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Several States Resisting Vaccine Mandates; Interview With State Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-TX); President Biden To Deliver Speech On Voting Rights. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:32]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us on newsroom. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell.

President Biden is about to deliver a highly anticipated speech on his administration's efforts to protect voting rights in this country. Live pictures for you here of the event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

We will bring you that speech as soon as it begins.

CAMEROTA: A White House official tells CNN the president will lay out the -- quote -- "moral case" for voting rights. There is President Biden at -- oh, this is the last hour. That's him at Joint Base Andrews. He will be heading to Philly soon.

He also will launch a pressure campaign against voting restriction laws enacted by mostly Republican-led state legislatures across the country, fuelled by the big lie that Donald Trump did not lose the election, though he lost by seven million votes.

Since the November election, state lawmakers have passed 28 laws in 17 states that restrict ballot access. This is according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

President Biden's speech comes after Senate Republicans blocked even beginning debate on a sweeping federal election reform bill. That was just a few weeks ago.

CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is in Philadelphia.

So, Kaitlan, what else is the White House saying about the speech that is coming?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of this has to do with those calls that have come from civil rights leaders and Democrats saying that President Biden needs to put some political muscle behind this issue, more so than he has done so far.

The last time I believe we heard from him at length on this was that speech he gave in Tulsa, and so now today they're going to have him return here to Philadelphia, of course, a backdrop that they are trying to really employ the significance of the birthplace of U.S. democracy here, as he is making the case for why what Republicans nationwide is -- what they're doing is so dangerous, according to the White House, this effort to restrict access to the ballot.

And President Biden is going to portray that as something that is something that happens in authoritarian regimes. It is un-American, we are told that the president is going to say while he is here. And he is going to outline the ways and the steps that he has taken to try to further voting access.

But he is also going to underline the fact that, of course, a lot of this has to do with what his predecessor has been pushing ever since November, this big lie about the election and casting doubt in several states on the outcome of their votes, even though we have heard from election experts who say it was one of the safest elections that we have had in United States history.

And so that is going to be the symbolism here. They are trying to say that the president is attaching urgency to this issue, but I think the question that's going to remain after the president has left Philadelphia is what is going to come next when it comes to concrete steps, because you are hearing from people like Al Sharpton, who is here today and met with the president last week at the White House, say that he needs to do more to appeal to Democrats to change the rules of the filibuster.

Because, given what you are seeing in places like Texas with those Democrats in Washington today saying, yes, we can hold the line, but for only so long, and we need lawmakers in Washington and federal leaders to step up to help us, so we aren't leaving the state during a special session, so they can't pass a restrictive voting measure.

And Al Sharpton is calling on the president to appeal to Democrats to change the filibuster rules. That is not something that the White House has gotten behind so far. They have said they just don't believe that Democrats, Senate, are behind that measure right now.

But it is something where you are seeing more and more civil rights leaders, progressive Democrats say it is something they believe needs to be done, because, of course, yes, they believe the filibuster is important, but so is voting rights. And it is more important that they make sure that is taken care of, instead of just the filibuster.

Of course, we will bring that speech to you live. Expected to start this hour.

Kaitlan Collins for us there in Philadelphia.

Kaitlan, thank you.

CAMEROTA: So, President Biden's speech comes smack in the middle of a political showdown over voting rights in Texas which has turned into a serious game of cat and mouse.

Right now, dozens of Texas House Democrats are in Washington, D.C., after flying out of the Lone Star State in an effort to block new voting restrictions being pushed by Republicans.

BLACKWELL: So they're meeting with top Senate Democrats, and Vice President Harris will meet with them this week as well. The Democrats say that they will stay out of Texas until the end of that special session.

That is still weeks away.

Jessica Dean is on Capitol Hill following Texas lawmakers and as they kind of plot their next move.

