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President Trump Will Address The Nation To Reveal A New Strategy In Afghanistan; Steve Bannon, President Trump's Newly Fired Chief Strategist Is Not Leaving The White House Quietly; First Coast- To-Coast Total Solar Eclipse In The U.S. In 99 Years; More Saber Rattling From Kim Jong-Un's Regime In North Korea; Comedy Legend Jerry Lewis Has Died At The Age Of 91. Aired 7:00-8:00p ET

Aired August 20, 2017 - 19:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:00:12] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: 7:00 eastern, 4:00 in the afternoon out west. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. So glad you're with us.

First this hour, a major announcement from the White House. Tomorrow night at 9:00, President Trump will address the nation to reveal a new strategy in Afghanistan. This major address comes as brand-new polling reveals the President is under water in some key states. That is propelled to the White House.

In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, take a look, his approval rating doesn't top 36 percent. This is according to a new survey taken after the Charlottesville violence. Hoping to boost support, the President's holding a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Arizona, this Tuesday.

Even though local officials are warning against it. The city's mayor is asking the President to cancel this event out of fear it could lead to violence. And at least one lawmaker agrees.

Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona tells "the Washington Post" quote "I absolutely think it is inappropriate to be holding a political rally a few days after an innocent woman was mowed down by a neo-Nazi. It's throwing tinder on to an ongoing fire."

I'll talk to congressman Gallego in just a moment. But first, I want to go live to CNN's Boris Sanchez in Bridgewater, New Jersey near the Trump golf resort where the President is spending the weekend.

Boris, let's start with the Presidential address tomorrow night. What are you learning about this decision on Afghanistan?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Ana.

Yes, the President is set to speak to the nation at 9:00 p.m. tomorrow night. We don't know exactly what this decision will be, but we know that the White House has been working on this Afghanistan strategy for several months. The President has been presented with several different options. He actually tweeted about coming to a final decision yesterday saying that he had met with top military brass at camp David and that he would come to an important decision not just on Afghanistan, but also across the region.

We have heard from the White House that this is not only going to be an Afghanistan strategy, but one for the entire south of Asia. There are several different options on the table here. Some of them including a troop surge that's been supported by several Republican congressmen including John McCain.

The other avenue here is a withdrawal or a transfer of responsibility from the U.S. military to several private contractors. We got a chance to hear from the secretary of defense James Mattis earlier today. He was asked about this. He wouldn't reveal details of this new plan except to say that he was going to leave it to the President to explain his decision to the American people. Here is more of what secretary Mattis had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I was not willing to make significant troop lifts until we knew what was the strategy, what was the commitment going in. In that regard the President has made a decision, as he said. He wants to be the one to announce it to the American people so I'll stand silent until then -- until that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Ana, we have just learned that the President is wheels up here in Bedminster leaving on marine one heading to the airport to then head back Washington, D.C. This wraps up the 17-day working vacation for the President. And this really is a very important decision for not only the President, but for the country. This has been the longest war in American history dating back to the fall of 2001.

You will remember that back in 2014 then-President Obama declared an end of combat operations in Afghanistan. It was just earlier this year in February when the commander of troops in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson said that U.S. and Afghan troops had essentially reached a stalemate with the Taliban. So it will be interesting to see how the President approaches this moving forward. Not just again in Afghanistan, but the whole region in the south of Asia, Ana.

CABRERA: Right. A conflict that continues to claim American lives.

Boris Sanchez, thank you.

I am now joined by democratic congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona.

Congressman, thank you for spending time with me. I know you have strong feelings about this rally President Trump is holding in your state on Tuesday. But first, I want to start with this big announcement set to make tomorrow on Afghanistan. You are a Marine Corps veteran who has been on the front lines on the war against terrorism. You also served on the house arms services committee. So I'm curious has your committee been notified of the President's decision on this new strategy?

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: No. We certainly haven't. As a matter of fact, we had very little input from the secretary of defense or any other apparatus of the White House considering this is a huge policy change potentially. And the fact that they are doing it in this matter kind of makes me question how the efficacy of how he's going to be announcing.

[19:05:01] CABRERA: So as a veteran who has served in the Middle East, you have a unique perspective. What do you hope the President announces tomorrow?

