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The Situation Room
President Biden Calls Putin A Worthy Adversary; U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland To Strengthen Policies In The Justice Department; Interview With Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT); Netanyahu Attacks New Israeli Government, Vows Return To Power As Naftali Bennett Replaces Him As Prime Minister; U.S. Nears 600,000 Deaths Amid Warnings About Delta Variant's Spread; Nine Mass Shootings In Six States Over The Weekend Leave At Least 10 People Dead And 50 Wounded; U.S. Assessing Reported Leak At Chinese Nuclear Power Facility. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 14, 2021 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Follow me on Twitter @PamelaBrownCNN or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Live from Geneva, Switzerland.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're coming to you live from Geneva, Switzerland. Happening now, breaking news, President Biden declares Vladimir Putin a worthy adversary just ahead of their summit here in Geneva even as he vows to draw lines for the Russian leader following a critical meeting of NATO allies.
President Biden's Justice Department is now leaving key questions unanswered about the Trump Justice Department subpoenas of the former president's political foes as the list of targets keep growing.
And the ousted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashes out at the new government and takes a jab at President Biden as he claims he will eventually return to power.
Welcome to our viewers in United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're coming to you live from Geneva Switzerland where we're covering the Biden-Putin summit taking place just two days from now. Let's go straight to Brussels first though where we just heard from President Biden.
Our senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly is on the scene for us tonight. Phil, the president is clearly looking ahead to a summit with Putin that will take place here in Geneva.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it has been the ever present element throughout the course of President Biden's foreign trip. Yes, he was seeking to bolster the U.S. approach and the U.S. involvement in G7, certainly in the NATO summit here in Brussels. But through each meeting that he had with any of the allied world leaders, he made clear that meeting was integral to what was coming next. And those meetings themselves, the G7 meeting and the NATO meeting, they all are service of through line towards that meeting in Geneva.
The president wanting to show a united front. Taking not just himself into the meeting but all of the allied western democracies. Now Wolf, he has played strategically coy about what exactly he's going to say when he sits down with the Russian president and what exactly he expects from that meeting. But tonight, he made clear these are his outlines. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses, and if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cyber security and some other activities, then we will respond.
I'm hoping that President Putin concludes that there is some interest in terms of his own interests in changing the perception of the world has of him in terms of whether or not he will engage in behavior that's more consistent with what is considered to be appropriate behavior for a head of state. He's bright. He's tough. And I have found that he is a, as they say, when we used to play ball, a worthy adversary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Wolf, you could hear President Biden signaling he understands he has a very clear-eyed view of the meeting that he's headed into. An unpredictable world leader. One that is known to hijack conversations, take them in completely different directions, undercut the intent of any conversations, and that's been part of the president's preparations, officials say.
But you heard him make clear what the priorities are. Yes, lay out guard rails or red lines where the U.S. will respond if the Russian government continues malign activities, but also seeking areas of cooperation, areas of mutual interest whether those can be established, whether the president can hit all of the marks or goals that he is laying out. Obviously, we'll have to wait and see for a couple of days.
BLITZER: Yes, we will. You know, Phil, our Jeff Zeleny at that news conference asked President Biden whether or not he still thought Putin was a killer. How did the president respond to that?
MATTINGLY: You know, it was a very interesting response to a very good question by our colleague. Obviously, this came up in an interview earlier in the year and he confirmed that he believed Vladimir Putin was a killer and when he was asked if he still does, this was how he responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: In a weekend interview, Vladimir Putin laughed at the suggestion that you called him a killer. Is that still your belief sir that he is a killer?
BIDEN: Well, look, I mean, he has made clear that -- the answer is, I believe he has in the past essentially acknowledged that he was -- there are certain things that he would do or did do.
But look, when I was asked that question on air, I answered it honestly. But it's not much of a -- I don't think it matters whole lot in terms of this next meeting we're about to have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Wolf, what was so interesting about that answer was the short answer is yes. President Biden very clearly still believes President Putin is a killer, but you could see the strategic calculation as he was deciding where he was going to go with that answer and then how he ended it, making clear that this is the reality and yet, this is still a crucial relationship with a nuclear power, one that the U.S. needs to figure out path forward given its current kind of low level state of affairs.
