Return to Transcripts main page


Northern Italy Locked Down to Contain Coronavirus; Grand Princess Cruise Ship to Dock in Oakland on Monday; Collapse of Hotel Used for Quarantine Kills at Least Seven; America's Choice 2020; Nearly 6,000 Virus Tests Completed by U.S., CDC, Labs; Royal Wrap-Up; Church Life in Italy Turned Upside Down; Climate Crisis. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired March 8, 2020 - 05:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Italy on lockdown: millions in the country are waking up to the news they'll soon be under quarantine.

Someone with coronavirus was in the same place as president Donald Trump. Hear why he insists he's not worried about it.

And all eyes on the state of Michigan as the Biden-Sanders showdown gets set for another Super Tuesday.

We're coming to you live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, where it's 5:00 am. Welcome to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen and NEWSROOM starts right now.


ALLEN: And we begin with the very latest on the spread of the coronavirus. Millions of people in northern Italy are waking up this morning to discover they are not allowed to go anywhere.

The coronavirus outbreak there is so bad, nearly 6,000 confirmed cases, the government has effectively locked down the Lombardy region and 14 northern provinces. But the government's action reaches all across the country.

Social gatherings and cultural vents are either being suspended or severely restricted. Delia Gallagher is in Rome with the very latest for us. This has got to be a shock. These steps have got to be a shock to people waking up there today.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Natalie, people waking up, trying to figure out what they can and what they can't do. These measures were signed early Sunday morning. Milan, Venice, Parma, Bologna are big economic centers for Italy. People are being told they can't move within regions or within their own region.

Supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open, restaurants must close by 6:00 in the evening, obviously all the ski resorts and social events as you mentioned have been cancelled in that area.

And indeed for the rest of Italy, many social events have also been suspended. Museums have been closed and archaeological sites like the Colosseum in Rome have been closed. Funerals and weddings have been suspended.

At the Vatican, on Sunday, Pope Francis in just a few hours normally would appear at the window on St. Peter's Square. He'll be doing that via video link now to avoid people coming into the square.

So for all of Italy, schools and universities have been closed. They possibly will be allowed to reopen within a week's time; we don't know about that yet. We'll hear from the government then.

But the other measures are going to be extended for three weeks, Natalie. You can imagine for Italians the civil protection authority is really appealing to them to change their habits and abide by this new decree in order to stop the spread.

They had a huge spike on Saturday with 1,472 new cases, bringing them to a total of almost 6,000 cases, important, the government is trying to stress to Italians, that they'll have to try to abide by these new measures. A big change for Italians for the near future -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Containment is the key. Delia Gallagher, thank you.

Well, a cruise ship quarantined off California is now set to dock in Oakland, California, Monday. There are at least 21 infected people on the Grand Princess out of more than 3,500 on board.

The staff will still be quarantined and treated on the ship but we are told the cruise line says others will be able to leave after health screenings. California residents will go to a federal site in that state for isolation. Others will be taken to different facilities in other states.



Joining me now is Gina Pallotta, a passenger on the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California. She's on the cruise with her husband.

Gina, first up, we hear that you have gotten information from the captain that things are changing.

ALLEN: What you can tell us?

GINA PALLOTTA, QUARANTINED PASSENGER: Yes, just a few minutes ago, we received an announcement from the captain that we will be going to the Port of Oakland tomorrow afternoon. He anticipates our arrival in the afternoon.

We're just outside San Francisco, so we're not having to go that far. He says disembarkation will take a few days, with acute (INAUDIBLE) if they need to be hospitalized, they will be sent to healthcare facilities in California.

California (ph) with medical needs will be transported to federally operated isolation facilities for testing and isolation. All the rest of the United States residents will be transported by U.S. federal government to other facilities in other states.

Then he also said they have not worked out to tell us about what will happen with the international guests.

ALLEN: Well, you must be so relieved, you and your husband, when you heard that announcement?