GALLEGO: Well, the one thing we know about fighting in the Middle East and fighting terrorists is you never win this alone. The only way you win these types of war if there is such thing as winning when you fighting terrorism at all is to make sure you are working in a multilateral manner with different countries and you are basically trying to attack the root of the problem.

So the root here is Taliban, but it's also on the other hand, the fact that Afghanistan itself is a corrupt nation, its infrastructure is below grade. There is no jobs for young men to actually work to. And with that type of environment it's pretty much a good breeding ground for terrorism and/or, you know, basically people being bought off by the Taliban.

Any suggestion that somehow just the troop surge will solve this problem is just a playbook. It doesn't work. Hasn't worked in the past and will only put more targets on the backs of U.S. military members out there.

And secondary, if he believes that somehow subcontracting out the war is going to bring us any more peace, that's just a ridiculous thought and it would never happen.

CABRERA: So what would you do, if not sending more Americans, would you withdraw everybody?

GALLEGO: You have to work actually in a stronger manner. First of all, you actually have to demand more reforms from the Afghan government to, you know, basically try to wipe out the corruption that's eating away at the country. You know, half of the military is somehow or another involved in protecting of the heroine trade which also eating away at the Afghan military which is also eating away at the morale of the country.

There is so much there that, you know, it's difficult to do business. So many men will end up doing terrorist acts for (INAUDIBLE), especially whenever the farming season is not taking place. A lot of these things. And part of the problem is to continue the slow, but necessary training of the Afghan military to help them be better soldier. And it's not just them being able to shoot, but what we need to do is teach them how to do logistics of collecting information, finding out what the targets are, collecting intelligence, even basics as paying the soldiers the amount of money they are due making sure they have the type of bullets and the type of boots that they are supposed to.

The Afghan military supply and contract process is riddled with corruption. And it also creates a widespread discontent among the Afghan soldiers which also creates a lot of desertion which makes it difficult for you to have a very veteran-led, as well as experience- led military.

All of these things need to happen before we think that miraculously putting more American men and women on the ground is somehow going to create a solution.

CABRERA: Got you.

GALLEGO: I have -- It will be found in Afghanistan.

CABRERA: I can tell you have thought a lot about this. I just want to be clear been where you stand. Would you support any solution that means sending more Americans to Afghanistan?

GALLEGO: No, absolutely not, because that's not a solution.

CABRERA: I want to ask you now about the rally the President is holding in Phoenix on Tuesday. You have called it inappropriate. You say it would be like quote "throwing tinder on to an ongoing fire." Could it this be an opportunity, however, for the President to deliver a much-need message of unity to this divided nation?

GALLEGO: Absolutely. If he was a normal President that would actually be a great time to do that, but let's look at the facts. Every time he has had an opportunity he basically has fumbled the ball. You know, the first time he had an opportunity he basically equated neo-Nazis with protesters, peaceful protesters that were protesting against neo-Nazis. And then his basically recalibration the third time around was even more horrendous than not. And at the same time he is inviting Sheriff Joe Arpaio to join him on stage which gives us an indication of where he's going with this.

It would be a great time for him to heal the country's wounds. He doesn't know how to do that. He is not about the country. He is about himself first. Hence, why he is going to Phoenix so soon after such a tragic event that happened in Charlottesville instead of laying back and letting the country heal, he is going to put it together a campaign event.

CABRERA: Congressman, and yet the President tweeted about the protest in Boston yesterday and he applauded the protesters. He said sometimes protests were needed in order for a nation to heal. He also congratulated the Democratic mayor of Boston for how he and the local officials on the ground handled this event. Does that in any way, make you hopeful that the President is holding this rally in Arizona for the right reasons?

GALLEGO: That would be great, except you also forgot the other tweet where he tweeted out that protesters were throwing urine at the police officers, essentially trying to set up this argument that protesters are anti-police. CABRERA: He called them anti-police agitators first. Yes, that's

true.

GALLEGO: Absolutely, yes. So it kind of tells you where his mentality is.

Look, the President wants a culture war. He understands that he is not going to be deliver on any of the promises that he promised most of his voters. So instead, he will, you know, try to play all sides which is what we saw with the two tweets and at the same time calling this peaceful protesters that he congratulated also anti-police at the same time. The President again is not about anybody else.

[19:10:13] CABRERA: You have got to admit, he ended on a high note with the last tweet of unity talking about he -- I want to applaud the many protesters in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one. Can you give him some credit for rooting on --.

