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THE SITUATION ROOM

Los Angeles Bar And Restaurant Industry Suffering During Pandemic; Interview With Mayor Steve Adler (D) Of Austin About Coronavirus Surge In Texas; Testing Delays Plague U.S., Months Into COVID-19 Pandemic; White House, GOP Senators Finishing New Stimulus Plan; Democrats And GOP Spar Over Extended Unemployment Benefits; Rep. John Lewis' One Last Journey Over The Edmund Pettus Bridge. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired July 26, 2020 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:14]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight two fights in the U.S., one against the virus, the other up on Capitol Hill. The first from all signs going badly. You can see the numbers on the graphic right beside me. This week, we could see the death toll here in the United States pass 150,000. Truly an appalling number. That's as cases are soaring in some of those populous states in the country. We're talking about California, Florida and Texas.

Meantime, Americans who have lost their jobs in the pandemic, they are desperate for help and their fate could be decided on Capitol Hill in the coming days. That's where Democrats and Republicans, they will be negotiating over a new relief bill that could cost well over another $1 trillion, trillion. But they are certainly up against the deadline, we're talking about August 7th when the Congress is supposed -- supposed to go into recess.

Nowhere in the United States are there more people confirmed to have the coronavirus right now than in California. It's one of several states posting a sudden spike in new cases. And sadly, a record number of deaths. And there is a hotspot inside California as well. Health officials say more than half of the virus-related deaths are happening in Los Angeles County.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Los Angeles. He's joining us right now.

Paul, that high number of L.A. County confirmed cases is crushing where you are right now outside a restaurant. The restaurant business in California, indeed, in so many other parts of the country, they are in such, such deep trouble right now.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely dire here in Los Angeles, Wolf. Behind me, one of the jewels in the crown of the L.A. restaurant scene, Trois Mec, an upscale intimate tasting room run by Ludo Lefebvre and his wife. It has closed down. They just could not make their margins. And we've been speaking to other restaurant owners.

Dustin Lancaster owned 13 restaurants and bars in the Los Angeles area. Three of them already closed including Crawford's in Burbank. Lancaster telling us he spent sleepless nights. He had to lay off 250 employees. He was only able to bring back about 30 percent of them. Just horrifying times for him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUSTIN LANCASTER, LOS ANGELES RESTAURANT AND BAR OWNER: Having people in bars and restaurants is not safe. If masks are the key to everything, how could we let people inside of a space to take their mask off to eat and drink? The logic behind that makes no sense. Outside, I understand, it's a different story. You're limited what you can do outside. So if we talk about 2021 being our best-case scenario, I don't know how we're expected to survive the next seven, nine, 10 months with a loss of income.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: And Lancaster saying he expects to lose five more restaurants by the first of the year. Lancaster and the Lefebvres here at Petit Trois saying everyone needs to focus on a bill going through Congress. It's a $120 billion relief package for restaurants and restaurant workers. The idea, not to close more restaurants and to keep more people employed. They want that track.

Back to you now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Paul Vercammen in Los Angeles for us. Thank you.

From L.A., let's head over to Texas right now. That state is now nearing 400,000 -- 400,000 confirmed cases, at least you can see here, deaths are also trending upward. Currently almost 5,000 deaths in Texas from the coronavirus have been confirmed.

Steve Adler is the mayor of Austin, Texas. He's joining us right now.

Mayor Adler, thank you so much for joining us. Given these numbers, is it time for the governor to give local leaders in Texas the power to take specific direct action on very serious measures to try to stop the spread?

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: You know, I think the governor needs to give the local communities the control and the ability to be able to do that. What's happening right now in south Texas and the Rio Grande Valley is horrible to watch. They're making forced choices about who gets care in hospitals. They really need to be able to make rules and orders that convey the message to their community that they really have to be vigilant about masking and distancing. And their inability to be able to have that order lawfully confuses the message.

[19:05:00] You know, here in Austin, we're faring better. We have a community that four weeks ago, finally we were given the ability to be able to have a mandatory policy in our city. It became adapted by our community and now our trajectory, which was frightening to look at, has leveled off and even may be coming down a little bit. But it's that messaging that's so critical and the inability of the local government to be able to do what they need to do down in the valley right now is hurting.

