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Trump To Hold Nevada Rally Despite Virus, Unhealthy Air Alert; Russia Begins Phase Three Trials After Approving Sputnik Vaccine; Nearly 100 Wildfires Burning Up And Down West Coast; Battleground Poll: Biden Leads Trump In Minnesota, Wisconsin; France, Israel Grapple With Resurgence Of Virus. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 12, 2020 - 20:00   ET




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.

And we begin tonight with two big breaking stories. Right now, large swaths of the United States are burning as dozens of wildfires, many of them simply out of control, are raging across the West Coast.

In the meantime, the president, this hour, is headed to a rally in Nevada, an area under air quality advisories due to smoke from the wildfires.

Also tonight, the president's political appointees are being accused by a federal health official of trying to change the wording of key medical reports from the CDC to better line up with President Trump's messaging the pandemic. The report in question is what's called the morbidity and mortality weekly report, the CDC's primary publication for public health information and recommendations to the American public. It's been around in some form since the 1870s.

Check out the response from the Trump appointee accused of pushing to alter these reports. No formal denial, just accusations from the Health And Human Services Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Michael Caputo, former member of the Trump campaign. He says and I'm quoting him now, our intention is to make sure that evidence, science- based data drives policy through this pandemic, not ulterior deep state motives in the bowls of CDC.

All this is happening after revelations that the president downplayed the severity of the virus in recorded conversation he had with the journalist, Bob Woodward, back in early February.

And the president's discounting of safety warnings continues tonight. He's holding his 17th campaign rally since he told Woodward that the coronavirus was, quote, deadly stuff. And remember, that was back on February 7th.

A reported 5,000 people, by the way, expected to attend the event in Minden, Nevada, that's coming up later tonight, despite the need for people to socially distance. Many are simply packed in relatively tight space and many are simply not wearing masks.

Both the president and Joe Biden, by the way, will need every vote they can get in Nevada. New polling there shows no clear leader in the race. The president lost Nevada to Hillary Clinton back in 2016 by less than 30,000 votes.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is on the scene for us in Minden, where those crowds are gathering right now. So, how does it look over there, Boris?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is virtually no social distancing here. They opened the gates for supporters of the president to crown in this area and I want to show you what that looks like right now, it's off to my right. I'm not sure how well you can see it, but it is large group of people. Many of them, as you can see, not wearing masks. Folks are shoulder to shoulder.

We asked the campaign how they were trying to maintain social distancing and following CDC guidelines. They told us that they were going to take the temperature of attendees at the door, that they were going to offer masks to people and encourage them to wear it. Wolf, I've been here for hours. I have seen very few people actually wearing masks.

Of course, the campaign, having to restructure this event, originally, it was set to be held at the Reno Tahoe Airport but officials there canceled because there's a mandate, a ban on events of 50 people or more in the state of Nevada. Here in Douglas County, a county commissioner told CNN that they simply are not worried about coronavirus.

One county commissioner telling us that they have not had very many cases here, that none of a county commissioners complained about potentially having this event, showing no apprehension and also, obviously, not enforcing that statewide mandate.

But the president adamant about coming here to Nevada, clearly, though, they are not following the guidelines from his own administration, potentially, and we'll see the results in a few weeks, if there is a surge of coronavirus here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Boris Sanchez, be careful there. We'll stay in very close touch with you.


Thank you.

Let's bring in Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a Democrat from California.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

As the president gets ready to address his supporters at this huge crowd out in Nevada, I want to show our viewers something that you tweeted this week after you read excerpts from Bob Woodward's brand- new about the president. To be precise, this is in the reaction to reading that the president actually knew how dangerous and contagious the coronavirus was long before he acknowledged that publicly.

And among other things you write this, I'll put it up on the screen. This is the height of condescension that Donald Trump didn't trust Americans to act in our best interest if we knew the truth, so he lied to us. But it's even worse. The president took actions that he knew would result in many more deaths, essentially, reckless homicide, close quote.

Congressman, clearly, you feel strongly about when you read in the book. What do you make of the president explanation for what he did that he simply didn't want to start a panic in this country?

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Thank you, Wolf, for your question. Let me first say my heart goes out to all the wildfire victims on the west coast, including California and to brave first responders who are risking their lives to contain these fires.

