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NEW DAY SATURDAY

U.S. Set To Sign Historic Agreement With Taliban; South Carolina Voters Speak Out Ahead Of S.C. Primary; Coronavirus Confirmed In Three More West Coast Communities; Four Cases Now Of Possible "Community Spread" In The U.S.; More Than 100 Americans Under Quarantine. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired February 29, 2020 - 07:00   ET

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


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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The coronavirus continues its deadly spread.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A second coronavirus case of unknown origin in California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're now learning about a patient in Oregon believed to be the third case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no known travel exposure for this individual. So, this is a case of community spread.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because South Carolina is the trajectory to winning the Democratic nomination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden is looking for a South Carolina lifeline today.

BIDEN: What America stands for is at stake right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Bernie Sanders is still in command of the race.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm asking you to bring out your friends and your co-workers and your neighbors, so we can have the largest voter turnout in the history of the South Carolina primary.

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ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY WEEKEND with Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: All right, 7:00 here in the East, and the polls are now open in South Carolina. 54 delegates at stake for the Democratic presidential candidates and former Vice President Joe Biden is counting on a win today to jumpstart his campaign. CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Now, the coronavirus is spreading in the United States. There is a second patient in California this morning with no recent travel history, no known contact with an infected person who's been diagnosed with the virus.

BLACKWELL: And today, the U.S. could take this step toward ending the war in Afghanistan, a historic Peace Agreement or -- is being signed between the U.S. and the Taliban. That is scheduled to happen this morning.

Back now to South Carolina where voting has started for the Democratic primary. The contest is an opportunity for candidates to test the strength, amongst specifically black voters will make up more than 60 percent of the electorate there.

PAUL: Now, Former Vice President Joe Biden vying for a victory here. Senator Bernie Sanders is close behind him. That's according to recent polling.

BLACKWELL: The outcome of today's primary could determine the course of the Democratic race heading into Super Tuesday, almost every candidate is campaigning in Super Tuesday states with voters and 14 states also the American Samoa will go to the polls next week.

PAUL: CNN National Correspondent Athena Jones is at a polling station in North Charleston, South Carolina. And I know Athena that you've been talking to voters there, what are they telling you about what their plans are for today?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christi and Victor, you know, voters we've been talking to have been -- a lot of them have been undecided. It's been pretty surprising. We talked to more than a dozen voters over the course of the day yesterday, and a lot of them were still choosing between one -- sorry, 2, 3, 4, maybe even all of the candidates, some of them said.

But as you mentioned, this is a fateful day for these Democratic presidential hopefuls. It's one that will go a long way towards determining who is able to stay in this race. We're here in North Charleston at an elementary school. You can see behind me the doors are open, voters have begun to trickle in. Four precincts will be voting here. That's a little over 7000 registered voters.

And turnout is one of the things we're going to be watching. Not just how many people turn out but who turns out, how much of the electorate this time around is young, how much is old, how much is white or black, liberals, moderates? Those -- the makeup of the electorate, of course is going to help determine who wins and it's going to matter a lot. Here are some of the voters we spoke with yesterday. One woman that supports Amy Klobuchar, and the man supports Tom Steyer. Here's what they had to say.

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GAYLE LANCTO, VOTER, SOUTH CAROLINA: Amy Klobuchar. I just think she's a Moderate Democrat and I -- she's, she's not spouting all of that, like, free this and free that, and I'm from Minnesota.

JONES: Did you consider anyone else?

LANCTO: I love Pete Buttigieg, but I don't think that America will vote for him because there's too many homophobic males, no offense, and in our population, you know. And I don't want to throw my vote away.

JONES: What is it that, what is the message of his that really speaks to you?

WILLIAM BROWN, VOTER, SOUTH CAROLINA: Everything. The economy, better pay, you know. Just something better for our people, for people in general.

JONES: And when did you decide on Steyer? What, what -- when did you kind of, what did he wind you over?

