Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Tonight: Biden Gives First Address Before GOP-Controlled House; McCarthy Urges Biden To Avoid "Extreme MAGA Republicans" In Speech; U.S. Analyzing Debris Recovered From Suspected Spy Balloon; Rep. Michael McCaul, (R-TX), Is Interviewed About Chinese Spy Balloon; 7,700 Plus Dead As Desperate Search For Survivors Continues; Afghan Refugees Living In U.S. Under Temporary Residency Face Deportation If Congress Fails To Pass Afghan Adjustment Act; Santos' Constituents Come To DC To Call For His Resignation; LeBron James 36 Points Away From Becoming NBA's All-Time Scorer. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 07, 2023 - 17:00   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At a time when voters are showing that they do not believe the president has done enough, he will try to reset that narrative and also call on -- lay out things that he believes can be done in the next two years in this divided Congress, as well as take aim at Republicans to call for passage on measures that have virtually no chance of passing in this Republican controlled House.

But there are questions about how far he will go and how much he will go in demanding Congress move to say, avert a duck default. One of the big issues that is outstanding, this Congress, one in which the House Republicans and the White House must resolve their differences to avoid a potential cataclysmic event to the U.S. economy. And as well as talking about all the issues surrounding the global security around the world, that Chinese spy balloon, the President expected to address the threat from China as well.

So, a lot of questions about the President's tone is House Republicans plan to showcase what they believe is a reasonable opposition. Sit there, listen to the President, act respectfully as Republicans are planning to battle back on things that they believe simply have no chance of passing this Congress, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes, act respectfully is an interesting point there because House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's folks are leaking and telling reporters that McCarthy gave a warning to House Republicans to behave during the speech. Tell us about that.

RAJU: Yes. Behind closed doors, the House -- in the House Republican Conference meeting, he said, be aware. Be aware that there are cameras that will be on you, there will be a hot mic that can pick up your conversation, that the cameras can actually pick up what you're looking at on your phone, and that this will be projected to the nation. McCarthy is trying to showcase a different type of Republican Party, something that they did not see in the beginning of this Congress when it went to 15 ballots to elect the speaker of the House. Instead, he wants to show a different type of opposition.

And he told me earlier today that he does not plan to do what Nancy Pelosi did back in the Trump era when she ripped up Donald Trump's speech in one of his union addresses. He said, I will not be doing that, I will not be a political ploy. But we'll see how the Republicans respond. And if the Republican members on the hard right listen to those requests.

TAPPER: He'll just vote against counting electoral votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania, but not ripping up a speech. Got it.

Manu Raju inside the Capitol Building. Thanks so much.

Let's discuss with my panel Dana Bash and Seung Min Kim. So, obviously, a big difference between this State of the Union and last is that Speaker McCarthy, a Republican, is going to behind Biden shoulder. You were just in a briefing with McCarthy, I'm not sure what was on the record or off, but what can you tell us?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's unlike -- not unlike the President who was off the record so that he could speak candidly, but generally speaking, what he wanted to convey was the gist of what we just heard from Manu. That despite what we have seen over the past two years, despite what we saw at the beginning of this year, he wants to convey a sense of respect and respectfulness for the presidency and for this particular president, for President Biden.

He was talking to his conference about how they should remember that they're on camera. Well, he's going to have the biggest, brightest camera on him because he's going to be right behind the President. So, that is what he is trying to convey, and it will be what he will be doing tonight with his body language, also what he is saying privately.

TAPPER: Can't he actually send that message to a Republican caucus? Given the fact that Speaker McCarthy was out there lying about Donald Trump having won the 2020 election, signing on to that crazy lawsuit, voting against counting the electoral votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania? I mean, is this really a guy to be talking about respecting the presidency?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, right. And that's the challenge. I also think, too, that Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House is not someone who's going to have much control of his conference. So, while we're all watching Speaker McCarthy up behind the President, we're also going to be watching how House Republicans in the chamber behave.

I mean, you already have Marjorie Taylor Greene walking around with a balloon saying she wants to bring the balloon into the State of the Union address. And considering just all of the --

TAPPER: Sorry, what's that? She has a balloon?

KIM: She posted a video on Twitter, and she's walking around with a big white balloon calling it her State of the Union guest. Obviously a reference to the Chinese surveillance balloon that President Biden has come under a lot of criticism for.

