Fox News panel reacts to heated debate over election reform law

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 11, 2021. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Republicans no longer want to let the voters pick their politicians. They want to let politicians pick their voters.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The Democratic Party on its own wants to rewrite the ground rules of American politics for their benefit.

SCHUMER: Republican legislatures have seized on the big lie to restrict the franchise and inevitably make it harder for African Americans, Latinos, students, and the working poor to vote.

MCCONNELL: So the marketing has changed constantly. This has gone from an election security bill to an ethics bill to a racial justice bill. Who knows what it will be labeled tomorrow?


BAIER: It's not often that you get the Senate majority and minority leaders going head to head, battling back and forth in the markup of a committee room of a piece of legislation. But that is what is happening with S-1. This is this bill about voting and elections, and it's causing a lot of controversy on Capitol Hill.

Where are we? Let's bring in our panel, Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist," Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief at "USA Today," Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for "Axios." Jonathan, it seems like both sides are pretty dug in here. Where do you think this stands?

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "AXIOS": Well, I think you made the most important point, which is to have the Senate majority leader and the Senate minority leader at a markup, which is usually a pretty sleepy affair, emphasizes how much important both sides attach to this legislation.

And I will just give you the Democratic Party perspective, because I think it's really important to understand how they are viewing this politically. To an outside observer, it looks like the Democrats are flying easy. They control Washington. They have got the House, the Senate, the White House. The truth is it's much more tenuous, and they're probably, if history is any guide, going to lose the House next November. So, for Democrats, they see they have got this window of time to pass this legislation, which they view as crucial to ensuring that they can remain in power in future elections and not be locked out of power for maybe a decade of Republican majorities.

So both sides view it is as existential, and that's why you see the level of focus you are seeing.

BAIER: Yes. Susan, here is Shelley Moore Capito, Republican senator from West Virginia.


SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO, (R-WV): One thing this bill does for my state of Virginia is we have e-voting for our military who are deployed overseas and for our folks with disabilities that can vote electronically. This allows that. Why in the world would we disenfranchise our military voters who are deployed, and people with disabilities who have difficulty getting to the polls?

So it just shows you it's a once-size-fits-all federal power grab. They politicize the FEC. They cannot possibly tell me they think that's a good idea if Republicans were in charge. So I think it's very transparent what's going on here.


BAIER: I guess, Susan, we hear a lot from Democrats about Republicans somehow restricting voting possibilities. It was just interesting to hear that particular element of this bill proposal.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Yes, but one thing to keep in mind is that there is virtually no chance this bill is going to get through Congress. It's not clear that Democrats in the Senate will hang together. Even if they do, the odds of getting 10 Republicans to get them past the filibuster are slim indeed.

This is a battle we are going to be hearing about for the next year and more. And you wonder why Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer showed up to this markup. It's because the reason Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and Mitch McConnell has been pushed to the minority is because Democrats won those two Senate runoff elections in Georgia in January. Now, if the restrictions on voting that Georgia is now considering, the state restrictions, were in place, would the outcome of those two races have been the same? And the fact that you could ask that question and not be sure the answer is the reason that you see the kind of stakes both parties see at play in this debate.

BAIER: Yes, it's interesting you made that point, because 50 state legislatures really make the rules on how these elections run, and this would change that dynamic, Mollie?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE FEDERALIST": Yes, the Constitution provides for state legislatures to handle this. And this is a power grab at the federal level, and I totally agree with what Jonathan is saying about Democrats doing this so that they can secure their power. They have very narrow majorities in the House. They are tied in the Senate. The idea that you would ram through something this radical when you don't have big majorities really gives -- shows what it lie it is that we are dealing with moderation here.

But it's more important that we have free, fair, trusted, and accurate elections. What happened in 2020 was that we had massive changes in how people vote. And a lot of those changes were about expanding mail-in voting. That was sold to people, very few legislatures, it was mostly through courts and other means that they made these changes. This bill is seeking to make that permanent.

The reason why that's of concern is because up until 2020 there was general consensus that mail-in balloting is the one that is most prone to fraud. It's very difficult to catch fraud after the fact. The Jimmy Carter bipartisan commission on voting noted that mail-in balloting is susceptible to fraud. And it's so important because people need to be able to trust their elections so that they can have peaceful situations going forward. Democrats haven't accepted a presidential loss since the 1980s. You had problems in 2016 with Republican -- or 2020 with how Republicans viewed that election. So it's very important that you get broad support for how elections are run and that you do it in a constitutional manner.

BAIER: Jonathan, I want to ask one question about this pipeline hack and how the administration is dealing with it. You had the energy secretary out today saying what they are doing and trying to say there is enough gas out there and don't hoard. But in making that case, she said pipelines really are the best way to move this oil. They canceled the Keystone XL pipeline.

SWAN: I hadn't thought about it that way. But this is, I think, one of the biggest -- it's a sleeper crisis in a way because it sort of took a couple of days for people to really focus in on this. And I remember seeing this story a few days ago. This could be a really big one. But when you have the combination of the gas prices and then also this real tangible example of the kind of threat that we have across our society and the vulnerability that we have in some of our critical infrastructure, the combination of those two factors make this one of the most significant challenges that Biden has faced so far.

BAIER: Susan?

