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United States Launches Strikes In Iraq And Syria Hitting Iran- Backed Militias; CENTCOM: United States Conducts New Airstrikes In Yemen, Shoots Down Multiple Houthi Drones; Blinken To Travel To Mideast For Fifth Time Since October 7th Tomorrow; South Carolina Voters Head To Polls Today For Democratic Primary; Calls Grow To Deport Migrants Who Allegedly Attacked NYPD Officers; East Palestine Still Recovering After Toxic Train Derailment; City Councilman Brandon Johnson (D-Wichita, KS) Discusses Restoring Stolen, Destroyed Jackie Robinson Statue. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 03, 2024 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
All right. New developments as the world reacts to a blistering U.S. air assault in the Middle East. Russia is now calling for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting over those strikes. The U.S. says it hit 85 targets linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Quds Force and affiliated militia groups in Iraq and Syria.
Those attacks are in retaliation to a drone attack in Jordan, which killed three American soldiers on Sunday. Iraq claims these latest explosions killed 16 people including civilians, but the response is far from over.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is vowing that these bombings are only the beginning. Iran says the U.S. has made a strategic mistake while Iraq and Syria say the U.S. actions could inflame more conflict in the region.
CNN has teams around the globe covering all of these developments.
First, let's go to CNN's Priscilla Alvarez as she's in Los Angeles where President Biden will be traveling later on today.
Priscilla, what more is the White House saying about this latest round of strikes?
PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, they're essentially saying that it isn't over yet. That there will -- this is a first of a series of strikes that are expected after those three U.S. service members were killed in Jordan.
And President Biden was pretty direct about that, in his statement Friday afternoon, saying the following, "Our response began today, it will continue at times and places of our choosing. The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this, if you harm an American, we will respond."
Of course, we saw those 85 targets hit in Iraq and Syria over the course of a 30 minutes span on Friday afternoon. And Sources tell CNN that President Biden came to the decision on how to respond on Monday.
Now, there were a few days in between, of course, before these strikes happen, and that was partially due because of the weather. They wanted to have clear skies so that there were no unintended casualties, and they could determine their targets.
Now, senior U.S. officials don't believe that this will all -- will block our or end all of the attacks by Iranian proxies. But the hope here is that it does diminish their capabilities. And that's really the delicate balance that President Biden has had to navigate in responding here and being forceful enough, especially when American service members were killed and trying to deter any additional strikes, and also try to diminish the capabilities of these Iranian proxies, but also not get pulled into a wider regional conflict.
That is something that the Biden administration has been very deliberate and careful about in trying to avoid any escalation in the region.
Notably, the president -- the U.S. did not strike in Iran. That was unlikely going into the strikes. But it just goes to speak again, that the U.S. is trying to be careful here, as tensions are on -- as the countries, as the region is on edge.
WHITFIELD: All right. Priscilla, thank you. Let's turn now to CNN's Ben Wedeman in Jordan.
So, Ben, Jordan is denying reports that it cooperated in any way with the U.S. on this operation. What more are you hearing?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, that's right.
Official in the United States has told CNN that Jordan participated in the strikes or the operation, but the Jordanians deny, for instance, we heard a statement in Petra, which is the official Jordanian news agency flatly denying the Jordan took place in the operation against Iraq. But they notably left out of that statement, Syria.
Now, in the past during the war against ISIS. Jordanian warplanes did hit ISIS targets in Syria. So, there is a precedent for this. But it's also it's a question of what do American officials say when they said the Jordan participated? Did warplanes of Jordan participate? Or were they simply providing intelligence or logistical support? It's unclear.
And it's also a very sensitive subject here because although Jordan is a close ally of the United States, many Jordanians are very, very angry at the U.S. for its continued diplomatic and military support for Israel and its war in Gaza. So, it's walking a fine line. And I think that might explain why the statements coming out of the Jordanians are rather ambiguous to say the least. Fredricka?
WHITFIELD: OK, and then, and what about these new details about several U.S. strikes in Yemen?
U.S. CENTCOM saying it targeted multiple Houthi drones preparing to attack ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
WEDEMAN: Now, these are really targets of opportunity where U.S. forces that are deployed in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are seeing that their possible drone launchers or drones actually in the air and they take them out.
