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CDC Raises Ebola Response to Highest Level; Awaiting Obama News Conference at the State Department
Aired August 6, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- Ebola alert. The CDC raises its response to the highest level, as suspected cases of the deadly disease are reported far from the West African epicenter.
Obama news conference -- the president is due to speak any moment now. He's likely to discuss the Ebola outbreak and other world crises, from Gaza to Ukraine. We'll, of course, have live coverage this hour.
And hackers steal 1.2 billion Internet user names and passwords. Your information may be among them. We're going to tell you what you need to know.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're awaiting a news conference by President Obama. It's expected to begin very shortly.
But let's begin right now as we await the president with breaking news.
The deadly Ebola virus is spreading and the World Health Organization reports more than a hundred new cases in the West African epicenter of the outbreak. Ebola is suspected in the deaths of patients in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. And one patient will be flown from Liberia to Spain for treatment. With two Americans undergoing treatment in Atlanta right now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now put its emergency operations center at Level 1. That is the highest state of alert.
Let's go live to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
He spent time in that operations center earlier today -- Sanjay, this outbreak is growing. As we said, nine cases now in Nigeria.
Are they taking a new strategy to try to contain this, because it seems to be getting a whole lot worse?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's a sort of a strategy of trying to flood the zone a little bit more, if you will, Wolf. A Level 1 alert, the increase in status there, went up while we were at this emergency operations center. It's sort of a nerve center for the Centers for Disease Control. It's where they monitor real time lots of these activities all over the world and where they're trying to figure out, you know, where they could possibly make certain interventions.
We know, for example, the CDC has increased their -- the number of folks that are going to be over in that area in West Africa. And this means more people, as well as higher level people, are now going to be sitting in that emergency operations center and be working on Ebola specifically. So it's -- the last time this happened was H1N1, back in 2009, the flu. You remember, Wolf, at that time. So this isn't -- this is not something that happens that often. And it's a real sort of -- it's a message from the CDC that they really are going to devote a lot of their resources to this.
BLITZER: If they do find some sort of outbreak, are they prepared here in the United States, specifically, what about a vaccine?
Is that in the works?
GUPTA: Well, let me answer the first part of that question first, the idea that an outbreak would occur in the United States. I think it's very unlikely. And part of the reason why is that these outbreaks occur, in part, because when it spreads, when Ebola spreads from a person who is sick with the viral disease, it is to somebody who oftentimes has not been protected in some way, the patient has not been isolated. Oftentimes, it's family members who subsequently get that infection. And it spreads from there.
Here in the United States, you've seen, over the last couple of days, how these patients are being treated. They're in isolation. Precautions are being taken by the health care workers so that they don't get sick. We know that those precautions are -- are pretty strong here. And it's very unlikely that you're going to get secondary cases.
But there is work on a vaccine, Wolf. There's been work on a vaccine for some time. There are labs all over the world that have been working on this. We reported, as you know, Wolf, earlier this week, about an experimental serum, if you will, an experimental medication that could be given after somebody had already become sick or already been exposed to the Ebola virus to try and reduce their likelihood of getting sicker or even dying from the disease.
So that was the first time it had ever been tried in a human being.
So we're talking about these things real time. What we're witnessing here with Ebola, this is happening right now. And, as a result, you know, when you hear about the scientific rationale for doing things, it's based on what's happening right now. This isn't some study that we're looking at, it's unfolding in front of us.
BLITZER: How about those two patients at the Emory University Hospital, who came down with Ebola, were flown here, back to the United States?
What's the latest on them?
How are they doing?
GUPTA: Well, you know, we've heard from -- we heard from Nancy Writebol's son today. And he basically said that, you know, she's doing well. He was able to spend a little bit of time with her. He said she's very tired. You know, it sounded like she obviously was getting her care. But it was a little bit -- you know, she wasn't able to spend a lot of time with him. She's probably having her -- all of her vital signs and her vital organs sort of assessed, if you will, to see how much of an impact this viral disease had on her body -- how did her heart do?
How did her lungs, her kidneys, her liver?