And that is precisely why the president wants the meet with President Putin. He acknowledges who he is, what he is and what he represents, but he still believes a face-to-face meeting is necessity with a country that can work with the U.S. on several elements, but obviously has been creating significant problems not just for the U.S. but also for allies throughout Europe over the course of the last several decades, Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. It will be a very critical and --
-- in Brussels for us. I know you're going to be heading over here soon. We'll see you when you get here. Thank you very, very much.
There's more breaking news we're following right now. A U.S. judge calling for a prisoner exchange between the United States ahead of the Biden-Putin summit. Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is --
-- we've got some new reporting. Tell us what you're learning.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is the judge back in 2012 who originally sentenced Viktor Bout who is one of the world's most notorious arm traffickers to 25-year sentence in a court in New York. He's one of the people that the Russians want to exchange potentially in a possible prisoner swap that is going to be discussed. The whole range of issues of course. The list is long as your arm, Wolf. A fraught issues between United
States and Russia that the two presidents are going to be speaking about, whether it's the military stress on Ukraine, whether it's the election hacking, whether it's the crackdown of dissidents at home.
But there are other more surface issues as well like the exchange of ambassadors and like the exchange of prisoners. Now that's something that I know for a fact because I've spoke to them about it. The Kremlin say it's a sensitive issue, but it is one that's going to be on the agenda.
And so the fact that this judge has now intervened and she said, look, you know, Viktor Bout has already served a long time in prison. That would make sense, and I'm paraphrasing, that would make sense that he is swapped for someone like Paul Whelan who has been sentenced the last couple of years ago to 16 years in prison for espionage.
There's another American, a former U.S. Marine as well, Trevor Reed. His parents were on CNN early this morning making a heartfelt appeal to the Russian and American presidents to try and come to some arrangement to try and get him back home. I think we've got sound from his mother now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAULA REED, MOTHER OF U.S. MARINE VETERAN IMPRISONDE IN RUSSIA: We have been told that President Biden is definitely going to bring up Trevor's case and Paul Whelan's case with President Putin and our hope obviously is that they can come to some agreement that will let our son come home.
I guess Putin is open to a prisoner exchange and I know some people say we shouldn't do a prisoner exchange because Paul and Trevor are innocent of the charges against them and the people that we will be trading are guilty criminals. But I really don't care how my son gets home. I just want him to get home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHANCE: Well, Trevor Reed's mom there hitting the nail on the head, Wolf, because the problem according to U.S. diplomats is that the level of criminality of the Russians that the Kremlin wants returned, you know, it doesn't match with what Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed are accused of. They're in a different category and so they think it wouldn't be a fair swap. That's a hurdle that has to be gone over.
BLITZER: It certainly does. All right, Matthew, stand by. I want to get back to you. But right now, I also want to bring in Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He's joining us from New York right now.
Ian, the president, President Biden says the U.S. will respond to Russian aggression but he also called Putin and we heard him. He called Putin a worthy adversary. What does that tell you just ahead of their face to face meeting here in Geneva? IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: It tells me he wants this to be
as constructive a meeting as it can be. I mean, everyone is asking Biden and the Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, about whether you're going to hit the Russians hard for all the things that the Russians are doing that we don't like, the cyber hacks, the support for the Belarus dictator. The human rights abuses. The treatment of Navalny.
And every time, we see the Biden administration saying I want to see if there are areas that we can work together. I want to see if there are areas to cooperate. I want to meet with him face to face. Look, Biden sees that overwhelmingly the single biggest strategic adversary of the United States, and there's bipartisan support for this, it's not Russia. It's China.
And in that regard, he really doesn't want to fight on two fronts at the same time. Trump had no problem fighting on five fronts at the same time, even sometimes with allies.
Biden's really focusing on China and would like this meeting to go as well as possible. And I think we're going to be surprised by some of the opportunities that Biden hopes he's going to see, certainly on arms control.
One of the first things Biden did when he was president is he extended the stark agreement on arms control with the Russians for five years. He was involved in the INF, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement back when he was in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He'd like to see more of that with the Russians. He wants to see where else we can engage.
BLITZER: Very significant. You know, it's interesting, Matthew, because you've covered Putin for a long time. President Biden said he's ready to deliver what he called a frank message. But were you surprised to hear him sort of, you know, dodge the question whether he still thinks that Putin is a killer?