TAPPER: And she actually going to try to bring a balloon into --

KIM: I think there are House swirls against that, but that is kind of the stunt that she's pulling this afternoon. So, in terms of, you know, you have McCarthy's treatment of the presidency, what he'll do up there tonight, but also what House Republicans, who are now in the majority, who are now in the governing majority do in terms of their behavior towards Biden. And I think that's why anticipating some of that behavior, why Speaker Marker told his conference, you know, maybe back off beyond your best behavior tonight.

TAPPER: Maybe a little late is my only point. But let's talk about what President Biden is going to say tonight. One adviser told CNN, quote, "There isn't some new Joe Biden. He is who he is, and his consistency is nothing if not consistent."

So, it's definitely not new.

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: Do you think that this is going to be new in any way, considering who he is and how familiar we all are with him at this point?

BASH: Yes, no. When it comes to his agenda, no. What he is clearly going to try to do is to hit home and let, sort of, penetrate into the public's consciousness the things that he has done and they don't give him any credit for, according to recent polls. It's kind of mind blowing that people don't realize how much they have done in a bipartisan way and also just --


TAPPER: Right. Even if you don't like it.

BASH: -- (INAUDIBLE) Democrat. He did it.

TAPPER: He did accomplish it. Right.

BASH: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, reiterating some of that. But of course, by definition what were talking about, it is going to be different because he's going to have to acknowledge that there is at least in part, divided government and he can't -- it was hard for him to push anything through with Democratic control before because the margins were so thin, it's even harder now.

TAPPER: Although we're told that President Biden is going to be pushing what their -- his aides are calling a unity agenda --

KIM: Right.

TAPPER: -- focusing on things that there can be bipartisan support for --

BASH: Right. TAPPER: -- ending cancer, supporting veterans, tackling the mental health crisis, combating the opioid epidemic. I guess a question I would have would be it's easy to want to be bipartisan if you're in the minority party and this is the only way you can get a victory.

KIM: Right.

TAPPER: But what if you're in the majority party? Like, is there going to be the same appetite?

KIM: Well, I think when he points out all those issues and obviously, you know, First Lady Jill Biden's guest will highlight those issues as well with the people that she's bringing to the address. But I think, you know, those are good, you know, areas of bipartisanship, you know, applause points for the President's address. But Republicans are really going to be focusing on how the President approaches them.

They feel like because the White House did or Democrats did lose, at least the House in the midterm elections, that he should be coming to them with some a conciliatory, more compromising attitude, not just on these issues such as mental health and veterans, which we should all agree on, but on issues like the debt limit and the economy. And the White House doesn't feel that way. They don't feel like they got the shellacking that perhaps President Obama did in his first midterms. They are feeling pretty good despite all the recent polling to the contrary about what they've done and especially after the midterm results. So, I think that those two different attitudes on display tonight will be clashing to some extent and really interesting to watch.

TAPPER: All right, Seung Min and Dana, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

BASH: Thank you.

TAPPER: You can watch CNN's coverage this evening starting at 08:00 p.m.

Coming up next, we cannot come to the phone right now. Moments again, the Pentagon announced the Chinese government is sending calls to voicemail.

And when e-mail, snail mail and social media just won't do, the group headed here by bus today to deliver a message about a certain Republican congressman who is known as the lying congressman. As Leslie Jones says, what do you have to do to be known as the lying congressman? That's George Santos, and that's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead. Moments ago, the Pentagon announced that the Chinese government has refused to speak with the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin. Pentagon officials say the Defense Department submitted a request for a call between Austin and China's minister of national defense right after the U.S. downed that Chinese spy balloon, but the Chinese government has declined.

Today, the U.S. Navy released these new images of parts of the Chinese spy balloon that had been fished out of the Atlantic. CNN's Will Ripley joins me now live.

Will, the Chinese government, in addition to not taking a call from the Secretary of Defense here, also is making a rather bold demand about these balloon remnants.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they were asked if, you know, they -- basically if it would be returned, if they wanted the balloon returned. And the answer that the Chinese gave was, this balloon belongs to China. This balloon does not belong to the United States. A nation that had hovered over for seven days, took potential imagery of highly sensitive missile silos in Montana and other places, and unsettled a whole lot of Americans, along with many politicians in Washington, who looked up in the skies, and for the first time for many, got a real taste of what it feels like to be under the watchful eye of Chinese surveillance.