BLITZER: Certainly is. The last time you and I spoke, Mayor, you said the mask mandate was in fact making a difference in Austin where you are. Are enough people complying to really make a dent in transmission? Because we see the numbers in the state of Texas continuing to go up instead of going down.

ADLER: It makes a huge difference. When you have a community that is united to the greatest extent possible, it makes a huge difference. People are arguing around the country whether masking makes a difference or not. I heard the chief of staff for the president this morning suggesting that masks is not an answer. It clearly is, if you watch what's happening in Austin. We today had our first double-digit increase in cases in weeks and weeks.

You know, I'm still suffering deaths because that's the farthest trailing indicator. Buy my hospitalization numbers started turning around about 10 days ago and have gone down consistently over that period of time. The messaging is so critical. And when Washington or the state confuses that messaging by not being 100 percent behind it, people in the community get confused and some of them believe that this kind of conduct is optional somehow.

It's not. It's real. And it's the only thing we have right now that's working.

BLITZER: Where does the city stand, your city, Austin, Texas, the capital of the state of Texas, on reopening schools next month? What metrics are you following when it comes to forming that critically important, potentially for some people out there where the students or teachers or administrators or others, it's a life and death decision you guys have to make.

ADLER: It's a huge decision. And what we're trying to do is, again, tie back to the science and the data. We're taking a look at what the infection level is in our community. The same way we've developed the -- a color code of risk levels for behaviors in the community. I think the schools need to be looking at that same thing.

Infectivity rates are still too high in our city for us to be able to open up schools safely. Too many teachers and too many students will show up infected. That's why we delayed schools opening up on site until at least after Labor Day. And we're going to be watching those numbers, the infection level in our city, where we are, so that we can develop school reopening policies that are consistent with the science and the data that we're seeing.

BLITZER: As we see this deadly virus continue to form new hotspots around the country, Texas, obviously, one of the hotspots. What's your advice to city leaders in other parts of the country who may be next in line to face this crisis firsthand?

ADLER: Act sooner than you think that you need to. Recognize that you cannot open up an economy in a way that looks like the economy used to be open before. Masks and social distancing, if you can get wide adoption, make a significant change in the numbers that you're going to see, and the only way to get that universal adoption is to have messaging that is clear and is not interrupted with messaging that creates doubts.

And that's the hard part because the messaging coming out of Washington and out of some of the state leaders across the country is not helping create a single unified message. We should have a national plan at this point that's based on these factors like masking and social distancing as a requirement so that the rules are not optional and everybody, everybody understands what they need to do.

BLITZER: Mayor Steve Adler, Austin, Texas, good luck to you, good luck to everyone in Texas right now. It's a hotspot. We'll stay in very close touch with you. Thanks for joining us.

ADLER: Thank you, Wolf, be safe.

BLITZER: You too.

The Trump administration, at least some officials there overseeing testing for the coronavirus, now admit that the turnaround time for results is taking way too long. So the wait can take a long time. The test -- if it takes too long, the test actually becomes pretty much useless. So how is all of this impacting the fight against the deadly coronavirus? We're about to take a much closer look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:13:58]

BLITZER: A grave acknowledgement today from the Trump administration official overseeing critical coronavirus testing. Admiral Brett Giroir told CNN's Jake Tapper this morning that turnaround times for test results here in the United States are simply way too long. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. BRETT GIROIR MD, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH, HHS: We are never going to be happy with testing until we get turnaround times within 24 hours and I would be happy with point of care testing everywhere. We are not there yet. We are doing everything we can to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's discuss the many issues of COVID testing in this country with Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of Harvard's Global Health Institute. Also with us Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Hotez, what are the consequences of long testing delays? If people have to wait a week or 10 days if not longer to get the results.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, first of all, Wolf, what happens is people give up even trying to get testing and this is starting to happen in some parts of Texas. The lines are really long.

[19:15:02]

The lines themselves are not even safe. So people are not getting testing. So Dr. Giroir is right, the aspirational goal is point of care testing and we're doing it in some places but we're just so far short of it. And as Dr. Jha will tell you he's come up with some estimates of what we really need to do for capacity and we've fallen far short of that. And this makes -- you know, we don't have a lot of tools in our -- to fight the epidemic. We don't have a vaccine. Won't have one until next year.

