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President-Elect Joe Biden Grim Announcement On Transition Being Blocked; Trump's Barrage Of Baseless Conspiracy Theories Through Twitter; Trump To Withdraw Troops In Afghanistan And Iraq; Biden Leads Popular Vote By Five Million; New Data: Moderna Coronavirus Vaccine 94.5 Percent Effective; Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) Is Interviewed About Trump's Order To Plan For Troop Withdrawals From Afghanistan And Iraq; Obama Slams Republicans For Not Standing Up To Trump. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 16, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And may Victor's memory be a blessing. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We are following breaking news.

President-elect Joe Biden only moments ago and in his strongest language yet, said, I'm quoting now, "more people may die if President Trump continues blocking the transition of power." He called the actions of the president and his Republican enablers, once again I'm quoting, "more embarrassing than debilitating to the country." And he added it's a shame "if it has to wait until January 20th to become operational, but maybe that's the only way to get it done."

Meanwhile, President Trump is digging in refusing to concede the election and even falsely claiming he won as he pushes baseless conspiracy theories that the election was rigged. We are also following breaking pandemic news.

The U.S. Coronavirus death toll is now approaching 247,000 people as the country tops more than 11 million cases. More than 100,000 cases have been confirmed nationwide every single day for the last 13 days.

Let's begin now with more on the breaking transition news that's going on. Our political correspondent Arlette Saenz is working the story from Wilmington, Delaware. Arlette, the president-elect just spoke there. He answered reporters' questions. Update our viewers on the very latest.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, President-elect Joe Biden is forging ahead with his transition planning. Today, he virtually met with labor leaders, as well as the CEOs of top companies like General Motors and Target, among others.

But as the Trump administration continues to stall on his transition process, Biden is keeping COVID-19 front and center and also warning that the Trump administration's delay is putting American lives at risk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ (voice-over): President-elect Joe Biden is pushing forward with his transition, unfazed by President Trump's refusal to accept the election results.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT: I find this more embarrassing for the country than debilitating for my ability to get started.

SAENZ (voice-over): The president-elect is keeping his focus on COVID- 19, laying out the stakes what could happen if his transition team can't coordinator with the outgoing administration on the pandemic.

BIDEN: More people may die if we don't coordinate.

SAENZ (voice-over): Without an ascertainment of the election, Biden's transition team currently is blocked from interacting with government officials on a range of issues including tracking vaccine development.

BIDEN: They say they have this warp speed program that not only dealt with getting vaccines but also how to distribute this. If we have to wait until January 20th to start that planning it puts us behind over a month, a month and a half. And so it's important that it be done, that there be coordination now.

SAENZ (voice-over): The Trump administration argues it's not appropriate for those conversations to be conducted now.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMANS SERVICES SECRETARY: GSA has to make a determination that a transition is in effect. That determination has been made.

SAENZ (voice-over): With those talks on hold, the transition team is coming up with a work-around meeting this week with Pfizer and other drug companies to discuss the vaccine. Biden also is stressing the need for Americans to embrace mask wearing to curb the spread of the virus.

BIDEN: There is nothing much about not wearing a mask.

SAENZ (voice-over): And is criticizing Republican governors who won't issue mask mandates in their states.

BIDEN: Do you guys understand this? Does anybody understand why a governor would turn this into a political statement? It's about patriotism. It's about being patriotic. It's about saving lives for real.

SAENZ (voice-over): The president-elect also called out President Trump for not providing access to classified intelligence briefings during the transition period.

BIDEN: The good news here is my colleague is still on the intelligence committee so she gets the intelligence briefings. I don't any more. So, that is -- but there is a number of Republicans calling for that. I am hopeful that the president will be mildly more enlightened before we get to January 20th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ (on camera): And President-elect Joe Biden talked about an issue that is top of mind for many Americans and that is plans for the holidays. Biden said that he and his wife Jill were actually going through their list of who they would be spending Thanksgiving together and that his public health experts have told him that there should be no more than 10 people gathered in one home.