Of course, hundreds of Chinese spy satellites are taking lots of pictures of the U.S. all the time, and vice versa. The U.S. spies on China as well. But this was a very vivid example that came at a very unusual time right before what was supposed to be a diplomatic meeting to ease tensions. And yet now this balloon has basically resulted in the exact opposite.

TAPPER: And Will, the Pentagon now says similar surveillance balloons have currently been tracked over parts of the U.S. in 2019. We should note where you are, Taiwan, is no stranger to Chinese spy balloons flying over its territory.

RIPLEY: We actually just got a piece of video in from New Year's Eve. It was a video that was hovering over Taiwan. We didn't know about it at the time. The government didn't release it. But the Taiwanese experts I'm speaking with are very grateful to the United States for identifying this balloon because they had a lot of questions about where these balloons were coming from.

They suspected China, but they don't have the kind of intelligence capability that the United States have. And certainly a lot of countries might feel emboldened now to shoot these things down, given that they have, you know, three coach buses worth of potential surveillance apparatus on the bottom, a balloon that's 200 feet high hovering at high altitude. This is certainly unlike any weather balloon that the rest of the world has ever seen. Although China is still insisting that that's what it is. They even fired the head of their weather service, Jake, but the Defense Department not talking.

TAPPER: All right. Will Ripley and Taipei, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Republican Congressman Mike McCaul of Texas. He's the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Chairman, let me ask you, I don't know how to characterize the response that the Chinese government is currently making. They refusing to take a call from our Secretary of Defense here in the U.S. They're demanding that their spy balloon debris be returned to them. That's like Peeping Tom demanding that the, you know, the spy -- the microscope or the telescope, you know, be returned to him. It almost seems childish.


TAPPER: You know?

MCCAUL: But it's very comical. I mean, a spy balloon at this altitude, as if we wouldn't see this. You could see it with the naked eye. Very much a provocative act done by Communist China, at a time I find interesting because Secretary's State, I met with him to what should he bring up with Chairman Xi, it was going to happen a week later, and now that's canceled because of this provocative act.


I think it was a test. I think they were testing this administration how are they going to respond to this. They knew we would see it. They're calling it a, what, weather balloon?

TAPPER: Right.

MCCAUL: In fact, why would they want it back so desperately? We're not going to give it back to them, and we're going to study the -- you know, what was on that balloon.

TAPPER: Even if it's garbage, we wouldn't give it back to them, right? I mean, even if there's nothing usable.

Let me ask you, we know the Pentagon says at least three Chinese spy balloons drifted over the U.S. when Trump was in office, although apparently they didn't know that until the Biden administration. CNN obtained a U.S. military intelligence report from April last year that documents one incident in 2019 when the balloon, quote, "drifted past Hawaii and across Florida."

I guess the first question I have is, how was the Pentagon or whomever able to go back and figure out that during the Trump administration these three balloons happened? Do you have any idea?

MCCAUL: Well, I'll have a classic briefing. I'm going to bring up these issues. I do think, from what I understand, that this probably had happened before, and for whatever reason, when I talked to the higher level officials, you know, like the National Security Advisor, for instance, it was not communicated properly. But we had that in the intelligence community. So that's a whole another issue.

However, it was never flown at this altitude that was visible to the naked eye and by, you know, commercial aircraft. That's what drew so much attention.

And I -- you know, my question also is, why wasn't this shot down at the very beginning when it hit U.S. airspace over Alaska, the Aleutian Islands? Why wasn't it taken down? Because it was in violation of national -- international law.

TAPPER: Well, what the Pentagon says is that they didn't want to risk anybody getting hurt.


TAPPER: I mean, there are more than 8,000 people that live in the Aleutian Islands, so I can understand that. Look, I don't think there's any easy answer. I certainly understand the sentiment we should have shut it down earlier. But that my question always is, when, when was the right time to do it when, you know, you could guarantee no American or Canadian was going to be hurt?

