Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump to Hold First Indoor Rally Since Tulsa Event Linked to Virus Surge; 33 People Confirmed Death, Dozens Missing as Wildfires Ravage the West Coast; Trump Indoor Rally Raising Concerns of Surge in Coronavirus Cases; Bob Woodward Says Trump was Warned COVID-19 would be Like 1918 Flu Pandemic; UAE and Bahrain Establish Diplomatic Ties with Israel. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 13, 2020 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:01:03]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

It's been a weekend of destruction on top of the pandemic as natural disasters upend life for countless Americans. Right now millions of acres in the beautiful American west are reduced to ash as nearly 100 major wildfires are raging. At least 33 lives already have been lost. Dozens, dozens of people are missing. And hundreds of thousands are under orders to simply abandon their homes to escape the flames and worsening air quality.

In the meantime, along the Gulf Coast, Tropical Storm Sally threatens to become a category two hurricane and make landfall near New Orleans in the next day or two. The governor of Louisiana is declaring a state of emergency with mandatory evacuations issued for some coastal communities.

The coronavirus remains a complicating factor in the response to these disasters. But there's some -- there's a bright spot in the search for a vaccine that emerged today. The CEO of Pfizer says by the end of October, there's a good chance we'll know if the company's COVID-19 vaccine candidate actually works.

But President Trump is not waiting on the vaccine to hold political rallies. Tonight, look at this, it's an indoor, yes, an indoor campaign rally near Las Vegas creating the environment health experts are warning potentially could lead to a surge in coronavirus cases. That's what happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after President Trump's last indoor rally. That event in June was linked to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the area.

It was also the last rally attended by the president's friend, Herman Cain. He was diagnosed with the virus shortly after the event, and sadly he died in late July.

Let's go to the rally right now. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is on the scene for us. But he's outside. He and other media have decided they're not going to go inside because of safety concerns.

So, Jeremy, what's the campaign saying about how they plan to keep President Trump's supporters, and there'll be thousands of them crammed inside, screaming and shouting? What's their effort to keep them safe?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for weeks now we have heard President Trump over the last several weeks downplaying the threat of the coronavirus saying that we are rounding the final turn as it relates to the pandemic. Despite the fact that on Friday, we heard from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading epidemiologist, making very clear that that is not the case.

We are still stagnating at about 35,000 cases per day. More than 800 daily deaths. And of course warnings about a very dangerous, potentially dangerous fall and winter ahead. But nonetheless, Wolf, the Trump campaign is moving ahead with this rally. They have had rallies for the last several weeks with thousands of people packed together, but they have done those at least outside. Even as they are not requiring masks or not enforcing any social distancing.

Tonight, Wolf, this will be the first rally that the president is holding since that June rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which of course we know resulted in a surge of coronavirus cases in the state of Oklahoma. This is the first indoor rally that the president is holding since June. So nearly three months ago.

I spoke with several of the president's supporters who are waiting to get into this event, several thousand of them who are here waiting to get in, about how they feel about the safety concerns about this and why they are not wearing masks. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: The president, though, says wearing a mask is patriotic. Why don't you listen to him?

FILOMENA MCGUIGAN, TRUMP RALLY ATTENDEE: Because that's my right to choose. I worked in health care for 25 years. I'm telling you, that's not doing a thing for you. It's not.

DIAMOND: You think the president is wrong on that?

MCGUIGAN: I don't care what his opinion is. I am saying I am entitled to mine. If I thought I was at risk, I wouldn't be here. I'm not an idiot.

JAMES BARBER, TRUMP RALLY ATTENDEE: I'm not a sensationalist. I think people who are forced to wear a mask they're sensationalist.

[20:05:03]

Since I'm a free man, I can do what I want. I'm not going to let a government tell me what to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP) DIAMOND: And Wolf, those two individuals' views on the situation really were emblematic of the dozen people that we spoke to here today. Many of them saying that they are not concerned for their own personal safety. But of course what they are missing from this picture, Wolf, is the impact that they could potentially have on others. This is a virus of course that we know can be transmitted asymptomatically without even being aware that you are carrying the virus. Some people here coming from out of state going back to their communities. That is a risk as well.

