo certain restrictions while you are at work. So this is not a new topic of requiring employees to be vaccinated.

I will say that when you are a health care provider or work in health care, it's your responsibility to be selfless and not selfish. This is a public health issue. Your responsibility is to your patients and your co-workers. Unvaccinated employees pose a risk not only to the patients that they're seeing but also the people around them. We could spread coronavirus to the people that were supposed to be taking care of, but we can also give it to our colleagues further diminishing our workforce. I definitely think that's a reasonable request.

CABRERA: Aside from hospitals, or other health care facilities, where else do you think a vaccine mandate or requirement would be most effective and necessary?

BICETTE: I think one of the other places that we have to look at, potentially in schools, a lot of universities are already requiring vaccinations for college students who are returning and we have to think about our teachers as well. We can't mandate the vaccines are given to children, as we've seen in a lot of states. They're actually blocking that and making it illegal. But what about the teacher who are at risk from unvaccinated students? They're another vulnerable population that we should consider.

CABRERA: In France, for example, they just recently are mandating vaccines or negative tests in order for people to enter certain places, like restaurants, malls, bars and some other places. And as a result, they've actually seen an uptick in vaccine appointments. So that's something, I think, to consider, obviously.

The U.S. has had a 47 percent decline in vaccinations just since last week, all while the U.S. has nearly doubled the daily number of new infections since last week. Why are things moving in the wrong direction?

BICETTE: Well, early on when the vaccines were initially rolled out, there were plenty of people, millions of people who were eager to get vaccinated. And we vaccinated those people already. And as we've kind of started to go through the vaccine rollout, we're getting to the point where those who are hesitant of getting vaccines are still lingering and we're trying to convince those people.

But as you mentioned, Ana, we're seeing the rate in vaccinations go down and we're seeing the number of daily cases and the hospitalizations increase. And my fear is that we're eventually going to get to a point where you're either going to have been vaccinated or have had COVID.

CABRERA: Wow, Dr. Richina Bicette, it's good to see you. Thank you for being with us. BICETTE: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Still ahead, an exclusive, CNN retraces the wild chase that followed the assassination of the Haitian president. What we found out.



CABRERA: We are starting to get a clearer picture of what happened after the ambush and assassination of Haiti's president. Sources tell CNN some of the suspects have worked as U.S. government informants, including for the DEA. Others were ex-Colombian military. And yet, after the assassination, they seemed to have no really escape plan, leading to a wild street chase throughout the Haiti's capitol.

CNN's Matt Rivers is in Port-au-Prince. Matt, what are you learning about the immediate aftermath of this attack?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana. We have a source here in Port-au-Prince who was very involved with the operation to try and capture these suspects, these alleged assassins after they left the presidential residence in Port-au-Prince. We know from our source that they were actually allowed to leave the residence because, interestingly, at the time that they left, security forces here in Haiti didn't know whether the president was alive or dead.


That was a big question at the time. Why were they allowed to leave? Well, it's because they thought the president might have just been kidnapped.