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STATE OF THE UNION

Interview With Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA); Interview With Nneka Ogwumike; Interview With Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI); Interview With Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA); Interview With Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 30, 2020 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:07]

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper, in Washington, where the state of our union is bitterly divided.

With both conventions behind us, it is more clear than ever that this is an election like no other, in the middle of a pandemic that is still not under control, and as the nation comes to a reckoning with racial injustice, protests recharged by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.

And we have breaking news. Just overnight, another person was killed near a protest, this time in Portland, Oregon, where demonstrators clashed with pro-Trump ralliers.

According to "The New York Times," the man who was killed was wearing a hat with a patriot payer insignia and -- patriot prayer insignia, rather, and a far right group based in Portland.

Now, this death comes after two people were killed during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a 17-year-old Trump supporter has been charged with those murders.

And with less than 10 weeks until November, we have breaking news about the security of the election.

Jake Tapper learned that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will no longer brief Congress in person on election security. It is a move that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff called a -- quote -- "betrayal of the public's right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy."

I want to get straight to the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

Whoops. It looks like we have Adam Schiff. No, there we go. Adam Schiff is coming up next.

But, first, we're going to talk to Ron Johnson. It's been one of those mornings.

Mr. Chairman, thank you so much. First, I want to talk about what happened in Portland. We saw someone

get killed overnight, amid clashes there. And the president has been tweeting and retweeting before dawn this morning.

He called for the mayor of Portland to resign and be arrested. He painted protesters as thugs and cities in chaos.

You are the chairman, as I mentioned, of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Are you comfortable with the president appearing to inflame tensions, instead of what we normally see from presidents, which is trying to calm them down?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Well, good morning, Dana.

Listen, I have been urging calm across the board, particularly in light of what happened here in Kenosha. But, as I said in the opening statement, when we had acting Secretary Wolf before my committee, when you encourage disdain for the police, you encourage criminals.

When you do little or nothing to stop rioting, you encourage anarchy. So, when you're encouraging criminals and anarchy, people's lives are lost. You have more and more destruction, more and more violence.

So, what we need to do is, we need to get control of the situation. And until we -- until we do, we're going to have more violence, we're going to have, unfortunately, potentially more loss of life.

BASH: Well...

JOHNSON: So, we need to get control of the situation. We need to encourage calm.

And here's something else we need to do. We need to figure out what we do all agree on. And we share the same goal.

BASH: So...

JOHNSON: We all want a safe, prosperous and secure America in states and communities. Let's concentrate on those areas of agreement, because that's how we achieve the unity everybody says they want.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: So, you're saying that everybody should be calm, which sounds -- sounds logical.

But look at what we are seeing this morning, just one of the things that we're seeing on the president's Twitter feed this morning. He really appears to be agitating and actively encouraging his supporters to go into Portland, which is resulting in some of this violence.

Is that what you want to be seeing from the president, sir?

JOHNSON: But, Dana, there are people -- there are people agitating all over the place. And what we need to do is get control of the situation. BASH: Yes, but he's the president of the United States.

JOHNSON: Kenosha -- Kenosha can be a model.

What happened in Kenosha is, Congressman Steil got into the city really quick, found out that law enforcement were looking for help. He called up the president. The president responded immediately and said, what can I do to help?

And he offered to bring in some out-of-state National Guardsmen.

BASH: So, given everything that you are saying...

JOHNSON: And, unfortunately -- unfortunately, our governor turned it down one night. Two people died in the intervening time. Then he accepted it.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: OK. So, given what you're saying, would you prefer that the president not tweet...

JOHNSON: But we have -- no, but we have surged...

BASH: ... agitating comments and agitating ideas on his Twitter feed?

JOHNSON: Well, that's how you -- that's how you are typifying it. What we need to do is, we need to encourage an end to the violence and the rioting.

BASH: There is no other way to see it. It is very different from what you said at the beginning of the program.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: The way you -- Dana, let me finish.

The way you stop the violence, the way you stop the rioting is, you surge manpower and resources, citizen soldiers, National Guard, and you overwhelm the numbers of rioters, so that they can't riot, so that you can protect people's First Amendment constitutional right to peacefully protest and that they don't turn to riots.

But I also have to point out, at some point in time, peaceful protests that don't even result in rioting, at some point in time, become a siege. I was in Kenosha yesterday.

BASH: Well...

[09:05:00]

JOHNSON: The downtown is boarded up. Those businesses are shuttered. They can't operate.

Other citizens now can't earn a living because their businesses are shut down. BASH: OK. Well, part of the problem -- part of the problem there is,

it has erupted...

JOHNSON: So, we also have to stop that siege on our cities.

BASH: OK. That's fair.

JOHNSON: Pardon?

BASH: That's fair.

On Wisconsin...

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: It is very fair and needs to be said more often.

BASH: Let me ask you the question I was going to ask you, sir.

We saw two people killed by a Trump supporter in your home state of Wisconsin, in Kenosha last week. And these deaths do appear to be the result of clashes between the right and the left.

So, doesn't the president have a responsibility to call out violence, regardless of who is committing it?

JOHNSON: Yes, and the governor has responsibility to accept the surge in manpower, so that people...