This is not along the same lines, as I think, we've seen perhaps, 10, perhaps, more concerted U.S. airstrikes on Houthi positions, and weapons storage facilities, and whatnot, in Yemen itself.
So, these are perhaps normal operations for this U.S. carrier group that's deployed in the area, trying to prevent the Houthis from targeting navigation in the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aden.
WHITFIELD: All right. Ben Wedeman and Priscilla Alvarez, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.
All right. Let's get more analysis now on this developing story. Joining me now is Aaron David Miller. He's a former U.S. State Department Middle East negotiator. Good to see you.
You have said, you know, the U.S. needed to send a tough message to Iran over the proxy attacks that have been going on for months now. Are these strikes, sending a significant message?
AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: You know, it's hard to say, you know, U.S. isn't a mailman I think more important than messaging is the effort to destroy, diminish, degrade pro-Iranian -- the capabilities, the capacities, Fred, of pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria, and to strike Iranian -- Iranians proper than to say Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence commanded trainers in Iraq and Syria.
Look, I think, administration has a strategic problem with Iran, but we don't have a strategic solution. We'll continue to conduct these strikes, I'm sure in the weeks ahead. But, in the end, the Iranians may choose to accept the message from the mailman and to some degree to deescalate.
But it's only a matter of time, before they re-up, rearm, and continue to work against American influence and interest in the Middle East. Iran wants the United States out of Syria and Iraq. And they are prepared to fight Israel and the U.S. to the last Houthi, to the last member Hezbollah, and certainly to the last pro-Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian.
So, this is a problem, I'm afraid without a solution. At the same time, we have to impose some costs and accountability on killing Americans with impunity. And we also have to toughen up our own defenses, to make -- at least to raise the odds, Fred, that when they strike, Americans will not be killed.
WHITFIELD: 85 targets in Iraq and Syria hit by the U.S. Can retaliation, you know, go too far? And then you have a larger conflict to follow, because we've heard it from the defense department, more is coming.
MILLER: I mean, fear of escalation is real. Because what you don't want and I understand people argue we have a regional war, we really don't have a regional war. We do not have a major confrontation with Israel and Hezbollah.
We do not have direct strikes by Israel and the United States against Iran. We don't have Iranian use of ballistic missiles against the Gulf, against American forces in the Middle East and against the Israelis.
That would be something that the Middle East has never experienced, and we want to avoid it. I suspect that won't be the first time I was wrong in terms of Middle East analysis, but I suspect that we will be able to remain below the escalatory threshold and for the simple reason for it is that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not want a major confrontation right now, either with the United States and with Israel.
And certainly, the Biden administration with so many other balls to juggle, including Ukraine, maybe an ambitious new effort to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and to produce something for the Palestinians to negotiate a hostage for prisoner release, to calm down and eventually end the war in Gaza.
There are a lot of other equities out there and I think the administration is right to try to, you know, try to navigate the fine line between risk aversion on one hand, and risk readiness on the other. We'll see if it works.
WHITFIELD: U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is going back to the Middle East tomorrow. It follows a series of talks led by CIA director Bill Burns to end the war in Gaza as a former negotiator. Do you see that progress is being made there to win the release of those remaining hostages.
MILLER: Right now, the Israeli and Hamas demands are mutually irreconcilable. And Secretary Blinken, I know from experience working for a half dozen other secretaries of state better pack a few extra shirts in his suitcase, because this is not the first time, nor the last that will be travelling to this region.
It's really complicated. Hamas wants a permanent cessation of hostilities, the Israelis will not accept that. Hamas wants release of Palestinian prisoners and the hundreds, if not thousands. Those Palestinian prisoners who have killed the Israelis, the Israelis will not accept that. And I think it's going to be extremely difficult to pull this off.
And in the Middle East, negotiations usually have two speeds, slow on one hand and slower on the other. Although, I think, final point, that we may have no better chance in the weeks ahead, than to figure out a way create a pathway to free hostages, these hostages in exchange for prisoners and to deescalate the situation in Gaza.
So, that humanitarian assistance can urge not can surged, not dribble into Gaza. To relieve the suffering of too many Palestinians who have suffered too long, and in too severe and horrific manner.
WHITFIELD: Aaron David Miller, great to see you. Thanks so much.
MILLER: You too, Fred. Thanks for having me.
