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Recounts Triggered in Florida Gubernatorial and Senate Races; President Trump's Pick as Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker Draws Criticism; Wildfires Continue to Burn Uncontained in Northern and Southern California; Interview with Political Donor Tom Steyer; Doctor Criticizes NRA's Response to Calls for Gun Violence to be Treated as Public Health Crisis. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired November 10, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:35] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
It appears Florida is headed for a recount. In the last hour the Broward County canvassing board approved a machine recount for the Senate and governor's races. Counties had until noon today to submit their returns. Florida, of course, the center of attention right now as its races for governor and U.S. Senate are still too close to call. A Florida law requires a recount if candidates are within a half percentage point of each other, and that is currently the cases in both of those big races. Republican Rick Scott has taken the U.S. Senate race to court as his lead over Democratic Senator Bill Nelson narrowed during the vote counting in the days after the election.
As for governor, Republican Ron DeSantis is leading Democrat Andrew Gillum by a razor thin margin. CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Tallahassee with how this will play out in two of the highest profile races there in Florida. And we also have just heard from the secretary of state as well, now?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Fred, there is a lot of news to report this hour from Florida. First, that official first big breaking news from the secretary of state here in Florida. He has officially authorized a machine recount of three statewide races here in Florida. Of course, the two we're keeping a very close eye on is the U.S. Senate race involving Bill Nelson, the incumbent, and Rick Scott, the current governor, and then the race for governor between Andrew Gillum and the Republican, Ron DeSantis, those races both going to an automatic recount, as is the state's agricultural commissioner race which is also a statewide official race.
So there will be three big statewide recounts here. This is an automatic recount. Because all three of these races are within 0.5 percent. And that's a very narrow margin, especially when you consider 8.5 million people in Florida voted for both in all three of these races. Now, in the race for governor, the margin is about 0.4 percent. In the race for Senate it is a narrow 0.14 percent. So incredibly close. And what's going to happen next is that this machine recount is going
to take place over the next couple of days. It could start in some counties as early as today. Most will probably start tomorrow morning. They have until Thursday to complete that machine recount. And there is a good chance that the numbers will change some, although we don't expect them to change dramatically.
Then when we get to that point on Thursday, we will take a second look at these numbers, and if the margins are within a quarter of a percentage point, they'll begin then a hand recount of the overvotes and undervotes before they get to that final tally.
Now, Fred, to your other point about news that we received from the secretary of state's office today, you will remember that the Republicans involved in this race, Governor Rick Scott and even President Trump, have accused some of the election workers here in Florida of potentially committing fraud as it relates to this election tabulation. And the Florida secretary of state's office said today that they had monitors that were observing the election results from Election Day through today, and that they have found no evidence of any criminal activity. And that marries what the reporting that we have from the department of law enforcement who have said the same exact thing.
And that's an important distinction, because the secretary of state here, who runs the division of elections, is someone who is appointed by the Republican governor Rick Scott. So despite everything you've heard at this point, there is no evidence of fraud in this vote tabulation process.
That doesn't mean that there is still a lot at stake. There are just thousands of votes that separate both of these candidates. This is going to be a long and lengthy process. And Fred, there is still the chance that this ends up in a court of law before it's ultimately decided. It could be several weeks before the voters here in Florida know who their next governor and who their next U.S. senator will be. Fred?
WHITFIELD: Extraordinary. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much, from Tallahassee.
So let's go south now to Broward County, Florida. Protesters have been gathering outside the supervisor of elections office, where the canvassing board for that county has been meeting. We just heard from officials who are under scrutiny for discrepancies in voter tallies. CNN's Jessica Dean was there for that heated news conference. And explain what is, what the accusations are. It is mostly based on incompetents, right, not necessary any kind of accusations of fraud, but then what's been the response?
[14:05:04] JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, and that really answers the question of why are we here in Broward County, why are there, is there a mass of protesters to my right. And it is because Broward County is in the spotlight because there have been so many questions surrounding the vote count and about vote tabulation here. There have been allegations that things have been improperly handled.