GALLEGO: Look. We are using Trump metrics sure, but we would never allow any other President in the country to actually behave the way that this President has. Somehow we have all changed the rules including the media that we are going to start giving credit for things that he should do naturally as a leader of this country, you know.

I'm glad he is at least tweeting out one or two things that are nice once in a while, but let's be honest. Any other President whether it was a Democrat or Republican we would say he has been acting irresponsible. And by the way, that this rally would be considered irresponsible and un-presidential like.

CABRERA: Congressman Ruben Gallego, we appreciate you coming on. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and thank you for your service to this country.

GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.

CABRERA: After being ousted from the White House, Steve Bannon is doing anything, but staying quiet.

Up next, what he is now revealing about the Trump administration and his gloomy prediction for the Republican Party.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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[19:15:28] CABRERA: Steve Bannon, President Trump's newly fired chief strategist is not leaving the White House quietly. Instead he is pretty much giving interviews out like candy. His latest is with "the Washington Post" and Bannon said quote "no administration in history has been so divided among itself about the direction, about where it should go."

With me to discuss CNN political commentator Scott Jennings. He was also a former special assistant to President George W. Bush. Also with us, Washington bureau chief for Chicago "Sun-Times" Lynn Sweet and CNN political analyst Patrick Healy who is also an editor at "The New York Times."

So lady is first. Lynn, do you see this as shots fired at the Trump White House and the direction Bannon may be planning to take Breitbart?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, absolutely. He is going to take Breitbart up into another level of intense commentary on President Trump. But the reason the White House is divided is because the President doesn't give the direction, doesn't have an ideological, theoretical, substantive policy basis right now on where and how he wants to steer our great ship of America.

That's the issue. But Breitbart, especially with the -- especially with Bannon now back ahead Breitbart can exploit this indecision. And it will have an enormous amount of people looking at it that may not have paid attention because people are going to be looking for signals and looking (INAUDIBLE) at Breitbart stories to see, is this Bannon sending signals and getting even and suddenly it's a whole new chapter.

CABRERA: Yes. And he knows so much, obviously, as he has said himself of the dynamics inside the administration that a lot of us have not yet learned perhaps.

Scott, you served in the George W. Bush White House. If you were in the Trump White House right now, how nervous would you be about someone like Bannon being ousted?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well obviously, you have a guy who wants to wage some sort of war against a few people who are still in the Trump White House. And at the same time you have the President today tweeting out about Breitbart news and trying to legitimize them, further legitimize them as a news source.

And so basically, you have the President legitimizing a new source that may, in fact, be turning fire against some of your own aides. People like the national security adviser and his deputy in the near- term here. So that, to me, is a strange dynamic and one that I think the President is going to have to keep a close eye on because it is difficult when you are a White House staffer to go to work every day knowing that you got people out there who are supposedly ideologically aligned with the President taking shots at you on a daily basis.

CABRERA: Now the "Washington Post" also writes if the Republican Party and capitol will get behind the President the President on his plans and not theirs, it will be sweetness and light to be one big happy family, Bannon said, but Bannon added with a smile that he does not expect sweetness any time soon.

Patrick, does this bode well of the Republican Party?

PATRICK HEALY, EDITOR, NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, this -- Steve Bannon is not a friend of the Republicans in Congress. He has been gunning for Paul Ryan for years now going back to Breitbart news. He is no longer have to play kind of the nice guy in the White House like we are all one big, happy team. You are going to very much see Steve Bannon now on the outside --

CABRERA: Gloves are off.

HEALY: Yes, gloves are off. And also kind of being an Uber critic of both Paul Ryan, of Mitch McConnell. And we may end up seeing of Donald Trump, and Donald Trump's White House. And I think one thing we know with Bannon is he is completely unpredictable. He cares more about the base and the Breitbart news readership than he will forces within the White House. Even Donald Trump's White House, you know, who might be trying to further the President's agenda.

Bannon is going back to Breitbart News with a lot of enemies still out there including in Congress and including in the White House. And you know, what I think what we are seeing with President Trump's tweets is trying to keep Bannon at least, you know, at least right now on his side.

CABRERA: Tomorrow night, Lynn, it is going to be an important night for the President. He will give his first major prime time address to the nation. It will be on Afghanistan strategy. How critical of a moment is this? And do you see his new chief of staff, General John Kelly's hand perhaps in this?