I do want to quickly read to you the statement from the Trump campaign communications director, Tim Murtaugh, who explains why they are holding this rally. He says, "If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the president of the United States."

So that is a view from the Trump campaign, though they are not explaining why they are now comfortable with having these rallies indoors. And of course we should note that his analogy to casinos is completely wrong here. Casinos in Las Vegas, in the state of Nevada, they are requiring people to wear masks unlike what's happening here today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens, Jeremy. Be careful over there. We'll stay in very close touch with you. Jeremy Diamond on the scene for us outside of Las Vegas.

I want to bring in a Republican who's supporting Joe Biden right now. We're talking about the former Ohio governor, John Kasich.

Governor, thanks so much for joining us. And as you just heard, we're seeing the president flouting his own government's guidance, holding an indoor rally, masks completely optional after the last one in June in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That was linked to a surge of coronavirus cases. Here's what the president said last night about the pandemic. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Having a vaccine is good, but we're rounding the turn regardless. We're rounding the turn and it's happening. I mean, it's happening. You'll see. Florida is way down. Texas is now way down. Arizona, governor has done a great job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dr. Fauci clearly disagrees, Governor, with that assessment at this point of the pandemic. Do voters see him as out of touch? Do they think people are buying into his habit of downplaying it? Remember, 194,000 Americans already have died over the past six months from coronavirus. That could go up, according to one model from the University of Washington Medical School to more than 400,000. It could double by January 1st.

JOHN KASICH (R), FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: Well, Wolf, let me tell you that politically, it's come to my attention that our senior citizens are getting very, very nervous and very concerned about the virus. Particularly you heard Jeremy's report Fauci talking about the fall and the winter, and the ability of this to really begin to spread again. And I know that the seniors are beginning to really worry about this. Particularly senior men who -- they were Trump people. And now they have moved from Trump basically to undecided.

The key now for Joe Biden is to show people that he can do the job, Wolf. I mean, he has to demonstrate that he's vigorous enough, that he's strong enough to be able to handle this. If he cannot decide, if he cannot show that, then I think these people will probably go back into the Trump column. But there is no question that politically this does not play well for Donald Trump.

One area where I think the Democrats kind of missed or I don't know whether they've totally missed because there's still time to go. But Trump seems to say that, well, if it wasn't for the virus, the economy was going great. The question is, he kind of knew what was happening early. And what were the preparations made, first of all, to contain the virus, and secondly to begin to deal with the economic situation.

So I think two things. Democrats have to make the argument that you just can't blame this economy and the high unemployment and the loss of jobs just on the virus. Was there preparation made early? And secondly, Joe Biden has got to demonstrate that he's a tough guy. That he's strong and he's vigorous. And if he does, those seniors could move into his category, which would be a significant political change.

BLITZER: So how significant will those three presidential debates between Trump and Biden be in, what, 51 days to go until the election?

KASICH: Well, Wolf, you've covered things -- I think you were there when Moses got the Commandments, you know. You were probably on TV at that point.

BLITZER: I remember that.

KASICH: You've followed all of these things. You followed all of those things, and the fact is, you know they matter. And here's the situation going in. Biden will not be expected to do as well as Trump. So it's always a battle of expectations. But Joe Biden is going to have to perform.

One other interesting thing that I think people have to keep their eye on is the African-American turnout. How big will the African-American turnout be? How committed is the community to getting out and voting? That's something we have to clearly keep our eyes on.

[20:10:03]

One other little bit of news tonight. Minnesota seems to be trending over to Biden. Minnesota is a progressive state. So it's not a surprise that when we get closer and closer to election, people kind of go home. But Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, all close. And of course Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, all things we have to keep our eyes on. BLITZER: And Florida as well. Very quickly, what about your state of

Ohio?

KASICH: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Is that locked for Trump?

KASICH: I don't -- nothing is a lock these days, Wolf. Every time we think we see something, something else happens. But it's trending Trump, in my opinion. It's all going to depend on turnout. But right now I would say trending Trump.