And regarding your question, what Donald Trump did was not just dereliction of duty, it was much more sinister. He took actions to downplay this virus and he lied to American people to downplay this virus and you can draw a straight line between his words and actions and tens of thousands of preventable American deaths.

And even now, he's doing this super spreader event in Nevada. Donald Trump is, in fact, increased the number of cases and increased the number of preventable deaths in America. It shows how unfit he is for office.

BLITZER: Anything with members of Congress like you could do about that?

LIEU: So there is an election in 50 something days. The American people can make a decision as to whether they want to keep him in office or not. But it's very clear the United States is the worst country in the world when it comes to containing this virus and the large number of deaths. If we had a Joe Biden administration, a lot less people would have died.

BLITZER: You sit on the House of Foreign Affairs Committee. You are on the Judiciary Committee as well. Tell our viewers how you're treating allegations that several countries, among them Russia, Iran and China, are actively trying to interfere to the U.S. election system and impact the outcome. Microsoft this week echoed those warnings from the U.S. Intelligence Community. What is Congress doing to exposed and combat what potentially could be a very serious cyber attack?

LIEU: That's a great question. So to the public reporting is that Iran and China, Russia are not actually the same in terms of election interference. Only one country is actively engaged in election interference, and that is Russia. And so we know that Russia interfered in our elections in 2016. They're doing that again in 2020, and so we have to fight back. And what it also shows is that any report that will come out from John Durham and Bill Barr before November 3rd about the Russian investigation needs to be looked at with a grain of salt because it's very clear that Russia, in fact, did tamper our elections in 2016, after doing so right now.

BLITZER: Well the U.S. Intelligence Community in their public document, they did say that Russia, China and Iran are interfering but in different ways. They said the Russians are doing what they're doing to trying to help Donald Trump get reelected. The Chinese would prefer Biden to be president. The Iranians simply want to sew as much political dissent and chaos in the United States as possible. In fact all three of them want to sow political dissent. Do you buy that intelligence assessment?

LIEU: So, again, it shows that China has a preference but what it shows is Russia is actively engaging in measures to interfere in our elections. And so we absolutely have to fight back. It's very disturbing that you have, for example, Rudy Giuliani that's interacting with a known Russian agent. And we simply need the members of the Trump campaign to stop acting with Russian agents.

BLITZER: Because you bring up what the U.S. government officially did this week, labeling a Ukrainian politician as an active Russian agent. This is a man who has close ties to Rudy Giuliani. And it's already been singled out for his work trying to weaken the campaign of Joe Biden. How much deeper than this one man, do you believe, that overseas interference in the U.S. election goes?

LIEU: We know that Russia engaged in a sweeping and systemic attack against our elections in 2016. I have no doubt in my mind they're simply going try that again on social media. A lot of bots are run by the Russians, and they continue try to sow dissension and try to trick American people into believe that what they're reading on social media is actually from Americans, instead of from the Kremlin.

And so I urge people to view social media post with a great caution.


And to make sure that if they're going to vote by mail, that they request the mail-in ballot early and vote early. And if they're going to vote in line, then they make a plan to make sure that they vote knowing that there could be long lines on the Election Day.

BLITZER: And they make sure they do it safely. Social distancing, wearing a mask and all of that. It's going to be hard for especially older Americans to wait in long lines under this coronavirus pandemic and certain Americans with underlying health conditions as well. That's why so many people want to vote by mail.

Let's turn to the horrible fires that are going right now. The people in your state, California, are going through a nightmare right now. Historic wildfires have already destroyed, what, almost 5 million acres of land. At least 19 people in California have already died. The president will visit California on Monday. Your Governor, fellow Democrat, Gavin Newsom, says, the debate over climate change is over. He says, simply look at what's going on in California, Oregon, Washington State, Colorado, Nevada, other states out west.

You've introduced some strong climate change legislation into -- in Congress. Is Governor Newsom right? What do you think?

LIEU: Again, Newsom, is absolutely right. We know that decades ago, scientists predicted that with climate change, we would see more extreme weather events, including more wildfires and we're seeing that playing out not just this year but year after year.

I know that in my district, you previously had the Wozi (ph) fire, that was enormously destructive, and now, we have all these wildfires not just in California but also in places like Oregon. And if we don't do strong action to mitigate climate change, this problem is going to get worst every single year.

