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Biden Touts Senate Wins On Infrastructure, $3.5T Budget Plan; Incoming N.Y. Governor Holds First News Conference. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 11, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell, good to be with you.

So you just heard from President Biden making the case there for his historic jobs and infrastructure agenda. His remarks, of course, come after Senate Democrats advanced a $3.5 trillion budget outline overnight. So just the outline, there's a lot of work to be done at the framework that calls for story expansion of the nation's social safety net, including free pre-K and Community College, ambitious proposals and climate and immigration.

But giant obstacles are ahead in both the House and in the -- back in the Senate. So let's bring in now CNNs John Avlon. Lauren Fox also here with us.

So, John, let me start with you. The President, of course, trying to put this in the context of this is good for the job market. This is good for families. And as we watch the numbers, the inflation numbers, the cost of living, calling it fiscally responsible, he has a huge sales job to do here to the American people.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He does indeed. I mean, that said, I think there's more of an appetite for government spending than there has been in some administration's past, Republicans having lost some moral authority on that issue. But the inspector of inflation is a big deal. You know, that's something that Americans have taken for granted for a long time, that we've controlled inflation. But it was a dominant political force for decades in America.

And to see that creeping up is a real warning sign for the White House as they put forward this massive spending bill, which they hope will transform kind of the approach of government to the citizens and vice versa. The more spending you have, the danger of inflation rears its head, and that's what they're confronting today.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Lauren, we know that to get this through the Senate, of course, there's that first vote that happened. That's an accomplishment. But he's going to need every single Democratic vote. We're also hearing from some members of the President's party that they're not fans of that $3.5 trillion price tag. LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Victor. I mean, now the real work begins to write the legislation. Right now, what they have is the top line number of framework really, for what they hope to accomplish. But over this August recess, you can expect that the committee chairman, are going to be working very closely with the Majority Leader's office to try to come up with really where they want to go with this bill.

Schumer making it clear earlier that it will include all of the key pieces of the Biden agenda, including like you noted, pre-K, as well as an expansion of the Affordable Care Act and expansion of the social safety net. That is going to be what Democrats are looking forward toward.

But one thing to keep in mind here is that Schumer has to keep his Democratic caucus together. We are seeing from both Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, two moderate Democrats in the caucus, that they have concerns about spending $3.5 trillion. They voted to be able to write this piece of legislation at that number, but they want it to be a lower number.

And earlier, Chuck Schumer was asked about this repeatedly, are you going to be willing to come down a little bit? And he wouldn't answer the question directly, just saying that some people want that number to be higher, some people want it to be lower, they're going to have to find a way forward together. But that's the real challenge here.

And that's before you even get over to the House of Representatives where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has some boats she can lose, but she also has just a handful of members to work with in order to make sure she can move this through her caucus as well, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in CNN White House Correspondent -- Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins there.

The President has several audiences now. Of course, the myriad of factions of his own party, the American people. Talk about what you heard from the President and the work he has to do ahead.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, for the last several weeks and months, really, we've been talking about this idea of bipartisanship and those negotiations that were happening between Democrats and Republicans. And now it's turning to the more partisan effort, which is only -- expected only to have Democratic support. And so, the big question is whether or not they can keep every Democrat on board.

And just hours after this budget blueprint was passed overnight by Democrats in the Senate, we already saw this statement from Senator Manchin, essentially threatening to derail it potentially by saying that he did not support the $3.5 trillion number. And you saw President Biden there in a way trying to get out what those concerns were that Senator Manchin said he had in his statement, the serious concerns that he raised.

And one of the big points that President Biden was pushing back on is saying that they believe, and Democrats have argued repeatedly this, this plan is going to be paid for. They don't believe it's going to add trillions to the debt as the concerns that you've seen, not only some moderate Democrats voice but also Republicans tried to take advantage of when they are saying why they do not believe this reconciliation bill should pass, what this budget blueprint is expected to turn into, what Democrats are going to be working on over the next several weeks.

