A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, July 18, 2021 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" starts right now.
ANNOUNCER: "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" starts right now.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR (voice-over): Backwards slide.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: We must confront misinformation as a nation. Lives are depending on it.
RADDATZ: This morning, we're live with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and from California with the chair of the Los Angeles board reinstating that mask mandate.
Debate over democracy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is political theater.
RADDATZ: Texas lawmakers walk out. President Biden blasts Republican-led efforts to restrict voting rights.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.
RADDATZ: We hit the road talking to both sides, as the debate plays out across the country.
Plus: reports that America's top general feared President Trump was planning a coup in his final days in office.
And Jeff Bezos blasts off to the edge of space, just two days away. Our Gio Benitez and astronaut Mike Massimino with a preview of the big launch.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."
Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."
As we come on the air this morning, residents of the nation's most populous county are waking up to a new, but all-too-familiar reality, an indoor mask mandate. Despite all the progress we have made, it's a reminder that our national fight against COVID is far from over.
As the highly contagious Delta variant sweeps the country, cases are rising in nearly all 50 states. The country's daily case average has now surged by more than 60 percent in the last week to more than 27,000 cases. That's a whopping 143 percent increase over the past four weeks.
Fueling the surge, unvaccinated Americans, who make up more than 97 percent of hospitalized COVID patients. The administration now targeting misinformation in their fight to overcome vaccine hesitancy. But can they actually change any minds, and could we see more major cities across America reinstitute their mask recommendations?
Dr. Vivek Murthy is standing by with more.
But we begin with Kaylee Hartung in L.A.County inside the Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.
Good morning to you, Kaylee.
KAYLEE HARTUNG, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Martha.
Just a few weeks ago, this hospital system in Southern California was treating just 30 COVID patients. That number has jumped to 130. And almost all of them are unvaccinated. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, as one local official said, as the situation continues to get worse in California.
For the past week, in Los Angeles County, more than 1,000 new cases were reported every day. And that number was closer to 2,000 on Friday and Saturday. For perspective, a month ago, the county was averaging 200 new cases every day.
We have been on something of a roller coaster here. With the numbers in check a month ago, L.A. County lifted virtually all restrictions, did away with capacity limits and social distancing. Bars and restaurants, they have been packed with maskless people, but now a sharp reversal, bringing back the mask mandate for inside public places regardless of your vaccination status.
And 10 counties in California are also following suit with their own guidance. Each infection prevented, experts say, is one less chance for the virus to mutate in potentially dangerous ways, as happened with the Delta variant.
That highly transmissible variant is really driving the surge now. It's responsible for about 70 percent of COVID cases in Los Angeles County. But the sheriff here is saying he won't enforce this mask mandate. Martha, it's essentially an honor system.
RADDATZ: Thank you so much, Kaylee.
Let's take all this to Hilda Solis, chair of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Good morning. Thanks for joining us.
A little over a month ago, you stood in front of a sign with Governor Gavin Newsom that said "California Roars Back," as you lifted nearly all COVID restrictions, even though there were already warnings about the highly contagious Delta variant.
Should you have taken that warning more seriously?
HILDA SOLIS, CHAIR, LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: You know, when we look back in the last seven days, obviously, a whole lot has changed.
And I can tell you that the variant is very transmissible, substantially, and at the time when -- almost a month ago when all this was declared that we were opening up, the numbers weren’t that high. But now, obviously, as you've reported and other news organizations, we can see that in the last few days we're up to almost 1,900 cases, and over 460 individuals that are now in our ICU units.
This is very disturbing, and of course as responsible elected officials we have to do something. And in this case the county has the ability to do that through our health order, through our health officer. And I would just say that I don't -- I’m not pleased that we have to go back to using the mask in this manner, but nonetheless it's going to save lives. And right now that to me is what's most important. And really getting more people to understand that they have to get vaccinated.
RADDATZ: As you know, the CDC guidance says that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask, but you're making even the 52 percent of your citizens who are vaccinated now wear masks. Why should they, in effect, be punished for an outbreak that is overwhelmingly hitting only those who have chosen not to get a shot?
SOLIS: I would say that it's not punish punishment, it's prevention. We still have 4 million people out of 10 million that haven't been vaccinated, and many of them are young people, and we're seeing that this transmission is so highly contagious, that it will cost more in the long run if we have to see our hospitals being impacted, our ICU units, as well as our health care workers. I just want to caution people that we still have many youngsters under the age of 12 who are not eligible to get vaccinated.