BLITZER: We've got to go, Congressman, but you're in L.A. Is it hard to breathe when you go out of your house?

LIEU: It was yesterday. It is a little better today.

BLITZER: Well, good luck. Be careful out there. We'll see you back here in Washington. Thanks so much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Lieu of California.

Coming up, yesterday alone more than a thousand American lives were lost to the coronavirus. 1,200, in fact, in a key model now up projects, get this, that the death toll here in the United States could actually double, could double by January 1st.

Plus, a CNN exclusive report gives an inside look at vaccine research under way right now in Russia, why a critical development is getting mixed reaction.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Critical phase three human trials haven't even been completed yet, but Russia's Sputnik V vaccine is already being distributed to high risk groups. And a source tells CNN that India, Mexico and Brazil, they are all lining up to buy it for their citizens. Many scientists are expressing deep skepticism though.

CNN's Matthew Chance has this exclusive report.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is what Russia hopes will be the vaccine that beats the global pandemic. We've been given access to the start of crucial phase three trials. And to volunteers like Andrey, to discover whether the Sputnik V it's called, really can save lives.

ANDREY OLSHEVSKY, TRIAL VOLUNTEER: I've been looking forward to this third stage of trials. I want this vaccine to come into wide circulation as soon as possible so that all citizens of our big country can be safe.

CHANCE: Russia has good reason to want this battle won against COVID- 19. With over a million confirmed infections, it's one of the world worst affected country.

But Moscow has been accused of cutting corners, using spies to steal western research, which it denies, and after positive early results, proving its vaccine even before third phase trials had begun.

RICHARD HORTON, THE LANCET: What we can say is that this new Russian vaccine, the results are encouraging but it will be premature -- a premature to think that this is the basis for a successful vaccine for public use.

CHANCE: But at city hospital number two in Moscow, where we witnessed the first of an expected 40,000 trial volunteers being injected, doctors told me they're optimist that these important trials will help establish the Russian vaccine.

It's why Catherina (ph), a nursery school teacher, says she volunteered to take part, despite the risk. It's necessary, she told me, not just for herself but for everyone else.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


BLITZER: Matthew, thank you.

And there's some breaking news coming into CNN about the race for a vaccine. Pfizer and BioNTech have proposed expanding what are called phase three trials to 44,000 participants and including people, get this, as young as 16 years old.

Joining us now to discuss, Dr. Patrice Harris, the immediate past President of the American Medical Association, and Dr. James Phillips, he's an Emergency Physician at George Washington University Hospital here in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Phillips, what's your reaction to this news using test candidates, first of all, as young as 16 and they're hoping, by the way, to include people with HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, what do you make of that?

DR. JAMES PHILLIPS, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PYSICIAN: Well, you know, the importance of these phase three trials is to make sure that before any vaccine goes to widespread use, we understand the true safety profile of it. And includes not only for young healthy volunteers, it includes the elderly, the young, as well as those who are sick from other disease, including things like HIV and people who are on other medications that may affect their immune system to see that both they generate antibodies and also don't have untoward side effects that may make them sicker.


So it is important and it's been expressed that not only do we have that variation in age and in medical conditions but also in race and gender.

BLITZER: What do you think, Dr. Harris, because they're increasing this phase three trial from 30,000 to, what, 44,000 people?

DR. PATRICE HARRIS, FORMER PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, I certainly agree with Dr. Phillips, and have always stated that as in this clinical trial or in any clinical trial, diversity of the participants is important so that we can have the best information on the other side as to what is effective and safe.

BLITZER: You know, Dr. Phillips, even when we do get a vaccine and all of us are hoping and praying we'll have a safe and effective vaccine soon, Dr. Anthony Fauci, I spoke with him yesterday in THE SITUATION ROOM, he says it will still take months after there is a safe and effective vaccine. In fact, it could be at least another year before we get back to what we'd call the normal situation that existed before the pandemic. Listen to what he told me. Listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think it's going to take several months before we get to the point where we can really feel something that approximates how it was normally before COVID-19. And for that reason, I made the projection of getting back to that state of normality well into 2021 and very unlikely before then.