So what do you do? You do masks, of course, but testing and contact tracing. And now we have the added problem in Texas where there's so much transmission, so many new cases a day, even if it's leveled off at a very high level, as some people say it's leveled off at 100 miles an hour, you can't even do the contact tracing. There's just too many cases. So we're in terrible bind here in Texas.

BLITZER: You know, Dr. Jha, in March, President Trump said falsely that anyone who wants a coronavirus test can get a coronavirus test. In that same interview this morning on CNN, Jake Tapper asked Admiral Giroir when the president's claim will be true. Watch his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIROIR: What is true now is that anyone who needs a test can get a test. We are not in a situation, and I want to be really clear, whether to Mick Mulvaney or anyone else, I feel like going somewhere so I need a test. That is not where we are. We are in the middle of a serious pandemic that we're trying to control and we are starting to control all those hotspot states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Admiral Giroir also told Jake that there's an effort like the Manhattan Project to get testing up to speed. Do you see evidence of that right now?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Yes, so we've had progress. Right? We should give credit where it's due. We've had progress and I feel like we now have the kind of testing we needed around May 1. And unfortunately it's just arrived about two and a half months too late.

And the new estimates coming out of the White House of what we will have in September, we could use that now. So we've constantly been playing catch-up and delivering the kind of testing that America needs two to three months too late.

And this virus, this pandemic punishes you if you're that late. So I am -- I appreciate the efforts of the White House. I do think it's helped some. But it's not nearly enough. And the idea that a country with our wealth, with our know-how can't figure out how to do testing for an infectious disease defies logic. I just don't believe that that's the case. I just don't think the effort has been there.

BLITZER: Well, Dr. Hotez, how do you explain that? The greatest country in the world with all of our economic power and medical ability that we can't do testing, we can't do it properly?

HOTEZ: Well, you know, it's not just testing. We've totally failed to prevent this awful epidemic that's going to soon lead to 150,000 deaths. We did not have to get there. We never had a national strategy. We always insisted that the states take the lead, the states figure it out with the U.S. providing that backup FEMA support and manufacturing support, and it was doomed to fail from the beginning.

The states didn't have the epidemiologic horsepower to know how to do this. They didn't -- politically the governors didn't have the cover from the federal government to protect themselves -- protect themselves and the states from all the -- all of the extreme politics that's beset many of these states. And it's still not too late.

I've put out a plan last week which we can bring the whole nation back down to containment by October 1. Some states will find it harder than others. But this is what we have to do. Right now we can't open schools. We simply can't do that in areas of high transmission, like you heard from the mayor of Austin. Same in Houston and many other southern metro areas. We cannot have a good quality of life now until we bring our whole nation back down containment and do it over the next the six to eight weeks.

BLITZER: Six to eight weeks. Well, what do you think, Dr. Jha? What do we need to do in the next six to eight weeks to try to contain this deadly virus?

JHA: Yes. You know, Dr. Hotez is absolutely right. If, for instance, let's say we woke up tomorrow morning and said we really care about our kids and we want them back in school. Maybe not on September 1, but by October or certainly by November. Let's say we want our lives back, we want to be able to open things up a bit more. We want our economy going. We want to stop the thousand Americans dying every day.

We could do that. We have the technology. We have the capability and we could get it done in sort of six to eight weeks. It might be a couple of weeks longer than that. But that's the time frame. But we have to have the political will and the desire to do it. That's what we're missing right now, Wolf. And if we could get that, we as a country could get back on track from this really calamitous response that we are living through right now.

BLITZER: The national plan right now to deal with this and that national plan as opposed to delegating so much to states and counties and cities, that national plan really doesn't exist. [19:20:04]

Doctor Ashish Jha, Dr. Peter Hotez, thanks to both of you and thanks to both of you for what you're doing. We are so grateful. Appreciate you joining us.

HOTEZ: Thank you.

JHA: Thanks so much.

BLITZER: An economic lifeline for about 20 million Americans who are unemployed right now. That lifeline is about to run out in a matter of days. The White House and Senate Republicans say they have a new plan. We'll assess when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. There's breaking news coming into CNN. The governor of Hawaii is now urging residents to shelter in place as Hurricane Douglas passes over the islands.