So we as responsible adults should be taking a proactive approach and making sure that we mask up and that we also get vaccinated as soon as possible. But we are lessening the hardship to get vaccinated. We're going with boots on the ground to parks, to swimming pools, to swap meets, to anywhere you can think of where we are encouraging people to get vaccinated. And especially --
RADDATZ: Let’s go back to the --
SOLIS: -- in African-American communities.
RADDATZ: And quickly if you can, last question. Enforcement is always an issue. But the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department released a statement saying they will not enforce mask wearing, arguing the order contradicts CDC guidelines. So how do you plan on enforcing this mask mandate?
SOLIS: Our public health department is typically the individuals that go out and do inspections, so I don't see where the sheriff really has to come in and weigh in on the manner that he might have thought. And besides, he's jus saying that he's going to allow people to do what they need to do. I'm not concerned about that. I think the public overall is smart enough to understand what is being said and how to protect themselves.
RADDATZ: Okay, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
With vaccination rates lagging, the Biden administration issued an urgent warning this week about vaccine misinformation. Joining me now, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Doctor.
I want to start with LA and those other counties now requiring masks, which is, as we have said, counter to the CDC guidance. Overnight your predecessor Jerome Adams tweeted that the CDC should be advising areas with a high number of cases to vax and mask, saying at the beginning of the pandemic when he and Dr. Fauci were advising against masks it was a mistake and he regrets it.
So should the CDC advise change?
DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, thanks, Martha. What we're seeing in LA County is concerning, this rise in cases. And, unfortunately, we are seeing rises particularly among the unvaccinated in many parts of the country now and especially given the Delta variant.
What the CDC did in its guidance about -- close to two months ago now, is based on the science saying that your risk of getting sick or transmitting the virus was low if you were fully vaccinated. They gave communities and individuals the flexibility to make decisions about what to do with masks.
Now, in areas where there are low numbers of vaccinated people or where cases are rising, it's very reasonable for counties to take more mitigation measures, like the mask rules that you see coming out in LA. And I anticipate that will happen in other parts of the country, too.
Should also say, Martha, that for individuals, as well, depending on their circumstances, some people may choose to continue wearing masks such as those who may be immunocompromised or people who have those -- family members at home who are unvaccinated. So people can make these decisions. Counties certainly have the right to put mitigation measures back in place, and that's not contradictory to the guidance the CDC has issued.
RADDATZ: Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, says this has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
But we have seen a number of cases reported in vaccinated individuals. How rare is that, and is there growing concern with those numbers of vaccinated people who are getting COVID?
MURTHY: Well, Martha, the vaccines that we have against COVID are highly effective. In the case of the mRNA vaccines, more than 90 percent effective in preventing symptomatic infection, but they're not 100 percent perfect. No vaccine is.
And that means you will see some numbers of people who have breakthrough cases. But there are two things to know about that. One is that these numbers will be small.
Keep in mind: we vaccinated millions and millions of people in the United States. We have, in fact, more than 160 million people who are fully vaccinated right now.
So, you will see numbers, a minority, a small minority of people who are -- who do have breakthrough infections.
But here's the other thing to know, is that when you're fully vaccinated, even if you do have a break through infection, it's much more likely that infection will be either asymptomatic or mild. And that's really good news that continues to tell us that these vaccines are highly effective, and that's one of the reasons we are recommending them for people across the country.
RADDATZ: Do you believe that part of these new mask mandates for the vaccinated like in L.A. County is because there's just no way of telling whether unmasked people are vaccinated or not? Is that part of the problem here?
MURTHY: Well, I think for communities where they're seeing a significant increase in cases, L.A. County is one of those counties, I think they're looking to take mitigation measures to reduce that spread. And masks are one of them.
Look, when you have -- we saw this during the last year of the pandemic, that when you have large numbers of people gathering in indoor spaces, that that is the right setup for COVID-19 to spread. And so, I think when you see counties like L.A. putting those kind of requirements in place, they're basing their data and their decisions off of what we learned over the last year about what constitutes a high-risk setting.
And again, counties are going to continue to make these decisions. The CDC has also put together surge response teams that draw from individuals across the administration to help not only with these kind of decisions but with testing, with vaccine administration, with diagnostics like monoclonal antibodies to ensure that communities that are seeing a rise in cases have the support that they need.
RADDATZ: The World Health Organization warned that with the delta variant and the three other variants of concern still circulating, the pandemic's really nowhere near finished. And new possibly more dangerous variants could emerge.
If we don't get this under control now, what do you anticipate the fall looking like?
MURTHY: Well, Martha, I am deeply concerned. You know, we've made so much progress over this past year, and seeing how many people got vaccinated, seeing cases come down so markedly from their January peak, that's been really reassuring. And knowing that the vast majority -- the vast mass majority of people who are fully vaccinated have a high degree of protection, that also gives me some comfort.