BASH: I'm asking about the president.

JOHNSON: ... so that citizens -- so that citizens don't believe they got to protect their own property and take matters into their own hands.

BASH: I'm asking about the president. We can talk about the governor next. The president, yes or no?

JOHNSON: Because that's really what happened.

No, what the president did was, he offered to surge manpower resources, so the violence could end. The governor did not accept that that day. That night, tragically, two people lost their lives because citizens took matters into their own hands.

I'm not for vigilantism. I'm not sure that's what was happening. People felt, because the governor and local -- local officials were looking for help. The governor did not accept the help.

And so there was not the resolve to end the rioting. And so people took matters into their own hands. And that's what ended up happening. People die.

BASH: Which, do you -- do you...

JOHNSON: You have to get control of the situation. And the way you do it is what happened in Milwaukee -- in Kenosha, where local officials said, please, we want help, we want manpower. The president offered. The governor finally accepted it. And now at least the streets are not violent.

We still have the protests. The businesses are still shuttered. Those individuals' constitutional rights are being violated because they can't operate their business and enjoy a living.

BASH: Senator -- Senator, that 17-year-old...

JOHNSON: So, again, you have to look at the entire situation.

BASH: The 17-year-old accused of committing those two murders was a Trump supporter.

JOHNSON: It is a tragedy.

BASH: Do you -- do you condemn that?

JOHNSON: It is a tragedy.

BASH: Do you condemn it?

JOHNSON: It is a tragedy. It is -- it's a tragedy.

BASH: It is a tragedy, but do you condemn it?

JOHNSON: The entire situation is a tragedy.

Listen, I don't want to see any loss of life. It is a tragedy. And the way you prevent these tragedies is, you support law enforcement...

BASH: But a tragedy could be a car accident.

JOHNSON: ... you calm the situation.

BASH: A tragedy could be a car accident or something happening that is not...

JOHNSON: But you don't allow peaceful...

BASH: ... based on fault.

JOHNSON: You don't allow...

BASH: Do you condemn this?

JOHNSON: You don't allow peaceful protest to turn siege -- into siege.

Listen, I don't want to see anybody lose their life. I don't want to see the violence continue. I don't want to see businesses burned down. I don't want to see economic destruction. I condemn it all.

BASH: OK. Thank you. I want to move on to something that the president said when he was

just a candidate back in 2016. He was speaking at the convention then, and he promised to end crime and violence in the United States if he became president. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Beginning on January 20 of 2017, safety will be restored.

The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens. Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So, what we are talking about right now is happening under President Trump's watch, the violence in American cities, not to mention 150 -- 180,000 dead from coronavirus.

Is his government, in the president's own words, living up to his own promises? Is he worthy to lead?

JOHNSON: Well -- well, first of all, where the violence is occurring is primarily in big cities that have been governed by Democratic mayors and Democratic governors for decades.

BASH: OK, I know that's the Republican talking point, but he's the president. He made that promise.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: The way -- the -- well, you know, President Trump has a tendency to overpromise. I generally try and underpromise and try and overdeliver.

BASH: So, did he overpromise when he was running for president four years ago?

JOHNSON: That's a campaign pledge to basically -- to basically support -- to basically support law enforcement and place safety and security as a priority. And that's what you need.

If you want economic prosperity and opportunity, you need a safe and secure community and states in America. That's what I said. That's the goal we all share.

Why don't we concentrate on the goal we all share and figure out how we can actually accomplish it?

Republicans in the Senate, we actually tried to address the problems with policing. And we did it with -- using Tim Scott, who looked at the House bill and found the areas of agreement, put it on the floor of the Senate. And the Democrats said, no, it is either our way or the highway. We won't take just what we can all agree on.

BASH: So...

JOHNSON: We need to have everything as well that we don't agree on.

So, again, we're trying to do this. We're trying to provide the safety and security that America wants.

BASH: It sounds like...

JOHNSON: So, the president is trying to do that as well. Riots is not the answer.

BASH: Well, it sounds like you are, but I'm not sure those tweets are achieving the goal that you're stating this morning.

[09:10:00]

I want to turn to the question of Russia and, more specifically, election interference in the election we're currently in.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence informed congressional Oversight Committees that it will no longer be briefing in person on election security issues.

Do you think the DNI should continue or his aides should continue to give those briefings?

JOHNSON: Well, they will in written form, and they're not doing it in person because of the leaks, apparently.

Listen, Dana, I have been on top of Russian interference in elections well before 2016. As chairman of the European Subcommittee in Foreign Relations, we held three hearings on the way Russia tries to destabilize the election systems of countries around the world.

BASH: Right. Right. I know that. And I want to get to that, but...

JOHNSON: And that is what they have done successfully, because -- because they were aided and abetted by people like Adam Schiff, Democrats and the mainstream media.

BASH: OK. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on a second. I want to push back on one thing that you just said.

JOHNSON: They can't really -- they have a very difficult time influencing elections.

BASH: Let's focus on the issue at hand, which is the DNI briefing.

You just said because of leaks. My question for you is, first of all, members of the committee, people who sit on the Intelligence Committees dispute that they leak.

