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Trump Holds Packed Rally with No Distancing And Few Masks; President Trump Compares his Handling of COVID-19 Crisis to the Leadership of FDR And Churchill; Trump Knew COVID-19 was Deadly And Airborne, Downplayed Virus; Trump Campaign Grilling Local Election Officials in Swing States About Mail-In-Voting Processes; Trump Stokes Racial Divides While Trying to Convince Americans He's Not Racist; Trump Campaign is Trying to Win Over Black Men; Joe Biden Pledges to be Transparent About His Health; NFL Season Kicks Off Amid Pandemic. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast. Following some breaking news for you. President Trump holding a packed campaign rally in Michigan tonight, little social distancing in the crowd, very few people wearing masks. Only one day after a new book revealed Trump admitted months ago to downplaying the deadly threat from the virus. He was at it again, and denying he lied to the American people.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has done really well. Very proud of everybody that worked on this, and I really do believe we're rounding the corner. I didn't lie. What I said is we have to be calm. We can't be panicked.


LEMON: And while the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 now stands at nearly 192,000. Trump's comparing his handling of the crisis to the leadership of FDR and Winston Churchill. Joe Biden is hitting Trump hard following the revelations in Bob Woodward's book, including accusing the president of having no conception of what constitutes national security. More tonight of CNN's Jake Tapper's exclusive interview with the Democratic nominee.

But joining me now to discuss all of this is CNN's White House correspondent John Harwood, also Dan Rather, host of AXS TV's the big interviews, also the author of the book What unites us.

So good to see both of you. John, good to see you. But of course, Mr. Rather, it's great to see you. I don't get to see you as often as I see John. So, it's good to have you on.

So, John, let start with you. We just saw that crowd tonight, few masks, close together. We know his supporters don't care. That's a given. But beyond the die-hards, what's been the impact of the news about the president downplaying the virus and not disclosing what he knew about it to the American people?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to say what the impact is on his supporters, because as we saw from the people evident at that rally, a lot of them believe what he has been saying. The real political impact for him is the opportunity cost. Donald Trump's base is not enough to get him re-elected.

He needs to get new voters, people who are now undecided or even favoring Biden but in a soft way. If the news is dominated by the fact that he lied about COVID and he continues to lie about COVID, by the way, by virtue of holding a rally like that, because it communicates the message to his supporters and to the country that the coronavirus problem is no more.

When that dominates the news, it raises doubts in some of those undecided voters, also prevents Donald Trump from getting out a positive message. It's a very significant liability because we're getting to the short strokes of this campaign. He's significantly behind Joe Biden nationally and in the battleground states, including the state of Michigan, where he has tonight.

LEMON: Mr. Rather, I want to turn to you right now. You have covered plenty of Woodward bombshells. Does anything compare to this withholding information that could have saved countless American lives?

DAN RATHER, HOST AXS TV'S THE BIG INTERVIEW: Nothing comes to mind, Don. I do think we need to see it very clearly that this is the line. It's an excuse. There were 192,000 Americans dead. And the president is asking us to believe when there's an audiotape that indicates very clearly that he's lying about it. But he's asking people to believe he didn't tell the truth about the coronavirus when he could have back in early spring, late winter because he, quote, didn't want to create a panic.

You believe that you will believe that water runs uphill. And he's counting on many of Americans to be suckers. You know, he was alleged that said that people who prolonged some military service for the country were quote suckers.

And he apparently views that the country is a whole, at least enough voters are suckers to believe what he is saying when he is demonstrably untrue. I do think we need absolute (inaudible) to it. That he has lied about this. He is lying about this. He tells lies every day. I hate to use the word lie. I've never been about using it, but we have to face it, that these are outright direct purposeful lies in order to get him elected.


That this is a guy who said he didn't want to quote, create panic when his whole election campaign is based on creating panic. He wants people to panic about having dangerous people moving next door into the suburbs, he wants people to panic over what violence it has been in some of the most peaceful protesters. He wants people to panic over China, because what China is doing in South China Sea, it preaches the gospel of panic, all the while denying that he's not doing it.

I don't think that the American people will buy it. He is targeting specifically those voters who clarifies themselves independents, so- called swing voters. And I don't think they'll buy it. He's basically saying I think they're sucker enough to buy this. I don't think so. We'll find out in November.

