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Man Arrested With Machete, Swastika As Capitol Police Declare Emergency; Trump Slams Bush For Comparing Domestic Extremists To 9/11 Terrorists Says, He Shouldn't Be Lecturing Anybody; Blinken Says, No Evidence Continuing War Would Have Helped Afghanistan; Biden To Rally With Newsom Ahead Of Tomorrow's Recall Vote; North Korea Tests Cruise Missile As Kim Jong Un Reemerges On World Stage With New Stunts. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 13, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION" right next door. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a chilling security scare near the U.S. Capitol. A man with a machete and other knives arrested in a truck painted with white supremacist symbols, including swastika. This as police fear new right-wing violence declaring an emergency just ahead of Saturday's rally supporting Capitol rioters.

Also tonight Secretary of State Antony Blinken hit with tough questions by Congress about the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Blinken suggesting the Trump administration share blame as Republicans pounce.

And President Biden heads to California hoping to helping out Governor Gavin Newsom avoid getting fired in tomorrow's recall election. The president's own political fortunes now at risk at a critical moment for his domestic agenda.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First let's go straight to Capitol Hill for the latest on the new security scare. Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is working the story for us. Ryan, this comes just as Capitol Police have issued an energy declaration just ahead of a right-wing rally this coming Saturday.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. The area that I'm standing right now is Capitol Square. This is open to the public. All this area is something that someone can walk- through without any kind of special credential. But in just a next couple of days, the Capitol Police are ready to resurrect that fencing that wraps around the Capitol Square that will keep people from coming in and out as they prepare for a worst case scenario ahead of a major protest planed this weekend.


NOBLES (voice over): Tonight, as Capitol Police issue an emergency declaration ahead of a potentially dangerous protest this weekend --

CHIEF TOM MANGER, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: We just briefed them about the demonstration scheduled for September 18th.

NOBLES: -- another scare on Capitol Hill. A man arrested just steps from the Capitol office complex with a bayonet and a machete, two weapons that are illegal in the District of Columbia. Capitol Police took interest in the man's truck outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters because of instead of a license plate, it had an American flag.

The police shared chilling images inside the truck that displayed swastikas and white supremacist logos. 44-year-old Donald Craighead of Oceanside, California, was arrested in possession of prohibited weapons. He told police he was on patrol and began talking about white supremacy and began spouting white supremacist rhetoric.

The arrest comes just days before hundreds are planning a protest around the Capitol in defense of people who were arrested for taking part in the January 6th insurrection. It is an event that has drawn the close attention of law enforcement. Today, Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger briefed the four Capitol Hill leaders about their preparations for Saturday.

MANGER: The intelligence information that we're aware of and a little bit about our operational plan about what we plan to do.

NOBLES: Among their plans, reinstalling a fence around the Capitol.

MANGER: The fence will go up a day or two before, and if everything goes well, it will come down very soon after.

NOBLES: They also had the ability to deputize outside law enforcement as backup and they will implement a new critical response plan, as well as using new technology and equipment and launching a department- wide operational planning process. This intense preparation, a marked departure from how law enforcement responded in the days before January 6th.

As she left the briefing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, quote, it seems much better. I don't have anything to compare it to because we weren't briefed before. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I think they're better prepared than we were before January 6th.

NOBLES: And it is not just Capitol Hill on alert. An internal Capitol Police intelligence memo reviewed by CNN warned that online chat rooms have discussed targeting Jewish synagogues and liberal Christian churches.

The intense security pasture continues not just because of January 6th but because of a series of other troubling incidents that have wrought the area.

Last week, the FBI release new video of a person accused of planting pipe bombs at the RNC and DNC on the 6th, that person still at large. In April a man drove into a security barrier killing an officer. Then just last month another man parked his truck in front of the library of Congress.


NOBLES: He claimed he had a bomb that would destroy several blocks of the city. The suspect surrendered without incident and police say that his truck contained possible bomb making materials. All examples of why on Saturday those in charge with keeping the Capitol safe are not taking any chances.



