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U.S. Signs Historic Agreement With Taliban; Teen With No Travel History Tests Positive With coronavirus In Washington; Biden In South Carolina: I'm Optimistic About The Whole Process. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired February 29, 2020 - 08:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures now from Doha, Qatar where representatives of the United States and the Taliban are expected to sign an historic agreement, could be just moments away. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is there for the signing.

As part of this plan, American forces in Afghanistan would be reduced. It would also pave the way potentially for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

More than 2,400 Americans have died over 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan. It's the longest-fought conflict in American history.

Kylie Atwood is standing by in Washington. But we start with Nic Robertson, live in Qatar.

Nic, the agreement caps off more than a year of talks. Outline what this is, and what it is not.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's not a peace deal. This does not mean that U.S. Forces draw down overnight and leave Afghanistan. This is a deal between the Taliban and the United States. It has involved the Afghan government on what is --

BLACKWELL: Nic, we have to interrupt you here. Let's listen to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: -- by thanking His Highness, Sheikh Tamim, for Qatar's invaluable role as hosts for these historic talks, his unstinting support, and yours, Mr. Foreign Minister, supported both sides in helping to reach this momentous day.

The United States and the Taliban have endured decades of hostility and mistrust. Previous talks have faltered.

This effort only became real for the United States when the Taliban signaled interest in pursuing peace and ending their relationship with al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups.

They also recognized that military victory was impossible. I then asked Ambassador Khalilzad to serve as our Lead Negotiator to gauge the Taliban's sincerity. The agreement that we will sign today is the true test of this effort.

We will closely watch the Taliban's compliance with their commitments and calibrate the pace of our withdrawal to their actions. This is how we will ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a base for international terrorists.

The negotiation process in Doha, with all of its twists and turns, has shown it is possible for us to take this step together. Over the past seven days, violence levels have reached their lowest point in the last four years.

U.S. and Afghan Forces responded to the reduced enemy attacks by also respecting peace. It was not perfect, but the Taliban demonstrated even if only for a week, that when they have the will to be peaceful, they can be.

The Afghan people have rejoiced. They're moving freely about their country to visit family and friends. They're trading. They're even dancing in the streets. But we're just at the beginning.

Furthering the cause of peace will require serious work and sacrifice by all sides, the United States, the Coalition, the Taliban, the Afghan government, other Afghan leaders and the Afghan people themselves, to maintain the momentum needed to reach a comprehensive, inclusive, and durable peace.

This agreement will mean nothing and today's good feelings will not last if we don't take concrete actions on commitments and promises that have been made. When it comes down to it, the future of Afghanistan is for Afghans to determine. The U.S./Taliban deal creates the conditions for Afghans to do just that.

Here's our take. Here's our take on what steps by the Taliban will make this agreement a success.

First, keep your promises to cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorists. Keep up the fight to defeat ISIS.

Welcome the profound relief of all Afghan citizens, men and women, urban and rural, as a result of this past week's massive reduction in violence, and dedicate yourselves to do continued reductions.

It is this significant de-escalation (ph) of violence that will create the conditions for peace, and the absence of it, the conditions and the cause for failure. All Afghans deserve to live and prosper without fear.

Sit down with the Afghan government, other Afghan political leaders and civil society, and start the difficult conversations on a political road map for your country. Exercise patience even when there is frustration. Honor the rich diversity of your country to make room for all views.


Afghan governments have failed because they weren't sufficiently inclusive. The Afghan government of 2020, and indeed, the Afghanistan of 2020 is not the same as in 2001.

Embrace the historic progress obtained for women and girls, and build on it for the benefit of all Afghans. The future of Afghanistan ought to draw on the God-given potential of every single person.

If you take these steps, if you stay the course, and remain committed to negotiations with the Afghan government, and other Afghan partners, we, and the rest of the international community, assembled here today, stand ready to reciprocate.

I know there will be a temptation to declare victory. But victory, victory for Afghans, will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper.