[14:05:01]

So, Jessica, do you know what the plan is, as we see now the president? Hold on for a second, Jessica. President Biden is arriving in Philadelphia ahead of his speech, as we just talked about. He is headed to the National Constitution Center to talk about voting rights, not just the importance of protecting them, but mapping a path forward.

The White House is calling what we're seeing in states across the country the greatest affront to voting rights since the Civil War. They say it is going to renew his call for vital legislation. The president there on the ground meeting with state officials as he heads to the National Constitution Center.

All right, Jessica, back to you.

What are we expecting from these Texas Democrats?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

Well, we know that these Texas Democrats are going to have an eye on this speech. That's for sure, Victor. They are here in the nation's capital. We heard from them a little bit ago. They said that their plan right now is twofold, number one, stay here through the entire special session, which, as you mentioned, is some 24, 25 days from now, until the end of that.

So they want to stay here to make sure that they kill these bills that Republicans are leading there in the state of Texas. Secondly, they are here to implore federal lawmakers to pass voting rights legislation.

Now, remember, not too long ago, Democrats could barely all coalesce around the For the People Act. They finally got Joe Manchin on board and got all 50 Democrats to support that, but they were killed by the filibuster. They couldn't even proceed with debate.

There is zero Republican support here for any sort of voting rights legislation. But the Texas Democrats are continuing to meet with Senate Democrats here. Take a listen to some of them earlier. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STATE REP. RAFAEL ANCHIA (D-TX): We are not going to buckle to the big lie in the state of Texas, the big lie that has resulted...

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

ANCHIA: ... that has resulted in anti-democratic legislation throughout the United States. We said no.

STATE REP. RHETTA BOWERS (D-TX): We can't stay here indefinitely to run out the clock to stop Republican anti-voter bills. That's why we need Congress to act now and pass the For the People Act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: And, notably, the group will meet with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer later today, but, Victor and Alisyn, a source telling me right now they have no plans to meet with any Senate Republican.

Senator Ted Cruz telling me he has heard nothing from them -- quote -- "not a word from them."

And that's where the legislative reality comes into play, Victor and Alisyn. They have to get some sort of Republican support to get anything through here, lest they keep bumping up against that filibuster, and that's just simply the reality as it stands right now on Capitol Hill.

CAMEROTA: Jessica Dean, thank you very much for that reporting.

It looks like the president is running on time, so we should expect that speech that he will be giving on voting rights to be happening in this hour. So, obviously, we will continue to monitor that.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, state House Republicans are vowing to punish those absent lawmakers, voting to have the sergeant at arms arrest the representatives who walked out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STATE REP. DADE PHELAN (R-TX): Members, the sergeant at arms and any officers appointed by him 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK. But even before that formal vote, Texas Governor Greg Abbott went on FOX TV and made a more blatant threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): You cannot inject your ideas if you don't show up and do your job. Once they step back into the state of Texas, they will be arrested and brought to the Texas capitol, and we will be conducting business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Well, so far, that has not deterred them.

I mean, they knew that there was a possibility, the Democrats in Texas knew there was a possibility they could be arrested.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And they still flew out of the state.

BLACKWELL: But I wonder what that looks like, that the governor would potentially, although these Democrats are out of the state, that he would send state troopers to go -- does he put them in handcuffs and put them in the back of a car and drive them back to the capitol? Is that the plan?

CAMEROTA: I don't know the answer to that, because the question is, would they be arrested once they get back to Texas?

BLACKWELL: Yes.

CAMEROTA: But they say that they're going to wait it out. They're going to wait out this special session, which is 30 days' long, so they have another about three weeks to hang out in D.C. before they return to the state.

Then I don't know if they are arrested when they get back.

BLACKWELL: And then the strategy is -- I mean, they did this during the general session, the regular session, that they were not there for the vote.

Then they have left now to go to Washington. Is this tenable, that this can be the strategy to go back and forth? Maybe they have a comment on if this is how they're going to continue.

CAMEROTA: I'm going to find out the answer right now.

BLACKWELL: Let's do that.

