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No New Statements on Gun Bans; U.S. Weighing Military Response After Attacks Reported in Saudi Arabia; Interview With Jeffrey Wigand. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 16, 2019 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Having the interest of the country at heart when issues like this come up.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Guys, let's turn the page and talk about guns. Because, over the weekend, it was a very important phone call between Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the president, namely on universal, you know, background checks. We have no clarity from the president on what he'll do here.

Now, Toluse, an increasing divide among Democrats in this.

Beto O'Rourke saying, you know, yes, we're going to take away your assault weapons, AR-15,s AR-47s.

Chris Coons, Democratic senator, said on our show last week, that's going to be played at Second Amendment rallies, you know, in perpetuity, to scare people to think Democrats are going to take your guns away.

And then Jake Tapper asked Mayor Pete Buttigieg this weekend, did O'Rourke play into the hands of Republicans?

And Buttigieg said yes.

So where does this go? And does it hurt any progress on guns for Democrats, if the division grows within the party on this?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. The chances of a bipartisan legislation on gun control or on gun safety were already very slim before the debate on Thursday. I think they've gotten slimmer, in part because Democrats are pushing a hard line, saying they have to have at least universal background checks. The H.R. 8 bill that passed out of the House has to be part of the final progress, the final legislation that gets passed.

President Trump has not agreed to that part of the overall deal. And the fact that Democrats are saying that that has to be part of the final package, means that it's much less likely that they will be able to come to an agreement.

And President Trump has already said -- and members of the White House have already said -- that Congressman O'Rourke's comments about taking away guns is something that's going to make it harder to get a deal. They're wondering whether or not that's a -- there's a Trojan Horse in this situation.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: But there are two different issues, right? I mean, because --

HARLOW: They're very different issues.

SCIUTTO: -- the assault weapons ban is one thing. And then whether you ban future sales or you would have a mandatory buyback of people who already have them. But the fact is, where you have, Susan Page, enormous support is for universal background checks. I mean, you know, among Democrats, Republicans, NRA members and even Republican senators who have said that they can get behind it.

On that issue, why won't the president get behind it? What's holding him back? Because he's teased this before, after Parkland, pulled back. He teased it again after El Paso and Dayton, seems to be pulling back. Why?

PAGE: Well, I think he's pulling back because the NRA, which has been an important supporter of his, is alarmed by it, because some of his strongest core supporters don't think it's a good idea.

There is some -- there -- Democrats remain somewhat -- they have just a shred of hope that the president might come around on this, because it's so enormously possible. Nine out of 10 Americans supports universal --


HARLOW: Right.

PAGE: -- background checks, how much more popular can you get than that? And yet I think it's been -- the president has shown, in the past, that while he's willing to suggest he would support something like that, at the end of the day, he doesn't. And Mitch McConnell's made it 100 percent clear that he is not moving ahead in the Senate unless he has a guarantee --

HARLOW: Right.

PAGE: -- from the White House that the president will stick with him on it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, it's interesting. The most recent shooting showed the relevance of both red flag law, someone who had previously been denied --

HARLOW: Totally.

SCIUTTO: -- gun permit because they had mental health issues, but also universal background checks because then he went through the back door. Anyway, those are the facts.

Susan Page, Toluse Olorunnipa, thanks to both of you.

[10:33:20] Benjamin Netanyahu's tenure as Israel's longest-serving prime minister could end or be extended tomorrow. High-stakes election under way. We're going to discuss, next.


HARLOW: Some very sad news this morning as we learn more about a major explosion in Farmington, Maine. Maine's governor now says one firefighter has been killed in this explosion. Officials were checking out a complaint of a propane smell at a building in that town when the explosion occurred. Several other people were injured. We're continuing to monitor the situation, of course, very closely.

SCIUTTO: Well, just six months after going to the polls, Israelis will vote again tomorrow in a high-stakes election that will either extend or end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's political career. By all accounts, it was a very tight race between Netanyahu and his rival, the former military general Benny Gantz. Both men would have to make deals with smaller parties to get to the necessary 61-seat majority in Parliament.

Losing the election would end Netanyahu's reign as Israel's longest- serving prime minister. Winning -- and this is important -- could protect him from being prosecuted on corruption charges.

We also have this news just coming in, relevant to the Middle East. And that is that the National Security Council's meeting in the White House now to discuss U.S. options for a response to attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, those effects still ongoing.

Joining me now, Ambassador Nicholas Burns. He's a former U.S. under secretary of state for Political Affairs. Good to have you on, Ambassador, as always. First, if we could talk about what's happening in Saudi Arabia. This is really a remarkable attack: brazen, involving drones, it's causing real effects in the world oil market.

There's some plausible deniability here as to who's actually behind it: Houthis, who have a relationship with Iran; Iran directly.