MCCAUL: Well, in that case, when it's over the Pacific Ocean and not wait till it's over the Atlantic. I don't know whether it was transmitting in real time back to the mothership in Beijing. I'll find that out in my classified briefing.

If that was jammed, I feel a little better about all this. But if all that information is going back, remember, lower altitude can capture more intelligence as well. And so that remains to be an issue.

But yes, overall, it's what does this mean for the United States? It certainly deteriorates our already bad relationship with China. And you have to ask yourself a question, why would Chairman Xi want to do this?


MCCAUL: Particularly at this moment in time when Secretary Blinken was going over to try to, you know, help relations between the two countries?

TAPPER: Do you think it's definite that Chairman Xi knew about this? I mean, is it possible that he didn't? I mean, how the Chinese government works is still fairly opaque. Is it possible that somebody in charge of spying or their version of the Pentagon just decided to do this and not tell Chairman Xi?

MCCAUL: I've heard that theory, but my view is that nothing happens within the PLA, their military, without Chairman she knowing about it. And In fact, he may have directed this. We just don't know.

TAPPER: So, obviously, the Biden administration, as any administration would in its place, is trying to spin this like, oh, it's -- you know, now we got all this information, we're able to study them, now we have the debris, et cetera, et cetera. Moving the politics out of it and how you disagree with how the Biden administration handled it, is this ultimately embarrassing for China? Did President Xi embarrass himself with this? Or is it actually like, a demonstration of strengths, do you think?

MCCAUL: Depends on the point of view. I think China views it as weakness. That we allow this --

TAPPER: Our weakness? U.S. weakness? MCCAUL: -- spy in the United States, and that's what he was testing. We allowed it to traverse across the country. I think the administration is going to have their spin on this, and I do applaud them for shooting it down. But at the end of the day, I think the American people is a true judge here, how do they view it? And I think they view it as -- I mean, how could -- I mean, it's a spy balloon so low in altitude you can see it with the naked eye and we allow it to go all the way across the country taking pictures of very, you know, the national security assets throughout the country. It just -- I think think overall, it looks weak to me.

TAPPER: Yes. What do you want to hear from President Biden on the matter, on the subject of foreign affairs today? I mean, I know that's probably like a 50,000 page book that you could write right now. But just like, what are some of the subjects? Do you want to hear him talk about this by balloon? Do you want it to hear them talk about supporting Ukraine, which I know is important to you?

MCCAUL: I think, yes, Ukraine is important. I'd like for him to hear -- I know one section of the speech is going to be about, what can we do bipartisan to get things through Congress. I do think China, particularly after this spy balloon galvanizes, reinforces the American people's support to do something about it.


And so I do think, particularly with the vote on the Select Committee on China, that you can -- we can really pass bills, legislation that are geared towards China's aggression in a bipartisan manner. I met with my ranking member last night, Greg Meeks. I think there's an appetite for that now. And certainly the spy balloon just reinforced and galvanized that support in the Congress.

TAPPER: Yes. And I understand the Chairman of the Select Committee on China, Congressman Gallagher, is happy with who the Democrats picked, Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, also a serious legislator.

MCCAUL: Right. Thank you.

TAPPER: Good to see you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you so much. Republican Congressman Mike McCaul, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee from Texas.

Coming up to the center, the epicenter of the tragedy, where it's only a matter of time before rescue operations turn to recovery missions after Monday's deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, it's a race against the clock amid utter devastation. The death toll is now more than 7,700 people across Turkey and Syria killed after Monday's 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Hospitals in war scarred Aleppo are, quote, "absolutely overloaded," according to aid workers on the ground.

At a clinic just north of Aleppo, a newborn girl was being treated after she was pulled from the rubble. Rescuers say the baby's umbilical cord was still attached to her mother, who did not make it. The baby girl is now the sole survivor in her family.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh brings us now closer to the epicenter in southern Turkey. And we want to warn viewers these images are rather disturbing.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): You can still almost feel the enormity of the tremors here. This is Kahramanmaras, closest to the epicenter. One older neighborhood shredded its family warmth, huddling on the street.

Dorcheck's (ph) father is trapped under the rubble here, only his feet protrude. They can't get him out, but can cover his toes.

It would be really nice, he says, if the government had come by.

Turan (ph) retrieved his eight-year-old daughter, wife and daughter- in-law, pray you never stand over so much of your life, their final dignity from a carpet.