But I want to go back to what Ryan just said, which is the secretary of state's office and the department of law enforcement here in Florida have both said we have monitored this, we have taken a look. There is no criminal activity that has happened across the state or here in Broward County. So again, that's the important thing to remember, as we continue going through all of this. There has been no evidence of criminal activity.
That being said, there is a large group of protesters here that have shown up that believe the opposite. They have been yelling chants like lock her up. They have been singing na-na-na-na-goodbye. It's almost like a party atmosphere out here, a lot of Make America Great Again hats, they are all out here really chanting for the supervisor of the elections, Brenda Snipes, to go.
At the same time, there are people on the other side of the aisle who are here, also supporting the Democratic candidates, saying let every vote count. As you can imagine, it has gotten a bit tense at times. I've watched people just go into verbal altercations and wondered if it was going to come to a physical altercation. We have not seen that. But there is a lot of activity here.
I want to take you inside for the press conference that we were at just about an hour ago, where they talked about those allegations of mishandling the votes. Here is what they had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EUGENE PETTIS, ATTORNEY FOR BROWARD SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS: We are here, there have been allegations of fraud. Those are serious charges to recklessly offer out there. There is no basis for it. To give a claim of fraud without any evidence, I think, is unacceptable, should be unacceptable in our electoral process. The votes have all been counted. The votes have been transmitted to the state. As you may know, that was a deadline of noon today. They have that through the canvassing board. The preliminary certifications went up there in advance of 12:00 noon. So that was what the law requires. That has been complied with. We have complied with the judge's order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: So, OK, where do we go from now here in Broward County? Now they've got to begin that recount like every other county across Florida. It will be done by a machine. They told us in the press conference it could begin as early as this evening. And you can bet, Fred, that these protesters are going to be here every step of the way. It has only grown in size as the day has gone on.
WHITFIELD: All right, Jessica Dean, thank you so much.
Let's talk more about this. Joining me right now CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu. All right, Shan, good to see you.
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good to see you, too. WHITFIELD: All right, so while there have been some accusations
coming from the president to the governor, fraudulence is at the root here, none of that has been proven, so thus far it still appears as though nothing untoward has happened here. But now this recount is really precipitated by the fact that it is such a narrow margin between the candidates in these three races, the commissioner for agriculture, but the most important ones that the nation is watching is the U.S. Senate and the Florida governor race. So Shan, help put to rest, I guess, for people who have any real reservations about whether there is a legal road ahead for these races.
WU: There is no cause for alarm. One of the things that we hope that we have learned, but I don't think we have, since Bush versus Gore, is that there is a process. As you just pointed out, this is a very narrow margin at work here, and that's what has triggered the automatic recount. There is a process, and they're doing it. There's no crisis. There's no need to be in a huge hurry from a legal point of view to hurriedly get the final results. There is a process.
And I think what is really important, everyone is of course reminded of the presidential election and the recount in Bush versus Gore. The really important thing is this is a time for judicial restraint. One of the great controversies and, personally, I think a terribly negative outgrowth of the Bush versus Gore case was that the Supreme Court unnecessarily reached out and interfered with the electoral process. There was a process that could go on. I'm a believer in count every vote. And they should let that get done.
Of course, there's politics involved. If someone is watching their vote count go down, they want to get in there and do something about it. Transparency is fine. The court says show the directive ballots, that's all fine.
[14:10:02] But I think for us, as the public viewing this, what is really important to understand is that there is not a legal crisis, certainly not a constitutional crisis. And really, it would be good if the courts stay out of it and let the states do their job and go through the process.
WHITFIELD: And when you talk about defective ballots, that's what people remember from 2000. I was there for a long time as a reporter, covering that, and it was the pregnant chads, the hanging chads, all of that. That's not an issue here. There is already a deadline put in place, today being the deadline, noontime, for all the ballots in all counties to be in. And it wasn't the case of the next day, after midterm elections, polls closed, that all of the tallying, all of the numbers were in. And that, I guess, is part of the frustration. So many people are trying to figure out why is it that all the numbers weren't in by the next day, so that all the races could be called. So help people understand why that is.