SWEET: Well, we will see, depending if Trump lays out his strategy. That's what Congress wants to hear as much as the people of the United States. Now, it's expected that we already have some 8,400 troops there. There are reports that he is going to ask for more.

The thing to listen for is if he also says that he would be open to using private contractors to replace troops. That would be very, very controversial.

And as much as Afghanistan is very important in this speech, everyone will be listening to say what he wants to say about North Korea. And if he could do it without further inflaming the situation. Enormously important speech tomorrow night.

[19:20:20] CABRERA: There is this new poll out meantime, NBC News/Marist poll of three key states that the President won. And you can see it there -- Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It finds that in all of these states, six in ten voters feel embarrassed by President Trump's conduct in office. And in fact, his approval rating is under water. His favorability is under water in all these states as well.

Is tomorrow night an opportunity, Scott, for him to come across as Presidential and perhaps to get a little bit of an edge in the right direction for his administration?

JENNINGS: No question. He has to hit a home run tomorrow night. People are looking at him to see if he could rise to the occasion. I read about this polling today. And I'm very concerned because it also shows that voters in those three states strongly, at least at this point on the generic ballot prefer Democrats to control Congress. And to connect that to something Patrick said just a moment ago, you are now going to have this Breitbart News weapon as it was called by Steve Bannon on the outside taking shots at Paul Ryan, taking shots at Mitch McConnell and generally taking shots at Republicans in Congress.

They are already running behind on the generic ballot. If they convince the Republicans that the Republicans in Congress should not be in charge it could depress the conservative base. And I guarantee you, if you are President Trump and you are unhappy with the way Washington is working right now, you won't want to find out what happens in Washington when Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are running the place. It would be like getting stuck out of an ice cream parlor into the tenth level of hell when they get in-charge in the investigatory committee. So the Republicans need to come together here and understand, they will rise and fall together, not separately.

CABRERA: Did that just flow off your tongue there? You have been planning, when am I going to use this line? Sorry, I digress.

All right. Let me ask you, Patrick. What does the President need to do tomorrow night in order for it to be considered a success?

HEALY: Right. I mean, it is interesting. We are going into this and we know that President Trump frankly is at his best when he is on a teleprompter in terms of appealing to everyone. He did that at the State Of Union speech earlier in February which a lot of people came away saying he was suddenly Presidential, you know. He sounds so different. He did it last week when he gave the teleprompter speech after Charlottesville. Suddenly, he was saying the right things.

So I think with this we are going to see tomorrow night a very carefully crafted speech by that has General Mattis, that has national security adviser McMaster's sort of influence on it. He will probably be saying the right things to appeal to John McCain in Congress.

CABRERA: One of his biggest critics, obviously.

HEALY: One of his critics. And someone who said that the Trump administration has been dragging their heels with Afghanistan strategy. He will be hitting all of the different sort of audiences like McCain that he needs to appeal to.

But here is the thing. We are so used to these teleprompter speeches now and sort of everyone coming away saying he is so Presidential. We can't judge it just based on the speech tomorrow night. We have to see the days that follow, what he says even to kind of undermine sometimes his own words, his own strategy, whether he sticks with it.

CABRERA: All right, everybody. We got to leave it there. Patrick Healy, Lynn Sweet, Scott Jennings, thank you all.

North Korea is at it again, meantime, issuing more threats ahead of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea which are now under way. Straight ahead, we will tell you about some fresh threats from Pyongyang over joint military exercises. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:28:22] CABRERA: More saber rattling from Kim Jong-un's regime in North Korea. The official government newspaper warning the U.S. today of a quote "merciless strike ahead of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea."

Now, these are annual drills. They have been going on for years. But the tension could not be higher on the Korean Peninsula with President Trump's fire and fury comment over North Korea's nuclear program. And of course, North Korea then threatening the U.S. territory of Guam last week.

Let me bring in our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott to help pick this apart.

So Elise, a new threat from that country just hour before these military drills between the U.S. and South Korea begin. Are we out of the woods or not yet?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, I think you always see this kind of rhetoric coming from North Korea when these annual exercises take place. And there's always a lot of rhetoric back and forth. North Korea is always calling on the U.S. to stop those exercises and the U.S. always says no.

As defense secretary Jim Mattis said today, these are defensive exercises. The Chinese and the Russians have been trying to get the U.S. to kind of back off in an effort to calm tensions. You know, again, the U.S. said no.