WHITFIELD: All right. Still to come. South Carolina Democrats are heading to the polls right now for their first official primary election. Why this is a test of Biden's strength among a key demographic next.
WHITFIELD: Voters in South Carolina are heading to the polls today to cast their ballots in the state's Democratic primary. Democrats made South Carolina their first official primary state this cycle, and it's the first time that delegates will be awarded. 55 delegates are at stake.
Biden is expected to win easily despite Congressman Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson, also being on the ballot. In the next hour, the president will travel to the other side of the country, the west coast, as he meets with donors in California.
CNN's Eva McKend is at a polling site in South Carolina for us. So, Eva, it's looking pretty barren behind you. What's the turnout like? Are people excited about this primary vote opportunity today?
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Fred, things remain relatively quiet here at this polling site in Colombia. I think last time we spoke; it was 72 people, it has creeped up a bit to 84 people, no doubt that President Biden and Democrats they want to see a robust turnout today.
You know, South Carolina really put President Biden on the map in 2020. And that is in large part due to its sizable black population. So, South Carolina Democrats, about 60 percent of South Carolina Democrats are black voters.
And when you speak to them, as we have all week, the reviews are really mixed. You have some people with deep economic anxieties, who have routinely supported Democrats. And they feel like their lives aren't materially getting any better. And so, they are sort of sick and tired.
But then, you have others who are really excited about President Biden. They still give him a lot of credibility for being former President Barack Obama's vice president. And they say that they are enthusiastic to vote today. And, of course, will be voting in the general election.
And then, lastly, Fred, you have more pragmatic voters. So, people who are really concerned about President Trump returning to the White House and say that they sort of view this as not being so concerned about the next four or eight years, but about the condition of the country in the long term.
Another man that I spoke to, he voted for Trump in 2016. And 2020. Of it says that he believes that the former president won't follow the Constitution and is now supporting President Biden.
So, no doubt those that is what Democrats like to hear. Even President Biden framing this contest himself this morning, as more than a campaign, he described it as a mission. Polls close tonight at seven. This is the first real test that we will see in this contest on the Democratic side, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. It is, indeed. Eva McKend, thank you so much, in Columbia, South Carolina.
All right. Joining me right now to talk more about today's South Carolina primary is Robert Yoon. He is in the elections and democracy reporter for the Associated Press. Good to see you, Robert.
ROBERT YOON, ELECTIONS AND DEMOCRACY REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Hi, Fredricka. Thanks for having me.
WHITFIELD: All right. So, Biden is expected to win by a large margin today there in South Carolina. I mean, that state helped turn his 2020 campaign around and propelled him to the Democratic nomination and the presidency. So, what will you be looking for today, in terms of turnout, and how that might dictate the potential results?
YOON: Right. Well, as you said, it's not really a question as to whether President Biden will win tonight, he does have two opponents challenging him on the ballot tonight. But the bigger question is -- and it's not even a question of, you know, what the margin will be, how big the margin will be? But it's really the first test of his support in the biggest most important demographic in not just in South Carolina, but in -- you know, the democratic national nomination process is black voters.
And as Eva said in her piece, black voters make up about, you know, two-thirds of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, extremely influential. And the question is, how much of that support that he had from 2020 when his campaign was rescued, basically by black voters? How much of that support will translate to 2020? There is a lot opinions of 2024. There's a lot that's happened in the last four years.
But there's also been more recent efforts by the campaign -- the president's campaign and the administration to kind of reach black voters and tout the administration's accomplishments.
James Clyburn did an ad recently talking about things like insulin benefit and other things that would affect voters in the -- in the pocketbook, to try to emphasize the president's accomplishments.
But yes, it's -- that will be a big question as to how much of that vote will translate.
WHITFIELD: Now, what do you think about the potential of a Saturday, you know, turn out? I mean, you know, ordinarily, during the weekday, you know, going to work is something that stands in the way of people being able to get out and vote.
But then, you've got to Saturday, and you've got you run the risk of some complacency or folks who are like, oh, you know, I'd really rather be doing something else on my day off. So, what are the expectations?
YOON: Right. Well, the whole idea behind Saturday primaries, and there are a few states around the country that do this, is that you know, without the competition of having to worry about your workday, that turnout would be higher on a Saturday.