Victory for the United States will only be achieved when Americans and our allies no longer have to fear terrorist threat from Afghanistan. And we will do whatever it takes to protect our people.

The United States will press all sides to stay focused on the goal of a peaceful, prosperous and sovereign Afghanistan, an Afghanistan free of malign foreign interference, where all voices and communities are heard and are represented.

This is the only way - this is the only way a sustainable peace can be achieved. And for all of us here, and most importantly, for the security of the American-Afghan people, this must happen.

Thank you.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo there in Doha, before the signing. The President sent him there to witness the signing. The signing will actually be between U.S. Envoy to Afghan and - to Afghanistan and the Taliban representatives there.

I want to bring Nic Robertson and Kylie back in.

And Nic, I want to get back to you because Mike Pompeo said something that was interesting.

Again, we know, as you've said, this is not a - this is not a peace deal or a treaty. This is an agreement to step forward to get talks going between the Taliban and the Afghan government - Afghanistan government.

But he said there that the Taliban suggested interest in this. Is he saying that this agreement came to be obviously with a lot of negotiation between all sides, but primarily because the Taliban - I don't want to say gave up. I don't feel like that is the right verbiage to use here.

But the Taliban had just decided they wanted to do things differently and - and how trustworthy are they?

ROBERTSON: You know, if we think about how long the Taliban has been at war, which is almost 30 years now, 1992, 1993, when they sort of came on to the scene first in Afghanistan, they're onto their second generation of - of fighters, you know, sons of fathers, who've been born during the conflict, and now on the front lines with the Taliban.

So, there's one element to it there. They've also imposed their will on the - on elements of the Afghan people. They know that.

The Taliban haven't been able to take a major city in the country and, really, for the last two or three years, they were hoping to be able to do that, that's control the provincial center, and project more power than they've been able to. So, there's an element of that there as well.

There's an element that the Taliban understand that even if they were to fight their way to victory in Afghanistan, they would be the international pariahs they were before - before 2001, that they wouldn't bring in international aid.

They wouldn't be able to pay the budgets of the government. They couldn't run the country. They'd be - they'd be out of power and under fire. So, there's an element of that.

But there's also an element on the Taliban side. They recognize that the United States was going to leave. We're hearing that commitment today about possible time frames for reduction and then further - and further leaving.

And this gives the Taliban the confidence that they can leverage what strength they think they have against the current Afghan government and claim legitimacy in some areas of the country over the Afghan government.

So, when Secretary Pompeo says that the Taliban should avoid being triumphous and claiming victory, right now, that's a very real message because that is part of the Taliban message at the moment to their - to their grassroots supporters.

The reality is that the Taliban know that they don't have - that they haven't won a victory. But it is a narrative that we are likely to hear them put forward.

But the Afghan government, from their part, thinks that that will sort of evaporate over the weeks ahead. The reality will set in that Taliban fighters no longer fighting will want to rejoin civil society.

But - but again, none of this is a guarantee. It's all a prospect for peace. And it's still a long way to go.

BLACKWELL: Kylie Atwood is in Washington for us.

Kylie, there is significant bipartisan skepticism about this deal and the potential for the Taliban to break some of the - the agreements and the deals that - that will essentially be signed today.


Talk to us about these Republican Members of the House. We know they sent the letter--


BLACKWELL: -- earlier this week, expressing serious concern.

ATWOOD: Yes, they did.

So, there were more than 20 Republican Members of Congress who sent a letter, this week, to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and to Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, essentially laying out their concerns about what is in the deal that the U.S. is signing with the Taliban today, what does this agreement really entail?

And as we have spoke with Administration officials, over the last few days, one of the questions I asked them was how much has been shared with Members of Congress throughout this negotiating process.

And they didn't really give a direct answer to that, essentially saying that it was Secretary Pompeo who has been the one who has determined the level of interaction that the Negotiating Team has had with Congress.

So, the bottom line here is that there are Members of Congress who are a little bit confused, and are wary of what is being signed. And, of course, there is historic precedent for that.