Push down and there are glimmers of hope. These rescuers have spotted a twelve-year-old, Mustafa (ph), in the rubble and have to dig down to him. Further along, Ali (ph) helped them find his 65-year-old mother. She's in her bed down there, he says. We'll get her out soon.

There is not much sign of government here, perhaps as the scale of this is all too massive. Dusk makes the dust and the immense bulk of the mess harder still. The cold just an insult in the days of emptiness that lie ahead. And the news from the rubble is as often as bad as it is good. A body found here, carried out and laid next to this man's nine-year-old daughter, Beren (ph).

The block here, hiding the intimate agonies buried in it, the stories with the wrong ending. But suddenly there is a call for quiet hush. They think they hear a voice, a pause, and then the best noise, joy. Rescuers think they might have found six people alive, but there are hours more ahead of checking.

But nothing really goes to plan here, even the joy seems random. Where Ali's mother is being rescued, two young people are unexpectedly found and pulled out. A 16-year-old girl, apparently still alive.

(on camera): Extraordinary moment of joy, kind of thing that really all of Turkey is desperately hoping and waiting for. But as the temperatures drop and time goes by, they will become harder to come by. But extraordinary to see somebody pulled so hopefully straight out of this building.

(voice-over) Abdullah (ph) seems unscathed, almost untouched by the tremors that altered everything else he emerges into. (END VIDEO TAPE)

WALSH: Now, Jake, the dark here and the cold is certainly slowing rescue operations. I should say outside of what you saw in that report, we've seen about four individuals pulled from the wreckage over the last hours or so.

And another moment of optimism here, it's always hard to tell what that's based around evidentially, but some locals here say that they have heard voices from inside, deep inside this large piece of rubble behind me. In fact, one man saying a thermal camera may have seen over a dozen people inside. Other figures suggesting six, possibly three.

But the clock is ticking very hard and fast here. The cold has set in. People are going to find them increasingly hard to find survivors as we head into tomorrow and the day after. But still startling scenes here, not just of the utter remarkable destruction. It boggles, frankly, your mind to see what's been done to a neighborhood here so close to the epicenter, but also, too, as the hours still go by, the mere fact that people are being brought out alive. As you saw at the end of that report, Abdullah, seemingly untouched by his time, stuck in the rubble, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Turkey with that incredible report. Thank you so much.

Let's bring in Avril Benoit, she's the executive director of Doctors Without Borders. Avril, good to see you again. As the clock continues to tick, the weather gets colder. What is the most urgent need on the ground right now?

AVRIL BENOIT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Well, I would say, quite obviously, it's the search and rescue operation. The ideal window is to be able to bring people out within 48 hours. It's highly risky, and the likelihood of finding people alive diminishes.

And then from there, you've got people with catastrophic injuries. We've seen time and again with earthquakes that that is not only a need for trauma care, but then it's infection control. It's management of their post operative care, rehabilitation, reconstruction of the hospitals themselves.

And meanwhile, you've got babies being born, even our own team. We run a burns unit in the city of Atme, and we redeployed from that medical team to the surgical hospitals. But there was also a maternity ward where we had to evacuate all the mothers, the newborns, and sometimes you're evacuating to facilities, other hospital structures that, frankly, don't necessarily have the integrity structurally that you would want, ideally.

So this is all round catastrophic. It's going to be a major lift for the entire aid community that's already on the ground, like Doctors Without Borders, and all the others that will be mobilizing in the days ahead.

TAPPER: And Doctors Without Borders is obviously already familiar with what's going on in Syria after a decade of brutal civil war in that country. You have people in northwestern Syria right now. How difficult is it for your team to get doctors and supplies there?

BENOIT: Incredibly difficult. So we have around 500 staff already working in this region of Syria that's affected by the earthquakes, and they themselves have family members that they've lost. We lost one of our colleagues in the rubble in his home at the time of the earthquake who died. And so they are themselves shattered, seeing what their community is experiencing with all the description that you just saw there.

So, for us, the key priority is to make sure that we can keep the supply routes open, because the way to bring in supplies through the one U.N. official route, there's one road from Turkey into that region of Syria that is approved. We've got to make sure that that's open for all the supplies to be able to come in, and then, obviously, it's to maintain a level of security for the medical teams to be able to work, to do the distributions.