Of course, there are other competing interests that come up on a weekend, and especially in a contest where again, the result is not really a -- in question, so that less competitive race is often translate to lower turnout.
But again, as the first test, the first official contest of the -- of the primary season, you know, there is been a lot of attention with South Carolina being the first on the calendar. I think that, you know, turnout will be, you know, comparable to what it's been in the past.
You know, last time, turnout was higher when it was a competitive race. But there is still a lot of interest in the primary among South Carolinians.
WHITFIELD: OK. And then, Biden is not in South Carolina today. He is heading to the west coast to meet with donors in California later on today.
But he did spend some time in the Palmetto State in recent weeks, courting black voters and thanking them for their support.
So how critical is that voting bloc? For this go round, we know it was critical in 2020. But, you know, he needs to hold on to that voting bloc, does he not? Or, you know, can he feel confident that there might be some wiggle room?
YOON: Well, it's not at all an exaggeration to say that. You know, Joe Biden owes the presidency to the support of black voters. And that's not just talking about the South Carolina primary four years ago. I mean, it was definitely the case there, helped him win the nomination.
But it's also true in the general election, where you look at the battleground states across the country, Georgia, you know, Pennsylvania, Michigan, it was the democratic strongholds in the state where there are high black populations that helped deliver Biden the presidency.
And if you look at the 2,000 -- sorry, I'm forgetting my math. But the 2016 general election with Hillary Clinton versus Trump, Hillary Clinton in Michigan, for example. She won the Detroit area, Wayne County where Detroit is located, she won that area by a wide margin, like all Democrats do.
But when you compare the actual turnout in this heavily black area, the turnout was much lower than in previous years.
So, it's a crucially important voting bloc, you know, in the primaries and the general election.
WHITFIELD: All right. Robert Yoon, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much with the Associated Press.
YOON: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right. When we come back, a manhunt is underway for four migrants accused of attacking two New York City police officers. They are now believed to be heading to California on a bus.
Plus, back to our top story, the U.S. says its forces hit 85 targets linked to pro-Iranian militia groups inside Iraq and Syria. New details. Next.
WHITFIELD: All right. Back to our top story today. The U.S. says its forces hit 85 targets linked to pro-Iranian militia groups inside Iraq and Syria. Iraq says the blast killed 16 people, including civilians in an attack that according to the White House lasted about 30 minutes. Iraq denounced the attacks and are -- is now demanding to see the senior U.S. diplomatic official in Baghdad as an official protest.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the strikes are just the beginning of the U.S. response. It follows an Iran-backed drone attack in Jordan, which killed three American soldiers on Sunday.
And calls are growing to deport four migrant men after they were charged with assault last week for allegedly attacking two NYPD officers outside of migrant shelter in New York City.
The NYPD says at least seven were arrested and it's believed even more were involved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): Get them on send them back. You don't -- you don't touch our police officers. You don't touch anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN's Polo Sandoval joining me now with the very latest. Polo.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, you see that video. There is no question as to the violent nature, the brutal nature of the beating of those officers that did sustain minor injuries and we're treating there.
And here we are a week later, and the NYPD is still digging to try to positively identify what could be about a dozen men that were involved in last Saturday's altercation. In fact, evidence that this is still very much a fluid investigation is that they recently released an dividual that they had detained, investigators saying that they believe that he was not involved in that incident.
So really a bulk of that criticism we're seeing right now is being directed towards Manhattan prosecutors for their decision to issue a personal reconnaissance bond to several of the individuals that were detained and charged.
Recently, according to a law enforcement official, we do understand that at least four of those men may have used false names to have a local non-profit that assists local asylum seekers to be able to board a bus to California.
Now we should point out that as part of the conditions of that bail bond, they would presumably be allowed to travel throughout the country. So this is certainly something that investigators are, at this point, just monitoring.
But there is also a very valid question as to whether or not these individuals would then return back to New York for subsequent court dates.
So again, they would presumably be very well within rights to travel to California, if that's the case, even if the nature of the crime allegedly committed here is quite serious.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, yesterday evening, responding to that mounting criticism, saying that, at the time of the arrest, they acted on the evidence that either was or was not available. And because of that, that's why that P.R. bond was issued.