BLITZER: Moments ago, Governor, on "60 Minutes," Bob Woodward, the journalist, told Scott Pelley that the deputy National Security adviser in the Trump White House, Matt Pottinger, warned President Trump in late January about the coronavirus. I want you to listen. I think we have a sound bite from that interview. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "RAGE": Pottinger said his contacts in China told him this is going to be like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in this country. It was a stunning moment in the Trump presidency, and I think in American history, because he then went on to publicly dismiss the virus and he knew that this was a pandemic coming.

SCOTT PELLEY, "60 MINUTES" HOST: And this was January 28th.

WOODWARD: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Yes. And then he went on February 7th to get more. He acknowledged in that interview with Bob Woodward that it could be spread in the air. But then he -- for weeks and months and months, he has consistently been rather upbeat in assessing what's going on. How do you explain that, Governor? And what would have happened if he had been blunt with the American people about the severity of this pandemic?

KASICH: Well, you have to tell people what's going on. And look, part of what he argues, Wolf, as you know, is that he didn't want to get anybody to panic. Well, that's like saying, you're the governor of a state down in the gulf and you see a hurricane coming, and you start telling people, don't worry, that's not going to be a big deal because I don't want to panic them.

No, no, you've got to let people know what the situation is. You've got to level with them. You know, I -- look, there have been times in history where we have been warned, the American people have been warned about dangers that are coming. Military conflict, whatever. You have to level with people, be honest with them. And I think because there's this uncertainty and because he did not do that, that is why some of these voters, who are the undecided voters, or those -- some of them who were Republican who have now moved from the Trump column into undecided, that's what's moving them.

But let's face facts. When you heard the interviews that Jeremy conducted at that rally tonight, there's some people, they're just going to do what they're going to do. And God bless them. I just hope they don't get sick and I hope they don't go home and give somebody else or their neighbors or whoever gets that virus. I'm not doing stuff like that. I wish they didn't.

BLITZER: Yes. 194,000 dead Americans later, people are still --

KASICH: Wolf, Wolf. Imagine --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Crowded into that indoor rally.

KASICH: Wolf, here's the thing. Had the president of the United States come out early and said this is really a big problem, we've got to lockdown. We've got to wash our hands, we've got to wear masks, we're going to search for a vaccine. We're going to do all of these things. We're going to make it out of there, but we've got to take this seriously and we have to do everything we can possibly do to protect one another. Not just our families, but our neighbors.

Think about the impact of what that would have.

BLITZER: Yes.

KASICH: It would have changed everything. But we are where we are --

BLITZER: People are still waiting -- people are still waiting in long lines.

KASICH: Yes.

BLITZER: To get inside. The president is not supposed to speak for at least another couple hours at that rally.

Governor Kasich, thanks so much for joining us.

KASICH: All right, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Now let's get to those huge and destructive wildfires out on the West Coast of the United States. At least 33 people are dead from the fast-moving fires. And that's just what official can confirm. Dozens and dozens of people are missing and simply can't be accounted for.

Let's go straight to CNN's Paul Vercammen. He's in a residential neighborhood just outside Los Angeles.

Paul, we're watching you and the people around you deal with ash in the air. The thick smoke. Show our viewers the conditions where you are. Remember, it's just outside L.A.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is the foothills. Right now, I'm in Arcadia. And if you look beyond, there's smoke in that area. And Wolf, I know you like basketball analogies. We've noticed that the choppers have been dumping water here and they've been getting stops, defensive stops. And defensive because this is where they have drawn the line on this, the Bobcat Fire, the most important flank that they want to defend because this is the population centers of Monroe via Arcadia, Sierra Madre, and other communities.

[20:15:11]

If it burns off in the wilderness, they're fine with it, but they really want to make a hold right here. And so far, so good. Now they've taken the extra step to order mandatory evacuations throughout the area. And part of it is to keep the roads clear. So we talked to a resident who's under an evacuation warning. And he says he well understands why you might have to pack up and leave not only for your own safety, but to allow all the equipment to do their job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: You're obviously not under the mandatory evacuation order.

