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Lankford's Vote Sparks Backlash; Draft of Infrastructure Bill Circulating; Arkansas Parents Sue State over Mask Mandate Ban; Simone Biles Reveals Problems Continue. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired July 30, 2021 - 09:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Republican Senator James Lankford is now facing some backlash in his home state of Oklahoma for changing his mind, or at least his tune, in his response to what he did previously, which was to vote and to certify President Biden's win in the 2020 election. This is, of course, after the pro-Trump mob breached the Capitol on January 6th.

Our Lauren Fox is with me now.

Lauren, I want to be clear, it's not that he is, you know, saying that he would have done differently. It's important that he voted to certify the election. But you spoke with him and he seems to be changing his tune a bit on the bigger picture here.

What can you tell us?

LAUREN FOX, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that -- that's right, Poppy. I think it's important to look at the context of what he's facing back home because I think that helps to tell the full story.

On January 6th, James Lankford goes into that day thinking that he is going to challenge a couple of states when it comes to the certification process at the U.S. Capitol. He's actually on the floor speaking on January 6th when a staffer comes up to him and tells him that the insurrectionists have breached the Capitol. And shortly after, the Senate actually has to adjourn because they have to go to a safe location.

They spent several hours in that location. And during that time, Lankford told me they had a discussion, and half of the group that he was joining with decided that they were not going to challenge the election results that day.

Ultimately, Lankford goes to the floor and he says that he supports the certification of the election in every state. Now, that's important because fast forward a couple of months and back

home he's landed in some hot water because in the state of Oklahoma, he now has a primary challenger and that's becoming a problem for him because the GOP chairman in the state has now endorsed that primary challenger. He also hasn't gotten the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.

And here's why that matters, because even though Lankford says he doesn't regret his vote and he does view Joe Biden as the constitutionally elected president, he did tell me he had some concerns about the election.

Here's what he told me.


FOX: But do you still think that Biden won the election rightfully?

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): Biden -- Biden is the constitutional president. No question about that. Are there questions that are still hanging out there? Yes.

FOX: But are those questions things that would have ultimately changed the outcome of the election?

LANKFORD: No way to know because we can't get a full answer on some of them. But we don't --

FOX: So --

LANKFORD: So we don't -- so we don't know. I'm not trying to be coy about it. It's unknown at this point. I just want all the questions answered and so that people can know one way or the other on it.


FOX: And Lankford seems to be trying to kind of straddle the line there. You know, I asked him, has he asked Donald Trump for his endorsement. He said he didn't want to get into what he had requested or hadn't requested. And when I asked him earlier if he thought that Donald Trump's endorsement would be important for his race, he said he'd take it if he could get it, Poppy.

HARLOW: Lauren, thank you for that reporting. Clearly going after the answers there. We appreciate you playing it for us.

Joining me now to talk about this is Jackie Kucinich, Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast."

Jackie, good morning.


HARLOW: I should note, Lankford narrowly defeated a censure vote by the Oklahoma Republican Party just a few weeks ago. He still does have the endorsement of the state's governor, the lieutenant governor, almost all of Oklahoma's members of Congress, former President Trump has not directly weighed in on this race. But given what we're seeing and given that answer he just gave to Lauren, how much danger do you think he is in possibly of losing his seat?

KUCINICH: So, our reporter Sam Brody reported a couple weeks ago that the -- as you stated, the Oklahoma kind of party apparatus, other than the actual party itself, has congealed around James Lankford right now.

But if he does end up in hot water and does end up with a real primary challenge, it's just another example of just how much the Republican Party apparatus across the country is all about Donald Trump, is all about complete and utter loyalty to him, and that's just about it because you're not going to get anyone more conservative in terms of policy than James Lankford.

HARLOW: That's right.

Well, right, it's sort of similar to Liz Cheney.


HARLOW: Look at her conservative voting record.


HARLOW: But, still, when she speaks the truth on things, you know, look what the backlash is from some in her party.

Let's turn to infrastructure, because you've got sort of big progress this week in terms of moving forward with one leg of it, that bipartisan infrastructure bill in the Senate. But then you have Democratic chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Pete DeFazio, going after the bipartisan bill yesterday, saying it needs to be, in his words, quote, substantially changed to get his support. He told CNN the proposal fails on climate change and degraded funding for water systems among a number of complaints he has.

And you've got another progressive Democratic, Congressman Jamaal Bowman, telling CNN the bipartisan bill is inadequate. Says he could not support it without a vote first on the reconciliation bill.

Should this be concerning to the White House?


KUCINICH: You know, the White House has made a big deal, especially early on, about the outreach they've done to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. You've heard Congressman Jayapal say that she has a direct line to Ron Klain whenever she needed to talk to him.