The Taliban has never been a reliable partner of the U.S. in any way, shape or form. They have killed Americans on the battlefield. They have killed many Americans in Afghanistan.

And that is one of the reasons that the trip that the Taliban was supposed to take to the U.S. last year was called off. So, President Trump has recognized that reality.

But the questions going forth are going to be how does the U.S. share what's in this deal? We are now getting a copy of the deal. But we also know that not all elements of the deal are being shared.

And that's because they have to do with how the deal is going to be implemented, and you can be rest assured that Members of Congress are going to want to know those details of implementation.

PAUL: No doubt. Nic Robertson, and Kylie Atwood, thank you so much. They're going to stand by for us, of course, as we continue to watch the signing. When it does happen, we'll bring it to you.

But we have to get to some of the other news today. And there is - there are some developments in the coronavirus. It is spreading again in the United States.

BLACKWELL: Health officials say there are at least four cases now, new cases that are not travel-related. We'll have the latest for you, next.



PAUL: All right, I want to show you what just happened moments ago. This historic moment in Doha, Qatar, representatives of the United States and the Taliban signing this agreement aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan.

BLACKWELL: So, part of this plan, American Forces in Afghanistan would be reduced, but also pave the way for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

More than 2,400 Americans have died over 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan. It is the longest-fought conflict in American history.

And there was a moment here, at the end, where just after the signing, a handshake between a Representative of the United States and one of the Leaders of the Taliban.

Now, again, this agreement gets to the next step of peace talks, but that - that picture of the handshake between the U.S. Representative, the U.S. Envoy to Afghanistan, and that Leader is quite remarkable.


BLACKWELL: Brand-new information this morning about the growing concerns surrounding coronavirus. There are now more than 85,000 confirmed cases around the world, impacting every continent except Antarctica. 67 cases are here in the United States.

PAUL: In California, there are two cases, where it's not known where the patients got the virus. But officials say they didn't travel to a place with coronavirus. They didn't come into contact with any traveler or an infected person.

So, we're waiting as well for the CDC to confirm at least three presumptive positive cases, presumptive meaning that the person has been tested by state health labs. There is a confirmation test required, however, to be done at the CDC before it's official.

BLACKWELL: Now, two of those cases are in Washington State. One is a woman who recently travelled to South Korea.

The other is a high school student with no travel history. There's also a presumptive case in Oregon. That case is an elementary school employee, whose school is now closed until Wednesday for some deep cleaning.


PATRICK ALLEN, DIRECTOR, OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY: We don't know the number of close contacts, being within six feet for a prolonged period of time, that this individual had. We don't know how this person became infected with COVID-19.

It's too soon to say what impact this case has on family, friends, co- workers or the Lake Oswego school district, and other members of the community. Contact tracing is our top priority right now. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: All righty, and with us now, we have Dr. William Schaffner. He's an Infectious Disease Specialist, at Vanderbilt University.

Doctor, thank you so much, it's good to have you back with us.

Late last night, the CDC, late yesterday, the CDC released a statement saying that they want Local and State Health Departments to test for the coronavirus, by the end of next week, essentially one week from today.

What exactly do they mean by that? Do they mean they want every person tested? Do they want just Health Officials tested who maybe have been dealing with some of these patients? What exactly is their - is their goal?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, I think what will happen, Christi, is that the test kits will be out to the state laboratories.

And I think the CDC is saying the restraints that we've had on testing can be relaxed somewhat. And if a physician sees a patient that they're suspicious of, then go ahead and test. So, we are all very receptive to that. We've been wanting to test more broadly for a while.

PAUL: And there were problems with the test, the testing that was sent out, they were flawed tests. Are you confident in what's being sent out now?


SCHAFFNER: Well, we have high hopes, of course. The CDC has done their best to fix the problem. And we're looking forward to testing more frequently and probably finding more cases, I'm afraid.

PAUL: What is your thought process on the potential vaccine? We know the Head of the World Health Organization says right now they're developing more than 20 potential vaccines in labs all over the world.