JOHN OTTO, HOMEOWNER: No, and I understand why they do that. They just don't want people in the way. When the power goes off or when they have to shut off the gas, you know, you don't really want to be at your house anyway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: So, as he said, you don't want to be at your house. The scene is being replicated throughout the western United States. 100 major fires, especially in California, Oregon and Washington, 30,000 firefighters on the line. They are saying the system is taxed. So they just do the best they can with the number of firefighters and the equipment that's available. But you were referring to that smoke. And it is absolutely horrific.

The air quality, brutal, polluted beyond belief. They even closed the L.A. Zoo today because of it. And because of this thick smoke, you're not seeing those fire retardant-dropping planes or the super scooper planes that drop water. Both of those have been taken out of play, Wolf, because there's such poor visibility and it would be dangerous. Back to you.

BLITZER: This is not a good time to be out in L.A. or other parts of the West Coast right now.

Paul Vercammen, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, President Trump is preparing to hold his first indoor rally, political campaign rally, since June. Going against coronavirus guidelines. Looking at pictures, live pictures from inside. We're going to get our medical experts' response to these pictures, the latest on the race for a vaccine.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:21:13]

BLITZER: As the president prepares for his first indoor rally since June, take a look at this, got some live pictures coming in, looking at what's going on in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas, inside that rally.

We're getting some very harsh assessments coming in including from CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He's a professor of medicine at the George Washington University. Back in June, Reiner called the Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, criminal endangerment. Tonight's CNN's Ana Cabrera followed up. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Negligent homicide. What else could you call an act that because of its negligence results in the deaths of others? People will die as a consequence of this. If enough people contract the virus and at a gathering like this, people will, some people will die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with Dr. Peter Hotez from the Baylor College of Medicine and epidemiologist and public health expert, Dr. Ashish Jha.

Dr. Jha, what's your reaction to the pictures we're seeing in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas? Thousands are people -- they are still waiting outside. This rally is not supposed to begin for at least another couple hours or so. But they're packed inside. Most of those people not wearing masks. When you see what's going on over there, what do you think?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Wolf, thank you for having me on. You know, on one hand, I have sympathy for the people who are attending who clearly have been subject to so much misinformation that they actually believe what they're doing is reasonably safe. But we know that the president knows better. We know that the president knows that this is deeply dangerous and irresponsible. And the fact that he and his team are continuing to do this really bothers me. It is irresponsible and he should not be doing this at this moment.

BLITZER: I remember in June, Dr. Hotez, when there was that huge rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, once again indoors, that's the last indoor political rally the president had. A bunch of people came down with coronavirus including Herman Cain, the former Republican presidential candidate, a week later and then a month later he sadly passed away. We don't know if it was from that rally, but it could have been from that rally.

What do you think when you see these indoor crammed political rallies?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, I'm with Dr. Jha, Wolf. This almost defies any type of common sense. Look, Canada, the nation of Canada just celebrated in the last 24 hours they've had zero deaths and the whole nation of Canada, a nation of almost 40 million people. They have had 26 deaths over the last week.

Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and Henderson, had more than twice the number of deaths than the entire nation of Canada. And despite that, you have the Trump administration holding a highly dangerous rally with people without masks, which will almost certainly guarantee that there will be COVID-19 cases because there's still a lot of transmission there.

This is awful. It's in defiance of the science and defiance of public health.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Dr. Jha, explain why it's one thing to hold a mass rally like this outdoors, it's another thing to do it indoors.

JHA: Yes, we -- really this is something we've learned in the last five, six months that outdoors is much, much safer, primarily because of air flow and temperature, but really it's about air flow and ventilation that's so different outside. Masks are much better. And the movement is better. If people are moving around, that is much, much better than if everybody is stationary in one place where the virus has a chance to build up.

So for all sorts of reasons, this is about as dangerous of a thing as one could be doing at this moment.

[20:25:05]

BLITZER: Yes. 194,000 Americans have died over the past six months and tens of thousands, maybe another couple hundred thousand could die over the next few months unless drastic serious measures take place.

Dr. Jha, Dr. Hotez, we'll continue our conversations down the road. Thanks for everything you're doing. Thanks very much for joining us.