WU: First of all, it's not unusual for all the results not to be in. And we all do remember the hanging chads, that type of literally physical defective nature of the ballot, but there can be other issues, too. We've heard the terms under-voting and overvoting, one where someone only votes for a part of the ballot, it is only completed, overvoting being the opposite, people filled out the ballot excessively. Those can be classified as defective as well. And so one of the court challenges right now is that Scott wants to see all the defective ballots to make sure that it is OK to count them.
And so those sorts of processes, people have thought about this, and the states do elections all the time, and so they have these categories, they have the processes for taking care of this, and I think it's important for folks to understand that it's not unusual for there to be delays. This is not the first time these sorts of issues have come up.
Now, certainly there appears to be a problem in Broward County. There's been, over the years, there have been repeated problems within terms of ballots being missing and errors being done, and that's certainly something that needs to be addressed. But in terms of the overall process, it is not unusual for it not to be completely done the next day. There's nothing particularly odd about that. And I think we need to remember that when we look at these situations.
WHITFIELD: And how confident should people be about this machine recount versus a hand recount? So the machine recount, to be completed by this Thursday for these Florida races, and then apparently, if even then, there are some discrepancies, then potentially -- or I should say in the case that it looks like there will be a less than a quarter percent difference between the candidates, then it will two to a hand recount. So explain I guess the proficiency of machine versus hand recounts.
WU: Well, I'm not an expert on the technology in the recounts, but generally speaking the idea here is you're looking for gross differences, gross abnormalities. So when we see a margin that is so close that there are statisticians who might say that is basically a statistical tie. So they're going to want to recheck those numbers. The machine does that first. And then if it has gotten even worse, meaning it is more narrow at that point, then there is the idea that human beings need to do the manual recount.
Now, when you are counting thousands and thousands of votes, you may make errors when you're human beings, so the problem is, as you get smaller and smaller on that margin of error, there is always going to be mistakes being made, and that's the difficulty with it. But I think what we need to keep in mind is we are looking for large scale error, things that are really going to shift in a large way, and if there has been some massive problem with things miscounted, improperly counted, or missing.
WHITFIELD: All right, Shan Wu, good to see you. Thanks so much.
WU: Good to see you. Sure.
WHITFIELD: Still ahead, out of control. A deadly California wildfire is growing on both ends of the state. One fire has already become the most destructive in the state's history.
And Matt Whitaker's appointment to acting attorney general, it does not come without some controversy. Coming up, why his rise and Jeff Sessions' fall could have been in play for months.
[14:18:39] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. The president's acting attorney general is not only scrutiny for speaking out against the special counsel's Russia probe, but now Matt Whitaker is raising eyebrows over statements he made regarding judges and his link to an alleged scam company. CNN's Jessica Schneider has the story.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Matthew Whitaker was well known as a reliable conservative when officials at the White House handpicked him to work under Jeff Sessions in late 2017. Sources say former White House counsel Don McGahn was behind Whitaker's hiring as Sessions' chief of staff. And White House officials believed Whitaker's loyalties would lie at the White House and not with Sessions who had fallen out of favor with Trump.
Federalist Society executive vice president Leonard Leo confirmed to CNN that he too recommended Whitaker since Jeff Sessions needed a reliable conservative, a strong manager and someone with credibility who had previously served the department. One source says it was a way to keep things on the rails at the Justice Department and to keep Sessions focused. Whitaker was even encouraged by people close to Trump to appear on TV, to get the attention of the president.
In 2014, Whitaker told an Iowa blog that he thought the landmark Supreme Court ruling Marbury versus Madison from 1803 that established the judiciary's ability that strike down laws that violate the U.S. constitution was one of the worst decisions in the Supreme Court's history.
[14:20:06] He said "There are so many bad rulings. I would start with the idea of Marbury versus Madison. The courts are supposed to be the inferior branch of our three branches of government. We have unfortunately offloaded many of our tough public policy issues onto the court and they have decided them. Unelected judges are deciding many of the issues of the day." Whitaker also said judges should adhere to the Bible in making decisions and implied any judge who doesn't hold Christian beliefs wouldn't be a good judge.