And that takes some time. Much of that was not done when she was in Liberia.
We also know that at some point today -- we don't know if it's already occurred -- she was going get a third dose, again, of that experimental serum that we reported on. She got two doses in Liberia. She's going to get the third dose today.
And as far as Mr. Brantly, Dr. Brantly goes, we know that he had spent some time with his wife a couple of days ago. He was able to speak with her for 45 minutes. He looked to be in better shape. You remember, Wolf, as he got off the ambulance, able to walk off the ambulance, take a few steps with assistance.
So, you know, we're waiting to hear how things are going to move forward for him and maybe even when they'll start thinking about discharge. It won't be for some time, but that's sort of the plan going forward -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And he got that experimental serum, as well, right?
GUPTA: Yes, he did. That's right.
BLITZER: It seemed to have helped him dramatically.
GUPTA: He got -- he was the first. He was the first human being in the world to receive this experimental therapy. And, again, it was described to me by some of the people who sort of witnessed what happened, he was quite sick. He was having difficulty breathing. His vital signs had started to fluctuate. He had a profound rash that sort of went from his belt line up his trunk. And again, as it was described to me, a profound reaction to the medication. Within an hour, 20 minutes to an hour, I was told, the rash started to dissipate. You could see it starting to go away. His breathing improved.
By the next morning, he went from being, you know, they were worried that he would die. By the next morning, he was able to stand up and take a shower on his own, before he got on that pre-arranged jet med evacuation from Africa to Atlanta. So, you know, there's going to be a lot of people discussing this, the ethics of it, the science of it, the availability of it, should this have happened, should it happen more in the future for patients?
But for him, Wolf, it seems to have made an impact.
BLITZER: Well, here's the question, though, Sanjay, I understand only these two Americans have received this experimental, top secret, if you want to call it that, serum.
What about the hundreds of other hundred of people in Africa who have come down with Ebola?
Why aren't they receiving it?
GUPTA: It's a very fair question, and certainly one that the folks at the NIH, the FDA should -- should be answering, as well.
I will tell you this, that typically what happens in these situations is, you know, this is an unusual thing that happened. Typically, medications go through a trial process. They are tested to see if they are safe, tested to see if they are effective. Then plans are made to see if you can offer them more broadly to larger numbers of people.
That didn't happen here. It was almost a -- a little bit of a Hail Mary to say let's go ahead and give this medication to someone who is really, really sick.
They got his consent, from what I'm told. He understood the risks and took the medication.
I think they're going to want more data, Wolf, before saying, look, hundreds of other people, thousands of other people should start taking this. They're going to want a little bit more data to make sure it's the right thing to do.
Two patients alone -- one patient alone, certainly not two patients alone, even -- that's not -- that's not enough data, I think, for them to make those decisions.
BLITZER: These are life and death decisions, we should point out, as all of our viewers certainly appreciate.
Sanjay, thanks very much.
Sanjay Gupta is our chief medical correspondent.
We're awaiting a news conference by the president. This subject may come up, by the way.
He's wrapping up an extraordinary three day summit of dozens of African leaders who have come here to Washington. But the summit has taken place in the shadow of that deadly Ebola outbreak that's gripping several African nations.
The president will certainly be asked, I suspect, about that. He'll certainly be asked about the bloody conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, now on hold, with a very fragile cease-fire.
Other issues likely to come up, including the crises in Ukraine and Iraq.
You will see it live, the entire news conference, the president -- once he gets ready for that, we'll have live coverage.
Our correspondents and our guests, they are all standing by with the kind of coverage that only CNN can deliver.
But let's go first to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
He's over at the State Department getting ready to ask the president, we hope, a question -- so set the scene for us -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, HOST: That's right, Wolf. A pretty rare press conference for the president being here over at the State Department. But the president is expected to recap, as you mentioned, what has been a pretty historic summit for Washington, bringing together dozens of leaders from across the continent of Africa.
But it's been a challenge for the president to get the good news out of this summit, the billions of dollars being committed by both government and business to develop Africa.