LEMON: Well, there are, I mean, 40 percent of, you know, the country, somewhere between 38 and 40 percent of the country, they're buying -- a lot of them are buying it. But I want you to take a listen to what the president said at his rally tonight. Here it is.


TRUMP: America will prevail over the China virus as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. That's it. We're doing very well.



As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, keep calm and carry on. That's what I did. When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, great leader, would often times go to a roof in London and speak, and he always spoke with calmness. He said we have to show calmness. Now, we did it the right way and we've done a job like nobody.


LEMON: Wow. I mean, Dan, do you want to give the president a history lesson?

RATHER: Well, again, I think most people can see this for what it is, but he obviously thinks that if he says it often enough and to compare himself to Winston Churchill it's hard for me to believe that even many of the hard core Trump supporters would buy into equating him with Winston Churchill.

But you know, this is singing the song, one thousand burst (ph). He has been singing this song, preaching his gospel, you know, ever since he came into the presidency, that you know, he is the equivalent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he is the equivalent of Winston Churchill, he has done a great job with the coronavirus, but staring him and us in the face when he says he has done a great job in fighting coronavirus, 192,000 Americans and counting are dead. And this whole -- what he's trying to sell, it's a lie. It's an excuse. He's hoping it gets him re-elected. As I say, we shall see.

LEMON: John, in terms of Winston Churchill, he never hid the truth about what was going on from the British people. And what if during that, you know, the blitz, 42 percent of Americans were like, there are no Nazi bombs. It's a hoax. We don't need blackouts and rations?

HARWOOD: Well, that's what ties these two things together. He's lying to justify his lie. Winston Churchill, just like Franklin Roosevelt in the Second World War, gave it to their constituent's straight to try to gird them, realistically for the struggle ahead.


-- or the gumption to do that, he tried to take the easy way out and make them think it wasn't going to be so bad. And He's still trying to talk his way past it, as Dan said at the cost of 192,000 American lives.

The other point is that he talks about not wanting to create panic. His campaign is based on lies in order to create panic. To tell people the economy is going to collapse, that Joe Biden's leading an anti- vaccine crusade. That's not true. Saying that, you know, Antifa is going to move in next door, destroy your suburbs. None of that is true. He told the crowd in Michigan tonight all the things he had done for the auto industry. Michigan is down auto jobs since Donald Trump became president.

But again, as you had indicated, Don, 38 to 40 percent, maybe 43 percent of the people are sticking with Trump and believing it. That is not enough to win the election. Holding his base, it doesn't do him any good. He has got to expand his base. And I think the outlandish nature of his rhetoric, the controversies that have been exposed, his inability to drive a realistic, in any way credible positive message makes it very, very difficult for him to get those votes that he needs.

LEMON: Gentlemen, thank you. That's all we have time for. I appreciate both of you, I'll see you soon, be safe, please.


One of the most significant revelations from the president's interviews with Bob Woodward, he knew the coronavirus was airborne. He knew it.


WOODWARD: And so what was President Xi saying yesterday?

TRUMP: We were talking mostly about the virus. And I think he's going to have it in good shape, but you know, it's a very tricky situation. It's --

WOODWARD: Indeed, it is.

TRUMP: -- it goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don't have to touch things, right. But the air, you just breathe the air. That's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Joining me now is Dr. Jonathan Reiner, he is the director of

the Cardiac Catheterization Program at George Washington University Hospital. Also with us Joe Allen, he is an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard and the author of the book Healthy Buildings.

Gentlemen, good to see you both of you. Thank you so much. So, Joe, we now have proof that Trump knew. He knew this virus was airborne and could be spread by asymptomatic people. You studied this extensively. That was life-saving information.

JOSEPH ALLEN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, EXPOSURE ASSESMENT SCIENCE, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes. Don, thanks for having me back on. It's incredibly frustrating even to hear that every time makes my blood boil for this reason. Right when he knew that information was the time myself and my other colleagues and scientists were trying to raise the alarm that airborne transmission was happening. The first piece I wrote was in early February, talking about healthy buildings and control strategies to control airborne spread.

I spent every waking minute since that time, seven days a week, trying to alert the public about this threat. And now we know Trump knew it, and he undercut that message for the past months, right through today. And he stymied the public health response. And it frustrates me as a public health scientist, knowing how many lives were lost, how many livelihoods were destroyed because the president hid this information from the American public.