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Are they people of faith? Do they have a Biblical view of justice? Which I think is very important, because we all know that our government --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rabbinical or New Testament?
WHITAKER: I'm a New Testament. And I what I know is as long as they have that world view, that they will be a good judge.
SCHNEIDER: And now "The Wall Street Journal" reports the FBI is investigating a now shutdown Florida company that Whitaker was an adviser for beginning in 2014. Whitaker was a paid member of the advisory board and he was hands-on, seen here explaining a proposed product for a hot tub.
WHITAKER: It is a unique design.
SCHNEIDER: World Patent Marketing billed itself as helping inventors secure patents, but the Federal Trade Commission won a judgment against the company for bilking thousands of customers out of millions of dollars. Now with the FBI reportedly investigating the company, it could pose another conflict of interest since as acting attorney general, Whitaker oversees the FBI.
And Whitaker also said in 2017 that he guessed any replacement for Jeff Sessions would cut Mueller's budget so the Russia investigation would eventually grind to a halt. We know Whitaker is not planning to recuse himself, so the question is, how will he handle what comes next in the Russia probe? And will he essentially try to shut it down?
Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.
WHITFIELD: Joining me right now is Walter Shaub. He is a CNN contributor and a former director of the Office of Government Ethics. Walter, good to see you. So now that allegations like this have kind of bubbled to the surface, and there is now new scrutiny over his past, how might this impact his position as an acting attorney general? Might it light the fire under those to nominate someone else? Is it too late for that, to remove him as acting, quickly? How do you see this?
WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this all highlight the real fundamental problem, which is that the president of the United States has now fired the two top law enforcement officials in charge of the agencies investigating his presidential campaign. And so that in and of itself is a shocking development.
When you add to it that he has selected an individual who has been hostile to the campaign, he has been, now -- the investigation he has now been charged with overseeing, calling it a lynch mob, and laying out a roadmap for how an attorney general could actually kill it, it really raises alarms. And these new developments raise serious questions about his qualification to do the job, which highlights all the more that he was selected for his viewpoint and his willingness to serve potentially as a White House surrogate in there to shut down or impede the investigation. It's very alarming.
WHITFIELD: So who will check this acting A.G.?
SHAUB: So the only people who can check it are Congress. And the fact that we haven't heard from Congress is really unsettling. This is a failure of Congressional oversight. The president, again, has now fired two people for the purpose of trying to stop or impede an investigation of himself. That in and of itself is a Constitutional crisis. And it's a Constitutional crisis because our Congress is refusing to fulfill its Constitutional responsibility of conducting meaningful oversight and getting to the bottom of what is going on here. WHITFIELD: So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said
recently that there will be confirmation of someone soon. Is that sign posting for this really is going to be really temporary for Whitaker?
SHAUB: If only Mitch McConnell knew somebody with the power to call a Senate hearing, because the truth is he could be doing something right now to put a stop to what is going on. For all we know --
WHITFIELD: Like what? What could he do?
SHAUB: So, for instance, I don't have any information on this, and I'm not suggesting this is happening, but it's entirely possible that Matt Whitaker is sitting in a room alone reviewing all of the files and all of the notes Mueller has compiled and preparing to call the White House and tell them everything that's in there. Mitch McConnell could be calling a hearing to demand answers from Whitaker to make sure he's not going to do that kind of thing and to exact promises.
[14:25:04] WHITFIELD: In your view, what kind of power does an acting A.G. have as it relates to that Mueller investigation, besides reviewing notes?
SHAUB: Well, for instance, the attorney general has the power to make individual decisions about strategic determinations that Mueller is going to make. Now, there is a regulatory provision that's supposed to require him to notify Congress if he's overruled a significant decision by Mueller, but it's a Department of Justice regulation interpreted and enforced by the Department of Justice, and he's the head of the Department of Justice. So there is a lot he could do.
