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Four Missing On Capsized Cargo Ship As Fire Stalls Rescue Operations; Trump Cancels Secret Camp David Meeting With Taliban; Pompeo Defends Trump's Decision To Hold Talks With Taliban In U.S.; At Least 43 Dead As Humanitarian Crisis Unfolds In The Bahamas; Mark Sanford Launches Primary Challenge Against Trump; New Poll: Biden Maintains Solid Lead Over Closest Competitors; Freshman Democrats Grapple With Risk Of Impeachment Probe. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired September 8, 2019 - 15:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, we begin with breaking news. Four people are missing after a cargo ship capsizes off the coast of Georgia. The U.S. Coast Guard forced to suspend rescue efforts because of fire on board vessel. The coast guard says the 71,000 ton vessel capsized after leaving the port of Brunswick early this morning. The golden ray is believed to be carrying cars.


LT. LLOYD HOFLIN, U.S. COAST GUARD: So we're still conducting rescue operations. We have assets on scene. They continue to do what they can. It is a complex situation, so, you know, we're looking not just for the safety to be able to rescue the people that are on board but to also be able to provide safety for our crews. So, it's ongoing and we're looking it through as much of it as we can and we have everybody looking to try and solve this complex problem.


WHITFIELD: All right. Crews are working to stabilize the vessel with salvagers and the coast guard says they will resume operations once it is safe to do so.

All right, joining me on the phone right now, Captain John Reed, Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Charleston. Good you could be with me. Thank you so much. So why do you believe this vessel is listing? Did it hit something? What could have happened?

CAPT. JOHN REED, U.S. COAST GUARD COMMANDER (through phone): Good afternoon, Fredricka. Thank you very much for having us on. The cause of the exact nature of why it happened is still under investigation. And the investigators are here in Brunswick, mention that investigation with the help of the vessel's master, first mate, and their engineer.

The coast guard continues to work with our partners to form a unified command here composed of federal state as well as the responsible party. That would be Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Coast Guard captain report here in Brunswick, as well as Gallagher Marine.

WHITFIELD: So Captain, we're looking at a few images. Some images it looks like it's more than listing that it's on its side. And then in another image we just saw, it is nearly upside down. So talk to me about the priorities here if there are four people missing but then at the same time you have to suspend rescue operations because of the fire on board. What are the priorities in tackling this accident?

REED: Yes, you bring up a great point, Fredricka. Obviously, as mentioned earlier in the broadcast, we had to suspend our search for the four persons on board as a fire started on board. And the vessel continued to be unstable. Our first priority is the safety of the responders as well as the public.

And so doing that, once we are able to ensure their safety through securing the vessel and ensuring that it is stable by a salvager's (ph) assessment, we will then work through the possibilities of trying to get back on board and locate the individuals. The other outcome could be that it may be deemed more appropriate to go ahead and right the vessel and desmoke and dewater before we are able to actually get in there and locate the four individuals.

WHITFIELD: And how do you do that? How do you right a vessel of this size? What kind of equipment needs to be brought in, what kind of assistance?

REED: Yes. From my perspective, Fredricka, I will rely on the experts. And that is not our job. We're working closely with the responders from Donjon-SMIT who has been contacted by the company as part of their vessel response plan as well as the coast guard's salvage and engineering response team who will provide the captain of the port here, the expertise to go ahead and make the decisions and conduct the rescue.

WHITFIELD: So the rescue that did take place with the, you know, more than 20 crew members that were rescued, is that where the U.S. Coast Guard involved, and if so how did you do so?

REED: We were not dealing once involved though. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, (INAUDIBLE), the Coast Guard air station in Savannah as well as the air facility in Charleston, all of them were involved in pulling the 20 people off of that vessel that have been save so far.


WHITFIELD: All right. Captain John Reed, you've got a huge undertaking there. We appreciate you being able take the time to bring us posted -- give us as much information as you could in the duration. Thank you so much. REED: Thank you very much, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let me also bring in now retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, as we look at these images quite extraordinary that they were able to rescue 20, again, very extraordinary. But there are big concerns here with this vessel that is now on its side or nearly upside down. So what kind of apparatus would be brought in to help upright it? Or right the ship, as you say?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I mean, you would need -- First of all, you'd have to control the flooding and to try to pump out as much water as possible to get that ship, you know, back upright again. And then that would probably require very, very, very heavy marine engineering equipment and seaborne cranes to help you with the leverage you would need to do that. That is a mammoth undertaking.