JHA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, President Trump's back-to-back nights of campaign rallies follow a week of back-to-back crises here in Washington. Live pictures coming in from inside his rally outside of Las Vegas. We'll also have the latest on the Bob Woodward revelations that the president knew the coronavirus was deadly as early as February. And tonight he says he was told by his National Security adviser it was deadly at the end of January.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:30:24]

BLITZER: President Trump's character has certainly been in the spotlight since he first launched his presidential bid back in 2015, particularly his habit of repeatedly making false claims. But now that tendency of Trump being Trump, as it's called, has cost American lives. The president stunningly telling Bob Woodward on tape in early February that he deliberately downplayed the threat of the coronavirus to the American public.

Let's discuss with a former Trump senior administration official, now CNN contributor, Miles Taylor.

Miles, thanks very much for joining us. So Bob Woodward shared yet more details of his stunning Trump tapes just a little while ago on "60 Minutes." Here's what he said about President Trump's decision to deliberately mislead the American public on the threat of this virus. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODWARD: I think he did not understand the American public. He said, well, I don't want to create a panic. We know from history when the public is told the truth, they organize. We have a problem. We're going to step up, and Trump thought, oh, well, they'll panic when there's a crisis, when the president particularly knows something, it's time to tell the public in some form. He failed.

PELLEY: You write in the book that the president's handling of the virus reflects his instincts, habits and style. What are those?

WOODWARD: Denial, making up his own facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Miles, what do you think? Does this align with the experience you had when you were working with the president?

MILES TAYLOR, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO DHS SECRETARY KIRSTJEN NIELSEN UNDER TRUMP: Yes, unquestionably, Wolf. And look, I'd say this. People like to say that this administration is a roller coaster, but I think that's really charitable but at the end of the day people get off of a roller coaster and they're alive. OK. This is a runaway freight train filled with nitroglycerin. And the president is the conductor. And that's what's happening right now.

We have dead Americans because the president is so impulsive and incapable of leading. And again, the dam is starting to break here. People are realizing that this isn't just hyperbolic criticism of the president. People who have served close to the president are saying this. And what Bob got right in that book as he tracked down the key sources from the Jim Mattis to the Tony Faucis who have seen this man behind the scenes and recognized he is unable to lead in a crisis.

And again, a true measure of a leader's character is how they behave in a crisis. And we're seeing the president behave in such a way that Americans are dying. And you showed on your program tonight, Wolf, people just rushing towards this venue where the president is going to hold a rally. Another indicator of his inability to lead by example in a crisis and keep Americans safe. So yes, this is what we saw behind the scenes. This impulsivity that

the president has. In some cases, had low consequences. Now we're seeing it have the greatest consequences you could possibly imagine. That being the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

BLITZER: The president -- and we're showing some live pictures coming in from that indoor rally outside of Las Vegas. I want to play something for you, Miles, that our medical analysts said earlier today about the event. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINER: Negligent homicide. What else could you call an act that because of its negligence results in the deaths of others? People will die as a consequence of this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what do you think? That was Jonathan Reiner of George Washington University.

TAYLOR: Look, I wouldn't even challenge his comments. And here's why, Wolf. The president of the United States presides over a government that had plans for how to deal with this situation. It did not adopt those plans. When I was at the Department of Homeland Security, we had and we exercised clear pandemic response systems and how we as a country would be able to quickly address those situations.

Because the president failed to initiate those mechanisms, failed to use the tools available to him and failed to lead, we're in this situation that we're in now. And then incredibly, Wolf, we got the head of the RNC, Ronna Romney McDaniel, who's blaming Joe Biden for the results, who's blaming Joe Biden for a nationwide violence and unrest and for Americans being dead because of the coronavirus pandemic.

[20:35:04]

It shows you, Wolf, how desperate the president and his team are becoming in these last few weeks of the campaign, and it also shows you how damaging they think the last week has been to him reputationally.

Now I'll also tell you that since his revelations have come out from Bob Woodward, we're hearing from more people behind the scenes in the White House and more ex-Trump officials that are thinking about speaking out against the president. So like I said before, I think the dam is breaking.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Miles Taylor, thank you very much for joining us.