PAGE: Yes, I agree with that. And this whole idea of cybersecurity, I don't know about your company, but my company requires us to take all this automated training so that we can spot efforts to get into our corporate system for nefarious purposes. This is clearly an issue that we didn't face a generation ago and is going to just get more and more serious.

BAIER: Definitely.

All right, panel, stand by. Up next, what about the Biden administration, the facts, overabundance of caution, COVID-19? Stick with us.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The president and his team keep sending mixed messages about gatherings and wearing masks and sometimes break from their own CDC's guidance for vaccinated Americans. Again, there almost seems to be some reluctance to let go of emergency measures even to the point of clashing with science.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know, as more people get vaccinated, there will be less and less need for certain restrictions. And the CDC has said they will continue to evaluate the science and update their recommendations as they have already begun doing. And so that's what we will be relying on moving forward.


BAIER: Well, CDC is updating, and "The New York Times" is calling out the CDC for saying that somewhere less than 10 percent of all COVID cases transmitted outdoors. However, according to "The New York Times," "These recommendations would be more grounded in science if anywhere close to 10 percent of COVID transmission were occurring outdoors, but it is not. There is not a single documented COVID infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interaction, such as walking past someone on the street or eating at a nearby table."

Why does this matter? Does it matter? It's about vaccinations, it's about herd immunity. We are back with our panel. Mollie, is this a big deal?

HEMINGWAY: Well, the CDC has had such a major role in how society has responded to the threat of coronavirus. And I think that there have been many instances where government agencies have not done a great job of doing risk analysis. One of the big mistakes the Trump administration made, I think, was putting someone like a Dr. Fauci as the public face who -- Fauci being very good at self-promotion but less good at thinking through all of what goes into whether or not society should lock down or not.

We actually did know this a year ago, that there was no outdoor transmission. And yet through media hysteria and bad guidance from government officials people went into a frenzy. And originally what was billed as two weeks to slow the spread so that hospitals could manage the increase in patients has turned into this never-ending lockdown and a situation where a lot of Americans don't understand how to assess risk.

We have the vaccine. It is available to everyone. It's particularly got high rates of acceptance in the communities that are most likely to be susceptible to really bad reaction to COVID. These are all great things. It is more than long enough time to get moving now.

BAIER: Jonathan, it does seem like some communities, some states, some localities are starting to head towards easing even if they weren't at the beginning.

SWAN: Yes, and that's reasonable. The vaccine program has been a miracle, actually. Firstly, getting the vaccines in that period of time, and then, the rates of immunization have been astonishing. I come from Australia, and in my home country they are doing a terrible job and no one is vaccinated. They are lucky they can hermetically seal the country.

We're not out of the woods. There's still the worry about the variants and the mutations, but if we can get up to that 70 percent vaccination figure, which is what Joe Biden has targeted for July 4th, then, hopefully, the country can be completely unfettered.

BAIER: Is there, Susan, any political backlash for being overcautious?

PAGE: Well, eventually there could be because Americans are really eager to get out. My husband is right now at a Nats game and glad to be there. But we know that President Biden's approval rating on handling the pandemic is 71 percent in an A.P. poll that came out yesterday, including 47 percent among Republicans. That's credibility that is important for the White House to hold as we go into this new stage of the pandemic.

BAIER: Meantime, Capitol Hill, Mollie, is looking into the origins and this Wuhan lab and the back and forth about that, trying to dig in to get to the bottom of it.

HEMINGWAY: There should be boundless curiosity about how everything got out of China and how it was spread. And so it's good that they are finally looking into this. And I actually thought that Rand Paul had Fauci dead to rights in how the U.S. was involved in funding the Wuhan virus, and it's important that we explore this. But it's also important that we have a lot of time to research that. We also just need to get moving.

BAIER: The lab, not the virus itself. But they funded the lab in the past, you are exactly right.

Panel, stand by. When we come back, tomorrow's headlines tonight.


BAIER: Finally tonight, a look at tomorrow's headlines tonight with the panel. Mollie, first to you.

HEMINGWAY: Yes, my headline is between gas lines, inflation, and unemployment rising, the Carter era is back.

BAIER: All right, Jonathan, your headline?

SWAN: Cheney loses in a landslide. I think everyone including Liz Cheney knows that she is going to be kicked out of leadership tomorrow.

BAIER: Yes, I think that's not a surprising headline. We will follow it tomorrow. The vote is tomorrow. Susan, your headline?

PAGE: Cheney beats expectations. I don't mean that she is not going to get purged from House leadership. I mean at the moment you can count the number of defenders she has among House Republicans on one hand, you don't need all your fingers, she will do better than that if it goes to a recorded vote, because if it does it will be a secret ballot.

BAIER: That's exactly right. Panel, thank you very much.

Tomorrow on SPECIAL REPORT Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be our exclusive guest. We will talk about whatever happens with Liz Cheney on the House side. But also S-1, the election bill, and a number of questions. If you have one, drop me a tweet @BretBaier, let me know what you would ask the Senate minority leader tomorrow.

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That's it for the SPECIAL REPORT, fair, balanced, and still unafraid. "FOX NEWS PRIMETIME" with a guy who starts in the morning and then finishes at night, Brian Kilmeade, starts right now.

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