NOBLES (on camera): And they definitely aren't taking any chances, but there is going to be a number of significant differences between this rally planned on Saturday and the one on January 6th that ultimately led to the Capitol insurrection. Chief among them at this point we don't know of any lawmakers that will participate in that rally. In fact, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, was asked today if anyone from the Republican conference is planning on attending, and, Wolf, he said at this point he doesn't believe there will be any Republicans there on Saturday. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ryan, I want you to standby. I want to bring you back to this conversation, but I also want to bring our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe, also Chief Charles Ramsey. McCabe, by the way, is the Author of the book The Threat, How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. Chief Ramsey used to be the Police Chief in D.C. as well as in Philadelphia.

Andrew, this man was arrested with a bayonet, a machete, a swastika, other white supremacist symbols right near the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. How disturbing are these details?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, they're very disturbing, right? I think on an individual level, what this incident shows to us and confirms for us is that political locations and political individuals continue to be very important, symbolic targets for this white supremacist racially motivated domestic violence extremist community.

So, if anybody thinks that the targeting of potentially congressional members and politically associated locations, like the Democratic National Committee, is over and ended on January 6th, that is wrong. This line, this threat stream, as we say in the industry, goes on. And I think every time we have another one of these incidents on the Capitol, like the bombing at the checkpoint in the Capitol, like the individual who drove his truck up and claimed to have a bomb, this is just one more incident in that series of very concerning steps. It's got to remind us how potent a target those places are.

BLITZER: And, Chief Ramsey, as I said, you were the police chief here in D.C., in Washington, D.C. you know this area well. The Capitol Police have issued what's called this emergency declaration just ahead of this September 18th rally this coming Saturday. Is this arrest a sign of what officers are up against?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, yes. I mean, you know, this particular rally, if you want to call it that, is going to attract that type of individual. And that's the problem. I mean, this isn't just a peaceful protest. This is going to be something -- just look at the theme of the thing where you consider those arrested on January 6th to somehow now being martyrs. You know, I mean, this whole thing is very, very troubling.

And, you know, I think the Capitol itself will be okay. I don't see another breach of the Capitol, especially now that they have the fencing. But you have so many different locations in and around D.C. that you have to pay close attention to. As Andrew said, this isn't going to end on September 18th. This is a threat that we're going to have to live with for a while. This is a dangerous period of time in our country. And I'm afraid it is going to go beyond Washington, D.C., at some point in time.

BLITZER: Yes. Me too, I'm afraid of that. All right, you know, Andrew, how great of a national security threat, big picture right now is the racism, the anti-Semitism fueling this extremism? And as you heard in Ryan's report, there has been this online chatter that's really disturbing to authorities suggesting there should be violence against what they call Jewish centers and liberal Christian churches while law enforcement is distracted that day.

MCCABE: There is no question, Wolf, that this is a significant national security threat. We know this not just by what we have all seen in television and the coverage, but we know this because the director of the FBI has come out and confirmed that domestic violent extremists, racially-motivated extremists, right-wing extremists are the most significant terrorist and threat that this country faces right now.

The attorney general has made similar remarks last week that the secretary of homeland security said the same thing. Anti-Semitism and racism have always been the hallmarks of the U.S. domestic violent extremist community. But what we're seeing now is a combination of that ideology with this very strong anti-government, anti-politician sentiment, which is really united a lot of groups across what used to be a fractured kind of spectrum. They're all now together kind of combining in force and showing up at things like January 6th and very possibly September 18th. So it is a serious threat.

BLITZER: Chief Ramsey, as you know there were a lot of questions after the January 6th attack about the delay in sending National Guard troops beyond the fencing. Should those troops be brought in today? At least be on standby right now? What would you advised?

RAMSEY: Well, I haven't seen the operational plan, obviously. But I do know Tom Manger, the chief of the Capitol Police, and he's one of the best in the business.


So I'm sure that he's got not only the National Guard ready to move if needed, but other law enforcement agencies around the Capitol region.

So this isn't just going to be the metropolitan police, the Capitol Police and perhaps the National Guard. he's going to have a lot of resources.

You know, Andrew, I had a chance to interview the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, Saturday at the anniversary of 9/11. We spoke over at the Pentagon. I want you to watch what he told me about his biggest concerns right now.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, my biggest concern is that, you know, someone will try to export terror to United States again. My goal, my job, Wolf, as you well know, is to defend this country. And I take that very, very seriously. And we're going to stay focused on that, whether it is a threat from transnational terrorists, whether it's a threat from, you know, somewhere else, a near peer competitor. Our job is to make sure that we keep the homeland safe and we protect our interests around the globe.