But, secondly, why, logically, would having an all-written briefing...

JOHNSON: Big surprise.

BASH: Why would having an all-written briefing do anything to stop leaks?

Wouldn't it make it easier if you have something on a piece of paper?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, Dana, this -- this -- listen, I -- I sit during -- through secured briefings.

This is being blown so way out of proportion. I could probably count on one or two fingers the things that are actually classified in those briefings. There is no surprise here.

We know that different -- that foreign actors are trying to influence, trying to destabilize our political system. But, again, we're doing Putin's work for him.

What Adam Schiff did with this false narrative, what the news media did in terms of false Russian collusion with the Trump campaign narrative, a criminal investigation, special counsel, that is what has destabilized our politics.

It is how the media and how Democrats have taken that and basically done Vladimir Putin's work for him.

BASH: But this is not about the media. This is about the Constitution and the oversight responsibility that people like you in Congress have.

Shouldn't you have the opportunity to question people who are working on securing the elections, which are happening now?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: We do, and we will.

And we all know what Putin is doing. China wants Biden to be the next president. We understand that.

But, you know, it is very difficult to change votes. It is very difficult to actually affect the poll numbers. What you can do is destabilize our politics.

BASH: And you -- and you...

JOHNSON: And that's exactly what Russia has succeeded in doing, because of what Adam Schiff, Democrats and the news media have done as a result.

BASH: Do you believe and do you agree with the notion that Russia, as we speak, is trying to destabilize this election?

JOHNSON: Yes. But they always have. They always will. Yes. Yes.

BASH: So, you subscribe to that? You don't push back on that?

JOHNSON: Again, I held hearings on this a couple of years before 2016. I'm not surprised at all by it. Yes, we have to -- we have to take it

very seriously. But we can't play into Putin's hands. We can't blow it out of proportion to destabilize our own political system, which is what's happened over the last three years.

BASH: I want to...

JOHNSON: We have done it to ourselves.

BASH: OK, I want to ask you about something that you're involved in right now.

And that is, you are investigating whether or not Ukraine was involved in 2016.

I want to read to you something from the Senate Intelligence Committee's report suggesting that speculation about Ukraine interference is Russian misinformation.

Here's what this says: "The committee observed numerous Russian government actors from late 2016 until at least January 2020 consistently spreading overlapping false narratives which sought to discredit investigations into Russia interference. The committee identified no reliable evidence that the Ukrainian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. election."

This is the Republican-led committee in the Senate saying this. And you're still investigating these claims.

So, my question is, why are you spending your time doing this...

JOHNSON: Dana...

BASH: ... when the theory that Ukraine was involved has been debunked?

JOHNSON: First of all, that -- first of all, you know, that's your typification that it has been debunked.

BASH: It is not mine.

JOHNSON: My investigation is into questions if Obama...

BASH: It's the -- they worked for two years on this investigation. And these are your Senate Republican colleagues.

JOHNSON: OK, are you going to let -- are you going to let me answer?

BASH: Yes.

I just want to say, this is not my opinion. This is something that came out of the Senate.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: So -- OK, so my investigation into the corruption of the Obama campaign -- or administration goes back to March of 2015.

Our investigation is quite wide-ranging. Our investigation is primarily using U.S. government documents and sources from the State Department, the Department of Justice, the National Archives, and a Democrat lobbying firm.

BASH: So...

JOHNSON: The only Russian disinformation that I'm aware of that has been involved into our politics is, first of all, in the Steele dossier, and now Democrats inserting it into our records based on a false narrative, a false intelligence product...

[09:15:02]

BASH: So, I have one last question.

JOHNSON: ... that they created and leaked to the media and didn't even tell Chuck Grassley and I about it.

So, it's the Democrats that are -- again, they are being Putin's puppet, not me, not Chuck Grassley.

BASH: OK. We are actually going to have to leave it there.

Thank you for your time this morning, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson. Appreciate it.

JOHNSON: Have a good morning.

BASH: Thank you.

And I want to turn now to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Congressman Adam Schiff of California.

We have a lot to get to, but, first, your reaction to what you just heard from your colleague in the Senate?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, Dana, I'm not sure where to start.

But, as you point out, what the administration is saying makes no sense, in terms of their refusal to brief Congress on Russian interference designed to help the Trump campaign. They're going to put it in writing now, instead of give us an oral briefing.

That doesn't make any sense, unless the goal is not to allow members of Congress, the representatives of the American people, to ask questions, to point out the false equivalence that the administration is trying to promulgate that somehow Russian interference in our election, Russian active measures to try to decide our election to help Donald Trump is no different than other countries are doing.

They don't want those questions answered. They don't want that information going to the public. This is what the president is after. After all, Donald Trump fired Director Maguire for briefing Congress on the fact that Russia was trying to help his campaign again. BASH: So...

SCHIFF: This president doesn't want to push back on that. He doesn't want the American people to know about it. He doesn't want to hear about Russian bounties on the heads of our troops. He doesn't want to hear about Russian convoys colliding with American forces in Syria.

BASH: So...

SCHIFF: And he sure as heck doesn't want the American people to know it either.