And he also said, a vote against this plan, this $3.5 trillion plan that, of course, is just now at the beginning and still very much a long road to go. President Biden said it's a vote against lowering health care costs, lowering prescription costs. And so, essentially making this argument, it is going to be really hard for any Democrat to vote against this.


BLACKWELL: John, how narrow is the window? Is this maybe dollar figure that you get votes from the progressives in the House? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez specifically, who's gone after Kyrsten Sinema for saying she's not into 3.5 trillion, that's way too high. How narrow is that window?

AVLON: Well, look, I think it's important to put this in perspective, as you just said. Look, in some ways what just passed is the most consequential piece of legislation for a new Democratic administration since Lyndon Johnson. Key difference being that Lyndon Johnson had massive margins in the Senate and the House.

And the Biden Democrats have a narrow margin, the narrowest of margins in the Senate, and a handful of votes in the House, which means that this reconciliation process which will be an intraparty negotiation, you're going to have to -- there's going to be give and take, folks, this is where the sausage making comes in. It ain't always going to be pretty, but it's probably going to get done, the number will fluctuate, no one's going to get all of what they want.

I think at the end of the day, you'll find some common ground, but there will have to be give and take. And people taking maximalist positions, which is different than framing opening bids, which is in effect what Joe Manchin did yesterday. There's going to be give and take. That number will probably come down.

But if the key constituencies can be satisfied, this bill will go forward. And it is massive, and it satisfies a lot of concerns of just constituencies on the center left and the far left to the Democratic Party.

BLACKWELL: Yes, in large part, this is the start of the conversation, not the end of it. The question is, where are the moderates? Where's their ceiling and where's the floor for the progressives?

Lauren Fox there on Capitol Hill, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, John Avlon, stay with us.

Let's go to New York now. And admitted (ph), the state's lieutenant governor and soon to be governor, Kathy Hochul, will hold her first news conference since Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation yesterday.

Hochul officially takes over in two weeks and will be New York's first female governor.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is live in Albany.

So, first, what are we expecting to hear from the Lieutenant Governor?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is really a chance, Victor, for her to sort of reintroduce herself to everyone. Sure, she's been lieutenant governor by Cuomo side for a long time. But as we know, Cuomo did things on sort of his own terms. And she is from Buffalo, which she's certainly well-known from that area.

But she really isn't such a well-known politician necessarily by everyone in the state, and certainly not across the country, which everyone is certainly paying attention to this news conference since it's happening just the day after Cuomo resigned. So this is a way for us to meet her, for her to make a stance about what she expects to do within the next 14 days before she transitions. And I think it is starting right now. So, let's go to it.

LT. GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK: It sounds like there's an audio problem. What a great start.

Can you hear me now? Sounds like a commercial. Can you hear me now?

All right. All right.

Good afternoon, and thank you for being here.

I spoke with Governor Cuomo yesterday, and he pledged his full support for a smooth transition. And I thanked him for his service to our state.

Regarding his decision to step down, I believe it is appropriate and in the best interest to the state of New York.

And while it was not expected, is a day for which I am prepared.

I've already spoken with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart- Cousins, Speaker Carl Heastie, labor, business, faith leaders, other state elected officials, as well as our tri state governors. I look forward to working with each and every one of them, and all of you to build on the progress that we've already started.

Over the next two weeks, I will continue meetings with current and potential cabinet officials. I'll build out my senior staff. And I'll do what I've always done. I will travel the state to meet New Yorkers, to listen to them, to assure them that I've got their backs. And I will take their concerns and bring them back to our state Capitol. And work with our partners in every level of government to come to solutions. People will soon learn that my style is to listen first, then take decisive action. So in 13 days, I will officially become the 57th Governor of the State of New York. And shortly thereafter, I look forward to delivering an address to all New Yorkers to lay out my vision for the great state of New York.