How soon, maybe before those - we get those test results, and what kind of timeline are you looking out for something that might actually be a usable vaccine?

SCHAFFNER: So, let's think about what it takes to develop the vaccine. First, in the laboratory, you actually have to construct the actual vaccine.

But then you have to test it in a series of studies, in people, to make sure, first of all, it's safe and, of course, that it will work. Those processes take time. I think we're easily a year away from a vaccine that can be manufactured and widely distributed.

PAUL: What do you say is necessary now, in some of these communities? It started in San Francisco with this one patient who had what they call community spread. There was no indication that she had traveled overseas or had had contact with anybody who had the disease.

What does that mean for those specific communities?

SCHAFFNER: Well, I think what it means is, everyone ought to be cautious, staying away from people who are coughing and sneezing. Do a lot of good hand hygiene.

And I think, in those communities, people are starting to avoid mass events, crowds, kind of retreat a little bit, and let the story develop. Listen carefully to your local public health authorities.

PAUL: At the end of the day, Dr. Schaffner, how dangerous do you think this could be?

SCHAFFNER: At the end of the day, I think this could widely spread in the United States. And we are all preparing for that eventuality. We can hope for the best, but we have to prepare for something more serious.

PAUL: And are you confident in that preparation?

SCHAFFNER: We're all confident up to a point. But we know pandemics, very large epidemics, can stress us all. We all have to work together on this.

PAUL: All right, Dr. William Schaffner, always a pleasure to have you here. Thank you, Sir.

BLACKWELL: So, you hear the degree of concern from Dr. Schaffner, you've heard from the CDC.

Well, President Trump, he continues to downplay the risk of the coronavirus. This is last night in South Carolina, when he accused Democrats of playing politics when it comes to it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? coronavirus.


TRUMP: They are politicizing it.

Whether it's the virus that we're talking about or many other public health threats, the Democrat 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.


TRUMP: You see it with the coronavirus. You know, you see that. When you have this virus, or any other virus, or any other problem coming in, it's not the only thing that comes in through the border, and we're setting records now at the border. 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 their new hoax."


BLACKWELL: Tomorrow, on STATE OF THE UNION with Jake Tapper, Vice President Mike Pence is on the show, also former Vice President Joe Biden, also political candidate - presidential candidate, I should say. STATE OF THE UNION, Sunday at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

PAUL: Meanwhile, today it's primary day. In South Carolina, the polls are open, and Athena Jones is live in Charleston.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christi, we're in North Charleston, where we've been seeing a steady flow of voters since 7 A.M. This is a fateful day for the Democratic presidential-hopefuls. And we'll see who has the momentum going into Super Tuesday based on today.




JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It'd be good. It's a good start to get into Super Tuesday and it'd be really well. I think we can do well. And I think we're - look, I'm - I'm very optimistic. I'm optimistic not just about today. I'm optimistic about the whole process from here on out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President?



PAUL: Joe Biden there just moments ago, at a polling station in Greenville, South Carolina. Right now, people going to the polls there, in South Carolina, for the Democratic primary.

There are 54 delegates up for grabs here, all eyes on Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden specifically though. Right now, we know that Sanders leads the field with 45 pledged delegates. But, as recent polling suggests, the day could belong to Joe Biden.

CNN's Athena Jones is at the polling location there in North Charleston, South Carolina.

What are you hearing from voters this morning, Athena? And good morning to you.

JONES: Good morning, Christi.

Well we've been able to speak with several voters here, about eight or so, coming out of this polling station. And seven of them said they were Biden voters. We spoke to an older gentleman who said "My heart said Sanders, my brain said Joe Biden. I went with my brain."

But one thing I'll tell you that's really interesting here is, of course, this is a very important day. It's going to determine who is able to continue in this race and also who has the most momentum heading into the very important Super Tuesday contest.

We'll be watching turnout to see what the electorate is made up of. How many White voters come out, how many Black voters, old, young, and also how do the undecideds break.

I had a chance to talk to a bunch of voters yesterday. Here's how two of the undecided voters, here's what they had to tell me.