He could also leak information to the subjects of the criminal investigation, which in and of itself would be a problem, but any remedy that comes afterwards would be after that bell had already been rung.
WHITFIELD: Walter Shaub, thank you so much.
WHITFIELD: So Matt Whitaker's appointment likely to be a hot topic tomorrow, along with the Democrats newfound power. Be sure to tune in when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer joins Jake Tapper on "State of the Union." That's tomorrow morning, 9:00 eastern time.
Still ahead, deadly California wildfires growing on both ends of the state. One fire has already become the most destructive in the state's history. We're live next.
[14:30:49] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Right now, three wildfires are burning in California, claiming lives, homes, and forcing more than 200,000 people to immediately evacuate. The Camp Fire in northern California is already one of the deadliest and the most destructive in state history. At least nine people have died, 35 others are missing, and more than 6,500 buildings and homes have been destroyed. Officials say about 90 percent of the homes in the town of Paradise were destroyed.
CNN's Dan Simon is near that deadly fire. So Dan, tell us more about how people have been able to escape, all that's behind you, and are there still firefighting efforts under way?
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Fred. This is a community of 27,000 people. And it is pretty much gone. And it's just a mess. You can see what it looks like here on the roads. You see these burned-out vehicles. Check out this school bus right here. It makes you wonder how it just wound up in this particular location. Perhaps the driver sensed the danger, and just kind of left it here, because the fire broke out at 6:00 in the morning. Maybe the driver was on his way to work. We don't really know.
But you can see that you have a tow truck driver over here, you have these workers trying to clean up some of this area. And I just have to tell you, Fred, nobody is going to be living in Paradise for quite some time. The infrastructure is completely down. Obviously, you've heard all about the destruction, 6,700 buildings have been destroyed, most of the homes. Restaurants are gone. Some medical centers are gone. Churches, schools, you name it. And right now, you have 50,000 or so people in this area who have been evacuated.
Let me just kind of show you what things look like around on the other side. We will swing the camera around. This is where you see some more homes. Usually, in wildfires, we always talk about this random effect where one house may be left standing and another one may be burned down. In this particular situation, we don't really see that. Pretty much everything has been destroyed. And that's one of the things that just makes this fire so remarkable. It is not confined to one particular area either. This fire is about 100,000 acres, at least it has charred 100,000 acres. And all throughout that, we are seeing destruction. It is something that even seasoned veterans out here say they have never seen before. Fred?
WHITFIELD: Wow, it really is out of this world. All right, Dan Simon, thank you so much.
Coming up, the midterms are over, and Democrats will have the power to impeach the president, but will they do it? I talk to a mega donor leading the charge, next.
WHITFIELD: Now that Democrats have won control of the House, some of their supporters are pushing for the newly-empowered Democrats to pursue impeachment proceedings against the U.S. president. One of the Democrats' biggest donors, billionaire Tom Steyer, made impeachment the centerpiece of his $120 million campaign to help Democrats take back the House. Joining me right now, Tom Steyer, he's the founder of NextGen America, and has been calling on Congress to impeach the president for months now. Good to see you again.
TOM STEYER, FOUNDER, NEXTGEN AMERICAN AND NEED TO IMPEACH: Fredricka, nice to see you.
WHITFIELD: So are you feeling greater momentum behind your impeach the president campaign now that there will be a Democratic majority in the house?
STEYER: Well, our campaign has always been about collecting petition signatures from the American people and going directly to the people. It's true that having Democrats control the House of Representatives means that they can call an impeachment vote. But what we're really seeing is that the American people are increasingly understanding that we have a corrupt and lawless president, and that we've got impeach him and get rid of him.
WHITFIELD: At the same time, do you believe that this impeachment talk will frustrate the nation when many voters have also said that they want solutions to health care, to higher wages, and education?
STEYER: Well, Fredricka, I think that what we've seen at the federal level is dysfunctional government. I mean, of course people want answers, and they deserve answers to the basic questions in our society, questions like, health care, gun violence, immigration, climate. Of course, the federal government should be working on those and coming up with solutions. And of course, American citizens are frustrated and angry that they won't.