BLITZER: What do you think, Dr. Phillips? He also said, because even a safe and effective vaccine, maybe only 70 or 75 percent effective, we're still -- all of us are still going to have to be wearing masks for most of next year, even with a safe and effective vaccine.

PHILLIPS: That's absolutely right. Not only is this vaccine not going to be available widely this year, and I mean widely to the entire general population in the United States. But there's going to be multiple vaccines that come along that fit the bill that have passed the test and have been approved by the FDA.

Now, right now, we're on the -- we're all to the left (ph) of this vaccine, right? As soon as we have a single one that is approved, efficacious and is useful, we have an entire marathon ahead of us on the right side of this timeline where we've got to worry about logistics, the ethics of who gets it, which populations, ensuring that people aren't being discriminated against. The argument about immunity passports, we have so many more topics that are going to be so important to us to work through long after this vaccine comes along.

So we're not going to be back to normal in any short period of time. People need to be in this for the long haul.

BLITZER: And right now, as you know, Dr. Phillips -- Dr. Harris -- I want to go back to Dr. Harris. If you look right now, 193,000 Americans have already died over the past six months and this new projection, this forecast from the University of Washington Medical School, says that number could double, maybe as much as 415,000 could be dead by January 1st unless certain actions are taken right away.

Here is the question. Do you see those actions being taken here in the United States that potentially could save tens of thousands of lives?

HARRIS: Well, Wolf, certainly, those numbers are troubling and they point us all hopefully to highlight the fact that lives are at risk. The public health is at stake here.

Now, I see in certain areas folks wearing mask and making sure they are keeping their physical distance and not gathering in large crowds. But, unfortunately, that is not universal.

And so if we want those numbers could be as low as possible, if we don't want to get those numbers through the worst case scenario, we have that power to act and we have to act in order to keep those numbers down.

BLITZER: You know, Dr. Phillips, there's more disagreement right now emerging over testing. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator, urged people to get tested after Labor Day weekend if they had relaxed their social distancing rules over the holiday. Doesn't that recommendation go against the latest CDC guideline that says, if you don't have any symptom, you don't have necessarily be tested?

PHILLIPS: It's incredible that we're six months into this and we're still having this debate. I would say what Dr. Birx has said is the safest option. And what we've learned this week is that the reports come out of the CDC may not be exactly what the true career scientist of the CDC believe. And so I would err on the side of what Dr. Birx has said.

BLITZER: You know, Dr. Harris, when I spoke to Dr. Fauci, he said specifically, getting a flu shot in October or even now, by the end of October, a regular flu shot is more important than ever given the fact that we're all dealing with this coronavirus pandemic.


How important from your perspective is getting a flu shot?

HARRIS: It is so important, Wolf, to get a flu shot this year, even more so than in typical years. Certainly, all of us are worried about the twindemic of both the COVID-19 and the flu. We are entering flu season. And so I do encourage everyone to get their flu shot. We want to minimize risk for flu. Again, as we try to mitigate a potential tsunami of a twindemic of COVID-19 and the flu, certainly, the weather is getting cooler, we will be indoors more often. And so we really do need everyone to get a flu shot.

And we really, also, Wolf, need to make sure and there is no political interference in the work from CDC and NIH and FDA. At this time, more than ever, we need clear, consistent messaging based on science and the evidence.

BLITZER: Important words indeed. Dr. Patrice Harris, Dr. James Phillips, thanks for everything, both of you are doing. We are so grateful. Thanks for joining us.

HARRIS: Thank you, Wolf.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, so coming up, California has been battling the coronavirus but it's also now facing truly historic wildfires that are raging across the straight. Now, the president, he is getting ready to head to California on Monday. We're going there live -- it's awful -- when we come back.



BLITZER: President Trump now says he will head to California On Monday. One of the state's grappling with totally devastating wildfires right now along the entire West Coast on the ground and from the air. Emergency crews are trying to contain about 100 huge separate wildfires. This fire, you see here, is burning just northeast of Fresno, California statewide. Some of the wildfires are the largest and the most destructive in California's recorded history. And it's not just land and property that has lost, at least 28 people that we know of, have died, so far, in these fires.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is joining us from Monrovia, California, just outside of Los Angeles. So, what are you seeing? What's happening right now, Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have an active firefight, Wolf, and this is the Bobcat fire, 30,000 acres have burned, so far. And as you look over there, they've been trying to pound away at an active flank of flame up there and it's turning white. That's a good sign. That means it's not burning as fiercely as it was. But when President Trump comes out, if he goes to the right fire line, he's going to see mass destruction.

