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Colin Powell Dies From COVID Complications Amid Cancer Battle; Dems Push Biden To Take Forceful Role In Bridging Dem Factions; GOP Sen. Cassidy Says He Won't Be Voting For Trump In 2024. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 18, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Alex Marquardt, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLACKWELL: Start of a new hour, I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Alisyn Camerota. The White House flags are at half-staff for General Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants who rose to the highest levels of government, the nation's first black Secretary of State died this morning from complications around COVID. CNN has learned he suffered from a blood cancer and Parkinson's disease. He was about to receive a booster shot of the COVID vaccine this week when he got sick.

Colin Powell not only broke barriers, but he crossed partisan lines, always in pursuit of what he thought was best for the country, according to those who knew him best.

BLACKWELL: Now, in a statement, President Biden described Powell as a dear friend who, quote, having fought in wars, understood better than anyone, that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity. And Vice President Harris said this in the last hour.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE United States: He, obviously, served with dignity. He served with grace, who is 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.


BLACKWELL: CNN's Wolf Blitzer honors the general's lifetime of service that spanned four presidencies and more than four decades.


COLIN POWELL, FIRST BLACK U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I will never not be a soldier. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM (voice-over): Colin Powell, a soldier turned statesman made history on many fronts. The first African American and youngest Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and later, the first African American Secretary of State.

POWELL: So I've always felt strongly that you should try to solve conflicts in this world through negotiations, through diplomacy. Anytime we can solve a problem that way and not use force and satisfy our objectives, let's push for that.

BLITZER (voice-over): Powell grew up in the Bronx, New York. His parents emigrated from Jamaica. By his own admission, he was not an outstanding student.

POWELL: It's been amusing over the years to have people come up to me and say well, Colin Powell, you're Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When did you graduate from West Point? Couldn't have gotten in.

BLITZER (voice-over): He enrolled in the City College of New York. Geology was his major, but the ROTC became his passion. Powell flourished as a cadet, and after graduating, excelled as a soldier. He served two tours of Vietnam before earning a prestigious fellowship, working for the Office of Management and Budget during the Nixon era in 1972.

Afterwards, Powell returned to his troops, eventually becoming a general and went back to the White House in 1987, as President Reagan's national security adviser. Then, in 1989, the general became the highest ranking officer in the U.S. military when President George H. W. Bush named him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,

POWELL: Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it.

(INAUDIBLE) there all time?

BLITZER (voice-over): Powell a household name during the first Gulf War. His policy of overwhelming force against Iraq became known as the Powell Doctrine.

POWELL: I express my sincere thanks to each and every one of you for being here to share my final day in uniform.

BLITZER (voice-over): After a distinguished 35 year career, Powell retired from the Army in 1993. Ten years later, the United States would become involved in another Gulf War and Powell, again played a key role.

POWELL: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

BLITZER (voice-over): Then Secretary of State Powell made a case in front of the U.N. Security Council, arguing that Iraq posed a grave threat to the world because he said they had weapons of mass destruction. The following month, the U.S. invasion began. The war lasted more than eight years, no weapons of mass destruction ever turned up.

POWELL: I regret it now because the information was wrong.

BLITZER (voice-over): After four years as President George W. Bush's Secretary of State, Powell returned to private life. He spent his civilian years empowering youth through his projects, America's Promise Alliance, and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.

POWELL: We're going to go and educate the kids who are most in need. And when I heard their stories, I said I got to get -- this is where I belong. I'm home again.

BLITZER (voice-over): General Colin Powell, a leader and a patriot who devoted a lifetime to service.


CAMEROTA: And Wolf Blitzer joins us now. Wolf, great to see you. You covered General Powell for so long. Just first, share your personal impressions of him.


BLITZER: Well, I was so sad earlier this morning when I heard -- I didn't know that he was as sick as he was with multiple myeloma, and now we've learned he had Parkinson's. And I -- when I first heard that it was COVID complications, I said, "Wow, I knew he had been vaccinated." But when you when you have multiple myeloma and Parkinson's, obviously, your immune system is not going to be all that good. And it was just such a complicating factor. He was 84 years old.

But I have been covering him since 1990, when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I was CNN's Pentagon Correspondent, leading up to the first Gulf War, and he was always accessible. You know, he was tough. He was a fierce fighter, a brilliant military leader. Indeed, he came up with the Powell Doctrine, how to win a war, and then have an exit strategy to get out.

And he was always so, so impressive. It just broke me -- it broke my heart to hear that he had passed away. Was friendly with him, his family, and let me just say, may he rest in peace. May his memory be a blessing.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Wolf, it is remarkable the commitment to surface over so many decades in the military in -- at Foggy Bottom at the State Department there as well. But what made him emotional in a conversation we watched with Jamie Gangel was those young people who were committed to service, who were still entering the military. Just talk more about that emotional connection he had to the men and women in the U.S. military.