BASH: So, Mr. Chairman, as you know, the DNI, Ratcliffe, says his office is going to provide your committee with written reports.

Why is that not enough?

SCHIFF: Because you can make a written report, and you can state things in a written report that are not correct, and you can't be subject to questioning about it.

This is the problem we have had. The -- for example, Dana, we saw about a month ago the head of the intelligence community, his director of national counterintelligence, Bill Evanina, issue a public statement that drew a false equivalence between what Russia was doing and what China and Iran are doing.

And he was called out on it. And we had hearings in the Congress, where he could be held to account, and others could as well. And the result, Dana, was, they were forced to issue a second statement that acknowledged, no, Russia is actually intervening to help Donald Trump and denigrate Joe Biden, China has a preference.

And being able to call them out, hold them accountable, have them testify before Congress, place them under oath, if necessary, forces accountability.

When you can hide behind documents or withhold documents, and not have to answer questions about it, it lets you conceal the truth.

BASH: So...

SCHIFF: And, in this case, concealing the truth is concealing Russians are again intervening to help the president in his reelection.

The president evidently believes that he can't beat Joe Biden without getting either foreign help or disenfranchising people from voting during a pandemic, and doesn't want the country to know about it.

BASH: So, are you suggesting that the Trump administration is trying to protect Russia here?

SCHIFF: Well, the -- no, the Trump -- President Trump's motivation is, as always, solely about himself. It is to get himself reelected. And he realizes, if the country learns again that the Russians once

again are intervening to try to help him in the election, he feels that that takes away from their assistance. So, he doesn't want the American people to know about it. He doesn't want Congress to know about it.

He wants to draw some false equivalence between what the Russians are doing and others are doing. And he knows that, if and when they do come and brief Congress, we ask questions, and we can get to the bottom of things.

And that's what he doesn't want. After all, he fired a director for doing exactly this. And, sadly, the current director of national intelligence doesn't have the will or the backbone to stand up to this and undertake his lawful responsibility.

BASH: I want to play for you something that President Trump said about the reason that the DNI no longer wants to continue briefing you, your committee and others, he says, because of leaking classified information.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Director Ratcliffe brought information into the committee, and the information leaked.

Whether it was shifty Schiff or somebody else, they leak the information before it gets in. And what's even worse, they leak the wrong information. And he got tired of it. So, he wants to do it in a different form.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[09:20:03]

BASH: Have you or any of your staff or other Democrats on the committee leaked classified information?

SCHIFF: I haven't. My staff hasn't. I can't speak for what all the members of the committee have done or not done, including a lot of the Republican members.

Look, Dana, leaks are always improper, and, sometimes they're illegal.

But, of course, this is a falsehood, yet again another lie by the president. And, you know, of course, as you point out, it is a logical inconsistency to say, well, we're going to put it on paper, so it can't leak, rather than speak to the Congress. That doesn't make any sense.

But what is more, Dana, you can tell that this is another falsehood, a false rationalization by the president, because, after the last set of briefings before Congress, the director of national intelligence offered to brief Congress again. So, clearly, they weren't concerned about leaks after the last

briefing, or they wouldn't have come back to offer another briefing.

Something changed, Dana. And what changed is, of course, the president, probably in another fit, saying, I don't want Congress informed, because the last time that Congress was informed, the director of national intelligence had to put out another statement to acknowledge the fact the Russians are helping Donald Trump again.

BASH: So, Mr. Chairman, will you...

SCHIFF: And that's his goal, is to suppress that information.

BASH: Will you subpoena intelligence officials to appear in public in a hearing before the election?

SCHIFF: That is certainly one of the tools that we may use.

I can't speak for what decision ultimately we will make. That's a decision that will have to go to the speaker.

But we will compel the intelligence community to give Congress the information that we need. We will compel the intelligence community also to speak plainly to the American people, because, Dana, this information, this intelligence, paid for by taxpayers, doesn't belong to Donald Trump. It doesn't belong to the intelligence agencies. It belongs to the American people.

The agencies are really the custodians of that information. And the American people ought to know what Russia is doing. They ought to know their president is unwilling to stand up to Vladimir Putin. They ought to know that Senators like Ron Johnson are pushing a Kremlin false narrative about Joe Biden, and doing it knowingly.

BASH: Mr. Chairman...

SCHIFF: And that information belongs to the American people. It doesn't belong to Donald Trump.

BASH: OK.

Before we go, I really want to ask you about what's going on in Portland, Oregon. Police say that they're investigating a homicide after a person was killed last night during violent clashes there. It comes, of course, just days after two people were killed in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Do you have any reason to believe that Russia is trying to fuel some of the civil unrest in these cities via social media or other methods?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all, Dana, I condemn any of the violence that's going on. And I find it astounding that my colleague in the Senate can't simply condemn this.

The peaceful protests, I think, are calling out, in a very important way, the murder of so many black men and women at the hands of police. And those protests are in the best tradition of the United States. But we need to make sure that they're peaceful, as they largely have been, and that there aren't these incidents of violence.