But make no mistake, our work has already begun. And I know this year and a half has been so challenging for families and businesses across our state. And sometimes it doesn't feel like it's getting easier. The Delta variant is still raging and it's going to take all of us to defeat it.

Our children are heading back to school soon, a lot of anxiety from the moms and dads I speak to, and the teachers as well. It's going to take all of us working together to keep our children safe, our teacher safe, and anyone who works in a school safe.

Small businesses are just starting to bounce back into an uncertain world, we need to reassure them that they will be OK. And our workers are once again debating whether they should even go back to their jobs, to go back to their offices, go back to their factories. Is it safe enough? But I know New Yorkers, they are hard wired to persevere and to prevail.

And the promise I made to all New Yorkers, right here and right now, I will fight like hell for you every single day. Like I've always done and always will.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.

I'll be starting questions by asking Jerry Zremski from the Buffalo News.

Jerry Zremski.

Hometown favorite, sorry.

JERRY ZREMSKI, BUFFALO NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Governor, I want to ask you about the 14-day transition period. Did the governor explained to you why he wanted to wait that long before leaving office? And how do you feel about having to wait that one particularly (ph)?

HOCHUL: It's not what I asked for, however, I'm looking forward to a smooth transition, which he promised. He spoke to me about wanting to make sure that the transition to continuity is important, that I have an opportunity to meet the cabinet officials, other people as well. So, they viewed it as necessary.

I'm prepared to take office, as any lieutenant governor is, from the very first hour you're sworn in as lieutenant governor. However, I will take advantage of that time, and to continue to engage with the people of the state of New York. I have a vision, but I'm going to continue to develop that. And at the end of the 14 days, I look forward to coming back to a venue like this and to makes sure that we are ready to deal with all the challenges that we face.

Morgan McKay from Spectrum.

MORGAN MCKAY, SPECTRUM POLITICAL REPORTER: If Cuomo is going to be (INAUDIBLE) any criminal charges, would you consider pardoning him?

HOCHUL: I'm going to tell you right now I'm talking about my vision for the state of New York, it is far too premature to even have those conversations.


HOCHUL: I would ask Josefa Velasquez from The City.


A couple of years ago, while we were sitting in office, you had come out against some driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, in the last couple of years, you have changed your mind. Can you explain to me what the transition has been?

And also what the last few months have been for you as we've been preparing for the goal (ph)?

HOCHUL: With respect to the Green Light Law, which is now the law of the state of the land. Something that early on in my career as a county clerk, I had taken a position that has now evolved, and that evolution coincides with the evolution of many people. Many people in the state of New York.

I'm proud of that law. And if you want to read an op-ed that I wrote on it, many people in our state Senate would argue that that was a turning point when they read that and saw the position I had taken in support of that law that our immigrants need that. They need to be able to get to their jobs and parents need to take their kids to doctor's appointments. And I'm proud of supporting that law.

And you can ask anyone what my position on that at this time, I think it's clearly understood.

The last few months, lieutenant governors continued to work regardless of what's going on around them. And I'm proud that I've been able to maintain the same schedule to meet with elected leaders. My schedule has been robust and I'm ready.

I want people to know that I'm ready for this. And it's not something we expected or asked for, but I'm fully prepared to assume the responsibilities as the 57th, Governor of the State of New York.

Michael Gormley from Newsday. MICHAEL GORMLEY, NEWSDAY CORRESPONDENT: Lieutenant Governor, have you spoke President Biden? And also, do you have any different view of how to deal with COVID in New York State?

HOCHUL: I understand the President was looking to reach me, but I was on a plane early this morning, so I cannot confirm that. That I've confirmed I have not spoken, but I know he expressed an interest.

I did have a chance to speak to Senator Schumer yesterday, Senator Gillibrand, Hillary Clinton and countless others.