BLITZER: You know, Colin Powell was a child of immigrants. His parents were from Jamaica, and he was, you know, grew up in the Bronx, and very humble origins. And, you know, he had an opportunity at the City College of New York to go into the ROTC, and he did well. And then he realized this was something he really loved doing, serving our country, as a man in uniform, and he spent a career doing it.

But what he really wanted to give back was to inspire a lot of other young people. Remember, the draft was long gone. These are volunteers, the young men and women who volunteer to serve in the U.S. military, and they risked their lives on many occasions, especially obviously, if it's a wartime situation. And he wanted to thank them, inspire them, mentor them, and share his story, as someone with, you know, really, really, you know, city-oriented roots. An African American who had an opportunity, as a child of immigrants, he wanted to give back.

He would often say to me, what my parents would always say to me, remember, this is a great country, it's given us an opportunity. I'm a son of immigrants. My parents came here with nothing. His parents came with very little. And to see how he rose through the ranks, it was an inspiring story that he always wanted to share. And I'm so glad that he did.

CAMEROTA: And, I mean, he was so impressive on so many different levels. But, of course, there was an episode that tarnished his reputation, and that was when he spoke with faulty intelligence in front of the U.N. in 2003. And he felt that it was a forever stain basically, on his record, and you asked him about that in 2012. Here's that.


BLITZER: Was that the biggest intelligence blunder of your professional career?

POWELL: Of my professional career, yes. So one of the biggest, if not the biggest. And the reason I wrote that couple of sentences was because I get asked about this every single day. And I get accused almost every single day of having invented the intelligence.


CAMEROTA: I mean, of course, he didn't invent the intelligence, but he did use it to justify the U.S. going into Iraq.

BLITZER: And remember, the intelligence came from the overall U.S. intelligence community. And when he was addressing the U.N. Security Council, he was sitting right in front of George Tenet, who was the CIA director, who -- they specifically wanted him in the picture when he was addressing the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. was there.

This was a joint operation of the intelligence community. The U.S. intelligence community made a major blunder, a major failure. They thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, whether chemical or biological, maybe even nuclear. They were afraid he was working on that.

Yes, years earlier, Saddam Hussein used poison gas against the Kurds, Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq and killed a lot of Iraqi Kurds in the process. But by 19 -- by, you know, 2003 when the war against Saddam Hussein began, there were no weapons of mass destruction. He later acknowledged it. He did what was the right thing to do, he admitted the blunder, he admitted the mistake and said to me on several occasions, "We screwed up. We got to learn from that to make sure it never ever happens again."


And he wanted a full intelligence review of how the U.S. intelligence community could have made a mistake like that.

BLACKWELL: Wolf, we've talked about the 1996 campaign that he was heavily courted to run for president again in 2000, actually, but it was the endorsement in 2008, after having served in several Republican administrations of then Democratic Senator Barack Obama, that was so potent. And I think we have that moment as well.


POWELL: I think he is a transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world -- onto the world stage, on the American stage. And for that reason, I'll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.


BLACKWELL: I remember that Sunday, and it was a massive boost to the Obama campaign.

BLITZER: It certainly was. And, you know, Colin Powell, yes, he made a mistake, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but he was so admired, so appreciated. The first African American, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first African American Secretary of State, the first African American who was a national security adviser at the White House to the President of the United States.

And then he saw an opportunity in our country to have the first African American President of the United States, he thought it would be a really historic critical moment. I spoke to him about that on several occasions. And that's why he went out, even though he was a Republican, and endorsed Barack Obama to be the president of the United States. It was a very, very significant moment.

And Victor, you will appreciate this especially. Correct me if I'm wrong, you went to Howard University, right?

BLACKWELL: I certainly did.

BLITZER: And you know that he was on the board of Howard University, like you and me, he was a bison.


BLITZER: I'm very proud of that, as well. I have an honorary degree from Howard University. I'm very proud of that. And whenever I would go to Howard University events with the board or others, he was there. He had an enormous role to play in making sure that the students at Howard University and other universities around the country would get an opportunity to do what he did.

He was so grateful to this country for giving him that opportunity, the education he got at the City College in New York, he wanted to give back. And it always inspired me at these meetings to see him in action.

BLACKWELL: Enthusiastic supporter of Howard University, other HBCUs and it's always good to see you fellow bison, Wolf Blitzer. Thanks so much.

BLITZER: I'm a proud bison indeed.

BLACKWELL: I know you are.

All right, let's turn now to Fred McClure, the executive director of the Leadership Initiative at Texas A&M University, and a former CEO of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation. He worked with Colin Powell under President George H. W. Bush.