But what I worry about, Martha, is that we still have millions of people in our country who are not vaccinated. We have to still protect our children under 12 who don't have a vaccine available to them.
And I want to focus on the kids for a moment here, because this is such an important point we don't talk about enough. For our children under 12, and I say that as a dad who's got two kids who are 4 and 3 and who don't have a vaccine available to them yet, our kids depend on us, the people around them being protected, being vaccinated in order to shield them from the virus.
And that's why, again, it's so important for us to get vaccinated. I’m worried that what we're starting to see increasingly in states like Arkansas and Missouri and Nevada and my home state of Florida and Louisiana, these surges within the unvaccinated population, that we will continue to see that unless we get ahold of this pandemic by getting more people vaccinated.
RADDATZ: And I want to talk about misinformation. You issued a warning this week that vaccine misinformation shared on social media is an urgent threat. President Biden said it's, quote, killing people.
Facebook officials say stop pointing fingers. They've already tried to get about 18 million pieces of COVID misinformation down.
What should they do?
MURTHY: Martha, I’m glad you asked, and I’ve been deeply concerned about the flow of misinformation across technology platforms and throughout society over the last many months. This is not a new problem, Martha, to be clear. You know, as a doctor, I for years sat with patients and worked with them to try to untangle the web of misinformation about health that they had gotten on social media and from other sources. But what we're seeing that's different now, Martha, is the speed and scale with which misinformation is spreading.
And one of the primary places that we see that happening are technology platforms. I laid out a number of steps that many sectors can take, including technology companies, with tech companies, you know, I called for greater transparency in terms of the data that they have to share with independent researchers so we can get a better sense of how much misinformation is flowing on these sites and what strategies are working to address them. The algorithms on these sites, which serve up information again and again to people that sometimes it reinforces misinformation are also places where we can ask those companies to make changes. I also ask people across our country to stop and verify your sources before you post stories online.
RADDATZ: OK, thanks very much, Dr. Murthy. We hope it works.
Coming up, as the battle over voting rights heats up across the country, I travel to Pennsylvania to discuss Republican efforts to rewrite the state's election laws. That report plus analysis from our powerhouse roundtable, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The assault on free and fair elections is just such a threat, literally. I've said it before, we're facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The mainstream state laws are more dangerous than two world wars, more dangerous than poll tests and Bull Connor and actual Jim Crow segregation and, somehow, analogous to the Civil War? What utter nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: President Biden and Mitch McConnell on the latest political flashpoint, voting rights, as Republican state lawmakers across the country push new restrictions in the name of election integrity. Critics calling it voter suppression.
This week, Texas House Democrats fled the state in a last ditch effort to block a voting restrictions bill. I sat down with one of those lawmakers and traveled to battleground Pennsylvania to look at the debate shaping the future of America's elections.
RADDATZ (voice over): From Texas to Georgia, Arizona to Alabama, the fight over voting rights is intensifying.
CROWD (singing): We shall not be moved.
RADDATZ: All across the nation, Republican state lawmakers proposing or passing legislators that critics say makes it more difficult for Americans to vote, including requiring uniform IDs, restricting ballot drop boxes and even trying to prohibit people from passing out water to those waiting in line to vote.
RADDATZ (on camera): Here in Pennsylvania, a battleground state in 2020, the issue of election reform is white-hot after widespread claims of election fraud, claims that are unfounded, with no evidence the election outcome would change.
But Republican state senator David Argol is charging ahead anyway with hopes of more restrictions.
(on camera): If you have a more restrictive time when you can vote, or making it harder to send in a mail-in ballot; if you have a job that -- that you can't leave in the middle of the day, that you can't vote until late at night, that you need to -- to apply to vote way earlier than some people, what's the matter with that?
DAVID ARGALL, (R) PENNSYLVANIA STATE SENATOR: I think our goal -- and you've heard it in other states as well -- is to make it easier to vote but harder to cheat.
And so I really, really push back hard with those folks that think that, you know, this is some kind of a threat to democracy. I think it's never been easier to vote in Pennsylvania than it is today. We just want to make sure it's done right.
RADDATZ (voice over): Kendra Cochran, an activist fighting for voting rights, says the move to restrict voters is an obvious effort to target minority communities who helped put Democrats over the top in this state.
KENDRA COCHRAN, POWER INTERFAITH POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I feel like this is a retaliation for our showing up last year. They want to discourage the folks. They want to make sure that we don't have the same result that we did.
A lot of these bills are rooted in racism, if we just want to call it out.