However, this could be a problem. It's hard for me to believe, honestly, when push comes to shove, that the progressive wing of the party is going to sink any possibility of getting an infrastructure through, which, obviously, we've seen the White House has put so much political capital into. You know, you haven't seen them do anything and push as hard on anything other than COVID relief than this infrastructure bill.

But it's going to be a long -- it's going to be a slog for sure because if any of these numbers change, the bill isn't written yet as far as I know. I haven't looked at my phone in the last 20 minutes. But if any of these numbers change, you can imagine that shift could cause problems in the Senate with Republican support.

HARLOW: What about the big picture take away from the week, Jackie, because we saw Washington working in some instances, right?


HARLOW: We saw this bipartisan effort, 17 Republicans joining Senate Democrats to move this thing forward, including, by the way, Mitch McConnell. We saw agreement, also bipartisanship, on the bill Wednesday to approve about $2 billion in Capitol Hill security spending.

Are these one-offs? Are these anomalies because of what they are and not an indication of maybe Biden's wish for government working together coming true?

KUCINICH: I do think what we're talking about, the actual bills are ideas at this point, are different than, say, voting rights, which is something that Democrats continue to push and talk about, which has very little chance of having a bipartisan coalition coming together.

Infrastructure is widely popular. It's actually kind of surprising. It's this -- it's this fraught because it's something that is so popular across party lines. And, obviously, Capitol security, I mean look what those -- this was one of the things that those officers that testified in front of the January 6th Committee on Tuesday asked for, is more support and more funding in order to keep -- to allow them to keep people who are visiting and work at the Capitol safe.

HARLOW: Jackie Kucinich, thanks. Have a great weekend.

KUCINICH: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Ahead, a really interesting story. The governor of Arkansas says he will call on lawmakers to amend the state's ban on school mask mandates. This as the delta variant surges. But there are parents that are already looking at legal action. We'll take -- we'll talk to one of them ahead.



HARLOW: Right now, in Arkansas, all counties but one on this map -- take a look -- are red. What does that mean? That means a high transmission of COVID-19. And this is just weeks before the start of school. And some parents in Arkansas are ready to sue so that their districts have the option, at least, to institute a mask mandate in their school.

They don't have that choice right now. Why? Because the Arkansas state legislature passed a law, it is Act 1002, and it bans mask mandates.

Governor Asa Hutchinson signed it. But now, as the delta variant takes hold, he instated a public health emergency and wants to call a special session of the state legislature to try to amend the law, particularly this part about banning mask mandates. Some parents say it's too little, it's too late. They're worried about the dangers for their young children especially who cannot get vaccinated and are going back soon to in-person learning.

Veronica McClane is with me. She's a mother of two children ages three and eight, who -- the eight-year-old goes to Arkansas Public School. She's joined by her attorney, Tom Mars.

Good morning to both of you and thank you for being here.

So, Tom, let me start with you, because you're the one doing this. You're planning to file a lawsuit Monday on behalf of these plaintiffs, parents.

Can you explain your case?

TOM MARS, TRIAL LAWYER, MARS LAW FIRM: Well, Sure. To begin with, as you said, the situation in Arkansas is really dire. I mean we have one new case every half a second now. We have children on ventilators in children's hospital. Some children have died. And for obvious reasons, parents (INAUDIBLE) to death of sending their kids back to public school under these circumstances.

Now, the local school districts in Arkansas want to create the safest environment for schoolchildren. The problem here is the legislature passed a law that says they can't. That's not constitutional. That's not conservative. And that's not consistent with the obligations of every public official in this country with the safety of our children first. And this lawsuit, which will be filed on Monday, will challenge the constitutionality of the state statute, which is constitutionally defective for several reasons.

And there's a procedure that allows people to go into court in Arkansas, if they can prove that they're likely to succeed on the merits of the case, and prove that irreparable harm will occur to their clients, get (ph) an injunction issued, they're entitled to an injunction, and I'm highly confident that we will get one next week.

HARLOW: We should mention that we reached out to the Arkansas attorney general's office to try to get a response from them. I know you've been sending a lot of letters, including to the governor, to the legislature and to the attorney general. We did not hear back yet, but, of course, they are welcome to join us on the program.

Veronica, for you, as a mom of a three-year-old and an eight-year-old, what is this about?

[09:45:07] VERONICA MCCLANE, ARKANSAS PARENT: This is about protecting my children. Also, you know, my concerns for all the other children in this state. My eight-year-old has been virtual since March of 2020.

We were able to keep our child virtual because we have a sitter that's able to watch them during the day when my husband and I work. But, you know, he's really missing out on the social connections with his friends. And also, you know, kind of thinking about it in terms of, you know, he just needs to get back to school and it needs to be safe.


MCCLANE: He's not eligible for the vaccine.