CAMEROTA: Because one of the Texas Democrats is going to join us right now from the Capitol.

state Representative Michelle Beckley, thank you very much for being here.

We have a lot of questions.

[14:10:00]

First and foremost, you just heard your governor say that you all will be arrested. What is your response to that? STATE REP. MICHELLE BECKLEY (D-TX): Well, those are the House rules,

so we knew that coming here.

That was one of the consequences that we were pretty sure he was going to enact by coming and breaking quorum.

CAMEROTA: And are you going to be arrested in Washington, D.C.? Are you arrested when you get back to Texas? What does it look like?

BECKLEY: Well, they can't go across state lines, so it is not like an arrest that a normal -- like a person who had committed a felony. So that's why we had to leave the state of Texas.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, so when you go back to Texas, you are prepared to be arrested, and that means you are thrown in a jail cell until you make bail? How does this play out for the, what is it, 67 state House Democrats?; 51 of them took planes to D.C.

BECKLEY: Yes, so I think -- I believe the number is 57 that have not signed in. They have taken our keys, which is how we vote.

You know, we are dealing with voting rights. The voting rights bills in Texas are just horrendous. And we are seeing them across the nation. And we have to do something. And so we are here in Washington working to get the For the People bill -- For the People voting rights bill passed.

CAMEROTA: And so how long are you going to stay in Washington, D.C.?

BECKLEY: Well, we will have to stay -- we are looking at, at least three weeks, and we will go from there. We will do what we have to do. This is a long game. This isn't something that we just flew here for a vacation. We are here to work. We have been working all day.

CAMEROTA: So who -- just out of curiosity, who is paying? Because the governor has suggested you are doing all of this on the taxpayer dime. Who paid for your charter flights and your hotel rooms, if that's where you're staying?

BECKLEY: The House Democratic Caucus committee has paid for that.

CAMEROTA: Meaning your dues have paid for that?

BECKLEY: Yes, and they raised money to do that, but, yes, our caucus has paid for it.

CAMEROTA: So, Representative, what is your plan in Washington, D.C.? Because, as you know, last month, Senate Democrats blocked by way of filibuster a voting bill.

And so what can you do? I mean, they have -- it was a split vote, 50/50. That's not changing. What do you think you can change by being in D.C.?

BECKLEY: We can show just how these bills are going to go across the nation. This isn't just a Texas problem. This is a national problem, and we're here to bring it to Washington, so that these senators can see that this is a problem that is going around nationwide, and Texas is just one of the largest states where it is happening.

CAMEROTA: Don't senators know that already?

BECKLEY: We are meeting with them. We started our meetings today, and we will be meeting as much as we have to and talking as much as we have to, and just showing them what exactly is going on in Texas and across -- this is a national front by the Republican Party.

And we are here. We are here fighting for the right to vote for all of our nation.

CAMEROTA: Are you meeting with any Senate Republicans?

BECKLEY: I am not advised on that. We will go do our meetings as we can. We will try.

CAMEROTA: Representative, what is your endgame here?

I mean, so let's say you wait it out. You wait out, this special 30- day session, in Washington, D.C. You then fly back to Texas. You are either arrested or you are not, but then the governor is still going to call another special session to get this done. What's your endgame in Texas?

BECKLEY: Well, I mean, our endgame is for the senators here to see what is going on and what is going on in not just Texas, but across the nation.

And so we're here doing everything we can and using all of our tools that is available, and this is what we were elected to do. And that's what we're here, fighting for democracy.

CAMEROTA: In about half-an-hour, we expect President Biden to speak about this. What do you want to hear him say?

BECKLEY: You know, I am very pleased with what Biden -- what President Biden is doing, and I hope that he sees the support and that we have -- that he sees how desperate we are in Texas for the nation to take on the voting rights bills.

CAMEROTA: Is it fair to say that you haven't completely thought out steps five and six and seven, that you are sort of living in the present of these next 30 days or however long and trying to get attention?