Also saying that, at this point, they have no evidence of any flight taking place. And also, that there is no indication of any court orders being issued. But there's certainly no ignoring, Fred, just the politically charged
nature now of this case, given the immigration element.
And it's also important to remind viewers that are roughly six people who have been charged so far, if not seven, out of nearly 170,000 asylum seekers who have arrived here in New York City.
But investigators also saying that there's been a small but also very active criminal element of some individuals turning to property crimes to get by.
Again, about half a dozen people out of nearly 170,000 men, women, and children who arrived here in New York City in search of peace and opportunity.
WHITFIELD: All right, Polo Sandoval, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much.
SANDOVAL: Thanks, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, it's been a year since a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, caused an environmental disaster. How the community is still dealing with the aftermath, next.
WHITFIELD: Today marks one year since a Norfolk Southern train skidded off the tracks in Ohio sending more than a million pounds of hazardous chemicals into the air, soil and water. About 50 residents of East Palestine are still displaced 12 months later.
Those who stayed say the massive fire and the burning of chemicals have been replaced with an equally toxic scene of anxiety and distrust, even bullying among residents.
CNN's Jason Carroll went back to East Palestine to hear from residents on this grim anniversary.
EDMUND WANG, BUSINESS OWNER, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO: Every time I saw the train like this running behind my building, I feel scared now.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Norfolk Southern's train steadily running right behind Edmund Wang's plant that makes parts for steel mills in East Palestine, Ohio.
The rail cars got back on track days after the catastrophic derailment nearly a year ago. The crash just feet from the back door of Wong's plant.
WANG: Now, we are still living in nightmare, basically. CARROLL (on camera): Even after all this time?
CARROLL (voice-over): We first interviewed Wong last March when he voiced concerns about his future.
WANG: And I'm not sure the impact will last for how long. That's the uncertainty.
This is a year later. We are still paralyzed that we cannot do anything. This is really frustrating for us.
CARROLL: Just last week, Wang's operation manager says there was another check for possible contaminants.
DAVID CHICK, FACTORY MANAGER, EAST PALESTINE: They're testing the soil that's underneath the foundation. I'm not happy that it's taking them this long to get to this stage of checking to see how things are.
CARROLL: Throughout the past year, Ohio's EPA says continued testing has shown the air, water and soil in East Palestine is safe. And as of January 10th, more than 42 million gallons of liquid and 176,000 tons of soil waste have been removed.
Norfolk Southern says it made a promise to make things right. And that under the overside of the U.S. EPA, it has completed the majority of remediation work as well as invested more than $103 million into the community.
Norfolk also announced long-term programs supporting home values and water monitoring and working toward a long-term health fund.
That's little comfort to Jessica and Chris Albright.
CHRIS ALBRIGHT, RESIDENT, EAST PALESTINE: I'm boiling with anger over the whole situation.
CARROLL: The Albrights evacuated in the days after the derailment and moved into a hotel for four months. That bill covered by Norfolk Southern.
But since returning home, Albright says he was diagnosed with a heart disorder and has been unable to keep his job as a gas pipeliner.
ALBRIGHT: We're doing the best but we're treading water right now.
CARROLL (on camera): OK.
ALBRIGHT: I mean, you know, we're barely paying the bills.
ZSUZSA GYENES, RESIDENT, EAST PALESTINE: That was kind of cool though.
CARROLL (voice-over): Like the Albrights, Zsuzsa Gyenes left home with her 10-year-old son. But a year out, they are still living in a hotel.
GYENES: I still wake up every day and I'm in disbelief a year later.
CARROLL: Gyenes is afraid to go back to East Palestine but says she has had a tough time finding permanent housing elsewhere.
GYENES: It's going to take me a long time as a single mom to rebuild everything.
CARROLL: There are signs many others want to stay. The slogan, "East Palestine Strong," is planted throughout town, including on Misti Allison's property.
MISTI ALLISON, RESIDENT, EAST PALESTINE: You know, either you can have like a victim mentality or have like a victor mentality. You can't choose the cards that you're dealt.
CARROLL: Allison testified last March during Senate hearings on rail safety.
ALLISON: My seven-year-old has asked me if he is going to die from living in his own home.
CARROLL: Allison wants to see the Rail Safety Act become law. It calls for tougher regulations and it's now stalled in Congress.