Part of that is because of the Ebola scare. We saw a couple of leaders from Africa, from Sierra Leone and Liberia, who were forced to skip the summit because of the Ebola scare.
Back home, the president earlier today was committing U.S. resources to combat that back in West Africa.
The other part of this, though, Wolf, for the president is what's happening on the world stage, his diplomatic efforts to stop Vladimir Putin's steps, to deescalate the situation in Ukraine, have failed, as well as what's happening in Gaza so far, the president's efforts, the secretary of State's efforts to broker some sort of lasting peace or cease-fire in the Middle East have really fallen short.
And so the president will likely be asked about all of that.
But, Wolf, I've also been talking with senior White House officials today. They are keenly aware of these poll numbers that have come out this week, something that has, perhaps, been a little bit below the radar screen with everything happening in the Middle East and the Ebola scare, these poll numbers that are really at historic lows for the president in both an NBC News and "Wall Street Journal" poll, in addition to a CBS News and "New York Times" poll. Both show the president with disapproval numbers at, really, the basement of his presidency. The White House knows about that all too well. The question is whether or not there's enough time for this White House, for this president, to reverse that trend and in time for the midterm elections, which are, of course, rapidly approaching.
BLITZER: They certainly are.
All right, Jim Acosta will stand by.
Live coverage coming up. The president will make a statement then he'll answer reporters' questions.
I want to quickly bring in our chief national correspondent, John King -- John, let's talk a little bit about the poll, this new "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll. Only 40 percent approve of the job the president is doing. Fifty-four percent disapprove.
This is -- he's gone way down. His high was up in April of '09, 61 percent approved. This is the low point in his presidency right now, as far as this poll and this job approval number.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And just about everything is dragging him down. You always look and say, what is the one thing that's dragging the president down?
Well, there's profound economic anxiety evidenced in this poll, despite some better economic numbers. A big majority of Americans think the country is off on the wrong track.
And we've watched, over the last six months to a year, his own numbers on leadership and competence to administer the government drop down. And, Wolf, if you went through the set of issues and whether they're the global issues right now or the domestic issues right now, the president gets low grades at a very critical point of his presidency, because we're in a midterm election season.
BLITZER: In the same "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll, we took a look just for historic records. The low point for the president right now is at 40 percent. George W. Bush, back in April of '08, a 27 percent job approval number. The low point for Bill Clinton in his first year as president, 41 percent. It went up significantly after that.
All right, everybody stand by.
We're going to take a quick break.
We're waiting for the president of the United States. He's getting ready to make a statement over at the State Department and then answer reporters' questions.
He's just wrapping up a critically important summit with dozens of African leaders who have come to Washington. We'll take a closer look at why Africa is now also a new focus for U.S. counterterrorism operations.
And would you believe it -- a billion stolen passwords. A security firm says it's uncovered the biggest cyber theft in history. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're standing by.
The president of the United States, he's about to go to that microphone over there. That's the State Department. He's wrapping up a very important summit with African leaders who have come to Washington. The president will make a statement and then answer reporters' questions. We anticipate the questions will be far- ranging, from what's going on between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, to Ukraine, the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Lots of issues on the agenda.
Let's bring back John King.
Jim Sciutto is here.
Elise Labott is here.
The president, at the end of a summit, he always has a news conference. This is a little different, isn't it -- Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is. But he's -- he's got a message he has to get across. A 40 percent approval rating -- his approval rating for his foreign policy is 36 percent now, so even lower. And when you look at the particular crises, how he's handling them, handling ISIS in Iraq, 14 percent approval rating; handling Russia's threats to Ukraine, 23 percent.
You know, it's been the administration's position for the last couple of years that it is in tune with what the American people want -- withdrawing from Iraq, withdrawing from Afghanistan in a number of months.
But clearly, it's hard for the American people to turn their eyes away from the crisis and how they're exploding and how, so far, the administration's policy responses have not worked, whether it's deterring Russia from further escalation in Ukraine, calming the situation in Gaza, or, frankly, standing up to the threat of ISIS in Iraq.