[17:04:57]

He also again stressed the need to wear masks while inside and said that he is just simply working to ensure that people can be together next Thanksgiving and next Christmas. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. It's critically important to be safe. Arlette, standby. I want to get back to you, but I want to go to the White House. Right now, our White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond is on the scene for us there.

Jeremy, more false tweets from the president of the United States today actually claiming he won the election.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. While President-elect Joe Biden was making very clear to Americans today that they need to recognize the seriousness of the surge of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, President Trump wasn't talking about the pandemic at all.

Instead, he was holed up at the White House using his smartphone to tweet out a series of conspiracy theories and false allegations about the 2020 election. And ultimately, Wolf, while at this point, the president's refusal to concede isn't preventing Joe Biden from taking office come January 20th, it is leading to some sense of alarm about the delays in the transition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND (voice-over): Nine days after losing the election, President Trump is burrowing deeper into a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and lies as he fights to overturn the will of voters and refuses to allow the presidential transition to begin.

After briefly and perhaps inadvertently acknowledging reality with these two words, the president quickly retreated to his baseless allegation that the election was rigged tweeting, "I concede nothing."

A social media barrage of grievances and falsehoods quickly followed. Trump's allies say there is no overarching strategy behind his refusal to concede and people close to the president privately admit lawsuits won't stop President-elect Biden from being inaugurated in 65 days.

But even as Trump refuses to acknowledge defeat, he is rushing to complete a draw-down of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan before he leaves office. Two U.S. officials telling CNN the president is expected to issue a

formal order as soon as this week, bringing the total number of U.S. troops in each country to 2,500 by January 15th, but the transition is still stalled.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: That transition process that we go through, that time period of measured in several weeks to months is really important in a smooth handing over of the information.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Health experts are beginning to sound the alarm warning that delays could hurt the coronavirus response including vaccine distribution.

FAUCI: The virus is not going to stop and call a time-out while things change. The virus is just going to keep going. The process is just going to keep going. So hopefully, we will see that soon, and transitions are important.

DIAMOND (voice-over): While the president is happy to take credit for a coronavirus vaccine developed in partnership with the federal government, he's ignoring the dangerous coronavirus surge gripping the U.S. right now.

And his preferred coronavirus adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no public health expertise, is urging people to rise up against new coronavirus restrictions imposed by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer who was the target of a right wing kidnapping plot that was foiled last month.

GRETCHEN WHITMER, GOVERNOR OF MICHIGAN: We know that the White House likes to single us out here in Michigan, me out in particular. I'm not going to be bullied into not following reputable scientists and medical professionals.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Atlas later said he was not advocating violence. Also in limbo, national security briefings for the president-elect. The White House still refusing to provide Biden with top-level intelligence briefings. The national security adviser Robert O'Brien now admitting Biden is likely to be inaugurated.

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: If the Biden/Harris ticket is determined to be the winner and it's, you know, obviously, things look that way now, we'll have a very professional transition from the National Security Council. There is no question about it.

DIAMOND (voice-over): As for former President Obama, his message to Trump, it's time.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My advice to President Trump is if you want, at this late stage of the game, to be remembered as somebody who put country first, it's time for you to do the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) DIAMOND (on camera): And Wolf, today we learned that President Trump is expected to issue an order as early as this week to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan to draw those down to 2,500 troops.

And now our colleague, Jake Tapper, is learning according to sources familiar with the matter, that the recently fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned the president, warned the White House in a memo earlier this month that any further draw-downs in U.S. troops were not advised, essentially saying that that was the unanimous consensus of the chain of command that the U.S. should not withdraw more troops from Afghanistan until conditions on the ground had been met.

And that it the unanimous consensus at that time that those conditions had not yet been met when Secretary Esper sent that memo to the White House earlier this month.

And those sources also telling Jake Tapper that that is one of the main reasons why the president is believed to have fired Secretary of Defense Esper last week, wolf.

BLITZER: This is a really serious development. All right, Jeremy, thank you very much. Let's get some more on all of this.

[17:09:58]

Our Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger is with us. Our CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip is here and our CNN political correspondent Arlette Saenz is also back with us. She's in Delaware.