WARREN JOHNSON: I love the - the Vice President.


JOHNSON: I really like Steyer.



JOHNSON: But it's - it's interesting because, you know, the number of people in the city, particularly very close friends of mine, are still - still struggling, even the day before.

JONES: And you--

JOHNSON: Because we don't want to waste a vote.

RENEE FLEURANGES-VALDES: I need someone that - who's going to beat Trump.


FLEURANGES-VALDES: So, that's number one. And then, it's a matter of, OK, I like Warren's feistiness. I like the fact that she, you know, is willing to give details.

JONES: Sure.

FLEURANGES-VALDES: Right? I like the fact that she's a communicator, so she's an orator. She gets up there and she gets the point across. Biden, to me, is the most experienced of all the candidates, and if I thought he could win without a doubt, he'd have my vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JONES: So there, you heard from two committed voters. They insist they're going to vote, and they're taking this very, very seriously, studying these candidates' records, and we'll have to see how those undecided voters and where they break.

PAUL: All right, Athena--

JONES: Christi, Victor.

PAUL: -- standby here. Of course. Because we want to bring in Jamie Lovegrove, he's a Political Reporter for The Post and Courier.

And - and this is something that's really striking to me, Jamie. Athena has been reporting this morning that she has heard multiple times, and we heard it there, "I don't want to waste my vote."

Is there a sense from people that they're trying to be so strategic they might actually be compromising their own desires for who they want, just to try to beat President Trump?

JAMIE LOVEGROVE, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE POST AND COURIER: Yes, you know, I have been asking voters throughout the last year and a half, what their top priority is, sort of whether or not they - they care most about finding a candidate who aligns with their values or whether they care most about finding a candidate who they think can beat Donald Trump.

Of course, for some voters, both of those are the same. But certainly a top priority on the - on the minds of a lot of South Carolina voters is - is who can beat Donald Trump. And that is part of the reason why we have seen so much strength for Joe Biden here.

A lot of voters feel like he will be the strongest candidate. They feel like they know him. They feel like they trust him. And a lot of candidates - a lot of voters here do feel like he aligns with their values, too.

And, of course, that Obama connection is profound here. Obama remains incredibly popular, particularly among African-American Democrats in South Carolina. So - so, a guy who stood behind him, stood loyally with him for eight years, that's really powerful.

And it's - it's very hard for any of the other candidates who are working very hard, I mean Bernie Sanders' campaign is - is huge in South Carolina. Tom Steyer has been spending millions of dollars.

But there are so many voters I talked to, who say, you know, there's really nothing that those folks could say that could get me to change my mind, and that is why Biden is so strong here.

PAUL: Right. And in 2008, Obama won South Carolina, but he was behind in the caucuses before that. So, Athena, obviously that's what Biden is hoping for this time around.

But you just mentioned, Jamie, about Steyer. He's got this positive showing really in the polls there. He's only one percent - percentage point behind Bernie Sanders, so he's third right now, based on what we know in the polls.

Does that say something to Bloomberg who is not on the ballot there, but it talks - it speaks to the power of advertising? Athena?

LOVEGROVE: Yes, I think it does.

Oh, yes, Athena, go ahead.

JONES: Sure. I mean, Tom Steyer has spent something like over $22 million in the State of South Carolina just since the beginning of the year, flooding the airwaves, clearly making a big bet on South Carolina, and hasn't really panned out that well.

He's spent a lot of money in previous contests, hasn't done so well, but this is the state where he could do best where that money could go the furthest.

And I've actually talked to several voters who, particularly Black men, who say that they're voting or voted for Tom Steyer. So, we could see him being interesting sort of element of the race today. But it's not at all clear that he's going to have a - a really big showing.

PAUL: Real quick to you, Jamie, do you - I want to make sure that I - I read this correctly.

I feel like I saw that you - you had said there are people in South Carolina who didn't realize Bloomberg is not on the ballot there. If that is the case, and if he were, what do you think South Carolina means to him, if anything at all?

