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Drone Danger; Blast in China; Will Joe Biden Run?; At Least 50 Dead, Hundreds Injured in China; Former President Says Cancer Has Spread. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 13, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Is there enough support and enough doubt in Hillary Clinton to lure Joe Biden from the sidelines?

I'm Jim Sciutto. And this is THE LEAD.

The politics lead, Biden, his time. The buzz around the vice president and a possible White House run gets louder, as the Democratic field gets less predictable. Could a decision be just days away?

And the world lead, mystery surrounding an explosion so massive that it registered as an earthquake in China, the families now afraid they will never find out why their loved ones died or what they are now breathing in from this super-secretive Chinese government.

And the national lead. Drone danger, an alarming increase in the number of airline pilots reporting close encounters with tiny unmanned aircraft. What needs to be done to prevent one from taking down a passenger plane?

And good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto. Jake Tapper is on assignment today.

Our politics lead, come for the 70 fried foodstuffs on a stick, stay for the political pandering, 14 Republican contenders and four of their potential Democratic rivals all slated to step up onto that famous soapbox and give their spiel at the Iowa State Farm.

That famed cattle call adorned with a giant butter cow. While he may not be able to give free helicopter rides to tykes, Donald Trump will whir into town to talk to Iowans on Saturday.

But one candidate is sidestepping the soapbox, Democratic front-runner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her relative silence comes as Obama's number two, Vice President Joe Biden, again wrestles with whether or not to make a play at changing his address from Massachusetts Avenue to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I want to get right to CNN White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski with the latest on Biden's deliberations on a potential 2016 bid.

Michelle, the vice president, he is supposedly taking a vacation on Kiawah Island, but we hear this is a working vacation. Seems his mind very much seems to be on places like Iowa. What can you tell us?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And this is his time to be away and to really be able to focus on that decision, because this has been one of the big mysteries of this campaign. Is Joe Biden running or not?

And that's because, by all accounts, he's still making that decision. But now we know he's been reaching out to those close to him about that possibility, but some Democrats are wondering too if it might not be too late or whether it's such a good idea.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Campaigning now dominates the news, so where in the world is Joe Biden? This week, vacationing with his family on tiny Kiawah Island, South Carolina, where there hasn't emerged so much as a photo of him, but he has been reaching out in what could be his third and final presidential run. Sources say he's been calling a few close supporters and advisers.


KOSINSKI: Hillary Clinton says she will respect whatever decision Biden makes. But her supporters sent some signals to think twice.

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The problem is that Joe Biden is a very good guy and probably has no appeal whatsoever to people under 35.

KOSINSKI: Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill:

QUESTION: Do you think he's going to run?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: I can't tell. But I'm worried that if he does and he doesn't do well, that it will be hurtful to him and we all care doubt him deeply.

KOSINSKI: Donald Trump is already treating him as an opponent with a slam.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I would match up great. I'm a job producer. I have had a great record. I haven't been involved in plagiarism.

KOSINSKI: A reference to Biden's issues back in law school, as well as his 1988 campaign, accused of using someone else's line in a speech. Here's Jon Stewart recently.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": The reason Loose Lips McGee (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up his 2008 presidential run is now the reason he's a viable candidate?

KOSINSKI: However often Biden may make the funny headlines, his decades of experience, nearly 40 years as a well-respected senator, have garnered him plenty of supporters, who would like him to go for it, maybe hit that middle ground of Democrats frustrated with Clinton's e-mail problems, but not liberal enough to back the independent Bernie Sanders.

The latest CNN/ORC poll of likely Iowa caucus goers places Biden third at 12 percent, but, for Biden, this is far more than political. His son Beau, who just died in May, had urged his father to take this chance and run with it. The 72-year-old has had to mull this over in the midst of grieving and working.

Now this week away from Washington of thinking and discussing could be his deciding factor.


KOSINSKI: The timing is really tough. In fact, some close to him have said that they feel bad for him that he's having to make this wrenching decision now. And he doesn't have a super PAC.


He doesn't have this political operation behind him that Hillary Clinton has had for some time now. But that doesn't mean that this is impossible -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: And so short after a tremendous family tragedy for the Biden family.

Michelle Kosinski in Martha's Vineyard with the president.

CNN congressional correspondent, chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

So, at this point, Hillary Clinton not scheduled to speak at Iowa, which leaves some extra wattage and airtime, for, who can I imagine, what candidate? Remind me of his name? Donald Trump.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't remember his -- oh, that's right. Thank you so much. We haven't mentioned him recently.