PALLOTTA: Yes. We're so relieved. And he also said that, you know, one of our big concerns is because my husband is diabetic and his medication runs out and they all said they will be redistributing prescription meds, especially urgent needs, within the next 24 hours.

ALLEN: Earlier on our air, an emergency room doctor said that this cruise ship should be treated like what we saw in Japan, that the United States has resources, that you shouldn't be treated like sitting ducks.

So it looks like that the U.S., you know, got a plan in place and that you get to get off. However, the captain did tell you that it would take several days.

So will you be tested?

Have you been tested?

What can you tell us about that process?

PALLOTTA: We have not been tested. They've only tested 40-some odd people. I think the people that they -- should be exposed to the virus. So none of the rest of the passengers have been tested.

And so from what his announcement said is that we will be taken to some facility and tested. What we don't know is we test negative if we will still be quarantined or not. That piece of information we're just not sure about.

ALLEN: I'm sure everyone loved hearing that announcement. I know that you have a job to go back to. As you said, your husband is running out of medicine.

How do you feel about the situation, knowing that you will get off?

I know you were kind of celebrating an anniversary, your wedding anniversary.

So not exactly how you want it to turn out?

PALLOTTA: Absolutely right. This is kind of an anniversary celebration. To be on the Princess cruise ship 16 years ago when it was operating out of the Caribbean. So it was not exactly how we anticipated our ending that by any means. ALLEN: We wish you and your husband the best as you arrive in

Oakland. We hope to stay in touch with you so you can let us know how you are doing. Thank you so much for talking with us. We wish you the best.

PALLOTTA: Thank you very much.


ALLEN: As Grand Princess passengers wait to disembark, the United States is monitoring a different ship for possible cases of the virus. U.S. vice president Mike Pence met Saturday with executives from the cruise industry. He would not name the suspect ship but he did give details.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are tracking at this point a ship that may have shared crew with the Diamond Princess or the Grand Princess. We have taken a decisive action to hold until we do a full medical assessment of that crew on that ship. We'll just continue to lean into this effort.


ALLEN: We turn to the latest tragedy in China revolving around the virus. Emergency crews racing to find dozens missing in the rubble of the collapsed hotel, at least 10 people were killed. Compounding the search and rescue, this building was being used to quarantine victims of the coronavirus. CNN's Steven Jiang joins us now from Beijing.


ALLEN: You've been following the developments and the rescue, a really dangerous situation for people trying to save people right now.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER, BEIJING BUREAU: That's right, Natalie, and as you noted, the death toll just rose again in the last 30 minutes. This is such a race against time for over 1,000 firefighters and other emergency responders on the scene.

We received news from the government short time while ago, saying at the time of collapse, 58 people were quarantined at the time and all had tested negative. Still rescuers are wearing masks and goggles and they're also disinfecting the ground.

Let's take a look at what's been happening on the ground.


JIANG (voice-over): A baby is pulled from the rubble after a hotel in China collapsed on Saturday. Firefighters dig through concrete and steel trying to find other survivors. At one point, authorities say at least 70 people were trapped in the debris.

It's a double blow for those inside the building. A structure in the city being used as a quarantine center for people exposed to the novel coronavirus.

More than 800 rescue workers were on the scene, sometimes using their bare hands; at other times, using saws to rescue dozens of people who were taken to nearby ambulances.

Witnesses say they heard a loud noise before the collapse and then saw glass and dust fill the air. Officials say they don't know yet what caused the structure to collapse. It's about 600 miles from Wuhan at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China, where more than 3,000 people have died from the virus.


JIANG: Local officials have also said they're still investigating the cause of this collapse but they have told state media the owner of the building is now in police custody because renovation work was taking place on the first floor before it collapsed.

Workers called the owner shortly before the collapse, telling him a pillar had become twisted and distorted. A few minutes later, the building collapsed, trapping 71 people under the rubble.

ALLEN: Such a horrible tragedy and the rescue goes on. Steven Jiang, thank you.

Voters in six U.S. states head to the polls Tuesday. We're on the trail with the Democratic front-runners. That's next.