I think we could expect some kind of provocation from North Korea, perhaps a missile test of some sort as they have done in the past. But I think if you look at the rhetoric coming from North Korea, it's not as pointed, not as specific as we saw last week when they talked about the four missiles pointed at Guam.

And I think what you have here is, you know, Kim Jong-un and President Trump, you know, kind of met their match in terms of brinksmanship. And I think you kind of saw a little bit both of them back into their corners because neither one, you know, despite all of this fiery rhetoric, fiery fury on one hand, you know, on the North Koreans bombast. But I think both don't want this to spiral out of control. The U.S. commanders have said that a military strike on North Korea would be catastrophic. And North Korean knows it would be suicidal for the regime.

[19:30:25] CABRERA: I want to ask you about some new reporting out of Cuba today. I understand that you are learning more about this mysterious sonic weapon attack that we know that has injured a number of U.S. and Canadian diplomats. What more can you tell us?

LABOTT: Well, Patrick Ottmann, our correspondent in Cuba and I have been reporting on this for the past week. There were some U.S. diplomats that were sent home because of some health incidents. And in investigating this more, we learned that this was some kind of sonic attack that some devices were placed either inside or outside of the homes of these diplomats to cause them to have health systems including, you know, concussion-like symptoms, hearing loss, a lot of terrible symptoms. Some had to come home because they were had to be treated. And some have had permanent hearing loss.

Now originally, we thought it was just a couple of diplomats. We understand it was ten U.S. diplomats that were affected. There have also been some Canadian diplomats that were affected. And we are learning more about the time line that started last year, continued through this year. And we understand this was going on even as the U.S. and Cuba were secretly talking about this.

So the U.S. is looking into potential whether there was a third country that was involved. And you know, it could be some actors such as Russia, Venezuela, Iran. They haven't identified anybody yet, but it's very perplexing to the U.S. and to the Canadians who were also investigating and it's very serious. They think that this is some kind of sonic weapon or sonic attack that was affecting diplomats as they were sleeping. So very scary for diplomats and for the U.S. operating in Cuba right now.

CABRERA: Scary, no doubt, especially not knowing exactly where this is all coming from.

I also want to ask you about some interesting comments made by secretary of state Rex Tillerson this week in the wake of Charlottesville. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We do honor, protect and defend freedom of speech first amendment rights. It's what sets us apart from every other government regime in the world and allowing people the right of expression. These are good things. But we do not honor nor do we promote or accept hate speech in any form. And those who embrace it poison our public discourse and they damage the very country that they claim to love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So as we heard right there unlike the President, he was very direct in condemning hate speech and the people who embrace it. He called it poisonous. And he went on to say later in his remarks that it's a priority for him to increase diversity in the state department. I know you cover him day in and day out, how revealing were those comments?

LABOTT: I thought it was extraordinary, Ana. You know, I have been covering secretary Tillerson since he took office in January. And these were really the toughest and strongest remarks on any subject that he has given. He is really an introvert.

This is part of what the secretary has been doing, a kind of redesign or reexamination of the state department looking at what the mission should be for the state department, looking at diplomats abroad. And part of that is what the diplomats abroad should look like and on what they should represent. And so in doing that, he said that there is not enough diversity in the state department. He want to change that the way they recruit, the way they hire. He wants at least one candidate for every ambassadorship to be a minority candidate. And I think this was really secretary Tillerson, not only was this a part of what he is trying to do with the state department. This was his answer to Charlottesville. It came in a week where this country is really having a lot of sadness about what happened there and he's saying, this is not America. America stands for freedom. And not only should they have it at home, but they should represent that abroad.

CABRERA: And he wanted to make sure his voice was heard on this issue, as well.

Elise Labott, thank you very much.

Coming up, for the first time in 99 years, Americans can see a total eclipse from coast to coast. What you need ton about this historic event and who is lucky enough to be in the so-called path of totality.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:38:57] CABRERA: All right. We are just a day away now from this big event, almost a century in the making. The first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the U.S. in 99 years.

The west coast gets to see it first. People in South Carolina will be among the last in America to experience it. And correspondent Kaylee Hartung is joining us now from Isle of Palm, South Carolina.