Obviously, right now, in the hours ahead, it's shelter, it's blankets, it's food, all the (INAUDIBLE) in addition to medical supplies, which we've been distributing around to roughly 23 medical facilities in the zone.

TAPPER: All right, Avril Benoit with Doctors Without Borders, a group that could sure use your financial support if you can afford to do so. Thank you so much, Avril. Good to see you again, as always.

For other ways to help, you can head to There's a list of resources there.

Coming up from Capitol Hill, the group headed here by the bus load with a strong message for a certain Republican congressman and any Republican leader who might be willing to listen. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, time is running out for the tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who fled their country following the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal in August 2021. You might recall the Afghan Adjustment Act, which we've reported on many times, that would give these evacuees who are currently living in the United States a pathway to lawful permanent residency before their humanitarian parole expires this summer, just a few months.

You might also recall that that act was left out of the most recent spending bill, the omnibus spending bill, despite a push from some two-dozen former U.S. military leaders.

Democratic Congressman Scott Peters of California is with me, along with his special guest for tonight's State of the Union address, Rahmat Mokhtar, a former Afghan interpreter who lives in the U.S. on a special immigrant visa. We should point out what you're hearing is a whole bunch of motorcades and stuff going on right now because people -- everybody's getting prepared for the State of the Union address, but it's not an emergency. It's just people tying up traffic.

But, Congressman Peters, let me start with you. You're an original co- sponsor of the Afghan Adjustment Act. I know that you represent a community with a lot of American veterans for whom this is an incredibly important issue. People Afghan interpreters like Mokhtar risk their lives, in some cases, sacrifice their lives for the American people. How are you going to convince Republicans to pass it in the House?

REP. SCOTT PETERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Jake, this is a normal thing we do after conflicts. We've done adjustment acts like this after Vietnam, after the, the Bay of Pigs, the people who fought side by side with our Marines, for instance, like Rahmat did.


PETERS: Because part of our promise is that if you take care of us, we'll take care of you. So I just want to remind those folks of that promise, of keeping that promise as the United States tradition. And it's important not just for our veterans, not just for our allies in Afghanistan, but for the principle, that we stand by our promises. That's going to make sure that our allies can count on us going forward when we ask them to fight with us next time.


TAPPER: Yes, that's been -- the argument has been made. It's a national security issue for the next war.

PETERS: Right.

TAPPER: Hopefully there won't be one, but we live in the real world, and there probably will. It's important for allies to know that we'll be there. Rahmat, if you could look at the camera right now and talk to any member of Congress who's on the fence. I don't know if I want to support this. What if some of these people end up being not great people, et cetera? What's your message to them?

RAHMAT MOKHTAR, FORMER AFGHAN INTERPRETER: Well, my message to them is that, first of all, you know, come on, and tonight I'll be in the State of Union. Come talk to me. And I have a lot to share with you. And, you know, Afghans who fought the war and risk their life and the war has been for 20 years and then the solution ot the aftermath is not that easy.

We need more support that Congress should act, and the Afghan Adjustment Act is going to be the solution for the situation we have here. Afghans living here in limbo, Afghans, you know, in a survival mode. They are looking for a solution to get evacuated and then survive, you know.

There is a lot to share with the Congress and, you know, they need to hear from us and they should support us. The war has been for 20 years, and then, you know, the aftermath and the cost of war is huge.

TAPPER: And Congressman, I remember from covering this a few months ago, I mean, the problem wasn't necessarily House Republicans. We had Congressman Michael Waltz on here. He's been supportive. Congressman Mike McCaul, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's been supportive. The problem was in the Senate.

PETERS: Right.

TAPPER: It was Republicans in the Senate. Specifically, I believe, wasn't it Chuck Grassley that said the -- Judiciary, the Ranking Republican on Judiciary?

PETERS: Yes, I know the complaint -- and I don't think is legitimate is about vetting. So you just have to know that for Rahmat to join the marines, first, he was vetted. He was vetted when he left Afghanistan. He was vetted while he was in the United States before he was a citizen. They checked up on them every month.