It's not just incompetence. It's gross and willful negligence. He sowed distrust and confusion. Even today you hear people talk about the confusion and the conflicting science. Donald Trump created that confusion. It wasn't confusing to us scientists. We knew what we had to do. We've been raising the alarm since February and it confirms that he has played us as a fool. While we've been giving recommendations for mask wearing and opening windows, he was saying inject bleach.

LEMON: Good point. Dr. Reiner, back in January, the president praised China -- praised him for being transparent on the coronavirus. Based on what we're hearing from Woodward interviews, is it possible that Xi Jinping was actually being transparent, but the president just withheld the information?

JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, we know that the president was briefed on January 28th that the virus was airborne and highly infectious, and also that there was asymptomatic spread, that they were seeing community spread in China in people without symptoms. So the president was very well informed. When he spoke to Bob Woodward about a week later, he was very lucid about this, the most lucid we've heard the president speak about the virus.

He knew that it was lethal. He knew exactly how lethal I was. He said it was five times as lethal as the flu. So, the president knew. So, what did he do with that? He hid that information from his supporters, from the country. LEMON: He put them in danger. He put everyone in danger, but he put

his supporters in danger because he had them all packed into campaign rallies.

REINER: Right.

LEMON: Sorry, go on.

REINER: Right. So, he told this myth to the country that this was all going to go away. In March, he was saying how well this was contained and that the stock market looked good for him. What he was really trying to do was protect the stock market and protect his economic numbers, because that was his path to re-election. He knew how bad this was going to be.

And you know, we know from other countries on how other countries have performed in the pandemic. We know about how many lives were lost with our bungled response. And it's about 150,000 lives. We would be about where Germany is, that's my guess, right.

Germany has had a middle-of-the-road response. They haven't been like Japan. They haven't been like the U.K. They've been in the middle of the road and they have had about 10,000 deaths. We would have about 40,000 deaths in the United States. We're about four times the size. Still a big punch. A big, big punch, but nothing like we have right now. So, we know how many lives this has cost.

LEMON: Gentlemen, thank you. I appreciate your time.

ALLEN: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Warnings that this Election Day could be like nothing we have ever seen before. It could take days or weeks to get results. Now the Trump campaign is bombarding local officials in swing states. That, as the president is stoking racial division while trying to convince you he's not racist and trying to appeal to black men.



LEMON: As we move closer to the election, millions of Americans are gearing up to vote by mail in the middle of a pandemic. And now CNN is learning that the Trump campaign is aggressively questioning local election officials in swing states on their processes for mail-in voting. More tonight from CNN's Pamela Brown. Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, election experts are sounding the alarm ahead of November's election, warning that unprecedented circumstances because of COVID-19 could lead to days and even weeks of legal battles, contested results, and now CNN is learning that the Trump campaign officials there, are grilling local election officials across the country who are already busy over mail-in ballots and preparations for possible future battles.


BROWN: As President Trump continues to rail against mail-in ballots without evidence to support his claims.


TRUMP: They'll be dumping them in neighborhoods. There will be -- people are going to be picking them up. They'll be bribing.

BROWN: CNN has learned the Trump campaign is bombarding local election officials in swing states with personal phone calls and questionnaires, digging for details on mail-in ballots. Apparently hunting for potential evidence needed to back up any future Trump claims of a rigged system.

DAVID BECKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ELECTION INNOVATION: You would normally expect to see campaigns try to help learn about the process so they could help their voters. But this is at least as much focused on what happens after the election.

BERGEN: In some states, local officials have received forms from the Trump campaign and obtained by CNN with detailed questions about how ballots will be verified, what is being done to store them and secure them. In Wisconsin alone more than 1,800 election clerks have received a two-page questionnaire, seeking personal information and raising specific questions about whether remote voting processes are trustworthy.

And in Georgia, clerks received this long list of almost 60 questions, primarily focused on mail-in ballots with questions like what additional security processes are in place to protect mail-in ballots. Election experts say, the questions seem more like a deposition than an effort to collect basic facts.

BECKER: They're looking to catch election officials may be in a gotcha or something like that, rather than to help their voters and their campaign navigate the process.