This new report, Gloria, that Jake is reporting on, that Esper sent a classified memo to the White House warning against this kind of immediate unilateral U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, it was the unanimous recommendation of the top military brass including the U.S. Military Central Commander, Marine General Kenneth McKenzie.

Also, the head of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, not to do this, but the president is now ordering this and his interim, his temporary Secretary of Defense who is just coming in, apparently is going to go along with the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, this is a president who wants to get a bunch of things done that were on his checklist before he leaves office. And the professionals on whom he apparently relied, that is past tense because he has fired Esper, told him not to do it until conditions on the ground were met.

And conditions on the ground, according to them, have not been met. The Taliban had not been making any -- breaking with Al Qaeda, for example, things like that. And so we now know unequivocally that the president is just taking matters into his own hands, not listening to his national security people, not listening to his defense people.

But before he leaves office, wanting to do whatever he wants so he can leave and say to the American people who supported him, look, I promised you I would do this, you know, end these wars and that is what I did. Even though in the end it could mean trouble for Joe Biden who is going to take office when Trump leaves.

BLITZER: You know, Abby, in the old days before he came president I used to interview then private citizen Donald Trump all the time and for years he was talking about a blunder it was to get involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, get those troops out, get them out as quickly as possible.

He became president now four year later, there is still U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in these final few weeks, he wants almost all of them removed. This is consistent with a position he's had for a long, long time.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, to some extent, I think it is consistent, but we should also recall that, you know, when he was private citizen, Donald Trump, he criticized former President Obama for withdrawing troops too quickly or too hastily.

And so, I do think that this is an administration that has long had this as part of the -- part of his platform which is that we ought to withdraw from these international wars so that we can reinvest in the American public.

And even though President Trump is the outgoing president of the United States, we may be well served thinking about him as a political figure who is going to remain with us for some time. We already know that he is talking to people around him about running again.

And I do think that this sort of thing doing this, despite the pushback from the military, is a sign that he is not only thinking about how he can potentially, you know, weaken a Joe Biden administration coming in, but also have, you know, something to say to his base if he were to think about running again in four years.

I mean, he is not -- he does not want to leave the stage and go into presidential retirement. So I think we should assume that that's not what he's going to do.

BLITZER: You know, Arlette, we just heard the president-elect warn that people may die if the Trump administration doesn't come around and allow them to coordinate with the incoming administration, especially when it comes to the coronavirus response. This is a life and death issue as we all know.

Was the president-elect successful today you, and you were watching every word he was saying, in walking that fine line between remaining calm while being honest about the deadly seriousness of this crisis?

SAENZ: I think it was, Wolf. And you really saw just a slight shift in tone from the president-elect where he clearly laid out what is at stake potentially in jeopardy when it comes to the transition, the administration not fully cooperating with his transition.

You know, everyone understands the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. And he was able to lay out how people's lives may be put at risk if the transition is unable to coordinate on things like vaccine development and distribution.

That is something that Biden will inherit from this administration and he is arguing that they need access to that information now so that there is no lag time when they take over.

And I think also something that points to what you guys were talking about a little bit earlier, is Biden in that press conference mentioned the fact that he is still speaking with world leaders.

And this is something that really was central to Biden's campaign argument, is that he can restore America's standings and order in the world and that it won't be just an America first policy.

[17:15:05]

And you're seeing that play out as he is continuing his phone calls with world leaders and hoping to draw on his foreign policy experience to implement some of that foreign policy fixing kind that they need going forward.

BLITZER: These are critical days indeed. All right, Arlette, Abby, Gloria, thank you very, very much.

Up next, President Trump growing more defiant even as his legal challenges to the election results are fizzling.

Plus, more on today's news that a second coronavirus vaccine being tested here in the United States is nearly 95% effective.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:19:58]

BLITZER: We are approaching now two weeks since Election Day and the votes still are being count nationwide. Let's get the latest from CNN's David Chalian.

David, Joe Biden decisively won this election. That is totally, totally clear. But even as the president continues to deny reality, Biden's lead in the popular vote continues to grow and grow and grow.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. It's what makes the president's denial all the more reckless. He is completely ignoring what a clear majority of the country voted for here. And that is not like ignoring polls. That is ignoring the actual election in which it was a referendum on the president's leadership.