ALLEN: Americans in six states head to the polls for the latest round of Democratic primaries this Tuesday. We'll have our eyes on Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Washington and North Dakota.

And as we continue to follow the calendar ahead, it's effectively coming down to two candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. Our correspondents are on the trail with the Democratic front-runners. Arlette Saenz is with Joe Biden and Abby Phillip is with Sanders.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe Biden held his first two campaign rallies of the Super Tuesday comeback, telling people in Missouri, what a difference a week makes.

He talked about those 10 wins he has in that Super Tuesday contests. Also when it comes to fundraising, Biden raised $22 million over a five-day period. Put that into perspective. Biden raised $22.7 million in the entire fourth quarter of 2019. Biden is here in St. Louis and Kansas City, warning about the

campaigns turning negative. Listen what he had to say.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Folks, we are building a coalition. We are building a coalition one of the most successful presidents of our lifetime, Barack Obama, had started. We are doing it, bringing together Americans of every race, every creed, every economic background.

Democrats, Republicans and independents as well, I believe we've been delivered to a moment, where we're in a position, that not only can we defeat Donald Trump but we will have an opportunity, an opportunity if we think big enough and bold enough to build a future this nation needs and deserves.


SAENZ: Bernie Sanders at his own rally said the differences between him and Biden are small compared to the differences they have with President Trump. But the Vermont senator did draw some contrast and distinction with Biden when it came to his issues like his Iraq War vote.

The Biden campaign right now is going up with a $12 million dollar buy in states in the March 10th and March 17th primaries. On Sunday, he's heading down to Mississippi to campaign in a state with a large African American population, one that Sanders decided to skip earlier this week, instead turning his focus to Michigan.

Bernie Sanders had that upset victory in 2016 in Michigan. And he is hoping for a repeat. But Joe Biden is hoping to challenge him on Tuesday night -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, Kansas City, Missouri.



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The pressure is on for Senator Bernie Sanders to wage a comeback after a disappointing finish in the Super Tuesday states. It starts here in Chicago, Illinois, where he rallied about 15,000 supporters, according to his campaign, a massive rally here in Grant Park, where he sharpened his attacks against Joe Biden.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Joe Biden and I are friends, I have known him for many years but we have different records. We have a different vision. The American people will hear about it.

When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney told us we had to invade Iraq, one of us voted for that war, that was Joe Biden.



PHILLIP: And Sanders went on to criticize Joe Biden over his past votes on trade, on the Iraq War and on abortion. It is just the latest sign of escalating tensions between these two campaigns.

We have seen Joe Biden criticizing Sanders over the rhetoric coming from his supporters the Sanders campaign saying that is a small issue compared to the bigger issues in this race, healthcare and trade.

Now for Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, the big test is going to be what happens in Michigan. That is where he is going to be where he is going to be spending a lot of time over the next several days.

Four years ago, he narrowly beat Hillary Clinton in the state of Michigan, totally changing the narrative of that race. It is also where he hopes to mount a comeback in this race against Joe Biden -- Abby Phillip, CNN, Chicago.


ALLEN: What's going to happen?

Let's get some analysis from Kate Andrews, joining us from London, an economics correspondent at "The Spectator."

Good to see you and good morning to you, Kate.


ALLEN: Let's start with the state of Michigan, ground zero for Bernie Sanders. He has to take it.

What is he doing you think to achieve that?

What are you hearing?

ANDREWS: It's an important moment in his campaign in 2016, arguably even more important this year because his turnout hasn't been as strong as in California.

The feeling is he's moving slightly more towards centrist topics, not necessarily changing his policies but talking about the Democratic bread and butter issues. He's focusing much more on trade, as your correspondent pointed out, on the Iraq War and talking points that resonate with voters.

While in 2016 Trump blew up the state, in 2018, the state was won back over by moderate Democrats in the House. It wasn't really the -- the moderate governor has endorsed Joe Biden.

