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Vaccine Mandate Disputes; 16 Americans Kidnapped in Haiti; Remembering Colin Powell. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired October 18, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell.
The White House flag will soon be at half-staff after the passing of general Colin Powell. A short time ago, President Biden released a statement grieving for -- quote -- "a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity."
The nation's first black secretary of state died this morning from complications from COVID. And CNN has learned that he suffered from a blood cancer and Parkinson's disease and was about to receive a booster shot of the COVID vaccine when he fell ill.
Powell was 84 years old.
CAMEROTA: Before becoming America's top diplomat under George W. Bush, Powell served as national security adviser to President Reagan, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton.
Today, President George W. Bush said -- quote -- "He was such a favorite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice."
In his statement, President Biden called Powell a great friend. Those who served under Powell may explain him best and what the nation lost today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COL. BILL SMULLEN (RET.), FORMER POWELL CHIEF OF STAFF: He would want to be remembered as someone who cared about America more than life itself.
And God love him, we are just going to miss him terribly, terribly, terribly.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: The nation's first blank defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, also paid tribute today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed. Alma lost a great husband. And the family lost a tremendous father.
And I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me. And I could always go to him with tough issues. He always had great, great counsel. We will certainly miss him. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel is here with us now.
Jamie, we're getting reactions like that from so many across party lines, political responses, military as well. How does that reflect on General Powell's life and that life of service specifically?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it just goes to show you there is a hole in the heart of a lot of people today.
We have seen a lot of dignitaries, presidents pass, but I have to say this news was so stunning. People from both parties have been texting and calling me all day. I covered General Powell -- I still call them General Powell, even though he's secretary of state -- from the time he was in the Reagan White House as national security adviser.
And I will tell you, I remember the first time I met him. He truly was larger than life, had a lot of charisma, always that smile. And I think, even if you didn't agree with him on policy, he had a personal connection with people.
I want to tell you one quick story. In 2019, he was on his way to Walter Reed for a doctor's appointment, and he had a flat tire. And he was changing the tire. And a veteran stopped who was also on his way to Walter Reed and helped him.
And, afterwards, Colin Powell posted, thanking him on social media, and said -- quote -- "Let's just take care of each other. And I think that's at the core of Colin Powell."
CAMEROTA: That's really beautiful to hear.
I had forgotten that he was voted basically the most popular public figure in 1993. I mean, he had so many incarnations as a public figure. But he was so popular. And, of course, he had that flirtation with running for president, but, ultimately, I guess decided it wasn't for him?
GANGEL: That's correct. I think that there are two things. One is, we were always told that
his wife, Alma, did not want him to go into politics. I think he also thought, as Bill Smullen, who you just showed, Colonel Smullen, who worked with him so closely, said, he -- at the end of the day, he struggled with the decision, but didn't think he had -- quote -- "the fire in the belly" to run.
He also was a soldier's soldier. I interviewed him a couple of years ago for a documentary on former President George W. Bush -- George H.W. Bush.
And this is what he said when he was talking about Desert Storm and the young soldiers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And then I will never forget getting the call: The Marines are through.
What do you mean they're through? I don't know. Some private cut the wire and went through. And they were pouring through.
Those are the kinds of kids we have.
GANGEL: It makes you emotional.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANGEL: That's what he cared about, the soldiers on the ground. He often called himself a reluctant general.
He was always hoping diplomacy would win out. But, as we saw in Desert Storm, and then when he worked for President George W. Bush, he -- when there was a mission, he was intent on doing it according to the Powell Doctrine with overwhelming force.
BLACKWELL: Reluctant general.
All right, Jamie Gangel for us, thank you so much.
As Jamie mentioned there, General Powell is survived by his wife and three children. And, as we mentioned, he was suffering from Parkinson's and the blood cancer that he had was multiple myeloma.
So let's bring in CNN medical analyst Leana Wen. She's an E.R. Doctor who served as Baltimore's health commissioner.
Dr. Wen, great to have you here.
That's just the latest information that Victor just read, so multiple myeloma, Parkinson's. He obviously was immunocompromised. Also, he got the Pfizer vaccine. We now know he was doubly vaccinated, got a second shot in February. And it's so sad to hear that he was scheduled for his booster shot this week, when he got ill and had to go to the hospital.
But given how complicated we now know his medical history was, would the booster shot have saved his life for somebody with that profile?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, it might have helped.
But let's take a step back and look at his risk factors. So the first is that he is already medically fragile, meaning, because of age, being 84, and also we know that risk is additive. And so having Parkinson's, having multiple myeloma, having chronic medical conditions means that, for somebody else, that they could have had a mild breakthrough infection.