But I think it is unrealistic to look at this president, and this Senate, and think that we're going to have people who will look at the facts and come up with solutions. I think we're in a place where we are in a constitutional crisis, and frankly we're in a political crisis where this federal government can't seem to get anything on.
[14:40:06] WHITFIELD: And let's talk about Florida, too, because Florida now in the spotlight with recounts in supertight, pivotal U.S. Senate seat and governor's races. So what concerns do you have when the president of the United States, and the Florida governor, Scott, use words like "fraudulent" without being able to back it up with any evidence, when we understand the law to be in Florida that recounts have to happen when it is so incredibly tight, under a half percentage point differences between the candidates?
STEYER: Fredricka, when I hear Republicans talk about voter fraud, what we're hearing it from a political party that has made cheating in elections the centerpiece of their electoral effort. This is a group of people who gets into rooms and tries to figure out how to suppress the vote, how to prevent African-Americans from having the right to vote. We have a president who the week before the elections said that he wanted law enforcement officials to go to the polls to prevent, quote-unquote, voter fraud, but really to intimidate people from voting.
So for Republicans to claim they're worried about election fraud in Florida, which is the state where they literally stole the presidential election in 2000, is really ironic and ridiculous. Those are the last people in the world to be claiming that someone is breaking the law, that someone is cheating in elections, since that's their whole -- that's their basic modus operandi. WHITFIELD: And Tom, you are coming to us from San Francisco, and
there are these very serious wildfires going on in your neck of the woods there, in northern California, and then also in southern California. What are your concerns about the firefighting efforts, the demise of people, so many are missing, already nine declared dead in northern California, and the president is overseas in Paris and he sent out a tweet earlier, challenging California and firefighting efforts. saying not enough has been done to help prevent a moment like this.
STEYER: Fredricka, we have a president who can show no empathy for the people who are involved in a tragedy, for the people who are at, American citizens who are actually losing their lives, that what's going on here is we're trying to deal with something extremely serious real time, and what he's trying to do is score political points.
And let's take it a little bit further. You've got to think that the number one job of the president of the United States is to protect the lives and safety of the American people. And here we have a president who in denying climate change is preventing this country from doing the very positive things that we can do that will make us healthier and richer, better employed with higher wages, and also deal with the ravages of increasing climate change.
And here we are in northern California with fires exploding around us, in southern California with fires bursting around, and we have a president who not only is making it possible for that to be worse, who refuses to protect the safety and lives of the American people, but then sends some snotty political tweet. This is exactly my point. He's reckless. He's lawless. He's corrupt. He breaks the law every day. That's why he can be impeached. But his refusal to protect the lives and safety of the American people is why he must be impeached.
WHITFIELD: All right, we will leave it right there for now. Tom Steyer, thank you so much. Thanks for being with us.
STEYER: Fredricka, thank you for having me.
WHITFIELD: And our best to the folks there in California up against these wildfires now.
Coming up, the National Rifle Association telling doctors to stay in their lane about gun violence, but what do the doctors who have to treat young gun violence victims have to say? We will talk with one of those doctors next.
[14:48:50] WHITFIELD: A heated political showdown is brewing between the National Rifle Association and doctors who treat gun violence. The fight started over an article by the American College of Physicians that called gun violence a public health crisis that needed immediate attention. The NRA dismissed it, calling the doctors self- important and telling them to stay in their lane.
Dr. Joseph Sakran, who is also a victim of gun violence, shot back, saying this, quote, "As a trauma surgeon and survivor of #GunViolence, I cannot believe the audacity of the NRA to make such a divisive statement. We take care of these patients every day. Where are you when I'm having to tell all of those families their loved one has died?"
Just hours after that tweet from the NRA, a gunman opened fire at a bar in California, killing 12 people and wounding many more. Dr. Joseph Sakran is a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, and he's joining us right now. And as I mentioned, earlier, he is also a gunshot survivor himself. Good to see you.
[14:50:03] DR. JOSEPH SAKRAN, TRAUMA SURGEON: Thanks for having me.