RADDATZ: In Texas Republicans proposed a ban on 24-hour voting, drive-thru voting and mailing absentee ballot applications to all eligible voters, measures they argue were only enacted as emergency procedures during the COVID pandemic.
To block it, Texas Democrats, including Trey Martinez Fisher, walked out of the state legislature and headed to D.C. to break quorum.
TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER, (D) TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE: This is a suppression session, to suppress the voices of voters. And we knew that if we weren't bold and defiant; and if we didn't have the courage to walk away and use the rules that are in our Texas constitution, they would run us over.
RADDATZ: Which they will likely still do, as they come up with new bills and new restrictions -- and not just in Texas, the ACLU tracking more restrictions every day.
RONALD NEWMAN, ACLU POLITICAL DIRECTOR: This isn't a partisan issue. So we want voting to be more convenient. We want voting to be easier. We want as many eligible Americans as possible to be able to vote. So I don't think I understand what problem we're trying to solve. There is the theoretical concern about voter fraud, but there's scant evidence that that has actually been an issue.
RADDATZ: But with fears growing with Democrats that local efforts will fail to stop restrictions, many are turning to federal voting rights legislation that is on an even shakier footing.
(on camera): So let's discuss that and much more with our roundtable. AP Washington bureau chief Julie Pace; Michel Martin, host of NPR's "All Things Considered"; ABC News political director Rick Klein; and Susan Glasser, staff writer at The New Yorker.
Welcome to all of you this morning, and good morning.
Julie, I want to start with you. Let's pick up on the last point of that piece, federal voting legislation. You heard part of President Biden's speech in Philadelphia, a very impassioned speech to defend voting rights. But there's not much of a chance this is going to get through, is there?
JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Not at the moment. I mean, rhetorically, Biden is saying all of the right things that -- that Democrats want to hear, Democrats in Washington and in the states, but when you look at the actual action that is happening both from the White House and on Capitol Hill, it's really hard to see certainly how that big piece of legislation that Democrats rallied behind, H.R. 1, how that goes anywhere.
So now they have focused their attention much more on legislation that would reinstate parts of the Voting Rights Act. But even that is going to be a really difficult lift.
They're writing this legislation in hopes that it could withstand court challenges, but it's really unclear if it would ever actually get passed and even land in that court -- that kind of court challenge.
RADDATZ: And, Michel, the one word you didn't hear President Biden say in that powerful speech, "filibuster."
MICHEL MARTIN, NPR'S 'ALL THINGS CONSIDERED' HOST: And it -- and it's true, and this was a big disappointment to advocates, obviously, because, you know, Democrats have a structural problem.
I mean, the structural problem is you've got the 50-50 Senate and you've got two Democrats, Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema -- Kyrsten Sinema -- who have said that they are uninterested in changing the rules around -- that make it easier for Republicans to block legislation, even though they say that they agree with the underlying policy initiatives.
But the structural problem that the Democrats have goes way deeper than the Senate. I mean, they have a structural problem in the states. There are 37 legislative chambers that are controlled by Democrats, but 61 are controlled by Republicans. And that's even more than after -- than after the last election.
And then you've got 23 states where Republicans have what's called a trifecta, where they have all three state offices. Democrats have only 15.
So, they're fighting this long-term battle to -- where -- look, it's it's been a long-term campaign for Republicans to control the apparatus of state government, which is where these decisions are made, as well as to control -- and so that's why the rules matter so much.
It really is an uphill battle, which is why you see the Texas Democrats, for example, doing this kind of swashbuckling move of leaving the state and holing up in Washington. And a lot of analysts are saying that it's all about the headlines.
But the reality of it is, that's all they have at this point, is to create public pressure.
RADDATZ: And even with that public pressure, Susan, Texas, they don't have much of a chance of this ever working, right? Governor Abbott will just say more special sessions, more special sessions?
SUSAN GLASSER,"THE NEW YORKER" STAFF WRITER: Well, that's right.
Again, math is math, whether it's in the U.S. Senate or it's in the Texas legislature. And, in Texas, they have the votes. And, in Washington, D.C., right now, given the way the Democratic majority is a 50/50 majority, with one vice president, the math is also on Republicans' side.
And I think the Texas thing is an example of the theater surrounding this issue, because we're gridlocked. Frankly, President Biden's speech is another example, a very impassioned speech, as you said.
But when you tell people that this is the biggest crisis since the Civil War -- first of all, that is historically disputable. I mean, we have had some terrible crises since the Civil War, including segregation and the civil rights movement, including McCarthyism. But -- so you tell people that it's this terrible crisis, and yet you don't propose to go to the place that many people believe you need to go, which is to go head on against the filibuster.
And you're almost ensuring dashed expectations and more frustration.