HARLOW: So, let me -- let me read you some of the pushback and get your take on it, Veronica, because this is what the actual Arkansas State Senator Trent Garner, who was the author of the bill that turned into this act said. He says, basically, people are not prevented from wearing masks. It's their personal choice. And he said, if you want to send your child there with two masks on, if you want to get your child vaccinated, if you want to do remote learning, all of that is on the table for parents.

What do you say to him?

MCCLANE: That's not true. It's false. And, you know, I think that Trent Garner might just live kind of in a different environment than a lot of families. We have a really high rate of poverty in the state of Arkansas. We have poor access to health care. We, right now, don't have a lot of, you know, child care options. So just telling parents, you know, just keep your kids home, I've been keeping my kid home since March of 2020.

It's time for the people that don't want to do the things that (INAUDIBLE) they need to do to end this pandemic, like get vaccinated, wear masks, you know, reduce gathering, things like that, you know, being asked to continue to take these steps with my own children and then asking other families, if they don't have that option, and so these children don't have the right to a safe education, you know, a lot of parents don't have child care options. So that's just false.

And we know that masking has to be done on both sides in order to keep people safe. And so he does not have a right to infect my children or any of the other children in the state. The science is there and he's refusing to follow the science.

And he's almost making a mockery of this and making a joke of it. And it's not a joke. He's thinking in very black and white terms where, you know, this is impacting all the systems within our state, from the economy, to the health care, to our educational systems. It's very widespread, and so, you know, I just wish that he would reconsider.

HARLOW: Veronica McClane, thank you very much.

Tom Mars, thank you. We'll see where this goes when you file your suit and what happens if this special session amends Act 1002. We appreciate you both coming on and explaining it to us this morning.

MARS: Thank you for having us.

MCCLANE: Thank you.

HARLOW: Of course.

Well, Simone Biles posts a new video overnight showing how she is still suffering from what she terms the twisties. We'll explain what that is and why it is so dangerous for a gymnast. We'll have a live update from Tokyo.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

In a now deleted series of Instagram posts, Simone Biles says she still has the twisties. That is what gymnasts call the condition when they lose track of their position mid-air. And this raises questions about whether she'll be able to compete in the four individual events starting Sunday.

Coy Wire is in Tokyo with this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Coy.

What did she say?


We're going to glimpse inside the mind of Simone Biles. These posts remind us just how dangerous gymnastics can be, especially if the mentals aren't there, as Biles called it. She said it's petrifying and that her mind and body are simply not in sync.

She posted videos early this morning here in Tokyo from a practice session, saying, quote, literally cannot tell up from down. It's the craziest feeling ever. Not having an inch of control over your body. What's even scarier, since I have no idea where I am in the air, I also have no idea how I'm going to land or what I'm going to land on, head, hands, feet, back, unquote.

The 24-year-old added, when -- that she has felt the twisties in the past. It's taken two week or more, Poppy, for them to go away.

Now, Biles was watching the women's all-around gymnastics from the stands on Thursday. I was there. She could barely sit still at times as she watched teammate and new individual all-around champ Suni Lee. The 18-year-old stepping up on the sport's biggest stage, extending a run of five all-around Olympic golds for the U.S. women. The St. Paul, Minnesota, Suni bringing it. She competes in the uneven bars and balance beam. The women's vault and bars finals are scheduled for Sunday. The floor final is Monday. And the beam final is Tuesday. All right, a scary moment here, Poppy, during a semi-final at BMX

Racing. Rio Gold Medalist American Connor Fields crashing to the ground in turn one. Two other riders fell on top of him. The 28-year- old was taken off the course on a stretcher, left the venue in an ambulance. USA cycling has confirmed to us, Poppy, that Fields is awake, stable and awaiting further medical evaluation.


He will remain in the hospital under observation. And, of course, we're wishing Fields a quick and full recovery.

And Novak Djokovic's quest for the Golden Slam is over. The 34-year- old from Serbia falling in the semi-finals to Germany's Alex Zverev. Djokovic was trying to become the first man ever to win all four majors and an Olympic gold medal in the same year. Steffi Graf is still the only person to ever do it. Djokovic can still claim the traditional Grand Slam if he wins the U.S. Open, which begins next month.

And, Poppy, just moments ago, drama here in Tokyo. The U.S. women's national team betting Netherlands in penalty kicks in a win or go home soccer match. Team USA win 4-2 on -- in this -- on penalty kicks in this rematch of the 2019 World Cup final where the U.S. women won that as well. They are moving on to the semifinals. They will play Canada on Monday.

HARLOW: I love that news. Great news.

I did tell the team not to include the Djokovic news since, you know, we're big Djokovic fans in my house, but I guess it made the cut.

Thank you, Coy.

WIRE: Sorry about that.

HARLOW: All good. Thank you, my friend.

Ahead, as Louisiana deals with a deluge of COVID patients, CNN takes you inside a hospital where a coronavirus patient had this eye-opening statement.

Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am furious with myself.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I was not vaccinated.