BROWN: Earlier this month.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And now, you heard from that woman, she doesn't want to throw her vote away. We heard that from quite a few people. That is why they're kind of waiting to the last minute during the research to decide who they're going to support.

[07:05:00]

But you mentioned earlier how much the electorate here is black will matter. This is the, the fourth state to vote, but it's the first state in the South and the first state with a significant African American population.

Of course, Joe Biden has been leading among black voters and he got the endorsement of Representative Jim Clyburn earlier this week. He is an influential voice here in South Carolina and the highest ranking African American in Congress. Biden hoping that will send him to the finish line back to you.

BLACKWELL: Athena Jones for us there in South Carolina. Thank you very much, Athena. The quote, under 3000, the South got something to say special live coverage of the South Carolina primary starts today at 4:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

PAUL: The President Trump's made a habit of traveling to a state just before a presidential primary or a caucus. He took the stage at a rally in South Carolina last night.

BLACKWELL: With us now CNN White House Reporter Sarah Westwood. Sarah, talk about the, the message the President delivered there in North Charleston. What did he tell his base specifically?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Christi, during that rally speech, the president sort of took a poll of the people who had showed up for his rally asking them what Democrat perhaps they thought would be the weakest. He was asking his supporters to get involved, perhaps go out and vote today.

Remember that South Carolina has an open primary. So, Republicans, they can vote for Democrats if they want to. And there's something of a grassroots effort that's been dubbed operation chaos whereby some Republicans are vowing to vote for who they think would be the weakest against President Trump.

The conclusion that the President reached during the course of his speech last night was at Senator Bernie Sanders would be the weakest, and that's a view shared by many of his allies who believed that the President would have a better foil and senator is a self-styled Democratic Socialist that the President's message would play better bouncing off Sanders and they've also looked at polls, Victor and Christi. In battleground states, some of them would show the president performing better against Sanders than most of the other candidates in the field.

PAUL: I want to talk about President Trump as well downplaying it seems the risk of the coronavirus and now moving even a step forward last night accusing the Democrats of playing politics with it. What are you learning about that?

WESTWOOD: That's right, Christi. We've heard that view from other administration officials as well, particularly as the White House seeks to sort of crack down on who can speak about coronavirus and when. The President is blaming Democrats in the media for fanning the fears of a global outbreak of coronavirus, as we have seen this disease spread. He dubbed it a hoax and said essentially, Democrats are trying to use coronavirus as another avenue to undermine his presidency. Take a listen.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus, you know that, coronavirus. They're politicizing it. Whether it's the virus that we're talking about or many other public health threats, the Democratic policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and well-being of all Americans. Now you see it with the coronavirus. You see it? You see it with the coronavirus.

One of my people came up to me and said: Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn't work out too well. They couldn't do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. And this is that new hoax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: As you guys said, the President going to states before they vote in primaries or caucuses has been something of a practice he did in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, now South Carolina to practice we're likely to see continue, Victor and Christi, as the Democrats continue selecting their nominee.

PAUL: All right. Sarah Westwood, really appreciate the update. Thank you. BLACKWELL: President Trump says that he will nominate Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe as the permanent Director of National Intelligence. Now, the choice suggests the president is continuing to look to surround himself with a team of loyalists.

PAUL: What's notable here is this is the second time Ratcliffe is being nominated for the post after lawmakers from both parties raised questions about his qualifications the first time around over the summer. He withdrew from consideration at that point.

BLACKWELL: And we'll have to see if the Senate Republicans will push him through the confirmation hearings this time. The White House is hopeful that he will be confirmed this time around.

All right. Still ahead, concerns are growing over the coronavirus here in the U.S. We'll take a look at what clinics and hospitals are doing to prepare to deal with the spread.

[07:09:40]

PAUL: And an attempt at ending America's longest war. Any moment now, the U.S. and the Taliban are set to sign an agreement that could finally end that conflict in Afghanistan.

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PAUL: Welcome back, 13 minutes past the hour. There are now, this morning, 67 confirmed cases of coronavirus here in the United States. In California, there are two confirmed cases where it's not known how the patient got the virus and that could be coming from obviously the community.