ALLEN: Moderate Democrats have surged in the past couple of years and let's talk about the population mixup that's the state of Michigan. You have big African American communities, you have working-class whites, you have a big Muslim population and you do have many college- age voters.

That's a lot of people to try and speak to and get your message across.

ANDREWS: It is and it's a good test for any candidate, Republican or Democrat, in the state of Michigan. That's the broad coalition of people you have to appeal to in the general election.

The African American vote has been very much on Joe Biden; some of those college-educated young people are on Bernie Sanders' side. Now you have the endorsements of Pete Buttigieg or Michael Bloomberg, who are getting behind Joe Biden. We're not sure if those all those votes will translate.

There's a lot of talk about Elizabeth Warren. Many think her votes could go to Bernie Sanders but some think a chunk could go to Joe Biden as well.

The president won the state but his support amongst white working class men in particular and even the African American vote has been ticking up. The Trump campaign thinks they're going to do better in these areas.

It's a challenging area for any Democrat not only in Michigan but across the country in terms of how they compete with the president.

ALLEN: Speaking of the president, let's talk about what's going on right now with the coronavirus, some misinformation coming from the administration. And they've been criticized for that.

How important is Donald Trump's work to stay on top of this and be crystal clear as best he can with the American people over what's going on and how he's leading the country through it?

ANDREWS: Well, arguably it's his most important job. If there's a point of government in its very basic form, it's security and protection in moments like this, that people in many ways can't control. The narrative coming from the government and from the president in particular is incredibly important and they have to get their facts right.


ANDREWS: I'd bring in a bit of caution, lot of academics have been saying similar things to the president but in much more toned-down calm and clear rhetoric. I think the key for the president in this moment of concern understandably for the American people and people all over the world is that he does need to tone down that rhetoric and be more thoughtful what he's presenting to the public.

And he needs to be clear what they know and what the state and public health experts don't know. So far in the USA and the U.K. where I'm based, countries have fared very well compared to China and Italy. We don't want to go into the panic mode yet.

But it's required of the president to deliver that in a calm and thoughtful way and it's not always been the president's strong suit, has it. So it's an area that he really needs to focus on in the coming months.

ALLEN: Information is the key and clarity of that to help people get through this and stay safe. We appreciate your insights as always, Kate Andrews in London. Thanks, Kate.

ANDREWS: Thanks for having me.

ALLEN: Speaking of President Trump, a major U.S. political event wasn't safe from the coronavirus. We'll tell you how he's reacting after a CPAC attendee tested positive. He was there as well.




ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States an around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen with our top stories.



ALLEN: The number of coronavirus cases has topped 440 in the United States with at least 19 deaths now. That includes large outbreaks in the states of Washington, New York and California.

At least one attendee at last month's Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC has tested positive. U.S. president Trump and other top officials spoke at that conference a little bit more than a week ago. President Trump is still downplaying the virus threat. CNN's Kristen Holmes has more from Florida.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump continues to say that he's not worried about coronavirus. After a visit to the CDC he took questions from reporters and he said he was still shaking hands, he was still out there and he would still hold campaign rallies.

We did learn that an attendee of a Conservative Political Action Conference just over a week ago has been diagnosed with coronavirus. Here's what the president said.



TRUMP: No, I'm not concerned at all. No. No. We're going to do a great job.


TRUMP: Thank you very much.


HOLMES: President Trump may not be worried but a lot of top health officials are. The CDC put out new guidance, saying if you're elderly or if you have any health risks, you shouldn't go into large crowds. Clearly there's some concern.

This is just a larger part of mixed messages that are really confusing people in the U.S. President Trump said at the CDC anyone who wanted to could get tested. We know from the CDC that there are only 475,000 people who can be tested right now. That's the amount (sic) of tests here in this country. So it's not everyone.

The other problem is what we heard from the Food and Drug Administration, who gave a briefing, talked about this, said what the president meant to say was that you can go to a doctor and a doctor will refer you to take a test but that's just another step here.

This is leading to a lot of frustration among people who want to get out there and get tested. There's a lot of questions here.