But for somebody who was medically vulnerable, that could have led to a much more severe outcome. The other thing is, multiple myeloma itself, a blood cancer, results in people potentially not mounting the same type of immune response as somebody who is otherwise healthy.
And so there was a study published in July that found that patients with multiple myeloma, about 45 percent of them, only 45 percent of them will mount an adequate immune response after vaccination. And so that's why this is the group that is extremely vulnerable, and they are recommended to get a booster shot.
But even with a booster, they may still not have as much protection in order to prevent from severe outcomes. And this ultimately is the reason why we all have to be vaccinated, because this is really about all of us. Yes, the vaccine does protect you, but it protects you even better if everybody around you is vaccinated. And we get vaccinated as healthy people in part to protect the most vulnerable among us.
BLACKWELL: Yes, it's really important that the people around someone who has those health challenges should make sure that we're protecting that person with the immunodeficiency.
Dr. Wen, my question is, if we know that the general fell ill when he was supposed to get the booster, is there a period of time which your health prevents you or prohibits someone from getting that additional shot, that it's actually counterproductive to give someone a booster?
WEN: It's a very good question.
So, if somebody actively has COVID-19, it's too late for that person to get a vaccine, whether it's to get the COVID vaccine or the booster dose that they were previously vaccinated. And so that actually is a contraindication, meaning that the person has to recover before they're able to get the -- get -- to be able to get the vaccine.
And just one more word about this as well. I have equated before the vaccine to a very good raincoat, meaning that it protects you really well if there's a drizzle. But, unfortunately, if there's a lot of virus around you, so to speak, if there are thunderstorms or hurricanes all around you, then the vaccine is not going to protect you as well. And so the issue in this case is not so much that he's missing a
vaccine or a booster, but rather that there's so much virus around us that that's why the risk for people who are the most vulnerable is particularly elevated.
CAMEROTA: That's really helpful context.
Dr. Leana Wen, thank you very much.
Joining us now to talk more about Colin Powell is Jeffrey Matthews, a biographer who wrote the book "Colin Powell: Imperfect Patriot." He's a professor at the University of Puget Sound. Also with us, Tim Naftali a CNN presidential historian, professor at NYU, and a former director of the Nixon Presidential Library.
Gentlemen, it's great to have you.
Professor Naftali, I want to start with you.
You say that Colin Powell wasn't just secretary of state. He was a titan. And you say that he single-handedly changed foreign policy as we knew it? How?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think he has to be remembered as a towering figure in modern American history.
He is someone on a -- on the same level in his era as George Marshall. He helped reshape the way in which we use power, military force, after Vietnam. He was a key adviser to Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense under Reagan.
CAMEROTA: I mean, was he Shock and Awe? In terms of how we use military power.
NAFTALI: No, no, Shock and Awe was Rumsfeld.
And Rumsfeld -- sorry -- Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Powell disagreed. They disagreed, because Powell believed in using overwhelming force, and doing it sparingly. Don't do it all the time.
Powell is the one who pushed something called the Powell Doctrine, which limited the number of times the United States should use military force for diplomatic reasons. He thought that the one of the lessons of Vietnam was, you don't send boys into war unless the country is united behind it and unless the mission is clear. And if you send them into war, you send them to win.
So, when you look his career, he is someone who tried to discourage the use of military force, number one. Number two, he restored honor. One of his jobs was to clean out the mess after Iran-Contra. He was the national security adviser and he was given the responsibility to go look at all of our covert action, and figure out if all of it was legal, and, anything that wasn't legal, to get rid of. So this is a man who was devoted to service and brought to the mission
a philosophy that I think most Americans, if they thought about it, would embrace. Don't use the military unless you have to. If you use the military, keep casualties low by increasing the number of people. Go in, come out.
And one of the things he said to the Miller Center at UVA, when he was asked about why the Gulf War ended when it did, he said, listen, we'd won. The president had achieved the mission. And everybody was seeing death that didn't have to happen. And more of those dying were Iraqis, but they have mothers too.
BLACKWELL: Jeff, I wonder. We have been talking since this news broke of the general's death about the firsts, first black secretary of state, first black national security adviser, first black chairman of Joint Chiefs.
What did that list of firsts mean to him?
JEFFREY MATTHEWS, AUTHOR, "COLIN POWELL: IMPERFECT PATRIOT": I think he thought about it as being a role model.
He had been the beneficiary of many role models in his own life and mentors in his own life. And I really thought he was someone who wanted his actions to speak for themselves. He wanted to be doing the right thing, to get out in front of issues, to take an active role.
But he wanted to see not himself as a black military officer, but he wanted to see himself as a highly effective officer who was black, and who had commitment to give back to his community. But it was leading by example that was the key.