BLACKWELL: Now, one of those patients is in serious condition at U.C. Davis. And now, 124 healthcare workers there, including at least 36 nurses, they are under self-quarantine at home because of the possibility that they were exposed to that patient. Now, worldwide there are more than 85,000 cases. Global Health officials have not yet labeled this a pandemic but in audio obtained by CNN, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, he uses the term. In a moment that's out of sync with other Trump administration officials, they're trying to downplay the fears. Listen.

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SONNY PERDUE, U.S. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: The virus, just because logistics, airports, have been jammed and people not getting to work that can find the numbers, we're seeing that dribble back now. We're seeing some evidence of unloading taking place and hopefully we can get past this coronavirus pandemic very quickly and get back to the trade.

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[07:15:06]

BLACKWELL: So, let's say this, it's not clear if the Secretary just simply misspoke there, but it's not a term that's been used by the White House or any other government health officials.

PAUL: The World Health Organization says coronavirus has "pandemic potential."

BLACKWELL: And U.S. health providers this week, they raised their level of readiness for a possible pandemic. Hospitals and clinics also have been taking a look at their stocks of masks and gowns, wondering if they'll have enough for the worst-case scenario.

PAUL: CNN's Natasha Chen has more on that, and really the preps that include running drills, is that right?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and these drills aren't just a practice for how to treat the patient. This is also practicing putting on that protective gear for the hospital staff and the health care providers because they can't get sick here. If they get sick with this virus then that limits how they can take care of the community.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I recently traveled outside of the country, and I'm thinking that possibly was exposed to the coronavirus.

CHEN: This is a drill, and this woman does not have the coronavirus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can put one of these masks on and just wait right there and I'm going to come around and get you, OK?

CHEN: She's actually a medical assistant at an American Family Care Clinic in Marietta, Georgia. Like many hospitals and healthcare providers across the U.S., this network of clinics is running drills with mock patients to practice responding to a coronavirus outbreak.

Were you surprised when you heard that American Family Care clinics were doing drills this week?

DR. ADIL ANSAN, CLINIC PHYSICIAN: No. I, I, you know, I was anticipating this was going to happen eventually.

CHEN: That moment came when their Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Benjamin Barlow, heard this phrase from the CDC on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.

DR. BENJAMIN BARLOW, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER OF AMERICAN FAMILY CARE CLINICS: That actually is what sparked this for me because I've been thinking about it, we've been preparing in the background. But as soon as they said that, it was when we decided, all right, let's roll it out and let's, let's get moving.

CHEN: They're drilling everything. Taking the patient to a designated room by the exit, testing a swab to rule out the regular flu, bringing in a doctor for further screening and everyone putting on and removing gear at the right times. ANSAN: And 95 masks, so it's -- it really doesn't allow anything to kind of go through. It's a little bit better than some of the standard masks that you will use.

CHEN: But will there be enough of them during a pandemic? The Food and Drug Administration said it is currently not aware of specific widespread shortages, but it has heard reports of increased market demand and supply challenges for some protective gear. While this clinic said they have enough, doctors and health officials across the country say they've received notices about current or anticipated shortages, especially and 95 respirators. In the meantime, drills with mock patients.

ANSAN: From here you would immediately go home. We would give your information to the health departments --

CHEN: Are being done at some hospitals around the metro Atlanta area. Others say, they regularly practice for general pandemics, which can apply to a coronavirus outbreak.

BARLOW: I don't think we should be overly excited about it. But, you know, being prepared is, is the best way to go when you're when you're facing possibility like this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHEN: Georgia Hospital Association told me last night that a lot of the hospitals in their organization are following what they call the Ebola protocol. So, a lot of the procedures that they practice during that Ebola crisis apply here. WellStar Health System told me that they're doing live actor mock scenarios. Others like Northside and Northeast Georgia Hospital System say that they have practice pandemic drills, generally but not specifically for the coronavirus.

BLACKWELL: Pandemic drills is the place in time we're in. Natasha Chen, thanks so much.

