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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) is Interviewed on the Fractures in GOP; Biden's National Security Council Meets in Situation Room; Fight Over Killer Methane Gas Heats Up Between Biden and Texas Governor. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 5, 2021 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:09]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: What does it say about your party?

REP. FRED UPTON (R-MI): Well, I'd say a couple of things. First of all, as it related to yesterday, I would have preferred that this steering committee on the Republican side actually did that on their own and have that affirm by our whole conferences. Not a lot of folks really approve of the statement that she made.

As it related to the vote we had on Liz Cheney in our closed Republican conference, she prevailed better than 2-1. I thought that was actually a pretty good signal to folks that you can vote your conscience and not be taken to task for it.

Liz Cheney, you've had her on your show lots of times, she is a smart, dynamic, well-spoken woman, leader, and that was clearly evident when we went through our Republican conference. And she had a vote that was pretty overwhelming. Frankly, we wanted that vote to show how strong she was.

TAPPER: Well, you seem to be suggesting it's an apples to oranges debate, that some of the people that didn't vote to remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committees maybe did so because they're not comfortable with the majority party doing it on the floor of the House as opposed to the leadership of the Republican Party doing it privately. So, where is the leadership of your party? I mean, where is Kevin McCarthy?

It seems like a very obvious thing to do. This person has called for Nancy Pelosi to be assassinated. She said all sorts of anti-Semitic things, anti-Muslim things, said that school shootings --

UPTON: Yeah.

TAPPER: -- are bogus. I would strip her from the committees because I find that abhorrent. But why won't Kevin McCarthy do that?

UPTON: Well, you know, Kevin did that a private conversation, it's now become public, where he appealed to Steny Hoyer and he said, Steny, we'll remove her, as Republicans, we'll take her off the Education Committee if we can forestall this vote. We won't need to have a vote. We'll do it at our own -- pretty much along the lines of what John Boehner, what Paul Ryan did in the past when we had some folks say some things that really weren't in the mainstream.

Steny rejected it. They wanted the full vote in the House. And, of course, that's what we had. But, again, from my perspective, I would have preferred we did this in-house rather than having a full vote on the House floor.

This was -- you know, it's never happened like this before. And so it broke precedent. I hope that it doesn't continue to see that happen. Republicans ought to decide which Republicans serve and Democrats the same.

But -- and for that reason, I think a lot of my colleagues likely voted no on the resolution because, in fact, it was precedent and perhaps would have preferred, like I would have, that we actually would have dealt with it in-house, as Kevin McCarthy offered to do 24 hours before.

TAPPER: I think that -- I wasn't in the conversation but I think that McCarthy offered to take her off one committee but not both of her committees, and I think he wanted to put her on a different committee and that's why Hoyer rejected it, but I wasn't part of the conversation. Maybe there are two different versions.

Let me just ask you, because you have shown integrity throughout this process, not a surprise, but you have shown integrity throughout this process. Two-thirds of the house Republicans, forget Marjorie Taylor Greene's insane conspiracy theories, two-thirds of the House Republicans have endorsed the big lie conspiracy theory about the election. You have not.

I'm not holding you responsible for what other people have done. But McCarthy, Scalise and 140 others have spread the big lie, or voted to endorse the big lie, disenfranchise voters from Arizona, Pennsylvania, there are people who look at the party and say, does this party now stand for conspiracy theories and lies?

UPTON: Well, it's a pretty loaded question there.

TAPPER: It is. It is.

UPTON: I will just say that, you know, after the election, I think I was the first Republican to recognize that Joe Biden won the race.

TAPPER: Absolutely. I'm not saying you!

UPTON: I'm willing to work with him. I voted against this COVID package a little bit earlier this afternoon because they didn't work with Republicans and there are a lot of things unrelated to COVID that are part of that, and we don't, frankly, know what we did virtually six weeks ago with the $900 billion that was -- that President Trump signed into law. So, as a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus and actually as a vice

chair of that actually, we posed a lot of questions, didn't get any answers at all. And we're seeing this thing ramrodded through the Senate earlier this morning at, what 5:00 in the morning, 51-50. And a very close call here in the House an hour or two ago.

So we can do better. Let me put it that way. We can do better.

TAPPER: OK, not really addressing the question I asked but, you know what? It's Friday. We'll have you back. I'll try again at another time.

Republican Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan, thank you so much. Have a great weekend, sir. Appreciate it.

UPTON: You bet.

TAPPER: That one dude as Senator Sasse called him, goes on trial in the Senate next week. Is Trump still the leader of the GOP? What does this mean for 2022? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:39:22]

TAPPER: So much going on in our politics lead. Let's discuss with "Atlantic" senior editor Ron Brownstein, and "Politico" White House correspondent Laura Barron-Lopez.

Laura, let me start with you.

So, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska is facing censure from his state GOP for criticizing President Trump's role in the capitol riot. I want to play a little clip from a video that he posted last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN SASSE (R-NE): You are welcome to censure me again but let's be clear about why this is happening. It's because I still believe, as you used to, that politics isn't about the weird worship of one dude. The party could purge Trump skeptics, but I'd like to convince you that not only is that civic cancer for the nation, it's just terrible for our party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:40:07]

TAPPER: We should point out that voters just re-elected Sasse for another six years in the Senate and he had been pretty quiet about Trump for like the previous year, or year and a half or so. He was re- elected with a 40-point margin. What's your take on Ben Sasse? I mean, I'm happy to hear him say that but what do you think?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, like you said, Jake, he's taking a stronger stance after being elected and he's safe for about six years. So -- but that being said, he is trying to, along with a small handful of Republicans, point out that there's a decision that the GOP has to make right now.

They have to decide whether or not they're going to stay with Trump and go along with conspiracy theories that have deep roots in anti- Semitism, and racism or white grievance, or whether they are going to make a break with that and decide that they're going to be honest with their voters and say that Trump lost the election and try to work to win over other voters rather than just the base that they have right now.

TAPPER: Ron, you write in the new column that most Republican elected officials have decided that the risk of fighting Trump or Trumpism is too -- is too much to speak out. But, clearly, there are some who are willing to take the risk, Ben Sasse -- she's not an elected but Cindy McCain, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. Some are taking the risks.

What is the Sasse/Ducey calculation?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, they are the minority in the party. And -- I mean, if you look back at history, I think there's no question that Republicans are putting (AUDIO GAP) less resistance to the infiltration of the party by extremist groups today than they did in 1960s with the John Birch Society.

Just as I wrote a few months ago, if you compare the way that Republicans responded to Joe McCarthy's lies and conspiracy theories in the '50s, there was more resistance to that than there was Trump's lies after the election.

And in those earlier cases, Jake, it wasn't like it was a profile in courage in Republicans, but at least there was a critical mass of resistance. And I think what you're seeing now is that the vast majority of Republicans have decided that the Trump side of the party is too big to excommunicate, and the cycle they're in, the treadmill they're on is as that they identify more with that extremism, they're losing ground on those white collar suburbs around the country, which makes them more dependent on massive turnout.

So it's very hard to see right now how the party restores the center of gravity. Only three Republican centers in states that did not vote twice for Trump, only nine House Republicans in districts that did not vote for Trump. And the party has retreated to Trump country.

TAPPER: Yeah, and unfortunately, Trump country is in this case, not about trade deals. It's about conspiracy theories and lies.

Laura, your "Politico" colleague Melania Zanona had this interesting did in her piece today, quote: When asked whether Republican leader Kevin McCarthy should have settled matters with Greene, Marjorie Taylor Greene, internally, Congressman Tom Reed of New York responded, I guess how I would respond that is I'm a big John Boehner fan, he said, referring to this former speaker, who dealt with his members in an upfront manner to avoid problematic votes. And I miss John Boehner every day. I understand why Congressman Reed says that. I think that pretty much

every other Republican leader, including Newt Gingrich, might have handled this differently. Don't you think?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Yeah, well, I as well as both of you were here when Boehner was speaker and I remember Boehner very much putting a lot of his members in line, especially when they appeared to be going out and embracing crazy conspiracy theories. He was very quick to do that.

McCarthy, on the other hand, clearly has a different leadership strategy, he made a very calculated decision to embrace Trump when he went down to Mar-a-Lago after appearing to back away from him a tiny bit during the impeachment trial in the House. Then he went full force back into his arms and decided to not take matters into his own hand s with Marjorie Taylor Greene.

As you said earlier, Jake, he was only going to maybe take her off one committee, try to get her put on another one. So, that isn't exactly what they were trying to send a signal that this is unacceptable behavior in the House.

TAPPER: Yeah, Laura Barron-Lopez, Ron Brownstein, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Have a great weekend to both of you.

A first for the Biden administration, which could have dramatic global implications, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:48:58]

TAPPER: In the world lead, a major meeting in the White House Situation Room today on Iran, amid warnings that the regime could be weeks away from producing a nuclear weapon.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is up live at the Pentagon for us.

And, Oren, keeping up its pressure on the U.S. right now, Iran is.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And that adds to the urgency of this meeting, which was the National Security Council meeting with the top national security and foreign policy advisers about Iran, questions of Iran's accelerating nuclear program as well as questions of what to do about the JCPOA, the nuclear deal from back in 2015.

Meanwhile, Iran is trying to keep the pressure on the U.S. Just last week, Iran's foreign minister said if it wants the U.S. -- or if the U.S. wants Iran to slow down, its nuclear program it needs to get back into the JCPOA and lift sanctions, a means of putting pressure on the U.S. to act and the aim there to try to get the U.S. back into the original JCPOA.

Meanwhile, Iran has also announced a month ago they're enriching uranium up to 20 percent, well, past the 3.67 percent limit from the JCPOA, but still far short of what's considered weapons grade uranium. Again, nonproliferation experts have said that these are reversible steps, but the idea is to put pressure on the U.S. to act quickly.