BROWN: A Trump campaign spokesperson says quote, as part of the Trump campaign's efforts to ensure a free and fair election, we have asked County clerks for information so that we can gain a detailed understanding of absentee voting processes. Courting clerks and gathering information ahead of an election isn't unusual, but election officials tell CNN this is more ramped up, aggressive and targeted than in years past. The expansive effort comes as the White House indicates it may not accept results after Election Day.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But we want election night to look like a system that's fair, a situation where we know who the president of the United States is on election night. That's how the system is supposed to work.

BROWN: But election night results are never official. And if the election is contested in court, the responses to the questionnaires could be used by Trump's lawyers. Election experts say one possible election scenario is what is known as the blue shift. With Trump ahead on election night and Biden pulling in front after election night through mail-in ballots.

BECKER: There is no thing as election night results. They're only partial results and they always have been partial results.


BROWN: The Biden campaign is also engaged in early outreach to local election officials across the country, though it is more scaled back in the Trump campaign as of now, according to officials. A Biden campaign spokesperson told CNN in a statement, we've made a major early investment in putting voter protection staff on the ground to build relationships with clerks and also to ensure voting goes smoothly. It is clear, Don, that both sides are gearing up for potential battles down the road.

LEMON: Indeed. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Team Trump is hoping Americans just won't notice how he is stoking racial divisions while declaring he is not racist in an attempt to win over black male voters.

Plus, Joe Biden reacting to what the president told Bob Woodward about his nuclear system.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He seems to have no conception of what constitutes national security. No conception of anything other than what can he do to promote himself.




LEMON: The Trump campaign is hoping to have it both ways with racial rhetoric. The campaign leaning into a double messaging strategy of highlighting Trump's record on criminal justice reform and minority job numbers while also pushing the president's law and order message, attacking Biden as weak on crime.

To discuss now, we have CNN political commentators David Swerdlick and Keith Boykin. Hello, gentlemen. Good to see you. Long time, it's been a long time, I hope you're doing well.


LEMON: David, so listen. CNN has learned that some of the strategy that the Trump campaign wants to use against Kamala Harris, one Trump political adviser telling CNN, here it is. OK, it says, we will message to black men that she was California's top cop and message to suburban women that she wants to defund the police. Two different demographics, two different messages. You say they're trying to turn Harris' identity as a woman of color into a negative. Talk to me about that, David. SWERDLICK: Right. They want to otherize her. Even though it's an

asset, Don, that she's a woman of color candidate running historically on this ticket, they want to otherize her. And two black men, they are going to say, hey she has a career in law enforcement. She's a cop and they're looking at numbers that tell them, look, in 2016, President Trump got 11 percent of black men without college degrees and 16 percent of black men with college degrees. They want to at least hold those numbers up, if not prop them up just a little more that they think they can help on the margins.

Meanwhile they're etherizing her to white women with college degrees, which is where a lot of this campaign is being fought. Those women went for Hillary Clinton by just the burriest majority in 2016, 51 percent. And what they don't want to do, they being the Trump campaign, is let Biden run away with that group, which has been drifting away from President Trump and there the otherization (ph) of Senator Harris plays more like, you know, she's a black woman who you're not familiar with.

She's in favor of defunding the police, even though that's not true. She wants to bring low-income or affordable housing to your comfortable suburban community, also something that she is not running on. But that is where the Trump campaign wants to go.


SWERDLICK: So, the problem they're having though is that Senator Harris is this very establishment, very middle-of-the-road figure, and so even though, you know, it is hard to predict how this is going to play out is some tight swing states, it's just not gained them a lot of traction quite yet with either of these constituents.

LEMON: Keith, Trump wants to get more support from the Black community that he did in 2016. Are Black men the only real chance he has to gain that? I mean, it is hard to see how Trump would grow his support among Black women.

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I'm not sure, though, Don. I'm not sure that he even really wants to get more support from the Black community. I don't think he has made any serious effort and outreach to the Black community in his four years, almost four years in office.

Can you name a single event that Donald Trump has held for the Black community? He went to one Black university, HBCU, Beta (ph) College. He only allowed seven Black students, hand-picked students to attend this event. But he has done nothing else.

LEMON: There were a lot of Black speakers at the convention, Keith.


LEMON: Go on.

BOYKIN: This is not -- he's not serious to win the Black vote. I mean, I live in Harlem. He has never been to Harlem which is just a few blocks out from his place he used to -- he used to be in midtown Manhattan. He has not gone to Anacostia in Washington, D.C. He hasn't gone to any of the Black communities in Atlanta, in Los Angeles, in Michigan, any of these places.