CHEN: Thank you.

PAUL: So, our next guest says to take on a coronavirus, you have to go medieval on it. This is what he writes in New York Times: "The medieval way, inherited from the era of the Black Death is brutal: close the borders, quarantine the ships, pen terrified citizens up inside their poisoned cities. For the first time in more than a century, the world is chosen to confront a new and terrifying virus with the iron fist instead of the latex glove and at least for a while, it worked and it might still serve a purpose."

That's Donald G. McNeil Jr. there and he's joining us now, he's a Science Reporter for The New York Times. Donald, thank you for being with us. That does seem very extreme, especially considering the fact that yes, it's showing up in the U.S., but nobody has died from it in the U.S. How do you justify that kind of treatment?

DONALD MCNEIL, SCIENCE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The time for that treatment is over now. I was describing what's happened over the last two months since China discovered that it had the virus. But now you know, the, the quarantine has been breached. The, you know, the virus has come over the wall as was inevitable.

I mean, I think those tactics that were used in the past couple of months bought this country several weeks of time, otherwise we would have seen the sort of spread that they're seeing in Singapore and Japan right now. We'd be seeing that now. We've had a, we've had a head start, we've had a window of opportunity. Now, we have to take advantage of it because the virus is beginning to spread here.

[07:20:19]

PAUL: You -- I know that you've covered SARS, MERS, Zika, Bird Flu, the Swine Flu, and you say that the coronavirus reminds you specifically of the 1918 Spanish influenza, that was 100 years ago, obviously, we had very different resources to deal with something like that, but help us understand how you connect these two.

MCNEIL: Well, obviously, I wasn't around to cover that.

PAUL: Right.

MCNEIL: But if you read about the wave of virus that came. I mean, you know, it came in the spring, It somewhat disappeared in the summer, it reappeared at a much bigger wave in the fall. And we are still unclear on what the real fatality rate of this virus is. When you the biggest study, it was done in China, of the first 45,000 known cases, had a 2.3 fatality rate, 2.3 percent fatality rate. The 1918 flu had about a 2.5 percent or a little higher fatality rate. Now, that wasn't the Black Death, a third of the world didn't die. But in those days, you know, everybody knew somebody who died.

Yes, you know, if you have 300 friends and acquaintances, if you have a two percent death rate, six of them died. So, people have to mentally prepare themselves for (INAUDIBLE). Now, we could get lucky; lots of things could happen. There could be turned out to be a lot more mild cases than we know or some of the drugs that are being tried in China right now might turn out to work and would rescue people from that final pneumonia death, which would be great, but we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility. This is going to be 10 to 20 times as bad as seasonal flu.

PAUL: The doctor who warned about this was in his early 30s when he died and we talked about the fact that children are less susceptible, ironically. You would think it'd have to be the other way around, but children are less susceptible than adults here. But this proves that somebody in their 30s and beyond can certainly get this because he died of it. Are there any answers about his death that can tell us anything about this, this virus?

MCNEIL: I mean, one death. And of course, it doesn't explain very much that they may, he may have simply gotten unlucky, he may have gotten a big dose of virus. Much more common and the deaths that came out of China was mostly men, men in their 80s, followed by men in their 70s, followed by, you know, men in their 60s. Part of the reason one assumes, although one does know, is that is

that about 50 to 80 percent of all men, and China smoke whereas only two to three percent of all women smoke. And once you've passed 50, and you've been smoking on your life, your lungs are pretty compromised. And if you get an infection like this, on top of it, you're at much greater risk of death. Children seem to be somewhat protected, not completely, but there are very few severe cases among children.

And one guess is that, you know, coronaviruses, Mild coronaviruses caused about one quarter of all the common colds in this country. They're much more common among kids. You and I have both had all those common coronaviruses at some point in our lives. Those kids may have those viruses going through them and have a low level of protection that helps them through that to bear the childhood against this.

PAUL: OK, Donald G. McNeil, Jr. so interesting and great podcast this week, too in the New York Times, The Daily, we appreciate you being here.