And as each one of these acres burn right in front of our very eyes, yet, another record for the most acres burned ever in the history of California is set. Think of it that way. And what's also happening here is the smoke is just horrific. It is toxic, it is unhealthy. The people here in these Foothill communities have been dealing with this for a week, the smoke, the evacuation warnings, all of it and it is very tense here in the foothills.


MIKE DAY, MONROVIA RESIDENT: Thirty-plus years ago, I quit smoking, but I've started again in the last six days, just from the air.

NEIL SMITH, MONROVIA RESIDENT: Yes. I actually had a bunch of things by the front door and it was two nights ago that I finally said it looked pretty bad that I was going to maybe get out of here and I loaded up the truck that night.

And I'm a musician, I have a lot of guitars, a lot of recording equipment. I played with a band called Destiny Returns. And so I loaded up all the stuff in the back of my truck, back the truck up behind my gates in case I had to make an escape and that was it. Still sitting there.


VERCAMMEN: And looking back here live, we can tell you right now that in this sort of spate of wildfires in the West, 4.7 million acres have burned. There are some 29,000 firefighters on the line and that is just not enough, Wolf.

For example, on this fire, this Bobcat fire, they say they would normally have 1,000 to 1,500 firefighters, they only have 500 battling this right now. That's how thin resources are stretched, taxed as the chief of the Angeles Forest put it to me earlier.

Back to you now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Paul Vercammen outside of Monrovia -- in Monrovia, just outside of Los Angeles where it's tough to go outside and breathe right now. Thank you very much. Be careful out there.

And if that were not enough, there's more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Look at this. We're tracking the formation right now, another tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Sally is the 18th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Sally is now expected to strengthen steadily throughout the weekend as the waters in the Gulf of Mexico are so warm right now.

It's forecast to become a hurricane by Monday night and it's expected to make landfall around the Louisiana, Mississippi border sometime Tuesday morning. Louisiana's governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of Sally's expected arrival. Awful situation there as well.

Meanwhile, fresh polls are out for several key battleground states and former Vice President Joe Biden is leading President Trump in one demographic. You might not necessarily expect our polling guru, Harry Enten. He's standing by live. We'll discuss right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Joe Biden's lead in the polls have remained steady as we head into the final stretch of the campaign with 52 days from now Election Day here in the United States. The latest New York Times-CNN College polls in the crucial battleground states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, show the democratic presidential nominee with an edge over the incumbent Donald Trump. Biden leads 50 to 41 percent in Minnesota. And in Wisconsin, he's at 48 to 43 percent among the likely voters.

Here to break down the latest numbers, our senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten. Harry, from a bird's eye view, the numbers look strong for Biden, but we also saw some indications that Biden is actually struggling with some Hispanic voters, but doing well with older voters in Florida. What trends are you seeing?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER: Yes, exactly what you're saying. If you look at the national polling, take a look at this, take a look among Hispanics and black voters. What do you see right now as compared to four years ago? And this is so interesting. Look, Joe Biden is still ahead with both groups. But he's actually doing worse than Hillary Clinton did four years ago by anywhere from say, eight points with Hispanic voters to six points with black voters, but here's the key thing, he's making up for it with white voters and senior citizens. This is really interesting.


Among white voters, what you see is, look, Donald Trump is still ahead, but that lead has been slashed just down to four points now compared to 13 points in the final polls in 2016. And among senior citizens, look at that, Joe Biden is up with them by five. Trump won them by five last time. If Biden holds on to that lead, he will be the first Democrat to win among seniors in a generation.

BLITZER: Very interesting. When taking into account the swing states, the battleground states overall, what are you seeing?

ENTEN: Yes, I mean -- yes, I mean, take a look here, what we see is, look, Joe Biden is ahead in those important swing states, the six closest states that Donald Trump won four years ago. Look, Joe Biden is ahead.