CHANCE: Well, I have to agree what Ian was saying there. I mean, what U.S. officials have been saying, what Biden has been saying time and again is he wants to try and establish a stable relationship with Russia and with President Putin.
The problem is with that, of course, is that that would mean leaving aside all of those issues that we've just been discussing. The military threat against Ukraine, the crackdown on dissidents at home, the election hacking.
Yes, Biden would like to stabilize the relationship but, you know, he can't ignore the fact that Russia continues to be a maligned player in many instances from a U.S. point of view around the world. And that's going to be challenge. He might get through this meeting, but how is he going to get through the presidency.
BLITZER: Yes. That's obviously a key question. You know, Phil Mattingly, you're still with us over there in Brussels. President Biden has been doing extensive preparation for this summit, which is totally understandable. He's also been asking other world leaders for their input. So how does he juggle all of these concerns over Russia's behavior right now because U.S.-Russian relations are pretty awful right now?
MATTINGLY: Look, I think when you talk to U.S. officials, they made clear the president wants to hear what allies think, and particularly the allies in Baltic region or allies in eastern European countries, knowing that they are often the ones under most threat from Russia at least in the way it's engaged over the course of the last several years.
And I think what you see or what you've seen over the course of the last several days is he's met with leaders whether at the G7 or here in NATO. He spoke with a number of leaders throughout the course of the day, is a recognition that it's important that he listen and hear their voices because of what they are going for.
What they are going for is to try and show that the alliances are unified heading into that meeting. Again, that it's not just President Biden alone, it's all western democracies allied together, something that was very much in question when his predecessor was in office.
And so, that was kind of -- it was incumbent upon the president to listen and yes, there will be a balance in terms of what he actually decides to bring up with President Putin. But I do think the president has made very clear, his agenda where his outlines are of things and he wanted the advice of his fellow world leaders, particularly those in the eastern European and Baltic regions. And that's something that he believes and I think his advisers believe will inform the entire approach to President Putin when they sit down.
BLITZER: You know, Ian, based on everything we have seen publicly and what we've heard privately, they European leaders, they trust President Biden, the relief at the G7 and NATO summits clearly palpable after four years of Trump. But do they trust the United States right now? Do they trust Congress in the aftermath let's say of January 6th and the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol?
BREMMER: Less so. Less so. And I mean, one of the reasons you saw no movement on climate finance despite the fact that Biden brought the United States back into the Paris Climate Accord and has appointed John Kerry to a cabinet position on climate. It's precisely because they don't believe that the U.S. legislature is going to get a lot done.
And until they see it, they may trust the United States, they may like the United States, but they want to verify with the United States. There are a lot of issues like that right now, but let's also keep in mind that the Europeans want more America in part not because the U.S. is so trusted.
In part because the U.S. is by far the most powerful country in the world. That was true under Obama. It's true under Trump and it's true under Biden. And that was one of the reasons why you saw leadership come out of the G7, one billion vaccines being provided by the United States and allies to poorer countries.
It was not enough and it was later than it should have been, but it's by far the biggest thing we've seen so far. The allies were delighted for it. We'll see more of that, Wolf.
BLITZER: I hope we will. All right, guys, thank you very, very much. We're going to continue to stay on top of the breaking news.
But also coming up, new revelations about secret Justice Department subpoenas targeting former President Trump's perceived enemies. And now we're learning his former White House counsel was among those targeted.
Plus, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to topple the new government in Jerusalem that ousted him and return to power.
BLITZER: We're here in Geneva, Switzerland. A really beautiful city. An amazing place indeed. We're getting ready for the Biden-Putin summit that will take place here on Wednesday. Much more on that coming up as we get ready to cover a truly historic event.
But there's other important news we're following as well, including important news back in Washington. There are new details emerging tonight of secret U.S. Justice Department subpoenas targeting former President Trump's political foes. And now we're learning a former White House counsel as well.
CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is joining us right now. She has the latest. Jessica, some truly surprising new revelations.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. We're learning tonight that Trump's White House counsel, Don McGahn's records were also subpoenaed. So with some lingering questions on why. Tonight, Attorney General Merrick Garland, he's emphasizing his commitment to keeping politics out of the Justice Department and thoroughly investigating what happened with these wide ranging subpoenas.