MCNEIL: All right. Thanks very much.

BLACKWELL: Today is the day in South Carolina. The voting and the Democratic primaries happening right now. 54 delegates at stake.

[07:23:35]

So, what does the Former Vice President Joe Biden have to do to lock up the votes here in this state to catapult him into Super Tuesday?

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BLACKWELL: Right now, the voting. It's happening in South Carolina and the Democratic primary, 54 delegates up for grabs in the first primary in the South.

PAUL: Right now, Bernie Sanders leads the field with 45 pledged delegates, but his recent polling suggests that they could belong to Joe Biden and the victory for him and South Carolina would set up a big fight as the race heads into Super Tuesday. 14 states, of course, will be voting in on that day. CNN's Cristina Alesci is with us now. So, Cristina when we talk about Joe Biden, and, and the polling that suggests that he's ahead, is South Carolina, a game changer for him or anybody else?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a critical state because he's made it a critical state. He's made a promise that he's going to win in South Carolina and even before the first vote in this contest was cast. Joe Biden was out there saying that South Carolina is his firewall. Now, aside from the promise that he made, there are two other reasons that South Carolina are important to Joe Biden: one, it's a test as to his broad appeal to the Democratic base.

Remember, a majority of the Democratic voters in South Carolina are African American, so that would add to the credibility that Joe Biden is electable. It's reflective of the rest of his appeal, perhaps in the rest of America. Also, keep in mind that Joe Biden hasn't won an early voting state yet. So, a win in South Carolina would be important from creating -- for creating that momentum heading into the critical Super Tuesday contest.

Now, there are two things going in Joe Biden's favor. Yes, Sanders has eaten into his lead there in the state but two things you should keep in mind: Joe Biden has spent a lot of time in South Carolina, and he also won a critical endorsement from James Clyburn, a Representative there, a Lawmaker who is influential both in the black community and sort of an institution in politics that's going to help Joe Biden's momentum heading into this race tonight.

BLACKWELL: Cristina, give us an idea of where the candidates are today because often that tells us how they expect to finish at the end of the contest.

[07:30:06]

ALESCI: You're absolutely right. And it's definitely a window as to -- as to whether -- where they expect to finish and none of the other candidates aside from Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders really expect a top finish there, the top two places.

So, the other candidates are fanned out across Super Tuesday states. In fact, Bernie Sanders isn't even in South Carolina tonight for election night. So, the only two candidates there are Joe Biden and Tom Steyer, who spent $22 million in advertising on air to try and get a lead. But it looks very unlikely for him right now, guys. Back to you.

BLACKWELL: All right, Cristina Alesci, for us there in Charlotte, North Carolina.

PAUL: Cristina, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thanks so much.

PAUL: So, there are more than 100 Americans this morning under some form of quarantine because of the coronavirus outbreak. What does that mean and is quarantine even legal? And maybe some answers that could surprise you here, we'll talk about it.

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[07:35:35]

BLACKWELL: The coronavirus has spread from China to more than 50 countries now. And there are now more than 85,000 confirmed cases around the world impacting every continent except Antarctica. 67 cases here in the U.S.

PAUL: This morning, there's a troubling development. We want to tell you that. There are now four instances of what's called community spread, California, Oregon, and Washington State. Those are cases where the patients have no known link to travel, and yet, they are affected by this -- by this virus. BLACKWELL: Yes. In addition, more than 100 healthcare workers are under self-quarantine after possible exposure to the coronavirus patient admitted to U.C. Davis Medical Center last week.

Now, the U.S. government has quarantined dozens of people returning from overseas travel. But what does a quarantine entail? Well, it depends.

Joining me now, criminal defense and constitutional attorney Page Pate. Page, welcome back.

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning.

BLACKWELL: So, it is remarkable that there is no shared universal definition of quarantine. And it really depends upon who you ask, who can make the call, the definition varies.