I mean, unless there's something I'm missing, is there some other step beyond this?

BECKLEY: We have to see how we go, because we don't know what the governor is going to do. We don't know what the Republicans are going to do in the state House or what the Senate is going to do in the nation. So everything is a moving puzzle, and we will adjust as we can, and we

do have plans. And it is not something we are at liberty to tell you today.

CAMEROTA: OK.

Representative Michelle Beckley, thank you for your time.

BECKLEY: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We will be watching.

BECKLEY: OK.

BLACKWELL: So, past as prologue. I think we know what the governor is going to do.

CAMEROTA: I think so too, though I don't exactly know, as you point out, what an arrest, a mass arrest of 57 Democrats will look like.

[14:15:02]

BLACKWELL: If they're waiting for them at the airport. that is a detail. It's a smaller detail, but a detail.

But also she says they have plans. This was the same question we asked after the general session, the regular session, said, how do you do this again? They have done it again. We will see if there's another trick up the sleeve.

CAMEROTA: OK, meanwhile, a top Tennessee vaccine official says she was fired over a disagreement about vaccinating teenagers -- why she says she is now afraid for her state.

BLACKWELL: Also, new details in the assassination plot of Haiti's president. Several suspects were U.S. law enforcement informants.

That's next.

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[14:20:07]

BLACKWELL: The U.S. is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to new COVID cases. Check out the states here in deep red.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

BLACKWELL: Look at this map, 34 states seeing a rise of 50 percent or more in new infections.

CAMEROTA: The White House says it supports more vaccine requirements now at the local level.

President Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says he is in favor of more local mandates requiring COVID vaccines. And, today, the U.S. surgeon general told CNN he thinks it is entirely reasonable for hospitals to require all their staff to be vaccinated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Having spent many of my years in -- working in a hospital, we had mandates around vaccines, specifically the flu vaccines, that health care workers had to take that each year. That's part of how we protect patients from infection.

Patients coming into hospitals are often vulnerable. And what you are seeing already is some hospitals include a 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK.

But even though the numbers in the U.S. are going in the wrong direction, some states are issuing laws to block vaccine requirements.

A CNN analysis finds at least seven states are prohibiting public schools from mandating COVID vaccinations or proof of these shots for enrollment.

BLACKWELL: The students impacted run all the way from kindergarten to university level, the states, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma, and Utah.

And several of those states have vaccinated fewer than 40 percent of their residents.

Right now the clash between politics and public health may be fiercest in the state of Tennessee. The state's top vaccine manager says she was just fired after she sent out a memo reminding local medical providers about a policy that allows some minors to get medical care without their parents' permission.

CAMEROTA: Just a reminder.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Michelle Fiscus says the backlash has been so severe, it has forced a crackdown on promoting other vaccinations beyond COVID.

CNN's Martin Savidge is covering the story for us.

Martin, what's the latest? Tell us about this memo.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Victor and Alisyn.

Let me point out that Tennessee is one of only a handful of states that has what they call the mature minor doctrine. It is not new. It has been around for over three decades. It's been upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court. And it essentially says minors ages 14 to 17 are able to receive medical care in the state without getting parental permission.

Dr. Fiscus here says that also applies to vaccinations. She put out a memo to doctors just reminding them of this decades-long doctrine in the state of Tennessee. Somebody didn't like that. They posted it online, and then all of the outrage came pouring in, suggesting that she was trying to usurp parental control here.

She says that the anti-vax and the politics against the COVID-19 vaccine have become so severe in her state, it is a health hazard. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MICHELLE FISCUS, FIRED TENNESSEE VACCINATION OFFICIAL: Our leadership has been toxic to work under. And morale within the department is poor.

There are state workers all over the state who fear for their jobs, because they want to do the right thing, and the administration is much more interested in politics. And what really concerns me is that, in order to appease the legislators that were upset about this memo, our leadership at the Department of Health has instructed the Department of Health to no longer do outreach around immunizations for children of any kind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: So, there you see she has been fired. She says now there's intimidation of trying to even vaccinate any kind of young person with any kind of vaccine in the state.