[16:50:06]

Of course, key U.S. allies in the region are also watching this. Israel, the UAE, trying to have conversations to keep the administration away from just going back to the original JCPOA, looking for a stronger, wider agreement from the Biden administration. Those conversations are ongoing, Jake, that this came so early in the Biden administration means it's a key issue for them.

TAPPER: A very important story we'll keep staying on top of. Thanks so much, Oren, at the Pentagon.

Up next, an invisible threat that you cannot see, you cannot smell. How the White House is going to attempt to tackle it with some surprising help.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:14]

TAPPER: In our "Earth Matters" series, you can't see it, you can't smell it, but it's a danger to us all.

CNN's Bill Weir reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Deep in the heart of Texas, in an oil field the size of Kansas, a little team is trying to solve a big problem -- by showing the world an invisible threat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where there's dark red regions, that's where we found really, really high levels of methane.

WEIR: Yes, they are methane hunters, in search of that planet- cooking, climate-changing pollution better known as natural gas. You can't see it or smell it, unless you have infrared eyes and a laser spectroscope nose.

MACKENZIE SMITH, SENIOR SCIENTIST, SCIENTIFIC AVIATION: Someone must have just walked by the inlet and breathed.

WEIR: Is that right? It's that sensitive?

SMITH: Uh-huh.

WEIR: It can pick up your breath?

SMITH: Oh, absolutely.

WEIR: Really?

SMITH: Yes.

WEIR: This is carbon dioxide down here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

WEIR: And this is methane.

And in the Permian basin, you don't have to fly far to find it.

PAOLO WILCZAK, RESEARCH PILOT, SCIENTIFIC AVIATION: They see it's gone up there.

WEIR: Yeah. Looks like you called it. So, we're downwind of the facility.

WILCZAK: Yeah. That's most likely coming from that site.

KELSEY ROBINSON, PROGRAM MANAGER, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND, PERMIANMAP: So, what we found in the Permian Basin is that operators are wasting enough gas to heat about 2 million homes a year.

WEIR: Sometimes it leaks from old equipment or orphaned wells. And sometimes when there's no one to buy it, they just burn it in a practice known as flaring.

ROBINSON: In fact, we found the Permian basin is emitting more than double in the other oil and gas region in the United States.

WEIR: Scientists agree that if Joe Biden is going to succeed in meeting the promise of the Paris Accord, fixing this is an urgent must. So one of his first executive orders began to roll back Donald Trump's free pass to methane leakers, but the very next week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order of his own.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): I'm in Midland to make clear that Texas is going to protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack launched from Washington, D.C.

WEIR: He ordered every state agency to bring him every reason to sue the Biden administration and seemed eager to start an energy civil war, calling out San Francisco for the recent ban of natural gas in new construction.

ABBOTT: In Texas, we will not let cities use political correctness to dictate what energy source you use.

MIKE SOMMERS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: We think the threat of climate change is very real.

WEIR: Much less hostile is big oil's biggest lobbyist.

SOMMERS: We support both industry actions and the actions by the federal government in the United States and around the globe to address this very important issue that we know is existential in nature. WEIR: But, he argues, oil and gas will still be around for

generations and that the only way to fix the methane problem is to build more pipelines.

SOMMERS: We need a regulatory structure that allows these pipelines to be built, to ensure that we can get these products to market as quickly as possible.

WEIR: But, of course, scientists would say that the fate of life as we know it depends on stopping that production as soon as humanly possible. Can you have it both ways?

SOMMERS: This industry provides about 60 percent of the world's energy today. There is going to be a transition in energy, but I'm also confident that this industry is going to be around for a long time.

ROBINSON: For example, ExxonMobil and some of the other big producers have set some pretty lofty goals for how they want to keep their emissions. But we found that here in the Permian Basin, the methane leak rate is over ten times higher than what a lot of companies have set out to do.

WEIR: So, flying above it all is just another reminder that the true test of a man is what he does when he thinks no one is watching.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEIR (on camera): And Jeff Bezos is buying those watchers $100 million methane-sniffing satellite, Jake. And to talk about the international pressure, France recently canceled a $7 billion deal. Their government there deciding that Texas natural gas is just too dirty for them to burn in good conscience.

TAPPER: All right. Bill Weir with the latest in our "Earth Matters" series, thanks so much, Bill. Appreciate it as always.

Finally, more than 458,000 Americans have died from coronavirus as of right now.

Here's just one of their stories. Larry Conger was 66-year-old husband and father and head of maintenance at Hickory High School in North Carolina. To students, he was the unofficial school historian and the epitome of kindness. To staff, he was everyone's work dad.

Conger was diagnosed with coronavirus, then spent a month on a ventilator before telling his wife, quote: Tell the kids I love them.

May his memory be a blessing. Our deepest condolences to his friends and family.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. I will see you Sunday morning on "STATE OF THE UNION."