PATE: That's exactly right. In the United States, the federal government has the legal authority to impose a quarantine, but they're no specifics as to when, how long the quarantine can last, what conditions they must keep the people in when they quarantine them? And then, you add to that the ability of states to impose their own quarantines.

So, you've got the potential for a lot of inconsistency, a lot of uncertainty. And when you have politicians in control of that process, then you really have a potential for some problem.

BLACKWELL: I want to talk about the politics in a moment. But, you say that the U.S. government, federal government can do it.

PATE: Yes.

BLACKWELL: The states, can that go down to like county health departments as well?

PATE: Yes, yes, we have like over 2,000 health departments across this country. You're talking the federal government, state governments, local governments. And if any particular city decides, hey, we've got a potential problem with the coronavirus, you have a mayor who wants to be out in front of the issue. They decide to quarantine a certain percent of the population or certain area, they can do it.

The only time the federal government can come in and say don't do that --

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: Yes.

PATE: Is if that quarantine affects interstate commerce or people leaving this country or coming into the country.

BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about some of these. We talked about the nurses, the health professionals who are under the self-quarantine.

PATE: Right.

BLACKWELL: If it comes from the government, you know, we, when recovering storms, we say there's a mandatory evacuation, but nobody's coming into your house to pull you out of it, right?

PATE: That's right.

BLACKWELL: So, how does that play into a quarantine? Is it something that is punishable by -- punishable by law if I refuse?

PATE: Yes, there are a couple of things going on here. Self-quarantine is volunteer. So, these health care workers said, look, we may have been exposed, we want to be safe about this, we're going to quarantine ourselves, that's fine. That's not required. Nobody ordered them to do that.

A mandatory quarantine is where you have an order from the government, saying, you're going to go to this place or you're going to remain at your house. And if you violate that quarantine, then, you can be punished by a fine or even sent to jail. It's a misdemeanor offense to violate a federal quarantine order.

BLACKWELL: So, we know that the people came back from the Diamond Princess, they had additional two weeks of quarantine. 14 days is a long time to be away from work.

PATE: Yes.

BLACKWELL: If I can't afford to give up 14 days of wages, is my job protected, first, if I'm under mandatory quarantine?

PATE: No. There's nothing under the law that requires your job to provide you pay or even keep your job open while you're under quarantine.

BLACKWELL: Wow.

PATE: And in fact, there's nothing really to make sure that your health care expenses are paid while you're under quarantine. There are policies to do that, but the actual law itself does not require the government to pay for your health care while you're under quarantine.

BLACKWELL: Let me finish up with the political element of this. We know that once the passengers on that Diamond Princess cruise that was in Yokohama, Japan, they were initially supposed to go to a facility in Anniston, Alabama. But we heard from the senior senator there, Senator Shelby, we heard from Mike Rogers, a congressman who represents Anniston that they contact and they put the tweets out -- put up on the screen, that they contacted the president, and he moved them to other places, California to Texas as well.

When you have this, something so malleable, it seems that it is right for or vulnerable to political manipulation.

PATE: It absolutely is. And not only do you have so many people potentially involved in making these decisions, the law is very vague. [07:40:06]

BLACKWELL: Yes.

PATE: Again, there are no specific requirements that you have to prove in order to institute the quarantine, decide where it goes, how many people stay, it's very much subject to discretion.

BLACKWELL: Page Pate, thank you so much. We got to cut it there to get to some breaking news. Thanks for being with us.

PATE: Thank you. Thank you, Victor.

PAUL: America's longest war, maybe a step closer to ending here. There is a historical deal being signed any moment now that could lead to U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan. That is a picture of where that signing will happen. We're going to take you there live, stay close.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: All right, to any moment now, representatives of the United States and the Taliban are expected to sign this historic agreement. With just a few minutes potentially away, you can see a live pictures here from Doha, Qatar.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, shaking hands, he's there witnessing the signing, but will not actually be signing the agreement. That's the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan will be actually putting pen to paper.