It's coming at the same time Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are demanding that Attorney General Garland produce information about the subpoenas and fully brief them.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Attorney General Merrick Garland pledging a thorough and independent investigation into the subpoenas and gag orders that included obtaining records from some of former President Trump's biggest congressional foes. REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Everything we thought a president never
would do, Donald Trump did. And now it's a question of what are we willing to do to preserve the republic.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Congressman Swalwell and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff learned in May that the Justice Department subpoenaed their records beginning in February 2018. Trump frequently targeted both men when he railed against the Russia investigation.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think it was leaks from the intelligence committee, House version. And I think that they leaked it, I think probably Schiff leaked it.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But this weekend, yet, another revelation. The DOJ requested records for accounts of former White House counsel Don McGahn and his wife during the same time period in early 2018. The increasing number of secretive seizures raising more questions about why justice officials took these steps.
Why were the records collected? Who was being targeted in any leak investigation and why? Was the investigation politically motivated or about a legitimate national security threat? We know that Trump had become disillusioned with his top legal counsel when McGahn refused to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller leading to questions of possible presidential obstruction.
But a source tells CNN, Muller's team did not issue the subpoena for McGahn's records. Former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr along with former Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein all say they had no knowledge of the subpoenas. Now Democrats are demanding Sessions and Barr testify.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): How could it be that there could be an investigation of other members in the other branch of government and the press and the rest too? And the attorneys general did not know. So, who are these people and are they still in the Justice Department?
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Justice Department's inspector general announced a probe on Friday and now Attorney General Garland says Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco will also work on surfacing potentially problematic matters deserving high level review. And the aim to evaluate and strengthen the department's existing policies and procedures for obtaining records of the legislative branch.
The attorney general is meeting today with executives from CNN, "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times," all of whom want answers about why the Justice Department under Trump demanded logs from journalist communications.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This is not just some kind of Washington insider thing. This is about people's phone records being subpoenaed without them even knowing about it.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): And we've also learned the Trump appointee who led the national security division at DOJ, John Demers, he will leave at the end of the month, something that was previously planned according to a source.
But it is notable because the national security division plays large role in these leak investigations and they would be directly involved in obtaining these records from journalists and Democratic lawmakers. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Jessica Schneider, reporting for us. Thank you very much. Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Clearly there's still so much we don't know about this situation. Why hasn't the Biden Justice Department answered crucial questions about these investigations?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, Wolf, and it's good to be with you. I would say that I think they are probably being very, very careful here because I suspect that they, like the rest of us, don't know how far this extends.
I mean, it's shocking enough in and of itself that journalists had their records pulled and weren't told about it. Members of Congress of the opposition party had their records pulled. And now it turns out that the president's own White House counsel had his records pulled. So, who else did? We don't know that.
And by the way, you know, talk about trying figure stuff out. You would have thought that if members of Congress were having their phone records subpoenaed and they weren't being permitted know about it, you would have thought that the attorney general wouldn't just have known about that, but would have spent days thinking about the implications of that.
And yet, you know, former Attorney General Barr and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are both saying we didn't know about it. So, what does that mean? Was that a rogue operation in the Department of Justice? So, to answer your question, this thing is so big that I suspect they are trying to get their arms around what the boundaries are of what happened.
BLITZER: I suspect you're right. If members of Congress, congressman, weren't the targets of these leak investigations, then why won't the Biden Justice Department at least come out and say so?
HIMES: Well, again, I think they are probably trying to get their arms around what actually happened. I mean, what do we actually know? We know that two Democrats and it just happens to be the two Democrats who arguably were most outspoken in their opposition to Donald Trump.
We know that they had their records pulled. I apparently didn't, you know. Were Republicans or was it just the two outspoken critics of the president?
And the other thing we know, of course, is that the Department of Justice ultimately said there's nothing there. There's nothing there. Was going to shut down the investigation, but then apparently, Attorney General Barr revived it.
So my guess is to, again, to answer your question, is that they probably within the Department of Justice, they are making sure they understand the full scope of this assault on our democracy before they start talking about it publicly.
