'Special Report' All-Star Panel on voting rights bill, midterms

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This is a rush transcript from "Special Report All-Star Panel" December 28, 2021. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This new sinister combination of voter suppression and election subversion is un-American.

REP. CHIP ROY, (R-TX): This whole idea that they are trying to save the voting rights act is a lie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said before, we are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That's not hyperbole, since the Civil War.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (D-VT): This is enormously important issue. Democracy is at stake.

NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: Our democracy is at stake.

KAMALA HARRIS, (D) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People around the world watch what we do as America, and right now we are about to take ourselves off the map as a role model.

REP. CHIP ROY, (R-TX): They want a federal takeover of elections.

The threat to our republic, the threat to our national security is sitting right there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in both the vice president and the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The shift has happened now from Build Back Better, although Democrats say they are still going to try to move forward. We heard from the president tonight. He hasn't spoken to senator Joe Manchin about a way forward for his vote.

But the voting rights bill is now the focus. They don't have the votes though. Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona are not there on this. "The Federalist," which is against this bill, writes it this way, "Democrats pivot back to radical election bill that would ban voter I.D. It would force states implement automatic voter registration, early voting, same day registration, and no-fault absentee balloting. It would require states to allow ballot harvesting, ban voter I.D. laws nationwide, and limit access to federal courts for anyone who challenges such legislation. If passed, Democrats' extreme elections laws would cause widespread chaos that would make the 2020 election fallout look like a walk in the park."

With that, let's bring in our panel, syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt, former White House press secretary, co-host of OUTNUMBERED, Kayleigh McEnany, and Harold Ford Jr., former Tennessee Congressman and CEO of Empowerment and Inclusion Capital.

Howard, let me start with you. Obviously, "The Federalist" has a point of view there, but what they are saying there, the list of things actually are included in the bill. It's still negotiating about the -- around the edges. But while some of that everyone is fine with, there are some things in there that are major problems, especially for Republicans.

HAROLD FORD JR., FORMER TENNESSEE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, first off, thanks for having me on, merry Christmas, and happy New Year. I think that there are probably some Democrats who may have some issue with some of the things in the legislation, in the package. I think the John Lewis Act, which is not this bill, calls for something narrower, and really focuses on two things -- how do you get and ensure as many people as possible can vote, how do you ensure that we know who those people are, and how can we ensure that those votes can be counted quickly and efficiently and honestly. I think that should be the focus. And I would imagine that Senator Manchin and others, including Senator Sinema, will demand that.

I do hope that some of my Republican friends, though, as concerned as they bore things that happened in 2020, we should all be reminded that there was no widespread fraud. There was little to no fraud, and that was decided not by Democrats or Republicans in Congress but by the courts themselves. So let's try to sit down, take a deep breath, and figure out how we do the basics and not try to do some of the things in this bill which are sort of outside the norm.

BAIER: Kayleigh, there are things that Republicans could be pushing for when it comes to voter rights, for example, voter I.D., that they may think improv the situation. But it's done from a federal level in these bills as opposed to state by state.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And that's just it. "The Wall Street Journal" called the fact that this bill did not pass, it was 49 to 51 the last time it was voted on back in October, they called that a victory for constitutional democracy. And I would agree with that -- constitutional federalism, rather.

When you look at what this bill would do in practice, it would wipe out voter I.D. laws in 36 states, or at least vastly neuter them. And we know voter I.D. is very popular. Polling has shown that. It has been trending in the direction of being a majority approval, upwards of 80 percent I have seen in some polls. So it would wipe out 36 state laws. Then it would wipe out another 16 state laws because it would federalize, give you a right to get a mail-in ballot.

And then on top of that, 27 more laws in states across the country that do not allow felons to vote until they have gone through parole. Those would be wiped out. So you're looking at a total and complete federalizing of elections.

And it's also very curious to me, Bret, I will just end with this, that Kamala Harris, the vice president, has so elevated this battle in the public eye by talking about the lack of passing this bill as a national security threat, she has really elevated the rhetoric, which puts a huge spotlighted on a bill that is going to be doomed.

BAIER: Yes, and we are talking about the substance of the bill, but, obviously, to get there, Hugh, we have talked about changing of the filibuster in the Senate, the 60-vote threshold in order to get there without the votes of Manchin, Sinema, others. Just because we can, we go back to the tape from Senator Biden, 2005, about majority rule. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We represent the majority of the American people. But in this chamber, it's irrelevant, and it should be. This was never intended in any sense to be a majoritarian institution. This distinctive quality of the Senate was part of that great compromise without which we would not have a Constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Now, that Congress, the 109th, was majority Republicans 55 to minority Democrats 44 seats. Hugh?

HUGH HEWITT, SYNDICATED RADIO HOST: Well, Chuck Schumer is going to give Harry Reid a run for his money as worst majority leader ever, Bret, if he brings this to the floor in the face of an obvious defeat. Senator Sinema is from Arizona. Arizona sued and successfully won their challenge to uphold in the Brnovich versus Democratic National Committee voting rights case last year their right to ban ballot harvesting.

Now, yesterday the president embraced federalism. He said only the states can save us from COVID. The clips you played tonight are the most anti- federalist clips possible. They want one system, a national takeover. They want a preclearance of any new state law passed by any state legislature, Democrat or Republican. It is political malpractice.

