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Biden Refuses To Apologize For Comments About Working With Segregationist Senators; Regions Contain New Ebola Cases Now Topping 2,100; Senators Receive Briefing Of Possible UFO Sightings; Apollo 11 Premieres Sunday. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 20, 2019 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And, David, as somebody who knows the president, can you explain that? Because it's obvious that the Iranians, at least according to their words, which is all we have to go on, say this was not an accident.

[16:30:02] This was intentional. It was not a mistake.

President Trump saying I have to believe it was a mistake. Is he trying to give them an out? Is he trying to give himself an out? What's going on?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think both things are true, Jake. I think the president is hesitant to engage in conflict and to send, you know, our men and women in harm's way. I think he's trying to give them out.

Although when you see the video of the missile launches and you hear the guy shouting in the background gleefully, I think that's kind of takes it off the shelves as an option, right, that this was a mistake.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: It clearly indicates that they know what they're doing.

I think the president is trying to give himself and others a way out. And, unfortunately, I think there's going to have some response -- a measured response. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that there'd be some sort of a tomahawk missile strike on the site that launched this, a very limited response, to the missiles that struck this, and not very escalating.

To put a tomahawk missile in a three by three window and mitigate that's done and it's an appropriate response. I think it would be met with, you know, I don't want to say met with approval from our allies around the world, but the Iranian government has to be checked. You can't be looking, you know, block the Strait of Hormuz and now downing a U.S. military aircraft, which is in international airspace, without any type of retribution.

TAPPER: Madam Mayor, what do you think? Where is the public's appetite when it comes to a military conflict with Iran right now? What do you think? STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE (D), FORMER MAYOR OF BALTIMORE: I don't think anyone has an appetite for war. That being said, we can have a president that talks tough all the time and then finds excuses for Iran, which everyone is clear, they said they did it, they did it on purpose. We can't sit back and act like it's anything else but that.

I think between the Russians, cutting off our ships, with this, you can't allow people to keep poking and poking and poking without having a response. And the challenge is, we have a president who is very heavy-handed. You know, he has one tool. It's a hammer, and he thinks everything is a nail.

And when the response requires finesse, when it requires a nuance, he's so stuck, so stuck, that he's willing to give Iran an out.

TAPPER: And, Toluse, one of the things that's interesting, you heard President Trump say, you know, I ran on the platform of getting us out of these foreign wars, these foreign entanglements. So, he -- I mean, I do think that his knee-jerk response is I don't want to have another Iraq. And yet he also talks tough as the mayor points out.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, the president's impulse here is to have dialogue with Iran. He's been sort of teasing this for the past several months, saying, you know, if they want to talk, I'm here. When they're ready to talk, let's have discussions.

It's sort of similar to what we saw with North Korea, where the president talked tougher a better part of a year, had all kinds of threats against Kim Jong-un and the North Koreans. But as soon as there was an opening to have discussions and have those discussions broadcast on TV for high ratings, the president jumped it and he's been trading love letters with Kim Jong-un since then.

And I think he's hoping to have a similar outcome with the Iranians. That's why you see him sort of giving it an out, saying maybe this was a mistake, maybe this is someone who is at much lower level, and sort of keeping the option for dialogue open with the mullahs, or anyone in Iran who might be willing to talk. But so far, we haven't seen any response from Iran.

URBAN: And he had the Swiss president at the White House, the Swiss federation there, to say no more of an overt action can you have by welcoming here saying, this is a direct channel to the Iranians, can you please talk with us? And nothing to date.

TAPPER: Everybody, stick around. We have more to talk about.

No apologies. Joe Biden sticking to his stance regarding controversial remarks about those segregationist senators. And he's getting surprising supporters.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:38:01] TAPPER: In our 2020 lead, today, former Vice President Joe Biden fending off attacks from his Democratic rivals, and fiercely defending his ability to work with anyone, including segregationist senators, once who didn't call him "boy", representing a time of civility, Joe Biden said.

As CNN's Arlette Saenz now reports, this topic could come every weekend as every single Democratic presidential candidate, minus one, converges on South Carolina to try to woo African-American voters.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): As he faces criticism for his comments on working with segregationist senators decades ago, Joe Biden remains defiant and unapologetic.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The point I'm making is you don't have to agree, you don't have to like the people in terms of their views, but you just simply make the case and you beat them.

SAENZ: Biden's team today doubling down.

SYMONE SANDERS, SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN CAMPAIGN: The vice president did not embrace segregationists. He doesn't praise and was not praising segregationists.

SAENZ: Biden's initials comments which included him saying Democratic segregationist Senator James Eastland, quote, never called me boy, he always called my son, set off a firestorm among his 2020 Democratic opponents, prompting Cory Booker to push for an apology.