BLITZER: Does it make any sense, congressman, why former White House counsel, Don McGahn and his wife, and his wife, would have been subjected to these extraordinary subpoenas?
HIMES: Well, it's completely unprecedented. All of this is almost completely unprecedented. You know, we had members of the press having their records subpoenaed before. Members of Congress, probably historically unprecedented in 240 years of American history. The president's own lawyer, the White House counsel and his wife, as you point out totally unprecedented.
So, it's hard to say if it makes sense. I can speculate and say because it sure looks this way that the president and his people, the president and or his people were targeting the president's either enemies, political enemies or people that fell under suspicion.
Think about that. Think about the president of the United States having the ability to use the awesome power of the Department of Justice to go after his political opposition. Wolf, that is what happens in the worst of the worst of the banana republics and evidently, it happened here during the Trump administration.
BLITZER: And all of the men at the top of the Justice Department now claim they knew nothing at all about this. Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
Coming up, Benjamin Netanyahu out, out as Israel's prime minister, but he says not for long. Details of his warning to the new government in Jerusalem. That's coming up next. Stay with us. You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live from Geneva.
BLITZER: Welcome back, we're coming to you live from Geneva, Switzerland where we're covering the Biden-Putin summit taking place just two days from now right here. Also tonight, a new political era in Israel with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of power for the first time in 12 years but he's not going quietly. Instead, he's attacking the new government and vowing to return to power. CNN's Oren Liebermann has the latest.
NAFTALI BENNETT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: (INAUDIBLE) Naftali Bennett.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new era in Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the helm, ousting Benjamin Netanyahu after more than 12 consecutive years in power. Bennett faced a hell of abuse from Netanyahu's allies as he spoke. They accused him and his government of being left-wing even though he's to the right of Netanyahu openly opposes a two-state solution and has made incendiary remarks about Palestinians.
Before he's swearing in, Bennett thanked his former boss but promised a politics of unity, not discord and division.
BENNEET (through translations): To continue on in this way, more elections, more hatred, or vitriolic posts on Facebook is just not an option. Therefore, we stopped the train a moment before it barreled into the abyss.
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Bennett spoke with President Joe Biden within hours of taking office, one of many congratulatory messages coming to the new prime minister from the U.S. and abroad.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: (Speaking Foreign Language).
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Netanyahu openly criticized the Biden administration during his last speech before being replaced, but he's out of power now not out of sight. On Monday morning, he said he would work to take down Bennett's government quickly. A government he once again called weak and dangerous.
NETANYAHU (through translations): We have a very strong opposition, and we will work together to overthrow this fraudulent government very quickly.
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Netanyahu refused the traditional public transfer of power ceremony, snub reminiscent of former President Donald Trump. Instead, he met Bennett in private. Bennett's government began working immediately holding the first Cabinet meeting late Sunday night. This is the most diverse coalition in the country's history. Eight different parties, including the first Arab party to join the government.
BENNETT (through translations): We will act together with partnership and responsibility to mend the tear within the people and bring the country immediately to orderly functioning after a long period of paralysis.
LIEBERMANN: Now that Naftali Bennett is Prime Minister, the first mission is accomplished, he has replaced Benjamin Netanyahu. But now comes the much more difficult work, that of actually governing and with a razor thin majority, any defection, any vote against the coalition, against the government, risks toppling it. Wolf?
BLITZER: CNN's Oren Liebermann reporting. Oren, thank you very, very much.
Let's dig deeper right now with Barak Ravid, Diplomatic Correspondent for Walla News and Contributing Correspondent to Axios. Barak, thanks so much for joining us. No inauguration smearing this new government as fraudulent clearly Netanyahu is echoing former President Trump. But could he really mount a serious comeback again?
BARAK RAVID, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, WALLA NEWS: Well, I think that the jury's still out on Trump regarding this question. And same goes for Netanyahu. And I think that Netanyahu, unlike from, has a big advantage, because this coalition in Israel is very, very fragile. And I think that Netanyahu is counting on the fact that the internal differences within the different parties in this coalition would ring it down this way or another.
But I think that Netanyahu's bet might be wrong, because once this government passes a budget, and this can happen within 45 days, it will stay in power most likely until the end of 2022.