ALLISON: Just like with anything else, let's find a way not an excuse. I think that we can make it happen because I want East Palestine to recover and thrive.
CARROLL: The Albrights aren't sure if it will ever be the same.
ALBRIGHT: Our middle daughter was getting nose beds as soon as she would come into this house. The youngest daughter was getting rashes.
JESSICA ALBRIGHT, RESIDENT, EAST PALESTINE: It's -- I worry about the kids and their futures.
CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, East Palestine, Ohio.
WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh, that is heartbreaking.
For more on the cleanup from that derailment and all the effects as a result, I'm joined by Andrew Whelton, a professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University.
Professor, great to see you.
So I understand you also have some 20 years' experience in disaster response. So you know, in your view -- you know, you have visited the town several times since the derailment. How would you rate the situation there?
ANDREW WHELTON, ENVIRONMENTAL & ECOLOGICAL ENGINEERING, PURDUE UNIVERSITY: Well, what you just saw is real experiences from real people. These individuals did, you know, experience these chemical exposures.
Today, East Palestine is a lot different. A lot of progress has been made. But what really hasn't been addressed is the long-term health impacts associated with these exposures and there's simply too many unanswered questions.
WHITFIELD: I mean, you heard it from the people in that piece. That's what they're really concerned about. The mom in tears there worrying about the health impact on our kids. What's their future going to be?
So while so many continue to be concerned about these long-term impacts on their health, I mean, there have been some coordinated and comprehensive health studies.
But has there ever been one that suits this community? Are any of these needs being addressed?
WHELTON: On a whole, no. What we have seen is we've seen different universities try to get some minimal amount of funding to try to investigate what the long-term health implications are.
But there really hasn't been a whole-of-government response in supporting scientists to come in and understand what exactly happened and what the long-term consequences are, if any.
WHITFIELD: You recently tweeted that, "The consequences of dismissing their health concerns have been significant." How have you measured that?
WHELTON: Well, we -- until this day, even yesterday, there was a story released where the U.S. EPA was asked about health impacts. Their public affairs officer responded they have data showing that they did not find any contaminants at levels of concern.
But that just misses the whole point. The CDC sent a team in and they got sick. Residents got sick. I, myself, got sick, as well as politicians and other visitors to town.
So it was exposures that were happening and those involved in testing weren't finding them. And that's part of why we are where we are today.
WHITFIELD: One of the people in that piece asked the question, can -- can East Palestine ever recover. What do you think?
WHELTON: I think they can.
WHELTON: I have faith that they can. I -- they need an inflection point. With President Biden scheduled to visit the area, it is my hope that he brings with him change and energy into the system that changes the trajectory of East Palestine. Right now, we see that it's fractured. Some people have recovered and
other people are still dealing with the aftermath of their exposures, including firefighters.
And so what's important is that the community come together and that can be done with support to those who really need it.
WHITFIELD: So you just said, you know, you're looking forward to President Biden visiting the area and you're hoping that he brings change.
In what way? What do you need to hear from him? What do you hope he sees? And who might he interact with so that he can get the full picture that you've been able to get as well as the people who are still living there in East Palestine who want their town back, who want their lives back?
WHELTON: Well, I think this is a very important opportunity to, first, provide that medical monitoring, provide that public health support so that people can understand what they're looking at, if there are consequences of this disaster.
Secondly, I would say that leadership involves admitting mistakes when they're made. There were countless exposures that took place by the agencies that were overseeing the response. And what you really haven't seen is anybody take responsibility for that.
And so what I'd like to see is those two actions in some way be taken as well as bringing in external experts to help guide the recovery process in the future.
And you can have these types of strike teams where external actors can come together with different expertise.
They're not necessarily in the government stove pipe. They can inform the decision-making process. And they certainly wouldn't work for Norfolk Southern and the parties involved.
WHITFIELD: All right, Professor Andrew Whelton, with Purdue University, glad you could be with us. Thank you so much.
WHELTON: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, now here's today's "START SMALL, THINK BIG."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSICA FIERRO, ATREVIDA BEER COMPANY: Welcome to Atrevida Beer Company. I'm a Latina. I'm a mother. I'm a wife. And I'm a brewer. I don't necessarily fit the box of what a brewer should look like.