And, you know, I'm not saying they wouldn't do that or couldn't do that. They certainly -- it could be done. But I don't think that looking at these photos and listening to the captain talk to you, Fred, that we're anywhere near sort of a decision yet on making that kind of an investment of resources.

WHITFIELD: Yes. A lot of decision making has to happen here. So this is nothing that's going to happen quickly within a matter of minutes. So what are we looking at? When you look at the size of this vessel and we understand there are cars, vehicles that were, you know, being transported that are on it.

KIRBY: Right.

WHITFIELD: And as you mentioned, you got all this apparatus. Are we talking about many days of decision making, of assessment?

KIRBY: Well, I think it's going to be really a function of minutes and hours right now as they try to deal with the immediate problem which is the fire on board and probably the advanced flooding that's still going on. And you have a concern over four human lives. So you're talking minutes and hours here today as they sort of try to make decisions about how do they best get to those individuals if they can?

And then we're going to be talking days and probably weeks, Fred, when you're talking about actually salvaging this ship and getting it out of the waterway so it's not a hazard to navigation for future shipping as well. But the immediate problem is going to be that fire, then the flooding, and trying to get at those souls that are still remaining on board.

WHITFIELD: Yes, trying to get to those four still missing. And then talk to me about what potential environmental concerns there are in all of these?

KIRBY: Well anytime you have capsized like this, you're going to have environmental concerns. Just by nature of the fact that she's going to be carrying fuel oil on board and that fuel could leak into the waterways. This was a cargo ship carrying automobiles. So it's not quite as dangerous as if it was an oil tanker, per se. But clearly there's going to be environmental concerns. Not as drastic as it would be if it was a fuel ship. But clearly they're going to have to look at that.

And then the other issue is, you know, how long is it going to be in the water in that location? Because the longer it stays, the more hazard to navigation it becomes to other shipping. And that could also cause environmental concerns going down the lane.

WHITFIELD: Of course, we were talking about a port, so lots of vessels coming in and out. So all of those operations potentially would have to be delayed if not suspended?

KIRBY: I think it depends on -- I mean, I'm not sure where on the map this is, Fred, this particular capsized ship. But clearly it was in a shipping lane. So you've got to expect that at least that part of the shipping lane is now obstructed. But I'm not familiar enough with the waterways. It's likely that there are alternative lanes. That commercial shipping can take in and out of the port that I suspect they'll be looking at now.

But even just shifting over to alternative lanes or maybe just a half a lane that's left, you're still going to be running into a bottle neck. So it's going to take a lot of work by the port authorities here over the next days and weeks to make sure that they properly manage shipping in and out so that it continues as much as it can unabated.

But that it's going to -- there's no question if there's going to be an effect on it that's going to be -- it's going to be slowed down. I can't imagine how that wouldn't be the case.

WHITFIELD: Right, of course. Prayers going out for the missing four crew members --

KIRBY: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: -- with the efforts ongoing. Thank you so much Rear Admiral John Kirby.

KIRBY: You bet, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, secret meeting canceled. President Trump calls off a peace talks with Taliban leaders U.S. soil at Camp David. What's behind this?

Plus, Hurricane Dorian unleashed a week of death and devastation in the Bahamas. The work to restore that island nation is just beginning.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. We continue to follow breaking news. Stunning new developments today in the efforts to end America's longest war. President Donald J. Trump revealing he had planned on holding secret peace talks today with leaders of the Taliban at Camp David but decided to scrap them.

The President tweeting in part, "Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great, great soldiers and 11 other people. I immediately canceled the meeting and called of peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?"

The President is referencing a car bombing in Kabul that killed Sergeant 1st Class Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz on Thursday. He was the 16th U.S. service member to die in Afghanistan this year. His body arriving at Dover, Delaware, last night.

Well today on CNN, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the President's decision to invite members of the Taliban onto U.S. soil just days before the 9/11 anniversary and the President's decision to cancel the meeting.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've been working on this for awhile and it was the case that when the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that's not going to work. We're going to walk away from a deal if others try to use violence to achieve better ends in a negotiation.

It's not right, it's not appropriate. They killed an American. And it made no sense for the Taliban to be rewarded for that kind of bad behavior.


WHITFIELD: CNN National Security Reporter, Kylie Atwood is covering these developments for us. So Kylie, what more are you learning about these canceled peace talks with the Taliban?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well there remain a series of questions about the genesis of these talks that were to take place and also the cancellation.