This is a very long time. In this time Netanyahu's trial continues, other parties in the opposition might decide that it's time to go into the government and join the coalition. And within his party, within Likud, there are more and more voices that criticize him and blame him for the fact that the Likud is in the opposition.
BLITZER: Barak Ravid helping us appreciate what's going on in Jerusalem right now. Thank you very much.
Just ahead, the U.S. coronavirus death toll now closing in on 600,000 people as concern over one virus variant is growing. Stay with us. You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live from Geneva.
BLITZER: Once again, I'm reporting live from Geneva, Switzerland. Tonight, we're getting ready for the Biden-Putin summit on Wednesday, lots at stake. But there's other news we're also following including disturbing news back in the United States. The U.S. now nearing a sobering milestone in the COVID pandemic, almost 600,000 Americans -- let me repeat that, 600,000 Americans have now lost their lives to the disease. And now there are new warnings, new serious warnings about one of the new COVID variants.
Let's discuss this and more with Dr. Paul Offit, the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, he's also a key member of the FDA's Vaccine Advisory Committee. Dr. Offit, thanks so much for joining us. As we near this milestone, 600,000 Americans dead, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says he's really worried about what's called the Delta variant causing a new surge in the fall here in the United States. Do you share his concern? DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Yes, I mean, it -- the Delta variant is a more contagious strain on me. That's what's happening with this bad virus. As it gets more and more adapted to growth in humans, it continues to create variants that are more contagious. When a virus is more contagious, you need to have a higher percentage of the population that's protected, immunized if you're going to stop the spread.
So, because as you move into fall and early winter, because this is a winter virus, this is when you would see an explosion or a surge of infection. So, all the more reason to get vaccinated as big of a percentages of population as possible before we hit the fall.
BLITZER: Yes, that's so, so critically important. Life and death decisions out there. According to a new study out of the U.K., Dr. Offit, the Delta variant reduces the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine from 92 percent to 79 percent and the AstraZeneca vaccine from 73 percent to 60 percent. Are you surprised by those numbers?
OFFIT: No, but that there is some good news there which is it looks like the mRNA vaccine specifically, the Pfizer vaccine does protect against severe critical disease. So I think that vaccines will keep you out of the hospital, will keep you out of the ICU and will keep you from dying. So we need to get a higher percentage this population vaccinated probably at least 80 percent if not higher, come wintertime.
BLITZER: I wish that would happen. Novavax released some very promising results from their phase 3 vaccine trial today as you know, how do you see this vaccine being utilized given that the U.S. already has plenty of supply from other COVID vaccines?
OFFIT: Well, you know, the -- we are going to need to have a highly vaccinated population for years, if not longer. This virus is going to be circulating in the world for a long time. And the more we learned about all these different vaccines, whether it's the mRNA vaccines or the vectored virus vaccines, or in this case, a purified protein vaccine similar to the hepatitis B vaccine or the human papillomavirus vaccine, the better. Because we're going to find out I think over time that different vaccines work better for say different populations of people, or work better for the variants or work better or have different safety profiles, or have different durations of protection.
So the more vaccines we have available, the more we learn about that vaccines, I think the better off our population is.
BLITZER: And the more vaccines available people around the world who are in trouble right now, they'll be able to, we hope, to get those vaccines as well. Dr. Offit, thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation.
Meanwhile, America's gun violence epidemic raging over the weekend with nine mass shootings in six states that left at least 10 people dead and 50 people wounded. That includes a mass shooting in Austin, Texas. One man died there, more than a dozen were injured. Let's discuss with the Mayor of Austin, Steve Adler is joining us right now. Mayor Adler, thank you so much for joining us. First of all, what can you tell us about reports that a second suspect has been arrested in this horrific shooting?
MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: You know, I'm not going to get a hold of my police chief who makes those kinds of announcements, but he said that that's something that he expected to happen and I expected to happen.
BLITZER: And you expected to happen soon?
ADLER: I certainly hope so. I don't want to get in front of the police chief.
BLITZER: No, that's fair. Nearly every major American city is dealing as you know with surging gun violence. Why are so many Americans losing their lives to mass shootings right now? If you look at the numbers on the side of the screen, it's horrific what's going on in the United States of America.