Look at the national popular vote right now, Wolf, where we are. You see that Joe Biden has a 5.6 million vote lead right now over Donald Trump in the national population -- 50.9 percent to 47.3 percent. Just to put that in perspective, in 2012, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in his re-election battle by just under 5 million votes in the national popular vote.

This is more substantial than that. Also in the 3.5 to 4 percent range in terms of percentage of the vote, which is what we are seeing here with Joe Biden, I don't recall Mitt Romney doing anything but conceding that election on election night to Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Very -- it was a very, very quickly, indeed. As far as the legal challenges go, David, the Trump campaign would need to overturn the results not in one, not in two, but in multiple states at this point. Yet, their legal challenges are continuing to fizzle out all over the country.

CHALIAN: Yes, they are, indeed. And in all -- some are being tossed out by judges. Others, the legal team itself, is pulling back in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. You've seen just the complete disintegration of some of the arguments that the Trump team had wanted to be making and there has been both pushback from the courts and a retreat on some of these arguments that just aren't holding up to muster at all.

I would also note that in Georgia where, you know, there is a hand recount under way, a statewide recount, Wolf. And in a couple of the counties that have completed that already, they found the exact same vote totals in the recount, in the hand recount as they did last week in the initial canvass that was reported.

And by the way, that is happening in very pro-Trump counties, some smaller counties. But again, it shows you these votes are not going to remove in a dramatic way because of some of these recounts that the Trump team has requested.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget the all-important Electoral College. Biden has, what, 306 electoral votes. Trump has 232. You need 270 and Biden has way more than 270. David Chalian, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we will have more on the breaking news. President-elect Biden warns more people may die if the Trump administration keeps blocking a smooth transition to the new administration.

And we're also following important news in the fight against the coronavirus. A second vaccine being tested here in the United States is nearly 95 percent effective.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:25:00]

BLITZER: We are following breaking news. Almost 247,000 Americans now dead in the coronavirus pandemic and more than 11 million have been infected, pushing hospitalizations to an all-time high. Our national correspondent Erica Hill has got the latest information from New York. Erica, state after state after state, they are shattering records as this crisis worsens.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly are. Just one example that we learned today, Wolf, from just across the river, over in New Jersey. The governor is saying that the numbers they saw over the weekend were the highest they've seen since the start of the pandemic.

And just think about how bad it was in this area at the very beginning, and of course, the concern is with more cold weather, with the holidays coming at us so quickly, now is the time to clamp down because there is a large fear about what is to come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILL (voice-over): Amidst grim new records nationwide, a bright spot. Moderna's coronavirus vaccine more than 94 percent effective according to early results.

FAUCI: Now we have two vaccines that are really quite effective so I think this is a really strong step forward to where we want to be.

HILL (voice-over): The Moderna vaccine is also easier to store. It doesn't require the drastic cold temperatures needed for Pfizer's vaccine, which could make distribution easier when it's widely available sometime next year.

LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: This is another call to action to all of us that help is on the way, that there is hope on the horizon, but we have to make it through this winter.

HILL (voice-over): The numbers point to tough weeks and months ahead. A million new cases added in just six days. The national average, nearly 150,000 a day. Among the hardest hit, South Dakota where the governor has consistently resisted public health measures.

UNKNOWN: Even after positive results come back, some people just don't believe it.

HILL (voice-over): The seven-day average positivity rate in South Dakota, almost 60 percent. The goal is under 5 percent.

[17:29:59]

North Dakota just added a mask mandate so did West Virginia.

GOV. JIM JUSTICE (R-WV): And I strongly urge, strongly urge us all to wear a mask. That's all we got to go on right now.

HILL (voice-over): Michigan banning indoor dining, closing casinos and movie theaters, moving high school and college classes online.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): I'm not going to be believed into not following reputable scientists and medical professionals.

HILL (voice-over): More than a million children have tested positive since the pandemic began, 23 states reporting record hospitalizations over the weekend, including Ohio, which just added new restrictions on weddings and funerals at Missouri.