As you saw there, Secretary Pompeo defending the decision to cancel these talks that were going to be happening over the weekend at Camp David with President Trump, leaders of the Taliban an Afghan government officials. But Secretary Pompeo said that after this week, after a U.S. service member was killed in Afghanistan, it was clear that the Taliban couldn't live up to their commitments.

Now, the question here, however, is there have been 16 U.S. service members killed in combat in Afghanistan this year. So why now? Why did the 16th matter so much? And Pompeo said that they were close to some real progress here and

clearly the U.S. is saying that it was not going to go forth with the Taliban killing Americans. But Pompeo also made it clear today that the U.S. is not letting down on the fighting field either saying that the U.S. has killed over a thousand members of the Taliban in the last 10 days.

Now, there are also questions, however, about the location of this meeting. It was supposed to take place at Camp David. And there are concerns -- Members of Congress coming out today saying that no member of the Taliban should ever come to U.S. soil let alone Camp David where U.S. government officials met after 9/11 to plan what they were going to do in response to that awful terrorist attack. Pompeo was asked about that today by Jake Tapper. Let's listen to what he said.


POMPEO: The President believed that we could further that, that we could further America's national interests by having conversations with the people that have the capacity to actually deliver, Jake, on what you just described. That was the effort, that was the purpose that President Trump has laid out.

But I think as you saw, if the Taliban don't behave, if they don't deliver on the commitments that they've made to us now for weeks and in some cases months, President of the United States is not going to reduce the pressure. We're not going to reduce our support for the Afghan security forces that have fought so hard there in Afghanistan.


ATWOOD: And the question now is what will the Trump administration do next? What is the precondition to get the Taliban and the Afghan government back to the table and to progress forward on these talks that U.S. Special Representative Khalilzad has been working on now for months.

That is still an unanswered question yet to be determined. But we know that President Trump desperately wants to get the U.S. out of Afghanistan. It was a campaign promise he made in 2016 and we're almost -- we're more than a year away from his next election. And that is going to be an election important decision for him and something that factors in here.

WHITFIELD: Right. Will the talks still happen just somewhere else under different conditions? All right, Kylie Atwood, thank you so much.

All right, let's talk further about all this. With me now is Samantha Vinograd who was a senior adviser to the National Security Advisor under President Obama and she's a CNN National Security Analyst. Good to see you, Sam. So Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, you know, he's defending the President's position. He says to negotiate you have to deal with bad actors.

So has the Taliban just won, however, additional leverage from the President of the United States by that invitation to be on U.S. soil at Camp David for these meetings? Even, you know, in such close proximity to when the nation will be mourning American lives lost on 9/11.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well Fred, we shouldn't even be talking about this right now. In the sense that I worked under President Obama, I was involved in setting up secret negotiations with the Taliban and other unsavory characters. And there's a reason they're kept discredit. It's so that this doesn't play out in the court of public opinion while there's important details to hammer out and while you give both sides room to try to negotiate to come back to the table.

President Trump made his own negotiating team's jobs harder by tweeting about this yesterday. He could have kept this private and given Khalilzad, Pompeo and others the room to go back to the Taliban to say we're calling off this meeting. If you want to get back to the table, knock off the violence.

With respect to where President Trump chose to hold this meeting, again, having been involved in planning these sort of meetings, there are myriad locations that would have checked the box in terms of having a meeting and accomplishing negotiations. I never thought I'd agree with Liz Cheney, but when she said the Taliban should never step foot on Camp David, she was completely right.

President Trump is right to talk to the Taliban just like he's right to talk to Kim Jong-un if Kim Jong-un is credible, but he doesn't need to overdo it, over calibrate and invite the terrorists to Camp David. And then he announced by tweet that he's cancelling it.

WHITFIELD: But you are an advocate of the talking, to what extent do you think the President publicizing, you know, a private meeting and a location? How much has he undermined the potential of any other upcoming talks, about the very same thing?

VINOGRAD: Trump's tweet is a gross misunderstanding of how the Taliban operates. If the Taliban cared about what Donald Trump was tweeting or previous presidents when they were tweeting, we would have had a lot less casualties in Afghanistan including against American troops.


If President Trump understood the Taliban's strategy, he would have emboldened Khalilzad to try to reschedule the summit in private, not in public. Now I do think that the door to rescheduling this meeting is open. Pompeo left the door open this morning.