In terms of what we can expect from the Russians or what the Russians are doing, the Russians, four years ago, Dana, exploited Black Lives Matter. They set up their own false flags online to try to divide people along racial lines.

BASH: Are they doing it now?

SCHIFF: And we have to -- they are once again doing their best in social media, in their overt media, and other means to grow these divisions again.

And I think that most pernicious, we got to -- we have to worry about their aggravating these tensions in our cities. We also have to worry about the Russians pushing out the president's false narratives about voting by mail.

But, finally, on the protests, Dana, I want to underscore something that you were asking Senator Johnson about. And that is, the president is willfully fanning the flames of this violence.

As his own adviser Kellyanne Conway said last week, they believe the violence is helpful to them. And the president is only motivated by one thing, what's in it for him. And he sees this violence and the -- and his ability to agitate more of it as useful to his campaign.

What it does to the country, the loss of life, he doesn't care; 180,000 people have died from the pandemic because of his incompetence and this malignant narcissism. And he simply not only won't act to stop the violence in the streets, but he will try to send federal National Guard forces or others to aggravate it if he can.

He will stoke it through his social media where he can, because he believes the violence helps him. That is the sad and tragic truth about this, but also about the Trump presidency more generally.

[09:25:03]

BASH: House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, thank you so much for joining me this morning. I appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: And the president says he's standing up for law and order. Is that message working with voters?

I will talk to Congresswoman Karen Bass about that and whether Congress missed its chance to pass police reform next.

Plus, when will you be able to get the coronavirus vaccine and get back to normal? I will speak with a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force ahead.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

The presidential election is fast approaching, and new polling suggests the dynamics of the race may be shifting.

[09:30:00]

As ongoing protests turn violent in several cities across the U.S., is it hurting the push for civil justice?

Joining me now is the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and Democratic Congresswoman from California Karen Bass.

Thank you so much for joining me this morning.

I want to ask about what we are seeing, what we saw last night in Portland. Somebody died there. Two people died during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

What is your reaction to this violence?

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Well, I think it is absolutely horrible.

I was just appalled at what I saw in Kenosha. The idea that you would see that young man with a rifle walking toward the police, and they do nothing, they don't move to stop him, they actually give him water, don't even arrest him on the spot, and he killed two people.

And then, unfortunately, to listen to the head of law enforcement the next day, he seemed to blame it on the fact that people were violating curfew.

The protests, the peaceful protests, of which over 90 percent of the protests have been peaceful, are very helpful. And, obviously, any time they turn toward violence, that's very damaging.

BASH: President Trump made his first comments about Jacob Blake Friday night, five days after the shooting.

I want you to listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm looking into it very strongly. I will be getting reports, and I will certainly let you know pretty soon.

But I will be -- it was not a good sight. I didn't like the sight of it, certainly. And I think most people would agree with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: He's also traveling to Kenosha on Tuesday to -- quote -- "meet with local law enforcement" and survey damage from the recent riots.

So, what effect do you think his visit will have? Good idea or bad?

BASS: Oh, I think his visit has one purpose, and one purpose only. And that is to agitate things and to make things worse.

What also happened in Portland, too, you saw a parade of Trump supporters actually actively shooting paintballs at peaceful protesters.

And the president, in my opinion, encourages that. He actually retweeted the people firing paint guns. So, I think he only means to agitate things. He is campaigning. It is clear his campaign is all about law and order. It is a throwback to the past.

And he's going to do everything to disrupt law and order in this time period.

BASH: Yes.

And, just to be clear, we don't know where the violence is coming from, because there's protesters on both sides of this issue.

BASS: Right.

BASH: We don't know yet what happened in Portland.

But back to Kenosha. Should the former Vice President Joe Biden also visit Kenosha?

BASS: Well, I think the vice president, as I understand it, is going to be speaking out very soon. Whether he goes to Kenosha or not, I don't know. I know he's going to follow medical advice first.

But one thing that I don't think should happen is, is that I don't think using Kenosha in a way to campaign, which is what I believe the president is doing and the tweet that he put out in Portland, you do see people firing on the protesters. They're firing paintballs.

So, I think that his motivation is directed only in one area. And it is not to bring resolve to the situation. It is not to look at police abuse. It is not to do any of that. It is to campaign and to agitate.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: But are you concerned -- forgive me for putting it this way, but are you concerned that, politically speaking, Joe Biden isn't fighting fire with fire, that Donald Trump is doing what you just described because he clearly believes that it benefits him politically, and that do you believe Joe Biden, do you feel like he's pushing back hard enough?

BASS: Well, I think that he has been clear. I think his statements around what happened to Mr. Blake were clear.

What the president said was basically nothing. And so I do think that he has been responding, absolutely. BASH: So, President Trump has tried to tie the Democrats and Black

Lives Matter protesters to some of the violence and the looting that we have seen in places like Kenosha and Portland.

A Marquette University poll earlier this month -- this was of Wisconsin voters, who may hold the key to November's election -- it shows that approval of protests has dipped 13 points since June.

So, are you concerned that these scenes of unrest are hurting the movement?

BASS: Well, I'm absolutely concerned.