Now, if the Democrats want to go into 2022 with their signature issue being preclearance of voting law changes, let them. It will be a massacre. But if they have got nothing else to talk about, I guess Chuck Schumer has to talk about that.

BAIER: All right, panel, stand by, if you would. Up next, the Omicron case surge, the president's response. We'll talk about the crime crisis as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: We should have had more tests available, but hopefully now as we get into the first couple of weeks in January that will get much better.

REP. ANDY BIGGS, (R-AZ): They want everybody to take these tests, and then they weren't making sure that the supply was there to take the test.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR, FORMER ASSISTANT HEALTH SECRETARY: We had a shortfall under the Trump administration we started with zero and needed to build the entire infrastructure. We were not going to stop until we had a billion per month. They apparently stopped at a couple hundred million per month.

In the midst of a pandemic, we don't have FDA commissioner, we don't have a testing coordinator. There is no accountability whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Criticisms building for the Biden administration on the issue of COVID, something that he obviously ran on as a candidate to get elected. Back with the panel. Harold, how big a problem politically is this about the testing and about where we are with what the administration has done so far?

FORD: Well, this is a shortcoming. We should have more tests. I listened to the previous speaker there, and he is right.

I do think those who are being critical of the administration around the testing have every right to do that, but I would hope it would give them some credit for urging people to be vaccinated. One thing we do know is our greatest weapon against hospitalization and death, whether it's Omicron and, fortunately, thankfully, prayerfully, Omicron seems to be affecting people in a milder way. But the real weapon against Delta and against COVID-19 in terms of hospitalization and worse is being vaccinated.

So, the administration is going -- I hope that Dr. Fauci is right that at the beginning of the year we get more tests. I have young kids who are going to back in school in New York City. I hope that kids are able to get tested there, and for that matter all across the country.

BAIER: You, Kayleigh, fielded a lot of questions about the federal response versus the state response. And then when the president, President Biden said that this week about the federal government is not -- really can't solve this, what were your thoughts?

MCENANY: I was a little stunned by it, because obviously it runs contrary to his words as a candidate. So, they were a bit alarming to hear, because the federal government certainly has a huge role in amplifying supply, providing supply to states. And I think it says it all when you compare year 2020 and year 2021. This was a novel pathogen that came into our country for which we had no test, no therapeutics. The Trump administration got 100 emergency use authorizations between March and July, upscaled testing by 32,000 percent. And by last fall, the United States had the most advanced testing system in the world, administered more test than the western hemisphere combined. That's a compelling story that the Trump administration had to tell.

And you have to wonder why in June and July they scaled back their testing, and I had a source that told me it was because there was no indication from the federal government as for the demand for testing. So why did the administration drop the ball? We had the most advanced testing system in the world. Now we're behind, it seems, much of the rest of the western world.

BAIER: I want to turn topics, and crime is another topic that is really affecting the country coast to coast, a number of big cities seeing high homicide rates. Take a listen to a couple folks on the crime crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has never supported defunding the police. He has always been an advocate for adequate funding and ensuring that police departments and community policing programs have exactly what they need.

MARK BRNOVICH, (R) ARIZONA ATTORNEY GENERAL: You elect prosecutors and city officials in places like Chicago and San Francisco that basically delegitimize and stigmatize law enforcement, and they will not prosecute crimes. And so you see more of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: To that point, "The Washington Examiner," Hugh, writes "Cities that broke homicide records in 2021 often veered left on crime and policing. Many of the 12 cities that experienced record levels of violence in 2021 moved over the past two years to cut police funding, overhaul law enforcement policies, or put fewer people behind bars. But even some Democratic lawmakers have begun to rethink the reforms championed by activists as the number of homicides nationwide has climbed. The Biden White House, for example, has repeatedly attempted to distance its policies from the defund the police movement that some Democrats have come to view as harmful to their electoral prospects." Hugh?

HEWITT: Bret, this is a series of non-prosecutors. They are not prosecutors. They are non-prosecutors. Boudin in San Francisco, Gascon in Los Angeles, Ogg in Houston, Krasner was on earlier saying up is down, down is up, everything is fine in Philadelphia. This is a crimewave. It is brought about by nonenforcement, by the demoralization and defunding of the police. And it's sitting on the Democratic shoulders. And especially it is sitting on these non-prosecutors.

FOX 26 in Houston ran a story that 155 people have been murdered in the last period of time by people who are out on bond. And so these non- prosecutors are driving a serious deterioration of the quality of life in America, and it will be an issue in 2022.

BAIER: But you have some Democrats, for example, the new mayor of New York, Harold, who has taken a different approach, and maybe that's going to have to be the approach that some Democrats to take.

FORD: I tend to think that most Democrats are where Eric Adams, our new mayor in New York City, is around crime. He is going to put a lot of the units back on the street that were taken off the street under the previous mayor. If I were President Biden, I would partner with Adams and other mayors. I would create task forces across the country. Flood these cities with FBI and more police officers and even SWAT teams. You cannot have criminals believing that they can smash and grab in communities and neighborhoods and cities across this country without not only an overt but a massive response, not only from local officials, but from federal officials as well.

BAIER: All right, panel, thank you.

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