DR. ALEX GARZA, SSM HEALTH CHIEF COMMUNITY HEALTH OFFICER: Healthcare is a finite resource, healthcare and workers are a finite resource. We just can't make those on the spur of the moment.

HILL (voice-over): With no national plan, two former FDA commissioners are urging states to work together writing in "The Wall Street Journal", coordinated state and local leadership can make it more manageable states that don't act quickly, but the entire nation at risk.

Meantime, these pictures are a stark reminder of a nation in need. More than 600,000 pounds of food distributed in Dallas over the weekend, enough to feed 25,000 people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can't find a job, they cut out my unemployment. It's a big deal. It's a real big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a big blessing for us to be able to get this.

(END VIDETAPE)

HILL: And in terms of the vaccine, there are a lot of questions, of course about when it will be widely available for Americans. Here's what we do know is that next week, there's a CDC Advisory Committee that will be meeting. They will be discussing those priorities because we know, Wolf, there is not enough vaccine that will be ready immediately for all of the U.S., understandably, so they will need to prioritize who gets that first, health care workers, essential workers, as well as people over the age of 65. And those with underlying conditions are expected to be prioritized first. But again, that first meeting happening next week, we've learned. Wolf?

BLITZER: These long lines of cars, people just waiting for food to put food on the table thousands and thousands of people they need help right now. Erica Hill, thank you very, very much. Let's get some more in all of this. Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us. Sanjay, based on these dire new numbers that we're seeing they seemed to be getting worse, by the day, should most Americans return to a strict stay at home mentality, even if they aren't necessarily required to do so?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. I think that's right, I mean, you know, it's tough. And I realized that I talked to lots of people who have been sort of in this mode for some time, and they see other people not abiding by these sorts of, you know, just guidelines. And, you know, it's -- it makes it hard. I think it worsens the COVID fatigue.

I think there's, you know, as you see the vaccine now on the horizon, is it going to make you somebody who says, you know what, it's coming. I can throw caution to the wind, or you can be somebody who says, it's a few months away, I could just hang out for a few more months. And if I primarily stay at home, I can do my part to actually, you know, help bring down the curve of this pandemic.

Hopefully more people fall into that second category. We started staying at home, Wolf, when there were 5,000 or so infections, and fewer than 100 people who had died. And now that there's 11 million people who have been infected over the past several months, and 250,000, who have died, of course, you know, just imminently, you know, it's just sort of makes sense that we should primarily be staying at home until we can bring those numbers down. BLITZER: Yes. It totally makes sense. As Dr. Fauci says, Sanjay, the cavalry is coming, though. Moderna announced today that its vaccine is nearly 95 percent effective. What are your major takeaways from this very, very promising new data, this potentially safe and effective vaccine?

GUPTA: This is good news, Wolf. I think no matter how you cut it and I think, you know, as journalists, we always have to turn a critical eye toward things. But, you know, the pace at which this vaccine was developed, the effectiveness, which seems to be shown in these interim data, we still haven't seen the data, but it does seem to show very significant effectiveness, I think is worth celebrating.

You know, January 11th is when we got the sequence for the virus and by March 16th shots were going into arms. Wolf, this is how the trial took place, so 15,000 people got a placebo, 15,000 people got the vaccine. Most of the people, 90 people got sick in the placebo group, five who received the vaccine. That's basically what these investigators are looking at. There are still some questions to answer.

We know that it can help reduce the likelihood someone gets sick. Does it also overall reduce the likelihood that people become infected? Does it reduce the likelihood that they can transmit the virus? Those are going to be important as well, but that shouldn't take away I think from what is a, you know, good news. And what sounds like it's going to be two vaccines now that may be available by, you know, Spring Summer of next year.