The Taliban seemingly wants to get back to the negotiating table. Their statements have been relatively measured for the Taliban. So the question now is not what Donald Trump is tweeting but what's happening behind the scenes between negotiators.

WHITFIELD: So among the conditions, you know, reportedly the U.S., you know, wants the Taliban to end its relationship with al-Qaeda and reportedly the Afghan president doesn't even trust, you know, Trump administration in this whole deal making thing. But listen to what former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today about all of this.


GEN. JAMES MATTIS, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You remember when we reduced nuclear weapon with Russia, we talked about trust, but verify. In this case with this group, I think you want to verify, then trust. We've asked them -- demanded that they break with al-Qaeda since the Bush administration. They've refused to do so. They murdered 3,000 innocent people, citizens of 91 countries on 9/11. We should never forget that. The Taliban hid those people among them, refused to break with them, and have refused to this day to break.


WHITFIELD: So then Sam, you know, why or what assurances does the U.S. need to trust that it's the Taliban who could be part of any counterterrorism efforts if, indeed, 14,000 U.S. troops were pulled out of Afghanistan?

VINOGRAD: Well, I'm not clear that President Trump will slow down a troop drawdown even if we don't have a deal. He seems pretty set on that. But in terms of verify but trust or trust but verify, there are certain instruments that the President has available to him. One is relying on his intelligence community which he doesn't often do to figure out the credibility of the Taliban from an intelligence assessment perspective. And the other is to rely on what we call confidence building measures.

When we started negotiations under President Obama which eventually have led to the release of Bowe Bergdahl, for example, it wasn't a slum dunk. We worked to the Taliban to establish his confidence building measures, face approach to ensure that we could trust what they were saying they were going to do.

President trump could lay out a similar road map up to the Taliban whereby there's a phased approach by both sides to try to get to an end objective. But I'm going to come back to my original point which is I don't think the Taliban or anyone else believes that President Trump is going to slow down the troop withdrawal which is what the Taliban wants even if the deal is no longer on the table.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sam Vinograd, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much.


WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, we're just beginning to understand the magnitude of the destruction in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian. We'll talk to a former NBA star, Rick Fox, about the effort that he's leading in the place he and his family calls home.


[15:26:55] WHITFIELD: A massive humanitarian aid effort continues in the Bahamas one week after Dorian left the islands in disarray. Right now the death toll stands at 43. Bahamian officials say that number is expected to increase dramatically, significantly was their word. Search and rescue crews are still looking for the hundred still missing. The coast guard says it has evacuated more than 300 people so far.

CNN's Paula Newton is in the Bahamas this afternoon. So Paula, all hands on deck to help thousands in need.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And a lot of that has included obviously both governments. Obviously the U.S. government which has been working really hand in glove with the Bahamian government. But this is just such a wide and vast operation.

I try and remind people, look, these islands, especially the Abaco islands, you're talking about hundreds of little places where those helicopters have to land scattered across hundreds of miles. It has been a difficult task. The helicopters continue to go full throttle behind me and those fixed aircraft going in as well.

What has been an issue here is that some people have complained that actually the private organizations have been, you know, cluttering up the air space. That it's spotty and disorganized and what they have needed is a big effort from the Bahamian government to be able to organize all of these.

Now, Fred, I can tell you from, having spoken to people on the ground, if it weren't for those private organizations getting in in the first hours, they don't know what they would have done. One of them, of course, was World Central Kitchen. They have been throughout basically Marsh Harbour, one of the hardest hit areas.

I want you to listen now to their director of operations just talking about the fact that when you actually hand out a hot meal, right Fred, like not crackers and something you get out of a tin, but a hot meal to people for the first time what it means to them. Take a listen.


SAM BLOCH, DIRECTOR OF FIELD OPERATIONS, WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN: We look at food as just nourishment for the body, we look at it as nourishment for the soul as well. So the chiefs in Nassau have been doing an amazing job, you know, getting feedback and adjusting the recipes. They have local volunteers in there that are giving input (ph) in the recipes because it's -- food can be a very comforting thing after a situation like this. Having a dish in something that's comforting and nutritious is really important.


NEWTON: Yes. And of course it is. And now the Bahamian government along with some help from the U.K., from the United States and other countries are beginning to get a handle on it. When I was at Marsh Harbour yesterday, Fred, I certainly saw more coordination on the part of the government.