How many people actually tried here in the U.S. to get testing and they were turned away?

What does that mean as they went back out into the public?

Are we looking at potentially several more cases?

And on an international scope, there's a lot of criticism of the administration, a lot of criticism of how America handled this. China and South Korea had the capability to test tens of thousands of people very fast in the way the U.S. hasn't still been able to do. So a lot of questions of how this has been handled and what happens next -- I'm Kristen Holmes, traveling with the president, in West Palm Beach, Florida, for CNN.


ALLEN: Dr. Sanjaya Senanayake is joining us now, an infectious disease specialist at Australia National University. He joins me live.

Thanks so much, Doctor, for being with us. I want to start with President Trump there, saying that he will not curtail his rallies, that he's not worried about it. But he has had some -- made some misstatements along with other members of his administration about the impact of the coronavirus in the United States.

How important is it that the leadership at the top communicate effectively with the citizens, many who are scared and who are confused about what to do?



SENANAYAKE: Look, I think it is really important for the public and the government to have a really good relationship at this time, particularly because there is so much misinformation out there on the Internet and social media.

So it's really important to have good information coming from the government. And the government, of course, you've got the CDC, which is one of the leading public health organizations in the world.

So I think Americans should really look to their government to help them and it is so important that the government does provide accurate information and, while trying not to make people panic, you give that information, even if it is a bit concerning.

ALLEN: Absolutely. Well, let's talk about that cruise ship. I was just talking with someone there. Positive news there for the people with have been stuck on yet another cruise ship.

Does it sound to you like the United States is getting a reasonable plan?

What would you expect these folks will go through now once they do get to dock in Oakland?

SENANAYAKE: So yes, look, cruise ships have been a real curve ball with this outbreak from these last 10 weeks apart from the one that's off Oakland. There is one in the Nile, where about a quarter or a third of people have tested positive.

So, hopefully now, given the experience with the Diamond Princess, the authorities will be able to have a more consistent approach. And again, as you mentioned before the previous question, keeping people, the passengers, their relatives updated about what is going on, whether that means self isolation for a period of time or monitored isolation, at least we are getting better at dealing with cruise ship outbreaks with this virus.

ALLEN: Now to Italy. It's 9:00 in the morning there. People are waking up to hear there is a lockdown on a huge region where they've had so many cases, it's impacting the entire country of Italy now.

How important is this step to try and stop the spread?

SENANAYAKE: I think it's very important, Natalie. Again, we are learning from what has been done before in these last 10 weeks. We saw the big lockdown in China in Wuhan and Hubei province.

Italy had 1,200 cases in the last 24 hours which is a lot of cases for a country of 60 million. So I think this is a reasonable approach to take. Now it may not stop the outbreak but it might slow it down.

And when you slow it down, that means it might drag on for longer but you have a smaller peak. When you have a smaller peak, that means that your health services and government infrastructure is more likely to be able to deal with it.

ALLEN: Yes. Back here in the United States, there still seems to be a lag in getting test kits. So it's kind of confusing that, if someone were to go to their doctor, would they be able to get tested and go to the emergency room.

And, you know, if they feel like they are sick, stay home for now. It's still very confusing to people. And the issue is, being able to get those test kits and get them in a reasonable time frame.

SENANAYAKE: Right, Natalie. So it's very important to have testing done because the quicker you can do testing, the quicker you can identify someone with the infection. You can isolate them, treat them and stop further infections from occurring.

If people are concerned, I think it's really important that they call ahead to their local provider or general practitioner or call their emergency department or hot lines available for coronavirus in the United States and just ask, hey, I think I've got this infection.

What should I do?

And that's a very good starting point.

ALLEN: Absolutely. Meantime, China is saying that its strict containment measures, which included a lockdown on 60 million people, have curtailed the spread.

If true, how will we know if it sticks, if containment is sustainable?

SENANAYAKE: Only time will tell, Natalie. Look, certainly they have done an extraordinary job of having a couple of weeks ago, 2,500 to 3,000 new cases every day, down to about 100 cases every day and whereas the rest of the world is having 3,000 new cases a day. So it has certainly curtailed the outbreak.