But here's another interesting sort of nugget. What you see here in this graphic is his best path seems to be moving through the great like battleground states, which is also where there's the highest percentage of white voters versus that Sunbelt Path say Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, where there's a lower share of white voters, which just goes back to the point that Joe Biden is over-performing with white voters, at least compared to Hillary Clinton four years ago.

BLITZER: You wrote today, Harry, that 2020 is now looking more like 2018 than 2016. Give us one major way that's happening.

ENTEN: Yes. One major way is that Hillary Clinton is not on the ballot in 2020, and she wasn't on the ballot in 2018, either. And why is that so important? Because four years ago, Hillary Clinton was so disliked. Her net favorability rating, that is her favorable minus her unfavorable was minus 12 points.

Take a look at Joe Biden's right now, it's plus two points, in positive territory. That looks a lot like the net favorability for the Democratic Party as a whole and heading into the 2018 midterm elections. If that holds, and given that Donald Trump is fairly unpopular, that Joe Biden is very likely to win this election. Just like the Democrats won in 2018, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still 52 days to go until November 3rd. We'll watch it with you, Harry, very closely. Thanks, as usual for joining us.

ENTEN: My pleasure, sir. Go bills.

BLITZER: Go bills, indeed. All right. Thank you very much.

For more on all of this, I'm joined by our national politics, via the national politics reporter over at the Wall Street Journal, CNN political contributor, Sabrina Siddiqui. Sabrina, thanks so much for joining us.

Part of Joe Biden's pitch to democratic voters during the primary was his high-level of support among black voters. That was obviously a key part of the Super Tuesday comeback show. Should his campaign be concerned that they're trailing where Hillary Clinton was with black voters back in 2016?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's certainly a concern for Joe Biden's campaign is if he is underperforming Hillary Clinton's numbers among both black and Latino voters who are key constituencies for Democrats.

Now, it's worth pointing out, of course, that Biden is poised to carry the overwhelming majority of both of those groups. He's standing at a roughly 80 percent average with black voters, although Hillary Clinton did eventually eke out with 91 percent of black voters, and she also had about 64 percent of the Hispanic vote. Joe Biden is about five points behind that.

But the campaign does like to point out that he is expanding the democratic coalition by bringing in independent voters as well as suburban voters who swung away from Democrats in 2016 and came back into the fold in 2018 midterms. They've also maintained that they believe this election will very much be won through the suburbs and that he could bring in a lot more support among white voters who were, of course, who ultimately helped elect President Trump to the White House four years ago.

BLITZER: As you as you know, Sabrina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, two key states when it comes to recent unrest and in the latest polls in both states, Biden is leading on the issue of protests and race. President Trump has been hammering home is a law and order message. Does this tell you that President Trump's message, at least, right now is not resonating?

SIDDIQUI: Well, there certainly hasn't been much indication, if you look at most of the polls, that the law and order message is resonating, or even that the notion of violent crime ranks is a key priority among the majority of the electorate. Certainly, it has risen as it priority for Republican voters. But that just reinforces that the President is playing to his base when he'll need a lot more than simply his base come November.

I think that if you look at even the advertising for both of these campaigns, it does show that they are operating in two completely different universes where the majority of the Trump campaigns advertising are around crime and these protests, even though the majority of them have been peaceful around this idea of defunding the police even though Biden says he opposes that idea. Whereas Democrats in the Biden campaign have just been hammering home on the coronavirus pandemic.

And I think that has been the roadblock for President Trump that so far most of the polls reinforce that the coronavirus and the economy are top of mind for voters going into November. And that of course is -- of course is where his approval rating has fallen dramatically in recent months.


BLITZER: Just moments ago, Sabrina, the president tweeted to his what, more than 80 million followers on Twitter, I'll put it up on the screen. He tweeted this. He says, "While I travel the country, Joe sleeps in his basement, telling the fake news media to get lost. If you're a reporter covering Sleepy Joe, you have basically gone into retirement."

Biden was in Michigan the day before the President, Biden hits the trail. He's going to be attacking the president. But what do you make of this President's suggestion that the former vice president is hiding in his basement?

SIDDIQUI: Well, this is sort of been a line that the Trump campaign has been pushing ever since the pandemic hit, and in some ways is designed to counter, of course, the president, what many people see as the President's mishandling of the pandemic. And, in fact, that he's very much been flouting the public health guidelines by holding these large rallies where a lot of people have not been wearing masks and social distancing really isn't in effect.