I want to also mention though that death toll. I mean, look, when we were on Marsh Harbour yesterday, again, the K9 team, the morticians, the portable morgues, they were all in place to try and do the recovery effort over the next few days because everyone has been complaining that it's been taking a long time. What was so sad though, Fred, was there were so many people that they were finally able to evacuate but they still really were so sad because they still didn't know where their friends and relatives were. Hadn't heard from them now, Fred, in one entire week and were starting to lose hope.

WHITFIELD: Yes. It's heart breaking. Paula Newton, thank you so much for bringing us their stories, their experiences and, of course, you know, prayers continue and everyone is still hoping for the recovery, you know, and the relocation of so many. Thank you.


All right, I'm joined now by former NBA Star, Rick Fox who grew up and still has family in the Bahamas. Good to see you, Rick.


WHITFIELD: So I understand you have been able to reach out and find a lot of your family members there in Nassau in the Bahamas, but what has it been like trying to find, locate, and see how people are doing?

FOX: It's been extremely difficult. You hear Paula Newton, which I'm grateful for her reporting, report on how difficult it is to just reach people. The search and rescue mission has been ongoing. It continues to be ongoing. I have a brother and brother-in-law, they're on the ground in Grand Bahama right now.

And teammates like Burton Rodgers (ph) who was there trying to make a difference. But there's just not enough people and enough help right now no matter how much shows up. You can't imagine unless you're there.

When I think of the efforts of NEMA, the government officials, you know, we're a country that's really, you know, in some cases at times worships protocol a little too much. But, you know, in this case, no political boundaries have been, you know, all been knocked down. And every Bahamian is stepping up.

I've seen heroic stories from men and women in our country that are doing rescue missions of their own helping the government. People are stepping into the hospitals that have all been destroyed to try and figure out how to aid. We have international, as you've spoken to, international aid coming in in medical capacities.

I've been speaking to the minister of health sending our own team here from the west coast that are going to get in there as well to add assistance. But this is a monumental undertaking our country has never seen before, never experienced before. We're a country of hurricanes that flow through our region all the time. WHITFIELD: Yes.

FOX: You know, this is something that we view with.

WHITFIELD: This is different. Yes. But this is different, you know, of this magnitude. So then I wonder what your concerns are about the Bahamian government being able to handle all of this. And yes, you underscore there is help coming from, you know, all walks and all corners. But --

FOX: Yes.

WHITFIELD: -- you know, hundreds of islands, you know, representing --

FOX: Yes.

WHITFIELD: -- your country. How in the world can this government or, you know, the reach be big enough to help out everyone?

FOX: Well, right now, I appreciate that question because I want to be clear to the audience that's listening that may hear the Bahamas and think we are one island. We are not one island. We're an island of 700 archipelagos. And we have two of our islands right now Abaco and Grand Bahama, both islands that I know really well, that have been hit hard by this hurricane.

We have 14 other islands thought that are open for our visitors that are used to coming to our country to visit whether for vacation or quite honestly, have second homes there. And that's why you see so much attention and care being put out by the international community because they know us.

They know this island. So, before you think that we're shut down for, you know, visitation or businesses as a tourism industry, we are definitely open for that. But we have two islands that are definitely been hit hard that we're trying to search and rescue and recover and evacuate individuals right now. But there's going to be, Fredricka, a rebuild effort that has to go forward here.

And I must thank the United States, our brothers that have treated us as such. You know, we're the third border to the United States. You think of Mexico, Canada, and you think of the Bahamas, the Caribbean region. We are the closest to you. And you guys have shown up that way and we appreciate it. Also our Kirkham Brothers, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Hadi Girl (ph) sending military services there to help protect and serve on the ground.

WHITFIELD: So your family there, you got your brother, your brother- in-law, and you've got, you know, teammates there as well. This really is, you know, team Rick Fox here, but what kind of help do you believe is still needed there that you're hearing from your, you know, fellow team members and your family members? What is still desperately needed that isn't or hasn't arrived yet?

FOX: Well, if you're listening to the folks on the ground, they'll tell you they're still looking for, you know, family members and citizens of our country. So we have to discover those. The numbers of those that are missing and that may passed away. We want to be respectful of them and their families, but we have to get on the ground and clear rubble, debris. We need equipment. We're putting together that mission now.

Once we get through that phase, it'll be another week or two weeks. We can get into the assessment of what has been damaged. I mean, you're talking about, yes, food and water and medical needs and shelter right now. But we won't need those forever. We're going to need schools, hotels, and hospitals rebuilt and --

WHITFIELD: Yes, long-term.