BLITZER: And right now, there's a real threat. There's thousands of Russian troops who have massed on the border with Ukraine.
SCIUTTO: And real worry among intelligence officials that I speak to about what Russia is going do next. They don't know that an invasion is imminent, but they are worried about it, because they constantly say -- and I was speaking to Pentagon officials yesterday. It's not just the numbers of troops that are along that border, but it's their capability. And they have a capability to invade.
And it's their position that they can invade very quickly. And they might not know they're invading until it happens.
BLITZER: Elise, they're wrapping up day two...
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right. BLITZER: -- of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The talks are just barely beginning to deal with some of these issues in Cairo. There's an Israeli delegation, a Palestinian delegation and U.S. -- U.S. officials are going to join in, at least on the sidelines, as they say.
The immediate need is to extend -- this is day two. It's a three day cease-fire...
BLITZER: -- go beyond three days and make it go on longer.
LABOTT: Right. I've talked to Egyptian officials who are involved in helping mediate this, Wolf. And as you say, the U.S. will really not be taking part in the talks. They'll be kind of in a supportive and advisory role on the side, ready to cajole, ready to help advise and assist.
But what they're saying is, listen, there is tentative agreement for another extension of the cease-fire, perhaps another 72 hours. The talks right now are in their exploratory stage. No one is in a rush for the cease-fire to end.
The hope is they can extend. And as these talks build momentum, there's more trust and confidence to keep a long-term cease-fire while they try and resolve some of these not final status issues for a peace deal, but some of the underlying issues that keep bringing us to this point of conflict again and again -- the easing of the blockade of Gaza, which we've discussed; the decision to possibly disarm Hamas, empower President Abbas to take over parts of Gaza so they can ease up those crossings, but also make sure that Hamas cannot rearm and attack Israel.
BLITZER: Yes, the Israelis keep saying the key is the demilitarization of Gaza.
If Gaza is demilitarized, Hamas doesn't have any more rockets or missiles or mortars to fire into Israel, it doesn't build tunnels to infiltrate into Israel, then you can talk about all of these other issues...
BLITZER: -- to try to make life for the Palestinians, 1.7, 1.8 million Palestinians there -- a lot easier.
We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up.
Guys, stand by, because I want to go to the Pentagon right now and Barbara Starr.
As we await the president and his news conference, Barbara, you know, terrorism is certainly on the agenda. And it's a key issue confronting the African leaders, as well.
What are you hearing over there?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, what Pentagon and intelligence officials will tell you is Africa really is the front line in the war on terror now, but very different than what we've seen over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Africa, from North Africa to Nigeria to Somalia, Kenya on the east coast of Africa, you are seeing the rise of al Qaeda affiliates, of individual militant groups growing in power in their areas, launching more and more attacks.
What this summit has been about is to foster economic development and investment in Africa. And the way to do that, the way to start getting Western or European countries to invest in Africa, Asian companies to invest in Africa, is to assure that there is security. They will not invest if there is not security.
That takes you right back to terrorism.
The U.S. strategy now, no more big land wars. What you are seeing there are U.S. special operations all over Africa, training, helping, advising local African forces.
In Somalia, we all remember Blackhawk down a few years ago. The Somali people very anti-American.
That he's really turned around. It's one of the case studies. There are now, very quietly, a significant number of U.S. special operations in Somalia, helping track down militants, conducting operations. And the Somali government wants them there, because they want the security so they can get that country back on their feet.
Not -- it doesn't work everywhere. Nigeria has been a problem. The U.S. has been helping train Nigerian forces, but there have been human rights violations in Nigeria. That is limiting what the U.S. can do.
In North Africa, places like Mali, there has been political unrest and the rise of al Qaeda. That has limited some of what the U.S. can do.
But Africa really is the place where you are seeing this new model -- small, lethal, U.S. forces conducting counterterrorism when they need to, conducting those operations, but really working to help train local African forces. That's what the U.S. thinks the way ahead in Africa is, to assure that security, deal with terrorism and then get that investment moving on the continent.
BLITZER: Yes, Barbara, stand by.