[19:25:04]

There are some images, take a look at these. These are some images coming in from Maui right now. They're already feeling the effects of the storm right there. Oahu and Kawai are making their final preparations right now as well. Eventually we're told they'll have to shut down at least until Monday. We're going to keep you updated on how this storm progresses. Serious situation in Hawaii right now.

There's a serious situation in Washington as well. White House officials and Senate Republicans are trying to put the final touches on their version of the next economic stimulus package. It needs to help millions, millions of Americans cover their bills, pay their rent, put food on the table, in an economy and a job market that's been devastated for so many months right now by the coronavirus emergency.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is joining us from the White House right now.

Jeremy, so what will this new stimulus package that the White House and the Republicans are trying to put together look like?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Republicans have yet to actually release their latest -- their final legislative proposal as it relates to this phase four stimulus package. That is expected to happen tomorrow now. But so far, there have been weeks of negotiations not between Republicans and Democrats but simply between the White House and Senate Republicans who have so far stalled in their disagreements over the last several days.

They now say they are close to an agreement and they are expected to release their proposal tomorrow. Now as far as what is actually going to be in that, we heard earlier today from the White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, he suggested that there will be $1200 checks to many Americans, very similar to those direct payments that were made out to Americans in one of the first stimulus proposals that went out back in March during this pandemic.

There is also, though, some disagreement and some discussion over extending these unemployment insurance benefits. So far Congress and the White House have provided additional unemployment benefits on top of what Americans would get from their state governments in terms of unemployment because of the coronavirus pandemic. Those unemployment benefits are expiring at the end of this week, that $600 in additional weekly unemployment benefits.

The White House and Republicans so far are saying that instead they'd like to add benefits that go up to 70 percent of an individual's salary, but, again, that is also a point of contention with Democrats who so far have called for simply extending that $600 unemployment benefit.

But amid all of these disagreements, Wolf, and the fact that those unemployment benefits are expected to expire at the end of the week, we heard earlier today from the White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows as well as the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, both of them floated passing a more narrow legislative package in order to address that issue of unemployment benefits, also to address the question of liability protections for small businesses.

But, Wolf, that appears to be a nonstarter. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that she does not see that happening at all and we have not heard from Mitch McConnell on the topic. But what we have heard from Mitch McConnell on Friday, he said that he believes these negotiations over this phase 4 stimulus package could take weeks. That would certainly take us, Wolf, past this expiration date for those unemployment benefits at the end of this coming week.

BLITZER: Yes, millions of people are -- 20 million are depending on that $600 check a week.

Jeremy, an unrelated development, as you remember, a few days ago, President Trump said he would throw out the first pitch at a New York Yankees home game in mid-August. He said that about an hour or so before Dr. Anthony Fauci threw out the first ceremonial pitch at a Washington Nationals-Yankees game here in Washington.

Just a little while ago, the president said, what, not so fast? What's the latest?

DIAMOND: That's right. The president seems to have scrapped this announcement as quickly as it came up, Wolf. It was just three days ago that the president announced he would be throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on August 15th. Today the president tweeting that he is strongly focused on the coronavirus pandemic and will not be able to make that happen. He said he will make it happen later in the season.

So somehow, Wolf, the president seems to have decided in a matter of three days that he will now be busier than he previously expected. It was interesting of course, Wolf, that the president announced that on the very same day that Dr. Anthony Fauci, someone with whom he has had some tension with. On the day that Anthony Fauci was throwing out the pitch for the Nationals, President Trump notably has not actually thrown out a ceremonial first pitch this far in his presidency, unlike every other past presidents in modern history -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I saw the tweet when he said because of my strong focus on the China virus, including scheduled meetings on vaccines, our economy and much else, I won't be able to be in New York to throw out the opening pitch for the Yankees on August 15th. We will make it later in the season. That's what he tweeted.

All right. Thanks very much for that. Jeremy Diamond, over at the White House. We'll get back to you.

And as our viewers just heard, the big divide between the Republicans and the Democrats on this newest stimulus package is over that extra unemployment benefit. Democrats want it to be a flat rate, like the additional $600 a week provision that expires this week.

[19:30:02]

Republicans say it should be a proportion of wages. I want to bring in the former Acting Secretary of Labor under President Obama, Seth Harris, who is joining us.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us up. What do you think? Who blinks first in this latest little battle?