LOVEGROVE: You know, it's been very interesting, particularly when you go to places like Rock Hill, which is the suburb of Charlotte, up in the north part of South Carolina, or you go out to North Augusta, right on the border of Georgia, or down in Beaufort County and Jasper, on the border of Georgia, you know, those media markets overlap with Georgia, overlap with North Carolina where Bloomberg is running ads.

And so, a lot of the voters, along the South Carolina border, see those ads. And so, there are voters I've talked to who don't realize that Bloomberg is not on the ballot.

Maybe they'll be in for a surprise when they show up to vote today, and they'll have to pick somebody else. And - and he may have been able to do fairly well here.


Obviously, he made a calculation that he wanted to focus on those Super Tuesday states. He felt that - that other candidates had already spent too much time in the first four states. You know, I think that Steyer has sort of the somewhat of a proxy for him, here.

He has demonstrated what can happen when someone spends millions of dollars in a state. And - and the - the strategy that Steyer has undertaken in South Carolina is pretty similar to the strategy that Bloomberg is taking in 46 other states. So, we have seen it is possible to chip into - to Joe Biden's lead among African-American voters if you spend that money. But again, you know, he is pretty strong and - and I think it will withstand a lot of that scrutiny.

PAUL: All right, Athena Jones, and Jamie Lovegrove, we appreciate both of you so much. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: With us now to talk is Trav Robertson. He's the Chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. Welcome back, Trav.


BLACKWELL: All right, so let's start here with the former Vice President. He had the endorsement of the Majority Whip, James Clyburn. He had a strong debate performance yesterday. The - the Mayor of Charleston was out--


BLACKWELL: --supporting him as well. Congressman Clyburn says that a single point or two won't do what Joe Biden needs to be done. What are you expecting today for the former Vice President?

ROBERTSON: Well I mean who am I to disagree with Congressman Clyburn?

And I think that one of the points that Jamie Lovegrove, or to add to what Jamie Lovegrove, said is that I think the Vice President's strong performance today potentially is in large part to Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer and Buttigieg, and the Warren campaign because they've put together strong organizations and they forced the Vice President to come in and - and sort of take the State by a storm.

But there's no question those endorsements appear to be having some type of effect, as it changed the momentum in South Carolina this week.

BLACKWELL: All right, so let's talk about who is going to show up today? Voting in 2016 was down about 30 percent from 2008. What are you expecting? I checked the - the absentees that have been returned, and it looks like there's an increase.

ROBERTSON: Well, there's a significant increase, you know. Yesterday afternoon, it was about 76,000 absentee ballots. I expect there to be an additional 5,000 to 10,000, which is 45,000, 50,000 over 2008.

We've already exceeded the 2016 by 30,000 or 40,000. That is a normal - normally, that's a clear indicator that turnout is going to be high. And I expect you're going to see probably on the low end 380,000 and on the high end, 450,000 to 500,000.

And, you know, it's - it's really interesting. If we were to exceed that, about 570,000, 575,000, our turnout would exceed all of the other early states that have gone before us. It's - it's really a fascinating number to play with and look around at. BLACKWELL: Yes. South Carolina first in the South, also the first time in this process that African-American voters have--


BLACKWELL: --the strongest voice in the early phase of this. We know in 2008, about 55 percent of the Democratic primary voters--


BLACKWELL: --were African-American, north of 60 percent in 2016. Do - what do we know about the Party there?

What do you know about the Party, about the state? Is that trend going to continue? There's some think pieces out this weekend that say that the Democratic Party in South Carolina is getting Whiter. Is that true?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think what you see right now is an energized group of individuals, candidates, and they've motivated and - and spoken to the - the Caucasian or the White part of our electorate in South Carolina.

There's no doubt that probably 60 percent to 61 percent of the voters that vote will be people of color in the state.

But I think you're seeing the changing of South Carolina and - and moderates, independents and swing voters are tired of an immoral anti- Christian President. And I think you're going to see that play out today.

BLACKWELL: "An immoral anti-Christian President." What foundation do you have to call the President anti-Christian?