Remember, it was four years ago when Donald Trump went to an all-white suburb and spoke to a nearly all-white audience in Michigan outside of Detroit and said that he would get 95 percent of the African American vote in 2020.


BOYKIN: Clearly, he's not going to get near that. He's not even trying. Black women who voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, 94, 95 percent for Hillary Clinton are never going to vote for Donald Trump, especially not with Kamala Harris on the ticket.

So, this is really about voter suppression. Donald Trump wants to depress the Black turnout. He doesn't want Black turnout. That's why he's using this Kamala Harris is a cop message on the one hand --


BOYKIN: -- and on the same time telling suburban women that, yes, Kamala Harris is radical liberal who is going to send immigrants and Black people and brown people to your neighborhoods.

LEMON: That's probably the most succinct answer I've gotten all evening, was that face from Keith. Listen, I've got to run. Remember, in Michael Cohen's book, he talks about how many Black people Donald Trump knows. He only likes the famous ones, whether they're friends with him or not is a different story. Thank you both. Appreciate it.

BOYKIN: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: I want to make sure you know about my podcast, OK? It is called "Silence is Not an Option" where I take on our conversations about being Black in America, about race in America. This week, you have to tune in. Raising an antiracist generation, OK? You can find it on Apple podcast or your favorite podcast app. And it

also tells you how to -- everyone has been asking me, how do I talk to my kids about that? What do I do? All right, well, this is what you do. Here is a sneak peek.


BEVERLY DANIEL TATUM, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND RACE RELATIONS EXPERT (voice-over): Because white parents are often very self-conscious about what to say, they prefer to just not have the conversation. And they will tell you sometimes, my child is color blind. She doesn't notice difference, because she never talks about it. And what I would say is, if your child never talks about it, it may not be that she's color blind, it may be that she has learned to be color silent.


LEMON: Told you. It's great. You have to listen to this one. And next, Joe Biden sitting down exclusively with CNN's Jake Tapper. We are going to tell you what he says about his health and the pledge that he is making to Americans.

Plus, the NFL is back tonight. Players are lining up in a sign of unity. But while some in the crowd cheered, others didn't appreciate it.




LEMON: Joe Biden says President Trump has no conception of what constitutes national security. That as veteran journalist Bob Woodward reveals in his new book that Trump told him about a classified nuclear weapons system. Biden sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview. Here is more from that interview.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: One other revelation from the book is that Trump appears to have revealed a new classified U.S. weapons system, the existence of it, to Woodward. He said -- quote -- "I have built a nuclear weapons system that nobody has ever had in this country before" -- unquote.

Woodward says his sources confirmed the existence of this classified weapons system. What's your response to that?

BIDEN: Can't speak to the system but it's not a surprise. You wonder why people in the Intelligence Community wondered from the very beginning whether they could share data with him, because they don't trust him. They don't trust what he'll say or do. He seems to have no conception.

I know I sound -- but he seems to have no conception what constitutes national security. No conception of anything other than what can he do to promote himself. This is the guy who said maybe the way to deal with hurricanes is drop a nuclear bomb on them. [23:40:00]

BIDEN: I mean, he said it.

TAPPER: I know.

BIDEN: I mean, god. Or, you know, the problem with the revolutionary war was they didn't have enough airports. I mean, I just -- it's beyond my comprehension.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the 2020 race and specifically the fact that we're in Macomb County, Michigan right now. This is a county that President Obama and you carried twice. And then President Trump carried by 12 percentage in 2016. You're a son of Scranton. You're somebody who likes to talk about the working class, the middle class. Why do you think so many of these voters turned against the Democratic Party in 2016?

BIDEN: Look, I think, number one, a lot of it was taken for granted. When we ran, I spent a lot of time in Macomb County, a lot of time in Detroit. I was given the responsibility of getting it out of its bankruptcy and getting it on its feet. You know, I was the guy that was asked in the recovery act to make sure we made sure we were in a situation where we saved General Motors and Chrysler.

I come from Claymont. You know Claymont. You're a Philly guy. Claymont is a working class neighborhood. There used to have 6,000 steelworkers in Claymont. It shut down. But the point is that, you know, I think it was the feeling that they were taken for granted. I don't know that for a fact. And I think that he used that dog whistle on race. Now it's a bullhorn.