RADDATZ: It really, Rick, does feel like that -- passing voting rights that Democrats have just moved on from that.
But they have got a pretty full plate on the Hill right now, with these multizillion-dollar bills that are on the table there.
RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: They know how to count votes at the White House, and they know that this is not going to move. The voting rights stuff is just stalled.
You're not going to get that 50th vote. You're not going to get the rule changes. They don't even have unanimous Democratic support for H.R.1. So, yes, the big push, despite all of the noise we heard over the last week over voting rights, is back on infrastructure.
And, Martha, it is a make-or-break week. You have got deadlines now for both the partisan and the bipartisan packages, the small package and the big package. Both of them are in the trillions of dollars.
And what's so interesting here is, I think a lot of us have been covering these packages as if they were an either/or. Are you going to go with just Democrats, or are you going to try for something, bipartisanship?
Now it could be both or neither. It's really a big gamble for the -- for the Biden White House, because it's not just even infrastructure, soft infrastructure. This is most of the Biden agenda that's on the line right here between these two packages. And if they pass, they're big achievements, historic, maybe changing the relationship with government and its citizens.
And if they fail, Biden is going to be in a significantly weakened position.
RADDATZ: Exactly that.
And, Julie, just take more on that. With Chuck Schumer ratcheting up the pressure in the Senate, wants a vote on Wednesday for all of this, is that really a good idea?
PACE: I think Schumer feels like they can't let this start to stall out as well, exactly to Rick's point, because so much of the Biden agenda and so much of the Democratic agenda is on the line.
They know that this is probably the big -- last big piece of legislation that they're going to be able to do, maybe even before next year's midterms. And so they want to be able to go to voters next year and say, with Democrats in charge, this is what you got. You got COVID relief. You got traditional infrastructure spending. You got what they call human infrastructure spending, more money for child care, and so -- more money for climate change programs.
This is the agenda on the line. And he feels like every week that passes without some step forward here, even if the actual text of the legislation isn't completed yet, that moves them closer to their end goal.
But there are risks and pitfalls all along the way for Democrats here.
MARTIN: Can I just say, though...
RADDATZ: Yes, sure.
MARTIN: ... that this is also a theory of the case.
I mean, the Biden theory of the case is not just -- it's not just about a bill. It's about, what is government for?
Is it to fight these culture war issues? Is it to fight about whether you should outlaw the teaching of some newspaper article in third grade which isn't ever actually going to get taught? Or is it about government does certain things, and that's what government is for, and lower the noise and get the job done?
And the theory of the case is that, if you can actually accomplish that, you can change, like Rick was saying, people's relationship and understanding and trust of what their government is for.
So, it actually is a kind of a cultural moment, as well as a political moment. And that is, in part, why there's so much at stake, even if Biden isn't one to say things in those terms.
RADDATZ: And, Julie, I want to turn to you on -- or, Susan -- I'm sorry -- on DACA.
We also saw this week a federal judge in Texas basically doing away with the Obama-era so-called Dreamers Act.
What do they do now in terms of legislation?
SUSAN GLASSER, THE NEW YORKER STAFF WRITER: Well, I do think this increases the urgency of, you know, essentially this is an unaddressed crisis that's been building over now three straight presidential administrations.
It’s a classic example, in fact, when you say people are alienated from the government, a kind of government where it is a great example of that, because allegedly this is something on which a wide swath of Americans agreed. They've done nothing again and again in search of an elusive bigger deal. So, I do think it increases the pressure once again, and, of course, there's also these enormous number of migrants who have been coming to the southern border.
I believe the numbers just reported for June were the largest monthly numbers, you know, ever or in recent times. This is a huge pressure point.
And yet, because the Biden focus is on the infrastructure bill, it's on the voting rights especially as, you know, activists worry that the structure of our system is being broken down, you haven't heard as much about immigration. And yet, arguably, this could be one of the biggest political problems for the Biden administration.
RADDATZ: And, Rick, I would bet that we are going to start hearing a lot more about the border again because as Susan pointed out, when you look at those numbers they are once again alarming. I mean, I know we were down at the border a couple months ago, lots of attention on it now. It's going to come back.
RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, in some form or fashion. Now it has to. This DACA ruling forces it. And the Biden administration would like to see this as part of the budget deal that’s getting done now. Because in case it wasn’t big enough, you add something else to the agenda.
And Susan is right. Congress could presumably do this tomorrow. You would put a bill on the House floor, Senate floor it would pass based on the people that sponsored it.