ROBERTSON: Well I think that some of his behavior, I don't remember Lazarus getting a healthcare bill from Jesus. I don't remember anywhere in the Bible does it say it's OK to take babies away from their mamas and throw them in cages.

And we've got a swath of very conservative states in the upstate, my home, and at the end of the day, those individuals who practice their faith, are going to have a very difficult time supporting some of the policies and some of the things that this President does. And that's going to tie into Lindsey Graham's race for the U.S. Senate as well.

BLACKWELL: We should be careful about questioning people's views religiously, just as Democrats didn't like it in 2007 and 2008 when people said that he was a Muslim, and President Obama is a Christian, to say the President is anti-Christian is quite salacious. But we got to wrap it there.


BLACKWELL: Trav Robertson, Chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

ROBERTSON: I understand.

BLACKWELL: Thanks so much for being with us.



BLACKWELL: Be sure to watch CNN for coverage of the South Carolina Primary, special live coverage starts at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still to come, Democratic candidates, as we said, making the final pitch there before moving on to the Super Tuesday states, who has the edge? We'll talk about it.



BLACKWELL: About 15 minutes to the top of the hour now, Democratic candidates have been making this big push for the African-American votes in South Carolina, makes up north of 60 percent of the electorate there.

My next guest says there is a political narrative about race that is being pushed to gain that support. But the messaging is leaving out an important voice in the Black community, several important voices.

Here with me, Opinion Writer for The Root, Michael Harriot.

Michael, thanks for being in with us.

MICHAEL HARRIOT, WRITER, THE ROOT: Thank you for having me.

BLACKWELL: Let's start here with your premise because you write the "Debate moderators, media outlets, and candidates condense the concerns of Black voters down to four categories because they really don't care about Black issues. They just want to look like they care."

The categories, Black criminals, poor Black people, dumb Black people, and White supremacist violence. Explain.

HARRIOT: All right, so if you ever see the debates or really in a discussion about Black voters, it comes down to a discussion about poverty, about the criminal justice reform, whether it's police brutality, or mass incarceration, didn't it?

You - you might be lucky enough to get something about education, if you're lucky. And then, you get - you get a conversation about the rise in White supremacist violence or the, you know, Unite the Right March. But that's about it, right?

It's - it's all performative and it's - and it's usually regulated in those three categories.

BLACKWELL: Do you think that's limited to the White candidates because this was a very diverse for-presidential candidate field. It's a diverse field this time around? Did you see the same from Cory Booker, from Kamala Harris?

HARRIOT: Well that's what's interesting, right? That's what happens when you take people of color and - and a diverse array of candidates out of the race. Why?

Because you remember when we had Kamala Harris in the race, and we had a discussion about busing and, you know, Cory Booker often reminded people that he lived in a Black community, and he would talk about nuanced things that we don't get to discuss anymore.

And so, when you reduce the conversation to these four distinct categories, then I think you hurt yourself, and you whole - hurt Black voters.

BLACKWELL: So, let me challenge you on this because I read your writings and you have been pretty critical of former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.


BLACKWELL: And he has released The Douglass Plan.


BLACKWELL: And, in the plan, he has talked about environmental justice. He's talked about the disparity in maternal birth rates.

And let's play this from the debate, this former Vice President Joe Biden talking about one of the issues you suggest that candidates are not discussing. Let's watch.


BIDEN: Right now, if you live in a Black neighborhood and you have the same exact house as the guy across the street in a White neighborhood has, your house is valued significantly less than the White - the same exact house. We've got to deal with the institutional racism.



BLACKWELL: So, this is one of the issues you point out specifically, and you write--

HARRIOT: Correct.

BLACKWELL: --that candidates are not talking about. Is it that you are not hearing from them in the way you'd like to enough but - but it at least is part of the conversation?

HARRIOT: Well I'd also like to point out that that clip was, that - that conversation was the day that article came out.