But the former vice president dismissed that demand.

REPORTER: Are you going to apologize --


BIDEN: Apologize for what?

REPORTER: Cory Booker has called for it.

BIDEN: Cory should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career, period, period, period.

SAENZ: Booker told CNN hours later, he's not apologizing.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What matters to me is the guy running to be the head of our party, which is a significantly diverse and wondrous party, doesn't understand or can't even acknowledge that he made a mistake, whether the intention was there or not.

SAENZ: Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including its chair, say Biden doesn't need to say he's sorry. [16:40:01] REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): I certainly wish he wouldn't have

used that example. I think there's a lot of other examples of where he has worked in a bipartisan fashion, but I would like to see us move on from there. I don't know what good an apology would serve.

SAENZ: And Biden even getting some help from a Republican senator.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Now, I don't want Joe Biden to be president for a lot of reasons. He is my friend, and what he did back then and what he will do in the future is try to find common ground with people he disagrees with. If that can't be done, America's best days are behind us.


SAENZ: Nearly every candidates descends on South Carolina tomorrow for the state Democratic Party's convention weekend, which includes a fish fry hosted by Congressman Jim Clyburn.

Jake, both Biden and Booker will be on hand.

TAPPER: All right. Arlette Saenz, thanks so much.

Let me start with you, Madam Mayor. What do you make of this? You saw the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus defending Joe Biden, but we have heard Cory Booker and others really criticizing him for his remarks about segregationists.

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: I don't have any knock on Senator Booker. He has the right to feel how he wants to feel. If he feels that he needs an apology, that's on him.

I know Joe Biden. I have spent time with Joe Biden. I don't believe that he is a racist. I believe that he made a mistake.

And I also believe that as Democrats, if we continue to tear each other down for each gaffe, each mistake, we will ensure that President Trump has a second term.

We have to be very careful about ambition and not letting that be the true north. True north should be getting the White House back. And if we want the White House back, we need to be careful.

Biden is an amazing politician, public servant. I think he's a great addition to -- what is it 30 now -- candidates we have --

TAPPER: Twenty-three, I think.

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: - - running for the Democratic nominee and I feel comfortable with what he said.

OLORUNNIPA: He does have a big target on his back. Even before these comments, you started to see other candidates put his record on notice, and say, we differ from Joe Biden in X, Y and Z ways. We saw that from Beto O'Rourke. We saw that from Bernie Sanders, even Elizabeth Warren willing to break with Joe Biden on his record and on his history and on his policies.

And now that he's making gaffes, it makes it even easier on the eve of these debates for these candidates to come out and differentiate from Joe Biden, because he's sitting atop the polls. They want to be able to show that if he falters, if he makes a gaffe that is something he can't recover from, that they would be ready to take his place.

TAPPER: And, David, you said that you think Biden poses the strongest threat to President Trump. Do you still feel that way?

URBAN: Yes, although he makes it a little bit less -- he becomes less and less of a threat each day he continues to make unforced errors like this. You know, you can say I worked across the aisle, pick Lindsey Graham as, you know, or worked with people I don't -- I disagree with Rand Paul, don't pick -- don't pick two unapologetic racists.

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: There's nothing wrong about Biden that makes any candidate better. And that's --

URBAN: No, but I'm saying -- Ms. Mayor, it's just -- it's an unforced error on his part. He just seems out of touch with the base of your party who is very energized, and wants to forward. He keeps looking backwards.

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: I can't disagree with that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: His response to Cory Booker was also a little Trumpian, where Cory Booker said he should apologize, and he said, I'm not going to apologize. He should apologize.

TAPPER: He should apologize.

Everyone, stick around.

CNN next goes to the center of the Ebola outbreak to find out why it's spreading despite a promising experimental vaccine.

Stay with us.


[16:45:00] TAPPER: Our "HEALTH LEAD" now. Some disconcerting signs that lessons health experts thought would prevent another deadly Ebola outbreak are not working. The disease is spreading at an alarming rate. The epicenter, the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. CNN's David McKenzie is there and joins me now.

And David, I thought that health experts thought they'd figured out how to control and stop the spread of Ebola.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that's what people thought. But the U.S. is stopping America's top scientists from heading into the outbreak zone. We've been there and what we found is that modern medicine just won't be enough. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Dr. Cameron Mode enters this exhausting battleground where transparent barrier isolates a highly contagious Ebola patient from the outside world. His team rushes to stabilize a young woman who lost her baby and her husband to the virus. The death rate in this outbreak nearly 70 percent.

You know, sometimes you forget even for myself this is my third Ebola outbreak, the terror that this strikes into people. When people come here they feel they might die. In fact, they believe there's a good chance they will. But if they're inside there, they'll be able to see the eyes, the emotions, the care of the doctors, and also for the family members coming in, they'll be able to interact with them. They're no longer isolated in the same sense.