But where it gets complicated is when you start talking about other aspects of immigration, and this elusive, this white whale that’s been chased in Washington for two decades now, of comprehensive immigration reform. It gets harder because of Donald Trump, and because of the way he changed the politics around it and also the realities right now on the border, the migrant situation which has not been handled I think for the most advocates’ point of view, adequately or quickly enough, by the Biden administration.
Once you start adding these other complicated factors, then it becomes just an intractable problem all over again. So, it would be interesting to see if DACA gets done on its own because it could be done on its own.
RADDATZ: And, Julie, I want to look back the Trump administration, because a couple of amazing stories this week. We’re going to talk to Susan in a second.
But a new book by "The Washington Post" reporters claims that Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, compared Trump's post-election rhetoric to Adolph Hitler's, at one point telling aides this is a Reichstag moment.
That is a remarkable comment coming from America's highest ranking military official.
JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: It's shocking and also unsurprising at the same time. It's one of the situations that I think we're going to find ourselves in for a while now, as we look back at the Trump era, you find that what you feared in a lot of these moments was actually happening behind the scenes.
And I think it's notable with Milley. You know, Milley is not a political figure. He's not running for -- run for the Senate.
RADDATZ: And we also remember that General Milley walked across Lafayette Square but peeled off at the last minute from the photo-op and then apologized.
PACE: And apologized for that.
But who’s also someone who was in the room with President Trump for a lot of high level decisions on foreign policy, on military action. He had a relationship with the White House where he could advise this president, and in that moment, that was his assessment. It really I think shows just how close we were in those final days of the -- of the Trump presidency to really kind of tipping over the line.
RADDATZ: And close in those final days to something else. Susan, I know you are working on a book. You had an incredible article in “The Atlantic” just come out about President Trump wanting to launch an attack on Iran and General Milley doing what?
GLASSER: Well, that's right. I think the two concerns playing out over the final months of the Trump presidency from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both intertwined but also alarming. One was the fear the president would try to politicize the military and use them to stop the peaceful transfer of power on his own behalf. And that, obviously, was something that after that June 1st infamous Lafayette Square photo-op I think became very real for the chairman.
The other concern that he had, and that played out much more subterraneanly, but in the reporting on this book that I’m working on for next year with my husband Peter Baker, we found that the worry about Iran and Trump and the circle of hawkish advisers around him that this came up again and again, both before the election and after the election, you know, in a really alarming sense, that it was never something that Trump could let go of. And, in fact, actually General Milley, you know, was saying to the president, if you do what you want, to have a strike, that Trump wasn't advocating for a full blow war, but he kept wanting to have some kind of dramatic strike. And Milley kept saying, if you do this, the consequences are that you're going to have a bleeping war.
And, you know, this was something that really continued all the way up until January 3rd of this year, the very final time that the president even spoke with his chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was, it was only then that he could finally get some of the Iran hawks, like Mike Pompeo and Robert O'Brien, the national security advisor, to say, we've ran out of time, we can't do this in -- this far into a lame duck presidency.
RADDATZ: And, Rick, this comes, of course, the timing, you have the committee investigating the January 6th riot. About ten days away they'll have their first public hearing. What are you expecting? And what does Kevin McCarthy do about putting members on that committee?
RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, that's the biggest variable. He's got five choices. My understanding in talking to people, that he's likely to fill those choices and that he's looking at people who are kind of veterans of the -- of the Trump congressional wars from his presidency. People like Jim Jordan. People like Devon Nunes'. He's talking to some members of the Republican Study Committee, the ultraconservative wing. He's not going to name Marjorie Taylor Greene, I don't think, even though she put her name forward as a possibility. I think that would make it a little bit of a circus.
But, look, it's a critical question for McCarthy because he might be a witness on that panel and it's crucial for all the reasons that we're seeing in Susan's reporting and in the books that are coming out right now. There are so many details that we don't know about what happened. So many aspects of testimony that will be interesting to investigators for a variety of reasons that aren't coming up in law enforcement.
So I think it's a -- it's a critical question for McCarthy. And, keep in mind, Liz Cheney's already on that panel. And I've been told she's looking at ways to make sure that her presence there is real, kind of supersize her presence on that committee, make sure that she, as a Republican, is asking real questions and not just playing defense for Donald Trump.
RADDATZ: And, Michelle, I want to turn to a few problems overseas, very close to us, however. You've got Haiti. You've got Cuba.
What's going to happen there and what are the concerns?
MICHEL MARTIN, NPR’S ‘ALL THINGS CONSIDERED’ HOST: Well, I mean, the concerns are, first of all, refugees. I mean, from the American standpoint, the concern is, of course, refugees. The concern is you have ex-patriot communities who are pressing the administration for action in ways that people in those places don't necessarily want. I mean you've got a kind of pressure from ex-patriots in Florida, for example, who are making noises about a military intervention. I have not heard one person in Cuba say that that's a good idea. So you've got those.