SETH HARRIS, FORMER ACTING SECRETARY OF LABOR UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that we've seen really a shocking level of failed leadership both from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell on this coronavirus package.

It's not a surprise to anyone who has been paying any attention that those extra unemployment benefits are going to expire this week. It's not a surprise that businesses are running out of Paycheck Protection Program funds. It's not a surprise to anyone that there are large numbers of families on the verge of personal bankruptcy. And yet they've shown no leadership. They waited until the last minute.

The Democrats in the House passed their bill back in May, and Senator McConnell decided to wait until last week to really start negotiating with his own conference about what was going to be in this bill.

I think ultimately Senator McConnell is going to have to agree with the Democrats and President Trump is going to have to go along to keep the increased unemployment benefits at $600.00. Senator McConnell need 60 votes in order to be able to pass anything in the Senate. He needs Democrats. He doesn't even have all the Republicans right now. There are at least three Republican senators who said no, no, no, I'm not spending any more money.

So, he has got big trouble and he waited until the last minute because he was hoping to jam something through. The Democrats wouldn't accept, that's not going to work. It's never worked before.

BLITZER: Part of the provisions, Mr. Secretary, in the stimulus package proposal is an extension of what's called the Federal Eviction Moratorium. How important is it that we approach the beginning of the month when rent is typically due, and a lot of people aren't going to be able to pay their rent and they fear they're going to be evicted and put out on the street.

HARRIS: Wolf, it's absolutely critical. We can't have families with children being evicted from their homes and have their unemployment benefits slashed by Republicans in the Senate and the White House. We can't have people being foreclosed on.

There are millions of American families that are teetering on the edge of personal bankruptcy right now. That's the situation that President Trump has put us in, is that families are on the verge of economic collapse.

If we take money out of their pockets and take away their homes, it's going to look like the Great Depression all over again.

BLITZER: Yes, this is so, so sad. Let me play something that the White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow said to my colleague, Jake Tapper, earlier today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Most economists, Wall Street elsewhere are suggesting we are in a self-sustaining recovery.

And I still think the V-shaped recovery is in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think? Are you agreeing with Kudlow?

HARRIS: I think Larry Kudlow continues his unbroken streak of false statements about the American economy.

What we're seeing from the actual data, rather than listening to people on television is that jobs are sinking again. We're seeing the number of people collecting unemployment benefits or claiming unemployment benefits going up. We are seeing the percentage of Americans from preliminary census data, the percentage of Americans who are employed going down.

We are seeing Americans who are on the verge of perhaps losing their homes, not being able to get back to work. We're seeing re-closings in California, Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states.

I don't know what world Larry Kudlow lives in, maybe it's a special television world that I don't have access to, but it's certainly not the reality of the lives of American working people right now. That's the failure of leadership that we're seeing out of the Trump White House.

That's one of the reasons why in a hundred days, Wolf, when the American people vote, they're going to solve this pandemic by changing leadership in Washington, BLITZER: The economist, Austan Goolsbee, who helped your former boss,

President Obama during the Great Recession back in 2008-2009. He told CNN Business that this pandemic, this coronavirus pandemic is still worsening. And then he added this, "Whoever is coming in there in January 2021 might be facing worse conditions than in 2009, as hard as that is to believe." Do you agree with Austan Goolsbee?

HARRIS: Yes, I think Austan has got it exactly right. The number of jobs that we have lost was greater in this recession than in the 2009 Great Recession. We have a higher unemployment rate now. We have more businesses facing bankruptcy, particularly small businesses, particularly small businesses, by the way in the African-American community.

I think that that's one of the reasons why the American people are going to be looking for new leadership in a hundred days because we need an aggressive jobs plan in order to bring the American economy back in to rebuild the American middle class.

[19:35:09]

HARRIS: And from this White House, we're seeing very clearly they can't even get a stimulus package organized with their own party. They clearly can't put forward an economic agenda that's going to move the country out of recession into growth and into prosperity again.

BLITZER: All right, Seth Harris, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it very much.

HARRIS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have much more coming up on the coronavirus pandemic, the impact here in the United States. There's other news we're following, including this.

The Iraq War may not necessarily be in the headlines right now, but former Vice President Joe Biden's decision to back it could cost him some votes coming up in November. We'll talk about that decision that he made. Why it's important.