FOX: -- and infrastructure long-term. So I've partner -- My foundation has partnered with Patrick Soon-Shiong (ph), and Tan Soon Siang (ph) foundation to create a matching fund going forward for the rebuild of our efforts in our country. So I challenge other people to step up as well. And we have so many amazing Bahamians, businessmen and locals on the ground, that have been doing this already.


FOX: And so I hope that people hang in there and stay with us as we move toward in the coming days, weeks, months, and years really to rebuild this.


WHITFIELD: Well I know your family members and your fellow Bahamians are appreciating your efforts and your own personal team, you know, involved there to try and help people rebuild. Rick Fox, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

FOX: Thank you, Fredricka. I really appreciate it too.

WHITFIELD: All right, for more information about how you can help the victims of Hurricane Dorian, please go to and we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: All right. President Trump faces a new primary challenger, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford launched his campaign this morning with a mission of focusing on the economy.


MARK SANFORD, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: I have and, you know, I plan to announce that back home this week. We had a hurricane come visit us on the coast of South Carolina, so that sort of disrupted plans on that front. But I'm here to tell you now that I am going to get in.

[15:40:02] I think as a party we've lost our way. The President has called himself the king of debt. Has a familiarity and comfort level with debt that I think is ultimately leading us in the wrong direction.


WHITFIELD: Sanford has been a frequent critic of President Trump and reaction to his announcement has been swift. President Trump's re- election campaign simply called Sanford's bid irrelevant. And in South Carolina, Sanford's own party says his bid is about Mark Sanford looking to raise his political career from the grave. And quoting from their statement calling it, quote, a vanity project that will go nowhere.

All right, let's discuss this. Aisha Moodie-Mills is a Democratic Strategist and Brendan Buck is a former top aide to both Republican House Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner. All right, good to see you both. So Brendan, you first. Does it say more about the GOP party than it does about the incumbent now that you've got three potential primary challengers?

BRENDAN BUCK, FORMER TOP AIDE FOR HOUSE SPEAKERS PAUL RYAN AND JOHN BOEHNER: Yes, I mean, obviously the President had -- what was once I think a relatively large group of Republicans who didn't like his population and like his policies. I think that population has shrunk significantly over the last few years. I don't think Mark Sanford has a real chance of winning and I think he knows that.

I think what he's trying to do here is have a conversation about what the party is going to look like after Donald Trump whenever that will be. And, as you said, you know, he's talking about debt and the deficit. That's his rationale for running. And I think that's a welcomed conversation.

There's a lot of people myself included who are really concerned with the way this President operates. And so what we want to be able to do to have a conversation is what do Republicans stand for. And I think that's what Mark Sanford is trying to do. Is he going to win? Of course not.

WHITFIELD: Yes. He said, you know, he thinks the party has lost its way as it pertains to the economy or things economics. So Aisha, you know, President Trump, you know, publicly boasts about, you know, the strength of the U.S. economy even though CNN has reported that he and others in the White House, you know, privately have been expressing their real concern. So Sanford, you know, is running on the idea that the economy will take a downward turn. Is this potentially an opening for any Republican challenger?

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So here's why it's going to be difficult to challenge this President, because the Republican Party generally is breaking down our democracy and literally does not want to have clear and open competition on their side or generally. That is why they are shutting down right now.

In South Carolina, for example, he's not going to be able to compete because -- and three other states, because they're not going to have primaries at all. I think that that's a bigger conversation we should be having though, is about the opportunity to participate and have your ideas heard and actually be presented in a way that the American public can vote on you.

Across the board, we are seeing that Republicans care deeply about voter suppression, about closing down the process, about silencing people, about making sure there's not a debate, making sure there's not access to the polls generally. And I think that it is courageous and wonderful that you see Republicans who are standing up to say I'm going to run against Donald Trump because I don't believe in him.

But it is so problematic that the Democratic process is being eroded period, structurally by this party to the point where Americans don't even have an opportunity to really have their voices heard.

WHITFIELD: So now let's look at the Democratic field, Joe Biden, you know, maintaining his lead in this new ABC/Washington Post poll. He's at 27 percent with Senators Sanders and Warren getting a little closer, you know, in their second place standing. Polls have also been, you know, largely unchanged, but how do you see Aisha, you know, a real breakout opportunity for any number of these Democratic candidates?