The Health Department of Tennessee says they put out a statement. It "continues to provide access to COVID-19 vaccines at either local health departments and at vaccine events for all eligible individuals who now are able to choose to receive the vaccine."

But here is the thing. Right next door to Tennessee, you have got Missouri and Arkansas. They are seeing a huge spike in the Delta variant. Tennessee is only 38 percent vaccinated, according to the Health Department. Those most at risk are the unvaccinated, especially the young.

She was pushing trying to get as many people vaccinated to be protected as possible, and she was fired -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: It is sobering. Martin Savidge, thank you for the report.

SAVIDGE: You're welcome.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's discuss it further with Dr. Gloria Richard-Davis. She's a physician at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She's also the university's executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Dr. Richard-Davis, thanks for being with us. Let's start here with Arkansas. It is near the top of the list when it

comes to new COVID cases, near the bottom of the list when it comes to vaccinations.

[14:25:07]

It is not the only state there in the South that's having some trouble, but others are doing better. It is a red state, but some red states are doing far better. What is happening in Arkansas?

DR. GLORIA RICHARD-DAVIS, UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS: So, first of all, Victor, thanks for having me.

I am leading our COVID Vaccine Ambulatory Center. And one of the things that we are doing in particular is, we are keenly focused on communities of color, because if we look at our vaccination rates, from the state perspective, we are doing pretty well in Central Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas, particularly in our majority community, not in our minority community.

So if you look at the majority community in those areas, we are at 60- plus percentage immunized. What we are focusing on are our communities of color, where we know that we have less than 20 percent across the state that are vaccinated.

We certainly know that there are vaccine -- there's vaccine hesitancy in those communities of color for some very valid reasons, some of which we continue to hear. We know that at the core is racism embedded in our health system, as well as in our governmental agents. So there's a lot of distrust there. There's also a lot of misinformation.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: So, how much of this is the misinformation, the hesitancy and reluctance, but also access?

Let's talk about access. Are there vaccines available to these communities you are trying to reach out to?

RICHARD-DAVIS: So there are vaccines available in communities.

When you get out into the much more rural communities, obviously, the access is a little bit more constrained. We have Walmart, which is based in Arkansas, has it available in all of their stores, as well as Walgreens.

But what we are trying to do with our mobile unit is to actually reach those communities that do not have those access. So, we're working with multiple partners, the Health Department, our Arkansas medical, dental, pharmacy association, as well as nonprofit organizations that have been working in those communities.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

RICHARD-DAVIS: And then, lastly, one of the really key things that we're doing is, we are engaging in educating community health workers that we hope to deploy in front of our vaccine committees, our teams, right?

BLACKWELL: Yes.

RICHARD-DAVIS: So that they can actually educate those communities and mitigate against some of the misinformation that they're hearing.

BLACKWELL: Doctor, we listed Arkansas as one of the states that is banning public schools from either requiring vaccinations or proof of vaccination.

What is -- first, should there, in your opinion, be mandates for public schools for these vaccinations? And, second, what is the secondary, the tertiary impact on public health of a ban like that?

RICHARD-DAVIS: So, certainly, as a physician, researcher, scientist, I am in favor of having those mandates.

From a state perspective, we have legislation that has placed some prohibition on that, primarily because what they are trying to do is to protect those who are choosing not to be vaccinated from discrimination.

BLACKWELL: All right.

Dr. Gloria Richard-Davis there in Arkansas, still a lot of work to do. Thank you for the work you are doing.

RICHARD-DAVIS: Thank you so much for having me.

BLACKWELL: Certainly.

CAMEROTA: OK, Victor, now to these crises in Cuba and Haiti. These are forcing the Biden administration to pivot to foreign policy, but what is President Biden's policy on Cuba?

Well, Cuban-born Congressman Albio Sires joins us next.

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