And I'm concerned, like you said, a few minutes ago, that it is not real clear where this violence is coming from. And so I think that the peaceful protests are helpful. When they turn to violence, obviously, it's not.

We're 66 days from an election. And I think it is a tragedy that we have a president that is doing everything he can to fan the flames. But he did this in 2018 as well. In 2018, the message was, we're getting invaded on the Southern border by hordes of immigrants.

[09:35:03]

And, this time, he's using legitimate issues around police abuse, and using it as a way to resurrect a very old campaign slogan of law and order.

BASH: So, the House of Representatives, as you well know, passed a police reform bill more than two months ago.

BASS: Yes.

BASH: And in a letter this week to Senate majority -- Mitch McConnell, you wrote the following.

You wrote: "How many more mothers and fathers must mourn the loss of a child to police violence? How many more children must be raised without a parent to -- parent lost to police violence? How many more videos must we watch before you act? Enough is enough."

Now, Senate Republicans, led by Tim Scott of South Carolina, proposed their own bill. Democrats in the Senate blocked it.

So, was it a mistake, rather than trying to reach a compromise, than to block it? Should they at least have tried to get something passed?

BASS: Well, first of all, no, I don't think that it was a mistake.

When we acted, we acted with absolute urgency, and we acted with a transformative bill that addresses immunity, that lowers the standard for prosecution, so we can actually hold officers accountable.

So, if Mitch McConnell wants to act, he could certainly put up the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that is over in his house. But I will tell you, Dana, over the last couple of months, there have

been a number of discussions with Republican members in the House, who have presented Tim Scott with what I believe would be a stronger bill. So, he has an opportunity to put up another bill that we could perhaps go to conference with.

So, I think, as you pointed out, the House voted on the bill on a bipartisan basis. We even garnered a few Republican votes, which is a big deal, because Trump tweeted a couple of days before threatening Republicans not to support the bill. So we did have bipartisan support.

So, Mitch McConnell could put up the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Let's see what happens. Put it up for a vote. He didn't bother to do that.

BASH: Before I let you go, I want to ask about the RNC, the convention, this past week.

BASS: Uh-huh.

BASH: A number of African-American speakers made a point of highlighting question -- questionable comments by the Democratic nominee, by Joe Biden.

And my question for you is, are you concerned that that kind of representation that they showed at the RNC will hurt with the Democrats with the African-American vote?

BASS: You know, I honestly don't, because what the Republicans did was essentially put up a number of individuals.

Who do those individuals represent? I believe they represent themselves. I don't believe that the African-American population is going to be fooled by the last three-and-a-half years of a president who clearly stokes racial violence, who stokes racism. I don't believe anybody is going to be confused by that and his policies.

He talks about protecting African-Americans. It is so offensive for him to say that he has done more for African-Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln.

So, Barack Obama didn't exist, and I suppose neither did Lyndon Johnson, and many other presidents.

And so I think that the majority of black folks are very clear that the last three years of this presidency have been devastating.

Let me make note of the fact that there's over 180,000 Americans dead from coronavirus. And we know a significant percentage of those are folks of color, which I believe is one of the reasons why they don't want the data released, the demographic data released, on the people that have died.

So, he hasn't done anything for African-Americans, as far as I'm concerned. BASH: Congresswoman Karen Bass, I appreciate your time this morning.

Thank you.

BASS: Thank you.

BASH: And historic winds, fires, floods, locusts, but you wouldn't know there is a climate crisis right now by watching the Republican Convention last week.

Is the Trump administration ready to face hurricane season and COVID- 19?

The head of FEMA joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:42:39]

BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

President Trump touring the Lake Charles, Louisiana, area after it was slammed by Hurricane Laura this week.

The storm claimed at least 15 lives, according to officials there, and are still -- there are still half-a-million customers without power in the area, despite packing the strongest winds to hit Louisiana in well over a century.

This could actually be just the start of a terrible hurricane season, coming as thousands of Americans are still contracting COVID-19 every day.

Joining me now is the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Peter Gaynor.

Thank you so much for joining me.

PETER GAYNOR, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Good morning.

BASH: President Trump was with you in Louisiana yesterday to survey the hurricane damage.

How is the recovery going there?

GAYNOR: It's -- they got hit pretty bad, especially in Louisiana, those five counties all the way from Cameron all the way up, lots of power issues, wires down.

That's impacted the delivery of water. So, I think those are the two prime things that, especially in Louisiana, they're fighting with, is getting that power restored and getting that water turned on, so they can return people to their homes.

BASH: You pointed out in a congressional hearing last month that hurricanes are becoming more and more frequent, more costly and more damaging because the climate is changing.

Do you believe that human activity is responsible for the climate crisis?

GAYNOR: Well, you know, FEMA's role is to deliver these valuable disaster resources for any hazards. So, we're a all-hazards agency.

And, you know, why it happened, I'm going to leave that up to the scientists. My job, my role is to make sure that those disaster survivors have everything they need to get their lives back to normal.

And that's really our focus. And that's why we came down to Louisiana and Texas. That's why the president came down, to see it firsthand, and give them some hope that federal resources and that great partnership is intact.

BASH: So, just -- you mentioned the scientists. Scientists do overwhelmingly agree that there is human involvement in the climate crisis.