The author of a really important and fascinating new book is standing by. We'll discuss when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:40:02]

BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the coronavirus pandemic coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But right now, I want to talk about another story that's developing with 100 days to go until the presidential election here in the United States.

A new article is casting some doubt on Vice President Joe Biden and his foreign policy judgment. The writer, Robert Draper outlines a potential weakness in the Democratic presidential nominee that has plagued former candidates including Hillary Clinton four years ago. We're talking about Biden's vote for waging a war in Iraq back in 2000-2003.

Draper has written this and I'm quoting, "Biden therefore remains afflicted with an indelible weakness and inability to convince voters that 45 years' worth of government experience represents a surefire cure for what now afflicts the United States."

Robert Draper is joining us right now. He is a writer for "The New York Times" Magazine, a bestselling author. His brand new book just coming out this week is entitled, there you see the book cover, "To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq." It comes out Tuesday, specifically.

Congratulations, Robert, on the new book. I want to talk about it in a moment. But how do you think this issue of Biden's vote in favor of the war back in 2002-2003 when the war started. HOw is it going to play in this election?

ROBERT DRAPER, WRITER, "NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC": Well, I think it plays, Wolf because listening to your previous guests talk about this horrible fix that America is in right now, and asking ourselves the question, well, how in the world did we get here? To put our government in the hands of a reality TV star who boasted I alone can fix it.

To answer that question, you really have to go back in time to a moment when our traditional experts and traditional experience abjectly failed us and that I am referring to the Iraq war, and that includes not just the Bush administration and its star-studded National Security staff, but also the legislative branch, also the media, also the Intelligence community.

And as you mentioned, then Senator Biden cast a vote to authorize a military force. He has since said that he regrets that vote. But he says that he regrets that vote because he should not have trusted George W. Bush the way he did.

The problem, though, I think, is that it does beg the question, what does all that experience get you if you're just going to then put your trust in a President who may have, you know, motives and machinations of its own?

So I do think that at least in an indirect way, voters remain unconvinced that all of that experience necessarily is the cure for what afflicts us.

BLITZER: Here's what then Senator Biden said back in 2003, when he was asked about his vote in favor of the war. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Is there evidence to justify going to war with others against Saddam Hussein, if he does not give up his weapons? I say the answer to that is yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So President Trump, as you remember, four years ago, he leveraged Hillary Clinton's vulnerability on this subject, when he was running against her. Do you think that it's going to resonate this time around?

DRAPER: Well, no. I mean, I do think that there is a healthy chunk of voters who will say that whole team that got us into Iraq will take them all back, please, you know, if -- anything to avoid the incompetence that we're seeing from this administration right now.

But I do think that when we ask ourselves, why is Biden failing to close the deal? I think a portion of that is that we're not yet sure that bringing back sort of the old crew, who may just be listening to the same voices, which means the same people in the Intelligence Community, their same colleagues on the Hill is going to make that much of a difference.

I think it was considered an apostasy when candidate Trump in the 2015 debates, you'll recall, Wolf, was saying, George W. Bush did not keep us safe and the war was a disaster. Republicans just simply didn't say that sort of thing now.

But now they have permission to do so because they know that the electorate, you know, has come to recognize what a disaster Iraq was, and anyone who was tied to that decision who has not shown that they have fulsomely learned the lessons from that tragic episode, you know, has obviously electoral problems.

BLITZER: Back in 2002, Robert, I interviewed then Vice President Dick Cheney. And I asked him, if he was committed to trying to get you and weapons inspection teams back into Iraq. Listen to what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: What we've said, Wolf, if you go back and look at the record is the issue is not inspectors. The issue is that he has chemical weapons and he has used them. The issue is that he is developing and has biological weapons. The issue is that he is pursuing nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, well, what he was saying then, in your book, you suggest almost everything he said then was not true.

DRAPER: That's correct. Yes. In fact, Saddam not only did not have biological or chemical weapons, but he did not even have a program to try to reconstitute them. He had abandoned those programs by 1993. He was not in fact pursuing nuclear weapons.

What the Vice President back then was referring to were evidence that these aluminum tubes that they confiscated that were heading to Iraq were going to be used for a nuclear centrifuge and it turned out to be that those were for rocket launchers.