Will it stop it?

I don't know. People have returned to work in Beijing and Shanghai and 300 million rural migrant workers returned to the big city, so there is always the chance that a second wave could occur. But again, if we can slow the outbreak, it gives time for everyone to muster their resources and get ready for a second wave.

ALLEN: We so appreciate your time and your expertise. Every time we get to hear from people like you, it helps people breathe a little bit easier. Dr. Sanjaya Senanayake, thanks, so much for being with us.

SENANAYAKE: Thank you, Natalie. It was a pleasure.

ALLEN: We'll continue to bring you all of the latest from CNN. Watch our program "STATE OF THE UNION" 9:00 am here in the United States, 2:00 pm in London. We'll talk to the surgeon general of the United States, Jerome Adams, on our program.

The official handshakes and smiles were all there just like usual. But these are the last days of royal engagements for Harry and Meghan. We'll have more about their royal finale coming next.







ALLEN (voice-over): Look at that video right there, that's the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, singing the British national anthem with the rest of the audience at a charity concert performed by the Royal Marines.

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, arrived Saturday night at London's Royal Albert Hall, where they were welcomed with a round of applause before the event kicked off. It was part of their final series of engagements in the United Kingdom before they step back as working royals at the end of this month.


ALLEN: Conflicting stories coming in about the Saudi royal family. "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times" say the brother and nephew of King Salman stand accused of treason. A third relative reportedly was also detained.

Critic says the crown prince is consolidating his power by removing anyone he sees as a threat. CNN has asked Saudi sources for confirmation. They say no arrests have taken place.

We head back to Italy now, where church life has been turned upside down there, even before the country announced its drastic new lockdown.


ALLEN (voice-over): This is a live look at St. Peter's Square in Rome, usually packed on Sunday mornings. Now as you can see virtually empty, after the Vatican announced that Pope Francis would deliver his weekly address via video.


ALLEN: In northern Italy, no masses have been said in three weeks. Our Ben Wedeman went to see how the faithful are coping and attended one of the last funerals held in Milan before a ban takes effect.



Brother Marcello greets the first arrivals at a Milan soup kitchen. Every day at 11:30 in the morning, volunteers hand out more than 1,000 meals to those in need.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): To avoid a crowd, they now pass through, get their bag lunch and leave.

The rhythm of church life has changed for Marcello and the other brothers of the Capuchin order at the Chiesa Sacro Cuore di Gesu, the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As the cloud of the virus that hovers over Italy grows ever darker, he sees a silver lining.

"This is a bath in reality," says Brother Marcello. "It's a moment of great humility because we are reminded that we are human. We are not omnipotent. We are fragile we become sick. What is beautiful is that we see how much we need one another."

The last mass here was February 22nd.

How does he feel when he sees the church empty on Sunday?

BROTHER MARCELLO: (Speaking Italian).

WEDEMAN (voice-over): "Not well," he repeats four times.

"Sometimes it's said the priests, the clergy, the church are a power. At this moment it is clear to us, what is a priest without his flock?"

Perhaps priorities are shifting back to basics.

"This is an opportunity," says worshipper Eros Cavernan (ph), "to reflect, to think, to be with your family and more than anything, to slow down our lives, which I think are going by too fast."

Later, Brother Marcello reaches out to a fellow Capuchin, Alberto, in the red zone, where the outbreak is more intense and exit and entry are tightly controlled. Brother Alberto is in quarantine with a fever but has yet to be tested for the virus.

BROTHER MARCELLO: (Speaking Italian).

WEDEMAN (voice-over): "First of all, I am sorry," says Marcello.

Yet Alberto's spirits seem high. He jokes that, with all the couples staying home, there will be many new babies to baptize.

In the afternoon, a rare gathering in the church for the funeral of a 67 year old man. He did not die, we are told, from the virus. The number of mourners is modest but large by today's new standards.