WHITFIELD: Your gunshot wound comes from when you were a teenager, right?
SAKRAN: Yes, that's correct. Well, first of all, thanks for having me, Fredricka. I was a 17-year-old high school student, and after high school football game, I was shot in the throat with a .38 caliber bullet that nearly killed me. And so, at that age when something like that happens, I was really inspired to take that second chance and go into medicine, become a trauma surgeon, and then try to figure out how do we work at that nexus of medicine, public health, and public policy?
WHITFIELD: Amazing. You had that fortitude, you were determined, and now here you are a trauma surgeon. And then you are seeing all too often you're now having to treat gunshot victims. And so you and collectively with other physicians, to say this is a public health crisis and that more needs to be done, you're challenging the NRA, you're challenging politicians, you're challenging people who can craft policy, and that you would get this response from the NRA. Tell me what that felt like. We saw your tweet, but what was your visceral response through all of this, your motivation and then your response to hear that?
SAKRAN: Honestly, Fredricka, it felt horrible. To hear that type of message from the NRA was a clear demonstration to me that they're not serious about really moving the needle forward on this issue. And we are facing a public health crisis. Every day the medical community has to deal with this, and we are on the front lines. And anyone that thinks that we're not part of the solution really doesn't understand how complex of a problem we're facing. No one single person or organization is going to be able to really deal with this solution and ensure that we make communities safer all across America.
WHITFIELD: And what are you and the American College of Physicians challenging policy makers to do? What was your objective here in this challenge?
SAKRAN: Well, my objective is that we need to come together as a group of stakeholders, and that includes the medical community, it includes responsible gun owners, it includes patients and families. We all need to come together, and it includes policymakers, in order to ensure that we're able to implement appropriate, commonsense solutions. And one of the biggest things that we've been facing as a medical
community is the moratorium over the past 20 years on gun violence research. And it's about time that we hold our elected officials responsible. We need the federal dollars appropriated to this disease in order to address it adequately and address it with data.
WHITFIELD: Are you feeling at this juncture more hopeful than ever or more discouraged than ever that any number of the nine suggestions that you all collectively have given will actually be entertained?
SAKRAN: Well, as you saw this past week during our election here in America, we've had a number of candidates that have run on a gun sense platform. And so in that sense, I'm hopeful that Americans and our elected officials are starting to realize that the time for action is now.
And the reality is, and I've said this before, is the worst part of my job is having to go into those waiting rooms and tell family members that their loved ones have died. And sometimes, Fredricka, I stand there just watching the families, and I know that what I'm about to do is going to completely change their life. And sometimes the memory of those faces are chiseled into my mind. So we are part of the solution. And for anyone to say that we're not, I think it just demonstrates that they're not really serious about dealing with this problem.
WHITFIELD: Dr. Joseph Sakran, thank you so much for your time, and I'm sure so many are so grateful for all that you are doing and giving and advocating for.
SAKRAN: Thank you so much for having me.
WHITFIELD: Appreciate it.
Thanks so much for being with me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The news continues right now with Ana Cabrera right after this.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justin, Jack, Nick, and then our youngest, Matthew. Nick and Jack were very adventurous, fun-loving. The summer of 2015 was the summer that Jack had just graduated. There were a lot of graduation parties. The next morning was June 14, I was in Jack's room, he was unresponsive. I called 911. I remember hollering for Nick. He never came.
[14:55:00] Both of our boys were pronounced dead that morning. They took hydrocodone, which is a form of an opioid. It was ruled an accidental overdose related to acute alcohol and hydrocodone ingestion.
Maybe by sharing Nick and Jack's story, we can prevent this from happening to somebody else. We just formed the 525 Foundation in hopes of many influencing some new laws.
Thank you, senators, for inviting me to speak to you today. And to help spread awareness to the dangers of prescription drugs.
We've had three pill pickups so far in our community.
We've picked up probably a little bit over 1,500 pounds of pills. We are just going to keep doing it.
By me telling their story, they are still able to make a difference in the lives of others.
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