BLITZER: How do the authorities balance those foreign threats with the very real domestic threats that the American people are facing right now?

MCCABE: Well, Wolf, there is some balance to that process simply by virtue of the fact that the homegrown threats are really the province of the FBI and their partners and DOD and the military focuses primarily on overseas threats. I have no doubt that General Austin will do everything he possibly can to protect the homeland. The problem he faces is now there is less that he can do because we don't have boots on the ground in places like Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Andrew McCabe, Charles Ramsey, Ryan Nobles, guys, thank you very much. Very disturbing developments indeed.

Just ahead, former President Trump slams another former president over his 9/11 remarks. We're going to hear what George W. Bush said that prompted Trump to lash out bitterly.



BLITZER: Former President Trump slamming former President George W. Bush for comparing domestic extremists to the 9/11 terrorists. Trump blaming Bush for getting the United States involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying in a statement that Bush, quote, shouldn't be lecturing anybody. Here's what Bush said in his 9/11 speech at the Pennsylvania site of the crash of Flight 93.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But then there's disdain for pluralism and their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols. They are children of the same foul spirit and it is our continuing duty to confront them.


BLITZER: Now, let's turn to our CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and our Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod. Dana, what is your takeaway from these comments from two former Republican presidents?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, these are not words that we utter lately very much, but on this particular issue, former President Trump has a point that former President Bush is a flawed messenger and he obviously knows that. And the reason he is a flawed messenger is because of the Iraq war.

Having said that, he is the other sort of side of that coin is that he is a very appropriate messenger for the specific thing that he had to say and what he wanted to get across as a former president. Remember, he is somebody who doesn't come out very much. He is not like Donald Trump and that he respects the traditions and the protocols of former presidents and did so for the most part when his fellow Republican Donald Trump was in the White House.

This time, the reason why it makes sense is that because he was president on 9/11. And he was trying to send a signal and to make a connection, a direct connection between terrorism that came from abroad but it was terrorism on 9/11 and effectively domestic terrorism on January 6th without saying that. And on that, he has -- he's on terra firma. He certainly understands what he is talking about.

BLITZER: He certainly does. You know, David, Bush also went on to say this, and I'm quoting him, so much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment. I would imagine that didn't necessarily sit well with former President Trump either.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I don't think it was a very subtle point, and Trump understood who he was -- who he was talking about. And as day follows night, if you attack Trump, he'll attack you back.

I agree with Dana though. He has points to score on this issue of Iraq, but on this issue of domestic terrorism, you know, we just heard Andrew McCabe report correctly that the FBI director, the Department of Homeland Security, both have said domestic terrorism is the chief threat we face right now, not to gain, say, in any way, the other threat but it is the chief threat. And Bush was right to speak out on it.

But I would point out, Wolf, that you said at the beginning two Republican presidents.


They were presidents of two very different Republican parties. And right now, it is Donald Trump who speaks for the majority of Republicans. In our own poll at CNN this week, two-thirds of Republicans said they thought he should lead the party. And I suspect if you ask them about George W. Bush, you would get a much lower number. This is Donald Trump's party right now. And so in this tit- for-tat among Republicans, I bet you Trump comes out on top.

BLITZER: Among Republicans. You know, Dana, this past weekend's events commemorating the 20th anniversary of September 11th only further illustrated when it comes to the former presidents club, Donald Trump clearly isn't in it, is he?

BASH: No. The fact that Jimmy Carter is frail, he did not come, but every other living president made a point of being at the commemoration for this incredible moment in history to memorialize that, of course, September 11th. And the fact that Donald Trump wasn't there spoke volumes. And it wasn't just the sounds of silence. It was the sound of these statements.

I mean, you and I were together on that day. We were at the Pentagon on Saturday. And our emails just kept getting emails after email after email, some saying what you are supposed to say on 9/11 but others incredibly political, incredibly caustic, which you just don't see on 9/11.