Bob Baer is our national security analyst, a former CIA operative.
I suspect this is going to be -- this has been a big issue at this summit that the president has held over the past couple of days with these African leaders and it probably will come up in the news conference right now. Boko Haram and some of these other al Qaeda- inspired terrorist groups, they are really gaining ground throughout much of Africa. BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly, Wolf. But it's a very chaotic situation, because there's no indication that these groups are in touch with each other or there's any sort of central command. I mean we call them al Qaeda-affiliated. And that means they're just -- they simply share an ideology, which makes them much more difficult to destroy.
Secondly, Libya, as you know, Wolf, is a complete mess. There has been fighting in Benghazi. It looks like the army has been completely kicked out. There's weapon caches there that are making their way into Mali and into Niger.
You know, we do have a lot of drones in the area. We have Joint Special Operations Command, SEALS and Delta, well trained, well qualified to take care of this.
But look at that land mass. And then you've got places like Nigeria, Northern Nigeria, which, as far as I can tell, has just been sort of lost to the central government. The army has a hard time moving up there. And it's moved in, as we know, is into the Cameroons.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, and another huge issue, these ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria. They're moving around and they're causing enormous, enormous destruction and death right now. We haven't been paying a whole lot of attention in recent days with so much of the focus of what's going on in Gaza.
But hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been killed in recent days.
SCIUTTO: No question. The administration extremely worried about this. I was speaking to a senior State Department official just a few months ago about it.
And they make the point that what's different about ISIS is it's not just your typical run of the mill terrorist group. This is an army. It has strategic objectives. And it's meeting many of those objectives, the principal one being to hold -- to occupy and hold land. And they're doing that very well.
And just to the point, to Barbara's point about training and equipping in Africa to counter the terror threat there, training and equipping was the central -- the central part of the administration policy in Iraq, training and equipping the Iraqi Army, arguably, the crown jewel. It has not worked.
And you've seen this strategy undermined not just in Iraq, but in a place like Libya, as well.
So you see the weakness of that response.
You know, the Iraqi Army has had a lot of resources, a lot of money, a lot of weapons. And to this point, it is not standing up to the ISIS threat.
BLITZER: I suspect all these issues will be on the agenda at this news conference.
We're standing by to hear the president of the United States. As I said, he'll make a statement. He'll start answering reporters' questions.
You'll see it live, you'll hear it live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Again, live pictures of the State Department. The president of the United States will be walking up to that microphone, we're told, fairly soon. He'll be making a statement at the end of the summit involving African leaders. So many of them have come to Washington for the past few days.
Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is there for us. The president will then answer reporters' questions, we'll have live coverage.
Jim, this is a sensitive issue. Second terms of presidencies, they're supposed to be doing well in foreign policy.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
BLITZER: If you look at the polls, not so much.
ACOSTA: Not so much, Wolf, and who would have thought that these midterms coming up would have been about foreign policy, and that foreign policy might be weighing down the president's poll numbers and how that might affect the Democratic Party. But that appears to be the case heading into this crucial stretch before the midterm elections come up in November.
I think in terms of the questions that we'll hear asked by reporters of the president, we should point out that this news conference is running behind. It may not be happening for several minutes now.
The president has not yet talked about Major General Harold Greene who was killed in Afghanistan yesterday. We haven't heard the president talk about that. Officials have been saying inside the administration that part of the reason for that is because the president doesn't want to give special attention to a general when so many soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan.
We also may hear the president talk about what's happening in Russia. Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin announced some counter sanctions today. I talked to a senior administration official earlier today who said that these counter sanctions announced by Russia will only further isolate Russia on the world stage and damage its already fragile economy. So you may hear the president talk about that. There's obviously the situation in Gaza which is unfolding minute by minute.
But, Wolf, getting back to foreign policy and how it relates to his poll numbers, I think it's very interesting to talk about something earlier, the president has really taken the diplomatic path in -- you know, in trying to address all of these crises. That seems to be what the public wants him to do. The public doesn't want him intervening militarily in all these different hot spots but for some reason that is not translating into getting him better poll numbers and I think that's part of the problem that he's facing right now.
The policy is not adding up to better politics. The economy getting better isn't really adding up to people feeling like the country is heading in the right direction and so forth. And we may hear the president asked about that, as well.
As much as the White House hates to hear questions about poll numbers, it may be unavoidable today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And that right track, wrong track number which is not very good for the president right now, and do you feel the country is going the right track, wrong track. That's a number that political analysts look at especially going into midterm elections.
Jim Acosta, stand by.
John King, in this new NBC News-"Wall Street Journal" poll, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the U.S. handling of the immigration, illegal border crossings issue. Eleven percent say they're satisfied, 64 percent say they're dissatisfied.
Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the U.S. handling of -- let's go through some of these other issues. Russia-Ukraine conflict only 23 percent satisfied. Gaza conflict, 17 percent satisfied. ISIS, the terrorist in Iraq, 14 percent satisfied. The immigration border crossings, 11 percent satisfied.
In these are major issues, not a whole lot of satisfaction there.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The high point there was 23 percent on Russia-Ukraine. So the world is on fire essentially and include the U.S.-Mexico border in that if you want to include the border issue, and people look for the president of the United States.
He's essentially in quick sand right now, politically. His approval rating is down to 40 percent. People feel very pessimistic about the economy at home. They think Washington is a dysfunctional daycare center and nobody can get anything done. And so as Jim noted a second-term president, we covered the White House together and the second term in the Bill Clinton presidency, they tend to look around the world for a few places to plant the flag.
Yes, the American people do not want military intervention by the United States after Iraq and Afghanistan, but they do want success. They do want to think that their country, whether it's with primal ally like Israel or a prime sometimes adversary like Russia that the president of the United States can be the one to pick up the phone or call the meeting and get results.
And I'm not blaming the president for this. It's a complicated world and it's not all his fault, but when people look around the world and then look at home, there's not much to cheer about right now and we have one president at a time who's paying the price.
BLITZER: Yes, and the criticism of the president, that article that Ryan Lizza wrote in "The New Yorker" with that headline, "Leading From Behind." A lot of people don't like the United States leading from behind. They want the United States leading. SCIUTTO: Right. No question. And having success, frankly. You
know, and this has been the thing. The administration will say, as I was saying earlier, they'll say that we're in line with the public's desires here like withdrawing from Iraq and beginning to withdraw from Afghanistan, but they can't turn their eyes away from what we show them every day, which is these countries, you know, in real trouble and specifically to Iraq.
I don't think we can underestimate how bad the situation is there right now. Just one example, we've spoken about it. A religious minority there, the Yazidis, they are stuck on an island, in effect. They're stuck on a hilltop in the middle of Iraq right now surrounded by ISIS, a group that has sworn to slaughter them. This is a massacre in danger.
And I spoke to senior administration officials who say they are now trying to respond to this, talking about dropping aid, talking about opening a corridor just to save them. I mean, that would be a victory in Iraq. Saving a whole people, in effect, from a massacre. But at this point when are you going to start to gain this ground back and make Iraq look like a success that it was meant to be when U.S. forces withdrew after 10 years.
BLITZER: After all the investment the U.S. made in Iraq.
SCIUTTO: Billions of dollars.
BLITZER: To train the Iraqi military, to build the infrastructure. The lives that were lost and you see that country right now falling apart, no wonder the job approval as far as Iraq is concerned is so bad right now.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's exactly right. And then when you look to what's happening in Afghanistan in the death of this general and the wounding of other soldiers the other day, that just makes you wonder whether the president's strategy of withdrawing, you know, as the troops withdraw, a lot of the end of 2014 but leaving some behind -- is this the right strategy? Should we be staying?
I think that what the American people are reflecting is that they don't see a strategy by the president and he's not very good at explaining what the strategy is. Yes, it's diplomacy, but what does diplomacy entail? And this confusion and lack of direction is what these poll numbers are reflecting.