[07:45:16]

PAUL: Kylie Atwood is standing by in Washington. We want to start with Nic Robertson, though. He is live there in Doha, Qatar. I know that this agreement caps off more than a year of talks.

But help us understand what is in this agreement, Nic, because I know that there are conditions that are set, and I'm wondering whose responsibility it is to monitor the Taliban's conditions to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to do to keep this agreement afloat?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the understanding at the moment is that it is joint monitoring Afghan government, U.S. government, Taliban, but also there will be another international element on top of that.

At its core, the agreement is that the United States will draw down its troops initially over about 130 days or so, drawdown to a level of 8,600. And then following that, we just heard from a NATO official in Kabul, saying that all foreign troops would leave Afghanistan over the next 18 months.

But these timeframes are contingent on the Taliban doing their part. And one of the core things that the Taliban must do is turn on al- Qaeda and ISIS. And remembering that the Taliban gave sanctuary to al- Qaeda after the 911 attacks, and have continued to give them sanctuary until this day.

So, this is a big shift for the Taliban that they are now committing to. But it also opens the door for peace talks that could begin as early -- as early March. Those peace talks would be between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Now, the Afghan government hadn't been party to these current thoughts and the signing between the U.S. and the Taliban, and already hurdles are being thrown up in terms of prisoner exchange.

The Taliban expecting 5,000 of their prisoners to be released before they sit down with the Afghan government. The Afghan government already bulking that. There are hurdles in the way. But today, the mood in Doha is positive.

BLACKWELL: Nic, a question about this agreement. Again, we see Mike Pompeo here. The Afghans are pretty wary about this agreement and the ability for it to stand up. Ashraf Ghani, they're hosting Mark Esper, the defense secretary. It's part of the reason he's there today.

Why is the U.S. so confident or at least more confident than the Afghan?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think when we heard from the White House yesterday that there's a political imperative to the talks with the Taliban, which is getting U.S. troops back home. And President Trump said he committed to that during his campaign for the presidential election 2016. That gives you an understanding of what underpins this.

The Afghan government and I've been talking about senior Afghan government officials and people inside the Taliban to get their perspectives. The Afghan government's perspective is The Taliban are coming into this -- with a very triumphalist message that they are not telling their foot soldiers essentially, to be ready for long term peace.

They're coming in -- into this thinking that they have a strong hand. Their narrative is that the Christians have been defeated, United States is leaving that they think the president of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani is weak.

The Afghan government see the Taliban propaganda and see that as a point of concern that they don't believe and they're not sure that the Taliban are really committed to this process. But that's what this process is all about. I think it is key to understanding.

It is a process that builds confidence and that's what this signing is about. It's coming after seven days of a reduction in violence was to build confidence. And there are other confidence-building steps along the way.

But I don't think anyone should be in under any misapprehension at the moment about the strains that this can put on the current Afghan government and the dangers that if it all goes wrong.

But positively for the United States, this does Indicate the drawdown of more US forces. And a lot of bloodshed has been spilt. A lot of blood has been spilt in Afghanistan to get to this point. So there's hope on all sides that this can go somewhere positive. It's no way an easy path.

PAUL: Kylie, I want to bring you into the conversation here there in Washington. Nic was just talking about this would fulfill a key promise from 2016 from President Trump to get some of the troops out of that region.

But the president has been really adamant that Secretary of State Pompeo witness this, that he be there. What is the expectation from him, too -- in being there? Because he's not -- because he's not signing the agreement.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is as you said, on the ground in Doha right now. It's symbolic that he's there because he has been the top diplomat overseeing this process.

Now, there is a U.S. negotiator who has been at the table at the working level here. His name is Zal Khalilzad, and he has been working on this effort for more than a year.

[07:50:04]

ATWOOD: Now, it has been a rocky road, however, for the U.S. and the Taliban. You'll recall that last September, the Taliban was supposed to come to Camp David for talks with the U.S. government. Those talks were called-off after the Taliban carried out in an attack in Afghanistan, which killed a U.S. military official.