And then you've got this -- kind of this overall context of people reacting to these grifter autocrats, which is something that we have seen kind of all over the world. I mean all over the world we've seen people sort of aggregating power to themselves for the sake of advantaging themselves in sort of a little cadre among them. The rest of the country being left behind. And it's powder kegs all over the world.
I mean Haiti and Cuba, there's also South Africa. And, frankly, let's just say there's parts of the country in the United States where we're seeing the same thing. We're seeing sort of unrest in the streets. We're seeing a level of sort of violence that we haven't seen in years because people feel -- and they're not stupid. They know they've been left behind. It's a -- it's just one of those things where I think it's the next couple of years is just going to be kind of one series of restiveness after another and it's a stress test for all democracies, frankly.
RADDATZ: It is indeed, and we will leave it on that. That is a very complicated problem, as all foreign policy problems are.
Thanks very much to all of you for coming in this morning.
Coming up, Nate Silver analyzes President Biden's approval ratings as he approaches six months in office.
And, later, Jeff Bezos is the second billionaire headed to space this month. We'll have the latest.
Stay with us.
RADDATZ: FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, plus that special preview of Jeff Bezos's upcoming space flight, still ahead. We'll be right back.
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PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.: To all those who supported our campaign, I'm humbled by the faith you've placed in us. To all those who did not support us, let me say this. Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. And if you still disagree, so be it. And I pledge this to you. I will be a president for all Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: President Biden's inaugural address six months ago this week. He called for unity, promised to be a president for all Americans.
Now, as he marks half-a-year in office, how does his popularity compare to other modern presidents at this point in their terms? And what might that mean for Democrats' narrow majorities in Congress?
FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver analyzes.
NATE SILVER, ABC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: As he approaches a half-year in office, President Biden's approval rating is good, but not great.
Biden's approval rating is around 51 percent, according to our FiveThirtyEight average. By contrast, his disapproval rating is around 42 percent. That might seem good, and, in fact, it's higher than President Trump ever achieved, but it's not particularly high by historical standards.
At this point in their terms, Barack Obama was at 55 percent, for example, while LBJ was at a lofty 75 percent. Biden is doing better than Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford and about as well as George W. Bush. But, overall, he's in the lower to middle end of the historical range.
Now, if Biden were to hold at 51 percent, Democrats would have a decent chance to retain the Senate and the House next November.
But, historically, Biden has two big problems. Number one, approval ratings tend to trend down after the first six months. And, number two, the president's party usually loses seats at the midterms.
Obama, for instance, fell to 45 percent by November 2010. And that resulted in a 63-seat loss for Democrats. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan dropped from 58 percent to 42, and Jimmy Carter from 62 percent to 49 before their parties faced midterm losses.
And while a recent Gallup poll found that a record number of Americans describe themselves as thriving as life ultimately returns to normal, it's easy enough to see the challenges Biden faces, ranging from rising homicide rates, to rising inflation, to the Delta variant.
We're going to talk a lot about the midterms on this segment. I don't think we should regard any outcome as inevitable. But, no, I don't buy that Biden's approval rating at this early stage should give Democrats much cause for comfort.
RADDATZ: Our thanks to Nate for that.
Coming up: Jeff Bezos is headed to space on Tuesday. Our Gio Benitez has the latest on the launch.
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JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.
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JEFF BEZOS, BLUE ORIGINS FOUNDER: I invited my brother to come on this first flight because we're the closest friends.
MARK BEZOS, JEFF BEZOS’ BROTHER: I wasn't expecting him to say he was going to be on the first flight. And then when he asked me to go along, I was just awestruck.
J. BEZOS: You see the earth from space and it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity. It's one earth.
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MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: Jeff Bezos and his brother are headed to the edge of space on Tuesday aboard the Blue Origin spaceship, New Shepard. It comes just nine days after fellow billionaire Richard Branson completed his spaceflight, launching a new era of space tourism.
Our transportation correspondent Gio Benitez has been tracking it all and he joins us now.
Good morning, Gio.
GIO BENITEZ, ABC NEWS TRANSPORTATION CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Martha. Good morning.
This will be the first time that any human flies aboard the Blue Origin New Shepard and no pilot will be onboard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we have liftoff.
BENITEZ (voice-over): The billionaire space race is now truly underway. Last week, it was Richard Branson. This week, it's Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, launching into space aboard his spaceship, the New Shepard.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go, New Shepard, go.
BENITEZ: Also launching to the edge of the atmosphere, his brother Mark, 82-year-old Wally Funk who will become the oldest person in space. And now, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen who will become the youngest -- sharing his excitement in this video posted on Twitter.