So much is changing in this, Italy's time of trial -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Milan.


ALLEN: Coming next here, climate change isn't exactly thought of a top priority for the Republican Party -- hardly -- but we'll meet some young Republicans trying to change that.





ALLEN: You're looking at a region here of northwestern Oklahoma, where a wildfire continues to rip through the region and evacuations are now underway. It has burned at least 13,000 acres so far and is just 10 percent contained. People in at least two towns are being asked to leave as officials warn the fires will threaten homes there.

Climate change has been at top of the Democratic Party political agenda but many young Republicans say fighting climate change is a generational issue, not a political one. In fact, some of these college students believe their Republican Party is wrong to dismiss the subject. Our chief climate correspondent Bill Weir has their story.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the Conservative Political Action Conference you'd expect Fox News, the NRA and "deplorable" hammocks, Donald Trump nutcrackers and statues made of nails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's America's superhero and he's tough as nails.

WEIR: But this year's CPAC had something new.

WEIR (on camera): So do you consider yourself sort of a Republican Greta?



O'BRIEN: I'm done with us talking about the problem. We've talked about the problem. We recognize the problem. And now we need to talk about solutions.

WEIR (voice over): She is the leader of this booth full of Republicans all devoted to fighting climate change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our website.

WEIR: With taxes on big oil.

WEIR (on camera): I've been to a few CPACs in my day and spotting a climate-woke Republican who wants to have a carbon tax is like spotting a snow leopard in the wild. I mean what drives this change?

O'BRIEN: I think it's a lot of young people, honestly. This is really a generational issue. We believe that people my age and a little bit older are really waking up to the problem that is climate change on both sides of the aisle.

WEIR (voice over): And in a packed happy hour around the corner --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is really awesome to see such an amazing crowd of conservatives who care about the environment here.

WEIR: A rival group of conservative climate hawks gather. As for the first time polls show more than half of young Republicans believe the government isn't doing enough to fight manmade global warming.

But as more of them agree with Greta that our house is on fire, new debates are breaking out over the best way to put it out.

BENJI BACKER, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CONSERVATION COALITION: I think she's incredible. For someone her age to be speaking up and shifting the course of global history.

WEIR: Benji Backer grew up knocking on doors for John McCain and Mitt Romney as a kid and in college created the American Conservation Coalition.

WEIR (on camera): Do you support President Trump?

BACKER: I don't support President Trump's approach to the environment so far.

WEIR (voice over): A group built for green and frustrated young Republicans.


BACKER: And the fact that you have to have some government protections on human health and the environment and protecting animals and wildlife, that has to be there.

WEIR: He says his group now has chapters on over 200 campuses, all who share the belief that free market forces and innovation can stop global warming.

BACKER: Everyone in my generation wants to buy a Tesla. Everyone in my generation wants to have solar panels on their roofs. Their -- that demand is there. And that's a culture change that no government policy could ever enact.

WEIR: He opposes most regulation and a carbon tax.

But Kiera O'Brien, disagrees. She's an Alaskan helping pay for Harvard with the money her state takes from big oil and gives to each resident. So she's all in for the Baker/Shultz plan named for the members of Ronald Reagan's cabinet who helped write it.

O'BRIEN: This is the solution that is backed by the largest statement of economist in the history of the profession of economics.

WEIR: It would tax carbon and divvy it up among Americans. The average family would get about $2,000 a year to start, but both tax and dividend would ramp up until fossil fuel goes the way of the dinosaurs.

O'BRIEN: I would love for President Trump to sign a plan just like this.

WEIR (on camera): You think he will?

O'BRIEN: I think he could.

WEIR: Really?


WEIR: But if he wins again, what does that do for the climate, do you think, based on his attitudes historically?

O'BRIEN: I mean, attitudes can change in the future. We're betting on it with the Republican Party as a whole. I see no reason why President Trump couldn't change his mind as well.

WEIR (voice-over): Bill Weir, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: We shall see.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. Please follow me on Twitter or on Instagram.