They call these new units the cube. The family can begin to trust us says Dr. Mode because they can see with their own eyes that we are caring for their loved ones. It's designed a hard lesson learned from the 2014 West African epidemic where Ebola killed more than 11,000.

This time around teams are also armed with an effective experimental vaccine, advances that meant this outbreak was supposed to be different. It wasn't supposed to last this long or kill so many. Ten months later, it is still spreading.

For the vaccine to work, the teams need to be able to reach all of this. But this is Eastern Congo, a region wracked by decades of violence where armed groups continue to thrive in a dysfunctional state so a mistrust in community is understandable.

[16:50:14] DAVID GRESSLY, COORDINATOR, U.N. EBOLA EMERGENCY RESPONSE: What's at stake here is whether we can break this transmission or not. If it continues to be interrupted, it's likely that the virus will continue to propagate.

MCKENZIE: And what would that mean for this region, for global health?

GRESSLY: It remains a threat to surrounding provinces, it remains a threat to surrounding countries. So we cannot -- we cannot let it spread.

MCKENZIE: For the spread to stop, Samael Motagua needs to work keeping track of those most likely to become infected.

So that's 36.8.


MCKENZIE: So that's safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's safe.

MCKENZIE: But like so many health workers here, Samuel has been threatened, even though meeting up his terrified neighbors. Sometimes all the world knows is fear but they don't look at the

individual people.

We need to treat these patients with empathy, he says. We need to treat them like they are a member of the family.

In the nearby crash, Ebola survivors now immune to the disease like Massima, become family to young babies who wait to see if they're infected mothers will live or die.

You have a smile on your face. Why do you have a smile on your face?

My smile is the joy of being alive, she says. I beat Ebola. I'm smiling to the God who gave me life.


MCKENZIE: Just in the past few days, there's been renewed fighting in this border region. Hundreds of thousands of people, Jake, according to the U.N. are on the move. The fear is they could take Ebola with them. Jake?

TAPPER: David McKenzie live in the Congo for us. Stay safe. Thank you much for that excellent report. Coming up, why lawmakers are getting a classified briefing on UFOs. The truth is out there. That's next.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD LEAD" E.T. phone Capitol Hill. A group of senators have received a classified Pentagon briefing over reports of UFO sightings by Navy pilots. This just days after President Trump confirmed he has been briefed but remains skeptical.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did have one very brief meeting on it but people are saying they're seeing UFOs. Do I believe it? Not particularly.


TAPPER: But Navy pilots told "The New York Times" they had multiple encounters with UFOs along the U.S. coast as seen in this video which bizarrely has no visible engine or exhaust. Joining me now is CNN Aviation Analyst, Miles O'Brien.

And Miles, you've been studying space most of your career. What is the fact that the President and lawmakers are being briefed on this say, about the possible validity of these UFO sightings by Navy pilots?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, there's a long history of the military looking into this. You know, one of the big problems, Jake, it's been over classified over the years. The secrecy surrounding it all of course just adds to all the rumor mill. But I can tell you that you know, there are bonafide sightings by people who have great expertise in the air.

I actually have seen a UFO up in Maine years ago, an object that flew an incredible speed and seemed to stop in the air. What was that? Was that some sort of secret military program which might explain all the classification but I think it's high time to open up all the books on this over the years and see what the military has learned, what sorts of programs they had to investigate. Let's see what's going on at area 51.

TAPPER: Let's talk about a more better-publicized government program. The new CNN film "Apollo 11" premieres this Sunday and it features newly discovered footage from that historic mission to the moon. Take a listen to Neil Armstrong coaching Buzz Aldrin the moment he took his first steps off the spacecraft.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How far are my feet from you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, you're right at the edge of the porch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, now, I want to back up and partially grab the hatch making sure not to lock up on my way up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They play good thought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's our home for the next couple hours and we want to take good care of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on -- you've got three more steps and then a long one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beautiful, beautiful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't that something? I've never (INAUDIBLE)



TAPPER: Miles, what is the importance of the Apollo 11 mission 50- year later?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's a piece of history. I often say that it's a piece of 21st-century history that was injected into the 20th century by virtue of sheer will and a blind checkbook. The desire to beat the Soviets, honoring a martyred president, all of that lined up and made this happened. Something that was beyond capability and yet he did it. And watching this movie, Todd Miller has done a beautiful job, and seeing it's beautiful, it's historically important and a reminder of what we can do if we set our minds to it.

TAPPER: All right, Miles O'Brien, thank you so much. I appreciate it. The CNN film Apollo 11 airs this Sunday night at 9:00 here on CNN. Our coverage on CNN continues in a moment. Thank you so much for watching.