MOODIE-MILLS: Yes, I think that the polls are really reflective of name recognition and the fact that, you know, surely Vice President Biden for eight years hung out with Barack Obama in the White House and did some interesting things and so people know who he is. What I'm expecting to see, though, is that as we get deeper into the debates, I think that they're going to become more challenging.

I think that the candidates are going to start to come at each other a little more on their own records and frankly on their own vision for the future. I think that that's where this is absolutely going to be won or not is on whether people believe that the candidate is actually going to take us somewhere beyond this merck (ph) that is Donald Trump.

I don't think that the argument at Biden is making of, all in a guy, who can win because frankly I gaffe like him and sometimes when I say things you don't know the difference between us, so that means that he might be able to poll some of those Trump voters. I think that the Democrats who are voting in this primary are going to want to see who has some vision and ambition for the future that is beyond this hot mess we're in. And I think that's going to start to play out in the coming months in their own debates and conversations with each other.

WHITFIELD: So Brendan that same poll, you know, ABC News/Washington Post asked which candidate had the best chance to defeat Trump and look Senator Warren was the only candidate to improve her standing. She's at 12 percent, you know, up from 7 percent since July. So, do you see that things are starting to take shape or change a bit in the Democratic field?

[15:45:05] BUCK: Yes, no. I don't think they are. And that's the exact question is who is most likely to be the president. I think at least when we see polling, at least half up to two-thirds of the democratic primary electorate is more concerned about who can beat Donald Trump than they are about any particular policy. And that's what the polling bears out. And Joe Biden is the only one who is really running on that. I'm just here to beat Donald Trump campaign.

Everyone else is trying to prove how progressive they can be and how they are going to make this their moment to change the country and Joe Biden is not playing that game, so he had that laying all to himself. And until somebody is able to put a chink in that armor of how much he can control that narrative, then I don't know how it's going to change any time soon.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there for now. Brendan Buck, Aisha Moodie-Mills, good to see you both. Thank you.


WHITFIELD: All right. We'll be right back after this.


WHITFIELD: On Capitol Hill, recess is over and the impeachment battle is set to resume. This week the House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on a resolution that sets the rules for an impeachment probe into President Trump.


So far, at least 134 House Democrats along with Independent, Justin Amash, have publicly voiced their support for this. But one group of Democrat is on the fence. The party's newly elected freshman class, their concern will an impeachment probe hand the president a second term in office? It's an issue CNN Politics Reporter, Jeremy Herb has been following very close.

So Jeremy, where are most of these newly elected Democratic members of Congress leaning?

JEREMY HERB, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: So for a freshman who won Republican seats in 2018, there's a real division over Democrats should pursue impeachment. While the liberal freshmen Democrats are vocally advocating for impeachment. There are a lot of weary Democrats among those freshmen particularly who won seats that President Trump carried in 2016.

Now, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler is moving forward with his impeachment investigation this week. And he has said he wants to decide whether to introduce articles of impeachment by the end of the year. But for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is still opposed to impeachment, those freshmen are a key block for her.

Now, lawmakers over those recess have been hearing a lot about this at town halls in their districts. I went out to several of the main California and Congressman Katie Porter, for instance, you know, the very first question she got, she's in an Orange County seat that was a Republican seat for a long time, it was a concern that Democrats would be making a mistake if they pursued impeachment. Now she responded that she is supporting the effort and said that for her, politics is not going to be part of that calculation.

Now another California Democrat I spoke to, Katie Hill, is not for an impeachment inquiry, but she said she wants to find out what evidence there is and see all of the evidence before she makes that decision. What that means is, she's still leaving the door open to ultimately pursuing. So she and others like her are going to be the ones that we watch in the days and weeks head, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jeremy Herb, thanks so much.

All right, coming up, an elementary school student learned the true meaning of school spirit with the help from his favorite college team. More right after this.



WHITFIELD: A Florida boy mocked at school is now a viral sensation. He's a die hard fan of the University of Tennessee Vols. And on his elementary school's college colors feed day he proudly donned this homemade t-shirt with his own U.T. logo. But it didn't take long before some fellow classmates started teasing him about it.

And when the university caught wind of this, they jumped right in. They sent the boy an entire box full of official University of Tennessee gear. And in fact they were so impressed with his homemade shirt that they decided to make real shirts out of it and proceeds from this shirt, which is now selling off the charts, will go towards an anti-bullying foundation.

Congrats to everybody involved on the good end.

We've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.