Diversity, it's on tap. That's why it's hung on my front door. There needs to be more representation, but not just for my culture. Anybody who is marginalized, anybody who is underrepresented, step up, step up.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
This is what I want for the industry, right?
On November 19th, my family and I were at Club Q when a mass shooter came in and shot the entire club up. Seeing all the support, all the love was incredible.
People thank me every day for having diversity. It's on tap. For being an ally to the community. For creating a safe space. For them to come and mourn.
So it becomes -- it becomes more than just fear. It becomes family. It becomes community. It becomes, you know, unconditional love. That was my silver lining.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, new developments in the story of a brazen act of vandalism involving a statue of an American icon. You'll remember thieves stole a Jackie Robinson statue from a youth league ballfield in Wichita, Kansas, by cutting it down at the ankles, leaving only the feet.
This week, the destroyed statue was found, burned in a nearby Kansas park. And now, thanks to more than $190,000 in GoFundMe donations and contributions from all 30 MLB teams, the statue will be restored, crafted from the original mold.
Here to discuss is Wichita City Councilman Brandon Johnson.
Brandon, great to see you.
Last week, you told me how the statue represented hope, and the theft of it still didn't rob you and the community of hope.
What does this show, this show of generosity after the heart ache of it being stolen and destroyed? What's the message now sent? And how is that helping to heal so many who felt so wounded from this?
BRANDON JOHNSON, (D), WICHITA, KANSAS, CITY COUNCILMAN: Thank you for having me.
The generosity of the community both in Kansas and outside of Kansas has been amazing. The coverage has been amazing. We're so grateful for that.
It's great to see that the money has been raised and the statue can be there and that hope was truly worth it. Folks really believe and now they see it can happen. We're excited to be able to have enough funds to get that statue back.
We've been in talks with League 42 as well to see how we can secure it better than we have before.
WHITFIELD: All right, so this time there might be some kind of security watch or reinforcements or something.
I'm sure it was really wonderful for it to be so accessible, for people to touch it, be close. But then some people are abusive as we've discovered.
So the kinds of measures that you'll put in place, will it detract from that closeness that people were able to have with that Jackie Robinson statue?
JOHNSON: No, I don't believe it will. There are certain things -- we haven't figured out every piece of it.
You can have balusters up that have some artistic value that are additions to it but also provides security and not allowing vehicles in there. Of course, additional cameras.
We'll find other things that we can do working with League 42. Maybe even improvements and lighting in the area. Still pretty early on in those phases and talking with our city team as well as League 42 on that.
But our goal is to keep it accessible, keep it beautiful, and again, inspiring folks.
WHITFIELD: All right. So we saw that and shared that surveillance video that you all were able to capture to see the act happening in progress. And police, you know, said during the week that they have located the vehicle. But no arrests yet.
And you can see in this surveillance video that there were at least two figures, right?
Are you getting any information about why there haven't been arrests yet? Or if there's a feeling the investigation is getting close to arrests, finding who is responsible for doing this?
JOHNSON: Yes. I think we are getting close. The video shows two folks out doing some work. You see the vehicle move. So I'm assuming there's at least three involved.
Police have found some really good leads. They're catching up on some of those. We've had some anonymous tips coming in. I think police are pretty close but they want to make sure they have a rock-solid case.
Hopefully, we'll hear in the next week or so some announcements on that. But they've been giving me updates and it sounds like they're pretty close.
WHITFIELD: After all this anguish, in a word, tell me how you're feeling today.
JOHNSON: I'm feeling hopeful. I was disappointed when we found the remnants of the statue and folks trying to burn it.
But again, as you see the generosity pouring in from around the country, I'm hopeful that the statue will get back up. We'll have a celebration for it.
Our young people will be inspired. I've already heard from young people wanting to contribute some art to the new space. It's just going to be great.
So I'm hopeful and looking forward to when this gets done and back up.
And just again, the unity in our community has been amazing. So many people care so much about this.
Again, thank you for the coverage on this.
WHITFIELD: Hey, we're glad to help and to help educate. And I love that hope and hopefulness prevails no matter what.
Councilman Brandon Johnson, thank you so much.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, President Biden says, "This is the start of our response," quoting him, after the U.S. struck 85 targets linked to Iran-backed militias in Iran and Syria. Live to the region, next.