And we're getting more breaking news coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. We're getting some new details about how President Trump sought to downplay the threat of the coronavirus to the American people as far back as January. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With just 51 days to go until the election here in the United States, the country is closing in right now in nearly 200,000, 200,000 coronavirus deaths, that according to CNN's editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, that that math is not, repeat, not helping President Trump's reelection chances.

[20:40:11]

Chris is joining us right now.

Chris, thanks very much for joining us. CBS just interviewed Bob Woodward, who is about to release a brand new book where President Trump admits on tape to downplaying the virus. Scott Pelley asked him about his opinion of President Trump's handling of the virus. I want you and our viewers to listen and watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELLEY: It might disappoint some of your fans that you reached an editorial conclusion at the end of this book something that reporters are not supposed to do.

WOODWARD: Yes, I say the president is the wrong man for the job.

PELLEY: But you're known as the reporter who doesn't put his thumb on the scale. And yet at the end of this book, you do just that.

WOODWARD: It's a conclusion based on evidence, overwhelming evidence that he could not rise to the occasion with a virus and tell the truth. And one of the things that President Trump told me in the presidency, there's always dynamite behind the door. The real dynamite is President Trump. He is the dynamite.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what's your reaction, Chris, to that?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I'll say this. Facts are not a partisan position, Wolf. And that's what I always say to people when they say, oh, why are you being mean to Donald Trump? But facts are facts. Facts aren't Democratic, they aren't Republican. And this president's familiarity or casual relationship with facts is abnormal to the people we have elected to this office before him.

Bob has written about a number of them. George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump. And his findings don't surprise me in the least. Donald Trump has a couple of things that make it very difficult for him to succeed. One is he doesn't really care about whether he's telling the truth as it's objectively understood. He cares about telling himself a story in which he's the hero. That's a big one.

The other one is he's just not someone who ever in his life has demonstrated any significant ability to show empathy. That is understanding why this is hard for other people. Admitting you're wrong, I mean, there's a whole laundry list. But truth of the matter is, the coronavirus was always going to be a massive challenge from a public health perspective, from a policy perspective, from an economic perspective.

That's not Donald Trump's fault. What is his fault is his inability to say we went down some wrong paths here. We didn't know the best practices. We went down some wrong paths, and we need to get it right. He's incapable of doing that and I think that has led to, you know, one projection, influential one, the Institute of Metrics and Health Evaluation are saying 415,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus by January 1.

BLITZER: Let's hope that doesn't happen, but right now 194,000.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BLITZER: It could double in the next few months. And let's not forget, Bob Woodward is so credible. All of us have watched him report the news going back to the Nixon administration. And he's an amazing, amazing journalist.

All right, Chris Cillizza, thank you very much for joining us.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, two historic peace agreements in the Middle East, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, establishing diplomatic relations full normalization of relations with Israel.

Our chief internal correspondent Clarissa Ward is standing by live. We'll discuss what this might mean for the entire region, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:45:08]

BLITZER: The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on his way to Washington tonight for an historic trip. On Tuesday he'll take part in a signing ceremony over the White House where he'll officially solidify the recent agreements to normalize Israel's relationships with both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Joining us now CNN's international correspondent -- chief international correspondent, I should say, Clarissa Ward. She's author, by the way, she's the author of a brand new very important and excellent book entitled "On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist." There you see the book cover right there.

I want to talk about the book in a moment, Clarissa. And it really is an amazing book. But explain to our audience how you see this Israeli peace deal with these two Arab countries.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is hugely impactful on the region. Traditionally Sunni Arab countries have united against Israel. And what we've seen in recent years, Wolf, is that Iran has become enemy number one for those countries and Israel has become a de facto ally. Now with the normalization of relations between Bahrain and UAE, the question is, who's next? The kingdom of Oman, people are speculating, but the real coup would be Saudi Arabia.

That's unlikely to happen in the immediate future but you can certainly be sure that Bahrain would not be signing off on this normalization of relations without a nod or the go ahead from Saudi Arabia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I think you're absolutely right. We'll see if Saudi Arabia and Oman and Morocco, other Arab countries follow the UAE and Bahrain's lead.