Fred, thank you for being with us. And I know that this was not just a colleague of yours, but that General Powell was a friend. So on this day, what are you feeling? What are you thinking as we remember the legacy and honor your friend?

FRED MCCLURE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE LEADERSHIP INITIATIVE, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY: Victor, this morning, I was having breakfast at a local restaurant and happened to get a text message saying that the General had passed away. And immediately there were some moments with some tears and thinking about Alma and the family, because he was quite a family man and he meant much to them.

You know, I think of him, though, that (INAUDIBLE), and we have this term that we used to describe leaders as being someone who is a soldier, a statesman, and a nightly gentleman. And I think that perfectly encapsulates General Colin Powell, not only because of his excellent service as a member of our United States military, but his additional service that he has provided in his other roles in our government.

BLACKWELL: Yes. You know, one of the things that the story that Wolf just told, his package there, the way in which General Powell during the Persian Gulf War back in 1991, would speak to the American people. It was clear, it was concise. Wolf had that segment, he said, "Of the enemy, first, we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it." I mean, we should not undervalue the way in which he relayed the news of that war to the American people.

MCCLURE: And the American people, I think, during that timeframe that understand what he was trying to communicate on behalf of the administration and what we were doing at the time. I mean, he exemplified focus, he exemplified resolve, and in that circumstance, he was exemplifying execution. All three great qualities that made command to find leader that he was.

BLACKWELL: Voted one of the most popular people in the country in the early '90s. I mentioned that he was courted heavily in 1986 to run president, ultimately, decided against that.


Do you know if it was something that was a difficult decision for him? I'd imagine, if you have the party coming and you've got the people who are going to financially help. Put up -- maybe clear the slate for you to run for president, that would be a tough call. What do you think? I see you smiling.

MCCLURE: I'm smiling because it ain't that easy.


MCCLURE: If it were that easy, I think that he -- and I'm sure Colin thought about it. But I think he had a much broader perspective, it's probably one of the reasons that he endorsed then Senator Obama, because of the fact that he knew that it was time, or at least he thought it was time for a new generation of leadership. He knew what it meant for black people across the country.

I mean, he's -- he dealt with some of the same segregated washrooms, and water fountains I dealt with as a kid growing up in East Texas. And so you develop an attitude, I think, that made him more expansive, in terms of his ability and desire to help and lead others. And make people realize that they weren't products of their circumstances, but they were products of the decisions they made.


MCCLURE: And that's all I think that he exemplified.

BLACKWELL: I asked this question of a biographer, but I'm glad that I had the opportunity to ask it of a personal friend. He was the first black of so many things, also the youngest person to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What did his representation mean? He's being a black man, son of immigrants in these roles mean to him?

MCCLURE: I think it more meant not what it meant to him, but more the situation of what it meant for others. It added an extra burden and responsibility on him to perform perhaps at a higher level than maybe some of his peers who happen not to be black. But then getting beyond that to be totally effective, straightforward and aboveboard in terms of his performance of the roles to which he had been chosen. And he knew how important it was in terms of setting examples, not only for other black kids, or other immigrants that would follow, but anyone who would follow him in terms of his leadership of our United States military.

BLACKWELL: You know, the tributes that are coming in are of from Republicans and Democrats, Independents, it's transcending party. And in this political climate, that's not something that we hear or see often, without the color of partisanship, what can we learn from his style of leadership?

MCCLURE: I think the General realized that you had to -- you couldn't be completely devoid of politics, as you rose through the ranks of the military. You know, we like to keep it as apolitical as it in terms of government, in terms of how much we can keep it not political. But the higher you getting the ranks, somebody to rise as high as he did, and other offices in the general, right, you got to have some political sensitivity.

I mean, when he went up to Capitol Hill during our Gulf War events, he needed to have the confidence that he could say what he needed to say when he was briefing members of Congress, but yet be able to realize that there were some sensitivities that he had to have in mind as he shared his views and the administration's views about what we were trying to do. I think he honed that skill exceptionally well.


MCCLURE: And I particularly think that after his service in the military, and after his government service, he continued to exercise those skill sets. You know, leadership skills are not -- there's not just one thing, that's a leadership skill.


MCCLURE: It's a compilation of things, and he possessed a number of them.

BLACKWELL: Fred McClure, my condolences on the loss of your long-time friend, and I thank you so much for the insight.

MCCLURE: Thanks, Victor. Thank you guys for having me.

BLACKWELL: All right. We'll be right back.



CAMEROTA: Now to the stalemate over President Biden's social safety net legislation. We now know that he will host two separate meetings at the White House tomorrow, one with Moderates, one with Progressives.