What are U.S. options to respond here, as the White House meets?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, certainly, the Trump administration has to take this very seriously. This is a major even in the Middle East concerning Saudi Arabia and Iran, the great Sunni and the great Shia power, who have been fighting a proxy war for many years.


And this attack was brazen, it was very impactful. It's hard to believe, I think, for most of us who know something about the Middle East, that the Houthi rebels could have carried out such a sophisticated attack with so many different drones. A lot of fingers are pointing to Iran, circumstantial evidence. And I think it's important to understand that Iran is very much capable of this type of act. However, the administration's challenge is to present public --

compelling evidence in public to the Congress, to the American people, to our allies, that it was indeed Iran, before, I think, they take any military action -- can consider seriously any military action against the Iranians. That, I think, is the next step for the Trump administration.

SCIUTTO: But do you believe the president has an appetite for military action? The Iranians shot down a $110 million drone, the president pulled back that military action, minutes before it happened. President tweeted, "Locked and loaded," this weekend. The White House is now saying that's more diplo-speak than military speak. Is it your sense that the president has an appetite for -- particularly a president who's very focused on the potential economic effects of this, and how it might affect the 2020 election?

BURNS: I actually think, Jim, the president was right to pull back the last time, several months ago, after the incident in the Gulf. Because he felt that there would be a considerable number of civilian casualties. I felt that was the right decision.

This is a more serious incident. This is -- the two facilities that were struck over the weekend comprise about 8 million barrels a day. This has significant implications for world energy resources, for the price of oil. And very importantly, for this long-term struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran; Saudi Arabia, a partner of the United States.

So I think the president has to consider some type of action, but the bar's going to be high here, about coming up with the evidence that will convince the Congress and public --


BURNS: -- and our allies, that's what they've got to do now.

SCIUTTO: And particularly when there's been questions about how the administration colors intelligence to its favor, the credibility there.

Let's talk about Israel here. For folks at home, watching this, that might say, well, it's just another Israeli election. But in the last week, you had the Israeli prime minister say he's going to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, if he were to win, which would of course not just violate international law, but also decades of U.S. policy here. Tell us about the consequences for that region, for Israel, for the two-state solution. What would that mean?

BURNS: This is going to be a transformational election. First of all, Likud Party and Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister, appear to be on the ropes. His main long-term 30-year ally, Avigdor Lieberman, is not on his side, is running against him this time. The Blue-White coalition of General Benny Gantz is strong.

I would never count out Netanyahu. He has -- he appears to have nine lives -- SCIUTTO: Yes.

BURNS: -- as prime minister. This is going to be his toughest election to date. It's important for us because he is taking positions that fundamentally reverse America's historic position on the West Bank. We don't believe its settlements should be annexed.

The United States, until President Trump, has not believed that the Golan Heights should be annexed. If Prime Minister Netanyahu comes back into power and fulfills these promises, it will destroy any hope for a two-state solution. It will drive down, further, this crisis with the Palestinians. And it's going to hurt American interests.

SCIUTTO: We should also note, just in terms of the rule of law, that Netanyahu's effectively threatened to change the law to shield himself --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- from an investigation, which, just for the rule of law in that country, would be remarkable. Former Ambassador Nicholas Burns, thanks very much for joining us.

BURNS: Thank you, Jim.

HARLOW: That's a great -- that's a great point. And we'll all see what happens tomorrow --

SCIUTTO: We'll see. We'll be watching.

HARLOW: -- there, and how Netanyahu responds.


OK. New York could become the second state to ban flavored vaping products. But some parents are asking, this morning, is the state going far enough? Coming up, we will speak to the whistleblower who helped take on Big Tobacco. Remember Russell Crowe, "The Insider"? Yes, that guy, next.


HARLOW: All right. So this morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is cracking down on vaping, saying the state will ban the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes except for menthol -- we'll get to that in a moment.

The decision comes as more teens and young people are using these devices. CDC says there are 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease linked to vaping.

With me now, the man who blew the whistle on Big Tobacco, years ago, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand. He is the founder of the Smoke-Free Kids, that's a nonprofit organization.

Of course, everyone knows you, sir, from that great film, "The Insider." You were played by Russell Crowe. And now, you have used your voice, your power to do so much. So thank you for being here. And let me just begin with your reaction of Governor Cuomo and this move in New York. Is it the right one, is it enough?

JEFFREY WIGAND, TOBACCO INDUSTRY WHISTLEBLOWER: I think it's the right one. I think it's probably not enough. These are truly dangerous products, and I think we're seeing that the evidence of this vaping with nicotine, the ingredients that are used to -- propylene, ethylene glycol -- propylene, ethylene and glycerin, also coat the lungs and create -- so we're -- we have a dangerous product out there that needs to be off the shelves, quite frankly.