Having said that, can you imagine if he did go? I'm not so sure, given where we are in the world, that that would have made sense since he would have been the person who a lot of people would have been paying attention to.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Dana and David, guys thank you very much.

Coming up, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, faces fierce questions from a bipartisan panel investigating the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I'll ask the top Republican on the committee whether we got the answers he was looking for.



BLITZER: Breaking news, Secretary of State Antony Blinken just wrapped up a rather fiery hearing with the House panel digging into the chaotic and deadly U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Our National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood has all the late breaking headlines.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Facing fierce bipartisan criticism, Secretary of State Tony Blinken defending the Biden administration's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining with 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment and training did not suffice. Why would another year, another five, another ten?

ATWOOD: And how it was done.

BLINKEN: The evacuation itself was an extraordinary effort under the most difficult conditions imaginable by our diplomats, by our military, by our intelligence professionals.

ATWOOD: But Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee weren't buying it.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): This was an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. I never thought in my lifetime that I would see an unconditional surrender to the Taliban.

ATWOOD: Blinken also received critical questions from Democratic lawmakers about what could have been done better. Although the evacuation of more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan was one of the biggest air lifts in history, it was marked by chaos and the death of 13 American service members.

MEEKS: All the things the administration could have done differently, absolutely yes, as always.

ATWOOD: At times, the hearing became a partisan battle. Democrats pointing their fingers back at the Trump administration's Afghanistan policies, accusing Republicans of relying on selective memories.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I'm going to assert that the events of August 14th had the direct antecedent with a bad decision by President Trump and Secretary Pompeo in 2018 to elevate and legitimize the Taliban in Doha, Qatar by bringing face-to-face negotiations.

ATWOOD: Blinken agreed that the Trump administration officials did strike the deal with the Taliban forcing the U.S. exit.

BLINKEN: We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan.

ATWOOD: And now the Biden administration must decide how to work with the Taliban, which is now in control of the country and how to defend against any potential terrorist threats emerging in Afghanistan without U.S. troops, diplomats or intelligence officials in the country.

BLINKEN: We lost some capacity, for sure, in not having those boots on the ground in Afghanistan, but we have ways and we are very actively working on that to make up for that, to mitigate for that, to make sure that we have eyes on the problem to see if it reemerges in Afghanistan.


BLITZER: That was our National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood, reporting.

Let's get reaction from the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul. He was in today's hearing with Secretary Blinken. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

MCCAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Did you get the clarity you were seeking during the course of these several hours of questions and answer?

MCCAUL: Well, it was highly contentious, very emotional issue. You have 13 servicemen and women coming home in flag-draped coffins, caskets. We had the celebration of 9/11. In Kabul, the Taliban is celebrating their defeat of the United States of America and the Taliban flag going up on the presidential palace.


I don't think anybody wanted to see it end this way. And I think that, you know, it is how this was done. There was a major criticism, and I would say it was bipartisan in many respects of critically the way this was done given the intelligence community warnings since April or May all the way through August exactly what was going to happen.

BLITZER: But did you get the clarity from Blinken, from the secretary of state, that you sought or at least did he help explain what was going on from the administration's perspective?

MCCAUL: Well, we got some guarantees that all American citizens will come out.

BLITZER: That's about 100 left. That's the number you have heard.

MCCAUL: Roughly, yes. The interpreters who worked with our special forces, they are gone. The Taliban will not allow them to leave.

BLITZER: People who got this special immigrant visas, is that what you are talking about.

MCCAUL: Special immigrant visas, usually guys who worked right with our special forces. Taliban views them as the worst of the worst because they betrayed, in their view, their country and they work with the --

BLITZER: How many people are you talking about?

MCCAUL: Well, you know, about 10,000. And if you multiply it by family, that's about, you know, three times that.

BLITZER: So you think they're going to be stuck? They're never going to get out?

MCCAUL: I think they're already being executed. We we're already getting stories of families and interpreters being executed by the Taliban. We'd love to see them all get -- had they done this sooner, Wolf, this actually could have worked. But they waited until the last minute on the hopes that they have this peace deal with the Taliban in Doha.

BLITZER: Well, I think they were assuming that the so-called Afghan government of Hamid Karzai and the 300,000 members of the Afghan military wouldn't simply run away.

MCCAUL: That's right. And every intelligence assessment I received was just the opposite, that the Afghan army would fall.

BLITZER: But not that quickly, within a few days. They thought it could be a few months.

MCCAUL: They were off by a few months.

BLITZER: They didn't think it would only be seven or ten days.

MCCAUL: And it happened very rapidly in the deterioration. And, finally, I asked the secretary what I'm most concerned about, with Bagram shutdown, those were our eyes and ears in Afghanistan to see the threats to take them out.

BLITZER: I meant Ashraf Ghani, not Hamid Karzai, who was the president.

MCCAUL: Correct.

BLITZER: The so-called President of Afghanistan who escaped, who fled for his life within a few days. Hamid Karzai is the former president.

MCCAUL: Correct. Ghani fled his own country. But this intelligence capability that went down with Bagram Air Base and with the embassy has left us dark in the region. We can't have eyes and ears in the country but also the Russia, China, Iran.

This was the most important question I asked the secretary, is what are you doing to restore that in a nearby country? And there have also been allegations that Mr. Putin talked to President Biden and basically threatening him that he could not build intelligence capability in the region.

BLITZER: Yes. When I spoke to the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, on Saturday over at the Pentagon, he said very flatly the U.S. will have robust capability in the region for what's called over-the-horizon attacks if necessary. Is that good enough for you?

MCCAUL: It is not. Over-the-horizon means Qatar, UAE. That's about a six to eight-hour flight. When I talk to senior military officials, intelligence, it is not close enough to have that eyes and ears on the ground. Remember, we have no presence in Afghanistan anymore. No more military, no more intelligence officials. We are completely dark. And that's what worries me going back to pre-9/11 without intelligence and also the cache of weapons and cash that they inherited.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there, Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

MCCAUL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still plenty of unanswered questions. Michael McCaul, I appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, new mixed messaging over the need for COVID vaccine booster shots just a week before the Biden administration's rollout. We will sort through the confusion right now with a former top CDC official. That's coming up.



BLITZER: The confusion over the need for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots is clearly growing tonight just one week before the Biden administration's rollout.

Let's talk about that and more with Dr. Richard Besser, the former acting director of the CDC. Dr. Besser, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, two departing FDA leaders are among the scientists who say COVID-19 vaccines do not, repeat, not currently show a need for boosting. Can you clear up this confusion for us? Do we need booster shots or not?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON FOUNDATION: Well, Wolf, you know, I'm waiting to see what the advisory committee to the FDA comes down with. You know, this is a body whose role is to be independent of government, so free of politics. Their role is to look at the data, look at the evidence and come up with a recommendation whether these vaccines should be approved for a booster dose. Then that information, assuming that they do approve it, and then goes to an independent advisory committee to the CDC to recommend who should get those booster shots.

As a pediatrician, as a public health person, I rely on that process. And I think the administration got way ahead of themselves by announcing a start date to a booster program before the independent committees had a chance to weigh in.

BLITZER: Israel's is a wide spread booster program, as you know, will serve as a case study when FDA vaccine advisers meet later this week. We're told that at least 2.8 million, nearly 3 million people in Israel have received booster doses already. They have very, very specific capabilities to keep track of how they're doing. What can the U.S. learn from all this data that the Israelis have collected?

BESSER: Yes. Reportedly, that data is going to be published in the New England Journal, and having it published in a Peer-Reviewed Journal is very helpful. [18:40:00]

There is so much information that gets out there on the web, gets out on the popular press before it's had a chance to have the tires kicked by peer reviewers, by scientists. And so this will be important information.

But even if this shows that a booster dose can be effective, there are incredible issues of global equity. So much of the world hasn't received even first doses of COVID. And if you are looking at global control of the pandemic, you really need to see this shut down everywhere.

So even if there is a marginal gain, a slight gain in terms of protection with a booster shot, it is not clear what the boosters will do. It is not clear, you know, until these data are really looked at closely what they were able to do to look at side effects, what population, what groups of people got their shots, what did they see in terms of side effects.

I expect that at some point there will be recommendations for at least some part of the population to have boosters, but it's premature to say who that is and what the timing should be.

BLITZER: There is already recommendation for the immunocompromised and the very elderly to get those booster shots right away.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says children between the ages of 5 and 11 might be able to get a coronavirus shot by Halloween, at the end of October. You're a pediatrician, a parent yourself. Once this vaccine is approved for younger children, would you like to see school districts mandate this shot?

BESSER: Yes. Again, I want to see the data. I want to see what comes in. Dr. Gottlieb is on the board of Pfizer, so, you know, what he's saying in a sense is that their studies will be done and the data will be in to FDA. Then it has to go through those review processes. As a pediatrician, one of the things that gives me some sense of hope is that this infection is less severe in young children.

But when I think as a public health person in terms of control and communities, until children are protected, it is going to be very hard to wrap our arms around shutting this down. There are so many communities that still need to increase efforts to get vaccination. That has to continue while these mandates are now in place. I think we will start to see an increase in uptick by adults and that will help protect children.

BLITZER: I think your right. Dr. Richard Besser, as usual, thank you very much.

Coming up, President Biden is out in California tonight just ahead of tomorrow's recall election. Will it be enough to fire up Democrats and save Governor Gavin Newsom from a historic defeat?


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Just hours to go until California's crucial recall election. Governor Gavin Newsom is about to join forces with President Biden to fire up Democrats.

Our chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny is just outside the Newsom rally venue in Long Beach.

Jeff, the president is in California in part to help Governor Newsom survive a recall. But it certainly comes at a crucial moment, crucial time for his own domestic agenda that has Democrats clearly divided. Give us all the late, breaking developments.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Biden has been talking about that all day long on his first western swing since taking office. And, yes, he will be appearing here in Long Beach for that final rally, standing alongside California Governor Gavin Newsom on the eve of this historic recall election. Of course, the president will be urging Democrats and even independents if they have not passed their ballots against the recall to do so now.

But, Wolf, this visit all day long has been about so much more. President Biden has been making the case using California as exhibit a with the wildfires and all the crumbling infrastructure why his build back better plan, as he calls it, is needed in the Congress. Now, we stopped in Idaho earlier today to look at wild fire damage and talking to officials there. He's doing that now in northern California.

But he's trying to make the case bit by bit why his $3.5 trillion plan, a big part of his economic agenda, needs to pass. Now, there are some issues on Capitol Hill with that. Democrats are still trying to work through the legislation. The price tag is still a big concern even among some Democrats.

But for now, President Biden simply using the visuals of the wildfires and other infrastructure needs here to make the case. But, Wolf, this is also a test at halftime, if you will, of the first year of his time in office of his handling of the coronavirus. Vaccine mandates, of course, essentially are on the ballot here tomorrow as well as are mask mandates. So this certainly is a sense the president coming in at the 11th hour here hoping to get a bounce of his own if Governor Newsom prevails this recall election.

But that's his biggest worry yet on the campaign trail since taking office. He's hoping there is a win tomorrow for Democrats in California, Wolf.

BLITZER: We shall see.

Jeff Zeleny in California for us, thank you very much.

Let's get a closer look right now at the California recall and why Democrats are cautiously optimistic tonight.

Our chief national correspondent John King is crunching the numbers for us -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the map is blank right now. But tomorrow, we get to count votes. It is a recall election. It's a little quirky, but the fundamental question yes or no. No means you keep Governor Newsom. Yes means there is a new governor of California. If we got to a no, then we would count the votes of the 40 plus candidates saying I would like to replace Gavin Newsom. Larry Elder, of course, the radio talk show host, leads.

But the Democrats are hoping we never get to that. In fact, Governor Newsom says just vote no and don't even fill out the rest of the ballot. Why are they so optimistic? Well, part of it is in the data they have right now, in the here and now.

This is from the firm Political Data, works with Democrats and non- profit groups. It shows more than half of the ballots returned so far are from Democrats.


It doesn't mean they all voted no, but we know in public polling, Governor Newsom is in good shape with Democrats, more than half of the ballot so far returned from Democrats, Republicans 25 percent, Democrats have 2-1 advantage in registration there, even exceeding that in the ballots returned so far.