This would add refugee level vetting at the end of that so that we know that Rahmat is going to not be a threat. But, you know, it's kind of ironic, too, that, you know, you got someone who fought side by side with the marines, risked his own life. That's a pretty good admission test for who you want to be an American.

So I think that we just have to remind folks who are skeptical there's a lot of vetting in this. This has been an American tradition. This is the American promise. Let's come together and keep that promise.

TAPPER: Are you -- do you need this to pass in order to stay or you're OK?

MOKHTAR: No, I am a citizen now.

TAPPER: You're a citizen.

MOKHTAR: I'm a citizen now.

TAPPER: So tell me about other individuals, other Afghans you know who need this to pass. You don't have to give us any names or IDs, but like, what are their -- how afraid are they that they're going to -- that they don't know what to do if they have to -- if their humanitarian visas end and they have to leave the United States? Do they have to go back to Afghanistan necessarily?

MOKHTAR: Well, thanks, Jake, for the great question. So there's thousands of Afghan here living in limbo with no saturation --

PETERS: 70,000.

TAPPER: 70,000.

MOKHTAR: 70,000, so, yes. You're sure? I can't give them an idea --

TAPPER: Right, right, right.

MOKHTAR: It's a huge population.

TAPPER: But I know you know some of them. MOKHTAR: I know a lot of them, and I work with them directly and we have see them day to day. And, you know, part of my job is to help them to navigate the settlement here. But they are right now living in limbo with ambiguity. They cannot plan for the next month or the next year or so, and then they cannot also benefit from some of the, you know, programs that they may plan for themselves, like attending a university or things like that. Because they're living in limbo here, they don't know what will happen next.

TAPPER: Yes, they can't get a job necessarily because they might not be here. They maybe can't get at least a house or a room even. How is your family? You still have family in Afghanistan, right?

MOKHTAR: I do, I do have families in Afghanistan, internally displaced and also migrated to neighboring countries after the withdrawal. I have been impacted and my family has been impacted, so they are displaced and they're all over. It's a tough situation, but, you know, passing this Afghan Adjustment Act also will give hope for those who left behind, who need to get to the safety, who need to get here, so --

TAPPER: Yes. We're going to keep telling your story and pushing for this because it's the only right thing to do. Rahmat, thank you so much.

MOKHTAR: Thank you.

TAPPER: And thank you for what you did.

MOKHTAR: Thank you.

TAPPER: Helping the marines in Helmand Province. I know that was brutal. And Congressman, thanks for what you're doing here. Really appreciate it.

PETERS: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, the well-deserved hype right now around the 13th ranked team in the NBA's Western Conference. We're going to go live to LA's Arena. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, Mr. Santos' constituents go to Washington. Dozens of residents from embattled Republican Congressman George Santos' New York district have taken a bus to the nation's capital to demand that he resigned.


TAIBA AHMIT, REP. SANTOS CONSTITUENT, REGISTERED DEMOCRAT: I took off from work to come, took a personal day to go to Washington and ask the k(INAUDIBLE) to hold Mr. Santos accountable. It is pretty embarrassing, the daily barrage of just these lies. PATRICIA CAIOZZO. REP. SANTOS CONSTITUENT, REGISTERED DEMOCRAT: I mean, who is representing us? I feel like this is some kind of story of character that's scamming us and laughing because we're being scammed.

BEN MARZOUK, REP. SANTOS CONSTITUENT, REGISTERED DEMOCRAT: I happen to be a Republican, and that's why I'm really disappointed in the Republicans, especially McCarthy who stands by this guy literally and figuratively.


TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Eva McKend. Eva, how is Congressman Santos responding to this?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. So, Jake, I was up there where you are today with the residents says they were trying to get some answers from Congressman Santos. He wouldn't come out and speak with them, though it seemed like he was in his office at the time.


Earlier today, he suggested he would, but he later told CNN he would correspond with them in writing and sort of seemed to make light of the number of signatures on the petition that they delivered to his office. Take a listen.


SANTOS: I look forward to welcoming them and having a thoughtful discussion with them. At what point does this become a distraction?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you talk to them?

SANTOS: Of course, why would I not talk to them? That's their freedom of speech, right? And I'll entertain a conversation with them every single day. I represent them all equally.


MCKEND: And there were really a wide range of folks up on the Hill today. I met one woman and she told me she works with Afghan refugees and has a lot of sensitive information about their whereabouts and would not feel comfortable working with Congressman Santos's office.