But, yes, the Iowa State Fair is a place you would love to take your kids, Jim. There is a tilt-a-whirl, there are bumper cars, bumper boats, and they will have musical acts like Carrie Underwood. But for the Iowa political junkies, the state fair is a special kind of cattle call.


BASH (voice-over): The Iowa State Fair, famous for livestock, real, and this kind, made out of 600 pounds of butter.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me begin with a recommendation. Pork chop on a stick.

BASH: In Iowa this time of year, when all the food is deep fried, the presidential race really starts to sizzle.

HUCKABEE: Hillary probably is not going to come. She will e-mail in her appearances.


BASH: As Republican candidates descend on the Hawkeye State, they have a front-runner in their sights, Donald Trump, who is well ahead in Iowa, according to CNN's latest poll. Rand Paul went after the billionaire, trying out a new impersonation.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have now people up there who say such profound things as you're stupid, you're fired, you're a pig, you look terrible, you only have half-a-brain. And then when you respond with an argument, it's like, you're stupid.

BASH: Trump responded Trump-style, saying: "Senator Paul has no chance of winning the nomination, and the people of Kentucky should not allow him the privilege of remaining their senator. Rand should save his lobbyist and special interest money, and just go quietly home."

And Trump is even getting it from John McCain, who had tried to stay above it all when Trump attacked his military service last month.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't like to respond to Mr. Trump, because there's an old line about you don't want to get into a wrestling match with a pig, you both get dirty, and the pig likes it.

BASH: Another candidate climbing in the Iowa polls, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, is now in the line of fire from a fellow doctor accusing him of using tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research, something he told CNN is unnecessary.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Virtually everything that can be attributed to progress by using fetal tissue can also use other types of tissue.

BASH: Today in New Hampshire, Carson defended his research.

CARSON: Tissue specimens, tissue banks are maintained everywhere. And it would be irresponsible to throw the tissue away.


BASH: But Carson also said that, in his own research, he has -- quote -- "no idea" if the tissue came from a fetus, but instead he says that that has no more to do with fetal research than taking tissue from somebody who's 95 years old for research.

It's a scientist's explanation. It may not really be able to resonate with the layperson voter in Iowa or anywhere else. We will see if he explains it in maybe a different way another time.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's a very complicated explanation for me as well, just listening to you say it right there. Thanks very much, Dana Bash.

BASH: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: We are going to now chew over all these topics with CNN's political commentators S.E. Cupp and Dan Pfeiffer.

Lot to talk about, Dan, but I want to start with you on this question about Joe Biden. You worked with him. You know him. Tremendously sensitive time for him and his family following the death of his son Beau. What do you think he will ultimately do? Do you think he will run? Do you think he will challenge Hillary?


Look, no one can even imagine what he's been going through this summer. He's obviously with his family right now. I assume they're talking about what would be a deeply personal decision. If he wants to run, he has more than earned the right to do that as the vice president of the United States and a longtime stalwart Democrat.

It's an uphill climb. Hillary has got a huge advantage. She's up in the polls. But -- and it's late. The only candidate who can get in this late and have a shot is Joe Biden. If he wants to do it, I think there are a lot of Democrats who would encourage him to do so.

SCIUTTO: S.E., I have to ask you from the Republican point of view, are there Republicans who are kind of quietly rooting for him to get in the race just to mix things up more on the Democratic side?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I actually think he'd be pretty formidable. I think Republicans should be careful what they wish for.

Democrats have a bigger problem, a bigger deficiency among male voters than Republicans do among women voters. Democrats have been bleeding a certain kind of male voter, the older blue-collar white male voters, that Joe Biden gets intimately.

So I actually think he'd be a pretty formidable challenger if he were to get in. I think it's bad news for Hillary Clinton that we're talking about a guy who doesn't even have a PAC coming in at this late stage in the game. I think that says that there's a little disaffection among the left.



PFEIFFER: I think it's more affection for Joe Biden than disaffection for Hillary, but...

CUPP: I don't know about that.

SCIUTTO: Eight years in the White House.

I want to ask you about, imagine that, Donald trump.

CUPP: What?


CUPP: I am unprepared.


SCIUTTO: He's still on top in Iowa. As you know, he's doing well with evangelicals there, key, no question. Is it possible that the base, that key part of the base has migrated now sustainably, I suppose is the question, to Donald Trump?

CUPP: Look, Donald Trump's one gift is getting everyone to willfully suspend disbelief, whether that is your religious perspective, your political ideology, even just sort of regular intelligence.

I mean, if you look at any poll, he is losing to any Democrat in the general election. For his supporters, it doesn't matter. Where evangelicals are concerned, what's interesting to remember is that Mitt Romney actually got more evangelicals to come out, despite the fact that he was Mormon, despite the fact that he was seen as less than conservative, than 2008 John McCain did. So I think they're going to back the Republican nominee no matter what.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask about John Kasich, Dan, if I can, because the post-debate poll in New Hampshire also shows him moving up.

Granted, he was on home turf at the Republican debate. He spent a lot of money there. But he did do well in the debate, no question. A lot of the post-debate polling showed that. Do you see him as rising significantly in the polls and staying there?

PFEIFFER: Absolutely.

I think he's one of the Republicans Democrats should be most afraid of. I think the person should be most afraid of John Kasich right now is Jeb Bush. John Kasich is camped out in Jeb Bush's must-win state of New Hampshire. Every John Kasich voter is a voter he's taking from Jeb Bush. Democrats should watch him. The governor of Ohio will always be formidable.

SCIUTTO: Trump up in the polls. Speaking about Jeb Bush, campaign sent around press releases just this morning touting endorsements in New Hampshire. These are small, former Republican Party chair, state representatives, some grassroots political activists.

But when you are this early in the campaign, what's really more important for him? I mean, these kinds of endorsements, winning the invisible primary, early state polls, how important is this? Or is he just grasping at straws after some subpar weeks for his campaign?

CUPP: No, because his campaign has been so untraditional, I think anything that resembles a traditional campaign, whether that's getting an endorsement or getting some donors to give you money, anything that looks legitimate is good for him. He's finally starting to look like and act like he's running for

president. I don't know if that goes much longer. He's not really hired a big staff. But the more he gets sort of the traditional trappings of a campaign, I think the more credible it makes him look.

SCIUTTO: I have to ask you, because this is the issue that just won't go away for Hillary Clinton. Frankly, it's getting deeper and more troubling, arguably. She has revealed to a federal judge that her longtime aide, as we know, Huma Abedin, had her own e-mail account on this home server as well. How does she effectively move -- well, she's not going to able to move beyond this issue very quickly, but how does she answer these latest questions?

PFEIFFER: I think it's a couple step process.

The first is she's got to go out there and take questions about it, which she's been doing. She's been engaging more with the press on a regular basis, look like she's answering the questions, look like she's not afraid of it.

SCIUTTO: Well, she does, but there some, excuse the term, Clintonian answers to some of these questions. I never sent anything.


PFEIFFER: Having been involved in things like this before, it's very challenging to have the best, most forthcoming press answer in a legal matter, because the lawyers would give you advice that would stress that.

The second thing is, the way to get beyond is to address the larger question of trust and credibility by doing it not as a referendum on Hillary Clinton's trust and credibility, but comparing -- in a comparative exercise with Republicans.

Who do you trust more on foreign policy? Who do you trust more on the economy? She's got to begin to make that pivot this fall and this will begin to get it behind her.

SCIUTTO: Republicans salivating as this issue continues to fester for the Clinton campaign?

CUPP: In addition to the trust thing, it's just mind-boggling the political judgment on this from start to finish, from the moment she started to use a private server, to every step in between, saying I'm not going to give it up, wiping it clean.

This is amateur kind of stuff. And it makes me wonder if the people around her don't feel like they can tell her this is a mistake, boss. I don't know. It just seems like someone has dropped the ball.

SCIUTTO: That server now in the hands of the FBI, as we know.

Dan Pfeiffer, S.E. Cupp, thanks very much for joining us today.

The world lead, the images look like they're straight out of a Hollywood disaster movie, but this is reality in China after a series of explosions in a major port city. And the situation could get much worse in the days to come.


[16:18:52] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The world lead -- right now, the death toll climbing in China after a blast so massive, it registered as an earthquake there.


SCIUTTO: That was a "Reuters" crew on the ground. They could not believe their eyes as what looked like a Michael Bay blockbuster movie unfolded right in front of them. Officials say at least 50 people are now dead, twelve firefighters among them. More than 500 people are in hospitals and dozens are still missing.

The aftermath looking today post-apocalyptic, homes and buildings gutted and destroyed. Cars that literally melted. This incredible footage captured by a drone shows the craters and fires still burning at the blast site.

Authorities suspended firefighting efforts because of a lack of information about exactly what exploded at a company that stores and transports dangerous chemicals -- dangerous indeed. And about what people in the city of 13 million people are breathing in right now, still a question.

CNN's Will Ripley is near ground zero. He has new details.