Let's talk a little bit about your excellent new book, Clarissa. You covered a lot of wars, humanitarian crises, you've risked your life in doing so. What has really shaped you as a journalist as you've covered these hot spots around the world?

WARD: Well, I think, Wolf, what this really is, this book, it's a love letter to journalism, but it's also a thank you letter to all the people who I have crossed paths with along the way.

[20:50:04]

And it's the people who have shaped me as a journalist. The countless acts of kindness that never make it on to the evening news. The moments of cruelty, camaraderie, the highs, the lows, the laughter, the people who sacrificed everything in order to tell their story, risk their lives to host us in their homes.

This is my way of essentially thanking them and giving them a moment to be in the spotlight because, even though they don't make it on to the evening news most often, Wolf, these are the people who really shape the way we see conflicts and we see these countries as journalists -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You've done an amazing, amazing job, Clarissa. Thank you so much for writing this book. And I want to once again let our viewers know it is excellent. They should get a copy. It's entitled "On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist."

Clarissa Ward is the author. Thanks, Clarissa, very, very much.

Meanwhile, right now, Tropical Storm Sally taking direct aim at the Gulf Coast. It could make landfall near New Orleans as a category two hurricane as soon as Tuesday morning. We have a new forecast when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:56:12]

BLITZER: All this week, CNN will be highlighting people who are making a difference in the world. Through innovation and determination, these change makers came up with fresh solutions to big problems.

Tonight we meet a world class surgeon who created a unique program that allows patients to tackle medical debt by volunteering. We caught up with the doctor in Nebraska before the pandemic hit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DEMETRIO AGUILA, SURGEON: Medical debt is a huge problem here in the United States. Two-thirds of the individuals who went bankrupt last year went bankrupt due to medical debt.

I'm a surgeon. I started hearing stories about patients who were experiencing financial burdens that were unfathomable to me. And maybe I help them with their pain or maybe I was able to help them walk again, or go back to a normal life. But then I would find out that some of these patients were under enormous financial strain. I felt helpless. I realized I need to try to make things different.

I was in the Air Force for almost 21 years between my active service and my reserve time. We did a lot of surgery in Afghanistan. Largely humanitarian surgery. About 95 percent of those were cases that we did to help the civilians.

Now my team and I get to do that medical mission work right here on our own backyard. The M-25 Program is a mechanism by which we allow patients to invest in themselves. Now what do we mean by that? The patient comes in and they say, well, I can't afford the financial impact of the surgery. So we offer them the opportunity to volunteer their time at a charitable organization.

It also allows them the opportunity to recruit friends, family, neighbors, and even people they've never met before to assist them in getting those volunteer hours done. In this way, we help take care of the patient. We help take care of the community. We have neighbors helping neighbors.

JEFF JENSEN, PATIENT: I suffered from neuropathy which is compression of the nerves in your lower leg and foot. My right leg feels like it's asleep all the time. Stairs are always the hard part. I can very easily fall. He tells me it's 560 community service hours job. $12,000 was not doable. I have a small business.

So, you know, somebody else needs to be out sick, they still have a paycheck at the end of the day. I don't. If this wasn't an option, I probably would have just said well, we'll deal with it and save money until we can pay for it.

KRISTI BRUMMELS, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER: I saw a video on Dr. Aguila's Facebook of Jeff telling his story and how he became involved with the M-25 Program. I immediately thought of the nursing students here at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and so I thought it would be the perfect fit for our community service project. We provided approximately 180 hours of community service collectively toward Mr. Jensen's surgery.

JENSEN: Not one person in that nursing program knew who I was. It was the kindness of strangers that got this accomplished for me.

AGUILA: They had the moral support of their community to help them get better. And that is shifting the way in which patients pursue their health care. It's hard to make a difference if you don't try to disrupt the status quo. The M-25 Program empowers patients who often feel like victims of the system.

In my heart of hearts, I had this hope that we would rekindle in our neighbors and in ourselves a sense of volunteerism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)