BLACKWELL: You know, among those Moderates, Senator Joe Manchin, who was been making it clear for some time now where he will not budge. He won't get any higher than $1.5 trillion as a price tag. And he wants less climate change provisions, fewer climate change provisions, I should say. A 25 percent limit to the corporate tax rate and means testing for social programs, including the child tax credit.

CNN's Political Analyst Natasha Alford is with us now, senior correspondent at theGrio. Natasha, I found it interesting in his most recent exchange with Manu today in which Senator Manchin says there are 52 senators who are against this legislation. You've got two who are trying to work something out. But what -- which degree is he trying to work something out? I think the clear picture we're getting is where his caps are not where's willing to budge.


NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And I think that has been a central issue to all of this. There's so many voters who look at what's happening. And they're saying, where does the will of the people coming, right? Where is the agenda that I essentially voted for when I came out in November? And I'm thinking particularly of black voters who were told that if they showed up in these massive numbers, they would see a change in their everyday life.

But our entire news cycle has centered around this debate, right, and the sort of the Democratic -- so-called Democratic leaders who are holding up progress and not letting us get to a place where we can talk about what's actually in the bill and what our day-to-day lives look like. So, I think that that, you know, we're moving to a point of conversation where people are sitting down, but voters still don't feel like this is enough.

CAMEROTA: I mean, I hate to be totally pollyannaish about this, but why can't they get into the same room? I mean, when we just reported that President Biden today is holding meetings with Progressives, and then he's holding meetings with the Moderates. Haven't we already tried that for the past couple of weeks? Isn't it time to hold one big meeting where they could all hash it out?

ALFORD: Absolutely, and get it done. But as you can see, you know, there's so many feelings of frustration. And I think that when we talk about these comments from Bernie Sanders, sort of venting the frustration and -- venting frustration at Congress, at the President, but also at the media for not exactly explaining the Build Back Better plan to the public, so that way, they can come out and support it, right?

There's just this sense that, you know, things are not moving forward. And I think that there are many people who -- you know, some people actually support that point of view that they don't understand what's in the bill. But also this the price tag and sort of the bickering back and forth is what's really held up progress on this.

BLACKWELL: Now let's turn to the Republicans, and Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, who voted to convict the second Trump impeachment to Axios is reiterating that he does not believe that Trump can win in 2024 and he's not going to be voting for him. You know, we've asked where is this faction of the Republican Party going to come from if they're going to stop him, but Senator Cassidy saying, wouldn't be my guy. You know, I wouldn't vote for him. If I were you, didn't seem like the full-throated effort that's needed to stop former President Trump.

ALFORD: Right. And Victor, what was so interesting is that Senator Cassidy was talking about what it took to win an election, right? This wasn't exactly about morals, or principle or what the Republican Party necessarily stands for. It's about the fact that he feels that Trump is a loser of elections, and therefore, it's not a good strategy to put the party's efforts behind him.

But the reality is that Cassidy was really -- he was in the minority on that impeachment vote. And he's in the minority right now sort of believing that Trump is not the face of the party. All the polls indicate that supporting the big lie is something that is important to many Republican voters. And that is central to the identity of what it means to be a member of the GOP.

So again, while he's factually correct that Trump, like literally is a loser of elections and not guaranteed to win, it's not necessarily where the heart of the party is, or the spirit of the party is. And Cassidy is not running for re-election until 2026 so, you know, he can say that safely.

CAMEROTA: I think that it's pretty notable. I think it's -- I don't think that we should downplay what Senator Cassidy did because he's a Republican, and so few are able to utter out loud what is true and what we all know that Donald Trump lost. And Senator Cassidy did that. I mean, regardless of what his motivations were, or if he's safe for a few years, he is really bucking his party and saying out loud that the emperor has no clothes. And so I just want to play that for everybody.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he runs, he wins the nomination, if he --

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): I don't know that. President Trump is the first president in the Republican side at least, to lose the House, the Senate and the presidency in four years. Elections are about winning so --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's super interesting. You think that if he ran, he could lose the nomination?

CASSIDY: Well, if you want to win the presidency, and hopefully that's what voters are thinking about, I think he might.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's clear you ain't voting for him?

CASSIDY: I'm not.


CAMEROTA: I just -- Natasha, I just think it's significant that he is saying that on camera out loud.

ALFORD: I hear you, Alisyn. But you know what? If we wake up tomorrow, and a bunch of people get a backbone in the GOP party, if they decide, you know what, this is true, right, then maybe, you know, I could be a little bit more excited about this. I think I'm also concerned that, OK, we say that Trump is not the nominee, what he has unleashed on our country in terms of, you know, misinformation and disinformation and just the attack on democracy itself, if someone else pops up representing those same values, but they don't necessarily --