Kailey, what's the buzz like there?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, all the buzz is about the weather and what we can expect on the South Carolina coast tomorrow. State agencies have been preparing for this day since November of last year. We know down to the minute when we will experience that total solar eclipse here tomorrow at 2:46 p.m. eastern to be exact.

But the biggest wild card is the weather. We are expecting thunderstorms in the morning and at last check, 65 percent cloud coverage on the South Carolina coast during that 2:00 p.m. hour. But even if there are clouds in the sky, there will still be something spectacular to witness here tomorrow as the skies will go dark in the middle of the day and the temperature will drop. And even if there are clouds in the sky, people need to remember you still need to be wearing those solar filter glasses to protect from any eye damage that could occur.

South Carolina, the state is expecting more than a million visitors to flood in tomorrow. And with that in mind, state officials are really asking drivers for caution on the roads saying if you can avoid the roads altogether, please do that. In Charleston, they are actually taking city busses off the road for

15 minutes during the eclipse. They are asking boaters in the water to have their lights ready to turn on when it goes dark in the middle of the day.

Folks here taking all precaution necessary. One official said it's like preparing for a hurricane which people know here how to do well. Stock up on food and fuel and be ready for a day filled with traffic and a lot of activity and excitement.

CABRERA: No doubt.

We did talk to a man who had some actual eye damage after looking at the sun during one of the previous eclipses and the partial eclipse. So those warnings to wear those glasses are so, so important.

Kaylee Hartung, thank you.

And don't forget, you can find everything you need to know about tomorrow's eclipse of the century at CNN.com/eclipse.

Still to come, Hollywood loses a legend. Jerry Lewis dead at the age of 91. Next, a look back at his life and legacy.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:45:50] CABRERA: Breaking news. We are getting word of a collision between the destroyer, the "USS John McCain" and a merchant vessel. This happened while the ship was apparently traveling to a port in Singapore. There are initial reports that the "USS John McCain" sustained some damage. And search and rescue efforts are under way right now. We will continue to follow the story and bring you any updates as we get them.

Meantime, some sad news from Hollywood tonight. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis has died. He was best known for his iconic movie roles like "the Nutty Professor" and for all of those signature slapstick characters he brought to light during his run with Dean Martin. Lewis was also a humanitarian hosting the annual muscular dystrophy telethon that became part of Labor Day weekend for decades. He passed away Sunday, today, at the age of 91.

CNN's Stephanie Elam look back at his incredible career.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was born Joseph Levich in 1926. But he became known to the world as Jerry Lewis, the zany, but lovable fool in films such as "the Bellboy" and "the Nutty Professor."

Lewis hit it big at age 20 when he teamed up with another young entertainer Dean Martin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dean was the virile, macho and I was the monkey, and I knew we had lightning in a barrel.

ELAM: Martin and Lewis became one of the most popular comedy teams in history. Thousands of sold-out performances, 16 hit movies and dozens of radio and TV appearances.

On his own, Lewis signed a seven-year, $10 million contract with paramount in 1959. At that time it was the largest contract ever between a studio and performer. Lewis went on to act in or direct shows in movies for several decades. He later offered this advice to fellow entertainers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be a hit. Score. Get the audience laughing and happy. That's the secret of success in this business.

ELAM: He didn't just make audiences laugh. Lewis used his fame to make a difference, taking up the fight against muscular dystrophy. For more than four decades his annual Labor Day telethons helped raise more than a billion dollars for research and treatment. And almost always ended with his signature song "you'll never walk alone."

Lewis struggled with his own health problems over the years including prostate cancer, type 1 diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis and heart disease.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been a long, long grueling ride. I have invested more than 24,000 pills.

ELAM: But through it all, he kept his sense of humor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better laugh at it because the alternative is not funny.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:53:02] CABRERA: Tonight it's "the '90s unplugged" from Nirvana, to Shania Twain, to Tupac Shakur, the decade, had a little something for everyone including a number of wildly successful girl groups.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)

CABRERA: Joining me now as I dance along with that song are a couple of members of the group you just saw En Vogue, Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron-Braggs.

Ladies thanks for joining us. I was grooving and it was taking me back. A lot of people think of your songs when they remember the '90s.

Terry, I will start with you. What do you remember most when you think of that decade?

TERRY ELLIS, EN VOGUE: My God. It was an explosion of amazing bands, vocalists, music. It was incredible. It was when analog met digital recording wise. It was an incredible time. CABRERA: What about you, Cindy?