So, there have been some road bumps along the way. Now, it is symbolic that they have finally gotten to the table here. And when President Trump put out that statement yesterday, saying that Secretary Pompeo would be overseeing the signing of this deal. He also noted that this could potentially lead to the end to America's longest war.

Now, this is just launching a process, right? They are signing a deal that essentially then brings the Taliban to the table with the Afghan government and with Afghan government officials, folks from society, community leaders. And we are told that, that is expected to start sometime in mid-March.

So, this is really the beginning of a process. But it is a very symbolic moment, especially because as you said, President Trump has promised he has pressed that he wants us troops out of Afghanistan.

Now, we have reported that part of this agreement essentially sets the timetable for 135 days. In that, a 135 days, the U.S. will pull down their troops from about 13,000 that are there now to about 8,600.

And we are also hearing this morning, as Nic said, from officials from the Afghan government saying that there is also a conditioned base timeline for the full withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan within 18 months. What that means is it's not assured that all troops are going to be leaving the country, it will only happen if the Taliban is able to uphold the commitments that they are signing on to today with the U.S. in Doha.

And then, as they get to the negotiating table, with the intra-Afghan partners in the coming weeks here.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I think it's important for people who are just joining us in the U.S. and around the world to reiterate that this is not a peace treaty, this is not a peace deal that's being signed, this is an agreement that goes in that direction. This is not the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. This is a step along that path.

Let me bring Nic Robertson back in. What we know is that often with agreements of this type and at this level, require buy-in from other players in the region. What do we know about how this is being received, encouraged, or discouraged, by others in the Middle East?

ROBERTSON: You know, I think one of the key indicators there is Pakistan, of course, Pakistan has been the country that has propped up and given sanctuary and support to the Taliban over the decades indeed, sort of helped launch them back in the early 1990s.

And I think most significantly, when Pakistan released from jail, Mullah Baradar, who is the Taliban deputy leader, who's doing the signing today, who's been the main interlocutor with envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

That alone there tells you that Pakistan is getting on board with this in part, but Pakistan will have its own expectations of what a new political dispensation within Afghanistan should look like. And there will be a heavy expectation from the Pakistan side, that the -- that the Taliban and it's their -- Taliban's expectation too, is that they will play a significant role in a future Afghan government that could push the current President Ashraf Ghani, could put him out -- push him out of office earlier this year.

That's if you will the sort of triumphalist view of the Taliban coming into these talks, and gives you an indication of how bumpy and tough those talks can be with the Afghan government.

PAUL: But there about 5,000 Taliban that are be released from Afghan run jails. That's part of the conditions here. I'm wondering if we know, Nic, is the Afghan government really committed to that?

ROBERTSON: In essence, they are committed in the sort of underlying sense that, you know, the Taliban are also committed to releasing 1,000 Afghan government prisoners. And there's an understanding that many of those Taliban prisoners may not -- may no longer want to go back and join the fight.

I've been speaking to a number of diplomats here on the margins today who are involved in the talks along the way. Their view is that to release 5,000 prisoners in a very short space of time, the Taliban I'm told have a long list of all those names. That would be very difficult and very complicated to do at a technical level.

[07:55:03]

ROBERTSON: I've also been talking to somebody who's directly involved with the Taliban and the United States on the issue of those prisoners. And that's the very clear expectation from the Taliban, that before they go into the intra-Afghan talks with the Afghan government, their confidence building from the Afghan government side has to be the release of those 5,000.

Perhaps, what we're going to see negotiated over time, and I'm talking to, you know, people close to the process here are saying perhaps, the real intra-Afghan talks will be delayed by about a month, they might not start to April.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: Yes. All right.

ROBERTSON: And that will be the time to allow a sequenced release and confidence building for those 5,000 prisoners.

PAUL: All right.

BLACKWELL: Nic Robertson for us there. As this will be signed in Doha, we'll continue to follow this and will -- can have more after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:00:01]

BLACKWELL: Live pictures now from Doha, Qatar, where representatives of the United States and the Taliban are expected to sign a historic agreement, could be just moments away.