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White House urges Senate to take action on gun laws

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Democrats are looking for their next step forward on gun control after the second mass shooting in just one week. CBS News congressional correspondent Kris Van Cleave, CBSN Washington reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns, and Axios congressional reporter Alayna Treene spoke to "Red and Blue" host Elaine Quijano about the push for universal background checks.

Video Transcript


ELAINE QUIJANO: Hi, everyone. I'm Elaine Quijano. It is good to be with you. Thanks for joining us. The White House is urging Congress to take the next steps on gun control legislation after two deadly mass shootings in just a week. President Biden is urging the Senate to pass universal background checks on gun purchases. The measure was already approved by the House. It could land on the president's desk if the votes are there for it, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

On "CBS This Morning," Vice President Kamala Harris did not rule out executive action but made the argument for a bill instead.

KAMALA HARRIS: There is the piece about executive action. But if we pass legislation, it's permanent. If the Congress acts, then it becomes law. And that is what we have lacked. That is what has been missing. We need universal background checks. You know, various states have done it. But there's no universal approach to this. And so what ends up happening? People can move from one state to another, depending on what the law is.

It has to be possible that people agree that these slaughters have to stop. And this is, again-- reject the false choice, and stop pushing it, for sure. Stop pushing the false choice that this means everybody's trying to come after your guns. That is not what we're talking about.

ELAINE QUIJANO: After that interview, President Biden placed the vice president in charge of efforts at the southern border. She will work with Mexico and Central American countries to slow what's been a surge in migration to the US. The government is struggling to house children and teens seeking asylum in the US by themselves. Here is how President Biden explained his administration's goals.

JOE BIDEN: The best way to keep people from coming is keep them from wanting to leave. And the reason why so many people were leaving, we learned, was that not only gang violence and trafficking cartels, but natural disasters-- hurricanes, floods, earthquakes. If you deal with the problems in your country, it benefits everyone. It benefits us. It benefits the people, and grows the economies there.

Unfortunately, the last administration eliminated that funding-- did not engage in it, did not use it, even though there was over $700 million to help get this done. We're re-instituting that program.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Kris Van Cleave, Caitlin Huey-Burns, and Alayna Treene join me now. Kris is a CBS News Congressional Correspondent. Caitlin is CBSN's Washington Reporter, and Alayna is a Congressional Reporter for Axios. Welcome to you all.

Kris, let me start with you. I want to first ask about the White House's push for gun control. Is there any sort of legislation which could get through the Senate at this point?

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: It doesn't look like it, Elaine. You need 60 votes to move something through the Senate. And it's not clear that even the two measures that the House passed last week that would close gun loopholes-- require universal background checks and give law enforcement more time to vet somebody trying to buy a gun-- it doesn't look like those even necessarily have 50 votes of support, let alone the 60 you would need.

So while I think you're going to hear a lot of talk about gun control in the weeks ahead, right now it doesn't look like there is a bill that has the votes to pass, which could end up setting the stage for it going back over to the other side of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, go down the block here to the White House, and executive action being taken. But for now, you're going to hear a lot of talk in the Senate. I don't know that there is a piece of legislation right now that would get you 60 votes.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right. So Caitlin, to pick up on what Kris was saying there, what kind of potential executive action is the Biden administration considering?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Well, they have been pretty vague so far about what they are considering. But they have acknowledged that they could take steps on executive authority. They could potentially, as activists have pointed out, do things to strengthen background checks, close some loopholes, do some things from a regulatory perspective.

But really, what we're seeing from the White House is this push for Congress to act. We heard Kamala Harris in her interview with "CBS This Morning" this morning say that while executive action could be on the table, that they are really focusing on Congress. But as Kris mentioned, this is an issue that is completely elusive on Capitol Hill, and has been.

This is also an issue with which Biden is intimately familiar. He was, of course, one of the architects of the assault weapons ban back in the 1990s. While he was vice president after the Sandy Hook shooting, then-President Obama tasked him with leading this effort in Congress. We know how that turned out. There wasn't enough support for even background checks, which are wildly popular-- widely popular. That measure failed in the Senate.

So this is an issue that shows kind of how much ground has shifted since Biden has been in office as a senator, and even as vice president-- that this is an issue that, while they're saying Congress needs to act and they're waiting for Congress to act, this is an issue that we know faces a huge uphill climb. We should also note that when Biden was campaigning for president, he made gun legislation a priority on the campaign trail. He said on day one he would send legislation to Congress to get rid of liability protections for gun manufacturers.

As we know, COVID relief and the economic fallout, now immigration-- those are issues that have taken center stage. And the issue of guns has fallen to the wayside, really, until now.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Yeah. I mean, we've just continued to watch, as you all have noted, the ways in which this debate has played out time and time again with, in the end, no action being taken in Washington. Let's turn to another topic. Alayna, you have been following a push from Senate Republicans to get Democrats on the record regarding the Southern border. What are you learning?

ALAYNA TREENE: Well, Elaine, I think that we've seen over the past several weeks now that the issue at the border is really becoming a crisis. I know that the administration is trying not to call it that, but I think it's come to the point now where we can say that it is a crisis. And it's something that Republicans are really trying to seize, particularly as a messaging strategy.