CINDY HERRON-BRAGGS, EN VOGUE: God, I remember like the style, cross colors and high topped fade haircuts which actually made a comeback and breaking artists like M.C. Hammer. And it was a great time to be an artist.

CABRERA: How do you guys know each other?

ELLIS: Well Cindy and I actually met in passing in Houston, Texas, in the late '80s --

HERRON-BRAGGS: Through a mutual friend.

ELLIS: Through a mutual friend. And we actually happened to show up at the same time for the audition for the group.

CABRERA: How interesting. You are among a group of artists who really stood for female empowerment, one of the things I loved in the '90s, of course, there was Alanis Morsette as well. And I want to play another clip from tonight's episode.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at you. Alanis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We ran each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are shopping today. We thought we would take you with us and Alanis is here with a brand new album, a brand new look I have noticed.

[19:55:04] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was dropped from MCA records after having made music through my teens. And my personal promise to myself was that I wouldn't stop until I wrote a record that really exemplified and nailed on the head what was truly going on for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a clutch moment, what did she say? Women can say that? And yes, they could. She was singing about a relationship that obviously had gone wrong but it wasn't this kind of nice like, my God, you left me and now I'm sad. This was rage at this man. You didn't hear that a lot from women.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In America alone, "jagged little pill" sells 50 million albums. It's Alanis' moment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: So ladies, as one of the successful female groups of the '90s, Cindy, what challenges did you face that you don't think perhaps your male counterparts did? HERRON-BRAGGS: I think that you know, in the '90s, women artists were

expected to you know have this certain appearance. They were really exploited especially during that time a lot in videos and having to have this overly sexy, you know, appearance and singing a lot of times about things that they really couldn't relate to, you know. It was just to sell records.

And so one of our challenges was to steer away from that image, to write about music that was relevant to us about our experiences, to also write about things that were relevant to women of every age, you know, and every socioeconomic background. And we tried to set a new standard.

CABRERA: Terry, you want to weigh in? Sorry, Cindy, I didn't demean cut you off.

HERRON-BRAGGS: No, it is OK.

ELLIS: Ditto. It was definitely a time where we understood how important the platform that we stood on was. And so our message was to exemplify respect. And, because we knew we were representing women. And she is right. At that time, it was overtly sexual. And we wanted to be heard and respected for our talent.

CABRERA: And what did you feel was the way you were received?

O ELLIS: It was amazing. I mean, so many of our fans would tell us how much they appreciated the fact that, you know, we kept our clothes on.

HERRON-BRAGGS: Yes. Yes.

ELLIS: And the messages as well.

HERRON-BRAGGS: Absolutely.

CABRERA: Well, there was a big headline this weekend that the President was going to skip this year's Kennedy Center Honors after some of the celebrity honorees expressed concerns and threatened to boycott. Let's listen to Lionel Richie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIONEL RICHIE, SINGER: I must tell you, I'm not really happy as to what's going on right now with the controversies, and the weekly, daily, hourly. But I think I'm just going to wait it out for a minute to see where it is going to be by that time. This is going to be in December. We may be in a whole other world by that time. But I'm going to wait it out. I totally understand Norman's point of view. And I understand where we are as a country right now is going backwards but all we can do is kind of sit here and hold our breaths for a minute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Ladies, you talked about sending a message through what you wear, through the message of your songs, but what do you think about musicians who are taking a stand in politics?

HERRON-BRAGGS: I think that one of the benefits of being an artist and having a public platform is that you get to stand up for things that you believe in. You can be vocal or you can just decide not to attend an event and it sends a very large message. And right now, it's the time to send messages, you know, on whatever level you want to as an artist. And I think that artists ought to stand up for what they believe in. And you know, voice their opinions.

CABRERA: And Terry, do you think that's something that's important as well?

ELLIS: I do. I always say stand for something or fall for anything. And again, reiterating being able to have an opportunity to stand on a platform such as this, as an artist, we write every day about the things that we think and feel. And it's important the message for us has always been important to impact people positively. And there's a divide in this country right now.

CABRERA: All right, ladies, thank you both for joining us, Cindy Herron-Braggs, Terry Ellis.

Be sure to tune in for a brand new episode of "the '90s" coming up at 9:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

That does it for me. I'm Ana Cabrera. Have a great night.