[17:35:06]

BLITZER: And the five who did get the virus got a very, very mild case of the virus, which is encouraging as well. And, you know, let's just hope -- like it hope it works and it could be distributed to millions and millions of people very quickly. Sanjay, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, sources say President Trump intends to order a drastic drawdown of U.S. troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq even though a memo from now fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned conditions for withdrawal from Afghanistan have not repeat -- not been met. We'll get reaction from Senator Tammy Duckworth an Iraq War veteran, key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:22]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories including word U.S. military commanders are anticipating a formal order from President Trump possibly as soon as this week to begin a further withdrawal of U.S. troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

CNN's Jake Tapper has learned a memo from now fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned conditions for withdrawal from Afghanistan have not been met. Let's get reaction from Democratic senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. She's a member of the Armed Services Committee, as well as a combat veteran. Senator, thanks so much for joining us. I remember on Friday, you told CNN you saw President Trump's firing of Defense Secretary Esper as a way for him to be able to carry out policies that wouldn't have been a -- he wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. Is this specifically what you were worried about?

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): This is exactly the kind of thing that I was worried about, Wolf. Basically, he has got at the Pentagon at the top ranks the people who would say no to him, and now he's carrying out a policy that he knows, those leaders would not have agreed to, because it actually puts our nation at greater risk.

BLITZER: You're uniquely qualified to weigh in on this very, very sensitive military issue. You're an Iraq War veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, do you fear this withdrawal of troops will put U.S. service members who are there on the ground, risking their lives at greater risk.

DUCKWORTH: It very much will put them at greater risk. You know, put America at greater risk also, Wolf. Remember that when you withdraw from a battlefield, it has to be done in an orderly way. And the way this President looks like he's trying to do is going to order a quick draw down. That means that we won't be properly able to properly remove our equipment for example.

Can you imagine leaving so quickly that you leave behind a whole caches of equipment for the Taliban to fall in on and then to use those against the remaining troops? That's the kind of situation we could be headed for if we do what the President, what we think the President is going to do, which is to order a rapid drawdown that's not been well planned.

BLITZER: You know, I was just looking at Jake Tapper's report. He pointed out that in addition to Esper who was fired, the U.S. military Central Command, the head of the U.S. military Central Command, General McKenzie opposes this decision. The head of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, General Miller opposes this mission.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Milley opposes what the President has in mind. They disagree totally with the president. They don't want troops withdrawn so quickly, especially during this transition period. Have you ever seen anything like this, where the top military brass so directly involved in protecting these troops are totally against what the President has in mind?

DUCKWORTH: No, I have not. And for what I've not seen as a president to go against what the top military leaders, the ones who have literally decades of experience, many of them having fought in multiple wars, they know what they're doing. They know the logistics that it takes in order to withdraw troops and to have a president, a commander in chief not listen to those advisors, and in fact, start firing them so that he can do what he wants to do.

Remember, Wolf, that the transition time to a new president is some of the most dangerous times for our national security. In fact, six weeks after President Clinton took office, the world -- the first World Trade Center bombing happened, our adversaries wait for us to do something. You know, after President Trump took office, Syria launched a chemical attack, when President Obama took office within the first four months, North Korea had launched a rocket and conducted a nuclear test. And of course, we know that in President Bush's first time, in the very first eight months, we had the 9/11 attacks.

Our adversaries look for the transition period as a time when we are most distracted and for us to be most distracted and then have the top leaders be fired by this President who then orders an immediate drawdown is just prime ground for our adversaries to look and see what they can get away with while we're distracted.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think, Senator of the -- what do you think U.S. allies make of President Trump's refusal to accept the results of the election as he purges military leadership? Perhaps more importantly, how do you think our adversaries, adversaries right now are viewing these actions?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I think our adversaries are viewing these actions as opportunities for themselves. It's an opportunity for them to try to test out how far they can get while the United States is distracted, while this President is not helping with the transition process. Our adversaries around the world are looking for weak moments, times when we are just not able to focus.

And it's hard to focus when we don't even have a transition that's going on. It's hard to focus when President-elect Biden is not getting the national security intelligence reports and briefings that he has supposed to be getting every single day. This President, our current President, is endangering America and the ability of the next president to do his job.

[17:45:09]

BLITZER: Yes. Totally, totally outrageous that he isn't getting, that Biden isn't getting these daily briefings. He's going to be the president in a matter of a few weeks. He's got to know all the latest information that's going on. Senator Duckworth, thank you so much for joining us.