So, the Biden campaign has, of course, scaled back its operation in terms of not holding any large rallies, but he certainly, as you pointed out, has been hitting battleground states. He was in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week in Michigan just a few days ago. He's poised to travel to Florida on Tuesday. So, that campaign schedule is picking up even if the campaign looks very different.

But I think when you see President Trump kind of go after Joe Biden, on his acuity and weather and his energy and some of these attacks about him hiding in his basement, even if it's not true, it kind of does show the limitations of President Trump's messaging against Joe Biden, at a time when this election has so far been defined by the pandemic where the President Trump is most vulnerable.

BLITZER: Yes, 52 days ago, but there's a lot of early voting already starting in several states.

Sabrina, as usual, thank you very much for joining us. Sabrina Siddiqui joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thank you.

And join Joe Biden in a special CNN Democratic presidential Town Hall live from Pennsylvania with our own Anderson Cooper moderating. That's this coming Thursday 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

And stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Peace talks are underway. The Afghan government and the Taliban agreed to come to the table on Sunday to negotiate a ceasefire comes as the U.S. looks to bring more American troops into the -- more American troops in the country back home. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is overseas this weekend attending a truly historic event. He's in Doha, Qatar, and this this for the first-time leaders there, from the Afghan government of the Taliban are meeting face to face. They're trying to work out to hammer out a deal that will end years of fighting in Afghanistan.

The presence or withdrawal of American troops certainly playing a big role in the talks. Let's get some more from CNN's Sam Kiley.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the day after 9/11, a remarkable moment in history when the two major sides within the Afghan Civil War, the Taliban and the Afghan government agree to talks. Not presided over by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but he was present there to help launch this process, that from the Afghan perspective is likely to take many months.

But, of course, from the American perspective, from the Trump administration's point of view, they want to see results very quickly because they want to be able to make good on this commitment to draw down the number of U.S. troops from 8,600 to about 4,500 by the fall. And by that, they mean by Election Day, so that Mr. Trump can make good on his promise to bring at least some of the U.S. troops' home.

But from the Afghan perspective, this does represent a significant step forward in diplomacy that has already, Wolf, seen a significant de-escalation in the level of violence and the levels of civilian deaths across Afghanistan since this process was started with talks between the U.S. and the Taliban earlier in the year, Wolf.

BLITZER: Significant developments. Sam Kiley reporting for us. Thank you very much.

France's Prime Minister, meanwhile, gives a televised address to the country amid a worrisome spike in new cases of coronavirus.

Meantime, Israel, Israel is now planning to return to nationwide lockdown for the second time amid another surge there we start with CNN's Melissa Bell in Paris. MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was to announce a clear deterioration in the situation that the prime minister to the airwaves on Friday night. This, as authorities announced that nearly 10,000 new cases had been declared over the preceding 24-hour period.

What Jean Castex explained was that what is of particular concern to him now is that other figure. The number of new hospitalizations. The story here in France, Wolf, over the last few weeks, has been of large daily rises in the number of new cases, but with many new cases found amongst the young.

What we're seeing now is a rise also in the number of hospitalizations with some hospitals in some areas of France nearing their capacity. Hence, the announcement made last night by Jean Castex, that new powers are to be given to local authorities. The measures that need to be put in place to try and halt these rises are now going to be in the hands of local authorities rather than the central government. Wolf.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Israel is all but assured of heading to a second general lockdown as coronavirus cases here soar, 4,217 new cases on Thursday, according to the Ministry of Health. That is a new record and it marks three straight days of more than 4,000 new cases throughout the country.


What will this lockdown look like, a lot like the first general lockdown back in April when the pandemic was just getting going. People will be required to stay within 500 meters of their homes, restaurants, leisure activities, entertainment venues. All of these will be shut down as Israel struggles to get the numbers under control.

That decision to go to lockdown was approved by the coronavirus cabinet on Thursday evening. It still needs government approval. But the way the coronavirus cases here are going, that looks all but assured it is expected that the lockdown will begin when the holidays begin at the end of next week.

BLITZER: Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem, Melissa Bell in Paris. Guys, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, a source now tell CNN that CDC reports were changed -- were changed to line up with President Trump's message. We have new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.