My position will be to at this point, recognize that there is one governor for the state of New York at one time, and Governor Cuomo will continue to be the governor for the next 13 days. That does not mean that I'm not fully engaged with the healthcare partners, the current commissioner, and we've been getting regular briefings up to the minute and I'm well aware of the circumstance in our state are frightening for people. And we will continue at this time to review closely what the CDC puts forth. But I'll be proud to and looking forward to sharing my vision on how we address this in a matter of a couple weeks.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lieutenant Governor?

HOCHUL: Denis Slattery from Newsday? Or no, I'm sorry, Daily News, I'm sorry. That's a big mistake to make. Sorry there.

Denis in the room? OK. Hearing none.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there he is.

HOCHUL: OK. Denis Slattery, is he in the room?


HOCHUL: I can see that.



HOCHUL: It has been about 24 hours. I'm meeting with all the cabinet officials in the next few days. And I'll be making those decisions shortly, and I'll be happy to announce them in two weeks.

Also, we are looking for Dan Clark from PBS now.

DAN CLARK, PBS MANAGING EDITOR AND HOST: In the report, the A.G.'s report, several members of the governor's staff were implicated in trying to describe the women that accused him of sexual harassment. Are you planning on keeping any of them around? Is it fair to say that there was will (INAUDIBLE)?

HOCHUL: No one has named -- who was named as anything doing anything unethical, and report will remain in my administration.

Chris Horvatits from WIVB in Channel 4 in Buffalo.

CHRIS HORVATITS, WIVB CHANNEL 4 BUFFALO REPORTER: The words toxic has been used to describe the work environment in the executive chamber. So, follow up on what's been asked, do you agree or take issue with that term being used to describe it? And to what extent given that fact do you see the need to --

HOCHUL: Well, there'll be turnover. That'd be turnover. And that is the description from many witnesses in the Attorney General's report.

I think it's very clear that the governor and I have not been close, physically or otherwise, in terms of much time. And so, I've been traveling the state and do not spend much time in his presence or in the presence of many in the state Capitol. But that is what has being reported. And I'm going to stand right here.

At the end of my term, whenever it ends, no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.

Karen DeWitt from New York State Public Radio.

KAREN DEWITT, NEW YORK STATE PUBLIC RADIO CAPITOL BUREAU CHIEF: Lieutenant Governor, as you know the vaccination rate (INAUDIBLE) through the state, are you dealing with an effort to get more people vaccinated? Is there a chance that you will declare a state of emergency? (INAUDIBLE).

HOCHUL: Let me answer that two ways. One right now for the next 13 days, the current governor will be making decisions with respect to that.

I'm going to use this time to evaluate. And I will tell you that all options are on the table. And I'll be looking very closely at the trends in consultation with our health care professionals as well as the CDC.

I want people to know that currently, the administration does not possess the executive powers that it had last year, at the time when I was very engaged in dealing with the COVID response. And the authorities (ph) held by the administration were much more expansive than they are at this time. That being said, we are going to monitor this closely. And I can assure everyone that we will be looking at all options.

But also I believe that the key to get through this has been before eyes for months. It's as simple as more people getting vaccinated. We have a high rate of at least people getting their first dose at this time in the state of New York, it's almost 77 percent, approaching 70 percent people getting both doses. That's good news.

But there is a lot of concern about the children between ages 12 and 17. And as well as -- we'll see what happens with respect to any decisions by the CDC -- the FDA to allow younger children to be able to vaccinate. So, I think the answer is very simple. More people being vaccinated is our key out of this. And I'm going to be working with the communities where the rates are higher of infection and the vaccination rates are lower, and to come up with a very strategic approach to target that and make sure we overcome the hesitation and worries, but also to make it more widely available. But that'll be something I'll be looking forward to addressing in a couple of weeks.

Joe Spector from Gannett.


Do you feel the impeachment investigation should continue by the Assembly Judiciary Committee?

And you said earlier that you and the governor didn't have a particularly close relationship. But were you aware of any of the allegations that were put forth in the A.G.'s report?

HOCHUL: I was not aware of any of the allegations whatsoever in the report. The report stands on its own. And I've been in this business long enough to know that is not the purview of the New York state governor to dictate to the New York State Assembly, or to the Judiciary Committee on what actions they should take next, with respect to anything, particularly impeachment.