Another constituent, a Republican, telling me he's proud of the gains Republicans have made in recent years in New York and that Santos really compromises that. And there was just universal frustration, Jake, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a real sense of disbelief among some, that this CNN happen that there are so few mechanisms really available to remove a sitting member, no matter how egregious the lie.

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, the list of lies that George Santos told to get elected is too long to go through here, but it's practically everything on his resume. One of the most egregious is that his mother died because she was at the World Trade Center during the 911 attacks. It's not true, but he's made that claim many times.

And amazingly, his guest tonight is going to be a firefighter who actually was at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Is that right?

MCKEND: Yes. Santos has long suggested that his mother died of the residual impacts, caught up in the cloud of 9/11. And what we've found was that immigration records show that she wasn't even in the country at the time. That firefighter, though, Jake, Michael Weinstock evidently thinks that the issue of 9/11 1st responders receiving adequate medical care is worth the association with Santos, but it's coming at a price for him. He lost his job at a law firm as a result of agreeing to be Santos's guest.

TAPPER: Oh, wow. All right. Eva McKend, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Turning now to our sports lead where the King is just 36 points away from becoming the NBA's all-time high scorer of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has the chance to do just that this evening in just a few hours, passing Lakers legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 1989 record of 38,387 points.

CNN's Omar Jimenez somehow convinced our bosses that it was a legitimate assignment. And he is inside Los Angeles' Arena where the Lakers are going to take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in just a few hours. Omar, I'm very jealous of the assignment. Do you think the King is going to make history tonight?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, this is potentially history. You guys got State of the Union history on the East Coast. Here on the West Coast, we are looking at potentially basketball history. And look, 36 points away, he's averaging only 30 a game. Only -- that's a lot in the NBA.

But he went for over 40 in a game last month. Anything is possible tonight. And LeBron himself even said he looked at this milestone as one of those records that you never thought would actually be broken, and for good reason. We're talking more than 38,000 points at the highest level of basketball in the world played over the course of 10 or 20 seasons for the King.

And you look at the other people on the list. Michael Jordan is fifth. You got Malone coming in up there as well. You got Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the very top. LeBron just after him. Kobe on that list as well.

But, obviously, fans are going to be looking tonight to see if LeBron comes out firing to get over 36 and just take care of business tonight.

TAPPER: I have a feeling it's going to happen. If it does happen tonight, does this end the conversation of him being the greatest of all time, in your opinion?

JIMENEZ: Look, I don't know if that conversation ever ends for the world as a whole, but for me personally, I do think if LeBron James becomes the all-time leading scorer in the NBA, he does solidify himself as the greatest of all time. That is on the record for me.

We can duke it out in the comments for anybody watching, but obviously, LeBron's got four championships to Michael Jordan's six, which is who he gets compared to. But you got an all-time leading scorer, you got tops in the league, among the tops in the league for points per game over the course of his career.

Top five in assists as well, which is unbelievable considering the fact he's not even a point guard. So you put all of those things together. I think at least the people here in the building tonight are going to agree with me on that. People online, you know, whatever. We'll figure it.


TAPPER: How expensive are tonight's tickets? Not for you, because obviously, you have a press pass, but for a regular Joe?

JIMENEZ: I mean, look, it's the resale market that is really going crazy at this point. So, if you want to sit in the way, way back, it's already going for hundreds of dollars. But if you want to get down to these seats, we're talking tens of thousands of dollars all the way up to $75,000 just for the chance to watch history tonight.

And again, it's more than LeBron is averaging per game, so it might not happen tonight. And if it doesn't, the next chance will be on Thursday against the Milwaukee Bucks, which is of course, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's former team before he played for the Lakers.

So ticket prices there even higher on the resale market right now than the ones for tonight. But obviously, it's not time change. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars just to sit in some of these seats and be as close to history as possible.

TAPPER: All right, Omar Jimenez in Los Angeles, thank you so much.

Be sure to join me tonight for CNN's coverage of President Biden State of the Union address. It all starts at 08:00 p.m. Eastern just in two hours. Until then, you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD from whence you get your podcasts, all two hours sitting there like a delicious plum.

Our coverage continues with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM".