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Fighting Time And Weather As Quake Tolls Soars; White House Says, Biden Will Highlight Economic Progress And Draw Contrast With GOP In Second State Of Union Messages, Tonight; Rep. George Santos (R- NY) Expected To Face House Ethics Committee Probe; State Of The Guest List. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 07, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, racing the clock, fighting the climate. Bitter cold and utter devastation slow the search for quake survivors as the death toll in Turkey and Syria climbs.

Is he or isn't he? House Speaker Kevin McCarthy weighs in on whether Congressman George Santos is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee while some of his constituents travel here to Washington demanding his removal.

And making his case, President Biden gets ready to report on the State of the union and what also could be a preview of his 2024 re-election campaign.

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

We're up here at the U.S. Capitol just hours away from the president's state of the union message to the American people. With me tonight are CNN Correspondents and Analysts, we will all break down what to expect.

But we begin right now with the devastation and the growing loss of life in Turkey and Syria. The death toll, which has been climbing for days, now approaching 8,000 men, women and children with nearly 40,000 people injured.

According to Turkey's vice president, more than 16,000 search and rescue teams are currently at work in his country. And in both countries, Syria and Turkey, thankfully, some of that work is paying off. Take a look at this video of a child being rescued in a Syrian town just northwest of Aleppo. Watch this.

We have reports tonight from CNN's Becky Anderson and Nick Paton Walsh in two of the hardest hit location in Turkey. Let's start with Becky right now in the city very close to where this magnitude 7.8 quake was centered. Becky, what is the latest on the ground? What are you seeing there now? BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that is right, and it was just shy of 48 hours ago when people here in Ibrahimli in Western Gaziantep and people all over this region were woken by that massive earthquake. The biggest earthquake they've had here in a hundred years.

And the situation on the ground is heartbreaking. There are pockets of heartwarming stories like that which you have just shown, Wolf, but on the whole, it is heartbreaking. If you can see what is going on behind me here, both sides of me here, you see buildings that are still standing, but only just. But behind me here is a completely devastated building. This was seven or eight floors. It would have had four flats per floor. So, that makes it around 100 to 150 people possibly caught up in this.

Now, we know that there is a possibility there are about 15 still alive here. They have heard voices. They have heard sounds. And every so often today they go completely quiet, turn off the generators to see whether they've got any real sign of life. We've been out here for about eight hours and I'm afraid to say on this side there hasn't been any evidence today.

Let me give you a sense of what is going on around this region.


ANDERSON (voice over): From underneath the destruction, a momentary sigh of relief. The search and rescue teams find a sign of life while sifting through the rubble. But seconds later, another lifeless body is found. Monday's devastating quake has left an ever growing death toll in the thousands, leaving families across Turkey and Syria without homes and without loved ones.

As the snowfalls, grief is being compounded with freezing conditions. Huddled around a small fire, survivors worry about friends and relatives still trapped under the rubble. Forbidden by authorities to intervene, Murat Alinak says he just wants to help recover his relatives to give them a proper sendoff.


MURAT ALINAK, EARTHQUAKE VICTIM: We are under the snow without a home, without anything. We could overcome this. We could fast for 40 days and still overcome this, but let us recover for the funerals.

ANDERSON: International aid has poured in from all corners of the world. France, Mexico, Germany and India are some of the countries who have pledged to step up efforts. Planes carrying supplies from Iran and Iraq also arriving in Damascus on Tuesday, as C-17 cargo planes from the UAE flew quickly to the quake-stricken area.

UMUR ZAMANOGLU, TURKISH SEARCH AND RESCUE TEAM LEADER: Now, 25,000 the Turkish search and rescue crew is on the mission and more estimates of 5,000 people is coming from the other country.

ANDERSON: Back in Gaziantep, survivors at this gas station are desperately trying to fill up and find safety away from the destruction. But this line stretch throughout the airport with cancellations expected for at least three days, and Turkey's Erdogan declaring a state of emergency for the next three months, passengers slowly resign to the fact that there may be no escape any time soon.


BLITZER: And, Becky, can you show us what the search and rescue teams are doing behind you where you are right now?

ANDERSON (on camera): Sure. If I could just get the camera to hone in on what is going on there, so if you can see between those trees and to the right-hand side you should be able to see the workers, the rescue workers. Let me come off here to you so see properly. You see the search and rescuers in the yellow hats.

Now, these guys have been here, some of them for more than 40 hours. We've been talking to them today and they are not giving up. What they're using are drills. They're using heat probes and sound probes to get inside what they believe is quite a large void underneath that rubble to assess whether anybody is still alive.

And as I said, they heard about three voices earlier on today. So, they're absolutely determined until they see or hear no sign of life, they will continue this and it will be a search and rescue effort. Using drills, as I say, but you could also see that they're literally using spades and their hands, Wolf, to scratch away the surface. I mean, this is really delicate and a very challenging, very, very challenging for these guys, because they are also working in an environment where they are concerned about how robust these two buildings to the right and the left are at this point. So, it is a real challenge for them.

There are buildings to my right and to my left, both of which have come down, two of which have got buildings sort of over the top of them. And there are concerns that all of these buildings will come down in the next 24 hours or so. So, it's very difficult, heartbreaking for these search and rescue workers. But they are absolutely determined that they will carry on in what is bitter cold, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We're so grateful to those men and women involved in the search and rescue. Becky, thank you very much. Stay safe over there.

Let's go to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh right now. He's in the city where nearly a thousand buildings have totally collapsed. Nick, you're a little north of where Becky is. You spent the day with search and rescue teams there, as they are desperately trying to recover survivors. Give us a sense of what you saw.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, this is a city closest to the epicenter, the first quake that hit 4:00 yesterday morning and also the subsequent aftershock at about 1:24, very close to here at Kahramanmaras where I'm standing now.

We've seen throughout the day the devastation to this particular older part of town, some older buildings here. But as dusk passed, it became clear that rescuers were finding more bodies. We saw one, the body of a nine-year-old girl mourned by her father over her and another body brought out to join her, often left on the sidewalk at times as medical crews struggle to keep up with the number of bodies they find, but also, too, a number of moments of hope. We've seen four separate cases of bodies brought out of the rubble over here alive. One young man, a 21-year-old man, Abdullah (ph), seemingly just caught in the gap in the rubble and brought out entirely intact, completely unscathed, it seemed, from what must have been 40-plus hours in the rubble here.

But tonight, while the rescue tempo has slowed slightly, as the temperature, as the lack of visibility and the dark here, and so many locals are simply sat around fires made out of the damaged houses they once lived in to keep warm.


But they can't really go back in damaged structures, fears of aftershocks maintained here. There have been rescue workers intensifying their operations behind that excavator here.

Now, locals brought them over. They said they thought they heard voices, noises inside. There are now will be periods of silence. They ask everyone to fall quiet and they just listen. But one of the locals here said that a thermal camera they believe had shown over a dozen people there. The real figure could be less. But there are now clear efforts by the rescuers here, despite these freezing conditions, to try and get inside that main piece of rubble here.

What you can't see in the darkness, Wolf, is that this building, exactly the same devastated, that building devastated all down the road here, very little left standing. Oddly, in a newer, possibly wealthier part of the city, everything unscathed, but here, utterly flattened and people, I think, at times -- by the remarkable vision of seeing someone pulled from this level of destruction but also to waking up to a reality for them now where they simply don't frankly know where they're going to live, what they have left and are huddled around these makeshift fires, trying to scavenge food out of what minimal government assistance has managed to get here. The roads have been perilous and blocked at times. So, utterly stark here so close to the epicenter, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, stay safe over there. I'm really worried about more aftershocks.

Let's discuss what is going on with a Structural Engineer Kit Miyamoto, who is heading to the region shortly to join a team from his company that is already on the ground. Kit, thanks so much for joining us. First of all what is your team telling you about what they're actually seeing as this desperate search for survivors continues?

KIT MIYAMOTO, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Well, the way the Turkish team sees this is probably the worst natural disaster that the nation of Turkey will face in the modern era. It is just the impacts are huge. You know I'm talking about 100 kilometers, 120 kilometers of a ruptured fault line and affecting millions of people and under strong emotion. So, it is definitely the -- it is a big deal, there's just no question about it.

And you're going to see that, right now, an estimate of about 17,000 buildings collapsed totally probably end up 10,000 or more. And at the very end, because there is a widespread area, and 10,000 collapsed building means probably additional hundred thousand buildings have been damaged, affecting millions of people. So, it is definitely the -- it is a long way ahead.

BLITZER: From a structural engineer's perspective, and you're structural engineer, how difficult is this search and rescue operation that is going on? How difficult is it to safely navigate, for example, what is left of these buildings?

MIYAMOTO: It is extremely difficult. I was in 2007 Mexico earthquake to basically give guidance to the (INAUDIBLE) rescue team to get into reach the bodies of people in collapsed buildings. And those buildings are not stable. They're fragile. They're constantly moving in.

So, you have to really understand to how actually collapsed mode (ph) may be like, how it is going to collapse into it and provide something sure if it is possible and to stabilize it. And also meantime, the survey equipments to monitor actually movement of the building and how actually in the meantime we have aftershocks going on here. So, you have to deal with all of that.

So, it is definitely the -- I mean, those rescue teams, man, they are definitely something else. They're definitely risking their lives to help others.

BLITZER: Kit Miyamoto, we're so grateful to you and your teams for doing what you're doing. You're saving lives potentially out there, and so much help is needed right now in the quake zone. Thanks so much for joining us.

And to our viewers here is how you could help. Go to where you'll find links to relief agencies and other legitimate aid providers. Again, that is

Up next tonight, new word just in on a U.S. attempt to outreach over that Chinese spy balloon and how Beijing responded even as our first look at the wreckage is coming in.

Later, what to expect at tonight's state of the union address by the president and what to make of all of the security surrounding Capitol Hill right now. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Some breaking news we're following right now, new reporting on the aftermath of the Tyre Nichols fatal beating by Memphis police. According to The New York Times, one of the five police officers now charged with murder took a picture of him bloodied, dazed and handcuffed and sent it to at least five people. The Times citing police department documents released this earlier today.

Now, the Chinese balloon, the navy providing our first look at pieces of the Chinese spy balloon shot down over the weekend off the coast of South Carolina. And just in, there is new word of a very high level U.S. attempt an outreach in how it was received in Beijing.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is joining us right now. He's joining us from Washington. Oren, what are you learning about communication between the U.S. and China in the wake of this balloon being shut down?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Shortly after the military downed that Chinese balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told DOD to reach out to the Chinese Ministry of National Defense and see if it was possible to set up a phone call with his Chinese Counterpart, Wei Fenghe. That attempt, we have now learned from the Pentagon, was rebuffed, the Chinese refusing to engage in that conversation between the U.S. defense secretary and his Chinese counterpart.

A Pentagon put out a statement a short time ago saying they still view communication as important especially at times like this. And we've seen Austin hit that point over and over again the need for communication.


It is also worth pointing out that President Joe Biden and others have also emphasized the need for communication and the Chinese did as well in the first statement about the Chinese balloon when they acknowledged responsibility for it and said it should be handled via diplomacy. Now, Wolf, that appears to not be the case, as the Chinese reject this attempt of outreach by the DOD.

BLITZER: I understand, Oren, you're also learning more about the efforts to retrieve and investigate the equipment that this balloon was carrying. What can you tell us?

LIEBERMANN: Correct. We're getting an update, and part of the update is the images you're seeing on the screen right now. The navy putting out frankly what are fantastic photos of wreckage and the remnants of the balloon being pulled from the Atlantic Ocean. You could see those right there. So, a look at the actual remnants and the debris that fell from 60,000 feet after it was downed, down to the ocean.

Some parts of those remnants have already moved to Quantico where the FBI has begun an analysis, a unique opportunity to get an up-close and personal look with Chinese technology and see what the Chinese had on board and perhaps get a better glimpse of what they intended to do with it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Oren, when will members of Congress actually get an update from the Pentagon?

LIEBERMANN: The first briefing for high level members of Congress is expected tomorrow morning, the Gang of Eight, as it is called. Some of their staffers were already briefed today, so that will begin. We expect it will be northern command and NORAD Commander General VanHerck who will give that briefing.

We're hearing from some however, such as Senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intel Committee, he got information and he says he is not happy with what he's hearing in terms of the transparency from the Biden administration and he says there is also no comparison at all between this balloon that went over something like two-thirds or three quarters of the United States and balloons that crossed in the Trump administration that went over only small parts of the United States, according to Rubio there.

BLITZER: Oren Lieberman at the Pentagon, thanks very, very much. I know you continue to work your sources.

Meanwhile, George Santos, the Republican congressman from New York, who could not seem to tell the truth about anything, will be attending his first state of the union address today as a lawmaker. The question is will it also be his last. As you know, he's already facing a federal investigation as well as one back home in addition to complaints before the House Ethics Committee. Today, the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who has stood by Santos, was asked about it.

CNN's Eva McKend is joining us now. She's got more. So, Eva, what is Speaker McCarthy actually saying about a possible House ethics probe of Santos? Is an investigation already underway?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's response on this seemed to be a bit of a moving target, Wolf. But he initially responded yes to our colleague Manu Raju when asked if Santos is under investigation by the committee.

But McCarthy later clarified, changed his answer and said that he meant that Santos is the subject of ethics committee complaints. But Santos' constituents that I spoke with today on Capitol Hill in protest, they suggested, even McCarthy responding to question about Santos in this way indicates the pressure on Republican leadership is building.

BLITZER: I know, as you say, you caught up with a bipartisan group of Congressman Santos' constituents who actually came here to Washington today. What did they tell you? What else did they tell you?

MCKEND: So, Wolf, they have really a range of concerns. One woman who told me she works with Afghan refugees and has a lot of sensitive information about their whereabouts, she said she wouldn't feel comfortable working with Congressman Santos' office.

Another, a Republican telling me he's proud that Republicans did so well in the midterms out on Long Island and that they've made gains in recent years and that Santos remaining in office really compromises that. He says that Republicans up here are being shortsighted. Take a listen.


BEN MARZOUK, REP. GEORGE SANTOS CONSTITUENT: It was important to me to voice my opinion to the Republicans who are standing by him to say you're not doing the right thing. This is not -- this is not difficult. It is a fraudster.


MCKEND: And so I asked another constituent, is being up here really going to make a difference, and she said she felt as though, yes, that it was important for lawmakers up here in D.C. to see the folks come from Long Island and know that they are not going to let up, Wolf.

BLITZER: Eva, I understand that Congressman Santos is guest to the state of the union address tonight as raising some eyebrows. What are you learning?

MCKEND: Yes. Michael Windstock, he's a former firefighter who says he had health issues, or has health issues, rather, stemming from his response to 9/11. And he evidently thinks the issue of 9/11, an important issue, those first responders receiving adequate medical care is worth the association with Santos. But it is coming at a cost for him. He lost his job at a law firm as a result of agreeing to be Santos' guest. By now, many of our viewers know Santos said his mother was in the south tower of the twin towers on 9/11 but immigration records show, Wolf, that she wasn't even in the country at the time.


BLITZER: Eva McKend reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Coming up, CNN special coverage of the president's state of the union address begins in less than two hours. It is the first address before a divided Congress. We're going to preview the case he's expected to make for his re-election.


BLITZER: All right. Take a look at this right now. You're looking at pictures from Statuary Hall right at the U.S. Capitol where preparations are underway for the president's second state of the union message.


We're about 90 minutes away from our special coverage of President Biden first state of the union speech before a divided U.S. Congress.

Moments ago, CNN received excerpts from that address. White House just released them. The president expected to highlight the accomplishments of his administration so far. He's also expected to lay some groundwork for a likely re-election campaign.

Let's go to CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly standing by. Phil, I understand you're just now getting a little preview of some of what the president will actually say?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is exactly right. This is going to be a lengthy speech tonight where the president lays out both what he and his administration believe are critical accomplishments of their first two years, but also their roadmap for the path forward, including the potential and also likely re-election campaign we expect to be announced in the weeks ahead.

But when you dig into the excerpts of what we've received so far, you get a sense of core components, the central tenets of the speech the president will deliver to Congress and tens of millions of Americans later this evening. And in part it addresses the fact that sitting behind him will no longer be a Democratic speaker of the House but instead Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

And this will not be a political attack speech. Instead it will be an effort to try and find some unity, try and find some bipartisanship something the president found on several critical legislative agenda items in the first two years of his time in office. And that is something that he will cite, according to one excerpt, the president will say, to my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is to reason we can't work together in this new Congress. The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict gets us nowhere.

And I think that underscores what we've heard from White House advisers in terms of the approach the president is going to take tonight. Certainly, he will list off all of the accomplishments he and his team believed they had in the first two years and how they view the path forward but they also will try and continue to take the temperature down, continue to try and press for bipartisanship where there is agreement, where there is overlap on critical issues and more than anything else, try and reach across the aisle where there are opportunities there.

It certainly hasn't felt like the way things have been headed in the first few weeks of this new House Republican majority but the president trying to, to some degree, rise above where they believe the political partisanship has been over the course of the last several weeks and really underscore that point to the American public tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure he will. As you say, the speech will be about looking forward for the likely re-election campaign for the president, presenting the president as a leader who can actually take on six more years of this job. Is that right?

MATTINGLY: Yes. I think White House officials aren't really explicit about what the next steps are going to be but implicit in just about everything they do right now is the recognition that behind the scenes, they have put together a re-election infrastructure already. All they're waiting for is for the president to give them the green light. And I think that underscores the importance of this moment for the president on stage, tens of millions of viewers really underscoring a leadership that has produced results in those first two years but also a preparation to do even more in the years ahead.

Key line, Wolf, to pay attention throughout the night, finish the job. That is what the president will be talking about throughout the night about his goals going forward.

BLITZER: Looking forward. All right, Phil Mattingly, at the White House, thank you very much.

I'm joined now by CNN Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt and CNN Chief Correspondent and the co-anchor of CNN This Morning, Kaitlan Collins, ladies thank you very much for coming up to Capitol Hill for this.

So, the president is promising that this speech will be a conversation with the American people. So, Kaitlan, what does that look like?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: I think it is going to be setting the tone because this is the first time he's governing with a divided government. He has got a Republican House speaker that's going to be over his left shoulder, as Phil was mentioning there. That has changed the trajectory of his presidency and what they think that the next two years can look like as they work on Republicans here on Capitol Hill who are no longer in the minority.

And so that has been a focus of the White House, as also on selling the president's agenda, what that's going to look like, because we've seen polls that show voters aren't always feeling that. So, how do they tell them what that is going to look like over the next two years while also drawing a contrast with the number of investigations that you've seen Republicans launch here on Capitol Hill saying that is their agenda, this is what ours is going to look like.

BLITZER: And he also wanted to reiterate and show the American public, and there will be tens of millions of people watching tonight, the biggest audience he's going to get this year, that he's already accomplished a lot but there is more he can do.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. And, I mean, as I was listening to Phil walk through those excerpts, I was really reminded of covering the Biden campaign where, especially in the general election, he talked about the soul of America and he talked about how he wanted to figure out how to put a very divisive Trump-era behind the country.

And so I think that this -- one of the things I'm really listening closely for is he has used some pretty tough language toward Republicans, this president has, but is it going to be there tonight? I think we'll have to wait and see.

Certainly what Phil walked through there suggests that the tone, the approach he wants to take in front of that massive audience is one that says, stick with me, because I'm going to make sure that we keep working together to try and highlight some of these big things that they want to make sure they remind the American people what they've done.


BLITZER: Yes. It is clear already from the excerpts that the White House is releasing of his speech tonight. He's going to try to send this message that he wants to work with the Republicans and work to get things achieved for the American people. COLLINS: And a surprising thing has happened whenever he and McCarthy met and they both emerged with a clearly set tone of what they were going to talk about their relationship, looking like they have gone into it jousting, saying here is our red line on the debt ceiling, here's where my line is going to be. They came out of that with McCarthy saying they're hoping they can find common ground.

And I went to a briefing earlier with Hakeem Jeffries and Chuck Schumer, and they were talking about navigating it and what that looks like. Hakeem Jeffries, who is the minority leader here in the House, was saying that he is going to work with Kevin McCarthy where they can. They want to find that common ground. He said they will disagree, obviously, where they do disagree but they're trying to keep it civil.

And Kevin McCarthy said he won't be ripping up the speech tonight of President Biden's behind him, as he stands behind him. So, we'll see how long that lasts though. And also it's not just the question of Kevin McCarthy. It is the other Republicans who will be seated in the chamber.

HUNT: Yes. It's less easy when it's the two of them in one room. It's less easy when McCarthy has to take it back to the Republican conference here on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: They both have their respective parts of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party that they have to deal with.

He's expected to tout his message for re-election tonight. But there is new Washington Post/ABC News poll, and you've seen it, Kasie, that found that 58 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents want someone else to be the candidate.

HUNT: Yes.

BLITZER: So, how does he deal with that?

HUNT: Well, I mean, that may be the reality in the polling. I don't think anyone necessarily -- I mean, the numbers show that there is not a lot of people who were excited about the status quo, especially if we're headed for another Biden-Trump showdown in 2024.

But the reality is there is not really an alternative here. And Joe Biden really -- President Biden, I should say, solidified that when he and his party performed in the midterms much better than a lot of people expected that they would. He kept people together. There was chatter ahead of that, that maybe there was a challenge from inside of the Democratic Party to him taking the mantle of the nomination, if that was what he wanted. That chatter went away the day -- on election night and it hasn't returned.

BLITZER: How big of a factor, if it is going to be a big factor, will his age be tonight?

COLLINS: I think it is a question that voters may have over how vigorous and forceful he is in this delivery. Remember in his last state of the union, he came out and surprised even some of his own advisers with how he delivered that speech. I do think that is part of what people will be looking for tonight.

You're right, Wolf, this is one of the biggest audiences that a president ever gets. So, it is important that they talk about their accomplishment and their agenda, because for some Americans, it may be the first time they're hearing it laid out in this way from the president.

And so that is something that people will be watching for. Because even if you talk to them privately, they do talk about the age factor and you see what voters say, that they do want that, not just with Biden but also with former President Trump and other members of Congress and their ages.

And so, I think that's part of it, but the White House has really dismissed those questions. They've tried to put that aside especially after the midterms and said he is going to launch this re-election campaign.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys, three of us are going to be together here all night, tonight. So, we have got a lot to discuss. Stand by for that.

CNN special coverage of the state of the union speech begins at 8:00 P.M. Eastern tonight.

Just ahead, the top Democrat in the House Foreign Affairs Committee will join us to discuss his expectations for tonight. Lots going on up here on Capitol Hill. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: CNN special coverage of tonight's historic state of the union speech begins in just over an hour. Our Phil Mattingly just reported excerpts from that speech. President Biden is expected to extend an olive branch to Republicans. His hope is that Republicans and Democrats can, quote, work together in this new Congress. He's also expected to talk about a U.S. economy where, quote, no one is left behind.

I'm joined now by New York Congressman Gregory Meeks. He's the ranking Democrat in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was the chairman, now he's the ranking member. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. As we're saying, it is better to be chairman than a ranking member.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): No question, you do that, but we're here and we're going to fight to get things done.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about what is going on right now. You saw -- I'm sure you saw this new Washington Post/ABC News poll, and I'm looking at it. It shows a majority of Americans, 62 percent, don't believe President Biden has achieved much in office so far. How does he combat that? MEEKS: He combats that by telling and saying what we've done. I've been in Congress now for 25 years. In the last two years of the 117th Congress, I think we've accomplished more than ever when you think about the bills that we passed under President Biden's leadership.

BLITZER: Why isn't that message coming through?

MEEKS: Well, because we're coming from the greatest pandemic that this world has ever seen and people for a long time, part of that, we were all locked up. We are afraid whether or not we were going to die or not. And so you were coming out of that.

And so when you are living something, you know, sometimes you don't feel it. But I can recall my -- one of my idols, Charlie Rangel, we're talking about he was marching in the civil rights movement and he was cussing all the way not realizing that he was living history in the historic moment that he was in and the accomplishments that was being made, same thing here with Joe Biden. And I think that the next two years will get out the fact that how successful we were in getting out of the greatest pandemic that this world has ever seen.

BLITZER: Do you think he will discuss police reform in the state of the union address tonight.

MEEKS: Yes, I think he will. As one of the first lady's guests is the family of Tyre. And so I think he will bring that up. He understands that the significance and importance of police reform and holding police accountable. And that is what people are just asking for is accountability. After you see the things that happened to Mr. Nichols and George Floyd, they should -- police officers should be held accountable when they go beyond their duties and brutalize and murder individuals.


We want good policing and overall, most police are good. But when you break that line, when you go over across that line, you should be held accountable. And so I think that he should and will mention it tonight.

BLITZER: And I assume that is one of the reasons why the president and the first lady invited Tyre Nichols' parents to come to the gallery tonight and see the speech up close.

MEEKS: Absolutely, and the president met with the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Steven Horsford, had dialogue and conversation, talked about the family and talked about what we possibly could do so that we could make sure that police reform becomes a reality and we know Senator Scott and Senator Booker are still talking and having dialogue on that.

You know, we passed last Congress in the House, the George Floyd Police Reform Act, twice, but could not get over the hump with the Senate. That conversation is taking place, president is going to try to pull us together, so that we could get some real accomplishments. BLITZER: What are you hearing? The chances that it will pass in the

Senate? It's got to pass in both the House and the Senate and then the president could sign it into law.

MEEKS: Begin what is taking place, it will have to pass in the Senate first that is why I'm glad that Senator Scott and Senator Booker is talking and then have it come over to the House because the change of the majority in the house which will be harder this time.

But I think that everybody wants safety and after you see -- after you've seen with your own eyes the kind of brutal death that Mr. Nichols suffered, I think any, you know, American would want to make sure that those individuals that commit such an act are held accountable.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, quick thought on George Santos, his district is not too far away from Queens, but some of his district spills over from Long Island into Queens, right?

MEEKS: That's correct.

BLITZER: And you want him out.

MEEKS: Well, yes. Look, I'm also the chair of the Queens Democratic Party and I believe that he got elected because he's a fraud. And every day is an embarrassment to all of the members of Congress. But it should be a particularly embarrassment for the Republican Party.

And so I think that Speaker McCarthy should -- he didn't step down or he didn't prevent him from having committees. He's allegedly stepped down on his own, but he shouldn't be seated. It's an embarrassment.

You know, he's a person that I believe ultimately, you know, who's being investigated by the Eastern District court of New York, who is being investigated by the Nassau County D.A., investigated by the Queen's County D.A., investigated by the state attorney general. And so, he's a guy that needs to leave Congress and we need to have another special election there.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens.

Congressman Meeks, good luck to you in the new Congress. Thanks very much for joining us.

MEEKS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: The ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Gregory Meeks.

The extra security measures in place up here at the U.S. Capitol for tonight's State of the Union Address and what has the attention of the Capitol Police as they monitor potential threats. We have a full report with information when we come back.



BLITZER: We learned just moments ago that President Biden is expected to devote some of tonight's State of the Union message to a call for unity in America. It stands in contrast to what you see outside, 8- foot-high metal fencing now surrounding the U.S. Capitol complex. This is the third year in a row for the security measure in the wake of the January 6th attack. Some Republicans don't think it's really necessary even though authorities are monitoring very disturbing online chatter that concerns them big time.

CNN's Brian Todd has more on that.

First, though, a warning, some of the images you're about to see are graphic.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): According to a Capitol police intelligence and interagency bulletin obtained by CNN, U.S. capitol police have been tracking social media posts, which called for violence against the Capitol and, quote, aspirational targeting of the State of the Union.

One post read, quote, this was the problem with January 6th, you can't do it halfway. Other posts called for the executions of officials in President Biden's administration and for Biden's arrest.

The bulletin did say there were no specific credible threats related to the state of the union address. But the rhetoric concerns law enforcement veterans.

TERRANCE GAINER, FORMER U.S. CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: The rhetoric that's online and the general hate and discontent still going around the country causes some concern for the capitol police and other law enforcement, but they are trying to prepare for that by having the proper defensive mechanisms.

TODD: But not everyone can even agree on the fencing now surrounding the Capitol set up just for tonight's address.

New Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy today told CNN's Manu Raju he doesn't feel the fence is necessary, even though the Secret Service and Capitol police were in favor of it.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I just don't think it's the right look, there's not a need. You got all the intel out there, but there's no problem whatsoever.

TODD: McCarthy also removed magnetometers leading to the House floor last month.

Former Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer disagrees with McCarthy's take on Capitol security.

GAINER: What we try to do in security is have these concentric circles of security. And we build them out and build them in and build them in and build them in. When you weaken any one of those rings, you increase the threat to everybody.

TODD: Capitol police say, in addition to the January 6th attack, there's been a heightened threat recently toward government officials and those connected to them. The most high-profile accidents, the attack in late October targeting then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband, captured on this police body cam video.

POLICE OFFICER: Drop the hammer.


POLICE OFFICER: What is going on around here?

DISPATCHER: We're not getting an answer on --

TODD: And there was the would-be attempt to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last June. The lone wolf calling the police on himself before moving on Kavanaugh.


That's the kind of threat that the current Capitol Police chief told CNN keeps him up at night.

CHIEF TOM MANGER, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: It's the lone wolf. It's the person who's not on anybody's radar that worries me the most.


TODD (on camera): Chief Tom Manger has greatly enhanced the capabilities of the Capitol Police since January 6. They have beefed up the intelligence capabilities. They're working on enhancing the system of cameras on Capitol Hill. And they're steadily hiring more officers now getting to a force size of about 2,000 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, very disturbing indeed. Brian, thank you very, very much.

Up next, a look at some of the guests of honor for the president's speech tonight. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: CNN's special coverage of the president's State of the Union Address starts right here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Here's a quick look at the state of the guest list for tonight. So far, 26 people are expected to sit with the first lady tonight in the gallery. According to her office, they personify issues or themes the president will touch on in his speech.

Some of the names include Ukraine's ambassador to the United States. Once again, Tyre Nichols' parents are here. Monterey Park, California, shooting hero, Brandon Tsay. Also, Bono from U2 for his continued work on the AIDS epidemic. And Paul Pelosi who survived the attempt on his life last fall. The coverage once again starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.