CAMEROTA: Tim, one of the things that General Powell did not want to be remembered for, but it is part of his epitaph, is that 2003 speech to the U.N., where he legitimized, I mean, for better or worse, the argument to go into Iraq.
And I had just read this morning, which I didn't know, about how much he sort of not agonized over it, but he went to the CIA to make sure that everything was buttoned up and to make sure that he understood the intelligence that they had of the case that he was going to make to the world.
And it's a terrifically sad story. And it's a story that he knew would be part of his obituary. But it's also a story that tells you a lot about Colin Powell the man and the leader. When he realized that the material was wrong, which, unfortunately, he did not before he gave his...
CAMEROTA: At the time, right, but afterwards.
NAFTALI: At the time.
He raised hell. He asked questions. He talked to the president. He talked to the head of the CIA, George Tenet. He was bitterly disappointed when he found out that information about the biological weapons van came from Curveball, who turned out to be a complete fabricator. The German intelligence service had provided that man to the United States.
He was upset. And then he did the right thing, which is to say to Americans, to anyone who asked him: I made a mistake. I was wrong.
He wasn't alone and being wrong. By the way, most of Congress believed all that information too. Here's the deal. In our society at this moment, we don't have enough people who say they were wrong, people of responsibility, people who have duties. He did repeatedly.
So, yes, he made a mistake. Who doesn't? But I think his greatness comes from the fact that he was -- his ability and willingness and self-confidence to say: I messed up.
And after serving in the Bush administration, the general then or secretary at that point started to get back into politics, in 2008 Specifically, by endorsing then-Senator Barack Obama for president, Jeffrey.
That, of the endorsements we have seen over the last several years, was the most potent. Why did he do that? And what did -- why did he get back into politics after that period of serving as secretary of state?
MATTHEWS: Well, I think by that time in his life in retirement, he did see himself as an elder spokesman.
But Powell would see himself as an elder spokesman for the entire country, not for one political party. And so I think, when Obama announced that he was going to run, I think Powell did some soul- searching about, was he a Republican? Was he a Democrat? Was he an independent?
And I think, by then, Powell had really decided that he was more of an independent and that he knew that this would be a historical transformation to have the first black president. He himself probably could have been president in 1996, but decided not to run.
So I think he was really seizing the opportunity. And in his private life in retirement, he really was not that political overtly.
BLACKWELL: All right, Jeffrey, I have to interrupt here.
This is Vice President Harris speaking about the late general. KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She had breakfast
with me that morning at the residence. And Secretary Powell and I had a chance to catch up.
You know what an incredible American. He obviously served with dignity. He served with grace. He was the epitome of what it means to be strong, but, at the same time, so modest in terms of everything that he did and said, in a way that it was never about him. It was about the country. And it was about the people who served with him.
He -- we talked a bit about the challenges of this moment. And, as you all know, he was very supportive of the president and the work that we needed to get done.
But I just want to say that also he is the first black person, black man to be Joint Chiefs -- chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to be national security adviser, to be secretary of state. Every step of the way, when he filled those roles, he was, by everything that he did in the way he did it, inspiring so many people.
And there's been a lot of conversation about that, how young service members and others, not only in the military, but in our nation and around the globe, took notice of what his accomplishments meant as a reflection of who we are as a nation.
And I think that's one of the most important things to take away, which is that he broke so many barriers, and those barriers were not easy to break by any stretch. But he did it with dignity. He did it with grace.
And because of what he was able to accomplish, it really did elevate our nation in so many ways.
So, may he rest in peace.
QUESTION: What is your message for Americans who know that he was fully vaccinated with COVID who are -- now remain skeptical?
BLACKWELL: All right, Vice President Harris there speaking about the late Secretary of State General Colin Powell there.
And a line, Alisyn, from the president's statement, where he says that General Powell embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. It is the years, the decades as a warrior in the Army that gave some context to his time as a diplomat.
CAMEROTA: Reluctant warrior, as he's been called.
BLACKWELL: Yes. Yes.
CAMEROTA: And that's really an important context as well.
BLACKWELL: All right, our thanks to Jeffrey Matthews and Tim Naftali for that conversation as well.
As we said, Vice President Kamala Harris there spoke about the death of former Secretary of State General Colin Powell. We will bring you more remarks if we hear from the president as well.
We see here that the flag above the White House at half-staff, in honor of General Powell, flags at the Capitol also being lowered to half-staff in his honor.
We will be right back.
CAMEROTA: The White House confirming the President Biden has been briefed on the situation in Haiti, where 16 U.S. missionaries and one Canadian were kidnapped.