KING: And if you're getting 23 percent approval on Russia, 17 percent approval on Gaza, 14 percent approval on Iraq, 11 percent approval on the border, Wolf, we talked about these issues a lot and it's the polarization. The Democrats in one place, the Republicans inn another. That's a lot of Democrats who've given up on the president, who were unhappy with the president at the moment, too.
So what does tell you? Again, they're looking for success, they're looking for results, and it's not all the president's fault again, but remember he ran promising Washington would work. He was going to change Washington, it doesn't work. He ran, saying George W. Bush had messed up alliances around the world, he was going to fix them. And they were going to work. They're not working. And so in some ways, the poll number or people -- some of them are the people who voted for him now disappointed in the performance.
BLITZER: And a huge issue right now what's going on in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced during the fighting, many have now returned to their neighborhoods to find their homes that may no longer be in existence.
Let's go to Gaza right now. CNN's Martin Savidge is standing by.
And Martin, we're waiting for the president of the United States. I assume an issue on the agenda may be in his opening statement, maybe in response to a question. The president will speak about what's going on. But you're there. You're in Gaza City on this, the end of day two of this three-day cease-fire.
What's going on there?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the good news is of course that we are in day two and it is still a cease-fire. Both sides strictly adhering to it. The bad news is of course this is not a cease-fire without an expiration point, that will come at 8:00 a.m. on Friday and the problem is from what we're hearing out of Egypt, not a whole lot of progress has been made so unless they decide to extend that time limit, we could be up against a potential for a recurrence of violence.
In the meantime, we went down to Rafah today, that's an area way in the south that was the last place that saw violence before Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza. We went down there and found that there were scenes of intense fighting that took place, not the kind of flattening of neighborhoods that you see up in this area around Gaza City, but very intense fighting and the other thing you saw at the graveyard was just a sheer number of new graves, almost to where they are burying people in an assembly line kind of fashion row after row.
In some cases, they are only finding bodies. For instance, we witnessed a funeral today. They had died in the first two days of the conflict but their bodies were not pulled from the rubble until today and they were laid to rest this afternoon.
It just shows you that there is still going to be an increasing death toll. There were positive signs. We saw power crews out trying to get electricity back on, they've got a big job ahead of them. Also, too, we saw truck after truck after truck, bursting at the seams bringing in relief aid, food and other kinds of products into Gaza -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Martin, we're going to get back to you. We'll check in with Jake Tapper in Jerusalem, as well. We're waiting for the president of the United States. We'll take another quick break. When we come back we'll go back to the State Department and see if that news conference has started.
BLITZER: So we're awaiting the president of the United States, the start of this news conference at the State Department wrapping up a summit with African leaders but there will be a wide range of questions. We'll have live coverage, of course, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's like the president will be asked among other things about the death of the U.S. Army Major General Harold Greene gunned down in a mass shooting at a training facility in Afghanistan yesterday, supposedly, allegedly by someone who was friendly to the U.S., an Afghan soldier.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is getting new details about the shocking shooting that occurred yesterday.
What are you learning, Barbara?
STARR: Wolf, at this hour, General Greene's casket is on its way back to Dover Air Force Base where it will arrive in the next several hours.
What we've learned today is the shooter actually undertook his attack, opened fire from a nearby building in a bathroom, shooting through a window at General Greene and the others standing out there. No indication he knew a U.S. army general was there. It really was very much an insider sneak type attack. Two or three short bursts and sadly it was all over very quickly.
You know, we were talking about how the U.S. hasn't really succeeded as it might have hoped in training in Afghanistan and Iraq, the forces there. We've seen both those places run into trouble. So as we come up on this press conference, why might Africa be slightly different? Because this is really the fundamental strategy now in Africa, post- Afghanistan, post-Iraq, training African forces. It gives the U.S. a foothold in Africa to conduct counter terrorism operations when it needs to, but short of another big land or air war.
Clearly, the president knows with his approval rating, the American people are not interested in another major land war and there are all these al Qaeda organizations, affiliated with al Qaeda from North Africa to Nigeria across to the Horn of Africa in the east. All of them presenting threats in their own right, in their own areas but not the kind of national -- nationwide threat we've seen in Afghanistan with the Taliban.