OLIVER DAEMEN, BLUE ORIGIN PASSENGER: I am super excited to go to space and joining them on the flight. I’ve been dreaming about this all my life.
BENITEZ: The 11-minute flight aboard the completely autonomous spaceship will give them just three minutes of weightlessness at the edge of space, 62 miles from the earth’s surface. The New Shepard sits about the rocket that launches the passengers up to space, different than what we saw last week with Virgin Galactic's spaceship.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire, fire.
BENITEZ: Which dropped from a mothership 50,000 feet in the air and pilots helped its finish its journey to space. Virgin Galactic already sold 700 seats at a whopping $250,000 each.
Branson telling me after his flight he hopes this will eventually open space up to all.
BENITEZ (on camera): So Jeff Bezos intends to go a little bit farther than Branson did, 62 miles above the surface instead of 53. And we will be right there at that remote desert in Van Horn, Texas, to cover this launch for you on Tuesday -- Martha.
RADDATZ: We will all be watching.
Gio Benitez, thanks very much for that.
For more on the Blue Origin launch, let's bring in former NASA astronaut and mechanical engineering professor at Columbia University, Mike Massimino.
It's great to see you this morning, Mike.
This will be the first ever manned crew launch for Blue Origin. You have actually been inside Blue Origin. You're right, very nice windows.
But unlike Virgin Galactic’s space plane, Blue Origin uses an automated reusable rocket with no pilot onboard.
So, the launch will look very different than Branson's, right?
MIKE MASSIMINO, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Martha, absolutely.
And thanks very much for having me. It's great -- it’s great to be here with you this morning.
I mean, much different than what we saw last week. It's more of a traditional rocket launch, but it's fully automated so that the astronaut passengers get inside, there's no pilot on board. They launch automatically. It separates, brings them into space. It lands with a parachute. The rocket itself, the -- the rocket stage will come back and land just a couple miles away from where they launched. And then the -- the people will have experienced spaceflight, the astronauts will then land close by as well with -- in a parachute inside of the capsule.
So much different. I think it's very safe. It's been tested 15 times and has a great escape system. And all of that works, as you said, all of that works automatically.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC "THIS WEEK" CO-ANCHOR: You know, the ride for Branson and Bezos is, no doubt, thrilling. But I've got to ask, for an astronaut like you, who has spent more than 260 hours in space helping to upgrade a powerful telescope, what's the overall importance of these very brief rides to the edge of space?
MASSIMINO: Well, I think in this case, with Blue Origin, it's really taking steps to open up space more and more and go further and further and explore and do some really exciting things, particularly with a private company like Blue Origin.
As I said, they had 15 successful flights so far, including one that included an experiment, a biomedical payload that some of my students at Columbia got to fly into space. And so I think it's going to be more research, more people going up in this suborbital flights, which will be very exciting.
But it's only the first step, I think, for what they want to do. They have another spaceship coming down the line, New Glen (ph), which is a more powerful rocket that can go into orbit and beyond. And they're also interested in being able to develop a lander for moon operations to go to the moon.
So I think what we're seeing here is really just the beginning of what I think will be years of a very exciting program.
RADDATZ: And, Mike, you mentioned the moon. You've got Elon Musk, who wants to go to Mars. If they succeed, what are the long-term benefits to humanity?
MASSIMINO: I think that -- one thing that I think is here with these companies now being involved, that NASA has wanted to do for decades really since its inception, is be able to turn over some of what they've done in space to private enterprise so that it can help our economy, provide economic benefits. So now I think we're seeing some of that.
And as the access to space increases, just like my students -- when I was a student there'd be absolutely no way, even just a few years ago, for students to be able to fly something and experiment in space and now they can. As the access to space becomes more prevalent, people can envision themselves going or what research they might do or what products they might develop or what they want to accomplish in space because now it's possible.
So I think it's going to let people be creative to come up with things we can't even imagine that can be done in space travel. And I think, overall, what -- what I think the space program has been about is looking at things from a different perspective. We've learned a lot about our planet. We have so much more to learn. We have so many important things to take care of here on our planet. But by going to space, looking back, trying to understand that environment and we answer some big questions that I think can only be answered by looking back at our planet and exploring in space. What we can do in zero gravity, what we can learn about our planet, where we came from, what else is out there, I think that requires us leaving. And I think that's what this is -- in a big picture what this is all about.
RADDATZ: Thanks so much, Mike. I always love your perspective.
We'll all be watching. We'll have live coverage of the Blue Origin space launch Tuesday morning right here on ABC.
Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Have a great day.