DUCKWORTH: Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: Coming up, former President Obama speaking out about President Trump's refusal to concede the election and ensure a peaceful transition of power. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:27]

BLITZER: Former President Obama is weighing in on President Trump's unprecedented refusal to acknowledge his election loss and take part in a peaceful transfer of power, which is so critically important right now. Let's get some more with the editor in chief of the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg. Jeffrey, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all the important work you're doing. I want you to watch how the former president spoke about President Trump's refusal to concede the election. He was interviewed on 60 minutes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We would never accept that out of our own kids behaving that way if they lost. I mean, if my daughter is in any kind of competition, pouted and then accused the other side of cheating when they lost when there was no evidence of it. We'd scold them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama elaborated on this idea in his interview with you for the Atlantic. How is the -- how is President Trump perhaps held to different standards?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE ATLANTIC: Well, that's one of the dominant questions of the last four years. You know, President Obama said something very interesting to me. He said, one of the things that is so curious to him about this whole period is he thought that Republicans, Conservatives held a certain model of what masculinity. He cited Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, that type of person uncomplaining, you know, sticks up for victims, stoic, that kind of person.

And he said, he said, he doesn't understand why so many voters or the Republican Party went for a Richie Rich character as opposed to a, as opposed to a John Wayne type. It is one of the dominant mysteries of this because that kind of behavior that President Obama is describing the, you know, the petulance or the refusal to acknowledge a loss, their refusal to be graceful about a loss.

That is behavior that doesn't comport to traditional American standards of how one behaves in these kind of situations. But, again, a lot of the rules of political physics have been appended during this very novel four-year Presidency of Donald Trump.

BLITZER: I read your interview, of course, with President Obama, he told you he wasn't surprised that President Trump gain traction, but he was surprised by how easily the Republican establishment actually caved to him. We're seeing, certainly seeing that on display right now, aren't we?

GOLDBERG: Yes, no, it's interesting. And I think over the last week, especially and you've been tracking this closely, I think there was a feeling on the part of some commentators, maybe some disaffected Republicans that once he lost, and once it's been proven to everybody, but maybe Donald Trump that he lost that that people would say, OK, thank you, thank you for your service. But it's time to go Joe Biden is the president.

But what's interesting is, is how few Republicans, including Republicans in the Senate, have actually said, you know what, fair's fair, you lost, help the transition, help Joe Biden become president, just the way George W. Bush helped Barack Obama become president essentially in the transition period. But no, we have not, we have not really seen that. We've seen some, few people, a few people in the Republican Party, say, look, Joe Biden won, let's move on. But it's not, it's not a dominant feeling.

And it's what's interesting to me is that, what's interesting to me about that is that it suggests continued popularity, continued salience of Donald Trump in the party, beyond his term, which brings up questions of, again, does he run in 2024? Is he's the dominant republican going forward? There are a lot of people obviously in the party who want to run in 2024 but Donald Trump seems to be, seems that he will be a continued presence in the party at a very high level.

BLITZER: I want to read this warning that President Obama gave you in your interview. He said, quote, if we do not have the capacity to distinguish what's true from what's false, then by definition, the marketplace of ideas doesn't work. And by definition, our democracy doesn't work. Those are strong words. So what is he suggesting?

GOLDBERG: Well, I mean, I think he's suggesting two things. One, is that that there's an echo chamber now on the right, and obviously he's a critic -- he's critical of "Fox News" and other organizations like "Fox News" says that they are not tethered to that to the truth, that even when you have something that's observably true, there are a lot of people on the right who won't acknowledge the truth of that, that's one.

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And the second thing and he's a very big critic of social media companies. He doesn't say that they're at fault for this kind of untethering of the truth. But he says, you know, they haven't -- they play an editorial role, even though they act just like the phone company. They just say we just carry messages back and forth between people.

But his argument is, actually in their algorithms, their algorithms are kind of editorial control, and that we have to pay attention to both of these things if we're going to be able to have conversations across political divides. The only way you can have a conversation across the political divide is if you agree on a shared set of observable facts.

BLITZER: Excellent work. Jeffrey Goldberg, thank you very much for joining us. There's more breaking news.

Coming up a stark warning from President-elect Biden, he says quote, more people may die if President Trump continues blocking the transition of power.

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