ADLER: It is horrific. You know this happened to us Friday night in the six hours surrounding what happened to us on Friday night. There were four mass shootings in other cities in the country. Over the course of the weekend, Wolf, there were 10 mass shootings in U.S. cities. There have been over 270, you have the number 275, almost 10 percent of those in Texas. There is something that's happening in our country right now with rising violent crime and it is happening everywhere in our city.
I'll tell you, I think that what -- you know, what we're doing here in Texas, where we've just given everybody over 21, the ability to carry a firearm is not the right way to go. You know, there is just no evidence that greater access to firearms does anything to help make us safer. This is a crisis and it is spreading, and it is accelerating.
BLITZER: What do you think it's going to take, Mayor, to finally end this epidemic of gun violence in the United States?
ADLER: You know, I just think that there has to be this growing resolve. You know, what happened this weekend, you know, the loss suffered by the Kantor family absolutely unimaginable. And that Doug Kantor was killed by -- while visiting our city has just absolutely filled our city with just enormous grief, but also with resolve to do something.
We need, at the federal level, action to do background checks, to outlaw the weapons that -- it just doesn't make sense for people to have assault weapons. Their actions we should be taking right now with -- that are supported by the vast majority of people in the country and apparently, the gun lobby continues to hold sway in Washington, D.C., but it's just going to take more and more of the country standing up and saying and insisting that something has to change. BLITZER: So what do you say to those politicians back in Washington, Mayor, who seemed to have a little desire to tackle this problem head on?
ADLER: You know, I, -- there's no excuse. And at some level, you just don't understand with so many people in the United States supporting these changes. You want people just to do what it takes to get this stuff done. You know, there are so many things, you know, many things that the administration has already done, which are pretty supportive so far, but these other things have to get done as well. And I think the expectation just has to be created in more places. And it's going to happen.
It is not a question of if but only when, when this stuff comes to other people's cities. Austin's one of the safest big cities in the country and yet it happened to us. And it's going to be happening to more and more cities as it is with greater increasing numbers. And at some point, the federal government has to act.
BLITZER: Yes, people all over the world are wondering what's going on in the United States with this gun violence epidemic that is unfolding. The Austin Mayor Steve Adler, thank you so much for joining us. We'll stay in close touch with you as well.
Coming up, deep concern of a reported leak at a Chinese nuclear power plant. It's a CNN exclusive. Stay with us. You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live from Geneva, Switzerland.
BLITZER: Now, a CNN exclusive, a warning of a, quote, imminent radiological threat as the United States government assessing a reported leak at a Chinese nuclear power plant. CNN's David Culver is in Shanghai. He's got details. David, how severe is the threat?
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remains to be seen, Wolf, and I think it's mostly because of lack of information and some conflicting information. Nonetheless, it is frightening especially when you hear those words that you just read, eminent radiological threat.
Now all of this began late last month when the French company that jointly operate this Taishan nuclear power plant, which is in southern China, Guangdong Province, reached out to the U.S. Department of Energy. They reached out to the Energy Department so as to get a waiver of assistance with dealing with this fission gas leak.
Now experts that we've spoken with, nuclear experts, in particular, say fission gas is a natural byproduct of nuclear reactors. The concern here is the radiation limit. Just how safe it is and what rate it's at right now. Leaking is what's really concerning for officials.
Now this French company, Framatome, cited this imminent radiological threat. They also accused the Chinese of raising the limit to more than double the initial release so as to keep the plant operating. That in of itself is very concerning to experts. Now, the Chinese have not yet responded to our many requests for comment.
Now part of that is because we're just coming off a long national holiday weekend. But the companies behind this plant suggests that it is under control that they are working to resolve the issue and that it's operating within the safety parameters, Wolf.
BLITZER: This could be potentially very, very disturbing. David Culver will stay on top of the story for us. Thank you very much.
There's more breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. President Biden speaking out about his upcoming summit with Vladimir Putin right here in Geneva, Switzerland, calling the Russian President, I'm quoting now, a worthy adversary and previewing what he plans to tell him.
Stay with us. You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM live from Geneva.
BLITZER: We're coming to you live from Geneva, Switzerland. Happening now, breaking news. After talks with NATO leaders, President Biden sidestepped a question about calling Vladimir Putin a killer.