So Africa, perhaps, a little bit different, but the urgency is to deal with the al Qaeda affiliates there before they can -- grow so strong that they could present a threat to the homeland, that they could attack here in the United States. So Africa, very much at the -- on the priority list for U.S. counterterrorism operations, very much wanting to get a handle on it, many African countries want to get a handle on it again to bring that security and then the investment in their countries which is what a large part of this summit is all about. Investment and security -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Getting back to the shooting of Major General Harold Greene, Barbara, you're saying that the investigators don't believe this major general, this high-ranking U.S. military officer was deliberately targeted? That it was just a matter of bad luck that he was hit by this killer?
STARR: Well, you know, this -- the killer was about a hundred yards away inside a bathroom, shooting through a window at a group of -- there were Americans, British and German there. At the moment, they don't know of any reason, any direct threat against General Greene. They don't have any reason to believe that the shooter necessarily knew he was there.
In fact, it's very odd, but what they've learned in all of these insider attacks over the years and there have been so many of them, about a third of them they never know what the motive is -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the shooter is dead. Do we know if he was killed by an Afghan or coalition force?
STARR: The initial indications are that it was Afghan Security Forces who may have moved very quickly to take him down.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, stand by.
We are standing by ourselves to hear the president of the United States. He's getting ready for the news conference at the State Department. Let's take one more quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: The president of the United States is about to answer reporters' questions at the State Department. Lots of questions on international crises that are underway right now.
Let's bring back our panel.
John King, if you take a look at this new NBC News-"Wall Street Journal" poll, how is the president handling foreign policy, only 36 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove. In May of 2011, 57 percent in the same poll approved of the way he was handing foreign policy.
Why has it gone down, down, down, down?
KING: I think to the point Jim was making earlier. It's gone down, down, down, down because you have a number of world crises. We're talking today about Russia and Ukraine. We're talking about Israel and Gaza, we're talking about, you know, Ebola has made the scene lately. We don't talk as much about Libya, we don't talk as much about Iraq. The administration had hoped that we'd be talking about a pivot to Asia and dealing with China challenge. Anywhere you look around the world, if you pulled out a map or a globe
right now, what you find is trouble. Syria, I haven't mentioned Syria. And so that's dragging the president down. The fact that, again, some of this is beyond his control, but the American people look to their president to have some success stories, to plant some flags, for some good news. Especially on the big ones like a Russia conference, like a key ally like Israel. They don't see it right now.
BLITZER: And, you know, Jim, the more the numbers go down, the less credible he'll be with world leaders in this. Are you satisfied with America's role in the world? This question in the poll, 35 percent are satisfied back in December of '95, for example. Another time when Bill Clinton was president, 52 percent said they were satisfied. It sort of undermines his credibility with world leaders. They take a look at these domestic polls as well.
SCIUTTO: I think they do. It's the numbers but it's also the results. And there is a perception in the Middle East, in Europe, in Asia. I've spent a lot of time in these places of declining American influence. That's not all about the president. Some of it is about the American economy. Weakness at home. You know, setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. And some of the perception, frankly, is unfair. But there is that perception.
And you hear it not just in the Middle East, but you'll hear it in Europe, even with the American response, American leadership, in terms of, you know, herding the cats of Europe in effect for a coordinated, unified response to Vladimir Putin and aggression in Ukraine.
Now some of this you can never win, right? Because I spent a lot of time in the Middle East during the Bush years when they were constantly saying get out of our lives, you know, you're only causing trouble here. But this is America. That's the -- you know, the tough position America has. People don't want you when you're there necessarily, but when you're not around, when you're not leading, people often hunger for American leadership.
BLITZER: Yes. They certainly do. And these numbers are clearly not very encouraging to the White House. Well, we'll see if the president can maybe turn some of those numbers around. He's about to make a major statement at the State Department then answer reporters' questions. Foreign policy clearly on the agenda right now. We'll have special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The president of the United States at the State Department, the news conference coming up after this.