HARLOW: Let me read you -- we had -- Jim and I had a mother and her son on, on Friday, who'd taken a lot of action on this front. Her son was vaping in high school, he testified before Congress about Juul. And she just e-mailed me moments ago. And she said, the real concern is the potential plan in New York doesn't include menthol e- cigarettes. Kids have flocked to these, and will continue to do so.


I should say, Governor Cuomo said on CNN yesterday they're reviewing menthol, they may ban that as well. But do you believe that also should be banned?

WIGAND: Yes. I think menthol's an enabling additive or flavor for -- it actually is an anesthetic in its action. So it numbs a lot of the respiratory tract. But it also makes it easier to inhale.

HARLOW: OK. So I went --

WIGAND: And you have to -- go ahead, sorry, Poppy (ph).

HARLOW: I was just going to say, I went to the FDA in 2014, to interview Mitch Zeller, who ran then and still runs the Center for Tobacco Products. And I just want to play a little bit of that exchange --


HARLOW: -- because the whole piece that we were doing, you know, five years ago, was about, like, kids getting bubble gum and gummy bear flavors, and we were worried about it then. Here's that interaction.



HARLOW: There are so many flavors for e-cigarettes out there. Should flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear, Fruity Pebbles, should those be legal?

MITCH ZELLER, DIRECTOR, FDA CENTER FOR TOBACCO PRODUCTS: I won't answer the legal question, but I'll give you a public health perspective. We share the concern that there are flavors out there, like the ones that you mentioned, that would be appealing to kids. No young person should be initiating, should be starting to use any nicotine-containing product.

HARLOW: Why is there no regulation yet? I mean, the FDA has had this power since 2009.

ZELLER: FDA tried to regulate e-cigarettes as drugs and devices, going back to 2008.

HARLOW: You were sued, and it failed.

ZELLER: We were sued by importers, and we lost in court. And the courts spoke in 2010 and said, in the absence of some kind of treatment or therapeutic claim, the only way that FDA could regulate e-cigarettes was under the tobacco authorities, which is somewhat counterintuitive. E-cigarettes have no tobacco.


HARLOW: Did the FDA fail the American people?

WIGAND: Is that a question for me, Poppy?

HARLOW: It is.

WIGAND: Yes. I really think they have really missed the ball. They have allowed the vaping companies, and particularly Juul, to actually get into the classrooms and portray the product as safe.

I mean, it is far from safe. Nicotine is highly addictive. And what has happened, before we had this sixth death associated with vaping, we have had an epidemic of middle- and high-school children becoming addicted. The next step is actually cigarettes.

And if you look at the behavior of Juul and the vaping -- they're -- they follow the mantra of the tobacco industry. Hook 'em young, hook 'em for life. Get them addicted and they're future customers. And that's exactly, I think, what has happened as a result of their -- the industry's aggressive tactics, and of course of -- and I'm going to say this -- malfeasance of the FDA in not regulating them appropriately.

HARLOW: So what do we do now? Jim and I both have kids, you know. I'm going to have to have that conversation -- all parents should be having this conversation with their kids, just like you say, don't smoke. Are we too far into this thing? Is this the next health crisis in this country?

WIGAND: No. I think there's partly a health crisis, Poppy. But I think also there's something that can be done until a product is reviewed by the FDA. Follow some of the action that's done in San Francisco: Ban it until approved.

None of these products have been approved by the FDA, and many of them claim that they're safe enough (ph) for (ph) cessation (ph). Well, if that's true, they're just like the drug CHANTIX, or the NRTs that are used, either gum or patches, to break the nicotine habit or addiction.

So I would aggressively take it off the shelf, ban it all until they got approved.

HARLOW: Dr. Jeffrey --

WIGAND: I don't believe it'll pass approval.

HARLOW: Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, thank you for being with us and for what you're doing to help kids right now. We really appreciate it. We'll talk to you soon.

WIGAND: Thank you, Poppy. Have a good day.


HARLOW: OK. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: Well, the Bahamas dodged a hit from Hurricane Humberto when the storm took a turn to the east over the weekend. But the possibility of another one, so soon after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, traumatizing for residents there.

SCIUTTO: You can imagine, it's a horrible scene. The islands, they've barely begun the recovery process. More than a thousand people, still reported missing. For some survivors, even everyday sounds can trigger terror.


SITHA SILIEN, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: I don't want to hear about any more storms. I don't want to hear (ph) about (ph) any of them.

It feels like I can hear the sound, the sound when the water was coming, the beach was coming, it feel like I can hear it, like the noise, what it was (ph) making. Yes.



SCIUTTO: The official number of people dead in the Bahamas still stands at 50. But with that enormous number of missing, officials say that number, likely to go up as more people are identified.