BLACKWELL: Yes, OK. HARRIOT: And - and so note that we had - we had candidates, you know, talk to us, and email us, saying that they read those. So, you like to think that, you know, you're making people and the candidates aware of those issues.

And the other thing is that, like when we talk about Black issues and Black things, it's not - it's not - the issues that are important to Black people, aren't just issues that only affect Black people, right?

Healthcare is important to Black people, as it is to all Americans, right? Crime is important to Black people as it is to all Americans. We want safe neighborhoods. We want to reduce gun violence. So, those are black issues, too.

BLACKWELL: Yes, let me ask you this. The video that is all over social media right now, let's play it.

This is businessman Tom Steyer with Juvenile, on stage, I think it's his wife there as well, dancing to "Back That Ass Up" in South Carolina for the Get Out the Vote Rally.


BLACKWELL: Pandering or just a man having a good time, what's your - what do you think?

HARRIOT: I think it's pandering. But, you know, I'd give him like an eight for rhythm. But--

BLACKWELL: That's an eight?

HARRIOT: I mean, he--

BLACKWELL: Michael, this is a 2.5 I mean.


HARRIOT: --like I don't - I'm not judging the move.


HARRIOT: Strictly on rhythm.


HARRIOT: He's at least with the beat. But the other thing is, right, it's pandering.


HARRIOT: I don't think anybody in that audience would have said "Well why didn't he come out and dance with Juvenile?" But --

BLACKWELL: Yes. No one would have missed --

HARRIOT: But -- but I --

BLACKWELL: -- him on stage (ph).

HARRIOT: --I think that is what candidates think they need to do to get the Black vote like nobody is going to say "I'm going to vote for whoever brings Juvenile to my town."


HARRIOT: But apparently it's a thing, you know, like we don't see Taylor Swift--

BLACKWELL: Yes, we don't. And the --

HARRIOT: -- in Iowa.

BLACKWELL: The other element is we don't see Black choirs at every state event they go to.

HARRIOT: No. Right.

BLACKWELL: But we see them a lot in South Carolina.


BLACKWELL: Michael Harriot, let's continue this conversation in the future.

HARRIOT: Yes, we will.

BLACKWELL: All right, good to have you.

HARRIOT: All right.

BLACKWELL: We'll take a quick break. We'll be back.



BLACKWELL: According to the World Health Organization, more than 20 potential coronavirus vaccines are currently in development around the world.

PAUL: Victoria Sanchez from our affiliate WJLA in Washington D.C. shows us how one, a female team of scientists is leading the way.


VICTORIA SANCHEZ, REPORTER (voice-over): Each vial, bottle and tool handled with precision and care. Don't let the gentle demeanor fool you. These scientists are the strength and brains behind a potential breakthrough.

NITA PATEL, NOVAVAX LAB MANAGER: I think in science, it is more common for women to be in a lab than the guys. SANCHEZ (voice-over): Nita Patel is leading the team of all-women working to create a viable vaccine for COVID-19.

SANCHEZ (on camera): If this vaccine does make it to market, I know we have at least a year, if not longer--

PATEL: Right.

SANCHEZ (on camera): --knowing that it came from the hands of women, what do you think that will do for young girls that are maybe looking to get into science?


PATEL: Well, that's encouraging, you know, for the young girls to be a scientist. I mean, you know, I'm a woman and, you know, that's really encouragement that to see that somebody, women, brought the vaccine in the market. So that's - that's awesome.

DR. GREGORY GLENN, PRESIDENT OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, NOVAVAX: Maybe in a year to 18 months, one might actually be deployable.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Novavax President of R&D, Dr. Gregory Glenn says the scientists are working around the clock.

GLENN: So, our goal is to show the vaccine could work, it's safe and - and try to make really literally billions of doses. And so, that's our aspiration.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Though more testing needs to be done, Patel and her team already have three possible vaccines.

SANCHEZ (on camera): You're being a little modest, I think. Why are you being so modest? This is exciting stuff.

PATEL: It is. It is very exciting.


BLACKWELL: "SMERCONISH" is up after a quick break.