The group was abducted by gang members while traveling north of Port- au-Prince after visiting an orphanage. A senior U.S. official tells CNN that the State Department and FBI do not know the current location of the kidnapped Americans.
BLACKWELL: All right, joining us now, CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood and CNN international correspondent Matt Rivers, who is in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Matt, let's start with you. What do you know about the gangs and what they're after?
MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know is that this gang, called 400 Mawozo, which, according to source of ours in Haiti security forces, is the gang responsible for this kidnapping, they are one of, if not the most powerful, most destructive gang in Haiti.
And that is saying something, because this is a country that is absolutely plagued by gang violence, and especially kidnappings, specifically in this year. And they're doing it for money. There's no question about that. Not one person that we have spoken to says that this is some sort of ideological kidnapping, that they will be asking for some sort of a ransom.
And one thing that is consistent when you talk to people is that this gang will know about the international media attention. They're going to know that these people are Americans and Canadians. They're going to know that these are people who are high-value targets, in their mind-set.
And I have spoken to several analysts who expect the ransom requests to be quite high. We know that this gang controls, has complete control, essentially, where the state essentially can't go, police can't go in a suburb just east of Port-au-Prince called Croix-des- Bouquets.
That is an area that this gang completely controls. There are dozens of members of this gang, according to this security source that we spoke to. And they have been known to kidnap groups before in a way that we haven't seen other gangs do. So this is very much within their motives and something that we have seen them do all year long, and, crucially, I think we should make the point not just foreigners.
The vast majority of people they kidnap, ordinary Haitian citizens.
CAMEROTA: Kylie, as Matt just alluded to, kidnappings in Haiti have risen 300 percent this year alone. So what can the U.S. do about that and can do to find these Americans?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, this is something that the U.S. has been following for some time now.
More than a year ago, the State Department updated its travel advisory, telling Americans, do not travel to Haiti, specifically because of the rise in kidnappings. But, of course, this is an awful situation, 16 Americans kidnapped. The White House confirming today that President Biden has been updated on the situation. He is receiving regular updates from the State Department, from the interagency.
We know that the FBI is involved in investigating and trying to figure out what happened and where these Americans are right now and, of course, how to get them home safely. Now, the State Department not giving us a whole lot more today, but we will watch and see if they have been able to learn anything more about where these Americans are, what these gangs actually want, obviously, a complicated situation, because the U.S. doesn't traditionally pay ransom.
So they're going to have to figure out how to secure their release. And, of course, we should note that this interagency involvement is something that I am told is being consistently worked on around the clock, FBI and State Department officials trying to get his Americans home.
BLACKWELL: Kylie Atwood, Matt Rivers, thank you both.
Let's turn now to the fight against coronavirus. Two-thirds of eligible Americans are now fully vaccinated. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all trending down. Dr. Anthony Fauci warns, though, that more Americans have to get vaccinated to maintain this trajectory and to prevent a future spike.
CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, some police departments across the country are bracing for potential staffing shortages, as some unions refuse to comply with city vaccine protocols.
Alexandra Field has the latest.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The battle over lifesaving vaccine mandates now pitting cities across the country against their own police departments.
LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), MAYOR OF CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: This notion that individual officers get to be insubordinate as they choose, pick and choose, we're not having that.
FIELD: Chicago limiting time off for all officers as a vaccine mandate takes effect, while warning officers who fail to share their vaccine status could ultimately be fired.
Baltimore's police union telling officers not to reveal their vaccine status, citing a lack of communication between city officials and the bargaining unit, according to "The Baltimore Sun."
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: This is not a good thing, to mix up a public health crisis and a vaccine that can save lives amongst things like bargaining power. This is the wrong hill to die on.
FIELD: Concerns over staffing shortages in the face of mandates are mounting.
Seattle's police department had an 82 percent vaccination rate last Friday, three days before the deadline. The city's public schools canceled about 140 bus routes, fearing too few vaccinated drivers. Massachusetts moved preemptively to offset possible staffing shortages among state troopers by calling up its National Guard to assist in prisons if needed and to administer COVID tests to kids in schools.
As of today, deadline day, the governor's offices 90 percent of state police have submitted their vaccine records.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: I'm not comfortable with telling people what they should do under normal circumstances, but we are not in normal circumstances right now. Take the police.
We know now the statistics. More police officers die of COVID than they do in other causes of death. So it doesn't make any sense.
FIELD: The rush of mandates now targeting some of the 66 million Americans choosing not to get the shot just as the country marks a vaccine milestone.
Two-thirds of all eligible people are now fully vaccinated. COVID- related deaths are trending down, cases and hospitalizations falling to nearly three-month lows.
But health officials are still expressing concerns over the danger