And I think that -- look, the neighbors I come from and I think, presumptive of me to say, you come from, people don't want a hand out (ph), they just want a fighting chance. Just give me a shot. They're looking for a shot. And the effect of everything he has done has decimated them.

I mean, right here in this county, in this state, they're down 5,000 manufacturing jobs since he became president. We're in a situation where it's hard as hell to figure out how you get your kid to school because he won't do anything in terms of helping states that are going bankrupt to be in a position to be able to open schools safely.

I mean, it's just across the board. And it's kind of like when the carney show comes through town the first time and there is no pea under any of the three shells. Second time it comes around, people kind of figure out.

I think that -- I have won all of my races with the core of my support being a combination in the African American community and working- class blue-collar guys. And I think that it's a matter of saying, look, I see you. I understand the problem.

TAPPER: I'm a blue-collar guy sitting in Macomb County, Michigan, if I were that person.


TAPPER: And I'm sitting here, listening to your pitch. And I'm thinking, I like what he has to say, but he's part of the establishment that's been selling my jobs down the river. He supported NAFTA. He supported most favorite nation status for China. And Trump did renegotiate NAFTA and Obama and Biden didn't.

BIDEN: I'll tell you what we did do. We inherited the greatest recession short of the depression. The president put me in charge of that, to do something about that. In the process of that, I was the one who was given the responsibility to make sure General Motors and Chrysler didn't go bankrupt. And so we made sure they didn't. Brought 80,000 jobs here to Michigan and to the automobile industry, 80,000 good-paying jobs came back. He has lost 50,000 of those jobs since he has been president.

TAPPER: One last question for you, sir. If you're elected, you would be the oldest president ever. And I know you've said it's fair for anybody to ask questions about anybody over 70 and their health.

The American people have been lied to before by presidents about the president's health. FDR, JFK, Ronald Reagan. We don't know still what happened with Donald Trump in his visit to Walter Reed last year. Will you pledge that if you're elected, you will be transparent about your health?


TAPPER: All facets of your health with urgency so that we know?

BIDEN: Yes, when it occurs, when anything occurs. Anything can happen. Anything can happen. That's what I did -- I laid out my health records in more detail, pages and pages of it when I became vice president. I laid it all out, everything, my entire background related to my health.

I've laid out my health records in terms of this time around and the investigations of my health made when I was in -- at Walter Reed, in terms of -- by Walter Reed docs, by my docs right now, and thank god, I am in good health.



LEMON: The NFL kicking off their season tonight, paying tribute to calls for social justice. But will the season be safe in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic?


LEMON: The NFL beginning its new season tonight. The phrase is, it takes all of us to end racism, were painted in the end zones and two national anthems were played, both the Star-Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing.


LEMON: All that, before kickoff between the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans. The Texans left the field for both anthems telling NBC they didn't want there to be a misinterpretation of celebrating one song or throwing shade on the other.

That's as members of the Chiefs stood with their arms interlocked, as the song referred to -- as the Black national anthem was played. Then, while the national anthem was performed, some members of the Chief stood, some raised fists, others had their hands over their hearts, and one player knelt. When the Texans reached with the field players from both teams met for a moment of unity, and you can judge the audience reaction for yourself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Ladies and gentlemen, please join us in a moment of silence dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality in our country.

LEMON (voice-over): Wow.


LEMON: Well, joining me now, Malcolm Jenkins, a CNN contributor and a player for the New Orleans Saints, and Dr. Myron Rolle, a neurosurgery resident at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, and a former NFL player. Myron and I go back. I am so proud of you. We will talk about that in time, though.

Good evening, gentlemen. Malcolm, so there definitely a mixed reaction from the crowd during the moment of unity the players organized. Were you expecting that kind of reaction?

MALCOLM JENKINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, but I mean, at the same time, this is exactly why I encourage players not to listen to fans and people that want to tell you just to be an athlete and just to entertain, because it doesn't matter what the gesture is, whether it's a knee, whether it's a show of unity or solidarity, they're going to find something wrong with it.

And at the end of the day, you know, the Kansas City Chiefs, when they were leading that city to a Super Bowl championship, those same fans cheered with amazing vigor. But all of a sudden, when players want to draw attention to the critical conditions of their communities, you're met with boos.