The Trump administration produced its own report, 13 federal agencies, was crystal clear that the: "Observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations for this amount of warming. Instead, the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, as the dominant cause."

[09:45:10]

You subscribe to that? You believe that's accurate?

GAYNOR: Yes, so, again, I'm going to leave all that to the scientists. I'm not a scientist.

My role, as the nation's emergency manager, is to deliver those valuable resources to those impacted by disasters, no matter the cause, no matter the place.

BASH: Right.

GAYNOR: And that's my mission.

BASH: Right.

And I get that. I get that you're responsible for cleaning it up, quite literally. But, as somebody who's in charge of that, do you not want to look at the cause as part of your job, and at least maybe subscribe to, as I said, what the -- your own administration has said, at least the scientists that you're referring to?

GAYNOR: Well, I mean, we have -- across every state in the United States, we have mitigation plans.

And in those mitigation plans, states have to -- and this is -- these are our rules to states. They have to embrace things like changing conditions, demographic shifts, weather patterns, all those things, to make sure that their plans reflect that. So, it's part of what we do.

But, today, in Louisiana, my job is make sure I deliver those valuable federal resources to those impacted by disasters.

BASH: Let me ask you this way.

Do you believe that the climate crisis is a threat to the U.S.?

GAYNOR: I -- and, again, you can go back and look at the record.

The climate has changed. And if you just look at hurricanes, they are more frequent. They're more deadly. They're more devastating.

And, again, my role, as the leader of FEMA, as the emergency manager for the nation, is to make sure that the nation is prepared to mitigate those risks. Congress passed last year a great program building resilient infrastructure in communities where -- we want to invest in pre-disaster mitigation, invest in disasters before they happen.

BASH: So...

GAYNOR: That really is the best way to battle all kinds of weather challenges.

BASH: OK.

So, just for our viewers, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity is responsible for the climate crisis. I know you don't want to go there. Let's move on.

I want to ask you about the coronavirus pandemic. The president held a large gathering on the White House lawn on Thursday night, with roughly 1,500 people. Few were wearing masks or social distancing.

We saw a similar scene at the president's event on Friday in New Hampshire. You are on the Coronavirus Task Force. Were you comfortable with what you saw at both of those events?

GAYNOR: I can't say that -- well, first of all, I wasn't there, so I didn't see it firsthand.

And being part of the Coronavirus Task Force, our message to everyone across America is, if you did four simple things, right, wear a mask where you can, and if -- and socially distance, wash your hands, and try to stay out of large crowds, especially inside, if you do those four things, we will beat down the coronavirus even faster.

So, if you can socially distance, then maybe you don't have to wear a mask. But, if you can't, then wear it.

BASH: So...

GAYNOR: I mean, it's really simple tools that we all can use to keep ourselves safe.

BASH: Absolutely.

And these were two events held by the president of the United States, who didn't not just encourage, but require the people in attendance to see him to do what you just said. Does that bother you?

GAYNOR: Yes, again, I don't know what the rules were for the -- for the convention. Again, I will defer...

BASH: Well, we saw the pictures. They weren't wearing masks, and they were very close together.

GAYNOR: Yes, but I don't know -- I think you said that -- OK. But you said there were rules, there was some instruction not to wear masks. I can't say that's a fact.

BASH: No, no, no, no, no, that's not what I said. He didn't -- I said he didn't require them to wear masks. There was no instruction not to wear masks.

GAYNOR: OK.

Again, I can't comment, because I don't know -- I don't know if it's true or false.

BASH: OK.

I want to ask you about something that you have on your Web site, the FEMA Web site. It is called Coronavirus Rumor Control.

GAYNOR: Yes.

BASH: And the first recommendation to the American people is, find trusted sources of information.

In the last six months, the president has touted hydroxychloroquine. He's suggested injecting disinfectants. He's repeatedly refused to wear a mask. He's had these events that I just referred to. He said initially that the virus will disappear.

Do you think that the president falls under the category in your Web site a trusted source of information the coronavirus?

GAYNOR: Again, I'm here today to make sure that we discuss the impacts to Louisiana, to Texas, on those disaster survivors that, in some cases, have lost everything.

[09:50:01]

And they're depending on our partnership, locals, states, and the federal government, to get them back in their homes and get them back to a normal life. That really is my focus of today.

And that's why I'm here today.

BASH: OK. And you feel equipped to do that?

GAYNOR: I feel absolutely equipped.

The president acted quickly in giving those -- both states emergency and major disasters. They have all the resources they need.

We toured all around the past two days, tens of thousands of responders, utility crews, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Team Rubicon, all down there trying to again deliver those critical resources to those impacted by Laura.

BASH: Well, Administrator Gaynor, we thank you for your work down in Louisiana and for the agency's work there in Texas and everywhere else there is a natural disaster.

And we appreciate you coming on this morning.

GAYNOR: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

And bigger than the game -- pro athletes across all major sports walking off for racial justice.

I will speak to one of the leaders of the movement, a WNBA star, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

You have to imagine the likes of Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson were looking on with pride at the amazing past few days in sports, when players decided to delay their games to protest police brutality.