[16:20:00] WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we're about a mile now from the epicenter of the explosion, far enough away that we are outside of the area that has been closed off for more than 24 hours now, the area where even firefighters are not allowed in because of the dangerous plume of toxic smoke that has been billowing up over this city of 15 million people.

But even those who live a mile away here in Tianjin were not immune to very serious damage. This is one of several apartment buildings with most of the windows blown out. You can see them propelled into the side of the street here. And even more dangerous for a lot of the people was all of this broken glass that continues to coat the streets.

Many people ran out of their homes. They were afraid of what would happen if there were more powerful explosions. And so, people were barefoot in their nightgowns, or even less, running through the streets, cutting themselves. That's why we have seen people being treated in at least ten different hospitals throughout this area today. And there are thousands more who are not able to go back to their homes who are staying in shelters right now.

One issue that has come up, of course, is concern about the air quality, and this is something that city officials here have been monitoring for a while. There were actually discussions that happened earlier this month between owners of this industrial plant where a lot of these toxic chemicals are housed and the city. The city wanted assurance that these chemicals would be handled safely and carefully given the close proximity to people's homes.

And so, to have something like this happen, an explosion so powerful that more than a mile away, you could partially, you know, blow people -- not only people's windows out, but part of their walls as well, thousands of cars in the city was set on fire and crushed as a result of this.

There's a whole bus fleet that has been destroyed because it was in the path of this explosion. And to think all of this happened because of an industrial accident, it raises a lot of questions, Jim, about just how close China's industrial plants, which are fueling this country's economic growth.

But at what cost, at what risk that they're so close to innocent people. And in this case, innocent lives have been lost as a result of what appears to be a very deadly chemical fire that turned into a series of powerful explosions here -- Jim.


SCIUTTO: Will Ripley, thanks very much.

For our viewers, China is a deeply authoritarian state, but the people fight to have a voice when they feel wrong. We saw that in 2008 after the Sichuan earthquake that killed an estimated 87,000 people. Chinese citizens then lambasted the government's slow rescue efforts and shoddy building practices that spiked that death toll. We saw it again in 2011 when a high speed train crash killed dozens. In both cases, the Chinese government censored Internet posts, it harassed dissidents and otherwise silence or tried to silence any criticism.

And now, today, their extensive reports of the same government reaction after this horrible explosion in Tianjin. But with images like this now seen and shared across China and across the world, emotions are high. The Chinese people once again demanding hard answers from Beijing. We're going to stay on that story.

The national lead: he has revealed he has cancer and it's spreading. Next, the latest from former President Jimmy Carter.

Plus, ISIS now waging more attacks. Learning the scope may reach a whole new level after a deadly blast in Baghdad.


[16:27:51] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The national lead -- you may be having one of the most fulfilling post presidencies ever, hemming your way on houses for those less unfortunate in his 90s. But today, support and well-wishes are pouring in for former President Jimmy Carter after he announced that he is battling cancer. And he said that the disease is spreading.

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to talk about that.

So, Dr. Gupta, President Carter has not revealed what type of cancer he has. He did say that there were signs of it on his liver, that it spread.

From what you can read from that statement, what does that tell you about the prognosis?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's tough to speculate on the prognosis without knowing a little bit more information. But overall, Jim, as you might guess is these are some ominous signs.

What they're still going to try and figure out I think is there's this mass on the liver. Is that from where the cancer originated, or did it come from another organ in the area such as the pancreas or gallbladder or even the intestines, colon cancer, for example?

But the fact that he mentioned that it spread, you want to know, did it spread to the lymph nodes or in fact other organs as well? So, these are sort of remaining questions. But if you sort of look at any of those scenarios, Jim, to your question, your point, it's a tough diagnosis, even for someone who is five decades younger, it would be a tough diagnosis. The cancer itself could be difficult to treat, and the treatment, you know, it can be really hard to endure.

SCIUTTO: I was going to ask you about that, because he's 90 years old. When you talk about chemo, when you talk about radiation, that's hard for a young man or woman. How does that limit treatment options? Would it change the treatment options, his age?

GUPTA: You know, I'll tell you, Jim, I've had some good fortune to spend some time with former President Carter. You know, we try not to measure people by biological age, but rather by physiological age. There are people who are 50 who have more of the body and physiology of an 80-year-old and vice versa.

Having said that, though, you know, he's been through a lot. He's been traveling up until recently, but had to cut short a trip not that long ago. He's had bilateral knee replacements recently. So, he's had a lot going on.

I think it's going to be more of a question of his physiology. He -- what I read is that he plans on undergoing treatment. What exactly that treatment is, what the options are going to be, I think that still remains to be seen.