Some of the Democratic confidence is also based in history. This is 2018. Gavin Newsom was elected with 62 percent of the vote in an overwhelmingly blue state. More Democratic now than back 18 years ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger surprised Gray Davis, 62 percent for Gavin Newsom then, and fast forward to 2020, click on the presidential election, 63 percent for Joe Biden.

California is blue. Democrats should not lose. Can they? Yes, they can.

One thing to look for, let's go back to where the recall came from. The deeper the purple here, the higher percentage of signatures to put the recall even on the ballot. Look at where they came from. Remember the shaded areas here, they overlap with here and even more significantly with this.

The voters won't be enough. Republicans need overwhelming turnout here. Republicans need to reclaim Orange County. You see in 2015, 50/50 this was the bedrock of the Republican Party. Can Republican haves a comeback? It would come here and come here in San Diego County. Again, this is a blue state. Watch. The governor was mayor of San Francisco first, see the San Francisco Bay area Democratic turnout.

Los Angeles, the largest county in the state and Democrats turning there and quite confident as we get to the end this was in 2018 a blue state. It was in 2020 an even more blue state. They are confident when we count the votes tomorrow this map will be blue, and that's why we count it.

BLITZER: John King reporting for us -- thank you very much.

Up next, North Korea's Kim Jong-un is back with a rather dangerous new stunt, test-firing a new long range cruise missile.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: After lying low for much of the coronavirus pandemic, North Korea's Kim Jong-un is now back with another attention grabbing stunt.

Our Brian Todd is working the story for us.

So, Brian, the Kim regime once again making waves on the world stage.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf, and it's a classic move right out of the dictator's playbook. A dangerous weapons test which many believe is an attempt to steer President Biden's attention toward Pyongyang.


TODD (voice-over): A show of defiance and military ambition from North Korea's menacing young dictator. Kim Jong Un's forces have just test- fired a new type of long range cruise missile according to North Korean state media which published pictures of missile flying off a mobile launcher and a missile in mid-flight. The North Koreans claim the missiles flew for more than two hours in oval and figure eight patterns and landed in the sea more than 900 miles away. Experts say these cruise missiles cannot reach the Continental United States but pose a danger nonetheless.

THOMAS KARAKO, MISSILE EXPERT, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNAITONAL STUDIES: What that means is bringing into bear U.S. forces and allies in Japan, South Korea and all kinds of other places. So, now, we have to worry about North Korea that has, yes, the ballistic missiles, but also the drones and all of that is a complex and integrated attack, whereby they can come in from all different directions, all kinds of trajectories and altitudes and construct an attack that's much more complicated to defend against.

TODD: The cruise missile test comes just days after a spectacular and bizarre midnight parade through Kim Il Sung's square in Pyongyang. No missiles on display. Instead, a K-9 squad, a unit in orange hazmat suits and an image that stunned analysts, Kim Jong Un looking strikingly thinner than he had just a few months before.

SOO KIM, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Is it really in North Korea's interest to show to the rest of the world that Kim Jong Un is shedding weight? And if that has, you know, health issues and how is North Korea going to manage succession, the internal stability and all these other issues that could be issues important to countries like United States and South Korea. TODD: Kim was even shown in propaganda footage appearing to enjoy a

bright green drink with a twisty star, all part of what looks like a reemerging of the supreme leader during on the world state following the height of coronavirus pandemic when he sealed off his country to everyone, including China, and following his high profile summits with former President Donald Trump.

Kim tested shorter range ballistic missiles this year, the missile test, slimmed down look analysts believe could be a calculation from Kim to steer President Biden's attention his way.

KIM: We have to think about the atmosphere now where we're consumed by the pandemic. The United States is also involved in the pullout of Afghanistan. So, North Korea knows that the United States can't give it the due attention it wants. The best thing he can do now is continue to basically poke the needle in our side to remind us that North Korea remains a persistent threat.


TODD: While analysts say these latest tests are a way for Kim Jong-un to get the Biden administration's attention, they're also worried that it could be part of an accelerated arms race with South Korea that could get worse. South Korea has just ramped up its own missile capability in recent weeks, including a test of a submarine launch ballistic missile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you very much. We'll continue to watch North Korea, very closely.

To our viewers, thanks for very much more watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always the tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

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