[19:45:11]

DRAPER: But most of all, it was that, you know, Vice President Cheney had no faith in the weapons inspectors who, in fact, in January and February of 2003 were beginning to actually learn the ground truth. That ground truth was that there was no weapons program. There were no weapons to be fined.

But if you operate from the assumption that he has got weapons somewhere, and the inspection team can't find them, then the answer to you is that the weapons inspectors must be incompetent, and that was exactly the argument that Cheney was making back then.

BLITZER: It wasn't just Cheney. I also interviewed Condoleezza Rice at the time and listen to what she said to me then, because a lot of us who were getting ready to cover the war were understandably pretty nervous. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire a nuclear weapon. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. And you point out in the book -- and I mean, I was in Kuwait as the war was starting. I was worried about not just biological weapons, chemical weapons, or maybe nuclear weapons at the time. That's what we were told.

And in your book, you can include all of that was baloney.

DRAPER: All of that was baloney. And actually, by the end of December 2002, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was well aware that the evidence was very, very specious. I mean, she said to the C.I.A., you have put the President way out on a limb here by basically just making these educated guesses.

But you would think that would make her duty bound to go into the Oval Office and say, you know, Mr. President, the evidence is not looking so strong. She did not do that.

BLITZER: Robert Draper is a writer for "The New York Times" Magazine. He's the author of a brand new book, let's show it once again, "To Start a War: How the Bush Administration took America into Iraq." The book is on Tuesday.

Robert, thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for writing this book.

DRAPER: No, my pleasure. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, coming up, Civil Rights icon, John Lewis and one last journey over the bridge that was part of a defining moment in his life and in our history.

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BLITZER: An image that is now written forever in U.S. history, an American fighter who devoted his life to human equality in the iconic bridge where that fighter nearly died for the cause. This is the body of Congressman John Lewis crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama for the last time earlier today.

It's a place of deep meaning in the storied life of John Lewis, an important part of the journey to his final resting place.

Right now, he is being honored by the State of Alabama and the City of Montgomery, where he will lie in state at the State Capitol until tomorrow, then he'll be transported to the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol here in Washington to lie in state before being laid to rest in Atlanta.

In just a few minutes, CNN will present the second installment of its series on systemic racism in America, Fredricka Whitfield is returning to host this one-hour special on implicit bias in our country.

Fred, you'll be looking closely at bias in policing, for example, how are you approaching that issue?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, right. I mean, two months now after the killing -- the police involved killing of George Floyd and now police departments across the country are re-examining themselves. They're re-evaluating, introducing or perhaps re-introducing to their departments police bias training. They're also looking at new training to de-escalate.

And then of course, there are the arguments that many departments are making. There is reticence to even have bias training because they fear what it might do and how it might impact police morale.

But then there are others in the business of policing who say, it's great to have police bias training, but you have to have follow up and if you don't have follow up, you're just going to return to some of the old methods or some of the old problems that are not encouraging better police community relations.

BLITZER: You're also -- I understand, you're going to take a closer look at how some of those same biases translate to sports. Tell us a little bit more about that side of this issue.

WHITFIELD: Right. And for the most part, we really are illuminating how elite athletes are using their power to promote change. That's nothing new.

We've seen that whether it be a Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War and the stance that he took, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, with a fist up in the air in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. But perhaps what is different today is an acknowledgement from many of

today's athletes who are realizing that they actually can promote change within the organizations.

I mean, Bubba Wallace, you know, for example, influencing NASCAR. And of course, everyone knows the story now of Colin Kaepernick, but we're going to have a spirited debate and discussion tonight about athletes recognizing the power that they have, the elevated influence they have, and how they are learning from some of their predecessors who made history.

BLITZER: We're grateful to you, Fred, for doing this. This is going to be a one-hour special coming up right at the top of the hour, "Unconscious Bias." That is next. Thanks very much for doing what you're doing.

WHITFIELD: Thanks, Wolf.

[19:55:00]

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. Fredricka Whitfield.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. I'll be back in one hour at 9:00 p.m. Eastern with another special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're about to take a closer look at how the coronavirus pandemic could impact presidential politics as we are right now only 100 days away from Election Day here in the United States and just 54 days away from the first votes being cast for President.

"UNCONSCIOUS BIAS" with Fredricka Whitfield starts right after a quick break.

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