And we saw some of those efforts today. A bunch of different Republican senators put forward bills, or [INAUDIBLE] for some of these bills on the floor, trying to get Democrats on the record. Of course, knowing that they wouldn't pass, but just trying to gain more attention for what's happening right now at the border.

We're also seeing a ton of Republicans, like led by Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, go to the border later this week and bring 17 Republicans with them, just to check out what's happening there. And we've seen that there is this overwhelming amount of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Of course, the situation is much more dire because of COVID. A lot of-- I think about 300 unaccompanied minors in facilities right now at the Southern border have the coronavirus, according to a report that my colleague, Stef Kight, had released earlier today.

And so it's just a bad situation all around. And I think that the Biden administration is doing what it can to address this, or sent down some people today on a trip to get a better look of what's happening at some of these border situations and try to seize back some of the narrative. But it's really an issue that they're having a lot of trouble to fix, and it's going to be one that they have to continue to monitor very closely.

ELAINE QUIJANO: You know, there's so much interest in it, especially after some of these more recent images that have been released about what it looks like for these migrants inside these facilities. Kris, let me ask you-- more than two months after the January 6 insurrection, the fencing surrounding the US Capitol has now been removed. What do we know about the current threat level, and where are they in their investigation?

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: So Elaine, there were two fence lines inside the Capitol complex. The outer perimeter has been completely removed. There's are still high-security fencing that surrounds the Capitol building itself. The razor wire has been taken off of all of that.

What we're hearing is that there is not an immediate credible threat against the Capitol complex. However, we continue to hear that threats against lawmakers remain at an all-time high. Representative Van Drew today at a hearing spoke about a threat against his life that his wife received at their home that also threatened her and his kids. Just another example of some of, at the very least, the increased threatening rhetoric aimed at lawmakers. So that remains a big concern. But the intelligence right now that we know about doesn't point to an immediate threat to the Capitol complex.

Where does the investigation of the Capitol attack stand? We learned this week that between state and federal charges, more than 400 people have been charged, that prosecutors are weighing sedition charges in some cases. And we're going to talk tonight on the CBS Evening News about some new information just unsealed, just revealed in court documents about some coordination perhaps between some of the extremist groups that we know have had members charged on the 6.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right. Really looking forward to hearing the details on that. Kris Van Cleave, we know you have to go. Thank you very much. Meantime, Caitlin, the Senate Rules Committee met earlier today discussing voting rights legislation, as many states move to change election laws. Caitlin, what is at stake here?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Well, Democrats who are pushing for this say that what's at stake is that you have this movement underway in state legislatures to change voting laws in light of the 2020 elections. Some of those have already gone through. Iowa has signed some restrictions into law already. We're watching Georgia this week as their legislative session wraps up.

Republican-- and this bill, among other things, would create an automatic same-day voter registration. It would expand vote by mail across the country. It would reform gerrymandering. Those are some of the highlights that Democrats say are of this bill. Republicans say that this is a federal takeover of elections systems that are supposed to be run by the states. Watching this hearing today, you heard Republicans over and over again describe this as a Democratic power grab and something that would interfere with states' rights to run elections.

What I took away from this hearing today is that if there was any doubt that this bill was essentially non-passable in the Senate as it stands now, this made that even more clear. There is Republican unity against this measure, so much so that we've talked to activists and other party leaders who say opposition to this bill is an animating issue among their base, unlike anything that they've seen recently. Democrats have really not been banking at all on support for Republicans for this, and that's why you've had a lot of this conversation focused on reforming or even eliminating the filibuster.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right. Well finally, Alayna, in our show last night we played the criticism from Illinois Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth calling the White House's rationalization for the lack of Asian-American cabinet representation insulting. You broke the news of that White House call with senators. What happened?

ALAYNA TREENE: Well, Elaine, it was in their Monday night meeting. It was a virtual retreat among Senate Democrats, and the White House joined the call, some officials, including the president for one period of time. But after President Biden got off the call, his deputy chief of staff, Jen O'Malley Dillon, gave a presentation. And it was during that presentation that Senator Duckworth spoke up and confronted her over the lack of, or really absence of Asian-American representation in the cabinet.

She was backed up by Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii. And both kind of just brought up this issue. Look, there aren't enough-- there isn't enough representation of Asian-Americans, especially after what we've seen over the past year, a rise in hate crimes and violence against Asian-Americans. The timing of it especially, I think, was a trigger for some of these senators.

And the White House came back and said, you know, the Vice President, Kamala Harris, she is African-American, but also an Asian-American, given her Indian American roots. And Senator Duckworth said that was insulting. She spoke to reporters last night at the Hill about that call. And she said, I found that insulting, because you know, just to have one person in the administration isn't enough.

Now of course, Kamala Harris is the vice president. There's also Katherine Tai, who is United States trade representative. That is a cabinet-level position technically, but she's not a cabinet secretary. And so these are some of the concerns that they've had.

Since then and this conversation, the White House has said that they would appoint an Asian-American liaison for some of these issues. And that seemed to appease Senators Duckworth and Hirono, who said that they wouldn't be holding back their support for any of these nominees that they had previously mentioned they would do if they didn't address this issue.

ELAINE QUIJANO: It's certainly something that we are going to continue to follow. I know a lot of folks are, especially given the context of what you mentioned, the time that we're in right now. Caitlin Huey-Burns and Alayna Treene for us. Thank you very much.