Bill Mahoney from New York POLITICO.

BILL MAHONEY, POLITICO NEW YORK'S ALBANY REPORTER: Lieutenant Governor, do you see (ph) yourself down on the coming weeks (INAUDIBLE)?

HOCHUL: Certainly a lot of people have reached out to me. It's going to be -- I'm really excited about working with the next lieutenant governor who will be named within the next few weeks.

Currently, we're considering a number of individuals. The fortunate thing for me is that I have spent so much time in seven years getting to know many elected officials and community leaders personally. I had a friendly level, so I understand who they are. So it'll be someone who is no stranger to me, but also someone that'll carry on the vision of my administration, which is to continue these strongly progressive policies to take this state forward, to get us out of COVID as soon as possible, and to rebuild back this great state of New York.


Operator, can you please allow those questions, please, for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We ask the questions from (INAUDIBLE). I have one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of people look at you as a part of the Cuomo administration, because you are a part of the Cuomo administration. How will you restore the trust in the executive office, being that you are a part of the Cuomo administration?

HOCHUL: First of all, many people have supported the policies of the Cuomo administration. There is a strong legacy of accomplishment.

I was out there fighting in the streets to raise the minimum wage. I was out there fighting for paid family leave. I've been the champion of policies to eradicate the specter of heroin and opioid abuse, something that has touched my family personally. Childcare issues.

I've been out there making the announcements on affordable housing, clean energy, economic development. So, that will continue. Those policies will continue and even be more enhanced.

But with respect to the particular environment and the reputation of the current administration, I think it's pretty clear that it's no secret that we have not been close, and I've not been associated with that. So, I know the job. I fought for the same policies, that's why I'm more prepared than anyone could possibly be for this position.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you release the nursing data? Will you release the nursing home data that -- in the alleged cover up? Will you release it?

HOCHUL: My administration will be fully transparent when I'm governor. I'm not governor yet.


HOCHUL: All right. We're going to work team.

I want to first of all, please, please wait. Is there - if there's not any virtual, I'm sorry, to the virtual world out there. Next time (INAUDIBLE) me in person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a question for you, Governor? Your next question does come from Andrew Donovan of WSYR in Syracuse.

Donovan, you can unmute your mic.

ANDREW DONOVAN, WSYR NEWSCHANNEL 9 REPORTER: Lieutenant Governor, can you hear me?

HOCHUL: Yes. Who am I speaking to?

DONOVAN: This is Andrew Donovan from NewsChannel 9 in Syracuse.

HOCHUL: Home of my alma mater, Syracuse University.

DONOVAN: I was going to say you're not shy to remind people you're a Syracuse University alum. So I'm wondering what your messages to the people of Syracuse, a couple of specific things, the State Fair starts in a matter of days. And I think people are worried about its capacity and mask wearing and vaccination status with that big event approaching.

And also, the outgoing administration had said its health department would not be giving guidance to school districts about mask wearing when school starts in a few weeks. So, I'm wondering if you can address both of those COVID related concerns.

And if you'll see the state fair for yourself as governor?

HOCHUL: I've never missed the state fair. It is one of the joys of being a New Yorker. Going to the New York State Fair. I'll go either as lieutenant governor, which is what I'll be while the state fair starts, or as governor.

I understand the concerns. However, I just want to remind everyone that I'm not responsible for the policies with respect to that at this time. I'm still lieutenant governor and there's one governor at a time in the state of New York.

But I look forward to returning to Syracuse. It's a place I know well. It's a place where I cut my teeth and activism and look forward to returning for the State Fair and eating all that great food.

And the Erie County Fair, which is my hometown actually starts today in western New York. So, I'll be at that fair soon as I find my way back to Western New York.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lieutenant Governor, I just want -- if you think that there's another mechanism for people who want more accountability, like a special prosecutor --

HOCHUL: I think we're on Zoom right now. Excuse me, one minute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be on (ph) governor, your next question comes from Tara Rosenblum of News 12.