And I think, you know, as athletes, it is important for us to continue to push envelope, and I hope Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs as they go on to win more games, which it looks like they'll do, continue to push that envelope and take it further when it comes to social justice and not really worry about what the reaction is going to be.

LEMON: Yes. And Mahomes is really a leader here. Let me ask you one more before I get to Dr. Rolle. The election is just weeks away. The president has used NFL protests as a wedge issue to fire up his base. Do you think he will continue to do that in the weeks to come?

JENKINS: I think he will continue to use any kind of scapegoat, you know, to draw attention away from the things that are happening right now with his administration.


JENKINS: I know, as athletes, voting and participating in this election is something that we want to use this platform to do, to encourage people to get registered, to encourage people to go out and vote, to volunteer at the polls ourselves, and to open our facilities as polling sites because this is the biggest election in my lifetime.

And, you know, I'm sure not only the president but other politicians will continue to try to use us to drum up support from their base.

LEMON: Got it.

JENKINS: But I think we'll do a good job of pointing that in a different direction.

LEMON: So, Dr. Rolle, let's talk COVID, OK? The game looked a lot different with strict COVID protocols. The stadium tonight was up about only 22 percent capacity. Coaches are wearing face shields, distancing rules on the sidelines. As a doctor who treated COVID patients, I want to know, and you are a former NFL, as well, are these measures enough?

MYRON ROLLE, NEUROSURGERY RESIDENT AT HARVARD AND MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL, FORMER NLF PLAYER: You know, it's difficult to say. I think that the NFL is trying to do everything they can to try to make sure this game gets out on the field and they are able to entertain and make their revenue like they want to do all the time.

But when you play a game that is inherently and innately contact collusion, you have to be in tight quarters, you have to be in a huddle, team meetings. It's very hard to do the behavior lifestyle modifications health experts and medical professionals have been asking everyone to do.

And then when you have this idea that after the game, we're not going to shake hands, we're not going to engage and fraternize on the field, which is a very important part of the brotherhood of the NFL, but instead, we're still going to tackle each other and do all the things that can increase transmission rates. It's hard to see sort of how this -- how this can work.

I think the biggest issue that I have right now is the pseudo-bubble that these players were in, now, that's broken as these players travel from city to city and expose themselves to people who don't know their COVID-19 status.


ROLLE: These players are getting tested all the time, but if you're around people who don't know their status, you may contract, and you may end up having a cluster of infections.

LEMON: Yes. Doctor, before we go, I got to play this, OK? This is from a story that we did way back in 2008 when you were finishing up your college football career. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): What inspires so many and what made them cheer for Myron Rolle is his single-minded belief that anything, anything really is possible. ROLLE (on camera): Barack Obama has done it. Oprah Winfrey has done it, people who have succeeded with their academics, with their brain, with their mind, with their intellects, and with their power of speech and their influence. I want to be a doctor. I want to be great. I want to do some great things.


LEMON: Well, now -- we were so young, then. Now, you are a neurosurgery resident now. You are at Massachusetts General. You have been treating people for COVID since the spring. You did it. You're doing great things. But I imagine, doing it now, is a little nut in this COVID era.

ROLLE: It is. You know, absolutely. I entered a residency at national hospital to do neurosurgery. You know, brain, spine, peripheral nerve, and then COVID hit. We had to sort of flex and do something different. But it's a blessing to be able to treat people to join a new team and have an effect on people who are vulnerable in Boston and around the country.

So, it is certainly a great thing. I'm glad that you showed that clip because if you have a plan, you try to stick to that plan and develop the fundamentals to get there, things can come true, and it has been a blessing that I have been able to be here and help people.

LEMON: Well, I just remember that when you got -- you got a scholarship for a -- people were trying to recruit you. You were like, no, you finish school. It was just amazing. I got to meet your entire family. You are doing great things. Malcolm is doing great things. I'm so proud of you, brothers. Congratulations.

Malcolm, you know, you got kids. They're two years old and older. Myron, you've got what, twins, four weeks old, right out of the oven.

JENKINS: That's right.

LEMON: Good luck to both of you all because I don't know how you're handling it.


LEMON: But you look good doing it. Thanks, gentlemen. Be safe.

ROLLE: Appreciate it, Don.

LEMON: Congratulations.

JENKINS: Thank you.

LEMON: Thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.