And the inspiring women of the WNBA, they have been at the front of the social justice fight long before the tragic events in Kenosha.

Joining me now is Nneka Ogwumike, who is a Los Angeles Sparks forward and the president of the Women's National Basketball Players Association, who is coming off of eight wins in a row.

Thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it, from Florida.

This really was an unprecedented week in sports. We have seen athletes protest police violence before, particularly you in the WNBA, but nothing on this scale.

What makes this feel different to you?

NNEKA OGWUMIKE, LOS ANGELES SPARKS: Well, as you mentioned before -- first of all, thank you for having me.

As you mentioned before, this is not new to us. And it is quite unique. The state of the world has allowed our movement to meet its moment. We have always been on the forefront of speaking out against racism, police reform, voting and education. And, as a union, we are always unified, and we stand in solidarity with our peers. But, quite frankly, this is a very historical and unique situation for us to truly mobilize and organize in ways that is just in our DNA as WNBA players.

BASH: Well, four years ago, the WNBA punished players for protesting police violence on the court.

Now it seems like team owners and league officials are really following you, the players' lead here and showing support. What changed?

OGWUMIKE: You know, I think that it is just kind of an evolution of the league.

It is players and, obviously, operations. I think that us negotiating our recent collective bargaining agreement certainly spearheaded a lot of innovation in what we haven't seen in the league, but also the relationship and rapport that the players have with the league moving forward.

[09:55:05]

We're still quite young. Next year, we will be 25. But we have such a long way to go. Although we're seeing so much success and notoriety in what we're doing, we want to continue to progress.

And I think that we see that very much so in how we're able to amplify our voices in accordance with our league.

BASH: I want to get your reaction to something President Trump said Friday night about the action taken by your league and by the NBA.

He said -- quote -- "I think what they're doing to the NBA in particular is going to destroy basketball. When you watch sports, you want to sort of relax. This is a whole different world. You don't want to stay in politics. You want to relax. It is very bad for the NBA."

What is your response to President Trump?

OGWUMIKE: Well, as basketball players, playing basketball is an outlet. And we too would like to relax.

But we're also citizens. And the platforms that we have, just as the politicians do, need to be used to effect change in our communities. And, as athletes, we would be discrediting our essence if we didn't use that platform for good and for change.

Quite frankly, too, a lot of what we speak about, it shouldn't be political, but, unfortunately, the way that our country has kind of evolved, certain issues, certain human issues have become political.

We are black women in the WNBA. A majority of us are black women. And, inherently, we are political, as we deal with racism and sexism.

But I think, because of where we stand in politics, we try our best to speak out for everyone. And I think that we saw a lot of headway in our CBA in being able to negotiate change that can affect women, not just women in sports, that can really bring a lot of attention to how much further we need to go for change.

BASH: And I want to ask you about that in a second.

But, first, I want to ask about how much you and other WNBA players have really tried to amplify, in particular, the case of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

You recently participated in a virtual meeting with her mother. Setting aside your jersey and your leadership role here, what does it mean to you personally, as a black woman in America, to be so involved in her cause?

OGWUMIKE: To be honest, I'm very grateful and honored to be in the position that I am to even have the time and have -- for the conversations to be held, space for the women in the WNBA to have those talks with people that are being directly affected by it, and for us to be able to serve our purpose and amplify the voices of parents like Breonna Taylor's.

It is interesting, because we're out here, and we're speaking out against any injustices for everyone. But Breonna Taylor is a prime example of how black women are kind of considered in society. And we're hoping that we can do our work, not just to bring some sort of comfort to her mom and to amplify and celebrate Breonna, but also to effect the change that we want to see.

Her -- the killers have not been arrested yet. And that's (AUDIO GAP) for the comparison between women and men in this country and also black people in this country.

BASH: So, on that note, I want to ask about fighting for equality.

And you have been doing that not on -- just on social justice, but on other issues, for example, pay. You really fought hard to get a deal to change the fact that WNBA players are paid a fraction of what other professional athletes make.

You recently got it so that players in the WNBA could receive full maternity benefits and things of that nature. So, how has that experience, fighting to be heard and treated the same as your male counterparts, influenced your broader fight now on social justice?

OGWUMIKE: You know, it was kind of a precursor to what we're experiencing now.

For the longest, I think that it took some time for us to mature as a league, as players in this league, to understand what we needed to do to create that change.

And through this CBA, with an amazing union staff and our executive director, in Terri Jackson, and, of course, having Cathy Engelbert now as the commissioner, we were able to come together and create a historical CBA that can serve as a catalyst for that change we want to see.

It's by no means -- it's by no means the end of what we want to see. It's the future in motion. And I'm really happy that we were able to create some type of change that women who aren't just athletes want to see also in their own lives.

BASH: Yes.

Well, I appreciate you. And I'm a WNBA fan. I'm becoming much more of one now, frankly, learning about you and everything that you have done for women in particular.

Nneka Ogwumike, thank you so much for joining us this morning. I appreciate it.

OGWUMIKE: Thank you.

BASH: And thank you for spending your Sunday morning with us.

The news continues right now.