Tara, please unmute your microphone.

Go ahead and unmute your microphone.


HOCHUL: Yes, you are Tara.

ROSENBLUM: OK. Lieutenant Governor, thanks for taking the question. This is in regards to who the next lieutenant governor will be. Do you plan on announcing your pick within the next two weeks?

HOCHUL: I expect I will.

ROSENBLUM: And do you expect that the person you will select will be someone from downstate? We are hearing a few names being tossed around.

HOCHUL: I love upstate, I love downstate, I love the whole state, and there are so many qualified individuals. But I'm kind of sit at the need for diversity and an inclusive ticket. And I'm going to name someone that I believe the state will be familiar with and we're very proud of. But the process is still in its early stages.


BLACKWELL: That's the introduction of the next governor of the state of New York, current Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Some prepared remarks there, some questions from the press as the old cliche goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Let's bring in now CNN's MJ Lee and John Avlon is back with us.

So first impression, John.

AVLON: I think she walked in being brisk, decisive, trying to distance herself from Andrew Cuomo and his personality, his administration saying I didn't spend much time with him. We weren't that close.


AVLON: But associating herself closely with the policies of his administration, which have been largely effective and popular. So she's going to clean house from a loyalists, but she's going to continue a lot of the policies.

We haven't seen a governor from western part of the state of New York in a long time and decades, some more conservative part of the state. So -- but you see, she's having -- trying to set a new tone. But she's got a quite a ramp up to do because she has not been part of day to day governing.

BLACKWELL: Yes, taking that first question from the Buffalo News.

MJ, she was very clear, she didn't wait for anyone to say it that I was not close to the governor. We know that this -- she was not in his inner circle, and that she didn't know anything about the allegations while he was in office.

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. It was clear that if she had one overarching political goal, it was to make sure that people know that she is not an extension of Governor Cuomo, the outgoing governor. That while her title might be lieutenant governor, as John pointed out, she said a number of times, not even prompted that she does not have a close relationship with the governor, and that she's going to be a very different administration.

And she even brought up and sort of appointed way, my administration is never going to be accused of having a hostile work environment.


LEE: And she also said that she was not aware of some of these allegations that have come forward about the governor. So in so many ways, trying to signal to people, I am a different person and I'm going to be a very different kind of governor when that takes place.

BLACKWELL: There's also the promise she made of full transparency, which is applicable, especially to the nursing home deaths and the investigation that's continuing in Albany. Of course, something that, of course, people across the state and the country are so curious about.

LEE: Right. And those investigations, as you said, are ongoing. For the time being I think there are people across the state who are curious and who feel like they deserve answers when it comes to these important issues, like the nursing home related deaths during COVID.

There are other things that are being investigated as well as it pertains to the current governor, right? Was there sort of personal financial gain, the use of state resources? So all of those things, I think when Hochul is speaking from the podium like that, she is very much aware that there is going to be the question of accountability. And so, it's good for her politically, to just straight up say on her day one, speaking as the incoming governor to say, I am going to promise full transparency.


AVLON: And then, follow through on it.


AVLON: You know, she's going to need to fast track these investigations with full transparency. She said a couple of clear markers, and she's going to have to meet those. And one of them is going to be getting answers about the nursing home deaths and that investigation going forward.

She's going to have to create a clear contrast with the personnel and the personality of Andrew Cuomo, while showing continuity and competence with some of the policies that have worked well for the people of New York and made them until recently, relatively popular governor.

BLACKWELL: And of course, some of that popularity came during the early days of the pandemic when the entire country was watching --

AVLON: Absolutely.

BLACKWELL: She got a lot of questions today about how to handle the pandemic as well.

AVLON: There's no learning curve when it comes to dealing with a pandemic.


AVLON: She's coming into office with a growing crisis, but a strong record to build on.